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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (80 – 83)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

80. Goddess Earth’s Lover

Ponniyin Selvar rode his horse to the palankeen in which the princesses were seated.

Pulling his horse to slow down Vandhiyathevan said, “Careful! That wicked palankeen is going to crash into our meek horses!”

“Your palankeen just hit my horse!” He recalled himself shouting not very long ago at about the same place after willfully letting his horse collide with Nandhini’s palankeen. Not even six months have passed since that incident. But how much has happened since that day!

Kundavai surpressing her delight at Vandhiyathevan’s words said, “Brother! Both of you look so happy. Is there some good news that you were discussing?”

“Yes, Sister! We were talking about a happy occasion. But your friend Vanathi won’t like to hear it. Isn’t my wedding day just around the corner? We were admiring my future bride. We were discussing the various aspects of her charm,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

The smiles disappeared from the faces of the two women. Vanathi bent her head. Anger, surprise, doubt and fury flickered across Kundavai’s face.

“What kind of shameless talk is this? Why do you take so much delight in offending this girl,” she said.

Vanathi looked up. “Sister! What do you mean? Why should I be offended,” she said.

As Ponniyin Selvar stood there without saying a word Kundavai took him to task. “Aren’t you returning from the Kollidam shore? Who is this woman you saw there? What place? What name? What tribe?” She went on and on.

Vandhiyathevan intervened. “Princess! We did not see any prospective brides for the prince. We were admiring the splendor of goddess earth, the enchanting vitality of the five rivers. We were speaking about the beauty of Cholanadu. Isn’t coronation just around the corner? The prince meant his love for this earth princess!” He said.

“Aha! My brother never knew how to be so poetic. You have probably taught him!”

Arulmozhivarmar laughed. “Friend! Serves you right. Didn’t I say that as a result of your friendship I have acquired the skills of magical enchantment. See, even my sister thinks so!” He said.

“This is unwarranted accusation. It is as if both of you had planned on ambushing me!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“There are more accusations. My brother could not have mentioned those. We cannot go into this while standing on the middle of the road,” said Kundavai.

Vandhiyathevan said, “So, I was right!”

“Right about what?”

“Sending me away as commander of Eezhanadu troops is really punishment for my crimes; exiling me to an island!”

“See, Sister! How confident he is about the Chola tribe’s gratitude!” Arulmozhivarmar chuckled.

“It is true that we feel no gratitude towards him!” Kundavai told Arulmozhivarmar.

“What is this? Whose side are you on?”

“We can be grateful towards strangers. What is the necessity for gratitude among friends? Don’t you remember what Thiruvalluvar has said?

‘As quick as one’s hand during a wardrobe malfunction
A friend relieves one of adversity’

For straightening the skirt that has slipped must the waist offer thanks to the hand?” Kundavai said.

“Devi! There is no need for gratitude. If no punishment is given that will be plenty of gratitude!” Vandhiyathevan told her.

“Brother! You and your pal, remember this! Our elder brother Karikalan who is now in warriors’ heaven sent him to help me. I have not yet released him from his duty,” said Kundavai.

“Do not release him, Sister! Even life sentence would have my approval,” said the prince.

“I have some matters in Ilankai that he must help me with,” said Kundavai.

“Before I go I will come and take my leave of you, Devi!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Then you will have to come to Pazhaiyarai,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Sister! Where are you going now?” Arulmozhivarmar asked a little surprised.

“We are going to Thiruvaiyaru. Isn’t today markazhi thiruvathirai festival? Chempian Madevi, Mathuranthaka Thevar and Poongkuzhali went there in the morning. Are you also coming?” Kundavai asked.

“No, we are not. In fact to avoid going through the town of Thiruvaiyaru we rode along the riverbank and then turned back.”

Appar Peruman rejoiced seeing kailasam in Thiruvaiyaru. You don’t want to go there? Perhaps you have also become veera vaishnavars?”

“Nothing of the sort. If I am going to Thiruvaiyaru, I want to go like Appar Peruman!”

“What do you mean?”

“Appar says in his song! ‘without a trace,’ – is how he went. Without any glamour, without revealing that he is Thirunavukarasar, he went behind the crowd of devotees who were carrying flowers and water for the pooja. Because of it he was able to see kailasam in Thiruvaiyaru. If we go there in our royal glamour we cannot see god. People will also forget about god and surround us!”

“Yes, yes! Such is your horoscope! Once they see you they will start shouting, ‘Victory for the king! Victory for Ponniyin Selvar!’ But we have no such danger. And we are not even going among the crowds. We will watch the festival from the palace balcony!”

“Sister! Do you remember this old song? God created the universe, the earth and the stars in the sky. Isn’t it foolish to think of him as Athiraiyan, pinning him to one star? Do you remember the verse that speaks about this?”

“I do, Brother! Isn’t the particular encompassed in the whole?”

“Alright! You should go now. When will you be back in Thanjai?”

“We are not coming back to Thanjai. From Thiruvaiyaru we are going to Pazhiayarai.”

“What? What? You are staying for my coronation?”

“Yes, yes! What business do Vanathi and I have with your coronation?”

“Sister! Without you my coronation will not happen!”

“It will happen, why won’t it? Who selected the day? I hope he is not the one who chose the day for Ramar’s coronation?”

“I have no faith in time, star, astrology, augury or any of that. Sister! Any day that we do our duty is a good day. It is the days that we are lethargic are bad!”

“Let all your days be good, Brother! We will go and pray for you!” Kundavai said.

“What are you going to pray for me?”

“That your love for the earth goddess may come true; that your coronation takes place without any hindrance; we will pray to the deity of five rivers. ‘Let your mind not go astray from the good practices of the ancient Chola tribe,’ we will pray to the goddess of goodness.”

“So then you are certain that you won’t be present during my coronation?”

“We will experience it spiritually from Pazhaiyarai!”

“Sister! You are providing fodder to this Kodumbalur Princess’s vanity. She thinks that if she refuses to sit beside me on the Chola throne the sun will cease to rise! Her stubborness will end up in a disaster. Someone else will take her place. There is no use complaining afterwards,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“I have never complained; nor am I going to in the future,” said the Kodumbalur Princess.

“Even if you do, Vanathi, it will accomplish nothing! Those who love this earth, – nothing gets into their ears!”

“Don’t forget that you are the one who created this love of earth in my heart. Haven’t you, – a woman, – told me on so many occasions that you don’t have the heart to leave this beautiful Cholanadu, and that is why you will never get married?” Arulmozhi said.

“On those occasions you refused to listen to me. You said that there are other more beautiful places in the world. It is this Varnar tribe warrior’s influence that has turned you into such a lover of earth!” Kundavai said.

“God! Do I have to shoulder this accusation also,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“You have shouldered so many dreadful allegations. You are going to be scared of this? Brother! We have been talking for a long time. We will miss the festival! We will leave now.” Kundavai signaled to the palankeen carriers. The palankeen started to move.

After watching the palankeen for a while Ponniyin Selvar directed his horse towards Thanjai.

After having gone a short distance he said to Vandhiyathevan who was riding beside him, “Friend! I don’t believe that these women are going to the festival. I heard that Kudanthai astrologer has now moved near Thiruvaiyaru! They are going to him for consultation!”

“Sir! You have become better at predicting the future than the Kudanthai astrologer,” said Vandhiyathevan.

81. The Cat and the Parrot

Ponniyin Selvar’s prediction was correct. Once they reached the Chola palace in Thiruvaiyaru, Kundavai and Vanathi abandoned their palankeen and retinue there. They found out that Chempian Madevi, her son and daughter-in-law had gone to the temple. They told the palace guards that they were also going to the temple. Then with just one guard by their side they went in search of the astrologer’s house.

Yes; after his house was washed away in the flood, Kudanthai astrologer had moved to Thiruvaiyaru. He built a small house on the Kaveri shore on the town’s eastern edge and was living there.

Perhaps he had enlightenment by way of astrology that Thanjavur held the future and not Pazhaiyarai; perhaps he moved to Thiruvaiyaru for this reason!

The princesses were surprised when even as they stood on the astrologer’s doorstep to hear a sweet childish voice from inside say, “Welcome Dancing Queens! Please come in!” Wondering whom the astrologer has now found to replace the rude disciple who stood there as guard before, they went inside.

The answer waited in a cage hanging from the ceiling. A green parrot moved its head from side to side and after taking a good look at them with its tiny bead like eyes repeated once again, “Welcome Dancing Queens! Please come in!”

Hearing the parrot and the ankle-bracelets of the women, the astrologer came from inside.

Surprised at seeing the princesses he said, “Please come in! Princesses! Come in! This hut is so fortunate today!”

The parrot repeated after him, “This hut is so fortunate today!”

The astrologer scolded the parrot. “Cheechee! Be quiet,” he told the parrot.

“Sir! Why are you scolding the parrot? It is greeting the visitors properly. It gives the impression that there are visitors streaming in everyday. It is alluding to an endless traffic of queens and ranis,” said the junior stateswoman Kundavai.

“Welcome Dancing Queens! Please come in!” The parrot chimed in.

The astrologer again told the parrot to shut up. Then, “Princesses! Forgive me! When Thirugnana Sambantha Peruman visited Thiruvaiyaru he saw dance theaters on every street. He heard the sound of ankle-bracelets as girls took dance lessons. He had mentioned this in his songs. As in those days, today also there many young female students studying the art of dance in Thiruvaiyaru. Often they visit this hut to hear their horoscope! To welcome them I have trained this parrot to say these words! Please forgive me,” he said.

“There are no dancing queens here today,” said Kundavai.

“Devi! Today is Thiruvathirai feast. The dancing queens would have gone to help in the temple. But you are for real. You are here. This hut is indeed fortunate! I feel fortunate,” the astrologer said happily.

Then, “Please sit down! Whatever you may want to ask this poor man, please ask! As far as I can see I will tell you,” he said.

Both princesses sat down. After a long sigh Kundavai said, What are we to ask? The question that comes to mind is, ‘Is there any truth in this science of astrology?'”

“Devi! What can I say? Astrology is true to those who trust. To those who do not trust, of course it is a lie,” said the astrologer.

“I did have complete confidence in astrology. But this science has let me down!”

“In what way did it let you down, Madam?”

“What has taken place according to your horoscope? Did you even mention that my brother will meet with this untimely death?”

“How can I say that, Devi? Even if I know, can I open my mouth and say it? If I had, won’t they have stuck me with the Pandyanadu troublemakers? I can only generalize about government matters and the royal family. ‘A difficult period, … an obstacle is in the forecast; under the influence of an evil planet …’ – even this is dangerous to say. Moreover, I do not have Athitha Karikalar’s horoscope. I have never seen it,” said the astrologer.

“Even if you had, you won’t have said anything. Even if you had said anything, no one could have prevented that tragedy?”

“How is that possible, Madam! I am not Brahma! Even Brahma, can he erase what has already been written?”

“In that case, what is the use in looking at one’s horoscope?”

“Madam! What are you saying? If people like you did not care about horoscope, how can people like me make a living? Would princesses even step into this poor man’s hut,” said the astrologer.

Kundavai burst out laughing when she heard this. A smile appeared on Vanathi’s face also.

“Astrologer! Is this what you tell everyone who comes here to hear their horoscope?”

“Would I be so candid with everyone? You are famous for your reputation as the incarnation of both kalaimahal and thirumahal. Can I ever win a debate with such a personality? That is why I said that. But, Madam! Should you question the veracity of astrology based on the horoscope that I have not read? Shouldn’t you base it on what I have actually read? I have told about Ponniyin Selvar’s good fortune. Whatever may have taken place, finally the time is here when he will become emperor of this earth! I heard that a good day has been selected for the coronation,” said the astrologer.

“Sir! Did anyone come to you to choose an auspicious day for Ponniyin Selvar’s coronation?”

“No, Devi! The palace has its own priests for that! Chief Minister Aniruthar is an expert in the field of astrology!”

“Yes; they have selected the seventh day of January. Is that a good day, Astrologer?”

“It is a very good day, Madam! They have selected the day after much deliberation.”

“It may be a good day for coronation. But tell me if the coronation is guranteed to take place on that day!”

“Why, Devi! Why won’t it take place?”

“They chose a good day for Sri Ramar’s coronation. But his coronation did not take place on that day!”

“Devi! On that day Sri Ramar was visited by grandeur that was a million times greater than any coronation can bestow! Ramayanam was born because of it! Never mind about that. Why should you have any doubts? It seems that you don’t want the coronation to take place on that day?”

“Your are right!”

“The world thinks that there will be no one as happy as you to see Ponniyin Selvar take the throne!”

“To be honest I should be very happy. But the foolish pride of this Kodumbalur girl has wiped out my happiness. Do you remember the promise she made at your house in Kudanthai?”

“Promise? So many disasters happened on that day. I don’t remember anything well,” said the astrologer.

“Because the spiteful boatwoman Poongkuzhali said something this girl made a promise. She said that as long as she is alive she will not ascend the throne! Can one ascend the throne after life has departed, Astrologer?”

“Of course, that is not possible!”

“It was because of her foolish promise that Mother Kaveri grew angry and wanted to wash her away with the flood!”

“Yes; I remember now. I thought that was a playful prank!”

“The playful prank has now turned into an affecting malady! She will not sit on the throne she says! My brother must marry someone else to take the place of crown empress beside him on the throne. Meanwhile she will serve in his palace as a maid among maids! I cannot bear to hear any of this, Astrologer! Do you remember what you said about this girl?”

The astrologer’s face brightened. “I remember very well! Devi! Mother Kaveri took away along with my collection of astrology books the horoscopes of princes and princesses of various countries. But this girl’s horoscope is imprinted in my mind. The lines of her palm are right before my eyes. Madam! Whatever else may not come true from my reading of horoscopes, my reading of hers will certainly come true!”

“Do you remember what you told about her?”

“Yes, I do! I said that the man who is fortunate to marry her will marry in one person the goddess of wealth and the goddess of earth. I said that great queens from all over the world will long to have just a glimpse of this queen among queens! I said that even at birth her son will carry the victory flag. I said that wherever he goes, whatever he sets his sight on, there will be victory!”

“Sir! The more you carry on in this manner, the more worried I become!”

The astrologer sat up. “Devi! Worried? What for? The woeful period for the Chola tribe and Cholanadu has passed. Do you know that today is a special day?”

“Yes. Today is December’s Thiruvathirai day. It is Sivan’s day!”

“It is also the Chola tribe’s day. It is also the day of Thamilakkam. Listen! In the coming years on one of these markazhi thiruvathirai days a miracle will happen. A child of Thirumal’s incarnation absent the sanku chakram in his hands will be borne! Through that baby Cholanadu will reach newer heights not seen ever before! Aha! What extraordinary events are in the forecast! I probably will not be alive to see these. You will live a long live and experience these happy times!”

While the astrologer kept talking in this manner Kundavai listened forgetting her surroundings.

All of a sudden hearing a noise both of them turned. Inside the cage the parrot was frantically beating its wings. Vanathi had thrown a bound ola manuscript at the cat that was about to pounce on the parrot.

“Sister! Astrology has its uses. It could save this sweet talking parrot with this astrology manuscript. If not by now the cat would have torn apart its feathers!” Vanathi said.

82. Chinese Merchants

From ancient times people in various countries have tried to foretell events in the making. Just like the poor and uneducated masses, the ruling tribes and scholars also have tried to look into the future. Astrologers, diviners, fortune tellers and palmists were present in advanced societies at the forefront of education and sophistication.

On the other hand there were also those who doubted the basis of astrological science, and those who outright condemned this art.

This conflict arose in the intelligent mind of the junior stateswoman also. Yet whenever she was concerned about the future of Chola empire, the uncertainty made her seek the astrologer’s abode.

By all indications Kundavai’s mind ought to have arrived at the same tranquility as Sundara Chola emperor’s. After so many unexpected events, it was now certain that Arulmozhivarmar will be on the Chola throne. We have known the special affection that Kundavai has had for her younger brother from their small age. She believed that Cholanadu will benefit through Arulmozhivarman who had been born with sanku chakra lines on his palm. Her belief had been strengthened over time by various incidents, such as when a strange woman had appeared, – like god herself, to save the boy when he had by accident fallen into river Kaveri. The time was near for her belief to come true. Yet, why is there no peace in this princess’s mind?

Similar to that of Arulmozhivarman, several people have noted the special nature of Princess Vanathi’s horoscope. We don’t know if they had in fact researched the time and planetary positions to predict the future, or whether they were merely trying to please Kundavai Devi. We have at times witnessed the wisdom of the crowd. Moreover some people do have the gift of prophecy. Their words more or less have come true. The astrologer who had moved from Kudanthai to Thiruvathirai, recalling that day was the December festival of the sixth lunar asterism, spoke rather emphatically when he said, ‘A good day that will bestow glory on the Chola tribe!'”

Two years later on that same markazhi thiruvathirai, a baby was born in the Chola tribe. When that child grew up and came of age he became an emperor who would be compared to Chandrakupthan, Ashokan, Vikramathithan and Harshavarthanan. Crowned as Rajendran he conquered and ruled from Ilankai to Kangai, from Latchateevu to Srivijaya Theevu.

In a miraculaous manner the astrologer’s prediction would come true. But on that day Kundavai did not have complete faith in it; Vanathi found it preposterous. Circumstances allowed her to express her feelings. Throwing the astrologer’s palm leaf book at the cat she said, “Even astrology has its uses!”

When the astrologer saw it he said, “Princess! It is said that for the able even a leaf of grass is a weapon. Like that in your hand even this sacred bundle of leaves was able to save a life. After all isn’t it the tender limb that is going to save and shelter so many lives in the future?”

“Sister! This astrologer is very clever with flattery. Come, let’s go!” Vanathi said.

“Devi! Today you may not find my remarks pleasing. One day what I have said will come true. At that time don’t forget to think of this poor man,” said the astrologer.

Kundavai intervened. “Sir! It is not that this girl does not like your words. She is exuberant in her heart. But at the same time she is fretting, ‘I made a foolish promise!’ She took her anger out on your palm leaf manuscript! Please don’t mind her!” She said.

“Even the furor of the good people will bring only good results. My pet parrot who welcomed you in her sweet tongue has been saved,” said the astrologer.

Kundavai spoke with the astrologer a little a longer. In particular she inquired about Arulmozhivarmar’s marriage. She had reasons to be concerned. Because the day before Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari had asked her, “Madam! I am leaving for Kodumbalur. I want to take my brother’s daughter Vanathi with me.”

Caught off guard Kundavai had said, “Uncle! What is the hurry? You are not staying for the coronation?”

“Madam! I will return for the coronation. Until then what will I do here? I came with a big garrison. By god’s mercy our dream has come true without any fight. The emperor’s beloved son has agreed to wear the crown. All the petty kings have concurred. There is no need to keep this big garrison here anymore. It is really difficult for Thanjai townspeople to house all of them and provide food. Therefore I have to take my garrison back, split them into smaller groups and relocate them in different places,” the colonel said.

“Of course. Please do that. But why do you have to take my friend Vaanthi back,” asked Kundavai.

“Devi! There is a reason for that. Yesterday all of us petty kings met and came to a decision. Your grandfather and Arinjaya Thevar’s father Paranthaka emperor married six queens. He married a woman from each of our tribes; mine, Miladudaiyar’s, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s, Mazhavaraiyar’s and Sambuvaraiyar’s. Therefore during his time there were no clashes among the petty kings. Your grandfather Arinjayar also married several women from the petty kings’ tribes. He married your grandmother who came from the Vaithumbarayar tribe that he defeated. But your father did not follow this good practice. He married only your mother, Malaiamman’s daughter. Because of it envy and disagreements started among the petty kings. Yesterday we unanimously decided that from now on future emperors Chola empire ought to marry women from several petty king tribes like Paranthaka emperor and Arinjaya Thevar. We have decided to appeal to Ponniyin Selvar after the coronation. You can guess why I want to take Vanathi back with me? If I have her here others may think that I am trying to go against our agreement,” said Kodumbalur Velar.

Kundavai became very enraged when she heard this. But without showing her fury she said, “Colonel! You asked me once to be both mother and father to your brother’s daughter who had lost both her parents. Have you forgotten that? I cannot send Vanathi to Kodumbalur. I cannot be apart from her even for a second. If necessary I will take her and go back to Pazhaiyarai. We will even skip the coronation. We will remain in Pazhiayarai. There is no necessity for talk of marriage now. Once the coronation is over you can talk to Ponniyin Selvar about the petty kings’ wish. We can see then!”

The colonel agreed and left.

This was another reason for coming in search of the astrologer. This is why Kundavai seemed so concerned about Ponniyin Selvar’s marriage.

At the same time Vanathi’s mind was revisiting an old incident. The characters in that were also a bird and a cat. Along with the cat there were also an elephant and an elephant-keeper.

A jungle cat tried to attack a bird’s nest that was hanging by a thread from a tree and steal the chicks. The mother bird circled the nest trying to stop the cat. Vanathi saw it and screamed helplessly. A young man who was swimming in the river came running. Taking a look at the crisis he hurried away and returned on an elephant. He saved the bird nest and the tiny chicks that were inside from the jungle cat’s mouth.

Vanathi had thought that the young man was the elephant-keeper. Only later she would find out that he was Ponniyin Selvar. Aha! She wished that he had been just an elephant-keeper! Or an ordinary soldier! She became the target of such acrimony only because he turned out to be the beloved son of Emperor Sundara Cholar! She is in a situation where her friends and others like Poongkuzhali can insult her; can insinuate that she has hidden motives to become the Cholanadu empress …!

While Vanathi was trapped in such memories and Kundavai was engaged in astrology a loud voice was heard at the front door calling out, “Anyone cares for Chinese silk? Chinese silk!” There were also other voices.

Kundavai and Vanathi realized that there time was up and rose.

The astrologer’s disciple came in and asked, “Swami! There are two Chinese merchants. They want to hear their horoscope. Shall I tell them to come tomorrow?”

“No, let them come now; we will take our leave,” Kundavai answered. Then she took Vanathi’s hand and went out.

At the entrance the two princesses saw an elephant, and on the elephant two Chinese merchants seated with large bundles of fabric. They seemed to be questioning the elephant-keeper who stood below about something.

Not paying much attention to them the princesses with the soldier who had accompanied them returned to the Chola palace.

83. The Scene that Appar Saw

That day at dusk to mark the festival of the sixth lunar asterism, the deity of six rivers and the goddess of goodness graced the Thiruvaiyaru’s broad avenues lined with houses. Swami and Amman were seated on a silver kailasa chariot that was designed to invoke the snow covered kailaiyankiri.

At the front of the procession went elephants, camels and oxen. Trumpets and horns sounded from on top of them that produced echoes in all eight directions. Behind them row after row of people marched bearing banners. Group after group of orchestras followed them. Courtesans paused every now and then to perform before moving on. Nandhi Baghvan, Sandhikesuvarar, Vinayakar and god Muruga accompanied by Valli Thevayanai paraded on separate floats. Lastly Parvathi and Parameshwaran made their prescence seated on the kailasa chariot.

Farther behind them came the choirs singing the Thiruvaiyaru hymns sung by Appar, Sammanthar and Sundarar to the accompaniment of veena, table, cymbals and other instruments. In front and behind, thousands of people kept moving slowly with the procession blocking the streets. According to their preferences, the people were absorbed with either watching the elephants and camels, or listening to the choirs singing, or enjoying the courtesans’ dance performances, but most of them taken up by the presence of the passing deities.

As far as eyes could reach hundreds of torches lit the area and turned this rare occasion into a dreamland.

From the balcony of the Chola palace Kundavai, Vanathi and Poongkuzhali were watching this scene. Beginning from the elephants bearing the trumpet players to the choir singers at the end, they enjoyed watching the procession. They observed the ecstatic devotees and the commoners whose attention was diverted to the variously entertaining performances. They also rejoiced seeing the parading deities from Nandhi Thevar to Sivan Parvathi.

They also saw two Chinese merchants atop an elephant amidst the crowd of people disembarking from the elephant at places to disappear among the crowd and then climbing back on the elephant.

“Aha! Are these Chinese men really merchants? Or, are they spies from a foreign country” The suspicion arose in Kundavai’s  mind.

Naturally, the news of the recent turmoil in Cholanadu would have spread all over the world. It is possible on account of that many enemy kings would want to send spies in the disguise of Chinese merchats!

Poongkuzhali heard Kundavai and Vanathi discussing this. She told them, “They approached me at the main entrance of the temple and asked me, ‘Would you be interested in Chinese silk?’ I said to them, ‘Come to the Chola palace; the princesses will be coming from Thanjai; they may buy!’ Therefore they may come here. You can clear your doubts by directly questioning them!”

At that time aiyarappar and aram valartha nayaki seated in their kailayankiri chariot were at the entrance of the Chola palace. While the chariot paused pooja with lit lamps was offered to the Swami.Chempian Madevi and her son who had come in the procession entered the palace from there. Hearing that the princesses were on the balcony they came up.

Conversation centered on the festival’s highlights. Afterwards Sivagnana Kandarathithar’s spouse turned to her beloved son. “Child! Appar Peruman sang a pathikam about his Thiruvaiyaru experience. Please sing that. Let’s listen! I was not entirely pleased with the performance of the choir,” she said.

The princesses and Poongkuzhali also agreed. The former Senthan Amuthan and present day Mathuranthaka Thevarsang the pathikam in his sweet voice:

‘மாதர்ப் பிறைக்கண்ணியானை மலையான் மகளொடும் பாடிப்
போதொடு நீர் சுமந்தேத்திப் புகுவாரவர் பின்புகுவேன்
யாதுஞ் சுவடுபடாமல் ஐயாறு அடைகின்ற போது
காதல்-மடப் பிடியோடுங் களிறு வருவன கண்டேன்!
கண்டேனவர் திருப்பாதம்! கண்டறியாதன கண்டேன்!’

Beginning with this verse Mathuranthaka Thevar sang up to the next ten verses completely forgetting his surroundings.

Those who were listening also forgot themselves. They also saw the sights that Appar Peruman had seen that day.

Silence took over after the singing. After some quiet Kundavai turned to Chempian Madevi. “Ammah! You have once before told me the history of this song sung by Appar. Please tell the story again. Let them also listen,” she said. As others also insited Chempian Madevi told the history.

When Appar Swami reached old age and his body was weakened he wanted to go to kailaiyankiri and see god. He traveled north for a long way. Unable to walk any longer he fell down tired. At that time a kind elderly person appeared and said, “Appar! Where are you going in search of heaven? Go to Thiruvaiyaru on the banks of river Ponni! That is heaven on earth!” He then disappeared. Knowing this was god’s word, Appar came back to Thiruvaiyaru. Just the sight of this place delighted him. He saw many devotees with flower garlands in their hands and brass kettles with kaveri water going to visit the deity of five rivers. They sang the god’s praise as they went. Appar also went behind them. At that time two elephants – one male and one female – appeared in the Thiruvaiyaru countryside. These male and female elephants presented Appar a vision of sivam and sakthi. Before he reached the temple Appar saw many such male and female pairs of animals and birds. The rooster came frolicking with its hen; the male peacock came dancing with the female peacock; in the nearby grove the male cuckoo bird enjoyed its song with the female cuckoo bird; The wild hog roared like thunder as it paraded with its womankind; the heron flew with its good partner; the green parrot and its mate were speaking their baby tongue on the verdant trees; the ox and cow walked by majestically. In this manner Appar visualized all life that walked past him as man and woman as sivam and sakthi. He saw that the entire world was a manifestation of sakthi and sivam. ‘This world is heaven; there is no separate heaven,’ he realized. While he walked ahead with this feeling of true wisdom, he saw the deity of five rivers and the goddess of goodness parade in the kailasa chariot. He expressed lyrically in sweet Tamil all what he had seen and experienced that day with his inner eyes and outer eyes and sang it with music. To emphasize what he had seen until then but yet not understood was made clear to him that day in Thiruvaiyaru he added in much wonder the line ‘I saw what I had not seen before,’ at the end of each verse.

As the elder stateswoman told the story everyone listened forgetting their surroundings entirely.

At the end Kodumbalur Princess had a question: “Madam! Appar Swami had sung sa admirably of love in the animal and bird kingdoms. Why doesn’t he mention the human species?” She asked.

“In the human race there is no true love that does want a reciprocal benefit. That is why Appar did not mention the man and woman of the human race,” said Poongkuzhali.

“That is not right, my Daughter! If Appar Swami had seen you and my son then he would have sung about human love also,” said Chempian Madevi.

“Yes, yes!” The other two women agreed.

At this time there arose a commotion in the front. A place guard came in and said, “There are two Chinese silk merchants. They are refusing to leave without seeing the princesses!”

The junior stateswoman was surprised as well as angry. “Who are these loudmouths? Tell them that we don’t want anything now and ask them to leave!” She said.

Meanwhile Poongkuzhali said, “Devi! I had asked them to come. Pardon me!”

“In that case let them in,” said the junior stateswoman.

Before long the two Chinese merchants came in with their two bundles.

84. Coronation Gift

The two Chinese merchants appeared with thick mustaches and beards on their faces and big turbans on their heads.  In the dimly lit balcony their faces could not be made out. It was difficult even to tell their age.

Kundavai’s suspicions were further validated. Intelligent as she was she commanded the guard, “The light is not sufficient to see the garments. Bring a bigger flambeau!”

“I will send a better light,” said Mathuranthaka Thevar and left. With him Chempian Madevi also left.

After they left Kundavai asked the Chinese merchants, “Sir! Why are you in such a hurry? Can’t you bring your bring your merchandise during the day? Why come in the night?”

“Princesses! Pardon us! It has been many days since we arrived in Thanjai. We have tried so hard but we could not gain entry to the palace. Day after tomorrow the vessel will leave from Nagapattinam. We have to leave on that. That is why we are in a hurry,” said one of the merchants.

Even though his voice sounded a bit strange they surprised to hear his flawless Tamil.

“Sir! For a Chinese merchant, you speak Tamil very well,” said Kundavai.

“I have been here on business in Cholanadu for a while now. That is why I have learned a little Tamil. I like Tamil and Tamilnadu,” said the merchant.

“Then why are you in a hurry to go back to your country? Can’t you wait at least until the coronation is over? What is the hurry?”

“If we miss this ship day after tomorrow, no one knows when the next ship will be. Ships are not that frequent from Nagai as it used to be!”

“Why is that?”

“Don’t you know why, Devi! Seafaring is not as easy as before. There are too many pirates. Frenetic soldiers from Arab country get on ships everywhere from the western seas to the eastern seas. Even on the coasts and harbors they are waiting. When they see merchant ships they hop onto them. They fight ruthlessly killing everyone aboard and leave with all the goods. Because of this merchant ships no longer leave one by one. Ten to twenty ships sail together. If a batch of ships leave day after tomorrow, no one knows how long the wait will be for the next one. Princess! Please be generous and take a look at the silk we have brought!”

While speaking the merchant began to open his bundle. The other merchant also unraveled his.

“Businessmen! There is no use spreading your wares here at this time. In the dark we cannot assess the quality of your silk. We also didn’t bring the money to pay in the event we select anything,” said the junior stateswoman.

The merchant who had spoken before feigning surprise stood up immediately and brought his palms together in front of him. “Princess! Would we accept payment from you? That is a fine notion! If you choose to wear these silk dresses won’t we consider that a payment for our penance in previous births and rejoice? We didn’t bring this merchandise to sell, we brought these as coronation gifts,” he said.

“In that case you have come to the wrong place. None of us here is being crowned. Prince Ponniyin Selvar is the person. Go in search of him and present him your gifts!”

“No, Devi! We have come to the right place. Everyone says that the best way to gain the attention of Ponniyin Selvar, one must first approach the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi,” said the Chinese merchant.

Hearing this all the women had a good laugh. “Who is everyone? Where did you hear this and who said it?” Kundavai asked.

“Why, Madam! Even today during the festival several people were saying this. ‘The younger brother will not cross the older sister’s line,’ they were saying. You can ask my friend here if you like!”

The friend who had been quiet until then said, “Yes, Princess! It is true. ‘Ponniyin Selvar’s coronation is the same as Kundavai Devi’s,’ the people were talking. ‘From now on it is a woman’s rule in Cholanadu! It will be a good one,’ the people were talking!”

Again the princess laughed out loud.

“Therefore Princess, you must kindly accept these presents,” said one of the merchants.

“And then you must submit our request to Ponniyin Selvar,” said the other merchant.

“What request? What do you need from Ponniyin Selvar? First tell us that,” said Kundavai.

“Devi! He has so much to do. Not just for us. From Cholanadu to China the merchants and people of all the countries are relying on Arulmozhivarmar. During Emperor Paranthakar’s time the seas were safe. Except for the threat of storms, sea voyages had no other danger. Pirating was unheard of. No one even dreamed of it. Cholanadu vessels carried their cargo fearlessly as if they were on land. Cholanadu ships touched on Manakavaram, Mayirudingham, Mapapakam, Ilamuri Thesam, Srivijayam, Chavakam, Kadaram, Cambojam and other seaports for export and import before proceeding to our China. In the same manner ships were leaving from China to Cholanadu without any hindrance. Those days seem like an old dream, Devi! We will tell you the truth. There is no guarantee that we can take these silk garments back to our country safely. Rather than have these robbed by Arabian pirates it is better to give these to the Cholanadu Princesses as gifts!”

Listening to the merchant from China, Kundavai’s interest was piqued. Her eyes widened like beetles.

“Do you think that Ponniyin Selvar can do this? Do you think that seafaring will be without danger as in the time of Paranthaka emperor? Do you believe that Ponniyin Selvar’s fame will spread to Manakavaram, Mayirudingham, Kadaram, Srivijayam and other countries,” she asked.

“Not only us! The business community of Cholanadu thinks so! Why? We went to an astrologer a short while ago. Even he said so!”

“What did he say?”

“Ponniyin Selvar will go with shiploads of soldiers across the seas; he will wipe out the pirate gangs; he will make journey on the sea as safe as before; Cholanadu will recapture its days of glory as during emperor Paranthakar’s time. This is what the astrologer told us. But he also said that Cholanadu Princesses should not pose any obstacles!”

“That is all? Did he say anything else to insult the princesses?”

“Aha! Insult? No, Devi! There is no one in Cholanadu who can insult Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman and Kodumbalur Princess. How will the astrologer who depends on the mercy of the Princesses dare to say anything?”

“What else did the astrologers say about us?”

“He said that the Princesses had just been to see him. He said that both will be married soon. Madams! If these silk garments won’t be accepted as coronation gifts, then please at least accept them as wedding gifts,” said the merchant who had spoken first.

“When she heard this Vanthi said, “Sister! These Chinese merchants are just troublemakers. Please tell them to leave!”

“Wait a little, Vanathi! Let’s see how far their rowdiness will go,” Kundavai told her. Then looking at the merchants she said, “Merchants! So it was both of you who arrived at the house of the astrologer on an elephant?”

“Yes, Devi! We have reaped the benefit of going in search of the astrologer. We heard of your visit. The astrologer’s prediction that we will have the good fortune of meeting you today also has come true. In the same way if his prediction about Kodumbalur Princess should come then all our worries will be over!”

Again Vanthi said, “Sister! Please ask them to leave!”

“Merchants! So it was you who were riding on the elephant at the festival. You at times got down from the elephant and went among the crowd?” Kundavai asked.

“Yes, Devi! We were curious to find out what the people were saying about the upcoming coronation.”

“What were the people saying? They are satisfied about Ponniyin Selvar being crowned?”

“No; no one was talking about the coronation.”

“Then, what were the people talking about?”

“They were talking about Mathuranthaka Thevar’s piety and fame.”

“That is good news. Poongkuzhali! Did you hear that?” Kundavai told Poongkuzhali. Then she asked the merchants, What else did they say about Mathuranthaka Thevar?”

“They spoke about Mathuranthakar’s generous nature. They lauded the fact that even though he had a rightful claim to the Chola kingdom he was able to say, ‘I don’t want the kingdom!'”

“Is that right? What did they think the reason was?”

“Mathuranthaka Thevar had fallen in love with a boatwoman and was adamant that he would make her the crown empress. This had changed the minds of the petty kings who were on his side. Apparently they had said, ‘In that case Mathuranthakar cannot be crowned; the crown must go to Ponniyin Selvar.’ This is what the people were saying. Princess! If the most fortunate boatwoman is here we want to present her also with silk dresses!”

Now Poongkuzhali said, “Devi! Kodumbalur Princess is right. These merchants are just some troublemakers. Please ask them to leave immediately!”

“Wait a little, Poongkuzhali! Why are you angry? They didn’t say anything to disrespectful of you? They were in fact praising you,” said Kundavai.

“Phey don’t have to praise me or insult me! They don’t have to give me gifts also!” Poongkuzhali started to leave.

“Madam! Are you the lucky lady? Aha! The people were right,” said one of the merchants.

“What else did they say,” asked Poongkuzhali smiling.

“When one of them said that Mathuranthaka Thevar gave up Chola kingdom for Poongkuzhali another person said, ‘For Poongkuzhali, does one give up only one kingdom? If I had nine kingdoms I would have given up all of them!’ I fully agree with him,” said that Chinese merchant.

Poongkuzhali feigning anger said, “Sister! You must immediately make arrangements to punish this merchant; or else I will tell Ponniyin Selvar and have him punished!”

Mathuranthaka Thevar after conducting the evening pooja arrived with the flower offerings in his hand. He heard what Poongkuzhali was saying. He said, “There is nothing wrong with what the merchant is saying! Why does he need punishment? I also agree with him, Poongkuzhali!”

When the Chinese merchant turned towards this new entrant Poongkuzhali saying, “If a real merchant says it then it is alright. But how can one agree with an imposter,” pulled that merchant’s Chinese turban. The turban fell down. Along with it his mustache and beard also slipped from his face.

The face of none other than Vandhiyathevan presented itself from underneath!

“Sir! Help!” When Vandhiyathevan howling tried to put his arms around the other Chinese merchant’s neck, his turban, beard and mustache also came undone.

Ponniyin Selvar’s face emerged smiling.

The three women could not keep their laughter down for a long time.

When Chempian Madevi came to the balcony they told her what had happened and enjoyed another round of laughter.

“Mother! When I saw them near the temple I had a suspicion. That is why I boldly invited them to the palace.” Poongkuzhali said.

“Yes; I recognized my friend. That is why I left them here went away to offer pooja, said Mathuranthaka Thevar.

“Vanathi! You and I are the fools who could tell their fake costume,” said Kundavai.

“Why did they come in this disguise and try to deceive us? Ask them, Sister!”

“What for, Vanathi! My brother is not someone who is capable of such pranks. It is bad influence from certain friendships that is making him wear costumes and conjure lies,” said Kundavai.

“Devi! Don’t blame Vandhiyathevan for this. This excellent idea of disguising ourselves as Chinese merchants was entirely mine,” said Arulmozhi,

“I meant that such an idea would ever crop up in your head was because of the company you keep these days. Never mind, don’t play these deceptive pranks anymore!”

“Sister! Thiruvalluvar had sung the glory of honesty. But even he has said,

the lie can blaze as truth
if it provides the benefit of clarity

“When Thiruvalluvar sang that kural he won’t ever have dreamed that one day you will make use of it in this way.”

“Alright! Let’s leave Thiruvalluvar alone. When Ramar went to the forest, in order to make the Ayothi people who were following him go back, didn’t he use some deceptive tactics? Didn’t he wake up while the people were still sleeping and tell Sumanthirar to drive the chariot towards Ayothi for a while and then direct it towards the Kangai shore?”

“Brother! I am very happy if you intend to follow Ramar in everything else also! Never mind! What benefit of clarity resulted from your fake costume? Will you tell me that,” asked Kundavai.

“We were able to mingle among the people and find out what they really thought without revealing our true selves!”

Eagerly Kundavai asked, “What did you find out about the people’s opinion, Brother?”

“Quite a lot, Sister! Most importantly, I learned that the people want this Chola kingdom to recapture the glory of emperor Paranthakar’s days. Even though our disguise as Chinese merchants was meant to deceive, all what we told you now is true. After meeting both of you on the way, we went to Thanjai. Near the Thanjai fort entrance we actually saw two Chinese merchants. We paid money and got these bundles of silk from them. We disguised ourselves like them and came back. What I said now about Arabian pirates is what those merchants had told us. My friend and I have experienced firsthand the ruthlessness of Arabian bandits in the sea. Sister! In any event, it is certain that my friend and I are leaving for Eezhanadu as soon as the coronation is over. Once our work there is finished, we plan to travel to other countries across the sea. We don’t know if we will return alive, or we will be in warriors’ heaven losing our lives in battlefields. Therefore we came behind you in a hurry to ask all of you to stay with us until we leave, and send us off with your blessing!”

When Ponniyin Selvar was speaking tears welled in Kundavai’s eyes.

Rather emotionally she said, “No one can explain why wars have been instituted. Can’t human beings love one another and be happy?”

“Doughter! It is not like that. As long as the world exists, there will be no end to war. Even Paramasivan and Parvathi had to battle! There are some born in this world to uphold justice. They have to battle!”

Needless to say that these words spoken by the meek saiva devotee Chemopian Madevi her listeners were thrown into a sea of astonishment.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A House

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (75 – 79)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

75. Disastrous Outcomes

In the private assembly hall of Thanjaipuri palace Emperor Paranthaka Sundara Cholar was seated on its famed throne of justice. On both sides were seated the most prominent of the palace women. Cholanadu ministers, colonels and young princes stood in front of the emperor in a salutatory pose. Among the women were the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi, udaiya pirati Vanamadevi, the junior stateswoman Kundavai and Kodumbalur princess Vanathi.

As if wary of her present company Poongkuzhali also stood on a side. Among the men were the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, Chief Minister Aniruthar, Colonel periya Velar, Miladudaiyar Malaiamman, Prince Arulmozhivarmar, the newly birthed Mathuranthaka Thevar and Parthipenthira Pallavan. Behind the chief minister Thirumalai stood to a side.

The emperor after taking a look at those present said, “Are all the invitees here? I don’t see the Kadampoor king?”

“Sambuvaraiyar’s son just returned. Father and son will soon be here,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Oh! Kanthmaran is back? What news did he bring? Did he bring those who ran away?” Sundara Cholar asked.

“No, Lord! He did not bring them. But he says that Vandhiyathevan has been killed. The other madman could not be caught; apparently he has escaped,” said Parthipenthiran.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. Everyone thought that he was going to speak. But he remained quiet.

“I don’t know what other disaster will arise out of my folly! Chief Minister! You know my intention; I have invited here all those who are dear to me and my tribe. You must tell them why they are here, and explain my position to them. I think that you can do this better than me!” The emperor said.

“Certainly, Emperor!” The chief minister answered. Facing the assembly he said:

“All of you know that the emperor’s heart is wounded owing to several reasons. He recently lost his eldest son who was equal to Abimanyu and Aravan. The reason behind the prince’s death is still a mystery. Our king has not seen this heroic son for three years. After building a palace out of gold in Kanji, Karikalar sent word again and again asking his father to come and stay there. Yet the emperor did not go. All of you know the reason. The emperor resided in this Thanjai city safeguarded by the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. All kinds of rumors floated in the country. In this situation if the emperor left he feared that someone might think that his faith in the Pazhuvertaraiyars had diminished! The emperor did not want to leave room for such speculation. I will speak openly about a matter that the emperor is reluctant to address. The tribal kings assembled here must forgive me for this. Our king had been for sometime ill, losing the use of both his legs. Because of it, his spirits were low. But more than that there was something else. Our emperor’s body and soul were more pained by the growing enmity and disagreement among you, who have been friends of the Chola tribe; have been pillars of this great empire; have generation after generation reaffirmed your friendship through marital vows. All of you fought together in the Thakollam war under the leadership of Rajathithar. But when he died unexpectedly during that battle all of you through your joint determination and valor changed defeat into victory. You recaptured Thondai Mandalam and Kanga Mandalam. In the Sevur battle you defeated the Pandyar and brought Pandyanadu under our rule. In Eezhanadu you made king Mahinthan flee and raised the tiger flag. These extraordinary feats were possible only because you were united and believed that the wellbeing of the Chola empire was your wellbeing!”

“That state of mind has in recent years changed. For some reason differences have arisen. You have split into two sides. Our king toiled to erase this division. He understood that the throne’s succession was the divisive element. None of you spoke to him directly about it. But our wise king knew it intuitively. He wanted to have an open discussion about it with all of you. He was hoping to go to Kanji after that. He decided to leave Chola empire to the great and wise saivar Kandarathithar’s beloved son. He believed that he could persuade Athitha Karikalar to accept his decision. That is why he wanted Karikalar to visit him. In the meantime the unexpected tragedy happened. The emperor was happy when he heard that Karikalar was coming to Kadampoor king’s palace. He thought that his visit will help eliminate the hostility that has arisen between you. He thought that if Karikalar married Sambuvaraiyar’s beloved daughter, then all of you will be brought together and the matter of the throne can be easily resolved. I also believed it. Many among you would have hoped for it. Even our Thirukovalur king did not object to Athitha Karikalar’s Kadampoor visit because of this reason. But all our hopes perished. Prince Athitha Karikalar met with an untimely death at Kadampoor palace …”

“Are we going to find out how it happened? It is better to know this before you proceed further,” said Thirukovalur Malaiamman.

“Yes; without knowing that it is not possible to go any further,” said the colonel.

“Heroic Gentlemen! What happened is over. Let’s not dig the past … the emperor thinks so!” Chief Minister Aniruthar said.

“How can that be right?  The Chola tribe is famous for its adherence to the rule of law. Even a helpless orphan’s death leads to an inquiry. An agreement is reached about who is responsible and punishment is given. How can we turn a blind eye in the case of the untimely death of the crown prince?” Colonel periya Velar said indignantly.

Sundara Cholar sighed. “Kodumbalur Uncle! Please listen! Can anyone be sadder than me about my son’s death? I am rejecting an inquiry. Why? Because I know that no one here is responsible for it. I lost my son because of my sins. Give me the punishment. I will accept it. Don’t look anywhere else,” he said.

“Lord! Your admission only creates the impression that you want to protect the guilty person. The people of this country already have several theories about the prince’s death. It is better to know the truth and make it public. Whoever is responsible must be given the right punishment!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“A word from the wise! It is the law of the land. If this heinous crime is not solved the people will lose their faith in the justice system,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Elders! Why do we need discussions and arguments over this? If this youngster sounds like a loudmouth, please forgive me. The guilty person has been punished. I have just returned after killing with my own spear the traitor Vandhiyathevan who murdered Prince Karikalar; who drove my sister mad, ruining her life. What do we need an inquisition for?” Kanthamaran was heard saying.

When the chief minister was speaking Kanthamaran had walked in. The others noticed his presence only when he began speaking.

The elder Pazhuvetaraiyar muttered under his breath, “Fool! Absolute fool! Did Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar deserve a child like this?”

Chief Minister Aniruthar asked, “Kanthmara! Is it really true that you killed Vandhiyathevan with your spear? Did you really see him? You went after him in the night!”

“Chief Minister! I know that you have no confidence in me. Just because it is after dark, can’t a person be seen, recognized?”

“He is a fighter. Didn’t he put up a fight?”

“Yes, you have no confidence in my skills also. Therefore let me appeal to the emperor. There were two who ran away. One is the madman who had been in the dungeon a long time. He tried to stop me. At that time the other man was crossing over to the opposite side of the river. I felled him with my spear. He must be the Varnar tribe Vanthiyathevan.”

“You did not bring the dead man’s body back with you?”

“If I had known that you would have such doubts I would have spent more time searching the Vadavaru flood. But I would have missed this assembly!” Kanthamaran said.

“Yes; your absence will have been a great loss!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Young man! Why are you so keen on finding Vandhiyathevan?” Periya Velar Poothi Vikramakesari asked.

“Must you ask? This sad incident happened in my house. If the guilty person is not found won’t you suspect me and my father?”

Sundara Cholar intervened. “Child! Kanthamara! Even if others suspect, I will never suspect. Don’t I know how devoted and loyal your father is to the Chola tribe? Never mind! Where is the elder Sambuvaraiyar?” He said.

“Emperor! It is sad that I have to expose my family’s disgrace. My sister heard me telling my father that I had killed Vandhiyathevan. Enraged she came to attack me with her knife. My father is trying to calm her. Soon he will be here. He sent word that whatever decision is reached in the assembly he will comply,” said Kanthamaran.

Appan! Wasn’t your sister already hysterical saying, ‘I am the one who killed the prince!'” Old man Malaiamman said.

“Yes, yes! She said that to hide Vandhiyathevan’s guilt and help him escape. At that time she has not completely lost her mind. But now she has. It is our tribe’s misfortune,” said Kanthamaran.

“Young Sambuvaraiyar! You are so convinced that it was Vandhiyathevar who killed Prince Karikalar! How? Did you see with your own eyes? Or did you hear it from someone who saw?” The chief minister asked.

“Minister Sir! Do we need a looking glass for the wound in one’s hand? This Varnar tribe soldier was the only person present where the prince lay dead. His guilt was written all over his face. The place was Pazhuvur rani’s anthapuram. Why did he go there? If he is not guilty why did he run away,” said Kanthamaran.

“The chief minister accepted the responsibility of finding the escapees. I like to remind everyone of that,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Pallava Prince! It is true that I did. But I did not expect that young Sambuvaraiyar will become the judge and deliver the punishment also. Vandhiyathevar comes from the ancient Varnar tribe. His ancestors at one time ruled over a big kingdom. Their women were given in marriage to the Chola tribe. Tradition dictates that any suspicion about a descendant of tribal kings must be dealt with by the emperor,” said chief minister Anirutha Brahmarayar.

