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.
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?”
“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!