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Ponniyin Selavn Part III (18 – 23)

February 16, 2016

From the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

18. Soothsayer

Toward the conclusion of the assembly that had gathered to welcome Nambiyandar Nambi, the great queen said to her beloved son, “Son! I will walk up to the palace entrance and bid them farewell. During that time please go to your place, freshen up and return! I have some important matter to discuss with you!”

“Alright, Mother,” Mathuranthakan replied before leaving. He went to the part of the palace where he was staying. His heart was frothing with anger and disgust. Such high regards for some mendicant from the street! The dignity of the royal tribe would be undone by his own mother, it would seem. There is no surprise in why the Pazhuvertaraiyars complain about her so often. All the great queen needed was for someone to come here wearing bead chains, smeared with holy ash all over his body! All he had to do was to sing some hymns; or talk about temple, lake and service. She would bankrupt the treasury with donations to such people! Adding to this, there is always that princess Kundavai by her side. Anything left after the temple obligations, she would spend it on a hospital. If I allow them to carry on in this manner, tomorrow, how will my dream come true? How will it be possible for me to ascend the Chola throne, send our troops in all four directions and rule this entire earth under one mantle?

Once again, the great queen must speak in private with her son! What private matter does she have that no one knows! Perhaps she will talk about the many attributes of a yogi such as restraining one’s appetite, voluntary religious observance, silent meditation, the various poses and so on. She might begin preaching about mastering the sixty four arts without really studying but by fixing one’s gaze to the tip of one’s nose! Or she would start speaking about the underlying meaning of Nadarajar’s joyous dance, what his crown of entangled hair and the crescent moon over his head signified. It is with this kind of talk that she has reduced him to a state where the world makes fun of him as half mad. That kind of talk must no longer be allowed. Even if she is determined to talk, he ought not lend his ear …

Never mind! Before his mother sends word again he must speak to that soothsayer. He must ask about his future. How did he find out about the two secret incidents that no one possibly could know about? That is astounding! He does possess a mysterious power. Just as he knowingly speaks about past events, can he also predict the future? – Let’s ask him.

While leaving the assembly hall Mathuranthakar noticed that the soothsayer was staying behind looking around the place. By gesture he ordered him to go with him. Vandhiyathevan’s eyes were eager to look at the princess and make eye contact. But the princess left with the great queen without even turning to look at him.

What is this? The princess has completely forgotten him? It must be so. She sees thousands of people every day. Why would she remember his face after seeing it once, twice? He must be insane; he thought about the beautiful face of the princess day and night, through so many difficulties. Why would the princess think about him? The bee circles the flower attracted by the honey. Why should the flower care about the bee? The flower looks at the sun and smiles. Who is the sun-god who will make the flower that is Kundavai’s face blossom? …

Yet, won’t she be interested in finding out the end result of the journey that she sent him on? Perhaps someone else had already delivered the news before him? How is that possible? No, no! Her face plainly showed that she was worried about something. The reason must be that she didn’t recognize him. How can she recognize the messenger who took the private letter to Ilankai if he returns as part of Mathuranthaka Thevar’s retinue in the assembly? – Aha! How surprised the princess would be when he meets her and tells her of the many incredible tricks he employed to enter that city? But how to meet? How to send word? …

“Soothsayer! What are you thinking?” Vandhiyathevan was startled by Mathuranthakar’s voice. By then they were in the private room of Mathuranthaka Thevar.

In those days there were many – astrologers, fortune tellers, palmists, soothsayers and others who would foretell the future. Astrologers would look at the horoscope, calculate the position of the stars and planets and select the good and propitious omens. Fortune tellers would generalize about one’s future depending on the manner of speech of the customer, the time they have chosen to consult, numerology and so on. Palmistry remains today just as it was then.

Soothsayers and diviners like the holy sages who have attained spiritual illumination have the ability to see with their inner eyes. They will bring their mind together and with intense focus would relate past, present and future events as if they are directly witnessing these events. Some would close their eyes and speak while in a state of meditation; some others would stare into a flame as they bring their senses together and would relate upcoming events as if they are seeing these events in the flame. To certain others just the sight of the person in front would reveal that person’s past and present. Apart from these extraordinarily gifted people there are also ordinary soothsayers who rely on outside signs such as, ‘did the crow move to the left’ or ‘to the right.’

Vandhiyathevan was taken aback when Mathuranthaka Thevar called him, ‘Soothsayer.’ He didn’t know what other questions the prince would ask. He has to give the right answers and get away with it. God! How to escape from him? How to meet the princess alone? …

“Nothing, Sir! Instead of being a soothsayer how much better it would have been if I had learnt a few hymns like the young person we saw in the assembly! I was thinking what a lot of respect and felicities I would have received!”

“Who said not to? You too can learn to sing devotional hymns!”

“It all happens according to what is written for one, Prince! What is the use in vainly hoping?”

“What do you think of that young man who sang? His fortune …”

“His fortune is excellent. A mixture of both spiritual and material wellbeing. Kings and queens will respect this young man. His name would long be known in this world along with those of prophets.”

Vallavaraiyan said this blindly with no insight. But in Mathuranthakar’s heart his words stirred.

“Tell me what my fortune is, let’s see!”

“Yours is also like his; an amalgam of spiritual and worldly luck. But it is superior!”

“Appan! Elaborate a little, let’s see.”

Vallavaraiyan needed time to think. He said, “Can I do this in a hurry? To elaborate, I must light a lamp, light some incense, you must be seated behind the lamp. Then I would see the future and tell it as it will be.”

Mathuranthakan became excited. He ordered a lamp to be lit and ahil to be burnt. Two seats were placed in front and behind the light. After Mathuranthakan took one seat Vandhiyathevan also sat down facing him.

He closed his eyes and began to meditate. His mouth mumbled some mantras. Then he shook his body and pretended to be overcome with a hidden force. His body trembled like that of a psychic dancer.

He then opened his eyes. He stared intently into the flame in front of him for a while. Then he told Mathuranthaka Thevar, “Sir! You must forgive me if I had said anything ordinary about you. Your future is not an ordinary one. There is no semblance between your future and the young man who sang there in the assembly. That young man’s luck happens because of the support from the kings; what I see about you in this light – Aha, it surprises even me!”

“What is it that you are seeing? Tell me! Tell me!” Mathuranthakan said.

“Aha! How do I describe? I have no words to describe! As far as eyes can behold there are kings in armor standing in line. There are rows and rows of ministers, captains and officials. Beyond them there are waves and waves of soldiers like the endless sea. My eyes are dazzled by the brilliant reflection of the swords and spears in their hands, the armor covering their chests. People are cheering from the tops of palaces and towers in the distance. Crowds of people have gathered in the fortress grounds, the ramparts. They … they … are shouting something!”

“Tell me, tell me! What are the people shouting?”

“Thousands of people are shouting. It is not very clear. ‘Long live the son of the Chola tribe! ‘Long live the emperor of the three worlds! Long live the king of kings’ – this is what I am hearing.”

“Then what?”

