Ramayana before Kamban in TamilNadu

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.

Ahalya – wiki

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)

Rama – Sangam ref

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

Paripadal period

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.

19 thoughts on “Ramayana before Kamban in TamilNadu

  1. எத்துணை சிறிய சிற்பம்; அதற்கு எத்துணை அரிய பொருள்! மிகவும் அருமை

  2. Story well told, as usual, VJ.
    I sort of feel for Indra. He’s so often the fall-guy. . . & of course he does have children, Arjun is his son, right?
    Wish I’d studied those tiny panels more closely when I was there.

  3. வர்தினி , புள்ளமங்கை பற்றி எழுதிக்கொண்டே போகலாம்…..

    kathie, you are very true. poor guy. see this depiction of his plight.


    yeah, arjun is his – but again !!! anyway even there he is portrayed as a conniving father trying to protect his son by going to karna in disguise to seek his kavacha n kundala – and he as the son of the sun, displays more character. poor indra. what a fall. fall guy LOL

  4. சிற்பங்களின் அழகை வர்ணித்து அதற்கான கதைக் களத்தைக் காட்டி சிற்பக்கலைக்கென தனி இரசிகர் கூட்டத்தை உருவாக்கி வந்தீர். இப்பொழுது காவியங்களையும் சிற்பங்களோடு ஒப்பிட்டு பார்க்க ஆரம்பித்துவிட்டீர். கம்பரசத்தோடு கலைரசமும் சேர்ந்து ஒரு கலக்கு கலக்குகிறது. இன்னும் பல இராமாயண பதிவுகளை தொடர்ந்து கொடுக்கவேண்டுமாய் வேண்டுகிறேன்…

  5. இந்த இவ்வண்ணம், கைவண்ணம், கால்வண்ணம் கம்பரின் ‘ஹைலைட்’ ‘கண்ணன் கழலிணை நண்ணும் மனமுடையீர் எண்ணும் திருநாமம் திண்ணம் நாரணமே’ எனும் நம்மாழ்வாரின் கைங்கரியமாகக் கூட இருக்கலாம். சடகோபர் அந்தாதி பாடியவர் ஆயிற்றே கம்பர்.. புள்ளமங்கை கோயிலுக்குள் இந்த சிற்பத்தைக் கூர்ந்து பார்ப்பது சற்று கடினம் என் நினைக்கிறேன்.. சிற்பம் உள்ள இடத்தைப் பார்த்தாலே இது புரியும். இப்படிப் போட்டால்தான் பல விஷயங்கள் தெரியவரும். விஜய் உடன் அரவிந்த் உம் வாழ்க!!

  6. சிற்பமும் அழகு, உங்களின் ஒப்பிடலும் அதைவிடவும் அழகு. தொடருங்கள் உங்கள் அருமையான பணியை. எங்கெங்கோ கவனிப்பாரின்றி இருக்கும் சிற்ப அற்புதங்களை வெளிக்கொண்டு வரும் உங்கள் திறமை மேன்மேலும் வளர வாழ்த்துகள்.

  7. கீதா அம்மா ,
    உங்களை போன்றோர் துணை இருக்க கண்டிப்பாக இன்னும் பல வற்றை வெளி கொணர்வோம்.

  8. தகவல் களஞ்சியம் என்று சொல்லலாமா?
    நிறைய தகவல்கள், கூடவே நீங்கள் கொடுத்த வால்மீகி இராமாயண மற்றும் பரிபாடல் குறிப்புகள் தரும் லிங்க் எல்லாம் அருமை.
    எதோ மூலையில் இருக்கும் இவ்வளவு சின்ன செதுக்கல்களைப் பற்றியெல்லாம் உங்களுக்கு எப்படி தகவல் கிடைக்குது?

  9. re Indra, and those eyes all over him, they were previously something even more unsightly, weren’t they. . . .

  10. Hi vj,
    I have not read Kamban Ramayana and not read Valmiki Ramayana in detail. Though I was aware of this stone turning story of Ahalya. It means that there must exist some story in some literature, in Sanskrit, where this is explained. I have Ramayana with me so will look into this when I reach home, also I need to look some other Sanskrit literatures as well. Dnt know when I can come back to you with proper supporting details, if what I assume now is correct. What confuses me is that I am well aware of this story of Ahalya and I never read any Tamil literature till now.

  11. When I read the news item in “The Hindu” on poetryinstone, I made a point to visit the site. The contribution is amazing.

  12. Wonderful. There are no words to praise you. You are doing a yeoman’s service to our temple scuptures at this age when people like us donot know how to appreciate them and link them with not only mythology but also tamil literature.

  13. Nediyon Mayangi Nilamisai Thondri Adalaru Munneer Adaitha Gnadru,Kurangu Konardhu yerindha nedumalai yellam anangudai alakkar vayiru pukku aangu, ittadhu attra kattazhar kadum pasi patten yenthan pazha vinai payathal…Athirai Pichai itta kaadhai…Manimekalai.

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