Book 2 | Chapter 27 | Mad elephant

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

Lankan Forest img source unsplash
Lankan Forest – img src unsplash photographer Sameera Thilakaratne

General Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, also known as the Kodumbalur Periya Velaar was a wise old man, who had seen many a war. He was one of the trusted generals of the Chozha Empire. After his younger brother had been killed in the war in Lanka, he had taken a particular interest in seeking revenge. This was one of the main reasons he was the General of the forces that were fighting in Lanka. We have also heard about the problems that were being created by the Pazhuvettarayars in sending supplies for the troops in Lanka. So, the generations-old rivalry between these two clans had only been increasing day-by- day.

It was no surprise that, given the rivalry between the Pazhuvoor and the Kodumbalur clans, the General had become incensed when he saw the palm tree insignia ring on Vandhiyathevan. It was only due to good fortune that Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar had sent Nambi hurriedly to let the General know about the real reason why the Vaanar clan warrior was in Lanka. Nambi was a trusted messenger, and the Kodumbalur General had gotten the message.

When Nambi and Vandhiyathevan met the General, the latter tried to reconcile from the previous meeting.

Thambi, I hope you were treated well.”

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

“Oho. It looks like this young man has a good sense of humour.”

“General, what he says is true. The cat did scratch me very violently. And yes, he does have a sense of humour. Apparently, his ancestors were poets. So, he retains some of their sense of imagination too.”

The General roared in laughter seeing the scratch marks on Nambi.

“If you cannot handle a small cat, how are you going to cross the jungle paths of Lanka? I am glad you are going to be taking this young man as your companion.”

“General, I do not require any companion. I forgot to take my wooden staff when I went there. That was the problem.”

“Ok. Then you should be the companion to this young man. Make sure you feed this young man a good meal before you leave.”

Thambi, try to have a decent meal before you leave. I apologise if the meal you get is not the best. That is all we can afford. Mahendran’s forces breached all the lakes and rivers before they left. All the crops are lost. The supplies coming in from the mainland are also neither regular nor sufficient.”

“I did hear this elsewhere as well, sir. I overheard some of the ladies in the army camp complaining to the Princess that their kin in Lanka were not getting enough supplies from the mainland.”

“Oho, so this information is known there as well. Good. And what did the Princess reply?”

“She reassured the ladies that, with the Kodumbalur General in power in Lanka, their men were in safe hands, and that they should not worry.”

The General smiled proudly.

“There is no one equal to our Princess in kindness and generosity.”

“There is one other person, General – the next Princess of the kingdom.”

“And who are you talking about now?”

“The Kodumbalur princess, of course.”

“How is Vanathi doing, young man?”

“She is doing very well, sir. She is an inseparable companion to the Princess. You can never see either of them without each other’s company.”

“I am very glad to hear this. Has the Princess given any message for me?”

“No, sir. But I will be honest with you. She has sent a message about Vanathi for Prince Arulmozhi, which I can relay only in person. I am not at liberty to share it with anyone else.”

The General smiled and hugged Vandhiyathevan.

“I have never seen such a smart warrior as you.”

“The two of you should not be wasting any further time. You should leave.”

“General, should this Veera Vaishnavar definitely accompany me? I would prefer to journey alone.”

Thambi, it would be better if the two of you travel together. It is difficult to track the Prince down. Also, Nambi carries a scroll for the Prince too.”

The General went close to Vandhiyathevan and whispered in his ear, “Thambi, do not worry about Nambi. He is a reliable person. But I would advise you to be careful, none the less. I would also like you to pay attention to the message that he delivers to the Prince, and let me know the same, once you return.”

Vandhiyathevan had originally thought that the General was sending Nambi as a spy along with him, but he now realised that it was quite the contrary – he was being sent as a spy with Nambi.

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi started on their journey that night with the company of two soldiers. They travelled eastwards for two days. Initially, they passed through a few towns. They passed through damaged embankments on rivers and lakes. Then slowly the path turned towards the forests.

Dense vegetation surrounded them. Nambi and Vandhiyathevan debated on the effects of war. Nambi was heavily anti-war, while Vandhiyathevan, warrior that he was, tried to justify the need for war. Then they turned southwards. The forests became deeper and denser. They were also rising in altitude. Along with the merry chirping of birds, they could occasionally hear the frightening sounds of wild animals too.

