Friday, December 21, 2012

Brenda Beck Meets with Appadurai Muttulingam

Earlier this week, Legend of Ponnivala creator and director Dr. Brenda Beck met with renowned author and literary magnate Mr. Appadurai Muttulingam at his home in Toronto. Mr. Muttulingam is a leader in the Tamil literary community internationally, having won several prestigious awards for his work. He is also a founding member of Toronto's Tamil Literary Garden.
In the photo: Left, Dr. Beck. Right, distinguished Tamil author and founder of the Tamil Literary Garden, Mr. Appadurai Muttulingam.
1. The complete transcripts from Dr. Beck's 1965 audio recording of the Annanmar Kathai.
2. The second version of the legend, which was dictated by the narrator and used for comparison with the original sung version.
3. Volumes One and Two of the complete Legend of Ponnivala graphic novel series.
4. Teaching materials and classroom guides for presenting The Legend of Ponnivala as an educational resource.

In the photo: Mr. Appadurai Muttulingam enjoys an interactive episode of The Legend of Ponnivala on the iPad.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Come to the Market

Have you seen the new face of the Ponnivala Market? All of our available digital and print editions gathered together in one convenient location, just in time for Christmas or Pongal.

Visit to check out what's going on with the latest releases from Ponnivala publishing.

We're also very excited to announce the release of our complete editions. The entire Ponnivala comic series is now available in two stunning volumes! Volume One contains books 1-13, and Volume Two contains books 14-26. These are a must have collector's item for fans of Indian comics, and for students of Indian heritage and culture.

All of the items are currently our English editions, as we're currently compiling and editing the Tamil editions as we speak. We're hoping to have these availble, certainly in e-book formats, in time for gift-giving for Pongal (remember, these will be available worldwide for instant download, so there's no shipping charge or delivery time to worry about). Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Legend of Ponnivala, Complete Edition (in print) now available!

A short while ago, we were pleased to announce that Series One of The Legend of Ponnivala had been made available on Amazon Kindle.

Now, by popular request, we have a print edition of the entire Ponnivala legend in two volumes!

Part One contains books 1-13 of our series. This is the story of the first two generations, from Parvati's creation of the nine farmer-brothers of Ponnivala to the return of Queen Tamarai and King Kunnutaiya from their long quest to Lord Shiva's Council Chambers.

Part Two contains Series 2 (books 14-26 of our series). This is the story of the birth of the twin hero-kings Ponnar and Shankar, and their sister Tangal, all of their adventures (and misadventures), and their battle against the giant boar Komban.

Both volumes are now available for purchase through our web store:

Volume One:

Volume Two: 

These beautiful books are in glorious full-colour and expertly bound. We're so excited to bring you this compendium edition, and hope you'll be able to add it to your collection. Plus, they'll make a great Christmas gift for children and grandchildren.

Also note that both volumes, as well as the first series of thirteen individual comics, are available on the and networks as well. Just search "Ponnivala paperback" and see our entire print product line.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support. We're looking forward to sharing more exciting news with you as our freatures develop in bringing this fascinating piece of Tamil heritage to the world.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ponnivala in Chicago

This past weekend, Dr. Beck represented the Ponnivala legend at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago.

Among the highlights for this event were a trip to the museum at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and of course a screening of The Gates of Heaven (one of our feature film versions of the Ponnivala legend).

Dr. Beck was also pleased to attend the Plenary Address given by Dr. Harvey G. Cox, Jr.. The Harvard University Hollis Research Professor of Divinity gave a fascinating and insightful address on how and why renewal, reform, and transformation movements in religion tend to originate at what the religious mainstream usually thinks of as the "fringe" of its culture, rather than at the centre.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday, October 01, 2012

Ponnivala and the Social Services Network

Dr. Brenda Beck attended the Social Services Network 2nd Annual Fundraising Gala, "Red Carpet Showcase," on Saturday night. Also in attendance at the Sheraton Hotel event were dignitaries from across the South Asian community, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, and of course Dr. Beck's host SSN board member Aruna Dorai.

Social Services Network provides a wide array of services to the diverse South Asian community, ranging from home and community integration to mental health awareness to family programs, including literacy, elder abuse networks, youth programs, and even transportation assistance for newcomers to the York region.
We're pleased that we've been asked to partner with the Social Services Network, and are looking forward to working closely with them on initiatives in the future.

Special thanks to Aruna Dorai for the invitation, and to the whole organization for a wonderful dinner and evening of entertainment.

More information on the Social Services Network's programs, visit their website at

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Death and the Queen" well-received at MOSAIC

On Saturday, August 18th, "The Legend of Ponnivala: Death and the Queen" premiered at the MOSAIC International South Asian Film Festival of Mississauga.

Appearing by invitation from festival organizer Dinesh Sachdev, this was the first major festival premiere for a Ponnivala movie. Several of the cast and crew were on hand for the premiere, including series Writer / Director Dr. Brenda Beck, who took the time for a little Q&A after the show.

With just over a hundred people in the audience, "Death and the Queen" was one of the best-attended and most highly-anticipated presentations of the festival. The audience reception was very positive, and we're looking forward to bringing "Death and the Queen" to more festivals and theatres around the world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Death and the Queen interviews on Tamil media in Toronto

This Tuesday, August 14, Dr. Brenda Beck stopped in at TTR (Toronto Tamil Radio) and TVI (Tamil Vision International) for a pair of interviews leading up to the premiere of Death and the Queen in Mississauga this coming Saturday.

