Ponniyan Selvan of Kalki Krishnamurthy
English Translation by Indra Neelameggham
part 2A: Whirlwind (chapters 1 to 26) also
இரண்டாம் பாகம் - சுழற்காற்று]
Contents of Part 2A
||Two Full Moons
||An Anguished Call At Night
||The Open Sea
||Can The Dead Return?
||Which is the Worst
||"The Spy Is Caught!"
||Tigress against Tigress
||"This is Lanka!"
||Sendan Amudan In Prison
||Wax in Embers
||Teacher and Disciple
||The City Of Mattotam
||A Sword That Wanted Blood
Ponniyin Selvan : Part II
-- Whirlwind - Part A
Chapter 1 -- Poonkuzlali
The twilight of dusk was
calm. Sea waves had become quiet along the shores of Kodi
Karai. Catamarans and boats turned shorewards. Seabirds
which had gone in search of food were coming home to their
nests. White sands stretched for a distance along the
shores; beyond was forest and dense jungle spreading far
into the distance.
Forest trees did not move; leaves
did not quake; silence reigned in all directions. The
red-rayed God was descending quickly towards the line where
the sea and sky met. Cloud groups tried to hide the red-lord
and gleamed with a new radiance.
A small boat floated on the sea near the shore. Tender, flower-petal
waves swayed and pushed the craft gently as if it were a
baby's cradle. A young maid was in that boat. When we see
her, we remember Sendan Amudan describing his cousin. Yes;
she must be Poonkuzlali. Befitting her name, a thaazlai
(fragrant cactus) petal acquired beauty by gracing her
beautiful tresses. Long, dark curls danced on her rounded
shoulders. She had made a necklace of sea shells and cowries
found on the beach and worn it around her neck. But, these
gained allure by being on her body; one cannot say that they
added to her beauty. If beauty itself takes form, what
ornament can embellish it?
Poonkuzlali was leaning back stylishly in her boat and singing. Even the
sea seemed calm, listening to her song. Perhaps, even the
wind did not blow but floated gently listening to her. The
distant forest trees stood still, engrossed in her melody.
The sky and earth were enchanted into silence. Even the sun
hesitated to vanish, lingering in the horizon, listening to
Let us also listen to that honey-sweet lyric,
drifting in the breeze:
When wave-filled seas are
why does the inner ocean seethe?
the earth maid sleeps,
why does the heart feel so
Birds in the forest looked for their nests;
the hunter and his woman go homeward;
The sky and the
shore are shrouded in silence;
sea waves stop
quietly, a breeze crawls softly.
In the mind of that
why does this storm rage?
the heart of the wayside waif,
why does a whirlwind
When the sea is ever so quiet,
breeze crawls ever so softly,
When the Earth maid is
why does her heart fill with such sobs?
When ocean waves are quiet,
why does the inner soul
In the heart of that maid,
a whirlwind blow?
What is the anguish that dwells in
the heart of this young maid? No one knows! What is that
pleasant-sorrow that mingles in her melodious voice? Who
knows! Perhaps they wrote the words of that lyric with
tears! We do not know; but, when we listen to her song, our
heart is filled with a nameless grief, a sweet-melancholy
that is barely contained.
singing and pulled at her oars a few times. The boat reached
the shore, she jumped out and pulled it up. Some catamarans
were lying about in a group on the beach. She lifted the
boat to rest on these logs and leaned back to survey the
scene around her.
Over there, the fire had been lit
atop the light-house. It fire burned brightly and will do so
all night long. It will warn all ships out at sea, "Do not
come near!" The sea was not deep along the shores of Kodi
Karai. Only small craft and catamarans could come ashore
along its beaches. If ships and sailing vessels came near,
they would run aground to be buried in the sands. In fact,
if a ship happened to strike against those dunes, it would
break into smithereens. Thus, the light-house at Kodi Karai
served a very useful purpose. On the opposite side, a spire
could be glimpsed amidst the short trees of the nearby
forest. Lord Shiva, Kuzlagar of Kodi Karai was enshrined
under it. About two hundred years ago, Saint Sundara Murti
had visited this shrine and worshipped the Lord dwelling
alone in the forest temple. "Oh! Dear Lord! Why are you
alone like this in the midst of a forest on this sea shore?
Do you have no other dwelling? When there are so many cities
where pilgrims come to sing your praises, why have you come
to this frightening forest in Kodi Karai to dwell in such
lonesome splendor? Did this wretched sinner have to see this
sight?" sang the devout Saint.
What penance is this
to dwell here in frightening solitude,
In this forest
where the harsh sea-wind blows?
My wretched eyes did
see you, Lord Kuzlagar,
Who is your companion in this
Multitudes in magnificent forts
surrounded by moats,
Many devout pilgrims await to
sing Your praises, dear Lord!
Enclosed in this
untamed forest fortress of Kodi Karai,
Why do you
live in seclusion, dear Kuzlagar, My Lord?
Kuzlagar of Kodi Karai was in the same solitary state even
two hundred years after Saint Sundara had visited him. The
forest had grown even more dense around the temple. Owls and
kites sang from hollows in forest trees. Only hunters and
frightening tribals lived here and there in isolated huts in
Yes; there is one difference. There was
no light-house here when Saint Sundara Murti had visited.
Only a few years ago, during the reign of Paranthaka the
First, was the light-house built. A few cottages to house
the workers who had been appointed for the upkeep of the
light-house were built around its base. The priest who
conducted services at the temple also came to live in this
Poonkuzlali leaned back on her boat by
the sea shore and looked around. She spied the light-house
and wondered if she should go that way. Just then she
glimpsed the cupola and spire; she made up her mind upon
hearing the cymbals from the temple. What was the point in
going back home so soon? Go to the temple, ask the priest to
sing some Thevaram songs and then go home after partaking
the sacrament-offerings. Having made up her mind, she began
walking towards the temple.
She danced and hummed;
she leaped and skipped as she walked. On the way she spied a
group of spotted deer crossing the sand dunes and going into
the forest. A small, baby deer was leaping and jumping,
swiftly with seven or eight adult deer. Upon seeing them she
became excited. She began following swiftly, with leaps and
bounds as if to catch them. How could she, however swift she
was, compete with the spotted deer? The group was far ahead.
On reaching a particular spot near the forest edge, those
beasts lifted their fore-paws and leaped across. All the
older animals were able to cross the spot in one leap and
reach the opposite side safely. But, the calf could not
cross in one leap. Its hind-legs were caught in the mud near
the far side. It gripped the bank with its fore-legs and
struggled as much as it could. But, its hind-legs began to
sink more and more in the mud. The mother doe stood on the
bank and gazed at its calf with worry. It could do nothing
to help its calf.
Poonkuzlali summed up the situation
instantly; she scrutinized the land and found where the
quicksands ended and firm ground began. She ran around the
muddy sinkhole and leaped across to a firm trail on the
opposite shore, close to the spot where the deer calf was
caught. The doe panicked at first, but stood nearby,
hesitantly. Perhaps Poonkuzlali knew the language of the
deer; she spoke some words softly as she knelt beside the
calf. She stretched out her hands and took hold of the baby
deer's fore-legs. With one swift, strong, pull she freed the
beast from the quicksand. For some moments the tiny deer
stood with shivering limbs on the bank. The mother doe
approached close and nuzzled its nose. The next instant,
both mother and daughter had leaped away into the forest.
"Chee! Thankless beasts!" said Poonkuzlali. But, she
consoled herself, "They are no worse than humans!" She
walked towards the temple.
After crossing the stretch
of sand dunes, she had to walk through a forest trail bound
by thick creepers and encroaching bushes; she had to climb
knolls and go down dales. One could say that this forest was
one of nature's unique creations. There were no rock
mountains or granite hills in that region. Everything was
sandy. The sea sand had formed dunes here and there. Bushes
and creepers growing on the dunes had transformed them into
tiny hillocks. Steep valleys were interspersed between such
overgrown dunes. It was not easy to find a way through this
forest. It would seem like one had walked very far; but one
would be coming back again and again to the same spot.
Poonkuzlali walked through this forest quickly and reached
the temple. Flowering trees and bushes bloomed around and
inside the temple quadrangle bound by a wall.
Poonkuzlali walked into the temple, where the priest
welcomed her happily. Very few people came to worship at
that temple; therefore, it was natural that the priest
looked happy about this solitary visitor. The priest gave
her the sacrament-offerings and coconut from the evening
"Amma! Will you wait a while? I shall also
come home with you as soon as I lock up here," said the
priest. It was somewhat difficult to walk back home through
that forest after nightfall. But, one need not worry if
Poonkuzlali was the guide.
"I can wait Sir! I am in
no big hurry! You can finish your chores slowly before we
leave," said Poonkuzlali.
She stepped out into the quadrangle surrounding the
temple. Taking hold of a low tree branch she jumped onto the
compound-wall encircling the temple. The corner where the
wall turned was decorated with a large sculpture of a bull.
She leaned back on the bull and stretched out her legs along
the wall. Reclining comfortably, she bit into the coconut
with her teeth and began to eat with relish.
enjoyed the wonder of darkness creeping up from all
directions, she heard the gallop of horses. She looked out
towards the direction from which the noise arose. The sound
of trotting horses raised all sorts of memories and drew her
into some dreamworld. Some unexplainable grief came to fill
her heart. Who could be coming now? How does it matter to
me, whoever it is? For some days now, these comings and
goings have indeed increased. People claim to be coming on
government affairs; going on state missions. Even yesterday,
two men had come. Their very sight was quite revolting. They
forced my brother to row his boat and take them to Lanka. Of
course they paid considerable money. May lightning strike
their money! Who wants money? What can one do with money in
this wilderness? But, my brother and his wife are very fond
of money! I wonder why they hoard it like this?
The hoofbeats are coming closer and closer. Not one horse; two horses
seem to be approaching. I can see them now; they are
climbing up, slowly, very tiredly from the hollow, up the
sand dune, coming this way. The horses appear tired as if
they have travelled over a very long distance. A man is
seated on each horse. The fellow on the first horse seems
young; looks quite attractive and well built; some dignity
in his posture. But, nothing compared to the charm and
distinction of the face that dwells in the secrets of my
heart. In fact, if one examines him closely, this fellow
looks owlish with a flat face!
The first horseman was
our old friend Vandiya Devan Vallavarayan. The man behind
him was the Doctor's son. Both were worn and weary by the
time they had reached this place from Pazlayarai. Even so,
Vandiya Devan's face brightened upon seeing the young girl
lounging atop the temple wall. When he realized that she was
looking at him, his naturally enthusiastic spirits revived.
He stopped his horse and stared back at her eagerly. Perhaps
he may not have been so happy if he had known that she was
comparing his face to an owl. How useful it is that one
cannot know the thoughts of another!
perceived that the young man was looking at her. She
realized how uncouth she might appear, biting into the
coconut with her teeth ... Suddenly a certain bashfulness
came from somewhere and enveloped her. She jumped down on
the soft white sand outside the wall and began running along
When he saw this, Vandiya Devan also
felt like dismounting and following her. He jumped off and
ran behind her, chasing her.
Who can reason with such
meaningless behavior? One could say that the instinct of
humankind which had come down over thousands of generations
had made Poonkuzlali run like that; that very same instinct
made Vandiya Devan chase after her, urging him to catch up
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 2 -- Mudhole
Vandiya Devan ran behind that
girl following her across forest and dune; across thicket
and thorn. She was visible for some time and then she would
disappear. When he was almost sure that he would not be able
to catch up with her, she would appear once again. He
remembered the story of Rama chasing after the elusive
golden deer. But, this girl was neither illusion nor magic
deer. Of course she had the swiftness of a forest creature.
How quick she is! Why am I following her like this? What
foolishness is this? Immediately he found some excuse.
As they neared Kodi Karai he had remembered the girl
described by Sendan Amudan. This must be that Poonkuzlali.
If I make friends with her she will be helpful in my
mission. Perhaps she can guide me to reach the light-house.
They had seen the light-house from quite some distance. But,
it was not easy to approach. Once they had entered the
forest, the light-house vanished from view. They went around
in circles but found no trail or path. It was in such a
situation that he has seen her on top of the wall near the
temple. When he had intended to accost her and ask the way,
she had run away swiftly like a deer. "I better go back!" he
decided. But, how could he accept defeat while competing
with a mere girl?
Oh! Here comes an open stretch of
beach. I can see the ocean beyond. How beautiful it looks --
the blue expanse of the calm sea. I can even see the
light-house; a fire is now burning brightly on its top. The
flames spread a unique glow all around, creating an
I must abandon my chase and go
towards the light. No! Never! I can easily catch up with her
in this open space. In fact this region is not all that
sandy. Grass and creeper have firmed the soil. Mud patches
have dried and formed crusts in some places. I can run fast
without any obstruction and catch her easily. Moreover, she
is running towards the sea; she has to stop when she reaches
the water. Perhaps this peculiar girl will disappear into
the sea! Oh! How foolish of me to not bring my horse. I
could have caught her in a trice if I had been mounted on my
Why is she hesitating? Why is she turning
right instead of running forward to the sea? Is she planning
to escape by vanishing into that forest on the right? I can
never catch her if she gets into the woods. All this chase
is one big waste! Vandiya Devan was tired by now. He was
She seems to have changed her mind
again. She had abandoned the idea of entering the forest;
she had circled back like a spinning top -- is she going
towards the light-house? If I quicken my pace I can easily
catch her now ... I must get hold of her and ask, "Hey girl!
Why are you running scared like this? I have brought you
news from your beloved." How surprised she will be! Sendan
Amudan had not sent any message; but who cares? Can I not
dream up some message?
He used all his remaining
energy and sprinted forward. Suddenly he screamed, "Aawwh!"
At first he was not sure of what was happening to him. It
was clear very soon: both his feet were being dragged into
the quicksand. Both feet were buried first; next went the
ankles. Soon the mud rose up his limbs.
Oh dear! How
foolish of me! The surface seemed hard and crusted. The mud
is quite wet inside. Vandiya Devan had heard of muddy
sink-holes that never dried completely. Sheep and cattle,
horses, even elephants caught in such mudholes or quicksands
would be slowly buried till they were completely swallowed
without a trace. Is this one such sink-hole? Why, even my
knee-caps are buried ... How much further will I go down?
Very soon I will be waist deep. Will this sink-hole which
can swallow horses and elephants let go of me easily? Dear
God! Is this my fate? Should all my dreams be buried in this
mud? The only recourse is that peculiar girl; she must
surely help me. There is no other savior!
Devan began calling loudly, "Oh! Oh! Dear Lord! I am dying!
I am drowning in this mud; is there no one to lend me a hand
and save me?"
Poonkuzlali heard his cry for help. She
stopped running, hesitantly. She understood his predicament
in one second. She looked around and spotted a broken dugout
that lay half buried in the mudhole and half on firm ground.
It must have been a log-boat used long ago when the
sink-hole had been filled with water. She pulled it out and
jumped in, pushing it forward with wood poles. How
astonishing! The log-boat is skimming across the mudhole
like a swan gliding over a placid lake! She soon reached the
further shore and jumped on firm ground. She planted her
feet firmly and reached out to take both Vandiya Devan's
hands. Using a monstrous strength she dragged him out of
that sink-hole. Oh dear Lord! What strength in those
delicate hands! Her hands seem even more firm than the iron
grip of Lord Kalanthaka, the Commander of Tanjore Fort.
Once he was on firm ground, Vandiya Devan laughed blithely.
Only his legs continued to shiver.
"You think you
saved my life by pulling me out! Did you think that I could
not come ashore if you had not helped me?" he asked.
"Then why did you holler `Help! Help!' like that?" asked
"Only to make you stop running."
"Then, I'll push you back into this mudhole. Get back by
yourself!" She took a step to push him in.
Noo!" Vandiya Devan moved back.
"Why are you
"I am not afraid for my life. I fear the
mud! Already it has dirtied my clothes up to my waist!"
Poonkuzlali smiled as she looked at him head to toe. "Look
at the sea over there! Go wash up."
ahead and guide me."
They walked towards the sea
shore, making sure to go around the mudhole.
you run helter-skelter like that when you saw me? Did you
think I was some terrible ghoul or ghost?" asked Vandiya
"No; I didn't think you to be a ghoul. I
thought you were an owl. You have an owlish face."
"There is nothing wrong with my owlish face when compared to
your monkey face." He mumbled under his breath.
did you say?"
"Nothing. All I asked was why did you
run like that on seeing me?"
"Why did you chase after
me like that?"
"I came after you to ask you the way
to the light-house."
"There! Can't you see the
light-house? Why ask directions?"
"I could not see it
in the forest. Why did you run like that?"
are wicked. I never liked any man!"
Amudan?" asked Vandiya Devan softly.
"Who? What did
"I mentioned Sendan Amudan of Tanjore."
"What do you know about him?"
"I know that he is your
dearly beloved lover."
"Yes, I am Poonkuzlali. What did
you say about Sendan Amudan? About him being my ..."
"Is he not your beloved?"
mirthfully. "Who said that?" she asked.
Sendan Amudan told me."
"Tanjore is very far away.
That is why he could say it and escape. If not ..."
"What, if not?"
"If he had said that here in front of
me, I would have thrown him into that quicksand!"
what? There is plenty of water in the ocean to wash off the
"The sink-hole in which you fell has swallowed
cattle and horses. It can bury an elephant easily."
Vandiya Devan shivered with fear. He remembered the feeling
of being sucked into the hole slowly. If this girl had not
come to my rescue ... by now I ... He shivered again.
"What else did Sendan Amudan say about me?" asked
"He said that you were his cousin. He
said that there was no beauty comparable to you even in the
world of Gods."
"Perhaps he has personally visited
the world of Gods, to make such statements! And then, what
"He said that you sing very well. If you sing
even the sea would calm down to listen to you. Is that
"You can find that out for yourself! Here
comes the sea."
They came to stand on the sea shore.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 3 -- At Midnight
Stars twinkled up above. The
crescent moon was strolling across the low skies like a
silver ship gliding above the waves. The wind had become
more brisk and the sea roared. White waves came rolling out,
trying to pull in those standing on the shore.
are you waiting for? Wash away the mud quickly. I have to go
home soon, or I won't get any food today; my sister-in-law
will lock up the kitchen!" said Poonkuzlali.
sea very deep here?" asked Vandiya Devan.
never met a coward like you! The sea is not at all deep for
quite some distance here. Even if you go half a league into
the sea, the water is only waist deep. That is why we have
to light the fire on the light-house every day."
Vandiya Devan stepped into the water hesitantly. He washed
away the mud from his clothes and cleaned himself. As he
stepped back from the water he saw the Doctor's son riding
down towards the beach. His own horse followed behind.
"Oh dear Lord! What if the horse steps into the quicksand?"
asked Vandiya Devan.
"It won't. Horses are more
intelligent than human beings," said Poonkuzlali.
"But, there is a man on one of the horses! And he is
dragging my horse behind him!"
"Yes; that is quite
dangerous. Go run up and warn him."
shouted Vandiya Devan as he ran to warn the Doctor's son.
Poonkuzlali walked up to join them. All three began walking
towards the light-house.
"Why don't you ride your
horse?" she asked.
"No matter; I'll walk with you."
She went up to his horse and caressed its face. The horse
seemed happy; it twitched its mane and neighed.
horse seems to like you. That is good!"
"Why is that
"I have to go on to Lanka. I was thinking of
leaving this horse in your care. Will you take care of it?"
"Sure! I can look after him. All animals make friends with
me easily. Only humans don't like me ..."
"Why do you
say that? Did you know that Sendan Amudan thinks the world
"I love animals; hate men!"
men do to you?"
"Men are wicked; full of lies and
falsehood; wickedness is their work."
"You cannot say
that about every one! Sendan Amudan is good! Here, this
Pinakapani, the Doctor's son -- he is very good..."
"How about you?"
"I am also good. How can I sing my
"Why have you both come here?"
"Don't you know that the Emperor has been ill for some time
now? The Doctor needs some medicinal plants for the
treatment. I believe this forest has several rare herbs and
plants. This man and I have come for them."
that you were going to Lanka, just now?"
that is not available here has to be brought from Lanka.
Don't they say that Hanuman's medicinal mountain is still in
"Yes; it is still there! That is why
thousands of people are dying there of the poison fever."
"Oh! Oh! Is that so? I did not know. The palace Doctor who
sent us does not know it."
"I have never seen such
liars like you men! Two fellows came here two days ago. They
too said something like this. But, their tale was a little
more believable ..."
"Who were they? What lies did
"They claimed that some sorcerer had
sent them. They declared that they were going to Lanka to
find tiger-claws and elephant-hair for making an amulet to
protect the Emperor. My brother has taken them to Lanka in
"Oh! Is that so!" said Vandiya Devan.
He remembered Ravidasa the terrible sorcerer. He recalled
the horrible experience in the night when he had rested in
the wayside pavilion. Oh God! Why am I caught up in such
dangerous missions? There is valor in fighting face to face
with one's enemy in the battlefield. There, I can express my
true strength and bravery. Why do I get caught up in such
sorcery and treachery? Who are those two who have gone to
Lanka before me? How far can this girl be trusted? Perhaps
she is also part of that treacherous group. No! No! She
seems innocent. I must somehow make friends with her.
"Poonkuzlali, I shall tell you the truth. Remember what I
said just now? That I came here to collect herbs and
medicinal plants; that is false! I am going to Lanka on a
very important, secret mission. I can tell you if ..."
"No need. Don't you know that you should not share important
secrets with women? Don't tell me anything."
said that about ordinary women. There is nothing wrong in
telling you the secret."
"How did you know that I am
not an ordinary girl? It is not even half an hour since you
"Poonkuzlali, I liked you the instant I saw
you on that temple wall. Can I ask you something, will you
"Is it true
that Sendan Amudan is not your beloved? Are you not going to
"Why do you wish to know?"
is my friend. I don't wish to do anything against his
interests. But if you really do not care for him ..."
"Say it. Why are you hesitating?"
"I am thinking of
trying my luck in that matter. Poonkuzlali, you must not
underestimate love! There is nothing in this world more
divine than love. All those saints, Appar, Sundara and
Sambanda fell in love with God and sang so many lyrics.
Kalidasa has sung about love! Even Krishna was enslaved by
his love for the milkmaids of Brindavan."
shall say something, listen carefully and remember it!"
"What is that?"
"I too liked you when I saw you
first. I did not feel the revulsion I felt about the two men
who came some days ago."
"Ha! I am truly fortunate!"
"But, do not start any such nonsense about love and passion
"I do not love Sendan Amudan.
But, I have several other lovers!"
"Dear me! Other
lovers! Who? How many?"
"I will walk out from my
house at midnight. If you follow me then, I will show them
to you. You can know for yourself!" After saying this,
Poonkuzlali roared with loud laughter, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!"
Her laughter disturbed Vandiya Devan's heart. Poor thing!
This girl must be daft! It is useless to expect any help
from her on my mission. It is better that I do not discuss
my affairs with her.
They approached the largest
house near the light-house. An elderly gentleman and
gentlewoman came out of the house. He seemed stunned on
seeing Poonkuzlali leading a horse followed by two men.
"Poonkuzlali, who are these men? Where did you find them?"
"I didn't find them, Father! They found
"It's all the same. How many times have I told
you to get back home before nightfall? You never listen! You
brought two other men the day before yesterday. Now you have
brought two more men! Why have these men come here?" asked
"They have come here to collect medicinal
herbs for the treatment of the Emperor," said Poonkuzlali
looking at her father.
"Why Sir? Is this true?" asked
that gentleman of Vandiya Devan.
"Yes Sir. Here is
the official letter." Vandiya Devan drew out the palm-leaf
roll of letters from his waist pouch and handed them to the
elderly man. Just then, another roll fell to the ground from
his waist. He quickly bent down and picked it up to hide it
away in his pouch. "I am truly asinine; I haven't learnt
even after one bad experience!" he mumbled to himself.
The gentleman unbound his roll of letters and began reading
in the light from the fire on the light-house. His face
cheered up and he looked at his wife, "The Younger Pirati
has sent this letter. We must feed these men. Go warn your
daughter-in-law; she might empty the rice-pot!"
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 4 -- The Open Seas
Vandiya Devan met the
light-house keeper in privacy after the night meal and told
him that he had to go as quickly as possible to Lanka. That
gentleman who was named Tyaga-vidangar expressed his
regrets. "Once upon a time there were several boats and
rafts on this shore. Now all of them have been sent to
Sethu. They have been commandeered as supply vessels for our
armed forces in Lanka. Though I personally own two small
boats, my son took one of those boats yesterday, and went to
Lanka with those newcomers. I do not know when he would
return. What can I do?" asked Mr. Tyaga-vidangar the
"Who were those men? Your
daughter mentioned that they were somewhat disreputable."
"Yes; I did not care too much for them. I really do not know
who they were or why they were going to Lanka. They had the
palmtree signet of Pazluvoor. Even so, I would not have
permitted my son to go with them. But, my daughter-in-law is
very avaricious -- when those men promised a bag of coins in
payment she insisted that her husband should go."
"Sir! What is this peculiar behavior? If an inexperienced
woman orders it, should your son obey?" asked Vandiya Devan.
He then added after hesitating a bit, "Forgive me. It is
your family affair."
"My son! There is nothing wrong
in your question. We have a family curse; my son is ..."
"Is your son speechless, a mute?"
why do you ask?"
Vandiya Devan explained how he had
stayed with Sendan Amudan and his mother in Tanjore.
"Aha! Are you that man? We already have news of you here.
They are looking for you all over the kingdom!"
"Maybe; I know nothing about that."
"Now I understand
your urge to go to Lanka in such a hurry."
surmise is not correct. I am taking a very important letter
to an important person in that island. If you wish I can
"No need. The Younger Pirati has described
you and written about you. That is enough for me. But, I am
unable to help you on your venture."
"You said that
you had another boat?"
"Yes, there is a second boat.
However, there is no one to row it. I can give it to you, if
you and your friend can handle it."
"Oh! Both of us
have no knowledge of row-boats or sails. In fact I am
somewhat afraid of water. And in the open sea ..."
"Even if you know rowing, you cannot take a boat out to sea
without experience. After a while, the coast will vanish
from view and you would be lost in the open seas without any
sense of direction."
"Anyway, I cannot take the man who came with me to the island. I have
to leave him here to collect the medicinal plants. You must
think of something to help me."
"There is one way; it
is not easy. You can try, if you are lucky ..."
should I do? I can surely try!"
"There is no one in
these parts who is comparable to Poonkuzlali in handling
boats. She has crossed the sea to Lanka several times and
has been even farther. I can tell her; you can also ask
her," said Mr. Tyaga-vidangar.
"Sir! Please call her
immediately. We can ask her," said Vandiya Devan without
"No. She is very stubborn. If we ask her
now and she refuses, we can never change her mind. I will
talk to her tomorrow when she is in a better mood. You can
also ask her when she is alone with you."
Tyaga-vidangar then went away to the light-house tower.
Vandiya Devan went up to the front porch to lie down. The
Doctor's son who had come with him had gone to sleep much
earlier. Vandiya Devan was also extremely tired after the
exhausting journey and was soon asleep.
sleep was gone. The noise of a door opening. Vandiya Devan
made an effort to open his tired eyes. Somebody emerged from
the house and walked out. He recognized the figure as a
woman. The light-house fire cast some light on her; it was
Poonkuzlali, no doubt about that. What had she said? "Follow
me at midnight. I'll show you my lovers!" I thought it was a
joke. Now, she is really walking out at midnight. Where is
she going? If she is really going to meet a lover or lovers,
will she tell me about it? There is some mystery about this.
Or, is she ... why should I not follow her? I have to talk
to her tomorrow and somehow convince her to take me to Lanka
in her boat. Following her now might be useful. Suppose some
danger befalls her! And if I can save her from that! She may
be more open to my suggestions.
Vandiya Devan got up
quietly and followed Poonkuzlali. He had not forgotten his
experience of the evening in the mudhole. He did not want a
similar thing to happen again; therefore, he followed her
quickly without loosing sight of her. It was vacant beach
for some distance around the light-house; he could see her
clearly for some time. He quickened his steps intending to
catch up with her; that was not possible. She seemed to go
faster and faster. She did not seem to even notice him
following her. Soon they had reached the edge of the forest
full of overgrown dunes and valleys. She walked around the
towering sand dune and reached a rocky finger of land
extending out into the marshy sea side. Poonkuzlali turned a
corner and walked even more rapidly. Vandiya Devan,
following far behind, felt "At least I have not lost sight
of her!" Suddenly he could see her no more!
she vanish so quickly? What magic was that? Is there some
depression far ahead? He ran up quickly to that spot and
looked all around. She could not have walked away in three
directions: it was flat marshland and she would be visible
if she had walked that way. He took a few cautious, but firm
steps and made sure that there were no sinkholes in that
area. She must have climbed up this dune and gone into the
forest. He found the traces of a trail winding through the
short bushes on that dune. Vandiya Devan began climbing that
trail. His heart beat could be heard loudly. Even the light
form the light-house was not visible here. The crescent moon
had already set. He had to find his way by the twinkling
starlight. After a while even the faint trail was gone. The
bushy shrubs and short trees began to take monstrous forms.
Their shadows turned in to ghouls and ghosts. Shadows moved
when leaves shook in the breeze. Every movement sent a
shiver through Vandiya Devan. What dangers lurk around what
dark corner? Poisonous reptiles and horrible beasts can
pounce on me from anywhere. Danger can fall from above; or
strike from behind. Why am I caught in this quandary? How
foolish, I did not even bring my spear!
What is that
noise? Is that a shadow on the branch? Two spots of light,
gleaming from that dark bush -- what are they? He could not
control the trembling in his limbs. Fine! There is nothing
for me here. How foolish of me to come here and be
frightened, let me go back ... As he was about to turn back,
he heard a voice. A girl sobbed; then a soft song:
Even as the wave-filled sea is quiet,
why does the
inner ocean seethe?
