Tuesday, 30 June 2015

An Interview with Preethi Athreya aka Kundavai

Preethi Athreya as Princess Kundavai
Click here to read Kundavai Character Sketch
There are many on-going debates about who should play this role… who would do justice to it… Kundavai Nachiyaar the celebrated sister of Raja Raja Cholan was the guiding force behind two great Chola Kings. Kalki’s portrays Kundavai as the Queen among women. Her intelligence, shrewd thinking, grace, benevolence and far-sightedness save the entire Chola Kingdom from the brink of disaster.

Portraying this great character on stage would be a daunting prospect for any actor but Preethi Athreya who plays Kundavai in Magic Lantern’s Ponniyin Selvan does with a practised ease that makes us forget that she is a debut theatre actor. A dancer by profession, Preethi is a student of eminent dancers Shanta and Dhananjayan. Preethi also holds a Post Graduate degree in Dance studies (London).

Preethi has been associated with Magic Lantern since 1999 where she has helped them out with back stage costumes and rehearsals. In 2014, she got her first opportunity to perform as Princess Kundavai on stage. Reprising the same role this year too, here is a candid interview with gracious Preethi. 

Have you read the novel Ponniyin Selvan?

No. Not the whole novel. I have read parts of it and I have strong images of the story told to me when I was at a very young impressionable age by my grandmother and others in the family.

Did you know that you were playing the most intelligent heroines ever written by Kalki?

Yes. I knew that I was playing a historical character who had shaped the life of two great Chola Kings. I found Kundavai to be not only intelligent but lot more compassionate and benevolent. At a time when there was a great upheaval in religion and politics she stood for unity and she had a vision to build a great empire and she achieved it.

How did you prepare for this role?

I had to attune myself to restrict and restrain my persona in the stage because as a royal Princess, every word that I speak needs to be weighed carefully as it has the power to affect people. Poonguzhali is a perfect foil to Kundavai’s character. She is not restricted by propriety and can be spontaneous any time. With Kundavai, I had to bring in a lot of restraint. I also accidentally ended up designing costumes for the entire play last year and that helped me to understand the role that I played much better.

What are the things that you love about Kundavai?

Kundavai is inanely compassionate, intelligent and could empathize with people on a different level. What is remarkable about her character is that at a very young age, she has to shoulder a big responsibility of steering the Kingdom from grave danger. She also shows enormous bravery when faced with great odds.

Who is your favourite character in the play?

Azhwarkadiyan Nambi played by Hans Kaushik is by far my favourite character in the play. Hans’s interpretation of this character, his wit, humour, intelligence are a treat to watch on the stage.

In the novel, Nandini is my favourite character as she is quite complex. She is a survivor whose life is a tragic mystery. Filled with an obsessive energy, she is also the most volatile character in the novel.

Given a choice which character would you like to play in this drama?

Nandini would be my first choice. I would also love to play Vanathi. Vanathi has a wonderful intelligence about her and many endearing qualities and there is definitely more to her than just fainting at the face of danger.

Who do you think killed Aditya Karikalan?

Many theories abound but I think it was a suicide…

What was your reaction to the audience’s response to your role in the play last year?

There were different reactions but overall they were very positive. I think Chennai audience is very particular in many ways. Though there were lots of criticisms about the acting, costumes and the script there was also complete engagement from fans and the audience. In Madurai, there were people reciting the dialogue from the audience even before we spoke it. That was scary. Overall it has been great and I am glad to return to the stage wiser.

Vandiya Devan played by Dayal and you had a great chemistry on stage. How did that come about?

Lots of trials and rehearsals, let me assure you. Dayal is a wonderful actor and he was receptive and encouraging. Jayakumar who played Vandiya Devan in 1999 Ponniyin Selvan play also helped us a lot. Never at any point did Pravin (Director) restrict us in any way. He allowed us to find the right balance and gesture giving us the independence to interpret the character in our own way.

Catch Preethi Athreya and a host of talented artists on stage from July 3 – July 12 as Magic Lantern comes back for yet another season of Ponniyin Selvan.

