Maṇimekhalai Home PageIII. The Historical Materials
Maṇimēkhalai in its Historical Setting
II. How Far Historical in Character?
Maṇimēkhalai, as was already remarked, is a poem first and foremost; whatever subject is actually brought into it is therefore treated poetically. That must be carefully borne in mind in examining it for any purpose that one may have in view. As an epic poem it sets before itself the didactic purpose of enforcing the  superiority of Buddhism as a religion both as conducive to good conduct in this life and happiness in the life hereafter. The fact that it is primarily a poetical work, and the feature that its object is the exaltation of Buddhism, neither of them, prima facie holds out promise of anything historical being found in the work. Nevertheless the poem could contain, and does contain, much that may be considered historical provided the material is used on principles of sound criticism. To complicate matters still further the poet indulges his fancy in the introduction of the supernatural in the poem as well he might in poetry of this character. This undoubtedly adds to the difficulty, but can hardly be held to invalidate the use of such historical material as may be found in it. The introduction of the miraculous and the supernatural is an essential part of works on Buddhism even of a professedly historical character. Poetical use of the miraculous does not make it anymore efficacious in transforming the historical into the fabulous. The actual difficulty is to discriminate judiciously what is historical from that which is unhistorical in the whole work.
The scene of the poem is laid in the Tamil land, and, by design or because the actual subject forced it on him, the author has to deal with the Cōḻa and the Cēra country and the town of Kāñcī in the course of the poem. The companion work leaves out Kāñcī and takes instead Madura and the Pāṇḍyan country. Why should the poets do this? As was already indicated, the poets do this either because they took up a subject which is of a historical character, and the incidents connected with the subject have reference to these places, or because whatever be the character of the subject, they bring in these places with a design to say  something regarding them and their rulers by way of compliment. As a matter of fact, the two possible motives seem to be combined in the actual works, if the passages of the prologues already referred to are to be relied on at all as indicating correctly the scope of the poem.
The two works Śilappadhikāram and Maṇimēkhalai were composed with a view to their constituting a single epic, though forming two works. Apart from the prologue, so much is indicated in the concluding passage of the Śilappadhikāram itself. We have no reason to hold the view that the prologues were composed so late in point of time that they cease to be an authority on the work itself. A prologue to a poem in Tamil could be composed by one of the following:– the author’s teacher, the author’s fellow disciple, the author’s pupil, or his commentator. It is the last one that could be far removed in point of time. All the other three would be, at least can be regarded, as contemporaries.
The question therefore for us is whether we have any valid reason for regarding the prologue to the Maṇimēkhalai, or the Śilappadhikāram for that matter, was composed by the commentator. Maṇimēkhalai does not appear to have had a commentatory except our venerable Mahāmahopādhyaya Pandit Swāminātha Aiyar’s; and surely he did not compose its prologue. In regard to the Śilappadhikāram, we have two commentators, and neither of the commentators seems to have composed the prologue in question. Even granting for the sake of argument, that these might have composed it, the matter contained therein would still have to be considered as embodying orthodox tradition coming down in unbroken succession. When the matter of the prologues gets confirmed by references in the body of the poems themselves, we have no alternative  but to accept that the prologues were of contemporary composition, at any rate not far removed from contemporary times. That Śāttaṉār and Iḷangō, the two authors, were contemporaries can be proved by reference to Śāttaṉār in the Śilappadhikāram, not in the prologue or the epilogue, but in the body of the work itself. Bk. XXV, 11. 64-66 and 11. 100-106
There is one other feature peculiar to these works which must be allowed great weight in this discussion. The authors of the poems are not shown to us as later writers using, as it may be, a historical subject, relating to the rulers of the three far-famed kingdoms of the Tamil land. They are brought into relation to the three rulers whose deeds are described in the poems themselves. The author of the Śilappadhikāram, was no other than the younger brother of the Cēra ruler, Śenguṭṭuvaṉ who built the temple to the goddess of chastity and consecrated it. The grain merchant Śāttaṉār, who is the author of the other poem was a friend of this self-same ruler and of his saintly younger brother. This feature of the authors of the poems introduces a further complication which makes the understanding of the poems in their historical drift very difficult. The difficulty consists in this, if they are contemporaries and actually wrote of contemporary incidents, how could they introduce so much of the supernatural in the poems? And what is perhaps more, how are we to interpret the introduction of the supernatural that occurs in the poems?
