Social Scientist. v 21, no. 244-46 (Sept-Nov 1993) p. 113.

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Women and Farm Work in Tamil Folk Songs

Women live like bats or owls, Labour like beasts and die like worms ...

Margaret of Newcastle, 1660, England.

Work songs form a major part of the range of folk songs which come to us from South India. These work songs were a natural outcome of work situations. There is for instance a certain—inbuilt rhythm in seed sowing, cotton picking and harvesting since all these are group activities and call for concerted action and smooth movement. A characteristic feature of all these songs is that they are punctuated by words like elelo elelo and aiyyasa. Even now in Tamil Nadu persons engaged in lifting very heavy loads use the words in a rhythmic manner. It is therefore apparent that the purpose of these words is to alleviate the tedium of labour and provide the necessary spur to heavy manual work. Its material use is not to deny that folk music adopts specific patterns of rhythm and symmetry in keeping with the aesthetic conceptions and psyche of a particular society.

This in fact would be specially true of the irrigation songs called etra padalgal. Another category of songs called temmangu consist of dialogues between the men and women working in the field and engaged in the lifting of water. These songs relate to the irrigation of the fields through the Persian wheel which is rotated by women walking up and down the narrow plank. These irrigation songs are punctuated by the rhythm of the brickets being drawn up. For example a woman employed at the Persian wheel sings:

If I become an old hag

Where is the fragrance [in me?]

Fbr him there will be one without the home

and one within

Forty six, forty seven, forty eight [indicating the bucket count]

(Vanamamalai, 1964: 417)

Research Fellow, Indian Instt. of Advanced Studies, Shimla.

Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 9-11, September-November 1993

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