The knowledgeable Nambi was describing the kinds of animals that lived in these forests – elephants, jaguars, cheetahs, bears, and wolves. Nambi described how lone wolves and cheetahs hunted together in those jungles.

“Nambiyaare, I hear the sound of water gurgling somewhere. Is there a river nearby?”

“There must be. I am not sure. The sound you are hearing resembles a herd of elephants drinking water.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to get caught in the middle of a herd of wild elephants?”

“No. It is not. Elephants in herds are safe. You just need to step aside.” Meanwhile, one of the soldiers had climbed a tree to see what was going on.

“Ayyo, there is a lone mad elephant headed our way.”

Nambi got the jitters and screamed, “Run!”

“Nambiyaare, you said you were not worried about a herd of elephants, why are you afraid of a single elephant? There are three of us who have spears. You have a staff in your hand.”

“No. One can even manage a herd of elephants, but a lone mad elephant is more powerful than a thousand of your spears. It is very dangerous.”

As he spoke this, the elephant came into full view. It was charging towards them.

The four of them started running away from the elephant. After running a few steps, they realised that they were running towards the edge of a deep ravine. The soldiers and Vandhiyathevan darted to the sides towards the dense forest.

Vandhiyathevan turned back and saw Nambi standing rooted to the spot. It was a familiar sight. He stood swinging his staff and screaming, “Stop! Do not come near me. Stop!”

Book 2 | Chapter 26 | Veera Shaivite Cat

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was.. ”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejeweled scepter. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan was puzzled as to why and how this Veera Vaishnavar had come here.

“I was just thinking about you a little while ago. I open my eyes and you jump across the wall.”

Thambi, why were you thinking about me? If you had been thinking of Lord Rama, at least you would have gotten some punyam. Why think of mere mortals like me?”

“Actually I started thinking of Lord Rama only. I was thinking about how Lord Rama had worshipped Shiva at Rameswaram. And then I was reminded of Lord Hanuman. And immediately I thought about you. I wondered if you had also jumped across the ocean to reach here.”

“Who am I, to be compared with the great Hanuman? He had wreaked havoc here in Lanka when he came here. And look at me – I cannot win against a common cat. Look at how he has scratched my leg. My legs are bleeding now.”

“Why did the cat take so much offence to you?”

“I came here searching for you. I tricked the guards in the front gate, and climbed over the back wall. While climbing down the wall, I inadvertently stepped on the cat’s tail. This irritated the cat very much and it started attacking me.”

“Oho. I think I know what is happening here now. The cat came to me and was petting me gently with its tail. I think it is a Veera Shaivite cat. That is why it took a liking to me and hatred towards you.”

“What you say could very well be true. If only I knew this before, I would have given a few whacks to the cat with my staff.”

“Interestingly, ever since I set foot on this holy soil, I have also been feeling a very strong Veera Shaivite attitude. My sword is seeking out the blood of a Veera Vaishnavar. I recollect how you helped me earlier, and that is why I am refraining.”

“When did I ever help you, Thambi?”

“Do you not remember telling me about your sister, the Pazhuvoor Rani? You even showed me the palanquin in which she travelled. I saw the same palanquin outside Thanjavur a few days later. I told her that I had a message for her from you.”

“You seem to be well-versed in the art of telling blatant lies.”

“What I consider imagination, people like you call lies.”

“Anyway, what happened after that?”

“She gave me a ring with the palm tree insignia and asked me to come and see her in her palace.”

“And did you go and see her?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And…”

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was…”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejewelled sceptre. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

“Hmm. They say that the treasury, under the control of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, has countless riches. It seems that it is still not enough for Nandini Devi. And what did she say she would give you in return?”

“She promised to make me the Fort General of Thanjavur.”

“Hah. That would be nice. If you become the Fort General, then I would get undeterred access to Thanjavur.”

“I doubt if that would even be possible. Look at me. I am now caught in this mess, at the beginning of the mission.”

“Do you know why you have been imprisoned?”

“I brought along the ring with the palm tree insignia, thinking that it would have some power here also. It looks like that is the mistake I made.”

“Yes. That is a big mistake. Did you not know that the General here is from Kodumbalur? The Kodumbalur clan and the Pazhuvur clan have been arch-enemies since a very long time. But, do not worry. I am here to free you. Come with me.”

