Ponniyin Selvan

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Ponniyin Selvan
Ponniyin selvan volume 1.jpg
Volume 1
AuthorKalki Krishnamurthy
GenreHistorical, Romance, Espionage, Thriller, Novel
Published1951–1954 (Kalki)
Media typePrint
Pages2600 pages (approx)
Preceded byParthiban Kanavu 
Followed byUdayar 
Original text
Ponniyin Selvan at Tamil Wikisource

Ponniyin Selvan (English: The Son of Kaveri) is a historical novel by Kalki Krishnamurthy, written in Tamil. In five volumes, or about 2400 pages, it tells the story of early days of Arulmozhivarman, who later became the great Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I. The book took more than three years to write;[citation needed] Kalki visited Sri Lanka three times to gather information for it.

Ponniyin Selvan is widely considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written in Tamil literature. It was first published as a series in the Kalki Tamil magazine during the 1950s and was later integrated into a novel. The craze for the series which was published weekly was such that it elevated the magazine circulation to reach a staggering figure of 71,366 copies – no mean achievement in a newly independent India.

Even today, the novel has a cult following and fan base among people of all generations. The book continues to be admired and garner critical acclaim for its tightly woven plot, vivid narration, the wit of the dialogue, and the way in which the power struggle and intrigues of the Chola empire were depicted.


Chart of characters involved in Ponniyin Selvan.

In order of appearance (omitting the flashbacks)

