Some historical snippets of BN – Part 7 – Messengers (दूत or தூது) in Dance

Indian postage stamp honoring the epic Meghadootam by Kalidasa

Image courtesy –


What would we do without messengers (दूत or தூது) in life? Probably there would be more conflicts in the absence of them. In Dance, like real life, we need messengers. We need them to convey the message and the emotions to the receiver. The topic of messengers is actually lot more deep than we probably know. In Ramayana, Hanuman went as a messenger between Rama and Sita and bought back the ornament for Rama. In Meghadutam by Kalidasa, the yaksha requests the monsoon clouds to pass his message of love and assurance to his wife who is in a distant city called Alaka [1].

Rama sending Hanuman as a messenger. Halebidu
Image courtesy:

Hanuman giving the message to Sita, Gupta sculpture
Image courtesy: Honolulu Museum of Art

Hanuman receiving the Choodamani from Sita. Hampi
Image Courtesy:

So, this post is inspired by the article in The Journal of Music Academy of Madras titled “The Parrot – Its Greatness and as a messenger” by Sudharani Raghupathy in 1988.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf of the lecture as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, since the website has no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.

For new readers, here are the links to the previous posts (part1, part2, part3, part4, part5, and part6).

Tamizh literature studies have a separate section called “தூது இல்லகியம்” or Sandesha kavyas. There are about 300 such texts available written originally in Tamil. These are poems written by various authors who have used a messenger to convey their feelings and pleas to the person who is receiving it. The usage of messenger is not a new concept as such. Tolkappiyam mentions it in the following lines:

ஓதல் பகை தூது இவை பிரிவே [2]

meaning that messenger could be an instrument between the nayaka and the nayika during separation. It also mentions who can be a messenger. The word Vayil (வாயில்) is used for messenger. They are of the following types:

  • people such as a friend (sakha and sakhi), mother.
  • birds and animals
  • Apart from the above, non-living objects can also act as messenger.

In all the “தூது இல்லகியம்” or Sandesha kavyas, there are three stages or parts [3]

  1. The nayaka or the nayika decides to send a message. It mostly arises due to the pain of separation, loneliness, etc.
  2. The nayaka or the nayika conveying the message to the messenger. Here they describe their emotions in full detail. This section of the literature uses lots and lots of metaphors. Usually, they send a non-living entity (for example, jewellery) with the messenger as well, provided the messenger is a person. In the case of non-living objects, this situation does not arise.
  3. Pleading the messenger to bring back something. It could be a non-living entity or in the case of the nayika asking the sakhi to bring the nayaka himself. In some cases, the message getting conveyed might be more than enough.

Thirukural has an entire section for messengers. Thiruvalluvar describes the characteristics of a messenger, the way a messenger should speak and behave. Their intention should be to convey pleasing news to the receiver.

Lets list all the things (living and non living) that act as messengers

  • Cloud
    • Meghadootam by Kalidasa [1, 4]

Thus too, my king, I pray of thee to speak,
Remembering kindness is its own reward;
“Thy lover lives, and from the holy peak
Asks if these absent days good health afford–
Those born to pain must ever use this opening word.

–Part II, stanza 38

    • Nachiar Thirumozhi by Andal
மின்னாகத் தெழுகின்ற மேகங்காள் வேங்கடத்துத்
தன்னாகத் திருமங்கை தங்கியசீர் மார்வற்கு
என்னாகத் திலன்கோங்கை விரும்பித்தாம் நாடொறும்
பொன்னகம் புல்குதற்கென் புரிவுடைமை செப்புமினே  – pasuram 8.4 in vinnila melappu

Oh clouds, who have lightning as part of your bodies! My
emperumaan has periya piratti seated on His chest and hence named Srinivasan. Please tell
Him this: “kodhai is waiting with her heart and soul to be embraced by You and is waiting for
Your arrival with the greatest love” [5]

Andal pleads with the clouds in the subsequent stanzas to convey her message.

  • Sakhi – the one that faithfully conveys the message (if we list all the padavarnams and padams, it will be an exhaustive list)
  • Anti – Sakhi – the one who on the pretext of conveying the message, betrays the nayika (example the padam “Unnai toothuanupinen” உன்னை தூதனுபினேன் in Saveri by Ghanam Krishna Iyer)

We can see in this video T. Balasaraswati demonstrating the pallavi. Click link for video.

  • Sakha – Hanuman.
  • Diplomatic messenger – The sangam era Avvaiyar acts as messenger for King Adhiyamaan and informs King Tondaimaan not to fight with him. [6] [7]. Tondaimaan realizes that a warrior does not decorate his weapons in vain, since it is always at the blacksmith’s place for repair after a war!