Monday, 29 June 2015

An interview with Srikrishna Dayal aka Vandiya Devan

Srikrishna Dayal as Vandiya Devan
in Magic Lantern's Ponniyin Selvan

Click here to read the character sketch 
of Vandiya Devan

The most popular protagonist of all times, Vandiya Devan is as charming as he is brave. He is a man who would laugh at the face of death and will never fail to impress any beautiful woman who is within his radius. Fans of Ponniyin Selvan debate endlessly as to who would do justice to his role in a movie or a series but Magic Lantern did a casting coup when they cast Srikrishna Dayal in the coveted role of Vandiya Devan in their play in 2014.

Srikrishna Dayal was an Airline Professional for many years before he stepped on the stage in 2002. Acting in theatre was a passion that has defined his life in many ways. He has acted in many plays produced by Magic Lantern - Pattam (Richard III by Shakespeare) Moonshine and Skytoffee, Jujubee and many others. He is also an entrepreneur who has his own car rental business that allows him to indulge in his passion for theatre.

I loved his interpretation of Vandiya Devan’s character in the play and was thrilled when he agreed for an interview.

1. Have you read the novel Ponniyin Selvan?
     Yes. I have read the novel in 2013, when Kumaravel told me that Magic Lantern would be performing it as a play.  

   2.  Did you know that you were playing the most popular hero in Tamil Literature when you signed up for this role? 
Firstly I had no clue what character I was going to play. My wife, incidentally her name is also Nandini had read the novel and she kept on saying that the only character that would be apt for me was Vandiya Devan. I thought I would be given the role of Parthibendran.
I was nervous and excited when I heard that I would play Vandiya Devan but at that time, I had no idea about the popularity of this character. As the date of the show neared, I got nervous when people started saying that MGR was touted to do Vandiya Devan’s role in a movie. But I had Kumaravel (Script writer) and Pravin’s (director) support and encouragement and that allowed me to interpret the role in my own way.

   3.    How did you prepare for this role? 
      Vandiya Devan is a very enterprising character and very adventurous. That’s what gets  him into trouble most of the time. While we rehearsed for this role, I had to bring in a lot  of discipline in my daily routine and work on my body language and physique. 

    4.    What are the things that you love about Vandiya Devan?
       His commitment towards his boss, Prince Aditya Karikalan. As a character he is       adventurous and goes off the track to do things but despite all that he is single-minded about protecting his Prince from all harm. It is this loyalty that defines his character. During the novel, we find him questioning himself about the futility of his purpose in life. He actually asks himself why he needs to serve the Cholas especially when they were the main reason for him losing his kingdom. But he soon regains his perspective and knows that Cholas were far better conquerors than many others in the history. 

    5.  Any unforgettable moments that you had in the stage during the performance last year?

     During last year’s show when Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar and I were sword fighting on the stage I had got hurt by the blade when I fell on the cart that was behind me. I was bleeding in the face and everything became bloody. I couldn’t take a break and check the damage as my scenes were coming up. That was an unforgettable moment for me and for the rest of the artists too as they were very upset.

   6.    Who is your favourite character in the play, men and women?
     Aditya Karikalan is my favourite character. Among the women, it is Nandini. She is a very intriguing character and its difficult to figure her out and she is a master of manipulation.

   7.    Who do you think killed Aditya Karikalan?
     I think Ravi Dasan killed him though left on his own, he would have committed suicide.

   8.    Manimeghalai’s character is missing from the play and that has upset many hard core fans of Ponniyin Selvan. What are your thoughts on this? Were you upset when she was not cast in the play?

     Yes very upset. I lost a chance to act with one more girl. Manimeghalai lost her life and her wits for the love of Vandiya Devan and her disappearance is quite upsetting. That’s why when we rehearse the scenes in Kadambur Malligai, Director Pravin would station one or two girls on the stage saying ‘Here is your Manimeghalai’.

   9.    What was your reaction to the audience’s response to your role in the play last year?
     The response was amazing. We were appreciated by Superstar Rajinikanth and many others and I was overwhelmed by the audience’s response.

