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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (43 – 46)

July 16, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

43. Nandi Mandapam

The next day again the head bikhu came to see Ponniyin Selvan. The prince was dying to ask him more questions. His attempts to get answers from the junior bikhu had been futile. Again and again he heard the same refrain, “Sir! Guruthevar will tell you everything!”

As soon as Guruthevar entered he asked, “Prince! How are you feeling now?”

“Sir! My body is giving me a difficult time. It has been saying, ‘Why are you being lazy, sleeping? Get up! Ride the horse! Jump into the river and swim! Fight with the elephant! Don’t be just lying down!’ My stomach is also very active. All the food that the junior bikhu brought was not sufficient. Achariyar! I cannot believe that all these days I have laid here unconscious in the throes of a severe flu. What a miracle your medicine has performed,” said Ponniyin Selvan.

“Sir! You should not trust what the body is saying. After a fever it is common to feel that way; if the fever returns a second time because of our carelessness, it can be life threatening!”

Guruthevar! I am not worried about my life …”

“You are not worried; that is right! But, do you know how worried these last four or five days the millions and millions of people in Chola Nadu have been? Entire towns and villages have been affected. Small children to elderly people are all shedding tears …”

“Sir! I don’t understand what you are saying. Why should the people worry so much? Is it because that I may not survive this fever? Why should the people worry when they know that you are treating me in Soodamani Viharam?”

“Prince! The people do not know about your fever or that you are at Soodamani Viharam. If the people knew would this monastery be so quiet? Won’t they break down the walls and storm in here to see you? If you had only heard the cries and wails that rose that morning when this town’s people came to know you had drowned in the sea … Why, even inside this monastery there was not a soul who did not shed tears that day!”

Ponniyin Selvar sat up on his bed. “Guruthevar! What are you saying? I do not understand! There was news that I had drowned in the sea! When? Who brought such horrendous news? Why?” He asked.

“I don’t know who brought the news! One morning it was all over this town. People were saying that the ship that was bringing you from Ilankai to Kodikarai was caught in the cyclone. Rumors began to circulate that however much Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men searched along the coast they had failed to recover your body and therefore you must have drowned in the sea. After hearing that I too was mourning here at the entrance to the viharam. At that time a monk came and told me that a boat had arrived in the canal behind with a patient. When I went there I saw that you were the patient. We treated you for three days. Only yesterday you gained your senses.”

Acariyar! Who brought me in the boat? Can you please tell me?”

“A young man and a young woman were rowing the boat.”

“Yes, yes! I remember that as if in a dream. Do you know the young man and woman? Is the young man Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan?”

“No, Sir! He said that his name is Senthan Amuthan. He appeared to be a Saiva devotee. I did not ask for the girl’s name. She is a strong woman, physically and mentally …”

“I can guess who she is. Boatwoman Poongkuzhali; Thiyaga Vidankar’s daughter. Did they say why they brought me here?”

“No, Prince! I did not ask them that.”

“You did not inform anyone that I am safe here?”

“No, Sir! Those who brought you told me not to tell anyone. Considering the state of your health, I also decided that it was better not to.”

Achariyar! There is foul play here. My father, the Chola Maharajah, has ordered me to be brought back here under custody. Accordingly I left Ilankai. Much happened on the way. This perfidy appears to be to fool everyone that I disobeyed the emperor’s command. They have also spread the rumor that I drowned in the sea. Guruthevar! Your acceptance of me in this Soodamani viharam is a crime against the kingdom. Keeping me any longer would make it a bigger crime. Please send me at once to Thanjavur ,,,”

“Prince! If I would be punished for harboring you I would welcome that. Even if this Soodamani viharam has to be razed down to the ground to accomplish it, there still won’t be any harm …”

“I appreciate your kindness, Gurutheva! Yet, how did you take me in without adequately questioning those who brought me here?”

“What is the necessity for questions? What other higher calling can there be for monks like me other than welcoming you and treating you when you came here with high fever? Moreover, your beloved sister Kundavai Devi has informed me earlier that you may come here and spend a few days.”

“Oh! Is that so? The junior stateswoman sent word? When?”

“A few days before you arrived. Senthan Amuthan who brought you here also said, ‘The junior stateswoman’s wish!’

Gurutheva! The two who brought me here, have they gone back? Can they be found? I must find out some information from them.”

“Sir! Do not be alarmed. Both of them are in town. They come everyday to inquire about your health. For some reason, today, they haven’t come yet …”

At that time the junior monk came and beckoned the head bikhu. Achariyar said, “I’ll be back, Sir,” and went out. When he returned after a short time he saw that the prince was more agitated than before.

Achariyar! I cannot wait here any longer. I do not want to shoulder the accusation that I was hiding here against the emperor’s order. I also do not want any harm befalling this Soodamani viharam because of me,” said the prince.

Relieved the elder bikhu said, “Prince! Truly I also cannot any longer bear this tremendous responsibility. I do not want to keep you here against your wish even for a second. You can leave immediately. The boat is ready and waiting in the canal!”

“To go where?”

“That is a matter for you to decide. The two who brought you here have come with the boat to take you.”

The prince hesitated a little. Seeing the mysterious smile hovering over the Achariya bikhu’s face he wondered, ‘Is this more of some dubious plan?’

“Those two have returned? Did they say why,” he asked.

“They did; half an hour away from this monastery there is the Nandhi Mandapam. There are two women waiting there to see you.”

The prince hastily climbed out of bed. “Achariyar! Take me to the boat at once! We have delayed for so long already,” he said.

Holding the prince by his arm the bikhu led him to the canal. But in the manner the prince walked there was no trace of the flu he had suffered.

Both Senthan Amuthan’s and Poongkuzhali’s faces blossomed at the sight of Ponniyin Selvar striding majestically charging like a bull.

