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 granted land in Ponnivala, which they cultivate to great abundance.
Another great famine strikes the land of the Chola monarch, who 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, they run rampant, destroying the crop. Kolatta responds by having a spiked fence built. He doesn’t know that it was a herd of sacred cows that damaged his crop and assumes it was some wild animal. The cows, pushed by starvation, attempt to leap the fence and are killed. 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.
Through the intercession of Lord Vishnu, however, Shiva creates a baby for Kolatta and his wife, and hides it under some field stones. When the baby is discovered, Aryanacci the noble wife accepts the child as her own. But in exchange, Kolatta and Arryanacci are called away by death when the boy is only five years old!
For five years, the brothers of Kolatta treat the orphan boy cruelly. Finally they decide that if they are to usurp the lands of Ponnivala for themselves, they must be rid of the boy. The young Kunnutaiya flees to several neighbouring villages, and for one family proves himself an exceptional worker and shepherd. Although he comes from a line of kings, he accepts his fate and works hard for his masters.
When he grows, he learns he is eligible to ask for the hand of his masters’ sister, Tamarai. Reluctantly they grant this, and the two are sent back to Ponnivala, unwelcome in the bride’s home village again. When they return to Ponnivala, they find that the clansmen have torn down Kunnutaiya’s family palace. The Chola king once again favours the family, who are granted a small, stony plot of land and a small hut to begin rebuilding.
Through the treachery of the clansmen, the seeds Kunnutaiya has been given will not sprout. Only by the grace of Lord Vishnu do they begin to grow. The magical wealth of this field is enough for Kunnutaiya and Tamarai to rebuild the family palace, and 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 sow, who threatens that her child will be the undoing of their great family. The palace dog, however, swears that her daughter will protect them. With the help of Lord Vishnu, Queen Tamarai undertakes twenty-one years of meditation atop seven needles as her penance and devotion.
In his Council Chambers, Lord Shiva grants Queen Tamarai the gift of three children: two boys, reincarnated from the spirits of Arjuna and Bhima (from the Mahabharata), and a girl reincarnated from one of the spirits of the Kannimar (seven sisters). A fourth child, reincarnated from the spirit of Ashwatthama, is granted to a loyal lady of Ponnivala to be the servant and helper 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 boys into hiding, where she raises them for five years. Only the girl, Tangal, remains with her parents, and the clansmen once again make a play for inheritance of Ponnivala. Only then are the boys revealed, and the concession of the land sealed.
When the boys come to be of marrying age, they swear themselves to the lives of warriors. Although they are married, they refuse to keep the company of their wives in order to avoid distraction and concentrate on developing their fighting skills. Their first great test comes when they capture a female parrot–one of the pair who nested in their mother’s nose during her great penance at the gates of heaven, and who now reside in the Vettuva forest under the protection of Viratangal–whose husband complains to the forest princess. A great battle between the forest dwellers and the farmers of Ponnivala ensues, with the great boar, Komban–who was born of the offended sow by a grant from the goddess Kali–acting as the secret weapon of the hunters. Komban is nearly invincible, but falls to the poison bite of the dog Ponnacci, the tiny daughter of the palace dog.
The war with the hunters continues, and it is revealed that Lord Vishnu has created the entire war. The time has come for the twin warriors to die. When they realize it is their time, they thrust themselves upon their own swords in a final act of sacrifice. Their loyal servant Shambuga follows them in devotion. Tangal, with the help of Ponnacci, finds her brothers’ bodies and revives them, only to learn that it has been decreed that all three must be returned to Lord Shiva. After Tangal performs the funeral rituals for her brothers, she is taken up to heaven. A blessing is then addressed to all who hear the tale.