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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (25 – 29)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

25. At the Entrance to the Fort

Leaving his tent Poothi Vikramakesari leapt onto the horse that was waiting outside. He hurried to the north entrance of Thanjai fort. He noticed an elephant that was also making its way to the north entrance. On the elephant were the elephant-keeper and two women. The elephant-keeper blew the horn that he held in his hand. Then he announced in a high pitched voice, “Make way for the beloved daughter of Paranthaka siriya Velar who died in Eezham; the adopted daughter of Kodumabalur periya Velar Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari; the beloved friend of Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi; Vanathi Devi! Parak! Parak!”

When he reached the trench surrounding the fort he blew his horn again. Before its echo faded he spoke again in the same high pitched voice: “Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi Devi has a message to the emperor from the junior stateswomanr. She is bringing an important message to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar! Open the gates to the fort! Parak! Parak! Make way for Kodumabalur Princess and her friend Madam Poongkuzhali! Open the gates!”

Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari’s astonishement at hearing these words cannot be described. The elephant-keeper’s voice sounded familiar. Who is he? Does it matter who the elephant-keeper is? He must first make sure that it is Vanathi who is on the elephant! He must stop her from entering the fort! If it is her, then it is for the best! Until these problems are resolved it is best that the child remains with him …! With these thoughts the colonel rode his horse to the elephant. Among the soldiers hastily following him and trying to keep up with him, one held a torch in his hand. From the light of the torch it was apparent that the two women atop the elephant were indeed siriya Velar’s daughter Vanathi and Poongkuzhali.

“Child! Vanathi!” Before he could continue the elephant-keeper sounded his horn again. How to stop this fellow? Fortunately the women on the elephant saw the men approaching on horses.

After telling the elephant-keeper to be quiet Vanathi said, “Periyappa! Is that you? What I heard is true?”

“Yes, Child! It is me! You are carrying messages? Junior Stateswoman cannot employ anyone else? Under such conditions …,” said the colonel.

“Yes, Periyappa! Because the situation is so dire, she sent me. News arrived that you have surrounded Thanjai fort with troops. She was afraid that your troops may not let anyone in; and even if they did, those inside the fort may refuse to open the gates. Therefore she felt that I could be of help in both situations. Poongkuzhali was also sent to help me …”

“Yes, yes! The boatwoman is very smart. I am aware of that. But, what is this message that you have? So urgent, that it must be delivered in the night?”

“The news is urgent, Periyappa! I have brought news about Ponniyin Selvar to the emperor.”

“Aha! News about Ponniyin Selvar! What do you know about him?”

“Why, I know a lot – the heroic warrior, mighty trickster, Kaveri will not drown him, nor the ocean, beacon to those who seek sanctuary, never forgets a good deed owed, devoted to mother and father, will not cross the sister’s word, no inclination for ruling …”

“Enough! Enough! I didn’t ask for any of that. Is the Prince alright? Do you know where he is now?”

“He’s alright, Periyappa! I know where he is now. But I cannot tell!”

“What? Cannot tell? Even to me? Vanathi, is that you who is speaking?”

“Yes, Periyappa! It is me. I have promised not to tell anyone where the prince is.”

Colonel Poothi Vikaramakesari was frothing. “Girl! I believed that if I sent you to the junior stateswoman she will bring you up properly. But she has turned you into this stubborn woman! Enough of you being at Pazhaiyarai. Get down! Let me send you to Kodumbalur …,” he said.

Periyappa! I do not wish to step on this Thanjavur soil. That is why I remain seated on the elephant. This elephant has a case of rutting. This morning it threw down a man. Therefore, please don’t come too close. After I deliver my message I will come back to you. You can send me to Kodumbalur. Or, send me to where my father is. But don’t stop me now,” said Vanathi.

Poothi Vikramakesari was pensive for a moment. “Alright, Child! I won’t stop you. What will you do if the fortress gates don’t open,” he asked.

“Periyappa! You are here with this big battalion. What for? If the fortress doors won’t open, order your soldiers to break them open,” said Vanathi.

Poothi Vikramakesari beamed with pride. “Child! You spoke like a Kodumbalur king’s daughter. If necessary I will do exactly that. But that will not be necessary. Who is this sinna Pazhuvertaraiyan to stop you who has brought a message from the junior stateswoman to the emperor? He will never do that.

But please deliver a message to sinna Pazhuvertaraiyan from me also! Tell him that if you are harmed in anyway while you are inside the fort that I will wipe out his tribe without a trace! Tell him that my friends and I have come to hear the emperor speak! Let him know that by sunset tomorrow if he doesn’t offer us a meeting with the emperor that we will start to attack the fort,” he said.

“Alright, Periyappa,” said Vanathi. Once again the elephant-keeper sounded the horn. “Make way for the Kodumbalur Princess! Open the fortress gates!” He bellowed.

26. Vanathi’s Entrance

Inside the fort, he younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was having a mental breakdown. In valor he was not inferior to anyone else. But in other matters he was used to functioning under his brother’s counsel, so today in this difficult situation his mind fluttered like a bird with a broken wing. Since dawn he had received bad news one after another.

He received news that it was more than three days since the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar had started for Thanjai from Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. He also heard that on the day of the storm, many boats while crossing river Kollidam had sunk. A short while after a man who was on one of the boats with the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar turned up. He said that their boat also capsized and that he reached the shore after much difficulty.

Another spy came with the news that Prince Arulmozhivarmar had come out of hiding in Nagapattinam Soodamani Viharam. A large crowd of people were escorting him to Thanjai. While the prince stopped at Thiruvarur for the night, the spy had journeyed through the night crossing towns that were a wilderness of floodwater.

A short time after that a man sent by Sambuvaraiyar himself arrived. Sambuvaraiyar sent word that Thirukovalur Malaiamman was gathering his troops, and that Athitha Karikalar’s recklessness was increasingly on the rise, and because of it Sambuvaraiyar would like the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar to return immediately.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar on the other hand, was not in Thanjai. How can he return immediately? Would Kollidam’s flood have stolen that brave old man whom even Yaman dared not to meddle with? The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was devastated.

Next arrived like thunder the news hastily delivered by spies from the south. They brought news that rows upon rows of soldiers were marching down on all three roads that led to Thanjai from the south and that Kodumbalur Poothi Vikramakesari was with them.

It was when he heard this news that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar ordered all gates to be closed. He blocked anyone from entering or leaving the fort.

As usual he had the velakara soldiers guarding the emperor’s palace and his own men, the fort. He wanted to let the emperor know of these developments.

Before he embarked on that he wanted to consult with the chief minister, Aniruthar. Even though he didn’t have much faith in Aniruthar, he felt good about having him in Thanjai at that time. In this way, Aniruthar cannot do anything without the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s knowledge! It was better to even pretend that the chief minister’s counsel was being sought. In this way, no one can blame the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar if anything goes wrong.

Instead of going to visit the emperor alone, it was better to take Aniruthar also with him. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar believed that Prince Arulmozhivarman and Poothi Vikramakesari – who wanted to forge an alliance with the prince by giving his niece in marriage, – have conspired together to take over Thanjai, and this was the reason that the two men were advancing from both sides. This information will be difficult for the emperor to believe if it came from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mouth. Having Aniruthar by his side will lend credibility!

For his part, chief minister Aniruthar was also shaken up. He did not like the fact that the junior stateswoman Kundavai departed from Thanjai that morning. His peace of mind was already compromised by the disappearance of Eezhathurani and Poongkuzhali. “Where would they have gone? How could they have gone? Why” – raking his mind perpetually in this manner did not shed any light. The news that Poothi Vikramakesari is coming with troops completely unnerved him.

Yet, he advised the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar that the emperor need not hear about these developments.

“I hear that the emperor’s mental woes are on the rise today. The queen’s private maid was sent to inform me. If we break the news about Poothi Vikramakesari he might burst a vein in his brain that may end up fatal. Already the rumor in Thanjai is that the emperor has passed away. Think how damaging it will be if it turns out to be true. The rumor then will be that you have killed the emperor. That will make it very convenient for your enemies. Therefore, let’s wait before making a decision. First, let’s find out what Poothi Vikramakesari’s intentions are. Meanwhile we may hear more about the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Ponniyin Selvar. Until then please be patient,” he said. Kalanthaka Kandar thought that this was prudent.

“In that case I will leave you the responsibility of informing the emperor. I will deal with the safety of the fortress,” he said. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar then took his leave from the chief minister.

From then on he concentrated on tightening the security around the fort. He concentrated on being prepared for a protracted attack that may last days. If the Kodumbalur troops entered by breaking the fortress gates or by climbing over the fence he wanted to be prepared to defeat them by placing soldiers at strategic points. If the fortress wall is damaged in places he must have it repaired.

While the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar concentrated on these efforts his mind continued to think about ways to get information from the outside.

Thanjai fort had only two underground passages. One went out from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace through the treasury cellar. It opened on the side of Vadavaru which was high with floodwater at the time. Opening it will only let the flood surge into the cellar. So no one will be able to use this passage for a few days.

The other underground passage left from chief minister Aniruthar’s palace. But no one can enter or exit from it without the knowledge of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Where it crossed the fortress wall the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s guard was posted. He planned on sending his private aides via this underground passage at the close of the second jamam that night. He will send men to Kadampoor and Pazhaiyarai to gather reliable information about the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Ponniyin Selvar.

Just as Kalanthaka Kandar arrived at this decision, a soldier hastily entered and told him that two women have arrived on an elephant at the north entrance and that the elephant-keeper was yelling for the gates to be opened. When he heard that one of the women was Vanathi the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was surprised. How dare she ask for entry when her periyappa has camped outside the fort with his troops. At first he thought that he should firmly refuse to open the gate. But by the time he reached the north entrance, his mind had changed.

“Refuse to open the gate because of a little girl? How pitiful? That will damage my valorous reputation,” he thought. He was also curious about why this girl wanted entry into the fort in this manner.

He looked out at the entrance from the tower of the fort. Beside the elephant-keeper, there were two women on the elephant. He recognized one of them as Vanathi. He saw Kodumbalur periya Velar speaking to her. Fragments of their conversation also reached his ears. He surmised that periya Velar was asking Vanathi not to enter the fort, and Vanathi was adamantly taking the opposite view. Therefore his notion of opening the gate for Vanathi gained more ground.

Once periya Velar moved away he saw the elephant taking a few steps to come and stand at the edge of the trench that bordered the outer wall of the fort. Just as before, the elephant-keeper blew his horn and announced, “Open the door for Kodubalur Princess! Make way for Vanathi Devi who is bringing messages to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, and from the junior stateswoman to the emperor!”

When he heard this all remaining traces of indecision and uncertainty left the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mind. Indeed it was strange that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar should send a message through Vanathi. There may be some foul play her. If there was, won’t he detect it? Can this little girl survive after deceiving him? Let’s see!

To the sound of the elephant-keeper’s horn a response came from the tower. Light from a torch appeared. The pointed ends of spears could be seen glittering in the light. Arrows could be seen mounted and ready, on bows curved and taut. From among them a figure emerged.

“The gates will open for the Kodumbalur Princess. If anyone else other than the elephant and those on the elephant tried to enter, they will no sooner go to yamanulakam!” The figure announced in a voice that roared like thunder.

When they heard it Poothi Vikramakesari and his men moved away slightly. The gates of the fort opened. The bridge over the trench was lowered. As the elephant crossed, the bridge shook. Vanathi felt fear. But there was no danger. The elephant crossed the trench and entered the fort through the open gates. Next minute the bridge was pulled up again; gates were shut.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s elephant came and stood next to Vanathi’s. “Princess! Welcome! Welcome! I am very happy that against your uncle’s objection you have agreed to be my guest! Please don’t be afraid that you are in any kind of danger here!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said in a majestic voice.

“Sir! I am not afraid. After I deliver the messages I have, I won’t care if you should even lock me up in the dungeon,” said Vanathi.

27. ‘Stop Here!’

To the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar talk about the dungeon brought back old memories. Forgetting conventional pleasantries he said, “Yes; you have been to the dungeon at least once. You went with the junior stateswoman. You went seeking information about the fellow who escaped after getting caught for spying!”

“No, Sir! That is not true. We went to the dungeon that day not to find out about the spy. We went to find out about the message sent by the crown prince Athitha Karikalar.”

“That’s what you thought. How could you have known whether he was a spy or a courier. You are an innocent little girl. There is no use arguing with you. So, after getting there, did you find out anything about him?”

“No, the person we went to see, he was released, even without your knowledge. Pazhuvur Ilayarani’s order preceded us. Alas! What can you do?”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar bit his lips. His elder brother’s indulgence in Ilaiyarani’s excesses against his many warnings is being criticized even by this young woman! Hiding his feeling of shame, “For your part, you also helped free a half madman,” he said.

“Sir! You are calling Senthan Amuthan who delivers flowers to the temple a half madman. You will be surprised if you knew the great service done to Cholanadu because of his release that day!”

“Girl! There is nothing that will surprise me any longer. I am tired of standing in awe of whoever and whatever on behalf of Cholanadu. Even you are here now to do great service to Cholanadu, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Sir! If it’s not important would your brother have sent me? An ignorant and helpless woman?”

“My brother is indeed getting smarter by the day. It’s obvious from the fact that he chose you for this task. Quickly tell me your message!”

“He said to tell you that it was a mistake to have ignored the Pandyanadu troublemakers. Veera Pandyan’s aides are in fact engaged in dangerous activities. They have marked today as the day to avenge the Chola tribe. He said that the emperor must be given the utmost protection …”

Kalanthaka Kandar laughed. “This is the important news? I thought it had to do with your uncle arriving with troops. If he can keep an eye on the Kodumbalur garrison from outside, I can take care of the emperor inside the fort. Neither he, nor the junior stateswoman or you need worry about it,” he said.

“Knowing that you will take this nonchalant attitude, he also gave another message. Apparently you have warned him about a magician who frequented Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s palace; he did not want to listen, he was angry at you over it. ‘Brother! I have committed a grave mistake. That magician Ravithasan is the Pandyanadu saboteur. Head of Veera Pandyan’s emergency squad, who has vowed to destroy the Chola tribe without a trace. Today, one of his men will try to take revenge on the emperor. Don’t be naive. Take all precautions!’ – This is the message sent by the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. I have done my duty …”

Kalanthaka Kandar was indeed startled. No one other than his elder brother could have sent this message.

“Girl! If this is true, why is he not here? Why has he sent you …?”

“He did not send me. He asked the junior stateswoman. She sent me. Danger awaits Athitha Karikalar also today. He has gone to protect him.”

“From where? Where did he see you?”

“He saw us at Kudanthai astrologer’s house. If you are still suspicious please listen to this. When your brother was crossing river Kollidam the boat capsized. After he scrambled on to the shore and was sleeping at pallipadai, he heard the saboteurs talking. Sir! Do we still need to stand here chatting? Or can we go to the palace?”

“Girl! Let’s assume that all what you said is true. However artful, no saboteur can go past the palace guard. Because you are a woman I let you in …”

“Why must anyone come from outside? What if the saboteurs are inside the fort …?”

“Impossible …”

“Alright! That’s your responsibility. My duty …”

” … you have fulfilled. You can return now.”

“No, Sir! I have fulfilled only half of my duty. If I give the emperor the junior stateswoman’s message then my task is complete …”

“You can give me that news also.”

“No. The junior stateswoman ordered me to deliver this news directly to the emperor. Here is the junior stateswoman’s signature ring! …”

“Ah! Anyone can produce a signature ring. What is the guarantee that the junior stateswoman gave you the ring? Your uncle has the fort covered. How are you to be trusted? …”

“What is the danger that you are fearful of that this helpless woman can cause?”

“Girl! Members of the Pazhuvur tribe do not know the meaning of fear …”

“In that case let me proceed to the palace. You also come with me …”

“The emperor’s mind is very disturbed today …”

“I have brought news that will relieve his mind, Sir! If you know what it is you will regret stopping me …”

Surprised the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked, “Girl! Perhaps you have brought news of the young prince?”

“Yes, Colonel!”

“Aha! Is the young prince alright? Where is he now? He …. the saboteurs …”

“Yes; He was also a target of the Pandyanadu saboteurs. But by the grace of god no harm was done. He is well. You are happy to hear this?”

“Good question! Of course I am happy to hear good news about the prince. Come, come! I don’t want to waste time. Come to the palace and speak directly to the emperor!”

With this final remark the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar rode away on his elephant. He was eager for news of the prince. He never thought of Arulmozhivarman as a competition for his son-in-law Mathuranthakan and the Thanjai throne. He knew that was not the emperor’s plan. Arulmozhivarman was also not the kind of person to cross his father’s word. His worry was that Kundavai should not interfere and make trouble. Has she started some conspiracy now? Keeping Arulmozhivarman by her side would she have sent some disturbing news to her father? If this Kodumbalur girl has really brought news of the prince to the emperor he will not stand in her way. If he knows what Arulmozhuvarmar’s intention was then he can make his plans accordingly! At the same time he can also let the emperor know about Poothi Vikramakesari’s treacherous move to surround the fort with his troops.

The two elephants stopped at the palace entrance. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar slid down from the elephant with ease. The other elephant rolling like a hill folded its legs and lay down. The two women and the elephant-keeper stepped down. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar whispered something in the palace guard’s ear. He opened the doors to the palace.

The message Vanathi claimed to have brought from his elder brother was lurking in the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mind. Even if he tried he could not ignore it. Especially the news about magician Ravithasan took away his peace of mind altogether. He had always known about Veera Pandyan’s emergency squad. But he had no idea that they had a foothold inside the Thanjai palace itself. He believed that Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s consultations with the magician were mainly for the sake of drawing the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar more and more into her spell. He also believed that her intention was to turn the two brothers away from each other. But the news that this girl delivered was indeed threatening. Yet, what magician or saboteur can do anything? Without his permission not even a fly can enter the emperor’s palace. The emperor never ventured outside. In any case it is wise to further tighten the security around the palace. The last two days had seen too many people flocking in, citing the storm and flood as excuse or on the pretext of seeing the chief minister. No one knows if all of them did exit the fort. It was good that the gates were shut today without warning. If anyone suspicious was hiding inside they can be caught ….

Preoccupied by these concerns the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar beckoned his men who were always present at the palace entrance. He ordered them to search inside the fort for anyone suspicious and bring them to him.

He wanted to have the velakara troops to forego sleep and guard the palace through the night. So he sent for their leader. Then he turned to see what had become of the women on the elephant. They had just crossed the piazza and were about to go inside. But … but … who is he? The other person behind them? He is wearing a turban like the elephant-keeper! Aha! Why is the elephant-keeper following them? What has the elephant-keeper got to do in the palace? What business has the elephant-keeper got with the emperor?
As if struck by lightening his mind reverberated igniting his fury. Is there some perfidy here? Is this fellow the saboteur? The women were fooled because of the fellow’s elephant-keeper disguise? Has he been fooled? Right in front of his eyes Veera Pandyan’s emergency squad is marching into the emperor’s palace? Is Kalanthaka Kandar that much of a fool? Or is this part of Poothi Vikramakesari’s conspiracy? Whatever it is, it will be exposed right this second!

In four quick strides he was across the piazza standing beside the elephant-keeper. “Aday! Stop here!” He barked.

“Why are you going in? What business has the elephant-keeper got inside the palace?” The elephant-keeper’s arm lay in his vajrayutham like clenched fist.

Hearing his angry voice the two women in front turned. Their faces reflected a medley of feelings – excitement, anxiety and fear. At the same time smiles broke out as well. Vanathi began, ” Sir! … He … he … ” and then hesitated.

Consumed by anger younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did not want to see her or hear her. The elephant-keeper’s confusion confirmed his suspicion. He wondered if this was the Varnar tribe young man who once escaped after deceiving him. Has he dared to fool him again? …

Tightening his grip on the man’s arm the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Ada! Tell the truth! Who are you? Are you the elephant-keeper? Or, saboteur? Are you the spy who got away from here once? This time you won’t escape!” While speaking he turned the man’s face towards him. The lamps that were burning in the front hall of the palace shed some light on the stately face of the elephant-keeper.

“Colonel! I am an elephant-keeper also. I have never run away from you. I am here to hand myself over to you!” The elephant-keeper answered.

Kalanthaka Kandar looked at the face. He heard the voice. He felt as if all seven worlds had collapsed over his head. Dazed, he stood like a statue. It didn’t even occur to him to loosen his grip. His hand came undone on its own and freed Prince Arulmozhivarmar.

28. Cheer Broke Out!

The youthful enchantment of Prince Arulmozhivarmar’s face cannot be described in words. There was no frown. There was no sign of anger. He stood apologetic like the Kannan who got caught after stealing butter. He showed no trace of animosity against the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Yet, the fearless, strong willed Kalanthaka Kandar’s limbs were shaking. Perspiration beaded on his face. Unaware of what he was doing he held his palms together in greeting. “Ponniyin Selva! Brave warrior who captured Eezham! The long awaited son of Cholanadu! In this condition? What is this travesty? What have I done to be punished in this manner? … You must kindly forgive me for my mistake. Please say, ‘I forgive you!’ Even with my two good eyes, I turned into a blind man …,” he said in a trembling voice.

As he proceeded to ramble on in this manner the prince stopped him. “Colonel! What is this? You made a mistake? This ignorant little boy must forgive you,” he said.

“Even cutting off this hand that grabbed you will not suffice. Ripping the tongue that called you will not …”

“Your words are molten lead to my ears. Enough! Stop! You did your duty. What’s wrong with that. The mistake is mine. That I would arrive in an elephant-keeper’s disguise …”

” … indeed, I did not expect that. How can you do this? Why? Is this any way for me to welcome the heroic warrior of Cholanadu? Shouldn’t I be hosting a royal welcome with victory drums echoing in all eight directions? …”

“That is why I came in this disguise. This is not the time for celebration. Don’t you know, what the Kodumbalur Princess said about the saboteurs – it all seem credible to me as well …”

“Prince! Have you banded me also with those saboteurs?”

“God! I am so pleased with your arrangements to protect my father. Let me first see my father, then …”

“Sir! Did you think that I will stop you from seeing the emperor? If anyone had told you that I was such an evil …”

“I will never have listened, Colonel!”

“Then why this disguise?”

“How else could I have stepped into the fort, think about it! The troops from the south are all about the place. Periya Velar is also here. You probably know why he is here …”

“Isn’t it right that I ordered the gates shut? Is there anything wrong with that?

“Very prudent. Periya Velar has lost his mind. I came dressed like this knowing that he will be in the way. I brought his daughter also. Fortunately he did not recognize me. Your watchful eyes saw me …”

“My eyes were shut. That is why I didn’t immediately recognize you. Please forgive me for calling you an elephant-keeper …”

“Please don’t say that. I have never drawn a distinction between you and my father. You sent men to bring me back by force …”

“God! What is this talk? Bring you back by force? Because he wanted to see you immediately, your father the emperor sent …”

“Don’t I know that, Colonel! They came when I was in Ilanaki. ‘Not the emperor’s order; it is the Pazhuvertaraiyars …’ – those next to me said …”

“Our enemies will say that …”

“Just like my father’s order, the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ order must be honored,” I told them. I have come crossing the sea, withstanding rain, storm and flood. I thought of asking questions once inside the palace. I had no intention of seeing my father against your wish …”

“Prince! Are you still questioning my motives? What authority do I have over your actions? If you wish me to accompany you I will. If you wish me to stay here, I will! Whatever the Prince wishes, that is my crowning obligation!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said humbly.

“Colonel! You probably will have to wait here. We have stood here too long talking. Look over there,” said the prince.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar turned around. His men who were standing at a distance had all advanced closer. Not only them; the palace guards were also next to them. From among the velakara troops who were positioned even farther away, a few of the men were walking towards them.

Those who were in front stood there staring at Ponniyin Selvar in amazement. When the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar turned, the light fell directly on the prince brightly illuminating his face.

“Long live the prince, one of the soldiers said. “Long live the prince,” said another. “Long live the warrior who beat Mahinthan and conquered Eezham,” said yet another.

When they heard their voices the velakara troops came running forward. “Long live Ponniyin Selvar,” rose many voices in greeting.

Since this was the entrance to the palace, and in deference to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar the voices did not rise very high. It was like the gentle breeze rustling the new Spring growth of the arasa tree. In time as days passed we will see in the chapters to come how this faint sound grew and became the loud chorus that beat even the roar of the thousands of waves crashing in the great ocean.

“Colonel! It was a mistake to stand here talking. Now you see why I didn’t want to reveal myself before I was well inside the palace,” said the prince.

“I see, Prince! I will pacify them. You should proceed,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

29. Uncertain Adversity

After Ponniyin Selvar entered the palace Kalanthaka Kandar went to the velakara soldiers who were gathering at the entrance of the palace.

“What is this disturbance? Don’t you know about the emperor’s condition? Don’t you see the enemy soldiers around the fort?” He asked in a stern voice.

The leader of the velakara troops asked, “Sir! Are they enemies who have surrounded the fort? How did Kodumbalur periya Velar become an enemy?”

Keeping a lid on the furor rising inside him the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “That question ought to be posed to him; if he is no enemy why has he camped outside with a garrison?”

“To crown the young prince, we hear,” said the velakara troop leader.

“You are in agreement with that,” asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

The velakara troop leader said to his soldiers, “Please answer!”

The soldiers immediately chanted, “Yes! Yes! Long live Ponniyin Selvar! Long live the prince who captured Eezham!”

This time their voices rose stronger than before.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face reddened; his mustache twitched. Yet, biting his teeth he asked, “Is this any of periya Velar’s business? Or yours for that matter? Is there no respect for the emperor’s wish?”

One of the soldiers asked, “Colonel! Is the emperor well? Is it true?”

“What kind of question …” Kalanthakar hissed.

“Rumors about the emperor are spreading. Today we also did not see him! So we are all very concerned about his health,” said the velakara troop leader.

“Didn’t I already give the reason for the emperor’s absence? The emperor is in a highly agitated mental state. He did not want to see anyone today. He did not come to the assembly hall also …”

“Why is he agitated? Why did he refuse to see us? Can we at least know that?”

“Good, let me tell you. The emperor was worried about the prince who went to Eezham. Now that the prince is here …”

“We want to see the prince. We want to see him properly in daylight,” said one of the soldiers. “Yes, we want to see him! Long live the prince who conquered Eezham!” All shouted in unison.

“The prince must first visit the emperor. Shouldn’t he? After that if he so wishes, he will see you also!”

“Is that true? Or will he be sent to the dungeon instead?”

On another day, under different circumstances, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men would have gone to war against the velakara troops for being rude and impolite. There would have been a riot. But perhaps seeing the charismatic face of the prince just a few minutes ago left the Kalanthaka Kandar’s men mute and passive. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand reached for his sword. For a second he was overwhelmed by the urge to slash the impudent soldier’s throat in one quick stroke. Next second, resorting to his countenance he laughed out loud.

“You heard the man’s question? He wants to know if the prince will be sent to the dungeon. Well, it is not under my authority to crown the prince or send him to the dungeon. It is the emperor’s prerogative. If the prince is sent to the dungeon, he will pass this way. At that time you can see him!” Kalanthaka Kandar spoke angrily. Without paying attention to the noisy response of the soldiers he turned to go inside.

He saw Poongkuzhali waiting alone by the entrance. “Girl! Why are you standing here? Did they stop you from going in?” He asked her.

“No one stopped me, Sir! I decided to stand here,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Why?”

“At a time when a father and son are seeing each other after being parted for so long, what business do I have there?”

“Never mind; at least you think that the emperor is alive! That makes me happy!”

“Not only do I think, I just came back after seeing the emperor with my own eyes.”

“Then tell that to the velakara troops over there! They seem to have doubts!” he said.

“There was no basis for any doubts up until this minute. But who knows if it will be true the next minute?”

“Girl! Are you trying to bully me also? Have you all lost your minds?”

“Colonel! People call me a madwoman! Even I call myself a ‘madwoman.’ But, only because of listening to this madwoman’s advice, the prince was able to enter the fort without incident today. He was able to see the emperor while he is still alive …”

“Aha! What is this? Have you also set an ultimatum for the emperor’s life? Are you also blathering like the foolish people and the silly astrologers? Or, do you have specific information?”

“Is it only the people and the astrologers who can set an ultimatum. Didn’t you hear the message sent by your elder brother?”

“What is the assurance that it is true?”

“Colonel! Why should the Kodumbalur Princess lie?”

“Who knows? Maybe she wants to be queen …”

“Colonel! That was my thought also. After hearing the oath that the princess took this morning I have changed my mind!”

“Girl! Perhaps you are harboring the same wish …” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar smiled.

“Colonel! I am really mad! Otherwise would I have stopped to talk to you?” Poongkuzhali turned to go.

Kalanthaka Kandar’s demeanor changed. “Girl! Don’t be angry! Before leaving, tell me what you wanted to say!” He said.

“Yes, I must speak. Or else I too will regret later. You also will be sorry. Sir! If anything happens to the emperor the entire country will blame you. Even your troops will,” she said.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar frowned. “If anything happens I will not wait to hear their accusations. Before their words reach my ears my life would have departed! These velakara soldiers have vowed before Durga Parameshwari but I was the one who took the first oath and led the way for others,” he said.

“What is the use of that? The Chola kingdom will lose the emperor as well as a great warrior! Instead of that isn’t it wise to take the necessary precautions?”

“Girl! Are you telling me that I have not taken the necessary precautions? Do you see the soldiers guarding the palace night and day? Why? Even Chief Minister Aniruthar cannot enter the palace without my knowledge! Did you know?”

“I know, Colonel! But danger may come from within …”

“What rubbish? Are you saying that the women in the palace will poison the emperor? … Or, do you mean … the Kodumbalur woman who went in now with the prince?”

“God! Nothing good will come to those who doubt that harmless woman. In fact she is not that smart even. Sir! There is an underground passage that leads into the palace …”

Startled the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said excitedly, “Girl! How do you know about it? What do you know? Other than three or four people no one knows about it! Those who find it cannot leave alive!”

“Colonel! I found out only this morning. I also saw a Pandyanadu saboteur armed with a spear hiding there …”

“God! This is alarming news … That passage … that passage … do you know where it ends?”

“It goes through the treasury room,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Aha! There may be truth in what you are saying. This is the work of that bewitching imposter masquerading as a woman! This is the work of the female devil that has enslaved my brother. Aiyo! How many times did I warn him? Girl! Is this really true? Did you really see? How did you find out about that passage? …”

“When my aunt took me this morning I found out …”

“Who is your aunt?”

“She is the one who was brought in the palanquin sent by you following the chief minister’s order, Sir! While we discuss this here …”

“True! I will go immediately to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace and take care of this. Meanwhile you …”

“I will wait here and keep an eye …”

“Aha! How can I trust you? What is the guarantee that you don’t belong with the Pandyanadu saboteurs? Now that you have sidetracked me …”

“Colonel! In that case come with me! Bring a torch! We will both go and see! While we go I will tell the rest of what I know …”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar at once called one of the soldiers and said something to him. Poongkuzhali guessed that they were going to the Pazhuvur palace. The colonel took a torch from one of the soldiers.

“Girl! Now lead me! I can see if what you said is true!” Kalanthaka Kandar said.

He still harbored doubts about Poongkuzhali. Maybe the woman had hatched up this fiction to deceive him, who knows? Maybe she wants to find the underground passage, who knows? Maybe this is a trick to let the Kodumbalur men into the fort, who knows? … He will not be deceived so easily. If she has any of these motives she must be properly punished. Can I be fooled like the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar? No! Regardless, let her walk in front. I must first find out if she really knows where the underground passage lies. Then let’s see if the story about the saboteurs hiding there is true. If it is … God! How dangerous! Fortunately, stopping them is not difficult. They will be killed like the fox caught in its hole! …

With such thoughts the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar walked behind Poongkuzhali. He marveled at her speed.

Yes, Poongkuzhali was pulsing with energy. Her walk reflected the state of her mind.

Lately for a period Poongkuzhali’s life had seen some rather strange events. But none compared to what she had witnessed that day. Very early in the morning her Manthahini woke up noiselessly and prodded Poongkuzhali to rise. There was a grotesque face peeking from the balcony of the anthpuram where they were sleeping. Just as soon it had disappeared. Poongkuzhali followed her aunt to the sculpture gallery. The same face that they saw in the loft appeared for a second between the heads of Ravanan and the Kailayankiri his hands were holding up; then it disappeared. Both took a closer look at the statue. Poongkuzhali saw that an underground passage opened up between the hands of Ravanan. First Manthhini, then Poongkuzhali entered the passage. At first Poongkuzhali could not see at all. The passage lay buried in darkness. Stumbling and falling she went holding her aunt’s hand for support. When they went up a few steps from the passage it felt as if they had entered a wider space. It was dark there also. With only their hands to guide them it was difficult to walk without knocking on pillars and walls. After a short while a ray of light began to seep through from a small lattice opening above. Poongkuzhali guessed that the sun had risen. She also knew that they were wandering about in a treasury cellar. But it did not seem likely that the man her aunt Manthahini had come in search of was going to be caught. There were so many places to hide in that dark cellar. Who knows where he is hiding? Before we find him he can find them and stab them from behind killing them; in this cellar no questions will be asked, no court or inquiry will follow.

While Poongkuzhali was thus pondering Manthahini began shrieking in her – neither human nor feral – voice. On its heels came a frightened human cry. The shadow of a figure began running wildly knocking into pillars and walls. Poongkuzhali decided that was the man whose face appeared in the loft. She guessed that he was terrified of her aunt’s cry mistaking it for a ghost or devil. The thought was a source of amusement to her. After a few minutes aunt Manthahini repeated her eerily pitched sonic assaults making the man run around fearfully. In the end he knocked himself against a wooden door. He knocked on the door loudly. After about four or five attempts the door opened. A woman stood at the door. The man said something to her. The woman appeared to hesitate and the man appeared to threaten her. She turned and went back. The man remained at the door peeking outside. In a short while the woman came back with a lamp. Both entered the cellar. Taking Poongkuzhali by her hand Manthahini went and stood behind a large pillar. They had a good look at the man’s face in the light of the lamp.

The woman carrying the lamp walked with the man to the interior of the cellar. “What ghost and what devil? Why should a coward get involved in this type of work?” Poongkuzhali heard the woman saying. Poongkuzhali did not quite understand what was meant by ‘this type of work.’

Once they disappeared into the cellar Manthahini dragged Poongkuzhali by the hand and walked out through the open door. They crossed the footpath and entered a big garden. There in a secluded area Manthahini communicated to Poongkuzhali what she had to say. “My end is near. Before I close my eyes I want to see the prince one last time. You must give this message and bring him back with you,” she gestured.

We know how fond Poongkuzhali was of her aunt. She did not have the heart to leave her at a time like this. But she could not disobey her also. Anyway the thought that this new development provided her another opportunity to see Ponniyin Selvar prompted her to arrive at a quick decision. She took leave of her aunt. After climbing over the wall of the palace, and when she was leaving Thanjai fort, at the entrance she met Azhvarkadiyan. She learnt that following the chief minister’s order he was also on his way to see Ponniyin Selvar. With the help of that brave Vaishnavan her journey proceeded comfortably without obstacles. 

Throughout the day luck was on her side. They saw the junior stateswoman’s chariot in front of Kudanthai astrologer’s house. To find out if Kundavai Devi had any news about the prince they went in. There they found out about the Pandyanadu troublemakers who were hiding in the treasury cellar. She was troubled by the knowledge that the prince was also a target. Vanathi’s promise provided some consolation. When she went to save Princess Vanathi she met the prince also.

What was most satisfying to her? The prince’s acceptance of her idea of going to Thanjai! She knew about the prince going about in Ilankai under the disguise of an elephant-keeper. She had not forgotten him racing from the seashore alone on an elephant leaving the colonel and soldiers behind. Therefore, she suggested that it was best that the prince use the same tactic , that he cannot enter Thanjai fort on his own, and that if he took her and Vanathi he would be allowed in as their elephant-keeper.

“Ocean Princess! That is a good idea. You are fit to serve as the chief minister!” Her mind reveled in the memory of what the prince had said.

But, even if everything had happened according to her plan, what was the use? As she had expected Manthahini aunt was not in the emperor’s room! She didn’t even ask anyone there about her. She felt a tightening in her chest each time she recalled her aunt gesturing, “My end is near.” Her heart cried, “What is the use of having gone to all this trouble, speaking smartly and bringing the prince here? Manthahini is not here!” Was she still in the cellar? Perhaps she had been murdered there by that murderer – the thought broke her heart.

She wanted to go through the underground passage to the cellar. But because of the arrival of the prince the palace was in an uproar. Women kept hurrying here and there. They came in small groups to peak inside the room where the emperor lay. Amidst this mayhem what will anyone think if she is seen going to the sculpture gallery alone? If that troublemaker is there it wasn’t wise to go there alone. Even the bold and daring Poongkuzhali was afraid of the impenetrable darkness that inhabited that underground cellar.

Therefore she decided to confide in the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and ask for his help. Much time was wasted explaining and arguing with Kandar. That is why she was now racing. Her instinct told her that the worst was about to happen. She did not care about her own safety. She wished with all her heart that her aunt be not harmed in any way.

While entering the art gallery she felt a shadow sweeping in from the palace balcony. A figure appeared to be moving along the wall. She paused to see if it was real or not.

“Girl! Why are you stopping? Are you afraid that your lie will be exposed?” When she heard the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s words, she proceeded to go in.

Inside the art gallery Poongkuzhali showed the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar the entrance to the underground passage that lay between Ravanan’s heads and Kailayankiri.

“Alright! Now, go in,” said the fortress commander.

For some reason Poongkuzhali hesitated. Her body trembled.

At the same time a shrill otherworldly cry was heard. Poongkuzhali realized that it was her aunt Manthhini’s voice. She also knew that the cry came from the emperor’s bedroom in the palace. At once her hesitation left her.

Without paying heed to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar she ran to the palace anthapuram. The piercing cry was heard again and again. When Poongkuzhali entered the emepror’s room the scene she saw sank into her heart like a picture in a gallery.

The emperor sat up in his bed holding the hands of his son. Manthahini stood in front of them wailing. On one side stood Vanathi and her would-be mother-in-law Malaiamman’s daughter. Everyone was looking at Manthahini who was screaming like a madwoman.

No one saw the long spear that came speeding from the loft. In one swift leap Poongkuzhali reached her aunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (21 -24)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

21. Life Dangled!

Sometimes a second can stretch like an eon. Vanathi was experiencing one of those moments. It was probably only a few seconds on that swirling tiled roof when she closed her eyes and prayed to Durga Parameshwari. When her whole being was shaken up by a collision she opened her eyes. She knew that the roof had crashed into the tree at the riverbank. But fortunately Vanathi’s body had got caught among the low hanging branches of the tree. She escaped hitting the roots or trunk of the tree. Realizing what had happened she held firmly to the branches. Her legs were in the water. The flood pulled her legs with such force it felt as if they might get torn off any moment. The loose end of her sari also pulled her into the flood.

At that moment from out of the blue a resolve and boldness took possession of her. Biting her teeth, with all her strength, she brought her knees up and pulled herself up to the branch. Reaching over the low hanging slender branches she perched herself squarely on a bigger branch. She squeezed the water out from her sari.

Hearing the sound of water getting sloshed around she remembered the crocodile. When she looked down she saw only its tail beating about. The rest of the body was covered by the broken pieces of the roof. Gradually wiggling through the wreck it emerged. Perhaps to express its delight it opened its mouth wide. It seemed to be telling Vanathi, “Come, come! No matter, you will eventually fall into my mouth!”

Vanathi was also jubilant at the way she had survived. “Oho! Is that right? You are going to gobble me up? Crocodile! Your gimmicks are nothing to me! There is no use showing your teeth to me. Don’t rely on me to relieve your hunger! Look somewhere else!” Vanathi told the crocodile. Hearing the sound of her voice the crocodile stared at her wide eyed.

“Oho! You are still tempted!” Vanathi looked around her. She was in a precarious place. Branches from that large tree hung low on the side of the water. On the side facing the shore the branches did not go down. If she climbed down the main trunk, there was the crocodile waiting camouflaging among the roots. If she were to jump straight into the water from where she was, the rippling current of the river was ready to pull her deep down into the abyss. Even looking down at the swirling water made her head spin. “Even if the branches are not low, let me try to jump on the ground,” thought Vanathi. She got up to walk along the branch to the other side.

After being in the water for so long her legs were chilled to the bone. When she tried to stand, her legs began to shake. “Cheechee! Legs! What has happened to you?” Vanathi sat down again. “Who is more patient? The crocodile? Or me? …” She will have to test this out.

At that time Vanathi was startled by the sudden noise of Gajendran bleating. The elephant that had crossed the river a short while ago was returning. At the same time she saw a boat along the shoreline. There were two people in the boat. Yes, yes; of the two one was the astrologer’s disciple; the woman was Poongkuzhali! In the end has it got to be Poongkuzhali, who must come to rescue her?

The boat came to the base of the tree. Poongkuzhali saw Vanathi on the tree. “Princess! You found a good place to hide. Come down quickly! Do you know who is on that elephant there?” She asked.

The answer hit Vanathi in a flash.

Yet to make sure she asked, “No. Who is it?”

“The very person you went in search of! It is the prince,” said Poongkuzhali.

Vanathi stared at the elephant in disbelief. She felt that she should no longer be sitting on the branch. She decided to climb down as Poongkuzhali suggested.

But the boat, unable to withstand the tug of the water, was moving away. She saw Poongkuzhali jumping out. Aiyo, what is this? Didn’t this girl see the monstrous crocodile lying there? Nine thousand thoughts flooded Vanathi’s mind in that second. Words tumbled out incoherently from her mouth.

Poongkuzhali only heard the word, ‘Crocodile!’ She turned. Yes; next to her was the enormous crocodile with its wide open mouth. It slapped its tail vehemently on the water.

Poongkuzhali is no coward! She had come through many dangers. But what is courage while standing ten feet away from the open mouth of a crocodile? One missed step meant death. How to escape? She will have to get on the boat again!

Poongkuzhali therefore jumped into the water. The boat had by then gone a long way. The astrologer’s disciple seeing that he cannot stop the boat there decided to go a little farther down along the shoreline to find a place to stop. He didn’t see Poongkuzhali’s predicament. Using her long and deft strokes Poongkuzhali started swimming towards the boat. She soon realized that the currents in the Kaveri floodwater were more challenging than the turbulent sea that she was accustomed to. The water pulled her down. She felt the crocodile encroaching from behind. In addition her sari got caught in the branches adding one more hurdle.

Vanathi was watching from the branch above. Poongkuzhali’s bitterness against her, her own vow just a short time ago in response to Poongkuzhali’s harsh words, her rejection of Poongkuzhali’s hand and thereby falling into the water – in lightening speed Vanathi’s mind reprocessed these events and emotions. She also remembered that it was Poongkuzhali who saved Ponniyin Selvar from the sea and took him to Soodamani viharam, and the gratitude owed to her by Cholanadu as well as herself. There, he is coming on the elephant. How would he feel if Poongkuzhali falls into the crocodile’s mouth before he gets here? What will he think of Vanathi? In fact, isn’t this girl in this predicament because she came to save Vanathi?

These thoughts appeared in Vanathi’s mind in one hundredth of the time it took for readers to read about it. Mind is faster than the wind – these aren’t mere words. Of all transmissions mind is the fastest. In that one hundredth fraction of the time Vanathi also decided where her obligation lay. She lowered herself to the next branch. Lying horizontally on it she extended her hands down and grabbed Poongkuzhali’s hair. Poongkuzhali looked up. She could not get away from Vanathi’s hold. She put her hand out. Vanathi grabbed that hand. She began to pull Poongkuzhali up. Latching onto a branch with her other hand Poongkuzhli pulled herself up from the water. She climbed up to the same branch as Vanathi. Unable to bear both of their weights the branch bent. Without letting go of Poongkuzhali’s hand Vanathi moved to the branch directly above. When Poongkuzhali also tried to go up her legs stumbled. Next second she was dangling between the branches and the river’s flood. Her one hand alone lay caught in a tight grip between Vanathi’s two hands.

In those few seconds the crocodile slowly crept out from among the roots. Out in the open seeing the dangling figure from the tree it opened its mouth wide. Poongkuzhali’s body and life hung in the open.

Vanathi’s tired hands were at the breaking point from bearing the weight of Poongkuzhali’s diamond hard body. The fear that at any moment Poongkuzhali would slip from her hands and fall into the crocodile’s mouth pounded at Vanathi’s heart. If that happens she cannot ever face the prince. When Poongkuzhali falls she may as well fall with her. That was it.

The elephant is here. The prince is on top. Will these hands do their work until he comes for her rescue …? The elephant stood at the foot of the tree. Again it brayed. The crocodile turned and looked at the elephant. Whatever thought crossed its mind – it went back and lay among the roots.

Vanathi also bent down and looked at the elephant. She looked at the man on top. Yes; he was the prince! Ponniyin Selvar!

“Elephant-keeper! Elepohant-keeper! Just like you saved those little birds the other day, save these foolish women today!” She said to herself.

No; she can no longer bear the weight of this boatwoman! Just a minute’s delay will tear her arms out of its sockets! Apapa! She calls herself Poongkuzhali! But her body weighs like iron!

“Elephant-keeper! Elephant-keeper! Hurry up, will you? …”

‘kreech!’ – Poongkuzhali screamed. Fear gripped Vanathi’s heart. She closed her eyes tightly.

The weight became heavier on her hands. Thinking it was the crocodile pulling Poongkuzhali down, with closed eyes she tried harder to pull her up.

“Let her go! Let her go!” The voice of the prince reached her ears like ambrosia. Without a second thought she let go of her hands. She opened her eyes.

She saw Gajendran winding its trunk around Poongkuzhali and lowering her to the ground. Poongkuzhali’s eyes were closed. She must have screamed when she felt the elephant’s trunk around her.

Vanathi remembered fainting once in the same manner. It is a wonder that in this situation that is ten times more dangerous she is able to remain fearless and conscious!

It’s a pity that the junior stateswoman is not here to applaud! No harm. One day she will find out. What is her fate now? Will the prince take Poongkuzhali and leave her on the tree?

If he did that it will be proper punishment for her foolishness! No, no! Gajendran’s trunk is reaching for her. Vanathi closed her eyes again. When she opened her eyes she saw herself standing next to Poongkuzhali on the riverbank.

Overcome by affection she eagerly embraced the boatwoman. With tears in her eyes Poongkuzhali said in a voice filled with emotion, “Princess! You saved my life today. I came to rescue you from the flood. Instead you saved me from the crocodile’s mouth. I will never forget this.”

“Poongkuzhali! I saved you? It’s the elephant-keeper who saved both of us. You should thank him!”

“My life really does not matter. My aunt sent me with a message to her beloved son. I didn’t want to die without delivering that message,” said Poongkuzhali.

Vanathi looked at the prince seated on the elephant. At that moment she was gripped by a giddy exuberance. “Elephant-keeper! Elephant-keeper! Will you take us on the elephant?” Peals of merry laughter followed her question.

22. Happy and Sad!

Hearing Vanathi’s mirthful words the prince smiled as he climbed down from the elephant.

“Aha! Being on an elephant is a difficult task. It is similar to being on a throne. Climbing atop an elephant is hard! Being seated there is hard! Climbing down is harder than all else. Yet, there are times when a man has to endure these difficulties,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“Some take on these difficulties for absurd reasons. There are those who will bring an elephant to save little birds,” said Vanathi.

“You still remember that, Vanathi! Since it never came up until now, I thought that you had forgotten the incident!” said the prince.

“Those who go around the world performing heroic deeds can forget. What else is there for me who waits aimlessly inside the palace? I remember you coming on an elephant that day; I also remember you leaving with a frown soon after hearing that I am the Kodumbalur girl!”

“There was good reason for that then, Vanathi!”

“The same reason is still present, Sir! You are the son of the emperor who rules the world, Ponniyin Selvar the apple of the eye for Cholanadu. I am the daughter of petty kings, born and raised in the rural wasteland; moreover, the orphan daughter of a soldier who was felled in the battlefield! …”

“Vanathi! You are not being fair to me! Your words are unreasonable! Never mind! I have to go to Thanjai urgently. Tell me quickly! How did you end up here? Why are you alone? You were floating on a roof? Why is this girl here? How did she end up in this dangerous situation? …”

“I am glad that you remembered my presence. If I am given a minute alone I can say what I have to say and then leave,” said Poongkuzhali.

Coming face to face with the prince under such extraordinary circumstances had made the two women unusually bold and talkative.

“Ocean Princess! You think I have forgotten you? How can I? It was you who kept driving the boat while I kept calling you! I can never forget the sight of you who came in such a hurry dangling between the tree and the open mouth of the crocodile!” The prince laughed.

“I cannot also forget Vanathi’s plight trying to hold you. But how did you two end up here? Why? One of you, please hurry up and tell me!”

“Ponniyin Selva! Your beloved sister and I came to stop you from going to Thanjavur. The junior stateswoman is afraid that if you come to Thanjavur at this time there will arise a big war. She wants to meet you and talk to you …”

“Where is the junior stateswoman now?”

“In Kudanthai …”

“How did you come here alone?”

“On the way we stopped at Kudanthai astrologer’s house. It was then that Kaveri’s breach washed the astrologer’s house away. Prince! They say that Mother Kaveri has protected you from when you were a baby. I also know that you are very fond of River Ponni. But to think of the hardship caused by the river to the towns, villages, the people, their cattle – it is frightening. It makes one believe that Mother Kaveri is viscious …”

“Vanathi! Do not cast blame on Mother Kaveri! This great lady loves our Cholanadu. When that love overflows it breaks its bounds. Those who don’t know that will blame Mother! Why? Some blame even the ocean king for rising over his limits. But Poongkuzhali will never blame the Ocean King!”

“Forgive me! I will stop blaming Mother Kaveri! When your sister and I were at Kudanthai astrologer’s house Kaveri let her love flow abundantly. Your sister and others were able to climb to the top of the temple tower. Because of my stupidity I fell into the water. I latched onto the roof of the astrologer’s house and floated all the way here …”

“So, to save you Poongkuzhali followed in the boat. Very nice! This Gajendran had to come to save both of you. The elephant’s intelligence is incredible. It picked both of you up delicately like flower petals and placed you on the ground without a wrinkle or crinkle. Whereas this morning the same elephant picked up the elephant-keeper who came late running with goad in hand, and threw him a great distance. If the man survives, that will be a miracle!”

“Aiyo! What was that about? I was going to ask about it …”

“What did you want to ask?”

“I wanted to ask if you were hurt in anyway by the elephant-keeper or the goad.”

“It was true that I was in danger; how did you know about it? Did the astrologer foresee it? This mad affliction of relying on astrology is still with the junior stateswoman?”

“The astrologer did not see it coming. Even if he did, we won’t have believed it. We heard from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

“What? What? What did he say?”

“Yes, Prince! It was the treasurer, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar who told us. When we were at the astrologer’s house he suddenly barged in. He told about the danger you were in. He told about the poison soaked goad …”

“Aha! This is a wonder! How did he know? Has he become an astrologer also? Or, perhaps … did he set this up?”

“No, Prince! He did not. He happened to eavesdrop on the Pandyanadu troublemakers. That is how he found out …!”

“Oho! What else did he say?”

“I am frightened to even think about it, let alone say it. He said those saboteurs have a plan to send you and your father and elder brother Athitha Karikalar to yamanulakam on the same day. To save Athitha Karikalar, he hurried off to Kadampoor. He asked the junior stateswoman to warn you and the emperor …”

“Aha! Since the news turned out to be true in my case, it must be for others also. Ocean Princess! You had something to say?”

“Yes, Prince! Eezhathurani asked me to bring you to Thanjai immediately …”

“Aha! I forgot to ask you about that. It is for the sake of Eezhathurani I came in such a hurry. Someone abducted her by force and brought her to Thanjai, I hear. Is it true?”

“It is, Sir! But Chief Minister Aniruthar had good intentions …”

“Oho! It was Aniruthar’s work? He must have wanted my father to meet her. Poongkuzhali! Did the chief minister succeed? They … the emperor and Eezhathurani – did they meet?”

“Yes, they did!”

“My life’s dream has been fulfilled. No other news can give me such happiness. As long as my aunt is near him my father’s life is safe. You know that great lady has an extraordinary talent for seeing the future, Poongkuzhali!”

“Yes, I do. As long as Eezhathurani is there the emperor is not in danger. But …”

“But, what? Why do you hesitate, Ocean Princess?”

“I cannot say this, my tongue fails me. … Eezhathurani thinks that her final days are here. Before she closes her eyes she wants to see you once!”

“Oh, God! What are you saying? You give me good news and then like thunder deliver this terrible news also! I cannot be delayed even a moment longer, Vanathi! Ask the junior stateswoman to forgive me,” said Prince Arulmozhivarmar.

23. Troops Arrive!

The great city of Thanjai was in an upheaval that day. The people had completely forgotten about the rain, the storm and damage that they have incurred. ‘The heroic warrior who conquered Eezham, Prince Ponniyin Selvar who reigns in the hearts of Cholanadu people is in Nagaipattinam; he is on his way to Thanjai; a big crowd is following him with the intention of placing him on the throne and crowning him as emperor,’ – such news first floated as rumors in the wind.

Later, it was repeated by more people who had actually seen him in Nagaipattinam. The news brought a storm of feelings, just like the one that had wreaked havoc a few days ago – in the hearts of the people of Thanjai. They decided to give the prince the sort of grand welcome that the city had never seen before. They began to decorate the streets outside the fort. They stood in little groups on the streets talking. Instruments such as drums, cymbals, trumpets and tabors were gathered. Those who were good in singing and dancing began practicing so that they could use the occasion to showcase their talents. Mothers and young girls began dreaming about how they will present themselves. Some who were impatient by nature proceeded to the outermost parts of the city so that they will be the first to receive the prince. Others made fun of them.

If the outside showed such excitement soon there were signs that important events were expected from inside the fort also.

The fort opened as usual in the morning. Curd and buttermilk sellers, vegetable venders, employees of the palace entered the palace as on any other day. A few arrived to complain about the damage caused by the storm. They also went inside the fort. As usual the velakara troops also entered the fort.

After that the gates were slammed shut. Outsized bolts were drawn up. Padlocks were slung through and slammed shut noisily. Those who came afterwards were stopped by the guards outside the gates. While the people wondered aloud about the reason for such unusual measures so early in the day, the bridge over the ditch that surrounded the fort also was lifted and closed. After that, no one could even go near the entrance.

Those who came to the main entrance in the north inquired about the west and south entrances. They were astonished to hear that these gates were also closed and the bridges drawn.

“What is going on? There is no war! There is no enemy troop marching here! Enemies who are capable of such action are not even close to any of these entrances. Even if Irattai Mandalam troops were to come, they still have to cross Kollidam, Kaveri and other rivers. And those rivers are flooded!” The people exclaimed as they gathered on the outskirts of the fort. Some raised the question whether these measures were intended to bar Ponniyin Selvar from entering the fort and proceeded to answer it as well. “That must be why,” they said. As the rumor spread the people’s anger grew. “Who are these Pazhuvertaraiyars to stop the prince who was born in the Vijayalaya Cholan line from entering the fort? If the Pazhuvertaraiyars would do that, then it is time to break the walls!” – there were those who took this attitude also.

How does the monster of rumor start? How does it spread? The mechanics of this mystery is still under discovery. Suddenly another scary rumor began to spread. It was that the long expected death of Sundara Chola emperor had finally taken place. “The emperor is dead? Is it true?” They asked at first. Some who had witnessed the long-tailed star fall to its death that morning after shining brightly for a minute, took that as proof and confirmed Sundara Cholar’s death. “If this is true, what is going to happen now?” Isn’t this kind of anxious discussion the next natural development. Will there be trouble regarding the throne? Would the petty kings divide into two and fight with each other? Will the Chola empire dissolve into smithereens because of these internal disputes? Will enemy garrisons invade the empire that has been flourishing for over hundred years?

While the people were thus talking, “There, the troops are coming,” a cry arose. People ran here and there. They climbed on tall trees and buildings to see. What they saw shocked and surprised them.

There were three roads that went west and south west from Thanjai in those days. One was going to Rameshwaram from Kodumbalur; the other went to south Pandyanadu via Madurai; the one going to Karoor and Seranadu through Uraiyoor was long and wide. Late that afternoon there were troops advancing on all of these three roads. People first saw the soldiers marching in front. Row after row followed. The end was never in sight.  Soldiers kept coming and coming.

Fortunately tiger flags were being carried by those in front. This ruled out any notion of an enemy invasion. They were Cholanadu troops. But why? Where are they coming from?

When they came nearer the smaller signs on the flags could be made out. From these signs it was apparent that they were the Paranthaka Chola troops from Kodumbalur, the selected kaikolar troops from south Pandyanadu, and the Arinjaya Chola garrison from the Eezham war. Within a short time people in Thanjai found out that it was the southern commander Poothi Vikramakesari who was behind this development. In a sense they were now able to guess what was going on. It was well known in Cholanadu that Kodumbalur periya Velar, Poothi Vikramakesari wanted to give Vanathi, the beloved daughter of siriya Velar who died in the Eezham war, in marriage to Ponniyin Selvar and place her on the Cholanadu throne. Therefore it was fitting that while Prince Arulmozhivarmar was being brought from the east by a crowd of enthusiastic citizens, Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari should arrive at the same time from the west with a large garrison.

The people were aware that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and their cronies, the petty kings, were trying to crown Mathuranthakar. Therefore, Thanjai citizens understood that Kodumbalur Poothi Vikramakesari has arrived with his troops to place their beloved Ponniyin Selvar on the throne. Their enthusiasm went overboard. They got ready to welcome and host the soldiers who kept arriving like the waves of an ocean.

In those days in Thanjai there were many inns run by commercial enterprises such as Kodumbalur manikramathar, Thirupurampayam Valanchiar, Uraiyur tharmavanigar and Nanathesathisai ayirathu aignootuvar. Arrangements got underway in these inns to provide food for thousands of people. This news was warmly received by the people of Thanjai. They roamed about the streets congregating in groups to talk. Because they were one hundred percent behind Arulmozhuvarmar they did not have to be secretive. When the soldiers started pitching their tents near Thanjai the people walked over to them engaging them in pleasantries.

At sundown three sides of the city were occupied by the soldiers. Access to one side of the fort was barred because of Vadavaru that ran alongside the fort and the flood. The troops did not consider this an impediment to their plans. We have seen the main north entrance of Thanjai fort. This was where Vandhiyathevan entered the fort the very first time following Nandhini Devi! Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari’s tent was set up within sight of this entrance.

As the first quarter of the night was ending the colonel returned to his tent after inspecting around the fort. About a hundred people were already gathered inside. Among them were Veleer troop leaders, Kaikola troop leaders, heads of Pandyanadu and Kongunadu. Many leaders who brought victory in the Eezhanadu war were also there. Besides them there were also many heads of commercial groups; especially the leaders who had famously earned the name all over the world as ‘global thousand fivehundred,’ were there. They were wealthy men who were in the shipping trade with foreign countries. They had the means to send armed ships to safeguard the vessels that transported goods. Apart from these men, Thanjavur city’s aimperunkuzhu and enperayam leaders had been invited and were present in that tent.

24. Strategic Discussion

After the usual exchange of greetings Kodumabalur periya Velar addressed the group:

“Almost everyone I had sent an invitation to is here. Except Thirukovalur elder Malaiamman king. There must be a good reason for his absence. We are here to discuss a matter that many consider dangerous. The world knows how devoted we are to Sundara Chola emperor and the Chola family. We have proved this on many occasions in numerous affairs. Yet our enemies may claim that we are here against the emperor’s wish. They may even say that we have come with troops to battle with the emperor. But we have not had an opportunity to find out in person what the emperor wants. We cannot see the emperor alone. We are denied even a moment alone with the emperor. Everyone knows why. It has been said that the emperor remains in Thanjai because of his health. In truth I am of the opinion that the Pazhuvertaraiyars are keeping him imprisoned. I am not sure what you think …”

When the colonel paused many voices arose saying, “Yes, yes,” “That is the truth,” and “They are keeping the emperor as a prisoner!”

“Your answer in the affirmative implies that all of us are united in sentiment and intent. Chola empire has reached this preeminent position because of the thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed their precious lives since the time of Vijayalaya Cholar. We are proud to say that we are from Cholanadu. We are here to protect the Chola tribe and the empire from harm; not conspire against the emperor. The enemies of the emperor have kept him in prison for three years. They say that he is not in good health. Vijayalaya Cholar bearing ninety six battle scars on his body entered the battlefield at eighty years of age. With a sword in each hand he chopped the enemies’ heads in whichever direction he turned heaping them as mountains! Is it credible if Sundara Cholar who was born in that warrior’s tribe refuses to come outside because of ill health? It appears that the evil minded have robbed him of his sanity through sorcery. If he was sane would he even consider crowning Mathuranthakan who has never ever sighted the battlefield, when he has two great warriors like Bheemarjunan for sons? …”

In response, many voices rose as one. “How do we know that this is the emperor’s wish?” They asked.

“Indeed we do not know firsthand. It may be a tale hatched by the Pazhuvertaraiyars. But even our Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar believes this …”

“Aniruthar also may have joined them. Who knows,” said one person.

“May be. Finding out the truth is one important reason for our meeting here. You would have heard the rumor that is going around in Thanjai city today. I did not believe it. I believe that we will be able to see the emperor alive. When we see him we will find out directly from him his wish about the crown. If in case the emperor says that he wants to crown Mathuranthakan, will you all accept it? …”

“We will not! We will not!” Voices rose loud and clear.

“I also will not. Because, if the emperor was in his right mind he will never say that. This is a matter settled during emperor Paranthakar’s time. I heard with my own ears when the king in his deathbed said that it will be Sundara Cholar and his descendents who will ascend the throne. Many who heard this are probably here. The late Kandarathithar tried to raise his son so as to not instill in him a desire for the throne. We all know that his beloved wife the elder stateswoman, Chempian Madevi, the saiva devotee, is adamantly opposed to the idea of crowning Mathuranthakan. There must be an important reason for this. So why is Sundara Cholar eager to crown Mathuranthakan? I will give another example to show that his mind is not sane. After Veera Pandyan was killed and the Pandya garrison was destroyed my brother set off to punish the Eezha king who helped the Pandyan. Because we failed to send adequate troops and armaments to aid him, he was killed – heroically – in the battlefield. To be rid of the shadow of disgrace cast on the Chola tribe, Ponniyin Selvar and I went. We destroyed the Eezha troops. We captured Anuradhapuram. We drove Mahinthan into hiding. You are aware that treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar did not cooperate with us. The businessmen among you sent us food and helped us a great deal. Yet, our soldiers underwent much hardship. Inspite of it, how was it possible to destroy Mahinthan’s troops? Because of the leadership of the greatest of all great Cholanadu warriors! Ponniyin Selvar! How did his father, the emperor, honor this great warrior? By charging him with the felony that he betrayed the kingdom; by ordering him imprisoned! Can anyone in his right mind give such an order …?”

“Colonel! Again you are speaking about the emperor’s order. What is the proof that the order came from the emperor,” asked one person in the crowd.

“There is no proof. We are here to find out the truth about this also. If this order came without the emperor’s consent, think what a dangerous position Cholanadu is in. Think of everything that happened after. The soldiers who went to imprison the prince refused to do it. The prince voluntarily gave himself up. Obeying the emperor’s order he started his journey back in Parthipenthira Pallavan’s ship. On the way it appears that the storm broke out. Then came the rumor that the prince had drowned in the sea. I never believed it. I strongly believed that the ocean king will not have taken Ponniyin Selvan. When all others from that ship are alive how can the prince alone have drowned in the sea and died? Therefore, once the prince came ashore there must have been a conspiracy to arrest him. The prince somehow sensing trouble had escaped and remained safe somewhere; I believed that he will emerge at the right time. Many of you also expressed that was your hope as well. Our hope triumphed. We know that the prince came out on the night of the storm in Nagaipattinam, and that Cholanadu people are bringing him to Thanjai in a victory celebration. We came here to be of support to them. But the saboteurs have once again played their hand …”

“What? What?” Many asked in a concerned voice.

“Just a few minutes before this meeting the news arrived. When the prince was just about to leave Thiruvarur this morning, the elephant began to rut. It had thrown down the elephant-keeper violently. Then it had torn off in a wild run. In the ensuing turmoil the prince had gone missing!”

“Aiyayo!” “What is this calamity?” “Is god aiding the evil-minded?” Many began to fret in this manner. The colonel raised his hands asking them to be quiet.

“When I heard the news I was also devastated. I pulled myself together and came for this meeting. Just as Prince Arulmozhivarmar is an exceptionally gifted warrior, he is also intelligent. He will not easily fall into the saboteurs’ conspiratorial trap. I am waiting for some good news any second now. In the meantime, I want to know your opinion about what we should do, how we should behave in these testing times!”

When the colonel concluded his remarks in this manner, the others expressed their opinions. On most counts they were unanimous. They differed in certain minor points. Many were of the opinion that their representatives in that tent should request a meeting with the emperor the next day, and if granted they should clearly tell the emperor, “We don’t want Mathuranthakan taking the throne.” Some insisted, “One, the emperor should remove the Pazhuvertaraiyars from their autocratic positions; or, the emperor should leave Thanjai and go to Pazhaiyarai.”

“Because Athitha Karikalar has already been crowned as prince, he is the one entitled to the throne; if he voluntarily steps down, then the next in line is Arulmozhivarmar. We must without a doubt make this clear to the emperor, and make him also agree,” said some others. “If there was no chance of meeting the emperor, if the gates to the fort remain shut, there is no choice but to use force,” said some others. “What force? We simply tell the soldiers to break open the gates and the walls,” some said. Some thought that it would be better to wait until news of the prince arrived, and that Athitha Karikalar ought to be informed and brought to Thanjai also.

“What’s the use in waiting? The Chola garrison under the control of the Pazhuvertaraiyars are on the other side of Kollidam. Because of the flood in Kollidam and other rivers those troops cannot come here now. Therefore, this is the right time to break into the fort and free the emperor from the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ prison,” insisted some others.

While this argument was taking place a soldier who was guarding in the front entered the tent hastily. He whispered something in the colonel’s ear. “I’ll be back. Keep talking,” the colonel told the men in the tent. Then he left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ridiculously Insane

So I will not be buried in the same cemetery as F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. (Anyway) this thought had crossed my mind as I sat in an airplane waiting to take off. Ahead the monument rose piercing the sky scape. Within seconds a plane flew over it challenging my ‘state of awe.’ (Anyway) the person or thing who first caught my attention was the burly man who came driving around the corner balancing the cargo in the little cart effortlessly taking the mental space between me and the horizon. The bags were still getting loaded. This was months ago. The plane eventually flew and we landed in another place. (Another chapter in the pioneer saga. My understanding of the word ‘pioneer’ was that a person moves to a new location out of necessity, fights the elements and settles down to eternal happiness. But the new version is that pioneer is a breed that can uproot itself, move and settle in new places, adjust itself, morph and be progressive. More like gypsies to my mind. (Anyway.) The land is vast. We reside in pockets and corners all over. We text, phone, and once in a blue moon, skype. The last one can be startling and unsettling because we don’t do it often enough. But we move on. We bury our thoughts. So, from this new place we boarded our bags again into the trunk and headed to yet another airport. The sky is the only land that moves with us everywhere. Unless too many buildings have been built to hide it from view. Or make it less of a presence. A gorgeous sunset presented itself from yet another airplane in the glorious hues of purples and violets and indigos and grays. Like an earthquake unwinding up in the sky. As we landed I slammed the car door on my palm. The pain – I cried softly opening my mouth. Handkerchief! – no thanks, I don’t need it. No tears fall. I cry softly opening my mouth. The crying felt good. Even without the tears. The pain – nerves and bones all mangled. Here – Oh, ice. Oh, my god! the ice. lifesaver. ‘So how do you all like the place so far?’ the ice – my god – the ice. lifesaver. Overnight in a new land the hand mended itself. Sunrise, and then a sunset. So on. That is when the flashes in the left eye started. My eyes are the driest. I have no more tears!

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (18 – 20)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

18. Fooled Elephant-keeper!

According to one contemporary scholar, “Opportunity is a name for God!” When god does not want to reveal his actions he would it seems go by the pseudonym ‘Opportunity.’ Of the most celebrated heroes and scholars who have accomplished incredible feats in the history of the world,  their biographers often point out that they have been aided by circumstances. Some would say that god took special care of them by sending opportunities their way. There are also those who would teach that the glory lay in one’s time of birth; the strength of one’s horoscope, what Brahma has deemed, or the blessings earned in a previous birth – as reasons to explain the happenstance of life’s favorable circumstances.

In our time – if Mahathma Ghandhi did not go to South Africa, would he have reached the pinnacle where his life is celebrated today among humanity’s best and preeminent? We know that life’s circumstances played a significant role in the lives of Chandrakupthan, Vikramathithan, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Duke of Wellington, George Washington, Joseph Stalin and other great men. It will be a mistake to conclude that god favors some and not others. Besides the famous heroes and scholars we encounter in history books, god also keeps sending opportunities to numerous others.

Leaving god aside, making use of these opportunities also depends on man’s ability to think and make the right decision at the right time. Those who allow opportunities to slip, leave this world at the end of an ordinary life without achieving fame or status. Those who make correct use of opportunities leave their name forever engraved in history.

How can we explain the disparity in the lives of people born on the same day at the same time?

* * *

Such an opportunity crossed Prince Arulmozhivarmar’s path that day. The opportunity arrived when the elephant violently threw the elephant-keeper down and when the crowd shouted, “The elephant is in rut!” If he did not make use of that opportunity history would have taken a different course; in the history of Tamil Nadu Rajaraja Cholar may not have risen to fame and glory.

Fortunately he had the intuition and intelligence to recognize the opportunity and make use of it. He reminded himself of the story that boatman Murugaiyan had related the previous day. In a second he surmised that the man who approached the elephant was not the real elephant-keeper but someone who had come with a devious motive and that is why the elephant hurled him into the air. If he tried to find out who he was, and what his motive was he will lose the opportunity that came his way. He cannot make use of the commotion that arose following the cry, ‘the elephant is in rut!’ His main goal at that time was to escape from that crowd as fast as possible and reach Thanjai.  To achieve it there will not arise a better time.

Therefore, he called Murugaiyan. He whispered something in Murugaiyan’s ear. Then standing on Murugaiyan’s shoulder he climbed onto the elephant’s back. At the same time he knocked down the howdah that was on top of the elephant. The howdah rolled to the ground. Then he whispered in the elephant’s ear. The elephant tore off in a frenzy, bleating as it went. Soon it was running in a maddening gallop.

At the same time Murugaiyan shouted in a loud voice, “Run! The elephant is in rut! Run at once!”

The people became even more frightened. They scattered and ran in all directions. They ran into nearby alleys and nooks. They ran inside houses that were open and hid themselves. Even a brave warrior, even if armed, cannot fight an elephant in rut. What can people, unarmed men, women, children and the elderly do when faced with a rutting elephant – other than to run?

Once the prince crossed Thiru Arur town, instead of taking the road to Thanjavur, he took the elephant in a north-westerly direction. Earlier, he had thought of stopping at Pazhayarai and seeing his beloved sister if she happened to be there. Now, he will do just that. It will seem natural for a rutting elephant to stray off from the main road. If he went on the Thanjai road people are likely to follow him. If the elephant ran off in a direction to nowhere, then no one will follow him.

Thinking fast and acting on it he directed the elephant through fields, embankments, irrigation channels, rivers and their branch rivulets. The elephant marched on without a care. The prince felt as free as a bird in the sky. His instinct told him that he was nearing a turning point in his life.

When the elephant started to run Murugaiyan also ran shouting, “The elephant is in rut!” He aimed straight to the spot where the elephant-keeper had landed after being thrown down by the elephant. Near the Chola palace where the prince had stayed was a famous pond called Kamalalayam. He went there and looked around. Many who were afraid of the elephant had gathered around the pond. Some had even stepped into the water. Unsteady on his feet, a man was coming out. Murugaiyan recognized the magician who had taken the elephant-keeper and Rakamaahl the previous night. Lucky fellow! He was alive even after being hurled by an elephant! He was the same man who had come running with goad in hand claiming to be the elephant-keeper …! The goad was nowhere to be seen. Did it fall into the pond?

Murugaiyan went to him and said, “Elephant-keeper! Fortunately you are alive! Where is the goad?”

Kiramavithan known as Thevathasan looked Murugaiyan up and down. “What are you asking, Friend? Who are you? I am just coming out after a bath,” he said.

“Oho! Is that right? You are not the elephant-keeper? Didn’t the elephant pick you up and slam you down? Then, where is the elephant-keeper?” Murugaiyan asked.

Displaying more disbelief Kiramavithan said, “How do I know? Why are you asking me?”

“Magician! Why are you trying to fool me? Last night you took the elephant-keeper to the crematorium and warned him, ‘The royal elephant will be in rut!’ But you yourself forgot the warning and got caught to the elephant today! Well, that is your problem! Where is the elephant-keeper? Where is my wife Rakamaahl,” asked Murugaiyan. Kiramavithan’s face showed more disbelief and alarm.

“Elephant-keeper and Rakamaahl? Are you mad?” Kiramavithan turned and looked around him.

“That’s right! Just like the elephant, I have also lost my mind! Just tell me where the elephant-keeper is! Or else …” Murugaiyan tried to sound more authoritative.

Revathasan who was looking around now smiled at Murugaiyan. “You are calling me a ‘Magician.’ You seem to be a bigger magician than me! You seem to know everything! So there is no use in keeping anything from you. ‘The elephant will rut! Don’t get on the elephant,’ I came to warn the prince. This is what I got in return. Your wife and the elephant-keeper are in a house over there. If you want to see them I will take you to them. Was the prince harmed? Is he alright,” he said.

“The prince is alright. He is the one who ordered me to bring you and the elephant-keeper …”

“You must get me a good award from the prince, alright? Really … isn’t it true that I saved him today? Ah! Look over there …!” The magician exclaimed in surprise.

Where the magician pointed there appeared to be a spear jutting out from among the oleander bushes. “Ah! The goad!” The magician cried as he ran towards it. Running faster Murugaiyan overtook him. Bending down through the oleander plants he cautiously plucked out the goad holding it from its base.

When he turned around the magician was nowhere. “Adada! I got fooled!” – he ran here and there looking. It was of no use. Entering the large crowd gathered at the pond, Magician Kiramavithan had mysteriously disappeared.

After the elephant ran away in a frenzy Murugaiyan saw that the people were again returning to the Chola palace. But he was not going to linger.

He tried to remember where he had seen the magician the previous day and walked in the direction of that house. On the way along the royal thoroughfare people were standing in groups talking. Some who had seen the elephant running said, “It seemed as if a person was on top.” Others rejected that notion. “How can that be? The elephant started running after plunging the elephant-keeper down! Who could have got on it?” They said. Arguing in this manner the people were walking back towards the Chola palace. They were eager to make sure that their beloved prince was not harmed in any way.

Murugaiyan went in the opposite direction. He was soon at the alley branching off from the royal thoroughfare. The place was deserted. It wasn’t easy to find the house that he had seen only at night. Murugaiyan kept searching as he walked. There was one house that had a lock on the outside. From inside came the sound of someone moaning. Next to it was an old dilapidated house. Murugaiyan entered the old house, climbed on the roof of the adjscent house and jumped into the yard. Just as he had expected the elephant-keeper was there. He was not sane. Not only his hands and legs were tied, he was also tied to a pillar. He was trying desperately to undo the ties with his teeth. In between he gave up trying and shouted in a loud voice.

His face gained some sanity when he saw Murugaiyan. He had seen Murugaiyan at Nagaipattinam. He knew that he was with the prince. So he cried excitedly, “Murugaiya! Untie me! Untie me! The traitors have fooled me! The prince is not in any danger, is he?”

While unfastening his ties Murugaiyan briefly related the events of that morning. Then he asked the elephant-keeper what had happened to him. Stumbling he answered, that he was brought to this house to be given a magic vest for his safety in the event the elephant began to rut, and that the magician began chanting while burning incense, and that he had become drowsy and fallen asleep, and when he woke up he found himself tied to the pillar.

Both men left the house and hurried to the Chola palace. When they arrived they saw a bigger crowd of people there than before talking in anxious voices.

The people were concerned because the prince was missing. No one there knew what had become of him. Some said that they had seen someone on the elephant. They thought that it was the prince.

It was public knowledge in Cholanadu that the prince was an expert in training elephants, and that he even spoke their language. Some confidently stated their belief that Ponniyin Selvar had rode off on the elephant to tame it and to avert any danger to the people.

It was at this time that Murugaiyan and the elephant-keeper arrived there. When the people found out what had happened to the elephant-keeper the night before their astonishment and disbelief increased ten fold.

The immediate assumption was that the man who came running with the goad after tying up the elephant-keeper was sent by the enemies of the Chola tribe. When some people said, “Perhaps he was sent by the Pazhuvertaraiyars,” many believed them. Their anger at the Pazhuvertaraiyars increased. In a furious rage many set off to Thanjai at once. While some made inquiries about the direction that the elephant had run off and tried to follow in that path others headed furiously on the road that led directly to Thanjavur.

19. Thirunallum

Vanathi, while holding on tightly to the tiled roof of the astrologer’s house as well as her own life, kept floating in the breach water of the river Kaveri. The floodwater carried her east, sometimes slowly, and at other times pulling her with force. Sometimes the roof got caught in currents turning in place over and over.

Sometimes it went over ground that was not far beneath. The depth could be gauged by looking at how far the water was up a tree or a partly submerged building. Before Vanathi could make up her mind about jumping off, the current carried her off to deeper areas.

In any case Vanathi was not very keen on jumping off. Because, she had decided that River Ponni’s floodwater was taking her to Ponniyin Selvar. She was acutely aware of the danger awaiting the prince that Pazhuvertaraiyar had vaguely pointed out. She believed that river Kaveri was taking her to save him from this danger.

Aha! The nerve of that Poongkuzhali! She flaunts such familiarity with the prince! Yet, one must admit, there is good reason for her behavior. Isn’t the prince alive today because of Poongkuzhali? – No, not at all! What did the Kudanthai astrologer say? It is the stars the prince was born under! There will be many dangers; but none will take his life! What can the pitiful sea, storm or floodwater do to someone who has been destined to rule the world. Someone will be the alleged cause. Poongkuzhali was fortunate to be chosen for that role! How can she act familiar, just because of that? For a long time Vanathi had longed in her heart for such an opportunity.

Once when the roof was simply swiveling in one spot Vanathi saw a boat at a considerable distance. She saw a woman and a man in the boat. She could not tell who they were. Because it was the woman who was rowing she wondered whether it was Poongkuzhali. Was she coming to rescue her? Did the junior stateswoman send her? Enough, enough! The woman had the prince already in her debt. She also must not be under obligation to Pongkuzhali! No! She must not be rescued by Poongkuzhali!

At times the boat appeared to be getting closer. Then the roof sped away leaving the boat far behind.

During one of those instances when the boat was thus out of sight, the roof appeared suddenly to change direction heading south. It traveled a long way on this course. It passed Kaveri’s south bank and was in a floodplain that resembled an ocean. Finally the boundary of this floodplain was also within sight. Aha! Isn’t this a riverbank? Yes, yes! It is arasalattankarai! Kaveri’s breach water has submerged many a places and finally fallen into this river. Because its southbank is a little elevated it is being contained and flowing through it. This riverbank, its tree covered vista is familiar, like a thread of memory from a previous incarnation. No, no! It is in this lifetime that she has been here two or three times! She is nearing a sacred place called Thirunallam. In memory of her beloved husband Kandarathitha Cholar, Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter Chempian Madevi was keen to renovate the temple here and rebuild it in granite. On the riverbank was a Spring resort used by the Chola family. Once when Chempian Madevi took the junior stateswoman there, Vanathi had accompanied her! How eager at that time she was, to listen to the birds singing in the gardens surrounding the palace! Aha! What happened there once was unforgettably etched in Vanathi’s mind.

20. Young Chicks

When Vanathi first came to Pazhaiyarai from Kodumabalur, she was amazed by the water resources of Cholanadu. There were no rivers in Kodumbalur; there were only ponds. During the rainy season the ponds would be jostling with water filled to the brim. They would dry up during the Summer. There was no moving waterway drawn by currents like rivers and canals. In Vanathi’s birthplace one did not see tanks abundant with lotus and water lily. Therefore Vanathi was enchanted by the natural beauty of her new home. Unaware of time passing by, she would watch drops of water scatter like pearls on the lotus leaves that spread like umbrellas for the fish in the water; the humming beetles that circled over the blooms of lotus and lilies.

Once Vanathi and Kundavai had gone to Thirunallam on the invitation of Chempian Madevi. They stayed at the vasantha maligai. Chempian Madevi and Kundavai would engage in lengthy discussions about the lives of Hindhu scholars and their poetry that was rich in devotion. Chempian Madevi would also relate stories of her travels with her beloved husband Kandarathithar whose pilgrimages had taken him to temples in the west. Vanathi’s interest lay elsewhere. She was more eager to hear the birds singing in the gardens of the Spring palace and the busy humming of the beetles around the lotus flowers that filled the tanks. She was more eager to watch the current swirling in the river that ran alongside the palace, and the bright red koomba flowers that swirled in these currents. Because Kodumbalur lacked such pleasing and harmonious scenes.

One day Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter and the junior stateswoman were having a lively discussion. “Vanathi! Go see the gardens! I will be there shortly!” Dispatched to the outdoors with this curt dismissal Vanathi happily sauntered away. After wandering at will in the garden she ended up at the lotus pond. Bordering the pond were tall towering trees reaching up to the sky. Among them was an illupai tree. It was the flowering season for illupai. Its flowers covered the ground like a mat. Their fragrance filled the air. Vanathi sat at the base of the tree on one of the big roots leaning against the trunk. The singing of the birds swept through her ears like ambrosia. She felt her mind and body relax. Vanathi had not until that day imagined that life could offer such unconditional bliss.

From the ground the river was visible through the gaps between the trees. Off and on Vanathi’s eyes captured the moving water in the river. During one of those moments the figure of a young man came into view. Vanathi’s eyes were drawn to the spectacle of the olive sheen of his body contrasted against the ochre tint of the  water as he swam with half his body submerged and half out in the open. Cheechee! How stupid it is to be attracted to a strange young man’s appearance? Vanathi who considered modesty and artlessness as part of her inheritance was embarrassed by her thoughts. Her eyes however were beyond the control of her mind; they kept returning to the river. In time she became angry and irritated at herself.

Just as Vanathi considered leaving the place something else happened. From above her head she heard the panic-stricken cries of newly hatched young birds. She looked up. What she saw was frightening. At the fork of a branch sat a bird’s nest. A few chicks had their heads out. ‘kreech, kreech!’ – they cried. They were frightened. They were appealing for help. On the branch was a wild cat slowly making its way towards the nest.

Vanathi shouted, “Aiyo! Aiyo!” Someone shouted back, “What? What?” Then she heard footsteps. She saw the young man leaving the water and running towards her.

At the same time two adult birds flew in from out of the blue. They circled the nest and roused a racket cawing. They were the parents; woodpeckers with lengthy beaks. As one of them kept circling, the other one tried to threaten the cat as if to peck the animal with its beak. The bird really wasn’t a threat to the cat! If it got caught in the cat’s mouth it will only end up in its belly. Yet, to save its young ones the bird bravely put up a fight. Having lost both her parents at a young age, Vanathi empathized with the scene.

The cat after being still for a while put out one of its paws. It even managed to touch the tip of the nest. Vanathi again howled. By then the young man was standing next to her. She was too shy to look at him. She could not speak. She pointed to the nest.

Until then the young man had thought that it was the woman who was in danger. He looked up. Again he smiled at Vanathi. His smile and glance melted Vanathi’s heart making her forget even the birds.

But the young man ran to the cat. Standing underneath he threatened it with verbal assaults. It looked down and growled. “Troublesome cat!” He said as he picked up a stone and threw it at the cat. Missing the cat the stone struck the branch. The cat jumped to the next branch and then another tree and disappeared without a trace.

Meanwhile, another problem had arisen. When the stone struck the tree, the nest already dislodged when the cat put its paw on it, became even more shaken. It started slipping from its secure corner where the branch forked. If it had slipped completely, the chicklets that escaped the cat’s mouth would have hit the ground and died. Fortunately, one end of the nest remained attached to the tree. From there the nest swung precariously with the birds inside. The lives of the young ones also swung with it. The woodpeckers were more alarmed now and cawed louder while circling the nest. If the wind gathered even a little more speed the nest will fall to the ground. It was unlikely that the chicks can survive a fall from such a height.

The young man was taking stock of the situation. He seemed to consider climbing up the tree. Then he changed his mind.

“Girl! Come and wait here. If the nest falls try to catch it with the loose end of your sari. I will be back!” He said and ran from there.

He returned just as he had said. But he did not come back walking. He came on an elephant. Vanathi knew his intention. She walked to the lotus pond and sat on the steps lining it. From there she watched what the young man was doing.

As the elephant paused under the tree, the young man took the nest in his hands and carefully placed it back in its nook at the fork between the two branches. The parent birds shouted louder. But this was a cry of joy.

The young man looked around. “Girl! Where did you go?” He shouted. Vanathi felt shy. She remained silent. Getting down from the elephant the young man started to look for her.

A thought entered Vanathi’s mind that made her forget herself and laugh out loud.

Hearing her laughter the young man turned and walked to the pond. “Girl! Why are you laughing? What has happened to make you laugh so heartily?” He asked.

The young man’s voice again melted Vanathi’s heart; she felt more self-conscious than before. She studiously averted her eyes from him. “Girl! Why did you laugh? Won’t you speak?” The young man asked again.

