Valayapathy is one of the five mega epics that adorn the ancient Tamil literature. Others being Chilapathikaram (சிலப்பதிகாரம்), Manimekalai (மணிமேகலை), Kundalakesi (குண்டலகேசி) and Seevakachinthamany (சீவகசிந்தாமணி). The first mention of the five epics is found in the late 18th/ early 19th century literary work Thiruthanikai Ulaa (திருத்தணிகை உலா). Tamil Vidu thoothu (தமிழ் விடு தூது), an earlier poetic work from 17th century refers to these epics as Panchakaviyams (பஞ்சகாவியம்). According to Vaiayapuripillai, a great Tamil research scholar, Valayapathy can be traced back to early 10th century common era.
The author of this epic is not known yet. However, the text seems to be aligning with Jain religion. The full book is also not available to this date. Only 72 stanzas have, so far, been found. There is no clear understanding about the story of the epic either. Of the 72 stanzas, 66 stanzas were obtained from the 14th century literary work called Purathiratu (பூரத் திரட்டு), 3 from the commentary by Adiarku Nallar (அடியார்க்கு நல்லார்) on Chilapathikaram and so on. However, there is a general understanding among scholars and academia, that the epic reflects the principles of Jain religion.
The story and plot of the epic goes as follows. In the city of Puhar (புஹார்), lived a very wealthy businessman named Navakoodi Narayanan. He was a Saivite. He had two wives. The first was of his own, chetty clan, and the second was from a different clan. Because he married a woman from a different clan, his own people started to agitate, antagonize, and scare him that he will be renounced by the clan. Frightened of the repercussion, he separated from his second wife. At the time of parting, the wife was pregnant.
Shortly after the separation, he traveled to a foreign country for trading. On his return he joined his first wife and lived happily thereafter. The second wife prayed to Kali Devi to redeem her sufferings. A few months after the separation the second wife bore a beautiful son. All the play mates of the young boy used to tease him as the boy with a no-name father. One day he came home and complained to his mother and asked for his father’s name. Without any way out of the predicament she mentioned the name of his father. Hearing that, found out the whereabout of his father and asked him to officially declare that he was his father.
However, afraid of the repercussions from his clan members Navakoodi Narayanan refused to accept him as his son. The mother with the guidance and help of Kali Devi establishes her chastity to the Chetty clan people. Finally, Narayanan had to accept the boy as his son and named him Veeravaanipan (வீரவாணிபன்) and the families have lived together since then.
Through out the story of this epic, it is pock marked with many Jain religious ethics mentioned in various places, but there could be no place for the worship of Kali the goddess, of Hindu religion one could observe. Until the whole epic is found it would be futile to make any final assertion on the origin or of the ethic of this epic.
Let us take two stanzas of this epic and see how great this epic is. After all, isn’t it the norm to check a grain of rice from the pot to check whether the rice it is properly cooked!
The first stanza is the invocation of the blessings of the almighty. That aside let’s see the second stanza which was obtained from Purathiratu which goes as follows.
One should be aware the Jain religion greatly stresses the effects of Karma. Due to various actions on the previous births a person gets different forms,
- By the previous actions’ different births and bodies, one takes,
“வினைபல வலியி னாலே வேறுவேறு யாக்கை யாகி”
Vinaipala valiyi naale veruveru yaakai yaki
In those many births taken, the soul suffers through living and performing the deeds of living, and suffers life through and go on living,
“நனிபல பிறவி தன்னுள் துன்புறூஉம் நல்லு யிர்க்கு”
Nanipala piravi thanul thunburum nalu yirku
Among the infinite number of living beings, to gain the human form, is rare and difficult. Even if they get the human birth to enjoy the pleasures is futile.
- To have such birth to be human is rare indeed, even if so,
“மனிதரின் அரியதாகும் தோன்றுதல்; தோன்றி னாலும்”
Manitharin ariyathakum thondruthal; thondri nalum
They need wealth to enjoy life, which too is also difficult like human birth. One has to struggle to gain it if the birth is to be a pleasurable experience
- To enjoy the pleasures gaining wealth likewise difficult too.
