Saturday, 8 June 2013

Kannagi – the spirit behind modern democracy

 The story of Kannagi is one of great inspiration even in modern times. Though democracy is considered to be a recent phenomenon, in spirit it has been in existence for a long time. 

Silapadhikaram is the story of a husband and wife, Kovalan and Kannagi. Kovalan was a rich merchant and led an honorable life, until he met Madhavi, a dancer.
He left Kannagi and started living with Madhavi. The couple had a chld Manimegalai, who later became the protagonist of another literary epic, Manimegalai. After a spat with Madhavi, Kovalan returned to his wife Kannagi.

He returned to her, only because he knew his wife will accept him. She,indeed, accepted him but not without telling him why she did so. 

This, to me, is the defining moment in the entire Silapadhikaram. She said, and when translated in English it goes thus: “You may have committed a wrong deed, but I still remain the same and have not changed in my path of virtue, therefore I shall continue to serve you”.

She has her differences with her husband, yet she guided him in the path of righteousness by giving one of her anklets. She told him to sell them and start a business. While taking the anklet to the market in the kingdom of Pandiya King Nedunchezhiyan, unfortunately, he was arrested by the king’s men, mistaking him for the thief who stole the queen's anklets.

Without a proper trial being conducted he was executed for stealing one of the Queen’s anklets. On hearing the news of her husband’s death, Kannagi went to the court of the Pandiya King and there unfolded the famous court room scene (which probably was the motivation for many Tamil movie makers later on), where Kannagi was allowed to present her cause. Being an outsider in the state (she belonged to Kaveripattinam, in Poompuhar which was a part of the Chola dynasty), having lost her husband and all other wealth she had, she stood in front of a King who has just slayed her husband. She demanded justice from the King and asked him what the anklet worn by his Queen were filled with. Hailing from a rich business family, her anklets were filled with the most precious gems. 

The Pandiya King replied to all her queries and said that his Queen’s anklets were filled with pearls. The King broke the Queen’s anklet and finds it filled with pearls. Kannagi then broke open the anklet that she had with her. Precious gems rolled on the floor of King Pandiya’s court. 

He then broke the one that was taken from Kovalan and as precious gems rolled out, the Pandiya King fell from his throne to his death. Following her husband the Queen too fell to her death. Kannagi then cursed the city of Madurai to be consumed by fire. Barring animals, children, women and good people, she cursed everything else to be burnt. 

Having taken her revenge, she traveled to Chera kingdom where she lived until her death. Many debates over Kannagi’s action of burning innocent people have raged time and time again. But when we take a closer look at the people she spared, it is evident that the war between her and the Pandiya Kingdom saw the death of bad men and warriors. This is what happens in any war waged. So in that sense, her actions are justified. 

In spirit she followed true democracy. The King did not uphold justice and Kannagi did not fight injustice with injustice. She fought bravely and within the framework of social justice punished injustice.

An interesting fact that I read somewhere, “Husband and Wife are like a pair of scissors. They work in opposite directions, yet do not hesitate to cut anything that comes in between them.”

Kannagi had her problems with Kovalan, yet did not spare the King who caused a separation between them!

The Pandiya King was the epitome of high moral values. His Queen’s anklets are filled with pearls. Being the King of a wealthy nation, he could have afforded to fill his Queen’s anklets with the rarest of gems. But he chose to fill it with pearls as his kingdom was rich in pearls. He chose to own only what was made in his country, thereby upholding patriotism in the truest sense. This also proved that he was a man of high self-respect.  His folly seemed to have been the haste while delivering justice. For this he was punished in the end.