The Book of Vanci questions and answers Download Pdf

The Book of Vanci questions and answers Download Pdf


1. What is the name of Kannaki as Goddess? 

After transformation, Kannaki is better known as the goddess Pattini, the goddess of chastity.

2. What is the meter used in the Cilappatikaram? 

The meter that is used in the Cilappatikaram is ‘akaval‘ meter.

3. What is the meaning of the word Cilappatikaram? 

It means the story of an anklet.

4. Wherefrom the story of Cilappatikaram originated? 

The Cilappatikaram is considered to be originated from Tamil folklore which, at a later stage, was converted by the great poet Ilango Adigal into a great Tamil Epic.

5. Which is the oldest epic form in India?

The oldest form of Epic is ‘Akhanya’ which is a kind of tale that has a combination of verses as well as prose.

6. Where was the King Cenkuttuvan camping?

The King Cenkuttuvan was camping at the bank of Periyar river along with the famous poet Cattan who told the king about the unfortunate series of events happened with Kannaki at Mathurai.

7. What is the commonality between the folklore version and the Epic Poem?

There are similarities as well as dissimilarities in the folk tales and Cillappatrikam. The differences, with a few exceptions, reveals a condition to suggest that it shares in common with the Kovalar katai, the possibility that the written form might have been ultimately derived from the folk ballad.

8. Who were defeated by King Cenkuttuvan?

As the war began, Cenkuttuvan and his warriors destroyed the warriors of Arya kings who were known for their chariot fight. Cenkuttuvan appeared like the God of death himself to the mighty Arya kings, capable of destroying all their lives.

9. In how many stages does Kannaki’s apotheosis occur?

 Kannaki’s apotheosis occurs in three stages:

 (1) she is a chaste and uncomplaining wife who is deserted by her husband;

(2) she turns into a destructive force;

(3) she becomes a tutelary deity whose cult is institutionalized.

10. What does the name of ‘Kannaki’ symbolize?

 The name ‘Kannaki’ is the Tamil form of the Sanskrit word ‘Kanyaka’ which means a ‘virgin’ or a woman’ who is worthy of worship.


1. According to the poet what was the objective of this Epic Poem?

 In the Pathigam, the prologue to the book, Ilango Adigal gives the reader the gist of the book with the précis of the story. He also lays the objectives of the book .

We shall compose a poem, with songs, To explain these truths: even kings, if they break The law, have their necks wrung by dharma; Great men everywhere commend Wife of renowned fame; and karma ever Manifests itself, and is fulfilled. We shall call the poem The Cilappatikāram, the epic of the anklet, Since the anklet brings these truths to light.

The poet emphasizes the importance of truthful and honest service of a king towards his subjects. He portrays the fact that a King’s strength is not wealth but devotion to his people. Simultaneously the revelation of truth can transform a mortal soul into a goddess of truth and sacrifice.

2. What are the key story elements in The Cilappathikaram? 

As referred in the great epic, The Cilappathikaram, the key story elements are the following:

1) “A king punishes himself or his family members for misdeeds”.

2) “A woman is miraculously served by nature due to her selfless devotion (her chastity) in relation to her husband”.

3) “A woman in fury gets justice and becomes a Goddess”.

3. What are the three dynasties that get referred to in The Cilappathikaram?

The epic reveals the lifestyle and traditions of Tamils 2000 years back along with the high cultural as well as traditional practices of Tamil civilization. It also shows the mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit cultural practices that appear in many a place in the epic poem. The wealth of the three regions of royalty, too, is portrayed in three places beautifully

The Cilappatikāram, by llango, is in three books, set in the capitals of the three Tamil kingdoms: Pukār (the Cõla capital), Maturai (i.e., Madurai, the Pāntiya (Pāndya) capital), and Vañci (the Cēra capital).

The first region was Chola country (Cholavalanadu) in the east, famous for its rice cultivation in the Cauvery river basin. This is the ancestral place of Kovalan.

The wealth of the second region of royalty of Pandiya country in south was pearl (the saying goes, “Pandiya nadu muthudaithu”). Pearl collection (Muthukkulithal) from the Southern Ocean was the ancient primary business activity of the Tamils of this region. This is the second region where Kovalan and Kannaki wanted to start their second life.