“இனியவை நுகர எய்தும் செல்வமும் அன்ன தேயாம்”
Iniyavai nukara eithum selvamum anna theyam
Let us look at the second stanza lines together,
- By the previous actions’ different births and bodies, one takes,
By taking those forms soul suffers, for its good life,
To have such birth to be human is rare indeed, even if so,
To enjoy the pleasures gaining wealth likewise difficult too.
“வினைபல வலியி னாலே வேறுவேறு யாக்கை யாகி
நனிபல பிறவி தன்னுள் துன்புறூஉம் நல்லு யிர்க்கு
மனிதரின் அரியதாகும் தோன்றுதல்; தோன்றி னாலும்
இனியவை நுகர எய்தும் செல்வமும் அன்ன தேயாம் ……….2″
When one reads through the stanza cannot miss the deep meaning of the karma theory subtlety spelt out in it. It clearly mentions our action decides what type of birth our next birth will be. The stanza suggest that wealth is needed to succeed in life and enjoy, but also subtlety warns, one must be careful how the wealth is gained. Any wealth wrongly gained will sure to make the next birth a difficult one.
Indeed, this reflects the theory of Karma as mentioned in Thirukkural couplet # 754. Let’s look at the couplet which is very relevant. It is also note worthy to mention that Thiruvalluvar the bard who composed Thirukkural was also a Jain.
- The blameless wealth from fairest means,
Brings good virtue and bliss.
“அறனீனும் இன்பமும் ஈனும் திறனறிந்து
தீதின்றி வந்த பொருள் ” #754
Araneeyum inbamum enum thiranarithu
Theethindri vantha porul
Let’s take a close look at the next available stanza of Valayapathy to have a better understanding.
The next stanza as got from Purathiratu, which is in the form as some one having conversation with his friend,
To be born in an esteemed family, at the same time to be born without deformities like blindness nor deaf etc.
“உயர்குடி நனிஉள் தோன்றல் ஊனமில் யாக்கை ஆதல்”
Uyarkudi naniul thondral oonamil yakkai aathal
It is the appropriate knowledge that makes a person to see through the fake to make them cleaver and smart. A person may be a great nuclear scientist, but that knowledge will be of no use if he gets capsized in the middle of the Ganges River. Always the knowledge must be appropriate for the living.
“மயர்வறு கல்வி கேள்வித் தன்மையால் வல்லர் ஆதல்”
Mayarvaru kalvi kelvith thanmaial vallar athal
Like wise to be a person with great appropriate knowledge and also lead a virtuous life is a rare one. Those who got these rare ones can be respected as human being. Meaning all others are of human form but not human being.
“பெரிதுணர் அறிவே யாதல் பேரறம் கோடல் என்றாங்கு ”
Perithunar arrive yaathal peraram koodal enraangu
“அரிதிவை பெறுக லோடே பெற்றவர் மக்கள் என்பார்”
Arithivai peruke lode petravar makkal enbaar
Let us now see the whole stanza together,
- To be born in an esteemed family with faultless form,
To be a person of fault free knowledge and be great
To poses great appropriate seek great virtue they say,
Rare these to gain, but those got are called human.
“உயர்குடி நனிஉள் தோன்றல் ஊனமில் யாக்கை ஆதல்
மயர்வறு கல்வி கேள்வித் தன்மையால் வல்லர் ஆதல்
பெரிதுணர் அறிவே யாதல் பேரறம் கோடல் என்றாங்கு
அரிதிவை பெறுக லோடே பெற்றவர் மக்கள் என்பார் ……………3″
It is interesting to note what another Jain bard of international fame Thiruvalluvar has this to say
- What matters subtle study deep,
Levels of innate wisdom-keep.
“நுண்ணிய நூல்பல கற்பினும் மற்றுந்தன்
உண்மை யறிவே மிகும் ” #373
Nuniya noolpala katpinum matrunthan
Unmai yarive mikum
The above couplet is from the famed book Thirukkural number 373, meaning a person could learn many books, but it is the wisdom that will gain the success and not knowledge. The difference between knowledge and wisdom, is as follows. Knowledge is to know tomato is a fruit, and wisdom is to know it is not to be added in fruit salad.
The ancient Tamil literatures are treasure trove for us to dive in and collect the booty.
(This article was first appeared in the Monsoon Journal; republished here with the authors’ consent)