Netunalvatai is a poetic work of Tamil literature
from the Sangam age
equivalent to the period between 100 BCE - 100 CE. Netunalvatai is included in the Pathinenkilkanakku anthology of Sangam literature
and has 188 lines of verses in the Akaval meter. It is included as a part of the Pattupattu collection, which is the earliest extant collection of long Tamil poems in Sangam literature. The renowned poet Nakkirar wrote the poems of Netunalvatai, which belongs to the subjective themes of human relationships and feelings of love known as Akam. It also uses the setting of the story and illustrates an elaborate image of the ancient Tamil nation. Netunalvatai also consists of descriptions of the palace of Nedeunchezhiyan, the Pandya king. The poem is based on the concept of love where a heroic king has gone away to a winter camp and faces many enemies, while his queen remains in the palace and is engulfed in grief and suffering due to separation.
Content of Netunalvatai
Netunalvatai is a love poem that depicts the tale of the heroine who desperately prays to Korravai, the goddess of victory for the safe return of her lover, who is a soldier and has gone to the battle ground on a military operation. Realizing her pain and suffering, the maids of the palace also pray to the goddess so that the hero can successfully complete the mission and return home back to the heroine. This forms the central theme of the poem, around which other things are beautifully described by the poet, such as an elaborate narration of the palace where the heroine of the poem resides, royal bed chamber, the state of the hero in the winter camp and the description of a cool breeze, the Northerly Wind, which flows simultaneously through the battle ground and the palace in order to pacify the aching hearts of the lovers.
The cool breeze suggests rain and carries moisture which spreads all over. The breeze provides coolness to the climate and promises monsoon, which makes the shepherds and their cattle shiver. Moreover, the monkeys that reside in the forest are adversely affected by the harsh cold weather, birds affected by the cold weather fall from the sky. The pigeons are unable to fly out of their nests in search of food and the suckling calves are rejected by the mother cows. The cold weather that persists in the streets of the cities and towns disperse the citizens and coerce them inside their respective homes. Only the drunkards roam around in the streets as they are unable to feel the cold as they are inebriated. The cold climate darkens the atmosphere and the family women become unable to determine the time to light the evening lamps. The brutal cold breeze flows through the battle ground which forces the hero to stay awake. At midnight, he goes to speak with his wounded soldiers and observe the state of his horses. The courteous king inspects the wounded elephants and pats them affectionately and consoles them as well. A further detailed explanation of the winter army camp is provided in the poem by Nakkirar.
The poems in Netunalvatai contain the theme of cold breeze known as Vatai. The 2 adjectives Netu and Nal to the vatai breeze mean bad and good. In the context of the poem, the cold harsh breeze is bad for the heroine who pines in the palace and escalates her suffering and at the same time the breeze causes the hero of the poem to do good by speaking to his languishing troops and consoling them.
Controversy Related to Netunalvatai
Netunalvatai is identified as an Akam poem as it narrates the love story between the hero and the heroine who suffer from heart ache due to separation. The hero and the heroine remain anonymous as their names are not mentioned according to the tradition of Akam poems. But experts and scholars have a different opinion as while narrating the winter camp reference of a spear bedecked with neem
flowers is made. As the neem garland belongs to the Pandya dynasty
of rulers, the identity of the heroic king is revealed and scholars conclude that it is not Akam poetry.