Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi

Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi (Tamil: சீவக சிந்தாமணி, lit. "Jivaka, the fabulous gem"), also spelled as Civaka Cintamani, is one of the five great Tamil epics. Authored by a Madurai-based Jain ascetic Tiruttakkatēvar in the early 10th century, the epic is a supernatural fantasy story of a prince who is the perfect master of all arts, perfect warrior and perfect lover with numerous wives. The Civaka Cintamani is also called the Maṇanūl (Tamil: மண நூல், lit. "book of marriages").[1][2] The epic is organized into 13 cantos and contains 3,145 quatrains in viruttam poetic meter. Its Jain author is credited with 2,700 of these quatrains, the rest by his guru and another anonymous author.[1][3]

The epic begins with the story of a treacherous coup, where the king helps his pregnant queen escape in a peacock-shaped air machine but is himself killed. The queen gives birth to a boy. She hands him over to a loyal servant to raise, becoming a nun herself.[1] The boy grows up into a man, rather a superman, one who is perfect in every art, every skill, every field of knowledge. He excels in war and erotics, kills his enemies, wins over and marries every pretty girl he meets, then regains the kingdom his father had lost. After enjoying power, sex and begetting many sons with his numerous wives, the epic ends with him renouncing the world and becoming a Jaina ascetic.[1][4]

The Tamil epic Civakacintamani is probably a compilation of many older, fantasy-filled unreal Tamil folk stories. The poet skillfully couples the martial adventures of the extraordinarily talented superman with graphic sexual descriptions of his affairs,[5] along with lyrical interludes of his virtues such as kindness, duty, tenderness and affection for all living beings.[6] The epic's love scenes are sensuous and loaded with double entendre and metaphors.[6] The poetic style of the Civakacintamani epic is found in Tamil poetic literature that followed among Hindu and Jain scholars, attesting to its literary significance.[3][6]

Portions of the epic were ceremonially recited by members of the Tamil Jain community in the 19th century.[7] Rare copies of its palm-leaf manuscripts were preserved by Tamil Hindus. U V Swaminatha Aiyar – a Shaiva pundit and Tamil scholar, discovered two copies of it in 1880 at the encouragement of the chief abbot of a Shaiva Hindu monastery in Kumbhakonam, one copy given by Tamil enthusiast Ramaswami Mutaliyar[note 1] and the other by the monastery. Aiyar studied the epic's manuscripts under oil lamps,[8] with guidance from Appasami Nayinar – a Jaina community leader, established a critical edition and published the first paper version of the epic in 1887.[9][note 2]

Civaka Cintamani – as it has survived into the modern era – is an epic of 3,145 stanzas, each stanza of four highly lyrical lines. According to the final verses of the epic, it consists of 2,700 (86%) verses.[11] According to the 14th-century Naccinarkkiniyar commentary, the 2,700 verses were composed by Thiruthakkadevar (Tiruttakkatevar) of the Chola race who in his youth became a Jain ascetic and moved to Madurai.[1][note 3] The authorship of the remaining quatrains is unknown. According to a Jain tradition, 2 of the quatrains were composed by the teacher and counselor of Thiruthakkadevar, while the rest were anonymously added. The larger Tamil tradition believes that 445 quatrains were composed by Kantiyar, a poetess and inserted into the original.[11] The entire epic is sometimes credited to just Thiruthakkadevar by casual writers.[12]

Some non-Jaina Tamil poets, states Zvelebil, have questioned whether Thiruthakkadevar was really a Jain ascetic, since one of the mandatory five mahāvratas (great vows) for ascetics in Jainism is strict abstinence from sex in "action, words and thought", but the epic is loaded with sexually-explicit verses.[13] According to the tradition, Thiruthakkadevar proved his ascetic purity by an ordeal.[13]

According to a note in 1857 by the colonial-era missionary P Percival, his acquaintances informed him that Thiruthakkadevar, also called Tirudevar, was a learned Jain scholar who lived 2,000 years ago, and who was acquainted with Akattiyam and Tolkappiyam, the celebrated Tamil grammar works.[14] He is also believed to have deep acquaintance in Sanskrit and Vedas. His epic, said Percival, was quoted by Tamil grammarians because it was believed to be of "undoubted authority" on Tamil language.[14]

Later Tamil literature scholarship places Thiruthakkadevar about 1,000 years later than Percival's colonial-era note. The story in Civakacintamani, states Kamil Zvelebil, is the story found in the older Sanskrit text Kshattracudamani by Vadibhasinha, which itself was based on Gunabhadra's Uttarapurana.[1][15] The latter text can be firmly dated to 897–898 CE (derived from Hindu calendar) based on the notes in its prasasti. Therefore, the epic was composed after 898 CE. It is now broadly accepted by scholars that the Civakacintamani epic was composed in the early 10th century on a foundation of the 9th-century Sanskrit originals.[1][3]

The work contains 3147 quatrains and is divided into 13 cantos called illambakams (Skt: lambaka).[16][6] The 13 cantos were summarized in 1857 by the Christian missionary Peter Percival as follows:

