Sheelavathi is a name that appears in several Hindu texts. A chaste woman and a dutiful wife, she is not one of the five Sati's (Savithri, Sita, Draupadi, Anasuya and Mandodari) mentioned in Hindu Puranas and Upanishads.
Sheelavathi is so popular that a phrase has been coined that is often used to refer to a chaste woman or dutiful wife.
‘Sheelavathi Naalu Vrutham' , a poetic work, believed to be authored by Kunjan Nambiar, that tells the story of the ‘ideal' woman, was first published in 1874. The same story was written and performed by Nambiar as ‘Ottanthullal', a folk art popularised by him.
The Malayalam film ‘Sheelavathi' (1967) was probably the first Indian movie that told this story on screen. Produced under the banner of Aries Films and directed by P. B. Unni, the film was not successful. The high point of the film was the music by G. Devarajan.
Sheelavathi (K. R. Vijaya) and Ugrathapas (Sathyan) students and inmates at the hermitage of sage Athri (P. J. Antony) fall in love. They get married after they complete their Vedic lessons. Ugrathapas establishes his own Vedic school. The couple leads a happy family life. Lord Shiva and Parvathi subject Sheelavathi to a test of character.
Ugrathapas contracts leprosy. He tortures Sheelavathi for no fault of hers. The chaste and dutiful wife, Sheelavathi, runs the household by begging, makes no complaint and nurses her husband sincerely. One day Ugrathapas orders his wife to take him to the mansion of the courtesan (Vijayalalitha).
While carrying her husband in a basket on her head Ugrathapas's leg strikes Sage Mandavya's (Kottayam Chellappan) head. The sage curses Ugrathapas saying that he will die at the next sunrise.
To save her husband's life, Sheelavathi starts a penance. She pleads to the Sun not to rise the next morning and it does not. This is the power that the dutiful and chaste acquires in the story. She is now able to control the natural forces. The sun does not rise; the universe comes to a halt. Anasuya (T. R. Omana), the consort of Sage Athri appears before Sheelavathi and requests her to withdraw her penance. And she does so. Ugrathapas dies only to be brought back to life by the blessings of the Trinity. Sheelavathi's character is proved beyond doubt.
The nine songs written by P. Bhaskaran were set to tune by Devarajan.
The romantic duet ‘Valkalamooriya vasantha yamini…' (K. J. Yesudas- P. Susheela), and ‘Surabhi maasam vannallo…' (S. Janaki and chorus) became instant hits. The other hits include ‘Chirichu kondodi nadakkum…', and ‘Muttathu prathyusha deepam…' (Janaki). A devotional, ‘Om Saraswathim namami…' was rendered by Devarajan, along with P. B. Sreenivas and Yesudas.
Will be remembered:As the first Indian film to narrate the story of Sheelavathi. And for its music.