Stories that deal with the journey of the Pantavars along with Pancali in the form of prose, kuttu (skits), villu pattu, utukkai patty, and ammanai songs are popular in Tamil Nadu. Tarumar, Viman, Arccunan, Nakulan, Cakatevan and Tiroupati are characters liked by the Tamil people. The journey of the Pantavars to Vaikuntam is read about, heard about as much as they are appreciated in classical literature and folklore. This fact is confirmed by the huge number of palm leaf manuscripts available on the subject. (Details of the manuscripts are given in the second part of the text). This article is written in such a way as to compare the popularity of the journey of the Pantavars with the popularity of the Mandparatam in Tamil Nadu. This article attempts to portray the importance of the Mahaparatam at the national and the Dravidian languages level. Further, it speaks about the popularity it enjoys in Tamil classical as well as folk literature.
The popularity of the Mahaparatam
In all the dialects of India the story of the Mahaparatam is found. Even in languages that lack script this story has been popular through the oral tradition. The popularity of the Mahaparatam can be found in the fact that it is full of anecdotes; every story tries to inculcate some moral lesson in the reader and the characters in it have much in common with the people of the present generation. J. Murray Mitchell observes, "Whatever impression the philosophical and moral portions may have made on the Hindu mind, there is no question that the story is contained in the Mahaparatam has powerfully influenced every part of India" (J.Murray Mitchell, 'Hinduism past and Present, P.130). Another scholar says, "Indians themselves consider The Mahaparatam doubtless an epic, as a work of art of poetry (kavya) , but at the same time they consider it also as a text book of morals of law and philosophy based on ancient tradition and hence endowed with indisputable authority".
The reason for the greatness of Vaikunta ammanai
Those who are not able, either to read or listen to the Para tam completely, listen to the narration of the greatness of Visnu's Vaikuntam, the troubles Tarumar, his brothers and Tiroupati underwent to reach it, spoken in detail in Vaikunta ammanai. There is also the custom of learning it by heart. This fact is being confirmed by the plenty of manuscripts and various books available on Vaikunta ammanai.
Vaikunta ammanai contains the moral and religious themes like: Truth and Dharma always win; One has to eat the fruits of one's own sins; The tests and trials God gives to somebody is for his good only. The various ammanai songs differ on certain aspects, their treatment of the journey to Vaikuntam and reaching it is the same.
The reasons for the dissimilarities among various books on the same subject
If one cares to observe keenly, the reason for the dissimilarity is easy to understand. C. S. Burne in his book says, "The story proceeds step by step; not in a continuous narrative, but dramatically, in a series of the little scenes, and with frequent iteration; features which characterise the true ballad form of song even when the burden is wanting" (Charlotte Sophia Burne, The Handbook of Folklore Traditional beliefs, practices, customs, stories and sayings, p.273).
From this one can perceive that the size and form and the length of the ballad depends on the mental temperament of the author at the time of writing the song. Reflecting the same idea, Albert B.Lord says "Where as the singer thinks of his song in terms of a flexible plan of themes, some of which are essential and some of which are not, we think of it as a given text which undergoes change from one singing to another. We are more aware of change than the singer is, because we have a concept of the fixity of permanence or of its recording on wire or tape or plastic or in writing" (Albert B.Lord, The Singer of Tales, p.99).
The above statement also mentions about the reason for the different versions in the same story. In the Vaikunta ammanai we have taken, the 'flexible plan of themes' of Albert B. Lord, and 'the true ballad - form of song even when the burden is wanting' of C.S.Burne, are quite evident. Also, in the manuscript used for the publication of this book 'flexible plan of theme and burden's wanting' is beautifully included.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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