Sexualities at work: Unraveling the body myth in the Kannagi Narratives

Abstract: This article analyses how Kannagi as a symbol of chastity originated and acquired meaning; the relationship between chastity and body, its patriarchal representation in Śilappadikāram and understand the problematic working of female sexuality as a patriarchy-defined system in the select narratives of Kannagi. Two narratives, one from Tamil and another from Malayalam tracing the depiction of female sexuality over the centuries have been selected. The narrative from Tamil is a folklore ballad called Kovalan Katai at the narrative from Malayalam, a poem by T.P. Rajeevan titled Kannaki. If Kovalan Katai is an oral, ancient narrative representation of the myth of Kannagi, the poem Kannaki is a modern, literacy rereading. The study also attempts to outline the political and cultural differences between these two narratives in their respective interpretation of the Kannagi story.

Keywords: female sexuality, chastity, patriarchy, subjectivity, female body

A very interesting example of a stereotypical representation of the ‘power’ of women’s chastity and the need to keep it under ‘control’ is found in the Malayalam novel Chemmeen (1956) by Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillar, which describes the love story of Karuthamma and Pareekkutti, The plot of this novel is based on a popular superstition among the fishermen of Kerala that if a man’s wife is not chaste, disaster will befall upon him on sea. Later, Karuthamma sacrifices her love for Pareekutti according to her father’s selfish interests and marries a man called Palani. Towards the end when Karuthamma embraces her lover Pareekutti, her husband’s boat is caught in a storm at the sea and ends up in his death. The accepted myth that the life of the husband is in the hands of the ‘chaste’ woman at home is one of the many ways in which patriarchy tries to keep female sexuality under control. Whatever the case may be, whether it is a popular story as mentioned above, or an authentic tale from the Puranas or Ithihasas, ’controlling’ women (specifically her sexuality) is always the agenda of our society, religion or culture in general.

In her essay ‘Professions for Women’, Virginia Woolf 1 identifies two major obstacles which men usually have placed in the way of the female. The first of these Woolf calls ’The Angel in the House’.2 In Woolf’s view, the image of the self-sacrificing, complainant, pure female, which was used to confine the Victorian woman to the domestic sphere and to control her, continued to haunt the female writer into the twentieth century, urging her to “be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of sex. Above all, be pure”. (Woolf 285) A woman’s capacity to discern her own identity as an artist or for that matter, as an individual gets strictly defined by patriarchal constructions of gender-appropriate behaviour. Therefore, ’The Angel in the House’ becomes a symbol of the control that male/ patriarchy continues to exercise over the female psyche. Woolf explains: “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.” (Woolf 285)

Interestingly, the image of the ‘Angel in the house’ has supreme significance in Kannagi’s life story not just because of her portrayal as an all suffering, passive housewife, but relevant in the ways in which she tries to break free of that image ‘to find herself’. Kannagi, the heroine Śilappadikāram is hailed as the symbol of chastity in Tamil culture. As a chaste and faithful wife, Kannagi is cast in a traditional mould until Kovalan’s death, she stays behind in the background, suffering without complaint the pain and humiliation of her husband’s abandonment. With Kovalan’s death, Kannagi finds herself and rises to full stature in her encounter with the Pandya king. In the Book of Pukar she is the young and noble wife of Kovalan; in the Book of Madurai she metamorphoses into the custodian of Justice; the Book of Vanci recognises the power of chastity and starts worshipping her as the goddess Pattini.3 In Śilappadikāram, Kannagi’s transformation occurs mainly in three different stages: 1) she is a chaste and uncomplaining wife who is deserted by her husband. 2) She turns into a mythical destructive force; and 3) finally she becomes a tutelary deity. At the same time, the character of Madhavi as the lover of Kovalan in Śilappadikāram challenges certain qualities considered to be manifestations of a chaste woman.

The objective of this paper is largely twofold; to analyse how Kannagi as a symbol of chastity originated and acquired meaning; the relationship between chastity and body, its patriarchal representation Śilappadikāram and understand the problematic working of female sexuality as a patriarchy-defined system in the select narratives of Kannagi. To arrive at this end view, I have selected two narratives, one from Tamil and another from Malayalam tracing the depiction of female sexuality over the centuries. The narrative from Tamil is a folklore ballad called Kovalan Katai and the narrative from Malayalam, a poem by T. P. Rajeevan titled Kannaki. If Kovalan Katai is an oral, ancient narrative representation of the myth of Kannagi, the poem Kannaki a modern, literary rereading. Paper also attempts to outline the political and cultural differences between these two narratives in their respective interpretation of the Kannagi story.