“No. I will not come with you. Please leave soon. My sword is begging me for some Veera Vaishnava blood.”

“I have enough blood within me. Give some to your sword if you want. Come, let us leave now.”

“No. I will not come.”

“Why are you being so adamant?”

“I thought I would get a good night’s sleep today. Travel has made me tired.”

“Oho. So, you want to sleep. Is this how you will finish the task that Princess Kundavai gave you? Did you not promise her that you would not rest a minute till you reached this scroll to her brother, Prince Arulmozhi?”

Nambi took out a scroll from his hip pouch.

Vandhiyathevan looked blankly at Nambi, took the scroll and stammered, “How did you get this scroll?”

“I got it from General Vikrama Kesari. He asked me to return this ring with the palm tree insignia as well. He also asked me to let you know that you can start your journey at any time.”

“Do you know where the Prince is at this time?”

“No. No one knows. Last we heard was that he had left Anuradhapuram and gone towards Malai Nadu. The General has ordered me to accompany you and help you in navigating this new land.  

A fraction of doubt still clouded Vandhiyathevan’s mind. “Can we meet the General before we leave?”

“Of course, we should meet him before we leave. You should give him any news you may have about Vanathi.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain now that Nambi was a sorcerer and knew the dark arts.

Book 2 | Chapter 25 | Thiruketheeswaram

These scenes seemed to be exactly like what Sambandhar and Sundarar had described in their paasurams. The only difference now was that, in place of the devotees thronging to the Thiruketheeswaram temple, there were battalions of armed soldiers roaming around the city. It had been a cantonment city for the last hundred years.

Though it seems like a short time, we have lingered in Thanjavur for a long time now. We have forgotten about our young hero – Vandhiyathevan.

Vandhiyathevan had walked along the coast from where Poonkuzhali had dropped him off and reached the grand city of Maathottam (now called as Thiruketheeswaram). The entrance to the city was filled with fruit trees of every kind. The port of this bustling city was filled with boats and ships of all kinds and sizes. Goods were being loaded and unloaded from these ships.

These scenes seemed to be exactly like what Sambandhar and Sundarar had described in their paasurams. The only difference now was that, in place of the devotees thronging to the Thiruketheesaram temple, there were battalions of armed soldiers roaming around the city. It had been a cantonment city for the last hundred years. The city had been under the control of the Lankan kings for a while and the Pandiya kings during other times. More recently, since Paranthaka Chozhan, it had mostly been a Chozha province.

It was at the fort gates of this cantonment town that Vandhiyathevan stood today, looking at the tall fort walls. He had tried getting in through the gates, but entry had been refused. He had tried his earlier method of forcing entry into the fort, like what he did at Kadambur. He was promptly captured and taken to the Fort Commander.

“I have an important message for Prince Arulmozhi from Thanjavur. I cannot discuss this any further with anyone other than the Commander of the Lankan forces.”

They searched him and found a scroll addressed to the Prince and the ring with the palm tree insignia. The commander of the Lankan forces, General Kodumbalur Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, was informed about Vandhiyathevan. The General was leaving for Rameswaram, along with the Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. The General gave orders to imprison Vandhiyathevan, until he got back from Rameswaram.

Surprisingly, Vandhiyathevan was very happy about this decision. He was tired from the long journey. Imprisonment was the best way to rest, he thought. He was taken to a dilapidated house in the city, and put under guard.

He spent the first day sleeping and rejuvenating his body. The second day, an interesting thing happened. He started hearing an agitated man shouting in the room next to his.

“Do not come near me. I will kill you. I will send you straight to heaven. What do you think of yourself? You do not know who I am.”

Vandhiyathevan heard only one voice though. There was no one replying to this. He heard this shouting for several hours that day. Towards evening, the shouting increased, and suddenly something dropped into his room through the low wall separating the two rooms.

Vandhiyathevan was petrified for a moment, but as he regained his composure and saw what had fallen, he started laughing heartily. It was a cat. The man in the next room had been threatening a cat all this while. One other thing that was puzzling Vandhiyathevan was that the voice seemed very familiar. He could not remember when or where he had heard this voice, but he had definitely heard this voice before.

He tried to sleep now, but the cat would just not let him sleep. After a little while, he got very irritated at the cat and threw it back over the low wall. There was commotion on the other side of the wall again, with the voice threatening to kill the cat again.

