Not many have known about the wealth of information available in Tamil sources–both literary and epigraphic–giving valuable inputs related to Rama. Foremost among them is the claim by the Cholas that Rama was their ancestor! The second most important information pertains to the time period of Ramayana. The third set of inputs establishes beyond doubt the location of Lanka of Ravana in present-day Sri Lanka.
Rama, the ancestor of Cholas
Chera, Chola and Pandya are the three ancient Tamil dynasties. Among these, the Cholas belonged to the solar dynasty starting from Surya, Manu and Ikshvaku. One often comes across the reference to ‘Manu-Neeti’ as the hallmark of the Chola kings in their inscriptions. A Chola king is remembered as ‘Manu Neeti Chola’ for having given the highest punishment to his son, the crown prince, for having killed a calf under his chariot. Though it was done unknowingly, the Chola king did not hesitate to punish his son by getting a chariot to run over him and kill him. None knows the name of this king as anything other than ‘Manu Neeti Chola’ for being a just ruler. Only the Buddhist chronicle Mahavamsha gives his name and describes his sense of justice in the context of the death of this king in a war in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. Though an invader to their domain, his mortal remains were cremated with honours in recognition of his unparalleled sense of justice and a monument was raised. It was worshipped by the kings of that country, reports Mahavamsha in the 25th chapter.
With the sense of righteousness running in the lineage of Manu, it is no wonder that Rama became an epitome of Dharma, to be emulated by any king wishing to follow the right path. If any king is related to Rama in the remote past, would he lose any opportunity to boast of his filial connection with Rama? We find evidence for such a claim by the Chola king Veera Rajendra, the grandson of Rajaraja Chola -I, engraved in the Pillars of Bhagavati Amman temple at Kanyakumari. While giving the detailed list of his forefathers starting from Brahma and then Manu, the king had written that in the family of Rama was born a king named Chola who ventured southward and founded the Chola dynasty in Poompuhar–the place deduced from the description.
Verse 26 of the poetically written inscription in Sanskrit stands out among every other description about Rama by having addressed the tough events in Rama’s life and how he stood beyond personal considerations. For the curious reader, here is the verse as reported in Travancore Archaeological Series (1921):
“He (i.e., Rama) did not kill the lord of the demons (actuated) by anger; neither did he take back his wife (influenced) by passion; but he only did his duty as a king. If (it was) not so, why did he destroy with his sword the Shudra who was performing penance on the Malaya Mountain and why did (he) (again) abandon Sita of lasting beauty and growing constancy.”
The four events mentioned here seemed to have been debated in the past too, but people of those times had grasped the purport behind them about Rama as an embodiment of righteousness. Like other Chola kings, Veera Rajendra was the proud inheritor of that quality. His father, Rajendra Chola -I had given the complete list of his ancestors starting from Manu. The family tree is the same until Mandhata in both Rama’s and Chola’s lineage. After Mandhata, the diversion is seen with Muchukunda continuing the line.
In Rama’s family, only the eldest ascended the throne of Ayodhya (Valmiki Ramayana / VR: 2-110-35). There was ample scope for the younger siblings to seek their own pastures. Such an event is reported in Harivamsha (2-37), about Haryashva, the younger brother of the Ikshvaku king going to the west, found the Anarta kingdom (in today’s Gujarat). Muchukunda was his grandson, born of Yadu. While Muchukunda is known as the founder of Mahishmati and Purikaa (modern-day Puri) in Harivamsha (2-38), his movement to Poompuhar is reported in Silappadhikaram in Tamil and in the chronicles of Sapta-Vidanga temples of Tanjore. Coming in the sub-lineage of Haryashva and Muchukunda, the Cholas became biological descendants of the same genetic pool as Rama.
Several texts in Tamil support the epigraphic claim, starting from the Sangam Age, which refers to a remote ancestor of the Cholas as one who destroyed the hanging city on the mountain. Named “Thoongeyil”, this description is the same as given in Valmiki Ramayana (6-39-21,22) of Lanka hanging from the sky (on the peak of Trikuta mountain) surrounded by clouds. So, if someone claims that Rama is alien to Tamils, they should be shown Chola’s history.
