Silapathikaram - Kannagi


Dear friends,

                   when I was in grade 8, I learned the most famous Tamil epic - Silappathikaaram. This literature was written in 2nd century A.D by a poet called Elango Adigal. This is the only literature in Tamil which can give you details of ancient history, geography, culture and tradition of Tamil country. The leterature is based on the history of 3 characters- Kovalan, Kannagi and Madhavi.

When I asked my Tamil teacher that we must go to the famous  city called Poompuhar, which was the ancient port town and capital of early Cholas, he just laughed and said  that I must dive into the sea and see. I was very upset. Yes the entire city got washed away tsunami waves in 2nd century A.D.

The in formations recorded by the great poet made me to dream every day and night to see the city. But just time passed away. But the city made me to sumit 100 pages research about the literature to my school principal . But it was put into the dustbin, because my Math teacher said that I am very weak in his subject and study only arts and language.

But the eager for knowing more about the literature, history based on that literature just burned like a fire. Slowly years passed away. I came to college. In my B.Sc Silappathikaaram was taught. Often I go to the Tamil department just to see and enjoy the beautiful paintings of this literature. Slowly I decided to choose Tamil for my future .But I cannot explain the tough times faced by me when I resigned my job and chose Tamil literature.

Slowly my age, experience and professor's guidelines shaped put my emotional attachment with this literature. Because still today our life, culture and tradition are based on this literature. I started exploring many aspects of this literature. My thirst was to visit the three great cities mentioned in this literature and to see Kannagi temples all over Tamil nadu and Kerala states.

When I was in third year, I met with an accident and my left leg got operated. At that time Dr. Pradheep Kumar who was my tutor in college came to see me and said that he has worshipped a goddess in his native place in Kerala for my requiry.

Then my life in Madurai city with him made more changes in my life and studies. I was so happy to do Tamil master degree in Madurai Kamarajar University. My teachers were so humble and great to tell me so many things about Silappathikaaram.

Madurai is one of the city where the story makes its main turning point nad climax. So every day and night I was just in research and dreams with books and Pradheep added the '' ghee to the fire''.

Today I have no words to express how we enjoyed the days in Madurai. Apart from his science research he made all arrangements for my research. One day suddenly he said, '' Madesh, I remember my grandparents call the goddess in my native place as Kannagi's incarnation''. His native place is the modern Kondungalloor in Kerala . It was the ancient most capital of chera empire. The literature ends in that place. We were not aware about this. In olden days this town was named as Vanji.

I just jumbed, I said that immediately we need to leave to Kodungalloor. But apart from this many things happened. It was so exicting to know about the place where we studied....

Let us go to Madurai Kamarajar University in Nagamalai Pudhu kottai , 18 KM  west to Madurai city.       



Madurai Kamarajar University is located under the foot hills of a long mountain which stands like a compound wall between Vaigai river and  Theni highways. The mountain looks very long and beautiful. The mountains is covered by stunted trees and bushes. The foot  hill land scape is a swampy area. Kamarajar University is located approximately a kilo meter says that  from the Nagamalai. Very often university students have an adventurous trekking.

The legend behind Nagamalai:

Madurai city is surrounded by 8 hills. Every hill has its own beauty and historical legend. They were occupied by Jain and Buddist monks in early Christian centuries. Still we can see the caves with stuccos of Mahaveera and Buddha. There are many interesting very old stone inscriptions.

In 7th century A.D there was a competition among various  religions.  Once the Jain monks became jealous of the Shivism [ part of Hinduism which worship lord Shiva] monks and send a huge  magical cobra to kill all the monks.

The Shiva monks surrendered  to lord Sunderaswarar [ Lord Shiva is called as Sunderaswarar in Madurai temple]. Shiva send a missile and  killed the magical snake and changed it as a long mountain.

The term ' naga' means cobra and beauty. The mountains looks like a long anaconda and also looks very beautiful.

Kannagi's foot print:

Our literary- historical character Kannagi has traveled across this  mountain. She has walked all along the bank of river Vaigai .The informations given in Silappathikaram  that Kannagi walked all along the bank of Vaigai river with a pride, frustration and braveness.