The radio interview with Siva Sinniah aired on Tuesday. The televised interview with Ravi Aathman on TVI will air Thursday at 6:00 p.m..

Tamil Vision Internationl can be seen on Rogers channel 867, and Bell channel 707.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Legend of Ponnivala: Death and the Queen -- now an official entry at MOSAIC International South Asian Film Festival of Mississauga 2012

(updated links and trailer: Aug. 10, 2012)
Toronto—July 26, 2012
The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada and Soft Science Associates are thrilled to announce the premiere of their new animated feature, Death and the Queen, at the Mosaic South Asian Heritage Festival, Saturday, August 18, 2012, 2:30PM at the Noel Ryan Theatre in Mississauga.
Download full colour (PDF) posters:
Small (5.04 x 8.92 inches): Click here (12 MB)
Medium (10.10 x 17.85 inches): Click Here (34 MB)
Large (20.19 x 35.69 inches): Click Here (101 MB)
Letter Size (8.5 x 11 inches): Click Here (2.5 MB)
Legal Size (8.5 x 14 inches): Click Here (14 MB)
Top and bottom letterbox borders (black area only) may be cropped for publishing.
Death and the Queen is an animated tale excerpted from the much larger Legend of Ponnivala epic, which is based on an ancient South-Indian legend known as the Annanmar Kathai or “Elder Brothers' Story.” It tells the tale of a local queen named Tamarai who must travel to the gates of Heaven to plead with the Hindu god Shiva. She wants him to lift a family curse of barrenness. With the burden lifted, her sons—the folk heroes Ponnar and Shankar—are born. In an effort to glorify their family and heir kingdom (Ponnivalanadu), these twin kings face combat with ferocious beasts and fierce warriors, until fate reclaims them and returns their spirits to Lord Shiva at just sixteen years of age.
The Legend of Ponnivala is a vast epic legend from the Kongu region of Tamil Nadu in South India. Little known outside of its home region, the story was brought to the world when Brenda Beck; then a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at Oxford; left to study Tamil society in India in 1964. There, she was presented with a live performance of the popular local legend, which is still sung by bards in the ancient oral tradition. An epic adventure about the earliest farming origins in Kongu Nadu, the story took an astonishing eighteen evenings to perform, and used some 44 hours of reel-to-reel audio tape to record.

While highly localized and surprisingly unique, the epic has a deep connection with the greatest of all Indian epics, the Mahabharata (including reincarnations of some of its key heroic characters). It provides fascinating insights into Indian Tamil culture as well as Hindu folk mythology in general.
In 2006, preliminary work began on adapting this great epic to create an animated series titled The Legend of Ponnivala. The result of that adaptation is an unparalleled animated series (now in post-production) comprising twenty six half-hour episodes. The style of the animation, created under the artistic direction of Indian-Canadian artist Ravichandran Arumugam and technical direction of Eric Harris, has been painstakingly crafted to reflect a traditional Indian folk art style, while the 2D animation is modelled on South Asian shadow puppetry.
This production has also spawned a complete comic book series in English and Tamil, as well as several children's stories, short films, classroom teaching materials, and soon a downloadable computer version of Parcheesi, an Indian strategy game that features prominently in the story.
Death and the Queen was written and directed by Brenda Beck. The original 1965 audio recordings have been used as part of the film's soundtrack scored by Steafan Hannigan. The score also features Subhadra Vijaykumar on Carnatic violin. The film features the voice and narration talents of Lata Pada, Sumit Bhatia, Afroz Khan, Ishwar, Sanjay Talreja, and Priyadarshini Govindarajan.
For more information, visit:
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Available for interviews:
Brenda Beck
For media enquiries, please contact:
The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada
Brenda Beck

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Brenda Beck at the Senior Tamils Centre of Ontario

The Legend of Ponnivala (in Tamil) gets a thumbs up from venerable seniors' group

Brenda Beck spoke in Tamil this morning to about 35 seniors from the Senior Tamils Centre of Ontario at the invitation of its President, Maya Kandiah. The event lasted nearly 90 minutes and took place in the community hall attached to the Sri Ayyappan Temple in Scarborough. The response from the members was very enthusiastic and a lot of good questions were asked.
Brenda showed the first episode of her 26 episode animated video series: “In The Beginning.” This first part of the giant epic Ponnivala legend explains how the farmers of the Ponnivala area came to be, how they established families, how they came to worship a local goddess, and how they learned to till the rich soil of the area. This initial segment of the story also provides a mythological explanation describing how the social dynamics and rules governing local village life first became codified.
This morning was the very first time that this episode has been shown publicly with its Tamil voice track. The voicing of this entire epic in Tamil is only now being produced in a recording studio in Chennai. Dr. Beck also circulated copies of her 26 graphic novels in Tamil to the many eager readers in the crowd, along with a digital version on an iPad which several seniors enjoyed flipping through. The crowd was charmed by Brenda’s efforts to tell her story in Tamil and expressed their approval of her long term commitment to communicate to the world some of the richness and depth of Tamil culture.