Keeping her countenance Vanathi said, “Nothing. Just that you seem such a brave warrior – you brought an elephant to fight with a cat – it made me laugh!” The young man also laughed hearing her answer.

“A cat? The way you screamed I came running to battle a tiger!” He said.

Vanathi felt bolder now. Her shyness disappeared.

“Aha! Is that right? In Cholanadu where the tiger flag flies high why should anyone be afraid of a tiger? Are you from Pandyanadu?” She said.

The young man smiled brighter than before. “Girl! I am not a foreigner; I am from Cholanadu; I have been to battlefields also on the elephant. Who are you? Where are you from? You are very talkative!” He said.

“Elephant-keeper! Be respectful! What does it matter who I am? Why do you want to know,” said Vanathi.

“Alright. I will not ask. You seem to be well connected. I am leaving!” The young man started going up the steps.

Again in a playful voice Vanathi said, “Elephant- keeper! Elephant-keeper! Will you take me also on the elephant?”

“Alright, I will. What will you pay me?”

“Pay? I’ll talk to my uncle and get you a job at Kodumbalur palace. Or, I’ll make you the commander of the elephant army,” said Vanathi.

“Oho! You are Kodumbalur Princess!” The smile disappeared from his face. A frown appeared.

“Is it so bad that I am the Kodumbalur princess? I cannot go on your elephant?”

“No, no! There are plenty of elephants in the Kodumbalur stall; plenty of elephant-keepers too. Why me?” The young man walked away brusquely.

Vanathi waited hoping that he will turn and look at her. But he went away on the elephant without turning even once.

This incident remained deeply buried in Vanathi’s heart. The elephant-keeper, his smiling face and pleasant voice lingered in her memory invoking a happiness that was previously unknown to her. The memory of him coming to the aid of the young birds on an elephant was forever a source of amusement. She would laugh to herself. Then she would be overcome with embarrassment. She would grow hostile thinking about his pride, his frown and abrupt departure upon hearing the word Kodumbalur. All in all, the elephant-keeper was a recurring presence in her thoughts. The uncertainty whether these thoughts were improper was also a source of worry.

There was talk in the palace that Ponniyin Selvar will be visiting his sister in Thirunallam. Just like all the other women in the palace Vanathi was also eager to see the prince who was the apple of the eye for Cholanadu. But the opportunity did not arise. There was only talk that the prince had arrived, but he never stepped inside the anthapuram.

Vanathi who was shy by nature did not make the opportunity to see the prince like the other women. Only on the day when the prince was leaving Vanathi happened to see Ponniyin Selvar from the palace balcony. He was on his elephant. That Vanathi did not believe her eyes, is not just a manner of speech. When she saw that the young man whom she dared to tease and order around as the elephant-keeper was the celebrated prince of the land, how can Vanathi trust her eyes? She verified the fact many times with the women standing next to her. The resulting heartache and embarrassment cannot be described.

The memory of her offering the man born to rule the world the job of head elephant-keeper at Kodumbalur brought her laughter! At the same time tears welled in her eyes. She perpetually bemoaned her foolishness. ‘Elephant-keeper!’ – she had called him. She  believed that it was the reason for his frown. He would have thought that she was a woman without shyness, without modesty, diffidence or delicacy. There was no measure for the pain this thought caused her. On many occasions she thought of jumping into a river or pond and killing herself. On many occasions she tried to tell the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi about her blunder. But she could not summon the courage; her tongue invariably failed her. If the prince had mentioned it Kundavai Devi would have told her. Since Kundavai Devi did not ask her, she decided that the prince had not talked about the incident. Amidst much heartache this thought provided her some consolation. She decided that she would kill herself one day after asking Ponniyin Selvar for forgiveness in person. But she could not summon the courage for that either.

After returning to Pazhaiyarai, whenever there seemed to arise an opportunity to see the prince, she ran and hid herself. She thought of killing herself rather than going in front of the prince. Not knowing what had happened at Thirunallam the junior stateswoman and her friends could only raise their eyebrows and exclaim, “This girl is so incredibly shy!” They decided that this was a part of her timid nature.

Vanathi soon found out that there was another reason for Ponniyin Selvar to dislike her. Just like the countless number of people who believed that Prince Arulmozhivarmar would one day become the emperor who will rule the world, folks in her hometown also subscribed to this notion. Vanathi was vaguely aware that her uncle had therefore planned on marrying her to Arulmozhivarmar. Kundavai Devi’s companions often hinted that this was the reason why Poothi Vikramakesari had sent Vanathi to Pazhaiyarai. Sometimes they would tease Vanathi directly. “That is why you are refusing to go in front of the prince! Don’t we know your tricks,” they would say. Their words poured as molten lead in Vanathi’s ears. So this explained the frown that appeared on the elephant-keeper’s face when he found out that she was the girl from Kodumbalur.

It was during this time when Vanathi’s young heart and mind were thus caught in a turmoil, Ponniyin Selvar left for the war in Eezham. Arrangements were made for all the maidens in the palace to present themselves with oil lamps in hand and bid the prince success as he departed. This was one occasion Vanathi could not refuse to participate. She was also eager to see the prince who was leaving for war. She also hoped that even if she were unable to speak perhaps her face and eyes would do the work. But events unfolded contrary to her expectations. When the prince came over and looked her in the face she dropped her oil lamp and collapsed to the floor unconscious. The readers know the rest of the story!

* * *

These thoughts paraded through Vanathi’s mind as she approached Thirunallam on the tiled roof that served as a vessel. She knew that Ponniyin Selvar had sympathy for her. He had let her know that himself; and through the junior stateswoman as well. But there was an obstacle for his kindness to turn into love. She knew what it was. The prince knew that others were trying to arrange their marriage based on the belief that he will one day be the emperor. He had good reasons to believe this. Vanathi’s uncle had on many occasions stated it. Why? Even the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi was a part of this conspiracy. Many others also knew about it. Even the boatwoman Poongkuzhali was being sarcastic! Therefore, it is no surprise that this thought has become wedged in the mind of the prince as an obstacle for his love!

But when the prince hears about the vow Vanathi made a short time ago, that obstacle will be removed! Will he come to know about it? Why not tell him herself? Foolish Vanathi! You who become tongue-tied in his presence! Taking him for an elephant-keeper in this Thirunallam, you talked endlessly and earned from him the name ‘talkative girl!’ After that, you have not been able to look him in the face or speak in front of him! Orphan Vanathi! When you see the prince again, don’t be a fool! Boldly state what’s on your mind! ‘Even if you ascend the throne, I will not. I have vowed! If you were just an elephant-keeper and take me once on the elephant with you I will consider that to be paradise!’ Tell him so!

This is all well and good. But is there going to be an opportunity to say any of this? Where is this flood taking her? Is she going to drown without ever seeing the shore? No! There, the shoreline is within sight! The glittering dome of Thirunallam palace can be seen. Aha! It feels as if it was yesterday that the prince came on his elephant and saved the little birds and spoke to her so kindly!

What’s that? An elephant! An elephant-keeper seated above! The elephant is charging, rolling like a hill nonchalantly, across this floodwater. It is already at the shoreline. It is heading west along the shoreline! Who is seated so majestically on the elephant? Perhaps … Cheechee! What a silly idea! Why would the prince be here on an elephant? All alone?

Just because she mistook the prince for an elephant-keeper once, all elephant-keepers are not going to morph into a prince! How foolish? Regardless, even if this man is just an ordinary elephant-keeper, he may be able to help her, won’t he? He can rescue her from this rooftop and floodwater and take her to the shore. If she says who she is he may even take her to Ponniyin Selvar!

“Elephant-keeper! Elephant-keeper!” Vanathi shouted. Whether it fell on his ears, or whether he simply decided to ignore her cries, his elephant did not stop; the elephant-keeper did not even look behind! The elephant strode on. Soon the elephant and the keeper disappeared around the bend in the river.

Before Vanathi could even fully realize this disappointment there came a more frightening realization. The roof had gathered speed. Yes, yes! The floodwater was moving rapidly. The shoreline with its tall overarching trees and their exposed outsized roots were fast approaching her. When her roof boat reaches the corner it is certainly going to crash into those roots. Once it crashes it will break into pieces and sink into the water. What will be her fate then? Can she scramble to the shore? Or, will she be caught in the current, smash herself against the roots and die?

Aiyo! What’s this? There is a crocodile among the roots grotesquely opening its mouth! Is it real? Or, fake? Or, is this all another delusion of hers?

The shore is here! The tiled roof is about to collide with those roots. Vanathi closed her eyes tightly. “Mother! Durga Parameshwari! You are this fatherless, motherless, orphan girl’s destiny! I surrender myself at your feet!” She prayed.

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (13 – 17)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

13. Kundavai’s Request

When Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the astrologer’s house, Kundavai and Vanathi were also there. Ever since Eezharani went missing that morning, Kundavai had been restless. Poongkuzhali’s disappearance at the same time added to her anxiety. She went in search of the chief minister.

It was at this time the news about Arulmozhivarmar reached the palace. Kundavai heard that the prince was forced to leave Nagaipattinam because of the storm and that throngs of people were accompanying him to Thanjai trumpeting their joyous victory. This became the tipping point for Kundavai. She believed that this latest development signaled trouble. She wanted to meet Ponniyin Selvan on the way. If he were to enter the Thanjai fort surrounded by a large crowd of people, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s people would try to stop him. She had also heard that Poothi Vikramakesari was at Kodumbalur with a large garrison. The two sides may end up clashing near Thanjai. It will disturb her father’s mind. The news may even kill him. Who knows what else will happen? Because of the storm the people were stretched thin. The slightest provocation can trigger a civil war that will destroy Cholanadu. When that happens there will be no way to contain it! Isn’t it better to stop it before it starts than afterward? If not all the effort that has been undertaken up to now will be wasted! Therefore she must meet Arulmozhi Cholan on the way and have him wait at Pazhaiyarai for a while. She must bring the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar from Kadampoor. Only after informing the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar that Arulmozhi had no desire to rule, she must bring him to Thanjai …

After arriving at this decision Kundavai left with Vanathi without telling even her father, only informing her mother and Aniruthar. Before going to Pazhaiyarai she wanted to see the astrologer in Kudanthai. In times of trouble isn’t it human nature to want to know what lay ahead?

As always the chariot was parked near the Amman temple. Not long after Kundavai started expressing her woes to the astrologer, they heard a commotion outside. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s loud voice turned the tiniest follicles on her hands rigid. Only the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar could produce such a stately growl. He appeared on the verge of marching in pushing aside the astrologer’s disciple. How did he get here? Why? At this time?

Aha! Perhaps he is seeking the astrologer’s counsel. If she can eavesdrop she may be able to gain some insight into his thinking. At this difficult juncture it would be helpful if she knew what lay in his heart. Now, here was an opportunity! And, who knew what his reaction would be if he sees her and Vanathi here? No doubt, he would jump to the wrong conclusion! Therefore it will be better to stay out of his sight …

With a tilt of her head indicating to the astrologer her intention, Kundavai dragged Vanathi by her hand and quickly disappeared into the adjacent room.

The instant their door closed Pazhuvertaraiyar walked in. After intently looking at the astrologer who excitedly rose to greet him, he looked around. His face showed surprise and disappointment. Only for a second. Keeping his countenance he said, “Astrologer! Do you recognize me? Treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar! Why do you stare? Is my appearance that bad? I am in need of something very important. You must help me. First of all, bring me something to eat; I am very hungry. I’ll talk while I eat!”

Finding it difficult to be coherent the astrologer mumbled, “Sir! What help can you need from this poor fellow? It is my ancestors’ good deeds that have brought you here to this hut. I cannot provide a meal worthy of your status. But everything here is yours. Please sit down, you are standing? I am in shock. I have failed to welcome you properly. Aha! There isn’t even a proper seat for you in this simpleton’s hut. Please be kind enough to take that palakai.” He showed the low wooden seats that were occupied by Kundavai and Vanathi a few moments ago.

Pazhuvertaraiyar, after taking a look at the seats and the flower petals lying on the ground nearby said, “Astrologer! No, I have no time to sit down. If you have anything to eat wrap it in a leaf and give me. I must send a letter urgently to Thanjai … to my brother Kalanthakakandan … Can you give me a palm leaf and a style? … No! There is no time to be writing. I will give my signature ring. Can you go at once to Thanjai with it? Or, there is your disciple at the door. A rather well built man, can you send him at once?”

“Whatever you command, we will oblige. My disciple and I, we both can go, But, Treasurer! You must please sit down and have a meal that this poor fellow can offer!”

“Astrologer! Why do you call yourself a poor fellow? A simpleton? I have heard that kings and princesses come in search of your house. I am the only person who has not sought your counsel. I now realize that it was a mistake. Perhaps if I have come to you these awful events may not have taken place …”

“Sir! Your words alarm me. What has happened? Who is hurt? I was right to be shocked when I saw you in this state. Were you caught in the storm and the flood? I heard that Kollidam broke off. Perhaps, because …? Treasurer! … Is Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani well?” The astrologer’s query produced a menacing laughter from Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“No, no! Nothing happened to Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. She did not drown in the Kollidam flood. As far as I know she is safe at Kadampoor palace. But I cannot be certain that she will be alive at this hour tomorrow. Astrologer! Can you tell? I have heard that you keep the horoscopes of every person in the royal household. Is it true? Nandhini, the devil I married foolishly in my old age, – do you have her horoscope?”

Even more agitated than before the astrologer answered, “Treasurer! What are you saying? Are you testing me? I don’t have Ilaiyarani’s horoscope. If you tell me her date of birth and time, then I will be able to write it.”

“No need, no need. I will write Nandhini’s horoscope. I have decided to end her life with my own hands. If you know about the future of others, tell me! What is the emperor’s future? What about his two sons? Aha! You are shaking your head! You won’t tell me. You think that I am testing you. Or, perhaps your astrological science is just humbug, rolled up prevarication, who knows? Astrologer! Astrology aside – do you know that the thoomakethu that has been apeearing for sometime now, fell to the ground this morning and disappeared? What does that mean? Is that an evil omen pointing to anything in particular? Is it an indication of impending doom for the emperor or his children? If you refuse to answer even this then your astrology is mere humbug!”

“Treasurer! Do not come to that conclusion. As a profession we are bound by tradition to avoid using astrology in matters of government. I did not see with my eyes thoomakethu’s demise this morning. Amazed at the bright light outside I ventured out too late. I saw that Thoomakethu, whose tail has been diminishing these past few days, was no longer present. It is said that the appearance and disappearance of the long tailed comet portends disaster for the royal clan. But that is not based on astrology. It is an ancient belief of the people. I don’t have faith in it. Even this morning the emperor is alive and well, I happen to know.”

“That is our good fortune. Nothing should happen to the emperor tonight. If he is alive until tomorrow, then we don’t have to worry. Do you have any news about Ponniyin Selvan? …”

“Late last night I heard that the prince was finally in Thiruvarur. Treasurer! Ten to hundred thousand people are around him, I hear. They are bringing him to Thanjai against his wish.”

“Aha! If only they can take the prince to Thanjai … that will be good. But, can they? Even if hundred thousand people are around, can Yaman be stopped? Tell me, Astrologer, tell me! Even if you don’t want to predict – let me tell you! Danger awaits the emperor and his two sons today. Yamatharman is approaching them. The emperor’s Yaman is hiding in the underground cellar of the Pazhuvur palace. Arulmozhi’s Yaman is hiding in the elephant keeper’s goad. It is your responsibility to stop these two men and save the emperor and Ponniyin Selvan. Let your disciple take my signature ring and go to Thanjai. You must go to Thiruvarur and warn the prince. Will you do it? Will you leave immediately?”

The astrologer was dumbfounded. He wondered if Pazhuvertaraiyar was in his right mind. But he could not question Pazhuvertaraiyar’s sanity. His statements appeared to match the astrology. Even if he spoke angrily and in haste, he seemed to be telling the truth. The junior stateswoman was listening also. He must find out her opinion. In any case he must send the old man away from here now.

“With Durga Parameshwari’s blessing, I will carry out your order as best as I can.”

The astrologer’s answer was accompanied by the sound of ankle bracelets that were usually worn by women.

“Aha! With the sound of her ankle bracelets Durga Parameshwari has shown her approval. Now, I can go to Kadampoor, I will leave right away …”

“Treasurer! You said that you were hungry! After having something to eat …”

“No, no! My thirst and hunger have taken a flight. I too must fly to Kadampoor. The chariot beside the temple … whose is it, Astrologer? I will have to take it. Once I reach Kollidam riverbank, I’ll send it back. I will take the boat …”

“Sir! The chariot … the chariot … please have mercy on me and don’t take it …”

“Astrologer! Don’t worry! I am taking the chariot to save the life of the crown prince of Cholanadu. Durgadevi will allow me that. If she graciously sounds her ankle bracelets again then I will know that I have her goodwill. There, listen …”

While the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was speaking the door to the adjascent room opened. The junior stateswoman walked in her ankle bracelets chiming along. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar did not appear surprised.

“Madam! I knew that you were in there. I didn’t have the courage to face you. So I spoke in a loud voice so that you may be informed. Did you hear what I told the astrologer?”

“Sir! Pardon me! You must forgive me. I could not be certain that it was indeed the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar calling on the astrologer. So I have had to eavesdrop on you. Please forgive me,” said Kundavai.

“Madam! There is no reason for forgiveness. In fact it is I who should be asking for your forgiveness. I am not sure if I am worthy of it. If I reach Kadampoor tonight and save the crown prince from danger, then I would be deserving of your forgiveness. For three years, lust had drawn a curtain over this old man’s eyes. You tried to make me see. You made so many references but my ears were deaf. My brother Kalanthakakandan also tried to open my eyes. His efforts also were not successful. Yesterday by the grace of Durga Parameshwari I happened to overhear two Pandya saboteurs speaking. I learnt the truth then. I fed milk and pampered that venomous snake in my palace. She turned me into an enemy of my people; my country. She took the wealth from Cholanadu treasury and gave it to the Pandya saboteurs. If I do not kill that treacherous Nandhini before tonight with my own hands the fire blazing in my heart will not be put away …”

While Pazhuvertaraiyar rambled on Kundavai did something that he did not expect at all. She fell in one swoop and touched his feet in a show of respect.

Pazhuvertaraiyar stood helplessly in amazement. Standing up Kundavai said, “Sir! You must kindly grant my wish!”

“Princess! You are testing me. Don’t! I have realized how unforgivable my sins are. I am trying to atone. Before that we must save the three Chola men from today’s impending doom. No harm should come to your father and brothers today. Please help me. Let’s get through today. Tomorrow I will come to you myself and ask, ‘What is my punishement? What is my penance?”

“Sir! I will not attempt to punish you or issue any penance. You are like my grandfather. You hold my father’s admiration. I am truly seeking a favor from you …”

“In that case, ask me now, Child! There is no time for chatter now.”

“Promise me that you will grant my wish!”

“There is nothing that I can give that will make up for the harm I have done for you and your family. I will grant you anything that you ask. Do it quickly!”

“You must promise me that you will not harm Ilaiyarani Nandhini in any way. That is my request!”

“Child! Are you playing with me? Is this a time to be playing? It is true that I behaved foolishly in my old age. For that, are you trying to turn me into a mad man? If I don’t deliver the punishment that this treacherous woman deserves then how can I punish the others? I am going to kill her with my own hands. I will bare my heart to her and show her that she cannot forever fool this old man. Then I am going to kill her with my own sword. Anything less cannot be justified. Then I will think of the appropriate punishment for myself. Go! Child! Go! Do what you can to avert the danger awaiting your father and younger brother today! …”

“Sir, I will! But don’t I have to protect my sister also? Ilaiyarani Nandhini is my sister. If you harm her, it will be a felony against the Chola tribe!”

Pazhuvertaraiyar was aghast. “Am I still dreaming?” His lips mumbled.

“No, no! You are not dreaming. What you are hearing is the truth. Think for yourself. Think about some incidents from the past. Do you remember how my brother Arulmozhivarman was saved from drowning in Kaveri by a woman? She is Ilaiyarani Nandhini’s mother. Do you remember the day you brought Ilaiyarani to the palace after your marriage? My father fainted that day. Because he mistook Ilaiyarani for her mother, a woman he believed was dead. That is why …”

Pazhuvertaraiyar could think of other incidents as well. He remembered taking Nandhini in front of the emperor at midnight; the emperor crying out at seeing her, and Nandhini’s twisted explanation for the emperor’s reaction.

“Child! I realize that you are not trying to humor me. It’s fate’s humor that astounds me. If Ilaiyarani is your sister, that makes her Athitha Karikalan’s sister. Are you the only one who knows of this relationship? Who else knows about this? Does the emperor know?”

“Until two days ago the emperor believed that my aunt was dead. Even day before yesterday when she appeared in front of him, he flung a lamp at her believing it was her ghost. Only later he realized …”

“I didn’t mean that, Child! Does Karikalan know that Ilaiyarani is his sister?”

“By now he must know. He sent me a letter through a Varnar tribe warrior. I sent word through this messenger …”

“Aha! You mean Vandhiyathevan Vallavaraiyan!”

“Yes, Sir!”

“It does not appear that he informed Karikalan. Even if he did, Karikalan did not believe him. Even I cannot believe it! How can he? Ilaiyarani does not know this. Even if she does, there is no use. The saboteurs will find other ways to carry out their plans. They will certainly try tonight. Madam! Your news adds more weight to my responsibility. I am obliged to save the Ilaiyarani from killing a sibling. I am leaving for Kadampoor immediately. I will take your chariot. It will be your responsibility to protect the emperor and Ponniyin Selvan!”

“Sir! Don’t worry! I will leave for Thanjai at once. I will get a chariot down from Pazhaiyarai. We need not worry about Ponniyin Selvan. The hour and day he was born will protect him!”

“Girl! Don’t be careless relying on horoscope! Astrologers, even if they know what’s coming, they will not spell things out. They will bury it in verbal ambiguity. Afterwards they will say, “I told you, didn’t I?” Even if you believe in astrology, do not trust the astrologers!” With this parting shot Pazhuvertaraiyar left.

Within seconds of his departure Azhvarkadiyan entered.

“Yes, indeed! I agree with the treasurer. You may place your faith in astrology, but never in the hands of astrologers,” he said.

14. Vanathi’s Promise

When Azhvarkadiyan suddenly materialized Kundavai exclaimed, “Thirumalai! How have you sprouted here? Why are you here?”

“Madam! It’s all because of this astrologer’s foolhardy forecasts. This morning I asked him, ‘Would my mission be successful?’ ‘It will be,’ he said. But I cannot even leave this place. How can the mission succeed? That is why I agree with Pazhuvertaraiyar. I came to find out if his astrology was a sham or whether he deceived me on purpose. When I heard Pazhuvertaraiyar’s words my suspicion about the astrologer was confirmed. But I was not expecting you here,” he said.

“No, you won’t have expected me here. Why are you here? What mission are you referring to? There is no secret, is there?”

“Is there any secret that you are not aware of? Following the emperor’s order the chief minister wanted me to leave for Nagaipattinam last night itself to bring the prince back. On the way he asked me to deliver a letter to Chempian Madevi also. When did you start from Thanjai, Devi?”

“We started shortly after sunrise. Why do you ask, Thirumalai?”

“I was wondering … if Kodumbalur troops have surrounded Thanjai fort?”

“What?”

“Yes, Devi! Don’t you know? Last night when the chief minister returned to his palace after seeing the emperor there were two messages waiting for him. One, – the prince has left Nagaipattinam; a large crowd of people are coming with him.”

“I heard that this morning. I came to stop my brother from going to Thanjai. What is the other news?”

Azhvarkadiyan pointed to Vanathi. “Madam! Why did you bring the Kodumbalur princess here,” he asked.

“She accompanies me always. Why do you ask?”

“I hesitate to give the other news in her presence.”

“Go on, Thirumalai! Don’t you know how close we are? Whatever I can hear, so can she …”

“Yet, … I am afraid that this news concerns the princess. The chief minister was delivered the news last night that the southern commander Poothi Vikramakeasari is approaching Thanjai fort with a large garrison. A letter arrived for the chief minister from the colonel also. It accused the Pazhuvertaraiyars of holding as prisoners, the emperor in Thanjai fort and the young prince somewhere in a secret location. It asked the Pazhuvertaraiyars to relinquish their posts as treasurer and commander, and to hand the prince over immediately. If not, the letter warned that Thanjai fort will be surrounded and will be under attack before tonight. Madam! Kodumabalur troops are already near Thanjai in the south and west! You are not aware of this?”

“No, the chief minister did not tell me this!”

“If he did, you probably won’t have left. He may have wanted the Kodumabalur princess to be away …”

“Why? What will happen if she was in Thanjai?”

“The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar may imprison the princess …”

“He will be so audacious? Are you serious?”

“Yes, Devi! If you hear the rest of the southern commander’s message perhaps you will understand …”

“What? What else?”

“That, Prince Arulmozhivarmar and the Kodumabalur princess ought to be wed immediately; as Athitha Karikalar does not want the kingdom, Arulmozhivarmar ought to be crowned immediately as crown prince; if these demands are not met, that he would raze Thanjai fort to the ground in three days. He says that the Chola people support him …”

The news unsettled Vanathi. She said, “Sister! Has my great uncle lost his mind?”

“Why do you say that, Vanathi? What many have wished in their hearts, your great uncle has openly said. Because Pazhuvertariayars have started the campaign, ‘Mathuranthakan must be crowned,’ Kodumabalur king and Thirukovalur Malaiamman are voicing their disapproval publicly.”

“Yes, Madam! Thirukovalur Malaiamman also must be near Kadampoor fort by now with a large garrison. From what he told me that is what I surmised. The chief minister has got word.”

“But they don’t know the news that I have just learned. I must speak to both and prevent an internal civil war. How am I going to do that? I don’t know.”

“Madam! The situation is beyond repair. There is going to be a great Bharatha war.”

“You correctly named it – Bharatha war, Thirumalai! If war happens now, it will be a war between siblings. It will be a war of annihilation between those of the same blood. Vanathi! Listen! My grandfather’s father, the former emperor Paranthakar married into the Pazhuvertaraiyar tribe. His daughter – my younger grandmother – married the Kodumbalur king. My grandfather Arinjayar married a Kodumbalur woman. My father married Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s daughter. So the three tribes are closely tied with ours. We are all mixed. Yet now they are all raising up their skirts, ready to battle! How can anyone be forewarned of fate! This enmity would destroy the Chola empire!”

“Sister! I am not worried about that. Let them fight and die. But why should my great uncle drag me into this? I feel like going there right now and having it out with my uncle …”

“What is the use, my darling! Your uncle will not listen to you. Even if the two of us pleaded it will not help. Old men like your uncle will not listen to little girls like us. This war can be prevented only by my brother Arulmozhivarman. Thirumalai! Why did you turn back? Where is Arulmozhi now?”

“Word is that they were planning to leave from Thiruvarur last night; because the entire route is a wilderness of floodwater they were unable to. I also tried to go past Pazhaiyarai; I could not. So I came back. Kudamurutti has broken and there is an ocean out there …”

“The floodwater will go down. After that Arulmozhi must come this way. We will have to wait until then. I am worried that in the meantime something terrible will happen in Thanjai. Thirumalai! Can you return to Thanjai now and take my message to Kodumbalur king? Will you inform him not to attack the Thanjai fort until Arulmozhi returns?”

“Sister! Shall I also go with him to Thanjai?”

“What will you gain by that, my darling?”

“I will fight with my uncle.”

“How will you fight? Will he halt the war listening to you?”

“Let him halt the war; or let him suffer the consequences if he does not. I will tell him not to drag my name into this.”

“They are dragging your name into this? Why is that?”

“Didn’t you hear this brave Vaishnavan, Sister?” Vanathi looked down bashfully.

“What did anyone say about you? Thirumalai! What did you say about the princess?”

“I told about the colonel’s insistence that the princess be married to Ponniyin Selvar. Perhaps that is what …”

“Vanathi! Are there any objections? Don’t you want to marry Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Whether I want to or not, what does it matter at this time? My objection is that my uncle is confusing my marriage with the coronation. It turns out as if this war that my uncle wants to wage is for the sole reason of putting me on the Chola throne …”

“It would seem that the Kodumbalur princess abhors the thought of being on the Chola throne!” Everyone turned to see who had made this biting comment. It was boatwoman Poongkuzhali.

Kundavai looked at her in surprise. “Girl! How did you come here? This morning we looked all over for you and Eezharani! Where is your aunt?” She asked.

“Devi! You must forgive me. My aunt dragged me by force through the Pazhuvur palace underground passage and threw me out in the open. She did not want me to be in the palace even for a day! I also don’t care for the palace life! When the Kodumabalur princess dislikes the throne so much why would people of my rank want to live in the palace?”

“Girl! If I ask you one thing, you talk of something else. It does not seem as if your mind is in proper working order!” ”

“Sister! Her mind is in proper order. She is insulting me on purpose. What she means is that I am dying to ascend the Chola throne; that is why I want to marry your brother, Ponniyin Selvar. I can read her mind,” said Vanathi.

“A snake knows the trail of another – says the proverb …,” Poongkuzhali shot back.

“Girls! Stop this! You don’t know what to say when! Poongkuzhali! Where is your aunt now?” Kundavai asked.

“She is in the treasury cellar at Pazhuvur palace …”

“Why?”

“A murderer armed with a spear is hiding there. Aha! How we scared the hell out of this guy this morning! He took us for a couple of female ghosts and started running all over the place …!” Poongkuzhali laughed.

Assured that the girl was slightly unhinged Kundavai said, “Go on! Who is he? Why is he hiding there? How did you come to know about it?”

“I don’t know all the answers, Devi! Even though my aunt cannot speak or hear, she has some unusual abilities that the rest of us don’t have. She found out – by whatever means – that this man is waiting there to kill someone in the palace. Devi! My aunt was trying to break the ten-headed Ravaneswaran’s hands. Do you know why?”

“No, you tell me!”

“All of you thought that she was insane. But my aunt is not a madwoman. Between the hands of that Ravanan lies the entrance to Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury cellar.”

“Aha! Is that right?” Kundavai exclaimed.

“Now we know how the dumb queen of Eezham came to be in the emperor’s palace!” Azhvarkadiyan said.

“We live in the palace and we have no idea of this passage. Never mind! Why didn’t you at that time tell us about this? Now, why have you left your aunt alone? Why are you here?” The junior stateswoman asked.

“The reason is my aunt’s stubbornness. She told me to leave saying that she can take care of the murderer.”

“Why? Why? Is there something more important? Did she send you for a specific reason?”

“Yes, Madam!”

“What is it, Girl?”

“Through her extraordinary ability my aunt must have found out that there is danger awaiting Ponniyin Selvar also. She told me to go to him.”

“Aha! You are looking for Ponniyin Selvar? Then, why did you stop here?”

“No, Devi. I’ll tell the truth. I have decided not to be a part of the affairs of the palace. I was going to Kodikarai; on the way this brave Vaishnavan saw me and brought me here! … If I knew that you were here I would not have come!”

“Girl! Why do you dislike the palace so much? Why don’t you like us? What did anyone do to you?” The junior stateswoman asked.

“No one did anything to me. I have no grievance against anyone. Just as how some people don’t like the throne I also don’t care for the palace life, that is all!” Poongluzhali directed a sideways glance toward Vanathi and smiled.

Singed, Vanathi furiously stepped forward. “Sister! Again she is insulting me. I am going to say this; please listen! I promise at your sacred feet. I promise in the name of the Sky-goddess and Mother Earth. If Ponniyin Selvar comes through this danger also, if he willingly takes my hand and marries me, if such good grace shall me mine – I promise I will never sit on the Thanjai throne. This is the truth! Sathiyam! Sathiyam!”

15. Roof Floated!

At that time no one had thought that Kodumbalur princess will make such a vow. All were stunned.

In a voice filled with anger and pity the junior stateswoman said, “Girl! What is this vow? Why did you make it? Is there anything more foolish than this? Caught in a rage you have let your mouth spill words!”

“No, Sister! No! I am not filled with rage. My mind is crystal clear. After thinking long and hard I have come to this conclusion. Today I said it publicly,” said Vanathi.

Before Kundavai could respond her attention was diverted to Poongkuzhali. Once and for all the girl appeared to have lost her mind. At first she laughed manically. Then she covered her face with her hands and began to sob. Then she abruptly stopped sobbing and began to sing in a faint voice,

“when even the sea with its waves is quiet
why does the inner sea heave so?”

Kundavai turned to Azhvarkadiyan. “These two women together will drive me insane. Thirumalai! You were on your way to see the prince. Why have you come back with this girl,” she asked.

“Devi! I was on my to see Ponniyin Selvar. I was stopped midway by the flood. I saw that this girl was faced with the same difficulty. She said that if I found a boat she would take me up to Thiruvarur. I decided to seek the astrologer’s help. When I saw outside your chariot equipped with a boat, I was so happy. I was thinking of borrowing the boat from you. But Pazhuvertariayar has taken the boat along with the chariot,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What do you think? You heard Pazhuvertaraiyar’s words!” Kundavai asked.

“Yes, Madam! After that every minute I waste here seems to stretch like an eon. According to this girl also, it appears that the emperor is facing some real danger. Even the chief minister is unaware of it. Therefore, please take the Kodumbalur princess and go to Thanjavur immediately. If in case Kodumbalur troops surround the fort no one can go past them except you. If Vanathi Devi is there that will also help. I will pacify this boatwoman, find a boat and go to Ponniyin Selvar. I have already sent the astrologer’s disciple to get me a boat,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Startled, Vanathi stood up. Her gaze was fixed on Azhvarkadiyan. “No, I won’t go! I won’t go! I will not go anywhere other than to Ponniyin Selvar! Even if I die I will die only at his feet,” she said.

Poongkuzhali responded in a clear voice. “Vaishnava! I cannot go with you! My lovers have summoned me to Kodikarai! My lovers who spit fire at midnight, are calling me! I have shown my lovers even to the Varnar tribe warrior, when he was carrying the letter for the princess. I must go to them!”

The astrologer who had until then been quietly listening in shock, interrupted. “Madam! Madam! Please! Everyone be quiet!” He shouted.

For a minute the sound of all talk ceased. Another sound that raised goosebumps over one’s skin – like the roar of the ocean during a storm – arose.

“Mothers! You chose this moment to visit this poor man’s hut! I foretold the fortune for all. But I didn’t send a warning to you!” The astrologer wailed.

“Sir! What is this? What new danger are we facing now?” Kundavai asked.

“Madam! My disciple did tell me this morning that the flood in arasalaru might break through the north bank. If arasalaru breaks, all that water will fall into Kaveri. If Kaveri breaks this poor man’s house will be submerged. This house is too close to Kaveri. Come! Come! Come outside!” The astrologer cried while he ran out.

Following him everyone ran out. Outside the frightened astrologer pointed, “There!”

In the southwest where he pointed, an otherworldly sight awaited them. They saw a verdant wall about half the height of a coconut tree – a wall that stretched long and curvy – roaring towards the house. In a second they knew that Kaveri bank was breached and the floodwater was advancing like a wall.

“Madam! Run! Run from here! We can stand on the tower of Amman temple. There is no other way! Fortunately Thirumalai had sent my disciple for a boat. Keep running!” The astrologer shouted as he ran.

Others followed him. Poongkuzhali’s aggression was no more. “Devi! Don’t worry at all. I have survived bigger floods!” She shouted as she ran. She reached the temple before the others and climbed to the top with ease.

In the meantime the flood had surrounded the temple also. Water was up to their knees. The astrologer and Azhvarkadiyan climbed up with difficulty. Kundavai and Vanathi alone were left below. Both tried to climb up. Poongkuzhali gave a hand to the junior stateswoman and pulled her up. Vanathi alone stood behind. Twice she tried to climb but her hand slipped on both attempts.

The two women on top tried to help her. Poongkuzhali took one of her hands and the junior stateswoman took the other. At that moment Vanathi looked up. She saw Poongkuzhali holding her hand. Immediately she flung her hand and freed herself from Poongkuzhali’s grip.

This agitation released her from Kundavai’s hold also. Vanathi went, ‘plop’ – into the water which was by then up to her neck. Her feet could not hold the ground; she floated in the water. The flood carried her along with it.

This happened in the blink of an eye. “Ah!” – those on top howled pitifully.

Within seconds the flood landed Vanathi on the astrologer’s roof. She held tightly to the roof. “Oh, good! This is safe!” She thought to herself.

Those on the tower also saw her on the roof. They also thought, “Good! She is safe. Once the boat arrives we will rescue her!”

“Don’t let go of the roof! Hold on tight!” They shouted. Vanathi held on tight. Within a short time it felt as if the roof was moving. “Adada! Is the house breaking?” Yes; the walls of the astrologer’s house were going down. But the roof did not go down. It began to drift with the flood.

Holding tightly to the roof, Vanathi floated. She turned and looked at the temple tower.

“Sister! I am going to see him. I am going to see Ponniyin Selvar. Mother Kaveri is taking me to him!” She shouted.

She hoped with her whole heart that the others, – especially Poongkuzhali – heard her.

The roof of the astrologer’s house kept moving with the floodwater. Vanathi rode along.

16. Poongkuzhali Leaped!

Those who have traveled in Cholanadu would have observed this special characteristic of its natural layout. When its rivers that make it the land of rice and abundance fill with water, the rim of the water is always on a raised plane compared to the ground on both sides. It is this topography that allows the rainwater to flow effortlessly toward the fields through irrigation channels.

In this situation, isn’t it a difficult task to make the floodwater stay within the riverbed? The naturally raised embankments on both sides must remain strong. Otherwise, the flood instead of going in the river’s path, will run like the rainwater that splatters forth in all four directions and turn Cholanadu into a useless waterlogged swamp.

In consideration of this, from ancient times the Chola kings were keen on the construction of sturdy banks for river Kaveri and her branch rivulets. Readers would know of history when Karikalvalavan brought prisoners from Eezhanadu after its loss in the war and engaged them in the construction of Kaveri’s bank.

To raise the level of water in Kaveri’s branch rivulets Chola kings constructed the stone-dam ten miles east of Srirangam. Because of the dam the water came up farther and was diverted into the branch rivulets.

In this manner the natural lay of the land was further enhanced by manmade design to turn Cholanadu even in ancient times into a place never lacking in water.

Just as nature endowed Cholanadu with such abundance, at times it also turned catastrophic.

Cyclones and storm winds appeared often in the sea east of Cholanadu. These winds traveled north along the eastern coast north to Krishnai – Kothavari estuaries, or Kalinganadu, producing rain that caused much damage. Sometimes the winds traveled directly overland westward. Incidents of devastating cyclones entering the interior between Kodikarai and Kollidam have been recorded in history. At times these cyclones grew fierce raising the tide and the sea, destroying the villages along the coast completely.

It is not fiction that Kaveripattinam known as Poompuhar was taken by the sea; it is an actual event backed by historical records.

When the river floods excessively sometimes the embankments do give in. Because the ground lay lower than the riverbed on both sides, when there was a breach the surrounding area would be inundated. The villages bordering the river would become submerged. At these times the temples nearby served as lifesaving shelters for the people.

History tells that Vijayalayacholan’s son Athitha Cholan erected one hundred and eight temples from the sakasya mountain where Kaveri originates to the place where the great river unites with the sea. Just as in ordinary times the temples serve as a place to worship god, Athitha Cholan may have wanted them to be lifesaving structures – so people could climb on the towers during times of flood and breach.

After a breach a river can also change course forever. From ancient historical records it can be seen that arisilaru, kudamurutti and such rivers have changed path and direction many times in this manner.

* * *

Now let’s get back to the time of our story. The cyclone that appeared when Parthipenthiran’s ship was returning to Cholanadu from Ilankai island, – after making Prince Arulmozhivarmar jump into the sea on account of Vandhiyathevan, proceeded along the coast to Kalinganadu and then disappeared.

But the cyclone that appeared while Arulmozhivarmar was staying at Nagaipattinam Soodamani viharam, after entering Cholanadu and wreaking havoc, went west. In one night, it made its presence known on both sides of Kaveri reaching Kongunadu the following day and then disappearing. Not only did it cause much damage in its path, it brought in its wake a torrential downpour. As it proceeded west the rainfall grew heavier. Therefore, beginning the next day flooding was excessive in Kaveri, Kollidam and their branch rivulets. Many broke their shores. The rain and the flood turned Cholanadu into a floodplain.

But these natural disasters did not leave the people of Cholanadu helpless and afraid. Since these disasters were common they were accustomed to dealing with them. For the time being they will climb on to a temple tower or other such elevated place to save their lives. Just as fast as the flood arrived it would soon drain also. After that they will carry on with their affairs. Those who lost their houses will soon rebuild with the help of their neighbors. They will not helplessly throw up their hands saying, “Aiyo! All gone!”

The people of Cholanadu in those days were self assured; they had no time for laziness or lethargy. Otherwise, how could they have constructed the wonders that even today are a source of astonishment for the world?

* * *

Everyone became worried when Vanathi slipped and fell into the water while trying to climb up to the temple tower. Soon their worries disappeared. When they saw her latching onto the roof of the astrologer’s house they were relieved. The junior stateswoman was excited. She always derived pleasure in placing Vanathi in difficult situations and assessing her reaction and performance. The junior stateswoman was keen that the woman who marries her heroic brother should not be lacking in courage or will power. To cultivate such a brave and daring personality Kundavai employed many tricks and trials. She was confident that her methods had delivered good results.

For instance Vanathi had of late overcome her fainting spells! Now a situation has arisen where Kundavai god-willing can test Vanathi’s courage without resorting to any of her tricks. Surrounded by water Vanathi remained perched on top of the roof. Is she afraid? Will she remain there without panicking until the astrologer’s disciple arrives with a boat? Yes; she will! No doubt! Won’t all the training of the past be of use now?

While Kundavai was thus contemplating Azhvarkadiyan said, “Madam! What is this? The roof appears to be moving!”

“There is something wrong with your eyes! The floodwater is moving; it makes it look as if the roof is moving,” answered Kundavai without conviction. She was having the same doubt and her face showed it.

“Madam! Look carefully!” Azhvarkadiyan said again.

“Aiyo! How dreadful,” cried the junior stateswoman.

“Astrologer! Will your disciple be here soon with the boat?” Azhvarkadiyan asked the astrologer.

“Enough! Enough! Enough relying on the astrologer and his disciple! Thirumalai! See if you can help Vanathi; or else, I will have to jump into the water! If anything happens to Vanathi, I will not live a moment longer!” Kundavai said.

“Madam! It is in times of trouble that we should not lose our patience. You are more than aware of this. To help the Kodumbalaur princess I am ever prepared to give my life; but it will have to produce results. If I start swimming without waiting for the boat, I can also latch onto that roof. Will the roof bear the weight of both Kodumbalur princess and me? Or will the roof go under taking both of us with it? We must think carefully …”

Poongkuzhali’s laughter broke through Azhvakadiyan’s monologue. “Before this brave Vaishnavar makes a decision, the life of Kodumbalur princess will be over,” she said.

When Azhvarkadiyan retorted, “If that happens this boatwoman will be very happy,” Poongkuzhali’s face exploded in anger.

