Women In Kalki Krishnmurthy’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ Portray Girl Power

The author writes about the female characters of the prominent Tamil Writer Kalki Krishnmurthy's novel 'Ponniyin Selvan' and loved how they broke stereotypes.


The author writes about the female characters of the prominent Tamil Writer Kalki Krishnmurthy’s novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ and loved how they broke stereotypes.


Hailed as the pioneer of Tamil contemporary literature, Kalki Krishnamurthy is a renowned poet, writer, and journalist among other things. He has more than 100 short stories, about 5 novels and other literary works to his credit.

His brilliant novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ is till date one of the most iconic pieces in Tamil literature. Set in the historical period of Raja Raja Chozhan, the story describes the political and social setting of that era. Set in the 10th century, the story is based on a number of real life incidents and characters from the Chola Dynasty, intermingled elegantly with characters and stories from Kalki’s vivid imagination.The part that amazed me the most was the novel’s portrayal of its women.

I need to start with a confession that I haven’t read a lot of Tamil historic novels. I have seen a few Tamil historic movies on Cholas , Pandyas and Pallavas. All these movies and a few books that I have read , had a male protagonist and stories revolving around them. The women characters were one dimensional , they were merely hero’s love interests , mothers and sisters whom the man saves from tragedy , that is the usual plot.

Ponniyin Selvan’ is unarguably one of the best novels I have read where female characters are portrayed with great depth. Well, there is a plethora of female characters that would stay with you for long in this classic.

Even though in this book we see the world through the eyes of  Vanthiyathevan , a male protagonist , the strong female characters dictate the way the story unfolds in many ways. From the shrewd strategist Kundavai Nachiyar, to the cunning  Nandini , female protagonists, hold the reins in the story. The gutsy and lively Poonguzali, the fragile  Vanathi , the ever elusive Manthakini ( oomai rani) , the brave yet vulnerable Manimegalai ,all are well-rounded female characters.

The characterization of these women is not only elegant but also does not conform to any social stereotypes.

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The sheer variety in treatment of these complex characters is enough to hold anyone’s attention. These larger than life women have a purpose in their lives , they have their own passions and goals to achieve.This gripping classic has political conspiracy,  vengeance , romance, seductive passion, sacrifice and love.

Kundavai , Nandini , Vanathi , Mandakini , Poonguzali and Manimegalai play an important role in carving out all this .

Our protagonist of the story Vanthiyathevan and the mighty , Ponniyin Selvar himself, play their parts as directed and governed by these strong women. Kalki portrays this in a strong yet subtle way.

There are certain shades in each of these characters that resonates strongly with me.

Female or Male , the characters in this timeless classic whisk you away to a new world , a different era where you sail along with them.

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