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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (7-9)

December 5, 2015

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

7. Song in the Forest

At the same time that Poongkuzhali became angry and stopped running, a melodious sweet sound of singing rose in that dark forest.

“… of the golden body

waist clad in tiger skin

red sandal wood lustrous locks 

tied in flower of golden shower

king of all great

precious jewel of Mazhapadi!

if not you

who else is there for me to think of?” 

Poongkuzhali at once recognized it as Senthan Amuthan’s voice. She laughed merrily. She even forgot that the sound of footsteps had come from a different direction.

“Cousin! Is that you?”

“Yes! Poongkuzhali!”

“Where are you? Come here!”

“Here I am,” Senthan Amuthan appeared in front of her.

“You have thoroughly frightened me! Why did you follow me like this?”

“Poongkuzhali! To see you and hear your beautiful singing I journeyed from Thanjai for many days. Even after arriving here I waited all these days without being able to see you! I just saw you accidentally and started running behind you. Why did you run like that? Where, please sing a song, let’s hear it!”

“Nice place to be singing; and a nicer time, too!”

“If you won’t sing, I will sing another song. I will wake all the sleeping animals in the forest and make them run, see!

“mad man! wearing the crescent moon on his head

lord! graciously benevolent god!”

“Enough, Cousin! Just stop the singing for a second!”

“Then will you sing?” – after asking in a loud voice, Senthan Amuthan lowered his voice and said, “Poongkuzhali! There was another guy following you. To warn you I began singing loudly. This evening there was a secret discussion between him and your sister-in-law. Do you know who he is?”

Then in a loud voice, “What do you say? Will you sing? Shall I sing? Sivaperuman sang in the graveyard; can’t you sing in this wasteland?”

“I am singing; don’t be upset!” Poongukuzhali sang the following:

“our parrots that fly! our maina birds that sing!

leader fit to be my moral vision

unforgettable (over him) homeless and

sleepless you have made me!”

After singing, she asked in a soft voice, “Amutha! How did you know that I was here?”

“Poongkuzhali! From the top of the lighthouse I saw the boat coming. Thinking that it could be you I came here looking. At the same time some Pzhuvur men also were coming here. I did not see you in the boat. But I saw my friend Vallavaraiyan and the prince. I told Vallavaraiyan about the Pazhuvur men headed this way. The two of us then carried the prince to the hidden building.”

“Aiyo! What a big mistake! What happened to the boat?”

“We turned the boat over in the water thinking that it may cause suspicion if anyone sees it! – Why, Poongkuzhali! Why have you stopped singing! Sing the rest!” Senthan Amuthan said the last part in a loud voice.

“I have forgotten Amutha, isn’t there a song about this Kodikarai Kuzhakar! Do you remember it? – If you do, sing!”

“Oh! I remember!” Senthan Amuthan said in a loud voice before singing:

“where strong winds come and strike

is it any fault to dwell on the shore?

this evil man’s eyes have seen, kodikuzhakeer

lord, who was there for you by your side!”

When the song ended Poongkuzhali asked in a soft voice, “Cousin! Has the man who was following me gone? Is he hiding on the side?”

“After we stopped here, the footsteps were not heard. He must be hiding somewhere near here. Do you know who he is?”

Loudly, Poongkuzhali said, “Why not? I know very well. What Sundarar has sung about Kodikarai owls? Here, listen!

“overgrown jungle a maiden will fear from

owls and hooters screeching together from their hollows

in this corner of dishonest devotees and wickedly vile men

kuzhaka! you have made this your temple here!

Do you see! Amutha! In Sundaramoorthi’s time also owls and hooters have screeched just like today. But now in this jungle even people are sounding like owls. A while ago I heard such a cry. Do you know anything about who this jealous imitator can be?” Pongkuzhali asked in a loud voice. Then she added, “Let me see if I can screech like that. Tell me if it sounds like an owl!”

Three times she made a sound imitating the owl. “It’s just like an owl! You sing divine hymns in a voice sweeter than honey! Where did you learn this?” Amuthan asked.

“I learned from a magician. It seems that for the magic to work one must know how to hoot like an owl!”

“What, you know magic tricks also?”

“I know a little. Do you want to test my magical power?”

“How do I test?”

“There is someone hiding near us listening to our talk. If you want look around!”