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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Episode 19: Independence Won

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 neighbouring monarch demands tribute from Ponnivala’s two rulers, but only one brother is willing to pay up. When he arrives with the required gifts he is jailed in a move designed to force the other brother to appear. When this brother does arrive, the cunning King tries many more tricks. Eventually the two brothers overthrow him in battle and Ponnivala’s independence is won.

The Humble, Tribute-Paying Elder Brother Is Thrown In Jail!

As a consequence the elder sibling takes the humbling gift to the Chola palace by himself, accompanied only by the loyal family assistant. The great king accepts the payment but he is not happy. He has not won the submission of the younger twin, the one he really wants to humiliate. So he develops his own scheme and throws the elder twin in jail. The king reasons that when the younger twin gets word of this he will come to his palace in search of his missing brother. Back at the palace the younger sister has a dream in which she learns that the brother who took the tribute to the Chola has been jailed there. She tells her other brother who angrily takes off to rescue his twin.

The Younger Brother Rides To His Elder’s Rescue

The young king rides at full speed towards the Chola’s palace. When the younger king arrives he finds the assistant still waiting patiently outside the palace. He knows nothing of the “jailing” story. He stops to vent some of his anger on him. Meanwhile the Chola, knowing that the younger twin is prone to violence, gets worried. So decides to pretend that nothing is wrong. He releases his brother and prepares a feast. Pretending that he wants to honor the elder brother he decorates him by putting rings on his toes, seating him on a throne, and so forth. But, in fact, there are several more tricks up this monarch’s sleeve. He is not willing to let the younger brother “off the hook.”

The Dishonest King Attempts Many Kinds of Treachery

First the Chola king tries to poison his two guests while offering them a pretentious palace "feast." Foiled by a cat (an envoy of Lord Vishnu) the Chola then tries another trick. This time he hopes to get them to sit on a chair that has been cunningly tied over a deep pit and is designed to dump its occupant into that hole. But one of the Chola’s own sons falls into that deep hole instead. Finally the Chola proposes a trip to a mountain shrine near by. Eventually he traps the two brothers there, stranding them on a high cliff. He helps them climb up by providing a long ladder, but then pulls it way. Then the Chola runs gleefully back to his palace, believing his “enemy-guests” will die on the isolated mountain. But the two heroes are not ready to give up. As usual they call on Lord Vishnu for help once more. The Lord starts to fly towards earth.

Lord Vishnu Rescues the Heroes From A Lonely Mountain Top

Vishnu rescues the stranded royal twins from the top of the cliff where they are stranded. He appears to them as a beggar with very long hair, walking along a path at the foot of that cliff. Hearing the two stranded me call out, the beggar then braids his hair and throws his magically long plaits up to them. The two men scramble down those braids readily. As soon as they are “free,” however, they have only one thought: They want to attack the Chola king in revenge. An all out fight ensues.

A Battle Royal With The King Which the Heroes Win

The heroes are without their horses. So they run at full speed towards the Chola’s palace. When arrive both the wicked Chola king and the angry clansmen are inside the palace gates. There is a major attack by the skilful heroes and their huge assistant. At the end of the scuffle the Chola king lies dead, along with all of the rival clansmen who initially brought their complaint to him. The twins return home victorious. They have now freed themselves from the requirement to show submission to an onerous overlord. Peace reigns throughout the kingdom.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Episode 18: An Overlord Angered

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 brother-heroes who rule Ponnivala together set off on a campaign to shame their clansmen for past wrongs committed against their now-deceased parents. Those clansmen and their families are forced into exile, but they cleverly complain to the neighboring Chola king. Informed that Ponnivala has not paid tribute for years, that king soon demands his due.

The Twin Heroes Attack Their Rivals’ School-age Sons

The twin brothers racing their horses towards the land of their clan rivals. Following on foot (with magical speed) is their powerful assistant. When these three men find the clansmen's village they quickly locate its single room school house. There they tie up the horses, enter the one-room building, and sit down at the back of the class. Of course, they are soon noticed. The children react with anger at the presumption of the visitors and a row begins. The younger brother, with help from the powerful assistant, wreaks havoc inside the school. But the elder brother stands to one side. After much beating and whipping, all the young boys in the class are tied together in sets of two. Then they are forced out the schoolhouse door and told to run home. Of course they can only hobble.

A Group of School Boys Are Humiliated And Their Families Exiled

The school boys’ mothers soon notice a strange-looking group of kids running towards them. They call their husbands who have just returned from the fields for lunch. Everyone who sees the state of these poor children feels horrified and insulted. The men from each child’s family run to the school and try to attack the challengers with sticks. But they do not win. Instead, the heroes beat them back. As the situation worsens the heroes throw the entire set of residents out of their village. Forced into exile by the unwelcome visitors, these victimized families set out from their own village as refugees. They quickly develop a plan. They will find refuge with the overlord of the entire South (the Chola king). Then they will submit their complaint about mistreatment to him.