“Who threw the cat back here? Is there someone on the other side?” asked the voice from the other room.

Vandhiyathevan kept quiet. He pretended to sleep, but had his hand on his sword. He waited. He saw two hands trying to climb the low wall and then a face slowly appeared.

Vandhiyathevan recognised the face now, and realised why the voice was so familiar. It was Alwarkadiyaan Nambi.

He got up and sat down. “Veera Vaishnavare, welcome! Welcome to the holy Shiva-sthalam, Thirukedeeswaram.”

“Oho, it is you, thambi. I thought it should have been you. Who else would be sitting so smugly without making a sound?”

Book 2 | Chapter 22 | Ponnaar Meniyane

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The royal mint of the Chozha kingdom was located in one corner of the Thanjavur fort. It was as heavily guarded as the outer gates of the fort. It was around sunset when Kundavai and Vanathi arrived at the mint. When their chariot came to a halt, the soldiers and the people around cheered and hailed the Princess of the kingdom. It was closing time, and the goldsmiths who had been minting coins through the day were leaving the mint.

The goldsmiths were being frisked and checked before they left for their homes. The Chief Soldier gave the royal ladies a tour of the mint. They saw the process of how beautiful gold ornaments and gold ingots were melted and cast into coin-shaped forms. The coins had the tiger emblem on one side and a ship emblem on the other.

“Akka, what is the advantage of converting the gold into coins?”

“You are indeed a very innocent and naïve girl. If we convert gold into coins, it will facilitate trade between neighbouring countries. It is also very easy to measure and count. It will also enable our subjects to pay taxes and other levies more easily and accurately.”

Kundavai lowered her voice and said, “There is also one unfortunate thing that this conversion facilitates. These people whom we keep hearing about, who are plotting a coup against my father – they can easily sway and buy over people and resources, to get their ulterior work done.”

The Chief Guard heard this last bit of information faintly.

“Princess, you are right. There are many such rumours floating around. The security in the mint has hence been increased significantly in recent times. The number of people who come and go to the underground dungeons below this mint has also increased.”

“I understand people coming into the dungeons have increased. But leaving it too?”

“Yes, Princess. Just yesterday, there was a prisoner who was brought in. A little while ago, they took him away again.”

The Princess and Vanathi walked through the mint towards the back gate. They reached a tall wall on which there was a small gate. They opened the gate and stepped inside. It was dark inside and the ceiling was low.

There were fearsome growling noises coming from all around. There was a guard with a torch sitting in a corner. In the light of the torch, if one looked hard enough, one could see several cages. Roaming inside each of these cages were fearsome tigers. Their eyes glowed in the light of the torch.

Kundavai grabbed Vanathi by her arm and said, “Vanathi, I hope you are not afraid. Please do not faint and fall here.”

“Akka, why should I be afraid of tigers? They are after all the symbol of our kingdom, and hence our protectors.”

“Sometimes protectors join forces with our enemies. We should be careful.”

“Akka, what do they feed these tigers?”

“Prisoners who try escaping the underground dungeon are the food for these beasts.”

“Oh God! How cruel!”

“Vanathi, such is the nature of running a kingdom. One has to do such things.”

“You should have been there when I was speaking to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. It almost seemed like he would imprison me in this prison.”

“Akka, I don’t think anyone would ever dare do such a thing.”

“Right now, I am worried only about the Vaidhiyar’s son. He did seem to be an innocent boy.” The tigers were growling incessantly.

“Guard, please show us to the entrance of the underground dungeon.”

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The Princess, Vanathi, and two guards descended one by one. The darkness intensified. The light of the torches showed the way down the narrow passageway. They moved slowly in a single file. The silence was broken intermittently by the gut-wrenching cries of prisoners who were kept in isolation.

In the midst of this eerie chaos, there was the sound of a sweet and melodious voice. “Ponnaaar Meniyane! Pulitholai Araikku Asaithu!”

The guard held his torch near each of the cell entrances. Some prisoners were kept in isolation. There were some cells with two prisoners. In some cells, the prisoners were chained to rings on the walls. Kundavai looked at each of the prisoners’ faces and moved on slowly.

“Akka, why are all these prisoners kept here? Are they prisoners tried by any court of law?”

