Sunday, 21 December 2014

Chapter 16: King Sundara Chola’s Hallucinations

Next morning, the King summoned his daughter to his chambers after bidding his servants, bodyguards, handmaidens and the physicians to stay away. He asked Kundavai to sit next to him on the bed to talk confidentially but she could sense that he was struggling for words.

Appa! Are you angry with me?” asked Kundavai.

Her words brought tears in his eyes and he asked, “Why would I be angry with you, child?”

“I came here ignoring your commands.”

“Yes. You ought not to have come here. This Thanjavur Palace is not the right place for young girls like you. It is quite obvious from last night’s incident.”

“What incident are you referring to, Appa? 

“I am referring to that Kodumbalur girl fainting near my chambers? How is she feeling now?”

“She is fine now, appa. She has fainted many times like this in Pazhaiarai.”

“Did you ask her Kundavai? Did she tell you why she fainted? Did she hear or see anything in this palace?”

Kundavai thought for a while before answering her father and said, “Yes. She said that she wanted to go the terrace but lost her way and ended up near your chambers by mistake. She said that she heard someone moaning in fear and pain which scared her to death.”

“I also thought so. Now do you realize, dear daughter, a ghost haunts this Thanjavur Palace. I don’t want you to stay here. Leave this place at once,” Said Sundara Chola and his eyes were fixated at a distant place and his body shivered in fear.

Noting this with alarm, Kundavai said, “If that is so father, why do you and mother have to stay here? Why don’t you come back to Pazhaiarai? I don’t think your health has improved by any measure after shifting here.”

Hearing her words, the king smiled bitterly and said, “My health is not going to improve. I have no such hope,”

Appa! Please do not lose hope. The head physician at Pazhaiarai says that he can cure you completely,”

“And you believed him and sent some men to Elangai to get medicinal herbs. I heard about it. Your actions attest to your affection,”

“Is that wrong father?”

“No. I am fortunate to have a daughter like you. There is nothing wrong in you sending people to Elangai to get herbs for me. However I do know one thing for sure, even if you get medicines from Elangai or some other island or even from Indra’s Devalogam (Heaven), my health is not going to improve…”

Ayyo! Don’t say that father?”

“You came here despite my commands, dear daughter. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me…for many days, I have been wanting to tell someone this truth. I will not get this opportunity again. Listen to me! If my illness was related to my physical body, then the medicines would work but they won’t work on those who are sick in the heart and mind. I don’t think there is any medicine for a worried heart…”

“Dear Father! You rule over the three worlds. What are you worried of?”

“Child! You are quoting the poets who would hail me as the king of the three worlds! I am not the king of the three worlds! I am not even a king of one world. I rule over a very small portion of land in the world. When I can’t bear the burden of this small portion of the world, dare I hope to rule over three worlds?”

“Father! Why would you want to bear the burden of the kingdom? You have two valiant sons who are peerless warriors. Let them bear the burden of this kingdom…

“Child! That’s what worries me day and night. Your brothers are valiant warriors indeed but if I hand the burden of kingdom to them, I will not be doing the right thing. There is a deadly curse on this kingdom that they will inherit from me…”

“Father! What is this you keep referring to? How can there be a curse on a kingdom that had kings like Sibi who offered his flesh for a pigeon or King Manu who sought to sacrifice his heir and son to give justice to a cow. Our ancestors were the peerless warriors like Karikala Vallavan and Perunar Killi and Vijayalaya Chola who bore 96 deadly wounds to save this kingdom. Aditya Chola built over 108 temples along the banks of River Cauvery and your own grandfather Paranthaka Cholar gave away gold to build a roof for Chithambaram. Your uncle Kandarathidhar was a king not unlike the Dharma in the Mahabharatha. How could you call such a kingdom cursed, father? It’s your health that is troubling you, father. If you leave this fort and come back to…”

“Do you know what would happen if I leave this fort? Do you think I am happy to stay here in this fort away from the beautiful gardens of Pazhaiarai? Kundavai! My presence in this fort is the only thing that is keeping this Chola Kingdom from disintegrating. Did you see what happened at the play yesterday? I was watching it from the balcony. I had a mind to stop it in the middle…”

“But father, why? I thought that the play was well enacted. I felt so proud to see the valiant acts of my ancestors. Why did you want to stop it in the middle? Which part of the part did you dislike?”