“Sir! An escaped convict can be captured alive or dead, this is also tradition,” said the Pallava tribe warrior Parthipenthiran.

“Young Sambuvaraiyar did not bring the dead Vandhiyathevar! He left him in the Vadavaru flood,” said chief minister Aniruthar.

At that time the elder Sambuvaraiyar entered the assembly hall. All eyes turned towards him. They saw the anguish on his face.

Kanthamaran went to him and asked in a low voice, “How is Manimekalai?”

Sambuvaraiyar answered rather harshly in a loud voice, “She is the same. I left your mother to guard her!”

The emperor told Sambuvaraiyar, “Sir! If you must attend to your beloved daughter, we can postpone this discussion for tomorrow.”

“No, Lord! Nothing will be gained by my being there. If the Varnar tribe soldier who died of my son’s spear should regain his life, that might help,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

Hearing the pain and bitterness in his voice the assembly fell silent.

Chief minister Aniruthar picked up from where he left. “Sir! We were speaking about the terrible tragedy that happened in your palace. We all know how hurt you are that your palace happened to be the venue for the prince’s untimely death. The emperor is not holding you responsible in any way. Still, isn’t it better to know – in order to prevent a host of rumors spreading across the country; what caused the prince’s death. This assembly thinks so. Do you have anything that you can tell us about it? The young Sambuvaraiyar maintains that the prince’s death was caused by the Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan. What do you think?” He asked.

For a while Sambuvaraiyar stood in shock. He looked around. When his eyes fell on Kanthamaran he became emotional. “Yes, yes! This fool said it on that day also. I did not think so. Even today I do not. Listening to him I invited Prince Karikalar to Kadampoor palace. That had resulted in so many tragedies. My tribe and I have been disgraced forever,” he said.

Old man Malaiamman in a sympathetic voice said, “Sambuvaraiyar! Don’t fret! What happened has happened; you invited my grandson with good intentions. No one here wants to hold you responsible for Karikalan’s death. That is why we want to find out the truth. We would appreciate your help!”

“How can I help? My son is saying one thing. My daughter is saying the the exact opposite. I believe neither. Nor do I claim to know the truth. I feel I have been let loose in the wilderness with both my eyes tied behind a cloth. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar perhaps can help better than me. He is the primary cause of everything. He is the one who first brought Mathuranthaka Thevar secretly to Kadampoor. He also suggested that I marry my daughter to him. Ever since then my family and I have been caught in the house of Saturn. I hear that even that Mathuranthaka Thevar has now mysteriously disappeared. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar then came with his Ilaiyarani. He had the prince come down from Kanji. He left the two in my palace and went away. Ask him why he left. Ask him where his Ilaiyarani has gone now …!”

Sambuvaraiyar went on ranting in this manner.

The emperor stopped him. “Enough! Enough! Please stop! This is why I said not to have an inquiry. You did not listen. Isn’t there enough hostility among you already? Do we need new clashes? Sambuvaraiyar! You are not responsible for what happened in your palace. That is why I freed you from prison without delay. My old sins are the cause of my son’s untimely death. It is no one else’s fault. You don’t have to say anything about it. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar also does not have to say anything,” he said.

The sound of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar clearing his throat was heard like a lion’s roar. “Great king of the Chola tribe! Kindly forgive me! I cannot not speak! I must say what is in my heart. I must divulge the truth that I know. Yes, learned king! I have also considered being quiet; carry out my pledge without saying a word. Once I was the head of the velakara troops. I had vowed that I will cut off my head if I failed in my duty. I could not save Athitha Karikalar. Therefore I must carry out my promise. Before that I want to tell the truth that I know. Or else there will be unnecessary suspicions and unnecessary finger-pointing,” he said.

When the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar paused there was complete silence in the assembly hall. Everyone’s heart had melted.

The emperor’s voice was thick with emotion. He said, “Uncle! Please think a little! Why must we dwell in the past? The dead will not return alive. You won’t have knowingly betrayed the Chola tribe. Therefore, let’s forget about what happened and let’s talk about what needs to be done!”

“No, Sir! I must tell what happened. I must reveal what terrible crimes I was about to commit against the Chola tribe. Our goddess Durgadevi saved me. I must pay my dues to that Parameshwari. Please be merciful and hear me out,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Seeing that he cannot help the old man the emperor remained silent.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar told his story without holding anything back beginning from when he saw Nandhini by the roadside three years ago and fell in love with her. He said that he chose to ignore his brother, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s frequent warnings. He said that because of Nandhini’s instigation he decided to support Mathuranthaka Thevar for the throne and joined the other petty kings in their perfidy. He told about taking Mathuranthaka Thevar in a covered palankeen and about the midnight meeting held in Kadampoor palace. He said that it was Vandhiyathevan who first sowed the seeds of doubt in his mind about Nandhini and her link to the Pandyanadu troublemakers. But he said, with sadness, that time and time again Nandhini’s lascivious pretense had dulled his intelligence. Finally when he was trapped by the Kollidam breach he found out about the Pandya saboteurs’ plan and he hurried back to Kadampoor palace, he said. On the way he disguised himself as a kalamuga saivar, and with Idumbankari’s help reached the anthapuram through a secret passage; and when he hesitated for a moment hiding in the yazhkalangiam, because he wanted to hear what transpired between Nandhini and the prince, because even at that time he gave into his temptation to catch both of them in their folly, the prince fell dead, he said. When he ran forward to hold him, the lamp went out suddenly and that he was surrounded and attacked by several men, that he fainted and woke up in the pachai mountain cave, he said.

“Emperor! In this way I have betrayed the Chola tribe irreparably. I let the Pandyanadu troublemakers into my palace. I allowed them to steal from our treasury to fund their plan. They planned to kill both of your sons and you on the same day at the same time. A deaf-mute goddess saved you, sacrificing her own life. A mere animal – an elephant, saved Ponniyin Selvar. I tried to save Athitha Karikalar and failed. I am the beginning, middle and end for the cause of his untimely death. Sir! I will now carry out the promise I made in Durga Parameshwari’s sanctuary,” he said. Then he swung the long sword that he held in his hand. Knowing his intention everyone stood helpless. Only Ponniyin Selvar who had been inching toward him slowly, suddenly leaped forward and grabbed the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand.

“Sir! Please wait! For generations it has been the tradition during coronation that the crown is placed on the new Chola king’s head by the Pazhuvertaraiyars. At my coronation also it is your experienced hands that must place the crown on my head. After that you may proceed as you wish. Until then please wait,” he said.

Needless to say that the emperor and the petty kings were thrown into a sea of surprise by this latest development!

76. Vadavaru Turned!

During this long story readers could not have missed the inconsistent and seemingly erratic behavior of some of the characters. We would like to inform them that we claim no responsibility for it. Human nature is not consistent. People’s surroundings and experiences are always shaping their behavior and mindset. From one day to the next they will contradict themselves in speech and conduct.

At the beginning of this story the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was the leader of a conspiracy at the highest echelon. Now he wants to publicly acknowledge his crime and as punishment he is ready to cut his head off.

The elder Sambuvaraiyar, blown out of his mind by the sight of the lifeless body of Prince Karikalar, and worried that this terrible crime will weigh on his family, tried burning down his old palace itself. Eager to find someone else to blame he set his son off on that course. Now assured that he will not be blamed, and aware of his beloved daughter’s immense love for Vandhiyathevan, he has begun to change his tune.

At the beginning of this story we made the readers believe that the fake Mathuranthakan who went about in a covered palankeen was the real Mathuranthakan who will later become uthama Chola emperor. This was necessary for the narrative’s progression. Why! Even though chief minister Aniruthar had to a certain extent known the old secrets, he also thought that it was Mathuranthakan who ought to be crowned. He did not fully know the details of past events. Even though he knew that the fake Mathuranthakan was not Kandarathithar’s son, he assumed that he was the son born to Sundara Cholar and Manthahini. Because of it he also had to stumble into a contradictory position.

Lastly, we saw Arulmozhivarmar whom we had considered to be the most honest and law abiding character contradict himself. After rejecting the throne all along, he is suddenly declaring publicly, “I will crown myself!” Obviously circumstances are now dictating a change in his behavior also.

* * *

Yes; Arulmozhivarmar’s words surprised the assembly. At the same time its members felt peace. They had known deep within their hearts that it was Ponniyin Selvar who was qualified in every way to ascend the throne. They also knew that he was the choice for the majority of people who lived in Cholanadu. They have been concerned about the consequences of crowning someone whom the people did not want. However owing to several reasons no one there dared to say that Ponniyin Selvar ought to be crowned.

When Ponniyin Selvar himself said, “I am going to be crowned. I am going to be crowned by your esteemed hands,” to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar everyone felt happiness and peace. Relieved they told themselves, “This is a good ending. But, thank God! We did not have to arrive at this arduous decision!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar realized that Ponniyin Selvar had put an end to his attempt at taking his own life. He understood the meaning of his words also. The prince’s action and words mellowed his heart. Overcome by emotion his body trembled. Tears welled in his eyes.

Steadying his mind and emotions he said, “Chola tribe descendent! Ponniyin Selva! Your words give me immense pleasure. I have wanted to ask you to accept the crown. I have been silent because I felt that as an enemy of the Chola tribe I had forsaken that right. Your grandfather, the great man Kandarathitha emperor willed it. He insisted that the throne must go to a descendent of his brother. We toiled against his order. Owing to the growing animosity among us we favored crowning Mathuranthaka Thevar, the son of that saiva scholar. Your father also agreed. My heart shudders when I think of the destruction we were about to set in motion. Prince! You are the one entitled to the Chola throne that your father now occupies. You are also the person who is qualified. When you were a baby I have carried you and entertained you on my shoulders. I have studied your features, seen the lines on your palm. I have said on those occasions, ‘You are going to be the great king who will rule this earth.’ I have happily described more than a hundred times the episode when Mother Kaveri saved you from drowning. It is only in the last three years I let my mind be ruined by lust and malice. Ponniyin Selva! It is only right that the Chola crown should adorn your head; but I have lost my right to carry that crown and place it on your head. My hands have also forsaken that right. The only right thing that my hands can do now is to kill me to punish me for my crime.”

“No, no! Don’t!” Several voices rose in that assembly.

Sundara Cholar spoke in a voice filled with compassion. “Uncle! What are you saying? What are you doing? What crime have you committed against the Chola tribe? Nothing! You thought of placing my great uncle’s son on the throne instead of mine. How is that a crime against the Chola tribe? Doesn’t my great uncle’s son have a greater claim for the Chola crown? Even now if you will permit me to say what’s on my mind …”

Chief minister Aniruthar interrupted. “Lord! All across the country voices are rising. They are saying, ‘Arulmozhivarmar must be crowned!’ Kandarathitha Thevar’s son who has been dwelling in the forest also affirms it. Ponniyin Selvar himself has reached that conclusion. We have no need to think of an alternative anymore!” He said.

“Even if any of you think of an alternative I cannot endorse it,” said Senthan Amuthan as Mathuranthaka Thevar.

“My son is right. We need not think any further,” said Chempian Madevi.

“Madam! There is no one here who will oppose you. Let god’s will prevail. But it is not right that Pazhuvur uncle should take his life saying that he has betrayed our trust. His attempt to crown your son isn’t a crime against the Chola tribe,” said the emperor.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar after clearing his throat said the following: “Sir! Please listen! Listen to the horrendous results that would have followed if my attempt had succeeded! I wanted to kill myself without revealing any of this. I did not want to hurt my brother Kalanthaka Kandar who will never dream of anything other than the Chola empire’s glory. But I have turned my heart into stone. I have decided to tell the truth. Emperor! The person whom we thought was the great Kandarathithar’s son, whom we wanted to place on the Chola throne, is the son of the arch enemy of the Chola tribe, Veera Pandyan! …”

“Aiyayo!” “No!” “That cannot be!” Voices rose in that assembly.

“It will be difficult for you to believe. I too would not have believed it if I had not heard it with my own ears. King of kings! Once again I must expose my shame. The woman whose beauty I fell for three years ago and whom I installed as dictator in the palace, she is Veera Pandyan’s daughter! I heard her saying this to Athitha Karikalar with my own ears. She had come to Pazhuvur palace seeking revenge on Athitha Karikalar for killing Veera Pandyan. She and her conspirators planned to kill Karikalar and install Veera Pandyan’s son on the Chola throne. By the grace of our goddess Durgadevi, the later travesty did not happen. It is to open my eyes Durga Parameshwari sent that Varnar tribe soldier. It was through him I found out these terrifying secrets. I wanted to find out more from him. But young Sambuvaraiyan has killed him and left him in the vadavaru flood. Absolute fool!”

When everyone stood aghast Kanthamaran alone spoke. “Sir! In any case that Vandhiyathevan is also with the saboteurs, isn’t he? What is wrong in my killing him?” He said.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar glared at him angrily.

Aniruthar cut in at this point. “Sir! he says that he has killed the Varnar tribe warrior! What is the proof that it is Vandhiyathevan?” He asked.

His voice low Parthipenthiran said, “Perhaps the truth will come out if vadavaru flood can turn and flow west bringing back the dead man’s body!”

“Who knows? Vadavaru may indeed turn around,” said Chief Minister Aniruthar.

As if to lend credence to his words, there appeared at the doorway of the assembly hall Vandhiyathevan himself, his clothes thoroughly soaked and dripping with water. His disheveled state and agitated demeanor created the illusion of a dead man walking out of water in the minds of the spectators.

“Aha! Vadavaru has turned around! It has resurrected even the dead,” exclaimed chief minister Aniruthar.

We must inform our readers how Vandhiyathevan turned up at that instant in that place!

Vandhiyathevan felt hopeless after Ponniyin Selvar, Kundavai and others left. The soldier who had wanted to perform astonishing feats before the world did not relish being an object of pity for others. He found the anthapuram a harsher prison than the dungeon. Owing to Ponniyin Selvar’s influence he may escape scrutiny; he may not be charged with the crime of murdering Karikalar. But in the palace there will always be doubt about him. His innocence will always be under question. The kindness and sympathy of the junior stateswoman will come to an end. He cannot even dream of marrying the sister of the future emperor Ponniyin Selvar. The palace women will always treat him like a pardoned soldier. Ministers and colonels will view him with distaste. The royal tribe’s mind is fickle. Who knows for how long Prince Arulmozhivarmar’s friendship will last?

Aha! If he had left on the horse from Senthan Amuthan’s garden as he had intended first, by now he would be in Kodikarai. Why? He might even have reached Eezhatheevu. When he was attacked by the doctor’s son, who were the men leaving on the horses? One would be Karuthiruman who had earned the name, ‘madman.’ In truth, he was not a madman. He was very smart. Who was accompanying him? They say that the old Mathuranthaka Thevar is missing. Could it be him? Yes, yes. It must be! There was a reason why both men would leave together. What a surprise it will be in Thanjai if his real identity becomes public! If those two men reach Eezhanadu safely, what will be the result? Why? Pandyanadu jeweled crown and diamond necklace will finally be in its owner’s hands! He will with king Mahinthan’s help begin a battle to reclaim his territory. If he can prevent it … He is the only one who can prevent it. What is the use in hiding in this anthapura room?

Vandhiyathevan was going in circles in thoughts and action. Frequently he paused by the lattice window on one of the walls. He was in a corner room on the upper level of the palace. Vadavaru ran alongside of it. The palace’s boundary wall also served as the fort’s outer wall in that stretch. If he crawled through the lattice he will land in vadavaru. Or he can with more exertion climb down the perpendicular wall and reach the water. It seemed below on the lower level there was a doorway and steps leading to the river that the palace women used for bathing in the river. He did not know how he could reach this door from upstairs. Maids and princesses will know. If he is going to escape he must do it without their knowledge …! While he was thus contemplating looking out through the lattice window, the scene that he witnessed outside startled him.

In the grounds of the adjacent palace a woman with her hair undone was running like a madwoman. Aha! This is the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace and garden. Yes, yes! It is the same garden! Who is the woman? Eeshwara! Isn’t it Manimekalai? What has happened to her? Why is she running like this? His chest heaved at the memory of her compassion towards him on the night of Karikalar’s death in Kadampoor palace. Two older women were running behind her as if to catch her. But they were lagging behind. They cannot catch her! She was already at the outer wall. Stepping onto a tree beside the wall she had climbed the wall also. Aiyo! What is she doing? She is wielding a small knife. What is she doing with it? God! She has plunged herself headlong into the river!

In that second Vandhiyathevan was flooded with the memory of Veeranarayana lake where Manimekalai and Nandhini were once about to drown. He recalled choosing to lift Nandhini out of the water first and Manimekalai’s disappointment because of it. He could no longer stand there and watch. He crawled through the lattice and jumped into the river.

A few seconds lapsed as he struggled with his breath in the water. Then he pulled himself up and looked around. Yes; near where he had jumped were the steps and doorway leading into the palace. He was near where Manimekalai had jumped into the water. Fortunately the river’s flood was moving towards him. Manimekalai will float towards him.

With difficulty Vandhiyathevan reached the shore. He walked fast in the direction opposite to the river’s flow. Aha! There is Manimekalai! Is she alive? Or, is this a lifeless body? Aiyo! Will he once again have the misfortune of having to carry home lifeless someone who cared about him? Adada! How much this girl loved him! The melody of her song which she sang as she strummed on her lute floated towards him in the air just like her body. It made him wince.

Setting his reverie aside he jumped into the river and picked Manimekalai up with both hands. Gods! Please save this girl’s life! He will go to every temple in Cholanadu and prostrate himself in every sanctuary. He will go to the temples of Sivan, Vishnu, Amman and Aiyanar, and thank each and every deity. Please spare this innocent girl’s life! …

Calling out to all the deities Vandhiyathevan brought Manimekalai ashore. Having just returned from death’s door following Pinakapani’s attack, the feat of throwing himself into the water had drained whatever strength he had in him. With her clothes wet, Manimekalai’s body was heavy. Carrying her and walking in the water, he struggled to breathe. It was impossible to carry her any further. So he laid her on the landing leading to the door. He wondered what he should do next. Manimekalai’s body was still warm. But he was not up to the arduous task of resuscitating her. He needed a woman’s help. He will have to go into the palace and fetch someone.

The entryway from the beach into the palace was before him. He went and charged his body against the door with all his might. Luckily the bolt on the inside gave way. The door opened. He ran through the open door. A long narrow passage gave way to corridors and open areas. He did not see anyone. “Is there no one here? Is there no one to help a woman?” He howled as he ran. Finally at the entrance to a big hall two guards tried to stop him. He pushed them aside and ran in. He was startled to find himself suddenly in the presence of the emperor seated on his throne, surrounded by several men and women. The sight of Poongkuzhali among them gave him hope. “Ocean Princess! Ocean Princess! Manimekalai threw herself into the river. Won’t you help?” He howled.

77. The Tallest Tree Fell!

Vandhiyathevan entered the assembly hall from the anthapuram door. Therefore he was closest to where the women were. Poongkuzhali who was in the back turned when she heard someone. She was startled to see Vandhiyathevan in his wet clothes. When Vandhiyathevan saw her he told her of Manimekalai’s fall.

She heard him. The junior stateswoman Kundavai and Vanathi also heard him. The three women hurried through the same door where Vandhiyathevan had entered. They followed the trail of water on the floor.

The others in that hall did not hear Vandhiyathevan clearly. Some heard only the word, ‘help.’ Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran did not even hear that. They heard only an incongruous howl.

At first these two men wondered if they were seeing a ghost. In those days many believed that the spirits of those who die unexpectedly ahead of their time would hover around on earth without leaving permanently. The chief minister was saying, ‘Perhaps vadavaru will turn.’ Vandhiyathevan’s appearance even before the chief minister finished his utterance prompted this fantasy in them.

But when the guards rushed in behind Vandhiyathevan, their fantasy ended.

“Emperor! Pardon us! This madman came running through the palace beach house entrance. We stopped him, but he would not listen!” The guards said as they tried to drag Vandhiyathevan out with them.

Mother of my mother! How unbreakable is this fellow’s life? He lives through any kind of danger! Parthipenthiran marveled. With that sentiment jealousy also flared.

By accident Vandhiyathevan has ended up here, Parthipenthiran thought. He is not going to allow this traitor to escape again, he decided. Within a second Parthipenthiran was next to Vandhiyathevan his hand on the escapee’s shoulder restraining him.

“He is not a madman. He is a murderer! He is the traitor who killed Athitha Karikalar!” He said while gesturing to the guards to leave.

Kanthamaran ran behind Parthipenthiran and grabbed Vandhiyathevan’s other shoulder. Both of them together dragged him before the altar of justice where emperor Sundara Cholar sat.

The emperor after taking a good look at Vandhiyathevan said, “Are you saying that this child – there’s still traces of milk on his face; killed my son? I cannot believe it! Isn’t he the one who brought Athitha Karikalar’s letter to me?” He said.

“Yes, Sir! He is the one who brought the letter. He is the one who secretly met Nandhini Devi in the covered palankeen outside Thanjai fort. He is the one who escaped from the fort once before; and now from the dungeon!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“He is the one who ran away after stabbing me in the back,” said Kanthamaran.

“Why, Son! Isn’t he the one you claimed just moments ago to have killed with your spear?” Chief Minister Aniruthar asked.

“Yes, I did. How could I have known that you will collude with this murderer, resurrect him and bring him back?” Kanthamaran answered.

All throughout Ponniyin Selvar had stood helplessly. He was seething at Vandhiyathevan. He decided that Vandhiyathevan had again tried to escape and his amateur swimming skills had brought him here. It took a few seconds for him to calm himself.

When he heard Kanthamaran’s last words he strode majestically up to the podium and stood next to Vandhiyathevan.

“Father! This vallathu prince is my best friend. He saved my life in Ilankai and again in the sea. I am happy that he is alive. Charging him with a felony is equivalent to charging me!” He said.

His commanding authority left everyone else silent. After some interval Chief Minister Aniruthar spoke. “Ponniyin Selva! Please think a little! The man supposedly killed by young Sambuvaraiyar’s spear is suddenly before us. For whatever reason, he stands here accused. Isn’t it better to have an inquisition and find out the truth?” He said.

Parthipenthiran joined him. “Yes, Sir! You will be seated on the Chola throne soon. You will have the authority to punish or pardon any wrongdoing. But is it prudent to rule out an inquiry altogether? Won’t it leave room for unnecessary suspicions?” he said.

“In addition our ilango must think of something else. There are rumors spreading that the prince in order to secure the throne for himself sent this man to kill his elder brother. We should not leave any room for that,” said Kanthamaran.

Aghast at this last revelation everyone stood still. Only Sambuvaraiyar took a step forward to slap Kanthamaran vehemently on his face. “Fool! You will be the nemesis of our ancient tribe. There is no one like you to blubber without any consideration for time or place!” He said angrily.

His lips quivering Kanthamaran stared at his father. It was impossible to say what he would have said or done at that moment. Fortunately the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar came between father and son. Clearing his throat he said, “Sambuvaraiyar! Your son has made up for all of his foolish behavior. He has done a great service to Chola empire! When you hear about it you will be proud that you had borne him. Please be patient. Don’t be angry at him!” While he spoke he dragged Sambuvaraiyar away from his son. Then he turned to young Sambuvaraiyan and asked, “Didn’t you say that you killed this Vandhiyathevan with a spear? Can you be certain that it was him who was crossing the river on a horse at that time?”

The chief minister intervened and said, “Sir! Please permit my disciple to say a word.”

Azhvarkadiyan came to the front. “Gentlemen! I will admit to my mistake. This vallathu prince did not escape on a horse. He saved our real Mathuranthakar from the murderer and in the process was wounded himself. I brought him to the palace in the covered palankeen. He has been here for four days. Therefore young Sambuvaraiyar could not have thrown the spear at him,” he said.

“That is what I surmised, Sambuvaraiyar! Please forgive your son’s mistakes. He has done a great service to Cholanadu. The man who was killed must be Veera Pandyan’s son. Since that evening the old Mathuranthakar has been missing. He must be the one who tried to escape. God has saved this kingdom from an enormous mistake!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

Before the shock and surprise from his words were over the elderly man continued. “Emperor! Please lend your ears to my last words! Thoomakethu has disappeared following its evil trajectory. Your brave son Athitha Karikalar has also departed. But the future is good for the great country that your ancestors and my ancestors founded. This is why the Chola empire has escaped a folly unheard of even in fiction. The person responsible for this narrow escape is the Varnar tribe warrior Vandhiyathevan. It was through him I came to see the light of day. The day we held the midnight meeting at Kadampoor palace this young man arrived there by chance! My shame began that day when I realized that I had to hide something from this little boy. Later my brother told me that he had met and spoken with Nandhini outside Thanjai fort. My brother also told me that this young man escaped from the fort with Nandhini’s help. From that day suspicion took root in my mind. I began to question what was going on around me. Even though the darkness of delusion frequently shrouded my intellect, again and again the light rays of truth entered and tried to chase the darkness away. Finally by the grace of Durga Parameshwari I learned about the Madurai troublemakers’ perfidy. If I had not eavesdropped on their conversation I would never have believed it. Even after that your beloved daughter, the junior stateswoman, confused me with another twist. She told me that Nandhini was her sister and that I should not harm her. I wondered if she too had been fooled. In any case I wanted to go to Kadampoor and find out the truth. Kalamuga saivar have made me their leader. Listen to my shame; Nandhini sowed the seed of envy in my heart that I must become the next emperor. The kalamuga crowd fanned this evil desire. They wanted Mathuranthaka Thevan to be crowned first in a fake attempt to seize control and then throw him away and make me the emperor. One of these kalamugar was Idumbankari, a guard at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. He also worked as a spy for the Madurai troublemakers. I threatened him and found out that the Madurai saboteurs were at that moment hiding in the hunting room of Kadampoor palace. I heard that Athitha Karikalar had gone to Nandhini’s room, and that Manimekalai and Vandhiyathevan were also hiding there. My determination to avert a catastrophe was compromised by my desire to eavesdrop on the conversation between Nandhini and Karaikalar; to find out their secret. I was also hoping to find out the truth about Nandhini. Learning that there was a way to enter Nandhini’s room through the yazhkalangiam I went there. I arrived at the right moment. I heard the truth about Nandhini from her own mouth. I also learned that Athitha Karikalan’s character was spotless. I also learned to what extent Nandhini and her cronies were planning to go, to avenge Veera Pandyan’s death. I tried to stop them. But I could not triumph over fate. I had the misfortune of seeing Karikalan collapse lifelessly in front of me …”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar broke down covering his face with his hands. His sobs were heard like waves crashing in the sea during a storm. No one dared opening their mouth at that time. Everyone’s heart melted at the sight of a great old warrior’s sorrow.

With his iron-hearted determination the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar brought his sobbing to an end. He removed his hands from his face and looked around. “Fate ended Athitha Karikalar’s life. But by Durga Parameshwari’s grace Ponniyin Selvar who faced great danger at the same time triumphed fate through intelligence and survived. Lord! Emperor! Brahmarayar! My dear friends, the petty kings! Place Arulmozhivarmar on the throne! The empire will reach new heights of glory,” he said.

“Sir! Your wish will come true. We were afraid that Ponniyin Selvar will be the obstacle. Fortunately for Cholanadu he has agreed to accept the crown! But you did not tell us how Athitha Karikalar died,” said chief minister Aniruthar.

“Why do you want to know that? Does it matter by whose hand he died? It was really fate that killed him!” The brave old man said in a trembling voice.

“If we don’t find out then the suspicion on this young man here will never disappear. He may be punished for Karikalar’s death,” said the chief minister.

“Aha! He will be charged with the crime? Who is accusing him?”

“Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran!”

“Aha! Absolute fools! Kanthamara! Parthipenthira! Why are you accusing this young man? What is the proof that he killed Athitha Karikalar?”

Aniruthar answered that question also. “He was at that time hiding in Nandhini Devi’s anthapuram. Manimekalai was also there. Manimekalai says that she did the killing. That cannot be. The knife she showed has no blood on it. Therefore she must be saying that to protect Vandhiyathevan! She may have seen Vandhiyathevan killing Karikalar from his hiding place!”

“If Manimekalai didn’t do it, how could Vandhiyathevan have? With what weapon?”

“With this weapon! With this sharp thiruku knife that is soaked in blood which has since dried!” Parthipenthiran said displaying the knife we have seen before.

When Vandhiyathevan brought Karikalan’s body from the burning palace and laid it down before himself fainting, Parthipenthiran had taken the thiruku knife from him and kept it safely. Now he showed it.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Where? Give it here,” and took it from him.

After looking at the knife carefully he mumbled, “Aha! This is Idumbankari’s knife!”

Then, “Kanthamara! Parthipenthira! You and I must circle Vandhiyathevan three times and worship at his feet! Like this old man the two of you fell in Nandhini’s lascivious net. This young man is the only one who did not. He did not throw this knife. Or kill Athitha Karikalar,” he said.

“How can you be so sure,” asked chief minister Aniruthar.

“Yes, I am sure. I know the man who threw this knife and killed Karikalar!”

“Who? Who?”

“Yes, yes. It must be told. If not your suspicions will not end. All of you, listen! This young man was hiding in the yazhkalangiam. I came down through that. So that he will not scream at my sight I grabbed him and squeezed his neck from behind. His eyes bulging he fell down unconscious. At that time he could not have known who killed Athitha Karikalar.”

“Who? Who? Who killed?”

“I borrowed the knife from Idumbankari and brought it with me. I am the one who threw this! This, my right hand, did! This hand that belongs to the tribe that has crowned the Chola emperors. But it did not throw it at Prince Karikalar. I threw it at Nandhini. I wanted to kill that bewitching devil who had trapped me in her lascivious net and thrown me into a vengeful pit. It missed its mark and fell on Karikalar!”

“Aiyayo!” and “Ahaho!” – Cried several voices.

“I tarnished the hundred years long service of the Pazhuvur tribe to the Chola tribe. I don’t know how I can remove this stain!”

“Brother! I will remove it!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar roared as he marched toward his older brother with his sword drwn.

“We have vowed to avenge anyone who betrays the Chola tribe. I will fulfill that pledge now. I will kill you this second and erase the shame that had befallen our tribe!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar raised his sword.

“Don’t! Don’t! Please don’t spill blood here,” said Sundara Chola emperor.

Prince Arulmozhivarmar and chief minister Aniruthar leaped ahead and grabbed the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hands.

“Brother! I will not leave you the task of erasing the disgrace that I had brought on our tribe. Furthermore I will not have you labeled, ‘The younger brother who killed his elder brother!’ I will carry out my vow to Durga Parameshwari myself!” After saying this the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar raised the thiruku knife in his hand over his chest. As he had replaced his sword in its scabbard everyone had assumed that he had changed his mind. No one had thought that he would use the thiruku knife that he had taken from Parthipenthiran on himself.

“Aiyo! Don’t!” Arulmozhivarmar cried as he leaped toward the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. But before he could stop him the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar had carried out his intention. Like the thevatharu tree that had grown roots and stood tall for a long time falling uprooted from the earth with its roots, branches, leaves and all, he fell to the floor.

“Ha ha!” “Adada!” These voices rose in that assembly.

Some came running to the fallen elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

At the same time some ran towards emperor Sundara Cholar who leaned back in his seat with his eyes closed. The assembly dismissed itself.

* * *

That night as the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was battling with death several people came to see him. The emperor, Arulmozhivarmar, Aniruthar and even the junior stateswoman Kundavai had come. The emperor and others spoke with admiration about the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s service to the Chola tribe and the empire. They spoke of his brave performance in so many battlefields in his younger days. They recalled with admiration how he had turned defeat into victory in the Thakolam battle by taking command of the scattered soldiers and transforming them into winning force. They praised his conduct as Cholanadu treasurer.

They took their leave without uttering a word about the incidents of the last three years.

Then the four of them waited hiding in the room where the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar lay out of range of his eyesight.

At that time the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar walked in with Azhvarkadiyan. After offering a seat in front of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar he also sat down.

Recognizing Azhvarkadiyan with his rapidly fading sight the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Aha! Why is this Vaishnavan here? I don’t want to go to vaikundam young man! I want to go to sivapatham!”

“Sir! Sunrise tomorrow will mark the vaikunda ekathasi holy day! Even if you want to go to kailasam you must go through vaikundam,” said Thirumalai.

“No! No! You go back to your Mahavishnu …

“Sir! I am not here as Mahavishnu’s messenger. I have brought news from my sister.”

“Who is your sister?”

“I am talking about my sister Nandhini who grew up with me. Sir! Nandhini sent me to express her gratitude. She said to thank you for taking the blame for Karikalar’s death in order to spare her. She said that however many births it may take she can never forget your love!”

“Aha! She still believes that! Let her dwell happily in her belief. However much she may have deceived me I am unable to forget her. I am unable to be angry at her. She is the daughter of the innocent woman who gave her life to save the emperor! Perhaps she will follow me in coming births also!” A faint smile appeared on the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face where death’s shadow had been creeping.

“Vaishnava! The truth must be told. You may as well be the recipient. The knife I threw did not strike the prince. He had fallen before that. The reason why I said I killed the prince was not to spare Nandhini of the crime; there is a reason that is a hundred times more important. Move closer to me! I will tell you. Your friend Vandhiyathevan, he is a rare human being! The Chola tribe is indebted to him. He has stolen the junior stateswoman’s heart. I was needlessly hostile towards her. As reparation I declared myself guilty. If I did not publicly say it, and sacrifice my life, someone will always be accusing Vandhiyathevan. Now no one will dare say it. Vaishnava! One day tell this to the junior stateswoman. Listening to Nandhini I have been unfriendly. Please ask her to forgive me!”

After this long speech the old warrior was out of breath. If Azhvarkadiyan’s heart had melted would it surprise anyone that tears were pouring out of Kundavai Devi’s eyes as she listened from her hiding place?

“Vaishnava! One more thing. Tell chief minister Brahmarayar! Pandyan’s crown and diamond necklace must be brought from Ilankai. Vallathu prince is the man for that! Go with him and bring those. Then go to Madurai, and have a coronation there for Ponniyin Selvar. Do you understand? Ask Arulmozhi a favor for me! Do not hold my brother responsible for my actions. Tell him that there is no better friend to Chola tribe than him! Devi! Durga Parameshwari! I have fulfilled my vow! I am coming! Protect the Chola tribe!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiayar’s voice that had been gradually weakening completely disappeared. The flame of that great brave warrior was also quenched.

78. Friends Part

Four horses were nearing the jetty at river Kollidam. Four soldiers were seated on the four horses. Of course we know these soldiers. They are Parthipenthiran, Kanthamaran, Vandhiyathevan and Ponniyin Selvar.

The first two had come prepared to cross Kollidam by boat and journey north. The other two were there to send them off.

Once they reached the jetty the four friends climbed down from their horses.

“Kanthamara! You are no longer angry at your old friend? Or, are there any traces left,” asked Ponniyin Selvar.

“Sir! How can I be angry at him? I have plenty of reason to feel sorry about my ignorance. Forgetting all the harm I did to him, he has agreed to be friends with me again, there is no comparison for such generosity. He saved my sister from drowning, can I repay my debt in this birth? When I think about how my mind got derailed, even I am astonished. I should have married Manimekalai to him as I had intended in the beginning! Then she will not be a madwoman today,” said Kanthamaran.

“Why do you say that? There is a little memory lapse from the shock of falling into the river. Won’t it be alright in a few days,” said the prince.

“It does not seem to be an ordinary memory lapse. She remembers everyone. She remembers everything. Only Vandhiyathevan and me – she is unable to recognize. When I think of the affection she had for me I feel that my heart will burst. ‘Aiyo! I had killed my beloved brother with my own hands,’ – her cry is forever in my ears …”

“Why should she cry like that? You are alive!”

“I am alive. It would have been better if I had died. Yes. Sir! She thinks that I killed Vandhiyathevan and because of it she had killed me. Sometimes she cries thinking of me. At other times she thinks of my friend and cries, ‘Will the river turn around? Will it bring back the dead?’ However much anyone tells her she does not accept that I am her brother. She cannot recognize Vandhiyathevan also. ‘Who are you? Have you seen the vallathu prince?’ She is asking him! …”

“Is that right?” When Ponniyin Selvar turned he saw tears welling in Vandhiyathevan’s eyes.

“Adada! How happy she will be if she knows that Vandhiyathevar is not vallathu prince anymore, but now he is vallathu king! How sad that she is missing this,” said Parthipenthiran.

When Kanthamaran heard this he looked at Ponniyin Selvar with surprise.

“Yes, my friend! The emperor has decided to return vanakapadi to your friend and make him vallathu king. In the same way he is thinking of making the territory ruled by Vaithumabarayar next to vanakapadi into a separate kingdom for you. Now the two of you must live side by side. You must behave in a manner that does not hurt your friendship,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“It seems as if there is no limit to the emperor’s kindness. In that case, I don’t have to return to Kadampoor?” Kanthamaran asked excitedly.

“You don’t have to. Your old palace there has mostly burned down. If you go there again old memories will resurface. Build a new palace on the south shore of palaru. Once your sister’s health improves she also can come and live there.”

“Prince! I don’t think that Manimekalai will come and live with us after this. Your grandmother Chempian Madevi has promised to take her on pilgrimage with her. Manimekalai also likes the elder stateswoman a lot. Even today the elder stateswoman has taken my sister to Thiruvaiyaru.”

“Yes; it is a big group. Even the newly wedded uncle and aunt of mine had gone with them. Listen to this joke. I must consider the Ocean Princess to be my aunt in the future!”

“The Chola tribe had never had a low profile wedding as the one between Mathuranthakar and Poongkuzhali,” said Parthipenthiran.

“My coronation will also be simple,” said Arulmozhi,

“That will never happen! …,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Pretending to be startled Ponniyin Selvar asked, “What will not happen? My coronation?”

Embarrassed Vandhiyathevan said, “I said that a low profile coronation is impossible. Already the people have started to make inquiries and talk about your coronation!”

“Son of the King! Shouldn’t we be present at your coronation? You are sending us at this time to the north. They say that the coronation will take place in January! Vandhiyathevan is lucky …” said Kanthamaran.

“Nothing like that. Soon I will be sending Vandhiyathevar also to Eezham. Friends! trust me! Without you my dear friends my coronation will not happen!” Ponniyin Selvar stated firmly.

“Many thanks, Sir! Once the day is fixed for the coronation please send a messenger on horse. We will come at once,” said Kanthamaran.

“Friend! Now we don’t have to concern ourselves about it. Without you there I will not have a coronation. Believe me. Don’t forget why I am taking the crown. Not to live a life of leisure in the palace, its splendid piazzas and gardens. Friends! I have told you about my dreams ever since I went to Eezhanadu. Once again, let me tell you. Listen! Chola empire must grow to new heights during our lifetime more than was achieved during the time of my grandfather’s father Paranthaka emperor. We must extend the kingdom on all four sides – in the north up to the banks of river kangai, in the east across the sea to Srivijaya kingdom, Cholanadu troops must go and plant the tiger flag. In the west we must capture the hill country and the thousands of islands in the sea. In the mountains a ‘sera’ king has emerged. In Pandyanadu also a pandyan will suddenly emerge. It is the Ilankai kings who are behind these sera and pandya men. Therefore we must find Mahinthan and his men who are hiding in the mountain dwellings of Eezhanadu and destroy them. We must bring the entire Ilankai island under our rule. It is not enough only to extend the empire. We must erect Sivan temples and Vishnu temples bigger than the Buddhist stupas of Eezhanadu. A thousand years from now people must marvel at the feats we have accomplished in our brave country. Friends! These dreams will come true during our time. Each one of you must help me. Parthipenthira! I have given you the highest position, that of my brother Karikalar, as commander of the northern boundary. You must do your duty well. My brother’s sudden death would have given our enemies new hope. Vengi king and even Irattirakuda king will be expecting internal turmoil in Cholanadu; infighting among petty kings. Therefore our soldiers must guard the vadapennai shore like an iron wall. Pallava Prince! After making the necessary arrangements and leaving Kanthamaran as commander there, you must return to Kanji at once. Once there, prepare the gold palace that my brother built for the emperor. As soon as I am crowned the emperor wants to leave for Kanji!”

Kanthamaran’s eyes were now filled with tears.  “Son of the king! My skills haven’t been proven in the battlefield yet. You are making me commander. Am I qualified?” He asked his voice faltering.

“Friend! The almighty god has given me some powers. Among them is knowing who is qualified for what. Just like I am making you commander of the northern border, I have made your friend Vandhiyathevan commander in the east! I am confident that both of you will perform your duties well,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“At least for a while it is good to have one of them in the north and the other in the south. If they are together and if you are not around old memories may lead to new clashes,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Sir! That will never happen again!” Kanthamaran said as he moved closer to Vandhiyathevan.

“Friend! You have forgiven my sins, haven’t you?” He asked.

Vandhiyathevan instead of answering, simply spread his arms and embraced Kanthamaran in a tight hug.

For a while both friends shed tears silently.

Then Parthipenthiran and Kanthamaran climbed into the boat that was ready.

After watching the boat until it was half way across the river, Ponniyin Selvar and Vandhiyathevan turned their horses toward Thanjai.

79. Meeting on the Road

The entire country was awash with anticipation of Ponniyin Selvar’s coronation which was expected to take place soon. The people eagerly awaited the day.

Athitha Karikalar’s sudden death, Manthahini’s sacrifice of her life, and the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s fulfillment of his vow had all taken a toll on emperor Sundara Cholar. Yet he felt comforted by the knowledge that the disagreements over the throne’s succession had been settled and that both petty kings and the people unanimously agreed to crown Arulmozhivarmar.

As soon as January was upon them the emperor wanted to choose an auspicious day, unburden the weight of the kingdom on Ponniyin Selvar and leave for Kanji. He had decided to spend the rest of his days in the gold palace that his brave son had built for him. It was not surprising that Sundara Cholar wanted the coronation to be a simple affair without too much extravaganza.

Arulmozhivarmar was in complete agreement with his father. He decided not to appear in public until the coronation was over. The direct route from Kollidam jetty to Thanjavur would take him and Vandhiyathevan through Thiruvaiyaru. If they went into that town it was certain that the people there will surround them and make a fuss. Therefore the two friends without entering that town, traveled a little west to cross river Kaveri. Once they reached kudamurutti river, they followed it towards the royal thoroughfare.

In the month of December, in that region where five rivers ran next to each other the water and land together were resplendent. In place of floodwater flowing to the brim, the river was now half-way down serenely uncovering a beautiful expanse of beach. On both sides of the river coconut, kamuku, kathali and sugar cane flourished. In the absence of groves golden paddy grew in fields their mature stalks bending over with the weight of the grain. In between in canals and ponds red lotus, white water-lily and chenkazhuneer presented their faces as colorful portraits.

As Vandhiyathevan rode admiring the scenery Ponniyin Selvar said, “Pal! Can there be any other place as rich and beautiful as this? How fortunate it is to be crowned as emperor of this place! I am surprised that until recently I rejected the idea!”

“I am not surprised about it, Sir! The fickle nature of the royal mind has long been a subject of discussion among elders” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You are wicked. And ungrateful. You did not even thank me for making you commander of the Eezhanadu troops. You are insulting me calling me fickle minded!”

“What seems like insult to ordinary folks may turn out to be praise for the royalty – perhaps? Today you may give a fellow capital punishment. Tomorrow you may forgive him and make him commander. This kind of fickle mindedness can only add to a king’s popularity! ‘Aha! How kind is our king?’ – the people will say, won’t they?”

“Yes, yes! But the man who was made commander today can be given capital punishment tomorrow, what will the people say then?”

“They will call him the new incarnation of manu neethi Cholan; the great king who is impartial and just!”

Ponniyin Selvar laughed out loud. “In that case you won’t be surprised if I take back the vanakapadi kingdom, and the position of commander of Eezha battalion?”

“I won’t be surprised. I won’t be sad also. Even now I am wondering if you are sending me to Eezham as commander to honor me, or to banish me from beautiful Cholanadu and turn me into an exile!”

“I do want to make such an intelligent man as yourself my chief minister and keep you near me. But I am afraid that Aniruthar is not prepared to give up his position for you.”

“If that is the only reason, I will ask chief minister Aniruthar myself.”

Ponniyin Selvar laughed. “No, there is another reason,” he said.

“That is what I thought.”

“What did you think?”

“That nowadays you have one thing on your mind and you say something else on the outside.”

Vallathu king! Can you give an example to prove your accusation?”

“I certainly can. The day has been fixed for your coronation in early January. You are aware of that. Yet you told those men we bid farewell just now, ‘Without your presence my coronation will not take place!’ What am I to make of that?”

Ponniyin Selvar again laughed. “Yes, I have always spoken my mind. After getting to know Vandhiyathevar I have come to appreciate the art of magical enchantment!”

“Don’t praise me unnecessarily. What magical enchantment can there be that you don’t already practice? What can compare with hypnotizing an elephant, and disguising as the elephant-keeper to fool the public?”

“Alright! You can learn those tricks from me now.”

“Perhaps you are chasing me to Ilankai afraid that I will learn too much?”

“Friend! Don’t you want to go to Eezhanadu?”

“Who is saying that? I am prepared to go to places even farther than Ilanakai if I am ordered to. The sooner you send me the happier I will be!”

“You are so eager to leave me?”

“Yes, Sir! I have decided that the greater the distance one keeps from kings the better. If one is at a distance one can safeguard the king’s friendship instead of losing it.”

“If that is the case you may be in for some disappointment.”

“Are you saying however far I may go I cannot keep your friendship?”

“No, no, I mean that you cannot be away from me for too long. In a few days I am planning to join you in Eezham. I am planning to go with you across the seas to other islands. My only regret is that we cannot take Ocean Princess with us …”

“You learned the art of magical enchantment from me. I in turn after getting to know you vowed to always speak the truth. Now, can I say what’s on my mind?”

“By all means!”

“You are taking the Chola empire from my friend Senthan Amuthan, your uncle Mathuranthaka Thevar. There is a certain justification for that. One can reason that it is the choice of the people. But if you steal Poongkuzhali from him, there is no greater travesty than that. There is no justification for that. Please remember that the Ocean Princess is now Mathuranthaka Thevar’s lawful wife,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Ponniyin Selvar laughed out loud. Then he said, “You won’t hesitate to put me in the same camp as the ten-headed Ravanan!”

Then, “It is fair that you take the side of your friend! But what about Poongkuzhali? Did she want to marry my uncle,” asked Arulmozhivarmar.

“Is there any doubt? Son of the king! You can become emperor of the Chola kingdom. You can rule the entire earth under one mantle. But no one can force Poongkuzhali to do anything against her wish. I was fortunate to learn the magnitude of Poongkuzhali ammai’s love for the beloved son of Chempian Madevi. I have seen such love only in one other place!”

“Where was that? If you can talk to me about it, please do!”

“I saw it in Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi. Where else can one find such love?”

“That is a lie! Have you already forgotten your vow to speak only the truth? Keeping one thing in mind, you are conjuring something else for me to hear!”

“Not at all, Sir! I am saying what is on my mind.”

“You have not seen such love anywhere else?”

“I am saying no, aren’t I?”

“You scoundrel! Merciless monster! A woman was ready to lose her life for your sake. Now she has lost her mind! Her love does not impress you?” Ponniyin Selvar asked with real anger.

Vandhiyathevan was silent for a while. Then, “Sir! You are turning around causes and effects. It is not that I don’t have sympathy for Manimekalai. I think of her and I start crying. But I am not the reason she is mad. The reason is her brother Kanthamaran! Anyway the two of us are dead to her. What is the use in speaking about it,” he said.

“I am sorry for losing my temper …” Ponniyin Selvar began.

“I am neither hurt nor surprised. I expected this kind of angry outburst. That is why I said that I wanted to leave for Ilankai soon.”

“I said that there was another reason for sending you to Ilankai!”

“Yes, Lord!”

“My sister thinks that if you went away for a while, then when you return Manimekalai may perhaps recognize you!”

“I know, Sir! I know that the junior stateswoman is more keen to send me away than you! Oh, look who’s here! The very people we are talking about!” Vandhiyathevan pointed.

The two friends who had been riding alongside of river kudamurutti were at that time approaching the royal thoroughfare between Thiruvaiyaru and Thanjavur. On the royal thoroughfare a palankeen was coming surrounded by attendants in front and behind. Kundavai Devi and Kodumabalur princess were in the palankeen. Their eyes widened in surprise at the sight of the two friends on horses. Their faces blossomed in delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (70 – 74)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

70. Fortress Command

Kalanthaka Kandar could not help but stare at the elephant and palankeen entering the fort.

“Strange!” He said.

“What? What is strange?” Aniruthar asked.

“That prince Mathuranthakar is indulging in such attention! The prince is rather bashful. He even keeps the curtains down on the palankeen normally!”

“One day he will have to overcome his bashfulness. Soon he will be wearing the crown!”

“Has it been decided to crown Mathuranthakar? Who made the decision?”

“Why? The emperor of course! Once we all go to the emperor and inform him of our consent …”

“What is the use of our consent, … or the emperor’s decision? Kodumbalur troops must agree! It is a wonder that Prince Mathuranthakar should be entering amid such hoopla a fort – that they are guarding,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

After walking a few steps towards the elephant he came back. He said to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, “Brother! I am not going to stand in the way. All of you may enter the fort. But I will not. I cannot enter the fort that was under my control only yesterday. And suddenly now it is under someone else’s control. I cannot find it in my heart to go against my principle. You meet the emperor and find out his wish. I will remain outside with our troops. Moreover, Kanthamaran has gone in search of Vandhiyathevan. I am eager to know what news he brings. I must know how Vandhiyathevan escaped from prison, who helped him to escape. All of you go, please forgive me!”

