“Beautiful river Ponni claimed the Kudagu mountains as her birthplace and spent her infancy trickling through its fastnesses. But time passed; she grew to womanhood and the time came for her to join her beloved, the ocean. She gurgled over rocks, flowed through forests, tumbled off hills and gushed through vales; her eagerness to reach her destination growing each moment. As she poured over the plains, it occurred to her that she was closer than ever to her loved one. Her heart trembled; she swelled with sheer delight. She went further two limbs branched out from her, eager to embrace her lover. She leapt forward, her hands stretched in front but they simply seemed not enough. How could they, when such love overflowed in her heart? Her hands grew from two to ten, twenty, a hundred; she extended them all in a bid to touch Samudhra Rajan, the ocean king…”
Rivers make civilisations, as history proves beyond a doubt but they don’t stop short of providing for mankind: they’re the source of all inspiration; the lifeblood of society; the witness to earth shattering events; the harbingers of destiny and beyond all this, the favoured muse of writers, just as river Cauvery, also known as Ponni was, to legendary historical fiction writer Kalki R. Krishnamurthy.
His magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan, spanning 5 volumes is not just a loving ode to Chola history and emperor Raja Raja I, but also river Cauvery who might have originated in one state but showers her bounty upon another. To Kalki, Cauvery, also known as Ponni, the golden one, was at one moment a beauteous, shy maiden; at another, a raging, rampaging Goddess; at one a benevolent mother intent on nourishing her children and the next, an avenging angel, breaking her banks and destroying livelihoods.
River Ponni is a continuing motif throughout the novel. Flowing from one volume to another, sometimes calm and collected and at others, nature’s fury, frightening to behold but underneath her varying facades, she is a benevolent force building what she destroyed, blustering through a deluge, yet leaving behind a treasury and ultimately nurturing and raising prince Arulmozhi Varman into an emperor… and enshrining herself into history, in that process.
(The writer is an author, journalist, translator, artist, historian, editor and farmer not necessarily in that order. She’s currently engaged in translating Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan into English; the first passage is an excerpt from her work)...