Ilango and Kovalan were Sanskrit Scholars!!


Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Post No.1212; Dated :-3rd August 2014.

Who is Ilango? The author of Tamil Epic Silappadikaram
Who is Kovalan? The hero of the epic Silappadikaram.

Silappadikaram is the most popular Tamil epic. It is a Hindu encyclopaedia. There are three Kandams (cantos): Pukar Kandam, Madurai Kandam and Vanji Kandam, all named after three great cities. These cantos have 30 sections (Kaathai in Tamil) in addition to the foreword and concluding part. Every section gives amazing information about music, dance, Tamil Hindu folklore, Hindu religious and cultural beliefs, temples, history and geography of India in the context of Tamils.

The hero Kovalan was shown as a Master of Sanskrit language. The author of the epic shows his erudition in Hindu scriptures throughout the epic. His translations of Mahishasura Mardhani Sloka and Ardhanaree sloka and Durga sloka are excellent. His ‘namavalees’ of Jainism and Hindu Goddess serves as proofs for his knowledge in Sanskrit. He praised Rama and Krishna sky high in the ‘Aychiar Kuravai’, Lord Skanda/ Muruga in Kundra Kuravai and Goddess Durga in the ‘Vettuva Vari’. He also quoted Bhagavad Gita indirectly. All these led some scholars to state that he must have lived in the seventh century CE. But I strongly believe that the epic belongs to 4th or 5th century CE. The incidents in the epic happened during the second century CE.

Pallava sculpture from Mahabalipuram, Tamil nadu.

Proof 1: Kovalan read Sanskrit sloka
A Brahmin lady killed a mongoose by mistake thinking that it killed her child. Her husband became very angry. Before leaving the city, he wrote something in Sanskrit and asked her to show it to a well informed person and take it further. With this palm leaf in her hand the Brahmana lady went through the bazaars and cried loudly. At once Kovalan called her and relieved her of pain and worry by doing the atonement mentioned in the palm leaf.

VR Ramachandra Dikshitar who translated Silappadikaram in 1939 comments on this episode: “It bears testimony to the fact that Kovalan possessed a sound knowledge of Sanskrit. Atiyarkku nallar, the commentator gives a Sanskrit sloka from Panchatantra in this context, which was said to be on the palm leaf.


Proof 2: List of Jain Names

Ilnago was very familiar with ‘sahasranamam’ which means 1008 names of any god or goddess. In the Indra Festival 1008 kings bore on their heads gold pots filled with holy water and performed the bathing of Indra.
In the ‘Natukan Katai’ section Jain nun Kavunti says, “ my tongue will not say anything other than the 1008 names”. The Hindu concept of 1008 names is used for Jains here.
In the ‘Urkan Katai’, the poet sings of 1008 gold coins.
Most of the Jain names listed earlier are Sanskrit terms, some are common to Saivite Gods: Jinendra, Siddha, Bhagavan, Dharma, Punya, Purana, Deva, Sivgathi Nayaka, Thathva, Sarana, Karana, Kumara, Sankara, Isa, Swayambhu, Chathurmuka, Arka, Veda with the Tamil suffix ‘an’ (Eg. Nayaka will be Nayakan in Tamil).

mahisa foreign

Proof 3: Kovalan recites Durga Mantra

In the ‘Katukan katai’, Ilango talks about Vedic mantras of five letters – Namasivaya and eight letters – Om Namo Narayana. While Kovalan and Kannaki were passing through the jungle, a forest deity appeared before them in the guise of Vasantamala, Matavi’s friend in Pumpukar. Since the Brahmin who gave information about the dangers in the forest forewarned them, Kovalan immediately recited a mantra of Durga. This mantra was called ‘’Pay Kalai Pavai Mantra’’ meaning the mantra of the lady who rides a deer. Immediately the forest spirit disappeared. Durga worship was practised by all the hunting tribes throughout India. Here the author used the Sanskrit word Mantra. This verse shows us how well versed was Kovalan in Mantras. Eariler the Brahmin also spoke about Panchakshara (namasivaya) and Astakshara (Namo Narayana) Mantra.

Image of Narayani

Proof 4: Sanskrit Names of Durga Devi
In the Vettuva Vari section, Durga’s names are recited which are in Sanskrit: Amari, Kumari, Gowri, Samari, Suli, Neeli, Arya (Ayai). Other terms are translations of Sanskrit terms:
She who wore moon in her coiffure
She with Unwinking Eye in her forehead
Whose Throat darkened by poison (Neelakanthi)
Serpent Vasuki is her girdle
Her upper garment was lion or tiger skin
Holder of trident
Holding a sword
Riding a deer
Her left foot with Silambu (woman), right with Kazal (man)
Lady who stood on the head of the double bodied broad shouldered Asura

(Mahisasuramardani= demon with buffalo head, human body)

This section shows that Ilango was very familiar with the story of Ardhanareeswara and Mahisasuramardani.