“Crowds of people are advancing. Soldiers with spears and swords are stopping them. There is a lot of shouting and clamoring going on there.”

“Alright, alright! Tell me why the crowd has gathered. Tell me that!”

“I am about to see that now. The tiger flag is flying sky-high at the center of the crowd. Below that the fish flag, the bow, palmyrah, bull and pig are flying at a lower level. At the center of the assembly hall that resembles the palace of mayan a gem studded gold throne is present. Nearby on a pedestal is a crown embedded with diamonds and precious stones that are as bright as a million suns. Over the throne is an open white royal canopy that is as sedative as moonlight. Women resembling heavenly maidens are waiting with white chowries in their hands. Gold vessels are lined up holding water from many sacred rivers. Prince! All is ready for the coronation! …”

“Whose coronation? Tell me, Appan,” said Mathuranthakan.

“That also will be revealed. The main entrance door of the assembly hall is opening. A few panegyrists are walking in variously eulogizing. A majestic warrior of an old man is entering. Beside him is someone who looks like his brother. Behind them comes a prince who is as handsome as Manmathan.”

“Who is that? Who?”

Vandhiyathevan once again stared intently at Mathuranthakar and then turned towards the flame.

“Sir! He resembles you. What a likeness! It is you! The two in front are leading you to the throne. ‘Jaya vijayeebavha!’ – the cry rises like the roar of the ocean. Hundreds of hands are tossing flowers, trinkets and yellow colored grain over you. There, you are next to the throne. Adada! What is this? Who is coming in between like a bad omen? A woman with her hair loose stands between you and the throne. ‘No!’ – she stops you. You are pushing that lady! … Adada! What is this, at such a critical moment the smoke is rising overwhelmingly! Nothing can be seen! …”

“Look! Look! Look carefully! What’s happening after that?”

“Prince! Forgive me! A big cloud of smoke is hiding everything! …”

“Look, Appan, Look! At least see who that lady is! Have you seen her before?”

“Prince! The lady also has disappeared. You have also disappeared. The assembly, the throne, crown, everything has disappeared. There must be someone in the palace who has the power of magic! They have intentionally sabotaged it with their magic. Aiyo! My face feels hot as if it’s on fire! …”

Vandhiyathevan covered his face with his hands. After a short time he uncovered his eyes.

All of Mathuranthaka Thevar’s veins were bulging. His face looked furious. His eyes were bright as burning coals. Vandhiyathevan became fearful. He was afraid that perhaps he had fanned the prince’s greed more than necessary.

“Look again! Look carefully and then tell me,” said Mathuranthkar.

“Prince! No use in that! A scene that had withdrawn will not come back immediately. It will return only after a few days. If you like I will look into the flame for other scenes.”

“Tell, tell! Whatever you see, please tell me!”

“The people are disturbed. They are sad and angry. A messenger has arrived with some news. He says that a member of the royal family has drowned in the sea. Aiyo! Poor man! The people are attacking the messenger. Prince, if anything like that happenes please don’t walk into the crowds at that time! If you do, please be careful!”

“Did they say the name of the person who drowned in the sea?”

“In the shouting and uproar, the name did not fall in my ear. That scene has now disappeared. … Now, before my eyes is a ferocious crowd with skeletons strung around their necks. They seem like the kapalikar kalamukar. One of them is holding a dangerous scythe in his hand. In front of him is a sacrificial altar. Prince! Here too there is a prince arriving. Riotously the kalamukar men have encircled him. Aiyo! Even by mistake you never go near a crowd like that! …”

Perspiration beaded Mathuranthakar’s face; his body trembled. Vandhiyathevan took notice of this. “Prince! I am not seeing anything after that. Pardon me, I feel dizzy; my eyes are closing. Someone is obstructing with counter-magic. Let me continue at another time at another place!” He held his head with his hands.

At this time a palace aide came and announced that Chempian Madevi would like to see the prince. Mathuranthakan decided to unleash all the anger that was rising in his heart on his mother.

“Sir! I cannot bear this headache. I will go outside the palace, see the town and then return,” Vandhiyathevan obtained permission and took his leave.

Pazhaiyarai doctor’s son Pinakapani Pandithan had a new interest in life. Until a few days ago he was happy learning the medical sciences from his father. During the Kodikarai trip Vandhiyathevan had discussed with him many aspects of the outside world. He did not stop there. It is natural for someone who has newly fallen in love to speak about it to someone else. Knowing that the doctor’s son was a first rate fool Vandhiyathevan began to talk to him about the dangers of falling in love with women. He told him about falling in love with a woman and the trials and tribulations that he had undergone since.

The doctor’s son Pinakapani did not at first care about the subject very much. His mind changed gradually. He began to feel an unreasonable anger and distaste toward Vandhiyathevan. He asked for the name and place of the girl who had stolen his heart. Vandhiyathevan refused to say that. Because of this Pinakapani’s anger became worse. Before they reached Kodikarai the doctor’s son had begun to consider Vandhiyathevan his enemy.

The fire that was smoking within him started to blaze when he saw Poongkuzhali. Not only Poongkuzhali rejected him she also made fun of him. Pinakapani’s madness reached a climax when he realized that Poongkuzhali paid more respect to Vandhiyathevan than to him. He dared to inform the soldiers who were on Vandhiyathevan’s trail.

Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men, unable to catch Vandhiyathevan, instead caught Pinakapani and took him to Thanjai. For a short time he had to live in the dungeon. This further elevated his hatred of Vandhiyathevan.

We saw that he was freed even before Princess Kundavai could see him or free him. It was Pazhuvur Illaiyarani who freed him. Nandhini had been angry and suspicious that Vandhiyathevan escaped from Thanjai palace without informing her. Her suspicion increased when she found out that he had gone to Pazhaiyarai and from there escaped to Eezha Nadu. She surmised that somehow he will one day return to Pazhaiyarai to see Princess Kundavai. She believed that at that time she needed a trustworthy person in Pazhaiyarai who can inform her about his return.

She concluded after seeing and speaking to the doctor’s son Pinakapani that he was good for that job. She assigned this big responsibility to him.

“The one who betrayed you and got away would soon return to Pazhaiyarai. You must be vigilant and observe where he is going and what he is doing and inform me immediately. If you do I will compensate you,” she said.

Later he was also summoned by the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar who issued this order. “When that enemy of that kingdom returns, if you hand him over I will enlist you to our espionage troop and make you a big official,” he tempted.

Since that day Pinakapani lost all interest in the medical profession. He roamed the streets of Pazhaiyarai city interminably building castles in the air. Often he would be seized by doubt. He would run near people on the street and stare into their faces. “No, no,” he would mutter and walk away. Many who saw him began to think that the doctor’s son had gone crazy.

Yet, Pinakapani did not give up his quest. When Mathuranthakar and his retinue entered Pazhaiyarai, Pinakapani did not pay much attention. He did not anticipate Vandhiyathevan to be among them. He kept circling the big crowd that surrounded Thirunaraiyur Nambi’s palankeen. He only saw Mathuranthakar’s entourage from a distance. A suspicion dawned when the man on the horse next to Mathuranthakar turned and looked in his direction. But since he rode fast and entered the palace he did not have a chance to verify his suspicion.

