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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (13 – 17)

April 20, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

13. Kundavai’s Request

When Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the astrologer’s house, Kundavai and Vanathi were also there. Ever since Eezharani went missing that morning, Kundavai had been restless. Poongkuzhali’s disappearance at the same time added to her anxiety. She went in search of the chief minister.

It was at this time the news about Arulmozhivarmar reached the palace. Kundavai heard that the prince was forced to leave Nagaipattinam because of the storm and that throngs of people were accompanying him to Thanjai trumpeting their joyous victory. This became the tipping point for Kundavai. She believed that this latest development signaled trouble. She wanted to meet Ponniyin Selvan on the way. If he were to enter the Thanjai fort surrounded by a large crowd of people, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s people would try to stop him. She had also heard that Poothi Vikramakesari was at Kodumbalur with a large garrison. The two sides may end up clashing near Thanjai. It will disturb her father’s mind. The news may even kill him. Who knows what else will happen? Because of the storm the people were stretched thin. The slightest provocation can trigger a civil war that will destroy Cholanadu. When that happens there will be no way to contain it! Isn’t it better to stop it before it starts than afterward? If not all the effort that has been undertaken up to now will be wasted! Therefore she must meet Arulmozhi Cholan on the way and have him wait at Pazhaiyarai for a while. She must bring the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar from Kadampoor. Only after informing the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar that Arulmozhi had no desire to rule, she must bring him to Thanjai …

After arriving at this decision Kundavai left with Vanathi without telling even her father, only informing her mother and Aniruthar. Before going to Pazhaiyarai she wanted to see the astrologer in Kudanthai. In times of trouble isn’t it human nature to want to know what lay ahead?

As always the chariot was parked near the Amman temple. Not long after Kundavai started expressing her woes to the astrologer, they heard a commotion outside. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s loud voice turned the tiniest follicles on her hands rigid. Only the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar could produce such a stately growl. He appeared on the verge of marching in pushing aside the astrologer’s disciple. How did he get here? Why? At this time?

Aha! Perhaps he is seeking the astrologer’s counsel. If she can eavesdrop she may be able to gain some insight into his thinking. At this difficult juncture it would be helpful if she knew what lay in his heart. Now, here was an opportunity! And, who knew what his reaction would be if he sees her and Vanathi here? No doubt, he would jump to the wrong conclusion! Therefore it will be better to stay out of his sight …

With a tilt of her head indicating to the astrologer her intention, Kundavai dragged Vanathi by her hand and quickly disappeared into the adjacent room.

The instant their door closed Pazhuvertaraiyar walked in. After intently looking at the astrologer who excitedly rose to greet him, he looked around. His face showed surprise and disappointment. Only for a second. Keeping his countenance he said, “Astrologer! Do you recognize me? Treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar! Why do you stare? Is my appearance that bad? I am in need of something very important. You must help me. First of all, bring me something to eat; I am very hungry. I’ll talk while I eat!”

Finding it difficult to be coherent the astrologer mumbled, “Sir! What help can you need from this poor fellow? It is my ancestors’ good deeds that have brought you here to this hut. I cannot provide a meal worthy of your status. But everything here is yours. Please sit down, you are standing? I am in shock. I have failed to welcome you properly. Aha! There isn’t even a proper seat for you in this simpleton’s hut. Please be kind enough to take that palakai.” He showed the low wooden seats that were occupied by Kundavai and Vanathi a few moments ago.

Pazhuvertaraiyar, after taking a look at the seats and the flower petals lying on the ground nearby said, “Astrologer! No, I have no time to sit down. If you have anything to eat wrap it in a leaf and give me. I must send a letter urgently to Thanjai … to my brother Kalanthakakandan … Can you give me a palm leaf and a style? … No! There is no time to be writing. I will give my signature ring. Can you go at once to Thanjai with it? Or, there is your disciple at the door. A rather well built man, can you send him at once?”

“Whatever you command, we will oblige. My disciple and I, we both can go, But, Treasurer! You must please sit down and have a meal that this poor fellow can offer!”

“Astrologer! Why do you call yourself a poor fellow? A simpleton? I have heard that kings and princesses come in search of your house. I am the only person who has not sought your counsel. I now realize that it was a mistake. Perhaps if I have come to you these awful events may not have taken place …”

“Sir! Your words alarm me. What has happened? Who is hurt? I was right to be shocked when I saw you in this state. Were you caught in the storm and the flood? I heard that Kollidam broke off. Perhaps, because …? Treasurer! … Is Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani well?” The astrologer’s query produced a menacing laughter from Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“No, no! Nothing happened to Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. She did not drown in the Kollidam flood. As far as I know she is safe at Kadampoor palace. But I cannot be certain that she will be alive at this hour tomorrow. Astrologer! Can you tell? I have heard that you keep the horoscopes of every person in the royal household. Is it true? Nandhini, the devil I married foolishly in my old age, – do you have her horoscope?”

Even more agitated than before the astrologer answered, “Treasurer! What are you saying? Are you testing me? I don’t have Ilaiyarani’s horoscope. If you tell me her date of birth and time, then I will be able to write it.”

“No need, no need. I will write Nandhini’s horoscope. I have decided to end her life with my own hands. If you know about the future of others, tell me! What is the emperor’s future? What about his two sons? Aha! You are shaking your head! You won’t tell me. You think that I am testing you. Or, perhaps your astrological science is just humbug, rolled up prevarication, who knows? Astrologer! Astrology aside – do you know that the thoomakethu that has been apeearing for sometime now, fell to the ground this morning and disappeared? What does that mean? Is that an evil omen pointing to anything in particular? Is it an indication of impending doom for the emperor or his children? If you refuse to answer even this then your astrology is mere humbug!”

