Myths from the South

Book: Kannaki’s Anklet: An epic from the South of the Vindhyas

Author: Utkarsh Patel

Publisher: Indus Source Books

Pages: 185; Price: Rs 299

Book: Kartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son

Author: Anuja Chandramouli

Publisher: Rupa Publications

Pages: 230

Price: Rs 295

Kannaki’s Anklet by Utkarsh Patel, based on the Silappadhikaram, a masterpiece of Tamil literature written during the sangam period by the Jain monk Ilango Adigal, is an adaptation of the epic. It tells the tragic love story of Kannagi (spelt as Kannaki in the book) and Kovalan, set in the ancient towns of Puhar and Madurai.

When one talks about Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata immediately come to mind. Little is known about the Tamil epic – Silappathikaram. One feature that stands out most about this epic is the central character. While all epics, whether Indian or Greek, are centred around male lead characters, it is only the Silappathikaram that is composed around a woman protagonist. Kannagi, the lead character of the story is revered as a goddess in Tamil Nadu and one can find many shrines and temples dedicated to her in South India.  Yet, little is known about her and Utkarsh’s book is an attempt to bring this ancient classic to contemporary modern readers.

The book tells the story of Kannagi and the tragedy that befalls this young lady from Pumpuhar, a bustling trade centre on the Coromandal Coast. The tale takes one on a rollercoaster journey. From Puhar to Madurai. From romance to tragedy. From love lost to love regained to love lost again.

The reader can feel the love between Kannagi and Kovalan as he sings paeans of her beauty and a hint of the special place of the anklet in their relationship is cleverly given. When Kovalan suddenly leaves home for the stunning courtesan Madhavi, one’s heart goes out to the young Kannagi. Partly narrated in flashback, Kannagi’s character and strength in times of trouble, stand out like a ship surviving a battering through fierce storms. When her wayward husband finally returns, Kannagi has no second thoughts about supporting him. The prospect of a new life beckons and the young couple leave for Madurai to begin afresh. But the quest for lasting happiness continues to elude her. The anklet once again makes a dramatic presence as a turning point in the story.

The story is interspersed with myths and local legends from the south such as the myth about the river Kaveri and the story of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. The setting is vividly described. Utkarsh weaves poetry into the narrative that leaves one with a clear sense of life in ancient Tamil country. While hero journeys of male protagonists find themselves written and rewritten several times over, it is heartening to read Utkarsh’s work (his previous books Shakuntala (Rupa Publications India 2015) and Satyavati (Readify, 2016) are also centred around strong women protagonists) where the spotlight is on the lady.

Kartikeya by Anuja Chandramouli (Rupa Publications, 2017)

Kartikeya by Anuja Chandramouli (author of Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava warrior-prince amongst others), is based on myths from the Tamil Kanda Puranam, a hagiographical text about Lord Karthikeya or Murugan /Shanmugha as he is known in the south. The son of Shiva is both, the god of love and the god of war and hence, his story makes for an interesting paradoxical mix. Kartikeya is born to destroy Surapadma, the demon who has become the undisputed lord and taken control of the three worlds along with his demon brothers – Simhamukha and Taraka. And at the same time, he is the refuge of the maidens whose men are vanquished in the great war.

The tale begins with a detailed description of the origin of Kartikeya and the story of the six kritikas. And ends with Kartikeya’s decision to leave Mount Kailash and travel to the south and settle in Palani. His childhood is depicted in the loving care of Shiva and Parvati, set amidst conversations styled in a contemporary fashion. The character of Parvati, whose constant grouse of not having Shiva’s full attention and later her disapproval of Kartikeya’s choice of Devasena as a consort, is well etched. Shiva as the Adiyogi, is shown to be detached, yet loving. The demon Surapadma, is portrayed in a balanced manner and not vilified, cutting out any antagonism. Kartikeya’s love for Devasena and Valli show the compassionate side of the warrior god. Chitra, Kartikeya’s mount, adds a bit of comic value to the story every now and then. The story is written in the third person omniscient mode.

It is said that Skanda was a popular deity in various parts of the country during ancient times. The Khandoba sect in Maharashtra and the Murugan following in the South are two popular forms of Skanda worship that continued. Another recently published fictional book on Skanda called Son of Shiva by Preetha Rajah Kannan (Jaico Books, 2017) also explores the story of Kartikeya, particularly in the South Indian tradition.

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