Thirumalai continued. “But, Devi! Nothing of the sort will happen. Thirumal who slumbers atop a fig leaf while keeping the world safe will protect Vanathi also. Srimanthnarayanan who birthed himself as a fish, tortoise and swine to save this world will protect the Kodumbalur princess also! … There, see! The astrologer’s disciple is coming with the boat!”

There was really a boat where Azhvarkadiyan pointed. Against the thrust of the flood the boat was slowly making its way toward the temple. The roof where Vanathi was perched, on the other hand, was moving along with the flood. By the time the boat picked them up, she would have gone a long way, possibly disappearing from sight altogether.

Considering this outcome those standing on the temple tower shouted at the top of their lungs; they waved their hands trying to communicate with the astrologer’s disciple. Thinking that they are urging him to hurry the disciple rowed even faster.

Poongkuzhali turned to Kundavai. “Devi! Please allow me! I will swim up to the boat, turn it around and bring the Kodumbalur princess in it,” she said. Kundavai hesitated. She was aware that it was Poongkuzhali’s offer of a helping hand that landed Vanathi in the floodwater in the first place.

“Devi, trust me! It was my carelessness that left the princess in the water. Therefore, it is my duty to rescue her,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Girl! I trust you. It is Vanathi whom I don’t trust!” Kundavai responded.

“Aha! You mean that she might refuse to get into the boat with me? If that happens, once she is in I will jump off!” As she finished speaking Poongkuzhali jumped into the water. She sped towards the boat.

Kundavai looked at the astrologer. “Sir! Astrologer! I had so much faith in your science; today I have lost it!” She said.

“But it is today that I gained complete confidence. Devi! According to the Kodumbalur Princess’s horoscope, today she must face a great danger. I thought that perhaps it would be through Pazhuvertaraiyar. I was surprised when that did not happen. The danger took a different route. The princess will survive this calamity. Aha! Her otherworldly palm! Everything that I have said about her will take place. No doubt about that!” He said.

“Wonderful! Now, tell me – how is that possible? Even if Vanathi survives this calamity your prediction will not come true. Didn’t you hear her vow at your home a short while ago?”

“Whoever may make whatever vow, my prediction based on astrology will come true. If it does not, I will take all of my horoscope files and throw them into river Kaveri! This is my promise!” The astrologer vowed.

Azhvarkadiyan intervened. “Astrologer! Mother Kaveri did not wait for you to throw your files. She took them herself!” He said.

Stunned by the comical incongruity of his predicament the astrologer shook his head. “Yet, my prediction will come true,” he mumbled to himself.

17. The Elephant Pitched!

On the day before the incidents of the last few chapters took place, we left Prince Arulmozhivarmar as the guest of the Nagaipattinam people. After the festivities the prince set off on a decorated elephant. Countless number of people said, “We will come to Thanjai,” and followed him. That night the prince and the people accompanying him reached Thiru Arur.

Since the people of Thiru Arur had known about his visit, they gave him a royal welcome. People gathered in this ancient town from end to end. All four royal thoroughfares were filled with people to the extent that a grain of rice dropped from above could not land on the ground. Streamers made of palm fronds hung from doorframes. The officials had decorated Thiru Arur Chola palace also. They had prepared a feast not only for the prince but also for the people accompanying him.

The night before, Thiru Arur had also been on the path of the fierce storm. But the prince’s whirlwind of a visit had completely wiped out the memory of the previous day’s storm from the people’s consciousness. All over the streets there was singing and dancing, instruments playing, folk dance, puppetry, sword fighting and fencing – accompanied by wild cheering.

For the Chola tribe, the temple of Thiyagarajah temple in Thiru Arur ranked as next only to Thillaiampalam’s dancing Nadaraja Peruman temple. The tribe as such had lavishly provided for the temple. But Prince Arulmozhivarmar had not been to Thiru Arur until then. Therefore the temple administers insisted that he pay a visit to the temple. The prince did. As he was distracted by the circumstances surrounding him, his heart was not fully in the worship. Only when he was leaving at the end after receiving the devotional prasatham, he asked the temple folks, “How did this temple deity get the name Thiyagarajar?”

The temple men explained the hardships that the lord, Sivaperuman underwent for the sustenance of the beings of the three worlds. They told him about the travails that the Peruman who could make and break the three worlds undertook to aid his devotees. They told about the fasting and meditation in the graveyard. They told about him giving up that thavam and for the sake of the thevars marrying Umai. They told the story of god incarnating as a beggar, they told about him dancing at Thillaiampalam, and about him carrying mun for pittu and getting caned by the Pandya king.

They reminded Arulmozhivarmar that his ancestors once lived in this town of Thiru Arur where Thiyagaraja Peruman had taken residence, and about the miracle when Manu neethi Cholan sacrificed his own son for the sake of justice for a cow.

These tales made an impression in Arulmozhivarmar’s heart. The prince who had been marveling about the sacrifices of Lord Buddha now began to ponder about the histories that depicted Lord Sivaperuman as the ‘Thiyagamoorthi.’

He had also heard about the history in western nations of the man celebrated as the incarnation of god’s son being crucified for the wellbeing of the people. The more he thought the more he became convinced that man can attain godliness only through sacrifice. He became more and more disenchanted with the notion of those surrounding him to place him on the Thanjai throne. He started to think of a way to escape from their prison of affection.

After the visit to the temple the people of Thiru Arur honored the prince with a grand meal. Entertainment followed food. The prince pretended to enjoy their hospitality even though his mind was not fully there.

Around midnight the prince came to the Chola palace. Disturbing news awaited him there. Because of heavy rain west of Thanjai, there was flooding in Kaveri, Kollidam and their branch rivulets and there was breach of floodwater in many places. He was informed of the impossibility of continuing the journey across this land inundated with water. The suggestion was made that it was better to stay a day or two in Thiru Arur and resume after the flood drains. The prince disagreed. He was possessed by an urgency to reach Thanjai. Flooding and breaches could not place a damper on his longing. Yes; with this crowd of people and aids it will be difficult to travel. If he alone traveled by elephant the journey need not be postponed. There was no river on the way to Thanjai that was too deep for an elephant. Even if there was it was not a concern for the prince. He had never been afraid of water. River Ponni cared about him more than his own mother! Mother Kaveri who saved him from drowning when he was a child, won’t she now protect him?

The question was – how was he going to escape from this large crowd of people? Ponniyin Selvar was reminded of Ramar who chose the night to free himself from Ayothi’s adoring citizens. Why should not he also leave during the night? When people are sleeping! In any case he must inform the elephant-keeper to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The prince ordered the palace guard to summon the elephant-keeper. The guard came back immediately with the news that only the elephant was tied in the front and the elephant-keeper was missing.

“He may have gone to watch the entertainment in the streets. Bring him here once he returns! Or, send someone to look for him!” The prince ordered.

“Alright, King! There is a boatman Murugaiyan waiting at the entrance. He is adamant that he must see you immediately,” said the guard.

The prince regretted having forgotten about boatman Murugaiyan. He might even help him to escape secretly. He ordered the palaceguard to send him immediately.

As soon as Murugaiyan saw the prince he fell at his feet and began sobbing. It was not an easy task to comfort this foolish disciple and gather information from him, but nevertheless it had to be done. Murugaiyan explained the reason for his unhappiness. In a nutshell – Murugaiyan separated from his wife in Nagaipattinam itself. After reaching Thiru Arur he roamed the streets wondering if she might also be there. After spending most of the night searching, he finally spotted his wife with the elephant-keeper who had accompanied the prince, at the top of a lane that branched off from the royal thoroughfare. As soon as they entered the lane they started walking fast. Murugaiyan also followed. In the end they paused in front of a house. A man waiting there joined them. The three started walking. Murugaiyan was overcome with doubts and suspicions. He even began to doubt his wife’s character. He was in a fury to know the truth. Therefore he kept following them instead of joining them. They went past the village, walking across fields and crossing irrigation drains finally ending up in a graveyard. Murugaiyan was terrified. Yet he resolved himself to follow them and hide himself behind a tree.

The man who joined Rakamahl and the elephant-keeper applied ash all over his body and began to chant in a frightening voice. Then he said to the elephant-keeper, “Tomorrow morning your life is going to be in danger! Take precautions and save yourself!” Terrified the elephant-keeper asked, “What sort of danger? You have to tell me, otherwise what can I do?”

“The elephant will suddenly lose control! When you go near it, the elephant will push you down and start running! The people will think that you are the cause for the elephant’s erratic behavior. They will grab the goad from your hand and stab you with it,” said the magician. “Aiyayo! How can I save myself,” asked the elephant-keeper.

“Tomorrow morning, don’t go near the elephant,” said the magician. “How is that possible? I will face royal punishment,” the elephant-keeper cried. “Alright, come to my house. I will give you a prayed vest, wear it and go! Don’t take the goad,” said the magician. “Alright. Sir! Will the prince be in danger,” asked the elephant-keeper. “How can I say that? I will know only if the prince comes and asks me,” said the magician.

Murugaiyan did not want to wait there any longer. He came back running to warn the prince about the elephant’s anticipated rut.

After his story Murugaiyan began sobbing again.

“Appan! Why are you crying? You have warned me in time. I will take care of this,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“Sir! My wife’s involvement in this saddens me deeply. I don’t know what to think of Rakamahl. Old suspicions about her are now haunting me again,” said Murugaiyan.

“I will correct her. You don’t worry! Go back immediately! Somehow, find the elephant-keeper and bring him here,” said the prince.

After Murugaiyan left Ponniyin Selvar was immersed in thought. He tried to understand the significance of what Murugaiyan had seen and heard. He thought about what the junior stateswoman had said, about the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ motives, the Pandyanadu saboteurs’ conspiracy. This can be another of the saboteurs’ plans. Or it may be something absurd and insignificant altogether. Whatever it was he came to a decision about what to do the following morning. Then he slept peacefully.

The following morning he got up early and got ready for the journey. He came to the palace entrance. When the elephant saw the prince it raised his trunk and caressed him  affectionately. “The elephant will go crazy,” the magician had said according to Murugaiyan. There was no sign of craziness in the elephant.

“Where is the elephant-keeper?” The prince asked in a loud voice. Several voices responded at once with a shout of their own, “Where is the elephant?”

Like the prince people had gathered there early ready for the journey. The prince saw Murugaiyan caught among them unable to make his way to the front. When the prince raised his hand the people moved immediately and made way for him. Murugaiyan told the prince that after searching for a long time he finally found his wife the previous night, and that she completely denied going to the graveyard saying that Murugaiyan had lost his mind. He also said that he could not find the elephant-keeper.

“Don’t worry about it, Murugaiya! Undo the chain around the elephant’s feet!” The prince told him.

While Murugaiyan untied the elephant a voice was heard, “The elephant-keeper is here!” “He is here! He is here!” Several voices echoed.

The elephant-keeper came running with goad in hand. The crowd hastily made way for him.

“Oh, good!” Ponniyin Selvar exhaled a deep sigh as he turned and looked at the elephant-keeper.

Poor man! In one night how much he has changed! He appears so frightened!

With goad in hand the elephant-keeper went to the elephant and touched the animal with his other hand.

The elephant grabbed him by its trunk and swiveled him up. After bleating loudly to scare those around it flung the elephant-keeper vehemently. The elephant-keeper hit the ground at a considerable distance. The goad fell even farther away.

“A rutting elephant!” A frightening cry rose from the crowd. The people began to scatter and run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (10 – 12)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

10. Eyes Open!

After getting beaten up first in the river and later in the breach water Pazhuvertaraiyar was exhausted. He slept like a log for a long time. After an adequate amount of sleep, vague recollections and dreams began to circulate in his mind. In one instance Durga Parameshwari stepped out of her temple statue and took four steps towards him. With fiery eyes she said to him, “Aday! Pazhuvertaraiya! You and your tribe have been for generations under my wing. Therefore I am warning you. You have brought a woman to your house. That Nandhini is a monster reincarnated! She has come to destroy your tribe and the Chola tribe. She is abiding her time. Get rid of her from the palace and your heart! Or else, the reputation of you and your tribe will forever be tarnished!”

After giving this warning the goddess nimbly stepped back into her statue …!

Pazhuvertaraiyar woke up startled. His body was shaking. He had a difficult time believing that it was a dream. But … he knew, it had to be!

Morning had broken. The storm’s fury was down. Rain had stopped. ‘Cho!’ – the noise however continued. He walked to the courtyard and looked outside. What he saw was not comforting.

The break on the shoreline was now bigger. About half the floodwater from the river was gushing through the breach. The east and the south were inundated. On the west the water rushed forth rippling and curling around the temple. Beyond it lay the jungle thick with shrubs and stunted trees. He guessed that it was the forest next to Thirupurampayam village and somewhere in the middle of the forest would be the old pallipadai temple built to honor the battlefield death of Kanga king Pruthiveepathi.

He was reminded of the great war that had taken place there a hundred years ago. He also remembered his ancestors’ valorous performance in that war. Would Nandhini really shame such a glorified ancient tribe? Was there some truth in what Durga Parameshwari said in his dream?

Whatever it might be, he must from now on be very careful. He must find out what Nandhini’s secret was. First, he must make his way safely from here. If he reached Thirupurampayam village he could get some help there. Like him, someone else from the boat might have made his way there. But how would he cross the floodwater and reach Thirupurampayam village?

The water surrounded the temple as it gushed forth. It had the force to drag even an elephant in rut! How can he cross this? The water was surely burrowing its way around the temple. Who knew when the temple would come down! Only Durga Parameshwari had the power to save it. Even so, how would he leave from here? Who knew how many days it would take for this water to drain?

Fortunately, there was a way. In front of the temple was a big neem tree. It had somehow survived the storm. But the breach water was around the tree as well; burrowing in with rip currents. The tree was certain to fall ahead of the temple. If it fell it might bridge the water to the wooded area in the west. Even if that did not happen, the flood will carry the tree and lay it on some land. If he got on the tree when it fell, perhaps there would be a way out of here.

Until then he would have to remain in the temple. By the grace of the goddess he had food for one more day. He would have to wait here patiently for either the tree to fall or the flood to drain. What else could he do?

There was no use in being impatient. Devi Jaganmatha had saved him from dying in the flood because there were still great things to be accomplished by him. Therefore, Durga Parameshwari would lead him to the next step also! The day went by. Another night and day also did. The storm after wreaking havoc all over its path moved to the west.

Even the drizzling had stopped. But there was no relief for Pazhuvertaraiyar who was trapped in Durga Parameshwari temple. Kollidam flood appeared to have gone down. But the breach on the embankment kept getting bigger. The floodwater coursing around the temple had not gone down. It appeared to be getting deeper. How could he measure its depth? Or, could he even dream of swimming across this torrent of breach water?

Finally, at sundown that day just as Pazhuvertaraiyar had expected the neem tree fell. Fortunately the tree fell to the west across the water. Pazhuvertaraiyar got ready to cross to the other side. For a moment he wondered how he would find his way through the forest in the night. But his hesitation did not last for long. Deciding to leave he approached Durga Parameshwari’s sanctuary to thank her. He fell in front of her and worshiped.

At that time he heard a voice that made his hair stand on end. His first thought was that it was Durgai Amman speaking. But the sound came from outside.

“Magician! Magician!”

Again the same voice called, “Ravithasan! Ravithasan!” The voice sounded familiar.

Pazhuvertaraiyar rose to his feet. Hiding behind a pillar he looked outside. Across from the breach water at the other end of the fallen tree he saw a figure standing. The cry, “Magician! Magician,” reminded him of what his brother once told him. He wondered if by Durgadevi’s grace he was about to know a secret that had evaded him until then. So, he stood immobile.

He saw the figure walking on the neem tree to cross the water. Pazhuvertaraiyar did something strange that he would never have done normally. He lay down in the entrance hall of the temple. He pretended to be asleep.

The desire to find out more about the magician called Ravithasan had seized him. He must be the magician who sometimes visited Nandhini in the palace. What was his real relationship with Nandhini? Who was looking for him here, in this place, at this time? Why? The answer to these questions might tell him if Nandhini was betraying him! If Ravithasan got caught to him he resolved to find out the truth before letting him go.

The man came near Pazhuvertaraiyar who pretended to be asleep. Again, “Ravithasan! Ravithasan,” he called.

Aha! This voice? Isn’t it the voice of the folk dancer who performed once at Kadampoor palace, who foretold the future? Should he strangle his neck and force the truth out of him? No! He should wait. It was more important to catch Ravithasan using this man.

“Magician! You are sleeping even before sunset? Or, are you dead?” The man turned Pazhuvertaraiyar’s body to look at his face. Pazhuvertaraiyar lay still.

In the haziness of the twilight hour when sunset and dusk mingled together Thevaralan – (Yes, it was him,) saw Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face. He wiped his eyes and looked again. In a pitiful voice that showed fear, horror, surprise and disbelief he howled, ‘Oohh! Oohh,’ Oh! Oh,’ Ah! Ah,’ and ran from there!

Before Pazhuvertaraiyar could open his eyes and sit up, Thevaralan had in two leaps passed the sacrificial altar in front of the temple and reached the fallen neem tree. Not wasting a second even to look behind, he sprinted across the tree-bridge to reach the other side. Next second he disappeared into the dense forest heavy with trees and shrubs. Without batting his eyelids Pazhuvertaraiyar stared at the running man. Once he disappeared he was overcome with doubt whether it was a mistake to let the man run away. So he also jumped up and ran. He could not run on the tree-bridge as fast as Thevaralan. He had to go slowly holding on to the branches every now and then.

On the other side he saw a footpath through the forest. He looked at it carefully. There appeared to be footsteps in the mud. Deciding they were Thevaralan’s he followed. Even though it was a waxing crescent moon, because the sky was covered with clouds the place was dark. From the wilderness rose all manner of sounds. The creatures that had made the forest their home, after having suffered through the storm and rain shouted out their joy at seeing the rain end from their dwellings in a multitude of tones, pitches and melodies.

The footpath ended after some time. But Pazhuvertaraiyar did not want to stop. Even if he had to comb the jungle the entire night he was determined to go after Thevaralan whom he hoped would lead him to the magician Ravithasan. So wherever he saw a clearing through the vegetation he went through it. After wandering in the forest in this manner for almost a quarter of the night he saw a light in the distance. The light was moving like a flame torch being carried by someone.

He walked fast towards the light. He almost caught up with it.

Finally, after being raised to shed light on an old building the light from the flambeau disappeared. Pazhuvertaraiyar knew that the building was Pirutheevapathi’s pallipadai temple in Thirupurampayam. He went close to the pallipadai. Standing next to a wall he tried to eavesdrop.

Yes; his expectations were not in vain. He heard two men talking. Because they were talking in a loud voice he could hear them well.

“Magician! Do you know for how long I have been looking for you? I was worried if you could not make it, or if Yaman had taken you also,” said Thevaralan.

Magician Ravithasan laughed out loud. “Why would Yaman care about me? He is on the trail of Sundara Cholan and his two sons. Tomorrow night their lives will come to an end,” he said.

Right then there was lightening that lit up both sky and earth.

11. The Tower Falls

When lightening struck, Pazhuvertaraiyar had a good look at the two men. He had seen the man called Ravithasan once or twice in his palace. Nandhini had said that he was an expert in necromancy.

His brother Kalanthakakandan had warned him about this same magician. The other man was Thevaralan who danced the velanattam at Kadampoor palace. Is this the first time he is seeing this man? What is his real name? … Is that possible? Is he Paramechwaran who was fired by him a long time ago from government work? … Never mind; he ought to pay attention to their talk.

“Ravithasa! This is what you have been saying for a long time. ‘The day is here,’ ‘Yaman is closing in,’ – you blabber! Yaman is taking all sorts of people! But he is not taking Sundara Cholan who is bedridden for three years. His sons – Yaman is terrified to even go near them. Didn’t we try so hard in Eezhanadu? …”

“Nothing lost, Appan! Yamatharman is much more intelligent than you and me! He is waiting so he can take all three in one day. Tomorrow is that day. Fortunately, you are also here! You are a good messenger of Yaman! Why are you shaking like this? Did you get caught in the Kollidam flood? Did you bring the boat?”

“I did. But it was a tremendous effort to save the boat from the flood and the wind! How long it has taken me to find you! Ravithasa! You want to know why I am shaking? I just came face to face with Yamatharman. No, no; I saw Yaman’s elder brother. I was horrified …”

“Paramechwara! What nonsense are you talking? Yaman and his brother? Why do you have to be afraid of them? They should be afraid of you!”

When Ravithasan called the other man ‘Paramechwara,’ Pazhuvertaraiyar was startled. His suspicion was right! He also knew that it was him that the man referred to as ‘Yaman’s brother.’ He ached to wring the man’s neck and kill him at once. Because he wanted to hear more he controlled himself. They had not mentioned Nandhini’s name yet. What did the magician mean by saying that Yaman would visit Sundara Cholar’s family the next day? Was he really reading from horoscope? Was everything Nandhini said about his magical powers true? If perhaps by god’s will his word comes true? It would make his work easy! There would be no necessity to divide the Chola kingdom! But this Paramechwaran? What is his involvement here? Yes; yes; twenty years ago before leaving he had threatened, ‘I will destroy the entire Chola tribe,’ …! Aha! The man was talking about him! He should pay attention!

“Just like you told me I came here this morning. But you weren’t here. I searched all over thinking perhaps you got caught in the wind and rain. There is a small temple near the Kollidam breach. It looked as if someone was lying there. I wondered if it was you who was fast asleep. So I went closer to take a look, Whom do you think I saw? The elder Pazhuvertaraiyan himself …!”

The magician laughed out loud. ‘kreech kreech,’ the birds in the jungle called back. The dumb owls grunted.

“Did you see Pazhuvertaraiyan? Or his ghost?” Ravithasan asked.

“No. Not a ghost. He was sleeping with his face down. I rolled him over and took a good look at his face. Ravithasa! Can Yaman have two brothers? Just like Pazhuvertaraiyan, same face, same mustache, same scars – can there be another man with all these?”

“It was Pazhuvertaraiyan you saw! No doubt. Yesterday evening Pazhuvertaraiyan was crossing Kollidam in a boat. As the boat neared the shore it got turned by the wind. His people who survived and made it to the shore are still searching for him along the Kollidam riverbank. They were thinking that he may have drowned in the flood and died. When I went to look at the breach I heard them talking. So it is possible that you saw Pazhuvertaraiyan. Maybe it is his corpse, who knows?”

“No, no. A corpse would have its eyes open! When I rolled him over his eyes were closed. He seemed to be dead tired! …”

“Fool! What did you do? You just left him there? Why didn’t you drop a rock over his head?”

“You don’t know about Pazhuvertaraiyan’s head. If I drop a rock on his head, only the rock will shatter!”

“Then, you could have at least dragged him into the Kollidam breach water?”

“Didn’t I say already? When I saw him it was like seeing Yaman’s brother. When I did the velanattam in front of him at Kadampoor my heart was pounding, ‘thick! thick!’ If he had recognized me …”

“Why are you shaking now? That was months ago!”

“As long as he is alive I will be scared. I regret now. Like you said I should have rolled him into the flood …”

“No reason to regret. In a way it is good that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyan is alive. Only then the Chola petty kings will fracture and fight with each other after Sundara Cholan and his children die. The Pazhuvertaraiyars and the Sambuvaraiyars will be on one side, Kodumbalur Velan and Thirukovalur Malaiamman will be on the other side. They will fight. It will greatly facilitate our goal. While they fight among themselves we can be secretly gathering troops in Pandyanadu.”

“Ravithasan! Your talk is like, ‘If athai grows a mustache she becomes chithappa!’ For the Cholanadu leaders to clash among themselves, first – Sundara Cholan and his two sons must meet their end tomorrow! What is the guarantee that it will happen? Did you hear the news? …”

“What news?”

“It seems that Arulmozhivarman is alive and well in Nagaipattinam! People have surrounded him and are clamoring that he become the Cholanadu emperor! Did you hear that?”

Again, Ravithasan laughed. “No, I haven’t heard that, but I knew it! Whom do you think brought Arulmozhivarman out of his hiding place, the Buddhist monastery? Boatman Murugaiyan’s wife, our Revathasa Kiramavithan’s daughter Rakamaahl!” He said.

“So what? What is the use in having Arulmozhivarman surrounded by thousands of people? Our attempts never succeeded even when he had only two or three people with him out in Eezhanadu,” said Thevaralan.

“Didn’t I say that it worked in our favor? When Yaman is coming for the three of them on the same day …”

“Ravithasa! How will Yaman go near the prince when he is surrounded by thousands of people? You didn’t explain that …”

“He will, my friend, he will! Yaman will be seated at the tip of the goad! At the right moment he will take the prince’s life! Paramechwara! Chola people will seat the prince on an elephant and parade him into Thanjai. On the way the keeper is going to run into trouble. Our Revathasa Kiramavithan will take his place on the elephant. You can guess the rest!”

“Ravithasa! I agree that there is no comparison to your insight. We can trust Kiramavithan to finish what he has undertaken. What about Sundara Cholan?”

“I have left Soman Sambavan in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s basement. He has a spear. From there a passage leads to Sundara Cholan’s palace. I have even shown him the exact spot where Sundara Cholan is sleeping. Even a blind man can throw the spear from this place that I have selected. I have also told Soman, ‘Don’t be in a hurry; wait until tomorrow!’ …”

“What for? Isn’t it better to finish it off if the opportunity arises?”

“Fool! If Sundara Cholan is killed earlier won’t the sons be on alert? What use is it anyway, a sick old man’s death? Never mind that; what news have you got? What’s about to happen in Kadampoor tomorrow is more important than anything else!”

“It’s all very festive in Kadampoor. With marriage talk, love is in the air. I just don’t like you relying on that Pazhuvur Rani so much …”

“Is she Pazhuvur Rani? Call her Pandimadevi! Have you forgotten that two days before he died Veera Pandyan made her his queen? Have you forgotten her promise to seek revenge for Veera Pandyan’s death? Didn’t she a week ago at this very place receive Pandya tribe’s victory sword from the Pandya son?”

“Yes, yes! But you should have seen your Pandimadevi yesterday, after spending an afternoon happily at Veeranarayana lake …”

“Instead of being happy, how else should she be? There is no one who has mastered the art of hiding their real self than Nandhini. If not, could she have survived in Pazhuvertaraiyan’s palace for three years? Could she have helped us from inside there? By the way, you said that you saw Pazhuvertaraiyan at Kollidam Durgai Amman temple! I also heard about his boat capsizing. When did Pazhuvertaraiyan start from Kadampoor? Why?”

“I am not sure. What I heard was that he would bring Mathuranthaka Thevar back with him. Pazhuvertaraiyan left yesterday morning. After he left the princes went hunting. The princesses went to Veeranarayana lake to bathe. You will not be so confident if you had seen the joyous sight of the princes and princesses returning …!”

“You don’t worry about it at all. The fact that Pazhuvertaraiyan was sent to Thanjai speaks volumes about Pandimadevi’s heart!”

“Who can be sure about a woman’s heart? The reason that old man was sent home could be for revenge, or romance …”

“What are you blabbering, Paramechwara? Nandhini has completely forgotten that old episode. She hates Karikalan like poison!”

“I am not talking about Karikalan. I am talking about his messenger, Vandhiyathevan. Have you forgotten that Nandhini let him escape more than once?”

The magician laughed out loud. “Yes; very soon it will be clear why Vandhiyathevan’s life was spared. When that comes out don’t think that you will be the only person in for a surprise! There are many more people who will be surprised! Especially, Sundara Cholar’s beloved daughter Kundavai will be surprised. Won’t she be, when it comes out that the handsome young man who stole her heart is the culprit who killed Athitha Karikalan?” He asked.

“What are you saying, Ravithasan? Is Vandhiyathevan actually going to do it? Is he on our side?”

“Don’t ask questions! Does it matter whose hand it is? The victory sword bearing the Pandya fish emblem is going to do the job. The blame will fall on Vandhiyathevan. What do you say now about our Rani?”

“Let the drama unfold. Ask me then and I will tell you!”

“Whatever may not happen one thing is certain. Tomorrow night Karikalan’s story will be over. Nandhini will finish what she has undertaken. We too must do our work …”

“What is our work?”

“Tomorrow night we must wait in the underground passage that exits from Kadampoor palace. Once the job is over Nandhini will come through that. Before the night is over we must reach Kollimalai with her. We will wait there and observe the turmoil in Cholanadu. If it is convenient …”

“If it is convenient …?”

“We must take all the treasure lying in Pazhuvertaraiyan’s basement room via the tunnel. How fitting it is to prepare for war against Cholanadu with money stolen from the Chola treasury?” Ravithasan laughed.

Paramechwaran who acted as Thevaralan said, “Alright, alright! Don’t go too high with those castles in the air! First, let’s cross Kollidam and reach Kadampoor. Let the Kadampoor saga unfold as you have planned. Then we will think about emptying Pazhuvertaraiyan’s treasury. What do you say? Shall we start? We’ll cross Kollidam in the night?”

“No, no! When the sun rises we will take the boat. The wind would have slowed by then. The flood also will be down a little.”

“Then, we will sleep in the pallipadai hall for the night?”

Ravithasan was thinking. From not too far away came the sound of foxes howling. Ravithasan’s body trembled.

“Ravithasa! Why do you shudder like this for some pitiful fox?” Thevaralan asked.

“My friend! You will not talk like this if you had been buried up to your neck in Kodikarai quicksand; and experienced the horror of a hundred foxes surrounding you waiting to feast on you! I do not fear the roaring lion or the elephant in rut. But when I hear the fox it is visceral. Come! Come! Let’s not spend the night in the graveyard. We will go to a temple or inn near a village. Or else, you mentioned the Durgai temple on Kollidam riverbank? We will go there. If that old man is still sleeping there we will drag him into the flood. We will be doing him a favor. If he happens to be alive day after tomorrow, he will have his heart broken!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was listening to them as best as he could. Every word of theirs went down his ears like molten lead. His heart fumed like a volcano about to erupt. He felt ashamed and hurt, knowing that the woman he fell in love with and married was there to avenge Veera Pandyan’s death and that she had deceived him for the past three years.

Pazhuvertaraiyar reminded himself of the relationship between the Chola tribe and the Pazhuvur tribe that had been forged over six generations. In fact, who exactly were Sundara Cholan and his children? After all, Sundara Cholan’s grandmother herself had come from the Pazhuvur tribe. It was only in recent times he had become aggravated by Sundara Cholan’s children. Just because of Athitha Karikalan’s childish behavior and his dislike of Malaiamman, what atrocious schemes he had lent his hand to? He had allowed the Chola tribe’s arch enemies, the Pandya saboteurs to work from the palace, using wealth stolen from his treasury! Aha! As these rascals said would there really be three gruesome killings tomorrow night? As long as he had breath in his body he would stop it. There were still sixty nazhikai left. A lot could be done. He ought to leave during the night itself, reach Kudanthai and send word to Thanjai and Nagaipattinam. After that he would go to Kadampoor. Before these scoundrels reached Kadampoor he ought to be there …

Why let them go to Kadampoor? Won’t it be better to finish these rascals off here? He had no weapon, so what? His hands were as good as vajrayutham. Why would he need any other weapon? These fellows would have knives tucked in their waist. He would strangle them before they could even reach for their knives.

But, was it prudent to fight with them here? “I have found out the information I was after. Our goddess Durga Parameshwari herself has toppled the boat and brought me here to reveal these terrible secrets. My most important duty is to protect the emperor and his sons from danger! And most of all, I must stop any harm to Karikalan in Kadampoor. If anything happens to him the blame will forever be on me and my family. All the past glory of Pazhuvur tribe’s service to the Cholars over so many generations will bite the dust. If Karikalan is killed by the monster whom I believed to be a woman and brought to my palace, nothing more shameful can ever happen to me!”

“Aha! Inside that beautiful form can there be such poisonous venom? Can such deceit be hiding behind that bewitching smile? Is it really true, what these rascals said?”

The saboteurs’ words that ignited an angry fire in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s heart, in a way provided him a little satisfaction also. Nandhini might be treacherous. She might have fooled him and betrayed him saying that she loved him. But she did not betray him out of some carnal longing for Karikalan or Kanthmaran or Vandhiyathevan! She did not care about those foolish little boys. She was only using them for her end!

This deduction subconsciously gave some satisfaction to Pazhuvertaraiyar. It was important to prevent the murder of Karikalan not only to protect his family’s reputation and his; but also for saving Nandhini from such a cruel misdeed. Perhaps it would be possible to change her mind. Because she was trapped by these saboteurs she could be going along with them! If these men were killed here perhaps Nandhini would have her freedom …?

Carried away by these thoughts the brave old man forgetting his surroundings cleared his throat. Like a lion’s roar the sound startled the two saboteurs.

“Who is there?” Thevaralan whose real name was Paramechwaran asked.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stepped outside knowing that it was neither possible nor prudent to remain hiding anymore.

As the two saboteurs stood astounded by the sudden appearance of this tall large figure in that darkness of the rainy season, Pazhuvertaraiyar laughed savagely. The sound of his laughter shook the entire jungle. “It’s me, Yaman’s elder brother,” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Ravithasan and Thevaralan tried to run. But Pazhuvertaraiyar did not leave any room for that. With his long arms he grabbed both of them. His right hand held Ravithasan’s neck. His left hand held Thevaralan’s arm. His grip, stronger than vajrayutham left the two men helpless.

However strong his hands were Pazhuvertaraiyar knew that he could not fight both men at the same time. He pushed Thevaralan down, with his face to the ground. Keeping one leg on the back of the fallen man he began to squeeze Ravithasan’s neck with both of his hands. But Thevaralan did not just wait. Struggling, he was able to pull out a knife from his waist. He tried to stab the leg that was pressing him down. Pazhuvertaraiyar saw it. With his other leg he kicked Thevaralan’s wrist vehemently. The knife flew and landed far away. Thevaralan’s hand became limp and lifeless. But the leg that was pressing him down moved ever so slightly. In that fraction of a second Thevaralan wriggled himself out and jumped up. Making a fist with his good hand he began to pummel Pazhuvertaraiyar. His punches fell on a granite rock. It was Thevaralan’s hand that hurt. It seemed that it would end up like his other hand.

Meanwhile, Ravithasan tried hard to remove Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hands from his neck; it was of no use. The old man’s iron grip did not budge. Ravithasan’s eyes started to bulge. Feebly he cried, ” Thevarala! Quick! Hurry! Climb on the temple! Push the tower down!”

Thevaralan ran and climbed on to the pallipadai temple’s tower. They had already observed a wide crack on the temple’s tower. If that part of the granite moved even a little the tower would come down crashing. Following Ravithasan’s cue, Thevaralan pushed the cracked ledge of the tower with all his might. When the structure crashed it pulled down a tree also with it.

Pazhuvertaraiyar knew that the tower was about to fall. He took one of his hands from Ravithasan’s neck and tried to shield himself from the falling tower. With the greatest difficulty Ravithasan seized that moment to get away from his hold. The tree and the tower fell over Pazhuvertaraiyar. Hit on his head, Pazhuvertaraiyar became unconscious.

12. Thoomakethu Disappeared!

After a long time when Pazhuvertaraiyar’s memory slowly returned he saw that he was in a brutal battlefield. ‘Jana jana’ – swords clanged. From one side blared the victory trumpets. With them a thousand voices shouted, “Long live the great Rajathiraja Pandya king! Death to Pandya enemies!’

From another side thousands of voices cried, “Kanga king has fallen! Run! Run!” Some voices cried to stop those from running.

All of a sudden there was silence in the battlefield. Pazhuvertaraiyar looked around. Vijayalaya Cholan who had lost both his legs entered seated on the shoulders of a tall well-built man. He was carrying a giant sword in each hand.

“Chola warriors! Stop! Pallavar men! Don’t run! At six or a hundred, death awaits! Follow me! We will massacre our enemies,” he shouted.

The Chola and Pallava warriors stopped when they heard his words. Fear and fatigue disappeared from their faces. Hope and audacity returned. Those who were retreating began to advance. Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at Vijayalaya Cholan who had brought about this amazing change. He also looked at the soldier on whose soldiers he was seated. Wonder of wonders! He saw that the soldier was himself. That Pazhuvertaraiyar, with his one hand holding Vijayalaya Cholan and his other hand brandishing a long sword, penetrated the enemy front. Wherever the two went, Pandya heads rolled.

The war had completely changed. Pandya garrison scattered and ran. The Cholars and Pallavars won. Victory drums thundered. Vijayalaya Cholar was seated in front of the Pallava emperor! Pazhuvertaraiyar stood next to him. Pallava emperor told the Chola king, “Mighty warrior! Today defeat turned into victory because of you. From now on Cholanadu is free! You and your brave son Athithan and your descendants will forever rule Cholanadu as free kings!” Vijayalaya Cholar said to Pazhuvertaraiyar who was standing next to him, “Athan! We won because of you. I appoint you as the free Cholanadu’s commander and treasurer. Your descendants will be treasurers and commanders as long as they are loyal to the Chola tribe!” The scarred face of Pazhuvertaraiyar beamed.

Then suddenly the face turned angry. The old Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at the new Pazhuvertaraiyar. “You rascal! You wretched cutthroat! The axe-handle who came to ruin my tribe! You ruined the reputation that we had built over six generations! You betrayed your friend! You betrayed your master! You took into your house the arch enemies of the Chola tribe! You gave them money! It is you who has brought about the demise of the Chola tribe! May you perish! The shame that you have brought on yourself and your tribe will not go away until the end of time!” He cursed. Tears poured from the eyes of the Pazhuvertaraiyar who was being cursed.

After that several other Pazhuvertaraiyars appeared. Each one described his valorous acts. Each one cursed Pazhuvertaraiyar. Then all of them together cursed him. “Cutthroat! You betrayed your tribe and the kingdom! You ruined the fame that we earned sacrificing our lives! What were you thinking?” They said.

The Pazhuvertaraiyars disappeared. Kodumabalur Velirs and Thi\rukovalur Malaiammans appeared. They surrounded Pazhuvertaraiyar who stood alone. “Cheechee! Do you call yourself a man? You called yourself and your ancestors stalwarts of the Chola tribe! Now, what do you say? You have turned out to be their Yaman! Traitor! Where is your dignity?” They laughed boisterously.

The Chola citizens who gathered behind them began to throw rocks and dirt at Pazhuvertaraiyar. At that time emperor Sundara Cholar parted the crowd and came walking on his weak legs. He looked angrily at the Velirs, Malaiammans and others. “Cheechee! What are you doing? You are throwing rock and dirt on the heroic warrior, Pazhuvertaraiyar? You are calling him a cutthroat? My tribe and I will be destroyed by Pazhuvertaraiyar’s betrayal? So what? No one has the right to blame him! Treasurer! Come with me to the palace,” he said. The crowd dispersed. Sundara Cholar also disappeared. Brother Kalanthakakandar alone stood in front of Pazhuvertaraiyar. “Brother! The emperor trusted us! How can you betray him? Is it right to shelter the female demon who came to destroy his tribe?” He said. Then he also disappeared.

Vandhiyathevan, Kanthamaran and other young men surrounded Pazhuvertaraiyar. “Gray mustached old man! Why hasn’t your desire turned gray? Your lust for women has ruined you! What are your sixty four scars saying now? Are they the symbol of valor? Or, are the worm infested wounds the payment for betrayal?” They laughed out loud. Pazhuvertaraiyar tried to draw his sword out to kill them. But the sword was missing from its place.

Now, Kundavai appeared. She raised her hand to silence the young men. “Grandfather! Don’t pay any attention to their mockery. Chase that poisonous serpent who masquerades as a woman from your palace! Then all will be set straight,” she said. As the young men and Kundavai disappeared, women from Pazhuvertaraiyar’s tribe began to arrive. Ten, then hundred, then a thousand women from six generations surrounded him. “Aiyayo! Is this your fate? Did you have to bring this charge on our heads? We sent our husbands and brothers; our sons whom we carried in our wombs, to the Chola battlefields! They shed their blood and gave their lives to bring fame to the Pazhuvur tribe! In a second you have destroyed everything!” They wailed.

“Women! Please shut your mouths and go back to the anthapuram! No infamy will be caused by me!” Pazhuvertaraiyar answered with difficulty. The women pointed to Yamatharmarajan arriving on his bull with spear and noose in hand. He said, “Pazhuvertaraiya! Greetings! You helped me take the lives of Sundara Cholan and his two children in one day! Thank you very much for that!”

“No, no! I did not help you; I will not! I will stop you! Yaman! Stop! Stop!” Pazhuvertaraiyar screamed. He tried to chase Yaman. But something very powerful was holding him back. A great weight lay over him. He could not budge from where he was.

“You see! We were right,” the Pazhuvertaraiyar women wailed. The sound of their wailing grew louder minute by minute. Pazhuvertaraiyar could not bear it. He tried to speak. But his voice did not carry above the crying and the wailing. He tried to cover his ears. But he could not move his hands.

With the greatest effort he pulled one hand out. The effort forced his eyes to open. In a flash his memory returned. He realized that he was waking up from a nightmare. But the wailing however continued. He listened carefully. It wasn’t women wailing. It was the sound of foxes howling!

He remembered the conversation that took place when he laid there semiconscious.

“The old man is dead!”

“Look carefully! Pazhuvertaraiyan’s life is very sound. Even Yaman will be afraid to come near him!”

“But the foxes won’t be. Whatever life is remaining they will take care of it. When the sun comes up only the old man’s bones will remain.”

“You pushed the tower at the right moment. Or else, this here will be me. The old man would have killed me!”

“Where? Let’s see if this moves!”

Then, “Not a bit! From one enemy’s pallipadai we made the tomb for another.” The magician’s laughter had followed.

“Enough with the jokes, come! The boat is going to tear off with the river’s flow. After that we cannot cross Kollidam!”

***

Remembering this conversation Pazhuvertaraiyar took stock of his situation. Yes; a portion of the pallipadai tower was on top of him. It’s weight was pressing him down. But he was able to breathe! How?

Fortunately, the tree that fell with the tower lay over his shoulder while the tower was over the tree. It was the tree that had saved his life. If the tower had fallen directly on him his head and chest would have been flattened. The old man was astounded at the strength of his body. He realized that even after bearing this weight for so long his life persisted. But is it possible to continue, however sound his life may be?

Yes; he must by whatever means save his life. And then he must save the Chola tribe. If he did not, his tribe would forever carry the blame – that much was certain. His ancestors would curse him in the next world also. Therefore he must lift this tree and move from under the building. Aiyo! Who knew how long he had been lying here? The terrible events that he wanted to prevent, would they have happened already?

Meanwhile the foxes were coming nearer and nearer. He could hear their panting beside his head. Aha! Pazhuvertaraiyar had become weak even for these foxes? Let’s see! Pazhuvertaraiyar used both of his hands. Using all the strength that remained he tried to lift the tree. As the tree lifted up slowly, the tower lying over it began to slide. His grunts kept the foxes at bay.