  • Vallavaraiyan Vandiyathevan: The brave, adventurous and sarcastic warrior/prince of Bana clan, who later becomes the Commander for Southern Troops under the reign of Uttama Chola.Although the second protagonist of the story other than Ponniyin Selvan himself,Vandiyadevan's exploits make the readers to think him as the main hero at multiple points in the novel.He was a bodyguard and close friend of Aditya Karikalan in Kanchi who sends him as a messenger to Sundara Chola in Thanjavur to invite him to the newly-built golden palace in Kanchi and also as a trustful guard for Kundavai in Pazhayarai. His unplanned and hasteful acts put himself and others in danger but comes out of them by trickery and luck. He is the lover of Princess Kundavai. He is loved one-sidedly by Manimekalai, the sister of Kandanmaran. The author introduces most of the characters to the audience through him.
  • Azhwarkadiyan Nambi alias Thirumalaiappan: A Veera Vaishnavite spy who works for the Prime Minister and Chembiyan Maadevi. He is the foster-brother of Nandhini and also a close friend of Vandiyathevan. He works closely with him and saves him from many dangers. He was a loyal trustful servant for the Chola royal government. He often does many religious word battles with Veera Shaivites and Advaitis. He witnesses along with Vandiyathevan the petty rulers conspiracy in Kadamboor and also Prince Arulmozhivarman refusing to accept the Title Crown of Sri Lanka by Buddhist monks.
  • Sambuvaraiyar: The petty ruler of Kadamboor who was the host and a part of the Petty rulers conspiracy.
  • Kandanmaran alias Chinna Sambuvaraiyar: Prince of Kadamboor. Son of Sambuvaraiyar and close friend of Vandiyathevan. He is the one who arranges the conspiracy meeting of petty rulers to be taken in Kadamboor.
  • Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (D): The chancellor and treasurer of the Chola kingdom who was respected for his valor and 64 scars he got in battles. The second most powerful man in the empire next to the Emperor himself. He marries a much younger Nandini in his sixties, gets seduced by her beauty and gets used by her as a puppet for her plot. He was the leader of the conspirators who acted against the sons of Sundara Chola and tried to make his cousin Madurantaka the next emperor under the plans of Nandini. Commits suicide after confessing in the court that he is the one who killed Prince Aditya accidentally.
  • Theveraalan (alias Parameswaran), Idumbankkari, Ravidasan, Soman Sambavan, Revadasa Kiramavithan: Antagonists of the novel. Bodyguards of the late Veerapandiyan. They conspirate to kill the members of the Chola family. Ravidasan and Parameswaran were once ministers in Chola court. Ravidasan and Revadasa Kiramavithan were acting as wizards. Idumbankkari was acting as a guard in Kadambur palace.
  • Madurantaka alias Amarabhujangan Nedunchezhiyan: Foster son of Chembiyan Maadevi who raised him as a Shivite. Biological son of Veerapandiyan and Mandakini Devi. Son-in-law of Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar. Twin brother of Nandini. He was raised a calm and humble Shivite and taught not to desire on the throne but he was brainwashed by Nandini so that the developed a greed over the throne. Kundavai and others thought that he was untalented and lacked the basic characters and skills for being an emperor. People of Chola country did not want him to become the ruler. After rejection of the throne for him and knowing the secret of his birth, he joins the Pandya conspirators.
  • Kundavai alias Ilaya Piratti: The Chola princess. Second child and only daughter of Sundara Chola. Lover of Vandiyathevan. She was respected much by her father and the people for her intelligence and wit. Unlike other princesses of those times, she had an ambition of making Chola empire wide and great and took a vow never to leave her motherland. She used anyone to achieve her ambition. She grew and taught Arulmozhivarman as a witful prince and wished to make him the Chola emperor. She is the one who sent Vandiyathevan to bring back Arulmozhivarman from Sri Lanka and to prevent Aditya from going to Kadamboor palace and also guard him. She took care of Vanathi more than any of her friends.
  • Vaanathi: Shy and innocent Kodumbalur princess who is the future wife of Raja Raja Chola and mother of Rajendra Chola- I. Daughter of Paranthakan alias Kodumbalur Chinna Velar who died in the battle against Mahinda in Sri Lanka. Niece of Boodhi Vikrama Kesari.She lost her mother and father in her childhood. She is the most beloved friend of Kundavai. She had an immense love for Arulmozhi.