Once Arulmozhivarmar was seated in the boat the bikhu said, “Sir! The monks at this monastery would consider it a blessing to be able to serve you. It is good if you return for a week and complete your recovery!”

Gurutheva! I also think that I will be coming back. If not I will not have left in a hurry like this without bidding farewell to the other monks,” said the prince.

When the boat began to move he looked at both Senthan and Poongkuzhali and said, “When you brought me on this canal route I thought that you both belonged to heaven and that you were escorting me to heaven. You deceived me. You took me to the monastery! Never mind that; I have to find out from you everything that happened ever since I lost consciousness after battling with the waves in the sea. Before that, tell me who is waiting for me in the Nandi Mandapam.

Even though the question was meant for both of them, Poongkuzhali did not open her mouth. It was Amuthan who replied. He said that both Madam Kundavai and the Kodumbalur princess were at Anaimangalam and that they were waiting in the Nandi Mandapam.

“Aha! Why has the junior stateswoman brought that girl who faints at the slightest provocation to this place?”

“Sir! There is a fever spreading among all Tamil Nadu women now. They want to leave the sacred Hindu religion, embrace Buddhism and become priestesses.”

“Who and who are saying this?”

“Kodumbalur princess is saying that. This princess here is also saying that!”

“Just the two of them, Amutha! There is no great loss to Saivism because of that! I know of several monasteries in Ilankai where priestesses lead spiritual lives. If necessary, I can take them there.” Senthan Amuthan laughed at Ponniyin Selvar’s response.

Senthan Amuthan related to the extent he knew of what happened since the prince and Vandhiyathevan reached the shore. Ponniyin Selvar listened eagerly comparing it to the events as recorded in his memory.

“There, Nandi Mandapam!” When Poongkuzhali pointed out the prince looked in the direction she pointed.

44. Nandi Grew!

Where the boat was, both sides of the canal rose high as steep embankments. Where Poongkuzhali pointed to, there were steps leading to a patio. At the entrance where the steps ended were two Nandi statues, one on each side. The lifelike beauty of these figures that had been constructed with great skill are admired even today. Their stature brought the place its name ‘Nandi Mandapam.’ Once a year during Spring festival the idols Thirunagai Swami and Neelaya Amman held court in the patio. Throngs of people would arrive then to take part in the festival. They would return after having dinner by moonlight. Because it was situated at considerable distance from the town, on ordinary days it was not common to see anyone there.

The boat neared the patio. After seeing the two women there the prince did not look at anything else. They held his attention. When the boat was close enough the junior stateswoman Kundavai came down the steps. Vanathi however waited on the patio behind a pillar half seen and half unseen.

The boat stopped next to the steps leading up. Senthan Amuthan from the boat and the junior stateswoman from the steps helped the prince to climb out.

Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali rowed the boat backwards and waited a short distance away.

“Brother! How thin you have become!” When Kundavai spoke there were tears in her soft voice.

Ponniyin Selvan said, “Never mind about me, Sister! Why is your face so lifeless? Your face would blossom like the lotus at the sight of me! Today why are clouds covering the moon that is your face? Why do your eyes tear? Aha! Much has happened to wound your heart. Or else, you would not have sent me that urgent letter!”

“Yes, Brother! I must convey many urgent matters; I have questions to ask. Munificent king who rejected the golden throne of Ilankai! Please sit down on this granite throne here,” she said.

Before sitting down Ponniyin Selvan bent down to touch his sister’s feet and raise his hands to touch his eyes. Kundavai touched his head and kissed his forehead. More tears bordered her eyes.

Once they were seated Kundavai said, “Brother! I should not have brought you here today. The head of Soodamani viharam sent word that you were fully recovered. That is not correct; the flu has taken its toll on you. But I could not wait without seeing you also. After arriving in Anaimangalam each second seemed like an eon!”

“Sister! Do not worry about bringing me here. If you didn’t send the boat by now I would have left for Pazhaiyarai myself. Even at the height of my illness it was your letter that was troubling my heart. The person who brought your letter! I have not seen a more capable person than that Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevar. I tested him in so many ways; each time he came through. Where is he now, Sister?”

The cloud cover that was over the moon that was Kundavai’s face lifted a little. Parting her coral lips and smiling to reveal her pearl like teeth she said, “Brother! What is there to be concerned about him now? There are so many other matters!”

“Why do you say that, Sister? Were you unsatisfied with him in any way?”

“No, no! Why should I be unsatisfied? He promised to bring you back. He has fulfilled that promise!”

“I am amazed when I think of the tricks he played and the plans he hatched to achieve it. Where is he, Sister? When I heard that you were here I assumed that Vandhiyathevar also will be here. Instead it is this princess who faints at the drop of a hat who is here!”

“You don’t know how courageous she has turned out to be, Brother! Yesterday, our chief minister’s elephant lifted her by its trunk and threw her down. Of course, down into my lap in the howdah! But she did not know that. If you had seen how courageous she was at that time …”

“Enough, stop bragging about your friend! Tell me about my friend!”

“What is there to tell? He finished his mission. He went back to his prince, Athitha Karikalan.”

“In that case, he did not keep his word. He said that he will not return to Kanji and that he will remain in Chola Nadu.”

“Hows that possible? What can he do waiting in Chola Nadu? Even those who reside here are uncertain of what tomorrow will bring? If you like him so much, let the emperor know and return the tributary that once his ancestors ruled!”

“What will that great warrior do with a tributary, Sister?”

“What all the petty kings are doing, he will also do the same! You rejected the Ilankai kingdom; in the same way do you think that he will also say no?”

Smiling the prince said, “Sister! I refused the Ilankai kingdom in front of witnesses. Even then my father has charged me with a crime and ordered me brought back imprisoned …”

“Brother! If you had accepted the kingdom there would have been no order issued to arrest you! You would have been the king of freedom. Who can imprison you then?”

