Most of us know about the Sanskrit epics of India Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are two Tamil works of equal importance Silappadikaaram and Manimegalai that are lesser known. These are two out of five old Tamil classics given the Tamil title Perum Kappiyangal, meaning epics. While Ramayana and Mahabharata are dated at least as long ago as mid first millennium BC, if not earlier, Silappadikaaram and Manimegalai are dated 3rd to 5th century AD. Silappadikaaram gives us a sweeping glimpse of the full story indicating what to look for in the three settings at Puhar, Madurai and Vanji cities.
The story of Silappadikaaram is simple. The heroine of the story Kannagi, the virtuous wife of Kovalan a rich merchant of Poompuhar suffers two personal misfortunes in her life. The first misfortune she pardons gracefully but to the second one she reacts forcefully and takes revenge on the offender. It is remarkable that for both these actions, her chastity (Pativrata Dharma) is the motivator. After getting married with all the pomp and glamour to her Kovalan, she soon loses him to an artful dancing courtesan. Kovalan is infatuated by Madhavi who is well versed in classical music and dance, not knowing that as a crafty courtesan she cares for his wealth rather than his love and lute-playing prowess. Kovalan loses his wealth and returns to his wife Kannagi as a prodigal husband. As a virtuous wife (Pativrata), Kannagi accepts him and offers her only remaining jewellery, a pair of anklets (Silambu) to be sold and the proceeds used for establishing new business. The couple leave to another city, Madurai the capital of Pandiyan king, escorted by a Jain nun. At Madurai, Kovalan falls into a trap of a goldsmith who had stolen the queen's gold anklet. The goldsmith incriminates Kovalan as the thief and gives away to the king. The king orders execution of Kovalan in a hasty judgement that is quickly carried out. Kannagi is shocked and enraged immensely at the injustice meted out to her beloved husband. She rushes to Pandiyan's court, accuses the king of injustice, and proves her case by breaking the silambu that was recovered from her husband. The anklet of the queen was filled with pearls and Kannagi's anklet was filled with rubies. The shock of remorse kills the king and the queen on the spot. Kannagi's rage turns to the city of Madurai and she burns it down by her spiritual powers of a chaste wife.
Many many thanks to “Apoorva Chandar” for providing ACK scan.