“The play was indeed well enacted, child. I had no complaints about it however I was not pleased with the actions of the audience. Did you not notice how the audience took sides with Pazhuvetrayars and Kodumbalur Vellar and shouted their support?”

“Yes. I did father.”
“If they have the temerity to act thus even when I am here, what do you think would happen if I were to leave? The minute I leave Thanjavur, a deadly skirmish would break out between these two clans and just as Lord Krishna’s Yadava clan was destroyed, our kingdom too would be doomed.”

“Father! You are the Chakravarthi. Whether it is Pazhuvetrayars or the Vellars, they are bound by their holy oath to follow your orders. If they don’t, they will be destroyed by their own hand. You don’t have to be unduly worried about…”

“Child! Both these clans have been the backbone of our kingdom. They have supported us in countless wars and battles. If they destroy themselves, it is but natural that the kingdom will become weak.”

“Father! If it is known that one of these clans is involved in a plot against the kingdom and you…”

Sundra Cholar looked at Kundavai with surprise and asked, “What are you saying Child? Who is plotting against me?”

Appa! There are people whom you trust implicitly in this kingdom but sadly it is they who have turned against you and your sons… they are involved in a secret plot against you. They want to deprive your sons of their right and crown somebody else as the king.”

“Who? Whom do they want to crown?” asked the king hurriedly

Kundavai lowered her voice and said softly, “They want to crown my uncle Madhuranthakan as the next king. Ever since you have become incapacitated by your illness, these people have been hatching this plot…”

The king suddenly sat up and said, “If only their plot was successful…how wonderful it would be”

Shocked by his words, Kundavai said, “Father! How can you say such a thing? Would you turn against your own sons?”

“No. I am not trying to turn against my own sons. I wish to do them good. I don’t want this cursed kingdom to go to my sons. If only Madhuranthakan would agree to ascend the throne…”

“Why wouldn’t he agree? He is more than ready to ascend the throne. Are you going to give this kingdom to him? Won’t you speak to my brother about this decision of yours?”

“Yes. I will need to speak to Aditya Karikalan about it. And not only him, we need to ask Sembiyan Madevi’s permission as well…”

“If the son is going to inherit a kingdom will the mother say ‘no’?”

“Even after all these years of staying with your grandmother, you still have not known her well. Years ago, I ascended the throne only because of Sembiyan Madevi’s insistence. It was she who pushed me to crown Aditya Karikalan as the heir apparent and crown prince. Child! Your grandmother loves you as much as her own daughter, you can sway her heart and get her to agree for Madhuranthakan’s ascension as the next king.”

Stunned by his words, Kundvai could only look at him speechless.

“After you speak to her, go to Kanchi and convince your brother to give up this cursed kingdom. Let us crown Madhuranthakan as the next king. Only then, we will be relieved from this curse…”

Appa! What is this curse that you keep referring to?”

“Child! Do you believe in past life memories? Some people remember things from their past life and recount it accurately. Do you believe in it?”

“Father! I have no opinion about it as I do not know anything about it.”

“They say that Mahavishnu took ten avatars and Buddha was the last avatar. There are many beautiful stories about him.”

“Yes. I have heard about them.”

“I keep wondering when Gods can have different avatars, why can’t a man remember his past life?”

“It is possible, appa!” 

“I remember many things from my past life, child. I haven’t spoken about it to anyone so far. Even if I did, no one would believe it and nor would they understand it. They would say that this paralysis has affected my mind as well and would bring magicians along with the physicians to cure me.”

“You are right father. Even now, many are saying that your mind is not alright…”

“See? I was right. But I hope you wouldn’t think of me as ‘mad’. I hope you will not laugh at me.”

