River Ponni, born and raised in the Kudagu Hills, after her childhood was past, wished to meet the Ocean King, her chosen husband. She went swiftly, crossing hill and dale, rocky mountain and canyon. As she came closer and closer, the joyous anticipation of meeting her beloved Lord, the Ocean King, made her thrive and grow. She went even further.
Two arms grew to embrace the lover. Spreading her arms wide, she leaped and surged forward. Two arms were not sufficient for her ardent enthusiasm. Her loving arms grew into ten, twenty, hundred! Stretching out all these arms in eagerness she neared the Ocean King. She was the bride meeting her beloved.
Chozla women, her bridesmaids, dressed her in such wondrous ways. They clothed her in the beautiful greens of rice-fields. They decorated her with colorful flowers; and showered her with fragrant woods. How can we describe the enchanting kadamba and punnai trees on both her banks: they covered her with pearls and rubies of flowers.
Who would not be overjoyed to cast their eyes upon you, dear Ponni? Which maid will not be beguiled by this, your bridal attire? It is but natural that attractive young girls should gather around you just as bridesmaids surround a ravishing bride.
One of the arms stretched out by Ponni or Cauvery, to reach out for her Lord the Ocean King, is known by the name River Arisil. The beautiful Arisil flows to the south of and very close to River Cauvery. One could not easily view this petite river from a little distance. The groves of trees, growing thickly on both its banks hide the river.
One could consider the Arisil as a princess who never stepped out of the enclosed courtyards of a royal palace. There is no comparison to this beautiful virgin river.
Let our readers forget that it is the inner courtyard of a palace and come with us to the banks of the Arisil river. Let them enter these woody groves on its banks. Oh! What an enchanting sight meets our eyes! It seems to add radiance to beauty; to add sweetness to nectar.
Who are these divine women, seated on the beautifully carved barge, constructed like a floating swan? Who is the radiant jewel among women, seated in their midst, like the full moon among twinkling stars, like a queen born to rule all seven worlds? Who is the gentle damsel seated next to her, playing the veena (lute like instrument)? Who are these heavenly beauties coming down the stream, mixing the pleasant melody of their music with the gurgling noises of the river?
One of them had large eyes shaped like darting fish; the other was blue eyed; yet another had a face like the blossoming lotus; another girl had wide dark eyes shaped like the petal of a blue lily. Ah! The girl playing the musical instrument, one could watch forever, her soft fingers dancing over the taunt strings of the veena.
What can we say about the sweetness of the song they sang? Even the water in the river seemed to be still as it listened to their melodious music. Even the cuckoos and parrots on the trees listened quietly. We humans, blessed with the fortune of being able to listen, why should we not be enchanted by their song? Let us listen to them:
Walk slowly, walk shyly, Praise to you, dear Cauvery;
Dress yourself in beautiful clothes: Fragrant gardens full of humming bees; Open wide, those large dark eyes: Dancing fish of deep dark seas;
Dancing does not melt a lovers heart: Like a good monarch’s mace of justice;
When nightingales sing in deep woods; And peacocks dance amidst flower groves; Dance gently, dear Cauvery: You disturb the garlands on Kama’s shoulders. The garlands at his waist are all asway; What caused it? The very name of your dear Lord:
An expert spear like dart;
Walk slowly, walk shyly, Praise to you, dear Cauvery.
Where have we heard this delightful Tamil poem? Oh yes, is it not from The Silappadikaram (an ancient poetical work)? The poem seems even more enchanting and delightful when these maids sing it. Perhaps they are the maids of honor in River Arisil’s court? Or is this the magic of some sorcerer? It entices every beholder.
The barge floated down gently till it stopped near a landing amidst the woods. Two maidens are getting down. One is that dignified lady, comparable to a queen of the seven worlds; the other is her companion who was creating the enchanting harmony while playing the veena. Though both are beautiful, there was a difference between the two of them. One has the dignity of a lotus blossom in full bloom.
The other has the pleasantness of the night-time water lily. One is the radiant full moon; the other is the young crescent of late evening. One is the dancing peacock; the other is a singing nightingale. One is a queen of the Gods; her friend is Rathi, the beloved of Cupid. She is the fast flowing turbulent Ganga. Her companion is the gentle Cauvery.
Without further ado, without leaving our readers in further suspense, let me introduce these two ladies. The lady with a certain dignity in her posture is Kundavai, the beloved daughter of Emperor Sundara Chozla. She is the elder sister to Arulmozli Varma who would later attain historic fame as Rajaraja I. She is the lady revered by the people as the young royal princess, the Younger Pirati.
