Kannagi - The incensed lady!

Wishing all a fantastic week where you are able to put into actions the deeds needed to capture your true authentic Self and purpose. Every step we take intentionally leads to that greater realm and once we really figure out our true purpose the doors that open for us are grander and lovelier. The last couple of weeks we discussed two strong mythological ladies who stood strong on their principles, spoke their mind and are true and authentic examples of the divine feminine.

Why don't we this week analyze a third lady who due to her anger and rage burnt down an entire city? This story comes in the Tamil history and mythology called 'Silapathikaram' (The tale of an anklet) where a very angry lady, Kannagi took to task the King as well as the city that did injustice to her. The anger of a lady when she feels truly deprived of justice is something to be fearful about. That is why Durga in the form of the protectress is worshipped even by the trinity of Gods in Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In Malayalam, there is a proverb,"Pennu orumbettal Brahmanum thadukkan pattilla". Meaning- When a lady decides with firm resolution, even Brahma cannot prevent it. This story is a great example of the same.

The story of Kannagi: The story of Kannagi comes in the Tamil epic 'Silapathikaram' (சிலப்பதிகாரம்) written by Elango Adigal in 100-300 AD. Kannagi was the daughter of a wealthy merchant in the city of Kaveripattanam (in Tamil, Kaviripattanam or Kaviripoompattinam), which is now known as Poompuhar or Puhar. Once Kannagi became of marriageable age she was married to a young and wealthy merchant named Kovalan. They were leading a very content life. Kovalan used to go on trips to do his trade and thus they were leading a very prosperous, peaceful and happy life.

Kannagi, injustice, anklet, Kovalan, Madurai
Kannagi furious, with her anklet
By vishwaant avk [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In one of such trade tours, Kovalan comes to meet another lady called Madhavi, who was a dancer and was performing in the court of the king, Karikala Chozhan. He falls in love with her dance performance as well as her and starts living with Madhavi, forgetting that he already has a wife, Kannagi. Madhavi and Kovalan also have a daughter, Manimekhalai, on whom another Tamil epic was later written. In between, there is also a story where Madhavi's mother at every occasion she can get, tries to get money from Kannagi as if saying Kovalan is requesting it. As her husband is asking Kannagi kept on giving and finally, Kannagi became penniless. The only thing she had remaining was the two silver anklets filled with semi-precious rubies.

In the meantime, Kovalan coming to his senses deserts Madhavi and comes back to Kannagi. But now due to the senseless acts of Kovalan, both Kannagi and Kovalan find themselves penniless. So not able to face their family and community, both Kovalan and Kannagi decided to move to Madhurai from Kaveripattanam, as Madhurai was a huge city and good for business compared to Kaveripattanam. Once they settled down, Kovalan went to the market to sell one of Kannagi's anklets, so that he can start some business.

At this time one of the anklets of the queen of Madurai, wife of the king Nedumcheziyan was stolen by the king's goldsmith and the king had sent soldiers to look for the anklet. This was exactly the time Kovalan was trying to sell his anklet. The king's soldiers saw this and mistaking it for the queen's anklet, tied up and took Kovalan to the king's court. Even though Kovalan was saying it was his wife's anklet, the king not giving him any time to do court dealings as per the norm, commanded that Kovalan be beheaded. The king's order was immediately undertaken.

Hearing the news of her husband's beheading, Kannagi seething with anger and rage, the other anklet in her hand rushed to the King's court. Her hair was untied, eyes blazing and looked like rage incarnate. Remember the anger of Draupadi in our previous post? She demanded the king for justice. The just king without proper inquiry had ordered the beheading of Kovalan. Kannagi asks the queen in the court, what type of semi-precious stones her anklet is filled with and the queen answers pearls. Kannagi throws the anklet she had in her hand on the court floor and the anklet rips apart to reveal the rubies that were inside. Then the other anklet, which was seized from Kovalan was verified to see what stones were inside. That also alas, showed rubies inside.

Now raising her hands to the sky, Kannagi asks,"Where is the justice in the court of Nedumchezhiyan?". Later she curses the king that his beautiful city of Madurai will burn down to ground. The king and the queen are extremely dejected and have no words to utter. In the chaos that ensues the King as well as the queen faints and dies. Either Kannagi's curse comes true or she herself starts a fire by lighting the curtains. Anyway, the fire spreads like wildfire and the city of Madurai burns down to the ground. 

