Kambar (poet)

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A modern artist's impression of Kambar

Kambar (Kamban in casual address) (Tamil: கம்பர்) (c. 1180, Tiruvaluntur, Tanjore district, India – 1250)[1] was a medieval Tamil poet and the author of the Ramavataram, popularly known as Kambaramayanam, the Tamil version of Ramayana.[2] Kambar also authored other literary works in Tamil, such as 'Thirukkai Vazakkam',Erezhupathu, Silaiezhupathu, Kangai Puranam, sadagopar anthathi, and Sarasvati Anthati.[2]


Kambar belonged to the uvachchar or உவச்சர் (ஓம் அர்ச்சகர்) caste, traditionally priests in southern India.[3] However, he was brought up in the household of a wealthy farmer in Vennai Nellur in Tamil Nadu. The Chola king—having heard of this talented bard—summoned him to his court and honoured him with the title Kavi Chakravarty (The Emperor of Poets).[2]

Kamban flourished in Therazhundur, a village in the culturally rich Thanjavur District in the modern state of Tamil Nadu in South India. Kamban was a great scholar of India's two ancient and rich languages; Sanskrit and Tamil. In a scholarly biography, Kavichakravarty Kamban, Mahavidwan R. Raghava Iyengar wrote in detail about this 12th-century poet.

Kamba Ramayanam[edit]

The original version of Ramayana was written by Valmiki. It is an epic of 24,000 verses which depicts the journey of Rama, a prince of Ayodhya who belonged to Raghuvamsa (Solar dynasty). In Hinduism, Rama is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the Trimurti (the Hindu holy trinity which includes Brahma and Shiva).

The Ramavataram or Kamba Ramayanam of Kamban is an epic of about 11,000 stanzas, as opposed to Valmiki's 24000 couplets.[4][5] The Rama-avataram or Rama-kathai as it was originally called was accepted into the holy precincts in the presence of Vaishnava Acharya Nathamuni.[6]

Kamba Ramayana is not a verbal translation of the Sanskrit epic by Valmiki, but a retelling of the story of Lord Rama.[6]

Legend has it that the entire episode was written in one night by Lord Ganesh.[citation needed] Ganesha is said[citation needed] to have written the poems that Kambar dictated to him during the night, as Kambar procrastinated the work till the day before the deadline set by the King.

There is also a legend that Ottakuthar—an eminent Tamil poet and a contemporary of Kambar[7][8]—also composed Ramayanam. Tradition has it that Ottakoothar was ahead of Kambar as the former had already finished five cantos, but when the king asked for an update, Kambar—a master of words—lied that he was already working on the Setu Bandhalam, upon which Ottakoothar feeling dejected threw away all his work. Feeling guilty, Kambar recovered the last two chapters of Ottakoothar's composition and added into his own.[9]

Kambar's praise[edit]

Statue of Kambar in Marina Beach

Many Tamil poets, statesmen, kings, and common people have praised Kambar for his Kambaramayanam, which has more than 10,000 songs and more than 45,000 lines, forming one of the greatest epics of Tamil.

A common word of praise attributed to Kambar is that even the mill in his house would sing ("Kambar veettuk kattuththariyum kavipadum"; "கம்பர் வீட்டுக் கட்டுத்தறியும் கவிபாடும்"). He is considered special in singing poems under "Viruthapa".

"Kamba Sutram" (கம்ப சூத்திரம்) is a phrase used by Tamil people in their day-to-day activity. It was actually originally "Kamba Chithiram", only denoting Kamban's art. However, over period of time it rendered as "Kamba Sutram". The phrase is used just like "rocket science", which clearly denotes that skills of Kambar in writing poem with viruthapa is as difficult as "rocket science".

Kamba Ramayana was first delivered in Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam at the court hall (Kambar Arangetra Mandapam) near Thaayar sannithi.

Legend says that when contemporaries objected to Hiranyavadaipadalam ("Story of Hiranyakasipu", which occurs as Vibhishana telling Ravana while warning against his false sense of invincibility), Kamban read it in front of the Narasimha Swami temple in Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. The Swami applauded by laughing out aloud from his Sanctum Sanctora (Mettu Narasimhar Sannidhi), and this was taken as proof of approval.


  1. ^ "Kampan." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2011. Web. 23 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b c The Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia By Edward Balfour
  3. ^ India's Communities by Kumar Suresh Singh, Anthropological Survey of India – Ethnology – 1992 – 4146 pages
  4. ^ Legend of Ram By Sanujit Ghose
  5. ^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 212. 
  6. ^ a b Rays and Ways of Indian Culture By D. P. Dubey
  7. ^ Biographical vistas: sketches of some eminent Indians, page 52
  8. ^ The Tamils and their culture, page 82
  9. ^ Tamil Literature, page 220