THE WOMAN WHO SET A CITY AFLAME.
THE POWERFUL,POIGNANT STORY OF KANNAGI
THE AWESOME FURY OF A WOMAN WRONGED.
There is an old saying in English that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
In the epic Indian story that follows, the protagonist is not scorned, but much worse- She suffers a terrible personal loss due to gross injustice meted out by a powerful Pandian king of the ancient Tamil kingdom whose capital was Madurai.
This is an epic story about a chaste Tamil woman named Kannagi who wreaked revenge on a powerful king and the capital of his kingdom for unjustly executing her innocent husband.
The entire city of Madurai had to pay dearly for the terrible mistake of their king.
Kannagi features as the protagonist in a Tamil epic by name ‘Silappadhikaram’. The title implies that this is a story involving a ‘Chilambu’ or anklet.
Kannagi, a lovely woman, is wedded to Kovalan, who is the son of a rich man. The couple lives happily in a town called Kaveripattinam, till a new woman named Madhavi enters Kovalan’s life. Infatuated by Madhavi, Kovalan forgets the faithful Kannagi for some time, and spends both time and money on this illicit affair. Finally, when all his wealth is thus frittered away, Kovalan returns like a prodigal son to his wife’s loyal arms.
Kannagi epitomizes the amazing and true Indian loyalty of an Indian wife when she receives him back with love unhesitatingly, and even offers her only valuable possession- A pair of anklets- To be sold to get some money to enable their starting a new life.
The tragedy of ‘Silappadhikaram’ starts unfolding when Kovalan takes the pair of anklets to a city called Madurai, the capital of the Pandian kings. The Pandya king ruling at that time was Nedunchezian.
At about the same time when Kovalan was trying to sell his wife’s anklets, a theft took place in the palace. An anklet belonging to the Pandian queen-Unfortunately resembling the one possessed by Kovalan- Was stolen by some courtier.
As fate would have it, Kovalan, who was seen trying to sell Kannagi’s anklets was nabbed by the palace guards.
What followed was injustice of the highest order when Kovalan was summarily executed without any trial, his pleas of innocence falling on deaf ears.
If only the King had given a chance to poor Kovalan, he would have shown that his anklets contained rubies inside, unlike the Queen’s, which had pearls inside.
A valuable life would have been spared and justice done.
It was a raging Kannagi, a woman like a volcano spewing red hot lava, who confronted the King with the crucial evidence which ought to have exonerated her beloved husband. Like a powerful whirlwind, she lashes out at them in righteous anger and uncontrollable grief.
Unable to bear the stigma of the gross injustice done to an innocent man, the king and Queen die of shame, it is said. But this doesn’t satisfy Kannagi who curses that the entire city be consigned to flames for the wrong done by Madurai to Kovalan. It is written that the city actually started burning and there was loss of life and property before Kannagi forgave and withdrew her curse at the earnest request of the city’s Goddess.
Such was the power of the righteous wrath of a pure, chaste and dedicated wife.
Later, after venting out her fury, Kannagi proceeded southwards towards present day Kerala. By this time, her story had spread everywhere and people received her with awe and reverence wherever she went.
In fact, there is a temple at a place called Attukal near Thiruvanthapuram, capital of Kerala State and another one at a place called Kodungallur near the famed Guruvayoor, where Sri Krishna temple is located.
The presiding deity at Kodungallur temple is also believed to be Kannagi, who, it is widely believed, made that place as her final destination.
In both Attukal and Kodungallur, worship of this powerful deity goes on every year, with their own special, exotic rituals.