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Illango oeuvre- Silapathikaram & Muziris By A V Ramanathan [email protected] 2012

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Cheras along with the Cholas, Pandyas were the triamvarates in the early Part of Southern History. Sangam age is said to be the golden age of arts, literature, music. Kannaki was a pious woman married to Kovalan. Kovalan was weaned away by a courtesan Madhavi. But a to go to Madurai. Kovalan, bankrupt goes to a goldsmith to sell one of her anklets. Goldsmith takes him to the King alleging that he is a robber. King puts him to death. Kanagi appears before the King and demands proof. She throws one of the pair to the ground, out comes precious stones. She cruses the Kingdom which goes in flames. Madurai Meenakshi pleads with Kannagi to take back her curse which she does. Kannagi commits suicide. Senkuttavan, erects a temple for Kannagi. That is the famous Kodungallur Temple.

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Illango oeuvre-

Silapathikaram &


A V Ramanathan

[email protected]



Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & Muziris [a v ramanathan]

C o n t e n t s

Sl No. Description Pages1. Preface 2-042. Primum Emporium Indae 5-143. Silapathikaram 15-324. Manimakali 33-385. Prologue 39-41


Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & Muziris


Ancient River Valley Civilizations developed around River Valleys. Indus, Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Yellow civilizations, shared certain characteristics that distinguish them from Neolithic communities that proceeded then. Neolithic Revolution, 10,000 years ago, dramatically changed how the human lived, developed agriculture, domesticated animals, lived in one spot, raised crops, livestock for food, etc. In ancient India, 2000 years ago, on the dawn of history, Muziris, a prosperous port had a fascinating Past and offers a glimpse to the glory and grandeur of the region of Cheras, who were the then rulers of the Tamil Country of the early Sangam age. Imagine trading in Spices and jewellery with ancient Romans. Muziris is mentioned in the historic tomes of 1st century Greco-Latin historians, Ptolemy and Pliny, and also in classical Indian accounts. The export of garnets, quartz, pearls, lapir lazhli, aromatics, cotton, spices, pepper, ivory, sandlewood from this part of the world to world towns was real and accounted. Old papyrus account talk of the existence of a Roman merchant colony on the Muziris coast.

During the Cheran rule, all communications were in Tamil with sanskritised words, as Malayalam, the last of the Dravidian language came to usage, much later. The Malayalam language, with its own individuality, personality, has only a History of eight centuries to its credit. Prior to this Period, a dialect of ancient Tamil was used in Kerala. Due to heavy impact of Sanskrit and also due to several other factors, the language in Kerala followed a different course of evolution, and by about 12th or 13th century, it emerged out to a separate tongue.

Words found common in Malayalam or Tamil, may be older or more ancient than other words, those ancient usages were confined to Kerala only. The Kerala tradition or a Tamil tradition is like a Cat and a Mouse. The whole problem is an absolute and compounding mess. There are many towering personalities who have written History like KG Sesha Iyer, KA Neelakanta Shastri, S Krishnaswami iyengar, K R Srinivasa Iyengar.

The prose in Silapathikaram or Manimekhali was in distinct style, and most of the verses can be set to mellifluous melodious music.

Kerala has been branded as God’s Own Land. There are many fables, folk tales, sonnets, legends, sands, spots, nature’s beauty, rolling waves, majestic temples, stone pillars, monolithic weapons, who sing the tale of a Past that gives the mystic synthesis.


A continuum of events occurring in succession, tells you history, not written by scholars or erudite historians, but by facts, occurrences, events which shows that genius of Kerala consist of synthesis. Bible, Augustine Ceaser, Nero, Magasthenis, Ptolemy, Pliny the Elder, Ashoka edicts, Ramayana, Mahabharata, refer to the paramount importance of a Port city called Muziris, which may be ,in the present day Kodu-ga-lloor, the land of 10 million Siva lingas. Sangam literature confers pride of place for this town, which controlled the trade and commerce, in the unknown era of the Calendar, and in the primitive past of Before Christ. It practiced globalization, 2200 years ago! Muziris (Muciripattanam), the capital of Chera dynasty was an ancient sea port on the bank of River Periyar

Indian Odyssey

Coast of Beranika (ancient port- Red Sea) in Egypt and Muziris, Port town in Nelcyindia, grown in South India, are great Ports in the ancient period, which had regular contact. That is Indian Odyssey- in spite of enormous distance, cultural and age difference, both Ports knew each other. Arabia, India, and china continuum produced wealth through Trade.

Sangam Period:

The Sangam period is the Classical period in the history of South India which comprises 3rd Century B.C. to 4th Century A.D. During this period Kerala along with Tamilnadu, Laccadives, Andhra Pradesh and certain areas of Karnataka was the part of Tamilakam. During this period, the region was ruled by Thribhuvana Chakravathies (Chola, Pandya and Chera dynasties). The classic literature works of the Sangam period like Tholkkapium, Pathittippathu, Silappathikaram, Manimekhala, Nattinae, Paraarunooru, Akaarunooru etc., reveal that high Standard of Education and Literacy was noticed among all sections of people irrespective of class distinction. Social freedom and equality was well observed. The Sangam Works depict the histories of 3 warring Iron Age Kingdoms of Chera, Chola and Pandyas. However, some historian need to work into compact history and work out the chronology on the basis of the historic incidents cited.

Kerala, the part of Tamilakam was ruled by the Kings of Chera clan whose capital was Muziris (Kodungalloor/Cranganoor). The rulers were called Cheraman Perumal. They were selected through proficiency tests (Physical, Psychological, Social, Moral, Educational and Literal). The strength and potentiality in administration, sense of solidarity over the land and the people of the prospective rulers were evaluated though this test called Mamamankam held at Thiunavai.


The Apostolic mission MarThoma (St. Thomas) one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ came to Muziris, the capital city of Chera Empire during 52 A.D. The first Muslim mosque was constructed here. The Kodungalluramma Temple is in existence since 1 AD. Augstaine Temple of the Romans existed here. The Jews built their own synagogue. Muziris had a cosmopolitan outlook in the 1st century AD

The Silappathikaram is a fine synthesis of mood poetry in an ancient Tamil Śaṅgam tradition and the rhetoric of Sanskrit poetry, including the dialogues of Kalittokai (poems of unrequited or mismatched love), chorus folk song, and descriptions of city and village, lovingly technical accounts of dance and music, and strikingly dramatic scenes of love and tragic death. One of the great achievements of Tamil genius, the Silappathikaram is a detailed poetic witness to Tamil culture, its varied religions, its town plans and city types, the commingling of Greek, Arab, and Tamil peoples, and the Arts of dance and music. Unlike the Silappathikaram, its incomplete sequel, Manimekalai, the story of Kovalan’s and Madhavi’s daughter, reflects a Buddhist perspective.

A V Ramanathan



Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & MuzirisChapter- I

Primum emporium IndiaeEpilogue; Kodungallur

No pilgrim’s progress is said to be complete, if he or she does not visit the Kodungallur Temple in Kodungallur, 40 Kms from Guruvayoor, 39 Km from Ernakulam and 35 Kms from Trichur. The deity looks north, and adigals, one line down Namboodiris, perform poojas here, there is a thalapalli (mid January) for the poor folks, Bharani festival for the Devi (mid April), and a closure of temple for 7 days after the Bharani festival. The temple is more than 2,000 years old, and was consecrated during the Emperorship of Senkuttan, Chera monarch in the first- second century AD

Muziris is one of the greatest Ports in India in ancient history. Dhows after Dhows anchored here, laden with gold, and went back with black pepper, ivory, spices, tusks, sandlewood, teakwood, etc. It was a Port of call known to every ancient town which engaged in maritime activity. It figured prominently in every maritime map. The Port was situated upriver; hence deep hulled ships could not directly be towed through the river to the Port. It anchored on the outer sea. Roman ships were forced to wait at the edge of the lagoons while their cargoes were transferred upstream on smaller crafts. Large settlement owed their prosperity to shipping from the Roman Empire. However, in 1341, a great flood on the river Periyar inundated it and choked the mouth of the Muziris harbour, erasing it from the maritime and trade Map,


permanently. Cochin emerged as a major beneficiary of this event, as Vypin Island was formed and a slit from the Arabian Sea through Fort Kochi and Vypin opened up as the navigable channel, making it the Port of Cochin, in 1929. Muziris was the forgotten Spice route.(Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Arabs, Greece, Rome, Chinese, et el). Today, the Town is in ruins and was fast declining when the first European power Portuguese came to India in 1498. Between the interim inperium of the rule of Cheras, (there is a gap between the first and Second Chera Empires), Pandyan King is said to have attacked Muziris, and taken forcefully possession of some sacred images. It is not known as to what was the type of images he removed forcefully.

