4b.The Era of Thamizh Epics

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4.4.4. KAnal vari (ka[lfvri)

The KAnal vari (ka[lf vri) sung by KOvalan and MAdhavi alternatively during the sea festival in PukAr lead to misunderstanding between them. Already suffering from an inferiority complex of MAdhavi's public adoration, KOvalan misunderstood the deep emotion expressed in her lyrics for her love towards someone else and left the shore abruptly without MAdhavi. The frustrations of KOvalan as he left the shore and the return of MAdhavi to her own house, alone and dejected, are described below:

ka[lfvri ya[fpadtf tae[a[fbi[fEmlf m[mfAvtfT
maypfepayf plPdfD maytftaqf paF[aqf '[
yaziAcEmlf AvtfTtft[f UzfviA[vnfT uRtfTtakali[f
uvv< bfb tigfkqf MktftaAqkf kvv<kfAk ewkizinft[[ayfpf
epaZtIgfKkf kzinfttakli[f 'ZTmf'[fB ude[zaT
"vlaqrf ud[fVzftrkf Ekavl[fta[f Epa[pi[f[rftf
tatvizf mlrfcfEcaAl OAt~ytfT oAlyvitfTkf
Akybfb enwfci[qayf Avytfti{qf p<kfKkf
katl{d[f ;[fbiEy matvit[f mA[p<kfkaqf.
ka[lfvri 52-61.
(uvv< - MZmti. kvv<kfAk ewkizinft[[ayf= Akkqalf tZvamlf)

Besides packing these lines with deep emotions associated with the separation of lovers, iLangO atikaL, in his own inimitable style absolved MAdhavi of any wrong doing by comparing her face to the full moon and ascribed the whole episode to fate.

4.4.5. KaNNaki's Outstanding Qualities (k]f]kiyi[f nbfK]gfkqf)

When KOvalan returned to KaNNaki he was repenting profusely for his bad behaviour and for forsaking her and his parents. Words of admiration were pouring out of his heart for KaNNaki's unequivocal and gracious acceptance of his apologies with grace and for her unhesitating approval of his suggestion to leave PukAr and go to Mathurai. Instead of being critical, KaNNaki said that thanks to his return she had now regained the opportunity of alms giving to virtuous people, of hospitality to brahmins, and of service to ascetics. She also pointed out that his parents gave her so much support during his absence that she felt no ill feeling towards anyone. In the following lines, iLangO atikaL made use of this opportunity to express the outstanding qualities of a housewife through KaNNaki's words:

;RMT Krvrf "vLmf piAztfEt[f
ciBMTkf KAbvikfKcf ciBAm y<mf ecyfEt[f
vZev{mf paEr[f mankrf mRgfkI]fD
'Zek[ 'Znftayf '[fecyf tA[ '[
`bEvarfkfK `qitftLmf `nft]rf OmfpLmf
TbEvarfkfK 'tirftLmf etalfElarf cibpfpi[f
viRnfettirf EkadLmf ;znft '[fA[Nmf
epRmkqf t[fe[aDmf epRmfepyrftf tAltftaqf
m[fepRwf cibpfpi[f manitikfkizv[f
MnfAt nilfla M[iviknft[[a
`bfp<qwf cibnftagfK `R]femaziyAq;
'bfparadfd ya[f `ktfT oqitft
Enay<mf T[fpMmf enaFvT EpaLmf '[f...
ekaAlkfkqkfkaAt 67-79.

(Krvrf= epbfE$rf. vZ= tvB. M[iv< ;knft[[f ~= evBpfp< nIgfkiE[[ak)

4.4.6. Unchaste Women (prtfAtyrf, k]iAkyrf)

One of the controversial topics of discussion in Thamizh literature is the reference to unchaste women (prtfAtyrf) from very early periods. Surprisingly, TholkAppiar included women of unchaste character in the list of those eligible for clandestine love. (kqviylf)

katbf prtfAtyrf kamkf kiztftiyrf
pi[fMAb vTAvpf epRgfKlkf kiztftiey[fB
`[f[vrf uriyrf ;Av yir]fdbfKmf.
katbf prtfAtyrf kqvibf Kriyrf.
etalfkapfpiymfff. epaRqf 427-428.

Even the pangs of separation from unchaste women have been described by TholkAppiar (epaRqf, N\bfpa 553) . Whether he did so to formalize existing social conditions in a realistic manner or whether he wanted to justify their place in society based on inherent human weakness is not clear. ThiruvaLLuvar allotted one chapter exclusively on unchaste women (vArvi[f mkqirf) despising their life and hoped that his ethical codes will be adhered to. One example of his disparaging remarks is given below:

py[fB\kfkipf p]fp<ArkfKmf p]fpi[f mkqirf
ny[fB\kfki nqfqa vidlf.
Kbqf 912.

