Madal is an ancient Indian practice where a man rejected by the woman he loved would go around riding on a fake horse made of palmyra stems badmouthing the woman, in an effort to embarass her into marrying him. Madal existed in both North India and South India, but in South Indian women weren’t allowed to practice it, only men. Now the Periya Thirumadal and Siriya Thirumadal are two devotional poems by the Alwar Thirumangai Alwar in praise of Vishnu. In these poems Thirumangai Alwar (a man) pretends to be a woman who was rejected by her beloved, Vishnu, and who defies South Indian custom by threatening to engage in Madal against Vishnu.

In order to justify this conduct, Thirumangai Alwar cites several examples of women in the past who have engaged in Madal and other overt romantic displays. Here is one such example from the Siriya Thirumadal:

ārāṉum ātāṉum allal avaḷ kāṇīr
vārār vaṉamulai vācavatatai eṉṟu
ārāṉum collappaṭuvāḷ avaḷum taṉ
pēr āyam ellām oḻiyap perum teruve
tār ār taṭam toḷ taḷaikkalaṉ piṉ pōṉāḷ
ūrār ikaḻṇtiṭappaṭṭāḷē maṟṟeṉakkiṅku
ārāṉum kaṟpippār nāyakarē

She who is not any ordinary person, who covered her bosom in a corset, known as Vasavadatta, is praised by all, and even she, leaving aside all her friends in a huge street, went behind the king of Vatsa who had huge shoulders with garlands decorating them and who had his legs chained. Was she spoken ill of by the people? For me in my present state, can the words of those who counsel patience which is the opposite of my determination be binding on me?

For those who don’t know, Vasavadatta was the wife of Udayana king of Vatsa, and their love story is found in several sources but most famously in the Svapna Vasavadattam, a Sanskrit play by the 3rd century Sanskrit playwright Bhasa. In any case, in his commentary on the Siriya Thirumadal, the Sri Vaishnava Acharya Periyavachan Pillai elaborates on Thirumangal Alwar’s statement that Vasavadatta is “praised by all”:

prasittaiyaṉṟē? vilakṣaṇarellām koṇṭāṭappaṭṭavaḷaṉṟō? srī jaṉakarājaṉ tirumakaḷ ōlakkattilum kuṟaivaṟruḷoruttiyeṉṟu koṇṭāṭappaṭumavaḷaṉṟō?

Is she not famous? Is she not praised by all distinguished persons? Was she not praised in the assembly of king Janaka’s daughter Sita as one woman without any faults?

I’m interested in the part in bold. My question is, when was Vasavadatta praised in the assembly of Sita? And what assembly is this? Is this incident mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana? If not, is it mentioned in one of the Ramayanas found in the Puranas?


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