Grama Devatas :: Kannagi and Kodungollur Bhagavati - Siruvachur
  • One of the mistake we often do is to look at the
    values of another era with ours. I think this is what
    is happening here. By the same token, there is no
    ruler today who can give an instant justice like
    Nedunchezhian did in Silappathikkaram. My take is we
    may never be able to figure the reason why Kannagi
    acted the way she did and being judgemental on it just
    On the other hand, I have an explanation. What Kannagi
    did or did not do to correct her wayward husband is
    her personal matter. But a king giving a verdict
    without looking into the matter is a social ill. While
    Kannagi did tolerate the personal injustice
    perpetuated on her by Kovalan (which is none of
    anyone's business anyway), she couldn't do the same
    when the social justice system failed (which ofcourse
    is everyone's business). It is an interesting thing.
    Illango Adigal has a very subtle yet strong message
    here. I think Kannagi is the first and great social
    activist and that itself makes her a divine entity.

    "'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir,' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself you see.'"
    -Alice in Alice In Wonderland
  • She should have only punished the person responsible for causing the 'social ill'. Instead she chose to punish everybody else too,which I think was completely SELFISH. All she thought was the injustice that had happened to HER and all she got after putting the city on fire was the title "KARPUKARASI" or whatever. The woman who put a whole city on fire to avenge the injustice caused to HER husband! All she thought was about her husband, what she'd do without him!!! In a way, her allowing Kovalan to Madhavi without any objections is also a social ill. THAT is the concept of Polygamy. And her not objecting to it, indirectly encouraged it. WHAT SHE DID is infact a social ill, to all other women in the society. She may be a great example of a wife but a poor and wrong example of a woman.

    Besides, whatever happened between her and Kovalan is personal, but then if people chose to bring it to light, well aware that it would become a subject of public discussion, then there's nothing wrong with discussing it. Besides, that part of the story has been well used to create a feeling of sympathy. So there's NOTHING PERSONAL about it!

    Coming back to the fire part, destoying a whole city for the folly of its king IS UNJUST. Where does social welfare come here and why should she be called a social activist?
  • Similarly, I guess we can argue

    When Ravana abducted Sita, it must have been a fight between Rama
    and Ravana, why both armies?

    Why Hanuman set Lanka ablaze,for no reason?

    Why Raja Raja waged a war against Chera's and detroyed them and
    Vizhigyam? Just for envoy beong imprisoned?

    Why Rajendhra captued Mahinda and destroyed Lanka, just for Pandya
    manimudi and haaram?


  • hi all
    are the citizens of a country responsible for a unjust king whose rule
    they have no power to control( not having elected him or not able to
    dismiss him)?

    forget the era it happened. they just cant be held responsible. in
    some versions of the story (I HAVE not read the original) kannagi
    spares the aged , the invalid and the children from the fire. in case
    it is in the original story who is she to judge all this?

    and the story has nothing to do with her chastity why the title of
    karpukarasai at all?
  • hi all

    though not directly connected with this argument i was reminded of a
    nice incident i happened to witness once

    in govt arts college mount road a couple of decades ago I happened to
    witness a college programme in which naavalar nedunchezhian presided.

    since it was 5. 30 pm and he did not seem to be finishing the
    monolougue a lot of girls started deserting the audience.
    nedunchezhian got visibly angry and commented on it.

    almost immedietly arasu. manimekalai a poetess who happened to be the
    tamil professor in that college came on stage and said" in history a
    nedunchezian made a hasty judgement in madurai. today too another
    nedunchezian is making a hasty comment"
    for that nedunchezian got up and quoted from silapathikaaram "finally
    in the aftermath of madurai's fiery end, kannagi absolves the pandya
    king of wrongdoing blaming it on fate."

    and he went on to add "when kannagi herself gives a clean chit to
    nedunchezian what locus standi does a manimekalai have??"
    though a couple of decades or more have passed this word play is fresh
    in my mind.
  • Hi

    I just wanted to add one more argument into this. If
    you've read Silappathigaram, you will know that
    Kannagi exempts a whole lot of people and animals from
    getting burnt in fire (pasu, anthanar, good people,
    old, children etc). Thus not everyone got burnt. The
    city burnt as the result of the miscarriage of
    justice. Also, I dont remember reading anywhere about
    the civilian casualties in the fire. Thus my
    conclusion is that Kannagi destroyed the city and let
    the people live. This in itself is an amazing feat. I
    do not believe while taking avenge for the injustice
    done to her husband, Kannagi will be commiting the
    same injustice (killing of innocents) to others. It
    just defeats the purpose of the revenge. She attains
    divinity because of that.

    If you look at any injustice, at the micro level it
    is a personal one. In a justice system, where there is
    no appeal and where the King is deemed God, it takes a
    lot of guts to stand in a King's court and tell him
    that what he has done is wrong. Pray tell me how many
    such instances you can quote in the history of the
    world?. Living in a democratic society as we do today,
    it may not seem such a big thing to do, but a monarchy
    is an autocratic state and to stand up for a cause
    (personal or otherwise) is an act of courage (usually
    you will lose your head for lesser offences). It also
    tells a lot about Pandian Nedunchezhian who was able
    to understand the situation and die hearing that he
    has done injustice.

    A social activist is one who takes up a cause (in
    this case injustice in Kings court) and fights for it.
    Kannagi did that and made sure she destroyed the
    system that abet such a incident. If it meant burning
    the city that stood and watched the miscarriage of
    justice, so be it.

    As for Kannagi allowing her husband to go awry, I
    think again it is only a simplistic explanation. In
    silappathikkaram, Madhavi(the other woman) is treated
    on par with Kannagi. The social setup of the day
    allowed men to marry many wives and have relations
    with public women like Madhavi. Kannagi was just
    following the norm of her day. By that standard, will
    you be blaming Sundarar for marrying two women, that
    too with Lord Shiva's help?. Silappathigaram differs
    in condoning the act and not the persons (Kannagi or
    Madhavi) involved. Again putting these acts under
    scrutiny using todays standards, the entire society
    can be described as one that encouraged licentitous
    acts and basically amoral. This is the danger we are
    to fall interpreting history with our standards.

    Again, I think we need to really sit back and look at
    things, as SPS said, the way Ilango adigal and Cheran
    Chenguttuvan heard 2000 years back. I actually sat
    through an argument (in Thirunelveli 10 years back in
    a festival for writers) which analyzed the feminist
    virtues of Kannagi. I could only laugh!!

    Muthu Prakash R

    "'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir,' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself you see.'"
    -Alice in Alice In Wonderland
  • Wonderful summary, SPS.

    Kannagi was probably only a tool/excuse for the city to be burnt. Also, was
    it not common those days for an enemy to destroy a king's city if the enemy
    won? I guess people were used to rebuilding their cities every time they
    lose a war. Also, houses may not have been elaborate those days. Must have
    been easier/quicker to build.

    King dying immediately on realising his folly was punishment enough. City
    getting destroyed hence had other reasons, as mentioned.

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