Even as the Earth maid sleeps,
why does my heart fill with sobs?
abandoned the idea of going back. He began climbing higher
towards the voice. Soon he reached the top. She stood there;
Poonkuzlali. She was singing; she was singing to the stars,
looking up at them. She considered those heavenly bodies a
rapt audience and sang to them. Those astral bodies shivered
on hearing her sad lyric. One of those stars was Dhoomaketu,
the comet. The comet's tail was long and spreading like a
fan. The silhouette of the young girl at the peak, the dark
sky, the bright comet, her voice and sad melody -- all these
made Vandiya Devan loose his sense of perspective. He had
reached the top of that hillock. Now, he stood in front of
her; facing her. Behind her, very far away, he could see a
faint light -- the light-house. Like a fence keeping the sea
within bounds, white waves rolled languidly along the shore,
as far as the eye could see.
"You have come! I
thought you were sleeping like Kumbakarna on the porch."
"I woke up on hearing the door open. You walked so fast;
without even looking back. It was very difficult to follow
"Why did you follow me?"
"What a stupid
question! You asked me to follow you! Have you forgotten?"
"Why did I ask you to follow? Do you remember?"
not? You promised to show me your lovers! Where are they?
Let me see them -- your lovers!"
"Over there! Look
behind you!" said Poonkuzlali.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 5 -- Insanity
Vandiya Devan turned, and
looked. His intestines rose from his abdomen and blocked his
chest. They rose even higher to choke his throat. A thousand
shafts of lightning shot through his body. A million red-hot
needles pierced his every pore. Such a horrifying sight
appeared before his eyes.
In that darkness which
spread endlessly, ten, twenty -- a hundred fiery furnaces
took form; they had neither smoke nor light. Neither were
any embers rising from burning wood. They were pure shafts
of fire; somehow they rose from the ground and stood
upright. Suddenly some shafts vanished. Other fiery columns
rose to take their place. It was a giant monster of dark
hue; a gargantuan demon with an immense mouth in his
headless torso. He did not have merely one mouth; he had
several orifices which opened and shut slowly one after the
other. When he opened a mouth the shaft of fire rose in an
ethereal glow. When he shut a mouth the light was masked.
When Vandiya Devan saw this sight, he felt as if every pore
in his body oozed blood. He had never experienced such
terror. He had not been this petrified even in the dungeons
of Elder Lord Pazluvoor. He heard demonic laughter, "Ha, ha,
ha, ha!" behind him and turned back to find Poonkuzlali. If
it had been any other circumstance, that laughter itself
would have given him a fright. Now, that very same laughter
gave him courage. The fact that a human being, a girl made
of flesh and blood stood next to him acted as a pillar of
"Did you see my lovers!?" asked Poonkuzlali.
"These fiery ghosts are my lovers. I come here at midnight
to make love to them!"
There was no doubt about this
girl being completely deranged! How can I depend on her to
take me to Lanka? Some other thought struggled to emerge
from his subconscious mind. What was it? What was it?
Something about these fiery ghouls...
friend Sendan Amudan compete with these lovers of mine?"
asked Poonkuzlali's voice from some deep well. He was trying
to remember something. Finally after much struggle and
mental conflict he recalled: --
Such apparitions are
natural in marsh lands formed by water stagnation over soils
rich in sulphur! When sulphur gasses spring forth from the
earth, such phosphorescent columns arise at nighttime. The
steaming sulphur appears like fiery shafts shooting from the
marsh. Some columns last a long time; some come up in short
bursts of steaming liquid. Ignorant country-folk fear this
natural phenomenon thinking it to be ghosts and phantoms. He
remembered reading about these facts; about the discussions
with elders and childhood tutors. Reason and fear tussled;
reason won. There was no point in explaining all this
science to this foolish girl at this time. Somehow, I must
calm her down and lead her back.
"Girl! Your lovers
won't go away anywhere. They will stay here. We can come
back tomorrow and see them, can't we? Come let us go home."
Poonkuzlali did not reply; she began to sob ceaselessly.
Vandiya Devan wondered how to handle this new nuisance. He
waited for some time and finally said, "Girl! can I go
The sobbing continued. He felt useless. "Fine,
do as you wish. I am sleepy, and am going back!" he declared
as he started down. Poonkuzlali stopped crying immediately.
With a few quick steps she went down first and stood back.
Vandiya Devan ran down to join her. They walked towards the
light-house. How can I trust this insane girl and get into
her boat? Cross the ocean? But, no other option seems to
exist. What soothing words can I say to make her feel more
Poonkuzlali asked, "The comet Dhoomaketu
can be seen in the sky. What do you think about it?"
"I have no thoughts about it; a comet can be seen -- that is
all!" said Vandiya Devan.
"They say that disasters will occur if a comet
appears on the sky."
"Yes, some say that."
"What do you say?"
"I have not studied astrology. I
know people say such things."
They walked silently
for some time. Again Poonkuzlali spoke, "They say that the
Emperor is not keeping good health. Is that true?"
She is not all that deranged, sensed Vandiya Devan. He felt
a little more confident. "I saw him personally. The Emperor
is bed-ridden. He has no sense of feeling in both his legs.
He cannot even take a single step. Have I not come to gather
medicines for his cure? Woman, will you help me in one
She gave no reply, but asked, "They say that
the Emperor is not likely to live too long, he will die
soon; is that true?"
"If you don't help me now, it
may happen. I believe that there are some rare medicinal
plants in Lanka. They say that the Emperor can be cured if
we bring those medicines to him. Will you row your boat for
me and come to Lanka?"
"Suppose the Emperor dies, who
is likely to ascend the throne after him?" Vandiya Devan was
stunned by this question from Poonkuzlali.
girl! Why should you and I worry about that? How does it
concern us whoever gets the throne?"
we be concerned? Are we not subjects in this empire?"
This girl is not at all insane! I have to be very careful
with her. There must be some reason behind her peculiar
"Why are you quiet? Who will ascend the
throne next?" she asked again.
"Aditya Karikala has
been coronated as the Crown Prince. By law he must ascend
the throne next."
"Madurandaka -- does he not have
"Has he not declared that he does not
want to rule?"
"He said that before. Now, he
apparently wants his kingdom."
"Is it enough if he
wants it? Don't people have to approve?"
big-wigs are said to be in his favor ..."
heard that too. I am surprised that such news has reached
even your ears."
"What will happen if Sundara Chozla
"There will be confusion all over the
nation. That is why I need your help now, to prevent any
such thing ..."
"How can I help?"
"I told you
earlier; I have to go to Lanka urgently, to bring some
medicinal plants. Can you row your boat and come with me to
"Why do you need me? Are you not ashamed
to ask a girl to row her boat for you?"
said that there was nobody else. I believe even your brother
"So what if he is gone? Don't you
have two hands? Doesn't the fellow who came with you have
"We know nothing about boats..."
"There is nothing magical about boats. If you pull the oars
it will glide by itself!"
"Shouldn't I know
navigation? What if I am lost in the open seas?"
you are lost, drown in the deep sea! What am I to do about
They had reached the light-house. Vandiya
Devan wanted to end this fruitless conversation. He did not
wish to provoke her further and confirm her refusal. Even
though she seemed to refuse, her tone and words gave him
He could not sleep when he went to bed the
second time. Like that earlier night in Kadamboor, all sorts
of thoughts jostled his mind, greatly confused by bits and
pieces of information. He was able to sleep only in the late
hours of the night.
He was in some dreamworld. He
was seated in front of Poonkuzlali in a small sail boat. The
sea was around them on all four sides; water everywhere. A
pleasant breeze. The boat was floating on that breeze.
Poonkuzlali shone with a radiant beauty. Black curls danced
on her forehead. Her saelai folds floated in the wind. He
had forgotten where he was going or why he was going. He
felt that he had journeyed this far merely to go sailing
with Poonkuzlali. Something was missing. What was it? Oh! It
is Poonkuzlali's song. Hadn't Amudan praised her song?
"Dear girl! Can you not open your coral red lips and sing me
a song?" asked Vandiya Devan.
"What did you say?"
asked Poonkuzlali with a smile. Ah! That smile is worth a
"Open your sweet lips and sing me a
"If I sing you a melody, what will you give
"I will come near you and on your soft cheeks
Poonkuzlali drew a sharp dagger from her waist.
She raised the weapon with her hand. "Watch out! If you take
even one tiny step beyond that sail-post, I will use this
knife. The sea fish are very hungry!" she said.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 6 -- Hidden Lair
Vandiya Devan was aroused by
bright, red rays of the rising sun. Even after sleep faded,
it took him a while to regain all his faculties. It took a
few minutes to differentiate between the rays of the sun and
the fire-light from the light-house. Which incidents of the
previous day were real and which were dreams? -- nothing was
Only the light-house keeper's wife and
her daughter-in-law were to be found in the house. They said
that the old man had gone to collect flowers for the service
at Kuzlagar Temple. Vandiya Devan was hesitant to ask those
women about Poonkuzlali. His eyes surveyed all the rooms,
but, Poonkuzlali was to be found nowhere. After he had eaten
the morning meal provided by them, he decided to look for
her near the temple. Instead, he found her father. The old
man was gathering flowers from trees and bushes surrounding
the temple wall. He said that on some days, Poonkuzlali
would come with him to help him weave flower garlands; but,
she had not come today.
"She must be somewhere in the
woods, chasing after deer or wandering along the seashore.
Go find her and ask her," he said. "Thambi, but, be careful
about one thing. She can be very dangerous. Don't think of
romantic poems you have read and venture into dalliance with
her -- she will turn into a veritable demon. Your life may
not remain yours!" warned the light-house keeper. Vandiya
Devan shivered thinking of his dream of the previous night.
He then walked into the forest looking for that peculiar
Where was he to look for her in those woods?
Tiring quickly, he felt like getting out of the forest;
presently, he began walking along the sea shore. Though he
had walked quite some distance, there was no sign of
Poonkuzlali. He turned back thinking, "Anyway she must come
back home for the midday meal. I can get hold of her at that
time." A sudden urge came upon him to get into that shallow
sea and bathe in its cool waters. The sea seemed calm
without too many waves; Poonkuzlali had said that it was not
deep along this coast. Then, why hesitate? It was important
that he get rid of his fear of the sea. Particularly, now
that he was to travel across oceans on boats and ships, he
must surely overcome this fear.
He removed his
waistband, pouch and scabbard and placed them on the beach.
Slowly he took a few steps into the water. As he walked
further, the depth did not increase beyond his knees. When
small waves dashed against him, the water rose up to his
waist -- that was all! "What a ludicrous ocean this is?!
There is no depth even to dive into?" muttering such words
he walked some more. Oh! Dear me! I seem to have come away
quite far thinking that this sea is not deep. Suppose the
tide rises suddenly? What if the waves increase in size? As
soon as this thought occurred, he turned to look back at the
shore. It was true, that he had come away quite far from the
beach; however, the sea cannot rise suddenly!
Oh! There comes Poonkuzlali! I must go back and talk to her. I must
talk pleasantly and try to gain her favor. Perhaps she is
coming this way to meet me. She is walking this way, making
some sign. Oh! Oh! What is that? Why is she bending down
over my clothes? Why is she picking up my waist pouch? "Hey
girl! Don't touch that! That is mine!" She can't hear me ...
over the noise of this sea.... Ah! she did hear me; what is
she saying ... "Poonkuzlali don't take that, it is my
pouch... Here you! Wont you listen? Why are you walking away
with my waist belt and pouch? Stop! Stop! ...."
Vandiya Devan began running towards the shore. Poonkuzlali
turned back once, to look at him. She too began running. She
was running away from the village and light-house, towards
the forest. Ah! This is a wretched girl! Or insane! How am I
to recover my pouch from this mad girl? I must do it
somehow... He stumbled into the waves once or twice and even
swallowed some salt water in his hurry.
came ashore and began running after that girl. As he
followed, her steps hastened. In the distance he could see a
group of deer prancing away. What a beautiful sight it was
-- spotted deer jumping and leaping away in fright! Even
this girl is leaping and flying ... in no way is she less
graceful than those four legged beasts. There is nothing
comparable to the grace of these girls raised in the
wilds.... Ah! But, I should not utter such nonsense to her.
If I prattle such compliments, the whole venture may be
jeopardized. I must remember her father's warning. But, why
is she running like this? Like one possessed? If she
disappears in the forest it will be difficult to find her
... Oh dear! She has run into the trees. There can be no
fool comparable to me in this whole world! Can a garland
caught in the hands of a wild monkey remain intact?
Soon, he too was in the forest wandering here and there. In
his hurry he was careless about parting the bushes and
branches properly; his whole body was bleeding, scratched
thorny creepers and bushes. "Poonkuzlali! Poonkuzlali!" he
shouted. In his agitation he began asking things like, "Hey
Tree! Did you see Poonkuzlali? O Crow, did you see
What is this? Am I turning insane
myself? Just as he was loosing hope, something fell in front
of him, from the tree above. Yes, it was his waist band and
pouch. He went up and eagerly opened his pouch. The roll of
palmleaves, the bag of gold coins -- everything seemed
"Is the money safe?" asked a voice from above
him. He looked up to find Poonkuzlali sitting on a branch
above him. Vandiya Devan was weary and dripping with sweat;
with some rage he said, "I have never seen a monkey like
"And I have never seen an owl like you! Dear
me! How you stare at one!" said Poonkuzlali.
you vex me like this? If it is money that you want..."
"Chee! Who wants your money!"
"Then, why did you run
away with this?"
"If I hadn't done it, you wouldn't
have followed me into this forest. You might have gone back
to my house."
"What if I had returned to the house?"
"Come, climb up this tree, you will see."
"You can see ten or fifteen horses; shining
swords and spears."
Her face indicated that she was
speaking the truth. Nevertheless, Vandiya Devan wanted to
make sure; so he climbed the tree. He bound his pouch
tightly around his waist before climbing -- perhaps she had
dropped it accidentally and this is a trick to get it back,
who knows? He stood on a branch and looked towards the
light-house. Yes; she had spoken the truth. There were ten
or fifteen horsemen near the village. Who were they?
Pazluvoor soldiers come to arrest him -- who else could they
Poonkuzlali had saved him from significant
danger. Why? With what intention? -- something is not clear
... Both climbed down to the ground. "Poonkuzlali, you have
saved me from great danger. Many thanks to you." Vandiya
Devan spoke sincerely.
"Total lies! Do menfolk ever
feel thankful?" asked Poonkuzlali.
"Don't equate me
to all men!"
"Yes! You are not like all men; quite
"Woman! Can I ask you something?"
"You are welcome! Answering you is my wish and will."
"Why did you think of protecting me? Why this sudden concern
Poonkuzlali was silent; her face showed that
she was slightly unnerved. She thought of something and
finally said, "I am always partial to fools."
"Thanks! How did you know that those soldiers had come in
search of me?"
"Can't I comprehend by seeing your
face? -- It is obvious that you are escaping and hiding from
something. I suspected it yesterday. This morning, your
friend -- that Doctor's son -- confirmed it."
did he prattle?"
"As soon as he woke up this morning,
he said that he had to look for herbs in the forest. I
agreed to guide him and brought him here. Soon he began
making a pass at me. I said, `You friend is ahead of
"Why did you say that!?"
patient! Listen to me. I said that you were in love with me.
He began expressing his doubts about you. Apparently he
suspected that you were escaping from fear of some royal
censure; several incidents on the way made him feel that
way. `Don't trust a fellow like him and waste your life.
Marry me!' he said. `You seem to be in such a hurry? Don't
we have to ask the elders?' I said; your dear friend
replied, `Let us follow the ancient tenets and consummate
our relationship in secrecy!' How is this story?"
"That despicable sinner!" said Vandiya Devan.
then I heard the sound of galloping horses. I climbed a tree
to confirm my suspicions and then told him to look. Even now
I feel like laughing if I think of how his legs shook as he
stood on that tree branch..."
"Enough of this joking;
what happened afterwards?"
"He climbed down and said,
`See! What I said is true! Those soldiers have come to
arrest him.' I then said, `That means they are likely to
arrest you also for having come with him. Go run and hide
yourself somewhere!' He left me and did exactly what I
expected of him ...."
"Why? What did he do?"
"He said that he was going to hide and ran directly into
their midst; and was caught by those men"
"Don't feel too sorry for him; keep
some sympathy in reserve."
"Why do you say that?"
"Listen to the rest, you will understand. He walked into
their midst; they looked at him with surprise. They examined
him and talked amongst themselves. `Who are you?' he asked
them. `We are hunters; we have come to hunt deer.' said one
of those horsemen. This fellow said, `No! No, you have come
to hunt me, I know!' They were even more surprised as they
provoked him further. Finally this fellow said, `You have
all come in search of Vandiya Devan. If I expose him to you,
will you let go of me?' They agreed. He then led them to my
horsemen had gone ahead, I came in search of you. You were
bathing in the sea."
"Why did you not tell me all
this on the beach itself? Why did you run with my waist
"Would you have followed me so quickly if I
had not done that? You would have said that you would deal
with those soldiers and walked towards them! Perhaps you
would not have even believed me. By the time I explain all
this, those soldiers might have spotted you ...."
Vandiya Devan felt ashamed to have thought that she was
insane. I must trust her completely. Without her help, I
cannot cross the sea and go to Lanka. All my journey this
far will be wasted; I will be arrested by those soldiers of
Lord Pazluvoor. "Woman! I cannot tell you how much you have
helped me. But, you must help me some more ..."
do you want me to do?" she asked.
"You saw the nature
of my friend -- there is no point in trusting him. You
should row your boat and take me to Lanka."
Poonkuzlali was silent.
"Can you believe that I am
not likely to do anything wrong. Dear girl! I have to go to
Lanka on an important mission as quickly as possible. You
must help me in this regard ..."
"If I help you, what
will you give me in return?"
For the first time her
face showed signs of shyness. Cheeks dimpled and a playful
smile increased the radiance of her face. Vandiya Devan
remembered her asking a similar question in his dream of the
previous night. He also recalled the reply he had been about
to give. He was about to reply with similar words; but, he
bit his tongue and stopped himself.
"If you help me
this time, I shall not forget till I have life in me. I
shall remain beholden to you for ever. I do not know how I
can return your favor. If you want me to do something in
return, I shall surely do it."
lost in thought. It seemed as if she was hesitant to say
"If I can do you a return favor, tell me.
I promise to do it..."
"Is it a promise?"
"Yes; it is a promise."
"Then I'll tell you when the
time comes. You won't forget, will you?"
shall wait for you to ask the return favor; till then I will
remain beholden to you."
Poonkuzlali continued to
think for some time. "Fine! Come with me. I shall take you
to a place in this forest. You must remain there till dusk
today; perhaps go without food."
"Don't worry about
that. This morning your sister-in-law served me day-old rice
and I ate more than my fill just to annoy her. I do not need
any food till nightfall."
"I don't know if there will
be any food even by night. I'll try and bring something.
Anyway, you must stay in this place till nightfall. After
darkness, I shall come back and call for you. Have you heard
the nightingale call `koo kooo'?"
"Sure; I have heard
it's call. Even otherwise, I can recognize your voice."
"On hearing my call, you must come out of hiding. We should
be in the boat and ready to leave within one jamam (three
hours) after nightfall."
"I'll wait for the call of
Poonkuzlali led Vandiya Devan to a
sand dune in the middle of that forest. The other side of
the sand dune was covered more thickly with shrubs and
creepers than the rest of the surrounding area. She pushed
those creepers aside easily with her hands and stepped into
a hollow beside a tree. Vandiya Devan followed her. He saw
the roof-edge of an old ruined building in that depth.
Overgrown forest and sand had covered it completely; except
from that one point, none could even spot a building in that
"A leopard used to live in this place. After
it, I live here. It is my own personal hideout. When I don't
wish to see any human being, I usually come here to hide.
There is water in that mudpot. You must spend the rest of
this day here. Don't come up even if you hear voices, horses
galloping or any other kind of commotion. Don't come up on
the dune to see what is happening," said Poonkuzlali.
"Do you want me to stay in here even after sundown? What if
some forest creature -- a tiger or leopard comes? asked
"No tiger or leopard lives here
anymore. Only jackals and wild boar might come. You are not
afraid of a jackal or wild boar, are you?"
"I am not
afraid! What if they come and fall upon me in the dark? I
don't even have my spear with me. I left it in your house."
"Here, take this weapon," said Poonkuzlali as she picked up
a weapon from the floor of that lair. It was a curious
instrument. It was long and curved like a sword -- studded
with sharp thorns on both sides. The thorns seemed stronger
than steel. Perhaps Lord Indra's thunderbolt was fashioned
"What weapon is this? What is it made of?"
asked Vandiya Devan.
"This is the tail-bone of a
fish. When the leopard that lived in this lair came to
pounce on me, I killed it with this fish bone!" said
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 7 -- Ocean Princess
Vandiya Devan was able to
spend that day easily; more than half the time went in
sleep. Hours of wakefulness were spent in contemplating the
peculiar character of Poonkuzlali. What an astonishing girl!
What a pleasing, lilting name! But such a severe attitude
... Not merely `severe' -- mixed with some sweetness too!
How nonchalant she was, when mentioning about her killing
the wild leopard! Such intelligence and forethought! But,
sometimes she behaves like one deranged -- I wonder why?
Something perturbing must have happened in her life. Was it
unpleasant or pleasing? Either could have made her
unbalanced like this. Perhaps there is no cause ... she was
born like this with a peculiar nature ... There seems to be
nothing wrong with her parents. They seem to be pleasant,
calm folk! Who cares about her character! Why is she so
concerned with my affairs and why has she done so much to
help me escape those soldiers from Pazluvoor? She has also
promised to take me to Lanka ... is everything some vast
intrigue? No! But, why did she change her mind? What favor
does she expect in return from me? She declared that she
would ask me later ... What could it be?
While he was
immersed in such thoughts, the forest around him was filled
with turmoil, just as Poonkuzlali had predicted. Horses
galloped, men ran about in pretentious bravado, small forest
creatures screamed in panic and birds called with fear. All
this created a great commotion. Soon everything quietened
into silence. He discerned that all the noise was in search
of him. He thought about the treachery of the Doctor's son.
Fool! Did he think that he had fallen in love with
Poonkuzlali so quickly? Idiotic, like the stagnant creek
falling in love with a roaring lava flow! It is like that
story of the country mouse that wished to wed a lioness! How
cleverly this girl made use of his foolishness. What jealous
flames has she fanned in his heart! Within half an hour she
turned him into a traitor! The powers of womenfolk is
Vandiya Deva, you must accept one thing:
you thought that you were very clever; you were proud that
none is your equal in cunning and craftiness. But, this
unsophisticated country girl has outwitted you. Consider the
trick she employed to bring you, who were swimming in the
sea, to this hidden lair. If she had not run away like that
with the waist-band what would have happened? I would have
been arrested by those soldiers from Pazluvoor. And the
whole mission would have been wasted. I should never be
careless like this again.
The sun sank into the
western sea. It was a remarkable sight in Kodi Karai. The
coastline which went southward suddenly turned at a
right-angle to stretch westward. Therefore, if one viewed
from atop a dune in Kodi Karai they could see the ocean in
all three directions: east, west and south. In some months
one could glimpse the full moon rising from the eastern sea
in splendorous light while the sun sank with fiery glory
into the western ocean. Vandiya Devan felt an eagerness to
emerge from the sand dune and view the sunset. He controlled
his desire with much effort.
Darkness came quickly to
envelop all directions. The dim light which dwelled in the
hidden lair become pitch dark. He could not remain there any
more. He came out and climbed upon the sand dune which
covered the pavilion. In the distance he could see the fire
from the lighthouse. Diamonds shimmered brilliantly in the
sky. All sorts of curious sounds rose from the forest. There
was quite a difference between the daytime noises and these
night-sounds of the woods. These mysterious nighttime sounds
created a terror in his heart and a shiver in his limbs. By
daylight, even if one comes face to face with a tiger,
reason overcomes fright; in the night, even if a mouse
scrambles through the underbrush, the heart is gripped by
Here comes the call of a nightingale, "Koo
kooo!" It sounded like divine music in Vandiya Devan's ears.
He walked towards that sound to find Poonkuzlali standing
there. She signed, "Come with me without making any sound!"
He realized that the sea shore was not too far away.
The boat was ready on the beach. A mast, sail cloth and
ropes to hoist the sail were placed neatly in the boat. Two
long poles extended outward on one side and a large
flattened wooden log was bound to the ends of those poles.
(Note: It was a catamaran. From the Tamil kattu-maram
meaning bound logs.) Vandiya Devan tried to help her push
the boat the water. "You keep quiet!" she signalled. She
pushed the vessel expertly and it slid into the water
Vandiya Devan tried to climb into the
boat. She said in a soft voice, "Shhh! Wait a little! You
can climb in after we have gone a little further." She
dragged the boat behind her as she waded into the sea.
Thinking that he would help, Vandiya Devan pushed from
behind. The boat stopped. "It's better if you just come
quietly!" said Poonkuzlali. After they had crossed the wave
line she said, "Now you can climb in," and jumped into her
boat. When Vandiya Devan tried to leap into it, the boat
rocked dangerously. It seemed as if he would fall back in
the water. Somehow he managed to sit down. He could hear his
heart beating loudly. "Can I talk now?" he asked.
"You are welcome. If you have stopped shivering, you can
talk!" said Poonkuzlali.
"Shivering? Who is
shivering? Nothing like that!"
"Then, it's alright!"
"Don't we have to raise the sail?"
"If we raise the
sail, those on the shore might be able to see us. They might
catch up with us."
"If they come, I can handle them.
You need not worry." Vandiya Devan started to sing his own
"The wind is blowing shoreward now. If I
raise the sail it will push us back to the beach. The wind
will change after midnight. A sail might be useful after
"Oh! You are well aware of all these things.
Perhaps, that is why your father asked me to take you as my
"My father! Whom do you mean?"
meant your father, the light-house keeper Mr.
"He is my father only when I am on
the shore. If I am on the sea ..."
"What? Would even
a father change if you are on the sea?"
the Ocean King is my father. Didn't anyone tell you that my
other name is the Ocean Princess?"
"Nobody told me.
Why that curious name?"
"Don't people refer to the
younger son of the Emperor as Ponniyin Selvan, (Ponni's
Beloved)? It's like that!"
On hearing this, Vandiya
Devan felt his waist band and made sure of his waist-pouch.
Poonkuzlali noticed his concern and asked, "It is safe, I
"What are you asking about?"
talking about that thing you have in your waist- pouch."
Vandiya Devan was shocked; a tiny apprehension crept into
his heart. Poonkuzlali was pulling at the oars as she
talked. The boat was gliding forward. "When will we reach
the island of Lanka?" asked Vandiya Devan.
persons row, we can reach by daybreak; if the wind is on our
"I too can pull the oars and help you. I wont
let you down."
Vandiya Devan picked up the oars on
his end and pulled. Ah! This is not an easy task! It
requires much strength! The boat swirled and stopped
"What is this? When you pull the oars the
boat glides. If I take up the oars, the boat stops?"
"I am the Ocean Princess. That is why! It is enough if you
can just keep still. I'll somehow take you to Lanka. Is that
He felt a bit ashamed and kept quiet for a
while. As he looked around he caught sight of the poles and
logs extending from one side of the boat. He asked, "Why
"To keep the boat stable, so that it
does not rock too much."
"Oh! Will the boat rock more
than this? Even now it seems to be dancing and I am
beginning to feel queasy."
"You call this rocking!
You must see it in rainy season when the Monsoon Winds
When viewed from the shore, the sea seemed
calm like a placid silver platter; he realized it was not
so. Foamless waves rose and fell. They rocked the boat like
"What happens to these logs when the big
"Depends on how strong the wind is.
Normally these logs will stabilize the boat and prevent it
from overturning. If a whirlwind blows and the boat
capsizes, we can unbind these logs from the boat. We can
float by holding onto these logs and hope to be rescued."
"Oh dear! Can this boat capsize in a big wind?"
huge sailing ships will break into smithereens if caught in
a whirlwind. What can one say about this tiny boat?"
"What do you mean by a whirlwind?"
"Don't you know
even that? When the winds blowing from one direction
encounter the gusts blowing from the opposite direction, a
whirlwind takes shape. During the months of Thai and Maasi
(January to March) the Kondal Breeze blows in these parts.
There is nothing to worry then. We can easily cross between
Kodi Karai and Lanka. In fact we can go and return in one
night. By Vaikasi (May-June) the Chozla Winds will start. It
is a little difficult to go to Lanka from here on the Chozla
Wind. Now it is the season between the Chozla Winds and
Monsoon Winds. Sometimes, on the open seas, strong winds
will encounter swift gales blowing from the opposite
direction. Like a butter churn swirling milk, the whirlwind
will churn the water. Waves will swell into mountains and
fall down. Deep chasms will be created on these waters. The
sea will swirl into great whirls in those chasms. If a boat
is caught in the midst of all this ... that is the end!"
Suddenly panic filled Vandiya Devan's heart. A new doubt
arose in his mind. "Oh dear! I won't come! Take me back to
the shore!" he shouted.
"What are you blabbering
about? Keep quiet. Close your eyes if you are afraid.
Perhaps it is better if you go to sleep!"
now appeared to be confirmed. "You are a wicked
double-crosser! You have brought me here to drown me in this
sea. You think your task will be easier if I go to sleep!"
"What nonsense is this?"
"I am not foolish! Are you
going to turn back or not? If you don't, I'll jump into the
"You are welcome! But, before you jump, give
me that letter you are carrying for Ponniyin Selvan."
"Oh! How did you know about that letter?"
"I came to
know about it upon examining your waist- pouch! Would I have
agreed to take you to Lanka in my boat without making sure
of who you are and why you are going to Lanka? This morning
when I was sitting on the tree branch, I opened your pouch
and examined its contents..."
"You deceiver! I
trusted you and came here! Are you going to turn back the
boat or not?" His fear and doubts increased tenfold. He
began shouting in panic as he stood up, "Turn back! Turn
"If I had been the Younger Pirati Kundavai
Devi, I would not have sent such an important letter through
such a fickle minded messenger like you!" said Poonkuzlali.
