Thursday, December 03, 2015


This final blog of the first series (which has discussed episode one of the larger story only) actually draws on material more appropriately discussed in episode two. But because it has been added, in the video animation, as a “teaser” to what lies ahead, it deserves some commentary here as well. In this clip we see the prediction in my last blog play out. This very short animated “epilogue” depicts the divine birth of Kolatta’s only son.

The clip starts with Siva now in a much more sympathetic and generous mood. He has seen that Kolatta’s wife Ariyanacci is both desperate and sad. No matter how hard she and her husband have tried, there has been no pregnancy and no child has been born who bring the two of them joy. Furthermore, there has been no child fill their lovely and palatial home with jumps, smiles and cries. Lord Siva takes pity on this sorrowful woman and decides to create a child. This will be his gift it to the lonely couple. But Lord Siva want to make this gift a secret, and a challenge. This time Kolatta will have to work for his reward and not just order in the artisans to build a high fence to protect his upcoming harvest! Siva also wants this to appear to be an accidental, magical, event. So he sends a life-bearing beam to earth and from it a beautiful surreal child is created under a large pile of stones. That stone pile lies in one of Kolatta’s back fields, a place he uses only to pasture a few cows. Found under a humble pile of stones, that seemingly-orphaned babe will eventually grow up to become a great and just king. In my second blog series I propose to focus on how Kolatta finds this child and the interesting challenges and adventures the family undergoes during his formative years. We could call this theme “The childhood of Ponnivala’s first real king.” 

Post your comments on this blog page and let me know if you would like to see my series continue. Your (constructive) input will be welcomed! I will not continue unless I hear from a substantial number of you that this detailed commentary (which takes a fair bit of work to prepare) is of real interest to my readers....

Signing off for now,
Blogger” Brenda Beck

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Monday, November 30, 2015


In the last clip, and its associated blog, we saw seven poor cows die cruelly on a staked fence. Although my comments interpret this as a sacrificial event, the cows themselves are innocent of this larger picture. Yes, they jump deliberately, but with the hope that they will sail over that fence rather than land on its vicious spikes. That fails to happen. Now, in this clip, we first see the spirits of those poor cows leaving their dead bodies. Their afterlives, depicted now as shadows, quickly float upwards to the edge of Lord Siva’s own Council Chamber. Lord Siva notices their arrival, of course. He quickly asks: “Oh cows! Why have you come to see me?” The cows retell the events that led to their tragic death in Ponnivala, but without naming the farmer Kolatta directly.

Lord Siva gets angry and quickly calls on his accountant Chitrabutira. Siva then orders this actuarial secretary to go and quickly fetch his record book that keeps track of the details of all the various human lives lived on earth. “Find out who was responsible for the terrible death these seven cows have suffered!” he orders his secretary pointedly. The accountant responds that it is Kolatta, the eldest of the nine farming brothers who work the landsf Ponnivala, and also a neighbouring area called Tangalvala, that is responsible. Siva responds with additional anger, rightfully or perhaps righteously, since it is considered a “sin” to kill a cow as discussed in several of my earlier blog posts. He will react by cursing Kolatta and his descendents to seven generation sof barrenness. This explains the ”empty cradle” scene where the clip ends.

But the significance of Lord Shiva’s curse goes way beyond this curse of barrenness or, might we say infertility? This “fate” that will visit not only Kolatta’s own wife, but also the women who marry into the family in later generations. Of course this is a typical tale set up, a “lack” that must then be overcome as the characters of the story struggle to keep their family “line” alive. The lack of “biological” children (especially sons) is also problematic in terms of the succession of family property rights (in palaces, in land etc.) but it is also problematic in terms of who will succeed to their political “kingship” (both the roles and the title) that this family will soon acquire.

One might also fairly ask, as have many of my students, how can a family persist through seven generations if there are no children born to it? The answer, of course, is by adoption and/or by the magical birth of god-created, divinely gifted children instead. The curse is thus also a gift.... in the sense that it allows this family to acquire its’ heirs in magical and god-sired ways instead. Also epic heroes require some kind of super-human qualities that will make them bigger than life. The Ponnivala heroes (and heroines) acquire this important set of character traits, at a very fundamental level, because of this all-important curse. And not to put too fine a point on it, those key features that can be said to describe each and every hero and heroine in the Ponnivala story flow from this initial and very symbolic “mythic sacrifice.” The Chola king’s seven sacred cows therefore end up being very important creatures whose living presence as a group, followed by a set of simultaneous sacrificial deaths, play a central role in defining this great epic’s wider structural form.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015


As this Legend of Ponnivala clip opens we see the group of “sacred” and wandering cows, all hungry, emerging from the forest again on a second night. They remember that lush sugarcane field where they dined in secret yesterday and are planning to repeat the same adventure once again. But as they approach the field the lead cow notices that a fence has been built. She warns her “sisters” by saying: “Watch out! Look at that fence!” She then adds a very poignant question: “What kind of landowner would do this to us?” A second cow now chimes in with: “How can anyone be so mean?” However, a third sister remains undaunted. That cow speaks up and bravely states: “That fencing doesn’t look too high. I think we can all jump over it!”

What ensures is sad indeed. The cows are seen to approach the fence cautiously. Next we see that they all have landed on those high spikes and become stuck there. We are spared the details of this gory scene, seeing only the cow’s multiple legs, and then multiple distressed cow heads. Meanwhile the audio track tells it all. The cow-sisters all cry out “Oh Lord! Oh Siva. Help me, help me!” But all their shouting and anguish is to no avail. There are only seven cows now, the rest having wandered elsewhere, but all seven have been skewered and clearly these poor creatures have no hope of escape. The clip ends here.

