Friday, September 11, 2015


This Legend of Ponnivala video clip describes an age-old dilemma: what to do when an ecological catastrophe such as severe drought settles on the land? This is a common problem that has plagued people and civilizations around the world as far back as collective memories can reach. Of course archaeological research shows that this problem is far older still, and has occurred many, many times. Sometimes the lack of rain is relatively localized. But in past eras where the long distance transportation of food was minimal due to poor roads or trails and limited carrying capacity, even a localized dry spell lasting several years could create real hardship. This is the tragic situation that befell the farmer-hero Kollatta and his wife Ariyanacci in the Ponnivala story. In such situations people depended on rumour. Where had the rains been better? Where could they go to survive and to avoid a localized, life-threatening famine?

Significantly, the wife in this story worries about the lack of food stores first. But her husband is the one better connected to local news about what is happening elsewhere, the news of events filtering in from beyond the local neighbourhood. This is a typical gender difference common to many traditional cultures. Kolatta is the one who has heard that a great Chola king, a powerful ruler whose domain lies downstream from the heroes’ area, has enjoyed good rains. Notice, however, that it is his wife who makes the key suggestion: “Let’s go and see the great Chola king. Maybe he can help!” With those words she initiates the move. A migration to a better area will be necessary for survival. What else can be done? Sometimes pulling up stakes and moving onward in search of better conditions is the only choice. Kolatta expresses their joint aspirations well: “Let us go and hope that we can make a better life there.”

It is significant that the eldest brother, Kolatta, is the only one mentioned inthisscene. He will “lead” the family and be the one to make the migration decision. He will go first (as we see later) and then, if all goes well, his younger siblings will follow suit. It is also worth noting that Ariyanacci, the wife, talks about the “great” king and expresses her hope that he can help. Of course people expected the powerful and mighty to help those in trouble due to no fault of their own. That was the moral duty of a leader, a king. We will see, in the next blog, how this great ruler responds to the couple’s arrival. Finally, notice some of the symbolic details like the empty bird nest and the cracked walls of Kolatta’s house. Clearly they have not had the energy (or time?) in this period of great stress, to make repairs. Their walk towards the great Chola kingdom shows a landscape in transition, some drought features linger (on the left), but there is also significantly more green vegetation (to the right) in the area they are walking towards. The final image provides an exterior view of the Chola’s very grand palace, a “home” that stands in marked contrast to the humble thatched dwelling the couple have come from. Obviously this ruler is prosperous. But will he offer this desperate pair help?

Signing off for now,
Blogger” Brenda Beck
The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada

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

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