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Ramayana in Tamil literature

Ramayana is one of the ancient Indian epics, with the first work being dated by scholars to around 3rd Century BC.[1][2] The story is narrated by the saint poet Valmiki and tells the tale of an North Indian Prince Rama of the city of Ayodhya, who is banished into the forest along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. During the exile, Sita gets kidnapped by the demon king Ravana of Lanka, and Rama with the help of a Vanara (primate like forest dwellers) army rescues Sita from Lanka. The tale has parallels to the Greek Iliad, the details however differing[3][4] The original set in Sanskrit consists of 24,000 verses, and there are several variations in the story narrated in South Asian and South East Asian cultures, across India, Thailand and Indonesia, with several versions re-written in various Asian and Indian languages.[5]

The story was first told in the Tamil language, in the 12th Century AD, by Kambar as Ramavataram (popularly known as Kamba Ramayanam).[6][7] However, there are references to the Ramayana story in earlier Tamil literature, dating back as the early Tamil literature in CE, which indicate that the story was known in the Tamil lands much before Kamba Ramayana in the 12th Century.

Sangam LiteratureEdit

The age of Sangam literature (Tamil: சங்க இலக்கியம், caṅka ilakkiyam) refers to the ancient Tamil literature written up to AD 100.[8][9]


The earliest reference to the story of the Ramayana is found in the Purananuru which is dated from early 300BC. Purananuru 378, attributed to the poet UnPodiPasunKudaiyar, written in praise of the Chola king IlanCetCenni. The poem makes the analogy of a poet receiving royal gifts and that worn by the relatives of the poet as being unworthy for their status, to the event in the Ramayana, where Sita drops her jewels when abducted by Ravana and these jewels being picked up red-faced monkeys who delightfully wore the ornaments (Hart and Heifetz, 1999, pp. 219–220).[10][11]


Akanaṉūṟu, which is dated between 400BC and 200BC, has a reference to the Ramayana in poem 70. The poem places a triumphant Rama at Dhanushkodi, sitting under a Banyan tree, involved in some secret discussions, when the birds are chirping away.[12]

Twin Epics of the Common EraEdit


The Silappatikaram (translated as The Tale of an anklet) written by a prince turned Jain monk Ilango Adigal, dated around 2nd Century AD. The epic narrates the tale of Kovalan, son of a wealthy merchant, his wife Kannagi, and his lover Madhavi, and has many references to the Ramayana story. It describes the fate of Poompuhar suffering the same agony as experienced by Ayodhya when Rama leaves for exile to the forest as instructed by his father (Dikshitar, 1939, p. 193). The Aycciyarkuravai section (canto 27), makes mention of the Lord who could measure the three worlds, going to the forest with his brother, waging a war against Lanka and destroying it with fire (Dikshitar, 1939, p. 237). This seems to imply on Rama being regarded as divinity, rather than a mere human. These references indicate that the Tamil people or at least the author was well aware of the story of the Ramayana in the 2nd Century AD[13]


Manimekalai written as the sequel to the Silappatikaram by the Buddhist poet Chithalai Chathanar, narrates the tale of Manimekalai, the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, and her journey to become a Buddhist Bhikkuni. This epic also makes several references to the Ramayana, such as a setu (bridge) being built by monkeys in canto 5, line 37 (however the location is Kanyakumari rather than Dhanushkodi). In another reference, in canto 17, lines 9 to 16, the epic talks about Rama being the incarnate of Trivikrama or Netiyon, and he building the setu with the help of monkeys who hurled huge rocks into the ocean to build the bridge. Further, canto 18, lines 19 to 26, refers to the illegitimate love of Indra for Ahalya the wife of Rishi Gautama(Pandian, 1931, p. 149)(Aiyangar, 1927, p. 28).[14][15][16]

