In the land of Vellivala, the great goddess Parvati creates nine farmer-brothers to cultivate the land. She gives these men wives as well, and the great family begins to flourish. But when a great famine strikes, one of the brothers (Kolatta) is forced to visit the Chola king and ask for work. He and his wife are finally granted land in Ponnivala by this monarch. They begin to cultivate the land there and it begins to flourish. But then another great famine strikes. This time it devastates the lands belonging to the Chola monarch. As a result he is forced to release his favourite cows into the wild to find sustenance for themselves. When they happen upon the lush sugarcane fields of Ponnivala, the herd runs rampant, destroying the immigrant farmers’ finest crop. Kolatta responds by having a spiked fence built. He doesn’t know that it was a herd of sacred cows that ate much of his crop. He assumes that some wild animals are responsible. Sadly, those hungry cows, pushed by starvation, attempt to leap the newly built fence and are killed when they get stuck on top of its vicious iron stakes. For this crime of cow killing, Lord Shiva curses the Ponnivala family to seven generations of barrenness. No children will be born to the women of Ponnivala during this period. That curse is kept, technically at least, but through the intercession of Lord Vishnu, Shiva creates a magical baby for Kolatta and his wife. That new born is hidden by the god, under some field stones. When the lovely baby is discovered, Ariyanacci the noble wife, accepts it and vows to raise it as her own. But in exchange, Kolatta and Ariyanacci are called away by death when their prized little boy is only five years old!
For five years, the brothers of Kolatta treat this orphan boy,Kunnutaiya, cruelly. Finally they decide that if they are to usurp the lands of Ponnivala for themselves, they must first be rid of the boy who is its potential claimant. They treat the orphan cruelly and young Kunnutaiya is forced to flee to several neighbouring villages. Eventually one kind family takes him in and he proves himself an exceptional worker. Although he comes from a line of kings, he accepts his fate and works hard for his masters as their shepherd. When Kunnutaiya grows older, he learns from Lord Vishnu that he is eligible to ask for the hand of his masters’ sister, Tamarai. Reluctantly these two landowning brothers grant this, but extract the price that the two newly weds will be outcaste and sent away, never to be welcome in Tamarai’s home village again.
When the young couple finally fine their ancestral homelands in Ponnivala, they discover that the clansmen have torn down Kunnutaiya’s family palace. The Chola king once again backs this family of allies in their dispute with their male cousins. After a time they wrest a small, stony plot of land where they plant their first crop and also build a small hut. Through the treachery of the clansmen, however, the seeds Kunnutaiya has been lent by them will not sprout. Only with some added help from Lord Vishnu do they eventually begin to grow. The magical wealth of this field is enough for Kunnutaiya and Tamarai to rebuild the destroyed ancestral palace. Now their claim to the land of Ponnivala is fully restored. The only thing missing from their life is the blessing of children, for Lord Shiva’s curse still afflicts the family.
The king and queen undertake a long pilgrimage to the gates of heaven, to plead with Lord Shiva to release them from the family curse. Along the way, several beasts of the kingdom also ask for the boon of offspring. Queen Tamarai, in her haste, kicks a boarlike sow, who threatens that her first male child will soon be the undoing of their great family. The palace dog, however, swears that her daughter will protect the couple from the sow-boar’s curse. With the help of Lord Vishnu, Queen Tamarai undertakes twenty-one years of meditation atop seven needles as an expression of her penance and deep devotion. Lord Shiva watches from his Council Chambers and finally grants Queen Tamarai the immaculate gift of three children: two boys, reincarnated from the spirits of Arjuna and Bhima (of Mahabharata fame), and a girl reincarnated from one of the spirits of the Kannimar (known to most as the seven sisters). A fourth child, reincarnated from the spirit of Ashwatthama, is granted to a loyal lady worker in Ponnivala. He will become the servant and eventual First Minister of the elder brothers.
Back in Ponnivala, a plot to kill the young kings before they are born is foiled when the goddess Celatta takes the new-born twin boys into hiding. She will raise them in a cave under her temple for a full, five years. Only the girl, Tangal, is detined to spend her first years of life with her parents, in the lovely family palace. During this period the clansmen once again take control of their cousins’ lands and begin cultivating it. They hope to one day laying full claim to Ponnivala. But then the existence of twin palace-born sons is revealed at last. These brave boys, now five years old are returned to their “real” parents by the goddess. Their ambition to reclaim control of their parents’ ancestral lands from their greedy cousins gradually becomes clear.
When the twin sons of the palace reach sixteen, the marrying age, they swear themselves to the lives of warriors. Although they are married, they refuse to keep the company of their wives. This is in order to avoid distraction, allowing them to concentrate on developing their fighting skills. The two men’s first great test comes when they capture a female parrot–one of a loving pair who once nested in Tamarai’s nose during her great penance at the gates of heaven, and who now reside in the Vettuva forest under the protection of Viratangal. When only the female parrot is captured, her “husband” complains to the forest princess. A great battle between the forest dwellers and the farmers of Ponnivala ensues, with the great boar, Komban. He is the boar-son now born to the offended sow helped by the blessings of a local goddess. But a second divine female, no less a figure than the great goddess Kali, acts as the secret weapon of the hunters. Komban is nearly invincible, but he does eventually falls to the poison bite of a tiny palace dog named Ponnacci.
The war with the hunters continues, and it is eventually revealed that Lord Vishnu himself has actually created the conflict and the enemy fighters whom the heroes must face. They are a chimera used to “test” the heroes’ bravery rather than “real” characters. Soon after this the time comes for the twin warriors to die. When they realize it is time to leave their earthly bodies, the two men thrust themselves upon their own swords in a final act of heroic sacrifice. Their loyal servant Shambuga follows them in this act of supreme bravery. Tangal, with the help of Ponnacci, later finds her brothers’ bodies and revives them. But talking briefly with them she learns that their common fate, decreed log back by Lord Shiva himself, is that all three lives are to be returned, at death, to him. After Tangal performs the required funeral rituals for her brothers, she builds them a shrine and then is taken up to heaven, alive and riding in a flowered chariot, by the great god himself. A final blessing is then addressed to all who have shown their devotion by listening to this great and ancient tale.