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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (24 – 29)

March 28, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi. To read from the beginning go here.

24. Memory Came back

Again Vaanathi became unconscious. Her eyes closed. Gradually her mind recovered. She realized that her marriage to the prince was a delusion. She reminded herself of hearing the sad news about the prince, standing at the edge of the canal, and then overcome by dizziness falling into the water.

These memories were a source of immense disappointment; they hurt as if a lancet had struck her heart. She tried to open her eyes, but she could not. Who is the person who pulled her out of the water? It must be the junior stateswoman. It must be Kundavai Devi who was in the boat. Why did she save her? Why didn’t she let her drown? ‘Why did you save me?’ – as soon as she was able to open her eyes and speak she must fight with the junior stateswoman. Is this all the affection that she has for her beloved brother? …

It’s the junior stateswoman speaking now. What is she saying? To whom is she speaking? Let’s listen.

“She is speaking incoherently in her unconscious state! The fact that she is alive is more than enough! If our boat had been farther away? If we didn’t see her falling into the water? It is mind numbing to think about!”

“If we had not seen it, in a way it would have been better. This girl’s life would have had a happy ending. Kodumbalur princess who is alive because of you will have much heartache in life …”

Aha! Who is this? So kind to me? Yes, it is that young man; the warrior we saw at Kudanthai astrologer’s house and later at Arisilatankarai. He must have brought the news about the prince drowning in the sea. What more will they say? Let’s listen, even if she cannot open her eyes she can hear well!

“What is this? Why are you so unkind? Men have hearts of stone!” She heard the junior stateswoman say.

“What have I said to be called stone-hearted?”

“You said that it would have been better if she had died, isn’t that enough? Do you know how much effort I have put into raising her? …”

“Did you hear the nonsense she was spouting?”

“What did you hear?”

“Something about marrying the prince …”

“Yes, even unconscious she murmured that. Her love for the prince is deeply rooted in her heart.”

“That love is not good for this girl. It will only lead to heartache and disappointment.”

“Why do you say that? Other than her who is there so suitable for the prince? Don’t you know of the ancient Kodumbalur tribe?”

“I have heard. I am thinking of one; you are speaking of another. What does it matter what tribe she is from? The longing in her heart will never come to fruition …”

“It certainly will. It is not a longing in her heart. It is my dream; it is my decision.”

“Even if it is your decision it will never happen.”

“Why do you say that again? Isn’t it true, what you just said now, that the prince is safe at Nagapattinam Soodamani vihara?”

Aha! How wonderful is this! The prince is safe? He is at Nagapattinam Soodamani vihara? These ears have been blessed to hear this good news! How fortunate she was to have not drowned in the canal! She was indebted to the junior stateswoman in many ways. Now this is one more. But, aiyo! What is he saying now? It feels like molten lead in my ear!

“Madam! The prince is safe. But what is the guarantee that her wish will come true? I don’t think that the prince will marry this girl …”

“You can think whatever. In this world there is one man who will not cross my line. That is my younger brother Arulmozhivarman!”

“Princess! Count me also in …”

“Then what more do I need? What is going to stop my plan? Would the Pazhuvertaraiyars object to this also … ?”

“I don’t know about that. I know that you have enormous affection for the prince. He will listen to you in all other matters. He has no interest in ruling. Right in front of my eyes he rejected the Ilankai crown. Yet at your insistence he may even agree to rule. But about marrying this girl … ”

“Are yu saying that he will refuse? To reject my beloved friend in that way what fault has he seen in her? What fault have you seen?”

“Madam! I have not seen any fault in her; even if I did I will not trust myself. Even the lowliest maid in the palace serving the junior stateswoman is a heavenly maiden for me. The tiny rabbit in the princess’s garden will appear as Thevendran’s iravatham to my eyes. The prince also did not see any fault in her. But his heart can be in another place, couldn’t it? …”

Aiyo! How cruel! Why is this young man stabbing her heart that is already wounded?

“Varnar tribe Warrior! I don’t understand what you are saying. Why do you slander my brother so?”

“It’s not slander, Madam! I am telling the truth. I am saying what I have seen with my eyes and heard with my ears.”

“Go on, please! However difficult it may be, I am now prepared to listen.”

“I mentioned the boatwoman Poongkuzhali, didn’t I? She is the one who rowed me to Ilanaki. She is also the one who saved the prince and me at sea. She is also the one who took the prince to Soodamani vihara in her boat. I will not have left the prince in the hands of Senthan Amuthan alone. It was Poongkuzhali whom I trusted. If that girl had a thousand lives, she would offer every one of them to the prince ,,,”

“So what? A boatwoman is just that. Can she dream of marrying someone who was born to rule the world? Can the sparrow that pecks and hops on the ground gaze at the eagle that circles far up in the sky?”

“Why not? The sparrow can look up at the eagle; the eagle also can look down at the sparrow and fall in love.”