Then the author describes her form as Narayani (goddess as Narayana holding conch and the wheel (Sanga, Chakra) riding a lion.

dance mahisa
Mahisasuramaradani Dance

Ilango says in Tamil,

How is it that you, who receive the worship of all gods and stand undaunted as the sprouting wisdom in the Veda of all the Vedas, once stood upon the dark head of the wild buffalo, clad in a tiger’s skin and covering yourself with an elephant’s skin?

How is it that you, who stand as the shining light spreading its rays over the lotus heart of Hari, Hara and Brahma, also stood upon the stag with the dark twisted horns, after slaying Mahisasura, holding your sword in your bangled hands?

How is it that you, who stand praised by the Vedas as the consort of him who has an eye in his forehead and the Ganges in his coiffure, stood upon a fierce red eyed lion, holding a conch and discuss in your lotus hands?

The above three stanzas of Ilango are an imitation or translation of Sanskrit verses.

Sarva mangala mangalye Sive sarvartha sadike
Saranye Tryambake Devi Narayani Namostute (Durga Sapta sati)

One who reads ‘Vettuva vari’ of Ilango, will be reminded of Mahishasuramardani sloka and other Durga stotras. This section is a translation of Sanskrit slokas similar to the following two stanzas:

ravanaphadi cave
Sculpture at Ravanaphadi Cave

Ayi giri nandini, nandhitha medhini,
Viswa vinodhini nandanuthe,
Girivara vindhya sirodhi nivasini,
Vishnu Vilasini Jishnu nuthe,
Bhagawathi hey sithi kanda kudumbini,
Bhoori kudumbini bhoori kruthe,
Jaya Jaya hey Mahishasura mardini,
Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe. 1

Victory and victory to you,
Oh darling daughter of the mountain,
Who makes the whole earth happy,
Who rejoices with this universe,
Who is the daughter of Nanda,
Who resides on the peak of Vindhyas,
Who plays with Lord Vishnu,
Who has a glittering mien,
Who is praised by other goddesses,
Who is the consort of the lord with the blue neck,
Who has several families,
Who does good to her family.
Who has captivating braided hair,
Who is the daughter of a mountain.
And who is the slayer of Mahishasura.

durga mahisa

Jaya Jaya hey japya jayejaya shabda ,
Parastuti tatpara vishvanute ,
Bhana Bhanabhinjimi bhingrutha noopura,
Sinjitha mohitha bhootha pathe,
Nadintha nataartha nadi nada nayaka,
Naditha natya sugaanarathe,
Jaya Jaya hey Mahishasura mardini ,
Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe. 9

Victory and victory to you,
Oh darling daughter of the mountain,
Oh Goddess , whose victory is sung,
By the whole universe,
Which is interested in singing her victory,
Oh Goddess who attracts the attention of Lord Shiva,
By the twinkling sound made by her anklets,
While she is engaged in dancing,
Oh Goddess who gets delighted ,
By the dance and drama by versatile actors,
Even while she is half of Lord Shiva’s body,
Oh Goddess who has captivating braided hair,
Who is the daughter of a mountain.
And who is the slayer of Mahishasura.

(Two stanzas from Mahishasuramardani Sloka)

V R Ramachadra Dikshitar has poined out that Tamil name Kovalan is the Tamil form of Gopala (cowherd) in Sanskrit. It is Lord Krishna’s name.
I will write separately about the number of Sanskrit words and the influence of Bhagavad Gita in Silappdikaram.

The best translation available on Silappadikaram is the one by VR Ramachandra Dikshitar: The Cilappadikaram, 1939.


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)


Quotations from Tamil Epic Silappadikaram

silambu book1

Compiled by London Swaminathan
Post No.1198; dated 27th July 2014.

One of the great classics of Indian culture is Silappadikaram, a Tamil Epic. Silappadikaram means ‘The Story of Anklet’. It was composed by Ilango. The incidents mentioned in the epic took place around second century CE in Tamil Nadu. This is the most popular story of the five Tamil epics. This book gives us a vivid picture of early Indian life in all its aspects.

(Translations by V R Ramachandra Dishitar, Cilappadikaram, 1939; my comments are given within brackets: swami)

1.So we shall write a poem, with songs, illustrating the three truths that
a) Dharma will become the God of Death to kings who swerve from the path of righteousness
b) That it is natural for great men to adore a chaste lady of great fame
c) And that destiny will manifest itself and be fulfilled — (Patikam)

2.Praised be the Moon! Praised be the Moon, for, like the cool white umbrella of the king who wears the pollen spreading garland, He blesses our beautiful world.
Praised be the Sun! Praised be the Sun, for, like the commands of the Lord of the Kaveri lands, He revolves round the Golden peaked Meru — (Mangala Vazthu)

(This prayer in the very beginning of the book shows that Sangam Age Tamils followed the same Hindu culture that was practised in the North. White Umbrella and Meru circled by the Sun are in very ancient Sanskrit works)

3.That was the day on which the Moon moving in the sky approached the star Rohini, when Kovalan who walked round the holy fire in accordance with the scriptural injunctions as directed by the revered Brahmin priest, approached his bride, divinely fair, resembling the Star Arundhati — (Mangala Vazthu)

(Tamils believed in astrology and they got married on the day when moon approached Rohini (Aldebaran). It is in two more verses in Akananuru. This and marrying with circumambulation of Fire God (Agni) are typical Hindu customs followed until today. The same culture existed in the North and the South of India).
Image of Ilango, author of the Epic.

