Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Episode 26: An Epoch Ends

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

The two rulers of Ponnivala lie dead after a great battle. Their sister reads the signs they left and knowing they have given up their lives. She burns the palace. She then sets off on a to find her brothers’ bodies. When she does she revives them briefly for a last conversation. Memorial pavillions are built. Then all three rise up to find a place beside Lord Shiva in his world above.

The Sister Reacts With Anger Upon Discovering That Her Brothers Are Dead

The sister knows that her brothers have died in the mountains. Her first act is to go to the “jail” where her sisters-in-law live and ask them to perform their husbands’ funeral ceremonies. The women, angry at their life spent locked in a humble home, refuse. The sister is angry, feeling that these women have refused to give her brothers the ceremonial respect they are due. She leaves and returns to her own palace. There, will still more anger, she asks her servants to take home anything they want. As soon as the great home is emptied she asks Lord Vishnu to send her a fireball. With that she burns the family palace to the ground. When little but ashes are left she stops the fire by asking for rain. Next she turns to her sisters-in-laws’ palace and burns that too. She cools the ashes of this second fire with more rain. Then she collects her sisters-in-laws’ bones and takes them to the river. There she performs a minimum funeral for these women by feeding a flock of crows cooked rice. Turning towards the hills where her brothers’ bodies lie, the devoted sister now begins a long pilgrimage to search for the spot where they died.

The Sister Becomes a Wanderer

Eventually, after wandering for days through the forest, the sister finds a clearing where a lovely ascetic maiden is performing penance. Vishnu has been watching and descends to help the sister at this moment. He asks the meditating maiden to climb down from her pillar momentarily, so that the heroic little sister can use it to obtain a gift from Lord Shiva. When that woman agrees and the sister climbs this huge post she asks for a special wand. Vishnu gets this from Shiva’s counsel chambers and the sister (later) uses it to revive her brothers. After obtaining the all-important wand, the ascetic maiden sends the sister to a nearby village to fetch a stack of tiered pots. But the sister has no money and the local potter refuses to be generous. Facing injustice once more, the sister calls on a great rain cloud. There is a sudden downpour and the potter’s unfired work disintegrates before his eyes. He apologizes and begs for forgiveness, exactly what the sister needs to return the many pots to their former state. Now the potter readily gives her what she needs. When the sister returns to the forest maiden with her tiered vessels the maiden fills them with the exact ritual substances she will need when she finds her brothers’ bodies. The forest maiden also lends her “gooselike” vehicle to the sister for a flight to her brothers’ place of death.

The Sister Finds Her Brothers' Bodies And Briefly Revives Them From Death

The meditating maiden offers the distraught girl her own lovely vehicle, a golden bird. The young sister is then flown by this bird to the site of her brothers' suicides. There she finds her little palace dog guarding the boar meat left over from the great kill. With this dog’s help she locates her brothers' bodies. Then awakens them with the help of her golden wand and talks to them briefly. The two men reaffirm that their lives are now over and that they can not go back to their lands in Ponnivala. It is time for others there to take up the responsibilities of kingship.

The Heroes’ Three Spirits Are Returned To Lord Shiva And Blessings Are Showered Upon All

Lord Vishnu then takes their spirits back to heaven and the bodies are carried on magical biers to the town nearby. There they are paraded through the streets to receive their final respects. Then the bodies magically turn to stone and become shrines. The sister sets a lovely array of offerings before the two stone heroes. The Lord Shiva himself sends a chariot down from heaven and the sister is taken up to join him in his counsel chambers. The epic ends with a lovely blessing addressed to all who listen to the story. There are images of ploughing the land, of planting, of a lovely river that flows through the kingdom, of a spreading banyan tree, of well rooted grasses and finally, of birds singing in the bamboo.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Episode 25: The Great Sacrifice

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

The two warrior-brothers of Ponnivala lie sick. They are cured after humbling themselves before the palace she-dog. Coming to the heroes’ aid, the dog attacks, weakens the boar but leaves the final death-spear throw to her masters. The forest hunters seek revenge in a huge battle. The heroes win, however their time on earth is now up. They gift their lives to Lord Shiva.

A Big Apology that Yields Results

The kings now sends for the forgotten dog. When she is found and brought to the war camp the younger king offers her his apology. She volunteers to help and asks her two Lords to go and wait with their great boar spear at the top of a huge rock. The little dog then finds the great boar, challenges it, chews on its ears, bites it with poisoned fangs and generally weakens it greatly. As a consequence the huge boar runs in pain and distress toward the high rock. The little dog rides along on the boar's tail.

