Basic Folk Hinduism:
This is an excellent story to use to introduce students to the core concepts of Hinduism. It is full of relatively easy to understand information about the key gods and goddesses and it nicely describes their complementary roles. It is also syncretic in that Shiva and Vishnu have balanced (though very different) roles. They are brothers-in-law and one can easily see their friendly spirit of rivalry.
The story depicts simple temple worship. There is also one place where a complete set of “baths” is offered the local goddess. Hence it provides a pleasing illustration of the core temple rituals that are in common use.
Pilgrimage and Asceticism:
There is one major example of a woman’s pilgrimage in the story. She is dedicated and struggles to obtain her core wish for many years. This is a very interesting sequence to examine in depth. There are also several episodes where the heroine gives food and jewels to beggars. And Lord Vishnu himself is several times seen in disguise as a beggar, the form he most often uses to test the hero and heroine’s generosity.
Heaven and Hell:
There are many scenes of the gods' dwelling place in “heaven.” Vishnu often sits on his cobra couch, floating on the milk sea, while he observes events occurring in the world below. Lord Shiva can be seen in his counsel chambers, and also deep in meditation. Hell is also depicted in one sequence, and there is a ladder to the world above that can easily be compared to Jacob’s ladder in Christian tradition.
Looking deeper, there are several sacrificial events of significance in this story. In one a great wild boar is killed. This serves as a traditional Tamil prelude to the great battle the heroes will fight near the end of the story. There is also a classic “war drum sacrifice” complete with food thrown to the waiting spirits, and other interesting folk details. And at the end of the story the heroes sacrifice their own lives and offer themselves up to the gods. An in-depth essay is available to teachers who want more background information before tackling this subject with students..
Avatars and Divine Disguises:
There is plenty of opportunity, using the animation accompanying this story, to discuss Vishnu’s avatar in boar form (Varaha). His trickster-like personality also emerges clearly at a number of points in the story. One can also compare his role with that of Lord Krishna in the great Mahabharata epic. True to form, Lord Shiva is more remote and inaccessible to story viewers. Nonetheless, there is plenty to discuss at points where he controls the generation of new life and also where decisions about death are taken. Especially interesting is his method of “using” Vishnu to help him execute his vast cosmic plan. Both karma and dharma can be discussed in this context.
Both the benevolent local goddess and her angry counterpart, Kali, are prominent in the story, and the heroines themselves have certain divine powers. There is plenty of scope for a teacher to discuss contrasting male and female versions of divine power.