The enduring popularity of the Tamil novel Ponniyan Selvan, now adapted for the big screen by Mani Ratnam


Moviegoers and critics alike eagerly await the release of Ponniyin Selvan-I, the first edition of a two-part film franchise based on an immensely popular work of historical fiction – Ponniyin Selvam – by author Kalki Krishnamurthy (1899- 1954). The novel’s enduring popularity stems from its connection to the culture and heritage of Tamil Nadu through a narrative woven around the Chola ruler.

The novel

Ponniyan Selvan means the son of Ponni (the river Cauvery). The novel was written by author and freedom fighter Kalki Krishnamurthy, and serialized from 1950 to 1954 on a weekly basis in the Tamil magazine “Kalki”. It was later published in book form in 1955. It tells the early life story of Rajaraja I, born Arunmozhi Varman and considered the greatest of all Chola rulers.

In world history, the Cholas are among the longest recorded dynasties with their reign peaking in the 9th and 10th centuries. During this period, the entire area south of the Tungabhadra River was united into a single unit under the Cholas.

Archaeometallurgist Sharada Srinivasan previously told the Indian Express that “in terms of the magnitude of achievement in art and architecture and the wealth of writings and epigraphic records, the Chola would stand out as one of the wealthiest dynasties in South Indian history”.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, it draws heavily on events and involves characters from the Chola dynasty.

Author Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, who wrote a sequel to Ponniyan Selvan called Cauvery Mainthan a decade ago, says: “No one can deny that this is the best book to enlighten people about history. of Tami Nadu and the people who would read the book would make an effort to learn more about the culture and history of our state.

He pointed out, however, that the novel had been widely criticized for ignoring the faults committed during the Chola reign in the 10th century.

Calling it a novel that “grabs the reader” with its storyline, he said that is why it is the best-selling novel in Tamil even today after so many years.

Professor Kandan, who works in the Department of Sculptures at Tanjavur Tamil University, said: “Reading the pages of the book, I could connect well with an English novel called Cholas written by KA Nilakantan Sastri. The book narrates all that happened during the reign of Cholas in South India. I am sure that Kalki Krishnamurthi had also read the book as part of the research for the Ponniyan Selvan. Even today, the book of Cholas is like a bible for authors and researchers.

The author

Born in 1899, R Krishnamurthi was a writer and freedom fighter, author of several short stories, novels, essays, travelogues and biographies. He wrote under his pseudonym, Kalki, and also ran a weekly Tamil magazine under the same title.

Most of Kalki’s novels were successful for his storytelling skills and humor in his writing. Most of his work revolved around cultural and social aspects of India, particularly Tamil Nadu.

Several of his creations have already been adapted for the small screen and now Ponniyan Selvan is a movie due for release on September 30.

Some of Kalki’s famous novels other than Ponniyan Selvan are Thiaga Boomi (1937), Solaimalai Ilavarasi (1947), Magudapathi (1942), Apalaiyin Kannir (1947) Alai Osai (1948), Devakiyin Kanavan (1950), Poiman Karadu ( 1950), Punnaivanattupuli (1952), Parthiban Kanavu (1941-42), among others.

He died in 1954 from tuberculosis.

Lasting popularity

Ponniyan Selvan is one of the best-selling novels in Tamil, and it continues to sell even 72 years after its publication. According to some estimates, its annual sales are still around 100,000 copies today. Not only does he continue to acquire new readers, but he is also celebrated for sparking people’s interest in Tamil history and culture.

Pushpalatha, a Chennai-based IT worker, recently read the book and said, “The author Kalki Krishnamurthy took snippets from the story, visited places ruled by the Cholas and told the story with his own imagination. …. In one of the chapters, he says, Kundavai, elder sister of Rajaraja Cholan (Arunmozhi Varman), believed in charity and had superior administrative skills and she also built many Vaidhiyasalai (hospitals/medical facilities). Even today we can see them in Thanjavur.

Another reader Chiththartha, who is from Thanjavur, read the book almost seven years ago, said: “I have lived in Thanjavur all my life, but when I visited the Brihadeshwar temple, built by the Chola after reading the book, I could look at the temple with pride and in a totally different light as the author explains.


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