Why did a Tamil King Kill 1000 Goldsmiths? (Post No.3821)

Written by London swaminathan


Date: 15 APRIL 2017


Time uploaded in London:- 15-59


Post No. 3821


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.


contact; swami_48@yahoo.com 


Silappadikaram, the Tamil epic, is the story about Kannaki and Kovalan (The details of the story are given at the end of this post).

Matalan, the Brahmin, is a link in the story. He plays a key role and fills the gaps in the story. He advised the mighty king Cheran Senguttuvan about the good things in life (Dharma).


In the Nirpataik (Chapter) Kaathai of the epic he gives some important details:-

While King Senguttuvan was sitting on the throne, the Brahmana Matalan appeared before him and said:

“Long live the King! After going around the Potiyil Hills, sacred to the great sage (Agastya) and bathing in the famous ghat of Kumari, I was returning, when, as if impelled by fate, I went into Madura belonging to far-famed Tennavan (Pandya King) of the sharp sword.


There when Matari heard that beautiful (Kannaki) had defeated the Pandyan king of the mighty army with her anklet, she proclaimed in the Taateru manram (common meeting place of the cowherds and cowherdesses, and was generally under a tree):-

“O people of the cowherd community! Kovalan had done no wrong; it is the king who has erred; I have lost her to whom I gave refuge. Have the king’s umbrella and the sceptre fallen from the righteous path?”  With these words, she (Matari) threw herself into the burning flames in the dead of night.

Kavunti, distinguished for her penance, took a vow to die of starvation and thus gave up her life.

I heard in full detail all this and also of the devastation that over took the great city of Madurai ruled by the Pandyan of the golden car. Overcome by this I went back to my native place (KaveriPumpattinam, Port city of Chozas) and leant that Kovalan’s father distributed all his wealth in charity and entered Indra Viharas/Buddhist temple and practised penance. Kovalan’s mother died of pity. Kannaki’s father also gave away his wealth in religious gifts and adopted Dharma in the presence of Ajhivakas. His wife gave up her good life within a few days ( of Kovalan’s execution , followed by the death of Pandya King and Queen and Kannaki burning Madurai city).


The lady Matavi (courtesan), shorn of her hair with the flower wreaths therein, entered the Buddha Vihara and received the holy instruction. She told her mother that her daughter should not become a courtesan.


Brahmin Matalan continued………….

“These people died because, they heard this news from me, therefore I come to bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges (In order to purify myself). Long live you, O King of Kings!


When Matalan gave the king the tragic news about Kannaki’s parents, Kovalan’s parents, Cowherd woman Matari, Jain woman saint Kavunti and courtesan Matavi, the mighty lord of the Cheras, asked Matalan:


“May I hear what happened in the highly flourishing Pandya Kingdom after the king’s death?”

Matalan said,

“May you long live, King of the great world! You destroyed in a single day nine umbrellas of nine kings, who joined together in an alliance against your brother in law Killi valavan.

Human Sacrifice of 1000 people!


“The victorious (Pandya king) Ver Chezian residing at Korkai (Port City of the Pandyas), offered a human sacrifice of one thousand goldsmiths in a day to divine Pattini (chaste woman) who had twisted off one of her breasts (with which Kannaki burnt Madurai city).

“And when ancient Maduria lost her glory and was chafing in untold trouble owing to royal injustice, this Pandyan prince of the lunar line (Chandra vamsa) which was celebrated for the exemplary way in which it gave protection to the people of the southern regions, mounted in succession the royal throne of Madura, like the (sun) mounting in the morning, with his rays crimson, the divine chariot with the single wheel, yoked to seven horses with tiny bells attached to its necks. May the king of our land live for all time protecting the world from aeon to aeon; live he in fame.”


Thus, from the Brahmin Matalan we come to know the fate of cowherdess Matari, Jain woman saint Kavunti, Courtesan Matavi, Parents of Kannaki and Kovlan and the human sacrifice of 1000 goldsmiths.


Silappadikaram Story:–


Silappathikaram is the earliest among the available Tamil epics. It was written by a poet cum prince Ilango. The story of the epic is as follows:-

Kannaki and Kovalan were the daughter and son of wealthy merchants of the port city Kaveri Pumpattinam of Choza kingdom . Both of them were married  and before long Kovalan fell into the spell of courtesan Matavi. But Kannaki was a faithful wife and received Kovalan wholeheartedly when he came back to her. They wanted to start a new life away from their home town and so they travelled to the renowned city of the Pandyas, Madurai.


Kannaki came to Madurai along with her husband Kovalan to sell her anklet and start a new life. But, her husband was unjustly accused of stealing the anklet of the Queen by a GOLDSMITH and was killed under the orders of the Pandya King. To prove the innocence of her husband, and expose the heinous crime of the Great Pandya King, Kannaki went to his court with one of her anklets. She accused the Pandya King of having ordered the death of her husband without conducting proper trial. The Pandya Queen’s anklet had pearls whereas the anklet of Kannaki had gems inside. She broke her anklet in the presence of the king and proved that her husband Kovalan was not guilty. Immediately Pandya King and Queen died, probably of massive heart attack.

Image of Kannaki and Kovalan

Afterwards Kannaki burnt the city by twisting one off her breasts and throwing it in the streets of Madurai City , Capital of the Pandya Kingdom, sparing the elderly, invalids, children, Brahmins and women. In other words, all the bad people were burnt alive. Later she went to Chera Nadu (present Kerala in South India) and ascended to Heaven in the Pushpaka Vimana/ pilotless airplane, that came from the Heaven. When the Chera King Senguttuvan heard about it from the forest tribes who witnessed her ascension, he decided to go to Holy Himalayas to take a stone and bathe it in the holy Ganges and then carve a statue out of it for Kannaki. King Senguttuvan’s brother Ilango composed the Silappadikaram giving all the details about the chaste woman/Patni Kannaki. Though the incidents happened in the second century CE, the epic in its current form is from the fourth or fifth century CE (Post Sangam Period).



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.

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