Ponniyin Selvan- Why is everyone crazy about it?
Ponniyin Selvan Book

Ponniyin Selvan- Why is everyone crazy about it?

Summary:

The plot of the story is essentially about the throne of the Chola empire. The intense game between so many players for making their favorite the next king is essentially a one-line story. The catch here is this game for the throne of the Chola empire is not just influenced by the internal drama, nobles, and small kingdoms. Pandyas, the biggest enemies of Cholas, are the major factor behind the division of the support for different contenders namely- Aditha Karikalan – the crown prince, Madurantakar- the denied prince, and Arulmozhi Varman – the most loved prince.

I had previously heard about Ponniyin Selvan books. “It’s a famous book”, “It’s historical fiction”, and “It’s based on the real life of Tamil kings, kingdoms and people” are a few things I had heard about.

Before we get into the article, the English translation of the books, audiobooks, summaries, and podcasts are available on most platforms. So feel free to check them out even if you are not fluent in the Tamil language.

Once a fellow book lover and I were discussing our shared love for books. I was telling her how Percy Jackson books are my all-time favourite and went on and on about it for a few minutes. She expressed her love for Tamil books and began explaining about Ponniyin Selvan books. She said the first chapter of the book describes the Veeranarayana lake extensively and how descriptive the whole book is. She said she had read the book so many times and from being near the lake area, she has visited lots of places mentioned in the book.

This made me surf the book online and I discovered the widespread fandom of Ponniyin Selvan books online. I read about the book, about the characters. But most important of all, the fandom and their love for the characters made me consider reading the book.

The book is long – the book has five parts and the total number of pages is around 2100. I downloaded a free e-pdf which was all five books compiled together.

Ponniyin Selvan is my first time reading a Tamil novel and it was historic fiction. It was hard for me to understand Tamil vocabulary and read fast as I read English books. Though I speak Tamil every day, reading was different. So yes I took my time. But as the movie release date was confirmed, I decided to rush into the reading as quickly as possible. So I began reading every day and was able to pick up the pace. As the book progressed it was hard to keep it down.

So now that I have finished reading Ponniyin Selvan, I realized why everyone was crazy about it. 

Is it truly worth it?
The answer is yes!

So why is everyone crazy about Ponniyin Selvan?

The writing style:

Kalki Krishnamurthy, the Tamil author of this novel wrote the story in his weekly magazine Kalki. His writing style has an appropriate description and world-building for historic fiction. He does take time to explain the history of the land, people, and kingdoms and he often jumps to the present time to support his claims with archaeological facts. Which makes us get invested in the story. Since most of the story is based on real-life incidents that happened in the Chola kingdom 1000 plus years ago, we have so much anticipation while reading how the minds of these great kings and nobles worked.

For example, we can see Arulmozhi Varman, the titular character – Ponniyin Selvan, the great RajaRaja Chola, getting impressed with huge architectural marvels of Buddhists stupas and other places in Sri Lanka during his younger age. He admires it a lot and yearns that there are no such majestic temples in Tamilnadu. He is ambitious about building such grand structures if he gets the chance.

We all know about the grandeur of the 1000-year-old Big temple, in Tanjore built by him. So knowing where his thoughts came from is something that makes us believe in the characterization by Kalki.

Also, many short chapters make up for the fast pacing of the book in many parts. Sometimes key information for us readers can be seen as chapters of just 3 pages.

Since the story came out in a weekly magazine, most of the chapters have a cliffhanger ending which is appreciable. 

For someone new to reading Tamil novels, Ponniyin Selvan can be a little overwhelming at first. But Kalki’s effort for adding many fun elements, quirky characters, and interesting character duos will make you stay till the end.

And finally, Kakli should be appreciated for writing such an intense drama-filled story, with so many characters, and so many places. The book is long and the story elements are all happening in a short period. 

I wish I had read the book earlier.

The characters:

The characters of the book are the heart and soul of the book. Yes, most of these characters are real personalities and some are fictional. Regardless they are all fascinating characters and we love some, we cherish some, we relate to some, and we hate some. Though the setting and plot of the story are appreciable, the characters of the story come before that. 

  • We have a fun adventure-loving Vanthiyathevan.
  • We have a charismatic strategist Kundhavai.
  • We have a mastermind, eternal beauty Nandhini.
  • We have a fearless, intelligent Adhitha Karikalan.
  • We have a witty, sarcastic Poongulali.
  • We have the smart, lovable, brave Arulmozhivarman.
  • We have quickwitted, spying Alwarkadiyan Nambi.
  • We have an innocent, sweet Vananthi.
  • We have a loyal, brave, and kind Manimegalai.

There are so much more characters. But they are all exceptional and there are fans for all of them. The people love them all and cherish them with everything they have.

The characters are well defined and they are all unique with their own motives. I will have to write a separate article to discuss all these wonderful characters.

