Aimperumkaappiyam | Cheevakachinthaamani (சீவகசிந்தாமணி)

By: Kumar Punithavel

Kumar Punithavel

The epic Chivaka Chinthamany was authored by Thiruthakka Thevar (திருத்தக்க தேவர்). The author is said to be from Chola kingdom, and lived in Madurai where the famous Tamil literary assembly (தமிழ்ச் சங்கம்) was in. How he went about authoring the epic itself is an interesting episode.

While Thiruththakka Thevar was having a conversation with Sanga laureates, they had observed that Jains are great in
composing ascetic literature only, and are incapable of composing carnal and fun poetry or prose. It is said Thiruthakka Thevar took up the challenge and composed Chivaka Chinthamany. The epic itself is systematized into 13 cantos (இலம்பகம்), and has 3,145 quatrains, of which 2700 is said to be composed by Thiruthakka Thevar, and the rest by his Guru.

The epic is the forerunner to epics written in virutham paa meter. They do not posses a particular tala (beat) in a single verse but multi beats. There is a folk lore that
great Tamil poet Kampar had mentioned “I sniffed a ladle of Chinthamani (சிந்தாமணியில் ஒரு அகப்பை முகர்ந்து கொண்டேன்). Whereas great Canadian Tamil laureate Rev. G.U. Pope has referred to bard Thiruthakka Thevar as the king of Tamil bards, and observed the epic Chinthamany should be kept in par with Greek classics.

The story begins with how our hero Cheevakan’s father King Cachanthan and queen Visayamadevi lived a lustful life. The king was so busy spending his time in lustful pleasures, could not manage his kingdom, and he handed it over to his minister Kattiyankaran to administer.

While having great time together, one day Vaisayai had a dream, and she mentioned it to her husband Cachanthan and wanted to know the meaning of it. In her dreamt there was a magnificently grown Asoka tree, suddenly withered off, while on its root grew a new shoot which grew lushly. When asked the implication of the dream, he bluffed that it is the law of the world, that as old withers off, the new one grows. However, he was greatly disturbed, for he knew by intuition that harm is on its way and that he would perish soon, while his child would thrive. By this time Vaisayai had conceived, and was gaining weight losing her youthful beauty.

Cachanthan decided to save his pregnant wife at all cost. He quickly got peacock shaped flying machine made by a great craftsman, and also trained his wife to fly the machine. It is interesting to observe that a Tamil poet have mentioned about a flying machine so long ago before the advent of planes, in his epic. Making his premonition come true, Kattiyankaran surrounded the palace with his army, but King managed to send away the pregnant queen in the flying machine. King Cachanthan, died in the battle that ensued, while the queen escaped and landed in a cemetery all by herself.

In the dusk she delivered a beautiful baby boy. Though she was happy when she heard the voice of the baby, was also scared about the future of the baby. Sambakavally, the guardian angel of the cemetery, came to the rescue of queen in the form of a hunched old women and helped her. While queen Visayamadevi was
wondering what to do, there came to the cemetery Kanthukadan, a wealthy businessman to cremate his stillborn baby. Sambakavally advised Visaiyamadevi that it
was her husband who was killed in the battle with the minister has born as her baby. She also counseled Visayamadevi to give her child for adoption to the grieving father who of course was very happy to accept the child. The queen with a grieving heart handed her charming baby who had a ring with royal emblem on its finger for adoption.

When Kanthukadan returned home and gave the baby to his grieving wife and lied to her that the baby arose to life before cremation. Wife Suganthai was overjoyed
and brought up the baby adoringly, naming him Cheevagan.

The baby grew up to a handsome young adolescent, competent in knowledge, valour and in fine arts. Kanthukadan who was aware that the baby had a royal ring, brought him up befitting to be a royal prince. At the appropriate age he got him educated by a Guru, together with other things the norms of a royalty. From a neighbouring village some hunter clan turned bandits invaded the pastoral clan and stole the herd of cows. The chief of their clan Nanthakoban promised
to get back the herd. When he approached the King Kattiyankaran, he refused to get involved saying, he would not risk the life of his men. He argued flock of cows don’t worth risking human life and said he did not want to go and fight the bandits.