Kodumbalur Velar was about to speak. But the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar interrupted. “Colonel! This fool’s brain is mangled up. Let him get lost. We will go, come!” He said.

But the next day when the emperor was informed of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s stance, he chose to disagree with the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s point of view. He insisted on the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s presence.

“My dear colonels! All of you have my trust. But more than any of you I have relied on the fortress commander Kalanthaka Kandar. Why is he not here? Until he comes we cannot attend to the matter on the agenda,” he said.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar answered, “Emperor! Pardon me! Any decision that I agree with, my brother also will! He does not have to be here in person.”

“Treasurer! Like Raman was blessed with Lakshmanan, you have Kalanthaka Kandar.  The world is aware of this. Yet, why is he not here today? The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is usually present at all of my meetings. We have never made any decisions without him. Why should this wise soldier be absent now?” The emperor asked.

Chief minister Aniruthar said, “Lord! I will answer that. Kalanthka Kandar the disciple has surpassed the guru. The younger brother has surpassed the elder one. Even after being told of the emperor’s invitation he chose not to come. Even after the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar advised him to the contrary, he did not change his mind. He is refusing to step inside the fort.”

“But, don’t forget! He has agreed to abide by any decision that is made here today,” said Parthipenthiran.

“But why is the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar refusing to come here? Is he harboring some dubious suspicion?”

The deluded eye sees a ghost in every dark corner – the saying goes. Nowadays he is suspicious of everything. He is uncertain about Mathuranthakar’s safety here. He questions Vandhiyathevan’s escape from prison …”

When the emperor said, “If Kalanthka Kandar is suspicious, it won’t be without a reason,” silence took over for a while. Each person had his own trajectory of thought.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. “Lord! There may be good reason for my brother’s suspicions. Or there may not be. I don’t want to criticize him. But I will say the real reason for his refusal to enter the fort. Apparently Thanjavur fort was his to command for a long time! Now it has gone to the elder Velar! This is why he cannot come into the fort, he says. Who can deal with such high handed rhetoric?” He said.

“Why? In that case, justice must be served!” Sundara Chola emperor replied.

Everyone remained silent.

Again Sundara Cholar spoke. The fundamental reason for the Chola tribe’s success is its adherence to the rule of law. All of you know the story of one of my ancestors who gave capital punishment to his son for killing a calf with his chariot. If cows were given justice how much more would the people have received? How much would they have secured for the colonels who supported their rule? Why should I deviate from that tradition marring the Chola tribe? The elder Velar made a grave mistake in taking away Thanjai fort from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Because I was innundated in grief, mourning the death of my beloved son, I did not pay attention to the injustice done to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Colonel must hand over the fort back to him!” He said.

Kodumbalur periya Velar’s face fell.

Thirukovalur Malaiamman came to his aid. Stepping forward he asked, “Sir! It does not appear that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was doing his work. A traitor entered this fort, came up to the anthapuram, and threw a dagger at the emperor himself! A deaf-mute stranger had to intervene and save your life! If she had not stepped in at that moment what would have happened? What is the use of hoarding countless number of swords, spears and daggers? What is the use of all the soldiers and velakara troops guarding the fort? Can anyone claim that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did his job? How can the elder Velar be wrong in taking over the command of the fort?”

“Uncle! How can we blame anyone when fate chooses to be ruthless? Were you able to save your beloved grandson Athitha Karikalan? All of you tried so hard,” said the emperor.

“We must look into that as well, Emperor! There has been no inquisition to find out who was responsible for the tragedy that took place at Kadampoor palace. There also, the truth has not been revealed yet,” said Malaiamman.

“We were waiting fro the arrival of the eleder Pazhuvertaraiyar. Now that he is here, we must start the inquiry,” said colonel periya Velar.

“Before we start an inquiry, how was it possible for Vandhiyatevan who was charged with the crime, to escape from prison? We must find out who was responsible for that as well,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Yes. I heard about that also. Colonel! How did Vandhiyathevan escape from prison? Who is responsible for that,” asked the emperor.

“Emperor! Chief Minister Aniruthar must answer that,” said the elder Velar.

“Lord! I take responsibility for that. Vandhiyathevan escaped because of a small mistake that I made. But I will take the responsibility to bring him back. If I fail in that I will accept due punishment,” said Aniruthar.

“My friend Karikalan has already taken on that responsibility. He has gone after the escapee,” said Parthipenthiran.

There were two women seated in that room. They were empress Vanamadevi and the junior stateswoman Kundavai.

Only chief minister Aniruthar noticed the change in Kundavai’s face upon hearing that Kanthamaran had gone chasing after Vandhiyathevan.

He told Parthipenthiran, “Pallava Kumara! Your friend Kanthamaran is very smart. But there is no use entrusting him with certain matters. He could not save the prince – the apple of our eyes, Karikalar – who was a guest in his Kadampoor palace! Will he catch Vandhiyathevan who escaped from prison? I don’t think so!”

He saw that Kundavai understood his veiled remark.

“Furthermore, I have heard that Kanthamaran and Vandhiyathevan are close friends,” said Colonel Velar.

“That is an old story, Emperor! No one who betrayed the Chola tribe can remain a friend of the Sambuvaraiyar tribe,” said the elder Sambuvaraiyar.

“There is no need to broach that subject now. Chief minister Aniruthar has accepted the responsibility of finding Vandhiyathevan. Colonel must hand over the fortress command to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar,” said Sundara Cholar.

“If this is the emperor’s order I am prepared to carry it out,” said Colonel periya Velar.

The tone of his voice exposed the anger swelling in his heart.

“Kodumbalur uncle! You are much more senior to me in age and experience. I am loyal to you like a son. Can I order you around? I expressed my opinion. Let’s find out what the others think and do what is necessary,” said the emperor.

“I don’t like the idea! The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar failed in his duty. Therefore the fort’s command must not be returned to him!” Thirukovalur Malaiamman stated his opposition firmly.

“What is the chief minister’s opinion?” The emperor asked.

“What happened has happened. There may be some difficulties in changing the fortress command now. You have invited us to make a decision about the crown’s succession. Once we reach a decision about it, we can discuss this,” said Aniruthar.

“We cannot come to any decision without the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar! Treasurer! What is your opinion,” asked Sundara Chola emperor.

“I agree with Malaiamman’s opinion. My brother has failed in his duty. Therefore there is no need to place the fort’s safety in his hands,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

As they all knew how much the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar loved his brother his response astonished them all. More than that the emperor’s response produced more surprise.

“Treasurer! The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did not fail in his duty. It is you and I who failed to listen to him. Both of us did not pay close attention to his warnings. Listen everyone. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar warned me repeatedly about Madurai Veerapandyan’s rescue squad. He told me that these men had friends inside this fort. Because of that he urged that we must increase the security of my palace and anthapuram. He urged that we close the secret passageways between my palace and the treasurer’s, and place guards between the two palaces. It is no secret how stubbornly loyal Klanathaka Kandar is to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. Yet, he complained to me about the treasurer himself. He informed me that his elder brother is being deceived, and the saboteurs have been visiting his palace. He asked me to advise the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar to move to a different palace, and to move the treasure also to a different location. I did not take those warnings into my ear! …”

At this time the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. The emperor paused in his speech expectantly.

“Emperor! I will add what you have omitted out of kindness for me. You did not want to expose my shame. I will do it. My brother warned me about Nanddhini in whose lascivious net I fell, and whom I married in my old age. He warned me that the leader of the Pandyanadu troublemakers visited her under the pretense of a magician. Blinded by lust I did not lend him my ears. Yet, he did fail in his duty! If he was so informed he should have found this treacherous visitor and killed him, along with his mistress. If I had stopped him, he should have overlooked the fact that I was his brother, and killed me also with his sword. Failing to act in that way is a failure of his duty!” Everyone felt goosebumps as they listened to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. They felt the sadness of knowing the unspeakable torment that hung in his words.

“Treasurer! Hold on! Your brother, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is capable of doing all of that. I was the obstacle. I ordered him not to sight me if he was going to complain about you or your Ilaiyarani. I rejected the idea of moving you from your palace and housing the velakara troops there. I asked why I should live in such fear. The sorrow in my heart, and the illness of my body had made me hate life. Pazhuvur Uncle! You are not responsible for any of the tragedy that has visited me or my kin. Your brother is also not responsible. I brought these on myself!”

In response tears streamed down from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes.

“Yes; the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did not slip even one iota. Kalanthaka Kandar warned me after the young man Vandhiyathevan’s first visit here. He told me that the young man had secretly met with the Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani in her palankeen outside this fort. He suspected that he may also belong with the Chola tribe’s enemies. He said that he had entered the fort using the Pazhuvur signature ring, and that he must have escaped from the fort through the secret passage that leads out from the Pazhuvur anthapuram. I chose to ignore all of that. Even our supremely intelligent chief minister and my beloved daughter Kundavai were fooled by Vandhiyathevan. They chose him to carry important letters …”

Aniruthar interrupted at this time. “Emperor! I may have been fooled. But the junior stateswoman is not easily fooled. After sending Vandhiyathevan with her letter, she asked me to keep an eye on him. I sent my disciple Azhvarkadiyan to Eezham. Then I sent him to follow Vandhiyathevan to Kanji also …”

“Be that as it may. Let’s assume that both of you weren’t fooled by him. Isn’t it true that he and another man have escaped from the prison? Can any of you deny that? Under the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s control they could never have escaped. Therefore, Colonel! Bring the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Hand over the fort’s security to him immediately. You may take this as my order,” said the emperor.

“It will be, Lord! Shall we now take our leave,” asked Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari. Anger had subsided from his voice. The affection and support Sundara Cholar had shown the Pazhuvertaraiyars, his friendly nature that overlooked mistakes and valued character, had melted the colonel’s heart also. At that juncture he had run out of words.

“Yes; now all of you may leave. Once the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is here, we will again meet and discuss what’s ahead. I have not finished talking to my aunt, the elder stateswoman, about the crown. I need some time for that,” said the emperor.

While everyone was getting ready to leave Parthipenthiran said, “Sir! The chief minister took on the responsibility of bringing back the friend-betrayer and enemy of the kingdom, Vandhiyathevan. I would like to remind him of that. Whoever else may forget I can never forget the tragic death of my beloved friend Prince Athitha Karikalar. We must find the guilty person responsible for his death and punish him!”

This time the sound of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar clearing his throat was akin to an old lion’s fierce growl. Everyone expected him to speak. Apparently having changed his mind he walked out without another word. The others followed him silently.

That evening itself Thanjavur fort’s security was handed back to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. At first he was reluctant to accept it. He expressed his objections also. He expressed his suspicion that perhaps there was another conspiracy underway now. After the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar firmly asserted that this was the emperor’s insistent order he complied.

Other than a few of the Kodumabalur soldiers all others were evacuated from the fort. At the entrance and on the fortress wall Pazhuvur soldiers took their positions as before.

This change led to unpleasant results. Often there was disagreement between the Pazhuvur and Kodumbalur soldiers resulting in altercations.

Competing vocal expressions such as, “Long live Ponniyin Selvar!’ and ‘Long live Mathuranthakar!’ alternated.

These outbursts spread throughout the country. Citizens also joined.

Within the next three days the entire Cholanadu was in chaos. Verbal fights turned into fist fights which in turn ripened into armed confrontation. Clubs and maces, swords and spears took over.

Just like the storm and flood that had wreaked havoc a few days ago, now the storm of anger and a torrent of frenzy spread all over the country wrecking it.

71. ‘A High Birth’

After Sundara Cholar repeatedly sent word that he wanted to see Chempian Madevi, the elderly woman finally came to visit the emperor. When the emperor was told that she was on her way he walked to the palace entrance and waited there to receive her. Upon her arrival he welcomed her and escorted her in. He invited her to be seated next to him on the throne.

“King of kings! After so much sadness I am happy to see you in good health. By god’s grace may you live long and tend to this earth!” The elder stateswoman said.

“Madam! Do you mean my legs that have regained their ability to walk? I am also happy about it. I am now able to stand on my legs and welcome the person whom the entire country reveres. The power of a deaf-mute woman’s love cured my legs. Yet, Devi! I am neither happy about my life, nor do I want to live long. That is not the blessing I am seeking. Send me soon to sivapatham with your blessing,” said Sundara Cholar.

“Emperor! All of your ancestors are in warrior’s heaven. They will have a place for you there. When the time comes Sivan’s helpers will come and take you there. But you must not be in a hurry to leave. You still have work here in this world. People are happy under your rule. Temples are flourishing; Saivars, Vaishnavars, Buddhists and Jains are praying that you live long …”

“Madam! They should stop doing that. Praying for my long life is the same as praying to prolong my heartache. After losing the greatest soldier that Cholanadu ever produced should I keep living? I should have died before Athitha Karikalan! …”

“Emperor! Losing a child is cruel. Yet, I need not tell you about fate’s vice. Krishna Baghvan was Arjunan’s good friend. He is the incarnation of the protector, Thirumal. Even he could not save Aravan and Abimanyu for his friend. Even after losing his brave sons didn’t Arjunan live? Wasn’t Arjunan fond of his children? ‘To save the earthlings you must keep your life,’ – Arjunan accepted Krishnan’s verdict and lived. Emperor! Krishna Baghvan’s advice to Arjunan is good advice for you also.”

“Madam! Abimanyu was in a battle. He died in the battlefield. He went to warrior’s heaven!”

“Your son is no less in valor than Abimanyu! The world will never forget the brave performance of Athitha Karikalan at the age of twelve in the Sevur battlefield, and at the age of eighteen in the last battle with Veerapandyan. Abimanyu was in the end surrounded, his weapons taken away and killed unjustly. In the same way Athitha Karikalan was isolated through foul play and attacked by several men …”

“Madam! At least if I know how he died I will have some peace.”

“Why should you torment yourself with details? Karikalan’s fate has ended. The long tailed star has fallen. Cholanadu has lost a great warrior. What is gained by asking why and how?”

“Because when truth is murky suspicion falls on everyone. Madam! Some people are even pointing the finger at the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. In the same way Athiseshan carried the earth, he has carried Cholanadu. He is under unnecessary scrutiny.”

“We can ask him. We can find out the truth from him.”

“Who has the temerity to question the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar? I don’t, Madam! He has somehow become entangled in this and is hurt himself. Unless he tells what happened, who can question him? Madam! After my great uncle Rajathithar died on the elephant in the Thakolam battlefield and reached warrior’s heaven, the Chola battalion scattered. Its men were running in all directions. The great soldier who stopped them from running, brought them together as a force to defeat Kannara Thevar’s troops, was the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. If he did not act at that time, there would be no Chola kingdom today. In the Thakolam battle he suffered sixty four wounds on his body. Yet he did not give up. He battled on until he saw victory. After that we banned him from going to battles. We made him treasurer. This great warrior, is like a father to me; how can I question him?”

“Is there no way for the truth to come out?”

“I heard that Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan was next to Karikalan’s body. I was hoping to speak to him about what happened. He also has escaped from prison. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is somewhat responsible …”

“Father! The chief minister has agreed to find the escaped warrior,” Kundavai who had remained silent until then intervened.

“Child! The chief minister has taken responsibility on several occasions before. But the results are never a certainty. I hear that Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran has gone after the runaway prisoner. Kanthamaran is not very intuitive. He is impulsive. Furthermore, he is angry that his tribe’s reputation is at stake. His being there only adds to my worry.”

“Sir! It is best to forget the past and think about the future.”

“Madam! That is why I have brought you here, sending messenger after messenger. Please advice me about what needs to be done now.”

“Emperor! You have many wise men to advice you. What can this poor woman say? Even when the great man who married me and made my life holy, I did not pay attention to matters of the kingdom. After he departed to heaven I keep myself immersed in temple service. What advice can I give?”

“Devi! Please don’t be angry. The women of our Chola tribe are not all helpless. Take my beloved daughter Kundavai, I have not seen anyone as intelligent as her …”

“Pardon me, Emperor! I am not of the Chola tribe! I was born in the Mazhavaraiyar tribe,” said the elder stateswoman.

“Wherever they come from women can be intelligent. They can bring good to where they were born as well as where they marry. Women can also be stubborn and bring destruction to both places. Madam, are you going to be one of them?”

Chempian Madevi jumped as if she had stepped on fire. “Emperor! What kind of a question is this? Why would the Chola tribe be destroyed by me? I don’t have that kind of power,” she said as tears filled her eyes.

“Devi! You must forgive me for speaking unkindly. The knowledge that I keep living while my eldest son isn’t, is breaking my heart. But I sense a greater tragedy looming. If the Chola empire that has taken root and flourished since the time of my ancestors, should fragment and disintegrate, there is no greater punishment for me. For three years I put on hold meeting my son Karikalan. He built a palace of gold in Kanji. He wanted me to visit him. I did not go. I gave my health as excuse. But that was not the reason. I did not want to undermine the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ trust, the loyalty of the other petty kings and high ranking officials. The fear of disturbing the status quo here kept me from going to Kanji. If I had gone, perhaps my beloved son Karikalan will be alive today …”

“Great King! You are a wise man. You are a man of action. But even you cannot rewrite fate!”

“Yes, Madam! I agree. I cannot change fate. But I missed my chance to be with my son in his final hour! I would have spared myself the grief today that I never knew the agony that lived in his heart. Why am I pouring my heart out to you? To let you know how I had sacrificed my personal happiness for the wellbeing of this Chola empire that Vijayalaya Cholar and the warriors who came after him built through blood shed and loss of life. For some reason the Pazhuvertaraiyars and the petty kings on their side did not like Athitha Karikalan. They tried to place your son, my brother – Mathuranthakan on the throne. There is nothing wrong with that. The son of the saiva devotee, the great Kandarathithar, is in everyway qualified. In truth, my coronation was a mistake. At that time I carried on for the sake of the elders, unable to say no. I am facing the consequences today. I am living after losing my beloved son. That agony is more than enough. I don’t want this great kingdom destroyed by civil war also. You must prevent such calamity befalling the Chola empire,” said Sundara Cholar.

Wiping the tears from her eyes Chempian Madevi said, “King of kings! None of what you are saying appears right to my puny intelligence. After my husband, my brother-in-law, your father Arinjaya Thevar ascended the throne. That was my husband’s wish. It was his wish also that after Arinjayar you would be next. Your grandfather Paranthakar who ruled the three worlds also had deemed it. Therefore there is nothing wrong about you ascending the throne. My husband became a saiva devotee enriching himself in matters of the soul. Therefore during his time the Chola kingdom was shrinking. After you ascended the throne the empire spread again. The enemies who had sprouted in the north and south were defeated. The main force behind this imperial advancement was your son Athitha Karikalan. He was crowned prince before the world. How can I agree to change that and give my son the empire? Even if I did would the world agree? Would the citizens of the empire agree? Emperor! You said that you wanted to prevent the destruction of the country by civil war. If Athitha Karikalan had been rejected and my son was crowned wouldn’t the same civil war have happened? Wouldn’t the empire have been destroyed?”

“Yes, Madam! That is why I have been reluctant. I tried to compromise and reach a decision that was acceptable to everyone. Before that, fate has intervened. Karikalan’s life has ended. Mother! What should I do now? Please tell me! I cannot bear the burden of this kingdom any longer. I want to hand it over to someone else and fulfill Karikalan’s last wish. I want to spend my last days in the gold palace that Karikalan built for me in Kanji. Please tell me whom to crown. Mathuranthakan is older than Arulmozhi. Though Mathuranthakan is younger than me, he is Arulmozhi’s uncle. Kodumbalur Velar and Thirukovalur Malaiamman want to crown Arulmozhi. How can I consent to their wish which is against the rule of law, against tradition? Or, how can you for that matter? Madam! Please help me! Please give your permission to crown Mathuranthakan. With you on my side I can bring colonel senior Velar and Thirukovalur Malaiamman around. Please give your approval and permission and reap the benefit of saving this Chola kingdom!”

“Sir! Don’t ask for my approval. I cannot go against my late husband’s order. But I will no longer be a part of this. Find out from Mathuranthakan what he wants and do what is best!”

“Yes, yes! We must have Mathuranthakan’s word before we proceed. I need your help there also, Devi! Where is Mathuranthakan?” The emperor asked.

Her voice choking with tears Chempian Madevi said, “Where is Mathuranthakan? I too have been asking that question for the last three days. No one has an answer. King! Where is my son? Please ask the fortress commander, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

“The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar says that I must ask you. He is acusing that you and the chief minister have conspired together and hidden him. Madam! I will summon the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and the chief minister here now. Please grant me permission,” said the emperor.

“Yes, please bring them. I will also ask them,” said Chempian Madevi.

Kundavai left immediately and sent word through the soldiers at the entrance.

In a short time the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and the chief minister arrived.

The emperor facing the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Colonel! The elder stateswoman is asking the same question as you. ‘Where is Mathuranthakarn,’ she is asking. Please tell what you know about Mathuranthakan. Please be open about your suspicions also!”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar spoke: “The elder stateswoman is known all over the world for her good nature and saiva devotion. With the Cholanadu people I also celebrate her as a goddess among us mortals. What I am about to say is not criticism. For whatever reason the elder stateswoman did not want her son ascending the throne. This is also public knowledge. No one including me can have more affection for her son than the elder stateswoman herself. Yet certain mysterious events must be brought to light. Furthermore, since the emperor has ordered me, ‘Bring Mathuranthakar,’ I am obliged to express some of my suspicions. Three days ago the elder stateswoman and Mathuranthaka Thevar left the fort. They went to the flower seller Senthan Amuthan’s hut to inquire after his health. Only the elder stateswoman returned to the fort. Later that evening my brother and I were speaking to Kodumbalur Velar near the fortress entrance. As I brought the subject of Mathuranthaka Thevar, a retinue of people with an elephant and a palankeen entered the fort. A chorus of, ‘Long live Mathuranthaka Thevar,’ was also heard. The chief minister called our attention to the scene. He said that it was Mathuranthaka Thevar who was seated on the elephant. I had my doubts. Later, following the emperor’s order I regained control of the fort. Mathuranthakar lives in my palace. That night I did not make any inquiries. The next day when I did I came to know that he had not come home. We searched the entire fort, we made inquiries from various people; we could not find any traces of Mathuranthka Thevar! How did the person on the elephant upon entering the fort disappear so magically? The elder stateswoman and the chief minister must forgive me for my impudence; for what I am about to say. It is my suspicion that both of them have through some perfidy, frightened Mathuranthakar with some tale and driven him out of this city and country. If I am mistaken, again, I ask for the elder stateswoman’s forgiveness.”

Chempian Madevi said emotionally, “Colonel! You are completely wrong. I swear on Sivaperuman’s feet. I have neither spoken to the chief minister about my son in recent days, nor have we conspired together. It is true that my son and I went to Senthan Amuthan’s hut that evening. When I left from there Mathuranthakan said he will be back in a short time. After that I have not seen him. For three days I have also been looking for him.”

“I accept the elder stateswoman’s statement. Then it is the chief minister who must solve this mystery,” said Kalanthakar.

“What mystery?” The chief minister asked.

“The mystery of the elder stateswoman’s missing son.”

“Colonel! Is it true that you have searched this entire fort?”

“Yes. Except for your palace the rest of the place has been scoured.”

“Why was my palace left out?”

“Indeed it is only out of respect for Chola empire’s chief minister!”

“Aha! In that case you have not done your duty well. Never mind. Emperor! Your great aunt and the celebrated saiva scholar the elder stateswoman did not talk to me about her son. I did not conspire with her. But I will say this. For three days the son this great lady gave birth to has been in my palace. Now he is here waiting to see his mother and the emperor. If permitted I will bring him in!”

To say that everyone was surprised by the chief minister’s words would be an understatement. “Chief Minister! What is this mockery? Why do you need permission to bring the elder stateswoman’s son? Bring him at once,” said the emperor.

The chief minister went to the door and clapped his hands. Next second Azhvarkadiyan nambi entered the room with Senthan Amuthan in front of him.

Angrily the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Is there a limit to the chief minister’s derision?”

But when Chempian Madevi extended both her hands and lovingly called, “Son,” the colonel was baffled.

“Mother! At least now you found it in your heart to call me son! My prayers have been answered,” Senthan Amuthan said as tears filled his eyes.

Chempian Madevi who gave birth to the saiva devotee whom history would later hail as Mathuranthaka uthama Cholan hugged her son amid tears of joy.

72. Competing Generosities

Stone engravings from the time of the Mazhavar tribe descendant and wife of saiva scholar Kandarathitha sivagnana Cholar, Chempian Madevi refer to her as the, ‘udaiya piratiyar, who carried in her womb the great Chola king Mathuranthka Thevar.’

Normally prior to birth infants grow in their mothers’ wombs for ten months. Some children are then raised by others who care for them as their own. Perhaps because it was known that Chempian Madevi had brought up another child as her own for a very long time, the stone engraving is specific about the fact that the great and good king known in history as ‘Mathuranthka Thevar’ was her son by birth.

* * *

Chempian Madevi first saw uthama Cholar when he was five years old. She was meeting Vani ammai after a long time. She inquired after the woman’s health and wellbeing. She was naturally drawn to the little boy with her whom she took for Vani’s son. When she asked about the child she saw fear and perplexity on Vani’s face. She did not understand why, but because of Vani’s handicap communication was not that easy. In any case, considering Vani’s help to her at one time, and because of the empathy she felt for the little boy, she helped the mother and son lead a life devoid of worry. She provided the funds for them to live near Thanjai city and make a living supplying flowers to thalikulathar temple.

Senthan Amuthan excelled in education, character, and saiva devotion as he grew bigger. He was also enthusiastic about helping his mother at the temple. Observing his good behavior Chempian Madevi grew fond of him. One day a curious thought appeared in her mind. It made her happy, fearful and hurt at the same time. She could not rid herself of the thought, however much she tried. Her mind thought about her dead baby constantly. Her peace of mind was lost.

Finally one day she decided to talk to Vani and put her mind at ease once and for all. She had Vani brought to her alone. She told Vani that she wanted to build a pallipadai temple in memory of her dead baby, and asked her where the burial site was. The subject was painful, and talking to a deaf-mute woman did not ease the pain in any way. Vani hesitated to provide any answers at first. In the end she broke down and told the truth. She described how the baby given to her was not really dead, and that it was a stranger named Karuthiruman who first pointed it out to her, and that she was afraid of the consequences if she came back to the queen, so she went to Thirumaraikadu with Karuthiruman; that she returned to Pazhaiyarai when Karuthiruman deserted her after some time. On the one hand Chempian Madevi was exhilarated that Senthan Amuthan was the child whom she carried in her womb for ten months. She felt goose bumps all over her skin. Tears streamed down from her eyes. She wanted to shout, “Son,” and embrace Senthan Amuthan. But she controlled herself. She was afraid of the consequences if the truth should come out. Because her mind had weathered to a new higher spirituality she was able to control her motherly love and tell herself, “All children born in this world are god’s children. Palace or hut, what difference does it make? Aren’t all the luxuries of this mortal life a mere pretense? What matters is where one ends up upon leaving this world! Perhaps because my husband rejected the comforts of royalty and chose to live in the shadow of Sivaperuman’s feet, his son had earned this magnificient fate of living in this hut and serving god!” She drew courage from such sentiment.

But, the knowledge that Senthan Amuthan was her real son further affirmed her conviction not to crown her adoptive son Mathuranthakan. Already she had confessed to Kandarathithar her crime and been forgiven. “What difference does it make whether the child was born to you, or to an orphan woman? Before god they are equal. So bring up Mathuranthakan as your own. But don’t think of placing him on the throne! That will be a travesty against the Chola tribe. If such a situation arises please don’t hesitate to tell the truth!” Kandarathithar had extracted this promise from Chempian Madevi. The elder stateswoman was prepared to keep this promise at any cost.

But the great king died without knowing that his real son was growing up in Vani’s hut. What would he have done if he knew? With regard to Senthan Amuthan what orders would he have left? Chempian Madevi thought about this a lot. “This is god’s will; that a deaf-mute’s child must grow up in the palace and the great king’s son must reside in a hut. We must not interfere. Trying to change matters will only lead to confusion. My adoptive son will be very hurt. I cannot commit this sin,” she decided.

She could abide by her decision only through her immense belief in god. Yet she could not help thinking about Senthan Amuthan from time to time. Such thoughts naturally made a mother’s love surge in her heart. This battle went on deep within her heart for many years.

Doesn’t the flood that has been contained by a dam occasionally break its barrier? When it surges through a breach how fast and powerfully it travels! Many would have seen and experienced such a specter. The motherly live that has been kept under control in Chempian Madevi’s heart now broke its dam and surged.

The reason was chief minister Aniruthar’s remark, ‘the son borne by her.’ When she heard these words Chempian Madevi relived in one second the ten months she had carried her baby in her womb. Forgetting herself, forgetting her resolution, she hugged Senthan Amuthan calling him, ‘my son,’ through her tears.

But Senthan Amuthan’s words dealt her a blow wrenching her out of her emotional state. ‘Mother! At least now you found it in your heart to call me ‘son,’ he had said. What did he mean? Had he known already that she was his mother? Knowing it did he pretend ignorance all these years?

Chempian Madevi pulled herself together. “Son! Did you know already that I was the foolish woman who gave birth to you? Were you angry at me? Is that why you never questioned me about it?” She asked Senthan Amuthan.

As if the sea had broken its bounds Senthan Amuthan responded with a torrent of emotionally strung words.

“Mother! I have known for some time that I am your son. I longed for the country’s most revered saiva devotee to call me her son. I was preparing myself to be deserving of such a revelation. I meditated at Sivaperuman’s feet day and night. Even if you didn’t come forth I was about to come to you. But I decided to wait until the issue of the crown was settled. Three days ago my life faced a great danger. It happened moments after you visited my hut. A good friend saved me from this danger. I was not so exhilarated about it then. I did not even thank him. Now I realize the magnitude of my debt to him. I have lived to see the day when my mother would claim me as her own. I am satiated. I want nothing more from life. Let this secret be known to only those present here at this moment. Let no one else know about it. Let no more calamities befall the kingdom. Please bid farewell to me and Poongkuzhali so that we may leave for Kodikarai immediately.”

Chempian Madevi’s reaction to these words cannot be described in words. In a faint voice she said, “Child! You are my true son! You are my divine husband’s true son!”

Until then Sundara Cholar, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and the junior stateswoman had stood by unable to believe their ears. The secret that was just unmasked and its looming consequences left them speechless.

Kundavai was the first to regain her composure. “Father! Only now the reason why the elder stateswoman was adamant about not crowning Mathuranthakar becomes clear!” She said.

A baffled Sundara Cholar replied, “Yes, my Daughter! But that reason is no more! She cannot have any objections to crowning this true son of my great uncle, can she?”

Visibly agitated Chempian Madevi said, “Emperor! Didn’t you hear my son? Let this secret stay in this room. My son is not seeking his royal heritage. He said it himself!”

“Yes. Great King! There is much going on already. I don’t need to create more problems. Please bid me farewell! Give me and Poongkuzhali your blessing and send us off! Poongkuzhali! Come here,” said Amuthan.

Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali bent down and touched the feet of Chempian Madevi and the emperor. Standing up Senthan Amuthan said, “King! Let us go to Kodikarai now. Mother! Bid us farewell!”

Chemian Madevi told the emperor,” Yes, Sir! Let us say goodbye. When I want to I will go and visit them in Kodikarai.”

“That will never happen. I will never allow it,” answered the emperor.

The chief minister intervened. “Emperor! Let us not make a decision now. Let them stay at my residence a few more days. The elder stateswoman’s son is here. But the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s son-in-law is not. Until we have news of him let them remain here. Until then let’s keep this secret to ourselves,” he said.

“We must at least tell Arulmozhi,” said the junior stateswoman.

“No, no! Let’s not do that,” beseeched Senthan Amuthan.

In the end the emperor said, “Madam! Whatever the future may hold – your son has come to you after a lifetime of separation. I will not allow to separate the two of you so quickly. At least spend a few days together here. Be in my palace or at the chief minister’s. After the matter of the throne is finalized we can think about sending them to Kodikarai. Until then let no one else know about this!”

73. Vanathi’s Mischief

Arulmozhivarmar was baffled. The reason was the ever escalating turmoil in the country regarding the matter of the throne. When he approached the citizenry they reacted with more fury. “Ponniyin Selvar is our King!” Arulmozhivarmar must be crowned!”  – Time and time again these slogans were heard producing echoes that reverberated throughout the land.

In competition there were also the slogans, “Long live the ancient Pazhuvertaraiyars!” and “Down with the despotic Kodumbalur Velar!” coming from some corners. Assuming that he may find a receptive ear in these places Arulmozhivarmar went to the people there. But at the sight of him their slogans turned into, “Long live Ponniyin Selvar!” and the like. Why? Even the Pazhuvur soldiers guarding the fort forgot who they were and started shouting, “Arulmozhivarmar must be crowned!” and “Long live Ponniyin Selvar who conquered Eezham!”

Ponniyin Selvar was perplexed to see that not only he failed to change the minds of the public and the troops, he was adding fuel to their militancy. He was also worried about the prolonged absence of Mathuranthaka Thevar. He knew that younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had accused Kodumbalur Velar about it. It wasn’t entirely unreasonable. Even Arulmozhivarmar had his suspicions. Kodumbalur Velar, Thirukovalur Malaiamman and others were determinied to crown him. It seemed as if the chief minister was also conspiring with them. Have they all hidden Mathuranthakar somewhere? Or have they actually taken his life?

Velar and Malaiamman were convinced that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Sambuvaraiyars were responsible for the death of his brother Athitha Karikalan. Seeking revenge, have they hurt Mathuranthakar? Aha! what do they care? In the end he will have to shoulder the blame.

Today the Chola people are chanting his name. They are adamant that he accepts the throne. Will their fervor last? The minds of people are fickle. Tomorrow these same people will charge him with the crime of murdering Mathuranthakan! Why? They might even blame him for Athitha Karikalan’s death! God! Is this why he was saved by Manthahini from drowning in river Kaveri? Only she who resides in heaven today must protect him from these sinister accusations!

The stories of rivalry and murder among the royal clan of Eezhanadu in their pursuit of the throne were deeply embedded in Arulmozhivarmar’s mind. Therefore even the thought that such ill reputation may one day be his gave him unbearable anguish. He needed counsel but no one appealed to his senses. He felt that everyone was conspiring against him. Some were truly against him. Others caught in the illusion that they were helping him were about to burden him with disgrace and shame.

Under such circumstances he could not turn to anyone for advice. Why? Even his sister Kundavai had lost his trust. And Vanathi! Even she is hiding something from him. Here she is with a mysterious expression on her face …

Arulmozhivarmar decided that Vanathi’s seeming deception was the last straw. When he saw her carefully inspecting her surroundings and then leaving on a mysterious journey, he decided to follow her. She kept going along the corridors on the upper level of the palace, then down along the secret path that lay on the lower level between towering walls. Arulmozhivarmar decided that she was on her way to the secret place where they were holding Mathuranthakar captive. With anger and excitement he followed her.

Finally, Vanathi reached another large area of the palace on the lower level. She was about to enter a room. As she was closing the door behind her Arulmozhivarmar took a leap and placed his foot in the doorway. He grabbed her hand firmly. He said to her angrily, “Vanathi! Your mischief will not work with me? Who are you hiding in this room?”

“Sir! My mischief worked! If I had asked you to come, you wouldn’t have. Please come inside and take a look for yourself!” She said.

Arulmozhivarmar who had expected to see Mathuranthaka Thevar there, was surprised and gladdened to see Vallavaraiyar Vandhiyathevan lying on a bed.

When Vandhiyathevan saw him he sat up on the bed. “Sir! Come! I have been expecting you for two days. Please release me from these women’s prison,” he said.

Ponniyin Selvar ran to his friend’s side. Sitting beside Vandhiyathevan he said, “Pal! What happened? How did you get here? After escaping the dungeon how did you get caught to these women? I was expecting you to be in Eezham by now! I was hoping to join you there myself!”

“Yes, Prince! I should have been in Eezhanadu by now! I should have been looking for the Pandyanadu crown and the diamond necklace given to them by Indran. I got into this ill fate by trying to save the saiva lunatic Senthan Amuthan from the doctor’s son’s murderous weapon. When Pinnakapani’s short spear struck me I fainted. When I opened my eyes again I found myself here. You must kindly help me to escape this prison. Or else, they will falsely accuse me of murdering your beloved brother, my good friend Athitha Karikalar!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Vanathi interrupted. “Sir! He is wrong. Only if he runs away this crime will fall on him. It is your beloved sister’s wish that he be here until the truth comes out,” she said.

“There is truth in what she says. Only if you try to escape this crime will fall on you. It may even fall on me. It is better to prove to the world what really happened. First, tell me! Tell me everything that happened in Kadampoor,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

Vandhiyathevan told what happened as he knew it. Even after listening to his account the prince could not determine how Athitha Karikalar’s death occurred.

74. ‘The Crown is Mine!’

In the end Vandhiyathevan said, “Prince! If one person finds it in his heart, he can solve the mystery and prove my innocence. That person is the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. I am guessing that it was him who pushed me down and made me unconscious in that room in Kadampoor palace that day. He must have come to spy on Nandhini in the disguise of a kalamugan. Idumbamkari who belongs to the kalamuga saiva crowd would have helped him come through the secret path. But he has developed a hatred of me from the first time he laid eyes on me. With time that hatred has only increased. He is not going to come to my rescue by revealing what he knows about that day. He probably will be happy if I take this terrible accusation with me to the grave. Therefore, Prince! Allow me to run away! I will go to Eezhanadu and try to find the diamond necklace and the Pandyanadu crown. Or, take my life away here in this place with your sword. Don’t leave me to the fate of being hung at the carrefour charged with the crime of killing your brother! Instead, dying by your hand will be more comforting. Or, there is no harm in death by poison from the hands of the Kodumabalur Princess. She and your sister have brought this man back from yamalokam’s doorstep. They will not be receiving any thanks from him!”

At this point Vanathi exclaimed indignantly, “Listen, Sir! Listen for yourself! This soldier does not yearn to die in the battlefield fighting the enemy; to reach warrior’s heaven! He is eager instead to die by a woman’s hand eating poison.”

“Prince! The princess and your sister want to kill me with their insults. What difference does it make whether I die of their insults or poison from their hands?” Vandhiyathevan retorted.

Arulmozhivarmar was listening with only one ear. His mind was elsewhere.

Then suddenly he jumped up. “Aha! I have decided. I will be the Chola emperor. All over the country the people are clamoring for my coronation. The soldiers also want that. I will fulfill their desire. Why? To set you free as an innocent man. If my reputation will be tarnished because of it, so be it! It will not affect me. Certain petty kings who feel antagonistic towards me may spread such infamy. But people will not believe them. If they dare to charge me with wrongdoing it will only ricochet back to them. I will say that the petty kings invited the prince to Kadampoor palace and killed him. I can punish all of them for such betrayal of trust and criminal behavior against the king. Whatever the consequences I am going to crown myself. If necessary I will go against my father and sister also. But I cannot bear to see you hurt!” He said.

A jubilant Vanathi said, “It is a pity that the junior stateswoman is not here to hear your words. Please repeat them in her presence also!”

“Not once! I will repeat it over and over. I will prove it in action also,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

Wiping the tears from his eyes Vandhiyathevan said, “Sir! It is the good fortune of Cholanadu, if you change your mind for the sake of this poor orphan. In my opinion Mathuranthakar is unqualified for the throne. Can a person who engages in perfidy traveling about in a covered palankeen be fit to rule this empire? Is it fair to place the crown that adorned the heads of Vijayalaya Cholar and Paranthaka Cholar on a coward? It is no surprise that the people of this country are outraged!”

“Perhaps Mathuranthakar realized the folly of his quest; perhaps that is why he has disappeared into thin air!” Vanathi said.

“Yes, indeed. I am going to stop looking for him. I am going to crown myself!” Arulmozhivarmar answered.

As she entered the room at that time Kundavai heard his words. “Brother! Give up that idea altogether! You have no crown or throne. Have you forgotten Vanathi’s promise to stay away from Thanjai throne? I can never look at another woman by your side while you wear the crown!” She said.

“Sister! You simply will have to keep your eyes closed. I can close them for you!” Vanathi quipped.

Ponniyin Selvar looked at Kundavai. “Sister! Can the Chola kingdom be without a king for the sake of your friend’s vendetta? Our father wants to unburden himself of the responsibility and retire to Kanji. Mathuranthaka Thevar has mysteriously disappeared. What other solution is there? One way or another the crown keeps pointing to my head!”

“Brother! There is good news. I came to inform that Mathuranthaka Thevar has come out of hiding. The penance of Chola kings will not be in vain. You don’t have to worry about the kingdom. Even if he refuses we must be firm and crown him,” said the junior stateswoman.

Her enthusiasm surprised the others. It was true that Kundavai had for some time supported the idea of crowning Mathuranthakan. But she had never shown this level of enthusiasm as now.

Supressing his astonishment Ponniyin Selvar asked, “Sister! Where was he hiding? Why? What made him come into the open now?”

“He was right by our side. It was we who missed seeing him. Brother! Chempian Madevi’s son is the one qualified to ascend the throne. By law the kingdom belongs to your uncle. You should forget about the crown entirely. Listen to this miracle! Brother! Few days ago our uncle faced a great threat. A murderer was taking aim at him with his short spear. If he had thrown it Mathuranthaka Thevar would have lsot his life. There would have been one more unfortunate and untimely death in the Chola tribe. Do you know who prevented it? Do you know the heroic soldier who saved our uncle’s life?” The junior stateswoman directed her beautiful eyes towards Vandhiyathevan. The eagerness and love, the gratitude and respect, the support and sympathy in that glance touched Vandhiyathevan’s heart. He felt overwhelmed.

Ponniyin Selvar pulling himself out of a deep well of astonishment said, “Sister! What is this? I don’t understand. My friend never mentioned this!”

“He won’t have! Because he does not know the importance of his action. He does not realize how much the Chola tribe owes him!”

“Sister! You are speaking in riddles! It is all very mysterious. Without subjecting us to unnecessary bewilderment, it is better if you explain a little! How, where and what kind of danger did this Varnar tribe warrior save Mathuranthakar from? Where is Mathuranthaka Thevar now?” The prince asked.

“Ponniyin Selva! In a few seconds he himself will be here! Hearing that you are here, I asked that he be brought here. You can find out from his own mouth. Or, you can ask Poongkuzhali who saw everything with her own eyes … Here, they are here, I think!”

Yes; footsteps were heard outside the room. Soon four people walked in. They were Chief Minister Aniruthar, Azhvarkadiyan, Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan. Senthan Amuthan alone was dressed differently from his normal way. He wore the crown of a prince on his head, a silk vestment and other jewelry usually worn by members of the royal tribe.

Those present in the room looked at them with raised eyebrows. “Sister! You said that Mathuranthakar was coming? Where is he,” said Arulmozhi.

“Brother! Here, standing in front of you wearing the crown of a prince is the son of sivagnana Kandarathithar and Chempian Madevi. He is the saiva devotee who is also our uncle. Until now he lived in obscurity by the name of Senthan Amuthan. It is the Chola tribe’s good fortune that he has come to us today.  It was his life the Varnar tribe warrior saved a few days ago. The chief minister’s disciple – this brave vaishnavar – not even caring that he is a saivar, smuggled him into the fort! …”

Thirumalai interrupted at this point. “Madam! I did not help this saivar in any way. I did not even want to. It was to bring the vallathu prince in the palankeen, I put him in a disguise and on the elephant,” he said.

Kundavai said, “Yes; Thirumalai nambi has helped in two ways. He probably was not aware that he was bringing the future prince of Cholanadu. Or perhaps, he did it knowingly. I don’t know. Regardless – Brother! The person whom we knew as Mathuranthaka Thevar until today is not the real Mathuranthkar. Here in front of you stands the true son of the elder stateswoman. For reasons we cannot fathom, God’s thiruvillaiyadal has kept him living in a hut until today for reasons. Yet he had surprised us all from time to time by his manner that hinted of an association with the ancient Chola tribe. We know of his attempt to save this Varnar tribe warrior once. And, Brother, can you forget the time when he and Poongkuzhali safely transported you from Kodikarai to Nagapattinam.  Today we found out from Chemipan Madevi herself that he is our uncle. Brother! Today I welcome him to our palace, or rather … in fact, his palace! I welcome him into our family. We must celebrate this event, but the circumstances will not allow that. We must keep this information to ourselves. So let’s celebrate among ourselves. Uncle! Whenever my brothers went anywhere it is the custom to bless them with holy powder and vermillion on their foreheads. Let me welcome you in the same way!”

Kundavai proceeded to apply the holy powder and vermillion on Senthan Amuthan’s forehead.

Chief Minister Aniruthar gave his blessings saying, “Long live the Chola descendant Ilango Mathuranthaka Thevar!”

“Long live! Long live!” Azhvarkadiyan echoed.

Until then Arulmozhivarmar could not believe what he was seeing and hearing. At first he thought it was another one of Kundavai’s pranks. Then he wondered perhaps there was some legitimate reason for this charade. But gradually his doubts disappeared. He understood that Kundavai was speaking from her heart. Her happiness caught on to him also. He told Senthan Amuthan, “Uncle! I was fond of you already. I had even wished that you were my brother. Perhaps it is the common blood that runs between us!” His eyes glistened with tears as he embraced Senthan Amuthan.

“Aha! I knew it! I knew that a valorous ancient tribe was trapped inside the saiva devotee Senthan Amuthan. If not would he have taken in this vagabond and helped him to escape. Son of the great king! Please give me the same help that you gave once before. I do regret that I won’t be present at your coronation. What can be done? But I will say this. I am not thrilled about the Chola kingdom in the hands of Senthan Amuthan; but I am exhilarated that Poongkuzhali ammai who helped me cross the ocean will be maharani! Even she will not have expected that the Ocean Princess’s dream will come true so fast!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Kundavai interrupted. “Sir! It is better if you don’t talk too much for a few days. Only then you will be able to run fast, in case you need to escape,” she said.

Then she told Arulmozhi, “Brother! We now know why our beloved grandmother objected to crowning her son. Even we were not happy about crowning the old Mathuranthakar. He did not seem to possess any of the brave Chola attributes. Even saiva devotion – which our grandmother coaxed him into – did not appeal to him. Yet we agreed to crown him. The new Mathuranthakar on the other hand gives us immense joy. I also like the idea of Poongkuzhali next to him on the throne. Our chief minister has a lot of work now …”

“Madam! The elder Pazhuvertraiayar must shed some light on what went on in Kadampoor palace. We also must find the missing old Mathuranthakar. Without resolving these two issues, how can we look ahead towards coronation?” Aniruthar asked.

“I will talk to the elder Pazhuvettaraiyar. It is your responsibility to find the old Mathuranthakar!” Kundavai said.

At that time Prince Mathuranthaka Thevar – Senthan Amuthan as he was known until now – addressed Ponniyin Selvar. “Prince! You gave me due respect and called me, ‘Uncle!’ I am also being called, ‘Prince!’ But I cannot call you, ‘Son!’ I cannot also consider myself the ilango born in the great king’s tribe after having lived twenty two years of my life in a hut. I beg all of you. I was locked up in the dungeon for helping Vandhiyathevan escape. At that time I came to know about my birth from the man in the adjacent cell. It became clear to me then why the elder stateswoman had always been kind to me. All I wanted was to hear her call me, ‘Son!’ That wish had been fulfilled. I do not want anything else!” He said.

The chief minister interrupted. “Young King! It is not a question of what you want! We must think about what is right and what is lawful!” He said.

“Aha! Think as much as you want to. As far as I am concerned there is nothing to think about. I have done my thinking and come to a decision. It had been a dream of Poongkuzhali to marry a king and be on the throne. She had even rejected my love because of it. At those instances I have been on the verge of saying, ‘Girl! I am the prince. If I wanted the Chola kingdom can be mine!’ I controlled myself. I prayed to god that I would never be consumed by the desire to rule. To that end I was even prepared to lose Poongkuzhali. Fortunately, this Ocean Princess decided to give up her unsuitable quest and agreed to marry this poor servant of the temple.”

Poongkuzhali obviously had objections. “Sir! How can you say, ‘unsuitable quest?’ I am good enough to be the empress of the three worlds, even though I have agreed to marry you and spend my life stringing garlands and plying boats!” She said.

“Bravo, Poongkuzhali! This statement alone is enough to prove your suitableness. How is one suited and not suited? ‘all life is equal,’ said the divine poet of Tamil thirumarai. Therefore do not give up your old ambition. Join our side and tell this future husband of yours! Uncle! It is understandable that you had rejected this kingdom. It only shows your inherent greatness. But now all of us are asking you, the emperor, the chief minister, my brother and myself! My friend Vanathi is asking you. She is going to change the mind of her uncle! Why must you refuse us,” asked the junior stateswoman.

“Madam! All of you want this. But what do the citizens of this country want? You probably don’t know. Having lived among them I do. I know very well what the people of Thanjai, Pazhaiyarai, Kudanthai, Kodikarai and Nagapattinam want. I have also heard what the people of Pandyanadu, Pallavanadu, Kongunadu and Eezhanadu want. ‘Arulmozhivarmar must be crowned,’ is the unanimous verdict of the people. Can I swim against such a deluge? Even if I wanted to can I rule this big Chola empire? God! I know how much the people hated the person you are now calling, ‘old Mathuranthakar.’ Do you want me to be the object of all that hatred? No! Don’t hurt me so. I have never harmed any of you!”