19. Timely Medicine

During the reception for Nambiyandar Nambi, Pinakapani could not enter that reception hall. He stood with the crowd gathered outside the entrance and peeked inside. We saw before that Vandhiyathevan’s attention lay elsewhere.

Pinakapani on the other hand was staring at Vandhiyathevan’s face. Another man was taking all of this in rather nonchalantly. He is our old friend Azhvarkadiyan.

Vandhiyathevan stepped outside the palace after unsettling Mathuranthakar’s mind with his predictions. The doctor’s son who was waiting outside came to him and asked, “Appan! Who are you?”

Vandhiyathevan was startled to see Pinakapani. Without showing it on the outside he asked, “What did you say?”

“I asked who you are,” he said.

“You want to know who I am! Which ‘I’ do you mean? Do you mean this body consisting of the five deities – water, sky, earth, wind and fire? Do you mean the life that resides within the body? Do you mean the soul that gives life its vitality? Do you mean the heavenly one that is the foundation of the soul? Appan! What is the question? You are not, I am not! All are the supreme being’s illusion. The world is an illusion; ask great men like the Thirunaraiyur Nambi the truth of the mystery of body and soul!” Vandhiyathevan leapt onto his horse that was standing at the entrance. After driving it fast for a while, and making sure that the doctor’s son was not following him he rode slowly.

But is the doctor’s son someone to be fooled so easily? His suspicion had been verified. He informed the officer responsible for the safety of the city. With the two soldiers provided by the officer he went around looking. As expected he met Vandhiyathevan at a junction.

“He is the spy! Arrest him!” He shouted.

“What is it Appa! Are you mad?” Vallavaraiyan asked.

“Mad? Whom are you calling mad? This body, or the life inside it, the soul or the super-soul! Or the mind-body-illusion?” The doctor’s son Pinakapani quipped.

“From the nonsense you are spouting it is obvious who is mad!”

“I am not mad. I am the doctor who accompanied you to Kodikarai! Guards! He is the spy who escaped from the Thanjavur Fort and fled to Ilankai! Arrest him immediately!”

The guards approached Vallavaraiyan. “Caution! Don’t make a mistake listening to him! I am the soothsayer who accompanied Mathuranthaka Thevar here,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“No, no! He is a big liar. Arrest him immediately!” The doctor’s son yelled.

In the meantime a big crowd had gathered. Some in the crowd took Vandhiyathevan’s side. Some took the doctor’s son’s side.

“He does not look like a soothsayer,” said one.

“He does not look like a spy either,” said another.

“Can a soothsayer be so young?”

“Why not? Would a spy ride his horse publicly on the street?”

“Why does a soothsayer have a sword?”

“If he is a spy, whose spy is he? What has he come sniffing for in Pazhaiyarai?”

Amidst this Pinakapani shouted, “Arrest him! Arrest him at once! Pazhuvertaraiyar’s orders!”

Once they heard the name Pazhuvertaraiyar, many who had gathered there began to feel sympathetic towards Vandhiyathevan. They looked for any way to help him escape.

Azhvarkadiyan stood at the periphery of that crowd. He shouted, “Is the soothsayer who came with the prince here?”

“I am here,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“No; he is a spy,” shouted Pinakapani.

“What is this ribaldry? If you are the soothsayer who came with Mathuranthaka Thevar, then come with me! The princess asked me to bring you,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Vandhiyathevan’s heart rejoiced. “I am that soothsayer! I am coming,” he said.

“Don’t let him go! Don’t let the spy escape,” shouted the doctor’s son Pinakapani.

“Prove that you are the soothsayer! Only then you can come with me!” Azhvarkadiyan winked.

“How do you want me to prove,” Vandhiyathevan asked helplessly.

“There, there are two horses coming at breakneck speed. It looks as if the horsemen have some urgent news. If that is true, what is the news that they are bringing? Tell!”

After looking at the horsemen carefully Vandhiyathevan said,” Oh, I will tell, a member of the royal family had met with a tragedy arising from water! They are bringing this sad news!”

Before he could close his mouth the horsemen were upon them. Because the people were blocking the way the horses came to a stop.

“You look like couriers, what is the news that you are bringing,” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“Yes, we are couriers! We have brought sad news. The ship that Prince Arulmozhivarmar was on was caught in the cyclone. The prince jumped into the sea to save someone and had drowned!”

Heartbreakingly mournful cries rose from the crowd, “Aiyo! Aiyaho!” It was impossible to say where all those people suddenly appeared from. It was impossible to say how they gathered there so fast. Men, women, the elderly and children surrounded the messengers as a very big crowd. Many asked them various questions; many wailed and cried.

Most of that town’s people were already aware that the Pazhuvertaraiyars did not like Arulmozhivarmar. The rumor that Pazhuvertaraiyars had sent men to Eezham to imprison the prince had also reached their ears. Therefore, at first many in the crowd began to whisper about the Pazhuvertaraiyars. Then they began to curse them out loud. “The Pazhuvertaraiyars must have intentionally drowned the prince in the sea and killed him,” they began to tell one another. The sound of their whispers, their wails and cries, and the sound of their curses over Pazhuvertaraiyars rose together as the roar of an ocean.

The Thanjavur messengers who were caught in the middle of this crowd had no way of proceeding to the palace. Their attempts to break through the crowd were not successful. ‘How?’ ‘Where?’ ‘When?’ ‘Is it certain?’ – the people barricaded their way questioning the couriers.

Azhvarkadiyan said to the guards who were with the doctor’s son, “Why are you just standing? Disperse the crowd and take the couriers to the palace!” The guards were also stunned by the news. They stepped forward now to clear the way for the couriers. The couriers gradually began to move toward the palace. The crowd of people that kept growing bigger and bigger followed them closely.

In that large crowd of people that in unison mourned the fate of Prince Arulmozhivarmar, one being alone kept howling, “Aiyo! This is a trick! This is a gimmick to let the spy escape!” To the doctor’s son who cried in this manner, no one paid attention. His cries fel on no one’s ears. Like the flood that carries with it the straw that had fallen into the river water, the crowd of people took the doctor’s son along with it.

Even as the crowd began to gather Vandhiyathevan had climbed down from his horse. When the crowd began to move Azhvarkadiyan stepped next to him and took his hand. “Leave the horse! We can look for it later. Come with me, immediately!” He said in Vandhiyathevan’s ear.

“Appan! You appeared as a timely remedy. Otherwise I don’t know what my fate would have been,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Isn’t this your job? You get yourself in trouble; someone comes along to release you from that mess,” teased Azhvarkadiyan.

Both moved to a side so that the crowd won’t drag them with it. After the crowd passed Azhvarkadiyan took Vandhiyathevan in a different direction. They entered the locked up corner house on the street with the palaces that we had seen before. They entered the garden in the rear and walked along the trellis path. In a short time the blue canal came into view. In it a boat was afloat. In the boat was a princely maiden. At the sight of her, Vandhiyathevan’s heart jumped up and down.