“Treasurer! Do not come to that conclusion. As a profession we are bound by tradition to avoid using astrology in matters of government. I did not see with my eyes thoomakethu’s demise this morning. Amazed at the bright light outside I ventured out too late. I saw that Thoomakethu, whose tail has been diminishing these past few days, was no longer present. It is said that the appearance and disappearance of the long tailed comet portends disaster for the royal clan. But that is not based on astrology. It is an ancient belief of the people. I don’t have faith in it. Even this morning the emperor is alive and well, I happen to know.”

“That is our good fortune. Nothing should happen to the emperor tonight. If he is alive until tomorrow, then we don’t have to worry. Do you have any news about Ponniyin Selvan? …”

“Late last night I heard that the prince was finally in Thiruvarur. Treasurer! Ten to hundred thousand people are around him, I hear. They are bringing him to Thanjai against his wish.”

“Aha! If only they can take the prince to Thanjai … that will be good. But, can they? Even if hundred thousand people are around, can Yaman be stopped? Tell me, Astrologer, tell me! Even if you don’t want to predict – let me tell you! Danger awaits the emperor and his two sons today. Yamatharman is approaching them. The emperor’s Yaman is hiding in the underground cellar of the Pazhuvur palace. Arulmozhi’s Yaman is hiding in the elephant keeper’s goad. It is your responsibility to stop these two men and save the emperor and Ponniyin Selvan. Let your disciple take my signature ring and go to Thanjai. You must go to Thiruvarur and warn the prince. Will you do it? Will you leave immediately?”

The astrologer was dumbfounded. He wondered if Pazhuvertaraiyar was in his right mind. But he could not question Pazhuvertaraiyar’s sanity. His statements appeared to match the astrology. Even if he spoke angrily and in haste, he seemed to be telling the truth. The junior stateswoman was listening also. He must find out her opinion. In any case he must send the old man away from here now.

“With Durga Parameshwari’s blessing, I will carry out your order as best as I can.”

The astrologer’s answer was accompanied by the sound of ankle bracelets that were usually worn by women.

“Aha! With the sound of her ankle bracelets Durga Parameshwari has shown her approval. Now, I can go to Kadampoor, I will leave right away …”

“Treasurer! You said that you were hungry! After having something to eat …”

“No, no! My thirst and hunger have taken a flight. I too must fly to Kadampoor. The chariot beside the temple … whose is it, Astrologer? I will have to take it. Once I reach Kollidam riverbank, I’ll send it back. I will take the boat …”

“Sir! The chariot … the chariot … please have mercy on me and don’t take it …”

“Astrologer! Don’t worry! I am taking the chariot to save the life of the crown prince of Cholanadu. Durgadevi will allow me that. If she graciously sounds her ankle bracelets again then I will know that I have her goodwill. There, listen …”

While the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was speaking the door to the adjascent room opened. The junior stateswoman walked in her ankle bracelets chiming along. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar did not appear surprised.

“Madam! I knew that you were in there. I didn’t have the courage to face you. So I spoke in a loud voice so that you may be informed. Did you hear what I told the astrologer?”

“Sir! Pardon me! You must forgive me. I could not be certain that it was indeed the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar calling on the astrologer. So I have had to eavesdrop on you. Please forgive me,” said Kundavai.

“Madam! There is no reason for forgiveness. In fact it is I who should be asking for your forgiveness. I am not sure if I am worthy of it. If I reach Kadampoor tonight and save the crown prince from danger, then I would be deserving of your forgiveness. For three years, lust had drawn a curtain over this old man’s eyes. You tried to make me see. You made so many references but my ears were deaf. My brother Kalanthakakandan also tried to open my eyes. His efforts also were not successful. Yesterday by the grace of Durga Parameshwari I happened to overhear two Pandya saboteurs speaking. I learnt the truth then. I fed milk and pampered that venomous snake in my palace. She turned me into an enemy of my people; my country. She took the wealth from Cholanadu treasury and gave it to the Pandya saboteurs. If I do not kill that treacherous Nandhini before tonight with my own hands the fire blazing in my heart will not be put away …”

While Pazhuvertaraiyar rambled on Kundavai did something that he did not expect at all. She fell in one swoop and touched his feet in a show of respect.

Pazhuvertaraiyar stood helplessly in amazement. Standing up Kundavai said, “Sir! You must kindly grant my wish!”

“Princess! You are testing me. Don’t! I have realized how unforgivable my sins are. I am trying to atone. Before that we must save the three Chola men from today’s impending doom. No harm should come to your father and brothers today. Please help me. Let’s get through today. Tomorrow I will come to you myself and ask, ‘What is my punishement? What is my penance?”

“Sir! I will not attempt to punish you or issue any penance. You are like my grandfather. You hold my father’s admiration. I am truly seeking a favor from you …”

“In that case, ask me now, Child! There is no time for chatter now.”

“Promise me that you will grant my wish!”

“There is nothing that I can give that will make up for the harm I have done for you and your family. I will grant you anything that you ask. Do it quickly!”

“You must promise me that you will not harm Ilaiyarani Nandhini in any way. That is my request!”

“Child! Are you playing with me? Is this a time to be playing? It is true that I behaved foolishly in my old age. For that, are you trying to turn me into a mad man? If I don’t deliver the punishment that this treacherous woman deserves then how can I punish the others? I am going to kill her with my own hands. I will bare my heart to her and show her that she cannot forever fool this old man. Then I am going to kill her with my own sword. Anything less cannot be justified. Then I will think of the appropriate punishment for myself. Go! Child! Go! Do what you can to avert the danger awaiting your father and younger brother today! …”

“Sir, I will! But don’t I have to protect my sister also? Ilaiyarani Nandhini is my sister. If you harm her, it will be a felony against the Chola tribe!”

Pazhuvertaraiyar was aghast. “Am I still dreaming?” His lips mumbled.