"Years ago," says the Revd. Richard Collins, "by one of those strange vicissitudes which so often mark the progress of time, Cranganore was shorn of her glory. It was no Nebuchadnezzar, no Alexander, no Titus, that blotted out her name from history, and ‘laid her stones and her timbers and her dust in the midst of the waters;’ and made her ‘a place to spread nets upon’ - a mere village, as she is now, of a few fishermen’s huts. She fell a prey to the geological instability of the coast, before referred to. Like so many things of the earth, the very foundation on which she was built was insecure; the entrance to her harbour became choked up; the remorseless monsoon washed away her bulwarks, and, losing her trade, she lost also her inhabitants”. The opening of the Cochin outlet for the discharge of the monsoon flood of waters into the sea and the consequent choking up of the Cranganore outlet led to the forming of the present beautiful harbour of Cochin. That tolled the death knell of the commercial prosperity of Cranganore. Deprived of its natural harbour, it gradually dwindled into insignificance. Its trade fled northwards to Calicut and southwards to the new harbour of Cochin, and with its trade its prosperity also.

The subsequent efforts of the Portuguese to revive Cranganore were of no avail, and it now remains only a name in history.Pliny described Cranganore as ‘primum emporium Indiae’. Well, did it deserve that proud distinction? Situated on the coast, eighteen miles to the north of Cochin, at a place where the great rivers that form the only means of communication with the interior debouched into the sea, it attained an unrivalled prosperity from very early times. It was through this port that the Hindus received from the Phoenicians their art of writing; it must have been from this port that the shipmen of Solomon of Israel, ‘that knew the sea’, obtained their valuable cargoes of gold, ivory, sandalwood, etc.It was to this port that the Greek merchant and mariner Hippalos, that Columbu ancient times, in his voyage for the discovery of a sea-route to India, was carried by the western monsoons

It was here, according to common tradition, that the Apostle St. Thomas landed first, planted the Cross and preached Christianity in the opening years of the first century of the Christian Era (52 A.D).It was here, not long after, that the Jews arrived after the destruction of the second temple and the final desolation of Jerusalem (A.D. 69) and founded a colony. It was at this


port, that the Romans had, according to one version of the Peutinger Tables, set up a temple of Augustus and stationed a garrison to protect their trade. It was here that Thomas Cana landed from Syria, when he brought with him a fresh colony of Syrian Christians. It was here that the early Chera Kings had their seat, and the Chera king Senkuttavan held his prosperous court, and ruled over the Chera Empire in the first century of the Christian era.

[St. Thomas stamp brought out by the Government of India in connection with the Bombay International Eucharistic Congress on the occasion of the visit of Pope Paul VI to India in 1964. A commemorative postal stamp to remember St. Thomas’ 19th death centenary stamp was released on 3rd July1973].

It was here that the great Cheraman Perumal, Bhaskara Ravi Varma, lived and ruled over Kerala prosperously for thrice the period of his allotted term. It was here that he was visited by certain Muhammadan pilgrims, who, according to tradition, succeeded in inducing the Perumal to turn Muhammadan and undertake the Haj; it was here that the Perumal, on the eve of his renunciation of religion and empire and embarkation for Mecca, is reputed to have distributed Malabar among the many princes who own it even now; it was here that his emissaries from Mecca founded Mohammedan colony and built the first mosque in Malabar. The Portuguese, the first European nation to arrive and to found an empire in India, had seriously thought of making Cranganore their seat of Government, but preferred Cochin, as that place offered, since the formation of the harbour therein the year 1341, a better site.

Nevertheless, the Portuguese fortified Cranganore and made it the seat of the first Roman Catholic Arch-bishopric in India. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese, and were of opinion that Cranganore was the key of Malabar. Verily it proved to be too, when Hyder and Tippu led the Mysorean hordes to the west coast. The purchase by Travancore of the fort of Cranganore and its destruction by Tippu led to the third Mysorean war, at the close of which Malabar passed


into the possession of the English, who had, as early as 1616, established a factory there, and entered into a treaty with the Zamorin, perhaps the very first treaty between the English and an Indian sovereign. At present, the site of the fort is a wilderness and the Cathedral is in shambles. What strange tales would history unfold if only the gift of speech were allowed to the stones and pebbles that lie embedded in the bosom of the river that flows by the once famous fort of Cranganore! (History of Kerala, I)

The city of Kodungallur, known variously by Muziris, Shinkli, and Cranganore and by many another name1 down the centuries, stood at the meeting-place of different trade routes connecting the East with the West and the North with the South. These trade - routes, which carried the bulk of the traffic passing by sea between India and foreign parts, played an all important part in the history of Cranganore, for it must have been mainly to them that the city owed its initial existence as well as its subsequent prosperity and greatness, and it was due to their diversion or decline, when trade contacts with foreign countries were interrupted, that Cranganore sank eventually into insignificance.

Oceanic Trade Routes to the West, North and the East While the monsoon route connected Muziris (Cranganore) directly across the Arabian Sea with cities in the west (e.g. Alexandria, Aden) the West Coastal route gave its ships ready access to the Indus (leading to Taxila) and Ctesiphon by land and beyond to Ormuz and Mesopotamia. a third route, hugging the coast of East Asia linked the Imperial Capital of the Cheras with the Mouth of the Ganges and with China.

A chain of backwaters/lagoons running parallel to the sea receive the drainage of the rivers flowing down from the hills and meet the sea at Cranganore and nearby Chettuvai. These backwaters with their subsidiary canals stretch to Trivandrum, almost at the Southern end of Kerala, and to Ponnani in the North and have numerous branches leading towards the interior. Almost throughout their length they are navigable for all sizes of country boats throughout the year.


They are affected by flood tides twice in every 24 hours, except during the monsoon months, when the frequency is according to the volume of the lakes. The accessibility of Cranganore, by sea and by the backwaters, made it the foremost trading station of Kerala and India both for internal and foreign commerce.

The Fort at Palliport in ruins

Kodungallur is a taluka Headquarters, with no paraphernalia but a powerful history of the Sea Trade of the Past. It is one of the trading towns, the world knew, did business with. But the old history did not merge with the new one, as Kodungallur stands alone among the forgotten tales of its rich Past. The world came to its feet. It was a town with free arriving foreigners, who settled down, some went back, leaving their distinct memories on the tomb of time. The inhabitants, the Menons in the 19th century, left to greener pastures, and we see so many tharwads had their wards surging to Malaysia and Singapore. In the wake of the aftermath of the World War II, these prosperous menons returned to Cranganore to begin their life again. There has been a widespread exodus of the Muslim population to Arabia, and other places in the Gulf. A percentage of doctors who indulge in lucrative practice had their roots in Kodungallur. The Port town which lost its luster had foreign currency being brought by the immigrants which made the town prosperous. once again.

Kodungallur is famous for its ancient temples which are among the worthy specimens of the Kerala style of architecture. One of the earliest is the Siva Temple atTiruvanchikulam in Cranganore Taluk, which is said to have been founded by theSaivaite saint Sundara Murthi Nayanar and his royal friend


Cheraman Perumal Nayanar. The Kiztali Siva Temple, one of the 18 Tali Temples of Kerala, is situated very near to the Tiruvanchikulam temple. Moreover in Cranganore, there is also the famous Kurumba Bhaghavati Temple supposed to have been built in the Sangam age to commemorate the martyrdom of Kannaki. Kannaki is depicted as the ideal wife in the celebrated legend of Kovalan and Kannaki, presented in the Tamil epic Silappathikaram. Chenkuttuvan enshrined her as the goddess of Chastity. It was mentioned earlier how the first mosque in India was founded here in 629 AD by the followers of Cheraman Perumal, believed to have been converted to Islam. The present Cheraman Masjid stands on the site of the original mosque built in Keralastyle.

