Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Cilapathikaram - Kannagi Statue

Kannagi Statute at Marina sea front, Chennai, unveiled during the 1968 International Tamil Conference "A unique feature of the Kannagi statue is that it was put up entirely with contributions from students all over the State. They contributed even 50 paise and one rupee'' M. Karunanidhi

Kannagi statue reinstated in Chennai Marina, 3 June 2006
Discourse on Kannagi, the Tamil Woman and Goddess; and on Traditional Storytelling Techniques, 52 minute Webcast 

Cilapathikaram on Line

pukArk kANTam - unicode pdf
maturaik kANTam  -  unicode  pdf
vanjcik kANTam -  unicodepdf
கண்ணகி கோயில்
- எஸ்.வசந்தி
Sanmugam Sabesan on Cilapathikaram  in சர்வதேச மகளிர் தினம்:கற்பும் பெண்விடுதலையும்...
V.K.Narayana Menon  '...Words and music have a special relationship, particularly in vocal music. Words affect the melodic line, even the rhythmic structures. The inflections of a language leave their imprint on the melody and rhythm, on style and phrasing. ... I doubt if there is any literature, poetry or prose, which describes musical theory and practice with such skill, in language so clear, meaningful, and communicative, as passages in the Cilapathikaram, written about 1700 years ago and of such relevance even today.'' -
A R Venkatachalapathy,  Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies  "The greatness of Silappadhikaaram lies in the fact that every time one reads it, one finds new areas for analysis and understanding." 
P L Palaniappan "The epic's sense of timeless identification lies in the fact that this is a story of ordinary people, although linked to the lot of kings. In his mind, Ilango Adigal travelled the distance from the life of a prince to that of a saint, and was still so aware and sensitive to the life patterns in the streets and homes, in the cities and villages�There is a statement made about Milton, that he conceived his work like a Titan, but finished like a jeweller. I think that description fits the writing of Ilango Adigal as well." -
Kanimozhi Karunanidhi "Silappadhikaaram is not just poetry. It is a combination of iyal-isai-natakam, dance-music-drama. This is a supreme example of theatre. While one can find literary classifications such as paalai (desert) to describe Kannagi's state of mind, this is really a drama, one that can find its place amongst the finest in the world� Ilango Adigal displayed the most subtle understanding of human nature and reactions through the epic." -
Mannar Srinivasan, Editor of �Sruthi' "Ilango Adigal clearly wanted to project a certain moral structure. Truth/dharma will punish an unjust king; even gods will bow to the wishes of a chaste woman; and one cannot escape one's karma - the consequences of one's past deeds"  -
Tamil Nadu's Epic of the Ankle Bracelet: Ancient Story and Modern Identity - Eric Miller
Cilapathikaran & Murugan Worship
Kannaki, Goddess of Fertility and Conjugal Fidelity
The Anklet and the Leaves of the Epic
Sudharani Raghupathy collaborates with Professor Skelton on  Silappadikaram 


**Kannagi: [a modern version of Silappadikaram] - Lakshmi Holmstr�m
 **Silappadikaram: Manimekalai - Lakshmi Holmstr�m
* Silappadikaram and Manimekalai * Silappadikaram: "The Ankle Bracelet" * The study of a Tamil epic: Several versions of Silappadikaram Compared - Brenda E. F Beck
* Shilappadikaram : The Ankle Bracelet - Ilango Adigal, translated by Alain Danielou
* The Cilappatikaram of Ilanko Atikal: An Epic of South India (Translations from the Asian Classics), 1993 - translated by R. Parthasarathy

From the citation for the A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation for 1996 awarded by the Association for Asian Studies:

" The judges felt that this work merited the prize for a number of reasons, including the importance and beauty of the original work�an epic rich in literary, religious, and historical power and meaning; the care and accuracy of the scholarship imbedded in the translation; and the grace and inviting flow of the English translation. Always sound and intelligent, the translation often rises to the level of true poetry; it manages to convey the tone of an ancient and courtly work without losing the immediacy of the rhythms of contemporary English. Its meticulous correlation with the original text, line by line, makes it useful even for readers who know some Tamil, while its elegance makes it a pleasure to read aloud. It makes one of the great classics of Indian literature truly accessible in English.

We are in the unusual position of actually knowing Ramanujan�s own evaluation of this book. He described it as, "a fine, luminous translation of an Indian classic. It�s a poet�s translation. Parthasarathy�s poetic skills are everywhere in evidence, yet guided by his sensitive scholarship and fidelity." While we can not know Ramanujan�s opinions on the other excellent entries submitted for this prize, now or in the future, we do hope that he might have concurred with our choice for this first award of the prize in his name."