After a half hour that seemed like an eon his work paid off. The tree and the granite budged a little, freeing him. Exhausted by the effort, he lay there staring at the sky exhaling deeply. Because several trees had been downed by the storm the sky was clearly visible from where he lay. No dark clouds covered it. Like sparks of diamonds countless number of stars glittered playing peekaboo while light clouds moving fast in the process of dispersing covered and uncovered the stars. As Pazhuvertaraiyar watched, his attention was drawn to the unusual shape of a star that suddenly appeared in the north. Adada! Had thoomakethu, that even a few days ago appeared with a long tail, shrunken to this state? On one end of the star was a hazy white extension that was about a foot long. Why was the tail that even ten days ago extended right across the sky from corner to corner now so small? …

Taking his eyes off from the sky he looked around him. He saw that the foxes had not gone away! There were about ten, or twenty, or fifty of them. In the dark their eyes lit like smoldering ember. Perhaps they were waiting for the old man to die! Let them wait! Let them wait! At least they are showing that much of respect towards Pazhuvertaraiyan! …

Suddenly the sky, the earth, and the entire forest area lit up. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes were nearly blinded. It wasn’t lightening. What was it? He looked at the sky. He saw a brightly lit flame traveling diagonally across the sky. Its brightness overwhelmed his eyes. After closing his eyes for a second he opened them again. The flame had become smaller; gradually its light grew dim; and then it disappeared altogether. Once again darkness surrounded.

Wondering what this strange phenomenon was Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at the sky again. He looked at where the shrunken thoomakethu had been. It was not there any more. Aha! It was thoomakethu that fell. What did this mean? What was its significance? It was a sign that something terrible was about to happen in the world. It was a sign foretelling of danger to someone in the royal family. When a long tailed star fell the death of a member of the royal family would follow. This was a longstanding belief among people. There were those who denied it. The truth or consequence would be known tomorrow. Tomorrow? No! Today, it would be known …! The eastern sky was brightening! It would soon be morning! Before tonight three unbelievably terrible events might take place in three different places. He was the only one who had this information. He was the only one who had the power to stop these events. If he succeeded he would have won over even the bad omen of thoomakethu’s demise. If not … Pazhuvertaraiyar could not even imagine it. He ought to act! He ought to save the three Chola men.

His first and most important duty was to save Athitha Karikalan! If he was harmed the blame would fall directly on his head. Therefore he ought to cross Kollidam and reach Kadampoor at once. Before that he ought to go to Kudanthai and send a warning to Thanjai and Nagai. That was all that he could do. Beyond that, fate would play its hand.

Pazhuvertaraiyar tried to get up. His entire body was sore. There was an unbearable pain on his chest where the tree had fallen. He felt as if one of his legs was fractured. All over his body, there were numerous wounds.

The brave old man did not mind any of this. Clenching his teeth he stood up with great effort. He looked around. Fortunately by that time the foxes that had been waiting for his death had run away. Perhaps they were unnerved by the flood of light thoomakethu’s fall produced!

He tried to deduce in which direction the city of Kudanthai lay. Then he started walking carefully, firmly planting his feet. Fallen trees lay all over the way. A wilderness of floodwater awaited following the rain and the Kollidam breach. Without heeding these obstacles Pazhuvertaraiyar walked. His body’s troubles were overshadowed by his mind’s anguish. Two jamams after sunrise he reached Kudanthai. He did not want to go to the town’s center. People would be curious about the state of his appearance. They would surround him asking, what? – and why? He would not be able to do his work quickly or effectively.

Therefore, he ought to find someone at the edge of town, somewhere where there would be no crowds and send a letter to Thanjai and Nagai. Then he must find a ride and reach Kadampoor. He remembered the astrologer who lived near Durgai Amman temple. It was a rather isolated place without any houses nearby. The astrologer, a sweet natured man, would be the right person. The royal family and the chief minister knew him. Did that matter? Anyone would do this. Perhaps because he knew them personally the astrologer would be more eager to help. Aha! He could also test at this time if the astrologer really knew astrology, and if there was any truth in astrology.

Pazhuvertaraiyar walked towards the Amman temple. The big tall tree beside the temple had fallen down for the storm. Beside the tree and the temple was a chariot with two horses. Its design drew Pazhuvertaraiyar’s attention. The front part of the chariot was constructed like a boat. Such vehicles were generally used during a flood. If caught in a big river during flooding the boat could be disengaged from the chariot. Horses, untied would swim to shore. Those in the chariot would row the boat to shore.

Such vehicles were rare in Cholanadu. Whose was it? It ought to be from the royal palace. Or it could belong to the chief minister. Perhaps its occupants were inside the astrologer’s house consulting about their horoscope! Who could it be? Should he ask the driver of the vehicle? No! His appearance might unsettle him. It was best to simply go in. Whoever was inside, he could borrow their chariot. It would help him to reach Kadampoor!

When Pazhuvertaraiyar stood on the doorstep he heard a female voice coming from inside the astrologer’s house. It sounded like the junior stateswoman. The old man was astounded. Why would she be here? At this time … His disappointment soon gave way to hope. If he could explain the danger awaiting her father and two brothers that intelligent girl would take necessary action. The weight on his shoulder would be lifted. After that he would go peacefully to Kadampoor. His main responsibility lay there!

When Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the astrologer’s house, the guard – the astrologer’s disciple whom we have seen on a previous occasion – stopped him. In the state that Pazhuvertaraiyar was in, the guard did not recognize him. Therefore he sternly said, “Stop!” Pazhuvertariayar replied with a grunt and shoved the guard aside by his neck. The disciple took a sommersault and landed on the street. Sending tremors through the earth like an elephant in rut Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the astrologer’s house.

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (7 – 9)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

7. People Rejoice

Boatman Murugaiyan was stunned by his wife’s cry. He shook his hands at her in vain to signal her to calm down. Exasperated he said, “Woman! What are you blabbering? Are you insane?”

“I am not insane. You are insane, your father is insane, your grandfather is insane. Don’t you recognize him? You can’t recognize the brave warrior who conquered Eezham, who drove king Mahinthan to the hills? You can’t recognize the emperor’s beloved son whom Chola citizens consider the apple of their eyees; the divine son whom Mother Kaveri brought back? If you can’t, why are you accompanying this man? Where are you going?” Rakamaahl said.

The prince interrupted. “Woman! You have mistaken me for someone else. I am a merchant from Eezhanadu. He is my guide. Who is he to you? Is he your husband? If you like, take him! Please don’t shout unnecessarily,” he said.

Meanwhile a crowd had surrounded them. Minute by minute it grew larger. Everyone was staring at the prince.

Rakamaahl shouted louder than before. “Ah! God! What is going on? Has Ponniyin Selvar lost his mind? When you drowned in the sea did you lose your memory? Or, have those evil Buddhist monks cast their magic spell and made you believe that you are someone else? Or – Aiyayoh! Can that be? After you died has someone taken possession of your body, playing the trick, jumping from cage to cage? That cannot be! Crown Prince! Think, please! You are not a merchant. You are the beloved son of Sundara Chola emperor. You were born to rule the world under one mantle. If you have doubts please take a look at your palm. There will be sankuchakra lines!”

Prince Arulmozhivarmar covered both of his ears with his hands. “Woman! Can’t you shut your mouth and be still,” he told Rakamaahl. To Murugaiyan he said, “What is this hassle? Can’t you stop her from screaming?”

Murugaiyan whispered in his wife’s ear, “Rakamaahl! Please bear with me! Be quiet! The prince does not want anyone to recognize him. He is going to Thanjavur dressed like a merchant!”

“Oh, you son of a sinner! Why didn’t you say so? You told me that the prince was not in the Buddhist monastery! You are pulling the same trick now! Aiyayoh! My blunder! I care too much, so I blurted out! The cursed Pazhuvertaraiyars are waiting to take their revenge on you. Knowing that, oh! – what have I done? I have made your presence here public! Prince! Please do not be afraid. The Pazhuvertaraiyars cannot hurt even an atom of your body. Like my husband and myself, thousands of people are on your side waiting to protect you,” she said. Turning to the crowd she asked them, “Don’t you all agree with me? Is anyone here on the side of the Pazhuvertaraiyars? Then, please come forward! Kill me first and then think of harming the prince,” she howled.

The crowd that was until then watching incredulously began to chant, “Long live Ponniyin Selvar! Long live the mighty warrior who conquered Eezham!” Hearing their voices more people joined the crowd. Among them was the enperaya leader of Nagaipattinam. Making his way through the crowd he said, “Prince! We heard that you were at this city’s Soodamani viharam. We did not believe the rumor, but now we know. Yesterday’s storm has wreaked havoc in this town. But it made you leave that Buddhist viharam. For that, we will forget all the tyranny of the storm. The city is fortunate to be graced by your presence!”

The prince saw that it was no use trying to hide himself any longer. “Sir! I thank everyone in this great city for their love. It makes me very happy. But I have to go to Thanjavur for an important reason. It is urgent. To avoid any delay I put on the disguise of a merchant. Please bid me farewell,” he said.

“No, no! The prince must wait and accept the poor people’s hospitality for at least a day,” a voice shouted from the crowd.

Following it a thousand voices rose. “No, no! The prince must wait here at least for a day,” they shouted.

“Crown Prince! Do you see the love and enthusiasm of my town’s people? You must be our guest and receive our homage. Aren’t we as deserving as the Buddhist monks? Yesterday, the people of this city, thinking that the Buddhist monks were keeping you hidden, were about to raze Soodamani viharam to the ground. The storm arrived at that time! It did what they failed to do. The viharam has crumbled to the ground,” he said.

“Sir! It is not right to blame the monks. The bikkus had me there because I needed them. When I was ill and pleading for dear life they saved me from Yaman’s loving noose. I am sorry to hear that Soodamani viharam succumbed. It is my duty to rebuild it,” the prince said.

“Aha! We had no idea about your illness! Now that we do, we will rebuild Soodamani viharam. Prince! You must be our guest before leaving,” said the enperaya leader.

“Yes, yes!” Tens of thousnads of voices echoed the leader.

“Prince! We can make up for the delay here. You have started out on foot. All the roads are blocked because of the storm. The rivers are flooded. On foot, when will you reach your destination? We will put you on an elephant and send you in a procession. We will all come with you and leave you in Thanjavur,” said the enperaya leader. While he was speaking more and more people were joining the crowd.

The prince was thinking. ‘The plan is ruined. The secret is out. Rakamaahl foolishly screamed and ruined the plan. Was it just foolishness? … Or, is there another motive? In any event, it is impossible to ignore these people. Their feelings will be hurt. In addition it may make matters worse. I must stay at least until noon and pacify them. I can also say a few words to alleviate the fears of those affected by the storm. Aha! The junior stateswoman Kundavai predicted that there will be turmoil in the country if they knew that I was alive! How accurate that was! There is no one as erudite as my sister in this world! They talk about Thanjai’s throne. Actually it is Kundavai who should have it! …’

While Ponniyin Selvar was thus contemplating he saw the crowd becoming bigger. He also saw how excited they were. They appeared to forget the storm’s devastating effects. From out of the blue elephants and horses; carriages and palanquins; banners, flags, and musical instruments such as kettle drums, trumpets and cornets appeared on the scene.

The prince decided to at least spend half the day there. He told the enperaya leader, “Sir! I don’t want to reject the people’s affection. I will remain here until late afternoon. Would you let me do that?”

The crowd was overjoyed when news spread that the prince had agreed to delay his journey. They took it on themselves to show their happiness. Music blared. On the streets people gathered in pockets around artists staging sword fights, fencing, folk dances and other entertainment. It became impossible to go back to the Chola palace through the crowd and the street festival. With the greatest difficulty they finally did.

In the palace the prince could not rest even for a minute. The news of his presence had spread to neighboring villages. People came in droves. All wanted to see the prince. He went outside often and inquired after their wellbeing. With genuine sympathy he walked through the crowd asking about their experience with the storm. He promised to make arrangements to help them as soon as he was in Thanjavur. He saw that the people weren’t really interested in their material loss. He heard the people asking one another, ‘Will the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ power come to an end?’ They spoke about the emperor’s declining health and who might succeed him to the throne in low voices, but clearly intended for the prince’s ears.

Meanwhile the city leaders arrived. Preparations got underway for a feast in honor of the prince. Arrangements were made to provide food for the crowd also. Whatever grain that did not get washed off with the storm was brought. There was no shortage of vegetables. From the fallen trees there were heaps of plantains and coconuts to feed a hundred thousand people!

***

The meal was over and it was time to leave. Holding his palms together in greeting the prince appeared on the front balcony. On the street a procession stood ready to take off. A decorated elephant arrived to take the prince. In front of it and behind stood horses and oxen. Beside musicians, flag bearers holding banners and flags lined up. Like the sea that spread the previous evening, people stood clamoring filling the space as far as eyes could see.

On the outside the prince looked cheerful. In his heart he was worried. He was eager for news about Eezha rani who had stolen his affection more than his own mother. He had hoped that he would get more information from Murugaiyan’s wife. But she had disappeared in the crowd. Only Murugaiyan took the effort to keep up with the prince and accompany him to the palace. He also did not know what had become of his wife Rakamaahl.

The prince had another concern also. The Pazhuvertaraiyars have already accused him of wanting to take the kingdom against his father’s wishes. The crowd’s behavior only seemed to prove it!

The prince simply wanted to free himself from the townspeople’s vortex of love. Meanwhile there was another development that he did not expect at all. When the prince held his palms together in a posture of farewell, the city leaders made their way through the crowd and stood at the entrance to the palace. As if foreordained the sound of drums and trumpets rose above the noise of the sea. When the music abruptly stopped there was silence. An elderly member of the city leaders stepped up to the podium and spoke eloquently.

“Ponniyin Selva! We have a request. A request on behalf of the people of Nagaipattinam and surrounding villages. We are concerned about the health of the emperor. We are also concerned about another news that we have been hearing. We hear that Pazhuvertaraiyars and several petty kings have decided to crown Mathuranthaka Thevar who had never seen the battlefield. If he ascends to the throne it will really be the Pazhuvertaraiyars who will have the reign. The petty kings’ word will become the law. Prince Athitha Karikalan has not been to Thanjai for three years. Several reasons are given. They say that he is not interested in the crown. In that case who should by law take the crown? It is the long awaited son of Cholanadu, the son whom Mother Kaveri saved, the mighty warrior who conquered Eezham … it is you! People! Do you agree with me?” When the speaker posed the question the response from the crowd shook the earth. “Yes, yes; we agree!” Tens of thousands of voices shouted. Following it a hundred thousand voices chanted, “Long live Ponniyin Selvar!” The noise turned into an incomprehensible roar.

When the prince began to speak as if under a spell the crowd became quiet.

“Sir! I am delighted by the love all of you have for me. But the way you have chosen to demonstrate that love is not proper! It appears that you have forgotten that my beloved father emperor Sundara Cholar is still living. ‘Long live the emperor!’ – you must join with me and pray. When the emperor is alive why worry about who will be seated on the throne next?”

The elderly chief of the city’s leaders had an answer for the prince. “Ponniyin Selva! From the beginning of time it has been the practice to choose the future king while the present king is still alive. Didn’t the warrior who conquered Madurai, emperor Paranthakar, who weaved a golden roof for Thillaiampala temple, line up those who will succeed in future generations while he was still alive? Isn’t that why your father asceneded to the throne?” He said.

“Yes, yes! Therefore, isn’t it the emperor who should decide who will take the throne after him? Is it proper that we should be having this conversation,” said the prince.

“Ponniyin Selva! We agree that only the emperor has the power. But it would be right if the emperor is able to make this decision on his own. At present the Pazhuvertaraiyars are keeping the emperor inside the Thanjai fortress like a prisoner. Prince! In addition, many of us even doubt if the emperor is alive. We want to come with you to Thanjai and see for ourselves. God willing, if the emperor is alive, we will tell him what we want. We will submit our request that it is you who should ascend to the throne after him. After that, let the emperor decide!”

The prince was very disturbed to hear someone having doubts about whether the emperor was alive. He experienced pain and fear that he had not felt until that moment. He was convinced that the emperor’s life was in grave danger and that he was too far away to do anything about it. And then there was the news about Eezha rani’s abduction by some scoundrels. He was anxious to leave for Thanjai without a moment’s delay. Within seconds the prince decided on a course of action. There was no use arguing with these people. It will only create more delays. If he agrees with them and gets started then on the way other solutions can be sought.

“Sir! I will not stand in the way of your wish. What you said about the emperor has made it more urgent than ever before to be near him. I must leave immediately. If you want to see the emperor, then by all means join me! Whatever the emperor says about the crown’s succession we will all listen and act accordingly!” He said.

In a short while the prince began his journey on the elephant. A procession of about thousand people followed him. As they proceeded more and more people joined them.

8. Pazhuvertaraiyar on the Boat

Readers would remember that it was in the morning of the day of the storm that Pazhuvertaraiyar departed for Thanjai from Kadampoor. He took the road up to Kollidam and then turned west along the Kollidam riverbank. He did not want a long journey through the Cholanadu villages. He wanted to go west and cross Kollidam at Thiruvaiyaru.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was not traveling with hundreds of aids. He wanted to avoid anyone’s attention during this trip. So he took just ten people with him.

When Pazhuvertaraiyar reached Thiruvaiyaru at Kollidam’s northern shore water was abundantly flowing touching both sides. It would have been impossible to take the horse in the small boat waiting. There were signs that the wind was picking up speed. Therefore, leaving the horses on the north shore for the return trip, Pazhuvertaraiyar set off on the boat with the ten soldiers accompanying him. Midway in the river the storm turned severe. The two boatmen struggled to row. The flood pulled the boat eastward. The storm pushed it west. The boatmen tried to direct it to the south. Caught between these three forces the boat turned like a wheel.

In Pazhuvertaraiyar’s heart also there was a storm waging. When he was facing Nandhini his mind would generally fall into a stupor. Whatever she said would seem right. Something that he had abhorred all his life, if it is proposed by Nandhini, would become palatable. Even if some doubt lingered in his heart, his mouth would still say, ‘Yes, yes; we’ll do that.’ Once he had agreed to something, he never liked going back.

When Nandhini asked him to bring Mathuranthakar from Thanjai, he agreed. After beginning the journey doubts plagued his heart. He did not believe that Nandhini could behave immorally. Yet the thought that he had left her alone amidst three young men of her age haunted him.

He had reasons to feel hostile toward Kanthamaran, Vandhiyathevan and Athitha Karikalan. As if drawn with a hot rod of iron Kanthamaran’s remark, ‘your daughter’ – when he encountered Nandhini and Pazhuvertaraiyar in the underground cellar – had left its mark on Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mind. In the heat of that moment he secretly ordered his guard to kill Kanthamaran. Later, he rregretted it. Kanthamaran somehow survived. How he did, how the cellar guard succumbed, – Pazhuvertaraiyar still had not figured out the details. He could not forget that following the stabbing, Kanthamaran was a guest in his palace and Nandhini had attended to him with great care.

And, Vandhiyathevan was also at Kadampoor. He had not liked that loudmouth from the first moment he laid his eyes on him. His dislike grew when he heard that he had wanted to warn the emperor secretly and that he escaped from Thanjai fortress fooling everyone. He also remembered hearing from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar that Nandhini may have helped Vandhiyathevan escape. That fib can never be true. Because it was known that Vandhiyathevan was the confidential messenger to Madam Kundavai and Prince Arulmozhi. That ruled out any connection to Nandhini. Yet whenever Pazhuvertaraiyar happened to see him with Nandhini he felt his steel heart blazing in a fire.

And then, there was Athitha Karikalan. He had heard that once he wanted to marry a temple pattar’s daughter, and that girl was Nandhini. Now they are meeting again. Nandhini took the initiative for it. Why? One thing was certain; Athitha Karikalan might be a rude fellow. He might not respect his elders. But he was born in the Chola tribe. No one in that tribe had committed adultery. Karikalan was also not that kind of man. Where women were concerned he was faultless. But Nandhini? Was it prudent to have believed her to this extent and gone along with her whims and fancies? Was Pazhuvertaraiyar certain that her behavior was faultless? He still did not know her history well. His brother Kalanthakakandar had warned him indirectly many times.

“Would my brother’s words become true? Would Nandhini fail him? Aha! This is good for fiction! Do such deceitful women really exist? Is Nandhini one of them? …”

If these thoughts fanned the flames of anger in his heart they also ignited his lust for her. To leave his agony behind Pazhuvertaraiyar shook his head and cleared his throat. The awareness that he was among ten other people was what kept him from smacking himself on his forehead. Long sighs escaped his being without his volition. Gripping the edge of the boat with both hands he vowed, “I will find out the truth in two days! I will never again make these mistakes!”

9. Shoreline Breach

The others on the boat had no idea about Pazhuvertaraiyar’s inner musings. They assumed that he was concerned about the boat in that stormy weather. His iron will was what the elder  Pazhuvertaraiyar was known for.

When they saw him unraveling fear took hold of the others also. Everyone began to think of a way to escape fearing that the boat may topple any moment.

After struggling for a long time the boat finally reached the coast about five miles east of their landing point. Thinking, ‘No more worries,’ everyone sighed. At that moment a tree that was swaying devilishly broke and fell. The wind carried the tree and dropped it in the water next to the boat. The boatmen tried hard to turn the boat away from it. It was of no use. The tree collided with the boat. The boat capsized. Next minute everyone from the boat was floating in the water.

Since they were all planning an escape route, when confronted with the necessity they were somewhat prepared. As the boat was close to the shore some started swimming. Others clung to the trees. Others grabbing whatever they could simply floated.

Because Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mind was preoccupied with other worries, he was the least prepared. When the boat capsized he drowned. The flood carried him a long way off. After gulping mouthfuls of water, his ears and nose blocked, when he made his way above the floodwater there was no sign of land or the men from the boat. Pazhuvertaraiyar realized that the flood had dragged him to the center of that vast river.

The old man’s age old valor sprang again in his heart. The great warrior who had fought victoriously in many wars decided to put up a fight with the Kollidam flood. He grabbed a log that was coming his way. Aiming at the shore he began to swim. Fighting against the wind and the water he swam. When his hands became tired he simply floated. Several times when he tried to crawl out of the water the slippery shore muddied by the rain pushed him back again into the river. He immediately grabbed back the log that he had momentarily let go of.

After fighting in this way for a good quarter of the night his feet finally touched the ground at a place where a reed colony had taken root. The tall grasses conveniently bent to his grasp and helped him finally climb on to the shore.

Darkness engulfed him. It seemed unlikely that there were any villages nearby. He was probably about fifteen miles east of the pier across from Thiruvaiyaru. Yes, yes! He was near the town of Kudanthai. Can he make it to Kudanthai for the night?

The storm had just reached its climax in that area. Its noise sounding like a hundred thousand devils deafened one’s ears. ‘chada chada!’ – trees were falling down. Thunder from above sounded as if the ends of the earth were exploding. Rain was torrential.

“Won’t there be an old building or temple somewhere? I will have to spend the night there. Only when the day breaks I can begin my journey.” With this decision he walked along the riverbank resolutely planting his otherwise trembling legs.

In the river the flood ran up to the brim. The rain dumped water on the shore as well. And the darkness – he had no words for it! So, when the brave old warrior was walking he did not pay attention to the water swelling over the bank. He hesitated when the water was suddenly touching his knees. When it rose up to his thighs he became alarmed. But his time for thinking had run out. In the next second he found himself tumbling and falling. The flood that rushed past, breaking the Kollidam bank, rolled him over and carried him along. Because the ground dropped beyond the embankment of the shoreline he felt being carried down deep into the abyss. When the boat capsized and left him in the torrential flood of the river he was able to go along with it. Now he could not. He kept rolling over and over, going deeper and deeper down. He could not see, he could not hear. He could not straighten himself and push upwards, or reach for air. A frightening monster kept thrusting his head under water, rolling him from head to toe over and over again towards an abyss.

“Aha! The flood is the monster that has broken the Kollidam bank and bursting forth through it! Can anyone escape its terrifying grip and its brutal somersaults? Feet won’t even skim the ground! Nothing to grab on to! I cannot breathe! Someone is strangling me! My ears are blocked! Durga Parameshwari! Goddess! Would I survive this catastrophe? Wretched Nandhini! See what happened to me because of you! … Aiyo! … Poor girl! I left you with those rascals and came! … Cheechee! What have I reaped by falling for your beauty, feeling sorry for your plight and marrying you? Other than losing my peace of mind, what else was there? In the end I am going to get caught in this Kollidam breach and suffocate to death! My body – that bears sixty four battlescars – there won’t be a tombstone or pallipadai over its burial place! No one will find the body! I am going to be entombed in mud somewhere! No one will even know what became of me! Or, the flood may cast me away on some shore! Foxes and dogs will feast on me! …”

These thoughts kept Pazhuvertaraiyar’s mind working for a few minutes. After that he lost consciousness altogether! …

‘thadar!’ – when his head knocked against something he briefly regained his senses. His hands were holding onto either the earth or a rock. A force brought him up and swung him over. He also used whatever was remaining of his will power and pressed his hands down and leaped. Next minute he felt himself lying on a hard granite floor. His eyelids were pressed down tightly. With difficulty he tried to open them. When they opened a little the light outside nearly blinded him. In the bright light Durga Parameshwari presented her divine face! “Goddess! Your mercy is endless! You decided to end my harried life on earth and bring me to your presence! …”

No, no! This is not heaven. This is the Amman temple on earth. It is Amman’s statue that is in front. He is lying in the room facing the sanctuary. Next to Amman a small flame was flickering. Its light was what blinded his eyes. ‘Cho!’ – outside the rain poured. Storm was also waging. Neither the rain nor the storm could not touch the flame flickering in Devi’s sanctuary! Is this a good omen? Is this a sign of Durga Parameshwari’s kindness to him? Is it a sign that however many dangers may come his life will not be dimmed? The mercy of jaganmatha is endless! All his devotion and poojas have not gone to waste.

The old man struggled to get on his feet. His body trembled. After being in the water for so long it was natural to feel cold! He took the cloth that served as a curtain in Amman’s sanctuary and wiped his body. Discarding his wet clothes he wrapped himself in the curtain.

At Amman’s sanctuary there were the coconut halves, fruits and rice that have been placed as offering. The priest and devotees who came to worship must have left in a hurry. What was the hurry? Was it the storm and the rain? Or were they aware of the Kollidam breach? Whatever it was, it turned out to be his blessing! Durga Parameshwari did not just save him from the flood. She was also waiting with food to relieve him of his hunger.

He would have to spend the night in the temple. There won’t be a better place. The flood would pass this way. It might damage the temple. Water would burrow in around the temple. It might damage the foundation. In any case it’s not going to topple in one night. Even if it did, so be it. There was no way he could leave this place tonight. There was no strength in his body; or mind.

Piously Pazhuvertaraiyar approached Devi’s sanctuary. He dined on the food to his satisfaction. He wrapped and saved the balance carefully. In front of the goddess he lay down in a pose of worship. His eyes were closing. Within seconds Pazhuvertaraiyar was fast asleep.

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (1 – 6)

Translated from the Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan written by the renowned writer the late Kalki Krishnamoorthi. Source: Weekly installments currently appearing in the online edition of Kalki.

(Before in Parts I – IV:

At the turn of the first millennium the Chola empire was flourishing. The Chola army had gone to battle in all four directions conquering and extending the limits of the empire. During the time of Emperor Sundara Cholar the last representative of Madurai’s Pandya tribe, Veera Pandyan was killed. Pandya Nadu became part of the Chola empire.

Athitha Karikalan, Emperor Sundara Cholar’s eldest son and the man who killed Veera Pandyan, was made Crown Prince. He became the commander of the northern garrison making Kanji his residence. He sends a letter through a soldier named Vandhiyathevan from the ancient Varnar tribe, inviting his father to the newly built golden palace in Kanji.

Emperor Sundara Cholar is paralyzed. Bedridden in the royal palace in Thanjavur, his mind troubles him more than his body. In his younger days Sundara Cholar met a fisherman’s daughter in one of the islands beside Eezhanadu and fell in love with her. The two of them lived happily in that island for a short time until he was called back to the empire by his grandfather, Emperor Paranthakar.

In his deathbed emperor Paranthakar instructed that Sundara Cholar will take the throne after his son Kandarathithar. At that time Kandarathithar did not have children. Later he married Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter Chempian Madevi. Their son is Mathuranthakan.

Yet, following Kandarathithar’s death, owing to the wish of his father emperor Paranthakar and the unified consensus of the royal family his nephew Sundara Cholar takes the throne. He marries Thirukaovalur Malaiamman’s daughter. Two brave sons and a beautiful girl are born to them. Just as Sundara Cholar’s empire extended, his fame also spread. Yet, as he lay in bed he is haunted by the memory of the deaf-mute woman from Eezha island. He imagines that his past will put a curse on his children.

For many generations the Pazhuvetaraiyar tribe had enjoyed prominence in the Chola empire. During Sundara Choalar’s time the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar serves as treasurer and the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar holds the position of fortress commander. Sundara Cholar has complete trust in them. He does not like antagonizing them.

The Pazhuvertaraiyars and many of the Chola petty kings hate the ascendance of Athitha Karikalan. They also hate his sister Kundavai and brother Arulmozhivarman whom the Chola people adore. Citing Mathuranthakan’s heritage, they want to place him on the throne. A decision is made at a secret meeting at Kadampoor palace on the northern banks of river Kollidam. Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan by chance happens to witness the goings on at this meeting.

Vandhiyathevan after handing Karikalar’s letter to the emperor, meets the Princess Kundavai in Pazhaiyarai. As if connected in a previous birth, their hearts become one. Following Kundavai’s wish, Vandhiyathevan goes to Ilankai to bring back her younger brother Arulmozhivarman. A boatwoman named Poongkuzhali takes him by boat. In Ilankai Vandhiyathevan meets Arulmozhivarman near Anuradhapuram and gives him Kundavai’s letter. ‘Ponniyin Selva! The kingdaom is in danger. Come back immediately,’ the letter says.

As a child Arulmozhivarman once fell into the river Kaveri while taking a boat ride with his parents. No one in the boat saw him fall. A woman saves him and hands him back to those on the boat. She then disappears. The belief was that Mother Kaveri saved him. Thereafter he came to be known as Ponniyin Selvan.

Ponniyin Selvan who would later gain fame in history as Raja Raja Cholan is at this time engaged in the war in Ilanaki. King Mahinthan of Ilankai has run and hidden in the mountains after losing the war. Buddhist monks of a particular sect offer the throne to Arulamoazhivarman. He refuses.

While in Eezhanadu Arulmozhivarman meets a deaf-mute woman who roams the jungle like a mad person. She saves the prince from many dangers. He realizes that it was she who rescued him when he fell into river Ponni. Through her paintings she reveals her lifestory to him. The prince learns through her artwork of the immense love that had once bound Sundara Cholar to Manthahini.

Vandhiyathevan also meets this lady in Eezhanadu. He is struck by the physical resemblance between her and the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s Ilaiyarani Nandhini. He tells Ponniyin Selvar about it.

When she was a child Nandhini grew up in the Pazhaiyarai temple priest’s house. Athitha Karikalan befriends her then. Kundavai on the other hand detests her for her beauty. Following Chempian Madevi’s order Nandhini is sent to Pandya Nadu.

When Athitha Karikalan was on the trail of Veera Pandyan in the last days of the battle with the Pandyar, he meets Nandhini again in a small hut on the Vaikai riverbank. Nandhini begs him to spare Veera Pandyan’s life. Ignoring her plea Karikalan kills Veera Pandyan.

Members of Veera Pandyan’s rescue squad Ravithasan, Soman Sambavan, Idumabankari and others pledge to wipe out the Chola tribe to avenge their king’s death. They threaten to burn Nandhini also on the funeral pyre. She pleads with them to spare her so that she can help them achieve their goal. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar one day sees Nandhini. He is smitten by her. She becomes his wife. She secretly aids the saboteurs from inside the Pazhuvur palace.

At their last secret meeting in the Kollidam jungle the Pandya troublemakers crown a little boy as the future Pandya king. Nandhini herself takes on the responsibility of killing Athitha Karikalan. The saboteurs decide to kill Sundara Cholar and Arulmozhivarman also.

When Ponniyin Selvar is returning home from Ilankai his ship gets caught in a cyclone and he drowns. Vandhiyathevan and he are saved by Poongkuzhali. But Ponniyin Selvar is afflicted by the contagious fever spreading in Eezhanadu. Poongkuzhali and her aunt’s son bring him to Soodamani viharam in Nagaipattinam to recover. Kundavai asks Ponniyin Selvar to remain in hiding at Soodamani viharam, because of the perfidy underway in Thanjai.

Manthahini comes to Kodikarai in search of Ponniyin Selvar. Following Chief Minister Aniruthar’s order she is abducted and taken to Thanjai. Near Thanjai she escapes. Seeing the saboteurs Ravithasan and Soman Sambavan entering the Pazhuvur palace she follows them. Through the underground treasury cellar she reaches Sundara Cholar’s palace. Thinking that he was asleep Manthahini goes to him. Believing that the dead woman’s ghost was there Sundara Cholar throws a lamp at Manthahini. Kundavai and others intervene and tell him the truth. Sundara Cholar is ambivalent about her presence in his life again. Whether she sensed it or not, Manthahini again disappears.

Nandhini sends Athitha Karikalan a letter asking him to come to Kadampoor palace. Vandhiyathevan meets him on the way to stop him from going to Kadampoor. He informs Karikalan that Nandhini is Sundara Cholar’s daughter and about her involvement with the Pandya Nadu troublemakers. Karikalan rejects his argument and goes to Kadampoor palace.

The petty kings decide that they don’t want a civil war. Therefore they try to negotiate with Karikalan. They offer him the territory north of Pennai river and Mathuranthakan the south. Karikalan says that they can reach a decision if Mathuranthakan was also present. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar leaves for Thanjai to bring Mathuranthakan.

Karikalan and Vandhiyathevan while out hunting in the forest on the west bank of Veera Narayana lake meet Nandhini and Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai who have come for a picnic and swimming. Manimekalai is in love with Vandhiyathevan. She had once helped him escape from a rather dangerous situation.

During the few minutes that Karikalan happens to be alone with Nandhini he tells her, ‘You are my sister.’ She rejects it as another lie.

Manimekalai sings to the accompaniment of her lute. While they are immersed in her delightful music a storm gets underway. Their boat becomes untethered and drifts off in the lake. Sambuvaraiyar arrives in a big boat to take them back.)

Part V

1. Three Voices

Ponniyin Selvar was waiting patiently at Nagaipattinam’s Soodamani viharam. He was eager to visit his parents in Thanjai. He wanted to prove that the charges against him that he tried to steal the kingdom of Ilankai were baseless. He also wanted to eliminate any possibility of being found guilty of disobeying his father’s word.

Yet, he was determined to leave only after he received word from his sister. He felt as if time was standing still. To pass the time he took part in the Buddhist monks’ daily worship sessions and poojas.

He spent part of the time studying the rare paintings on the walls of the monastery. He was enthusiastic about conversing with the monks, especially Soodamani viharam’s Acharya bikku. From China to Java the head monk had traveled to many countries in the east. He was able to talk at length about those countries, their cities and people.

South of China there were many countries in those days in the eastern sea that belonged to an empire called Sri Vijayam. Arumana Nadu, Camboja Thesam, Manakavaram, Thalaithakkolam, Mapapalam, Mayirudingam, Ilankasokam, Thamaralingam, Ilamurithesam and such countries or cities were either under Sri Vijaya empire or had cordial relationship with it. Among these a great city called Kadaram exceled over others in wealth and prosperity.

Whenever the Acharya bikku was free Ponniyin Selvar asked him to talk about these places. The monk obliged tirelessly. He spoke about the natural resources and the growing commercial prospects in those countries. With an abundance of gold and diamond mines, thriving red paddy and sugar cane fields, he said that these countries were in a position to compete with splendid Chola Nadu in every aspect. He talked about the relationship that had existed from ancient times between these countries and Thamilakkam. He talked about the Pallava sculptors who have traveled to these countries and the temples they have erected there showcasing their extraordinary work in architecture and sculpture. He also spoke about Thamilakkam’s influence on their art, music and dance. He spoke about how the ancient history books such as Mahabharatham and Ramayanam, the deities Vinayakar, Subramaniyar, Sivan, Parvathy, Thirumal along with Buddhist philosophy have taken root in these people’s minds and how the people of these countries unable to separate the different faiths worshiped all of the deities. He said that the people of these countries had a special regard for the father of Tamil language, the sage Agasthiyar, and that several temples have been built for this sage.

Arulmozhivarmar listened to these stories over and over, imprinting the details in his mind. He also found out about the land and sea routes to these countries. He learned of the possible dangers on the way and the available comforts.

“Swami! Would you visit these countries again?” He asked.

“If it is the will of Lord Buddha, Prince! Why do you ask?” The monk replied.

“Perhaps I could go with you, that is why.”

“I am a monk who had given up the world; you are the beloved son of the emperor who rules this earth. How can the two of us journey together? Just to keep you here a few days in this viharam safely has been a tremendous weight on me. My heart pounds every second, thinking what’s going to happen, … when …”

“Swami! I want to lift that weight at once. Right this minute I will …”

“Prince! Thinking of one thing, I said another. Even though it is a burden keeping you here, it is also a great privilege. Your father the emperor and your sister the junior stateswoman have helped Buddhism enormously. This will not even measure up to one thousandth of the gratitude that we owe them. And your own contribution to Buddhism cannot be treated lightly. Can we forget your initiative to renovate Anuradhapuram’s dilapidated stupas and viharams? Recognizing your work the monks offered you the jeweled crown of Eezhandu. Prince! Why did you reject it? If you had taken Ilankai’s throne of freedom, you could have traveled to the east in hundred ships with a large retinue. There would be no reason to contemplate a pilgrimage with this monk!”

“Gurutheva! Have you heard the kirantham called Mahavamsam that tells the history of Ilankai’s royal tribe?”

“Sir! What sort of a question is this? Can I be the leader of Soodamani viharam without studying the Mahavamsam?”

“Pardon me. Asking you whether you have read Mahavamsam is like saying whether you know how to read! In the royal history that Mahavamsam describes you have read of who and who have committed what atrocities! Son locked up his father in prison. Father cut up and killed his son. Mother poisoned her son and killed him. Son tortured his mother with fire … If the parent child relationship is like this … why talk about the uncles on one’s father’s side, mother’s side, the elder aunt, younger aunt, older brother, younger brother? Gurutheva! Doesn’t Mahavamsam state that Ilankai’s royal tribe had carried out these horrendous acts?”

“Yes, yes! It also tells about the punishment each one faced for these vile acts. With these examples Mahavamsam teaches the people morality – the principles of right and wrong. Don’t forget that. Mahavamsam is a sacred kirantham. An incomparable text that preaches justice!” Acharya bikku said excitedly.

“Swami! I am not criticizing the book Mahavamsam. I am merely alluding to how the desire to rule turns human beings more ruthless than demons. Is it wrong that I turned down the Ilankai throne that has been tarnished by such atrocities?”

“This is why the highly intelligent members of the Buddhist academy wanted to change the royal heritage of Ilankai. They envisioned a new era with you as the leader. It was wrong to reject it. You had the opportunity of being seated on the Ilankai throne and take Buddhism all over the world like Asokavarthanar …

“Gurutheva! Where is Asokavarthanar who ruled the Bharatha continent under one mantle? Where is this little boy who is today hiding in this Buddhist viharam seeking your protection? In truth, I don’t even deserve to be your disciple, how am I going to protect Buddhist philosophy?”

“Prince! Do not speak in this manner. You are not aware of the great energy that lies hidden in you. If only you will wholeheartedly accept Buddhism then you will gain fame as Ashokar …”

“From my young age Vinayakar, Murugan, Parvathi, Parameshvaran, Nandhi, Pirungi and Sandikeshvarar have set up temple in my heart. I will have to evict them to let Buddhist philosophy in! Gurutheva! Pardon this humble servant! When I said that I will go with you I did not mean that I will embrace Buddhism. I said that because of my desire to travel across the seas and see faraway lands! Yet, when I think about it again …”

“Prince! I did misunderstand your words. Yet, it is not as if there is no connection between Buddhism and yourself. In one of Lord Buddha’s previous incarnations he was born as emperor Sibi. He cut his flesh to save the dove’s life. The Cholars are descendants of that Sibi. That is why your tribe members bear the name Chempian! You should not forget this.”

“I have not, Gurutheva! Even if I forget, the blood that courses through my arteries won’t let me forget. On one side are emperor Sibi and Manuneethi Cholar in my blood, flesh and bones telling me, ‘Help others. Sacrifice your comforts for the sake of others!’ On the other side are Karikal Valavar, Vijayalaya Cholar and emperor Paranthakar in my blood roaring, ‘Pick up the sword! Gather all four groups of troops! Go to battle in four directions! Sail across the seas! Take the Chola empire to new heights that the world had not seen!’ On yet another side are Saiva devotee Kochenkanar, Athitha Cholar who conquered Thondai Mandalam, the sage Kandarathithar residing in my heart preaching, ‘Help the temples! Build bigger Sivan temples! Build temples whose towers will rise toward the sky like Mehru mountain!’ Caught between these ancestors I feel at a loss. Gurutheva! Unable to bear their hegemony sometimes I really think of taking up Buddhism and becoming a monk. Please kindly tell me about the Buddhist religion. Tell me about Lord Buddha,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

The monk’s face lit up when he heard this. “Prince! What can be there that you do not already know, about Buddhism or Lord Buddha?” He asked.

“Then tell me about the paintings on these walls. There is a painting where it seems that a prince is leaving in the middle of the night! What is it? Who is the woman sleeping next to him? Who is the baby in the cradle? Why is there so much sadness on the face of that prince?” The prince asked.

“Sir! In his young days Lord Buddha was like you a prince born to a royal heritage. He was married to a beautiful maiden called Yasotharai. They had a beautiful son. The king was ready to hand over the responsibility of the kingdom to the prince. Sidharthar though wanted to find a way to alleviate the hardships that people undergo in this world. He decided to leave his beloved wife, precious child and the kingdom. This is the scene of his leaving the palace at midnight. Prince! Have you not heard this history before?”

“Yes, yes! I have heard it several times. But the way this painting instills it in one’s heart, oral telling cannot. It makes you want to wake the sleeping Yasotharai and warn her, ‘Sidharthar is leaving you! Stop him!’ Alright, now tell me about the next painting!”

Acharya bikku went on to explain each of the other paintings depicting Lord Buddha’s story. Deep in his heart the bikku did wish that Arulmozhivarmar would embrace Buddhism. Therefore he told the history of Sidharthar eagerly. In the end he came to the picture where Sidharathar receives enlightenment while meditating  under a bothi viruksham. When he finished his explanation of this picture Ponniyin Selvar asked, “Gurutheva! Would you be angry if I disagreed with you?”

“Prince! I have been trained to control my five senses and my heart. Feel free to express your opinion,” said the monk.

“I do not believe that Sidharthar received enlightenment while seated under the bothi viruksham.”

A frown appeared on the bikku’s face even though he had his five senses and heart under control.

“Prince! A branch of the great bothi tree was brought to Ilankai during the time of Asokavarthanar. That branch took root and now even after a thousand years has not perished. It still stands tall at Anuradhapuram. You would have seen this sacred tree in Anuradhapuram. Then why do you say, ‘I don’t believe,’ he asked.

