story of Silappadigaram, or The Killer Anklet has been attracting
me for several years for two reasons.
It was written some 1400 years ago by a Prince turned Jain Saint,
Illangovadigal in the Sangam age Tamil poetry, which reflected
the culture and the life style of the people of that time in the
Southern parts of India.
The story was filmed in black and white more than 50 years ago.
It touched my heart to see the sufferings of Kannagi, a chaste
woman faithful to her husband Kovalan, despite his extra relationship
with a dancing girl, Madhavi, which broke down later on due to
a misunderstanding between the two. He joined back his wife to
restart his life by selling one of her anklets, but he was killed
by the king on a false charge of theft of a queen’s anklet
brought on him by a cunning goldsmith, who actually stole it.
Kannagi proved that the king was wrong by breaking her second
anklet. The king died for the miscarriage of justice, followed
by the queen, who also died on the spot. One anklet was the root
cause for several deaths and so, the story revolves round this
found it difficult to bring out the entire story in the English
poetry form line by line, as most of the words used by the Tamil
poet belonged to the Sangam age, some 1400 years back. Each sentence
written by him is too long to be contained in one stanza. So I
had to break it into different stanzas without losing the essence
of those lines.
is actually an adoption of the story to the extent it can be retold
in simple English poetry. The Readers are, therefore, advised
to go through the original Silappadigaram written by Illangovadigal
in Tamil or its translation in prose, if they want to enjoy the
real beauty of the story in its original form.
are requested to give their constructive suggestions, if any to
my email address: email@example.com. They will also please
bear with me for any errors in my rendering the story in the simple
poetry form, which has not been an easy task for me to bring out.
Or The Killer Anklet
President of India,
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,
Thank you for
your letter and sending me your book “Silappadigaram,The
Killer Anklet” adoption in English. I have studied
the book and I liked particularly the verses-14 (Page-275).
“She’s like a daughter
Now settled with him in the Heaven.
‘Pandian shall die, if justice is broken,”
She made this rule, let us sing about her.”
My best wishes to you.
was born in West Columbia, WV, on February 4, 1937, and
has been writing poetry for almost fifty years. Associate
Editor, Ocarina from about 1978 to 1989. Had a poem nominated
for The Pushcart prize, 1998. Wazir Agha dedicated his Selected
Poems to her in 1998. Interviewed by Skylark Purdue University
Calumet in 2000. Honorary Doctorate, World Academy Of Arts
And Culture, 2002. Wall Of Tolerance Honoree, 2002. Biography
listed in Who's Who of American Women, Marquis, and The
Dictionary Of International Biography, England. Chosen by
The International Translation and Research Centre and The
Journal Of World Poets Quarterly (Multilingual), and published
in China, as one of The International Best Poets Of 2005.
is one of India’s treasures. His fine epic poetry
has built friendship bridges between the countries of the
world without regard to race, culture, or creed.
His elegant verses
can be understood by schoolchildren, and yet have enough
depth and meaning to appeal to politicians and scholars
as well. This is a tribute to a singular talent.
The warmth and wit
of this poet has reached out with compassionate understanding
to promote peace and harmony between the peoples of the
East and the West. He deserves recognition and praise for
At seventy-five years
of age, Rajaram Ramachandran has lost none of his creative
powers. “Silappadigaram, The Killer Anklet”
is a work of art. It contains beautiful word paintings,
lyrical verses and speaks the universal language of music
when it is read aloud.
It is a great gift
to be able to bring a legend of two thousand years ago to
life again. Yet the poet has met the Himalayan challenge
with courage and dedication. Because of his skill, we are
moved by the tragedy of Kannagi, the incarnation of a chaste
woman, as if we had just met her yesterday. Indeed Rajaram
Ramachandran’s vivid portrait of this saga from The
Golden Age of Tamil literature makes us realize, to our
surprise, that human nature changes very little from age
I salute the artisan
of this story for his great achievement. It is a world-class
effort, and I recommend it without hesitation to both readers
in the East and the West. I believe, like Kannagi, it has
the power to be remembered for a long, long time.
Sandra Fowler, Litt.D.
22rd June 2006.