Before Poongkuzhali finished speaking they could hear something moving nearby. Magician Ravithasan came out of hiding. “Ha, ha, ha!” – he was laughing.

“Girl! Is that so? I thought you knew tricks; you know magic too?” He asked.

“Desperate sinner! Is that you?”

“Girl! Do you know who I am?”

“You tried to kill the prince in Ilankai. You could not do it. Therefore in the middle of the sea you concocted a cyclone through your magic and drowned the prince and his friend!”

“How do you know for sure that they drowned? Did you see?’

“Both their bodies were washed up on the shore. I dug a hole and buried both of them in Poothatheevu. Traitor! May your magic be struck down by thunder!”

“Girl! Don’t try to deceive me! Didn’t you counter my magic with yours and save both of them?”

“Aiyo! How did you know about that?”

“In addition to the eyes on the outside this Ravithasan also has eyes on the inside. I will find out by my magical power what goes on even at a distance of thousand miles.”

“Then why are you questioning me?”

“To test you! Tell me where you have hidden them! Or else I will burn both of you to ashes here and now!” Ravitahsan said.

His eyes on the outside turned red like burning hot coals.

“What? Are you going to tell the truth or not? Ohm Hhreem Hhram Vashtt! – Here, I will unleash my magic.”

Trembling with fear Poongkuzhali held on to Senthan Amuthan tightly. Softly she said to him, “I am going to run now. You try to stop him!”

To the magician, in a loud voice, “Don’t do anything to me. I will show where they are,” she said.

After saying, “Come with me! I will show you,” she walked in a direction opposite to where the old building lay.

The magician began to follow her. From behind Senthan Amuthan grabbed him and tried to stop him.

Poongkuzhali started to run. After pushing Senthan Amuthan in one shove that made him topple head over heels, the magician ran behind Poongkuzhali.

Like a deer Poongkuzhali leaped and ran. As the hunter chasing the deer the magician also ran. But it was no easy task catching her.

Just as the magician wondered if he should give up chasing her, Poongkuzhali also paused as if tired.

Behind the two of them stumbling and falling Senthan Amuthan also followed. While running he wondered if he should go to the hidden building and warn those there. At the same time he was also reluctant to leave Poongkuzhali alone with the magician.

Poongkuzhali was standing on a hill. Not merely pausing, she turned and clapped her hands to call the magician. Panting the magician went and stood near her. Just as he was contemplating grabbing her and delivering four slaps on her cheeks, Poongkuzhali said, “Look at my lovers over there!”

The magician looked in the direction that she pointed. He too saw the scene that Vandhiyathevan saw once before. ‘Kup, kup’ – transient columns of fire shot up from the bog and then, ‘cup, cup’ – they disappeared. Even though Ravithasan knew the reason for the terrifying spectacle he felt his blood curdling.

“Magican! If you know magic then cast your magic to drive these fire-mouthed devils away, let’s see! They frighten me!” She said.

Ravithasan was furious.

“Girl! Are you trying to fool me?” He roared.

“Why should I fool you?”

“Aren’t you giving me the run around saying that you will show me where the prince and Vallavaraiyan are?”

“You didn’t believe me when I said that they were dead. What else can I do?”

“Is it true that the prince died? Can you swear that it is?”

“Why swear?Look at the sky there!”

Ravithasan looked at the sky. The comet with the tail appeared there.

“Don’t you know that comet signifies death in the royal family? It happened just like that.” Poongkuzhali said.

“Girl! In that case give me that carafe in your hand; is there anything left in it? Running behind you, I feel thirsty! …”

Poongkuzhali suddenly began to run again. She leaped from the hill and ran toward the bog where the fire-mouthed devils were appearing and disappearing. In his fury Ravithasan lost his mind. He surrendered to the murderous rage of wanting to catch Poongkuzhali and strangle her neck. He ran behind her not knowing head or tail about where he was headed.

After a short distance of running Poongkuzhali abruptly moved sideways about four or five feet. Ravithasan who was chasing her at very high speed could not pause where she did. After moving past her a few feet he came to a stop. Turning he tried to leap and catch her; but he could not. What has happened to the legs? Why are they not moving? Why do they feel so chilled?

What’s this? From the soles the cold is spreading up? No, no! The legs are sinking down. Ravithasan looked down. Yes, he saw his legs gradually sinking into the bog. Atom by atom, inch by inch, his legs were slowly being covered by mud.

