Madurai, the city which Kannagi cursed to ashes in Ilango Adigal's Silapathikaram, is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu today. However, over the course of a few years, a tiny plot in the city will grow to resemble the forests of Madurai as described in the epic, all thanks to the top cop in the region.
N Manivannan, the SP of Madurai, is a Sangam literature enthusiast. After taking charge in the city, he took note of the 1.5 acres of land around his office campus and decided to plant trees here. The city was quick to inspire him and soon enough, Manivannan decided to plant 24 of the flora species growing near the Vaigai river, as mentioned in the epic written by Adigal in the 2nd and 3rd century AD.
"I have read Silapathikaram even as a child. It is the story of Kannagi and Kovalan and the injustice meted out to them by the Pandiya Mannan. The city of Madurai is the main place where the events in Silapathikaram took place. When I took charge, I was inspired by the fact that this is where the great epic unfolded and I decided to do something around this," Manivannan told TNM.
The 24 varieties growing around Vaigai as mentioned in the epic include date palm, Magizhampoo, Vellaikongu or Irubogam, Indian Kino or Vijayasar tree, Burflower or White Kadamba tree, Punnai tree, Red Sandalwood or Manjadi, Arjuna tree or Marudha Maram, Champak and Saffron, the Myrobalan or Cherry Plum. Different varieties of jasmine including wild ones, golden and Arabian jasmine have been mentioned in the book. Other species mentioned include the Musanda plant, bamboo, Kakkattan or Convolvulus plant, Ilavam or red flowered silk cotton tree, Pidavam or indigo tree and more.
"It took me around 6 months to trace each and every one of these species said to have grown in Madurai. I went and checked in several nurseries. Some were not even available in Madurai. I took the help of two of my friends - Balasiva, who works in TVS Motors and Dr. Badri - who have extensive knowledge in this area. Together we collected all the 24 species and brought them here," Manivannan added.
Manivannan brought 110 saplings in total and planted them in his office campus with the help of his juniors.
"It was quite a bit of effort. Earlier the campus had a large, dry pond. We had to put soil and landscape the area before we couple plant the saplings," he added.
Once the planting was done, Manivannan named it 'Silambam Park', after Kannagi's famous anklet.
"The park is a reminder of the rich literary history of Madurai. We inaugurated it on Wednesday and now it is open to everyone. We are even getting boards to explain the literary significance of Kannagi and Kovalan's epic and connect it to the garden. Detailed information about each and every plant and tree will also be provided for the visitor to get the entire picture," he said.
Manivannan says that police officers turning their campuses green is not a new story. In Ramanathapuram too, officers planted 13,000 fruit bearing trees in 25 acres of land. However, a park that has a centuries' old story connected to every sapling is indeed unique in Tamil Nadu.