20. Mother and Son

Following the aide’s announcement that his mother wanted to see him, Mathuranthakan went to see Chempian Madevi. The elderly woman was known all over the country for her devotion to Siva. Once upon a time Mathuranthakan was also devoted to his mother. Now that devotion had turned into manic anger. Even in stories he had not heard of a mother who betrays her son in favor of her kinsmen! Did he really deserve such a mother?

His anger cooled a little when he saw his mother’s exceedingly peaceful face. Adhering to tradition he bent down and greeted her. “Let Saiva devotion flourish,” the great queen blessed him and offered him a seat. That blessing pierced Mathuranthakan’s heart like an arrow.

“Mathuranthaka! Is my daughter-in-law well? Is everyone at your father-in-law’s and the treasurer’s house well,” the mother asked.

“All are well. What do you care about that?” The son mumbled.

“Did you see the emperor before leaving Thanjai? How is his health now,” asked the great queen.

“I saw him and bid him farewell before leaving. The emperor is becoming weaker day by day. More than the physical pain it is the mental agony that is greater,” said Mathuranthakan.

“What is that, child? What happened to cause the emperor such heartache?”

“Those who had erred, had been unjust … had taken others’ possessions – isn’t it natural for them to suffer mentally?”

“What are you saying? What crime, injustice, has the emperor committed?”

“What else must he do? Isn’t it enough that he had been seated on a throne that ought to have been mine? Isn’t that a crime? Isn’t that an injustice?”

“Child! How did this venom get into your heart that was as pure as milk? Who has corrupted you with their ill-advice?” The mother questioned in a kind voice.

“No one has corrupted me with their ill-advice. Why do you consider your son such a helpless fool? Is it your opinion that I have no intelligence?”

“However intelligent one is, one can be corrupted by malicious influence. With the right stroke even a stone can be dissolved. Didn’t Kaiheyi’s mind become corrupted by kooni’s advice?”

“I am also aware that women’s minds are similarly susceptible to ill-advice!”

“Mathuranthaha! Whom are you referring to?”

“Mother! Why did you ask me over? Please tell me that!”

“You were present in the ceremony a while ago …”

“I was; you brought by palankeen some child from the street. Now he would be so proud he won’t be able to tell his head from his foot …”

“Aiyo! Don’t be so disrespectful! Child! Even though he is young in age he is a seasoned and mature prophet …”

“Let him be the prophet. My criticism is not going to bring down his glory! I am also not objecting to the kingly honors that you are lavishing on him. Please tell me why you summoned me here!”

Chempian Madevi sighed deeply. Then she said: “I am surprised by the change in your disposition. Even in my dreams I did not envision that two years in the Pazhuvertaraiyar palace would change you so. Never mind, I must do my duty. I must try as much as I can to fulfill the promise that I made to your father. Son! Before I tell you why I called you here, I must tell my story, – how I married your father. Please be a little patient and listen!”

As a sign of obedience Mathuranthakan crossed his legs and sat down.

“You have been to my birthplace Mazhapadi once or twice when you were a child; you have also seen the Sivaperuman temple there. I have heard from elders that it is one of the sixty four temples built by Kochchenkat Chola king. Your grandfather, my father, was a big landowner in Mazhapadi. Our tribe is ancient. Once upon a time the Mazhavaraiyars were prominent petty kings. They joined the Pandyars in the wars during Vijayalaya Cholar’s time. Because of it their popularity diminished after the Chola victory. As a young girl I did not concern myself with any of this. My heart had gone to the Nadaraja Peruman who resides in the Mazhapadi temple. When I was a child I was told an episode from the history of Mazhapadi by an elder-man. Sundaramoorthi Swamikal was traveling through our place with his disciples. Mazhapadi temple lay hidden by the golden shower trees that had grown around it luxuriously bearing locks and locks of flowers. Suntharar went past the temple without noticing it. ‘Sundaram! Have you forgotten me?’ – a voice fell in his ear. Suntharar turned around and asked his disciples, ‘Did you say something?’ The disciples answered, ‘No!’ They also said that nothing fell in their ears. Suntharar then inquired if there was a temple nearby. He discovered the Mazhapadi temple that lay hidden among the golden shower trees and sang, ‘Ponnar Meniyaneh!’ Ever since I heard this history the lines,

‘king of all great
precious jewel of Mazhapadi!
if not you
who else is there for me to think of?’

have been deeply engrained in my mind. I will stand in front of Nadarajamoorthi and repeat these lines forever. As time passed the Mazhapadi deity took over my heart. I dreamt of marrying Sivaperuman. I would think of myself as Umai, Parvathi and Thadchayani. I too closed my eyes and meditated like they did to wed Sivaperuman. I would feel disgusted if anyone took up the subject of my marriage. My childhood was thus spent. When I reached adolescence my heart became more involved in Saiva devotion. My folks and people in the town began to call me ‘pichi.‘ I did not mind any of that. Other than eating and sleeping at home I spent the rest of my time at the temple. I would be satisfied stringing the flowers in various ways for pooja! I would meditate for long hours with my eyes closed. One day when I was thus meditating I heard the sound of laughter and opened my eyes. Five or six people stood in front of me. My eyes and attention went to the one person standing in front of them. I decided that Sivaperuman himself whom I had been thinking about had appeared with his entourage to take me. I stood up and bowed my head. Tears were streaming down from my eyes. He must have noticed it.

“Who is this girl? Why is she crying like this?” I heard a voice.

My father’s voice answered, “She is my daughter. Ripened in the bud she has been taken by Saiva devotion already. She is forever at the temple closing her eyes and meditating, singing devotional hymns and shedding tears!”

When I looked up again I knew that the person in front was not Sivaperuman but someone from the royal family. I could not bear the humiliation. I ran straight from there home. But the person who came to take me did not give up. He came home with my father. Son! He was my husband and your father Kandarathitha Thevar!”

The great queen paused for a while. Old memories again brought tears to her eyes. She wiped her eyes and continued:

“Later I came to know about your father. He had taken the Chola throne just a short time ago. Since then he had been paying a visit to the many temples. He was then forty years of age. The lady he was married to had died young. He did not think of marrying again. He had vowed not to marry again. But his innocent heart was tempted by meeting this simpleton. He requested my answer in the presence of my father. I was ecstatic thinking that Sivaperuman himself had come in the form of a human being to take me away. I agreed with my whole heart. Our marriage took place soon after. Because of it your grandfather regained the popularity he had lost and also received the title Mazhavaraiyar …”

“Son! Your father and I made a decision after a heart to heart talk. We decided to dedicate our lives to the service of Sivaperuman and not to have children. There was an important reason for that. Child! I did not think even in my dreams that there would arise a need for me to tell you all of this. Yet, since such a necessity has arisen I am speaking. Lend me your ear and listen carefully! ” Again Chempian Madevi sighed deeply. Mathuranthakan also began to listen more attentively than before.

21. Are you a Mother?

Chempian Madevi, the embodiment of Saiva devotion, continued. “Son! When your father Kandarathitha Thevar took the throne Chola empire was in a difficult position. You know of the glory of your grandfather emperor Paranthakar.