Ravithasan realized his predicament. He tried to come out of the mud. He tried by pulling and stomping his legs out. His trials were of no use.

It felt as if there was a gigantic monster underneath that was grabbing him and pulling him. Poongkuzhali laughed out loud.

“Magician! What are you gaping? Did you get caught in the devil’s mouth? Just work your magic spell!”

The magician trembled in fear as well as anger.

“Wretched woman! Is this your work?” He squeezed his knuckles.

“Didn’t you want to break my neck? Instead just crack your knuckles!” She said.

Keeping his anger under control, “Girl! I promise. I will not do anything to you, just give me your hand and pull me out,” he said.

“Ha, ha, ha!” Poongkuzhali laughed. “I cannot pull you out! Call all the demons and devils that your magic can summon!” She said.

By now Ravithasan had gone under up to his thighs. His face looked grotesque. His eyes glistened as red hot coals.

He extended his hand and clutched the edge of the quicksand pit. He grabbed the base of the reed that grew there long and profuse. Again he tried to come out of the mud. But he could not move his legs.

“Girl! You will be blessed! Please save me!” He howled.

By now Senthan Amuthan had arrived there. In a second he realized Ravithasan’s plight. In his eyes appeared a sign of mercy.

Poongkuzhali looked at him and said, “Come, let’s go!”

“Aiyo! We leave him like this!”

“Why, do you want to see until he disappears completely in the mud?”

“No, no! If I leave him like this here I will have nightmares for the rest of my life. Let’s get him out.”

“Cousin! He wanted to strangle me.”

“God will punish him for his sins. We will save him.”

“In that case give me your shawl,” said Poongkuzhali.

Amuthan gave her his shawl. Poongkuzhali tied one end of the shawl to the base of the bush bordering the quicksand. She handed the other end to Ravithasan.

“Magician! Look here! Hold on to this end of the shawl. If you pull too hard the plant will get uprooted. Therefore hold gently. Don’t try to come out on your own! When the sun comes up there will be someone coming this way. They will save you!” She said.

“Aiyo! Do I have to spend the whole night like this? I can’t. You may as well kill me before leaving!”

Poongkuzhali did not care about his loud cries. She grabbed Senthan Amuthan by the hand and started to run back in the direction they had come. The magician’s howls continued to be heard as they ran up the hill and until they climbed back down into the forest on the other side.

Once the cries died down Poongkuzhali asked, “Cousin, you came at a good time! How did you end up here? Why?”

“After the experience in the dungeon I did not like being in Thanjavur. Pazhuvur soldiers and spies came often to harass me. Therefore I went to Pazhaiyarai. Kundavai Devi sent me here. Because the prince was in a lot of danger, she wanted me to tell Vandhiyathevan to take him to the Soodamani Viharam in Nagapattinam. I also wanted to see you and hear you sing …”

“You chose a good time to be singing! What the junior stateswoman said is true. The obstacles facing the prince are not trivial. In addition to the schemes of the enemies, he has caught the chills and fever also.”

“Yes, I also saw that. The two of us together carried him to the hidden building. It was very difficult. Poongkuzhali! The Buddhist monks at Nagapattinam Soodamani Viharam are experts in the practice of medicine. They will cure the prince.”

“How do we take him to Nagapattinam?”

“By the canal route, of course!”

“How do we take the canal route? Both of you have lost the boat.”

“The boat is turned over in the water. We will bring it back up!”

“In that case we must start tonight. Can we all go in that little boat?”

“We don’t have to Poongkuzhali! We have discussed it and made a decision. Vallavaraiyan will go directly to Pazhaiyarai from here. You and I will take the prince in the boat to Nagapattinam.”

Poongkuzhali felt goosebumps on her skin. Once again a journey with the prince! In the canal, in the boat until Nagapattinam! No danger should arise on the way.

Both of them reached the hidden building. Senthan Amuthan clapped his hands loudly.

“Who’s there? Vandhiyathevan’s stern voice was heard.

“It’s me, Senthan!”

“Who else?”

“My uncle’s daughter!”

Vandhiyathevan came to the opening of the building and peeked outside.

“No one else is there, is there?”

“No, why the suspicion?”

