Book 2 | Chapter 17 | Coronation Memories

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

So far, the Emperor had been narrating the story in a third person perspective. He now continued telling as if it was his own story.

“Kundavai, I am going to now tell you some things that I have not told anyone. Only my close friend Aniruddhan knows these events. Even he does not know all of it. These are things that no father would have to tell his own child. But I cannot get myself to tell this to your mother or to your brothers. I am sure you will listen and not laugh at me.”

“From that island, I took the boat to the mainland towards Kodikkarai. I headed straight to Thanjavur, where my grandfather, Paranthakar, was on his death bed.”

“When I reached there, I realised that the great Chozha Empire was in the throes of being shattered into a thousand pieces. The heir to the throne, Rajaditta Chozhan had died in the Thakkolam war. My father Arunjayar had also been grievously wounded in the same war and was fighting for his life. The Canara forces were aggressively striking Thondai Mandalam. Pandiya forces were advancing in the west. In the east, our forces had lost the war in Lanka. My grandfather was a dejected man. The kingdom that he had built over 40 years was on the brink of destruction.”

“At this stage, when he saw me, he saw hope. I had always been his favourite grandson. When I was young, he would never let me out of his sight. I had adamantly left for the Eezham war without his consent. When the forces told him that I was missing, he had continuously been sending ships towards Lanka to search for me. One such search party had found me.”

“He looked at me with hope. He saw a ruler in me. His astrologers had also confirmed the same. On his deathbed, he told me that, after him, my uncle Kandaraaditha Chozhan would take up the throne, and after him, I should become Emperor. He made me promise that ruling this Chozha Kingdom virtuously should be my life’s ambition.”

“My mind was never at peace. It always went back to the tribal girl who had saved my life once. How could I forget her? But, how could I make her my queen? How could I make a tribal deaf and dumb girl as the queen of the Chozha Empire? What would my subjects think of me?”

“Soon after, my grandfather passed away. My uncle, Kandaraaditha Chozhan was crowned Emperor, and I was crowned heir to the Empire.”

“Kundavai, do you see how much love the Chozha subjects shower on your younger brother, Arulmozhi? In those times, they showered me with the same love.”

“On the evening of the coronation ceremony, my uncle and I went up to the upper terrace of the palace to present ourselves to the people. When we stepped out, the crowd roared and cheered in happiness. One could genuinely see the happiness in each of the faces.”

“Suddenly, among those thousands gathered to see us, one face captured my attention – the one sad face in the entire gathering. She had tears in her eyes. The sadness was palpable. It was her – the tribal deaf and dumb girl from the island. My eyes were fixed on her. I saw visions of her face becoming bigger and coming closer. My head was spinning. My legs lost their strength. I fainted. The others thought that I was tired because of all the coronation ceremonies happening since morning.”

“Later, when I gained consciousness, I called my dear friend Aniruddhan to my side, and asked him to go and find the girl. They searched the entire city but could not find her. I asked Aniruddhan to send people to search for her all over the kingdom.”

“Eventually, Aniruddhan’s men reached Kodikkarai where they found a dumb girl at the lighthouse keeper’s house. The men reported that the girl was in a state of madness. However much the men had tried to explain to her, she had refused to come to Thanjavur.”

“After a few restless days, Aniruddhan and I set off to Kodikkarai. We drove our horses as fast as we could. My thoughts were clouded and confused me. What could I do, if I did met her at Kodikkarai? It was also most unfortunate that I was born a very beautiful boy, and as I had grown up, the entire kingdom was enamoured by my beauty – so much so that, the people of the kingdom completely changed my name from Paranthaka Chozhan to Sundara Chozhan. How could I, who was so worshipped, loved, and admired by my people, take this dumb girl back to Thanjavur or Pazhayarai as my queen?”

“The girl somehow had made my life easier. When we reached Kodikkarai, we heard that the day after Aniruddhan’s men had come asking for her, she had climbed atop the lighthouse and plunged into the ocean. A couple of folks had seen her jump and alerted others. They had taken their boats and searched for her, but could not find her. It was sadly assumed that she had committed suicide and Samudrarajan had engulfed her.”

“My mind was split in two. One half was splintered at the loss of her. The other half seemed to be at peace. The question of what would I do with her was now answered. With these conflicting thoughts, I returned to Thanjavur. I immersed myself in royal affairs. I won wars and expanded the kingdom. I married your mother. I had two beautiful sons, and then you.”

“However, I still could not forget her death. The sight of her jumping from the top of the lighthouse into the ocean still vividly comes to mind. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a shock. I have always assured others around me that it was a bad dream of scenes from the various wars that I had been through.”

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

The Emperor seemed to look into a distance with glazed eyes.

“Appa! You have lived with this guilt and suffering for so many years. No wonder, your illness has grown worse over the years. Now that you have told me about it, I feel that your heart will be lighter and you will become stronger.”

Kundavai’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“I can see that you do not believe in ghosts. But, the ghost of the dumb girl comes here often. She stands beside that pillar, behind that lamp there. If you do not believe me, ask your friend Vanathi. I am sure she saw the ghost too. I think she must have fainted only after seeing the ghost.”

“Appa, Vanathi is a very fearful person by nature. She would run in fear even if she saw a pillar in the darkness. I doubt if she saw or heard anything the other night. It is a surprise to me that she is of the courageous warrior clan of Kodumbalur.”

“Anyway, let us not talk about Vanathi. Let me finish what I have to say.”

“Do you remember the day when we were all sailing down the Ponni river – the day when the young Arulmozhi suddenly went missing? Do you remember the lady who came in the water with the young boy in her arms?”

“Yes, Appa, how I can I forget that day?”

“Do you remember that after taking Arulmozhi and handing him to people in the boat, I also fell unconscious? You all thought that I had fainted due to the stressful events of the day.” Kundavai nodded silently.

“It was not the stressful events, my dear girl. If you remember, the lady from the water vanished soon after I had taken the boy from her. All of you had decided that it was the Goddess Kaveri.”

The old king paused.

“It was not the Goddess. The lady who gave me Arulmozhi was the deaf and dumb girl from Lanka – the same lady love of mine. Had she really died? Was this a ghost? I fainted in confusion.”

“Do you remember the day of your brother’s coronation as Crown Prince? Karikalan had come to the anthapuram, and I had followed him in. I saw her again, this time, amidst the ladies of the palace. She was there glaring at Karikalan with such contempt. That was when I had fainted again. The ghost has been haunting me ever since.”

