Monday, September 14, 2015


This is the first time in this long Legend of Ponnivala story where a question of social justice, a matter with extensive modern implications, appears. When Kolatta offers his wife’s labour, alongside his own, the king responds by raising the total payment he promises in return. He offers only 16 measures of grain a month for Kolatta’s labour, but 20 if his wife joins him. This is just a 25% increase! Is that fair recognition of what his wife can/will contribute by adding her labour? Let us leave this question aside for a moment and first examine some other aspects of the interaction between this (unnamed) Chola ruler and his newly arrived visitor.

It will be noticed right away that there are three men sitting on the raised platform at the front of the king’s reception hall. These are representatives of three great lines of kings in South Indian history, the Chola, Chera and Pandya family groupings. In this story the three are shown to collaborate closely, though with the Chola given the central position. The other two rulers are visiting him and the three have been discussing various political decisions together. The Chola (always un-named) takes the lead and asks Kolatta who he is. Kolatta politely answers that he is a farmer from the land known as Vellivala and then introduces his wife Ariyanacci.

What is Vellivala and is it the same as Ponnivala? No, these places are subtly different! Vellivala is the area where the nine brothers were “created” and set down in a forest to begin farming, notably by the great goddess Parvati herself. It is the “Eden” in this legend and its location is not clearly given (or known from other sources). Kolatta exits this seemingly idyllic place due to drought and famine. Was that famine “due” to his trying to start agriculture there? We do not know. However, we do know that Kolatta never returns to Vellivala and it is never mentioned again. Instead (as we will see) this “first farmer” will later be sent to Ponnivala (which is not too far from Velliavala) to set up farming there instead. The difference is that he is now entering that second area backed by a Chola king, rather than backed by a goddess. I will say more about this later, in my next blog post.

Significantly, in this current video clip, the king comments to Kolatta: “I did not know that there were farmers in Vellivala!” His observation reinforces a more general impression clearly created by the story tellers: Vellivala is a place inhabited exclusively by non-farmers. The Chola does not seem surprised, however, to learn that there are people residing in Vellivala. He just didn’t know that there were famers there. The king might reasonably have pursued this and asked: “How did you and your family learn farming in Vellivala?” But the king doesn’t follow this line of reasoning. In sum, Kolatta is never “put on the spot” regarding the details of his ancestry.

It is also important to note that the king seated to the Chola’s right now adds a sympathetic follow-up comment. “Yes, I have heard,” he says, “that there has been a drought there. It is a terrible thing.” But then the Chola gets back to business by asking more directly: “Are you looking for some sort of gift?” The tone he uses is accusatory and the implication is that many impoverished people come to see him looking for a handout. Nonetheless, his question provides a convenient foil, allowing Kolatta to clarify that he has not come asking for gifts but, rather, that he is a farmer looking for work. Kolatta maintains his self respect with this reply and manages to impresses the Chola monarch at the same time. “Ah,” the king replies, “We have work for you.”

Now the Chola states his terms. He can pay Kolatta 16 measures of grain a month. Kolatta counters, using a bargaining tactic. “We cannot live on 16 measures of grain a month. My wife can work in the fields as well. Can you give us twenty?” The king agrees readily and sends the couple off to start their work right away. Now the question this blog post is supposed to address: Was the Chola king’s offer to Kolatta fair? I would welcome input from readers on this point. I, myself, do not think we have enough information to answer authoritatively. We do not know how much extra labour the wife will contribute. Will it be full time? We also must acknowledge that there is a general tradition in this area of paying women only about half as much for their physical labour as men, even today. Probably that custom has along past. Is it fair? Are women just as strong? Can they do as much? Are the jobs they do identical with those men do? Men usually plough while women plant. Which requires more skill?. Which requires more physical stamina and strength? These are ago-old issues and there is much to debate here. I leave it to my readers to contribute their own thoughts to the blog. This is also a good question to pose to students in a student classroom... or to members of a debating club.

Signing off for now,
Blogger” Brenda Beck

The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada

Have you experienced The Legend of Ponnivala on TV or in print? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

To find out more about The Legend of Ponnivala -- the legend, the series, the books, and the fascinating history behind the project, visit

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