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Ponniyin Selvan Part I (30 – 33)

December 9, 2014

Ponniyin Selvan was written by the late Kalki Krishnamoorthy. It first appeared serialized in the weekly Kalki. Beginning in 1950 it appeared as weekly installments for three and a half years. It is now again being serialized in Kalki. These are my translations / notes in keeping up with the plot. Translations of this novel are available online.

30. Art Gallery

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar took Vandhiyathevan back to the visitor’s hall with him. He was not entirely satisfied with the answer that Vandhiyathevan had given the king. He wondered if it was a mistake to have sent him alone to meet the king. This suspicion was warranted because the man had come from Athitha Karikalar. Then again, there was no room for suspicion because the man had arrived with his brother’s ring. Aha! In these matters did the older Pazhuvertaraiyar need any counsel from anyone else? But when he had walked into the receiving gallery he remembered seeing the young man looking flustered and afraid. Is it possible for him to have mistaken the word apayam (asylum) for apahyam (danger)? In any case it is better not to send him back immediately. The general kept on in this vain: “After my brother comes, I can find out more about this man and do what is best. We should try and recruit this able young man into our secret force. He would be useful when the time arrives. Why not? Even a portion of his ancestral land can be purchased for him. If we help young men like him they will forever be grateful to us. If it turns out that he is an enemy then we will have to take care of it. In any case let big brother come. Then we will see.”

In the visitor’s gallery, Vandhiyathevan began searching earnestly. He looked at the place where he had shown the letter to the general. If he could not find the other letter, there was no greater fool than him. He will not be able to see the renowned and world famous Chola princess. He will not complete half the mission entrusted to him by Athitha Karikalar.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar addressed one of the guards: “Take this young man to our palace. Make him comfortable in the guest house. Then wait until I get there!” As soon as Vandhiyathevan and the aid walked out, another aid nervously handed the general a letter: “This was lying on the way to the receiving hall. It could have fallen out of this young man’s lap.” The general opened it. As he read his eyebrows shot up almost halfway across the forehead. His face took on a murderous look. “Aha! Athitha Karikalar’s letter to the princess,” he went on reading. “Didn’t you ask me to send a true soldier who could accomplish goals, someone you could trust with secret missions? Here is the man. You can trust him completely,” the letter was written in the prince’s own hand. “Ah! There is something strange about this. Does my brother know about this? I have to be more careful about this guy,” the general said to himself. He whispered a few instructions into the aid’s ear who immediately left the room.

In the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace Vandhiyathevan was treated with cordiality. After a bath he was given new clothes. He was so taken up with the new garments he had even forgotten about the lost letter. After a sumptuous meal he was taken to the art gallery. He was asked to wait there until the general returned. The three guards then sat outside and chatted while playing marbles. In those days the new capital of Chola Nadu, Thanjaipuri was famous for its sculpture and paintings. Just as music and dance flourished in Thiruvaiaru, cutting edge painting and sculpture were the pride of Thanjai. The art gallery at the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s residence had been widely publicized. Forgetting his mission, Vandhiyathevan gave himself up entirely to the aesthetic pleasure of viewing the many paintings that adorned the walls. His mind was captivated by the ancient history of the Chola dynasty that was depicted in the paintings. A good part of the gallery was about the past hundred years. There was Vijayalaya Cholan with his nine hundred and six battle scars. It was customary for Chola kings to take on the titles Parakesari and Rajakesari alternately between generations. So it was after Parakesari Vijayalayan that his son took on the title Rajakesari Athitha Cholan. He was a son after his father in every other way. First he sided with the Pallavar in wiping out the Pandiyar tribe to establish the Chola kingdom. Later he went to war with the Pallava tribe. While the Pallava Aparajithavarman showered arrows from his elephant, Athitha Cholan in one leap swooped over him and took away Thondai Mandalam. Konku Mandalam soon fell under his rule. Athithan was a Shiva devotee. He built many temples from Kaveri’s place of origin in Sahaya Mountain down to where she joined the ocean.

