The Legend of Ponnivala is a masterful tale about tale about leadership. It explores how different personalities use their recognized positions of power in different ways. These contrasts make for an excellent classroom discussion material and can be used to explore the twin topics of leadership and political control. The story resembles India’s great Mahabharata in some ways, and the bard alludes to various connections between these two stories. However, the Ponnivala tale tells us considerably more about local Indian history and local social norms than does the Mahabharata. It also describes a considerably later period in Indian history. Although the links between the two stories are significant, the Ponnivala deserves to be given independent status, a piece of oral literature that asserts a significantly separate identity. The Ponnivala legend is most definitely not just a regional variant of that more widely known, ancient, pan-Indian epic.
The story’s preeminent hero is explicitly said to represent a reincarnation of the famous Arjuna figure in the Mahabharata. Furthermore Ponnivala’s Aruna character is helped in going to war by Lord Vishnu himself. Furthermore, Vishnu in this story (who is generally addressed as Mayavar or Kanjinatha), could easily been interpreted (towards the end of the story only) as serving the role that Lord Krishna plays as Arjuna’s private charioteer. Krishna-Vishnu asks the warrior-hero to ”fight just a little bit more,” in both stories. But from there forward various interesting differences between the two stories appear. These differences are instructive and suggest ways in which the “Gita” passages that appear in this folk epic diverge significantly from those presented by the pan-Indian Mahabharata legend.