"Oh dear! You even know who sent the letter. There is no
doubt now: you are a double-crosser. Turn back or I will
"Jump! You are free to jump!" said Poonkuzlali
in disgust. Fear-crazed Vandiya Devan jumped into the sea
thinking that the water would be shallow like the beach near
the coast. He had not seen that the boat had come far into
the deep ocean. He realized that he could not swim after he
had jumped into the deep water; he began shouting with fear.
Vandiya Devan knew a little swimming. But, his natural fear
of water made his limbs weak. In a lake or river, the shore
within view had given him courage. This was the open sea;
water everywhere, in all directions. The waves were very
mild; still, they lifted him high and pulled him deep down
as they rose and fell. When he rose with the wave, he could
see the boat. "Aahhh!" he shouted, senseless with fear and
doubt. When the wave pulled him down in a trough, only the
high wall of water could be seen. His tongue lost the sense
to even shout for help. By the third time he was tossed up,
the boat appeared to have moved away. The thought, "This is
it! I am going to drown in this sea!" gripped his mind.
Kundavai Devi's face floated before his mind. "Oh! What have
you done?" asked her face!
Ah! What dream castles
had I built! What fantasies I had thought up! I had
envisioned that I would win back my ancient Vaanar Kingdom
and be crowned on a jewelled throne with the Younger Pirati
seated by my side! Everything is a waste! This wretched girl
has ruined everything. She is not a girl -- she is a ghoul
in female form! An agent of the Pazluvoor men. No, she is a
retainer of that enchanting sorceress Nandini. It does not
matter if I drown, If only I could catch hold of her ... If
only I could strangle her ... Oh! What foolish thought is
this? Why can't I think of good things when I am about to
die? Let me think of God! Oh Lord God! Oh Master of the
Universe! Oh dear Perumal who reposes on the primeval ocean!
Dear Kundavai Devi! forgive me, I am unable to complete the
assignment you gave me. There goes the boat. If only I could
lay hands on her.....
indifferent for a few minutes after Vandiya Devan had jumped
into the sea. She felt that he would somehow manage to keep
afloat and climb back into the boat. Thinking of teasing him
she moved the boat away from him. Soon she realized her
mistake: this fellow does not know how to swim! Moreover, he
is gripped by panic. He is not joking when he shouts for
help, "Aaahh! Ohh!" He is really frightened. Very soon he
will start swallowing salt water and start to drown, and it
will be difficult to even retrieve his body. "Chee! I have
made a mistake; my teasing has turned into disaster. I
should have shut my mouth till we reached land. I should not
have disclosed that I knew his secret ... I was too hasty.
But, who knew that this fool would do such a thing?"
When Vandiya Devan was thrown up with the next wave, she
quickly moved the boat close to him. She called, "Come,
come! Get into the boat." But he could not hear her and he
did not seem capable of getting into the boat by himself.
All he was capable of was to lift his head up and scream in
panic, "Aahh!" Poonkuzlali recognized his wails as the last
calls of a drowning human being. In that dim light of the
crescent moon she could catch a glimpse of his face. It was
the fear crazed face of an idiot. "He will never swim back
and get into the boat! I have to rescue him ... why did I
create this unwanted predicament? I have proved the truth in
the saying `A woman's mind is a foolish mind!' What should I
She did several things very rapidly. She pulled
up the ropes meant for binding the sails and tied one end to
the logs extending from the boat. She bound the other end
around her waist and jumped into the water. With quick easy
strokes she swam near him and stopped at arms length.
Vandiya Devan had seen her. His face and eyes were filled
with a horrible killer instinct. Poonkuzlali seemed to know
the thoughts of drowning men. If anyone came to their rescue
the drowning man or woman would get hold of the rescuer in a
death grip. The panic of approaching death would give them
elephantine strength. They would get hold of the rescuer and
try to drag them down too! It would be quite difficult to
escape that deathly grip; and it would be impossible to
swim. Both were likely to drown in the depths!
thoughts flashed through Poonkuzlali's mind at lightning
speed as she came to a decision. She swam closer to him,
approaching from his back as she made a tight fist with one
hand. She punched him hard with her fist. Her hand,
strengthened by several years of rowing boats, landed like a
thunderbolt on his face. His head split into a thousand
pieces as his eyes saw a million slivers of light. Several
million lightning shafts darted before his eyes. Ocean
Princess appeared in each shaft of light, roaring with
ghoulish laughter. The horrible laughter of a million ghouls
deafened his ears. He could neither hear nor see; he lost
control of his senses; endless darkness! Infinite silence!
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 8 -- Ghost Island
The Sky Goddess must be very
human by nature! Humans let the all pervading light of God
escape from the skies of their hearts; later, they light a
million lamps in dark temples and sanctums in search of that
eternal light! The Sky Goddess was also engaged in such an
eternal search every day! She lets Lord Surya, the sun, the
lord of light, escape from her embrace and sink into the
sea. She then worries about the whereabouts of her chosen
lord! She lights a million lamps to look for him. She fills
the skies with countless, brilliant, lamps and keeps vigil
throughout the night waiting for her lord.
Vandiya Devan regained his senses and opened his eyes, he
saw several thousand lights twinkling around him. He
wondered, which temple is thus decorated with so many
thousands of oil lamps? He then realized that they were not
temple lamps but twinkling stars that filled the night skies
in the open sea. He was lying down, staring into the sky.
His clothes were wet and a rope was wound around his waist.
A soft cool breeze caressed his body, comforting him,
calming him. The drone of the tranquil sea gave rise to an
extraordinary peace in his heart. A song in the midst of
that drone. What song was that? Where had he heard it
... the sea is ever so quiet,
breeze crawls ever so softly,
In the heart of this
why does a whirlwind blow?
wave-filled seas are still,
why does my inner ocean
Oh, that peculiar girl Poonkuzlali! He sat up
and looked around. Yes it was her: she was rowing the boat.
She was singing that sad lyric as she pulled the oars. He
remembered all the incidents of the early night in a flash
-- his struggling and drowning and Poonkuzlali coming
towards him. He could not recall anything after that. The
girl must have rescued him and pulled him into the boat. She
had bound him to the floor board with a rope to prevent
further mishap. She had wound the rough rope over his waist
cloth so that it did not bite into his skin ... such
kindness... He felt for his waist-pouch and made sure that
it was intact with the money and roll of letters. Ah! How
foolish of me to doubt this girl? If her intentions were not
right, she would not have saved my life. She must have
struggled to pull my heavy body into this tiny boat. How did
she manage? What an extraordinary girl she is!
she walking towards me? Did she see that I am awake? What
will she do? No, she is doing something else! She is raising
the mast and unfurling the sail. Such a skilled task; and
she is handling it all by herself!
"Oh! You are awake?"
from these ropes, I'll help you."
"It will be a great
help if you just keep still. You can unbind yourself; the
rope is just wound around your waist. But, please don't jump
into the sea again."
Vandiya Devan sat up and unwound
the rope. Poonkuzlali straitened the mast; she unfurled the
sail cloth and let it catch the breeze. The boat skimmed on
"I am thirsty."
"You drank the salt water, you will
She picked up a gourd and came closer.
"I had brought some food for you. When you jumped, the bag
fell into the sea. Somehow this gourd escaped." Saying this,
the Ocean Princess removed the stopper and gave him the
gourd. He took it and drank the sweet water. Vandiya Devan
cleared his throat and said, "I mistook your intentions. I
"It does not matter. Who cares about who
you are and who I am? We are merely acquaintances who will
part at daybreak."
"What time is it now?"
"Look at the sky and estimate it. Look at the Seven sages
(the dipper)," said Poonkuzlali the Ocean Princess.
Vandiya Devan looked at the horizon towards the north. Since
he had embarked from the beach, the Seven sages had
completed half a circle. Look, how the star Arundati sticks
so close to the star Vasishta! But, Dhruva, the pole-star
has not moved form its position. It stays firm in the
horizon where sky and sea meet, for eons and eons, helping
ships and guiding sailors over the years! The pole star!
Someone compared somebody to it... Who? Whom did they refer
to? Yes, I remember ... The Astrologer of Kudanthai had
mentioned it. He had compared the young Prince Arulmozli
Varma to this pole star. Am I really going to be fortunate
enough to meet that Prince? Is this boat-girl going to help
me do so?
Poonkuzlali had gone back to her seat. "Did you find the time? It is
the second half of the third Jaamam (about 2.00 am). The
wind has changed and we can reach Snake Island by sunrise."
"Snake Island?" asked Vandiya Devan with some dismay.
"Yes. There are several islands along the northern coast of
Lanka. One of those is Snake Island. If you land there, you
need not cross water again. You can walk by a land bridge to
the main island."
"What are you planning to do after
you put me on shore?"
"Why are you bothered about
me?" asked Poonkuzlali.
"You have helped me this far.
Don't I have to thank you properly? You said that you might
ask a return favor of me. What is that?"
changed my mind. I am not going to ask any favor of you. You
are a thankless man."
He felt that her accusation had
some truth. Once more he felt inside his pouch and made sure
of the roll of palmleaf letters. "Ocean Princess! I am
ashamed of my behavior early in the night. I am sorry that I
did not trust you. Forgive me please ..."
too can forget that incident. Think about the future. What
are you planning to do after you reach Lanka? How do you
plan to find the Prince?"
"The good Lord God who
helped me cross this sea will help me in that matter too."
"You seem to have a lot of faith in God. Do you think that
God takes any interest in the affairs of ordinary mortals
"I have not contemplated on such deep
philosophy. If I have some trouble or worry I pray to the
good Lord. And God often gives me timely help. Did not the
Lord send you to row this boat for me?"
"Don't be so
proud and confident. I did not come to row the boat for you.
Neither did God appear in my dream and order me to help you
"Then why did you help me escape yesterday? Why
are you in this boat now?"
Vandiya Devan was lost in
silent thought. An idea arose in his proud mind. He wondered
if the girl had fallen in love with his brave, charming
personality. He gave up the thought immediately. Her words
and actions did not justify such a thought. There seems to
be some other mysterious reason. I must talk to her and find
out. "Yes, I am a bit concerned when I think about one
thing..." he began.
"What is that? Do you also have
"People say that Lanka is full of forests
"Yes, more than half of Lanka is
dense jungle and mountain forest."
"They say that
those forests are full of wild animals."
elephants roam in herds. Sometimes a rogue elephant may come
out from the forest."
"I heard that the people of
Lanka are uncivilized tribals."
"That is utter
"If you say so, it must be correct. I
must explore such forests and find the Prince."
now you said that it will not be too difficult!"
"Yes. I did say that because I thought that there will be no
problem in finding a brilliant sun."
"Why have you
changed your mind?"
"Clouds may hide the sun; or it
may be hiding under the sea."
"No cloud or sea can
hide this sun. Even the cloud that tries to eclipse Ponniyin
Selvan will become brilliant. The sea will shimmer with
How enthusiastic she becomes when she talks
about the Prince? Just like all the common folk of Chozla
lands, this girl also considers him a divinity. What is that
special attraction, the charisma that Prince Arulmozli
possesses? Vandiya Devan asked, "So, you think that it won't
be difficult to find the Prince in Lanka?"
enquire about the whereabouts of the Chozla army and go
there, you can automatically find the Prince."
I heard that more than half of Lanka is occupied by the
"Yes; I too heard that the Chozla army
has occupied all lands from Mattotam to Pulastiya City."
"So? Where would I find the Prince in that vast land? It may
take many days to travel through all those forests and find
the Prince. I have to deliver this letter to him
immediately. You saw the seals on the letter, you know how
urgent it is."
The Ocean Princess did not give any
reply, but remained silent. Vandiya Devan continued to talk,
"If I definitely know the whereabouts of the Prince, I can
meet him without wasted travel."
"There is a way,"
"I was sure of it, that's why I
"Remember, I said earlier that I would
drop you on Snake Island?"
Island there is a Ghost Island."
"The very name is
"Don't be afraid. In ancient times the
island was called Gautama Buddha's Island. When Lord Buddha
first came to Lanka, he is said to have landed there. He is
said to have preached a sermon form under a fig tree on that
island. That is why it was called Gautama's Island."
"In later years the name became corrupt to Ghost's
"Yes. Men like you are scared just by the
name Ghost Island. Normally, no one goes there. Only those
who are not afraid of the ghost go there."
courageous folk like you who are not afraid of fire
breathing ghouls. What were you about to say?"
you can wait for half an hour on the beach of Ghost Island,
I can enquire about the whereabouts of Ponniyin Selvan."
"Whom will you ask on Ghost Island?"
"A ghost lives
on Ghost Island. I will ask that ghost." Poonkuzlali said
this with a smile.
"Can I meet that ghost?"
"That is impossible. You must not follow me into the island.
Only if you promise to wait on the beach near the boat, will
I go in and make enquiries."
"Fine. Do as you wish."
Vandiya Devan agreed.
The breeze was pleasant. The
sail caught the wind and the boat skimmed across the waves.
The drone of the ocean continued in the background. Sleep
struggled in his eyes. Slowly he slipped from wakefulness to
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 9 -- "This is Lanka!"
When Vandiya Devan woke
again, he was astounded by the scenes around him. The sun
was rising towards the eastern horizon. The sea shimmered
like molten gold in that direction. Dawn Goddess was
scintillating in golden silks. Ahead, the boat was
approaching an emerald isle veiled by the deep blue sea.
Towards his right he could glimpse another land mass,
equally green. He could not discern if it was an island
surrounded by the blue sea or if it was a larger land mass.
In the distance, between both these emerald wonderlands, he
could see several more islands in various hues of green. As
he looked around from the boat, he glimpsed all the seven
colors of the rainbow and all the seven thousand hues of
those various colors. On the whole, nothing seemed real.
Some expert, divine, artist had declared, "Here, I'll show
you paradise," and painted some fantastic masterpiece.
Vandiya Devan was lost in this dreamlike beauty when
Poonkuzlali's voice dragged him to reality. "It is not
paradise; this is Lanka!"
"Yes, I wondered if it was
paradise," said Vandiya Devan.
"This is not paradise;
but it is a land like paradise. Devils in human form have
been trying for many years, to turn this heaven into hell!"
"What do you mean by devils?"
"Men like you; who make war their life's work."
"Why do you ask me about him?"
"You promised to make enquiries about the Prince."
said that I would find out where he may be. I didn't say if
I could find out if he was human, demon or God!"
boat neared the island. The drone of the deep sea was
replaced by soft lapping sounds of waves dashing against
"What have you decided? That island in
front is Ghost Island. The land on the right is Snake
Island. Where shall I go? Shall I leave you on Snake Island?
Can you find your way?"
"No; let us go to Ghost
Island. Even if there is a delay it is better to go on after
knowing the whereabouts of the Prince."
remember your promise."
The boat came ashore on the
sandy beach of the tiny island. After ordering Vandiya Devan
to guard the boat, she walked into the emerald island. He
stood gazing at her, as she disappeared into the trees. For
a while he contemplated about the island and how its name
had changed over the course of time from Gautama Island to
Ghost Island. After that, he thought about the nature of the
ghost which lived on the island now. He then wondered about
the mystery, the secret in the heart of the strange
boat-girl. As promised, Poonkuzlali came back in half an
hour. She got into the boat and ordered him to do the same.
The boat glided towards Snake Island.
"Could you find
"I believe that Prime Minister
Anirudda Brahma-raya has come to Mattotam to meet Ponniyin
Selvan. The Prince would have arrived in Mattotam last
night. It is not clear how long he is likely to remain
there. You can go there and find out."
"How far is
Mattotam from here?"
"About five or six leagues;
forest all the way. Don't think that it will be like the
forest of Kodi Karai. The dense jungle is full of trees
reaching the sky. Some spots will be pitch dark at mid-day.
Elephant herds and wild beasts are aplenty. Be careful when
"If only I had a smart girl like you to
guide me through the forest ...."
"Then where is the
need for a messenger like you? Give me the letter, I can
deliver it! Never... I cannot .. I am crazy! I can never do
that. You made a promise to the Younger Pirati. You finish
"It's alright Poonkuzlali. I can do
it myself. Even if you beg for it, I will not give up the
letter. You have already helped me a great deal. That is
The boat was nearing the shore.
Poonkuzlali's hands were pulling the oars. But, her
expression clearly showed that her heart was wandering in
some dream world. When Vandiya Devan called, "Ocean
Princess!" she returned to earth with a shock.
do you want?"
"You said that you expect some return
favor from me. Tell me now, we may not get another chance."
She did not reply for some time. She seemed to be debating
with some conflicting thoughts. He continued to talk, "You
have been a great help. You did not merely help me; you have
been of immense service to this great Chozla Empire! You
have helped the Chozla Emperor and his family. I will not
feel happy unless I repay this debt in some way."
"Are you saying the truth? Or, like all men, are you
uttering deceitful lies?"
"I promise in the name of
this Ocean King."
"Are you saying that your words are
written on water, to be wiped out instantly?"
promise in the name of the sky and the earth and the
guardian angels of all the eight directions."
not trust your oaths and promises. How can liars be bound by
oaths they make? The first time I saw you, I felt that you
were a good man. So, I'll tell you this ..."
impressions are always the best. Don't change your opinion."
"When you meet Prince Ponniyin Selvan, after giving the
letter, after delivering all the messages, after all the
discussions, after exchanging all the news, when he is
relaxed, ask him this: `Do you remember the Ocean Princess?'
If he replies, `Yes, I remember!', tell him, `She was the
one who rowed the boat and brought me to Lanka.' Tell him
Poonkuzlali! Are you aiming to fly that high?
Can a house-sparrow declare to court the Eagle, the King of
the Skies and try to fly like him? There is no good in this
... Vandiya Devan wondered about this; but said, "You
hesitated this much just to say this? I thought that you
were about to ask some impossible favor. I will surely tell
him. Even if the Prince does not remember, I will tell him."
"No. You must not tell him anything if he does not
"Nonsense, I'll definitely tell him
"What will you say?"
recount everything just the way it happened. `Prince,
Ponniyin Selva! Do you remember the Ocean Princess? If you
don't, please recall her now. It was she who saved me from
those murdering wretches of Pazluvoor. It was she, all by
herself, who rowed the boat and brought me safely to Lanka.
It was she who saved me from a drowning death! If it was not
for the help of the Ocean Princess, I could not have been
alive to come and meet you. I could not have delivered these
letters and messages to you.' That is what I will tell him.
Is it alright?"
"So far it is correct. Don't add anything more to it. And don't tell
him that I told you to say all this."
"Never! Did you
think I was a complete fool?"
"If the Prince says
anything in reply, you must come back and repeat it to me
exactly. You must not change a syllable of what he says."
"Where will I see you again?"
"What is so difficult
about finding me? I can be found at Kodi Karai or on this
Ghost Island; or in my boat on the sea between."
my way back home, if I happen to come this way, shall I look
for you on Ghost Island?"
"You must never enter that
island for any reason, whatsoever! It may be dangerous. Look
for this boat on the beach. If it is there, call me with
some signal ... do you remember how I called like a
nightingale last night? Can you call like that?"
cannot call like you. But, I can scream like a peacock! Here
listen to this..." He covered his face with his palms and
screeched horribly like a peacock! On hearing that,
Poonkuzlali laughed merrily. The boat had neared the shore.
Both disembarked. Vandiya Devan waded onto the shore and
turned back to say farewell. He wished that she would change
her mind and say, "I'll come with you." But, she was not
even looking at him! Her face showed that she was already
lost in her dream world.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 10 -- Honorable Anirudda Brahma-raya
For some time now we have
neglected our old acquaintance, Mr. Azlvar-adiyan Nambi, of
the early days of this story. We beg forgiveness of Mr.
Nambi and our readers for this lapse. It is particularly
essential that we beg forgiveness of Mr. Nambi right now!
Azlvar-adiyan is very angry at present. His top-knot is
flying in disarray in the seaside breeze of Rameswaram. His
wooden staff is swirling in earnest above his head! He is
surrounded by several men of the Saiva faith -- ascetics and
novices. We are slightly concerned about Azlvar-adiyan's
welfare: those men seem to be quite belligerent. However,
Nambi's rage filled incarnation and swirling staff reassures
Azlvar-adiyan left Pazlayarai the very night he
had overheard the conversation between Princess Kundavai and
Vandiya Devan Vallavarayan. He travelled south as fast as he
could go. On the way, he refrained from entering into any
disputes on the relative merits of Saiva and Vaishnava
faiths. He controlled his instinctive behavior to prevent
any impediment to his mission. He tarried for a few hours in
Madurai City and after confirming some news, left for
Rameswaram, the coastal town. On the very night that Vandiya
Devan set sail for Lanka with Poonkuzlali, Azlvar-adiyan had
The very instant he set foot in
that holy city, all the fanatic Vaishnava rage he had
bottled up, burst forth in earnest intensity. The numerous
followers of the Saiva faith who populated the holy city
fanned his fanatic zeal even further. The holy men of that
sacred city were prone to take charge of newcomers and
pilgrims, guiding them to the various hallowed ponds and
lakes for a sacred bath, helping them offer services in the
numerous temples and shrines. Newcomers were often mobbed by
such diehard priests and novices looking for a new client.
Azlvar-adiyan was not spared.
"Dear man! Come, come!
Come bathe in all the sixty-four sacred waters of this city
and wash away those sinful symbols of Vaishnava faith you
wear all over your body. This is the holy city where Lord
Rama atoned for his heinous sins and found salvation. You
can also repent for the sin of having worn these vile namam
symbols of the wretched Vaishnava faith!" spoke a priest
Another intervened, "There are several
sacred waters -- Rama's Pool, Lakshmana's Lake, Hanuman's
Pond. They had bathed in those waters to make amends for
their various sins! You come with me, I shall first take you
to the Hanuman (monkey) Pool. It is the appropriate place
for a fellow like you!"
A more elderly man spoke up,
"Do not listen to these novices! I shall take you directly
to the place where Rama made an image of Lord Shiva with
beach sands and worshipped Him to atone for the monstrous
sin of killing King Ravana."
Embers of rage sparked
in Azlvar-adiyan's eyes. "Stop these words of slander
immediately. You should all go to these sacred pools and
wash your tongues for uttering such sinful words."
"Ah! Are you saying that we have sinned because we uttered
the names of Rama and Lakshmana (sacred deities of Vaishnava
faith)? Don't worry, the name of this very place is
Rameswaram! This is the place where Lord Rama worshipped
Eswara who is none other than Lord Shiva. Therefore, there
is no sin in the name Rama in this holy city."
you ignorant dimwits! Why do you utter such nonsense? Don't
you even know the real meaning of this city's name?"
"Do you know? Can you enlighten us?"
had plucked one head of Lord Brahma he was seized by the sin
of killing a brahmin. He had to come here, to this holy city
hallowed by the divine feet of Lord Rama, the true
incarnation of the Great Vishnu, to pray for forgiveness!
This is where Eswara worshipped Rama! That is why the city
is called Rameswaram. Do you idiots know it now?"
"Hey! Who is this fellow to call us idiots? You scoundrel!
Do you have horns on your head to say such things about us?"
"No Sir! No. I have no horns, but I do have this wooden
staff in my hand! Do you wish to know who I am? Listen to
this: I am the slave he who serves those who serve Saint
Nammazlvar of Gurukoor who wrote the holy scriptures in
divine Tamil. I am Azlvar-adiyan Nambi who breaks the pate
of morons with my staff!"
"Hey Nambi! Why do you
wear a tuft on your forehead? Why don't you shave it off
like the rest of your head? The inside will then match the
outside of your bald pate!"
"Yes, I did think of
coming to this sacred city and shaving my head. Thanks for
reminding me ..." explained Azlvar-adiyan.
fellah! Hey you there! Go to the street of barbers and fetch
him a barber. Tell him to bring an extra sharp razor. Let us
remove the very roots of this lout's top-knot!"
call a barber? We can do this worthwhile task ourselves!
Bring me a sharp knife!"
"Wait! Let me finish! Once
upon a time my head was covered with thick curls. I took an
oath that every time I break the head of a foolish Saiva
follower, I would remove one strand of my beautiful locks.
Thus most of my head is clean shaven; all that remains is
this tuft on my forehead. I can now shave it off here; come
help me. Let me break your heads!" saying this, he began
swirling his staff.
"You are impertinent, young man!"
said an elderly priest. A novice behind him came up saying,
"Can you break all our heads? Are you sure?"
you think that three-fourths of my head is clean shaven?
Come let me show you!"
"Catch him!" "Kill him" "Finish him off!" The crowd shouted with
hostility; but, none dared to come in the way of his
swirling staff. Suddenly, their attention was diverted by
the announcements of a herald.
Chozla Paranthaka's trusted Prime Minister, Most Honorable
Mr. Anirudda Brahma-raya is announced. Make way! Make way!"
The startled crowd of priests turned away. Azlvar-adiyan was
startled more than anyone else. He tucked his wooden staff
under his arm and looked around. They had been disputing in
one corner of the outer walls of Rameswaram Temple. The wall
turned a corner towards the open sea. The scene around the
corner was breathtaking. Huge sailing ships, large wooden
vessels, small yachts, barges, tug-boats and catamarans
filled the harbor as far as the eye could see. Huge, white,
sails flapping in the wind hid distant, hazy islands in the
blue horizon. Nearby was the sea-canal.
first in a row boat. Then came the barge in which the famous
Prime Minister of the Chozla Empire, Mr Anirudda Brahma-raya
of Anbil Town, was seated with dignity, surrounded by
liveried footmen and guards. He noticed the fracas beside
the temple wall on the shore. He signalled with his hand and
summoned Azlvar-adiyan, who was standing most innocently in
the midst of the crowd, with folded hands and staff tucked
away. Azlvar-adiyan walked up to the barge and stood on the
shore with great humility.
"Thirumalai! What is this
farce?" asked the Prime Minister.
"Sir! My Teacher!
Everything is a divine act of Lord Kannan, that deceiving
actor on this stage called the world! I am not sure if I can
trust my own eyes! Am I dreaming or is everything one great
illusion?" asked Azlvar-adiyan.
thought that you were a devout follower of the Vaishnava
faith. When did you become a philosopher who calls the world
a mere stage?"
"My Teacher! When you, born and raised
in the strictest Vaishnava traditions, adopt the dogma of
Saiva custom, why should I not embrace Advaita philosophy? I
shall change my name and henceforth call myself the slave of
Sri Sankara the Teacher."
"Stop! Patience! Who said
that I converted to the Saiva faith?"
dressing your divine body proclaim it Sir!"
Thirumalai, you have not changed at all! You give too much
importance to outward symbols. Does it matter if the sandal
paste on my forehead is drawn vertically or horizontally?"
(Note: Followers of the Vaishnava faith wore vertical marks
on their foreheads, while those of the Saiva faith were
identified by the horizontal stripes of ash marking their
"Sir, I am an ignorant fool. I do not know
what is important and what is not. Please adopt me and
"I shall surely do so. Come to my
court. See that tiny island out in the sea? Come to the
pavilion on that island."
"Sir! These quarrel-mongers
should first let me go." Azlvar-adiyan pointed to the group
of priests standing by the side.
One of them came
forward and spoke, "My Lord! This fanatic threatened to
break our heads. You must punish him appropriately." All the
others began to talk and complain.
"I shall take care
of this fellow. You can all disperse for now," promised the
They were not satisfied, "Why can't
we punish him ourselves? We wish to shave his head and wipe
away all the namam marks on his body and throw him into the
well to anoint him ..."
"What did you say?"
Azlvar-adiyan jumped with rage filled eyes.
Anirudda Brahma-raya interrupted, "Priests, you cannot
handle this ruffian. I shall arrange for that. Please leave
now." He then turned towards his retainers and ordered,
"Eight of you get down and bring this fellow to my
Eight footmen jumped down and surrounded
Azlvar-adiyan Nambi. The barge moved on. Nambi, encircled by
the soldiers, followed. The crowd dispersed commenting on
the rough behavior of the stocky fellow with the top-knot.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 11 -- The Well-known Kaikola Battalion
Prime Minister Anirudda
Brahma-raya held court in one of the ancient mansions on a
tiny island next to the larger island of Rameswaram. The
instruments and symbols of his office were in evidence.
Accountants, writers, clerks, messengers, haughty guards and
liveried servants waited for his orders. The Prime Minister
entered his court and seated himself. After a few minutes of
contemplation, he called for his visitors.
entered first. They appeared to be wealthy merchants. They
placed a gem encrusted jewel on a platter and presented it
to the Prime Minister. He accepted gracefully and ordered,
"Enter this into the temple-building accounts meant for Lady
Sembiyan Madevi's charities." He then turned to his guests
and asked, "Who are you? How may I help you?"
leader spoke, "We have come on behalf of the Merchant Guild
of Five-hundred from Many Nations In a Thousand Directions."
(Note: Historical records indicate that a wealthy, merchant
guild with this rather long name conducted trade among the
island kingdoms of South-east Asia, Bay of Bengal, Arabian
Sea and South India for several centuries, under the
patronage of Chozla monarchs.)
"I am glad to hear
this; how is trade in the Pandiya Territories?"
improves day by day."
"What do the Pandiya people
"The people say that Chozla rule is much better
than Pandiya rule. Particularly, they are full of praise for
the courage and generosity of young Prince Arulmozli. News
of his activities in Lanka has spread in these parts."
"How is trade these days, in the countries of the South-east
Sea?" asked the Prime Minister.
"We lack nothing
under the just rule of Emperor Sundara Chozla. All our ships
which sailed last season have come back with profits. We did
not loose even a single vessel."
"Did you have any
problems with pirates?"
"We had no problems this
last year. After the Chozla Navy captured and destroyed
their retreat near the island of Minicoy, we have no fear of
pirates on the South Seas."
"Good. What arrangements
have you made about the letter I had sent you?"
have followed your orders. We have collected a thousand
sacks of rice, five hundred sacks of sorghum, and a hundred
sacks of thuvar beans for the campaign in Lanka and brought
them to this island. Please make arrangements for their
transport to Lanka."
"Can you not convey them in your
"We can, if you order it. We are eager to
know when the Lankan war is likely to end."
Knows! Your Guild must have an official astrologer; why
don't you ask him? Perhaps you can let me also know!"