“Should I have gone against my father’s wish then?”

“Ponniyin Selva! If you had accepted the Ilankai kingdom father would have been happy. He would have found peace dividing up the remaining Chola empire between your elder brother and Mathuranthakan. Even now there is an attempt to do that, Brother! There is a plan to separate what is north of Kollidam into one kingdom and the remaining south into another. Father is hoping that you would help with this. Because you did not return following the message that was sent to you he asked them to bring you by force. The emperor knows very well that you have refused the Ilankai throne.”

“I will never aid in dividing the kingdom. There is no bigger offense than that. Instead the entire kingdom can be given to Uncle Mathuranthakar.”

“Then you and the chief minister are of the same opinion!”

“Yes; the chief minister also feels the same way. He came to Ilankai to discuss this with me. Sister! Shall I tell the real reason why I refused the Ilankai throne?”

“If you don’t tell me, whom else would you tell, Brother?”

“Yes; there is no one else to whom I can reveal what is in my heart. I had such expectations when I went there. Only after being there I realized what a small place it was. On horse or elephant one can go from the western shore to the eastern shore in one day.”

“Is Chola Nadu any bigger, Brother? Can’t one cross this country on a horse in one day?”

“Chola Nadu is also small, therefore if someone offers me the Chola Nadu crown I would turn that down also. This divine Tamil country was divided into Chola, Pandya and Chera countries! They committed a big crime. That is why even when heroic warriors are born in Tamil country, this country does not prosper. In the north we can name Chandrakupthar, Ashokar, Samuthrakupthar, Vikramathithiar and Harshuvarthanar! These great emperors have ruled over great empires. Has anyone established a great empire and ruled in Tamil Nadu? There were emperors Mahendra and Mamallar in the Kanji-Pallava tribe. Then that tribe also disappeared. Sister, if I am to rule I will not be the ruler of a small kingdom like this. I will rule a land with stability that spreads from Ilankai to Ganges. I will be seated on a majestic throne of the Chola empire that will have the tiger flag flying in distant lands from Maldive islands to Javan islands! … Don’t you think that I am crazy!”

“No, Arulmozhivarma! I am happy that you are here to dream and build castles in the sky like me. If you are crazy then I am crazier than you. I know that our father’s grandfather emperor Paranthakar had such dreams. They did not come true during his lifetime. But I am going to see it happening in my lifetime. I will die only after seeing the Chola empire extend from Ilankai to the Ganges and from Maldive islands to Java. At one time I believed that this dream will be fulfilled by our elder brother Athitha Karikalan. That hope is no more. Athitha Karikalan is a great warrior; but he does not possess the ability for self restraint. Therefore he cannot achieve big things. I still hope that my dreams will be fulfilled by you. That too may not happen. I will not be disappointed by that. I am confident if it does not happen with you, it will happen through your child. I will raise your son from the day he is born. I will make him a great soldier whose likeness this country has not seen before. I will make sure that his mind is not taken up by worthless desires and make him a lion who will accomplish miracles.”

“Sister! There is no doubt that you are crazier than me. I have no thoughts of getting married. You have begun to speak about my son. If anyone of your friends whom you are spoiling with your love is entertaining that sort of notion, a hope that one day they can be seated on the throne married to me wearing a jeweled crown, that will never happen. Please make sure to tell them this!” When Ponniyin Selvan spoke for a second his eyes darted toward Vanathi who was standing behind the pillar. When he turned his eyes came to rest on the Nandi statues of the plaza.

“Sister! One thing! Even though Ilankai is small the kings who ruled that kingdom before were great men; they had big hearts. They made great plans and accomplished a lot. With brick they constructed mountain size Buddhist stupas that reach for the clouds. They built Buddhist viharas with thousand to two thousand rooms. They built plazas supported by ten thousand pillars. To illustrate how generous Buddha Baghvan was they constructed Buddha statues as tall as that coconut tree. Sister! Look at the Nandi statue in front of us! It is so small! Would the Nandi that serves as the vehicle for Mahathevar whose beginning and end are beyond the reach of sight, be so small? In heaven Paramasivan’s troops are demons. Nandithevar stands guard at the entrance to paradise so that these demons will not come to trouble too often. If he was so small how can he stop those demons? Watch, Sister! In front of my eyes this Nandi is growing. It is getting bigger and bigger. It grows to an enormous size hitting the roof over this building. The roof on top has been surpassed. Nandi Baghvan is touching the sky; the goblins are here. They pause respectfully in front of Nandi Baghvan and request permission to see Sivan; if Nandi Baghvan was so enormous how big ought to be the temple where Sivaperuman resides? Shouldn’t we construct a tower that reaches for the sky so that it will be called Meru of the south? Shouldn’t there be courtyards to match? Today’s Chola Nadu temples are suitable for Agastya munivar to preside. Not for Sivaperuman. I do not want a kingdom or anything else. Whomever takes the Chola throne I would ask them to make me chief of temple work …”

“Brother! We have here a war going as to which one of us is more crazy. At present Chola Nadu is surrounded by great danger. There is danger from enemies, internal and external, as well as those enemies who pretend to be friends. For some time now I have been seeing a terrible dream. A sharp and deadly sword that dazzles as tantalizing as lightening, dangles in front of my eyes. It is going to fall on someone. It is not clear on whom. It is not clear if anyone belonging to the Chola tribe is going to fall victim to this sword or if it is the deadly sword that will destroy this Chola kingdom by halving it into two pieces. It is you and I who have to device a plan to save this nation from such calamity,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Yes, Sister! From what Vallavarayar has told me I too have gathered as much. You know from whom the most deadly threat to Chola Nadu would come,” said the prince.

“You mean Pazhuvur Illaiyarani, Brother?”

