Kamban
(c. ninth to 12th century)
   classical Tamil author
   Kamban is the author of the Tamil language Ira-mavataram (The Avatar of Rama), perhaps the most ornate and aesthetically pleasing of all the many versions of the RAMAYANA written in the regional languages of India.
   The details of Kamban’s life, as those of many other classical Indian authors, are uncertain. Even his name, which is not his given name, can be interpreted in different ways. The traditional account has him the son of Adita, a resident of Muvalur village in Tanjore District of Tamil Nadu. He belonged to either the drummer CASTE or the caste of hereditary priests in the KALI temples. He mentions his patron, Sataiyan, in his verses. A con-temporary Chola king is said to have given him the fief of a place called Kambanatu (a possible source for his name) and the title of “king of poets.” Some believe that the poet was murdered by the Chola king himself out of jealousy for his fame.
   The extant manuscripts of the Iramavataram, varying from 10,000 to 12,000 verses in length, probably include interpolations. From the very beginning of the poem RAMA is presented as the AVATA R of VISHNU; he is referred to by Vishnu’s epithets throughout. This is quite different from the SANSKRIT version of VALMIKI, in which Rama is clearly associated with Vishnu only in the first and last chapters.
   In other ways, the story as told by Kamban is very much along the lines of Valmiki; in many places it is clear that the author is familiar with the Sanskrit version. Among the noticeable varia-tions is that Kamban omits the entire final chapter of the Sanskrit version (the Uttarakanda) of the Ramayana, which recounts a tale of Rama’s chil-dren and the history of the demon king RAVANA. When Kamban’s Ramayana ends Rama and SITA live happily in the ideal kingdom.
   Also, although Kamban relates Sita’s abduction by Ravana, in his version Ravana cannot touch Sita, who is protected by a deadly curse. Finally, in the story of AHALYA, the maiden who was turned to stone on account of her dalliance with INDRA, the curse that was put upon Indra varies between the two versions: in the Sanskrit tale he is cursed with the testicles of a goat; in the Tamil version he is cursed with 1,000 vaginas (which he begs the gods to transform into eyes—thus his epithet “the one with 1,000 eyes.”)
   Further reading: George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz, trans., The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); Kamil V. Zvelibil, Tamil Literature. Vol. 10, Fascile 1, A History of Indian Literature. Edited by Jan Gonda (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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