Manimekalai is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature
. It was probably composed in the 6th century CE. It is an epic poem that is a poem in 30 cantos. Its story is basically a sequel to Cilappatikaram
. It narrates the story of the conversion to Buddhism
of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi. Manimekalai is the only existing Tamil Buddhist literary text.
This work describes how Manimekalai, the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, who are followers of Jainism, converts to Buddhism. She studies the six systems of philosophy of Hinduism
and other prevalent religions of the time. These are compared to the teachings of Lord Buddha
. Buddhism was the religion with which she was highly impressed. Thereafter on hearing doctrinal expositions from the Buddhist teacher Bhikshu Aravana Adigal, she becomes a dedicated Buddhist nun.
The poet Seethalai Saathanar aimed at comparing Buddhism favourably with the other prevailing religions in South India in order to spread Buddhism. He criticizes Jainism
. He exposed the weaknesses of other contemporary Indian religions. He praises the teachings of Buddha and considers it as the most perfect religion.
The poem also throws light on the history of Tamil Nadu
, Buddhism and its position during that period, contemporary arts and culture and the customs of that time. Buddhist doctrine has been exposed with the Four Noble Truths
, Dependent Origination, mind and Buddhist practices like virtue and non-violence. The backdrop is the harbour town of Kaveripattinam, the modern town of Puhar and in Nainatheevu of Naka Nadu, a small sandy island in modern Sri Lanka.
Story of Manimekalai
Manimekalai is a dancer courtesan is pursued by the passionate Cholan prince Udyakumara. However she wanted to dedicate herself to a religious celibate life. The sea goddess Manimegala Theivam puts her to sleep and takes her to the island Manipallavam. After waking up Manimekhalai came across the Dharma-seat, the seat on which the Buddha had taught and appeased two warring Naga princes and placed there by the God Lord Indra
. Those who worship know their previous life. Manimekalai worships it and recollects what has happened in her previous life. She meets the guardian goddess of the Dharma seat, Deeva-Teelakai. He explains her significance of Dharma seat and lets her acquire the magic never-failing begging bowl known as called Amrita Surabhi. This will provide food to ease hunger. The goddess also predicts that the Bhikshu Aravana Adigal will teach her more. Manimekalai used the mantra which the sea goddess had given her and returns to her native where she meets the Bhikshu Aravana Adigal who explains her teachings of Buddha. She becomes a Bhikshuni and practices to rid herself from the bondage of birth and death and attaining Nirvana