The miraculous and the supernatural form an integral part of any narrative or even regular but indigenous history connected with Buddhism. No present occurrence and not a Buddhist character is  satisfactorily explained, according to them, unless it be by actual reference to that which had taken place in a previous existence. So much so that the identical incidents, almost in identical form and details, are brought in usually to expound occurrences even of a natural character. One has only to compare what is regarded as the actual teaching of the Buddha himself to appreciate this position. Many of the so-called Jātaka stories are based on this understanding, and if the Buddha could be regarded as being autobiographical in these stories, it is not difficult to understand that a writer who attempts to describe any particular period would naturally indulge in similar fancies. If so, it will not be difficult to separate that which may be regarded as actual from that which is purely ideal.
The scene of the story is laid, as was already stated, in Tamil India. An authoritative Tamil tradition again takes it that the story detailed in the poems has reference to things that took place actually. This need not necessarily be interpreted to mean that the incidents took place in the manner that the poet has described them. It is open to the poets to weave a web of fancy and raise an ideal picture round the actual incident.
The commentator Aḍiyārkunallār, discussing the sub-divisions of the work Śilappadhikāram, makes some apt remarks in regard to this particular point. He refers to the bigger divisions being named kāṇḍam and the smaller divisions kādai. The Śilappadhikāram actually consists of three kāṇḍams relating respectively to Puhār, Madura and Vañji. Each one of these kāṇḍams is divided into books, the total number of which for the work is thirty. The commentator discusses the point that these smaller sub-divisions should be called kādai, which is only  another form of kādai. He notes that what is called kādai in Tamil is regarded on authority as fiction; but states that these works are better described as nāḍahakāppiyam, or epic poems of a dramatic character. He further describes the work under discussion, Śilappadhikāram, as having the features of a drama, and has for its hero a real man, and describes, poetically without doubt, that which actually took place. In other words Śilappadhikāram gives an idealized description of the actual occurrences in the life of the hero.
The division of Maṇimēkhalai into parts also takes the same name. There is a variant name for this, which is pāṭṭu. The latter would simply mean poem, each canto or book constituting by itself a poem. The other name is kādai as in the Śilappadhikāram and deals with one of the incidents in the series that constituted the life of the heroine dealt with in the poem. Hence the opinion of Tamil literary men seems to be that the two poems deal with incidents of a historical character, but, like Shakespeare’s historical dramas, thrown into a somewhat idealized form satisfying the demands of epic composition. It is on this basis that we shall have to examine the work, whether our purpose be literary criticism or history.
A connected question with this would naturally be, in the circumstances, whether the authors actually tried to project on the canvas of their poetry the features of their own times as they saw them around themselves, or those features which they imagined were the features that actually existed, according to their understanding of it, in the time of the hero or the heroine. These alternative possibilities would arise if the poems deal with subjects that had actually lived and passed away into history. These two poems take their subjects  from contemporary life, as was already pointed out in connection with the life of the authors. The matter is therefore to some extent simplified for us in the fact that the authors have chosen for their poetical treatment subjects contemporary with themselves. Therefore whatever of historical, geographical and social features that we may discern in the poem and which we may find it possible to extricate from the encumbrances of poetical idealizing, must necessarily have reference to the times of the authors themselves. To that extent we are here face to face with pictures of history, idealized though they be.