     Magic Lantern has come back to town for yet another season of Ponniyin Selvan. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

Chapter 45: The Warships

Almost within a blink of the eye they left behind the woods, the lakes, the birds the sea and for Poonguzhali life seem to move faster than the waves. For a while a herd of deer tried to keep pace with the elephant but they soon gave up. Poonguzhali lost the sense of time and didn’t know how long the elephant ran through the woods. She couldn’t gauage the hours or the distance that they had travelled. She was however sure only of one thing, that they were still in the Island Kingdom of Elangai, which was quite surprising.

Hasn’t this elephant roamed around the borders of this Kingdom at least three times by now? No. We are not in Elangai anymore. We are circumambulating the earth instead.

At first when the elephant ran trumpeting wildly, Poonguzhali was terrified despite the Prince’s warning. As they left behind the Commander’s entourage, the Prince turned behind and gave her a pleasing smile and Poonguzhali’s fear disappeared and she started enjoying the ride. As the elephant picked up pace, she lingered on a beautiful dream where the Prince took the place of King Indra and she his consort as they travelled through the clouds in their white elephant Iravatham. Sweet smelling flowers were showered upon her and the divine music of the heavenly bards followed them everywhere. Heavenly apsaras danced beautifully to the accompanying music while Poonguzhali travelled through the stars for a few eons…

Soon Iravatham’s pace slowed down and they were back on the earth again. The mahout bend down and spoke something to the elephant. No. No. That’s not the mahout. That’s the Prince.

The elephant stopped near a pond in the woods. Poonguzhali looked around with trepidation wondering if there was someone about or if the Commander and his entourage had followed them. But there was no one there. The elephant bent its legs upon the Prince’s command and he got down.

“Poonguzhali! Don’t you want to get down from the elephant’s back?”

Poonguzhali came awake from her enchanting daydream and got down from the elephant saying, “It is rather difficult to come to this mortal earth from the beautiful heavens,”

Standing by the beautiful lilly pond, Poonguzhali looked lovely with her eyes brightened the exhilarating journey. Looking at her reflection on the pond, the Prince said, “Samudra Kumari! I like you very much,”

The Prince’s words washed over her like the scent of thousand lilies. 

“Do you know why I like you?”

Poonguzhali held her breath waiting for him to continue. The woods, the pond and the sky above seemed to swirl around her as she waited for his reply.

“Most people who are with me want me to act according to their wishes. It was only you who agreed to fulfill my wish and command. I will never forget your help in this matter,”

Poonguzhali blushed and stood still.

“Senathipathy and Parthibendran conspired to delay my journey. The Commander created many hurdles all through our way by sending his men to the villages near by and asking them to arrange a feast. While I am delayed here, Parthibendran had planned to take his ship from Trikonamalai and reach Thondaimaan river before I arrived there. They thought that I didn’t know their plans! Thankfully, I was able to thwart their efforts with your help,”

Poonguzhali looked up and realization of what she had done washed over her.

“Ayya! Your companions and friends conspired to help you escape your enemies. I am the wretch you brought you here to be imprisoned,”

“Aha! What is this? I had such a good opinion about you and you turn out to be just like them,”

“I lost my wits thanks to your sweet words. Now that I have regained the power of reason, I realize what I have done. I will leave you here now…” said Poonguzhali and turned to leave. The Prince grabbed her hand to stop her from moving away.
Arul Mozhi grabs Poonguzhali
His touch was potent enough to drain her energy and she entered her beautiful day dream yet again where the heavenly apsaras showered beautiful flowers on her. Unable to stand anymore, Poonguzhali sat down near the pond and started crying with both her hands on her face.

“Samudra Kumari! I wished to tell you something very important but if you are going to cry thus, then let us leave this place right away,”

Poonguzhali wiped her tears and looked up. “Good. Now listen to me. You said that my friends and companions and are trying to save me from being imprisoned. You were right but do you know why?”

“They have great affection for you while I am the scoundrel who would take you there to be imprisoned…”

“Wait! Wait! Yes they do have great affection for me. But do you know why? Astrologers and soothsayers have apparently predicted that I would one day become a King. So they wish to crown and enthrone me today. They are not only mean but also selfish,”

“But what is wrong in their wishing to crown you, as a King. You are capable of ruling even the three worlds!”