Cilapathikaram - Silapathigaram -  Ilanko Adigal
சிலப்பதிகாரம் - இளங்கோ அடிகள்

 cilapathikaram.gif (2878 bytes)
Subramaniya Bharathy

"The following works of art and literature are among the most remarkable contributions of the Tamil creative genius to the world's cultural treasure and should be familiar to the whole world and admired and beloved by all in the same way as the poems of Homer, the dramas of Shakespeare, the pictures of Rembrandt, the cathedrals of France and the sculptures of Greece..... the epical poem Cilappathikaram, which by its 'baroque splendour', and by the charm and magic of its lyrical parts belongs to the epic masterpieces of the world....." (Tamil Contribution to World Civilisation - Czech Professor Dr. Kamil Zvelebil in Tamil Culture - Vol. V, No. 4. October, 1956)

"...Cilapthikaram was written by iLangO atikaL  It contains 3 chapters pukArk kANTammaturaik kANTam and  vanjcik kANTam and a total of 5270 lines"  (Professor C.R. Krishnamurti on Cilapthikaram in Thamizh Literature Through the Ages )

Kannagi's Lament - Cilapathikaram
Kannagis' Lament - Cilapathikaram in Concert, 2004

Cilapathikaram - Jewelled Anklets

Cilapathikaram, the story of Jewelled Anklets, is rooted in the ordinary lives of the early Tamils of the Pandyan Kingdom in the first century A.D. and is regarded by many as the national epic of the Tamil people.

Professor A.L. Basham writing in ' The Wonder that was India"' comments that Cilapathikaram has '' a grim force and splendour unparalled elsewhere in Indian literature - it is imbued with both the ferocity of the early Tamils and their stern respect for justice, and incidentally, it throws light on early Tamil political ideas.'' Today, some quarters may regard Kannagi as a suicide killer and a terrorist.

That which follows is taken from the excellent translation by Professor A.L.Basham:

''Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant in Kavirippattinam, married Kannagi, the lovely daughter of another merchant. For some time they lived together happily, until, at a festival at the royal court, Kovalan met the dancer Madavi and fell in love with her. He bought her favours and in his infatuation forgot Kannagi and his home. 

Gradually he spent all his wealth on the dancer. At last he was penniless, and returned repentantly to his uncomplaining wife. Their only fortune was a precious pair of anklets, which she gave to him willingly. With these as their capital they decided to go to the great city of Madurai, where Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade."

"On their arrival at Madurai they found shelter in a cottage, and Kovalan went to the market to sell one of Kannagi's anklets. But the queen of Nedunjeliyan, king of the Pandyas, had just been robbed of a similar anklet by a wicked court jeweller.

 The jeweller happened to see Kovalan with Kannagi's anklet, and immediately seized it and informed the King. Guards were sent to apprehend Kovalan, who was then killed on the King's orders. When the news was brought to Kannagi , she went out into the town, with her eyes ablaze with anger, carrying the remaining anklet in her hand as proof of her husband's innocence....

At last the patron goddess of the city interceded with Kannagi, and she agreed to withdraw her curse, and the fire abated. Weak with loss of blood from her self-amputated breast, Kannagi struggled to a hill outside the city, where after a few days she died, and was reunited with Kovalan in Heaven. Meanwhile the news of her death spread throughout the Tamil Land. She was deified, temples were raised and festivals held in her honour, and she became the patron goddess of wifely loyalty and chastity....

Kannagi in Madurai Court
Kannagi in Madurai Court

Chaste women of Madurai, listen to me!
Today my sorrows cannot be matched.
Things which should never have happened have befallen me.
How can I bear this injustice?'...

'All the folk of the rich city of Madurai
saw her, and were moved by her grief and affliction.
In wonder and sorrow they cried:
'Wrong that cannot be undone has been done to this lady!
"'Our King's straight sceptre is bent!
What can this mean?

Lost is the glory of the King Over Kings,
the Lord of the Umbrella and Spear!''
"'A new and a mighty goddess
has come before us,
in her hand a golden anklet!
What can this mean?

"'This woman afflicted and weeping
from her lovely dark-stained eyes
is as though filled with godhead!
What can this mean?'

"Thus, raising loud accusing voices,
the people of Madurai befriended and comforted her,
and among the tumultuous throng
some showed her her husband's body
"She, the golden vine, beheld him,
but her he could not see. ...

