The medieval Mahakavi Kamban is one of the few people honored to have a monument named after them. He was a famous Tamil poet who lived circa 1180-1250 AD in Tamil Nadu. Though belonging to a high caste family of priests, he grew up in a wealthy farmer’s home.
Being a learned scholar of ancient languages such as Sanskrit and Tamil, Kamban gained fame after writing the Tamil version of the Ramayana epic. Known as the ‘Kamba Ramayana’, it is believed to be one of the greatest epics in the Tamil language, having more than 10,000 poetic songs and is composed of 45,000 lines. He has made a few modifications from the original version to suit the Tamil peoples’ psyche; for instance, instead of saying that Ravana lifts up Sita and carries her away, he says that Ravana lifted up the hut inside which Sita was, and carried it away.
The magical quality of his work is so intense that his words can be visualized as a real-life act. The richness of the words he used are so poetic that they remain incomparable to date in Tamil literature. His talents even attracted the attention of the reigning king of the Chola dynasty who conferred on him the title of ‘Mahakavi Chakravarthy’, meaning emperor of poets. In his praise, it was often said that even the mills in his home could sing.
It is believed that Kamban spent a large part of his life in the company of the Nagarathar community of the Chettinad region and died in Nattarasankottai. The villagers here used to take mud from next to the Kamban Samadhi stone and smear on their children’s tongues before joining school so they too could become intellectuals. To honor him further, his great devotee Kamban Adippodi Saw. Ganesan began organizing annual literary festivals in Mahakavi Kamban’s honor from 1939 onwards in the heritage town of Karaikudi and called it the Kamban Karaikudi Vizha which would end in the Tamil month of Panguni and star Hastham in Natarasankottai at the Kamban Mani Mandapam. To this day, the Kamban Vizha or Literature Festival is held in Karaikudi and Nattarasankottai.
Kamban Adippodi had also built the Kamban Mani Mandapam in 1972 and each year the literary fest ends here. For those who want to experience this grand festival, getting to Karakudi is easy as it is well connected with excellent highways and railways. The closest airport is in nearby Trichy which is just 60km away. While visiting, you could stay over at the heritage Chidambara Vilas hotel, a renovated century-old Chettinad palace.