“Aha! Even you have started parroting their words. Woman! The palace is as good as a gilded cage of a bird and the throne is good as a sacrificial altar. Wearing a crown is the worst punishment anybody can think of in this world. Most people will not agree with what I say but I thought that you were different,”

Surprised by his words, Poonguzhali looked at him in wonder.

“Samudra Kumari! Tell me truthfully. If someone asks you sit on the throne for your entire life, would you do it?”

Poonguzhali thought for a while and said, “No. I will not.”

“Then why do you want me to me sit on the throne?”

“But you are of royal birth!”

“What if I am of royal birth? Thankfully, I was not born the heir and the Chola throne has two contenders; my brother and my uncle,”

“Oh! You know about Prince Madhuranthakan’s desire to rule the Kingdom,”

“Of course I know it. The throne of the Cholas will not be bereft without a ruler, I am sure of it and I have no wish to rule the Kingdom,”

“Then what is it that you wish?”

“That’s a good question to ask. I wish to travel on an elephant to far away lands. I wish to take a ship to unknown lands and see new kingdoms that are there beyond this island. I have heard that there are many beautiful islands beyond this kingdom. I wish to visit them all…”

Poonguzhali who was listening to the Prince with a wide-eyed wonder, said, “Ayya! Will you take me along with you when you go there?”

“These are my wishes and dreams. Who knows whether they will get fulfilled or not?”

Poonguzhali then asked, “Ayya! Why do you wish to go to Thanjavur then?”

“I wanted to tell you that and then we spoke something else. Samudra Kumari! Have you seen a deaf and mute woman roaming through this island Kingdom? Many might even call her mad, have you ever seen her? Do you know anything about her?”

Poonguzhali looked at the Prince with a wide-eyed surprise and said, “Yes. I know about her. Why do you ask?”

“I will tell you why later but tell me how you know her?”

“Ayya! I lost my mother when I was very young. It was ‘she’ who showered me with love and care after that. She is my mother, my guru and my God. What else do you want to know about her?”

“Does she have a permanent abode somewhere or does she constantly roam around this island?”

“When we travel from Kodi Karai to Elangai there is an island name ‘Boodha Theevu’. There is a cave in that island and that’s where she stays. That’s where I saw you for the first time,”

“What? You saw me there?”

“Yes. Inside the cave, she has drawn some beautiful pictures. One of the pictures that she has drawn looks exactly like you. Later, when I saw you in Kodi Karai for the first time, I was amazed by the resemblance,”

“Oh! I understand many things now. Things that were hidden in the past are seeing the light of the day. Do you know how I am related to that woman?”

“I had guessed that there is some relation but I can’t understand how?”

 “Pooguzhali! She could have been the queen of Chola Kingdom. She is my step mother,”

“God! Could that be true?”

“Fates intervened and changed her life.  What can we do now? I had always known that my father nursed a secret pain in his heart. I found out all about it after I came here. My father is under the impression that my stepmother is dead. I suspect that he has been feeling guilty about it all these years because, he thinks that she is dead because of him. I want to meet him and tell him that she is alive and well. Only then, his heart will be at peace. You know that he is seriously unwell and could die at any moment. There are all sorts of rumours going around the Kingdom and a comet is seen on the sky. I wish to meet my father before any harm befalls and tell him about her. Samudra Kumari! That’s why I am hastening to Thanjavur. Do you realize now, how important it is that I go there?”

Poonguzhali who had listened to every word of the Prince whispered to herself, “God! Why do you test the faith of your children with so many trials and tribulations?” and then she said, “Prince! If you think that I can help you in any way I can, I am honoured beyond my dreams but you could have told all this to the Commander and they could have helped you reach Thanjavur,”

“I have no wish to reveal any of this to them. They will not understand. They are single-minded about wishing to crown me as the next king. Moreover, I do not wish to reveal my father’s secrets to them. Even if I did, it wouldn’t seem important to them. I need another help from you Samudra Kumari! That’s why I stopped the elephant. The astrologers that predicted great things about my future have also foretold that I would encounter many dangers to my life. If my journey ends in such a disaster and I am unable to meet my father, would you meet the Chakravarthy and tell him about my stepmother. And if he wishes it, you should take her along with you, so that they could meet. Will you do this Samudra Kumari?”

