We know that one of our heroines Vanathi, had the annoying habit of fainting at the end of momentous chapters. We hope that you would excuse her this one time because she would soon be cured of this habit.
When Vanathi gained consciousness again, she felt as though she was swaying in the sky. Drops of rain fell all around her and she could smell the rain and the freshness of the earth and the drip drop sound of the rainwater. Though it was dark all over she could still make out flashes of lightning in the sky and a cold wind blew all over her.
She remembered the Prime Minister’s words about the going to the nether world and the elephant lifting her in its trunk.
Anirudhar’s words came true. My life in this world has ended and I am traveling towards the nether world. I will probably see Gods and Goddesses in this world. But he wouldn’t be there. The one person whom she had enshrined within her heart as a God will not be there. So what’s the use of going to the netherworld?
Why am I swaying thus? Why is my mount shaking? But the place where I am sleeping is so comfortable and soft just like a mother’s lap. No… more than my mother’s lap it reminds of Princess Kundavai’s lap who loves me just like my mother.
Ah! I wonder what she is doing in Pazhaiarai right now? When would she learn of the terrible fate that befell me?
Alright! I am travelling to the heavens through the clouds but what kind of vehicle am I on? Could it be Pushpaka Vimanam that comes in Ramayana or would it be Airavatham – Indra’s magnificent white elephant? My God! Why am I thinking about an elephant now? That life is over and done now.
Though she tried to convince herself about her death, Vanathi’s curiosity got better of her and she tried to find out where she was lying. She touched the place where her head was placed and found it as soft as silk. Someone was touching her cheek and her eyes and was calling her…
“Akka! Is that you?”
“Yes. It’s me. Who else?”
“Are you travelling with me to the heavens?”
“Why do you wish to go to the heavens, my girl? Are you so tired of this world now?”
“Then… where are we going?”
“You have forgotten about it so soon? Don’t you remember that we are going to Aanaimangalam?”
“Where? Where are we going?”
“Great! We are going to Aanaimangalam perched atop an elephant no less.”
“Ayyo! An elephant!”
“Are you afraid of elephants now? Why are you shivering?”
“Akka! Did I fall asleep?”
“Yes, you did. You were cherishing the joy of travelling in an elephant and fell asleep happily.”
“Fell asleep happily! There was nothing happy about it. I had the most frightful dreams.”
“I thought so as well. You were blabbering many things in your sleep.”
“What did I blabber?”
“You spoke about Kalamugars… sacrifice and then Gajendra Motcham and then Elephant’s trunk! After that you abused our poor Prime Minister Anirudhar and called him names! I do say that he totally deserves being abused thus… though if he had only heard it, I doubt if he would sleep peacefully for days.”
“I can’t believe that it was all a dream, Akka.”
“What was the dream… tell me that?”
“I dreamt that the Kalamugars kidnapped me and took me to the Prime Minister who asked me many questions about the Prince. I refused to answer his questions and he got irked by my refusal and commanded the elephant to throw me to death. I wish you had seen me then, Akka. I didn’t flinch away from the danger and nor did I give away to despair. I remembered you then… I wished you were there to see me stand up to that man bravely.”
“Well… I am glad that at least in your dreams you turn out to be brave.”
Vanathi remained silent for a while and then said, “I still can’t believe it.”
“What can’t you believe?”
“All that can’t just be a dream…”
“Sometimes dreams can be that realistic too…I have had many such dreams that seem so real that I can’t believe it when I wake up.”
“What dreams are these? Tell me.”
“Why? I dream of my brother all the time. It’s been so long since he went to Elangai but in my dreams, he is there with me.”
“You are lucky akka!”
“Lucky am I? What do you know of my heart that has been in pain ever since he disappeared in the sea?”
“What if that too had been a dream and never happened?”
“If only it were so Vanathi, but it is true. The Prince did jump into the sea and people who saw it has come back to tell us about it.”
“You are talking about the Vandiya Devan, aren’t you? Didn’t he say something else about the Prince and the boat girl and mention Choodamani Viharam as well?”
“It must be one of your dreams then. Now that I recall, you did blabber something about the boat girl Poonguzhali and Choodamani Viharam in Nagapattinam. You also said that you would become a Buddha Bikshuni! Have you lost interest in this world so soon that you wish to give up its pleasures?