There is not much to say except that this tragic end for the cows is a key and well-programmed story event of mythic proportions. Its consequences will reverberate until the very end of the legend, and its symbolism will be revisited in multiple ways. Suffice it to say that death on an iron stake or spear point serves as a kind of sacrificial offering to the gods. This kind of suicide is either contemplated and/or done willingly by several characters in the broader story. In the middle part of the legend the heroine Tamarai contemplates jumping off onto a similar array of iron stakes from a high tower. She had earlier ordered a similar group of artisans to build her that tower for this very purpose. She never jumps off it ,as Lord Vishnu manages to coax her down from this dangerous high point before she takes that final leap. But her intention is clear. Later she sit sits on a tower capped by seven needles, for twenty one years, sitting there while undergoing seven mythical deaths executed by Lord Siva’s assistants at his command. Her seven “deaths” in this later set of scenes compensate, in a sense, for the lives lost by the seven female cows seen here. One can arguably say that in this story the heroine’s “seven lives” are taken to be the equivalent of the lives of these seven cows. Later, at the very end of this epic legend this heroine’s two heroic sons also dies on “stakes.” This time they leap forward onto their own swords that have been embedded upright in the soil. Their suicidal leaps cause another set of sacrificial deaths, this time explicitly and deliberately offered. But more of that event at a much later time.  

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Monday, November 23, 2015


This new clip is quite straight forward but has been included as a possible teaching point for younger students. The scene starts with several good views of the fence being built followed by a wider vista of the artisans’ finished work. Clearly this fence is a vicious obstacle. It has been designed to severely harm any animal that might try to jump over it (see my last blog, post 1.26). Heard behind these several scenes is a song taken from the original story’s tape village recording as bards sang it to a live audience in 1965 (see log post 1.2). One can “hear” the tone and style of the song in this particular clip because no narration has been laid over it. The bards one can hear are signing about the artisans’ workshop and the fine work being accomplished there. You can almost hear the sound of their hammers in the beat being used!

In the ensuing scene clip the farmer is paying his artisan(s) for their work, in pearls. The group leader has stepped forward to receive that payment on behalf of the whole group of artisan workers. It was the custom in earlier times to pay labourers in ”kind” rather than in cash. Although some coins were in circulation, common peasants had little use for these bits of metal and even less understanding of their value and of how to count them out. In this case pearls have been chosen to pay the artisans, something particularly appropriate since these same artisans may also well have had some among them who were jewelry makers. At least in the Legend of Ponnivala, artisans are artisans. Sub groupings are not clearly distinguished. The “acaris” as group (a generic name the epic uses for this large cluster of trades) appear to have multiple skill sets and they all live in one settlement (Aniyappur). Different skills are called upon on different occasions. I will return to what happens to those poor cows in my next blog (post 1.28).

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Thursday, November 19, 2015


In the last clip (blog post 1.25) we saw the Chola’s cows eating their fill in Kolatta’s fine sugarcane field. They then leave, as a group. They are still able to move undetected in the darkness of the night. But then the sun rises and the farmer-hero-pioneer sets out to check on his ripening cane (a short scene not shown here). As the present clip starts he arrives at his field and is horrified to find his fine sugarcane badly trampled..Many stalks have been chewed up as well. Kolatta is very upset by all this destruction. He is in such distress and so angered that he barely takes the time to ask himself what animal(s) could have caused so much damage? He quickly turns and calls his watchman. He demands that the artisans be called and brought to him immediately. A fence must be built. This invasion has to be stopped!

The watchman goes to the artisan’s homes right away. There he announces the “the king” of Ponnivala has ordered them to come right away. This alone is quick revealing of the artisans fall from their previously powerful position vis-a-vis Ponnivala. Kolatta is by no means a king (yet) and still he is described as such by the watchman. Furthermore, he is ordering these artisans to come, and right away! The men dutifully pick of their tools and go with the watchman. When they reach Kolatta’s home they stand on the ground while he, their superior, stands on the porch where he is head and shoulders above them. The artisans address Kollata as “Lord” and he takes this greeting for granted. He then gives out his instructions for a fence and tells them to start their work immediately. There is to be a post every three feet and each post is to have a pointed spear head on it. The artisans do as they are told and set to work immediately. The change in their status is thus made very obvious. These men have now become mere service providers, skilled labours who are given just a minimal amount of respect. For more detail on this key social transformation see my previous blogs (Posts 1.13 - 1.19 plus 1.23).

It may also be significant (no coincidental) that the artisans are the ones to do the ”dirty work” of putting a vicious spearhead on each post. In an indirect sense it is their fine craftsmanship that will (as we shall see in my next blog post) become physically responsible for the ultimate death(s) of those poor, hungry, itinerant Chola cows. There are several ways, in later episodes, that depict ways the artisans find to take “revenge” against the newly-established farmers of Ponnivala. Though not stated in the story as such, this could be the start of that “trend.” But they are just following Kolatta’s orders and doing his bidding you might say. That is true, but they could have warned Kolatta, or asked what animals he was trying to keep out, or made the pikes less sharp, less murderous. Why does that matter? The killing of a cow is a serious offense in this story as well as in many other contexts that are part of a much larger umbrella of pan-Indian Hindu traditions. Kolatta will become the man considered responsible for this sin, and the one to bear the full weight of Siva’s wrath. But is it totally unreasonable to think that, just maybe, the artisans might have been secretly happy about this. Could they have had any inkling that such a circumstance might come to pass?

Have you experienced The Legend of Ponnivala on TV or in print? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

To find out more about The Legend of Ponnivala -- the legend, the series, the books, and the fascinating history behind the project, visit