"Sir! We ourselves are unable to believe everything that our
"Ah! What does he say? What is
"He says that Prince Arulmozli will
embrace victory wherever he goes. He says that the Chozla
Navy lead by the Prince, would cross all the oceans and
capture distant lands. He says that the Tiger-flag would fly
over distant kingdoms."
"It means good fortune for
"Yes; our sea trade will do well.
That is what our astrologer predicts."
"I am very
glad. With the grace of the Lord who reposes in Srirangam,
all this may happen. Every month, till the war in Lanka
ends, I suggest that you procure food supplies just like
this. You may leave now."
"As you wish, Sir. Permit
us to leave now."
After the representatives of the
Guild of Five-hundred had left, a courtier came up to
announce, "The Commanders of the Well-known Kaikola
Battalion are waiting for an audience."
"Ask them to
come in!" ordered the Prime Minister.
distinguished men entered. The Goddess of Bravery seemed to
dwell on their countenance. They seemed very gallant and
fearless. Mr. Anirudda Brahma-raya enquired, "Are you from
the Sundara Chozla's Well-known Kaikola Battalion?"
(Note: Under the Imperial Chozlas, a select group of
specially trained men from the Vellala Community were
organized into a special corps of personal guards by each
ruler. This select company of skilled warriors were known as
the Well-known Kaikola Battalion. Under each monarch the
company incorporated the name of the current ruler in its
name. The battalion often consisted of several divisions
known as `hands'. In modern times, the men of this community
have given up their warrior traditions and are often engaged
"Yes sir. But, we are ashamed to
proclaim our name!"
"Why? Why is that?"
have been feeding on the Emperor's generosity and wasting
our time for the past six months in these territories."
"How many `hands' do you have in your battalion? How many
men in each `hand'?"
"We are a company of three
`hands'. He is the Commander of the Right Hand Division.
This man commands the Left Hand Division. I am Commander of
the Middle Hand. Each division consists of two-thousand
trained men. All are wasting time in eating and sleeping!
Our weapons are collecting rust and shoulders are slouched
in sloth. I think we will forget our craft of warfare."
The Prime Minister smiled as he asked, "Ah! What is your
"We request that we be sent to Lanka. We
wish to join the army under the Commander-in-Chief of the
South, Prince Arulmozli, and engage in war."
When I return to Tanjore, I shall obtain the Emperor's
permission and let you know."
"Sir, what if the war
in Lanka is over by then?"
"Do not worry about that!
It doesn't seem as if the war on that island will end so
"Is the Singhalese army of Lanka so powerful?
Send us there; we can give our men a hand..."
one `hand'? You can extend all your three `hands'! Does one
have to worry about enemy strength if all divisions of the
Well-known Kaikola Battalion are pitched against them? The
Middle Hand will pierce through the heart of the opposing
formation; at the same time the Right Hand and the Left Hand
will converge from the right and left, like pincers
squeezing the enemy formation ..."
"Yes. It was with
such a strategy that we overcame the Pandiya Army and
destroyed it. We fought a similar war with Chera Forces."
"Pandiya and Chera forces fought face-to-face on a
battlefield. You could attack them and conquer them. You can
vanquish enemies only if you can see them."
Have modern Lankans become illusionists and tricksters, like
the demons of Ravana's times? Do they hide behind
cloud-cover to attack?"
"Yes those tricksters have
gone into hiding; but, they do not attack. If they come to
fight, we would be able to locate them. The whereabouts of
King Mahinda of Lanka are not known. Neither can we find his
army: They have gone into hiding in the jungles and
mountains. Because of this, there has been no battle in
Lanka for the past six months. What is the point of sending
your men also over there?"
"Prime Minister, Sir!
Please send us there. We can smoke out Mahinda and his men
even if they are hidden in forests and mountain caves; we
can find them even if they have disappeared into the
cloud-world. We will force them to submit to our Prince. If
not, we will change our name to `Battalion of Vellala
"Oh no! Don't take any such oaths now! Who
on this earth is not aware of the valor of the Kaikola
Battalion? After I reach Tanjore, I will consult the Emperor
and send you orders. Be patient till then. Continue your
assignment as peace keeping forces in these Pandiya
"Sir, there are no more enemies to be
overcome in these regions. People are happy about the peace
and the end of war. They are once again engaged in their
trade, industry and agriculture. All members of the Pandiya
Dynasty have been annihilated."
"Do not be too sure
of that! You think that with the death of Veera-pandiya, his
dynasty has been exterminated. That is wrong: there are
several others who lay claim to the Pandiya Throne. There
are many who conspire in their cause ..." spoke the Prime
Minister with caution.
"Oh! What conspirators? Where
"You will know when the time comes. The
crown jewels of Pandiya kings -- the ancient pearl-studded
diadem, ruby-encrusted necklace and diamond studded
ceremonial sword -- are still hidden somewhere in the
mountain caves of Rohana in Lanka. Till we recover these
jewels, we cannot consider Pandiya forces vanquished."
"We look forward to that day: recovery of those crown
jewels; crowning Prince Arulmozli at Madurai with that
diadem and sword ..."
"Dear me! What are you
"We are merely repeating the wishes spoken
by citizens and soldiers."
"These are complicated
political issues; let us not discuss it. Let me tell you
something else that might make you happy..."
eager to listen, Sir!"
"Don't think that war will end
after this campaign in Lanka. Prince Arulmozli plans to
embark on a campaign of conquest in all directions after
this war. He intends to assemble a naval force of a thousand
ships and sail to the kingdoms of the South-eastern Seas:
Minicoy, Malaya, Mayuri, Lamuria, Java, Sri Vijaya, Sumatra.
He will conquer all those lands and go south to seize the
Laksadweep Islands. In the west, Kerala, Kudagu and Kollam
will bow to him. Then he will turn northwards to Vengi,
Kalinga, Rashtrakuta, Chakrakota, Anga, Bangala, Kosala,
Gurjara and Panchala -- he will lead his army against all
these nations of the north. Like Karikala Valava of
historical fame, he will place the Tiger-flag on the
snow-capped Himalayas. These are the plans of our young
Commander-in-chief. Therefore, all the brave hearted,
hot-blooded, young men of these Tamil lands will have plenty
to do. You and your men must remain patient," said Prime
All three Commanders stood up and
raised these cheers, "Long live Emperor Sundara Chozla! Long
live Prince Arulmozli! Long live Prime Minister Anirudda
Finally one of them calmed himself and said, "Sir, we
have one more concern. You are aware that we are called
`Sundara Chozla's Well-known Kaikolas.' We..."
your name is well known."
"We and our hand-picked men
have sworn on enemy blood that we will give up our very
lives in the service of Sundara Chozla."
is known too."
"Therefore, we will not serve anyone
but the Emperor. We will not obey orders from any other
"That is what I expect."
years ago our company was part of the huge army of Pazluvoor
stationed near Tanjore. Because of that no one should
distrust us ..."
"Ah! What are you saying? Who
"We hear all kinds of rumors from
"Rumors should neither be believed or
"Those Velirs of Kodumbalur might try to
"They will not; even if they try, no
one will heed them."
All three Commanders now spoke
one after the other, "Life is not eternal." "Even the
Emperor has to one day reach the Lord's feet." "Our Emperor
is not keeping good health." "The comet Dhoomaketu shines
over the skies." "If anything happens to the Emperor, our
men wish to join the guard corps of Prince Arulmozli."
The Prime Minister stopped their tirade decisively, "It is
your duty to obey the Emperor's orders!"
"And it is
your duty, Sir, to keep us informed of those orders! Please
accept the responsibility of keeping us informed. Permit us
to go to Tanjore and seek an audience with the Emperor."
"No. It is not timely; your going to the Capital now will
create needless confusion. I shall personally take the
responsibility to voice your concerns to the Emperor. You
need not worry."
"Even as we speak to you, our
worries have vanished. Permit us to leave, Sir!" All three
Commanders of the Kaikola Battalion withdrew from the
The Prime Minister was lost in thought for
some minutes. His lips murmured, "What is this power of
attraction that Ponniyin Selvan possesses? Even those who
meet him only once become crazy!" He ordered in a louder
voice, "Who goes there? Ask that rough Vaishnava fellow to
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 12 -- Teacher and Disciple
Azlvar-adiyan entered the
chamber of Prime Minister Anirudda Brahma-raya. He then went
around the minister three times, as if in prayer and bowed
with much humility, genuflecting till he lay prostrate in
front of the seat. He rose uttering the following words
loudly: "Om haram hareem vashattu! Give me permission, O'
Mr. Anirudda smiled as he said,
"Thirumalai, what is this farce? What permission do you
"My devotion to the Vaishnava faith, my name
Azlvar-adiyan which means `slave of saints' my good fortune
of being in service to you -- all these I wish to sacrifice
in this huge ocean. I would then to convert to the fanatic
Saiva faith of Kalaamukha's. I would carry a dead man's
skull in my hand and wander from town to town chanting
spells like `Om haram hareem vashattu!' I shall grow a long
beard and matted locks; I shall break the pate of every
faithful Vaishnava I encounter with this wooden staff of
"Stop it dear fellow, stop! Will my head also
meet the same fate?"
"Sir, are you still a follower
of the Vaishnava faith?"
"Why this doubt, Thirumalai?
Who do you think I am?"
"Who are you? That's what I
have a doubt about! Are you the great-grandson of noble Mr.
Anantha of Anbil, who considered that his only mission in
life was to serve Lord Ranga who reposes between two rivers,
in the Temple of Srirangam?" asked Thirumalai Nambi.
"Yes; I am he!"
"Are you the cherished grandson of
Anirudda Bhatta the priest of Anbil, who spread the
greatness of the Lord's Name to all the world?"
it is me; in fact, I am named in honor of that great
"Are you the beloved, eldest son of
Narayana Bhatta who enchanted the devout with melodious
renderings of saintly lyrics?"
"Are you a son of that best among women, who lit everlasting
lamps to worship the Lord and served nectar-like food on
silver platters to pilgrims visiting the temple?"
am sure of it."
"Then, my eyes must be deceiving me.
Are my eyes seeing truth? Are my ears hearing truth?"
"What do you mean? What has happened to make you doubt your
own eyes and ears?"
"I heard that you had visited the
Shiva Temple in this town and had offered worship ..."
"That is correct. Your ears did not deceive you."
eyes see the symbols of your visit to the Shiva Temple; that
must also be true!"
"Yes it is."
"Are you not
my revered teacher who counselled that the only God is Lord
Narayana, the lyrics of Azlvar Saints are the only
scriptures and the only way to salvation is chanting of the
"Yes; what about that now?"
"You, my teacher, preach one thing and do something else.
What can I, the disciple, do?"
"Thirumalai, are you
upset about my worshipping at the Shiva Temple?"
"Which God did you worship in that Temple?"
nothing to worry about that: it was the Good Lord Narayana."
"Ah! I had heard that the deity in Rameswaram Temple was in
the form of a Shiva-symbol. That is why all those fanatic
Saiva priests heckled me on the beach!"
is it true that you go by the name of Azlvar-adiyan, which
means that you are a slave of Saint Sadagopa of Nagari?"
"That is very true."
"Do you remember this
composition of Saint Sadagopa?
Dear Lord, who
embodies Godhead to followers of many faiths;
who espouse the name of Shiva, the Jains, the Buddhists and
the philosophers debating varied causes ...
should I not see Narayana in Shiva's Temple?" asked Mr.
"Aha! The divine sayings of
Sadagopa are without equal! See how he equates these fellows
of the Saiva faith with Jains and Buddhists."
sarcasm will never forsake you! Listen to these next few
lines of that same song:
You are the personification
of water, of land, of fire, of time and of space;
Narayana you are twin flames of the divine fire called Shiva
Oh ascetic, Oh supreme spirit, Oh
three-eyed Lord who stole my heart;
Oh priceless ruby
with nectar-sweet lips and lotus-petal eyes;
of my lonely life, come shower me with thy divine grace ...
Did you understand Thirumalai? The Saint is calling Him the
three-eyed Lord, asking Him to shower His divine grace! But,
you take objection to my visiting a Shiva Temple."
"My Sire! Forgive me and my mistakes. I have wasted my time
in useless quarrels because I had not studied all the
scriptures properly. And I doubted you! Please grant me a
boon so that I can make amends."
"What boon do you
seek; I may consider granting it."
"I wish to take up
abode in Gurukoor. I wish to collect all the thousand lyrics
of Nammazlvar Sadagopa and popularize them in every town and
"Why this sudden wish?"
returning from Venkatam, I stopped to worship the Lord at
Veera-narayana-puram. I recited a few couplets of
Nammazlvar's psalms in that Vinnagara. The priest Eswara
Munigal of that temple was moved to tears on hearing my
"Eswara Munigal is a very devout man; very
"The priest's young son was also listening
to my songs. His young face glowed like the full moon on
hearing those lyrics. When that young lad asked me `Do you
know all the other psalms?' I felt ashamed to reply that I
did not know all the songs. At that time I wondered why I
should not devote my life to the service of the saints and
their compositions. Today my intentions have become more
"Thirumalai are you not aware of the teachings
in `The Lords Song'? To each his own duty!"
"Great men will be born to spread the teachings
of holy saints and to collect their songs into anthologies.
You and I have accepted political service as our life's
work. Have you forgotten that we have sworn to expend all
our energies and intellect in the service of the Chozla
"I have not forgotten, Oh Teacher! But,
doubts about that decision often nag my heart. Particularly,
after I heard some gossip about you ..."
"They say that you have forgotten all
loyalty to Vaishnava faith because the Emperor has rewarded
you with a land grant of ten villages and confirmed it by a
copper plate edict. You have forsaken your faith in the
king's service, travelling hither and thither, crossing seas
and nations ..."
"You should not heed such jealous
gossip. Yes, the Emperor did reward me with a land grant.
But, I had become his Prime Minister many years before that.
Do you not know it?"
Azlvar-adiyan was silent.
"Do you know how the Emperor and I became friends? We had
both studied under the same tutor in our younger days. We
studied the literatures of Tamil and Sanskrit; we learnt the
intricacies of mathematics, logic, astronomy and grammar. In
those days, no one had an inkling that Sundara Chozla would
become heir to the throne. Neither he nor I even dreamed
that he would become the Emperor. Who could have known that
Arinjaya would be crowned after the deaths of Raja-aditya
and Gandara Aditya? Who would have thought that Sundara will
ascend the throne because of Arinjaya's early death? When
Sundara Chozla accepted the empire, he expected several
complications. He told me that he would accept the crown
only if I promised to stand by him, help him govern the
disorganized nation. He was ready to forsake the Chozla
throne if I was not willing to help him. At that time, I
promised to help him administer this vast nation. I have
kept my promise to him. I thought you knew all this?"
"I know all this, Sir! But, what is the point in my knowing
it? The people do not know it. The gossips and courtiers in
the city do not know it."
"You need not worry about
such people. For a short time, even I was concerned about
giving up my traditional, priestly duties and entering
politics. Since the last two years, I have no such
confusion. Anyway, Thirumalai, I think you know this: I came
here not on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram, but, to visit
"I guessed it, O Teacher!"
"Mattotam on the banks of River Paalavi is just as beautiful
as it was described by Sambanda:
Flower gardens full
of humming bees singing symphonies;
Peacocks dance in
Mango groves of Mattotam;
It is the abode of Lord
Kedeswara, who showers his grace
servants, the citizens who worship Him."
you go to Mattotam to enjoy its scenic beauty?"
I mentioned it because I intend sending you there. I went
there to meet Arulmozli Varma."
"Did you meet the
Prince?" asked Azlvar-adiyan eagerly. For the first time,
his voice reflected a certain urgency.
"Ah! Even you
show an eagerness! Yes Thirumalai, I met the Prince and
talked to him. I was able to personally confirm the truth in
those astonishing tales coming from Lanka. Listen to this my
man! King Mahinda of Lanka had a huge army. There is no
trace of that army now. Do you know that it disappeared like
dewdrops before the rising sun? Mahinda's army included
several units of Tamils from the Pandiya and Chera Kingdoms.
When those men found that Arulmozli was the Commander of the
Chozla's, they dropped their weapons and crossed over to our
army. How could Mahinda fight? He vanished into hiding in
the mountains of Rohana. Thus, our armies have no enemies to
face in battle."
"Well! Then why doesn't our Prince
return to his homeland with his army? Why does he tarry
there? Why all this conflict about sending food-supplies for
"We can declare that there are no enemies
and come back. But, our Prince does not wish it. Once our
army comes back, Mahinda will emerge from Rohana and it is
war once again. There is no point in it. We should either
confirm the friendship of Mahinda and his people or make
them accept the rule of our Tiger-flag. Our Prince is trying
to achieve either of these objectives. Do you know what our
soldiers are doing in Lanka? Remember, the whole city of
Anuradapura was destroyed by the old wars? All the ancient
mansions, palaces, mausoleums, temples and spires in that
city were ruined. Our men are engaged in renovating all
those structures, by orders of Prince Arulmozli."
"Fantastic! Do you think that the Prince will give up both Saiva and
Vaishnava faiths and embrace the Buddhist creed? Will you
approve of that also?"
"It does not matter whether
you and I approve or not! Commoners like you and I can
squabble saying `our faith is the best.' But, a King should
be patron of all faiths espoused by all his subjects. Our
Prince knows this truth; he follows it with action when he
has the opportunity. Perhaps you have heard that our Prince
has the sign of the conch and discus on his palms. I have
heard it; but, I have never examined his palms to confirm or
deny that statement. Whether he has the sign of the conch
and discus or not, I can assure you of one thing: If anyone
on this earth has the qualification to rule as Absolute
Emperor, it is Arulmozli. Some are born with such divine
favor. Did you overhear any of my conversations with the
merchants and Kaikola Commanders? Those merchants, who are
so tight-fisted about money, become quite amiable upon
hearing the name of Prince Arulmozli. Soldiers are eager to
fight under his leadership!"
Azlvar-adiyan did not
reply. The Prime Minister continued with even more
"Some months ago, I met a seer on the
Mountains of Podigai. Do you know what he said? `If the
elephant had its day, the cat is also likely to have its own
day.' He said, `The time has come for the glory of our
southern lands. For a long time the great men of our holy
land have appeared in the north. Prophets and emperors were
found north of the Vindhyas. But, an eclipse will soon hide
the north. A barbarian horde will cross the Himalayas and
come down to the plains of the holy Ganges to destroy the
very fabric of northern society. The horde will demolish
temples and destroy our divinities. The very existence of
our ancient, vedic culture will be in jeopardy. Only the
kingdoms of the south will be able to preserve the glory of
our laws, scriptures, arts and lifestyle. Brave emperors
will arise in these southern lands. Prophets and learned men
will be born here!' That is what the seer told me. I now
believe that his predictions will come true."
Thirumalai spoke hesitantly, "Sir! You are building dream castles!
Here, they are trying to topple the very foundations of this
empire. If you had seen all that I had seen and heard what I
have heard, you will not be so enthusiastic. You will think
of the danger surrounding this Chozla Empire and be filled
"Yes, Thirumalai! I have been
side-tracked by my enthusiasms. I have not yet heard the
details of your journeys. Tell me; however horrifying it is,
let me hear the news."
"Sir, would you order me to
speak here in this chamber itself? Even the Wind God would
shiver if he hears my news; the Ocean King would stand
still; birds will stop flying; the sky and the earth would
scream in terror on hearing my news. Do you order me to
speak of such things, openly, here?" asked Azlvar-adiyan
"No. I have a secret chamber in an underground
cave on this island, where neither wind nor light can enter.
Let us go there and talk."
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 13 --Ponni's Beloved
While Vandiya Devan had
landed on Snake Island and was walking towards Mattotam,
while Prime Minister Anirudda and Thirumalai were engaged in
discussions about the state of the nation, Kundavai and her
dear friend Vanathi were seated in a howdah on an elephant
and travelling towards Tanjore.
For some years now,
the Younger Pirati Kundavai had made up her mind not to
visit Tanjore. There were several reasons for this decision.
Tanjore still did not have enough palaces or mansions to
individually house all the noblewomen of the Empire. Every
noblewoman of the Emperor's household had to live in the
main palace which housed the Emperor. All the other palaces
and mansions inside the fort had been commandeered by
noblemen and officials of the empire, like the Lords of
Pazluvoor. Women of the royal household could live in
unrestricted indulgence in the Chozla Maligai at Pazlayarai
where they could go and come as they pleased, doing whatever
they fancied. But, if they lived in Tanjore, they were
subject to the protocols and rules imposed by the Lords of
Pazluvoor. In Tanjore, it was not easy to exit or enter the
palace and fort at one's whim and fancy. The Younger Pirati
never liked all such controls and protocols. Moreover,
Kundavai loathed Nandini's proud and haughty behavior since
her becoming the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. In addition, the
Emperor preferred that his close family should remain in
Pazlayarai. Because of all these reasons, Kundavai had
decided to live in Pazlayarai. She curbed her eagerness to
visit her ailing father and help her mother in nursing his
After Vandiya Devan's visit, her heart
underwent a change. She wondered if she had the right to
indulge in the carefree life of Pazlayarai -- boat races and
garden parties, song and dance -- when the Empire was facing
such threat and turmoil from conspiracies and treason.
My brothers are far away in Thondai and Lanka. Is it not my
duty to be concerned about the affairs of the nation when
they are not here to look into matters? My brother Karikala
had asked me to periodically send him news, through
confidential, secret messengers, about the activities in
Tanjore. How can I be aware of things happening in Tanjore
if I enjoy life at Pazlayarai? The news brought by Mr.
Vandiya Devan is quite alarming. Till now I disliked the
noblemen of Pazluvoor merely because they wielded power
beyond their station. Now they have started conspiring about
the very throne of this Empire. They have enmeshed that
foolish and naive Madurandaka in their wiles. They seem to
have enrolled several chieftains and officials of this
nation to support their cause. Who knows what can happen?
How far will it go, this treachery and deceit by Lord
Pazluvoor? Perhaps my father's life is in danger! Who knows
if the traitors will spare his life? When both his sons are
far away, if something happens to the Emperor, these
traitors can easily place Madurandaka on the throne and
declare him to be the new ruler. They are likely to do any
heinous deed to achieve their goals. Even if they do not
think such thoughts, that sorceress Nandini will teach them!
She will encourage them even if they hesitate! Considering
all this, it is important that I remain beside my father in
Tanjore. I can keep track of the intrigues and plots; I can
also guard my father from danger!
Why are these
noblemen trying to place inexperienced Uncle Madurandaka on
the throne? Is it because of law and justice? Never! If
Madurandaka is crowned, he would be a puppet in their hands,
fulfilling their every wish and fancy. Nandini's word would
become law in this Chozla Empire! Everyone would have to
live in fear of her powers. Other noblewomen must bow to her
wishes. Chee! I can never let that happen. As long as I live
that cannot come true! Let me see how far she goes!
Living in Tanjore will surely be uncomfortable. My father
and mother will chide, "Why did you come here now? Why did
you give up the comforts of Pazlayarai?" I will probably
have no freedom of movement. Everybody will begin
questioning me about my marriage. I will hate that. I will
have to meet and entertain Nandini. I'll be unable to
tolerate her haughty display of power. But, I should not
consider all these petty problems when such a great danger
threatens this kingdom. I am also afraid for my father's
life. I must go to Tanjore.
In addition to all this,
there was another important reason. It was the eagerness to
find out if there was any news about Vandiya Devan. Kundavai
knew that Pazluvoor noblemen had sent their soldiers in
pursuit of Vandiya Devan, knowing that he had gone towards
Will that smart and cunning young man be
caught by these soldiers? If arrested, he would be brought
to Tanjore. It is essential that I am in Tanjore if
something like that happens! They cannot easily harm a
messenger sent by Crown Prince Aditya Karikala. They will
have to accuse him of some major crime and give him a fair
trial. Ah! That is why they have accused him of attempted
murder, saying Vandiya Devan tried to kill Sambuvaraya's son
by stabbing on the back. I have no doubt that this
accusation is totally false! But, it has to be proved false.
It would be useful if I talk to Sambuvaraya's son
Kandamaran, and know his mind.
While Kundavai's heart was confused by such complications and
conspiracies, Vanathi, who rode beside her on the elephant,
was engrossed with quite a different matter. Her pure,
innocent mind had one and only one thought: Prince Arulmozli
Varma! When would he return from Lanka?
said that you had written asking him to return immediately.
When he returns, where will he come? To Pazlayarai or
Tanjore?" asked Vanathi.
Vanathi's concern was this:
What if the Prince went to Pazlayarai while they were in
Tanjore! Kundavai, who had been thinking of something else
turned to her friend and asked, "Whom are you asking about?
Is it about Ponniyin Selvan?"
"Yes Akka! It's about
him. You have referred to the Prince as Ponniyin Selvan
several times though you never explained why he has that
title. You excused yourself saying that you would explain
later. Can you explain now? Tanjore Fort seems far away and
this elephant is walking like a tortoise!"
smiled, "If this elephant walks any faster than this, we
cannot sit on its back. We and the howdah carrying us will
fall to the ground. My Dear! Do you know what happened in
the Battle of Takkolam?"
Vanathi was not ready to be
diverted; she said, "Akka! Tell me the story about the title
"You rascal! You won't forget
that, will you? Fine, listen to this tale." Kundavai retold
the old story.
In those early years after Sundara
Chozla had ascended the Chozla throne, his family life was
filled with happiness. He would often enjoy excursions with
his family on pleasure cruises on the River Ponni (Cauvery).
The royal barge would be filled with fun and merriment.
Music of veena players and lyrics of the bards would compete
with the lilt of River Cauvery's flowing currents. Practical
jokes and pantomimes would provoke mirthful laughter. The
elders would pass hours in family discussions and chit-chat.
Children would have great fun on the deck. Sometimes elders
and children would gather together to enjoy the festivities.
On one such day, when the Emperor embarked on a boating trip
with his queen and children, suddenly a cry arose, "Where is
the baby? Where is the baby?" It was Kundavai's voice. At
that time Arulmozli was barely five years old and Kundavai
was just past seven. Arulmozli was the cherished darling of
everyone in the palace. More than anyone else, his elder
sister was fond of him. It was Kundavai who first noticed
that the child was not on the barge. Everyone was stunned.
They searched all over -- in the cabin and below deck. The
servants ran hither and thither. It was not a large boat --
where else could they search? Kundavai and Karikala began
crying. The queen was in tears. Footmen had already jumped
into the water, looking for the baby Prince. Sundara Chozla
had also jumped into the river, swimming across the
currents, looking for his dear son. Where could they look?
The current was swift; how far could the child have gone?
Did anyone remember when the child had fallen into the
water? Did he really fall into the river?
searched aimlessly and could not find the child. Maids on
the barge fainted. Their desperate wails, "Aai Oh!" drowned
the lilt of Cauvery's floods. Even songbirds on the shore
Suddenly, an astonishing vision
appeared. It was in the middle of the river, a little beyond
the royal barge. A female form was wading in the floods
holding a child in her arms, raising him high above the
water level. Sundara Chozla was the first to see her. He
swam across and reached for his son. Soon, the servants took
charge of the child and helped their monarch back on board
the barge. As soon as the Emperor climbed back on deck, he
fell down in a swoon. Everybody became engrossed in
comforting the child and reviving the Emperor. No one
noticed the woman who had saved the little Prince. None had
seen her clearly to give a proper description. No one came
forward to claim a reward saying, "I saved the child."
They unanimously decided that the River Goddess, Mother
Cauvery, must have taken human form to save the darling
Prince. The royal household made arrangements to worship
Goddess Cauvery or River Ponni on that day every year. They
believed that the cherished son of the palace was also the
beloved child of River Ponni. From that day onwards,
Arulmozli was known as `Ponniyin Selvan' -- Beloved of River
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 14 --Two Full Moons
Tanjore City was filled with
the hustle and bustle of excitement. Why shouldn't the
citizens of the capital be happy? After a long time, their
beloved Princess had changed her mind and honored them with
a visit. There was not a soul in the land who had not heard
of Princess Kundavai's beauty, intelligence, culture and
generosity. Her name was on the minds of the people
everyday, on some pretext or other. Their eagerness had been
further kindled by rumors that the Princess would be in
Tanjore to participate in that year's Navaratri
celebrations, the nine-day festival of arts. When it was
announced that the Princess would be arriving that day, a
very ocean of people had gathered outside the fortress walls
to welcome her. Just like the ocean in full tide reaching
for the full moon, this sea of people rippled with
Soon, the full moon rose in the sky: In
fact two full moons appeared at the same time! When Kundavai
Devi and her retinue approached, the massive doors of
Tanjore Fort were thrown open with a thunderous roar. Palace
guards emerged from inside, to welcome the royal Princess
and escort her into the capital. The two Lords of Pazluvoor
were at the head of this entourage; in addition, behind them
came an ivory palanquin embellished with pearls. Its screens
parted to reveal the beautiful, enchanting face of
Pazluvoor's Young-Queen, Nandini Devi.
descended, Kundavai from the elephant and Nandini from her
palanquin. Nandini walked up quickly with greetings
welcoming the Princess. Kundavai acknowledged her welcome
with a gracious smile. When they saw these two famous
beauties of the Chozla Empire side by side, the massive
crowd cheered with enthusiasm that broke bounds.
Nandini had a golden hued body; Kundavai had the coloring of
a soft pink-lotus. Nandini's golden face was round, like the
shining full moon of summer. Kundavai's divine face was
slightly elongated, like that of an exquisite bronze statue,
cast by a master sculptor. Nandini's jet black eyes,
slightly reddened at the corners, were large: like fat,
buzzing bees. Kundavai's blue-black eyes were elongated,
almost touching her ears, like the curved petals of a
blue-lily. Nandini's short nose, slightly flattened, was
smooth -- carved out of ivory. Kundavai's nose was dainty
like the long buds of some fragrant creeper. Nandini's
slightly thick lips were coral-red shells filled with
intoxicating liquor. Kundavai's slender lips oozed honey
like delicate pomegranate buds. Nandini had bound her
tresses into bunches decorated with fragrant flowers while
Kundavai's curls were piled high on her head, like a crown
proclaiming, "She is the Queen of Beauty!"
the people did not distinguish each feature of the two women
like this, to compliment them; but, they were generally
aware that both were incomparable beauties though differing
quite markedly from each other.
