Saturday, 19 September 2015

Kambar, Kongunadu's Friend or Foe ?

Thanipadal Thiratttu, an old collection of classical Tamil poetry, contains a verse on Kongunadu, which is attributed to the great Tamil poet Kambar. However, if the people of the Kongu region read it, they will certainly condemn the famed bard, as the poem portrays their land in poor light.

The verse points out that all streams and rivers in the Kongu region being dirty, emanated the odor of mud. The uneven lands, full of stones and thorns. Crudely named villages suffixed in 'Patti' and 'Thotti'. Kambanchoru ( A meal in bulrush millet), the regular food of the people and the men bearing 'unfashionable' names like 'Bomman' and 'Thimman'. Worse still, the poem describes the Kongu girls as 'dogs' and 'devils' and tells a reader never to imagine leading a life in such a dark region called Kongunadu.

Nevertheless, eminent historian and epigraphist Pulavar Se. Rasu, in his new book Kongunadum Kambaraum, disagrees with the opinion and asserts that Kambar could not have written such a song, but any 'Vambar' ( A person who intentionally provokes others) must have done it !

Citing references from various pieces of classical Tamil literature, Rasu says that the water of river Bhavani had the fragrance of sandal and river Noyyal has been described as 'Manakkum Kanchi Maanadhi' ( The fragrant Noyyal). As the water in these two rivers was once as clear as crystal, even the ornaments, which the girls lost while swimming, were visible in the depth of the rivers, when viewed even from the surface!

Kambar, who penned the work Mangala Vazhthu, an auspicious, long lyric, which is recited in the wedding ceremonies of the Kongu Vellalar community, Eaer Ezhupathu, a collection of 70 songs admiring the occupation of agriculture and so on, had high regards for the people of Kongunadu.

Moreover, with its popularity, the poet's masterpiece Kambaramayana, had two different impacts on the literary world of Kongunadu.

Emperuman Kavirayar, a 17th century Tamil poet, rewrote the Kambaramayana in a simple language, setting to the music played on 'Thakkai' a traditional percussion instrument of Kongunadu and appropriately titled his work as 'Thakkai Ramayanam'. On the other hand, while Ramayana portrayed the Lankan king Ravana as the villain in the epic, Pulavar Kuzhandhai, an eminent Tamil scholar and a rationalist thinker of the Kongu region, made Ravana as the hero of his literary work Eravana Kaviyam, which was banned in 1948. However, after over a period of over two decades, the ban was lifted in 1971.

Like Kambar admiring the philanthropist Sadayappa Vallal in his Ramayana, Emperuman Kavirayar too lauds a Kongu local ruler Aththappa Nallathambi Kangeyan, a philanthropist, who commissioned the poet to compose the Thakkai Ramayanam.

Admiring the value of the work, T.A.Muthusamy Konar, the first historian of Kongunadu, once expressed his wish to publish the literature and advertised in his monthly journal Viveka Diwakaran that whoever brought him the palm leaf manuscript of Thakkai Ramayanam, he would reward him with Rs 10 !

Source: Kongunadum Kambarum – Pulavar Se. Rasu, former head, department of epigraphy and archaeology, Tamil University,Thanjavur. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express : 

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