"Then the red-rayed sun folded his fiery arms
and hid behind the great mountain,
and the wide world
was veiled in darkness.
"But he saw not the agony of her grief
as she mourned in sorrow and wrath. ...

"Are there women here? Are there women
who could bear such wrong
done to their wedded lords?
Are there women here? Are there such women?

"Are there good men here ? Are there good men
who cherish their children
and guard them with care?
Are there men here? Are there such men?

"'Is there a god here? Is there a god
in this city of Madurai, where the sword of a king
has slain an innocent man?
Is there a god here? Is there a god?'

"Lamenting thus she clasped her husband's breast,
and it seemed that he rose to his feet and said,
'The full-moon of your face has faded,'
and he stroked her face with his hands.

She fell to the ground, sobbing and crying,
and clasped her Lord's feet with her bangled hands;
and he left behind his human form
and went, surrounded by the gods.

'I will not join my lord
till my great wrath is appeased!
I will see the cruel King,
and ask for his explanation!'
"And she stood on her feet,
her large eyes full of tears,
and, wiping her eyes,
she went to the gate of the palace.''

'Then came a cry from the gate:
'Ho, Gatekeeper! Ho, Gatekeeper!
Ho, Gatekeeper of the King who has lost wisdom,
whose evil heart has swerved from justice!!
Tell the King that a woman with an anklet,
an anklet from a pair of tinkling anklets,
a woman who has lost her husband,
is waiting at the gate.'

"And the gatekeeper went to the King and said:
'A woman waits at the gate.
She is not Korravai, goddess of victory,
with triumphant spear in her hand. ...
Filled with anger, boiling with rage,
a woman who has lost her husband,
an anklet of gold in her hand,
is waiting at the gate.' "

Kannagi was then admitted to the King's presence.

'Cruel King, this I must say. ...
'My Lord Kovalan came
to Madurai to earn wealth,
and today you have slain him
as he sold my anklet.'
'Lady,' said the King,
'it is kingly justice
to put to death
an arrant thief."'

Then Kannagi showed her anklet to the King.
On comparing it very carefully with the remaining anklet of the pair
belonging to the Queen, he realised that Kovalan had been innocent.

When he saw it the parasol fell from his head
and the sceptre trembled in his hand.
"'I am no king,' he said,
'who have heeded the words of the goldsmith.

"'I am the thief. For the first time
I have failed to protect my people.
Now may I die!'
[And he fell to the ground, dead.]

Kannagi said to the Queen:

"'If I have always been true to my husband
I will not suffer this city to flourish,
but I will destroy it as the King is destroyed!
Soon you will see that my words are true!'

"And with these words she left the palace,
and cried out through the city, ' Men and women
of great Madurai of the four temples,
listen! Listen you gods in heaven!

"'Listen to me, you holy sages!
I curse the capital of the King
who so cruelly wronged
my beloved lord!'

With her own hand she tore the left breast from her body.
Thrice she surveyed the city of Madurai,
calling her curse in bitter agony.
Then she flung her fair breast on the scented street. ...

"And the burning mouth of the Sire-god opened
as the gods who guarded the city closed their doors.
"The high priest, the astrologer and the judges,
the treasurer and the learned councillors,
the palace servants and the maids,
stood silent and still as painted pictures.

"The elephant-riders and horsemen,
the charioteers and the foot-soldiers
with their terrible swords, all fled from the fire
which raged at the gate of the royal palace. ...

Tamil Art - Conflagration
Conflagration - Original Painting in Oils by Jayalakshmi Satyendra

"And the street of the sellers of grain,
the street of the chariots, with its bright-coloured garlands,
and the four quarters of the four classes
were filled with confusion and flamed like a forest on fire. ...

"In the street of the singing girls
where so often the tabor had sounded
with the sweet gentle flute and the tremulous harp .
the dancers, whose halls were destroyed, cried out:
Whence comes this woman! Whose daughter is she?
A single woman, who has lost her husband,
has conquered the evil King with her anklet,
and has destroyed our city with fire!'"

Professor C.R. Krishnamurti on Cilapthikaram in Thamizh Literature Through the Ages

SilappathikAram (சிலப்பதிகாரம்)


SilappathikAram was written by iLangO atikaL (இளங்கோ அடிகள்), a Jain monk. It contains 3 chapters (புகார்க் காண்டம், மதுரைக் காண்டம், வஞ்சிக் காண்டம்) 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 (இளங்கோ அடிகள்) who was able to maintain the tempo and passions associated with human interactions throughout the work.

