Wednesday, October 01, 2014


The comparison between the Ponnivala legend and Iceland’s Vatnsdaela Saga is straight forward when it comes to climate. Iceland is cold and snowy. Therefore, to establish a toehold in this new land the story heroes must confront the hardships of deep snow and ice right away during their first winter. The physical climate causes the young heroic family to suffer. To survive they must live together in one simple home. Overcoming the difficulty the elements pose is itself the first step in their character formation as heroes. It is trial number one. When summer finally arrives the Vatnsdaela heroes are finally able to begin their first farming efforts… in an almost vacant land. But they continue to live in their first home for at least one more winter.

The early situation of the heroes of the Ponnivala story is quite similar. Only here the challenge of the new land facing the grandfather of the clan, Kolatta, are ones of heat and drought. Furthermore there is a small difference in the two genealogical accounts. Kolatta, the clan ancestor, is also the first pioneer. In the Vatnsdaela tale Ingimund’s father (Thorstein) provides the closest parallel to Kolatta. But Thorstein is technically NOT the clan ancestor as there are four named men in the male line that precede him. Even if we take Thorstein to be Kolatta’s equivalent, it is only his son who migrates to the new world called Iceland. In contrast, Kolatta and his eight younger brothers are created right on the land, by a goddess (Lord Shiva’s wife Parvati). These men begin their lives as young adults not as new born babes. However, they too start off sharing a single and quite humble house.

The first climatic challenge also comes early in the Ponnivala story and all nine brothers face it together. A terrible drought afflicts the area. The land is hot and dry. It will not grow anything. Everything withers and becomes brown. As a result all nine men have to pull up stakes and relocate. Kolatta leaves first but eventually all of his eight brothers follow. These refugees find a neighboring kingdom (where there has been no drought) and are taken in as laborers there. After pleasing a prosperous king there with their hard work, he decides to thank them and make them into allies. The grateful king (unnamed) then sends all nine brothers up river to settle a new, uncultivated area along the Kaveri river. This is the area known as Ponnivala. These men are to cut down the trees and bring this wild region under the taming influence of their ploughs. In sum, the influence of climate shapes the early actions of the heroes in both epic stories. And in both cases that harsh environment has something of a positive impact on the formation of each ancestral hero’s courageous character.

~ Brenda E. F. Beck

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