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Silappatikaram (A Fresh Approach)

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Item Code: NAN353
Author: R. Nagasawamy Bharat Gupt
Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9788172765651
Pages: 270 (48 Color and B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 450 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

Silappatikaram re-iterates through Kannagi, the profound narrative of the devoted wives, the pativratas like Sita, Anusuya, Draupadi, Tara, Savitri, Damayanti, Shakuntala and several others.

The great dramatic power of Silapatikaram lies in asserting the power of the wronged wife who can punish a king who was unable to protect justice or raja dharma and also to wreck vengeance on the city that houses wrong-doers. Kannagi, though in the line of Sita and Savitri, is more of akin to Draupadi who can force a tragedy on a people that they well-deserve.


Many years ago, I got involved with helping a theatre director produce a stage presentation of the story of Silappatikaram, more out of my known enthusiasm to wed literary texts to stage than out of any expertise in theatrical production. I joined the venture fed on the prevailing cliche that the Southern text followed a tradition of literature, dance, and music, which was not only entirely independent, but also of a different cultural and artistic origin than the Northern performing traditions. But to my surprise as the weeks passed and I saw the story and the text getting transformed on to the stage, I was left puzzled with the pervasive repetition of the principles of poetry, dance, and dramatic production, which the Natyasastra had prescribed and with which I was closely familiar. Every casual reading of the text of Silappatikaram reaffirmed this.

It was not till a few years ago that I came in close contact with the illustrious scholar, Dr. R. Nagaswamy to whose notice, I brought my bewilderment and sought a considered opinion knowing his eminent scholarship in both Sanskrit and Tamil texts. He was not only kind enough to read my analysis of the Natyasastra as dramaturgical text that covered every aspect of poetry, music, dance, architecture and other performing skills but he also appreciated my claim that Niltyasastra belonged to 5th cent. BC and that if was not as late as 2nd CE as many scholars presume it to be without adequate evidence.

With the spirit of free enquiry Dr. Nagaswamy explored the earliest of the Tamil grammar work, Tolkilppiyam and came up with the demonstration that it closely related to the Niltyasilstra. His most learned submission was published last year in the Bhavan's Souvenir 2013 on the Natyasastra. As a sequel, it was only in order, that the exploration in this vein be extended to the immortal Dravida kavya of Ilango Adigal, the Silappatikaram. Hence, we have the present volume before the patrons of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

As modern Bharat-vasi-s, with our States linguistically demarcated through no more than about half a century ago, we tend to forget that the people of this land were deeply attached to its furthest corners, regarding them as worthy of sharing whatever beautiful or valuable was produced in any given place. Therefore the constant exchange of texts, skills, arts, and sciences was taking place using all the diversities of language and political set-ups. If Sastras and Puranas were produced in Sanskrit, sthala-puranas and kavyas in Prakrits or regional languages were routinely produced and patronized widely. It seems that just as we are over-anxious to imbibe movements in fashion, design, and technologies from the West today, from kings to laymen, the Indian people were keen to adopt things from other regions of India. Perhaps, this was the spirit behind the injunctions of the Smrtis and the Arthasilstras, which ordered the conquering kings not to harm but patronize the artists, scholars, craftsmen, and women of the defeated territories.

At the dharmic level, Silappatikaram re-iterates through Kannagi, the profound narrative of the devoted wives, the pativratas like Sita, Anusuya, Draupadi, Tara, Savitri, Damayanti, Shakuntala and several others. It must be remembered that the allegiance of the wife (piiti-vratya) was not just a dedication to the husband but to the highest ethical standard of 9rhastha-iishrama and the consequent dharma that flows from it to sustain the social order that these tales immortalize. The great dramatic power of Silappatikaram lies in asserting the power of the wronged wife who can punish a King who was unable to protect justice or raja dharma and also to wreck vengeance on the city that houses wrong-doers. Kannagi, though in the line of Sita and Savitri, is more of akin to Draupadi who can force a tragedy on a people that they well-deserve.

