Manimekalai: A Sangam Age Tamil Epic
Manimekalai is one of the magnum opuses of Tamil literature. The most ancient recognized period of Tamil literature is known as the Sangam Age of the Tamil literature which had witnessed the production of five great epics among others. Those five epics (Silappatikaram, Manimekalai, Civaka Cintamani, Kundalakesi and Valayapathi) are valuable treasures of the Tamil literature, and Manimekalai is one of them.
The writer of Manimekalai was Seethalai Sathanar. Manimekalai can be considered an appendix or a sequel to the first known Tamil epic, Silappatikaram. Kovalan, the protagonist of Silappatikaram, in the end of the first chapter of Silappatikaram which is called Puharakkandam, left for the courtesan Madhabi. The text of Manimekalai traces the storyline from there and narrates the life of Manimekalai, the daughter of Kovalan and Madabi. The backdrop of Manimekalai is what we call present day Tamil Nadu and the Jaffna region of Northern Sri Lanka.
The Story of Manimekalai
Manimekalai is a sequel or continuation of the oldest known Tamil epic called Silappatikaram. Manimekalai was the daughter of the two main characters of Silappatikaram, Kovalan and Madhavi. Manimekalai was a devoted follower of Jainism and subsequently took up social service as the mission of her life. As Manimekalai is about to wed a prince, her fairy God mother takes her to an isle called Manipallava Theevu. At that island, Manimekalai comes across the Jain guru Adinath, also known as Rishabha, who gives Manimekalai a cornucopia bowl. For the rest of her life, Manimekalai would serve her countrymen by feeding the hungry, the needy and the destitute from her divine bowl. This is nevertheless, quite similar to Draupadi's account in the Mahabharata of feeding all the friends and attendants of the Pandavas, including Krishna, from a single plate.
Main Characters of Manimekalai
The principal characters of Manimekalai are the protagonist Manimekalai herself, Udhayakumaran and Sudhamadhi. Manimekalai is the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi and from the moment of her birth she was destined to sacrifice her life to the noblest causes. Udhayakumaran is a king of the Chola dynasty who is almost insanely in love with the protagonist Manimekalai. And finally, Sudhamadhi is one of the best friends of the protagonist Manimekalai.