Satthanar hailed from a place known as Seerthandalai, later came to be known as Seethalai. He was a grain merchant at Madurai and hence came to be called “Koolavanigan”. He was a contemporary of Cheran Senguttuvan and was believed to have practiced Buddhism. He was sung in praise of the Pandyan king Chittira Maadatthu Thunjiya Nanmaran in the Sangam work of Purananuru.
Vaiyapuri Pillai sees him along with Ilango Adigal as developing two divergent strands of the Chilampu legend that forms the basis for both Cilapatikaram and Manimekalai. He is seen as an expert in both orthodox and heterodox systems of Indian philosophy and as an advocate of Buddhist philosophy. It is seen that Maṇimekhalai was written after the Tirukkural was composed, because there are two verses from the Tirukkural quoted in Manimekalai.
- Manimegalai – The daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, who was born with bravery and virtues.
- Udayakumaran – The Chola King, who was madly in love with Manimekalai. He was a foolish king, who wanted things done only in the way he wanted them to be.
- Sudhamati – Manimekalai’s most faithful and trustworthy friend.
- Manimekalā – The sea goddess who protects the heroine.
- Deeva Teelakai – Guardian Goddess of the Dharma seat. She was born in the town of Puhar and got married to a merchant. Her husband once traveled to trade. Even after so many days he didn’t return. Feared and worried that her husband might have died she tries to give away her life. (Not by suicide but by doing “sathiya paritchai” i.e. praying to God to take away her life due to the death of her husband). Suddenly she hears a voice from the sky which says that her husband is alive and he will come back. But Deeva Teelakai expresses her disinterest in a family life and her interest in spirituality. She then gets the Amirta Surabhi and was also guided by the voice to travel to the Dharma seat and protect it until she meets her destiny.
Manimekalai is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. It was probably composed in the 6th century CE. It is an epic poem that is a poem in 30 cantos. Its story is basically a sequel to Cilappatikaram. It narrates the story of the conversion to Buddhism of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi. Manimekalai is the only existing Tamil Buddhist literary text.
Central Story of Manimegalai
The epic is set in the town of Kaveripattinam, in Tamil Nadu, and in Nainatheevu of Naga Nadu, a small grimy island of the Jaffna Peninsula in modern Sri Lanka. In the story, the dancer-courtesan Manimekalai is pursued by the loving Cholan prince Udyakumaran, but to a certain extent wants to set aside herself to a religious life. The sea goddess Manimekala Theivam puts her to sleep and takes to the island Ma?ipallavam (Nainatheevu). After waking up and travelling around the island Ma?imekalai comes across the Dharma-seat, the seat on which Buddha had taught and settled two martial Naga princes, which was placed there by the God Indra.
The sea goddess also forecasts that Bhikshu Arava?a A?igal in her local town will teach Manimekala further. Manimekalai then used the mantra which the sea goddess had given her. She then becomes a Buddhist nun or Bhikshuni and practices to rid her from the repression of birth and death and attain Nirvana.