The Boar is Killed and The Meat Divided Into Shares

Jumping off the boar’s tail the little dog advises the heroes to throw their spear now for the final kill. The weapon hits its target and the great boar dies, but not before it calls out to the hunter's little sister in its distress. The hunters declare war. Lord Vishnu himself descends from heaven to lead their army. But just as these fighters advance towards the heroes Lord Vishnu asks them to pause and wait for him Then he approaches the heroes in the disguise of a washerman. They have now butchered the boar and divided the meat into seven portions in preparation for a ritual feast. But the washerman begs for a small piece of the sacrifice. The elder hero (when his brother has stepped away from the scene), offers the leftover boar’s head to the washerman instead. Lord Vishnu drags the head away.

The Heroes Die In A Heroic And Sacrificial Way

No sooner does the washerman leave than Vishnu is back leading his army of hunter-warriors. Very soon the two groups meet and start to fight. But the younger brother soon turns to his powerful assistant with a question. “How can these guys keep coming and coming? We have killed so many!” he comments with exasperation. Then Vishnu does something significant. He creates a vision such that the young twin can suddenly see hundreds of fighting hunters emerging. one after the other one, from the Lord’s right palm. This shows the hero that Vishnu himself has “created” the entire war. It is his play, his illusion. The hero draws his sword against Vishnu but the power of the god freezes him in his tracks. The Lord then asks the twins to spend one last heroic moment fighting their enemies. Both join in briefly and together they kill a few more challengers. Then, weary of battle, the two men go to wash the blood off their swords by wading into a nearby river. At that moment Lord Vishnu (hidden in the branches of a tree) shoots the younger twin's protective chest thread off with a freshly made flower-arrow. Both heroes now recognize that this is Lord Vishnu's private sign to them. that the time allocated by the gods for their lives on earth is almost over. Accepting this message, the two heroes and their loyal assistant all commit heroic suicides on a hillock overlooking the river bank. The two brothers fall forward, the younger one first, each on his own battle sword. The assistant follows suit, but uses a pointed tree branch instead, since does not carry a sword of his own.

Lord Vishnu Takes The Heroes’Spirits Up To Heaven

Lord Vishnu soon arrives on the hillock where the heroes have died. He now takes the spirit lives of these three men back to heaven in a tiny golden box. There he presents all three to the great god Shiva. And reminds him of the bargain made long ago. When he brought the lives of the heroes back, Shiva was to return his conch shell, and also a sacred powder box. Shiva makes the exchange graciously. Back on earth, the loyal little sister sees that the signs of her brother's well being have changed (the coconut has broken open, the jasmine flowers have wilted, the sandalwood powder has dried up, the water in the pot has disappeared and the burning wick of the little lamp has gone out) She knows that her two brothers are now dead. Saddened and horrified she wonders what to do.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Episode 24: A Curse Revealed

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

The twin rulers of Ponnivala set off on a great boar hunt. Their sister asks them to leave signs that they will be O.K. Her dog, angry at being left behind, curses the heroes. They fall sick. Meanwhile, the First Minister leads an unsuccessful attack. The boar slaughters all their warriors. Lord Vishnu reveals the heroes’ true problem. The dog wants an apology.

The Heroes Dress For War

The little sister is all-seeing and senses that her brothers will not return from their battle against their hunter enemies. Knowing that her brothers are going into battle, she asks that they first let themselves be carried through the streets in royal style so that everyone can say their “goodbyes.” Then they go into the palace dressing room and adorn themselves with fine silks. They also tie on sacred, protective neck threads. Furthermore, even through the sister knows that she will not see her brothers again, she still wants to be double sure she has some sense of what is happening. So she asks them to provide six signs that will indicate the day-to-day state of their well-being: The sister wants her brothers to present her with: a whole coconut, a burning lamp, a ripe mango fruit. fresh flowers, a dish of water, and a small bowl of turmeric. The two brothers supply these on a tray for her to keep close to her side. Next they send their huge assistant ahead to set up a war tent. The fighting men from the 56 “revenue” villages under their leadership gather for the fight.

A Little Dog Sickens The Younger Hero With A Powerful Curse

As the two heroes ready for departure and stand on the palace porch, their little sister runs towards them. The brothers tell her they are laving for the war. They ask her to bless their swords. She only cries. Then, with tears in her eyes she bids them goodbye and they take their leave. The two men depart on horseback for the great war. The fighters have taken all the fearsome dogs of the kingdom with them but they have overlooked the tiny little palace dog. She is insulted and now goes to the family goddess. There she begs that a curse be placed on the younger twin. Afterwards she goes and finds a deep hole where she will hide, out of the sight of all who were left behind at the Ponnivala palace. The curse request is passed by the family goddess to a “sister” who is the fearsome and warlike Kali. Then Kali causes it to leave the little dog’s secret den and fly through the forest all the way to the forest camp. Soon the younger twin falls ill in the heroes’ war tent. He can no longer fight. Fear of the boar's three day ultimatum hangs heavy in the air.