“In recent times, she has been coming down here in the middle of the night, and warning me. It seems that she has forgiven me for driving her to her death. But she has been warning me that I should not be committing the same sin again. She has been telling me that I should not be giving the kingdom to someone who does not rightfully inherit it.”

The old king caught his daughter’s hands and said, “Will you help me, Kundavai? I do not want this cursed kingdom to go to my sons. Please help me to dispose it off to Madhuranthakan.”

“I have been stuck with this guilty consciousness ever since I became the heir to the throne, and again, when I was made emperor. I felt terrible that I became king when my uncle’s son was still alive. I am being cursed now for what I had done before.”

“Let Karikalan also not have this kingdom, nor Arulmozhi. Let them not inherit a cursed kingdom. Let Madhuranthakan have it. I would like Madhuranthakan to be crowned when I am still alive. After that, I will go off to Karikalan’s golden palace in Kanchi, and rest in peace.”

“Appa, will the Royal Matron agree to this?”

“That is where I need your help. I need you to bring her here. I wonder why the wise Royal Matron had not thought of this before. I wonder what she has against her own son. Why did she have to do all this? Anyway, now that Madhuranthakan has a desire to ascend the throne, it is only right that she agrees to crown him as the head of this kingdom.”

“Appa, it is not enough if one has the desire. One must have the capability to rule this kingdom.”

“How can he not have the capability – he who was born to Emperor Kandaraaditha and the Royal Matron?”

“The subjects of this kingdom will never accept him.”

“My girl, if you ask the subjects, they would have crowned your younger brother, Arulmozhi, as the heir by now. Would that have been right? Would Arulmozhi have accepted it? Not everything should be done according to the wishes of the subjects. Now, please help me. Please request the Royal Matron to come and visit me.”

“I will ensure that she comes. Until then, you take care of yourself.”

On the way out, she paid her respects to Queen Vaanama Devi.

Things were slowly beginning to clear up in Kundavai’s mind. The smoke was clearing up. She began to realise that this was all part of a treacherous plot by a group of people trying to capture the kingdom. She realised that her father, her brothers, and the family were in grave danger. She also realised that she was now bearing the heavy responsibility of protecting her family from this danger.

Book 2 | Chapter 16 | The Emperor confides to his daughter

That was when that the warrior realised that the girl was deaf and dumb. The warrior’s heart broke. Yet, his love for the girl increased. He did not feel that the loss of the two senses was significant. Her expressive eyes compensated for them.”

The next morning, the Emperor summoned his favourite daughter. He ordered the doctor, soldier, and others to go out of the room, so that he could speak in private to her.

“Appa, are you angry with me?”

“Why should I be angry with my dear girl?”

“I defied your orders and came to Thanjavur.”

“Yes. You should not have come here. This palace is not amenable for young girls like you to live in. You should now be aware of what happened last night? I am talking about the way the Kodumbalur princess was found unconscious yesterday night. How is she now?”

“She is fine now. She used to be like this even in Pazhayarai. She used to faint often, but then she would recover very quickly.”

“Did you ask her if she saw or heard anything in this palace that caused her to faint?”

“Yes. I asked, and she was saying something about losing her way trying to find the terrace. She was also saying that she heard someone crying piteously for help. And then she became afraid and fainted.”

“That is what I also thought. And this is why I do not want you to stay here. There are ghosts in this palace that roam around in the night.”

The Emperor shivered and his eyes glazed.

“If that is so, why are you still here in Thanjavur? Should you and mother not come to Pazhayarai too? I do not see any improvement in your health, by you being here.”

“My health is not going to improve. I have lost hope.”

“Why are you being so negative? The Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar seems to think that you can definitely be cured.”

“And I know you sent someone to Lanka to procure herbs for curing me. Do you love your father so much, my dear girl?”

She hugged him. “Of course.”

“Honestly, I am very happy that you have come here. I need to tell you something.”

“My illness is not physical. It is due to mental stress. I am under so much stress, that I cannot even rule this small kingdom of mine.”

“But then, why should you strain yourself? You have two wonderful sons. When you have them, why should you worry?”

“That is my worry, my girl. I am wondering if it would be the right thing to hand over this kingdom to my sons. This kingdom comes with a curse.”

“What curse can possibly come from this kingdom? The Chozha kingdom is the pride of South India. Our ancestors have done so much good in the past. Our ancestors include the great Manu Needhi Chozhan and Sibi Chakravarthy. How can you say that such a kingdom comes with a curse?”

“Appa, I think you are in a dazed mental state. Please come with me to Pazhayarai.”

“I would love to come to beautiful Pazhayarai, but this kingdom still exists only because I am here. If I leave, this kingdom will shatter. The play that was conducted yesterday – do you recall what happened during the play? Did you see the way the different camps of Pazhuvoor and Kodumbalur were boisterously cheering?

Imagine what would happen if I am not here. These camps would just start fighting openly. Like Lord Krishna’s curse, this kingdom will implode within itself, with these people fighting among themselves.”

“I do not want these people to fight among themselves. In the last hundred years, both these families have stood by the Emperor’s side and helped build the kingdom.”

“But what if I said that one of these families might be plotting against you?” The Emperor clearly was shaken. “What are you saying, Kundavai?”

“People who are pretending to be very close to you are plotting against you. They are plotting to ensure that your sons do not ascend the throne. They are planning to crown Madhuranthakan as Emperor.”

“Aha. If only they succeed in doing so, it would gladden me.”

Kundavai was shocked.

“Appa, what are you saying? Do you not want your sons to ascend the throne?”

“I do not want them to get this cursed kingdom. I would be glad if Madhuranthakan becomes Emperor. Would he accept?”

“He would gladly accept. But I am extremely shocked and upset at your views. Would you even want to ask my brother?”

“Of course, I would need to ask Aditya Karikalan. I would also need to ask the Royal Matron.”

“You are very close to the Matron. Please go to her and convince her to change her mind about Madhuranthakan becoming Emperor. Then, go to Kanchi, and convince Adityan to give up his rights over this accursed kingdom.”

Kundavai was shocked and had no words.

“Appa, you keep mentioning about a curse. What curse is this?”

“Sometimes, I get these haunting memories. I have not spoken to anyone about this. Please do not tell anyone about this.”

The Emperor sighed and looked up at the ceiling. And then, he began talking.