At the social level, Silappatikaram establishes the spiritual, aesthetic, and commercial value of plastic and performing arts, of the shilpas, of dance, music, and poetry. With Kannagi, the hero Kovalan is bound in a householder's vows or dampatya, but with Madhavi the courtesan, he is the aesthete, the rasika who can savor the delights of three arts (the Tamil ideal of iyal, isai, natakam) of poetry, music, and drama. This pursuit is not regarded as a vice but a great virtue and the dancer and her art is also not caught in mere sensual profligacy or the lowly call of flesh. Sangita is a higher aim in which love between the dancer and the patron, rasika, partakes an experience of rasa that transcends every-day consciousness. Madhavi and her art are of divine lineage. She re-creates a festival on earth, the banner-fest of Indra, a repetition of heavenly delight available to the gods. Like the apsaras as described in the Natyasastra, she too is a daughter to one of them called Urvashi, The paradigms of sati or pattini as a sustainer of social order and that of Nartakior vari-vadhu representing the divine origin and status of theatrical arts are upheld in Silappatikaram with same fervor as they were in the rest of India. Here the story turns out to be tragic not because the hero was unable to balance his conduct between the wife (kula-vadhu) and the courtesan (vari-vadhu), but because of a misfortune that befell him on account of the rise of his bad karma from the previous birth. Kovalan's story was tragic unlike the reconciliation we find in the play Mricchakatikam where the hero Charudatta, in spite of a near tragic episode, is able to achieve the love of both. In Silappatikaram such a balance was not aimed at, as the purpose of the narrative was to show the power of the chaste wife the pattini.

While giving an account of the taste of the audience in different corners of India, the Natyasastra says that the Dakshinatyas, the Southern people are fond of music and dance more than any other people in the country. They are the greatest connoisseurs of dramatic productions full of dance and music in the mode called the Kaisiki vrtti. It is thus no surprise that Silappatikaram has very large parts devoted to description of events full of these. The learned contributors in this volume have concentrated minutely on them. They have shown repeatedly the parallels between the grammar, musical scales, dance gestures, and various classifications as they obtain in both the Natyasastra and the Silappatikaram. They have illustrated that cardinal concepts about the four aims of life (purusarthas called dharma, artha, kama, moksa) have been transformed into techniques of dramatic art that are followed all over India but with creative variations. The growth of variety continues in texts later than Silappatikaram, in commentaries on it arid in sastras of music composed centuries up to Sangitaratnakara and even later.

This collection of essays is only a beginning in a direction that needs to be travelled with ambitions of deeper research. That shall be our true tribute to the great efforts of sastrakaras from Bharata and Ilango to Sarngadeva and Venkatamakhi. We shall also be that way following the path lit for us by Kulapati Shri K. M. Munshi who founded the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


The first stage in the study of Silappatikaram started with the critical edition of the text, with medieval commentaries by Dr U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, the doyen of Tamil literature, in the year 1892. He collected palm leaf manuscripts of the text by visiting many interior villages of Tamil Nadu and was the most illustrious Tamil scholar who brought out many ancient Tamil texts with critical comparisons and accurate editions. Ever since its first publication the Silappatikaram was considered the Tamil work per excellence. It was widely read and debated in public. So much so the great national poet subrahmanya Bharati called it "the great necklace of gems adorning the goddess of Tamil"

Besides editing the text, Dr. U. V. S. Iyer wrote a brilliant analysis of the text and the summary of the story, in Tamil in his introduction. As the summary of the story in English, by V. R. R. Dikshitar is included in this issue, Dr. Iyer's Tamil version is not given here. However Dr. Iyer has given an analysis of the two medieval commentaires, one by Arumpadaurai Aciriyar, (10th cent) and the other by Adiyarkkunallar (13th cent)in Tamil, which points out the invaluable help these two commentaries provide in understanding the original text. Besides the analysis, Dr. Iyer has also written on the difficulties he faced in collecting the manuscripts, and correcting the readings in many places. Dr. Iyer's analysis of the commentary especially of Adiyarkkunallar is included in English in this volume. In about forty years of its first publication, it has not only caught the attention of literary scholars but also historians with political, social, and other interest.

The second stage in the study of this text was reached when a full scale translation with a brilliant historical introduction was published by Dr. V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, (1939), Madras who was a Professor of history in the University of Madras. This was welcomed with great acclamation, by both Indian and foreign scholars. The foreword to the first English translation of Dikshitar, was given by the French Indologist, A. Block, of College de France, Paris, included in this volume, would show world's interest in this text. More English translations followed.

