(This extract is from a Tamil book written by Tamil Thatha, Dr. U. V. Saminathayyar
named, “Yen Charithiram”)
ஆங்கிலத்தில் - பொறியாளர். வ.ரபீந்திரன்; பி.ஏ; பி.இ (ஆனர்சு); ஐ.ஆர்.எஸ்.இ.
In those days, the village school was called “ Thinnai Pallikoodam “. The system
of learning was entirely different. All the boys have to arrive at the school at
5 A.M. itself with their palm leaf (Panai Olai) “chuvadis”. All the chuvadis are
connected to a wooden piece of same size attached by means of a string and tied.
This is called “chuvadi thooku”. As soon as the boys arrive at the school, they
have to hang their chuvadi thooku in the walls and they have to recite the lessons
taught on the previous day loudly, taking turns. The teacher would be inside the
house (the school ) and would be listening to their recitations.
After 6 A.M., all the boys go out to finish their morning duties, bathe in the river
or canal, wear their religious symbols on their forehead and chant the necessary
mantras/ slokas sitting on the river bank. Then they will carry in their clothes
sufficient quantity of clean sand and come to the school. They will remove the sand
already spread on the floor on the previous day and spread the new sand in its place
for writing purposes. Some will write and some will read.
At 9 A.M., they will eat the rice which they have brought along. This rice is called
“Pazhayadhu”. Before eating, the teacher will give each boy a blow with his cane
in his palm. This is probably to remind them that they are in the school and not
in their house.
The teacher will appoint one boy as “monitor”. He is normally a well built boy who
has to control the other boys. It is his duty not only to control but also listen
to the recitations and note the mistakes. Some boys try to earn his good-will by
giving something to eat from their homes.
After noon, the boys will go to their homes for lunch and come back at 3 P.M.. The
classes may extend up to 7 P.M. even.
Every day evening, the teacher will tell each boy the name of either a flower or
a bird, or an animal or a village and he has to remember the name and tell the teacher
correctly the next day. This exercise is to improve the memory power of the boy.
Since the boys have to come to the school as early as 5 A.M., they will be accompanied
by some elders .If they come late, they will get a cane beating on their palm. The
first late arrival will escape with a soft touch. However the subsequent arrivals
will experience the ferocity and frequency of beatings in increasing order. The
boy who got a good beating will probably be the first boy to arrive next day, even
before time. The first boy is called as a “Different One”(Vettran). Sometimes the
joy of the first person may be short lived because already there may be some one
before him lurking in the dark corner who indicates his presence by a cough.
For those boys, sand is the present day slate; palm leaf chuvadi is the book; yezhuthani
is the pen. From what is written in the chuvadi by the teacher, the student will
learn the alphabets first, called as “Nedunkanakku”. Then he will learn numbers.
The chuvadi in which the teacher has written is called the Original Olai or “Chattam”.
The numbers and letters written in the chuvadi are more visible if we apply either
turmeric powder, or charcoal, or Oomathai leaf juice. They also preserve the chuvadi.
Chuvadis are of different sizes. There will be a hole in each chuvadi and a thread
will be inserted into the hole to tie them together. Blank chuvadis will be attached
both in the front and back.
Yezhuthanis are of different types .e.g. stout ones (gundu yezhuthani), pull types
(vaaru yezhuthani), foldable ones (madakku yezhuthani) etc.
For the pull types, there will be a scabbard made up of palm leaf (panai olai).
For the foldable ones, there will be a handle made up of ivory, or horn, or wood.
When a boy begins to start reading a new book (Nool),the process is called “Chuvadi
Thuvakkal”. Before the teacher starts a lesson from the “Nool”, that chuvadi will
be placed before Lord Pillaiyar after applying turmeric and pooja done, to invoke
On that day, the boy will bring a kind of rice called “kaapparisi”, probably pounded
rice (aval) mixed with coconut pieces, jaggery and sesame from his home and it will
be distributed to all the boys. That day will be declared a holiday for the school.
All the boys will be happy not because they are going to start reading a new book
but because they are getting a holiday and the accompanying snacks.
Further, there will be no school on New Moon day, Full Moon day, Ashtami day, and
Pirathamai day. These days are called “Vaavu”, probably derived from the word “Uvaa”
which means New Moon and Full Moon.
Every student will bring daily, one gift article and give it to the teacher. It
can be either a fruit, or pancake or firewood etc. On function days, they will bring
whatever essential things required for the same function in the teacher’s house.
On holidays, they may give money also.
Every month, the tuition fees for the teacher is quarter of a rupee per head .Rich
people may give annual requirement of paddy. On special days, they may give other
donations also. During Navarathiri days, the students will get dressed up, sing
songs, play “Kolattam” etc. The teacher will take them to everybody’s house in the
village and make them sing. Every household may give some donation and all such
income will go to the teacher. This income is called “maanamboo”. The word, “Maha
Nonbu” has changed into this word. With this income of “maanamboo” only, the teachers
are able to conduct weddings in their houses.
The teacher is also called “Kanakkayar”. The village people always behave with respect.
Whatever the teacher does to the boys, will never be questioned by them. Neither
do they feel sorry. On the other hand, mischievous boys are specifically entrusted
to the teacher to be set right.
All the childhood days are spent under the control of teacher. Students will treat
the teachers as if they were gods. They during essential times will also do the
household chores of the teacher.
In school, the students will tremble at the prospect of receiving punishment from
the teacher. Beating with cane is the most common punishment. Sometimes, the boys
are asked to hold a rope tied to a rafter and hang for specified time. This punishment
is called “Kothandam”. Other times, the teacher may ask one boy to climb on the
back of the errant boy and he has to go round. This is called “horse riding”.
The teacher will take pains to teach the boys and improve their memory power. Whatever
fundamental things are required for daily life, the boys will learn in their childhood
days. There are several mathematical tables learnt, namely, Keezh-Voy-Ilakkam, Mel-Voy-Ilakkam,
Kuzhi-Mattru, Nel-Ilakkam. These all would come handy in their later days. There
is one more chuvadi called “Prabhava chuvadi” which is taught to the students. In
that, the names of Tamil years, months, stars, yogams, karanams, ragu kalam, kuzhigai
kalam, yama kandam etc, the names of emperors, islands, continents etc would be
there. The students have to learn them by heart.
In festival days, all the students will go to the temple together. On the 18th day
of “Adi” month, all the old chuvadis which are not required are placed on a decorated
chariot and pulled by the students with much fanfare to the river and left in the
flowing river. On Pillaiyar Chadhurthi day, it is customary to visit seven Pillaiyar
temples. During Sri Jayanthi and Sivarathiri days, the students will sing before
each house in the village and generally spend their times happily.