Who weigh the gain, and utter virtuous words with vicious heart,
Weighing such women's worth, from their society depart

iLangO atikaL also had a low opinion on unchaste women. In his words, the life of unchaste women should be regarded as low, regardless of how noble, learned and highly knowledgeable on sex matters one is:

EmElarayi{mf N\Elarayi{mf
palfvAk etrinft pKtiEyarayi{mf
pi]i'[kf eka]fD pibkfkidfedaziy<mf
k]iAkyrf vazfkfAk kAdEy Epa[fem[cf...
kaDka]fkaAt, 180

In spite of his views on unchaste women, iLangO atikaL took a more pragmatic and a reformatory attitude in casting MAdhavi as one of the 3 main characters in SilappathikAram. In order to reconcile with the reality of the social conditions, he introduced MAdhavi as one hailing from a family who led an unchaste life (k]iAkyrf Klmf). Throughout the story, however, he was projecting her in the best possible light directly or through someone else. After she became KOvalan's mistress she proved to be very faithful displaying all the characteristics of a loyal housewife. The sentiments expressed in her letter to KOvalan are sufficient proof of her chastity and loyalty.

`Fkqf M[f[rf ya[F vIzfnfEt[f
vFyakf kiqvi m[kfEkaqlf Ev]fDmf
Krvrfp]i `[fbiy<gf Klpfpibpf padfFEyaD
;rviAdkf kzitbfK '[fpiAzpfp< `biyaT
AkyB enwfcmf kFylf Ev]fDmf
epayftIrf kadfcipf p<ArEyayf Epabfbi
p<bwfEcriyiBtft kaAt 87-92.

Her repentence over her past life was revealed through the words of MAdalan to ChEran Senkuttuvan where she vowed to her mother, ChitrApathi that the family trait of unchastity should end with her life. In a moving passage she swore that she would bring up her daughter, MaNimEkalai in a spiritual atmosphere:

nbf$yf t[kfK nbffbimf pdrfEk[f
m]iEmkAlAy va[fTyrf uBkfKgf
k]iAkyrf Ekalgf ka]aetazik '[kf
EkaAttf taMmf KzelaD kAqnfT
Epatitf ta[mf p<rinfT `bgfekaqfqv<mf
'[fvayfkf EkdfEdarf ;bnfEta R]fAmyi[f
n[f[Irfkf kgfAk yadpf EpanfEt[f
vwfcikf ka]fdmf, nIrfpfpAdkf kaAt 104-110.

iLangO atikaL thus achieved two purposes in his portrayal of MAdhavi; 1) based on her fidelity, penance and renunciation he exalted an unchaste woman to a very high status comparable to KaNNaki; 2) he delivered a powerful message that it is not birth but virtuous life alone that was important. It may well be, for he was guided by ThiruvaLLuvar's words : (epRAmkfKmf "A[cfciBAmkfKmf ttftmf kRmEm kdfdAqkfklf)- Kbqf 505.

4.4.7. KaNNaki's Rage (k]f]kiyi[f cIbfbmf)

One passage in the whole of the epic which had stirred the souls of generations of people for more than a thousand years pertains to KaNNaki's rage on hearing that her husband was sentenced to death by the PANdiya King's orders. Like a raging inferno, KaNNaki brushed past the security into the royal court and dared the King, who asked "Who are you and why did you come before me ?".

"Oh, Injudicious King," retorted KaNNaki, " I do have a complaint. I hail from the famous PukAr, where we have a tradition of justice; in the name of fairplay one of our Kings appeased a pigeon (by giving his own flesh) to the amazement of everyone; in order to uphold justice to a grieving cow who rang the enquiry bell thunderously, another King ordered the chariot run over his only son, who earlier killed her calf by negligently running his chariot over it. From the same city comes KOvalan, son of an affluent, accomplished and highly respected grain merchant, MAsAtthuvAn (macatfTva[f) , who also had an impeccable character. To overcome his cruel fate, Oh King, KOvalan who came to this city to sell my own personal anklets and rebuild our lives, got killed by you unjustly. I am KOvalan's wife, KaNNaki". The lines are given below:

nIrfvarf k]fA] 'mfM[f vnfEtayf
yaArEyanI mdkfekaFEyayf '[tf

Etra m[f[a ecpfp<vT uAdEy[f
'qfqB cibpfpi[f ;Amyvrf viypfppf
p<qfQB p< [fk]f tIrftfEta[f `[fbiy<mf
vayibf kAdm]i nDna nDgfk
~vi[f kAdm]i uKnIrf enwfC Cdtf ta[ft[f
`Rmfepbbf ptlfvA[ ~ziyi[f mFtfEta[f
epRmfepyrfpf p<karf karf '[fptiEy `vfv> rf
"cacf cibpfpi[f ;AcviqgfK epRgfKF
macatfT va]ik[f mkA[ yaki
vazfvtlf Ev]fF UzfviA[ Trpfpcf
Vzfkzlf m[f[a ni[f[krfpf p<ku KnftIgfK
'[fkabf cilmfp< pkrftlf Ev]fF ni[fpabf
ekaAlkfkqpf pdfd Ekavl[f mA[vi
k]f]ki ey[fpet[f epyErey[pf....
vzkfKAr kaAt 48-63.
(pkrftlf Ev]fF = vibfptbfkak).