Silappadigaram, The Killer Anklet
excels in translating epic literature into something that
is clear and understandable to the average reader. Simplicity
is an art not easily achieved, but the writer of “The
Killer Anklet” is the rare exception. His fine-tuned
lyrical style hammered out through long hours of dedicated
work show him to be a wordsmith of some note.
The original story
of the killer anklet was written some two thousand years
ago by a royal prince turned Jain Saint in the Golden Age
of Tamil Literature. The poet has condensed this complex
work into simple English verses that compels the interest
of scholar and laymen alike.
In the preface the
artist tells us that this story was filmed in black and
white some fifty years ago and that it touched his heart
to see the sufferings of Kannagi, a chaste woman, who loved
her husband, Kovalan, in spite of his affair with Madhavi,
a beautiful dancer of some renown. Thus, these three are
the protagonists of this rich, exotic tale, which revolves
around Kannagi’s anklet.
One can almost hear
the fatal clinking of her anklet as the poet moves her musically
through his passionate stanzas to the inevitable fate of
Kannagi and Kovalan in Madurai Town.
This noble woman has
seen her happy marriage laid in ruins because of her husband’s
infatuation with the seductive dancer, Madhavi. However,
her love remains steadfast, even though Kovalan, once a
rich merchant, returns to her virtually penniless. Instead
of chiding him, she selflessly offers him one of her precious
anklets to sell so that they can begin a new life together.
One can almost see Kannagi’s
tears falling, like pearls, as she whispers:
“The deeds not to be done
By any respectable man,
These you’ve already done,
But with you I will remain.” (159),
and Kovalan’s acknowledgement
of her worth, which is above jewels:
“The elders’ well
wishes, your modesty,
Your self determination and chastity,
With these things only you came,
In my distress to console me.”
“My love, give me one
That adorns your soft foot
I shall go to the city market,
And for a price sell it.”
“He then tightly embraced
Shedding tears, he felt sorry for her.
Pity, she was left alone there,
As no servant to serve her.” (160).
However, as fate would have it, Kovalan
chose a goldsmith who had previously stolen an anklet identical
to Kannagi’s anklet from the wife of King Pandian,
the ruler of Madurai Town. He seized upon the opportunity
to exonerate himself by accusing the hapless Kovalan of
the theft. We can hear the malice in the voice of this wicked
soul as he
accuses an innocent man before King
“With no tools to make a hole
Thro’ the strong palace wall,
And with no magic wand,
The thief used a magic sound.”
This sound brought sleep
To the gate watchman deep,
He stole the Queen’s anklet
He’s now sitting in my hut.” (163),
and so the king orders the death
“A soldier threw his sword
Kovalan spoke no word,
Nevertheless, he fell down dead,
In a pool of blood.” (166).
The poet then asks the unanswerable
questions as to why this sorrowful end has occurred:
Who was to be blamed?
This end had the fate timed?
Or, the King was named”
Or, the goldsmith framed?
Who’ll give answer?
No answer lies here.
When justice is delayed
Then justice is denied. (167).
When Kannagi sees her husband we
hear her heart’s lament in these eloquent verses:
On the floor she saw him lying.
The evening sun started setting.
The Madurai City raised its noise,
When it heard her sad voice.
That morning only a flower,
She had it from her lover,
But she saw him speechless,
In a pool of blood motionless. (180).
Her cry, in intense, passionate
poetry, echoes through the town:
“Is there a woman here?
Like me who is born to suffer?
Who can bear this loss like me?
Is there any one like me?
“Is there a God in this
Where the justice has fallen?
The king’s rule is broken.
Is there a God in this town?” (181),
therefore, she decides to confront
King Pandian for his sins:
Tears flowed from her eyes
She remembered her dreams
She wiped out her tears
And reached Pandian’s palace (182).
Before the King and Queen she stands
and declares in a bold voice:
“I married the son of Masathuvan,
The son’s name is Kovalan
Kannagi is my name
To sell my anklet he came.”
“He was killed by your
I came here for justice, my lord.
The truth you don’t know
The other anklet I want to show.” (186),
and as she bends down to remove
her anklet she declares:
“My Lord this anklet of
Inside it contains rubies fine”
My lady, this anklet of mine,
Inside it contains pearls fine.”
To prove her side she broke
A ruby stone shot at one stroke
Right on the King’s face as fire,
And then it fell on the floor (186-187).