“It was an island. The waters were calm. The small island had a lot of greenery. Behind some bushes, there was a young warrior crouching. He was staring intently at a boat. He was staring until the boat was out of sight. He seemed to be relieved that he had escaped being spotted by someone in the boat.”

“The warrior was of a royal family, but was not the heir to any throne. He did not have any desire to rule either. His father had been the youngest of three brothers. Hence, he had never even imagined being the heir. He had joined the army and had a small force with him. He had embarked on a war on a distant land. The army had been defeated badly. The warrior’s force had been completely decimated. While the remaining few soldiers readied to head back to their land, this warrior did not want to go back. How could he, who had lost his entire force, head back? He found it disgraceful.”

“Silently, without anyone knowing, he had jumped off the boat, and had swum to this little island. And he waited for the ship to vanish out of his sight. He then explored the island. The island seemed to be uninhabited. He suddenly heard a human voice – it was the voice of a lady. He turned around and saw a ferocious bear chasing a young girl.

The bear was catching up to her. He grabbed his spear and flung it at the bear. The spear wounded the bear, but did not kill it. The girl was safe, but the wounded bear had turned towards the warrior. The bear and the warrior wrestled for a short time, but the warrior was victorious.”

“He then looked around and searched for her. His eyes found her, hiding behind a coconut tree. He realised that she was a tribal girl. Her behaviour and her mannerisms gave her away. She did have a wide smile on her face – happy to be alive, he guessed. But her beauty was unmatched. He had never seen anyone as beautiful as her.”

“He tried approaching her, but she started running. He did not follow her. He realised that this was a small island, and that he would meet her again very soon. He was tired. He lay down on the sandy beach.”

“Very soon, she returned. With her, came a man. He came to know that he was from a fisherman community, which lived in the Lankan coastline. The man told our warrior that the girl had saved his life from a bear. The man had been on a tree, when the bear had attacked. The girl had distracted the bear and saved his life.”

“The warrior noticed that, for all the questions that he had been asking, the girl did not reply. It had always been the man who had answered. That was when that the warrior realised that the girl was deaf and dumb. The warrior’s heart broke. Yet, his love for the girl increased. He did not feel that the loss of the two senses was significant. Her expressive eyes compensated for them.”

“The warrior stayed on in this heavenly island with his lady love. Days turned into months, and months into years. He stopped keeping count of time. This heavenly time ended very abruptly.

One fine day, a ship anchored close to the island. Men came down to the island in rafts. He came to know that they had come for him.”

“He came to know of several untoward incidents that had happened in his kingdom – an uncle passing away, an uncle who did not have any children, and his father grievously wounded. He came to know that he was suddenly the Emperor that his kingdom was waiting for. He did not want to leave his heavenly island and his lovely lady. Yet, he had to go. His kingdom was waiting for him. He had no choice.”

“He promised a thousand times to the girl, that he would be back. The tribal girl, who had been raised in this isolated island, did not even want to come out in the open, in front of these strange men. As the warrior boarded the ship, he saw the girl sitting on top of a bent coconut tree trunk, with tears streaming down her beautiful face.”

“Kundavai, this sad scene keeps coming to my mind all the time. “

“There is one more scene, which keeps coming back to haunt me. Can I tell you about that scene too? Will you listen to me?”

Kundavai was choking with sorrow, but managed to nod her head, egging him to continue.

Book 2 | Chapter 15 | Sparks Fly

The other half was covered in darkness and the smoke from the lamps in the room. She was shocked to see that the face, which was visible, resembled that of the Pazhuvoor queen, Nandini.

During those times, Thanjavur was famous for its theatre arts. Most of the theatre companies resided within the fort premises. In recent times, the trend of these companies was to create plays based on eminent warriors such as Karikal Valavar and Vijayalaya Chozhan. There were plays on three of the nine days of Navarathri. Crowds thronged the outer balconies of the fort to watch the play. There was a separate seating area for the royal family.

During these plays, Nandini came and sat beside Kundavai. While the people initially did not like this, they consoled themselves with the fact that if their Princess could show such consideration, the people should as well. The third and final play depicted the life of Paranthaka Chozhan.

Koppara Kesari Paranthakan was the grandfather of the current Emperor. He had ruled for a grand period of 46 years. He expanded the kingdom from Eezhanaadu to the River Tungabhadra. He was the Emperor who made the golden dome for the Chidambaram temple. Towards the end of this reign, his son led a large Chozha army against the Canara forces at Thakkolam. He routed the Canara forces but lost his life atop an elephant. When the forces brought the slain king’s body back to the palace, the Emperor and his wife wept. The drama depicted this scene beautifully.

During those times, Paranthaka Chozhan had two able generals – a chieftain from Kodumbalur and the other from Pazhuvoor. The Emperor treated them with great and equal respect. The chieftain from Kodumbalur was none other than Vanathi’s grandfather. The Pazhuvoor chieftain was none other than the current Pazhuvettarayar’s father. The theatre troupe had taken care to portray each of the families equally.

There were some in the crowd who were in the Pazhuvoor camp and others in the Kodumbalur camp. Whenever there was a scene depicting the bravery of one leader, there was a roar from the respective camp. This competitive cheering was growing more and more boisterous. Kundavai was egging Vanathi whenever the Kodumbalur camp cheered; and she egged Nandini whenever the Pazhuvoor camp cheered. Nandini’s ego hurt each time the Princess compared her to Vanathi.

Nandini wanted to get up and leave, but in doing so, she would portray defeat. She gritted her teeth and stayed. Kundavai noticed all this. But there was one thing that was still a mystery to her. During the scenes where the Pandiya king was shown as defeated and running away, the entire crowd was cheering, but there was sorrow writ over Nandini’s face.

“If only my father felt better, he would have loved to see this drama. He is also as accomplished as his grandfather.”

“He will feel better very soon. His favourite daughter has come now. The herbs from Lanka would also come very soon.”

“Herbs from Lanka?”

“Why are you pretending as though you do not know about this? I heard that you had sent the son of the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar to get herbs from Lanka. Isn’t that true?”

Kundavai bit her lip.

Thankfully, there was more commotion and cheering and the conversation ended there. The play had ended with loud cheers for the Emperor and the audience began to dissolve and leave.

The elder ladies of the palace left for the Durga temple. Queen Vaanama Devi had arranged for special pujas on every night of Navarathri. She had been arranging these pujas for the sake of the Emperor, praying that he would get better. Sometimes, the priest would get possessed and foretell prophesies. It was for this reason that the younger ladies were not allowed for the night puja. However, Kundavai was an exception. The royal matron had confidence in her maturity and bravery. During these times, Vanathi had to be in the palace all alone.

