Kannagi is a legendary Tamil vaishya woman who forms the central character of the Tamil epic Silapathikaram (100-300 CE). The story relates how Kannagi took revenge on the Pandyan King of Madurai, who had wrongfully put her husband to death, by cursing the city. Silapathigaaram is written by Ilango Adigal.
Kovalan was the son of a wealthy merchant of Vaishya community in Puhar who married Kannagi. Kovalan met a dancer Madhavi and had an affair with her, which prompted him to spend all his wealth on the dancer. At last, penniless, Kovalan realised his mistake and returned to his wife Kannagi. Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade in Madurai, by selling the precious anklet of Kannagi.
Madurai was ruled by Pandya king Nedunj Cheliyan I. When Kovalan tried to sell the anklet, it was mistaken for a stolen anklet of the queen. Kovalan was accused of having stolen the anklet and was immediately beheaded by the king without trial. When Kannagi was informed of this, she became furious, and set out to prove her husband's innocence to the king.
Kannagi came to the king's court, broke open the anklet seized from Kovalan and showed that it contained rubies, as opposed to the queen's anklets which contained pearls. Realizing the fault, the king committed suicide in shame, after having delivered such a huge miscarriage of justice. Kannagi uttered a curse that the entire city of Madurai be burnt. The capital city of Pandyas was set ablaze resulting in huge losses. However, at the request of Goddess Meenakshi, she calmed down and later, attained salvation. The story forms the crux of Silapathikaram written by poet Ilango Adigal.
Kannagi or Kannaki Amman is eulogized as the epitome of chastity and is worshiped as a goddess in select regions. She is worshiped as goddess Pattini in Sri Lanka by the Sinhalese Buddhists, Kannaki Amman by the Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus and as Bhagavathy in the South Indian state of Kerala.
In popular culture
A Tamil epic film Kannagi directed by R.S Mani released in 1942. This is the first Tamil film based on the epic Silapadhigaaram. A similar second movie named Poompuhar released later in 1964. A statue of Kannagi holding her anklet, depicting a scene from Silapathikaram was installed on Marina Beach, Chennai. It was removed in December 2001 citing reasons that it hindered traffic. The statue was reinstalled in June 2006.
A Sinhala film called Paththini was released on 5 May 2016 in Sri Lanka. Goddess Paththni or Kannagi was live acted by Pooja Umashankar.