by a Thinker, Sailor, Blogger, Irreverent Guy from Madras

Tracing Ponniyin Selvan on Google Maps

Once again mesmerised by the 1950s written Historical Fiction “Ponniyin Selvan” (பொன்னியின் செல்வன்) by Kalki R. Krishnamurthy, I had the crazy idea of plotting the places mentioned in the novel on Google Maps.  An internet search threw up a couple of earlier attempts from 3 to 5 years ago, which gave me hope.

Not because I consider myself to be better, but because Google Maps has grown into a much better, detailed product-service over the last few years.  In 2014, small towns, villages and even footpaths are mapped much more in detail than they were years ago.

But such detailed mapping itself raised quite a few problems, while attempting to locate the places in Ponniyin Selvan. 

The first problem is after ~1050 years, almost none of the historical places are identifiable.  There are no traces of the 2 capital cities of Chola dynasty - at Pazhayarai and Thanjavur.  The Thanjavur capital was razed by the Pandyan King Maravarman Sundara Pandyan, circa 1216, in revenge for the torching of the Pandyan Coronation Hall at Madurai in 1205 by the Cholas.  When the 2 capital cities themselves have disappeared, what can we say about smaller palaces and buildings.

A thousand years is a long time for man made constructions to survive, more so, when the land on which they stand have changed allegiance to 10 or more kings and rulers.  Even the rivers must have changed their courses in the 1000 intervening years.

The next problem with such detailed mapping and satellite imagery is marking a palace or a building at a place, owned in reality, today, by a person.  Even without consulting my lawyer, I can imagine the chaos and legal blowback that would result.   To circumvent this potential trouble, I have opted to mark the non-existent buildings or places at locations which are of public in nature.  Thus Kundantai Astrologers house is marked as on top of a pond, next to a Kali Temple on the outskirts of Kumbakonam.  Likewise, I chose to mark the Pazhayarai Palace in proximity to the Raja Raja Chola Mausoleum in Pazhayarai.

Similarly, marking the track the characters are supposed to have travelled a 1000 years ago is a problem because the jungles and forests of those days are farmland, plantations and hamlets today.  OTOH, it is absurd to draw a straight line from one point to another.  To obviate this, I have chosen to mark the track on the present day roads.  If nothing else, it makes the map appear far better and pleasing to the eye.

The one fortunate aspect of such detailed mapping and inputs by Google users is that almost all the temples are identified.  Fortunately, all the aggressors in Tamil Nadu history have kept their hands off the Temples and religious structures, and so all those 1000 year old temples are still there.  For the rest, it is all approximations - for e.g., the place where Vandhiya Devan and Azhvarku-adiyan cross R. Kollidam.

In the story, the servant of Kandan-Maran who is sent along to procure a horse on the other bank, does so from Thiruppanthal.  Hence the Ferry Point is marked closest to that town.  BTW, this type of assumption was not possible a few years ago, because Google Maps itself was not detailed enough to locate that small town.

Looks like it will take me all of March 2014 to complete the task - in 3 days, all I have managed is to mark up to 9th chapter.  Do suggest any corrections or mistakes.

Oh! I forgot earlier to add the Google Map link:


PS:  BTW the English translation of the Novel (5 volumes) are available for free at and at 3 more websites - refer:  You can also buy the book(s ) from Amazon at a hefty price of $29 per volume (?)


  1. Great Effort !! Really appreciate your hardwork and passion in doing this. This really helps for the new reader who have just started reading this book :)

  2. I’m going to read this. I’ll be sure to come back. thanks for sharing. and also This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article... read more

  3. Thank you so much... Got an idea about the outline of places

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