“Do you have to ask, father? Don’t I know how distressed you are? Would I laugh at you, ever?”

“I know child. That’s why I have decided to reveal certain things in my past life. Listen to me…”

There was a beautiful island, green and lush with pristine sands and emerald greenery all around. A young warrior was hiding behind a large bush and was watching the beach intently. At some distance, one could see a large ship sailing away… The soldier watched the ship until it disappeared from his line of sight and then stood up saying, “Thank God!”

That young warrior was of royal lineage but he had no claim on the kingdom and nor did he crave for that responsibility. His father had two brothers who would succeed to the throne therefore he never had any aspiration or dream of ruling a kingdom. But he wanted to perform valiant and valorous deeds in the service of the kingdom, hence he went to along with their army to fight their enemy in the seas. He took charge of a small army of soldiers but they lost the battle and his men were killed. Though he fought bravely and had every intention of dying along with his men his life was spared. He joined the band of soldiers who were returning home by ship. But he was not happy to return home. He felt that he could not return home after losing all the men under his command. His ancestors were great warriors. His father, uncles, his grand father and great grand father were great kings who had won every inch of their kingdom with the might of their swords. He couldn’t bring himself to go back home as a failure who couldn’t lead his soldiers to victory. When the ship started to move, he spotted a beautiful island and when no one was noticing he silently jumped into the water and swam towards it. He waited in the shrubs until the ship disappeared and then climbed the tallest tree to see his new home. It was a beautiful place, untouched by civilization. He realized that he was alone in that island. He was not unduly worried about it. He sat down at the base of the tree and thought about his future.

Suddenly he heard a screeching voice of a woman. He turned around to see a woman running through the woods with a wild bear on her heels. He ran after her with his heart beating and even as the bear neared her he threw his spear on it with unerring precision. The bear turned around to attack the youth and a fierce fight ensued between them. In the end, the youth killed the bear successfully and stood panting with exhaustion. He searched for the woman whose life he had saved. He found her looking at him from behind a tree, her eyes expressing her happiness and surprise. Her looks and attire attested to the fact that she lived in the forest well away from the civilized world but it didn’t diminish her beauty in any way. To him, she seemed like the most beautiful woman in the world! Her beauty was so ethereal that he was afraid that she might vanish in thin air. He neared her to ascertain whether she was real. She didn’t vanish, however she ran away. He followed her for a while but soon gave up when she outstripped him and moreover he didn’t think it was decent to follow a girl thus.

“She lives in this island. I will see her again for sure. Where will she go?” he said to himself and went near the beach and lay down under a tree. His surmise was right. She came back soon, along with an old man. He learned that the old man was a fisherman who belonged to the ‘Karaiyar’ community and he lived in one of the many islands that lay near Elangai and the girl was his daughter. He also learned that earlier when he lay hidden behind the shrubs watching the ship leave, the bear had crept behind a tree and was poised to attack him. The girl who had seen all this from a distance had shouted to warn the youth about it. After learning that the girl had saved his life, the youth thanked her most eloquently but the girl did not respond. Instead her father acknowledged his thanks. This surprised him at first but when he realized that the girl was deaf and mute, his regard and admiration for her grew.

As hours stretched into days, they became friendly with each other and she took him along to see the vast deserted stretches of beach in the lonely island. To him, she seemed like the most perfect woman created by God. Her inability to hear and speak didn’t seem like a big hurdle to form affection for her person. He learned to speak to her through signs and as days passed, he could intuitively discern her innermost thoughts from the expression of her beautiful eyes. He also noted that as a woman who lived in the forest, her sense of intuition was very high as she could sense danger or threat very easily. Life took on an easy routine for the youth and soon he began to consider that island as his home and found pleasure in her company.