The Exiled Families Cleverly Enlist A Superior King’s Backing

The clansmen find the Chola’s palace. As they meet the king, several spokespersons for the group cleverly remind the great monarch that the two young boy-rulers from Ponnivala have not delivered the traditional tribute to him even once since their parents’ death. Angered, the Chola sends an envoy to the twin brothers’ palace to demand immediate payment. But the envoys are stopped at the river by aggressive palace animals. Frightened, they leave their message with a maid who is filling water pots there, and return quickly to the Chola's home territory. The palace maid brings the two king brothers news of the great Chola's demands. But they disagree on how to handle this new challenge. The younger brother refuses to humiliate himself by taking a symbolic tribute payment to their overlord. By contrast, the elder feels it must be done. He agrees to go.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Episode 17: Chastity Forever

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 sons of Ponnivala’s King and Queen reluctantly agree to take wives. But wanting to focus on the defence of their family’s honor, they leave their wives locked away. Meanwhile their unmarried sister continues to live in the family palace with them. When their aging parents die the two boys become the area’s new rulers.

A Very Strange Wedding Occurs

The big wedding day is arranged. The two girls that are being held in waiting as the brides (see episode #10) are returned from their “stone” forms to flesh and blood for the event. The wedding is “simple” by Indian standards and quickly completed. Most important is the fact that neither groom sees his wife’s face during the ceremony. Furthermore, they never touch, as silver “finger extensions” are used at the point when a couple would normally link hands. The younger twin stays only the minimal amount of time at the event. Soon afterwards the two wives are "jailed" in a remote and very plain palace. There they live alone and are forced to spin endless hanks of cotton thread day after day

The Parents Make Their Death-Bed Wishes Known

Meanwhile the twin brothers return to a pleasant and carefree life in their much grander palace. In particular, they pass the time by playing dice with Lord Vishnu, who descends from heaven to visit them for just this purpose. The two young men also gradually begin to concern themselves with the affairs of their parent's kingdom. Foreseeing their own death, this kind and gentle senior couple now counsel their sons. They ask them to refrain from pursuing any grudges. They request that they be wise, gentle and calm rulers. In particular, the parents ask their sons never to pick a fight with family rivals. They also ask that they take good care of their sister and see that she is well married. Soon, however, the last rites for these two seniors are performed. The great Yeman, Lord of death, is sent to down by the great god Shiva. His “accountant” has told him that his book states that the days this couple can spend on earth are now used up. So Shiva asks Yeman to bring the lives of these two quickly back to his Himalayan abode.

The Sons Ignore Their Parents’ Final Words

Not long afterwards, the younger twin wants to begin settling old family scores. He singles out the enemy clansmen, the same men who once forced his parents into exile. The elder brother is very reluctant to endorse this move, but he is soon pulled into action by his fiery younger sibling. The two of them go to the palace dressing room and prepare for an attack. They wrap their fine turbans on their heads, put their swords in their scabbards, and call for their powerful horses. Their assistant (son of the untouchable described earlier…who is also their guardian) helps with these preparations. The two young kings soon leave the palace on horseback for the clansmen’s key village. Their powerful assistant follows at a run behind them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Episode 16: The Home-Coming

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 King and Queen of Ponnivala are reunited with their “lost” sons Ponnar and Shankar. The brothers join their little sister and the reunited family return from exile to their Ponnivala palace. There they clean and rebuild their long-abandoned family home. The boys learn horsemanship and dicing, while the sister dreams in her lovely swing. All three grow up to age fifteen.

A Goddess Visits The Couples’ Humble Home

The goddess takes the boys on her shoulders and sets out on foot to search for their parents. After several inquiries and some wandering she finally hears that the boys’ family is living in a hunter king's horse stall. She leaves the twins at the local temple in the hunters’ main village and cautions them to stay put while she goes on an unspecified errand. Soon her shadow crosses the doorstep of the couple’s living space. They rush out to find this most unexpected visitor.

The Queen Asks For Proof of Her Sons’ Legitimacy

At first the queen does not believe that she could have two sons. But the goddess asks her and her husband to come to the nearby temple to see for themselves. Both the king and the queen are overjoyed at the beauty of the two young boys they find waiting there. But the queen refuses to believe the goddess’ assurance that these children belong to her. She calls upon Vishnu to verify the matter. He proves the goddess’ word by staging a magical demonstration. He makes milk from the queen's breasts pass through seven cloth veils to reach her sons’ mouths and then spill into her sons’ mouths. The couple are overjoyed and realize that it is now time for them to return to their old palace and reclaim their ancestral lands.

The Royal Couple Return From Exile With Three Children Instead of One

The couple return to Ponnivala with all three children and reclaim their ancestral lands. Their palace is cleaned and redecorated. Soon the two boys meet their key guardian for the first time. He is the magical son of a poor family living nearby. They also meet the offspring of many important animals in the kingdom (horses, goats, etc.) that they will interact with again later.

