Dr. Beck has just received the Prof. V. Chelvanayakan Memorial Award for outstanding Tamil scholarship in Anthropology and Folklore, announced in Toronto this July.
The nomination and an associated presentation plaque were sponsored by the Chelvanayakam Trust and given to Dr. Beck in recognition of her eight years of work dedicated to animating the Tamil folk epic known as the Annanmar Kathai.
Brenda has now retold this story, originally sung to a Tamil village audience by a bard that she recorded, in India, 1965. This 44 hour legend, now made available in both animated and graphic novel formats, makes the story accessible to a modern audience in two languages: Tamil and English. Its retelling has been named The Legend of Ponnivala to highlight its importance as a keystone cultural account that memorializes the history of the early residents of an entire region in Tamilnadu (the Kongu area) and their heroism. The term Ponni refers to the Kaveri river. That is the great golden waterway that the poet telling the story celebrates in his songs. Ponnivalanadu is the name of the area that is directly described by the tale. The story is packed full of visual images and related social events that throw a great deal of light on medieval Tamil history as it relates to this core upland, interior area.
Dr. Beck’s work had focused her studies on trying to understand and share these important cultural traditions with students and scholars worldwide. The story is significant as an oral literary monument containing both internal character richness and much sociological depth. The legend also benefits from the original bard’s exceptionally well-structured presentation. The Chelvanayakam Memorial award for 2013 was received by Mr. Ravichandran Arumugam, Lead Artist and Animation Director of the Ponnivala Project. His depth of appreciation for the story stems from the fact that his own grandfather was once a professional singer of this very tale. Unfortunately Dr. Beck herself was unable to be present for the presentation of the plaque. She had already committed to attending the international Tamil FeTNA celebration in St. Louis, Missouri that happened to be held on the very same day!