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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (1)

February 13, 2015

Ponniyin Selvan was written by the late Kalki Krishnamoorthy. It first appeared serialized in the weekly Kalki. Beginning in 1950 it appeared as weekly installments for three and a half years. It is now again being serialized in Kalki. Translations of this novel are available online.

Part II

1. Poonkuzhali

The evening was calm. At Kodikarai the waves had died down. Fishing boats and sails were nearing the shore. The birds that had flown in search of food in the sea were returning. On the shore there was white sand. Beyond that was an extensive forest cover. In the forest the branches of the trees did not move; the leaves did not move. Silence hovered on all sides. The lord of the red rays was fast descending to the place where the sea and sky mingled. Clusters of clouds tried to hide the reddish rays of the sun and were themselves transformed in the process.

Near the shore a small boat was floating in the water. The hands of the waves were gently rocking the boat as if it were a baby’s bell cradle. There was a young woman in the boat. When we see her, we remember Senthan Amuthan’s description of his uncle’s daughter. Yes; she must be Poonkuzhali. Befitting her name in her hair a petal of thazham flower became beautiful. Locks of long black hair fell on her well formed shoulders. She wore a necklace strung out of seashells that got washed on the shore. But these were themselves beautified by her body and not the other way around. If beauty itself took form, how can any jewel beautify this form?

Lying in the boat nonchalantly Poonkuzhali sang. It appeared that the sea had quietened its waves to hear her sing. For the same reason the wind came slowly crawling than beating with force. The leaves on the trees in the distant forest were immobile paying close attention to her song. The earth and the sky stood motionless, mesmerized by her singing. Even the sun hesitated at the point of fully dipping into the far sea upon hearing her song.

Let’s lend our ears to the lyrics that are floating in the sky, soaked in honey:

while the sea with its waves is quiet

why is the inner sea so tumultuous?

while earth-girl is sleeping

why is my soul so disturbed?

birds of the wilderness

search for their nests

hunters and archers

head towards home

while heaven and earth are silent

why is a storm raging in the doe-eyed girl’s mind?

while the wind crawls and the ocean is calm  

why is there a tornado in this girl’s heart?

What sort of sadness resides in this young woman’s heart, it is not known! What sort of sweet suffering is mixed in her melodious voice, it is not known! Or, whether tears were a requisite in the making of the song, we don’t know. But for some reason when we hear her sing we feel that our hearts may explode.

Poonkuzhali stopped singing. With the oar she rowed four times. The boat was near the shore. Poonkuzhali jumped from the boat onto the shore. She dragged the boat onto the shore. There were some fishing boats lying as a heap. She raised the boat to lean on the others. She leaned herself on the upright boat and looked around.

The fire was lit on the top of the lighthouse. It was burning spreading its flames. All through the night this light will burn. It will warn the ships out in the sea, ‘Do not get any closer!’ At Kodikarai shore, the sea wasn’t deep. Only catamarans and small boats can approach the shore. If ships and large vessels got too close they can hit the ground and get buried in the sand. If it hit the ground at high velocity the ship can split and break. Therefore the lighthouse on the Kodikarai shore performed an essential service to the sea captains. On the other side in the middle of the forest’s stunted trees the tower of a gateway raised its head. At its base Kodikarai Kuzhakar resided in the temple. About two hundred years ago Sri Sundaramoorthi Nayanar came to Kodikarai. He visited the Kuzhakar who lived alone in the temple in the middle of the forest.

“Oh! My God! You are all alone in the middle of this forest on the seashore? Is there no other place? While there are so many shrines where devotees are singing your praise, why come to this corner and dwell in this inhabitable jungle? And this wicked soul’s eyes had to see this sight!” he sang, his heart melting.

Even after two hundred years following Sri Sundaramoorthi Nayanar’s visit, Kodikarai Kuzhakar remained in the same state. In the surrounding area the forest had become dense. In those jungles from tree hollows owls and hooters would cry. Only a few hunters frightful in their appearance lived in the middle of the forest in huts scattered here and there.

Yes; there was a difference. When Sri Sundaramoorthi Nayanar visited, there was no lighthouse here. It was built some years ago during the time of Paranthakar I. Around it a few houses with tiled roof were built for the people who worked at the lighthouse. The Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple priest also moved into one of these houses.

Poonkuzhali leaning on the boat on the shore looked around in all four directions. Seeing the lighthouse flame she wondered if she should go in that direction. Then she looked at the top of Kuzhakar temple’s gateway. Hearing the temple gong at that time she came to a decision. What’s there to do at home now? Let’s go to the temple! Pattar will sing thevaram. I would get some food there.

With this conviction Poonkuzhali walked in the direction of the temple. Singing and dancing and hopping around she continued. She saw a flock of deer on the way. The deer were headed to the forest passing the sandy area. Along with seven or eight adults, there was a smaller one. Seeing the deer Poonkuzhali got excited. She jumped and ran as if to catch them. However fast one may run, can it compare to the deer? The flock of deer beat Poonkuzhali.

