“Samudra Kumari! Do you remember me?”
Ponniyin Selva! What sort of question is this? How could you ask me whether I remember you? Is it fair to ask this question after we have known each other for more than a thousand years or could it be perhaps that you have forgotten me? Haven’t we sailed together on my little boat, beyond the horizon for many eons now? Have you forgotten the journey we undertook on the endless sea? Don’t you remember the time when huge waves rose up tossing our boat to reach the skies only to drown it in the unfathomable depths of the sea? Don’t you remember how we held hands and bound ourselves to one another and faced the onslaught of the storm? Don’t you remember the time when we flew in the skies and you reached up to pluck the stars to adorn my hair? Don’t you remember bringing me the moon saying ‘Here use this silver plate as your mirror?’ Would you forget even the time when you dived into the sea while I stood worrying for your safety and you came out of the depths with your hands filled with pearls and corals? I can never forget our lives lived in these endless dreams, even if you have. My Prince! Don’t you remember those countless hours we spent roaming around hand in hand in the bountiful flower gardens? Who can count the number of days that we spent gazing upon each other’s face? Don’t you remember the serene beauty of the flower garden where hundred pairs of cuckoos sang melodiously while the bees hummed rhythmically to the beautiful dance of fluttering butterflies? How could you ask ‘Do you remember?’ Can I forget these memories ever? Yes Ayya! I do remember! I do remember very well indeed…
While her heart whispered these and hundred more vivid memories her mouth merely whispered two words, “Yes. I remember”
“Aha! Samudra Kumari! You spoke! I have seen many beautiful maidens and apsaras immortalized for posterity in stone in this Island Kingdom. I had begun to fear, that you might be one of them too but thankfully you spoke and dispelled my fears. I want to hear more from you. It’s been too long since I have heard your lovely voice. I heard that you had told the Senathipathy about the two ships that are anchored near Thondaimaan river. You also said that these ships have come bearing Chola soldiers sent to imprison me. Is that true, Samudra Kumari? Did you see these ships, truly?”
“Yes Ayya! I saw them.”
“Aha! I can now hear your voice clearly. My ears are indeed blessed. Good. So after you saw the ships, you took your boat through the narrow canal and waited for the ships to depart. Then you went into the deep forest to rest for the night. But a few soldiers who had disembarked from the ship were also resting close to you and you overhead their conversation inadvertently. Is this true?”
“Hearing their conversation, you felt that you had to alert our Senathipathy. You waited until these soldiers left the scene and started immediately. How did you come, Samudra Kumari?”
“I came half way in my boat and then the rest by walking through the forest.”
“What was your destination Poonguzhali?”
“I was bound for Maandotham, thinking that the Commander might be there. On the way I learned that he was in Mahindalai so I went there. I was at my wit’s end by the time I could meet and give this message to him. I had to meet and explain to so many people…” said Poonguzhali while her eyes emitted sparks of anger.
“I know that it is quite frustrating but I am not surprised either. It is difficult to meet the Commander and I am sure my friend, Vandiya Devar will attest to it. He too faced the same difficulty. I am however glad that you persisted and met him. Poonguzhali! Can I trouble you to tell me what you told the Senathipathy? I want to know more about the conversation that you heard overheard from those soldiers,”
“My Prince! I feel ashamed to repeat those words,”
“Poonguzhali! I beseech you, please repeat their conversation to me,”
“They said that they have come to imprison you,”
“Did they mention, whose orders they were following?”
“Yes but I do not believe it ayya! It must be a plot hatched by these Pazhuvur lords.”
“I will listen to your surmise later but right now I wish to hear about their conversation,”
“They said that they have come here on the orders of the Chakravarthy!”
“Good! Did they mention why the Chakravarthy ordered me to be imprisoned?”
“They did. It seems that you plotted with the Maha Guru of the Buddha Sangam to usurp the throne of Elangai. When I heard those words, I almost carved them up with my dagger…”
“Thank the Gods that stayed your hand. Didn’t you know that it is treasonous to stop those who are acting directly under the Chakravarthy’s orders? Do you remember anything else that they said?”
“They said that Senathipathy must not know the true nature of their mission as he would try and help you to escape. They wanted to find your whereabouts and imprison you without any interference from the Senathipathy,”
“So that’s why you left immediately to alert the Commander about my impending arrest. You have rendered a great help for me Samudra Kumari. I am indebted to you! I wish to consult the Commander and my friends now, so could you please stay close within an earshot,” said the Prince and after Poonguzhali bowed and moved towards a distant pillar from where she could see him.