During his rule the Chola empire spread up to Eezham in the south and river Krishna in the north. But in his last days the kingdom and the family underwent many difficulties. The troops from Irattai Mandalam encroached like Ravanan’s army. Emperor Paranthakar’s eldest son, the incomparable warrior, your uncle Rajathitha Thevar, went to face the Irattai Mandala garrison. In the north in a place called Thakolam a great war akin to kuruchetra battle took place, a hundred thousand soldiers died. Blood flowed. Irattai Mandala garrison scattered. But in that war Rajathitha Thevar was sacrificed. Your uncle Arinjaya Thevar also got wounded badly in that war. But at that time no details were known about him. Arinjaya Thevar’s eldest son, Sundara Cholar, a young child – had gone to the Eezham war. There was no news about him also. The only person of the royal family who was at that time next to the emperor was your father.

“But your father had from a young age disliked matters of government and had devoted his mind to Sivaperuman. He did not like war. He lamented why people should die fighting for the kings’ greed for land. He argued with his father and brothers about it. He spent his time in the company of Saiva scholars, going on pilgrimages to sacred places and temple worship. He didn’t even want to touch the sword, spear and other weapons. He was not trained in the art of war or its deceptive tricks. He believed that governance was full of lies, deception, betrayal, pretense, covert operations, counter-covert operations, murder and such immoral acts. ‘What is the difference between a man stealing someone’s else’s belonging and a king taking over another country,” he asked.

“Son! Fate demanded that your father who was thus disinclined, shoulder the weight of the Chola empire. Emperor Paranthakar, heartbroken by the difficult time the country had undergone and by the death of Rajathithar, on his deathbed summoned your father and said, ‘You must take on the responsibility of governing!’ Your father, not wanting to hurt the feelings of your grandfather who was dying, agreed. The fortunate Veeranarayana Devi who had married your father before me had already departed to heaven. At this time I had not even met your father. Therefore your grandfather was worried about the future of Chola empire after your father. Fortunately the people who had gone to Ilankai in search of your uncle’s son found him there in one of the islands and brought him back.

“Paranthaka emperor had enomous affection for Sundara Cholar. From when he was an infant he had rocked him on his knee with lullabies and brought him up. Many elders had said that the Chola tribe would rise to glory through Sundara Cholar.

“Your grandfather was therefore very fond of Sundara Cholar. When your father took the throne he said that Sundara Cholar must be crowned prince, and that after him his children would rule Chola Nadu. Your father told me all of this. He was determined to carry out emperor Paranthakar’s deathbed wish. He decided that there ought to be no obstacles for Sundara Cholar and his descendants to ascend the throne. Your father did not have the desire to rule; he wasn’t even fond of government matters. He was a holy man. His mind forever dwelt at the feet of Nadaraja Peruman. Therefore he handed over all the affairs of the government to his younger brother Arinjayar and his son Sundara Cholar. He dedicated himself to the service of Sivaparuman. As I said before, he also had no interest in marrying again. But to wither away his determination I arrived. Knowing that I was also a ‘pichi‘ devoted to Saivism he came to like me and marry me. I was fortunate to marry him. I must have done penance in many previous births to have him. You who had him as father is also fortunate. There are few great men who have seen god with their eyes and rejoiced in this world. Sivaperuman appeared as rishaparudar and took your father from this earth. Just as I am seeing you with my earthly eyes your father saw Paramasivan. You and I are obliged to carry out such a holy man’s wish …!”

When the mother paused the son’s body was shaking. His heart was frothing.

“How is that, Mother? My father did not tell me anything! Why am I obliged? In what way am I obliged,” said Mathuranthakan.

“Son! Listen! When your father surrendered at Sivaperuman’s feet you were a small child. Therefore he could not say anything to you. But he told me; when we married we had decided not to have any children. But fool that I am, I could not keep that vow. The piety I had towards Sivaperuman as a virgin morphed into love for your father. In time my heart longed for a child to hold in my arms, against my bosom, celebrate, kiss and sing lullabye on my lap. My body ached when I saw a child in the arms and laps of other women; my heart burnt. I begged the lord who had possessed me in my childhood. The supreme one fulfilled this simpleton’s request. He gave you to me. On the one hand my body and soul rejoiced loving you; on the other hand I feared whether I had subjected myself to your father’s anger. That great man was not angry with me. But he burdened me with the responsibility of carrying out his promise.”

“Son! I promised your father that I would raise you to be a Saiva scholar devoid of any affection to this mortal earth. Until a short time ago I had believed that I succeeded.”

“But, my son, the life of my life! My beloved child, the apple of my eye! I have been hearing rumors. These rumors wound my heart. Won’t you say that what I heard were lies and heal that wound?” Mother Chempian Madevi begged.

“Mother! Your mysterious words are wounding my heart also. What are you hearing? What are you expecting from me?” Mathuranthakan hissed.

“Child! Perhaps you have lost the ability to know what’s in my heart. I will have to be open, you are saying; good, I will tell you. I am hearing that your mind had fallen from the Ganges that is Saiva devotion into the ditch that is worldly greed. I hear that you want to be on the Chola throne. I understand that our enemies have ruined your innocent mind. If you tell me that what I heard was not true then my mind will have peace,” said the elderly lady.

Mathuranthakan rose from his seat. Seeing his excitement his mother also stood up.

“No enemies have ruined my heart. Those who want to see me on the throne, are they my enemies? Never. In truth, who is my real enemy? You who bore me! …” Mathuranthakan shouted.

Overcome by anger he forgot respect; forgetting the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s advice to change his mother’s mind through kind words he let forth a torrent of insults.

“Yes; you are my arch enemy, no one else. Are you a mother? Are you a woman? In this world mothers will bear intolerable burdens for the rights of children. I have heard in poems and stories, I have seen it in life also. So far against a mother’s nature, are you a human being? Or, are you a demon in the form of a human being? What did I do to you that was wrong? Why are you inflicting this great injustice on me? What is your interest in grabbing a kingdom that ought to be mine under every tenet of justice and giving it to another man? You are telling me that it is my father’s wish. You are telling me that you made a promise to him. What is the evidence? I don’t believe it. You are saying that someone gave me ill-advice. Not at all. It is you who had been given ill-advice and whose mind had been twisted. They have made the mother her son’s enemy. I will never give up the throne that is lawfully mine. I will not give up even if you command me. I will not give up even if my father returns from heaven and asks me. This Chola kingdom is mine; this ancient throne is mine; the jeweled crown worn by Karikal Peruvallathan is mine; I will redeem these. You gave me this ruthraksha chain that I have around my neck. Out of respect for my mother I wore it until now; I will remove this minute this ruthraksha chain that had turned me into a beggar making the entire town and country laugh at me; you can keep it!”

After leashing out like a mad man Mathuranthakan tried hastily to remove the bead chain from his neck. Unable to take it off he tried ripping it off; but only the neck hurt, the chain remained.

