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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (14 – 16)

April 12, 2015

From Part II of the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

14. TWO FULL MOONS

On that day Thanjai was in chaos. One can imagine the excitement of the town’s residents because the princess who had not visited the capital in a long time had changed her mind and was about to visit! There was no one in Chola Nadu who did not know of the beauty, intellect and generosity of princess Kundavai. There was no one who didn’t bring up her name at least once a day in conversation over some matter or other. This year the rumor that the princess would be in Thanjai palace for the Navarathiri festival had already spread and made the people yearn even more. Therefore, when it was known that she was coming today, there was an ocean of humanity waiting at the Thanjai fortress entrance. Like the ocean that rises in anticipation of the full moon, this ocean of people were also clamoring eagerly.

In the end, the full moon also rose. Why? There were two of them rising at the same time. Thanjai fortress doors opened with a bang when Kundavai Devi arrived at the entrance with her retinue. From inside the palace a body of troops came out to welcome and receive the princess. In front were the two Pazhuvertaraiyars. Not only that; behind them was a pearl embedded ivory palanquin. When its silk curtains were drawn inside, the beautiful moon-like face of Pazhuvur Illaiyarani was seen.

Kundavai and Nandhini disembarked from the elephant and the palanquin respectively. Nandhini hurried to the front and welcomed Kundavai. Kundavai acknowledged the greeting with a smile.

The excitement of the crowd that witnessed the two great beauties of Chola Nadu together there broke all bounds. Nandhini’s complexion was a golden hue; Kundavai was lotus-pink. Nandhini’s golden face was round like the full moon; Kundavai’s majestic face was a bit longer like a statue drawn by an expert sculptor. Nandhini’s red lined dark eyes were separated wide like the wings of honey bees; Kundavai’s bluish black eyes stretched up to her ears like the petals of the blue water-lily. Nandhini’s nose shone as if carved out of ivory. Kundavai’s nose was raised like the gardenia bud. Nandhini’s thick lips were a pearl vessel of ambrosia. Kundavai’s thin lips were the pomegranate buds spilling of nectar. Nandhini had tied and arranged her hair like a posy of flowers. Kundavai’s hair was coiffed up like a crown pronouncing ‘she is the queen of beauty.’

It cannot be said that every person there was happy to  compare the beauty and style of the two women in this manner. However, it was easily understood by everyone that in general the two were extraordinary beauties different in their features and style. Until then the town’s people had felt a certain dislike and dissatisfaction toward Nandhini. Everyone celebrated Kundavai as a goddess of their heritage. But, now they derived much pleasure in seeing the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani at the entrance welcoming the junior stateswoman.

While the people were happily engaged in this manner the conversation between Nandhini and Kundavai was like an exchange of lightening strikes.

“Devi! Come! Come! We were thinking that you have completely forgotten us. Today we discover that the junior stateswoman’s mercy has no limits,” said Nandhini.

“How is that, queen! Does distance mean forgetfulness? Can I assume that you have forgotten me because you have not come to Pazhaiyarai?” said Kundavai.

“Bees will come toward flowers in search of nectar; invitation is not necessary. Anyone will come to the beautiful Pazhaiyarai. Isn’t it the grace of your mercy that you should come to this ugly Thanjai fortress?”

“Why would you say that? Can one call Thanjaipuri ugly? When beauty itself is imprisoned here?…” said the junior stateswoman.

“That is what I also heard, that they are keeping the emperor imprisoned here. There is no worry any more; you have come to set him free!” when Nandhini said this lightening struck from her eyes.

“Very nice! Even Indrathi gods cannot imprison emperor Sundara Cholar. How is it possible by mere men? I didn’t talk about that. I was talking of the beautiful fairy Nandhini Devi…”

“Please tell, Devi! Tell, so it will fall in his ears. Pazhuvur king is keeping me as if in a prison. If you can recommend…”

“What good is my recommendation? You are kept in no ordinary prison! Isn’t it the prison of love? Moreover…”

“Yes, Devi! And when it is an old person’s love prison, there is no escape at all! They speak about the dungeon? Even those who are locked up there can come out! But…”

“Yes, queen! If it is a shackle that we ourselves willingly took on, if it is a prison that we went in search of, then release would be problematic! Those who came in the line of Seethai, Kannaki, Nalayini and Savithri won’t even look for release! There, what is the noise there?” said Madam Kundavai.