The Prince turned towards Budhivikrama Kesari and said, “Ayya! You and your forebears have rendered great many services to my dynasty. You are my father’s close confidante and friend and I have utmost respect for you and I consider you as my father. Therefore I beg you, do not hinder the path that leads me towards my rightful duty,”
Senathipathy looked towards Parthibendran, alarmed by the tone of the Prince. But the Prince turned to address the Pallava Lord, “Ayya! You are my brother’s sworn sword and close friend. I have always respected my brother’s wishes and as his representative here, I am beholden to you. I beg you to allow me to do my duty and not hinder it any way,”
Senathipathy and Parthibendran looked at each other surprized by the Prince’s request. The Commander then addressed the Prince saying, “My Prince! I do not understand the meaning of your words. I have spent three-fourth of my life in battlefields and that has left me incapable of understanding anything other than plain speaking. When you say that you have to do your duty, what are you pray referring to?”
“I have but only duty to fulfil now. I wish to obey my father’s commands. My father has sent these ships to imprison me. I don’t wish to make their task anymore difficult than it already is. I will go to these ships and surrender myself,”
“This is unacceptable! Impossible! I will not allow you to fall into their hands!” thundered Parthibendran.
Senathipathy stayed his hand and pacifyingly, “Let’s not make any hasty decisions!” and then turned towards the Prince and said, “My Prince! You talk about your duty now but I too have a duty to discharge towards you. Listen to this old man! I am the only surviving warrior from the Kodumbalur clan. My brother and other kinsmen died gloriously in war, giving up their life in service to the Cholas. I can only hope that God has a beautiful death such as that planned for me as well.
You were a mere boy when you assumed the command of our forces in Elangai. Your father called me aside and said, ‘I can’t bear to part from my dearest son yet I must. I cannot hold him back in my palace fearing for his safety and deny him the glory of a warrior. He needs to go out and live his warrior’s dream, like his brave older brother. However, if some harm befalls him at Elangai, my heart will know and I will die that very second. Senathipathy! I entrust my dearest son to your care and you will ensure his safety under any cost,’
I cannot believe that the Chakravarthy who spoke thus last year, can send soldiers to imprison you for treason. There is no cause for it, as I know for a fact that you have committed no treason by thought or action. Who will believe that you tried to usurp the throne of Elangai? It is the most absurd notion…
The Prince interjected now and said, “You said that no one will believe the notion that I tried to usurp the throne of Elangai. But that’s not true Senathipathy. These charges against me are true. I did try to seize the throne of Elangai,”
Vandiya Devan came forward now saying, “What is this ayya? Until now you have been preaching me about truth and dharma and now you go ahead and utter the biggest lie ever! Senathipathy! Last night we were at a monastry where the Maha Gurus offered to crown the Prince as their king and he refused. This Vaishnavan and I bear witness to this act of his,”
Ponniyin Selvar smiled at him and said, “Vandiya Deverey! Let me ask you a question? Have you ever known of anyone plotting treason when there are people around him to witness it? I might have rejected the crown, merely because of the fact that you were with me,”
Vandiya Devan looked stumped at the Prince’s words.
“Why don’t you ask the Vaishanavan about this? Ask him about the Prime Minister’s message? Anirudha Brahmarayar had sent him along with instructions and a warning, to reject the throne the Elangai in the presence of witnesses.”
The Vaishnavan nodded his head grimly acknowledging the Prince’s words. The Prince looked at Senathipathy and said, “Ayya! It is true that I wanted to rule this beautiful Island Kingdom. It was my sister’s wish and ambition too. She used to say, ‘Thambi! You were born to rule! But sadly there is no place for you in the Chola Kingdom. Go to Elangai and carve an empire for yourself there.’ Her words fired my ambition and I wanted to ascend the throne of this beautiful elangai. Therefore, I am guilty,”
“My Prince! If you wished to rule this Kingdom, then I would call the people of Elangai as most fortunate. This ambition of yours was not nurtured by your sister but by your father. On many occasions he declared in my presence that he wished to crown you as the King of Elangai,”
“Senathipathy, if this is so, then why should I hesitate to go to my father? I have two people here who witnessed me rejecting the throne. Let them come with me and speak on my behalf and clear my name. After that, I will act as my father commands,”
Parthibendran who had been listening to all this restlessly, spoke with difficulty as if he was trying to restrain himself from saying something.
“Senathipathy! We are wasting our time, talking about unnecessary things. I see no reason why you should hide the truth anymore. Will you tell the Prince or shall I?”
“I will tell him. Be patient Parthibendra!” said the Commander and lowered his voice, “My Prince! I hesitated to broach this subject because I didn’t want to alarm you. It is unfortunate that I have to pour such scandalous words into your ears. We know that Periya Pazhuvetarayar married a young woman named Nandini at a doddering old age. She is a sorceress. She is adept in the magical arts of enslaving men and makes them bend to her will. That’s how the brave Pazhuvur lord fell for her charms, which is very unfortunate indeed….”
