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More Than Just A Music Album: Nuances Behind AR Rahman's Compositions For PS-1

Tejaswi Bathulapalli |Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 - 2:55 PM

PS ponniyin selvan AR Rahman
PS ponniyin selvan AR Rahman

Here are some fascinating details behind Rahman’s songs in Ratnam's visual retelling of Kalki’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ - Part 1

Some songs are a feast to the eyes, some make us get up and dance, some soothe our soul, some trigger a strong emotion in us, some take us through times and places, and some make us ruminate and reflect. But songs that are born from the spirit of two creative geniuses, Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman, do all of the above, and maybe even more. From Roja in 1992 to Ponniyin Selvan in 2022-23, the duo kept raising their bar higher and higher, challenging the limits of their own creative freedom and expression, and giving us the best of best every single time.

For those of you who might not have noticed the subtext or know some fascinating details behind Rahman’s songs in Mani’s visual retelling of Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan (PS), here’s a read you’d probably enjoy.

Ponge Nadhi

The song “Ponge Nadhi” (also “Ponni Nadhi” in Tamil) mirrors the picturesque narration of Vandiyadeva’s (Karthi) arrival onto the land of the Cholas in the first chapter of Kalki’s novel, where the warrior witnesses the life-giving gushing waters of Cauvery, lush green lands, vivid vegetation, merriment of the people during the ‘Aadi Perukku’ festival (a cultural festival native to Tamil Nadu, celebrated on the 18th day of the month Aadi, which marks the onset of monsoon). 

Along with the beauty of the land, the song also tells and shows Vandiyadeva’s bond with the land, his free-spirited nature and the pride he takes in being a friend of the Crown Prince of a great dynasty. Interestingly, lyricist Ilango Krishnan has used the words from Tamil language alone to write the original version of the song, and Anantha Sriram too did no less a job in Telugu.

Chola Chola

Any heartbroken man who is a Mani & AR fan would be tripping over this song even now. It blows my mind as to how a symphonious composition like this has emerged from two warring emotions! The song “Chola Chola” deeply reflects the warrior spirit of the Chola Crown Prince Aditya Karikala as much as his vulnerability – an unlikely mix of the triumphant drum beats & the dulcet tones of the flute, corroborate the extremities. The oscillation of Karikala’s heart between love and war, with pain and grief at its core, is just too strikingly beautiful.

Alanai Neekai

It seems the brief that maestro AR Rahman gave to the singer of this song (“Alaikadal” in Tamil), Antara Nandy, is “When you sing it, your notes need to sound like you’re riding the waves of the ocean.” She did exactly that and we felt that too, don’t you agree? ARR brought the night in the middle of an ocean to life with the cricket’s chirp, sound of the sands, and a melody of the moonlight rays causing a ripple effect on the waves. What’s even more exquisite is that the song depicts both, the romanticism of the night when Vandiyadeva feels mesmerised and intimidated by Poonguzhali, and the pathos underlining the unfulfilled desires of the boat woman’s heart.

Devaralan Aata

The song (“Devaralan Aattam” in Tamil) is inspired by ‘Ramayana Monkey Chants’ or ‘Kecak’, a Balinese Hindu Dance & Music Drama which is about the ‘Yuddha Kanda’ in Ramayana, where the Hanuman-led Vanaras (Monkey-like beings) help Lord Rama to rescue Sita and fight the King Ravana. This song appears in a similar backdrop as the Vanara-clan warrior Vandiyadeva goes to Kadambur on the command of the Crown Prince Aditya Karikalan. 

However, we see another dimension to this song if you pay attention to the lyrics, which is about a Goddess in her fierce form who is seeking vengeance and hungry for a sacrifice, and the people are trying to pacify her by requesting the Lord to shed his blood and save the fertile land – which feels exactly like a musical opening to a scene leading to the introduction of Nandini, who seeks to take revenge against the Cholas and Karikalan’s death is what brings peace to her and to the land.


In the book, when Kundavai takes Vanathi to meet the Astrologer of Kudanthai, they travel along with their entourage of bridesmaids on a swan-like boat floating on the pristine waters of Ponni. Kalki beautifully describes the Princesses' bond to be that of like river Arisil, which flows close to river Ponni, and is one of the arms stretched out by Ponni to reach for her Lord – the Ocean – alluding Arisil to Princess Vanathi. “Sol” (“Sye” in Telugu) is a literal visual translation by Mani & Rahman of Kalki’s lines “who are these heavenly beauties coming down the stream, mixing the pleasant melody of their music with gurgling noises of the river?”. Wish the song was there in the film (the song didn’t make it to the final cut)! Nevertheless, it’s still there.

Raachasa Maavaya

Just like “Sol / Sye”, this song (“Raatchasa Maamaney” in Tamil) has also sprung up from a chapter (‘Surprise of Surprises’) in the novel, and from a conversation between Vandiyadeva and Princess Kundavai in Pazhayarai. It just showcases another instance of Rahman & Ratnam tapping into Kalki’s imagination and retelling it through their aesthetic musical.

Updated date:  Thursday, 12 Oct 2023 - 10:57 AM

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