“If any such thought had appeared in my brother’s mind, leave it to me to put an end to it. This can never happen! I have rescued Arulmozhivarman from so many dangers. I would also rescue him from this boatwoman’s lascivious net …”

“Is the boatwoman so easy to disregard? Are class and family so important? Isn’t the blood that flows in the boatwoman’s body not red? Her heart does not yearn like those of the princesses born in palaces? If one thinks about it, the affection of a princess is likely to be mixed up with love for power and authority. But this boatwoman’s love is untarnished, pure. The prince also believes this. Why should others object? Now, now, hmmm – consider myself even. If I can bare my chest and show you what’s inside …”

“No, no. What is in your heart, let it stay there safely. It is best that way. Love, longing and desire – these are good for everyone else. But those who were born to rule – it’s a different matter altogether. They must marry royalty. They should not give into temptations. If they did, it would lead to problems. Our family itself bears witness. In my father’s young days – when there was no indication that he will be the heir to the kingdom – he also … there was a girl raised in the jungle! But why should I narrate this now? This girl is coming back. Eyelids are moving. Is there nothing else to talk about? You said that you ran into other dangers in Eezhanadu! Please talk about that.”

“Yes! Princess! The same night the prince refused the Ilankai throne and crown, we were walking back on the streets of Anuradhapuram, suddenly the front part of a building collapsed. If we had paused for even a second there, it would have fallen on our heads. We would have been buried alive. At that time a woman appeared there suddenly. She beckoned the prince.

“God! Even there, it has to be a woman to save you? Who was she?”

“I do not know who she is. But it appears that the prince knew her before … there is no need to suspect anything. That lady is old …”

“How old is she?”

“She can be his mother. In addition she is deaf and dumb!”

“What? What? Tell me again!”

“She is an elderly woman, deaf and dumb from birth … Her age would be more than fifty five …”

“Sir! Did you see such an elderly lady in Eezha Nadu? Please tell me more about her. Do you know anything about her birth, where she grew up? Where was she born?”

“She was born in an island next to Eezha Nadu …”

The princess became very agitated. “Sir! Please tell me more! What does she look like,” she asked.

“Madam! There is something peculiar about her appearance. I hesitate to say it.”

“Do not hesitate. Tell me quickly.”

“She resembles a woman I have seen in Chola Nadu; only older. She was not dressed in nice clothes and jewelry, her hair was loose and unkempt. Other than that she was just like the woman I saw here. Same face! Same appearance. In fact I  was fooled for a minute.”

“Sir, the woman here, who looks like her – who is she?”

“Princess! Can’t you guess?”

“Is it me? This girl, Vaanathi? Is it my mother who is in Thanjai palace?”

“None of those you named.”

“Is it Pazhuvur Illaiyarani Nandhini?”

“Yes, it is Nandhini!”

“God! In that case, what I suspected is true.”

“What did you suspect?”

“I suspected if the woman I hated like a poisonous cobra could be my elder sister. From what you say it appears that it is true. The hand of fate is cruel. From this we can understand what a travesty it is for someone from the royal tribe to marry a person of unknown class and family.”

“Madam! I am not someone of unknown class and heritage. My ancestors ruled the rich Tamil country for three hundred years. They put Sera, Chola, and Pandyars in prison. Today even though I lack a kingdom. there is a sword in my hand; there is strength in my shoulders; courage in my heart …”

“Sir! I will listen to your stories some other time. There is a lot to be done now. I still need your help. You will help me, won’t you?”

“If I have a thousand lives, I am prepared to dedicate each one of them to you.”

“You seem to be a kindred spirit of boatwoman Poongkuzhali. Good; let’s not talk about this now. Here, this girl is about to open her eyes …”

Yes; in the meantime Vaanathi had completely regained her senses. Her body also was enlivened. Many thoughts appeared in her mind. She decided that she had to keep living until she can prove that her love for the prince was greater than that of the boatwoman. She was also reminded of the scene and the wailing sound she had heard one night in that room in Thanjai palace where the emperor was sleeping. She began to comprehend to some degree what it meant.

When Vaanathi opened her eyes the junior stateswoman asked affectionately, “My Darling! How are you feeling?”

“There is nothing wrong with me. Sister! I am ashamed to think what a lot of trouble I have given you,” she said.

At that time Azhvarkadiyan entered saying, “I have also come to give trouble. Devi! Crowds have gathered at the palace entrance creating an uproar. The people are angry about the prince drowning in the sea. If you don’t come and calm them down it may lead to mayhem!”

25. The Chief Minister Arrived

The streets of Pazhaiyarai were in a state of turmoil that has not been seen at any time before. Throngs of people were flocking to the part of this ancient city where the palaces were situated. Men, women, the elderly, youth and children went in droves. There intermingled, Saivists and Vaishnavists; Buddhists and Jains. Here and there, there also were a few militant and fundamentalist kalamugar men. Many among the people were weeping and crying as they went. Many cursed the Pazhuvertaraiyars whole heartedly as they went.

Here and there a few young men were seen with batons in their hands. Every now and then they loudly knocked one another’s baton as they passed. To the beat of the batons some chanted softly ‘Beat them Pazhuvertaraiyars over their heads!’ Some shouted it out. Those who shouted out loud were mostly kalamugar men.

The entrance towers of most Pazhaiyarai royal palaces had a half moon shaped arch. All the palaces together faced a sprawling piazza. It was large enough to hold tens of thousands of people during special occasions. Surrounding it was a high wall. The wall had three entrances. Each was guarded by a group of palace soldiers.