Until that day,
womenfolk of the city were slightly dissatisfied, even
jealous of Nandini. Every one of them had a fondness for
Kundavai, as if she were some family deity. That Nandini had
emerged from the fort to welcome their beloved Younger
Pirati Kundavai, made them more happy. While the citizens
raised cheers to express their happiness, the conversation
between Kundavai and Nandini was like lightning strike
"Welcome My Lady! Welcome! We had
wondered if you had completely forgotten us. Only now are we
aware that the Younger Pirati's generosity knows no bounds,"
"What is this, O' Queen? Does living
at a distance mean that one has forgotten? Can I assume that
you have forgotten me because you have not come back to
Pazlayarai?" replied Kundavai.
"Honey bees would
automatically find fragrant flowers; they need no
invitation. Everyone will visit beautiful Pazlayarai City.
It is your kindness that has made you visit this ugly,
ungainly Tanjore Fort."
"How can you say that? How
can you say that Tanjore is ugly? When beauty itself is
imprisoned here?" Kundavai said with sarcasm.
is what I hear; that the Emperor was like one imprisoned in
this fort. Now there is no cause for concern, for you have
come to free him ..." lightning flashed in her eyes as
Nandini spoke these words.
"Fantastic! Even Gods in
heaven cannot imprison Emperor Sundara Chozla. How can mere
mortals, commoners, do so? I did not mean him ... I refer to
the Goddess of Beauty, Nandini Devi ..."
My Lady! Well said! Please repeat it so that My Lord can
hear it. Lord Pazluvoor keeps me here in this city, like a
prisoner. If you could speak on my behalf and recommend that
"Why do you need my recommendation? You are
not in any ordinary prison, you are a prisoner of love. That
too, the love of an ..."
"Yes Princess! If an old
man's love becomes a prison, there is no escape. Some people
talk of `Tanjore's Dungeons.' Perhaps one could escape from
those underground dungeons. But, ..."
Young-Queen, very true! Particularly, if the shackles are of
one's own seeking; if the prison is of one's own choosing;
escape is difficult. Chaste maids following the tradition of
women like Sita, Kannagi, Savithri and Nalayini will not
even seek freedom! Umh! What is all this commotion about?"
asked Kundavai Pirati.
Yes; there was truly a great
big roar from among the groups of women gathered outside the
fortress gates. Kundavai and Nandini walked towards that
group. The women called loudly speaking all at once; nothing
was clear at first. It was obvious very soon: they wished to
come and meet the Princess freely at the Palace. They wished
that the restrictions about entering and leaving the fort
should be removed for the nine days of the Navaratri
Festival so that they could seek audience with their
favorite princess while she was in Tanjore.
turned to Nandini and said, "Young-Queen, why don't you
submit their petition to your husband, or even your
brother-in-law and recommend that it be granted? Why should
there be such strict regulations about these womenfolk? What
danger can befall this Empire because of these simple folk?
Isn't the power of the Pazluvoor brothers well known in all
directions, up to every coast?"
"Ah! Why have you
stopped with the sea coast? Their powers extend even beyond
the seas. There will be proof of that very soon." Nandini's
smile pierced Kundavai's heart like a poisoned spear. The
Princess wondered, what could be the real meaning of this
wicked witch's words?
By now, Nandini had signalled
and summoned the Elder Lord Pazluvoor to come closer. She
explained about the petition by the women and the Younger
"Who can say anything against the
wishes of the Younger Pirati?" said the Elder Lord of
Pazluvoor. With the cheering crowds following in procession,
they entered Tanjore Fort.
For the next few days,
Tanjore was immersed in endless festivity. It was especially
great that the Navaratri Festival coincided with Kundavai's
visit. Lord Pazluvoor kept his promise. Commoners were
permitted to enter and leave the fort without any
restrictions for the nine days of the festival. The fortress
gates were left wide open day and night. Several
celebrations and competitions were held in the fort and
palace as well as in the townships around the city. People
assembled in large crowds to enjoy all these entertainments.
Two full moons rose often, in the midst of this sea of
celebration. People cheered and the city was filled with a
carnival spirit. But, the hearts of both the full moons were
erupting like volcanoes spitting fiery lava.
was constant competition and strife between the Young-Queen
of Pazluvoor and the Younger Pirati. Their fierce duels were
fought with arrow-sharp words and eyes that darted like
lances. Flames rose when the caustic-sharp swords of this
duel clashed. Venomous lances of words and action created
havoc. Two flashes of lightning clashed on a storm cloud and
wrecked havoc on each other. Two tigresses, possessed of
vicious beauty, wrestled with each other with sharpened
claws drawing blood. Two King Cobras of horrifying beauty,
raised their hoods in a frightening dance, their thin red
tongues darting, trying to swallow each other. They had a
passionate elation in this bizarre conflict; and also an all
suffering, heart rending, anguish.
Only one soul
suffered in the midst of this conflict between two powers.
Vanathi of Kodumbalur could neither understand them nor
freely participate in the festivities in the city. Vanathi
found it difficult even to get a chance to talk to Kundavai
these days. She dressed well and went everywhere, attending
all the ceremonies with her friend. But, her heart was not
touched by anything that happened outside. She created a
secret dream-world of her own and wandered silently in it.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 15 --An Anguished Call At Night
In those days, the arts of
song and dance were well developed in the Chozla Country.
Dance and drama had grown together. Tanjore was particularly
famous for nurturing several famous theatricals and actors.
Karur Devar, a Saiva ascetic who lived in those times has
written several descriptions of Tanjore city surrounded by
the massive fort.
Young beauties, cocky like full
Arched brows flash like lightning;
They practice dance and step across the theater stage,
In Tanjore surrounded by the great fort.
established play-houses flourished in Tanjore, attesting the
popularity of theatricals and plays. The most famous
play-house was within the palace enclosure of the Emperor.
Imaginative writers who created new and popular plays lived
in the city. It had been the tradition to portray stories
from myths and religious fables in the form of plays and
dances. For some time now, the players had turned their
attention to a different kind of story. They had begun to
write plays about historical figures, and famous heroes of
the battlefield. The incidents of recent history, the brave
deeds of the previous generation were very popular subjects
of these modern plays. Stories of the Chozla warriors --
Karikala Valava, Vijayala the Brave, Paranthaka the First --
were the most popular subjects.
During the Navaratri
celebrations, a historical play about the brave history of
Chozla Kings was enacted for three days in the Emperor's
Playhouse within the palace. The exquisitely constructed
stage, embellished with curious decorations was located in
front of a large open-courtyard which could comfortably seat
more than a thousand persons. A separate enclosure to seat
the noblewomen from the palace, was constructed towards one
side; it was covered with a silken canopy and equipped with
soft cushions and decorated pillars. Queens and Princesses,
noblewomen and their maids could sit in comfort and enjoy
Often during these performances, Nandini
came to sit beside Kundavai. Many of the other women
disliked this; but they hid their resentment and could do
nothing about it. Who could dare say anything against the
all powerful Elder Lord Pazluvoor and his favorite
Young-Queen Nandini? When Kundavai herself allowed it, what
could anyone else do?
Of the three plays about the
history of Chozla monarchs, the third, which told the story
of Paranthaka was the best. There was some disturbance among
the audience which viewed the play on the third day.
Among the Chozla's who ruled from Tanjore, Sundara Chozla's
grandfather, Parakesari Paranthaka the First, was famous for
his bravery. He had ruled for more than forty-six years. The
Chozla Empire had grown extensive, covering most of the
Tamil Lands, from Lanka to the shores of River Tungabadra,
during his rule. He had fought several victorious battles.
He bore the title, `Ko-parakesari varma, the valiant who had
taken Madurai and Lanka.' He acquired fame as the monarch
who covered the tower of Chidambaram Temple with gold.
Towards the end of his lifetime, he faced some setbacks; the
Empire shrunk somewhat in size. But, his bravery and fame
was not forgotten. He fought one last great battle at
Takkolam, against Kannara-deva the Rashtrakuta King who came
from the north with a huge army. Paranthaka destroyed the
huge invading army. But, Crown Prince Raja-aditya who was
the Commander-in-chief of the defending forces, lost his
life in the battlefield as he fought seated on an elephant.
Raja-aditya's body, pierced with enemy arrows, was brought
back to the palace in the capital. Queens embraced the
dead-body of the valiant Prince who gave up his life to
protect the borders of his beloved country, and shed
uncontrollable tears. Finally a voice from the skies, an
oracle, spoke: "Don't weep! Don't weep! Sorrow not, you
mortals! The Prince is not dead, for he lives in the heart
of every man and woman of this brave Chozla nation." The
play concluded with this final scene.
immensely enjoyed this play depicting the incidents in the
life of the generation before theirs. The cause for
disturbance was this: Two chieftains, minor kings of the
region, helped King Paranthaka in his exploits. They were
the chieftain of Kodumbalur domains and the chieftain of
Pazluvoor principality. Both noblemen were bound to the
Chozla monarch by blood ties and marriage alliances. Both
helped Paranthaka like two extra hands in his exploits.
Neither was greater or lesser than the other. Paranthaka
favored them equally, treating them like two eyes, honoring
them equally. How could one eye be more favored than the
other? The Elder-uncle of the present day Lords of Pazluvoor
was the Pazluvoor chieftain of those times. His name was
Kandan-amudan Pazluvoor-arayar. The father of the Younger
Lord Velir who lost his life in Lanka was Irrukkuvel Ilango
Velir the chieftain of Kodumbalur in those days (i.e.
The actors who presented the Paranthaka Play were careful in their
portrayal of both these famous chieftains. They did not give
more prominence to one or the other. They depicted the great
characteristics and contributions of both noblemen equally.
They were particular in pointing out that Emperor Paranthaka
had honored both nobles equally. But, the viewers who
watched the play were not equally enthusiastic in their
favors. Very soon it was obvious that some were fans of the
Kodumbalur party and others favored the Pazluvoor faction.
When the scene showed the bravery and exploits of the
Kodumbalur man on the stage, one group in the audience
cheered; when the Pazluvoor man came on stage another group
raised applause. In the beginning this rivalry was mild.
Later, it grew more hostile. Both, factions raised loud
cheers and shouts, "Naavalo Naaval!"
(Like "Ra rah!"
"Bravo!" "Golly!" and other cheers & shouts of modern days,
"Naavalo Naaval" was the cheering cry of those days.)
This rivalry in the cheering crowd exhilarated Princess
Kundavai. When the cheers from the Kodumbalur faction was
loudest, she would turn to Lady Vanathi seated by her side
and say, "Look Vanathi, your party is winning now!" Innocent
Vanathi would smile happily. Kundavai would look at Nandini
when the Pazluvoor faction was cheering, and say,
"Young-Queen, your side is winning now!" However, Nandini's
expression betrayed that this did not make her happy.
Nandini's rage was kindled and made worse by everything: --
the very occurrence of such rivalry, people cheering and
shouting openly about it, Kundavai encouraging such
behavior, Kundavai equating that ordinary youngster Vanathi
with herself and teasing them about it, -- none of these
made her feel comfortable. Nandini wondered if she should
leave the pavilion in anger. But, that would mean her
acceptance of the incidence as something of importance, even
conceding defeat. She bit her tongue and crunched her teeth
to sit quietly till the end.
everything. The expressions dancing on Nandini's face were
crystal clear, like reflections on a mirror. Except one
thing, `This is a mystery which is unclear!' mumbled
Kundavai to herself. One scene in the play depicted the
following incident: The Pandiya King lost the battle and
sought asylum with the Lankan King. When the Lankan King did
not come forth with the expected support and help, Pandiya
left his diadem and other crown jewels with the Lankans for
safe-keeping and escaped to the Chera Kingdom. Everybody in
the audience expressed equal elation at the end of this
scene. Though, all factions applauded, Nandini's face showed
extreme anguish and sorrow. This was the mystery that
Kundavai could not understand.
Kundavai tried to pry
Nandini's thoughts, "What a pity that the Emperor could not
be with us to enjoy this wonderful play! In his time, even
my father had accomplished similar brave deeds like my
great-grandfather. If only my father was in good health..."
"He will surely recover. You, his beloved daughter have come
to his side. The Emperor will surely be cured when the
medicines from Lanka arrive." Nandini spoke softly.
"Medicines from Lanka? What is that?" asked Kundavai.
"You ask as if you do not know! I believe the Doctor form
Pazlayarai has sent a man to collect medicinal plants. In
fact I heard that you had assigned a retainer for the job.
Isn't that true?"
Kundavai bit her lip. She had
beautiful teeth like jasmine buds, but the bitten lip felt
pain. Huge cries of "Naavalo Naaval!" interrupted the
With a final cheer of praise for the
greatness and health of Sundara Chozla, the play came to an
end. The crowd dispersed with happy thoughts. Noblemen and
their women departed with their retinues. The Empress
Vanamadevi and some other womenfolk of the palace made
preparations to go to the Temple of Durga Nisumba-sudini,
the family deity of the Chozlas. Vanamadevi had undertaken
several vows, penances and prayers hoping for the recovery
of her husband. She visited the Durga Temple often to offer
prayers. The Temple had special mid-night services and
programs during all nine days of Navaratri Festival. Special
animal sacrifices had been arranged and the Empress attended
the mid-night service without fail. Most of the other women
in the palace accompanied her.
It was not the
practice to allow young maids to attend services at the
Durga Temple. Sacrifices were often frightening. The
officiating priests would often become possessed of spirits
and start dancing frightfully. They would retell gory tales
of destruction and mayhem in honor of the Goddess of
Destruction. Young girls were not taken to such shows
because they would be frightened. But who had the courage to
tell the Younger Pirati, "You will be frightened, don't
come!" Who could stop her? Kundavai went with her mother to
the Temple on all nine nights and offered prayers for her
father's well being. Vanathi was left alone in the big
palace during such times.
On that night of the
Paranthaka Play, Vanathi's heart brimmed with happiness. She
was filled with pride on seeing the greatness and bravery of
her clansmen depicted on stage. And she did not forget
Lanka. Thoughts about her father who had lost his life on
that island and the young Prince who was there to avenge her
father's death filled her mind constantly. She could not
sleep wanting to stay awake till the Younger Pirati returned
from the temple. "I must discuss the incidents of today's
play with her before I can sleep." She felt like going for a
walk on the upper terraces of the palace instead of lying
awake uselessly. The panorama of Tanjore in the night can be
seen from the terrace. Perhaps even the Durga Temple will be
visible. She rose from her bed with such thoughts. Vanathi
was new to that palace, but she was confident of finding her
way through all the twisting hallways and courts. All the
rooms were brightly lit with everlasting lamps and burning
The passage turned and turned again.
Galleries seemed never ending. Several oil lamps which had
brightened the early night had now been turned off. Servant
maids and others were lost in sleep in the corners and
alcoves. Footmen had gone for the day. Vanathi felt shy to
awaken any of the maids to ask the way. She wandered here
and there and was soon lost in the never-ending hallways and
Suddenly a voice could be heard. It was a
wailing, sorrow-filled voice. Vanathi was frightened and
began shivering. She stood rooted to the spot. Again that
"Is there no one to help me?"
Ah! This sounds like the Emperor's voice! What danger is
this? Is it some pain of ill health? Or, is it something
else? The Empress and all the other elders have gone to the
temple ... What can I do? Somebody must be there, by his
bedside ... He couldn't be left alone ... let me see. She
took a few steps further into that balcony. Cautiously she
moved further. The voice came from down below. She looked
down on a large, wide, chamber. Isn't this the bed-chamber
of the Emperor? Yes; there he is, lying on his bed! All
alone! He is moaning and wailing. What is he saying?
"You wretch! It is true, it is true that I killed you. I did
not intend it; but, I am the cause for your death. What can
I do about that now? It is more than twenty-five years now
and why do you still haunt me? Don't you have any peace?
Won't you leave me in peace? Tell me, how I can atone ...
I'll surely do it! Let me be free ... Oh! Let go! Is there
no one to free me from her clutches? Why are you all
treating me with medicines for my physical illness? Is there
no one to treat this mental illness of mine? Help me .....
Go! Go away! No! Don't move, stop! Tell me what I must do.
Tell me how I can make amends. Why do you kill me like this
with your silence? Can you not speak? Say something before
you go ..."
These words fell into Vanathi's ears like
molten lead. She shivered from head to toe. Quite unaware of
herself, she looked around. Her eyes looked into all the
nooks of the chamber, behind every curtain and pillar.
A figure stood before the Emperor, a little away, towards
one side, in the shadows of a large pillar. A female -- half
visible, half hidden by shadows and the smoke from the
incense burner. It seems like ... Oh dear! It seems like the
Young-Queen of Pazluvoor? Am I dreaming? Am I insane? What
is happening? No, this is no dream ... Look carefully, who
is that hidden behind that pillar? The Elder Lord Pazluvoor!
I'm not mistaken, it is them! Is the Emperor crying in fear
on seeing her? What is the meaning of his cry, `It is true
that I killed you!'
Suddenly, Vanathi felt faint; her
head began to swim. No, the whole palace was swirling...
Chee, chee! I should not faint now, not here at least ...
She moved away with difficulty and turned into the passage.
The return path seemed endless ... I cannot find my bedroom,
I cannot go on ... not another step ...
returned from the temple with her maids, she found Vanathi,
senseless like a wooden log, in a passage-way close to her
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 16 --Sundara Chozla's Hallucination
Sundara Chozla summoned his
daughter to his bedside. He ordered the servants, nurses,
doctors -- everybody to leave them alone. He made his
daughter sit close beside him, holding her palms in his
hand. Kundavai realized that he was trying to say something,
unable to put his thoughts into words.
you angry with me?" she asked.
Tears glistened in his
eyes. "Why should I be angry with you, my dear?"
disobeyed your orders and came to Tanjore."
shouldn't have disobeyed me to come here. This palace in
Tanjore is not good for young girls. You should realize that
from what happened last night."
"What happened last
"I am talking about that girl from
Kodumbalur; her falling down in a faint. How is she feeling
"She is fine today, Father! She used to faint
like this, very often, in Pazlayarai. She will be all right
within a few hours."
"Did you talk to her, my dear?
Did she say that she saw something, heard something?"
Kundavai thought for some minutes. Finally, "Yes Father! I
believe she tried to go up to the terrace when we had all
gone to the temple. At that time she heard someone wailing
piteously. I believe she was frightened by those cries."
"That's what I thought! Don't you know it now, my darling?
There is a ghost, a phantom wandering in this palace. You
shouldn't remain here; leave immediately." When he said
these words, Sundara Chozla was shivering from head to toe;
his eyes were craze filled, looking into the distance.
Kundavai noticed all this.
"Father, then why should
you stay here? Why should my mother live here? Let us all go
back to Pazlayarai. I don't see any improvement in your
health since you came here."
The Emperor smiled
sadly, "How can I get better now? I have no such wish
"Why should you feel dejected like this,
Father? The Doctor of Pazlayarai says that he can cure your
"And you believed him; you have even sent a
man to Lanka to collect medicines for me. Yes, dear; I heard
that! It shows your love for me!"
"Is there anything
wrong in a daughter loving her father?"
am fortunate to have such an affectionate child. There is
nothing wrong in your sending a man to Lanka to collect
medicinal plants. But, it does not matter if medicines come
from Lanka, if herbs come from Java or even if ambrosia
comes from the heavens; I am not going to feel better in
"Oh dear! Don't say such words Father!"
"You came here my dear, disobeying my orders! Actually I am
happy about it. It has been my intention for some time now,
to open the secrets of my heart and tell you the truth. This
is the right opportunity for that. Listen to this: if it is
a physical ailment, medicinal herbs may be able to cure it.
My illness is not merely physical; what cure is there for a
"Father! You are the Emperor of the
three worlds. What worries can torment you?"
child! You talk like the bards -- with wild imagination. I
am no ruler of three worlds! I am not even Emperor of this
one whole world. A small portion of a small corner in the
world is my Kingdom. I am unable to bear even this burden."
"Why should you, Father? Are there not other capable
subordinates to bear the burden of ruling this Kingdom? You
have two exquisite sons. Two lion cubs; bravest among men;
who could bear any burden ..."
"Daughter! It is that
thought that frightens me. Your brothers are both
incomparable warriors. I raised them with fondness, just as
I raised you. However, I doubt if I am doing a good deed if
I leave this Kingdom to them. Do you think it is right to
bequeath a curse along with the Kingdom?"
can this Kingdom have? Sibi who gave his own flesh to save a
dove and Manu who gave up his own son for the calf, are our
ancestors. Karikala Valava and Perunar Killi had ruled this
Kingdom. Brave Vijayala of the many battle-wounds sat on
this throne. Aditya who raised one hundred and eight temples
along the Cauvery and Paranthaka who gilded the temple at
Chidambaram, created this Empire. Gandara Aditya the devout
ruled this divine Empire. What curse can this Kingdom have?
Father! You are hallucinating about something. If you leave
this fort ..."
"Ah! You do not know what will happen
the instant I leave this fort. Do you think that I am happy
to forsake beautiful Pazlayarai and live in this prison like
fortress of Tanjore? Kundavai, I am preventing the
destruction and ruin of this ancient Kingdom by living here.
Think of what happened last night, in the playhouse. I was
watching everything from the terrace. At one point I even
wondered if I should order the play stopped."
"Father, what is this? It was a very good play! I was proud
to see the presentation of our clan's greatness. Why did you
wish to stop it? Which act displeased you?"
there was nothing wrong with the play. I am talking about
the behavior of those who watched the play. Did you not
notice the rivalry in cheering by the Kodumbalur faction and
"I noticed, Father."
behave in this fashion even when I am here. Think of what
can happen if I were not here. The minute I leave Tanjore,
both parties will plunge into fights. Like that myth about
Lord Krishna's clansmen destroying each other by infighting,
these fellows will kill each other and in the process
destroy this Kingdom."
"Father, you are the all
powerful monarch of this Empire. Both, the nobles of
Pazluvoor as well as Kodumbalur, are duty bound to obey your
commands. If they cross the bounds, they seek their own
destruction. Why should you be concerned?"
Daughter! Both their clans have given exceptional service to
our family for the past hundred years. This Empire could not
have grown to such strength without their help. If they are
destroyed, it is a weakness to our Kingdom."
if it became known that among those two clans, one was
committing treason, by instigating a conspiracy against
you..." Kundavai spoke hesitantly.
looked at her with surprise, "What are you saying, Daughter?
Treason and conspiracy against me? Who is instigating it?"
"Father, some who pretend devout service to you are secretly
conspiring against you. They scheme to declare that your
sons are not eligible to ascend this throne; they plan in
secret to crown another..."
"Who? Crown whom? Whom
are they trying to crown by declaring that your brothers are
not eligible?" Sundara Chozla asked with some agitation.
Kundavai spoke softly, "Uncle Madurandaka, Father. They plan
this treason when you are on your sickbed like this."
Sundara Chozla sat up a little, "Ah! If only their efforts
Kundavai was shocked, "What is this
Father? Are you enemy to your own sons?"
"No; I am no
enemy to my sons! I wish them well; they do not need this
curse ridden Empire. If only Madurandaka agrees..."
"Why shouldn't Uncle Madurandaka agree? He is very willing;
ready to be crowned tomorrow if needed! Will you accept
that? Should you not consult my brother the Crown Prince?"
"Yes; we must talk with Aditya Karikala. Not only that, we
must make your Elder-grandmother agree to this."
"Will a mother disagree if her son is to be crowned?"
"Why not? You have lived with your Elder-grandmother for so
long; don't you know her? It was because Lady Sembiyan
Madevi insisted, that I accepted the throne in those days.
Kundavai, your grandmother has great affection for you. You
must talk to her and convince her to accept the throne for
Kundavai was too stunned to say
anything. The Emperor continued to speak, "Go to Kanchi
after that. Tell your brother, `You don't need this cursed
Kingdom.' Make him refuse this burden. We will crown
Madurandaka and be free of the curse."
keep mentioning a curse. What curse?" asked Kundavai.
"My dear! They talk about previous births; do you believe in
that? They say that one can sometimes remember the incidents
of one's previous births; do you think it is possible?"
"Father, those are deep philosophical matters. What can I
say about them?"
"They talk about the ten
incarnations of Lord Vishnu. They tell tales about the
previous births of Gautama Buddha. Don't you know those
enchanting Jataka tales?"
"I have heard those
"When Gods and Prophets have such
previous births, why not us mortals?"
possible, that we too have many births."
I can remember my previous birth. I have not talked about
that to anyone till now. If I do, none will believe me; or
understand. They will declare that along with physical
disability, I am also mentally unwell. In addition to these
doctors bothering me, sorcerers and exorcists will start
coming in here."
"Yes Father. Even now, some say
that. You will not be cured by medicine but you need to be
treated by exorcists."
"See! But, you won't think so,
will you? You won't laugh at me, when you hear my story;
will you?" asked the Emperor.
"Dear Father! Do you
have to ask me? Don't I know how hurt you feel? Will I ever
laugh at you?" Tears filled her eyes as Kundavai spoke these
"I know you well my dear. That is why I plan
to tell you secrets that I have not shared with anyone. Let
me tell you some incidents of my previous birth."
was a beautiful island surrounded by the sea. It was full of
green palms swaying gracefully. Open areas were covered by
thick bushes and creepers. A youth hid behind a bush on the
beach. He was staring at a huge sailing ship, moving towards
the horizon. He waited till the ship disappeared from sight.
He stood up with a sigh, "I am safe!"
He was born in
a royal family. He had no rights to any kingdom; neither did
he wish it. There were three brothers elder to his father --
they had precedence. He did not even dream about ruling that
kingdom. He went with an army which sailed across the sea to
fight a battle. He had been given command of a small
battalion. But, his army lost that war; countless men died;
most men under his command had died. He was ready to give up
his own life, as he performed various deeds of valor in the
field. But, death did not embrace him. The remaining army of
retreating men gathered on the beach. They made preparations
to sail back to their homeland. The youth did not like to go
back. He was not keen on going home after he had lost all
his men on the battlefield. His clansmen were famous for
their bravery; he did not wish to disgrace their name by his
While the ship was sailing, when he saw a tiny
island in the distance, he jumped into the sea. None saw
him. He was able to swim to the beach and hide behind the
bushes. He waited till the ship had sailed away and came out
of hiding. He sat on a low tree branch and surveyed the land
around. It seemed deserted; but, he did not care. The island
was beautiful. He was happy to lean back and loose his
thoughts in dreams of the future.
Suddenly, a human
voice, a female cry was heard. He turned around: a young
girl was running as she screamed. A hideous bear was chasing
her. The distance between the bear and the girl was quickly
decreasing. There was no time to think about anything else.
He jumped down to pick up the knife he had brought. The bear
was about to place its fangs on the girl's shoulder. He took
aim and threw the knife; it struck the bear. The beast
turned with a deafening roar. The girl was safe; he was in
danger now. The wounded bear pounced on him. Man and beast
began to wrestle. Finally, he won.
youth looked around in all directions. The girl stood behind
a coconut palm, leaning on its bent trunk with folded arms.
She seemed surprised, happy. Her appearance, her clothes
proclaimed that she was a girl of the forest, unaware of the
civilized world. In beauty, she was beyond comparison to
anyone on earth. The way she stood, leaning on the swaying
palm -- it appeared like a fine painting by a master artist.
He wondered if she could be human! As he stepped closer, she
did not disappear like some nymph. Unexpectedly, she began
running, very swiftly. He tried to follow her for a while;
but, he was too tired and he knew that he could not catch up
with the girl who had pranced away like a deer. Moreover, it
was not very civilized to run behind some unknown girl. "She
must live somewhere on this tiny island. I am sure to meet
her again." He walked down to the beach and rested.
Soon the girl returned. She brought an older man with her.
The newcomer said that he was a fisherman of the Karaiyar
tribe, living on the coastal islands of Lanka. An important
truth also became obvious. The girl had saved the young
man's life! A bear was stalking him as he rested on the tree
branch. The girl had seen them. The bear, perhaps trying to
protect its territory was about to pounce on him. The girl
had distracted the beast by her cries. The youth was very
grateful. He expressed his thanks to her in many words. But,
her only reply was silence. The older man replied to all the
questions posed by the youth. This surprised him; but, truth
dawned on him soon.
The girl was a speechless mute;
neither could she hear anything. His heart brimmed with
pity. A sudden affection for her rose in him. The
circumstance, the surroundings were conducive for the growth
of that affection. Her inability to speak or hear were no
obstacles. Her eyes spoke of countless inner secrets, of a
thousand fantasies. Is there any language in this whole
world comparable to the sweetness of those talking eyes? Why
bother about other senses when two hearts became one?
The island became a paradise to that youth. Days, months
even years went by. He forgot to keep track. One day, there
was an end to this life in heaven. A ship came to anchor on
the coast of that island. Several boats were lowered and
many men came on shore. The young man went down to the beach
to see who they were. They had come in search of him. Many
unexpected incidents had occurred in his homeland. Two elder
brothers to his father had died. The other brother had no
children. A large kingdom awaited him.
The youth was
filled with confusion. He had no heart to leave that
beautiful island or that enchanting maid. But, an eagerness
to meet his near and dear ones, to step on his beloved
homeland -- new emotions tugged at his heart. He was told
that danger surrounded his homeland on all sides. War drums
sounded everywhere. He made up his mind. "I will come back;
I will fulfill my duty and come back!" he promised a
thousand times. That island girl, the deaf-mute maid refused
to step in the midst of the newcomers from civilization.
When the youth climbed into the boat, she was leaning on
that old coconut palm, staring at him with tear filled eyes.
He steadied himself and left.
"Kundavai, the sight of
that Karaiyar girl gazing at me with tear laden eyes, it
never left my memory. However I try, I can never forget it.
But, another scene more poignant, in fact a frightening
picture appears before my eyes constantly. In the night and
day, in sleep and wakefulness, it worries me. Shall I tell
you about that also?" asked Emperor Sundara Chozla.
The Younger Pirati spoke with a voice choked with emotion,
"Tell me, Dear Father!"
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 17 --Can The Dead Return?