Maṇimēkhalai begins with the great festival to Indra in Puhār. Throughout the whole work Puhār is spoken of as the Cōḻa capital and even where its destruction by the sea is referred to, no other capital of the Cōḻas finds mention. Puhār, therefore, may be taken to have been the habitual capital of the Cōḻas in the course of the story. The ruler of the kingdom was one who is described variously as Neḍumuḍi Kiḷḷi or Māvaṇ Kiḷḷi or Velvēr Kiḷḷi or even Kalar Kiḷḷi. He married in the family of the Mahābalis or the Bāṇas, XIX, ll. 50-55 and his queen’s name is given as Śīrti. He had a younger brother by name Iḷaṁ Kiḷḷi who was ruling over Kāñcī at the time when Maṇimēkhalai arrived in the city. That would mean that Kāñcī was a viceroyalty of the Cōḻas, and was at the time being governed by a royal prince. In other words, it was of sufficient importance to be regarded as a palatine viceroyalty. This Iḷaṁ Kiḷḷi, the viceroy of Kāñcī, won for his elder brother Māvaṇ Kiḷḷi a victory against the allied Cēra and Pāṇḍya at a place called Kāriyāṟu. XIX, ll. 120-128 and XXVIII, p. 172. 
In discussing the circumstances under which Puhār, at least a part of it, was destroyed by the sea, we are given the information that seems actually to be a reference to the birth of Toṇḍamāṉ Iḷaṁ-Tiraiyaṉ, who, as ruler of Kāñcī, became a very important figure in the age of the Śangam. The Cōḻa ruler for the time being entered into a liaison with a Nāga princess, namely, Pīlivaḷai, the daughter of Vaḷai Vaṇan, ruler of Nāga Nāḍu. She stayed with him for about a month, and went away from him without any intimation. When she had become mother of a son, she sent the baby from Maṇipallavam through a sea-going merchant Kambaḷa Setti, whose ship touched the island on its way. When he had arrived within sight of the shore, he suffered shipwreck, and, in the resulting confusion, lost sight of the baby. He took it, therefore, that the baby had died in the accident and so reported the matter to the king in the discharge of his responsibility to him. The king was so upset in his search for the baby that he did not issue the instructions for carrying out the arrangements for the celebration of the annual festival to Indra. On account of this remissness, the goddess Maṇimēkhalai brought about the destruction of Puhār by the sea.
So much of the story is under reference in Maṇimēkhalai itself. It agrees so far with the details given of the birth of Toṇḍamāṉ Iḷaṁ-Tiraiyaṉ in other Śangam Poems that it is ordinarily taken to refer to the birth of that chief. The baby was obviously alive and had been subsequently brought to the king. Recognizing by the mark, previously agreed upon, which was no more than a sprig of the creeper toṇḍai (Indian Caper, Caphalandra Indica) tied to the ankle he apparently brought him up as a prince, and in course of time he grew up to be a ruler of Kāñcī. This identification rests merely upon the probability of  the case and not upon the certainty of a knowledge of established identity. But so many of the details connected with the first story are in agreement with the other that it is very probable that they refer to the same incident, the birth of Toṇḍamāṉ Iḷaṁ-Tiraiyaṉ. We shall revert to the importance of this particular point later.
So far as there are references to the Pāṇḍyan kingdom in this work, Madura was all through the capital and is referred to as Dakṣiṇa Madura, and the contemporary ruler is referred to as ‘Seḻiyaṉ of the beautiful car’. The alternative capital of the Pāṇḍyas, Korkai, is also referred to. Beyond that there is not much that is said about Madura unless it be that the existence of a temple of the ‘goddess of Learning’ is considered of sufficient importance for the purpose.
Coming to the third capital, Vañji, of the Cēras, there is much more said of it, than of the Pāṇḍyan country or of its capital. It is in reference, as under the rule of Śenguṭṭuvaṉ at the time, and Śenguṭṭuvaṉ’s extensive dominions and of his invasion of northern India are also referred to. The other details connected with his war across the Ganges and his enemies are also specifically mentioned here as in other works. XXVI, ll. 77-90 In speaking of the battle of Kāriyāṟu referred to before, Vañji is stated to be the place from where the invasion started.