The throngs of crowds began to gather at the three entrances. Minute by minute, it grew larger and larger. The palace guards admitted the two couriers and the city guards who had escorted them. They stopped all the others. But they could not keep them out for long. ‘Go in! Go in!’ Voices arose at random from the crowd. Those who were at the back pushed those who were ahead. The crowd behaved like the waves of the sea that roll one after the other to crash against the shore.

In the end those in front pushed by those behind broke the barrier of the guards and entered the palace. That was it! Like the flood that bursts in uncontrollably through the small crack on the Kaveri bank, the people spilled over into the piazza. Within a short time the compound was full. Thousands of people had assembled there.

It was this commotion that Chempian Madevi heard while speaking to Mathuranthakan. She stopped arguing with her son and came to the palace balcony. The crowd calmed down seeing the great queen’s benevolent face, her calm demeanor and palms raised together in prayer. For a few seconds there was silence.

“Mother! Where is our prince? Where is Ponniyin Selvar? Where is the apple of thy eye, Arulmozhivarmar?” Voices rose here and there from the crowd. That was sufficient; the uproar that followed was ten times louder than what was heard before.

Chempian Madevi stood in shock unable to fathom the reason. ‘Something awful has happened to Ponniyin Selvan who had captured the hearts of the Pazhaiyarai citizens’ – was all she sensed. What was the hoopla? How did it happen? Had the Pazhuvertaraiyars committed a crime condemning the Chola family and Mathuranthakan to eternal blame?

The Thanjavur messengers pushed through the crowd and finally emerged in front. One of the guards who led them said, “Madam! They have brought important news from Thanjavur!”

Raising her hand to quieten the crowd Chempian Madevi asked, “What news have you brought?”

“Madam! We are unfortunate messengers bringing very sad news. Following the emperor’s order Prince Arulmozhivarmar was coming from Ilanaki to Kodikarai by ship; on the way the ship was caught in the cyclone. The accompanying ship had suffered a wreck. The prince jumped into the sea to save those on it. He was not seen after that. Arrangements have been made to search the sea and the coast. The emperor and Malaiamman Mahal are deeply saddened by the news. The emperor has sent word through us to ask Mathuranthaka Thevar, the junior stateswoman and yourself to come immediately to Thanjai!”

Chempian Madevi heard the news. The crowd also heard it. Tears were streaming down from Chempian Madevi’s eyes. Seeing it the people wailed even louder.

One person from the front line of the crowd shouted, “Madam! You should not go to Thanjai; the junior stateswoman also should not go! We must bring the emperor here.”

Another person said, “This is a lie that Ponniyin Selvan has drowned in the sea; Pazhuvertaraiyars have killed him!”

“Mathuranthakar also should not return to Thanjai. He must wait here,” yet another voice was heard.

“Where is the junior stateswoman? We want to see her!” Several voices shouted.

Chempian Madevi asked one of the maids near her to bring the princess.

Azhvarkadiyan who was in the crowd slowly left. Again he hurried on the backroad to reach the trellis house where Kundavai Devi was aiding Vaanathi. He informed her of the trouble brewing on the palace grounds.

Leaving the maids to tend to Vahnathi the junior stateswoman hurriedly departed.

When the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi approached the palace tower she saw the tears in Chempiam Madevi’s eyes. The sight brought tears to Kundavai’s eyes also which in turn made the crowd even more desolate.

“Ponniyin Selvar did not drown in the sea. Pazhuvertaraiyars have killed him. We want revenge!”

“Pazhuvertaraiyars are keeping the emperor in prison. He must be freed and brought here. If the princess gives us the order we will leave this minute.” People in the crowd told the junior stateswoman.

Kundavai’s mind worked fast. The crowd should not be told the truth about the prince. But they must be pacified somehow. She had an idea.

Wiping the tears from her eyes she looked at those standing in the front line of that crowd. Meanwhile Azhvarkadiyan and Vandhiyathevan had joined the crowd. The junior stateswoman asked Azhvarkadiyan to come up. Azhvarkadiyan went up. Kundavai spoke to him in a soft voice.

Azhvarkadiyan looked at the crowd and raised his hand to quieten them. He spoke in a voice loud as thunder:

“The junior stateswoman cannot believe that Ponniyin Selvar would have died. She believes just as Mother Kaveri caught him in her hands and saved him, the ocean king would have saved him. The soothsayer is also saying it. The junior stateswoman will make arrangements to search and find the prince. Until then she asks all of you to peacefully return to your homes!”

An audible sigh was heard from the crowd.

“Where is the soothsayer? Let us hear the good news from his mouth also,” said one person.

Vandhiyathevan took the opportunity to leap onto the balcony. Standing next to Azhvarkadiyan he announced, “It is true that the prince was facing great danger. But nothing happened to his life. We will find him soon!”

“How do you know,” said one voice.

“I am a soothsayer, I looked at the stars and planets; I have studied the omens.”

“Lie! You are lying! You are not a soothsayer! You are a spy!” The same voice said.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the person speaking. He knew that it was the doctor’s son.

“Mad man! You are calling me a spy? If I am, whose spy am I?” He asked.

“Pazhuvertaraiyars’ spy!” The doctor’s son did not miss a beat.

“What did you say?” Vandhiyathevan roared.

The balcony was twelve feet above from the piazza where the people stood. Not minding the height Vandhiyathevan jumped from the balcony on top of the doctor’ son. A duel began. Everone likes a fight, no matter the time or place!