Augustus, about 5 A.D., Strabo speaks of noticing about 120 ships sailing from Myos-Hormos to India. These ships must have gone to the coast of North India along the coastal waters of Arabia and the Indus mouth. The Romans were not satisfied with such a circuitous route to South India. We read in Strabo (15-1-4)of the South Indian king, Pandian sending an embassy to Augustus; and in Pliny,6.22 (24), of the king of Ceylon, impressed by the unheard of justice of the Romans whose denari were all of equal weight, despatching to Nero’s Rome ambassadors of whom the chief was Rachis (Raja). It was in Nero’s reign that the Arabs first came under Roman dominion, and Aden and Socotra became Roman colonies. By this time not even the routes to China were unknown.

Muziris in an old mapWhen the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. many Jews emigrated and many arrived in India, and even to China according to Hebrew and Chinese inscriptions. When, as seen earlier, the Romans finally established a direct sea route to India, Muziris was the chief port they touched, not only because it was the nearest and most accessible port, but also because Muziris and Porakkad could provide them with the commodities which they most valued. About Europe in general and England in particular which was the last western power involved with India it has been said, "the history of Modern Europe and emphatically of England, is the history of the quest of the aromatic gum, resins and balsams, and condiments


and spices, of India etc. ""it should not escape notice that gold and silver, after circulating in every other quarter of the globe, come at length to be absorbed in Hindustan.” When Persia and Egypt fell beneath the power of the Arabs one of the spoils of their victory was the Indian Trade.

Herodotus tells us that India is the wealthiest and most populous country on earth. As Sir George Bird wood has remarked. "The entire record of the intercourse between countries of the west and India from the very earliest times to the present day may be said to be the story of the struggle for the Indian trade".

The chief commodity exported from Cranganore was pepper and the fair reputation of Malabar pepper had already reached the four corners of the known world from the earliest centuries B.C. So much so it is called Yavana Priya (beloved of the Romans). We have already seen the description of the hillocks of pepper bags at Muchiri (Puram). In addition to what the Periplus has to say on the area where pepper is produced in Malabar (56. Vide infra note 26), we also have there a list of ports (viz. Thundis, Muziris, Nelcynda and Barace) from which pepper was exported. Cosmas Indicopleustes in the 6th century speaks of ‘Male where pepper grows’ and of ‘Male which has fine marts that export pepper’ (b.3).Pepper was in great demand in Rome at the time of Pliny. "It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that in other substances which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness, and sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice; whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being in certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India. Who was the first to make trial of it as an article of food? And who, I wonder, was the man that was not content to prepare himself by hunger only for the satisfying of a greedy appetite?” Yet, in spite of Pliny’s complaints this demand for pepper continued in Roman circles. The continued use of it in cooking raised its price to 15 denarii a pound for long pepper, 7 for the white, and 4 for the black pepper.

Pepper, Kerala’s gold from time immemorial

This vigorous trade in pepper and other spices of India began to drain the Roman Empire of its wealth. Pliny is stupefied at the thought of this drainage. He says;” The subject (of setting


forth the whole route from Egypt to India) is one well worthy of our notice, seeing that in no year does India drain our empire of less than five hundred and fifty millions of sesterces, giving back her own wares in exchange, which are sold among us at fully one hundred times their prime cost”. and elsewhere: "At the very lowest computation, India, the Arabian peninsula drain from our empire yearly one hundred million sesterces; so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women". What infuriates him further is that, "Both pepper and ginger grows wild in their respective countries, and yet here we buy them by weight like gold and silver". [Some 300 years later pepper was still valued highly in Rome, Alaric the Goth we find, asking for 3000 pounds of pepper as an important part of the ransom to raise the siege against Rome. (Gibbon, Decline and fall, XXXI)] Pliny minces no words when speaking out against that inordinate and costly fondness of Roman women for the luxury goods from Muziris:"Our ladies glory in having pearls suspended from their fingers, one, two or three of them dangling from their ears, delighted even with the rattling of pearls as they knock against each other; and now, at the present day, the poorer classes are even affecting them as people are in the habit of saying that ‘ a pearl worn by a woman in public is as good as a lictor walking before her: Nay even more than this, they put them on their feet, and that not only on the laces of their sandals, but all over the shoes; it is not enough to wear pearls, but they must tread upon them, and walk with them under foot as well". Again, "I once saw Lollia Paulina, the wife of the Emperor Caius - it was not any solemn ceremonial, but only at an ordinary betrothal entertainment -covered with emeralds and pearls, which shone in alternate layers upon her head, in her hair, in her wreaths, in her ears, upon her neck, in her bracelets and on her fingers, and the value of which amounted in all to 40,000,000 sesterces; indeed she was prepared at once to prove the fact by showing the receipts and acquaintances".



Large numbers of Roman coins have been discovered on the Malabar Coast (e.g. from Eyyal between Cranganore and Palayur, and from Kottayam in North Kerala). Just two years back more than a thousand Roman gold coins were found buried in Parur, also not very distant from Cranganore. What is interesting is that the majority of these coins belong to a period of some 80 years from Augustus to Nero (B.C. 27 to A.D. 68).The Periplus has this remark, "Thereare imported here (the Malabar Ports), in the first place a great quantity of coin ...” The Roman could, it is believed make a profit on the sale of gold coins in India, perhaps because these were not only used as currency but also for ornament as is evidenced by the fact that many gold coins found in Kerala have been pierced through.

Roman silver coins of 1st Century B.C / A.D from Eyyal between Kodungallur and Palayur. Exports from Muziris included, according to various authors, Pearl in considerable quantity and of superior quality; Pepper in large quantities; Gems in every variety, Diamonds, Amethyst or ruby and a variety of other commodities.

Other aspects of Cranganore, especially as the capital of the Chera Emperors have already been dealt with. Thus we can see from the foregoing accounts that Muziris or Cranganore was the most important city of South India, at least for considerable periods of time, that it was the capital of the Cheras, that it was prosperous on account of its trade relations with the East and the West. It was to this city that St. Thomas the Apostle is believed to have come at the beginning of the second half of the first century:

Notes: [1. Cranganore was variously called Muziris, Muchiri, Mahodayapuram, Mahadevapattanam, Makotaipattam, Muyiri Kodu, Tiiruvanchikulam etc. in the early periods. Mediaeval travellers refer to the place under various forms (Cfr. K.P. PadmanabhaMenon, History of Kerala, I, p.313. Also Hobson -Jobson: Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases by Yule-Burnell, 1886, P. 627):Al Biruni... 970 A.D. ...JangliBenjamin of Tudela 1167 ...GingalehFriar Odoric 1287 ...Cyngilin Roman gold and silver coins unearthed around the Palayur-Kodungallur-Parur belt at Eyyal (1945) and Valuvally (1984) Shownabove are some gold coins of Tiberius Caesar, Nero and from these collections.]



Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & Muziris

Chapter- II

Silappatikaram (Tamil: சில பதிகார , Cilappatikāram, IPA: [siləppəd̪iɡɑːrəm]

Silappatikaram is one of the five Great Epics according to later Tamil literary tradition, the others being Manimegalai, Civaka Cintamani, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi. Silapathikaram refers to many incidents and historical facts of the Chera King, Cheran Senkuttavan, who was one of the most powerful and enlightened rulers of his time.

The story of Silappatikaram is set during the first few centuries of CE and narrates the events in the three Tamil kingdoms: Chera, Chola, and Pandya. It also mentions the Ilankai king Gajabahu and the Chera ruler Senguttuvan. It confirms that the northern kingdoms of Chedi, Uttarakosala, and Vajra were known to the Tamil people of the time. 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.. 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 (according to some historians including British Historians) to the ancient Tamil kings. As a literary work, it is held in high regard by the Tamils. 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, who having lost her husband to a miscarriage of justice at the court of the Pandya king, wreaks her revenge on his kingdom.

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

The poet prince Ilango Adigal, popularly believed to have been a Jain monk, is credited with this work. He is reputed to be the brother of Senguttuvan , an important ruler of the Chera dynasty although there is no evidence in the Sangam poetries that the famous king had a brother. It was the time when Buddhism and Jainism grew and naturally, these new religions spread into South India as well. Ilango Adigal, the author of Silappatikaram, probably lived in this period and was one of the vast numbers 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 and Kalidasa. These authors went beyond the nature of Sangam poems, 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.

There are also claims that Ilango Adigal was a contemporary of Sattanar, the author of Manimekalai. he prologues of each of these books tell us that each was 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.