Mathuranthkan is a handsome man. It may be said that he is more attractive than Sundara Cholar’s sons. His face possessed a softer feminine beauty. That beautiful face was now made grotesque through anger and fury. Unable to bear it Chempian Madevi closed her eyes.

After he ended his tirade she opened her eyes. With no change in her calm demeanor she said, “Son! Please calm down a little. Even if I am a treacherous monster please pay attention and hear my words!”

Hearing these words Mathuranthakan calmed down a little. “I am listening, I did not refuse to listen,” he said.

“You spoke about a mother’s nature, even if she is a vile demon she will not harm her child. Even wild animals try to save their little ones from other wild animals. In the same way, I am trying to save you. There is also another reason why I am asking you to give up your desire for the throne. It will endanger your life. Is there anything wrong in a mother’s wish to see her son alive? If you choose the kingdom, you will become an enemy of Sundara Cholar’s sons. The army will also support them. They have friends in neighboring countries also. Who are your allies? On whom will you rely when you start a war? Son! You know about thoomakethu’s appearance in the sky for some days now. It is a well known fact that if a star with a long tail appears in the sky it means that the royal family’s lives are in danger. I am hoping that danger does not fall on you. Child! Is it wrong for me to wish that my only son be alive? Is this a betrayal of you?”

“Mother! Forgive me! You could have stated before that this was your concern! I would have resolved it in a minute! I am not such an orphan with no allies. Very prominent petty kings and high ranking officials of the Chola empire are on my side. Pazhuvertaraiyars are on my side. Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar is on my side. Your brother and my uncle, Mazhavaraiyar is on my side. Other than them Neela Thangaraiyar, Irattaikudai Rajaliyar, Kunrathoor Perunkizhar are with your complete backing supporting me. They have taken a vow to support me …”

“Son ! I have no faith in these vows. Once upon a time they made their vows that they will be faithful to Sundara Cholar and his descendants. Let’s assume that they’ll be faithful to you. Don’t you know that the troops under them are very small? The garrison in the north is under Athitha Karikalan. The southern garrison is under Kodumablur Velar’s leadership …”

“Mother! The petty kings on my side are capable of bringing thousand soldiers each.”

“Never mind the troops. What about the people? Don’t you know how fond the Chola Nadu people are of Sundara Cholar’s sons! You saw it for yourself today. If Arulmozhivarman or Athitha Karikalan had come to Pazhaiyarai today the people would have arrived in droves to welcome them! The people of this town were once fond of you also. Ever since you became associated with the Pazhuvertaraiyars they have begun to hate you …”

“Mother! I am not at all concerned about the people’s affection. What does it serve? People are for governing, whoever is on the throne people have to be loyal to them.”

“Son! Those who have been teaching you did not even make you understand the first principle of governance. Without the people’s respect no king can rule for long. There is also no merit in such governance. …”

While the great lady was thus explaining there was an uproar heard from the entrance. Wailing, cursing and voices of anger and inquiry rose from the bowels of a thousand human beings like the relentless churning of the ocean in response to stormy winds.

“Son! A great danger is awaiting the Chola empire. This is its first sign. I will step outside the palace and find out what’s going on. Until then please remain here,” said the mother.

22. What is that Noise?

Standing at the edge of the canal Vandhiyathevan knew that the woman seated in the boat was Kundavai. When Azhvarkadiyan stopped Vandhiyathevan also reluctantly paused.

“Appan! Why are you waiting? The junior stateswoman has been waiting for a long time for you. When you get in the boat first give her the good news, ‘The prince has returned; he is safe!’ Don’t waste time bragging about your heroic adventures! I am heading back. We have unleashed the demon of unrest in Pazhaiyarai today. I will see if I can put it back in the cage. What a lot of trouble because of your sassy bravado!” Azhvarkadiyan hurried back on the same path they had come on.

Vandhiyathevan was overcome with surprise! How does he know all the details! He didn’t even ask him anything! Is it plain guesswork? Or does he really know? Among religious beggars there are hereditary ones and then there are the hard times religious beggars; perhaps there are two kinds of spies also. He became a spy out of necessity; therefore very often he finds himself in a predicament. This Vaishanavan has it in his blood; therefore he is going about it methodically without any excitement. But who is he working for? All what he said about himself, is it all true?

Aha, this girl’s face, it had never been away from him. In his dreams and waking hours, during storms and rain, in the jungle and in the middle of the ocean it had followed him. Yet, how incredulous! In person, why is her face so much more beautiful! Why is there a lump in his throat? Why is his heart beating so fast?

As if in a dream Vandhiyathevan took a few steps in the water and climbed into the boat. The princess signaled to the boatman, the boat began to move. Vandhiyathevan’s heart also began to rock.

“Soothsayer! Do you only tell the fortune of a prince? Would you tell me mine? How do you tell their fortune? Do you look at the stars and planets in the sky? Or do you look at the crows and sparrows? Do you read their palm? Perhaps you just read their face. Otherwise, why are you staring at my face? If this is your method decent upper class women will not come to you for their fortunes!” The voice of the princess rang as sweet as music in Vandhiyathevan’s ears.

“Madam! I am not looking at your face to tell your fortune. I am trying to recall if I had seen this face before …”

“I know, I know! I know how forgetful you can be. I will remind you. The first time was roughly forty days ago at Kudanthai astrologer’s house. Then on the same day at arisilatankarai …”

“Madam! Please stop! I cannot believe this. Is it only forty days ago that I saw you for the first time! Didn’t we meet forty thousand years ago. In hundreds and hundreds of births didn’t we meet a hundred thousand times? Didn’t I see you in the valley? Then on top of the mountain? Didn’t we meet by the spring? When you were chased by the wild tiger in the thick of the wilderness didn’t I save you? Didn’t I kill the tiger with my spear? Then I was the hunter hunting in the forest! I gave you parrots that were luminous in their variously colored wings which I caught in my net. You took them from me only to let them loose into the open laughing out loud all the while. Once I was the fisherman. I went to distant lakes and rivers and caught silvery, gold and emerald fish that I brought for you. You placed them back in the water and delighted in their freedom as they swam away. In faraway seas I held my breath in deep water to harvest pearls and corals for you. You dipped your fingers mixing them around, then you poured them into the hands of the village children. I waited for the fruit that is borne every thirty years on the three hundred year old ilanthai tree, I plucked it and offered it to you. You gave it to your pet nahanavai bird and enjoyed watching it peck and eat it. From heaven I brought manthara and parijatha flowers. You said, ‘Can they compare to the jasmine’s fragrance and beauty that grows in our backyard?’ I borrowed Thevendran’s incomparable diamond necklace and gave it to you. ‘Would I even touch with my hand the chain worn by the immoral Indran,’ you said. In kailasam I worshipped at the feet of Parvathi Devi to bring the cilambu that she wore on her feet. I said I will put it on your feet. ‘Aiyayo! Can the golden ankle-bracelet that adorned the feet of jaganmatha touch my feet? How disrespectful? Go and give it back,’ you said. In the battlefield I won over the kings of sixty four nations, collected all of their jeweled crowns and brought them for you. You kicked those jeweled crowns away with your feet. ‘Aiyo! Your feet that are as gentle as flower petals will hurt,’ I lamented. Princess! Is all of this true or not? Or did we meet only forty days ago for the first time – is that the truth?” Vandhiyathevan said. He wasn’t finished.