“Akka! Don’t you know my heart? I have no wish to live now that he is no more! I truly wish that the elephant had thrown me to death.”
“Wretched Girl! You would die and leave me alone!”
“You are different Akka!”
“True! You bear more love and affection towards my brother than I do perhaps?”
“Akka! I didn’t mean that. I was about to say that you have a strong heart that has the forbearance to weather through dark times…whereas I don’t have such fortitude and I have no wish to live on after he is gone…”
“Stop! Why do you say that he is dead? Why should we believe such a thing? Do you know for sure? Did you see? Pazhuvur brothers and their queen and that poor Madhuranthakan might mourn my brother in the public and feel happy about it privately but why should we do it?”
“What are you saying then? What do you think happened to him after he jumped into the sea during the fierce storm? If he had escaped, don’t you think he would have come back home by now?”
“Foolish girl! When someone jumps into the sea, should we just assume that they died?”
“If he had escaped, then why didn’t he come back home?”
“Vanathi! Do you know what happened to my father when he was young? For many months in row, he was missing and no one knew where he was. They searched for him high and low in the seas and then brought him back to the kingdom and made him the heir apparent to King Gandarathidhar. My own grandfather Aringzha Cholar went missing after the Thakkolam war and returned after many years. Listen to me Vanathi! My beloved Ponni River saved my brother and gave him back to me years ago… in the same manner Samudra Raja too would give him back to me. There are many small islands dotting the coast of Elangai, it could be possible that the Prince might have taken shelter there. I started on this journey just to ensure that no effort is spared in searching for the Prince. Don’t you remember I told you all this just before we started? I can’t fault you though… you have been in a state ever since the news about the Prince came.”
Vanathi remained silent for a while and then asked, “Akka! What’s the name of the place where we are going?”
“Where is it?”
“It is near Nagapattinam. In your dreams, you had blabbered about Choodamani Viharam that too is near Aanaimangalam. If you truly wish to become a Buddha Bikshuni, it would be very convenient for us. But don’t be in a tearing hurry to give up this world and don ochre robes… you can decide about it after we get more news about Ponniyin Selvan.” Said Kundavai and laughed.
“Akka… you are laughing. How can you? Are you so sure that the Prince has escaped?”
“If I am not sure, then would I be like this Vanathi? The astrologer’s predictions have certainly come true. The divine couch and the Sudarshana Chakra mark in his hands will come true… so far whatever was predicted about him has come true.”
“I don’t know how you can believe all that…”
“What do you know, girl? You have not been yourself ever since you heard the news. Almost all the astrologers that I had consulted told me that Arul Mozhi would have to pass through many dangers to his life and that has come true. I am sure the rest of the predictions about his life too would come to pass…”
“What were the rest of the predictions?”
“I have told you so many times…why do you want me to repeat it now? Sleep now… we will talk about it later.”
Vanathi remained silent for a while and then said, “Why are we travelling in the night that too on the elephant, Akka?”
“You don’t remember? If we travel in the light, people from nearby villages would come to us with questions about the Prince… It would be impossible to answer them… and they in turn would curse the Pazhuvur brothers of conspiracies and abuse the Pazhuvur queen in our hearing. Why should we hear all that? The Pazhuvur brothers might even go to the length of accusing me of inciting the public against them. That’s why we are travelling in the night. I told you all this when we left Pazhaiarai but you seem to have forgotten. I hope we find some cure for you at Choodamani Viharam… Now go to sleep… even I am feeling sleepy. There is nothing else to do on this moving mountain…”
Vanathi resolved to remain silent from now on and thought back to the day’s events… they seemed real to her now.
I am not dreaming and nor am I imagining things as Princess Kundavai seems to believe… she concluded.
She wondered what might have happened to her after the elephant had lifted her with its trunks but she couldn’t remember anything. One possibility was that Princess Kundavai might have arrived there on time, to save her…
She imagined how the Prime Minister must have felt after seeing Kundavai but the elephant had lifted her in its trunk to throw… how could Kundavai save her from this danger?
What if this is the same elephant that had lifted me with its trunk? She could faintly remember seeing a hooded seat on top of the elephant.