“Vanathi, normal prisoners are usually tried in the court of law. These prisoners are those who committed heinous crimes of treason against the kingdom. Some of them are spies and some of them are those who abetted spies. The guards try to extract as much information as possible from them.

Once they get the required information, the prisoners are usually released. But of course, from some prisoners, one cannot recover any information – some people do not have any information – what would they do?”

By this time, the beautiful music was getting closer. When they reached the cell from where the music was coming, the Princess could see that there was a young man inside the cell, sitting in peace, singing his beautiful song.

Yes, the reader is familiar with this young man. It was Sendhan Amudhan, indeed.

The young man bowed to the Princess.

“You seem to be in good spirits, young man.”

“The omnipotent God is everywhere – including here. Why should I not be in good spirits?”

“You seem to be a gnani. What were you doing before you came here?”

“I am not a gnani, Princess. I used to make garlands and worship the Lord. Here I am singing couplets and worshipping the Lord.”

“Is this the only song you know, or do you know other songs?”

“I know a few more, but ever since I came here, I have been singing just this same song. On my way here, I passed through the mint where there were heaps of gold – which reminded me of the beautiful golden skin (Ponnaar Meni) of Lord Shiva.”

“Do you have any relatives?”

“Only my mother. Her name is Vani Ammai. She lives near the thamarai kolam (lotus pond) outside the Thanjavur fort.”

“I will let her know that you are fine and in good spirits down here.”

“That would not be of any use, Princess. Neither can she hear what you say, nor can she reply back. She is both deaf and dumb.”

“Oho. Then your name must be Sendhan Amudhan.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“And what is the crime for which you have been kept here?”

“Until yesterday, even I did not know. Just today I heard that I have been kept here for the crime of helping a spy.”

“Who was the spy you helped?”

“I met him outside the fort gates one fine day. He was looking for a place to stay. I invited him home. I did not know that he was a spy then. He said his name was Vallavarayan Vandhiyathevan.”

On the Princess’ request, Sendhan Amudhan narrated in entirety what happened between him and Vandhiyathevan.

“How is it that you helped someone whom you had just met, so much?”

“There are some people to whom you take an immediate liking. Vandhiyathevan was one such person. He was so likeable. He did not seem to be a bad person at all.”

“At the same time, there are some people whom you will hate on first look. I had one such person in my cell until some time back. Thankfully, soldiers from the Pazhuvoor Queen’s guard came and freed him some time back.”

“Hmm. Is that so? And why is it that you have so much hatred for this man?” exclaimed the Princess.

“This person said he was the son of a Vaidhiyar from Pazhayarai. Apparently, he and Vandhiyathevan had gone down to Kodikkarai together. He spoke badly about my cousin, Poonkuzhali, who lives there. Hence my anger, Princess. But there is one piece of good news that I gleaned out of him.”

“And what is that good news?”

“He says he tried to trick Vandhiyathevan into getting caught by the soldiers sent by the Pazhuvettarayar. Bloody traitor! But thankfully, Vandhiyathevan escaped.”

Both Vanathi and Kundavai exclaimed in unison, “He escaped?”

“Yes. Apparently, Poonkuzhali took him in her boat in the middle of the night to drop him off at Lanka.”

“Young man, you do not look like someone who could have done any wrong. I will ask the Fort Commander to release you.”

“Princess, I request you to grant me some more time. The old man in the next cell has been asking me to teach him a couple of songs. If I do so, he has promised me that he would tell me where he has hidden the Pandiya Coronation Crown. I will learn that secret and then come out.”

The Princess and Vanathi laughed out loudly.

“I do not want you to go mad like the person in the next cell. Then, what will I tell your mother, Vani Ammai?”

The Princess and her entourage left the dungeon. In about half an hour, some soldiers came and released Sendhan Amudhan from the underground dungeon, and guided him to the Thanjavur fort gates.

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 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.

Book 2 | Chapter 7 | Samudrakumari

She knew about the perils of rescuing people who were hysterical and on the cusp of drowning. She had heard about how they would clasp the rescuer so tightly that it would make it very hard for the rescuer to swim. She thought quickly. There was only one way. She went close to him and landed a powerful blow between his nose and temple.

