Here I would like to give a gist of the famous Tamil epic "Silappadhikaram", my most favourite epic. This is essentially for non-Tamil speakers to gain a flavour of the marvellous Tamil literary work.
The title of the work, "Silappadhikaaram", literally translates into English as, "Chapter of the Anklet". It was penned by a Prince(of Chera dynasty, the dynasty that ruled the present day's Kerala for centuries together) turned Jain Saint, by name, Elangovadigal, around 2nd century AD. Elangovadigal abdicated worldly life to belie the predication of an astrologer, who in his father's court predicted that despite being the second son of the ruler, Neduncheralathan, he would only succeed his father and not his elder brother Cheran Senguttuvan, who was believed by all as the heir to the throne.
The following is something very peculiar to Silappadhikaaram:
The epic conveys three universal truths, the story of the epic revolves around three principal characters, it extols three dynasties (The Chera, Choza and Pandya dynasties, the three great dynasties that ruled the then Tamil Nadu), it talks about three cities (Poomphuar, Maduari and Vanji (Vanji is a part of present day's Kerala)) and about three mountains, the epic has three main chapters (known as Kaandangal in Tamil), the epic has been penned in all three facets of Tamil language, namely, prose, poetry and drama. One more beauty of the epic is that eventhough it has been penned by a staunch follower of Jainism, no other deity/religous sentiment has been criticised or abased in it.
The three universal truths that are being conveyed by the epic are:
a) If a ruler doesn't abide by righteousness, then the very act would prove to be a God of Death (known by the name Yaman/Yama in Hindu mythology) for him
b) A woman with high degree of chastity would be worshipped even by the noble
c) Every human being has to face the music for every sin, even if it had been comitted in the ex-birth
In most of the Tamil epics/literary works of those days, the principal character would be a Divine figure and not a layman. On the contrary, in Silappadhikaaram, all three principal characters are laymen. Hence, in Tamil, the epic is referred by the epithet, "Kudimakkal Kaappiyam", which means, "Epic of the masses".
With this much of introduction on the epic and its author, let me start narrating the story of the epic now:
In the city of Poompuhar, which was then ruled by the Choza dynasty, where river Cauvery flows into Bay of Bengal, there lived two reknowned businessmen by name Masaathuvaan and Maanaicken. Masaathuvaan had a son by name Kovalan, the hero of the epic and Maanaicken had a daughter by name Kannagi, the heroin of the epic. When Kovalan attained the age of sixteen, he got married to Kannagi, who was twelve then. Their marriage ceremony was performed to the amazement of the entire town of Poompuhar.
Kovalan and Kannagi lived happily for a while. One fine day, they both went to witness the performance of danseuse Madhavi, who hailed from a Devadasi family (referred to as Kanikaiyar Kulam in Tamil), the third principal character of the epic. Kovalan, apparently seduced by her performance and beauty, deserted innocent Kannagi and remained all the time at Madhavi's quarters and in due course united with her in wedlock. Through Kovalan, Madhavi bore a female child, by name, Manimekalai, christened after the family deity of Kovalan.
Owing to his affairs with Madhavi, Kovalan was least bothered about grief- stricken Kannagi. Seduced Kovalan gradually lost interest in his business also. Chitrapathi, mother of Madhavi, in the name of Kovalan, cunningly deprived Kannagi of all her wealth and heaped the same at her daughter Madhavi's premises.
One fine day, Kovalan went to attend a trade fare along with Madhavi. They had a nice time there and in an exuberant mood Kovalan requested Madhavi to sing a song. Madhavi obliged her spouse's request and sang a song by playing the musical instrument veena. Kovalan started reading between the lines of Madhavi's lyrics and developed a suspicion on her that she being a Kanigai(Devadasi) possessed interest on the Choza King, even after having had married him.
Furious Kovalan then parted with Madhavi and left for Kannagi's place. Grief-stricken Kannagi, became ebullient on seeing Kovalan. Kovalan begged the pardon of Kannagi. But Kannagi by virtue of her high degree of chastity, didn't even consider her spouse's affairs with Madhavi either as an insult or as a disloyal act of Kovalan towards her. With all grace, he was accepted by Kannagi.