The Heroes’ Assistant Offers To Lead The Fighting Men Himself

The heroes’ huge assistant now offers to go and locate the boar's hideaway by himself. After finding the beast he plays his horn to the boar, tricking him into a deep sleep. The brave assistant then sneaks into the boar’s lair and pulls out nine of the great enemy’s back hairs. Then he quickly returns with these to the war camp of the heroes. When these are burnt in a small fire the smell proves that he has indeed carried back boar to prove his success. He now knows where the enemy is hiding.

There Is A Wartime Disaster

The brothers are still too sick to fight so the assistant offers to lead the attack by himself. He takes all of the fighters and all of the dogs with him. This becomes a miserable failure. All the dogs, and all the fighters except the assistant himself, are killed by the monstrous boar. Lord Vishnu then descends to earth to help. He takes the disguise of a fortune teller. Then he approaches the heroes’ war tent and is welcomed inside. Reading from a traditional palm leaf manuscript he carries with him, the fortune teller reveals that the sickness the one brother is suffering has been by the little palace little she dog. It is what hangs over their tent and has caused them so much ill-fortune. He advises the men to apologize to the tiny creature and invite her to join them in the war effort.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 FeTNA Convention in Baltimore

The Ponnivala team was in Baltimore MD for the 2012 FeTNA Silver Jubilee Convention. Tamils from all over North America converged on the spectacular Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall from July 6-8 for a weekend of music, food, networking, and cultural exchange.

At the welcome dinner on Thursday evening, Dr. Brenda Beck was asked (unexpectedly!) to come up to the podium and say a few words (in Tamil) about the Ponnivala project. Her speech was received with raucous applause, and chants of "Brinda! Brinda!"...which of course took her completely by surprise!

As part of the official program beginning on Friday, Dr. Beck gave a Powerpoint talk on the Ponnivala story, outlining why this epic is so significant to a deeper understanding of Tamil culture.

On Saturday, the team hosted a Parcheesi game for kids. Parcheesi is a traditional Indian game that was a favourite passtime of the heroes of the Ponnivala legend, Ponnar and Shankar. In our version, a board 4 feet by 4 feet is used, covering a large area of the floor. The kids at this event were divided into girls' and boys' teams. It was an interesting and fun experience, because although individual girls ended up getting to the centre of the board first, the boys strategized together and ended up landing all four of their markers in the centre at the same time!

The centrepiece of the event for us of course was the booth where we had all twenty-six chapters of both the English and Tamil graphic novels laid out on display. Our display booth garnered a lot of attention as people were excited about our interest and enthusiasm for Indian culture and history. The products were extremely well-received, and it was the grand unveiling of the first run of printed Tamil edition comics!

All-in-all it was an exciting and enriching experience, and we hope to be invited back to next year's FeTNA Convention in Toronto!

FeTNA, the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, is an umbrella organization of Tamil Sangams that function within North America. Founded in 1987, the inaugural assembly of 400 people was held in the spring of 1988 in Broomall, Pennsylvania. Since then, FeTNA has blossomed to include dozens of North American Sangams representing thousands of people across the continent. Find out more at

The entire series of Legend of Ponnivala comics is now available in print and digital editions at You can also view them in webcomic format at

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Episode 23: The Enemy Confronted

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

A wild boar goes on a rampage and tears up the beautiful rice fields of Ponnivala. It then challenges the ruling brothers to war. They take the bait and prepare for battle. A huge war drum is readied and offerings are given to keep the local demons at bay. The rulers’ sister expresses doubts but the two men are determined to proceed with their hunt.

A Huge Wild Boar Destroys The Farmer’s Fine Crops

Now the end game begins. A great wild boar, pet of the hunters' little sister, is destined to attack the heroes and their fertile lands. He sets out and on three successive nights he systematically destroys the heroes' rice fields, sugarcane crop and finally, the palace flower garden. A gardener picking flowers for morning offerings at the local goddess’ temple is the first to see all this terrible destruction. He is distraught, but still he hopes to collect the few flowers that remain visible. The great boar, which has now disguised himself as a large black rock, feels the gardener’s weight on his back as he climbs on it to pick an especially pretty little bloom.

