Kambar, the greatest poet of all times that Tamil Literature has seen, is a remarkable person and the only one to be crowned with the title Kavi Chakravarthi (Emperor of poets). Many people have written a lot about Kambar and his achievements, but we will see a few interesting bits in his life. His greatest work was Ramayana in Tamil called “Kamba Ramayanam” after his name and publishing such a great work earned him the name Kavi Chakravarthi. It is one of the best unparalleled literary work of all times. No one ever has created such a great work. His work consists of more than 10,500 verses depicting the story of Lord Rama. And hence the name Kavi Chakravarthi is crowned to him. He is the one and only Kavi Chakravarthi.
Kambar was born in a place called Therazhundhur, near the famous Thanjavur District. The place comes under reign of the Chola Kingdom. Kambar grew up and did his literary work in the Chola Kingdom but spent the rest of his life, after becoming the Kavi Chakravarthi, in a place called Naatarasan Kotai in the Pandya Kingdom. There is an interesting legend behind the switching of kingdom by Kambar.
Kambar published his great work at SriRangam Ranganathar Temple, a place near Thiruchirapalli (Trichy). The mandapam (corridor) where Kambar made the rendition still exists in the temple and is called the Kambar Mandapam. A few years later after being crowned the Kavi Chakravarthi, Kambar took pride and wanted to show his poetic talent at the Tamil Sangam at Madurai. So he went on his way to Madurai to meet the Pandya King and proclaim his achievement at the Madurai Tamil Sangam. He was in Naatarasan Kotai a place near Madurai and that is where the interesing event happened. Kambar wanted to know the way to Madurai in order to meet the King. So he saw a young boy herding cattle and asked him the way to Madurai. They boy asked Kambar, who he was and why he is going to Madurai. Kambar with pride told that he is Kavi Chakravarthi and he wants to meet the king to proclaim his achievement. The boy did not understand what is meant by Kavi Chakravarthi and asked Kambar what it meant? Kambar’s pride grew no bounds told that it means the one who has learnt everything and he is one such person. This intrigued the boy and he asked Kambar if he could tell the letter (alphabet) that he writes on the sand; if Kambar was truly such a learned person. Kambar took it lightly, smiled at the chap and told to write the letter thinking what strange letter or unknown alphabet the boy could write in front of the great Kavi Chakravarthi. To his surprise, the boy drew a wavy line from top to bottom like that of a snake and asked Kambar what that letter was. Kambar got totally confused as there is not such alphabet and letter that he has seen in all the literature that he studied. He laughed at the boy telling that there is no such alphabet. The boy replied instantaneously
“Idhu thaan Ayya Vandi Maatin Neer Ezhuthu”
meaning, this is the letter that is drawn by the urine of an ox that pulls the cart. The observation is that when the ox urinates while pulling the cart and walking its way, the urine is in such a wavy formation. Kambar realised that it is a lesson to his lavish pride he had in himself. There he realised that the boy is not an ordinary boy and fell at his feet realising his mistake that no one could learn everything and sang a song. I dont remember the exact song, but it goes something like this
“Karungaali Kattaikku Vaai Naana Kodari
Elam Vaazhai Thandirkku Vaai Naanitru
Kaatil Erumai Meikkum Siruvan Yemai Vendramayal
Naatarasan Kotaiyae Namakku Sondham”
meaning, the axe that did not give up even for the hardest Karungaali (a tree) wood, gave up for a tender plantain (banana tree) stem. Here he compares himself as the axe that won all the great poets (Karungaali Trees) but fell for a boy (The plaintain stem). The boy, who herds cattle in the pastures, won me. So henceforth, my place is Naatarasan Kotai. And this is the story behind why Kambar switched kingdoms.
Legend says that the boy is either Lord Shiva/Lord Muruga incarnate. However, to keep up his promise, he spent the rest of his life at Naatarasan Kotai considering it as his native. Even today there is his tomb at Naatarasan Kotai. There is another interesting fact too. There is a big pond near his tomb. But that pond was not dug when Kambar was buried, but after his burial people would visit his tomb and take some of the sand from near his tomb. They mix a few pinches of the sand in the milk and give it to their children. People still believe that mixing the sand in milk and giving it to their children will make them knowledgeable persons as Kambar. As the famous quote says
“Kamban Veetu Kattu Thariyum Kavi Paadum”
meaning, “Even an inanimate loom in Kambar’s home will pen a poem”
So people want their children to be knowledgeable and popular as Kambar. So they people in that region practise this. The people who came here have taken so much sand from near his tomb that over the centuries it has become a big pond.
The pitiable thing is that, nowadays, statues and tombs are being erected and maintained for people whose eternity in the Tamil world is questionable. But the tomb of the man, who has transcended the barriers of time and has an eternity in Tamil world, is in a dilapidated state. If possible, we should do something to make this honourable person known to the world and maintain his tomb in gratitude for the great work he has done
More to come, until then…