Then KaNNaki proved that her husband was innocent by showing that her anklets contain rubies whereas the Queen's contained only pearls. Realizing his mistake the King dropped dead.

4.4.8. Power of Chastity (kbfpi[f ma]fp < )

iLangO atikaL drives home the power of chastity in the section, Vanchina MAlai (vwfci[maAl) . Not being satisfied with her conclusive proof of her husband's innocence, KaNNaki twisted her left breast out of her chest and threw it at the city swearing, that if her chastity meant anything, it sould set fire to the entire city. Even at that moment of uncontrollable wrath, KaNNaki regained her composure to add that only the evil minded be destroyed by the fire but not brahmins, ascetics, cows, chaste women, children, old people and the disabled.

na[fmadkf Pdlf mkqiRmf AmnftRmf
va[kfkdv<qRmf matvRgf EkdfGmi[f
ya[mrf katl[f t[fA[tf tvbiAztft
Ekankrf cIbiE[[f KbfbmiEl[f yae[[fB
;dMAl Akyalf tiRki mTAr
vlMAb MmfMAb vara `lmnfT
mdfdrf mBki[f m]iMAlAy vdfFtfT
vidfdaqf 'binftaqf.....
vwfci[ maAl 39-46.
(vdfFtfT vidfdaqf 'binftaqf = Czbfbi vidfedbinftaqf)

parfpfparf `bEvarf pCpf ptfti[ipf ep]fFrf
YYMtfEtarf Kzvi ey{mivAr AkvidfDtf
tItibtftarf pkfkEm Ecrfek[fB kayftftiy
epabfebaF "vpf p<Akyzlf m]fFbfEb
nbfEbara[f Pdlf nkrf.
(vwfci[ maAl 53-57.)
(`zlf m]fFbfB = tI pbfbi `zitftT)

4.5. Conclusion

SilappathikAram illustrates the supreme value attached to chastity and fidelity by the Thamizh society. This becomes evident not only by the exemplary portrayal of these traits by the heroine, KaNNaki but also by the repeated observations of supporting characters such as Kavunthi AtikaL and MAdala MaRaiyOn in a variety of circumstances. The romance in the PukArk kAndam (p<karfkf ka]fdmf) , the tragedy in the Mathuraik kAndam (mTArkfka]fdmf) and the heroism in the Vanchik kAndam (vwfcikfka]fdmf) , as well as the nice blend of literature, music and stage (;ylf, ;Ac, nadkmf) into a coherent masterpiece and the elevation of a chaste woman to a saintly level make SilappathikAam a monumental epic.

The most exhaustive commentary on SilappathikAram is the one by atiyArkku n^allAr (`FyarfkfK nlflarf) who lived in the thirteenth century. Thanks to the efforts of T.E.SrinivAsAchAriAr(cI[ivaca cariyarf) , Dr. U.V.SAmin^Atha iyer (u.Ev.Cvaminat _yrf) , R.K.Shanmugam ChettiAr (~rf.Ek.c]fMkmf ecdfFyarf) , M.P.SivagnAnam (m.epa. civwa[mf, cilmfp<cf eclfvrf) , and N.M.VEnkatasAmi n^AttAr (n.M.EvgfkdCvami nadfdarf) , several versions of the epic in easily understandable language are now available.

Nevertheless it is necessary to read the original text to appreciate the literary niceties. The universal moral message contained in the epic would be particularly relevant to the present time when the traditional marital system is being challenged through the egocentric attitudes of the partners, lowered threshold levels of tolerance to each other's idiosyncrasies, and a misunderstanding of the difference between interdependence and independence, abuse of physical or mental prowess and a lack of appreciation of the family as a unit.

4.6. MaNimEkalai (m]iEmkAl) , the other half of the twin epics, represents the continuation of the sad saga of MAdhavi and her daughter, MaNimEkalai. Following the traumatic death of KOvalan and KaNNaki, MAdhavi withdrew herself from her artistic career and public life. KaNNaki's chastity and fidelity had a very powerful impact on her moral outlook of life and its meaning. Her adoration of KaNNaki was so high that she always introduced MaNimEkalai as KaNNaki's daughter. She repented the type of life she led upto that time and wanted to erase the memories of her unchaste family traditions from MaNi mEkalai's mind. Her disenchantment towards life, in general, increased to such an extent that she joined the Buddhist monastry. She brought up MaNimEkalai in an environment free of transient worldly pleasures.