Body Wrapped in Chastity: The Patriarchal Trap

Jacob Pandian in ‘The Goddess Kannaki: A Domiiunt Symbol of South Indian Tamil Society’ writes:

Despite structural changes that occurred in the following centuries the significance of the goddess remained the same; the religious theme of chastity symbolised by the goddess Kannagi has continued to be an important conceptual category for the Tamil people. Modem Tamil society is not politically autonomous and is structurally different from what it was about two thousand years ago, yet the symbol of the goddess plays a significant role in the maintenance of Tamil cultural identity. (177)

However, we also need to be aware of the characteristics of this symbol of Kannagi and map out those ways in which the ’portrayal of Kannagi’ is in tune with patriarchal notions itself. Patriarchy has this vicious technique of assigning chastity as the most idealistic goal the female should achieve in life and then places husband, as the custodian and catalyst through whom she should reach that goal. Kannagi, beyond doubt, is considered as the most striking example of the virtuous wife. She is hailed in texts as Karpukkarasi4 , (the queen of chastity) is regarded as an outstanding example by the Tamil epic tradition of the power of chastity and female spirituality. In the story, Kovalan abandons Kannagi and begins to live with Mātavi, a beautiful and talented dancer. In those heartbreaking moments of hers, she follows the footsteps of our pativratas, does nothing but resorts to ’waiting’! And we know, the ’waiting woman’ has been one of the dominant stereotypical images of ancient stories, songs and anecdotes and serves as a watchdog in differentiating pure/impure woman. So to understand the total evolution of the persona of Kannagi, it is necessary to analyse the different strands; religious, social and political, in the Tamil cultural experience that reflects her physical as well as symbolic journey.

The twin concepts of karpu (chastity) and aṇaṅku (dangerous sacred power out of chastity), which broadly covers Tamil notions of female sexuality, becomes significant because they are straightway connected to the life cycle of Kannagi. Or we can say that the present day symbol of Kannagi is believed to be the result of being chaste irrespective of Kovalan’s adulterous behaviour and with the help of the so called inner power/energy gained out of chastity that she reacts to the Pandya king by plucking her breast and hurling over the city of Madurai. It is widely accepted that it is the sense of wifely duty, result of karpu that makes Kannagi so patient, so tolerant and uncomplaining after Kovalan’s separation That is why when after months of forsaking, Kovalan comes back to Kannagi, and she could greet him wholeheartedly. Moreover, she offers him her anklet, the only valuable now left with her. So the rule is: a woman has to be faithful to her husband, (regardless of his conduct) all through her life, then she will be blessed with an inner power which is sacred as well as ferocious. Additionally, women are credited with aṇaṅku to control and alter the course of events in order to save their husbands from death and to provide their families with wealth, health and prosperity. Even a slight deviation from such a circle of moralistic auspiciousness is strictly punishable.

Closely related to the idealising of chastity is the formation of a binary category for women in accordance with the way a woman obey/ disobey patriarchal value system. Therefore it has become a truism of patriarchy that representations of women consistently reflect the virgin/ whore dichotomy dominant in our culture. Therefore, a good Tamil woman like Kannagi is ’chaste, intelligent and divine’ whereas Madhavi is ’corrupted, foolish and vicious’. The bad woman is presented as having virtues that are diametrically opposed to the good woman. She is always portrayed as a temptress, wayward and deceitful. These oppositions are presented in an essential and uncomplicated way so that they appear as the only ‘right’ path. It has become the ’norm’ any deviation from the norm is vehemently criticised.

A man is supposed to have such qualities like braveness, virility and manliness and a woman is meant to have motherliness and chastity. While in our culture the “masculine” values comprise sexual potency, the “feminine” values deny or repress sexuality.5 We are taught to be like Kannagi6 — a woman who patiently waits for her husband; prays for his prompt return from his lover Matāvi. But it is improper to accept the patriarchal agenda that Kannagi got her fierce energy from containing chastity and unvarying control of sexuality. The portrayal of Kannagi is totally made by following those stereotypical rules acceptable to patriarchy; therefore her image is under patriarchy’s most vicious circle. Such a reductionist interpretation of the Kannagi myth both ends up in a distorted understanding of the role of patriarchy and also overlooks the significance of subjectivity in the lives of women.

