Shilappadikaram (The Ankle Bracelet)
Fiction by Prince Ilango Adigal
Translated by Alain Danielou
With a contribution by Prince Ilango Adigal
One of the great classics of Indian culture is the Shilappadikaram, or Lay of The Ankle Bracelet, a verse romance in the ancient Tamil language which is attributed to Ilangô Adigal, a Jain prince of the Third Century AD. This is a tale of wonders and misfortunes, of hapless mortals and capricious deities, of magic and heroism in a bright but also cruel world in which the law of Karma rules: “actions committed in past lives must always bear fruit.” Thus the peerless young Kôvalan will leave his loyal wife Kannaki for the courtesan Midhavi, and though he returns to her, still meets his death because of her ill-omened ankle bracelet. The Shilappadikaram has been called all epic and even a novel, but it is also a book of general education. llangô packed his story with information: history merging into myth, religious rites, caste customs, military lore, descriptions of city or country life. And four Cantos are little anthologies of the poetry of the period (seashore and mountain songs, hunters’ and milkmaids’ songs). Thus the Shilappadikaram gives us a vivid picture of early Indian life in all its aspects.