Kamban Mani Mandapam – A Tribute to a Poet

It’s not every day or everyone who gets the honor of having a monument put up in their name. But such was the honor bestowed on the medieval Tamil poet Kavi Chakravarthy Kambar who lived in c. 1180-1250 in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. The poet who is informally known as Kamban gained fame after writing the Kamba Ramayanam, which is the Tamil version of the Ramayana epic from the Hindu religion.

This masterpiece holds a special place in the echelons of Tamil literature and his work is believed to be unparalleled by any other poet. His work is such that one can visualize it as if watching it on a screen; the richness in his use of metaphors and similes gave his poetry special magic that others tried hard to emulate, yet there are no rivals. The Kamba Ramayanam is believed to have more than 10,000 songs and is composed of 45,000 lines, forming one of the greatest epics in Tamil.

Another modification he indulged in while re-writing the Ramayana was to make minor scenario changes to suit the Tamil sensitivities. In the scene where Ravana is supposed to lift Sita and carry her away, he has made a small change and written that Ravana lifted up the hut where Sita was, along with the earth underneath it; this was more suitable to the Tamil way of thinking. There are several other similar changes to the Sanskrit Ramayana.

He belonged to an upper-caste family of priests but grew up in a wealthy farmer’s home. His poetry drew the attention of the reigning Chola king who summoned him to his court and conferred the prestigious title of ‘Kavi Chakravarthy’ (Emperor of Poets) on him. Another praise offered to him in a lighter vein was that even the mill in his house could sing!

Kamban was a learned scholar of India’s two ancient and culturally-rich languages – Sanskrit and Tamil. He is believed to have spent a lot of his life with the Nagarathars and is believed to have died at Nattarasankottai. In his honor, the Kamban Mani Mandapam was built there and Tamil literature programs are regularly held here annually to commemorate his memory. Kamban Adippodi Saw. Ganesan was a devout follower of Kamban and was the man instrumental in the construction of the Kamban Mani Mandapam in 1972. In recognition of his great devotion, he was given the title of ‘Kamban Adippodi’ by Justice Maharajan. Every year the Kamban Vizha is held in Karaikudi and ends up in Nattarasankottai. As Karaikudi is well connected by rail and road from both Trichy and Madurai, both of which have airports and are 90km away, getting to Karaikudi to join the Literature Festival is pretty easy.