The town known as Kumbakonam, was known as Kudanthai or Kudamooku during the times of our story. Besides the virtue of being a pilgrimage center, it was also famous because of the Astrologer of Kudanthai. A little distance to the south of Kudanthai, a majestic view of the interim capital of the Chozla’s, Pazlayarai, with its temple
towers and palace turrets reaching the skies, could be glimpsed.
The Astrologer of Kudanthai had collected the horoscopes of all the royal family living at the Pazlayarai Palace. He had searched amidst this collection and found the horoscope of Lady Vanathi of Kodumbalur. After peering at the palm leaf notation of the horoscope for a while, he stared at the face of Vanathi; then again looked at the notation. He was peering and staring one after the other, but did not open his mouth to utter a single word!
With a little impatience Kundavai asked, “What Sir? Are you going to say something or not?”
“Thaye! What can I say? How can I say it? I had studied this horoscope once before and could not believe it myself. I doubted if anything could be like it and kept it aside. Now, when I behold the divine face of this Lady and see her horoscope at the same time, I am astounded!”
“Be amazed! Be astounded! After you have been astounded enough, say something in particular.”
“Madam, this is a very fortunate horoscope. I am saying it with the belief that you will not mistake my words. This is one step better than even your horoscope! I have never, till now, seen such a lucky horoscope.”
Kundavai smiled. Vanathi said with some shyness, “Akka! He is calling this most unfortunate girl the luckiest person in this world! Everything he utters will be like this.”
“Amma, what are you saying? If my statements are incorrect, I will give up my practice!” said the Astrologer.
“No. Mr. Astrologer, no. Don’t do anything like that. Keep predicting such good things to the people. But you are uttering generalities; you have said nothing in particular. That is why she doubts you.”
“You want me to say something specific? Here, I will say it. Four months ago, something that appeared to be an ill omen occurred. Something slipped and fell. But in truth, that is not an ill omen. It is from that incident that this Lady will obtain all her good fortune.”
“Vanathi, remember what I said? See?” said Kundavai Devi.
“You must have told him about it before!” said Vanathi.
“Sir, look at the way this girl talks?”
“Let her talk Thaye, let her say whatever she wants now. Tomorrow when she marries the king of kings ….”
“Yes, talk about such things! Young girls will listen happily if you speak to them about marriage.”
“That is what I have been saying too. If I suddenly raise the topic of marriage, people will say `This old man has lost his senses.’ That is why …”
“Where will her husband come from? When will he come? What is his identification? Can you tell us all these things from the horoscope, Sir?”
“Oh yes! Why not? I can say it very well.” The Astrologer peered into the horoscope once more. Whether he examined it carefully or pretended to do examine it, none can say!
Then looking up decisively he said, “Madam! A husband for this maid does not have to come from very far! He is quite nearby. However, that brave warrior is not in this country now. He has gone across the seas.”
Upon hearing these words, Kundavai looked at Vanathi. Vanathi tried to contain the happiness that bubbled in her heart; but could not do so: her face showed it.
“Then, who is he? What clan? Any signs to recognize him?”
“Oh yes. Very clear signs. A prince fortunate enough to marry this girl, will have the sign of the conch and discus on his palms.”
Once again Kundavai looked at Vanathi. But Vanathi was looking down, almost hiding her face. “Won’t there be some signs or significant lines on her palms also?” asked Kundavai Pirati.
“Thaye! Have you ever seen the soles of this girl’s feet? …”
“Sir! What are you saying? Are you asking me to touch her feet?”
(Greeting a person by touching their feet denotes extreme humility, or servitude.)
“No! Oh no! I am not saying anything like that! However, sometime in the future, thousands of princesses, queens and empresses will pray for the fortune of touching this noble lady’s feet.”
“Akka! This old man is teasing me. Is it for this, that you brought me here? Please get up; let us go” Vanathi said this with some real anger.
“Why are you agitated my dear? Let him keep saying what he wants …”
“I am not saying anything. I am just explaining the notations in this horoscope. Poets often talk about lotus feet. Please ask this Lady to show me her feet a little bit. Her sole will surely have the line of the red-lotus.”
“Well! That’s enough Sir. If you say anything more about this girl, she will get hold of my hands and drag me out. Tell us something about the man who is to be her husband.”
“Yes. Of course, I shall do so. The fortunate youth who will take her hand will be the bravest among brave; he will wear the victory garlands from fighting in the forefront of hundreds of campaigns. He will be a king of kings. With the praise and support of thousands of kings, he will sit upon the throne of an emperor for a long time.”
“I do not believe your words. How is that possible?” asked Kundavai. Several emotions — eagerness, happiness, fear, doubt, worry — danced on her face.
“I too don’t believe it. He is thinking of something else and saying all this. He is uttering such words to make you happy!” said Vanathi.
