Did The Ramayana exist in Tamil land, much before the undisputed monarch of tamil poets - Kavichchakravarthy Kambar composed his Ramavatharam. Of course yes - for the sanskrit original of Valmiki must have been quite popular,but was there any references in Tamil and if so would there be any sculptures to support them ? We are going to analyse this a little further in today’s post.
Historians and linguists have been debating the time of the great poet Kamban, for all his 12000 verses, he overcame poetic tradition of those days, by failing to sing one on any major King or clan. He sings of a friend and patron - Sadaiyappa Vallal once every 1000 verses, but then there are no clear pointers to his period as well. So the date of Kambar varies from the 9th C CE to the 12th C CE, with more pointers to 12th C CE>
The work of Kambar, though, based on the original Sanskrit verson of Valmiki, its not a pure translation. The greatness in the man, not only showed in his masterly use of the power of the tamil language, he also used his poetic license to alter a few key scenes, maybe to suit the changed landscape - considering the time elapsed between the original Sanskrit version and also the regional variants and preferences. Today, we are going to see one such variant.
Thanks to Dhivakar sir, HariKrishnan sir, Shankar ( ps egroup), Anna Kannan and Geetha madam for their support / ideas / content. Thanks to Arvind for the photographs.
The Panel is from our favorite - Pullamanagai Brahmapureerswarar, the temple is dated stylistically to the early chola period and has inscriptions of Parantaka Chola I ( 907 to 953 CE).
Before, we go into the details of the panel, lets go to the story and the two versions. The story we are going to see today is that of Ahalya.
Crux of the plot :Brahma creates a beautiful woman. Indra lusts on her and wants to marry her, he doesn’t succeed and she ends up as the wife of a great sage - Gautama muni. But that doesn’t stop him from trying and finally, he tries deceit, by taking the form of her husband and tries to seduce her. The problem is, Ahalya did see through his disguise, but…
Let’s, see what the Sanskrit version of Valmiki got to say about this episode.
muni veSam sahasraakSam vij~naaya raghuna.ndana |
matim cakaara durmedhaa deva raaja kutuuhalaat
“Oh, Rama, the legatee of Raghu, though knowing him as the Thousand-eyed Indra in the guise of her husband Gautama, she is inclined to have intercourse ill-advisedly, only to satisfy the impassion of the King of Gods
Her thinking is: ‘This is none but Indra in the guise of my husband, for my husband never asks me like this nor he violates times… I heard that Indra is seeking me for a long time… and when King of Gods expresses such a desire, it cannot be refused… let him have it…
mama ruupam samaasthaaya kR^itavaan asi dur.hmate |
akartavyam idam yasmaat viphalaH tvam bhaviSyati ||
‘Oh, dirty-minded Indra, taking hold of my form you have effectuated this unacceptable deed, whereby you shall become infecund.’ Thus, Gautama cursed Indra
tathaa shaptvaa ca vai shakram bhaaryaam api ca shaptavaan |
iha varSa sahasraaNi bahuuni nivaSisyasi || 1-48-29
vaayu bhakSaa niraahaaraa tapyantii bhasma shaayinii |
adR^ishyaa sarva bhuutaanaam aashrame asmin vaSisyasi ||
On cursing Indra thus the sage cursed even his wife saying, ‘you shall tarry here for many thousands of years to come without food and consuming air alone, and unseen by all beings you shall live on in this hermitage while contritely recumbent in dust.
yadaa tu etat vanam ghoram raamo dasharatha aatmajaH |
aagamiSyati durdharSaH tadaa puutaa bhaviSyas
‘When that unassailable son of Dasharatha, namely Rama, arrives at this squalid forest, for it will be henceforth rendered so along with you, then you will be purified.
tasya aatithyena dur.hvR^itte lobha moha vivarjitaa |
mat sakaashe mudaa yuktaa svam vapuH dhaarayiSyasi
‘On your welcoming Rama, oh, ill-behaved woman, you will be divested of your greed and craze in which you lingered so far, and then you will assume your own body and then you can be in my proximity, rejoicingly.’ Thus, Sage Gautama cursed his wife Ahalya
The operative phrases which we need to see here is the actual curse : ‘unseen by all beings’ ,’contritely recumbent in dust’, you will assume your own body
No where is there any mention of her turning into stone !!
Now, lets see the tamil version of kamban, we have already seen the story enough,we go to the operative verses - the actual curse.
“vilai magal anaiya neeyum, kal iyal aathi” endraan. karungal aai, marunga veezhvaal.
Meaning, for your acts, you are condemned to become like a stone.
Great saints are blessed with infinite wisdom and love, and so he went on to tell her, when she will be relieved of her curse.
“pizhaithu porutthal endrum periyavar kadane, anbaal
azhaltharung kadavul annaai! mudivu itharkku aruluga!” enna
thazaithu vandu imirum thann thaath dasarathan enbaan,
kazal - thugal kathuva, intha kal uruvath tavirthi “
As Ahalya fell, she asks thus of her husband : its the duty of great souls, to forgive, you became like the lord who burnt with his third eye and by his smile ( reference to the tripurantaka panel !!), now do tell me how this curse will end. To which Gomathi rishi, says, you will stay thus till the one with the radiant garland comes, he Dasaratha Rama will resurrect you, when the dust of his blessed feet fall on you, your stone form will go, and you will become yourself again.
Was this Kamban’s extrapolation or was the legend prevalent much before? Thanks to Harikrishnan sir’s post ( please see the link below)
We note a beautiful reference to the curse clearly mentioning that she was turned to stone from the Sangam work Paripadal. Regarding dates of the Sangam works see this link
Verse 19 of paripAdal, by nappaNNanAr is on Lord Murugan and describes the pilgrimage of devotees from Madurai to that ancient shrine, Thirupparam-kundram. The poet goes on to describe the various activities of the devotees on the way to the temple. A few devotees get into an art gallery on the way and gather around different paintings displayed there and discuss spiritedly among themselves, about what is portrayed in the paintings. A particular painting has the image of a cat, a woman, a sage in rage and a rock. The devotees comment, ‘indhiran pUsai’ ;This cat is Indra. ‘ivaL agaligai,’ This is Ahalyä. ‘ivan sendra kavudhaman,’ This sage is Gautama, who was away (at that time). ‘sinan uRa, kal uru ondriya padi idhu,’ And this rock is (nothing but) Ahalyä transformed by the curse of the sage. This painting shows how she was transformed into a rock
Now, back to our sculptural panel. Its another miniature master piece for Pullamangai, you can clearly see the three main players in the panel. From left to right ( of the panel) - Lakshmana, Rama and Ahalya.
Now comes the clincher - in the panel is Rama’s right foot and we are going to see it in mighty closeup after we read this superb composition from Kamban.
mai vannathu arakki poril, mazhai vannathu annale! un
kai vannam anguk kanden, kaal vannam inguk kanden.”
oh, cloud colored one, i saw your hands work when you fought the black ( eye liner) colored demoness, but here i see you foot work !!
This is a clear pointer that Ahalya was resurrected when Rama’s toe hit the rock.
Lets get back to the panel.
The Pullamangai sculpture is part of the base stones of the Vimana and the latest date for this Vimana is 953 CE, and the portrayal clearly show the curse of Ahalya to turn to stone had taken firm root by then. Was valmiki unclear in the actual wording of the curse, did he mean that she be turned to stone as well. But one thing is clear, that she was turned to stone was part of tamil folkore as early as in the late sangam period as evidenced by the Paripadal verse.
Before we end, the last verse of Kamban - talks of Rama’s hand work. What event does that depict and is there a sculpture for that in pullamangai as well? We should see shortly.