Silappatikaram contains three chapters:

Puharkkandam (– Puhar 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 Madhavi. This contains 10 sub divisions

Maduraikkandam– Madurai chapter), is situated in Madurai in the Pandyakingdom where Kovalan loses his life, incorrectly blamed for the theft of the queen's anklet. This contains 7 sub divisions

Vanchikkandam– Vanchi chapter), is situated in the Chera country where Kannagi ascends to the heavens. This contains 13 sub divisions and eachof these chapters are made of several sub chapters called kaathais(narrative sections of the chapters).

Silappatikaram [literal translation] “Story of the Anklet” depicts the life of Kannagi, a chaste woman who lead a peaceful life with Kovalan in Puhar (Poompuhar), then the capital of Cholas. Both Kovalan and Kannagi belonged to affluent families of Puhar. She had long black hair, when untied falls and touches her back, and her countenance was round. She was as beautiful as Goddess Parvati. Her life later went astray by the association of Kovalan with an unchaste woman Madhavi. Kovalan later felt repentant, and came back to Kannaki requested for Pardon. Like any chaste wife, she pardoned her husband. The duo wanted to resurrect their life in Madurai, the capital of Pandyas. Apart from the story, it is a vast treasure of information of music and dance, both classical and folk.

Repentant Kovalan deserts Madhavi and rejoins Kanakki. The latter requests her husband on shifting to Madurai to earn a decent living out of honest work.


Kannaki had united with her husband Kovalan, to lead a marital life. She was his wedded wife. She was known to Maharani Illango Venmal, wife of Cheran Senkuttavan, the Maharaja of the Cheran dynasty. After a long travel by walk, Kovalan and Kannagi, reach Madurai which was the seat of the Pandyan kings who were known for their versatility, valour, impartiality. It was also the seat of the Tamil Sangam. When Kannagi waited long enough for her husband to return after selling one of the anklets studded by rare gems, and when he did not return, she was alarmed. She ran out, only to find her husband killed on the orders of the Maharaja. Kannaki, who enquired about the cause of king wrath with the people of Madurai, no one spoke, but from somebody Kannagi elicited the truth of the happening at the Maharaja durbar. She went to the Palace, released her hair which touched her back, and expressed her anger with the following words, “Oh manna, do you have no rule of Law in your Kingdom?” and without allowing the King to interrupt her continued with her speech, full of pity, piety, sorrow, and anger, “Have you ever bothered to enquire about your queen’s missing necklace? How do you know that the anklet produced by my husband was your queens? I demand proof. As part of my testimony, I have another anklet which is a pair. She threw down the anklet which when hit the floor, broke, and rare diamonds, and precious stones pierced all over the Palace. Now she demanded, “My Lord, produce the queen’s pair”. The Pandyan immediately knew that the Lady was telling the truth and sat uncomfortable in his throne. He was ashamed of his deed. He wanted to repent. But he could not, for the chaste Kannagi, furious in her eyes, in her heart asked of the King, “Is it justice, Pandya manna?” It her wrath, she is said to have cut one of the breasts and thrown it before the King, and she wept inconsolably, asking the Pandyan to bring her husband back to life. Eric Miller of the United States, who had done lot of research into the story of Silapathikaram, calls the “stature of Kannagi is a statue of Justice” (Silapathikaram- Ancient Story, Modern Identity). Kannagi along with Kovalan, hand in hand, had walked all along the Vaigai River with Nagamailai, one of the 8 hills overlooking Madurai, with pride, frusturation and braveness. This great mountain was witness to all the incidents that occurred in Madurai when Kannagi spent a memorable yet decisive 24 hours with her husband Kovalan. Was it pleasant or horrible 24 hours? What happened after that? For that you have to travel behind by 2000 years. Kannagi, remorse with sorrow is said to have moved out of the City and crossing the hills, entered the Chera country, where, as ordained by Madurai Meekshi, the presiding deity of Maduari, she leaves her mortal body to join her husband in heaven. .


Kannigi with her hair dishelved, angry, walks into the Madurai Palace with an anklet in her hand to accost Pandya mannan

It was at the desire of the wife of Cheran Senkuttavan, Illango Vanumal (daughter of Velir chief) that a suitable memorial for Kannagi be built. Senkuttavan readily accepting the proposal, started on his northern expedition. As he was about to set out, presents were brought for the King from a Vishnu temple. An unnecessary controversy is made out of this incident. According to Custom in some Tamil Kingdoms, Siva devotees do not visit Vishnu shrines. But in Kerala especially in the Chera Empire, such a tradition was not followed. Dr S Krishna swami Iyeengar, a noted historian, quoting from the Tamil work Iraiyanar Akapporul, the Lord Arithuyilamarndon literally means, “God in conscious sleep” (Vishnu lying on a bed of coils of the divine snake anantha, under its spread-out hood) refers to Silapathikaram where there is a reference to a golden hall existing inside the Palace of the King (canto XXVIII lines 47-52, 67-78). The golden hall is again confirmed in Silapathikaram in canto XXX, lines 51-53, where the priest of the Vishnu Temple states that his younger daughter was present at the time the temple for Kannaki was consecrated. There is absolutely a mistaken notion recorded by eminent iconographist who had suggested that Vishnu is the only diety represented in the sayana or in the lying prose (Journel of Indian History, Vol XXXI, Part III, No 93, P 252). There are frescoes on the walls of the Trippaalur temple in Palaghat district in which Siva is represented in the lying pose just as Anantasayi (The Golden Tower by V T Induchudan, page 86). This incident about the confused deities is cited here to justify the efforts taken by historians to deprive their due to Muziris and to Senkuttavan in particular.


Kannagi, the great soul, when she cursed Madurai which caught ablaze from the fire in her eyes, started growing widely. At last the patron goddess of the city[Meenakshi] 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 True to Devi’s words, Kannagi when she entered the Chera Kingdom got liberated. A big temple was conscreted according to tradition at Kodungallur with rituals as prescribed. She joined the pantheon of Gods. In the Kodungallur temple, performance of Poojas was done by adigals, one line down from Nambudiris. There were neither caste distinctions nor restrictions in this temple. During the Bharani festival, the diety was delighted to hear all sorts of bad mouthed songs. Kannagi, who suffered all her life, attained salvation and joined her husband in heaven,. A verbatim transalation of the Tamil verse on Kannagi’s predicament at Madurai by (Prof) Dr A L Basham of the Oxford University is reproduced below.

Kannagi in her furious mood

"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 Maduraisaw 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 goddesshas come before us,in her hand a golden anklet!What can this mean?

"This woman afflicted and weepingfrom her lovely dark-stained eyesis 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 throngsome 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 armsand hid behind the great mountain,and the wide worldwas veiled in darkness.But he saw not the agony of her griefas she mourned in sorrow and wrath. ...

"Are there women here? Are there womenwho could bear such wrongdone to their wedded lords?Are there women here? Are there such women?"Are there good men here? Are there good menwho cherish their childrenand guard them with care?Are there men here? Are there such men?

"Is there a God here? Is there a Godin this city of Madurai, where the sword of a kinghas 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 formand went, surrounded by the gods.

"I will not join my lordtill 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 cameto Madurai to earn wealth,and today you have slain himas he sold my anklet."


"Lady, said the king,it is kingly justiceto put to deathan arrant thief."

Then Kannagi showed her anklet to the king.On comparing it very carefully with the remaining anklet of the pairbelonging to the Queen, he realized that Kovalan had been innocent.

When he saw it the parasol fell from his headand 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 timeI 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 husbandI 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 womenof great Madurai of the four templeslisten! Listen you gods in heaven!"Listen to me, you holy sages!I curse the capital of the kingwho so cruelly wrongedmy 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 openedas 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-soldierswith their terrible swords, all fled from the firewhich raged at the gate of the royal palace. ...

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 classeswere filled with confusion and flamed like a forest on fire. ...

In the street of the singing girlswhere so often the tabor had soundedwith 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!"(Translation by Dr. (Prof) A L Bashim, author of ‘Wonder that is India’, Oxford Prof)

Kodungallur Bhagavathi Temple

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. It has 30 referred as monologues sung by any character in the story or by an outsider as his own monologue often quoting the dialogues he has known or witnessed.[11] It has 25 cantos composed in akaval meter, used in most poems in Sangam literature. The alternative for this meter is called aicirucappu (verse of teachers) associated with verse composed in learned circles. Akaval is a derived form of verb akavu indicating to call or beckon. Silappatikaram is also credited to bring folk songs to literary genre, a proof of the claim that folk songs institutionalized literary culture with the best maintained cultures root back to folk origin.