“If you don’t believe my words today, there is no harm. One day you will believe it. Don’t forget this poor astrologer on that day.”
Vanathi asked once again: “Akka, shall we go?” Two tear drops peeped at the corners of her dark eyes.
“I have to tell you just one more thing. Please hear that also and then leave. There will be several obstacles and dangers for the young man who is to marry this Princess. He will have several enemies …”
“But all the dangers and obstacles will fly away in the end. Enemies will be totally destroyed; the Lord who attains this Lady will cross all impediments and achieve great positions. There is something much more important than even this … Thaye! I am an old man. Therefore, I can reveal all without hiding anything. You should look at the stomach of this girl sometime. If you do not find the lines and sign of a banyan (ficus) leaf on her stomach, I will give up my practice of astrology.”
“Sir, what is so special about the sign of the banyan leaf?”
“Don’t you know who the Lord who reposed on the banyan leaf is? A son with the aspects of that great Vishnu will be born to her. Her Lord is likely to have all sorts of dangers, obstacles, impediments and bad periods. But the son who is to be born of this Lady will have nothing that is a deterrent. All that he thinks of will be concluded; anything he undertakes will be completed; his touch will be golden; wherever he steps will be under his sway; whatever he sees will have the tiger-flag flying over it. Madam, the armies led by her son will flow in all directions, with no hinderance, like the fresh floods of the Ponni. The Goddess of Victory will be his bonded slave. The fame of his native lands will spread across the worlds. The fame of his clan will last as long as this world exists!”
When the Astrologer spoke these words as if in some frenzy, Kundavai was looking at him with rapt attention, listening to every word he uttered. She was startled to turn around upon hearing the distressed call, “Akka!”
“Something is happening to me,” said Vanathi in further distress. Suddenly she fainted and fell to the floor.
“Sir! Please fetch some water quickly,” saying this, Kundavai lifted Vanathi onto her lap. The Astrologer brought some water. Kundavai sprinkled the water on her friends face.
“Nothing will go wrong, Amma! Do not be concerned,” said the Astrologer.
“I am not worried. This is her habit. This has happened four or five times till now. She will open her eyes and get up after some time. Upon waking she will ask if this is the earth or paradise,” said Kundavai.
Then, in a much softer voice she asked “Sir! I came to ask you something very important. Have you any news?”
The Astrologer’s manner changed; he said some words to her very precisely and quickly.
Then, Kundavai Pirati asked, “I hear that people in the countryside and cities are talking about all sorts of things. The long tailed comet has been appearing in the skies for sometime. Is there some meaning to all this? Is there some danger to the empire? Will there be any change, confusion?”
“Lady, don’t ask me about that. There is no horoscope for kingdoms, nations or political events; neither can I predict anything by astrology about them. I know nothing about such matters through the science I practice. Perhaps the seers and philosophers or the devout and ascetic may be able to foresee something. This poor fellow does not have such powers. In politics the stars and planets of astrology have no power.” The Astrologer spoke these words with a certain emphasis, looking at Vanathi who seemed to be stirring.
“Sir! You talk very skillfully. You don’t have to study the horoscope of a nation. But can you not reveal particulars about my father and my brothers? Isn’t studying their horoscopes like looking at the horoscope of the nation?”
“I will look into them at leisure and tell you. Thaye, in general this period is full of confusion and danger. All of us have to be a little careful.”
“Sir! About my father…, the Emperor … I am quite worried ever since he moved to Tanjore from Pazlayarai.”
“I have told you earlier, Madam. This is a period of grave danger for the Emperor. All your family has to face great
danger. With the grace of the Goddess Durga all will be overcome.”
“Akka, where are we?” asked the faint voice of Vanathi.
Vanathi, who had her head on Kundavai’s lap, blinked her eyelids several times like the buzzing bee, and looked around.
“Darling, we are still on this earth. The flower-laden flying-chariot has not yet come to take us to the heavens. Get up! Let us get into our mere horse drawn chariot and go back to the palace.”
Vanathi sat up and asked, “Did I faint?”
“No. You did not faint. You took a little nap on my lap. I even sang you a lullaby. Did you not hear it?”
“Please do not scold me Akka. Without my awareness, I felt dizzy.”
“Yes. You will feel dizzy. Quite dizzy. If this Astrologer had predicted all those grand fortunes for me, even my head would feel dizzy.”
“Not because of that Akka. You think I believed everything he said?”
“I don’t know if you believed it or not? But this Astrologer was quite worried about you. I should not take a poor spirited person like you, anywhere, anymore.”
“I said that I did not want to come to this astrologer. You insisted …”
“It is my fault. Get up. Let us go. Can you walk to the doorstep? Or, should I carry you on my hip?
“No. No. I can walk very well.”