In truth, there was loud noise coming from amid the women flocking a little away from the fortress entrance. Kundavai and Nandhini went closer to the place. Since many women were shouting at the same time at first it was not clear. Then it became a little clear. Because they wanted to come to the palace and visit the junior stateswoman, they were requesting that the restrictions for entering the fortress be removed during the nine days of the Navarathiri festival.

“Queen! Please tell your husband or brother-in-law, and ask them to fulfill their request. Why be afraid of these poor ladies? What danger will come to Chola Nadu through them? Isn’t the Pazhuvur brothers’ command spread in all four directions stretching up to the seashore?” said Kundavai.

“What is that, you have stopped at the seashore? Their power and command extends across the sea and beyond. There will be proof of this very soon!” Nandhini’s smile was breaking Kundavai’s heart. ‘What can this wretch mean?’ she thought.

Meanwhile Nandhini beckoned the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and informed him of the women’s request and the junior stateswoman’s wish.

“What can be said against the junior stateswoman’s word?” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Then, amid the crowd’s loud cheer they entered the fortress.

Since then for a few days Thanjai town and surroundings were immersed in a festive mood. Kundavaidevi’s Thanjai visit coincided with the Navarathiri festival. Pazhuvertaraiyar kept his word. He permitted people to enter and exit the fortress without any barriers for those ten days. The entrance gates of the fortress stood open day and night. Many festive events took place in the palaces inside the fortress and outside in the countryside. Large crowds of people came to see these events. Amid these crowds there were two full moons rising often. At this sight the ocean of humanity rose in exultation. But while it was a happy festival on the outside, inside the two full moons, in the regions of their hearts, volcanoes were spitting out molten lava. There was an endless war happening between Pazhuvur Illaiyarani and the junior stateswoman from Pazhaiyarai. With verbal arrows and piercing glances the two beauties were engaged in an inveterate war. Sparks flew when sharp daggers from both sides grazed one another during this war. Flames ignited as whet-stone ground javelins attacked each other. Two flashes of lightening crossed one another and shuddered in the midnight sky. Two female tigers of terrifying beauty drew blood as they huddled and clawed each other with their toenails. Two eerily magnificent cobras tried to swallow each other as they danced with their heads raised and open, thrusting their lean, mean, reddish tongues.

In this strange war they became addictively excited; they were also mortified by the festering envy and agony of their minds.

Without taking part in the townspeople’s festivities, and not understanding the war of the two full moons, there was one soul suffering. Kodumabalur princess Vaanathi, nowadays had no time to speak to the junior stateswoman. Even though she accompanied her friend everywhere her mind did not participate in anything that happened outside. She created a lone world within her and lived in that world.

15. SAD CRY IN THE NIGHT

At that time in Chola Nadu arts and literature were flourishing. Dance and drama had grown together. Thanjai city especially produced many literati. Saiva devotee Karuvoor Thevar of that time had written about the ‘walled-in’ Thanjai in many poems.

‘Arching their eyebrows like lightening twinkling like young peacocks a drama school to learn in this manner is Thanjai surrounded by a wall’

describes one of his poems. There were many drama schools in Thanjai as evidence of the popularity of the culture of theater. The best of these schools was inside the emperor’s palace.

Bards who imagined and produced new plays lived in Thanjai city. Before this the tradition was to produce theater out of legendary tales about gods and rishis. For some time now Thanjai artists have been with success paying attention to another area. They dramatized the life stories of warriors who were famous in history. They turned into plays the brave tales of soldiers from recent history. Where else would these soldiers belong other than in the Chola tribe? Therefore, they turned into drama the life histories of Chola kings like Karikal Vallavar, Vijayalaya Cholar and Paranthaka Thevar.

