Practice Corner #6

Q: Before we start practicing the new letters we've learned lately, why don't we learn a few more symbols? 


Don't worry, these are easy. Actually, each symbol is just two letters that aren't read the way you may expect, so that's all you have to know! Let me show you these two examples, to help explain what I'm saying:

/mga/- This is actually pronounced like the "ng" in "mango," or, if you're from the Philippines, it's pronounced exactly like the "ngg" in "mangga." The first Malayalam word that comes to mind that uses this symbol, for me, is the written and colloquial word /amguli/. Listen! Personally, I would translate this word as the "pinky finger," the smallest finger of the hand.

X /npa/- This is a strange letter, because there is another Malayalam letter which makes the same sound! This letter is normally read exactly like the other letter O /mba/. The written and colloquial word X /munpE/ (but pronounced /mumbE/, if you know what I mean...) means "before," but is used AFTER the noun. Listen! For example, "before lunch" = X /uuNE munpE/.

Now, for some practice! (Be proud of yourself! You've already learned 104 symbols in the Malayalam language!!!)

How about we have a little bit of fun today? Let's learn some riddles in Malayalam!!! By the way, these really are originally from Kerala, and they have their own unique style. Malayalee riddles talk about common things you observe in Kerala, but they range from nice, humble jokes to somewhat offensive!!

But again, don't worry! The last thing I would want to do is post anything offensive on this site!!! Before we start our exercise, READ THESE FEW NOTES BELOW ABOUT MALAYALAM RIDDLES CAREFULLY:

In order to think of what the solution to a Malayalam riddle may be, you may want to consider the environment in Kerala. It's very tropical--think Central America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, African rainforests, etc.!

Also, the format of a Malayalam riddle can be confusing. It consists of a single statement, and somehow it's assumed that you know what the QUESTION in the riddle is! I will make sure to let you know what the question is, using my translation!!

Okay, here goes!

1. AGX ĿI, X . Listen! (There's a tree which can be used to tie up an elephant, but it has no leaves that can wrap around a cumin seed! What is this mysterious tree?!?!)

2. OZ JG, ޵OZ {JG. Listen! (When it comes, it's black; when it goes, it's white. What is the "it" in this riddle?)

3. K KX K . Listen! (What came behind moved to the front. What's the thing that was at first behind and then at the front?)


Before I give you the answers to the riddle, how about a simpler exercise, dealing only with pronunciation? Below are ten sentences in Malayalam with translations and explanations. They all involve a character in an old, Buddhist story:

1. X N UAJW ߢصX J BZ ߺ, I ߿AK. Listen!                                                   

1. "Before this, in our school, Ahimsakan read many books, so he was smart." Ahimsakan, or "The Non-Violent One," is a boy that, according to the story, was destined to be a robber menacing the people. In the hope that this prediction was incorrect, his father named him thus and had him well-educated. Indeed, Ahimsakan was very devoted to learning from an early age, and later asked to go to a renowned center of learning hundreds of miles away, until he reached an ashram (simple hut where a sage lives with his family with a yard suitable for meditation) there and became a sage's disciple. The sage noted how quickly Ahimsakan learned compared to his other students.

2. ߢصL K? Listen!     

2. "Why is Ahimsakan killing?" The other students were jealous and decided to make Ahimsakan leave the ashram. So as the sage approached the students, they started talking about how Ahimsakan was so smart that the sage's wife thinks he's smarter than her husband! The sage then became jealous, not wanting a disciple of his to be smarter than him, and decided to make him an outcaste. So he very quietly entered the room of his hut where his wife and Ahimsakan were discussing knowledge and stood there for a while, then scolded Ahimsakan mercilessly for "not acknowledging my presence for all this time" and banished him from the ashram. When he told his parents that his teacher had banished him out of anger, they automatically assumed he had angered the sage (rather than his intelligence!) and banished him from his own home as well. Ahimsakan then wandered from town to town, desperately looking for a job, when he came across a highway robber (and nearly killed him). Suddenly, he decided to become a highway robber himself so he could make a living AND take revenge on the rich for not offering him a job. Since then, he was well-known as a robber harassing merchants--killing men, cows and all--on one particular road, then cutting off his victims' pinky fingers and making a necklace out of them (as a sort of trophy), so people now called him Angulimalan--He Who Wears A Necklace Of Little Fingers.