“Speak softly; the prince is sleeping. Some fellow came here a short time ago. I came outside thinking it was you. It was not you. It looked like the magician.”

“Then?”

“At the same time your singing started. You chose a good time to sing. The magician heard it and went back. Did you see him?”

“We did.”

“What did you do to him?”

“I didn’t do anything. She is the one who got him waist deep in quicksand and left him there!”

“I heard her voice also!”

“Yes, Poongkuzhali also sang one song.”

“The prince appeared to wake up with that song. He asked, ‘Who is singing?’ ‘The boatwoman,’ I said. Listening to the song he went to sleep again.

Again Poongkuzhali felt the goosebumps.

“Did she only sing! She screeched like an owl too!”

“That too fell in my ears. I figured that there was something strange going on in the jungle. You – cousin, and uncle’s daughter – were enacting a spring ritual, I thought …”

“What is this useless talk?” said Poongkuzhali.

“What else to do? We must somehow while away the night!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“No, if we remain here at sunrise we will not survive. We must leave during the night.”

Faraway, foxes began to howl. An owl’s cry was also heard in the midst of that howl.

Senthan Amuthan shuddered. Before his mind’s eye the scene appeared where the magician is trapped in the mud, the foxes surround him howling and slowly encroaching and the magician resorting to screeching like an owl to drive the foxes away.

***

Without disturbing his sleep, Vandhiyathevan and Senthan Amuthan carried the prince. Poongkuzhali followed.

When they reached the canal the moon had risen. They left the prince on the side leaning against a tree, still asleep. Leaving Poongkuzhali to sit next to him Vandhiyathevan and Senthan Amuthan stepped into the water.

With great effort they brought the sunken boat up and turned it over.

The prince opened his eyes. In a faint voice he said, “Thirsty!”

Poongkuzhali who was next to him watching, poured the milk from the carafe into his mouth.

After drinking  a little he said, “Poongkuzhali! Is that you? It felt as if a divine maiden from heaven was pouring ambrosia into my mouth.”

8. ‘Aiyo! Ghost!’

The divine tree of life shed colorful flowers over Poongkuzhali. Heaven’s own woodwind instruments played sweet melodies. Why? Poongkuzhali’s own nerves formed the strings for the lute producing heavenly music. The prince’s tender words intoxicated her so.

“Prince! I am no maiden from heaven; poor boatwoman that I am. What you drank was also not ambrosia from heaven. It is milk from Kuzhakar temple.” She said.

“If you say that you are no maiden from heaven, would I believe it? Aren’t you the beloved daughter of Varunan. Princess of the Ocean! How many times you have given me life! How would I return the favor?” The prince said.

“Sir! You must permit this poor woman to be with you one more day and night,” said Poongkuzhali.

“How is that possible? Don’t I have to start for Pazhaiyarai at once,” asked the prince.

“No, news has arrived to take you to Nagapattinam.”

“From whom?”

“From the junior stateswoman, of course!”

“Who is that other person? Who is pulling the boat with Vandhiyathevan?”

“My cousin Senthan Amuthan. It is through him, the junior stateswoman had sent word. To take you to the Soodamani Viaharam in Nagapattinam.”

“Aha! Has my sister’s mind changed? Has she given up the desire to crown me? For a long time I have wanted to join the Buddhist Academy. I will join the Buddhist Academy and become a monk. I will travel to faraway countries; Java – Kadaram – Mayirudingham – Mapapalam – China! Aha, my luck is real; Poongkuzhali! Come, let’s go!” While speaking the prince stood up.

Poongkuzhali suspected that he had not gained his full senses yet, that he was still speaking in a feverish state.

At the same time in the distance there was the sound of someone crying.

 The prince stood up startled, and said, “Poongkuzhali! What is that?”

“The owl is screeching, Sir!” She said.

“No! This is human voice! A cry for help by someone in danger! Let’s save him. Before joining the Buddhist academy, let’s do a good deed!” The prince tried to leap and run. But he fell down in the exertion. Poongkuzhali caught him.

The two men who dragged the boat up came running. Gently they carried the prince who had again lost consciousness to the boat and laid him there carefully.

The boat started to move in the canal. Except for the prince the other three sat pressed against each other in the little space.

Vandhiyathevan said, “Poongkuzhali! It is difficult for the boat to carry four people. In any case I should be saying goodbye. Let me get down here. It is your responsibility to take the prince safely. I don’t have to stress that to you!”

