Monday, 2 June 2014

Ancient Tamil Units

1 Neettal Azhavu (Length)



ellu (til/sesame)8 siRu-kadagu (mustard)
nellu (rice grain)8 ellu
viral 8 nellu (1.9444 cm)
saaN 12 viral (23.3333 cm)
(distance from tip of thumb finger to tip of little finger)
muzham 2 saaN (46.6666 cm)
(distance from elbow to tip of middle finger)
kajam 2 muzham
paagam 2 kajam
sangili (chain) 22 kajam
furlong 220 kajam
kilo metre 5 furlong
mile 8 furlong




2 Niraththal Azhavu (Weights/Balance)



Gold Weights


kunRimaNi weight of 4 nellu (rice grain)
kazhanchu 10 kunRimaNi
sovereign/pawan1.5 kazhanchu (8 grams)






Grain and Fluid VolumeMoogathal Azhavu (Volume)


sittigai a pinch
sevidu 360 nellu (rice grain)
aazhaakku 5 sevidu
uzhakku 2 aazhaakku
uri 2 uzhakku
padi 2 uri
marakkaal (kuRuNi) 8 padi
pothi (mootai) 120 padi
Kottai 21 marakkaal




3 Parapa Azhavu (Area)



kuzhi 576 sq. ft
marakkal vedaipaadu8 cent; area required to sow 8 padi
rice grain
acre 100 cents = 12.5 marakkal vedaipaadu
acre 300 kuzhi
kaani 100 kuzhi = 132 cent
veli 7 kaani




4 Fractions

These small fractions, in the table below, were used by ancient stone sculptors of south India.



mukkaal 3 4
arai/paadhi 1 2
kaal 1 4
arai-kaal 1 8
veesam (or maakaani) 1 16 (one Aana in currency)
mundru veesam 3 16
oru maa 1 20
iru maa 1 10
mundru maa 3 20
naal maa 1 5
arai veesam 1 32
arai maa 1 40
kaal veesam 1 64
mukkaal veesam 3 64
kaani 1 80
mukkaani 3 80
arai-kaani 1 160
munthiri 1 320
keel-munthiri 1 102400 = 1 (320)2
immi 1 2150400 = 1 21×(320)2
mummi 1 23654400 = 1 11×2150400
aNu 1 165580800 = 1 7×23654400
kuNam 1 1490227200 = 1 9×165580800
panDam 1 7451136000 = 1 5×1490227200
pAgam 1 44706816000 = 1 6×7451136000
vinDam 1 312947712000 = 1 7×44706816000
naga-vinDam 1 5320111104000 = 1 17×312947712000
sinDai 1 74481555456000 = 1 14×5320111104000
kathirmunai 1 489631109120000
kuralvalaippadi 1 9585244364800000
veLLam 1 575114661888000000
nuN-maNal 1 100×575114661888000000
Therthukkal 1 2323824530227200000000






Till recently, the sale and purchase of land used the decimal form a.b.c in kaani units which is equal to (132 × a) + (8.25 × b) + (0.515625 × c) cents. The decimal form is in base 16. In other words, both b and c takes value between 0 and 15 because 8.25 × 16 = 132 and 0.515625 × 16 = 8.25. For instance, to represent 132 cents, they write 1.0.0 kaani. Similarly, 0.4.0 represented 33 cents. So, when poet Bharathiyar asked “kaani niLam Vendum, parasakthi!” (Oh Lord! give me one kaani land) did he has ask for 132 cents. Probably, not! He probably meant the fraction 180 of the smallest saleable land that existed during his time.

5 War Batallion

The batallion of an army had measurements. In mahabharat, there is a mention that Arjun destroyed 8 akkroni batallions in a single day — the day after his son Abhimanyu was killed in war– while trying to locate Jayadharth before sunset. One akkroni batallion must have had 24300 entities. An entity refers to one of these: a Chariot, an elephant, a horse or one foot soldier. A paththi is a group containing one Chariot, one elephant, three horses and 5 foot soldiers (10 entities). Three paththi makes one kulmam (30 entites). Three kulmam made one kaNam (90 entities). Three kaNam made one bhagini (270 entities). Three bhagini made one kridalai (810 entities) and three kridalai made one samu (2430 entities). Ten samu made one akkroni. This means Arjun killed 1, 94, 400 entities. Was it possible? What was the population then?