Sunday, February 12, 2012


Letters and numbers are the two eyes of man. - Thirukkural (392)

Numbers, the oldest and greatest invention by the man kind, are the base for measurements, without which no useful inventions could ever be made. The objective of this post is to think through the representation of measurements, particularly the counting, in ancient tamil culture.

Ancient tamil culture:

Measurements are broadly classified into 7 parts.
  1. Counting (எண்ணல்)
  2. Weight (நிறுத்தல்)
  3. Liter for liquid (முகத்தல்)
  4. Volume for solid (பெய்தல்)
  5. Length (நீட்டல்)
  6. Time (தெறிப்பு)
  7. Comparison (சார்த்தல்)
Let's limit the scope only to counting for this post.

Counting are generally classified into two parts
  • Chitrilakkam - Fractions.
  • Perilakkam - Whole Numbers.
The following shows the names given for the fractions:

The following shows the names given for the whole numbers:

Other measurements include
  • 100 crores is Kumbam ( கும்பம் )
  • 1 lakh crores is Sangam ( சங்கம் )
  • 1 crore crores is Thamarai ( தாமரை )
  • 100 crore crores is Vaaranam ( வாரணம் )
Few other related words are:
  • Infinite is called Mudivili ( முடிவிலி )
  • One without any origin is called Anathi ( அனாதி )
The word Anaathi (அனாதி), which refers God, is the origin of the word Anathai (அனாதை), meaning orphan, implying that God is an orphan.

Also, the names used to represent the numbers, also correspond to other living and non-living entities of the corresponding size. For eg, Nummanal (நுண்மணல்) nice sand, is smaller than Mundiri (முந்திரி ), a cashew. Similarly, Vaaranam (வாரணம்), an elephant, is bigger than Thamarai (தாமரை ), a lotus. This also reflects how people lived closely with the nature.

Additionally, having names for such large numbers evidences their profoundness in mathematics and calculations.

Though in Indian Numeric system, we do have names, such as arab, kharab and padma, in sanskrit, it is very pitiful that we hardly use such names in modern life.

For eg, in 2G scam, the newspaper headline said "Scam of 1.76 lakh crore rupees". No tamil newspaper published "1.76 சங்கம் ரூபாய் ஊழல் " (1.76 sangam rupees scam). Barely any hindi newspaper printed "1.76 शङ्कु रुपया घोटाला" (1.76 Sangu rupees scam).

Our ancestors, who lived a glorified and advanced life, handed over to us a vast knowledge, that are discarded by us in our busy life, which is very unfortunate. Learning from their lives will make our lives better.

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