A distinguished daughter of the Tamils, she laid the foundations for the greatness of the Chozla Empire. She is the capable lady who will raise and mould the ambitions of Rajaraja’s son Rajendra and make him the greatest of monarchs in South Indian history.
Her friend is Vanathi, a noblewoman from the clan of Kodumbalur chieftains. She came to enjoy the fortune of being a part of Kundavai’s household. In the future she would attain greatness unparalleled in history. She is now a young girl, full of modesty and a pleasant gentleness.
After both had alighted from the barge, Kundavai turned to her other companions and said, “You can all wait here.
We will be back in an hour.”
All those maids, who were her companions, were noblewomen from the households of the aristocrats and chieftains in the Chozla nation. They had come to the Pazlayarai Palace, considering it a fortune to be included as maids of honor to Kundavai. Now, when Kundavai went ashore with just one girl from among them, saying, “I’ll come after a while,” a certain envy and disappointment could be discerned in their eyes.
A horse drawn chariot awaited their pleasure on the shore. “Vanathi! Get into the chariot,” said Kundavai. When both were seated, the chariot moved swiftly.
“Akka! Where are we going? Can you tell me?” asked Vanathi.
“Why not? We are going to the house of the Kudanthai Astrologer,” said Kundavai.
“Why are we going to an astrologer’s house, Akka? What do we have to ask him?”
“What else? To ask about you! For some months now you seem to be a girl possessed, lost in some dream world, losing weight. We are going to ask him if you will be cured of these fantasies and become healthy once again. We are going to ask him all these things!”
“Akka! Let good fortune be showered upon you! There is nothing wrong with my health. We don’t have to ask him anything about me. Let’s go back.”
“No, my dear no! I am not going to ask him anything about you. I shall ask him about me!”
“What do you have to ask about yourself? What is there to ask an astrologer about yourself?”
“I am going to ask him if I would ever be married; or am I going to spend all my life a virgin maid!”
“Akka! Why ask the astrologer about it? You have to ask your own heart! Just nod you gracious head: princes from all the fifty-six kingdoms from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas would come running, vying with each other. Why, even princes from across the seas from Yavana and Kadaram will come. I wonder which of these princes will have the fortune of receiving your hand. You have to determine that!”
“Vanathi, even if I accept all that you say as truth, there is one obstacle. If I marry any one of these princes from an alien nation, I will have to go with him to his kingdom. My dear, I have a great dislike to go away from this delightful Chozla Kingdom where the Ponni flows! I have taken an oath that I will not go to another kingdom from here.. …”
“That is no obstacle! Any prince that marries you will stay at your feet as your slave. If you order him to stay here he will remain here.”
“Oh dear Lord! That will be like picking up a rat and tieing it up in your waistband! How can we retain an alien prince in our lands? Do you know the consequences of such activity?”
“Anyway, whatever you say, a person born as a woman will one day have to be married. Is that not so?”
“No law says that my dear. Vanathi, think of the Lady Avvaiyar. Did she not live for a long time as a queen among poets but a virgin maid?”
“Because of a boon from the Gods Avvaiyar became an old maid in her young age. You are not like that.”
“Well if I do have to be married, I think I shall choose an orphan Chozla warrior for my consort. That fellow will not have any kingdom. He will not demand that I go to another nation. He will remain here itself, in this Chozla country.”
“Akka, does it mean that you will never leave these Chozla Territories?”
“Never will I leave. Even if they offer to crown me as a queen of the heavens, I will not leave!”
“Now I am quite happy.”
“How is that?”
“If you move to another kingdom, I will have to follow you. I cannot be parted from you. At the same time I have no heart to leave this bountiful Chozla land!”
“If you are married, won’t you have to leave?”
“I am not going to marry anyone, Akka.”
“My dear girl! What happened to all the advise you were giving me just now?”
“Am I like you?”
“You deceiver! I know everything! Are you trying to throw dust in my eyes? You have no great love for this Chozla land. The Chozla nation you love is bearing sword and spear and has gone to Lanka to conduct a campaign! You think that I do not know your secrets?”
“Akka! Akka! Am I so foolish? Where is the sun? and where is the morning dewdrop? What is the use, if a dewdrop wishes for the friendship of the fiery sun?”
