Ilankō Atikal Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Ilankō Atikal (ee-LAHN-koh ah-TEE-kahl; prince ascetic), a contemporary of the poet Cātanār, probably the younger brother of the Cīra king Cenkuttuvan, is the author of the famous Tamil epic Cilappatikāram (c. 450 c.e.; The Śilappadikāram, 1939). Written as three books, Cilappatikāram is set in the capitals of the three Tamil kingdoms: Pukār (Cōla capital), Maturai (Pāntiya capital), and Vañci (Cīra capital). It is the story of Kōvalan and his wife, the virtuous Kannaki. The epic is a realistic portrayal of Kōvalan’s love for the courtesan Mātavi, his consequent ruin and exile in Maturai, his unjust execution by the Pāntiya ruler for alleged theft of the queen’s anklet, Kannaki’s outrage, anger, and the burning of Maturai, and the remorse and death of the king and queen.

Although the first two books of the epic narrate this story, the third describes Cenkuttuvan’s victorious expedition to the north to bring Himalayan stone for an idol of Kannaki, the goddess of chastity (pattini).

Ilankō Atikal’s epic is a synthesis of Cankam and Sanskrit poetic styles and is a documentation of the people of the Tamil country, their religious beliefs, music and dance, and lifestyles, and their interaction with foreigners such as Greeks and Arabs.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Hart, George L. The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

Parthasarathy, R. The Tale of an Anklet: An Epic of South India [and] The Cilappatikaram of Ilanko Atikal. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.