INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE
The body of written works produced in a particular language, country or age is defined as Literature. Writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest can also be considered as Literature. Literature (from the latin- “ Littera” meaning “letters” and referring to a acquaintance with the written word) is the written work of a specific culture, sub-culture, religion, philosophy or the study of such written work which may appear in poetry or in prose.
Writings seems to have originated independently in china from divination practises and also independently in Mesoamerica and elsewhere. The first author of the literature in the world known by name was the high- priestess of Ur-ENHEDUANNA (2285-2250 BCE) who wrote hymns in praise of the Sumerian goddess INANNA.
LITERATURE IN INDIAN CONTEXT
Indian literature refers to the literature produced on the Indian sub-continent until 1947 and in the Republic of India thereafter. India has 22 officially recognised Indian languages. The earliest works of Indian literature were orally transmitted. Sanskrit literature begins with the oral literature of the Rigveda- a collection of sacred hymns dating to the period 1500-1200 BCE. The Indian Epic Mahabharata C.8oo/ 400 BCE relates the birth of nation while the Ramayana c.200 BCE tell the tale of the great Rama’s rescue of his abducted wife sita from the evil Ravan. Classical Sanskrit literature developed rapidly during the first few centuries of the first millennium as did the Tamil sangam literature, and Pali-canon.
Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than 2000years. The history of Tamil literature follows the history of Tamil Nadu, closely following the social and political trends of various periods. The secular nature in the Tamil literature prevails throughout.
WOMEN AND LITERATURE
“yathra naaryasthu poojyanthe ramanthe thathra devathaah
Yathra thaasthu na poojyanthe thathraiva viphalaah kriyaah”
“Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured no sacred works yield rewards.”
Women’s Empowerment, Women’s liberation, Women’s rights, Education, Attending the religious ceremonies were first and foremost introduced in India rather than other world countries. The above quote of Manusmrithi stands as a testimony for the world. Vedas and sangam literature have the highest number of women poetess in the world. Gargi, Vacaknavi was the only example one can quote for the women’s education and freedom from the most ancient days. Thousand year later grand old lady, women of sangam literature, Auvaiyar appeared on the scene. There are over 25 vedic poetess and over 25 Tamil sangam poetess. No culture in the world had so many poetess 2000 years ago.
WOMEN IN TAMIL LITERATURE
Vedic and sangam Tamil period Women did not sing only about gods and kings, they sang about everything in the world. Women like Draupadi and Kannagi challenged the most powerful kings of the day, they vowed to destroy injustice and they did it. Women like Damayanti and savithri fought for their husbands and won the cases, Sita and Mandodari, wives of rival, were praised for their chastity. They will inspire women for generations to come. In vedic period many women teachers were there. Pannini the first and foremost grammarian in the world explain the distinction between AACHAARYA and AACHAARYAAYINEE, UPAADHYAAYAA and UPAADHYAAYINEE.
ANCIENT INDIAN EPIC PORTRAYING A WOMAN IN THE LEAD ROLE
In Tamil, the twin Epics (also the first among the five great Epics of Tamil Literature) Silappadhikaram and Manimegalai both having female protagonists, interestingly all the five great Epics are named after women’s ornaments. They are depicted as adoring the goddess Tamil. Two of them are lost now which are also claimed to have female protagonists. Manimegalai with the credit of being the first Tamil Epic titled in the name of a women. Manimegalai belongs to the 2nd century AD. There are 30 cantos in it. It was composed by Koolavaanigan Cheethalai Chaatthanaar who was a friend and contemporary of Elango Adigal. This Epic insists on many social reforms, major ones are Eradication of liquor and castism. Manimegalai is for the educated and it analyses religion, and gives much information on the history of Tamil Nadu, Buddhism and its place during the 6th century CE period, contemporary Arts and culture and customs of the times.
There are mainly five characters in Manimegalai. As a continuation of Silappadikaram this Epic describes how Manimegalai -the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, follower of local deities, later included in Hinduism converts into Buddhism.
