Even an eighty-year-old woman will not take his name without a sigh. That's the power of popularity for this evergreen hero, so much so that people find Arul Mozhi Varman a tad too tame for their taste. What is it about this character that is so alluring? Let's analyze.
Ponniyin Selvan in some aspects is the journey of Vandiya Devan through conspiracy, betrayal, love, adventure, friendship, murder and secrets. It all begins when he stumbles on the conspiracy that Pazhuvetrayars are hatching against the Crown Prince Aditya Karikalan. If he had not heard their entire plan in Kadambur, he would have gone on to Thanjavur and might have ended in the Padala Sirai and life probably would have gone on as usual for all the others. But that one act of his saved many lives and the Chola throne too.
One of the things that endeared me to this character was his sense of adventure. He cheerfully plunges into one adventure after another without any care for consequences. We meet him as an enthusiastic youth without a care in the world at the beginning of the novel and as the story progresses, we find his unique brand of charm so endearing that we devour the chapters where he meets Kundavai. In Thanjavur, he undergoes many experiences that test his sharp mind. Using his own brand of charm, derring-do's and eloquence he makes a daring escape. Meeting Nandini was probably the ultimate test for him and he passes with flying colours. He is not only successful in pulling the wool over her eyes but also escapes from her seductive allure unscathed.
He also has a sensitive side that gets revealed now and then. He is very sensitve about the fact that he is a penniless orphan who has next to nothing in this world. With just a few words, he frankly tells Kandan maran the hurt that he felt when his friend withdraws his sister’s hand in marriage. When he meets Kundavai and falls in love with her, one part of him is constantly wondering whether her parents would even consider him as a prospective suitor. That’s probably another reason why he wanted Prince Arul Mozhi Varman to get married to Poonguzhali. If a Prince can marry a boat woman, even a penniless orphan can marry a beautiful princess.
Courage at the face of death is one of the most important qualities that all heroes must possess and Vandiya Devan has that in abundance. He comes close to it many a time. Tied to the mast of a burning ship and tossed amidst huge waves and a terrible storm we find him - laughing. He is ready to jump into the sea to drown in the cool waters rather than be burned and yet one last time, he wants to enjoy the terrible beauty of the stormy sea. It is this undying spirit of his that has captured our imagination. He has the capacity to bounce back and embrace life wholeheartedly no matter what. This is what allows him to escape from the prison and seek a new adventure in Eezham even though it means crushing all the dreams of attaining the hand of Kundavai in marriage.
If you are in a spot, it should help to have a friend like Vandiya Devan. Kandan Maran, Azwarkadiyan, Senthan Amuthan, Aditya Karikalan, Arul Mozhi Varman will surely endorse this statement wholeheartedly. He saves Kandan Maran from the backstabbing guard and yet remains unfazed when he is accused of betrayal. He jumps into the sea to go after the enemy's ship thinking that Arul Mozhi Varman was on it. He braves the comments and censure of Parthibendran, Kandan Maran and the Pazhuvur brothers just to warn and save Aditya Karikalan. And lastly even as he is poised to escape to his new life in Eezham, he saves Senthan Amuthan, (a poor youth who had helped him once) from Pinagapani’s murderous designs at the cost of his life.
Over the course of the novel, we see his character blossoming in all manners of things. Character development is one of the main things that makes a story interesting and keeps the reader hooked. Kalki teaches many a lesson there that we authors can learn.
Kalki ends the novel with Manimegalai’s death and the profound impact it has on Vandiya Devan. We can’t but feel desolate when we read the words that ‘he will not be that carefree young man ever again’. And that’s probably why I read the book countless times because I can’t imagine a world where Vandiya Devan is a sedate serious man sans humour and mirth.
When the novel was first published, many found it difficult to digest that Kalki would end such a great novel thus but that’s the essence of an epic and not everybody’s life is a happy ever after.