Nandini – A Character Sketch

Nandini
Spoilers ahead!

Nandini is one of the most complex characters ever created by Kalki. She has been alternatively called a treacherous, vile, venomous, deadly and dangerous by almost all the characters in this novel. They are not far from the truth. Nandini is the most dangerous character in this novel. She is not merely beautiful but also very intelligent. Her determination and resourcefulness makes her a femme fatale unlike any other in Literature.

It takes a while for us to figure out this character because like a well-cut diamond there are many facets to her person. In the novel, we know about her even before we actually meet her. Kandan Maran talks about Periya Pazhuvetarayar’s marriage to a younger woman and jokes about his obsession with her. Later, we get a well-edited version of her life story from Azhwarkadiyan who tells Vandiya Devan about they grew up together in the same household and how she was like a sister to him. Vandiya Devan feels pity for her at this point and we readers are poised to be sympathetic towards her. She was after all a young woman who was forced to marry an old man…

We meet her for the first time, through Vandiya Devan’s eyes. Traveling on a veiled palanquin, she opens the curtains to see what the commotion is about and finds Vandiya Devan, mesmerized by her beauty. But unlike a frightened young girl who is traumatized by her forced marriage to an old man like Periya Pazhuvetarayar, we find a young woman who is not only beautiful but also powerful in her own way. She nonchalantly hands over the Pazhuvur emblem ring to our hero and asks him to come and meet him. Kalki describes this ring as a magical, because it opens up doors that are normally closed for others.

When Vandiya Devan meets her in her garden palace, she is an embodiment of beauty and by now we do know that she is not a helpless woman held captive against her will in Pazhuvetarayar’s palace. She is a powerful woman on her own right. She tries to seduce Vandiya Devan with her beauty and tries to bend his will to hers. Her attempt to do that signifies that it had successfully worked on others while Vandiya Devan though not fully immune to beauty is able to repel it because of his intelligence. He refuses her offer of employment in her entourage and shows her the message that Aditya Karikalan had sent.

The very next scene is a big reveal where the readers find out that she is not merely a beautiful woman trapped in a marriage to an old man but has deliberately married Periya Pazhuvetarayar as a means to get her revenge. The scene that unfolds during her meeting with Ravidasan is very interesting because the mandiravadi inadvertently reveals a truth that Nandini wouldn’t have acknowledged it to herself; that she had fallen hard for our hero Vandiya Devan.

In the subsequent chapters, we come to know that though Periya Pazhuvetarayar is married to her, they have not lain together as husband and wife. She does not hesitate to use the carrot and stick approach here, by promising him conjugal bliss in the near future, only if he would crown her as the queen of the Chola Kingdom. Mad with desire and lust, Periya Pazhuvetarayar agrees to everything that she proposed even when most of her plans make no sense to him.

The beauty of this character is that we learn many new things about her from various other characters; Azhwarkadiyan, Sembiyanmadevi, Aditya Karikalan and many others.

While Sembiyanmadevi blames her for the present political turmoil, Azhwarkadiyan reveals that it was the dowager queen who asked their family to bring up Nandini. From this point onwards, one question plagues our mind. Who is she? Who are her real parents?

Aditya Karikalan’s bitter confession to Parthibendran brings out yet hidden history of Nandini’s. It seems like Nandini perfected the art of her brand of seduction with Aditya Karikalan. But was she truly in love with him or did she desire the power that would come by her way, if she married the Crown Prince? We truly do not know. But what we know for sure is the deep-rooted jealousy between Kundavai and Nandini was born right from their childhood. Nandini was jealous of Kundavai’s position and the clout that she wielded as the Princess of the realm while Kundvai was jealous of her beauty. Did Nandini encourage Karikalan’s attentions merely because Kundavai and others objected to it?

Sadly for her the Dowager Queen Sembiyanmadevi interferes and sends her parents off to Pandya Kingdom. I believe there could be two reasons for this. Karikalan’s infatuation with Nandini was a dangerous proposition to the realm (especially when she was under the impression that the former was Sundara Chola’s daughter). Fearing an incestuous relationship between them, the Queen packs her off to Pandya Kingdom. Another reason could be the growing resemblance between Nandini and Madhurathakan. They were after all identical twins and with Nandini frequenting the palace with her parents, it would have been obvious soon enough. Hence she literally gets banished.

