What Is The Legend of Ponnivala?

The Legend of Ponnivala is a vast epic story, once widely celebrated in the Kongu region of South India. It is a gem of Tamil storytelling, and a tale normally sung by bards. The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada, in association with Soft Science, has produced a twenty-six episode animated DVD series with accompanying print and digital comic books and teaching guides.

The colours and character designs in these short graphic novels present the reader with a new style that is not Manga, not Disney, and not Bollywood. Instead, each page draws inspiration from authentic, traditional Indian folk art. Akin to a regional Mahabharata, this significant and hitherto largely unknown folk epic describes life in medieval South India. Because of the legend’s authenticity, depth, and extensive social significance, this story can be enjoyed at many levels. Building on 45 years of scholarship by Dr. Brenda Beck, it is anticipated that all 26 comic books will hold the interest of kids, families, and even attract academic scholars. In fact, one elementary school student from New Jersey wrote:

I read the entire set of books in 3 days.
The Legend Of Ponnivala was a very interesting, happy, and fascinating story.
I liked the book titled ‘The Book Of Fate’ the most.
My favorite character was Tamarai. Your stories are excellent.
Thank you for the books.
~ Janani S. (2nd grade), Metuchen, NJ

Locally the epic is known as the Annanmar Kathai, or “The Elder Brothers’ Story,” and is named for the principal characters of the third generation, the twin brothers Ponnar and Shankar. Like all good folk epics, Ponnivala takes place in the real world, with locations and landmarks that still exist today. Yet its great age (easily over 500 years old) provides a remarkable insight into the society and culture of medieval India, especially as played out in the Kongu region of Tamilnadu.

New releases planned for 2012 include Tamil, Hindi, and French language versions, and “Ponnivala Parcheesi,” an educational game intended to provide teachers with fresh comparative material, for use in the classroom or lecture theatre.

These comics (and their video counterparts) provide viewers with a fresh and informative folk perspective on South Asia’s pre-colonial history. The material also has great mythological and cultural appeal.

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