Temple Bell rings notes of Tamil-Maori ties

As Diwali or Deepawali, India’s Festival of Lights gains popularity in New Zealand, it would provide Maoris and Hindus an opportunity to understand each other’s culture and heritage and promote a tighter bond between the two communities.

It would be interesting to find out if there was any interaction between Maoris and Indians before the advent of the Europeans in New Zealand.

Maoris visiting Temples and Indians visiting the Marae find many cultural similarities but so far, no one has tried to find out the reasons for such alikeness.

Temple Bell in Te Papa

However, visitors to Te Papa, New Zealand’s National Museum in Wellington, would be amused to see a ‘Temple Bell,” which is a typical feature of Temples in Tamil Nadu. The Bell (166 mm in height and 153 mm in diameter) has an inscription (‘Alaya Mani’ or ‘Temple Bell’) identified as an ancient classical character but the period to which it belongs has defied prediction.

William Colenso, a 19th Century Cornish Christian Missionary to New Zealand, found the Bell in 1837 in a Maori village in Whangarei. He was surprised to discover that the Bell was used as a cooking utensil. He understood the value of the Bell and hence donated it to the Dominion Museum in 1890. Te Papa acquired it later.

November 7, 2011 will mark the 200th Birthday of Colenso.

A number of theories surround the Bell, the most popular of which is that it was found in a wrecked ship and somehow made it to Whangarei. According to another theory, Spanish traders carried it to New Zealand, reaching Maori hands.

However, these are based on the European Centric theory.

It is assumed that Europeans discovered New Zealand with the Maoris coming first, while the former facilitated interaction between the Asians and Maoris.

Ties with Cholas

But Indian history, which is more ancient, authentic and far reaching, speaks of cultural interaction between the sea-faring Tamilians and the “Polynesian Maoris” long before the latter’s arrival in New Zealand.

In his scholarly book, ‘Origin and Spread of the Tamils,’ V R Ramachandra Dikshitar states that the Chola Kings of Tamil Nadu had cultural ties with Polynesian Maoris.

This has historical backing as Polynesians started migrating from Taiwan to South East Asia, Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand, with many of them also settling down in Samoa, Easter and Cook Islands.

It is not hard to imagine that Tamilians, with better understanding of the sea routes (long before their European successors) had cultural ties with these regions.

British writer and journalist Graham Hancock, an authority on ancient civilisations, said that the seaport city of ‘Poompuhar’ had trade relations with the Polynesians more than 2000 years ago.

It has been historically proved that Tamilians were also engaged in sea trade with Romans, Arabs, Persians and Chinese.

In view of the above, it would be hardly surprising that Tamilians had commercial and social interaction with the Maoris, thus explaining the presence of the Bell.

It will be a great step forward if more historical research is centred on finding concrete cultural interaction between Maoris and Tamilians. Such studies will also help in establishing the deep-rooted ties that existed between the two cultures and promoting future ties.

Balaji Chandarmohan, who is a Journalism graduate from the Waikato University, is our Correspondent based in New Delhi, India. Email: mohanbalaji2003@gmail.com

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