 “My Prince! Nothing will happen to you. Danger will flee from your presence. You will reach Thanjavur safe and sound, I am sure of it,”

“If something happens to me, will you fulfill my request?”

“I will,”

“Good. You know, I couldn’t have entrusted this to any of my companions,”

“Now that you have entrusted this to me, I can take my leave. You probably don’t need me anymore,” said Poonguzhali harshly suppressing her own sorrow.

“How could you leave now? We have not reached the Thondaiman river yet. We need to see these war ships too. You will need to bear my company for a little while more. Once we near the river and see the tiger flag on these warships, you can take your leave,”

Without any reply, Poonguzhali got up and went near the elephant. The Prince followed her and bid the elephant to bend down. After they mounted it, their journey began again. The elephant kept a steady pace and walked fast towards their destination.

“Samudra Kumari! I told you about the things that I love. What are the things that you love the most?”

“I love the way Lord Yama comes on his buffalo. I love the fire bubbles that appear out of nowhere in the woods of Kodi Karai,”

“You are indeed a very strange girl,”

“You should probably call me ‘mad’ as your friend did. I also love to row my boat on the endless sea with nary a care. I especially love it when there is a storm. The sea would raise my boat to the very heavens only to pull it down to the deep of the sea. Nature’s fury is very exhilarating experience indeed. When this elephant ran wildly through the woods, I felt the same wild happiness,”

“Poonguzhali! If Lord Muruga had come here wanting your smiles, he would have been sorely disappointed. He can’t trick you with elephants and gain your favour so easily as he did with Valli,”

Soon they neared Thondaimaan river and Poonguzhali let out a shriek of surprise, “Oh! What is this?”

“What? What?” asked the Prince

“I can’t see the war ships bearing the tiger flags. What will you think of me? You might even believe the suspicions that the Commander had of me,”

“I will never think of you thus, Poonguzhali. You have no cause to lie,”

“There is cause to lie. What if they think that I lied to you so that I can get you here alone, for the sake of love?”

 “If the Commander was here, then he might have suspected you of the same but he isn’t here. And we both know that there is no room for such foolish madness in our hearts,”

“Ayya! Would you say the same thing to Princess Vanathi who is promised to you?”

“Senathipathy and my sister want me to marry that girl. She probably wants to be the queen and has been nursing many such dreams in her heart. But I can’t be responsible for somebody’s day dreams, Poonguzhali. Be that as it may. Where were the ships when you last saw them?”

“They were anchored near the bend of the river. I remember it well,”

“No matter, they might have moved the ships from there. Let us go near the beach and find out,”

“If those warships have moved away, it is all for the good. Why should we go in search of them?”

“Aha! You might think that it is good, but I would be very disappointed it were so,”

Three hundred years ago, Elangai Prince Manavanman sought shelter at Kanchipuram during the reign of Mamalla Chakravarthy. The King promised the destitute prince to help him recover his usurped kingdom. The Pallava troops that landed with the Prince disembarked at Thondaimaan. During that period, it was not a huge river as it was in these times. The Pallava troops deepened the moat of the river make it convenient for their warships. The region surrounding the river had many bends that offered many hideouts for the ships to anchor silently.

As they neared the river, a devastating sight met their eyes. They saw a ship sunk aground in the shallow muds of the river. Its mast and sail had fallen down along with the tiger flag of the Cholas. The ship seemed deserted and it looked as though the crew that manned it had abandoned it for good. Poonguzhali was more surprized by the irony; the ship that had come to imprison the Prince lay imprisoned by the mud!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Chapter 44: The Elephant Flees

After the Prince announced his decision, the Lord Commander took Parthibendra Pallavan aside and spoke to him in confidence. Next he called the commanders of his army and issued orders, dispatching them in various directions.

Parthibendran bid his farewell to the Prince saying, “It is quite unfortunate that I have to leave this Island empty handed. Your brother will be very angry with me for not fulfilling this mission. But there is aught that I can do when you are so stubborn. I will call upon all those who are here as witnesses to absolve me from any blame,”

The Prince smiled and said, “Why do you leave so hurriedly then? Why don’t you come along with us to Thondaiman river?”

