Bharat Ek Khoj

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The Sangam Period and Silappadikaram Part-1
(Episode 15)

Nehru noted that in South India, for more than 1000 years after the Maurya Empire had shrunk and finally ceased to be, great states flourished. Unlike the virtually land-locked North India, Southern India was especially noted for its trade by sea. They were also sea-powers and thei ships carried merchandise to distant countries. In the south, Chola, Chera, Pandiya, Chalukya and Pallava Empires were coextensive, from before the first century onwards, with their counterparts in the north. Since repeated invasions in North India did not affect the South directly, they led indirectly to many people from the north moving south including builders and artists, craftsmen and artisans. The south became a centre of old artistic traditions and remained a stronghold of ancient culture for centuries.

The famous sangam (confluence) literature providing a literary meeting point between the courts and the remote rural areas was a phenomenon of 4th to 1st century BC. With the resonants percussion playing of Mridangam, we witness some of the best Chola sculpture of statuettes and hear recitation of the Sangam poetry Agam verses of internalized romance and love; and Param verses of edullient ambience of festivities. Nehru cites the legend of the northern sage Agastya who went to south to establish bonds between the Aryan and Dravidian civilization.

Siloppadikaram was the most famous Tamil epic from the 2nd century BC. By Prince llango Adigal, that has its tale rooted in the ordinary lives from the chera and Pandyan kingdoms, and provides rich cultural knowlwdge to understand both ancient and modern south India thinking. The merchant Kovalan is married to an extraordinarily beautiful Kannagi and they live in a heaven of bliss, till Kovalan sees a vivacious courtesan Madhavi displaying her classical dance in Mohiniattam style, accompanied by Sopanam music and instruments of vina and Edekka. Kovaln is mesmerized and cannot resist bidding 1000 gild-coins to win over madhavi. When, after her enchanting dance in Dasiattam (present bharatanatyam) style, Kovalan holds Madhavi in his arms, the whole world is forgotten, let alone the pinning Kannagi at home. When eventually Kovalan returns to his place of trade, the bulk of customers have deserted his thriving business. Despite disappointment and occasional efforts to get Kovalan back madhavi continues her dancing for other clients.

Meanwile a thoroughly repentant Kocalan returns home,all is forgiven by the faithful Kannagi and both set out for the far city of Madhurai in search of new business opportunities.