“No, no! You are not dreaming. What you are hearing is the truth. Think for yourself. Think about some incidents from the past. Do you remember how my brother Arulmozhivarman was saved from drowning in Kaveri by a woman? She is Ilaiyarani Nandhini’s mother. Do you remember the day you brought Ilaiyarani to the palace after your marriage? My father fainted that day. Because he mistook Ilaiyarani for her mother, a woman he believed was dead. That is why …”

Pazhuvertaraiyar could think of other incidents as well. He remembered taking Nandhini in front of the emperor at midnight; the emperor crying out at seeing her, and Nandhini’s twisted explanation for the emperor’s reaction.

“Child! I realize that you are not trying to humor me. It’s fate’s humor that astounds me. If Ilaiyarani is your sister, that makes her Athitha Karikalan’s sister. Are you the only one who knows of this relationship? Who else knows about this? Does the emperor know?”

“Until two days ago the emperor believed that my aunt was dead. Even day before yesterday when she appeared in front of him, he flung a lamp at her believing it was her ghost. Only later he realized …”

“I didn’t mean that, Child! Does Karikalan know that Ilaiyarani is his sister?”

“By now he must know. He sent me a letter through a Varnar tribe warrior. I sent word through this messenger …”

“Aha! You mean Vandhiyathevan Vallavaraiyan!”

“Yes, Sir!”

“It does not appear that he informed Karikalan. Even if he did, Karikalan did not believe him. Even I cannot believe it! How can he? Ilaiyarani does not know this. Even if she does, there is no use. The saboteurs will find other ways to carry out their plans. They will certainly try tonight. Madam! Your news adds more weight to my responsibility. I am obliged to save the Ilaiyarani from killing a sibling. I am leaving for Kadampoor immediately. I will take your chariot. It will be your responsibility to protect the emperor and Ponniyin Selvan!”

“Sir! Don’t worry! I will leave for Thanjai at once. I will get a chariot down from Pazhaiyarai. We need not worry about Ponniyin Selvan. The hour and day he was born will protect him!”

“Girl! Don’t be careless relying on horoscope! Astrologers, even if they know what’s coming, they will not spell things out. They will bury it in verbal ambiguity. Afterwards they will say, “I told you, didn’t I?” Even if you believe in astrology, do not trust the astrologers!” With this parting shot Pazhuvertaraiyar left.

Within seconds of his departure Azhvarkadiyan entered.

“Yes, indeed! I agree with the treasurer. You may place your faith in astrology, but never in the hands of astrologers,” he said.

14. Vanathi’s Promise

When Azhvarkadiyan suddenly materialized Kundavai exclaimed, “Thirumalai! How have you sprouted here? Why are you here?”

“Madam! It’s all because of this astrologer’s foolhardy forecasts. This morning I asked him, ‘Would my mission be successful?’ ‘It will be,’ he said. But I cannot even leave this place. How can the mission succeed? That is why I agree with Pazhuvertaraiyar. I came to find out if his astrology was a sham or whether he deceived me on purpose. When I heard Pazhuvertaraiyar’s words my suspicion about the astrologer was confirmed. But I was not expecting you here,” he said.

“No, you won’t have expected me here. Why are you here? What mission are you referring to? There is no secret, is there?”

“Is there any secret that you are not aware of? Following the emperor’s order the chief minister wanted me to leave for Nagaipattinam last night itself to bring the prince back. On the way he asked me to deliver a letter to Chempian Madevi also. When did you start from Thanjai, Devi?”

“We started shortly after sunrise. Why do you ask, Thirumalai?”

“I was wondering … if Kodumbalur troops have surrounded Thanjai fort?”


“Yes, Devi! Don’t you know? Last night when the chief minister returned to his palace after seeing the emperor there were two messages waiting for him. One, – the prince has left Nagaipattinam; a large crowd of people are coming with him.”

“I heard that this morning. I came to stop my brother from going to Thanjai. What is the other news?”

Azhvarkadiyan pointed to Vanathi. “Madam! Why did you bring the Kodumbalur princess here,” he asked.

“She accompanies me always. Why do you ask?”

“I hesitate to give the other news in her presence.”

“Go on, Thirumalai! Don’t you know how close we are? Whatever I can hear, so can she …”

“Yet, … I am afraid that this news concerns the princess. The chief minister was delivered the news last night that the southern commander Poothi Vikramakeasari is approaching Thanjai fort with a large garrison. A letter arrived for the chief minister from the colonel also. It accused the Pazhuvertaraiyars of holding as prisoners, the emperor in Thanjai fort and the young prince somewhere in a secret location. It asked the Pazhuvertaraiyars to relinquish their posts as treasurer and commander, and to hand the prince over immediately. If not, the letter warned that Thanjai fort will be surrounded and will be under attack before tonight. Madam! Kodumabalur troops are already near Thanjai in the south and west! You are not aware of this?”

“No, the chief minister did not tell me this!”

“If he did, you probably won’t have left. He may have wanted the Kodumabalur princess to be away …”

“Why? What will happen if she was in Thanjai?”

“The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar may imprison the princess …”

“He will be so audacious? Are you serious?”

“Yes, Devi! If you hear the rest of the southern commander’s message perhaps you will understand …”

“What? What else?”

“That, Prince Arulmozhivarmar and the Kodumabalur princess ought to be wed immediately; as Athitha Karikalar does not want the kingdom, Arulmozhivarmar ought to be crowned immediately as crown prince; if these demands are not met, that he would raze Thanjai fort to the ground in three days. He says that the Chola people support him …”

The news unsettled Vanathi. She said, “Sister! Has my great uncle lost his mind?”

“Why do you say that, Vanathi? What many have wished in their hearts, your great uncle has openly said. Because Pazhuvertariayars have started the campaign, ‘Mathuranthakan must be crowned,’ Kodumabalur king and Thirukovalur Malaiamman are voicing their disapproval publicly.”

“Yes, Madam! Thirukovalur Malaiamman also must be near Kadampoor fort by now with a large garrison. From what he told me that is what I surmised. The chief minister has got word.”

“But they don’t know the news that I have just learned. I must speak to both and prevent an internal civil war. How am I going to do that? I don’t know.”

