The Shell of Marsambhi

by Archana Shivmani Rao

At the Government hospital near the Vallanadu wildlife sanctuary, there is a feeling of everything moving in slow motion. The chief doctor has his own enormous bungalow, somewhat segregated, and the rest of the staff, doctors and administrative, live in allotted quarters within walking distance of the hospital.

All of us who work in the hospital see rather a lot of one another during working hours and perhaps for this reason, we tend to keep to ourselves in the evenings. Being a senior doctor, I have a small bungalow to myself and I have ample time left to plan my evenings. But mostly I spend my leisure time reading all the old books in the general library, just two streets away. The internet signals are weak here. We literally have marked places where one can get two or three bars up on a mobile phone. I am not on any social media. I call my parents from the landline at home every alternate day and that is enough for me.

So, it was a welcome break when Venba came to stay with me for a couple of days. We had been to the same school together- Girls Regent High School, some twenty years ago. I lost touch with her after school. As long as I was with my parents in Chennai, I was on and off in touch with her, then she went to Delhi for her journalism course and I joined the medical school. She met my uncle accidentally during a press coverage and decided to pay me a visit. I had no idea what she could be doing in Vallanadu. On the very first evening, she told me about it.

We were talking about history, Ponniyin Selvan-the mega historical fiction, our all-time favourite, and the talk drifted to Aditya Karikalan’s murder.

 “And what do you think happened to Veerapandyan’s sword and all the jewels from the Kadambur Palace?” Venba asked.

“Isn’t that a myth? But everyone believes it. The Ravidasan gang made off with it. The palace was burned to ashes.”

  Venba laughed. It struck me as the same arrogance-filled laugh from the school days. She looked at me as if asking me to go on.

  “That is what the internet groups say, as deduced from the temple inscriptions. Ravidasan and his gang were banished to go on exile. Ravidasan, the leader wanted to use the loot for planning and attacking the Chozhas. Some of the men were greedy. Disagreements and….”

Venba gave me a strange smile and said “You seem to know a lot about history as you do about medicine”

 “Medicine is my bread and butter. History is my hobby” I said.

 “So what happened to the loot and the sword, Miss. History Hobby?” Venba teased.

 “There is a mention of Marsambhi, who worshipped Goddess Kotravai. A priest from the fallen Pandya regime, whom Ravidasan trusted.”

 Venba shifted herself to the bigger sofa. She had this strange glint in her eyes. She poured herself another drink and said

“Do you think Ravidasan would have carried the sword and the entire loot, with all this tension? Everyone must have been eyeing the jewellery. worth millions now”

 “What did he do, killed them all?”

 “No. He needed them for his army. He told Marsambhi to take care of the loot. He kept it in the temple”. Venba cleared her throat.

 “And Ravidasan came back after a few years for Veerapandyan’s sword?” I questioned.

 “There is nothing on that. He must have joined Amarabhujanga, the next leader of the Pandyas. What do you think Marsambhi did with all the treasures in his temple? It was definitely not safe. Any time the temple could have been attacked” Venba had the tone of I-know-it-all.

 “He must have buried it. A priest…. doing this….hmm” I wondered aloud.

 “Yes, He did.  Only he didn’t dig any pit. There were so many disused wells, and moats. He put the sword and all the jewellery in a shell-shaped iron box.”

 “How do you know all this?” I got caught in the mood. Could be the whiskey too.

 “My paper also runs a TV channel. I co-wrote the script for the travel series-Lost treasures. I got talking with several historians, archaeologists, the descendants of the Pandya, Chozha family…” Venba smiled.

 “So, is that why you are here? To film or to hunt for the loot?”

 “I do not need to hunt for it. I know. I did my own research. Put two and two together”.

 “You really believe this?” I was so surprised; I spilled some drink on my kurta.

 Venba reclined further, crossed her legs. She looked serious.

“I do…after so many months of being in this subject”

 “Then why is this loot still lying intact, not already dug up by people who know?”

 “Now, this could be a myth. A spell or a curse supposedly by Marsambhi on that thing” Venba laughed.

 “A curse!”

 “Marsambhi was, as you know a priest. He had renounced the worldly pleasures. He was loyal to the Pandyas. To safeguard the sword and all the jewellery, he put an evil spell that if anyone other than Ravidasan attempts to dig up the loot, he would die. Of course, Ravidasan never came back for it. So, the curse stayed. What nonsense…but all this holds very true for the royal descendants and others…so no one dares”

 “And you?” My heart was beating faster than usual.

 “I have never been superstitious. Someone has to dig it up…someone who cares a damn for all this nonsense. So, I am going to that spot tomorrow”

 “Alone? Are you even permitted there?”

 “I have made all the arrangements. Of course, the forest department thinks I am filming something for the news channel. But I am taking the guard’s brother, a dumb jobless fellow…paid him some cash already…he will come along. To show me the exact spot. But I will trek alone to the spot” She rinsed her glass in the sink. She was ready to go.

 “Venba, please be careful. This is not just for the curse but you know, the treasure, government rules, police…” She cut me off with her typical manly thunderous laughter.

 “Come on, Doctor!”

 She patted me on my shoulder and left. The dare-devil Venba, unchanged from school days.


 Venba was brought on a stretcher, the next evening, by four forest department officials and a short man who looked as if he had seen a ghost. He must have been the guard’s brother. I knew Venba was dead as they got off from the ambulance.

 “What happened?” I asked.

 “Doctor Amma, a snake bit her. I told her not to go. To think again. But she laughed. Told me to wait. She went down the well with a small axe….and after half an hour I heard her screaming “Paambu Paambu”. I saw the snake. Caught it Amma. I killed it right there”. The guard’s brother pointed to a dirty brown bag tied with a rope.


 “I picked her, and helped her walk out of the well. I made her sit and ran to get help. By the time we came, she was dead. Amma…this was in her hand.” And he gave me a small coin-shaped object. I could make out two fishes on it. It was the seal of the Pandyas.

 If one had dropped a pin, I swear we would have heard it. Everyone looked frightened and stood still.

 There were no visible marks on Venba’s body. So, I sent the snake to two different research labs to carry all the tests. They sent me the reports in two days.

 All the independent and standard test reports said the same-the snake was completely non-poisonous. It was the common Indian rat snake.


 ·         Chozha and Pandya – Longest ruling dynasties in Southern India which were often at war with each other.

·         Vallanadu, Kadambur, Chennai- Places in Southern India

·         Amma(Tamil) – Madam( as a form of addressing someone)

·         Paambu (Tamil) – Snake

About the Author:

Archana Shivmani Rao was raised in Chennai and lives in Dubai. She was a Banking professional for more than a decade and after a long pause moved into writing. She holds a diploma in creative writing from Writers Bureau, UK and a Master’s degree in English Literature from a Tamil Nadu-based State University. Her articles, short stories, and poetry have appeared in Women’s web, Reading Hour, and in Dubai Poetics websites. She is passionate about reading the classics, working on Madhubani paintings, and (at 11 am) having a large cup of chai.  


  1. Prabhakar Krishnaswamy

    Gripping, fast paced, brings out the subject characters well with some interesting conversation that leads nicely to a total surprise at the end making us ‘believe’ in the curse ! Enjoyed reading it Archana, keep going….

    A friend and well wisher of your MIL & family

  2. Crisp, entertaining and mystical. Beautifully written Archie