“Yes, Sister! You know who she really is?”

“I gathered that also from Vandhiyathevar’s account. That is why I came to see you in such a hurry,” said Kundavai.

45. Vanathi in Danger

“Sister! Do you remember me drowning in the Kaveri at five years of age? Do you remember Mother Kaveri picking me up and saving me, then disappearing altogether,” Arulvarman asked.

“What sort of question is that, Brother? How can I forget? The reason you are called ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ is because of that incident,” said Kundavai.

“I saw the Mother Kaveri who saved me, in Ilankai, Sister! Why, you are silent? You are not surprised?”

“I am not surprised, Brother. But I am intrigued. Tell me all about her!”

“I cannot, in one day, in one sitting. I will just tell what is most important. She has not only saved me from the Kaveri floods; she has saved my life many times in Ilankai. Saving my life is not what matters, Sister! Many people by chance save others’ lives. It is the love she has for me, there is no equivalence to it in seven times two fourteen worlds. … Why? Even your love for me, I must say, comes after that!”

“You need not hesitate to say that. My love for you is not that great; it is mixed with selfishness. I will tell the truth, Brother! For me, this Chola empire’s glory comes first. I love you because I think you will be useful for that. If I come to know that you are against that purpose, my love may turn into hate. But that deaf and dumb woman’s love is not like that. She has showered all the love that has been overflowing in her heart for our father for over twenty years on you. Indeed, all fourteen worlds cannot equal that!”

“How do you know that, Sister?”

“What do you mean, Brother?”

“That she is our aunt?”

“I guessed from what father and Vandhiyathevar have told me, Brother! Does she think that you are her son? Or, her stepson?”

“That sort of distinction did not cross my mind; or her mind, not in the least. Why do you make this distinction?”

“Brother, our mother is seated on the throne where this dumb woman ought to be. Knowing that, if she has so much affection for you, isn’t that rather remarkable?”

“She must know that I am not her son. She can tell by the age difference! She cannot speak; she cannot say what’s on her mind. From some sketches she has drawn I found out what I could. Never mind her love for me; when I think of how much she must have loved my father, my heart melts at once. Sister! At my age would my father have been like me?”

“No, Brother, no! At your age our father was so handsome even Manmathan would have lost to him. Our Chola tribe is known for valor and not for beauty. Our grandfather Arinjayathevar married Kalyani from the Vaithumbarayan tribe, famous for their beauty. When Arinjayar married Kalyani, she was a world class beauty with skin like gold and a face radiant like the full moon. You have seen even at this age how beautiful Kalyani grandmother is. Because of it our father was also good looking. He earned the title ‘Sunthara Cholar.’ We are like our mother. Those who are born in the Thirukovalur Malaiamman tribe despise external looks, they think that beauty and valor are natural enemies. …”

“I do not know what beauty has to do with valor. But I know that beauty has nothing to do with love. Or else …”

“Or else, why is this girl Vanathi staring at you with wide open eyes from behind the pillar? There, in that boat, why is Senthan Amuthan so happy, his eyes fixed on Poongkuzhali?”

Smiling, the prince said, “Sister! You have gone from one topic to another! I spoke about my aunt’s love for me. Never mind; is it possible for someone in this world to be the mirror image of another, Sister?”

“Why not? If they are twins it is possible, or mother and son can resemble each other at a certain age in their lives. Other than that under Brahma’s creation very rarely sometimes two people who have no relationship whatsoever to one another can resemble each other.”

“Can it be true as Vandhiyathevar says that Pazhuvur Illaiyarani is a replica of our aunt whom I met in Ilankai? I have seen Nandhini only when she was a little girl. After she became Pazhuvur Rani I have not seen her that closely. What do you think?”

“I have seen Pazhuvur Rani but I have not seen our aunt. But what Vandhiyathevar said must be true. I gathered that from the history that father related, Brother!”

“Father told you, what did he say, when?”

“Some days ago Vanathi and I were in Thanjai. He spoke of an incident from his young days then. He talked about being stranded alone in an island near Ilanaki and about the affection bestowed on him by a mute girl in that island. He talked about being found by Paranthakar’s men in that island and being brought back. On the day he was crowned as prince he saw her in the crowd that had gathered at the palace entrance. Within seconds she had disappeared. He sent the chief minister himself to search for her and bring her back. But Aniruthar came back and told him that the girl had jumped into the sea from the top of the lighthouse and had died. I found out that this incident has been present in father’s mind for twenty four years eating him day and night. Father thinks that she is dead. He thinks that she died because of him, because of his fault, that she was hurt and took her own life. Brother! Let’s put aside our dreams for the Chola empire. There is one obligation towards our father that you and I together must take care of. You must by whatever means bring that great lady from Ilankai to Thanjai. We must prove to father that she is not dead; that she is alive. Otherwise our father will not have peace of mind in this life, nor in the next one!”

“Sister! Recently I was at the door of death, two or three times. During those times do you know what was on my mind? The heartache that I was leaving without taking my aunt to see father. Sister! When I think of that great lady my heart weeps. If one has a mouth to speak one can find consolation by talking about the grievances and agonies that one harbors in her heart. If one has an ear one can be consoled by the comforting words of others. Think about a woman who has neither mouth nor ears! The love that overflows in one’s heart, desire, hurt, agony, anger and anguish must be kept under control within oneself. And do we need to even discuss the mental state of someone who had been hurt as much as our aunt? Is it any wonder that she is wandering in the jungles of Ilankai island like a madwoman? When I think about it my heart feels like it would explode. I feel that I ought to somehow bring her to father. But do you think that father will like that, Sister?”

“Whether father likes it or not it is our duty, Brother! Father thinks that the dead woman’s ghost is after him. At nighttime he cries out. This is why he is not recovering.”