“Madam! The situation is beyond repair. There is going to be a great Bharatha war.”

“You correctly named it – Bharatha war, Thirumalai! If war happens now, it will be a war between siblings. It will be a war of annihilation between those of the same blood. Vanathi! Listen! My grandfather’s father, the former emperor Paranthakar married into the Pazhuvertaraiyar tribe. His daughter – my younger grandmother – married the Kodumbalur king. My grandfather Arinjayar married a Kodumbalur woman. My father married Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s daughter. So the three tribes are closely tied with ours. We are all mixed. Yet now they are all raising up their skirts, ready to battle! How can anyone be forewarned of fate! This enmity would destroy the Chola empire!”

“Sister! I am not worried about that. Let them fight and die. But why should my great uncle drag me into this? I feel like going there right now and having it out with my uncle …”

“What is the use, my darling! Your uncle will not listen to you. Even if the two of us pleaded it will not help. Old men like your uncle will not listen to little girls like us. This war can be prevented only by my brother Arulmozhivarman. Thirumalai! Why did you turn back? Where is Arulmozhi now?”

“Word is that they were planning to leave from Thiruvarur last night; because the entire route is a wilderness of floodwater they were unable to. I also tried to go past Pazhaiyarai; I could not. So I came back. Kudamurutti has broken and there is an ocean out there …”

“The floodwater will go down. After that Arulmozhi must come this way. We will have to wait until then. I am worried that in the meantime something terrible will happen in Thanjai. Thirumalai! Can you return to Thanjai now and take my message to Kodumbalur king? Will you inform him not to attack the Thanjai fort until Arulmozhi returns?”

“Sister! Shall I also go with him to Thanjai?”

“What will you gain by that, my darling?”

“I will fight with my uncle.”

“How will you fight? Will he halt the war listening to you?”

“Let him halt the war; or let him suffer the consequences if he does not. I will tell him not to drag my name into this.”

“They are dragging your name into this? Why is that?”

“Didn’t you hear this brave Vaishnavan, Sister?” Vanathi looked down bashfully.

“What did anyone say about you? Thirumalai! What did you say about the princess?”

“I told about the colonel’s insistence that the princess be married to Ponniyin Selvar. Perhaps that is what …”

“Vanathi! Are there any objections? Don’t you want to marry Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Whether I want to or not, what does it matter at this time? My objection is that my uncle is confusing my marriage with the coronation. It turns out as if this war that my uncle wants to wage is for the sole reason of putting me on the Chola throne …”

“It would seem that the Kodumbalur princess abhors the thought of being on the Chola throne!” Everyone turned to see who had made this biting comment. It was boatwoman Poongkuzhali.

Kundavai looked at her in surprise. “Girl! How did you come here? This morning we looked all over for you and Eezharani! Where is your aunt?” She asked.

“Devi! You must forgive me. My aunt dragged me by force through the Pazhuvur palace underground passage and threw me out in the open. She did not want me to be in the palace even for a day! I also don’t care for the palace life! When the Kodumabalur princess dislikes the throne so much why would people of my rank want to live in the palace?”

“Girl! If I ask you one thing, you talk of something else. It does not seem as if your mind is in proper working order!” ”

“Sister! Her mind is in proper order. She is insulting me on purpose. What she means is that I am dying to ascend the Chola throne; that is why I want to marry your brother, Ponniyin Selvar. I can read her mind,” said Vanathi.

“A snake knows the trail of another – says the proverb …,” Poongkuzhali shot back.

“Girls! Stop this! You don’t know what to say when! Poongkuzhali! Where is your aunt now?” Kundavai asked.

“She is in the treasury cellar at Pazhuvur palace …”


“A murderer armed with a spear is hiding there. Aha! How we scared the hell out of this guy this morning! He took us for a couple of female ghosts and started running all over the place …!” Poongkuzhali laughed.

Assured that the girl was slightly unhinged Kundavai said, “Go on! Who is he? Why is he hiding there? How did you come to know about it?”

“I don’t know all the answers, Devi! Even though my aunt cannot speak or hear, she has some unusual abilities that the rest of us don’t have. She found out – by whatever means – that this man is waiting there to kill someone in the palace. Devi! My aunt was trying to break the ten-headed Ravaneswaran’s hands. Do you know why?”

“No, you tell me!”

“All of you thought that she was insane. But my aunt is not a madwoman. Between the hands of that Ravanan lies the entrance to Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury cellar.”

“Aha! Is that right?” Kundavai exclaimed.

“Now we know how the dumb queen of Eezham came to be in the emperor’s palace!” Azhvarkadiyan said.

“We live in the palace and we have no idea of this passage. Never mind! Why didn’t you at that time tell us about this? Now, why have you left your aunt alone? Why are you here?” The junior stateswoman asked.

“The reason is my aunt’s stubbornness. She told me to leave saying that she can take care of the murderer.”

“Why? Why? Is there something more important? Did she send you for a specific reason?”

“Yes, Madam!”

“What is it, Girl?”

“Through her extraordinary ability my aunt must have found out that there is danger awaiting Ponniyin Selvar also. She told me to go to him.”

“Aha! You are looking for Ponniyin Selvar? Then, why did you stop here?”

“No, Devi. I’ll tell the truth. I have decided not to be a part of the affairs of the palace. I was going to Kodikarai; on the way this brave Vaishnavan saw me and brought me here! … If I knew that you were here I would not have come!”

“Girl! Why do you dislike the palace so much? Why don’t you like us? What did anyone do to you?” The junior stateswoman asked.

“No one did anything to me. I have no grievance against anyone. Just as how some people don’t like the throne I also don’t care for the palace life, that is all!” Poongluzhali directed a sideways glance toward Vanathi and smiled.

Singed, Vanathi furiously stepped forward. “Sister! Again she is insulting me. I am going to say this; please listen! I promise at your sacred feet. I promise in the name of the Sky-goddess and Mother Earth. If Ponniyin Selvar comes through this danger also, if he willingly takes my hand and marries me, if such good grace shall me mine – I promise I will never sit on the Thanjai throne. This is the truth! Sathiyam! Sathiyam!”

