Culamani: A Jain Epic

CULAMANI VOLUMES I AND II: Translated by P. Pandian; Research Foundation for Jainology, 18, Ramanjua Aiyar Street, Sowcarpet, Chennai-600079. Rs. 700 (for the set).

"CULAMANI" LITERALLY means the crest-jewel or diadem. Here, it denotes the Tamil narrative, named after the righteous monarch Payapathi, the ruler of Suramai country, who has been extolled as "Culamani", the invaluable gem among kings, due to his rare martial and spiritual achievements. This narrative is indited by the erudite Jain poet, Tolamozhidevar, who lived in the last part of the ninth and the early part of the 10th centuries A.D. He was patronised by the Pandya King, Sendan, identified as Culamanivarman by the eminent South Indian historian, K. A. Neelakanta Sastri.

Though the tradition reckoned Culamani as one among the five minor Tamil epics, it richly deserves to be deemed as a Mahakavya, since it fulfils all the requirements of a great epic as prescribed in Kavya Darsa of Dandin, the court-poet of Rajasimha Pallava (710 A.D.), of Kanchi. This epic is a Sarga-bandha Kavya, consisting of 12 sargas and 2131 poems of different types of "vritta" meter. Despite the author having chosen the main story from the Jain text, Sripurana, the structure and the texture of the epic are organised as per the architectonics of Tamil literary tradition.

Since the main characters, Tivittan and Vijayan, the princes of emperor Payapathi, are considered respectively to be the incarnations of Sri Krishna and Balarama, while the villainic hero, Asvagriva of the epic, resembles in all respects Prati Vasudeva, the closeness of the myths of Jain and Hindu traditions project an interesting comparative study.

The epic connects the terrestrial and celestial spheres through the solemn wedding of the earthly prince Tivittan with the Vidhyadhara royal damsel, Svayambrabha. In all aspects, Tivittan deserves to be treated as the hero of the narrative and his extraordinary prowess is established through his rare feats of tearing the lion's mouth in its own den, rooting out totally the villianic forces, headed by Asvagriva.

The poet's creative genius, fertile imagination, description of the manifestations of nature, depiction of different emotions and feelings, felicity of expression, chosen diction, cadence and harmony contributed to the aesthetic excellence of the epic poem and tempted the subsequent commentators to quote them as adequate and apt illustrations of the manifold "vritta" metres, of the Tamil prosodial texts.

It is pertinent to note that the poet never forgot to introduce the basic tenets of Jainism, one of the ancient heterodox systems of Indian philosophy.

Such a superb text has been now rendered beautifully by the translator into elegant and excellent English free verse form. The translation is mostly faithful to the original and palatable. Wherever necessary, he has presented sufficient notes for the easy comprehension.

The translator who is well known to the learned world through his previous renditions of ancient Tamil classics like Paripadal and Manimekalai, richly deserves the appreciation of those interested not only in the Tamil classics but also in the study of Jain philosophy.


(From: The Hndu)

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