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"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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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Tamil Language & Literature > Thamizh Literature Through the Ages - Preface > 1. Introduction > 2. The Sangam (Academy) period. > 3. The Didactic Period > 4. The Era of the Thamizh Epics  > 5. The Era of Devotional Period  > 6. Epics of the ChOzha Period > 7. Grammar and Lexicography > 8. Philosophical Literary Period > 9. Thamizh purANangaL and Minor Poems > 10. IslAmic and Christian Contributions to Thamizh Literature > 11. Modern Period > 12. Present Situation  > 13. Conclusion

Thamizh Literature Through the Ages
தமிழ் இலக்கியம் - தொன்று தொட்டு இன்று வரை

Dr. C.R. Krishnamurti,
Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, B.C. Canada

[see also காப்பியங்கள் - Epics at Project Madurai]

4. The Era of the Thamizh Epics - காப்பிய காலம்

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 (பாண்டிய) Kings were at a low ebb in their strength while the Pallavas (பல்லவ) in the north and ChEra (சேர) Kings in the south west were slowly gaining supremacy. There were frequent insurgencies by the ChAlukyAs (சாளுக்கியர்கள்) 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 (அறம்) 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, (காப்பியங்கள்) 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 (சிலப்பதிகாரம்) and MaNimEkalai (மணிமேகலை) marked the commencement of the epic era (காப்பிய காலம்) in Thamizh literature. Three more appeared later and together they came to be known as the Five Great Epics (ஐம்பெரும் காப்பியங்கள்). The five are SilappathikAram  (சிலப்பதிகாரம்) MaNimEkalai (மணிமேகலை), SIvaka chin^thAmaNi (சீவக சிந்தாமணி) , VaLaiyApathi (வளையாபதி), and KuNdala kEsi (குண்டலகேசி). These are outlined in the following song:

சிந்தா மணியாம் சிலப்பதிகா ரம்படைத்தான்
கந்தா மணிமே கலைபுனைந்தான் - நந்தா
வளையா பதிதருவான் வாசுவனுக் கீந்தான்
திளையாத குண்டலகே சிக்கும்.
(திருத்தணிகையுலா வெண்பா)

4.2. SilappathikAram (சிலப்பதிகாரம்)

4.2.1. General

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.

4.2.2. Background

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.

4.2.3. 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.

4.3. 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 (மண்மேகலை) 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.

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 (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.

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 (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.

4.4.3. 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

4.4.4. 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.

4.4.5. 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)

4.4.6. 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)

4.4.7. 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.

4.4.8. 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)

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 (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.

4.6. MaNimEkalai (மணிமேகலை) , 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 (மணி பல்லவத் தீவு), got ordained as a Buddhist monk and received the gift of a mystic box (அமுத சுரபி) 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 (மணிமேகலைத்தெய்வம்), after her death. In the following lines she defined virtue (அறம்) as the human trait by which food, clothing and shelter are made available to all:

அறமெனப் படுவது யாதெனக்கேட்பின்
மறவாது இதுகேள் மன்னுயிர்க்கு எல்லாம்
உண்டியும் உடையும் உறையளும் அல்லது
கண்ட தில்லை.

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 (சீவக சிந்தாம்ணி) 3154 stanzas.

Written by Thirutthakka ThEvar (திருத்தக்க தேவர்) , 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 (கமபர்) , the author of iramAvathAram (இராமாவதாரம்) is said to have followed Thirutthkka ThEvar's style in his famous work. Thiruthakka ThEvar appears to be the first to introduce the viruttham (விருத்தம்) style rather the more conventional veNpA (வெண்பா)  or akaval (அகவல்) 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 (சீவகன்) married eight girls and composed one chapter (இலம்பகம்) 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 (குண்டல கேசி), 834 stanzas and VaLaiyA pathi (வளையாப்தி) , 1180 stanzas.