During the festival of Navarathiri, the theater based on the Chola kings’ brave history took place for three days in the emperor’s palace. Thousands of people gathered in the moonlit grounds facing the artfully constructed stage and enjoyed the performances. Seats for the palace women were reserved under a blue silk awning beside ornamental pillars woven with pearls. Underneath empresses, princesses and their close friends sat and watched the drama. At these times Nandhini always sat beside Kundavaidevi. Even though some women did not like this they could not do anything other than to fume within themselves. Who had the courage to be the target of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s anger? When the junior stateswoman herself was extending so much respect and consideration for this proud woman did anyone else matter?

The third among the three productions based on the Chola kings was exceptional. Only on that day there was among the spectators a ripple of reaction that formed and spread.

Until then out of the Chola kings who had ruled the country Sundara Cholar’s grandfather emperor Paranthakar had been exemplary. He ruled for about forty six years. During his time the Chola kindom expanded. His rule extended from Eelanadu to the river Thungabathrai. There were many wars; and many victories. He earned the title, ‘Koaparakesari Varmar who conquered Madurai and Eelam.’ He became famous for giving a gold roof over Chittamapalam in Thillai Chithamapram. At the later part of his life there were some defeats that reduced the size of the empire. But his fame as a warrior never faded. The final war took place at Thakkolam with king Kanarathevan who arrived with a sea of army from Irattai Mandalam in the north. Paranthakar’s eldest son Rajathithar, – a brave soldier whose likeness the continent of Bharath had never seen, – led this war. Dying on the elephant after defeating Kanarathevan’s army, he ascended the heaven of the warriors . They brought this warrior’s body pierced by an arrow back to the palace. Emperor Paranthakar and his wives shed tears over the body of the brave son who gave his life to save the country. From behind the curtain the voice from the heavens announced, ‘Thou shalt not mourn! Thou shalt not mourn! Prince Rajathithar did not die; he reigns in the minds of the Chola citizens!’ The drama ended with this final scene.

The audience enjoyed this drama that depicted brave acts of the generation that immediately preceded the current generation. The reason for the reaction among the spectators was, there were two petty chiefs who were very close to Paranthaka Thevar during times of war. One was the Kodumabalur petty chief; the other was the Pazhuvur petty chief. These two men were connected to the Chola dynasty through family. They had given daughters in marriage or accepted them into their families. They acted as Paranthakar’s two hands. It was impossible to know who was the left hand and who was the right. Paranthaka Cholar supported both of them like his two eyes. Between one’s eyes one cannot pick and choose! It was the uncle of the current Pazhuvertaraiyars who served under Paranthakar. His name was Pazhuvertaraiyar Kandan Amuthanar. The Kodumbalur petty chief who helped Paranthaka Thevar was the father of Kodumabalur Siriya Velahr who lost his life in Eelam, (i.e. Vaanathi’s grandfather.)

The producers had been very careful in the treatment of the two petty chiefs, taking care not to portray any differences in their status or favor one over the other in their characterization. They acted in a way to highlight both of their bravery and fame. They pointed out that Paranthaka Thevar treated both of them as equals.

However it was soon apparent that the viewers didn’t perceive them as equals. It became known that some of them were on the side of Kodumabalur and some others were on the side of Pazhuvur. When the brave deeds of the Kodumabalur leader were acted out on the stage one side of the audience cheered. When the Pazhuvur warrior took the stage some others cheered. At first this competition was on a small scale; as the drama proceeded it grew. Midway through the play the audience shouted ‘Novel is a NOVEL!”, which rose and echoed in all directions. (Just like people cheer to show their support now, in those days it was customary for them to shout ‘Navalo Naval!’)

Kundavaidevi was highly entertained by this competitive cheering from the audience. When the Kodumabalur side’s cheering was strong she would provoke Vaanathi who was by her side by saying, “See, Vaanathi! Your side is now strong!” Innocent Vaanathi would also express her joy over it. When the Pazhuvur side’s cheering was strong the junior stateswoman would tell Nandhini, “Queen! Now your side is strong!” But, that this did not amuse Nandhini was apparent from her face. The fury in Nandhini’s mind grew ten times more intense to see, that a competition had arisen, that people were publicly participating in it and cheering, that the junior stateswoman was encouraging it further, and that she and that silly little girl Vaanathi were being considered equals and teased. Many times she thought of angrily walking away. Because if she did that it would appear that she was making a big deal out of the competition and that she was admitting her defeat, she bit her teeth and waited.