Time period of Ramayana from Tamil sources
During the period of Rama, the Pandyas were a well-established dynasty. There is a significant reference to the Pandyan period in Valmiki Ramayana, in the version of Sugreeva, who directed the Vanaras to go to the South to search “Kavaatam of Pandyas” (“Kavaatam Pandyanaam” – VR: 4-41-19). Kavaatam was the capital city of the Pandyas during the second Sangam period that came into existence after 5550 BCE as per the version of Sangam poet Nakkeera in his composition called “Irayanar Kalaviyal Urai”.
Like the capital of the First Sangam period (Southern Madurai), this place is now underwater in the Indian Ocean beyond the current boundaries of India. So, Akhand Bharat stretched far into the Indian Ocean habitats in the past. While Kavaata in Sanskrit means ‘door’, the other name of Kavaata, in Tamil, i.e., ‘Alavaai’, also means ‘Gateway of the sea’ and ‘snake’. Alavaai appears in its Sanskrit counterpart in Raghu Vamsha, where Kalidasa introduces the Pandya king as a competitor in the ‘Swyamvara’ of Bhoja princess Indumati who finally chose Aja, the grandfather of Rama. The Pandya king was introduced as the king of ‘Uragaakshya Pura” – the city of snakes or Alavaai.
In that context, Sunanda, the friend of Indumati, introduced the Pandya King as one with whom Ravana sought peace because the Pandya king possessed the deadly missile, Brahma-shiro astra (Raghu Vamsha: 6-62). This is not the poet’s imagination as we find an inscription of the Pandyas in a place called Sinnamanur, referring to Ravana buying peace with a Pandya king for fear of destruction in his hands. (South Indian Inscriptions, Part IV, 1929 publication, p. 451). The Ravana reference appearing in Aja’s time may look far-fetched, but the same information coming from two different sources offers the best authentication for the historicity of Ravana and his surrender to the Pandya king. Kalidasa had merely reproduced the then prevailing information on Pandya’s supremacy over Ravana in a remote past.
One may be surprised why Rama didn’t seek Pandya’s help in persuading Ravana to release Sita or helping him in fighting the war against Ravana. That is where we are able to unearth some unseen secrets of that time. Sage Agastya was the Grammarian of the second Sangam period, but he was at Panchavati when Rama met him in the 11th year of exile. This goes to show that Kavaatam was not yet set up, which once again means that the phenomenal flood that engulfed the First Sangam Sage regions had not yet occurred.
The sequence of Agastya’s movement shows that the deluge did happen between the 11th and 14th years of Rama’s exile. When the Vanaras were searching for Sita in the 14th year, Agastya was not in Panchavati but was on top of the Malaya mountains, where the river Kaviri emerged (VR: 4-41-14,15). Kaviri was not flowing at that time but was only a receptacle if we go by the version of Tamil text, Manimekalai, the twin Epic of Silappadhikaram. Agastya was standing in the waters of Kaviri for twelve long years. This is known from Uttara Kanda stating that after his encounter with Shambuka, Rama went to meet Agastya, who had just then completed a 12-year penance by standing in the waters of Kaviri.
In that meeting, Rama was frequently addressing Agastya as “Kumbhayoni”–as having born afresh from the pot (Kumbha) of Kaviri (VR: 7–89). After this new birth, Agastya was not seen in his former abodes but only in Kavaatam, where he launched the second Sangam Age. As a self-anointed guardian of the Southern region, Agastya prepared himself by penance for his new birth as a Tamil Grammarian and revival of ancient Tamil literature.
This event clearly marks the period of Ramayana. Ramayana occurred at the junction of the first two Sangam periods, with the upper limit not exceeding 5550 BCE, the tentative starting time of the second Sangam Age. The Pandyan king must have made the peace treaty with Ravana before the deluge. At the time of Sita’s abduction, the Pandya kingdom was in shatters and naturally, the Pandya king was not in a position to extend his help to Rama. Even before Rama could reach the Pandya domains, he had met Sugreeva, and the rest is known to all.