Illango adikal sat in a Jain monastery at Kunnvayilkottam (Trikkanamathiiakam) to compose his magnum opus. It is to the credit of the author, that he described his admiration for his brother’s rule, with tons and tons of facts, he never even once tried to bring in his religion Jainism.

The epic also has its hits of romantic tangles. On Kannagi, the poet wrote, the swans defeated by her gait tracked off in shame to hide themselves amidst the flower beds in the field and the parrots, though they found that they were not her peers in the matter of speech, which had the sweetness of a lute and a flute and nectar all coming led, would not leave her hands in the hope that they would learn from her the secret of her speech charm.

In Canto IV, he describes an evening in Puhar: The shepherds sing sweet notes on their flutes; the beetles do so through the mullai (Nov) budgs; the tender breeze fragrance all round; women with sparkling ornaments light the lamps; the crescent moon though young, dispels darkness even as Pandyan Kings, though young, would annihilate their enemies. Thus evening came, spending sweetness among the lovers…

The author of the epic, keeping in mind Kannagi’s doziness and melancholy (Madhavi had seduced her husband Kovalan, and Kannagi was without her spouse dreaming of the days when they would reunite) writes: To the lonely wives, separated from their husbands, it brought only anguish; they discarded their pearls and sandle paste and chose not to decorate their bed chamber with flowers.

Chilapathikaram resemble the Homeric epic. Kannagi dies not for the honour of the Society, but for her own. True, she lives for others, as she lives for herself but when her husband is killed, she wants to join him in death and only postpones it till she vindicates his honour. Illango, like Milton never applies sardonic humour


in his main characters. Like Spenser, he sang of ideal love. The Love of Kannagi for Kovalan is highly idolized. Virgil bears the stamp of the Ceaser and Augustean age, while Illango exemplified a transitional stage in development. Glorifying the conquering spirit of picturising Senkuttavan, the author puts Madalan to use when he draws the attention of the King, futility of mere military success when more important duties await the King. (Madalan is philosophic and in Canto XXVIII-Nandi Kal 11. 133-186, says to the King;

Youth is evanescent, wealth rotates, and the body is mortal. THE WORLD IS A STAGE, WHERE WE all are actors, we pass from one birth to another just as actors change from one make-up to another. We will only be judged by our actions, we will receive rewards or punishments according as we do good things or evil. Do, therefore, good things, here and now [Notes:1. The theme is made use by William Shakespeare when he calls the whole world a stage, and all of us as actors. 2. Sri Krishna in Bhagavat Gita talks of the changes in the human life –koomaram, Youvanan, etc]

The epic is Virgilian in character in many respects. It contains a wide sweep of history, philosophy, religion, ethics, etc. It also vividly describes the relationship between the three Tamil kings of the Sangam period in detail. This has never been discussed so elaborately in any text prior to this. The poet has clearly designed some of his characteristics on the model of Homeric Epic in some respects and the Virgilian epic in some other respects. The straight and simple way in which Kovalan confesses his faults and short comings and misdeeds in the presence of his wife Kannagi is comparable to Homer. Canto XVI (lines 57-60) is charged with the single emotion of Kovalan’s repentance. Poetry cannot raise nobler levels than in these vivid expressive lines (Esp 11 63-70).

Senkuttavan, views kingship as an office full of thorns, but nevertheless claims that a great opportunity has been given to him to serve the people [(vide Canto XXVI (Kal Kol)II . 16-18, Canto XXV (Katchi) 11. 100-104]

"After the last line of a poem, nothing follows except literary criticism" observes Ilangovadigal in Silappadikaram. The postscript invites readers to review the work. Like other epic works, it is criticised of having unfamiliar and a difficult poem to understand. To some critics, Manimegalai is more interesting than Silappadikaram, but in terms of literary evaluation, it seems inferior.[ There are effusions in Silappadikaram in the form of a song or a dance, which does not go well with western audience as they are assessed to be inspired on the spur of the


moment. According to Calcutta review, the three epic works on a whole have no plot and no characterization to qualify for an epic genre.

The post Sangam history of the Tamils is reflected in the twin epics Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai.

Silappadhikaram, the great epic in Tamil is a treasure house of information on the Chera Kingdom and society. The erection of a temple to the Goddess Pattini-Kannaki, by the Chera Senkuttuvan, in fact gave him much celebrity and is praised in several other works. The date of this text is not settled with any certainty and there is any number of articles about its date. Without entering into those arguments, we would tentatively take the date as around 3rd century AD

It deals with the courtlife of the Chera Senkuttuvan as the King of the Western Country - Kutagar KO and the King of Kolli hills who imprinted the bow, his royal crest on the Himalayas. His capital was Vanci. Senkutuvan had in his court, the purohita called Asan (Sanskrit aharyan), the astrologer called Perum gani (Sanskrit Maha Gani) and ministers called Amaccas (Sanskrit Amatyas)V.R.R.Dikshitar states 'The Purohita was an important limb of the state and was a member of the state. This reminds us of the status he occupied in the artha sastra polity, where it is said that the arms of the Kshatriya aided by the science of the Brahmana attain success. 'Senkuttuvan was also surrounded by Magada and Sutan the presence of Magadha and the Sutas was a North Indian convention. Their function was to glorify the King in seasoned and out of season'.

Senkuttuvan was born and ruled the country by the grace of Lord Siva

An eru urnton arulinir tonrimanilam vilakkiya mannavan.

Obviously he was a great Siva Bhakta. This is repeated at another place also, as Senkuttuvan is said to shine by the grace of Siva, the Lord with red matted locks.

Cenjadai Vanavan arulinil vilangaVanci tonriya Vanava


The first thing he did, as he got up on hearing the morning drum, was to worship Lord Siva and circumambulate his shrine. He then received fragrant incense, lit by the Vedic Brahmins from the sacrifice altars.

Kalai murasam Katai mukattelatalumNilavukkatir muditta nilirum CenniUlaku Poti uruvattu uyarnton cevatiMaram ver Vanci malaiyodu punaintuIrainca cenni Irainci Valamkondu

That this was a custom among the Tamil Kings for centuries may be known from the ulas Ottakuttan - 12th cent., in which the Chola King is said to follow the same form of devotion. Senkuttuvan also received the blessing of the Brahmins performing Vedic sacrifices. This is an Aryan tradition. When Senktuvan went to Himalayas to bring a stone to carve the image of Kannaki, he worshipped Siva as Ardhanarisvara Umai Oru Bhagan. He was fond of witnessing dance and the one he witnessed in his court was the Ardhanari episode, which the Cakkiyar performed. All this would indicate, his deep Siva Cakkiyar performed. All this would indicate, his deep Siva Bhakti. He was also a great devotee of Durga of the Ayirai malai. But the saivism of that age was the Smarta Vaidika system, which permitted one to adore Siva, Vishnu and all other Vedic Gods and also perform Vedic sacrifices. We find Senkuttuvan likened to Vishnu

In a verse of double ententre, Ilango Adigal seems to indicate that Kannaki, was identical with Parvati - Durga

Malaiyaraiyar peria madappavai tatunaiNila Arasar nin mudi mel errinan Valiyaro

Malaiyaraiyan Pavai - stands for Parvati - Durga. It also means Kannaki - for whom a stone was brought from Himalayas.

The worship of Siva and Vishnu could be seen in the light of coins found in Karur showing trisula and Chakra standard. We have mentioned earlier that the coins found at Karur also indicate the religious faiths of the Chera region.

Senkuttuvan was a follower of Vedic Hinduism. He was a performer of Vedic sacrifices. When he heard the Brahmin Madala - he consulted Brahmins well versed in Vedic sacrifices - Yagas - and commanded his minister to prepare for


the sacrifice, called Velvi Santi. It is obviously a Rajasuya sacrifice, performed with his chief queen called Velvi Kilatti. One is empowered to do Vedic sacrifice only in the company of his wife, who is called Patni. The Senkuttuvan followed the advices of Vedic Brahmanas is mentioned in a number of places.

Arumarai marungin arasark ongiyaPerunal velvi ni ceytal vendum

When Madalan the Brahmin Philosopher at Sen Kuttavan’s court narrated the incidents he noticed, Senkuttuvan performed a Tulabhara sacrifice and presented him gold equal to his own weight.