Following Rajakesari Athitha Cholan, Parakesari Paranthakar came to power. He ruled for 46 years. After Karikal Peruvalathan who planted the tiger flag on Imayam, it was Paranthakar in the Chola dynasty. Veeranarayanan, Pandithavathsalan, Kunjaramalan, Soorasikamani – these were all his titles. “He who won Madurai and Eelam,” was also his accolade. In this first Paranthakar’s time Chola empire spread from Kanyakumari to Krishnanathi. The tiger flag flew over Eelam also for a while. He was also known for the gold roof over Thillai Chittampalam. Towards the end of his rule the Chola empire had many obstacles. Rashthirakudar tribe which was powerful in the north wanted to encroach on the Chola land. They had some success.

Emperor Paranthakar had three sons. The oldest and bravest was Rajathithyan. He was stationed at Thirumunaipadi with a large garrison for a long time. This served as a deterrent for aggression from the north. He constructed Veeranarayanapuri to keep his father’s name alive. He died after beating the enemy in the war between the Chola and Rashthirakudar troops at a place called Thakolam near Arakonam. Like the Pallava Aparajithavarman he also died fighting from an elephant. His fame is carved in stone as “Thevan who died atop an elephant.” If he did not die he would have been the next king and his children after him. Since he died without children and without a title, his younger brother Kandarathitha Thevar ascended the thorne with the title Rajakesari. Like his father and grandfather, he was a Shaiva devotee. In addition he was also devoted to Tamil. He did not really care about governing. He was more involved in religion and Tamil culture. Following in the footsteps of the prophets (Nayanmar) he composed music singing the praise of Lord Shiva. One of these songs has in its last verse his name Kandarathithar and the word Kholi, another name for Uraiyoor, the old capital of the Cholas. Even though the capital was Thanjavur for those who came after Vijayalan, the Chola kings never forgot their old capital. It was Arinjayan, the youngest son of Emperor Paranthakar, who took on the duties of governing. He had fought alongside Rajathithyan at Thirunavaloor. He soon changed the defeat at Thakonam into victory. He stopped the Rashthirakudar troops at Thenpennai. It was decided by Rajakesari Kandarathithar that the next in line to the throne would be Arinjayan. Kandarathithar’s wife had died early, even before he became king. They did not have children. He did not marry again. Arinjayan had a very capable son. He had taken his grandfather’s name Paranthakar and was given the name Sundara Cholan by the people. The decision to hand the throne to Arinjayan and after him to Sundara Cholan was public knowledge welcomed by the citizens.

At this juncture there was an unexpected turn of events. When Kandarathithar met Malavaraiyan’s daughter he fell in love with her beauty and character. They married and had a child even though Kandarathithar was quite old. The child was named Mathuranthakar. But they did not want to make any changes in the plan for succession. As they were both very involved in religious service they wanted to bring up their son in the same way. This is how the Chola leadership skipped the two older sons of emperor Paranthakar and their descendants and went to the third son Arinjayan and his family.

After Kandarathithar’s death, Arinjayan did not live long. He ruled for just one year. Sundara Cholan was crowned as the next king. This was a unanimous decision. He considered this a stroke of luck and performed to the best of his ability. He fought in many wars and won Pandiya Nadu and Thondai Mandalam. He drove the Rashthirakudar garrison from the shores of Thenpennai. His children Athitha Kathikalar and Arulmozhi Varmar exceeded their father in chivalry. They both took part in wars from a young age. Wherever they went the goddess Vijayalakshmi chose to be on the side of the Chola tribe.