  • Nandini: Pazhuvoor Princess and wife of Periya Pazhuvettraraiyar whose birth and origin was doubtful in the beginning. The main antagonist of the story. Twin sister of Amarabhujangan. She was born in Madurai and grown in a priest family along with royal children in Pazhayarai till her youth. She hated Kundavai as she showed hatred towards her because of jealousy over her beauty. But Kundavai changed thoughts about her after coming to know that she is the daughter of Mandakini Devi. She and Prince Aditya Karikalan developed love interest in their childhood which nobody in the royalty liked. She was forced to flee Pazhaiyarai and live in Madurai. After Aditya beheaded the injured Veerapndiyan (who was later revealed to be her real father while Mandakini is her mother), she joined Pandya conspirators and vowed to take revenge on him by killing him and destroying the Chola dynasty. By marrying Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar who had fall in lust with her and using him, she helped Pandya conspirators. She had a deep hate towards the royal people for their ill-treatment and also had a desire for the throne. Parthibendra Pallava And Kandanmaran fell for her beauty and she used them for her plot too. She had a striking resemblance in facial features to her mother. This made Vandiyathevan to prove that she is the daughter of Mandakini. She saved Vandiyathevan many times from being killed by Pandyan conspirators though he is the one who never obeyed her orders and acted against her plans.
  • Senthan Amuthan alias Madurantaka Uttama Chola alias Uttama Chola: The cousin of Sundara Chola and his successor to ascend the throne of Chola empire. Biological son of Gandaraditya and Chembiyan Maadevi. Uncle of Aditya Karikalan, Kundavai and Arulmozhivarman. Foster son of Vaani Ammal. Husband of Queen Poonkuzhali. He was thought to born dead and was given to Vaani to be buried but later rescued and grown by herself. He is a close friend of Vandiyathevan. He helped him many times in his missions when he was still the son of Vaani and a calm, humble and honest Shivite devotee.
  • Vaani Ammal: The deaf and mute foster mother of Senthan Amuthan and aunt of Poonkuzhali. She was good in practising traditional medicine.
  • Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar: alias Kaalandhakandar. The chief in-charge of Thajavur fort. Younger brother of Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar to whom he had huge respect and love. He is the father-in-law of Mathuranthakar who was later known as the son of Veerapandiyan. Both brothers hated Vandiyathevan at first.
  • Sundara Chola alias Parantaka-II: The emperor of Chola empire. He was known for his facial beauty which gave him his name 'Sundara'. After his health became poor, his legs paralysed and was expecting his death, he was moved from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur by Pazhuvettaraiyars for his protection. This sparked the quest for the next rightful heir. His wish was to appoint his uncles's son as his successor. There was a rumor that the emperor was kept as a prisoner by them. He had a love affair with Mandakini Devi while he was in Boodha Theevu (Sri Lanka) in his youth but was made to leave her and ascend the throne. He was continuously haunted by the "ghost" of Mandakini whom he thought was dead and believed that it was cursing his children. She loved and respected his daughter Kundavai so much that he told her his personal secrets about Mandakini which were known only to him and his close friend Aniruddha Brahmarayar.
  • Vanavan Mahadevi: Empress of the Chola empire succeeded by Poonkuzhali. Chief queen, wife and caretaker of Sundara Chola. Mother of all his children. Daughter of Thirukovalur Malaiyamaan.
  • Chembiyan Maadevi alias Periya Piratti: Wife of Gandaraditya and mother of Uttama Chola. Foster mother of Madurantaka. A Shaivite devotee who donates a lot to build many temples for Lord Shiva across the Chola empire. She was very strict in not making her foster son the emperor, which was also the wish of her husband since they knew he was not of Chola origin. She came to knew that Senthan was his own son when he was 5.
  • Pinaagapani (D): Son of the traditional healer in Pazhayarai. He was narrow-minded and always considered Vandiyathevan as his enemy but gets beaten by him all over the story. He was sent by Kundavai with Vandiyathevan to show him way from Pazhaiyarai to Kodikkarai where he had lust over Poonkuzhali but fails in attracting her. He thought she loved Vandiyathevan. He always had a desire to become a government official but dies at the last.
  • Aditya Karikalan (D): Eldest son of Sundara Chola and the commander of Northern troops in his reign. He was a brave warrior who entered the battlefield at the age of 12. He was known all over the empire for his valiant acts. It was him that sent Vandiyathevan to Kundavai for being her trustful guard. She thought that Aditya was not fit for being an emperor due to his hastiness and unpredictable anger. He was disrespectful towards elders which made them to hate him. He is assassinated at the Kadambur palace in the latter part of the novel.
  • Thirukovalur Malaiyaman alias Milaadudaiyar: Father-in-law of Sundara Chola and maternal grandfather for his children. He was a well-wisher and advisor for Aditya Karikalan and lived with him in Kanchi. He was a rival of the Kadamboor ruler.