Before anyone else could speak Ponniyin Selvar took over. Speaking in a stately voice he said, “Let this discussion end here! When all of you entered this room I was saying, ‘I will wear the Chola crown! I will. I now know the viewpoint of this good friend and son of the elder stateswoman. Let’s not talk about the right to the throne anymore!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (65 – 69)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

65. ‘Aiyo! Devil!’

Azhvarkadiyan summoned his men out from hiding. Together they walked towards the north entrance of Thanjai fort. Readers would have guessed why he did not seek the help of his men during his confrontation with Karuthiruman; obviously he did not want the secrets he was about to verify falling in the ears of others!

After having covered about half the distance they encountered a lone man running frantically towards them. In the dark after crashing into Azhvarkadiyan headlong the man tried to run again. Thirumalai Nambi grabbed him firmly. After taking a good look at his face he said, “Adada! Is it not the doctor’s son? Where are you running so frantically?”

“Oho! Brave Vaishnava! I was afraid it was some demon or ghost. Good; how long have you been walking on this shore? Did you pass two men on horses?”

“Yes; we did! What about them?”

“What about them? Good question; if you know who these men are, you won’t interrogate me in this manner. Didn’t you at least recognize one of them?”

“One of them did seem familiar … but?”

“Who, who did he resemble?”

“I thought of Vandhiyathevan. But I decided that could not be.”

“Oh, you fool! It is Vandhiyathevan!”

“What are you blubbering? Isn’t Vandhiyathevan in prison?”

“He was. But not anymore! Vandhiyathevan and another madman escaped from prison. They tied me up and got away.”

“Adaday! They have done a good job! While they were tying you up what were your hands doing? First of all why did you go to the dungeon at all?”

“I was carrying out the chief minister’s order. There is no time to be talking about this now. Don’t you also work for the chief minister? Come with me! We can catch them …!”

“Why should we catch them? Let them run! What does it matter to you and me?”

“The chief minister has found a ‘good’ person in you. If everyone is like you it will certainly help this Chola kingdom! Don’t you know that Vandhiyathevan is charged with the crime of killing Prince Karikalar? Not only that; a short while ago he stabbed another man near Senthan Amuthan’s hut …”

“God! What is this? Who was stabbed?”

“I did not see who it was. I came chasing Vandhiyathevan … alright, alright; if you don’t want to join me, go! Don’t stand in my way! You will be blessed! Let me go!”

“Son of the Medicine Man! I have seen many fools in this world but you have surpassed all of them! They are galloping on horses. Daring death they are on the run. You, a lone man, going on foot will catch them? What do I care? Go! Go!”

“You are right. That is why I asked for your help. You are refusing to come.”

“What can I do? I tried to stop them. One of them hit me hard with his club. I bore it and came. That pain is still there. I am not used to fighting. You, perhaps … yes; what is that on your hand. Looks like blood?”

“They attacked me in the prison. Vengeful savages!”

“And you are going behind these savages on foot? If they had done this to you even while in prison …”

“Then what do you suggest that I do?”

“I am not suggesting anything; why are you attacking me? If I was in your position I will go back and tell the proper authorities; return with at least five or six soldiers on horses and go on a manhunt. I will also get on a horse armed with sword and spear …”

The doctor’s son started to think. He had come running after stabbing someone near Senthan Amuthan’s hut. He was afraid that it might be the Chola tribe’s Mathuranthakar. But there was no point as this Vaishnavan says to go alone on foot. If it was Mathuranthaka Thevar who got stabbed in that garden it is best to lay that crime also on Vandhiyathevan. A man who killed one person will likely kill another, won’t he? The punishment will be the same for both crimes? … Once this thought entered Pinakapani’s mind he began to believe that it was Vandhiyathevan who killed the two princes.

“Vaishnava! You are right! I will come with you. You must help me. You must inform the proper people and send some cavalry men with me. I have a difficult time understanding the ways of people in high places. I have a difficult time communicating with them. Look here, I did tell colonel Kodumbalur Velar, and chief minister Anbil Aniruthar – yes, about the need to go after the escapees. I begged them to send some soldiers with me. Both started to insult me calling me a fool. I cannot understand what their motives are …”

“What else? They have no confidence in you. The don’t want to entrust you with this. You got tricked even inside the prison. You let the prisoners escape. They have no hope that you will catch …”

“I wanted to prove them wrong, that is why I started on my own. In any event, those men must stop at Kodikarai. I know all of Vandhiyathevan’s hiding places there. I also have people there who will help me …”

“Then, go! See what you can do!”

“However, it is better to be on a horse and with a few other men. Can you help me with that?”

By then they had come close to the main north entrance of the fort.

They saw at a distance on the royal thoroughfare throngs of people coming from the north. There were horses, foot soldiers and elephants with howdahs.

There were people at the entrance also. The light shed by the flame torches showed Kodumbalur Velar, Thirukovalur Malaiamman and chief minister Aniruthar among them.

“Our master is standing there at the entrance. Let’s go to him; are you coming?” Azhvarkadiyan asked. The doctor’s son hesitated.

“I asked you once. No use. Perhaps now that you have seen two men escaping he might believe you. But I doubt that he will send me with you,” Azhvarkadiyan said.

After some thought he continued. “You are right. Moreover, they seem to be waiting for something important. There is no use going to them now. Whatever we say will not get through their ears. Pazhuvertaraiyars are coming. It looks as if Sambuvaraiyar is also coming with them. There, there is Parthipenthiran, and Kanthamaran. We can tell them. They will have more interest in catching Vandhiyathevan.”

The procession soon approached them. First came the town-criers, cataloging the accolades, acts of chivalry and ancient glory of the Pazhuvertaraiyars. In the same manner the merits of Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar, Mazhapadi Mazhavaraiyar, Parthipenthira Pallavan, Neela Thangaraiyar and Irattaikudai Irajaliar were shouted out. In between they pounded on their drums; blew their trumpets.

At the forefront came the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, Parthipenthran and Kanthamaran riding on stately white horses. Elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Sambuvaraiyar were seated in the howdah of the elephant that walked behind the horses. Behind it other petty kings came on horses and elephants. Behind and in front about a hundred soldiers came on foot armed with swords in their waist and spears in their hands.

When they saw Azhvarkadiyan and the doctor’s son Pinakapani standing in the middle of the road, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar briefly paused on his horse. “Vaishnava! Is there some news from the chief minister,” he asked.

“Colonel! The chief minister did not send me with any messages. He will deliver his message in person at the fortress entrance. But there is some important news …” Azhvarkadiyan paused.

“What? What? What?” The three men asked eagerly.

“Vandhiyathevan has escaped from the dungeon …”

“How can that be? Who is he? Indrajith? To disappear magically?” asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“There is a conspiracy here. Someone must have helped him,” said Parthipenthiran.

“It is the work of that Kodumbalur periya Velar,” said Kanthamaran.

“Even if he escapes where will he go? He must remain inside the fort,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“That is what Velar is saying. As a precaution the chief minister asked me to check around the fort. The chief minister does not want anyone reproaching the Kadampoor tribe …”

“At least there is one person with that concern, it is heartwarming to know that,” said Kanthamaran.

“Vaishnava! Tell the truth! Are you patrolling to hinder the escapee? Or to help?” Parthipenthiran asked. He always had his suspicions about the Vaishnavan.

“Sir! At any other time my response would have been different. But this is not the time to air our differences. This doctor’s son Pinakapani has a strange story to tell. He saw two men on horses and he thinks that they are the escapees, Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman. I must admit that I also passed two men speeding on horses.”

“Pinakapani! Is it true what this Vaishnavan is saying,” asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“I swear, Sir!”

“Then why not inform the chief minister and Velar immediately?”

“They are both very angry at me.”

“Why?”

“I am the one who let them escape.”

“How?”

“There was a madman in the dungeon claiming that he knew the whereabouts of the Pandyanadu crown and diamond necklace. Aniruthar sent me to fetch him. When I went the two men tied me up and got away from the dungeon!”

“In the end the chief minister could not find anyone but a fool like you for this job?” Parthipenthira Pallavan laughed.

The doctor’s son responded angrily, “Sir! I didn’t come here to amuse you. If you want to help …”

“What help do you want?”

“Please send four cavalry men with me. Please give me also a horse. It is my responsibility to bring those who got away. Didn’t I accomplish my tasks before? Colonel Pazhuvertaraiyar knows!” The doctor’s son Pinakapani said.

“What do you say?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked Parthipenthiran.

“We must help. The emperor has given me the responsibility of escorting you. Otherwise I will go with him myself. It is important to catch Vandhiyathevan,” said Parthipenthiran.

At that time, “Give me that responsibility. I will go with him. Even if Vallavaraiyan is knocking on heaven’s door I will bring him back,” said Kanthamaran.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar agreed. He took on the responsibility of pacifying Sambuvaraiyar and others.

Soon Kanthamaran, the doctor’s son and four other soldiers set off on horses along the north shore of Vadavaru. They went as fast as the wind; as fast as their minds would take them.

* * *

Mathuranthakan was not used to riding on horses. Even though Karuthiruman had experience, because he had been locked up in the dungeon for a long time his body was unfit. Yet their hearts were newly rejuvenated. They bore their fatigue with mental fortitude and journeyed on.

After traveling till midnight they stopped. Where they stopped there was a makeshift bridge of bamboo poles tied together to cross the river. Karuthiruman knew that there will be men following them. Therefore he figured that it would be best to cross the river at that point; after traveling along the south shore of the river for a short distance they can go back on the road to Kodikarai.

There was another reason for crossing the river at that place. Karuthiruman doubted that Mathuranthakan will be able to drive the horse through floodwater in order to cross the river. It will be impossible as long as the tide stayed high. If Mathuranthakan took the bridge he can take the horses one by one to the other side.

Mathuranthakan agreed with this idea. Before getting into the water they both sat down on the exposed roots at the base of a tree to rest. ‘Cho,’ the river ran noisily. From all around piercing their ears rose the wild intonation of the jungle critters. Stars spied on them peeking through the rapidly scattering clouds in the sky.

Mathuranthakan, whose life had been spent sleeping on silk mattresses, felt fear and discouragement about his future as he sat there on the ground in the middle of the night by the riverbank.

Sensing his state of mind Karuthiruman tried to cheer him. He said that Ilankai king Mahinthan was a friend of the Pandya tribe, and that once Mathuranthkan reaches him his troubles will be over; that Pandya tribe’s jeweled crown and the diamond necklace given by Indran were in Ilankai; he knew where these were kept; that Mahinthan will crown Mathuranthakan on the spot! In the meantime there was going to be war among the Chola petty kings and the Chola kingdom would break apart. The Pazhuvertaraiyar-Sambuvaraiyar side would be charged with the crime of killing Athitha Karikalan. Since Mathuranthakan is missing, the Pazhuvertaraiyars will accuse Velar and his side of killing him. Rumor will spread among the people that Arulmozhivarman had also aided in these murders. Therefore the people will begin to hate him also. While the Chola kingdom is thus enmeshed in a turmoil, the Ilankai king will gather a big battalion and come to war. He will capture Madurai. He will crown Mathuranthakar a second time for the world to see. He will change the name from ‘Mathuranthakan,’ to ‘Chola-Pandyan.’

Mathuranthakan’s heart swelled listening to Karuthiruman. He felt encouraged as never before in his life. Victory trumpets from long gone battlefields blared in his ears. Coronation music played in his ears. Voices of a thousand people shouted, “Long live the Pandya emperor! Long live the great Chola-Pandyan!”

At this time Mathuranthkan’s self-indulgent fantasia was interrupted by the sound of horses. Light from torches came from a distance.

Karuthiruman had not expected anyone to reach them that fast. He jumped up excitedly. “Prince! Rise! Get on your horse! Before they come we must cross the river,” he said.

In a second he was atop his horse. Seeing Mathuranthakan struggling with his horse he said, “Sir! Please do me a favor. Walk on the bridge and go to the other side. I will bring both horses across.”

“Fantastic! You think that I am a coward? If I cannot cross this river on a horse then how will I ever reach Ilankai? How will I conquer Pandyanadu and take the throne?” Boasting he climbed on the horse slowly.

As both horses were led into the water, Mathuranthakan’s horse suddenly folded its front legs and knelt down. “Aiyo,” screamed Karuthiruman. Fortunately the horse gathered itself up and stepped into the water.

Inside Mathuranthakan was terrified. But hiding his terror he said, “What on earth? You got so frightened?”

Perhaps Mathuranthakan’s horse was wounded in its legs; it did not move as fast as the other horse. Often it tended to go with the flow of the floodwater. Mathuranthakan tried hard to turn it around and make it go towards the opposite bank. The sound of the horses on the shore was getting louder and louder.

Halfway across the river Karuthiruman paused. While waiting for the prince to catch up, he had another idea. After reassuring Mathuranthakan he hurried on to the opposite bank. Climbing onto the shore he stationed the horse under a tree. Leaping down from the horse he hurried on foot to the north side using the bamboo bridge. He already had possession of Mathuranthakan’s small knife. Hastily he cut the rope ends hanging from the bridge and tied the pieces end to end. Once he had an adequate length he tied one end to the bridge. He took the other end across the road and tied it to the trunk of a tree.

In the dark that was deepened by the shadow of the tree no one could see the rope running across the road! Certainly not men speeding on horses.

When he finished he was about to run back across the bridge. Changing his mind he climbed on one of the trees hastily and sat hidden among its branches.

Mathranthakan’s horse had almost crossed the river. Given a few more minutes the horse will climb out of the water and carry on.

Even before the thought disappeared from his mind the horses on the road arrived. Out of about five or six horses two came in front. They toppled headlong on Karuthiruman’s rope that ran across the road.

Karuthiruman could not help himself. He laughed out loud, “He, he, ha!”

Terrified one of the horsemen screamed, “Aiyo! Devil!”

From the sound of the voice Karuthiruman knew that was the doctor’s son Pinakapani. His only regret was that the fall did not break his neck and kill him.

The other man rose without the slightest distress. He is our old friend Kanthmaran indeed!

66. Mathuranthakan’s Disappearance

Following his fall and that of his horse, Kanthamaran rose with no trace of alarm. Even as he raised himself up he had his spear ready in one hand. His aim was already on the horse that was approaching the opposite bank. He had no doubt in his mind that the rider of that horse was Vandhiyathevan.

The old friendship that Kanthamaran had felt for Vandhiyathevan had now morphed into a vindictive hatred. He felt that in many ways Vandhiyathevan had betrayed his friendship; that Vandhiyathevan was the root cause of all the disgrace that had fallen on him and his family! He had leaked the secrets he found out while staying at his residence to many outsiders. He had even told it to members of the royal family! Why? Is it because of his loyalty to the Chola tribe? Not at all! His motive was only to gain their trust with this divulgence, and then to betray them as well. There is no doubt that he has helped the Pandyanadu trouble makers. Was this double betrayal for personal gain, or is it a byproduct of Nandhini’s influence? It is true that he himself was caught for a brief period in Nandhini’s lascivious net! Yet would he even have dreamed of carrying out such ruthless acts?

More than anything else Kanthamaran was furious at Vandhiyathevan for wrecking his beloved sister Manimekalai’s mind. While Kanthamaran was eager to place Manimekalai on the throne as empress adorned with the jeweled crown on her head, this vile saboteur has made that innocent girl declare publicly, “I am the one who killed Karikalar!” Should he allow such a vile man to run away? Should he stand as a mere spectator? No! It is better to take Vandhiyathevan back alive! If that is not possible he must leave from here at least with the consoling knowledge that he has got rid of him for good. It was with this determination Kanthmaran had set off on this manhunt.

Now unexpectedly the horse has buckled down. It is unlikely that it will survive. The doctor’s son Pinakapani’s horse also has met with the same fate.

Vandhiyathevan on the other hand is about to reach the opposite bank! It will take some time for his soldiers  to be here. Even when they come it will be impossible to cross the river’s torrent and reach Vandhiyathevan. Therefore the only recourse is to kill him.

These thoughts scuttled through Kanthamaran’s mind within a second. So once he was standing up and his feet were firmly planted on the ground he raised his spear, took aim and threw it with all his might.

‘Vroom …,’ the spear flew and in the blink of an eye struck Mathuranthakan. ‘Veel …,’ cried Mathuranthakan and fell into the water. His horse struggled to get ashore on its own.

As he Karuthiruman watched from among the branches above his body and mind were shaken by the sequence of events that unfurled so rapidly below on the ground.

He had not expected any of this. Even if the danger posed by the rope did not cost them their lives he had expected at least some broken limbs. Not only did one of the men recover, but he had shot back up and hurt Mathuranthkan with his spear. Getting over his initial shock, Karuthiruman jumped down from the tree screaming furiously.

With a monstrous strength that anger created he attacked Kanthmaran and pushed him down. The doctor’s son who had just then scrambled to his feet tried to stop him realizing that it was Karuthiruman and not the devil who had frightened him.

With all his anger Karuthiruman stabbed Pinakapani with the small knife. He then pushed him down and started running across the bridge.

The soldiers following Kanthmaran and Pinakapani saw the man running on the makeshift bamboo bridge. Guessing what had gone on there they brought their horses to a halt.

“Catch him! Catch him! Catch the man running on the bridge!” Kanthamaran shouted.

The four men jumped down from their horses and ran behind Karuthiruman. Having fallen down a second time Kanthamaran lay in shock for a second. Then he also managed to get up and run behind the four soldiers.

The doctor’s son who was badly injured by the knife also frantically rose and followed them. But within five or six steps his life’s energy was depleted. His eyes turned dark. His head rotated. Unable to stand firmly he stumbled and fell into the river. Those who ran before him did not see him falling.

A pity; the doctor’s son Pinakapani who had built so many castles in the air, in the end died without seeing any of his evil desires come to fruition! His imaginary castles all drowned and disappeared in the Vadavaru flood! The river also became his final resting place.

* * *

Karuthiruman – who was running on the bridge after attacking Kanthamaran and stabbing the doctor’s son, – was three quarters of the way down the bamboo bridge when he turned and looked behind. He saw the men leaving their horses and pursuing him. He did something clever at that time. Where he stood the bamboo poles were tied up together by rope and propped up from below.

With the same knife that he had used on Pinakapani he cut off the rope ties hastily. He kicked the poles propping up the bridge with his leg and ran further down.

When he reached the shore, again he severed the ties attaching the bamboo poles to the base of a tree. He picked up that end of the bridge and pushed it into the river flood.

Next second a third of that bamboo bridge tore itself from the rest and was in the water floating with the river’s current.

Those running on the bridge failing to see the torn part kept running until they tumbled into the floodwater one after another! Kanthamaran who came last of all was the only one who did not fall.

The men who unexpectedly landed in water, after drinking too much water and struggling to breathe finally put their heads out. Kanthamaran ordered them to swim to the other side. Two of the men followed his order and began swimming in earnest. The other two men had a difficult time swimming against the current. They clambered back onto the part of the bridge that still remained.

Kanthamaran at first was livid. But he realized that there was no use in asking them to swim again. So he made them remove some more piles from the bridge and had them tie it into a theppam. Holding onto this floating device Kanthamaran and the other two men reached the opposite bank.

They joined the other two men who had with great difficulty reached the shore. They said that even before they reached the shore the man on the run had disappeared in the dark and that they heard two horses leaving; they said that they decided it was pointless following them on foot.

But Kanthamaran did not want to give up. He figured that the man who jumped down from the tree, who pushed him down and ran off on the bridge, must be the madman from the dungeon the doctor’s son had talked about. It was to save Vandhiyathevan the man had tied the rope across the road and waited on the tree. He had no doubt that it was Vandhiyathevan who succumbed to his spear. He had seen with his own eyes the man falling from his horse into the flood’s torrent. Yet, if he can find the lifeless body his heart will be more gratified. He can even take Vandhiyathevan’s body to Thanjavur. He will then receive the great honor of having killed a man who betrayed the Chola tribe in the most unimaginably grievous manner! By that he can also erase the infamy that had fallen on the Sambuvaraiyar tribe. Vandhiyathevan’s attempt to escape is reason enough to prove his guilt. If it is proven that Athitha Karikalar was murdered by Vandhiyathevan, then Sambuvaraiyar tribe will not have to bear that dreadful charge anymore.

With these thoughts Kanthamaran went down the Vadavaru bank. The four soldiers went behind him. As they walked they checked to see if Vandhiyathevan’s body had come to rest anywhere along the shore. In the dark this was not an easy task. Yet Kanthamaran did not give up hope. He kept going further and further. After having gone a long way in this manner they heard the sound of a big waterfall. When they went closer they saw a kalangal had been built at that spot across the river. Water collected there before falling into the valley beneath with added velocity producing rippling currents and waves as it ran further.

If Vandhiyathevan’s body had come that far it would likely have fallen into this gorge and drowned. It will take many days for it to emerge again. It may even disappear completely without ever being sighted again. Therefore, there was no use in searching any further.

While Kanthamaran was thus contemplating, he saw a dark object hurtling down with the frothing whitewater across the river dam. Aha! That must be Vandhiyathevan’s body! A ruthless enemy has left this earth! Let god forgive his sins! But is it even possible? Can even god forgive this man’s sins? No! No! He must face the consequences in his next birth!

Never mind. Vandhiyathevan’s life on this earth has ended. From now on he won’t have to worry about him. He can return to Thanjai and take care of other matters.

With this thought Kanthamaran turned back. … Aha! How great a disappointment awaited him in Thanjai! How shocked Kanthamaran will be when he finds out that the man who succumbed to his spear and fell into the river’s torrent was not Vandhiyathevan, but Prince Mathuranthakan? Would it surprise anyone if he felt that the earth itself had gorged itself open from underneath him?

67. ‘I do not want a mortal kingdom!’

Once the procession of the petty kings and the Pazhuvertaraiyars passed Azhvarkadiyan began walking with his men towards Senthan Amuthan’s garden. Near the garden under a tree Mathuranthaka Thevar’s palankeen was discreetly parked. Its carriers hovered nearby.

He found out from them that they were waiting there for the prince following his order. Azhvarkadiyan went inside the garden. After sending his men to search the outside quietly, he alone went and stood at the doorstep. He pressed his ear to the door and eavesdropped. He heard the worried voices of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali from inside the hut. In between he also heard a man groaning on his deathbed.

One of the men returned after looking around. Thirumalai Nambi looked at the objects the man had brought in the light that streaked through the crack in the door opening. He knew that those were the crown, diamond necklace, vakuvalayam and other finery that Prince Mathuranthakar wore normally. There was also his silk vestment. Azhvarkadiyan’s satisfaction upon seeing these was reflected on his face.

“Alright; enough of searching! Call the others also here. With your weapons ready stand prepared!” Azhvarkadiyan said. Then he knocked lightly on the door.

There was no answer. So he knocked again louder.

“Who is there? What do you want here?” Poongkuzhali’s voice was heard.

“Madam! It is me, Azhvarkadiyan called Thirumalai Nambithasan. Please be kind and open the door. It is important,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

He heard footsteps inside. Poongkuzhali stood near the door and said, “What can be so important here for you? You are a brave vaishnavar. This is a saiva devotees’ hut. You know that the master is not well. Why are you troubling us at this night hour?”

“Ocean Princess! I am indeed a veera vaishnavan; that is why I am here to discountenance the evil and protect the good. If the door is not opened it will be forcibly broken,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Vaishnava! You are a brave man. Must you choose us for your display of chivalry?” While speaking Poongkuzhali abruptly flung open the door. Anger flashed from her eyes.

She had planned on taking her anger out on Azhvarakadiyan. But when she saw the soldiers behind him she was startled. “Sir! What is going on? Who are they? Why are they here? Are they with you?” She asked.

“Yes; they came with me. They are here on government work. People who obstruct their work will receive royal punishment,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Fine government work! Fine royal punishment! Instead of hearing such talk we are dying to get away to Kodikarai and hear only the ocean’s waves. Never mind. Please ask them to stand a little away. Only you will come inside. I don’t know what government matter can be waiting inside this rickety hut. Isn’t one person enough for this? Athan is lying on that bed sick. If they come inside he will be disturbed. It can only be detrimental to his condition,” she said.

Once he entered the hut Azhvarkadiyan himself drew the bolt and locked the door.

“Poongkuzhali! You surprise me! When did you become so detached from matters concerning the government? What happened to your plan of marrying the crown prince and being on the throne? When that plan succeeds, government will be your only preoccupation!”

“Sir! Vaishnavar! I have given up that notion entirely. In the last few days I realized how discomforting the burden of kingdom can be, how personally painful it can be. I will no more want to be even ten katham from the throne. Vaishnavar! I will give you some happy news. I have decided to marry my athan Senthan Amuthan. We have informed Chempian Madevi when she visited a short while ago and received her blessing also. Once Amuthan’s health improves a little, we will leave for Kodikarai.”

Azhvarkadiyan interrupted saying, “Aha! You made a good decision! Azhvar had sung:

‘unceasingly opulent, surrounded by divine courtesans,
the prospect of ruling heaven and earth I do not want
grant me the more austere birth of being born a fish
in a pond in the pleasant gardens of Thiruvengadam’

In the same way both of you have decided, ‘We don’t want this mortal kingdom!’ That you can live in Kodikarai sea as fish among fish! Anyway, who knows? If fate has destined that you will carry the crown on your head and be seated on the thorone, it will happen. Even if one refuses, it will not let you go!”

“Enough with the sarcasm, Sir! Tell us why you are here,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Madam! Have you given up only your desire to rule? Or have you and Senthan Amuthan abandoned your desire to live also? I came to find out,” said the Vaishnavan.

“What kind of a question is that? We both want to live on this earth at least a while longer. It is only today we made the decision to get married. Vaishnavar! Give us your blessing! Bless athan as well so he may recover soon,” said Poongkuzhali.

“I am prepared to give my greetings and blessings; but these cannot go to waste. If the two of you want to keep living, why did you help those men to escape from the dungeon,” asked Thirumalai.

Poongkuzhali pretended to look surprised. “What? We don’t know about this! We did not help anyone to escape,” she said.

“Vandhiyathevan who was in prison charged with the crime of killing Karikalar, and another madman escaped today; they came up to these gardens; two men left from here on horses. There is blood outside this hut. There are signs indicating that several people have come and gone from here today. Therefore, one can only conclude that both of you helped the escapees. Because of the high regard that chief minister has for you he sent me in person. If Kodumabalur Velar’s men were here, they will arrest you immediately,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“We are very grateful to the chief minister and yourself, Vaishnavar! In two days my cousin will be better. We will then leave for Kodikarai. After that we will never set foot in Thanjavur again. Until then you must kindly protect us from the soldiers,” pleaded Poongkuzhali.

“I have no objection to helping. But you must tell me the truth! Did no one else other than the three of you come here,” he asked.

“Why not? You are here! A short time ago Chempian Madevi and Prince Mathuranthakar came to inquire after athan’s health. Now there is always the traffic of soldiers around Thanjavur fort! How do we know who came and who went? Vaishnavar! I can definitely answer your first question. We did not help anyone to escape from here …!”

“Do you swear?”

“Yes; I swear. We did not help anyone to escape from here!”

“In that case, Vandhiyathevan who escaped from the dungeon must be in this hut,” said Thirumalai.

Before he even finished a pitiful groan rose from under the bed where Senthan Amuthan lay.

68. ‘Prince for a Day!’

When Azhvarkadiyan heard the groan coming from underneath Senthan Amuthan’s bed he said, “Aha! Is that the matter? Wise saiva devotees! Have you begun your pranks like Paramasivan?” and started moving towards the bed.

Poongkuzhali at once pulled out the knife from her waist. Brandishing it she said, “Vaishnava! After insulting Sivapaeruman you cannot remain in this world even a second longer. If you take one more step you will be heading to Vaikundam!”

“Mother! Maha Sakthi! May thine be the last word. It is not easy reaching Vaikundam. If you can send me there with your own hands, what more can I ask for,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

At this time Senthan Amuthan rose from his bed. He said, “Poongkuzhali! No! Put the knife back! Sivaperuman will not be tarnished by the Vaishnavar’s remark. Evil can never lead to good. Lies and deception can never bring any good. Let’s tell this Vaishnavar the truth and ask for his help. After all he is a friend of Vandhiyathevan!”

“Now that is how you toe the line! Can this servant of the deceitful dealer Krishna Paramathma be tricked by some pitiful saiva devotees? If you surrender at the feet of the merciful Narayanan he will certainly come to your aid. Didn’t our Thirumal save even Gajendran from the crocodile’s mouth …”

“Yes; yes! Before your Thirumal gets here from Vaikundam, your friend would have departed from this world!” Poongkuzhali answered as she ran towards the bed.

The others followed her. They found Vandhiyathevan who lay hidden under a heap of clothes under the bed, and moved him to the bed.

Vandhiyathevan was unconscious. Even then he was groaning from time to time. That was the only indication that he was still alive.

Vani Ammai boiled the medicinal roots, mixed it with turmeric powder and brought it to apply on Vandhiyathevan’s wound. While Azhvarkadiyan and Senthan Amuthan held Vandhiyathevan’s hands and legs tightly, Poongkuzhali and Vani Ammai appled the still warm medicine on his wound and bandaged it.

Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes stung by the warm astringent medicine. When he saw Azhvarkadiyan he cried, “Vaishnava! How you let me down! You brought me here and then sent someone to kill me also?” Then he fainted again.

Azhvarkadiyan’s uneasiness showed on his face. He sensed that Vandhiyathevan’s words would likely cause suspicion in the minds of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali. He looked at them.

Poongkuzhali’s smile gave him courage.

“Vaishnavar! Is it you who sent Vandhiyathevar here?” She asked.

“Yes, Mother! But I didn’t send anyone behind to kill him.”

“Never mind about that; why did you send him here?”

“I sent him to escape. I had two horses ready outside this garden for him and his friend …”

“Then how did you know that he did not escape? How did you know that he was in this hut?”

“I saw someone else going on the horse that I had for him. That is what made me suspicious …”

“When Thirumal was thinking of one thing, Sivan thought of another.”

“What is this riddle, Mother? How did he get wounded?”

“Vaishnavar! I do not know with what intention you sent him here. But he arrived at the right time here and saved me from becoming a widow even before I was married!”

Before Poongkuzhali even finished speaking Azhvarkadiyan and Senthan Amuthan exclaimed in astonishment, “What? What? What?”

Poongkuzhali turned to face Amuthan. “Yes, I did not tell you. Outside there was a fellow taking aim at you with his spear. At that time the Varnar tribe warrior came in between and bore the spear and saved you,” she said.

Tears welled in Senthan Amuthan’s eyes. “Aiyo! My friend put himself in danger for my sake?” He said.

“So what? You have put yourself in so much danger for his sake,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Madam! In this world rarely one is able to promptly repay a debt of gratitude to another. We are fortunate if we don’t end up hurting someone who has been good to us. It is indeed a miracle that Vandhiyathevan was here at the right time to save Senthan Amuthan! But you said something about marriage. What is that? You said that he saved you from widowhood!”

“Yes, Vaishnavar! It was today that he and I decided to get married. We received Chempian Madevi’s blessing also. Within a quarter nazhikai after the elder stateswoman left, a spear was poised to go through him. Even I could not have stopped it. If his life is taken, then what is my fate? I will be a widow even before I become a bride!”

“By the grace of the kind and benevolent Thirumal nothing of the sort will happen. Chempian Madevi’s blessing will not go to waste. You will marry this holy man and live a long and happy life. But who is the scoundrel who wanted to kill this most meek child? Did you see him? Did you recognize him?”

“Why not? I saw him and recognized him. It was that scoundrel, the doctor’s son Pinakapani! He also unlawfully abducted my aunt from Kodikarai and sacrificed her at the hands of a murderer! Such unlawful conduct is becoming common in Chola kingdom …”

“What atrocity? There is going to be a thousand fold more of this kind. Tonight unrest will begin in Cholanadu. There is going to be a big clash between the petty kings. All over the country people are going to fight with each other and lose their lives! Unless a miracle happens by the grace of Srimanth Narayanamoorthi these calamities facing the country cannot be stopped,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Vaishnavar! You are almost issuing a curse! Why not grant your blessing for a better future,” said Amuthan.

“Let the country be! We will go to Kodikarai,” said Poongkuzhali.

“We can go. What do we do about this innocent friend who saved my life,” asked Senthan Amuthan.

“You cannot save him. There is no use even if you wait here. Soldiers are roaming the country looking for the men who escaped from prison. Soon they will be here also. I am not sure how I am going to dissuade the guards outside,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Sir! Vaishnavar! You are a smart person. You advice even the chief minister. You will be blessed if you can think of a way to save this Varnar tribe warrior who has been severely wounded by a murderer. Both of us will be forever indebted!”

“Devi, it is not that easy!”

“Sir! I see my status going up by the second! Until yesterday I was the ‘boatwoman.’ A while ago it was, ‘Madam!’ Now you are saying, ‘Devi.’ Very soon I will be ‘Princess!'”

“Yes, Princess! To save this brave young man who is lying here unconscious there is only one way. This most fortunate man who is about to marry you must agree to be ‘prince’ for a day. If he is prince, then you are princess!”

“Vaishnavar! Why, this sarcasm? I must be prince for a day? What for,” asked Amuthan.

“I am going to tell both of you a secret that only I am aware of. Listen. No, first take a look at this!” Azhvarkadiyan opened the bundle of cloth that he had with him.

The silk epaulet, crown and pearl necklaces that Mathuranthakan was wearing sparkled from inside. “Aha! Prince Mathuranthakar had these on. We just saw him a short time ago,” said Amuthan.

“From where were these obtained,” asked Poongkuzhali.

“They were lying near the fence here. And, please hear the secret I am about to tell you. When I was coming along Vadavaru shore I saw two people speeding on horses. Those horses were left by me here for Vandhiyathevan, and the madman who escaped with him from prison. Even you have met this madman!”

“Yes; I have. Whomever he met, he would carry on about the Pandya tribe’s jeweled crown and diamond necklace.”

“He is the one! On one of the horses speeding along Vadavaru shore was the madman. The person on the other horse appeared to be Prince Mathuranthakar. These objects that were found in the vicinity of this hut prove it.”

“How ridiculous! Why should Mathuranthakar throw away his crown and run away?”

“That is a puzzle to me as well. I am going to inform the chief minister and send people after those on the run. But before that I am afraid a great upheaval is underway.”

“What upheaval?”

“Pazhuvertaraiyars and the petty kings on their side are closing in on Thanjai fort. Kodumabalur Velar, the chief minister and Malaiamman are waiting at the fort’s entrance anticipating them. The emperor’s wish is to have a peaceful discussion to decide about the succession to the throne. It is his command. But before any discussion the Pazhuvertaraiyars will ask, ‘Where is Mathuranthakar?’ When they hear about his disappearance they will pounce on Kodumbalur Velar! They will say that the colonel has killed Mathuranthakar to make sure that Ponniyin Selvar will have the crown. Even if periya Velar denies it, he cannot prove it. There will begin immediately a dangerous civil war. Cholanadu will soon fall apart.”

“Before that we would have left this place!”

“Devi! That is impossible!”

“Then what are you saying?”

“Let Senthan Amuthan wear the crown and jewels for now. I will bring the elephant that brought Ponniyin Selvar. Let him ride on it. I will have my men walking in front and behind shouting, ‘Long live Mathuranthakar!’ The palankeen that Mathuranthakar came on is also here. We will close the curtains and put Vandhiyathevan inside it. Devi! You can walk beside the palankeen. Leave the rest to me,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What sort of a ludicrous idea is this,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“Just a crown on his head will disguise him,” said Poongkuzhali.

“In the night who can recognize who is on the elephant?People will look closely only if they have a reason to doubt. I will go with you. It is my responsibility to take all of you into the fort to the chief minister’s residence. There is no other way to save the Varnar tribe warrior!”

After some more argumentative discussion Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali agreed to go along with Azhvarkadiyan’s idea.

69. ‘A sword for a sword’

When the Pazhuvertaraiyar-Sambuvaraiyar crowd reached the Thanjai fort entrance it was like the clashing of oceans.

“Treasurer of Cholanadu, the taxing lord, heroic warrior who bears sixty four scars from thirty six battlegrounds, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is here!” Such honorary announcements were repeated by panegyrists for each of the other petty kings. In the same manner Kodumabalur Velar and Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s side made known their presence. In between trumpets and drums blared. Walls of the fortress produced echoes.

Because colonel periya Velar, Malaiamman, the chief minister and others were standing, down on the ground, Pazhuvertaraiyars also had to disembark from their respective vehicles. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar felt that the colonel and others were staging a welcome at the fort’s entrance only to make sure that the visitors abandon their vehicles and be escorted in on foot. He told the others so. He asked that the others leave him the task of speaking to the colonel’s group.

Periya Velar and others felt that they will need to chat for a while with those arriving. Therefore instead of congregating before the gates, they waited in the flag square to the side. When the petty kings approached them on foot colonel periya Velar said, “Come! Come! Petty kings of the Chola kingdom, come! May the Chola tribe and kingdom benefit from your arrival!”

When the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar immediately volleyed back, “Yes, Sir! May our visit benefit the Chola kingdom! May it also benefit by your departure,” periya Velar’s eyes turned red.

“Sir! It is the custom of Kodumabalur Velar tribe to march forth in all directions so that the Chola kingdom may flourish. The whole world knows that my beloved brother, Paranthaka siriya Velar lost his life in the Eezham battlefield. I too was in Eezhanadu until a few days ago. Our tribe does not know the art riding a horse inside a clay pot. We also are not in the habit of keeping safe within the walls of the fort, guarding our women and wealth. If it is true that the Chola tribe will benefit by your arrival and my departure then we will not wait here a second longer!” The elder Velar roared.

Chief minister Aniruthar intervened. “Descendants of royal heritage! Must we doubt the good that all of you bring to Cholanadu? Each one of you represent generations of service to the Chola kingdom. Each one of you have ancestors who sacrificed their lives for the glory of the Chola tribe. Cholanadu will need your friendship and hard work now and forever. This is why Paranthaka emperor is mourning the ill-feeling among you. Setting aside even his monumental grief over the untimely death of his beloved son, the heroic warrior who decapitated Veera Pandyan, Athitha Karikalar – he has invited all of you here together. We can speak cordially before the emperor about the throne’s succession and all other matters and come to a decision. Great kings! I beg you all. Don’t hurt the emperor who is mourning the loss of his eldest son with your vendettas,” he told them.

His words struck a chord with everyone. They realized that this was not the time to air their personal grievances.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was quick to respond. “Chief Minister! We are prepared to follow the emperor’s order. When can we see him? Can we see him tonight? We want to hear the emperor’s wish straight from his mouth,” he said.

“Colonel! Your request is fair! There is no doubt that it will be granted. But all of you are aware of the emperor’s physical and mental state. Moreover, he wants to speak to Chempian Madevi one last time about the crown. He wants to try to change her mind one last time. You are aware of the reason behind it. Therefore, the emperor will call all of you before tomorrow’s end. Tonight he would like all of you to enter the fort peacefully and spend the night in your palaces. He has ordered periya Velar to provide accommodation for those who have traveled from afar …”

Again the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar interrupted. “Chief Minister! We do not need accommodation. We have been trained to live in battlefields. If the emperor will see us only tomorrow, what is the urgency that we must enter the fort tonight?” He asked.

“What is the urgency that you must spend the night outside instead of in the comfort of your palace?” asked the chief minister.

“Chief Minister! Perhaps Kalanthaka Kandar is afraid to step inside Thanjai fort?” Periya Velar said.

“Afraid? What does it look like? Black? Red? Does it have a horn? Wings? Perhaps senior Velar who has fled Eezhanadu in a hurry might know?” shot back the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“What on earth? It is impossible to keep these two men from butting their heads against each other,” while the chief minister was quietly thinking to himself the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat rather loudly and stepped forward. Everyone turned to him with the utmost respect.

“Younger Brother! Kodumbalur Velar came in the tribe of Pari Vallal. Men of the Velar tribe never go back on their word. When periya Velar offers us shelter inside the fort, why should not we accept it?” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“Elder Brother! We do not need shelter from anyone. We do not need their promises. We have the swords and spears of thirty thousand soldiers. I am the commander of Thanjai fort. Unless the fort is in my hands again, I will not agree to go in,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

Colonel Velar said to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, “Sir! If the emperor orders me I am prepared to do just that!”

“Did he capture the fort following the emperor’s order?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“No; I captured the fort with the strength of the sword!” Periya Velar said.

“I will recapture it with the strength of my sword! We can test it right now!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand reached for his sword.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar placed his hand on the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s to calm him. “Brother! This is not the time to raise the sword. We are here obeying the emperor’s wish!” He said.

“Elder Brother! What is the guarantee that he won’t lock us up in prison once we enter the fort? How can you trust a man who attacked the fort without waiting for the emperor’s order?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“Didn’t you trust him when you left this fort leaving behind our women and children here? You left Prince Mathuranthakar also!” The elder man said.

“I am wondering now if that was not a mistake. If Mathuranthakar was hurt in any way I will destroy the Kodumabalur tribe before anything else!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar shouted.

Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari who had been nonchalant until then was now livid! A most dangerous confrontation would have arisen at that moment there.

Fortunately at that time there arose a commotion at the fortress entrance. Everyone’s attention was diverted.

Moments before chief minister Aniruthar had walked over to Azhvarkadiyan when he had beckoned him over quietly. Azhvarkadiyan shared his secret with the chief minister. Armed with new knowledge the chief minister strolled back to where the Pazhuvertaraiyars and elder Velar were standing. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s pronouncement concerning Mathuranthaka Thevar fell in his ears.

“Colonel! What is to be anxious about Prince Mathuranthakar? He will not be harmed by anyone. Even a while ago Mathuranthaka Thevar and his mother Chempian Madevi left the fort to pay a visit to Senthan Amuthan who provides flowers for the temple …” Before the chief minister could finish Kalanthaka Kandar interrupted.

“Yes; mother and son left the fort. But only the mother returned,” he said.

“Aha! How do you know that?” The chief minister asked.

“Chief Minister! You think that only you are equipped with well trained spies? Mathuranthaka Thevar did not return to the fort. I must know why!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

A smile broke out on the chief minister’s face. At the same time from the fortress entrance arose a chorus of voices chanting, “Long live Prince Mathuranthaka Thevar!” Everyone turned eagerly in that direction. On the elephant that was just entering the fort ‘Mathuranthakar’ was seated adorned in his crown and other finery. Next to the elephant a covered palankeen trailed.

“Colonel! Mathuranthaka Thevar needed some time. Vani Ammai’s son Senthan Amuthan had been severely wounded when he fell from a horse. Chempian Madevi had instructed the prince to bring him to the palace in the palankeen. The son stayed behind to carry out the mother’s wish. He has Amuthan in the palankeen and he is on the elephant. Very soon when coronation takes place doesn’t he have to parade on the crown elephant? He is already rehearsing for that!” Chief minister Aniruthar said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (59 – 64)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

59. An Obstacle before the Omen

Vandhiyathevan was happy to see the boat. He decided that the goddess of good fortune was on his side. Even if he was afraid of water, Karuthiruman on the other hand, made a living rowing boats. If they just let the boat move with the flow of Vadavaru, they would cover half the distance to Kodikarai.

“See, Karuthiruma! This boat was not destroyed by the flood. It had been reserved for us. If you can show me your expertise we will cover half the distance before sunrise. After that even men on horseback can’t catch us!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Karuthiruman looked around with a suspicious eye. He felt something moving among the plants by the wall. He picked up a gravel stone and threw it into the bush. A cat jumped out from there and climbed into the boat.

Vandhiyathevan laughed. “Boatman! You certainly have more guts than me!” He said and threw a stone into the boat.

The cat jumped out of the boat. It ran towards them and in between them.

Now it was Vandhiyathevan’s turn to be frightened. He took a step behind. “You don’t seem any bolder than me!” Karuthiruman said sarcastically.

“I am afraid of cats; just the feel of the beast against my body makes me want to crawl out of my skin. Good! It had run away. Come, let’s go!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“I am not worried about the cat touching me. I worry when it crosses my path. It is a bad omen, it signifies an obstacle,” said Karuthiruman.

“What omen? What obstacle? Nonsense!” Vandhiyathevan dragged Karuthiruman by his hand and got into the boat.

Karuthiruman for his part tried to push the boat away from the roots and into the water. Whether the boat moved or not there appeared four men out of the blue and in the blink of an eye hopped into the boat. Two of them jumped on Vandhiyathevan and pushed him down. They tied him to the crossbars of the boat. The other two men armed with spears stood guard behind Karuthiruman.

Vandhiyathevan saw that the leader of the four was the heavy man who had escorted them out of the dungeon. He marveled at his presence here in such a short time. It meant that he was not some ordinary guard. He must be among the few selected for espionage. Once again he had an inkling that he had seen the man before. While he was wondering who he could be, the man’s voice fell in his ears.

The guard was speaking to Karuthiruman. “Appan! You were released after so many years in prison. Why did you listen to this corrupt man and run away? Let bygones be bygones. I don’t want to tie you up again. If you listen to me and do as I say then no harm will come to you,” he was saying.

The boatman agreed. “Alright, Sir! The chief minister sent people to release me. But I was ruined listening to this fool. From now on I will do as you say. Just don’t send me back to the dungeon,” he answered.

“Yes. The chief minister would like to speak with you. If you tell the truth he will not send you to prison. He will reward you with plenty of goods, gold and jewelry. Where were you going now?”

“To Eezhanadu.”

“Excellent! You thought that you could go that far after deceiving the chief minister and Velar. But this rude young man is capable of giving such bad advice. He ran away from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes once before. Never mind. Now we must take the boat against the current. Only one of us knows how. Even he is an amateur. Because we were coming with the flow of the river we managed. Now you must show us your expertise. Go across to the other side and then take the boat to the north entrance of the fort. Let’s see!” He said.

“Once we go across we can walk from there, Sir! Going against the tide will be difficult, the current is so rapid!”

“If we disembark on the other side this rude young man will again become a problem. Therefore we must remain on the boat!” The leader of the guards said.

Karuthiruman and the other men began to push the boat. The leader of the guards told Vandhiyathevan, ” Appan! Don’t try your gimmicks again!”

“Sir! You seem to know a lot about me,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Why not? I was watching you lock the doctor’s son into prison and get away! After that you tried to fool us and run away!”

Pretending to be surprised Vandhiyathevan said, “Sir! You are smarter than me! I thought that no one saw what happened in the dungeon!”

“Brother! There is no place in this Chola empire that is out of reach for the eyes and ears of our chief minister. They are present in Eezhanadu; in Kanji also, and Kadampoor palace; and the dungeon. The chief minister knew that the doctor’s son Pinakapani was a complete idiot. That is why he sent me behind him.”

“Perhaps the chief minister also knew that I will take this route. His eyes and ears are indeed extraordinary. Then he also must know that I am innocent, and it was wrong to lock me up in the dungeon?”

“That is not the chief minister’s responsibility. Deciding whether you are guilty or not is up to the emperor. Punishing you for escaping from the dungeon is up to Kodumbalur Periya Velar,” said the guard.

“Sir! Where are you now taking me?”

“I am taking you to Kodumbalur Velar first. He is waiting at the north entrance of the fort.”

“Periya Velar is waiting for me?”

“Aha! Look at your arrogance! The southern commander, the most respected of all petty kings, lifelong friend of the Chola family, the man who wiped out the Pandyar, heroic warrior Kodumbalur Velar who conquered Eezham, Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari is waiting for you?

“Then who is he waiting for?”

“Parthipenthiran is bringing the Pazhuverataraiyars and the petty kings who had gathered in Thirupurampayam …”

“The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar also?”

“Yes; he is also coming. It appears that he knows the truth about Karikalar’s death. After he arrives there will be an inquisition before the emperor. If you are not guilty, you must prove it then.”

Vandhiyathevan was very much shaken up by this news. He knew that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Parthipenthiran will together lay the blame on him. God! How can he face the emperor and Prince Arulmozhivarmar? What evidence can he present to prove his innocence?

“Sir! I never harmed you in any way! Please let me escape! I am innocent! I was a close friend of the late prince. Circumstacnces have placed this terrible crime on my head. You serve the chief minister. He only wanted to see the madman. Take him with you. Leave me out! You will be blessed forever!” Vandhiyathevan pleaded.

“If I let you go what will you give me?” The guard wanted to know.

“When the time comes I will help you in the same way.”

“There will be no such time. Even if there was I don’t want your help. Tell me what you have now.”

Vandhiyathevan remembered the gold coins in his possession. “I will fill both your hands with gold coins,” he said.

“Aha! Is that right? Gold? Show me!”

“Loosen these ropes a little! I have it tied in my waist, I can show you!”

“Don’t try your tricks on me again,” the guard said as he bent down to loosen the rope.

Without taking his eyes off from the guard’s face Vandhiyathevan undid his waist roll. He took the gold coins out and handed them to the guard.

His hands filled with the gold the guard said, “Brother! Did you take these coins from Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury? Or from the mint factory? Now you have an added charge. There was murder, and then running away from prison, and now stealing from the treasury, altogether three! For each one you can be hung separately.”

“Sir! I have served the Chola kingdom well. I have been a messenger. I tried to save Karikalar’s life putting my life in danger. I have the right to take these few gold coins as payment for my service. I took these only to help me in my journey,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You tell this during your inquisition,” said the guard.

“Then you are not going to untie me?”

“Even if the sun should rise in the west; even if Paramasivan turns out to be superior than Thirumal – I will not betray the kingdom for a few gold coins!” The guard replied.

Vandhiyathevan cast a sideways glance towards Karuthiruman who appeared to be waiting for a signal.

In one abrupt move he loosened the ties around him and with his hands pulled the turban and mustache of the guard. Both turban and mustache came in his hands; in front of him stood Azhvarkadiyan himself.