Kundavai noticed all of this. From Nandhini’s facial expression she could see the status of her mind as if through a looking glass. But there was another matter that was a complete mystery to the junior stateswoman. When the play showed Pandya king defeated in the war, obtaining asylum from the Ilankai king, then without aid from the Ilankai king running away to Sera Nadu, leaving the crown and the diamond necklace behind, – the audience was highly excited and entertained. But Nandhini’s face during these scenes showed great agony. The junior stateswoman wondered about the reason for this. Wishing to find out she began a conversation.  “It is a pity that the emperor could not sit with us and enjoy this excellent play! What grandfather accomplished hasn’t he also accomplished during his time? If only my father’s health would improve…” she said.

“His health would indeed improve. His precious daughter, you have come here. If the medicinal plants would arrive from Ilankai then the emperor would definitely be cured,” said Nandhini.

“Medicinal plants would come from Ilankai? What’s that?” asked Kundavai.

“You are asking as if you don’t know! Apparently the doctor in Pazhaiyarai had sent someone to get medicinal plants from Ilankai? I heard that you were the one who lent this person? Is that not true?”

Kundavai bit her lip. Even though the row of teeth were beautiful like jasmine buds, they did hurt the lips. Fortunately the conversation ended there with another chorus of cheering, ‘Novel is a NOVEL!”

The drama ended with well-wishes for Sundara Cholar’s life and reign. The crowd dispersed dancing with happiness as they went back home. The wives of the petty chiefs also went back with their retinues. Following that, empress Vanamadevi and other palace women went to the temple of goddess Thurgai.

Malaiamman’s daughter practiced many penances so that Sundaracholar’ health would improve. She frequently visited the goddess Thurgai’s temple. Throughout the nine days of Navarathiri there were many special poojas held for goddess Thurgai. Sacrifices were offered for the health of the emperor. It was usual for the queen to visit the temple each night and return after the midnight pooja. Many of the palace matrons accompanied the queen to the temple.

Young women were not usually taken to the sanctuary of Thurgai. The priests would sometimes be possessed by the spirit and dance frighteningly. They will recite histories of bad fortune. Because this might frighten the young women, they are not taken.

But who has the courage to stop the junior stateswoman saying, ‘You will be frightened!’ All through the nine days Kundavai also went with the elders to the temple of Thurgai and prayed to the goddess. At these times Vaanathi had to be alone in the palace.

On the night of the Paranthaka Thevar drama Vaanathi’s mind was filled with happiness. She felt proud after watching the brave deeds of her ancestors on the stage. Combined with that were thoughts of Ilankai. Thoughts of her father who died in the Eela war and the prince who had gone to avenge her father’s death occupied her mind. Sleep was nowhere near. Eyelids refused to close. Maybe she would fall sleep after speaking about the play with the junior stateswoman when she returns from the temple; definitely not before that.

Perhaps it would be better to take a stroll on the terrace rather than just lying here. From the palace terrace the entire Thanjai Nagar can be seen. Even the Thurgai temple may be visible – with these thoughts she rose from the bed. Even though Vaanathi was new to this palace it won’t be difficult to find the moonlit rooftop. With long corridors, pillars on both sides and lights throughout, what difficulty can there be?

The corridors went round and round. Many lights that were brightly luminescent in the evening were now turned out. Some were surrounded by smoke providing a dim light. On the way in nooks and corners maids were leaning or lying down and sleeping. Not wanting to wake them up to ask for directions Vaanathi kept walking. It seemed as if the palace corridors had no end at all.

All of a sudden a voice was heard. It sounded weak and sad. Vaanathi’s hair stood on end; her body trembled. Her feet froze.

Again the voice in distress:

“Is there nobody to save me?”

Aha! Doesn’t it sound like the emperor’s voice? Don’t know what danger he is in? Complications from his illness? Or can it be something else? The empress and the other matrons have gone to the temple! Is there no one next to the emperor? Let’s go and see.