“How do you know this, Sister? Did father speak about it also?”

“Father did; my friend Vanathi also did.”

“Vanathi? What is her involvement in this, Sister? Did you tell her, or what?”

“No, no! I will ask her to tell in her own words what happened one day at the Thanjai palace. By the way you are very rude, Brother! You have forgotten Chola tribe’s good manners. You have not spoken a word to the Kodumabalur princess! You have not even asked about her wellbeing! Is this the respect you have for the daughter of the great warrior, the young Velar? Very pretty!”

“Sister! Why make a fuss when you are there to take care of Vanathi? What’s the point in my saying, ‘how are you?”

“Great! Just keep your mouth shut for a while! Vanathi! Come here! The prince wants to take a good look at you,” said Kundavai.

Vanathi came closer. Standing there seemingly looking and not looking at the prince she said in a voice as smooth as silk, “Sister! Why do you imagine any of this? Your brother does not want to see me. His attention is on that boat over there in the canal. He appears to be in a hurry to get back!” Perhaps she mentioned the boat thinking of Poongkuzhali!

Laughing the prince said, “Sister! Your friend can speak; I was afraid that she was also mute like the others in our family!”

“Sister! When I see him I am afraid to speak. Even I wonder, if I have turned mute,” said Vanathi.

“That is great. There is a fellow in Kodikarai; Poongkuzhali’s brother. Stuttering, he manages to communicate with everyone else. But when he sees his wife he becomes speechless. Because of it his family has deemed him dumb,” said the prince.

“This Kodumbalur girl is somewhat like that. Before if she was told to be quiet for a while, she won’t be able to help herself. When she starts talking she cannot stop. Ever since you went to Ilankai her talking has subsided. She sits by herself and imagines all sorts of things. Never mind, Vanathi! Tell the prince what happened that night in Thanjai palace,” said Kundavai.

“Let the Kodumbalur princess sit down and talk, Sister! If her great uncle saw her standing for so long he would melt. Whenever he sees me, the southern commander will inquire after her. But you never send word about her. So I would be in a dilemma trying to answer him,” said the prince.

“I sent word about her through the Varnar tribe warrior, didn’t he say anything to you?”

“He would have, Sister! It would not have fallen in his ears. His mind is somewhere else,” said Vanathi.

“That is also true, after I saw your letter I could not pay attention to anything else. After this flu even my hearing has dulled. Tell your friend to speak a little louder,” said Arulvarman.

Vanathi then told about being alone on the balcony of the Thanjai palace after Kundavai had gone to the Durga temple, hearing the emperor’s cry for help, leaning over to look down and about the scene that she saw there. In between when she looked up at the face of the prince she forgot herself. The junior stateswoman had to each time prompt her to continue.

The prince who was listening eagerly said to his sister in the end, “Sister! Your friend left out an important detail! After witnessing all of this did she not faint?”

Kundavai laughed; embarrassed, Vanathi looked down.

Kundavai looked at her with eyes full of affection. “Vanathi! Go for a walk along the canal for a while, or go wait near our troops. Arulvarman will be here for a few more days; we can meet again,” she said.

“Alright, Sister! I’ll go for a walk!” Vanathi went away skipping. The reason for the lightness in her steps, we do not know.

Arulvarman looked at her with wide open eyes and a smile on his face. When she disappeared from sight he turned to his sister.

“Sister! I understand the reason for father’s cry. But what do you think he saw? Is he delusional? If he is, then how could your friend have seen anything,” he asked.

“Father is not delusional; Vanathi also did not see anything phantasmagorical; a drama was staged before father at midnight. The person who played the most important role in it is Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani Nandhini. I guessed so even then. What you and Vanathi have to say confirms it …!”

“What is the reason for the drama? Why should Pazhuvur Rani do this, Sister?”

“Nandhini has doubts about her birth. She knows about the emperor fainting once before after seeing her. After that she never comes before father. She must have thought that she would find something out with a drama like this …”

“Would she have, Sister?”

“That, I do not know. Even Brahmathevan who created Nandhini cannot see or fathom Nandhini’s heart. I feel sorry when I think of what Pazhuvertaraiyar is going through; Brother! We talked about beauty just now! Among women Nandhini is the most beautiful. The rest of us can’t even measure up to the dust beneath her feet. Men who face her become her slaves instantaneously. Pazhuvertaraiyar, Mathuranthakar, Thirumalaiappan, Kanthanmaran, and last of all Parthipenthiran! Terrified of her charm Chief Minister Aniruthar won’t even go near her. Athitha Karikalan does not visit Thanjai because of it. Only one person has not been defeated by her, is not afraid of her beauty …”

“You mean the Varnar tribe warrior!”

“Yes, him! That is why I have sent him to Kanji to Athitha Karikalan.”

“What for?”

“Pazhuvur Rani has invited our elder brother to Kadampoor palace. I sent him to stop their meeting. Even they do meet I have sent him to make sure that no harm arises. Karikalan does not know that Nandhini is his older sister. Does Nandhini know about our relationship – that also I do not know.”

“Is it certain that she is our elder sister?”

“What’s there to be doubtful? Brother! Ever since I came to know about it I have changed my mind altogether. When we were children I disliked Nandhini, I insulted her. I was jealous of her beauty. I made sure that you and Karikalan will never speak to her. Even after she went to Pandya Nadu my hatred and distaste remained. After she came back married to old man Pazhuvertaraiyar, on numerous occasions I teased and embarrassed her. I have decided to make amends for all of that …”

“How, Sister? What sort of amends?”