Atakap perunirai anjaintu iratti... Tan rirai Madala maraiyon kolkaenru alittu

The gift of gold to Brahmins should be noted from another angle. The different types of coins - the punch marked coins and punch mark type square coins etc., found in large numbers should be viewed in this light. A question has been raised, whether the punch marked coins, called Puranas were coins from northern India, or local issues? As in north India, Vedic sacrifices were India, or local issues? As in north India, Vedic sacrifices were actively practised under the Cheras some of the coins, could have been brought by the Vedic followers for the dakshina and inspired by that tradition, local issues were also probably minted. This might perhaps explain why different varieties of coins were in circulation at the same time in Karur! What is suggested here is that this circulation is not only on account of trade but also gifts to Brahmanas. This factor was responsible for a large number of coins being found.

We may also note that the capital of the Chera is again and again mentioned as Vanci on the banks the an porunai. The early commentator on Silappadhikaram, Arum Pada Urai Asiriyar identifies Vanci with Karuvur Vanci is mentioned as a very rich city 'nidhi tuncu viyan nagar the royal palace is called the golden palace Kanaka malikai, it was decorated with rows of pearl garlands; the seat was covered with gold plates embedded with diamonds and precious gems.

Among Senkuttuvan's exploits, two may be mentioned. He brought a Catukka Bhuta and established it in Vanci. He is said to have instituted a festival to the Bhta, in which liquor was offered.


Catukka Butarai Vanciyut tantuMaduk kok velvi vettonayinum

It seems the deity mentioned here is the Kshertrapala - to whom Madhu was an important offering.

The other important exploit was one of Senkuttuvan's ancestor is credited with a conquest over Yavanas. The phrase is interesting. It says he was ruling over the Yavana Nadu, the country of the Yavanas meaning, the overseas western countries.

That Vanci was the capital of Senkuttuvan and this is identified with Karur by ancient commentators, certainly locates the events in modern Karur in Trichy district. The history of Karur after the epic age is found in the life of Puhal Chola narrated in the Periyapuranam. Though the account is legendary, Puhal Chola had to be placed after the epic age. Karur now appears as the capital of the Cholas and a conflict with the Atiya figures in the narration.

It is perhaps strange, that tokenism has been evident when history is interpreted from scholarly works of the Period. Silapathikaram runs through placid evidence to substantiate that Muziris, Mahodayapattanam, and Ma, representing Big and Kodai means King. If the descriptions of geography around Kodungallur be taken, its boundaries, and river flows be properly demarcated, and proper history of the maritime course well known to Egyptians, Arabs, Romans, be drawn, it will be inescapable conclusion that ‘Muziris’ or Capital of Cheras were in the present day Kodungallur, and not on the banks of the river Amaravathi in Trichinapalli district, and with the present day Karur. The geographical uprising of the thirteenth century, which destroyed Muziris and created a channel for a new port to shape up (Kochi), is a historic fact, and this attests to the credible history of Kodungallur, as the seat of Chera Empire, which was situated on the banks of the River Periyar, on the West.

Vanci, the capital of Cheras, was on the banks of River Periyar, which runs a length of 244 Km in Kerala. It is one of the perennial rivers in the region. From Idukki reservoir (modern day), Periyar river flows northwestwards and then west to join the Arabian Sea at Munambam near Kodungallur and the Vembanad lake at Kochi. At Aluva, the river bifurcates into the Marthandavarma and Mangalapuzha branches. The Mangalapuzha branch joins Chalakudi river and empties into the Lakshadeep Sea at Munambam, and the Marthandavarma branch flows southwards thro’ the Udyogamandal area and joins Cochin backwater system, part of Vembanad Lake at Varapuzha. Massive flooding of the River Periyar in 1341 AD chocked the river mouth towards Kodungallur, and opened up an estuary at Kochi. The land called Vypin was made naturally and the Kochi Port bay lie between Fort Kochi and Vypin Island. This has been attested by Sir Robert


Bristow, who created the Cochin port as its Engineer and his story, Cochin Saga contains this narration.

The Port – Craganore (sketch)Kodi-linga-puram (10 million Siva lingas) attests to the fact that the town had large number of Siva Temples, and this matter is eulogized in the Sangam literature. It is a true fact that all literature of the first century AD was in Tamil with words taken from Sanskrit, as Malayalam language was yet to be discovered. Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple, where Siva and his entire family form the pantheon, was the family diety of Cheran Senkuttavan. The Elephant annual race was rareity. Raja Raja cholan, the great Chola ruler who built the big temple at Tanjore in 1010 AD had his engineers to have a look at Thiruvanchikulam, and there are lot of similarities between the two temples. The Sangam literature records that Raja Raja Cholan was a warrior King in the tradition of Cheran Senguttavan, Cholan Karikalan, and Pandiyan Nedunchediezian. The rulers belonging to the three different dynasties of Chera, Chola and Pandiyan were of the same genre yet K A Neelakanta Shastri and other historians find South Indian History much inferior without examining the exploits or their great deeds. The Kings’ rule has been magnified and extolled from the works of Court poets in the case of Mayura, Gupta, Slave and Moughals. But in the same rein, the accounts of south Indian poets or biographers were cited as unworthy and beyond measured history as their extolment was to curry favours(of kings) concludes historians of the caliber like Vincent Alexander Smith.

Emperor Solomon when he built his palace, demanded teak, sandalwood, and ivory from Muziris; the silk cloth for Queen Sheeba, ivory, tusks, spices, were sent from here; Peacock with feathers was also Muzris contribution. At any point of time, there were many ships that were anchored in the Muziris harbour.Romans built a temple of Augustus at Muziris. Ramayana, Mahabharata, Pathiruppaththu, Ashoka’s edicts, Mgasthenes, Pliny the Elder, and other foreign writers have left a indelible mark of this Port town in their recorded writings. Jews fearing persecution came here at the dawn of the Christian era, and the last of the Jews left Kerala only after Israel became a reality. The world’s oldest synagogue is located at Kochi! The St Thomas, direct disciple of Jesus came to Muziris, and the first church was inaugurated here. Cheran Perumal, had a


dream, and he left to Mecca on pilgrimage, leaving all his property in Kodungallur to his kith and kin and donated a large land for construction of a mosque. . That is called Cheraman Perumal mosque, the first Muslim mosque in India. Bharat Ratna Dr Abdul Kalam, former President, visited the place, and prayed here. There is a big Deepam light made of brass with unqiue writing on the lamp, which suggest that it was a Jain lamp, centuries old. The first merchandise Port in India, well known for its international trade, which knew the intricacy of globalization, stands silent in mute, to revive its forgotten history.

Adi Sankara, the Vedanta Scholar and philosopher, who consolidated the doctrine of Advita Vedanta, was Kulasekhara Varman’s (Second Chera dynasty starting from the 9th

century). Swami Vivekananda had come to Kodungallur and had an interesting talk with the Thampuratris (royal women in Sanskrit). He was highly impressed.

The story of Silappathikaram had been made into movies and a famous portrayal of Kannagi by actress Kannamba in the 1942 movie Kannagi won her anecdotes; P U Chinappa, played the character of Kovalan. It was a great hit. Kalingar Karunanidhi penned movie Poompuhar, is also based on Silapathikaram. Thereis 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.


1. Silappadhikaram, With the commentaries of Arumpadavarai Ed. Asirian and Adiyarkkunallar, Ed. Dr.V.V. Swaminatha, Iyer, Madras - 7th Edition, 1977.

2. Ibid. 34, 31.3. Amatya, Ramachandra District, V.R., Silappadhikaram, Madras.4. Ramachadra Dikshitar, V.R., Silappadhikaram, ibid, p.341.5. Silappadhikaram, 30, 141-142.6. Silappadhikaram, 29, 98-99.7. Silappadhikaram, 26, 53-57.8. Muvarula of Ottakkuthar, Madras, Dr.U.V. Swaminatha Iyer Lib. Madras.9. Silappadhikaram, 28, 103.

10. Silappadhikaram, 28, 145.11. Silappadhikaram, 23, 3.12. Silappadhikaram, 29, 14.13. Silappadhikaram, 28, 181-200.14. Silappadhikaram, 27, 174-6.