The history and pride of the Chola Kingdom:

The Chola dynasty is well known in Tamilnadu and they have achieved so much that it will be hard to list it all here. The Chola empire was one of the greatest in India and it had expanded out of India – Srilanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Maldives and so much more. The Cholas have done so much for their home – Tamilnadu in terms of art, culture, and architecture. The best and most famous of them is the great king RajaRaja Chola. This book has him as the titular character and it is essentially how he became the king and what the Chola empire went through before it entered its golden age during his rule.

This intense historical connection and description of the Chola empire region of the past is something to look out for in Ponniyin Selvan.

The plot and structure:

The plot of the story is essentially about the throne of the Chola empire. The intense game between so many players for making their favorite the next king is essentially a one-line story.

The catch here is this game for the throne of the Chola empire is not just influenced by the internal drama, nobles, and small kingdoms. Pandyas, the biggest enemies of Cholas, are the major factor behind the division of the support for different contenders namely- Aditha Karikalan – the crown prince, Madurantakar- the denied prince, and Arulmozhi Varman – the most loved prince.

We have so many characters with different motives doing their parts in the game to make sure their side is victorious. The king of the Chola kingdom, Sundara Chola is now bedridden and aware of all the drama going right under his nose. But the influence of his advisors and his past is in the way of his decision.

Such an interesting plot is structured as the journey of Vanthiyathevan, the messenger who pretty much introduces us to all the characters and all the key events of the story. Vanthiyathevan a playful, witty, adventurous prince with no kingdom, is on a journey to deliver a message to the king of the Chola empire – Sundara Chola, and the princess Kundhavai. He brings a message from the crown prince, Aditha Karikalan. 

Thus begins our journey into the world of the Chola Kingdom.

The whole book is a journey to different places in the Chola empire, interactions with so many important people, and witnessing so many different key events. And that’s why we can’t stop reading the book.

Complex Female characters:

Even though I have already addressed the strong nature of the book’s characters, this needs special mention.

Did you see I mentioned complex and not strong?

That’s exactly what Kalki did with his female characters.

We have Kundhavai, the intelligent princess who is the smartest of Sundara Chola’s children.

We have Nandhini, a convicted, heartbroken, calculative queen who has her own reasons for all her actions.

Nandhini and Kundhavai are both the key players of the whole story and they are the anchors of the two sides of the game. 

Kundhavai is compassionate and considerate. Over time, she realizes how Nandhini is not just evil and she has had a difficult life and feels bad for her. She is loyal to her kingdom.

We see Nandhini, the supposed villain of the story holding back at times to protect other people. She is not completely evil. She has her past, her oath, her emotions, and her deep-rooted trauma. She is always ahead of everyone else.

Poongulali is a free-spirited love-struck girl, who is strong physically and quick-witted. She is quick-witted. She does have certain typical woman-in-love characteristics, but that never holds her back. She is always up for adventure and fights a tiger bare-handed and travels all alone in her boat in the middle of a storm. She is quite bold when it comes to decision-making. She is someone who is not scared to do the right thing.

Vanathi might look like a typical damsel in distress. But she is much more than that. She is not strategic like Kundhavai or Nandhini. She is not street smart like Poongulali. She is unconditionally in love with Arulmozhi Varman, the prince of the Chola kingdom. She loves Arulmozhi Varman and not the title and power that comes with him. Also, her character is an orphan and has insecurities because of that. All this makes her more than just a damsel in distress.

Other than that we have some honorable mentions like – Mandakini Devi, Sembiyan Maadevi, and Manimegalai. Mandakini is a free-spirited woman who is the personification of love and compassion. She plays a key role in the story and is a character to love and cherish. Sembiyan Maadevi, the queen mother, an ardent devotee of Shiva, and the most respected woman all over the Chola Empire. She is a woman who has a promise to keep and is loyal to the Chola dynasty. Manimegalai, a generous princess, ready to sacrifice everything in the name of love. Her love is the purest form of love. She is also much more than that. She is brave when it comes to confronting people and is always ready to fight her way out if it comes to it. She is also a gifted singer.

To have so many complexes, important female characters in this book is appreciable. You can feel their importance as the story progress. And there are so many character fan pages on Instagram for you to check out.

Is that all?

No, Ponniyin Selvan is not just a historic fiction. It is not just about the Cholas and their pride. It is not just an engaging story with interesting characters. The book has an intrinsic story woven with layered characters which cover so many emotions.

There is love, betrayal, lust, compassion, anger, heartbreak, scheming, murder, war, treachery and so much more.

This depicts a coming-of-age story of one of the finest kings of India. We see what kind of prince he was and we also get to see how a kingdom can be attacked not by war but by spies and ungrateful, disloyal nobles. We see the religious co-existence of the people of medieval India. The story is rich in so many aspects that it can be one fulfilling read which will be in your memory forever.

I have added the free e-PDF link to this month’s newsletter. Do subscribe to my newsletter to learn more about my writing, and reading updates. The newsletter will be out on October 1.

The movie based on the book is released in two parts and the first movie will release tomorrow- September 30, 2022 in five languages.

Join the discussion