“I will not be a party to this action of yours, Prince. My ship awaits me at Trikonamalai. I wish to hurry back to your brother and give him news about whatever happened here,” he said and then turned towards Vandiya Devan, “Vallava! Do you wish to return to Kanchi along with me?”

Startled by this sudden question, Vandiya Devan replied, “No. I wish to go with the Prince,”

“Very well then. You will regret your decision, I am sure.” Said Parthibendran and left with an escort of soldiers that the Commander had provided.

“What did that Pallavan mean by I would regret my decision of staying back with the Prince? Do you know?” asked Vandiya Devan to Azhwarkadiyan.

“I suspect that Lord Commander and that Pallavan are up to something. We will learn about it soon enough. If you ask me, Kodumbalur Periya Vellar is solely responsible for the present predicament of the Prince’s”

“How so? What did the Commander do?”

“He has a niece in Pazhaiarai staying with Princess Kundavai,”
“Yes. Princess Vanathi.”

“Yes. The commander wants the Prince to marry her and rule the Kingdom of Elangai as a king. It was he who urged the Maha Gurus of Elangai to offer the throne to him. But was he prudent enough to keep his efforts under wraps. No. The news of this, reached Thanjavur, which was why my guru, Anirudha Brahma Rayar sent me here to warn the Prince. Vandiya Deva! No matter what happens, we will need to keep ourselves safe as we will be called at the court to give evidence about the Prince’s innocence,”

By then, the Commander had dispatched his army save a few soldiers, in all directions with various instructions. After a while, the Prince’s entourage started with the Commander, Vandiya Devan, Azhawarkadiyan on horse back and Poonguzhali atop the elephant and a few soldiers who were retained. They travelled towards north on the King’s road for a while, but their journey was interrupted numerous times by people who crowded them on both the sides of the road to see the Prince. The villagers near the King’s road had somehow learned that the Prince was on his way and they gathered on the road to cheer.

Long Live Arul Mozhi Varmar! Long live the Prince!

The crowd on the road kept growing with more and more people jostling them, making it impossible to travel. Some tried to follow their horses too!

Villager's Feast
When the Prince expressed his displeasure about the situation to the Senathipathy, they moved from the King’s road and entered the woods to continue their journey. But the journey through the forest was fraught with natural hindrance and their progress was slow. By mid-day they reached a large lotus pond where hosts from the villages had gathered learning somehow that the Prince would be travelling there. They cheered wildly when the Prince’s party neared them. The commander stopped his horse and said, “Let me go ahead and find out what they want,”

He came back after a while saying, “The villagers around here have somehow learned that the Prince would be traveling through these woods. They have cooked a feast for the Prince and want him to partake their humble offering,”

The villagers neared the Prince gazing at his face with astonishment. Cheering for him enthusiastically, “Long Live the Prince!” Long live Conqueror of Elangai” “Long live the King of Elangai!”

The Prince who looked amused by these cheers called their leader nearby and asked, “Why do your people call me ‘King of Elangai’?

The village head bowed his head respectfully and said, “Prince! Our Kingdom has suffered much under the reign of Kings who would desert us during our time of need. That’s why it is the dearest wish of the people that you ascend the throne of Elangai,”

They partook the feast that the villagers had prepared for them and by the time, they bid their farewells it was very late in the day.

Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan sat conversing in low voices during the feast. “Thambi! Do you see? This entire feast by the villagers was the Senathipathy’s idea of stalling the Prince. That’s why he sent his commanders ahead to alert and inform the villagers about the Prince’s arrival,”

“It is quite evident but I don’t understand what he means to achieve by making these villagers say that they want the Prince as their King. Does he think that the Prince might reconsider his decision of refusing the throne of Elangai?”

“That might be one of the plans. But he want to stall our journey, that much is evident,”

“Why does he want to do that?”

“I do not know that yet but we will learn it soon enough. Look at the Prince! He isn’t relishing neither the feast nor this interruption to his plans,”

Vandiya Devan looked at the Prince and noted his displeasure. The Prince who was always composed and calm looked angry and sullen.

