‘Kamban – A New Perspective’, is the translation of the Tamil original, ‘Kamban: Pudhiya Paarvai’, by Professor A.S. Gnanasambandhan, which won the award of the Sahitya Akademi for the year 1984. It is an excellent criticism of the Kambaramayanam, one of the most celebrated works in the Tamil language. It attempts to establish that Kamban’s main aim was to stress the importance of, ‘Sense-control’, to take the humanity to the path of salvation. It also establishes beyond doubt that Raman is the incarnation of the Primordial God and not of any deity of any particular religion. The author emphatically concludes that Kamban is the first Tamil poet who spoke the ideas of the great Upanishads in Sanskrit. The last two chapters that deal with the greatness of Hanuman and human values bear witness to the intellectual loftiness and critical acumen of the author.
Professor A.S. Gnanasambandhan, author of several books is well known as a great teacher, profound scholar, eloquent orator, note-worthy publisher and above all a seasoned literary critic. His mastery over the English language is legendary. He enjoyed the respect of a wide circle of literary men. He had won the love and affection of great men like Na. Mu. Venkatasamy Nattar, a profound savant of Tamil, Prof. T.P. Meenakshi Sundaram, the great polyglot and polymath and Rt. Hon. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, the world renowned Indian personality who was the Vice-Chancellor of the Annamalai University during his college days.
Dr. A. Dakshinamurthy, is a scholar of Tamil with a good proficiency in the English language. He is the leading translator of ancient Tamil classics like The Akananuru, The Natrinai, The Kuruntokai, The Purananuru, The Patthupaatu and six works on Akam theme in The Pathinenkeelkanakku division. He is also one of the few scholars who have contributed significantly to the translation of the poems of Bharathidasan. He has received several awards for his contribution to Tamil.
In the course of my studying the Kambaramayanam for many years and my literary discourses in the various forums, I had always raised the question 'Did Kamban com-pose his work with a desire to establish his eternal fame by writing a matchless epic in the Tamil Language?' This question haunted my mind very often. I had for a long time thought, if Kamban also had a cherished aim like Milton who declared, 'I am going to compose an epic which cannot be destroyed even if the world wishes so'.
I had sometimes thought that Kamban composed the epic intending to foster the devotion to Raman, believing it to be the cardinal mantra that would lead the humanity to the path of Salvation. I had even doubted if he wished to pave the way for the renaissance of the Vaishnava religion. I also felt it was wrong to conclude that the poet who had taken interest in the sacred hymns of the Alwars,1 wanted to contribute to the progress of the Vaishnava sect, by composing a work far more superior to the above devotional works. As I studied the epic closely, I could realise that Kamban used the name 'Raritan' to mean the Supreme Being and he never used that name to mean Tirumal who is one of the Three Great Gods. I could realise that, though he delved deep in the compositions of the Alwars, and the Nayanmars, he did not get entangled in the narrow circles of Saivism and Vaishnavism and that he did not contribute to the idea that these narrow circles were the whole truth. So it is evident that he did not accept the narrow meaning of the word 'Religion as conceived by the Tamils both during the 9th Century A.D and in the present age. I could also realise that he stressed the truth that all those who believed in the Supreme Being which had no form and name, belonged to one religion. After realising that he was against parochialism, it was clear to me that he did not compose this epic to propagate any religion. We can realise that both the Saiva and the Vaishnava sects of the 9th century were narrow circles which spoke of the greatness of their respective sects, under the leadership of the saints.
Kamban had never made any reference to the Vaishnava religion in any context in his epic, though it was well established and was very popular among the majority of the Tamil community. The Periyapuranam of the 12th century, no doubt had accepted the prevailing principles of the Saiva religion. But it did not engage in praising and propagating that religion. The Periyapuranam speaks about the high values needed for the contemporary society. The Jivakacintamani speaks about the principles of Jainism wherever it is possible. The Manimekali deliberately advocates Buddhism. The Peru'katai is not fully available. Yet we find the available part of the work is not free from fanatic elements. When we consider the epic literatures composed right from the Sangam age till the 12th century, there are only a couple of works which avoid propagating any particular religion, but concentrate on teaching moral values and high principles to lead a good life. They are the Cilappatikarams and the Kambaramayanam. The former was composed by a Jaffna monk. The Jains are atheists. This work mostly avoids propagating Jain ideals; it does not also speak of any principles of God.
We find that among these works, the Kambaramayanam follows a way of its own. It remains matchless. Though we include all the works, beginning from the Cilappatikaram to the Periyapuranam in one category namely epic, these works do not share any common formula. These epics greatly differ from one another. If a scholar who had studied these works attempts to evolve a formula from them, for composing an epic, he will fail in it. The structure of Kambun's epic, its techniques, its characterisation etc., are unique.
My former notion that Kamban composed this epic to make his name eternal and to propagate his favourite religion proved false, when I began to take more and more interest in its study. I could to some extent guess, that his was an attempt which no one else had made till then. I could also to some extent realise his great erudition in very many branches of knowledge, the ocean - like the Vedas and the Upanishads. I also knew that among all the texts he studied, it was Tirukkural which attracted him to the maximum. When I examined if he took so much interest in it, owing to its universal appeal as an ethical text, crossing all barriers of time and place, another idea also appeared in my mind.
Kamban was able to discern the fact that Vaiiuvar, the great saint who had keenly studied the highly evolved civilization and culture of the Tamil race before 2000 years, had pointed out in his work the evil aspects of the Tamil society which were gnawing the culture both overtly and covertly.
Vaiiuvar besides speaking about the common ethical codes just like any other author of his times, also emphasised some other codes which he considered vital to the Tamil race. Very significant among them were sense-control, eradication of prostitution and abstaining from intoxicating drinks. Vaiiuvar who had well realised the psychology of sex, devoted a whole section to it in his work. He strongly believed that a life lived keeping this vital urge under control will help man evolve into god. Kamban chose some of the evils condemned by Vaiiuvar and scrutinised them. He could discern well the reason behind his condemnation. It is a fact that the Tamils had never spoken against prostitution, taking drinks and the evil effects of a life without sense-control until the birth of Vaiiuvar. Besides, they gave importance to these aspects both in their practical life as well as their literature.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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