The night of the last play, Vanathi was in a very excited state of mind. She was feeling proud of her ancestors. She was also proud of the fact that the Prince had gone to Lanka to avenge the death of her father. Sleep eluded her. Instead of lying sleepless in her bed, she decided to walk to the terrace. She knew that one could get spectacular views of Thanjavur from the terrace. She was new to this palace. She slowly walked past the long corridors looking for the entrance to the terrace.

Suddenly she heard a feeble voice. It sounded like an old man. The old person seemed to be pleading for help.

“Is there no one who can help me? Please save me.”

She froze. Her legs could not move.

She heard the voice again, “Please, save me. Help!”

It was the Chakravarthy’s voice. Was he in trouble? Did he need anything? Was anything wrong with his health?

She decided to go and check. Her legs shook as she moved forward. The voice seemed to come from downstairs. She peered downwards and saw a large room. She recognised it as the Emperor’s bedroom. She saw the Chakravarthy in his bed too. He seemed to be alone. He seemed to be mumbling to himself.

“I know. I know it was I, who killed you. I did not do it willingly. But still, I realise that it was me. What am I supposed to do? It has been 25 years, and you are still tormenting me. Will your soul never rest? Will you not give me peace? Tell me. What should I do? Please, let me be. Will someone not please save me? Everyone seems to be searching for medicines for my physical illness. Will someone please search for medicines to cure my psychological problem? Ey. Go away.”

He paused.

“No. Do not go. Tell me what am I supposed to do. And then go. Please do not be silent and leave. I will go mad.”

Vanathi heard all of this. She shivered. She trembled with fear. She peeped downstairs again, letting her eyes travel the entire length and breadth of the room. She saw a figure in front of the Emperor’s bed. Only half of the figure was visible. The other half was covered in darkness and the smoke from the lamps in the room. She was shocked to see that the face, which was visible, resembled that of the Pazhuvoor queen, Nandini. Was she dreaming?

She saw another figure hiding behind a nearby pillar and recognised it to be the Periya Pazhuvettarayar. There was no doubt now. She could not understand why the Emperor was saying all these things to Nandini. Why was he lamenting about killing her?

Vanathi felt giddy. She felt that she was going to faint. She did not want to faint right there. She bit her teeth resolutely and walked away from there. She walked a distance away, but the passageways never seemed to end. She could not hold on any further. She fell unconscious.

When Princess Kundavai returned from the temple, she found her dear friend Vanathi unconscious on the passageway, very close to their rooms. 

Book 2 | Chapter 14 | The Princess Arrives

The retinue stopped. Kundavai got down from the elephant. Nandini got out of the palanquin and went up to the Princess to welcome her. The Princess accepted the welcome with a smile. The citizens of the city took in the sight of the two most beautiful women in their kingdom, smile at each other. A roar went up in the crowds.

The residents of the city of Thanjavur were naturally excited. The city wore a festive look. The Princess was coming. There was already a large crowd that was beginning to gather at the gates of the city to welcome the Princess. As much as the people loved Arulmozhi, they loved their Princess even more. Not a day passed, without someone mentioning the beauty or the mental acuity of the Princess.

When the Princess eventually appeared on the horizon, the doors of the fort flew open. A royal retinue from within the fort set out to welcome her. The royal retinue was led by the two Pazhuvettarayars seated atop elephants. Right behind the elephants was the beautiful palanquin that the readers are already familiar with. Behind the silken screens of the palanquin sat the beautiful Pazhuvoor Queen – Nandini.

The retinue stopped. Kundavai got down from the elephant. Nandini got out of the palanquin and went up to the Princess to welcome her. The Princess accepted the welcome with a smile. The citizens of the city took in the sight of the two most beautiful women in their kingdom, smile at each other. A roar went up in the crowds.

While the people of the city almost worshipped their Princess, there had been a bit of resentment towards Nandini from the beginning. But now, having seen her step out to welcome the Princess, the crowds were very pleased. What the crowds did not hear was the stinging conversation between the two ladies.

“Devi! Welcome. We are blessed to have you visit us. We were worried that you might have forgotten about us.”

“Hmm. I was wondering if you had forgotten about me, since you have not visited Pazhayarai either.”

“Moths are naturally attracted to beautiful flowers. People will come to Pazhayarai. But who will come to this ugly Thanjavur city?”

“How can you call this beautiful city ugly? I thought that the city has power and wealth imprisoned within it?”

“That is what I have heard as well. I hear that the Chakravarthy is imprisoned here. But then, you are here now, to save him.”

One could see sparks of fire in Nandini’s eyes when she said these words.

Kundavai laughed sarcastically. “I was not thinking about the Emperor. No man on this earth can imprison Emperor Sundara Chozhan. I was thinking about the beautiful Nandini Devi.”

“Please tell this when my lord is around. He does seem to keep me as though I am in prison. If you can put in a word…”

“What is my word worth here? Also, the prison that you are imprisoned in is the prison of love, and that too, the prison of love of an older man. There is nothing that I can do.”

There was a minor commotion in the crowd near where they were standing. One of the ladies came forward and mentioned that they wanted access to come to the fort during the nine nights of Navarathri. They complained about the strict rules of entry into the fort.

“Rani Nandini, can you not talk to your husband or your brother-in-law, and get permission for these people? Surely, these ladies cannot be a cause for security concern. The Pazhuvettarayar brothers have such control all the way up to the shores of this kingdom.”

“Devi, why do you limit it by the shores? You will soon see that it extends far beyond the shores too.” Kundavai wondered what this evil lady meant.

Meanwhile, Nandini had walked up to the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and communicated the Princess’ wish of letting the women into the fort for the festival.

“Ah. Would anyone object to the wishes of the Princess?” All of them now turned back and went into the fort.

Navarathri was celebrated with gaiety in Thanjavur. The ceremonies were held on a grand scale. The two beautiful ladies joined in the festivities. While the public were regaled by the presence of these two ladies, sparks flew between them in every fiery conversation. Sarcasm and blatant hate became the norm of every dialogue. They resembled two venomous snakes fighting each other.

If there was one person who was affected by all of this, it was the Kodumbalur princess, Vanathi. Kundavai did not have enough time for her. Vanathi sought out a world of her own, and lived in her own solitary thoughts.

