“Ayya! Why are you so angry with me? What harm have I ever done to you?” asked Vanathi and her soft feeble voice melted Vandiya Devan’s heart. He began to wonder why he was angry with this Princess in the first place. Then he remembered Poonguzhali and wondered whether there was any justification to hate Vanathi just because she too loved the Prince.
“Devi! Forgive me! It was not my intention to hurt your feelings. I only meant that I would be happy to wait for you outside the hut, while you consult the astrologer. I am not in a hurry to leave hence I can await your pleasure.”
“There is no need for you to wait outside. I am happy to learn that you are not in a hurry though. In truth, I didn’t come here to consult the astrologer. I have no faith in his astrology anymore…”
“Devi! No matter what you think of me today, I am positive that one day you will remember me when my predictions come true.”
Vanathi said, “I doubt that” and turned towards Vandiya Devan, “Ayya! I stepped into this hut just to have a word with you. I saw you on the road and thought that you might stop the horse and speak to me but you seemed angry for some reason and galloped away. I am not surprised by your actions because why would you care about an orphaned girl anyway?”
Emotionally moved by her words, Vandiya Devan emphatically said, “Devi! How could you such words? You are the adopted daughter of your uncle Budhi Vikrama Kesari and the cherished companion of Princess Kundavai. I felt that it might be not be courteous to stop and speak with you while on the road. Please forgive me if I had offended you. If you think that I can help in any way, I would be glad to do it…”
“Yes. I need your help. I came here just to seek assistance from you.”
“If it is within my powers to help you, I would be happy to do it.”
“Is there anything that you cannot do? I have heard all about your adventures when you were in Elangai. Would you promise me that you would help me for sure?”
Vandiya Devan with a great deal of hesitation said, “Devi! If you can tell me what sort of assistance you require, then I can help you.”
“Alright. I will tell you about it. It doesn’t matter if our astrologer also gets to know of it. I have decided to join the faith of Buddha and become a Bikshuni (female monk).”
“What is this?”
“How can this be?”
“You can’t do this.”
“This will never happen!”
Kudanthai Jodhidhar and Vandiya Devan declared their reactions to Vanathi’s startling decision thus but the Kodumbalur Princess went on to say, “Yes I have decided to give up on this world and embrace the faith of Buddha. Why do you object to my decision? So many women in our Kingdom have become Bikshunis and dedicated their life to the teaching of Buddha. In the Sangam era didn’t Madhavi’s daughter Manimeghalai join the faith of Buddha? Don’t we revere her as ‘Manimegala Deivam’ today? I tried to end my life and failed. Maybe God wishes me to be alive for some more time. Whatever else is left in my life, I wish to dedicate it to Lord Buddha and immerse myself in work that would give me peace. Will you help in this?”
A germ of doubt appeared in Vandiya Devan’s mind that startled him out of his wits.
“Devi! Your decision is most unfair, however I have no right to object or protest against it. Members of your family should advice you regarding this. I have heard that your uncle is returning from Elangai and will be here soon…”
“I don’t intend to wait for my uncle and I don’t want anybody’s advice. I have made my decision. Will you help me?”
“In what way, can I help you?”
“I wish to go to Nagapatinam’s Choodamani Viharam. I wanted to meet the monks and learn the ways of their faith. Would you escort me there?”
Vandiya Devan was properly shocked now.
This Kodumbalur Princess is very clever indeed! She has obviously overheard the conversation between Kundavai and myself. Maybe she wants to learn more about what she heard or she wishes me to confirm the Prince’s whereabouts through a farcical lie.
“Devi! Forgive me but I don’t think I can help you in this matter.”
“How strange? I thought nothing is impossible for a warrior who went to Elangai on a tough mission. Can’t you escort this poor orphaned girl to Nagapattinam?”
“It’s not an impossible task Devi but it is something that I can’t undertake right now. Princess Kundavai and Prime Minister Anirudhar have bid me to go to Kanchi immediately bearing their important message. That’s why I will have to refuse the honour of escorting you to Nagapattinam.”
“Alright! One can give over a thousand excuses if they are not inclined to help. I started on this journey alone but the presence of Kalamugars all along the way was a bit disturbing. No matter, I am sure God will protect my honour and my sorry self. Come to think of it, who would want to cause harm to a girl who is determined to renounce the life. I will take your leave now.” Said Vanathi and turned towards the entrance of the hut.
Kundanthai Jodhidhar followed her saying, “Devi! Devi! It is already dark outside. It is amavasya – the night of the dark moon and it looks like it is going to rain soon. Please accept my hospitality and stay here tonight.”
“Forgive me. I had planned to reach Thiruvarur by tonight where arrangements for my stay have been made. Now that this man has refused to escort, I am sure I will find someone who is more inclined to help in Thiruvarur. Not that I am worried about myself…”
Saying thus, Vanathi got into her palanquin and was soon on her way. Vandiya Devan and Kundanthai Jodhidhar watched until the palanquin disappeared from their line of sight.
