Saturday, 27 September 2014

Chapter 9: This is Elangai!

By the time Vandiya Devan woke up again, it was dawn and a glorious sight awaited him at the shores. The sun shone through the waters making it seem almost golden. At the horizon, there awaited an isle in emerald hues. Fresh and green, his first sight of Eelangai was indeed breath-taking. To the right, there was another island beckoning them with a seductive grace. All through the shore, he could see many such beautiful islands enticing them with their pristine beauty. The beauty of the land awed Vandiya Devan so much that he felt that they were created by God only to show the world how beautiful a place can be.

Spellbound Vandiya Devan lay silent for a few moments, when Poonguzhali remarked, as if she was reading his thoughts, “This is not heaven. This is Elangai.”

“Yes. You are right. But for a moment I thought I was in heaven.”

“This is not heaven but a place that could be heaven, if only soldiers and war-mongers like you would leave it alone.”

“Are you calling me a war-monger now?”

“Why shouldn’t I? People like you who are interested only in conquering lands and enslaving people are the reason why places like Eelangai are turning into hell.”

“Would you call Ponniyin Selvar too a war-monger now?”

“Why are you talking about the Prince now?”

“You said that you would find out where the Prince is now.”

“Yes. I told you that I would find out where he is and not what he is.”

As the boat neared the shores, Vandiya Devan looked around with interest. “What do you say? The island you see in the front is boodha theevu (Ghost Island). To your right is Naga Theevu. Shall I go to Naga Theevu? Will you find your way to the Chola army camp?”

“No. Let us go to Boodha theevu. It doesn’t matter if my journey is delayed by a few hours. I would rather know where the Prince is exactly, before I start.”

“Alright. But remember the promise you made to me.”

Soon the boat neared the shores of Boodha theevu. Poonguzhali bid Vandiya Devan to watch over the boat and then walked into the island disappearing amidst its foliage.

He thought about the name of the island and wondered idly about the ghost who would be giving Poonguzhali the information about the Prince. Within an hour, the girl who had occupied his thoughts was back with information.

She walked briskly towards the boat and bid Vandiya Devan to get in.

“What did you find out?”

“Prime Minister Anirudha Bhrahmarayar has come to Maanthotham to meet the Prince. It is believed that the Prince must have come there to meet him but I am not sure how long he will stay there.”

“How far is Maanthotham from here?”

“Quite far. You will need to make your way through the forest. Don’t imagine that it would be anything like the forest you saw in Kodi Karai. Here it is very easy to get lost among the trees that almost touch the sky. You will also encounter many elephant herds through the forest and not to mention other beasts that inhabit the place. You will need to travel very carefully.”

“Hmmm. If only I could get a guide like you to show me the way through this strange land, it would be wonderful…”

“If you need help at every step of the way, you can hand that oolai to me and I might as well deliver it for you. ….No. I can’t do it. You were sent specifically by Elaya Piratti. Only you will have to give it to him.”

“That’s fine Poonguzhali. I will complete my mission, no matter what. You helped me to get here, that in itself is a big help.”

The boat now approached Naga Theevu (Snake Island) and Poonguzhali plied the oars steadily but it was evident from her face that her thoughts were elsewhere.

“Samudra Kumari!”


“You told me that you would ask me for some help later. Now is the time. Soon I will get down from this boat and go in search of the Prince. Tell me what you want?”

Poonguzhali looked thoughtful and remained silent for a while. Vandiya Devan continued, “The help that you have rendered to me is very important. In a way, you have helped the entire Chola kingdom by ferrying me here. In return, if there is anything that I can do for you, please tell me…”

“Do you honestly want to do something for me, in return?”

“I solemnly promise in your father’s name, Samudra Rajan.”

“…which means you are writing all this in water.”

“No. I really want to do something for you in return. I solemnly call upon the Gods and the five elements to bear witness to my sincerity.”

“Alright. I am not saying this because I believe this oath of yours. Scoundrels and liars take oaths about all things but they do not keep it but when I saw you for the first time, I intuitively knew that you were a good man…”

“They say that first impression that a person has about another is often the right one…”

“After meeting Ponniyin Selvar, when he is alone and free, ask him just one question. ‘Prince! Do you remember Samudra Kumari?’ If he says ‘yes’ then tell him that it was I, who had brought you to Eelangai.”

Aha! Poonguzhali! Is this your secret? So a little sparrow like you, wishes to reach the heights of an eagle? This can’t be good for you… thought Vandiya Devan but thankfully did not voice it.

“Is that all? You were hesitating so much, for this. I thought you were going to ask for something really big. I will definitely tell the Prince about you. Even if he does not remember you, I will tell him about you…”

Ayyo! Don’t say anything to him if he does not remember…”

“No. I will tell him…”

“What will you tell?”

“I will tell him whatever happened. ‘Ponniyin Selva! Do you remember Samudra Kumari? If you don’t, then please try to remember her now. It was she who helped me to escape the murderous soldiers of Pazhuvetrayars. It was she who brought me to Eelangai in her boat. It was she who saved me from drowning in the sea, when I jumped into it like a fool. Without her help, I couldn’t have come all the way here and given you this Oolai.’ What do you think?”

“So far so good… but don’t add anything more to this and don’t tell him that I asked you to tell him all this.”

Che! Do you think I don’t even know that?”

“If the Prince says something to you, make sure that you come back to me and tell me everything word by word…”

“Of course I will. But where will I find you?”

“That’s not difficult. I will be either in Kodi Karai or in Bootha theevu or somewhere in between.”

“While going back home, shall I stop at Bootha theevu to check whether you are there?”

“You are not to enter the island under any circumstances.  If you do, there will be danger. See if this boat is there at the shores. Yesterday, I cooed like a cuckoo. Can you make a sound just like that?”

“No. But I can scream like a peacock. Want to hear?” saying thus, Vandiya Devan tried to imitate the high pitched scream of a peacock only to elicit a delightful laughter from his beautiful companion.

Naga Theevu is know as Nainativu today
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Soon the boat was at the shores of Naga theevu and Vandiya Devan embarked on the beach for yet another adventure but not before throwing one last glance at the strange boat girl who had brought him there. He had a vain last hope that she might just change her mind and accompany him into the strange land but Poonguzhali had already forgotten all about him and was back in the dreamland that she lived in.



Maanthotham - Known today as Manthai (Mannar district in Sri Lanka)

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Chapter 8: The Ghost Island

It seems that the sky goddess is as intelligent as the humans. We humans ignore the God within us and search for him everywhere from temples to holy places. In the same manner, the Sky Goddess lets the Sun God slip out of her grasp into the sea and searches for him all through the night with her million starry eyes.

When Vandiya Devan gained consciousness, he felt as if innumerable firelights were lighted up on the sky. Soon he realized that they were not firelights but stars and that he was lying prone in the boat in his wet clothes. His hand automatically touched his waistcloth to note whether the important oolai and his other belongings were intact or not.  He also realized that he was tied to the middle plank of the boat with a sturdy rope. Taking a deep breath he looked at the sky and found himself at peace. With a gentle breeze serenading him, he heard a lovely familiar song.

“That strange girl, Poonguzhali! He realized that she must have rescued him somehow after he had recklessly jumped into the sea. If she had harboured cruel intentions with an ulterior motive, why would she save him? How did she manage to get me into this boat? It must have been quite difficult.

“Why is she getting up now?  Aha! She is raising the sails for the boat. That is such a difficult task. Let me help her.”

“Poonguzhali! Poonguzhali!”

“Untie me. Let me help you too.”

“It is enough if you sit quietly. That itself is a big help. You can untie yourself if you want but please don’t jump into the sea again.”

Vandiya Devan untied himself and sat down while Poonguzhali raised the sail. Once the sail was up, the boat seemed to speed along with the winds.

“Samudra Kumari!”

“What is it?”

“I am thirsty.”

“That’s to be expected. You drank a lot of salt water last night,” saying thus, she took a small jug from the boat and handed it over to him.

“I even managed to get food for you but it got lost when you jumped into the sea, thankfully this jug did not fall in,”

Vandiya Devan handed jug back to her and said, “I misunderstood you Poonguzhali. I am sorry.”

“That’s alright. I am a boat girl and you are a stranger. Come dawn, we are going to part,”

“What hour is it?”

“Look at the Saptarishi mandal to find out.”

Vandiya Devan looked up and noted that the Saptarishi mandal had travel half way across the sky since the last time he had last noted it. But Dhruva natchatram (Pole Star) was rooted on the sky at the same place. So many people must have used this star to know their position on the sea. Someone had compared this star to someone… who was it? Yes. That astrologer, Kudhanthai Jodhithar. Didn’t he tell me that Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar was like Dhruva natchatram (Pole Star)? Will I really see him soon?

Pooguzhali asked, “Did you find the time? It will soon be dawn. The winds are favourable now. We will reach Naga theevu (snake island) soon.”

“Snake Island!”

“Yes. In the north of Eelangai, there are many small islands. If you get down there, you don’t have to take the boat again. You can walk along the coast to reach the mainland,”

“What will you do after you leave me there?”

“How does it concern you?”

“Why shouldn’t it concern me? You have done a huge favour on me by bringing me here in your boat. I am indebted to you. You told me yesterday that you would ask me something in return, what do you want?”

“I have changed my mind about it. You do not owe me anything and I have no intention of asking you to return the favour. You are an ungrateful man.”

Vandiya Devan lowered his eyes with shame and felt that she was justified in saying thus.

“Samudra Kumari! I am ashamed by my actions yesterday. It was wrong of me to suspect you thus. Please forgive me.”

“Alright. Forget everything and think about what you are going to do in Eelangai. What will you do after I leave you there? Would you be able to find the Prince on your own?”

“God helped me to cross this sea. He will help me to find the Prince.”

“Looks like you trust the God above all else. Do you really think that God cares about mere human beings like us?”

“I don’t know that. I have never tried to analyse God and his ways thus. Whenever I am in trouble, I think about God and he sends me help. When I had to cross the sea, God sent you to me.”

“God did not send me to help you and nor did he come in my dreams asking me to help you…”

“Then why did you help me? Why did you save me?”

“It’s got nothing to do with you. It’s personal.”

Vandiya Devan sat thinking for long about her reasons. His vain mind initially thought that Poonguzhali might have started liking his handsome person but he rejected it outright. It was too fanciful a thought even for him. No. She is not in love with me, there must be some other reason for helping me. Let me try and speak with her and get the truth.

“I am a bit worried about one thing though…”

“What would that be?”

“I have heard that there are many mountains and forests in Eelangai.”

“Half of Eelangai is covered with forests and mountains.”

“They say that there are many wild and ferocious animals…”

“There are hoards of wild elephants in the forests there. Sometimes they even come out of the forest…”

“I have heard that people in Eelangai are savages…”

“That is a lie.”

“Alright. If you say it is a lie, it must be so. But I am worried about how I will find Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar there.”

“But didn’t you say that God will help you, a few moments ago.”

“Yes. I thought that it wouldn’t be difficult to find the Sun amidst the clouds…”


“But what if clouds hide the sun within them…”

“No cloud can hide the sun that you seek. If they try, they too would start glowing as bright as the sun…”

Vandiya Devan noted Poonguzhali’s enthusiasm when she spoke about Prince Arul Mozhi. Just as the other people in Chola Kingdom, she too seemed to have boundless love and respect for this Prince.

“You will need to enquire about the whereabouts of Chola army in Eelangai and you will find the Prince…”

“But… I heard that Chola army is spread all over Eelangai…”

“That is true. From Maandotham to Pulastiya nagaram, the Chola armies are encamped in places they have captured.”

“In that case, how will I find the Prince? It will take days and days before I know for sure where he is exactly? And you know how urgent and important this oolai is?”

Samudra Kumari was silent for a while…

“If there is a way to find out where the Prince is, then I need not roam around here and there aimlessly…”

“There is a way…”

“I knew that you would be able to find one. That’s why I asked you…”

“Next to naga theevu (Snake Island), there is boodha theevu (ghost island).”