There is an elaborate description of the town of Kāñcī where Maṇimēkhalai ultimately attained to the enlightenment required as a preliminary to her final renunciation. It is said that, at the time of her arrival, Kāñcī had been suffering from a very severe famine, and she was actually directed to go there for the purpose of relieving  the distress. It is in that connection that Kāñcī is said to have been under the rule of Iḷaṁ Kiḷḷi who built for Maṇimēkhalai a new vihāra with a Caitya and appurtenances necessary for it. So during the period to which the story of Maṇimēkhalai may be said to refer, Kāñcī was still a Cōḻa viceroyalty, and the viceroy at the time was a younger brother of the reigning Cōḻa. There are other matters which may be regarded as of a historical character, though they are not exactly of the form of definite details of geography or history.
Communication from place to place seems to have been comparatively free and easy. When Puhār suffered destruction by the sea, people could move out, some to Vañji, some to Kāñcī. Pilgrimages between distant places such as the extreme north and the extreme south, seem to have been fair and frequent. Commercial activity seems to have been great and protection to people offered by the authorities for the time being efficient. Trade was carried on over land and over sea, regular caravans seem to have gone the one way, and fleets of ships over the sea periodically. Navigation was not altogether free from danger due to wind and weather, as well as other circumstances such as being stranded on the shores of islands inhabited by savages. Notwithstanding the danger, there seems to have been regular communication between lands across the seas.
The island of Śāvaham finds mention, and it is described as a kingdom of considerable importance, although the ruler, a Buddhist is described with all the romantic embellishments of a prospective Buddha. Invasions could be readily undertaken as far north as the Himalayas, and the specific statement that the Ganges had to be crossed by means of boats and that wars were actually carried on  on the northern banks of it cannot be dismissed altogether, as figments of the imagination. Whether the actual war as described took place or no, they had ideas that such were feasible.
One other feature must be referred to here. The religious condition of Puhār, of which we get a fairly full description, was what was to be expected of a flourishing Hindu capital. It is not merely a question of confusion of languages but even confusion of religions. Temples to the gods of the Hindu pantheon, vihāras set apart for the votaries of Buddhism, and garden retreats for the saintly among the Jains lay side by side, at any rate not far apart of each other. They sometimes formed part of the city but were generally located just outside the inner city and the fortress. Votaries of other religions lived side by side and taught, unmolested by others. Sometimes the one, sometimes the other sect had the superiority in one or other of the branches of religious learning.
Maṇimēkhalai found enough to learn of Buddhism in the initial stages at Puhār, but she could gain real insight into the heretical systems only at Vañji. She could get the most orthodox and the authoritative teaching in Buddhism only from a particular teacher, and he happened to be at Kāñcī at the time. He was in Puhār before, so that these religious teachers were allowed to teach what they believed, unmolested in the one royal capital as in the other vice-regal capital or elsewhere as they actually liked. Being a Buddhist work it throws into prominent relief the condition of Buddhism and Buddhist shrines. But there are references scattered through the work to other shrines and to the votaries of other religions that enable us to infer that not only Buddhism, but Jainism and all the different forms of Hinduism extending from the extreme theism of the  Saiva or Vaiṣṇava to the complete atheism of the Lokāyata or the Bhūtavādī flourished alike. Learning was highly respected, and learned men of all persuasions alike were treated with respect whatever their ultimate convictions.
There is one feature that is referred to here which also finds reference in the Śilappadhikāram, a festival to Indra celebrated with great éclat in the city of Puhār. A festival to Indra seems to be more or less a common festival and celebrated all over India. But that which was celebrated in Puhār had a peculiar significance. There is nothing otherwise to indicate that it was a festival peculiar to this particular city. That festival lasted for twenty-eight days in the month of Caitra (April-May) and came to a close, as near as possible on the full moon day. The celebration in Puhār was of such a character that the heaven of Indra itself was vacated by the Gods coming down to witness the festival in Puhār. This festival was ordained at the special request of one of the ancient Cōḻas and hence the peculiar importance of it in Puhār. It is the forgetting of the annual celebration of this festival that was directly responsible for the destruction, partial or complete, of Puhār in the course of the story of Maṇimēkhalai.