It is the rationalisation of chastity as the ’proper’ female conduct that leads to the erasure of any female body expression from the text of Śilappadikāram. Ilango Adigal has only tried to speak about Kannagi’s body as a symbol of ’femininity’ rather than in terms of ’subjectivity’. The socio-ethical doctrine that women’s primary virtue is chastity operates mainly through restricting any bodily activity and confining her to be private/obedient/inactive. Through chastity, Adigal achieves a ’decency’, which naturally leads to the incarceration of Kannagi’s body to the ’private’ realm of the virtuous woman. Therefore, Kannagi’s body is kept totally in wrap in Kovalan’s absence, what I mean is not only any sort of physical breaching by Kannagi, but the total abstention from any sort of decking up. At the first part of the text, Ilango Adigal keeps Kannagi’s body, for that matter her sexuality, totally away from discourses on female subjectivity or freedom. We cannot see any portrayal of Kannagi as a woman of ‘sexual desire’; rather her longing is understood in terms of divinity or spirituality that germinates from a godlike loyalty to her husband. There is a representation and misrepresentation of the female body in Śilappadikāram. Even though the representation of Kannagi’s body occurs in the scene where Kannagi plucks her breast and throws over the city of Madurai, it is interpreted in line with patriarchal standards. Adigal projected Kannagi’s performance of the body as a feminised form, which later becomes the epitome of unreal virtue, but in doing so, he totally undermined the role of agency. Therefore, we need to dismantle Adigal’s concept of chastity as ideal sexuality and reread the ’plucking of the breast’ scene which is considered a divine act that originated from chastity. As Helene Cixous urges us to reclaim texts/bodies,“ It is volcanic; as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the old property crust, carrier of masculine investments; there’s no other way. There’s no room for her if she’s not a he. If she’s a her-she, it’s in order to smash everything, to shatter the framework of institutions, to blow up the law, to break up the “truth” with laughter.” (888)

On the other hand, Kannagi’s transformation is the consequence or evolved from her controlled sexuality just because her expression of anger against the unjust killing her husband does not stop at the death of the king. She further uses her body – her breasts to censure the kingdom and transgress those limitations set by society. It is the transgressing these fixed boundaries that set Kannagi apart from the common images of chaste women in terms of a gender perception. We clearly notice the transformation of Kannagi from a woman whose sexuality is being ’controlled’ in the first phase of her life, while her husband was alive and in the second phase into a totally ’uncontrolled’/ free, performing body when injustice befell Kovalan.

R. Parthasarathy points out:

The epic world is dominated by patriarchy whose sexual fears it reflects. Patriarchy regards female sexuality as a threat to its power and attempts to contain it. Repressed for centuries by patriarchy, women were forced into silence while struggling to use a discourse that was inadequate to express reality fully. Women’s voices have gone unheard, for historically they were excluded from participating in the cultural dialogue that shapes reality. (10)

One most relevant argument seen in the text from gender perspective is the sentence uttered by matrons worshipping “Losing her husband, whose chest stone with a beautiful garland, this lady won her victory with her anklet. Is this war waged by her breast unjust?” (1978: 304) which reiterates the importance of symbols both in cultural contexts and how those can be explicated as a tool within feminism or just as a symbolic/ mythic reference. What is the real motive behind Kannagi’s action of plucking her breast? If it is a symbolic gesture, then how does one understand/theorise it from a gender perspective? Historically, women’s breasts have been viewed in both maternal and erotic terms. Breasts7 have traditionally mattered in popular and symbolic language as signifiers of sexuality or maternity. In the Indian context also breasts are regarded as the most visible sign of a woman’s femininity, the signal of her sexuality, but with a difference. Here, it is viewed as a disgusting sign of ‘taboo’; therefore, discourses on and around the female body is largely prohibited by patriarchal cultural norms. Kannagi’s plucking of her breast to burn the city of Madurai is one of the most startling and unique scenes from any ancient text or in mythology. By plucking her breast Kannagi has tried to communicate the necessity of bodily performance at a crucial time of her life. We should consider this act by Kannagi as independent expression of the body by exposing “natural’ values of femininity underlining in the process of male-centric cultural image construction. Any use of the breast-scene to extol ways of patriarchy has to be condemned and negated.