More surprising is his comprehension and handling of purely subjective (அகம்) 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.


It is said that Senkuttuvan (சேரன் செங்குட்டுவன்), a ChEra King, accompanied by his brother, iLangO (இளங்கோ) and his friend, the poet Mathuraik KUlavANikan SAtthanAr (மதுரை கூலவாணிகன் சாத்தனார்))went to see the scenic beauty of the country side near the river, PEriyARu (பேரியாறு). He then heard a story from neighbouring villages of a woman with a single breast who sat down in penance under a vEngai (வேங்கை)  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 (பத்தினித் தெய்வம்) 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.

Story in Brief

KOvalan (கோவலன்),  a prosperous grain merchant in the ChOzha capital of PukAr (புகார், காவிரிப்பூம்பட்டினம்) got married to the equally affluent KaNNaki (கண்ணகி) and the two lived happily for a while. When the beautiful MAdhavi (மாதவி) belonging to an unchaste class came to PukAr to give a dance recital in the ChOzha King KarikAlan's (கரிகாலன்)  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 (மணிமேகலை).  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 (சிலம்புகள்)  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 (நெடுஞ்செழியன்) 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.

Salient Features of SilappathikAram

Equanimity of iLangO atikaL (இளங்கோ அடிகள்)

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 (மணிமேகலை) in which its author, SAtthanAr (சாத்தனார்)  used the work to teach Buddhist philosophy.

Literary objectives

The objectives of iLangO atikaL were threefold as made abundantly clear by the author himself in the Pathikam (பதிகம்) 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 (ஊழ்வினை). The last was perhaps based on his Jain background.

அரசியல் பிழைத்தோர்க் கறங்கூற்றாவதூஉம்
உரைசால் பத்தினிக் குயர்ந்தோ ரேத்தலும்
ஊழ்வினை யுருத்துவந் தூட்டும் என்பதூஉம்
சூழ்வினைச் சிலம்பு காரண மாகச்
சிலப்பதி காரம் என்னும் பெயரால்.
பதிகம், 55 - 59.

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 (கவுந்தி) atikaL, who, every now and then, reiterated the principles of righteousness. The other was a learned brahmin, MAdalan, (மாடலன், மாடல் மறையோன்) to interpreted the traits attributed to each character in the proper perspective with respect to social and religious values.

Fine arts in SilappathikAram

The tactics adopted by iLangO atikaL in imparting the values of virtue (அறம்) to the common folk was different from that followed by ThiruvaLLuvar (திருவள்ளுவர்) 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 (கற்பு) and virtue (அறம்) 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 (இசை)  and dancing (நாட்டியம்)  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 (கூத்து) prevalent in the different habitats (திணை).

These folk songs were described in the following sections: indhiravizhavUreduttha kAthai (இந்திரவிழிவூரெடுத்த காதை) for marutham, kAnalvari (கானல்வரி) for n^eithal, vEttuvavari (வேட்டுவரி) for pAlai, Aycchiyar kuravai (ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை) for mullai and kunRak kuravai (குன்றக்குரவை) for kuRinji. The following song in Aycchiyar kuravai (ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை) is popular in carnatic music circles and is sung in praise of ThirumAl (திருமால்) and his earthly manifestations (அவதாரங்கள்) by the milk maids:

முவுலகும் ஈரடியான் முறைநிரம்பா வகைமுடியத்
தாவிய சேவடிசேப்பத் தம்பியடுங் கான்போந்து
சோவரணும் போர்மடியத் தொல்லிலங்கை கட்டழித்த
சேவகன் சீர் கேளாத செவியென்ன செவியே
திருமால்சீர் கேளாத செவியென்ன செவியே.
மதுரைக்காண்டம் 17, படர்க்கைப் பரவல் 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 (பாரதியார்) that SilappathikAram touches deep into the heart (நெஞ்சை அள்ளும் சிலப்பதிகாரம் - பாரதியார்) summarizes the sentiments in a single sentence. Thus the combination of literary excellence (இயல்),  music (இசை), and stage (நாடகம்) in SilappathikAram marked the beginning of the concept of Mutthamiz (முத்தமிழ்).

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 (பத்தினித் தெய்வம்) remains unquestionable, the repentance 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.

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 (சோழ) Kingdom where the characters spent the early parts of their lives; the plot and high drama took place in the PANdiya (பாண்டிய) Kingdom; the final episode occurred in the ChEra (சேர) 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.