After that, there is also a mythology that the goddess of Madurai, Meenakshi comes to Kannagi and asks her to forgive and the city was later slowly restored. Kannagi later is supposed to have gone to a temple called Kodungallur in Kerala and was supposed to merge into the Goddess idol of the temple. Even today people around this temple consider this Kodungallur Goddess in a very angry and raging form, as Kannagi was in the court of Nedumchezhiyan.

Kannagi, anklet, Madurai, Goddess
Kannagi as Goddess
By 5anan27 (Own work) [CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Analysis: Now, what is the wisdom this great example of divine feminine is showing us? It does not matter, whether it is a female or male, every single person deserves justice and an opportunity for them to be heard. In the spiritual laws of the Universe, justice comes way up in the order of laws. So someone who has been denied justice can become angry and then they will many times take matters into their own hands. Now let us analyze this fascinating story of Kannagi.

1, Marriage of Kannagi: Kannagi was born as the daughter of a wealthy merchant and later she was married to another young and prosperous merchant, Kovalan. They were living a happy and prosperous life and Kovalan was having a prosperous business by which they were also acquiring wealth.

2, Kovalan meets Madhavi: Kovalan sees the dance performance of Madhavi and falls in love with her. He starts to live at Madhavi's place and forgets about his wife Kannagi. Now think about the heartbreak Kannagi would have been going through. In those days (even now), a wife desires the closeness, love, and warmth of her husband. Here was Kovalan fully forgetting Kannagi and spending time with Madhavi. Kannagi would have burnt in the love for Kovalan. Above this Madhavi's mother was taking advantage of the situation and regularly getting money from Kannagi, saying as per on Kovalan's request. Living away from husband and being taken advantage of requesting money? What is the lesson here? There will be many people to take advantage of a situation if we keep our brain and wisdom closed in a chest and allow them. Every single one of us is given brains and power to think to steer ourselves clear of people who can and will take advantage of us. So we should and must use our wisdom properly to get the best for ourselves in this life. But then don't become selfish, once we capture fully our life, help others also do the same.

Kannagi also would have been shamed within the community and among friends because her husband was not there with her. Even her family and friends would have criticized her for not being more smart and shrewd. Also, remember this happens in the 3-4th century A.D. At that time the societal and family structures would have been so strong that a lady would have had a tough time if the husband left her for another lady. (Even today in India and many other countries the lady who is separated or widowed from her husband is looked down upon. Then think about the Sangam period when this would have happened.)

Above this the loneliness she would have gone through. As the social scientists say, humans are social animals and we very much need care and company for us to thrive. Look at a human baby. It calms down once somebody takes it or touches it. (Maybe in another 200 years, we may become more evolved into single human islands, once the technology and Science fully take over. But then that is after 200-300 years. Now itself we can see shades of human isolation.) Anyway so Kannagi would have had to deal with loneliness, isolation from husband, family and friends and above that being taken advantage of. She would have become sad within, body, mind, and soul. Not at all a good place to be.

3, Kovalan comes back to Kannagi: Kovalan had a baby, Manimekalai with Madhavi and later becomes aware of the mistake he has done and comes back to Kannagi. Here let us for one minute, thinks about Madhavi. It is said in 'Silapathikaram', Madhavi even though became the other woman in Kovalan's life, she was also very virtuous and had relationships only with Kovalan. Now think about Kovalan. First, he left Kannagi and Kannagi became sad. Now he is leaving Madhavi for Kannagi and Madhavi would have gone through all the emotions described in the above paragraphs about Kannagi. (The webs we humans weave! If we can surf through the landscape of human relationships in a smart way, half the battle of the human experience, we have won.) But as this story is about Kannagi, let us concentrate on her. 

Here Kannagi shows her higher mind and accepts Kovalan wholeheartedly. First of all the time was 3rd-4th A.D. So at that time a lady who is married and with husband has a very high status in the society. Even today that is true in many cultures and countries. So here  Kannagi who was down in status in the eyes of the society is suddenly getting back her proper status.Which lady would say no to that. Over that love of her life is coming back to her and he is regretting the previous choice he made. It is said in Dharma that, to err is human and to forgive is divine. 

Now think about all of us. All of us one time or another has made bad choices in our life. If the divine is not ready to forgive us, we will be cursed to spend time in hell (Does it even exist or is it just an illusion of our mind?) for eternity. But all the books talk about redemption and salvation. If the divine can be forgiving to us, why can't we humans be forgiving to other humans? Worth ponderation.