Kannagi is an independent female force capable of multiplying into a plethora of female forms like the placid house wife, ferocious custodian of justice and the all powerful, omniscient goddess. Kannagi’s silence in the beginning turns into vengeance and again modifies into subjectivity in the later part of the epic. Perhaps, Kannagi is the only epic heroine/female character with such an intriguing multilayered identity. She should be perceived as a submissive/faithful wife who encompasses and transgresses those gender-marked boundaries through physical, emotional and spiritual action. These layers such as an ideal wife to a revengeful, responsible social being to a ubiquitous deity of the land could definitively be understood from a possible gender conscious perspective. Her’s is definitely a radical journey from being passive to exploring one’s ’female’ subjectivity, towards an absolute symbolic/mythical abstraction.

Kovalan Katai: Madhavi Speaks her Mind8

It is generally accepted that Ilango Adigal based his work on an earlier tale, a popular ballad called Kovalan Katai (The story of Kovalan). The authorship of Kovalan Katai is attributed to Pukarenti Pulavar. But no genuine historical material validates this point; what is more appealing is the way in which it has been transmitted orally through the ages. Kovalan Katai is radically different in many aspects to Śilappadikāram. It appears that Ilango Adigal has trimmed down the ballad version to suit it to the ideological position he upholds. Here in this section I compare and contrast the folk ballad Kovalan Katai with the established classical text of Śilappadikāram. Kovalan Katai is a highly intrigued, multilayered story completely true to its title, rather than praising the virtues of Kannagi, this story, for the most part, takes sides with Kovalan and his affair with Madhavi. A very explicit difference of the story with Śilappadikāram is the presence of many sub-stories within the narrative. In total there are more than 10 sub- stories in the story that provide detailed information about the progress of the story outside the core incidents in other classical versions like Śilappadikāram

The birth of Kovalan, Kannagi and Madhavi is explained with the help of such stories. If Śilappadikāram ends in the Chera kingdom with the deification of Kannagi, Kovalan Katai concludes with goddess Kannagi reaching a place called Tiruvorriyur. Kannagi meets Tiyakar (Siva) and he informs her that she will be propitiated on an auspicious day in the month of cittirai (April-May) with a special puja. Therefore the proper geographical division between Chola, Pandya and Chera is absent in Kovalan Katai as the story ends with the killing of the Pandya king in Madurai and Kannagi going to Tiruvorriyur. We get a more ferocious picture of Kannagi than in other versions as she transforms into Kāli. She is portrayed as Kāli with a lion-tooth fang, red matted hair like Siva’s and large eyes like chicken’s eggs. She also carries a variety of weapons like trident in one hand, a staff, fetter and a twelve-pointed spear in other hands. The symbolism associated with breast is absent in Kovalan Katai. In contrast to other versions in Kovalan Katai, Kannagi makes use of her anklet not breast to bum the city of Madurai.

Let us analyse the love triangle in Kovalan Katai and see how this folk story deviates from the ’classical’Śilappadikāram in the representation of the lives of women and their sexuality. In Kovalan Katai we have an exceptional picture of the relationship between Kovalan-Kannagi-Madhavi in fact opposite to the portrayal of these characters in black and white in Śilappadikāram. Although Madhavi is introduced during her dance performance, her performance does not occur in the Chola court like it does in the classical versions but during the auspicious occasion of the marriage of Kovalan and Kannagi. Before performing, she announces that she will afterwards throw her gold necklace to the crowd and that whosoever’s neck it lands on will return to her home with her as her husband. Kannagi and her parents try to hide Kovalan inside the inner chamber of the house. But as destined, the necklace falls on Kovalan and he finds he cannot remove it from his neck. Madhavi further offers him betel leaves that have been smeared with a magical paste prepared by her mother Vasantamalai. Kovalan leaves with Madhavi in the very presence of his parents and wife Kaniugi such a scene is totally unavailable in any other Kannagi-Kovalan legend. Interestingly Kovalan Katai depicts the bond between Kovalan and Madhavi as more intense and sensitive than the one with Kannagi. There are many instances to prove this point. The very first meeting with Madhavi had a tremendous impact on Kovalan and he stays with her for twelve years.

