Though the novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ was beloved and admired by Tamil readers, author Kalki had reservations about elevating it to the status of a literary masterpiece. He harbored doubts about whether a historical novel would resonate with the common man. However, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ has continued to captivate readers, transcending generations and proving its timeless appeal

The primary reason for its success lies in Kalki’s deliberate choice of simple language. Instead of archaic terms like Puravi andKalanju for horse and gold coin, which were prevalent in the 10th century setting of the novel, he opted for more straightforward vocabulary. Additionally, Kalki’s masterful characterizations breathe life into the narrative. Through rich imagery and detailed descriptions of landscapes, settings, and characters, Kalki transports readers to the world of ancient Tamil Nadu. He paints a vivid picture of the political intrigue, cultural richness, and societal complexities of the time period, allowing readers to fully immerse themselves in the story. He frequently breaks the fourth wall, conversing directly with the reader and seamlessly integrating discussions on ancient inscriptions and historical contexts into the flow of the story. This unique narrative style not only educates but also captivates readers, making ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ a truly immersive experience

Ponniyin Selvan is a historical fiction. The literary landscape beckoned me after years of devoted reading, stirring within me an insatiable curiosity regarding the interplay between historical accuracy and imaginative flair in the novel. After reading  the history of Medieval and Later Cholas, I discovered that Ponniyin Selvan blends historical facts with creative imagination in a fascinating way! Ponniyin Selvan closely mirrors historical events!!

This article elucidates the parallels and distinctions discerned between historical veracity and narrative embellishment. Furthermore, the canvas widens as I draw parallels between the novel’s portrayal and the latest cinematic opus P.S. crafted by the visionary director Maniratnam, inviting readers to ponder the interplay of artistry and interpretation in both mediums.


The novel’s timeline spans from August 968 AD (Aadi 18) to January 969 AD (Thai month)

Historical Incidents

  1.  In the bloom of his youth, Aditya Karikalan marched valiantly into the crucible of war
  2. Aditya Karikalan Vs Veerapandiyan Sevur War
  3. Aditya Karikalan earned the illustrious epithet “Veerapandiyan Thalai Konda Aditya Karikalan”
  4. Rashtrakutas, Nulambaadi Wars
  5. Amidst the chaos of battle, Mahindan, sovereign of Sri Lanka, took flight from the tumultuous warfield, his regal presence yielding to the imperatives of survival
  6. Madurantaka Devan nurtured ambitions to claim the mantle of the throne’s heir
  7. Internal turmoil in the Chola dynasty
  8. The death of Aditya Karikalan
    Ravidasan, Soman Sambavan, Kiramavithan, Parameswaran (Pandya Warriors) were punished
  9. The populace of the Chola kingdom fervently advocated for Arunmozhi Varman’s ascension to the Chola throne
  10. Arunmozhi relinquished the throne to Madurantakan, magnanimously
  11. Arunmozhi came to throne after 15 years reign of Madurantaka Devan (Uthama Cholan) and became Rajaraja Chola

In the intricate tapestry of historical events, meticulously chronicled within ancient inscriptions, Kalki breathed new life. He skillfully combined elements from history to create a vivid and engaging story. Mirroring this artistry, the movie embarked on a remarkable journey, faithfully translating the novel’s intricate storytelling into cinematic splendor

Historical Characters

  1. Sembiyan Maadevi (Jayachitra) – The aunt of the King Sundara Chola. Raja Madha. Wife of the deceased King Kandaraditya.
  2. Sundara Cholar (Prakash Raj) – Before 25 years King Kandaraditya made his nephew Sundara Cholar as his heir, as he had no son at that time.
  3. Then his wife Sembiyan Maadevi gave birth to a child Madurantakan. So, Sundara Cholar Came to throne after Kandaradityas demise.
  4. Aditya Karikalan (Vikram) – Legal heir to the present throne. Gone to war as Northern Chieftain
  5. Kundavai (Trisha) – Devoted Chola princess. A Lady with expertise in political strategies.
  6. Arunmozhivarman (Jayam Ravi) – Went to war in Sri Lanka as Southern Chieftain. He became King after Uthama Cholas reign and earned the title “Rajathi Raja” (King of Kings!)
  7. Madhurantakan @ Uthama Cholan (Rahman) – Kandaraditya – Sembiyan Maadevi only son. Ardent Shiva devotee. Ruled Chola dynasty for 15 years.
  8. Vaanama Devi (Vidhya Subramaniam) – Queen of chola empire. Wife of Sundara Cholar
  9. Vanthiya Devan (Karthi) – Prince who is going to marry Kundavai
  10. Vanathi Devi (Shobitha) – The princess of Kodumbalur clan. She is wedlocked to Arunmozhi Varman.
  11. Anirudha Brammarayar ( Mohan Ram) – The chief minister of the Chola empire holds significant power, with all matters of the country passing through his awareness. Inscriptions on the Thiruvalangadu Copper plates detail his dedication and the rewards bestowed upon him for his service.
  12. Veera Pandiyan (Nassar) – Panda King. He was killed in Sevur battlefield by Aditya Karikalan. His crown and diamond are preserved by Mahindan, King of Sri Lanka.
  13. Paandya Warriors (Kishore, Riyaz Khan & Co) – The inscriptions tell that they were imprisoned for the charge of killing Aditya Karikalan.
    Small chieftains Pazhuvettaraiyar, Malayaman, Kodumbalur Velar Clans
  14. Vijayalaya Chola, Rajathitha Chola, Parantaka Chola, Arinjaya Chola, Kandarathitha Chola are historical characters in the Novel.

