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4a. The Era of the Thamizh Epics (;lkfkiy kalmf)

4.1. Introduction

During the last two centuries of the post Sangam period several changes took place in the social and political milieu of the Thamizh people. The once powerful PANdiya (pa]fFy) Kings were at a low ebb in their strength while the Pallavas (plflv) in the north and ChEra (Ecr) Kings in the south west were slowly gaining supremacy. There were frequent insurgencies by the ChAlukyAs (caQkfkiyrfkqf) from the northern boundaries.

The changes in the political set up were accompanied by the rise of Buddhism and Jainism. These religious traditions were founded by Gautama Buddha (SiddhArta) and VardhamAna (MahAvIra) respectively in northern India almost three centuries before Christ and were actively supported by the Mauryan Kings (BindusAra and AsOka). People in the south, already weary of the killings and violence in battles, were therefore very receptive to new concepts of peace and tranquillity. Together Buddhism and Jainism seemed to offer the kind of retreat they were looking for, to escape from the vagaries of wars and social evils.

The pitfalls of the traditional VEdhic system which advocated social stratifications based on birth and profession were not without their effects in providing support to other religious orders preaching equality. In effect, the teachings of Buddha, especially compassion and love to all living things, the insistence of virtues (`bmf) and the central doctrine that "one can free oneself from all ill only by refraining from all evils, in thought, word and deed - God or no God" (rAdhAkrishNan) appealed to the people. Similarly the teachings of MahAvIra, namely, non-violence towards man and beast, forbearance, and renunciation found wide acceptance by the society.

The above background is necessary for the appreciation of the tremendous contribution of Buddhist and Jain scholars and monks to Thamizh literary development during the post Sangam period. They were knowledgeable in Sanskrit as well as in arts, mathematics, astronomy and architecture. Thus they were in a position to borrow words and concepts and introduce them judiciously into Thamizh literature thereby enriching it. Indeed they were responsible for launching a new style of Thamizh literature, the epics (narrative poems, (kapfpiygfkqf) which were different from the Sangam classics in their conception and style. For the first time these authors went beyond merely describing human emotions and feelings in an abstract fashion but employed fictional (or real) characters in a well conceived plot incorporating personal and social ramifications. The publication of the twin epics, SilappathikAram (cilpfptikarmf) and MaNimEkalai (m]iEmkAl) marked the commencement of the epic era (kapfpiy kalmf) in Thamizh literature. Three more appeared later and together they came to be known as the Five Great Epics (_mfepRmf kapfpiygfkqf) . The five are SilappathikAram(cilpfptikarmf) MaNimEkalai(m]iEmkAl) , SIvaka chin^thAmaNi (cIvk cinftam]i) , VaLaiyApathi (vAqyapti) , and KuNdala kEsi (K]fdlEkci) . These are outlined in the following song:

cinfta m]iyamf cilpfptika rmfpAdtfta[f
knfta m]iEm kAlp<A[nfta[f - nnfta
vAqya ptitRva[f vaCv{kf kInfta[f
tiAqyat K]fdlEk cikfKmf.
(tiRtft]iAky<la ev]fpa)

4.2. SilappathikAram(cilpfptikarmf)

4.2.1. General

SilappathikAram was written by iLangO atikaL (;qgfEka `Fkqf) , a Jain monk. It contains 3 chapters (p<karfkf ka]fdmf, mTArkf ka]fdmf, vwfcikf ka]fdmf) and a total of 5270 lines. Anyone who has read the original text of this epic could not help marvel at its author, iLangO atikaL (;qgfEka `Fkqf), who was able to maintain the tempo and passions asssociated with human interactions throughout the work. More surprising is his comprehension and handling of purely subjective (`kmf) topics such as love, romance and separation which, only some one directly involved in family life could relate to. Unlike other Thamizh classics, there is less confusion regarding the age of SilappathikAram which is reckoned as the middle of the fifth century. This being so, it is highly creditable that iLangO atikaL had the originality at the time to compose a work which had the literary merit and emotional appeal of contemporary fictions in the world.

