By Swami Harshananda
Śilappadikāram literally means ‘the jeweled anklet’.
Origin of Śilappadikāram
This is an epic poem in Tamil considered equal in literary quality to the Rāmāyaṇa of Kamban. Assigned to the 5th century A. D, it was composed by Ilaṅkovaṭikal. Nothing is known about him except that he was a prince of the country of Cera.
Content of Śilappadikāram
The epic poem describes the story of Kaṇṇagi and her husband Kovilan. After living happily with his beautiful wife Kaṇṇagi, Kovilan fell in love with a dancer Mādhavī and so deserted his legally wedded wife. After wasting all his wealth on the dancer, Kovilan returned to his wife Kaṇṇagi who received him warmly. Since they were very poor now, Kovilan took one of the two jeweled anklets of Kannagi to the market in the capital city of Madurai, to sell.
Meanwhile the queen of Neḍuñjeliyan had lost one of her anklets and the soldiers were searching for the thief. When they saw Kovilan trying to sell his anklet, they mistook him for the thief and killed him. When Kaṇṇagi learnt of the tragedy she went to the king and accused him of murdering her husband. Out of shock, the king died on the spot.
Kaṇṇagi cursed the city of Madurai which was now engulfed in fire and then killed herself. The goddess Mīnākṣī of Madurai, however, saved the city from total destruction. Kaṇṇagi was deified and became the patron deity of the city of Madurai.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore