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Ponniyin Selvan Part I (42 – 45)

December 22, 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.

42. Worthy of Friendship?

Vandhiyathevan’s first thought was to somehow save Kanthanmaran. But doing that he might meet the same fate as Kanthanmaran. Therefore, I have to first take care of this vicious guard. He put one hand around the guard’s neck and held it tightly while he knocked the torch from the guard’s hold with his other hand. The torch fell to the floor. It started smoking drowning out the flame. Tightening his hold around the guard’s neck he pushed him down with all his strength. The guard’s head hit the wall of the underground passage as he fell down. Vandhiyathevan grabbed the torch. He held it to the guard’s face. He looked as if he was dead. As a precaution he took the guard’s vest and tied his hands with it. Kanthanmaran was lying half outside and half inside of the underground passage. Taking hold of Kanthanmaran’s spear in one hand Vandhiyathevan stepped outside and dragged Kanthanmaran outside. As soon as they were out, the door closed on its own. The wall rose tall into the darkness hiding its secret within itself. By the sound and feel of the wind Vandhiyathevan knew that he was outside of the fortress. The light of the moon was rather faint because of the dense tree cover and the wall of the fortress. Vandhiyathevan hurled Kanthanmaran over his shoulder. Holding the spear in the other hand he took a step forward. Feeling the ground slipping underneath, he steadied himself with the greatest effort planting the spear down for support. There was a body of water moving rapidly in giant swirls as the current dictated. It was as if his escape had spelled death out there for a brief second. Thank God! That vile cutthroat of a guard! What’s the use of cursing him? He was carrying out his employer’s orders. The plan would have been to stab Kanthanmaran and roll him into the river. If I had slipped we would both have rolled into the river by now. I may have found my way out. But it’s doubtful Kanthanmaran would have. This river must be Vadavaru. He knew that the course of Vadavaru ran by the wall of the fortress at a certain point. Even though there wasn’t much water in Vadavaru at this time, it was difficult to say how deep the water was at this point. Vandhiyathevan tested the depth with the spear. Even after fully submerging, the spear dangled without touching the bottom. Aha! What vile and wicked creatures! There was no time to dwell on it now. We both have to get out of here. He walked carefully along the wall firmly placing his foot on the soil. He was encouraged by the occasional groan he heard from Kanthanmaran. After a while the river and the wall parted ways. In between came a forest. The ground was a thicket of thorns making it harder to walk. Aha! What’s this? A rather tall tree lay half way across the river, its roots having been torn away by the currents. Balancing himself with great effort Vandhiyathevan crossed the water on this makeshift bridge. When he came to the end of the trunk he tested the water again. Thank God! Lord Muruga saved me! It wasn’t very deep here. He left the tree and started walking in the water. The wind and the water’s current were overwhelming, testing his will and strength. His body shivered in the cold. Kanthanmaran kept slipping from his shoulder. He kept on and finally they reached the other side of the river. With wet clothes and Kanthanmaran’s weight on his shoulder, he continued until he came to a clearing. He lay Kanthanmaran down and checked his pulse. There was no point in carrying a dead body. No! No! There was breath. There was life. There was pulse. His chest was heaving. He could not pull the knife out. The loss of blood will end his life. Vandhiyathevan knew that he could not tend to Kanthanmaran alone. He remembered Senthan Amuthan. His home was on the banks of Vadavaru. If he can make it Amuthan’s home, then there would be hope for Kanthanmaran. Let’s try.

When he tried to lift Kanthanmaran again, he saw that his eyes were open. Vandhiyathevan was pleasantly surprised. “Kanthanmaran! Do you know me?” he asked. “Indeed, I know! You are Vallavaraiyan. How can I not know a friend like you? How can I forget? Aren’t you the best friend who stabs from behind?” replied Kanthanmaran. The words cut through Vandhiyathevan like whiplash. “Aiyo! Did I stab you from behind? …” he began, and then he stopped abruptly as if remembering something. “You didn’t stab. … Your knife caressed my back. … You fool! I hurried down the underground passage for your sake. I wanted to get you before Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men grabbed you. I came running to stop anyone harming you. I came in search of you after promising that I will find you and have you enlisted in younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace security force. You hurt a friend who was trying to help you. Is this worthy of our friendship? How many times have we shook hands, promising to help each other? You threw all that to the wind. I was going to warn you about the big changes that are coming in Chola Nadu. Oh! Oh! Can one trust anyone in the world after this? ” Kanthanmaran closed his eyes again. His angry outburst had made him faint.