15. Silappadhikaram, 25, 148.com.16. Silappadhikaram, 27, 200.17. Silappadhikaram

� Silappatikaram literally means 'The Chapter on the Anklet'� ^ Mukherjee 1999, p. 277� ^ Ilango Adigal's epic is dated to probably belong to beginning of Christian era� ^ Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia� ^ Codrington, H. W. A short History of Ceylon, London (1926) (http://lakdiva.org/codrington/).� ^ K. A. Nilakanta Sastry, A history of South India, pp 397� ^ Manimekalai, a Buddhist poem, tells the story of Manimekalai, the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi.� ^ See K. A. Nilakanta Sastry, A history of South India, pp 398

Epic Age: Silappadhikaram



Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & MuzirisChapter- III

Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai (Tamil: மணேமகைல),

Manimekali written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the five Great Epics according to later Tamil literary Works. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos. Its story is a sequel to Silapathikaram or Sīlappadhikāram and tells the story of the conversion to Buddhism of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi.

As a continuation of Silappatikaram (Tamil: சில பதிகார ), this epic describes how Manimekalai, the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, follower of Jainism, converts to Buddhism. According to the poem, Maṇimekalai studies the six systems of philosophy of Hinduism and other prevalent religions of the time and compares them to the teachings of the Buddha. She is most impressed with Buddhism. Later, upon hearing doctrinal expositions from the Buddhist teacher Bhikshu Aravaṇa Aḍigal, she becomes a dedicated Buddhist nun.

The epic gives much information on the history of Tamil Nadu, Buddhism and its place during that period, contemporary arts and culture, and the customs of the times. The exposition of the Buddhist doctrine in the poem deals elegantly with the Four Noble Truths (ārya-satyāni), Dependent Origination (pratītyasamutpāda), mind (citta) and Buddhist practices like virtue (Śīla) and non-violence (ahimsa).

The poem is set in the harbour town of Kāveripattinam, the modern town of Puhar in Tamil Nadu, and in Nainatheevu of NākaNadu, a small sandy island of the Jaffna Peninsula in modern Sri Lanka.

The story runs as follows: The dancer-courtesan Manimekalai is pursued by the amorous Cholan prince Udyakumāran, but rather wants to dedicate herself to a religious celibate life. The sea goddess Manimegala Theivam or Maṇimekhalai Devī puts her to sleep and takes to the island Maṇipallavam (Nainatheevu). After waking up and wandering about the island Maṇimekalai comes across the Dharma-seat, the seat on which Buddha had taught and appeased two warring Naga princes, and placed there by the God Indra. Those who worship it miraculously know their previous life. Manimekalai automatically worshiped it and recollects what has happened in her previous life. She then meets the guardian goddess of the Dharma seat, Deeva-Teelakai (Dvīpa Tilakā) who explains her the significance of the Dharma seat and acquire the magic never-failing begging bowl (cornucopia) called Amṛta Surabhi (”cow of abundance”), which will always provide food to alleviate hunger. The goddess also predicts that Bhikshu Aravaṇa Aḍigal in her native town will teach her more.


Manimekalai then used the mantra which the sea goddess had given her and returns to Kāveripattinam, where she meets the Bhikshu Aravaṇa Aḍigal, who expounds her the Buddha's Teaching and advices her about the nature of life. She then becomes a Buddhist nun or Bhikshuni and practices to rid her from the bondage of birth and death and attain Nirvana.

Manimekali had moon like countenance with a beautiful figure, and enchanting physical features, had mastery over dance and music, the essence of spirituality evolved out of the heart and brain of the pious ones synanonym to salvation and eternity.

Beautiful Manimeghalai

She extolled in an extra ordinary ability to express the emotions, emotions that characterizes life as well as heart. In the epic Silapathikaram and Manimekali, there are number of verses that can be set to music which is rich in emotion and life. “Music without emotion is lifeless, and an emotion without music is inadequate”. Laws of


thought are metaphorical and may not be logical. The music studded with metaphorical reasoning need not be an attribute of reality. Emotions are as large as life and twice as natural. Anger is the result of fear. The subtle feel of helplessness, the anxiety of being dismissed is beautifully explained in the emotional outburst of Kannagi before the Pandian King. The uttering of Kannagi, is set to music in Etulabrothura theliya (in plaintive and melancholy notes), and her digust is rendered in Kalvani (nidhichaste sulhana) and in raga saveri, her veera rasa, her penitence at having lost her husband to a one minute careless confused decision of the King.

Kovalan left Madhavi to rejoin his wife Kannagi. Madhavi was well aware of her wrong-doing to Kannagi, who was patiently waiting for her husband to return to her. She never blamed Madhavi nor spoke an ill-word against her. On hearing the sad demise of her husband Kovalan and the death of Kannagi, Madhavi became repentant. She was soothed in unending sorrow. Madhavi withdrew from artistic career and public career to persue a monastery life. She joined the Buddist monastery and brought her daughter up in an environment free of transient worldly pleasures. Further, Madhavi introduced her own daughter Manimegali as Kannagi’s daughter. Manimegala’s remorse was all the greater, for she wanted to lead a life of renunciation.

The early works of Sangam literature, had verses, which had musical connation and could be set to music in different ragas, thalas and bhavas. All Indian mythological Gods had a music instrument as their own. Lord Krishna, the first of the flautists, indicates his musical inclination that he is the Sama Veda among Vedas. There is a school of thought, it was the Brahmins who monopolized the Vedic times, created the caste system. Brahmins due to their sharp intellect won over positions. Brahmins created the Vedas, Upanishads, and the hymns. Nothing could be fairer than the statement. Veda Vysa was the son of fisherwomen, who classified the Vedas, and wrote the immortal epic, Mahabharata. Ratnakara, who later became Valmiki, was a hunter and belonged to the backward class. He wrote the Ramayana. Kalidasa, the greatest poet of the golden age, was also belonged to backward community. Kamba Ramayana was written by Kambar, who was not a Brahmin. It is totally wrong to say, the Aryans who invaded India extolled Brahmanism, and the Vedas, Upanishads, epics, were creations of Aryan Culture. Not at all. These great works were written by others.

Siva is embodiment of Nada (Cosmic music) and Tandaya (Cosmic dance). Goddess Parvathi is seen as the embodiment of Lasya, the feminine quality. Kannaki was depicted as Parvathi, hence she was embodiment of Sakthi. Goddess Saraswathi with veena, Godess Lakshmi revels in music, Lord Vishnu plays on the percussion, Narada on the tamburu, and Nandi, is a master of Laya.


Sinking of Puhar

The poem relates that the town Kāveripattinam or Puhār was swallowed up by the sea (i.e. destroyed by a tsunami or flood) due to the Cholan King not holding the annual Indra festival and thereby causing the wrath of the sea goddess Manimekalai. This account is supported by archeological finds of submerged ruins off the coast of modern Poompuhar. Ancient ruins of a 4th-5th century Buddhist monastery, a Buddha statue, and a Buddhapada (footprint of the Buddha) were also found in another section of the ancient city, now at Pallavanesvaram. The town of Kāveripattinam is believed to have disappeared in between the 3d and the 6th century CE.

Scenes from Silapathikaram, Epic of the Land, have been given lively shapes in Stones and walls of the gallery at Poompuhar. Amongst these, there is a scene depicting an angry and ravished Kannagi arguing with Pandya Rajan. But that does not emphasise the historical fact that Chera Kingdom, and Kovalan and kannaki hailed from a different place, and Puhar though a Port, cannot be the seat of the Chera rulers.

Statue of Kovalan with Kannagi at Poompuhar museum

Recently, some body tried to create a site for Silapathikaram marking the place in Coramandal Coast, Bay of Bengal. It was described as a flourishing ancient port city of Kaveripatanam. Its History and Social setting has been blocked from view

The work contains no direct references to Mahayana as propagated by Nagarjuna, etc., and appears to be a work of an early Buddhist, Sravakayana school such as the Sthaviraor Sautrantika school. According to Aiyangar, the emphasis on "the path of the Pitakas of the Great One" (i.e. Tipitaka) and the exposition of Dependent Origination, etc., in Chapter 30, could suggest that it is work of the Sautrantika school In the conclusion of the poem, Aravaṇa Aḍigal encourages full liberation from the three roots of evil—greed, hatred (rāga, dosa, moha). The final sentence of the poem states that Maṇimekhalai strove to rid herself of the bondage of birth. This emphasis on liberation from the defilements (kilesa), ending the cycle of birth, old age and death (samsara), and becoming an arahant, also suggests that the author of the poem was affiliated to an early Sravakayana


Buddhist school.[10] Aiyangar (p. 80) suggests that the Buddhist logic as expounded by Aravaṇa Aḍigal in Chapter 29 of the Maṇimekhalai antedates the logic of Dignāga and his school.

