Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kanthapuranam holding a prestigious place particularly among the Thamilians of Yaalpaanam...!!!


Transcreating part of 'Kantha Puranam'
K S Sivakumaran

Going back to the genre of the ancient 'Purana' literature in Thamil, one finds Kachchiappa Sivachariar's Kanthapuranam holding a prestigious place particularly among the Thamilians of Yaalpaanam. In fact a scholar from that region the late Pandithamani Kanapathillai eluded that "Kanthapurana Kalasaram" (The Culture of Kantha Puranam) is the Culture of the people in the North. "Kantha" is the Thamil word for the Sanskrit "Skanda" and it refers to the deity in Kathirkamam (Kataragama) who the Thamilians call Murugan or Kanthasamy and other names.

Thamil folklore
To introduce part of the original work in Thamil to readers in English, particularly the children of Thamilian parents living in foreign climes a book has been published. These children do not know Thamil as they study the languages of the west where they live. But if they could read in English, then they may be able to know something about their language, religion and culture. To facilitate this task a scholar V Sivarajasingam transcreated suitably some sections of the original work in lucid and clear language. The title of the work is "The Divine Exploits of Skandakumara" and it is published by the Department of Hindu Culture and Religious Affairs in Colombo. The book was launched last Friday (May 29, 2009) at the Ramakrishna Seminar Hall in Wellawatta.

Book launch
Chaired by the Director of the Department Shanthi Navukkarasan, two prominent scholars - Vidwan Kalabooshanam Vasantha Vaithianathan and Prof. K Shanmugavel from Thamilnadu - spoke at the launch.

Yours truly was asked to review the book apart from the respected author, M. Shanmuganatahan also spoke. Departmental officials sang hymns and presented the programme.

The author V. Sivarajasingam was an Assistant Commissioner of the Official Languages Department, and visiting English Lecturer in the University of Yaalpaanam.

What follows is an abridged version of the review presented for the occasion.

The book in English is titled 'The Divine Exploits of Skandakumara' and I would have liked either Skandakumar or Skandakumaran used instead of Skandakumara to refer to the Thamil Deity Lord Murugan.

This book is primarily addressed to non-Hindus in all communities in Lanka as well as the Hindus of all sects. As such, the identity of Skanda as in Sanskrit or Kanthan in Thamil could have been better related to Kachiyappar's Kanthapuranam in Thamil.

But this is only a minor observation of mine. However the writer must have had the Lankan Sinhala community in mind, particularly the Buddhists when he wrote this book. Of course the sylvan deity Lord Murugan is enshrined in the southern locality Kathirkaamam also known as Kataragama. Leaving aside the concern for the nomenclature, let us see what the book is all about.

Saiva Siththantham
The thin volume is really an exposition and elucidation of the quintessence of Kachiyappar's Kanthapuranam, which all knowledgeable people know as one of the source books to know more about Saiva Siththantham, followed by the majority of Lankan Thamilians as well as a great number of Thamilians elsewhere in the globe, particularly in Thamilnadu.

The Hindus in the North, East and elsewhere in the country consider Lord Murugan or Kanthan as one of the primary divinities of the Saivaite Thamilians. The famous Nallur Temple in the North, Mandoor Temple in the East and Kathirgamam in the deep southwest of the island are standing testimony of the reverence most of us have for Skanda or Kanthan as we call in Thamil.

The Foreword
S. Vinaykamoorthy in his foreword to the book also refers to the poetic quality of the Purana or Kanthap Puranam, besides informing us that the writer V. Sivarajasingam has "written an interpretation of one section of the work titled 'Soora Pathman Shashti Vathaipadalam' in 1992 for the benefit of devotees who recite it during the Kanthar fasting period." As S V says in his foreword, the writer, V S, has followed the sequential of the work concerned. I agree with the observation of High Court Judge R T Vigna Raja's pronouncement that Hindu social reformers turned to religious texts with different purposes in mind. Some sought inspiration from them; some simply wanted to highlight the golden moments in Hindu philosophy, but the author of this book wanted to bring to light the nuances of Puranic thoughts". The author of this book V Sivarajasingam intended: "The work by Kachiyappar is better termed a transmogrification rather than translation, for he has made many changes structurally and substantially. Kanthapuranam among many other things speaks predominantly of the glory, grace and prowess of Skandaouranam."

At this point I suggest to the author that instead of using 'transmogrification', he could have used a now accepted term 'transcreation' to works that are inspired by some text but creatively interpreted as Kambar's Ramayanam from Vaalmiki's Ramayana.

Poetic excellence
I agree with the writer as many of us would endorse, when he says that "Kanthapuranam has poetic excellence, depth of knowledge, beauty of language and above all the depiction of divine grace of Lord Skantha and of God's ways of effusing it to those who seek it."

Quoting Sivarajasingam's Prolegomenon as it underlines the essence of the original work and the author's own interpretation: "Though it is preeminently considered a religious 'epic' ('epic' because an epic largely belongs to another genre) it deals with all kinds of thoughts, philosophical and metaphysical concepts necessary for spiritual and material lives. It deals with the four cardinal values of dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha (Virtue, pleasure and salvation) and expounds ways and means of attaining them."

Lord Siva's grace
Next is the author's other points: "It upholds the greatness of Saiva Saints and devotees and the profuseness of Lord Siva's grace." The book is interspersed with hymn - like verses that are suitable for reciting during daily prayers." In Kasipa Muni's sermon to his sons are encapsulated the tenets of Saiva Sithantha. "Maya's advice to her son- Surapathman- has its base in Charavaka philosophy. In this manner the book abounds with information pertaining to every aspect of life, knowledge and values."

Having seen what the theme of the book is from an authentic voice, we shall next see briefly what attracted me most. In arranging the content structurally, the author has divided the book into the following Cantos or 'chapters'. There are six cantos in the 118 page book. The book begins with Siva and Uma on Mount Kailas and ends when Skanda weds Valliamma.

The six cantos
Admittedly I need not comment on each of the items in the six cantos, because the book is for your reading pleasure. But I shall comment on the author's presentation and quote a relevant passage which pleased me.

Before I do that, I should substantiate my understanding that the writer Sivarajasingam is not only a scholar in his field but also an admirable translator from Thamil to English.

A sample:

Adoration to Vinayaga

Adoration to the holy feet

of the lord

With ten arms and

five faces

Adoration to him

in whose waist band

The sun-god rests

as diamond stand

Adoration to him

who bears the name

of Vikatachakra.

Obeisance to Subramania

Obeisance to the twice

three faces of Kumara

Obeisance to the

grace flowing

from the six faces

Obeisance to the showers

held in admiration by all

Obeisance to the shying

spear resting in his hand

Obeisance to the Lord

residing at Kanchmango


Obeisance to the

cock banner and

peacock vehicle.

Let me conclude that Sivarajasingam has done a good job in giving us in English the beautiful poetic prose of Kaachiapar Sivachariar in a simple but highly polished and equally poetic language and he deserves to be congratulated. I shall read out the first passage only to invite your attention to his flowing and flowery language.

"Mount Kailas stands majestically- aloft licking the sky with its snow capped peaks. It is the abode of Siva the omnipotent Lord. It abounds with innumerable Rishis and Devas. Around it are the cities of Indira and other regents of the spheres"

The style is suitably in tune with the serenity of the tone of the passage. The book is recommended for all who want to know about Thamil Literature and Saivaism.



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