31. Thief! Thief!

From the paintings, Vandhiyathevan studied the history from the time of Vijayalaya Cholan to the second Paranthakar Sundara Cholan.  Vandhiyathevan also observed that every Chola king was helped by the Pazhuvertaraiyar noble kings. The first person who won Thanjavur from the Mutharaiyar tribe was a Pazhuvertaraiyar. The one who carried Vijayalaya Cholan who had lost his legs, on his shoulders at Thirupurampiyam, so he could fight was a Pazhuvertaraiyar. The one who crowned Athitha Cholan was a Pazhuvertaraiyar. The one who lent his shoulder to Athitha Cholan so he could triumph over Aparajitha Varman on his elephant was a Pazhuvertaraiyar. They had been at the forefront carrying the tiger flag in all of Paranthakar Chola battles. When Rajathithyan fell it was a Pazhuvertaraiyar, who lifted him on to his lap and told him that the Rashthirakudar troops were retreating. In the same way it was the Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers who had continued to help both Arinjayan and Sundara Cholar. Vandhiyathevan was surprised to learn this part of the history that was explicitly revealed in the paintings. There was a reason that the two brothers held so much power and why Sundara Cholar would seek their advice on any matter.

But Vandhiyathevan was in a difficult situation now. He was now under suspicion. The older Pazhuvertaraiyar will only confirm it. The secret behind the ring will be out. After that his story was over! He will likely end up in the general’s Thanjavur prison. Once imprisoned in that dungeon it would be impossible to come out. Even if he should come out, it would be a bag of bones walking out; a man without wits, a complete loony! Aha! How does one escape this great danger? He had to think of a plan. He no longer had any desire to see the Pazhuvoor queen. All he wanted was to come out alive. Even without the letter he can see Madam Kundavai and give her the message. He no longer cared if she believed him or not. But how does one leave this Thanjai fortress? He realized now why he was given the new clothes. No doubt the general had the letter he had lost. They had wanted to examine his clothes as well. This is why he had been sent here with not one, but three guards. He had to think of a way before Pazhuvertaraiyar returned. Aha! Veeravel! Vetrivel!

Vandhiyathevan looked outside from the Art Gallery balcony. He could see the younger brother Pazhuvertaraiyar returning on his horse with the usual pomp and circumstance. He needed to act now. There wasn’t a moment to loose. The three men who were playimg marbles rose. They had also heard the procession. Vandhiyathevan went to them and asked: “Brothers! Where are the clothes that I was wearing?”

“What is the need for those dirty clothes now? As the general wanted, we have given you brand new silk garments,” said one.

“I don’t want new clothes. Please bring me my old clothes. Bring them quickly.”

“They have been sent to the laundry. As soon as they come back, we will bring them to you.”

“That is not possible. You are thieves. I had money in my pockets. You are planning to steal it. Give it to me at once. Or else …”

“Or else, what will you do, Brother? You will chop our heads and send them to Thanjavur? Remember this is Thanjavur. Keep that in mind!”

“Aday! Bring me my clothes at once. No?”

“We can only bring it if we had it. We fed your clothes to the crocodiles. Can it come back from the crocodile’s belly?”

“You thieves! Are you playing with me? See if I won’t complain to your boss,” saying this Vandhiyathevan started to go down the front steps. One of the three men got up to stop him. Vandhiyathevan hit him on his nose. That was it; the man fell down on his back. Blood started pouring from his nose. A second man came forward pumping his arms like a wrestler. Vandhiyathevan grabbed hold of both his hands, then extended one leg between the man’s legs and twisted one of the ankles hard. That was enough. The man screamed in pain, “Oh! Mother!,” and plopped down. As the third man approached, Vandhiyathevan steadied himself and kicked the guy on his knee with his leg. He too screamed and fell down. The three rose promptly and came back to attack Vandhiyathevan. They circled him cautiously. By now they could hear the horse pulling up behind them. Vandhiyathevan, with all his might shouted, “Robbers! Robbers!”, as he pounced on them. They tried to stop him. He again shouted, “Robbers! Robbers!” at the top of his voice. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar entered asking, “What is the ruckus here?”

