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Madhavi is an important character in the Silappatikaram, one of the epics in Tamil literature. Silapathikaram is the first Kappiyam (epic) among the five in Tamil literature. It belongs to the Sangam Period. Madhavi was a dancer by profession, at a time when such women were considered of low status : near-prostitutes who were little more than the playthings of rich and sensual men with ample means to indulge the universal human appetite for sex. Madhavi, however, was different - not one of the dancing girls who sold themselves to supplement their meagre earnings : even though she born into the dancing-girl caste Parathiyar, she practiced chastity. She lived with Kovalan happily for some time. During that period, Madhavi's mother stole all the wealth of Kannagi the wife of Kovalan by using Kovalan's ring Kannaiyali without the knowledge of Madhavi and Kovalan. After 3 years, Kovalan learned the truth about the mother's crime through the song kaveri kanal vary, during the festival of the god Indra. He grew angry with Madhavi and again returned to Kannagi. After Kovalan left her, Madhavi came to know of her mother's theft and showed her moral worth by returning all the wealth of Kovalan to his father and renouncing the world to become a Buddhist nun.
Manimegalai, the daughter of Madhavi and Kovalan, who is the main character of another epic called "Manimegalai", written by Seethalai Sattanar, born to them in this period of love in between them at Kaveripoompatinam.
Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant and the husband of Kannagi, met Madhavi in a performance in Chozha king Karikalan's court. Enamoured of her beauty, he fell in love with her. Eventually, Kovalan left his wife and moved in with Madhavi, with whom he stayed for a year. Madhavi bore him a daughter Manimekalai. However, after spending all his money on Madhavi, he realised his mistakes and returned to his wife.
Kovalan and his wife left for Madurai to restore their fortunes by trade. In an unfortunate twist of events, he was mistakenly arrested for having stolen the queen's anklet and beheaded. Upon hearing this, Kannagi set out to the court of the Pandya king Neduncheziyan and proved her husband's innocence. On realizing his mistake, the king died instantly. Kannagi took revenge by burning the whole city of Madurai with her curse, which she later took back due to request of the city goddess.
Upon learning the tragic turn of events, Madhavi shaved her hair and became a Buddhist nun.
- "Silappathikaram Tamil Literature". Tamilnadu.com. 22 January 2013.