Kamban was a great Tamil poet of Chola age. He was born in the 9th century in Therazhundur, a village in the culturally rich Tanjavur district in the modern state of Tamil Nadu in South India.
He composed the famous `Kamba Ramayana`, which is regarded as the greatest epic in Tamil Literature. This epic by Kamban has got universal recognition because of its palatable style of writing. The family deity of this poet is Lord Narasimha, who was an avatar of Lord Mahavishnu. Lord Narasimha emerged from Kamba (pillar) to save the child devotee Prahlada from his father`s attack, who was an `Asura` and hated Lord Vishnu. So, the devoted parents of Kamban named him after the name of `Kamba`.
Kamban was also well versed in Sanskrit along with his mother language Tamil. His expertise in Sanskrit can be seen from his works. Kamban`s Ramayan was based on the original Ramayana, the story of the life of Rama, the prince of Ayodhya by Sage Valmiki in Sanskrit. But, it was not a mere translation of the Sanskrit Ramayana. It is very different from the Sanskrit work in most respects except for the names of the characters and the original storyline.
This great writer was also influenced by the Vaishnavite literature before his time where the story of Rama has been much emphasized. Kamban like the Bhakti saints, the Alvars and the Nayanmars, had supreme command over die art of versification. He was a master of characterization and description. Other than the major characters, even minor characters like Mantara, etc. are brought to the fore by his magic touch. He was also adept in the technique of stage management.
Kamban received the patronage of Sadaiyan of Vennai. The contemporary Chola king is believed to have granted to him a fief called Kamba Nadu and also the famous title `Kavi Chakravart` or `the emperor among poets` the tide by which he is reverentially referred to even today. Besides the Ramayana, he is also said to have written the Erelupadn, Shadajjoparandadi and the Mummanikkovai.
It was in no small measure due to Kamban`s Ramayana that the story of Rama became very popular in the ancient Tamil country. This great literary work also succeeded in reviving the greatness of Tamil language during this period. The Ramayana written by Kamban was known as the `Ramavataram`, which is an epic of 10,000 odd verses, of 4-lines each.
In his compositions, Kamban used his own lyrical beauty, brilliant rhymes, simile and the astonishing variety of poetry yet still conforming to the strict classification of verses in classical poems. He earned title `Kavicakravarti` i, e, Emperor among poets in Tamil language. Kamban is also known as “Kamba Nattalvar” since he revived the greatness of Tamil language through his work during the medieval period.
In the words of Justice M M Ismail, a Tamil scholar especially in Kamba Ramayana, “Kamban sang the story of Rama as of God come down on earth to suffer, chasten, uplift, help and guide men. Apart from this difference in the treatment of the hero, there is considerable difference in the poetic form between Valmiki and Kamban. Kamban`s Ramayana is a lyric, while Valmiki`s is an epic. The lyrical sparkle of Kamban and Tulsi Das goes well with their constant reminder that Rama is the Supreme Being Himself”.