Three Tamil Kings fast unto Death! (Post No 2820)

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Research article written by London swaminathan

Date: 17 May 2016


Post No. 2820


Time uploaded in London :– 20-49


( Thanks for the Pictures)




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Tamils who lived 2000 years ago valued good reputation and family honour. They thought that it was better to die than to live in disgrace. This is a typical Hindu thinking. Throughout Valmiki Ramayana we come across several references to losing one’s life just to save their name and fame. Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Hanuman thought of killing themselves once or twice because they couldn’t do what they were supposed to do. The popular method of losing one’s life was jumping into a ritual fire. Alternative method was fast unto death.


Tamil literature has listed at least three kings who lost their lives by ritual fasting.

Popular Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar says in his

Tirukkural (970)

The world will admire the glory of men, who give up their life,

When overtaken by dishonour

Purananuru, part of Sangam literature, has a verse sung by the Chera king Kanaikal Irumporai (Puram 74). He was defeated by the Chola king Chenganan. After his defeat hhe was thrown into the prison. Suddenly he felt thirsty and he asked for some cold water. The prison guards delayed t under some false excuses. He fasted unto death and refused to take the water which was brought to him after a deliberate delay.

He sang the verse when he was insulted by the prison guards:–

“Royal babies that die and even moles delivered from the womb of queens, even though they are not men, are cut to pieces with swords (warriors are supposed to die in battle fields; so it is done symbolically as if they died in battle fields). When this is so, could any king beget a son, when tied like a chained dog, would be so weak to drink  water charitably offered by his jailor, for allying the  fire in his stomach?”


When he got the water after a long delay, he composed this poem, holding the water in his hand. He never drank it. He starved him to death.

Tiruvalluvar says in another couplet

Hair lost, the yak lives not

Honour lost, noble men leave their life(969)

Ike hair that is fallen from the head are men athat have fallen from their height (964)


Asi Dhara Vrata (Sharp Sword Edge Vow)


It is like standing on the sharp edge of a sword. The meaning is  it is difficult to maintain that balance or it would hurt if slipped. A bachelor can lie in the same bed with a beautiful girl but yet never swerve from the vow of chastity. It is said that a sword will be placed in between them in the bed according to the commentator (Raghuvamsa 13-67).



When Rama returned to Ayodhya after 14 year stay in the forest, he saw Bharata walking towards him. He praised Bharata as practising Asidhara Vratam, without enjoying the Rajyalakshmi  (Kingdom or Earth is praised as Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth in Hindu scriptures).



Tamil Kings Kopperum Choza and Neduncheralatha


Tamil Kings Kopperum Choza and Neduncheralatha of Sangam age also followed similar type of vow. They sat facing North on the banks of a river and fast unto death. They were also holding a sword in their hands, probably meaning the same, i.e. sharp edged vow. Verses in Purananuru 65 (by Kazath thalaiyar) and Akananuru  55 (by Mamulanar) are about the Chera King Neduncheralathan who died facing North. When such a great person sacrificed his life, scholars and general public joined them and made it a “mass suicide”. We see it when Lord Rama drowned himself in the Sarayu River and in the Tamil Kings’ deaths. Lot of Tamil poets and scholars joined them in the fast unto death ceremony. In Tamil it is called “Vaal Vatakkiruthal”, meaning Facing North with a Sword.


When the greatest of the Chola kings, Karikalan fought with Chera King Nedunseralathan, Chera king was wounded on his back. No Tamil king tolerated a wound on his back. Those who were injured on the back were called cowards. So Chera king decided to die through fasting. Several poets sang in praise of both the kings ( see Puram verses 65 and 66).


In another episode we read about a family feud where the sons of Chola king Kopperuncholan revolted against their dad. Immediately a poet advised him to go into fasting. When he decided to die through fasting, several famous poets joined him and died with him. One of them, Pisiranthaiyar, has never met him but considered him as his best friend (see Puram 214 to 223).



Apart from Jain’s Sallekhana we come across several examples in Sanskrit scriptures. Kishkinda Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana has one such episode. Angatha, son of Vali, went in search of Sita, but in vain. He decided to sit tight on Dharba grass and die. Only minor difference was he faced east but not north.

Alexander and Purushottama

When Alexander the Great conquered the valiant Hindu King Purushottama alias Porous, he asked him how he would like to be treated, Purushottama said,

“I am King. Treat me like a king”.

Alexander was greatly impressed with his bold answer and treated him like a king. When Alexander saw this little king fighting valiantly, he had second thoughts attacking the mighty Mauryan army.

Honour was valued and no king could live in disgrace. Chittor Queen Padmini jumped into fire with hundreds of her loyal servants just the avoid the disgrace from the cruel Alauddin Khilji.


Honour in Animal World

Sangam Tamil literature gives some interesting details about Tigers. Tamil poets say that the tigers wont eat their prey if it falls on its left side. It will eat the animal only when it falls on its right side. In Hindu culture left is inauspicious and right is auspicious. All the auspicious things are done in clockwise direction (right turn) and inauspicious or funeral rites are done in leftward direction/anti clockwise direction. This simile is always used to illustrate the greatness of honour.