The Qualities of a Good King:
The Ponnivala story has a great deal to say about kingship. The approach to authority and good governance differs between the heroes of the various generations depicted. The most interesting relationship is that between the elder and younger (twin) kings of the third generation in the story. One is gentle, kind and compassionate; the other is violent, aggressive and generally takes the initiative. Which one is more successful as a king and which one is most admired? These are excellent questions for classroom discussion. The bard who told the story intended this. All good epics leave one thinking about what role model and life style to emulate.
How A Local King Treats His Subjects:
There are a number of interesting observations to be made about how the local kings of each generation in this story interact with their subjects. How are these subordinates paid for their work, for example? And how are orders given and taken?
What A Local King Expects from His Subjects:
In what situations are they obliged to contribute their time and effort at no cost? And most importantly, what happens when the king loses his loyal supporters in a battle? What general obligations does a king have to protect his kingdom through setting an example, and by settling disputes?
The King’s Special Assistant:
There is a special relationship between the local royal family and a low status partner who serves as a loyal First Minister, Trickster, and Strongman. The same pattern can be observed in medieval Europe. The comparison is worthy of study and discussion.
Relations Between A Great King and His Underlings:
The great Chola king in this story demands “tribute” from his subservient allies, but not taxes. What does the tribute consist of and how is it levied and paid? What other favours does a great monarch gift to his allies? These can be ceremonial, social, economic, and more. Ask students to look for these and then discuss them. What does the local king do for a great monarch in exchange?
The Relationship Between a King and his Sons:
Succession and inheritance are a tricky business in this story, as in real life. Ask students to look for the patterns and concerns that this legend highlights.
Politics and Mythology:
Kingship lies at the very heart of Indo-European mythology. Many of the stories and myths about this topic refer to twins (and use this doubling to present a ruler’s options). Explore how the topic is treated in the Legend of Ponnivala as well as in European literature and political history.