Kannaki - Epitome of Chastity
Literature play an important role in revealing the lifestyle, culture and tradition of ancient people. Tamil literature is one of the oldest and richest literatures. There are many Tamil literatures that help us to know about the past glories of Tamil. One such literature is “Silapathikaram” or the story of anklet. Silapathikaram describes the story of Kannaki who lived in a place called Kaveripoompattinam of Chola Territory, destroyed a city called Madurai of Pandya territory and attained the status of Goddess in the Chera Territory.
As the story starts from Kaveripoompattinam, first let’s see an introduction about Kaveripoompattinam.
Kaveripoompattinam or Puhar
Kaveripoompattinam was the port city of the ancient Cholas. It also served as the Capital city for the ancient Cholas. It was a rich city which had established trade relations with many overseas countries. “Purananuru” one of the ancient Tamil literature says that large ships entered the port of Puhar. Valuable merchandise was poured onto the shore brought from various overseas nations. From this it was evident that this city had trade relation with various nations. Also it shows the richness of the people who lived there. Another Tamil literature “Pattinapalai” describes about the life of the merchants of that period.
Puhar was destroyed by sea around 300BC. Archeologists predict that this ancient city was destroyed by continuous Tsunami. The term Tsunami was found in the ancient Tamil literature called Manimegalai.
Kannaki is a renowned Tamil woman who is praised as the Epitome of Chastity. The story of Kannaki reveals a woman with high chastity value will have the power to destroy a whole kingdom also can be raised to the level of Goddess from a normal human.
Kannaki and Kovalan
Kannaki,the lovely daughter of a rich merchant of Kaveripoompattinam. She married Kovalan, son of another wealthy merchant. Both lived a happy life during the initial phase of their married life until destiny played its terrible hand in the form of a woman called Madhavi. Madhavi, who is a charming dancer, came to the royal court to perform her dance program. Kovalan met Madhavi and was attracted towards her beauty, talents and artistic talent. He bought her favours and in his infatuation he forgets Kannaki. Ultimately Kovalan left Kannaki and moved in with Madhavi. From that point, despite being from an unchaste class Madhavi led a chaste life. After some point of time Kovalan became jealous of Madhavi because of her public appearance and artistic fame. Kovalan started to distrust Madhavi. Having lost all his wealth Kovalan hated Madhavi and returned back to Kannaki.
Kannaki remained loyal even though she was betrayed by her husband. She welcomed him home. Kovalan apologized for his immoral activities. They decided to move to Madurai from Kaveripoompattinam to start a new life. Madurai was the capital city of the Pandyas. Now the only fortune left with them was a pair of Kannaki’s anklet which she willingly gave to Kovalan. With these anklets as their capital they reached the great city called Madurai where Kovalan hoped to recoup his lost fortunes by trade.
Madurai is one of the ancient Tamil cities. It was situated on the banks of river Vaigai. The city of Madurai is known for its rich architectural heritage. Due to its architectural beauty and historical importance it is also called as “Athens of the East”. In 302BC the famous traveler Megasthanes visited Madurai. The world renowned Meenakshi Amman temple is in Madurai. It is also known as “Temple City”. At the time of our story Madurai is city rich in trade. That is the main reason Kovalan and Kannaki decided to migrate to Madurai to recoup the lost fortunes
Kannaki and Kovalan in Madurai
Kovalan and Kannaki reached Madurai and found shelter from a cottage. The king who ruled Madurai was Pandiyan Nedunchezhian. Kovalan went out to sell one of the anklets. Meantime the anklet of the royal queen was found robbed. It was robbed by the court goldsmith. The difference between both anklets is that Kannaki’s anklet contained rubies and the Queen’s anklet contained pearls. When Kovalan approached this goldsmith to sell his anklet the goldsmith seized this opportunity and informed the king that Kovalan had robbed the Queen’s anklet and he was taken before the king. King without any proper investigation imposed death sentence to Kovalan and eventually Kovalan was killed.
When Kannaki was informed about the death of her husband she got infuriated. The outraged Kannaki reached the King’s court with her anklet seeking justice for her husband’s death. Kannaki confronted the Pandya king and argued with the king to prove the innocence of her husband. She questioned the trial of the king. The king got infuriated and ordered her to prove the innocence of her husband. At once Kannaki broke her anklet that she carried with herself to the court. The anklet contained rubies and when it was broken the rubies came out of it. Similarly the king broke the queen’s first anklet as pearls came out from that. When the second anklet was broken the king was stunned as rubies came out from that anklet. The king was heartbroken and apologized for his mistake. But Kannaki in no mood to forgive the king called him unenlightened king. When Kannaki proved the innocence of her husband, the king got anguished. The king died of agony in front of Kannaki. Unable to bear the sight of her husband’s death in front of her own eyes, the Pandya Queen Kopperumdevi died. Still the rage of Kannaki could not be stopped. She cursed the city. She cut one of her breast and throwed it on to the city and cried with obsession that the city should be burnt except Brahmins, children, old aged people, ascetics and chaste women, if her chastity meant anything. Due to her atmost chastity the curse became real. Thus Madurai was completely destroyed by fire.
In Silapathikaram it is described that after the city of Madurai was destroyed, Kannaki left Madurai and reached the Chera region. She performed penance fortnight and died. She was reunited with her husband Kovalan in heaven. The story of Kannaki reached the Chera King Chenguttuvan. Chenguttuvan decided to build a temple for Kannaki. So he went to the Himalayas and brought precious stones and built a temple for Kannaki.
Queen of Chastity
Kannaki stands as the symbol of chastity and was also referred as the “Queen of Chastity”. Kannaki is also worshiped as God by the people in southern part of India. The story of Kannaki shows the power of Chastity and a woman who is a human by birth can rise to the level of God.