“Of all the people, to trust Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers?” Vandhiyathevan mumbled. Yet, there were tears in his eyes. He decided that it was better that he did not speak his mind. He hurled Kanthanmaran over his shoulder and began to walk. The smell of nocturnal blooms was in the air. He was not wrong about his estimation about Senthan Amuthan’s whereabouts. Soon he was near their garden. Only the garden didn’t in any way look the same as before. It looked like the Ashokavanam that was trampled by Hanuman and the monkeys. Aha! Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men have been looking for him here. What a lot of effort Amuthan and his mother have put into this garden! The place was now destroyed. His sympathy soon gave way to concern about his own safety. He expected Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men to be waiting for him here. He saw his horse still tied to the tree. He wanted to leave Kanthanmaran with Senthan Amuthan and get away on his horse.

Slowly and softly he approached the house. He woke Senthan Amuthan who was sleeping on the veranda. Before he could make a noise he covered Amuthan’s mouth with his hand. He said softly, “Brother! You have to help me. I am in big trouble. This is my dear friend, Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthanmaran. I saw him lying on the way stabbed in the back. I brought him here.”

“Cowards! Stabbed in the back! What kind of soldiers?” said Amuthan. “I will take care of him. There have been soldiers looking for you. They made a mess of the garden. That’s fine, as long as you are alright. At least they left your horse behind. Get on the horse and leave now!” he continued.

“That was my intention. But I have to do something to save his life.”

“Don’t worry about it. My mother is good at this. She knows how to take care of such injury.” Senthan Amuthan knocked on the door lightly. The door opened at once. His mother stood on the doorstep. Both men carried Kanthanmaran inside. In the light of the lamp Senthan Amuthan spoke to his mother using signs. She seemed to understand. After examining Kanthanmaran, seeing the knife still stuck to his back, she went inside and returned with herbal leaves and some old cloth. Then she looked up at the two men. Senthan Amuthan held Kanthanmaran tightly. Vallavaraiyan drew out the knife from his back. Blood came gushing out. Unconscious, Kanthanmaran screamed “Oh! … .” Vandhiyathevan covered his mouth. Senthan Amuthan held the wound closed while his mother placed herbal leaves over and wrapped with bandages. Kanthanmaran again cried. They could hear people running outside. “Go! Go! Quick!” said Amuthan. Vandhiyathevan grabbed the blood soaked knife and the spear. He hesitated. “Brother! Do you trust me?” he asked.

“I trust God. I like you. Why do you ask?”

“I need a favor. I don’t know the way around here. I have to urgently go to Pazhaiyarai. I am taking a message to Madam Kundavai. Can you come with me a little and show me the direction?”

Senthan Amuthan again communicated with his mother through sign language. His mother did not appear surprised. She indicated that she would take care of the wounded man. Senthan got on behind Thevan on the horse. Vandhiyathevan guided the horse gently at first in order to not make a commotion. After a short distance he tapped the horse on its side. It took off galloping.

At the same time five or six soldiers knocked on the door of the hut. Amuthan’s mother opened the door. “There was a noise here. What was that?” one of them barked. Amuthan’s mother tried to speak. “What’s the point in talking to this mute woman. Let’s go in and see,” said another.

“She’s standing in the way,” said a third soldier.

“Where’s that flower vendor boy?”

“Push her out of the way and go in, guys!”

Senthan Amuthan’s mother wailed some more. She tried to push the soldiers away and close the door. Four or five of them fought back, pushing the door open. Amuthan’s mother started to wail and let go of the door suddenly. Two or three of them crashed in one on top of the other. The others barged in stepping over them.

“He is here!” one shouted.

“Did you get him?” asked another.

“He is going to run! Tie him up!” shouted yet another soldier.

The mute woman wailed.

“It’s so bloody,” one shouted.

The mute woman held up the lamp. She pointed to the wounded man wailing, “peh! peh! peh!”

“Oh, man! He looks like a different guy!”

“peh! peh!”

“Is he the one who came here yesterday?”

“peh! peh!”

“Where is your son?”

“peh! peh!”

“Dumb corpse! Be quiet for a moment! Guys! Take a good look at him! Does anyone know this guy?”

“It’s not him!”

“It is him”

“No way!”

“peh! peh!”

“In any case, this is a different guy! Carry him!”

“Let’s take him!”

“peh! peh! peh! peh!”

“You devil! Be quiet!” Four of them carried Kanthanmaran. “peh! peh! peh! peh!” Amuthan’s mother wailed nonstop.

“Guys! I hear a horse!”

“Half of you carry the guy. Others, go and see!”

“All of you go and see! This guy is not going anywhere!”

They put Kanthanmaran down and ran. “Pepeh! Pepeh! Pepeh!” Amuthan’s mother’s cries followed them.