To people asking not leave them Kovalan replies: “who were my mother and father? Who is this other girl, when Madhavi who makes me desire is here? Who is this other girl, when beautiful Madhavi who gives me pleasure, is here? I will have no other woman!” (Noble 320) Kovalan accepts the fact that he is sexually attracted to Madhavi and enjoys living with her. Therefore, Kannagi’s every attempt to bring him back fails miserably. As directed by her mother in law, Kannagi sends a letter to Kovalan requesting him to return home. Kovalan is depicted as torn between his wife and lover, although touched by the pleas of Kannagi but finds it difficult to leave Madhavi. He waits for permission from Madhavi to go to his town to meet Kannagi. At the same time Kovalan Katai agrees on the so called evil nature of Madhavi when in the story she attempts three times to kill Kovalan when he tries to visit Kannagi on receipt of news that she

is dying. Again it is to pay off the debt to Madhavi that Kovalan and Kannagi travel to Madurai to sell her anklet. The story has another interesting dimension where Madhavi commits sathi by jumping into the fire as a devoted wife instead of Kannagi. Madhavi refuses Kannagi’s request to light the pyre so that she can jump in. Instead Madhavi insists that it is she who has the right to be burned with Kovalan as she shared twelve years with him. At this level Kovalan Katai deconstructs the popular classical consumption of celebrating ‘the virtuous all enduring wife’ Kannagi replacing it with Madhavi with whom Kovalan lived most of his life.

Kannagi: A Woman Who Lost Her Breast

T. P. Rajeevan’s poem Konnaki presents the story of Kannaki as a crucial cultural myth of a powerful woman, a myth whose manifestations are essential in understanding contemporary society’s varying attitudes toward women. This poem endeavors to revise the ancient Kannaki myth by contextualising and subverting to pave way for a greater gender space for women. Even though Tamil cultural tradition recognises Kannaki’s inner ’power’ to a certain limit, we need to scrutinise with what tools these qualities are defined. Of course, the answer would be patriarchal, which results in the omission of voices of women and demonstration of women’s stories from a male perspective. In T. P. Rajeevan’s Kannaki is a woman who is in search of her lost breasts. The opening line of the poem itself poses a narrative resistance which clearly shows the feminist objection – ”Where have my breasts gone?” Here the protagonist negotiates her Relationship to patriarchal order and traditionally established power structures of society. She says that neither has she plucked away her breasts to ’burn the city’ nor has had them ’removed because of cancer’ nor has somebody borrowed it from her. She doubts so many people for stealing her breasts. From a classmate of childhood times to a present day senior head of a school where she works, list proves absolutely true about the plight of women and the kind horrified atmosphere in which they were thrown into. This is emphasised in the stanza here:

So many had fetish

Where have my breasts gone?

For some days

A black spectacle is following me

A hairy hand comes towards me

The tape measure at all times

Clasps me now a days

A camera peeps

Frequently a centipede

Gets into my blouse (Rajeevan 50-51)

Kannaki is a brilliant example of how myths can be effectively used to critique society and thereby provide an adequate tool to understand the problems faced by women in a patriarchal set up. The speaker lives in constant fear of everyone around and theft of her breasts make things ever worse. The Kannaki of the poem speaks much more than she was allowed to in the epic text and ventures into condemn those who try to subjugate women’s body. This poem connects a mythical past to contemporary times; from a revengeful Kannaki of mythical times to a contemporary woman who is even skeptical of the water in temple pond or a spotted cat. Breast is the most powerful symbol used in the poem, establishing an inseparable relationship of women to their body. At last Kannaki decides to give a newspaper advertisement for her lost breasts.

Would like to give a newspaper advertisement

but how do I recognise breasts like eyes, nose or lips

for all breasts have a common black spot, isn’t it?

My breasts

My grandmothers, those who never came out of zenana

Petite cockroaches, those who came with me to kasi temple

My breasts are my grandchildren

Two boys, fruits (Rajeevan 51)

T. P. Rajeevan’s feminist poem explores themes of body, female subjectivity and subjugation. A woman stripped of her ‘subjectivity’ is barren and the poem communicates this idea through a set of powerful images. Kannaki condemns that patriarchy has a stubborn or powerful hold through its successful habit of suppressing women and the acts of violence. Mutilation of the female body is one of the important ways in which patriarchy tries to control women. Towards the end of the poem, Kannaki becomes a strong voice of resistance and takes up an active political role. For example, Kannaki says ”In the morning television news, I saw my breasts, and a mob that moves their fingers between them, but actually it was a remote exodus between two mountains”(Rajeevan 51).The narrator not only voices for her own subjectivity, but is concerned about the other marginalised sections as well. The poem ends with a plea to those who might find her breasts; she requests them to give it to those who have been denied the right to have breasts and the other to the terror created by Ottamulachi in a breast-bud period. And she goes on to comment on the need to have two kannanchirattakal (coconut shell) to continue acting in the role of the female. Here the poet comments on the notion of a defined, unalterable female body operating strongly in constructing women’s lives in a male dominated society. The poem concludes with the call for deconstruction of the stereotypical notion that women are just their bodies and the notion of a defined, ’pious’ body set by patriarchy. Kannaki is a brilliant modernist retelling of the myth of Kannagi as it both voices for the violence against women and offers a subversive approach to sexuality.

