Sunday, August 06, 2006

Connoisseur Kambar - Part 3

Kambar not only wrote the great epic Ramayana, his works include the Saraswathi Andhadhi, Sadagopar Andhadhi and Yaer Yezhubadhu. Andhadhi is a form of poem in Tamil literature, in which the last word of verse forms the starting of the next verse. This one of the difficult and most toughest form in Tamil poetry which only a few poets have sung. Andhadhi itself is a sufficient proof for Kambar's eloquence and literary capacity. There is one more interesting incident in the life of Kambar which explains the presence of mind and the level of knowledge Kambar had.

There was practice that was followed by the Tamil Kings for generations. That is, if a poet sings any song in praise of the King or his country, the poet will be rewarded amply and will honoured for his poetic ability. Not only when praising of Kings did the poets were revered, but in general, all poets were revered and patronaged. Getting back to the story; during Kambar's time, there lived a man in the then Chola Kingdom wanted to sing a song in praise of the King and get the rewards. He had no prior experience in writing Tamil poetry. In spite of that his desire to get the rewards made him to write a poem. So he sat in the corridor of his house to write a poem. As he never wrote any poem before he did have a lead, so he was just watching the ambience to get a lead. He came up with the following poem by observing the ambience.

"Mann Unni Maappillayae Kaavirayae
Kooviryae Ungappan Kovil Peruchaali
Kanna Pinna Manna Thenna
Chola Ranga Perumaanae"

His song did not have any indepth meaning, he just scribbled whatever he saw. He never cared if what he wrote would be wrong. All that was in his mind was to get the reward. Small kids were playing a game called Mannunni Maappillai - meaning Sand eating, son-in-law - where one person would bend over and the others would jump over him by placing their hands in support. If the bending person does not stand steady he would pushed to the ground by the jumper and would be eating the sand. If the jumper does not jump correctly, he would fall and eat the sand. So this formed the lead for his song - Mann Unni Maappilayae.

Then a crow crowed, so he added - Kaavirayae. Then the cuckoo sang in its sweet voice - he added Koovirayae. And then a bandicoot (a large sized rat) ran from the inside the nearby temple onto the streets. On seeing that he wrote, Ungappan Kovil Peruchali.

He wanted to add something on his own as the third line so he added - Kanna, Pinna, Manna, Thenna. The phrase, "Kanna Pinna", is used as an interjection where it means disorder, scurrying or any such unclear work. Manna means Kings, Thenna means person from the South.

Then he saw the Srirangam Gopuram which was in the Chola Kingdom so he added the last line - Chola Ranga Perumanae. Ranga Peruman denotes Lord Ranganathar (Vishnu) at Srirangam. The word "Peruman" is used denote Gods, Kings and people of high rank. And there he completed his poem.

He then went to the King and sang this song. The King and his ministers got very angry on hearing this song because the song was insulting the King, by referring as the person eating Sand, shouting and crying unpleasantly and his father being a temple rodent. The King grew furios and ordered his men to imprison that man and give him a death punishment for insulting the King.

Our new poet got terrified and frightened and realised his mistake that writing a poem is not a simple thing. But Kambar who sat in the court was looking at this patiently and understood that the man just came out of the desire to get the reward from the King, but he does not have an intent to insult the King.

Kambar stopped the King and told that the song that the man sung has a great meaning though it might sound insulting in the first look. All the other poets and court staff were flummoxed by Kambar's statement. They all including the King demanded an explanation. Kambar started explaining

Mann Unni means Lord Krishna because he ate the sand and showed the entire Universe within his mouth. Maappilai means son-in-law. Lord Krishna married Andaal, the girl of the Chola kingdom, and therefore becoming the son-in-law of Chola Kingdom. So summing up Kambar said that the Chola Kingdom has Lord Krishna as the son-in-law and its a great thing to have the God as the son-in-law.

Kaavirayae - means Kaakkum Iraivan - Saving God. This refers to the King that he the saviour of the people and hence comparable to God.

Koovirayae - Koopita Kuralukku Varum Iraivan - The King attends peoples' requests as a God who answers the prayers of his devotees.

Ungappan Kovil Peruchaali: Ungappan = Un (Your) + Appan (Father), Ko - means God, King or Cow and in this context King, Peruchaali mean Perum (Big, Great) + Aali (Emperor, Ruler) - Summing up, your father is an emperor or great ruler among Kings.

Kanna means Lion, it also means Karnan who was very generous

Pinna - Descendant. Referring the King, heir of the Chola Throne.

Manna - King

Thenna - Man of the South. In this context, the King ruling the Southern region.

Chola Ranga Perumaanae - which can also be interpreted as Chola + Aranga (Kingdom, Stage) Perumane.

When Kambar gave this explanation, everyone was amazed including the King. They were really amazed at Kambar's knowledge, presence of mind, shrewdness and the ability to change a poem that was considered meaningless to a poem that has great indepth meaning. The King rewarded the man who wrote this poem in spite he knew that it was Kambar who saved him. Kambar met that man in person and in private and told him to learn the Tamil language properly and then start writing poems. And explained to him what would have happened in case he was not in the court. The man realised his mistake and promised Kambar that he would not write poems until he qualifies for the same.

This really, proves what Kambar was and why he is such a venerated and highly acclaimed poet (Kavi Chakravarthi) in Tamil Literature.

