Guru: Silapathikaram, Manimekalai, Seevaga Chinthamani, Valaiyapathi, Kundalakesi! Have any of you heard any of these before?
Disciple Ka: Nope! Nothing of the sort mom played on you tube!
Disciple Gna: Neither in dad’s tab or mom’s kindle!
Disciple Cha: My Hindi and Sanskrit teachers didn’t teach me either!
Disciple Jna: Some kind of learning Apps?
Disciple Ta: New toy collections at Amazon?
Guru: 😯 Phew! You little children are not be questioned. Perhaps, the only Tamil literature your grannies were familiar with were Anandha Vikatan and Ponniyin selvin. The generation of your parents must have memorized a few verses of Thirukural, the day before the exam. I am glad that children of your generation can manage to converse in Tamil. Anyways, the purpose of your parents sending you all here today, to this Gurukulam, is to make you all get introduced to Tamil literature.
Disciple Na: So is it going to be boring? I remember dad saying how boring his school Tamil classes used to be.
Guru: Hah! No, child. We have something interesting to learn today. Kind of a story telling session.
Disciple Tha: Yipee! Like Peppa Pig episodes?
Guru: Human stories! Stories written by great men, thousands of years before. We will look into the five great Tamil epics today.
Disciple Na: Epics?! I know Ramayana and Mahabharata. Are there three more?
Guru: Well, Ramayana and Mahabharata are great epics too but of Sanskrit literature. Tamil, the language lineage that all of us hail from, is as ancient as Sanskrit, in fact considered much older to Sanskrit, by some. Fortunately, today there are several comics, animation series, television serials and grannies’ tales about Ramayana and Mahabharata, for little children like you. So these two epics are being retold generation after generation. However, there are hardly any learning material about the five great Tamil epics because of which even native Tamils are unaware of their own literature.
Disciple Pa: My dad’s job is to develop mobile apps. I’ll speak to his boss to assign a Tamil epic app development project to my dad. He is the only person my dad listens to, you see.
Guru: 😆 That would be wonderful! The most interesting part of today’s class is going to be the five magical treasure boxes!
Disciple Ma: Wow! Magic?!
Guru: Yes! Our ancient scholars have created conundrums-inscribed-ornaments that have been passed down to wise men, centuries after centuries. I was fortunate to receive them from my Guru! In the next few minutes, I shall take you all down that cave that’s North to us. Preserved inside the cave are my Guru’s magical boxes. Come, let’s all move!
Inside the cave…….
Guru: So, little children, keep your eyes closed. We are about to unwrap these bundles of dried leaves….and here it is, the first precious box of my Guru! The second, third, fourth and finally the fifth box!
Disciple Ya: Pink! Pink! Pink!
Guru: Now, listen carefully. Each of these pink boxes has one great epic of the five epics I told you about. But it’s not like what you think they are! A precious ornament is enclosed within each box which signifies the title of the respective epic. And the magic is that the epic is inscribed within the designated ornament in the form of a voice – the voice of the original author of the epic! And only the one who gets to wear the ornament can hear what the voice speaks. I shall wear each of the ornaments to one of you and that one of you shall narrate us what you hear. Thus all of us present here will get enlightened about the epic.
Disciple Ra: Awh! I never knew Tamil classes can be so interesting!
Guru: Ha,ha! You are right, my child! Well, here we open the first box. Look what’s inside, it’s an anklet. It vibrates the story of the first great epic, Silapathikaram through its author Elango Adigal’s voice. Silapathikaram is the epic of the anklet, which were of common use in earlier days. Come, my child. Wear this on your feet and narrate us what this great epic is all about.
Disciple La: Gr.r.r…r..r.r..r.r..r…oh yeah, I hear some…th..ing….The central character of Silapathikaram, Kannagi, is married to Kovalan and their life sails smooth in Poompuhar until one day Kovalan meets Madhavi, a dancer. Kovalan leaves Kannagi to live with Madhavi. In sometime, he realizes his foolishness and returns to Kaanagi. They both begin a new life in Madurai, the Pandyan capital. Kovalan, while trying to sell Kannagi’s one ruby anklet, unfortunately is misjudged for the theft of the Pandya Queen’s pearl anklet and his beheaded. In a rage, Kannagi reaches the King’s palace to break open her another anklet which was made of ruby, thus proving her husband’s innocence. The King and the Queen relinquish their lives after realizing their folly. Kannagi’s anger sets fire to the entire Madurai town. Silapathikaram is a tale of love, lust, loyalty and righteousness!