Sundara Chozla had been
speaking as if he was narrating the story of some third
person. Now, he began telling it like a history of his own
"My dear Daughter, today I am telling you
things about which a father will not normally speak to his
own daughter. I am telling you secrets which I have not
shared with anyone. In this whole world, only my friend
Anirudda knows these things; even he does not know all. He
does not know this turmoil that rages in my heart. But, I
shall tell you everything. Someone in our family should know
everything -- I do not have the courage to speak of such
things with your mother and I cannot speak about it to your
brothers. I had been intending to tell you all this for some
time now. Today, I have the opportunity, the courage to tell
you everything. You would not laugh about my situation; you
will try to soothe the wounds in my heart; you will help me
fulfil my wishes. I speak to you with such hopes ...
"I left that island on the ship and came to Kodi Karai. I
heard that my grandfather, Emperor Paranthaka was now living
in this Tanjore palace and came here. When I came to
Tanjore, the Emperor was on his deathbed. The Empire he had
built over a span of forty years was now facing ruin and
chaos. Raja-aditya the Crown Prince had died in the battle
fields of Takkolam. My father Arinjaya had been very badly
wounded in that same battle; they were not sure if he would
live too long. Kannara-deva's Rashtrakuta armies had already
captured our Thondai Territories and were quickly advancing
towards the south. Rebel Pandiya's were already regrouping
in the far south. Chozla armies in Lanka had faced defeat
and come back. Many brave men of the Chozla nation had lost
their lives in these various wars. Such news, coming from
all directions, had devastated the aging Emperor. In such a
situation, when he saw me, his face brightened with
"My grandfather had been very fond of me
from my childhood days. For a long time he had raised me
personally in his own palace; I was closer to him than to my
own parents. He had permitted me to command the battalion
sent to Lanka because I had been insistent. He was
heartbroken when he found that I had not been one among the
men who returned. Since none could confirm my death, he had
been sending search parties looking for me. One such search
party had found me. His wounded heart found some peace when
I came back to Tanjore.
"For some reason, he had a
hope that the Chozla Kingdom which faced such devastation
towards the end of his rule, would once again achieve
greatness because of me. Palace astrologer's had fostered
that hope. As if to prove the point, though my grandfather
had four sons, only I, his grandson, now remained to carry
on the responsibility. Emperor Paranthaka called me to his
bedside and embraced me with kisses and tears. `My dear
Child! After me, your Elder-uncle Gandara Aditya will sit on
this throne. After him, this Chozla Empire is yours. Our
clan is sure to regain its greatness during your times!' He
spoke such words for a while. He made me promise that my
only aim in life should be to establish the greatness of the
"I reciprocated my grandfather's
affection for me with equal fondness and reverence. I
promised to fulfil his wishes, his orders, as my life's
mission. But, I had no peace of mind. What about the fate of
that mute-maid of the Karaiyar tribe who had saved me from
the bear? How can a mute, island girl, of the lower classes,
sit on the noble throne of the Chozla Kingdom, as a queen?
Will a palace life be to her liking? Will the citizens and
countrymen mock me? ... Such thoughts confused me. There was
another matter:- My Elder-uncle Gandara Aditya had remarried
recently. You know that the fortunate maid who married him
is your Elder-grandmother Sembiyan Madevi, the scion of the
Mazlava-raya clan. His first wife had no children; but, what
was the assurance that his new wife would not have any
offspring? If my uncle had a male child, how would I inherit
the Kingdom? -- Such questions were raised by many, even in
those days. Perhaps that great soul, my Uncle Gandara
Aditya, felt that none in the Kingdom should raise any such
doubts. Gandara Aditya was coronated after Emperor
Paranthaka's death. My uncle -- the new King -- made
arrangements that I should be anointed as the new Crown
Prince on that same day.
"My dear Daughter! You know
how the people of this country are obsessively fond of your
brother Arulmozli in these days. Similarly, in those days,
people were excessively fond of me. During the coronation
ceremonies inside the palace, thousands of people had
gathered in the plaza outside. They waited patiently for the
newly crowned King and Prince to appear before them. Bowing
to their wishes, my uncle and I, stepped onto the viewing
gallery of this palace, presenting ourselves to the crowds.
It was an ocean of smiling faces below us. On seeing us,
they raised a cheering roar. So many people are happy about
my being their Prince; why should I worry about a mute-girl
living in the forests of some desert island? Is the
happiness of these thousands important? -- or the life of a
"I was looking into the happy faces of the
people below me, with such thoughts racing through my mind.
Men, women, the elderly and the youth, even children --
everyone seemed so happy. However, suddenly, I saw a face --
the face of a young girl, filled with sadness, eyes brimming
with tears looking at me piteously. I do not know how her
face attracted my eyes or my attention in the midst of that
vast multitude. After that, my eyes never left her face. Her
face became larger and larger; came closer and closer. That
huge horde of people vanished; everybody standing by my side
disappeared; the palace vanished; the decorated gateway and
plaza, the viewing gallery, the city, the fortress, the sky
and the earth -- everything vanished. Only her face was
fixed before my eyes -- like the vision of a Goddess. I felt
faint; my legs felt weak; I lost consciousness....
"Later, I heard that I had fainted and the soldiers by my
side had prevented my fall. They thought that I had been
tired out by the coronation ceremonies. They canceled the
public appearances and took me to my bed-chamber in the
palace. When I had recovered somewhat, I called for my
friend Anirudda and spoke to him in privacy. I described
what I had seen. I ordered that he should make arrangements
to somehow find that mute-girl and bring her to me. Anirudda
came back later in the night to inform me that he could not
find any girl meeting my description, though he had searched
every nook and cranny of Tanjore Fort and its surroundings.
I was angry with him, `If you cannot help me even in this,
what kind of a friend are you? Look for her on all the roads
leaving Tanjore. The coast road to Kodi Karai ...' Men were
sent to look for her along all roads. The men sent to Kodi
Karai came back with some news. They had found a mute-girl
living in the house of the light-house keeper. She had
appeared to be insane. Though they had tried by several
signs and actions they could not communicate with her. They
were unable to convince her to go back to Tanjore with them.
"When the men brought this news, I was stunned and confused.
What should I do? Two days passed in such confusion. I
thought of her day and night. Nights were sleepless. I left
for Kodi Karai with Anirudda by my side. We rode as fast as
horses could carry us. During that journey, my mental
disquiet increased a thousand fold. What should I do with
her, if I find that mute girl? Shall I take her to Tanjore
and Pazlayarai and declare, `She is my Queen!' My heart and
body shrank with mortification upon that very thought.
"My darling Daughter! In those days I was recipient of an
unwanted fame -- that I was incomparable in physical beauty
and allure. I did not heed it much, but, everyone talked
constantly about my attractive personality. They completely
ignored my given name -- Paranthaka, in honor of my
grandfather -- and called me Sundara Chozla, the Handsome
Chozla. I, who was famous in this fashion, how could I, lead
an uncivilized island girl into the palace? If not, what
could I do with her? With such an agitated mind I reached
"That good woman solved all my problems.
The news that awaited me at Kodi Karai was shocking. She had
climbed to the top of the light-house on the day after my
men had left. It was the night of a new-moon. Storm winds
were blowing; the sea in high tide was turbulent as it
raised high waves covering the rocks around the light-house.
That girl stood for hours, gazing into the stormy sea.
People were used to seeing her stand like that quite often;
so they did not particularly bother about it. A loud cry
rose above the roar of the waves. She vanished. A couple of
fishermen on the beach had seen a woman fall from the
light-house into the sea below. They searched the rocky
shore with catamarans and boats but could not find anything.
They decided that she had been claimed by the sea.
"This news filled me with pain and anguish; soon a peace
overtook those emotions. I did not have to worry about what
to do with her. I did not have to think about her ... I
returned to Tanjore with this strange feeling, a mixture of
sadness and peace. I became involved with the affairs of the
Kingdom. I married... your mother ... had brave sons, and
"But! my dear, I could not forget that
wretch who died. Sometimes, nightmares of that scene -- a
sight I had not seen, would torture me. My imagination
recreated that horror of a girl with disheveled hair falling
headfirst into the stormy sea, from the light-house high
above. I would awaken screaming from nightmares about that
scene. Your mother by my side would ask, `What is it? What
is it?' I never told her the truth. `Nothing!' I would
convince her. I would pretend to have remembered some horror
of the battlefield. In some years, by the grace of passing
time, those nightmares left me. She faded from my memory. I
had forgotten her till recently. Yet, I think the dead are
more cruel than the living. That mute-girl's ghost has not
forgotten me. It has begun to appear once again to torment
me! Daughter, do you believe that the dead can return?"
Sundara Chozla, stopped with this question to his daughter.
He was staring into the distance, with a deranged look.
There was nothing to stare at in that chamber! But, his
whole body shivered. Kundavai felt an immense sadness for
her father. Her eyes filled with tears. She moved closer and
buried her face on her father's chest, shedding tears. Soon,
he stopped shivering and caressed her head with his fingers.
Kundavai sat up and said firmly, "Father, you had buried
these frightening details in your heart for all these years
and were worried sick. Now that you have told me everything,
you will soon feel better."
Sundara Chozla smiled on
hearing this. His sad voice was mingled with a hopelessness,
"Kundavai, you don't believe me! You don't think that the
dead can return. But, I tell you that I saw it with mine own
eyes -- her ghost stood there, next to that pillar behind
the metal-lamp, last night... How can I not believe it? If I
was imagining things, what about your friend? She fainted
because she saw something, heard something. Call her now,
Kundavai! I'll ask her myself!" Sundara Chozla spoke
"Father! Vanathi is a timid girl. I do
not know how she came to be born in the brave Velir clan of
Kodumbalur! Even if she had seen a pillar in the darkness,
she would have fainted in fright. There is no point in
asking her. She wouldn't have seen anything or heard
"You think so? Fine, forget her then.
Listen to the rest of my story. I too had no belief in the
return of the dead. At least, not for a long time. I was
sure that such apparitions are merely figments of the
imagination. Do you remember that incident of long ago? When
we had all gone boating on the Cauvery and Arulmozli had
fallen into the river when he was a child? When we had been
shocked with distress, a woman had rescued the child from
the river. She vanished after others had taken charge of the
boy. We have talked about that incident many times; you
could not have forgotten. Your mother and others decided
that Goddess Cauvery had saved the child. But, do you know
what I saw? That Karaiyar girl -- the mute -- had picked up
the child. You might remember that I had fainted on that day
also. Everyone thought that I had fainted because of the
mishap to the child. That is not true! I am telling you
after all these years -- I fainted because I knew that it
was her ghost that had picked up the child....
Daughter! Do you remember the Coronation Day of your
brother? Do you recall that day, when Aditya Karikala came
into the palace courtyard to receive the blessings of all
our elders, after he had been crowned? I was by his side
then. I saw the mute-girl's ghost stand amidst all those
women and stare angrily at my son Karikala. I fainted on
that occasion too. When I thought about it later, I had my
own doubts. I worried about why her ghost should stare
angrily at Karikala. I wondered if it was part of my
imagination. Kundavai, now, in Tanjore all my doubts are
clear. Once upon a time, when she was alive, I could read
all her thoughts just by looking at her face. A tremble on
her lips would tell me everything she wished. I have that
skill once again! Kundavai! She has come before me four or
five times at mid-night, to warn me... `You killed me! That
I forgive. But, do not sin again! Don't covet a Kingdom
which belongs to another and give it to your own!' I
understand this message of her's very well! Daughter! You
must help me in this matter. My sons do not need this cursed
Kingdom, this Chozla Throne! Let us give it to Madurandaka."
Kundavai stopped his tirade with these words, "Father, how
can you say these things? Why should we change a decision
approved by all the citizenry and nobility? Will the world
agree even if you wish to change it?"
"I do not care
whether the world approves or not! I must follow the law of
justice. It is my duty! My mind was never at peace when I
crowned myself as Prince and later King of this Empire. My
conscience pricked me. It is not lawful that I, the son of a
younger brother should ascend the throne when a son of the
elder brother is alive. Now, I suffer for such sins. Why
should my sons commit a similar sin? Neither Aditya nor
Arulmozli needs this Kingdom. They do not need the curse
that comes with this Kingdom. We must crown Madurandaka
before I die. After crowning him, I shall go to live in
peace in the Golden Palace which Karikala has built at
"Father! Will the Elder Pirati agree to this
"Kundavai, that is where I need your help.
Make up some reason or other and make my aunt come here. Oh
dear! Why is she who is so knowledgeable about so many
things, unaware of the legality in this matter? Why did she
force me to commit this sin? Why is she angry with her own
son like this? Why is she so adamant about this affair which
is against the very nature of motherhood? Perhaps there was
some justice as long as Madurandaka was involved in his
devotions to Saiva faith declaring that he would become an
acetic. Now that he himself is interested in ruling this
Kingdom, how can we crown anyone else?"
"He may wish
to rule; but, is he capable?"
"Why not? How can a son
born to the great philosopher Gandara Aditya and a scion of
brave Mazlava-rayas not be capable?"
capability! Shouldn't the people approve?"
were to ask approval of the people, do you know what they
will say? They will insist that we immediately crown your
younger brother Arulmozli! Is that lawful? Will Arulmozli
agree to any such nonsense? All this is wasteful argument
dear Daughter! Ask your Elder-grandmother to come here as
quickly as possible. Write to her saying that I am wrestling
with the God of Death; tell her that she must come
immediately if she wants to see me alive..."
not necessary Father! The Elder Pirati has been intending to
start renovation of the Tali-kulattar Temple in Tanjore.
I'll mention that and write to her, asking her to come here
immediately. Please be patient till she comes."
this, father and daughter talked for a while. Kundavai then
left for her chambers. On the way, she accosted her mother
and said, "Amma! From now, do not be away from my father's
bedside even for one moment! Let others worry about prayers
and penances. Your duty is to be by his side!"
Certain doubts that had been worrying Kundavai were now
clearer. A twinkle of light began to appear in pitch
darkness. Her intellect warned her that some huge conspiracy
fuelled by sorcery and cunning, was taking shape against her
brothers and their rights. But, she was not sure about the
details of that conspiracy, who was really behind it or how
it was being organized. She knew that the Chozla Kingdom and
her brothers who had rights to that Kingdom, were in danger.
She was convinced that the responsibility of protecting them
from such danger had fallen on her shoulders.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 18 --Which Is The Worst Betrayal?
Those who have read the
history of ancient Tamils will be aware that in those days,
womenfolk were in the forefront of social life. Women of the
royal family were greatly honored. Women born in the Chozla
family and women who married into the clan had rights to
have property in their own name. Noblewomen of those times
often held title to villages, wetlands and drylands, cattle
and other wealth. It is interesting to read how these women
utilized their wealth. Several noblewomen, established
trusts and grants in their names for renovation and
maintenance of temples, public water-tanks etc. Women
established trusts for public service activities like
lighting of temple lamps, flower services at places of
worship, feeding of the poor and travelers, maintaining
rest-houses in pilgrim centers etc. Such grants were
recorded by deeds and edicts engraved on copper-plates or
carved on stone.
(Note: Land ownership in those days
was usually confined to the nobility, wealthy landowning
castes, community organizations, temples and trade guilds.
Stone inscriptions were often embedded on temple walls or
other public buildings and memorials.)
women of the royal household were involved with temple
building and temple renovation projects. Kundavai Pirati
utilized her wealth in a slightly different manner. Perhaps
she was moved by the long-time illness of her father --
anyway, she undertook the establishment of free medical
facilities all over the Kingdom. She had already established
an infirmary in the name of Emperor Paranthaka at
Pazlayarai. She was now involved in founding a trust to run
an infirmary in the name of her father at Tanjore. A
ceremony to inaugurate the free-hospital and engrave the
edicts and grant deeds was organized on the tenth day of the
Inauguration ceremonies for the
`Sundara Chozla Infirmary' were organized in the Garuda
Pavilion opposite the Vinnagara Temple in the suburbs
outside Tanjore Fort. She had chosen a location by the
Garuda Pavilion for the new infirmary, because of the belief
that Lord Vishnu of the Vinnagara was a God of Protection
and Garuda the Eagle was the divine messenger who brought
People from Tanjore and surrounding
villages were gathered together in large numbers for the
program. Men and women, children and elderly -- all were
well dressed in good clothes and ornaments as they came
together in a joyous assembly. The Emperor's confidential
ministers, senior and junior officers of the government,
stone masons skilled in carving stone inscriptions,
engravers experienced in the art of writing on
copper-plates, palace officials, members of various guilds,
accountants -- all such persons were gathered in large
numbers. A contingent of the Velaikara Battalion came with
members playing loudly on drums, cymbals and trumpets.
Another large contingent representing Tanjore's Guard Corps
came with flashing spears and lances. Both Lords of
Pazluvoor came riding with dignity on two large elephants.
Prince Madurandaka came riding uncomfortably on a smart,
richly caparisoned, white-horse. Princess Kundavai, her
friends and some elderly ladies from the palace came in
their palanquins. Pazluvoor's Young-Queen Nandini Devi came
from another direction in her richly embellished, ivory
palanquin emblazoned with the palmtree emblem of Pazluvoor.
A silken canopy shaded the enclosure reserved for the nobles
and royalty. Kundavai, Nandini and others walked up to sit
in the enclosure.
The ceremony commenced upon a
signal from Elder Lord Pazluvoor. First, two professional
singers came up to sing the Thevaram hymn which began with
the words "Ashes that are healing talismans." People were
mesmerized into silence as they listened to the melody of
the beautiful lyric being sung to the accompaniment of lutes
and drums. But, a murmur of conversation could be heard in
the midst of the noblewomen seated under the silken canopy.
Nandini moved closer to Kundavai as she asked softly,
"Princess! It is said that long ago Saint Sambanda sang this
hymn and anointed the Pandiya King with holy ashes to cure
the ailing monarch. Why doesn't this song have such healing
powers these days? Forget the song, even holy ashes don't
seem to have any healing powers! We are not able to manage
in these days without medicines, herbs, doctors and
"Very true, Young-Queen! In those
days justice prevailed; and hymns had healing powers. These
days, the world is full of vice and sinners -- The country
abounds with traitors who conspire against the Emperor. We
never heard of such people in those ancient times! Perhaps
that is why the powers of chants and talismans have
decreased." Kundavai peered into the face of Pazluvoor's
Nandini's face showed no change. "Is
that so? Are there traitors who conspire against their kings
in these days? Who are they?" she asked calmly.
is what I am not sure about! Some accuse one person; others
point at somebody else. I intend to remain here for some
more time till I find out the truth. In Pazlayarai we never
get proper news of what happens in the world!" Kundavai also
"A good decision My Lady! If you ask
me, I would suggest that you take up permanent residence
here at Tanjore. Otherwise the Empire will fall into ruin! I
shall also help you as much as I can. Also, we have a guest
in our house; he also may be able to help you." Nandini
spoke with a slight sarcasm.
"Who is the guest?"
"Kandamaran; Kadamboor Sambuvaraya's
son. Have you met him? He is tall, like a coconut palm and
well built! He keeps babbling constantly about `spies' and
`traitors'. You mentioned about treason just now; can you
say what is worse than betrayal of one's king?"
"Sure. If a woman betrays the husband who took her hand in
wedlock, it is worse than treason!" Kundavai once again
peered into Nandini's face after saying these words. But,
there was no expected change. Nandini continued with the
same enchanting smile.
"You are of course correct;
but, Kandamaran will not agree! He will declare that `The
vilest sin is betrayal of friendship!' I believe that
Kandamaran's best friend not only changed to become a spy
but also stabbed him on his back before running away. Since
that incident, Kandamaran has been babbling like this."
"Who is he? Who committed such a vile deed?" asked Kundavai.
(Note: The code of chivalry in those days said that men of
equal strength would fight face to face with equal weapons.
Attacking below the belt or from behind were not considered
as proper. Being killed in battle was considered a mark of
bravery. War wounds -- particularly on the chest and
shoulders -- were borne proudly as marks of honor and
bravery. Wounds on the back were signs of dishonor or marks
of a coward who may have been running away from an enemy.
Wounding another on his back was a cowardly deed, for the
enemy was perhaps attacked without warning.)
"Apparently it is someone named Vandiya Devan! I believe he
is from the Vaanar clan which ruled long ago from
Thiru-vallam in the Thondai Territories. Have you heard of
Kundavai bit her coral lips with pearly teeth,
"The name seems familiar .... what happened after that?"
"What can happen? After stabbing Kandamaran on the back, his
friend escaped. My brother-in-law has sent men to arrest
"How are they sure that he is a spy?"
"How will I know if he is a spy or not? All that we know is
what Sambuvaraya's son says. Perhaps you would like to talk
to him personally and know all the details, would you?"
"Yes; I must meet Sambuvaraya's son. I heard that it is a
miracle that he survived! Is he in the Pazluvoor mansion
"Yes. They brought him to my mansion the
day after he was wounded. The responsibility of arranging
medical care for him fell on me! Somehow he survived; his
wound has not healed completely."
"I am surprised
that he is not fully cured, with you at his bedside, nursing
him! That's fine. I shall pay him a visit. Sambuvaraya's
family is no new upstart clan. They are noblemen, well known
for their bravery since the times of Emperor Paranthaka."
Nandini replied, "That's why I mentioned it to you. Perhaps
you will honor my house with a visit, at least on the
pretext of calling on Kandamaran."
The prayer song
was over by now and the Officer of Records had begun reading
the edicts of the grant deeds. First, the royal permit from
Sundara Chozla was read. "Since my beloved daughter Kundavai
Pirati has deemed to donate all her income from the village
of Nallur Mangalam, which I had bestowed upon her with all
rights to all income, resources and responsibilities, since
she wishes to establish this trust for the upkeep of a
public infirmary in the suburbs of Tanjore, I the Emperor,
declare that the tilled wetlands and drylands of that
village be free of paying tax to the royal treasury." After
reading this edict loudly, the Officer of Royal Records
presented the roll of palmleaf letters to the Elder Lord
Pazluvoor who was the Officer of Finances. Lord Pazluvoor
accepted the letter reverently, with both hands and handed
it to his Chief Accountant to be entered in the records.
After this, details of Kundavai Pirati's grant was read.
"The farmers of the village of Nallur Mangalam are permitted
to enjoy the rights and resources of all the taxable lands
of the above mentioned village. In lieu of being freed of
paying just dues to me and in lieu of being declared free of
the tax burden to the royal treasury, the farmers of the
above mentioned village are duty bound as follows: Every
year in future, they will provide resources for the upkeep
of the `Sundara Chozla Infirmary' in addition to providing
annually, two hundred kalams of paddy for the Chief Doctor
of this Infirmary and fifty measures of cows-milk, five
measures of goats-milk and one hundred tender coconuts per
day for the use of patients being treated at the Infirmary."
The full text of this grant was engraved on stone with a
preface about the lineage of the grant giver, the identity
and location of the village and its boundary, the location
of the infirmary. In addition, the names of the stone mason
who carved the deed and the officers who witnessed the
correctness of the information, were carved on the stone.
After the stone edict was read and verified, it was
presented to representatives of the village of Nallur
Mangalam, who had come to attend the ceremony.
Village Elders received the stones with respect and then
placed them on a ceremonial elephant which would carry them
to the village in procession. Loud cheers such as "Long life
to Sundara Chozla the Rajakesari who conquered Madurai!"
were raised. About a hundred drums announced the news with a
loud din that filled the skies. The procession started with
cheers like, "Long life to the Younger Pirati Kundavai
Devi!" "Long life to Prince Aditya Karikala who vanquished
Veera-pandiya!" "Long life to Prince Arulmozli who triumphed
in Lanka!" "Long life to Prince Madurandaka the divine son
of devout Gandara Aditya!"
Finally, slogans of
praise such as, "Long life to Elder Lord Pazluvoor the
Officer of Finances and Food Supply, the Officer of Taxes!"
"Long life to Lord Kalanthaka the Commander of Tanjore!"
were also raised. Towards the end, the enthusiasm in the
cheers and responses was greatly reduced. The final cheers
were raised mainly by Pazluvoor soldiers; the general public
did not respond too readily.
Kundavai was eager to
see Nandini's face when this happened; but, she was unable
to catch a glimpse of her in the milling crowd. The Princess
would have been very surprised indeed, if she had seen the
Young-Queen's face when the cheers in praise of Prince
Karikala were raised. In fact, even strong hearted Kundavai
would have been stunned with fright by the expression on
Nandini's enchanting face.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 19 -- "The Spy Is Caught!"
The incidents of the day had
greatly irritated Elder Lord Pazluvoor. It had become an
occasion for the people to display their affection and
allegiance to the Emperor and the royal family.
"People! Commoners! Mindless cattle! All four thousand will
walk the same path if four lead the way down to an abyss!
How many have the capability to use their common sense?" --
He muttered in this fashion expressing his anger. "It is
obvious that the Emperor will utterly ruin this Empire
before he goes to heaven! He orders, `Remove tariffs for
this town. Free that village from taxes!' Very soon there
will be no towns or villages paying taxes. But, we have to
furnish food supplies and monies for countless battle
campaigns. Where am I to send the supplies from?" He shouted
at no one in particular. The clerks and servants in the
mansion were slightly frightened by his anger.
Finally, Lord Kalanthaka had to come and preach patience,
"Anna! What is the use of shouting in this fashion? We have
to be patient till the time comes and show our powers in
When Lord Pazluvoor heard that Kundavai was
about to pay a visit to his mansion, his irritation crossed
the limit. He walked up to Nandini and asked, "What is this?
I hear that she is coming here. Why should that ogress come
here? Did you invite her? Have you forgotten how she
"I will never forget the good that one
had done to me. Neither will I forget the insults heaped by
another. Don't you know my nature by now?" asked Nandini.
"Then, why is she coming here?"
"Her wish, she is
coming. Her arrogance in being the Emperor's daughter brings
"Why did you invite her?"
not; she invited herself! She said, "Is Sambuvaraya's son in
your house? I must visit him.' How could I say `Don't come'?
A time will come when I can say it. Till then I have to bear
all such insults patiently."
"I cannot be patient.
When she comes on the visit, I cannot remain in this
mansion! In fact I cannot remain in this city. I have some
work in Mazlapadi and I will go there."
"Do that My
Lord! I had been meaning to suggest something like that.
Leave that poisonous snake to me. I know how to control her.
When you come back, if you hear some astonishing news, don't
be too surprised."
"What astonishing news?"
"You may perhaps hear that Kundavai is planning to wed
Kandamaran; or that Aditya Karikala plans to marry
Kandamaran's sister Manimekalai."
"What nonsense is
this? If anything like that happens, what about our plans?"
"Does mere talk mean that an act has taken place? You have
been telling your friends that Madurandaka is the next King.
Is that really going to happen? Are we striving like this to
crown that effeminate fool Madurandaka?" Nandini blinked her
large eyes and looked at the Elder Lord of Pazluvoor.
He was no match to her beguiling looks. He sat down beside
her and picked up her hands, kissing them, "My Darling!
Soon, you will sit on this Chozla throne as its all powerful
Empress," he said.
Kandamaran was very agitated and
restless from the minute he found that Kundavai was about to
pay him a visit. Kundavai's intelligence, beauty and
greatness were famous. The Younger Pirati was about to visit
him. What a great honor it was! I would have willingly borne
several more bruises and fallen even more sick for such an
honor! Oh Dear! Why wasn't I wounded on my chest in such a
situation? How admirable it would have been if Kundavai had
come to see me with such wounds. Instead of that, I have to
once again repeat this wretched story of my friend's
betrayal and his dastardly deed.
In the midst of such
thoughts he recalled how his family was involved in schemes
against her and her family; that mortified him. Kandamaran
was an honest young man. He was not used to cunning and
crafty conspiracies. Though Nandini's enchanting beauty had
fascinated him, he controlled his passions with the thought
that she was another man's wife. But, Kundavai Pirati was
How should I behave with her? What
should I talk about? Can I hide something in my heart and
speak pleasantries with her? Or, will I become slave to her
beauty and forget my promises to my father and his friends?
I should not let that happen! Why does the Princess want to
talk with me? Let her come, I'll say something uncivilized
and obnoxious so that she never comes back...
resolve vanished the minute he saw Kundavai. Kandamaran lost
his convictions when confronted by her polished manner,
beauty, charm, modesty, dignity and pleasant words of
solace. His imagination broke bounds and ran wild. He
recounted all his deeds of bravery as if he was reluctant to
talk about them, but was speaking upon her insistence. He
pointed out his old war-wounds, the healed scars on his
shoulders and chest, as if he was reluctant to show them.
"It would have been better if Vandiya Devan, that disloyal
friend of mine, had struck me on my chest and killed me. I
am embarrassed that he wounded my back before he escaped and
that I have to tell you all this. I don't wish to become
infamous as the coward who turned his back on a conflict. I
would have readily forgiven him if he had wounded me on my
shoulders or on my chest."
Kundavai felt that
Kandamaran's emotional words had a ring of truth in them.
She wondered if Vandiya Devan could have done the dastardly
deed and if she had been mistaken about her brother's
messenger. She asked Kandamaran to describe the incident in
detail. Even Nandini was thrown into a sea of surprise by
the imaginative tale told by young Kandamaran!
Lady, he fooled me even on that night he had stayed in my
house at Kadamboor. He never revealed why he was going to
Tanjore. He entered this fort by showing some false identity
and even met the Emperor with falsehoods about bringing
letters from Crown Prince Karikala. He did not stop with
that. He even involved your honored name saying that he was
carrying letters for you! That made the Commander suspicious
about him. The Commander wondered if he was a spy and placed
him under guard. Somehow, Vandiya Devan escaped. One has to
give him credit for his ingenuity. When I heard this story,
the only thing that I did not believe was this -- that my
friend could be an enemy spy. He has certain defects in his
character; I felt that this was some foolish weakness in
him. `I shall somehow find him and bring him to you. You
must pardon him.' With such promises and conditions to the
Commander, I left Tanjore Fort.
