Book 1 | Chapter 2 | Nambi

Veeranarayana Perumal Temple, Kaatumannarkovil (erstwhile Veeranarayanapuram). Img src: milliongods.com

Read from the first Chapter.

As he headed down south, Vandhiyathevan passed through the fertile and prosperous lands of the Chozha kingdom. He dreamed about the Grand capital city of Pazhayarai, about meeting powerful people, meeting the most powerful of them all — the Emperor Sundara Chozhan himself. And he dreamt of meeting the most beautiful lady in the entire kingdom, the Princess Kundavai.

Soon he reached the temple town of Veeranarayanapuram. The temple wore a festival look as well, on account of the harvest festival. Within the crowds, Vandhiyathevan noticed some commotion. Curiosity took the better of him. He tied his horse to a tree on the side of the road, and walked towards the noise. He noticed the commotion was due to an animated debate between three people. There was one person who looked like a veera-vaishnavaite (staunch Vishnu follower). He had sandal wood paste smeared all over his body, had his hair bundled into a bun in the front, and was swinging around a wooden staff in anger. The second person looked like a staunch Shiva follower with sacred ash smeared all over him. The third person was an advaitha saint. The three were arguing on whether Shiva or Vishnu was the greater God, or neither, as the advaitha saint argued.

The debate heated up significantly with the crowd egging the three participants. After a bit, the advaitha saint silently disappeared into the crowd — leaving the debate between Shiva and Vishnu.

Vandhiyathevan wanted to stop this fight. He called out to two of them and said, “Both Vishnu and Shiva are equally great. I do not know why you are fighting over this trivial matter.”

The veera-vaishnavaite, Alwarkadiyaan Nambi shot back — “How do you know, young man?”

“I went to Vaikuntam yesterday. I saw Lord Shiva also there, who had come to visit Lord Vishnu. Both of them seem to be at peace with each other. When I asked them who was bigger, they said,

`Hariyum Haranum onnu — ariyaadavan vaayil mannu’

(Vishnu and Shiva are the same. The one who does not realize this has sand in his mouth).”

Vandhiyathevan then dramatically opened his left hand which had a fistful of sand, and threw it at the two saints. Several people in the amused and excited crowd did the same as well. Nambi started swinging his staff around his head animatedly.

The sound of trumpets interrupted this spectacle, announcing the passage of a noble. The announcers announced the passage of Periya Pazhuvettarayar. Behind the announcers were the flag holders, and behind them, the Pazhuvettarayar rode majestically on an elephant. Following the elephant was a covered palanquin. Vandhiyathevan was taking in this sight attentively, when he saw a hand gently open the silk curtain of the palanquin. He saw the bangles adorning the beautiful hand of a lady.

And suddenly without a warning, there was a shriek and the hand pulled back the curtains. Vandhiyathevan could sense that she had seen something or someone that had terrified her. He turned around to see what had scared her so much. He chanced to see Alwarkadiyaan Nambi leaning against a tree, with a gruesome face.

Book 1 | Chapter 1 | Veeranarayana Lake

Veeranam Lake — erstwhile Veeranarayana lake. img src: cuddalore.nic.in

On a windy august evening, a horse and a rider trudged along the banks of the Veeranarayana Lake. The horse was tired, but the rider was not. The lake was brimming with the newly flooded waters flowing in from the River Vadakaveri (present day River Kollidam). This was a man-made lake built by Rajaditya Chozhan, son of the great Parantaka Chozhan.

The Chozhas were indeed great rulers — impartial in justice, able in administration, and did ample service to God and God fearing citizens. Their engineering and architectural marvels, including this lake, and its numerous sluices were unmatched.

The young warriors name was Vandhiyathevan. It had been a long ride from Kanchipuram. He was taking with him personal messages from his Master, the Crown Prince of the Chozha kingdom, and commander of the Northern provinces, Prince Aditya Karikalan. The messages were for the Chozha Emperor, Sundara Chozhan and his daughter, Princess Kundavai. He was counting the number of sluices that led the controlled waters out of the lake to numerous canals. He wanted to check if there really were seventy four of them.