Selected quotes from SilappathikAram

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

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 (பூம்புகார்), the capital of the ChOza Kingdom.

திங்களைப் போற்றுதுந் திங்களைப் போற்றுதும்
கொங்கலர்தார்ச் சென்னி குளிர்வெண் குடைபோன்றிவ்
வங்கண் உலகளித்தலான்.
ஞாயிறு போற்றுதும் ஞாயிறு போற்றுதும்
காவிரி நாடன் திகிரிபோற் பொற்கோட்டு
மேரு வலந்திரித லான்.
மாமழை போற்றுதும் மாமழை போற்றுதும்
நாமநீர் வேலி யுலகிற் கவனளி போல்
மேல்நின்று தான் சுரத்த லான்.
பூ ம்புகார் போற்றுதும் பூ ம்புகார் போற்றுதும்
வீங்குநீர் வேலி யுலகிற் கவன்குலத்தோ
டோங்கிப் பரந்தொழுக லான்.
சிலம்பு பதிகம், 1-12.

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 (அறங்கேற்று காதை), 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 (யாழ்), the accompaniments used, their specific arrangements on the stage and the characteristics of the paN (இராகம்) are outlined in the following song.

ஈரேழ் தொடுத்த செம்முறைக்கேள்வியின்
ஓரேழ் பாலை நிறுத்தல் வேண்டி
வன்மையிற் கிடந்த தார பாகமும்
மென்மையிற் கிடந்த குரலின் பாகமும்
மெய்க்கிளை நரம்பிற் கைக்கிளை கொள்ளக்
கைக்கிளை யழிந்த பாகமும் பொற்புடைத்
தளராத் தாரம் விளரிக்கு ஈத்துக்
கிளைவழிப்பட்டன ளாங்கே கிளையுந்
தன்கிளை அழிவு கண் டவுள்வயிற் சேர
ஏனை மகளிருங் கிளைவழிச் சேர
மேலது உழையிளி கீழது கைக்கிளை
வம்புறு மரபிற் செம்பாலை யாயது
இறுதி யாதி யாக ஆங்கிவை
பேறுமுறை வந்த பெற்றியின் நீங்காது
படுமலை செவ்வழி பகரரும் பாலையெனக்
அரங்கேற்று காதை, 70-84.

Fascinating accounts of the details of the musical systems are also given in Aycchiyar Kuravai (ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை) where, MAthuri (மாதுரி) , under whose protection KOvalan and KaNNaki were staying prior to their departure to Mathurai, arranges a Kuravaik kUtthu (குரவைக்கூத்து), a folk dance in praise of ThirumAl. MAthuri instructs one of her assistants to sing mullait thImpANi (முல்லைத்தீம்பாணி) in the traditional style (தொன்றுபடுமுறையால்) . This tune, rAgam, (இராகம் = பண்) is presently known as MOhanam (மோகனம்).

The ancient Thamizh music system described in SilappathikAram is called vattap pAlai (வட்டப்பாலை) in which there are 12 KOvais (கோவை = கரம்) . The 12 kOvais, made up of the 5 in mullait thImpANi and 7 represented by the first 7 long vowels: (அ, ஈ, ஊ, எ, ஐ, ஓ, ஔ எனும் இவ்வேழ் எழுத்தும் ஏழிசைக்குரிய) (திவாகரம்))  are arranged like the 12 planets to yield the panniru vIdu (பன்னிரு வீடு, ஸ்வர ஸ்தானம்). The 7 svarams used are kural (குரல் = ஷட்சம்),  thuttham (துத்தம் = இடபம்), kaikkiLai (கைக்கிளை = காந்தாரம்), uzhai (உழை = மத்திமம்), iLi (இளி = பஞசமம்), viLari (விளரி = துவைதம்) and thAram (தாரம் = நிடாதம்) and can be represented by the alphabets s r g m p d n as described below:

குரலே, துத்தம், கைக்கிளை, உழையே
இளியே, விளரி, தாரம் என்றிவை
எழுவகை இசைக்கும் எய்தும் பெயரே
சவ்வும் ரிவ்வும் கவ்வும் மவ்வும்
பவ்வும் தவ்வும் நிவ்வும் என்றிவை
ஏழும் அவற்றின் எழுத்தே ஆகும்

The rAgams (பண்) are derived by arranging the 12 kOvais (கோவை) in a specified structure in the ascending and descending scale. Thus from the vattap pAlai (வட்டப்பாலை) 4 great paNs (பண்) were obtained viz., pAlai yAz (பாலையாழ்), kuRinji yAz (குறிஞ்சியாழ்) , marutha yAz (மருதயாழ்), and n^eithal yAz (நெய்தல்யாழ்)  . In other words the paNs (பண்) are the fore runners of the current ragams, tunes, (இராகங்கள்). The seven scales derived from pAlai yAz (பாலையாழ்) are SempAlai (செம்பாலை) = HarikAmbhoji, Padumalaip pAlai (படுமலைப்பாலை) =Natabharivi, SevvazhippAlai (செவ்வழிப்பாலை) = ThOdi with 2 ma's, ArumpAlai (அரும்பாலை) = SankarAbaraNam, KOdippAlai (கோடிப்பாலை) = Karaharapriya, ViLarippAlai (விளரிப்பாலை)  =ThOdi and MElsempAlai (மேல்செம்பாலை)  = 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 (குரல்திரிபு). Thus the thuttham of the rAgam mullait thImpANi (மோகனம்) would yield madymAvathi (மத்திமாவதி), the kaikkiLai would yield hindOLam (ஹரிந் தோளம்), iLi would give suddhasAvEri (சுத்த சாவேரி) and thAram would yield udayaravic chandrika (உதய் ரவிச்சந்திரிகா).

தொழுவிடை ஏறு குறித்து வளர்த்தார்
எழுவரிளங் கோதை யார்
என்றுதன் மகளைநோக்கித்
தொன்றுபடு முறையால் நிறுத்தி
இடைமுது மகளிவர்க்குப்
படைத்துக்கோட் பெயரிடுவாள்
குடமுதல் இடமுறை யாக் குரல் துத்தம்
கைக்கிளை உழைஇளி விளரி தாரமென
விரிதரு பூங்குழல் வேண்டிய பெயரே
கொல்லைப் புனத்துக் குருந்தொசித்தாற் பாடுதும்
முல்லைத்தீம் பாணியென்ள்.
ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை

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.

Religious 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 (பிறவா யாக்கைப் பெரியோன்), Murugan (ஆறுமுகச்செவ்வேள்), Bala dEva (வால்வ்ளை மேனி வாலியோன்),  ThirumAl (நீல்மேனி நெடியோன்) and indhiran (மாலைவெண் குடை மன்னவன்). In these temples people were performing sacred rituals (வேள்விகள், தீமுறை) according to the regulations prescribed in the four vEdhAs (வேதங்கள்) by Piraman (பிரம்ன்).

பிறவா யாக்கைப் பெரியோன் கோயிலும்
அறுமுகச் செவ்வேள் அணிதிகழ் கோயிலும்
வால்வளை மேனி வாலியோன் கோயிலும்
மாலை வெண்குடை மன்னவன் கோயிலும்
மாமுது முரல்வன் வாய்மையின் வழாஅ
நான்முறை மரபின் தீமுறை யருபால்
இந்திரவிழவூ ரெடுத்த காதை 169- 175

 KAnal vari (கானல்வரி)

The KAnal vari (கானல்வரி) 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:

கானல்வரி யான்பாடத் தானொன்றின்மேல் மனம்வைத்து
மாயப்பொய் பலகூட்டு மாயத்தாள் பாடினாள் என
யாழிசைமேல் வைத்துத்தன் ஊழ்வினைவந்து உருத்துதாகாலின்
உவவு ற்ற திங்கள் முகத்தாளைக் கவவுக்கை ஞெகிழிந்தனனாய்ப்
பொழுதீங்குக் கழிந்ததாகலின் எழுதும்என்று உடனெழாது
ஏவலாளர் உடன்சூழ்தரக் கோவலன்தான் போனபின்னர்த்
தாதவிழ் மலர்ச்சோலை ஓதைஆயத்து ஒலையவித்துக்
கையற்ற நெஞ்சினளாய் வையத்தினுள் புக்குக்
காதலனுடன் இன்றியே மாதவிதன் மனைபுக்காள்.
கானல்வரி 52-61.
(உவவு - முழுமதி. கவவுக்கை ஞெகிழிந்தனனாய்= கைகளால் தழுவாமல்)

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.