The wealth of the third region of Chera royalty in the west was of course ‘elephants’. When the Chera king Chenguttuvan returned from his campaign (Digvijayam) of the north and brought the Himalayan stone for sculpting Kannaki’s idol, people greeted him with elephants in the forefront. This is the ultimate place where the temple of Kannaki was established.

4. How does the anklet hold its significance in Tamil tradition?

Symbolically, in Tamil culture, the cilappatharikam, an anklet represents various things. In folklore, it is considered that an anklet is an effective protection against evil and so, women wore it not only as a jewelry but also in a ritualistic manner. It is this belief that renders apotropaic significance to anklet. When a person is robbed of an anklet, it is believed that the person has been robbed of his strength, dignity and connection. Anklets as girded, were believed to be both the symbol of their strength and control over their sexual energy. And once a girdle or an anklet is broken, it is a sure sign of devastation and destruction. So, anklets were always protected and kept as a symbol of something auspicious for the family as well as something protective for women.

5. Who was Madhavi? Highlight her character.

Madhavi is an important character in the epic. Madhavi was a beautiful courtesan, dancer by profession, at a time when such women were considered of low status: who were considered to be a little more than the playthings of rich and sensual men with ample means to indulge in the universal human appetite. Madhavi, however, was different — not one of the dancing girls who sold themselves to supplement their meagre earnings: even though she was born into the dancing-girl caste Parathiyar, she practiced chastity.

She lived with Kovalan happily for some time. During that period, Madhavi’s mother stole all the wealth of Kannaki the wife of Kovalan by using Kovalan’s ring Kannaiyali without the knowledge of Madhavi and Kovalan. After 3 years, Kovalan learned the truth about the mother’s crime, during the festival of the God Indra. He grew angry with Madhavi and again returned to Kannaki.

After Kovalan left her, Madhavi came to know of her mother’s theft and showed her moral worth by returning all the wealth of Kovalan to his father and renouncing the world to become a Buddhist nun.

6. Why does the Tamil society still regard Kannaki as an ideal of chastity?

Tamil society to this day regards Kannaki as an ideal of chastity. For the Tamils, chastity represents sacred power and is much beyond mere sexual self-restraint. A phrase in Akancluftru 73, for instance, makes this explicit: “chastity filled with sacred power” with reference to a woman who is disconsolate in her husband’s absence. Tamil literature is replete with examples of chaste women who are held up as ideals.

Kannaki represents this ideal best. She is a resonant cultural symbol that has remained unchanged for two thousand years. Pattini, whom the whole world now worships, had proved the truth of the Tamil saying: “The virtue of women is useless if the king rules unjustly.”

7. What would you consider as an ethical and what as a political bias in this Epic Poem?

The myth also has an ethical and political bias: the chastity (karpu) of a woman is inviolable, and it is the duty of a king to protect and uphold it; he can do so only if he rules justly. If he swerves from justice, he puts his kingdom in danger. We observe here the conflation of the domestic and the public, of akam and puram.

Further, her chastity empowers her to dispense justice as she humbles the Pandya king and burns down Maturai. Her spiritual authority thus supersedes the purely temporal one of the kings, notwithstanding the gender and class differences between subjects and rulers. There is a scope for fidelity that goes beyond vocabulary and form as it speaks, “We are entering the realm of the ‘spirit of the law’ rather than the ‘letter.”

8. Discuss the Twin Apotheosis: Madhavi and Kannaki in Ilango’s “The Cilappatikaram”.

The story of Kovalan and Kannaki — which forms the core of the great Tamil epic poem The Cilappatikaram by llango Adigal – is a grand and magnificent tale.

But in Madhavi and Kannaki we have two female characters of great profundity and power who dominate the story- if truth be told, considering that Kovalan only loses his head because he’s accused of stealing the queen’s anklet, the whole story could be said, with justice, to be dominated by women. And of these, it is the innocent Kannaki and the courtesan Madhavi who most powerfully arrest our attention.

In the beginning of the tale, they are hardly alike; Kannaki is beautiful but innocent, while Madhavi is charming, witty and well cultured — we know that she can sing and dance well for example. But, she lacks the evil qualities which a patriarchal society usually attributes to the courtesan class. An accurate appraisal of Madhavi should ultimately conclude that she found herself in a society where she was treated as an equal by men only while she was a courtesan were she to leave it, she would be at the mercy of men, like Kannaki. The poet,by introducing Madhavi as a courtesan, launches a powerful critique of his society; what sort of society is it where women are unequal to men- unless they’re courtesans, in which case they’re considered morally corrupt?