"At midnight, I was
walking along the banks of River Vadavaru which surrounds
this fort. I did not wish to take anyone with me thereby
adding to the disgrace of my friend. A fellow escaping from
this fort must emerge somewhere from the fortress walls; or,
he must be hiding somewhere in the nearby woods. That's why
I walked along the banks of the river. In the dim moonlight,
I could make out the form of a fellow climbing down the
outer wall. I went and stood in front of him and asked,
`Friend, what have you done?' That odious fellow punched me
on my chest. I, who have borne the blows of an elephant was
not affected by his punches. I hit him back with my fist
because I could not tolerate his behavior in picking a fight
with me who had gone there with good intentions. We wrestled
for a while. Within minutes he was tired, begging my
forgiveness. I forgave him and said, `Tell me the truth
about why you have come here. I may be able to help you.' He
replied that he was tired, `Let us sit somewhere and talk.'
I agreed and led the way. I was walking ahead; suddenly,
that fellow struck me from behind with a knife. Half a foot
of that knife sank into my flesh; I fainted and fell to the
ground. That betrayer of friendship escaped. When I regained
consciousness, I found myself in a mute-woman's house."
Nandini laughed to herself on hearing this imaginary story of
Kandamaran. Kundavai was not able to decide on how much of
it could be believed.
"How did you come to the
mute-woman's house? Who brought you there?" asked Kundavai.
"That is an unexplained mystery to me! That dumb woman did
not know anything. Even if she knew, she has been unable to
explain. Apparently, she has a young son. He too disappeared
on that night. No one knows his whereabouts. If that son
returns, he might be able to shed some light on the matter.
Otherwise, I have to be patient till the Pazluvoor soldiers
arrest my friend Vandiya Devan."
"Do you think that
he will be arrested?"
"How can he escape? He cannot
bind wings and fly away! That's why, mainly to meet him, I
am remaining here in Tanjore. I would have gone home
otherwise. I am still confident of earning a pardon for my
friend from the Lords of Pazluvoor."
"Sir! You are to
be commended for your unselfishness," said Kundavai Pirati.
But her heart said, Vandiya Devan should not be arrested ...
even if he is a traitor.
A servant maid came running
into the chamber, "Madam! The spy is caught! They are
bringing him down the street."
Nandini and Kundavai
-- both their faces were covered by an expression of wounded
pain. Nandini controlled herself instantly. Kundavai could
not do so.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 20 --Tigress Against Tigress
When a servant maid announced
that the spy was caught and that he was being brought down
the street, all three persons in the room felt a certain
agitation in their hearts. Kundavai Pirati was more
disturbed than the other two.
"Princess, shall we go and see what that cunning spy looks
Kundavai hesitated, "Why should we bother
"Fine; if you say so!" Nandini appeared
"I want to see; I'll go," saying this
Kandamaran stood up unsteadily.
"Don't get up. You
cannot walk; you will fall..." Nandini was by his side.
Kundavai seemed to have changed her mind. "Let us find out
what he looks like ... this dear friend! Can we see the
street from the balcony or terrace of this mansion?"
"We can see very clearly. Come with me." Nandini led the
"My Lady, if it is really my friend, please
arrange with Uncle Pazluvoor for me to meet him and talk to
him," said Kandamaran.
Nandini turned around, "How
can we know if he is your friend?" She glanced towards
"Then, I'll come with you to identify him!"
Kandamaran walked with faltering steps.
stepped onto a balcony on the upper story of the mansion.
Seven or eight horses were coming down the street below,
from a distance. Soldiers bearing arms were riding those
horses. A man was walking in their midst. His hands were
crossed behind him and bound with ropes. Two horsemen on
both sides were holding the ends of the ropes that bound
him. A gawking mob was following behind this cavalcade. At
first the face of the man walking amidst the horsemen was
not visible to those standing on the balcony.
prevailed on the terrace till the procession came closer.
Kundavai's eager, worried eyes were fixed on the procession
coming closer. Nandini was engaged in bending down to look
at the street and glancing back at Kundavai's face.
Kandamaran broke the silence that dwelt on that narrow
"No! This is not Vandiya Devan!"
Kundavai's face brightened. By now, the remarkable parade
had come in front of that mansion. The fellow bound by the
ropes and being dragged by the horsemen, looked up. Kundavai
recognized him as Pinakapani, the Doctor's son from
Pazlayarai. As if to say something, the fellow opened his
mouth while looking up. But, the ropes that bound him
dragged him forward.
Without disclosing her
happiness, Kundavai said, "What foolishness is this? Why
have they dragged him here like this? He is the son of the
Doctor in Pazlayarai."
"Oh! Is that so? My
brother-in-law's men are always like this. They will let the
real culprit escape, arrest some innocent fellow and torture
him," said Nandini.
Kandamaran was speaking again,
"Ah! My friend Vandiya Devan won't be caught so easily. He
is very crafty. He fooled even me; will he be caught by
"Why do you still refer to him as your
friend?" asked Nandini.
"He betrayed me. But, in my
heart, my regard for him has not changed."
these soldiers have killed your dear friend! I had been told
that these men had followed two spies to Kodi Karai." After
saying this, Nandini looked at Kundavai. She found that the
word "killed" tortured the Younger Pirati.
female! I have a weapon for revenge on you! If I don't
utilize it fully, my name is not Nandini, the Young-Queen of
Pazluvoor. Wait! Just you wait!
Kundavai covered her
disquiet with rage, "What spies!? Utter foolishness. As days
go by, these old men seem to loose all their senses. They
seem to suspect everyone! I had sent this man to Kodi Karai
to collect medicinal herbs. Why did they arrest him? I must
ask your brother-in-law immediately!"
"Oh! Is he the
man sent by you, Princess? You talked about suspicion. I too
have a suspicion -- now. Did you send just this one man to
collect medicinal herbs? Did you send another fellow also?"
"Yes, I had sent another man with him.
I had asked one of them to go to the Island of Lanka if
"Aha! I understand everything now. It's
just as I had guessed."
"I don't understand. What did
you guess? What has happened?"
"I have no more
doubts; everything is clear. My Lady, was the other man you
sent with this fellow known to you? Or, was he a newcomer?"
Kundavai Pirati hesitated, "What newcomer? He is the same
fellow who brought me letters from Kanchi; from my elder
"It's him! It is him!" said Nandini
bringing her palms together in glee.
"He... The spy! He had lied here also -- about bringing
letters for the Emperor."
"Why did they suspect him
to be a spy?"
"How will I know that? It's an official
secret guarded by the men. As a matter of fact, that spy did
act suspiciously. Why did he run away in the night? Why did
he wound this poor gentleman on his back?"
believe that he was the man who stabbed this gentleman. If
he had stabbed with the knife, why did he carry this
gentleman to the mute's house?" Kundavai asked.
speak as if you witnessed the whole incident, My Lady!
Somehow, you seem concerned about that spy. He must be a
magician. Even this gentleman still calls him a friend!
Anyway, who cares? A lost life cannot be regained. If these
soldiers had killed him..."
Beads of perspiration
darkened Kundavai's face. Her eyes reddened and throat
choked; heart beats became rapid. "It couldn't have
happened. It cannot be..." she mumbled under her breath.
"... If that spy was as cunning as this gentleman claims..."
Nandini continued her conjectures.
"Princess, I am
sure. Vandiya Devan would never have been caught by these
soldiers." Kandamaran spoke positively.
"If not now,
another time. He is sure to be arrested." Nandini did not
Kundavai crunched her teeth, "Who knows what
can happen tomorrow?" She continued with anger, "Since the
Emperor fell ill and took to his sickbed, the whole country
has turned topsy-turvy! What powers do these nobles have to
arrest men sent by me to collect medicinal plants? I will
discuss this with my father at once."
"My Lady, why
should you disturb your father about this petty matter? Why
don't you question my brother-in-law? Perhaps he was not
aware of your wishes. He will act suitably, if you let him
know your intentions. None can dare to cross the wishes of
the Younger Pirati in this Chozla Empire!" Nandini tried to
soothe her rage.
In that conflict between two
tigresses that day, Nandini was the victor. Several wounds
afflicted Kundavai's heart. She had to make a tremendous
effort to conceal her emotions.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 21 --Dungeons
There is nothing more
enigmatic than life on earth. Who knows the why and
whereforth of comfort or sadness? The skies remain clear for
long periods of time. Suddenly, dark clouds collect from all
eight directions, plunging the world into darkness; thunder
rolls, lightning strikes and rain drenches everything.
Sometimes it would appear as if the very meaning of a breeze
had vanished from earth. Even leaves on trees stand still.
An unexpected whirlwind blows from somewhere, swirling and
twisting. Large trees are uprooted in its path. Luscious
groves which appeared pleasant till recently, turn into
gardens ruined by monkey hordes.
Such a whirlwind was
now swirling in Kundavai's life. Till recently she had no
idea of worries. Life was an endless, happy carnival. Love
and affection, song and dance, poetry and painting, jewels
and adornments, garden parties and boating trips -- these
filled her days. Everyone -- her parents, brothers,
ministers, teachers, friends, servants and slaves thought of
her as their cherished darling. She was aware of emotions
like sadness and worry only through conjecture in poetry and
drama. When misfortune came to her, it piled one upon the
Her father's situation was cause for concern.
There was danger to the Empire. Her brothers were far away
in distant lands. Astrologers and soothsayers had been
cryptic in predicting some unexplainable danger that was
about to befall her clan. Secret, treacherous meetings were
being held in the Kingdom. People were gripped by an
unfamiliar fear. Kundavai, born in a clan that gave birth to
generations of brave warriors, had the strength to face all
such obstacles. She was confident of solving all these
problems to her family and Empire with her sharp intellect.
However, a minor incident, an unexpected meeting became the
cause to disturb her confidence.
When Kundavai met
Vandiya Devan Vallavarayan, a lotus bud that was her heart
opened it's petals gently and bloomed in full glory. How
unfortunate! A dark-bee came to sit on that bloom, to bruise
its soft petals with poisonous stings. The mere thought that
the gallant of the Vaanar clan might have been arrested
distressed her. Those harsh words -- he might have been
killed -- they broke her heart! How difficult it was to hide
those feelings! When she had so many who were near and dear
to her -- her parents, siblings, close friends and relatives
-- why was her heart so agitated about some wayfarer whom
she had met casually, perhaps twice or thrice? But, there
was no time now, to examine and pinpoint the cause and
effect of such sentiments. Without much delay, without
worrying about the right time, she must make the needed
enquiries and act immediately.
She sent word to
Younger Lord Pazluvoor that she would visit him that
afternoon itself, perhaps view the Art Gallery... And she
went. Womenfolk in that palace welcomed her eagerly; they
showered her with affection and courtesy. The Princess spent
some time with them, conversing pleasantly about this and
that. She then walked to the Art Gallery. Lord Kalanthaka
was waiting to welcome her; he led her to the gallery,
acting as a guide pointing out the finer details of the
paintings. Kundavai looked at every picture, listened to all
his explanations, without uttering a single word.
Finally, when the last picture was seen, she turned to him.
She looked at him from head to toe and said, "Sir! Nobles of
the Pazluvoor clan have been of incomparable service to the
Chozla family, over several generations!"
"It is our
good fortune, My Lady!" Lord Kalanthaka bowed very low.
"There is no doubt ... that this Chozla Empire is an
appropriate reward for such service..."
word is this?!"
"But, you could wait till the
Emperor's life is ended and he has reached his heavenly
abode. Why such impatience to grab the powers of this
Kalanthaka's face revealed that these words
pierced like sharp arrows through his heart. Beads of sweat
formed on his forehead. The mustache drooped and limbs
shivered with fear. Mopping his face with a scarf, he said,
"My Lady! Why this rage? Are you planning to dispatch me to
the world of Death with arrows of mere words?"
You know that I have no such powers. Even the Lord of Death
is afraid to approach Lord Kalanthaka and his domains. What
can I, a mere girl, do?"
"My Lady, perhaps it would
be better if you poured molten lead down my ears instead of
such harsh words. What have I done, that the Princess has to
bestow such `royal mercy' on me?"
"Who am I to talk
about your faults? You, -- tell me about my mistakes. Is it
wrong for me to send men to collect medicinal plants for
healing my father?"
"No, My Lady! It can never be
"Were you not aware that I had sent the
Doctor's son from Pazlayarai to collect medicinal plants
from Kodi Karai?"
"I knew of it, My Lady."
"This morning, I saw that man, bound with ropes, being
dragged down the streets of this city by your men. Did you
order it? Did you do it in spite of being aware that he was
"Yes, My Lady! No! Perhaps you had not
known that he was a spy?" Lord Kalanthaka was rattled.
"The Doctor's son is a spy! What nonsense! Do you want me to
believe this fable?"
"Thaye! What if he had
confessed? Wouldn't you believe it then?
was stunned for one moment. "He confessed! What did he
"He agreed that the other man who went
with him is a spy. He said that the other fellow did not go
on the journey to really collect herbs; that man was
travelling with some letters for someone in Lanka."
"He is a fool; prattling nonsense. That other man who
journeyed with him was also sent by me. I am sure you knew
"I was aware of that My Lady. But, I also
know that the other fellow misled you. That youth, named
Vandiya Devan is really a spy."
"Never. He is the
messenger sent by my brother from Kanchi, with letters for
"Princess he brought letters for the Emperor
also from your brother in Kanchi. So what? Spies use all
kinds of tricks to fulfil their mission."
proof do you have to declare that Vandiya Devan is a spy?"
"If he is not a spy, why did he travel along country roads
and byways instead of going on the Royal Highway? He even
stopped at an astrologer's house in Kudanthai, asking about
the Emperor's health!"
"Even I discussed the
Emperor's health with the Astrologer of Kudanthai. What is
wrong with that?"
"You, a cherished daughter, asking
about the Emperor is quite different from unknown
adventurers asking such questions. Spies sent by enemy kings
might ask such questions."
"That is your opinion.
What other proof do you have?"
"He could have entered
Tanjore Fort openly, after obtaining my permission. Instead,
he entered clandestinely showing the Pazluvoor signet. He
lied, saying that Elder Lord Pazluvoor had given him that
signet ring with the palmtree symbol. Why did he do that?"
"Who gave him that signet ring?"
"I do not know; I
must find out."
"What are your men doing, instead of
finding out that information?"
"My Lady! My men are
not magicians. We have to find the spy and arrest him before
we can question him about how he got that ring."
can you be sure that he will speak the truth?"
are ways to make him tell the truth. We have the Dungeons of
Tanjore. But, the spy seemed to know about our secret
passages. That is why he was able to escape and leave this
fort in that same night. He also stabbed Sambuvaraya's son."
"What proof do you have that he was the man who stabbed
is not enough! I state that he did not stab Sambuvaraya's
"My Lady, did you personally witness the
"No. But, I can examine a fellows face and
decide if he is at fault or not."
"That wicked spy is
fortunate! Somehow, the spy has earned your good opinion. I
have not been fortunate like him!"
"Sir, you continue
to call him `spy!' Why?"
"Thaye! If he was not a spy,
why did he mingle with the street players and enter
Pazlayarai covertly? Why did he disguise himself as a doctor
and travel to Kodi Karai? If he was not a spy, why did he
remain hidden for one whole day from my men in Kodi Karai?
Why did he sail away to Lanka by nightfall?"
he go away on a boat and escape to Lanka? Couldn't your men
catch him?" Kundavai could not conceal the delight in her
"Yes, My Lady. That magical spy fooled my men
and escaped. These idiots let him go and arrested the
"Sir, forget that spy; I don't care
about him. I sent the Doctor's son and I am sure that he is
innocent. You must free him immediately."
even if he is not a spy, he helped the real spy. He tried to
confuse my men with all sorts of stories. He helped the spy
to hide in the forests of Kodi Karai for one whole day and
later escape in a boat."
"I don't care. You must free
the Doctor's son."
"I am not ready to accept that
responsibility. Danger surrounds our country from all
directions. Enemies await to invade us. Veera-pandiya's
bodyguards, the Aabathudavis, have sworn to destroy the
roots of the Chozla clan. Conspiracies everywhere ..."
"Sir, if one were to throw all conspirators into prison,
there will be no room in the prison."
"We can lock
them up as long as we have room!"
"Reserve some room
for locking up the real traitors. Sir, free the Doctor's son
"As I said, I cannot accept that
responsibility, My Lady."
"Will you obey if the
Emperor orders it? Or will you disobey him also?"
"Princess, I do not need the Emperor's orders for this. The
world knows that the Younger Pirati's wish and will is
gospel to the Emperor. Here, I am giving you these keys to
the Dungeons of Tanjore. You may personally open the doors
and free him. If you wish to free anyone else, you are
welcome to do so. You are responsible for the consequences."
Lord Kalanthaka unbound a heavy bunch of keys from his
waistband and presented it to the Princess. Kundavai
controlled her rage and said, "Fine! I shall bear the
responsibility for the consequences!" She accepted the keys.
"If any grave danger threatens this Chozla Empire, it is
surely because of two women!" Lord Kalanthaka spoke with
"I am one; who is the other?" asked
"It is the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor,
Finally, Kundavai smiled
wholeheartedly, "You equate me with the all powerful
authority of this Chozla Empire! If he comes to hear of it,
your brother the Elder Lord Pazluvoor will banish you from
"That will be perfect. I shall wait for
it," said Kalanthaka the Younger Lord Pazluvoor.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 22 --Sendan Amudan In Prison
The Royal Mint inside Tanjore
Fort where gold coins were engraved was like a mini
fortress. It had guards and security just like the entrance
to Tanjore Fort itself. Kundavai Devi and her friend Vanathi
Devi went to inspect this mint, late in the evening that
day. The goldsmiths had finished work for the day and were
ready to leave. Security guards were ready to examine the
goldsmiths and let them depart. They had all collected in
the entrance hallway. It was at this moment that a chariot
from the palace came to stop near the gate. Kundavai and
Vanathi dismounted. On seeing them, guards and goldsmiths
alike became very happy and began to raise cheers of
greeting, "Long life to the Younger Pirati!"
Headman of the mint came running to welcome them. He
received them eagerly and led them inside. Furnaces for
melting gold and other metals, molds used for minting coins,
polishing and engraving tools, minted coins and blank forms
-- all these were shown to them; every process was explained
in detail. Gold coins, freshly minted on that day were
heaped in a pile towards one side. The shining pure gold
blinded their eyes. Each coin was engraved with a leaping
tiger on one side and a sailing ship on the reverse.
(Note: Till the early years of this Chozla Dynasty, not much
coinage was minted in the Tamil lands. Though coins were in
free circulation and widely used in trade, the coinage
itself was often imported. Coins minted in other nations,
particularly large quantities of Roman and Greek coins, were
imported for use as legal tender. Earlier, indigenous
mintage was usually in silver, copper and other base metals.
Cowrie shells were often used as money in remote areas and
for petty transactions.)
"Look Vanathi! From times
immemorial, gold was imported into our country from all over
the world by land and by sea. Our womenfolk bore the burden
of carrying all this gold till recent times. They converted
the gold into beautiful ornaments and carried the heavy
jewelry on their person. For some time now this heavy burden
has been reduced for Chozla women. Our Finance Officer, Lord
Pazluvoor has made arrangements to mint such beautiful
coins," said Kundavai.
Vanathi asked, "Akka, what is
the use of such coins?"
"Use? How ignorant you are,
Vanathi! If gold is minted into such coins of standard
weight, one can establish its value without weighing large
quantities of metal. People can pay taxes to their king with
these. When merchants trade in foreign ports, they do not
have to be encumbered with complications of barter with
cumbersome goods. They can buy goods for these gold coins;
they can sell stuff in exchange for such coins. That is why
merchants are full of praise for our Finance Officer....
But, let me tell you another secret!" Kundavai explained all
this and then lowered her voice before she continued, "The
coins are very convenient for villains who conspire against
the Emperor and his family. The most honest man can be
turned traitor by these shining pieces of gold!"
Headman of the Mint, who was standing close by heard these
softly spoken words. He said, "Yes, My Lady. We hear such
frightening rumors these days. That is why the security in
this mint has been increased in recent days. The number of
persons coming and going from the dungeons below this mint
has also increased."
"I've heard of prisoners coming
into Tanjore's Dungeons; are there people who leave it
also?" asked Kundavai Pirati.
"Why not? We have such
persons too! One man was brought in this morning; about half
an hour ago, he was taken away."
about who that prisoner could have been. She had come here
mainly because the access door to the underground dungeons
of Tanjore which held political prisoners was situated in a
inner court of the mint. Instead of using the separate
street-side entrance to that antechamber, she came through
the mint. After inspecting the various work areas of the
mint, she walked towards this inner room. A small door was
found on the farthest wall of this chamber. They opened that
door and walked ahead. It was another wide courtyard with a
low, vaulted ceiling and dim light. They could hear
frightening growls from all four corners. A soldier stood
with a lighted torch at the head of this passage-like room
that sloped downwards on one end. When their eyes adjusted
to the dim light, they could discern several cages along all
the walls. They could see the beasts in those cages:
growling tigers, lions and cheetahs. The big cats swished
their tails as they walked to and fro, to and fro in their
cages. Their eyes glowed like yellow embers in the dim light
of that chamber.
Kundavai held on tightly to
Vanathi's hand and said, "Are you frightened? Please don't
fall down in a faint in here!"
Vanathi chuckled, "I
am not afraid of tigers, Akka! Tigers are guardian angels of
"Sometimes guards can change sides to
favor the enemy. Then it could be very dangerous."
"No, Akka. Human guards can become such traitors. These
tigers wont do any such thing."
"We cannot be sure.
These cats have eaten many political traitors. Their blood
flows in the veins of these tigers, so..."
What are you saying? Will they feed living human beings to
these cats?" Vanathi who had just declared that she was not
"No. They won't do that! Remember,
what I had told you? Tanjore's underground prisons are
located below this mint. There is only one way to enter or
leave those prisons and that entrance is from this
tiger-room. Anyone trying to escape from Tanjore's Dungeons
has to come through this chamber; then they would become
prey to these tigers and lions."
"Oh, good Lord! What
"Government is like that. There is mercy as
well as horror. Vanathi, a time may come when I myself may
be thrown into this underground prison. If you had heard the
conversation I had with Commander Kalanthaka..."
"Absurd, Akka! There is no power that can imprison you in
all the fourteen worlds of this universe! If anybody tries
to do anything like that, the earth will split open and
swallow this Tanjore City. I am not worried about that; I am
concerned about the son of our Doctor from Pazlayarai. I
hope that innocent man did not try to escape."
"Innocent man! Who knows who will become a double-crosser or
when they would do so?" said Kundavai a little bitterly.
As they walked onwards, the growl of tigers became louder.
Kundavai looked at the soldier following them and asked,
"The tigers seem very angry, why?"
replied cleverly, "No, My Lady! They are happily welcoming
our beloved Emperor's gracious daughter."
"Good welcome!" laughed Kundavai.
"It is time
to feed these tigers. They are growling for food."
"Oh! Let us finish and leave quickly. Where is the
By now, they had walked to the end of that
chamber. Some soldiers pushed one of the lion cages aside. A
small doorway buried on the floor was revealed. Two men bent
down and lifted the trap-door. The open door-way revealed a
flight of steps. They went down those steps, one after the
other in single file. It became darker; smokey torches held
by two soldiers shed some light. Narrow passage-ways
criss-crossed randomly. The room above ground had been
filled with the frightening growl of tigers and lions; this
room below ground was echoing with piteous wails and cries
for help. The screams from various prisoners unnerved their
hearts, making their limbs tremble. In the midst of all
those wails, a surprise. An astonishing sound -- a pleasant
voice was singing a song!
O Lord of golden-hued body
with a tiger skin draped around the waist;
matted locks, burnished red, you wear a shining crescent!
The cells in that prison were not arranged in straight rows.
They were here and there; around corners and embedded in
walls; randomly placed in that narrow space excavated by
stone masons. The soldier stepped up to each cell and held
up his torch. Some rooms held only one man; some housed two.
Many cells were empty. In some rooms, the prisoner was
chained to the wall with heavy metal bands embedded in the
stone. When light fell on the faces of these prisoners,
Kundavai shook her head and they moved ahead.
Vanathi asked, "What horror is this? Why are these people
shut up like this? Is there no fair trial or enquiry?"
"Ordinary crimes are dealt with proper trial and justice.
But, treason against king and government, foreign spies and
those who aid and abet such spies are thrown into these
cells. Once they have extracted the truth from them, they
may be allowed to go. Sometimes, there is nothing to be
learned from some of them. They can confess only if there is
something to confess! Their lot is difficult."
had now come closer to the voice that was singing the "Lord
of golden-hued body" lyric. When the guard held up the torch
to cast light in that cell, they could see a young man
inside. He is an old acquaintance of ours; Sendan Amudan.
The Princess was touched by his pleasant, innocent, young
face. Kundavai asked him, "Are you the one who was singing?"
"You seem happy!"
"I have no
dearth of joy and happiness. The all pervading Lord is here
"You talk like a big philosopher. Who are
you young man? What was your occupation?"
neither a big philosopher nor a small philosopher. Amma!
When I lived outside, I strung flower garlands and offered
them to God. Here, I sing lyrics for our Lord."
are not only a philosopher, but also a poet. Is this the
only song you know? Do you know many other lyrics?"
"I know some other lyrics also. But, since I came here, I
have been singing this same song."
"When I came here, I walked through the
gold mint. I saw heaps of pure gold in quantities that I had
never imagined. It reminded me of our Lord with the
"You are blessed. People are
tempted by various passions when they see wealth. Your mind
was filled with thoughts of God. Don't you have any kith or
"Just a mother. She lives in the flower garden
in Tanjore's suburbs."
"I shall meet her and tell her that you are
happy and well here in this prison."
"It's of no use
Thaye. My mother can neither hear nor speak."
Kundavai was astonished. She asked, "Oh! Is your name Sendan
"Yes My Lady! You seem to be aware of this
poor fellow's name!" Sendan Amudan was equally surprised.
"Why did they bring you here? What crime did they charge you
"Till yesterday, I did not know what crime I
had committed. Today, I found out."
"What did you
"I found that I was arrested and
imprisoned for the crime of helping a spy."
that? Which spy did you help?"
"One day, I met a
foreign traveler outside Tanjore Fort. He said that he was
looking for a place to spend the night. I led him to my
house, not even dreaming that he could be a spy."
"Do you know his name?"
"He said that his name was
Vandiya Devan Vallavarayan. He said that he belonged to the
ancient Vaanar clan."
Kundavai and Vanathi looked at
each other. They seemed to agree about something. Vanathi
spoke, "Please tell us all the details, Sir!"
Amudan told his tale. He described everything from the
minute he had met Vandiya Devan outside Tanjore Fort till he
had been caught on the river bank by Pazluvoor soldiers.
Vanathi asked, "Why did you trust a strange adventurer like
that and help him so much?"
"Thaye! Sometimes we take
a liking to people just by looking at them. We are ready to
even give up our life for them. Who can explain why we feel
such emotions? Sometimes, if we see some fellows, we feel
like killing them immediately. Today, one man was imprisoned
in this same cell with me. The anger I felt against him was
limitless! Fortunately for him, he was freed a short while
ago by retainers of the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor."
"What?" asked Kundavai who could not control herself. She
bit her lips and tried to keep quiet. Her eyebrows were knit
in anger and nostrils trembling with rage.
that man? Freed in such a hurry? Do you know?"
know; apparently he is a son of the Doctor in Pazlayarai.
His name is Pinakapani."
"What outrageous things did
he say, that you wished to kill him?"
daughter Poonkuzlali lives at Kodi Karai. This man uttered
dishonorable words about her. That's why I was so angry with
him. But, he also gave me some good news; that's why I let
him go free!"
"What is that good news, young man?"
"Apparently this man had gone to Kodi
Karai with my friend Vandiya Devan. This wretch tried to
betray my friend over there by trying to help Pazluvoor
soldiers in finding him. But he could not succeed."
"Could not succeed? Did that spy escape?" Both Vanathi and
Kundavai asked this question eagerly. They had come this far
into the Dungeons of Tanjore only to find out this news.
"Yes, Ladies. My friend escaped. Apparently Poonkuzlali took
him in her boat by midnight and they had gone away to Lanka.
The searching soldiers were hoodwinked; this man was also
Both women looked at each other in
happiness. Their faces reflected their joy. Kundavai turned
back to Sendan Amudan and said, "Sir, how can you be so
happy about a spy escaping from royal soldiers? Perhaps it
is correct that you have been thrown in this prison."
"Thaye! If it is correct to imprison me for that crime, both
of you must be placed in this cell next to me!"
two women laughed. In that dark dungeon, their laughter was
just as curious as the song of Sendan Amudan.
are very clever. Very tricky! You will corrupt every one
else in this prison with your songs if we leave you here. I
will ask the Commander of this fort to arrange for your
release as soon as possible," promised Kundavai.
"Please do not do any such thing My Lady! There is a man in
the cell next to me. Every day he begs me to teach him to
sing. He repeats a hundred times, `If you teach me one song,
I'll tell you the secret of where the Pandiya crown jewels
are hidden in Lanka.' Let me remain here till I find out
that secret," said Sendan Amudan happily.
fellow! Are you ready to remain here till you also go mad
like him? What about the fate of your mother Vaani, if you
go mad like that?" With these words, Kundavai turned back.
Within half an hour, soldiers came to release Sendan Amudan
from the prison. They set him free outside Tanjore Fort.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 23 --Nandini's Letter
One evening, Nandini was
seated in her garden gazebo, on the swing seat covered with
a goose-down mattress. She was engaged in writing a letter.
She wrote a few lines; while phrasing the message, her body
shivered like a delicate creeper tossed in the winds. She
sighed heavily and quite often. Her forehead was beaded with
perspiration even in that cool evening, though her maid
Vasuki stood nearby, fanning her mistress with a fan of
peacock feathers. The letter included this passage:
"..... O' Prince, as I said, I venture to write this letter
with much hesitation, much fear. I hear all kinds of rumors
about the political situation. You don't seem to care about
anything. Though your father, weakened by illness has asked
you several times, you have refused to come back to Tanjore.