Suddenly one day, the carefree life of the youth came to an end. A ship was sighted near the island and a few men came to the shore of the island searching for him. From them, he learned the many calamities that had befallen his family back home. His uncle had died most tragically in a war and his father was at the death’s door thanks to deadly wounds. His uncle who had no children was crowned the king, which resulted in him being the next heir apparent. The youth felt as if he was caught between two storms… on one end there was a call for duty and on the other there was the girl who had stolen his heart. But he gave precedence to duty. He could not roam around free and irresponsible when his family, kingdom and people were under imminent threat of war.

“I come back soon… I will come back after fulfilling my duties…” he said to her and left in the ship. She had not come forward to bid him goodbye. Shy and wary of strangers, she had stayed behind the tree where they had first met and watched him leave with sad eyes that haunted him to this day.

“Kundavai! I still remember her standing behind that tree watching me with her beautiful eyes brimming with unshed tears. I cannot forget that scene no matter what. But there is one other scene that tears my heart to pieces… Shall I tell you about that?” he asked piteously.

Choked with emotion, Kundavai said, “Tell me father.”

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Chapter 15: A Voice of Distress

The Chola Kingdom in those days was the epitome of art, dance, drama and music. In particular, the theatrical artists and their plays were very popular with the general populace. There were many streets in Thanjavur dedicated solely for the performance of drama and arts. However the best of the artists lived right at the royal palace of King Sundra Chola.

Well renowned for their creative plays, the playwrights of Chola Kingdom wrote many new plays inspired by the glorious history of their kings and their victories. Some of their best plays featured Chola heroes of renown, Karikala Vallavan, Vijayalaya Chola, Paranthaka Thevar and many other kings of the past.

On the occasion of Navrathri, the artists put up a show for the royal audience at the palace for three days in a row. The royal theatre was set in a large courtyard that could easily accommodate more than thousand people while the royal women viewed the performance from an enclosure complete with silk screens and cushions. The queen and many other royal ladies sat through the performance of most plays here. Kundavai and Vanathi too attended them on the last three days of the Navrathri. And on many an occasion, Nandini too joined Kundavai and her companions. The womenfolk didn’t like this but they couldn’t show their displeasure openly, especially when Kundavai welcomed her with utmost respect. On the other hand, life might get very unpleasant for those who courted the displeasure of the Pazhuvur queen and her Lord. And when Kundavai herself regarded her with such respect, they had no choice but to follow her example.

Of all the plays that were performed, the artists performed a play on Paranthaka Devar’s life that was well received by the audience. The audience’s reaction to this play served as a mirror to the public opinion.

Of all the kings in the past, King Paranthaka I (who was King Sundara Chola’s grandfather) was hailed as a brave and wise king. During his long reign of 41 years, Chola Kingdom reached the heights of prosperity. The tiger flag ruled over the lands that lay from Elangai to Tungabadra river. He led many campaigns and won many victories by crushing the Pandya rule in Madurai. He was also known for his piety and devotion and he gave away gold to gild the roof of Chithambaram Temple. Unfortunately during the last years of his reign, the Chola Kingdom lost its hold on the neighbouring kingdoms. Kannara Devan, brought a large army to attack from Erattai Mandalam (Rashtrakuta Kingdom) to attack the Cholas. King Parathaka’s eldest son and Crown Prince Rajaditya led the army but it proved disastrous for the Cholas as he died on the battlefield killed by a poison-coated arrow.

Dramatizing the death of this brave prince, the play was an emotional reminder for the audience about events that had happened not so long in the past. There was also yet another reason why the public enjoyed this play more than the others. During the reign of Parathaka I, two royal lords played a very important role – Pazhuvetrayar and Vellar. Both these lords were immensely powerful, brave and performed many valorous deeds in the service of their king. They were also related to the King through marriage. The Pazhuvur lord, Kandan Amuthan depicted in the play was the father of the present Pazhuvur Lords,  while the Vellar lord was the father of Kodumbalur Siriya Vellar. In other words, he was Vanathi’s grandsire.