4. The port city Pumpukar resembled Uttarakuru, the residence of great penance performers — (Mangala Vazthu)
(The reference to Uttarakuru, Arundhati, Mount Meru, Fire Worhip in the very first chapter shows that the Tamils were out and out followers of Vedic culture 2000 years ago).

5. Hero of the epic Kovalan praised his wife Kannaki:
O purest gold! O conch white pearl!
O faultless fragrance! O sugar-cane, honey!
Unattainable beauty, life giving nectar!
O noble child of nobly-born merchants! – (Maniyaram patutta Katai)
(Hero Kovalan and heroine Kannaki belonged to the wealthy merchant community of ancient Tamil Nadu. Kovalan is the Tamilized form of Gopala in Sanskrit and Kannaki is the Tamil translation of Meenakshi in Sanskrit. Author Ilango himself called Kannaki in several places ‘lady with fish like eyes’= Meenakshi)

6.They (Kovalan and Kannaki) resembled Kama and Rati – God and Goddess of Love —, enjoyed close embraces like smoke coloured serpents – (Maniyaram patutta Katai)

7.The great sage (Agastya) of the divine Potiyil hill once cursed Indra’s son (along with Urvaci), and the latter obtained redemption by displaying her skill on the stage — (Aranketru Katai)


8. When Kovalan, the hero of the epic fell for a dancing girl, his wife did not do certain things:
Her anklet was no more on her charming feet (Kannaki did no wear the anklet);
The girdle no longer graced her soft waists cloth;
Her breasts were no more painted with vermillion paste;
No jewel other than her sacred Tali – yellow thread – did she wear
No earrings were visible on her ears;
No perspiration adorned her shining moon like face;
Nor was there collyrium on her long fish like eyes;
No more was there tilak on her beaming fore head;
Her milk white teeth were not revealed to Kovalan in a loving smile;
Nor was her dark hair softened by oil (Anti Malai Sirappusey Katai)

(This is the same in Valmiki Ramayana and Megaduta. Wives won’t decorate themselves when their husbands are away; when they are fasting also, they do the same; which is confirmed by Andal a Tamil poetess of Seventh Century CE)


9.Then the auspicious drum was removed from the temple called Vajra Temple, placed on the nape of the elephant, and conveyed to the temple where the young white (Airavata) elephant stood. After this the auspicious tall flag (bearing the ensign of the white elephant) which stood in the Temple of Kalpaka Tree was hoisted aloft in the sky.

(The epic described Indra Festival in detail in this section. Indra Dwajam that was hoisted for 28 days is referred to in Valmiki Ramayana and other Sanskrit books. Indra Festival is celebrated even today throughout South East Asia as Water Festival. Airavata and Karpaka Tree are used in the flags of South East Asian Countries. Indra statues are found everywhere in South East Asian countries now)

10. Temples in Pumpukar:
Joy prevailed everywhere on account of Indra’s Festival in the
Temple of the Great Lord who was never born (Siva)
In the Temple of Six Faced Red Lord (Subramanya/Muruga)
In the Temple of Valiyon (Baladeva) whose complexion was like white conch shell
In the Temple of Netiyon – Vishnu – of the dark colour
And in the Temple of Indra of the victorious umbrella and the pearl garland.
On one side the Vedic sacrifices as ordained by Brahma, were faultlessly performed, and on another the festivals pertaining to the fur classes of the Devas (Vaus, Adityas,Rudras and Maruts) and the Eighteen Ganas and different gods, were separately and correctly conducted — (Indira Viazvu Etutta Katai)

(Foreign “scholars” divided Indians in to Aryas, Dravidas and Mundas. But Sangam Tamil (Pura Nanuru and Tiru Murukatru Padai) books and Sanskrit literature divided the living beings in to 18 groups. They never knew anything about Aryas, Dravidas and Mundas!!! The Eighteen divisions according to Tamils: Apsaras, Devas/celestials, Nagas, Siddhas, Gandharvas, Vidyadharas, Picasas, Tarakas, Bhogabumiyar, Kimpurusas, Senas, Asuas, Bhutas, Munis, Garudas, Raksasas, Yakshas and Caranas.

Author of the epic, Ilango, gives the list of temples in three more chapters in the epic. He has included the Buddhist Vikaras and Jain Shelters along with Hindu Mutts).
The above quotes are from the first five chapters of the epic. There are thirty chapters (Kaathai) in the epic.
Picture of students enacting Silappadikaram.

Silappadikaram is a Tamil Hindu Encyclopaedia with lot of information about the ancient music and dance. I have written about the “11 types of dances performed by Matavi”, the dancing girl, separately. All the dances performed by her at Pumpukar 2000 years ago were from the Puranas!! One full commentary and one incomplete commentary for the epic are available today. Even with those ancient commentaries, we could not understand the terms fully. No wonder we are not able to understand the Vedas which were composed (heard by the seers) several thousand years before the Tamil epic!