So that is what Kannagi did. Of course, there could have had instances where anger and emotions would have come up and fights could have erupted.At the basic level, she indeed is a lady and her husband left her for another woman. Even today whether husband or wife, that choice is not looked upon favorably. She would have had the utmost patience to work through her feelings and finally accept Kovalan back. In those days in mythology, many of the ladies are portrayed as very virtuous.

There is a story of  Nalayani, whose husband Maudgalya, due to a curse incurs leprosy. Nalayani used to eat in the same plate/leaf after her husband ate. Once while he was eating, a finger of his broke and fell on the plate. It seems later Nalayani when she ate, kept aside the finger and ate in the same plate. Talk about being virtuous. Then mythological stories can also have been spiced up by the person who wrote it. (Even today with a strong, loving and protective man, any lady would be virtuous, though for that you don't need to prove that by keeping aside your husband's finger! ;-)). May every human be disease free in this world! That is what I feel. But then I am a woman. I can be biased ;-)).

4, Kovalan and Kannagi move to Madurai: Here even though Kovalan left his wayward behavior, he would have lost his face among his family and community. In mythological times, name and honor is everything. It takes a lifetime to make a name and honor and just seconds or minutes are needed to lose it. Here due to the senseless actions, Kovalan took he would have lost respect among his family and friends circle.

Also, Kovalan and Kannagi had lost all of their earning and due to the wayward actions of Kovalan, no one would have been ready to help or give a loan to Kovalan to restart his business. So all this would have caused both of them to move to Madurai. Also, Madurai is a bigger city and it would have been easier to start a business. Clients or customers are always needed for business, isn't it? Bigger city, more clients.

Here another point to peruse is, even after all the heartbreak Kannagi had to go through, once they reached Madurai, Kannagi gave her anklet to Kovalan, so that he can sell it to start his own business. That shows the broad mindset Kannagi had. She didn't think twice about holding on to the anklet and keeping it with her. Instead, she was thinking about the wellness for the family and was ready to part with her anklet to set up a business. Indeed Kovalan was blessed to have a wife like Kannagi.

5, Kovalan beheaded by the king: Now Kovalan goes to the city to sell one of the anklets of Kannagi. As the anklet looks similar to the lost anklet of the queen's he is tied up and taken to the court of the king. But instead of giving him a proper trial, the king orders execution. Nedumcheziyan was considered a just king. In those days kings were supposed to breathe justice. So where is the justice for Kovalan here? The kind does not even order a proper inquiry. There is a famous quote in Tamil ( I was under the impression it was from Thirukural, but my dad said it is not from Thirukural. If anyone knows the source for the quote, please let us know through comments.)

         "Kannal kanpathum poi, kathal kelpathum poi, thira visarippathe mey"                         

        "கண்ணால் காண்பதும்  பொய்,  காதால் கேற்பதும் பொய், தீர விசாரிப்பதே மெய்"

Meaning: "What is seen by eyes are lies, what is heard by ears are lies, the proper inquiry is the correct method." Here Nedumchezhiyan just heard and believed the story what the soldiers told. He didn't do the proper inquiry. This led to the beheading of Kovalan, which was a great injustice. The injustice done by a king towards someone who needed sympathy and trust is one of the greatest mistakes. Here Kovalan tried to say his part of the story. But he was not given a chance and the king didn't have the patience also to hear Kovalan's side. So the justice was denied.

6, Kannagi rushes to the court raging in anger: Now let us think about Kannagi. What would have been the reaction of Kannagi? She has just been united with her husband after all the drama and heartache due to her husband with Madhavi. She has just started living her life happy again. Now, this incident would have been like a thunderbolt on her head. She could not have believed her ears. She also would have heard about the just king and now an incident has happened that reeks of injustice. How could have she been passive and not concerned? It is her husband, love of her life and the person whom she was destined to spend her life with.

She would have boiled with inconsolable sadness and rage. So taking the remaining anklet in her hands she rushed to the court like a mad woman. Her clothes all could have been shabby, her eyes burning with anger, her face flushed with rage and her hair untied and long. No one could have been able to stand in front of her eyes and then what to say about a king who has committed injustice. Here one thing to note is that in those days according to the Dharma principles a king is tied under, anyone can demand justice in a king's court. There is even a story of a cow that went to a king's court asking for justice. But if it is the court of Duryodhana, don't expect justice. ;-)

So taking her other anklet in her hands she rushes to the king's court. She wanted to prove and question the king for the injustice that has been done.