“Pretentious Vaishnava! It is you!” He said.

When Azhvarkadiyan tried to save his mustache and turban the gold coins scattered to the floor. In a second Vandhiyathevan freed himself from the rope and pushed Azhvarkadiyan down. With the same rope that was used on him, he tied Azhvarkadiyan to the crossbars of the boat. He took the sword that was securely placed in his waist and held it up in his hand.

While Vandhiyathevan was thus engaged Karuthiruman did not wait idly. He attacked the guard next to him pushing him into the river’s torrent. The guard struggled to stay afloat. Of the other two guards one approached the boatman while the other went towards Vandhiyathevan. Both men were afraid and wary of confrontation. When Vandhiyathevan wielded the sword the guard on his own accord jumped into the water. Karuthiruman raised the oar up and brought it down heavily on the other man’s head knocking him down.

Both of them together tied the guard to the crossbar. The boat was moving along with the river’s torrent. The two men in the water were trying to swim towards the opposite bank.

“Brave Vaishnava pundit! What do you say now?” Vandhiyathevan asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“What is there to say? It is all Narayana Moorthi’s work. He is the one who binds, he is also the one who gets bound! He is the one who attacks, he is also the one attacked! He dwells in the pillar, as well as the reed that bends in the wind! He resides in your sword, as well as on my shoulder!”

“Alright, then he is in this torrential flow of the river also. We will bundle you up and drop you in the water?”

“Pirakalathan was bound to a rock and tossed into the sea. Didn’t Narayana Moorthi save him? If Baghvan will not rescue me in that manner then he will take me directly to Vaikundam itself,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Vandhiyathevan was immersed in thought. After a while he said, “Look! You have saved my life a few times. I don’t know what your intention was. Whatever it was, I don’t want to kill you. But if I am going to spare your life, you must help me,” he said.

Benevolence nourishes the soul – that is my philosophy. Whatever you need, ask me! If you untie me I will do it,” said Thirumalai.

“At this hour I don’t need any bodily help. We want two horses. You want to know why? Yes, to get away! If you can help us with that then we’ll let you remain here. When the boat docks somewhere along the coast you can use your ingenuity and save yourself!”

“I am glad that you want my help.”

“Can you tell us how to find two horses?”

“I can. Do you know where Vani Ammai’s house is?”

“Which Vani Ammai?”

“Vani Ammai who is deaf-mute by birth, who provides flowers to Thanjai Thalikulathar temple; she is Senthan Amuthan’s mother!”

Karuthiruman was now listening attentively to Azhvarkadiyan.

“Yes; I know the house. It is in the gardens.”

“There are two horses there.”

“How?”

“One belongs to me. I tied it near Vani Ammai’s hut before coming here. Senthan Amuthan was riding the other one. Poor boy! He is not very good at it. On the way the cantankerous mule pushed him down. Already he was running a fever. Now he is bedridden. They say if he survives it would be a new incarnation. So, in any case he will not be needing the horse anytime soon.”

“Who is taking care of him?” Vandhiyathevan was concerned.

“His mother and Poongkuzhali are there,” said Thirumalai.

At this juncture Karuthiruman interrupted. “Which mother,” he wanted to know.

The other two men stared at him for a moment. “What did you ask,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“I asked if the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi knows that Senthan Amuthan’s life is in danger.”

“Yes; Chempian Madevi is the one who funds their work at the temple. But now everyone in the palace is mourning Karikalar’s death. They have no time for Amuthan!”

Vandhiyathevan looked at Karuthiruman. “What do you say? Shall we pay a visit to Senthan Amuthan and his mother before we leave?” He asked.

Karuthiruman nodded his head in agreement. “Then take the boat to the shore!” Vandhiyathevan said. He then turned to Azhvarkadiyan. “Vaishnava! If you are trying one of your stunts, then beware! Whatever happens to me, I will make sure that I send you to yamalokam first!” He said.

“No, Brother! No! May you be blessed. Send me to the vaikundam where Narayanamoorthi resides with Mahaluxmi sheathed in eterenal light,” said the Vaishnavan. 

60. Amuthan’s Worry

In the hut that was at the center of the nanthavanam Senthan Amuthan lay on a bed stricken with illness. Poongkuzhali was attending to him lovingly. She brought the porridge that Vani Ammai had prepared and made him eat.

Only a short while ago the doctor from Sundara Chola athurasalai had paid a visit to Senthan Amuthan. Before he left Poongkuzhali spoke to him privately.

“How is Amuthan? Will he be alright?” She wanted to know.

“Already he has had one bout of fever and was weak. Then he went on this long trip; he fell down from the horse. None of this really matters! There is something on his mind that is eating him. That is why his body is unable to heal,” said the doctor.

Poongkuzhali decided to ask Amuthan. “What is worrying you, Amutha? Why do you feel so depleted of all vitality? The doctor thinks that it is the sorrow in your heart that is keeping you from recovering!” She said.

“Poongkuzhali! Must I be truthful? Can’t I keep my secret and pretend to be sincere at the same time?” Amuthan asked.

“Are you hinting that I am a liar, I have one thing on my mind, and say something else on the outside?” Poongkuzhali asked.

“Poongkuzhali! It is dangerous to open my mouth in front of you. If you don’t say a word I will be happy just gazing at your face.”

“You would be happy if I too had been a deaf-mute like my aunts!”

“Not at all. There is no end to my happiness when I hear you sing. What is there in empty talk? Sing one of the devotional hymns!”

“No. Only if you tell me what is troubling you, I will sing.”

“Alright! I will. My worry is that I am going to recover soon.’

“What on earth? Here I am praying to all the gods for your recovery. And you are troubled that you might get better?”

“Once I recover, you will leave me. This is what is eating me, Poongkuzhali!”

Poongkuzhali’s face blossomed like the red lotus flower shimmering with droplets of the morning dew. A smile parted her lips. Tear drops hung in the balance.

“Amutha! My heart melts before your love. I don’t have the heart to leave you; but neither can I stay.”

“Yes. The ocean beckons you. So what? I will go with you. Tell me that you will let me. Then my body will recover.”

“Amutha! There is a resolve in my heart that stands in the way.”

“What resolve is that?”

“My dream is to marry the king and be seated on the throne with him. Failing that, I have vowed to remain a virgin.”

“Yes; Ponniyin Selvar resides in your heart. But, Poongkuzhali! Is that possible?”

“You are mistaken. Ponniyin Selvar has the love of all those born in this country. Men, women, the elderly and little children are fond of Arulmozhivarmar. In the same way I gave my affection to him. When he was on the boat with fever you and I together tended to him and saved him …”

“Then … you have no other feelings for him?”

“Amutha! There is someone else born to wed Ponniyin Selvar. She is Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi. A playful remark from me drove that girl to swear, ‘I will not ascend the throne …'”

“The daughter of kings made that vow. You, on the other hand is swearing, ‘I will ascend the throne! Or else, I will remain a virgin!'”

“Amutha! My aunt loved a man born to kings. Her life turned tragic because of it. What my aunt could not attain in her life, I will. Why not?”

“It is my misfortune that you have this desire!”

“Why should you be so disappointed? There is no rule that only those who are born to kings can become kings. It is people like you born in ordinary families who have through their brave deeds founded kingdoms and reigned as kings. You too can make a vow today. Decide that through your physical prowess you will found a kingdom either in this great bharatha country or in a foreign land across the seas. I will be by your side always!” Poongkuzhali said.

“Poongkuzhali! I was not born for such deeds. My heart is not interested in wielding a sword. I don’t want to harm even the smallest of living creatures. Jeweled crown and the mighty throne do not attract me. I want to sing the praise of Sivaperuman and his devotees. Therefore you and I are not suited for each other. My desire to marry you is like the lame craving after the honey pot on the tree. Poongkuzhali! There is no use in delaying you here. You should go! Don’t wait for me to get better,” said Senthan Amuthan.

At that time hearing footsteps outside they stopped talking.

61. Marriage Agreement

Hearing footsteps outside the hut, Poongkuzhali went to the door. Senthan Amuthan sighed thinking of her impending departure. He felt that his life will also depart when she finally walked out of that door.

He was surprised when she turned around from the door and walked back towards him. After opening the door just a wee bit and looking outside she had closed it shut and drawn the bolt. Has she changed her heart? But what is the use? Once again she will preach that he should turn himself into a brave warrior, that he must take over the kingdom, he must rule from the throne. Her soul was a turbulent sea in the throes of the storm of worldly desires. His mind was like the quiet stream weathered by the devotion to Sivaperuman. The only turbulent wave in it was her. He and Poongkuzhali can never agree. There was no use dreaming about it.

Poongkuzhali sat next to him and gazed into his eyes with her kuvalai blossom eyes. Senthan Amuthan’s heart missed a beat.

“Why did you lock the door? Who was outside? Perhaps it was Mother?” He asked.

“Whoever it is, he or she can wait a while. When Raja and Rani are having a private conversation no one should interrupt,” said Poongkuzhali.

Raja – Rani! Who is Raja? Who is Rani” Amuthan stuttered.

“You are Raja; I am Rani! You were not listening to me?”

“No, Poongkuzhali! I said that there was no use in your preaching to me! Our minds are so different; they will never come together,” said Amuthan.

“We have to bring them together,” said Poongkuzhali.

“It is impossible!”

“If you cannot, I can. Amutha! I have decided. I have given up the notion of marrying a prince and being on the throne. Your love is worth a million times more than a luxurious life in the palace. Since you are refusing to take my path, I will come to yours. I will marry you …”

Senthan Amuthan was ecstatic. “Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali! I am not down with the flu? I am not dreaming? Did I hear you correctly? Did I understand correctly?” He said.

“Let me repeat it. Listen! Since you are refusing to come my way, I will come to you. I will marry you. My aunt’s life had created unnecessary desires in me. Because I felt that she was cheated out of her right to be on the throne, I angrily decided that I had a right also. When my aunt succumbed to the murderer’s knife my desire also died. I saw the pain and agony that life in the palace can bring. A life in the palace can never compare to the joy of spending one’s life riding in a boat, I found out. Amutha! When you recover we will both go to Kodikarai. There in the middle of the jungle Kuzhakar resides all alone. Both of us will serve the temple gathering flowers. Sometimes we will take a ride on the boat. There are many beautiful islands near Eezhanadu. We will visit one of these islands. You will be Raja then, and I will be Rani. We won’t be quarreling with anyone for that kingdom. Amutha! You don’t have any objections to this, do you?”

“Just one obstacle, Poongkuzhali! Am I deserving of such good fortune? Do you really mean this? You won’t subject me to a big disappointment later? No, no! You are serious! … When shall we leave for Kodikarai?”

“As soon as you are better.”

“I am already well, Poongkuzhali! If you like I will show you!” Senthan Amuthan tried to stand up.

Poongkuzhali held him back. “No! Just be patient for one day!” She said.

There was someone knocking on the door at that time. “Mother is at the door. Please open the door! We will tell Mother our happy news,” said Amuthan.

When Poongkuzhali opened the door she was surprised. Instead of Vani Ammai she saw a palace aid at the door. After knocking he had moved aside respectfully. Following him were Chempian Madevi and Prince Mathuranthakar. Two palankeens were lowered to the ground. Palankeen carriers and guards stood under the tree. One of them held a flambeau. In its light Poongkuzhali took in the scene before her. She bowed her head and greeted Chempian Madevi. “Madam! Please come in!” She said.

“How is your aunt’s son? Poongkuzhali! Where is Vani Ammai?” With these questions Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter the elder stateswoman entered the hut.

Mathuranthakan waited outside. But his envious eyes peered into the hut. When Senthan Amuthan saw that the visitor was none other than the Saiva devotee, their benefactor Chempian Madevi he also rose to his feet.

“Madam! You came at a good time. We are fortunate to share our happy news with you and receive your blessing. This is Sivaperuman’s wish. We have not even told my mother. Madam! Poongkuzhali has taken pity on me and finally agreed to marry me. You must be with us and make this happen. After we marry we have decided to move to Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple and do our floral service there,” he said.

It was difficult to say if this news made Chempian Madevi happy or sad. A smile blossomed on her lips while her eyes filled with tears.

When Amuthan and Poongkuzhali bowed in front of her the great queen said in a voice choking with emotion, “Children! By god’s grace may you have a happy married life!”

At that time Vani Ammai arrived. Through gestures Chempian Madevi told Vani Ammai that she had come to inquire about Senthan Amuthan’s health and she happened to find out about their decision to get married. Vani Ammai’s face also reflected her mixed feelings, sorrow and happiness – upon hearing the news.

After chatting for a while with Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali, Chempian Madevi left. She and Mathuranthaka Thevar walked towards the palankeens.

On the way the elder stateswoman paused under a tree and looked around. After being assured of their privacy she said, “See, Mathuranthaka! The son I carried for ten months and gave birth to lives in that hut. I knew this when he was five years old. When he lay limp on the eighth day following his birth I thought that he was dead. Wanting a child I adopted you and sent him to be buried. Vani, who took him away did not return for a long time. Five years later when I saw her with a child I stumbled on the truth. Yet, I did not abandon you. Nor did I bring him to the palace. I thought that god was teasing me. I treasured you with more love than I gave my own. For that, I beg you to grant me this favor. Say that you don’t want the Chola throne! I will not object to your ascending the throne, – if not for my fear that those born to you may turn out to be deaf and mute!”

As he listened Mathuranthakan’s face looked as if it had taken a thrashing from the devil himself. A girl had been born to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter whom he had married. He recalled that even after two years the child had not started to talk.

The mother who had raised him saw that he was as still as the tree behind him. “Child! Why are we standing here? Come, let’s go! Go to the palace, think it over and tell me tomorrow!” She said.

Faltering Mathuranthakan said, “Mother! What is there to think about? Nothing. Please go ahead. I will come after talking to your son who should have really grown up in the palace!”

“Alright! When you come make sure that the curtains are down on the palankeen. The sight of you may provoke the Kodumabalur soldiers to begin shouting again,” his mother said as she stepped into her palankeen. She failed to see the abrupt transformation that Mathuranthakan’s face underwent. It showed envy and rage.

62. Spear Struck!

For a while Mathuranthakan stood still. He was debating whether to go inside the hut or simply go back to the fort. Apparently having reached a decision he went and talked to the palankeen carriers and guards. He reached into the palankeen and took something. The men carried the palankeen away. With them the light from the flambeau also went.

When Mathuranthakan turned towards the hut he was startled to see a man coming from behind the tree under which he and his mother had stood talking. It was none other than the ‘madman’ Karuthiruman who had escaped from the prison with Vandhiyathevan. His appearance was still that of a madman. So it is not surprising that his sudden appearance at that time and place produced fear in Mathuranthakan. He raised the sharp dagger that he had taken from the palankeen. Karuthiruman held out his hand. “Sir! Stop! I am not your enemy,” he said.

“If you are not an enemy then who are you? My friend,” asked Mathuranthakan.

“Yes, Sir! I am a friend!”

Mathuranthakan’s quiet chuckle was laced with envy and regret. “Friend indeed! When the whole world is deserting me, you have appeared,” he said.

“Yes, Sir! I can help you in a way that no one in this world can,” said Karuthiruman.

“How? Tell me, it is getting late, so hurry up!”

“Late for what?” Karuthiruman stared intently at Mathuranthakan.

“To return to the palace. What else for?”

“You are going back to the palace that is not yours?”

Once again Mathuranthakan was taken aback. “Aday! What do you mean? What do you know? How do you know? Hurry up and speak! Or else …” His hand raised the dagger again.

“Sir! Please lay the knife down. Keep it sharpened for your enemies. Just now you were speaking to the great queen who raised you. Both of you did not see me standing behind the tree …”

“Aha! You eavesdropped on our secret. That gave you the nerve to stop me?”

“No, no! The news the great queen told you, I was already aware of; in fact I know more. The great queen told you that she is not your real mother and that Kandarathithar is not your father. She probably told you who your mother is. But she will not have told you who your father is.”

Mathuranthakan stared at him. “Do you know?” He asked.

“Yes, I do.”

Mathuranthakan was petrified that this madman was going to claim that he was his father. In a voice filled with anger and disgust he asked, “How do you know? Who are you?”

“I am your father’s servant!” When Mathuranthakan heard Karuthiruman’s answer his face brightened.

Karuthiruman moved closer to Mathuranthakan. “Sir! Your father …,” he said in a very low voice.

Mathuranthakan heard him. His head was turning. Recovering his footing he grabbed Karuthiruman’s shoulders firmly. “Is this true? Am I really a prince?” He asked.

“Yes, Sir! I came here several years ago to tell you. I was waiting for an opportunity to speak to you alone. Unfortunately the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar saw me loitering. He locked me up in the dungeon.”

“How did you escape? When?”

“Today. I escaped with the aid of a young man called Vandhiyathevan.”

“Aha! I have heard about him; isn’t he the one being accused of killing Karikalar?”

“Yes, Sir! But that young man is not responsible for Athitha Karikalar’s death.”

“What do we care? Let him be the murderer. Where is he now?”

“He is standing behind that fence over there. He is there with two horses, one for me and one for him. He probably is very angry now because I am languishing here. But I am not worried about that. I have run into you unexpectedly.”

“When did you both arrive,” asked Mathuranthakan.

“Just a short while ago. We had heard that there were two horses tied outside this hut. We were looking for the horses in the dark when your mother’s and your retinue appeared on the road with torches. The light helped us to find the horses. I saw Vani then after many years. While I was speaking to her you arrived at this hut. We did not expect you to come here. Vandhiyathevan ran and hid behind the fence. Vani and I stood behind this tree. Then she also went inside the hut. I was standing here and finally had the opportunity of speaking to you alone.”

“Alright, now what are you planning to do?”

“Whatever you tell me I will do, Sir! After finding out the truth about your birth, are you still going to return to Thanjai palace? Please keep in mind that a few others also know that you are not the Chola tribe prince. The chief minister and his aid Azhvarkadiyan know about this; one day …”

“Yes, yes. I don’t want to return to Thanjai palace. What do you suggest?”

“There are two horses behind that fence. You can pretend to go inside the hut while I engage Vandhiyathevan in talk. You should then come behind the fence; take aim with your dagger, throw it at him and kill him. We will get away on the two horses. We can go to Kodikarai and then to Ilankai. The king of Ilankai is an arch enemy of the Chola tribe; Pandya tribe’s friend for generations. I know him very well. I also know where the jeweled crown and diamond necklace belonging to the Pandya tribe are. What do you think?”

Mathuranthakan was deeply immersed in thought. His mind was building many imaginary castles.

“Sir! It’s getting late. What is your decision? Vandhiyathevan will soon be wandering here …”

“You are telling me to kill him?”

“If you are hesitant then give me the dagger.”

“No, there is other work for this sword. I know about Vandhiyathevan. He is a good soldier. We can take him with us.”

“We can; but we need another horse!”

“There is no shortage of horses! Aren’t I still the crown prince?” Mathuranthakan cackled angrily.

Then, “You can go! Tell him to be patient for a while longer. I will have a few words with the inhabitant of this hut and be there shortly,” he said.

Karuthiruman went behind the fence to find Vandhiyathevan. It was pitch dark. Whenever some travelers passed by on the royal thoroughfare a little light was shed from their torches. In that faint light Karuthiruman found the two horses. But Vandhiyathevan was not there. He called out in a low voice. There was no answer.

“Alright; good riddance!” Karuthiruman concluded.

* * *

When Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman arrived at the hut the surrounding garden lay in darkness. Here and there specks of light peeked out emanating from the small lamp burning inside the hut.

Vani Ammai who was on her way to the lotus pond to fetch water hesitated when she saw the two men. First she saw Vandhiyathevan. Her face blossomed in recognition. She had not forgotten the time when Senthan Amuthan had brought him there. She nodded her head in welcome.

The sight of Karuthiruman startled her as if she had seen a devil. Karuthiruman hastily using gestures tried to calm her. Leaving the two of them alone Vandhiyathevan approached the hut. It was at that time that Poongkuzhali drew the bolt shut on the door. Vandhiyathevan peered in through the lattice window. He was relieved to see Senthan Amuthan happily talking to Poongkuzhali instead of fighting for his life. While he was wondering if it was prudent to interrupt their talk to bid farewell, Chempian Madevi, Mathuranthakan and their retinue arrived. He immediately moved away from the hut and jumped over the fence. When he saw the two horses tied up there he knew that at least up to that moment Azhvarkadiyan had not deceived him. He waited there for Karuthiruman.

When even after the palankeens, the men and their torches had left there was no sign of Karuthiruman, he lost patience. Once again he jumped over the fence. He saw Mathuranthakan and Karuthiruman talking under the tree. He did not want to be seen by Mathuranthakan. He also became suspicious of Karuthiruman’s involvement with Mathuranthakan. He overheard some of their talk.

When Mathuranthakan went towards the hut, surreptitiously Vandhiyathevan followed.

At the door of the hut Mathuranthakan hesitated whether to knock or not. At that time cheerful laughter came from inside the hut. Whether the sound of that laughter changed his mind or whether he had lost the courage to continue, Mathuranthakan turned at once and went back to Karuthiruman.

To avoid being seen by him Vandhiyathevan jumped behind a tree. At that time an alarming sight caught his eyes. On the back wall of the hut there was a lattice window. Through it light came out from the lamp inside the hut. In that light he saw a figure poised with a short spear in its hand.

The figure was peering into the hut through the lattice window taking aim with its spear. But it did not release the spear. It kept taking aim and then giving up. At this time Vandhiyathevan heard the horses leaving. He was conflicted.

If the horses left his escape would be impossible. If he ran after the horses then he cannot stop whatever atrocious deed the dark shadow here had in mind.

Vandhiyathevan’s dilemma did not last even a second. Let the horses leave. His duty was here now. He crept slowly toward the dark figure with the spear.

From inside the hut a woman screamed in a frightened voice.

Throwing caution to the wind Vandhiyathevan ran. The man holding the spear heard him. He turned around.

As he turned he threw the spear at Vandhiyathevan. The spear went threw Vandhiyathevan’s rib cage. He fell down.

Without waiting for even a second or glance at the result of his action, the man who threw the spear ran from there not knowing if his feet or head that carried him.

63. Pinakapani’s Perfidy

When Ponniyin Selvar, Kundavaidevi and others went to the dungeon they did not see Vandhiyathevan there. Instead they saw the doctor’s son Pinalapani tied to the iron rings on the wall.

“Aiyayo! The murderer has escaped! The madman has escaped!” He was screaming. Kundavai and Vanathi remembered him well. It was they who had first sent him to accompany Vandhiyathevan when he went to Kodikarai. When they freed Pinakapani and questioned him he told them what had taken place there. He was angry and wanted the escapees captured without delay.

But his audience did not seem concerned in the least. Not only did they congratulate Vandhiyathevan in their hearts they concluded that it was best that he escaped. When Manimekalai began to put this sentiment into words Kundavai stopped her. “Sister! Do not say anything. This is a serious government matter. What do we -women, know? We can talk later,” she told her.

At that time Colonel senior Velar arrived there. News had reached him that something had gone astray in the dungeon. When he heard the news he also did not seem to be in any hurry to go after the escapees. The truth was that he also did not believe the charges against Vandhiyathevan. He knew that Arulmozhivarmar and Kundavai held him in high esteem. Therefore, instead of being angry he laughed approvingly. “That Varnar tribe young man is very clever. Once he escaped in a similar fashion from Ilankai’s Mathottam prison,” he remarked.

The doctor’s son could not contain himself. “Sir! Shouldn’t we go after them,” he asked.

“Ah! Where will they go? They will remain inside the fort. We will take care of them,” said colonel senior Velar.

“No, no! That murderer knows the underground passage. He will escape through that,” Pinakapani angrily shouted.

The colonel lost his temper. “Fool! You are giving me advice? Aren’t you the reason for their escape? Who knows if you were not working with them? Throw him back into the dungeon,” he told his men.

Pinakapani was terrified. “No, Sir! I swear that I don’t belong with them. I was sent here by the chief minister,” he pleaded.

Ponniyin Selvar intervened. “Yes, he is the chief minister’s man. We can send him back under custody. Let the chief minister decide his punshiment,” he said.

Accordingly the colonel ordered four of his soldiers to take the doctor’s son and hand him over to chief minister Aniruthar.

When the chief minister heard Pinakapani’s account of what had transpired in the dungeon he also did not show much concern. Aniruthar never relied only on one person. If he sent someone to spy, it was his practice to send another man behind to keep an eye. In that way he had sent Azhvarkadiyan this time. Therefore he was not concerned. He believed that Azhvarkadiyan will either capture those on the run or at least bring news of them. He also felt that much will be resolved if those on the run somehow remained missing and out of reach.

Therefore, when Pinakapani ended his story with, “Sir! If four men are sent with me I can capture them,” Aniruthar snapped at him annoyed.

“Fool! You ruined the entire mission! I sent you because I didn’t want anyone outside knowing about that madman. Otherwise, wouldn’t I have gone to him myself? Now so many in the palace have come to know about him. As if this isn’t enough, you want to further advertise this matter? Enough of your service. You are not at all fit for spy work. Go! Don’t ever sight me again! Don’t talk to anyone about what happened today! If I hear you opening your mouth I will order you hanged,” said Aniruthar.

Pinakapani hung his head low and left the chief minister’s residence. The rancor of disappointment was scorching his very being. His fury was aimed at Vandhiyathevan. He believed that he had suffered defeat and infamy because of Vandhiyathevan; the colonel and chief minister had reprimanded him. If these men cared less, let them be, he decided. He felt that it was his duty to find Vandhiyathevan. He did not care as much about the madman. Vandhiyathevan had become his enemy from the day they set off together to Kodikarai; now he had dealt this great injustice to him; he will find him and take revenge.

With this conviction Pinakapani left Thanjai fort. He was certain that Vandhiyathevan would not be found within the confines of the fort and that he would leave using the underground passage. But he had no knowledge of where the underground passage lay or where it opened to the outside. He surmised that the exit lay somewhere along the outer wall of the fort. If he went around checking the wall he may find it. Why? He might even catch Vandhiyathevan and the madman red-handed as they emerged from the underground passage …

With this notion Pinakapani was walking along the outer perimeter of the fort where vadavaru ran close to the wall. He carefully scrutinized the wall as he walked. A few Kodumbalur soldiers were also patrolling around the wall with torches in their hands. The doctor’s son still had the emblem to show that he was the chief minister’s man. If he ran into a soldier he could maneuver his way out of such an encounter. Yet, it would delay his mission. So whenever he saw soldiers with torches ahead he hid among the trees and shrubs on the side. Once while he was thus hiding he was startled to see two men hiding a little distance away. One of them held a sword in his hand. When the torches moved past the shrubs the sword sparkled struck by a ray or two of light. But he still could not make out who the two men were.

Once the soldiers walked past the two men emerged from behind the bushes and began walking in the opposite direction. Pinakapani went along his way. As the men were walking towards the fort’s entrance he thought it was unlikely that they could be Vandhiyathevan and the madman. But he was plagued by doubt; he knew Vandhiyathevan to be very smart and bold. Who could say what plans he could hatch? …

So Pinakapani turned around abruptly and began following the two men at a distance. Because one of them had a sword he did not want to confront them directly. This was not the time to get into fights with strangers for no reason. Any action he takes must be only after ensuring they were the escapees. He did have a short dagger in his hand. It was best to use it without forewarning and once and for all to get rid of his life’s enemy. The north entrance of the fort was now within sight. Adaday! Why is there such a crowd and merriment? Palankeens,  torches, palace guards in front and behind! It was difficult to say if someone important was coming or going!

God! Where are they? All of a sudden they have disappeared into thin air. Did they take a shortcut? Where to? Are they heading towards the royal thoroughfare? Since when is the royal thouroughfare welcoming of escaped convicts? If not, where are they? … Pinakapani recalled that Senthan Amuthan’s garden and hut were somewhere in this vicinity. He knew that once before Vandhiyathevan had taken shelter there. Pinakapani concluded that the two men were indeed Vandhiyathevan and the madman and that they were on their way to Senthan Amuthan’s house to spend the night or carry out whatever other tricks they had up their sleeves!

Pinakapani walked in the direction of Senthan Amuthan’s garden dwelling. It was not easy to find the way in the dark. After much difficulty when he finally reached the place he was surprised to see palankeens and soldiers there. While he hesitated with indecision the palankeens began to move away. The soldiers followed behind.

Pinakapani’s curiosity was piqued as he looked around the garden. He could see the heads of two horses over a fence. As he approached the hut he saw two people talking under a tree. Are they the men he came after? Are the horses waiting for their getaway? How can this be? Is someone higher up helping these men to getaway? Is the royal family involved in this? The madman had boasted that he knew some secrets. Perhaps these preparations are to ensure that the secrets never come out?

Hiding behind a tree he took a good look at the two people. There was no doubt that one of them was the madman. He could recognize the man’s gruff voice. The other man did not look like Vandhiyathevan. How strange! The resemblance was to Prince Mathuranthakar! A prince’s head adorned with a crown, the elaborate vestment covering his shoulder! Pearl necklaces, bracelets … What can Mathuranthakar and this madman have in common?

Never mind. Where is his arch enemy Vandhiyathevan? No doubt he is somehere nearby. He is the man with the sword. Perhaps he is on the horse waiting for the madman! Aha … Perhaps it is Mathuranthakar who is helping them escape? Perhaps it is Mathuranthakar who urged Vandhiyathevan to kill Karikalar? Now perhaps before they  run away Mathuranthakar wants to have a final word with the madman … God! If only these were true and if he can prove it to be so …?

Pinakapani’s deranged brain worked furiously. All he had to do was walk towards the horses and make sure it was Vandhiyathevan. If Vandhiyathevan was alone he should take a shot at him with his short dagger. Afterwards he would threaten the madman and find out the truth. The horses were behind the fence across from the tree where Mathuranthakar and the madman stood talking. He cannot walk past them. On the way there was also the lotus pond. Therefore he must go around the hut to reach the fence.

When Pinakapani went behind the hut he heard the voices of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali. Ever since Pinakapani saw Poongkuzhali for the first time in Kodikarai he had wanted her. She was the reason for his rancor against Vandhiyathevan. Later on when he went to abduct Manthahini and found out about the newly budding friendship between Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali he was further aggravated. His feelings of enmity extended to Senthan Amuthan as well.

Now as he stared through the small lattice opening on the rear wall of the hut at the cheerful faces of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali as they chatted happily, his envy was reignited. He leaned in and evesdropped on their talk. He heard them talking about marriage and moving to Kodikarai. The thought that in the end it was this ignorant flower vender’s son who was going to have Poongkuzhali was unbearable for Pinakapani. All thought of Vandhiyathevan and the madman ceased. First of all he must send this singing devotee Senthan Amuthan away from earth. All else will be taken care of later …

Driven by his fury Pinakapani took aim at Senthan Amuthan with his short dagger pointing it through the lattice opening. When Poongkuzhali’s eyes by chance caught sight of the dagger and the hand behind it she screamed out loud. Senthan Amuthan turned to look at what had caused her such terror. Aha, thought Pinakapani … here was a golden opportunity to send the dagger straight into his heart …

At that time Pinakapani heard footsteps behind him. When he turned he saw someone up close. In the dark he could not tell who it was. Whoever it was, he was here knowing Pinakapani’s intention and to hurt Pinakapani. The dagger plunged itself into this newcomer. The newcomer fell down.

At the same time arose the sound of horses leaving. That must be Vandhiyathevan and the madman. That left only Mathuranthakar as the possible candidate who had tried to stop him in the dark. Was Mathuranthakar the target of his dagger? The thought struck Pinakapani faster than a ray of lightening paralyzing him with terror.

From inside the hut came the cries, “Aha! Aiyo!” Pinakapani heard the door being opened and someone coming outside. He began to run. His foremost task at that moment was to get away from there. Catching the men on the horses was secondary.

* * *

Within seconds Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan were outside with a lantern. They saw Vandhiyathevan lying in a pool of blood with a dagger in his chest. One cannot describe their horror and sorrow. With utmost tenderness they carried him inside the hut. They were relieved to see that he was not dead.

Vani Ammani had to administer her herbal treatment on Vandhiyathevan today just as she had done on a previous occasion.

64. “Tell the Truth!”

The boat where Vandhiyathevan had left Azhvarkadiyan drifted a short distance before settling along the shore. The two soldiers who were pushed into the river also finally came ashore. They untied Azhvarkadiyan and the other man. Azhvarkadiyan did not get down from the boat. He pretended to be tied up and told the other men to hide.

The truth was Azhvarkadiyan wanted Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman to escape. He knew that was what the chief minister also wanted. If these two men remained in Thanjai it will lead to an investigation of certain events from the past. The chief minister and Azhvarkadiyan had no doubt that Vandhiyathevan was innocent. Yet an inquiry will produce many awkward moments. Many will be hurt. It will be detrimental to let the public in on this. Arulmozhivarmar will lose a dear friend. Chola kingdom will lose a brave and cunning strategist. The chief minister knew how Kundavai felt about Vandhiyathevan and Manimekalai’s open enthusiasm for him. In consideration of these facts he decided that it was best to help Vandhiyathevan escape at that time.

Thirumalai was hoping that after finding the horses at Senthan Amuthan’s garden Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman will travel along the vadavaru shore. As Karuthiruman had suggested if they traveled along this riverbank they can go up to Pamani river. In this way they would cover half of Kodikarai. Therefore they were bound to take this route, Azhvarkadiyan hoped. He waited because he wanted to give a message to Vandhiyathevan.

They were taking longer than his estimation. “I was mistaken; they probably took another route,” just as Thirumalai decided and attempted to leave the boat he heard horses. So once again he lay down and pretended to be captive.

When the horses came closer he shouted, “Oho! Who is there? Please wait! Untie me before leaving!”

But the horses did not stop. He saw Karuthiruman on the first horse. So when the second horse passed him he shouted, “Vandhiyatheva! Vandhiyatheva! Wait!”

The second horse also did not stop. Azhvarkadiyan saw the man on top. He was beyond disbelief. “I am not seeing properly; my mind is playing tricks,” he mused.

At some distance from him the horses stopped. One returned. Karuthiruman alighted from it and came to the boat.

“What a pity! You are still tied up? You were a tremendous help to us. For that I must at least untie you. But don’t play any of your tricks on me!” As Karuthiruman bent while talking Thirumalai jumped out of the boat and pushed Karuthiruman down by his neck.

Taken aback by surprise Karuthiruman lay helpless for a while. Then, “Aiyo, Appa! Leave me alone. You will be blessed. Should you turn against a man who came to help you? There, your friend Vandhiyathevan is waiting. Yes; he calls you his dear friend. If he sees this what will he think? You cannot escape alive! Let me go, Appan! Let me go,” he wailed pitifully.

“Aday! How recklessly you are spinning tales? Who is on that horse? Tell me the truth! If you do I will let you go. Or else, this vey minute your life will end,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Yes, yes! I lied. Of course I cannot deceive you. It is not Vandhiyathevan on that horse. It is Prince Mathuranthakar. Let me go! I will ask him to reward you!”

“Alright, alright! Never mind the reward. Where is Vandhiyathevan?”

“He walked away from the horse at that hut in the gardens. After that he was lost!”

“Where are you going?”

“To the same place I was going with Vandhiyathevan.”

“You mean to Ilankai island.”

“Yes!”

“Why is Mathuranthakar going to Ilankai?”

“How do I know? Ask him! He said that he wanted to go with me!”

Azhvarkadiyan pressed Karuthiruman’s chest harder. “Tell the truth! Whose son is Mathuranthakar?” He asked.

“What do you mean? He is Chempian Madevi’s … no, no. Don’t squeeze my chest. I will die! He is dumb Manthahini’s son.”

“Who is Mathuranthakan’s father? Tell the truth! Or else you will not leave this place alive!”

Karuthiruman answered in a very low voice.

“Good; you saved yourself! Finally, tell me one more thing. Whose son is Senthan Amuthan?”

“Why are you asking me? You already found out!”

“He is Kandarathithar and Chempian Madevi’s son?”

“Yes; but I am the reason that he is alive today. The deaf and dumb Vani thought that the baby was dead and was going to bury him. I heard the baby’s cry and saved him. At least for that I deserve to live!”

“In truth, that is the reason I am letting you go now.” With that Azhvarkadiyan rose.

Karuthiruman sprang to his feet and ran. Once he was atop the horse the two men galloped away along the riverbank in that impenetrable darkness of the monsoon season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (52 – 58)

Translated from the novel written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

52. Obstacle for Release

Kundavai wondered how best she could console Manimekalai. As her own mind was clouded by sorrow and worry she felt herself at a loss.

Right then there arose shouts from the palace entrance.

“Vanathi! Please see what’s going on there! These people are forgetting about the emperor’s ill health and delicate state of mind. They are making such a ruckus,” she said.

After peering out from the palace balcony tower Vanathi hurried back inside.

Visibly excited she said, “Sister! He is here!”

“Who is he?” Kundavai asked with a smile.

“Him, Sister! Your brother!”

At once Kundavai responded, “Alright. In that case take this girl away!”

Sensing Vanathi’s reluctance the junior statewoman added, “Go quickly! He won’t leave without seeing you. I will call you.”

Just as Vanathi took Manimekalai’s hand and led her away Ponniyin Selvan entered.

“Brother! I hear that people are gathering wherever you go. Now you have brought them right here to our doorstep. The emperor is mourning; if their shouting reaches his ears, how tormented he will be,” said Kundavai.

“What can I do, Sister? Am I not mourning? Even before Karikalar’s body burnt to ashes the people started shouting, ‘Crown Arulmozhi!’ Their cries are a torture to me. I catch myself thinking of running away, without telling anyone. Then I worry that it will only add to the turmoil here. The people may even decide that Mathuranthakar and the petty kings have conspired together and killed me. When I think of the reaction it will unleash my mind shudders.”

“Of course. Don’t ever do that. Perish that thought! Besides what people may say, it will certainly break the emperor’s heart. It is enough that he feels hopeless mourning the deaths of Manthahinidevi and Karikalan,” said the junior stateswoman.

“That is what keeps me from running away. I am trying to pacify the people and get their consent for crowning Mathuranthakar. While I speak, the soldiers and people listen calmly. Once I move away they resume their shouting. I come away thinking that I have succeeded. But Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Kodumabalur Velar immediately do their part. They change the minds of the soldiers. Sister! The reason I came here is to talk about them. You must speak to Malaiamman and Velar. Their ears are deaf to my words. They may listen to you …”

“I have tried, Brother! I could not change their minds. We have to use a different strategy …”

“Sister! You may not have brought this up with Velar. If you discuss this with him he may not be so adamant about crowning me.”

“What is that brother?”

“You must tell him about your friend Vanathi’s vow. Didn’t she swear that she won’t be seated with me on the throne? If the senior Velar knows this he may loose interest in crowning me!”

“Brother! Did you think that I did not discuss this with him? I did. Do you want to hear his response? ‘Are you asking me to ruin a great empire for the sake of one little girl’s stupidity! If not Vanathi, then there are a hundred other princesses waiting in the Bharatha country to garland Arulmozhi. If they are told to ascend the throne, they will! They will even ascend the stake, if they are told,’ the colonel told me all the while glaring at Vanathi. That girl was trembling!”

“At least she did not faint!” Arulmozhi grinned as he looked around.

“I have sent Vanathi on an errand,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Sister! If you and Vanathi back me we can succeed. Both of us will appeal to the emperor. These two old men will only listen to the emperor …”

“Even then we won’t succeed, Brother! Chempian Madevi is in the way! If she adamantly opposes us what can father do? He may loose his mind. I am wary of troubling the emperor about this.”

“Then it is Chempian Madevi whom we must approach. We were right about her reluctance to crown Mathuranthakar. I just met her now at the chief minister’s residence. Only today she told the truth to Mathuranthakar. You should have seen our uncle’s face when she said, ‘You are not my son!’ His beautiful face turned ugly. Fortunately I happened to walk in on them at that moment …”

“Is that right? What happened then?”

“I greeted grandmother with a worshipping salute. I said, ‘Mother! I too know that Mathuranthakar is not your son by birth. So what? Would the man whom you brought up so lovingly cease to be your son? He is the one who must wear the crown!'”

“What was the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi’s response?”

“I came away before she gave an answer.”

“Brother! Even if Mathuranthakan is not Chempian Madevi’s son, didn’t you tell her that he is entitled to the Chola throne for another reason? Didn’t you tell that he is our father’s son, your elder brother?”

“I did not, Sister!”

“Why, Brother? Were you afraid that it will mar our father? Or, were you thinking of telling them later?”

“No, Sister! I found out that our faith in this information is baseless. That is why …”

“What do you mean, Brother?

“Yes, Sister! The chief minister knows the details. The twin babies, Mathuranthakan and Nandhini were born two years after our father returned from Eezhatheevu. Therefore, they cannot be our siblings,” said Arulmozhi.

After some thought Kundavai asked, “Knowing this, you still want to hand over the throne to Mathuranthakar?”

“Yes, Sister! After all, Mathuranthakar is Manthahini’s son. He was brought up as Chempian Madevi’s son. I, on the other hand, have no desire to rule. Your friend Vanathi also does not want the crown …”

“Brother! In the story of Ramar, Parathar turned down the offer of the kingdom and went in search of Ramar. When Kuhan heard about it he supposedly said, ‘A thousand Ramars cannot compare to you!’ The Chola citizens will be saying, ‘A thousand Parathars will not equal you!'”

“Afterwards, they can say whatever. Right now I want to be left alone. Sister! I have one last idea. I like to know what you think …”

“What is your idea, Brother?”

“You know that the Pazhuvertaraiyars are gathering their troops near Kudanthai?”

“Yes; I also know that many petty kings have joined their bandwagon. But I hear that it is a rather small battalion; that our grandfather and Velar with their troops will wipe them out in less than an hour!”

“I have an idea to prevent that. I will go on a horse and hand myself over to the Pazhuvertaraiyars. They will imprison me. After that our grandafather Malaiamman, and colonel senior Velar cannot do anything!”

In admiration Kundavai’s hand rose to touch the tip of her nose. “Excellent idea, Brother! But there is a slight risk,” she said.

“What is it, Sister?”

“Once you reach the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ army do you know what those soldiers will do? They will start shouting, ‘Long live Arulmozhivarmar! Crown Ponniyin Selvar!’ Instead of imprisoning you they might imprison the Pazhuvertaraiyars!”

Arulmozhivarman was taken aback. After a lengthy pause he said, “Yes; I did not foresee that danger. Fortunately you did. Just as I entered this Thanjai fort in disguise I will go there also in disguise …”

“However you disguise yourself how long can you hide yourself, Brother? Only one person needs to know! Within minutes everyone will know. Crowds will begin to gather!”

Arulmozhi frowned. “Sister! What are you saying? Why am I here in this world? To be a hindrance to others! I should have died when I fell into Kaveri,” he said.

“Brother! Who knows? Perhaps there is some truth in what the astrologers say and the palm readings indicate? Even if you push away the goddess of power she will find you no matter what. It’s all tied up to the time of your birth!”

“Sister! Have you also joined our grandfather Malaiamman? Have you changed your mind?”

“My mind did not change because of grandfather’s preaching. But brother Karikalan’s death has had its effect. He has written that you will make all his dreams come true. When I read that …” Kundavai’s voice faltered as tears welled in her eyes.

When Ponniyin Selvan read Athitha Karikalan’s letter tears streamed down from his eyes as well.

When he finished reading Kundavai said, “Brother! Whatever you may think, let me tell you what’s on my mind. I am at peace knowing that Mathuranthakan and Nandhini don’t belong to our family. I have no wish to place someone who does not belong to the Chola tribe on the throne. Even though I am devoted to Chempian Madevi and Manthahinidevi I cannot go that far. I can no longer tolerate the idea of crowning Mathuranthakan.”

“Sister! Sister! What are you saying? I said in front of Chempian Madevi, Aniruthar and Mathuranthakar, ‘I don’t want the crown!’ I said it in front of thousands of people and soldiers. Are you asking me to go back on my word,” asked Arulmozhivarman.

“Brother! Only Durga Parameshwari, the deity of our tribe, can show us the way. I am not sure what advice to give you. If Athitha Karikalan had listened to me we will not be having this conversation! How that great warrior succumbed to such a fate,” Kundavai grieved.

“How did you get this letter, Sister? Who brought it? How did it reach you? Why didn’t you tell me before,” said Arulmozhi.

“I received it just a short while ago. Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai brought it …”

“Yes, I have heard of Manimekalai. How did she get this letter?”

“She is here, Brother! You can ask her yourself! I cannot decide how much of what she says is true” said the junior stateswoman Kundavai.

The junior stateswoman had decided as soon as Arulmozhivarman walked in, to bring Manimekalai before him and have her bring up the subject of Vandhiyathevan. While they were talking, her mind was thinking about Vandhiyathevar waiting in the dungeon. Kundavai did not raise the subject herself. She was waiting for an opportunity to call Manimekalai. So now she called Vanathi and asked her to bring Manimekalai.

Manimekalai walked in with a tearful face. Ponniyin Selavn felt that she had reason to be sorrowful.

“Brother! Here is Manimekalai. She brought the ola, you can ask her how it came to be with her!”

“Sister! You safely delivered our brother’s last letter. For that, we will be forever grateful to you!” Before Arulmozhivarman could continue, Manimekalai abruptly fell at his feet and worshipped him.

“Prince! Ponniyin Selva! Did you mean what you just said? If it is true that you are grateful …”

Unable to continue Manimekalai broke down sobbing.

“Sister! What is going on? Why is this girl crying? Is she sad because our brother died in her house?”

“No, Brother! It is something else. Manimekalai! Tell the prince what you told me,” Kundavai encouragingly said to Manimekalai.

“Sir! I am the sinner who killed your elder brother. Throw me in the dungeon and release him!” Manimekalai said crying.

Confused Arulmozhivarman asked Kundavai, “Sister! What is she saying? Is she insane?”

“Not yet; Brother! But if the Vallathu prince is not released from prison, she soon will be!” She said.

“What? What? Who is in the dungeon?” Arulmozhivarman asked in surprise.

“Have you completely forgotten the Varnar tribe warrior whom I sent to Eezhanadu with my letter?”

For an instant Arulmozhivarmar looked as if he had just woken up from a long dream. His mind had until then been focused on events that followed one after another since his entry into Thanjai fort. Ever since word of Karikalar’s death arrived his mind had been preoccupied thinking of ways to seat Mathuranthakar on the Chola throne. He had completely forgotten about Vandhiyathevan. Upon hearing Vandhiyathevan’s name he said with a start, “Who is in the dungeon? My friend Vandhiyathevar? Why? Who put him there?”

Kundavai related the story Manimekalai had told.

After listening to her Ponniyin Selvan said, “Sister! There cannot exist a more ungrateful fellow than me. I never inquired after the Varnar tribe warrior. It is my fault! Those who dared to lock him up in the dungeon are even more at fault. I know how devoted he was to our brother. Who dared to hold him responsible for Karikalar’s death? What foolishness? The way this girl is putting herself in front to save him should teach all of us a lesson. I am even embarrassed to face her. All other matters can wait. I will go to the dungeon right away and get Vandhiyathevar released. You console Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter!” He turned and walked away brusquely.

When he reached the door Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Kodumbalur Velar appeared there. Their arrival made the prince suspicious. Senior Velar held his spear across the doorway as if to stop the prince. Behind him stood Malaiamman with his sword, its tip planted on the floor ready to stop the prince from proceeding further.

Ponniyin Selvan with a great deal of astonishment and a little anger asked, “Colonel! What is going on? Are you going to arrest me also?”

“Prince! Now we are stopping you from going to the dungeon. If necessary we will arrest you also,” said Poothi Vikramakesari.

It was not clear to Ponniyin Selavan if Velar was making fun or being serious. But he also was not in a mood for humor. Therefore in a voice that showed more anger than before he said, “With what authority have you come to stop me?”

“With what authority are you going to free the man in the dungeon,” asked the senior Velar.

“Colonel! Don’t I have that authority? Have you forgotten who I am? Or have you forgotten who you are?”

“I know who I am. And I know who you are. I am today the commander of Thanjai fort. Therefore I guard the dungeon. You are the emperor’s beloved son, Ponniyin Selvar. Still you have no authority to release the man locked up in the dungeon charged with the crime of murdering your elder brother. Only the emperor has the authority. Or the person who will follow the emperor to the throne has that authority. You are broadcasting that you will not ascend the throne. Therefore without the emperor’s permission you cannot free anyone from the dungeon,” said Kodumbalur senior Velar, Poothi Vikramakesari.

“Child! Velar has the facts right. Because the younger Pazhuvertaraiyan ran away the emperor has appointed senior Velar as Thanjai fort’s commander. Therefore you have no authority to release anyone form the dungeon,” Malaiamman ascertained.

Unable to answer them Ponniyin Selvan stood silently. Manimekalai’s sobs alone were heard.

53. Vanathi’s Idea

Kundavai who had been listening to the argument between the two petty kings and Arulmozhivarmar came forward. “Grandfather! Uncle! Must we stand in the doorway? Come inside! Ponniyin Selavn will not do anything against your word,” she said.

Malaiamman and Velar went in. Velar told the junior stateswoman, “If only the prince will agree to take the throne! Then there will be no trouble. We will be obliged to obey his orders. The emperor is waiting to hand over the kingdom. He wants to go to the golden palace in Kanji that Karikalan built. He wants to spend his last days in peace.”

“Uncle! That is exactly what I was telling the prince when both of you walked in. This girl came in the middle and complained. The prince felt sorry, so he wanted to go to the prison and release him.”