The Wild Forest Boar Sends A Challenge To the Farmer Kings

The great boar now jumps up. He begins to intimidate the gardener and bully him. Finally the gardener is asked to roll in the mud so that his body is caked with dirt. Then he is told by the boar to turn his back so that the huge creature can write a message on it with his right tusk. The text is to be taken by the gardener to the palace of the two farmer kings. As the memo is scripted the message gradually becomes clear. It reads (as voiced by the boar) "Come challenge me in the forest within three days or die." It is signed with the well-known name of this challenger: “King Komban.” When the heroes receive this message they quickly prepare for war.

The Sister Foresees Disaster But Fears To Speak Out

The two brothers read the message and decide that they must go to war against the great boar right away. But the sister first wants her brothers to undergo a magical "test." She will throw mustard seeds in the air in front of the family temple. They are to split every one of them in half before these little grains can fall to the ground. After this amazing feat the sister inspects the cloth the seeds have fallen on. One seed is left unsplit split after the test. This is a sign that disaster looms, but by now the two brothers are fully committed to their war against the boar. The sister is unhappy. That one unsplit seed is a sign that their mission will fail. But she can not bring herself to tell them this terrible news.

The Heroes’ Ritual Preparations For War Are Completed

The great war drum is now raised from its storage place at the bottom of the irrigation tank. It is re-covered with fresh leather and a huge feast is offered to the demons of the underworld. Soon the drum is beaten and a deep "toom toom" sound can be heard throughout the kingdom.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Episode 22: A New Challenger

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

An artisan holding an old a grudge against the Ponnivala family sets out to trick the ruling brothers. Spending the night in their palace, he bungles his attempt to steal the family’s prize swords. Accusing the more trusting brother of deceit, he challenges him to prove his honesty by swimming through a dangerous irrigation channel. Lord Vishnu helps the honest hero succeed.

An Artisan Develops a Secret Plan

A few artisans (family rivals from day one) have successfully hidden themselves from the heroes until now. But one foolish survivor wants to take revenge. He develops an elaborate scheme to deceive the heroes. First he cuts down a very venerable and large tree in his back yard, something his ancestors have honored for generations. His wife questions his decision but the artisan ignores her. Then he makes a very large measuring vessel made from the lovely wood. Asking his wife to buy a small amount of gold from the market, he then thinly covers the huge dish with gold foil. Now there are many bad omens. The artisan hits his head on the door frame of the house when leaving, he sees a black cat cross his path, and more. Again his wife begs him to stop and to at least wait for a more auspicious day. Again the artisan ignores her advice.

The Greedy Artisan Makes a Mistake

After walking quite a distance with a large bowl on his head, the artisan finally reaches a temple near the twin kings’ palace. The older (and more gullible) twin is sitting there. After a short conversation this brother takes pity on the artisan (alone with an expensive vessel on his head at the end of the day) and invites him to spend the night, He warns him that he may encounter thieves if he proceeds any further after dark. The artisan accepts this offer of hospitality and asks to leave his vessel in the palace storeroom. There he carefully places it next to a small lighted oil lamp. He goes to sleep in the palace room. But a big incident erupts in the middle of the night. The artisan tries to sneak into the palace armory and steal one of the heroes’ swords. Being careless, he ends up cutting himself with it instead. Then he cries out in pain. Still the gullible elder brother is tolerant and trusting …. He merely asks the artisan to go back to sleep after the maids give him a balm for his wounds.

The Elder Hero’s Honesty Is Tested

The next morning, when the artisan and he go to the storeroom to get the golden vessel they find it has been “replaced” by a simple wooden one. (In reality the gold foil has melted from the heat of the lamp). The artisan then accuses the elder hero of having stolen his vessel. Of course, the mild-mannered king denies having done anything of the sort. Now the artisan demands proof of his honesty in the form of several supernatural feats. Twice the elder twin is asked to swim through an irrigation sluice where the water is running at high speed. On the second attempt the artisan tries to hit him on the head with a stature of Lord Ganesh. The sister awakes from a dream and calls her younger brother, warning him that the elder twin is in grave danger. He rushes to the irrigation tank on horseback. Just then Lord Vishnu comes to the rescue and the hero is saved. The younger hero, meanwhile, arrives at the scene and angrily attacks both the artisan and a group of allied warrior-hunters who have also appeared and are ready to attack. As usual, the heroes' side is victorious and both brothers come through this mini war unharmed. The artisan and his hunter friends are all killed. For the moment life at the palace returns to normal.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Episode 21: A Kidnapping Spree

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

Two brothers who rule Ponnivala set off on a parrot hunt with their talented First Minister. In a neighboring forest the group are met with an onslaught of tigers and cobras. Conquering these, the men capture a female parrot. But bird’s husband escapes and complains to the forest Princess whose brothers capture a Ponnivala palace maid in revenge.

