|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…