“The name of the island sounds very scary…”

“There is no need to get scared. Once this island was called Boudha theevu (Island of Budha). With time and age, the name got distorted to Boodha theevu (ghost island). Nowadays, many people get scared hearing the name of the island so not many venture out there…”

“…except for brave girls like you apparently,” finished Vandiya Devan.

“If you wait at the shores of Boodha theevu, I can find out where Ponniyin Selvar is at present…”

“Whom will you ask in Boodha theevu?”

“There is a ghost in Boodha theevu. That’s whom I will ask,”

“Will you show me that ghost?”

“No. You will have to promise me to stay ashore with the boat, only then I will go inside the island and get the information for you.”

“Alright. As you wish.”

With a gentle breeze blowing and the steady movement of the boat, Vandiya Devan settled down to sleep again even as the dawn was breaking in the sky.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Chapter 7: Samudra Kumari

That day Vandiya Devan spent half the time sleeping and the other half, he whiled away wondering about the strange behaviour of Poonguzhali. What an unusual girl, she is? Such a beautiful name but why is her character so different and difficult. To him, she seemed like a tart mixture of sweet and strange.

She carelessly mentions about killing a tiger, cries while looking at the marshy hot bubbles, sings a hauntingly beautiful song, yet she saved me from the murderous soldiers of Pazhuvetrayars. Why does she behave so strange at times? He surmised that there was some bitter incident in her past that made her behave thus. Or perhaps it could even be a sweet incident… women are strange by nature. Some women were strange right from their birth but her parents seemed like normal people, calm, collected and in peace with their lot in life.

Forget the behaviour, why is she so interested in saving my life? Why did she help me escape the Pazhuvur soldiers? Why did she bring me here to hide? She has also agreed to take me in her boat to Eelangai. Will she perhaps betray me in the end? No. No… That can’t be true. She wants some help from me. She said she would tell about it later. But what kind of ‘help’ would that be?

While he sat thinking about her, the forest came alive with myriad sounds just, as Poonguzhali had warned him. Neighing of horses, people, animal sounds, chirping of birds followed by ominous silence. He realized that the Pazhuvur soldiers were searching for his whereabouts in the woods. He was also astonished by the betrayal of his companion, the Physician’s son.

“Foolish boy! The idea of him falling in love with Poonguzhali was so laughable. Can a rat fall in love with a lioness? But this girl used his foolishness so well. With just a few words, she managed to raise a jealous storm in his heart so much so that he was willing to betray his companion. Women truly can be very dangerous.

But I will need to accept something truthfully and wholeheartedly! I have been under the illusion that there is no one in the world who could challenge me in intelligence and in being clever. But this boat girl from nowhere has proved me wrong.’

The way she had lured him away from the beach to these forests proved just how intelligent she really was.

‘It also proves that I should never let my guard down ever. Just imagine what could have happened if we were still at the beach. The Pazhuvur soldiers would have caught me and all my aspirations would have turned to dust!’

Sun set was a beautiful that evening in Kodi Karai. The southern sea bends towards the western direction in Kodi Karai and when you look towards the beach from a high point, one would see the sea in all three directions - east, west and south. But Vandiya Devan could not see the glorious sunset that evening as Poonguzhali had warned him not to come out of the hidden mandapam, for any reason.

With the sunset, darkness descended on the hidden mandapam. Vandiya Devan got to the top of the mandapam to have a lookout. He could see the lighthouse glowing at a distance. With millions of stars dotting the sky, he sat there for long waiting for Poonguzhali’s signal. At long last, a melodious “cooo…coooo” sound was heard. Vandiya Devan sprang alive from the mandapam roof and came out to the woods to meet Poonguzhali. She signalled him to be quiet and said, “Don’t make any noise. Come with me…”

They walked towards the beach silently, where her boat was ready for their journey with a sail and long sturdy rope. Moving fast, Vandiya Devan tried to help Poonguzhali to drag the boat into the sea but she said, “Please don’t,” and launched it into the sea, while she held the rope. When he tried to get into she said, “Shush! Wait! You can get in after sometime.”