4.2.2. Background

It is said that Senkuttuvan (Ecr[f ecgfKdfDv[f), a ChEra King, accompanied by his brother, iLangO (;qgfEka) and his friend, the poet Mathuraik KUlavANikan SAtthanAr (mTArkf Plva]ik[f catft[arf) went to see the scenic beauty of the country side near the river, PEriyARu (EpriyaB) He then heard a story from neighbouring villages of a woman with a single breast who sat down in penance under a vEngai (EvgfAk) tree without food or water for 15 days and then died. Intrigued and moved by the story, ChEran Senkuttuvan yearned to know more about the details. His friend, SAtthanAr, the poet, responded by saying that the name of the woman was KaNNaki worshipped as the Goddess of Chastity (ptfti[itfetyfvmf) in the villages. He narrated the story that led to the tragedy. iLangO atikaL was then asked by the King to write the story of KaNNaki so that her name will be perpetuated for the benefit of mankind.

4.2.3. Story in Brief

KOvalan (Ekavl[f), a prosperous grain merchant in the ChOzha capital of PukAr (p<karf, kaviripfp> mfpdfF[mf) got married to the equally affluent KaNNaki (k]f]ki) and the two lived happily for a while. When the beautiful MAdhavi (matvi) belonging to an unchaste class came to PukAr to give a dance recital in the ChOzha King KarikAlan's (krikal[f) court, KOvalan became infatuated with her beauty, glamour and artistic talents. Ultimately he deserted KaNNaki and moved in with MAdhavi who, from that point on, led a chaste life and even bore his daughter, MaNimEkalai (m]iEmkAl) . KOvalan slowly began to distrust MAdhavi, becoming jealous of her public appearances as an artist and conscious of her adoration by everyone. Having lost his money in the pursuit of happiness with his mistress, KOvalan returned to KaNNaki who welcomed him home. They decided to move to Mathurai, the PANdiyan capital to recover their fortune.

KaNNaki had a pair of anklets (cilmfp<kqf) filled with rubies which she said could be used to start their lives again. In order to sell the anklets KOvalan went to a local goldsmith who had already stolen the Queen's anklets. Seizing the opportunity, the goldsmith informed the King, n^edunchezhiyan(enDwfecziy[f) that KOvalan was the thief. Without proper enquiry KOvalan was committed to death by the King. KaNNaki got infuriated at the news of her husband's death and openly challenged the King's judgement. She proved that her anklets contained rubies while those of the Queen contained only pearls. Realizing his folly the PANdiya King died instantaneously. The Queen also died later. KaNNaki's rage could not yet be stopped. She cut off one of her breasts and threw it at the city cursing it to burn with the exception of brahmins, ascetics, cows, chaste women, old people and children, if her chastity meant anything. The city burned as expected and KaNNaki moved to the ChEra country, sat down under a tree in penance for a fortnight before dying.

4.3. Salient Features of SilappathikAram

4.3.1.1. Equanimity of iLangO atikaL (;qgfEka `Fkqf)

The outstanding feature of SilappathikAram is the equanimity of its author, iLangO atikaL towards religion, society and politics. Though he was a Jain monk, iLangO atikaL did not use the epic to spread the principles of Jainism. Whatever religious inputs he may have made blended nicely with the flow of the story. This is quite unlike the twin epic, MaNimEklai (m]iEmkAl) in which its author, SAtthanAr (catft[arf) used the work to teach Buddhist philosophy.

4.3.1.2. Literary objectives

The objectives of iLangO atikaL were threefold as made abundantly clear by the author himself in the Pathikam (ptikmf) given below : 1) to emphasize that those in power will be punished if they deviate from righteous principles, 2) to hail the nobility of chastity in women and 3) the inevitability of the effects of wrong doings in the previous birth (UzfviA[). The last was perhaps based on his Jain background.

`rciylf piAztfEtarfkf kbgfPbfbavT\umf
uArcalf ptfti[ikf KyrfnfEta ErtftLmf
UzfviA[ y<RtfTvnf T\dfDmf '[fpT\umf
VzfviA[cf cilmfp< kar] makcf
cilpfpti karmf '[f{mf epyralf.
ptikmf, 55 - 59.

