Feminine Mythique History & Culture

Siege, defeat, grief — andpoetry they begot

A solitary verse can be traced to Pari’s daughters, Angavai and Sangavai. Did they write more?

There are women poets in the Sangam era, but they are comparatively few in number — approximately thirty women out a total estimated number of 473 poets. Avvaiyar, who I wrote about a few weeks ago, is the most prolific of these poets — but there are a few poems that provide a glimpse into the lives and stories of other women poets.

One of the myths from the Sangam Era that concerns two of these women, is enmeshed with the take of the poet Kapilar, dear friend of Vel Pari. Vel Pari, the ruler of a small kingdom, was besieged by the joint forces of the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas for years. Ultimately, after years of war and siege, he was defeated. His poet, Kapilar, deeply grieved his patron’s loss, and took on the care of Pari’s two daughters — Angavai and Sangavai.

At this point, the stories concerning Kapilar and these two princesses differ. I have come across some versions where Kapilar seeks a bridegroom for these two princesses. In other stories he leaves them in the care of the poetess Avvaiyar, who then marries them into another Velir king’s family. But the ending is the same — Kapilar, deeply affected by the death of Vel Pari, commits suicide.

Yet I’ve always been intrigued by the stories of these two princesses — Angavai and Sangavai — and wondered what happened to them after their father’s death and after Kapilar’s death. Kapilar’s poems remain with us today, and we know a great deal about him — but what about the perspective, the opinions and the emotions of these two orphaned girls?

Reading George Hart’s translation of Purananuru, I stumbled across a poem credited to these two girls. It comes after a string of poems by Kapilar, that praise Vel Pari, speaking of how hard his kingdom, Parambu, will be to take, that seem to anticipate Pari’s victory.

And it deeply affected — after all those poems that raise hopes of Pari’s success, that speak so elegantly and persuasively of his prowess and strength — to come across a striking, lonely verse, written by these two young women, haunting in its desolation, grief and beauty, that speaks of Pari’s death and defeat:

On that day, under the white light of that moon,

we had our father and no enemies had taken the hill.

On this day, under the white light of this moon, the kings,

royal drums beating out the victory,

have taken the hill. And we! We have no father.

What other verses could these princesses have written? Did Kapilar or Avvaiyar, their guardians according to legend, tutor them in the art of poetry? Did they ever write poems again?

I have not come across any other poems by Angavai and Sangavai in my search, but I wonder what the tale of these two young women, who suffer through siege, defeat, death and marriage, would have been.

The writer is the author of ‘The Mahabharatha-A Child’s View’, ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Missing Queen’

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 12:58:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/on-the-verse-by-angavai-and-sangavai-the-daughters-of-king-vel-pari/article19174376.ece

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