Poonguzhali in the meanwhile was sitting in a corner by the Lotus pond immersed in deep contemplation about their journey and the disappointment that she felt. She had hoped that she would have ample opportunity to talk to the Prince during the journey. She had blithely imagined many a happy hour spent talking and laughing with the Prince of her dreams. She thought that she would be able to reveal some of her heart’s desires to him during the course of their journey but none of her dreams came to pass. The Prince was forever surrounded by people and crowds.

It looks like I would be blamed in the end for handing the Prince over to his enemies. Why should I do it? Why can’t I run away from here while everyone is at the feast? I can escape the Senathipathy’s wrath… Che! Why should I bother if the Senathipathy is angry with me? I am not answerable to him or to anybody…Why should I allow my desires and wishes to be buried within my heart? Why should I live this life when I can’t follow my heart? Why doesn’t the lightening strike at me suddenly and end my suffering? I have wished for it so many times but the Gods haven’t heard my prayers yet. Maybe I could end this life myself and relieve my suffering…

Poonguzhali's Daydream
Oh! What is this? Is this a dream? Isn’t that the dagger that Vandiya Devan threw at the bushes? It went missing when we tried to search for it. How did it end up here? Could that enemy be near here? Did he try to throw it on me and fell short? Let me tuck it in safely. I will feel safer with a blade in hand. I can fulfil my promise to the Prince and then I can use the dagger to end my suffering…No… not in front of him… that would be too cruel. I could take the boat and give up my life in the middle of the sea… My dear dagger I truly thank the man who threw you on my way again…

Poonguzhali’s mind’s eye conjured a vision where she lay with the dagger deeply entrenched in her and heart and with the blood flowing freely. The Prince would then come to her running and gasping for breath. He would say, “Ayyo! You are giving up your life for me?” Poonguzhali would then look up to him with glowing eyes while he would wrap his arms around her. Her blood would drench his clothes while his tears would drench hers. Poonguzhali would then laugh and say, “My Prince! At last you have divined the secret desire of my heart,” The Prince would say, “I know your heart’s desire… but you didn’t have to die to fulfill it.” Poonguzhali’s heart was singing hundred songs of joy and she laughed out aloud!

“You! Mad girl!” called out a voice and Poonguzhali looked up to see Vandiya Devan standing in front of her. “The Prince is angry as it is because of the delay. I won’t have you delaying this journey any further. Come with us now,”

Poonguzhali got up laughing and cheerfully got atop the elephant that had carried her so far…

They started the their journey again but were soon interrupted ominously when an arrow almost fell upon the Prince. Thankfully, he reined in his horse at the nick of the time and the arrow grazed near to him and struck Azhwarkadiyan’s turban and fell down.

Assassin's arrow

Azhwarkadiyan felt his head for injuries, shocked by the sudden turn of events. Poonguzhali on the other hand felt sad that the arrow didn’t kill her instead. Senathipathy who looked shocked and surprized came near the Prince, saying, “My prince! Did you see? Thankfully, I didn’t send you alone. You are in grave danger here,” Then he asked his soldiers to search the nearby woods for the assassins but they couldn’t find anyone in the foliage.

Flustered and alarmed, the Senathipathy started making plans to safeguard the Prince for the rest of the journey. “The Prince needs to travel in the middle while we will travel around his horse guarding him from all directions…”

The Prince interjected saying, “Commander, I have a request…”

“Prince! I am here to serve you. Command me,”

“Senathipathy! I wish to reach Thanjavur alive. I need to prove to my father that I am innocent,”

“Prince! Your father knows that you never aspired to usurp the Elangai throne,”

“I still need to prove that these charges that have been laid against me as untrue. Until then, it is imperative that I keep my life safe,”

“My Prince, I will use this dagger to end my life if I cannot save yours,”

“If you do that, the Chola Kingdom will have lost one of its brave commanders,”

“Yet it wouldn’t be more grievous than losing you, Prince. I have sworn to protect you and if I fail, I will fall upon this sword and slay myself,”

“Since these assassins seem to be following me everywhere, and I fear that if we travel by horse any longer, we will see more such arrows falling upon us,”

“Are you suggesting that we walk or else…”

“Senathipathy! I know the language of elephants and I have travelled atop them many a time in this Island Kingdom. I will don the role of the mahout and travel on this elephant. The mahout can ride my horse,”

The Commander was silent for a while thinking about the Prince’s plan. He looked at the others, hoping that they would have some objection to it.