Very often we used to just stare at Nagamalai and ask, '' dear mountain why you have failed to take Kannagi's photo? Why you have not recorded the Silappathikaram incidents in Madurai? Hoe she looked? How she walked? How Madurai people admired her?''

But the mountain never talked, but radiated the past incidents inside our mind. Centuries have passed away, Vaigai river has changed its path many times. Every year it got flooded and dried. But the truth that Kannagi has walked after completing a very important task in her life. This truth has never changed. So we felt very very special to live under Nagamalai mountain . Nagamail is the witness of all incidents which happened in Madurai when Kannagi and her husband Kovalan stayed for 24 hrs.

The horrible 24 hrs. What has  happened? Make your mind to travel behind the ages. Before 2000 years........


Every inch of Madurai city is embedded with a history and legend. If we start digging the roads of Madurai city we can write new history and literature . Kannagi's life has made very strong impact in Tamil nadu and Kerala state. Madurai city is still reflecting her sad tunes.

The long wide roads are making us to remember Kannagi. After her husband's death she just rushed towards king's palace through these roads. Where was the king's palace. May be near the Meenakshi temple.

While walking along the streets of Madurai still I am able to hear the following dialogues spoken by Kannagi.

 '' Let all the noble women of this Madurai listen to me! They must understand that their king is not honest to his people. Let them be aware about their country. Because of the Madurai king I am experiencing the worst tough time in my life like death sentence to a criminal.

My poor husband got punished by Madurai king without any court proceedings. But he is not a thief. I am going to see him alive now. Otherwise let all the great noble women of Madurai city abuse me.''

Listening to these words people in Madurai were put into mental stress and sorrow ness. They were even scared to see her. They thought that she was a goddess who has entered into Madurai to punish the king.

It was evening, slowly the sun rested in the west. Elango adikal says that the sun could not bare the tragedy that has happened in Madurai city and went to hide behind the western ghats.

When ever myself and Pradheep went to the city we were just imagining all these happenings and searching for the footprints of the great noble woman. We want to know where Kannagi and Kovalan stayed in Madurai? The place where he was killed , any temple for Kannagi? We just lived in dreams and devotion to Kodungalloor devi to show her foot prints.

One fine Monday , I was waiting for Pradheep in University office . There was a big show case with the sample copies of all the publications. I just looked into them. My eyes saw a book called '' Puhar mudhal Vanji varai''. It was written by Dr. Govindharasanar, a great Tamil scholar.

This book was my Bible for Kannagi study. I believe he was the incarnation of Elango adikal. The book was in my hand within few minutes. I just bunked the classes and read the entire book and started peeping into Pradheep's  tissue culture lab to come soon.

Yes the book has recorded every important places in connection with Kannagi. The great professor Dr. Govindharasanar has just spend his entire life to explore and excavate all places and monuments linked with Kannagi.

Throughout the night our 361 number room was filled with talks and mini research talks about Kannagi. We have to wait for next day evening to leave to the city. Next day we both went to Simmakkal near Madurai railway station.

We peeped into small streets of oil stores . There we saw the Sellath amman temple. It is a local goddess of Madurai. But it is having a legend which is sleeping in the  research books of Dr. Govindharasanar.

The temple is small. It is having an idol of Durga devi with 8 hands killing Mahisha sura. The idol looks very old and anger. Out side of the sanctum , on the right hand side we saw the small stone idol of Kannagi in sitting posture. She has folded her one leg and sitting like a new bride and holding an anklet. She has the hair style which is very very related to Madurai area. Why she is here? Let us go to next article.


Kannagi - 3

Kovalan and Kannagi were born in Poompuhar city. They belong tovery rich merchant family. Their parents were very close friends. They celebrated Kovalan - Kannagi's wedding in most luxurious way. The young couple were placed in separate house for living and guided by parents for trade and earnings.

Unfortunately Kovalan met the beautiful dancer Madhavi and started loving her. Both of them entered into a separate new life. Even they got a child called Manimekalai.