“Paadal saal sirappin Bharadhatthu Ongiya
Kodach chengol Chozhar tham kulak kodi
Kol nilai thirindhu kodai needinum
Thaan nilaith thiriyaa Thann-Thamizhp Paavai”.
Manimegalai is most impressed with Buddhism which treats everyone equally with loving kindness and fraternity. With the Doctrinal expositions from the Buddhist teacher Bikshu Aravana Adigal, she becomes a dedicated Bikshuni. The exposition of the Buddhist Doctrine deals with four noble truths, 1. Dependent origination, 2. Mind, 3. Virtue and 4. Non-violence
COMPARISON OF MANIMEGALAI WITH OTHER WOMAN CHARACTERS IN LITERATURE
When we look at Kannagi, Madhavi and Manimegalai, the main three female protagonists represented in the form of three archetypes. Kannagi as the good wife who possesses sacred power derived from the purity of her conduct, Madhavi - the beautiful and talented courtesan who excels in the Art of providing pleasure and her daughter Manimegalai who renounces her life as the object of a prince’s desire to become a Bhikshuni and serve humanity. All three archetypes may be seen in the Pali-Buddhist texts also- the wife, the courtesan and the Bhikshuni.
Pandita Kausiki, a Buddhist nun who was described by Kalidasa in his work MAALAVIKAAGNIMITRAM can be compared with Manimegalai. Similarity of being not only the Buddhist nun, but also of having an expertise in the Art of dance and won the hearts of the people with love and kindness.
The qualities described by Bharathiyar in his poem titled Pudumaip pen matches with that of Manimegalai’s.
“Potri, potri, jaya jaya potrip - Puduhumaip pennoli Vaazhi pallaan dinge
Maatri vaiyam pudhumai yurach cheydhu Manidhar thammai Amarargalaakkave
Aatral konda ParaaSakthi yannai Nal - Arulinaal Oru kannigai yaagiye
Thetri Unmaigal koorida vandhittaal selvam yaavinum Merchelva meidhinom”
THE SPECIALITY OF MANIMEGALAI
“Undi kodutthor Uyir Koduthore”: This adage is completely justified in and by Manimegalai.
To whet hunger, Manimegalai had received from ARAVANA ADIGAL a vessel named AMUDHA SURABHI- the magic vessel which will feed any number of people at times of drought. The vessel was always full with food. She was described as killer of hunger.
“Kudip Pirap pazhikkum, Vizhuppam kollum
Pidittha kalvip perum punai vidoo um;
Naan anigalaiyum; maan ezhil sidhaikkum
Poon ani maadharodu purankadai nirutthum
Pasippini ennum paavi”
The narration in Agaval metre moves on in Manimegalai without the relief of any lyric, which are the main features of Silappadikaram.
“Mun pin Malaiyaa mangala mozhiyin
Jnaana deepam Nan-ganam kaattath
Thavath thiram poondu Dharumam kettu
Bhavath thiram Aruga Enap Paavai Notranal”.
Above all Fate and Super naturalism prevailed through out Manimegalai.
“The Manimegalai is one of the master pieces of Tamil Literature gives us in the form of Didactic Novel full of freshness and poetry, a delightful insight into the ways of life, the pleasure, beliefs, and philosophical concepts of refined civilization. In its clear accounts of the philosophical concepts of the time, the Manimegalai presents various currents of pre-Aryan thought………………………………. which gradually influenced the vedic Aryan world…. The society in which the action of Manimegalai takes has little to do with Aryanised civilization of the North, which we know from Sanskrit texts.” ALAN DANIELOU- the translator of manimegalai- the dancer with a magic bowl.
Literature originated to uplift the society, there by more matured forms of writing came into existence. Epics normally are voluminous and rigid. Manimegalai is a critically acclaimed work. Many like U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer, Thuri mangala shivaprakasar and Kaviyogi Suddhanandha bharathi contributed in propagating the literary merits of this great Epic. There are many dimensions and concepts in Manimegalai upon which a lot of research activity is being carried out through- out the world. Tamil Literature at large has got a treasure trove in the form of MANIMEGALAI.