A description from the Silappadikaram

Social ScienceAncient Indian History


The phrase "Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned" is based on The Mourning Bride, a 17th century English comedy. Women's righteous rage has been a recurring theme in literature throughout history. Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, ancient Indian epics, have generated iconic pictures of the same in the figures of Sita and Draupadi. Peninsular India also gave us Kannagi, the protagonist of the ancient Tamil epic Silappadikaram, who is one of the most typical figures in this genre. The Silappadikaram is a manuscript of great cultural significance and one of Tamil literature's most brilliant achievements.

Composition of Silappadikaram

The Silappadikaram is made up of 5370 lines written in akavalmeter. The text's composition is attributed to Ilango Adigal, a Jaina by faith and the younger brother of Chera monarch Senguttuvan, according to legend. Certain academics, however, question this fact.

Ilango Adigal is only mentioned once in the epic's padikam, or prologue, which some historians feel is a later addition. Scholars also argue that the epic may have originated as an anecdotal or bardic tradition before being written down by the author. The fact that the Kannagi narrative is recorded in other Sangam era writings like the Narrinai (1st - 5th century CE) supports this idea.

Versions and Translations

The Silappadikaram has two existing commentaries: Arumpaduvari by an anonymous author from antiquity and the other by Adiyarkunallar from the mediaeval era. UV Swaminatha Aiyar discovered the epic's manuscript in the second part of the nineteenth century, and the first comprehensive edition was published in 1892. The work was translated into numerous languages, chiefly English, during the twentieth century. VRR Dikshitar was the first to translate the book in 1939, followed by Alain Denielou in 1965. R Parthasarathy's award-winning English translation was released in 1993. The current research relies heavily on Dikshitar's translation, which is available on the current website. Dikshitar's English translation is regarded as a trustworthy portrayal of the original. Despite the fact that the original text is a combination of poem and prose, Dikshitar sticks to a prose translation and does not dilute the original verses' brilliance. As a real historian, he delves into the socio-cultural and political environment of the time and bases his claims on historical data.

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The epic's exact date has been a source of much controversy. According to Diskhitar, the work was written in the second century CE. He points out that the book makes no reference to the Pallava dynasty of Kanci, implying that the work was written before the Pallavas rose to power (between 200 and 350 CE). However, another historian, Kamil Zvelebil, claims that the epic cannot be traced before the 5th century since the language, style, and structure of the epic reflects later works rather than Sangam literature. Sangams are academic gatherings or academies of academics and poets that took place in Tamil Nadu during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Parthasarathy agrees with this assertion, claiming that the work was not written well before 6th century CE. Nevertheless, scholarly agreement favours Dikshitar's date of the book, and it is widely accepted as authoritative.

The Story

Silappadikaram opens with the marriage of Kannagi and Kovalan, the offspring of renowned merchants, in the Chola kingdom's capital of Puhar. Kovalan, on the other hand, abandons Kannagi for a famed prostitute named Madhavi after a brief period of wedded bliss. Kovalan is so engrossed in his sensuous and cultural interests that he forgets about his wife. However, on the occasion of Lord Indra's festival, Madhavi performs a ballad about a woman who has been deceived in love.This leads Kovalan to doubt Madhavi's loyalty. He leaves her with a wounded feeling of dignity and returns to Kannagi, who takes him back without hesitation.

Following that, the reunited couple decides to start a new life in the Pandya realm of Madurai. However, because Kovalan had spent all of his money on Madhavi, they decide to sell Kannagi's anklet, which is her sole surviving piece of jewellery, in order to get the funds needed to establish a company.

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They set off on foot for a long trek before arriving at their goal. Kovalan travels to the city the next day to sell one of the anklets to a jeweller. The appearance of various ominous signs before his departure. The dishonest goldsmith, on the other hand, has his own sinister plans. He informs Neduncheliyan, the Pandyan king, that Kovalan has stolen the queen's anklet. Of fact, the true thief is the jeweller himself. The king, desperate to appease his queen following a fight, orders Kovalan's quick abduction and death without a trial. His commands are obeyed. Kannagi goes to the city after learning of her husband's tragic destiny and discovers him dead in a puddle of blood. She bursts into the palace, enraged, and arrests the king. She hurls the other anklet (of the pair) to the ground, shattering it and revealing the diamonds studded therein.

Because the queen's anklet contains pearls, the king immediately sees his mistake. The king kills himself, followed by his wife, in complete shame and misery. Kannagi, still enraged, plucks off her left breast and tosses it onto the city, which catches fire. As the city burns, the city's guardian deity comes in front of Kannagi and tries to calm her down. She tells Kannagi that Kovalan had wrongfully executed a merchant on the accusation of being a spy in a previous incarnation as Bharata, and that his death was simply the result of his own karma. She also informs Kannagi that she would be joining her husband in 14 days. Kannagi, struck by sadness, walks into the Chera territory's Murugavel-kunram hills. The Kuravas, or hill people, are present as she dies and ascends to paradise. They report this bizarre occurrence to their monarch, Senguttuvan, in wonder. The queen is so affected by Kannagi's terrible story that she wishes to have a shrine erected in her honour. The monarch then swears to fetch a stone from the Himalayas to create a goddess idol. The monarch fulfils his pledge and starts the Pattini cult. The songs listed in the book also provide us a picture of the region's physical and ethnico-cultural qualities, such as coastal love songs, herdswomen and hill inhabitant dances, hunters' songs and dances, and so on.

The book also depicts busy cities, urban life, trade, and business during the time in a lovely way. Silappadikaram's socio-religious environment appears to be a mosaic of spiritual beliefs and religious traditions, including Jainism, Brahmanical religion, and Buddhism.

As previously stated, the narrative of Silappadikaram may have originated as an oral tradition before being written down. The establishment of a literary structure for an epic is significant because it serves as a point of reference for future retellings. Oral traditions, on the other hand, do not vanish after writings are created.


Q1. What is Silappadikaram's main theme?

Ans: The central topic was Karma, which was continued in Manimekalai, a film based on the lives of Kovalan and Madhavi's daughter, Manimekalai.

Q2. What does the word Silappadikaram mean?

Ans: Nomenclature. Silappatikram – sometimes written Silappadikaram – is a mixture of two words, "silambu" (anklet) and "adikaram," according to V R Ramachandra Dikshitar (the story about). As a result, it connotes a "narrative centred on an anklet."

Q3. Silappadikaram was written by who?

Ans: Ilango Adigal was a poet, a Jain monk, and a Chera prince. Silappatikaram, one of Tamil literature's Five Great Epics, is said to have been written by him. He is one of Cheranadu's best poets.

Q4. What is Kannagi's goddess name?

Ans: Kannagi was the daughter of Puhar's merchant and ship captain Manayakan. She married Macattuvan's son, Kovalan, whose family were sea traders and whose patron deity was Manimekalai, the sea goddess

Q5. What is Sangam Literature?

Ans: The earliest accessible Tamil literature is known as Sangam literature. The Sangam period spans around 300 BC to 300 AD*, while the majority of the literature is thought to have been written between 100 and 250 CE.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47