Discovering History Through Reading or Watching an Epic Story:
The Ponnivala legend features many kinds of historical scenarios that have a wide relevance. One can discuss the pioneer life of the first generation of heroes, and how they opened up forest land to agriculture. One can point to how the more highly-evolved social structure of the neighbouring area gradually moved up the river valleys and into this remote inland area. One can ask students to try to link the story to traditional histories of South India to textual inscriptions and much more.
Looking Up Underneath The King’s Great Umbrella:
This epic describes life in medieval South India in a fascinating and fresh way. Generally history is recorded by the scribes of kings. Inscriptions and written records most often describe events from the ruler’s point of view. But this story is about a family that lives under that great umbrella. It looks “up” at the connections that exist between a small family and influences their lives from a distance. It depicts how the struts that hold up the umbrella sometimes hold strong, and at other times break due to strong “winds” that blow across the land.
Comparative Medieval Life:
This legend is set in medieval India. It makes a wonderful “foil” to compare and contrast with life in medieval Europe (or Japan and China) during the same period. It can also be used more specifically for details about medieval South India in a course on the history of South Asia.
Early Trade Routes:
The Ponnivala story occurs in a region that was criss-crossed by important trade routes for more than 2000 years. Boats crossed from the Persian Gulf and from the Red Sea to the west coast of Kerala regularly. Unable to navigate around the tip of India, they loaded their goods onto donkeys and into bullock carts to follow inland trails leading to rich sea ports on the East coast of India. One can discuss this story in relation to that lively trade activity. There are Roman coins to discover, and precious stone mines that were involved with a widespread trade both in beads and in finished jewellery.
Shared and Traded Games and Stories:
There is also an opportunity to point out the sharing of mythological material from Egypt and the Mediterranean with storytellers in South India. This legend provides ample evidence of the blending of various world views that undoubtedly arose from such cross-cultural contact. Indeed the diffusion of a very specific folk from Egypt to the shores of South India can be traced (and the game then played) by interested history students.
There are some very interesting clashes between occupational groups revealed by this story. The farmers fight with the forest hunters. A group of artisans continually try to unseat or upset the farmers’ livelihood. One can discuss why these were salient and meaningful struggles for farmers in the medieval period