The Couple Arrange Their Sons’ Weddings

All three children grow up happily, but the king and queen now begin to worry about their own deaths and want to arrange their sons’ weddings. The two boys resist, but finally agree to their mother’s wishes. However, they set out one key condition: they will never touch their wives or look at their faces. (Of course this implies there will be no offspring from these promised formal unions). The queen is horrified but has to agree to this wish in order to strike a bargain with her two sons.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Homer's Odyssey in Ottawa

An Ottawa Story Tellers and 2 Women Productions Co-Production

NAC Fourth Stage, Ottawa June 16, 2012

By Brenda Beck
I attended a fabulous story telling event in Ottawa on Saturday. It was an all-day telling of Homer’s The Odyssey by a group called the Ottawa StoryTellers. There were no costumes and none of the 18 or so performers were assigned individual character roles. The group’s members took turns telling the story, with each of the legend’s 24 books being spoken out loud by one individual. There were no prompters, no scripts and no cheat notes. This might sound boring but the result was an outstanding performance!
I drove four hours from a village near Toronto to hear this, dragging my sceptical husband along. We were not sure what to expect. I was curious because of my interest in ancient bardic storytelling techniques, which I am familiar with from my years of living in a village in South India prior to the advent of electricity there. In those times--fifty years ago--a single story teller could captivate his audience for 18 nights, with simple pauses during the daytime for normal work activities and other practical or pressing masters.
Well, this Ottawa event was the closest thing to this genuine and very ancient tradition of professional oral story telling I have ever seen or heard outside of India. Even my husband, not a literary man by background, sat on the edge of his chair. We only had the opportunity to hear the second half of the performance (4:30 PM to 10:30 PM) because we had to drove so far to get there, but it was worth every litre of gasoline we burned en route!  The performance; which in its full version ran 12 hours for those who arrived at 10:30 AM kick off; had to be broken here and there for brief stand-up breaks and food finding expeditions. But the spell cast by these story tellers was so strong that each of these interruptions came as a shock. Soon enough the lights would re-dim and the sound of a small tin whistle would call everyone back to their seats for the next hour or so of pure enchantment.

The stage set was elementary but evocative. One old folding dark wood screen stood behind the tellers. It was draped with a single bright red cloth and accented by a solitary pair of upright, wicked-looking crossed spears. The lighting was low and yellow-orange in hue, just the feeling that old fashioned lamps or torches would provide. The stage was small, rounded and low, with the listeners crowded around it so closely that they could almost touch the performers. All present sat at small round tables, in a non-linear higglety piggelty sort of way. The theatre (the Fourth Stage at the National Arts Centre) was jam-packed. Everyone was excited. The buzz was palpable. What a treat! And the entire event ended with an innovative song composed by Tom Lips, one of the players. It was set to the tune “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Suitor?” but with the words altered to say “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Suitors?” Everyone loved this play on the old Odyssey theme of the hero’s wife courted by mean-spirited nobles while her Lord is away at sea. The audience belted out the words together, ending with a clever chorus substituting for the traditional song line “Early In the Morning.” Instead we all sang Homer’s lovely and poetic epithet “At Rosy Fingered Dawn.”
All in all, this was a marvellous experience, and one that took me back to the real foundations of human storytelling--the most ancient form of entertainment known; the human verbal arts; a universal tradition that surely reaches back into the past many, many thousands of years!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Episode 15: The Truth Unveiled

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.

Family clansmen attack the Ponnivala palace, sending the King, Queen and their baby daughter into exile. The couple flee to the forest and end up living in a humble hut. The Queen has to work to feed her suffering family. But a surprise is in store when two sons they don’t know they have, start asking the local goddess about their true parents.

The Royal Couple Are Forced Into Exile

The scheming clansmen now begin to threaten the king, using the excuse that he has no male heirs. They beat and bully the family mercilessly until the latter become resigned to leaving their lands and to seek refuge elsewhere. They first go to the village where they have traditional ties and loyal workers. But these allies warn that their presence puts them all in danger of being beaten and further harassed by the same clansmen who just pushed the couple out of their palace.

The Wandering Family Finds Refuge in a Horse Stable

The king, queen and their little baby daughter now leave their familiar Ponnivala territory all together. They decide to retreat to the forested hills where a group of tribal hunters live. There they are offered safe haven and a good meal. But a problem soon appears. The destitute family is offered food by their hunter-hosts, but they try (politely) to refuse. The hunter king suspects (correctly) that this refusal is for caste reasons. In simple terms the farmers perceive themselves to be superior to a group of hunters and don’t want to take food from the hands of this “inferior” community. Now the hunter king gets angry and the only refuge he will offer the destitute couple is to set up house in an old horse stable.

Two Sons Learn The Truth About Their Parents

They have no food and the wife of the king is forced to offer to do common labor (pounding rice) in exchange for food supplies. The other women of the village reject her as too frail and inexperienced to do hard work, but with the help of Lord Vishnu she manages to husk prodigious amounts of paddy rice. Meanwhile the boys grow fast, cared for lovingly by the goddess. One day she is singing a lullaby to the boys that makes a vague reference to their parentage. The younger son (the aggressive one) instantly demands to know who their real parents are and where they are located. The goddess now reveals to the boys their true identity and promises to return the twins to their parents as soon as she can discover their whereabouts.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Episode 14: The Temple Secret

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. Series 2 begins with Episode 14: The Temple Secret.

A scheming midwife tries to kill the twin sons born to the Queen of Ponnivala. But the family goddess, Celatta, rescues them in secret and then protects them beneath her temple. The boys dine on magical tiger’s milk and receive marshal arts lessons. A baby girl born in the palace minutes later is accepted as the Queen’s only child. She is raised with love by her parents.