It is then that the king’s
terrible mistake is revealed and his conscience becomes
his executioner. We hear his impassioned cry in these powerful
“On the goldmith’s
On my part with no restraint,
I acted in haste, so I’m the thief
Unfit to be this country’s chief” (187).
So saying, he falls down dead. Her
heart, as broken as Kannagi’s anklet, the Queen touches
her beloved husband’s foot and joins him in death.
The poet sums up what has happened in these sad words:
Those who did acts of injustice,
At the end, they’ll never meet justice.
The king’s judgment error
Took away three lives forever (187-188).
Kannagi’s heartrending cries
from two thousand years ago still have the power to move
us, for grief knows no barriers of time, distance, or culture:
“If I’m also a chaste
Let me also die with my man,
Not before I destroy this town,
And reap vengeance of mine.” (191).
Thus, she invokes the gods to send
down fire from Heaven on Madurai. Then she circles the city
three times and with her own hands cuts off her left breast.
The gods hear her and the city burns, nor is the fire selective
in spite of Kannagi’s desperate prayer:
“:Cows, sages, Brahamins,
Chaste women, old persons,
Children, let them be free.
And let not evils go free”
The fire turned serious,
And it became furious
It burnt the Pandian’s city,
Showing no mercy or pity.” (192).
It is impossible to say how many people
died that day because of something so delicate and so beautiful
as Kannagi’s musical anklet. Everything was prewritten.
Not even the prayer of a chaste woman could change it.
Kannagi leaves the ruined city by
the western gate. On Neduvel Hill she sits down under a
Vengai tree and cries for her husband. It is the fourteenth
day after his death. The poet speaks of her in these elegiac
“In praise of her lover
Lords of the Heaven also praised
On her fresh flowers they showered,
This way Kannagi was honored.
Up the sky, a heavenly chariot
When Kovalan also joined her
“Kannagi” stayed in the mind of those
Who were to their husbands too close. (209).
was the fate of the beautiful dancing girl, Madhavi, of
whom Kovalan said,
“Her enchanting appearance,
Her shining moonlike face
Besides her dazzling necklace,
They all blinded my eyes.” (81)?
The poet tells
us that when Madhavi heard of the death of Kovalan and his
old parent, she rejected the world never to dance again.
R. Rajaram expresses the moral of
the story of the killer anklet, which was the root cause
of the loss of so many lives, in words of priceless eastern
“One can’t avoid
Or after birth, the death,
So, search for the truth
While staying on this earth.”
“Lead a life of austerity,
In this world of prosperity,
Try to attain a state of eternity
This is my advice to posterity.” (292,293).
Does this tragedy have any basis in reality?
The answer is lost in the mists of history and legend. But
the poet tells us that there are several temples in South
India dedicated to the worship of Kannagi, that woman turned
goddess who became, in the minds of many, an incarnation
of the chaste woman.
firstname.lastname@example.org is a Ph.D. candidate in Folklore,
University of Pennsylvania, USA. His dissertation is on
Tamil children's songs and games, and language learning.
To conduct research on the Silappathikaram, he walked in
the footsteps of Kannagi — from Poompuhar, to Madurai,
to the western mountains. Quotes are from R. Parthasarathy's
translation from the original sen-Tamil: The Cilappatikaram:
The Tale of an Anklet, by Ilanko Atikal, Columbia University
Eric Miller Writes (email dated 30-6-2006)
Dear Rajaram Ramachandran……..Yes, I did receive
your word file on Silappadigaram together with Sandra Fowler’s
letter. You are doing wonderful work.
It seems there might be a conference next year in relation
to Kannagi. I will keep you posted regarding what I learn
about this. Many thanks again.
writing the story of Silappadigaram, or the Killer Anklet, I thought
this story will not have a good finish, unless I write the story
of Manimegalai, in continuation of the earlier story for the reason
Manimegalai, the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, was compelled
by her mother to renounce the worldly life in her prime youthful
It was in the
year 1965, my poetry career started. I was travelling in a rainy
season of that year, as a lone passenger, in I Class compartment
(Old type) from New Delhi to Vijayawada. The moving panorama outside
in the ghat section and plains attracted my attention. I wrote
the first poem, “A Song of the World” in that running
train, which got published in the Souvenir released by the South
Indian Cultural Association, Vijayawada