A Jain Story in Tamil Epic

Jain Tirtankaras in Tamil Nadu

Compiled by London Swaminathan
Post No.1196; Dated 26th July 2014.

Silappadikaram is the most popular Tamil Epic written by Ilango. Of the five Tamil epics this is the one widely read by the Tamils. Ilango gives lot of information about the Jainism prevalent in Tamil Nadu around second century CE. One of the characters in the epic is Kavunti Adikal, a Jain nun who accompanied Kannaki and Kovalan, the heroine and hero of the epic, to Madurai.

Kavunti narrated a story which is not fund in any other book:

“Listen! However small the sum entrusted to your care by a saint, it multiplies a hundredfold. There was a Deva of great power in a town adjoining river Kaveri. Though the Deva was adorned with garlands made up of flowers and gems and gold, one of his hands resembled that of a monkey with black fingers.

Kazukumalai Jain Caves

All the Savakas worshipped the Saranar and wanted to know the reason for the monkey hand, the god spoke as follows:

Once there was a merchant called Etti Sayalan. In his house many would gather who observed fasting. One day the lady of the house received a monk. At the same time a monkey from the village silently entered the house and worshipped the feet of the great monk. It was very hungry and ate all the leftover food. The monk was very happy and told the lady of the house, “Regard this monkey as one of your own sons”.

The lady agreed to the wise words of the saint. When the loving monkey died, the lady gave the property set apart for it to the assembled monks and prayed that it may be absolved of all its sins. Hence it was born as the only son of Uttaragutta at Varanasi. This son who was celebrated for his beauty, wealth and great wisdom, and noted for his great gifts died in his thirty second year. Later he attained the form of a Devakumara and has come here with the monkey’s hand as if to announce to all his followers, “ Please note that all my wealth and enjoyments were the outcome of the gifts of her who protected me with grace. Though in my previous birth a monkey, this change of form is due to the gifts of Sayalan’s wife”

Valimalai Jain Caves

Jain nun Kavunti added, “Now that you have heard this account, accompany this lady (Kannaki) with the flower decked hair, without wasting any more time.

When Kavunti said this Matari, a woman from the cowherd’s community took Kannaki to her home
(Source Silappadikaram, Adaikkala Katai, Chapter 15)
Hindu saint in Ratlam, Madya Pradesh

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