As he reached the edge of the lake, where the Vadakaveri was emptying its waters into the lake, he realized that today was the 18th day of the Tamizh month of Aadi, and it was the festival of Padhinettaam-Perukku. It was a harvest festival, and the common folk were celebrating by picnicking on the river banks. There was celebration everywhere. Ladies were singing folk songs which praised the Emperor. Young girls and boys were giggling and running around flirting with each other.

And then suddenly there was commotion. A fleet of ships sailed down the river. The ships in the front had soldiers with their spears glistening. The ship in the center had a flag with the palm tree insignia. Vandhiyathevan quickly realized that this convoy was that of the Pazhuvettarayar family.

The Pazhuvettarayar family, originally from Pazhuvur, had been loyal to the Chozha emperors for generations, due to which they enjoyed special privileges — including the privilege to fly their own flag. The two brothers, known as the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and Chinna Pazhuvettarayar, were brave in battle and had many a scar from victories over rival kings. The brothers no longer fought battles because of their age. Instead, the family controlled the treasury and the granary of the Empire.

The soldiers from the first ship jumped onto the river bank and began forming a cordon. The people, recognizing who it was, did not resist, and moved away from the cordon.

Vandhiyathevan had heard about the bravery of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, and was in half a mind to go closer and take another look. But his Master had explicitly asked him to not indulge in any distractions. He had asked Vandhiyathevan not to pick or participate in fights along the way. His Master knew him too well. He spurred his horse forward.

He decided to stay the night at the Palace of Kadambur Sambuvarayar, and continue on his journey the next morning. He would probably have to change his horse too.

And yes, there were indeed seventy four sluices leading out of the lake.

Preface and Introduction

Ponniyin Selvan, written by Kalki Krishnamurthy, is a historical novel set in the time period between the Tenth and the Eleventh century AD. A story that revolves around the Chozha Emperor, Arulmozhi Verman, who was later, crowned as Raja Raja Chozhan I. The story has all the ingredients of a political drama, including espionage, vendetta and patronage. Kalki masterfully weaves a few love stories into the mix, as well.

Now, one might ask, why am I attempting this retelling of a novel, which many already consider as an epic? There are primarily two reasons.

First, I have a few grudges against the original novel. If you talk to people around, there are many, who started to read this book, and slammed the book down after the first chapter. The main reason most people attribute to this behavior, is the detailed descriptions of the scenes by Kalki. While some might find this very enjoyable, it is not to the liking of everyone. While the inherent plot in the story is an extremely fast paced drama, the excitement gets deflated (for some) while reading the excruciating details of the scenes. The main theme behind this retelling is to focus on the plot. A very visible side effect of this is that, the retelling is hence much shorter than the original. I will have to admit though, that there are some descriptions — mostly historical — that would have to be mentioned, without which the plot would be incomplete. I have done my diligence in not omitting these.

The second reason is to present this story in English. Several of us did not study Tamizh in detail when in school. Hence, reading a tome split into 5 volumes and 2400 pages was out of the question. It would have taken me the number of years I spent in school, to read this book — word by word. It did not help many of us, that our parents would not stop gushing about the beauty of this book. This retelling is for those, like me, who desperately wanted to read the book, but could not, because of various reasons.

I also want to mention here, that this is not an exact translation of the work by Kalki Krishnamurthy. As the title says, it is a retelling. I have taken considerable effort to make this more easily readable than the original tome.

I had tried doing this as a Kindle book, but sadly, the interest from the author (me) and the audience base did not sustain. In this avatar, I am planning to release a chapter per week ~ much like the original version which appeared in the weekly Tamizh publication Kalki.

Lastly, I would request the reader to forgive me for any mistakes, confusions, and in general, anything that would make reading this book difficult for you.

Let me not stay between you and this book any longer.

Vetri vel! Veera Vel!

Head to Chapter 1

 

Ponniyin Selvan Kalki Cover
Ponniyin Selvan Kalki Cover
Ponniyin Selvan Kalki Cover