A Midwife Is Bribed By Greedy Clansmen

Several clan relatives of the ruling family in Ponnivala hear rumors that triplets (two sons and one daughter) will soon be born to the queen. They decide to bribe the local midwife, asking her to kill the two baby boys before their mother ever sees them. She is to “stuff any male babies down a rat hole” leaving only baby girls to survive. But Lord Vishnu hears about the plan from his seat on the milk sea and decides to help the queen. He alerts the local family goddess and asks her to dig a secret tunnel that will connect the palace birthing room to her nearby temple.

Two Magical Heroes Are Born!

Then Vishnu takes the form a fly on the wall of the birthing room. The midwife blindfolds the queen, telling her that “this is her first experience of childbirth” and that the blindfold will help her not to be scared. While she sharpens her knife in an adjacent room Vishnu transforms into his true self and performs a magical Caesarian on the queen. He lifts out the twin boys who are already strong and warlike. They first “kick the evil” out of the midwife, straightening her back (which earlier had 18 bends).

A Shocked Mother Learns The Truth About Her Only New Born

Then the goddess appears in the room and lifts the two boys in her arms. She whisks them thru her secret tunnel to her local shrine where they will now live safely hidden under her protection. Meanwhile, the queen gives birth naturally to the third in the series, a baby girl. When her blindfold is finally untied the new mother is shocked to learn that she has only one baby girl.

The Twin Heroes Are Raised By A Goddess

The king and queen graciously accept their fate and commit to raising their daughter well. She introduces her to the family goddess and welcomes her into palace life. Meanwhile, the local goddess is secretly raising the girl’s twin brothers in a cave-like space under her temple. There she feeds the boys on the milk of tigers and elephants. Soon they will grow mature and be endowed with magical powers. But all this happens without the knowledge of the royal couple.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Episode 13: The Book of Fate

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 Queen of Ponnivala finds herself alone at the gates of heaven. There she undergoes a twenty one year rite of pennance. Lord Shiva tests her determination repeatedly. But finally she persuades him to call off his curse of barrenness. The great Lord then places three magical children in her womb. The Queen returns to Ponnivala, rejoining her husband on the way.

The Queen Sits Deep In Prayer For 21 Years

The queen now sits on her pillar of penance for twenty one years. She is so motionless that a family of heavenly parrots build a nest in her nose. Eventually Lord Vishnu comes to check on her, and as he waves his arms the parrots leave the queen’s nose and fly off to earth. They go directly to the palace of the hill-dwelling hunter king. His sister greets them warmly and they settle in her forest.

The Queen Is Tested Seven Times

The supreme god, Lord Shiva, now pushes the queen to the brink of death. He then revives the poor queen only to put her through the same cycle again and again. Finally she has experienced a complete cycle of seven “rebirths.”

Lord Vishnu Intervenes

Lord Vishnu sees all this and becomes worried about the woman he has helped so much. So he takes the form of a beggar and goes before his sister, the wife of Lord Shiva. After being screened by a maid he is allowed in at last. There he complains to Shiva’s wife about the queen’s treatment. She then promises him that she will intercede with Lord Shiva himself. But Shiva is angry about the “heat” generated by the penitent who is requesting the gift of sons. His body is now covered with sores. He does not cede to Vishnu’s request for mercy easily.

The Queen’s Prayers Are Answered!

Finally Shiva allows his brother-in-law to bring the queen before him. He has his accountant check his records and then grants the penitent three children. The two boys will each reincarnate the spirit of an important hero in India’s famous classical epic: the Mahabharata. The girl will reincarnate one in a set of seven “virgin sisters” who live near Shiva’s counsel chambers. But there are two provisos:

  1. All three children will have lives lasting only 16 years. 
  2. Vishnu must give up his sacred conch shell and leave it “in hock” with the great god Shiva. 

He will only get this important possession back when he physically brings the lives of the three divine children back to Shiva’s chambers when their sixteen years of life are over. After these matters are finalized the couple start their long journey back to earth. Lord Vishnu revives the heroine’s “dormant” husband when she reaches the spot where he rests. The couple continue on to their palace together.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Episode 12: The Gates of Heaven

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 King and Queen of Ponnivala set out on a long walk towards the gates of heaven, hoping for an end to their childless condition. They meet with many adventures. The Queen even carries her husband on her back. Unfortunately he grows too weak to continuee and has to stop part way. Finally, with Lord Vishnu’s help, the Queen reaches their destination alone.

A Great Insult & Its Consequences

The king and queen set off on their long journey. But they have gone only a short distance when a large sow blocks their path. It is the same she-boar that the queen had earlier purchased and raised on her lands, in hopes of its bearing offspring. The heroine is impatient now. She is eager to get on with her travel plans and feels that the boar is being rude. So she kicks it with her right foot. The boar takes this as an insult. The huge animal now acts as a soothsayer who can see the future. She predicts that the queen will eventually bear two sons and one daughter in return for her good deeds. But the mother boar also says that she will bear a son too, an extraordinarily large male who will kill the queen’s sons. With this curse spoken, the mother-boar jumps off the path and runs away. Next a little palace dog, appears. She is the queen’s personal pet. It too wants a boon, and it knows what has just transpired. So it asks for a pup that will have poison in its teeth. Her plan is that once born, her tiny daughter will become the one to actually kill that great black boar.