“Senathipathy! This is nothing new. I believe that the entire kingdom has been talking about this endlessly…”
|Pazhuvur Elaya Rani Nandini|
“That Nandini has so far exerted her influence on the Pazhuvur lords but I fear the worst, my Prince! Forgive me! What I say now will cause you pain. I fear that she might have started using her magical arts on the Chakravarthy now. That’s why he has turned against him own sons and this command to imprison you…”
|Chakravarthy Sundara Chola|
“Senathipathy! I am warning you! Do not utter a word insulting the Chakravarthy. I will not listen to these insinuations against my father. I will obey my father’s commands no matter under what circumstances he issues them. To me they are as good as God’s will,”
“We do not deny that Prince but consider this. Your father is literally imprisoned in the Fort and I fear for his life. None of us here knew the full truth about Nandini. I learned about it last night and I think it is important that you know it too,”
“Three years ago, the Pandya and Chola forces met near Madurai in a final deadly war. Your brother, Parthibendran and I led our soldiers against Veera Pandyan’s army and destroyed him completely. Veera Pandyan who had by then become very adept in running away from war, went into hiding yet again. But we were determined to capture him and put an end to his dynasty hence we swore a holy vow, not to return to the capital without mounting the head of this cowardly king on a spike. We didn’t trust anyone and scoured all over Madurai searching for him. Finally we found him cowering inside a hut near a temple. It was your brother who went inside and when he came out he had the head of Veera Pandyan in his hands. We cheered madly and left the place soon but we didn’t know about the drama that had happened inside the hut.
|Nandini begging Aditya Karikalan to spare Veera Pandyan|
A woman who was tending the wounds of Veera Pandyan had tried to shield him from your brother’s sword. She begged your brother to spare the life of her lover but Karikalan kicked her aside and decapitated him. My Prince! The woman who tried to save the life of our worst enemy was Nandini. Within a few days, she married that old man Periya Pazhuvetarayar and became his queen. It isn’t difficult to understand why she chose to marry that old man. She has come to take revenge against your brother and your family. She wants to destroy the very seed of your dynasty and avenge the death of her lover.
Those who have seen her find it difficult to escape her seductive allure. You can ask your friend Vandiya Devan about the truth of it. She is the head of the gang of assassins who have sworn to kill your family. This Vaishnavan knows the truth of it. It is she who has been supplying them with gold and arms to carry out their plans. I fear that the Chakravarthy too has become her puppet. That’s why he has charged you guilty of treason. I beg you not to accede to these commands, as they do not come from him. They have come from her…”
“Senathipathy! This is shocking indeed but your explanation has only made more determined to get to my father. My primary duty is to defend him against these enemies who surround him. What use is a Kingdom or this life, if I can’t defend my family? Let us have no more discussion on this matter. I have decided to surrender myself to these soldiers and do not try to stop me,” said the prince sternly and then turned towards Poonguzhali and said, “Samudra Kumari! Come here!”
When Poonguzhali neared him, he said, “Poonguzhali! You brought me very important news today but I need your help again. Will you help me?”
What is this? Why is the Prince asking this poor boat girl for help? I hastened through woods and water to be of service to him but he turns around and begs me to help! It was as if I came to God to ask for a boon but the God has turned towards me to beg me for one.
“I am here to serve you, my Prince!” said Poonguzhali.
“Samudra Kumari! I need to go to the ships that lay anchored in Thondaiman River. Will you take me there?”
“Woman! Refuse. Tell him that you will not do it,” growled the Senathipathy.
Senathipathy’s voice aroused Poonguzhali from a sweet dream where she had existed along with the Prince. She now realized that she faced the biggest dilemma of her life. The Prince wished her to take him to his enemies, from whom she had sought to save him in the first place. Senathipathy’s warning, asking her to refuse the Prince’s request reverberated from all directions.
But a small voice was heard within her heart. “Poonguzhali! Here is your chance. If you accede to the Prince’s request, you will spend two days in his company. You can gaze upon his handsome face to your heart’s content. The breeze that touched his body would soothe yours too. His honeyed voice would bring you more joy than any other thing in the world. The dreams that you feared would never come to pass would see the light of the day. Why do you hesitate Poonguzhali? Agree.”
“Samudra Kumari! Why do you hesitate? Won’t you render this small service for me?”
“I will come you, my Prince.” Said Poonguzhali.
Senathipathy expressed his displeasure by grunting and it seemed like the rumble of the earth just before an earthquake. He stepped towards the Prince and said, “My Prince! I will not hinder you anymore and nor will I try to dissuade you from your duty. But I beg you to listen to one last request. You will need to allow me to discharge my duty to my King. Until you surrender yourself to the soldiers who have come to imprison you, your safety is of paramount importance. Someone attempted to assassinate you last night and those assassins are still at large. I am sorry to say this, but I don’t trust this girl. What if she was in cahoots with those assassins? She could have cooked up this whole story to lure you into danger? Your friend threw her dagger in the woods and it fell on someone. By all means, let her guide you to the place where the ships are anchored but I will not leave you alone with her. I will escort you Thondaiman and see you safe until you board the ship,”
The Prince listened to Senathipathy with a smile and said, “I will never ask you to forsake your duty. By all means, come along with us,”