Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Chapter 13: Ponniyin Selvan

Just when Vandiya Devan was finding his way by foot towards Maandotham and Anirudhar and Azhwarkadiyan were conversing about the Kingdom’s affairs, Princess Kundavai and Vanathi were on their way to Thanjavur on a royal elephant. Kundavai Devi had not visited Thanjavur for some time now, for many reasons. In the first place, Thanjavur did not have enough palaces to house the princess and her retinue. With result, she would have to stay at her father’s royal residence which was not only inconvenient but also lacked privacy. Independent by nature, Kundavai couldn’t abide by the rules of security laid down by the Pazhuvur brothers. Apart from that, she found it difficult to bear the arrogant behaviour of Pazhvur Elaya Rani whose insolence knew no bounds. Her father too accepted her reservations and did not demand her presence at the capital often.
Princess Kundavai

But after meeting Vandiya Devan, Kundavai felt that none of these reasons mattered much when the safety of the Kingdom and that of the throne were under question. ‘How can I roam joyously around the gardens of Pazhaiarai when the Kingdom is under such grave danger?’ was the question she asked herself. With the Crown Prince away in Kanchipuram and her younger brother in Elangai, ‘Who will take care of the kingdom?’ Her brother had cautioned her more than once to use spies to learn what was happening in the capital. But time for covert knowledge was past and she knew that she had to be in Thanjavur, beside her father.

So far, she had been uncomfortable with the arrogance and ambitious behaviour of the Pazhuvur brothers and when she learned about their plot to crown Madhuranthakan she knew that it was time she paid a visit to the Capital. That poor boy Madhuranthakan! God knows what they are planning to do with him. They have also somehow garnered the support of important chieftains and petty kings to help his cause. They might even stoop to kill the king to fulfil their ambition. They wouldn’t find a more opportune time to act than now with both the sons away from the Capital, it would be very easy to crown Madhuranthakan as the next king. If they were short of ideas, that Rakshashi Nandini would supply them with a few murderous ones. These were the thoughts that prompted Kundavai to leave her carefree world at Pazhaiarai and move towards the fort of Thanjavur. At the capital, it would easy to see through the machinations of the Pazhuvur brothers and hopefully save the kingdom from grave danger.

But why do they want to crown Madhuranthakan? Do they truly believe that he deserves the throne? No. They want a puppet king on the throne, someone who would listen to everything that they say while the real power would rest in the hands of Pazhuvetarayar and his queen. She would then rule over the Chola Kingdom and hold sway over everybody’s life, including hers. ‘No! This will not come to pass when I am alive.’ Let me see just how clever she really is.

While living in Thanjavur would be uncomfortable enough, her parents would undoubtedly ask, ‘Why have you come here instead of staying comfortably at Pazhaiarai?’ It would impossible to go anywhere outside the Fort without the permission of Thanjavur Commander Chinna Pazhuvetrayar. If that were not enough, the idle women folk at the palace would start talking about her marriage, which left her seething with irritation. She would have to meet Nandini upon occasion and bear her arrogant behaviour and ungracious self. But none of these were worth a consideration when the Kingdom was under such grave danger. She also intuitively sensed an imminent danger nearing her father.

Apart from all these considerations, there was yet another important reason for her travel. She wanted to know whether Vandiya Devan had reached his destination or not. She now knew that the Pazhuvur brothers had sent soldiers to Kodi Karai to capture Vandiya Devan. Will they be successful in capturing that brave youth? She thought not. But if they do, they would bring him to Thanjavur and wouldn’t it be helpful if she were there too. They dare not do any harm to a messenger sent by the Crown Prince that’s why they have brought about the false charge of attempted murder on him. If they can blame him for trying to murder Sambureyar’s son, they would be within their rights to imprison him. There was no doubt about the fact that it was a false charge but it might be difficult to prove it. She was determined to speak to Kandan Maran and learn his version of the story as well.

While Kundavai’s mind was unravelling the political intrigues and imminent threats against her father’s kingdom, her companion and friend Vanathi’s innocent mind was engaged with just one thought. ‘When would Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar come back home?’

Akka! You said that you have asked him to come home immediately? Where will he arrive? At Pazhaiarai or Thanjavur?”

She was wondering whether the Prince would arrive at Pazhaiarai when they were visiting Thanjavur.

Kundavai who was otherwise engaged didn’t hear her question properly. “Are you asking about Ponniyin Selvan, Vanathi?”

“Yes Akka. I was asking about him. You have called him ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ again. Won’t you tell me the story behind that name? We have all the time in the world, as this elephant is moving very slowly towards the Fort.”

“If the elephant were to go anymore faster than this, we wouldn’t be able to sit on it. Do you know what happened in the Thakkolam war?”

“No. I don’t. I want to know the story behind the name ‘Ponniyin Selvan’.”

“Looks like you will not forget about that. Alright, here is the story…”

In the early years of Sundara Chola’s ascension to the throne, his family life was very happy. He used to take many pleasure trips along with his family in the palace boats along the banks of the Cauvery. Along with his wife and children and palace servants, bards and musicians, they used to have a merry day of pleasure. With sounds of laughter, encouragements and poetic verses, the king loved to travel along with his family, whenever he felt the need to relax from the burden of the work.
Once while they were travelling in the palace boat thus, the King and the Queen were engaged in a serious conversation and there arose an alarm, ‘Where is the child? Where is Arul Mozhi?’ Startled they looked around to find their youngest son missing from the boat. Kundavai who had raised the alarm searched everywhere around and soon the servants and the King himself jumped into the water to search for the lost child.

Kundavai was just seven years old then, while Arul Mozhi was five years old. Arul Mozhi was the darling child of the entire kingdom. But more than anybody else, it was Kundavai who took care of him and loved him almost like a mother rather than a sister. When she found her younger brother missing, she was alarmed and shaken. Worried she looked everywhere and around the boat to see whether he had fallen into the water by accident. But how long could they search for the missing child in the water and where to search? Learning about the danger to their darling child, the queen and some of her womenfolk fainted away in fear, while some cried bitterly.

Suddenly there was a miracle. They saw her at a distance from the bank; a woman holding the missing child in her hands. Half submerged in the water, she held out the child in her hand. Her beautiful face, arms and shoulders were the only thing that were seen. 

Prince Arul Mozhi saved by Mother Cauvery

The King who was swimming nearby, immediately took the child from her and by then the palace boat had neared them. He gave the child to the servants and got into the boat and suddenly fainted. With the king indisposed and a child to take care, the queen and her servants forgot all about the woman who had saved the child. After some time when things settled down, they pondered over who saved the child. No one came forward to claim the honour of saving the little Prince’s life. No one had noticed what happened to the woman after she handed over the child to the King. After endless discussion, they decided that it must have been Mother Cauvery who had saved the Prince. And every year, they held a special puja for River Ponni (tributary of Cauvery where the Prince had drowned) and since then, the Prince was referred lovingly as Ponniyin Selvan (Ponni’s beloved).

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Volume 1 - New Flood