Was Ilango a Brahmana or a Sramana?


Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1202; Dated: 29th July 2014.

Ilango was the author of Silappadikaram, one of the five Tamil epics. The incidents mentioned in the epic took place in the second century CE. This is confirmed by reference to Gajabahu of Sri Lanka attending the consecration ceremony of Kannaki temple and other references to the Yavanas. The popular belief about Ilango and the epic are as follows:–

1.Ilango was the brother of King Cheran Senguttuvan
2. He was a Jain.
3.The Epic belongs to second century CE.

These are not in the epic. There is no evidence or slender evidence to support the above three statements; but there are lot of things against these assumptions.

1.The style and language of the epic do not belong to second century CE. Sangam literature belongs to first three centuries. So this must have followed the Sangam literature. It may be dated to 4th or 5th century CE on the basis of its style and the language. If anyone dates it to second century CE one has the go against all the linguistic rules. When Max Muller followed a very crude method to date the Vedas he gave at least two hundred years for every change in the language and style. Majority of the scholars accepted his dating till this day. If we apply the same rule, Silappadikaram may be dated to 4th or 5th century.

2.I have written elsewhere in my blog that Tirukkural, Silappadikaram and Tolkappiam – all the three books have the Sanskrit word Adikaram (chapter) and so they all came up at the same time; at least in its present format. Their style, vocabulary and grammar also support this view.
doll kannaki

3.Silappdikaram is 95% Hindu, 4% Jain and 1% Buddhist epic. In fact it is a Hindu encyclopaedia. Even if all the Hindu scriptures in Sanskrit disappear tomorro , Hinduism will survive with the help of two Tamil works Tirukkural and Silappadikaram.

4.If Ilango is a Jain he would not have praised God or praised the worship of a Chaste woman. Adoring a chaste woman is possible but not the worship. In his farewell address, he advised everyone to Worship God. Jains are atheists who don’t worship god.

5.It is true that he praised the Jain Tirtankaras and Buddists in one or two places. It may be due to the actual condition of Second Century Tamil Nadu. He had to write what prevailed at that time. More over the hero and heroine were helped by a Jain nun Kavunti Adikal for a brief time. In those days there was no clash or conflict between Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Jain nun stayed in a Durga temple for the night. Hindu Kovalan (Gopal in Sanskrit) was helped by a Jain nun. Hindus visited temples of different faiths.


6.The commentators were not correct in all their commentaries. So their comments cannot be taken as true unless there is secondary evidence. What we have is a very slender evidence to see him as a Jain. If we take all the internal evidence we can see an over emphasize on the role played by the Brahmins. I will call Ilango a Brahmin or the epic, a Brahmin Epic for the following reasons:

7.Brahmins play a big and important role throughout the epic. At every available opportunit , the author introduced some new Brahmin characters. We see Brahmin pilgrim Madalan becoming more and more powerful than Chenguttuvan’s own ministers and commanders.

8.Chenguttuvan could go up to the Himalaya without any problem due to the support of mighty Brahmin rulers of India the Satavahanas (Satakarni/ Nutruvar Kannar in Tamil)


9.Vedic Fire God Agni appeared before the heroine Kannaki in the guise of a Brahmin. When Kannaki screwed and threw one of her breasts Fire God asked for her orderto burn the City of Madurai. She told him not to touch the Brahmins, chaste women, children, invalids and the cows. Rest are burnt down to ashes.

10. Reference to Agastya, a Brahmin sage who codified a grammar for Tamil was praised high in a few places.

11 An old Brahmin guides the couple Kannaki and Kovalan to Madurai (Katukan Katai). He was given lot of verses to describe some magical routes to Madurai.

12. Kovalan’s achievements are listed in another chapter. He saved an old Brahmin who came to get some donation. When he was caught by a mad elephant, Kovalan rescued him from the trunk of the elephant. In this verse the Brahmin gets more epithets than Kovalan!

tamil classics

13. A Brahmin lady (wife of Keeranthai) was given extra protection by the Pandya king, as a result of which the king lost his hand. He was fixed with an artificial hand in gold. I have already given this story in my post The Pandya King with a Golden Hand.

14. Another Brahmin lady was helped by the hero Kovalan, when she killed a mongoose by mistake. This story is in the Pancha tantra tales. But here Kovalan was shown as helping the lady when her husband left her in disgust (for killing the mongoose).

15.Brahmin Madalan plays a very big role in the epic. He is the link in the story. He narrated the missing bits now and then and he gets lot of gold – measure to measure from the king. He could even challenge the king on his non performance. Immediately the king orders several measures including an elaborate Vedic fire sacrifice.

kannaki and Devanthy

16. Suddenly another sub story was introduced by the poet in the name of a Brahmin traveller Parasaran When he gave a big gift to a little boy for reciting Vedas with amazing memory, his dad was imprisoned under the excuse of stealing those ornaments (gifts). When Goddess Durga refused to open her temple doors, the innocent husband was released by the king.

17. When Senguttuvan reached the Himalayas, the first order he passed was to protects the interests of the Brahmins who do penance in the Himalaya.

18.Tevanti was another Brahmin lady who plays a key role in the epic.

19. Pandya king was praised as the one who hears only Vedic Chanting in the early morning and never a complaint bell sound. In those days every palace in India had a big bell tied at the Bell Tower. Anyone who felt injustice could come and ring the bell to lodge a complaint. (I have written about it in Why Do Hindus worship the Bell.

ilango adigal

20. In the very beginning of the epic, the author explains the Vedic rituals in the wedding of Kannaki and Kovalan. The Brahmin priests officiated this in front of Agni (Fire God).

21.Pasanda Sathan: Pasanda Sathan was a god who is born as a Brahmin boy to help Malathi.

22.Sakkaiyar Dance: Sajkkaiyar is a section of the Brahmins who kept the Sanskrit drama and classical dance alive in Kerala. One of them performed a beautiful dance in front of the king. They were praised as well versed in four Vedas.

23. Brahmin Messenger: Messengers and comedians in dramas are always Brahmins. A Brahmin messenger by name Kaushik brings the apology letter from Madhavi to Kovalan.

There are other references praising the Brahmins and the Vedas in general.
All these cast doubts on the claim that the author was a Jain. If he has replaced all the references to Brahmana to Sramana (Jain), I would have believed it.


Readers also can judge it taking in to account the points discussed above.
(Tamil version of this article is in two parts with full references)

Contact swami_48@yahoo.com

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