The crowd formed a circle around them to watch the fight. Those on the balcony watched with concern. Many in the crowd, not knowing what was going on began to shout even more loud than before.

From the entrance there was heard the sound of horns and trumpets.

“Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar is coming. Make way!” A voice bellowed.

The huge crowd parted making way for the chief minister.

26. Aniruthar’s Prayer

Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar’s palankeen split the crowd making way for itself as it proceeded. Moving out of the way to stand on both sides the people offered their respect to the chief minister. Many expressed their concern for the prince. Chief minister also appeared laden with worry. Yet he raised both hands offering comfort and blessing to the people as he went.

The palankeen was lowered once it reached the place entrance. The chief minister stepped outside and looked up. He acknowledged the presence of the queen and the princess. Then he turned his attention to the duel. Vandhiyathevan and Pinakapani continued to fight unaware of what was going on. Azhvarkadiyan came down and whispered something in the chief minister’s ear. “Arrest these ruffians who are clashing on the palace grounds!” He ordered his aides; the aides along with Azhvarkadiyan broke through the crowd. They grabbed the two fighting men and tied their hands with rope. Following Azhvarkadiyan’s cue Vandhiyathevan did not protest.

Aniruthar went upstairs. He addressed the crowd from there. “I understand your concern and anger. Just like you the emperor and the queens are grieving. Do not do anything to deepen their sorrow. Arrangements have been made to look for the prince. All of you return to your homes peacefully,” he said.

“We must see the emperor. The emperor must return to Pazhaiyarai,” one of them in the crowd said.

“What is the fate of our soldiers in Ilankai?” Another person asked.

“The emperor is safe in Thanjai palace. Velakara troops are guarding the palace day and night. Very soon I will bring the emperor to this city. You need not worry about our soldiers in Ilanaki; the war in Eezham has ended with complete victory to us. Our soldiers will be returning soon!” When the chief minister announced a cheer broke out from the crowd. The people started to turn back praising Sundara Cholar and anpil Aniruthar.

The chief minister said to the queen, “Devi! I have important matters to discuss with you. Shall we go inside the palace?” When he turned to the princess and said, “Child! I will come to you later,” Kundavai departed.

Several worries entered her mind now. If Kundavai was afraid of anyone in Chola Nadu, that person would be Chief Minister Aniruthar. The man had the eyes of an eagle. He, not only had the ability to see with his external eyes, he was also capable of delving into the hearts of those facing him and finding out their private musings. The junior stateswoman was in a quandary trying to decide how much he knew, how much he did not know; what to divulge to him and what can be left out from him. His order to arrest both Vandhiyathevan and Pinakapani together made the princess angry. She could not show it. She also was unable to speak on behalf of Vandhiyathevan in front of that huge crowd of people. ‘He is going to come later? Let him come; I will put him in his place,’ scowling in her heart she hurried to her anthapuram.

Chempian Madevi commanded everyone’s respect and devotion in the Chola empire. Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar was no exception. Yet, on this occasion the elderly woman behaved somewhat timidly. She sat down only after Aniruthar was seated.

“Sir! For sometime now it has been nothing but thunder following thunder over my head. Have you also brought bad news? Or are you going to say something nice,” she asked.

“Madam! Please forgive me! I cannot answer your question. It depends on how you will receive the news I have brought,” said the chief minister who excelled in diplomacy.

“Is the news about Ponniyin Selvan true, Sir? I cannot believe it! We had placed such lofty hopes on Arulmozhivaraman. How many times have we said that he was born to rule the entire world under one mantle?”

“Madam! You have indeed kept me informed of what the astrologers were saying. This humble servant does not equivocate; but neither have I agreed!”

“Never mind; now, tell me. Is it certain that the ocean king has robbed us of Ponniyin Selvan?”

“Who can be certain, Madam? What is certain is that this news has spread all over the country.”

“If it ends up to be true, what is the fate of Chola Nadu? What trouble would ensue?”

“It seems as if trouble is not going to wait for proof …”

“Rumor is good enough to tip the balance. I have never seen the Pazhaiyarai people angrily flocking into the palace like this before …”

“Don’t think that this happened only in Pazhaiyarai; since yesterday Thanjavur city is in chaos. Velakara troops have refused to leave the palace. Crowds of people surged into the fortress and have surrounded the Pazhuvertaraiyar palaces. It became necessary to use rutting elephants to disperse the crowds …”

“Aiyo! What horrifying circumstances! How disastrous!”

“It is good that Mathuranthakar is in Pazhaiyarai. Or else the blame would have fallen on him also …”

“Sir! If you know how Mathuranthakan has changed you would be surprised.”

“Not me, Madam! These are issues I have known for sometime now.”

“Knowing his mind, you have not done anything to change it. At least now please help him with some good counsel.”

“Madam! I do not see any need to change Mathuranthakar’s mind. I have come to speak on behalf of his side …”

“In that case? I don’t understand, Sir!”

“Madam! Mathuranthakar thinks that this Chola throne belongs to him. After the emperor, he wants to rule this kingdom. It is a rightful desire, a desire that has taken root in his heart. Nothing good will come to Chola Nadu by preventing it. It is prudent to facilitate it …”

“Aiyo! What manner of speech is this? Even you have dared to betray the Chola emperor? What chaotic times?”