Having said so much about what may be considered historical details in the work, it is now necessary to consider the supernatural elements introduced in the poem. What are the elements themselves? How are they used in the poem? Can we regard the human features of the poem as historical notwithstanding the fact that they are mixed up with the supernatural! These are features which must be investigated before we can proceed to use the historical material contained in the work.
The first general remark that could be made in regard to this  subject is that the author takes care to introduce the supernatural element only where it comes in appropriately in accordance with the accepted traditions of India, perhaps the more peculiar Buddhist thought. The characters and the main incidents where the supernatural occurs in the course of the poem may be broadly stated as these; the goddess Maṇimēkhalai undoubtedly shows supernatural features of character, Maṇimēkhalai herself ripens into the possession of supernormal powers such as, being able to fly in the air, to be independent of hunger, and to be unaffected by physical pain to which she had been subjected at one stage.
Vidyādharas and Vidyādharis are introduced with all the supernatural embellishments to which Hindu tradition always gave them credit. Buddhist holy men are described with powers superhuman which is included in the ordinary Buddhist notions of the attainment of what they called ddhi, which in the language of Hindu thought would be described as the siddhis or extraordinary powers. There is also introduced a speaking statue, gods and goddesses speaking from their images, a supernatural never-exhausting bowl, a supernatural Buddha-seat which let one into the secrets of one’s past existence.
Of these elements most of them were really believed in and cannot be said even now not to be believed in by Indians as a whole, Buddhists and Hindus. They are of the nature of current convictions regarding the existence of the supernatural and of their intervention in human affairs. But the point to note is that the poet never allows the supernatural element play in human character proper. The two exceptions to this would be Maṇimēkhalai herself who is described as a human character and Āputra, in whose character supernatural features are found. But the extraordinary powers that Maṇimēkhalai acquires  are, according to Buddhists, attainable by all human beings with sufficient preparation, if they should attain to the requisite degree of ripening. But there is the point to be noted still that Maṇimēkhalai is a character, though human in form and features to begin with, so far idealized as a ripe subject for the reception of the teaching of the Buddha that she attains normally to the possession of these extraordinary powers. This is brought out even more clearly in the case of the other character, Āputra who is again treated more or less as one who would ultimately ripen into a Bodhisattva.
In any critical judgement, therefore, of these characters, it must be borne in mind that contemporary Buddhist thought admitted of the attainment of extraordinary, and even superhuman, powers by fit subjects for this exaltation. Subjects that are actually brought in as ordinary human characters on the stage of the poem are treated actually as such and the poet thus enables one to clearly demarcate where the human element ends and the superhuman element begins.
A careful study of the poem throughout, in all its fullness of detail, would leave the impression clear on the mind of a critical reader that the poet wants the human element to be so understood and as being quite distinct from the superhuman. The superhuman itself is so distinctly treated that there can be no mistake that in those cases he is dealing actually with the supernatural element and not ordinary human beings.
The author carries this distinction to a point of fineness when the heroine returns to Maṇipallavam with Āputra from his kingdom, Śāvakam. Maṇimēkhalai as usual flies through the air. Āputra on the contrary has to order a fleet to be got ready to take him to the same destination. Therefore we are distinctly in a position to examine the human element in the poem as such in all  its human aspects and human surroundings just to find out how far this proves to be historical. The superhuman elements themselves can easily be proved to be not beyond the credibility of an average Buddhist of the time to which the author obviously makes reference. It would, therefore, seem justifiable that, notwithstanding the element of the supernatural in the poem, there is much in it that is capable of being used for purposes of history, not only history of a general character, but also in regard to even the specific details and incidents.
It has been described above that the Maṇimēkhalai is a professedly Buddhist work. As such its cultural character can be expected to be more or less North Indian and Sanskritic. But great poet that the author is, he certainly draws very freely upon Buddhist as well as Sanskritic culture. A careful reader would notice that he does not sacrifice any of the classical South Indian or Tamil features of his poem by so doing. It may almost be said that he is hardly conscious that he is producing in his work the blend of the two cultures. It is a Tamil classic out and out, but a Tamil classic with a great infusion of Sanskrit culture, producing the impression that the author is hardly aware of anything like a distinction between the two. In those circumstances, there is hardly room for the feeling that there was any hostility. Even so, there are features in it which are worthy of special remark.
