Recently I had the opportunity to attend a walk along the statues in the Marina, as a part of an event. It was conducted by the Storytelling Institute on account of Madras Day. This is the advantage if you are a media student. You get to know a lot of events and somehow gather the energy to be present and see what happens there.
So the walk was planned along six statues, starting with the Kannagi statue and going up to the Avvaiyar statue. Here I shall try to document the background of each statue, with a mix of narrative from the walk and also a little from me.
Kannagi’s is a fascinating story. In those days, Tamil Nadu was ruled by different kingdoms and each kingdom had its own symbols of identification.
This piece of trivia was told to me by one of the Tamil teachers who taught me- Chola kingdom had anklets that had Rubies in them, while the Pandiyas down South had anklets with pearls in them. This was also an aspect of identity for the people back then it seems.
It was the time when Kovalan, Kannagi’s husband had come back to her. He was in an illicit affair with Madhavi earlier and he had realised his mistake. Once back with Kannagi, they sought to begin a new life and devoid of money, Kannagi gave him one of her anklets and told him to sell it. Kovalan set out with the jewel and was arrested by the soldiers of the Pandiya king, in Madurai. Their Queen’s anklet was missing and since Kannagi’s anklet looked very similar to the missing anklet, they arrested him and brought him to the king. The king, after taking a look at the anklet, confiscated it and ordered Kovalan to be killed as a punishment for theft. Thus Kovalan was killed. This news reached Kannagi and she was angry. She was sure that her husband was no thief and she set out to seek justice from the Pandiya king himself. She goes to his court and argued that the king had made a mistake in killing Kovalan. She said that her anklet had rubies in them, while the Queen’s anklets had pearls. She threw the anklet she had onto the floor and rubies scattered from it. She asked for her other anklet from the king and threw that open too, in front of the entire courtroom. It broke and rubies came out of them too, thus proving that the king had erred in executing Kovalan.
Distraught at the injustice meted out to her, with untied hair and eyes burning with fury, she cursed the then prosperous city of Madurai and reduced it to ashes. Worshipped as a deity in some parts of Tamil Nadu, she is the heroine of the Tamil epic- Silappathikaram, which means the tale of the anklet.
Born in 1897 and raised in Calcutta, his father was a famous lawyer. He was sent to England to study. In England, he passed the Indian Civil Services Exam. The Jallianwalabagh massacre made him quit Civil Services training in England and in 1921 he came back to India.
It was then that he met Mahatma Gandhi, and joined the Indian National Congress. He was arrested and jailed by the British so many times. And for what? Only for saying that his people should be free. Eventually, he fell apart from Gandhi altogether. He could not accept Gandhi’s insistence on nonviolence.
Gandhi wanted to change human beings. Bose just wanted to free India.
In 1941, when Germany went to war with England, he went to Germany (by way of Afghanistan). He broadcasted anti-British radio programs from Berlin. He accepted support from both Germany and Japan for he believed that an ‘enemy of my enemy, can be his friend’.
In July 1943, he went to Singapore. There he organised the Indian National Army. In March 1944, they crossed the Burma border and stood on Indian soil. However, when Japan and Germany eventually lost World War II, the Indian National Army had to retreat too. Then, in 1945, it was reported that he was killed in an air crash over Taiwan.
One of the most important literary figures of the world, his work, Tirukkural encompasses everything that is required for a balanced and good life on earth. The book, also known as the Ulaga Podhumarai, has 1330 couplets, with chapters on justice, relationships, conduct, and governance.
வள்ளுவன் தன்னை உலகினுக்கே – தந்து
வான்புகழ் கொண்ட தமிழ்நாடு
sang the legendary poet, Bharathiyar. (By giving the world, Valluvar, Tamilnadu attained eternal glory).
He was born in 1820, on an island off the East coast of Canada. His family migrated to England when he was small. He traveled to South India in 1839, to spread the word of Jesus Christ.
G.U.Pope was a good student of languages, and in time became a scholar of Tamil, Sanskrit, and Telugu. He started a number of schools, and in these schools, he taught Latin, English, Hebrew, Mathematics, and Philosophy.
He decided to translate the Tirukkural, and completed the project in 1886. Then, in 1900, he completed the translation of the Tiruvaasagam (“Sacred Utterance”). This is a volume of hymns composed by the ninth century Shaivite Bhakti poet, Manikkavaasagar. Tiruvaasagam is the eighth volume of the Tirumurai, the sacred anthology of Tamil Shaivite Siddhanta.
The main message of the Tiruvaasagam is that the body is temporary and we should not spend a lot of time and energy pursuing worldly comforts. Those are among the root causes of pain and sorrow. Rather, one should pray to leave the body and attain liberation (moksha). The soul should have control over the body and not the other way round. It also said that the ultimate aim in one’s life is to reach Lord Shiva’s feet or, in Christian terms, to be in the presence of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
A rationalist poet, he adopted his name owing to his admiration of Bharathiyar. His poems are based on social issues and in a way contributed to the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu. His missions in life were to promote his mother-tongue, Thamizh, to change the idiosyncrasies arising from old traditions, and to use new formats to convey revolutionary ideas.
His poems reflect the society of his days and also echo a tune of morality and upright behaviour. He stressed the importance of being honest and also socially responsible. One of his poems that I still remember learning in my high school is this one:
“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன்
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன்
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“
The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,
kids, food and wealth,
is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,
useless to anybody else.
Avvaiyar lived in the ancient Sangam Age, over two thousand years ago. She loved to write poetry. She wrote poems about nature, people, the universe etc. In those days, a woman writing poems was not encouraged. But she knew what she wanted and what she didn’t. She did not want to spend all her time taking care of children and a husband. So she prayed,
“Please let me be bent, please let me be broken, please let me look in such a way so that no man would want to marry me.”
The most important women poet of Tamil Nadu, she gave the world, Aathichoodi, which teaches moral lessons to children in a sentence. Each sentence is a story. Her friendship with Adhiyaman and her story about a Jamun tree are well known. Popular culture shows her as the one who sings songs in praise of Lord Muruga and Lord Ganesha.
*Some of the above content is hereby credited to Story Telling Institute and is used with their permission *