What Is Ponniyin Selvan about And Who Were The Cholas?

As anticipation for the long-awaited film version of the historical fiction novel Ponniyin Selvan grows, there is enthusiasm among fans and critics alike. On September 30, the first of two cinematic parts of this epic story brought to life for the big screen by noted filmmaker Mani Ratnam will release in Tamil and several other languages.

The book

Published in the 1950s, Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy serves as the inspiration for the film.

Analysts say the storyline of the book and motion picture are consistent with Tamil Nadu’s current initiatives to recapture the Chola empire’s lengthy and illustrious past, which frequently portrays the clan as the “height of south Indian greatness”.

The Cholas

It is interesting that Mauryan ruler Ashoka apparently made the first mentions of the Cholas in the third century BCE. The Third Tamil Sangam’s early literature and the ancient Greco-Roman Periplus, both published in the initial centuries of the Common Era, are the only other sources of information about the early Cholas.

According to historians, the Chola empire rose to prominence under King Vijayalaya Chola in the middle of the ninth century after a prolonged eclipse. The primary source of knowledge for recreating the history of the Cholas during the past few decades has been the numerous inscriptions and copper-plate grants that the Vijayalaya dynasty left behind.

Along with the Cholas, the Madurai Pandyas, and the Cheras, the three major kingdoms of ancient Tamil Nadu, were located in modern-day Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Lakshadweep, and the southern regions of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The Cholas overpowered the Pandyas and took control of the northern and eastern regions of the Tamil nation during Rajaraja I’s ascension.

Sea power

The Cholas’ imperial ambitions under the new king took a new direction, and the sea-trading industry came to represent their reign. Apparently, the Cholas controlled a fairly broad shipping route from the Coromandel Coast (Cholamandalam Coast) via the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, according to an article written by author and cultural artist Hema Devare in 2010.

According to her, the Cholas used ships of various sizes. Light boats were employed for local transportation, the Colandia was a sizable ship that traveled the Ganga, and larger seagoing ships reached Malaya and Sumatra. “Rajaraja Chola understood that dominating lucrative trade routes was a sure way to distinguish himself and his court from the rest of the fragmented polity of the Tamil nation,” writes historian Anirudh Kanisetti in ‘Lords of the Deccan: Southern India from the Chalukyas to the Cholas’. Rajaraja soon realized that his rivals, the Cheras, who controlled the Malabar coast, were receiving more merchants across the sea, especially from prosperous Fatimid Egypt.

Brihadishvara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located on the south bank of Cauvery river in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, was built by Chola emperor Rajaraja I between 1003 and 1010 CE, and is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’. Peak/News18

Meanwhile, Rajaraja Chola became ‘recognised’ as one of the most accomplished political and military strategists that south India had ever seen during the course of the following ten years of the era. Historians say that he had nearly all of the Pandya regions under his control by the end of the 10th century, and he had installed his own rulers. Afterwards, he invaded Ceylon, pillaging a few of the Buddhist monasteries, and established the Cholas’ rule by erecting Shiva temples.


Rajendra Chola, also known as First Rajendra Chola or Gangaikonda Chola, was Rajaraja Chola’s son who continued the Chola empire’s growth. In 1025 CE, Rajendra Chola built the Chola capital at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, which is close to modern-day Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, to mark his victory against the Pala dynasty in modern-day Bengal. He afterwards erected a huge Shiva temple as an act of gratitude to the Lord.

According to historians, the Cholas have been extensively written about in numerous strands of south Indian history. This is because they produced more inscriptions and monuments than any previous dynasty, which is significant. Recall that throughout the colonial era, Madras was a significant hub for research on south India’s medieval past. In addition to the material culture they left behind, the Cholas also participated in an extraordinary campaign of conquering several regions of Indonesia and Srivijaya, making them stand out in these studies.


In July 2022, director Mani Ratnam and actor Vikram were served with a legal notice by a lawyer, alleging that the history of Cholas seems to be misrepresented in Ponniyin Selvan: 1. It stated that the historical details of the Cholas had been overlooked from the novel

For instance, it said, the Cholas didn’t have ‘naamam’ (a vertical traditional mark applied on the forehead), while actor Vikram, who is playing the role of ‘Adithya Karikalan’ in the film, was seen with the naamam on his forehead.


When the teaser of the film got released, it created a buzz among the fans and expectations have risen for the drama, as it’s a lavish production under the direction of a renowned filmmaker.

According to reports, over the years, many attempted to turn the novel into a film but without success. After a failed bid by MG Ramachandran in the late-1950s, Mani Ratnam himself tried to adapt the novel in the mid-1990s and early-2010s, but that didn’t work out. I finally revived the adaptation in January 2019 and, despite the Covid pandemic halting work, managed to finish it in late 2021.

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