Among these perhaps the most noteworthy would be the Agastya tradition. Readers of the Buddhist Jātakas know that Agastya there appears in a form, in the two Jātakas in which Agastya’s life history comes in for discussion, that the Tamilian knows nothing of. Such tradition as the Maṇimēkhalai records of him is tradition which is more in accord with the Brahmanical form of it  than Buddhist, although it is a Buddhist author and a Buddhist work that make reference to it.
Agastya is referred to as one from whose water-pot the Kāvēri took its rise. The story is related that king Kāntama prayed of Agastya for a stream of water that would fertilize his territory, and with Agastya’s consent as it were, the water that he had in his water-pot was upset and flowed eastwards from it till it reached the sea. At the place where it was to enter the sea there lived an old lady, the goddess of India, Champāpati as she is called in Tamil, the goddess of ‘the Jambuland,’ the common name for India. Agastya directed the Kāvēri to make her obeisance to the venerable lady. The goddess Kāvēri worshipped her, and was received very kindly by her; and thereafter she became the daughter of the Cōḻa country, as it were, fertilizing with her streams the land over which the Cōḻas ruled, and which formed part of ‘Bharatam’ as it is called in Tamil, the Bhāratavarṣa of Sanskrit.
The second place in which Agastya comes in for reference Canto I, ll. 3-9. is where he is said to have advised the Cōḻa who destroyed ‘the moving fortress in the air of the Rākṣasas’ by way of rendering assistance to Indra. On the advice of Agastya this Cōḻa requested Indra that he might be personally present in the capital city of Puhār or Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam during the twenty-eight days festival which he had undertaken to celebrate in honour of the god, his friend. The river Kāvēri itself was given that name because she came there in response to the request of the Cōḻa ruler Kavēra who performed a penance in one of the small forests adjacent to the town Padikam, ll. 9-25, III, ll. 55-56 of Puhār. 
There is another reference to Agastya in connection with the same ruler Kāntama against whom Paraśurāma appeared in his campaign to uproot the Kṣatriya race. Kāntama in difficulty sought the advice of Agastya and in accordance with that advice put the kingdom in charge of his illegitimate son Kakandan, and remained in hiding till the danger XXI, ll. 25-39 should pass. In these references Agastya appears as a holy Rishi, who was habitually in residence in the Tamil country, and advised and assisted the Cōḻa ruler in difficulty as perhaps others as well. In Tamil literature generally Agastya is associated with the hill Podiyil and is regarded as being specially devoted to the interest of the Pāṇḍyas.
The Rāmāyaṇa comes in for reference at least in two incidents. In canto XVIII, lines 19 to 26, there is a reference to the illegitimate love of Indra to Ahalya the wife of Rishi Gautama. The story occurs in so many other places that it need not be regarded as exactly taken from the Rāmāyaṇa, seeing that the actual connection of Rāma with the revivification of Ahalya is not under allusion here. The two references to Rāma’s bridge must be held as referring to the Rāmāyaṇa itself. The first is in canto V, line 37. In this all that is stated is that the famous bathing place of Kumāri is said to have ‘been made by monkeys’. Nothing more is stated regarding it and leaves us merely to surmise whether it is not a reference to Rāma’s bridge which is now located in the island of Rāmēśvaram, a considerable distance from where Kumāri is.
In canto XVII, lines 9 to 16, however, there is a far clearer and indubitable reference to the causeway built by the army of monkeys for Rāma who is stated in so many words to have come  on earth as a result of the delusion brought upon him by a curse. The particular point of the reference is that all the big stones and other material for bridge-building brought by the monkeys and thrown into the water disappeared completely without the slightest assistance to achieving his object, the comparison instituted being to the great hunger from which Kāyaśaṇḍikai suffered; all the quantities of food that she ate vanished without effect as did the stones that the monkeys threw into these when building the bridge. Almost exactly the same detail is given in the Rāmāyaṇa in the construction of the bridge across to Lanka. It must be noted here that in this context the locality is not actually stated though taking the two together one may infer that the tradition in the days of the author of the Maṇimēkhalai connected Rāma’s bridge with Kumāri, as in the Rāmāyaṇa itself.