“Who is this girl? Why is she in tears,” asked Velar.

“Don’t you know, Uncle? She is Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai …”

“Oho! She is crying because Sambuvaraiyar is in prison. Don’t cry, Girl! The emperor has issued an order for your father’s release. Parthipenthira Pallavan is on his way to the dungeon to bring him,” said Malaiamman.

“Her concern is not for her father alone. She is worried about the Varnar tribe warrior. Release him. She is saying, ‘I am the one who killed the prince!'” The junior stateswoman said.

“Oho! If she claims that, then let’s lock her up also in the dungeon. We cannot release the Vallathu prince,” said the senior Velar.

Sobbing Manimekalai turned to Kundavai. “That is my request also, Princess! Please ask them to lock me up with him,” she said.

Colonel Velar touched his head with his forefinger. In a low voice he said, “It seems as if this girl has lost her mind!”

Vanathi who had been silent until then interrupted. “Periyappa! Manimekalai’s mind is in good form. It is you and Thirukovalur grandfather who have lost your minds. Vallathu prince is Ponniyin Selvar’s close friend. He carried the letter from the junior stateswoman to Ilankai, and brought Ponniyin Selvar back. The prince who is now in the heaven of the warriors also had complete trust in him. It is those who have accused him and locked him up who have lost their minds,” she said.

“Aha! When did this girl become so chatty? Is this what you learned from the junior stateswoman? Haven’t you yet learned to keep your mouth closed in front of elders? You speak only if you are spoken to. Otherwise you must remain silent,” said periya Velar.

“Colonel! Why reprimand this little girl? She said what is in everyone’s heart,” said Malaiamman.

“Yes, Uncle! You and I can no longer dictate to Vanathi. Tomorrow she will be seated on the throne as Chola empire’s empress. Then you and I will be carrying out her orders,” said Kundavai.

“If only Arulmozhi will agree to this then we have no issues. On the day of his coronation he can order all the prisoners to be released,” said Malaiamman.

“He can also order that you and I and all those on the outside be locked up in the dungeon,” said Colonel Periya Velar.

“You are both older than me. I regret that I have to disagree with you. Yet, because you are forgetting matters that require urgent attention and spending time on other …” Before the prince could finish the colonel interrupted. “Prince! Isn’t it an urgent concern to determine Cholanadu crown’s succession; and prevent unrest?”

“You have entirely forgotten the existence of the emperor,” said Arulmozhi.

“We have not. We were just returning after visiting the emperor. He is the one who wants to resolve the matter of the kingdom so that he can go and live in Karikalar’s golden palace.”

“I will go to the emperor now. I will obtain his order for Vandhitahevan’s release. Then you will not object!”

“Prince! It is better not to mention Vandhiyathevan’s name before the emperor. The emperor believes that Vandhiyathevan conspired with the Pandyanadu saboteurs and Nandhini  Devi and killed Karikalar …”

“Aha! Who gave him that idea?”

“We did not, Prince! Parthipenthiran convinced the emperor …”

“Then I will go and see the pallavar. I will ask him on what grounds he is making this accusation.”

“You cannot meet Parthipenthira Pallavan now. Following the emperor’s order he freed Sambuvaraiyar and had gone to Kudanthai with him. The emeperor has asked him to meet Pazhuvertaraiyar and the other petty kings there; speak with them and bring them here. He has sent word that we can peacefully negotiate the issue of the throne. He has also made it known that he approves crowning Mathuranthakar.”

Ponniyin Selvan beamed as he looked at the junior stateswoman and Vanathi. “You brought good news,” he said.

“Not at all. On the day Mathuranthakan ascends the throne against the wishes of the citizens and soldiers, there will begin the destruction of the Chola empire that has flourished for over hundred years,” said the colonel.

“There is no doubt in that; there will be unrest from Eezhanadu to Vadapennai river,” said Malaiamman.

“And both of you will be leading this unrest. That is your prerogative. Meanwhile I will appeal to the emperor and try to free Vandhiyathevan.” Arulmozhivarman turned to leave the room.

“Prince! Please do not go to the emperor with this request. There will be great harm done, Devi! Please stop your brother,” said Colonel periya Velar.

“Yes, Child! Listen to this old man,” said Miladudaiyar.

“What harm will arise,” asked Kundavai.

“Some rascals have started a lie. I hesitate to even give it voice. Yesterday our soldiers were told by two strangers that it was Ponniyin Selvar – out of his greed for the throne – who sent Vandhiyathevan to kill Karikalar …”

“God! What blasphemy is this?” said the junior stateswoman.

“Do you know what our soldiers did to the two men? They were repeatedly plunging their heads into the Vadavaru flood. By chance I happened to be walking by, so I was able to save them …”

Ponniyin Selvan interrupted. “No one in Cholanadu will believe this heresy. Can’t you see from our soldiers’ reaction,” he said.

“Today they will not believe, Prince! You don’t understand the nature of people. After a while this rumor will surface again. A few who don’t know you well may fall for it. Relatives murdering one another to take over the kingdom is common in foreign lands. You do know the history of the ruling tribe of Eezhanadu!”

“Colonel! To prevent a fake rumor in the future, are you telling me to leave my good friend in the dungeon now?”

“Not in the future, Prince! If you show the slightest interest in Vandhiyathevan today, some will fall for this rumor even tomorrow. It will reach the emperor’s ears. Think how hurt your father will be!”

Ponniyin Selvan’s face underwent a transformation like the full moon being covered by dark clouds. He looked at Kundavai and asked, “Sister! What do you think?”

The junior stateswoman’s face showed great suffering. She looked at senior Velar and asked, “Colonel! Who will spread such a vile rumor?”

“I took the men aside from our soldiers who were torturing them. Using both tact and threat I questioned them. They said that they were sent by Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran.”

At that time Manimekalai chose to speak. “I am ashamed for what my brother did. My good brother turned rotten because of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s influence. I am the one who really killed Athitha Karikalar. Please arrest me! Please release the vallathu prince,” she said amidst anger and tears.

The junior stateswoman touched her shoulder with affection. “Manimekalai! Calm down! No one will believe what you are saying. They will start another horrendous lie. We will find a way to resolve this situation,” she said.

Then she turned and faced the colonel. “Sir! My brother and I will take your advice. It is true that there will be a spate of ugly rumors if we try to free vallathu prince now. We must first find the true culprit. I will consult with the chief minister about this. His  disciple Azhvarkadiyan has gone in search of the Pandyanadu troublemakers. He will be coming back with some news. We don’t know what became of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. The truth may emerge when they are found also. Meanwhile I will find out from this girl everything that happened in Kadampoor! Until then please make the necessary arrangements to ensure that vallathu prince’s time in the dungeon is comfortable. It is certain that he did not commit this dreadful crime,” she said.

At that time the Kodumbalur princess said, “I have an idea, Sister!”

“Tell me, Vanathi!” Kundavai said.

“Do you remember when both of us visited the dungeon once before? In the same way why don’t we all go there today? Let’s take Kadampoor princess also!”

“What do you think about your daughter’s suggestion?” Kundavai asked the senior Velar.

“It shows that my daughter can be smart and intelligent. Vallathu prince was with Karikalan the night he died. He may shed some light on what happened,” said Colonel periya Velar.

Thus all of them embarked on a visit to the dungeon. Before leaving the fort the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had stopped the printing of gold coins. Therefore the mint factory was deserted. Only a few guards were present. They passed the tigers in their cages and through the underground path they reached the cellar where Vallathu prince Vandhiyathevan was locked up.

But Vandhiyathevan was missing. Instead there was the doctor’s son Pinakapani. His hands were cuffed to two chains that were in turn attached to two large iron rings hanging from the wall. When he saw them he howled pitifully, “Aiyo! Aiyo! Please let me out! Please let me out!”

54. Pinakapani’s Work

The doctor’s son Pinakapani had set his heart on securing himself a job in the higher echelons of the government. The beginnings of this desire can be traced to the day he met Vandhiyathevan. Ever since then it had been blazing like a fire inside him. Though, none of his undertakings up to now had brought him any success. At one time Nandhini Devi appeared to take a kindly interest in him. But afterwards the Pazhuvur Rani completely forgot about him. When he went to see Kundavai Devi, she did not even speak to him face to face. Other than being beaten up by Vandhiyathevan at the palace entrance for labeling him ‘a spy,’ no other gains materialized.

But when chief minister Aniruthar commissioned him to abduct Oomairani from Kodikarai, he felt confident that he would soon be achieving his dream. If he could accomplish this task then with the chief minister’s help no position will be unattainable. Once that happens, his first order of business will be to settle his score with Vandhiyathevan. Next, he will squash that Poongkuzhali’s arrogance.

Building such castles in the air Pinakapani went to Kodikarai. There he was able to lure Rakamahl into his hold. She was fooled by him. Assuming that he was one of the troublemakers, she discussed their plans with him. With her help he found Oomairani and brought her as far as the Thanjai fort entrance.

All along this journey Pinakapani’s mind was at work. It tried to delve into the secrets surrounding Oomairani. He remembered the stories he had heard from the madman in the dungeon when he was locked up there. At that time he had taken it for a madman’s senseless chatter. Now he wondered if there was some truth behind it.

When his journey accompanying the palanquin carrying Oomairani was near Thanjai fort, in the blistering storm a tree fell over him. When he had recovered from the injuries sustained during that accident he went to see the chief minister. In the meantime several important events had happened. Oomairani died trying to save the emperor’s life. Karikalar was murdered. The entire country was in a turmoil over who was next in line for the throne. Thanjai fort fell under Kodumbalur Velar’s control. News spread that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and the petty kings who supported them were gathering their troops. There were signs that a big internal war may arise.

In this turbulent time the doctor’s son Pinakapani went to see chief minister Aniruthar. Anpil Brahmarayar who was caught unawares in a deep well of sorrow and regret, did not want to spend too much time speaking to Pinakapani. Since he had carried out the work assigned to him he wanted to compensate him and send him away.

But when Pinakapani started talking about the madman he had met in the dungeon the chif minister began paying attention. When he heard that the madman knew the hiding place in Ilankai of the ancient Pandyanadu jeweled crown and diamond necklace reputedly given by Devendran, his interest grew. From Paranthaka emperor’s days all attempts to find this jeweled crown and diamond necklace have not yielded any results. Until these were found there would always be someone sprouting, claiming to belong to the Pandya tribe. Through Azhvarkadiyan, Aniruthar knew of the midnight drama where a little boy was placed on the Pandya throne and crowned in Thirupurampayam. In that manner someone would always appear from time to time. Eezha kings and Sera kings will help them. To show that Pandyanadu was part of Cholanadu, the Chola emperor must be crowned in Madurai also. During that ceremony the Chola emperor must wear this antique crown and diamond necklace.

These were matters already decided by Aniruthar. This is why Aniruthar asked every Chola commander who took his troops to Eezhanadu to bring back the aforementioned jeweled crown and diamond necklace. Until now no one has been able to. Now when anpil Anirutha Brahmarayar heard that an inhabitant of the dungeon knew of the whereabouts of these treasures, it is only natural that his interest was roused!

There was another news item that the doctor’s son related. It not only roused the interest of the chief minister it gave him cause for concern. Pinakapani said that the madman claimed to know an important secret about the Chola tribe, and that a certain prince who claimed entitlement to the throne did not truly belong in the tribe.

Upon hearing this Aniruthar at first decided to go in person to the dungeon and see the madman. Then he changed his mind. If he went he knew that there will be questions as to his motive. Malaiamman and Velar did not entirely trust Aniruthar. They believed that he was supporting Mathuranthakar because he was the emperor’s choice. A visit to the dungeon will produce newer suspicions. They may even think that he had gone to see Sambuvaraiyar. After considering the pros and cons Aniruthar decided to once again make use of the doctor’ son. He gave him his signature ring and asked him to pay a visit to the madman in the dungeon.

Accordingly Pinakapani went to see the madman. When he saw Vandhiyathevan locked up in the adjacent cell he was ecstatic. Standing in front of the cell he tried to talk to Vandhiyathevan. He got no response. He became angry. After hurling verbal assaults on Vandhiyathevan he went to the next cellar. Pinakapani saw that the man was not really insane. Gradually he broached the subject of the jeweled crown and diamond necklace. Immediately the madman became silent. He refused to talk about the mystery surrounding the Chola tribe also. “First bring me the order for my release; only then I will talk!” He said.

Pinakapani came back and informed the chief minister of his defeat. He also pointed out that if the man was freed then there will be a payoff. The chief minister also thought it wise. In the present confused circumstances surrounding the entitlement to the kingdom he felt that they should not hold a madman talking about dangerous secrets locked up in prison. He thought that it was important to bring the man to his palace and find out the truth.

To accomplish it he approached Kodumbalur Velar and vaguely communicated the news to him. Periya Velar could not think of any objections to the chief minister’s request to free a prisoner locked up by the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar many years ago. So he wrote an order for the mad prisoner’s release.

With the order Pinakapani went proudly back to the dungeon. First he stood before Vandhiyathevan’s cellar and announced that he had his release order. Believing it to be true Vandhiyathevan began thanking him. Immediately Pinakapani began showing his true colors. After verbally assaulting Vandhiyathevan he mocked him saying, “Your release will be on the skate at the carrefour!” Then he went next door and spoke cordially with the madman. He undid his chains. “Here, I have brought your release order. At least now will you tell me your secrets?” He asked.

The doctor’s son wanted to know the secret before he took the madman to chief minister Aniruthar. The madman did not seem very excited about his release or in any hurry to leave or to have any confidence in Pinakapani’s words. “What? How? Who gave the order? Am I really leaving the dungeon? Will they let me leave the fort?” He kept asking.

All of a sudden some bricks started to fall from the adjacent wall. When Pinakapani turned he saw Vandhiyathevan standing behind him. Pinakapani quickly drew out the knife he had tucked in his waist. But by then Vandhiyathevan had jumped over him. He grabbed his neck firmly. He knocked the knife also down. For a short time they dueled rolling on the floor. At that time the madman took one of the chains that hung from the large ring attached to the wall and brought it tightly around Pinakapani’s neck.

55. “Madman”

During the journey from Kadampoor to Thanjai, Vandhiyathevan remained mostly unconscious. They had tied him to a wooden wagon. The smoke and fire from the night of Karikalar’s death had taken their toll on him. During intermittent moments of wakefulness he experienced immense discomfort from the burning sensation in his eyes and bodily aches. In semiconscious moments grotesque caricatures appeared before him tormenting him.

Angrily glaring, Veerapandyan’s head came before him. “Aday! Are you the one standing in the way of my revenge?” It asked. Sometimes Nandhini appeared exquisitely dressed with a magnetic smile on her face and tried to charm him back into her net. At other times she laughed dreadfully like a demon, her face tearful and her hair untied. A shadow followed Athitha Karikalan with a dagger in hand. Whenever Vandhiyathevan tried to stop that shadow another monstrous shadow grabbed his neck from behind throttling him. Ravithasan and his friends threw him into a blazing fire. While his body burned Kanthamaran came by. He said, “Aday! Friend-betrayer! You deserve this!” Parthipenthiran heckled him saying, “Aday! Is the marriage fixed between you and the junior stateswoman Kundavai? When is the auspicious moment?” Out of the blue Senthan Amuthan appeared. He tried to pull him out of the fire. The doctor’s son Pinakapani beat Senthan Amuthan on his head with a big stick from his hiding place behind a tree.

Vandhiyathevan felt an unbearable thirst as his body burned in the fire. “Water! Water!” He wanted to cry. But no sound came out. His throat was dry and his tongue was plastered to the roof of his mouth making speech impossible. Manimekalai brought heaven’s ambrosia in a challis and poured it in his mouth. Before he could thank her she disappeared in the dark! … Aha! In return for this girl’s love the three worlds can be awarded to her! But how foolish it was to think of giving Manimekalai the three worlds when he did not even have a square foot to call his kingdom?

There is Poongkuzhali! ‘Look at my lovers!’ She is pointing to the fire-mouthed devils. What a strange girl! ‘Why are you dwindling in this mortal earth? I will take you to the immortal world, you will see!’ She says. ‘You mean the world of Ponniyin Selvar?’ Vandhiyathevan asks her. Immediately the fire-mouthed devils surround him from all directions. Terrified Vandhiyathevan closes his eyes. The devils bundle him up and roll him down from the top of Kodikarai dunes …

Startled Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes. He saw that he had been placed on a boat by soldiers carrying flame torches. What is this river, perhaps Kollidam or Kaveri or Kudamurutti … once again darkness descends bringing the curtain down over his consciousness.

After many such ordeals there suddenly arose a noise as if the seven seas were rising in turbulence. A giant wave broke over him drowning him. Fully conscious Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes. Thanjavur fort was visible from a distance. An ocean of people surrounded the cart where he lay. He knew that it was the crowd’s noise that gave him the impression of the seven seas on the rise. He sensed that Athitha Karikalar’s final procession was nearing Thanjai fort and that was the reason for the crowd.

Within a short time the crowd had moved away. Only he and Smabuvaraiyar are taken into the fort surrounded by a few soldiers. Aha! He who was that great warrior’s trusted friend could not be by his side during the final rites. His misfortune did not end there! Even though he had tried very hard until the last minute to protect him, because he failed, they have charged him with the crime of killing him! Without letting his revered body burn in the Kadampoor fire he made it possible for these crowds of people to pay their last respect to this great warrior. Irrespective of what he tried to do he is now on his way to the dungeon that holds behind bars murderers and saboteurs. So what? Vey soon the junior stateswoman and Ponniyin Selvar will make inquiries. When they hear of his arrest they will be alarmed. They will immediately come running with the key to the dungeon. They will save him. Even though he could not save Karikalar’s life they will praise him for his effort …

But … will they really praise him? Will they even remember him? Grieving the loss of a brother won’t they forget everything else? Even if he says that is he innocent will they believe him? Even if they do will they be friendly as before?

His hope gradually dissipated as he was led to the dungeon through the mint factory. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had closed the factory. Only a few soldiers stood here and there. They were not adorned with medals displaying the palmyrah emblem. After dismissing the old prison guards Kodumbalur Velar had placed his men. They stared at the two new prisoners. “He is Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyan.  The other man is Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan,” he heard them whisper. When they were led through the room that held the caged tigers they appeared as symbols of the Chola tribe’s merciful tradition. But when he was again led down a flight of stairs and was locked up in a room alone he had lost all hope. He is never going to leave from there. Only his body may leave this room after his life departs – he thought to himself. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was already suspicious of him. Parthipenthiran was consumed by jealousy. Old man Malaiamman on the hand had more faith in Parthipenthiran. Pazhuvertaraiyars will vouch for Sambuvaraiyar’s innocence. Who will take an interest in him? No one. They will charge him with murder. Will they even have a public inquisition? At least then he can try telling the truth. No, no! There will be no inquisition. If there is an inquisition, then the truth about Nandhini and Ravithasan’s gang will emerge. No one will want that. They will let him die in this prison. Or, with no inquiry they will decide that he is the one who killed Karikalar, and they will take him to the carrefour and hang him on the skate.

God! How excited he was when he first set out to Thanjai city! What dreams he had? Especially after meeting the junior stateswoman Kundavai, and Vanathi, at the astrologer’s house; how ebullient he was when he came to Thanjai buoyant in a sea of happiness? At that time he had feared if the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar would suspect him of espionage and lock him up in the dungeon. It had now come to pass by an entirely different route! He was as carefree as a bird in the sky; how they have locked him up in this dark cellar! How can he survive this? He cannot! He has to find a way to take his own life … Vandhiyathevan sat helplessly despairing over such thoughts.

Right then there was a sound as if a man was clearing his throat. Following that a gruff and haughty voice sang,

“Ponnar Meniyanay …”

Vandhiyathevan was reminded of Senthan Amuthan. But he was not the singer. Senthan Amuthan’s voice was of a divine sweetness. Yet … who is singing this devotional song in this place …

Siva Siva! Unbearable. Is it not enough that he is in solitary confinement? Must he endure such virtuoso performance?

“Who are you, Appa?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“It’s me, – the madman!”

“Appa! Madman! Kindly stop your singing!”

“Why? You don’t like my song?”

“Why not? I love your song.”

“You like it … now that I have stopped?”

“You don’t sound like a madman. Who taught you this song?”

“There was another young man sometime back in your room. He was there only for a few days. He sang this song nonstop. I memorized it then!”

Vandhiyathevan knew that the young man was Senthana Amuthan. He had heard that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had locked up Senthan Amuthan for helping him escape. He must have been in this room. Aha! Senthan Amuthan was a precious little friend! A rare find!

“Who is the young man? Do you know?” He asked.

“Why not? His name is Senthan Amuthan. A deaf-mute’s son. If only the world found out who he really is ….”

“What will happen?”

“The world will turn upside down!”

“If the world turns upside down, we will be out of this prison?”

“Of course.”

“In that case why don’t you tell me who he is!”

“Would I? So easily? I will only say that in the Chola emperor’s ear! Isn’t it still Sundara Cholar who is the emperor of Cholanadu?”

“Yes; you have doubts about it?”

“A few days ago some changes took place here. The old guards were replaced by new guards. They shut down the mint factory. When that was open there used to be the unending noise of the goldsmiths working.”

“Why was it shut down? Why were the guards changed?”

“It seems that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar has run away abandoning his post as guardian of the fort. Kodumbalur Velar has taken over the Thanjai fort. I gathered this from the guards’ chatting …”

“Oho! Is that right,” said Vandhiyathevan. He was truly surprised.

He had been tried and trusted by Kodumbalur Poothi Vikramakesari. Will he now trust his account and free him? Can he even do that? Who has the power to dismiss a guy charged with the crime of killing Prince Karikalar?

“What, Brother! You have become quiet? Shall I start singing again,” said the madman clearing his throat.

“No, no! I was thinking about what you just told me. You said that Senthan Amuthan is not the deaf-mute’s son. I wonder whose son he is.”

“Forget that. Let’s talk of something else.”

“Why do you call yourself a madman?”

“That’s what everyone calls me here.”

“Why?”

“I know where the Pandyanadu jeweled crown and the diamond necklace gifted by Devendran are in Eezham. I tell everyone here that if I am released I can show them where these things are. Because of this, they say that I am insane.”

“Those who call you insane are the truly insane ones!”

“Do you believe me?”

“Absolutely; but what’s the use? I can in no way help you!”

“Don’t say that. It is becoming a trend here. Those who occupy your cellar have greater chance of being released …”

“What trend is that? Do elaborate …”

“There was the doctor’s son, Pinakapani; he was locked up in your cell. Pazhuvur queen Nandhini Devi herself came and took him away. Then came Senthan Amuthan. Kundavai Devi and the Kodumbalur princess came to free him.”

Vandhiyathevan sighed deeply. “No princess or queen is coming to release me,” he said.

“In that case I will set you free,” said the guy next door.

“Now you are really talking like a madman,” said Vallathu prince Vandhiyathevan.

“No, trust me!”

“I have no choice, I will have to trust you.”

“Then, be patient. Until the guards leave after giving us our dinner,” said the man who had earned himself the moniker, ‘mad.’

56. “Timely Remedy”

That night Vandhiyathevan waited eagerly for the last of the guards to leave. He was dying to know what the madman had to say.

Then he heard a sound like a mouse scratching near one of the walls. Vandhiyathevan was not afraid of lions and tigers. But he was afraid of cats and mice. Alarmed whether he will have to spend the night in that dark room among mice he asked, “Madman! Are you asleep?”

There was no answer. Other than the mouse scratching there was no other sound.

Within a short time a few bricks rolled down from the wall and a hole appeared.  The madman’s voice came through the hole, “Appan! Are you sleeping?”

“No, I am not. I am waiting for you. What is this?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“This is six months of work. Before that it took another six months to break the chains from my hands,” said the madman. Gradually making the hole even bigger the madman crept into Vandhiyathevan’s cellar.

Taking his hands and helping him through the hole Vandhiyathevan said, “You went to so much trouble to create this hole? What is the use? If you made a hole on the outer wall at least it can be of some use!”

“There is no outer wall from here. The exit is only through the room with the caged tigers. Sometimes this room is vacant. Then it stays unlocked. Therefore it is easier to leave from here than from my room.”

“You are divulging this to a fellow you met only today. If I expose you what will you do?”

“One can tell a person from his voice if he can be trusted or not. I trusted Senthan Amuthan. But not Pinakapani. From your voice I decided that I can trust you. Moreover, if we want to escape it must be done now. This is the best time.”

“Why?”

“Didn’t I say that I heard the guards talking? There were two who were wondering about the tigers. “When we open the cage what if the tiger jumps on us?” One fellow asked. “We simply have to die!” The other man replied. From that it is certain that they will not open the cages. I think that I should take my chances while they are still new to their jobs. Instead of dying here isn’t it better to try and escape?”

“True!”

“Instead of one person, two are better. You are not like me; you are new. You are strong. We can tie up the two guards, take their keys and leave.”

“Good idea! When do we start?”

“Be patient; I will tell you at the right time.”

“I am also very tired. Even it is one … or two days – it is better.”

The madman then learned about everything that had happened in the outside world during the time that he was locked up from Vandhiyathevan. When he heard about Athitha Karikalar’s death he said, “Aha, in that case it is important that we escape now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“They will have to crown the next prince.”

“Prince? The emperor is weak in both body and mind. He wants to give up the burden of the kingdom altogether.”

“Who is going to be crowned?”

“Some of the petty kings want Mathuranthakar to be crowned. Some others want Ponniyin Selvar to be crowned!”

“What is the emperor’s opinion?”

“To prevent unnecessary infighting the emperor also wants to crown Mathuranthakar!”

“Then it is essential that we escape as soon as possible,” said the madman.

Then he related in detail how he found out about the location in Eezhanadu of the Pandyanadu crown and diamond necklace. When once again Vandhiyathevan asked about the Chola tribe secret he said, “I won’t tell you now. If we both escape safely, then I will. If not that secret will have to die with me!”

Vandhiyathevan’s mind worked frantically. He tried to guess what the madman’s secret was. Shadows of memory darted across his mind as he tried to put the puzzle together.

* * *

When the doctor’s son appeared out of the blue Vandhiyathevan was astounded. He worried if Pinakapani would become an obstacle to the plan he and his neighbor had hatched. He did not trust Pinakapani’s questionable sweet talk. The madman and he were alike in this respect. They decided that Painakapani was there with a devious motive. They vowed that they will not leave the prison without the other person. They also decided what to do if Pinakapani returned.

Therefore when Pinakapani came a second time they were forewarned. When the doctor’s son showed the signature ring to the madman and was coaxing him to tell the secret Vandhiyathevan crawled through the hole made by the madman and entered his room. When Pinakapani saw him a duel followed. At another time Vandhiyathevan would have knocked Pinakapani down within seconds. But his body still ached from the wounds suffered in the fire and his throat from the stranglehold of the kalamugan. So the duel was uncharacteristically prolonged. Pinakapani fell down only when the madman wrung his neck with the chain.

Both men tied Pinakapani to the iron rings attached to the wall. At this time Vandhiyathevan said, “Pinakapani! Do you remember both of us going to Eezhanadu in search of the sanjeevi moolikai to cure the emperor? We did not succeed then in bringing the root. But you have now come to us as timely remedy. Thank you for your help. As the doctor’s son, it is better for you to stay with the art of healing. Why are you interfering in the work of spies, and subjecting yourself to unnecessary hardship?”

Pinakapani did not answer. The sudden turn of events had made him speechless. But from the light of the flambeau he had dropped on the floor the fiery sparks flying from his eyes were clearly seen. The two men took hold of the signature ring from the doctor’s son. Vandhiyathevan took Pinakapani’s turban and wrapped it around his head.

They came out of the room and locked the door. Then they slowly went up the steps of the dungeon. As they were not familiar with the place they walked with caution surveying the place. When they heard the tigers growling they were reluctant to proceed. Perhaps forewarned by their escape the tigers have been let out from their cages?

Vandhiyathevan and the madman slowly peeked into the room with the caged tigers. There was only one guard in that room. He was staring at the tigers. Is he contemplating whether to open the cage and set the tigers on them? By then the doctor’s son had started to yell. It had probably alerted this guard. What a mistake it was not to have stuffed some cloth into Pinakapani’s mouth?

57. “Release”

Vandhiyathevan stood at the entryway stalled by fear. He contemplated jumping on the guard who stood there grooming his mustache. But he could see two more guards at the entryway past the tiger cages. One of them after gesturing to this guard moved away.

Are they talking about him? Even if he takes this guard down there will be other entryways and other guards. Can he take all of them down? Instead what if he in one leap opens a tiger cage? Won’t it be easier to escape in the ensuing mayhem?

While he was thus contemplating he was startled to hear the guard say, “Oho! You are thinking of escaping?”

One of the tigers growled. “Be quiet, Dog!” The guard rebuked. Seeing that the guard had been talking to the tiger, Vandhiyathevan laughed. The guard turned around.

“Look at him, Sir! This tiger is trying to scare me. I have seen so many tigers like this. Its bravado won’t work on this lion,” the guard said giving his mustache another twist.

“From inside a cage a tiger is no different than a mouse. It has no bravado!” He said holding up senior Velar’s insignia.

“You may proceed, Sir! The chief minister’s people are waiting for you at the entrance. You should hurry!” The guard said. Then he turned in their direction and shouted, “Aday, Madman!  Won’t you be quiet?”

At that time Vandhiyathevan was holding the madman’s hand. Feeling the tremor running through his hand Vandhiyathevan tightened his grip as reassuarance.

Together they walked past the guard towards the front. “Release, they want release! If everyone is let out, then how do we make a living,” they heard the guard say.

However bold Vandhiyathevan seemed to be, at that moment his heart was pounding. The guard had mentioned the chief minister’s men on the outside. Here, inside, the place was dark. Therefore it was easy to fool the guards. But outside in bright light, what if the chief minister’s men detect the change in people? There is no harm in trying. He has to be prepared for whatever outcome. Fortunately the madman was an intelligent madman. He would lend a hand.

After crossing the dungeon’s many doorposts they went through those of the mint factory as well. Once presented with Velar’s insignia the guards let them pass. No one suspected them. No one stared at them. As they walked Vandhiyathevan’s mind worked furiously and reached a plan. When they were making their way through a rather long corridor he whispered in his companion’s ear, “Are you going to the chief minister’s house? Or are you coming with me?”

“If I go to the chief minister’s house I will again end up in the dungeon! I will go with you. Where are you planning to go?” He said.

“With god’s help we can even reach Eezhanadu! In front of the chief minister’s men you should call me ‘Pinakapani.’ What is your name?”

“Madman!”

“Your real name! The name your parents gave you!”

“Ah! That? My parents named me Kariya-Thirumal. Neighbors and others call me Karuthiruman.”

“Good name! Karuthiruma! When we are on Thanjai streets I will touch your shoulder. You must be prepared to run with me immediately. You can run fast?”

“Oh! In running, even Eezhathu king Mahinthan can’t compete with me!”

Vandhiyathevan laughed. “You are a fine Madman! …” He said.

Crossing the factory where gold coins were printed they came outside. Contrary to Vandhiyathevan’s expectation and concern, the chief minister’s men were not many. There were only two. One of them was heavy. Vandhiyathevan remembered seeing him before; but he could not recall when or where.

“Are you the chief minister’s men,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Brother! Have you forgotten us already,” said one of them.

“No, no! Are you taking us to the chief minister’s residence,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Yes, we are! You may even have forgotten the way to the chief minister’s residence!”

Karuthiruman at that time remembering Vandhiyathevan’s instructions said, “Appa, Pinakapani! I am afraid. The chief minister might shove me in the dungeon again!”

“He won’t, Appan! You don’t know our chief minister. But don’t try to run away! If you tried anything like that we will put you in the dungeon,” the fat guard said. Then he started walking in front. The other guard followed behind Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman.

There was no noise on Thanjavur roads. There were no people. Once Athitha Karikalar’s final ceremony was over those from inside the fort had returned to their daily chores. Outside the fort Kodumbalur troops stood on guard. No one was permitted to enter the fort. Vandhiyathevan walked looking around him carefully. It won’t be difficult escaping from these two men. But they should not be caught again; they also have to leave the fort! With these thoughts in mind Vandhiyathevan scouted the area checking both sides of the road.

Once they came past the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace Vandhiyathevan’s optimism grew. He knew that the small alley – the one he took when he was running away from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men – will soon appear. In that twisting and turning alley there were many nooks and corners. On both sides were the garden walls covered by low hanging branches from the trees. It is there he hoped to take his chances. Just as he did before they can jump into the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace garden. Inside there, it will be possible to hide behind the thickly grown trees. Just as before he expected to escape through the underground treasury cellar path. There was no other way …

They were at the alley, when Vandhiyathevan was about to touch Karuthiruman’s shoulder … what on earth? What is this crowd? Palankeens! Horses! Soldiers bearing spears! Such pomp! It must be a royal entourage or a high ranking official.

The chief minister’s men upon seeing the alley moved into it to make way for the oncoming crowd. They stood hiding the other two men behind them.

The crowd soon went past them. Following the armed soldiers, on three white horses came Malaiamman, Kosumbalur Velar and a third person in the middle. Vandhiyathevan saw that it was Ponniyin Selvar in the middle. Aha! How close he was! Yet, how very far?

For a moment Vandhiyathevan was tempted to leave the soldiers and position himself in front of them. But he gave up the idea just as soon. How can even Ponniyin Selvar show mercy to the man charged with the crime of killing his brother? … or be friendly? He may even feel disgusted by his presence. What Malaiamman or Velar may do was unpredictable. In the meantime his attention was drawn to the palankeens that followed. Aha! The junior stateswoman Kundavai! Kodumbalur princess Vanathi! Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai! Vandhiyathevan’s chest heaved with unbearable anguish.

In the past he would have approached any of these women and asked for their help. They also would have gladly helped him. But now? How distressed will the junior stateswoman and Princess Vanathi will be to see the man who betrayed and killed Athitha Karikalan!

Never mind! They have at least taken this foolish girl Manimekalai under their wing. At least that is a relief. Would Manimekalai have told them all that happened in Kadampoor? Did she tell them that she is the murderer? Probably not. If she had, they won’t be taking her with them so kindly.

The palankeens went past the alley. The soldiers following them also passed.

“Alright, come! We can go now,” said the chief minister’s men and started to walk.

Vandhiyathevan decided this was the moment he had been waiting for. After touching Karuthiruman’s shoulder he turned and sprinted down the alley. Karuthiruman ran behind him.

They heard the two guards running behind them. For a while they ran without looking back. Then Karuthiruman looked behind him. “One has stayed behind; only one man is following us,” he said.

Vandhiyathevan turned and looked. He saw that the fat man had stayed behind. Even though it was only one of the guards it would be hard to put up a fight. So he signaled to Karuthiruman and kept running.

He paused only when he reached the spot where he had jumped over the wall before. The low hanging branch was still there. Grabbing it he leaped onto the wall. From up he gave a hand to Karuthiruman and hauled him up also. Both of them together twisted the branch and severed it from the trunk.

When the guard reached them they shoved the branch onto his face. Without pausing to look at the result they jumped to the other side. In the garden they stood in the cover of the dense thicket of trees and shrubs watching if anyone was following. Once they were sure that no one was following they started walking.

“Appa! We are safe,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Are we? How are we going to leave the fort?” Karuthiruman asked.

“There is a way. Be patient,” Vandhiyathevan answered.

Once they reached Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace Vandhiyathevan paused. The palace was not as noisy as before. But there were people going about. It will be prudent to enter the cellar when it was dark.

With this conclusion Vandhiyathevan sat down on a log. He asked Karuthiruman also to sit.

“Now we must wait until dark to continue our journey. Until then let me hear your story, tell me!” He said.

“I cannot, I said so before!”

“In that case I cannot take you outside!”

“If I hide the truth and make up some story out of thin air what will you do?”

“Truth or figment of your imagination, whatever! We have to pass the time!”

Karuthiruman began his story. In truth it did sound like fiction.

58. Karuthiruman’s Story

Kariya-Thirumal, known as Karuthiruman was from a place called Thoputhurai a little north of Kodikarai on the coast. He made a living ferrying boats between Thoputhurai and Eezhatheevu. About twenty five years ago when he was returning from Eezham to Thoputhurai he was caught in a storm. He struggled to bring the boat to shore without it toppling. When he reached the shore near Kodikarai lighthouse he saw a woman floating in the turbulent sea. Feeling sorry he pulled her onto the boat. She was unconscious. He could not tell if she was alive or not. He could not also bring the boat to shore there.

Rowing in the direction of the wind he finally reached the shore near a place called Thirumaraikadu. When he brought the unconscious woman to shore and was looking at her with concern a few rather affluent men arrived on horses. With their assistance she gained consciousness. But she did not talk, or seem to hear the others talk. “She is a born deaf-mute,” one of the men said. One of them who appeared to be their leader took Karuthiruman aside and told him a strange tale. Once the storm ended he wanted Karuthiruman to take her to Eezhanadu or one of the nearby islands and leave her there; he said that Karuthiruman will be paid handsomely for the task. Karuthiruman agreed and took the money. Once the sea was calm he took the woman in his boat. In the middle of the sea he saw a man floating while holding onto a log. He helped the exhausted man also onto his boat. At first the woman became alarmed by the sight of the man. Then she ignored him altogether. Karuthiruman dropped both of them off at an island near Eezhanadu.

On that island was an elderly person. He said that the woman was his daughter. He said that she had always been a deaf-mute and now sadly she could not even recognize her father. Karuthiruman told him about saving the woman from the sea.

The man who got on the boat at mid-sea gave a letter to Karuthiruman and asked him to take it to the Ilankai king. The gesture informed Karuthiruman that the man must be a very important person. After giving the letter to the Ilanakai king Karuthiruman came to know that the person he saved was the Pandyanadu king. Ilankai king sent a retinue of men to bring the Pandya king. Because Karuthiruman was worn out he did not go with them. After a few days Pandya king arrived at the Ilankai king’s palace. Both kings traveled to the mountains in the south end of Ilankai. They spent a few days there. Pandya king who had grown fond of Karuthiruman took him along on their journey. Ilankai king gave the Pandya king a tour of the mountain country. Finally he took him to a remote valley. There in a mountain cave was an immense collection of gold coins, precious gems and jewels. After having shown these the Ilankai king opened a gold trunk. Inside were a sparkling jeweled crown and a diamond necklace. From the kings’ conversation Karuthiruman gathered that the crown was the ancient crown of the Pandya tribe and the diamond necklace was the necklace supposedly gifted to the foremost Pandya ancestor by Devendran. Ilankai king insisted that the Pandyan take these with him. Pandya king refused to do it. When he wiped out the Cholar and was crowned in Madurai, he wanted the Ilankai king to bring these to Madurai himself and give it to him publicly for the world to see.

The Pandya king then gave Karuthiruman as many gold coins as he could carry and asked him to provide a comfortable living for the deaf-mute woman and then join him in Pandyanadu.

When Karuthiruman came back to Poothatheevu he did not find the woman there. Her father was also missing. After searching for them he found her in Kodikarai. She did not recognize him. He learned that the lighthouse keeper was her brother and that soon after bringing her to Kodikarai their ailing father had passed away. She did not at first recognize her brother and sister. When she once again fell into the sea and was saved her memory returned. Her family saw that she was pregnant. She herself was aware and at the same time terrified of her condition. She went to Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple often and helped out there. However much Karuthiruman tried, she did not recognize him.

While in Kodikarai he met the deaf-mute’s sister. When he saw that she was also similarly handicapped he took pity on her. He wanted to marry her. Before that he wanted to pay a visit to the Pandya king. During this time Chola emperor Kandarathithar’s queen, the Saiva devotee Chempian Madevi came to worship at Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple. She met the deaf-mute woman Manthahini and her sister Vani. She took both of them with her to Pazhaiyarai.

Karuthiruman went to Pandyanadu. There was a battle in process and he followed the king to the battlefield. The king asked him to take a letter to the Ilankai king. On his way back he wanted Karuthiruman to try and bring the deaf-mute woman with him.

Karuthiruman went to Pazhaiyarai from Ilankai. He had not forgotten about Vani. Mostly he went there only to see Vani. But in Pazhaiyarai a frightening revelation awaited him. At daybreak on the banks of arisilaru he came across a woman digging a hole in the ground. Next to her lay a bundle. From inside came the faint sound of an infant crying.

Outraged as to who this wretched woman was who wanted to bury a child alive he went closer. The woman looked up at him. She turned out to be Vani.

* * *

“Young man! Just imagine how I must have felt at that moment,” said Kariya-Thirumal.

“I will do that; now go on with the story,” answered Vandhiyathevan.

“I can’t. The rest is for the ears of the royalty. If I had not gone to Pazhaiyarai at that time none of this hardship I endured afterwards would have come to pass,” said Karuthiruman.

“In that case, let’s go! Tell it directly to those of the royal tribe!” Laughing Vandhiyathevan stood up.

With Karuthiruman he went to the treasury cellar. No one was in sight. The door was locked with a big lock. But when Vandhiyathevan pressed its secret inner door the big door opened. Both went in and bolted the door from inside.

On the way Vandhiyathevan entered the place where precious stones, pearls and gold were piled up. He asked Karuthiruman, “Does your Rohana country mountain cave contain as much wealth?”

“Hundred times more,” answered Kariya-Thirumal.

Once Vandhiyathevan secured a few gold coins in his waist pocket they set off. Vandhiyathevan walked in front through the underground passage. He opened the secret door on the fortress wall also. This time around there was no guard present. He put his head out and surveyed the outside. Vadavaru flood ran filled to the brim on both sides. Far away a torch was lit. Seeing that no one was around Vandhiyathevan stepped outside. Once Karuthiruman also came out he closed the door. As he stood there wondering how to cross Vadavau his eyes fell on a boat stuck among the roots at the base of a leaning tree.

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (48 -51)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

48. ‘You are not my son!’

When Athitha Karikalar’s final procession proceeded along the Kaveri riverbank towards Thanjai, hundreds of thousands of Cholanadu citizens joined that procession. In those days in Thamilakam it was the habit of people to praise and celebrate warriors. In between for a while the Chola tribe had lost its popularity.

We saw that it came back up during Vijayalaya Cholar’s time. For a hundred years those born into that tribe outperformed each other in valor. Vijayalayan’s son Athithavarman put an end to the Pallava tribe’s glory and captured Thondainadu. His son Paranthaka emperor brought under his rule the entire south country including Madurai and Eezham. The four sons of Paranthaka emperor exceeded each other in valor. One of them died in the Pandyanadu war. The eldest son Rajathithan went to war in Thakkolam with Irattai Mandalam’s Kannara Thevan’s battalion that advanced like the rising ocean, and after defeating that outsized garrison was killed in the battlefield through foulplay and became known as the ‘lord who died atop the elephant.’ Even though Kandarathithar was a saiva prophet he did not lack for valor. Then there is ‘Arinjayan who died in Aahttur!’ Chola empire whose fame had lost its sheen following the war in Thakkolam, regained it during Arinjayan’s son Sundara Cholar’s reign.

All around the people’s consensus was loud and clear, that no one who came in this heroic tribe equaled Athitha Karikalan. His brave performance at the age of twelve in the Sevur battlefield dimmed even Arjunan’s son Abimanyu’s fame.

This heroic warrior had remained in Kanji for a few years. Rumors abounded. One was that the petty kings with the intention of crowning Mathuranthakan have conspired to keep Athitha Karikalan out of Thanjai. Another rumor was that Athitha Karikalan had vowed to follow in the footsteps of his namesake predecessor Karikal Valavan who in another time had invaded Vadanadu and had planted the tiger flag on top of Imayamalai, that he did not want to come to Thanjai without accomplishing this feat, and that Pazhuvertaraiyars were against him setting obstacles in his path.

Therefore, we need not go to any great length to explain the anguish and heartache that Cholanadu people felt when out of the blue news arrived that Athitha Karikalan had died, that he was killed brutally in Sambuvaraiyar’s palace! And there is no surprise that people came in the hundred thousnads to pay their last respect to this chivalrous gentleman! When the procession approached Thanjai the crowd was of oceanic proportions. Thanjai inhabitants and the soldiers of the southern battalion who had surrounded the fort also joined the crowd. Because the chief minister warned of trouble if this crowd was allowed into the place, the grieving emperor himself with his family came and waited outside the fort.

A roaring chant rose when that crowd saw Sundara Cholar. Stone engravings say that when Sundara Cholar ruled Cholanadu there wasn’t a sound, ‘not even a ‘Ha!” These stone engravings describe the situation before Athitha Karikalar’s death.
Today a hundred thousand voices rose shouting, ‘Ha! Ha,’ and ‘Aiyayo!’ Many recalled the Arjunan who lost Abhimanyu. But Abhimanyu had stood alone in the midst of enemies, and died after a heroic fight.

In the present situation on the other hand Athitha Karikalan was the target of perfidy because of Mathuranthakan’s mortal greed and the petty kings’ overbearing arrogance.
Athitha Karikalan’s body was kept outside Thanjai fort for everyone to see. All the people came to view and shed their tears. But Mathuranthakar never came; Pazhuvertaraiyars also did not.

The rumor began to spread that Pazhuvertaraiyars with their friends were getting their troops together. Therefore even after the final rites were carried out for Athitha Karikalar in a manner fitting a heroic death, and the emperor’s family had gone back inside the fort, the crowd lingered.

At first, ‘Down with Mathuranthakan,’ and ‘Down with the Pazhuvertaraiyars,’ – these chants were heard only faintly. Gradually the shouting grew more fierce.

Suddenly a part of the crowd broke down the gates of the fort and entered Thanjai city. First they went to Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. Standing outside they shouted, “Down with Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

Velakara troops following chief minister Aniruthar’s order had to disperse the crowd and make them leave.

In the meantime word spread that Mathuranthaka Thevar was hiding in Aniruthar’s house. The people surrounded Aniruthar’s house.

“Where is that coward Mathuranthakan? Tell Mathuranthakan to come outside!” They shouted.

At that time Mathuranthakan was actually inside Aniruthar’s house. Hearing the people outside he shuddered. “Chief Minister! By whatever means send me out. Send me out through the underground passage. I will go and join my friends outside who support me. If you can help me in this, when I ascend the throne I will retain you as chief minister,” he said.

“Sir! Why must we speak about the throne now? Emperor Sundara Cholar is atill alive,” said chief minister Aniruthar.

“Didn’t you see Sundara Cholar returning after cremating his son? Didn’t you notice how his face looked as if it had taken a beating from the devil himself? I was watching from the loft. He won’t be around for long. Either Arulmozhivarman or I must ascend the throne and rule this kingdom. Sundara Cholar wants to crown me. Why should you and my mother object,” said Mathuranthakan.

“Prince! Won’t your mother have a good reason? There, listen! Listen to the people shouting. Is it enough if only Sundara Cholar agrees? Shoudn’t the Cholanadu people approve?” Aniruthar said. Then he put his head outside the window and exclaimed, “Aha! What is going on?”

Instead of the old chant now the people were shouting,”Long live Arulmozhivarmar,” and “Long live Ponniyin Selvar!”

Arulmozhivarmar was atop a stately horse. As he rode the people followed him. Within a few minutes Aniruthar’s entryway was empty. Together with Aniruthar, Mathuranthakan was also watching. Jealousy turned his eyes as red as guava fruit. “Aha! What is the attraction with this kid?” He grumbled to himself.

“Prince! When the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was chasing the fellow who killed Eezhathu Rani, what in the world were you doing in that underground passage?” Aniruthar asked.

“When Ponniyin Selvar came to the palace in the disguise of an elephant-keeper I was very discouraged. I did not want to be with him in the fortress at the same time. Pazhuvertaraiyar had shown me the underground passage. I was pacing in the palace garden wondering if I should get away when I saw a fellow come out from the underground passage. He walked up to me and said, ‘Prince! I came to see you. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Kanthamaran asked me to bring you immediately. Big battalions are ready to support your right to the throne.’ His manner was suspicious. ‘If a big battalion is ready why should I go outside? Why don’t they come here and beat the Kodumbalur troops and put me on the throne,’ I said. ‘Prince! Not only that; there is an alarming mystery surrounding your birth. No one else will dare say it to you. I will,’ the man said. ‘In that case, come! Let’s go,’ said I. In response, ‘I have to deliver a message to chief minister Aniruthar. I will do that and come back. In the meantime please hide and wait in the underground passage,’ he said. So I was waiting in the treasury cellar. Chief Minister! Did he come and see you? What is the alarming mystery surrounding my birth,” said Mathuranthakan.

“Prince! Only your mother Chempian Madevi has the right to tell you. Even though I know something about it I cannot,” said Aniruthar.

Once again there was noise of a commotion outside. The chief minister put his head out and looked again. “Aha! Your mother is here,” he said.

In a short while Chempian Madevi after visiting with the womenfolk of Aniruthar’s residence came upstairs. Her face was filled with sorrow. Aniruthar rose to greet her. She sat down on the seat that Aniruthar offered. For a while she remained quiet staring at the floor. Silence reigned in that upstairs dwelling, outside the palace, and down on the street. Then Chempian Madevi looked up at Mathuranthakan and then at Aniruthar. “Sir! My husband placed this weight on my head and reposed to heaven. I am the one who erred. But if he was here now I won’t be facing such trauma,” she said.

With angry sparks flying from his eyes Mathuranthakan said, “Why are you toturing yourself? Why are you bringing up my father’s name always? It is certain that I am going to be on the Thanjavur throne. One obstacle is now dead. Arulmozhivarman on the other hand is younger than me. While I am alive they will never crown him. You must kindly not object, Mother! Has anyone heard of a mother who will let her child down? Saiva devotee that you are, why would you want to harm me?”

