Significant parts of Manimekalai, a Buddhist epic from the later Sangam age, take place in Kanchipuram. Manimekalai is a dancer who later becomes a nun. She obtains the Amuda Surabhi (nectar vessel), which produces food without end. This she uses for performing charity. In the course of her travels, she is directed by her grandfather, Masattuvan, to go to Kanchi, as the city had been devastated by a drought. When she goes there, she finds a temple to Buddha at the very centre of the city:
With her heart full of compassion, the maid
Went around the fort rightwards, and got down
Into the central part of the city.
She prayed at the temple built by the king’s brother
To Buddha, who had sat under the Bodhi tree
Which had golden branches
And fresh green leaves rivaling emerald.
The king builds a garden in honor of Manimekalai’s coming to help his people. Delighted, Manimekalai makes him build a lotus seat for Buddha. She then places the Amuda Surabhi on the lotus seat and welcomes all living beings to gather to be fed. It is an unforgettable scene in which all the marginalized, the hungry, the defeated, and the maimed come to her for succour:
Like life-giving sustenance for those who ate,
Like the result of giving alms to ascetics,
Like the yield when the seed is sown with thought
To water, earth, season, and work in the fields,
Like rains that fall to help the earth’s yield,
Was the maid compared and thanked by people
Whose hunger-sickness had been cured by her.
She then meets her spiritual teacher, Aravana Adikal, who instructs her in Dharma. Her mind illumined, Manimekalai dedicates herself to the ideal life that leads to salvation.