The deer that went ahead reached a place when they raised all four legs and leapt across a large patch as if flying in the air. Poonkuzhali guessed that it was quicksand. All the adult deer had safely leapt across. But the fawn could not go the whole distance. Its rear feet were planted in the quicksand. It anchored its front legs on the firm ground and tried to pull its hind legs from the mud. But its hind legs kept sinking further and further into the mud. Its mother looked sadly at her child from the edge. She could not not do anything to help her child.

In a second Poonkuzhali assessed the situation and determined where the quicksand ended. She went around the area to reach the point where the fawn was trapped. The doe at first was startled by her. Perhaps Poonkuzhali knew the doe’s language. As she spoke softly the doe overcame its fear. Sitting at the edge of the quicksand with folded legs Poonkuzhali grabbed the fawn and pulled it ashore. For a few minutes the fawn lay on the ground shaking. Perhaps the mother stood by its side sniffing and encouraging! That’s all! Next minute, mother and child leapt away.

“Chee! Ungrateful animals!” Poonkuzhali said to herself. “But they are not any worse than humans,” she was quick to comfort herself .

Then she started again towards Kuzhakar temple.

Once past the sandy area, it was necessary to cross the dense forest. One had to traverse uphill and then down. The forest was one of nature’s wonders. There were no rocky mountains or hills. It was all sand. Sand pits had been colonized by shrubs and trees and turned into dunes. Beside the dunes were pits. It is not easy to find one’s way about in such a forest. It would seem as if miles had been trekked. But we would end up again and again at the place where we started!

Poonkuzhali went inside this forest and soon arrived at the temple. Outside the temple, trees like konnai and paneer were present, tall and bursting with flowers.

Poonkuzhali went inside the temple. Pattar’s face blossomed when he saw her. People coming to worship at that temple were rare. So it was only natural that Pattar was happy at seeing this rare visitor?

He brought a coconut half with devotional food. “Child! Would you wait for a while? I will lock up the sanctuary and come home!” he said. It was a little difficult to cross the forest in the dark. But with Poonkuzhali as guide, there would be no worries.

“I will wait, Sir! I have nothing to hurry to! Take your time and finish your work at the temple!” Poonkuzhali stepped out into the temple courtyard. Holding onto a branch she climbed on the parapet wall. On the corner of the wall was a big statue of Nandhi Baghavan. Leaning a little on the statue she lied down stretching her feet on the wall. She began to gnaw and eat from the coconut half.

While Poonkuzhali was watching the wonder of the darkness that came encroaching from all four directions, she heard the sound of horse’s hoofs. She looked eagerly in the direction of the sound. The sound of the hoofs awakened old memories in her heart that took her to the world of dreams. A sadness from an unknown place descended on her choking her chest. Who could be arriving? Whoever it is what do I care? For a while the traffic of people coming and going has increased. It is said that government matters is the reason for their arrival; and their departure. Even yesterday there were two people that came. They were disgusting to look at. They got brother to row and left for Eelam. They gave plenty of money. Let the sky fall on their money! Who needs money? In the middle of this jungle what is the use of money? But brother and sister-in-law love money. Don’t know why! They are hoarding and hoarding and keeping it buried.

The sound of the hoofs is getting closer. Not one horse; there seem to be two. Here they are. Slowly climbing over the incline. Tired horses after a long journey. A guy is seated on top of each horse. The one on the horse in front is a young man. He is good looking; well built; charismatic face. But where is the beauty and charisma of that other face that resides in the inner sanctum of her heart? Where is this guy’s face? In fact, isn’t this guy’s face flat like the face of the owl in the tree hole?

Out of the two on horses, the first is our old friend Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan. The one behind is the doctor’s son. By the time they got here from Pazhaiyarai they are both tired and exhausted. But Vandhiyathevan’s face brightened up slightly when he saw Poonkuzhali stretching her legs and leaning on the temple wall. When he saw that she was watching him, his natural enthusiasm surfaced. He also stopped his horse and looked at her eagerly. He could not have been happy if he knew that she was comparing his face to the face of the owl in the tree hole. How convenient it is that one is unaware of what’s in another’s heart?

Poonkuzhali realized that the man on the horse was looking at her. She became conscious of the coconut half in her hand and her gnawing it. Out of the blue a feeling of shyness seized her. From the courtyard wall she jumped onto the white sand outside. She started running along the parapet wall.

Her action prompted Vandhiyathevan also to jump down from the horse. It prompted him to run behind Poonkuzhali and catch her. So he ran chasing her.

Who can explain the reason behind these meaningless actions? We have to conclude that it is the thousand and ten thousand year history of the nature of the human race that made Poonkuzhali run and it was this that made Vandhiyathevan chase.

