Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan – In a nutshell

Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan – In a nutshell

Sri Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, popularly and fondly known by his pen name ‘Kalki’, has left an indelible mark in our hearts through his contribution to Tamil literature. He was multifaceted, and wore several hats. He was a writer, columnist, novelist, journalist, poet, critic, freedom fighter and political activist.

A prolific writer that he was, ‘Kalki’ had several short stories, social novels and historic novels to his credit. He made history with his historic fiction novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, one of the most celebrated Tamil novels ever written. Ponniyin Selvan was serialized from 1950 to 1954, in the weekly edition of his magazine, also named ‘Kalki’. Later, it was released as a five-volume set of books, running into over 2000 pages.

In short, Ponniyin Selvan can be described as a novel where one woman (Nandhini) is determined to bring down the Chola Dynasty, while another woman (Kundhavai) does everything in her capacity to ensure her younger brother Arulmozhi Varman, aka Raja Raja Chola ascends the throne, for Chola Kingdom to regain stability. How the two women operate to succeed in their mission, and how the events pan out become the story.

The story has 10th century Chola Dynasty as its backdrop. King Parantaka Chola had three sons – Rajaditha Chola, Kandaraditha Chola, and Arinjaya Chola. Rajaditha Chola, the first son gets killed in the battle of ‘Thakkolam’. Therefore, Parantha’s second son Kandaraditha Chola ascends the throne. However, he is drawn so deep into Shaivism that he becomes a saint and goes west to attain salvation. Kandaraditha’s only son Madurantaka Devar, was a young child at the time of his father’s disappearance. Therefore Parantaka Chola’s third son, and Kandaradhitha Chola’s younger brother Arinjaya Chola comes to power. However, he dies within a year after coming to power. So Arinjaya Chola’s son Sundara Chola is crowned as the king.

The story of Ponniyin Selvan begins with the King Sundara Chola being old, ill and paralyzed. He has three children. His first son Aadhitha Karikalan, the crown prince and the General of the Northern Command, is in Kanchi. His younger son Arulmozhi Varman is in Eezham (Sri Lanka) as the General of the Southern Command, and is there to settle a political dispute. Their only sister Kundavai is in the Chola royal household at Pazhaiyaarai.

The story starts with the introduction of Vallavarayan Vandiyathevan, a charming young warrior prince of the Vaanar clan in the Chola dynasty, and a dear friend of Aaditha Karikalan. Aadhitha Karikaalan sends Vandiyathevan as a trustworthy messenger to deliver two palm leaf messages – one to King Sundara Chola, his father who is ill in Tanjore – and the other to, Kundavai, his sister who is in Pazhaiyaarai, inviting them to see the golden palace he has recently built.

1) Aadhitha Karikalan, 2) Vandhiyathevan
1) Aadhitha Karikalan, 2) Vandhiyathevan

Vandhiyathevan meets King Sundara Chola in Tanjore, and then he meets Kundhavai who requests him to bring Arulmozhi Varman from Sri Lanka. Her objective is to see ascend the Chola throne. Arulmozhivarman, who is dearly loved by the people of the Chola kingdom.

While Vandhiyathevan and Arulmozhi varman return from Sri Lanka, their boat gets hit by a cyclone. It is rumoured that Arulmozhi Varman is dead. However, he is still alive but sick. He spends days in Soodamani Viharam, a Buddhist monastery in Nagapattinam. After recovering from his illness, he returns to his homeland to meet his sister and father.

And then, the family that was dispersed starts to reunite. However, the crown prince Aaditha Karikaalan gets mysteriously murdered in the Kadambur Palace. And with numerous twists and turns the story ends with Arulmozhi Varman sacrificing his throne to Senthan Amuthan, who is actually the real son of Kandaraditha Chola and Sembian Maadevi. Senthan Amuthan is crowned as King Uttama Chola.

History goes that Arulmozhi ascends the throne much later and under his rule as Raja Raja Cholan, the Chola Dynasty expands across seas.

1) Kundhavai, 2) Arulmozhivarman
1) Kundhavai, 2) Arulmozhivarman

Ponniyin Selvan - Quiz

Following are ten questions based on the story of Ponniyin Selvan. You have four options to choose the correct answer from.

1)       Who is the spy in Ponniyin Selvan?

a)     Vandhiyathevan

b)     Sambuvarayar

c)      Pazhuvettaraiyar

d)     Aazhvarkadiyan

2)      Who is the friend of Kundhavai who eventually becomes Arulmozhi Varman’s wife?

a)     Nandhini

b)     Vanathi

c)      Manimegalai

d)     Poonguzhali

3)      Where did the midnight meeting happen?

a)     Pazhaiyarai

b)     Tanjore

c)      Kadambur

d)     Veeranam

4)     Who is called Ponniyin Selvan in the novel?

a)     Arulmozhi Varman

b)     Vandhiyathevan

c)      Madurantakan

d)     Aadhitha Karikalan

5)     Who is the brave woman who drives the boat

a)     Kundhavai

b)     Poonguzhali

c)      Manimegalai

d)     Vanathi

6)     Who did Aadhitha Karikalan fall in love with, as a young boy?

a)     Vanathi

b)     Mandakini

c)      Nandhini

d)     Manimegalai

7)      Who rescued a young Arulmozhi Varman when he fell into the Kauvery River?

a)     Vanathi

b)     Kundhavai

c)      Sembian Maadevi

d)     Mandakini

8)     Where did Aadhitha Karikalan build his golden palace?

a)     Tanjore

b)     Kodumbaalur

c)      Kadambur

d)     Kanchi

9)     Who is the grandfather of Aadhitha Karikaalan, Arulmozhi Varman and Kundhavai?

a)     Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar

b)     Malayaman

c)      Chinna pazhuvettaraiyar

d)     Sambuvarayar

10)  Who killed Aadhitha Karikaalan at the Kadambur palace?

a)     Vandhiyathevan

b)     Manimegalai

c)      Nandhini

d)     The killer remains a mystery


1) d

2) b

3) c

4) a

5) b

6) c

7) d

8) d

9) b

10) d

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