15. Roof Floated!

At that time no one had thought that Kodumbalur princess will make such a vow. All were stunned.

In a voice filled with anger and pity the junior stateswoman said, “Girl! What is this vow? Why did you make it? Is there anything more foolish than this? Caught in a rage you have let your mouth spill words!”

“No, Sister! No! I am not filled with rage. My mind is crystal clear. After thinking long and hard I have come to this conclusion. Today I said it publicly,” said Vanathi.

Before Kundavai could respond her attention was diverted to Poongkuzhali. Once and for all the girl appeared to have lost her mind. At first she laughed manically. Then she covered her face with her hands and began to sob. Then she abruptly stopped sobbing and began to sing in a faint voice,

“when even the sea with its waves is quiet
why does the inner sea heave so?”

Kundavai turned to Azhvarkadiyan. “These two women together will drive me insane. Thirumalai! You were on your way to see the prince. Why have you come back with this girl,” she asked.

“Devi! I was on my to see Ponniyin Selvar. I was stopped midway by the flood. I saw that this girl was faced with the same difficulty. She said that if I found a boat she would take me up to Thiruvarur. I decided to seek the astrologer’s help. When I saw outside your chariot equipped with a boat, I was so happy. I was thinking of borrowing the boat from you. But Pazhuvertariayar has taken the boat along with the chariot,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What do you think? You heard Pazhuvertaraiyar’s words!” Kundavai asked.

“Yes, Madam! After that every minute I waste here seems to stretch like an eon. According to this girl also, it appears that the emperor is facing some real danger. Even the chief minister is unaware of it. Therefore, please take the Kodumbalur princess and go to Thanjavur immediately. If in case Kodumbalur troops surround the fort no one can go past them except you. If Vanathi Devi is there that will also help. I will pacify this boatwoman, find a boat and go to Ponniyin Selvar. I have already sent the astrologer’s disciple to get me a boat,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Startled, Vanathi stood up. Her gaze was fixed on Azhvarkadiyan. “No, I won’t go! I won’t go! I will not go anywhere other than to Ponniyin Selvar! Even if I die I will die only at his feet,” she said.

Poongkuzhali responded in a clear voice. “Vaishnava! I cannot go with you! My lovers have summoned me to Kodikarai! My lovers who spit fire at midnight, are calling me! I have shown my lovers even to the Varnar tribe warrior, when he was carrying the letter for the princess. I must go to them!”

The astrologer who had until then been quietly listening in shock, interrupted. “Madam! Madam! Please! Everyone be quiet!” He shouted.

For a minute the sound of all talk ceased. Another sound that raised goosebumps over one’s skin – like the roar of the ocean during a storm – arose.

“Mothers! You chose this moment to visit this poor man’s hut! I foretold the fortune for all. But I didn’t send a warning to you!” The astrologer wailed.

“Sir! What is this? What new danger are we facing now?” Kundavai asked.

“Madam! My disciple did tell me this morning that the flood in arasalaru might break through the north bank. If arasalaru breaks, all that water will fall into Kaveri. If Kaveri breaks this poor man’s house will be submerged. This house is too close to Kaveri. Come! Come! Come outside!” The astrologer cried while he ran out.

Following him everyone ran out. Outside the frightened astrologer pointed, “There!”

In the southwest where he pointed, an otherworldly sight awaited them. They saw a verdant wall about half the height of a coconut tree – a wall that stretched long and curvy – roaring towards the house. In a second they knew that Kaveri bank was breached and the floodwater was advancing like a wall.

“Madam! Run! Run from here! We can stand on the tower of Amman temple. There is no other way! Fortunately Thirumalai had sent my disciple for a boat. Keep running!” The astrologer shouted as he ran.

Others followed him. Poongkuzhali’s aggression was no more. “Devi! Don’t worry at all. I have survived bigger floods!” She shouted as she ran. She reached the temple before the others and climbed to the top with ease.

In the meantime the flood had surrounded the temple also. Water was up to their knees. The astrologer and Azhvarkadiyan climbed up with difficulty. Kundavai and Vanathi alone were left below. Both tried to climb up. Poongkuzhali gave a hand to the junior stateswoman and pulled her up. Vanathi alone stood behind. Twice she tried to climb but her hand slipped on both attempts.

The two women on top tried to help her. Poongkuzhali took one of her hands and the junior stateswoman took the other. At that moment Vanathi looked up. She saw Poongkuzhali holding her hand. Immediately she flung her hand and freed herself from Poongkuzhali’s grip.

This agitation released her from Kundavai’s hold also. Vanathi went, ‘plop’ – into the water which was by then up to her neck. Her feet could not hold the ground; she floated in the water. The flood carried her along with it.

This happened in the blink of an eye. “Ah!” – those on top howled pitifully.

Within seconds the flood landed Vanathi on the astrologer’s roof. She held tightly to the roof. “Oh, good! This is safe!” She thought to herself.

Those on the tower also saw her on the roof. They also thought, “Good! She is safe. Once the boat arrives we will rescue her!”

“Don’t let go of the roof! Hold on tight!” They shouted. Vanathi held on tight. Within a short time it felt as if the roof was moving. “Adada! Is the house breaking?” Yes; the walls of the astrologer’s house were going down. But the roof did not go down. It began to drift with the flood.

Holding tightly to the roof, Vanathi floated. She turned and looked at the temple tower.

“Sister! I am going to see him. I am going to see Ponniyin Selvar. Mother Kaveri is taking me to him!” She shouted.

She hoped with her whole heart that the others, – especially Poongkuzhali – heard her.

The roof of the astrologer’s house kept moving with the floodwater. Vanathi rode along.