(Before in Part I

Nine hundred and seventy years ago from today (written in 1951) the Chola empire extended from Kumari point to North Pennai. Parantahkar II, also known as Pazhaiyarai Sundara Cholar was its emperor. Thanjavur, which was captured by Vijayalaya Cholan from the Mutharaiyar tribe became the capital during Sundara Cholar’s time. Before that for hundred years Pazhaiyarai near Kudanthai was the Chola capital. 

Sundara Cholar married Vanamadevi, daughter of Malaiamman from Thirukovilur. They had two sons and a daughter. Eldest was Athitha Karikalan; then Kundavai; youngest was Arulmozhivaraman, who later became famous in history as Rajaraja Cholan.  

Sundara Cholar had for some time now fallen ill and was bedridden in the Thanjavur palace. Having lost the strength in his legs owing to paralysis, he was unable to walk or travel.

The two brothers, the older Pazhuvertaraiyar and his younger brother Kalanthaka Kandar were at this time powerful in the Chola empire. The treasury, granary and tax collection were under the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was the commander of the Thanjai fortress army.

Athitha Karikalan, having gone to the battlefield at a very young age and made a name for himself as a brave warrior and crowned as prince, was residing in Kanji as the chief of the army garrison in the north.

As commander of the troops in the south, Arulmozhivarman had traveled to Ilankai with a big battalion and was fighting a war there.

Their sister Lady Kundavai and several of the Chola women resided in the town of Pazhaiyarai.

At this time a rumor spread in the country, that there was a plot being hatched against Sundara Cholar and his sons and that Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers, Sambuvaraiyar and other prominent Chola men were involved.

Mathuranthakan, son of Sundara Cholar’s uncle and Shaiva scholar Kandarathithar, was until a short time ago a confirmed and celebate Shaiva devotee. Since marrying the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter he has turned more towards a worldly life. Those hatching the treacherous plot have decided to place him at the helm after emperor Sundara Cholar.

For some time there has been seen in the sky a star with a tail, thoomakethu. Citizens considered this comet an evil omen. All over the country people spoke with worry of an impending calamity about to befall the ruling tribe. 

The news reached the ears of prince Athitha Karikalan in Kanji. He became concerned about his father. He wanted to free Sundara Cholar from the power of the Pazhuvertaraiyars and bring him to Kanji. 

At Kanji, Athitha Karikalan had built a new gold palace. He wrote a letter inviting Sundara Cholar to come spend some time at Kanji in the gold palace. He sent it through his trusted and confidential soldier Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan. 

Athithan at a young age was in love with a girl from the priest’s house named Nandhini. Chempian Madevi advised him that it was an improper relationship. She was the wife of the famous Shaiva scholar Kandarathithar. The entire Chola tribe was devoted to her. Athitha Karikalan also obeyed the orders of his great aunt. But he could never forget Nandhini entirely.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, over sixty years of age, wedded Nandhini. Nandhini became the mistress of Pazhuvur palace. She possessed the magical power to bring anyone who nears her under her whim. Once she applied her magic on Athitha Karikalan. She asked Athitha Karikalan to imprison Sundara Cholar, kill the old Pazhuvertaraiyar and put her on the Thanjai throne. Karikalan refused to carry out this frightful deed. But he began to be fearful of going to Thanjai. Therefore he sent Vandhiyathevan.

Vandhiyathevan on his way, while staying at the palace of Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar, found out about the Chola men’s treacherous plot. From there he reached Thanjavur. There, he met Nandhini and got the ring with the palmyrah seal from her. Using the ring he was able to gain entry to visit Sundara Cholar. Just at the moment when he was about to warn the emperor about the danger surrounding him the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar interferes.

Vandhiyathevan had accidentally stumbled upon the cellar room that contained the Thanjavur treasure. Alerted to this the Pazhuvertaraiyars tried to capture him. He tricks their soldiers and reaches Pazhaiyarai, to hand the letter Athitha Karikalan had written to Kundavai Devi.

Vandhiyathevan had already heard of Kundavai and had given his heart to her. He had met her before at Kudanthai and at the shore of Arisilaru. He also had wanted to go to Ilankai. So he prepared to go to Ilankai according to her wish. “Ponniyin Selva! There is great danger to the empire. Please come at once!”, she wrote a letter. Vandhiyathevan left carrying it.  

Athitha Karikalan’s mind was disturbed. Without news of Vandhiyathevan he became more worried. He wanted to crown his younger brother as prince and then travel abroad to spread the Chola fame and Tamil valor. Therefore he wanted to bring his brother Arulmozhivarman to Kanji, crown him as prince, and then leave for Eelam, Java, Pushpakam and Kadaram. He tells of his concerns to his other confidential friend Parthipenthiran of the Pallava tribe. He asks him to go to Ilankai and bring Arulmozhivarman immediately back to Kanji. Parthipan agrees.

Vandhiyathevan during his journey has met a brave Vaishnava named Azhvarkadiyan. His mission was to travel all over the country spying. But it is not clear on whose behalf he is spying. Therefore, Vandhiyathevan becomes suspicious of him.) 

 

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