THE SULAMANI – A TAMIL POEM.
THIS is called by Tamil authorities the 'second' great poetical classic, but for what reason it has this high rank learned men have not been able to discover. It is however a very remarkable quasi-epic, in twelve cantos, containing 2,131 quatrains; is a Jain composition, and bears a close resemblance, in many respects, to the Jivaga Chintamani, having much of the same fervid spirit of real poetry, and something of the same fairy machinery.* [* The only Tamil word for fairy is anangu (அணங்கு). This is a prakrit form of the Sanskrit an-anga (=incorporeal). Comp. Kurral 1081 etc.] The reader may, in spite of many obscurities, feel that it is even more interesting, as it is certainly more edifying, than the aforesaid superb poem.
It has been edited by the veteran Tamil scholar, C. W. Tamotharam Pillai, Rao Bahadur, who has bestowed infinite pains on the text. The critical apparatus is still, alas! to come. Of the author, Tola-mori-devar (தோலா
தேவர்) and of the sources of his inspirations, nothing really authentic has been preserved.
The story of this poem is exceedingly peculiar, and will lead to some interesting questions, to which it is to be hoped scholars in Jain literature may find the answer.
In this earthly world there is a country called Curami (சுரமை) ('The Delightful'), and its capital is the great city of Bothanam. Here a mighty king called Prajapathi reigned. His two principal wives were Migapathi and Caca. The descriptions of the country, the city, the magnificence of the king and the charms of the ladies occupy a very large space, and seem to us more than ordinary tedious, though each quatrain is faultless according to every precept of Tamil grammar and rhetoric. This kind of verse, consisting of an infinite number of cunningly imagined and executed mosaics, is certainly not adapted for stories possessing any absorbing interest. Petrarch's Sonnets and Canzoni are nearest to our author's style.
These two queens became the happy mothers of sons, of whom the younger, Divittan, son of Caci, was in reality an incarnation of Krishna, and bore the same dark hue as the God.
Of course, the Jain author of the poem regards Vishnu in all his manifestations as possessing supernal powers, no doubt, but still as not rising to the dignity of a real divinity. It is somewhat curious to see the use these Jain poets make of Hindu mythology, just as we might sing fairy songs in which Greek, or Latin, or Scandinavian, or Hindu divinities were introduced. The poem before us was written absolutely from a Jain standpoint.
The elder son, whose name was Vijayan, was of a fair complexion, and a manifestation of Bala. † [† Compare புறநானூறு
56. Bala-raman (Bali [வாலி], Bala-bhadra), was the elder brother of Krishna (See Muir's Sanskrit texts, vol. IV p. 260. etc.)] The younger son, Divittan, is the real hero of the poem. Both princes were of extraordinary beauty, and received the most careful training. Earth could not show their peers. When they had arrived at their eighteenth year, a soothsayer presented himself one day at the court of Prajapathi, and said to him: "O king, from the fairy world an elephant seemed to me in a dream to descend and bring a white wreath, with which it crowned the younger prince and bore him away. The meaning of this dream is, that a certain king of fairyland has a daughter who will come to be the bride of the younger prince Divittan within seven days. As a sign of the truth of this a fairy messenger will forthwith descend into your flowery park with a letter from that king.' Prajapathi was overjoyed, and commanded one of his guards to await in the pleasure park the arrival of the promised messenger.
In all the poetry of South India the soothsayer is a very important person. He is the interpreter of omens, sees visions and dreams, and is consulted on every emergency. In each court there are astute councillors, and stalwart warriors, and sacred Brahmans; but the soothsayer, who often lives in a hermitage remote, is more influential than they all.
Now the land of the fairies was away over the mountains in a higher sphere, and there was a city called Irathanupuram (jewelled anklet), whose king was Culanacadi. He had a son, Arukka-Kirtti, and a daughter Cuyamprabai. This latter was a young princess of amazing beauty and accomplishments, add her father held many councils and dispatched many envoys in hope of finding a fitting bridegroom for her. Before him comes a soothsayer, who announces that the bridegroom for the princess was to be found in the earthly world, in the person of the younger son of King Prajapathi. 'The sign of this,' he added, 'shall be that in one month you will hear of him as the slayer of a lion.' Accordingly the fairy-king sent a trusty envoy called Maruci, with a missive addressed to the monarch of Bothanam. King Prajapathi was utterly amazed at the reception of such a letter, and replied to the messenger, 'We are but human beings, and you belong to the lands of the genii. What connexion can there be between races so dissimilar'? After a while however he consented, and Marcui returned to his master, who now waited for the sign – viz., the slaughter of the lion by the young prince. This was brought about as follows: in fairy-land there was a mighty sovereign to whom Culanacadi was tributary. The name of this fairy Emperor was Achuva-kandan. One day the soothsayer came to him, and in the course of conversation said: 'There is upon earth a man who is your predestined for, though you unite all worlds beneath your sway.' The monarch smiled contemptuously" 'What can a mere man do? Yet since you, the soothsayer, say this, I must consider it.' So he summoned his council, and it was arranged that he should send messengers to demand payment of tribute from Prajapathi, as a test. The messengers were accordingly dispatched, and the terrified Prajapathi immediately gave orders to make ready the required tribute of a thousand pieces of gold, a thousand damsels, with abundance of pearls, coral and ivory. While these were being collected and about to be dispatched, the two princes came in and heard the whole story, when Divittan angrily interposed and forbade the dispatch of the tribute, sending back the defiant message, 'We owe no fealty to any fairy king!'