16. Poongkuzhali Leaped!

Those who have traveled in Cholanadu would have observed this special characteristic of its natural layout. When its rivers that make it the land of rice and abundance fill with water, the rim of the water is always on a raised plane compared to the ground on both sides. It is this topography that allows the rainwater to flow effortlessly toward the fields through irrigation channels.

In this situation, isn’t it a difficult task to make the floodwater stay within the riverbed? The naturally raised embankments on both sides must remain strong. Otherwise, the flood instead of going in the river’s path, will run like the rainwater that splatters forth in all four directions and turn Cholanadu into a useless waterlogged swamp.

In consideration of this, from ancient times the Chola kings were keen on the construction of sturdy banks for river Kaveri and her branch rivulets. Readers would know of history when Karikalvalavan brought prisoners from Eezhanadu after its loss in the war and engaged them in the construction of Kaveri’s bank.

To raise the level of water in Kaveri’s branch rivulets Chola kings constructed the stone-dam ten miles east of Srirangam. Because of the dam the water came up farther and was diverted into the branch rivulets.

In this manner the natural lay of the land was further enhanced by manmade design to turn Cholanadu even in ancient times into a place never lacking in water.

Just as nature endowed Cholanadu with such abundance, at times it also turned catastrophic.

Cyclones and storm winds appeared often in the sea east of Cholanadu. These winds traveled north along the eastern coast north to Krishnai – Kothavari estuaries, or Kalinganadu, producing rain that caused much damage. Sometimes the winds traveled directly overland westward. Incidents of devastating cyclones entering the interior between Kodikarai and Kollidam have been recorded in history. At times these cyclones grew fierce raising the tide and the sea, destroying the villages along the coast completely.

It is not fiction that Kaveripattinam known as Poompuhar was taken by the sea; it is an actual event backed by historical records.

When the river floods excessively sometimes the embankments do give in. Because the ground lay lower than the riverbed on both sides, when there was a breach the surrounding area would be inundated. The villages bordering the river would become submerged. At these times the temples nearby served as lifesaving shelters for the people.

History tells that Vijayalayacholan’s son Athitha Cholan erected one hundred and eight temples from the sakasya mountain where Kaveri originates to the place where the great river unites with the sea. Just as in ordinary times the temples serve as a place to worship god, Athitha Cholan may have wanted them to be lifesaving structures – so people could climb on the towers during times of flood and breach.

After a breach a river can also change course forever. From ancient historical records it can be seen that arisilaru, kudamurutti and such rivers have changed path and direction many times in this manner.

* * *

Now let’s get back to the time of our story. The cyclone that appeared when Parthipenthiran’s ship was returning to Cholanadu from Ilankai island, – after making Prince Arulmozhivarmar jump into the sea on account of Vandhiyathevan, proceeded along the coast to Kalinganadu and then disappeared.

But the cyclone that appeared while Arulmozhivarmar was staying at Nagaipattinam Soodamani viharam, after entering Cholanadu and wreaking havoc, went west. In one night, it made its presence known on both sides of Kaveri reaching Kongunadu the following day and then disappearing. Not only did it cause much damage in its path, it brought in its wake a torrential downpour. As it proceeded west the rainfall grew heavier. Therefore, beginning the next day flooding was excessive in Kaveri, Kollidam and their branch rivulets. Many broke their shores. The rain and the flood turned Cholanadu into a floodplain.

But these natural disasters did not leave the people of Cholanadu helpless and afraid. Since these disasters were common they were accustomed to dealing with them. For the time being they will climb on to a temple tower or other such elevated place to save their lives. Just as fast as the flood arrived it would soon drain also. After that they will carry on with their affairs. Those who lost their houses will soon rebuild with the help of their neighbors. They will not helplessly throw up their hands saying, “Aiyo! All gone!”

The people of Cholanadu in those days were self assured; they had no time for laziness or lethargy. Otherwise, how could they have constructed the wonders that even today are a source of astonishment for the world?

* * *

Everyone became worried when Vanathi slipped and fell into the water while trying to climb up to the temple tower. Soon their worries disappeared. When they saw her latching onto the roof of the astrologer’s house they were relieved. The junior stateswoman was excited. She always derived pleasure in placing Vanathi in difficult situations and assessing her reaction and performance. The junior stateswoman was keen that the woman who marries her heroic brother should not be lacking in courage or will power. To cultivate such a brave and daring personality Kundavai employed many tricks and trials. She was confident that her methods had delivered good results.

For instance Vanathi had of late overcome her fainting spells! Now a situation has arisen where Kundavai god-willing can test Vanathi’s courage without resorting to any of her tricks. Surrounded by water Vanathi remained perched on top of the roof. Is she afraid? Will she remain there without panicking until the astrologer’s disciple arrives with a boat? Yes; she will! No doubt! Won’t all the training of the past be of use now?

While Kundavai was thus contemplating Azhvarkadiyan said, “Madam! What is this? The roof appears to be moving!”

“There is something wrong with your eyes! The floodwater is moving; it makes it look as if the roof is moving,” answered Kundavai without conviction. She was having the same doubt and her face showed it.

“Madam! Look carefully!” Azhvarkadiyan said again.

“Aiyo! How dreadful,” cried the junior stateswoman.

“Astrologer! Will your disciple be here soon with the boat?” Azhvarkadiyan asked the astrologer.

“Enough! Enough! Enough relying on the astrologer and his disciple! Thirumalai! See if you can help Vanathi; or else, I will have to jump into the water! If anything happens to Vanathi, I will not live a moment longer!” Kundavai said.

“Madam! It is in times of trouble that we should not lose our patience. You are more than aware of this. To help the Kodumbalaur princess I am ever prepared to give my life; but it will have to produce results. If I start swimming without waiting for the boat, I can also latch onto that roof. Will the roof bear the weight of both Kodumbalur princess and me? Or will the roof go under taking both of us with it? We must think carefully …”

Poongkuzhali’s laughter broke through Azhvakadiyan’s monologue. “Before this brave Vaishnavar makes a decision, the life of Kodumbalur princess will be over,” she said.

When Azhvarkadiyan retorted, “If that happens this boatwoman will be very happy,” Poongkuzhali’s face exploded in anger.

Thirumalai continued. “But, Devi! Nothing of the sort will happen. Thirumal who slumbers atop a fig leaf while keeping the world safe will protect Vanathi also. Srimanthnarayanan who birthed himself as a fish, tortoise and swine to save this world will protect the Kodumbalur princess also! … There, see! The astrologer’s disciple is coming with the boat!”

There was really a boat where Azhvarkadiyan pointed. Against the thrust of the flood the boat was slowly making its way toward the temple. The roof where Vanathi was perched, on the other hand, was moving along with the flood. By the time the boat picked them up, she would have gone a long way, possibly disappearing from sight altogether.

Considering this outcome those standing on the temple tower shouted at the top of their lungs; they waved their hands trying to communicate with the astrologer’s disciple. Thinking that they are urging him to hurry the disciple rowed even faster.

Poongkuzhali turned to Kundavai. “Devi! Please allow me! I will swim up to the boat, turn it around and bring the Kodumbalur princess in it,” she said. Kundavai hesitated. She was aware that it was Poongkuzhali’s offer of a helping hand that landed Vanathi in the floodwater in the first place.

“Devi, trust me! It was my carelessness that left the princess in the water. Therefore, it is my duty to rescue her,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Girl! I trust you. It is Vanathi whom I don’t trust!” Kundavai responded.

“Aha! You mean that she might refuse to get into the boat with me? If that happens, once she is in I will jump off!” As she finished speaking Poongkuzhali jumped into the water. She sped towards the boat.

Kundavai looked at the astrologer. “Sir! Astrologer! I had so much faith in your science; today I have lost it!” She said.

“But it is today that I gained complete confidence. Devi! According to the Kodumbalur Princess’s horoscope, today she must face a great danger. I thought that perhaps it would be through Pazhuvertaraiyar. I was surprised when that did not happen. The danger took a different route. The princess will survive this calamity. Aha! Her otherworldly palm! Everything that I have said about her will take place. No doubt about that!” He said.

“Wonderful! Now, tell me – how is that possible? Even if Vanathi survives this calamity your prediction will not come true. Didn’t you hear her vow at your home a short while ago?”

“Whoever may make whatever vow, my prediction based on astrology will come true. If it does not, I will take all of my horoscope files and throw them into river Kaveri! This is my promise!” The astrologer vowed.

Azhvarkadiyan intervened. “Astrologer! Mother Kaveri did not wait for you to throw your files. She took them herself!” He said.

Stunned by the comical incongruity of his predicament the astrologer shook his head. “Yet, my prediction will come true,” he mumbled to himself.

17. The Elephant Pitched!

On the day before the incidents of the last few chapters took place, we left Prince Arulmozhivarmar as the guest of the Nagaipattinam people. After the festivities the prince set off on a decorated elephant. Countless number of people said, “We will come to Thanjai,” and followed him. That night the prince and the people accompanying him reached Thiru Arur.

Since the people of Thiru Arur had known about his visit, they gave him a royal welcome. People gathered in this ancient town from end to end. All four royal thoroughfares were filled with people to the extent that a grain of rice dropped from above could not land on the ground. Streamers made of palm fronds hung from doorframes. The officials had decorated Thiru Arur Chola palace also. They had prepared a feast not only for the prince but also for the people accompanying him.

The night before, Thiru Arur had also been on the path of the fierce storm. But the prince’s whirlwind of a visit had completely wiped out the memory of the previous day’s storm from the people’s consciousness. All over the streets there was singing and dancing, instruments playing, folk dance, puppetry, sword fighting and fencing – accompanied by wild cheering.

For the Chola tribe, the temple of Thiyagarajah temple in Thiru Arur ranked as next only to Thillaiampalam’s dancing Nadaraja Peruman temple. The tribe as such had lavishly provided for the temple. But Prince Arulmozhivarmar had not been to Thiru Arur until then. Therefore the temple administers insisted that he pay a visit to the temple. The prince did. As he was distracted by the circumstances surrounding him, his heart was not fully in the worship. Only when he was leaving at the end after receiving the devotional prasatham, he asked the temple folks, “How did this temple deity get the name Thiyagarajar?”

The temple men explained the hardships that the lord, Sivaperuman underwent for the sustenance of the beings of the three worlds. They told him about the travails that the Peruman who could make and break the three worlds undertook to aid his devotees. They told about the fasting and meditation in the graveyard. They told about him giving up that thavam and for the sake of the thevars marrying Umai. They told the story of god incarnating as a beggar, they told about him dancing at Thillaiampalam, and about him carrying mun for pittu and getting caned by the Pandya king.

They reminded Arulmozhivarmar that his ancestors once lived in this town of Thiru Arur where Thiyagaraja Peruman had taken residence, and about the miracle when Manu neethi Cholan sacrificed his own son for the sake of justice for a cow.

These tales made an impression in Arulmozhivarmar’s heart. The prince who had been marveling about the sacrifices of Lord Buddha now began to ponder about the histories that depicted Lord Sivaperuman as the ‘Thiyagamoorthi.’

He had also heard about the history in western nations of the man celebrated as the incarnation of god’s son being crucified for the wellbeing of the people. The more he thought the more he became convinced that man can attain godliness only through sacrifice. He became more and more disenchanted with the notion of those surrounding him to place him on the Thanjai throne. He started to think of a way to escape from their prison of affection.

After the visit to the temple the people of Thiru Arur honored the prince with a grand meal. Entertainment followed food. The prince pretended to enjoy their hospitality even though his mind was not fully there.