“The dewdrop is small! And the sun is mighty and bright! Still, does not the dewdrop impound the bright sunshine in itself? Tell me?”
Vanathi now replied in a voice filled will cheer and eagerness: “Are you saying that? Can a mere dewdrop attain the sun?” Then suddenly she felt depressed. “The dewdrop wishes to do so; in fact it enslaves the sunray! But what use? Within a short time it is severely punished. It dries up in the bright sunlight and disappears without a trace!”
“That is wrong, Vanathi. The sun recognizes the love of the dewdrop and merges her into himself. He thinks that his beloved maid, the dewdrop, should not be seen by other men. He lets her out again after darkness. Doesn’t the hidden dewdrop appear again every morning?”
“Akka, you are telling me all these stories to cheer me up.”
“So! You do say that you need cheering up. There is some sadness in your heart. All these days you maintained that `Nothing is wrong’. That is why I am going to the Astrologer of Kudanthai.”
“If there is a sadness in my heart, what is the use of asking an astrologer about it?” sighed Vanathi.
The house of the Kudanthai Astrologer was situated in the outskirts of that city, in an isolated spot, besides a Kali temple. The chariot did not enter the city, but went around and reached that house. From the way the charioteer drove his chariot without any hesitation or doubt, it appeared that he had driven there several times before.
The Astrologer and one of his disciples waited readily outside the house. The Astrologer welcomed his visitors with great reverence and courtesy.
“Great lady! A reincarnation of both Kalaimagal (Goddess of Learning) and Thirumagal (Goddess of Wealth)! Welcome. Welcome. It is the fortune of my humble abode that you have come in search of me once again!”
“Mr. Astrologer! I hope that nobody else will come in search of you at this time?” asked Kundavai.
“No one will come Thaye! Not many people come in search of me these days. Only when troubles in the world increase will people seek the astrologer. Nowadays, under the rule of your esteemed father — The Emperor Sundara Chozla — the people have no troubles at all! They possess all the comforts and luxuries and live life with happiness. Who will come in search of me?”
“Do you mean to say that I have some troubles and therefore, I have come to consult you?” asked Kundavai.
“No. Great lady, no. Which blind fool will say that the beloved daughter of Sundara Chozla who possesses immense wealth, has any troubles? Since the people have no troubles, this poor astrologer is cast into misfortune.
Nobody takes care of him. Therefore you have come here like a Goddess with solicitude for my troubles. Please enter and grace my humble house. Look at me, talking while I detain you here on the doorstep!” said the resourceful Astrologer.
Kundavai turned to the charioteer and said, “Take the chariot to the shade of the banyan tree behind the temple and wait.”
Kundavai and Vanathi entered the Astrologer’s house as he led them inside. The Astrologer turned to his disciple and said warningly, “Wait outside and guard the entrance carefully. Even if accidentally someone happens to come by, do not let them enter.”
The parlor in the Astrologer’s house was decorated to receive his royal visitors. In an alcove in the wall was a decorated figure of the Goddess Devi. Two seats were made ready for seating the visitors.
A tall metal lamp was lit. The floor gleamed with intricate kolam decorations. Several tablets and palm leaf charts with the scribbles and symbols of the astrologer’s trade were scattered about. After both ladies were seated, the Astrologer sat down.
“Madam, please tell me why you have come?”
“Sir! Can you not find out even that by your astrology?” asked Kundavai.
“So be it, Thaye!” said the Astrologer and closed his eyes. He muttered some incantations and after a while looked at them saying “Lady, you have come here today, mainly to ask about the horoscope of this young girl. That is what the grace of the Goddess reveals to me.”
“Aha! Remarkable! How can we praise your powers? Yes sir! I have come to ask about this girl. She came to the Pazlayarai Palace about a year ago. For the first eight months she was very cheerful and happy. Amongst my companions she was the most joyous, most filled with playful laughter. For the last four months, something has happened to her.
Often, she seems depressed. She seems to live in some abstract world. She has forgotten her laughter. She says that nothing is wrong with her health. If her parents come and ask me tomorrow, what reply can I give?”
“Thaye! Is she not the beloved daughter of the Lord of Kodumbalur? Is her name Vanathi Devi?” asked the Atrologer.
“Yes; you seem to know everything.”
“I even have the horoscope of this young Lady. I have it in my collection. Please wait a little.”
The Astrologer opened an old casket by his side and searched awhile. He then picked up a palm leaf notation of a horoscope and peered at it.