“Gurutheva! I am not saying that the bothi viruksham does not exist. I am also not saying that Sidharthar did not meditate under it. I am only questioning that if that was where he received his enlightenment. I am saying on the day Sidharthar left his wedded wife, the son he had borne and the kingdom that was rightfully his, in the middle of the night – to find a way to alleviate humankind’s misery, he had already received his divine illumination. I have not heard anything as extraordinary as this in any other history. Ramar, to honor his father’s word, gave up the kingdom. Parathar, owing to his loyalty to his brother said, “I don’t want the kingdom.’ The great king Harichandra, gave up the kingdom to fulfill his promise. In the case of emperor Sibi also, because he had given sanctuary to the dove he parted with his flesh. But Sidharthar had not made a promise to anyone. He did not want to satisfy anyone. In order to find a way to alleviate humankind’s misery on his own accord he sacrificed everything he had and left. After Lord Buddha received enlightenment under the bothi tree did he do anything that was more extraordinary? Therefore is it wrong to say that he had already received the divine illumination when he left the royal palace?”

Ponniyin Selvar’s words fell as sweet ambrosia in Acharya bikku’s ears. “Sir! There is great truth in what you said. Yet it was under the sacred fig tree that it dawned on Lord Buddha the way to solve mankind’s problems. It was there that he started to preach to the people.”

“Swami! I have heard Buddha’s teachings. It seems to me that more than in those teachings the greater lesson is in his act of sacrifice. I too want to follow in his steps. Didn’t I just say that my ancestors tug at my heart endlessly pulling me in three different directions. I want to be free of those ties. Please accept me as your disciple,” said the prince.

“Prince! I must be very fortunate to have a disciple as you. But I am not qualified for it; I also don’t have the courage. When the great academy of Buddhism assembles in Ilankai you can make an application,” said the bikku.

“I have no doubts about your qualifications. But you said courage. What do you mean?”

“Yes, I don’t have the courage! For two days a rumor has been going around in Nagaipattinam. No one knows who started it. People are saying that you are in the viharam, that we are trying to make you a Buddhist monk. Many people are angry about it. They are even talking about storming into this monastery and finding out the truth!”

“Aha! What madness! What do people care about me joining the Buddhist faith? Why should they be angry if I put on an orange cloth and enter the ashram? I am not even married. They cannot say that I am leaving my wife and children,” said the prince.

“Sir! The people are not angry with you at all. They are angry at us for fooling you and trying to make you a Buddhist monk. A rumor alone has stirred up so much anger. What will happen if it becomes the truth? The people will raze to the ground this viharam. Under your father’s rule we are able to go about our lives peacefully. Daily we pray,

‘போதியந் திருநிழர் புனித நிற்
பரவுதும்
மேதகு நந்தி புரி மன்னர் சுந்தரச்
சோழர் வன்மையும் வனப்பும்
திண்மையும் உலகிற் சிறந்து வாழ்கெனவே!’

I do not want to spoil this good situation. That is why I said that I lack the courage,” said the bikku.

Before he even finished speaking there began to be heard from the entrance the loud commotion of people gathering and speaking.

After listening for a while the bikku said, “Prince! The people have arrived to prove what I said was right. I don’t know how I am going to contain this. Only Lord Buddha can show a way!”

Minute by minute the voices of thousands of people kept growing louder and louder around Soodamani viharam.

2. Murugaiyan Came!

Acharya bikku and Arulmozhivarmar listened to the increasingly loud noise akin to the roar of the ocean coming from outside Soodamani viharam.

The prince was highly disturbed that the Buddhist monastery and its monks have been placed in this predicament by him.

“Swami! I am sorry that you have been placed in this situation because of me,” he said.

“Prince! We will not mind if a hundred such calamities visited us on your account. Can this ever equal the help you and your family have given us,” said the bikku.

“Not only that. I never liked doing anything secretive like this. Why should I be here and say ‘no!’ Why should I get you involved in this deceitful situation? Because of your kind treatment my body has also now healed. I will now step outside and let the people know who I am. I will also inform the people that you gave me shelter, provided me treatment and saved my life. No dishonor should fall on this monastery because of me,” said the prince.

“Sir! There is nothing deceitful about this. Your enemies are trying to find out your location. The rumor that they have spread in Nagaipattinam these last two days proves that. In such a situation what is so wrong about keeping your presence here a secret? It is within law that sometimes the royal family has to be discrete. Didn’t the five Pandavar retreat to the forest for an year? Can we say that Dharmar went against the truth at that time?” The bikku asked.

“Gurutheva! I know that your knowledge and argumentative capacity are exceptional. I cannot win an argument with you. But I will say this; the five Pandavar had to remain hidden because of the oath that they had accepted. I have no such necessity. You speak of my enemies. Who are these enemies of mine? Why should they feel enmity towards me? I have no desire to rule. I can say this publicly and make friends out of these enemies also. You will also not be harassed because of me. If this can bring the people some satisfaction let them know that I am alive! Who is going to lose from this?”

“Prince! You are right. In your position I will do the same. But what is standing in the way is the promise that you made to your beloved sister Madam Kundavai. You have said many times that in the Chola tribe there is no one as intelligent as Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. In my opinion there is no one in any tribe. She has instructed to keep you here until she sends word. She will not have asked that without an important reason. It is the talk all over the country that Chola Nadu petty kings are plotting against emperor Sundara Cholar’s family. There is also talk that it is the Pandya Nadu saboteurs who are engaged in this perfidy. The people are under the impression that we are helping these saboteurs and that is why they have gathered outside. Under these circumstances is it prudent that you step outside and identify yourself? Think about it! Rather than that, let’s be inconvenienced by this attempt to protect you! … We will never back down in our effort! …”

While the head monk was speaking a young bikku came running.

“Swami! The situation is beyond control. Thousands of people have surrounded the viharam shouting, ‘We want to see the prince.’ When we say, ‘The prince is not here,’ it is of no use. They are shouting, “We must come inside the viharam and see for ourselves.’ If we don’t resolve this, they may enter by force,” he said.

“What can we say to them? Only Lord Buddha can do something to change their minds,” said the head monk.

The prince said, “Gurutheva! I have an idea. Kindly please listen. Your disciples have told the people that I am not here. If I go in front of the people now, that will make your disciples liars. That may aggravate the situation,” he said.

“It certainly will. We will have to suffer the consequences,” said the bikku.

“Instead of that let me make your disciples’ words true …”

“Prince! That is not possible even by you. What they said has been said. We cannot undo it.”

“There is a way. Before the people enter the viharam I can leave from here!”

“Aha! To save our skin must we be immoral? Must we chase you out?”

“Gurutheva! There is no immorality. Or betrayal. Five miles from here there is the Chola palace in Anaimangalam. Just like the other day when I went to see my sister, I will now leave by way of the canal. Later when it is convenient I will return,” said the prince.

Acharya bikku appeared to like this idea. “Yes, yes! If we do that there will be no necessity to bring you out now. We will also be abiding by your sister’s wish. But there may be a crowd where the canal leaves from the viharam also! They will see you leaving in the boat,” he said.

“Gurutheva! I have an idea. Let’s announce that one person in the crowd can come inside the viharam and look around,” said the young bikku.

“Isn’t it enough if one person takes a look? Won’t he go and tell the others outside,” said the Guru.

“If we can delay this until dark then it would be easier for the prince to leave. Not only that, there are signs that a storm is headed this way. Even from here we can see that the tide has risen. The sea appears increasingly more turbulent. Perhaps it is Lord Buddha’s grace, who knows? Perhaps it is the Lord’s plan to resolve our predicament through a storm,” said the young bikku.

“Don’t say that. Just to relieve us from our difficult situation, we don’t want any storms,” said the Guru.

“Swami! I think that we should try your disciple’s idea. If only one person comes in I can perhaps speak to him and change his mind,” said the prince.

“I am also thinking that. Two days ago a boatman and his wife from Kodikarai came to the viharam and asked about the prince. They were convinced that the prince was here. The boatman’s wife made a big ruckus …!”

“Aha! Who is this boatman? Do you know his name,” asked the prince.

“Yes; he said that his name is Murugaiyan. He said that he is Kodikarai Thiyagavidankar’s son …”

“I know him well. He will not do anything against my wish. Why didn’t you bring him to me?”

“We didn’t think that his wife can keep our secret. He and his wife are now in the crowd outside …”

The fruit slipped and fell into the milk. Bring the boatman Murugaiyan here quietly. He will not cross the line I draw. After dark he will return and take me to the Anaimangalam Chola palace in the boat,” said the prince.

Acharya bikku said “Prince! These days no one is to be trusted completely. I think it is this boatman and his wife who have been for the last two days spreading the rumor about you.”

“Even if that is the case … no harm done. In any event we have to let someone enter the viharam. The man does dance to his wife’s tune. Still, he will not listen to her against my wish. If possible bring him here,” said the prince.

With the Acahrya bikku’s permission the junior monk left. After a few minutes the elder monk told the prince, “My mind is not at peace. Let me go and take a look outside. Let me find out firsthand what the crowd’s temperament is like. Prince! No harm should come to Soodamani viharam through my fault; no harm should come to you also!” Then he too departed.

3. The Sea Rose!

Acharya bikku was troubled by what he saw outside. Thousands of people were gathered there. Their appearance and the noise they made indicated that it was an angry crowd. It would be very simple to turn their anger into a vile frenzy. Many held swords, spears, clubs and other weapons in their hands.

Some others were carrying mattocks. Perhaps they have decided to raze the viharam to the ground if the bikkus will not listen. They had ample justification for doing it. Beginning from emperor Paranthakar’s time there have been frequent wars between Chola Nadu and Eezhanadu. Many Chola warriors have died in Ilankai. Doesn’t prejudice grow through associative thinking? Isn’t that part of human nature? The Chola people’s frustration over the Ilankai war had to a certain extent turned on the Buddhist religion that was widespread in the island. Any minor incident was enough. The ignorant people were ready to take their revenge on whatever Buddhist viharams were still left in Thamilakkam and the bikkus who lived there.

Achariya bikku was convinced that momentum was gathering for such a reaction. Someone with a vile motive had instigated the people now. Only Lord Buddha’s mercy will save them from this great danger! … The crowd clamored even more upon seeing the head monk.

Like the ocean’s roar, “Give us Ponniyin Selvar. Or else we will flatten this vihram to the ground!” – voices rose in unison from thousands of angry people. At the same time Acharya bikku noticed that the sound of the ocean had also become louder. What the young bikku said was true. There was a severe storm gathering. Soon it will hit the shore. Even if the viharam survived the attack from the crowd, the bikku was now worried if it would survive the onslaught of the storm.

Meanwhile the young bikku moved his hands up and down asking the crowd to be quiet. The crowd quietened somewhat.

“Honorable people! Our leader is here. Please be quiet. All of you cannot enter the viharam. Please select one or two among you! Let them enter the viharam and look around! You must accept what they find! Do you agree? Who is coming in with me?” He asked.

Hundreds of people shouted, “I am coming! I am coming!”

The young bikku again held his hands up. “What is the use of everyone shouting? Choose someone. Let me make a suggestion. Tell me if there is anyone here who has seen Ponniyin Selvar recently. I will take that person. He will be able to recognize the prince!” He said.

Rakammahl who was creating an uproar from the front row cried, “We have seen him!”

The young bikku asked the boatman, “Appan! Is that right, what she is saying?”

“Swami! It is not entirely correct. She did not see the prince recently. It is true that I saw the prince during the last month in Eezhanadu. I fell on his feet and begged for forgiveness for the harm I had done to him through my ignorance. The way he smiled at me with kindness on that occasion is still imprinted in my mind. I can easily identify him,” Murugaiyan replied.

“In that case you are the man for the job. Your wife isn’t that far off. In her mind your experience is her experience. Now also, if you come and search inside the viharam she will agree with your verdict. Your wife must know that women are not allowed in the Buddhist viharam where monks are meditating. Therefore, you come with me,” the young bikku said.

He went down the steps, took Murugaiyan by the hand and climbed back up again. He looked at the people and said, “This boatman has seen the prince recently. I am taking him inside. He will search the monastery and return to tell you what he finds. Do you all agree with this?”

The voice of approval from the crowd was not very enthusiastic. Some mumbled, “Yes.” Others whispered among themselves, “Is there some perfidy here?” Their whispers together competed with the noise from the sea.

Noticing their lukewarm response the young bikku said in a loud voice, “Honorable People! Our Acharyar is also here. If you have any questions ask him. In the meantime I will take the man and show him around inside.” He left with Murugaiyan.

When the people took in the majestic appearance of the Acharya bikku and his calm face they became timid. No one had the temerity to be a loudmouth.

Acharya bikku looked at the crowd. Then he looked at the sea behind them.

“Honorable People! I am aware of the reason that you have gathered here. Today, I have learned how much love you have for the emperor’s beloved son Ponniyin Selvar, Prince Arulmozhivarmar. Like you I too love Ponniyin Selvar. When the news came that Arulmozhivarmar has drowned in the sea I stood on this same spot and shed tears. No one who likes Buddhism cannot help but like Arulmozhuvarmar. He had done much to help Buddhism and Buddhist monks. He made arrangements to renovate the old fallen viharams and stupas in the Buddhists’ sacred city of Anuradhapuram which were neglected during the time of Buddhist kings. Can we possibly be accomplices to any scheme that intends to harm this innocent prince? Nothing should have happened to the prince; may the news about his drowning be a lie – we prayed. There are reasons why we are more fond of Ponniyin Selvar than all of you …”

At this time a man from the crowd interrupted saying, “That is why we are worried. We are afraid that your love for him will go overboard, that you will shave his head, wrap him in orange cloth and turn him into a monk!” People laughed mockingly at his outburst.

Acarya bikku became defiant. He realized that there was only one way to rid the people of their doubts. Without thought or analysis, giving in to his emotions of the moment he made a promise.

“I will not request the beloved son of the emperor Ponniyin Selvar, Prince Arulmozhuvarmar to embrace Buddhism. Even if he wants to I will not condone it. I will never make the crown prince who was born to rule the world, who has your love, to shave his head or wear an orange robe. I will not be an accomplice to it. I promise this at the feet of Lord Buddha! Putham kachami! Tharmam kachami! Sangam kachami!”

When the crowd heard his words spoken eloquently and with emotion their hearts underwent a change. Many had tears in their eyes. Silence took over for a while.

Acahrya bikku continued. “It is natural that you care so much about the Chola prince who is the apple of your eyes. Your worries about Ponniyin Selvar may have now dissipated. Now start worrying about your family, house and property. Honorable People! It appears that a storm more severe than we have ever heard about or seen is heading our way. There, turn and look behind you!”

The people turned. As the bikku said there was an extraordinary sight. It was frightening as well. The sea had risen to the height of the sky, grazing the dark clouds. This dark colored water did not stand still. It was moving forward. If this mountain was to move forward up to where they were standing it was certain that not only them, even Soodamni viharam will be under water.

As the people stood stunned at the sight Acharya bikku said, “Now turn and look at Nagaipattinam where all of you live!”

The city of Nagaipattinam was a little west of Soodamani viharam. It was a sprawling city. Next to the beach were warehouses, tollhouses and other buildings. Beyond those buildings houses lay east to west, and north to south spreading for about five miles.

The rising sea had crossed the warehouses and tollhouses. It was entering the city streets. The boats and catamarans from the sea appeared hoisted up and dangling in midair atop the mountains of water. The sails on the boats fiercely danced before being torn apart into smithereens.

“Honorable People! We know that once upon a time Kaviripattinam was taken by the sea. May Lord Buddha save our Nagaipattinam from such catastrophe! You must now go back and try and save your children, families and belongings to the extent that you can!” Acharya bikku cried in an emotional voice.

The crowd began to move toward the city in waves. Those in the front started to run. Those behind followed the ones running. At first they moved as one big mass. Later they scattered and ran in all four directions. Within a few minutes the place was vacated.

Boatman Murugaiyan’s wife Rakammahl alone stood at the same spot crying, “My husband! My husband!”

“Mother! No harm will come to your husband! He will return safely. You save yourself,” the bikku told her.

“No, no! How can I go, leaving my husband? I’ll go inside the temple,” said Rakammahl.

“No, Child, no! Women should not enter the viharam where Buddhist monks live! Don’t you know,” said the bikku.

A man who had stood behind without running with the crowd now approached Rakammahl. He whispered something in her ear. As he tugged at her hand, she went with him halfheartedly.

“Aha! Who is this man? What is the relationship between him and this woman?” Acharya bikku wondered as he went back inside to Ponniyin Selvar.

In the meantime Murugaiyan had overcome his initial surprise and was now listening attentively to the prince.

“Muruga! Tonight you must return and take me by boat to Anaimangalam,” the prince told him.

“Prince! You need not wait until dark. The crowd has dispersed. You can leave now,” said Acharya bikku.

Briefly he described what had just taken place outside. “Swami! If the people are no longer here, why must I leave,” asked the prince.

“What is the guarantee that they will not return? In addition, you said that you will make our word true! You must graciously do that,” said the bikku.

The truth was the bikku was afraid that the rising sea was about to wash into the viharam and drown it. Therefore he wanted the prince out of there. Anaimangalam lay farther away from the shore in the east. The sea will not go that far. Even if it did the big Chola palace there cannot be inundated.

The prince accepted the bikku’s plea. An order was issued to bring the boat at once. In the meantime Acharya bikku told the other monks who had assembled there, “We belong to the merciful Lord Buddha. Nagaipattinam people have been put to a great test. I saw the sea rising and water rushing into the city. Roofs are flying in the wind. Trees are falling. In Nagaipattinam and surrounding areas there will be children and elderly people unable to escape the storm. All of you go out and help in any way you can the people you see stranded. Pay attention to children and the elderly first. Save as many as you can from the fury of the ocean king! I am an old man. I will wait here and take care of the evening pooja!”

All the monks went out. The boat arrived in the canal. The prince said goodbye to Acharya bikku and climbed in. Murugaiyan began to row. The bikku stood watching until the boat disappeared from sight. His face was lit as if there was a halo around it.

4. Nandhi Drowned!

As the boat moved the prince noticed the ever escalating level of water in the canal. The boat rocked precariously. Murugaiyan was having a difficult time rowing. Minute by minute the storm picked up more velocity. ‘Chada chada,’ trees broke and fell on both sides.

As the boat neared the nandhi mandapam the prince saw that the water was above the bull’s head. From it he could gauge how high the water has risen.

“Murugaiya! Stop the boat for a second,” said the prince. Murugaiyan stopped the boat. But he could not control its rocking.

The prince hopped from the boat into the nandhi mandapam. Holding onto a fallen tree he climbed to the building’s tower. He surveyed the surrounding area from there. South of the canal the ground was flooded. Half the trees in the coconut grove were already down. He could see that the sea had risen to the height of the coconut trees.

Arulmozhivarmar looked at the north where Soodamani viharam was situated. He saw the waves lapping at the steps of the viharam.

Struck by a sudden realization Ponniyin Selvar’s body shuddered.

“Murugaiya! Turn the boat! Go back to the viharam,” said the prince.

Thiyagavidankar’s son who was by nature not very talkative, and who held the prince in very high esteem turned the boat without a word.

Going back was quicker. But the prince felt each second stretching as an eon. When the boat reached the viharam it was surrounded by water. The water level was climbing. Unlike the viharams of Eezhanadu, Nagaipattinam’s Soodamani viharam during those days was not very majestic or tall. If the water level went up a little farther even the tower of the building would be submerged.

The prince jumped from the boat on to the upper level where water had still not seeped in. He ran here and there excitedly. Without going to the lower level he methodically cheked every corner of the upper level. Even there he had to sometimes wade through water at chest level.

More and more there was only disappointment. In the end he came to where the majestic statue of Gauthama Buddha stood. Water had climbed up to the statue’s chest. The prince looked around him. Then he put his head under the water. “Aha!” His cry of happiness mixed with surprise indicated that he had found what he was looking for.

Yes; Acharya bikku was seated at the base of the statue hugging the lord’s feet. Ponniyin Selvar went under and carried the bikku up after forcibly removing his hands from the statue. It was easy to carry the bikku under water. When they emerged it was not that easy. The prince struggled with the weight of the hefty well built body of the head monk.

“Murugaiya! Murugaiya!” He called.

“I am coming!” Murugaiyan came with the boat.

His legs stumbling Ponniyin Selvar hurried towards the boat with Acharya bikku.

5. Separated from Mother!

Carrying the monk the prince jumped into Murugaiyan’s boat. To the thrust of their weight, the boat responded with a devilish dance. For a moment it seemed that it would capsize. With the utmost difficulty Murugaiyan steadied the boat.

“Murugaiya! Row! Go to Anaimangalam palace!” Ponniyin Selvar shouted. His voice carried hardly above the roar of the ocean and the stormy wind. Yet looking at his face Murugaiyan instinctively understood. He began to row. It was not easy navigating among the fallen towers of the viharam and the Buddha statues in the water. With a lifetime of experience battling storms and heavy winds in the sea Murugaiyan rowed expertly. The prince marveled at his maneuvers. He wanted to help him. But he was reluctant to let go of the monk. The monk for his part tried to get out of the prince’s hold from time to time. The boat was going past the Budddha statue. The sea water was up to the statue’s eyes. There was no doubt that in a few minutes the statue would be under water.

The prince held the bikku tightly. Bikku’s face showed that he was surprised at how strong the prince was. If the mind was strong willed then perhaps the body would be too! Even a body that had lost weight after so many days of flu!

The boat went past the Buddha’s statue. The bikku could not take his eyes off the statue. The statue disappeared. Tears poured from the monk’s eyes.

“Prince! What have you done,” he said.

Reading his lips, the prince bent down. “Swami! It is I who should ask that question! What did you dare to do?” He said in the bikku’s ear.

“Prince! This viharam has been here for over five hundred years. It was here even during the great Tharmapatha munivar’s time. The militant saivars – the Pallava emperors even spared the viharam from destruction. Such an ancient viharam has drowned during my time in front of my eyes. This red brick viharam cannot survive this flood! When the water recedes there will only be a few stunted walls! Why should I live after the viharam is gone,” said the bikku.

“If the viharam is destroyed we can build it again. If it is the will of Lord Buddha, I will rebuild it. If you disappear I cannot bring you back, can I?” Prince Arulmozhivaramar asked.

Because of the noise the sea and storm created they could not continue their debate. In addition the terrifying spectacle all around them left them speechless.

Large vessels with broken masts as well as tiny fishing boats were cruising toward the shore. Many broke into pieces either by hitting the sand, crashing against the buildings or trees that were devilishly swaying. Roofs tore off the houses and landed in the flood. Some roofs were floating. With the greatest difficulty people were trying to hold on to these roofs. They were all howling.

Trees fell down from the force of the wind. Some of the trees were in the water floating. People tried to save themselves by clinging to these trees. Cattle went by bleating. The prince and the monk were tormented by these scenes. Their helplessness added to their agony.

Looking straight ahead Murugaiyan rowed with caution. Soodamani viharam was on the coast of Nagaipattinam. From there the canal ran south for a short distance. After that it went southwest for five miles and then turned and headed south again. Anaimangalam palace was situated at this second turn.

When they passed the nandhi mandapam not only the entire bull was under water the flood rolled touching the top edge of the building. In the coconut plantations that stretched from the mandapam three fourths of the trees were down. The furious dance of the palm fronds atop the remaining trees looked like a performance by the devils themselves with their hair undone. Some fronds got torn by the wind and blew away.

A calf had somehow found sanctuary atop the nandhi mandapam. It was there clinging on for dear life. With terrified eyes it scouted the area. Its body was shuddering. Legs were trembling. ‘Ammah!’ – its faint cry fell on the ears of those in the boat.

“Aiyo! Poor thing! What will happen to this calf separated from its mother!” Just as the prince was wondering a tall coconut tree broke and fell behind the mandapam. It missed the calf just by a few feet. The tree created a splash in the water that washed over the mandapam. The calf that was already shivering could not withstand the sudden onslaught of this wave. It fell into the water. Pushed along by the flood it struggled to stay afloat.

The prince who was until then holding the bikku firmly cried ‘Aha!,’ and let go of his hands. Within an instant the bikku had jumped into the water.

The boatman Murugaiyan dropped the oar and grabbed the prince. The prince glared at him and wrestled his hand saying, “Let go!” Meanwhile the bikku had in two leaps reached the calf and had taken hold of its two front legs. The calf prompted by its natural survival instinct tried to keep its head above water. Dragging the calf the bikku came back to the boat. The prince lent him a hand. Both together pulled the calf into the boat. With help from the prince Acharya bikku also climbed into the boat.

The rocking of the boat caused the calf that had done well until then to splay awkwardly down. Fortunately it fell on the inside. The bikku sat down next to it. He laid its head on his lap and gently stroked its body.

“Gurutheva! A while ago you were trying to give your life away holding on to Lord Buddha’s feet at Soodamani viharam! If you had succeeded would we have now saved this innocent life?” The prince asked.

“Sir! You stopped me from my stupidity. I am grateful for that. Yes, I am happy that I saved this calf. I will not worry so much now if Soodamani viharam is destroyed,” said the bikku.

“Acharyar! You are so happy because you saved one calf’s life. So many lives are at peril today. Thousands of people – men, women, children, the elderly – they are suffering! So many creatures that cannot speak – cattle, horses, birds – will lose their lives! What is the solution for all this suffering?”

“Sir! We can only help to the best of our ability. Beyond that there is nothing that we can do. We have no power over nature. Can we control the storm? Can we control the rain? Or for that matter, can we make rain? Can we stop the sea from rising? Aha! In countries to the east of the ocean I have seen volcanoes spitting fire, earthquakes cleaving the earth. What can we do? We can only help the life that is in front of us!”

“Gurutheva! Why do natural disasters happen? Why do tornados and earthquakes arise? Why do plagues happen? Who is responsible for the suffering they bring to mankind and other creatures? We cannot stop nature’s failings. But is it impossible for god? Why is god not preventing these natural disasters, why is he simply watching the suffering of living beings?”

“Ponniyin Selva! From the beginning of time prophets and sages have tried to answer your question. But they have not been universally satisfactory. Therefore Lord Buddha did not say anything about god. He did not indulge in the analysis of god at all. ‘Help others. Try to alleviate the suffering of others. You will attain true happiness only in this work. You will achieve from this nirvana, surpassing all worldly joys and sorrows!’ This is what Lord Buddha preached,” said the bikku.

The boat turned west of the nandhi mandapam and went towards Anaimangalam. Ponniyin Selvar was immersed in thought. He compared in his mind the Buddhist philosophy that the bikku laid out with the philosophy of his ancestors’ religion. Saiva and Vaishnava religions also insisted on helping others. ‘Helping others heals the body!’ – goes the saying. But at the same time his ancestors also had insisted on one’s obligation to have faith and worship god. They have celebrated god depicting him as the ruthless Ruthiran  and the merciful Vishnu. They have given form to Jaganmatha describing her as the loving Umadevi as well as the terrifying Durga Parameshwari. Which of these philosophies is the truth? Can the world’s mother be the ruthless Ranapathra Kali? Why not? One minute the mother hugs her child with love. Next minute she turns angry and beats the child. The child does not always understand why he or she is being beaten. But can anyone say that the mother who beats the child does not love him … or her …?

At sundown the boat neared the Chola palace at Anaimangalam. Those who were in the boat saw that the sea had not come as far as this palace. Murugaiyan stopped the boat at the ornate pier leading to the palace. Until then nature also had been kind to those on the boat. Even though there had been a storm and the sea had flooded the rain was limited to a mere drizzle.

When the boat reached the pier the raindrops were becoming heavier.

Anaimangala palace guard was standing at the entrance with a flame torch. He was surrounded by people from the surrounding areas who had come there seeking shelter. When the boat arrived at the jetty he held the torch up. He saw Ponniyin Selvar’s face. At once he came running.

Meanwhile the prince and Acharya bikku got down. They gently placed the calf on the ground. When the palace guard bent down to touch the feet of the prince, he held his hands and stopped him midway. At that time the torch got knocked down from the guard’s hand and fell into the canal. The flame flickered brightly for a second and then died.

“Prince! I was worried about Soodamani viharam! It’s good that you came here,” said the guard.

“You know about my being at Soodamani viharam?”

“Yes, Sir! I learned about it when the junior stateswoman and Kodumablur princess were here. The junior stateswoman ordered not to tell anyone …”

“You must still obey that. Who is at the front?”

“They have come running here after the sea flooded into the coastal villages. They want shelter for the night. You are here, I will chase them away …”

“No! No! Give them a place to stay and sleep. Whatever food you have please give them. But don’t tell them about me. It’s good that your torch fell into the water. Take us upstairs by a different route,” said the prince.

Just as they entered the palace the rain started pouring along with the wind and storm.

6. Murugaiyan Cried!

Readers would have understood that in the last few chapters we described what happened in Nagaipattinam at the time when a tree fell near Thanjai behind the palanquin that Manthahini was in, and about the same time as when the boat drifted away for the storm wind that blew over Veera Narayana lake.

Throughout that night Nagaipattinam and its surroundings were in a state of chaos. Each one had his own life to worry about. No one was in a position to help another person. Even so, the Buddhist monks roamed the streets of Nagaipattinam helping the people to the extent that they were able to.

On this same night Acharya bikku and Ponniyin Selvar were up for a long time talking inside the Chola palace at Anaimangalam. They worried about the hardship and loss that this storm had wrought on the people of the coast.

The prince asked the palace overseer how much grain was in storage at the palace and how much money was at hand. He found out that the granaries were stocked to the brim with grain. He also found out that there were twelve copper urns filled with gold coins that Chempian Madevi has sent for granite overlay and renovation of the Neelayathatchi Amman’s temple at Thirunagai Karonam.

“Gurutheva! You have the means to act according to Buddha’s doctrine. Use up all the grain in storage and provide meals to the poor. Distribute all the gold coins from the copper urns to those who have lost their homes,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“How is that justified? Perhaps the grain can be used. Can we spend the money that your great aunt, Chempian Madeviyar has sent for temple work on something else? Won’t that elderly lady feel sad,” said Acharya bikku.

“Acharyar! I will explain to my great aunt. Now I will spend this money on helping the suffering of the poor. In the future I will build hundreds of Sivan temples all across Chola Nadu and make my grandmother happy. I will build tall towers. I will build stupas to a height that the sea will never be able to drown. I will build a great temple in Thanjai that will tower towards the sky invoking comparisons to thakshana mehru! Sir! Don’t worry if Soodamani viharam is completely flattened by today’s calamity. Next to it I will build another bigger Soodamani viharam in granite that will not give into any sort of flood!” The prince spoke rousingly.

“Ponniyin Selva! It delights me to hear you speak about the future with such enthusiasm,” said the bikku.

“Yes, yes. It is god’s will that I be in this world to accomplish great things. Therefore he has saved me from harm on numerous occasions. Think about even today. This Murugaiyan came at the right time from out of the blue. If not, you and I would have remained inside the monastery. We won’t have imagined that the sea will rise and so quickly wipe out the viharam.”

“That is true, who would have expected that something that had not happened in the last five hundred years will today happen at this very auspicious moment? Lord Buddha who is the sea of mercy rose to the occasion and saved you from the fury of the ocean. Through you he saved my pitiful life also. I completely agree with your decision. Treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar will be angry if money is spent from the government treasury. Your grandmother on the other hand will not be angry if money reserved for temple work is given to the poor who have lost their homes. You have made the proper decision. But shouldn’t you be in the forefront and carry it out? This poor ascetic cannot accept such a big responsibility! …”

“Gurutheva! If I am at the forefront I will have to reveal my identity. I was deeply impressed by your comment about Pandavar’s retreat to the forest. I am also reminded of our senthamilnadu poiyamozhi pulavar’s words.

‘Truth is that which
does not malign’

and

‘A lie can take the place of truth
if the act of concealing serves the greater good’

Doesn’t Tamil literature say this? My most erudite sister thinks that if I reveal myself to the public now, it will cause unrest in the country. There is no harm to anyone if I remain in hiding. Therefore it is you who must aid the people who are affected by the storm,” said the prince.

“Ponniyin Selva! For some reason I have changed my mind. I consider this the best moment to reveal yourself to the public. I think that this is Lord Buddha’s will,” said the bikku.

At this time both men heard the sound of someone sobbing. They saw that it was Murugaiyan. He was seated in a corner covering both his eyes and sobbing.

The prince went over to him. “Murugaiya! What is the matter? Why are you angry,” he asked.

“My wife … my wife …” Murugaiyan sobbed.

“Yes, yes! We completely forgot about your wife. It is natural that you are worried about her in this weather. But there is nothing that we can do in the dark. As soon as the sun comes up we will look for her,” said the prince.

“Sir! I am not crying about that. No harm would have come to her. She has dealt with worse storms and floods,” said Murugaiyan.

“Then why are you crying,” the prince asked.

Faltering the boatman said the following. “I am sorry that I didn’t trust her. She is the one who dragged me here from Kodikarai. She is the one who thought that you could be in Soodamani viharam. I came on her insistence. I was worried that she would harm you. Now I realize what a mistake that was. A while ago you praised this pitiful boatman. You said that god saved your life through me. But it was really my wife who made me do this. When I thought about how I had doubted her I started crying!”

Hearing this another question appeared in Arulmozhivarmar’s mind. “Appan! Your wife is innocent. It is wrong that you doubted her. But how did she know that I am here?” He asked.

“My aunt and my sister Poongkuzhali left for Nagapattinam in the boat. From that my wife guessed it.”

“Which aunt?” The prince asked excitedly.

“Sir! The same aunt who saved you many times from danger in Eezhatheevu.”

“Aha! Where are they now? What happened to your aunt and Poongkuzhali? You said that they came here?”

“Yes; they did. But their journey was hindered!” Murugaiyan started to cry again.

Ponniyin Selvar became very worried. He calmed the man down and found out the details. He was outraged that the Eezha arasi was abducted by some scoundrels. When he heard that Rakamaahl tried to stop them and she got beaten for that his doubts about her were cleared. The prince now had more respect and regard for her.

“Gurutheva! Did you hear? If there is one idol in the world whom I celebrate that is Eezha arasi Manthahini Devi. I cannot forgive the people who will hurt her in any way. I was never angry with the Pazhuvertaraiyars for wanting me imprisoned. But I cannot tolerate it if they hurt oomairani. I will destroy the Pazhuvertaraiyar tribe before anything else. I won’t forgive even my father and mother if they hurt the Eezha arasi. Gurutheva! I am leaving for Thanjavur tomorrow. I am going to disguise myself as a merchant and take boatman Murugaiyan along with me. Unless I find out about Eezhatharasi my mind will have no peace! Acharayar! You must carry out the task of assisting those affected by the storm. If you don’t want your name associated with it then call it ‘Eezhathu Nachchiyar alms-house.’ I don’t know if you are aware that Eezhatrharasi is fond of Buddhism. She normally resides in the Buddhist monastery in Potha theevu that people call Pootha theevu,” said the prince. The monk agreed without any objections.

The next day the storm’s fury lessened. The sea also retreated. But the havoc that had been wrought was beyond description. More than half the number of houses in Nagapattinam were roofless, reduced to mere walls. On one of the streets Prince Arulmozhivarmar was walking in the disguise of a merchant with a sack over his shoulder. Behind him was Murugaiyan carrying an even bigger sack. They walked taking in the destruction caused by the storm and flood.

From behind the broken wall of a house a woman watched them coming. She was none other than Murugaiyan’s wife Rakamaahl. She waited patiently until the prince and Murugaiyan were near her. Then out of the blue she threw herself at the feet of the prince. Murugaiyan tried hard to get her attention. He placed his finger over his lips. ‘Shh,’ he hissed. It was of no use.

“Beloved son of the Emperor! Heroic Warrior! Ponniyin Selva! The long awaited son of Chola Nadu! You did not drown in Soodamani viharam! My eyes are blessed!” She howled.

The eyes of the passersby on the street fell on the prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (42 – 46)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

42. ‘She is not a Woman’

Prince Karikalan remained thoughtful for a while. Wave after wave of old memories crashed in his mind giving way to new threads of thought each one unsettling him in a different way before disappearing. Resolutely putting an end to the clash of memories Karikalan sighed.

“Let’s not talk about the past now. Let’s talk about what has to be done. That is why I brought you here alone. We have lost the bet. The hog is gone. Let’s decide what to do now, and how to go about it. Vallavaraiya! I feel afraid when I think of speaking to Nandhini about our relationship. I cannot even look her in the face. Even at times when I accidentally glance, she presents only the face that begged me for Veera Pandyan’s life. Her gaze rips through my heart like a sword. My heart breaks when I think that my sister fell in love with Veera Pandyan and begged me for his life. Vallavaraiya! What do you think? Do you think that she is still unaware of the truth? Do you think she still does not know that she is our sister, Sundara Cholar’s daughter?”

“Crown Prince! If she is aware, would she have joined the Pandya Nadu saboteurs? Would she have, against the Chola empire, placed a little child on the throne and crowned him as the king of Pandya Nadu and emperor of the Chola empire? Would she have sworn with sword in hand that she would live to validate this ceremony? I saw with my own eyes at Thirupurampayam pallipadai at midnight …”

“After what you have witnessed, it is a wonder that Nandhini left you alive.”

“Sir! I am not surprised; it is natural that a woman is merciful!”

“Vallavaraiya! You don’t know the world. You don’t know anything about a woman’s deceitfulness and hypocrisy. I don’t know with what motive she has left you alive. But I know in my heart why she has sent an invitation and brought me here.”

“Prince! What is the reason?”

“She has brought me to kill me and avenge Veera Pandyan’s death …”

“Sir! It is in anticipation of such calamity that the junior stateswoman and the chief minister have dispatched me here urgently. But you didn’t listen to their plea not to go to Kadampoor palace …”

“Vallavaraiya! The junior stateswoman and the chief minister are well informed. But even they cannot stand in the way of fate! Perhaps fate has brought me here only to facilitate all what the astrologers have said about Arulmozhivarman, who knows? Vallavaraiya! Kanthamaran shot his arrow from behind me. Did he really aim at the bear? Or, at me? Did you notice?”

“I did not notice, Sir! But I will never agree that Kanthamaran is capable of such callousness. Would Kanthamaran kill from behind with an arrow, a guest – the emperor’s son? It is true that I don’t think highly of his intellect. I carried him and saved him when he was lying unconscious stabbed in the back. Because he saw me when he opened his eyes, he assumed that I stabbed him. His animosity from that incident has not gone. But even though he is short on wit, he is not evil minded! …”

“Friend! I do know what a deadly weapon a woman’s beauty can be. It can make any good man to turn against …”

“Sir! I also know a little about the power of beauty. But it can never make me …”

“Aha! Manimekalai is a good girl, she will not prod you to betray anyone …”

“I did not mean Manimekalai; to the eyes that have seen the full moon, would the firefly seem attractive?”

“Full moon? Whom are you referring to?”

“Prince! Do not be angry; I am referring to Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman …”

“Aday! Loudmouth! All the kings of the world are lying in wait for Kundavai’s hand. Even in your mind, can you entertain such a notion about this sister of mine?”

“Sir! The beauty of the full moon is for the earth’s emperors to experience; the poor and the destitute also delight in the moon’s cooling light. Who can prevent them?”

“Yes; there is no use being angry at you. I knowingly sent you with the letter to my sister. You also conducted yourself in a manner that satisfied her. But please don’t say this to Parthipenthiran! He is dreaming about becoming the Chola tribe son-in-law and Thoandai Nadu king …”

“Sir! That may have been true not very long ago. Now, both Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran are ready to carry on their heads what Nandhini dictates with her foot …”

“I have been observing that; that is why they worry me.”

“All things considered, it seems that it is important that you meet Ilaiyarani soon and tell her the truth.”

“Friend! I doubt that I will have the courage. Instead of me, what about you telling her?”

“Prince! If I do, Ilaiyarani is not going to believe. Once I deceived her and got away. Therefore, she will think that this is also another trick.”

“But how will I meet Nandhini alone? She is in the anthapuram!”

“Sir! That will be possible through Manimekalai. I will arrange it …”

“It looks as if you have Manimekalai in your palm. Good job! Whatever else happens, if I can wed Manimekalai to you, my mind will have some peace.”

“Sir! I consider Manimekalai to be my sister. I am hoping that she will be ten times more fortunate …”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see, Prince! I am guessing that young Manimekalai has taken over the heart of the crown prince of Chola empire. I made some remarks about Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter a while ago. I did that to let you know what was in my heart. Other than the junior stateswoman no other woman can approach Manimekalai in integrity and intellect. If you marry Manimekalai all our troubles will be over. Sambuvaraiyar and Kanthamaran will be on our side. Pazhuvertaraiyars will be left alone. Ilaiyarani’s power will also diminish. After that Mathuranthaka Thevar will not even raise the subject of the kingdom. We can beat both the petty kings’ perfidy and the Pandya Nadu saboteurs’ quest for vengeance in one stroke …”

“This is all very brilliant, Brother! But I did not come to Kadampoor for marriage. A grave danger is closing in. Let me tell you, listen! When Pazhuvertaraiyar returns with Mathuranthakan he will be accompanied by a large garrison …”

“Sir! In that case why don’t we send word to Thirukovalur Malaiamman, and ask him to come with his troops? It is always good to be prepared!”

“I am considering that option. Do you know what I am tempted with at times? I want to raze to the ground this Kadampoor palace; at the entrance to the palace hang all those who congregated here to engage in perfidy. I am controlling my temper for the sake of my father. If only you had brought him to Kanji …”

“Prince! It was a Brahmaisque effort to deliver your letter!”

“Yes; the emperor has got himself trapped by these Pazhuvertaraiyars. Bats inhabit the golden palace I built for my parents in the great city of Kanji. I don’t know if I will have the privilege of welcoming them to the palace during my lifetime. I am even doubting if I will leave Kadampoor alive …”

“Prince! The longer you continue in this vain the more important it seems to ask Malaiamman to come with his troops …”

“I am thinking of sending you on that mission …”

“Sir! You must forgive me! Your elder sister has ordered me not to leave your side even for a second …”

“You have so far carried it out well.”

“Parthipenthira Pallavar is idling here. He is bored …”

“Yes; each second that he spends away from Ilaiyarani seems like an eon to him. I never thought that Parthipenthiran would be so captivated by a woman’s beauty. He is the one who ought to be sent to Malaiamman.”

“Good idea, Sir!”

“When he is away if I run into any danger you are here to help me …”

“Prince! Regardless of who is here, I don’t think that there is anyone in this world who has the audacity to harm you. I saw with my own eyes, the old warriors who were loquacious in your absence shaking and stuttering when they saw you!”

“Brother! I am not afraid of any man who will duel with me sword in hand. I am also not afraid of backstabbers like Kanthamaran who can shoot an arrow from behind …”

“Again, you are going down that path about Kanthamaran …”

“Listen, young man! I fear the hypocrisy that resides deep within a woman’s heart. My heart shudders whenever I think of what she may be harboring in her mind. Each enigmatic glance of hers is a spear going through my chest. As soon as I sense it my legs and hands give away.”