Around midnight the prince came to the Chola palace. Disturbing news awaited him there. Because of heavy rain west of Thanjai, there was flooding in Kaveri, Kollidam and their branch rivulets and there was breach of floodwater in many places. He was informed of the impossibility of continuing the journey across this land inundated with water. The suggestion was made that it was better to stay a day or two in Thiru Arur and resume after the flood drains. The prince disagreed. He was possessed by an urgency to reach Thanjai. Flooding and breaches could not place a damper on his longing. Yes; with this crowd of people and aids it will be difficult to travel. If he alone traveled by elephant the journey need not be postponed. There was no river on the way to Thanjai that was too deep for an elephant. Even if there was it was not a concern for the prince. He had never been afraid of water. River Ponni cared about him more than his own mother! Mother Kaveri who saved him from drowning when he was a child, won’t she now protect him?

The question was – how was he going to escape from this large crowd of people? Ponniyin Selvar was reminded of Ramar who chose the night to free himself from Ayothi’s adoring citizens. Why should not he also leave during the night? When people are sleeping! In any case he must inform the elephant-keeper to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The prince ordered the palace guard to summon the elephant-keeper. The guard came back immediately with the news that only the elephant was tied in the front and the elephant-keeper was missing.

“He may have gone to watch the entertainment in the streets. Bring him here once he returns! Or, send someone to look for him!” The prince ordered.

“Alright, King! There is a boatman Murugaiyan waiting at the entrance. He is adamant that he must see you immediately,” said the guard.

The prince regretted having forgotten about boatman Murugaiyan. He might even help him to escape secretly. He ordered the palaceguard to send him immediately.

As soon as Murugaiyan saw the prince he fell at his feet and began sobbing. It was not an easy task to comfort this foolish disciple and gather information from him, but nevertheless it had to be done. Murugaiyan explained the reason for his unhappiness. In a nutshell – Murugaiyan separated from his wife in Nagaipattinam itself. After reaching Thiru Arur he roamed the streets wondering if she might also be there. After spending most of the night searching, he finally spotted his wife with the elephant-keeper who had accompanied the prince, at the top of a lane that branched off from the royal thoroughfare. As soon as they entered the lane they started walking fast. Murugaiyan also followed. In the end they paused in front of a house. A man waiting there joined them. The three started walking. Murugaiyan was overcome with doubts and suspicions. He even began to doubt his wife’s character. He was in a fury to know the truth. Therefore he kept following them instead of joining them. They went past the village, walking across fields and crossing irrigation drains finally ending up in a graveyard. Murugaiyan was terrified. Yet he resolved himself to follow them and hide himself behind a tree.

The man who joined Rakamahl and the elephant-keeper applied ash all over his body and began to chant in a frightening voice. Then he said to the elephant-keeper, “Tomorrow morning your life is going to be in danger! Take precautions and save yourself!” Terrified the elephant-keeper asked, “What sort of danger? You have to tell me, otherwise what can I do?”

“The elephant will suddenly lose control! When you go near it, the elephant will push you down and start running! The people will think that you are the cause for the elephant’s erratic behavior. They will grab the goad from your hand and stab you with it,” said the magician. “Aiyayo! How can I save myself,” asked the elephant-keeper.

“Tomorrow morning, don’t go near the elephant,” said the magician. “How is that possible? I will face royal punishment,” the elephant-keeper cried. “Alright, come to my house. I will give you a prayed vest, wear it and go! Don’t take the goad,” said the magician. “Alright. Sir! Will the prince be in danger,” asked the elephant-keeper. “How can I say that? I will know only if the prince comes and asks me,” said the magician.

Murugaiyan did not want to wait there any longer. He came back running to warn the prince about the elephant’s anticipated rut.

After his story Murugaiyan began sobbing again.

“Appan! Why are you crying? You have warned me in time. I will take care of this,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“Sir! My wife’s involvement in this saddens me deeply. I don’t know what to think of Rakamahl. Old suspicions about her are now haunting me again,” said Murugaiyan.

“I will correct her. You don’t worry! Go back immediately! Somehow, find the elephant-keeper and bring him here,” said the prince.

After Murugaiyan left Ponniyin Selvar was immersed in thought. He tried to understand the significance of what Murugaiyan had seen and heard. He thought about what the junior stateswoman had said, about the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ motives, the Pandyanadu saboteurs’ conspiracy. This can be another of the saboteurs’ plans. Or it may be something absurd and insignificant altogether. Whatever it was he came to a decision about what to do the following morning. Then he slept peacefully.

The following morning he got up early and got ready for the journey. He came to the palace entrance. When the elephant saw the prince it raised his trunk and caressed him  affectionately. “The elephant will go crazy,” the magician had said according to Murugaiyan. There was no sign of craziness in the elephant.

“Where is the elephant-keeper?” The prince asked in a loud voice. Several voices responded at once with a shout of their own, “Where is the elephant?”

Like the prince people had gathered there early ready for the journey. The prince saw Murugaiyan caught among them unable to make his way to the front. When the prince raised his hand the people moved immediately and made way for him. Murugaiyan told the prince that after searching for a long time he finally found his wife the previous night, and that she completely denied going to the graveyard saying that Murugaiyan had lost his mind. He also said that he could not find the elephant-keeper.

“Don’t worry about it, Murugaiya! Undo the chain around the elephant’s feet!” The prince told him.

While Murugaiyan untied the elephant a voice was heard, “The elephant-keeper is here!” “He is here! He is here!” Several voices echoed.

The elephant-keeper came running with goad in hand. The crowd hastily made way for him.

“Oh, good!” Ponniyin Selvar exhaled a deep sigh as he turned and looked at the elephant-keeper.

Poor man! In one night how much he has changed! He appears so frightened!

With goad in hand the elephant-keeper went to the elephant and touched the animal with his other hand.

The elephant grabbed him by its trunk and swiveled him up. After bleating loudly to scare those around it flung the elephant-keeper vehemently. The elephant-keeper hit the ground at a considerable distance. The goad fell even farther away.

“A rutting elephant!” A frightening cry rose from the crowd. The people began to scatter and run.



















From → Notes, Uncategorized

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