“Please have a little patience Thaye! I shall give you some sacrament-offerings of the Goddess. Please receive them before you go,” said the Astrologer as he tidied his papers.
“Sir, you described all sorts of things for me. But you did not say anything for Akka?” asked Vanathi.
“Amma, I have told everything to the Younger Pirati. What is there to say afresh?”
“About the bravest of warriors who is to marry Akka ….”
“That dauntless gallant ….” interrupted Kundavai with some surprise.
“Doubtless. A very capable prince…”
“He who has all the thirty-two signs of good looks; Jupiter in wisdom; a veritable Saraswati (deity of learning) in
knowledge; handsome as Cupid, Oh no, as Arjuna (epic warrior)!”
“When will that handsome prince, deserving of the Younger Pirati come and where will he come from?”
“How will he come? Upon a horse? On a chariot? By walk? Or, will he rip open the roof and jump down from the skies?” asked Kundavai with a mocking voice.
“Akka, I can hear the hoof beats of a horse,” Vanathi said this with some agitation.
“You will hear most wonderful things unheard by anyone else.”
“No. I am not joking. Listen.”
By now all three could hear the quick gallop of a horse on the road outside.
“What if you hear it? Won’t horses gallop along the road?” said Kundavai.
“No. It seems to be coming here, to this house.”
“OK. Get up. Let us go.”
At this time they could hear some confused noises outside the door. Voices could be heard.
“Is this the Astrologer’s house?” “Yes; who are you?” “Is the Astrologer home?” “You cannot enter.” “I will do so.” “I cannot let you.” “I must see the Astrologer.” “Come later.” “I cannot come later; I am in a great hurry.” “Hey! You! You fellow! Stop! Stop!” “Damn it! Move away! I’ll kill you if you stand in the way.” “Sir! Sir! Please! Please! Don’t enter! Don’t go in.”
The confused shouts came closer, and closer. The wooden front door opened with a bang. With all this great commotion, a young man made a sudden entry.
Another fellow was trying to drag him back by pulling at his shoulders. The youth shook off the hands, stepped across the doorway and came into the room.
Our readers would have guessed the identity of the newcomer! Yes, it was our youthful hero, Vandiya Devan. All the three pairs of eyes inside the house looked at that warrior.
Vandiya Devan also looked at the people inside; no; he looked at only one person inside. Not even that. He did not
see even Kundavai Devi completely. He just saw her golden face. Did he at least see her face completely? — not even that! He saw the petals of her coral red lips, opening slightly with surprise.
He saw her wide open eyes brimming with mischief, surprise and laughter.he saw the dark eyelashes and eyebrows,he saw the sandal colored forehead,he saw the rosy dimpled cheeks, he saw the throat shaped like a smooth conch-shell. He saw all these at the same time and individually! They became embossed in his heart.
All this was for just a second. He quickly turned towards the Astrologer’s disciple and said, “Why man, inside … Why didn’t you say that these ladies were inside the house? If you had said it, would I have come in like this?” With these words he pushed the man outside and crossed the doorstep once again. Even then, he turned to look at Kundavai once more, before going out.
“Dear me! It seems like the quiet after a raging storm!” said Kundavai Pirati.
“Listen. The storm has not stopped!” said Vanathi of Kodumbalur.
The debate between the Astrologer’s disciple and Vandiya Devan was still continuing.
“Sir! Who was that?” asked Kundavai.
“I do not know, Thaye. Seems like a foreigner; looks as if he is a rough fellow.”
Kundavai suddenly thought of something and laughed brightly. “Why are you laughing, Akka?” asked Vanathi.
“Why am I laughing? We were talking about my bridegroom — if he would come on horseback, riding an elephant or jump down from the roof; I thought of that and laughed!”
Vanathi was also possessed of an uncontrollable laughter now. Their laughter rose like waves on the ocean shore. Because of their laughter even the noises of the dispute outside stopped.
Immersed in silent thought the Astrologer gave kumkum to both ladies. After receiving it both women rose and walked outside. The Astrologer went along.
Vandiya Devan who was standing aside near the doorstep, saw them and said loudly, “I beg pardon. This genius did not tell me that you ladies were inside. That is why I entered in such a hurry. Forgive me for that.”
With a pleasant face and mischief- filled, teasing eyes, Kundavai looked up at him once. She did not say a single word in reply. She took hold of Vanathi’s hand and walked towards her chariot under the banyan tree.
“The women of Kudanthai seem to have no manners. Can they not utter even one word in reply to a gentleman who accosts them?” The words of Vandiya Devan spoken in a loud voice could be heard by everyone.
After helping them both be seated, the charioteer also climbed to his perch. The horse drawn chariot moved swiftly towards the banks of River Arisil. Vandiya Devan stood watching till the chariot disappeared from sight.