Cilappatikaram
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Silappatikaram

Silappatikaram ' onMouseout='HidePop("82373")' href="/topics/The_Five_Great_Epics_of_Tamil_Literature">five Great Epics
The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature
The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature are five large narrative Tamil epics according to later Tamil literary tradition.
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Silappatikaram

Silappatikaram ' onMouseout='HidePop("82373")' href="/topics/The_Five_Great_Epics_of_Tamil_Literature">five Great Epics
The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature
The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature are five large narrative Tamil epics according to later Tamil literary tradition. The first mention of the "Aimperumkappiyam" occurs in Mayilainathar's commentary of Nannūl. However, Mayilainathar does not mention the names of the five epics...

 of ancient Tamil Literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

. The poet prince Ilango Adigal
Ilango Adigal
Ilango Adigal was a Tamil poet and a Jain monk, who was instrumental in the creation of Silappathikaram, one of the five great epics of Tamil Literature. Prince Ilango was the brother of Chera king Cheran Chenguttuvan , in South India. Ilango Adigal was born in the Chera dynasty that ruled parts...

, popularly believed to have been a Jaina
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 monk, is credited with this work. He is reputed to be the brother of Senguttuvan
Senguttuvan
King Senguttuvan; also Chenguttawan, was the most famous and powerful Chera king who ruled in Ancient south India during the early centuries of the Common Era. He is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the legendary Tamil epic Silapathikaram...

 from Chera
Chera dynasty
Chera Dynasty in South India is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas, they formed the three principle warring Iron Age Tamil kingdoms in southern India...

. As a literary work, it is held in high regard by the Tamils
Tamil people
Tamil people , also called Tamils or Tamilians, are an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, India and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka. Historic and post 15th century emigrant communities are also found across the world, notably Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, Australia, Canada,...

. The nature of the book is narrative and has a moralistic undertone. It contains three chapters and a total of 5270 lines of poetry. The epic revolves around Kannagi
Kannagi
Kannagi or , a legendary Tamil woman, is the central character of the South Indian epic Silapathikaram. Legend states that Kannagi took revenge on the King of Madurai, for a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city with disaster.-The story:Kovalan, the son of a...

, who having lost her husband to a miscarriage of justice at the court of the Pandya king, wreaks her revenge on his kingdom.

Silappatikaram has been dated to likely belong to the beginning of Christian era, although the author might have built upon a pre-existing folklore to spin this tale. The story involves the three Tamil kingdoms of the ancient era, the Chola, the Pandya and the Chera
Chera dynasty
Chera Dynasty in South India is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas, they formed the three principle warring Iron Age Tamil kingdoms in southern India...

. Silappatikaram has many references to historical events and personalities, although it has not been accepted as a reliable source of history by many historians because of the inclusion of many exaggerated events and achievements to the ancient Tamil kings.

Regarded as one of the great achievements of Tamil genius, the Silappatikaram is a poetic rendition with details of Tamil culture; its varied religions; its town plans and city types; the mingling of Greek, Arab, and Tamil peoples; and the arts of dance and music.

Structure of Silappatikaram

Silappatikaram contains three chapters:
  • Puharkkandam (புகார்க் காண்டம் – Puhar
    Puhar
    Puhar is a town in the Nagapattinam district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was once a flourishing ancient port city known as Kaveri puhum pattinam, which for a while served as the capital of the early Chola kings in Tamilakkam.It is located near the end point of the Kaveri river,...

     chapter), which deals with the events in the Chola city of Puhar, where Kannagi and Kovalan start their married life and Kovalan leaves his wife for the courtesan Madavi. This contains 10 sub divisions
  • Maduraikkandam (மதுரைக் காண்டம் – Madurai
    Madurai
    Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

     chapter) , is situated in Madurai in the Pandya kingdom where Kovalan loses his life, incorrectly blamed for the theft of the queen's anklet. This contains 7 sub divisions
  • Vanchikkandam (வஞ்சிக் காண்டம் – Vanchi chapter), is situated in the Chera
    Chera dynasty
    Chera Dynasty in South India is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas, they formed the three principle warring Iron Age Tamil kingdoms in southern India...

     country where Kannagi ascends to the heavens. This contains 13 sub divisions


Each of these chapters are made of several sub chapters called kaathais. Kaathais are narrative sections of the chapters.