Kovalan and Kannagi found themselves deprived of all material wealth except a pair of anklets(called Silambu in Tamil) that were being worn by Kannagi. Since Kovalan's affairs with Madhavi had earned him disgrace amongst the people of Poompuhar, they thought that it would be embarassing for them to continue living there. So, they came up with the decisive decision of earning a living and settling down peacefully in the city of Madurai, the capital of Pandya dynasty. That night itself, they started their voyage to Madurai by walk.
During their voyage, they encountered a female Jain Saint by name Kaundhiadigal. The chastity of Kannagi made the unadulterated Jain Saint to utter the following in praise of Kannagi:
"I, who had not worshipped anyone other than Lord Arugan(The principal deity of Tamil speaking Jains), instantaneously after looking at Kannagi, started worshipping her as a Goddess"
She accompained Kovalan and Kannagi till Madurai, where her hermit was. Also, she left them under the protection of Ayai, a Yadhava woman. Ayai took utmost care of her guests. Kovalan and Kannagi were moved by the hospitality of poor Ayai.
To earn a living in the city of Madurai, Kovalan and Kannagi came up with the idea of pledging one of the anklets of Kannagi. Kannagi happily handed over one of her anklets to Kovalan, who left her at Ayai's premises and went to pledge it at the premises of a gold smith. At that time, one of the anklets of Koperundevi, the Queen of Madurai, which was given to the gold smith for repair, was stolen. When Kovalan went to pledge one of the anklets of Kannagi, he was mistaken for the culprit by the people over there. They then informed the King, Pandiyan Neduncheziyan. The King, who was supposed to make thorough enquiries before rendering his final verdict, instead, ordered his men to behead Kovalan. Consequently, innocent Kovalan was beheaded!
Kannagi, after hearing the news, became furious and bravely stepped into the court of the king and verbally attacked him with rage. She proved to everyone that her husband was innocent by breaking open the sole anklet that she had with her, which comprised of beads of rubies. She demanded the king to break open both the anklets of his queen. He accepted her demand and broke open one of the anklets of the queen which comprised of beads of pearls and when he broke open the another anklet of his queen, to his horror and to everybody's horror in the court, beads of rubies were emerging out of it!!
The King, who was very much reputed for rightousness until then, realised his grave blunder and died of shock and grief. Following the king, the queen also joined the majority. Kannagi, who remained inconsolable even then, by virtue of her high degree of chastity tore off one of her breasts and threw it and set ablaze the entire city of Madurai, where injustice was rendered to her innocent consort.
With untold sorrow and agony, she reached the city of Vanji, where her deceased husband descended from a vehicle from the heaven and took her along with him. Both Kovalan and Kannagi then attained oneness with God.
In this epic,
* The unadulterated female Jain Saint Kaundhiadigal worshipping Kannagi as a Goddess conveys the second aforesaid universal truth that a woman with high degree of chastity would be worshipped even by the noble
* The king rendering his final verdict without even investigating the case conveys the first aforesaid universal truth that if a ruler doesn't abide by righteousness then the very act would prove to be a God of Death for him
* It is said in the epic, that the hero Kovalan in his ex-birth had rendered injustice to a gold smith and as a consequence of it he was rendered injustice in the next birth through a gold smith. This conveys the third aforesaid universal truth.
A temple has been raised for Kannagi in Srilanka by Kayavaghu, the then ruler of Lanka. There is a temple enshrining Kannagi in present day's Kerala. The art gallery established at Poompuhar by the Government of Tamil Nadu narrates the entire story of Silappadhikaaram through sculptures.
This laudable Tamil literary work is being taught at all levels in schools and in colleges for students, who opt to study Tamil as one of the languages. Thus, Saint Illangovadigal by virtue of his work has earned a peerless place in the history of Tamil literature.
* To my respected father, Mr. R. Gopalakrishnan, to whom I owe all my interests and knowledge in my mother tongue Tamil as well as in English
* To my respected Tamil teacher, Ms. C. Ambujam, who first taught me the epic of Silappadhikaaram
* To my respected Tamil professor, Dr. (Mrs.) Padmavathi Vivekanandan, who inculcated in me a profound interest and understanding of the nuances of the epic and other great literary works of Tamil, by virtue of her teaching
* To my colleague cum best friend Ms. Harshita Jaiswal, whose unstinted moral support and constant encouragement made me to become a blogger
* Last but not the least, to my kith and kinand to The Divine Almighty