“When I meet her next time I will fall at her feet and ask her to forgive all my sins. I will accept whatever punishment is given …”

“I will not allow that. You have not done any harm. There is no need for you to ask for anyone’s forgiveness. There is no one in these seven times two fourteen worlds who can punish you. You were not jealous of Pazhuvur Ilayarani Nandhini. She is the envious one. She is the one who hated you …”

“Brother! You said that your heart was exploding when you thought about our aunt who wanders around in Ilankai like a madwoman. When I think of what Nandhini, who should have grown up in the palace amidst all its luxury and comforts, had suffered in life my heart feels like exploding. Because of someone’s folly long ago, this sister who is older to me has had to marry this old man Pazhuvertaraiyar …”

“Sister! Do you know how any of this could have happened? Why did father think that our aunt had died? What is the reason for Nandhini to have grown up somewhere in someone else’s home as an orphan and ended up in this situation …?”

“I have been thinking about it night and day. But I have not found out anything that is certain. There are two people whom we know who know these secrets. Our grandmother Chempian Madevi knows something. It appears that Chief Minister Aniruthar knows everything. But we cannot find anything out from these two people. Aniruthar’s disciple Azhvarkadiyan must know to some extent. He is worse than his Guru! He won’t open his mouth. Brother! There is no hurry now to find out. What is important now is to prevent any danger or disgrace to our tribe because of Nandhini. Vandhiyathevar said, ‘Pazhuvur Rani has a well polished sword marked with the symbol of fish that she worships.’ Ever since I heard that my heart has been pounding. I am worried that Pazhuvur Rani will do something without knowing that she belongs in the Chola tribe by birth.”

“What if we tell everything to Pazhuvur Rani?”

“Will that work, I don’t know. Her fury at us may get worse. But we must do our duty!”

“It is right to send Vandhiyathevar for that. But shouldn’t father be informed also? As if his bodily illness is not enough why should he agonize his mind as well? Can we leave for Thanjai immediately?”

“No, Brother! I will leave for Thanjai in two days. But you must remain at Soodamani viharam for a while longer.”

“Why do you say that? Are you telling me to disobey father’s command and remain in hiding?”

“Yes! If you come to Thanjai now there will be turmoil all over the country. People are very angry at Mathuranthakar and the Pazhuvertaraiyars. People are angry even at the emperor for issuing the order to imprison you. If the people see you now they will give in to their emotions. We cannot know what may result from it. People may even holler that you be crowned at once. They will charge into Thanjai fortress and palace. Father’s heart that is already wounded will be hurt even more. Brother! I wrote that the kingdom is in danger and that you should return. For the same reason, now I think that you should go back to Ilankai …”

“Sister! That is not possible ever. I will not return without seeing our father. If it is better for me to come surreptitiously to Thanjai then I will do that. But I must see the emperor. I must reveal the identity of the Kaveri Amman who saved me.”

“I will tell him all of that at the proper time. Do you have to come?”

“Father will have complete trust if he heard from me who has seen in person! I will also have peace of mind. I will also obtain his permission to bring aunty …”

“Arulvarma! I am not standing in the way of your wish. But remain at Soodamani viharam for one more week. I will go ahead of you to Thanjai. I will send word after informing father about your return. Brother! I did not come here in search of you just to see you; I came to ask a favor. If you grant me that I will not trouble you after that. I will not ask you to shy away from danger, live in hiding. Men must confront danger. My dream is that you must one day be known as the incomparable warrior. But before you subject yourself to danger again you must fulfill my request …”

“What is all this leading up to, Sister? Have I ever refused anything that you have asked?”

“No, you have not. It is with that confidence I am asking now. Athitha Karikalan is not married; it does not appear that he will; you will be the one to continue Sundara Cholar’s tribe. You must fulfill my wish in this matter …”

“If I agree to fulfill your wish you will grant me permission to marry the girl I like?”

“What sort of question is that? Our hearts have not differed in twenty years. Why do you have to go on your own about this?”

“Sister, there is a reason for that. The girl I marry ought to be able to help me realize my dreams!”

“Brother! You want to depend on a woman to help fulfill your dreams,” said Kundavai.

At that time, “Aiyo! Aiyo! Sister! Sister,” a cry for help was heard. The voice belonged to Vanathi.

46. Vanathi Laughed

When the prince and Kundavai Devi were seated in the Nandi Mandapam talking – while Vanathi was listening standing beside a pillar – there was an important discussion taking place between Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan who were waiting in the boat on the canal.

“Amutha! I am going to ask you something. Will you answer truthfully,” began Poongkuzhali.

“Nothing but truth comes out of my mouth, Poongkuzhali! That is why I have been for four days now not looked at anybody or spoken to anyone,” answered Amuthan.

“Truth never comes out of some people’s mouths. That Vandhiyathevan, who took the letter to the prince in Ilanaki, he is like that.

“Yet, he is a good man. He has not lied to harm anyone.”

“He said something about you. I want to know if it is true or not …”

“There is no reason for him to say anything about me that is not true. In any case tell me what he said!”

“He said that you spoke really well of me.”

“That is completely true.”

“He said that you like me, he said that you want to marry me …”

“Did he really say that?”

“Yes, Amutha!”

“I must thank him.”

“What for?”

“I will not have opened my heart to you; I will not have had the courage. He acted as my messenger! I must thank him for that.”

“Then is it true, what he said?”

“It is true, Poongkuzhali! No doubt about it.”

“What made you like me, Amutha?”

“Can you explain love?”

“Think about it. There must have been some reason!”

“No one in the world has so far discovered or explained why love happens or how it happens, Poongkuzhali.”

“Don’t people fall for beauty?”

“Beauty can be a reason for love; lust also. But that is not true love. It also will not last. You mentioned Vandhiyathevan now, the instant he saw me he became my friend. I was prepared even to give my life for his sake. Did he become my friend, because of my looks?”

“But your friend had a lot to say about my looks?”

“He did. But he did not fall in love with you. He talked a hundred times more about Pazhuvur Rani’s beauty, but he didn’t fall in love with her either.”