Historical and social setting

At the end of the Sangam epoch (second – third centuries CE), the Tamil country was in political confusion. The older order of the three Tamil dynasties was replaced by the invasion of the Kalabhras
Kalabhras
The Kalabhras dynasty ruled over the entire Ancient Tamil country between the 3rd and the 6th century in an era of South Indian history called the Kalabhra interregnum. The Kalabhras displaced the kingdoms of the early Cholas, early Pandayan and Chera dynasties. Information about its origin and...

. These new kings and others encouraged the religions of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and Jainism
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

. Ilango Adigal, the author of Silappatikaram, probably lived in this period and was one of the vast number of Jain and Buddhist authors in Tamil poetry. These authors, perhaps influenced by their monastic faiths, wrote books based on moralistic values to illustrate the futility of secular pleasures. These poets freely borrowed from Sanskrit literature, which had numerous books of didactic nature, as well as narrative plays by Bhāsa
Bhasa
Bhāsa is one of the earliest and most celebrated Indian playwrights in Sanskrit. However, very little is known about him.Kālidāsa in the introduction to his first play Malavikagnimitram writes -...

 and Kalidasa
Kalidasa
Kālidāsa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language...

. These authors went beyond the nature of Sangam poems
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

, which contain descriptions of human emotions and feelings in an abstract fashion, and employed fictional characters in a well conceived narrative incorporating personal and social ramifications. Tamil epics were thus invented by these poets.

The author of Silappatikaram was Ilango Adigal
Ilango Adigal
Ilango Adigal was a Tamil poet and a Jain monk, who was instrumental in the creation of Silappathikaram, one of the five great epics of Tamil Literature. Prince Ilango was the brother of Chera king Cheran Chenguttuvan , in South India. Ilango Adigal was born in the Chera dynasty that ruled parts...

 (lit. Prince- Ascetic). He is reputed to be the brother of Chera king Senguttuvan
Senguttuvan
King Senguttuvan; also Chenguttawan, was the most famous and powerful Chera king who ruled in Ancient south India during the early centuries of the Common Era. He is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the legendary Tamil epic Silapathikaram...

, although there is no evidence in the Sangam poetries that the famous king had a brother. There are also claims that Ilango Adigal was a contemporary of Sattanar
Sattanar
Sattanar is the Tamil Buddhist poet who composed the epic called Manimekalai. He lived in the period of Ilango Adigal. He was also known as Seethalai Sattanar or Sīthalai Sāttanār....

, the author of Manimekalai
Manimekalai
Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai , written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos...

. The prologues of each of these books tell us that each were read out to the author of the other [Silappatikaram, pathigam 90]. From comparative studies between Silappatikaram and certain Sanskrit Buddhist and Jain works such as Nyayaprakasa, the date of Silappatikaram has been determined to be around the fifth and the sixth centuries CE.

The story of Silappatikaram is set during the first few centuries of CE and narrates the events in the three Tamil kingdoms: Chera
Chera dynasty
Chera Dynasty in South India is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas, they formed the three principle warring Iron Age Tamil kingdoms in southern India...

 , Chola, and Pandya. It also mentions the Ilankai king Gajabahu and the Chera Senguttuvan
Senguttuvan
King Senguttuvan; also Chenguttawan, was the most famous and powerful Chera king who ruled in Ancient south India during the early centuries of the Common Era. He is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the legendary Tamil epic Silapathikaram...

. It confirms that the northern kingdoms of Chedi
Chedi Kingdom
Chedi kingdom was one among the many kingdoms ruled during early periods by Paurava kings and later by Yaduvanshi Rajput kings in the central and western India. It falls roughly in the Bundelkhand division of Madhya Pradesh regions to the south of river Yamuna and along river Betwa or Vetravati...

, Uttarakosala
Kosala
Kosala was an ancient Indian region, corresponding roughly in area with the region of Awadh in present day Uttar Pradesh. According to the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya and the Jaina text, the Bhagavati Sutra, Kosala was one of the Solasa Mahajanapadas in 6th century BCE and its cultural and...

, and Vajra were known to the Tamil people of the time. The epic also vividly describes the Tamil society of the period, its cities, the people's religious and folk traditions and their gods.