“Empress! Even in my dreams I will not consider betraying the emperor. I am here on the emperor’s orders. I am repeating what he has asked me to submit to you. He wishes Mathuranthakar to take the throne once the emperor’s time is over. Pazhuvertaraiyars are plotting a coup. But the emperor wants to crown Mathuranthakar now and step down from the throne. He has sent me to obtain your permission for this …”

“The emperor may wish. But it will never have my permission. I will not agree to this idea that is against my husband’s wish. Chief Minister – thou who hast seen the shores of knowledge! Even if the emperor says so, how could you come to share with me this improper notion? Have you completely forgotten the few truths that only you and I know about the rightful claim to the Chola throne …?”

“Madam! I have not forgotten anything. I know a few truths that even you don’t know. Therefore I came as the emperor’s messenger …”

“Sir! The world is aware of your intelligence and political acumen. Do not test them on this member of the fairer sex …”

“Empress! I did not come to debate with you. I also did not come to flaunt my superiority. I came to beseech you to save this Chola Nadu from great danger.”

“Submit your prayers to the lord who is adorned with the crescent moon, or pray to vishnumoorthi, the god of your choice …”

“Yes, Madam! If you turn your generous heart away, then only ambalathan and arangathan must save this country.”

“What is this danger that is upon this country? How can it be prevented by putting Mathuranthakan on the throne?”

“Madam! Please listen! Just like how the people of this town rose in anger today in two or three days people from Kanjipuram to Rameshvaram will rise up in anger. It will not end there. I hear that Poothi Vikrama Kesari has already assembled a battalion and left Ilankai. When news reaches Athitha Karikalan he too will not be idle. He will start towards Thanjai with the northern garrison. Pazhuvertaraiyars and the other petty kings are already assembling their troops. There will be a dangerous clash in this country like the war of inheritance that took place between the Pandavars and Kauravars. All of your family and kinsmen will be destroyed. Are you going to be watching idly while all of this takes place …”

“Sir! Chief Minister endowed with superior intelligence! I have no kith or kin. You would have heard about the great man Shankarar who was born in the western hill country. That prophet had prophesied – ‘My mother is Parvathi Devi, my father is Paramasivan; my kith and kin are saiva devotees, I have no other kindred in this world …”

“Madam! I would like to remind you the fourth line in the same Shankarar slogam. ‘swatheso puvanathrayam’ – he has said. Our three worlds are the country we are born into. Would you simply stand and watch while your own country gets destroyed by civil war?”

“My mother country is more precious to me than the three worlds. But is this foot long Chola Nadu the only mother country? Not at all. The country that stretches until kaivaiyankiri in the north is my country. If there is no room in Chola Nadu I will go to kasi sethiram; I will go to Kashmir and kailasam. For a long time I have thought of going on such a pilgrimage, please let it happen …”

“Madam! I agree that the thesam from Tricomalee in the south to himothgiri in the north is our swathesam. A great danger is now facing this blessed Bharatha earth that extends so. Races such as pattaniyars, Turks, Moghuls and Arabs have set out on expeditions to grab newer territories. Just as yavanar and hoonar attacked a thousand years ago this new religion is unleashing its troops against this country. Their religion is a strange religion. They believe that it is right to destroy temples and idols. Madam! There are no great kings in the northern country who can stop them. This humble servant has been dreaming that Chola warriors will reach the Ganges and Himalaya to establish a great Bhratha empire putting an end to the groups that destroy temples. Please help to make this come true. Please agree to crown Mathuranthakar and prevent an entitlement battle in Chola Nadu.

Chempian Madevi upon hearing this was deeply lost in thought for a while. Then, “Sir! You have battered me with matters that are beyond this foolish woman’s comprehension. If this sort of danger is to strike this Bharatha earth, god almighty ought to put a stop to it, what can this helpless woman do? I will never forget what my husband said to me before surrendering his life at god’s feet. I will not do anything against it,” she said.

“In that case I must reveal something that you have until now been unaware of,” said Aniruthar.

At this time Mathuranthakar entered hastily and asked, “Mother! What’s this I am hearing? Did the sea take away Arulmozhivarman?”

“Empress! Comfort your beloved son. What I was about to say, I will say at another time.” The chief minister parted with these words.

“There he is, he is my chief enemy. Even with me here he has come to poison your mind, hasn’t he?” Words spoken by Mathuranthakar once he had stepped out fell on Aniruthar’s ears also.

27. Kundavai’s Astonishment

Chief minister Aniruthar reached Kundavai Devi’s palace. The princess rose and greeted him when she saw him.

“May you be blessed with a husband who excels in character and valor!” Chief minister Aniruthar gave his blessing.

“Sir! Is this what you can think of at this time,” said the princess.

“What this old man knows, he wishes for you. What else would you want, Child?”

“We are all worried about my father’s health. The whole country is grieving over Arulmozhivarmar …”

“But on your beautiful face I did not see even a trace of anguish, Child!”

“I was born in a warrior’s tribe. Do you want me to be wailing as soon as I hear bad news?’

“I will never say that. I am asking you to comfort the cowards like me.”

Achariyar! I must comfort you? The iron-willed man who will not be disturbed even if the world turns upside down?”

“You frighten even me, Child! Anthapura women ought to spend their time happily singing and dancing. Instead did you see the trouble you caused by interfering in matters of governance?”