More to come, until then...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Connoisseur Kambar - Part 2

"Kamba Sutram" is phrase associated with Kambar that is used by the Tamil people in their day to day speech even today. "Kamba Sutram" means Kambar's formula. When we trace the roots of the phrase, it was actually, "Kamba Chithiram" meaning Kamban's Art. But due to the usage it got transformed over time as "Kamba Sutram". The phrase is used when referring to a context that is either difficult to do or even impossible. The phrase has an interesting legend behind it. Lets see what it is.

The then Chola King (Kulothunga Cholan), on hearing about the great epic Ramayana written by Valmiki, was interested in such a great epic being written in Tamil. So he engaged two contemporary poets - Kambar and Ottakoothar - to imbibe the crux and characterisation of what Ramayana is and produce such an epic in Tamil. The King also provided them with funds and facilities to have the epic written. Ottakoothar started off with the work and he put in efforts to produce the epic in Tamil and present it to the world before Kambar does. Kambar being a playful chap, whiled away the time spending all the funds he had, but the biggest gift he had in his life was the grace of Goddess Saraswathi - Goddess of Knowledge. Ottakoothar knew that Kambar did not do any work but he kept quiet and continued with his work. One fine day, the King called up the poets to see the each one's progress in getting the epic completed. Ottakoothar did his work and was ready to produce the work, but Kambar did not write even a bit, but he daringly appeared before the King praying and believing that his Goddess Saraswathi will never let him down.

The King asked both of them to explain as to what extent each one has progress and sing a sample from their work. Ottakoothar narrated the story. He said that "Ravana has kidnapped Seetha, and Lord Rama is on his way to recover Seetha and the Vaanarams (Ape army) are helping Rama in his mission. They are going to Srilanka but the sea that has to crossed is the obstacle. In order to overcome the obstacle, it was planned to build a bridge by throwing rocks in the sea". Ottakoothar finished saying that he has completed up to the point where the Vaanaram's are going to throw the rocks into the sea. And he sang a few lines from his work. He was applauded.

Kambar knew nothing about Ramayana until then, got the story line now. When it was his turn, the King asked Kambar's status. Kambar witty and smart enough, told that he has completed up to point where the Vaanarams are now throwing rocks into the sea and building the bridge. Note the point that Ottakoothar gave the lead that the Vaanarams are going to build the bridge but not yet started building and Kambar got that lead and used it cleverly saying that now the Vaanarams are building the bridge. The King asked to sing a few lines from his work. This is where the grace of Goddess Saraswathi that has been bestowed on Kambar is proved. He instantaneously sang the following

"Thumidham Theriththu Mael Logam Sella
Amirdham yena Devargal Vaai Pilandhanarae"

meaning, the drop that splashed when the rocks were thrown into the sea, rose up to the heavens and the Devar's (heavenly people (angels) including Indran etc) were awe struck with their mouths wide open, making them wonder if the water drop that splashed was Amirdham (the magical potion that keeps them young and rejuvenating). The interlingual rendition,

Thumidham - Water drop
Theriththu - Splash
Mael Logam - heavens
Sella - going
Amirdham - rejuvenating potion
Devar - Heavenly people
Vaai - Mouth
Pilandhanarae - Opening the mouth

Just see the presentation of Kambar, he actually bring the see in front of our eyes as if he drew an art out of words.

Well getting back to the legend, now the word Thumidham became the controversial word. Ottakoothar said that Kambar has used the word, Thumidham, that is outdated and out of use. But the fact is that the word is still used in a transformed form, called Thoodham (meaning water) - mostly used by Brahmins. If asked what the roots of the word Thoodham is, most say that it is Theertham which also means water but in a holy context. But actually Thoodham is the transformation of Thumidham.

Kambar argued that he can prove that the word is being used at that time. Ottakoothar asked for the proof and he took him to a village saying that he heard people using it there. But actually it was not. On the way he prayed within his mind to Goddess Saraswathi and pleaded her for help. And his prayers were answered. At one place, a woman was churning milk to take butter, and children were playing near the pot which she used to churn. The woman said

"Kulandhaigalae, thalli poi vilaiyaadungal, Thumidham therikka pogiradhu".

meaning, "Kids please go a little away from the pot and play, or else the drops (Thumidham), would splash on you"

And that was Kambar's proof. Actually the woman was Goddess Saraswathi incarnate. Ottakoothar understood that it was Goddess Saraswathi who was partial to Kambar got angry, threw his half completed work into the sea, which Kambar used and completed".

What history says is that Ottakoothar, accepted defeat before Kambar considering his work is nothing before Kambar's work and threw his work in fire, but Kambar was able to rescue two sections (called Gaandams) and added it to the four Gaandams he wrote. However the name Kamba Ramayanam stayed for the epic in Tamil

There is even another legend that says that Kambar playfully whiled away the time and when the King ordered that the epic should be completed by the next day. He prayed to Lord Ganesha who wrote so fast as Kambar sang the song and completed all the verses overnight.

Whatever be the legend, but the work that Kambar has produced transcends time and makes him immortal. Not only that the phrase "Kamba Chitiram" - Kambar's Art and "Kamba Sutram" - Kambar's Formula are both appropriate. And no other poet has presented such a work where the characters of the epic and the situations are brought live as an ART just by the words used. The FORMULA that Kambar used to an epic with lively ART has earned the rightful name "Kavi Chakravarthi" (Emperor of Poets).

More to come, until then...