4.3.1.3. Ordinary folks as heroes and heroines

At a time when it was customary to make the King or some other patron as the hero, iLangO atikaL had the courage to make ordinary folks the key figures in his drama. In addition to the main characters, he employed two more individuals to the cast. The first was a woman ascetic, Kavunthi (kv<nfti) atikaL, who, every now and then, reiterated the principles of righteousness. The other was a learned brahmin, MAdalan, (madl[f, madl mAbEya[f) to interpreted the traits attributed to each character in the proper perspective with respect to social and religious values.

4.3.1.4. Fine arts in SilappathikAram

The tactics adopted by iLangO atikaL in imparting the values of virtue (`bmf) to the common folks was different from that followed by ThiruvaLLuvar (tiRvqfQvrf) who just gave all the maxims pertaining to life in a nutshell in the couplet format. iLangO atikaL, on the other hand, took up two moral principles, chastity (kbfp<) and virtue (`bmf) and incorporated them into a theatrical style episode so that everyone in the society will get the message.

This approach further enabled him to describe the nature of fine arts in vogue at the time in different parts of the three Thamizh Kingdoms. iLangO atikaL exploited the musical (;Ac) and dancing (nadfFymf) talents of MAdhavi to describe the high forms of entertainment staged in royal courts; he used the villagers themselves to portray the folk songs and dances (PtfT) prevalent in the different habitats (tiA]) .

These folk songs were described in the following sections: indhiravizhavUreduttha kAthai (;nftirvizv> erDtft kaAt) for marutham, kAnalvari (ka[lfvri) for n^eithal, vEttuvavari (EvdfDvvri) for pAlai, Aycchiyar kuravai (~yfcfciyrf KrAv) for mullai and kunRak kuravai (K[fbkfKrAv) for kuRinji. The following song in Aycchiyar kuravai (~yfcfciyrf KrAv) is popular in carnatic music circles and is sung in praise of ThirumAl (tiRmalf) and his earthly manifestations (`vtargfkqf) by the milk maids:

YMv<lKmf :rFya[f MAbnirmfpa vAkMFytf
taviy EcvFEcpfptf tmfpieyaDgf ka[fEpanfT
Ecavr}mf EparfmFytf etalflilgfAk kdfdzitft
Ecvk[f cIrf Ekqat ecviey[f[ ecviEy
tiRmalfcIrf Ekqat ecviey[f[ ecviEy.
mTArkfka]fdmf 17, pdrfkfAkpf prvlf 1-15.

Coupled with the poetic skills of iLangO atikaL in capturing human emotions faithfully, SilappathikAram became a jewel in the crown of Thamizh literature. The tribute by BhArathiyAr (partiyarf) that SilappathikAram touches deep into the heart (enwfAc `qfQmf cilpfptikarmf - partiyarf) summarizes the sentiments in a single sentence. Thus the combination of literary excellence (;ylf), music (;Ac), and stage (nadkmf) in SilappathikAram marked the beginning of the concept of Mutthamiz (Mtftmizf).

4.3.1.5. Women's status and value of chastity

Though KOvalan is supposed to be the hero, the author in his unique style has elevated the two women characters, KaNNaki and MAdhavi to the highest status in the eyes of the society for ever. Whereas KaNNaki's exaltation as the Goddess of chastity (ptfti[itfetyfvmf)remains unquestionable, the repentence and renunciation of MAdhavi, after realizing her mistakes made her equally noble and virtuous. The moral that comes out is that it is one's actions, and not birth, which are important.

4.3.1.6. Story spread out in the three Thamizh Kingdoms

Finally the author has spread out his play so that it took place in all the three Thamizh Kingdoms. The story began in the ChOzha (Ecaz) Kingdom where the characters spent the early parts of their lives; the plot and high drama took place in the PANdiya (pa]fFy) Kingdom; the final episode occurred in the ChEra (Ecr) Kingdom. Though iLangO atikaL was of royal descent by birth and a Jain monk by persuasion, his love and descriptions of the country side of the three Thamizh Kingdoms would show his cosmopolitan outlook and his desire for peace. As history had shown later, the Thamizh Kings did not seem to have learnt their lesson.

4.4. Selected quotes from SilappathikAram

A few passages from SilappathikAram are given below to illustrate some of the conclusions made in the preceding section.