Book 2 | Chapter 13 | Ponniyin Selvan

While the Princess’s mind was flitting between so many of these thoughts, Vaanathi’s clear thoughts were focused on only one person – Prince Arulmozhi. She was worrying about the Prince, and the potential hardships that he was facing in Lanka. She was thinking about when he would return.

While Vandhiyathevan was walking towards Maathottam, and while Nambi was narrating his experiences to Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar, Princess Kundavai and her best friend Vanathi were nearing Thanjavur in a covered ambari atop an elephant. The Princess had not travelled to Thanjavur for a while, because of one predominant reason. Thanjavur did not have separate palaces for the ladies of the royalty. Everyone had to reside in the main palace of the Emperor. The rest of the palaces in the city had been taken over by the Pazhuvettarayars, their family, and various members of the administration.

In Pazhayarai, Princess Kundavai and her hand-maidens could come and go as they pleased from their independent palaces. Movements in Thanjavur fort were much more restricted because of security rules imposed by the Pazhuvettarayars. The Princess did not also like the attitude of the Pazhuvoor queen. It was also the wish of the ageing Emperor that the Princess stay at Pazhayarai.

However, ever since she had met Vandhiyathevan and heard his stories, she had felt very guilty about being in Pazhayarai. Her elder brother was in Thondainaadu, the younger was fighting a war in Lanka – it did not feel right not to be with her father in Thanjavur. She felt obligated to play a role in the administrative affairs of the Kingdom. The sinister plots that Vandhiyathevan had mentioned reaffirmed her decision to go to Thanjavur and be with her father. Her father’s life itself might be in danger. She guessed that several of these plots were being driven by her arch-enemy Nandini. She had to be there at Thanjavur.

There was one other reason why she had to be at Thanjavur. She had to get regular updates about Vandhiyathevan. She had heard that the Pazhuvettarayars had sent guards to capture Vandhiyathevan. If the guards were indeed successful in capturing him, they would bring him to Thanjavur. She could help reduce the sentence and perhaps even free him. The Princess also had one more thing in her mind – she had to somehow convince Kandanmaran that it was not Vandhiyathevan who had stabbed him in the back.

While the Princess’s mind was flitting between so many of these thoughts, Vanathi’s clear thoughts were focused on only one person – Prince Arulmozhi. She was worrying about the Prince, and the potential hardships that he was facing in Lanka. She was thinking about when he would return.

Suddenly, Vanathi turned towards the Princess and asked her, “Akka, you told me that you would tell me the story of how your brother got the name – Ponniyin Selvan. At the rate at which this elephant is moving, it would take a while to get to Thanjavur.”

The Princess agreed to tell the story.

When Emperor Sundara Chozhan had just come to power, the whole family used to go on cruises down the River Ponni. The yacht would be filled with happiness and laughter. The children used to be on one side of the craft, having fun, while the elders would be sitting on the other side, indulging in light banter. This used to happen on a regular basis, providing a respite from the stressful life of the Emperor.

On one such excursion, Princess Kundavai had suddenly noticed that Prince Arulmozhi was not to be found. Out of everyone in the family, Kundavai was the one who was closest to Arulmozhi. At this time,

Arulmozhi was five years of age, and Kundavai, seven. When she could not find her brother, she started shouting to attract the attention of the elders. Everyone started searching the boat, but in vain. The ladies started wailing. Some of the soldiers and the Emperor himself jumped into the water to search.

At that very moment, an amazing sight was seen. Right in front of the anchored boat, there was a lady who had the Prince raised in her arms. She was half way submerged in water. When the Emperor saw this sight, he swiftly swam to the lady, and took his child into his arms. By this time, more soldiers had reached close to him. Hands grabbed the child and pulled him on board. More people helped the Emperor to board the yacht. Once on board the yacht, the Emperor fell unconscious. In the confusion that ensued and the relief that was felt, no one remembered to look for the lady who had helped save the Prince. No one even remembered how she looked like. The lady did not come forward to claim the pride either. She just vanished.

People assumed that it was the Goddess Kaveri herself had come to the rescue of the Prince. People familiar with this incident started calling him – Ponniyin Selvan.

Book 2 | Chapter 12 | Nammazhwar corrects Nambi

“Thirumalai, please tell me what you have seen and heard during your travels. Tell me as is, without hiding anything.”

“Are you asking me to narrate here? Things that I say might shock anyone who hears them – even Vayu Bhagavan, the Wind God, Bhooma Devi, the Earth, and Samudrarajan, the Lord of the Ocean.”

Anbil Sri Vadivazhagiya Nambi Perumal temple – img src:

At this time, we would also like to bring to the attention of the reader some archaeological facts. About a hundred years ago, in the village of Anbil, in the Lalgudi Taluk of the Tiruchirapalli district, a merchant had wanted to renovate his old house. While digging its foundation, he found metal plaques with a lot of historical inscriptions.

He handed these to Shri RSL Lakshmana Chettiar, who then handed it to two experts in archaeology and Chozha history – Shri Swaminatha Iyer and Shri Gopinath Rao.

These plaques had a lot of details regarding the Emperors of the Chozha dynasty. These included land grants by the Emperor Sundara Chozhan to his Chief Minister Anbil Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. The plaques also had details about the Chief Minister and his family. These details had great archaeological value and confirmed several historical events.

Alwarkadiyaan entered the room, circumambulated his Guru three times and prostrated before him.

“Please give me permission to leave my Vaishnavism and the obligation to serve you right now. I will now convert to the Kaalamugam sect in Shaivism. I will grow a beard, take up a skull, and roam the country. I will use this same staff to break open every Vaishnavar who comes my way.”

“Stop! Stop! I fear you now.”

“Why should you fear? Only Vaishnavites need to fear.”

“But I am still one.”

Nambi was clearly confused.

“Are you the one hailing from the illustrious family that unfailingly served Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I also hear that you went to the Shiva temple today and did pooja there?”

“Yes. That is also true.”

“Sire – please clarify all this to me. You were my Guru, who taught me that Lord Narayana is the only God in this whole wide world.”

“The fact that I went to the Shiva temple is true. But the God that I saw inside was Lord Narayana.”

“How is that possible? “

“Nammazhwar himself has said that one can see whichever God he wants to see, wherever he wants. He never used to hate any of those who worshipped other Gods.”

“I am sorry. I have not heard all of Nammazhwar’s songs. He does make a lot of sense. I also doubted you. Please forgive me.”