The messenger returned, and told the fairy king of this refusal and Divittan's defiance. In order to revenge themselves, a councillor of the Fairy empire assumed the form of a lion, endued with magical power, and proceeded to the forests near to the city of Bothanam, causing it to be made known to the young prince that a mighty lion was devastating the land. The two princes, in wrath, set out to slay the lion. On their approach the pretended lion fled to a cave, in which there was a real lion, and there disappeared, Divittan entered the cave, seized the lion by its mane, and soon dispatched it, returning in triumph to his city. The Fairy King of Iratha-nupuram, hearing of the circumstances from his spies, and recognising in it the fulfilment of the soothsayer's words, resolved at once to set out with his daughter and marry her to the gallant prince. The poem, with a perfectly astounding variety of illustration, and (we are bound to say) most wearisome minuteness of detail, conducts the bride to the city of Bothanam, and marries her to the young hero. Meanwhile, the Emperor of the fairy lands is sorely wrath with Divittan because of his defiance, and with the King of Iratha-nupuram for allying himself with a human rebel. He accordingly advances with a mighty host, attended by many tributary kings, and a great war begins – for every epic must have its conflict. The whole interest of the war lies in the exploits of Divittan, who levels mountains, rides upon magic horses through the sky, and wields the weapons of Vishnu himself – of whom he is seen to be an incarnation. Of course, the result is that Achukandan is defeated and slain, and Divittan's father-in-law becomes supreme ruler of all the fairy lands. Divittan also becomes king of his own country, sharing the royal authority with his father. The astonishing statement is added that, in addition to his fairy bride, he took to himself other 10,000 spouses, with whom he dwelt in joyous rapture! A son is born to him called Amirthasenan. On the same day the Queen of the son of the Fairy King, Arukka-kirtti, who was Divittan's sister, became the mother of a daughter called Sutharai, and also a son who succeeded to the throne of the fairy kingdom. Afterwards Divittan had a daughter called Minjothimalai. To find a fitting bridegroom, for this latter, a Suyamvaram (a general assembly of kingly suitors) was proclaimed, and lovesick princes thronged from every corner of the universe. An elaborate and terribly ornate account of such an event is bound to find a place in every great Tamil Epic. Here the result was that the daughter of Divittan was married to the son of her mother's brother Arukka-kirtti, and that the fairy princess was married to Divittan's son: two pairs of cousins thus uniting quadruply the royal families of the earthly and fairy kingdoms. Now comes what almost seems to be the main object of the poem Prajapathi sees sons and grandsons dwelling around him in a region that unites all the delights that earth and heaven can give, and begins to reflect: "All this superabundance of blessing that has fallen to me and my children is the result of virtuous acts performed in a former birth; in order to secure a continuance of these propitious fates to my race I must renounce my kingdom, retire into the wilderness, and spend my days in mortification and devout meditation." He accordingly celebrates a peculiarly imposing festival in honour of Arugan, the Jain deity, who appears to him, receives his homage, and enlightens his mind. He is taught all the mystery of the Jain system; the various conditions of the departed in the world of the gods, in the region of demons, in mortal embodiment, and even in bestial transformation, are revealed to him. He passes though Inforno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. He takes tender farewell of sons and daughters and their children, commends his kingdom, which now seems to embrace the fairy land also, to their care, and obtains RELEASE. In the Saiva-Siddhanta system ten different theories about 'release' are enunciated. The release of the Jain is one of these – the 'victory over earthly desires.'* [* But see சிவப்பிரகாச வியாக்கியாநம் p. 214 etc. திரிகுணமும் அடங்கும் முத்தி] This Prajapathi obtained, and in the chapter which relates his renunciation there is a very great deal that is worth attentive study as illustrating Jain ideas. Much of it is to be found reflected in the Kurral, the Naladiyar and other Tamil gnomic works. Extracts are not here given, principally because though all is elegant, most rhythmical and artificial, there are no passages of especial force and beauty. A work has been written by Mr. S. Radhakrishna Aiyar, Professor in the Maharaja's College at Pudukkottai, which is entitled "Readings in Tamil," and which is an exceedingly valuable anthology. We have been indebted to it on this and many other occasions.
The Sulamani (சூளாமணி) has failed to gain popularity among the Tamil people. In fact, it has become well-nigh obsolete. It remains to be seen whether this, its first appearance in print, will brush away the dust of ages. No lover of Tamil literature will pass it by but 'the old order changes,' and we trust that the study of ancient Tamil will lead in time to the formation of a new school of poets with wilder views, and less fettered by arbitrary rules than were the undoubtedly great singers of the olden times.
G. U. POPE, M.A., D.D.