These two epics belong to the ninth and tenth centuries and were written by n^Aka KutthanAr (நாக குத்தனார்) and PerunthEvanAr (பெருந்தேவனார்) 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 (மு.வரதராஜன்), the VaLaiyA pathi manuscripts were seen by Dr. U.V.SAmin^Atha iyer (உ.வே.சாமிநாத ஐயெர்)  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 (ஐம்பெரும் காப்பியங்கள்). 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 (பெருங்கதை) , ChULA maNi (சூளாமணி), SAnthi PurANam (சாந்தி புராணம்), n^Ila kEsi (நீலகேசி), YasOdhara KAviyam (யசோதர காவியம்), udayNa KumAra KAviyam (உதயண குமார காவியம்)  and n^Aga KumAra KAviyam (நாக குமார காவியம்). It is generally believed that these epics do not have the same literary caliber as the twin epics.

4.9. Bibliography

aruNAchalam, M. (1975)அருணாசலம், மு. முதற் காப்பியங்கள்..In: S.V.SubramaNian and T.V.VIrAsAmi, ed. தமிழ் இலக்கியக் கொள்கை - ஓர் அறிமுகம். தொகுதி 1, உலகத் தமிழாராய்ச்சி நிறுவனம், சென்னை. பக். 93-135

aruNAchalam, M. (1975) அருணாசலம், மு. தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாறு 9-ஆம் நூற்ண்டு. காந்தி வித்தியாலயம், திருச்சிற்றம்பலம். பக். 365

Encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature. (1990) Introductory Articles. G. John Samuel (ed.) Vol. I, Institute of Asian Studies, Madras. pp.696. GOvindaswAmy, M.(1969) கோவிந்தசாமி, மு. தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாறு. இலக்கியத் தோற்றம். பாரி நிலையம், சென்னை. பக். 170

iLavarasu, S. (1970) சோம. இளவரசு. இருபது நூற்றாண்டுகளில் தமிழ். மணிவாசகர் நூலகம், சிதம்பரம். பக். 170

JagannAthan, K.V. (1971) ஜகன்னாதன், கி.வா. தமிழ்க்காப்பியங்கள். அமுத நிலையம்.

MInAtchi sun^tharan, T.P. History of Tamil Literature. aNNAmalai University Publications in linguistics - 3. aNNAmalai University, aNNAmalai n^agar. (1965). pp.211.

rAman^Athan, S. (1981) ராமநாதன், எஸ. சிலப்பதிகாரத்து இசைத்தமிழ். தமிழ் எழுத்தாளர் கூட்டுறவுச் சங்கம், சென்னை)

SInicchAmy, T. (1985) சீனிச்சாமி, து. தமிழில் காப்பியக்கொள்கை. தமிழ்ப் பல்கலைக்கழகம், தஞ்சாவூ ர். பக். 400.

SenthuRai Mutthu (1977) சிலம்பில் மக்கள் குரல். நல்வாழ்வு பதிப்பகம், சென்னை. பக். 200

Shanmugam, R., KAsirAsan, R., SAmbasivan, S., and N. VElusAmi. (1983)இராம சண்முகம், இரா. காசிராசன், ச. சாம்பசிவன், நா.வேலுசாமி. நெஞ்சை அள்ளும் சிலம்பு . மணிவாசகர் பதிப்பகம், சிதம்பரம். பக். 308

SOmasun^tharanAr, P.V. (1970) பொ. வே. சோமசுந்தரனார். சிலப்பதிகாரம் - முலமும் உரையும். திருநெல்வேலித் தென்னிந்திய சைவசித்தாந்த நு|ற்பதிப்ப க் கழகம், சென்னை

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

VaiyApurip PiLLai, S. (1989) வையாபுரிப் பிள்ளை, எஸ. இலக்கியச் சிந்தனைகள். தமிழ்ப் ப த்தகாலயம், சென்னை. பக். 552

VaradarAjan, M. (1972) வரதராஜன், மு. தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாறSAhitya Academy, New Delhi . pp. 376.

VIrAsAmi,T.V. (1977) சீவகசிந்தாமாணி) In: SubramaNian, S.V. and K.D.Thirun^Avukkarasu (ed.) (சுப்பிரமணியன், ச.வே. & க.த. திருநாவுக்கரசு. தமிழ இலக்கியக் கொள்கை . தொகுதி 2 . உலகத் தமிழாராய்ச்சி நிறுவனம், சென்னை. பதிப்ப 9, பக். 3.




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