In the novel, Kundavai is introduced to us quite early and one of the many things that you would notice about her is the utmost respect with which people talk about her.
She is quite unique among all the other women during her time. In an era, where royal women were used to forge alliances with other kingdoms and feudal lords, Kundavai's father allows her to exercise her free will. Kundavai is resolved not to get married to any foreign king or lord and wants to stay in the Chola Kingdom for the rest of her life. This deference to her wishes even at such a young age is a mark of respect for her intelligence and wit.
Kundavai is highly esteemed all through the kingdom and that's probably why princesses of many royal homes are sent under her care. Almost as a matron, she grooms these princesses in arts, music, and literature. She also indulges in matchmaking for her brother and seeks to train Vanathi to bloom into a perfect wife for him.
All through the novel, we see how this intelligent princess tackles tricky situations and her adversaries with such grace that you feel like applauding her. She takes the right decisions at the right time. When she realizes that the kingdom is under danger, she summons her brother back home immediately and then goes to Thanjavur to be with her father and if possible warn him against the Pazhuvetarayars. But her father's revelation of past stories and deeds rouses many suspicions against her main adversary, Nandini.
Amidst the political intrigues and conspiracies, she also falls in love. Just as Kudanthai Jodidhar had predicted, there comes a soldier with no home save but the earth and the sky and he literally sweeps her off her feet.
When she meets Vandiya Devan for the first time, he has no idea who she is. In his hurry to see the astrologer he barges in (most ungraciously!) into the room. As a princess who commands utmost respect from everybody in the kingdom, Kundavai probably found it amusing that this young man did not recognize her in the first place. And what woman could resist the charming attentions of a man like Vandiya Devan indeed!
Later when she apologizes to him for not speaking at the astrologer's house but before she could finish her companions laugh at him and he leaves. There is a trace of regret when she admonishes them for not behaving in a proper manner with strange men.
Next time she meets him, Vandiya Devan is well aware of who she really is and she too knows about his adventures but that doesn't diminish Vandiya Devan's romantic attentions towards her. Kundavai struggles with her heart to rein in her attraction towards him and sends him to fetch her brother from Eelangai.
There are many reasons for her trip to Thanjavur. The acknowledged one was that she wants to be near her father to deflect any kind of danger that might come his way and the unacknowledged one was that she wants to be at the capital if by some chance, Pazhuvetrayars capture Vandiya Devan. And they almost do, though thankfully Vandiya Devan escapes and Pinagapani is captured instead.
When her father confesses to her about Mandagini, she makes the right conclusion and guesses the truth about Nandini's birth mother. And the resultant conversation that she has with Arul Mozhi Verman reveals the best of her character. Though she rightly concludes that Nandini is Mandagini's daughter, she thinks that Sundara Chola is her father. She reveals to Arul Mozhi that Nandini is her step sister and that she would seek her forgiveness for hating her.
While Nandini hated Kundavai for being an all-powerful princess, Kundavai too had hated her for being a bewitching beauty. But when it came to a point where she almost believed Nandini to her sister, Kundavai finds herself sympathizing with her plight and feels remorse for hating her. This is one of the most positive traits of her character. Like a mother hen, she wants to protect all those who are dear to her - her parents, brothers, her friends and the man who has stolen her heart and even her worst enemy who might be her sister!
She wants Vandiya Devan to warn Nandini about her parentage and to save her from the clutches of the Pandya Abathuudavigal and then she warns Aditya Karikalan about her being their sister. Despite her best efforts, Nandini has her revenge and Aditya Karikalan dies.
While she mourns the loss of her brother, she also feels desolate and heartbroken by the fact that Vandiya Devan was accused as her brother's murderer. Unable to support him openly she finds herself fretting at the thought that he was languishing in the dungeons awaiting trial.
In this mix, Manimeghalai's outright confession of love (for Vandiya Devan) and attempts to take over the blame for Karikalan's murder irks her a bit though she doesn't show any sign of jealousy towards her. It is this maturity and clarity of thought that sets her apart from other women in the novel.
Having said that there are many in the novel who accuse her of high-handed behaviour and her right to take decisions for others. I have found this to be true to some extent though her actions were always for the benefit of the kingdom.
She goads Arul Mozhi Varman into taking up the mantle of securing Eelangai for Chola Kings. She wants him to become a separate sovereign king and rule over Eelangai because she truly believes the fact that he was born to rule. She also has ambitious plans for Arul Mozhi's son and intends to raise him up to become a finest warrior and a noble king that the world will remember for ever. To that end, she wants to match-make him to her friend (of whom the astrologer had predicted great things to come).
I sometimes wonder how she would have reacted if Arul Mozhi had put his foot down and said that he would marry Poonguzhali and no one else. But she does warn him in her own subtle manner about the dangers of losing one's heart and mind. There were two classic examples right at home for her to cite - her father losing his mind over mandagini and her brother over Nandini. Thankfully Arul, Mozhi realizes the worth of her wise counsel and doesn't take that route.
At the end of the novel, we find Kundavai a little lost because her brother is no longer consulting her and we get a slight hint of disapproval from her when she realizes that he has indeed grown up big enough to fly her coop. But it all works out for the better when Arul Mozhi abides by her decision to marry Vanathi.
In the end, her surmise and conclusions about Nandini rings absolutely true. She talks frankly to Vandiya Devan and when she reveals the passion that Nandini must have felt for him, there is no trace or hint of jealousy. There won't be, because she is a secure woman who is sure of her man's love for her and also because Nandini was gone for good from all their lives. She goads him to go to Kadambur to meet Kandan Maran where they have found Manimeghalai. If Manimeghalai was well and fine in body and mind, I am sure Kundavai would have bullied Vandiya Devan to marry her.
Kundavai truly sets a fine example of how a royal princess should behave and history is much indebted to her for being the guiding force of two great Chola Kings but scratch the surface, you will find a warm gracious woman who is every inch a queen herself.