The King Falters but His Queen Comes to the Rescue

With a long list of requested gifts on their minds, the couple now set out for the abode of the gods. Soon the husband begins to tire and the queen has to urge him on. She coaxes him, then carries him on her back, up the steep path. Lord Vishnu is watching and teases her at several points, making the journey even more difficult. Finally the husband faints and she finds a little pond water that might revive him. Again Lord Vishnu plays with her, making the water recede. At last the god allows her to fetch a few handfuls. The water is almost magical it is so potent. The king quickly revives.

There Are Many Challenges Along The Pilgrims’ Path

Next the pilgrims face a huge mountain cliff. Vishnu helps by lifting the two over the worst spots. Next they cross rivers of stone, of thorns, of butter oil, and finally of fire. When these feats are complete the couple face yet another threat. This time they are confronted with a forest full of cobras. One cobra asks the queen for a son, someone who can later assist her in a time of need. The queen agrees to carry this special request with her as well.

The King Drops Into a Deep Sleep

...but the Queen reaches her destination

Finally the king and queen reach a flight of steps leading to heaven. Vishnu tells the queen that only she will do the penance. Her husband is tired and will wait there for them. He falls into a deep sleep and Lord Vishnu puts his life in a little protective box. As the Lord and the queen climb the steps they see visions of people being tortured in hell. Vishnu instructs her not to be frightened. Finally they reach the place where the queen will sit in deep meditation. Lord Vishnu builds a special pillar, made of sharp needles, for her to sit on.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Episode 11: A Pilgrim's Journey

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.

Lord Vishnu tells the King and Queen of Ponnivala they must complete a long list of charitable deeds if they want to be granted children. Making life tough, a group of artisans develop a plot to kill both under the wheels of a temple cart Vishnu had them commission. Faith brings the gods to the couple’s rescue. But then Lord Vishnu spells out one final challenge.

The Heroic Couple Undertake Good Works

Lord Vishnu first asks the couple to build a set of resting stones for people with heavy head loads. He also asks that they construct eating shelters and pay to have public wells dug. He also asks them to marry two particular trees (similar to constructing a local shrine). Most importantly, they are to have a temple cart built for the goddess and then pull it around her temple.

The Rival Clansmen Cleverly Plot To Kill The King and Queen

The rival clansmen hear of the coming festival and the plan to hand pull a new temple cart around the temple. They instruct the carpenters to stop the cart part way. They are to declare that a dream was sent to them by the goddess asking that the king and queen place their heads under its heavy wheels as a powerful sacrifice. They are counting on the couple’s belief in the goddess to get their agreement. A huge bribe is promised in exchange for this lie. The artisans agree and do as they are told. The devout king and queen do reluctantly place their own heads on the ground in front of the cart’s heavy wheels. But with Lord Vishnu’s help, the great wagon magically rises up and flies above their heads, causing them no injury! Now we see divine justice at work. The 16 clansmen who were pulling the cart are killed, along with six lying artisans (the 7th escapes).

A Vow To Feed The Multitudes

The queen remembers that there are two more important things Lord Vishnu has asked for. They are to feed a thousand beggars and then to travel to heaven and perform penance the at the feet of Lord Shiva himself. The feast for the beggars is prepared. But the couple can only find nine hundred and ninety nine beggars, one short of the 1,000 needed to fulfill the vow. The queen sets off to find one more, but there are no more, anywhere. Finally, on the way back she finds a very weak and poor man lying in a ditch. The queen takes this man in her arms and carries him to her palace where she coaxes him into eating a little rice. The vow is fulfilled!

The Penitents Begin a 21 Year Pilgrimage

Next the couple begin their pilgrimage to the gates of heaven. First they lock the palace and a leave a perpetual lamp burning in the family temple. Next all the people of the area come to say good bye. Even the animals of Ponnivala appear one by one. They ask that the queen return from heaven with a gift of fertility for them as well. Among the visitors are cows, who ask for calves, and horses who ask for colts. A poor woman from the area asks for the gift of a strong son who can serve as a powerful assistant for the queen’s sons-to-be. Finally the couple set off. The four gates to the palace compound are locked and black beetles and wasps are called to stand guard.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Episode 10: The Pillar of Destruction

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 young Queen, insulted and beaten at her own brothers’ orders, visits the temple of the goddess Kali. Her brothers follow her there to beg forgiveness. She then lifts the curse she laid on their family. But, returning home, she finds her own husband now is angry with her. Cast out, the Queen becomes very depressed. Fortunately, Lord Vishnu offers her help.

Two Brothers Beg Forgiveness

While the bruised and dejected heroine stands before the goddess a priest of this temple happens by. He asks who beat her and why. Upon learning the story he makes the excuse that he has forgotten something and then runs to her brother’s home. There he talks with the two brothers and begs them to go to the temple and ask their sister’s forgiveness. Only then will their children be brought back to life. The two men reluctantly go and fall at their sister’s feet. She does not want to look at them but the goddess advises her to forgive them and then to enter the home where she was born.

Many Children Miraculously Revived

The queen forgives her brothers, but demands that they run off, out of sight. They do this and she proceeds to visit her natal home with the temple priest as her escort. Inside she finds the dead bodies of her brothers’ fourteen children. The priest tells her she has special powers and begs her to revive them all. The heroine bargains and asks permission to take two of the female children for her own purposes. The priest allows this and all the children are brought back to life using a golden wand sent to the sister by Lord Shiva himself.

