Sunday 13 January 2013

The poet who advised a King to give up his life

He was one of the earliest kings of south India. A poet himself, he was famed for his friendship with poets and writers of the age. His friendship transcended territorial boundaries.
Though he waged a running battle with his neighbour, it was only military and political. It never impacted on his friendship with two poets of the region. He corresponded with them regularly and even exchanged poems and writing with them.
One of the two poets joined this king when he starved himself to death. Two other poets also laid down their lives when they heard that the great poet-King was no more. The king had voluntarily given up his life as he as unable to bear his two sons quarreling among themselves and readying for battle to become King.
And who gave the advice to the King to take his own life. None other but one of his poet friends.
This king was Kopperun Chola and he was the King of the Chola Empire during the period of the early Cholas or Cholas of the Sangama period.    
Unfortunately, not much is known about this King. We have to depend on the Sangam literature and other related texts for information about the life and times of  Kopperun. A poem in Purananuru also gives us details about the King.
By the way, Kopperun is himself the subject mater of a number of poems in Purananuru. A poet himself, he is credited with the authorship of a  few poems in the Kurunkoti collection. (Poems  20, 53, 129, 147) and Purananuru (song 215).
The King, by all accounts, was an able administrator and patron of literature and art. He was an intimate friend of many poets of the age, the most notable among them being, Picirantai, Pullār Eyiŗŗiya and Pottiyā.
Though Picirāntai lived in the Pandya kingdom, the other two were natives of  the Chola Kingdom itself. Pullar  is even today renowned for his advice to the Chola king. Kopperun’s friendship with these two poets became a classic example in later literature and has often been quoted.
Like all fairytale stories, this friendship too had a sad end. A number of poems in Purananuru,  in sequence, describe the sad end of this king and of course the friendship.
Kopperun and his two sons decided to go to war with each other over a trivial issue. While both his sons wanted to succeed him to the throne, Kopperun was unwilling to give up his seat.
The two sons joined hands and built an army on take on their father. A distraught Kopperun prepared for war. It was then that Pullar reasoned with him that if he slays his own sons and wins the war then the country would be left without an heir, and on the other hand if he loses, then they would become victors.
“If you win, you also lose and if you lose, you lose everything”, says the poet friend of the King. He then advises the king to take his own life, thereby leaving the issue of  a heir to be resolved by his sons.
The king then decided to end his life committing suicide by the rite of Vadakiruttal, a Tamil custom. The system entails the victim sitting facing north and starving himself to death. Kopperun dies along with several people close to him. But just before he sits for suicide, he sends word to his poet friend, Piciranati that he wants to see him. The poet then was deep in the Pandya kingdom but he hurries back, only to see his friend sit and wait for his death. Piciranati also dies along with the King.
After the king's death, Pottiyar another poet, unable to bear the loss of his patron, sits facing north amidst the heroes' stones and also commits suicide by Vadakirruttal. He reasons that the spirit of the dead king has given him permission to do so.
There is one song in Purananuru and the forty verses of  Kalavali by  Poigayar which gives us details of the king’s life. There are also references to him in the hymns of  Thirugnana Sambanthar,  Thirumangai Aazhvaar and Sundaramurthy Nayanar. His name is also mentioned in the legendary genealogy of the Chola copper plate inscriptions of the tenth and eleventh centuries.
The Thiruvanaikaval, also called Thiruvanaikal temple, a famous Shiva temple in Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) was built by Kopperun.
The structure is dated 1,800 years ago and it is adjacent to the Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam.

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