The Tamil Life of Purūravas A Vernacular Adaptation of a Sanskrit Myth

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Ofer Peres



The Purūravac-cakkiravartti-katai (PCK), “The Story of Emperor Purūravas,” is a pre-modern Tamil folk telling of the ancient Urvaśī-Purūravas legend. The classical narrative of King Purūravas of the Lunar Dynasty tells about his love affair with the celestial nymph Urvaśī, their tragic separation, and final reunion. The PCK follows the classical narrative closely, but interposes a long account of other exploits of Purūravas, which do not appear in any of the Sanskrit tellings of the story. In this supplement, which I call “The Tamil Life of Purūravas,” Purūravas faces a tragic chain of unavoidable events, but eventually restores his former status through meditation and devotion. A comparative examination of the two parts of the text, that is, the classical narrative and the Tamil Life, shows that the latter generates an inverted mirror image of the fundamental notions implied in the classical narrative. The outcome of this structure is a shift in the ideological tendencies of the narrative toward a local ethos and popular religious notions. The PCK is thus shown to be a field of cultural negotiations, in which opposing ideologies contend for superiority, and its structure can be regarded as a transformative mechanism applied by local and popular cultural forms to enable appropriation of classical narrative traditions.

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