Vandhiyathevan spent the day lazing in the mandapam. For most part of the day, he was thinking about Poonkuzhali. He thought about how intelligent she was. He was also very impressed with her humility – how she had casually mentioned slaying a leopard. There were times when she behaved very obstinately and adamantly. Yet, there were times when he saw extreme sorrow in her eyes. He wondered what brought that out in her – perhaps a very sad incident earlier in her life. He thought about her helpful nature. He remembered how she had saved him from the guards. And now, she had even accepted to take him to Lanka.

There were times in the day when he heard a lot of commotion – sounds of horses, men and frightened animals. He realised that he was the one they were searching for. He was reminded of the turncoat – the son of the Vaidhiyar. He would never be able to forgive him.

The sun began to set. Vandhiyathevan longed to see the beautiful sunset from Kodikkarai. The peninsular formation of land near Kodikkarai made it a brilliant place to watch the sun set over the oceans. Vandhiyathevan controlled his desire. It would not be safe. Darkness fell quickly. Vandhiyathevan could not hold himself back any further within the mandapam. He gingerly stepped out. The nocturnal sounds of the forest sent a chill down his spine.

He heard the sound of a cuckoo. Vandhiyathevan took a few steps towards the sound. He saw Poonkuzhali at a distance. She motioned for him to follow her without making a noise. He noticed that the shore was not too far away. He saw a craft anchored close by, with its sail rolled down. She started pushing the craft away from the shore. Vandhiyathevan waded in the water alongside the craft for a little distance. Then she got into the craft and asked him to board as well. The craft swayed like a pendulum. Vandhiyathevan’s heart raced in fear.

“Should we be raising the sail now?”

“No. The wind is blowing in the opposite direction now. If we raise the sail, we will go towards land again. We will have to wait until the wind turns.”

“You seem to be very well-versed in sailing, just like your father mentioned.”

“He is my father only when I am on land. When I am in the ocean, the Ocean King, Samudra-Rajan is my father. I have another name too – Samudra-Kumari. Hasn’t anyone told you that yet?”

“Interesting name.”

“If the Emperor’s younger son can be addressed as Ponniyin Selvan, can I also not be addressed as Samudra-Kumari?”

“When can we reach Lanka?”

“If two people row, we can make it by dawn. The winds would also have to aid us.”

“Let me also help you row, then.”

“No need. This requires skill and I will take care of the journey.”

The boat rode the rough waves. Vandhiyathevan was feeling extremely queasy and giddy.

“These are some rough winds.”

She laughed loudly. “This is nothing compared to the winds of the stormy season. The whirlwinds that blow at those times can easily sink boats this size.”

She explained the various types of sea winds and how it can affect crafts of various sizes. She seemed to be extremely knowledgeable about the sea.

Suddenly a wave of distrust swept over him. “Was she intent on drowning him?” he thought.

“Turn around the craft and take me to land.”

“Shut up. What are you saying? We are out in the middle of the sea. If you are so afraid, close your eyes and sleep.”

“Take me back. My doubts are getting clarified. You want to drown and kill me. If I sleep, your job will become easier. If you do not turn around, I will jump into the sea.”

“Please do so. But, give me the scroll that you are to deliver to the Prince.”

“Ah. How do you know about the scroll?”

“I saw it yesterday. Do you think I would have agreed to take you to Lanka, without knowing who you are? If I were Princess Kundavai, I would never have given such an important task to a fickle-minded person like you.”

“Oho. You also know who gave me the scroll. You are definitely a conspirator. Are you going to turn around, or should I jump into the water?”

“Go ahead and jump,” she screamed.

He took a deep breath and jumped into the water. They had come into deep water by then. He had not anticipated that it would be so deep. Panic gripped him. The waves tossed him up and down. One moment, he could see the boat, the other, the darkness of the water enveloped him.

He was certain that he was going to drown and die. All his dreams of meeting the Prince, befriending him, and bringing him back to the mainland, were quashed. All of these aspirations were now being destroyed by this girl – this mad girl.

He thought that she must be from the Pazhuvettarayar camp. Then he thought she must have probably been sent by the Pazhuvoor queen Nandini. He apologised in his mind to Princess Kundavai for failing in his duty. He then decided to start praying to God, at the time of his death.

At that very time, he rode a high wave, and he saw the boat again.

For a few moments after Vandhiyathevan had jumped off the boat, Poonkuzhali had been adamant and stood her ground. She thought he would somehow struggle and come back to the boat.