Guru: Well said! This is the most popular epics of all. Now, let’s take a look at the second box. Here’s a beautiful necklace inside. This treasured ornament speaks about Manimekalai, the second great Tamil epic through the voice of its author, Sithalai Sathanar. Dear child, this goes on your neck. Please explain us about what you hear.
Disciple Va: Manimekalai is the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi (the characters in Silapathikaram). Madhavi becomes a Buddhist nun on hearing the news of death of Kovalan. She bears Kovalan’s daughter, Manimekalai, who does an insightful study of Hinduism and other religions and finally adopts Buddhism as her religion. She constantly evades the love proposal from Udhayakumaran, the Chola King and lives a life of a Buddhist nun till her last. This epic describes the then religious propagation and Manimekalai’s personal life.
Guru: Thank you, child! Manimekalai was indeed an inspiring woman for all generations. The third of the five boxes is here. Well, here are some precious gems. Seevaga Chithamani is the epic that’s associated with this gem studded jewellery, written by Thiruthakadevar. This one goes on to you, child. Tell us what you hear.
Disciple Zha: Seevagan is the son of Kakanttan, a King who is deceived by his minister, Kattiyankaran, as a result of his lustful nature. The Queen who was pregnant, escapes through a flying peacock vehicle. she gives birth to Seevagan who spends most of his life in wooing women and in marriage. In fact, Seevaga Chinthamani is referred to as the Book of Marriages. At one point, he relinquishes his worldly life. Following his meeting with Mahavira, he becomes a Jain monk.
Guru: This epic is a great example of how materialistic things allure us from the spiritual path. Let’s examine the fourth box now. Here we have a rich bangle, representing the fourth great epic, Valaiyapathi, associated with the ornament, Bangle.Would you like to wear this, child? Let’s see what this epic has in store.
Disciple LLa: The complete script of Valaiyapathi is not available today. During the course of years, the original script got fragmented. According to the fragments, it is the story of a diamond merchant named Valaiyapathi. Some scholars believe that it is again a work on Jainism.
Guru: That’s unfortunate. Let’s open the last of the five boxes. Here’s a pair of Jhimkis! You, little girl, shall wear this to enlighten us about this last epic, Kundalakesi, which signifies the ornament worn on the ears.
Disciple Rra: Kundalakesi is a unique love story of Kundalakesi and Kaalan. Born as Bhadra in Puhar, Kundalakesi instantly likes Kaalan, who is sentenced to death by the King for robbery. She persuades her father to please the King in order to release the lawsuit on Kaalan. With gold equivalent to Kaalan’s weight and 81 elephants, her father buys his daughter’s desire. Bhadra and Kaalan remain happily married until one day, she makes a funny remark of his previous way of life. Deeply affected by the comment, Kaalan takes her to the top of a hill and plans to push her off the summit. When he discloses it to Bhadra, she tricks him by requesting for her final wish to come around his legs thrice, By doing so, she pushes him off the summit. Thus a love that was bought with expensive gifts ends pathetically. Later, she regrets her cunning act and adopts the path of Buddhism.
Guru: All of the great epics point out the common folly in being attached to worldly things and how important it is to follow the path to enlightenment through a religion or by wisdom. I am glad that we could explore a small part of Tamil literature today.
Disciple Nna: A small part? It felt we’ve learned everything of the Tamil writings.
Guru: Not at all, my child! Tamil has a vast literature, especially of the Sangam period. We shall see them in the next class. Let’s get back now. Your parents would be waiting for you. Keep in mind the names and stories of the great epics you learnt today. Retell the stories to people at home. Speak of the stories. As you grow, read more about the epics. And remember, it is every one of your responsibility to take forward these epics to the next generation. Let’s thank my Guru and disperse for today.
This post is purely fictional, created for a blogging contest, organized by The Chennai Bloggers Club and Stylori. The intention of this post is to revive our forgotten Tamil epics.