One clear incident is under reference from the Mahābhārata, from the Virāṭaparva. In canto III, lines 146 to 148 Arjuna’s appearance in the city of the Virāṭa king as a eunuch is brought into comparison with the appearance of the beautiful Maṇimēkhalai in the garb of a Buddhist nun (bhikṣuṇi). There is another reference which may be to the Mahābhārata, but does actually belong to the Viṣṇupurāṇa and the Bhagavāta. This is a reference to a peculiar kind of a dance Canto III, ll. 222-125 which Kṣṇa’s son Pradhyumna is said to have danced at the capital city of Bāṇa, by name Śōnāgaram. The allusion here is to Pradhyumna assuming the form of a eunuch and dancing in the streets of the capital of this Bāṇa-asura to recover his son Aniruddha who had been thrown into prison in a love adventure with Uṣā, Bāṇa’s  daughter.
In the Śilappadhikāram Canto VI, ll. 54, 55. there is a reference to Kṣṇa having enacted a similar dance. The city of Śōnāgaram is not mentioned in the text as such. There is also a reference to Kṣṇa’s pastoral dance, XIX, ll. 65-66 the dance of Kṣṇa, his elder brother and sister is brought into comparison with the movement of a peacock, a peahen and a royal swan moving about to get her in the garden. In another place in the same canto, line 76 to 77, a white tree and a blue tree are likened to Kṣṇa and Balarāma standing. These instances are under frequent reference in the Śilappadhikāram, and other instances connected with these in other Śangam works. In the same canto, lines 51 to 56, there is a reference to the Vāmanāvatāra of Viṣṇu and the gift that Bali made to him, in connection with the descent of the Cōḻa queen from the family of the Bāṇas who traced their descent to Mahābali himself. There are numbers of other stray instances, such as Viśvāmitra’s attempt, XI, ll. 84. in an extremity of hunger, to eat dog’s flesh; and Agni’s love to the wives of the seven rishis. XVIII, ll. 92-97, M.Bh. iii. 224-26
There is another reference of importance to another department of Sanskrit literature. There is a reference in canto XV to Yaugandharāyaṇa’s appearing as a diseased beggar in the town of Ujjain, the capital of Pradhyota to release from prison his sovereign, the Vatsa king Udayana. He is referred to as the Brahman Yūhi. This must be a reference either from the Bhatkathā itself or a similar source elsewhere. The incident alluded to here is found described in the same detail in Somadēva’s Kathāsarit Sāgara and in the  Pratijña-Yaugandharāyaṇa of the dramatist Bhāsa (lines 60 to 66).
There is another important reference to a peculiar custom of the Cōḻa royal family which regarded Cōḻa princes dying a natural death as old men, disgraceful. XXII, ll. 11-16 When prince Udayakumāra had fallen by the sword of the Vidyādhara, an old woman of the city by name Vāsantikā (Vāsantavai) went to the queen and offered her consolation. Admonishing her not to show her sorrow as a mother for the death of the son in the presence of the king, she explained to her as a feature of the Cōḻa royal family that members of that distinguished family rarely died a natural death as old men; when by chance they did so without falling in battle, attacking the enemy and carrying on an aggressive war, or resisting an invasion by the enemy in defence of the kingdom, the dead bodies of such were laid solemnly over a bed of kuśa grass (Poa cynosuroides) by Brahmans who cut the body and quartered it as a symbol of their having fallen in battle. This ceremony, according to the current belief of the times, ushered them into the Vīrasvarga, the heaven of the heroes, which would have been their reward if they had fallen in battle. The occurrence of the kuśa grass and the officiating of the Brahman on the occasion would justify the inference that it was perhaps an imported ceremony.
