Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Poet with a sword?

To Ilango Adigal goes the credit for Silappadhikaram (Story of the Anklet), a rare epic that is rooted in the life of a commoner, rather than that of kings or Gods. And while the key plot points may themselves be rather mundane (even for the 2nd century CE, a husband's extra-marital relationship was not a shocker by itself), Ilango Adigal's genius lay in the grandeur of the epic. The story traversed all three - Chola, Pandya and Chera - kingdoms that spread over what is modern day Tamil Nadu; the narration integrates some of the best examples of prose, poetry and drama in Tamil literature and the characters he created are even today regarded as personifications of specific virtues - or vices.

The story itself is simple: Kovalan, a merchant in the Chola kingdom, repents at having ignored his wife Kannagi for Madhavi, a dancer. Kannagi forgives her husband and they move to Madurai, the capital of the Pandya kingdom, hoping to make a fresh start. When Kovalan tries to sell Kannagi's anklet to raise capital, the jeweller sees an opportunity to keep the queen's anklet given to him; so he tells the Pandya king that he has captured a thief who tried to steal it. Ignoring the due process of justice, the king orders Kovalan executed; and he is. With all this happening on the very day they reached Madurai, Kannagi is furious. She proves her husband's innocence and lambasts the king, who, mortified at his error, falls dead. Kannagi's unappeased wrath sets the whole of Madurai on fire; her anger cooled, she goes to the Chera kingdom, where, broken-spirited, she dies and is deified as the epitome of purity.

This statue on the Marina brings out the poet in Ilango Adigal by the palm-leaf manuscript in his left hand. The discarded crown and the sword on his right are reminders of his royal lineage. His appearance shows him to be the Buddhist monk that he eventually became. Inspite of abdicating all claims to the throne, this man has left behind a legacy that would be the envy of many kings!


sreesnake said...

'ignoring the due process of justice' defense of Pandian, I was under the impression that he ordered "Kondu Va (Bring)Kovalanai" which was sadly heard as "KondRu Va (Kill) Kovalanai" by the soldiers...and thus was born an epic!!!

Shantaram said...

>> Sree>> There's also a legend that Kovalan, in a previous birth was a Pandya soldier who killed an innocent man...