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Updated: April 5, 2012 17:15 IST

Inspired by the Azhwars

Suganthy Krishnamachari
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Kambanum Azhvargalum. Photo: Special Arrangement
Kambanum Azhvargalum. Photo: Special Arrangement

This tome shows the influence of the Nalayira Divya Prabandham on Kamban. The influence is evident in the invocatory verse itself, where Kamban uses the word ‘saran,' indicative of the concept of surrender (Saranagati), which is the crux of Visishtadvaita philosophy.

The author comes up with many interesting interpretations of Kamban's verses. In his ‘Pinnindru' verse, Bhootatazhwar uses the words ‘sol nindra.'

According to Prativadi Bhayankaram Annangarachariar, this is a reference to the Rama avatar. Kamban's use of the words ‘sol nindra' is to indicate that the story he is writing is based on a work already well known in Tamil Nadu, and that its antiquity had been referred to by a Tamil Vaishnavite saint, centuries before Kamban's time.

Drawing comparisons

The verses of the Azhwars abound in references to the Krishna avatar, and Kamban does not fail to make use of the richness of the available material on Krishna. Kamban's hero is the docile Rama, the diametric opposite of naughty Krishna, and so Kamban draws a comparison between the flow of the Sarayu river and Krishna. The river gushes forth, carrying along with it everything that appears in its way -- whether it is pots of milk or the clothes of women, reminding one of Krishna's pranks.

The author expatiates on Kamban's popularity, but he also explores the sociological factors behind the rejection of Kamban by some sections of Tamil society. While stories about Kamban's son being killed by the Chola king, might be apocryphal, such stories indicate that Kamban did not enjoy state patronage.

This could have been because he did not compose verses praising the Chola kings. Kamban's contemporaries, not wishing to incur the displeasure of the rulers, might have ignored his work.

As for the Vaishnava commentators not mentioning Kamban's work, one reason could be his inclusion of incidents not found in Valmiki's Ramayana. Another reason could be their disapproval of his praise of mortals (nara stuthi) as seen in the praise of his patron Sadayappa Vallal. Religious bigotry led to many Saivite Tamil scholars dubbing Kamban an inferior poet. The author points out that his poetry has withstood pettiness and prejudice, and continues to appeal to intellectuals.

The author's painstaking research can be seen in every chapter, each stand alone essay capable of being expanded into a book, as the wealth of references indicates. ‘Kambanum Azhwargalum' is a book every lover of Tamil poetry will welcome.

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