Book Review by my dad, K.S.Loganathan
Ponniyin Selvan is a historical novel serialized weekly during 1950- 54 in Kalki magazine by Ramsamy Aiyar Krishnamurthy. It is a perennial favorite in historical fiction and it led to a resurgence of local interest in Tamil history. Raja Raja Chola was the first Indian ruler to found a maritime empire and control rampant piracy on the high seas with his warships and overseas garrisons that were paid for by merchant guilds and local taxes. The Chola bronzes and silver coins minted in his time are still collectibles. James Ferguson wrote that the Cholas conceived ( stone temples) like giants and finished them like jewelers. The book is less about these achievements and more about the partially successful plot to destabilize the rising Chola kingdom around 970 CE. Despite the intelligence of the conspirators’ plot, security lapses occur because of an ailing emperor and his lack of will to keep his warring satraps under check. It is a timeless story of monarchy, royal succession, and palace intrigues.
Kalki’s novel stands out in its description of the Tamil country, life in the tenth century, strong women characters, political divisions, and citizens’ opinions about royal succession. The novel runs into 2000- odd pages with a long series of twists and turns. ( inevitable in a weekly serialization) to keep the reader engrossed.
With the release of Maniratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan I, filmgoers who are not acquainted with the book may find it difficult to follow the plot. It is advisable to first read the book before you see the film.
Various English versions are available. A single-volume edition of the story running to 673 pages written by Preetha Rajah Kannan titled ‘The tiger throne’ ( Jaico) is available as a condensed edition outlining the plot in detail such that the film narrative can be understood.