  • Parthibendra Pallava: Friend of Aditya Karikalan, who comes from the lineage of Pallavas. He fought along with Aditya in his battles. He fell in lust with Nandini and hated Vandiyathevan from the beginning.
  • Poonkuzhali: Empress and Wife of Uttama Chola. She was born and raised in Kodikkarai. She was adventurous and fearless and had a hate towards other men and civilisation. She had a great affection for her aunt Mandakini Devi. She had a love interest towards Arulmozhivarman who also had the same before marrying Senthan Amuthan. She was named "Samudrakumari" (Princess of the Ocean) by the Prince Arulmozhi himself. She rowed Vandiyathevan to Sri Lanka and also saved Arulmozhivarman from the storm and secretly took him to Chudamani Vihara in Nagapattinam against many dangers.
  • Thiyaaga Vitankar: Father of Poonkuzhali and in-charge of the light house in Kodikkarai. He is the younger brother of Mandakini Devi and Vaani Ammal.
  • Rakkammaal: Sister-in-law of Poonkuzhali. She joined the Pandiyan conspirators due to her greed for money.
  • Anbil Aniruddha Brahmarayar: The Prime Minister of Sundara Chola's Court and a trustful intimate close friend of him. He was very much respected by the people for his wit and intelligence. On the request of Sundara Chola, he became the minister and assisted Sundara Chola in administration from being a teacher. He knew the personal secrets of his friend and many royal secrets. He had many spies across the Chola empire that almost nothing could happen out of his knowledge. One of the best of them is Azhwarkadiyan.
  • Boodhi Vikrama Kesari alias Kodumbalur Periya Velar: Uncle of Vanathi.The Commander of the South Troops during Sundara Chola's reign. He is the one that fights along with Arulmozhi against Mahinda's troops in Sri Lanka. He had a desire of marrying Vanathi to Arulmozhi and make her the Empress. He and Thirukovalur Malaiyaman opposed the proposition of making Mathuranthakar the heir to the throne. Kodumbalur Velars and Pazhuvettaraiyars were rivals though they both were loyal to Cholas.
  • Arulmozhivarman alias Raja Raja Chola-I alias Ponniyin Selvan: One of the two protagonists of the story after whom the novel was named. The youngest son of Sundara Chola. He was raised in Pazhayarai by Periya Piratti and Ilaya Piratti. He was taught well by his sister and she sent him to Sri Lanka at the age of 19 for battle.He was said to be saved by the Mother Kaveri herself from drowning in the river when he was five. This gave him the title "Ponniyin Selvan" or "Son of Kaveri". He was beloved by all the people and soldiers of the Chola kingdom and even in Sri Lanka due to his religious tolerance, good behaviour towards the people and his facial attraction. He had an equality towards all religions but was more attracted to Shivism. He had a love interest on Poonkuzhali but later changed his mind due to his sister's advice and married Vanathi. He had a desire to conquer many far countries and expand the Chola empire which was fueled by Kundavai from his childhood. Though the people were supporting him to become the next emperor, he gave away his royal title to his uncle Uttama Chola, whom he considered the rightful heir. Thus, he gets the title "Thiyaga Sigaram" (The Pinnacle of Sacrifice). Vandiyathevan and him were close friends ever from their meeting in Sri Lanka.
  • Mandakini Devi aka Singala Naachiyaar aka Oomai Rani("The Mute Queen") (D): The deaf and mute mother of Nandini and Madurantaka. Love interest of Sundara Chola. She had great affection towards his children. She was the woman who saved Ponniyin Selvan from being drowning in the river Ponni and from many dangers in Sri Lanka. She is also the one who saved Sundara Chola from being assassinated by Soman Sambavan. She dies at the hands of Sundara Chola. How she had children with Veerapandyan was not described by the author.
  • Murugaiyan: Elder brother of Poonkuzhali. Husband of Rakkammal. He rowed the Pandiyan conspirators to Sri Lanka from Kodikkarai. But later felt his wrongdoing and helped Arulmozhivarman to reach Thanjavur.
  • Manimekalai (D): Innocent and shy princess of Kadamboor. Younger sister of Kandan Maran and daughter of Kadamboor Sambuvaraiyar. She had a deep, immense one-sided love on Vandiyathevan. She was used by Nandini for her plot to kill Aditya. She tried to save Vandiyathevan from punishment for murder by accpeting that she killed Aditya. She later goes lunatic thinking that Vandiyathevan was punished and killed. At the end of the story, she dies tragically at the hands of Vandiyathevan.
  • Karuthiruman aka Paithiyakaran (The Madman): An assist of Veerapandian. The man who knew about the secrets of location of "Pandian sword" and also the secrets about Chembian Maadevi's real son. He is the one who saved the baby Senthan Amuthan from being buried alive by Vaani who did not notice that the baby was crying as she was deaf.