3. CAI, U FAI. Listen!

3. "It isn't for gold or for a sack of money [that he's killing people]." (See Explanation #2)

4. U ߵZAI. Listen!

4. "It's for the pinky fingers of the rich." (See Explanation #2)

5. O տA ߺ I. Listen!

5. "Even the Pampa River contains the blood of those who died in the North." I just made this up; it isn't a part of the story at all. The Pampa River (though, again, it has nothing to do with the central story!) is one of Kerala's main rivers.

6. f I, VߵZ! I K آ A? Listen!

6. "But there are the saptarshis! So today might be a good day, right?" This has nothing to do with the story either. The saptarshis, literally "seven sages," are seven (planets?) that were apparently created to revolve around a king named Trishanku, but that's another story... 

7. ! A! F I; i I I; I J I. Listen!

7. "That's right! Look! There are five fingers on one hand; Buddha has two hands; therefore, he has ten fingers." Angulimalan became such a menace that, even when the king from his hometown sent a huge army to capture him, Angulimalan still managed to kill all who didn't successfully run for their lives! The only solution was for no one to travel that one road near which Angulimalan lay in wait. Surely enough, Angulimalan was praying for more pinky fingers--when suddenly, he spotted a monk. When he begged him to stop, the monk replied that, mentally, he was at rest, and he told Angulimalan that he would soon find peace of mind, "my child." Angulimalan started to be confused about this weird monk and decided to get to the point, explaining that he wanted the monk's little fingers (and his life in the process), not his preaching! The monk only replied by inviting him to take his fingers and his life if it would make him happy. Poor Angulimalan was so overwhelmed by the kindness of the monk--who was actually Lord Buddha--that he knelt before him, promised never to kill anyone again, and became a monk himself. When the king (the one who sent the army) found out about Angulimalan becoming a monk, he was impressed that he could not capture Angulimalan even with a large army, but "you have won over him without raising a finger, Holy One." 

8. MZ X ia ͵. Listen!

8. "Now Angulimalan is a devotee of Buddha." Angulimalan became a very good, devoted monk, listening to all of Buddha's speeches, nursing the sick until he was absolutely sure they were OK, etc. He would also accompany Buddha when he was going for a walk.

9. X IGߺ. Listen!

9. "The woman's mother rejoiced on seeing the baby." Very flowery, poetic Malayalam. Anyway, this is what it has to do with the story: One day, Angulimalan went to town to beg for rice (as priests/monks did back then), and he came across a little boy who was very generous. Impressed, Angulimalan blessed him and his parents--only to hear that the poor boy's father was killed by Angulimalan! Poor Angulimalan suffered a depression for a while, but Buddha knew he would soon be fine. One day, when lord and devotee were taking a walk, they found a pregnant woman in great pain and her mother in distress. When Angulimalan asked Buddha to help the woman, Buddha replied that Angulimalan should admit his past deeds and then end with something like, "If what I say is true, let this woman get well." Reluctantly, Angulimalan did so, and the baby was successfully born and blessed by both lord and devotee. 

Epilogue: Thus, Buddha convinced Angulimalan that he no longer needed him. After expressing his gratitude to Lord Buddha, Angulimalan decided to go back to his hometown. Unfortunately, the king had not told his people that Angulimalan was now a monk, so when people saw him, they automatically thought it was the same old Angulimalan disguised as a monk! Many people stayed inside their homes, but a mob of young men was determined to kill him once and for all. Innocent Angulimalan was only kissing a child on the cheek out of kindheartedness when the mob suddenly threw stones at him and then severely beat him; yet, he didn't do the slightest thing to defend himself. Eventually, he crawled back to Lord Buddha with life-threatening wounds. Buddha asked him how he felt about these people beating him up, and he only responded that he felt they were just doing to him what he had done to them, and that he was at peace with the world. Then he breathed his last. 

Here are the answers to each riddle:

1. { Listen! A tamarind tree; a rather common tree in Kerala. I suppose it's pretty strong, but its leaves are certainly not very big!!

2. Listen! When you first appear with hair (when it "comes"), it's always black (at least in the case of most Indians!!!), but as you get older, you lose hair, and that hair is most likely white!

3. Listen! When you are little and losing teeth, the newer tooth starts to grow behind the older one. Once the older one is removed, the newer tooth moves...well, you know!


If you want a bit more practice, how about going back and seeing the words in the other lessons?

Or you can go to Part Two of the Explanation of Sisirakala or, if you prefer to just get on with the lessons, Lesson #7!