The play by itself was very carefully enacted to glorify the deeds of both the lords and to avoid any misinterpretation by the audience. They also showed the audience how King Parathaka I acted impartially towards both the lords while respecting them for their contributions. Despite the good intentions of the artists, the play opened the doors for favouritism among the audience as they quickly took sides to support their favourite lord. When the Pazhuvur Lord came on stage, the Pazhuvur soldiers cheered him loudly and when the Vellar lord waged a war, his supporters clapped uproariously. What began as a harmless tug-of-war, soon became quite serious thanks to Princess Kundavai. 

When the cheering of the Vellar crowd sounded loud, Kundavai would lean towards Vanathi and said, “Look Vanathi! Your side is winning.” Innocent and naïve Vanathi would smile and express her happiness at this. And when the Pazhuvur soldiers cheered loud, she would lean towards Nandini and say, “Rani! Looks like your side is winning now!”
Kundavai and Vanathi
Nandini didn’t relish the prospect of Kundavai placing her in the same pedestal as Vanathi. With Kundavai’s encouragement the audience’s preference and opinions was soon apparent enough for all to see. Nandini’s anger knew no bounds and she was tempted to leave the mid-way through the play, but it would only signify her defeat, hence she sat back grudgingly.

Kundavai didn’t miss anything. She could read through Nandini’s mind easily. Her face reflected all the emotions that she was undergoing. However she was intrigued by Nandini’s reaction to the defeat of Pandya King. When the play showed the Pandya King being refused help by the Elangai king, the audience cheered madly forgetting their own differences but Nandini’s face showed deep misery and sadness. For the rest of the play, Kundavai couldn’t help wondering about Nandini’s reaction to the Pandya King’s defeat.

Hoping to learn more about it, Kundavai tried to engage her in conversation. “I wish that the King was well enough to see this play. If only his health had permitted…”

“He will be fine soon Princess, now that you are here to look after him. If the medicinal herbs from Elangai too arrives on time, his recovery would be very fast indeed.”

“Medicinal herbs from Elangai?”

“Why Princess? I heard that you have sent the Pazhaiarai physician’s son to get medicines for your father from Elangai? Isn’t that true?”

Kundavai bit her lips in silence. No matter how beautiful one’s lips are it does hurt when one bites it. Thankfully she was spared from replying when the crowd cheered madly drowning all the noise around.

The play ended amidst resounding cheers and claps from the audience. After the audience dispersed, the royal women and their retinue sought their palanquins to return home.

Later, the Chakravarthini Queen Vanamadevi and other women went to the Durga temple the patron Goddess of Chola Kings. The queen regularly went to the temple to pray for the health of her husband and during the auspicious nine days of Navrathri it was customary to stay until the Pujari gave bali (blood sacrifice) and returned to the palace during the early hours of the morning.

Young girls were not taken to Durga Temple as the Pujari of the temple often got possessed by the Goddess. On such occasions, they would dance wildly and recount bloody wars and tales of revenge but no one had temerity to tell Kundavai that she would get scared hence she too went along with her mother to the Durga temple and performed the puja. But Vanathi was left behind in the palace on these nine days for the same reason.

Vanathi’s heart was bubbling with happiness and pride on the day ‘Paranthaka Thevar’s’ drama was staged. She felt proud of her grandsire’s achievements and that of her clan as well. She was also reminded of her dead father, whose martyrdom in Elangai was one of the main reasons for the present war campaign against them. And the man leading the campaign was the beloved prince who has been giving her sleepless nights. After trying to sleep rather unsuccessfully in her room, Vanathi decided to wait for Kundavai to return from the temple.
Nisumbasoothani Temple in Thanjavur
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Instead of lying in the room, Vanathi found herself walking towards the terrace of the royal palace as one could see the entire Thanjai city from there. Vanathi was not very familiar with the royal palace of Thanjai though the palace was alight with lamps that were set in each pillar. By following the winding paths of the palace she ended up near the King’s royal quarters by mistake. Suddenly she heard a faint voice that made her tremble.

“Is there no one who could save me?”

Aha! Isn’t that Chakravarthi’s voice? He seems to be in some distress. She knew that the queen and her womenfolk had left the palace to go to the temple.