“Devi! I am reminded of something else. Once we traveled on a silver boat paddling with gold handled ivory oars across moonlit waves in the sky …,” he began.

“Aiyayo! The soothsayer has gone crazy. We may have to just turn the boat and go back,” the princess said.

“No, Devi, no! My mind was sane until I came to this canal just now. Or else, could I have come up with a trick to enter this Pazhiyarai city? Could I have made Mathurantahkar believe that I was a soothsayer and gained entrance to the palace? Could I have gotten away so easily from the doctor’s son? Only when I got on this boat and saw your beautiful face that I became like a drunken fellow losing my sense!”

“Sir! In that case please don’t look at my face. Look at the clear water in the canal. Look at the blue sky, look at the towering trees on the bank reaching for the sky, look at the palace pinnacles. Look at the marble steps, look at the ambal and chenkazhuneer flowers in the water, or look at even this deaf boatman’s face. While looking at these tell me first what happened to the task you undertook; tell whether the fruit is unripe or ripe. Did you bring the prince, is he well? Where have you left him, with whom did you leave him, tell me this first, then tell me everything that happened from the time you left from here!”

“Devi! If I did not successfully complete the task that I undertook, would I even show my face here? I brought the prince from Ilanaki. I battled the thousand obstacles that rose on the way and brought him back triumphantly. I cannot say that the prince is well. When I left him he was having high fever. But I have left him in safe hands. I have left the prince with the boatwoman Poongkuzhali and the flower peddler Senthan Amuthan. They would give up their lives even a hundred thousand times to keep the prince safe!”

In the distance then a terrifying and disturbing wailing sound of a thousand voices rose. The princess and Vandhiyathevan looked in that direction with fear and concern.

“What is that noise? It sounds like the angry voice of a crowd!”

“Yes; it does sound that way,” said Vandhiyathevan.

23. Vanathi

When poets are asked to describe the beauty of the Kodumbalur princess they would compare her to the evening twilight. When day recedes and evening dusk settles in, there comes a sadness in the heart; with it there is also a tranquil delight.

After the sun’s last rays thin and disappear, the darkness of the night surrounds from every direction. To rid oneself of the lethargy of mind this induces, one has only to look at the sky. How delightful are the millions of star lights that the sky goddess lights up in the blink of an eye! They do not blind the eyes like the burning glare of the sun! One can look up at them and enjoy them! Once the moon also rises nothing more needs to be said. The earth delights in the pearl white rays of the full moon; body and mind are enlivened. It is true that the lotus flowers close at dusk. But as if to compete with the stars jasmine buds crack open to release their fragrance intoxicating both sky and earth!

It is true that the chirping and merriment of the birds cease at dusk. But how pleasing are the sound of the temple gong and the sweet music of the trumpet. How delightful is the music arising from palace pinnacles, the veena and lute played by delicate fingers!

In Kodumbalur princess Vanathi’s beauty a shadow of sadness and the radiance of happiness were both inseparably blended. Like her beauty her nature was also divided. Sometimes she would be like Chandramathi and Savithri, the embodiment of sadness. Sometimes she would be dancing and singing as if she were  Arambai or Urvasi  living in paradise. Sometimes she would be like the happy Mathavi came alive basking in Kovalan’s love. Sometimes she would make one wonder if this was the sad figure of Kannaki who had lost her husband. At times she would appear as the Valli perplexed by the love of malai Vadivelar. At other times she would be the picture of happiness like Theivayani who made the entire heaven dance with her on her wedding to Karthikeyar.

For days at a stretch there won’t even be a trace of a smile on Vanathi’s face. On other days she would laugh endlessly. The sound of that laughter would ring as millions of chimes in the air and turn the world happy.

One may surmise that the reason for this dual personality of Vanathi is the time of her birth and upbringing. Kodumbalur young Velar took part in many dangerous wars. News of victory and loss would alternate with one another. In turn in her mother’s heart happiness would alternate with sadness. Shortly after Vanathi was born her mother passed away. After that her father raised her as the apple of his eye. But that too did not last for long. Vanathi’s father, the heroic warrior did not want to remain in the palace forever even for the sake of Vanathi. After Veera Pandyan went into hiding he went after the Eezha troops who had come to assist him. He lost his life then in the battlefield and earned the accolade, ‘Young Velar who fell in Eezham.’

After this for a time Vanathi’s life was nothing but sorrowful. Only motherless girls who were raised by their father can understand the feeling. Even though in the absence of parents she had been brought up with great affection and celebration in the palace no one could take the place of her father in her heart. Many comforted her in various ways. ‘Don’t worry child! Your father will be back as your son. He would perform many heroic deeds that would make him famous,’ said one person.

These words took root in Vanathi’s mind. She tried to erase the sadness and desolation of losing her father with thoughts of this imaginary son.

For days on end she would daydream about what sort of son she would have and what kind of heroic deeds he would perform. In her imagination she saw this warrior of a son traveling to distant lands and winning great battles. She saw him returning soon after to submit at her feet the fruits of his victories. She saw him seated on the throne with the jeweled crown over his head. She saw other kings submitting to him paying levies. Like the ocean that responds to the full moon she saw crowds of people rising with cheers at the sight of his face. She saw him leading shiploads of soldiers and planting the flag of victory in faraway nations. ‘Mother! Aren’t you the reason for my fame!’ – she heard him telling her often.

This ignorant girl would sometimes touch her fig leaf marked belly to see if the imaginary son had perhaps appeared there. In the old Tamil country men and women had heard the Bharatha story. They had heard of Kunthidevi’s child. In the same manner she would wonder which deity was going to bless her with a child. She never thought about marrying anyone. After she came of age, after she gained knowledge of the world, she learnt that she had to marry someone and through him attain motherhood. Even then she did not daydream about a husband that much.

After she went to Pazhaiyarai palace there was a change in her life and outlook. Kundavaidevi’s proud affection gave her comfort and joy. Kundavai’s sophisticated ways and witty conversations took Vanathi to a world she had not known before. The envy of the other girls who had come to Pazhaiyarai palace like her, gave a new enthusiasm in life. Her conscious informed her that there must be something special about her for these girls to feel jealous. At the same time her naturally sweet nature and generosity prompted her to treat everyone well. With all of this Vanathi still did not give up daydreaming about the heroic son that one day she will have.