What if Kundavai had been sitting in the hooded seat all the while when the Prime Minister was talking to me? The elephant might have placed me in the hooded seat instead of throwing me to death!
Vanathi had seen elephants do that feat many a time. She wondered whether Kundavai and the Prime Minister had concocted this plan just to stop her journey or maybe they wished to check how brave she was?
Didn’t Kundavai do a similar thing by arranging a dead crocodile to frighten me?
Be that as it may…travelling alone to Nagapattinam was a stupid plan in the first place. It is so comforting to be with Princess Kundavai and sleep on her lap instead. She wondered whether to believe in Kundavai optimism or not? She now knew for sure that Kundavai wouldn’t be so unless she knew for sure that the Prince is alive and well.
Will I meet the Prince at the end of this journey?
When she thought about the meeting, her heart bounded with love and anticipation.
The elephant walked on and on through the night. The royal guards accompanied it guarding its front and rear. The rain had stopped after a while and the stars came out.
Vanathi looked at them and wondered whether they can truly influence the lives of countless people who live in this world.
For many years now, she had heard astrologers comparing Ponniyin Selvar’s stars and hers as a perfect match.
Is there any truth in all that? Kudanthai Jodhidhar had predicted that the son born to her would rule the world! Would it really come true?
They also say that the appearance of a comet in the sky indicates grave danger … if so what danger would it be?
Is the danger averted now that the Ponniyin Selvar jumped into the sea or could it be something else… something more fatal?
Will he truly return just as Kundavai believes?
With these and many other thoughts swirling through her mind, Vanathi slept for a while. When she woke again, it was early in the morning.
Kundavai too was up and she parted the veils of their hood and looked out and said, “There we have reached Aanaimangalam. We have arrived at the Chola palace…”
They both ascended from the elephant hood and entered the palace. The palace retainers welcomed the Princesses warmly and showed them the place. In the end, they went to the rear of the Palace where a canal could be seen that later joined the sea.
“Akka! You said that you would be making arrangements to search for the Prince. What are these arrangements?”
“Yes, Vanathi… the arrangements have been made. See there… do you see a boat? The people in the boat might bring us some information.”
Vanathi saw that there were two people in the distant boat. “Akka! Who is coming in the boat?”
“The boat is rowed by Senthan Amuthan… remember him? We released him from the Thanjavur Underground prison and the other person in the boat must be Poonguhazli, his cousin.”
Goose pimples rose on Vanath’s body and she said, “Akka! I do not wish to meet that woman, I will go inside.”
“What is this? Why are you so afraid of that girl now? Stay where you are and don’t say anything.”
The boat neared the palace even as both the women waited for it.
How did Vanathi escape from the elephant? Her guess proved to be right in this case. The elephant as she had anticipated did not throw her to death. Instead, it had handed her over to the hood where Princess Kundavai caught the unconscious girl and had laid her down.
After that, the Prime Minister had looked up and said, “Devi… I will take my leave now. May your journey be successful and fruitful.”
“Ayya! I thank you for your help.”
“You said that the Kodumbalur Princess was a coward? I haven’t seen a braver girl than her…”
“She was a faint-hearted girl before but off late she has become braver…”
“That must be because of you Princess… She must think that I am the worst demon in the three worlds… but then many people think about me in that manner and I am not bothered about other people’s opinions… I will take your leave now.”
Saying thus, the Prime Minister got into his palanquin and headed west while the elephant and its guards turned south.
Right after the Prime Minister’s journey began, it started raining but the bearers and the guards didn’t stop for respite anywhere. In a little while, the rain too stopped and that’s when the Palanquin stopped.
“Why have you stopped?” asked the Prime Minister.
“Master… it looks as though someone is lying under the tree there.”
The Prime Minster looked out and at that time, a lightning flashed through and he could see clearly that someone was indeed lying there.
“Yes… It looks as though someone is there.” said the Prime Minister and got down from the palanquin and then walked towards the tree.
He could hear someone moaning in pain…
“Who is there?”
“Is that the Prime Minister?” asked the person who was lying there.
“Yes. This is the Prime Minister. Who are you?”
“Ayya! Don’t you recognise me? I am Madhuranthakan.”
“Prince! What is this? What happened to you? How did you end up thus?” said the Prime Minister and hurried towards him.