32. Test

Without paying any attention to the guards who had grabbed him by now, Vandhiyathevan turned toward Pazhuvertaraiyar. He said, “General! You are here at a good moment. Not only these scoundrels robbed me of my belongings, they tried to killed me also! Is this anyway to treat a guest? Is this the custom in Thanjavur? I am not only your guest, I am also the guest of the emperor; You heard what the queen had said! The messenger from the crown prince. If they torture me like this what will they do to ordinary people? I am surprised that you employ such thieves. In our Thondai Mandalam, we  will hang them before anything else!” Words came out in a torrent. Pazhuvertaraiyar was impressed that he had tackled three men at once. He was now more committed to take Vandhiyathevan under his wing. Therefore, he calmly said, “Patience! Son, Patience! I don’t think that they would have done all of this! Let me ask!”

“That is my request as well! Please ask them; then grant me justice! Please see that I get my clothes and belongings back,” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Yo! Leave this boy and come here! What did I say? What have you done? Why did you lay a hand on him?” said Pazhuvertaraiyar angrily.

“Boss! We did as you said. We gave him an oil bath and dressed him in new clothes and ornaments. We gave him a gourmet meal. We brought him to the art gallery. He was looking at the paintings there for a while. Then suddenly he remembered his old clothes and wanted them back. Then he started attacking us,” said one of the soldiers.

“Three of you got beaten by this one boy,” he looked at them with fiery eyes.

“Boss! We thought that he was a guest here. With your permission we will finish him off now. ”

“Enough of your bragging? Stop! Son! What do you say?”

“Give them permission. Permit me also. It’s been a while since I fought with the enemies of Chola Nadu. My shoulders are aching. I will teach them a lesson about how to treat guests!”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar smiled. “Son! Save your aching shoulders for the enemies of Chola Nadu! When the emperor is ill, this type of noise and fighting is against the law.”

“In that case, please tell them to give me my clothes and belongings.”

Where are they, guys?

“We have them safe according to your orders.”

“General! See how they are fooling. Just a while ago, they told me that the clothes are being laundered. Now they are telling that you had ordered to be kept safe. In a minute they will even call you a thief.”

General looked at the guards. “Fools! Didn’t I just tell to give this young man new clothes? Did I say anything about the old clothes? These fools are talking rubbish, Son! Let it go. Why do you worry about old clothes? Did you have anything valuable there?”

“Yes, I had gold coins for my travel …”

Before he could finish, Pazhuvertaraiyar interrupted. “You don’t worry about it. However much you need for your travel, I will give you.”

“General! I am prince Athitha Karikalar’s messenger. I am not in the habit of borrowing money from others …”

“In that case I will have them return your old clothes and the money that was there. Don’t worry. Did you have anything else there?”

Vallavaraiyan thought for a moment. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar saw his hesitation.

“There was something else. If they had touched it, they are finished.”

“Aha! How you get angry? You have forgotten to whom you are speaking. I will forgive you because you are young; What is it that you had there?”

“General! That is a private matter. I cannot tell that.”

“There can be no private matter inside of Thanjai fortress!”

“It was a matter entrusted to me by Prince Kathikalar.”

“The prince is the commander of the north. His rule does not extend beyond Palaru. On this side it is the emperor’s rule.”

“General! Wherever the tiger flag is flying there is only the emperor’s rule. There is no doubt about it.”

“That is why there cannot be any secrets inside the fortress that I don’t know of. All for the sake of the emperor’s health!”

“General! Chola Nadu is forever indebted to the Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers for taking such good care of the emperor. I heard it when the king praised you. Didn’t he say that even Yaman is afraid of you and that is why he is not entering the palace? How wonderful is that?”

“Yes, Son! We don’t know what tragedies may have happened if we had not brought him Pallaiaru and guarded him here safely. Pandiya Nadu enemies may have fulfilled their wishes.”

“Ah! Even you are saying that. In that case what I heard was true!”

“What did you hear?”

“I heard that there is a plot against the emperor and there’s another plot against the two princes.”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar bit his lips. He realized that it was he who had lost in the verbal exchange. He found himself in the defensive position of having to answer Vandhiyathevan’s questions. He decided to put an end to it. “What do you care about it? We are here to protect Chola Nadu. Tell me what you need. You want your old clothes; Right?”