Alvar literatureEdit

The alvars, (also spelt as alwars or azhwars) were Vaishnavite Tamil poets -saints of South India who composed literature preaching bhakti (devotion) to the god Vishnu or his avatar. Modern scholars place alvar literature between the 5th and 10th Centuries CE[17]

Kulasekhara AlvarEdit

Kulasekhara Alvar is the seventh in the line of the 12 Alvars. Kulasekhara Alvar rules as the Chera king of Travancore, with scholars dating his period as first half of the 9th Century CE. The King gradually takes interest in religious matters, much to the concern of his ministers. On a certain occasion, on hearing the narration of the Ramayana incident of Rama standing up to the battle against demons, he plunges into the sea to swim to Ceylon to rescue Sita. His compositions include the Perumal Thirumozhi in Tamil and Mukundamala in Sanskrit (Hooper, 1929, p. 20).

Thirumangai AlvarEdit

The Periya Thirumozhi, written by Thirumangai Alvar (8th Century CE) in verse 8, refers to Guhan, the fisherman king who Rama persuades not to follow him into exile while crossing the Ganges, and Hanuman the son of the wind god Vayu(Hooper, 1929, p. 41).


Andal's Thiruppavai, verse 12 makes mention of the Lord Rama who slew the Lord of Lanka, Ravana (Hooper, 1929, p. 53).


Nammalvar's Tiruviruttam, verse 36, speaks of the friend of the Alwar who criticises the Lord who once destroyed the crowded halls of Lanka (for the sake of Sita), but fails to relieve the grief of the Alvar (Hooper, 1929, p. 71).[18]


  1. ^ Keith, Arthur Berriedale (April 1915). "The Date of the Ramayana". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 318–328.
  2. ^ Keith, Arthur Berriedale (1920). A History of Sanskrit Literature. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  3. ^ Griffith, Ralph Thomas Hotchkin, ed. (1870). Rámáyan of Válmíki. London: Triibner & Co. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  4. ^ Ayyangar, C R Sreenivasa (1910). Ramayana Of Valmeeki. Madras, British India: ME Press, ALV Press, Guardian Press. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  5. ^ Ramanujan, Attipate Krishnaswami (1987). "Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation" (PDF). Conference on Comparison of Civilizations, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  6. ^ Mudaliyar, V S (1970). Kamba Ramayanam - A condensed version in English verse and prose. New Delhi: Ministry of Education and Youth Services, Government of India. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  7. ^ Aiyar, V V S (1950). Kamba Ramayanam - A Study. New Delhi: The Delhi Tamil Sangam. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  8. ^ Pillai, M S Purnalingam (1904). A Primer of Tamil Literature (PDF). Madras, British India: The Ananda Press. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  9. ^ Zvelebil, Kamil (1973). The Smile of Murugan on Tamil Literature of South India (PDF). Leiden, The Netherlands: E J Brill. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  10. ^ Hart, George L; Heifetz, Hank (1999). The four hundred songs of war and wisdom : an anthology of poems from classical Tamil : the Puṟanāṉūṟu. Columbia University Press.
  11. ^ Kalakam, Turaicămip Pillai, ed. (1950). Purananuru. Madras.
  12. ^ Dakshinamurthy, A (July 2015). "Akananuru: Neytal – Poem 70". Akananuru. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  13. ^ Dikshitar, V R Ramachandra (1939). The Silappadikaram. Madras, British India: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  14. ^ Pandian, Pichai Pillai (1931). Cattanar's Manimekalai. Madras: Saiva Siddhanta Works. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  15. ^ Aiyangar, Rao Bahadur Krishnaswami (1927). Manimekhalai In Its Historical Setting. London: Luzac & Co. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  16. ^ Shattan, Merchant-Prince (1989). Daniélou, Alain (ed.). Manimekhalai: The Dancer With the Magic Bowl. New York: New Directions.
  17. ^ Andrea Nippard. "The Alvars" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-20.
  18. ^ Hooper, John Stirling Morley (1929). Hymns of the Alvars. Calcutta: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 July 2019.