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 , a Tamil language 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.
A Film and a separate web series adaptation of the Novel is in production and is directed by the renowned filmmaker Maniratnam.
1. புது வெள்ளம் (transl. New Floods)572
2.சுழற்காற்று (transl. Whirlwind)533
3.கொலை வாள் (transl. Sword of Slaughter)464
4.மணிமகுடம் (transl. The Crown)465
5.தியாக சிகரம் (transl. The Pinnacle of Sacrifice)91
Vandhiyadevan (வல்லவரையன் வந்தியத்தேவன்):
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 (ஆழ்வார்க்கடியான் நம்பி) alias Thirumalaiappan (திருமலையப்பன்): 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.
Sambuvaraiyar: The petty ruler of Kadamboor from the Sambuvaraya family.
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. He then assumes Vandiyathevan tried to kill him and starts to think of him as his worst enemy.
The chancellor and treasurer of the Chola kingdom from the Paluvettaraiyar clan 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.
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: Son of Chembiyan Maadevi who was raised as a Shaivite. He was raised a calm and humble Shaivite and taught not to desire on the throne. 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.
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 her brother Arulmozhivarman and his son 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.
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 Irunkovel Boothi Vikramakesari. 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. 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. 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 Veerapandiyan, 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. She had a terrible childhood that affected her badly and wanted to be with her mother Mandakini. Parthibendra Pallava And Kandanmaran fell for her beauty and she used them for her plot too.
Senthan Amuthan: A flower seller. 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 Shaivite devotee.
Vaani Ammal: The deaf and mute foster mother of Senthan Amuthan, sister of Mandakini and aunt of Poonkuzhali. She was good in practising traditional medicine.
Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar: alias Kaalandhakandar. The chief in-charge of Thanjavur fort. Younger brother of Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar to whom he had huge respect and love. He is the father-in-law of Mathuranthakar. Both brothers hated Vandiyathevan at first. He constantly warns his brother about Nandini and her conspiracy to no avail.
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.
Empress of the Chola empire. 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 Utthama Chola. 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 son the emperor, which was also the wish of her husband.
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. His desire to gain high positions in the empire make him fall a prey to Nandini’s plans.
Eldest son of Sundara Chola, the crown prince and the commander of Northern troops in Sundara Chola’s reign. He was a glorious 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 who sent Vandiyathevan to Kundavai for being her trustful guard. Aditya Karikalan was little hasty and had unpredictable anger due to the dark past he encountered. That gave all the conspirators a reason to conspire against him.
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.
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.
A boat woman, 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 she married Senthan Amuthan. She was named “Samudrakumari” (Princess of the Ocean) by the Prince Arulmozhi himself.
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: Irunkovel chieftain and uncle of Vanathi. The Commander of the southern 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 Shaivism.
Mandakini Devi aka Singala Naachiyaar aka Oomai Rani(“The Mute Queen”):
The deaf and mute mother of Nandini and Madurantaka. Love interest of Sundara Chola. She had great affection towards his children and her niece, Poonguzhali. She is always around Arulmozhivarman and saves him from many dangers.
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.
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.
Karuthiruman aka Paithiyakaran (The Madman): An assistant of Veerapandian.
Other characters in the novel are:
(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.
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.
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.