“I want my old clothes and what was inside.”

“You haven’t said what was inside.”

“If I have to, I will. The responsibility is now yours. The prince, in addition to the letter to the emperor had given me another letter also …”

“Another letter! To whom? You never told me!”

“Because it was private I didn’t; because you insist I will. The prince gave a letter to Princess Kundavai in Palaiaru …”

“Oh! In that case you cannot take the emperor’s letter back to Kanji tomorrow. Why was it so urgent for the prince to write to the princess?”

“General! I don’t read other people’s letters. I have no objections if you are going to read this just as you read the emperor’s letter. That decision is yours. If I can have the gold and the letter back, that is enough for me.”

“Nothing to worry about that. I’ll find it,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar leaving. Vandhiyathevan followed him. With a nod from the general, five or six soldiers with spears blocked the entrance. Vandhiyathevan waited knowing that it was no use fighting with them. In a short while the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar returned. Behind him an aid carried Vandhiyathevan’s old clothes laid out on a tray. “Son! Here are your clothes. Make sure everything is there,” said the general. Vandhiyathevan examined the clothes. In his cloth roll he had more gold coins than he had had before. The letter to Kundavaidevi was also there. “Where did the extra cash come from? Where was the letter when he checked before? It must have been in the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s possession. Now he had put it back. Why? Why more money? Dangerous man! I don’t know in what other ways I’m going to be tested. I have to be very careful of him. I should not be fooled!” thought Vandhiyathevan.

“Do you have everything, Son? The gold and the things that you had?” asked the general.

“Let me see.” Vandhiyathevan counted the money. He returned the additional gold coins saying “General! I was born into the Vaarnar tribe; messenger to Athitha Karikalar; I don’t take money from other people.”

“I appreciate your honesty. But you can keep it for your travel expenses. When do you want to start? Today? Or do you want to rest for the night, see my brother also and then leave?” asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Certainly I want to stay tonight, see Pazhuvertaraiyar and then leave. But please tell your people not to lay a hand on my belongings!” Vandhiyathevan put the gold coins in his cloth roll.

“Very happy! You will have no more problems here. Whatever you need feel free to ask. You will be given.”

“General! I like to do some sightseeing in Thanjavur? Can I?”

“Of course. These two guards will show you around inside the fortress. Don’t go outside. In the evening the gates are closed. If you leave you won’t be able to come back for the night. Inside you can roam as much as you want!” After saying this the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar whispered into the ear of two of the soldiers. Vandhiyathevan knew what it was.

33. Girl On The Tree

With the men at his side Vandhiyathevan set off to see the sights of Thanjavur. He had no doubt that they were there to see that he did not escape. He knew that night was his only chance. Once Pazhuvertaraiyar returned, it would not only be impossible to escape, it would be impossible to stay alive. He knew it was futile to try to attack the guards. He had to lose them without making a commotion. Then he had to figure out a way to leave the fortress. As his mind feverishly weighed its options, Vandhiyathevan was reminded of Nandhini. If anyone could save him it would be her. He can even mention Azhvarkadiyan’s name. First he had to find Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. He cannot leave a hint even, to these two guards or the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. What if the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar returned when Vandhiyathevan was inside his palace. It would be like getting caught with one’s head inside the lion’s den. As his head teamed with ideas, his eyes and mouth were busy taking in the scene around him and at the same time questioning the guards about each building they passed. As he kept his ears alert for any information about Pazhaiyoor Ilaiyarani’s residence, his eyes took in the lay out of the surroundings. The avenues were wide and filled with people. There were also plenty of back alleys and parks filled with dense vegetation. It would not be difficult to hide in these trees for a day or two. Or else he should find someone who can shelter him for a night. Who could that be? Pazhaiyoor Illaiyarani? First of all, he had to get away from these two guards.