KaNNaki's Outstanding Qualities (கண்ணகியின் நற்குணங்கள்)

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:

இருமுது குரவர் ஏவலும் பிழைத்தேன்
சிறுமுதுக் குறைவிக்குச் சிறுமை யும் செய்தேன்
வழுவெனும் பாரேன் மாநகர் மருங்கீண்டு
எழுகென எழுந்தாய் என்செய் தனை என
அறவோர்க்கு அளித்தலும் அந்தணர் ஓம்பலும்
துறவோர்க்கு எதிர்தலும் தொல்லோர் சிறப்பின்
விருந்தெதிர் கோடலும் இழந்த என்னைநும்
பெருமகள் தன்னொடும் பெரும்பெயர்த் தலைத்தாள்
மன்பெருஞ் சிறப்பின் மாநிதிக்கிழவன்
முந்தை நில்லா முனிவிகந்தனனா
அற்புளஞ் சிறந்தாங்கு அருண்மொழியளைஇ
எற்பாராட்ட யான் அகத்து ஒளித்த
நோயும் துன்பமும் நொடிவது போலும் என்...
கொலைக்களக்காதை 67-79.
(குரவர்= பெற்�ர். வழு= தவறு. முனிவு இகந்தனன் ஆ= வெறுப்பு நீங்கினேனாக)

Unchaste Women (பரத்தையர், கணிகையர்)

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

காதற் பரத்தையர் காமக் கிழத்தியர்
பின்முறை வதுவைப் பெருங்குலக் கிழத்தியென்று
அன்னவர் உரியர் இவை யிரண்டற்கும்.
காதற் பரத்தையர் களவிற் குரியர்.
தொல்காப்பியம். பொருள் 427-428.

Even the pangs of separation from unchaste women have been described by TholkAppiar (பொருள், நூற்பா 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 (வரைவின் மகளிர்)  despising their life and hoped that his ethical codes will be adhered to. One example of his disparaging remarks is given below:

பயன்றூக்கிப் பண்புரைக்கும் பண்பின் மகளிர்
நயன்றூக்கி நள்ளா விடல்.
குறள் 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:

மேலோராயினும் நூலோராயினும்
பால்வகை தெரிந்த பகுதியோராயினும்
பிணிஎனக் கொண்டு பிறக்கிட்டொழியும்
கணிகையர் வாழ்க்கை கடையே போன்மெனச்...
காடுகாண்காதை, 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 (கணிகையர் குலம்). 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.

அடிகள் முன்னர் யானடி வீழ்ந்தேன்
வடியாக் கிளவி மனக்கோளல் வேண்டும்
குரவர்பணி அன்றியுங் குலப்பிறப் பாட்டியோடு
இரவிடைக் கழிதற்கு என்பிழைப்பு அறியாது
கையறு நெஞ்சம் கடியல் வேண்டும்
பொய்தீர் காட்சிப் புரையோய் போற்றி
புறஞ்சேரியிறுத்த காதை 87-92.

Her repentance 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:

நற்ய் தனக்கு நற்றிம் படர்கேன்
மணிமேகலையை வான்துயர் உறுக்குங்
கணிகையர் கோலங் காணாதொழிக எனக்
கோதைத் தாமும் குழலொடு களைந்து
போதித் தானம் புரிந்து அறங்கொள்ளவும்
என்வாய்க் கேட்டோர் இறந்தோ ருண்மையின்
நன்னீர்க் கங்கை யாடப் போந்தேன்
வஞ்சிக் காண்டம், நீர்ப்படைக் காதை 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 :

(பெருமைக்கும் ஏனைச்சிறுமைக்கும் தத்தம் கரும்மே கட்டளைக்கல் - குறள் 505)

KaNNaki's Rage (கண்ணகியின் சீற்றம்)

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 (மாசாத்துவான்), 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:

நீர்வார் கண்ணை எம்முன் வந்தோய்
யாரையோநீ மடக்கொடியோய் எனத்
தேரா மன்னா செப்புவது உடையேன்
எள்ளறு சிறப்பின் இமையவர் வியப்பப்
புள்ளுறு பு ன்கண் தீர்த்தோன் அன்றியும்
வாயிற் கடைமணி நடுநா நடுங்க
ஆவின் கடைமணி உகுநீர் நெஞ்சு சுடத் தான்தன்
அரும்பெறற் பதல்வனை ஆழியின் மடித்தோன்
பெரும்பெயர்ப் புகார் கார் என்பதியே அவ்வூ ர்
ஏசாச் சிறப்பின் இசைவிளங்கு பெருங்குடி
மாசாத்து வாணிகன் மகனை யாகி
வாழ்வதல் வேண்டி ஊழ்வினை துரப்பச்
சூழ்கழல் மன்னா நின்னகர்ப் புகஉ குந்தீங்கு
என்காற் சிலம்பு பகர்தல் வேண்டி நின்பாற்
கொலைக்களப் பட்ட கோவலன் மனைவி
கண்ணகி யென்பதென் பெயரேயெனப்....
வழக்குரை காதை 48-63.
(பகர்தல் வேண்டி = விற்பதற்காக).

