Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ponniyin Selvan : Illustrated edition with Maniam's art

Once in a long while there occurs a rare combination of great writing and art. One such amazing creation happened in the 50s in South India.



Southern India, like most other parts of India, is known for Art, Architecture, Science and Engineering that dates back to the very beginnings of time.

Grand Anicut, 1st Century AD, among the oldest water regulatory structures in the world in use,
(the bridge is a later day construction)
image courtesy Niranjan

The splendor and glory of the art of the bygone eras are just beginning to be rediscovered after being buried in time over centuries of  Mughal and European invasion, which resulted in plundering and annihilation of both the culture and the creations of this uniquely original civilization .

The Big Temple, 10th Century AD, Among the Tallest structures in the world when built.
image courtesy Pandiyan

In the 50s, there appeared in the Magazine Kalki, a historical Novel by 'Kalki' Krishnamurthi. Ponniyin Selvan, was spun around very well researched history of the Chola dynasty, and placed in time around 1000AD. Ponni is the name of the life giving river of South India, now called Cauvery, the title of the story refers to its son, the mighty Emperor, Raja Raja Chola I.

Kalki and the First appearance of Ponniyin Selvan
image courtesy : The Hindu

The great story, with extraordinary use of the beautiful Tamil language in the most simple and elegant form, and the intriguing combination of romance, valor, trickery, conspiracy, suspense, drama , adventure and more,  made this serial story into an immortal literary treasure.



Running continuously between 1950 and 1954, it captivated  the imagination of millions of readers, taking them back in time and space.

The uniqueness of this novel was the great level of research and detail , which were presented to the readers in the form of various events , places and personalities, which can be traced back and experienced to this day.


The places that are described here forms a backbone of any historical travel around southern India, much of the great monumental structures intact for ones delight.



While such is the grandeur of the written word, what accompanied this, chapter after chapter was the masterful art of Maniam.

The man.. Maniam!
Note the absence of monitors and tablets!

Hundreds upon hundreds of illustrations, took the reader so vividly into the ancient time period. the great detail on costume, ornamentation, the settings, the compositions, the style, and the experimentation of several methods and media, makes this collection a grand reference for anyone wanting to learn illustration, not to mention the treat for any reader.




During the span of the publication of this five part serial, Maniam employed all possible techniques and mediums, A pure pen and Ink illustration, Black and white wash, Ink and brush, pen Ink and brush, Wood cut style, fresco style, gauche, watercolor.. you name it, you find it. Also he had employed very complex compositions, great action, expression, and techniques such as bleeding out of the page margins (that Scott McCloud talks about), which makes the reader feel as if one is 'inside' the story and experiencing it from within the scene!

There is a blog that is dedicated to the artist, Artist Maniam which is authored by his grand daughter, an artist, who is also the daughter of the contemporary master illustrator Maniam Selvan. 

Vikatan, the house of the favorite South Indian magazine, has come out with a fantastic edition of Ponniyin Selvan, with all the illustrations of Maniam, in a hardbound 5 volume set. What a treat!!

The Vikatan Edition
image courtesy; Vikatan Media

Having been force fed with Shakespeare, Dickens and the likes during the days at school, discovering the genius of Kalki today was a pleasant treat, and with the original illustrations of Maniam, I cannot ask for more!

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