“I would like to go and settle down in Thirukkurugur. I would like to spend the rest of my life collating and spreading the thousand songs that Nammazhwar sang. Will you grant me that wish?”

“What leads you to ask me this wish?”

“Earlier this month, I was at Veeranarayanapuram. When I was singing an Alwar Paasuram, the temple priest Ishwara Bhattar was overjoyed and requested me to teach him more such songs. I felt very ashamed that day, that I did not know many more of these beautiful songs. That led me to think that I should spend some time towards this noble purpose.”

“Thirumalai, the Gita says that each one should do what they are supposed to be doing – swadharmam. There will be people born to collate and spread the Paasurams. But for you and me, our dharmam is to serve the Empire. Service to the Emperor is our duty.”

“I have not forgotten our promise. There are just things that make me doubt if we are on the right track. I am also hearing things about you.”

“And what are you hearing?”

“I hear that the Emperor has given you a large tract of land in Anbil, in return for your converting to Shaivism. I also hear that you are going against dharma by traveling across the seas.”

“You should not believe these rumours. It is true that the King has given me land. But do you know that I had become minister at least four years before that? Do you know when our friendship started?”

“The Emperor and I were classmates when we were young. We studied together. At that time, no one thought Sundara Chozhan would become Emperor. But you know the turn of events that led to him becoming the Emperor.

He anticipated several problems if he ascended the throne. He made me promise to be with him as a minister always. He said that he would not take up the throne if I refused. I promised him that day, that I would be with him always.”

“I know about all this. But the rumourmongers on the road do not.”

“I do not care about the rumourmongers. You probably guessed that I did not come to Rameswaram to go to the temple. I just got back from Maathottam.”

“I guessed so, sire.”

“The so-called learned pundits claim that Sundarar and Sambandhar wrote about Maathottam from here. The songs described the place so well that I am pretty sure that the saints must have crossed the sea to go there.”

“Sire, did you go to Maathottam to see the beauty that these poet-saints have described?”

“No. I described all that because I am going to send you there. I went there to meet the Prince.”

“Did you see Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Aha. Anybody who hears the Prince’s name gets enthused so quickly – even you, Thirumalai. Yes. I saw him. I confirmed with him all the news I had been hearing from Lanka.”

“The Prince confirmed that most of Mahendran’s army has been defeated. Several of the army has dropped their arms. Mahendran, himself, has escaped into the hilly regions of Rohana.”

“Why doesn’t the Prince then come back with our army? The whole confusion of sending rations to our troops will also stop.”

“That is not what the Prince thinks, and I agree with him. If the Prince comes back now, Mahendran will come out of the hills and will regroup another army. And there would be another war. Either the people of Lanka would have to become our friends, or we would have to establish a permanent Chozha empire there. One of these needs to happen.”

“Do you know what our forces are doing in Lanka now? They are rebuilding and renovating the temples and monasteries in Anuradhapuram.”

Nambi smirked, “Oho. The Prince is building temples for the Buddhists? I hope he would not convert to their faith also. Do you also approve of this?”

“It does not matter if you or I approve or disapprove of this. You and I can fight over which God is better than the rest. But someone like the Prince, who is the ruler of a Kingdom, needs to take care of all of his subjects, immaterial of religion. I approve of that ideology.”

“After speaking with the Prince, I realise that he is one of the few people who command respect naturally. The entire kingdom is ready to do anything for him. The merchants I met earlier today are willing to give away wealth. The chieftains are ready to give their lives.”

“I met a yogi recently, who said something very profound. He said, in the recent years, Indian rulers have predominantly come from the northern states. He said that there would be an invasion soon from outside of the region. They would come and destroy the temples of the country. They would impact the culture of the country.”

“And at that time, a Prince from the South will emerge and rule large parts of India and protect our culture. I think the time is now, and the Prince is ours.”

“Gurudeva, it seems to me that you are building castles in the clouds. If you had seen all that I have seen and heard in the recent past, you would not be so celebratory. There is danger lurking for the Chozha kingdom.”

“Thirumalai, please tell me what you have seen and heard during your travels. Tell me as is, without hiding anything.”

“Are you asking me to narrate here? Things that I say might shock anyone who hears them – even Vayu Bhagavan, the Wind God, Bhooma Devi, the Earth, and Samudrarajan, the Lord of the Ocean.”

“Hmm. Ok, then. I know of a cave deep inside this island, where no one can hear us.”

Book 2 | Chapter 11 | The Chief Minister

Aniruddha Brahmaraayar held office on one of the smaller islands near Rameswaram. He was surrounded by accountants and other administrative personnel.

Aniruddha Brahmaraayar held office on one of the smaller islands near Rameswaram. He was surrounded by accountants and other administrative personnel. Several people had come to see him. Some merchants came and visited the minister. The minister recognized them as merchants from the Pandiya Empire.

“How is the trade in the Pandiya Empire?”

“It is going very well, sire. People are mentioning that the administration is much better under the Chozha Empire than what it was before. Our ships are all returning safe. The great Chozha navy has completely vanquished the pirates of the Indian Ocean.”

“Did you get my scroll about supplies for Lanka?”

“Yes. We have readied enough food grains and supplies to be sent to the Chozha army fighting at Lanka. We would like to know when the war would end.”

“That is a very hard question to answer. Why don’t you ask your astrologer?”

“He says that, wherever Prince Arulmozhi goes, there would be victory. He would conquer distant lands across the ocean.”

“That means very good news for you as traders, is it not?”

“Yes. By God’s grace, this would mean a good future for us.”

“Please make sure that you send similar supplies to Lanka every month. You may leave.”

Once the merchants left, the chieftain and commanders of the Kaikolar clan requested an audience. They were a tribe of very brave soldiers, who had been hand-picked by the Emperor himself.

“Hmm. Brave warriors of the Sundara Chozha Chakravarthy’s Kaikolar clan, welcome.”

“Thank you, sire. But these days, we feel ashamed to be addressed so. We have been idle for the last six months, and not participated in any war activity. Please send us to Lanka. We would like to help Prince Arulmozhi to win the war there.”

“I will mention this to the Emperor, when I reach Thanjavur.”

“What if the war ends by that time?”

“Do not worry. It will not. “

“Are those warriors so powerful that our army cannot vanquish them so easily? Let us try our hand at them.”

“No. It is not that. The Lankan army is not to be found anywhere. They are hiding in the dense forests. Their king Mahendran is also missing. He is also in hiding. If an army is not in your sight, how will you fight them? There has been no war in Lanka for a few months now. What is the use of sending you also there?”

