How Kalki wrote Ponniyin Selvan drawing from archival books in an old steel trunk

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For the historical book, the author traveled extensively through Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

For the historical book , the author has traveled extensively through Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

Kalki’s Pioneering Historical Novels Sivakamiyin Sapatham, Partiban Kanavu and Ponnyyin Selvan were not pioneering efforts. They were role models and seasoned works of literature, enlivened by novel style and originality. But you can see in them the impact of Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo. Moreover, as a child, Kalki had devoured the historical novels of many writers. His own historical fiction was the result of his desire to present as they had, the wonder and glory of his own country through literary works. Opportunity and assistance was provided for this endeavor because authentic books on South Indian history had been published in his time.

Read also | Why Mani Ratnam’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan: 1’ Doesn’t Disappoint Fans of Kalki’s Novel

Kalki at his desk

Kalki at his desk | Photo credit: special arrangement

KA Nilakantha Sastri’s Colas (English), and that of Sadasiva Pandarathar The story of the last Cholas (Tamil), can be cited as books of immense value to Kalki. The first of these appearing in two parts in 1935 and 1937 were generally useful for all of Kalki’s historical novels. The second book, published in 1949, was particularly important for Ponniyin Selvan. Other books consulted by Kalki were Rajaraja Chola — A. Balasundaram; The history of the Pallava — Ma Rajamanickam Pillai; Pallavas of Kanchi — R. Gopalan; The Pallavas — Professor Dubreil, Pallava Architecture – AH Longhurst; Administration and social life under the Pallavas — Dr. C Meenakshi; The age of Sangam —TG Aravamuthan; and Ancient India — Dr S Krishnaswami Iyengar.

Books with Kalki's handwritten notes

Books with Kalki’s handwritten notes | Photo credit: Ravindran R.

Kalki’s son revealed that his father had stored important books providing historical evidence and authentic information in an old steel trunk. While he was writing the soap opera Ponniyin Selvan (1950-54), Kalki kept this old trunk next to her big, shiny desk. If in doubt, or if more specific information was needed, he opened the chest, pulled out a book and looked at the pages he needed to consult.

Royal horoscopes

Remember the old astrologer’s box in Ponniyin Selvan, where were the horoscopes of several members of royal families kept? Historical information about who these horoscopes belonged to and notes about countless people related to these people were stored in Kalki’s old trunk!

Only a few of these volumes are currently available. One of them is Sadasiva Pandarathar’s book.

Kalki’s library

KA Nilakantha Sastri’s Colas (English), and that of Sadasiva Pandarathar The story of the last Cholas (Tamil), can be cited as books of immense value to Kalki. The first of these appearing in two parts in 1935 and 1937 were generally useful for all of Kalki’s historical novels. The second book, published in 1949, was particularly important for Ponniyin Selvan. Other books consulted by Kalki were Rajaraja Chola — A Balasundaram; The history of the Pallava — Ma Rajamanickam Pillai; Pallavas of Kanchi — R Gopalan; The Pallavas — Professor Dubreil, Pallava Architecture – AH Longhurst; Administration and social life under the Pallavas — Dr. C Meenakshi; The age of Sangam —TG Aravamuthan; and Ancient India — Dr S Krishnaswami Iyengar.

We can also cite some literary works that Kalki had no doubt read and found useful in writing his historical accounts: Pura Nanooru, Silappadikaram, Kalingathu Parani, Nandi Kalambakam, Periya Puranamthe poetry of the great poets of the Saiva and Vaishnava canons.

The deep concentration and utilitarian approach with which Kalki had read the book is evident in its pages filled with question and exclamation marks, underlined sentences and brief marginalia in English and Tamil: “Useful Information” , “Appropriate material for the novel”. , ‘Mere conjectures’, ‘This is my deduction’.

The 75 e page of this book contains these words: “Princess Kundavai has been given in marriage to Vallavaraiyan Vandiyatevan. He must have belonged to the Southern Chalukya dynasty in the Vengi kingdom.

Kalki Rajendran, the son of Kalki

Kalki Rajendran, the son of Kalki | Photo credit: Ravindran R.

Dismissing the second fact, Kalki wrote in the margin: “Vallavaraiyan might have been a prince of the Vaanan tribe. Confirming this fact later – the source and nature of this evidence remains unknown – it makes Vandiyatevan the protagonist who runs through the novel from beginning to end as a valiant warrior, friend and lover. Kalki gave him equal space and status with Arulmozhi Varman, whose name gives the novel its title. Shaping Vandiyatevan with great passion, and with all his literary talent, Kalki ends his novel by wishing him: “May your name last forever! And through this same novel, he realizes his own wish.

sung verses

When Kalki decided that this warrior belonged to the Vaanan clan, he remembered how (scholar-aesthete) TK Chidambaranatha Mudaliar (TKC) sang a few venba verses about the great king who founded the Vaanan dynasty. He immediately wrote to TKC, asking them to send these poems and all other similar poems. Reading the verses that arrived by the following post with exclamations of ” Ball! Ball!,Kalki tucked them away neatly in the steel chest that had become her encyclopedia.

We can also cite some literary works that Kalki had no doubt read and found useful in writing his historical accounts: Pura Nanooru, Silappadikaram, Kalingathu Parani, Nandi Kalambakam, Periya Puranamthe poetry of the great poets of the Saiva and Vaishnava canons.

Kalki’s novels were enhanced by his familiarity with the visual settings of his novels. As he wrote Sivakamiyin Sapatham, Kalki set out on a long journey to see Ajanta and Ellora. For Ponniyin Selvan, he traveled even more widely through Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. His accounts of these tours have been collected and published as a travel diary. Nam Tanthaiyar Seida Vindaigalwonders performed by our ancestors.

Artist Maniam traveled with Kalki on these trips. His illustrations accompanied Kalki’s words, giving readers a taste of the visual joys with the word.

This is an excerpt from ‘Kalki Krishnamurthy: His Life and Times’ by Gowri Ramnarayan, a translation of ‘Ponniyin Pudhalvar’ by MRM Sundaram

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