Thinking thus, Vanathi, entered a room and found herself on a private balcony that overlooked the King’s room. Looking down, she saw the king’s private chambers and the king himself lying on the bed, alone.

“You wretch! It is true that it was I who killed you. Though I didn’t intend any such thing, I will not deny the fact that your death occurred because of me. What is it that you wish from me? How long will you continue to haunt me? Will your soul never rest in peace? It’s been 25 years since your death and you are still tormenting me. Will I ever get peace in this lifetime? What is it that you want? What do you want me to do? I will do it! Just leave me in peace. Everybody rushes around to find a medicine to cure me but no one wants to help me find peace. Go! Go! Go away! No! No! Don’t. Wait a moment. Tell me what I should do? Do be silent. Tell me. Tell me!”

Hearing these words, Vanathi’s trembling increased. Looking down carefully she leaned down to see ‘who’ was with the king. There stood a figure at the far end of the room behind the pillar. It was a woman, who was half visible from the shadows cast by the pillars and the dimly lit lamps. Looking carefully at the figure, Vanathi’s eyes widened when she recognized who stood there. It was Pazhvur Elaya Rani, Nandini Devi! Why would the King talk such things looking at Nandini? How could he say ‘he killed her’ when she was well and alive?

With fear gripping her senses, she felt weak and knew instinctively that she would faint soon. She found the room and the world swirling away, ready to whisk her away to the world of darkness.  Gritting her teeth, she slowly traced her way back to the room, until she could walk no more.

When Kundavai returned from the temple that night, she found Vanathi lying unconscious in the corridor that led to their room.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Chapter 14: Two Full Moons

Princess Kundavai and Nandini
There was a flurry of action in Thanjavur city that day. Their beloved princess who had stopped coming to the capital city for some reason had consented to come, at last. That was cause enough for a celebration among the citizenry. Kundavai had a special place in their hearts. Her beauty, intelligence, grace, wit and benevolence became a matter of pride for them. Many quoted her as an example to their children, while young women of the kingdom aspired to be like her.

Many were eagerly awaiting her arrival as they had heard a rumour that she would be present at the capital for the Navarathiri festival. A sea of crowd had gathered at the Fort gates anxiously waiting for the Princess to arrive. Just as the sea waits for the beautiful full moon to rise, this crowd too wanted at least a mere glimpse of their lovely princess.

At long last, the full moon rose. But instead of one, there were two full moons to gaze upon! Princess Kundvai’s elephant parted the crowds easily and stood near the Fort doors, waiting for it to open. With a loud clang of metal, the fort doors opened to reveal the welcome party that had come to invite the Princess in with the palace retinue. Flanked on both the sides by the Pazhvur brothers, Pazhuvur Elaya Rani’s pearl studded palanquin too had come bearing its mistress.

While Kundvai got down from her elephant, Nandini got down from her palanquin hurriedly and came forward with formal salutations that were due to a Princess. Kundvai smiled at her and accepted her greetings. It was a spectacle that delighted the crowds beyond any words; after all there was scant opportunity for them to watch two beautiful women in the Chola Kingdom come together.

They compared the beauty of both women enthusiastically! Nandini was fair-complexioned while Kundvai’s was lotus-hued. Nandini’s beautiful black eyes was large and lovely while Kundvai had long eye-lashes resembled that of a doe. Nandini’s nose was shaped in proportion to her round face while Kundavai’s nose was perfectly sculpted. Nandini had sensuous full lips that begged to be kissed while Kundvai’s thin lips resembled a flower bud. Nandini’s hair was dressed with flowers in her customary aandal kondai while Kundvai’s hair was piled up in a bun that almost resembled a crown…

The citizens of Thanjavur were not very happy with the Pazhuvur Elaya Rani. There was much cause to ridicule her and also to feel jealous of her newfound power and beauty. However they forgot all their grievances when they saw her greeting their Princess with a beautiful smile.

