Kaalamegam was a true poet, in the sense, he amassed wealth by singing songs in praise of Kings and Gods at all the places he went. But he was so merciful and had a helpful tendency that he would give away that money to the needy and poor and go off other places. This behaviour of the poets of the Sangam age is also one of the reasons, for so many songs in Tamil Literature. Mostly poets would sing songs in praise of kings. Those kings used were lavishly generous that they gave lots of money, gold and other prizes to those poets and would even provide them a job in their kingdom. The poets getting all those possessions would not keep it to themselves, instead they would give those to the needy neighbours and relatives to help them get out of their misery, problems etc. And the interesting part is that they would not worry if they poets give away all their amassed wealth and they themselves are lead into misery. They had the confidence in their knowledge and poetic abilities and of course the kings’ generosity, so they could sing a few songs in praise and earn the money. Kaalamegam was one such poet, who would earn a lot of wealth and give it away to the poor and needy. He led a simple life and would stay at any place, be it a small hut or a temple mandapam or even Sathiram.

So what has this to do with Kaalamegam’s tussle with Kambar. Well, it was just to mention that characteristics of the the poets. Kambar too was a poet with a merciful and helping heart, but he held high positions in the kingdom, to being the head of the poets and being advisor to the then kings. He was held in high respect.

Though some literary and historical people say that Kaalamegam and Kambar belong to different periods and Kambar lived a century before Kaalamegam. Some say that they were contemporaries. In those days, casteism was prevalent and there was a class difference between higher and lower castes. Not only in those days, even today, it is much like a cold war, where people organise communal societies for their welfare. Let us not aberrate from what we were to see. There is even an argument about the caste of Kambar, some say that he belonged to a higher class and some say that he belong to a lower caste called Valaiyar. Well, lets not bring any caste disputes or arguments here. And let us not probe into the truths about this. We shall just see the interesting legend that has stayed for years since Kambar’s and Kaalamegam’s time. And this will not cause any harm to the respects that both the poets have earned in history.

Well, the legend goes like this. Once upon a time, Kaalamegam was taking rest in the temple mandapam. By then, Kambar with all his servants bearing him in a palanquin, went on a rounds around the city. Kambar was accompanied by his wife. When he reached the temple. He saw Kaalamegam sitting in the temple mandapam. Judging by the appearance of the Kaalamegam, Kambar’s pride knew no bounds. He holding a higher position in the kingdom and Kaalamegam being so simple and not so popular as him increased his pride. So he just looked slyly at Kaalamegam as if he was denigrating him. Kaalamegam provoked by this act, stayed cool and just started to sing and he sang the first line of the song

“Kambaa! Kalaignaa!”

meaning, Oh Kambaa, a great poet and artist. But Kambar knew that Kaalamegam was provoked and he is intending to insult him. Asked his palanquin bearers to stop immediately. Came rushing to Kaalamegam, gave a bag of gold that he had with him, praised him and went silently. The others just considered this act of Kambar’s as being generous and Kambar having a great respect for a fellow poet. But only Kaalamegam and Kambar knew its inner meaning.

Now Kaalamegam on seeing Kambar coming to him, stopped singing after the first line and he too paid the same respect that Kambar gave him in front of the other people. The people around thought that, though Kaalamegam being a great poet, was humble enough to praise a contemporary poet in front of the people. So both the poets, maintained their political correctness and decency, but the insults we known only to them .

Kambar got back onto the palanquin, and his wife asked in curiosity, why Kambar gave the bag of gold for Kaalamegam who just sang a simple one liner about Kambar. Now Kambar explained that had he not rushed to give the bag of gold. Kaalamegam would have sung the next line which would have been a great insult to him, because he is from a lower caste. The song would have been like this

“Kambaa! Kalaigna!
Vambaa! Valai Payalae!”

meaning, Oh Kambaa, a great poet and artist. Poking fun at me? You Valaiyar (low caste) kid! Had Kambar left Kaalamegam to sing the next line, it would have insulted him for the position he was holding in the kingdom. The point of the legend is not about the casteism, but the shrewdness and meticulousness of the both the poets that they maintained the decency of each other in a public place.

There is also another instance where Kaalamegam criticised Kambar on the use of the language his songs. The song goes like this


“Naaraayananai Narraayanan Endrae Kamban

Oraamal Sonna Urudhiyaal Naer Aaga

Vaar Endral Varr Enbaen Vaal Endral Vall Enbaen

Naar Endral Narr Enbaen Naan”

meaning, for the reason that the Kamban wrote Naaraayanan as Narraayanan, I will make the mistake as he did by uttering the word Vaar as Varr, Vaal as Vall and Naar as Narr.

Why Kaalamegam said this, is because he felt offended when Kambar mentioned as Lord Vishnu as Narraayanan meaning residing in a human (Kambar referred Lord Rama in this context, however) but Naaraayanan means the one who resides in a water body. Kaalamegam felt that Kambar should not have used the word Naaraayanan to mean it differently altogether. So Kaalamegam instead of criticising Kambar directly, he said that Kambar being a great poet, pertaining to the usage of the words, he used. Kaalamegam too would follow, Kambar’s track. This not only criticised Kambar but also in a decent manner.

Poets in those days were shrewd enough to understand these indirect and hidden criticisms, so were Kambar and Kaalamegam. Though they had tussles between them, they are poetic stalwarts history has ever seen. They had respect for each other and stand out as great poets of all times.

More to come, until then…