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Ilango Adigal

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Ilango Adigal – The 3rd century author of the early Tamil epic Silappadigaaram (cilappadikAram), he was the son of a Chera King (in Kerala) and the youngest brother of King Cheran Chenguttuvan. ILango is believed to have likely been a Jain (or perhaps a Buddhist), though the epic describes many features similar to those ascribed to the Hindu god Vishnu. He was also among those who challenged astrology and became a saint and monk. It is said that once when the king was traveling through the mountains, tribal girls told him of a mysterious woman who had recently come among them and who had soon after ascended to heaven. They said that this woman was missing her left breast, and that she was a goddess of chastity. The king assigned his brother, ILango, to collect the full story of the mysterious woman and write it as a book of verse. The story narrates the history of 3 kingdoms: Chera (western), Chola (eastern), and Pandian (in the middle of South India). Silapadikaram was written between 200 – 300 AD. The story of Jeweled Anklets, is rooted in the ordinary lives of the early Tamils of the Pandyan Kingdom.

Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant in Kavirippattinam, married Kannagi, the lovely daughter of another merchant. They lived together happily, until, at a festival at the royal court, Kovalan met the dancer Madhavi and fell in love with her. In his infatuation he forgot Kannagi and gradually spent all his wealth on the dancer. At last he was penniless, and returned repentantly to his uncomplaining wife. Their only fortune was a precious pair of anklets (shilambu – hence the name of the epic), filled with pearls, which she gave to him willingly. With these as their capital they decided to go to the great city of Madurai, where Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade . On their arrival at Madurai they found shelter in a cottage, and Kovalan went to the market to sell one of Kannagi’s anklets. But the queen of Nedunjeliyan, king of the Pandyas, had just been robbed of a similar anklet by a wicked court jeweler. The jeweler happened to see Kovalan with Kannagi’s anklet, and immediately seized it and informed the King. Guards were sent to apprehend Kovalan, who was then killed on the King’s orders. When the news was brought to Kannagi, she went to the king, her eyes ablaze with anger. She asked him what the queen’s anklets contained – gemstones, and broke hers to reveal the pearls there, proving her husband’s innocence. Vadavaraiyai mattaakki is a chapter from the Silappadikaaram made famous by MS Subbulakshmi.

Silappadikaaram is among the earliest works which describe the music and dance of India. From it, we gain knowledge of early ragas, concepts and terms used in music, and many folk songs. The work has 6 chapters on music: Arangetrukadai, Kanal Vari, Venirkadai, Vettuvavari, Kunrakuravai and Aychiyarkuravai. It refers to 11 folk dances: Kadayam, Ayirani, Marakkal, Kudai, Thudi, Alliyam, Mal, Kumbham, Pedu, Pavai, Pandarangam & Kotti. Two commentaries on the Silappadikaram by Adiyarkkunallar and Arumpadavurai describe the music, dance, and literature contained in the book. The ancient Tamils recognized and used the scheme of 22 srutis. The terms alagu and mattirai were used as equivalents to srutis. Adiyarkunallar, in his commentary on Aychiyarkuravai, the 7th canto of Silappadikaram gives the number of srutis and how they were allotted among the seven swaras. The Pann thus arranged was Sempalai. The ancient Tamils also knew how to derive new Panns by the process of modal shift of tonic and by the process of reallocating the srutis of the swaras. An example of this can be seen in Arangetrukadai, where the basic arrangement of 22 srutis under the 7 swaras of Pann Mercharupalai was changed, and a new Pann was derived. The 7 swaras were called Narambu or by the names, Kural (Sa), Tuttam (Ri), Kaikilai (Ga), Uzhai (Ma), Ili (Pa), Vilari (Dha) and Taram (Ni) (see glossary). There are illustrations where the 7 notes are equated to Krishna, Balarama, Nappinai and so on and also to the constellations, Taurus, Pisces etc, in the system of Vattapalai. The concept of modern Samvaditva has also been mentioned as Kural-Ili relationship, where the intervals between the 2 notes are supposed to be eight steps of swarasthanas and 13 srutis. The scheme of 7 major modes and how this has evolved in to the scheme of 103 Panns is also mentioned. There is a reference to the concepts of Vadi, Samvadi, Anuvadi and Vivadi in Venirkadai. It is mentioned that Madhavi played on Yazh paying attention to Inai, Kilai, Pagai and Natpu (which are Tamil words for Vadi, etc). Also found are references to how a Pann should be sung with proper articulation of sound and modulating the voice in different ways. The required voice techinques have also been dealt with in detail. The four different ways by which ancient Tamils derived and arranged their musical scales is given as Vattapalai, Chaturapalai, Trikonapalai and Ayapalai. From Ayapalai, 14 Palais have been derived, while 7 Perum Panns or major Panns and five minor Panns (Sirupalai) have been derived. The Suddha scale of ancient Tamils was known as Sempalai or Vattapalai and this approximates to the present day Harikamboji mela. In the evolution of notes, Taram (Nishada) was supposed to have originated first and a reference to this found in Arangetrukadai. The Pann was further divided into Tiram (corresponding to janya ragas) and Tirattiram (corresponding to sampoorna ragas). Of the five major Panns Kurinji, Mullai, Palai, Marudam and Neidal, the first four were called Perum Panns, while the last was called Tiranil yazh because it had no derivative Panns and Tirams to its credit. The epic further refers to four types of talas, and several instruments.

The film Poombuhar is based on the epic and a statue of Kannagi stands in Madras. Silappadikaaram, along with Manimeghalai, stands as one of the greatest of Tamil epics.

One Response to Ilango Adigal

  1. vlsudharsan May 10, 2018 at 5:17 pm #

    Very good explanation of Si
    lapadikaram in a nutshell.

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