This translation of the ancient Tamil epic poem by Ilango Adigal, speculated to be written in the second century AD, was first published in 1935. It was part of a project to bring to light the priceless literary treasures of Tamil for non-Tamil readers. There is no doubt of the excellence of this epic about Kovalan, a young merchant and Kannaki, his virtuous wife. Kovalan had set out for Madura to dispose of an anklet to raise the capital needed to pursue a trade. In the bazaar he meets a state goldsmith. The latter had stolen the queen's anklet similar to the one on Kovalan's hands and reports to the king that he had found the thief. He is arrested and executed. Kannaki comes to Madura to prove her husband's innocence. The Pandyan king dies of remorse realizing his mistake. Kannaki, to avenge her husband's death tears off one breast and throws it at the city of Madura which goes up in flames. In ancient Tamil Sangam tradition, the book contains exceptional descriptions of the rivers like the Vaigai and Kaveri, cities like Puhar and Madura, technical accounts of different dance forms, celebration of marriages, the intermingling of Greek, Arab and Tamil peoples — all affording data for the reconstruction of ancient Tamil society.
V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (1896-1953) was a historian, Indologist and Dravidologist. He was Professor of History and Archaeology at the University of Madras. He is author of several standard textbooks of Indian History. He was also a renowned Sanskrit scholar of his time.
SOME time after the publication of my book Studies in Tamil Literature and History, in 193o. Mr F. J. Richards, formerly of the Indian Civil Service, wrote to me suggesting that I should undertake the writing of a handbook on the History of Tamil Literature. He also pointed out the desirability of publishing a series of critical editions of the Tamil classics with English translations and annotations. He wrote : 'I have no hesitation in pressing for English editions, for the reason that Tamil is almost a sealed book to all who are not Tamilians, and it is a pity that the rest of India does not realize the importance of the Tamil contribution to Indian culture. We can only be made to do so by publishing for a wider circle of readers, and English is the most handy medium for this publicity both in India and elsewhere.' This letter of Mr Richards induced me to undertake the rather stupendous task of attempting an almost literal translation of the most difficult of Tamil classics, the Silappadikaram.
The translation is based on Mahamahopadhyaya Dr V. Swaminatha Aiyar's Tamil edition of the ,Silappadi karam. I have to acknowledge my indebtedness to this scholarly and critical work of the Mahamahopadhyaya. I have also derived immense benefit from Rao Sahib Pundit M. Raghava Aiyangar whom I have had to consult frequently in the course of preparing this work. My thanks are also due to several colleagues in the departments of the University and other friends who have been of help to me in one way or another.
To Professor Jules Bloch I acknowledge my particular indebtedness for the Foreword he has written.
I BELIEVE there is no need to introduce Mr V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar to the public, which knows him already and favourably. If, however, I have accepted the honour of writing a foreword to the present book, it is to lay stress on its special character, and to plead for more works of a similar nature.
Its significance will clearly appear if we follow the progress of the author's researches. At the start, as a research scholar in history, Mr Dikshitar devoted his first studies to the old Hindu administrative institutions ; his ambition was to give a synthetic survey of them, including the theories of Kautalya and the traditional law-books, and also the actual practices of the sovereigns. Here, of course, Agoka comes into prominence. Mr Dikshitar in this connexion happily considers old Tamil institutions. But he finds this last-mentioned subject in itself worthy of further and deeper investigation ; to quote Mr Dikshitar's own words, he 'felt more and more the need for an intrinsic study of the priceless literary treasures of Tamil'. Hence a set of essays which formed the basis of his useful book, Studies in Tamil Literature and History now in its second edition. Here general statements and hypotheses are not altogether lacking, and therefore the author does not completely escape from criticism. But, happily, facts and an analysis of contents find a large place, and there is a progressive disappearance of the historian behind the materials of history. In praising this book at the time, I regretted that instead of short notices of the contents, especially of the more archaic works, we were not also offered long or even complete translations, Now Mr Dikshitar himself has come to that same necessary conclusion ; the historian has resorted to the more difficult and often ungrateful, but also more beneficent, task of translation. Let the reader have the plainest possible access to the text ; help him with all the needed current explanations, and reserve personal inductions for the introductory survey. This will be a boon not only to the student of history but also to the literary man and to everybody interested in Tamilian culture. And this means many people at a time when so much is being done, not only to assert India's culture before the world, but also to make India known to herself, and to show in their true light the various original civilizations which all together form Indian civilization.
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