“I know why.”

“Why?”

“Because that warrior’s heart had gone to the junior stateswoman who is over there speaking to the prince.”

“Doesn’t this show that there is no relationship between beauty and love?”

“How? Are you saying that I am more beautiful than the junior stateswoman?”

“Is there any doubt in that, Poongkuzhali? More than the Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman, more than the Kodumabalur princess who stands behind the pillar there, you are many times more beautiful. Even Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani who is hailed by many as the reincarnation of Mohini herself cannot compare to your beauty. But this heavenly beauty is my enemy. Because of it I am unable to speak to you freely of the love that fills my heart. Fear has taken over my heart that such a beauty desirable to heavenly gods and kings of kings on earth is out of my reach!”

After a moment of silent contemplation Poongkuzhali asked, “Amutha! What will you do if I tell you that I do not love you?”

“I will be patient for a few days. I will see if you will change your mind.”

“Why will it change?”

“People’s minds are strange. Oftentimes even we do not know what is in our mind. Owing to the external world mind can be delusional. When all delusions fade the truth is revealed …”

“Alright, you will wait and see, if my mind still does not change …”

“I will try to overcome my love for you …”

“Is it possible?”

“If one tried, it is; if one thinks about god it is possible. Our elders kept their minds under control by concentrating on god …”

“Amutha! Your love for me, it does not appear to be real.”

“Why do you say that? What are the characteristics of true love?”

“If you truly love me, your love for me is real, when I reject you, you will want to kill me. If you feel that I love someone else instead of you, you will be provoked to such anger you will want to kill him also …”

“Poongkuzhali! What I talked about is love that is divine, that is of a magnanimous nature. The love that you are talking about is of a lower disposition; one can even call it demonic …”

“I know neither godliness nor devilishness. I know only about human nature. Love should bring happiness. Instead, if it brings unhappiness, how can one bear it? If we love someone, and if that person instead of reciprocating our love, deceives us, why should we bear it? Isn’t revenge human nature?”

“No, Poongkuzhali! Revenge is not human nature, it is beastly. If we are truly in love with someone, then that person’s happiness ought to make us happy also. Even if that person’s rejection is hurtful in the beginning if we patiently abide in return, the happiness we will derive from that will be ten times more …”

“What you are describing is not human nature; it is not even possible for human beings to be that way. A doctor’s son came with Vandhiyathevan. When he saw me he liked me. When he realized that it was futile, he thought that Vandhiyathevan was the one standing in the way and tried to hand him over to Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men. He would have tried to kill me also.”

“In that case he does not belong to the human race; he is from the ruthless demonic kind.”

“There, Koduumbalur princess is standing over there. She has lost her heart to Ponniyin Selvar. What will she do if Ponniyin Selvar does not accept her? She will certainly try to poison and kill Ponniyin Selvar. If she finds out that another woman has stolen his heart she will try to kill her also.”

“I don’t think that even for a minute, Poongkuzhali! Vanathi who is the personification of magnanimity will never try to do that.”

“May be so, if it is me that is what I will do.”

“I will pray that god will forgive you …”

“Why should god forgive me? It is I who must forgive god!”

“God will forgive your blasphemy also!”

“Amutha! You are the best. You have inherited our aunt’s nature …”

“What is that? All of a sudden you are springing something new on me?”

“Our family thinks that our aunt is dead!”

“Whom do you mean? You mean the elder sister of my mother and your father?”

“Yes! She is not really dead.”

“I have also heard it now and then …”

“Even today she is roaming around in Ilankai island like a madwoman …”

“Who can escape the family curse?”

“Family curse is not the only reason that today she is wandering like a madwoman. The reason is the betrayal by one Chola tribe member …”

“What? What?”

“In her young days my aunt lived in an island near Ilankai. A Chola prince pretended to love her. She believed him. Later when he became the crown prince he rejected her …”

“How did you find this out, Poongkuzhali?”

“From my dumb aunt’s sign language. I’ll tell you something else, listen! Sometime ago some Pandya Nadu men came here. They asked my help to avenge the royal family that had deceived my aunt. Having known my aunt’s story, my blood has been boiling. I decided to join them. At that time I learnt of my aunt’s nature.  Not only did she forgive the man who deceived her, I found out that she had saved his child by another woman many times from death. I then gave up my idea of joining the Pandya Nadu men. As you say my aunt’s love is indeed magnanimous. But I will not be like my aunt.”

“Then how will you be?”

“If any prince deceives me and abandons me I will take revenge on him. I will kill him; I will kill the woman who stole him from me. Then I will also stab myself and die!”

“My god! How awful!”

“Amutha! You do not know the rage that has been building up in my heart for two years. So you are calmly giving me a lecture on the principles of nature!”

“How did you develop this rage that your aunt is devoid of?”

“That is my aunt’s affair; This is my affair!”

“Your affair? Really, Poongkuzhali! Think carefully!”

“Yes, Amutha! If we compare a drop of blood from my body with a drop from that Vanathi’s body will there be any difference?”

“There will be no difference.”

“Is she above me in any way? Intellect, beauty, or ability?”

“She is not above you in anything. You grew up on the sea. She grew up in a palace. You can kill the wild beasts of the jungle with your bare hands! You can ferry the baot across the ocean in a storm! You will save lives abandoned fighting amid the waves! Vanathi will be terrified of the waves! She will scream frightened at the sight of the house cat! She will faint at the slightest unfavorable news!”

“Then why does the junior stateswoman consider me inconsequential? What is the reason for mollycoddling Vanathi?”

“Poongkuzhali! You are laying needless blame on the junior stateswoman. Vanathi is her longtime friend. You have just been introduced to the junior stateswoman. Didn’t she thank you profusely for saving the prince and bringing him here?”

