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The Content of Valayapathi, Ancient Tamil Epic

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The present article deals with the source and the contents of Valayapathi, a Tamil epic written in the Sangam Age.

Valayapathi: A Sangam Age Tamil Epic

Valayapathi is one five classical Tamil epics that were composed in the Sangam age. The rest of the Tamil epics of the Sangam Age were Silappatikaram, Manimekalai, Kundalakesi and Civaka Cintamani. Composed by an anonymous Jain hermit approximately in the 9th century CE, Valayapathi is one of the assets of the canonical Tamil literature. Unfortunately, there is no authentic manuscript of Valayapathi. The famous Tamil Scholar Mr. Iyer reported to have seen the palm leaf manuscript of Valayapathi in a library but it was later lost. So, we do not have the manuscript or the main text of Valayapathi nowadays. Only the citations of Valayapathi and references to Valayapathi in other texts survive till date. It is, therefore, a tough task for the scholars to re-frame the outline of the content of Valayapathi from the fragmentary text of Valayapathi.

Valayapathi: The Sources of Valayapathi

As said earlier, Tamil scholars like Mr. Iyer and Mr. Mudalier have seen the manuscripts of Valayapathi even as late as in the 19th century CE. Nevertheless, for reasons unknown, those have been lost and nowadays we do not have an authentic text of Valayapathi. So we have to depend on secondary sources to know what was there in Valayapathi.

The mentions of Valayapathi are there in older texts. Valayapathi has been referred to in Parimelalagar's commentary on the Tirukkural; this was a text of the 14th century. Even earlier, there is a reference to Valayapathi. A 12th century note on Ottakoothar's Thakkayagaparani had also cited to Valayapathi.

Scholars today cannot tell for sure how many verses were there in the original manuscript of Valayapathi. Only 72 verses are there in the recovered fragmentary version of Valayapathi. And those 72 verses are clearly not enough to reveal the content of Valayapathi. These fragments of Valayapathi have been taken and adapted from texts like commentaries of Yapperungala Viruthi Ceyyul; as well as Ilampuranar's and Nachinarkiniyar's commentaries of Tolakappiyam. Nevertheless, there are many other minor sources from where we can get a glimpse about the contents of Valayapathi

Valayapathi: The Contents of Valayapathi

Since Valayapathi is a fragmentary text in nature, the entire content of the original manuscript of Valayapathi is still unknown. Nevertheless, even from those fragments, scholars have tried hard to reframe the content of Valayapathi. Nevertheless, some of the historians of Tamil Nadu opine that what was originally there as the content of Valayapathi, has been retold, with little editing, in the 35th chapter of Vaisyapuranam or Vanikapuranam. In fact the name of the chapter is "Vaira Vanikan Valayapathi", or "Valayapathi the diamond merchant". This text was written in 1855 by a pundit called Chintamani Pulavar when the original manuscripts of Valayapathi were still there. So, it can be considered an epitomized version of the original Valayapathi.
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