When people got older, they became senile and stopped moving around. They couldn't talk much and their eyesight and hearing deteriorated. At this stage, these people were moved outside the village, to a specific location. A small stone house called "Madhamadhakka Thazhi" (Tamil: மதமதக்கத் தாழி) would be erected by the family members. In Tamil language, "madhamadha" means immobile and "thazhi" means a chamber or vessel. Every evening, a woman from the family would visit this chamber to feed the elderly person. She would also do other household chores like cleaning and lighting an oil lamp. This procedure would go on for several years until the old man/woman dies.
|A prehistoric old age chamber found in Peru, similar to Madhamadhakka Thazhi. Note the very small entrance in front|
|A mudhumakkal thazhi exhibited at Puducherry museum, 2nd Century B.C|
|Mayas of Mexico were buried with their belongings - Seen in Anthropology Museum, Merida|
|A smaller burial urn which is 2 feet tall and one and a half feet wide|
There is yet another theory that very old people who were unable to walk and take care of themselves were buried alive in these urns. According to this theory, these senile people would be given a ritualistic bath and placed in the Mudhumakkal Thazhi. His/Her belongings like plates, cups, jewels and weapons would be placed inside the urn. Then the urn would be carried to a specific location where it would be buried. The old person inside the vessel would basically suffocate to death.
|Mudhumakkal Thazhi found in Thanjavur art gallery - 100 B.C|
What else was found inside these urns? Iron objects and weapons have been found in these vessels, reminding us that Tamils were pioneers in the use of iron at a very early age. Note that the Dravidians invented crucible steel as early as 300 B.C. Earthen jewelry, carved wooden objects, earthen vessels like plates and cups were found inside. Invariably, all these urns had oil lamps placed inside them.
|A collection of burial urns at Puducherry museum|
Why are these urns still intact? It is almost a miracle that most of these earthen pots are found without any cracks or deformation. These urns were carefully baked in kilns and must have been tested for their durability. Some of these urns were found painted in red, ocher and black. Primitive symbols resembling snakes (Naga?) and inscriptions similar to Tamil-Brahmi have been found.
|A huge mudhumakkal thazhi - 6 feet long and 4 feet wide|
The Mudhumakkal Thazhi funeral system was in custom from 3000 B.C till 3rd century A.D. No burial urns from 4th century on-wards have been unearthed. Researchers think that this custom became obsolete around 400 A.D. It is a shame that we know very little about this ancient Tamil tradition. If you know more, please drop a comment below - it will be helpful to all of us.