Kovalan was very much interested in performing arts and at the same time he was very possessive in character. He did not like Madhavi's dance consorts during festivals and slowly he started developing hat redness towards her.Madhavi was helpless because she was the royal dancer and she needs to obey the king.

Slowly Kovalan lost his wealth and he too did not concentrate in trade. One fine evening he left Madhavi and came to Kannagi. Kannagi who was just living in solitude welcomed him and advised him to accept her silambu [ anklet ] to sell and invest in new business.

Kovalan was very much upset about his life and he felt guilty to face his parents and in-laws. So along with Kannagi he left to Madurai city immediately without informing any one.

They were guided by a Jain monk called Kavundi adikal. She made them to take abode under a cowherd woman called Madhari. Kovalan left Kannagi and saw the various areas of Madurai city and came back. Then he took one of her anklet and left to see some goldsmiths to sell.

Mean while the Pandiyan queen's anklet was missing. There was chaos in the palace. The royal gold smith was the real thief who took the anklet. By fate Kovalan also met the royal goldsmith and the game started. The anklets look alike generally. So Kovalan was blamed as the thief and informed to the king. The king asked his soldiers to kill Kovalan if he was the real thief.

Without analyzing the goldsmith made the soldiers to kill Kovalan. The news spreaded all over the city and Kannagi came to know this. First she was very emotional, later she analyzed the problem and left to see the king with the another anklet.

The case was argued between the king and Kannagi. The king said that  the queen's anklets has pearls within it. Kannagi said that her anklets has gems. So the anklet taken away from Kovalan was brought and Kannagi just broke that anklet. She also broke its pair which she was holding. After seeing the gems the king felt bad for his injustice and he died because of heart attack. The  queen also died.

Then Kannagi cursed the Madurai city to be burnt and walked all along the bank of Vaigai river and reached the western ghats near Kambham [ a place near Kerala and Tamilnadu border . It is a valley in western ghats ] . There after 14 days  she died. The great heroic deed performed by Kannagi  got spreaded across the countries and she became a goddess of virtue and braveness. The tribal people who welcomed her in the ghats started worshipping her.

When the Chera king Sengukkuvan and his queen Venmol visited the ghats for summer , the history was explained to them. Elango adikal [ Chera king's younger brother] and Seethalai chathan [ a poet ] decided to write Kannagi's life history as a beautiful literature. Mean while the Chera king marched towards noth India and brought a granite from Himalayas and carved Kannagi's idol out of it. On the western ghats her memorial temple was erected.

Meanwhile Elango adikal traveled across  the entire Tamil country and collected in formations about the varous aspects of arts, culture, traditions, religion and wrote the enchanting Tamil epic Silappathikaaram. His friend Seethalai chathan wrote the life history of Manimekalai [ Kovalan's daughter].

So we are in search of  Kannagi's foot prints across the country. Now we are in Madurai.



Kovalan and Kannagi reached Madurai city and took abode under a cowhred family. Madhari and her daughter Aiyai made the couple to stay in a small clean house and helped them to relax. Kannagi was provided with vegetables and fruits and she also cooked aster long time , but that was the last meal she prepared for her beloved husband. The poor Kovalan also relished the meals and went into the city to face his end.

Aarapalayam is a very congested place in Madurai. It is one of the busstand area of Madurai near Vaigai river. Inside the busstand there is a large drainage running across the city.

That was the ancient fort canal of Pandiya kings . Next to that still we can see very very crowdy slums of cowhred community people with their cattles. This place is actually called '' Aayar palayam'' meaning residence of cowhred community.

Kovalan and Kannagi must have stayed in any one of the ancistor's family in this Aarapalayam. Silappathikaaram says that this community resided at the outside of Madurai fort near Vaigai river.

So we need to go back to 2 nd century A.D to see the small house where Kannagi stayed and cooked her last meal for her lord.

After killing the king she just wants to leave the city. She was the peak of distress. She reached the Duraga temple which is the Sellathamman temple in Simmakkal. She cried and broke her bangles and rubbed her kumkum and just started walking towards the west all alone , when every body were seeing her. She must have crossed this Aarapalayam area and then must have stepped into Vaigai river bank behind Nagamalai.     


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