Vaanathi slowly picked up her trembling feet and took a few steps. It seemed as if the voice was coming from down. The corridor also came to an end here. Bending down, a large hall was seen. Aha! Isn’t this the bedroom of the emperor? Yes; there is the emperor lying; he is lying there all alone. He is saying something else; let’s listen.

“You wretch! It is true! It is true that I had killed you! It was not intentional, yet I am the reason for your death. What are you telling me to do for that? It is now twenty five years. You chase me nonstop. Hasn’t your soul found any peace? Can’t you give me some peace? Tell me what I must do to redeem myself! I will do it. Let me be! …Aiyo! Is there no one who can rescue me from her torture? All are in search of a remedy for my body! Is there no one who can end my soul’s malady and save me!… Go! Go! Go from here! No, don’t go! Wait! Tell me what I should do and then go! Don’t torture me with silence! Open your mouth and say something before you leave!”

Like molten lead these words fell into Vaanathi’s ears. She shook from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. Unaware to herself, she bent down and peered. Inside the hall she looked in all four directions as far as her eyes could see.

There was a figure standing a little away from the emperor. It was a woman. Only half the figure was visible. The other half was hidden by the shadow of the pillar and the ahil smoke. As far as one could see… Ah! She looks like Pazhuvur Illaiyarani! Is this a dream?! An illusion? No! It is true! There, who is hiding behind that pillar? Isn’t it the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar? No doubt! It is him! Is it after seeing the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani, the emperor is speaking in this manner? ‘It is true that I killed you,’ he cried. What does it mean?

All of a sudden Vaanathi felt that she was about to faint, her head was turning. No, the entire palace was turning. Cheechee! I should not faint here. Not at all.

Vaanathi bit her teeth and moved from there. But the way back was never ending. It seemed as if her room would never arrive. Cannot. I cannot walk any further. I cannot stand also…

When the junior stateswoman returned from the temple she saw Vaanathi lying unconscious like a log in the middle of the corridor a little away from her room.

16. SUNDARA CHOLAR’S DELUSION

The next morning emperor Sundara Cholar had his beloved daughter brought to him. He ordered the attendants, nurses, doctors and everyone else to move away. He lovingly caressed Kundavai’s back while she sat next to him. Kundavai knew that he was having difficulty saying what he wanted to say.

“Father! Are you angry at me?” she asked.

Tears formed in Sundara Cholar’s eyes.

“Why would I be angry at you, child?” he said.

“For disobeying your order and coming to Thanjavur!”

“Yes; you ought not to have overlooked my order and come; this Thanjavur palace is not suitable for young women. You would have learnt this from the incident last night.”

“Which incident do you mean, Father?”

“I am speaking about the Kodumbalur princess fainting. How is she feeling now?”

“Nothing is wrong with her today, Father! In Pazhaiyarai also she would often faint in this manner. In a short time everything would be alright.”

“Did you ask her, child? Did she speak of seeing or hearing anything here in the palace last night?”

Kundavai thought for a while and then said, “Yes, Father! When we had all gone to Thurgai temple, she had tried to go to the terrace alone. At that time she heard someone wailing piteously. It made her afraid, she said.”

“That is what I thought. Even now do you realize, child? There is a spirit haunting this palace. You should not be here. Please leave!” As he spoke, Kundavai noticed Sundara Cholar’s body trembling and his eyes vacantly staring into the distance.

“Father! In that case why should you be here? Why should mother be here? Everyone can go to Pazhaiyarai, can’t they? It does not seem as if your health has improved because of your coming here?”

The emperor smiled sadly and said, “Why would my health improve? I don’t have that desire at all.”

“Why should you be so disappointed? Father! Pazhaiyarai doctor says that he can cure your ailment.”

“I heard that you believed what he said and had sent someone to Ilankai to fetch medicinal plants! I heard. Daughter! It shows the affection you have for me.”

“Father! Is it wrong for a daughter to have affection for her father?”

