Literature History & Culture

Kamban — the first to glorify Rama Nama

In the Adhi Kavya of Valmiki, Rama was born as a man and lived as one. Valmiki’s story became so popular in the following centuries that people started worshipping Rama as God because of his illustrious and intrinsic divine qualities. The next popular Ramayana — by Kamban — appeared in the South after many centuries. Silappadikaaram belonging to the pre-Christian era also refers to the story. Meanwhile the Azhwars, who lived a few centuries before Kamban, brought Rama closer to people by their Divya Prabandha compositions. And he was made a God and many temples were also built for Him.


Kambar   | Photo Credit: Keshav

Kamban, born in the ninth century, was attracted by the Rama cult, but he faced a dilemma. Kamban had a critical question before him. Should he show Rama as man following in the footsteps of the original story of Valmiki or portray him as God because of the fact that Rama was worshipped in temples by then. Kamban, being a born poet and a creative artiste, adopted a mid-way – an amicable solution for both sects — those who considered Ramayana as legend and those who worshipped Rama. That is where Kamban emerged as an emperor of poets (Kavi Chakravarti). In his Tamil epic Ramaavatar, Rama was born as a man and became a God by his exemplary qualities.

Divinity and humanity are the two main aspects of Indian literature. Valmiki’s Ramayana is the first and foremost epic poem which deals with the human character and conduct. Kamban portrayed both divine and human qualities of his hero with an approach towards the theme basically different from that of Valmiki. For Kamban, Rama was an incarnation and Avatar, because he wrote his epic only after the concept of incarnation had been well-established. That is why he named his epic Ramaavatara but embellished the protagonist with many human qualities. He showed how a human being could elevate his stature to Godhood.


Sambadi   | Photo Credit: Keshav

May be Kamban’s study and attachment towards the ideals of Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural inspired this approach of expounding the highest ideals of life. Conduct of loftiest standard to reach an impossible height. Kural (50) that those who live an ideal life will be elevated to the status of God should be remembered here.

Now what makes Kamba Ramayanam so special that it has virtually become immortal, more important, popular? Surely Kamban himself has left a clue in his epic. He treats Rama both as man and God – like dual personality. These are the two different positions of the same personality. But these two positions are handled very carefully by Kamban. We cannot see any contradiction anywhere in his epic. On the contrary, we can see the master mind of Kamban in handling these two characterisations.

For example, Rama does not reveal himself as an Avatar anywhere in the epic. Right from Devas such as Brahma and Indira, Gandharvas including Viradha and Kavandha, sages Sarabangan and Sabari, Garuda — all praise Rama as an incarnation in front of Him but Rama neither responds nor reacts. He stands still listening as a witness (Sakshibootham). The next minute he either walks away as if nothing has happened or already engaged in his next move, without giving even a slightest inkling. God, having been born as a man, acts with perfect poise in these scenes. This is where Kamban scores as an Emperor of Poets.

The story of Rama was well-known during Kamban’s time. Kamban makes full use of this and does something not any other piece of literature before him did with such conviction – underlining the glory of Rama Nama. Although Hanuman plays a major role in this glorification, Kamban introduces in the epic a scene not found in Valmiki’s Ramayana, and that even before Hanuman realises its power. It is Sambadi, who opens the eyes of Vanaras to the glory of Rama Nama.

The delegation of monkeys, led by Hanuman, is marching towards the South in search of Sita. They reach the sea shore on the tip of the peninsula by the side of Mount Mahendra. Crestfallen about their failure to find Sita, they urge Angatha, being the king designate, to go back to Kishkintha and brief his mother Thara, King Sugreeva and Rama and they would wait there and perish just like Jatayu did. Jatayu’s elder brother Sambadi, whose wings have been burned, is lying there. He crawls up to the monkeys and makes enquiries. He is heartbroken that Jatayu is dead and performs the rituals.

Protective brother

Sambadi and Jatayu are the two sons of Arunan, Surya’s charioteer. Both birds want to see heaven and take flight. When they go too close to the chariot the heat sears them. Sambadi quickly shields his brother by spreading his wings. In the process, his wings are burnt and he falls. A horrified Surya consoles Sambadi, saying that he should keep uttering Rama Nama and when the monkey battalion comes his way, should help them. His wings would immediately grow back. The moment has come and Sambadi requests all the monkeys to recite Rama Nama and they do. His wings grow and he flies away not before telling them about Sita’s incarceration in Lanka.

Elleerum AvvIraama Naamame Solleer;

Solla Enakku Oar Sorvu Ila

Nalleerappayan Nannum; Nalla Sol Valleer!

Vaaimai Valarkum Maanbineer! (Kishkinta 48)

This is the first time the importance and benefit of reciting Rama Nama has been recorded. From then onwards, Hanuman follows this and gets immense benefits. It is in this light that one should see the introduction of the Sambadi episode and this scene in the Kishkintha Canto. It is not found in Adhikavya. By proving the power of Rama Nama, so emphatically in his Tamil epic, Kamban set a trend. No wonder, Kamban’s epic has withstood the test of time. He reiterates this again in Vaali Vadhai – calling the nama a Mantra (Mula Mantra) and “Semmai ser Namam.”

In glorifying Nama Mantra Japam, Kamban might have taken the cue from Andal, who sings:

“Ongi Ulaganda Uthaman Paer Paadi” (Tiruppavai 3)

“Vaayinal Paadi Manadinal Sindikka... (Tiruppavai 5)

It would be apt to end this essay with a quotation of Justice S. Maharajan. He says: “Kamban can never become outdated because he speaks to us, to the whole world, with the voice of tomorrow.”

(The author is Secretary, Karaikudi Kamban Kazhagam)

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 2:50:10 PM |

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