Aha! What is the commotion? On the main avenue there was a procession with trumpeters and cheering. It was the secret service to the king, at the end of the day leaving the palace. If he could only mingle among them and away from the sight of the guards! They had their eyes fixed on him. He had to somehow make use of this god sent opportunity. He asked the guards who were behind him what the commotion was. When they told him that it was the palace secret service he started asking more questions. He told them that he had always been interested in joining the service. As he was talking he started to advance further toward the procession. Then, announcing, “Must see the drummers at the front,” he advanced further and penetrated the crowd and started walking alongside the secret service soldiers. Instead of staying in one place he crisscrossed the lines and started cheering louder than the soldiers who thought to themselves, “who is this mad guy?” or “the fellow must have had too much to drink!” But no one stopped him. The general’s guards were too timid to walk among the secret service soldiers. They figured, “the fellow has to come out at some point. We will then grab him.” They walked at a distance from the troops.

A curd-seller coming from the opposite direction paused to let the soldiers pass. One of the soldiers cried, “Mother! I am thirsty! Will you give some curd?”

The woman shot back, “Not curd; I will give you two slaps on your cheek!”

The soldier replied, “Oh! Please do!” and went after her. The woman got scared and started running. The soldier started chasing her along with two others. In all the commotion no one could figure out what was going on. Everyone thought some joke was being played out. Vandhiyathevan, now arrived at a decision. By now we know, that for Vandhiyathevan, a decision is as good as getting something done. Hesitation was not in his nature. Shouting, “Run! Run! Catch! Catch!” he also started chasing the curd-seller. The woman after a while turned into one of the side nooks and disappeared. The soldiers came to a halt. After looking around they turned back. Vandhiyathevan turned and kept running down the narrow path. After two or three more turns he stopped.

By now it was dark in these back alleys. On both sides there were walls. Without worrying about the direction he kept walking. He figured if he kept walking he had to at some point end up at the outermost wall of the fortress. Once he was there he could plan the next step. He had all night now. Finally he was at a dead end. In front of him was a wall. He had almost crashed against it in the dark. Tired, he sat down leaning against the wall. It was pitch dark. Perhaps it will be easier to see when the moon came out. This was a good place to hide. The guards must have given up on him. Once the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar hears he is going to have them look for him. He may not be able to avoid them in the moonlight. In any case he was not prepared to give up. “If I cannot get out of here my name is not Vandhiyathevan,” he said to himself. Soon he was lulled into sleep by the gentle rhythm of the branches overhead grazing against each other by the evening breeze. When he woke he could make out the surroundings faintly in the light of the moon that filtered down through the canopy. He was surprised that he had slept so soundly. He also realized that he was woken by a noise, a human voice. He looked around. He looked up at the wall. He knew that the wall was not high enough to be the exterior wall of the fortress. This could be the outside of one of the palaces. There was a figure hidden in the branches above the wall. His stomach knotted at the thought of a ghost or some other-worldly being. It was a woman. “Sir! Did you fall asleep leaning on the wall? How many times do I call you?”

“Very nice. Looks as if you are still sleepy. I have a ladder here. Come up carefully,” she said, lifting up a thin bamboo ladder from inside the wall. Vandhiyathevan had no idea what was going on. Yet he decided to go up the ladder and then ask the questions. “You are late. The Illaiyarani is there waiting. You are here sleeping,” the girl continued. Vandhiyathevan almost lost his footing on the ladder upon hearing this. This must be Nandhini. How does she know that I am here? Who is the ladder for?

The girl gave him a hand lifting him to the top of the wall. For a second when the moonlight fell on her face she appeared to resemble the curd-seller. Vandhiyathevan by now was immune to surprises. His feet remained planted on the wall. In a daze, he was now ready for anything. “Um! Why are you waiting here on the wall? Get the ladder in and jump,” saying this she hurried down from the tree. At a distance he could make out the silhouette of a palace. He cleared his throat to ask whose palace it was. The girl placed a finger over her lips and said “Shh!” He began to follow her.

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