Talk about the Cholas has been running wild as the movie Ponniyin Selvan is all set to release on September 30th. The movie revolves around the Chola empire and mostly about Ponniyin Selvan, also known as Raja Raja Chozhan or Arunmozhi Varman. Ponniyin Selvan is originally a Tamil novel based on the life of Raja Raja Chola, written by Kalki. While there have been several attempts in the past to make it a film, Mani Ratnam has now started this project, which will be released in two parts. Starring Vikram, Jayam Ravi, Trisha, Aishwarya Rai, Aishwarya Lekshmi and Sarathkumar in lead roles, this is considered Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus. Jayam Ravi is said to play Arun Mozhi Varman, while Trisha plays his sister Kundavai. Karthi will be seen as Vanthiya Thevan, while Aishwarya Rai will be Nandini. Jayaram, Prakash Raj, Lal and Kishore will be playing prominent roles.
While Tamil audiences are essentially awaiting the release of the film, there are some among the many who have not read the story. While the movie will be self-explanatory and will convey the story to even those who don’t know it, it is better to know a few basic facts and details about this fiction written by Kalki. So, here’s all you need to know before watching the film!
The book is titled ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ which means, Ponni’s Son. Ponni refers to Kaveri, which flowed perenially in the Chola empire back in those days. Arunmozhi Varman or Raja Raja Chola is referred to as Ponniyin Selvan as it is believed that he was saved by the Kaveri Goddess in his childhood. This story makes an appearance in the book as well. While the book mainly revolves around this character, it includes other prominent characters as well. Sundara Chola is the Emperor of the Chola empire and the father of Raja Raja Chola. The latter has two siblings, an older brother- Aditha Karikalan, and an older sister- Kundavai or Illaiya Pirati. Sundara Chola is married to Vanavan Maadevi from the Malayamaan clan.
The Chancellor-Treasurer of the empire is Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar, and his younger brother Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar is the Commander-in-Chief. The siblings belong to the Pazhuvettaraiyar clan from Pazhuvoor. These Pazhuvettaraiayars hold the most power in the Thanjai fort as Sundara Chola is virtually imprisoned due to his bedridden illness. Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar marries a character called Nandhini when he is 65. Nandhini, who enters the story as a simple and harmless character, ends up becoming the biggest conspirator in the story.
Sembiyan Maadevi’s husband, Kandradithan, was the older brother of Arinjaya, Sundara Chola’s father. However, since Kandradithan and Sembiyan Mahadevi did not have children for a long time, Arinjaya was crowned after him. It was decreed that Arinjaya’s son, Sundara Chola, would succeed him – even though Madurantakan was born to the couple late in their marital life.
Apart from these primary characters, we also see some friends of Aditha Karikalan. Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyadevan is the friend of Aditha Karikalan who is sent on a mission to Thanjai fort. He belongs to the Vaanar clan. Next, Parthibendra Pallavan is another friend of Aditha Karikalan from the Pallava clan. He fought along with Aditha in his battles. Apart from this, we also have Kandha Maaran who is Vandhiyadevan’s friend from the Sambuvaraiyar kingdom.
Poonguzhali and Vaanathi are other important women characters from the story. Poonguzhali is a boat woman, she was born and raised in Kodikkarai. She was adventurous and fearless and had hate towards other men and civilisation. She helps Raja Raja Chola and Vandhiyadevan in many important circumstances. Vaanathi, on the other hand, is a Kodambalur princess and the best friend of Kundavai, who stays along with her throughout the story. It is interesting to know that both these characters love Raja Raja Chola. Who ends up marrying him is for you to find out when you watch the film!
Lastly, Prime Minister Aniruddha Brahmarayar plays a pivotal role in the story as he advises many characters at the required time, and takes the appropriate steps to safeguard the kingdom. At the same time, his disciple Azhwarkadiyan Nambi alias Thirumalaiappan is also his spy and lets him know of the most important conspiracies.
To know who’s playing which character, read:
Time Period and Locations:
The story is set between 900 and 950 AD. It is a well-known fact that the Cholas, especially Raja Raja Chola ruled with Thanjavur or Thanjai as their capital city. The other places that are mentioned in the story include the Thanjai Aranmanai or Fort where Sundara Chola, Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar and their respective families stay. Kundavai stays at Pazhayaarai which was previously the capital of the empire. However, after Sundara Chola shifted to the Thanjai fort, Pazhayaarai started losing its importance.
Crown Prince Aditha Karikalan has his own palace at Kancheepuram. This palace is built of Gold, and he wishes for his parents to come and stay with him in the palace. Arunmozhi Varman is placed at Eezham or Sri Lanka where he fights against King Mahinda. Arunmozhi Varman is also found at the Nagapattinam Buddha Viharam, where he recoups after a serious illness.
Some other place names that you will hear frequently are Pazhuvoor, home of the Pazhuvettaraiyars; the Kadambur palace where a significant conspiracy against the Cholas is hatched; and Kudanthai, where a famed astrologer lives.
The Basic Plotline:
If you have watched the trailer, you would know that it mentions a comet that appears in the sky. The prophecy is that someone from the Chola family will die. Since Sundara Chola has been ill for years, it is assumed that he will pass away soon. If it happens so, the rightful heir to the throne, and the crown prince is Aditha Karikalan. Conflict arises when Madurantakan wants to succeed Sundara Chola. The Pazhuvettaraiyars also believe that Madurantakan will make a better king as it gives them more power. So, Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar, along with his wife Nandhini and other smaller kings conspire against Aditha Karikalan.
The Chola Princess Kundavai Piratti, on the other hand, believes that her younger brother Arunmozhi Varman will make a better heir to the throne. The latter however has no desire to become the king and is rather more interested in fighting wars than taking over the empire. This sets in as the second conflict.
Thirdly, the Pandiya King, Veerapandiya’s Aabathudhavigal (soldiers) wish to take revenge against Aditha Karikalan for killing their king. They also conspire to destroy the Chola kingdom entirely and reinstate the Pandiya king. How all of these conflicts come together forms the basic plotline of the story.