      Both the Novel and Movie depict the characters in a manner faithful to the historical accounts.

    Fictional Characters

    1. Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) – Kalki portrays her as bearing a striking resemblance to a North Indian beauty. In her teen age, she loved Aditya Karikalan. So she was expelled from Chola territory by Sembiyan Maadevi. Nandini felt jealous of Kundavai’s opulent royal lifestyle. She made a vow to help the Pandya rebels.
    2. Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (Sarath Kumar) – Their clan are loyal to Chola Kingdom for six generations. He is in charge of treasure. He married Nandini in his sixties.
    3. Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar (Parthiban) – Younger brother of Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar and chief commander of Chola fort. Very loyal to the kingdom. He was greatly disturbed with his brother’s affectionate regard for Nandini.
    4. Thirukkoyilur Malayaman (Lal) – Father in law of Sundara Cholar.  His formidable army lent robust support to Aditya Karikalan’s campaigns in the northern wars.
    5. Kodumbalur Periya Velar (Prabhu) – His brother Siriya Velar (Vanathi’s father) died in Sri Lankan warfield. So, he accompanied Arunmozhi varman in his war.
    6. Parthibendra Pallavan (Vikram Prabhu) – Pallava clan prince. He had no Kingdom then. He dreamt of marrying Kundavai
    7. Alwarkadiyan (Jayaram) – Spy working under chief minister Aniruthar. Brave vaishnavite and always ends in quarrels with Saivites.
    8. Senthan Amudhan (Ashwin Kakkamanu) – A simpleton who provides flowers to thanjavur Thalikulathar temple. He gets a subsidy from Sembiyan Maadevi. According to the novel, he is the original Madurantakan and son of Sembiyan Maadevi. In his youth, he and the current Madurantakan, who is actually Mandakini’s son, underwent an exchange, a clandestine event known to only a select few in the kingdom. Finally, Senthan Amuthan became the King Uthama Chola.
    9. Poonkuzhali (Aishwarya Lakshmi) – A loyal boat woman, who had a crush on Arunmozhi varman. She is a brave independent woman.
    10. Mandakini Devi (Aishwarya Rai) – A dumb old woman, lives both in Srilanka and Kodiyakkarai. She gave birth to twins (Madurantakan and Nandini)
    11. Karuthiruman (Yog Jibi) – A boat man, who had a soft corner for the  Pandyas. He is the one who knew the birth secrets of both Madurantakan and Nandini.

    All these fictional characters are there both in the novel and movie in the same manner.

    Differences between Novel & History

    • Some historians argue that the Sambuvaraiyar clan (Nizhalgal Ravi) actually belonged to a later period, approximately a century after the timeline of the novel. This difference between the novel’s portrayal and historical accounts is highlighted. The narrative of the novel commences within the grand halls of Kadambur palace, unfolding its intricate tale amidst its storied walls. As the plot unfurls, it inexorably draws towards its tragic conclusion, culminating with the fateful murder of Aditya Karikalan in Kadambur’s ancient stones.
    • Vanthiyadevan is called as Vallavaraiyan, meaning the prince of Vaanar clan, The Tanjore temple inscriptions tell that Vanthiyadevan is Kundavai’s husband. But no concrete evidence is found as he is from Vaanar clan of Vallam. Vanthiyadevan is set to marry Kundavai. Consequently, Kalki portrays him as a courageous warrior, a close friend of Aditya Karikalan, someone prone to getting into trouble because of impulsive decisions, but who manages to overcome challenges with his bravery. Additionally, Vanthiyadevan is depicted as a charismatic individual who charms women of all ages. Kalki paints him as a hero and narrates the story from his perspective, enhancing the characterization and flow of the novel, making it more captivating.
    • Similarly, while historical inscriptions attribute Aditya Karikalan’s death to four Pandya Rebels, mentioning their names, Kalki introduces the fictional character Nandini as the leader of these rebellions. In Kalki’s narrative, Nandini’s clandestine affair with Aditya Karikalan, her subsequent banishment from the kingdom, her alliance with the Pandya group, and her vow to overthrow the Cholas are all woven into the story. Nandini’s beauty, intelligence, and Aditya Karikalan’s affection for her contribute to the tragic outcome of his murder. Through this narrative device, Kalki connects various historical facts, blending them seamlessly into the storyline of the novel.
    • After the publication of the Novel (1955), many historians argued that Uthama Cholan would be the root cause of Aditya Karikalan’s murder. But, the inscription discovered in 1970, put an end to all such talks. According to the inscription, Rajendra Chola, the son of Raja Raja Chola, was bestowed the title of Madurantaka II. If Uthama Chola is considered guilty of a wrongdoing, then Rajendra Chola cannot rightfully praise Uthama Chola’s valor.

