Manimekalai: Tamil Epic (Paperback)
Manimekalai by the poet Chithalai Chathanar is one of The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature according to later Tamil literary tradition. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos. Its story is a sequel to another of the Five Great Epics, Silappatikaram, and tells the story of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, who became a Buddhist nun. This epic describes how Manimekalai, the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, the follower of local deities later included in Hinduism, converted to Buddhism. According to the poem, Manimekalai studies the six systems of philosophy of Hinduism and other prevalent religions of the time and compares them to the teachings of the Buddha. She is most impressed with Buddhism which treats everyone equal with loving kindness and fraternity. Later, upon hearing doctrinal expositions from the Buddhist teacher Bhikshu Aravana Adigal, she becomes a dedicated Bhikshuni or Buddhist nun. Manimekhalai fully practices the Buddha's teachings and attains the highest stage of Buddhist spiritual knowledge or attainment, i.e. she became an arhat. The Manimekhalai poem thus is an example of female spiritual empowerment within a culture wherein otherwise there were few options for women. Pandit Iyothee Thass (1845-1914) revealed more about Manimekalai as "Arachchelvi" (Female Arhant) and documented some original poems written by Seeththalai Saththanar, which are not available in the Manimekalai as edited by U.V. Swaminatha Iyer who allegedly left out some of the original poems.
Sattanar or Chithalai Sathanar was the Tamil poet who composed the epic Manimekalai. Pronounced Sa-tha-naar, the name is derived from sattu meaning Buddhist monk. Applying this principle to the name Maturai Kulavaanikan Caattan, the author of Manimekalai, we see that the two appellations Maturai and Kulavanikan were prefixed to his name in order to distinguish him from another poet of Maturai with the same name and from a third who lived elsewhere. Several examples could be cited of this system of nomenclature which prevailed during the early days. It is seen that Manimekhalai was written after the Tirukkural was composed because there are two verses from the Tirukkural quoted in Manimekalai.