His voice cracked. When the moon’s rays fell on his face tear drops glistened like pearls in his eyes.

“Can’t you get down after we pass the Kodikarai forest? I have left my horse there. You will recognize it!” Senthan Amuthan said.

“No. I will get down here. I will sleep for a while in the Kuzhakar temple compound and leave before sunrise. Or else I won’t be able to travel tomorrow. Who knows how many obstacles lie on the way!” Vandhiyathevan answered.

Poongkuzhali took the bundle that she had kept until then safely tied around her waist and gave it to him. “Here! Kuzhakar kovil devotional food. Eat this and sleep!” She said.

“You also have not eaten anything. Don’t you need it?”

“Once we pass Kodikarai about ten miles into the canal there will be many villages. Either Senthan or I will go and find some food. Your case is not the same. You have to reach Pazhaiyarai without anyone seeing you!”

“You should not forget that the prince is in the boat.”

“Who will believe that it is the prince who is on this boat? Don’t worry about it! Our responsibility. No one will notice this tattered boat.”

“Alright, in that case I will get down here.”

At that time, again, the crying sound was heard. “Ah! What is that,” asked the prince before losing consciousness one more time.

Poongkuzhali stood up.

“Can’t; I cannot, if the prince finds out he will not forgive me. Stay in the boat a little longer. I will get that magician out of the mud. From here it is not very far!” She jumped out of the boat on to the ground.

“In that case I will also come with you. I will not leave you alone with that treacherous man,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“No, Amutha! You stay on the boat! Watch the prince carefully. I will go with Poongkuzhali. I too have matters to settle with the magician!” Vandhiyathevan ran behind Poongkuzhali.

The desperate sight of the magician buried up to his chest in the mud surrounded by foxes that were hunkering to tear him apart and feast on him appeared in Poongkuzhali’s mind. Along with it was the sight of the prince accusing her, ‘Woman! You are a murderous and villainous being!’ These mental pictures made her legs move fast. Soon she was at the quicksand that entrapped the magician. She was disappointed to see that the magician was missing.

Vandhiyathevan who followed her found out why she had paused there.

“It may be another quicksand pit. Kodikarai has so many of them! You may have forgotten!” He said.

Poongkuzhali pointed to Senthan Amuthan’s shawl with one end tied to the bush. Poor girl! She could not speak.

“You think he would have drowned in the mud? No, no! Can Ravithasan be killed in that way? The man has a hundred lives! He would have escaped!” While speaking Vandhiyathevan took the shawl, untying it from the bush. He said it to comfort Poongkuzhali but in his mind was the thought, ‘Ravithasan must have died; he deserved this cruel death!”

Both realized that there was no use in waiting there any longer. They walked back toward the canal.

The canal was surrounded by trees on both sides. Two figures were seen holding onto a tree branch and looking in. One of them was a male figure; the other, a female figure.

“There!” Poongkuzhali pointed.

“Yes; do you know who they are?”

“One is the magician! The other is my brother’s wife. She had come before us and freed the magician.”

“That was good.”

“Nothing good about it. They are looking at the boat in the canal!”

One of the figures then turned and looked in their direction. Immediately both disappeared behind the bushes. “Aiyo! They have seen us also!”

“Come with me quietly! I have an idea. Whatever I say, don’t be surprised. Just play along with me!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Both walked toward the two figures. Passing them they went and sat by the edge of the canal. Vandhiyathevan made sure that those hiding behind the bushes could overhear their talk.

“Poongkuzhali! Look here! Why are you sad? The magician is dead and gone. Good riddance,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Aiyo! What a horrible death,” said Poongkuzhali.

“After committing a murder, what is this pity?”

“Aiyo! Did I commit murder?”

“Then who made him fall into the quicksand? Wasn’t it you? All of a sudden you are feeling sorry. You came thinking that you can rescue him! But the mud had engulfed him. Did you come to save him, or did you come to just check if he was dead? Who knows?”

“Who asked you to follow me?”

“Because I followed I was able to find out about this murder! You murderer!”

“Am I the murderer?”

“Yes, you are a murderous criminal! Am I saying that I am innocent? Not at all. I drowned the prince in the sea and killed him. You buried the magician in the mud and killed him. Tit for tat. If you don’t speak of the murder that I committed then I also won’t tell anyone about the murder that you committed!”