These instances selected from among a large number give us an idea of the result of the contact of culture between that which may be regarded as South Indian and Tamil, and North Indian and Sanskrit. The work is a professedly Buddhist work as was said, and  Buddhism being a northern cult must have brought along with it much that was northern though not necessarily Sanskritic. It is an open question whether the earliest Buddhist teaching was embodied in Sanskrit or one of the Prakrits including Pāḷi. But the details of culture collected have no reference to Buddhism and are perhaps all of them Brahmanical in point of character. The choice has been made advisedly so that what is attempted to be illustrated is the degree of contact between the two cultures and their consequent intermingling. The fact that the author and the work are professedly Buddhist, makes these all the more valuable as an indication that the infusion of Sanskrit culture was not of the partially religious kind. The inference therefore seems clear that the contact has been of considerable standing, and the result, one of friendly borrowing without narrowness or jealousy. There is no evidence of hostility in it, notwithstanding that several of these Brahmanical traditions are brought in such a way as to indicate disapproval.
The religious and philosophical tenets that are incorporated do undoubtedly show Sanskrit influence as it is inevitable in that connection. But what is to the purpose here is the flow of Northern culture seems to have been free, and the incorporation of the elements of that culture equally free. It is not the characteristic of Tamil works of this class alone; but even works of a more severely Tamil character exhibit that contact no less decisively.
Notwithstanding this free infusion of Sanskrit culture these classics as well as others, still could maintain their distinct character as Tamil works in their method and in their spirit. The infusion of Sanskrit culture seems to have been generally taken to be of such benefit that undoubtedly later inscriptions  could place the translation of the Mahābhārata into Tamil on a footing of equal importance with the establishment of the institution, the Tamil Śangam, in Madura.
A detailed examination of these borrowed elements in Tamil literature would lead to conclusions of the first importance both in regard to Tamil literature itself and in regard to Sanskrit culture generally. A chronological datum by itself is of no importance whatsoever. But it is of the first importance in its bearing upon the development of Indian culture generally both in its Dravidian and in its Aryan aspects. If we should succeed in arriving at a tolerably certain age for the Śangam and the Tamil works associated with it, it would give us a chronological starting point for the forward movement of the two cultures as a result of this fruitful contact. It would enable us to determine what exactly the state of Dravidian culture at the time was and what important results flowed from its coming into contact with Sanskrit at that particular stage of its development. We would be enabled to throw light, and undoubtedly important light, upon the stage of development of Sanskrit culture itself.
To illustrate our position we have only to take up that single incident drawn incidentally from a free comparison of Yaugandharāyaṇa’s appearance at the city of Ujjain in the circumstances in which this has been introduced in the Maṇimēkhalai. Scholars are not yet agreed as to the date of either the Bhatkathā or its translations, even as to how far the Sanskrit versions of the Paiśāci original actually follow the text. A connected question with this is the Bhāsa problem which has been receiving a great deal of attention in recent times. If this single incident may not do to settle those questions, it may throw its own particular light upon them and, if a few other  specimens like this could be got together, the light that we gain may be adequate for a reasonable settlement of the whole question.
It would be an interesting question whether the knowledge that the author of the Maṇimēkhalai had of Yaugandharāyaṇa’s achievement in Ujjain was derived from the Bhatkathā itself, or one of its translations, or even the drama of Bhāsa, Pratijñā-Yaugandharāyaṇa.
That is only so far by the way. The general conclusions that may be drawn from these elements of Sanskrit culture in the Tamil classic is to a very great extent supported by the Śangam classics themselves as a whole. Scholars argue that the incursion of Sanskrit culture into the Tamil land was a product of much later times and therefore works that show that infiltration must be of a later age. Such an argument is putting the cart before the horse. It is essential to any conclusion of that kind that a serious examination should be made of the elements of Sanskritic culture in Tamil before we could formulate a position as to the actual age of the infusion of this culture. To this end the examination above made of the elements of Sanskrit culture in the Maṇimēkhalai may make its own slight contribution.
Maṇimekhalai Home PageIII. The Historical Materials
last updated: June 2017