“Aiyo! What is this accusation? What matter of governance did I interfere in? What trouble did I cause?”

“I asked for Ponniyin Selvan to remain in Ilankai for a little while longer. Against that you sent a letter asking him to leave immediately. Who will pay heed to this old man’s words against your wish? See, the tragedy that followed! The prince whom the Chola citizens celebrate as the apple of their eye was taken away by the sea. You saw a while ago the crowds of people who gathered to protest. Like that all over the country there is a reaction. Aren’t you the reason for this upheaval, Child?”

“Why do you say that Arulmozhivarman left after seeing my letter? Don’t you know that the Pzhuvertaraiyars sent two shiploads of soldiers to imprison him?”

“I know, Child! I know! If that was all then we can hold Pazhuvertaraiyars responsible for what happened to Ponniyin Selvan. Both their ships got destroyed. If they say that he left in response to your letter who can dispute that?”

“Sir! How do you know about my letter? How could the Pazhuvertaraiyars know about it?”

“Good question, Child! We are not the only people who know about it. The whole world knows. Your messenger was first caught by my soldiers in Ilankai. Because of it everyone in Ilankai came to know. Because of the doctor’s son who accompanied him up to Kodikarai everyone here also came to know. What you did secretly had been thus exposed! This is why our elders have maintained that women should not interfere in the affairs of the kingdom.”

Kundavai remained speechless for a while. She did not know what to say. The chief minister had put her in her place. There was truth in what he said. This realization caused her to feel annoyance at the Varnar tribe warrior. He was capable of brave deeds. But he had made the entire matter public. He must be reprimanded. But now he is under arrest by the chief minister. He gets himself in trouble and drags her also into it! Couldn’t he have been quiet? Just because the doctor’s son blurted out something did he have to leap over him from the balcony to start a fight?

“Sir! I would like to make one request. You must benevolently grant this one.”

“Devi! Order me! Who can have a word against yours in this kingdom?”

“When you were at the palace entrance there were two men fighting. You ordered them arrested.”

“That was a grave mistake. Starting a fight in the presence of the great queen is no small offence! And at this time? With a big crowd roused up! What a catastrophe it would have been if the people unaware of the reason had joined in? Like the tiny spark that can burn an entire forest this may have led to mayhem all over the country!”

“Yes, Sir! What they did was a big mistake. Yet I am begging you to pardon one of them.”

“Who is the lucky fellow who has the mercy of the princess?”

“He is the messenger I sent to Ilanaki island.”

“The fruit slipped and landed in the milk!”

“Why do you say that?”

“I wanted to imprison that messenger myself. Here, by his own folly he had got himself arrested.”

“Why? For what offence?”

“Madam! He is being charged with a brutal crime.”

“What is it?”

“That he is the one who pushed Ponniyin Selvar into the sea.”

“What a heinous accusation! Who is charging him like that?”

“Many people are. Parthipenthiran who was bringing the prince in the ship says it; Pazhuvertaraiyars are saying, ‘Possibly!’ I too am suspecting.”

“Achariyar! Careful! Are you suspecting that I sent a murderer to kill my brother?”

“Not at all, Child! You sent him with complete trust. That may have been a mistake! Couldn’t he have been a spy for the opposite side?”

“Not at all. Athitha Karikalan sent him for my assistance. He wrote that he can be trusted …”

“Athitha Karikalan also could have been fooled, Princess! Or he may have undergone a change of heart on the way! While I was coming here I heard the accusation ‘spy.’ The fellow standing on the ground was pointing to the fellow upstairs. What was that about, Child?”

“The one upstairs was the messenger sent by my older brother. Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan of the Varnar tribe. The one standing below was Pinakapani, the doctor’s son. He accused Vandhiyathevan to be the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ spy, how ludicrous?”

“Why not, Child?”

“It can never be. He escaped from the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ hold. To capture him again the Pazhuvertaraiyars tried hard sending their men after him …”

“How did he come to possess the Pazhuvur ring?”

“That treacherous monster – mayamohini – poisonous serpent – please pardon me, – Pazhuvur Illaiyarani gave the ring to him.”

“I am glad that you are aware of that. If I had said that, you would not have believed me. This warrior from Vallam is not a Pazhuvertaraiyar spy. But he can be the Pazhuvur Rani’s spy.”

“How can that be?”

“I will tell you now. Vandhiyathevan, – the confidential messenger sent by you to Illankai, – met the Pazhuvur Rani in her palankeen outside the Thanjai fortress. He obtained her signature ring then. Later inside the fortress he met her in the Pazhuvur palace anthapuram. The Pazhuvur Illaiyarani hid him in the underground treasury cellar and helped him to escape. She knew that you were coming to her with a letter. When he was returning from Ilankai the two of them met in the ruined Pandya palace on the shore of Harichandra river. Even after this the Pazhuvur ring is still with Vandhiyathevan. What do you think about all of this, Child! Do you still have complete trust in your messenger?”

Kundavai’s mind was now truly confused.

28. Spying on a spy

“Child! Why are you quiet? Do you still believe in Vandhiyathevan?” Chief minister Aniruthar asked the princess who remained silent.

“Sir! Honorable Minister! What can I say? If I keep talking to you, you would make me doubt even my own self,” answered the princess.

