Book 3 | Chapter 23 | Vanathi
Chapter 23: Vanathi
Poets would compare Vanathi to the beauty of dusk, the one that bids farewell to the day and welcomes the beautiful stars. She was always in one of two phases these days – either she looked tired and worried, as if she was shouldering the largest of worries; or she looked like the maidens of heaven, bubbling with unending energy.
This was partly due to the situation during her birth and how she grew up. When she was in her mother’s womb, her father was fighting in wars, and so her mother was always anxiously awaiting news about him. One could possibly attribute her anxiety pangs to this. After Vanathi was born, her mother passed away. She was lovingly brought up by her father. After some time, the commander could not stay at home, and left for Lanka to firm up the Chozha stance there. She was brought up alone, but lovingly, in her palace at Kodumbalur. People close to her kept telling her that she would one day give birth to a son as brave as her father. And she daydreamed. She dreamed of her son traveling to distant lands and conquering them. She dreamed of him coming back to her, and telling her of all of his conquests. She saw him wearing the grand crown and sitting on the throne, all in her dreams.
She saw kings of distant lands coming and paying their respects to her son. She saw crowds of citizens looking at him lovingly. She saw him at the helm of large ships going off on rough seas to conquer lands. She heard him attribute all his success to her. As time passed, she realised that she needed to wed someone to be able to bear such a son. After moving to the Pazhayarai palace, her life changed. She was in awe at how the Princess carried herself, and tried her best to be like her. That is where she met the Prince, the son of Cauvery, and the favourite of the entire Chozha people. Dreams of her son slowly faded, and the Prince took over her heart. When the Prince went to Lanka, her heart moved to Lanka. She longed to see him. He seemed so far away now. The words of the Kudandai Josiyar, predicting the greatness of a son that she would bear, echoed within her.
Her separation from the Prince, and the hopes of marrying him, made her alternate between happiness, despair and sadness. The stress in her mind and heart made her faint many times.
The stage play about King Parantaka that they had witnessed in Thanjavur, reminded her of the silent dissent between the Pazhuvoor clan and the Kodumbalur one. Would the Pazhuvoor vassal kings allow her to marry the Prince? Would the Pazhuvoor Rani, Nandini, allow it. She treated Nandini as an enemy, as a poisonous snake, in fact.
She remembered the delirious Emperor pleading for mercy that night. She recalled seeing someone very similar to Nandini standing in front of the Emperor. She wondered why the Princess Kundavai did not want to talk about that incident with her. She also thought that the Princess had become more sullen and sadder after returning from Thanjavur. She thought the Princess was probably thinking about the safety of her brother. She missed the Princess terribly.
She had not seen the Princess since morning. Since she could not stand the boisterous banter of the rest of the anthapuram girls, she set out in search of the Princess. She had heard that there was a gathering at the Queen Matron’s palace, but when she reached there, she found that the sabha had dispersed and the Queen Matron and her son, Madhuranthakan, were in a private meeting. For some reason, this seemed to raise suspicion in her. She went back to her palace and enquired with everyone about where they had last seen the Princess. One of them had mentioned that she had seen the Princess speaking with Alwarkadiyan and that they had both walked towards the lake at the back of the palace.
Vanathi hesitated to head in that direction. The Princess usually did not like being disturbed in such situations.
Just at that time, one of the girls came running. “Ponniyin Selvar has drowned in the ocean, while returning from Lanka,” she announced and broke down sobbing.
Vanathi was shocked. She ran towards the lake. She had to see the Princess. Of late, she seemed to see the Prince’s face in all water surfaces. She saw no reason to live any longer. She knew that the lake at the back of the palace joined the River Arasalar, which joined the ocean. She wanted to reach Ponniyin Selvan, even if it was at the bottom of the ocean.
She ran towards the steps of the lake. She saw a boat returning back. She saw the Princess. She saw the young man that she had seen earlier at the Kudandai Josiyar’s house, the same man, whom she had sent to Lanka with a message to the Prince. “The princess must be aware of this news then. She has probably not shared it with me because I will despair. She will now come and stop me from joining the Prince. No one can stop me now. I have to reach the prince,” she thought. Flooded by desperation, she soon fainted and fell in the water. She felt herself drowning deeper and deeper in the water.
After a while she reached the bottom of the ocean. She saw beautiful palaces made of gold and jewels. She walked into the nearest palace, and found the Prince waiting for her, with garlands in his hand. She felt faint and fell. Two arms raised her. She thought it was the Prince. She heard the sound of bangles instead.
“Vanathi, why did you do this? Why did you make this decision?”
Slowly she opened her eyes. “Akka, why did you not come to my wedding?”
The picture is of the moovar kovil at Kodumbalur.