To a Temple and a Play

While the logic behind time-travel itself is vastly debatable, even on a fundamental level, everyone of us have a fascination to travel back in time. To somewhere personal, to a place of historical importance, or perhaps to a place so still and away from the daily hustles. Personally, I am very much drawn towards history which extends a bit further to the myths too! Of-course future is intriguing, but it can wait. Setting my mobile phone between different time zones is the closest I could get about time-travel. However on the brighter side, there are already immense opportunities to peek into the past – through the timeless sculptures, the mind-blowing literary works that pass through generations and live along as folklore and subtle classic art forms. Even an unearthed ware of the past would hold stories to be told.

Visiting Rameswaram and watching the play Ponniyin Selvan recently, in successive weeks, were quiet a stroll in the past. Ram-Eswaram is where Lord Ram worshiped Lord Shiva (Eeswar) to absolve the sins caught upon killing demon King Ravana. And Ponniyin Selvan which translates to “Son of River Cauvery (Ponni)” is a play based on semi-fictional historical novel of the same name.

Lakshmanan Temple Pool at Rameshwaram

The Island Rameswaram in the southern most of India was the happening ground, as the epic literature Ramayana nears the climatic war in the neighboring island Srilanka. The myth runs in the very air of the town. Only that its real sense of spiritualism is getting lost with the growing commercialism around religion and superstitions among mindless people. Nevertheless, as the local cabbie took us through important landmarks, it gave me an imperssion as though the myth was only a history and Lord Ram, his consort Sita, his brother Lakshman and his devout Hanuman, they all once walked the place. Places like Villoondi Theertham (Arrow-Hit-Water), floating stones supposedly of present day Adams Bridge, Ram’s footprint they all suggest a real nature to the epic.

Villoondi Theertham is a well, very very close to the ocean waves that is unbelievably fresh, but reasonably, which per the epic is because Lord Ram struck the well point by his magical arrow to quench his lady’s thirst. Later on when Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, a floating bridge was built by Ram’s army to reach Ravana’s lair. As much as the water I tasted was fresh, the rocks in the display of a nearby temple were floating. But I didn’t feel like researching it’s authenticity when they offered the rock for a price so cheap as 500 bucks. But the fact remains true about a bridge (floating?) walk-able until a couple of centuries ago.

While various temples of Lord Ram around were simple, old rock structures, the prime temple where Lord Shiva is in the form of Linga, astoundingly covers a length of two to three streets with arrays of rock pillars intricately carved and aligned to utmost geometric perfection. Within the temple there are 22 holy-water wells each with a name and meaning and every pilgrim gets a bucket of water poured over the head from each of the 22. That was fun. After all the drenching in holy waters and temple visits, one is suggested to visit ultimately the temple Ekantha Ramar Kovil where Lord Ram finally had peace after a troubled phase of exile and war. It is believed that the pilgrims too would find happiness in life upon visiting this temple of Exultant Ram.

From there time got forwarded by a week, to 10th century exactly on the stage, where the titular character Arulmozhi Varman (Ponniyin Selvan) ultimately becomes the crown prince over conspiracies, royal murder, vengeance and unprecedented twists that are subtly linked like a web. And he actually went on to become the greatest Chola king in the history.

Crew of Ponniyin Selvan Play

Given that the classic novel has more than two generation old fans and quiet a big plot spanning five books with numerous characters, the expectations were high.  And to put such a huge book into a three and a half hour play, keeping up with the key aspects and characters of the book, were definitely a difficult task, which the Magic Lantern team produced in an inspiring way on stage. The simple stage was preset cleverly to exhibit a fort at the background and a bit of rocky ledges around and a puddle of water upfront. The puddle was sometimes a pond and some times the ocean. Oh! we got the picture very well there. Only a little manual work was required to add details to the scenes in between.

As the story travels with the protagonist Vanthiyathevan the quickwitted warrior, who carries the message of his friend  – the crown prince Aaditha Karikaalan, to the sick Emperor and his sister Kundavai the princess, he stumbles upon conspiracies, falls in love with the good-beautiful princess, double plays with the evil but the most beautiful usurper Nandhini, gets  into neck deep trouble often and finally ends up being a good friend of young prince Arulmozhi Varman at a distant island Sri Lanka. He also encounters Aalvaarkadiyaan a wandering pilgrim who turns out to be the Minister’s spy, a carefree fisher-girl with a dream of becoming a queen one day and Paluvettaraiyar the commander in chief of the empire who plays a pivotal role. Despite the extended hour, the play kept us seated throughout and the performance as a whole including the folk dances in between enthralled the audience who had been waiting to see the classic in some live action form for a long time.

Now, talking about the history, time travel and all, it raises in me the question,
“Do we now have our earth as a place worth visiting from the future?”

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