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Kundalakesi (Tamil: குண்டலகேசி Kuṇṭalakēci) is a fragmentary Tamil Buddhist epic written by Nathakuthanaar.[1] It is one of The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature according to later Tamil literary tradition, with the other four being Silappatikaram,[2] Manimekalai,[3] Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi and Valayapathi.[4] The narrative is first found in Buddhagosha's Pali language commentary 220 - 224 on the Anguttara Nikaya.[5] Buddhaghosha, an Indian Buddhist commentator, lived circa 500 CE and had settled in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

The first mention of the "Aimperumkappiyam" (lit. Five large epics) occurs in Mayilainathar's commentary of Nannūl. The titles of the epics are first mentioned in the late 18th century-early 19th century work Thiruthanikaiula. Earlier works like the seventeenth-century poem Tamil vidu thoothu mention the great epics as Panchkavyams.[6][7] It's time period has been estimated to be after the fifth century C.E. [citation needed]

Sources and contentEdit

Of the five great epics, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi are not available in full. Only fragments quoted in other literary works and commentaries have survived. Only 19 of the original 99 verses of Kundalakesi have been recovered. An additional five have been recovered, but whether they were part of Kundalakesi has not been proven conclusively. Tamil linguist Kamil Zvelebil has speculated that the epic was destroyed due to its Buddhist content by anti-Buddhist fanatics. The 19 verses recovered have been found in the commentaries for Tolkāppiyam, Veera Sozhiyam, Yapperungalam , Thakkayagaparani, Sivagnana Siddhiyar Parapakkam (Thirvorriyur Gnanaprakasar's commentary), the epic Neelakesi and the poem Vaisyapuranam. Neelakesi — one of the five lesser Tamil epics — was a Jain religious work about the life of the female Jain monk of the same name, who was a rival preacher of the Buddhist protagonist of Kundalakesi. (It was written as a Jain rebuttal to the Buddhist criticism in Kundalakesi.[6][8]) The first lines of the 99 verses of Kundalakesi are available in the Jain saint Vamanar's commentary on Neelakesi.

The recovered verses do not reveal the plot of the epic and are advisory in nature. The introductory and 15th verses contain references to Buddhism.[9][8][10][11][12][13] The Vinaya sub-commentary Vimativinodani refers to the epic as follows:

"Formerly in Tamil country an elder named Nagasena [Nagakuthanaar] compiled a work in Tamil containing the story of Kundalakesi, foe refuting heretical doctrines, adducing arguments for demolishing the views advanced by non-Buddhists."

Yapperungalam, which also quotes the epic's Kadavul Vazhthu (lit. invocation to God) describes it as a tharkavadham — a book of controversy and polemics. Veera Sozhiyam's commentator Perunthevanar and the 14th century anthology Purathirattu both describe it as a akalakavi — a large poem.[6]


Kundalakesi is an adaptation of the story of Buddhist Bhikṣuni (lit. female monk) Kunḍalakeśi from the Dhammapada.[14] The protagonist Kundalakesi (lit. The woman with curls) was born in a merchant family in the city of Puhar.[15] Her birth name is "Bhadra".

She loses her mother during childhood and lives a sheltered life. One day she sees a thief being paraded in the streets of Puhar and falls in love with him. The thief, Kaalan, has been sentenced to death for banditry. Besotted with Kaalan, Kundalakesi implores her father to save him. Her father petitions the king for the thief's release. He pays Kaalan's weight in gold and 81 elephants to the treasury to secure Kaalan's release. Kundalakesi and Kaalan are married and live happily for some time.[16]

One day, she playfully refers to him as a thief. This enrages the mercurial Kaalan and he decides to kill his wife in revenge. He tricks her into visiting the summit of the nearby hill. Once they reach the summit, he announces his intention to kill her by pushing her off the hill. Kundalakesi is shocked and asks him to grant a final wish — she wishes to worship him by going around him three times before she dies. He agrees and, when she gets behind him, Kundalakesi pushes him off the summit, killing him.[16]

Repenting her actions, she becomes a Buddhist monk and spends the rest of her life spreading the teachings of Buddha.[8][10][11][12][17] She carries out theological battles with Jains and Hindus, defeating them in debates. She finally attains superior liberation. In one of the versions, it is believed that she was a Jain in her initial life and she shattered conventions by becoming a nigrantha or naked monk.[16]

Religious treatiseEdit

Quotations from the work are found from references used by authors who had access to the classic.[8] The poem was used to show the purpose of showing the advantage of Buddhist philosophy over Vedic and Jain ones.[8] The Jain, in reply, wrote Nilakesi which has opposing views to the ideologies in Kundalakesi. Through the method of logical analysis, weak points of other faiths were brought out to give support to Buddhist doctrines.[18] One version says that Kundalakesi was a Jain nun who moved around India, expounding Jainism and challenging anyone who had alternate views. Sariputra, a disciple of Buddha, took up the challenge and defeated Kundalakesi in debates. She renounced Jainism and became a Buddhist.[8] The record of culture and Buddhist views during the era were lost with the book.[8]

Sample versesEdit

Verse 19:
வேரிக் கமழ்தார் அரசன் விடுக என்ற போழ்தும்
தாரித்தல் ஆகா வகையால் கொலை சூழ்ந்த பின்னும்
பூரிட்தல் வாடுதல் இவற்றால் பொலிவு இன்றி நின்றான்
பாரித்ததெல்லாம் வினையின் பயன் என்ன வல்லான்[10]

Verse 9:
பாளையாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
பாலனாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
காளையாம் தன்மை செத்தும்
காமுறும் இளமை செத்தும்
மீளுமிவ் வியல்பும் இன்னே
மேல்வரும் மூப்பும் ஆகி
நாளும்நாள் சாகின் றாமால்
நமக்குநாம் அழாதது என்னோ[10][12]

In popular cultureEdit

The story of Kundalakesi killing her husband was used as a sub-plot in the 1951 Tamil film Manthiri Kumari.[19]

The song "Neela Warala" by Sri Lankan musician W.D. Amaradeva mentions Kundalakesi repeatedly in the chorus.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Aiyangar 2004, p. 360
  2. ^ "Silappathikaram Tamil Literature". 22 January 2013. Archived from the original on 11 April 2013.
  3. ^ "Manimegalai Tamil Literature". 23 January 2013. Archived from the original on 11 April 2013.
  4. ^ Mukherjee 1999, p. 277
  5. ^ Eugene Watson Burlingame: Buddhist Parables: Buddhist Tradition Series. Vol 13. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1991, pp 151-157
  6. ^ a b c Zvelebil 1992, p. 73
  7. ^ M.S. 1994, p. 115
  8. ^ a b c d e f g K. 1987, p. 102
  9. ^ zvelebil 1992, pp. 69-70
  10. ^ a b c d vanava. Thurayan (27 May 2004). "Kundalakesi: Some notes". (in Tamil).
  11. ^ a b "Kundalakesi". (in Tamil).
  12. ^ a b c "Kundalakesi Lesson 1". Tamil Virtual University (in Tamil).
  13. ^ Ramaswamy 2003, pp. 164-165
  14. ^ Story of Kundalakesi
  15. ^ "Literature-Kundalakesi". 4 February 2013.
  16. ^ a b c Ramaswamy 2007, pp. 123-124
  17. ^ Singh 2008, p. 102
  18. ^ Datta 2004, p. 596
  19. ^ Manthiri Kumari – A Grand Success (in Tamil), Maalai Malar 27 October 2009 Archived 21 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine