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Updated to add: udumalai.com to buy Cherar Kottai

Why did Renuka Devi lie to learn the dhanur vidhya techniques from KaandhaLoor salaai?

What was hidden from the young Ravi Neeli during the Kalam competition?

Who was the other Chozha representative who fought against Ravi Neeli during the Kalam competition of the first Parandhaga Chozha?

What is the thaanai thalaivar’s motivation? Who is he? He seems to be the master pupeteer! How did AruL Mozhi Varman figure out who he is?

There seems to be a background as to why Paraman Mazhapadiyar is the Chozha representative for the Virodhi Varusha Kalam competition, but why tag Kamban Maniyanaar? What role does Maniyanaar play?

Who was the figure that ran away from the first meeting that was convened by VaLLuvanaar? Was there even a spy? Or was it VaLLuvanaar’s play to make his mission sound dangerous and important?

Why is Valluvanaar not as happy as the rest of the people when the heir returns?

What is the message ‘Sa’ ‘Ra’ left by Narayana Pattadhri’s older brother, in his death bed.

What is the message ‘O’ ‘Ra’ left by Aingaran before he lapses in to coma due to his head injury.

Will Aingaran come out of the coma in time to reveal the secret thaanai thalaivar’s identity?

 

Oh! This and many many more questions haunt me as I read Cherar Kottai by Gokul Seshadri. It is a well researched and written historical fiction, in Tamil, that is set in the late 900s, that talks about the ascend of the Chozha kingdom to its zenith. The story spans two books, 1200 pages, 120 chapters, at least 24 major characters and 5-6 plots all interlinked and complicated. This clearly is the Tamil version of Game Of Thrones, without the sadistic killing off, rape, flogging and plunder. And with the end of every chapter, I utter an ‘urrrrrrghhhhhh, can’t the stupid people(stupid people = the other characters who speak loudly when the shattering secret is being told) be quiet?’ And I push my bed time(people who know me, know how precious and unwavering my bed time is :) ) to read one more chapter to see how much more is being unraveled. And after that it is rinse repeat, read the next chapter, so on and so forth.

As usual I have notes, bubble diagrams, character wikis and the thirst to get to the bottom of it all.

The style of writing is very similar to Kalki’s. The author is the narrator, jumping back and forth from one point to another both in space and time, revealing bit by bit how and something happened when it happened. Though the narration style is similar to that of Kalki and the book starts off where Kalki left off in his Ponniyin Selvan, the point of view in Cherar Kottai is much more balanced coming from Gokul.

While reading Ponniyin Selvan, Kalki has you completely convinced that the Chozhas are the good guys and are deserving of the throne. You, as a reader become champions of AruL Mozhi and Vandhiya Thevan. You are one step away from booing Pandiya Aabathudhavis. Though you sympathize with Nadini and at times are stumped by the complexity of her character, you are firmly rooted in Kundhavai’s camp.

In Cherar Kottai, Gokul through his meticulous research has presented how from 600BC till up to the 17th century, South India has bounced between the Pandiya Dynasty and the Chozha Dynasty, with an exception of the 600 hundred years under the Pallava Dynasty. Even under the Pallava rule, the Pandyas, unlike the Chozhas, did manage to hold on strongly to the Southern sections. So you start off with the Ponniyin Selvan impression, cheering for AruL Mozhi and slowly you start seeing things from the Pandiya point of view also. Though personally AruL Mozhi or Sadayanaar do not crave for a war, killing and displacement of homes, they realize that many times history is larger than an individual and his desires!

Gokul also talks in detail about the socio political structure of South India and how differently it evolved in each kingdom. The Cheras seem to have adopted a much more democratic set up since the 8th or 9th century. The Chozhas were a monarchy with the King at the top of the pyramid. The Pandiyas were some where in between with 5 people from the same family ruling the country, sharing their power, so that at any point of time there was always one Pandiya of age to rule!

The next thing that Gokul takes us through without stressing it, but becomes apparent as the story unravels is how RICH the country was, with trade between China, Singapore, Malay, Middle East flourishing. How there were multiple busy ports, customs, departments and divisions supporting this. Though it has been hinted how some foreign traders try to gain the favors of the kings so that they can retain exclusive trading rights, the annihilation seems to have started only when the Europeans set foot in our country! (If you haven’t already, read this. It is extremely depressing though.)

And the co-existence of multiple religions! Though the Kings themselves belonged to a certain faith, they still seemed to act secular. Especially Mahendra Varma Pallavar, Narashimha Varma Pallavar and majority of the Chozha/Chera/Pandiya kings. Gokul points to the existence of multiple monasteries sanctioned by Ashoka himself and by Ashoka’s son Mahinda while traveling parts of South India. Different stone inscriptions found at the ports indicate that a fair number of monks came all the way from Afghanistan, China and South East Asia to worship at these monasteries and how the rulers had budget allocation to care for the visiting monks. The story in multiple places, based on historical evidences, touches upon, how AruL Mozhi Varman, though a hard core Shaivite, looks at Buddhism as a way of life and supports the monasteries. But the very same monasteries were deemed ‘unsafe (as they are very old)’ by the Christian missionaries in the 1800s and were demolished. And how the sculptures from the monasteries that date back to at least 2BC carried off to various European palaces and museums!

I am only done with part#1. I still have part#2 which is another 600 pages spread over 60 chapters. But I just HAD to take a breather and let the world know about my excitement over this book. If you can read Tamil, buy, borrow, beg, steal, but do read.