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Ponni is the ancient Tamil name for River Cauvery. Sea waves had become quiet along the shores of Kodi Karai. Catamarans and boats turned shorewards. Seabirds which had gone in search of food were coming home to their nests. White sands stretched for a distance along the shores; beyond was forest and dense jungle spreading far into the distance. Forest trees did not move; leaves did not quake; silence reigned in all directions.
The red-rayed God was descending quickly towards the line where the sea and sky met. Cloud groups tried to hide the red-lord and gleamed with a new radiance.
A small boat floated on the sea near the shore. A young maid was in that boat. When we see her, we remember Sendan Amudan describing his cousin. Yes; she must be Poonkuzlali.
Befitting her name, a thaazlai fragrant cactus petal acquired beauty by gracing her beautiful tresses. Long, dark curls danced on her rounded shoulders. She had made a necklace of sea shells and cowries found on the beach and worn it around her neck. But, these gained allure by being on her body; one cannot say that they added to her beauty. If beauty itself takes form, what ornament can embellish it?
Poonkuzlali was leaning back stylishly in her boat and singing. Even the sea seemed calm, listening to her song. Perhaps, even the wind did not blow but floated gently listening to her.
The distant forest trees stood still, engrossed in her melody. The sky and earth were enchanted into silence. Even the sun hesitated to vanish, lingering in the horizon, listening to her. Let us also listen to that honey-sweet lyric, drifting in the breeze: When wave-filled seas are still, why does the inner ocean seethe? When the earth maid sleeps, why does the heart feel so hopeless? Birds in the forest looked for their nests; the hunter and his woman go homeward; The sky and the shore are shrouded in silence; sea waves stop quietly, a breeze crawls softly.
In the mind of that doe-eyed maid, why does this storm rage? In the heart of the wayside waif, why does a whirlwind swirl? When the sea is ever so quiet, and a breeze crawls ever so softly, When the Earth maid is at rest, why does her heart fill with such sobs? When ocean waves are quiet, why does the inner soul overflow? In the heart of that maid, why does a whirlwind blow?
What is the anguish that dwells in the heart of this young maid? No one knows! What is that pleasant-sorrow that mingles in her melodious voice? Who knows! Perhaps they wrote the words of that lyric with tears! We do not know; but, when we listen to her song, our heart is filled with a nameless grief, a sweet-melancholy that is barely contained.
Poonkuzlali stopped singing and pulled at her oars a few times. The boat reached the shore, she jumped out and pulled it up. Some catamarans were lying about in a group on the beach. She lifted the boat to rest on these logs and leaned back to survey the scene around her. Over there, the fire had been lit atop the light-house. It fire burned brightly and will do so all night long.
It will warn all ships out at sea, "Do not come near! Only small craft and catamarans could come ashore along its beaches. If ships and sailing vessels came near, they would run aground to be buried in the sands. In fact, if a ship happened to strike against those dunes, it would break into smithereens. Thus, the light-house at Kodi Karai served a very useful purpose. On the opposite side, a spire could be glimpsed amidst the short trees of the nearby forest. Lord Shiva, Kuzlagar of Kodi Karai was enshrined under it.
About two hundred years ago, Saint Sundara Murti had visited this shrine and worshipped the Lord dwelling alone in the forest temple. Dear Lord! Why are you alone like this in the midst of a forest on this sea shore? Do you have no other dwelling? When there are so many cities where pilgrims come to sing your praises, why have you come to this frightening forest in Kodi Karai to dwell in such lonesome splendor? Did this wretched sinner have to see this sight?
What penance is this to dwell here in frightening solitude, In this forest where the harsh sea-wind blows? My wretched eyes did see you, Lord Kuzlagar, Who is your companion in this wilderness?
Multitudes in magnificent forts surrounded by moats, Many devout pilgrims await to sing Your praises, dear Lord! Lord Kuzlagar of Kodi Karai was in the same solitary state even two hundred years after Saint Sundara had visited him. The forest had grown even more dense around the temple. Owls and kites sang from hollows in forest trees. Only hunters and frightening tribals lived here and there in isolated huts in the forest. Yes; there is one difference. There was no light-house here when Saint Sundara Murti had visited.
Only a few years ago, during the reign of Paranthaka the First, was the light-house built. A few cottages to house the workers who had been appointed for the upkeep of the light-house were built around its base. The priest who conducted services at the temple also came to live in this tiny village.
Poonkuzlali leaned back on her boat by the sea shore and looked around. She spied the light-house and wondered if she should go that way.
Just then she glimpsed the cupola and spire; she made up her mind upon hearing the cymbals from the temple. What was the point in going back home so soon? Go to the temple, ask the priest to sing some Thevaram songs and then go home after partaking the sacrament-offerings. Having made up her mind, she began walking towards the temple. She danced and hummed; she leaped and skipped as she walked. On the way she spied a group of spotted deer crossing the sand dunes and going into the forest.
A small, baby deer was leaping and jumping, swiftly with seven or eight adult deer. Upon seeing them she became excited. She began following swiftly, with leaps and bounds as if to catch them. How could she, however swift she was, compete with the spotted deer? The group was far ahead.
On reaching a particular spot near the forest edge, those beasts lifted their fore-paws and leaped across. All the older animals were able to cross the spot in one leap and reach the opposite side safely. But, the calf could not cross in one leap. Its hind-legs were caught in the mud near the far side. It gripped the bank with its fore-legs and struggled as much as it could.
But, its hind-legs began to sink more and more in the mud. The mother doe stood on the bank and gazed at its calf with worry. It could do nothing to help its calf. Poonkuzlali summed up the situation instantly; she scrutinized the land and found where the quicksands ended and firm ground began. She ran around the muddy sinkhole and leaped across to a firm trail on the opposite shore, close to the spot where the deer calf was caught.
The doe panicked at first, but stood nearby, hesitantly. Perhaps Poonkuzlali knew the language of the deer; she spoke some words softly as she knelt beside the calf. With one swift, strong, pull she freed the beast from the quicksand. For some moments the tiny deer stood with shivering limbs on the bank. The mother doe approached close and nuzzled its nose. The next instant, both mother and daughter had leaped away into the forest. Thankless beasts! But, she consoled herself, "They are no worse than humans!