Princess Vanathi - A Character Sketch

Spoilers ahead...

Princess Vanathi
Princess Vanathi is the true damsel in distress in this novel. In a book that is populated by strong women characters such as Kundavai, Nandini, Poonguzhali, Sembiyanmadevi, Vanamadevi and Mandakini, Vanathi stands out like a gentle flower stuck in a storm. But she survives many mishaps, heart breaks, political turmoils and disappointments to emerge a winner.

Vanathi's introduction in the book is very poetic but then Kalki used her as a foil to describe Kundavai. Gentle, polite and charming, Vanathi is quick witted, well-mannered and courteous. She is also shown to be emotionally weak who is likely to faint away at the very hint of danger.  Orphaned at a very young age, Vanathi's mother dies at childbirth and her father at the war in Eelangai (Sri Lanka). Vanathi is brought up by distant relatives and her uncle who later sends her to Kundavai as a companion.

As a close companion of Kundavai, Vanathi must have benefitted a lot in terms of education and knowledge of the world. She must have proved to be an apt pupil otherwise Kundavai wouldn't have dreamed of marrying her to Arul Mozhi. 

In the first part, Vanathi is introduced along with Kundavai as they visit Kudanthai Jodhidhar. Even then Kalki hints at her exalted status at a later stage in life (She is the mother of the future Chola Rajendra Chola). But how did a girl who trembles and faints at every little thing marry a warrior like Arul Mozhi? Leaving aside the prediction of Kudanthai Jodhidhar, even Vanathi is often seen pondering this question. 

Her arc in this story is pretty simple. She is already in love with Prince Arul Mozhi and to her surprise Kundavai encourages her to follow her heart's desire. She constantly dwells on the mishap of falling aarti plate on the eve of Arul Mozhi's departure to Eelangai and berates herself for making such a mistake. Kundavai brings her to Kudanthai Jodhidhar to give her hope through astrology. Though Vanathi protests and purports to disbelieve everything that the astrologer predicts in the heart of her hearts, she is overjoyed and worried in equal measures. She is overjoyed when the astrologer talks about the son that would be born to her and is worried how it will all come about.

She has a valid reason to worry about. Vanathi's extraordinary horoscope has put her in the limelight as a prospective bride for Arul Mozhi and it had invited many envious comments upon her person. Her friendship with Kundavai and her character are brought under scanner by her other companions and by the people in general. Many think that her fainting spells were mere acts to garner attention and the incident of the aarti plate was a ruse to get Arul Mozhi to notice her. The underlying accusation behind all this was that she was trying to marry Arul Mozhi just become the queen.

This is surely not a comfortable position to be in for anybody and much less for Vanathi who was guile-less. While she is blamed for trying to entice the most eligible bachelor in Chola Kingdom, even Arul Mozhi finds his sister's matchmaking efforts irksome and tedious. 

Vanathi's last fainting spell happens in the third part when she hears the death news of her beloved prince. Saved by Kundavai from drowning, she overhears Vandiya Devan's description about Poonguzhali, a boat girl who saved Arul Mozhi from the raging storm. She is devastated to learn that Arul Mozhi might have fallen in love with her. But from this point onwards, we see a different Vanathi.

She recovers from this incident quite quickly and then sets about to prove to Arul Mozhi that she was not interested in becoming his queen though she loved him with all her heart. She sets out all alone to meet him a Nagapattinam and finds herself locked in words with Brahmarayar (Prime Minister of Cholas).

She comes back in focus during the fourth part where Kalki gives us a flashback as to how she first met Arul Mozhi. Arul Mozhi saves a family of sparrows from a ferocious cat and she mistakes him to be a mahout. When she reveals to him that she is Kodumbalur Princess, he turns away. Later when she finds out that he is Arul Mozhi, she surmises his reaction quite correctly. Arul Mozhi too thinks that she wants to marry him only because the astrologers have predicted that he would be king one day! This is the secret sorrow that gnaws her all through the epic.

When Poonguzhali mocks her about wanting to become the queen, Vanathi does something totally unpredictable. She takes an oath on all things holy that she would not become the queen, no matter what! 

This is what turns the tide in her favour. Until then, Arul Mozhi knew her only as a cowardly girl who fainted at every turn - in other words an unfit wife for a warrior. Her oath proves to him that there is more to her than just fainting spells and timidness!

All through the novel, we see Kundavai trying to bolster her courage and emotional strength and to a large degree she succeeds because Vanathi does not fear or grow hysterical when she is borne away by the storm that strikes Kudanthai. She boldly floats away on the thatched roof of the astrologer's house and saves herself from the swirling floods. She also climbs a tree to escape from the hungry crocodile and awaits rescue. Ironically she also saves Poonguzhali (which must have surprised her a great deal!) from the crocodile.

In the end she is prepared for the occasion of Arul Mozhi's ascension on the throne and is resigned to the fact that he would take a new wife. But Arul Mozhi's turnaround and sacrifice comes as a shock and one of the many reasons for this was her holy oath that she would not be his queen. At this point, even I envied Vanathi!

Kalki skips the chapter where Arul Mozhi marries her and just like Vandiya Devan, I felt like fighting with them for getting married without inviting me! 

Vanathi stays true to her character all through the novel. She is pure in heart, guileless in nature and charming to the core. She is still timid, soft spoken and mild-mannered. She cannot row a boat in a terrible storm and save people, nor can she boldly run after an assassin and try to capture him but she is emotionally strong when she needs to be and her love endures many storms and disappointments. She may have sworn never to be a queen but she is the queen of Arul Mozhi's heart and in the end that's what matters.

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Volume 1 - New Flood