What is Ponniyin Selvan talking about and who were the Cholas?


As anticipation for the long-awaited film version of the historical fiction novel Ponniyin Selvan grows, fans and critics alike are getting excited. On September 30, the first of two cinematic parts of this epic story brought to life for the big screen by acclaimed filmmaker Mani Ratnam will be released in Tamil and several other languages.

The book

Published in the 1950s, Kalki Krishnamurthy’s Ponniyin Selvan serves as the inspiration for the film.

Analysts say the storyline of the book and film is consistent with Tamil Nadu’s current moves to recapture the long and illustrious past of the Chola Empire, which frequently portrays the clan as the “peak of greatness in southern India.” India”.

The Cholas

Interestingly, the Mauryan ruler Ashoka apparently made the first mentions of the Cholas in the third century BCE. The ancient literature of the Third Tamil Sangam and the ancient Greco-Roman Periplus, both published in the early centuries of the common era, are the only other sources of information on the early Cholas.

According to historians, the Chola Empire rose to prominence under King Vijayalaya Chola in the mid-9th century after a prolonged eclipse. The main source of knowledge for recreating the history of the Cholas in recent decades has been the numerous copper plate inscriptions and grants left by the Vijayalaya dynasty.

Along with the Cholas, Madurai Pandyas and Cheras, the three main kingdoms of ancient Tamil Nadu were located in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry, Lakshadweep and the southern regions of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The Cholas overpowered the Pandyas and took control of the northern and eastern regions of the Tamil nation during the ascension of Rajaraja I.

sea ​​power

The imperial ambitions of the Cholas under the new king took a new direction, and the maritime trade industry came to represent their rule. Apparently, the Cholas controlled a fairly wide sea route from the Coromandel coast (Cholamandalam coast) via the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, according to an article written by author and cultural artist Hema Devare in 2010.

According to her, the Cholas used ships of different sizes. Light boats were employed for local transport, the Colandia was a large ship that traveled the Ganges, and larger seagoing vessels reached Malaya and Sumatra. “Rajaraja Chola understood that dominating the lucrative trade routes was a sure way to distinguish himself and his court from the rest of the fragmented politics of the Tamil nation,” writes historian Anirudh Kanisetti in “Lords of the Deccan: Southern India from the Chalukyas to the Cholas’ Rajaraja soon realized that his rivals, the Cheras, who controlled the Malabar coast, received more merchants from across the sea, especially from prosperous Fatimid Egypt .

The Brihadishvara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located on the south bank of the Cauvery River in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, was built by the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I between 1003 and 1010 CE, and is part of the World Heritage Site of UNESCO known as ‘Great Living Chola Temple’. Photo/News18

During this time, Rajaraja Chola became “acknowledged” as one of the most accomplished political and military strategists South India had ever seen in the ensuing ten years of the era. Historians say he had almost all regions of Pandya under his control by the end of the 10th century and installed his own rulers. Then he invaded Ceylon, plundering some of the Buddhist monasteries and establishing Chola rule by erecting Shiva temples.


Rajendra Chola also known as Prime Rajendra Chola or Gangaikonda Chola was the son of Rajaraja Chola who continued the growth of the Chola Empire. In 1025 CE, Rajendra Chola built the Chola capital at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, which is close to present-day Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, to mark his victory against the Pala dynasty in modern Bengal. He then erected a huge Shiva temple as a sign of gratitude to the Lord.

According to historians, the Cholas have been widely written about in many strands of South Indian history. This is because they produced more inscriptions and monuments than any previous dynasty, which is significant. Remember that throughout the colonial era, Madras was an important center of research on the medieval past of southern India. In addition to the material culture they left behind, the Cholas also participated in an extraordinary campaign of conquest of several regions of Indonesia and Srivijaya, making them stand out in these studies.


In July 2022, director Mani Ratnam and actor Vikram received a legal notice from a lawyer, alleging that the history of Cholas appears to be distorted in Ponniyin Selvan: 1. He stated that the historical details of the Cholas had been neglected by the novel.

For example, he said, the Cholas had no ‘naamam’ (a traditional vertical mark applied to the forehead), while actor Vikram, who plays ‘Adithya Karikalan’ in the film, was seen with the naamam on his forehead.

So anticipated

When the teaser for the film was released, it created a buzz among the fans and the expectations rose for the drama as it is a lavish production under the direction of an acclaimed filmmaker.

According to reports, over the years many have tried to turn the novel into a movie, but without success. After a failed bid by MG Ramachandran in the late 1950s, Mani Ratnam himself tried to adapt the novel in the mid-1990s and early 2010s, but it didn’t work out. He finally relaunched the adaptation in January 2019 and, despite the Covid pandemic halting work, managed to finish it at the end of 2021.

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