Podcast Review by Subhadra Jayaraman
Grand epics with elaborate settings, multiple volumes, tracks, and storylines are my comfort zone. Think Lord of the Rings, or The Game of Thrones, or the Harry Potter series. I realized last year that there’s one epic closer to home that I missed, mainly because my Tamil script reading ability is close to abysmal. Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy. His books bedecked my mom’s bookshelves as I was growing up, and from the cover art, I would always dismiss it as a romance novel or a long emotional story of love and loss and the rest.
Last year, when my media-savvy friend and sister-in-law introduced me to a Ponniyin Selvan podcast, I thought I should give this famous Tamil epic a shot. Produced under the name Kadhai Podcast (literally meaning Story Podcast), it’s a one-woman show by a wonderfully enthusiastic storyteller, Kavitha. But for the most part, this was a case of ‘the story writes (narrates?) itself’.
Ponniyin Selvan is Kalki’s take on the life of the South Indian king Rajaraja Chozhan, born as Arulmozhi Varman, who ruled as part of the Chola dynasty and made his mark by erecting one of the most famous Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu, the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur.
While the story is clearly about Arulmozhi, it actually has a rather interesting and far more jolly protagonist, Vandhiyathevan – a confidante of the Cholas, whose story we primarily follow as the rest of the epic unfurls around us. Filled with other strong, beautifully constructed characters like Nambi, Nandini, Kundavai, and Karikalan, the story is rich with grandiosity and ancient Tamil culture. The Vandhiyathevan-Nambi duo would go down in my books as one of the most engaging and endearing fictional friendships.
The story is filled with intricate politics, internal wars, tropes of betrayal, love, and bravery, and is peppered with red herrings, all leading up to a series of twists and reveals, making your jaw drop.
Kavitha’s narration follows Kalki’s writing closely, and she manages to add her own tones and takes occasionally to make this her artistic production. While I started with my reservations, having never heard a podcast in Tamil before, by the end of it I was waiting with bated breath for new episodes to release. With a whopping 234 episodes, each running for about 25 minutes, this is a treat for anyone looking for their next podcast binge!
So tuck in with your headphones and enjoy the ride!