The prince fell in love with MaNimEkalai who was unable to reciprocate his love because of her mother's influence. Ultimately MaNimEkalai went to the island of MaNipallavam (m]i plflvtf tIv<), got ordained as a Buddhist monk and received the gift of a mystic box (`Mt Crpi ) capable of an eternal supply of food. Her ambition in life turned out to be the alleviation of the hunger of the poor and the needy. Her ascetic life and service to humanity elevated her to the status of an idol so that people worshipped her as MaNimEkalai, the God (m]iEmkAltfetyfvmf) , after her death. In the following lines she defined virtue (`bmf) as the human trait by which food, clothing and shelter are made available to all:

`bem[pf pDvT yaet[kfEkdfpi[f
mbvaT ;TEkqf m[f{yirfkfK 'lflamf
u]fFy<mf uAdy<mf uAbyQmf `lflT
k]fd tilfAl.

The author of MaNimEkalai (4835 lines), SAtthanAr finds the story much to his own liking and religious views. Unlike iLangO atikaL who remained unbiased in his narration of the life of KOvalan and KaNNaki, SAtthanAr did not hesitate to use MaNimEkalai's story of renunciation to propagate Buddhist philosophy.

4.7. SIvaka chin^thAmaNi (cIvk cinftam]i), 3154 stanzas. Written by Thirutthakka ThEvar (tiRtftkfk Etvrf) , a ninth century poet, this is the third in the five great epic series. The author is a Jainist scholar whose literary style of narrating romantic themes made him a leader in the art of literary compositions. Even Kampar (kmfprf) , the author of iramAvathAram (;ramavtarmf) is said to have followed Thirutthkka ThEvar's style in his famous work. Thiruthakka ThEvar appears to be the first to introduce the viruttham (viRtftmf) style rather the more conventional veNpA (ev]fpa) or akaval (`kvlf) style in his work. The viruttham style contains four lines, the last three containing the same number of meters as the first one.

The hero of the story, SIvakan (cIvk[f) married eight girls and composed one chapter (;lmfpkmf) of his experiences about each one of them. Hence it is referred to as the 'marriage reference book'. At the end, the hero became a Jain monk ! There is no doubt that Thirutthakka ThEvar used the epic to propagate Jainist ideas.

4.8. KuNdala kEsi (K]fdl Ekci) , 834 stanzas) and VaLaiyA pathi (vAqyapti) , 1180 stanzas. These two epics belong to the ninth and tenth centuries and were written by n^Aka KutthanAr (nak Ktft[arf) and PerunthEvanAr (epRnfEtv[arf) respectively. Unfortunately both these works are not available. While KuNdala kEsi was a Buddhist story, VaLaiyA pathi was written to popularize Jainism. Except for 70 songs the rest of VaLaiyA pathi had disappeared mysteriously.

According to M.VaradharAjan (M.vrtraj[f) , the VaLaiyA pathi manuscripts were seen by Dr. U.V.SAmin^Atha iyer (u.Ev.caminat _yrf) in a monastry but had disappeared when he went there the next year to study them. Many scholars have questioned the grouping of the five works under the umbrella of The Five Great Epics (_mfepRgf kapfpiygfkqf) . The last three not only belonged to a different time period but had been based on themes borrowed from North India. They also had heavy religious and sectarian overtones.

The animosity between Buddhist and Jain monks thus resulted in the publication of a number of works competing with each other in course of time. For example, "n^Ila kEsi is considered to be the Jain retort to KuNdala kEsi of the Buddhists". In addition to SIvaka chinthAmaNi, the contribution of Jains to Thamizh literature includes the following: Perunkathai (epRgfkAt) , ChULA maNi (Vqam]i) , SAnthi PurANam (canfti p<ra]mf) , n^Ila kEsi (nIlEkci), YasOdhara KAviyam (yEcatr kaviymf) , udayNa KumAra KAviyam (uty] Kmar kaviymf) and n^Aga KumAra KAviyam (nak Kmar kaviymf). It is generally believed that these epics do not have the same literary caliber as the twin epics.

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Shanmugam, R., KAsirAsan, R., SAmbasivan, S., and N. VElusAmi. (1983) ;ram c]fMkmf, ;ra. kacirac[f, c. camfpciv[f, na.EvLcami. enwfAc `qfQmf cilmfp< . m]ivackrf ptipfpkmf, citmfprmf. pkf. 308.

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SubramaNian, S.V. and V.VIrasAmi (ed.) (1981) Cultural Heritage of the Tamils. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Madras. pp. 425.

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