“The times are such, Child! These days it is not easy to decide whom to trust and whom not to. Enemies are all around; their secret measures continue,” said Chief minister Aniruthar.

“Yet, it appears that there is no secret or scheme that you are not aware of. How did you find out all the information about the messenger I sent?” Kundavai Devi asked.

“Madam! I have a thousand eyes and two thousand ears. They are spread all over the country. My people are in the Pazhuvur palace. Among Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s bodyguards there is one who sends me news. There are many like Azhvarkadiyan who roam the country and bring me news. I believe that nothing can happen in Chola Nadu or the surrounding countries without my knowledge. Yet, who knows? There can be people to fool even me. There can be secrets that even I am not aware of!”

When the chief minister was thus speaking Kundavai wondered if he knew about Ponniyin Selvan’s presence at Soodamani viharam. With the greatest difficulty she kept the question to herself.

“Sir! All of what you say may be true; yet I just cannot believe that Varnar tribe warrier can be Pazhuvur Rani’s spy. Please let him go,” she said.

“Think carefully, Child! That girl Nandhini has some hidden magical power! Saiva devotee Mathuranthakan fell into her trap and is now craving for power. Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran has taken her letter and gone to Athitha Karikalan. Pazhuvertaraiyars’ arch enemy Parthipenthiran is today a slave to Pazhuvur Rani. He wants to divide the Chola kingdom into two and give one part to Mathuranthakan and the other to Athitha Karikalan …”

“What arrogance? Divide the kingdom into two? The great kingdom that our ancestors had scraped together with the greatest difficulty!”

“You will not want to divide the kingdom; I also don’t want to, Child! Ten days ago Parthipenthiran also would have reacted vehemently at the suggestion. Now he is the chief proponent …”

“This is incredulous! What is the Pazhuvur Rani’s magical power?”

“Princess! I wanted to pose that question to you myself. You are asking me. Never mind; why are you so certain that Vandhiyathevan will not fall for her mystical charm?”

“Sir! I cannot explain the reason. They say that one’s mind is a witness of another. I feel strongly in my mind that the Varnar tribe warrior will not be a betrayer in that order.”

“In that case, let’s test it out, Child!”

“How? What test?”

“We must send a messenger to Kanji at once. We must send a letter through someone Athitha Karikalan trusts.”

“What about?”

“A while ago, after calling Nandhini a poisonous snake, you apologized. In truth she is ten times more lethal than a poisonous snake. She has planned to destroy this Chola tribe without a trace.”

Her mind caught in the throes of many disturbing thought waves Kundavai exclaimed, “God! How frightful!”

“She has asked Sambuvaraiyar to invite Athitha Karikalan to Kadampoor palace. She is talking about having a daughter of Sambuvaraiyar and a daughter of Pazhuvertaraiyar wedded to Karikalan. She also wants to finalize the decision about dividing the kingdom into two. All of this is on the outside. No one knows what ulterior motives she holds in her heart. Even I who pride myself as a wizard cannot fathom her motives.”

“What should we do about this, Sir?”

“We must somehow prevent Athitha Karikalan from going to Kadampoor palace. This is the reason why you and I must send a letter through Vandhiyathevan. Barring our wishes if Karikalan goes to Kadampoor palace we must send Vandhiyathevan with him. Like the shadow that is inseparable from the body he must follow your brother. He should not leave room for even one meeting with Nandhini.”

Kundavai sighed; she realized how convincing the chief minister’s analysis was. She could not guess if his speech was based on facts or if it had political motives.

“Sir! Why do you think it is so important to prevent them from meeting,” she asked.

“Madam! Some bodyguards of Veera Pandyan have vowed to destroy the Chola tribe without a trace. New gold coins are going to them from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury. Do I need to say more?”

“No,” murmured Kundavai. She was reminded of the prince lying in Soodamani viharam with fever. Are there dangers surrounding him also?

“Sir! It is fortunate that at this time when threat after threat is piling upon Chola Nadu you are its chief minister! What arrangements have you made about my younger brother,” she asked.

“I have asked for prayers to be held at all the Saiva temples and Vishnu temples for the safety and health of the prince. Buddhist viharas and Jain temples will do the same. At Nagapattinam Soodamani viharam Buddhist monks are going to conduct a special mandalam. What else do you think we ought to do?”

Kundavai was observing to see if there was any change on his face when he spoke of Soodamani viharam; nothing was noticeable.

“Sir! Soodamani viharam brings to mind something else. Apparently the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is displeased with them. Since hearing the news about the monks in Ilankai wanting to crown the prince, his anger has reached its peak. They may even attempt to blame the disappearance of the prince on the monks at Soodamani viharam. You must arrange for their safety,” she said.

“I will do that at once, Child! With the emperor’s order I will even have a small garrison sent for the safety of Soodamani viharam. What do you say about sending Vandhiyathevan to Kanji?”

“For something as important as this, isn’t it better to send someone else?”

“If you trust him, then he is the one I want to send. I have also learned about his brave deeds. We must send this fearless warrior on this mission. Today at the palace grounds I witnessed it with my own eyes! What he put that doctor’s son through! If I did not interfere, the doctor’s son would have been dispatched to be the doctor for yaman …”

The junior stateswoman was cheered up by this. But she asked hesitantly, “Is being a good soldier enough? He is excitable. How quickly he got into a fight!”