Vandiya Devan shook his head and said, “Kodumbalur Princess was a very cowardly woman until some time ago. Her companions used to mock her for her cowardice and used to play tricks and games on her. Even I fell for one such trick. Look at her now. I can’t believe it is the same girl! How strange that she left the safety of her palace to travel alone? I wonder how Princess Kundavai allowed this!”
“I too am surprised by this transformation. Last time when this girl came here, she suddenly fainted. She spoke with a very meek hesitant voice. She is totally different today. Look how confidently she spoke up demanding your assistance.”
“What do you think might have brought about this transformation in her?”
“I think that she might have heard something drastic to bring about this kind of transformation.”
“What would that be?”
“Even the news that Ponniyin Selvar is missing in the sea ought to be enough. She was his prospective bride after all.”
When the astrologer said that, Vandiya Devan privately wondered whether Vanathi’s transformation came about because of Ponniyin Selvar’s disappearance or the news about the Prince’s interest in Poonguzhali.
Mulling over it, he further asked, “Why is she suddenly so interested in the faith of Buddha? I had heard that the clan of Kodumbalur are staunch salivates.”
“Some people develop such beliefs due to their past life deeds.”
“Why would she start for Choodamani Viharam in Nagapattinam of all places?”
“That is indeed surprising.”
“Can’t you find out through your astrology?”
“How can I find this through the science of astrology? One needs to use Thiruvalluvar’s edicts of spying instead to find these things.”
“Thiruvalluvar has written an edict on spying?”
“Yes indeed. I am surprised that you didn’t know.”
“What does he say in these edicts?”
“He says many important things that spies need to know. Listen to this…”
Saying thus he sang a small couplet from ‘Otradal’ and explained its meaning to Vandiya Devan.
“Thiruvallur advices the king to keep his spies working all the time. Just as he needs to know what his enemies are doing, he also needs to know what his own family members are doing as well.”
He sang one more couplet and proceeded to explain it to Vandiya Devan.
“Do you know how he describes a spy? This is how. A spy needs to disguise himself as a holy man or act as though he is dead… he needs to be on alert at all times. He also says that Kings ought to learn what their spies are doing through other spies. Have you never heard of these couplets?”
Vandiya Devan was astonished by the wisdom of Thiruvalluvar’s words. How intelligent and wise this poet saint must have been to write such words that are relevant event today? He resolved to read Thivalluvar’s Thirukural whenever he had the leisure.
He spoke with the astrologer for some more time before taking his leave. The astrologer invited him to stay the night. “It is very dark now. Why don’t you spend the night here and go on your way tomorrow at first light?”
Vandiya Devan declined his invitation and said, “I need to be on my way. Next time I am here I will accept your hospitality.”
“Next time you are here, you will find that all my predictions about you have come true.”
“Ayya! You haven’t predicted anything at all for me then how come it will come true.” Joked Vandiya Devan and mounted his horse.
After leaving the astrologer’s hut Vandiya Devan had to go in the same forest path as Vanathi’s palanquin had gone a few minutes ago. The path wound in the same direction for sometime and then diverged into two separate paths – one leading to Kollidam river banks and the other towards Thiruvarur where Vanathi was headed. Even at a distance he could see her palanquin heading in the Thiruvarur forest path. For a moment, Vandiya Devan hesitated on the crossroads wondering whether he should have offered his assistance to Vanathi.
Why did I refuse to help her? What if she needs my help truly? What if some danger befell her while on the way? If something like that happens he knew that he would berate himself forever for not escorting her to safety. But he had a mission to fulfil. Kundavai and Anirudhar were most emphatic about him reaching Kanchi as soon possible to stop Karikalan’s journey. No! No! I shouldn’t get distracted from my mission. I should remember the resolution that I made. I should keep my mind focussed on my mission and nothing else.
After deciding thus, he turned his horse towards the path that would take him towards Kollidam River bank. That’s when he heard the piercing scream of a woman. He turned back within an instant but couldn’t see the palanquin at the far end of the path. He immediately galloped his horse through the path and reached the far end of the path where the road turned. There he found a woman tied to a tree and her mouth gagged. He reined his horse and jumped down and ran towards the woman. The night was so dark that it was impossible at first to see who it was. She looked like Vanathi’s companion who had walked along with her in the palanquin. He removed her gag and released the ropes easily as they were not tied too securely.
“Woman! What happened? Tell me. Where is the palanquin? Where is your mistress?”
Her companion who seemed scared out of her wits said that as they were nearing the bend on the road, a few Kalamugar mendicants joined them and asked the palanquin bearers to keep their burden down and run away. Next they had tied the woman to the tree while the rest of them carried the palanquin away through the same path.
After telling her story, the woman broke down crying.
“Woman! Down this path if you go, you will find Kudanthai Jodhidhar’s house. Stay the night there. I will go after these Kalamugars and rescue your mistress.”
Saying thus, he mounted the horse and galloped away through the forest path.