The word ‘Kalamegham’ (‘Ka’ as in Kaput) in Tamil has the same meaning as ‘Kale Megha’ in Hindi, the rain bearing dark cloud.
In the fifteenth century in Srirangam, there lived a poet by name Kavi Kalamegham. He was also called Kalamegha Pulavar (Pulavar meaning pet in Tamil language). His name indicated that he could shower poetic verses like a rain- bearing cloud showers rain in torrents.
Kalamegham used to be known as Varadan before he became a poet. How an ordinary Varadan was transformed into Kavi Kalamegham is an interesting legend which is what I am going to narrate.
Varadan was a young man, employed in the ‘madappalli’ (the temple’s kitchen) to assist the chefs at the kitchen of the well-known Sree Ranganathaswamy temple of Srirangam.
Near Srirangam, at a place called Tiruvanaikka is situated the temple of Lord Jambukeswara and Sri Akhilandeswari. In this temple there was a dancer by name Mohanangi. She was employed by this temple to provide services of ritual dancing for Lord Jambukeswara and Goddess Akilandeswari. In those days temples employed many people, generating lot of employment and a whole economy flourished around a temple.
Mohanangi was young and very beautiful. She was an excellent dancer as well.
Once, Varadan happened to witness Mohanangi’s dance and he fell in love with her. Varadan was also very handsome and Mohanangi accepted his proposal.
In those times, the divide between the Vaishnavite and Shaivite sects in the society was very prominent. Also the societal acceptance was very much sought for any wedding alliance in that time period.
Varadan belonging to the Vaishnavite sect and Mohanangi to the Shaivite sect proved to be a major hurdle for Mohanangi and Varadan in proceeding ahead to get married and settle down.
The Chief chef of the kitchen in Srirangam temple also got to know of Varadan’s affair and he was very annoyed with Varadan. In the argument that followed, Varadan quit his job. He then went to the authorities at the Jambukeswara temple and sought to embrace the Shaivite tradition. He was initiated into the Shaivite tradition and now there was no hurdle in his marrying Mohanangi. He started doing odd jobs to earn a living so that he could have some decent income when he married Mohanangi.
One day, Mohanangi had sent word to Varadan telling him to meet her near a particular pillar of the Akhilandeswari temple late that night. Varadan also went there at the specified time and was waiting for Mohanangi to come.
However, that day was a festive day and due to lots of ritual dances and the procession of the deities outside the temple, Mohanangi got inordinately delayed while coming back to the temple. She could not turn up at the appointed time.
Varadan had had a hectic schedule that day and was extremely tired. So, as he waited for Mohanangi, he had dozed off in a corner near the pillar. When Mohanangi came to see if Varadan was waiting, she did not notice him sleeping on the ground in one corner. It was late night and the area near the pillar was not well-lit and so she missed him. Thinking that he might have gone home after waiting for her, Mohanangi went home.
Now, at the same time, in the temple, there was this devotee, who had been doing lot of penance to have a darshan of Akhilandeswari Devi in person. He always had visualized Devi in her child-form ‘Bala’. This devotee was also at the temple that day and was meditating sitting on the floor somewhere close to where Varadan was sleeping.
It was at this time that Devi Akhilandeswari suddenly decided to shower Her grace on this devotee. She appeared in the form of a small child. Bedecked with ornaments and wearing a beautiful skirt, She went to this devotee and started playing. She was prancing around him talking gibberish, sometimes, tugging at his upper cloth The man, though desirous of seeing the Devi, was not evolved enough to realise that this child was Devi herself.
‘Disturbed’ by the child whom he thought was a nuisance, he shooed Her away with harsh words and shut his eyes tight to continue his meditation!
Devi left him, but the grace which was overflowing from Her, had to be showered on someone. It was then Devi caught sight of Varadan sleeping in a corner near the pillar.
She went near him. Transforming Herself as a young woman, She tapped on Varadan’s back. Varadan got up with a start, realizing that he had slept off for too long and thinking that it was Mohanangi who had woken him up. As he stood and looked up, he had no clue of who this maiden was, who was standing in front of him. Seeing Her divine beauty and the compassionate look in Her eyes he was completely tongue tied and did not even ask Her.