But as the tale progresses, we find Madhavi renouncing her wealth and riches and penitently retiring to a monastery. The poet, who has till now painted this woman with all the vivacious color of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and who has nurtured in petty and prudish minds a decided antipathy against Madhavi, now humbles us all by showing us that her moral compass is stronger than ours. She humbly bows out of the stage, but does so in so surprising a manner that she, too, attains an apotheosis, if only in our imagination.

But it is Kannaki who undergoes the more radical transformation. She, who has been silent and modest throughout this entire poem, now unleashes the full wrath of her persona. She confronts the king, demonstrates the righteousness of her cause and proves her husband innocent. Her cold fury, which has sustained her throughout this argument now gives way to tempestuous rage, and the city burns – unable to withstand her ire.

A dancing girl humbles us by her superior moral sense, and an innocent young girl, once oppressed and taken advantage of by all, now faces down a king and his court with all the authority of a Hebraic prophet and attains godhood.

9. How does the poetic sequence evolve in the Epic poem?

The Cilappatikaram exhibits precisely a fusion of the akam and puram. Moreover, descriptive and narrative modes also overlap to produce an indeterminate form that bears a family resemblance to both.

The Cilappatikaram comprises three books-each book consists of story-songs or cantos, kiitais (Ski katha, “story;” gathci, “song, poem”).

The earliest Tamil poems are short isolated lyrics invariably spoken by one person. Gradually, they were strung together and organised thematically into clusters. In this way they expanded in length and assumed the shape of long poems. This was possibly how a poetic sequence originated. And we see this form emerging in the Cilappatikaram, the first great unmistakable exemplar of the genre. It would not, therefore, be inappropriate to regard the Cilappatikaram as a collection of thirty distinct long poems, twenty-five of which are story-songs or cantos, and five of which are song cycles that appear at critical junctures and function as choruses unobtrusively commenting on the action. The cantos only comment, explain, and amplify the storyline. In fact, each canto is more or less static. It does not always evolve from the previous canto because there is no compulsion from the plot to do so. Of course, each contains hints and allusions to the story. When these are read sequentially, they form a composite whole.

The ways the Cilappatikaram achieves these poetical effects are the following:

1. The stanzaic structure was doubtless in part responsible for the fact that in such epics the actual narrative is, typically, not dominant.

2. Although two or more stanzas are not infrequently linked syntactically to form a single sentence, the tendency is to have a series of descriptive verses on one point of the story, and then a few linking verses to carry the narration onto the next important point, where another topic is similarly elaborated.

3. It would appear that the great narrative poem in both Sanskrit and Tamil evolved from the lyric. The long poem is an ongoing form embodying the knowledge of a culture.

4. The epic process is encyclopedic and inclusive, though the epic itself may not be so. In the beginning, the epic was a multiform; now, it is not.

10. What are the factors that get manifested in the Book of Vanci?

 In the Book of Vanci the following get manifested very distinctly:

 i) Ordinary folks as heroes and heroines :

 At a time when it was customary to make the King or some other patron as the hero, Ilango had made the ordinary folks the key figures in his dramaKannaki and Kovalan along with Madhvi. In addition to the main characters, he had created two more individuals to the cast – the first was a woman ascetic, Kavunthi, who, every now and then, reiterated the principles of righteousness and the other was a learned brahmin, Madalan, whose role was to interpret the traits attributed to each character in the proper perspective with respect to social and religious contextualisation.

ii) Fine arts :

llango imparted the values of virtue to the common folk by taking up two moral principles-chastity and virtue—and incorporated them into a theatrical style episode so that everyone in the society will get the message of virtue. The poetic skills of the writer in capturing human emotions have made it an exceptional literary piece.

iii) Women’s status and value of chastity: 

Though Kovalan is supposed to be the hero, the author in his unique style has elevated the two women characters, Kannaki and Madhavi, to the highest status in the eyes of the society for ever. Kannaki’s exaltation as the Goddess of chastity was unquestionable; the repentance and renunciation of Madhavi, after realizing her mistakes, made her no less noble and virtuous.


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