K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, a great luminary, and Vice President of Sahitya Academy, Madras, in his introduction to the second edition of Dikshitar's translation, has evaluated the three translations, and mentioned the closeness of Dikshitar's translation to the original text. This introduction is included in this volume.

Silappatikaram has a chapter on the maiden dance performance of the dancing girl Madhavi and furnishes great details on the art of dance, in Arangetrukkadai. It attracted the attention of dancers and resulted in the publication of dance karanas in sculptural in the great temple of Tanjore and Chidambaram, further enhanced the value of Silappatikaram. In recent years Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, the famous dancer has brought out a valuable work on the use of this text for a practicing artist.

Late Dr. S. Ramanathan professor of music, brilliant musician and musicologist brought out a detailed study of the art of music in Silappatikaram in Tamil which remains standard work to this day. There are many studies that have appeared subsequently. But it must be said that great public attraction was generated by remarkable expositions of Silambu chelvar, Ma. PO. Sivajnanam.

The third and important stage was reached with my comparative study of the text with Bharata's Natyasastra, in which I have argued that Silappatikaram is a full scale Dance Drama text and that this story was a dramatic composition and was not a new genre. The famous commentator, Adiyarkkunallar has argued in his commentary that it was a Natakakappiyam. However due to its literary excellence, it was called one of the Panca Maha kavya in Tamil. Hence all the subsequent studies viewed it as an epic rather than a dramatic text.

Some of the salient features of the text that point to the full scale dramatic character of this text are follows.

The author himself states in his final colophon of the text that he is using the medium of dance to expound the content and message of this text which he calls as adal, pattu, tukku, pani, vari, kuravai and chedam. The author has also specifically stated that he used three vrttis, Bharati, Arabhati and Satvati which are undoubtedly the classifications found in Bharata's Natyasastra.

Similarly the author has said that he employed Aham and Puram division in his text which are same as sukumara/lasya, and Aviddham Tandava divisions classified by Bharata in his NS.


There are very few Tamil works that throw light on the rich and complex texture of Indian music prevalent in the ancient times.

The two gems of the Sangam period-Silapptikaram and Manimekhalai are part of the proud heritage of Tamil Culture and literature.

The Tamil Epic Silapptikaram stands unparalleled in revealing through a love story a detailed account of the historical, geographical and cultural background of three important kingdoms of South India, the Chola, Pandya and Chera. It brings forth a period that saw a highly evolved Gita, Vadya and Nritta.

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Delhi Kendra adhering to its ideology of promoting and preserving culture organized a seminar Silapptikaram and Natyasastra on 3rd November, 2014 which brought to focus the continuous and comprehensive tradition of the performing arts running across the length and breadth of India from very ancient times. Prof. R. Nagaswamy, noted Tamil scholar and editor of this volume established the close relationship between Bharatmuni's Natyasastra and the performing arts in South India as reflected in Silapptikaram.

Manimekhalai which carries forward the story of Silapptikaram is inter-related to the Epic. An article on Manimekhalai also is included in this volume.

This volume is an important part of Bhavan's series on Gita, Nritya and Natya.



  Introduction v
  Foreword vi
  Preface xii
1 Some Early Remarks on Silappatikaram  
i Silappatikaram 1
ii Preface to the translation 4
iii Immortal Epic Of The Anklet 5
2 Introduction to Silappatikaram 11
3 History of Adiyarkkunallar 34
4 Silambu 41
5 Indra and Bamboo! 115
6 Silappatikaram' - A Treatise on Dance 126
7 Silappatikaram and its Commentaries - A Study of Selected Technical Terms in Music 147
8 A Critical study of the Aycciyar Kuravai in the Silappatikaram 187
9 Music in Silappatikaram 203
10 Ageless Relevance of Silappatikaram 211
11 India in Silappatikaram 221
12 Epic Anger and the Retreat from Rage In Manimekhalai 227
13 Manimekhalai - A Contrasting Sequel 243
14 Fine Arts In The Buddhist Kavya Manimekhalai 255
  Index 265

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