(Last Updated on : 06/01/2012)
Kovalan is a fictional character and the protagonist of Cilappatikaram
which is one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil literature
of Sangam age
. The ancient Tamil epic was written by Ilanko Atikal
(Ilango Adigal) or Ilahko Atikaj. The epic narrates the accounts of Kovalan and his legendary wife Kannaki
. According to Cilappatikaram written by Ilanko Atikal, Kovalan was wrongly accused of stealing and was imposed with a death penalty by the king of Madurai
, which was finally avenged by his wife Kannaki.
Story of Kovalan
Kovalan was the son of a rich merchant in Kaveripattinam
who was married to a young lady of legendary beauty named Kannaki. Kannaki was the charming daughter of another merchant. The married couple lived together happily in the city of Kaveripattinam, but in the course of the tale, Kovalan met and fell in love with a courtesan dancer named Madhavi. As a result of his infatuation, Kovalan left his beautiful wife Kannaki and spent all his wealth on Madhavi, the dancer. But after Kovalan lost all his wealth, he realised his mistake and returned to his wife after a year. Kannaki forgave her husband and accepted him back.
The couple had only one asset left which was a pair of precious anklets, called Cilambu. The anklets which filled with many gems were willingly given by Kannaki to Kovalan. With the ornaments as their capital, Kovalan and Kannaki went to the grand city of Madurai, with the hope of selling the anklets and recuperate his fortune through trade.
Madurai was under the rule of the Pandya
king Neduncheziyan. After arriving in the city, Kovalan went to sell the anklets in order to start their lives afresh. But just as he went to sell the anklets of his wife, he was detained by the royal guards on the charge of alleged theft of one of the anklets which belonged to the queen. The appearance of the queen's anklet was strikingly similar to that of Kovalan's wife's anklets, the main difference was that Kannaki's anklets were filled with rubies and the anklets of the queen were decorated with pearls. According to the King's order, Kovalan was instantly beheaded by the guards, without trial.
Kannaki became furious after she was informed about Kovalan's fate. She decided to prove Kovalan's innocence to the king of Madurai by showing the anklets to him. After Kannaki reached the king's court, she broke the anklet seized from her husband and showed that the anklet had rubies as opposed to pearls that were found inside the queen's anklets. As they realized their fault, the King and the Queen died of shame. But Kovalan's wife was not satisfied and demanded more justice. She tore out a breast and threw it on the city and cursed that entire Madurai will be burnt. The curse became a reality due to the supreme chastity Kovalan's wife. The entire city of Madurai went up in flames which effected in enormous losses in terms of economy and human lives.