இவ்வே, பீலி அணிந்து, மாலை சூட்டிக்
கண்திரள் நோன்காழ் திருத்தி, நெய் அணிந்து,
கடியுடை வியன்நக ரவ்வே : அவ்வே,
பகைவர்க் குத்திக், கோடுநுதி சிதைந்து,
கொல்துறைக் குற்றில மாதோ ; என்றும்
உண்டாயின் பதம் கொடுத்து,
இல்லாயின் உடன் உண்ணும்,
இல்லோர் ஒக்கல் தலைவன்,
அண்ணல்எம் கோமான், வைந் நுதி வேலே   – Purananooru (95)

These are adorned with feathers of the peacock and encircled by garlands,
and have strong, thick, well-fashioned shafts and are anointed with ghee
while they repose in a sprawling, well-guarded palace; but those spears,
with their blades and joints broken when they pierced enemies, are always
to be found in the blacksmith’s small shed, for he who is lord
and chieftain of those who gather in need,
who grants food when there is plenty
and when there is not will share his own,
our king owns those swords that are tipped with sharp blades!

  • Peacock – மயில் விடு தூது
  • Parrot – அழகர் கிள்ளைவிடுதூது [8]

This was written by Palapattai Sokkanadha Pillai. Here, he sends the parrot (கிள்ளை) as a messenger to the Lord Vishnu residing in Azhagar malai. Parrot has many names like Thatthai (தத்தை), Vanni (வன்னி), Ari (அரி), Keera (கீர), etc. The raga Keeravani, literally means the sound of the parrot. The article by Sudharani Raghupathy, goes in depth about the greatness of the parrot, since its name Ari also means Lord Vishnu. It is the means of transportation for Manmadha or Kama.

Kama by S. Nandagopal
Image Courtesy: The Hindu (March 7, 2011)

There is the story of Adi Shankara who was looking for the house of Mandana Misra, a scholar with whom he wanted to have a debate on Advaita. He was told that if you find a house where parrots will be arguing about the Vedas and Sastras, then that’s the house of Mandana Misra. The parrots were it seems repeating what they were hearing from the house!

There is one other கிள்ளைவிடுதூது by Chitrambala Kavirayar as well. There are literature where parrots acts as messengers in Sanskrit  called Suka Sandesa by Lakshmi Dasa in 10th century,  Nayanchariar in 14th century, and Ramabhadra Dikshitar in 15-16th century. In other languages such as Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu there are literature and poems written where the parrot acts as messenger.

  • Bee – வண்டு விடு தூது

This was written by kacchiyappa munivar in Thiruvavaduthurai. A woman sends the bee to convey her love to Ananda rudhiresar in Kanchipuram. [9]

  • Annam – Swan

This bird gets mentioned in a Purananooru poem (67), where the poet Pisir aandaiyaar seeing the the male swan (அன்னச் சேவல்) travelling north,to send a message to his King  Killi in the city called Uariyur. In return, he assures that the male swan will get jewels for his mate as gifts from the king! [2] [6]

  • Pigeon
  • Cuckoo

Again, Andal in her Nachiyar Thirumozhi uses the Cuckoo to send messages to Lord Vishnu. [5]

“Oh cuckoo living in the grove filled with all
kinds of trees like punnai, kurrukkatti, kongu and cerundi! emperumaan has countless great
virtues and is blue-hued like the great neela mani; He wears the exquisite crown studded with
navaratnams. Is it fair that I keep loosing my bangles (due to their getting loose) just because
I love this emperuman? You must do me a favor – please keep warbling sweetly day and night
the tirunamams of my coral-lipped peruman from your grove right here and make it possible
for Him to come to my side quickly.

More can be seen in pasurams in the 5th section called mannu perum pugazh (மன்னு பெரும் புகழ்)

  • Wind
  • Flower
  • Conch

Again we have Andal requesting the Conch to send her message. Pasurams in the 7th section called karpuram naarumo (கற்பூரம் நாறுமோ) [5] describe more of her pleadings with the Conch, Panchjanya.

  • Deer
  • Language – தமிழ் விடு தூது

This was written by an anonymous woman who sends the language Tamil as a messenger to the Lord Somasundarar in Madurai [10].

  • Heart – நெஞ்சு விடு தூது

This is the FIRST literature in the Tamil language forms the “தூது இல்லகியம்” or Sandesha kavyas [3] [11]. This was written in the 14th century by Umapathy Svachariar. He sends his heart as a messenger to convey his weaknesses to a person called Gnanachariar.

  • Donkey – written by amirtham pillai [12]
  • Tobacco – written by Chini Sakkara Pulavar [12]
  • Slipper (!) –  This is interesting, since the author Pinathur Narayanaswamy sends the slipper as a messenger to those who insult the Tamil language. [12]

So, one sees that a variety of things can act as a messenger. Right from the heavenly objects to birds, animals and to the extreme case of a slipper as well. 🙂

The theme of sending messages is an interesting one to dance for. No wonder that the Bharatanatyam dancer Vidhya Subramanian has choreographed a margam format with the theme of “Toothu”. Here is the review of her performance.


  11. Tamil Wikipedia link


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