“Sir! I agree that you must heed Nandhini Devi’s hypocrisy. I have felt the extent of the deadly hatred that resides in her heart. I am afraid when I think of how she let me go free, if there is a hidden motive behind it. But this is because she is in the dark! Once you tell her that you are her brother there will be nothing to worry about!”

“You think so? Vallavaraiya! You are smart. But you are an innocent child who does not know the nature of women. If Nandhini finds out that she is Sundara Cholar’s daughter the enmity she feels towards me will increase a hundred fold. Even if she is offered the title of Thanjai empress her anger won’t go down …”

“Prince! If you feel that way, then give me the responsibility. I will tell Nandhini the truth. I will try to calm her anger …”

“You won’t be able to, Friend! No one can put a lid on Nandhini’s anger. Listen to what I am saying! If our Chola tribe has to be saved then either I must die; or she must die; or we both must die. I will kill her with the same sword that killed Veera Pandyan …”

“Prince! What kind of dangerous rhetoric is this?”

“Vallavaraiya! Is it wrong to take one life out in order to save an empire? So what, that she is a woman? So what, that she is my sister? Actually she is not a woman; she is a devil in the guise of a bewitchingly beautiful woman! If we leave her alive this Chola empire that has spread since the time of Vijayalaya Cholar will break apart … Aha! What is that?” Athitha Karikalan turned around, his question voicing fear.

They heard a commotion nearby in the forest. Both nudged their horses towards the sound. An extraordinary sight presented itself. A wild boar and a cheetah were engaged in a brutal fight.

“Aha! The fellow we came looking for is here!” Karikalan said.

“It looks as if the cheetah has taken over our job,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You think so? Keep watching,” said Karikalan.

With wide open eyes both watched the gory battle between the cheetah and the hog. The cheetah tried to jump on the swine and attack it with its nails and teeth. But the wild boar’s thick integument will not give in to the tiger’s nails and teeth. When the hog rammed into the cheetah and forced it to the ground against the roots of the tree, the cheetah was badly hurt. The swine’s teeth tore the cheetah’s skin into pieces. When one last time the hog rammed into the cheetah and pushed it down it lay still as if dead.

“Young brother! The cheetah is dead! The pig will now turn on us! We must be ready for it!” Karikalan released an arrow from his bow.

The arrow struck the hog on its neck. The hog shook its neck and turned. It saw the two horses and the horsemen on top. It turned to look at the cheetah. Perhaps it decided that the cheetah was no longer a threat! It leaped toward the horses in a brutal frenzy. Before Kariakaln could release another arrow from his bow it attacked his horse. From the force of the attack the horse stepped backwards. As its hind legs butted against the root of a tree it stumbled and fell. Karikalan became trapped underneath the horse.

The hog took a step back. Then, gathering speed it leaped again on the horse that was now lying on the ground.

43. ‘Where is the Tiger?’

Vandhiyathevan saw Athitha Karikalan’s predicament. At the blink of an eye he rode his horse to the pig and plunged his spear into the beast. The spear merely pricked the pig’s exterior. The animal shook itself and turned.

The motion wrenched the spear away from Vandhiyathevan’s hand. Having only been loosely attached to the pig’s back, the spear fell to the ground.

Now the pig came running toward Vandhiyathevan. He realized the danger he was in. His horse won’t be able to withstand the pig’s attack. He no longer had the spear. The prince was still trying to get up from under the horse. To save his skin his only option was to reach upwards from the horse and grab one of the branches of the tree. Cheechee! After living through so many dangers, in the end does one have to be killed by a wild boar? …

Fortunately, within reach was a tree with branches running low. Vandhiyathevan leaped from the horse and grabbed one of the branches. Crunching his shoulders he pulled his legs upwards with all his strength to hoist himself over on to the branch. The pig rammed into the horse. The horse stumbled, but avoiding a fall it ran away.

Karikalan was still lying under his horse. Vandhiyathevan was up on the branch. The wild boar stood between the two men and looked from one to the other.

Vandhiyathevan saw that the boar was wondering whom to attack. The prince was yet to free himself from under the horse. Even if he did it was doubtful that he could withstand the pig’s attack at that time. He had no weapon in his hand that he could swing effortlessly. The bow must be mounted. He may also be badly wounded from the fall. Whatever the outcome it was important to buy the prince some time. His mind working at the speed of light Vandhiyathevan came to a decision. Violently shaking the branch that he was on he shouted, “Aha! Ohoo!”

His trick worked. The pig came leaping at his tree in a ruthless frenzy.

Just as Vandhiyathevan was thinking, ‘Let it come, let it come. Come and hurl itself against the tree,’ the branch he was on broke. God! What now? … If he lands on the ground with the branch? Next minute the pig’s ghastly teeth will tear him into pieces. He must grab on to another branch to survive. He tried to do that. He reached for another branch with one hand. The branch was too thin. It bent and gave way. His hold began to slip, his legs were dangling! Alright! He will fall down; death awaited! No doubt. Whatever! He was able to save Athitha Karikalan one last time! Thanjavur stateswoman will be happy when she hears about it! She will shed some tears over his death! …

Right then there arose a terrifying noise; at the same time he lost his grip! Vandhiyathevan closed his eyes tightly. ‘thadal’ – he fell down; as he fell he became unconscious.

When Vandhiyathevan came to his senses and opened his eyes he saw Athitha Karikalar sprinkling water on his face. He bolted upright and said, “Prince! You survived?”

“Yes; with your help I am still alive,” said Athitha Karikalar.

“What happened to the wild boar,” he asked.

“There!” The prince pointed to the spot where the wild boar lay dead.

After staring at it for a few seconds Vandhiyathevan asked, “What a nightmare this small animal put us through! All what Kanthamaran said about the wild boar turned out to be true. How did you finally kill it?”

“I did not. It was you and your spear together who killed it,” said the prince.

Confused, Vandhiyathevan looked at the prince. “You have made good use of my spear! But I didn’t do anything! I failed at the crucial moment,” he said.

“When you were shaking the tree and shouting, I freed myself from under the horse and took your spear. All the anger that was frothing in my heart, I leashed it on this pig. When the spear went in, it let out a terrifying roar. But it did not die by the spear alone. You slipped from the tree and fell on top of it; it died from that shock!” Karikalar laughed recalling the moment. Vandhiyathevan also laughed. He felt his body around. “I didn’t get hurt probably because I fell on top of the pig. Now I can believe that Mahavishnu indeed incarnated as a pig and killed Iraniyatshan.  Appa! What a ruthless creature,” he said.

“Don’t compare varaha avatharam to this small wild boar, young brother! In the north in the jungles of Vinthya mountain I hear that there is a one-horned pig. It is almost as big as an elephant I hear. Just imagine that pig being here and butting into that tree that you were on,” said the prince.

“The tree would have come down with its roots. The spear you threw also would have broken, ending our story right here. The enemies of the Chola tribe would have been spared some work,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Young man! Tell the truth! When my horse fell down you threw the spear. Did you aim at the wild boar? Or did you take aim at me,” asked Athitha Karikalar.

Angrily Vandhiyathevan said, “Are really questioning me? If there was any doubt, why kill the pig? Save me?”

“Yes, yes! I should not doubt you. If you did not shake the branch and shout, that pig would have been my Yaman. Yet, when you threw that spear I did question, for a moment. Nowadays I have doubts about anything and everyone. I cannot rid myself of the notion that Yaman is following me. I thought that Yaman had arrived in the form of this pig to kill me …”

“In that case, well and good. King! The Yaman who followed you is dead and gone; we have no more worries. We have also won the bet with Kanthamaran. Let’s drag the pig and head back. Shall we,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Yes; we should! But what is the hurry? Let’s rest here for a while before going,” said the prince.

“This is the first time I have heard you say that you are tired. Yes, that was rough, getting caught under that horse.”

“That was nothing; more than physical fatigue it is mental fatigue that is pulling me down. Must we go back the same way through the forest? We will have to join those fools and suffer their company. Why don’t we cross the lake?”

“God! This lake is like an ocean. You want to cross this? After saving me from the pig, you want to drown me in the lake,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I remember that you cannot swim. Even I cannot swim across this big lake. If we have a boat it will be easier. We did see a boat here, it’s probably somewhere along the riverbank. Why don’t we look for it?”

“What about the horses? We leave them to be eaten by the beasts of the wilderness,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

Then he jumped up as if recalling something. “Sir! Where is the tiger,” he asked.

“I too forgot the tiger. It’s going to be hiding somewhere in the vicinity. Yaman can follow me, if not as a pig, then as a tiger – can’t he,” said the prince.

Both began to look around. After a while Vandhiyathevan pointed, “Look!”

The creek that was draining into the lake gradually narrowed as it headed north. In that narrow section a fallen tree was bridging both sides of the creek. Both men had the same thought.

“Aha! Those women who came in the boat!” Both exclaimed as one voice.

“Those women must have gotten out on the island by the creek,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“A wounded tiger is very dangerous,” said the prince.

“We will have to kill the tiger and take it also with the pig.”

“How do we cross this creek? The horses cannot go on that tree-bridge!”

“Water is low; let’s get into the water.”

Karikalar’s horse had by then stood up and was standing beside Vandhiyathevan’s horse. Perhaps like their masters they were also discussing the terror that visited them only moments ago. Both men leaped on to their horses; they guided the horses into the water. The water was not deep. But mud and slush was plenty. Mired in it the horses struggled to make their way across.

‘This mud is nothing,’ Vandhiyathevan found solace by comparing it to Kodikarai’s quicksand. He began to describe it to Karikalar.

“Friend! You speak about the mud on the ground. What do you think of the mud in people’s minds? Do you know how hard it is for someone who had stepped into the mud of deception to get back on shore again?” Karikalar asked. Vandhiyathevan was convinced that the prince’s mind was as boggy as the mud they were traversing.

With much effort the horses reached the other side. Looking around them carefully both men entered the forest with caution. Bow and arrow were ready in Karikalar’s hands. Vandhiyathevan also had his spear ready to throw at the tiger. Suddenly rising over the mundane sounds of the wilderness a woman’s cry – ‘kreech’ – was heard. “Ammah! Ammah! Tiger,” she wailed.

At the same time that Manimekalai saw the cheetah on the branch one of the companions cooking in the gazebo also saw the animal and cried out. The cry fell in the ears of the two friends making their hair stand on its ends. Urging their horses they sped in the direction of the sound. When they took the turn around the bend on the riverbank they were startled by what they saw.

When Nandhini and Manimekalai were going down the steps to take a bath in the lake, the cheetah was crawling slowly up on a branch. After being severely wounded following the fight with the pig all what the cheetah wanted was to save its life. But no one other than that tiger knew this. Karikalar and Vandhiyathevan imagined that the cheetah was about to jump on the women in the water.

Vandhiyathevan was reluctant to use the spear. He worried about the spear accidentally striking the women. Karikalan had no such qualms. On the bow that was ready he placed the arrow and pulled it. The arrow took flight striking the cheetah on its abdomen. With a terrifying roar the cheetah jumped on the women. What followed was utter confusion. The cheetah and the women completely disappeared. Within seconds the three heads rose above the water in three different places. Mingling with the blood the lake water turned red.

44. Love and Revenge

The two friends were watching with trepidation. They jumped from their horses and ran to the lake. In the meantime the cheetah had moved a little away in the water! From the way it was floating it appeared to be lifeless. It was not at all apparent how much the two women were hurt by the tiger. Both men jumped into the water and headed toward the women.

Because he was afraid of going near Nandhini, Vandhiyathevan went towards Manimekalai. Other than gasping for breath after falling suddenly into the water Manimekalai was alright. She was not hurt! Feeling immensely happy at the sight of Vandhiyathevan approaching her, she closed her eyes tightly.

She did not see Karikalan putting his hand out to stop Vandhiyathevan and directing him towards Nandhini. Until Karikalan gathered her up in his arms and carried her up the steps and laid her on the ground she did not open her eyes. Only when Karikalan placed his finger under her nostrils to check her breathing she slowly opened her eyes full of love and anticipation wanting to let Vandhiyathevan know of her boundless love for him. When she saw Karikalar she swiftly sat up and moved away.

Seeing the disappointment on her face Karikalan laughed out loud.

“Manimekalai! What is this aversion? Why move so swiftly away at the sight of me,” he said.

“Sir! Won’t a woman be embarrassed being touched by a stranger,” said Manimekalai.

“Girl! You have made me a stranger? There is a unified effort at getting the two of us married!” Karikalan said.

“Swami! We can be familiar only after that effort succeeds! Until then you are a stranger,” said Manimekalai.

“But you can say if you consent for the arrangement?”

Kadampoor princess thought for a while. “Sir! You are the beacon of the Chola tribe; the wise king who knows everything. Should you be speaking in this manner to a little girl like me? Shouldn’t you speak to my father,” she said.

“Girl! If your father agrees, will you?”

“Once my father agrees and when he asks me I will answer. I am so mortified to be discussing this with you. You saved me from the tiger and from drowning. Because I am grateful for that I am being patient …”

Karikalan laughed. He said, “Manimekalai! You are a very smart young woman. Yet, you were deceived. But you should not try to deceive me because of it!”

“Sir! What is this talk? This ignorant girl will deceive you? Why? How?”

“Why are we beating around the bush? Would you speak so harshly if instead of me Vandhiyathevan had carried you ashore? Didn’t you close your eyes thinking that it was Vandhiyathevan? And then opened them wide with the same notion? Poor girl! You got cheated,” said Karikalan.

Manimekalai was embarrassed. She was also afraid. But drawing on her courage she said, “King! You do know my heart! And yet, why are you testing this foolish girl?”

“Manimekalai! I know your heart. In the same way I also know Vallavaraiyan’s heart. He does not deserve your innocent love. Look over there! The way Ilaiyarani Nandhini and Vandhiyathevan are talking, look how happy Nandhini is,” he said.

Manimekalai looked in the direction that he pointed. The poison of jealousy seized that moment to invade her childishly innocent heart.

***

Blood was oozing from Nandhini’s shoulder where the tiger’s nail had scratched her. She did not close her eyes like Manimekalai. She was in no hurry to move out of Vandhiyathevan’s hands also. Vandhiyathevan on the other hand lowered her hastily on the ground as if he had picked up a ball of fire. Even though she was soaking wet, Nandhini’s body was actually burning.

An unfamiliar angst seized Vandhiyathevan’s heart. His body trembled. Smiling Nandhini said, “Sir! Why all the agitation? Did you mistake me for the tiger? Or are you feeling sorry for bringing me ashore instead of the tiger?”

“Madam! Please do not say such harsh words. I am a little overwhelmed by the circumstances that forced me to carry you ashore …”

“Guilty conscience! No wonder it is pricking!”

“Devi! I am not guilty of anything!”

“You are not guilty? You sought my help to enter Thanjai fort. I helped you by lending you my signature ring. Then you broke into my anthpuram. Again I saved you from harm. How did you repay me for that? You ran away like a thief without saying goodbye. You said that you would return after seeing Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. You did not keep your word. Don’t you feel guilty?”

“I acknowledge my mistakes. But each one has a reason. I am in the service of others. I am bound by Athitha Karikalar’s authority. If you think about it you will stop blaming me …”

“Yes; even to save a woman from the mouth of a tiger you will need Karikalar’s authority. Even to bring a drowning woman to shore you will need his permission. I was watching. Adada! How excited the prince was about saving Manimekalai! He would have been happy if I had drowned in the water. Without knowing his heart you brought me ashore …”

“Madam! Please don’t say that. Karikalar has come all the way from Kanji because you wrote to him …”

“But you came here running to prevent him from coming here. You came with the junior stateswoman’s message. But you didn’t succeed. You will fail in the same way each time you try to interfere into my affairs!”

Nandhini’s words added to Vandhiyathevan’s anxiety. He studied her face intently to learn from her expression what her words actually meant. But her face sheathed in its usual smile bared nothing.

Nandhini continued. “Your guilt is written on your face. You were caught on amavasai night near pallipadai. A nod to my men would have been enough; they would have killed you. I saved your life then also. Even for that you have no gratitude. I have never come across such an ungrateful person …”

“Devi! My heart is filled with gratitude for you. I swear.”

“But you have been here for so many days, yet you did not bother to express your gratitude? How can I believe you?”

“I was hoping to express it in private. But I have not had an opportunity …”

“You did not attempt to create an opportunity. Not even a nod, or a glance. Why? You did not turn in my direction even once all these days …”

“Devi! You are the distinguished wife of the treasurer of Chola Nadu …”

“You are making fun that I am married to an old man, aren’t you?”

“Aiyo! If I made fun of you I will land in hell …”

“No, no! Whatever happens, don’t call me Pazhuvertaraiyar’s distinguished wife! In fact I am not his wife …”

“Aiyo! What are you saying?”

“I am stating the truth. If someone abducts a woman by force, does she become his wife?”

“Devi! You came in the age old tradition of Tamil Nadu women. You will not do anything against that tradition!”

“I am aware of the women’s tradition. In the old Tamil Nadu women married whoever they fell in love with. They did not submit themselves into forced marriages!”

“But you …?”

“I know what you are about to say. You want to know how I agreed to a forced marriage with Pazhuvertaraiyar. It was for an important reason that I agreed. Old Tamil Nadu women have another special attribute also. They will seek revenge for injustice done towards them. Sir! You did not help me in my love life. Would you at least help me to get revenge on my enemies?”

As Nandhini’s words descended like thunder over his head and pierced his heart like vajrayutham Vandhiyathevan felt suffocated.

“Devi! Devi! What’s this? … Love? … Revenge? What do I have to do with your love? What does love have to do with revenge?”

“Everything; but there is no time to dwell on it now. The prince and Manimekalai are headed here. If you come tomorrow at midnight to my room, I will tell you …”

“How is that possible, Devi? You are in the anthapuram. How can I come there alone in the night?”

“Didn’t you one day escape from that room without anyone’s knowledge? You can return in the same way …”

Vandhiyathevan’s bewilderment was now complete. On Nandhini’s face there was no change. A smile lingered as always.

45. “You are my Sister”

The prince and Manimekalai walked toward Nandhini and Vandhiyathevan. As he walked, the prince kept his glance focused on Vandhiyathevan.

Once he was with them he looked up at Nandhini. He saw blood oozing from the red scratch marks on her cheeks and shoulder.

“Aiyo! Did that wretched tiger hurt you?” He said.

“Yes, Sir! But the tiger wounded only my body; it didn’t wound my heart!” Nandhini answered.

The words struck Karikalar’s heart like arrows. Before he could respond an agitated Manimekalai rushed to Nandhini’s side. “Yes, Sister! It has left its mark! Fortunately I have anjanam. Come, I’ll take care of it! The sooner it’s applied, the better!” She said.

“Little Sister! Such wounds don’t matter to me. So many of these have healed. Tell me if you have anjanam to treat the wounds of the heart,” she said.

“Oh! There is, Sister! There is that also!” Manimekalai took Nandhini by her hand to the marble hall.

The prince and Vandhiyathevan walked to the rear of the building and sat under a sprawling tree on the polished marble stone.

“Sir! The sooner we leave from here, the better! If we stay too long Kanthamaran and his father may misunderstand!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Let them misunderstand. Will they take our heads off? As long as these girls don’t misunderstand us … as soon as they come we will say goodbye and leave,” said the prince.

Soon Nandhini and Manimekalai returned after changing their clothes and making themselves presentable. Eyeliner was applied on Nandhini’s cheek and shoulder masking the blood and scratch marks.

“We were waiting to say goodbye,” said Karikalar.

“Really? It is past noon. You must eat with us. If I let you leave now, Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter will never forgive me,” said Pazhuvur Rani.

“We will wait on one condition. Manimekalai has applied medicine to the wounds. She said that she has a cure for the heart also! If she says what that cure is we will wait,” said Karikalar.

“Instead of asking her why don’t we guess what her cure is,” said Nandhini.

“Perhaps she meant the forgetfulness that comes with time,” said Karikalar.

“That cannot be; there are wounds of the heart that aren’t cured by the passage of time,” said Nandhini.

“In the case of women there is a good remedy for troubles of the heart. Tears!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“The prince of Vallam is always on the lookout for a chance to insult women; but he is not right. After certain troubles – even the ability to cry is lost. When that happens how can it serve as a remedy,” asked Nandhini.

“If both of us are wrong, what is your guess?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“Alright; I will answer. The remedy you had in mind can reach the heart through one’s ears! The remedy you had in mind is music that arises from a lute or fife and a melodious voice!” Nandhini said.

“Yes, Sister? How did you guess?” Manimekalai asked.

“Didn’t I say that I was a magician? I have the ability to know what’s on other people’s minds. Sir! Do you both agree to the extraordinary powers of music?” Nandhini asked.

“Yes, yes! I also acknowledge our mistake for not recognizing it. I remember Kanthamaran saying that Manimekalai is a talented musician and that she plays the lute well,” said Karikalar.

“What a brother! A day does not pass without the Kadampoor prince singing the praise of his sister. What he said about Manimekalai’s musical abilities is true. Manimekalai has even brought her lute. Fortunately, today she does not have the misfortune of having to entertain the musically untrained ears of mine alone. Sir! You saved us foolish women from becoming the tiger’s meal today. Shouldn’t we thank you for that? You must have a meal with us and enjoy Manimekalai’s music before leaving,” insisted Nandhini.

Vandhiyathevan gestured to the prince to decline the invitation. The prince had no eyes for him. “The princesses’ wish is our delight and pleasure,” said Karikalar.

“Manimekalai! Your dream has come true. Go and see if the cooking is over! Or else, tell them to hurry.” Nandhini bade.

Manimekalai at once stood up and left. At the same time Vandhiyathevan also stood up and started looking around.

Noticing it Nandhini said, “Didn’t I say that I possess the magical power to read other people’s minds? I want to put it to the test. Shall I guess what’s on the mind of the prince of Vallam?”

Laughing Karikalar answered, “Alright, let’s see!”

“He is kicking himself for killing the tiger and saving these two women. He thinks that it would have been better if the two of them had ended up in the tiger’s belly!”

Continuing to laugh Karikalar asked, “Pal! Is that what you are thinking?”

“No, Sir! I am not thinking that. But it is true that my thoughts were about them and the tiger. I was marveling as to how the tiger that got caught to them managed to survive,” he said.

“What, young man! You are bluffing! The tiger is alive? Again? The dead animal was floating on the water! Where is it now?”The prince stood up.

“Over there!” Vandhiyathevan pointed.

Within shouting distance from where they were the water’s edge could be seen through the branches of the trees. The boat that the princesses had come in lay there tied up. The cheetah with its front paws on the edge of the boat was trying to climb in.

“Aha! The tiger’s life is very sound,” said Karikalar.

“Sir! Come on, let’s go get it. It’s a mistake to leave a wounded tiger alive,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Varnar tribe Warrior! Why should two warriors struggle with a wounded tiger? I will call Manimekalai. She will take the tiger down with her little knife,” said Nandhini.

“See, Friend! Pazhuvur Rani holds that much of esteem for our valor. Do you need me? Can you do this by yourself?”

“Or shall we send Manimekalai?”

“We can send Manimekalai. But what will we do if that girl starts applying eyeliner on the wounded tiger also?”Vandhiyathevan mumbled.

“What are you thinking?” The prince asked.

“I am wondering if I should chop the tiger’s head and lay it down at the Pazhuvur queen’s feet. Let’s see if that will make her happy.” Vandhiyathevan walked brusquely away from there.

“Did you hear what that foolish fellow said? Is valor required for chopping off the head of a fallen tiger?” Karikalar’s laughter ceased abruptly when he caught sight of Nandhini’s face.

“Perhaps the question is best answered by you,” said Nandhini.

Karikalar trembled. His voice breaking he said, “Nandhini! You sent a letter through Kanthamaran. That is why I am here. If not I will not be.”

“At least now you respected my request. Thank you very much,” said Nandhini.

“I thought that you have forgotten the past. I thought that is why you sent the letter …”

“Is the past forgettable, Sir? Have you forgotten everything? …”

“No, it cannot be forgotten. I am also unable to! You begged me with tears in your eyes. I did not listen. I was caught up in the frenzy of the war at that time. I have not forgotten any of that. It is true. But why did you send the letter? Why did you bring me here?” The prince asked.

“Sir! For three years you have not visited Thanjavur. You have not come to see your ailing father …”

“He is not father to me alone, Nandhini! …”

“Yes, he is father to the junior stateswoman also! He is father to Ponniyin Selvar also. Yet your absence is your father’s biggest grievance. Someone had told the emperor that I am the reason for your absence. Because of it he does not even look at me. Sir! Isn’t the harm you have done enough? Do I have to shoulder this blame also? …”

“But it is true. You are the reason I have not been to Thanjai …”

“In that case I will go away. You come to Thanjai, accept your father’s throne and the jeweled crown …”

“Nandhini! That will never happen. I have no desire for the throne. Let Mathuranthaka Thevar be on the throne with the jeweled crown and rule the kingdom …”

“Sir! You know Mathuranthakar well. Can he rule this big empire even for a day?”

“If he cannot, the Pazhuvertaraiyars are there to help him; you are there …”

“Sir! I see what you want now. I will go away from Thanjai, from the Pazhuvur palace … You come to Thanjai …”

“No, no! You are mistaken! That is not what I want. The harm I have done to you is more than enough. I don’t have to bear the guilt of chasing you away from Pazhuvur palace also …”

“Sir! Can’t we both be in Thanjai? Isn’t there room for both of us in that big city? We don’t even have to see each other!”

“We may not have to see each other. But can we stop our minds from thinking? You said it just now! That we cannot forget the past. You talked about the wound in your heart. My heart is also wounded. I cannot also forget.”

“You may not forget; but can’t you forgive? Even after all this time you cannot forgive me for my mistakes?”

“Nandhini! You did not do anything that needs my forgiveness. I am the one who is guilty; I am the one who has to ask your forgiveness. I left Kanji with the intention of asking for your forgiveness. But what I heard on the way has made me unfit to even ask for your forgiveness.”

“Crown Prince! It is not at all proper for you to ask my forgiveness. You are the beloved son of the emperor. I am an orphan abandoned by both mother and father …”

“No, Nandhini! You are not an orphan …”

“Even though Treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar has graciously accepted me as his Ilaiyarani …”

“Not only that, Nandhini! I am wondering how to tell you the truth …”

“You can say anything to this foolish woman. Even strangers are daring to dally with me. They want to provoke me and insult me …”

“Nandhini! Hereafter, I will not tolerate that kind of behavior from anyone. You only have to say the word. I will send the fellow to yamanulagam without a second thought …”

“You have always been kind to me. You have even defended me to Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. She is your sister …”

“Nandhini! You are also my sister! Just like the junior stateswoman you are my sister also; I am your brother!”

“Crown Prince! Ever since I married someone else you have been treating me like a sister. It is fitting of your tribe’s glory. But how can I consider the beloved son of the emperor, the one who was born to rule the three worlds, my brother …?”

“You have not understood what I said. Nandhini! You are really my sister; you are the beloved daughter of the emperor who reigns over the three worlds …!”

When she heard this Nandhini laughed out loud.

“I don’t know if you are being delusional, or if I am the insane one!” She replied.

“This is no delusion! This is not insanity!”

“So you are teasing this foolish woman!”

“Look at me, Nandhini, and tell me! Do I really look like I am teasing you?”

“Sir! You look at my face and tell me! Do I look like the emperor’s beloved daughter? Is my face glowing with the royal charisma?”

“Nandhini! I have seen your face since you were a five year old. I have marveled at the incomparable beauty that radiates from your face. Now I understand where it arises from. I found out midway after I left Kanji. It is known all over the world that no one is as beautiful as Vaithumbarajan’s daughter Kalyani among those wed into the Chola tribe. She is my grandmother; she is still alive in Pazhaiyarai. Even at seventy years of age her divine beauty can blind one’s eyes. All that beauty has taken sanctuary in you. It is not with me, not with the junior stateswoman; not even with Arulmozhi. From my father it has come to you …”

“Sir! What are you saying? There is trouble with my mind. Or the defect must be in my ears …”

“No, Nandhini,! No! There is nothing wrong with your mind or your ears; you are my father’s daughter; that makes you my sister. Before the emperor married my mother he fell in love with a great lady from one of the islands of Eezhanadu. He secretly married her. You are her daughter, therefore, my sister!” Karikalar said in a voice heavy with emotion.

Seemingly in great shock, Nandhini stared at Athitha Karikalar’s face. Then her face cleared. “Sir! Is this the news that you heard after leaving Kanji?” She asked.

“Yes, Nandhini! It explained so much that had been a puzzle to me.”

“Crown Prince? Who brought this news? The prince of Vallam?”

“He is the one! The junior stateswoman Kundavai sent him with this news!”

“Aha! From the old days they have perfidiously plotted to keep us apart. Their tricks are still continuing.”

“You are mistaken, Nandhini! There is no perfidy in this. I never understood the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi’s motives for trying to separate us in our young days. I was very angry about it. Only now I understand what sort of calamity she saved us from. But she could have revealed the truth at that time. Because of it they did you a great injustice; they did harm to me also. Let bygones be bygones. Let’s forget the past, even if we cannot forget, let’s forgive …”

“Sir! Is this the only tale that the prince of Vallam told you on the way here? Was there anything else?” Nandhini asked.

“Why do you call this a tale, Nandhini? Don’t you believe it,” said Athitha Karikalar.

“Is it so easy to believe? Could I have ended up this way if I was the emperor’s daughter? Could I have been dealt such a cruel and unhappy life? Alright, let’s assume that it is true. Is this all that Vandhiyathevan said? Did he say anything else?”

After slight hesitation Karikalar said, “Yes, there was something else. He said that you have joined the Pandya Nadu saboteurs. He said that you are determined to wipe out the Chola tribe; that you worship a sword that bears the fish emblem. He also said that you crowned a small boy near the pallipadai at Kollidam shore jungle. Nandhini! Forget all of that! Just like me you have a right to the Chola tribe’s glory. You are emperor Sundara Cholar’s daughter, our beloved sister. My first obligation from now on is to seek retribution for all the injustice done to you …”

“Sir! You believe all of this, don’t you? Then why did you wait so many days after coming to Kadampoor? Why didn’t you try to tell me before?”

“My mind was tortured. I needed time to accept this new relationship of ours. I was also waiting for a good opportunity when I could explain everything in detail. This is not news that I can discuss in front of others! Fortunately, a wild boar and a cheetah gave me that opportunity today …”

Nandhini interrupted. “Sir! The beasts of the wilderness are indeed dangerous! But they cannot do harm as much as humans. Only today I found that out,” she said.

“Sister! You said just now that it is not possible to forget the past. I also agreed. I asked for forgiveness for what is unforgettable. You did not answer.”

“Crown Prince! Perhaps I will forgive all the harm you have done before. But I can never forget what you did today; or forgive …”

“Aiyo! What did I do today? I am not aware of any wrong that I did today?”

“I will tell you. There, he comes. Take a look at that villain!”

“You mean Vallavaraiyan?”

“Yes; the one who is coming empty handed without the tiger’s head, him! One day he met me in Thanjai. He said that he will consider himself lucky even if my toe were to touch him. I did not want to touch him even to kick him out with my feet. After I said that I was going to call the servants he ran away. Because I did not submit to his vile fantasy he has concocted this dreadful fiction. He promised to bring me your head if I wanted. He is afraid that I will expose him. For that reason he met you midway and tried to stop you from visiting Kadampoor. That is why he is not leaving your side even for a minute. That kind of vile being, someone I did not want to touch even with my foot – you made him embrace me and carry me ashore. And you were watching it. Can I forget this? Or forgive?”

Hearing Nandhini’s angry words spoken with fire in her eyes, Karikalar’s head began to turn. The marble hall, the lake and the water, the trees of the forest – all were turning. Collecting himself he said, “Sister! Nandhini! Can this be true – what you are saying? I truly do not know what to believe. Can Vandhiyathevan be so vile? Even just a short while ago I was thinking of marrying this innocent girl Manimekalai to him!”

“Sir! You don’t have to believe me. You always act in a hurry. Not this time. For a couple of days be patient and observe his activities. You will find out,” said Nandhini.

46. The Boat Drifted Away!

On one side there was Vandhiyathevan walking towards them. On the other side was Manimekalai calling out, “Sister! The food is ready,” as she came towards them.

After checking both sides Karikalar said, “Nandhini! Vandhiyathevan was not the only one who tried to stop me from coming to Kadampoor palace. The vaishnavan called Azhvarkadiyan also brought the same message! My father’s close friend, chief minister Aniruthar, whom I respect very much sent word!”

“Chief minister Aniruthar is your father’s lifelong friend. He is trying to rob your father of his life itself. He has your respect! So he is trying to see that you don’t succeed to the throne …”

“Why? Why?”

“Because he thinks that you are a hot tempered atheist. His dream is to crown your younger brother, turn him into a brave vaishnavan and turn this entire Chola Nadu a Vaishnava place. When your brother disappeared at mid sea, sand got thrown into his dream!”

“For that, why should I be prevented from visiting Kadampoor?”

“Can I share all these secrets with you?”

“How do you know these secrets?”

“Sir! You have forgotten that I am that vaishnavan Azhvarkadiyan’s sister …”

“Are you really his sister? Do you expect me to believe that story?”

“I too have no faith in that story. I won’t ask you to believe it. I grew up in his father’s house. Therefore he called me his sister. This vaishnavan used to call me the reincarnation of Aandahl. His dream is that I should go with him from place to place, sing the pasurams of Azhvars and spread the Vaishnava tradition!”

“Like the Budhhist priestesses he wants to turn you into a Vaishnava priestess?” Athitha Karikalar asked.

“Nothing like that. His desire is to marry me and go from place to place as a couple singing devotional songs. His desire is that I should have many children to promote the Vaishnava cause.”

“Cheecheee! Where is that monkey-face Thirumalai? Where are you? He wanted to make you his wife?”

“Sir! That is my ill fortune. Blame it on the stars! All the men who come near me have only foul thoughts …”

“Compared to the old man Pazhuvertaraiyar’s twisted mind, why talk of anyone else?”

“Crown Prince! Please do not speak disrespectfully of Pazhuvertaraiyar to me. He fell in love with me. He married me in front of the world. I was just an orphan, he honored me as his queen …”

“But what do you want, Nandhini? Do you really worship him as your husband? In that case …”

“No, no! I am immensely grateful to him. But I am not living with him. He also did not insist. Sir! I was born into poverty, abandoned at birth. Yet I gave my heart to only one person. I never wavered from that …”

“Nandhini! Who is that fortunate man? No; you don’t have to say. Who are you? Tell the truth! If you are not my father’s daughter, if you are not my sister, if you are not Azhvarkadiyan’s sister, then who are you? Tell me, Nandhini! If I don’t find out I will go insane,” said Karikalar.

“I also want you to know that. But your friend, and my friend are here. Next time when I get a chance I will certainly tell that,” said Nandhini.

Turning to Vallavaraiyan who was by then standing beside them Pazhuvur Rani asked, “Sir! What is this? You have come back with bare hands! Where is the tiger’s head?”

“Devi! I was not lucky enough to bring the tiger’s head and lay it at your feet,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Aha! This is the extent of your bravery? You recited poems singing the glory of your ancestors! You said that they plucked the heads of the three tribal kings and hung them up in the fields!”

“What is that poem,” asked Karikalar.

“Sir! Do you want to recite? Or shall I,” Nandhini asked Vandhiyathevan.

“Rani! I don’t remember reciting a verse like that,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You don’t remember. But I remember well. Let me recite, Sir!

army as verdure, blood as water
precious earth tilled by elephants – revered
kings of verse, their king Varnan plucked and planted
three tribal kings – their heads!

“How is the poem, Crown Prince! You chopped off the head of only one Pandyan. This warrior’s ancestors took the heads off of Seran, Cholan and Pandyan and planted them in the fields …!”

Hatred and jealousy threw their legs up from the hips and danced on Karikalar’s face. “Nice ploughing! Nice planting!” His laughter rang out as thunder.

Vandhiyathevan could not look up and face Karikalar. Stuttering he said, “Devi! I never recited such a poem to you!”

“So what? If you are ignorant about your tribe’s glory at least now learn about it! For someone who was born into a tribe that took the heads off of the three great tribal kings and planted them in the earth, you could not even bring the head of a wounded tiger?”

“Devi! That wounded tiger is dead and gone. I did not want to chop off the head of a dead tiger.”

“How can that be? I saw the tiger struggling to get on the boat,” said Karikalar.

“I showed you that sight. It must have died after it lay down in the boat. Perhaps it died of remorse for injuring Pazhuvur Rani’s beautiful body, who knows?”

The fury on Karikalar’s face subsided and a smile appeared. “But it could have died in the water? Why hop on the boat and die,” he said.

“Like me it appears that the tiger also does not like water. Of all the ways, death by water is the most terrifying for me,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Yet, you boldly jumped into the water just a while ago? So much regard for these foolish women?”

“Devi! I am more terrified of women than water. Because the prince urged me to, I jumped. Now I know that I need not have jumped in that manner,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Yes, yes! You are only worried about your fate in the water. You have no qualms about drowning and killing other people in water,” said Nandhini.

It was plain on Manimekalai’s face that she did not care for any of this talk. She said, “Sister! The food will get cold; come, let’s go!”

The four of them walked toward the marble hall. Every now and then Manimekalai glanced at Vandhiyathevan. Her intuition told her that his mind was troubled and that the prince and Nandhini were the reason. ‘Whoever turns out to be your enemy, I will be on your side; don’t worry!’ – she tried to tell him with her eyes. But Vandhiyathevan did not look at her at all. He appeared to have completely sunk into a sea of despair.

It is natural for readers following this story to be disgusted by Nandhini Devi’s perfidious words and atrocious lies about Vandhiyathevan. However, we won’t be so outraged if we to the best of our knowledge think back to the circumstances of her birth and life. Human character is shaped by traits that have become soaked in the blood through inheritance. They undergo changes because of one’s surroundings, habits and life experiences. The deaf-mute Manthahini grew up mostly in the jungle. She had to exercise supreme caution to live among the animals of the wilderness. To save her life she also had to on occasion savagely kill these animals.

In her heart that was as pure as milk love originated once as a nourishing spring, as water from earth. Soon that spring died turning her heart into a dry desert. The hand of fate dealt her a crushing disappointment. The shock of it turned her insane. Yet, with time her heart’s wound healed. The nourishing spring that was love again flowed. Her love for Sundara Cholar turned into an adoration of the child, his son Arulmozhi Selvan.

Manthahini’s daughter Nandhini had inherited many of her mother’s character traits. However the world treated the daughter worse than it did the mother. She was forsaken by her own mother. She grew up among strangers. More than the hardship her mother faced amidst the wild beasts of the jungle, she suffered at the hands of civilized humans. The insults she suffered at the hands of the royal family at her young age pierced her heart with the sharpness of diamond turning it into a hatred deadlier than poison. The remedy that could turn hatred into love was never within her reach. Whoever she chose to love either ignored her, or through bad luck was taken away from this world. Those who treated her with disrespect and those whom she hated lived in glory. What other reasons are needed to poison a woman’s heart? There was no room in her heart for anything other than revenge for those who insulted her and betrayed her. The necessary talent for perfidy had been incorporated in her from the time of her mother’s conception of her. The trials, disappointments and frightening experiences have wiped out kindness, love and such gentler feelings from her heart and made it harder than steel and stone. To better understand what is to follow in this story we felt that it was necessary to provide this bit of psychoanalysis.

***

During the meal also they did not engage in any friendly chatter. Nandhini, Karikalar and Vandhiyathevan were each buried in their own woes. Manimekalai was the one affected by this. She had arranged for the swimming and picnic in the forest with the hope of spending time leisurely with Pazhuvur Rani. Her excitement grew as the prince and Vandhiyathevan joined them unexpectedly. But what followed, the manner in which the other three spoke and conducted themselves did not please her. Her childish heart had promptly forgiven the pain she had felt when she saw Nandhini and Vandhiyathevan together. She told herself that it was her mistake to have misunderstood and given into jealousy. After that she could neither understand nor be happy about the others’ cheerless silence or their stern demeanor.

Therefore when the meal was over she said, “Sister! Shall we go back? Shall I ask them to bring the boat? Are the two of them coming with us or are they going back on their horses?”

Only then Karikalar returned to this earth from his musings. “Ah! Ah! We are going back without listening to this girl’s lute? No! Nandhini! Have you forgotten? Manimekalai! Do not deceive us,” he said.

“I did not forget. You and your friend don’t look like you are interested in music. You seem as if you are standing on thorns. In any event, no harm done. Manimekalai! Where, bring the lute and come,” she said.

“What for, Sister! Why do you want me to play in front of people who don’t seem interested?” Manimekalai made a fuss.

“No, no! It is the prince who is asking. If his friend does not care for music he can cover his ears,” said Nandhini.

“God! I am no enemy to music! A boatwoman named Poongkuzhali in Kodikarai sang this song,

when the sea with its waves is quiet
why is the inner sea so tumultuous?

When I think about it even now I get goosebumps,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Some people only like certain people’s music. I wonder if you will like my singing or not,” said Manimekalai.

“If they don’t like, who is giving up? Let me see. Bring the lute,” said Karikalar.

Manimekalai brought the lute. She sat on the top step of the marble building. She tightened the strings and tuned the instrument. It was a lute with seven strings. It could play one swaram half the way and another further up. For a while she filled the air with sweet music from the lute alone. Karikalar and Vandhiyathevan actually forgot all their worries. They happily surrendered their minds to the sound of the lute.

After that to the accompaniment of the yazhl Manimekalai started singing. She sang the divine pasurams of Appar, Sambanthar and Sundarar. After a while the prince said, “Manimekalai! Your singing is magnificent! But you are only singing devotional songs. I am not that religious. I have handed over saiva devotion to Mathuranthakan. Sing some love songs!”

Manimekalai’s cheeks dimpled self-consciously. She hesitated.

“Girl! Why are you reluctant? If you sing a love song here, I will not think that it is intended for me. My friend also will not. So, go ahead!” Karikalar said.

“Even if someone thinks that Manimekalai will not care.” said Nandhini.

“Come on, Sister! Do you have to tease me in front of two men,” said Manimekalai.

“The mistake is that you think that they are men. They could not bring a dead tiger’s head, can we call them men? In the old days the heroic men of Tamil Nadu will capture the tiger alive, force its mouth open and wring its teeth out. They will then adorn their spouses with the tiger’s teeth as jewels! Those days are gone! Never mind! You sing! The other day you sang for me? Sing that beautiful song,” said Nandhini.

With the lute as accompaniment Manimekalai sang the following song. For whatever reason, more than her earlier performance, this time her voice filled the air with immense sweetness.

‘beside the sweetly crawling water
beside the happily placed mountain
in the shade of the tree filled with fruits
we held hands delightfully submitting

Is it a dream – my friend
Or just my imagination!

in the punnai tree grove
at the golden hour of sunset
he called for me
we whispered in our ears

Is that a dream – girl
Is that miracle a lie?

crossing barriers
trespassing as a burglar
with unbounded love
he showered me with kisses

Did this happen – weren’t
We happy then!’

