Valayapathi is an ancient Tamil Jain epic and is considered amongst the Five Great Epics of Tamil literature of Sangam age along with Cilappatikaram, Manimekalai, Civaka Cintamani and Kundalakesi. The first mention of the Five Great Epics, also known as Aimperumkappiyam is found in the commentary of Nannul by Mayilainathar. But the names of the Five Great Epics in Tamil literature are not mentioned by Mayilainathar. The first mention of the names of the epics is found in the late 18th century – early 19th century literary work, Thiruthanikaiula. Tamil Vidu Thoothu, an earlier poetic work from the 17th century states the great epics as Panchkavyams. According to Vaiyapuri Pillai, Valayapathi can be traced back to the early 10th century CE by, where as Arunachalam stated that the epic belongs to the early 9th century.
Among the five great Tamil epics, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi exist in parts and are not fully available. Only the fragments mentioned in commentaries and other Tamil literary works have been able to survive. There are several claims of existing palm leaf manuscript of Valayapathi, but few traces can be found. The loss of the epic has occurred in the recent periods of the late 19th century CE. Presently, only 72 stanzas of Valayapathi have been recovered from several secondary sources. Fragments have been obtained from commentaries of Yapperungala Viruthi Ceyyul and from commentaries of Tolkappiyam by Nachinarkiniyar and Ilampuranar. The commentary on Cilappatikaram by Adiyarkkunallar and another commentary of Yapperungalam comprises of 3 and 2 stanzas of Valayapathi respectively. Almost 66 of the presently available verses were available from Purathirattu, a 14th century anthology.
The story of Valayapathi cannot be differentiated and summarised from the presently available fragments of the great Tamil epic. Although some scholars argue that the story of Valayapathi has been recreated in chapter 35of Vanikapuranam or Vaisyapuranam which was composed by Chintamani Pulavar in the year 1855. Chintamani Pulavar narrates the chapter as the tale of Vaira Vanikan Valayapathi, meaning Valayapathi the Diamond merchant, of the five great epics known as Panchakavyam. But the word Valayapathi is not mentioned in the text.
The content of the restored poetry are consistent and constant with the principles. This had led to the conclusion that the epic Valayapathi is a Jain religious literary work. Various aspects of the epic such as advocation of asceticism, rejection of worldly pleasures, dismay at meat eating, praise for chastity, vision of constant change, transiency and misanthropy depict that the author of Valayapathi was a Jain ascetic monk. The epic also states the 345th verse of Tirukkural.
According to S. Vaiyapuri Pillai, a Tamil scholar, Valayapathi is one of the oldest literary works composed in the Viruttam metre. The merit and exquisiteness of Valayapathi has been eulogized by Adiyarkkunallar who cites from the epic and lauds the quality of the verses in his commentary of the epic Cilappatikaram by Ilanko Atikal.
உலகம் மூன்றும் ஒருங்குடன் ஏத்துமாண்
திலகம் ஆய திறல் அறி வன் அடி
வழுவில் நெஞ்சொடு வாலிதின் ஆற்றவும்
தொழுவல் தொல்வினை நீங்குக என்று யான்