The Heroes Break Several Magical Barriers

The hunters’ sister suspects that her beloved parrots are in danger. So she sets up several barriers along the forest path leading to their nesting site, to prevent their capture. She creates an ambush of one thousand tigers. There will be a quiver of cobras waiting in the bushes as well. When the brothers encounter these ferocious animals they fight bravely and after some time they successfully defeat these animals and proceed to the huge tree where the parrots are known to nest.

The Heroes Capture One Bird But Its Partner Escapes

The heroes and their brave fighting allies creep quietly up to the tree where the parrots are located. The main assistant throws the huge iron net that has been prepared over their tree. But after much maneuvering, the men manage to capture only one bird, a female. Her partner/husband is able to escape. This is very upset at the loss of his mate and he flies to the hunter’s forest palace to complain to their princess. His sad song is heard through the palace window and he is invited in. He explains to the princess that he has lost his lovely wife to a bunch of farmer-thieves.

The Parrot Husband Flies to The Hunters’ Palace To Protest the Capture of His Wife

The hunters’ sister is upset by the news of the parrot’s capture. She calls her many brothers together. They plan revenge and soon a large group of hunter warriors come to Ponnivala. There they hope to kidnap the heroes' own little sister. But a mistake is made. The hunters stop at the river near the palace where they see a maid filling her water pots. They think she is the princess herself and so they kidnap her. The hunters run back to their own lands with this woman and prepare to make her into their own household servant. But the heroes’ brave assistant soon comes to her rescue. Using a few more tricks he carries her back to Ponnivala on his shoulder, unharmed. The female parrot, meanwhile, sits in a lovely gold cage by the heroes' sister's swing. She sings a sad song that laments the loss of her lifetime mate.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Episode 20: Two Swords Blessed

In this feature, we outline the chapters of The Legend of Ponnivala as we've laid them out in the animated and print series. The sub-story descriptions are those that occur in each episode, and are drawn from our Teacher's Handbook.

A lonely sister lives in her family palace with two brothers who spend all their time away on adventures. Lonely, she requests that they bring her a parrot for company. The brothers agree and have a net especially made for this purpose. But then the sister has a vision and changes her mind. She fears capturing a parrot from the enemies’ forest will lead to war.

The Lonely Sister Asks Her Brothers To Fetch Her Two Pet Birds

Meanwhile, the twin kings’ lovely little sister is lonely and begins dreaming about obtaining two magical parrots as pets. She wants her brothers to catch those “heavenly” birds for her. They will become her pets. The brothers express reservations. The parrots, though of heavenly lineage, reside well within the territory of their enemies: the hunters. The mountain territory there does not belong to them. But the brothers decide to go anyway. Then the sister changes her mind. She now realizes that the risks are too great. But the two kings have now committed to the mission and put their honor on the line.

A Treacherous Theft Yields Iron For Making a Fine Bird Net

The brothers realize that they need help to catch the parrots their sister requested. They plan on using a large iron net especially made for the purpose. But when they call the artisans and ask them to make such a net, the workmen advise the kings that they need to use especially strong "foreign iron" for this assignment. So the heroes' magical assistant is sent off to obtain the material required. Ironically, he finds some of the correct iron stored in an awkward place, at a temple that belongs to their hunter-enemies. It is located in the very same hills that the two kings plan to steal the parrots from. The heroes’ assistant soon obtains the by trickery. He carries it all back to Ponnivala in one big, magical head load. The parrot net needed is then quickly manufactured, and so is a golden cage that is designed to hold the two lovely birds.

Skilled Artisans Make a Fine Bird-Hunting Net and A Golden Bird Cage

The brothers realize that they need help to catch the requested parrots. They plan on using a large iron net especially made for the purpose. But when they call the artisans to construct this, the workmen advise the kings that they must use especially strong "foreign iron" for this delicate task. So the heroes' supernatural assistant is sent off to obtain the material needed. Ironically, he finds some of this iron near a temple associated with the hunter's palace. This temple lies in the very same hills that the two kings plan to steal the parrots from. Their assistant soon obtains the iron by trickery. He carries it all back to Ponnivala in one big, magical head load. The iron net needed is quickly completed, and so is a golden cage that will hold the lovely captives. The artisans are paid with pearls.

The Sister Blesses Her Brothers’ Swords

The two brothers are now fully committed to the hunt for two magical parrots. They make all the necessary preparations including drafting fighters from each village in the Ponnivala area. They dress for battle. The twin kings ask their sister to bless their swords and thereby ensure their success in this dangerous mission. She does so. The two men are ready to depart.