The story now reaches a crisis point. Lord Vishnu himself is calling for a formal ritual confrontation between the two contestants in this major socio-economic dispute. Everyone has gathered at the ritual ground, right at the edge of the Kongu (Ponnivala artisan) territory. The location is next to the great Kaveri river. There is a ceremonial platform (mandapam) already here. The place has been used for ritual gatherings before! The mountains in the background proclaim that we are up river from the Chola’s place, near the ring of hills that encircle the Kongu area. All three kings (the Chola, Chera and Pandya) are standing on the ceremonial platform when Lord Vishnu makes himself visible (a preliminary event not shown or discussed until post 1.17). The great god first announces that the Chola King wants to give the Ponnivala area over to a group of farmers to plough and to plant, but that the artisans have refused. His tone alone suggests that he disapproves of the artisan’s stand and that he backs the Chola’s plan.
Vishnu then proceeds to announce the terms of the contest. Interestingly, there will be eighteen offerings presented t the gods. This is the first time that an elaborate set of offerings is mentioned and although there is no Brahman priest present, it does suggest the ritual “tastes or customs” associated with the worship of a pan-Indian, high status god. All the offerings are of assorted flowers and fruits, but there are also four swords laid out with this display, an addition that would certainly be part of the display at a standard vegetarian ritual. These swords imply the possibility of a sacrifice, and of the blood that would ensure. Also, in terms of manpower, the sides are equally matched. There are nine farmers and nine artisans ready and waiting.
Lord Vishnu now announces that he will cause the lead farmer, Kolatta, to rise up out of the earth. The best fighters among the artisans, four in total, are to have one chance each to throw a sword and try to cut off Kolatta’s head as he rises up. Of course the fact that Kolatta is to be placed (magically) underground and made to rise up out of the earth is symbolic. These are farmers. They have already been “born” or created once in the land of Vellavala. Now there will be a second “origin” myth of their birth from the earth. Here their leader will rise out of the land, where as earlier the whole group appeared to descend from the sky. Furthermore, that first birth was from the hand of a goddess, now this second one with be from the hand of a god. The farmers are thus given two “sacred” or divine starting points. The artisans, by contrast, have none. This is one of many indications that the Ponnivala story has been “tilted” in favour of the farmers, at least in the version being retold here. Furthermore, the artisans are not warriors or even fighters by habit. They are skilled makers of swords, yes, but not skilled users of this vicious tool. One can already guess who will win this contest. But how will this be accomplished? That will be the subject of my blog post 1.18. But first, in 1.17 I will briefly ask why the artisans agree to this means of dispute resolution in the first place? After all, they must already sense the possibility of failure, given terms that do not play to their strengths. This is something like the choice of a mediator in a modern dispute resolution setting..... a choice that one side in the controversy suspects is biased!
Signing off for now,
“Blogger” Brenda Beck
The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada
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To find out more about The Legend of Ponnivala -- the legend, the series, the books, and the fascinating history behind the project, visit www.ponnivala.com.