“My baby! A mother standing against her own child – it is a dreadful sin. But my husband has instructed me so. I am obliged to carry out his order. I will tell you, listen! Mortal desire is dangerous. Desire for a kingdom is even more dangerous. No one is more sorrowful than those whose heads are adorned with a crown. There is also no one who is more confused with no peace of mind than those seated on a throne. Wasn’t the crown on his head that cost Veera Pandyan his life? Sivan’s kingdom is much better than the kingdom on earth. Come, we will leave this town. We will visit sacred places, and go up to Kailayankiri. We will be in the mercy of Kailasanathar himself.”

“Aha! Your age is indeed ripe for a pilgrimage to kailasam, but I am not old. I have not experienced any of the trials and tribulations of this world. You have raised me like a madman to wander around with ash smeared all over my body chanting ‘SivaSiva.’ It is through the grace of that Paramasivan the kingdom is now within my reach. Why should I let it slip,” asked Mathuranthakan.

“Appan! The kingdom now within your reach is surrounded by many dangers. One obstacle for your ascension to the throne has disappeared. You said that Athitha Karikalan has died. Didn’t you hear the people just a while ago standing in front of this house shouting? Mathuranthaka! The people think that you are the reason for Athitha Karikalan’s death. How will they accept you as emperor?”

“Mother! People will soon forget all of that. Once I am seated on the throne they will accept me as emperor. I will tell you more, listen! Do you know who is responsible for Karikalan’s death? It is Arulmozhivarmar’s beloved friend Vandhiyathevan. In Sambuvaraiyar’s house where Karikalan was found lying dead the only person present was Vandhiyathevan. Sambuvaraiyar and Vandhiyathevan are in the dungeon. Arulmozhivarman made arrangements to kill his brother so that he can have the throne. Let the people find this out, we’ll see what happens then.”

Fire blazing from her eyes Chempian Madevi said, “You pitiful man! What are you saying about Arulmozhi who is the personification of kindness? He is prepared to house in the temple, and worship even someone as greedy as you. If you speak again in this manner about him you will burn. You will only end up in hell. You will have no liberation in this birth or the next.”

Upon hearing this Mathuranthakan jumped up furiously. “You devil! You are cursing your own son. You are blessing my enemy. Can you really be my mother? No, never,” Mathuranthakan said with anger and hurt.

In response, “Son! I never wanted to tell you this. By your stubbornness you have made me say this. In truth, I am not your mother. You are not my son either,” Chempian Madevi said.

His voice cracking Mathuranthakan said, “Aha! Then what I suspected is true. If you are not my mother then who is my mother? If I am not your son, whose son am I?”
Devi looked at chief minister Aniruthar. “Sir! Please tell him. Please don’t make me expose my own shame,” she said.

Chief Minister Aniruthar told Mathuranthakan, “Prince! You have hurt your mother who has raised you from when you were a tiny infant. You will nevertheless find out the truth one day. So, you may as well find out now.”

Soon after her marriage Chempian Madevi began harboring the desire to one day have a son and have that son become the emperor of Chola empire. When she became pregnant and was about to give birth her husband happened to be away traveling. At about the same time two deaf-mute women who were sisters had come to live in the palace garden. One of them was pregnant and was about to give birth. When Chempian Madevi was visiting a sacred station she had seen this pregnant woman who appeared to be an orphan and had brought her here. When she heard that the woman’s siter lived near Thanjavur she invited her to come and help the pregnant woman. Chempian Madevi had her child. Chief Minister Aniruthar hearing the news about the new heir to the kingdom came to offer his wishes. At that time Chempian Madevi wailed, ‘ko’ –  tears pouring from her eyes. She was grieving because the child she gave birth to lay like a lifeless log next to her.

“Sir! If my husband asks what will I tell him?” She sobbed. Unable to bear her sorrow Aniruthar had an idea. He knew that a set of twins, a boy and a girl were born to the dumb woman and told her through gestures that if she left her children here, then they will grow up in the palace. The dumb woman behaved like a madwoman caught in a frenzy. At first she refused to part with the children. Then after sometime she deserted the children and ran away. Aniruthar immediately made her sister bring the boy child to Chempian Madevi. He gave the lifeless infant to the dumb sister and asked her to bury it without anyone’s knowledge. He took the girl child to his house and gave her to his disciple Azhvarkadiyan and had her taken to Pandyanadu.

Chempian Madevi’s conscience was troubled by this exchange of babies. One day she told Kandarathithar the truth. That great man’s response was, “There is no harm in that! Woman! What does it matter who gave birth? It is a child given by Sivaperuman. Raise him like your own. But a child from another tribe cannot be on the Chola throne. That will be a betrayal of the tribe. Therefore we will raise him from a young age as a Saiva devotee. We will make him say, ‘I do not want the Chola empire. An empire of saiva devotion is sufficient!’ We should not in any way enable him to ascend the Thanjavur throne. When that time comes even if I am not around, you must be resolute and save the Chola tribe.”

“Mathuranthaka! You are not Kandarathitha Thevar’s son. Neither did Chempian Madevi give birth to you. You are the son of a vagrant orphan dumb woman. This goddess brought you up like her own child showering on you a hundred times more affection. Now, don’t act against her wish! Listen to the devi, it can only do you good,” said Aniruthar.

49. Unfortunate Being

Drained of all life Mathuranthakan remained seated for a while. Then he abruptly stood up and faced Aniruthar. “Chief Minister! All of this is your doing! I always knew it. You are fond of Sundara Cholar’s children, especially Arulmozhivarman. You want to crown him.

Because of that you have made up stories, and lied to my mother deceiving her innocent heart! Anbil Brahmarayar! What harm did I do to you? Why do you want to hurt me in this way? To satisfy your wish, do I have to cease to be my mother’s child? No one in this world has even dreamed of such perfidy! You who are a descendant of Vishnu devotees and ascetics, must you behave in this manner? No, no! You are not to be blamed. The junior staeswoman Kundavai and Arulmozhivarman have conspired to make you commit this perfidy,” he shouted.

Aniruthar tactfully said, “Prince! If I disliked you so much I will not have come to your aid when you lay under that tree in the pouring rain. And, please do not criticize Arulmozhi. Do you know what this warrior who conquered Eezham is doing at this minute? He is meeting with the people and soldiers surrounding the fort and consoling them with his words. He is trying to change their minds saying that it is not right for him to take the crown while his uncle – you – are alive, and that the people and the soldiers should not make such a demand.”

“Then … then, Arulmozhi does not know about what you just told me?”

“Arulmozhi does not know; in fact no one else knows!”

“Why should anyone know? Aniruthar! Please say that you will keep your mouth shut. The emperor has deeded you only fifty acres of a village! I will gift you the entire Pandyanadu …”

“Sir! You need not pay for my silence with Pandyandu. A word from your mother is enough!”

Mathuranthakan looked at his mother pitifully. “Child! Mathuranthaka! Aniruthar is right. He has known my secret for over twenty years; on that day he said, ‘Great Queen! This is your secret. Unless you tell someone no one will ever know this. It will never come out from my mouth. I promise!’ To this day he has kept his word. He who has taken the oath to be loyal to the Chola tribe, never mentioned this to the emperor. If I had consented to your ascendance to the Chola throne, he still would have kept quiet …”

“Yes, Madam! I would have. But I will not have served as chief minister while harboring a lie in my heart. I will be serving Sriranganathar instead,” said Aniruthar.

“But that won’t be necessary. Mathuranthakan will not take the throne. He will comply with my wish. He will say that he does not want the kingdom! Son! Please say yes!” The elder statewoman Chempian Madaevi said.

“Mother! That leaves you as my only obstacle. Let’s assume that I wasn’t born to you. You showered your love on me for twenty years treating me closer than a son born to you. Now, why are you letting me down? What harm have I caused you?”

“Child! You have not caused me any harm. I am the one who has caused great harm to you. After bringing you up like my own son all these years now I am about to say, ‘He is not my son!’ Don’t I realize the anguish and pain I will be causing you? I will never have done this. But I have to keep my promise to my husband. I cannot harm the Chola tribe into which I was born. I cannot place an outsider on the Chola throne. I cannot be an accomplice either. Do you think that this does not hurt me? My heart broke when I just now said, ‘You are not my son!’ Until the last minute I waited. My mind was in a turmoil. I went to Nambiyandar Nambi to find out what was right, and what was my duty. He clearly teased apart my moral dilemma. ‘All inhabitants of this earth are god’s children. You are a Saiva devotee who will not discriminate between your ‘own child’ and an ‘adopted child.’ You will give all your wealth to the son you raised. But the kingdom is a different matter. It is a sin to stop someone’s lawful entitlement through our lies. It is a betrayal of one’s tribe to place someone not belonging to the tribe on the Chola throne. It is only right that you tell the truth to the emperor and your son,’ he advised me. I took his advice and returned. Kumara! Is there any happiness for me in saying that you are not my son? Can I say this to the emperor with pride?”

Mathuranthakan abruptly rose and fell at his mother’s feet. “Mother! I don’t want the kingdom or the throne. If you tell me to remain here I will. If you ask me to go on a pilgrimage I will go. But please don’t say that I am not your son; that I wasn’t born to you! Please don’t tell anyone! If you do, it will break my heart and I will die of shame,” he cried.

With tears in her eyes Chempian Madevi eagerly gathered Mathuranthakan in her arms and seated him next to her.

“Kumara! It is to prevent you from such heartache I raised you as a Saiva devotee shielding you from the temptations of this world. I have lost. Men of evil have ruined your mind. Yet, not everything is lost. If you from the bottom of your heart declare publicly, ‘I don’t want the kingdom. Let Sundara Cholar’s son Arulmozhi rule,’ then I will not have to pronounce publicly, ‘You are not my son.’ It hurt me immensely to offend you now. Today, you say it to the chief minister. In three days the petty kings will convene for their assembly. Say it in front of that assembly also. ‘I have no desire to rule. I want to immerse myself in the service of Sivaperuman and temple work. It is the order of my father and mother as well! Please crown Arulmozhivarman!’ – Tell them this. ‘I will not do anything against the Chola kingdom. I will not listen even if some petty kings give me ill-advice!’ – Promise them so. If you do this neither the chief minister nor I will face the necessity of publicizing the secret behind your origin. You will remain forever as the apple of my eye. Both of us together will travel across this sprawling magnanimous Bharatha country. We will go from Kanyakumari to Kailasakiri. We will serve in temples. Arulmozhivarman is devoted to me. Like you, it is I who raised him more or less. He will never go against my word,” said Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter Chempian Madevi.

His head bent and his forehead resting on his two hands Mathuranthakan remained immersed in thought for a while. Then he said, “Aha! Since when I came of age some shadowy memories have haunted me. Now I understand the reason. Who can be more unfortunate than me in this world? I don’t know what inauspicious hour or horoscope marked my birth. In one day, in one second I have lost both my mother and father. I have lost my tribe and ancestry. I have lost a great kingdom. I have lost a throne and a heroic heritage going back a thousand years. I have lost all my friends. Yes; once this information leaks out who is going to be my friend? The petty kings who have sworn to sacrifice their lives in order to crown me will abandon me in a second! … Yes, from the beginning of time there could not have existed a more unfortunate soul than me. Ammah! My mind is disturbed; I cannot think clearly. Please give me two days, I will then tell you my decision!”

“Child! What is there to think? I had to turn my heart into a stone to say this. Either, you will voluntarily give up the kingdom; or I will publicly pronounce that I did not give birth to you. Either way, you cannot ascend the throne. What is there for you to think about,” said the elder stateswoman whom the world worshipped and celebrated as holy.

At that time Aniruthar intervened. “Madam! There is no harm in giving two days. There are three days remaining before the cabinet council and general assembly. Until then let the prince have some peace and think about this,” he said.

“Mother! Mother! Does anyone else other than you and the chief minister know about this secret?” All of a sudden Mathuranthakan asked eagerly. We will not know what evil thought or devious scheme had begun to germinate in his mind.

Mathuranthakan’s excitement surprised Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter. “Apart from us there are three people who know this secret. Son! Among them your father, the Saiva devotee and my husband who is forever alive in my mind, has passed away. The other two are a pair of deaf-mute women who are sisters. One gave birth to you. Two days ago she died tragically in Sundara Cholar’s palace. I thought of telling you this while her lifeless body lay there before being laid in its final rest. But I did not have the heart. I did not want to hurt you, so I let the moment pass. Son! If you want to weep over the death of your birth mother, please do! Other than giving birth to you she had nothing to do with you afterwards. She never tried to visit you. She lost her mind and became a madwoman. If you want to shed tears in her memory please do not hesitate,” said the Devi.

“No, no. I cannot think of anyone else other than you as my mother. Even if you had told me earlier I would never have gone near her. Who is the other person who knows the secret, Mother? Who is the other deaf-mute woman?”

“Her younger sister; she tends to a garden outside of Thanjai. She is the one who switched you for the infant whom I gave birth to that lay like a log. She is a born deaf-mute, so she cannot tell anyone. She has a son. Mother and son serve the Thanjai tahlikulathar temple supplying flowers. I support them with funds.”

“Aha! I know who they are. I know both mother and son. His name is Senthan Amuthan. He helped the spy Vandhiyathevan escape from here. Mother! Does that boy know anything about this?”

“He does not, Son! He does not! His mother has sworn to me that she will not tell this secret to anyone. You need not worry about this. Other than her, it’s just me and the chief minister!”

Mathuranthakan’s mind was besieged by many unsavory thoughts at that instant. He reasoned that if these two people left this world, then there will be no one who will expose the truth. He was in no way obligated to the chief minister. This lady is not really his mother. Why should he show them mercy? Aha! The fellow who promised him in Sundara Cholar’s garden that he will reveal the secret about his birth, who is he? He asked him to wait in the treasury cellar? If he meets this man? In his attempt to kill Sundara Cholar the man ended up killing the deaf-mute woman. The fellow cannot be blamed. They are saying that the dead woman is his mother. If she is his mother, who is his father? Perhaps … perhaps this treacherous old woman and this pretentious Brahmarayan are trying to fool him? Perhaps he, Mathuranthakan – is really Sundara Cholar’s son? … Aha! How can he find out the truth?

“Son! I will take my leave; think carefully and come to a decision soon. For over twenty two years I raised you with more love than any true mother. I will never give you ill-advice. Give up this mortal kingdom on earth! Find a way to reach the immortal Sivan’s kingdom,” said the elder stateswoman.

At this time to everyone’s surprise Arulmozhivarman walked into that room. He went directly to Chempian Madevi and greeted her.

“Devi! I shall take your advice to your beloved son as advice given to me also. If this Chola kingdom really belongs to me then I am prepared to give it up. With your blessing I shall surrender my will at the sacred feet of Sivaperuman. Allow me a small place near your spouse, the great Kandarathithar, in Sivan’s kingdom! Please grant me this blessing,” he said.

Both Chempian Madevi and the chief minister were astounded to hear Arulmozhivarman’s words.

“Devi! Forgive me, I happened to accidentally overhear your conversation with your beloved son. I was returning after escorting out the people surrounding this palace. I came in here to discuss with the chief minister our next course of action. When I heard that you were here I thought that was fortuitous. You were speaking louder than usual. Mathuranthaka Thevar was also speaking loudly. When I hesitated about coming in I overheard parts of your conversation. Devi! You were saying that among those still living only Senthan Amuthan’s mother, the chief minister and you know the secret behind Mathuranthakar’s birth. That is not correct. My sister, the junior stateswoman, and I also know about it. I happened to meet Manthahinidevi who saved the emperor’s life a few times in Eezhanadu. Through her paintings she let me in on this secret. I told my sister. Both of us came to a decision. It is my uncle who ought to be seated on the Chola throne. He has been brought up with more love than a biological son. He was born to Manthahinidevi who not only saved me from drowning in Kaveri, but many times after. Therefore, whichever way we want to look at this he has a right to the throne. If there is any doubt about his entitlement I shall solve it! I shall give up my right, lay it here at your sacred feet. So there is no need for anyone to know that Mathuranthaka Thevar is not your child. There is also no need for Mathuranthakar to give up the Chola throne!”

Ponniyin Selvar’s words further escalated the bewilderment of the three others present in that room. Aniruthar was the first one to regain clarity of his mind.

“Prince! Your words ought to be recorded in history and celebrated in literature. They ought to be engraved in granite, copper and gold. But those of us here cannot decide this matter. We must consult with the emperor and the petty kings. We also must consider what the people will say if the truth should come out someday in the future. Prince! There are only three days left before the general assembly. Until then let each one of us think about this carefully,” he said.

50. Kundavai’s Bewilderment

The junior stateswoman Kundavai was born and raised in luxury. She rivaled Rathi in beauty, Kalaimahal in knowledge and Thirumahal in fortune. From the emperor to the ordinary citizen, everyone celebrated her. In the palace many awaited to do her bidding. Petty kings vied to have their daughters serve as maids to her. Sons of many kings in Bharatha country yearned to take her hand in marriage.

The junior stateswoman who was thus endowed was drowning in a sea of sorrow. All the warnings she had sent to Athitha Karikalan had turned out to be futile. She had sent him an urgent message asking him not to go to Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Her elder brother who had always respected her counsel went to Kadampoor palace ignoring her plea. There he met an untimely death in the most mysterious way. She believed that Nandhini was a sibling to Karikalan, herself and Arulmozhi. She also knew that for some reason Nandhini held a grudge against him. If Karikalan had died by Nandhini’s hand there could be no worse infamy and disgrace that could visit the Chola tribe. What became of Nandhini after Karikalan’s death, no one knew.

The loss of her beloved brother caused her unending sorrow. Three days had passed since his death but she could not erase his charismatic face from her thoughts. Aha! What dreams this warrior beheld? He was going to plant the tiger flag on Himalaya like Karikal Peruvalathan! And yet in half a nazhikai this warrior’s body was reduced to a handful of ash. It has become part of Cholanadu soil. From this soil will rise in the future thousands of heroic warriors. They will spread to the four corners of Cholanadu. They will travel to distant lands across the seas. They will fight victorious battles extending the boundaries of Chola empire. Wherever they go they will erect temples, their towers touching the sky. These will stand majestically trumpeting the glory of Cholanadu to the world. They will spread Tamil, Tamil culture and Saiva Vaishnava religions. Moovar devotional hymns and Azhvars’ pasurams will be sung in these distant lands. ‘Vetty Vel! Veera Veel!’ – these triumphant cries will be heard …

These are not merely dreams. These are possible. If the forecast by elders and astrologers about the extraotdinary timing of Arulmozhivarman’s birth was correct, then it is possible that Karikalan’s dreams may come true through Arulmozhivarman. But there are so many obstacles! Aha! No one knows what calamity will be wrought by infighting among the petty kings. Malaiamman and Velan are determined to place Arulmozhivarman on the throne. Pazhuvertaraiyars and their cronies are gathering their troops in support of Mathuranthakan. The emperor on the other hand is deep in the sea of sorrow following the two tragedies that came one after another. He is refusing to speak to anyone. He is mulling over the mistakes of his youth feeling sorry. No one has the courage even to comfort him. If his beloved daughter herself is afraid of approaching him, why talk of anyone else?

Arulnmozhivarman is prepared to give up the kingdom. He wants to crown Mathuranthakan and then travel across the seas with the Chola troops. But, an unexpected obstacle has arisen there as well. For whatever reason, the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi, whom Cholanadu adores is objecting to crowning her son. She says it is the order of her late husband. No one knows how these complications are going to be resolved.

As if these worries over the Chola tribe and the empire are not enough another great concern tormented Kundavai. They have locked up her man, the Varnar tribe warrior in jail. They are trying to hold him responsible for Athitha Karikalan’s death. Pallava tribe Parthipenthiran is adamant about it. Grandafther Malaiamman may listen to her. But, how can she, a woman, interfere in the affairs of a man under suspicion? If it turns out that she was more concerned about the wayfarer Vandhiyathevan than her elder brother Athitha Karikalan, can there be anything more disgraceful than that? Parthipenthiran is capable of spreading such misconception. Parthipenthiran says that Sambuvaraiyar and Kanthmaran caught Vandhiyathevan in action right where Athitha Karikalan was lying dead. This may be true. But Vandhiyathevan might have been following her order that he could not leave Karikalan alone even for a minute. He must have tried to save Karikalan from the assassins and failed.

But, how is she to find out the truth? If she tried to see Vandhiyathevar or bring him here from prison, it will lead to unwanted suspicion and slander. No one will dare say anything about her. Even if they did it will not matter. But there are some people who are even blaming Arulmozhivarman for Karikalan’s death. She cannot act in haste flaming their suspicions.

God! Devi! Jaganmatha! What test you have placed before this woman who has not faced a single impediment in all her life?

Kundavai’s heart was torn by such thoughts. Ever since news of Karikalan’s death, and Vandhiyathevar’s involvement in it reached her the junior stateswoman was robbed of her sleep. She kept thinking of a way to resolve this difficult situation. She thought of many solutions only to reject them one after another.

She refused to talk even to her beloved friend Vanathi. Knowing her state of mind Vanathi also did not interfere. She followed Kundavai around like a shadow and like a shadow she kept her silence.

Vanathi who had been circumspectly kept out of Kundavai’s musings until that day suddenly came to her. When she said, “Sister! Sister! There is a girl here to see you. She is in tears. Looking at her I cannot help feeling sorry,” even Kundavai was a little surprised.

“Who is she? Did you ask her what she wanted.” she said.

“I did, Sister. You may not want to hear this. She says that she is Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter, Manimekalai. Sambuvaraiyar’s family is under custody in the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. She has come running here without anyone’s knowledge. When I ask her she says that she will talk only to you. If you see her tearful face even you will feel sorry,” said Vanathi.

“What do you mean? Are you implying that my heart is made of stone?”

“It is, Sister! If not will you remain calm knowing that Vandhiyathevar is in prison,” said Vanathi.

“Alright then, ask that girl to come here,” said Kundavai.

Vanathi sprinted off like a doe and promptly returned with Manimekalai.

51. Manimekalai’s Request

As if in a deranged state of mind Manimekalai walked in looking all around her. As Vanathi said she looked pitiful. Her face and eyes were swollen from crying.

But curiously Kindavai did not empathize with her. She could not shake away the knowledge that the conspiratorial meeting held at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace was the root cause of the latest and most tragical blow that the Chola tribe had been dealt with. Most of all the thought that it was in her house her brother the heroic Karikalan was murdered kept her resentment raw.

At that time she was reminded of something else also. Her brother Kanthamaran and Varnar tribe warrior were old friends. It was because of that friendship Vandhiyathevar had gone to Kadampoor palace. There he found out about the secret and conspiratorial meeting. At one time Kanthamaran had wanted to give his sister in marriage to the Vallathu prince. This is her, then …

The thought brought a new interest in Kundavai about Manimekalai. Aha! Why has she come looking for her? Has she come to plead the case of her father and brother? When Sambuvaraiyar asked her brother to his palace there was also talk of marriage. Was this foolish girl attracted to Karikalan? Has she lost her mind because of his sudden demise? Is she here to talk about it? Or … Or, perhaps? Did Kanthamaran speak to her about his friend? Vandhiyathevar had visited her house before. He had stayed there. Now, he had been there for several days. Was she perhaps attracted to him? If that is the case, then there is no doubt that he would have rejected her. Is she here seeking revenge? Laying all manner of charges on him? …

These thoughts crossed Kundavai’s mind in a flash. Kundavai stared at Manimekalai as if to delve deep into her heart and know what was there. Unable to bear the intense scrutiny Manimekalai bent her head. From her eyes tear drops fell to the ground and splattered.

“Girl! Why are you crying? Isn’t your brother still alive? Isn’t it my brother who was brutally murdered in your palace? If anyone is crying shouldn’t it be me? But look at me! I am not crying, I am not shedding tears; it is not the practice of women born in the tribe of warriors to weep over those who have died a heroic death,” said Kundavai.

Manimekalai looked up at the junior stateswoman. “Devi! If my brother had died by a sword I too will not shed tears. But the one who died … died,” she sobbed hesitating to go on.

Kundavai began to suspect that her first hunch was correct. This girl must have lost her heart to Athitha Karikalan. Perhaps she is reluctant to talk about it. Aiyo! A pity! If that is the case she must be consoled.

“Girl! Steady your heart. Boldly speak what’s on your mind! The one who died is not your brother. He is my brother. Why should you weep for that? Perhaps you are feeling sad that a tragedy such as this happened to one of your guests! What can you do about it? There were many elders in the house. The responsibility is theirs …”

“No, Devi, no! The responsibility is mine. That is why I am unable to keep a lid on my sorrow. I cannot stop the tears pouring from my eyes. My heart breaks into pieces when I think that I killed that heroic warrior with the knife held in these hands …”

Startled Kundavai said, “Girl! Have you lost your mind? What are you blubbering?”

“No, no! I have not lost my mind. Not yet. I am telling the truth. It is this wretched being who killed Athitha Karikalar. I came to tell you the truth and receive the right punishment …”

“Cheechee! How insulting? Are you telling me to believe that my brother the heroic warrior died by a woman’s hand? Who asked you to say this …”

“No one, Madam! No one will even believe me. Even my brother and father are refusing to believe me.”

“Why are you then making up stories? They must have put you up to this. Or perhaps you are saying this to save your father and brother?”

“Devi! Why would I want to save them? They wanted to give me in marriage against my wishes. At first it was about Mathuranthaka Thevar. Then all of a sudden they turned to Athitha Karikalar. They said, ‘If you marry him you will be on the Chola throne!’ Why should I cover up the follies of people who were going to sacrifice me in this way? Why should I take responsibility for their crimes? Never,” said Manimekalai.

“Girl! Your stories are turning more and more ludicrous. While so many princesses were waiting in line to take my brother’s hand, why do you say that your father and brother were offering you as sacrifice? Why would you consider marrying into the Chola tribe such an adversity?”

“Princess! I have no sisters. I am speaking to you as one …,” said Manimekalai.

“You said that you killed my brother. How dare you speak to me as a sister?” The junior stateswoman asked angrily.

“I have the right. Your brother Karikalar treated me like a sister. He even wrote it down. That is why I feel so wretched that I have had to kill him. I came to you to find out how I can atone!” Manimekalai began sobbing again.

The junior stateswoman whispered in Vanathi’s ear, “A pity! The girl has lost her mind. You have brought her here now. What if her condition suddenly takes a bad turn?”

“Sister! I am also worried. Please don’t be angry. Let’s talk to her calmly and send her back,” said Vanathi.

Kundavai looked at Manimekalai. “Girl! What is done is done. It is the hand of fate! Do not worry! You can treat me like your sister. You wanted to tell me something. What is it? Or, if you like you can talk about it some other time,” she said to her.

“No, no! I will speak now. Sister! You are a woman. Therefore you will understand me. Men can never understand. Supposing a woman has lost her heart to someone; and when that person is unarmed and helpless, another person is about to kill him with a big sword. At that time, this woman, if her love is real, what will she do? Will she be idle …?”

Kundavai was reminded of Manthahini at that time. Tears welled in her eyes. “How can she watch idly? She will throw herself in the middle and save her lover’s life at the expense of hers!”

“Aha! It is a pity that I had no one to give me such good advice. I lost listening to Nandhini! With these evil hands I killed the innocent man who considered me to be his sister and was willing to unite me with my lover!” Manimekalai sobbed.

The junior stateswoman said to Vanathi in a voice, “The woman’s frenzy is escalating!”

To Manimekalai she said, “Girl! Don’t cry! Tell me what happened. Or do you want to tell me later?”

“No, no, I will do it now, Sister! My brother Kanthamaran had been telling me about a friend of his for a long time. A few months ago he visited our palace in Kadampoor. When I saw him for the first time I lost my heart to him …”

With a slight tremor in her voice the junior statewoman asked, “Who is the lucky fellow who stole your heart in this way?”

“Lucky? No. When my heart went to him, along with it my misfortune also did. He is today locked in the Thanjavur fort dungeon. Sister! The Pazhuvertaraiyar women told me. The dungeon here is death. No one ever comes back alive,” she said.

“That is not true, Girl! Even Vanathi, – who is here – and I have gone to the dungeon …”

“Devi! Can I go to the dungeon? Can I see him once?”

“You have not told me who this person is, Girl!”

“He is the Varnar tribe prince. His name is Vandhiyathevar!” Kundavai and Vanathi looked at each other. Then Vanathi intervened. “Why are you so worried about him? What is your relationship with him,” she asked.

“Who are you to ask me that?” Manimekalai retorted angrily.

Immediately thereafter she calmed down. “Please don’t be angry, Madam! Aren’t you Kodumabalur princess Vanathi? Isn’t your uncle today the commander of the fort? I beg you at your feet. Please grant me a favor! Talk to your uncle the senior Velar and free Vandiyathevar from the dungeon! In his place tell him to lock me up! I am the villainess who killed Prince Karikalar! While I am openly acknowledging my guilt how can they justify charging someone else? Devi! I am begging you as well. If Kodumbalur senior Velar cannot see reason I want to ask the emperor in person. You must help me,” said Manimekalai.

Subjected to various emotions Kundavai’s mind was as tumultuous as the ocean. She was reluctant to even visit Vandhiyathevar in the dungeon. This girl on the other hand is even willing to take on the charge of murder because of his love for him. But how much of her story can be trusted? How much is made up? Has she concocted this to save her lover? She did mention Nandhini’s ill-advice. Could she possibly have fallen for it and committed this atrocious act?

No, no. She could not have committed this horrendous act. She is only saying this to save Vandhiyathevar from the charge of murder. It is clear from the way she speaks. They will not release Vandhiyathevar relying on her story. Yet, there ought to be more that she can divulge. It is certain that Karikalan’s death is shrouded in mystery. Can this woman shed more light on it?

“Manimekalai! I commend your resolve. I applaud you for admitting your guilt to save your lover. We have only heard in fiction and poetry of such extraordinary behavior. Today there are no poets from the academy to write songs about you. But even if I believe you, will others believe you? Your father and brother contend that Vandhiyathevar was next to the lifeless body of Karikalar! Will people believe them? Will they believe you? There is another obstacle to believing your account. I am the one who sent the Vallathu prince to my brother on an urgent mission. I asked him to stop my brother from going to Kadampoor. In the event that Karikalan went I asked him to be with Karikalan and guard him every moment. Moreover, Vallathu prince belongs to Kariakalan’s bodyguard service. He was next to Karikalan when he died. Yet, he did not save him. Therefore he failed in his duty. He should have sacrificed his life to save Karikalan. Even if he is not the killer, he must be punished for failing to do his duty!”

“Devi! He did not fail in his duty at all.”

“Besides your word what other proof is there for that?”

“There is proof here! In your brother’s own handwriting!” Manimekalai handed an ola that she kept tucked in her waist.

With overwhelming curiosity Kundavai read the letter. Yes; it was Athitha Karikalan’s own writing. To keep it confidential he had himself written it. It was addressed to Kundavai.

“To my dearest Sister, the emperor’s beloved daughter, the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi from Athitha Karikalan. For a long time I have not had any sleep at night. Three years ago I committed an atrocious deed. I killed the enemy who surrendered. The woman who begged for his life and he are forever tormenting me. They don’t allow me to sleep peacefully.

This morning when I stepped outside unable to sleep I saw the long-tailed star falling. At that time something departed from my body as well. Now it is the empty cage that remains. Sister! Let this bad omen disappear with me. Let Ehambaranathar protect our beloved father and Arulmozhi from harm.

You and I in our youth had so many dreams about the Chola kingdom. I could not accomplish them. My brother will. He was born to rule the three worlds. Vallathu prince Vandhiyathevan will aid him. Devi! I was pleased to know that Vanthiyadhevan carried out your orders to your satisfaction. If not you will not have sent him to me on this important mission. You will not have sent him to save me from my destiny.

Sister! If something happens to me here the responsibility lies with my stubbornness and fate, and not with Vandhiyathevan. As you had instructed he tried very hard to stop me from coming to Kadampoor. After coming here he is following me like a shadow. To help him in his mission he has also befriended the daughter of this house. With her help he is a step ahead of me, hiding at every site that I visit here. All this in order to protect me. But can someone protect another person from the fruit of his moral actions?

You have heard how smaller creatures are attracted to the dancing cobra ending up as its meal. In the same way I am going to Nandhini. You have cautioned me that she is our sister. I cannot believe it. Yet there is some mystery about her. I am going in order to find it. Somehow I will find out the truth today.

Whichever way my fate ends, Vandiyathevan is not at fault. He is carrying out your order as instructed. Sister! Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran have fallen in that bewitching beauty Nandhini’s net. Vandhiyathevan is the only one who did not. I don’t know how to reward him. There is a very intelligent girl in this house. I have formed a liking towards her as if she is my own sister. A marriage between Manimekalai and Vandhiyathevan will be a good reward. But I am not sure if you will consent to this.

My dear Sister! I am giving this letter to that girl. Fortunately she cannot read. With respect to her, do whatever pleases you! In our family you are the wisest. I disobeyed you and I am going to face the consequences. I hope at least our brother Arulmozhi will follow your advice and bring the Chola kingdom glory …”

The letter ended here. Tears flowed from Kundavai’s eyes as she read it. Wiping her eyes quickly she asked, “Girl! How did you get this letter? Who gave it to you?”

“Devi! The prince himself gave it to me. Nandhini had misrepresented him to me. So I thought that this was a love letter to me. I was going to toss it in the fire. Then my curiosity took over. So I kept it. I gave it to my friend Chandramathi and asked her to read it. My heart breaks when I think that I killed this brave gentleman – who calls me his sister – with my own hands. Devi! please make sure that this murderess receives the right punishment,” begged Manimekalai.

Her excitement and her manner of delivery made it clear that she had conjured this in order to save Vandhiyathevan. Kundavai was aware of this. Yet, the letter was not fiction. It was Karikalar’s own writing. The letter alone was proof that Vandhiyathevar was innocent. If this woman kept her mouth shut it would be very helpful. But how can she be silenced?

“Manimekalai! Are you still saying that you are the one who killed Kariakalr?” She asked.

“Yes, Devi!”

“You are saying that you were told to read this letter. Karikalan calls you in the letter his own sister. Why would you kill someone who had such affection towards you?”

“If I had read the letter before I would not have done this dreadful deed. I did it without knowing his heart. That evil Nandhini also had spoilt my mind.”

“How?’

“She often maintained that Karikalar was jealous of Vandhiyathevar and that he might even kill him. To suit this characterization Karikalar also picked up the sword in a frenzy and began shouting, ‘Where is that Vandhiyathevan? I will kill him right now!’ I believed it. With the knife in my hand I immediately …”

“Girl! Give up this talk. Even if I were to believe that the brave Athitha Karikalan was murdered by a helpless woman, the world will not.”

“Devi! Who else could have killed him? In that dark room where Karikalar’s body lay, there were only Vandhiyathevar and me. He did not kill. So, it has to be me!”

“By saying this you are bringing dishonor to my dead brother. Moreover, think about this! Will the Varnar tribe prince be quiet seeing you take on the charge of murder? He will want to save you just as you are trying to save him. Just like you are being adamant he will also say, ‘I am the one who killed.’ Because you are a woman they may pardon you. But they will not pardon him. You do know what kind of dreadful punishment awaits cutthroats who kill members of the royal family! He will be publicly …”

“Oh!” – Manimekalai wailed upon hearing Kundavai’s words. Crying she pleaded, “Sister! Only you can save him!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponniyin Selvan Part V (42 – 47)

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

42. Malaiamman Mourns

When Sambuvaraiyar came upfront leaving Nandhini’s anthapura room he called Kanthamaran aside. He said to him, “Son! Our tribe has suffered a setback today as never before. If we want to put this behind us you must listen to me and follow my instructions!”

Kanthamaran had been affected by Karikalar’s death very much. He also realized how impetuous he was in wanting to kill Vandhiyathevan. “Father! It is my stupidity that has brought this tragedy on our tribe. Please forgive me for that. Whatever you command me to do I will carry it out,” he said.

“You must leave this palace at once without anyone’s knowledge. You know that there is an underground passage that leaves from under my bed in my bedroom. It meets the one from the hunting gallery near the palace wall …”

“Father! Under such tragic circumstances you are asking me to run away through the hidden passage leaving you here alone,” said Kanthamaran.

“Child! You forgot your promise already? Yes; you must go. You are the one person now remaining in the tribe of Kollimalai leader Valvil Ori. If necessary, you must go to that same hill and live in hiding. You must return only when I send word that Mathuranthaka Thevar will be crowned,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Forgive me, Father! I cannot live in hiding. Must Valvil Ori’s tribe earn the disgrace of producing such a coward also? If you tell me to sacrifice my life I will do it this very moment. But I will not agree to live in hiding,” said Kanthamaran.

After thinking this over Sambuvaraiyar said, “Son! I said that to test you. You don’t want to run away or hide yourself. Good. I am going to give you a dangerous mission that will require courage. Leave immediately by the underground passage! But don’t go to Kollimalai! Go straight to Thanjavur! The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar will probably be there. If he is there tell him what has happened here! If he is not there, tell the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar …”

“Sir! What shall I say happened here?”

“What do you mean? Tell them about Karikalar’s death! Tell them, ‘Because of fate, unexpectedly, our plan has been put into motion; Karikalar is dead! The time has come to crown Mathuranthakar!’ Malaiamman and Kodumbalur Velar will fight us. Tell them that we must gather all our troops now and defeat those two,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“If they ask me how Karikalar died, what shall I tell them,” said Kanthamaran.

“What else? Tell them that Vandhiyathevan of the Varnar tribe killed him! Another important detail, keep this in mind! Vandhiyathevan went to Eezhanadu. He met Arulmozhi Thevan there. When he returned he met with the junior stateswoman in Pazhaiyarai. News has arrived that Arulmozhithevan after being in hiding in Nagaipattinam has now come out. We must spread the rumor that Arulmozhithevan wanting to ascend to the throne sent Vandhiyathevan to kill his brother. We must create the impression that Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman was behind this. Tell this to the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Mathuranthaka Thevar! …”

“Father! What you are saying could very well be the truth! Friend-betrayer Vandhiyathevan could have come to this palace with this dangerous goal!”

“He might have, Son! But we have to find out the reason for Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s sudden and mysterious disappearance! Vandhiyathevan is accusing her, and the Pandyanadu goons who were helping her! …”

“The man who committed the crime will always try to shift the blame to someone else. Now I understand everything. Father! Pazhaiyarai Kundavai Devi has never liked Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. She must have planned to kill Karikalar and abduct Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani at the same time. Chief Minister Aniruthar appears to be in on this also. That is why they sent this Vandhiyathevan. Aiyo! Without knowing their treacherous motives we have suffered!”

“Kanthamara! There is no use regretting what has happened. We must pay attention to what follows. You leave immediately! Before news of Karikalar’s death reaches Sundara Cholar, or anyone else in Thanjai, the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Mathuranthakar must be told. Therefore, hurry! You know about the underground passage that leads into Thanjai fort! …”

“I do, I do!”

“Then leave immediately!”

“I will, Father! My sister, Manimekalai … it is about her that I am worried …”

“You don’t have to! I will not let her blurt out to anyone else like she did to us. If she starts blubbering again, I will kill her with my own hands …”

“Aiyo, that is what I am worried about. I am afraid of your anger …”

“Don’t be! I know how to change her mind! Aha! Fate acts in mysterious ways! At first we thought of giving her in marriage to Mathuranthaka Thevar. Then we changed our minds and decided to marry her to Karikalar.  Karikalar today is lying dead. Fortunately Manimekalai never cared about him. We will have to follow our earlier plan. …”

“Yes, Father! It looks as if Manimekalai’s heart is now with that traitor Vandhiyathevan.”

“There is nothing like that, Son! Manimekalai is not old enough to know her heart. I will take care of her. You cannot delay one more minute here!”

At that time hearing the loud noise from outside the walls of the palace Kanthamaran asked, “Father! What is going on? It looks as if Malaiamman’s troops are here! When you saw Malaiamman this morning what did that old man say?”

“He had the most auspicious news. The old man was very happy to hear about Manimekalai wedding Athitha Karikalar. He is bringing a granddaughter of his to be wedded under the same awning! Now, wasn’t that magnanimous? When I invited him to the palace he said once the sun rises he will arrive at an auspicious hour. It looks as if the soldiers are already celebrating the supposedly upcoming wedding!” Sambuvaraiyar tried to laugh at his own comment. But his laughter died midway.

“Come! Come! I will walk you to the underground passage. On the way, you must not delay even a second. Somewhere on the way you must get yourself a horse and hurry,” he said.

Sambuvaraiyar picked up a lamp in his hand. Both entered the underground passage. They walked fast. Once Kanthamaran was past the palace boundary Sambuvaraiyar embraced him and gave his blessing. When he asked, “Do you want the lamp,” Kanthamaran replied, “No, Father! Don’t I know this way well? Even with my eyes shut I can go!”

Once he disappeared from sight in the tunnel Sambuvaraiyar returned. On the way he entered the hunting gallery. He listened carefully for any noise in the adjacent room. Nothing was heard. He hesitated for a few seconds. Then, as if arriving at a decision, he sighed deeply. After adjusting the wick to burn brightly, he returned the lamp to its place and went back hurrying.

Once Sambuvaraiyar returned to the palace foyer he gathered all of the women from the anthapuram. All of them were in a highly agitated state. From the tearful Manimekalai who was forcibly brought back by Kanthamaran they had somehow found out about Karikalan’s death.

“Ladies! A great tragedy has befallen our tribe as never before. You must be prepared to leave this palace any moment. You must will yourself to spend many days in the jungle and the mountain. Everyone gather your clothes and jewelry and come to the piazza. Not a sound, no crying or weeping! Do you understand?” He cautioned.

Sambuvaraiyar then came to the front entrance of the palace. He wanted to go up the front tower and find out what the commotion outside was about. He didn’t have time for it. Because even before he reached the front entrance soldiers from outside had broken down the fort’s gates and were piling in. The guards at the entrance fell to the ground unable to stop them.

If that wasn’t enough, soldiers were climbing the wall and jumping from there as well.

Sambuvaraiyar’s heart experienced great fear and trepidation. Perhaps Malaiamman found out about Karikalan’s death? How? So fast? Alright. Sooner or later he will find out. But these men must be stalled here at least for a little while longer. A half nazhikai will be sufficient. By then he would have put his plan in motion …

Sambuvaraiyar stood majestically in the piazza that was between the fort’s entrance and the palace. He held a sword, sharp and shining, in his hand. Behind him stood seven or eight soldiers bearing long spears. Some of them held flame torches providing light.

Behind the soldiers who entered breaking the entrance gates, came Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Parthipenthiran.

When he saw Smabuvaraiyar standing at the center of the piazza, Parthipenthiran pointed him to Malaiamman. Both men walked toward Sambuvaraiyar.

Even as he was walking Malaiamman asked, “Sambuvaraiyar! What is this I hear? Will you commit such atrocity? Oho! What is this? You have your sword drawn out! What is your intention?”

“I am waiting here to ask you precisely that. What is your intention? What is the purpose of breaking the front gates? This morning I myself came and invited you. You said you will wait till tomorrow for an auspicious hour …”

“Sambuvaraiyar! Auspicious hour is already here; that is why I came. Where is Athitha Karikalan? Where is the heroic warrior who beheaded Veera Pandyan? Where is the triumphant warrior of Sevur battlefield? Where is my grandson?” Malaiamman asked.

“You are asking me? What do I know? Whichever venue pleases the prince, he will be there. I have already told you that I did not want to have any word with that rude child! Now, this ought to be stale news for Parthipenthiran!”

“Aday, Sambuvaraiya! Do not fool me with lame excuses! Bring Athitha Karikalan to us at once! Or else, I will raze this place to the ground, – the fort, the ramparts and your palace!” Thirukovalur Malaiamman roared.

“Parthipenthira! What is this old man yelling about? Has he lost his mind? Who am I to hand the prince over to him? Who is he for that matter? Am I keeping the prince in prison? Or is he here to take the prince by force,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

In a calmer voice Parthipenthiran said, “Sambuvaraiyar! Don’t be offended! The old man has reason to be angry. Take a look at this ola here and you will find out!” He handed a small piece of palm leaf to Sambuvaraiyar.

Sambuvaraiyar stared at it in the light of the flambeau.

“Prince Athitha Karikalar’s life is in danger. Come immediately with troops to save him,” it was written in that ola.

Even as he was reading it Sambuvaraiyar could feel the perspiration beading on his face. Just as his body had trembled when he saw Karikalan’s corpse, his body shook now also.

“What perfidy! How treacherous! Who would have written this note,” he stammered.

“What does it matter who wrote it? Bring Athitha Karikalan here at once! Or, take us to where he is! Or, shall I ask my soldiers to search,” Malaiamman asked.

“Alright, Sir! I will take you to where Karikalan is. Parthipenthira! You know the place. I found out just now that he has gone to Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s anthapuram. You take him there,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Yes, Grandfather! Come! I will take you,” Parthipenthiran said turning in the direction of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s anthapuram.

“Aiyo! What is this?” He howled. In the direction where he turned he saw a fire blazing. Over the flames rose dark billowing clouds of smoke.

All turned around to look. “Fire! Fire!” Terrified cries rose from everyone’s mouths.

Recovering from his initial shock Parthipenthiran said, “Sambuvaraiyar! I did not at first believe this ola. Now, I do. There is perfidy and treachery. Grandfather! Tell them to arrest these saboteurs at once! I will go look for the prince and bring him!”

“Yes, sabotage, Parthipenthira! There has indeed been perfidy and treachery. But you are the ones behind it. You broke down the gates and entered this fort. You have bid your soldiers to start a fire. If the prince is in danger it is because of you! Careful! There will come a time for revenge!” Sambuvaraiyar retorted boldly.

Without paying any attention to him Parthipenthiran ran. At the same time the women from Sambuvaraiyar’s palace walked out into the piazza in a huddle. Their faces showed their confused state of mind. But not one whimper was heard from anyone.

Some of them noticed the rear of the palace awash in light. They embraced each other and pointed to the blazing fire. Manimekalai also saw it. “Aiyo! Fire! Fire! He is there,” shrieking she began to run towards the fire. Sambuvaraiyar stepped in front of her slapping her hard on the face. His beloved daughter, the apple of his eye, who had never known anyone to treat her in this manner stood aghast staring into his face.

Feeling sorry Sambuvaraiyar said, “Foolish girl! Didn’t I warn you before? Why are you making me angry?” Then he said, “Look over there! See! There is no need for you to cry or run,” pointing to Vandhiyathevan who emerged from the shadows walking unsteadily. He was carrying Athitha Karikalan’s lifeless body over his shoulder.

Malaiamman watched the confrontation between Sambuvaraiyar and his daughter. Now his attention also was drawn toward Vandhiyathevan. With wide eyes he stared at Vandhiyathevan walking unsteadily carrying someone on his shoulder. For some reason his body trembled. There was fear in his heart. He wanted to query the man who was now near him. But his tongue faltered. His throat felt dry.

His gaze unwaveringly fixed on Malaiamman, Vandhiyathevan approached him.

“Sir! Here is Prince Athitha Karikalar! I could not bring to you alive the heroic warrior who beheaded Veera Pandyan. I saved only his body before it perished in the fire. Please take your grandchild who has been killed by fate and perfidy!” Vandhiyathevan lowered Prince Karikalar’s body gently and laid it down.

Then he collapsed on the ground unconscious.

Old man Malaiamman sat down next to the body of the prince. He gazed at his brave beautiful face for a moment. Then all of a sudden as if a hill was collapsing his entire body heaved. “Aiyo!” A sad cry rose from his throat like the tumultuous sea.

He beat himself repeatedly on his head and chest with his well sculpted old hands.

“My treasure! I came for your wedding; here I am at your funeral,” he wailed in a voice that reverberated through the ends of the earth.

The elderly man then proceeded to visit one by one his memories of the prince since the time of Athitha Karikalan’s birth as he cried. He talked about the celebrations that took place on the day of his birth. He wept describing how as a baby the prince had played on his lap, shoulders and arms. He told about teaching him to take aim with the spear, wield the sword and fight. He described in minute detail the heroic performance of the prince in the Sevur battlefield at the age of sixteen and mourned.

“Aiyo! Why didn’t you die in those brave confrontations with Pandyan and reach a warrior’s heaven? Did you have to succumb to the perfidy of this traitor Sambuvaraiyan, and his gang of saboteurs? Alas! It was I who sent you here to be his guest! I am getting old; I sent you thinking that you needed friends, that if you marry his daughter he will be on your side. I believed I was sending you to Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. But instead I have sent you to be a guest at Yaman’s palace! I am the traitor! I am the one who killed you!” He repeatedly hit himself on his head.

He then abruptly let go of his grief assuming an angry stand. Turning around he roared, “Aday, Sambuvaraiya! Tell the truth! How did the prince die? What trick did you play? Even Devendran cannot win if he came to battle face to face! How many fellows did you set after him? Where did they hide and how did they kill this heroic warrior? Tell the truth!”

Angrily Sambuvaraiyar responded, “Old man! Owing to your age I am tolerating you. How did the prince die? I know only as much as you! The fellow who brought his corpse, perhaps he can tell! What is the use of questioning me?”

“Aday! This happened in your palace while he was your guest. You speak as if you haven’t a clue. Who will believe this? Good; when Sundara Chola emperor asks, you can give the answer! Soldiers! Arrest this Sambuvaraiyan. Break down this palace with its ramparts and raze it to the ground!” The old man thundered.

Parthipenthiran who just returned looked at Malaiamman. “Sir! We don’t have to destroy this palace. Agnibaghvan has undertaken that chore! There, take a look,” he said.

