Saturday, February 12, 2011


Kundalakesi is a fragmentary Tamil epic written by Nagakuthanaar. Tamil literary tradition places it among the five great epics, alongside such works as the Manimekalai and Cilappatikaram. Its time period has been estimated to be before fifth century C.E.   

Sources and content

Of the five great epics, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi are not available in full. Only fragments quoted in other literary works and commentaries have survived. Only 19 of the original 99 verses of Kundalakesi have been recovered. An additional five have been recovered, but whether they were part of Kundalakesi has not been proven conclusively. Tamil linguist Kamil Zvelebil has speculated that the epic was destroyed due to its Buddhist content by anti-Buddhist fanatics. The 19 verses recovered have been found in the commentaries for TolkāppiyamVeera SozhiyamYapperungalam , ThakkayagaparaniSivagnana Siddhiyar Parapakkam (Thirvorriyur Gnanaprakasar's commentary), the epic Neelakesi and the poem VaisyapuranamNeelakesi - one of the five lesser Tamil epics, was a jain religious work about the life of the female jain monk of the same name, who was a rival preacher of the Buddhist protagonist of Kundalakesi(It was written as a Jain rebuttal to the Buddhist criticism in Kundalakesi). The first lines of the 99 verses of Kundalakesi are available in the Jain saint Vamanar's commentary onNeelakesi. The 19 recovered verses do not reveal the plot of the epic and are advisory in nature. The introductory and 15th Verses contain references to Buddhism.The Vinaya sub commentary Vimativinodani refers to the epic as follows:
Formerly in Tamil country an elder named Nagasena [Nagakuthanaar] compiled a work in Tamil containing the story of Kundalakesi, foe refuting heretical doctrines, adducing arguments for demolishing the views advanced by non-Buddhists.
Yapperungalam, which also quotes the epic's Kadavul Vazhthu (lit. invocation to God) describes it as a tharkavadham - a book of controversy and polemics.Veera Sozhiyam's commentator Perunthevanar and the 14th century anthology Purathirattu both describe it as aakalakavi - a large poem. 


Kundalakesi is an adaptation of the story of the Buddhist Bhikṣuni.  Kunḍalakeśi from the Dhammapada. The protagonist Kundalakesi (lit. The woman with curls) was born in a merchant family in the city of Puhar. Her birth name is "Bhadra". She loses her mother during childhood and lives a sheltered life. One day she sees a thief being paraded in the streets of Puhar and falls in love with him. The thief,Kaalan has been sentenced to death for banditry. Besotted with Kaalan, Kundalakesi implores her father to save him. Her father petitions the king for the thief's release. He pays Kaalan's weight in gold and 81 elephants to the treasury to secure Kaalan's release. Kundalakesi and Kaalan are married and live happily for some time. One day, she playfully refers to him as a thief. This enrages the mercurial Kaalan and he decides to kill his wife in revenge. He tricks her into visiting the summit of the nearby hill. Once they reach the summit, he announces his intention to kill her by pushing her off the hill. Kundalakesi is shocked and asks him to grant a final wish - she wishes to worship him by going around him three times before she dies. He agrees and when she gets behind him, Kundalakesi pushes him off the summit, killing him. Repenting her actions, she becomes a Buddhist monk and spends the rest of her life spreading the teachings of Buddha