“If necessary I can also send my disciple Thirumallai along. Azhvarkadiyan is famous for his patient and cautious ways,” said Aniruthar.

“Can even god know what is on his mind, it is so unclear; perhaps he wants to spy on one spy with another,” the junior stateswoman said to herself.

29. The Change in Vaanathi

When Kundavai was leaving to get Vandhiyathevan released from prison and send him off on his journey, Vaanathi came to her. With the utmost respect she greeted the junior stateswoman.

“My Darling! I left you to yourself. I still have a little work. Let me finish it. Go and wait in the garden. Just don’t go near the canal,” she said.

“Sister! I will not trouble you anymore. I want to go to Kodumbalur, please allow me!” Vaanathi said.

“What’s this, are you also going to surprise me? Why are you unhappy with me? Why this sudden affection for your home?”

“If I am unhappy with you then there is no one else as ungrateful as myself. I have no sudden affection for my home. Without a mother or father do I even have a home? Once my mother had promised to offer pooja at the Kali temple near our place. She closed her eyes before fulfilling it. With my fainting spells? Perhaps the deity is testing me asking for it?”

“You don’t have to go that far for it; I will send word to have it completed.”

“Not only that, Sister! My great uncle is returning from Ilankai. He will not come to Pazhaiyarai crossing Thanjai. When he comes I want to be in Kodumbalur. I want to hear from him first hand what happened in Ilankai!”

“Why do you care so much about what happened in Ilanaki?”

“What are you asking like that? Have you forgotten that my father reached the warrior’s heaven from Ilanaki?”

“I have not. That blame is no more …”

“I am not so sure. Before the war is over the elder Velar is returning in a hurry.”

“Are you going to ask him to return to Ilankai again and wage a war? Is that why you want to go to Kodumbalur?”

“Who am I to discuss such important matters? I merely want to hear what happened …”

“Aha! I understand you now. You want to ask your great uncle about the brave acts of Ponniyin Selvan in the Ilankai war, correct?”

“Is that wrong, Sister?”

“No, it is not. But you want to leave me alone here at a time like this, that is not fair!”

“Sister! Am I leaving you alone? You have many friends like me, many who can read your mind and do what is necessary …”

“You have also started to talk back like this, Vaanathi? Ever since you heard the news about my brother your mind has become confused. You should not concern yourself too much about that news …”

“How can it concern me more than it does you, Sister!”

“Tell the truth! Did you fall into the canal knowingly? Did you faint?”

“Why would I willingly fall? I became dizzy and fell. You and that Varnar tribe warrior saved me.”

“You don’t seem grateful that we saved you!”

“Not only in this life; I will be grateful in the next seven times seven lives!”

“You speak as if this life is over! Let me tell you, listen, Vaanathi! Don’t worry unnecessarily! I don’t think that anything has happened to Arulmozhivarman. I will tell you what I told those people gathered in the piazza. Once before Mother Kaveri saved my brother. Like that the ocean king must have saved him. Very soon we will hear the good news.”

“On what grounds are you making this assertion, Sister?”

“I hear it in my heart. If something has happened to my beloved brother I would know it. I won’t be speaking so casually …”

“I have no faith in what the heart can hear. Neither subconsciously nor externally.”

“Why are you so certain?”

“Deep within my heart and on the surface there has been an illusion for a few days now. In my sleep and in my dreams. Sometimes even when I am awake.”

“What is it, Vaanathi?”

“Your brother’s face appears in the water often. It appears to be calling me. This appears in my dreams also.”

“Why do you call it an illusion? The news we have received and what you are seeing are in agreement.”

“If you hear the whole story you will understand what kind of a mad illusion this is. Didn’t I faint and fall in the canal? From there I went straight to the netherworld. There, a wedding ceremony took place …”

“Whose wedding?”

“I don’t want to say that. Sister, in essence I have no faith in what appears in my heart and in my dream. I have decided from now on to trust only what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears …”

“Vahnathi! You are entirely mistaken. Sometimes what is seen by the eyes and heard by the ears may not be true. What you wish in your heart may be the truth. I can cite many examples from poetry and literature …”

“I will listen to that later, Sister! Now bid me goodbye,” said Vahnathi.

Princess Kundavai was taken aback. She marveled at the sudden and boundless courage of this girl.

“Vahnathi! What is the haste? Even if you must go home, can’t you leave in a few days? The whole country is in a turmoil now. You must go with proper security!”

“What am I afraid of, Sister? The palankeen carriers and the four soldiers who accompanied me here from Kodumbalur have been aimlessly sleeping here all these days. They will take me back …”

“Very nice. You think that I will let you go back like that?”

“I beg you, Sister! I am not afraid. No one will dare to do anything to Kodumbalur Vahnathi in this country. Besides, who does not know me as the junior stateswoman’s best friend? Please grant me permission just for one thing. On the way I want to visit that Kudanthai astrologer’s house once again and find out a few things. Can I do that?”

“I too am eager to see him. But you are in such a hurry!”

“No, Sister! This time I want to see him alone …”

Kundavai placed her finger on her nose in astonishment.

The princess could not fathom how this girl had in one day, in one night, turned so stubborn. She concluded that she could not stop her journey.

“Alright, Vahnathi! We will do as you wish. You make the arrangements for your journey. In the meantime let me free that Varnar tribe Warrior from prison,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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