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Five Fire and Flood: The Testing of Sita in Kampan's Iramavataram

1. Iramavataram 11.1.83. I cite the edition with commentary by Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar, Kamparamayanam (Madras: Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar Kampeni, 1971). [BACK]

2. See David Shulman, "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama, " Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979): 651-69. [BACK]

3. See, for example, Bhavabhuti, Uttararamacarita , Act I, where Rama calls himself a "monster" and an Untouchable because of what he must do to Sita—in order to preserve the good name of his family and his kingship; moreover, "the world itself is upside down" and "Rama was given life only in order to know pain" (v. 47). In Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa , 14.31-68, Rama says he simply cannot bear the libel spreading among his subjects, "like a drop of oil in water,'' and the poet adds that those who are rich in fame ( yasas ) value it more than their own bodies, and a fortiori more than any object of sense perception (35). Although this reduces Sita's status considerably, Rama is said to be truly torn as to the proper course; and the poet allows Sita to express (to Laksmana) something of the horror and protest that his decision entails. [BACK]

4. The argument is developed in part in David Shulman, "Toward a Historical Poetics of the Sanskrit Epic," forthcoming in the International Folklore Review . [BACK]

5. A Tamil Uttarakanda , attributed to Ottakkuttar, Kampan's legendary rival, does exist; the tradition (which is quite prepared to credit Kampan with various inferior works such as Erelupatu ) insists that this does not belong to Kampan's oeuvre. [BACK]

6. I cite Srimad Valmikiramayana , ed. by K. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and V. H. Su-brahmanya Sastri (Madras: N. Ramaratnam, 1958), which generally follows the Southern recension. [BACK]

7. Note following VI. 118.1 la: Srimad Valmikiramayana , ed. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and Subrahmanya Sastri, 901. [BACK]

8. See the discussion of this incident in Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Hindu Myths (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975), 198. [BACK]

9. See discussion in my paper, "The Yaksa's Questions," in a forthcoming volume on enigmatic modes edited by Galit Hasan-Rokem and David Shulman. This verse is omitted by the Critical Edition (it appears as 3247 * in the notes). [BACK]

10. I cannot agree with Robert Goldman, who explains the wide attestation of this section in the manuscript tradition and its consequent incorporation into the Critical Edition as the result of its being a "late and sectarian passage accepted with little change by all scribes": Robert P. Goldman, The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 44-45, n. 85. [BACK]

11. This point will be taken up in greater detail in the forthcoming paper cited in note 4. [BACK]

12. The corresponding (and contrasting) passage in the Mahabharata is the final chapter of the Svargarohanaparvan (XVIII.5), in which each of the heroes regains his divine self—but only after an apocalyptic war and the violent deaths of most of the dramatis personae. There it is death in battle that closes the cycle and allows a kind of negative reintegration, albeit not in this world but in the divine sphere. [BACK]

13. Pittar, petaiyar , pattar ( = bhaktas ) : tarcirappuppayiram , 8. [BACK]

14. Some scholars read this image in reverse: see the note by Kopalakirusnamacariyar on this verse ( Kamparamayanam , 666). [BACK]

15. Translated by A. K. Ramanujan, p. 42 of this volume. [BACK]

16. otiyav utampu torum uyir ena: translated by A. K. Ramanujan, p. 43 of this volume. [BACK]

17. I cannot explore here the relation between the notion of fluid uyir filling endless bodies and the Tamil ideal of "liquefaction," of melting and mingling in love; but see the fine discussion by Margaret Trawick Egnor, The Sacred Spell and Other Conceptions of Lije in Tamil Culture (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1978), 13, 20-21, 50, 104-6. [BACK]

18. See VI.119.15 in the Sanskrit text: "I received my name but not my birth from Janaka; I came from the earth. You devalue my conduct, you who are a judge of good conduct." [BACK]

19. On palai , see George L. Hart, The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 221-29; Paula Richman, Women, Branch Stories, and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asia series no. 12 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1988), 62-68. Cf. David Shulman, "The Crossing of the Wilderness: Landscape and Myth in the Tamil Story of Rama," Acta Orientalia 42 (1981), 21-54. [BACK]

20. In this respect, it bears a surprising resemblance to another Tamil genre, the kovai , a collection of love verses somewhat artificially arranged in preordained narrative sequence, from the lovers' first sight of one another until their final union. See Norman Cutler, Songs of Experience: The Poetics of Tamil Devotion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 82-91. In Kampan, of course, this orderly sequence is ruled out. [BACK]

21. Tolkappiyam , porulatikaram I.11; cf. Rm. Periyakaruppan, Tradition and Talent in Cankam Poetry (Madurai: Madurai Publishing House, 1976), 168-73. [BACK]

22. There are other points in the Iramavataram where Sita complains, ironically, about Rama. For example, at V.5.7, Sita cries out from her captivity: "You told me to stay home in the great city, not to come to the forest; you said you would return in a

few days. Where is that vaunted compassion ( arul ) of yours now? I am all alone, and you are consuming my lonely life!" But verses such as these, reminiscent of the laments at unbearable separation in Nammalvar (e.g., Tiruvaymoli 5.4), are not meant to be taken at face value; they are a way of giving voice to the heroine's impatience and despair. [BACK]

23. For a detailed discussion of this episode, see my "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama." [BACK]

24. The insistence on autonomy in the form of service or devotion, and in a context of rejection, is a topos known also from Nammalvar. Thus Tiruvaymoli 1.7.8: "Though he looses his hold on me, not even he can make my good heart let go of him." [BACK]

25. The myrobalan in the hand is a proverbial image signifying intimate close-HESS. [BACK]

26. Kopalakirusnamacariyar on ver' evam enr' oru porul (VI.37.94; Kamparamayanam , 780). [BACK]

27. See Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha-bhakti: The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 526-47; David Shulman, "Remaking a Purana: Visnu's Rescue of Gajendra in Potana's Telugu Mahabhagavatamu ," forthcoming in a volume of purana studies edited by Wendy Doniger (O'Flaherty). [BACK]

28. Dasaratha speaks to this effect in Va1miki, too, but only after Rama himself has announced that the trial was only intended to convince the world. [BACK]

29. Large parts of the Iramavataram read like dramatic dialogues that seem to assume a context of performance; the art of the dialogue in Kampan deserves a separate study. All major events spark extended comments from nearly every potential speaker. In this regard, see the insightful remarks by Stuart Blackburn in this volume. [BACK]

30. A good example is the demon Viradha's stotra to Rama, who has just dispatched him, at III. 1.47-60. Similar passages accompany the deaths of Kabandha, Valin, and other of the avatar's victims; they occur as well, in shorter forms, when various sages encounter Rama. We should also recall that the poet consistently keeps Rama's true identity before our eyes by using divine-mythic epithets for him and his entourage. [BACK]

31. Cf. the similar conclusion by George Hart and Hank Heifetz in their introduction to The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 6: "Again and again, he [Rama] is recognized as an incarnation of Visnu by those who meet or confront him, but Rama rarely shows a direct awareness of himself as the supreme god." [BACK]

32. Thus (at V.5.6, for example) Sita may even address Rama, in absentia, as "Narayana." [BACK]

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