Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Scripted in Stone

It was one January morning in Chennai while I was going home, that I noticed this tall statue on the side of the road. I was really impressed by the power the statue seemed to emanate from it`s body language, it`s mere stance which seemed to speak volumes, and yet, I was not knowledgeable then as to who the lady was and what she represented.

It was months later that I came to know and read 'Silappadhikaram', the brilliant epic, by Ilango Adigal. In India, everywhere we see a lot of statues everywhere, be it of old British Viceroys or be it of gallant freedom fighters or poets, but it is not often that we come across a mythological figure or rather a historically unconfirmed figure who has been honoured with a statue. In that respect the Kannagi statue is something deeply symbolic and central to Tamil culture.
The chastity of a woman, her purity, her complete devotion to her husband, these things might sound utterly meaningless today to the modern world but this story and this statue shall remain greatly representative of the ideological and social strength and regard our older society had for the fabric of a family and it`s important contribution to the society. Kannagi was a woman who fought against injustice to her husband, merely with the power of her devotion and her chastity as per the epic.
Like many may claim, I truly find it hard to see this great lady as a symbol of female oppression. Mainly because, she was not always the submissive or the oppressed victim. She stood against the whole Kingdom of Madurai with her courage and fiery eyes, and made the highest sacrifice. She forgave an adulterous husband and stood beside him, until the end. To me, she is the ultimate symbol of feminine strength. Endurance is a great virtue and woman has been bestowed with loads of it. That again does not mean that I am advocating oppression against women, but I am simply awed by it, and who better to represent it than Kannagi.
She is still worshipped as a goddess in many places, but she was no goddess, according to the epic, but an ordinary lady who showed extraordinary strength. In December 2001, she was removed from her pedestal by the beach, by the J.Jayalalitha Government, citing astrological reasons. What a sad plight!, or perhaps it was indicative that times were changing and will remain changed, but the government toppled as expected and this evergreen symbol of Tamil culture, art, poetry and tradition was reinstated by the successive government. Governments do a lot of things and they might not be representative of the people`s aspirations always, but yet whether there is an inherent meaning to this whole exercise, only time will tell.
Meanwhile I shall simply be most elated to stand, admire and feel powerless in front of that magnificent statue, a great history scripted in stone.


k said...

My favourite epic too.

Hm, I like kannagi, her characcter and even Madhvi's character was very well protrayed. Two strong woman.

Even in modern times, you see woman supporting their adulterous husband (take Jaya Bachchan for eg. for eg). I shall not calll it oppressed, it is their big heart to accept that man back.

Thanks for remiding me the story after a long time.

Perspective Inc. said...

Such an interesting story...

Prash said...

ah God...Kannaki !!!

when i was young and when my neighbour told me about this story i really believed that it was a true story for awhile...thanks to the school education i learnt that it is just an epic.

JJ Govt. = authoritarian !!! let's not talk about it !!!

passerby55 said...

"a great history scripted in stone"

Just like this great woman I Think for Jhansi kee Rani And Jijamatah (mother of SHivaji)

We feel proud to belong to a land which gave birth to such.

Humans, especially the women, with endurance and the unparalled strenght . The woman of today should have faith in themselves and learn from such.

A post paying tribute to great,noble values that are hard to find.

Some Greatreflections,Observations from you Srijith.


Deepak said...

Kannagi is worshipped as a manifestation of Shakti in several places even today.
Even in Kerala! (I bet you didn't know this part)
The histories (aithihyam..don't know the correct translation) of some of the Bhagavathi temples in Kerala are related to Kannagi.

Srijith Unni said...

@k : Yes it is their truly big heart, yet men must not take that for granted. Kovalan`s death can be a case in point, He might have suffered because of his deeds too. K, I really need to know you better. Your profile is not accessible. Can you please share your URL at least.?

@Perspective Inc: Thanks a lot..! Do keep visiting.

@Prash : Yes it is an epic, and in some ways much much more, because it is in many ways tied to the land and the culture.

@Passerby55: Yes women of today must surely realize the power god has bestowed upon them and use them for the common good of society..

@Deepak: That sure is a great finding.. I did not know that.. Perhaps my mother would know.. i`ll ask her. Thanks buddy..!

k said...

I dont know why it depicts as 'k' here. my name is chitra. My blog is ithechitra.blogspot.com

my display name always comes as Chitra on all other blogs.

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Anonymous said...

Naa, not worth the praise. I guess Karunanidhi finds to much sanctity in her story to let go of it. In any case, his life story fits perfectly.

Unless, of course, we talk about plain courage. Then, yeah, she has plenty. But then, men and women in stories seem to carry a lot of it.