Malaiamman looked. He saw the fire that had been burning in one corner of that big palace now spreading rapidly. He saw that fire growing, towering towards the sky engulfing pinnacles, balconies, lofts, rooftops and towers leaving only ashes in its wake still advancing fast extending its thousand, ten thousand red tongues. He also saw the Thirukovalur soldiers standing aghast at this monstrous sight.

“Alright, alright! The lord of fire has indeed taken on our work. Good, Parthipenthira! Let’s leave at once. Emperor Sundara Cholar, the ruler of the three worlds has been sending word for three years that he wants to see his eldest son. My daughter Vanamadevi has been sending me request after request to bring the prince. At last let them at least see the lifeless body of the prince. Let’s not sacrifice this heroic warrior’s body to the fire that has engulfed the treacherous Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Let’s take it to Thanjavur. We’ll lay it in the emperor’s presence. Let the mother and father at least weep over the beautiful face that life has abandoned. Let the emperor deliver the proper punishment to the treacherous villains who killed the prince,” said Malaiamman.

43. Back in Kollidam

In the village called Thirunaraiyur on the north shore of Kollidam there was the temple residence of Saiva elder Nambiyandar Nambi. At its entrance stood a palanquin belonging to the palace. Its carriers and guards stood nearby. At a distance stood a crowd of villagers.

At the center of the crowd a heated argument was taking place between two men. The villagers were following it with growing excitement.

If we make our way through the crowd and peek in we will find out that the two men are not strangers. One of them was the Azhvarkadiyan nambi called Thirumalai. The second person was the brave saivar who at the beginning of our story engaged in an argument with him on a boat. He was the principal admisnitrator of Nambiyandar nambi’s saiva temple residence.

When he heard that the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi who was paying a visit to Nambiyandar wanted to speak to that great man in private the above veera saiva elder came outside. The sight of Azhvarkadiyan naturally made him angry. The memory that he had lost on a previous occasion to the distinguished veera Vaishnavan in a debate fueled that anger.

“Aday! Pretentious Vaishnava, who deceives the country scribbling your god’s name all over your body, where have you come? Go, find a place where there will be pongal and pulliyotharai!” He said.

“I am here after a good meal of pongal and pulliyotharai. I hear that in the saiva ashram you have been fattened on a diet of ash. A pity! What can you do? Your Sivaperuman starving of hunger dined on poison. At that time if our Narayanamoorthi’s sister Parvathi did not grab his neck what would have been the fate of your Sivan,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Aday! Veera Vaishnava! Stop talking! Don’t try flying higher and higher. Even though your Peruman flew very high didn’t he come back unable to see Sivapaeruman’s head?”

“What yarn are you spinning? When our Mahavishnu in his vaman avatharam measured the earth with one foot and the sky with his other foot, wasn’t your Sivan’s crown below that foot,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“That your Mahavishnu was born on this earth ten times exposes his bravado, doesn’t it? And what sort of births? Fish and tortoise …” said the veera saivar.

“That’s all you know! Why did Baghvan come as a fish? To bring the four vedhas that had drowned in the sea! That is why our azhvar has sung,

‘unceasingly opulent, surrounded by divine courtesans,
the prospect of ruling heaven and earth I do not want
grant me the more austere birth of being born a fish
in a pond in the pleasant gardens of Thiruvengadam'”

“Appan! Your azhvars are only twelve. Our nayanmars are sixty three! Keep that in mind!”

“Oho! Now that has become a bragging point? Pancha Pandavrs were only five. But Thuriyothanathiyar were a hundred – are you about to say?”

“Loudmouth! Are you comparing our nayanmars to the Thuriyothanan crowd? It is amoung your azhvars one finds peyazhvar and poothathazhvar.”

“It is your Sivaperuman you keeps a retinue of goblins! You have forgotten that?”

While the veera vaishnavan and the veera saivar were thus waging a war of words, supporters took sides and encouraged them with their intermittent cheers. The crowd fell silent when they saw Sivagnana Kandarathithar’s beloved spouse Chempian Madevi walking out of the madalayam. To bid farewell to her Nambiyar Nambi accompanied her.

Mazhavaraiyan’s daughter taking her leave from Nambiyandar looked at Azhvarkadiyan. “Thirumalai! You have started your fighting even here,” she remarked.

“No, Devi! This is not fighting using our limbs. This is a war of words. It is this distinguished veera saivar who started the war. Our war of words entertained those gathered here. That is why they have not come into the madalayam,said Thirumalai.

“Appan! Even for the sake of entertainment and dialectic we should not create differences in status among deities. It will create confusion in the minds of ordinary people! My father-in-law Paranthaka Thevar weaved a golden roof over Thillai Chittampalam. In the same way he also donated to the Anantheesewarar temple in Veeranarayanapuram. We must all follow in the path he showed,” said Chempian Madevi.

Once Deviyar was seated in the palanquin the palanquin traveled westward. Guards walked in the back and in front. Azhvarkadiyan walked staying close to Chempian Madevi’s palanquin.

After the palanquin had traveled a short distance Azhvarkadiyan asked the elder stateswoman, “Devi! What happened to the matter that you came to see Nambiyandar about?”

“My mind is now clear of any confusion, Thirumalai! Nambiyandar said that if there was no way of preventing Mathuranthakan from ascending to the throne, then it is only right to tell the truth to the world. I agreed with him wholeheartedly. Now I feel confident,” said Chempian Madevi.

“The chief minister also expected Nambiyandar to say that. Anyway it is good that you made this journey. Madam! There is now greater urgency for you to make a decision about this. A most terrifying news has arrived from Kadampoor. The people of this town are not yet aware of it. If they were they will not have been present here today. They will have gone to see the funeral procession of the prince,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Thirumalai! What are you saying? How frightening? Which prince? Whose funeral procession,” asked Devi.

“Forgive me, Madam! No such tragedy has ever visited the Chola tribe. They say that Athitha Karikalar has passed away at Kadampoor palace, they say that it is under unnatural circumstances. No one knows how, or who was responsible. Different versions have emerged. After Athitha Karikalar’s sudden death Kadampoor palace caught fire and has burned down completely. They are bringing the dead body of the prince in a procession to Thanjai. Thirukovalur Malaiamman is bringing Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar and his family under his custody. There are over a hundred thousand people in the procession! Before they reach Kollidam shore we should cross that river!”

“Thirumalai! This is really frightening! Does this mean that the calamity that people were expecting following thoomakethu’s appearance is now here? Aha! Is this any way for that extraordinary warrior’s life to end? Aiyo! How tormented Sundara Cholar will be to hear this? I hope the ailing emperor will not suffer a setback because of this news. Only the merciful Sivaperuman can save the Chola tribe,” said Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter.

“Madam! Apart from its tragic nature, I am also worried that this event will lead to the breakup of the Chola empire itself.”

“Why do you think that, Thirumalai?”

“A big fight can start between the Cholanadu leaders and petty kings. While blood is being shed in internal squabbles, foreign enemies will be encouraged to attack! Must I elaborate about the consequences, Madam!”

“Thirumalai! Why do you say that there will be fighting among the petty kings and the leaders?”

“You know very well the reason, Madam! Some will say that your beloved son Mathuranthakar ought to ascend to the throne next. Others will say that it ought to be Arulmozhivarmar. Already Kodumbalur Velar’s troops are camped outside the fort. Malaiamman is taking the body of the prince to Thanjai. Petty kings who side with the Pazhuvertaraiyars are gathering their troops together. A river of blood will flow when Cholanadu soldiers begin killing each other. In our fine rivers such as Kaveri instead of water there will be blood! Even the highly intelligent chief minister Aniruthar is perplexed. He is afraid that the great kingdom of Cholanadu founded by Vijayalayar and ruled by Athithar, Paranthakar and your beloved husband Kandarithithar may vanish during our lifetime. Even Aniruthar cannot think of a way to prevent it,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Thirumalai! By god’s grace I will prevent such a disaster befalling this empire. I know how. It is to make sure that I can do this, and to be strong in my decision, I came to Nambiyandar. You are saying that a fight for the throne between Mathuranthkan and Arulmozhivarman will lead to a civil war!”

“Yes, Madam! How can we stop such a war? Until now the winning argument was that Athitha Karikalar was older by a few years! Now he is no more. Arulmozhi is younger than your beloved son. But Malaiamman and Velar and the Cholanadu people will insist that the crown belongs to Arulmozhivarmar. Pazhuvertaraiyars on the other hand will disagree …”

“Thirumalai! Whoever agrees or disagrees, Mathuranthakan will not have the throne. I will see to that. I will carry out the will of the great man who was my spouse. If it is decided that the throne is not for Mathuranthakan, then there will be no civil war, am I right?”

“Yes … Madam! Only you can at this time save Cholanadu from destruction; there is no other way,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“There is nothing I can do on my own. Maheshwaran with Parvathi on his side must grant me this power,” said the elder stateswoman.

For a short time the two traveled in silence. Soon Kollidam jetty came into view from a distance.

“Thirumalai! You delivered a terrible news just now. You said that Athitha Karikalar has passed away. That this heroic warrior who ought to have ruled the three worlds is no more is in itself tragic. You said that his death was unnatural. What happened? Did he die under tragic circumstances? Did he take his own life? Or, are they saying that someone murdered him,” asked the elder stateswoman.

“Devi! There are many rumors about it. Because it happened in Sambuvaraiyar’s house, Malaiamman suspects them. He has imprisoned them. He is bringing them to Thanjai. Apparently Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran alone has escaped …”

“I don’t believe that Sambuvaraiyar was the cause. However opposed one is, how can one have the heart to kill the emperor’s beloved son who has come to his house as a guest? Sambuvaraiyar will not have done this. What has he said about this? How does he think Karikalan died?”

“Devi! Once before a Varnar tribe warrior, a young man, visited Pazhaiyarai. Do you remember? Even Madam Kundavai employed his services, she sent him to Eezhanadu with a letter!”

“Yes, yes; I remember. What about him?”

“Next to the lifeless body of the prince, only this young man was found seated. Therefore, Sambuvaraiyar is saying that it he who killed …”

“Thirumalai! That would never have happened. I remember seeing that child …”

“I think the same, Madam! But circumstances and witnesses are against Vandhiyathevan!”

“Aiyo! A pity! The junior stateswoman had so much faith in that young man. If she hears this she will be petrified!”

“Madam! I was about to bring this up. Once you reach Kudanthai it is good to meet the junior stateswoman and take her to Thanjai …”

“That is my intention. The junior stateswoman is waiting for me there …”

Before the junior stateswoman hears from anyone else, it is best that you tell her …”

“Then, you are not coming with me now, Thirumalai?”

“Devi! With your permission I want to take leave of you on Kollidam’s southshore …”

“Where are you going?”

“There is a mystery surrounding Karikalar’s death. I want to find it.”

“How?”

“Devi! I have told you once before about the Pandyanadu troublemakers. I saw one of them when I was coming on Kollidam’s southshore,” said Thirumalai.

“Why didn’t you go after him at that time?”

“Only after I reached Kollidam’s southshore I came to know about Karikalar’s death. Arasi! Bid farewell to me! I know where the saboteurs usually meet …”

“Alright, so long! What shall I tell the junior stateswoman Kundavai? I am very worried about her.”

“Tell her not to worry if Vandhiyathevan is charged with the crime. Tell her that I will somehow find the real culprit!”

“By god’s grace may you succeed in your mission,” said Chempian Madevi who was an ardent saiva devotee.

By then they had reached the Kollidam shore. Boats were waiting to take the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi and her retinue.

Azhvarkadiyan caught a smaller boat and asked the boatman to leave immediately, ahead of the other boats.

44. In the Mountain Cave

Once he reached Kollidam’s southshore Azhvarkadiyan headed west. He saw that the place was a wilderness of water because of the Kollidam breach. But in places inundated by the breachwater there were signs that water was draining, an indication that the riverflow has subsided. Finally he reached Thirupurampayam. He marveled at how this place alone was not affected by the flood. Going over in his mind about the historical tale that in the ancient time of the great deluge when the rest of earth was under water this place alone was untouched, he reached the pallipadai jungle. Even though many trees were down because of the storm it had not deprived him of a place to hide. The jungle remained thick and impenetrable. From his hiding place he watched three men and women as they stood talking at the pallipadai temple entrance. Upon careful scrutiny he saw that he could identify the three men. All three men had been present at the first meeting of the saboteurs in this pallipadai jungle. One was Soman Sambavan, another was Kiramavithan and the third person was Idumbankari. The woman was boatman Murugaiyan’s wife. While Idumbankari talked, the others seemed excited by his news. “Alright! Then we can leave immediately for pachai mallai. It will take us two days to get there,” Azhvarkadiyan heard Soman Sambavan saying.

Wanting to get a headstart over them Azhvarkadiyan turned. He was startled by a knife that pointed to his chest. Relief flooded when he saw it was Poongkuzhali’s hand that held the knife. They communicated their mutual awe by grinning at each other. Through gestures they also communicated the necessity to remain silent.

Once Azhvarkadiyan was sure that the saboteurs had gone from there he asked, “Poongkuzhali! How did you get here from Thanjavur? Why have you come?”

“I came for revenge,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Revenge? For what?”

“One of them is the rascal who escaped after killing my athai. I followed him and caught up with him here. Three others were already waiting for him here. I am perplexed to see my brother’s wife with them! In the meantime you appeared here suddenly. What shall we do now? If you will follow me I will follow them and kill the man who killed my athai,” she said.

“Aiyo! A pity! You mean your aunt oomairani, Manthahini? Why did one of them kill her,” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“He didn’t plan to kill my aunt. My aunt bore the spear that was aimed at the emperor,” she said.

“Oho! Is that right? Oomairani sacrificed her life to save the emperor’s? When did this happen? Let me hear the full story!”

“Is this the time to be talking? They will run away!”

“Poongkuzhali! I know where they are going. I also guessed why they are going, and whom they are going to meet there. It is best not to meddle with them on the way. We can go where they are going. And once I find out what I had come for, you can have your revenge,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Alright, then let’s go! On the way I’ll tell you what happened in Thanjavur,” said Poongkuzhali.

* * *

Both crossed Kollidam by boat and reached the opposite bank. Then they traveled in a northwesterly direction. After journeying for three days and nights they reached the foot of pachai mallai. It was not easy to find the people they were after because of the thick overgrown jungle at the base of that mountain. They were discouraged by the seeming reality that their journey this far may have been a wasted effort.

Suddenly an owl was heard screeching. Another one sounded as if in response. Azhvarkadiyan’s face beamed. He silently signaled to Poongkuzhali to follow him. From where the owls had sounded there was a clearing. There were about seven or eight people present. Some were lighting a fire and cooking. Others were talking. There seemed to be an element of surprise in the news that they appeared to be exchanging, the newcomers and those who were already present.

Ravithasan was one of those already present. He was pointing to a mountain cave at a distance and saying something to those who had just arrived. Azhvarkadiyan noticed this. “Poongkuzhali! The people I came in search of are probably in that cave. I will slowly check the cave out. If anyone of these men come near the cave, alert me,” he said to Poongkuzhali.

“I cannot cry like an owl. I will pretend to be a cuckoo bird,” said Poongkuzhali.

To let air and light in, there were many holes made in the cave. Therefore plenty of light entered the cave. In that light Azhvarkadiyan witnessed an extraordinary scene. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar donned a tiger skin attire like that of the kalamuga mendicants. Beside him lay a necklace of skulls strung together. His face appeared white as if he had lost a lot of blood. He appeared to have been lying on the floor and was now slowly waking or regaining consciousness and was trying to sit up. His face looked as if he was stepping out from a nightmarish world. His eyes looked around, wide and disoriented.

Beside him was Nandhini. She had no jewelry or make-up. Her hair was not tied. Yet her attractive countenance dazzled ten times more striking than before. In a voice filled with affection, support, regret and sorrow she was saying, “Sir! Have this porridge,” and was handing him an earthenware bowl.

Pazhuvertaraiyar turned and looked at her. For a while a smile blossomed on his face indicating pleasure and happiness.

“Nandhini! My great queen! Is it you who just spoke? Was that your voice? Where are we? I was at death’s doorstep, is it you who brought me back? What Savithri did the other day to Sathyavan, did you do for me today? It seemed as if you were touching my chest with your tender hand. Is it true? For three years you refused to even touch me; finally, has your heart relented? Where is it? Give! Give the porridege! Porridge from your hand is like heaven’s own ambrosia to me,” he said.

While accepting the earthenware bowl from her hands his manner abruptly turned hostile. Glaring at her he said in an angry voice, “Treacherous monster! Is it you? You had the nerve to touch me? Were you trying to stab me? And I woke up then? Is this porridge in this vessel? Or is it poison to end my life? From your hands, even heaven’s ambrosia will become poison,” and knocked the vessel out of her hands. It hit the wall of the cave and broke into smithereens.

45. ‘Bid me farewell!’

It did not seem that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s anger surprised Nandhini in any way. For three years she had treated this great warrior of an old man like a doll at the end of a string dangling from her hand.

Today, for the first time that string broke. The doll that was dancing to her tune had begun to think for itself. Nandhini appeared to have been expecting this. She no longer had use for this doll.

Calmly Nandhini rose and worshipped the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. In a voice cracking with emotion she said, “You have said many times that my words are sweeter than honey and ambrosia. But today my words will be like the porridge I gave, more bitter than poison. Yet, please allow me to say a few words before I take my leave. The same mouth that had called me ‘apple of my eye,’ and ‘beloved wife,’ today called me a treacherous monster! For three years I deceived you and betrayed you. I was an orphan in the desert. You brought me from there to this palace. You made the queens and princesses treat me with respect. You fought with the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar who means the world to you. The accusations and sarcasm hurled at me by others did not diminish your affection for me. I betrayed the person who has trusted me and lavished on me unimaginable glory. That is true. I lived in your palace only to carry out my intention. I did many things without your knowledge. I stayed in touch with the saboteurs. I charmed the minds of young men like Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran using them to my advantage. But, Sir, I have never betrayed you in one respect. Since the day I married you publicly I have known you alone as husband. No blemish had been placed on your age old tribe that had produced great warriors generation after generation by my bad conduct. That kind of dishonor will never be yours even if I continue to live …”

“Nandhini! What are you saying? What more infamy can befall my tribe? Aiyo! With my hand … with my hand … Wretched woman! You had a sword! Where is it? Cut my hand off with it! That is the only help you can give me! No, no! Don’t! There is one more important task for this hand. It is very important. Do not listen to me and do anything like that!”

Swami! I will not do anything like that. I could not even use it on the person whom I had coveted for a long time to avenge. When I was in a daze, afraid that the chance was about to slip away, you came to my aid …”

“Vile wretch! I came to your aid? What are you saying? Traitor! Devil incarnate as woman! If I anticipated this I would never have gone there! God! When I got caught in the Kollidam flood why didn’t Yaman take me away?”

“Swami! You did not come to my help. I did not ask for your help also. You came in the tribe that has for generations affirmed its alliance with the Chola tribe, even to the extent of sacrificing one’s life in the service of the Chola tribe. I on the other hand came to settle my score with the Chola tribe. That is why I never divulged my true intention to you. Sometimes I have thought of getting my work done through you. Think about it! Today you are calling me, ‘Monster,’ and ‘Devil incarnate as woman!’ But haven’t you on so many occasions stood helpless as a drunk losing your sight and senses gazing at the beauty of this hapless woman’s face? On those occasions I have considered using you to settle my score. But I did not want to involve you directly in such a treacherous act and bring dishonor to your tribe. This is why I tried so hard to make you go to Thanjai from Kadampoor. And you went. But fate brought you back at the nick of time! You did not by your volition return to help me. It was fate that brought you there at that moment! Yes, Sir! It was fate that made you suspicious about my conduct. If your intention was only to prevent me from seeking revenge you would have arrived in public. It was because you suspected my conduct that you came secretly and in disguise. At least in that matter, your suspicion must be over! Or else, at least now, be rid of it! Elders have said that a husband and wife are partners for life. It was because I was a true wife to you fate brought you back at the right moment …”

“Nandhini! Enough! Stop! Your words are torturing me. Instead, please kill me once and for all! I don’t have strength in my arms to even put up a fight! I have no strength in my body also. If you can’t summon up the courage to use the sword, then please add some poison to the porridge!”

“King! Forgive me. No … you cannot forgive me, not in this birth! I will say this though, please listen! In our next birth if we both happen to be on this earth, at that time we will have no recollection of this incarnation. That I lived a life of deception in your palace, that I used the wealth in your treasury for my vengeful schemes, this last occurrence brought on by fate in Kadampoor palace, you will not remember any of this. I also will not. For my betrayal of you in this birth, I want to seek amends in the next one. In my next birth, I will marry you. I will be a truly faithful spouse to you. As long as this life lasts, this will be my prayer to all the gods.”

His body and soul both mellowed by these words the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Nandhini! You go away! Leave this place at once! If you keep talking in this manner I will loose my senses. I will neglect my duty! All the harm you have done until now is enough! Don’t confuse me and drive me mad any longer! Go, go now!”

“Swami! Please forgive me! If I had listened to the advice of those who came with me, we would have by now crossed this pachai mallai and Kollimallai and entered Kongunadu. But I did not have the heart to leave without speaking to you and taking leave of you. Once you were out of Kadampoor palace you fainted. The men told me to just leave you there. I did not agree. I made them carry you. Even though we walked day and night without stopping, three days have gone by. When we reached this place also they wanted to abandon you here. I was adamant. I said that I will leave only after you regained your consciousness. I won. You tried to kill me. That is understandable. But because of fate something else happened. You who wanted to take my life – I resurrected. Just now you knocked down the porridge from my hands. But it was these hands that fed you water and tended to you the last three days when you were unconscious. For three years you had me as the mighty queen of your palace showering on me great prestige. I cannot repay that in this incarnation. Still, I have been fortunate to serve you these past three days. This memory will satisfy me as long as I live. I am leaving, Sir! Please bid me farewell!”

“Nandhini! Why are you telling me? Just go! The more you delay, the more my mind will vacillate!”

“Yes; you will even want to kill me again. Swami! If death is by your hand this servant will consider it a windfall. Anyway, was it to kill me that you came in disguise?”

“Why did I disguise myself? You said that I doubted your integrity and I wanted to catch you. That is not correct, I disguised myself and came via the secret passage because I feared that if I appeared before you as Pazhuvertaraiyan and you spoke two words to me, my heart will melt all over again. I wanted to leave no room for you to talk, I wanted to take you by surprise, throw the knife at you while you stood in shock. I threatened the Kadampoor servant Idumbankari and took his knife from him. Not only that, Nandhini! I came in the disguise of a kalamugan, so that I will not be made the laughingstock of the country if rumor should spread that old man Pazhuvertaraiyan turned jealous and killed his young wife. But just as you said, while I had my plan, fate had its own. I cannot try this again. So, leave! Only, tell me this! If I did not interfere at that time, what would have happened? How did you think of executing your plan?”

“Oh, yes; I was going to talk about it. Your anger has disturbed my mind as well. Swami! When you went to Thanjai, I gave you my word, ‘No harm will come to your tribe and its reputation through my hand!’ I tried very hard to keep it. I planned to carry out my scheme through either Manimekalai, Kanthamaran or Vandhiyathevan. Most of all I had my hopes on Manimekalai. For a different reason I hoped that Karikalar will turn frantic and rush to kill Vandhiyathevan who was hiding there; and at that time Manimekalai will kill him. So that Manimekalai will not be accused, Vandhiyathevan I hoped will volunteer, ‘I am the one who killed!’ This way I would have taken revenge on Pazhaiyarai Kundavai also. Such was my plan. But there was no need for any of this. The prince took his life with his own hands …”

“No, Nandhini! No! Karikalan did not take his own life. Are you trying to fool even me?”

“Swami! If you had not thrown Idumbankari’s knife at that time, Karikalar would have killed himself with Veera Pandyar’s sword …”

“Yes, yes; if I had come a second later I would not have done this horrendous deed. Instead my suspicion would have been on you. Nandhini! Destiny has had its run. We cannot change anything now. In a way fate has done me a good turn as well. You said that in our next birth you wanted me to be your partner in life! Sweeter words than that, I have never heard. I did not even ask you. When my life departs it is these words that I will be thinking of. Yes, Nandhini! In this birth, you and I can no longer be together. Therefore, leave. Before leaving, if there is any porridge that I tossed away remaining, give it to me! If there is no porridge, at least give me some water from your hand! To show that you have forgotten what I said in the beginning, that you have forgiven, give me a mouthful of porridge or water before you go,” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Alright, Sir! For such kindness I will be grateful as long as I live!” Nandhini went to get porridge from the stove.

Azhvarkadiyan decided it was time to slip away from the cave. He had found out all what he wanted to know. There was no use remaining there any longer. There will only be danger. He left thinking that he will decide on the next course of action once he was outside the cave.

46. Azhvan in Danger!

Azhvarkadiyan and Poongkuzhali were seated under the tree at the foot of the hill. “Girl! Mission accomplished. Shall we go?” Azhvarkadiyan said.

“Vaishnavar! If your mission is finished you can go. My mission isn’t,” said Poongkuzhali.

“What is your mission?”

“I came in search of the scoundrel who killed my aunt.”

“You didn’t find him? He is not among those traitors?”

“He is!”

“Then what?”

“Did I come to worship at his feet and collect my bundle of blessings? I came to get revenge for revenge, murder for murder.”

“Poongkuzhali! Who are we to punish those who have sinned? There is always god!”

“Is there? Even so, I doubt that god is punishing humans for their atrocities.”

“Let’s not talk about god. In this world the responsibility of punishing wrong-doers is with the king; and the officials appointed by the king.”

“If the king and his appointees fail in their duty?”

“How can we determine that they have failed?”

“Vaishnavar! One of those scoundrels there, threw a spear from the balcony and killed my aunt. He killed a helpless woman who was deaf and dumb, who never intended harm to anyone, who had been an unfortunate being all her life. The emperor, his queens, Thanjai fortress commander – the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, they were all watching. Still, they let him escape …”

“Poongkuzhali! They did not do anything to catch Soman Sambavan?”

“The emperor who rejected her all her life gathered her in his lap and cried. All of the others stood passively in their bewilderment. Once I said, “I am going behind the murderer,” the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was jolted into action. He accompanied me, but in the underground passage he had to turn back.

When we were both in the underground passage, a cry rose in the dark. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar pursued it and found a man. He held him and shouted, ‘Here, the murderer!’ The man replied, ‘No, I did not kill!’ The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar recognized the man’s voice. He was astounded. ‘Aiyo! Why did you come here?’ He asked. ‘I came to see if all the treasure here is safe,’ the voice replied in the dark. ‘Aiyo! God! If anyone sees you here what will they think? They will think that you are the one who tried to kill the emperor.’ said Kalanthaka Kandar. ‘Is the emperor dead,’ asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s beloved son-in-law Mathuranthaka Thevar. ‘Foolish Child! Come with me! Before anyone sees you, come!’ Kalanthaka Kandar took the son-in-law by his hand and left. Then I followed the murderer alone. After all the difficulty, after coming all this way, you are asking me to go back?” Poongkuzhali said.

“Girl! You should have been born a man. If you had been you would have been a dictator of a big empire. Never mind. Listen to this. Give me your verdict! If a person intends to kill one person, but ends up killing someone else by accident, should that person be charged with the crime of murder?”

“I don’t understand your question. The one who killed, did commit the crime of murder!”

“How can that be? You have heard Ramayanam. Thasarathar released the arrow thinking that it was the elephant drinking water. It fell on the rishi kumaran. Was Thasarathar punished for the crime of killing rishi kumaran? No! Take the case of Soman Sambavan whom you followed here. He threw the spear to kill the emperor. But, the emperor is alive. Your aunt came in between, took the spear and died. Isn’t that suicide? Then how can Soman Sambavan be charged with the crime of murder?”

“Vaishnavar! You have a very peculiar way of dishing out justice …”

“This isn’t just mine. Even the lord of the universe Narayaana Moorthi himself is peculiar in this regard. In this world the sinners are prosperous. Good people – benevolent souls – suffer and die. There must be some divine justification for this?”

“Get lost, Vaishnava! And take your Narayanan with you. I will come after doling out my kind of justice.”

“Poongkuzhali! I did not raise this topic for your sake alone. There in that cave are two people. One of them killed Athitha Karikalar. But he did not intend to kill him. The knife he threw to kill someone else, struck the prince killing him. Can we call this person a murderor?”

“Vaishnava! Don’t meddle with my brain. Who is in that cave?”

“The treasurer of Chola empire, the heroic warrior who fought in twenty four battlefields, who carries sixty four scars on his body. The tax collecting lord, the head of the petty kings group – the elder Pzhuvertaraiyar is seated in that cave …!” Like a town-crier Azhvarkadiyan announced in a loud voice.

At the same time Ravithasan, Revathasan, Parameshwaran, Soman Sambavan and others came running. Poongkuzhali moved away at once standing at a distance. The men surrounded Azhvarkadiyan. Ravithasan held a walking stick in his hand. Raising it he said, “Aday! Pretentious Vaishnava! Anbil Aniruthar’s spy! Finally got caught to us? Of our three plans we succeeded only in one. We failed in the other two. We don’t have to worry about those failures anymore. We have found you, the person we have been searching for three years! This time, you will not escape from us!”

“Azhvarkadiyan in a voice that was louder than before said, “Appan! Who is the one searching? Who is the one running? All are the children of that Narayana Moorthi himself! Without him even an atom will not move in this world! Ravithasa! You listen! Let your companions also listen! Leaving all the other small-change deities, surrender at the sacred feet of Mahavishnu! Baghvan will forgive all of your sins and save you! Do not fall, throwing away your lives in the service of mortal beings. Worship Narayanan and reap the benefit of narajanmam, seek your place at the paramapatham! Let’s see, join me in singing:

‘Narayanan is god –
let’s all worship!'”

He began to sing.

Ravitahsan started laughing. “Why, Vaishnava! Paramasivan is not god? Worshipping Paramasivan will not bring me to paramapatham?” He said.

Excitedly Azhvarkadiyan said, “Paramasivan is a deity of destruction! Narayanan is the savior! Have you forgotten our Narayana Moorthi saving gajarajan when he was caught in the crocodile’s mouth?”

“Appan! Didn’t the Vishnubaghvan who saved gajarajan kill the crocodile? Like that, didn’t your mahavishnu destroy Ravanan, Kumbakarnan, Iraniyatchan, Iraniyakasipu, Sisubalan, Kanthavakiran and others?” Ravithasan said.

“Those who suffer at the hands of our peruman will also reach heaven. After killing Iraniyan, Ravanan, and Sisubalan gave them heaven. Your Paramasivan on the other hand burned down the thiripurar with his third eye. Did he give them heaven?”

“Alright, alright! Enough with your chatter! Now let Narayanan come and save you!” Ravithasan held up the club in his hand.

Wishing to help Azhvarkadiyan, Poongkuzhali drew her knife she had tucked in the waist. At the same moment her attention was drawn to a woman who came running out of the mountain cave her hair loose and flowing. For a moment she was startled believing it was her aunt Manthahini. Then she realized, “No, no, she is Pazhuvur Rani Nandhini!”

By then Nandhini was beside Azhvarkadiyan. She stopped Ravithasan’s raised hand with hers.

“Don’t! Don’t hurt my brother! Ravithasa! If it is true that I am your rani then drop the stick,” she said.

“Sister! Thank you. But they cannot hurt me. Narayana Moorthi whom I worship will save me,” Azhvarkadiyan said.

Ravithasan laughed. “How will he save you? Once he appeared from out of a pillar to save Prahalathan; would Narayanamoorthi today appear splitting this tree in two?”

“Magician! You don’t believe me? Good! Look over there! Look at Aiyanar temple over there! Do you see the horses made out of clay in front of the temple? By the grace of Narayanan those clay horses are going to come to life! Soldiers bearing spears will ride those horses to capture you and save me!”

Everyone turned in the direction of the temple. They were aghast unable to believe their eyes. Because it really did appear as if the clay horses had come to life and were galloping towards them. On each horse was seated a soldier armed with a spear!

47. Nandhini’s Disappearance

Among those who were taken aback by the sight of the horses racing toward them the first one to come to his senses was Ravithasan.

“Devi! This fake Vaishnavan has once again shown his handiwork. I have warned you many times, ‘He is a spy. Do not trust him!’

“He has brought people to catch us. But he cannot catch us. Even if his god Narayanan comes it will be impossible to catch us. Come, let’s go. Before the horses get here, let’s go up the mountain,” said the magician.

“Nandhini! Don’t go with those traitors! Enough with the tragedies caused by your association with them,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Nandhini looked at Azhvarkadiyan. “Thirumalai! I have been wanting something for a long time, do you remember? I have been asking you to take me to my mother. At least now if you promise me that you will take me to my mother, then I will go with you. Or else I will go with them,” she said.

“Yes, yes; he will take you to your mother in yamalokam! Just like he killed your mother he will kill you and send you to yamalokam! Nandhini! You no longer want the friendship of these traitors. One of them killed your mother! Look at the magician’s face! ‘Murderer!’ It’s written,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

His face erupting in anger Ravithasan shouted, “Lies! Lies!”

In Nandhini’s eyes that had seemed peaceful until then anger surfaced.

“Thirumalai! Is this true? My mother is dead? I will never see her?” She said.

“If you have doubts ask this girl. It is one of them, Soman Sambavan, who threw the spear and killed your mother. She saw it. She came after the man who killed her aunt! Poongkuzhali! Speak!” Azhvarkadiyan implored.

“Yes! I saw with my own eyes! I came here to take revenge on the man who killed my aunt,” said Poongkuzhali.

Nandhini’s frenzied laughter bordered on insanity. “You came to take revenge? Revenge! Revenge! Isn’t it enough the way I took revenge?” She said. Then she turned to Ravithasan. “My enemy! Cutthroat! Is this what you did,” she said.

“Rani! You are mistaken. I did not betray you. Soman Sambavan threw the spear at the emperor. That dumb madwoman came in between and died! Her fate! What do you say? Are you going with us or not? There, those horses are here already,” he said.

It did not appear that Nandhini was listening. Abruptly she sat down. She covered her eyes with her hands. She sobbed and wept so that her entire body was shaking. With the weeping came the frenzied laughter.

Ravithasan looked at his men. “Run! Run and climb the mountain! There is no use depending on the rani any longer,” he told them. Soon all were running.

“Vaishnava! Here, payment for your mischief!” Ravithasan hit the vaishnavan on his head with the stick before running himself.

Namo, Narayana!” Azhvarkadiyan cried as he rubbed his head.

All those who ran entered the mountain cave. In a short time they stood above the cave on the hilltop at the mouth of river Kanari.

At the same time the horses reached the foot of the mountain. Because there were large rocks spread all over and there was no travel-worn path the horses took a long time to get there.

Azhvarkadiyan saw that the horsemen leading were the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and Kanthamaran. Behind them he saw Senthan Amuthan tied to one of the horses.

“Come! Come! You came at the right time,” he said. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and Kanthamaran jumped down from their horses. Their attention was drawn to Nandhini who was seated down crying.

Kanthamaran went to Nandhini. He tried to say something. But no words came out of his mouth.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar turned to Azhvarkadiyan. “Vaishnava! How did you get here? Why are you here,” he asked.

“Colonel! I came in search of the same person that you have come looking for. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is inside that cave,” he said.

“Really? He is alive?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said eagerly.

“Yes, he is alive. Yaman will be terrified to go near your elder brother! So, those murderers there, they did not succeed in your brother’s case!” Azhvarkadiyan pointed to Ravithasan and others standing on the top of Thirumalaikunru.

“Who are they? Why are you calling them murderers?”

“These men belong to Veera Pandyan’s emergency squad, magician Ravithasan and his crowd. They are the ones who tried to kill the emperor. They are the criminals who killed Prince Athitha Karikalar,” said Thirumalai.

“Lies! Lies! Vandhiyathevan killed the prince! Are you trying to hide your friend’s crime,” interrupted Karikalan.

“Fool! Be quiet!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar scowled at Kanthamaran.

He then turned to the Vaishnavan. “Did they try to kill the treasurer also? How did he escape,” he asked.

“With the help of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani who is sitting here crying!”

“Why is Ilaiyarani crying?”

“She heard that her mother passed away. So she is crying! Can’t we postpone these inquiries for later?”

“Yes, yes! We must first see the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar; you go and tell him that I am here!”

Even at that time the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s reverential awe for his elder brother did not diminish even a little. He hesitated to walk in on him unannounced.

“Sir! Your brother is not going anywhere. I will go and tell him that you are here. Aren’t you going to do anything to catch those murderers?”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar pressed his forehead with his hand. “Yes, yes! Once before also my mind slipped! I let the fellow who tried to kill the emperor escape,” he said.

“He has not escaped; he is there, on that hill. Hurry! Tell your men!”

Colonel Kalanthaka Kandar immediately barked out an order to his soldiers. They ran leaving behind their horses to where river kanari turned into a waterfall from the mountain. When they reached that place large rocks began rolling down from the top. One or two soldiers fell to the ground hit by the rocks while others scattered to avoid the rocks from falling on their heads.

“How did they climb to the top, do you know?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“They went inside the cave and from inside they climbed. There must be a secret passage inside the cave. Come, let’s go and see!” Azhvarkadiyan said. As he led the way Kalanthaka Kandar and Kanthamaran followed.

At that time from inside the cave a towering figure emerged unsteadily. Standing at the entrance to the cave, the figure stared at those coming. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did not immediately recognize his older brother. When at last it dawned on him that the person with the bruised up body and death pallor was his brother, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar ran and hugged him crying, “Brother!”

Tears poured from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes. “Brother! You warned me so many times! Without listening to you I have suffered,” he mumbled in a soft voice.

As Azhvarkadiyan and Kanthamaran were about to go inside the cave, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stopped them. “Where are you going,” he asked.

“The murderers went inside there …”

“What murderers?”

“Magician Ravithasan and his friends.”

“They are not murderers,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“See? Didn’t I say that Vandhiyathevan is the murderer,” said Kanthamaran.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stared at him sharply. “How did this foolish young man come here?” He asked.

“It was Kanthamaran who brought the news from Kadampoor.”

“What news?”

“He brought the news that Prince Karikalar had died. Sambuvaraiyar sent word through him that we must gather all our might and make arrangements to put Mathuranthakar on the throne immediately!”

“Aha! Is that right?” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said in a tone that showed very little enthusiasm. Then he asked, “How is the situation in Thanjavur?”

“Brother! I must explain in detail. You are very weak. Shall we please sit down and talk,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

The treasurer sat right there at the cave’s entrance.

“Sir! If you give us a little room we can go in the cave and see if there is a way to climb up,” said the Vaishnavan.

“What for,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Ravithasan and crowd climbed the hill by going in through the cave,” said Thirumalai.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar shook his head. “There is no use going inside the cave, Appan! They have pushed a rock from above and blocked the way. The rock almost fell on my head. It is a divine feat that my life has been spared! Go! Both of you, go! See if there is another way to climb the hill,” he said.

When Azhvarkadiyan and Kanthamaran went away the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes fell on Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali.

“Who are they? Why are they here?” He asked.

“The girl is Kodikarai Thiyagavidankar’s daughter Poongkuzhali. She came in search of the man who killed her aunt. Senthan Amuthan came in search of her. It was him who guided us here so we could find you,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Tell me everything that happened in Thanjavur,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. Accordingly the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did. He told that a man belonging to the magician’s crowd hid in the treasury cellar, waited for the right moment and threw a spear aimed at the emperor; that Manthahini Devi came in between to save the emperor and lost her life. Then he continued:

“Brother! In the meantime Kodumbalur Velan arrived with a big garrison and began attacking Thanjavur fort. Without you there I could not decide whether to start a war with Velan or not. Neither could I ask the emperor for advice. Chief Minister Aniruthar is in the fort. He told me to wait until you returned, and until then it would be enough if we just took care of the safety of the fort. Fortunately at this time Prince Arulmozhivarmar and Kodumbalur Velar’s daughter Vanathi arrived. The prince came in the disguise of an elephant-keeper. Vanathi told me that she had brought an urgent message from the junior stateswoman. Thinking that it was to our advantage to have Velan’s daughter in the fort I let her elephant in. At the entrance to the emperor’s palace I came to know that the elephant-keeper was Prince Arulmozhivarmar. I was perplexed. Brother! The young prince does have an extraordinary power. When I saw his face my limbs started shaking. My heart melted. Unbeknown to me my palms rose in front of me together. I had to greet him and welcome him. It is no surprise that the Cholanadu people start dancing not knowing head or tail at the mere mention of Prince Arulmozhivarmar! …”

“Enough, enough! Don’t we know that already? So I was right to think that the news about Arulmozhivarman drowning in the sea was nothing but fiction. Tell me what happened then! Why did the prince disguise himself as the elephant-keeper?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“If the Kodumbalur Velan knew he would have stopped him outside. He would have barred him from entering the fort. Thinking that Velan’s troops also will make a big fuss, he came in this disguise. For that, we must applaud the prince. It was when the prince met the emperor and while they were talking the murderer threw the spear from above. By divine intervention, it fell on the dumb lunatic and she died. If it had fallen on the emperor and he had died, our tribe would have been marred forever …”

“It isn’t now? Tribe is forever marred!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar mumbled to himself.

“Brother! What did you say,” asked Kalanthaka Kandar.

“Nothing, go on,” said the treasurer.

“Now, a miracle happened. The emperor who had been disabled for so long was all of a sudden walking. He ran to the deaf-mute, placed her head on his lap and started wailing. For a moment we all stood speechless. It was this woman Poongkuzhali who shouted, ‘I am going after the killer,’ and ran from there. May she be blessed! It was because of her that I had the good fortune of seeing you here today even in this condition.”

With tears in his eyes the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Brother! I have heard in ancient mythology about the devotion of younger brothers to their elder brothers. But even among them one cannot find one as devoted as you. Never mind; tell me what happened then!”

“I also followed Poongkuzhali. In the underground passage I caught a man in the dark. I thought that he was the killer. When I heard his voice I knew it was Mathuranthaka Thevan.”

“Why was he in the underground passage?”

“I also don’t know why. When I asked he did not give me a proper answer. I was afraid that someone will think that he is the killer.”

“Perhaps, he is?”

“No, Brother, no! That weakling will not go that far. Besides, I saw with my eyes the man who ran away after throwing the spear. Mathuranthakan did not agree easily to leave the cellar. I slowly persuaded him and took him to the palace and left him there under guard. I was going to go back to the treasury cellar but there was much else going on. Rumor had already spread outside, ‘The emperor is dead,’ and that someone had killed him. Kodumbalur Velar had ordered his troops immediately to attack the fort. Kaikolar troops joined the Veleer troops. Our troops were at that time unprepared. To command them I wasn’t present at the entrance. Veleer and kaikolar troops began to break down the gates; they started climbing over the wall and enter the fort. By the time I came to know about it and reached the entrance ten thousand of them were already inside. Our soldiers were only about two thousand. They fought valiantly with those from the outside. I went and ordered them to stop. I gathered our soldiers in one place. Deciding that there was no use in waiting in the fort I left with our soldiers. Veleer and kaikola troops tried to stop us. We struck back and felled all those who tried to stop us and came outside. ‘If either Pazhuvur family or Mathuranthaka Thevar is hurt even in the slightest way I will destroy the Kodumbalur tribe,’ I sent a message to Poothi Vikramakesari. Then, I came hurrying thinking that you will be in Kadampoor. On the way, on kudamurutti riverbank Kanthamaran was speeding on his horse. When he saw the Pazhuvur flag he stopped; the news he delivered shocked me. He said that it has been a few days since you left for Thanjai. I asked what message Sambuvaraiyar had sent. The elder Sambuvaraiyar sent word that Prince Karikalar had died, Vandhiyathevan had killed him; therefore this ws the time to seat Mathuranthaka Thevar on the throne, that we must make all necessary arrangements immediately, and we must send letters to all those on our side and gather our troops. It seemed right to me. I believed that you also must be engaged in the task of strengthening our side, and that you will return soon. I led our troops to the  Thirupurampayam ridge between manniyaru and Kollidam and left them there. I had olas written to Mazhapadi thenravar Mazhavarayar, Kunrathoor Kizhar,  Mumudi Pallavarayar, Thanathonki Kalingarayar, Vanangamudi Munaiyatharaiyar, Theva Senathipathi Poovaraiyar, Fearless Singha Mutharaiyar, Irattaikudai Rajaliyar and had couriers on horses hurry with them. I asked everyone in my ola, to gather their troops and come as fast as they could to Thirupurampayam. Brother! You need not worry at all! We will destroy Kodumbalur Velan and Thirukovalur Malaimman so that they can never again raise their heads. We will recapture Thanjavur fort. We will also place Mathuranthaka Thevar on the throne!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar declared excitedly.

But his words did not seem to produce the slightest excitement in the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. His attention suddenly veered in another direction.

“Brother! Who is that? Who is it who is covering the face with both hands, and crying and sobbing,” he asked.

“Elder Brother! Can’t you see? It is Ilaiyarani! A pity! She must have had a very difficult time trying to save you! Pleased forgive my criticism of her, Brother! I hear that magician Ravithasan and his cronies abducted you and it was Ilaiyarani who saved you. It is true, isn’t it,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

“Yes, yes! It is Ilaiyarani who saved my life. If Nandhini did not tend to me you will not have seen me alive. The world will not have known the truth,” the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“Even I did not appreciate Ilaiyarani’s exemplary character! How will the world know,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

Without paying attention to his words the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Nandhini has not left this place still? I thought that she would have gone with those men who climbed the steps up in the cave and fled?”

“How can Ilaiyarani go leaving you behind,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Never mind that! How did you know that we were here, in this place?” The elder brother asked.

“We were staying near Thirupurampayam pallipadai. Kanthamaran was guarding the Kollidam shore. When he saw Senthan Amuthan trying to get on a boat he caught him. You will remember that I had Senthan Amuthan in jail for a few days once before because he helped Vandhiyathevan escape. Kanthamaran was already very angry at him. Now, again he suspected that he was involved in some spy work. So he brought him. When we talked to him we found out about you. He had heard about his uncle’s daughter Poongkuzhali going after some murderer alone by herself and he came in search of her. Poongkuzhali told him not to join her and sent him back. Yet he had discreetly followed her. At that time he overheard some culprits near Thirupurampayam pallipadai. He found out that some scoundrels had abducted you and taken you to the green mountain area. Knowing that Poongkuzhali and the Vaishnavan were heading to green mountain he tried to follow them without their knowledge. When we heard this Kanthamaran and I started with fifty soldiers. Senthan Amuthan was adamant that he join us. We figured that it was also good and tied him to a horse and brought him. It was good that we came. We found you. What is there to worry about now, Brother! Let’s go now. I will make arrangements for the men to carry you, so you won’t be in pain. By now a large garrison would have collected in Thirupurampayam. We can capture Thanjavur fort in one jamam,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Yes, we must go to Thanjavur immediately!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stood up. He slowly walked towards Nandhini.

Nandhini who was until then seated on a rock sobbing stood up abruptly when she heard the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar clearing his throat. Her frenzied eyes looked around. Azhvarkadiyan who was beside her said in a low voice, “Nandhini! At least now, say yes; say just one word that you will come with me! We will leave this country and go to vadanadu. We will journey to Brinthavanam, Vadamadurai, Ayothi, Kasi, Harithvaram, Rishikesam, and other sacred stations. We will recite Srimanth Narayanan’s holy name, sing azhvars’ hymns, and live our lives happily. I am prepared to give up my government work and come with you.”

With tears in her eyes Nandhini looked at him. “Thirumalai! Even after I betrayed you to this extent, your affection for me has not changed. May Narayanan whom you worship  bless you!” She said.

At this time Poongkuzhali asked Senthan Amuthan, “There! Look at Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani! Doesn’t she resemble our aunt?”

“Yes, with her hair untied she is exactly like your athai,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“From now on, she is going to be my aunt; the affection I had for my aunt, I will now give Ilaiyarani,” Poongkuzhali answered.

“I am with you on that, Poongkuzhali!” Senthan Amuthan told her.

By now the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was standing beside Nandhini.

Seeing him Nandhini fell on the ground and worshipped him. She touched his feet and then raised her hands to her face pressing her fingers against her eyes. Standing up she looked at the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar once. Then she abruptly turned around. Her eyes fell on the horses that belonged to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and his men. She ran fast towards the horses. She leaped on to the first one. She took its reins in her hand and gave it a tug. The horse began to gallop.

Those who were helplessly standing unable to fathom her intentions now started to go after her. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, Azhvarkadiyan, Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali, all took a step forward.

“Stop!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar roared. Once again all of them stood paralyzed and helpless. They stared at the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stood gazing at Nandhini’s figure atop the horse. The horse, speeding like the wind, soon made a turn at the foot of the mountain and disappeared from sight.

Yes; Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani Nandhini Devi also disappeared. We will no longer see her in this story.

Perhaps, many years later, in another place, under different circumstances we may see her. Who can say?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory

IMG_0911We played in our playgrounds
Then we went home
Knowing we will come back
to play again
We never returned
Now old and worn
we miss our play days
our playmates
This is not what we were promised
When we played in our playground
We were promised a better life
A better playground
We will never make promises
Such as these
Know thee that your play is only for once
Make the most of it
Don’t hold your memories
Erase your memories
Before they are hijacked
And thrown into the memory pickle jar
that holds memories
from a thousand years ago
A thousand years will pass
Your memory is insignificant
We played in our playground
We will take our memories with us
Knowing it’s only for once
And that once
lasted a lifetime
a lot to hold
to keep
We played in our playground
They told us we will return
We never did