Classic Kannamba role as Kannagi, a character from the major Tamil Jain epic and morality tale Chilapathikaram
(1st C. AD), written by Elango Adigal. Hero Kovalan (Chinnappa) marries Kannagi (Kannamba), both being subjects of the Chola kingdom. But Kovalan then falls in love with the dancer Madhavi (Saroja) who causes his ruin. He is rescued by his dutiful wife, who offers to sell her golden anklet to help him restart his business. The anklet, which the king of the neighbouring Pandya kingdom suspects to be stolen, leads to the hero being beheaded by royal command. Kannagi avenges herself by proving the king was mistaken, causing him and his queen to die on the spot. Then in the spectacular finale, she sets the entire Pandyan capital town of Madurai on fire with a curse. Eventually Kannagi ascends to heaven. The film followed an earlier film of an important Tamil legend, Mani Mekalai (1940)
, scripted by A.A. Somayajulu, exploiting the revivalist interest in Tamil literature’s Sangam period (1-5 C. AD) promoted by major political/literary figures like Ramalingaswamy (1823-74) who prefigure Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker’s Self-Respect Movement in the state. Kannagi
extended this trend via Elangovan’s strident dialogues. Although Kannagi also figured in popular legends in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka and was subjected to various mutations down the centuries in poetry and theatre, as an icon she came to be identified with Kannamba’s image after this successful film. Jeevarathnam played the Jain Saint poetess Gaundi Adigal. The film was also known for its hit Chandrodayam idile
(sung by Chinnappa), and for its numerous special effects. Four earlier versions entitled Kovalan
were made in the period 1928-34.