Regional Compositions of Sri Ramayana, Part Three

BY: SUN STAFF - 29.1 2018

The first in a serial presentation of the preeminent versions of Sri Ramayana.

KAMBA RAMAYANA

The Kamba Ramayana, also knows as Ramavataram, is an epic written by the Tamil poet Kamban during the 12th Century. Based on Valmiki's Ramayana, the story describes the life of King Rama of Ayodhya. However, Ramavatharam is different from the Sanskrit original in many aspects - both in spiritual concepts and in the specifics of the storyline.

The poet Kambar was born c. 1180 in Therazhundur, Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu and died c. 1250. Along with his Ramavataram (or Kambaramayanam), he authored a number of other important Tamil works, in both Tamil and Sanskrit. He was raised in the household of a wealthy farmer named Sadaiyepa Vallal in Vennai Nellur. A Chola king—having heard of this talented bard—summoned him to his court and honoured him with the title Kavi Chakravarty (The Emperor of Poets).

This historic work is considered by both Tamil scholars and the general public as one of the greatest literary works in Tamil literature. Kamban wrote this epic under the patronage of Thiruvennai Nallur Sadayappa Vallal, a Pannai kula chieftain. In gratitude to his patron, Kamban references his name once in every 1,000 verses.

The epic is greatly appreciated for the colorfulness of its poetry as well as for its religious value.

The book is divided into six chapters, called Kandam in Tamil.

Bala Kandam – Chapter on Childhood 
Ayodhya Kandam – Chapter on Ayodhya
Aranya Kandam – Chapter on Forest
Kishkindha Kandam – Chapter on Kishkindha
Sundara Kandam – Chapter on Beauty
Yuddha Kandam – Chapter on War

The Kandams are further divided into 123 sections called Padalam in Tamil. These 123 sections contain approximately 12,000 verses of the epic.

As with many historic compilations, it was very difficult to discard the interpolations and addendum which have been added over a period of time to the original. This task was taken up a committee of scholars headed by T.P. Meenakshi Sundaram called the Kamban Kazhagam (Kamban Academy). The compilation published by this committee in 1976 is what is used as the standard today.

Kamban's use of Virutham (Sanskrit: vṛttam) and Santham (Sanskrit: chandas) in various verses is effective in bringing out the emotion and mood for storytelling. He achieves the Virutham and Santham by effective choice of words.

Religious Significance:

This epic is read by many devotees during prayers. In some households, the entire epic is read once during the Tamil calendar's month of Aadi. It is also read in Hindu temples and other religious associations. On many occasions, Kambar talks about surrendering to Rama, who is a manifestation of Vishnu himself.

The chapter Sundara Kandam is considered very auspicious and is the most popular. The chapter talks about the hardships faced by the main characters in the epic, their practice of restraint, and their hopes for a better tomorrow.

Statue of Poet Kambar