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.

 Power of Chastity (கற்பின் மாண்பு)

iLangO atikaL drives home the power of chastity in the section, Vanchina MAlai (வஞ்சினமாலை). 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.

நான்மாடக் கூடல் மகளிரும் மைந்தரும்
வானக்கடவுளரும் மாதவருங் கேட்டீமின்
யானமர் காதலன் தன்னைத் தவறிழைத்த
கோநகர் சீறினேன் குற்றமிலேன் யானென்று
இடமுலை கையால் திருகி மதுரை
வலமுறை மும்முறை வாரா அலமந்து
மட்டர் மறுகின் மணிமுலையை வட்டித்து
விட்டாள் எறிந்தாள்.....
வஞ்சின மாலை 39-46.
(வட்டித்து விட்டாள் எறிந்தாள் = சுழற்றி விட்டெறிந்தாள்)

பார்ப்பார் அறவோர் பசுப் பத்தினிப் பெண்டிர்
முத்தோர் குழவி யெனுமிவரை கைவிட்டுத்
தீதிறத்தார் பக்கமே சேர்கென்று காய்த்திய
பொற்றொடி ஏவப் புகையழல் மண்டிற்றே
நற்றோரான் கூடல் நகர்.
(வஞ்சின மாலை 53-57.)
(அழல் மண்டிற்று = தீ பற்றி அழித்தது)


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 (புகார்க் காண்டம்), the tragedy in the Mathuraik kAndam (மதுரைக் காண்டம் and the heroism in the Vanchik kAndam (வஞ்சிக் காண்டம்), as well as the nice blend of literature, music and stage (இயல், இசை, நாடகம்)  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 (அடியார்க்கு நல்லார்) who lived in the thirteenth century. Thanks to the efforts of T.E.SrinivAsAchAriAr (சீனிவாச ஆச்சாரியார்) (Dr. U.V.SAmin^Atha iyer (உ.வே. சுவாமிநாத ஐயர்), R.K.Shanmugam ChettiAr (அர்.கே.சண்முகம் செட்டயார்), M.P.SivagnAnam (மா.பொ. சிவஞானம், சிலமே செல்வர்),  and N.M.VEnkatasAmi n^AttAr (ந.மு. வேங்கடசுவாமி நாட்டார்), 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.

Sanmugam Sabesan on Cilapathikaram  in சர்வதேச மகளிர் தினம்:கற்பும் பெண்விடுதலையும்...

"சிலப்பதிகாரத்தைப் பெண்ணிய நோக்கில் ஆய்வு செய்யும்போது சமுதாயக் கொடுமைகள் புலனாகின்றன. தனது கணவன் கோவலன், மாதவியிடம் சென்றபோது அவனுடைய நடத்தை தவறு என்று கண்ணகி சுட்டிக் காட்டவில்லை.

அவன் தனது செல்வம் யாவும் இழந்த போதும் அவனைத் தடுக்க வில்லை. அவன் மாதவியை வெறுத்துத் திரும்பியபோது கண்ணகி தன் சிலம்பைக் கோவலனிடம் கொடுத்ததானது அவனது கெட்ட நடத்தையை நியாயப்படுத்துவது போல் உள்ளது.

அதாவது கற்புக்கரசி என்பவள் கணவன் எந்தத் தவறு செய்தாலும் சுட்டிக்காட்ட கூடாது. பெண்ணிய நோக்கில் பார்க்கும்போது, கண்ணகி தன்னை அடிமையாக ஆட்படுத்திக்கொண்டாள் என்றும் ஆணினுடைய மேலாண்மைக்குத் துணை நின்றாள் என்றும் குற்றம் சாட்டத் தூண்டுகின்றது.

இதேபோல் கண்ணகி தனது கணவன் அநியாயமாகக் கொலைசெய்யப்பட்டான் என்பதை அறிந்தவுடன் வீறிட்டு எழுந்து அரசனிடம் சென்று வாதிட்டு, நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதைப் பார்க்கும்போது இங்கே இவளைப் பெண் விழிப்புணர்ச்சிக்கு வித்திடுபவளாகக் காணவும் முடிகின்றது. இரு வேறுபட்ட நிலைகளை இங்கே காணுகின்றோம்..."



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