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Updated: May 23, 2010 10:38 IST

Focus on Kamban, poet extraordinaire

T. Ramakrishnan
Comment (3)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
A view of the statue of Kamban at Kamban Kalaiarangam in Puducherry. Photo: T. SIngaravelou
A view of the statue of Kamban at Kamban Kalaiarangam in Puducherry. Photo: T. SIngaravelou

A few months ago, when the theme song authored by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for the World Classical Tamil Conference to be held in Coimbatore in June was made public, a controversy arose in certain circles over the fact that the song did not have any mention of the Tamil poet Kamban, or his work, Kamba Ramayanam. Scholars, including Indira Parthasarathy, had argued why Kamban ought to be mentioned.

Respecting the sentiments of such scholars, Mr. Karunanidhi had a relook at the song and included a reference to the poet. On May 15, the revised theme song, scored by A.R. Rahman and filmed by Gautham Vasudev Menon, was launched at a function here.

Some may wonder why there was so much fuss about the omission of Kamban. They may also say one can always find fault with the theme song on the basis of the argument that this or that literary figure was left out. But Kamban is no ordinary persona. He is hailed as Kavi Chakravarthi. Subramania Bharati (1882-1921), the celebrated Tamil poet, wrote that Tamil Nadu owes its fame to Kamban. There are several aphorisms associated with him. To quote one, even the peg in Kamban's house can compose poems.

Bharati consistently gave pre-eminence to Kamban even as he identified Kamban, Thiruvalluvar and Ilango Adigal as the trinity of Tamil poets.

K.A. Nilakanta Sastri (1892-1975), historian and author of the seminal work, A History of South India, described Kamba Ramayanam as the greatest epic in Tamil literature.

Shone like a star

“In the Tamil literary firmament, Kampar shone like a star, inaccessible to others,” M. Varadarajan (1912-1974), known as Mu.Va and widely regarded as an authority in Tamil studies, wrote in A History of Tamil Literature, an English version of which was published by the Sahitya Akademi in 1988.

Both Mu.Va and Nilakanta Sastri did not accord much value to other works of the poet. In fact, Mu. Va wrote that Kamba Ramayanam was the only work that upheld Kamban's fame as a poet. Nilakanta Sastri dismissed Kamban's other works as mediocre.

In regard to the Kamban period, there are differences among scholars. While some of them theorise that he belonged to the ninth century, others put it much later — the 12th century or even the 13th — Mu. Va, who stated that Kamban belonged to the medieval period, did not fix the period precisely. But, according to Nilakanta Sastri, Kamban flourished during the reign of Kulottunga III (1178-1218). He said in his book that few authentic details of the poet's life were forthcoming.

However, the Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Volume III), published by the Sahitya Akademi first in 1989, categorically stated Kamban's period as the ninth century. While acknowledging differences of opinion over the period, the document cited two reasons for having reached the conclusion.

The release of Kamba Ramayanam was made in an assembly of scholars in the Srirangam temple in A.D. 885 after Kamban had composed Satakopar Anthati in praise of Nammazhvar, regarded as the greatest Azhvar.

This account, considered along with the fact that Kamba Ramayanam contains analogues to the songs of the Azhvars, particularly Thirumangai Azhvar of the 8{+t}{+h} century, may be taken as a factor corroborating the theory that Kamban's period was the ninth century.

But, what is more important is the quality of the literary work produced by Kamban. On this point, both Mu. Va and Nilakanta Sastri were emphatic in saying that though Valmiki Ramayanam was the basis of the work, Kamba Ramayanam was neither a translation nor a prototype of the original.

Mu.Va clearly brought out the difference in the treatment of Lord Rama by the two authors and stated that while Valmiki depicted Rama and Sita as the noble hero and heroine respectively, Kamban transformed them into gods and gave that impression to those who heard and read his epic.

He had also recorded the position of some scholars that it was only due to Kamban the cult of Rama spread to the whole of the country.

Besides, Kamban's work is characterised not just by the beauty of the language, magnificent descriptions and embellishments but also the poet's insight into human nature.

It is no wonder that Kamba Ramayanam has captured the imagination of people over the ages. Leading public figures of Tamil Nadu, including V.V.S. Iyer and T.K. Chidambaranatha Mudaliar, have brought out powerful commentaries and rendered the work into English. It is for all these reasons that the epic has stood the test of time.





Sirs,
The Tamil lovers of today, all around the world might have
vaguely heard about 'Kamba Ramayanam' but we wonder whether it
has been taken to them for knowing the splendors of Kamban's poem
which may have also contributed for giving classical status to
Tamil language,Kamban's Kosala is one of the books published in
English language which would help all English reading people
to get into the insight of Kamban's imagination of a real welfare
state as described in that book published in the year 1929 in chennai.
Sri.T.N seshachalam the author of that book was himself a renowned
tamil scholar recognised by the greats of thta time.We would like
the readers to know about the greatness of Kamban in the words of
T.N.S.(quote)" The Ramayana which he composed has not surpassed by
anything in the epic literature of the Tamil land.The Magnificient
classicsof the earlier academicians were all his heritage,and his
imagination and native genius wereconsiderably assisted by his
scholarship.The hoary literature and philosophy of India alone
would have cradled such a genius,a genius highly poetical,pre-
eminently moral,transcendental by the inspired revelations of the
seer's ecstasy and besrformed to clarify the elemental Truths of
life here and hereafter.Kamban's debt to Valmiki is akin to
Shakespeare's indebtedness to Boccacio or Plutarch......The
eternal story of Rama runs in crystal stream of forty two thousand
three hundredand forty eight lines of sublime grandeur glorifying
the creator and reflecting his creation.......With Kural and Gita,
The Ramayanam is the most ennobling bookthat has ever been written.
Like many other good things,however,it is not generally understood
and made sufficient part of one's being.The realisation of the
conception of Life,individual and social,that gathers and takes
shape in one's mind as this wonderful epic is read and re-read
ought the destiny of Mankind.(unquote) ref ( Preface )in the book
"Kamban's Kosala' written by T.N.Seshachalam

from:  seshachalam gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Jun 7, 2010 at 18:47 IST

Beautiful analysis and insight!

from:  Justice Karunakaran Seychelles
Posted on: May 23, 2010 at 13:31 IST

Good and persuasive article. While on the one hand it is laudable that this conferecne is being ogranized, on the other hand, as a typical political function, this conference gives lot of prominence to Chief Minister of the day.

from:  R Balasubramananian
Posted on: May 23, 2010 at 11:40 IST
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