4.4.1. Religious Equanimity

iLangO atikaL, in his invocation of SilappathikAram, followed the example of ThiruvaLLuvar and refrained from paying homage to personal Gods and deities of native habitats. His secular religious attitudes become evident at the beginning itself when he praises Nature for her divine gifts of abundant sunshine and timely rains.This is followed by his praise of PUmPukAr (p> mfp<karf) , the capital of the ChOza Kingdom.

tigfkAqpf EpabfBTnf tifgfkAqpf EpabfBTmf
ekagfklrftarfcf ec[f[i Kqirfev]f KAdEpa[fbivf
vgfk]f ulkqitftla[f.
wayiB EpabfBTmf wayiB EpabfBTmf
kaviri nad[f tikiriEpabf epabfEkadfD
EmR vlnftirit la[f.
mamAz EpabfBTmf mamAz EpabfBTmf
namnIrf Evli y<lkibf kv[qi Epalf
Emlfni[fB ta[f Crtfft la[f.
p> mfp<karf EpabfBTmf p> mfp<karf EpabfBTmf
vIgfKnIrf Evli y<lkibf kv[fKltfEta
Edagfkipf prnfetaZk la[f.
cilmfp< ptikmf, 1-12.

4.4.2. Fine Arts in SilappathikAram

Besides its emphasis on chastity and other moral codes, SilappathikAram is a veritable treasure of the art and culture of the Thamizh people. When iLangO atikaL, the Jain monk, introduces MAdhavi and her dancing debut in the ChOza capital of PukAr (`bgfEkbfB kaAt), he displays an incredible comprehension of the technicalities of Thamizh music and dance. His fascinating accounts of the details of the fine arts will be of enormous interest to music lovers of today who will be pleasantly surprised to find that the musical systems in the fifth century had features similar to the ones in vogue today in Carnatic music. The description of the harp (yazf), the accompaniments used, their specific arrangements on the stage and the characteristics of the paN (;rakmf) are outlined in the following song.

:Erzf etaDtft ecmfMAbkffEkqfviyi[f
OErzf paAl niBtftlf Ev]fF
v[fAmyibf kidnft tar pakMmf
em[fAmyibf kidnft Krli[f pakMmf
emyfkfkiAq nrmfpibf AkkfkiAq ekaqfqkf
AkkfkiAq eyazinft pakMmf epabfp<Adtf
tqratf tarmf viqrikfK :tfTkf
kiAqvzipfpdfd[ qagfEk kiAqy<nf
t[fkiAq `ziv< k]f dv<qfvyibf Ecr
"A[ mkqiRgf kiAqvzicf Ecr
EmlT uAzyiqi kIzT AkkfkiAq
vmfp<B mrpibf ecmfpaAl yayT
;Bti yati yak ~gfkiAv
EpBMAb vnft epbfbiyi[f nIgfkaT
pDmAl ecvfvzi pkrRmf paAley[kf
`rgfEkbfB kaAt, 70-84.

Fascinating accounts of the details of the musical systems are also given in Aycchiyar Kuravai (~yfcfciyrf KrAv) where, MAthuri (maTri) , under whose protection KOvalan and KaNNaki were staying prior to their departure to Mathurai, arranges a Kuravaik kUtthu (KrAvkfPtfT) , a folk dance in praise of ThirumAl. MAthuri instructs one of her assistants to sing mullait thImpANi (MlfAltftImfpa]i) in the traditional style (eta[fBpDMAbyalf) . This tune ,rAgam, (;rakmf = p]f) ) is presently known as MOhanam (Emak[m) .

The ancient Thamizh music system described in SilappathikAram is called vattap pAlai (vdfdpfpaAl) in which there are 12 KOvais (EkaAv = Crmf) . The 12 kOvais, made up of the 5 in mullait thImpANi and 7 represented by the first 7 long vowels: (~, :, U, ", _, O, Oq '{mf ;vfEvZf 'ZtfTmf "ziAckfKriy) (tivakrmf) are arranged like the 12 planets to yield the panniru vIdu (p[f[iR vID, sfvr sfta[mf) . The 7 svarams used are kural (Krlf=xdfcmf, thuttham(Ttftmf=;dpmf) , kaikkiLai (AkkfkiAq = kanftarmf) , uzhai (uAz = mtftimmf), iLi (;qi = pwfcmmf) , viLari (viqri = TAvtmf) and thAram (tarmf = nidatmf) and can be represented by the alphabets s r g m p d n as described below:
KrEl, Ttftmf, AkkfkiAq, uAzEy
;qiEy, viqri, tarmf '[fbiAv
'ZvAk ;AckfKmf 'yfTmf epyEr
cvfv<mf rivfv<mf kvfv<mf mvfv<mf
pvfv<mf tvfv<mf nivfv<mf '[fbiAv
"Zmf `vbfbi[f 'ZtfEt ~Kmf
(tivakrmf)

