Who is Nandini?

This article was written more than ten years ago for our PS yahoo group. There are many spoilers ahead, so if you are still reading Ponniyin Selvan then you might find yourself learning many secrets that are yet to revealed.  
Who is Nandini?

When Ram (our moderator) approached me for a weekly article based on the discussions that we have in the group, I was wondering how to start. After much head scratching I thought I would like to begin this series with a question which pops in all our minds while we read this great epic – "Who is Nandini?"

I wonder if there was a more complex character created at all by any author. And the way Kalki builds her character through the entir e novel is beautiful. In each part, episode and dialogue we get to know a new facet about her character and equally a new secret about her life.

Right from the beginning of this story, we see conflicting images that this character portrays. Initially we know her as a mystery woman in a palanquin and then slowly Kalki reveals her history. When Azhvarkadiyan narrates her story we feel sorry for her but she presents a conflicting image when our hero meets her. After listening to Azhvarkadiyan's story we are prepared to meet a helpless girl who was kidnapped and forced to wed an old man but we are wrong. When Vandiya Devan meets her for the first time she appears to be powerful woman with a fleet of servants to do her bidding and she also wields enough power to help him get inside the Fort.

After Vandiya Devan meets her we know one thing for sure - that she is an exceptionally beautiful woman. And what better way could there be to compare her beauty with that of Kundavai's than through a man's eyes! But it is certain that Nandini's magnetism and beauty are unparalleled in the novel and she cleverly uses it as a lever to wrap men around her little finger. She has a success rate of 99% in creating love sick puppies like Pazhuvetarayar, Kandanmaran, Aditya Karikalan, Pallava Parthibendran etc. But she meets her match in Vandiya Devan who is unfazed by her hypnotic beauty. 

The war of will between these two characters is beautiful. flirtatious yet determined, condescending yet clever Vandiya Devan escapes from being pulled into Nandini's dangerous web.

Why does Nandini try to entrap Vandiya Devan? Kalki gives us the reason immediately because he does not want his audience to get the wrong impression about her. She is associated with the Pandya spies who want avenge their king's death. 

Through the course of the novel we see different kaleidoscopic images of her as a schemer, strategist, leader and also as an unfortunate woman whose life was manipulated by many people.

Coming back to our basic question, "Who is she?" We know for sure that she is Mandakini's daughter but who is her father? Is it Veerapandiyan or Karuthiruman?

I think we can safely leave Sundara Chola out of the discussion because both Nandini and Madhuranthakan were born two years after Sundara Chola returned to the Kingdom.

The crux of the problem is Mandakini's loss of memory. Karuthiruman saves her from her suicide attempt during which she loses her memory and takes her back to Boodha Thevu and on the way he rescues Veerapandiyan who is fleeing from the Cholas.

Karuthiruman leaves them both in the Boodha Thevu and takes the Pandya King's message to the Sri Lanka King. Did Veerapandiyan fall in love with her? Did Mandakini have an affair with him? 

Now let's discuss the other possibility. Karuthiruman confesses to Azhvarkadiyan that he is the father of Nandini and Madhuranthakan. Could this be true? We know that later he falls in love with Vani, 
Mandakini's twin sister. Could that be because he was reminded of Mandakini who by then had regained her memory and could not recognize him anymore?

The truth can only be guessed by the actions of these two individuals after they meet Mandakini. Veerapandiyan sends Karuthiruman as a messenger to Mandakini who was taken back to Kodi Karai by her father. But when he arrives there he finds that Mandakini has had another accident with result her memory is back. Now she does not recognize Karuthiruman, which means she does not know what happened to her from the time she fell from the lighthouse and her last accident. 

Why did Veerapandiyan send a message through Karuthiruman to her? Was he in love with her? Going by the fact that Nandini resembles Mandakini we can conclude that Mandakini too was an exceptionally beautiful woman barring the fact that she was handicapped. If we assume that he had an affair with her, this fits in perfectly because I cannot imagine what other business a king like Veerapandiyan would have with her. And that too, a king who has been ousted from his kingdom and who is in Sri Lanka trying to rally support. One would think that he has lots of things in mind other than to wonder about an unfortunate woman with whom he had traveled for a short while unless he had developed a special love or affection for her. Only that could have prompted him find out what happened to her.

Veerapandiyan is persistently trying to find out what happened to her. Did he know that she was pregnant with his baby? Karuthiruman finds out that Veerapandiyan's children are being brought up in Chola household but before he could get this information to the king he is captured and thrown in prison. Maybe Veerapandiyan knows that she was pregnant but doesn't know what happened to the babies or to their mother.

The second possibility is that Karuthiruman might be the father of Nandini and Madhuranthakan. But I find very little evidence to suggest that. All his actions prove that he has been acting for the Pandya King. So it would be safe to assume that he had lied to Azhvarkadiyan. But there is also one little point that we must note. When Karuthiruman narrates his story to Vandiya Devan he starts with 
a preamble that – "Is it Ok if I combine some imagination as well along with the story?" Now which part of it is imagination is difficult for me to concur.

After the babies are born, Sembiyanmadevi gives away Nandini to Azhvarkadiyan's parents. Sembiyanmadevi does not approve of Nandini's friendship with Karikalan and she sends away Nandini to Pandya Kingdom. There can be another reason for this. Nandini and Madhuranthakan are identical twins, maybe she didn't want anybody to wonder how come they both look alike.

Now let's analyze Nandini's actions. Born and brought up in the Chola household, she has had her suspicions about her birth for long though she never voiced it. She talks about repressed memories about seeing her mother in a dream-like state (Mandakini herself tells Poonguzhali about how she used visit her twin children and watch over them when they were asleep). She gains Karikalan's love and trust but Sembiyanmadevi puts an end to their relationship and sends her away to Pandya Kingdom.

I wonder what Veera Pandiyan might have spoken or said to her when he was injured. Did he think that she was Mandakini? Did he profess his love to her? Did Nandini fall in love with him then and then discover him to be his father?

These are questions that no one could answer. However she does tell Karikalan that he is her lover and God who has condescended to marry her. Was she perhaps comparing the Pandya king's actions to that of Karikalan himself, who never confessed or proposed marriage to her (though he meant to)? She obviously had much faith in her seductive allure and she sought to gamble on that factor. Sadly for her, it didn't work and Karikalan kicks her aside and beheads the Pandya king.

All through book, we find her referring to some unknown entity as 'my dear' and my beloved'. Were they truly directed towards her father/lover or someone else? We do not know. But I am of the opinion that Nandini was prey to oedipal complex and was often confused about her identity as the daughter or lover of Veera Pandyan.

We may never know the secret history behind her parentage but the debate continues...

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