“Send us there. We will hunt down the Lankan army and bring them to the Prince’s feet.”

“Please be patient. I will speak to the Emperor. I want you to protect the Pandiya empire until then.”

“But the Pandiya empire is a peaceful Chozha land now. There is no one to claim the throne.”

“You are mistaken. There are still some people who wish to bring back the old Pandiya Empire. Do not be complacent. The Pandiya royal crown and the bejeweled royal sword are still in Lanka, hidden somewhere in the mountains. Until we capture that, the Pandiya war is not over yet.”

“The royal jewels must be brought back and Prince Arulmozhi crowned as Pandiya king.”

“These are royal matters. Let us not get into such topics. But do listen – I have good news for you.”

“Once the Lankan war is over, the Prince has plans to take the naval fleet towards the south and south-eastern seas and expand the Chozha Empire to faraway lands. He also hopes to go westwards to Kerala, and then north to Kalingam and onward. Your services will definitely be required then. Be prepared. Keep your men trained and ready.”

The chieftains hailed the Emperor, the Prince, the Chozha Empire and the Chief Minister.

“There is one more request from all of us.”

“I would like to hear it.”

“As you know, we are a select group of warriors handpicked by the Emperor to serve him and his family. We would like to tell you that we will do just that. We will serve only him and his family.”

“This is what I expect from you.”

“We keep hearing rumours from Thanjavur. We keep hearing stories about the Pazhuvettarayars.”

“Let rumours be rumours.”

“We also know that the Emperor is not keeping good health. And if something happens to him, we request orders to serve under Prince Arulmozhi.”

“Your obligation is to do what is ordered by the Emperor.”

“And we would like you to take on an obligation to let us know what the Emperor has ordered.”

“I will definitely take it upon myself to do the same. Please rest assured.”

“Minister, we feel much better now.”

The warriors left. The Chief Minister then summoned his guard to bring Nambi in.

Book 2 | Chapter 10 | Rameswaram

“Oho, you think we should wash our mouths for having mentioned the name of Rama? You need not worry about that. When Rama worshipped Lord Shiva here, that dosham was washed away. Hence the name of this city – Rameswaram.”

It has been a while since we spoke about Alwarkadiyaan Nambi. After overhearing the conversation between Princess Kundavai and Vandhiyathevan, Nambi had immediately started on his journey to the South. He had headed towards Rameswaram. On the way, he had avoided all forms of religious debates, since that would delay his journey. On the same day that Vandhiyathevan had reached Lanka, Nambi had reached Rameswaram.

The salty breeze of the ocean blew against his face. He was standing on the beach at Rameswaram. Anger boiled within him. There were several Shaivites surrounding him.

Appane, come! Let us take you to the 64 holy fresh-water wells of this holy city, so that you can wash off all the impure Vaishnava symbols on your body.”

Another said, “Come, I will take you to the holy well where Lord Rama himself got rid of his Brahmahatthi dosham.”

Nambi screamed back, “Shut up all of you. Please wash all your mouths with those holy waters.”

“Oho, you think we should wash our mouths for having mentioned the name of Rama? You need not worry about that. When Rama worshipped Lord Shiva here, that dosham was washed away. Hence the name of this city – Rameswaram.”

“You ignorant Shaivites – you do not even know the origin of the name of this city. Shiva angered Brahma when he destroyed one of his heads, and got the Brahmahatthi dosham. Shiva came to this beautiful land graced by Lord Rama, to get rid of the dosham. This place is called Rameswaram because Shiva worshipped Rama here.”

“Who are you to call us ignorant Shaivites?”

At this point Nambi lost his temper, and started swirling his wooden staff around his head. He laughed hysterically.

“I will break each one of your heads with this staff.”

At that point in time, there was an arrival announcement. Everyone stopped and looked towards where the announcement came from.

The announcement proclaimed the arrival of the Chief Minister of the Chozha Empire – Aniruddha Brahmaraayar.

A craft was just banking onto the shore. The Chief Minister stood majestically observing the commotion that had just stopped.

He looked at Nambi and motioned for him to come near. “Thirumalai, what is the commotion here?”

Nambi looked aghast at the Minister and fumbled for words.

“I am not even sure if I am to believe what I am seeing. Is this real, or is it all an illusion (maya)?”

“Thirumalai, I was always thinking that you were a Veera Vaishnavite. When did you start swerving towards the Advaita philosophy of illusions?”

“If you, who were born in a very conservative Vaishnavite family, can become a Shaivite, why cannot I?”

“Who told you that I had converted, Thirumalai?”

“I see the Shaivite sandal marks on your forehead and body.”

“All that can be explained. Come and see me. I am staying at the mandapam on the island there,” he said, pointing to a small isle nearby.

The Shaivite saints came forward and complained to the minister about Nambi and mentioned their intention to punish him themselves.

“I will take care of this Vaishnavar myself.”

He pointed to his craft and barked orders to his soldiers to capture and bring Nambi to where he was staying. 

Book 2 | Chapter 9 | Boodha Theevu

“After you meet the Prince, and you deliver this scroll, when the Prince is in a relaxed mood, can you please ask him, if he remembers Samudra-Kumari? If he does say that he remembers, tell him that she was the one who brought you here to Lanka in her boat.”

When Vandhiyathevan woke up the next morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. The sea on the east seemed to be made of molten gold. He looked to the other side to see emerald-coloured waters. There were several small forested islands. The greenery was reflected in the water and Vandhiyathevan could not count the number of shades of green he was seeing. The whole scene that he saw was enchanting.

“This is not heaven. This is Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan shook himself out of his reverie, and smiled at Poonkuzhali.

“Yes. I did mistake it for heaven.”

The craft was approaching an island.

“This is Boodha Theevu. Do you remember your promise?”

Vandhiyathevan nodded his acknowledgement.

Once she shored the boat onto the small island, she asked him to guard the boat, and nimbly walked towards the centre of the island. She seemed to know the direction in which she was heading.

She came back in less than half an hour. She got into the boat and motioned him to get into it as well. Then she started rowing towards Naaga Theevu.

“Poonkuzhali, were you able to find out where the Prince is?”

“Hmm. Yes. Yesterday the Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar had come to Maathottam to meet the Prince, which means Ponniyin Selvan would have also come there by now. But, I am not sure how long he will be staying at Maathottam.”

“How far is Maathottam from here?”

