Sunday, 17 August 2014

Volume 2 - The Storm - Chapter 1 - Poonguzhali

With the sea waves weaving in and out of the beach, the dusky evening was peaceful in Kodi Karai. The sky was dotted with birds flying back home across the pristine white sands of the soft beach. The air seemed still in the woods near the beach and the sun was fast sinking behind a veil of clouds.

A small boat made its way towards the shore. A young woman was plying the oars of this boat and she reminds us of Senthan Amuthan’s description of his uncle’s daughter Poonguzhali. Yes. She is indeed Poonguzhali. To justify her beautiful name perhaps, she had decorated her hair with a flower and her lovely curly hair fell in cascades upon her shoulders. She had adorned her neck with a lovely necklace of shells but truly they seemed more pleasing to the eye, only because she wore it.

And what could be more alluring than a beautiful maiden plying a boat? Surely it would be her melodious voice. Sitting languidly on the boat, she sang a haunting song about the sea and it seemed as if the wind stood still to listen to her honeyed voice. Even the sinking sun seemed to be listening to her before it could usher in the night.

Listening to her, one might even wonder what sorrows this young maiden might be hiding in the deepest recess of her heart that seemed to give such a poignant tinge of sadness to her voice.

She was close to the shore by the time, the song ended. She plied her oars mechanically and came near the beach. She nimbly got out of the boat and dragged it behind her and let it rest near the many boats that were left on the beach. Then she looked around the beach and spotted the light on the lighthouse that acted as a beacon and a warning for ships lest they come too near the shore. On the other side of the woods, there was a temple that stood hidden among the many trees that grew there. Two hundred years ago, Sundaramurthy Nayanar had come to Kodikarai Kuzhagar temple and had sung his divine devaram about how Lord Shiva stood alone amidst the sea and the beach.

“My Lord! Why are you here all alone amidst this lonely beach and waves? This place isn’t worthy of you? You are needed in a place where throngs of devotees would place their offerings at your divine feet and not a lonely stretch of beach.“

Kuzhagar Temple Today
Photo Credit: ancientindiantemple.blogspot.in

But even after two hundred years, Kodi Karai still remains a secluded stretch of beach, sand and woods during the time of our story. The thick woods around the temple were full of wild animals and hooting owls, making it more dangerous than it was two hundred years ago. There was however one difference. Two hundred years ago, there was no lighthouse here. It was built during the period of King Paranthakan I and since then the place became a home for a few families who took care of the lighthouse and the temple.

Remains of the Ancient Lighthouse Built by Paranthaka I
Photo Credit: madraswanderer.blogspot.in

Poonguzhali looked around her and thought of going towards the lighthouse. Then she saw the temple gopuram of Kuzhagar temple and decided to go there instead. Even as she decided to go there, the temple bells started ringing melodiously. What am I going to do at home so early? Let me visit the temple. I can ask the Pattar to sing the divine devaram songs and then take the prasadam home.

Deciding thus, she walked fast towards the temple. On the way, she saw a herd of deer running towards the forest and among them was a lovely young deer, graceful and childlike. Her enthusiasm crossed all boundaries when she saw the deer. She ran along with them as if she was going to catch them but no matter how fast you run, one cannot really compete with the agility of the deer. The herd outstripped her and ran gracefully ahead of her. 

At one place, all the deer collectively leaped as if they were escaping from a dangerous deep pool. All the big deer leapt safely and reached the other end but the one of the smaller ones fell in the middle. Sinking in the muddy quicksand, it tried to claw its way up but moaned piteously when the attempt failed. The mother deer and the rest of the herd had stopped running and were watching the small deer worriedly but they couldn’t help in anyway.

Poonguzhali immediately set about to help the little dear. She noted carefully where the quicksand ended and approached the place where the little deer was stuck. The deer herd and the mother deer looked at her suspiciously not knowing her intentions. But she cooed at them with a strange sound and that seemed to reassure them. She bent over the quicksand pool and grabbed the little deer’s legs and pulled it to safety. The little deer stood trembling from fear for some time and then turned around and ran to its mother for succour and comfort. Soon the entire herd started running at breakneck speed.

Chi! Such ungrateful creatures!” she exclaimed and then comforted herself saying, “But they are certainly better than the humans who are worse than ungrateful.”

She started walking towards Kuzhagar temple into dense forest. The thick grove of forest was so dense that strangers who are unfamiliar with the terrain can easily get lost and roam around clueless for long. Nestled amidst the trees stood the old temple looking a bit desolate and deserted. She entered the temple and went straight to the inner sanctum. The temple priest looked at her in surprise and smiled. Visitors to the temple was a rare sight for him and among them attractive young boat girls were more than welcome.

After she finished her prayers, the priest gave her a coconut and the divine prasadam to eat and said, “Amma! Will you wait for a while? I will lock the temple and come along with you.”

“I will wait for you Ayya! I am not in a hurry. I can wait until you finish all your work here.”

Saying thus, she came out of the temple and nimbly climbed on one of the trees to hoist herself on the temple walls. Along the walls, there was a statue of Nandi, the bull. Sitting with her back on the considerable bulk of Nandi, she leisurely ate the coconut and the temple prasadam that the priest had given her.

Poonguzhali

While the darkness enveloped the temple from all around, she suddenly heard horses galloping. She looked intently at the direction of the sound and her heart was stirred with a long-gone memory that threatened to choke her with an indescribable sorrow. Who is coming here? What do I care who it is? There are too many strangers coming around here these days, citing royal duties. Yesterday too, two people had come here wanting to go to Eelangai. They looked so disgusting but Anna took them on his boat after they gave him a bag full of gold coins. May a thunder fall on their money! Who wants money here? What purpose does money serve when you are living amidst a forest? But Anna and Anni’s world revolves around money. They just want more and more!

As the sound of galloping horses came closer, she noted that there were two people coming there. It looked as if they had travelled a long distance and were very weary. The man on the first horse was quite young, handsome, broad chested and looked like a soldier. But when compared with that other face that she had enthroned in her heart, she found him downright ugly. To tell the truth, this man’s face resembles an owl!

As the readers might have guessed, the first man on the horse is our friend and hero, Vandiya Devan. Behind him came the Physician’s son who had accompanied him from Pazhaiarai. They both were saddle sore and travel weary and were ready to rest somewhere. Yet Vandiya Devan’s face bloomed when he saw Poonguzhali lounging atop the temple wall, carelessly eating the coconut. When he saw that she too was looking eagerly at his face, his enthusiasm knew no bounds. He stopped the horse and looked at her with a smile. If he had known that she had been comparing his face to that of an owl, he might not be so enthusiastic to talk to her. Thankfully, God found it worthwhile to make humans hide their innermost thoughts and wishes from others.

When Poonguzhali realized that the man on the horse was staring at her, she immediately got up from the temple wall and jumped down on the soft sand of the temple and started running along the temple wall.

When Vanidya Devan saw her running, he too got down from his horse and started after her. Now who can divine why she felt like running away from a man who was staring at her or what prompted Vandiya Devan to take off after her. We can only conclude that each one of them was following their natural instincts in the order of the world. 

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Volume 1 - New Flood