silappadikaram- Ilango Adigal

What is SIlappadikaram?

Silappadikaram is an ancient Tamil epic poem that is considered a masterpiece of Tamil literature and culture. The poem was written by Ilango Adigal, a Jain prince and scholar who lived in the 2nd century CE in the Tamil kingdom of Puhar, which is now part of modern-day Tamil Nadu, India. The poem is divided into three parts and tells the story of the lives of Kannagi, Kovalan, and Madhavi.

The historical significance of Silappadikaram lies in its portrayal of ancient Tamil society, culture, and traditions. The poem provides a vivid account of life in the Tamil kingdom of Puhar during the early centuries of the Common Era. It depicts the social and economic conditions of the time, as well as the customs, beliefs, and values of the people who lived there. The poem also offers insights into the Tamil language, literature, and artistic traditions of the era, and has played an important role in the development of Tamil identity and culture.

Summary of Silappadikaram

Silappadikaram is divided into three parts, each with its own unique themes and characters.

Part one, called “Puhar Kodai” or “The Age of Puhar,” introduces the main characters of the poem, Kannagi and Kovalan. It depicts their idyllic life as a married couple in the city of Puhar, until Kovalan falls in love with the courtesan Madhavi and spends all his wealth on her. Kovalan eventually returns to Kannagi, but is accused of stealing the queen’s anklet and is executed. Kannagi seeks revenge for Kovalan’s wrongful death.

Part two, called “Madurai Kaikkolar” or “The Vengeance of Madurai,” tells the story of Kannagi’s journey to the city of Madurai, where she exposes the injustice of the king’s verdict and burns down the city in her anger. This part highlights the themes of justice, revenge, and the power of women.

Part three, called “Vanji Pathippu” or “The Announcement of Vanji,” tells of the aftermath of Kannagi’s destruction of Madurai and the eventual restoration of peace. This part explores the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and the importance of unity.

Throughout the poem, several key characters play important roles. Kannagi is the central character and is depicted as a symbol of justice and virtue. Kovalan is her husband, who is torn between his love for his wife and his desire for Madhavi. Madhavi is a courtesan who represents the temptations of wealth and power. The poem also features a range of other characters, including kings, queens, merchants, poets, and scholars, all of whom contribute to the richness and complexity of the narrative.

Themes and motifs

Silappadikaram explores a range of major themes that are still relevant today. One of the central themes of the poem is love, which is portrayed as a powerful force that can both unite and divide people. The poem also deals with themes of justice and revenge, as Kannagi seeks to avenge her husband’s wrongful death and restore justice to the kingdom.

Another key theme in Silappadikaram is the importance of Tamil culture and identity. The poem emphasizes the uniqueness and beauty of Tamil language, art, and customs, and celebrates the achievements of Tamil people.

Nature is also used as a powerful metaphor throughout the poem. Natural elements such as the river, the mountains, and the sky are often used to reflect the emotions and experiences of the characters. For example, the river represents the flow of life and the passage of time, while the mountains symbolize the strength and steadfastness of the Tamil people.

The motif of virtuous women is also prominent in the poem. Kannagi is depicted as a symbol of virtue and justice, and her actions inspire other women to stand up for their rights and fight against oppression.

Finally, Silappadikaram also deals with the themes of redemption and forgiveness. Despite the devastation she causes in Madurai, Kannagi ultimately forgives the city and its people, and helps to restore peace and harmony to the kingdom.

Overall, Silappadikaram is a rich and complex work of literature that deals with timeless themes and motifs that are still relevant to contemporary society.

Literary Techniques and Style

Silappadikaram is a masterpiece of Tamil literature that uses a range of literary techniques to create vivid images and convey complex ideas. One of the most notable techniques used in the poem is simile, which involves comparing two things using “like” or “as”. For example, in one scene, the beauty of Kannagi’s anklets is compared to the shining sun and the flowing river.

Metaphor is also used extensively in the poem, especially when describing nature. For example, the moon is described as a “cool pearl” and the sky as a “blue sapphire”. These metaphors help to create a rich and vivid landscape in the reader’s mind, and give the poem a dream-like quality.

Allusion is another technique used in Silappadikaram, which involves making references to other literary works or cultural symbols. For example, in one scene, Kannagi is compared to the Hindu goddess Kali, who is known for her fierce and protective nature.

