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

Kannaki and Andal Weddings

Kannaki & Kovalan pictures from Poompuhar Art Gallery;Picture courtesy: Vijayan

Three Beautiful Tamil Hindu Weddings- Part 2

( Please read first part before reading the second part: swami )

We saw, in the first part, the beautiful descriptions of two weddings that happened 2000 years ago in Tamil Nadu. Another beautiful wedding scene is in the Tamil epic Silappadikaram. This is the most famous epic of the five Tamil epics. The wedding scene of Kannaki- Kovalan is quite a contrast to the scenes from the Akananuru. Here we see the ceremony of going round the fire, Vedic Mantras etc. This is like a typical Tamil Brahmin wedding that is celebrated today. But Kannaki and Kovalan were the daughter and son of two big Tamil merchants. They were not Brahmins. They lived in a city famous for its maritime trade.

The author of the epic was poet Ilango. Like I mentioned in the first part, the wedding was celebrated sometime in the second century AD. But no linguist will date the epic at 2nd century AD. The style of the language, Sanskrit words and knowledge of various fine arts copied from Sanskrit sources—all point to fifth or sixth century AD. Since Vashista Mahrishi’s wife Arundhati is referred to as the chaste woman in Sangam Tamil literature in several places, fire ceremony may have existed in Sangam Time. Seeing Arundhati star in the night of the wedding day is part of Hindu wedding ceremony.

Let’s look at the wedding now:

“Fair maidens seated on an elephant’s neck were sent forth, to invite to the wedding all those lived in the great city. As they went forth into the streets, drums were beaten; mirudangams were sounded; conches were blown; and white umbrellas were lifted high in the sky as if in kingly procession. O, how enchanting was their entry into the pavilion, glimmering with the pearls beneath the canopy of blue silk and with dazzling pillars, decked with diamonds and beautified by overhanging garlands! This was the day the moon moving in the sky approached the star Rohini, when Kovalan who walked around the holy fire in accordance with scriptural injunctions as directed by the revered priest, approached his bride, divinely fair, resembling the star Arundhati. How fortunate were those who enjoyed such a splendid sight!”

“ Lovely maidens bringing spices and flowers, spoke and sang, and looked bewitching. Women with full breasts and glowing tresses took with them sandal paste, frankincense, perfumes and powders. Ladies with lovely teeth bore lamps, vessels and Palikai pots of tender shoots. These maidens who looked like golden creepers and whose hair was decked with flowers, showered blossoms on the bridal pair, saying May you live a flawless life, with a love that knows no separation, and held in close and un relaxing embrace”.

“Then they led Kannaki, the Arundhati of this vast world, to the auspicious nuptial bed with the prayer that the royal tiger emblem, engraved on this side of the Himalayas, might remain forever on the golden crest of the mountain.”

All the three weddings narrated so far were on Rohini star day. But in Kannaki-Kovalan wedding we see the class difference in the ancient Tamil society. The first two were done on sandy floor under a thatched shed. This one was in a dazzling hall decked with diamonds.

Rohini in the Vedas:

Rohini star is an auspicious star according to the Vedas (Vedic Index, Vol. I, page 415).  It is in Brihat Jataka as well. Rohini was the favourite of the 27 wives of the moon. Palikai pots are part of Hindu ceremonies even today. The Bodhayana Grihya sutras mentions five palikais for purpose of marriage.

Andal’s dream of a divine wedding

Andal, one of the glorious Tamil poetesses, lived in the seventh century AD. She fell in love with Lord Vishnu and in her dream she saw her wedding. It is in Varanam Ayiram of Divya Prabandham. This is sung in all Vaishnavaite Brahmin weddings even today. The beauty of Varanam Ayiram is all the steps in today’s wedding ceremony are described in the same sequence.

Arrival of the bridegroom, Betrothal ceremony, arrival of the bride, bridegroom’s sister’s role, the red colour special sari, grasping the hand (Pani Grahanam), Havan/Fire Ceremony, Chanting of Vedic Mantras, Walking around the fire in seven steps (Saptapati), Puffed rice Homam (laja homam)- all these are described in beautiful Tamil verses. This is a wonderful Tamil verse, that too coming from a wise girl, who lived 1300 years ago. Tamil women must be proud of Andal.

Avvaiyar,Andal and Karaikal Ammaiyar are proof for the good education of women in ancient India. Though we have a score of Vedic poetesses and nearly the same number of Sangam Tamil poetesses, Andal’s place is unique in Tamil literature. Her Tiruppavai and Nachiyar Tirumozi were the most popular parts of 4000 Divya Prabandham verses.

Picture shows Saptapati in a Bengali wedding

Varanam Ayiram shows the role of dream in Tamil culture. Lord Vishnu come to marry our poetess Andal with thousand (Ayiram) elephants (Varanam). That is why this piece is called Varanam Ayiram. Purna Kumbham (Holy water pots), Toranams (Decorative streamers),Wedding dais decoration with betel nut trees, Kurai Pudavai (sacred red colour sari that is worn by Hindu goddess), Kankanam (Kaappu mentioned in Akananauru verse), Lighting the holy fire, Walking in seven steps around it in a circle, Stepping on a grinding stone (ammi) to show their steadfastness, Kunkumam (red colour powder) and sandal paste, wedding procession around the city—all these are beautifully described by Andal. This is every girl’s dream in the world. Whoever reads this will get married in a grand ceremony like this is the belief of Tamil Hindus.