After some distance when there were no more waves in the sea, they both got into the boat. The small boat shook a great deal when Vandiya Devan got into it. With his limbs trembling, he tried to control the innate fear of water that he always had.

“Can we talk now?” he asked

“Yes. If you have ceased trembling with fear, we can.”

“Who is trembling here? Definitely not me.”


“Don’t you have to put up the sail?”

“If we put the sail now, we will be seen from the beach. What if someone comes and catches us?”

“I will take care of everything, you don’t have to be frightened,” said Vandiya Devan and proceeded to tell her all about his brave deeds.

 “The wind is blowing from the opposite direction. If we open the sail now, we will end up back in Kodi Karai. After midnight the winds will change. We can put the sail up then.”

“O! Looks like you know a lot about these things. That’s why your father insisted that I take your help.”

“My father! Who is that?”

“What do you mean? Your father, Thyaga Vida Karayar!”

“He is my father only in the shore. When I am in the sea…”

“When you are in the sea, will your father change?”

“Yes. Here the glorious lord of Sea, Samudra Rajan is my father. Do you know what my other name is? Samudra Kumari! Didn’t anyone tell you?”

“No. Samudra Kumari is such a strange name.”

“Don’t people call Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar as ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ similarly I am called ‘Samudra Kumari’.”

When he heard the Prince’s name, Vadiya Devan’s hand automatically went to his waistcloth where he had kept the message given by Kundavai. Noticing his action, Poonguzhali asked, “Is it safe?”

“What is safe?”

“The thing you have kept in your waist cloth.”

Vandiya Devan was taken aback and a germ of suspicion grew in his mind. Poonguzhali in the meanwhile was mechanically plying the oars.

“When will we reach Eelangai?”

“If two people could ply the oars, we could reach there by dawn, if the winds are favourable.”

“Let me help you with the oars,” he said and took the oar that rested next to him and soon found out how difficult a task it was to move the boat. His cumbersome attempts at the oars stopped the boat in the middle of the sea.

“What is this? How come the boat moves only when you are plying the oars?”

“I am Samudra Kumari. That’s why. You don’t have to help me, I will make sure that you reach Eelangai safely.”

He sat quiet for a while and tried to look around. Kodi Karai beach was no longer seen. There was water everywhere. Looking around at the boat he noticed a plank in the middle of the boat.

“What’s this plank for?”

“It is to balance the boat in the water so that it does not shake too much.”

“Really! Somehow it doesn’t seem to be working. Look how badly the boat is shaking.”

“You call this shaking. You should see the sea during the monsoon and its swirling high winds.”

“What will happen if these high winds come? Will this boat survive it?”

“It depends on the force of the wind. In most cases, the boat will survive high winds but when a storm or a hurricane comes, the plank can be used to survive even if the boat is lost.”

Ayyo! Will the high wind drown the boat?”

“I have seen storms and whirlwinds devouring big ships. What chance does a small boat like this have?”

“What is a whirlwind?”

“You don’t know that.  When high winds from two different directions meet, a whirlwind is created. During the months of Thai, Masi, we have ‘Kondal Kattru’ in these seas. It is very safe to travel during those months. It is easy to go to Eelangai and come back within a day. But during the months of Vaigasi, ‘Chozha kattru’ (monsoon winds) blow around. When these winds clash around the sea, huge waves come about and they churn the waters like a butter churn. Mountain like waves rise above and deep chasms are created in the sea. If a boat like this gets trapped in a whirlwind, you will surely meet the God soon.”

Vandiya Devan suddenly lost all the bravado and started trembling in every limb. His suspicion about her intentions too became strong. “Ayyo! I am not coming with you. Please take the boat back to the shore.”

“What are you blabbering? Be quiet. If you are frightened, close your eyes and sleep.”

“No! You are a wicked woman. You have brought me all the way here only to drown me.”

“What is this madness?”

“I am not mad. Will you turn the boat or not? Or shall I jump into the sea?”

“Go ahead and jump. But before you do, you can hand over the oolai that you are taking to Ponniyin Selvan.”

“O! How did you know about that Oolai?”

“I learned about it this morning when I took your waistcloth. I learned who you were and why you were going to Eelangai. I wouldn’t have agreed to ferry you otherwise.”