“There is nothing wrong with that. I have a daughter who loves me so much, it is my blessing. It was not a mistake to send someone to Ilankai for medicine. But whether the medicine comes from Ilankai, or from the island of Java, or even if ambrosia is delivered from heaven, my body is not going to recover in this birth…”

“Aiyaiyo! Don’t speak in that manner!” said the princess.

“You came here overstepping my order, child! I am truly glad for that. I have thought of baring my mind and telling you the truth one day. Now I have the opportunity. I will tell, listen! If the illness concerns the body it can be cured by medicines and roots. My illness is not of my body; what is the use of medicine for the sorrows of the mind?”

“Father! What incurable sorrows can be inflicting the mind of the emperor who reigns over the three worlds?”

“You are quoting from the wild imagination of the  poets, child! I am not an emperor of the three worlds; I don’t even rule over one world. My kingdom is a small patch in a corner of the world. I cannot even carry this burden…”

“Why should you carry, Father? Aren’t there those capable of carrying the weight of the kingdom? Like jewels you have two sons. Both are two lion cubs; bravest of the brave; capable of carrying any burden…”

“Daughter! It is when I think of that, my heart panics. Both of your brothers are indeed brave men. Like you I brought them up as the apple of my eye. I am doubting if I am serving them well by giving them this empire. Would you say it benefits them to give them a kingdom with a curse?”

“What sort of curse can this empire have? Our ancestors are the Sibi who gave his flesh to the dove, and Manu Neethi Cholar who gave his son for the calf. Karikalvalavar and Perunatkilli ruled this kingdom. The brave Vijayalaya Cholar who endured ninty six wounds on his body occupied this throne. Athitha Cholar who built one hundred and eight temples along the river Kaveri and Paranthakar who turned Chittampalam into Ponnampalam by weaving a gold roof have expanded this empire. This is the Dharma empire ruled by Kandarathithar who saw love as Sivam and represented both love and Sivam. What curse can befall such an empire? Father, you are caught in a delusion! If you will leave this Thanjavur fortress…”

“You don’t know what will happen the moment I leave this place! Do you think that I wait in this prison of a Thanjavur fortress leaving the beautiful Pazhaiyarai for the sake of happiness? Kundavai, by staying here I am saving this age old Chola empire from breaking into pieces. Think of what happened during last night’s theater! I was watching everything from the moonlit tower. It even occurred to me to stop the play…”

“Father! What is this? The play went on very well! I was thrilled by the glory of the Chola tradition. Why did you want to stop it? Which part of the musical didn’t you like?”

“The musical was fine, Daughter! I didn’t find any fault there. I am talking about the behavior of the spectators. Didn’t you hear the opposing stances of cheering by the Pazhuvur and Kodumbalur sides?”

“I heard, father!”

“While I am still here, they are behaving in this manner! Think of what will happen if I am not here! The moment I leave Thanjavur there will be a fight between the two sides. Like the descendants of Krishnaparamathma who destroyed each other, they will also perish. When they perish this great empire will also perish…”

“Father! You are the Chola empire’s powerful emperor. Both Pazhuvertaraiyars and Kodumabalur Veleer are obliged to bear on their heads what you dictate by your feet. If they disobey they are paving the way for their own destruction. Why should you worry?”

“Daughter! For the past hundred years both of these tribes have offered exemplary service to the Chola empire. Could the Chola empire have expanded and prospered like this without their help? If they perish won’t it weaken the empire also?”

“Father! If only you knew – that, of the two sides one consists of enemies who are plotting against you…”

Sundara Cholar looked at Kundavai in surprise and asked, “What are you saying, Daughter? A plot against me? Who is doing it?”

“Father! Some people who are pretending to be your faithful servants, they are plotting against you. They are scheming to dethrone your sons and crown someone else…”

“Crown whom? Crown whom, Daughter? Leaving your brothers out, whom are they trying to crown?” asked the emperor Sundara Cholar excitedly.

Kundavai in a soft voice said, “To Uncle Mathuranthakan, Father! While you are lying on a sickbed they are plotting this dangerous sabotage…”

Sundara Cholar sat up at once and said, “Aha! How great it would be if they should succeed in their attempt?”

Kundavai was struck by a thunderbolt.

