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Kamban’s love for Kongu Nadu

Kamban samathi at Nattarasankottai, Sivaganga district.   | Photo Credit: L. Balachandar

Tamil Nadu was familiar with the story of Rama, long before Kamban’s time. In Aganaanooru, a verse describes Rama seated under a tree discussing war strategy. In Purananooru, a verse says monkeys tried to wear Sita’s discarded jewels. Paripaadal has the story of Ahalya. Aichiyar kuravai (Silappadikaram), mentions Rama’s exile and the destruction of Lanka. In Manimekalai, there are references to the bridge built by the monkeys. Vaiyapuri Pillai pointed to the mention of a Ramayana verse in Nachinarkiniyar’s commentary on Tholkappiyam, and the mention of a Ramayana in the commentary on Yaaperunkalam.

Pillai concluded that a Ramayana in venba meter must have existed as early as 650 C.E. Regarding Kamban’s deviations from Valmiki’s work, Mu. Raghava Iyengar felt that Kamban must have picked up these ideas from earlier Tamil versions. The verses of the Azhwars also attest to the popularity of Rama’s story in Tamil Nadu, before Kamba Ramayanam was written. There are many fanciful stories about why Kamban was so named. One story has it that he was abandoned as an infant near a pillar (kambam) of a Kali koil. But epigraphist and Tamil scholar Pulavar Dr. S. Raju says the name Kamban was a common one even in the time of Uttama Chola and Raja Raja as seen from inscriptions.

Kamban’s personal experiences seem to have been reflected in some of his verses. Tamizh Navalar Charithai says he fell in love with Valli of Thiruvottriyur, and took her with him to Chola Nadu. When he fell out with her, he married a lady called Kurumbai, and later married a lady from Kalanthai. R. Raghava Iyengar wryly observes that even a brilliant man like Kamban could not defeat Kama, the God of love, easily. He says perhaps this was what prompted Kamban to write — katravar jnanam indrael kAmattai-k-kadattalAmO — can the learned conquer lust without jnana?

R. Raghava Iyengar said that Kamban probably wrote his Ramayanam in 1178 C.E. and the arangetram was in 1185 C.E. Mu. Raghava Iyengar concurred with this theory.

Kamban is believed to have travelled to the court of Prataparudra (1162 C.E. to 1197 C.E), and composed a verse which says that plantain leaves had become scarce in Warangal, because of the number of people who were fed by the king’s generosity.

Dr. C.R. Sarma, who made a comparative study of Kamban and Telugu versions of the Ramayana, writes that Kamban’s description of the Godavari shows he must have actually seen the river. Sarma also points to the use of Telugu words like ‘akkata’ (alas) in Kamba Ramayanam, to show that there must be some truth to the story of Kamban’s travels in the Telugu country.

The background

Kamban seems to have left Chola Nadu for the Kongu region, because of his quarrel with the Chola King. Pulavar Raju says that Kamban arrived in Kongu Nadu, with twelve of his scribes. Kamban classified gotras for the Kongu Vellala community families, who took pride in being Kamban’s palanquin bearers and declared their willingness to be his slaves.

Kamban’s patron — Sadayappa Vallal was a Vellala, and Kamban wrote four works — Mangala Vaazhthu, Kambar Vaazhi 16, Erezhubathu and Thirukkai Vazhakkam — to show his gratitude to Vellalas. “Until recently, in Kongu Vellala weddings, all four works would be recited,” says Raju.

“Bhavanandi Munivar gives a three-fold classification of literary works — mudal — the original work; vazhi – a work that follows the original; and saarbu — a work that follows the vazhi closely. Valmiki’s was the original, Kamban’s was the vazhi and Thakka Ramayanam written by Emberuman Kavirayar of Kongu Nadu, can be considered the saarbu,” says Raju.

Thakka Ramayanam has six cantos and 3,245 verses, and its author was patronised by Morur Kannakula Nallathambi Kangeyan (1599-1619 C.E.). It was so called because it was sung to the accompaniment of a drum called thakkai. But while Thakka Ramayanam was very much a part of the lives of the people of Kongu Nadu, the verses had not been collected together and published. Raju talks of the chequered history of its publication.

The effort began in 1897 C.E., when Muthusami Konar, who ran a monthly called Viveka Dinakaran, announced a reward of ten rupees for anyone who could shed more light on Thakka Ramayanam and its author. From another magazine that he ran, it is seen that he started publishing the Thakka Ramayanam verses in 1925. In 1933, he announced that once the publication was ready, it could be bought for just two rupees, eight annas. But Konar lost his eyesight in 1934, and the publishing efforts came to an end. Deivasikamani Gounder picked up the thread in 1964, and collected many palm leaf manuscripts of verses, but his four-year effort did not help complete publication.

All the collected material was then kept in the Perur Santhalinga Math. K. Arunachala Gounder, disciple of Santhalingaramasami Adigal of the Math, collected the material from the Math. With the help of the Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department, he published six cantos in 1983. Yuddha Kandam is yet to be published. Just as Kamban had a special place for Sadayappa Vallal in his work, so did Emberuman Kavirayar praise his patron Nallathambi Kangeyan in Thakka Ramayanam. “I have heard Thakka Ramayanam sung in temples. But sadly, this tradition has been discontinued,” says Raju.

In Kongu Nadu, to indicate the longevity of something, it was said that it would last as long as Kamban’s Tamizh existed — Kambar Tamizh ulla varai, showing the belief of the Kongu region in the everlasting appeal of Kamban’s poetry.

Kamban’s work inspired many other Ramayanams in Tamil, in addition to Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Nataka kritis. C.R. Sarma gives a list — Kottayur Subramania Iyer’s Ramayana Venba in 9,379 verses, Madhurakavi Srinivasa Iyengar’s Ramayana venba, Ramodantam by Kumarasami Pulavar, Ramasamiyam by Ramaswamy Iyer, Ramayana Tiruppugazh by Rangasami Reddiar, Ahalikai Venba by Vellakkal Subramanya Mudaliar, Ilankaipparani by Kanakaraja Iyer, Ramayana kirtanai by Vembu Ammal, Ramayanam by Muthusami Kavirayar and Sampurna Ramanatakam by Shivashanmugam Pillai.

There have been translations of Kamba Ramayanam into Telugu, with Adipudi Somanatha Rao’s (1867-1941) translation being the first. The Encyclopaedia of Indian literature says Patulapattu Sreeramulu Reddy translated it to chaste Telugu verse, while Maduppudu Kodanada Rami Reddy rendered Kamban’s work in colloquial Telugu prose.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 6:45:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/kambans-love-for-kongu-nadu/article23382279.ece

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