Where Kamban released his Ramayana

words of wisdom:The Ramayana of Kamban, foremost among religious epics in the Tamil language, was released at a formal ceremony in Srirangam. The picture shows the Kamban Arangam at Srirangam temple.Photo:M.Moorthy  

Prema Nandakumar

The very name, Srirangam, evokes visions of a stage which offers a divine ambience through art, poetry, painting and drama. Lord Ranganatha uses the world as a stage for his divine play. This is why we call this world as His leela vibhuti. Many are the classics that have been released first in the presence of the Lord. Perhaps Tondar-adi-podi Azhwar’s Tiruppalli Ezhuchchi (suprabhatham) was sung for the first time here. The Azhwar gives the Lord a wake-up call describing denizens of earth and heaven and all of creation to come here and watch Ranganatha rise at dawn.

Tiruppan Azhwar was another who never went out of Srirangam. His song offering, “Amalan Adippiran” was no doubt sung to Lord Ranganatha first. The ten verses give a complete description of the Lord’s form, as He rests on Adisesha. In conclusion the Azhwar says that having seen Lord Ranganatha, his eyes do not care to see anything else!

The Ramayana of Kamban (13{+t}{+h}century), foremost among religious epics in the Tamil language was released at a formal ceremony in Srirangam. There is a fascinating legend about the release ceremony. Apparently Kamban knew that once his work was offered in the Srirangam temple first, its future was assured, for this was the capital of Vaishnavism, the first among the 108 temples hailed by the Azhwars. Another reason is palpable. Ranganatha had been originally in Ayodhya and was worshipped by the Sun dynasty starting with Emperor Ikshvaku. It was but appropriate that an epic detailing the life of a scion of the dynasty should gain the blessings of the Lord and Srirangam’s Tamil scholars.

Even as Kamban stood at the sanctum gazing at the Lord and was ready to receive prasada, there was a descent upon the archaka of a paranormal voice which questioned the poet: “Have you written about our Satakopa?” Was it the Lord’s voice? Who knows? Immediately Kamban inserted his Satakopar Andhaadi which became a preliminary to the release of the Ramayana in front of the temple of Goddess Ranganayaki in the Salivahana year 807. For the Lord delights when his devotees are held in high esteem and Satakopa (Nammazhwar) is an immaculate poet-devotee whose Tiruvaimoli is recited through ten days of the Vaikunta Ekadasi (Raa-Pathu) when devotion sweeps the entire thousand pillared mandapam where the Lord gives darshan. Thus have the Tamils crowned their mother tongue in the precincts of the great Srirangam temple.

Valmiki does not retell the story of Prahlada. But Kamban has inserted the incident in the Yuddha Kanda. Probably he was inspired to do so because of the Mettu Azhakiya Singar Sannidhi which is also in front of Ranganayaki’s temple. Hiranyakasipu’s challenge to his son is met by the calm reply that the Lord can be found in a span of space or even in one hundredth of a tiny atom, not the pillar alone. We have been told that when the recitation went on about the incarnation of Narasimha out of the pillar, “laughing aloud, breaking the universe, cleaving the directions”, people present heard distinctly the roars of a lion emanating from the raised temple of this sannidhi. These scenes have been sculpted in many pillars of the temple complex.

Arunachala Kavirayar (18th century) released his musical opera, Ramanataka Keerthanaikal in the Srirangam temple. When he approached the temple authorities, they spoke to him of what had happened to Kamban centuries earlier. Immediately he addressed the Lord about his sleeping here. Was he so tired? Then follow magnificent evocations of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata praising the Lord’s incarnations. Apparently the Lord was pleased. Kavirayar’s work was released in the Uttaram asterix of the Panguni month amidst great jubilation and became an instant hit and remains one of the modern classics in Tamil literature.

If Srirangam is a favourite for writers on the Ramayana theme, it is so with Krishna bhakthas too, because of Godha Devi becoming Lord Ranganatha’s bride. Anantha Bharatiar’s (19{+t}{+h}century) Bhagavata Dasama Skandha Keerthanaikal was also released in the Srirangam temple. Bharatiar was a great poet and a musical genius who had also written the incidents of Uttara Ramayana as songs, which was released in Srirangam. Tradition avers that once Bharatiar was returning after his bath in the Kollidam river which flows in the north side of the temple. Ranganatha came to him as a little boy and requested him to sing the story of Krishna as keerthanas. Then the boy disappeared.

The work was released in the year Hevilambi. The poet sings that Krishna’s story has been given to the world in the honeyed Telugu of Pothanna, and he was trying to do the same in the Tamil language. The familiar story but who can have enough of it? The several temples to Krishna in the Srirangam complex are nectar to the devotee-soul. With its two books divided into one hundred and forty four cantos which are again sub-divided into verses of different types including 335 keerthanas, makes the work a monumental gift to the world of devotion and Tamil literature.

One of the sobriquets of the Lord used for worship is “Cauvery teera rasikaaya namah”. Situated in the island created by the picturesque Cauvery river, Tiruvarangam has indeed been an ideal place for releasing books and assuring them of a firm place in the world of letters.

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