“Father! What’s this, you will become the enemy of your own sons?” she said.

“No; I am not my sons’ enemy. I want to serve them well. They don’t need this cursed empire. If only Mathuranthakan would agree…”

“Why wouldn’t uncle agree? He is divinely agreeing. He is willing to take the throne tomorrow. Is that what you are going to do? Don’t you have to ask for my elder brother’s consent?”

“Yes; I must ask Athitha Karikalan. It’s not sufficient to just ask him. Your grandaunt must agree…”

“Will the mother refuse to crown her son?”

“Why won’t she? After being in the company of your grandaunt, you really don’t know her? I took the throne that day because of Sembiyan Madaevi’s assurance. I crowned Athithan also as prince. Kundavai! Your grandaunt has great affection for you. You speak to her nicely and get her consent to crown Mathuranthakan…”

Kundavai was shocked and remained silent.

“Then you go to Kanji! There you speak to your elder brother Athitha Karikalan and make him say, ‘I don’t want this cursed kingdom.’ We will crown Mathuranthakan. After that we can all be rid of the curse and have peace,” said the emperor.

“Father! You mention curse often? What is the curse you are talking about?” asked Kundavai.

“Daughter! They speak of previous birth, do you believe in it? They say that sometimes in this birth we are visited by memories from a previous birth, do you have faith in that?”

“Father! These are serious matters. What do I know, about such matters?”

“They speak of the ten incarnations of Mahavishnu? They say that Buddhabagvan had many incarnations before his last one? They tell beautiful stories about these previous incarnations?”

“I have heard, Father!”

“If it is true of god and the incarnate deities, can ordinary men be without previous births?”

“There can be, Father!”
“Sometimes I have recollections from my previous birth, Daughter! I have not spoken to anyone until now about these. Even if I did no one will believe me; no one will understand. They will say that I am afflicted with madness along with my bodily ailments. They will think that it wasn’t enough to trouble me with doctors alone and they will begin to bring magicians…”

“Yes; Father! Even now some are saying that. They say that your ailment will not be cured by medicine; they want to bring in magicians…”

“You see? Would you also think that? Would you laugh at what I am going to say?”

“Do you have to ask, Father! Don’t I know how hurt your mind is? Would I laugh at you?” said Kundavai. Tears welled in her eyes.

“I know, Daughter! That is why I am telling you what I haven’t told anyone else. I will tell some of the recollections from my previous birth, listen!” said Sundara Cholar.

A beautiful island lay surrounded by sea on all four sides. Green trees grew densely all over the island. Where there were no trees shrubs had taken over. Near the seashore a young man was hiding behind a bush. He was focused on a ship with an open sail in the sea at a distance. He stood watching until it disappeared. Then he sighed, “God! I am free!”

The young man was born to royalty, but he had no right to the kingdom.; he too did not have a desire to rule. There were three brothers born before his father. Therefore he didn’t dream of ruling; he didn’t desire it. He went with the garrison that went across the sea to war. He was given a small troop to command. In the war his garrison lost. Countless number of people died. In the troop headed by the young man also everyone died. The young man also performed many brave acts in the war risking his life. Even then he did not die. Those who escaped alive, belonging to the garrison that lost reached the harbor. They prepared to return to their motherland. The young man alone did not want to return. He didn’t want to go back to the motherland after losing everyone in his troop. Those who belonged in his tribe were famously known as great warriors. He didn’t want to tarnish that fame through his actions. Therefore, when the ship was on its way, when a beautiful island came into view at a distance, the young man jumped into the sea without anyone knowing. He swam and reached the island shore. He waited until the ship disappeared from sight. Then he climbed on a tree, sat on one of the low branches and looked around. He was attracted by the island’s beauty. But it appeared to lack human habitation. It didn’t occur to him as a deficiency at that time. His excitement grew. He leaned on the branch and was daydreaming about his future.