In this manner Manimekalai added more verses in various melodies and continued singing. The other three fell deeply into the flood of music. Tears welled even in Nandhini’s eyes who had for various reasons turned her heart into stone and steel. Athitha Karikalar forgot this world entirely. Vandhiyathevan every now and then as if waking up from sleep looked at Manimekalai. During those moments he was startled to see her glance always fixed on him. “Aiyo! What harm have I brought this girl?” His heart lamented.

While being submerged in the flood of music and emotions they did not notice the wind gradually gathering speed. They also did not notice the small waves that started appearing in the lake and the waves gradually becoming taller. Only when the wind turned into a storm and felled a tree down with its roots the four of them opened their eyes and looked around. They saw a severe storm waging around them and heard, ‘Oh!’ – the big waves in the lake rising and falling noisily.

Then it was Nandhini who cried, “Aiyo! Where is the boat?” The boat was not where it had been tied. It had traveled farther away jostling along with the waves.

“Aiyo! Now what do we do?” Nandhini cried.

“If both of you can ride the horses then please go. We will manage,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Are you trying to kill us in this storm where trees are falling all around?” Nandhini asked.

“There is no need for that; let’s wait here until the storm dies down. What are we going to do by going there? There is enough food; Manimekalai is here for singing. I have not been so happy in recent times,” said Karikalar.

“Prince! That is not right! What would Sambuvaraiyar and Kanthamaran think,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“It looks as if he untied the boat when he went in search of the tiger,” said Nandhini.

“Sister! Why do you cast unnecessary blame? When he came the boat was by the riverbank. No one needs to worry. When my father sees this storm he will send bigger vessels for us,” said Manimekalai.

Within a short time her prediction came true. Two big boats that were the size of ships came towards the island. Sambuvaraiyar himself was present in one of those boats. He was very happy to see the four of them safe.

Carrying them the two boats went back in that lake that was as rough as the ocean. Except for Sambuvaraiyar, there were storms waging in the hearts of the other four people also.

(End of Part IV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (37 – 41)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamoorthi. (While I get the feeling that Kalki was swimming in a vast ocean, I am beginning to feel like I am circling in a fish bowl. Just a side note … at this juncture …)

37. Trouble at Kadampoor

Ever since Athitha Karikalan arrived at Kadampoor the inhabitants of that palace felt as if they were walking on fire or standing on a bed of thorns. No one could guess at which moment what sort of verbal artillery would be fired by the prince. Therefore they were in a perpetual state of discomfort. Karikalan often made vague references to the secret plan to place Mathuranthakan on the Chola throne and made everyone squirm. Pazhuvertaraiyar could not stand it. He insisted to Sambuvaraiyar that Karikalan be told openly about the Petty kings’ opinion. Sambuvaraiyar on the other hand said, “Be a little patient; he is after all our guest; he also appears to be a very rude fellow. We don’t want one thing leading to another! We will wait for the proper moment to tell him,” and kept postponing it.

Resolving their dilemma of how to broach the topic, Athitha Karikalan himself one day brought it up in everyone’s presence.

“I came here seeking the wise counsel of Pazhuvur Grandfather and Kadampoor Uncle about an important matter. Let me ask now. Three years ago my father publicly crowned me as crown prince of Chola kingdom. All of you consented. Now it seems as if the emperor has changed his mind. Apparently he wants to crown Mathuranthakan and place him on the throne. It is for this reason that he has been sending me invitation after invitation to come to Thanjavur. I keep finding excuses to turn him down. Why should I go to Thanjavur? Why should I go in person to disagree with my father? Isn’t it better not to go at all? Pazhuvur Grandfather! Kadampoor Uncle! You are the elders. You know the rules. You tell me. Is it right that my father asks me after all this time to hand the kingdom to Mathuranthakan? Would it be a crime to disagree?” When Athitha Karikalan bluntly posed the question all were speechless.

Wishing to buy some time before committing himself with an answer, Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. He said, “Crown Prince! You would have consulted with your Thirukovalur grandafather about this matter. What did Malaiamman say?”

“Aha! All of you know very well that old man’s nature! Would he allow his grandson’s throne to be handed to another man? Instead he will cut me up along with my mother! Now Malaiamman is in the process of getting his troops together to fight for his grandson’s right to the throne! But I am not going to blindly follow his lead. Whatever happens to be your decision, I will accept it!” Karikalan answered meekly.

Deceived by his response Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Unlike Malaiamman, we will not instigate a son to oppose his father. Whatever the emperor’s order is we are obligated to comply. But we are privileged to say what is right. We cannot say that the emperor has no justification at all. We cannot also say that Mathuranthaka Thevar holds no right to the throne. Prince! Since you ask, we will be honest. You are free to make your decision. We think that allowing this argument to fester is dangerous to the kingdom. Therefore it is better to reach a compromise. Unlike in earlier times Chola empire is not restricted between two Vellaru rivers. It spreads from Kumarimunai to river Krishnai. Even if we divide it in two, each will be a big kingdom. So it is entirely justifiable to give what lies south of Kollidam to Mathuranthaka Thevar and keep the northern portion as your entitlement. That is our final opinion. If you agree with us we can proceed. I will take on the responsibility of persuading the emperor to accept this plan!”

Athitha Karikalan laughed out loud. His laughter started a fire in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s stomach. “Grandfather! It is a proper settlement to divide the kingdom into two and have the Pazhuverataraiyars in charge of the south and the Sambuvaraiyars for the north. It is a proper reward for the service your two families have rendered since the time of my grandfather’s father. But I have no desire at all to divide the kingdom into two. Dividing a kingdom that has been passed down generation after generation is akin to sharing one’s own wife! It may be agreeable to old men like yourself! But, for me – it is not!” Sparks flew from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes as he listened to Karikalan. He was ready to pull his dagger from its sheath.

At that moment Karikalan said, “Grandfather! What, you are leaving already? Hear me out fully. I disagree about dividing the kingdom. My ancestors, yourself and your ancestors have toiled for five generations sacrificing the lives of countless number of warriors to make Chola kingdom what it is today. It is criminal to divide it and create two smaller kingdoms. It will be cause enough for our ancestors like Rajathithar to curse us from warrior’s heaven. Therefore, please give up that idea. I am ready to give this entire Chola kingdom to Mathuranthakan; there is justification for that. Mathuranthakan is my great uncle’s son. Therefore Mathuranthakan ought to have been crowned instead of my father. Because of emperor Paranthakar my father was crowned. Let that folly end with him. Even though I have the most valid claim over this kingdom – because of the ‘after father, son follows,’ rule – I will give that up. But there is one condition. I will require a garrison of three hundred thousand soldiers to go to battle in the north. I must be granted the necessary armaments fitting a large garrison such as this and an year’s worth of food supply. I will also need three hundred large vessels that can be taken in the great ocean. I will make Parthipenthiran the sea commander. While he advances along the coast I will take the land route and wage war in the north. Parthipenthiran and I will meet at the mouth of river Kangai. Then we will travel farther north. Poets have sung that my ancestor Karikal Valavan planted the tiger flag on Himalaya mountain. I will achieve once more what my ancestors have achieved before. I will become the emperor of the countries north of river Krishnai that I will capture with the strength of my sword and the strength of the shoulders of the friends who will accompany me. Or else, if I die I will reach the warrior’s heaven with the thrill that we followed in the valorous tradition of the Chola tribe. Pazhuvur Grandfather! Kadampoor Uncle! What do you say? Will you agree to accept this condition and fulfill it?”

After eloquently voicing his question Karikalan paused. The two old men were perplexed. Visibly shaken Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Prince! Who are we to accept your condition? What right do we have? We must ask the emperor!”

Fuming, Karikalan stood up. He roared like thunder. “Grandfather! Whom do you suppose you are deceiving, bringing forth the emperor’s name? You cannot deceive me! You are keeping my father as a prisoner in the royal palace; you have turned him into a puppet who dances to your tune! You thought that I am not aware of it? Can anyone see my father without the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s permission? My father’s order to imprison my younger brother in Eezham and bring him here by force – was my father really behind it? Or was it at your insistence? Will any parent through his own volition subject his beloved son, a heroic warrior, whom the Chola people consider the apple of their eye, to this ordeal? Today all of Chola Nadu is angry at you for bringing Arulmozhi by force and drowning him in the sea …”

“Prince! Who laid this atrocious blame? I will slash the fellow’s tongue and cut him up into pieces …!” Pazhuvertaraiyar shouted.

“If it is just one person you can cut him up into pieces. Ten thousand, or rather hundred thousand, or a million people are saying it. If you are going to punish them, then all of Chola Nadu will turn into a graveyard and crematorium. That would make a proper kingdom for the Saiva devotee Mathuranthakan to rule. But, Grandfather! I don’t believe the rumors. People are ignorant fools. Without delving in they will keep repeating a story hatched by someone. Having been a friend of the Chola tribe for generations you will never have carried out such a horrendous act. If Arulmozhi drowned in the sea, it was just his fate. He must have drowned in the sea and died just to throw sand in the mouths of the augurers, astrologers and palmists who have been claiming, ‘ … born to rule over the three worlds!’ Grandfather! However great a warrior you may be even you cannot summon the cyclone in the middle of the ocean or have thunder strike the ship’s mast. Perhaps the Pandya Nadu sorcerers can; you cannot. Therefore you are not responsible for Arulmozhi’s fate. But please do not tell me, ‘I must consult with the emperor first.’ Then you might even say that you have to consult with that anpil Brahmarayan. The emperor and the chief minister are carrying empty accolades. They cannot do anything against your wish. You can perhaps say that you will ask Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani …!”

At this point Kanthamaran interrupted. “Sir! Those who are in our house as our family’s guests …,” he started shouting incoherently.

With fire in his eyes Karikalan turned towards Kanthamaran. Laughing like the Sivan who burned the three cities he said, “Kanthmaran! This is your house? I forgot! I also forgot that you are the heroic warrior born in the tradition of Valvil Ori.In your house and in your presence I must indeed be cautious! What have I said wrong? What have I done to your guests? … Kanthamara! Why are your hands and feet shaking? Have you also caught the chills and fever that is spreading in Eezham? But you did not even go to Eezham?”

Right then, Vandhiyathevan spoke. He said, “Crown Prince! Kanthamaran does not have a fever. He is angry because you called Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani, ‘Grandmother!”

Glaring at Vandhiyathevan, Kanthamaran began to draw his sword out. Parthipenthiran pulled him by his hand and made him sit down. He said something in his ear. Kanthamaran calmed down. His body however did not stop shaking for sometime.

After having a good laugh at Kanthamaran’s outburst, Karikalan turned to Pazhuvertaraiyar. “Grandfather! This is how young men would react sometimes out of control. Don’t mind them. You are grandfather to me. Therefore, isn’t Ilaiyarani my grandmother? She does not have any regrets about my addressing her in this manner; you have no regrets. Why are these kids bursting with resentment? Never mind! I have strayed far off from the topic. Please don’t pass the burden on to the emperor – my father. Your consent is as good as the emperor’s. You have the treasury. If I say that I am waging war with the north, not three thousand, thirty thousand soldiers will compete to join. There is  no difficulty in gathering three hundred ships also. You must agree! Mathuranthaka Thevar also must agree! That is all! What do you think?” Karikalan said.

Visbly shaken and lost for words, Pazhuvertaraiyar again cleared his throat. “Crown Prince! Even if I agree to your extraordinary request, don’t we need Mathuranthaka Thevar’s consent? Without the emperor’s blessing can you start on this long journey? Therefore, let’s all go to Thanjavur …”

“That, I cannot. Grandfather! After going to Thanjavur, if my father issues a different order I cannot disobey that. In addition my mother, Malaiamman’s daughter is there. My sister, the junior stateswoman is there. They will not agree to my disowning the throne and leaving the country. It will be difficult to ignore their sentiments. Grandfather! This matter must be decided here in Kadampoor palace. Go to Thanjai and bring Mathuranthakan here. After we discuss among ourselves and reach a decision, we can inform father. After all the preparations are made for the battle, I will come to Thanjai and take leave of my parents. Or, crown Mathuranthakan now and let my parents come to Kanji. I will settle them in the golden palace I have built there before leaving,” he said.

Pazhuvertaraiyar glanced at Sambuvaraiyar, who was staring at the ceiling. Seeing that no help was forthcoming from that quarter Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Crown Prince! What can I say against your command?”

“Please do not use the word command, Grandfather! Can this little boy command someone who has grown gray in the service of the Chola empire. Please say that you will fulfill my prayer,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Alright,” Pazhuvertaraiyar again cleared his throat.

“Thank you very much, Grandfather! Then please make arrangements to leave as soon as possible! Put Mathuranthakan on an elephant and bring him here in public. Or bring him in the golden chariot. What we don’t want is the junior grandmother’s covered palanquin!” Karikalan laughed.

Then he turned to Kanthamaran and others. “Kanthamara! It’s your lucky day! More guests are coming to your house. Mathuranthakar who will be the emperor after Sundara Cholar, is coming. He may bring his future empress, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter. Kadampoor palace is going to turn festive. Let Pazhuvur grandfather leave for Thanjai. We can go hunting. I was good at archery at one time. ‘Next to Arjunan, it is Athitha Karikalan,’ it was said. Without touching the bow for three years I have completely forgotten the art. I need practice. Parthipenthira! Vandhiyatheva! All of you, come! Where shall we go hunting? Shall we go to Kollimalai?” Karikalan asked nonchalantly.

Sambuvaraiyar who did not take part in the conversation until then said, “Crown Prince! Kollimalai is far. We don’t have to go that far. On the western side of Veera Narayana lake the forest is thick. It is called thundakaranyam also. It is filled with wild beasts. Some of them, dead now, adorn our taxidermy gallery. The lakeside forest is quite nearby. If we leave in the morning we can be home by night!”

“Let’s do that, Sir! As long as I am a guest here, what you deem is mine to comply! Can we take your daughter, Manimekalai also with us? There is always laughter in her presence,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“I have no objections! We can ask Manimekalai,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Why do we need women to go hunting? It will be plenty of work just making sure that they are safe. We cannot concentrate on the sport. In addition, doesn’t Nandhini Devi need company here?” Karikalan interjected.

“Yes, yes. Kanthamaran is always worried about Pazhuvur grandmother. There is also another hurdle to taking Manimekalai along. Someone may mistake her hopping around to a deer and target her with an arrow. Let the women remain in the palace, we will go hunting. We must leave early in the morning. Tonight, finish with the folk dance early and please go to bed early. Sir! Please send word to the huntsmen. Vandhiyatheva! Come! Let’s go to our digs!” Athitha Karikalan left dragging Vandhiyathevan by the hand. Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran stood looking at them with envy. Sambuvaraiyar went to give the order to the huntsmen. Pazhuvertaraiyar went to the anthpuram in search of Nandhini.

38. Nandhini Refused

Pzhuvertaraiyar went to see Nandhini somewhat excitedly. Whatever hopes he had when he came to Kadampoor none had materialized. He had thought that if he brought the young Athitha Karikalan to Kadampoor palace then through cajoling as well as threats he could make him act according to his wishes. He believed that Karikalan had to abide by his and Sambuvaraiyar’s demands. He knew of the danger for the entire Chola kingdom if Mathuranthakan was elevated to the throne. In the north Malaiamman and, in the south Kodumabalur Velan will oppose it. If Karikalan joins them there will be civil war. Who can say how it might end? Most citizens will be on the side of Sundara Cholan’s sons. Even Mathuranthakan’s mother is against him. Can one get entangled in a civil war depending only on the Kalamuga crowd? Protests might begin in Pandya Nadu, Sera Nadu and in countries north of Palaru. Therefore, if they agree on giving half the kingdom to Mathuranthakan now, and if that is southern Chola kingdom with Thanjai as capital, then later on they can proceed slowly. They can somehow end Kodumbalur Velan’s popularity. Then turning north they can take care of Thirukovalur Malaiamman also. Karikalan is such a rude fellow, any day he is bound to get involved in some perverse affair and die young. If that happens all worries are over. For now, it is best to aim for half the kingdom.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar came to Kadampoor only after consulting with Ilaiyarani Nandhini about his decision. He had Karikalan also brought there. But nothing was taking place as expected. Being a loudmouth, instead of obeying the elders Karikalan intimidated them. Pazhuvertaraiyar could not bear the sarcastic tone and doublespeak. Especially Karikalan’s frequent use of ‘old man’ to refer to him and ‘grandmother’ to refer to Ilaiyarani hurt him like poison soaked arrows. If this was not enough, Sambuvaraiyar’s behavior was also not satisfactory. Instead of standing by him and reprimanding Karikalan’s loudmouth behavior Sambuvaraiyar for the most part shut his mouth and remained silent. Even when he spoke he did reluctantly and incoherently. Perhaps he was cautious because Karikalan was a guest in his palace and he did not want any trouble! Whatever the reason Pazhuvertaraiyar was not at all satisfied with Sambuvaraiyar’s behavior.

It was also not easy to figure out how much of Karikaln’s talk that day was real, how much was sarcasm and how much was perfidy, with one thing on his mind and another on his lips. Who knows, if he is planning on some bigger offence after Mathuranthakan is also brought there? He can bring Malaiamman with a big garrison and have them surround Kadampoor palace? …

Considering all of this it was best to return to Thanjavur. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had good judgement. He can also be consulted. Even if Mathuranthakan is brought here, as a precaution he can have Kalanthakakandar wait at Kollidam shore with a big battalion. Whatever the scenario, Ilaiyarani should no longer be subjected to these foolish fellows’ sarcastic banter. It was imperative that he leaves her in Thanjai. Now there is a way for that. Why give that up?

Once he reached this decision the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cheered up. He reached Nandhini’s anthapuram cheerfully. When he was at the doorstep he heard laughter from inside. For some reason the sound of that laughter annoyed him. Nandhini never laughed like this in Thanjavur. What is the happiness now? Why is she laughing? Who is laughing with her …

When he went inside he saw that her companion was Manimekalai. This somewhat calmed his mind. When Manimekalai saw him she placed her two hands over her mouth to suppress her laughter. Failing in her attempt to contain her mirth she ran out of the room continuing to laugh.

Nandhini’s laughter stopped as soon as she saw Pazhuvertaraiyar. Her face assumed her usual majestic countenance. “Sir! Please come in! Is the discussion over,” she said.

“Nandhini! Why was that girl laughing in that manner? Why is she running away laughing?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“Must I talk about it? Alright. It seems Manimekalai overheard from her room some of the talk in the assembly hall. She was laughing about Prince Athitha Karikalar’s sarcastic remarks about grandfathers and grandmothers …”

“Chee! Naughty girl! You too joined her in the laughter?”

“Yes; I laughed with her. I thought I will cry once she left. But you are here now!” Nandhini wiped a teardrop from her eye.

“Aha! It was my mistake to bring you in the midst of these fools. Tomorrow morning we will leave for Thanjavur. Just for one night, please be patient!”

“We must leave for Thanjavur? Is the mission accomplished?” Nandhini asked.

Pazhuvertaraiyar informed Nandhini of the decision made at the end of the discussion that day.

After listening Nandhini said, “Swami! You can go to Thanjavur. I am not coming. I have no intention of leaving from here until I teach a lesson to Athitha Karikalan. That arrogant prince must either fall at your feet and apologize for his sarcastic remarks or he must face your dagger!”

“Nandhini! What are you saying? How did this insidious thought enter your mind?”

“Sir! What is an insidious thought? Is it insidious to want to avenge a man who insults the husband who accepted my hand and married me?”

“No, Nandhini! Listen! Our Pazhuvur tribe’s friendship with the Cholars goes back six generations. Forgetting that, just because an ignorant little boy blurted something, can I raise my sword against that tribe? Do I kill with my own hands, Sundara Cholar’s son, the crown prince of our day? What kind of talk is this?” Pazhuvertaraiyar was aghast.

At times when he listened to Karikalan’s outrageous talk Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand had moved toward his sword. With the greatest effort he controlled himself at those moments. That is why when Nandhini bared some of those same thoughts he was alarmed.

“Sir! Your friendship with the Chola tribe goes back six generations; you are related also. It will be natural that you will feel reluctant to raise the sword. But I have no such relationship. I am in no way obligated to the Chola tribe. If Athitha Karikalan does not beg for mercy at your feet I will pick up the sword and kill him myself,” said Nandhini. As she spoke her eyes turned red, her brows crunched and her face underwent a drastic change.

39. Impending Tragedy

Pazhuvertaraiyar laughed. He laughed not very loud as though his laughter was a sarcastic response to Nandhini’s words. By the sound of that laughter though, all of the objects in that room shook.

Joy filled his heart when he heard that Nandhini would kill by her own hand those who insulted him. He felt proud knowing that Nandhini cared so much about protecting his reputation. Part of him wanted her to continue in that vain. Part of him also wanted to show that he did not like her speaking in that manner.

“Sir! Why are you laughing? Are you distrustful of my words,” she asked.

“Devi! I laughed wondering how you will lift a dagger with your softer that manthara petal hands. Especially when I, with my two long hands is still alive …”

“Sir! I know the strength and glory of your arms. Long like an elephant’s trunk, strong as Indran’s vajrayutham these are hands that massacred thousands of foes in the battlefield; hands that have kept the jeweled crown on the heads of Chola emperors. However, there is no one today who appreciates it. The times are such that kids who were born yesterday are poking fun at you calling you ‘old’. Like the sarparajan bound by the mantra you have to remain lame bound by your loyalty to the Chola tribe. My hands are indeed the bracelet adorned gentle kind; hands fit only for picking flowers and stringing garlands. Yet, because of accepting your hand with fire as my witness, these hands have become stronger. If the need arises to protect my virtue and the reputation of my husband then my hands can also take the sword. See, here …!” Nandhini pulled out the box from under her bed. She opened it and moved the clothes laying on top. She effortlessly lifted with one hand the long sword that lay sparkling underneath.

A dumbfounded Pazhuvertaraiyar stood there staring at the sword for a while. Then, “How long has the sword been in this box? I thought that you had your clothes and jewelry there,” he said.

After returning the sword back to its place Nandhini said, “Yes; I do have my jewelry and clothes in this case. The most important of my jewelry is this sword. It is to protect my virtue and my husband’s honor,” she said.

“But there never will arise a need for you to use this sword. As long as I am alive!”

“That is why I do not take this sword out. Surely you can save your honor with the strength of the same shoulders that guards Chola Nadu from Eezha Nadu to Vengi Nadu! Surely you can protect a foolish woman like me! However, you cannot always be on my side while taking care of the kingdom. When I am not with you, shouldn’t I be prepared to protect myself?”

“Where is the need for that? Forget the past, I will never leave your side …”

“Sir! That is my wish also; but just this once, please go to Thanjaipuri by yourself …”

“What is this stubbornness? Why should I leave you here this time?” His eyebrows pulling together Pazhuvertaraiyar asked the question.

“Swami! There are two reasons. If you take me with you now those fools will laugh at us some more. ‘The old man has that much of trust in Ilaiyarani!’ – they’d say. Thinking about it makes my blood boil. The other reason is more important. All this while you have said that Sambuvaraiyar is your closest friend; you believed it also. But ever since the prince arrived, have you seen the change in his behavior? Even if you didn’t notice, I have …”

“I have also seen it. I am lost as to what may have caused this change …”

“You have an innocent heart; so you feel astonished. I have no surprises. Human greediness is the reason for Sambuvaraiyar’s change. Rumor was that Prince Athitha Karikalar does not even look at women and that he would remain a bachelor forever. You would have seen the exact opposite in his behavior ever since he arrived. He comes visiting often where women are gathered, he speaks lovingly. The reason is his heart has gone to Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai. ‘Can we take Manimekalai hunting?’ – Karikalar asked! Sambuvaraiyar is aware of this. Therefore he has forgotten the old plan. He has begun to dream about his beloved daughter being on the Thanjavur throne as empress …”

“Yes; you must be right. I never thought even in my dreams that Sambuvaraiyar was so fickle. Just two months ago we all gathered here in this palace to swear that we will put Mathuranthakar on the Thanjai throne. Cheechee! A man who cannot keep his word; is he even human?” Pazhuvertaraiyar hissed.

“Swami! That is why I am suggesting that I stay here. I will keep an eye on what they are doing. If they hatch some devious plan I will look for ways to wreck it.”

“Nandhini! Why must you involve yourself in this?”

“Shouldn’t a wife take an interest in matters that concern her husband? Why do they call us ‘partner for life’?”

“Whatever it is how can I leave you alone amidst these ruthless vile men? It does not appeal to me at all!”

“It’s not as if I am all alone here. There is Manimekalai; that girl will do anything for me …”

“That is true. I have also noticed. Your magnetism has made her your slave. But how long will it last? If Athitha Karikalan tempts her with the throne and the title of empress …”

“Sir! About that you need not have any doubts. Against my wish, Manimekalai will not consider even heaven’s Indrani status. If I say, ‘Stab Karikalar with this dagger!’ – she’ll do it. You often talk about my magnetism. It has completely taken over Manimekalai. If necessary I will prove it right now,” said Nandhini.

Pazhuvertaraiyar’s body trembled. His lips quivered. He felt a lump in his throat. Tongue faltering he said, “Devi! I know your power. But I do not want this sort of meddling in Karikalan’s affairs. He is an ignorant little boy. We should not take to heart his silly banter. If Karikalan wants to marry Manimekalai, let’s not stand in the way!”

“Sir! We may not stand in the way. But there is what is called fate! Who can stand in its way? Just as Manimekalai has affection for me I am also fond of her. I love her like my own sister. How can I agree to wed her to a man who is going to die young?” Nandhini asked. Her eyes seemed to be looking at something taking place far far away.

Pazhuvertaraiyar grew more excited. “Nandhini! What kind of talk is this? I was the leader of the Chola emperor’s velakarapadai at one time. I have promised to protect the emperor and his folk at the expense of my life …”

“Sir! I never said that you should break that promise!”

“If any harm befalls Karikalan because of you the blame will be on me. ‘Unable to bear a little boy’s teasing the old man has blundered,’ the world will condemn me. The good name our tribe has earned being the guardian of the Cholars for six generations will be lost …”

“In that case it is important that you leave this town at once!” Nandhini said in a voice shrouded in mystery.

“Why do you say that?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“I was wondering how to break this to you. Now I must. Durga Parameshwari has granted me some extraordinary powers. You know that. Through my magical powers I learned that Sundara Cholar bears the stain of sthrihathi from his young days. I have proved that to you. In the same way I am now seeing through my inner eye that Athitha Karikalan’s end is near. It will not be by your hands; nor mine. What is certain is that Yaman’s affectionate noose is getting closer and closer to him. The end may happen in the forest during hunting; or it may be during sleep at the palace; a tiger, bear or other animal may bring it; or he may die felled by an arrow shot by a friend erroneously striking him. Or his death may happen when a knife held in the tender hands of a woman plunges into his heart. But Sir, I promise that his death won’t be by this hand that you accepted in marriage. You married this orphan who stood abandoned on the roadside. You made her Ilaiyarani for the world to see. I will make sure that such a benevolent person’s name does not get tarnished. That is why, please don’t wait here at this time. I insist that you leave. Whatever ill fate that Karikalar may meet while you are here the world will link you to it. Weren’t you blamed for the sea taking Arulmozhivarman? In the same way you will be blamed for this also. Even if they won’t say that you are the cause of it they will ask why you didn’t prevent it! But even with your vajrayutham like hands you cannot prevent the ill fortune that is about to fall on Karikalar. Therefore, you must leave immediately. If you take me with you, that will also lead to unwarranted suspicion. They will say that you took me along because you knew beforehand. Therefore, only you must leave. I will be here to see that no infamy falls on your name whatever happens, however it may happen. Sir! Do you have that much of trust in me?” After asking the question Nandhini looked intently with her dark big eyes at Pazhuvertaraiyar as if trying to penetrate deep within his heart and see what lay there. Poor man! The old warrior was greatly disturbed by Nandhini’s piercing words. He succumbed to the arrows flying from her eyes.

40. Water Play

Six hundred years before the time of this biopic, aside from the three Tamil kings, there were seven petty kings who were notably famous. They were given the title ‘vallal’. One of the seven was Kollimalai’s leader Ori. He was famous for his skill in archery. If he bent his big bow, mounted his arrow on the string and pulled it, like the arrow that went through seven trees, his arrow would go through a tiger, a deer, a hog, a rabbit and finally a tree also. His talent in archery had been famously sung by poets in this way. Thus he came to be known as Valvil Ori.

Seran, a powerful king in those days did not favor Valvil Ori. He sought the assistance of Thirukovalur leader Malaiamman Thirumudikari to attack him. Kari’s valor was no less than Ori’s. Moreover, Malaiamman Kari was stronger with respect to arms. Malaiamman took his battle to Kollimalai. He killed Ori and destroyed his mountain fort also.

At that time the territory next to Kollimalai was ruled by a petty king named Athikaman Nedumananji. Theirs was a relationship forged through marriages. He wanted to seek revenge on Malaiamman Kari who killed Valvil Ori. Thinking that he cannot accomplish it alone he sought the help of Chola king Killivalavan, who held a grudge over the escalating power of Malaiamman and his friendship with Seran. So Cholan Killivalavan and thakadur Athikaman together attacked Thirukovalur Malaiamman. In the battlefield Malaiamman died. Two of Malaiamman’s young sons were captured by the Chola soldiers. Athikaman and Killivalavan who had wanted to wipe out Malaiamman’s tribe ordered the children buried up to their necks in the ground and be trampled by elephants and killed. A poet who had known and benefited by Malaiamman’s generosity happened to be passing by. He begged the Chola king to spare the children’s lives.

“King! Take a look! Take a look at the faces of the children buried up to their necks! Look at the smile hovering over their faces! The children are laughing looking at the elephants that are about to trample them, they are laughing at the dancing trunks, thinking that this is a playful game. Do you really want to kill such innocent children? What are these children guilty of? Can you punish the children for their father’s guilt,” said the poet.

Cholan had a change of heart upon listening to the poet. He changed his order immediately. He had the children pulled out of the ground. He had them raised in the palace. When they were old enough he gave Thirukovalur kingdom back to the oldest of the two children.

Ever since then for century after century, Thirukovalur tribe gratefully celebrated their friendship with the Chola kings. The friendship was still alive at the time of Sundara Cholar, who married Malaiamman’s daughter Vanamadevi and made her his crown empress.

The tribes of Kollimalai Valvil Ori and Thakadur Athikaman disappeared. Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyars claimed that they were an offshoot. Sambuvaraiyar never forgot the animosity between his ancestors and Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s tribe. Therefore it was natural that they did not want Malaiamman’s grandson being crowned as the Chola emperor! Athitha Karikalar’s arrogance and his slighted behavior towards the petty kings further flamed their hatred of him. That is why the Sambuvaraiyars actively participated in the plan to put Kandarathithar’s son Mathuranthakan on the Thanjai throne.

But, ever since the day Karikalan arrived in Kadampoor the elder Sambuvaraiyar’s mind gradually began to change. His beloved daughter Manimekalai was the reason. There were several signs indicating that Manimekalai had stolen Athitha Karikalan’s heart. It was generally said of Karikalan that he would remain a bachelor, that he refused to make even eye contact with women. A man of such reputation was now frequently seen visiting with women and engaging in friendly chatter. Especially he was often complementing Manimekalai on how smart she was. Ever since Karikalan came Manimekalai was also excited. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar thought that she had also grown fond of Karikalan. Sambuvaraiyar rejoiced seeing their happiness. If Karikalan married Manimekalai, his beloved daughter will be the Chola empress! Her child will be entitled to the Chola throne! He can also attain the status that is held by Thirukovalur Malaiamman today. Why should he be the obstacle? Why should he hinder the prospects of his beloved daughter?

It was true that Sambuvaraiyar had thought of marrying his daughter to Mathuranthakan. But Mathuranthakan already had two wives. He was not only married to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter, she also had given birth to a son. Therefore if Mathuranthakan ascended to the throne it will be Pazhuvertaraiyars who will earn the right to the throne. Manimekalai will have to live the life of the many female helpers in the Thanjai palace.

But if Manimekalai marries Athitha Karikalan she will be the crown empress. The throne will belong to the child born to her.

Crowning Mathuranthakan is a near impossible endeavor. The people will oppose it. There will be war with Malaiamman and Kodumbalur Velan. Mathuranthakan’s mother was even against the idea. Why undertake such a difficult task?

Crowning Athitha Karikalan is an already settled matter. There will not be any difficulties in carrying it out. Pazhuvertaraiyars’ obstinacy will be the biggest hurdle. Of them the elder one lies submerged in his lust for Ilaiyarani. No one even can tell how much longer he will be alive. Why should he step into this dangerous affair relying on this old man? It is true that he has given his oath that he will take Mathuranthakan’s side. So what? Is there no way that we can settle this without breaking that oath? It is well known that Mathuranthakan is a simpleton. One can even make him say, ‘I don’t want the kingdom.’ Or we can insist that his mother’s consent was necessary.

Sambuvaraiyar’s mind had begun to think along these lines. Therefore he enthusiastically supported the idea of sending Pazhuvertaraiyar to Thanjai. He thought that in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s absence he can talk privately with Karikalan and better acquaint himself with his state of mind and reach a common ground. Therefore he himself saw to the needs of Pazhuvertaraiyar and sent him off to Thanjai with his retinue.

After Pazhuvertaraiyar had left, Athitha Karikalan and his friends set off on their hunting trip. Sambuvaraiyar was even prepared to send Manimekalai and the other girls with them. But Kanthamaran who had a different plan, objected. He knew that Karikalan’s interest in Manimekalai was for the sake of Nandhini. Because of it his dislike for Karikalan had grown. He could not explain any of this to his father. Therefore, “What can we do with women while hunting? There will be time enough only to make sure that they are safe. Besides, this is the month of October. Any minute it may start raining. Lakeside forest will be flooded. the girls will feel lost,” he countered.

Accordingly Sambuvaraiyar also gave up the idea. Athitha Karikalan left with his friends Parthipenthiran, Vandhiyathevan, Kanthamaran and other hunters.

After the men left Sambuvaraiyar’s palace felt empty. Nandhini looked at Manimekalai. “When the men are at home we find them inconvenient. But when they are absent also we are not satisfied. There isn’t even anything to mock and laugh about,” she said.

“Yes, Sister! We also could have gone hunting. I like being a spectator. Sometimes I go with my father and brother. But today for some reason Kanthamaran was adamantly against it. Perhaps he thought that you will not care for it,” said Manimekalai.

“Yes; I am not so fond of hunting. Blood frightens me. But Kanthamaran’s intention was not that, Girl! He wanted to keep you and one of your houseguests apart,” said Nandhini.

Dimples appeared on Manimekalai’s cheeks. After staring at the ground for a while she said, “Let the men get lost, Sister! We do not need their company. We can go to the lakeshore bathing spot and play in the water! Will you come,” she said. When Nandhini agreed Manimekalai informed her father and made the necessary arrangements.

We have seen that at the lower end of Veera Narayana lake the shore is wide with seventy four sluices. On the upper end there is no such shore. Depth of the lake gradually decreased ending in flat ground. Farther west the forest was thick and dense.

In this region where water level gradually decreased and the ground became flat a few islands were present. Trees, shrubs and vines had taken over these islands. On the shore of one of these islands there were steps leading to a bathing hall. It was customary for women from Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace to come here for baths and leisurely outings. To reach the place one has to go around the lake for about twenty miles. Or one must cross the lake by boat. Because of the inaccessibility and because it was generally known that Sambuvaraiyar women bathed there, no strangers ever came there.

Nandhini and Manimekalai reached the island by boat. There were two other women who ferried the boat. In the boat they also brought the necessary items for cooking. Once they reached the steps leading to the bathhouse the companions left the boat and began the cooking in the hall. Nandhini and Manimekalai sat on the steps gossiping. Manimekalai was naturally gifted with intuition; she loved mischief. She started speaking like Pazhuvertaraiyar, then she went on to impersonate Karikalan, Kanthamaran, Parthipenthiran and Vandhiyathevan, mimicking their speech and mannerism. Nandhini watched, laughing out loud. But it was apparent that her attention was not fully with Manimekalai and her mind was drifting to some private contemplation every so often.

All of a sudden Manimekalai jumped up. “Sister! We did not go hunting; but the game is here in search of us!” Screaming she pulled the knife from her waist.

Startled Nandhini also stood up. She looked in the direction where Manimekalai pointed. There was a cheetah on one of the branches of a sprawling big tree. The animal stared at them as if weighing the pros and cons of attacking them. Right then, from the water’s side came the sound of horses galloping through water.

41. Karikalan’s Murderous Frenzy

Didn’t Athitha Karikalan say that it had been a long time since he had been out hunting and that his archery skills needed some honing. Those who were present at the hunting that day on the banks of Veera Narayana lake disagreed. Much of the wild life was consumed by his arrows that day.

Rabbits, deer, bears and cheetahs fell dead. When no animals were in sight his arrows targeted the birds in the sky. Hawks and falcons fell to the ground shrieking. Karikalan’s murderous wrath escalated as time passed. For those accompanying, there was not much to do. As men sped on their horses shouting, the inhabitants of the forest scattered and ran from their dwellings. That was the only assistance the men provided. Karikalan did not permit them to even target the animals that posed a danger to him. Once Kanthamaran shot an arrow on a bear that leaped on Karikalan. “Kanthamara! Were you aiming at the bear? Or me?” Karikalan asked him. Kanthamaran was furious. After that he did not touch his bow.

By the time the sun was high over their heads they were all tired. They entertained the notion of taking a short break and then returning home. But Karikalan kept driving his tired horse on and on.

In the morning when they started Kanthamaran rode alongside Karikalan. After he said, ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ – Kanthamaran stood behind and joined Parthipenthiran. He complained about the rude behavior of the prince. Parthipenthiran tried to pacify him.

Now it was Vandhiyathevan’s turn. Karikalan and he were now leading in front. Vandhiyathevan did not bring a bow and arrow. He was not well accustomed in the art. He had only his spear. So he carefully avoided interfering with Karikalan’s sport. He was ready to use his spear in the event of an unexpected threat. Until noon no such necessity arose.

Kanthamaran said to Parthipenthiran, “Isn’t this enough for today? It looks as if he will wipe out all of the wildlife here in one day. To cool his killing frenzy we will have to go to Kollimalai. ‘Enough for today! Let’s go home!’ – please tell him!”

“Brother! There is a rage in his heart. Giving up a huge kingdom is no easy task! He is showing all of that anger in his hunting, which is good. Or else he will take it out on me and you. Let him say, ‘Enough,’ when he is tired. Let’s not interfere,” said Parthipenthira Pallavan.

At this time the forest and its surroundings heard a loud roar. Fear appeared on Kanthamaran’s face.

“Aiyo! Wild boar! Please tell the prince to stop,” he said.

“Why be afraid of the wild boar? What chance does the boar have after what the tiger and bear had suffered at the prince’s hand?” Parthipenthiran asked.

“You don’t know. The hogs in these jungles will massacre the tigers and bears! They can knock an elephant down! Horses do not count at all, arrows and spears will simply bounce off the boar’s skin, they will not go in! … Sir! Sir! Please stop!” Kanthamaran yelled.

At the same time there was great movement within the vegetation as if a tornado was making its way. Next minute there emerged like baby elephants the dark figures of two wild boars. They paused for a moment and stared at the horses and the men on top.

Kanthamaran shouted, “Careful, Sir! Careful!”

Some of the huntsmen who were following had by now caught up. They blared their horns and drums with deathrow urgency and shouted, ” Hah! Hooh!”

Who knows what the hogs thought. Perhaps they were reminded of their babies. Perhaps they were driven by the realization that they must terminate any impending danger to their calves. Or they may have been startled by the noise of the horns and drums. The two pigs tore off in two different directions.

Looking at them Kanthamaran said, “Crown Prince! Let them get lost, a wild boar cannot be chased without five or six hounds!”

Without paying attention Karikalan bent his bow and released the arrow. “Aha!” The exhilarated prince shouted when the arrow pierced the rear end of one of the pigs. Next second the hog shook itself so violently the arrow shot off and landed on the ground; the hog ran on.

Kanthamaran’s laughter at that instant held a tinge of sarcasm. Karikalan looked at him. “Kanthamara! Let’s take a bet! Vandhiyathevan and I will follow that pig and bring it back dead. You and Parthipenthiran, chase the other hog and bring it back dead! We must not return to the palace without killing these two hogs,” he said. Then he nudged his horse. Vandhiyathevan followed.

For a while they were able to see the path of the wild boar they chose to follow. As the animal ran it left a trail of trampled scrub in the forest. Then a small creek intervened. It served to take the rainwater from the forest to the lake. From there onwards they were unable to tell in which direction the boar had gone. They could not tell if the hog crossed the creek or if it went in one of two directions along the creek.

Right then their attention was drawn to the panoramic view of the lake from the creek. On the lake there was a boat. They saw that the boat was carrying women. But they could not be sure who they were. The boat appeared to come towards them. Then it abruptly changed direction and went towards an island along the shore of the lake and disappeared.

“Vallavaraiya! Who was in the boat? Didn’t they all seem like women?” Karikalan asked.

“They looked like women; other than that I was also unable to see who they were,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Perhaps they are the Sambuvaraiyar women?”

“Perhaps; but why should they come this far?”

“Yes; it cannot be them … Didn’t Pazhuvertaraiyar leave this morning? Did he?”

“Yes, Sir! He did. I saw the palace gate opening and him riding out on the elephant.”

“Just him?”

“Yes; only the old man left. Ilaiyarani did not.”

“Where would we see a heroic warrior like that old man? Even my grandfather Malaiamman ranks next to him …”

“I have heard about those old men from other people. I have witnessed your valor directly in the battlefield; I saw it in Kadampoor palace also. You kept old men as well as the young studs trembling! …”

“That is true, but when the opportunity I was seeking through all that rioting knocks on the door, my mind and body, both give in. You cannot find a more pathetic coward in all of Chola Nadu …”

“Prince! When you were out hunting today it did not seem like you were shaking from head to toe! You made the forest’s animals and birds and those following shudder!”

“Would you call this valor? A lowly hound jumps on a leopard and kills it; the wild boar confronts a rutting elephant. Does the ability to hunt require courage? Listen, Vallavaraiya! My trick has worked. Pazhuvertaraiyar has left Nandhini alone and gone. Yet when I think of meeting her alone and talking to her I feel afraid,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Sir! There is good reason for that; until now you have thought of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani in a certain way. Now you have found out that she is your sister. She on the other hand has joined the Pandya Nadu saboteurs who want to wipe out your entire tribe. Explaining this to her is no easy task. When I had an opportunity I could not do it …”

“Friend! Every morsel of information that you have brought is startling. I still cannot believe. But when I think back to the old days it seems that it can be true. There was always a smokescreen between her and me. Pazhaiyarai elder stateswoman – Chempian Madevi, was adamant in those days that I should not associate with Nandhini. But she did not tell the reason; if she had none of this would have happened …”

“Chempian Madevi may not have known the whole truth. She may have known that the child was abandoned by some deaf-mute orphan. She may not have known that Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani was Sundara Cholar’s daughter.”