Percival noted that the Jivaka story is also found in the older Sanskrit Jaina text, called Maha Purana and that the Jains did not consider it to be a part of their 18 celebrated Puranas.[20]

The epic begins with the story of a treacherous coup by a minister of the king.[7] The king had given temporary responsibility for the capital while the king and queen were traveling. The king helps his pregnant queen escape in a peacock-shaped flying machine but is himself killed. The queen gives birth to a boy as she hid in a remote cremation grounds. She hands over her baby she named Jivaka to a loyal servant to raise, becoming a nun herself.[1][7] The boy grows up into a man, rather a superman, one who is perfect in every art, every skill, every field of knowledge. Jivaka the superhero excels in war and erotics, kills his enemies, wins over and marries every beautiful girl he meets, then regains the kingdom his father had lost. After enjoying power, sex and begetting many sons with his numerous wives, the epic ends with Jivaka renouncing the world and converting into a Jaina ascetic.[7][1][4]

The epic concludes that all the worldly pleasures Jivaka enjoyed was nothing but illusions distracting him from the path of spiritual salvation.[2]

His garlands ripped,
the saffron on him was ruined,
his chaplet was charred,
– because
of the enthusiasm of intercourse,
her girdles broke,
her beautiful anklets cried out,
and the honeybees were scared off,
as the young couple made love.

Civaka Cintamani 1349
Translator: James Ryan, Erotic Excess and Sexual Danger in Civakacintamani[21]

The epic is unusual in many respects. Authored by a Jain ascetic, it presents a story that is unlike the generally accepted view of historic Jainism being an "austerely ascetic" religious tradition.[4] The hero the epic, Jivaka, indulges in a life of sensual pursuits with numerous women, marries many women and carries out a sexual affair with a dancing girl without marrying her, violently kills his enemies including those who had participated or supported the coup against his father, seeks and enjoys power.[4][5] Thus, his life is anything but one of non-violence, sexual fidelity, restraint and non-possessiveness – some of the traditionally understood virtues for householders in Jainism. Ultimately, the hero converts into a Jain ascetic, yet the epic writer is generally accepted to be a Jaina ascetic.[note 4] The epic has explicit and lyrical descriptions of sensual gratifications and sex. According to David Shulman, the epic questions the long-held scholarly views of Jainism and the teachings of its most celebrated historic scholars.[4] According to James Ryan, a proposed explanation is that the Digambara Jains were living with Hindus, the epic was influenced by the Hindu beliefs and outlook on life, and it reflects a synthetic work that fused the values and virtues of Hinduism and Jainism.[5] An alternate explanation, states Ryan, is that the epic includes explicit eros and graphic descriptions of sex not to praise or recommend such values or practices in the way some early Hindu texts do, the epic includes this so as to examine and criticize it from the Jain perspective.[5]

According to Arathoon, the work stands as a proof of secular outlook of Chola kings during the period. Though they were Hindus, they encouraged the Jain education and arts.[22] The epic was influential on other Tamil poets, and it "may have served as a poetic model for both Kamban Ramayana and Cekkilar", states David Shulman.[4]

The epic hints of no persecution or violence between the Tamil Shaiva and Jaina community. Its composition, reception, and influence in the Hindu community suggest that the Jain-Hindu relations in the Tamil region were cordial and collaborative at least through the 10th century.[23]

The Tamil epic is notable for the high number of Sanskrit loan words, likely because it is a late medieval text. It is also notable, according to Vaidyanathan for chronologically being the first Tamil text where the caste-related term Shudra appears (Tamil: cūttiraṇ) in verse 1287, line 4.[24]

It is considered one of the five great Tamil epics according to later Tamil literary tradition, the others being Manimegalai, Silappadikaram, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi.[25] In its form, it anticipates the Ramayana of Kambar. Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi was much appreciated by the Chola king who was its patron and was well received at his Chola court. It has been admired for its poetic form, appealing story-line, and theological message.

U. V. Swaminatha Iyer (1855-1942 CE) – a practicing Shaiva Brahmin and Tamil scholar, discovered two copies of the epic in 1880 at the encouragement of his guru, the chief abbot of a Shaiva Hindu monastery in Kumbhakonam. The first copy came from Tamil enthusiast Ramaswami Mutaliyar whom the abbot had introduced to Iyer (also spelled Aiyar), and the other came from the monastery's large collection of ancient texts. The palm-leaf manuscripts decay and degrade relatively quickly in the tropical climate of south India, and must be re-copied every few decades or about a century, a step that introduces scribal errors. The two copies of the manuscripts were different, and one included commentary from the 14th century. Aiyar studied the two versions of the manuscripts under oil lamps.[8] With help from Appasami Nayinar – a Jaina community leader, Aiyar established a critical edition and published the first paper print of the epic in 1887.[26]

Between 2005 and 2019, James Ryan and G Vijayavenugopal published the English translation of Civaka Cintamani in three volumes.[27][28][29][note 5]