That’s is another reason for the deep-rooted hatred that she feels for the Chola royal family. To her mind, they have always manipulated her and used her for their own ends and then finally discarded her. It is obvious she did have a few years to mull over this disgrace. At this point, she probably expected Aditya Karikalan to come to her rescue but he too is away at battle. She probably thought that he had abandoned her and might have been simmering in discontentment and disillusionment.

When Aditya Karilan meets her again in Pandya Kingdom, they are in the middle of a war and he finds her staying alone with a few of her family members while her parents are away. He comes searching for the cowardly Pandya Kingdom and literally stumbles upon her. We need to remember that she is already sheltering the Pandya King then. One can only imagine this meeting because Nandini never talks about it.  She probably never hesitated to offer help to the Pandya King because at that point she had thought that Aditya Karikalan had abandoned her forever. What would Veera Pandyan have said to her? Nandini resembles Mandakini in all but character and Veera Pandyan hurt and concussed might have mistaken her for Mandakini. Did he profess his love to her then or did he reveal that she was his daughter? Or could it be both? Two things are possible here. Veera Pandyan’s love declaration might have been for Mandakini but Nandini realizes it later. Nandini could have genuinely fallen in love with him only to realize that he was her father at a later point of time.

What ever transpired between them is a subject for conjecture but at the end of it we see a determined Nandini trying to shield and protect the king. Why did she tell Aditya Karikalan that Veera Pandyan had promised to marry her? Did she perhaps say that to spite him? If that was so, then she had misjudged his character and the repercussions were terrible for both. Aditya Karikalan loses his mind because of his guilty consciousness while she ruins her own life to fight Veera Pandyan’s battle.

She marries Pazhuvetrayar and makes him her puppet. She meets her twin, Prince Madhuranthakan and convinces him to give up Shiva worship and sets the events in motion to challenge Aditya Karikalan’s right to the throne. She enthrals Kandan Maran and also enlists Parthibendra Pallavan into her growing camp of admirers and makes use of them to attain her goals.

She is also curious about her birth mother and this leads her to torture Sundara Chola by pretending to be Mandakini’s ghost. One wonders why she did that? Was she seeking confirmation from the King that he knew her mother and then discarded her? Was she trying to figure out whether she was his daughter in reality? She does not miss this opportunity to make Sundara Chola look like a weakling to Pazhuvetrayar  

The only anomaly in her space was Vandiya Devan who not only successfully resists her attraction but also charms her into loving him. Kundavai’s sharp intellect guesses the truth though it has been staring at us all through the book. She genuinely falls in love with Vandiya Devan but the holy vow that she swore on the corpse of Veera Pandyan hangs from her neck like an albatross. She never wavers in her determination to kill Aditya Karikalan and makes use of Vandiya Devan as a convenient scapegoat but if the Chola court had convicted him, she would have rescued him in the end, just as Kundavai had put out. 

Love was a double-edged sword for her. At one stroke she frames Vandiya Devan for Karikalan's murder (which would grieve Kundavai) and yet she might just have saved him if the Cholas intended to condemn him thus proving her love to him. Whichever way the dice rolled, it was a win-win situation for Nandini or so she thought. She probably didn't anticipate that Pazhuvetrayar would take the blame on himself.

Another remarkable thing about her character is that she gets married to Pazhuvetarayar but does not live with him as man and wife. During their marriage she seduces many with her beauty and charm but she still manages to remain true to her marriage and does not indulge in adulterous relationship with other men. In other words, from a pure physical sense she remains true to Pazhuvetarayar.

One can write a book about her and yet not know the true nature of her character. There is no doubt about the fact that she is your true mystery woman who keeps her face masked. We can talk and debate for hours about who her father was or who did she love truly but there will always be room for doubt and discussion in every argument that we make. Well that’s Nandini for you, readers.

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Volume 1 - New Flood