The chief of the pastoral clan had a beautiful daughter Kovinthai. She was so pretty had many suiters, trying to marry her. But the father informed he will give his
daughter to a brave youth only. At this juncture he asked the town crier (Parai) to inform that he will not only give his only daughter to the brave man who gets the herd back, but also give two thousand cows and seven golden images too as dowry.

When the news reached the suitors, they murmured not only Kovinthai, but even if an angel is given in marriage, it does not worth the risk of fighting with the rough
bandit clan and loosing their lives. The news reached Chivagan, who felt sorry for the herdsmen. He took up to him to go and fight the bandits and brought the herd back to their rightful owners. After brave fight, he not only got the herd back, but out of compassion spared their lives, for he had no issue with them.

When the news came to the pastoral clan chief, he was doubly joyed. First, he had got his herd back, but also found a suitable partner to his beautiful daughter
Kovinthai. The chief Nanthakoban approached Chivagan and offered his daughter with a fat dowry. Chivagan declined the offer, saying he had no interest in his daughter. To convince Chivagan, the chief went on praising the beauty of his daughter, and a quatrain goes as follows:

She’s soft and smooth like butter to feel, her words sweet like milk,
She’s got figure like melted butter soft smooth and nice to embrace
She’s one with beautiful with breast, glorious eyes like jungle flower,
She’s to be loved and adorned.

வெண்ணெய்போன் றூறினியள், மேம்பால் போல் தீஞ்சொல்லள்
உண்ண உருக்கிய ஆநெய்போல் மேனியள்
வண்ண வனமுலை மாதர் மடநேர்ககி
கண்ணும் கருவளம்பூ திரடண்டே கண்டாய்.

One could observe being from the pastoral clan he tends to use butter and milk as comparison. However, our hero refused the offer, but suggested to get her married to his friend Pathumugan, who had already met the girl, and the couple liked each other. He got them married.

In the township where Chivagan lived with his parents who had a large business, there lived Seethatahan, another great business man who had trades around the world. During those times Tamil traders went all over the world. He had no child, and on his return after a business trip, he came back with an adopted daughter, Kantharuvathathai. She was extremely pretty, and also a very talented musician in Yazl the string instrument favoured by Tamils. There were many young men from neighbouring countries competed to marry her. But she wanted to marry some one greater than her in music. At last, the two business leaders got together and had a competition to select a suitable person to take her hand. Chivagan takes up the challenge and goes on to marry her.

In this epic, Chivagan wins the hands of eight damsels by his exploits and invincible personal charms. Because he got married eight times and on top of it, he also
got his friend married to one woman he won due to his exploit, the epic has been referred to as nuptial epic (மணநூல்). Probably to avoid the slur that a Jain ascetic
has written a very carnal epic, the bard had ended the epic making Chivagan renounce the worldly pleasures.

After regaining his father’s kingdom and rules justly and wisely enjoying pleasures of carnal life to the fullest for 30 years, only to renounce the world altogether in true Jain tradition, and goes to do penance according to the teachings of the preceptors of the Jain religion.

Characteristic of Jains tradition, let me add a simple verse from the epic as sample for you to know about the attitude of Jains about renouncing. While Hindu
ascetics tend not to crop the hair and also traveled long ways to bath in holy rivers like Ganges, the Janis tend to shave or pluck their hair and of course both wore saffron clothes as a mark of renunciation. In this quatrain the bard teases that if having matted locks of hair and dipping in holy river could bring beatitude, then even a wild jungle bear would achieve the sainthood.

Beatitude to achieve by having mattered locks and,
Bathe pure in holy water is the required norm,
Bear in the jungle too should achieve salvation,
Purify the inner soul and not the exterior

நீட்டிய சடையமாகி நீர்மூழ்கி நிலத்தில் சேர்ந்து
வாட்டிய உடம்பின் யாங்கள் வரகதி விளைத்தும் என்னிற்
காட்டிடை கரடி போகிக் கயம் மூழ்கிக் காட்டின் நின்று
வீட்டினை விளைக்க வேண்டும் வெளிற்றுரை விடுமின் என்றான்

The ancient Tamil literature is a treasure trove of many epics and short poems to read and enjoy during the pandemic.

{This piece was originally published on July 2021 edition of the Monsoon Journal, a monthly publication from Canada}