“It is around five miles from here. The way is through thick forests. These forests are not like the forests of Kodikkarai. The trees here reach for the skies. In some places, even the rays of the sun do not reach the ground. There are also elephants and other wild animals. You need to be careful.”

They were nearing Naaga Theevu. While Poonkuzhali’s hands were rhythmically paddling, she seemed to be lost in thought. When Vandhiyathevan called out her name, she seemed to come back to the present with a jerk.

“Samudra-Kumari, you said you would ask me a return favour. If you do not ask me now, you will never be able to. The shore is nearing. I will never forget the help you have rendered me. In fact, you have done the whole Chozha kingdom a service.”

“Do you really mean these words, or are you like the other men-folk that I have seen, whose words are just hollow?”

“I swear by the ocean, the skies, the Earth, and all the Gods that I believe in. I mean those words.”

“I was just teasing you. The first time I saw you, I could sense that you were a good person. Let me tell you what I want in return.”

“After you meet the Prince, and you deliver this scroll, when the Prince is in a relaxed mood, can you please ask him, if he remembers Samudra-Kumari? If he does say that he remembers, tell him that she was the one who brought you here to Lanka in her boat.”

“Is this all? I will definitely tell him about you. I will tell him all that you have done for me. I will tell him that, without your help, I would not be alive to deliver the scroll to him.”

“I want you to also come and tell me how he responds to what you say about me. I want you to tell me exactly what he says, nothing more, nothing less.”

“But how can I find you, Poonkuzhali?”

“Finding me is very easy. I will either be at Kodikkarai, or at Boodha Theevu, or rowing my boat in the ocean between these two places.”

“When I go back, can I come and check if you are there at Boodha Theevu?”

“No. Please do not ever go into that island. It can be dangerous. Just check if my boat is on the beach. If you find the boat, you should give me a signal. Do you know to make any animal sounds?”

“Yes. I can make the sound of a peacock.”

Vandhiyathevan made the sound of a peacock, and the two of them shared a hearty laugh, as the craft shored along the beach of Naaga Theevu.

Vandhiyathevan got off the craft and waded towards the island. He turned around, only to see that Poonkuzhali had already turned the craft and was paddling towards the ocean. He realised that she was deep in thought again.

Book 2 | Chapter 8 | Back in the boat

“You can untie yourself if you want. The knot is very loose. But, you do not need to help me. Just keeping out of my way would be helpful.”

When Vandhiyathevan regained consciousness, he found himself staring at a beautiful starry sky. He realised that he was tied at the waist by a strong rope. A chill ocean breeze blew over him. Amidst the light ocean sounds, he heard a beautiful voice singing a soulful melody. It was Poonkuzhali.

He remembered what had happened. But, only until the point when he had seen her jump into the water and swim towards him. He did not remember anything after that.

It looked like she had rescued him from the ocean. She had tied him to the boat, so that he would not fall off again. She had also taken care to tie the rope on top of his clothes, so that the rope would not chaff at his skin. He thought about how difficult it would have been for her to lift him up from the water, all by herself. She was indeed a very strong girl. Once again, he felt ashamed that he had doubted the intentions of this girl.

He noticed her getting up. She walked over towards the sail. “Samudra-Kumari, please untie me. I will help you raise the sail.”

“You can untie yourself if you want. The knot is very loose. But, you do not need to help me. Just keeping out of my way would be helpful.”

She unfurled the sail. The craft surged forward with the wind.

“Poonkuzhali, can I please have some water? I am feeling very thirsty.”

“You drank a lot of salt water. No wonder, you are thirsty.”

She took a wooden cask of water and gave it to him.

He drank a mouthful and cleared his throat.

“Please forgive me. I mistook your good intentions.”

“That is fine. Come dawn, we are going to go our own ways.”

He saw the North Star shining bright in the night sky. He was reminded of the Kudandhai Josiyar’s words. He had compared Prince Arulmozhi to the North Star.

“We will reach the Naaga Theevu towards dawn. From there, you can get to Mainland Lanka without having to cross any straits.”

“Poonkuzhali, what would you do after you drop me?”

“Why do you care about me?”

“You are doing me such a big favour. Should I not thank you? You were mentioning that you would ask me for a favour, but at the right time. Can you tell me what I can do for you?”

“I have changed my mind. I am not going to ask you anything. You are a thankless person.”

Vandhiyathevan was silent for a moment.

“I am feeling ashamed of myself, thinking about how I behaved earlier. Please forgive me.”

“Ok. Let bygones be bygones. Once in Lanka, how do you plan to find out where the Prince is?”

“The same God who helped me so far in crossing this ocean would help me.”

“Oho. You have so much faith in God?”

“Well, I have not done any philosophical research on it. When I face an ordeal, I usually pray to God and he helps me. If not for God, why do you think you would have agreed to help me?”

“That is my personal business. You need not know about it.”

He decided to extract some more information from her.

“I hear that Lanka is full of thick forests and high mountains. I wonder how the people are. Are they also brutish people?”

“Of course not. The people are very nice. But yes, the land is a very rough terrain.”

“I wonder how I will go and find the Prince among these people.”

“The Prince will shine bright among anyone. There should not be any problem in finding him.”

He noticed the pride in her face and voice, when she said this.

Like most people of the Chozha Kingdom, she too treated the Prince almost as a God. He wondered what was so special about the Prince. He felt so lucky to be on a mission to go and meet him.

“Go and seek out the Chozha forces. They will lead you to him.”

“But I hear the Chozha forces are occupying almost half of the island of Lanka. I need to reach this scroll to him as quickly as possible. I only wish I knew where exactly the Prince was. If I did, I could reach this to him quickly.”

She seemed lost in thought for a little while.

“I think I can help. Before I drop you off at the Naga Island, we will visit the Boodha Theevu (Island of Ghosts).”

“Just hearing the island’s name frightens me.”

“It was originally named Buddha Theevu (Island of the Buddha). This was where, it is believed, Buddha preached his teachings under a large banyan tree. Over time, it has begun to be called Boodha Theevu. And by virtue of its name, no one visits the place anymore.”

“And why would we be stopping in this island?”

“I know of a boodham – a ghost – who can perhaps tell me the exact location of the Prince.”

“Would you also introduce me to this ghost?”

“No. We will go there only if you promise to stay with the craft on the beach. I will go into the island and get the information you need.”

He agreed. The chill wind was comforting. The sound of the wind lulled him to sleep very quickly.