In terms of style, Silappadikaram is written in a unique form of Tamil poetry known as venpa. This style of poetry is characterized by its use of complex rhythms and musical patterns, which are meant to mimic the natural flow of speech. The poem is also known for its use of alliteration and rhyme, which help to create a sense of musicality and harmony.

The sound and rhythm of the poem are essential to its meaning, and are used to convey a range of emotions and moods. For example, fast and repetitive rhythms are used to convey excitement and action, while slower and more melodic rhythms are used to create a sense of peace and reflection.

Overall, Silappadikaram is a masterpiece of Tamil literature that uses a range of literary techniques and unique poetic styles to create a rich and vivid world that is still relevant today.

Historical and Cultural Significance of Silappadikaram

Silappadikaram is a valuable resource for understanding ancient Tamil society and culture. The poem was written during the Sangam period in the 3rd century CE, a time of great intellectual and cultural activity in Tamil Nadu. The author of Silappadikaram, Ilango Adigal, was a prince and a scholar who drew inspiration from the courtly life and the intellectual milieu of his time.

The poem is a comprehensive portrayal of ancient Tamil society, its customs, beliefs, and values. It consists of three parts: Puhar (The Book of the Prologue), Madurai (The Book of the City), and Vanji (The Book of Vanchi). The poem’s central plot revolves around the love story of Kovalan and Kannagi, and the injustice and tragedy they face at the hands of the ruling class. The major themes of the poem are love, justice, revenge, and the importance of maintaining Tamil culture and traditions.

The poem is rich in literary techniques such as simile, metaphor, and allusion, and is known for its unique style of Tamil poetry. Silappadikaram makes extensive use of sound and rhythm to create a musical effect that enhances the emotional impact of the narrative. The poem’s use of nature as a metaphor for human emotions and experiences is also noteworthy.

Silappadikaram has played a significant role in shaping Tamil identity and culture. The poem celebrates Tamil culture and values, and highlights the importance of maintaining them in the face of external threats. Over the centuries, Silappadikaram has been celebrated and preserved through various mediums, such as music, dance, and visual arts. It has also inspired subsequent works of Tamil literature and has had a lasting influence on Tamil culture.


Silappadikaram is a masterpiece of Tamil literature and culture, which provides an insight into the social and cultural practices of ancient Tamil society. The poem is divided into three parts and focuses on the themes of love, justice, and revenge. The use of literary techniques such as simile, metaphor, and allusion adds to the beauty of the poem. Additionally, the unique style of Tamil poetry, with its emphasis on sound and rhythm, further enhances the experience of reading the poem.

Silappadikaram is a significant work that has influenced Tamil literature and culture over time. The poem has contributed to the formation of Tamil identity and has been celebrated and preserved over the centuries. By exploring Silappadikaram, readers can gain a deeper understanding of Tamil history and culture.

In conclusion, Silappadikaram remains a testament to the artistic and literary accomplishments of ancient Tamil society, and it is worth exploring for anyone interested in literature, history, and culture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who wrote Silappadikaram, and when was it written?

Silappadikaram is a Tamil epic poem written by a poet named Ilango Adigal in the 2nd century CE.

What are some of the major themes explored in Silappadikaram?

Some major themes explored in Silappadikaram include love, justice, revenge, and the importance of Tamil culture

How has Silappadikaram influenced Tamil literature and culture over time?

Silappadikaram has had a significant impact on Tamil literature and culture over time. It is considered a foundational text in Tamil literature, and its themes and motifs have influenced subsequent works. The poem is also celebrated for its portrayal of Tamil culture and society, and has played a role in shaping Tamil identity.

What is the significance of the three-part structure of Silappadikaram?

The three-part structure of Silappadikaram reflects the three main characters and their stories. The first part focuses on Kannagi, the second on Kovalan, and the third on the city of Madurai.

Can you provide examples of the use of literary techniques such as simile, metaphor, and allusion in Silappadikaram?

Silappadikaram makes extensive use of literary techniques such as simile, metaphor, and allusion. For example, the poem often employs natural imagery to convey emotional or spiritual states, such as the use of the sea to represent the vastness of love. The poem also frequently alludes to other works of Tamil literature and mythology, drawing on a rich tradition of storytelling and cultural references.

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