“Yes! Who wants the rich lady’s gratitude? Let her save it! Amutha! If the prince has to be taken back to the Buddhist viharam, please, you take him by yourself. If I come, I may topple the boat on purpose …”

“You will never do that, Poongkuzhali! What harm did the prince cause, for you to topple his boat?”

“Amutha! I have gone mad. My mind is not normal. Thinking of the harm that his father did to my aunt I may topple the boat. You row the boat!”

“Alright; I will take the prince. What will you do?”

“I will follow Vanathi and drop a rock on her head!”

While talking Poongkuzhali bent down and picked a gravel stone from the embankment. At that time a stately bull emerged from the dense coconut grove bordering the canal. Deciding to take her anger out on the bull, Poongkuzhali threw the stone at it.

The stone hit the bull-king on its forehead. The bull shook itself violently. It turned and looked in the direction from where the stone had come.

“Aiyo, Poongkuzhali! What is the matter with you? How can you hit that bull with a stone?”

“So what?”

“It is a mouthless being! It has no way to protect itself!”

“There was a dumb woman in my family! What about those who hurt her? Because she did not know how to take care of hereself, a prince deceived her and wrecked her life!”

“What can this bull do about something someone did to your aunt?”

“This bison is not some helpless being. It has sharp horns. It will attack those who come to hurt it. What can a poor unworldly deaf woman do? If a prince treats me like that I will not let him go so easily!”

“You will not! You will pelt the bison with stones! You will do that from the boat on the canal so that the bull cannot fight you back!”

“If it cannot attack me let it go and attack someone else!”

“Like how you showed your anger – on some one else, on this bull; right?”

The bull did not comprehend their words. But it did as Poongkuzhali suggested. It could not step into the canal, take its anger out on Poongkuzhali in the boat. It turned and went with a gallop. At that time Vanathi was walking alone toward the palankeeen that was on the other side of the coconut grove. Her heart was dancing with joy. Her mood further lightened when she saw the bull-king in front of her. But then she grew frightened at its stance, its head bent, tail held high, horns jutting ahead charging towards her. She had nowhere else but to run back in the direction of the canal. She reached the embankment near the Nandi Mandapam. She could not go any farther. Beyond the embankment, it was the canal that lay deep down below. She turned thinking that she can run toward the Nandi Mandapam along the embankment. The bull stood squarely in front of her. There was no other way but to step back and fall into the water. It was then that she screamed, “Aiyo! Aiyo! Sister! Sister!” It was this cry for help from Vanathi that was heard by Ponniyin Selvar and Kundavai.

Startled, both of them turned their heads. They saw Vanathi on the raised embankment of the canal a short distance away from the Nandi Mandapam. Her back was towards the canal. She appeared to be frightened of something in front of her. The next second they found out what the terrifying object was. ‘Ammaahh!’ – the bull-king appearing in front of Vanathi bellowed indignantly.

One more step behind will take Vanathi into the water. She had no other recourse but that. Arulvarman saw her predicament in an instant. He jumped immediately into the canal from the top of the stairs and ran. Just as Vanathi tipped back and fell Arulvarman caught her with both hands preventing her from falling headlong into the water.

Kundavai was aghast at Vanathi’s plight. When she saw Arulmozhivarman catching her she was plunged into a sea of delight.

Carrying Vanathi who lay like a wilted vine in his vajrayutham like hands conditioned by spear and sword Arulvarman came to Kundavai.

“Sister! Please take your friend! I don’t know how this girl was born in the Kodumabalur veera Velir tribe,” he said.

“Brother! What have you done? How can you touch an unwed virgin girl,” said Kundavai.

“God! Is that a problem? So, are you saying that I should have let her fall headlong into the water and drown? Great! She does not know that I caught her. She fainted during the fall! Here, take her,” said Arulvarman.

Vanathi laughed out loud. Laughing she freed herself from his arms and jumped down.

“Wretched girl! You were awake,” exclaimed Kundavai.

“Ask her why she shut her eyes and pretended like she had fainted, Sister!” Ponniyin Selvan said.

“I did not pretend, Sister! When he touched me I did not know what to do. To hide my embarrassment I closed my eyes!”

“How would I know that? Since it is your friend’s habit to faint, I assumed she did.”

“Hereafter, I will not faint. Even if I did, it will not happen if he is around. Sister! He better not forget the favor I did to him today,” said Vanathi.

“What? What? Her favor to me? This is just wonderful,” said Arulvarman.

Kundavai also looked at Vanathi perplexed. “What are you saying? Do you mean that you will never forget my brother’s help today?” She asked.

“Not at all, Sister! I am the one who did your brother a great service today. He should forever be grateful to me for that!”

“I have to thank her for saving her from falling into the canal? Is she alright in the head, Sister?”

“My mind is in excellent condition. It is his mind that is disturbed. Let me explain. You have said that when he was small he fell into Kaveri once and that a woman saved him. The next time he fell into the ocean! A boatwoman saved him there. Being rescued by women in this manner has become a habit for him. I helped to erase that infamy. Now I have handed him the glory that he rescued a woman who was about to drown in the canal! Am I not owed some thanks for that?”

Vanathi laughed. ‘kapeer’ – Kundavai also laughed hearing Vanathi. Unable to control himself Ponniyin Selvan also laughed out loud. The sound of the three of them laughing together rose past the Nandhi mandapam upward into the skies producing echoes.

Those who were in the boat also heard the laughter. “Amutha! Do you hear those three mad people laughing,” said Poongkuzhali laughing. Amuthan laughed along with her. ‘kilukilu kilukilu’ – giggled the birds perched on the coconut palms.

The bull that had been waiting majestically by the canal also departed with a loud roar.

The sea waves rolled imperially in their laughter. The gentle breeze that came from the sea also rejoiced laughing softly.

(End of Part III)   

 

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