The Maiden now took out some betel leaf which She was chewing and gave it to Varadan. Varadan took it from Her and consumed it without any second thought.
The very next moment Varadan felt utter bliss and something changed in him. He realized that the Maiden was none other than the presiding Goddess Akhilandeswari. Spontaneously he sang a literary work called ‘Tiruvanaikka Ula’ in praise of Goddess Akhilandeswari. He had now been transformed into a poet par excellence. He was composing and singing verses instantaneously.
People were amazed at how Varadan showered poetry like a rain-bearing cloud. It is said he got the name Kavi Kalamegham or Kalameghappulavar from that time.
During the period 1455 – 1468 CE, a king by name Tirumalairayan ruled from a place called Tirumalairayan Pattanam near Nagercoil. Tirumalairayan had great respect for poets.
In his court he had sixty-four poets led by a senior poet called Athimadhura Kavirayar. This Kavirayar was a proud man and with all the importance given by the king, Kavirayar’s arrogance knew no limits. He, along with the other sixty-three poets had made it a practice to bully and tease new poets who came to showcase their talents to the king. They ensured that the new poets never met the king!
Kalameghappulavar had heard about the king’s respect for poets. So, he went to Tirumalairayan Pattanam in the hope of meeting the king and getting rewarded for his talent.
When he entered the city, he witnessed a grand procession of the poets seated in sixty-four palanquins going around the city with great fanfare. All the citizens were shouting slogans in praise of Athimadhura Kavirayar and the others. Kalamegham watched in awe and could see that they were misusing the respect given by the king to them, to show off their power and authority to the public. He could see the arrogance in the eyes of the poets.
As the procession passed by, while all the citizens hailed the poets, Kalamegham alone was keeping quiet.
One of the courtiers standing there noticed this and asked Kalamegham why he was keeping quiet.
Kalamegham replied with a poetic verse saying that ‘Athimadhuram’ is an ordinary herbal root and there was no need of him to praise ‘it’.
The medicinal herb liquorice is called ‘Athimadhuram’ in Tamil language and Kalamegham used it as a pun for the senior poet’s name. The courtier got extremely angry and reported the matter to Athimadhura Kavirayar. Kavirayar was furious and asked Kalamegham to be brought to his presence.
When Kalamegham came, Atimadhura Kavirayar asked him if he would compete with him. The punishment for failure would be very severe. To his surprise, Kalamegham suggested an even more severe punishment and asked Atimadhura Kavirayar if he was willing to accept that. Atimadhurar was shocked and panicked but not wanting to show his fear said that he would agree but Kalamegham would have to be the first contestant. He would have to compose verses within half a second on the words given by anyone and the verses would have to be free of spelling and grammar mistakes and fulfil the criteria of a poem.
Kalamegham agreed and the contest started. Kalamegham sailed through very easily. Atimadhurar started feeling jittery and even before the contest was complete, he said that he accepted the mastery of Kavi Kalamegham.
Kalameghappulavar also understood the dilemma of Atimadhurar and out of sheer pity, did not compel Atimadhurar. He was rewarded grandly by the king before he returned to his place.
Kalameghappulavar was well known for the use of pun in poetry. The same words would denote two different meanings. This is called ‘Siledai’ in Tamil language.
Kavi Kalamegham has written poetry in which the same words of a verse would denote the qualities of two unconnected things, like castor seed and elephant, til seed and snake, moon and mountain, dog and coconut, fish and lice, snake and banana, hay and elephant, to name a few.
His literary works were many. Tiruvanaikka Ula, Tiruvanaikka Saraswathi Malai, Vinotharasamanjari, Samudra Vilasam are some of them. He has even written poems using variations of just one consonant like Ta, Ti, Tu, Te, Tau etc.
Kavi Kalamegham is said to have lived a majority part of his life at Tiruvanaikka till he passed away at a ripe age.