    Differences between Novel & Movie

    • The Rashtrakutas and Nulambadi wars were written in a few lines in the novel. However, in the movie adaptation, these wars are depicted elaborately, serving as introductory and climactic scenes, presented in a grandiose display.
    • In the novel, the Thirupurampiyam war, which occurred a century prior to the story’s beginning, is depicted in great detail. The valor displayed by Vijayalayar and Rajathithar, as well as the circumstances surrounding Rajathithar’s demise, are meticulously described with considerable effort. Rajathithar is praised with a epithet “Yaanai mel thunjiya Devar” (died on the warfield atop an elephant). However, these events were omitted from the movie adaptation, likely due to time constraints.
    • The Chief Minister Anirutha Brammarayar emerges as a significant figure, rendering invaluable service to the Chola dynasty. The novel meticulously delineates his brilliance and tireless efforts to mitigate civil discord, illustrating his pivotal role in preserving the kingdom’s stability. However, in the cinematic rendition, his portrayal is markedly diminished, relegated to merely two brief appearances and depicted as a mere courtier without the depth of his both literary and historical counterpart.
    • The unspoken rivalry between Poongulali and Vanathi, filled with complex emotions, adds depth to the novel’s storyline. However, this intricate relationship is overlooked in the movie adaptation.
    • In the novel, it is revealed that Maduranthagan, raised within the palace walls, and Nandini are twins. Kalki also suggests that Veerapandiyan is their father, and Maduranthagan and Senthan Amuthan were swapped at birth. Nandini, on the other hand, is raised by Alwarkadiyan’s father. However, these intricate familial dynamics are simplified in the movie adaptation. Perhaps, Kalki anticipated reader resistance to Maduranthagan’s eventual ascension to the throne due to his negative portrayal in the novel’s early stages. Both Kalki’s daughter and Maniam’s descendants, who illustrated the novel, have revealed that initially, Kalki had not envisioned Senthan Amudhan as the future monarch. This idea evolved as the story progressed!
    • In the cinematic rendition, Nandini learns about her true father, Veerapandiyan, only after the murder of Aditya Karikalan. However, in the novel, she is aware of this truth from the outset. This knowledge plays a crucial role during the encounter in Kadambur, where she mesmerizes Karikalan by revealing this fact, ultimately leading to his demise as a form of retribution for her father’s death. However, Mani Ratnam’s portrayal of Nandini as a pawn manipulated by both Veera Pandiyan and Ravidasan may have been an artistic choice aimed at aligning the narrative more closely with historical accounts.
    • In the novel, the name “Kothigan” does not appear. However, historical records document a series of successive conflicts between Kothigan and Cholas. Ultimately, these wars culminated in the downfall of the Kothigan dynasty.
    • Another fictional character omitted from the film is Manimekalai, daughter of Kadambur Sambuvaraiyar. She embodies a myriad of emotions, entangled in the web of political marriage orchestrated by her elders to Maduranthagan and later to Aditya Karikalan, disregarding her wishes. These romantic entanglements overshadow her oneside affection for Vanthiyadevan. During the upheaval, she forms a close connection with Nandini, yet struggles to understand her mysterious behavior. The film avoids capturing these emotional nuances. In my view, another cinematic adaptation of “Ponniyin Selvan” could be crafted, exploring the narrative from Manimekalai’s perspective, delving into her intricate inner world and experiences.

    At the outset, the film embarked on its journey mirroring Kalki’s imaginative narrative, featuring scenes and stylistic choices reminiscent of the novel. However, as the story progressed, the film transitioned towards a conclusion that adhered closely to historical accuracy, aligning with documented events!

    Kalki Krishnamurthy deserves immense praise for crafting a historical novel that has resonated deeply with generations, capturing the essence of history and embedding it in the hearts of readers for years to come!


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