The author, Sithali Sattanar (Cittali Cattanar) wanted to propagate Buddhism in South India through his literary work. After Kalinga War, Emperor Ashoka turned remorse and found loss of human life as a consequence of his folly. His wife Vidisha, pleaded with him to embrace Buddhism which showed the right path. Buddha’s profound teaching Dhamma, had more popular acceptance to Jainism because of easy to understand philosophy. Jainism also was also found in most parts of South India.

Although there is some controversy about the exact date of this work, it probably was composed in the 6th century CE. The Manimekhalai is the only extant Tamil Buddhist literary work of what once was an extensive literature. The reason for its survival is probably its status as the sequel to the Silapathikaram or Sīlappadhikāram. Tamil Nadu produced many Buddhist teachers who made valuable contributions to Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit literature. Reference to their works is found in Tamil literature and other historical records. Lost Tamil Buddhist works are the poem Kuṇḍalakesī by Nāgaguttanār, the grammar Vīrasoliyam, the Abhidhamma work Siddhāntattokai, the panegyric Tiruppadigam, and the biography Bimbisāra Kadai.

The first translation of Manimekalai by R. B. K. Aiyangar was published in Maṇimekhalai in its Historical Setting. Extracts of this were republished in Hisselle Dhammaratana's Buddhism in South India. A more recent translation of the poem was done by Alain Daniélou with the collaboration of T.V. Gopala Iyer. There is also a Japanese translation by Shuzo Matsunaga, published in 1991. The painstaking efforts of Shri U V Swaminatha Iyer (1855-1942) to reconstruct the early Sangam works like Silappathikaram and Manimeghalai deserve our highest commendation.

The Manimegalai- literary evaluation

To some critics, Manimegalai is more interesting than Silappadikaram, but in terms of literary evaluation, it seems inferior. The story of Manimegalai with all its superficial elements seems to be of lesser interest to the author himself whose aim was pointed toward spreading Buddhism. In the former, ethics and religious are artistic, while in the latter reverse is the case. Manimegalai also criticizes Jainism while preaching the ideals of Buddhism and human interests is diluted in supernatural features. The narration in akaval meter moves on in Manimegalaiwithout the relief of any lyric, which are the main features of Silappadikaram.


Manimegalai in puritan terms is not an epic poem, but a grave disquisition on philosophy. There is a well founded feeling that the Tamil Sangam works like Silapathikaram, Manimegalai and Civaka Cintamani do not stand the quality of an epic. It is their view. There are many epics in the world written in languages where there is no plot and no characterization for an epic genre. There are effusions in the form of a song or a dance, which does not go well with western audience but other western classics do have the same character but is not criticized like the South Indian works. May be the critics, indeed do not know the language and read them in translation to pass their comments, which are unjustified. They have to read the original to immerse in the epic story which would give them empyrean joy.



Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & MuzirisChapter- IVPrologue:

Although we do not claim to have presented all that could be said about Kodungallur, we hope that some of the new threads of thought traced therein could be the starting point for fresh studies in the earliest maritime Port of India. Our attempts to draw the attention of the reader to the vast body of resources on the topics dealt with we hope will be of special use in promoting research into the glorious past of the land and the people here and into the captivating history of Muziris. Of special use might be the many references to local sources from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, numismatics, customs, traditions, folklore, place-name studies, geography, trade and commerce, art and architecture, literatures...

We have done our best to include Silapathikaram and Manimegali, two important epics of Tamil Sangham, and tried to assess the work for its beauty and precise positioning of various places in South India as per South India’s geography. It is a sad fact, that when presenting South Indian history, lot of prejudices had kept in. Especially, a study of Edakal Cave and its records revel history being back dated in this region which no body took cognizance, even though I wrote a lengthy article on it in the “Hindu” in 1970s. It is also a fact that Dutch had built Forts, Palaces, and when they were in the brim of finishing them, Portuguese conquered those places and named the monuments as Portuguese Palace ( at Mattancheerry), and Dutch Palliport near Kodungallur as Portuguese Port.

Historians have failed to appreciate the works and recognize the greatness of the warriors and rulers of the South. The subjugation of the South by the invaders from the North is with them a normal occurrence, a fascinating theme, and a foregone conclusion. It was possible for the South colonize islands like Java, Bali, and push on their commercial enterprise in the countries of the West, the stories of their conquests of Northern India need not be branded as a figament of poetic fancy or mere manifestation of parochial patriotism. If the expedition of Samudra Gupta could give the historic background to Kalidasa in describing the military triumphs of Raghu, the exploits of Chera Kings recorded in the Pathithipattu and other Sangam works of contemporary poets may be legitimately regarded as true and authentic.

It may perhaps be contended that the desire for recognition and regard might have induced the composers to burn their incense at the feet of the Kings and potentates and persuaded them to improvise fictions to make their panegyrics acceptable to their patrons. This is a fragility of poets of all ages and all countries. But no historian has refined in that ground to indent for his facts on Bana’s


Harshacharita, Bilhan’s Vikramaditya deva charita or Kalhanas Rajatharangini. Vincent Alexander Smith, has frankly acknowledged for the period of Indian history from 600 BC to 326 AD , dependence must be placed almost wholly upon tradition communicated through literary works. The remarks are no doubt, applicable to the History of the Sangam period of South Indian History.

Ancient Tamil works are, therefore, of immense value for the history of ancient Chera monarchs. Silapathikaram pictures the period of Cheran senkuttavan and maritime glory of the port of Muziris. Even though, this is said to be the work of his brother Illango Adigal (pen name), Illam + Go means Junior Prince, the meticulous care with which the topography and geography has been depicted gives no scope for even a mild exaggeration. Then, there are accounts of half a dozen foreign scholars who have directly assessed the importance of the Town and its place in world maritime history. The dependence of the Sangam works depended upon the stamp of approval placed on these by the Great Madurai Academy composed of the most learned men of the time.

The Akapporul and Purananuru are also compositions of considerable value. But the accounts of history furnished by the Sangam works are often taken at a discount.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the whole country watched with disbelief when it was stated in the Supreme Court that the wealth and jewellery of Lord Padmanabha at Thirivanthapuram amounted to Rs 1.5 lakh Crore. Which temple in India has accounted wealth equal to Lord Padmanabha?

So great is the inferiority complex, that even Shri P T Srinivasa Iyengar who has done a great deal of work in South Indian history would fain dismiss the expedition of Cheran Senkuttavan into the Gangetic Valley as a fable invented by a Tamil poet ignorant of geography! In the light of the same argument, it is feasible for an historian to state that the pilgrimage of Adi Sankara from Kaladi in Angamali, to the high Himalayas as a myth invented by a fanciful poet of Kerala! The poets do not plume themselves as Geographers, but their object was to record the military enterprise of potentates. If the Indo Aryans from the Artic home and Greeks under Alexander knew enough geography to invade India through difficult passes in the North West, it is reasonable hypothesis that the South Indian Kings had enough common sense, knowledge and valour to organize warfare in the northern Regions.

I would like to appreciate the interest of Hon’ble Shri Jairam Ramesh, present Union Minister of Rural development, Govt of India, for undertaking a visit to Kodungallur and its environs and expressing his deep appreciation of the first trade emporium in


India and agreeing to my suggestion to consider my request for setting up a museum of international standards sp that the glory of the historic city of the Past could be disseminated to the People. Every city has a history, but no body knows, because no body writes its chronicle.

I have great pleasure to dedicate my small piece “Illango oeuvre-Silapathikaram & Muziris” to Prof N R Kunjikuttan, Prof of History, Principal, Maharajas College, Ernakulam and University College, Thiruvanthapuram who kindled in me a desire to research into ancient Kerala History. My pranams to Sir.


[The End]

[The contents of this small edition are an effort made after assessing detailed facts by field survey, reading many original manuscripts of yore, going through historical works of many erudite scholars, and based on eye witness accounts of some of the early scholars who have provided information. However, the author is not responsible for any blemishes which might have occurred inadvertently when copying from any original text, or narrating a sequence from a published work. It was indeed a pleasure to trace back the history of the beautiful Kodungallur, which had myth, lore, history and fame.]