The Queen of the Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan

It was a summer afternoon and I was that 5 year old girl, impatiently waiting with my granny in the corridors of the Srivilliputhur Temple for the ‘nada'(inner sanctum) to open. To keep me engaged and to give a little knowledge about the deity we were going to worship, the old woman told me briefly about ‘Andaal’ and her devotion towards the Lord. And then I read about her neither in my school books nor in any story books , but I grew up listening to her ‘Thirupavai’ every Margazhi morning. Recently, I came across this book on amazon , I instantly ordered reminiscing that summer afternoon.

Author – Sharanya Manivannan

Publisher -Harper Collins

Pages – 150

Format Read – Hard cover

Kindleandkompassrating – 5/5

It is in the 9th century where a childless garland weaver “Vishnuchittan” and his wife finds a girl baby under the Tulasi grove . The couple adopts the child and thus begins the story of Kodhai. She grows to be a naughty girl who wears the Lord’s garland everyday, roams in the colorful streets of Madurai and The Queen of Jasmine Country beautifully chronicles the life of Kodhai that spins around the temple of “Vatapatrasayi” in Puduvai(the now Srivilliputhur).

With a thin story line, the author has carved out the myriad emotions of a maiden. It is Kodhai who voices her life events here. Kodhai is blessed with the gift of knowing to use a stylus and papyrus,unlike the other women who belong to her era . She looks for friends and companionship. She waits for the evenings to chitchat with the cowherd girls who intrigue her with the idea of following a ritual where she would be bestowed with a love that’s immortal.Now, this kept me wondering about how did Kodhai feel like in Pudivai, centuries back being literate, unmarried and longing for companionship. Did she feel special or a misfit. ?

Maybe everywhere there are those like me – people who smoulder sun-like but singe as easily as feathers. But I know of no one else who is fevered by a secret so large.

Sometimes I sit on our thinnai as dusk descends and wonder if, anywhere in the world, there is another like me.

The rituals like coming to puberty,the harvest festival Pongal and ‘jallikattu’, the paavai nombu, the markets of Puduvai selling the local produce,the temples and cows with bells tied around the neck, the ‘thinnai’ all of that makes up to a beautiful array of scenes, giving a feeling of home and life I spent in the 90s in a small town.The author has used a few imaginary characters and named them the medieval way which makes it so authentic. Sharanya’s language is sweet and lyrical, that’s liberally thrown like ghee roasted cashew and raisins in a “paal payasam”.It gets cryptic at a few places, but as it goes on, it becomes easy or we get used to it.

One evening, I sat on the step of the kitchen door – the women’s porch – and watched as three cowherds walked their wards back through the long dirt path, their shadows lengthening along it. I could recognize them from afar from their shapes and gaits: Animalar, tall and slender, Kayalvizhi, whose left arm did not sway as she walked, and Matatilli of the hips like a wooden spinning top. I hoped they would have the time to talk to me today, that their own homes did not beckon them away too quickly.
In the gathering darkness, I could not see their faces until they were almost at the cowshed. “Kodhai!” called Matatilli. “You’re going to be eaten by fever-carrying mosquitoes. Go inside, kannamma.”

While there are lots of books available on the Tamil saint poetess Kodhai @ Aandal, this hagiography speaks about the small events of her life as a teenager and keeps you engaged till the end to know if Kodhai was successful in finding her love.Having said that, this tiny little book highlights a lot of the Tamil & Hindu traditions, it may not be easy for everyone who reads to relate or imagine the scene right.

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