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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (1)

October 18, 2015

From Part III of the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthy.

1. At Kodikarai

From the middle of the ocean the cyclone hastily made its way along the Chola Nadu coast. It left a terrifying scene of destruction along its path as if a dim-witted stone-cutter had run down with chisel in hand powdering everything in sight. From Kodikarai to Nagapattinam the work of Vayubaghvan could be seen along the coast. Trees lay on the ground with broken branches and uprooted roots. The cyclone carried the roofs of houses to far-off places and left them there shattered. Huts had dwindled down to mere walls. In Kodikarai wherever one looked it was a sea of floodwater. It appeared that the sea had come to live on the earth for good. But the white sandy area between the sea and land disproved this theory. Water was stagnant in the white sandy area only at places where quicksand lay. These places were live-graves for man or animal that stepped in! The quicksand pits would simply burp swallowing even whole elephants!

Two days after the cyclone, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and his entourage reached Kodikarai. The palankeen also followed. But it was Illaiyarani Nandhinidevi who was in the palankeen this time. There was no necessity now to take Mathuranthaka Thevar covertly. Moreover, when Nandhini said, ‘The palankeen would be useful to Mathuranthakar when the need arose, only if the Illaiyarani made use of it at times!’ – Pazhuvertaraiyar agreed happily. For the old man blinded by love, it was only natural to want to take this beautiful woman around!

They had reached Nagapattinam before the cyclone. The treasurer took care of his official duties first.

Nagapattinam was then one of Tamil Nadu’s most important harbors. Various goods were being unloaded from large ships that arrived from foreign countries. Thousands of small boats brought these goods to the shore. From the shore they carried goods for exchange to the ships. There were many officials in charge of levying taxes on these goods. Is it not the responsibility and obligation of the treasurer, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, to supervise and assess the work of these men?

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, after his official work, visited Nagapattinam’s Soodamani Buddhist shrine. The monks received him cordially in a manner befitting his status. The treasurer made inquiries whether the shrine was in need of anything or if the monks had any grievances. The monks replied in the negative and expressed their appreciation of Sundara Chola king.

A few days before two monks from this vihara had come to see the emperor. On behalf of the Buddhist Academy they expressed their wishes to Sundara Cholar that he should recover from his illness and be well soon. At that time they also expressed their appreciation of the many benevolent deeds that Prince Arulmozhivarmar was performing in Ilankai for Buddhism. They said that the Buddhist Academy in Ilankai was extremely happy with the initiative that the prince had undertaken to renovate the fallen Buddhist monuments. “Great Emperor! We also heard another good news. A majority of the monks are of the opinion that they should grant the ancient throne of Ilankai to your younger son and crown him as the king of Ilankai! They are discussing the matter among them! What more do we need as evidence of our prince’s glory!”

As he listened a strange idea dawned in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mind. After the monks left he shared it with emperor Sundara Cholar.

“Lord who rules the three worlds! Your power is widespread and reigns in all eight directions. There is no one on this sprawling earth who does not obey your command. But your two sons have proved to be the exception. There are certain people in high places in the Chola kingdom who are providing them bad counsel. Athitha Karikalan refuses to come here rejecting your wish and had instead sent a letter inviting you to come to Kanji. It is no one else who provides him this bad advice; it is indeed your uncle Thirukovalur Malaiamman. In the same way you have sent word many times asking your younger son to return from Eezhanadu. I am also tired of sending word separately. That Kodumbalur elder Velan is obstructing my people from meeting the prince, and our letter from reaching the prince. If not, would your beloved son not return for so long after knowing about your wish? Under these circumstances I have thought of an idea. With your permission I would like to talk about it,” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

With the emperor’s approval the treasurer went on. “We would send an order for the imprisonment of the prince, charging him with the crime of plotting to take the throne of Ilankai. Poothi Vikrama Kesari cannot stop such an injunction. Moreover, if we somehow see that the order reaches the prince directly, then the prince will certainly return!”

Sundara Cholar smiled upon hearing this. Strange idea indeed; yet, why not use it? The emperor’s heart was filled with an overwhelming desire to see Ponniyin Selvar. He realized that his final days were nearing. Therefore he wanted to share his hope for the kingdom with his beloved Ilango. If Arulmozhivarman knows of his wish to hand the kingdom over to Mathuranthakan he will agree without a word of opposition. Through him then it will be easier to change Athitha Karikalan’s mind.

These thoughts led the emperor to agree to the treasurer’s idea. Accordingly the order was sent to arrest Arulmozhivarmar and bring him back. The captain of the ship was also given strict orders that no harm should befall the prince during the operation.

After the ships left for Eezhanadu with these orders the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar became a little worried. He realized that if anything happened to the prince the blame will fall on him. Therefore he wanted to go in person to Nagapattinam harbor and give a proper welcome to the prince and bring him back solely as his responsibility.

There were other reasons also. He should not allow Chempian Madevi or Kundavai to see the prince before he comes and meets the king in Thanjai. They both had a lot of influence on the prince; they hated the Pazhuvertaraiyars. Therefore they will say something to spoil the mind of the prince. Before the time arrives, that is before Sundara Cholar dies, something untoward may happen to wreck their scheme.

Moreover, since the guard was attacked from behind in the underground treasury cellar, several incongruous suspicions have appeared in the treasurer’s mind. Could someone have been hiding in the cellar holding the treasures? In that case, who can it be? Can it be the Varnar tribe soldier who escaped being caught by the Thanjai fortress guards? In that case won’t he be privy to many other secrets also?