Suddenly, a human voice, a female voice was heard shouting. He turned and looked. A young woman was running while shouting. A dangerous bear ran following her. As he was watching the bear got closer and closer to the girl. The distance between the two was shrinking. There was no time to think of anything else. The young man dropped from the tree. He took the spear that he had leaned on the tree and ran. The bear had approached the girl and was about to place its frightening toenails on her neck. At that moment he aimed and threw his spear. The spear attacked the bear. The bear let out a scream loud enough to be heard by all seven worlds and turned. The girl escaped, but the young man was in danger. The wounded bear leaped toward him. There was an interminable war between the young man and the bear. Finally the young man won.

As soon as he won the young man’s eyes searched in all four directions. Even he didn’t know at first what he was searching for. Then it became apparent. The girl his eyes had searched for, was standing behind a coconut tree that grew bent, and crooked, leaning on it. There was surprise in her eyes and happiness on her face. She was a girl of the jungle. Her appearance and attire suggested that she was unaware of the world’s genteel life. But there was no likeness to her beauty in this world. Standing there she appeared like the painting of a talented artist. The young man decided that even if in reality she was a woman, she could not be of this world. He moved closer. But she did not disappear as he had expected. Unexpectedly she began to race. He ran behind her for a short distance. Then he stopped. Because he was very tired he could not follow the woman who was running like a deer. Moreover, he considered it ill-mannered to follow a woman.

‘She is from this small island! Aren’t I not going to see her again?’ he thought. He lay down to rest on the clear sand of the beach. His expectations were not in vain. In a short while the girl returned. She brought an elderly man with her. He found out that the man belonged to the ‘karaiyar’ tribe, people who made a living catching fish along the Ilanakai island’s shore. Through him the young man learned an important fact. That is that the girl saved his life at a crucial moment. When he was seated on the branch staring out at the sea, a bear had come behind him and was watching him. Then it started to climb the tree. The girl was looking at all of this. She shouted to distract the bear and to warn the young man. The bear gave up climbing the tree and started to chase her.

Does one need to describe the young man’s feelings when he heard this? He thanked the girl who saved him. But she didn’t utter a word in reply. At each turn the man accompanied her replied. The young man found this curious at first. When he found out the truth there was nothing strange about it. The girl was dumb who did not know how to speak. When he found out that she could not hear also, the young man’s heart softened and melted. Because of it his affection for the girl grew ten times more. The surroundings and opportunity favored the affection to flourish and grow. Her eyes revealed the wondrous truths and innermost secrets that her mouth could not say. What other language is there in this world that is equal to the language of the eyes? Similarly to compensate for her hearing she had a powerful sense of smell. She could identify with her powers the wild animal that would hide deep in the forest. But does any of this matter? When two hearts come together, why worry about the other senses? To the young man the island was heaven on earth. Days, months and years – passed in this way. He forgot to keep count of the days or years.

One day suddenly the end came to the young man’s heavenly life. A ship came and anchored near the island. From it many arrived in boats and catamarans. To find out who they were the young man approached them. He found out that they had come in search of him. Many unexpected events had taken place in his country. His father’s two elder brothers had died. Another one didn’t have children. He found out that because of this there was a big empire waiting for him. There was a big storm in his mind. He did not have the heart to leave the beautiful island and the dumb girl who turned it into a paradise on earth. At the same time he was pulled by the desire to see his country and his people. He found out that his birthplace was surrounded by danger from all sides. He heard the clamor of the war drums from far far away. This helped him to make a decision.

“I will return; I will fulfill my duty and return,” he promised the girl a thousand times and left. The dumb woman who was born and raised in the jungle did not want to come in front of the townsmen. When the young man climbed into the boat she was watching from a distance seated on the same old bent coconut tree. To the young man her two eyes then appeared like two oceans of tears. Even then he turned his heart into a rock and climbed into the boat to reach the ship…

“Kundavai! That fisherfolk girl was standing there and watching, the memory of that scene appears in front of my eyes often. However much I try, I cannot forget it. Another, even more sorrowful scene, a scene that makes my heart shudder appears often. It pains and agonizes me day and night, in sleep and wakefulness. Shall I relate that also?” Sundara Cholar looked at his beloved daughter and asked.

Her throat coarse, voice cracking with emotion Sundara Cholar’s beloved daughter answered, “Please tell, Father!”

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