Two Brides-To-Be Become Stones to Await Their Grooms

The heroine takes two girls of her choosing from the palace, dragging them against their will to a spot near the village (Ganesh) temple. There she magically turns them into two upright stones. Calling on Lord Vishnu, she asks that these girls be guarded by beetles and wasps until such time as she can bring her own (as yet unborn) twin sons back to that very spot to marry them. Finally, satisfied with her accomplishments, the queen gathers her servants and start out on the path back to her own palace.

The Queen is Banished from the Palace by an Angry King

Now back at home, the king finds his queen asleep and exhausted. He suspects trouble because she has covered her whole body with her sari. Asking to see her arms and legs he soon knows the real truth about her terrible beating. He banishes her from the palace. She plans on suicide and calls in the stone masons to build her a 60 foot tower from which she will jump to her death.

The Queen Contemplates Suicide

...but is saved from death at the last moment

When it is completed she climbs up and then calls on Lord Vishnu, asking that he assure her that when she jumps her body will be broken into many pieces. Vishnu dissuades her with his cunning and exhorts the couple to perform a long list of good works instead. Vishnu implies that when these many fine deeds are complete, that they will be granted a child.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Folklore, Religion, and Good Storytelling

It’s a strange fact of modern life that we like to sanitize whatever we can to avoid offending people. This is necessary for the most part, of course, because when dealing with research and writing about another culture or belief system it’s paramount that the subject be treated fairly and sensitively.

But there’s another challenge that confronts the researcher in the presentation of folk materials: whether or not to sanitize the religious associations when discussing a story or folk tale. In many epic myths from around the world, things simply don’t happen in the story without the intervention of the gods. Can you imagine how short the Odyssey would be if Odysseus wasn’t tossed about the Mediterranean by Poseidon? Could we have a popular story like Dracula if the main character hadn’t renounced God and become a servant of evil? How short would Wagner’s “Ring” cycle be without entire operas devoted to the activities of Wotan?

OK, that last one might not be so bad.

But many of these are past traditions, and those gods are no longer worshipped (except in the case of Dracula, of course). When dealing with living traditions things get trickier. In The Legend of Ponnivala, for example, very little could happen without the intervention of divine forces. The accidental killing of sacred cows in the first generation wouldn’t lead to the cursing of an entire family line, because there would be no Shiva to become angry. Kunnutaiya wouldn’t be revived by Vishnu, because there would be no Vishnu in the story. But he wouldn’t die anyway, because there would be no Gates of Heaven for Kunnutaiya and Tamarai to journey to in the first place.

There is a big difference, however, between a sacred text like the Vedas and a folktale. For one thing, gods are frequently presented in folk tales as characters, but primarily they’re like forces of nature. Things happen because of them. Second, the other characters in the story are rarely presented with a simple moral dilemma. Instead, every move they make, and every consequence they face, is the result of a decision. These ethical dilemmas, and their reward or punishment at the hands of divine forces, are the driving force behind the lessons of folk tales. And so, even with the involvement of gods and goddesses, the tales are less about theology and more about how the human characters handle the challenges placed before them.

With this in mind, how do you think researchers and storytellers should treat religious motifs in folk stories? Should the involvement of gods and godlike characters be eliminated, or celebrated as part of the mythology that informs the life of the culture the story reflects? Post your comments below.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Episode 9: The Counter Curse

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 Queen of Ponnivala still has no children. She is worried and wants to find comfort by visiting two wealthy brothers. Her husband is opposed because ill-will exists between the two families. The determined wife goes anyway. Alas, she is ordered beaten by a guard at her brothers’ palace gate. Angered, the Queen lays a curse on their entire family.

A Barren "Witch" is Spotted

The queen orders the jewelers to come and prepare necklaces for her nieces and nephews. She also has lovely boxes made to carry these and her other lovely gifts. Then, early one morning, she awakens her husband to tell him that she is leaving for her brother’s place. Once more the king again tells her not to go but she is determined. She bravely sets out with a group of servants. After much hardship en route the weary travelers arrive. At that moment the two sisters-in-law of the queen spot the strangers. Asking who they are and why they have come, these ladies discover that their husbands' sister has arrived. Remembering that this woman had been forbidden ever to return to their place they rush back to the palace to warn their husbands. Fearing her evil spells (because she is barren) together they make a plan to hide all the children under some large baskets.

The Sister is Refused Entry to her Natal Home

The palace guard has been instructed to refuse entry to the visiting sister. Instead the gate is locked and she is severely beaten when she knocks on the door. The crying woman calls on Lord Vishnu and asks for a magic fireball. Vishnu asks permission for this from Lord Shiva and when the great god consents, the angry woman receives her fire ball and with it she burns the palace.

The Sister Curses Her Brothers and Kills Their Children

The angry sister kills all fourteen children inside the palace by throwing some magical handfuls of earth in their direction. Finally she erects two stones near the palace and inscribes a curse on them that is to lie on her brother’s family. She also goes to the temple of the fierce goddess Kali. Kali feels sorry for the badly beaten lady and thinks about what she can do to help.