(Last Updated on : 23/01/2013)
The Epics in Tamil Literature
refer to the Five Great Epics which are large narrative epics in Tamil namely Cilappatikaram, Manimekalai, Valayapathi, Civaka Cintamani and Kundalakesi. The 5 Great Epics, also known as Aimperumkappiyam is found in the commentary of Nannul by Mayilainathar in the 14th Century CE, but the names of five epics are not mentioned. During the late 18th century - early 19th century period, the names of the five epics were first mentioned in Thiruthanikaiula. Tamil Vidu Thoothu, an earlier poetic work from the 17th century describes the great epics as Panchkavyams. Out of these, only Kundalakesi and Valayapathi are in existence. Amongst the Five Great Epics, Kundalakesi and Manimekalai are Buddhist religious literary works, Valayapathi and Civaka Cintamani are Jain literary works and Cilappatikaram has a neutral religious observation.
Five Great Epics in Tamil Literature
The following mentions the details of the Five Great Epics in Tamil literature-
- This Tamil epic was written by Ilango Adigal and is a non-religious literary work from the 1st century CE.
- Manimekalai or Manimegalai was composed by Seethalai Sathanar and is Buddhist religious work, probably from the 1st century CE or 5th century CE.
* Civaka Cintamani
- It was written by Tirutakkatevar. Civaka Cintamani is a Jain religious literary work of 10th century CE.
- It is considered that an unknown Jain ascetic wrote Valayapathi, which is a Jain religious work from the 9th century CE.
- This epic was composed by Nagakuthanar (Nagasena) and is a Buddhist religious literary work of 5th century CE
The Five Great Epics were composed during the period between 1st Century CE and 10th Century CE. These provide the historical verification of cultural, social, religious and academic life of the people of that era. Long verses known as Virutha Pa were in Tamil literature introduced by Civaka Cintamani, whereas Cilappatikaram used akaval meter, which was adopted from the literary works of the Sangam age. The great Tamil commentator Atiyarkkunallar described Cilappatikaram as iyal-icai-nataka-polur-thodar-nilai-ceyyul that is the poems linked quality of content which creates a harmony of having elements of poetry, drama and music. Each of the Five Great Epics contain long cantos, like in Cilappatikaram that contains has 30 referred monologues which are sung by any character in the story. It contains 25 cantos written in akaval meter that are used in many poetic works in Sangam literature
Cilappatikaram also introduced folk songs to literary medium and verified the assertion that folk music institutionalized literary culture with the well maintained cultures go back to their roots in folk origin. The epic Manimekalai is composed in Akaval metre and is renowned for its easy and graceful style of narration of the natural beauty and scenary. Civaka Cintamani, one of the oldest Tamil literary works in long verses known as Virutha Pa.
Theme of Epics in Tamil Literature
The 3 Tamil epics, namely Cilappatikaram, Manimekalai and Civaka Cintamani provides a detailed narration of Tamil concept of womanhood effectively and poignantly describing the nature and quality of a chaste wife Kannagi; a valiant and obedient daughter Manimekalai; and a loving mother in Vijayai, mother of Jivakan in the 3 epics respectively. Cilappatikaram describes the unalterable working of destiny, where despite being innocent, Kovalan, the protagonist, is punished. The queen of Pandya loses her life along with the king, when the ruler realizes that by punishing Kovalan he has commited a mistake. Kannagi is considered as a symbol of chastity and is always linked with chasteness in Tamil literary works. In Manimekalai, the hero Manimegalai is taught several truths explained by the teachers of different faiths. Civaka Cintamani is derived from Mahapurana
and is mainly sensuous, though Jain philosophy is conveyed through practical aspects of life.
The poetic works in Kundalakesi was utilised to show the purpose and advantage of Buddhist philosophy over Jain and Vedic philosophies. It is not certain if Valayapathy, an extant work, is a Jain or Buddhist literary work. The writer of Valayapathy has used many references of Tirukkural
and it is probable that the work is inspired from it.
Five Lesser Epics in Tamil Literature
Other than the Five Great Epics, tradition of Tamil literature also categorizes five more literary works as Ainchirukappiyangal or the Five Lesser Epics. These are Neelakesi, Udhyana kumara Kaviyam, Naga kumara kaviyam, Soolamani and Yasodhara Kaviyam.