Visitors to Cambodia can see even today dilapidated temples dedicated to Siva, Vishnu or Ambikai, mostly to Siva, in the forests of that country. They bear testimony to the fact that our civilization and culture had penetrated those parts of South-East Asia more than a thousand years ago. What is more, valuable Sanskrit inscriptions on stone, about 800 in number, have been recovered by French archaeologists from the walls of those temples in ruins. From the point of view of diction and substance, these inscriptions are even superior to those found in India. Various trading communities from India traveled in their own ships to these parts of the world in ancient times, and carried on a flourishing trade according to the dictum, Tiraikadal odiyum diraviyam tedu (திரைகடல் ஓடியும் திரவியம் தேடு). They also established our culture and civilization in the lands in which they carried on their trade. One inscription in Tamil has also been recovered from Siam.
Western scholars, with their enthusiasm for research, have made a detailed study of the origin, habits and customs of the people of these lands. One writer has given a very interesting account of an annual festival in Siam, in which the rich and the poor, the king and the peasant alike participate. He has recorded that during this annual festival, a swing, having a long range, is erected and a person, in the make-up of Sri Dakshinamurti, whose image is found in our temples, comes from the north-east direction (eesaanam) and sits on the swing. As he swings to and fro taking care not to touch the ground with his feet, some persons recite certain verses. This author says that these verses end with the expression “Trembavai”. This festival, which lasts ten days, terminates on the full-moon day. The King of Siam attends it with all his paraphernalia, including weapons from his armory. In recent times, the weapons include bren-guns, and aeroplanes also take part in the festival.
We are reminded, from this account of the Siam festival, of the Oonjal (ஊஞ்சல்) (swing) festival observed in some of the South-Indian temples for 20 days terminating with Tiruvathirai in the month of Maargazhi (December-January). During this festival, Lord Siva is placed on the swing and the temple Oduvar sings the Tiruvembavai. Evidently this custom has traveled to Siam from South India and the verses recited must be from Tiruvembavai. It will be worthwhile to send some one to investigate and find out whether what is recited in Siam during the said festival is from Tiruvembavai, (திருவெம்பாவை)and if so, how many of these verses are in vogue there and whether the people know the meaning of the verses they sing.
The month of Maargazhi, which precedes the Uttarayana is the ushah-kaala (the short period just before dawn) for Devas, for whom a human year is one day. Therefore, the period just before dawn in this month is ushah-kaala both for us and for the Devas. So it must be regarded by us as sacred. In Malabar, even today, girls go in batches to a nearby river or tank in the early hours of the morning, all the 30 days of Maargazhi, take their bath, singing the praise of the Lord and return to their homes singing. When Saint Manickavasagar sang the Tiruvembavai, he has recorded that he found women bathing in a spring in Tiruvannamalai in the early hours of the morning. There is a reference in Sangam literature also to girls and young women bathing in tanks early in the morning during this month. In the Bhagavatam, there is a reference that Gopis bathed in the Yamuna and worshipped the Divine Mother in the form of Kaatyaayani, in order that they may obtain Sri Krishna as their husband. Sri Krishna took Rukmini away in his chariot, when she came out of the temple after worshipping Sri Gouri. All these show that this practice of bathing singing the praise of the Lord in the early hours of the morning during this month (Maargazhi or December-January), has come down to us from time immemorial. We must continue this practice. The verses sung may either be the Tiruppaavai or the Tiruvembaavai, according to the faith of the people. Saint Manickavasagar has also composed verses entitled Tiruppalliyezhuchi, or verses for waking up the Lord. The pooja offered in temples before dawn in Maargazhi is known as Tirupakshi. It is obviously an abbreviation or corruption of Tiruppalliyezhuchi.
We should not give up this ancient practice of bathing in the early morning and singing the praise of God. Girls in a locality can join together and go round one or two streets everyday singing the Tiruppaavai or the Tiruvembaavai. They can at least cover about ten houses each day. This practice is intended to rouse the latent spiritual powers in each individual. By reviving this practice, we can derive the blessings of God, for our benefit and for the benefit of society as a whole.
December 3, 1957.