“You are truly evil! I should never have trusted you. Will you turn the boat or not?”

“If I had been Elaya Pirrati, I would never have trusted such an important message with a fickle minded messenger like yourself.”

“Aha! So you also know who sent the message. I have no doubt about your intentions now. Will you turn the boat or shall I jump?”

“Go ahead! Jump!”

Crazed with panic and fear, Vandiya Devan jumped into the sea. Thinking that the water level would be same as it was at Kodi Karai beach, Vandiya Devan had braved the waters, only to realize that they were now sailing in the middle of the sea, where it was very deep. When he realized that, he started shouting and struggling in panic.

Though he knew how to swim in shallow waters, the boundless depth of the sea scared him and in his panic he forgot how to swim. While swimming in a lake or a river, he would take a look at banks to gain courage and swim ashore but he was in the middle of the sea with no sight of shore. The mild waves tossed him up and down and senseless with fear and fright, he lost the strength to shout out for help. He could see the boat sailing away and lost all hopes of survival. ‘This is it. I am going to die in this sea. And along with me this message for Ponniyin Selvan will be lost.’ Kundavai devi’s face rose before his mind’s eye and it seemed ask, ‘How could you do this?’

‘Aha! I had so many dreams. I wanted to win back my old kingdom and had dreamed of ruling it along with Elaya Pirati as my queen. And they have become mere dreams, all because of this wicked girl. She is a blood thirsting ghoul. She probably learned her tricks from that enchantress Nandini. She could even be a spy of the Pazhuvetrayars. If only I could get my hands around her neck, I would squeeze her… Chi! Chi! Why am I having such murderous thoughts before dying? Let me think about God. O! Lord Shiva! Mother Parvathi! Lord Muruga! O! Lord Vishnu who resides in the might ocean of this universe… Kundavai Devi, Please forgive me. I am leaving this world without completing my mission. I can see the boat now. If only I could get that girl in my hands….’

When Vandiya Devan jumped into the sea in fury, Poonguzhali was indifferent for a while. She thought that he would toss around for sometime and then come back swimming to the boat to save himself. She even put some distance between him and the boat to make him more desperate. But after a while, she realized that he was genuinely in trouble and that he didn’t know how to swim.

‘He doesn’t know how to swim properly. And even if he did, he must have forgotten how to, in his panic.’ His screams now seemed feebler and soon he would start swallowing salt water and drown. I am such a fool, she thought. I should have kept my mouth shut until we reached Eelangai. I shouldn’t have told him that I knew about his secret. But who thought that this reckless fool would jump into the sea thus?

Poonguzhali saves Vandiya Devan
Poonguzhali immediately brought the boat closer to him and said, ‘Come! Come! Get into the boat.’ But Vandiya Devan did not hear her. He was in the throes of drowning had lost the power of seeing and hearing anything but whenever the waves tossed him up, he tried to scream. Flaying his hands around, he tried desperately to keep his head above the water. Poonguzhali noted all this in a second and decided that it would be impossible for him to get into the boat on his own. When she looked at him in the moonlight, she could see the panic-stricken crazed face that failed to register the fact that someone was trying to help him. She knew that she had to somehow haul him out of the sea onto the boat. This is such a nice trouble of my own doing, she thought.

She immediately tied the rope that she had brought along to her waist and the other end of the plank in the boat and then she jumped. Swimming with powerful strokes, she neared Vandiya Devan. Vandiya Devan recognized her and his face became murderous. Poonguzhali was familiar with the actions of a drowning man. Before they drowned, they would almost possess inhuman elephantine strength and would try to hold onto to whatever they could come across. To save themselves, they would even try to hoist themselves up on the shoulders of their rescuer, thereby killing their rescuer too. She realized that Vandiya Devan was in the same last stage of drowning.

She approached him carefully from the back and made a strong fist with her hands and hit him squarely on his forehead. Her strong hands had a tensile strength about them and her punch was very hard on his head. His vision split into a million fragments and in each of them he could see Samudra Kumari laughing gaily, just before he lost consciousness.

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Volume 1 - New Flood