Other characters in the novel are:

  • Kudanthai Jothidar: (jothidar- astrologer) The astrologer in the town of Kudanthai (present day Kumbakonam) who predicts that Arulmozhivarman will become a great emperor. He also mentions that Vanathi will marry Arulmozhi and bear a great king who will take the Chola dynasty to its glory. He later moves to Thiruvaiyaru since his house was destructed by Kaveri floods.
  • Kalyani: Mother of Sundara Chola. Wife of Arinjaya Chola.
  • Paranthakan Devi: Another wife of Sundara Chola.
  • Eesaana Sivapattar: The priest of the Shiva temple in Pazhayarai. Elder brother of Azhwarkadiyan and foster brother of Nandini. He helps Vandiyathevan to meet Kundavai secretly in Pazhayarai when Pazhuvettararaiyars were searching for him there.
  • Aacharya Bhikku: The head monk in Chudamani Vihara of Nagapattinam who saves Arulmozhivarman when he was affected by a lethal flu.
  • The Pandyan Prince whom the Pandyan conspirators made the successor of Veerapandiyan at Thirupurambiyam Pallipadai.
  • Chandramathi: Maid and companion of Manimekalai in Kadambur palace.

(D) – Deceased by the end of the novel.

Prequels and Sequels

Malarcholai Mangai is a prequel of Ponniyin Selvan written by Dr.L. Kailasam, which describes how Vandhya Devean, the hero of Ponniyin Selvan was brought up in his child hood to became a Hero. Kaveri Maintan written by Anusha Venkatesh and Nandipurathu Nayagai written by Vikraman are famous sequels of Ponniyin Selvan



There have been several attempts to create film adaptations of Ponniyin Selvan, beginning with an attempt in 1958 by M. G. Ramachandran. Ramachandran cast several of the roles such as Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan and Kundavai, but later dropped the project for unstated reasons.[1] Director Mani Ratnam also attempted to film a complete adaptation of the book for a 2012 release, but had to shelve the project due issues with the potential budget for the film and difficulty locating financiers to back the project.[2]

A 32-hour animation film was created by Rewinda Movie Toons, a Chennai-based animation studio. The project was started in 2008 and took seven years to complete. The film is distributed over 15 DVDs and will be released direct-to-video by April 2015.[3]

Stage play[edit]

Avvai Shanmugam was the first to organise a conference on Tamil drama in Erode, and the first to organise a drama contest, in 1945. One of the prize winning scripts was ‘Raja Raja Chozhan,’ which was staged in 1955 with Shanmugam as prince Rajendra. ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’ was also presented at the Motilal Nehru Centenary celebrations in Delhi in 1961, earning compliments from Nehru for the splendid acting. In Singapore, ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’ was also enacted 90 times. Overall it was staged 2,146 times.

Avvai Shanmugam played the role of Maamallan in Kalki's ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham’ and the sets were grand, befitting the story. For the scene in which Paranjothi tames an elephant that runs amok, two men inside a specially made elephant, operated levers as they walked in unison. Ref : https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/labour-of-love/article3779426.ece

In 1999 the book was adapted into a stage play by E. Kumaravel and was staged by Magic Lantern Theater in Buck's Theatre inside YMCA Nandanam, Chennai.[4] The script's length was originally over nine hours long, but was shortened into a performance time of four hours and 20 minutes and featured 72 actors on a multi-level setting.

Again, the book was adapted into a stage play in a very grand scale by SS International Live along with Magic Lantern theatre group in Chennai, in June 2014. The crew includes Kumaravel, who penned the screenplay & dialogues, Thotta Tharani as art director, Preethi Athreya as costume designer and Bhanu leading the make-up and hair styling department. Pravin directed the play.[5]

Chicago Tamil Sangam staged the play in May 2013 with over 40 volunteers in cast and crew .[6]


An attempt to turn the book into a television serial was made by Makkal TV, but was shelved.[7] Another attempt to adapt the novel into a series surfaced on 27 March 2015. Eros International would be producing the series,with creative heading handled by Soundarya R, and direction being handled by Sooriyaprathap.S [[1]], one of her assistant directors. Screenplay and dialogues for the same was written by writer Jayamohan. Unlike most Tamil series, this would be released online on a pay-per-episode basis rather than on television.[8]


There are at least three different translations of Ponniyin Selvan available in English – by Indra Neelamegam[9] CV Karthik Narayanan,[10] and an ongoing one by Pavithra Srinivasan.[11] On 21 February 2015, a Sanskrit translation by Rajalakshmi Srinivasan was released at a public function in Chennai by the then HRD Minister of India, Smriti Irani.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mani is likely to drop Ponniyin Selvan". Times of India. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  2. ^ "Maniratnam announces abandonment of Ponniyin Selvan". KollyTalk. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  3. ^ B. Kolappan (9 April 2015). "Ponniyin Selvan in 32-hour animation film".
  4. ^ "The stage is his world". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  5. ^ Ananda Vikatan "Ponniyin Selvan – Kodayil Medayil", Vikatan.com Private Limited, TamilNadu, 30 April 2014.
  6. ^ http://chicagotamilsangam.org/wordpress36/?page_id=745
  7. ^ "Gopika's sister to debut". India Glitz. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  8. ^ B. Kolappan (27 March 2015). "Ponniyin Selvan to come alive on screen". The Hindu.
  9. ^ Ponniyin Selvan
  10. ^ CV Karthik Narayanan Goodreads page
  11. ^ Ponniyin Selvan translation – Pavithra Srinivasan
  12. ^ "Linguistic diversity an asset: Smriti Irani". The Hindu. Chennai. 22 February 2015. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 7 January 2018.

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