As the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar says can the magician who comes often to see Nandhini be involved in this? This also needs to be cleared. The treasurer was shaken up with the news that it was the junior stateswoman Kundavaidevi who sent Vandhiyathevan with a letter to Prince Arulmozhivarmar. What message would she have sent through Vandhiyathevan? Has the news about the decision made by him and Sambuvaraiyar and others reached this female serpent? Could she have sent word about it?

In whichever case, it is best that he be the first person to meet the prince when he disembarks on the Chola Nadu coast. Since the order stipulated to bring Vandhiyathevan along with the prince, he would meet him also. He must find out what Vandhiyathevan knows and to what extent.

Therefore the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar decided to go to Nagapattinam. Nandhinidevi had more reasons than him. She was very eager to see Vandhiyathevan again and find out about the letter that Kundavai sent through him. She was also eager to find out how much success the magician Ravithasan has had in his mission. Therefore she said that she would also come to Nagapattinam. Does one have to be bribed for a taste of the sugarcane? The old man immediately agreed. He began to dream about his journey with Nnadhini in a pleasure boat along the coast. He hoped that the desire that had been burning his body and soul may find its resolution during this trip.

It was while Pazhuvertaraiyar and Nandhini were in Nagapattinam that the cyclone blew in. Nandhini enjoyed the wind’s wrathful dalliance. She rejoiced seeing the waves rising and falling to the height of the coconut trees on the shore. But  Pazhuvertaraiyar’s fantasy of taking a pleasure trip in the boat did not materialize.

After the cyclone had passed wreaking havoc, Pazhuvertaraiyar made inquiries about the ships in the sea and the boats, whether they had suffered any damage. Because the people on the coast had known about the cyclone and had taken precautions they did not incur much damage. But some fishermen who had gone fishing said that at mid sea between Eezham and Kodikarai there were two ships struggling and that one of them caught fire and sank. The news gave Pazhuvertaraiyar much dismay. These two vessels could be the ships that had the imprisoned prince! If anything had happened to the prince it would place an enormous amount of blame on him! Arulmozhivarmar is enormously popular with the Chola Nadu people. What is to be said to the people? What justification can be given to the emperor? – He was very eager to find out what had really taken place. At Kodikarai it may be possible to get more details. There may be people who had had a good look at the drowned ship. Some of those who escaped from the drowned ship may have even reached the shore. Yes; he must immediately leave for Kodikarai!

When Nandhini was told about this plan she eagerly agreed. “I have never seen Kodikarai. I have heard that it is very beautiful there. Given this opportunity I will be able to see that place also,” said Nandhini.

From Nagapattinam there were two routes leading to Kodikarai. One was by boat in the canal along the coast. The other was the road. Because Pazhuvertaraiyar’s entourage had many people, they took the road. Moreover, Nandhini did not want the canal route. One reason was that Nandhini was afraid that Pazhuvertaraiyar would begin his love incantations on the boat. Not only that, on the road it would be possible to find out what the boatmen and catamaran people along the coast knew!

Nothing new came out of these inquiries on the road. A few more people said that they saw a ship burning in the middle of the sea when the cyclone was at its peak.

When they reached Kodikarai the lighthouse-keeper, Thiyaga Vidankar offered his humble abode to the Pazhuvertaraiyar couple. He begged them to take it. There was no other house or palace in Kodikarai. However Nandhini rejected it. She said that she wanted a tent installed next to the lighthouse.

Accordingly tents were put up. At a slight distance more tents were set up for others traveling with them. When they finished setting up the tents they saw a large vessel in the sea. After coming as far as it could toward the shore it stopped.

When Pazhuvertaraiyar saw this his excitement grew. It was clear from its torn sails that the ship was caught in the cyclone. Who were in it? Perhaps it is the prince? The missing tiger flag was not surprising. It could have been blown away in the cyclone!

To find out, Pazhuvertaraiyar sent a boat. It looked as if those on the ship had been waiting for a boat. At once two men climbed down into the boat. One of them was Parthipenthira Pallavan.

Prince Arulmozhivarmar who left the ship to save Vandhiyathevan had not returned! Because of this Parthipenthiran was torn apart by worry. When the wind subsided and dawn broke out he navigated the ship here and there searching. Barely alive, only one of the men who left in the boat with the prince was found. He told of what happened to the boat after the prince had valiantly rescued Vandhiyathevan. Upon hearing this, Parthipenthiran’s misery grew ten fold higher. Amidst his doubts there was a flicker of hope that they could have been washed ashore alive towards Kodikarai.

Therefore he decided to go to Kodikarai in search of them. He brought the ship and had it anchored there. After climbing into the boat he found out that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was there with his Illaiyarani. This made him furious.

He was reminded of all of what Athitha Karikalan had told him about the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani Nandhini. In a corner at the bottom of his heart there also rose a desire to see this fascinating woman who had so devastatingly captured that great warrior’s heart and driven the man mad. Soon this desire grew fanning its flames. There was also the anxiety that perhaps he will not be able to see her.

But this anxiety did not last long. Once the boat reached the shore they took Parthipenthiran directly to Pazhuvertaraiyar’s tent. At the entrance Pazhuvertaraiyar stood majestically. Parthipenthiran thought what a grave mistake it was to call this well built heroic warrior an ‘old man.’ More than many of the young men he had seen he appeared to be a lion with a powerful physique and a strong mind.

While he was thus contemplating a woman stepped out of the tent. Like the lightening that shines from behind the clouds this golden hued woman dazzled the eyes with her radiance. Like the flowering vine that spreads over the tall and well grown teak she stood in front of Pazhuvertaraiyar. Directing her piercing eyes on to Parthipenthiran who stood mesmerized by this attractive woman she asked, “Lord! Who is this heroic man? I have never seen him before!” Like the sip of sweet liquor from a golden vessel her charming patter intoxicated Parthipenthiran.

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