I wonder, if I am the cause for it; I am tortured by that
thought. If only I could meet you -- just once, I will be
able to clear all doubts. Will you kindly indulge me? If you
dislike coming to Tanjore, we can meet at Kadamboor, in
Sambuvaraya's fortress. Today, I am a grandmother to you by
relationship. Who can object to our meeting or talking? I
shall ask brave young Kandamaran to bring this letter to
you. He is Sambuvaraya's son and can be trusted completely.
You can send any message you wish through him. I, the most
unfortunate of beings -- Nandini, a sibling of all
wretchedness in the world -- write these words to you ...."
She really hesitated a lot while she wrote the words. After
quite some time, she completed the letter and sealed it. She
placed the roll of palmleaves in a tube-shaped casket and
sealed that letter-container also. At last she turned to her
maid, "Go! Go ask the Young Lord of Kadamboor to come here
The maid led Kandamaran into the gazebo
and stepped aside. Kandamaran balked to look at Nandini's
face. He stood there looking at something in the garden.
"Sir, please sit down," said Nandini with a tremble in her
voice. That made him turn back and stare at her face.
"There is nothing surprising that you do not wish to look at
me with your eyes that have gazed upon Kundavai's face!"
Nandini said this with a playful smile. His heart was split
open by her words; her smile dazzled him into dizziness.
In a very flustered voice he mumbled, "A thousand Kundavai's
cannot compare with one Nandini Devi!"
Kundavai shakes her little finger, you will fly up to the
heavens and bring back Lord Indra's throne! You won't even
sit down by my side even if I beg you."
sat down immediately, "If you order it I shall go to the
abode of Lord Brahma and bring his head for you if you
Nandini shivered. She looked away from him as
she spoke, "Even after Lord Shiva had plucked one head,
Brahma has been left with four heads. Even if you pluck one
more, Brahma will continue to live!"
"My Lady, talk
to me about anything you wish. Please do not mention
Kundavai Devi's name or praise her; my blood boils to think
that she is sympathetic to Vandiya Devan who betrayed my
"However, it is a fact that your
imagination was incredible when you met Kundavai. What a
fantastic description you gave, about that fight, the
wrestling match you had with your friend!" These words of
Nandini made him feel somewhat embarrassed.
"I had to
say something to explain how I had met him. That's why I
said it. But, it is true that he stabbed me."
don't you think it may be wise for you to try and remember
all the details of that incident, as it really happened?"
"Even you suspect my statement, My Lady?"
don't doubt you. But, you have forgotten some details.
Vandiya Devan will surely be arrested one of these days.
Then, this accusation by you must be proved correct, don't
"I don't really care. I still wish to
"I congratulate you for your
generosity. But, it is better that we make sure of the truth
between us. Try and remember, once again, everything that
happened on that night. When you came back through that
underground passage, you met me and Lord Pazluvoor. Do you
remember that?" asked Nandini.
"I remember very well.
I can never forget that meeting as long as I live."
"Do you recollect the words you spoke at that time?"
"I do not remember the exact words. I know that I was
mesmerized by seeing you."
"I remember your words
very well. `Sir, I have heard a lot about the beauty of your
daughter! Nothing that I heard compares with the reality
before my eyes.' -- that is what you said."
Lord! Is that what I said? Perhaps that is why he looked so
furious. Even now, he does not like me much..."
Nandini laughed and said, "It does not matter, if he does
not like you; I hope you like him? That should be enough!"
"My Lady, let me tell you the truth. There is no point in
hiding it from you. I too, do not like him," said Kandamaran
with some passion.
"Nothing wrong in that. I like
him; that's what matters. I must have performed several
penances to be rewarded a husband like him."
Kandamaran was completely confused by these words of
Nandini. He did not know what to say.
now. What did you do after meeting me in that underground
"That servant who held the torch went ahead
showing the way. I followed, filled with thoughts of you.
The servant opened the secret door and stepped aside. I
stepped into the exit-alcove -- and immediately, someone
stabbed me from behind. I lost consciousness. Vandiya Devan
must have been waiting outside, after somehow knowing that I
would come out there."
"No, Sir! Your surmise is
completely wrong. I don't think he waited outside."
"You too have joined his party!"
"Why should I join
his party? What do I gain by that? Or, what does he gain by
that? I think, I know what must have happened..."
"Tell me My Lady. Explain it to me."
was not waiting outside the fort..."
"Then, who was
waiting?" asked Kandamaran, without any patience.
"Nobody. All I said was, Vandiya Devan was not waiting
outside the fort. He must have been waiting inside that
"What?! How could that be
"That day, he vanished like a magician.
How could he vanish? Think about it -- somehow Vandiya Devan
managed to enter the treasure vault and find out all the
secrets of the underground chamber and it's passages. He
must have followed you in there. When the exit-alcove
opened, he struck you from behind and escaped through the
same door. After that his conscience must have pricked him.
He carried you to that mute-woman's house before he ran
"It must have happened just like you describe
it! I have no doubts now. All these days, my intellect did
not recognize it. No one else realized it. If any one asks
who is the most intelligent person in this nation, I'll say
without any hesitation, it is you! There are intelligent
people; and beautiful people. It is rare that one finds both
qualities in one creation. You have both -- intelligence and
beauty!" Kandamaran prattled with passion.
you saying all this from the bottom of your heart? Are you
merely flattering me like common men do with unfamiliar
"This is no flattery. I promise that I speak
what my heart feels."
"So, you trust me completely?
Will you trust me and help me with something?"
ready to do whatever I can."
"You must journey to
Kanchi on my behalf."
"I can go to Kasi on the banks
of the Ganga if you want!"
"You needn't go that far.
I shall give you a letter addressed to Prince Aditya
Karikala in Kanchi. You must deliver it to him and then you
must invite him to be your guest in your house at
"My Lady! Do you know what you are
saying? Are you not aware of the arrangements being made
about this Empire by your husband, my father and other
chieftains of this Kingdom?"
"I am fully aware of
that. In fact, I know more secrets. Your family, my family
and some other important families in this country are about
to face some grave dangers. Do you know who is behind that
"Tell me Dear Lady!"
"She who came
to visit you in my house. That witch."
"Oh dear! Do
you mean the Younger Pirati Kundavai Devi?" asked Kandamaran
with some confusion.
"Yes. I mean that poisonous
snake. One snake knows another. This Nandini knows the
tricks and intrigues of Kundavai. She has sent your friend
Vandiya Devan to Lanka. Do you know why? Collecting
medicines is utter falsehood. She is not anxious that
Sundara Chozla should survive. After him, neither
Madurandaka nor Karikala should ascend the throne. Her wish
is that her beloved younger brother Arulmozli should be
crowned. If Arulmozli ascends the Chozla throne, she can
rule him as she wishes. After that, Kundavai Devi is the
Empress of the Chozla Empire! Do you know who will be
Emperor? Your dear friend Vandiya Devan...."
that possible? It must be stopped at all costs. We must
inform my father and Lord Pazluvoor as soon as possible."
"There is no use in telling them. They won't believe us. We
must overcome Kundavai's tricks with cunning. If you help
me, we can do that."
"Order me, Dear Lady!"
"Here, carry this letter as carefully as you can and deliver
it to the Prince in Kanchi. Can you do that?" Saying this,
she extended her hand to gave him the casket-tube of
letters. Kandamaran who was completely ensnared in a net of
passion lost his senses and grabbed her hand instead of
taking the tube of letters. "I will do anything for you!" he
In that moment, a crunching noise was heard.
Lord Pazluvoor was hurrying down the path that connected his
mansion with the garden gazebo. The servant maid who was
surprised by his sudden arrival ran aside. A parrot, bound
by a chain, was perched on a metal triangle suspended near
the doorway of the gazebo. In his hurry, without really
being aware of it, Lord Pazluvoor had grabbed the parrot in
his palm. The rage in his heart flowed through his hand: the
bird flapped its wings in fright; the squeezing grip made
the parrot screech!
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 24 --Wax In Embers
The sound made by the
screeching parrot mingled with a fear laden cry of the
servant girl and startled both Nandini and Kandamaran. When
he turned around to find Lord Pazluvoor at the entryway,
Kandamaran was completely rattled. He wondered if the old
man would have heard the declarations he had just made;
particularly the words, `I too do not like Lord Pazluvoor.'
More terrifying was the thought that he might misunderstand
the intimacy between him and Nandini. He was petrified! Old
men who married young girls were peculiar and suspicious.
Was that the cause for the rage on his face? What will he
do? I must be prepared for anything.
raced through Kandamaran's mind in a flash. However, on that
day he had the opportunity to witness a most astonishing
scene. The amazing scene happened contrary to all his
When Lord Pazluvoor stepped inside the
gazebo, Nandini turned to him and smiled, blinking her
large, dark eyes. She said, "My Lord! I was concerned that
you may be delayed much longer in your journey. Fortunately,
you have come back."
On looking at her and hearing
her voice, Lord Pazluvoor's anger vanished. He melted like
wax thrown upon burning embers. He laughed a foolish laugh
and said, "Yes; my job was done; I came back." He then
looked at Kandamaran, "What is this young fellow doing here?
Is he composing love poems for you?" After asking this, he
laughed at his own joke.
Kandamaran's face became
red. Nandini laughed louder than Lord Pazluvoor and said,
"He knows nothing about love or poetry. The only thing he
knows is to fight and be wounded. Luckily, his wound is now
healed. He was talking about returning home."
can one say about the bravery of modern youth! I have
participated in more than twenty-four campaigns and have
borne more than sixty wounds. I had never taken to a
sickbed. He needed more than half a month to heal his single
wound. But, all my wounds were on my shoulders, face, chest
and head. This youth was wounded on his back! That's why it
took so many days -- it's justified" He laughed mockingly.
Kandamaran was enraged, "Sir, you are akin to my father. I
tolerate your teasing insults because of that."
"Really! What can you do otherwise, boy?" asked Lord
Pazluvoor as his hand sought the hilt of the sword by his
Nandini intervened, "My Lord, his wound in
not merely physical. You are aware that his heart is also
injured. The thought that a man he had considered a dearest
friend could stab him like this on his back, wounded his
heart. The physical wound had healed but the pain in his
heart is still alive. We shouldn't hurt him further by our
words. That night -- the night he was wounded -- Don't you
remember what happened that night, Sir?" Nandini looked up
into Lord Pazluvoor's eyes with a meaningful stare. Lord
Pazluvoor's appearance was transformed.
"Yes; you are
correct. He is an ignorant youth and his father is my dear
friend. I should not be perturbed by his foolish remarks.
Forget that. Nandini, I came here to give you some important
news. He can also hear it. I believe a man has been arrested
on suspicion as a spy at Mattotam in Lanka. Apparently he
had a sealed letter addressed to Arulmozli. Based on the
descriptions, I think it could be this man's dearest friend.
That fellow must be really capable. See how he escaped our
men and landed in Lanka."
Both men did not see the
expression that flashed across Nandini's face for one
Kandamaran asked with some disappointment,
"Did he escape? Has he gone to Lanka?"
"My Lord, I am
not surprised about his escaping to Lanka. I have told you
many times that your brother does not have the capability to
command this fort. His men are just like him!" said Nandini.
"When you said that about him, I was not ready to believe
you. Now, I am beginning to agree. Listen to another odd
story. Apparently, a signet ring with our Pazluvoor symbol
was found in the possession of the spy arrested at Mattotam.
He refused to reveal anything about how he came to possess
that signet ring..."
Nandini sighed lightly, "How
odd! How did he get our palmtree signet? What does you
brother say about it?"
"He.. If you hear what he
said, you will laugh. Kalanthaka says that the signet ring
must have gone to the spy from you." Upon saying this, Lord
Pazluvoor laughed a thundering laugh. Bushes trembled and
the gazebo shook.
Nandini joined in his laughter,
"There is nobody as sharp-witted as my brother-in-law in the
"Do you know what else he said, your
brother-in-law? It is even more funny! He said that once
while you were outside Tanjore Fort in your palanquin, you
met that handsome youngster; that charming young man had
even come to this palace! So you must have personally given
our signet ring to that young spy. If not, it must have been
given through that Sorcerer who comes to meet you so often.
My brother tells me all these imaginary tales to hide his
mistakes!" Lord Pazluvoor continued to laugh noisily.
"I should not cast aspersions on your brother's intellect.
It is definitely as good as leaf buds on a pounding block. I
am surprised that you kept quiet, listening to all these
accusations." Her facial expression had changed once again;
anger made her lips tremble and eyes sparkle with embers.
Lord Pazluvoor was one of the bravest men on earth, who had
faced many lances and swords on the battle field; he could
not handle this petty anger of Nandini. His posture and
words seemed vulnerable. "My Dear, did you think I was
listening to him passively? I scolded him for his
incompetence and almost reduced him to tears. Even you would
have felt sorry for him, if you had seen him."
Kandamaran who was listening to this interchange felt very
uncomfortable. He was filled with a certain fear about
Nandini and a certain pity and contempt for Lord Pazluvoor.
He wished to leave before getting involved in this tiff
between husband and wife. He cleared his throat and said,
Nandini looked around, "In talking about the
talents of your brother, we completely forgot this young
gentleman. He says that he wants to go home, can he go?"
"He is welcome. His father must be worried that he stayed
back in Tanjore for such a long time."
"I wish to
send a letter with him. May I do that?"
"To the Prince in Kanchi."
Pazluvoor looked at both Nandini and Kandamaran with
distrust and asked, "A letter for the Prince! From you?
"The Younger Pirati has written a letter to her
younger brother and sent it through his friend. Why
shouldn't the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor write a letter to the
elder brother and send it through him?" asked Nandini.
"Was that letter carried by his friend written by Kundavai
Pirati? How did you know this?" asked Lord Pazluvoor.
"Why do you think I consult the Sorcerer so often? I found
out by his spells. You are aware of the competence of your
brother's men. Look at this, they found out and reported
that the spy had our signet ring; but, they did not report
that the letter was sent by Kundavai."
"Our men did
not bring the report about the signet ring. Anbil
Brahma-raya has just returned from Rameswaram. He brought
"At least, did that brahmin tell you
about Kundavai's letter?"
"My Lord! You
must take heed of my warnings. Every official in this Empire
is gathering together and scheming against you. You must
realize the truth now! I am not saying things just because
of revelations by the Sorcerer. I summoned the Doctor's son
who was arrested at Kodi Karai and brought here, and
questioned him in detail. He confirmed the news that
Kundavai had sent the letter to her brother."
Pazluvoor felt lost, as if someone had bound his eyes and
left him in a pathless forest. He was looking at Kandamaran
with irritation. He did not like to discuss such secrets in
front of the youngster.
Nandini recognized the cause
for this irritation. "There is no end to our story. Why
should this man's journey be delayed?" She turned to
Kandamaran, "Sir! Please deliver this letter directly to the
Prince at Kanchi. After delivering this letter, if he gives
any letter in reply, you must make arrangements to forward
it carefully to me. Don't forget to invite the Prince to
your fortress at Kadamboor."
"What should I tell my
father? May I say that this is approved by the Lord of
Pazluvoor?" asked Kandamaran with some hesitation.
"You can say that without any qualms. My wish is Lord
Pazluvoor's will. Am I correct My Lord?" asked Nandini.
"Yes; yes." Lord Pazluvoor shook his head though he
understood nothing. He was confused and he could not say
anything against Nandini's wishes.
left, Nandini turned her mesmerizing eyes on Lord Pazluvoor.
She spoke with a honey sweet voice, "My Dear Lord! I think
you have lost your trust in me. My brother-in-law's jealous
slander has won."
"Never Nandini, never! I might
loose trust in my sword and in my spear. But, I will not
distrust you. I might loose faith in the heavens meant for
the brave, but, I shall never loose faith in you."
"Then, why did you question me like that in front of that
youth? I felt so disgraced!" Tears filled her eyes as she
Lord Pazluvoor was bewildered, "Don't My
Darling! Don't punish me like this!" He wiped her tears with
his scarf and picked up her hands, consoling her with
mumbled words. "But, I do not understand some of your
actions. Don't I have a right to ask why or what?"
"You have that right; it is my duty to reply. Who denied
that? All I ask is that you should not question me in front
of strangers. Now that we are alone, ask me whatever you
"Why are you writing to Aditya Karikala? Why
did you want him to be invited to Kadamboor? Is he not the
first enemy to our plans?"
"No. Aditya Karikala is
not our first enemy. That snake from Pazlayarai is our first
enemy. I invited her to our house for a reason; I am writing
to Karikala and inviting him to Kadamboor for that same
reason. My Lord! Try and recall what I have said several
times. I have told you that Younger Pirati Kundavai has some
unique secret plan. I have found out that secret. She is
determined to discard the claims of everybody and place her
darling Arulmozli on this throne at Tanjore. That is why she
has sent a messenger to Lanka. That is why she has come to
Tanjore. We must destroy her plans with counter schemes.
Now, do you understand why I am sending the letter to
Kanchi?" Nandini's questioning gaze confused Lord
Pazluvoor's intellect completely.
incoherently, "Yes, I understand," though he understood
"My Lord, this Empire has grown in greatness
and power because of the service by you and your
forefathers. I cannot sleep even a wink, by night or day,
till I have placed you on the golden throne of this Empire.
Until that day, if you suspect me or distrust me for any
reason, please kill me with one stroke of your sword."
"My Darling, do not torture me with such horrible orders!"
said Lord Pazluvoor.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 25 --The City Of Mattotam
It has been some time since
we parted company from Vandiya Devan, the hero of this tale.
We have tarried too long in Tanjore City. During this time,
our friend Vandiya Devan had walked along the north-west
coast of Lanka and reached the great City of Mattotam on the
banks of River Palavi. The city, situated on the seashore
across the channel from Rameswaram, was pleasing to the eyes
with tall trees and green gardens. The coast was lush with
groves of mango, jack, coconut, palmyra, areca, plantain and
sugarcane. Monkeys played on treetops; bees hummed
symphonies and parrots spoke baby-talk.
dashed against the city's fortress walls and raised a
roaring murmur. The harbor was filled with large ships and
small craft. Goods from such vessels was piled in mounds on
the waterfront. There were many changes since the times of
Saints Sambanda and Sundara Murti. Now, the streets of
Mattotam were not filled with many pilgrims going to the
temple of Lord Kedeswara. Soldiers bearing shield and sword,
men carrying sharp spears now wandered the by-ways and lanes
which used to be filled with the devout who delighted in
singing the Lord's praises.
In the past hundred
years, the city had more or less transformed into a center
for war. Armies coming for the Lankan war from the Tamil
country landed at that port. Returning forces usually
embarked from the same harbor. The city had changed hands
several times. It used to be under the control of Lanka's
Singhalese Kings for a while and later under Pandiya
command. Since Paranthaka's times it was in the hands of
Vandiya Devan arrived at the gates of
this fort that was the headquarters for various army
campaigns. He told the guards that he wished to enter the
fort. The soldiers refused entry. Therefore, he tried the
trick which he had used in Kadamboor long ago: he tried to
surprise the guards and fight his way into the fort. But,
these soldiers arrested him and took him before their
captain. Vandiya Devan told that captain, that he was
carrying important letters for Prince Arulmozli and he could
discuss more details only with the Chozla Commander. They
searched his person and belongings and found a sealed
letter-roll addressed to Ponniyin Selvan, with some covering
letters for safe passage and also a signet ring with the
palmtree emblem of Pazluvoor.
At that time, the Elder
Lord Velir, Bhoothi Vikrama Kesari of Kodumbalur was the
Commander of the Chozla forces in Lanka. The Captain of
Mattotam reported the incident to him. Commander Bhoothi
Vikrama was in conference with Prime Minister Anirudda
Brahma-raya. He had been intending to go up to Rameswaram
with the Prime Minister. Therefore, he said that would make
enquiries after coming back from the mainland; the man was
to be placed under guard till his return.
led Vandiya Devan to a mansion in disrepair and locked him
up in one of it's rooms. Vandiya Devan was tired by his long
journey. In a way he was happy about being arrested. Perhaps
he could get a day or two of rest from travel! On the first
day he was able to enjoy such a rest. But, on the second
day, a nuisance appeared.
He began hearing most
peculiar noises from the next room. Some fellow was
threatening another; his brave threats were quite
remarkable! "Here you!" "Get lost!" "Don't move, don't come
near!" "Chee!" "I'll kill you if you move!" "Careful, I'll
smash you up!" "Your life is not yours! You will surely
enter the world of death!" Some fellow was shouting in this
fashion in the next room. The recipient of these threats did
not reveal himself. There was no voice of reply. Vandiya
Devan wondered if it could be some soldier who had gone mad.
Oh Dear! Is he going to ruin my night's sleep? Even this
little rest is threatened!
"Won't you listen? You
won't go away! Fine, see what I'll do to you!" A few seconds
after these words, a small bundle fell `thud' in his room.
Vandiya Devan who had been lying down, sat up with a
startle. He peered at the bundle that had fallen in his
room. He could not control his laughter and laughed merrily.
The bundle thrown from the next room was a cat!
You can even laugh! Laugh as much as you want but, don't
come back!" said the voice from the next room.
mad fellow; no doubt about that! Who else will argue with a
cat? Who else will think that a cat could laugh?
Nonetheless, the voice seems vaguely familiar. I have heard
it somewhere, sometime ago -- who could it be? Let me think.
Vandiya Devan went back to his corner to lie down. He closed
his eyes and tried to sleep. Something tickled his toes. It
was the cat -- nuzzling against his feet! Oh Lord! How am I
to sleep with this bedfellow? He pushed it away and closed
his eyes once more. Something touched his palms softly. The
cat was purring by his side! He pushed it away once more,
firmly. The cat walked away to the opposite corner. He
rolled around and tried to go back to sleep. The cat came
back to sit by his head and gently caress his face with it's
Vandiya Devan, who had bravely borne the sharp
touch of arrows and swords could not bear this caress from
the cat! He sat up and picked up the cat by its neck. There
was a gaping hole at the top of the wall that separated his
room from the next. He threw the cat into that hole made by
fallen bricks. It was total commotion in the next room for
some minutes. A man's enraged cries mingled with the
caterwauling yells of the cat. Finally, "Get lost! Go!" said
the man. Meowing cries from the cat could be heard for a
while. Then silence. Vandiya Devan went to sleep. -- A
pleasant dream: Kundavai Pirati was sitting by his side and
caressing his face. What a difference between the cat's tail
and the Princess's gentle fingers! -- He woke up with a
start and felt dejected that the dream had ended.
Someone was gently rapping on the wall from the next room.
It must be that mad man.
"Who is that? Who threw the
cat in here?"
Vandiya Devan did not reply. He kept
quiet and listened. A scratching sound like the cat. No. It
was someone on the other side, trying to pry the bricks from
the hole on the wall. Vandiya Devan listened without getting
up. As a precaution his hand grabbed the knife by his side.
Two hands emerged from the hole on top of the wall. Then a
turbaned head appeared. The face peered into his room. Aha!
Isn't he Azlvar-adiyan Nambi? He looked different with the
turban; but, it is him! Why has this fellow appeared here?
How did he come here? Did he know that I was here? Is he
going to help, or hinder?
Vandiya Devan called out,
"Dear Mr. Nambi of the Vaishnava faith! Welcome! Welcome to
this holy city of the Saiva shrine of Lord Kedeswara!
"Thambi, is it you? I should have guessed!
Who else can sit quiet as a mouse like this?" Azlvar-adiyan
jumped into the room.
Ponniyin Selvan part 2 :
Chapter 26 --A Sword That Wanted Blood
Vandiya Devan felt disquiet
about how and why that fanatic Vaishnava had come there. He
did not reveal his fears. "What a coincidence! I was just
thinking about you. I look up and you jump down the wall!
The saying, `Good fortune will come pouring down the roof!'
must be true."
"Dear Man! Were you thinking of me?
Why? Why did you think of this mortal human being? There
would have been some use if you had contemplated on the good
"I must really compliment you on your
intuition; I was really thinking of Lord Rama. I could
glimpse at the towers of Rameswaram Temple across the sea
when I came here. I was thinking about Rama praying to Shiva
in that holy town to atone for the sin of killing Ravana."
"Stop! Stop this immediately."
"No, Sir! No! I
cannot! I have been quiet too long. My legs ache because of
walking miles and miles along this coast. I am tired. Please
sit down and listen. Like I told you, I was thinking of Lord
Rama; I also remembered his devout disciple, Hanuman the
monkey. When I thought of Hanuman, I remembered you! Just
then, you jumped into this room! Did you merely jump across
this wall or did you also leap across the sea like Hanuman
the monkey?" asked Vandiya Devan.
"Thambi, Hanuman is
the best among the devout. Don't compare me with him. When
Hanuman came to Lanka, he killed heroes like Akshaya and
other demons. I could not handle a simple cat! See how the
cat scratched me and wounded me." Azlvar-adiyan pointed out
his bleeding limbs.
"Oh Dear! Is that what happened?
But, why did you pick a fight with a mere cat?"
did not pick a fight. The cat came and picked a quarrel with
"How was that, Sir?"
"I came in search of
you. I fooled the gatekeeper of this mansion and leaped
across the garden wall. That foolish cat was deliberately
sunning itself at the exact spot where I placed my legs! My
foot merely touched it's tail, but that ferocious cat
attacked me with its claws. Thambi, listen to this: one can
fight a tiger easily or even handle a rogue elephant. But,
one should never tussle with a cat," advised Azlvar-adiyan
"Mr. Nambi, I know a secret..."
"That cat had come here also, to visit me in
this room. It caressed my forehead with its tail and nuzzled
against my hands lovingly. It did not scratch me! But, it
has attacked you. Do you know why? Because, it is a devout
Saiva cat that does not like fanatic followers of Vishnu."
"Really? I did not think of that! If I had known that it was
a foolish Saiva cat, I would have served it some hallowed
hits with my staff."
"It's good that you did not
bring your staff. Because, since stepping into this city, my
blood has begun to boil with fanatic Saiva zeal. This sword
in my scabbard has been begging for the blood of a fanatic
Vaishnava. I'm controlling its urge because of the help you
"Thambi, I don't remember helping you."
"Sir, didn't you tell me about your sister, Nandini Devi of
"Yes; I had told you about her."
"Remember, you pointed her out when she was in her covered
palanquin near Kadamboor and when she parted the
"Yes. So what?"
"Listen. I saw
that palanquin once again outside Tanjore Fort. The
palanquin bearers came and deliberately dashed against my
horse. I cried for justice and parted the curtains of that
"Who was inside?"
of Pazluvoor, Nandini Devi herself!"
"You are lucky.
Though I have tried several times, I have not been able to
meet Nandini. You managed it somehow."
strikes unexpectedly, like that!"
mentioned your name. I told her that you had sent a very
important message for her."
"Thambi, I have seen
several fellows; but, never one for uttering lies like you."
"Sir, my ancestors were very fond of poets and bards. In
fact many of them had composed poems..."
"The blood of my poetic ancestors flows
in my veins also. My imagination blooms and thrives
sometimes. Commoners like you think that my creativity is
"Fantastic! What happened with Nandini?"
"Nandini Devi was very pleased with my imagination and
creativity. She presented a beautiful ivory ring to honor
me. She even invited me to come and visit her in her
"Why not? I visited her
immediately. Nandini Devi was made aware of my brave,
courageous, dauntless gallantry by announcements made by my
own capable self. Being impressed, she assigned an important
task for me."
Crown Jewels of Madurai Pandiyas are hidden somewhere in the
mountains of this Lanka. She ordered me to somehow find
those jewels and bring them to her! I did not realize that
it was such a difficult task."
"People say that the
jewels in Lord Pazluvoor's treasury can equal a thousand
donkey-loads. All that is not enough for his Young-Queen.
How is she going to reward you for bringing the Pandiya
"She promised to dismiss Lord Kalanthaka
from his duties as Commander of Tanjore and give that job to
"Very good Thambi. If you get the Command of
Tanjore, I will have permission to enter and leave Tanjore
Fort without any questions, won't I?"
But, how am I to get that Command? I have been locked up
like this, in this city." Vandiya Devan spoke with some
"Why did you get caught? Why have they
locked you up? Do you know?"
"I was carrying the
signet ring given by the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. I thought
that it may have magical powers in this city also. It was a
mistake," said Vandiya Devan.
"Yes, it was a
humongous mistake. Here, the Commander is the Elder Lord of
Kodumbalur. Don't you know about the bitter rivalry between
the clans of Kodumbalur and Pazluvoor?"
"I did not
know that! I was caught and I do not know what to do..."
"Thambi, don't worry."
"How can I not worry?"
"I have come here to free you."
"Once upon a time I asked you to help me and you refused.
But, I am going to help you. Get up and come with me. Let us
escape from this prison immediately."
"Mr. Nambi, I
suggest that you leave this room as soon as possible."
"My sword has begun to cry again, `I
want the blood of this fanatic Vaishnava!' it says."
"Let it cry. I have plenty of blood in my veins. Let your
sword drink it's fill. You come with me."
"I am very sleepy; I
have not slept for several nights. I have decided to sleep
well tonight. That's why I threw the cat away."
"Thambi, why do you talk foolishly like this? Is this how
you are going to accomplish the task that Kundavai assigned?
Did you not agree to travel by day and night, without rest,
till you deliver the letter to Ponniyin Selvan?"
Azlvar-adiyan now unbound his scarf and handed the roll of
letters and some other things to Vandiya Devan.
Vandiya Devan accepted them eagerly. He had decided that
Nambi was trying to trick him with cunning and learn his
secrets by foolish chatter. He changed his opinion. "Mr.
Nambi, how did you get these?"
Vikrama gave them to me. He asked me to return this
Pazluvoor signet ring also. We can leave on a journey
whenever you are ready."
"Sir, I submit my heartfelt
"Keep your thanks to yourself. You can give
them to me at another time."
"Sir, do you know the
whereabouts of Prince Arulmozli?"
"No one knows that.
He has gone to the mountain country from Anuradapura. We
have to find him. The Commander has ordered me to go with
you as your guide. I'll come if you agree."
Devan became suspicious once again, "Mr. Nambi, I would like
to meet the Commander before we leave."
can leave only after you meet the Commander. We cannot leave
before you have given him news of Lady Vanathi Devi!"
On hearing these words, Vandiya Devan wondered if that
religious fanatic was a dabbler in magic or sorcery.