Kannagi or (Kannahi | Kannaki), a legendary Tamil woman, is the central character of the Tamil epic Silapathikaram (100-300 CE). The story relates how Kannagi took revenge on the early Pandyan King of Madurai, for a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city with disaster.
Kovalan was the son of a wealthy merchant in Kaveripattinam, married Kannagi, a young woman of legendary beauty. They lived together happily in the city of Kaveripoompattinam, until 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, penniless, Kovalan realised his mistake, and returned to Kannagi. Their only asset was a precious pair of anklets (chilambu—hence the name of the epic), filled with gems, which she gave to him willingly. With these as their capital they went to the great city of Madurai, where Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade.
The city of Madurai was ruled by the Pandya king Nedunj Cheliyan I. Kovalan's objective was to sell one of the anklets in this kingdom so that he and his wife would be able to start their lives over. Unfortunately, around the time he set out to sell the anklet, one anklet (out of a pair) was stolen from the queen, by a greedy court member. This anklet looked very similar to Kannagi's. The only difference was that Kannagi's were filled with rubies and the queen's filled with pearls, but this was not a visible fact. When Kovalan went to the market, he was accused of having stolen the anklet. He was immediately beheaded by the King's guards, without trial. When Kannagi was informed of this, she became furious, and set out to prove her husband's innocence to the king.
Kannagi came to the king's court, broke open the anklet seized from Kovalan and showed that it contained rubies, as opposed to the queen's anklets which contained pearls. Realizing their fault, the King and the Queen died of shame. Unsatisfied, Kannagi tore out a breast and flung it on the city, uttering a curse that the entire city be burnt (the old, the children and the disabled were spared). Due to her utmost Chastity, her curse became a reality.
The city was set ablaze resulting in huge human and economic losses. However, after the request from the Goddess of the city, she withdrew her curse and later, attained salvation. The story was narrated by the poet Ilango Adigal. A fascinating, but ironic, fact about this epic is that it portrays Madhavi, Kovalan's amorous lover, as an equally chaste woman. Manimekalai, another ancient Tamil epic, is written in praise of her.
After setting fire to Madurai City, Kannagi finally reached Chera country and her husband came down to take her back to heaven.
The Buddhist were referred as Arayars in Tamil literature. Ilango Adigal had mentioned Arayar of Madurai in his Tamil epic Silapathikaram, which is considered to be one of the five famous epics of Tamil literature. According to this epic, they gave accommodation for Kannagi. They occupied grasslands known as Mullai in Ancient Tamil country. The Arayar in the pandyan land had a tradition that they came into the Tamilakam, along with the founder of the pandyan dynasty. They worshipped the Indra.
Perceptions of Kannagi
Kannagi or Kannaki Amman is eulogized as the epitome of chastity and is still worshipped as its goddess. She is praised for her extreme devotion to her husband in spite of his adulterous behaviour.
She is worshiped as goddess Pattini in Sri Lanka by the Sinhalese Buddhists, Kannaki Amman by the Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus' (See Hinduism in Sri Lanka) and as Kodungallur Bhagavathy and Attukal Bhagavathy in the South Indian state of Kerala.
Kannagi is also viewed as a brave woman who could demand justice directly from the King and even dared to call him "unenlightened king" ("Thera Manna", Vazhakkurai Kathai, Silappathikaram).
Kannagi in Politics
A statue of Kannagi in anger holding her anklet in one hand obviously depicting her in the scene from Silapathikaram where she demands justice from the king, Pandiyan on the death of her husband Kovalan at the hands of the king's policemen, is an important landmark in Chennai, on the famed Marina Beach, since about 1968. It was removed during the regime of the ex-chief minister of Tamil Nadu, O. Paneerselvam in December 2001 during the night; ordered by ex-chief minister J.Jayalalithaa. The official reasons reported was that it was to be removed for facilitating traffic. But the media was rife with reports of a mystic counsel to Jayalalithaa advising her that as long as the statue of Kannagi in the posture of demanding justice stood there, she would have difficulty maintaining her office through the elected term.
- Shankar Radhakrishnan HAI Bubbling over with devotion The Hindu news.
- "Presidency College ground ideal for Kannagi statue: panel". The Hindu (Chennai: The Hindu). 16 June 2002. Retrieved 9-Oct-2011.
- "Kannagi statue to be reinstalled on Jun 3: Governor". One India News (OneIndiaNews.com). 24 May 2006. Retrieved 9-Oct-2011.
- Menon, Jaya (16 May 2006). "On Marina beach, Karunanidhi keeps date with Kannagi". Indian Express (indianexpress.com). Retrieved 9-Oct-2011.
- Tiwari, Binita (23 August 2007). "Kannagi's statue adorned Marina Beach". Newstrack India (Newstrack India). Retrieved 9-Oct-2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kannagi.|
- Digital Madurai Website
- Aimcombu Parekkavu Bhagavathy Temple
- Eric Miller on Kannagi's story being an inspiration to fight injustice
- Kannagi - Cilapathikaram
- Kannagi story - Attukal Temple
- Kannagi story - kodungallur Bhagavathi Temple