After a little while, she realised that she was wrong. He did not know how to swim so well, and he was clearly petrified. He was screaming loudly. If she did not save him now, he would start swallowing water and drown. She started to row towards him.

She motioned for him to get on to the boat. He did not seem to understand. He was hysterically screaming. He had lost his sense of reason.

She tied one end of the sail rope to the boat and tied the other end to her waist. She jumped into the water and swiftly swam towards him. She saw the terror in his eyes.

She knew about the perils of rescuing people who were hysterical and on the cusp of drowning. She had heard about how they would clasp the rescuer so tightly that it would make it very hard for the rescuer to swim. She thought quickly. There was only one way. She went close to him and landed a powerful blow between his nose and temple.

Years of rowing these rough seas had made her very powerful. He was knocked out in one blow. Darkness enveloped him into an endless sleep.

Book 2 | Chapter 6 | Secluded Mandapam

“A cheetah used to live here. I killed it and made this mandapam my home. Whenever I want to spend some time alone, I come here.”

When Vandhiyathevan woke up, only the lighthouse keeper’s wife and daughter-in-law were at home. The old man had gone to the temple. He could not see Poonkuzhali anywhere. He ate his morning meal and set out to search for her. He searched all around the lighthouse, but could not find her. He headed to the temple, where the old lighthouse keeper was collecting flowers to offer to the Lord.

“If you are searching for Poonkuzhali, she is not here. She must be roaming somewhere in the forest, chasing deer.”

He roamed around the forest for a while, but could not find her. He roamed around the beach shore, but of no avail.

He suddenly had an urge to bathe in the sea. He also thought it would be a good idea to lose the fear of water, if he was to cross this large expanse of sea. He placed his waist cloth on the beach and stepped into the water. He then walked some distance into the sea. Poonkuzhali was right. The depth was not more than his waist level. He kept walking, when he suddenly realised that he had come too far from the coast. He panicked. He turned around and slowly started walking back to the shore, when he saw Poonkuzhali on the beach.

He saw her looking through his clothes. She had found his waist cloth and the scroll. “Ey! Poonkuzhali. Those are my things. Please do not touch them.”

He was not sure if she could hear him, over the sound of the crashing waves. He started running towards her. She saw him running towards her and started running herself. She started running away from the lighthouse and towards the forests.

“Poonkuzhali! Stop!”

He fell down a couple of times in the water, but somehow got to the shore. He started running towards her. Just like the previous day, he found it really hard to keep up with her. She ran past a herd of deer, which panicked and ran helter-skelter. He had to catch her before she entered the forest. He would never be able to find her in the forest. But he could not. She entered the forest and Vandhiyathevan followed. And just as he had expected, he lost sight of her. He searched for her in vain. He had bruises all over his body by now. He kept returning back to the same place again and again. He was hopelessly lost.

He stopped beneath a tree. His pouch fell from above. He looked up and saw Poonkuzhali. “Check if your scroll and your money are all there.”

“I have never seen a mad girl like you.”

She laughed.

“I had to do this. Else, you would not have come to the forest. You would have gone to the lighthouse. Climb this tree and see what is happening at the lighthouse.”

He climbed the tree and saw in the direction that she was pointing. There were about ten horses and several soldiers. They must be Pazhuvettarayar’s soldiers searching for him.

“Poonkuzhali, thank you for saving me. You have done me a great service. I will never forget this.”

“Oho. I see that you have a sense of gratitude too.”

“Please do not generalise all men to be a bad lot.”

“Enough with the gratitude. Now listen to what I am going to say carefully.”

“Earlier in the morning, your friend, the Vaidhiyar’s son, wanted to collect herbs. So, I offered help and brought him to this forest. He soon started making advances at me. I told him that you had already beaten him to it. He became very upset and told me to reconsider. He said that you were a fugitive and were running away from the law.”

“Scoundrel.”

“At that time, we heard the sound of horses. Instead of running away from the horses, he walked towards the riders. He negotiated with the soldiers, that if he showed them where you were, they should let him go free.”

“Two-faced rogue. But then, why did you take my clothes and run? You could have told me all this on the beach.”

“If I had not run like that, I would not have been able to get you here to the forest. You would have wanted to go and fight the soldiers. Or perhaps the soldiers may have over-powered you.”