It was during this time that she happened to see Ponniyin Selvar. Because of it all of the dream castles that she had built shattered. She knew that she must first marry to have a son. But deep in her heart she had not really cared what sort of husband he must be or who that husband may be. But what can be done with one’s unruly heart? Her heart had gone to the prince, the apple of their eye for every Chola citizen! The famous prince who would make the kings of fifty six countries beg, ‘Marry my daughter!’ Would such a person ever look at her? She cannot even dream of such good fortune as marrying him! After this foolish heart had been lost to the prince how is it possible to marry anyone else? Therefore all the castles she had built in the air about a heroic son until then must shatter now! The thought of it could make her heart explode. She became her melancholy self again. The junior stateswoman who understood her feelings treated her with more care and affection. She tried to cheer Vanathi as much as she could. She hinted specifically that there was nothing wrong about her losing her heart to Ponniyin Selvar, and it wasn’t something that cannot happen. Kudanthai astrologer’s predictions about the son Vanathi will have added to the turmoil in her heart; her fantasies spread farther. Happiness and hopelessness swung back and forth. Just as she could not bear the heartache of losing she could not also bear the excitement of her happy thoughts. Thus overpowered she began to faint; she kept saving her life by this mechanism that nature had provided.

Her inner turmoil increased when she saw the drama of Sundara Cholar at Thanjai and heard his call for help. That day she fully understood the magnitude of the irreconcilable enmity between the Kodumbalur tribe and the Pazhuvertaraiyar petty kings. She also saw how much power the Pazhuvertaraiyars wielded in Chola Nadu. With regard to Prince Arulmozhivarmar, would the Pazhuvertaraiyars allow her dream to come true? Even if they allowed would their women be idle? Would Pazhuvur Illaiyarani permit it? Her power and influence were world famous. When she thought of Nandhini, Vanathi was reminded of the beautiful cobra. She knew of her rivalry with the junior stateswoman. It will bite her also. Why, this poisonous cobra can even bite Ponniyin Selvar! At midnight a figure resembling Nandhini was standing in front of the ailing emperor! Was it really Nandhini? Why did the emperor cry out in fear? Why does the junior stateswoman refuse to talk to her about it? Yes, the junior stateswoman’s mind has also changed. She does not talk to her as freely as she used to. Often she goes away seeking solitude. A gnawing worry had taken possession of her. Perhaps it concerns Ponniyin Selvar! Perhaps that is why she refuses to share it with her!

Even today the junior stateswoman had gone away suddenly. What a riot these girls are when she is not here. So loud. They have no worries. What ever happens there is no end to their rowdiness. Vanathi could never tolerate their ridicule. The last two or three days when Vanathi was in the throes of despair their vain chatter fell as molten lead in her ears. She left wondering where the junior stateswoman had gone. She found out that there was an assembly in the great queen’s palace and that she was there. She walked over there. Before she got there the assembly was over. She came to know that the great queen and her beloved son Mathuranthakar were talking in private. For some reason this news added to Vanathi’s woes. She departed from there. She heard the noise of the crowds at the palace entrance. She did not know the reason. She wanted to meet the junior stateswoman at once. She asked every one of the palace maids. One of them said that the junior stateswoman was speaking to the veera Vaishnavan called Azhvarkadiyan privately a short time ago and that later she went towards the canal behind the palace garden. These days the junior staeswoman didn’t like being disturbed by anyone when she was by herself. Vanathi therefore hesitated whether to go in search of the junior stateswoman to the canal. At that time a maiden called Varini came running.

“Ponniyin Selvar has drowned in the sea!” She howled and cried after delivering this shocking news. The other women also began to wail and cry when they heard this. Vanathi had no reaction at first. The other women stared at the impassive Vanathi.

“Wretched girl! It was your bad luck that made the prince drown!” All the eyes seem to point to her. Vanathi could not bear it any longer. She could not wait there. She ran towards the palace garden and the canal.

As she raced towards the canal her mind was also racing. “The prince has drowned in the sea!” She understood the meaning of those words. Overriding the shock was another thought. For the last few days whenever she looked in the water, there was the price’s face reflected in it. When she looked from the shore this would seem very real. When she reaches out to touch it would disappear. Vanathi understood the reason behind it.

When the prince drowned in the sea he had been thinking of her; he had been calling out to her. Not aware of it, the fool that she was, she had been watching the fun from the shore! Aha! What a big mistake! No use crying about what has been done. What is it to be done now?

Foolish girl! Must she even deliberate what needs to be done? The canal behind the palace garden joins araslaru. The river becomes one with the sea. The prince is awaiting at the bottom of the sae. He is waiting for her. He is waiting at the bottom of the sea in the miraculous palace made of pearls and corals. Instead of going to meet him what other concern did she have in this world? Once Vanathi made this decision, there was peace in her heart, her restlessness ended; all worries disappeared.

She went straight to the canal. She walked down the marble steps. She looked around. In the distance was a boat. It was the junior stateswoman seated there. Who is with her? He looked like the young man they met first at the Kudanthai astrologer’s house, who then took the letter to Ilankai. Perhaps he was the one who brought news about the prince! That is why the princess is talking to him in the boat alone; she is hearing the details. To spare her the misery she did not take her. If she returns she won’t be able to do what she intended to do. She would say something to dissuade her. She would comfort her, she would certainly prevent her from going to the prince. But is it right without telling her, without bidding one last goodbye? She was so fond of this orphan girl! Shouldn’t she at least say a word of thanks? … No! No! She cannot wait even one moment! There, his face is in the water. His entire body is filling the water. He is inviting her; he is calling her with a smile. ‘All the obstacles for marrying me have gone, come,’ he is calling. Why wait any longer. … Aha! Why do I feel light-headed? Is the darned dizziness back? No harm if she faints. She must make sure to fall into the water and not on the ground.  …

Vanathi’s wish came true. She fell in the water. Her body felt refreshingly cool, away from the heat, her heart was in peace. She went down and down. She could not say for how long, or how far. It may be seconds; or many long eons.

Yes, she has arrived at the wonder world at the bottom of the sea. Perhaps this is the netherworld! Aha! How many beautiful palaces! How many stories high, they keep rising endlessly with no tower in sight. Why is the light here so pleasant? Perhaps underwater even the light rays are calmer! Where is the light coming from? It seems to come from the palace walls! Yes. No surprise there! It is natural for this wonderland constructed of gold, garnets, pearls and the head diamond of the cobra to emit a tranquil light!

Who is coming in that crowd, there? How beautiful are their faces? How enchanting? They look like the inhabitants of paradise! Perhaps it is not the netherworld? Perhaps it is paradise? …

Events then took over like a dream within a dream. They took her to a hall that had been decorated. At the center there, a beaming Ponniyin Selvar stood welcoming Vanathi. As trumpets blared, glitter and flowers descended, amid choruses of blessings, the prince and Vanathi exchanged garlands and wed each other. Unable to bear the happiness of that moment Vanthi fainted. After she lay there unconscious for a long time two hands picked her up. Vanathi at first thought that they were the hands of Ponniyin Selvar. She thought that it was him who was embracing her, laying her down on his lap and reviving her. When she felt the bangles on the hands she began to doubt. “Vanathi! Vanathi! What have you done!” The voice was a woman’s. With the greatest difficulty Vanathi opened her eyes just a little. Kundavai’s face appeared in front of her.

“Sister! Sister! Were you at my wedding? I didn’t see you?” Vanathi’s mouth murmured.















From → Notes, Uncategorized

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