You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : March 1996

Re: Madal Urdal

From: Badrinarayanan Seshadri (
Date: Wed Mar 27 1996 - 11:55:24 PST

Sundar asked:

* Sri Dileepan writes :
* "   Azhvaar went against the Tamil tradition and portrayed
*    a female performing "madal Urdhal" as expression of
*    intense and insatiable love.  Madal Urdhal is extremely
*    painful and thus the target of this action, a damsel,
*    and her family, acquiesces for the fulfillment of the man's
*    love.  Parakaala Nayaki risks public ridicule by venturing
*    upon this "madal Urdhal" for it is forbidden for women.
* Could someone please explain the practice of madal oordal ? I take it the
* explanation for it being forbidden is contained in the practice.

Sampath Rengarajan posted his explanation on this topic.
I merely want to add a few points here.

According to "sangam" thamizh tradition, madal oordhal
or madal ERudhal is performed by males afflicted by love
bya female. Roughly translated, this would mean "riding
a palmyrah stem".

Love, in ancient thamizh tradition, falls into two large
divisions, kaLavu and kaRpu. In kaLavu, the love is
instantaneous. In case of kaLavu, usually, a man and a
woman fall in love at the very first sight. But, on
occasions this love will be one-sided, called kaikkiLai.
In such cases, the affected person will try to convey the
love through his/her friends. If the love is still not
accepted, the males usually take recourse to the
following action:

Using a palmyrah stem, the man makes a horse shaped
object and sits on it. He makes a flag and paints it with
his lover's figure. He will usually wear tattered clothes
and spread ash(?) all over his bosy. His friends will
then carry him around, and along the way the lovesick man
will shout insulting things at the woman and her family,
in the hope that the woman, unable to take the shame
caused by all this, agrees to marry him.

This was a last ditch attempt the males took recourse
to. tholkaappiyam poruLadhikaaram prohibits this for
women, suggesting that this is not becoming of a women.
While there is a mention of 'madal ERudhal' in sangam
works, there doesn't appear to be any effort on the part
of the poets to elevate its status. However, by the time
of thiru vaLLuvar's kuRaL, madal ERudhal for men has
already achieved an exalted status. In addition, vaLLuvar
also says that "there is no women better than the one who
didn't perform madal ERudhal even when she was afflicted
by love as large as an ocean".

There is a suggestion by a few that the scales of the
sharp palmyrah stem could cause physical pain to the
person riding this. And this is why the women were
forbidden to do this. I don't agree with this theory.
This was prohibited for women more in accordance with the
thamizh custom that a woman is supposed to have achcham,
naaNam, madam and payirppu, and to come out on the street
and perform madal ERudhal would imply she had given up
all those! In addition the woman in her tattered clothes
will be seen by everyone on the streets! So, these were
the considerations that prevented the womenfolks from
following this custom.

Taking this too far, various commentators of
tholkaappiyam have argued about whether a woman is
allowed to even think about performing this action (as
opposed to really doing it!). In any case, let us not
dwell deep on this topic for now.

"madal" became a type of "small literature"
(siRRilakkiyam) along with other genre like "uLaa",
"kalambakam", "thaaNdakam", "piLLaith thamizh", "thoodhu"
etc. but was quite strict in the sense that it was always
a man performing madal ERudhal, pining for a woman. thiru
mangai aazhvaar was the first one who wrote a madal with
a female performing madal ERudhal (or at least expressing
her intention to do so). [There does exist a solitary
stanza in veNpaa, dates not known, where a woman
expresses similar intentions for a King.]

Grammar works (like panniru paattiyal, ilakkaNa viLakkam)
written well after mangai aazhvaar's time, made amends
indicating that one can also write about a woman
performing madal ERudhal provided the object of such an
act is God Himself.


It is interesting to note that siRiya thirumadal also has
a small but very engaging portion on 'thoodhu' (messenger
poems), where parakaala naayaki sends her heart as the
messenger to the Lord, which alas! doesn't return back
after seeing the Lord! The last few lines of siRiya thiru
madal where parakaala naayaki details the insults she is
about to hurl at her 'uLLam kavar kaLvan', are really


Graduate Student
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Cornell University