“You are the one who killed the prince? You said a short time ago that you did not see him?”

“I did that on purpose. From now on there is no need for me to say that to you. Do you agree to what I suggested, or don’t you?”

“If I refuse?”

“I will immediately go to Nandhini Devi and tell her that you killed the magician in the quicksand. My murder has no witnesses; yours has a witness …”

“What will Nandhini do to me?”

“She won’t do anything else. She will just bury you up to your neck in the ground and then have an elephant trample you with its feet!”

“Aiyo! What horror!”

“If you don’t want that then agree to what I said.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“There, your cousin is bringing, get into that boat. Both of you should go straight to Ilankai. Go there and weep over your prince!”

“Why must I go to Ilankai? If I wait here, what is it to you?”

“Ah! If you go and tell Pazhuvertaraiyar about me? Whatever he may be, he does have affection for the prince. He will try to seek revenge on me; I still have some work to do in this world.”

“You sinner! Why did you kill the prince? At least tell me that!”

“No problem! I will tell you. The prince and his sister together planned to snatch Athitha Karikalar’s crown. Athitha Karikalar is my king. His enemy is my enemy. That is why I killed the prince. Do you understand?”

“You will be punished for this villainous sin.”

“You don’t worry about that! Are you going to do as I say, or not?”

“If I don’t what other course do I have? There, the boat is coming. I will go and get on it.”

“Look here! Listen carefully. Once you are on the boat you must head straight toward the sea. If you turn towards Kodikarai, you are doomed! I will be watching your boat from here. I will leave only after your boat is in the sea.”

“Alright, alright! Wait here! Let a hundred foxes tear you apart and gorge on you!” Seeing Vandhiyathevan’s signal Poongkuzhali hurried from there and climbed into the boat. Just as he had told her Vandhiyathevan remained seated there. Fifteen minutes went by. The boat traveled a long way in the canal and then disappeared.

‘Ha, Ha, Ha!’ – Suddenly from behind Vandhiyathevan a terrifying laughter was heard. Vandhiyathevan stood up pretending to be shocked.

The magician rose from among the thicket laughing like a demon.

“Aiyo! Ghost!” Vandhiyathevan ran from there howling.

9. Three in the Boat

Darkness withered; the dark beauty known as night had to leave her lover, the earth, without really wanting to. Her hands that were embracing her lover came off unwillingly. As if this was her last kiss in life, the maiden who was called night, planted a kiss and still hovered over reluctantly. “We will meet again in the evening. This separation is only for four jamams. Go now and return happily,” said the earth. Night went reluctantly turning several times and looking over its shoulder.

Like the rogue lover who holds no affection in his heart, the earth rejoiced at night’s parting. “Aha! Freedom!” Thousands of species of birds sang. Buds burst open into blooms on trees and shrubs. Out of nowhere bees swarmed in surrounding the newly opened petals making sweet music. Butterflies danced merrily all around in their many shades of colorful wings.

Low down in the east, sky turned gold. Rays of light shot out one by one dazzling and disappearing. The crescent moon who was until then parading on the avenues of the sky asked, ‘Should I stay? Should I leave?’

The boat was moving slowly in the canal. Along with the birds’ chorus of songs, the sound of the oars trawling the water fell in Poongkuzhali’s ears. Startled, she opened her eyes. Her eyes opened as two beautiful blue buds that happened to blossom on a single twig. In front of her was the prince’s golden face. He was still sleeping. Is it really sleep? Or is he lying still under the influence of the fever? Don’t know. But, see how bright his handsome face is!

Over here, Senthan Amuthan was rowing.

“Poongkuzhali! Why did you wake up already? Why not sleep a little longer?” He asked.

Poongkuzhali smiled. It wasn’t just her lips that smiled. Her entire body wore the smile.

Poongkuzhali was born and raised in the jungle. Yet never before have the song of the birds and the humming of the bees sounded so magical to her ears.

“Cousin! Sing a song in the raga of uthaya,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Would I open my mouth while you are here? You are the one who should sing,” replied Senthan Amuthan.

“You sang yesterday in the darkened forest!”

“I sang to get the job done. Now you must sing!”

“I also want to sing. But won’t it disturb the prince?”