Ravana’s Lanka was in present-day Sri Lanka
The third information authenticated by Tamil sources is the location of Lanka. Until recently, none doubted the location of Lanka in present-day Sri Lanka. Times are such that we have to produce evidence for the location of Lanka, and there are many from Tamil sources.
The foremost source comes from the Sangam Tamil corpus that describes the scenario of Rama seated under a banyan tree in Dhanushkodi discussed with the Vanaras on how to cross the sea (Aga Naanuru: 70). The verse describes the location as the olden port of the Pandyas. The bind of Ram Setu connecting to Sri Lanka starts from Dhanushkodi only.
As the second source, the inscription of Rajendra Chola -I (son of Rajaraja-I) can be cited. Verse 80 of Tiruvalangadu Copper plates issued by Rajendra Chola -I speaks about the expeditions of his father Rajaraja (known by his original name, Arulmoli) to Lanka by crossing the sea, by comparing him with Rama, who crossed the sea to go to Lanka. The exact translation in English is given on page 421 in the 1920 publication of ‘South Indian Inscriptions’, Part III, No. 205, p.398 (Sanskrit) is as follows:
“The lord of the Raghavas (i.e., Rama) constructing a bridge across the water of the ocean with (the assistance of) able monkeys, killed with great difficulty the king of Lanka (i.e., Ravana) with sharp-edged arrows; (but) this terrible General of that (king Arunmolivarman) crossed the ocean by ships and burnt the Lord of Lanka (Ceylon).
Hence Rama is (surely) surpassed by this (Chola General).”
This verse, appearing in Sanskrit in the inscription mentions “Lanka” and no other name, such as Sinhala. Rajaraja (Arunmolivarman) went over to Sri Lanka only, and his feat, compared with Rama’s victory over Ravana in Lanka, stands as proof for Lanka in Sri Lanka. Several inscriptions in Tamil found in Siva Devala, constructed by Rajaraja -I in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, referring to only Lanka. Even in India, Veera Rajendra’s inscription at Thirumukkoodal specifically states that the king possessed Lanka! This king didn’t venture out into some Lanka, but only to Sri Lanka.
There is even a local tradition quoted by Lennart Bes that Rama installed a certain Guha who assisted him in the war against Ravana as the guardian of the Setu bund freshly built by him. From Guha the lineage of “Setupati’ had started (“Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient” Vol 44, No 4 ). There were Setupatis
(Guardian of Setu) on the side of Rameshwaram and “Arya Chakravartis’ at the other end of Setu in Sri Lanka, claiming themselves as “Setu Kavalan” of the same meaning. So, there can be no doubt about Rama crossing this part of the sea to reach present-day Sri Lanka, where Ravana’s city of Lanka was situated on top of Trikuta peak.
There is the last doubt that needs to be cleared. It is about the length of Ram Setu (Known as Nala Setu in Ramayana) for 100 Yojana distance. The original length measured today is only 30 kilometres. Based on the denomination of Yojana, there is a lot of confusion as none can match it with the 30 km length. Here again, the Tamil version offers the solution. As per the Tamil dictionary, four times the distance called “Kooppidu” is equal to one Yojana. Kooppidu means ‘calling’, and by measurement, it is the distance heard by a call. In other words,
it is the distance travelled by sound.
Sound travels a distance of 300 metres. If this is equal to 1 yojana, 100 yojanas equal 30 kilometres. Perhaps the unit of Kooppidu is ideal in places of construction of linear passages such as roads and bridges. Communication must travel front and back in such works where Kooppidu units are useful to measure distances.
The uniqueness of the Itihasa of Ramayana is that it stands as proof of an integrated land of Bharat and closely-knit people of the same culture. This article just brings out one facet of it from the hitherto unknown Tamil sources.