Political situation of Tamil Nadu
During Sangam era, the land was divided into self sufficient food producing units called Naatus. Each had its own army and a chieftain/king. There were constant wars between these Naatus. Most of the time these war was not waged to acquire or conquer the land and rather the victorious king just wanted his supremacy to be acknowledged, hence just wanted the defeated king to pay him tribute. The kings and soldiers were expected to fight with bravery and reckless disregard of death. There were no big empires though Chera ,Chola and Pandiyas had bigger share of land. For the people, King was the most supreme person and a connection between the divine world and this world. King had loyal followers who would take their life to save him. Religion and state were never combined.
An important change happened in the North which influenced history of India thereafter.
The Guptas were the ruling dynasty in the North India. The Guptas called themselves devotees of god. They took name of gods(Skanda Gupta,Kumara Gupta etc). They inscribed Varaha(boar) and Lakshmi in their coins. They made mythology a state concern and enlisting Vishnu and his heroic incarnations for their politics. The Guptas sponsored god and they almost believed god sponsored their kingdom. Not only were the first Hindu temples built and first Hindu icons were sculptured during this period but the official forms of Hindu myth were put down during this period. By end of 5th century each god had his/her own family, minions and enemies like a real human dynasty. Skanda the warrior god, one of the favorite gods of the Guptas was integrated to the family of Shiva and Krishna as a god with his own legends and sub cults also developed in Gupta Period.
The religion and the State were now integrated and dependent on each other.
This was situation in North India when Pallavas came to the South. Pallavas were the first empire builders in Tamil Nadu. They wanted to have a stable rule, unlike the prevalent conditions in Tamil Nadu where each Naatu was waging war against another one constantly. The Pallavas wanted to remove the chieftains and armies out of the Natus as the Chieftains always waged war and caused insecurity to their Kingdom. So the Pallavas transferred their land which they conquered from chieftains to non militant landlords or Brahmins. Sanskrit, Brahmins and temples were part of imperial designs of Pallavas. The Sanskrit language gave much needed dignity and resonance to the upstart kings , Brahmans blessed and legitimized them and also gave genealogy to them if they lacked one. Temples and towns assured the presence of the king and his patronage to the popular religion and deity. All three of them were related with god. The Pallavas followed the model of Guptas in integrating religion and state.
The same model was followed by the upper caste non Brahmin land lords. They allied themselves with the Brahmins and adopt a Hindu life style. They patronized the central king of the big kingdom and in return gets protection from war waging chieftains.
In later Pallava period and Chola period the land was directly given to the Brahmins and Brahmins were the landlords. In later period the lands were donated to the Temples and all domestic works like digging tanks and wells and irrigation was taken care of the Temple administration. The power of chieftains was slowly and steadily removed.
Kamban and his Ravana:
Kamban was a poet well versed in Sangam poetry and Vaishnava Bakthi literature Divya prabandam. He has portrayed the character of Ravana as an Ideal Tamil king of the old order. His main concern is power and he is prepared to go to any extent to preserve it. He has a great army which can never be conquered and he himself is a great warrior in war.
He is perfect king and everything is in order till he sees his sister mutilated. The only possible mistake Ravana committed was his live sickness towards Sita whom he seized by carrying a portion of ground (by Tamil ethics one wasn’t supposed to touch an unwilling women). Now Ravana’s perfect world is challenged by Rama who is representative of Dharma and the god himself. Finally Rama defeats Ravana and Dharma prevails all over the world defeating the old order.
Kamban models the character of Rama based on the life of kings during the Sangam age and what ever indigenous Tamil elements which he feels doesn’t fit into notion of Dharma he assigns it to Ravana and he assigns all characteristics of Dharma and associated northern elements of Hinduism to Rama. He includes many of the philosophies reflected by Nammalvar’s poem. One of them being that god was not only source of good but also source of evil. So the imperfect acts of Rama are just play by god which sets off sequence of events so that at the end of the play Dharma prevails.
The power of Kamban’s Ravana makes most of us forget , Ravana was a Brahmin by birth.Ravana was born to the Brahmin father and Daitya mother. He was half brother of lord of wealth Kuberan. Kamban’s words make us believe Ravana was a true Dravidian king.
Kamban’s Ravana and Dravidian movement:
After the start of Dravidian movement, most of the Dravidian leaders questioned the work of Kamban. They felt Ravana was the true hero for the work and was unjustly defeated by Aryan forces who felt jealous about the much superior Dravidian culture. The also criticized the character of Rama who had various moral fallicies(eg. his behavior towards Sita after rescuing her, killing of Vali etc.). A Tamil poet Kulanthai Pulavar composed an epic ‘Iravanan Kapiyam’ where Ravana was the hero of the epic. R.S.Manohar a popular theatre person also made a very popular stage play titled ‘Lankeswaran’ where Ravana was the hero of the Drama. He also went on to make that stage play as a movie with same title, with Rajesh as the Ravana and Revathi as Sita.
There are so many versions of Ramayana and Kamban’s is a popular one, since he has adopted the story from North to typical characteristics of South, taking elements from Sangam and Bakthi literature.
The forest book of Ramayana of Kamban by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz
The Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz
The Poems of Ancient Tamil by George L. Hart
Smile of Murugan by Kamil Zvelebil
Hymns of drowning by A.K.Ramanujan
History and Culture of Tamil Nadu by Chitra Mahadevan
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