Michel Foucault observes in The History of Sexuality that sexuality must not be seen as a drive but “as an especially dense transfer point for relations of power”. (103)

It is the various power structures that define various relationships in a patriarchal society including the man-woman relationship. OF the many ways through which patriarchy works, myth plays the most significant role as the communicator of values and morals. The myth of Kannagi is not free from the clutches of a sham male-dominated system in its projection as well as proliferation of images i.e. good/bad woman, controlling sexuality and assigning goddesship. Kannagi’s life is both a physical and symbolic journey. Till a particular point in life she disguises under the shade of patriarchy, but, presently Kannagi transgresses those traditional qualities of behaviour attributed to women and transforms into a revengeful female; full of power and glory. On the other hand, Śilappadikāram keeps silent on the life of Madhavi; it’s never been told from her perspective at all. Kannagi and Madhavi are portrayed as opposites, one as the ’legally wedded wife’ and the other as ’illegal concubine’. Kovalan Katai partially offers a different picture and zooms into the psychology of Kovalan and Madhavi. Kannaki on the other hand, attempts to recreate the character of Kannagi with a view to redefine her portrayal in myth and effectively uses that as a powerful tool to voice against the wicked sexualisation of the female body. This poem clearly moves from sexualisation to agency, initiating a counter narrative by a woman who lost her breast. In conclusion, the notion of sexuality as a defined essence operates in a masquerading fashion both in constructing women’s lives and in women constructing themselves. Any attempt to critique patriarchy and uplift women should definitely begin with addressing and dismantling those false representations.


  1. Even though Woolf talked in the context of the obstacles placed who aspires to be a successful novelist, this concept addresses stereotypical representations in general. Out of the first obstacle arises the second that of female self-realisation, a woman psychologically constrained in this way cannot know herself, she will only find herself if she is allowed to express herself freely. Virginia Woolf, Killing the Angel in the House: Selected Essays. London: Penguin, 1966: 285-286.
  2. This term is used from the title of a book of poems by Coventry Patmore published in 1854 where he tries to embody the Victorian feminine ideal. It depicts the iconic image of the female circulated by nineteenth century patriarchy took literary form in the person of the heroine, Honoria.
  3. Kannagi is worshipped as Pattini among Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. For more details see Ganananth Obeyesekere, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984 and L.S Hiatt, “The Pattini Cult of Ceylon; A Tamil Perspective“, A Social Compass 20, 973:234 -250
  4. There are mainly two Tamil Concepts of Chastity: Karpu and aṇaṅku. For more details see George Hart “Woman and the sacred in Ancient Tamilnad”, JAOS (32)2: 233-250 and V.S. Rajam “A Notion Semantically Reduced to Signify Female Sacred Power”, Journal of the American Oriental Society (106) 2: 257-272.
  5. For further reading see Helene Cixous, Sorties, Minnesota. 1986.
  6. We have many other examples such as Sita, Mandodari, Tara.
  7. Melanie Klein reread the Freudian emphasis on the phallus through her development of object-relations theory, identifying the mother as the central figure in the oedipal drama. Klein theorised that the infant directs feelings of gratification and love towards the ‘good’ breast and destructive impulses towards the frustrating ’bad’ breast. Hélene Cixous described breast as a replenishing source of creativity which acknowledges ’maternal debt and ’breasted experience’ in female life.
  8. I am extremely grateful to Sally A. Noble for allowing me to refer her unpublished PhD thesis titled, ’The Tamil Story of the Anklet: Classical and Contemporary Tellings of Cilappatikaram’, submitted to the Faculty of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Chicago, 1996.


Adigal, Ilango. The Śilappadikāram. Trans. B.R. Ramachandra Dikshithar. Madras: OUP, 1939. Print.

Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa”, Signs, 1.4 (1976):122-145. Print.

Foucalt, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.

Noble, Sally Ann. The Tamil Story of the Anklet: Classical and Contemporary Tellings of “Cilappatikaram”, Diss. University of Chicago, 1990. Print.


SEETHA VIJAYAKUMAR. Is Assistant Professor, NSS College, Pandalam.

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Is Assistant Professor, NSS College, Pandalam.

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