7, Kannagi questions the king: Once Kannagi was before Nedumchezhiyan, she was seething with anger. She asked how can there in the great city of Madurai where Meenakshi (the Goddess) rules such an injustice happen? Where is the justice for a poor man who didn't do anything, was found guilty, not given a chance to prove himself and be executed? Now the king was flustered. He would have become upset about a lady questioning him about justice. Anyway, he is the king. So he asked Kannagi to prove her point.

Kannagi then asks the queen what type or semi-precious stones her anklet is filled with. (The anklet described here is not the normal anklet with bells in it. But it is called a 'Thandai', which is a hollow silver anklet that is filled with semi-precious stones to make the jingling sound when a lady walks. Nowadays most thandai has small stones filled inside.) The queen answers pearls. Kannagi throws her second anklet on the floor to reveal the rubies inside. 

Now think about the King. Till now he thought that he was serving justice for a crime that had been committed. But now he is standing in the criminal's attire, before a lady who is asking for justice and in front of the spiritual law. He wouldn't have been able to face the fury in Kannagi's eyes.This again proves the Thiruvalluvar point we mentioned above. It is not enough to believe what is seen and heard, but it is always needed to do proper inquiries before making assumptions and conclusions. Here Kovalan is put to death for nothing and a great injustice has happened. The king as well as the queen faints in the court and dies. Before that Kannagi curses Madhurai that the beautiful city will burn to the ground.

8, Madurai burns to ground: Kannagi it seems goes around the city in fury and asks the fire god to burn down the city and only the virtuous in the city be spared. In the fury, she even rips apart her left breast and throws it onto a rooftop. Now seeing the fury Kannagi has the fire starts and burns down the city. This may be either Kannagi herself setting the fire to the city or due to her yogic and spiritual powers she is able to start the fire. Anyway, the fire rages and burns the city to the ground.

There is also a version of the story where the Goddess of Madurai, Meenakshi comes and apologizes to Kannagi and asks her to forgive the city people and the Goddess. Kannagi became the lady of fire due to the separation from her husband, the execution of her husband and the great injustice done to her and her husband. Finally, in many places like Kodungallur, she is given the status of a Goddess.

Kodungallur, Bhagavathi, Kannagi, anklet
Kodungallur Bhagavathi temple
Aruna at Malayalam Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

9, Kannagi's anger: Every human being has a right to live, be happy and do their sacred unique purpose. Yes, in between many times we humans do fall off the tracks due to our senseless acts, lack of awareness and absence of direction.Here Kovalan indeed lost his way for some time. But later he was trying to build his life back and was in the process of getting his acts together. But that chance to lead a productive and purposeful life was cut short by the senseless act of the King.

Before the execution, the King was not ready to hear the part of Kovalan and he could have easily proven the fact that indeed the anklet was Kannagi's. And here is Kannagi who after all the heartbreaks and woes she had to go through is dreaming about a good life with her husband again. At least with Madhavi, her husband was living and well, even though in another lady's house. (No, I am not recommending anything. ;-)). But now here, her husband is not even there on the surface of the earth and she has become suddenly a widow. Think about dreaming about a good life and suddenly finding oneself alone, that too because of the fault of somebody else?

In current times: Now can we relate to the injustices that are happening all around us? Many times even today people are being gunned down or shot down due to no fault of their own. Whether it is a school shooting, terror attack or a militant rule, people are being killed, kept under tight rule without ever being given a chance to express themselves or have a voice for themselves. Who gave only some people a voice and the others are finding themselves with no voice at all?

If there is indeed a divine, this is not how the divine expects us as a human society to behave. Every single human being on this planet has a right to live fully, with happiness and purpose. It doesn't matter whether the injustice is done to a lady or a man. Injustice is indeed injustice and in the eyes of the divine that is one of the most terrible crimes. No amount of justification, dilly-dallying or reasoning works here. An act is ultimately either just or unjust. 

Yes, we do have law and authorities and they indeed do a great job in dealing with crimes and terror. That is the human law. But above that, there are spiritual laws. In the realm of those laws, the Dharma or virtuosity and justice are a huge deal. One cannot and will not escape those laws if we commit injustice or play with justice. Period! 

So let our actions speak louder than our words and let us be very true to our words and actions. That is the one and only way to be on the right side of the law of Spiritual justice!

I wish you a good weekend and I'll see you next Friday! 😉

Next week: Ashwathama - A lesson to be learned!

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance ; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried".  

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  1. Thank you, Reena. Yes, many of the mythological ladies had their opinion, thoughts, mind and voice. We all can learn lessons from them.


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