Artist son Manian recalls his father’s travels and research for the illustrations for Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan

A board game developed by Deepika Arun based on the Tamil novel by Ponniyin Selvan

A board game developed by Deepika Arun based on a Tamil novel, Ponniyin Selvan
| Photo credit: special arrangement

When Kalki Krishnamurthy Ponniyin Selvan is serialized in Kalki magazine more than seven decades ago, artist Manian’s story, characters and illustrations with their details and composition had such an impact that many brides preferred to dress as Kundhavai, Vanathi or Nandhini. “My father traveled extensively with Krishnamurthy before taking on the task of illustrating his magnum opus. I was a young lad then and I remember my father traveling to many places in Tamil Nadu and also in Sri Lanka. His illustrations are deeply influenced by his observations during his travels,” says Maniam Selvan, son of artist Maniam. “Along with Krishnamurthy, he undertook extensive research to understand the characters. If you look at the original illustrations, you will notice that Kundhavai and Arulmozhi Varman have similarly shaped noses and the jewelery that was the rage in those days was based on his observations of the statues/idols of the ancient Chola dynasty and also the sculptures in the Ajanta and Ellora caves,” says Ma As he is known in the artistic circle.

Sword fight between Vanthiya thevan and Aurnmozhi Varman in Sri Lanka

Sword fight between Vanthiya thevan and Aurnmozhi Varman in Sri Lanka | Photo credit: special arrangement

Speaking at the event Kadhayin Kadhai (a story about a story) organized by Nam Oor Nam Veedu, Nam Kadhai, a social organization founded by architect Thiruppurasundari Sevvel, and The Golden Connect, at the Madras Literary Society on November 26, the artist dwelled on his father’s spectacular illustrations, which are highly differentiated traits and characteristics of 18 key characters in the novel through his art. “In the episode where Vandhiyathevan and Arulmozhi Varman meet for the first time in Sri Lanka, there is a sword fight. Seeing the sheer magnificence of the illustration, Kalki rewrote the chapter to match my father’s work. This shows Kalki’s generosity. Such images are still etched in the reader’s memory,” says Ma Se.

Kundhavai, original illustration by artist Manian

Kundhavai, original illustration by artist Manian | Photo credit: special arrangement

Audio book artist and founder Kadhai OsaiDeepika Arun, spent a year and a half retelling the classic for her readers and developed a board game based on Ponniyin Selvan which was explained to the audience. “As an enthusiast and collector of various board games, I realized that till now there was no board game based on a Tamil novel and I developed Ponniyin Selvan game. It took us almost two and a half years to complete the project and release it in August this year,” she says.

The game is designed for three to six players. The actions that the characters do in the novel are the activities that they do in this game as well. For example, Ravidasan is an assassin and he plays that role in the game. This is a game of bluffing, where aal maaraattam (disguised identity) is allowed, and the player’s goal is to eliminate all players using their intelligence and strategy, and emerge as the kingmaker for the Chola dynasty. While knowing the story is an advantage, not knowing the story can also be fun.

First meeting of Kundhavai and Vandhiyathevan

First meeting of Kundhavai and Vandhiyathevan | Photo credit: special arrangement

“Since we started the Tamil section in the MLS, copies Ponniyin Selvan they were always in circulation. We also showed a bound volume of the original Kalki magazine with Manian’s illustration which is for reference only,” says Thiruppurasundari. The event also featured a short presentation by historian and novelist Venkatesh Ramakrishnan who addressed fact and fiction in an epic novel that beautifully blends historical fact with fictional characters and events.

Venkatesh, who is the author of the sequel to Kalki Ponniyin Selvanunder the title Kaviri Maindhan, says that Krishnamurthy’s brilliance is in his narration, which focuses on the events of Raja Raja Chola’s (Arulmozhi Varman) earlier days rather than his life as a king or his conquests. “I am not sure if the author intended Arulmozhi Varman as the hero of his magnum opus, as he laid more emphasis on Vandhiyathevan. His meticulous research and addition of fictional characters made the novel popular. What Bharathiyar did to Tamil poems, Kalki did to Tamil prose. The post-independence mood and mindset, positivity, matched the storytelling Ponniyin Selvan (serialized for four years starting in 1950), where the public was proud of the Indian identity and the kings who ruled and conquered,” says Venkatesh.

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