• Manimekalai – a teacher to the entire mankind. But isn’t Manimekalai a fictional character with a magical power? On a spiritual level, Manimekalai is real and her powers were real.

  • As per the epic, Manimekalai is the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, two of the main characters of Silappadhikaaram. She addresses Kannagi as ‘mother’, but doesn’t approve of Kovalan’s conduct. She considers him a ruthless person who abandoned the woman he married. This ability of hers to state the truth bluntly without glorifying stereotypes is what sets her apart from the female leads of other epics.

  • Madhavi comes from a line of dancers. So, the people of Poombuhar try to push Manimekalai into the same profession. But Madhavi protects Manimekalai and seeks the counsel of Aravana Adigal in raising Manimekalai. Aravana Adigal teaches Manimekalai about Buddhism. Post her introduction to Buddhism, the scenes in her life challenge her to rise above them. She gains the blessings of the Ocean Goddess. The word ‘ocean’ is associated with the property of vastness. The purpose of the oceans is to satisfy the hunger of all living beings. With the blessings of the Ocean Goddess, Manimekalai decides to transform into an ocean. The moment this thought enters her head, her lap becomes a small ocean. This ocean is referred to as ‘Madikkalam’ in the text and is known to be an unlimited source of food. With this power of hers she travels to various towns to feed the needy.

  • What does Manimekalai represent? She represents that the feminine race will retaliate against oppression with love as its sole weapon. Her father abandoned her and her mother when Manimekalai was in the womb. She was tormented for the selfish reasons of a prince who claimed to love her. Despite having many reasons to hate the male race, she is sane enough to know that these are the actions of individuals and that she must not stereotype it to a single sect. Her principle was simple, straight, and clear – “Whoever you are, I will be nothing but myself.” True to her words, she remained herself despite the challenges she had to face. Wherever her feet travelled – Manipallavam, Saavaganaadu, Pugaar, Kaviripoompattinam – she showed nothing but love. She didn’t feel raged even with the queen who imprisoned Manimekalai for no fault of hers. Infact, she gives the queen good counsel.

  • Manimekalai is regarded as being wiser than the male Buddhists of her time. Buddhism advocates detaching oneself from all worldly ties. In her quest for such renunciation, she feeds numerous people that she encounters in her journey. A line from the text is translated as follows: The daughter of Madhavi fed all sorts of people including blind, deaf, those unable to walk, destitutes, dumb and diseased. The phrase ‘Madinal Koorndha Makkal’ has been interpreted by different scholars in different ways. But the meaning closest to the context would be “those abandoned by the society”. By adapting this meaning, we would know that Manimekalai fed the marginalised sections also.

  • If Manimekalai had to be described in a single word, it would be ‘penance’. Everyone she encounters, be it a prince or a pauper, addresses her as ‘one of great penance’. One such instance from the text – A Chola king meets Manimekalai. He asks, “Oh lady of great penance, what is it you seek from me?” To this, Manimekalai replies, “Nothing but the conversion of prisons into charities.” The king grants this wish of hers and converts prisons into charitable trusts.

  • The text says that Manimekalai learnt about other religions before embracing Buddhism. By doing so, she teaches us that a philosophy that doesn’t preach equality is not worth following. Buddhism advocates equality and justice for all. This choice of hers is significant from a political point of view also.

  • Another fascinating characteristic of Manimekalai is that she refuses to be shackled by society’s orthodoxy. When Udhayakumaran, a prince who lusts after her, calls her “one who was conceived unconventionally”, she retorts sharply, “It is foolish to assume that one’s birth defines them, for it is deeds that defines them.” These words show how broad-minded she was, despite belonging to a highly conservative era.

  • Manimekalai considered service as the ultimate purpose of mankind. She used the powers she was given, for the welfare of the people and not to please the Gods further. In all Indian epics, Manimekalai may be the only protagonist and saint who hasn’t tried to please God.

  • 21st century may be perceived as a technologically advanced period. But it is also an undeniable fact that this era is filled with hatred, bias, and selfish crimes. One Manimekalai was enough to reform the society of her time. But today’s situation requires multiple Manimekalais to bring about a good change. Manimekalai cannot be created, but she can be invoked by studying her life and following her act of spreading love and humanity.