The rAgams (p]f) are derived by arranging the 12 kOvais (EkaAv) in a specified structure in the ascending and descending scale. Thus from the vattap pAlai (vdfdpfpaAl) 4 great paNs (p]f) were obtained viz., pAlai yAz (paAlyazf) , kuRinji yAz (Kbiwfciyazf) , marutha yAz (mRtyazf) , and n^eithal yAz (enyftlfyazf) . In other words the paNs (p]f) are the fore runners of the current ragams, tunes, (;rakgfkqf) . The seven scales derived from pAlai yAz (paAlyazf) are SempAlai (ecmfpaAl) =HarikAmbhoji, Padumalaip pAlai (pDmAlpfpaAl) =Natabharivi, SevvazhippAlai (ecvfvzipfpaAl) = ThOdi with 2 ma's, ArumpAlai (`RmfpaAl) = SankarAbaraNam, KOdippAlai (EkaFpfpaAl) =Karaharapriya, ViLarippAlai (viqripfpaAl) =ThOdi and MElsempAlai (EmlfecmfpaAl) = KalyANi.

Details are also given as to how one rAgam can generate other rAgams by a process of shift in the modulation of the tonic (Krlftirip< ). Thus the thuttham of the rAgam mullait thImpANi (Emak[mf) would yield madymAvathi (mtftimavti) , the kaikkiLai would yield hindOLam (hinfEtaqmf) , iLi would give suddhasAvEri (Ctft caEvri) and thAram would yield udayaravic chandrika (uty rvicfcnftirika).

etaZviAd "B KbitfT vqrftftarf
'Zvriqgf EkaAt yarf
'[fBt[f mkAqEnakfkitf
eta[fBpD MAbyalf niBtfti
;AdMT mkqivrfkfKpf
pAdtfTkfEkadf epyriDvaqf
KdMtlf ;dMAb yakf Krlf Ttftmf
AkkfkiAq uAz;qi viqri tarem[
viritR p>gfKzlf Ev]fFy epyEr
ekalfAlpf p<[tfTkf KRnfetacitftabf paDTmf
MlfAltftImf pa]iey[f$qf.
~yfcfciyrf KrAv

The discussion into musical system prevalent in the SilappathikAram period was necessary to emphasize the depth and originality of Thamizh authors in the field of music and dance almost 1500 years ago. In these days of narrow specialization, the holistic approach to literature adopted by iLangO atikaL and others is incredible indeed. Modern scholars with a better understanding and training in fine arts would certainly find more revealing information in these Thamizh texts about many other facets of Thamizh literature and culture.

4.4.3. Religous Festivals

ilangO atikaL described the festivities in PukAr with utmost deference to the religious institutions and local traditions. The lines below narrate the kinds of religious activities that were taKing place in various temples devoted to Sivan (pibva yakfAkpf epriEya[f), Murugan (`BMkcfecvfEvqf) , Bala dEva (valfvAq Em[i valiEya[f) , ThirumAl (nIlEm[i enFEya[f) and indhiran (maAlev]f KAd m[f[v[f) . In these temples people were performing sacred rituals (Evqfvikqf, tIMAb) according to the regulations prescribed in the four vEdhAs (Evtgfkqf) by Piraman pirm[f.

pibva yakfAkpf epriEya[f EkayiLmf
`BMkcf ecvfEvqf `]itikzf EkayiLmf
valfvAq Em[i valiEya[f EkayiLmf
maAl ev]fKAd m[f[v[f EkayiLmf
maMT Mrlfv[f vayfAmyi[f vza`
na[fMAb mrpi[f tIMAb eyaRpalf
;nftirvizv> erDtft kaAt 169- 175

TO CHAPTER 4b


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