Objectives

In the pathigam, the prologue to the book, Ilango Adigal gives the reader the gist of the book with the précis of the story. He also lays the objectives of the book:
அரசியல் பிழைத்தோருக்கு அறங்கூற்றாவதும், (Truth will punish the irresponsible erring king)
உரைசால் பத்தினியை உயர்ந்தோர் ஏத்தலும், (A woman with great morals will be praised by intellects)
ஊழ்வினை உறுத்து வந்தூட்டும் என்பதூம், (one has to pay for his acts)(past and present acts of one will certainly yield their results on him)
நாட்டுதும் யாம் ஓர் பாட்டுடைச் செய்யுள்

That virtue itself is the executioner of those who err in politics
That the great will ever praise a chaste woman of great virtue
That fate will inevitabely follow and give the fruits of ones past actions
(Because the anklet was the basis for these truths)
Here do we create an epic song

Main characters

  • Kovalan
    Kovalan
    Kovalan is a central character in the ancient Tamil epic Cilappatikaram.-Plot:Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant in Kaveripattinam, married Kannagi, the lovely daughter of another merchant. They lived together happily in the city of Kaveripattinam, until Kovalan met the courtesan Madhavi and...

     - Son of a wealthy merchant in Puhar
    Puhar
    Puhar is a town in the Nagapattinam district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was once a flourishing ancient port city known as Kaveri puhum pattinam, which for a while served as the capital of the early Chola kings in Tamilakkam.It is located near the end point of the Kaveri river,...

  • Kannagi
    Kannagi
    Kannagi or , a legendary Tamil woman, is the central character of the South Indian epic Silapathikaram. Legend states that Kannagi took revenge on the King of Madurai, for a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city with disaster.-The story:Kovalan, the son of a...

     - Wife of Kovalan
  • Masattuvan - A wealthy grain merchant and the father of Kovalan
  • Madhavi
    Madhavi (Silappatikaram)
    Madhavi is an important character in the Silappatikaram, one of the epics in Tamil literature. Silapathikaram is the first kappiyam among the five in Tamil literature. It belongs to the sangam period. She was a dancer and on those days these kind of people are made in the society to recreate the...

     - A beautiful courtesan dancer
  • Vasavadaththai - Madavi's female friend
  • Kosigan - Madavi's messenger to Kovalan
  • Madalan - A Brahmin
    Brahmin
    Brahmin Brahman, Brahma and Brahmin.Brahman, Brahmin and Brahma have different meanings. Brahman refers to the Supreme Self...

     visitor to Madurai
    Madurai
    Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

     from Puhar
  • Kavunthi Adigal - A woman ascetic
  • Neduncheliyan - Pandya king
  • Kopperundevi - Pandya Queen

Sequel

Manimekalai
Manimekalai
Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai , written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos...

, written by the Tamil Jain poet Seethalai Saathanar
Sattanar
Sattanar is the Tamil Buddhist poet who composed the epic called Manimekalai. He lived in the period of Ilango Adigal. He was also known as Seethalai Sattanar or Sīthalai Sāttanār....

 is the continuation of Silappatikaram. This epic poem describes how Manimekalai, the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, followers of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, fights the allegation of queen.

Literary value

The Silappatikaram, apart from being the first known epic poem in Tamil, is also important for its literary innovations. It introduces the intermingling of poetry with prose, a form not seen in previous Tamil works. It features an unusual praise of the Sun, the Moon, the river Kaveri and the city of Poompuhar at its beginning, the contemporary tradition being to praise a deity. It is also considered to be a predecessor of the Nigandu lexicographic tradition.

Popular culture

There have been multiple movies based on the story of Silappathikaram and the most famous is the portrayal of Kannagi by actress Kannamba in the 1942 movie Kannagi. P.U.Chinnappa played the lead as Kovalan. The movie faithfully follows the story of Silappathikaram and was a hit when it was released. The movie Poompuhar, penned by 'Kalaignar' M. Karunanidhi
M. Karunanidhi
Muthuvel Karunanidhi is an Indian politician and a former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He is the head of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam , a Dravidian political party in the state of Tamil Nadu. He has been the leader of the DMK since the death of its founder, C. N...

 is also based on Silapathikaram. There are multiple dance dramas as well by some of the great exponents of Bharatanatyam in Tamil as most of the verses of Silappathikaram can be set to music.

Further reading


External links

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