Vandhiyathevan felt ashamed that he had initially thought this girl to be mad. She was indeed very intelligent.

“I cannot describe how big a help you have rendered me. I just want you to help me a little more. Please take me to Lanka. I assure you that I am not going there for any illegal reason. Please help me.”

“What would you give me if I do help you?”

“I would not forget your help. I would do anything that you command.”

“Is that a promise?”

“Yes. I will never forget this promise.”

“Ok. Then I will ask for the favour later, when I require it.”

She took him to a secluded mandapam inside the forest.

“A cheetah used to live here. I killed it and made this mandapam my home. Whenever I want to spend some time alone, I come here.”

“Wait here until dark. I will come and get you. I will also try and bring some food for you. We will have to set sail within the first hour of darkness.”

“Do not step out on any circumstance – whatever be it – even if you hear human voices or horses or wild animals. I will make the sound of a cuckoo. Come out only if you hear me make that sound.”

“Would there be any wild animals?”

“After I killed the cheetah, I have not seen any. There might be the occasional fox or wild pig.”

“I left my spear and knife at the lighthouse.”

She went behind a pillar, retrieved a sharp weapon and gave it to him.

“I have not seen a weapon like this. What is this made of?”

“It is made of the bones of a big fish. I used this to kill the cheetah.”

“I will wait for the sound of a cuckoo.” 

Book 2 | Chapter 5 | Fire Spewing Demons

Sleep evaded him. After a long while, he fell asleep. He dreamt of being in a boat with Poonkuzhali. The dark ocean surrounded them. He dreamt of asking her to sing again.

Vandhiyathevan turned around. What he saw, brought his heart to his throat. His breathing just stopped abruptly. He saw many small pits of embers. There was no fire. There was no smoke. And these pits of embers were appearing and disappearing. They were an eerie sight in the night. They looked like an army of mutilated rakshasas spewing out fire from their mouths.

Poonkuzhali laughed an eerie laugh. “These are my lovers. Can you or your friend Amudhan beat these lovers? I come to meet these lovers every night.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain that Poonkuzhali was stark raving mad and lost hope that he could convince her to take him to Lanka.

Then it struck him. He remembered. He recalled someone telling him about this. When sulphur trapped under the ground escapes through puddles of ground water, it appears like molten lava. These fiery outbursts only last for small periods of time and disappear. When this happens over a large piece of land, the effect is quite dramatic. Ignorant people think of these as kolli vai pisaasu (monsters with burning embers in their mouths).

He calmed down and decided that it would only be prudent to take her back home.

“Girl, your lovers will remain here. We can come and see them tomorrow also, if you wish. Come, let us go back home.”

She wept uncontrollably.

After a little while, she stopped weeping and slowly the two started walking towards the lighthouse.

“People say that the Emperor is unwell. Is that true?”

“Yes. I saw him with my own eyes. He is bed-ridden. I need a favour from you.”

“I hear that the Emperor would not live long. Is that true?”

“If you do not help me now, that might very well be true. I need to get some herbs from the Sanjeevi Mountain in Lanka. Can you help me get to Lanka?”

“If he dies, who will succeed him?”

Vandhiyathevan was shocked. He decided that the girl was not mad at all, but rather very intelligent.

“You and I should not worry about that.”

“Why is that? Both of us are citizens of this kingdom. We have the right to know.”

Vandhiyathevan was silent. He decided not to indulge in too much conversation, lest he blabber anything important to this girl.

“Why are you silent? Who will succeed the Emperor?”

“Aditya Karikalan is the Crown Prince. So, he should succeed the Emperor.”

“How about Madhuranthakan? Does he not have the right to rule?”

“Well, he has said he has no interest in the throne.”

“That was before. I hear that he is interested now?”

“It is not just his interest that matters. The people of this kingdom should approve.”

“I hear he has some important people backing him?”

“I am also hearing similar things. But I am very surprised that these rumours have reached all the way to your ears.”

“I need your help. Can you please take me to Lanka? I do not know how to man a boat, and your father says there is no one else but you. I hear your brother also left just yesterday to Lanka.”

They reached the lighthouse. She went into the house and he lay down again. Sleep evaded him. After a long while, he fell asleep. He dreamt of being in a boat with Poonkuzhali. The dark ocean surrounded them. He dreamt of asking her to sing again.