We wonder what their reaction would have been if they had only been privy to the conversation that occurred between these two women.

“Welcome! Princess! We thought that you had forgotten all about us! But thankfully you came today!”

“Is that so Rani? If I live far away, does it mean that I have forgotten everybody? Can I assume that since you rarely visit Pazhaiarai, you have forgotten all about me?”

 “Just as bees naturally swarm around sweet smelling flowers, anybody would visit beautiful Pazhaiarai, while this Thanjai fort is anything but beautiful. To visit here, one does need a strong reason and a gracious invite.”

“How can you say such a thing? How can you call Thanjavur as an ugly city, when you have captured ‘all things beautiful’ (soundaryam) here?”

“Yes. I have heard that rumour too, Princess. Some seem to be saying that we have kept your father, King Sundara Chola as a prisoner here. But now that you are here, you can surely free him.” Said Nandini even as a flash of anger came and disappeared in her eyes.

“What is this you are saying? Not even Lord Indra and his Gods can imprison my father, leave alone mere mortals. I was not referring to him, I was talking about you, the soundarya (beautiful) Nandini Devi…”

“Well said, Princess. It would be good if you could say this in his hearing. I am indeed living here like a bird in a gold cage, if you could only recommend…”

“What’s the use of my recommendation? You are being kept in ‘love prison’…

“Very true Devi! That too, when an old man like my husband falls in love, there is no hope of release. My situation is worse than those who have been shut in the Thanjai Padala Sirai!”

“Well Rani! There is nothing to say about it, especially since you wished to be imprisoned of your own will. When one is as virtuous as Sita, Arundhati, Nalayini and Kannagi, you wouldn’t want to be set free of this prison. Would you?… What is this? Why are these women shouting?” asked Kundvai suddenly distracted from her conversation.

A throng of women were shouting themselves hoarse to gain Kundavai’s attention. Both Kundvai and Nandini stepped in their direction to listen to their petition. They wanted permission to come inside the fort during the nine days of Navarathri and wanted Kundvai to petition on their behalf to the Fort Commander to grant them permission.

Kundvai turned towards Nandini and said, “Rani! I would be much obliged if you could tell your husband or your brother-in-law about this and allow these women to visit the fort every day during Navrathri. Surely, no harm can come to our kingdom through these women, especially when we have the Pazhuvur brothers commanding the four corners of the kingdom,”

“Princess! You are wrong. Why have you stopped with the four corners of the Kingdom, very soon, the Pazhuvur brother will also be commanding the lands beyond the Chola Kingdom too. You will see that soon!”

Nandini’s words startled Kundavai and she thought, “What does this rakshashi mean by this?”

By then, Nandini had signalled Periya Pazhuvetrayar to come near and had sounded him out about the women’s petition and Kundvai’s request to which he said, “Just as my Princess commands!”

Happy and enthused by this the crowd entered the fort along with the Princess and her retinue. For the next nine days, crowds from the neighbouring villages came to the fort everyday to see their beloved princess. Periya Pazhuvetrayar kept his word and allowed all and sundry to enter the fort. The fort doors remained open during all hours and everyone came and went as they wished. Within the fort and outside, many temple festivities were organized to celebrate the auspicious nine days of navrathri. Apart from the festivities, many came to see their beautiful Princess and the lovely Elaya rani of Pazhuvur.

While all was smile and laughter on the outside, they both were seething with anger and hatred on the inside. A shadow war was being fought between them that went unnoticed by the people around. Unlike men, they used words as their weapons and their eyes as their spears to wound each other. One might even compare their struggle to that of a never-ending war between two beautifully dangerous snakes.

In this war of words, both women reached heights of enthusiasm when they won a round and retreated to lick their wounds in private when they lost. While Kundavai was engaged thus, her companion Vanathi felt utterly lost. Kundavai couldn’t spare the time to talk to her and though she went along with her, she found it difficult to understand what was happening around her. Instead she was happy to dwell in the world that she had created around herself…  

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Volume 1 - New Flood