“It won’t disturb me. Both of you sing together,” said Arulmozhivarmar.

Poongkuzhali lowered her head shyly.

“Where is the boat headed,” asked the prince.

“Soodamani Vihara in Nagapattinam,” answered Poongkuzhali.

“Then all I heard last night was not a dream? It was true?”

“Yes, Sir! He is the one who brought news from your sister.”

“Please tell me in detail all that the junior stateswoman said, “Amuthan! My sister sent word that I should join the Buddhist monastery, didn’t she?”

When Amuthan hesitated wondering how to answer this question, the sound of hooves were heard. Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan were startled.

There was no change on the face of the prince.

“Where is my friend? The Varnar tribe warrior?” He asked. Then he closed his eyes.

Shortly Vandhiyathevan appeared on horseback. The boat stopped. Vandhiyathevan also came down from the horse.

“Nothing new. I came to see that you were safe. There is no more danger,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“The magician?” asked Poongkuzhali.

“He has absolutely no inkling that the prince is on this boat. He believed all what I said!”

“Did you see him?”

“I did. But I pretended that it was his ghost.”

“I have never seen anyone who can tell a lie like you.”

“Don’t call it a lie! Call it the power of imagination. How is the prince?”

“He wakes up off and on and says a couple of words; then he drifts off.”

“This fever is like that.”

“How long will it last?”

“Sometimes it can take a month. Take him safely to Soodamani Vihara. If the monks treat him, they will cure him in two weeks. Careful! Poongkuzhali! I am leaving the prince in your trust. If he sees some temple tower somewhere your cousin will wander off singing to pay a visit to the deity!”

“After getting to know you I will not do that. Even the desire to serve in the temple has waned!” Senthan Amuthan said.

“Did it wane because of me? Or is it because of this girl? Tell the truth!”

 Without paying heed to it, Senthan Amuthan asked, “Did you find the horse where I told you to?”

“The horse found me. Isn’t this the horse that I left with you in Thanjai?”

“Yes.”

“In the dark it saw me in the forest and neighed. One thing I learned when I got caught to the Arabs, Amutha! It is a sin to make the horse run on barefoot. The horse must be fitted with an iron cuff on its hoof. At the first blacksmith’s shop that I see I am going to have a cuff fitted on its hooves. Alright!, alright! This is not the time to talk about it. I don’t know if I will see the two of you or the prince again. If the prince wakes up tell him that I am going to Pazhaiyarai. Tell him that I will send word from there soon. He will then be in peace.”

Vandhiyathevan turned the horse and left. Soon he disappeared from their sight.

The boat was in the canal surrounded by densely grown thazham on both sides. Both sides flourished with ivory white and gold color thazham flowers. Their fragrance was intoxicating. In some places along the edge of the canal were punnai trees. At some places were kadampam trees. Both sides of the canal were showered with pearl hued punnai flowers and kunkuma colored kadampam flowers.

It appeared to Poongkuzhali that if there was a path on which the righteous journeyed to heaven it would be like this one.

In between when a village appeared Senthan Amuthan went and brought milk for the prince and food for Poongkuzhali.

Whenever the prince opened his eyes Poongkuzhali moved away. Unable to look at him directly she looked all over. When he was not conscious she looked only at his face. She also had discussions with Senthan covering several topics. Sometimes both of them took pleasure in singing together.

Whenever Senthan Amuthan went away to the villages in search of food, Poongkuzhali attended to the prince touching his forehead and running her fingers through his hair. In these instances she was in a state of ecstasy, her heart full and body in rapture. She was convinced that she had served him in this manner in many previous incarnations. ‘Chada, chada’ – thousands of formless thoughts flocked in and out of her mind beating their wings.

They went in that canal for one day and one night. Poongkuzhali and Senthan took turns to nap in between. During these sleepy moments Poongkuzhali had many fleeting happy dreams.

The next day at sunrise when the whole world shimmered as gold, the boat reached Nagapattinam. Near Nagapattinam the canal branched off leading directly to Soodamani Vihara. They took the boat along this branch of the canal. They stopped it behind the Buddhist Vihara.

It looked as if there was some trouble at Soodamani Vihara. People were heard shouting from the entrance. Monks were running here and there.

The three of them climbed down from the boat. Senthan Amuthan left saying that he will go and find out the reason for the commotion.

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