“Ayya! What if the mahout can’t ride the horse?”

“He can walk or return to the King’s road then,”

“That girl is very strange. What if she refuses to travel on the elephant along with you?”

“She is free to walk or ride the horse, if she can.”

“Alright. As you wish,”

The Prince immediately dismounted from stallion and came near the elephant. Poonguzhali’s beautiful eyes widened when she saw the Mahout getting down and the Prince taking his place.
Poonguzhali and Ponniyin Selvar

Their journey resumed again. Poonguzhali was in seventh heaven. The elephant suddenly grew in size enabling her to touch the clouds. It was a dream that she dared not believe. Whose sweet voice is that? But of course the Prince was speaking…

“Samudra Kumari! Would you mind if I travel along with you on this elephant?”

“I will consider it as a boon that the Gods have showered on me, My Prince”

“If this elephant starts running suddenly would you be afraid?”

“I will not be afraid even if the sky falls upon us, so long as you are with me,”

“Where did you leave your boat, Poonguzhali?”

“Near Yannai Eravu (Elephant’s Pass) on the opposite bank,”

“How did you cross Yannai Eravu?”

“When I came the tide was low, so I walked a bit and then swam ashore,”

“Would you get scared if this elephant were to get into the sea?”

“I won’t be scared if it pushes me into the sea. I am Samudra Kumari and it was ‘you’ who gave me this name,”

“When we reach Yannai Earavu, let us go in your boat. You would be able to row the boat with two people in it, wouldn’t you?”

“These hands have plied the boat since I was ten years old. They are not soft to touch like those of the Princess who live in palaces. Didn’t your friend Vandiya Devan tell you about how I brought him to Elangai?”

“He did but today you might have to row much faster than you ever did. We need to reach Thondaimaan River as soon as possible,”

“Prince! I came with the news of these ships hoping to save you from your enemies. Why did you bid me to guide your way there? Don’t you have any mercy in your heart for your slave?”

“Poonguzhali! My father is sick and bedridden. Don’t you know it?”

“I know. People are fearing for his life, ever since the comet appeared on the sky,”

“If he dies before I met him, I would never forgive myself. He would leave this world thinking that I tried to usurp this Kingdom,”

“Chakravarthy would never think thus. This is a plot hatched by the Pazhvur lords,”

“If that is so, then I would like to prove to them that I am not a traitor,”


“In truth, I have no wish to rule this kingdom or any other,”

“Then, what is it that you wish for?”

“I wish to sail on a boat on the endless sea… I wish to visit all the island kingdoms that we ruled and lost. I wish to meet the people of these kingdoms and learn more about them…”

“Strange… very strange,”

“What is strange?”

“That you should wish for things that I have wished for years… Will you take me along with you when you set sail on your boat,”

“I need to fulfil my duty to my King and the Kingdom first. Will you help me?”

“I live to serve you, my Prince.”

“There is a rope hanging from both sides of the elephant, grab it in your hands and hold on to it tightly,”


“Because the elephant is going to run now Poonguzhali!” said the Prince and bent down to whisper something in the elephant’s ears. Soon the elephant’s pace quickened and then broke into a run trumpeting loudly. The speed of the elephant could only be compared to that of a hurricane and soon their companions and the entourage were far behind while the other wild animals of the forest scurried for cover to escape the mad rampaging elephant.
Kodumbalur Periya Vellar

Ayyo! The elephant has gone mad! What shall we do now?” shouted Senathipathy wildly

Despite the Prince’s warning, Poonguzhali’s heart was filled with dread. She felt as if she was stuck in a gigantic whirlpool with no way to escape. The elephant however didn’t slacken its pace until they reached Yannai Eravu.

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Volume 1 - New Flood