Manimekalai or Maṇimekhalai written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literatureManimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos. Its story is a sequelto Silapathikaram or Sīlappadhikāram and tells the story of the conversion to Buddhism of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi. It is the only extant Tamil Buddhist literary text.Description
As a continuation of Silappatikaram, this epic describes how Manimekalai, the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, followers of Jainism, converts to Buddhism. According to the poem, Maṇimekalai studies the six systems of philosophy of Hinduism and other prevalent religions of the time and compares them to the teachings of the Buddha. She is most impressed with Buddhism. Later, upon hearing doctrinal expositions from the Buddhist teacher Bhikshu Aravaṇa Aḍigal, she becomes a dedicated Buddhist nun.
The aim of the author, Sīthalai Sāttanār (or Cīttalai Cāttanār) was to compare Buddhismfavourably with the other prevailing religions in South India in order to propagate Buddhism. He criticizes Jainism, the chief opponent and competitor of Buddhism at the time. While exposing the weaknesses of the other contemporary Indian religions, he praises the Buddha's Teaching, the Dhamma, as the most perfect religion.
The poem Manimekhalai gives much information on the history of [[Tamil Nadu], Buddhism and its place during that period, contemporary arts and culture, and the customs of the times. The exposition of the Buddhist doctrine in the poem deals elegantly with the Four Noble Truths(ārya-satyāni), Dependent Origination (pratītyasamutpāda), mind (citta) and Buddhist practices like virtue (Śīla) and non-violence (ahimsa).
The poem is set in both the harbour town of Kāveripattinam, the modern town of Puhar in Tamil Nadu, and in Nainatheevu of NākaNadu, a small sandy island off the Jaffna Peninsula in modernSri Lanka. The story runs as follows: The dancer-courtesan Manimekalai is pursued by the amorous Cholan prince Udyakumāra, but rather wants to dedicate herself to a religious celibate life. he sea goddess Manimegala Theivam or Maṇimekhalai Devī puts her to sleep and takes to the island Maṇipallavam (Nainatheevu). After waking up and wandering about the island Maṇimekhalai comes across the Dharma-seat, the seat on which the Buddha had taught and appeased two warring Naga princes, and placed there by the God Indra. Those who worship it miraculously know their previous life. Manimekalai automatically worships it and recollects what has happened in her previous life. She then meets the guardian goddess of the Dharma seat, Deeva-Teelakai (Dvīpa Tilakā) who explains her the significance of the Dharma seat and lets her acquire the magic never-failing begging bowl (cornucopia) called Amṛta Surabhi (”cow of abundance”), which will always provide food to alleviate hunger. The goddess also predicts that the Bhikshu Aravaṇa Aḍigal in her native town will teach her more. Manimekalai then used the mantra which the sea goddess had given her and returns to Kāveripattinam, where she meets the Bhikshu Aravaṇa Aḍigal, who expounds her the Buddha's Teaching. She then becomes a Buddhist nun or Bhikshuni and practices to rid herself of the bondage of birth and death and attain Nirvana.

Notable characters

Manimekalai - The daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, who was born with bravery and virtues. Udhayakumaran - The Chola King, who was madly in love with Manimekalai. He was a foolish king, who wanted things done only in the way he wanted them to be done. Sudhamadhi - Manimekalai's most faithful and trustworthy friend. The sea goddess Manimekalai, who protects the heroine.

Disappearance of Kāveripattinam or Puhar

The poem relates that the town Kāveripattinam or Puhār was swallowed up by the sea (i.e. destroyed by a tsunami or flood) due to the Cholan King not holding the annual Indra festival, causing the wrath of the sea goddess Manimekhalai. This event is supported by archeological finds of submerged ruins off the coast of modern Poompuhar. Ancient ruins of a 4th-5th century Buddhist monastery, a Buddha statue, and a Buddhapada (footprint of the Buddha) were also found in another section of the ancient city, now at Pallavanesvaram. The town of Kāveripattinam is believed to have disappeared in between the 3d and the 6th century.                               Date of Composition
Although there is some controversy about the exact date of this work, it is likely to have been composed in the 6th century CE.    Survival of Text
The Manimekhalai is the only extant Tamil Buddhist literary work of what once was an extensive literature. The reason for it survival is probably its status as the sequel to the Silapathikaram or Sīlappadhikāram. Tamil Nadu produced many Buddhist teachers who made valuable contributions to Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit literature. Reference to their works is found in Tamil literature and other historical records. Lost Tamil Buddhist works are the poem Kuṇḍalakesī by Nāgaguttanār, the grammar Vīrasoliyam, the Abhidhamma work Siddhāntattokai, the panegyric Tiruppadigam, and the biography Bimbisāra Kadai.

Buddhist School Affiliation

The work contains no direct references to Mahayana as propagated by Nagarjuna, etc, and appears to be a work of an early early Buddhist,Sravakayana school such as the Sthavira or Sautrantika school. According to Aiyangar, the emphasis on "the path of the Pitakas of the Great One" (i.e. Tipitaka) and the exposition of Dependent Origination, etc, in Chapter 30, could suggest that it is work of the Sautrantika school. An early Sravakayana Buddhist school affiliation with the emphasis on liberation from the defilements (kilesa), ending the cycle of birth, old age and death (samsara), and becoming an arahant is indicated by the conclusion of the poem, where Aravaṇa Aḍigal encourages full liberation from the three roots of evil—greed, hatred (rāgadosamoha). The final sentence of the poem states that Maṇimekhalai strove to rid herself of the bondage of birth (Aiyangar p. 230).             Buddhist logic
Aiyangar (p.80) suggests that the Buddhist logic as expounded by Aravaṇa Aḍigal in Chapter 29 of the Maṇimekhalai antedates the logic ofDignāga and his school.

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