43. Pazhaiyarai

Before Vandhiyathevan makes his way to Pazhaiyarai, through countless obstacles in this arduous journey, let’s invite the readers to take a tour of this city. Let’s take in the view from the south bank of Arisilaru. Adadah! This is not any city! It is like a pendant studded with emeralds, rubies and sapphires that adorn the beautiful forehead of the Tamil Mother! Lakes, canals, ponds and fields are filled with freshwater and flowers of all different colors. Coconut palms and laurel branches move in a gentle breeze. Strands of yellow flowers hung from the golden shower trees. In between, the glittering domes of palaces and temple towers rose toward the sky. Oh! There are many small towns within this old city. Nanthira Vinnakaram, Thiruchanthimutram, Pattachuram, Arichandrapuram and others with their temples belong to the Chola capital Pazhaiyarai. There are four temples in Pazhaiyarai, in the north, east, west and south. There are four military settlements, Ariyapadaiveedu, Purupadaiveedu, Manaipadaiveedu and Pampaipadaiveedu. At the center is the Chola Palace’s towering golden domes. It is not just one palace. Before Vijayalaya Cholar, it was one palace. Since then each prince, queen and princess had had their own palaces built. Altogether it’s a sight that would require a thousand eyes to behold. It was beyond the lyrical imagination of a thousand poets. Chekilar Peruman in poetry form wrote two hundred years later: Pazhaiyarai was famous all over the world for its streets filled with chariots. We can only imagine its splendor during Sundara Cholar’s time.

In any case, we have missed seeing this city in its ancient glory. We were not here when Sundara Cholar ruled from this city. Once he moved to Thanjavur after following his illness, all the traffic that brought the noble kings, colonels, generals and their entourage ended. Half of the troops that were part of the four military settlements were now stationed in Lanka. A fraction of the other half is in the north and another in Madurai. The inhabitants today are mostly the elderly, women and children. The emperor’s secret service soldiers had moved to Thanjavur with their families. That section of the city and their houses stood locked up and empty. Ministers and administrators have also moved to Thanjavur with their families. Yet there was no shortage of crowds and merriment on the streets. Nowadays the city streets were filled with priests, sculptors, Shaiva devotees, singers, palace employees, temple keepers and visitors from outside who have come to visit temples and festivals. Today appears to be a day of festival. Men, women and children are gathered on the streets in their festival clothes. Crowds of people are waiting at street junctions. Today is Sri Jayanthi; the birthday of Krishnan. To celebrate, street dramas are being enacted. At the center of one crowd, there is Krishnan carrying a mountain. Lord Indra is bowing to him. At another locale Brammah with four faces is seen worshiping Krishnan. Safron water is poured all over. Pot breaking ceremony is taking place.

The festivities are most at Nanthipura Vinnakara Perumal temple. Who is singing here? It sounds familiar, “I saw the sweetest sight! …” Our old friend Azhvarkadiyan Nambi is singing. People are gathered around him. Some are attentive. Others are making fun. We don’t know whose head is at risk from a whack with his staff. There is some commotion at Vinnakara temple. Carriages and chariots are arriving. From inside the temple emerge a group of noble women. Yes! Yes! The royal women of Pazhaiyarai. This is Chempian Madevi. She is the daughter of Mazhavaraiyar, Shaiva devotee Kandarathithar’s wife to the throne. Old age and widowhood cannot take away her beauty and elegance. Behind her is Arinjaya Cholar’s wife, Vaithumbarayar’s daughter, queen Kalyani. Aha! How to describe her beauty! Such splendor even in old age. How beautiful she must have been in her younger days! No wonder her son Sundara Cholan is famous for his appearance! Behind her is Sundara Cholan’s wife and Seraman’s daughter Paranthakan Devi. And then it is the beautiful group of women we saw at the banks of Arisilaru who appear to have come down from heaven; Kundavai, Vaanathi and their friends. From Vijayalan’s time the Chola tribe had worshiped Siva and Thurga. But they did not discriminate Thirumal. They have today come to Perumal temple to celebrate Krishnan’s birthday.

Chempian Madevi heard Azhvarkadiyan singing. Perhaps he sang louder for this purpose. She summoned him toward her. He humbly stepped forward.

“Thirumalai! I have not seen you lately. Did you go on a pilgrimage?”

“Yes, Madam! I toured Thirupathi, Kanji and Veeranarayanapuram. I heard of many miracles in these places.”

“Tomorrow, come to the palace and tell me about what you heard!”

“No, Madam! I am leaving tonight!”

“In that case, come this evening!”

“I will, madam! Your wish is my honor!”

Chariots and carriages sped toward the palace. The young princesses laughed as Madam Kundavai made a comment about Azhvarkadiyan. Hearing the laughter, he turned his head to face them. Kundavai’s eyes met his in a secret transaction. He nodded his head in acknowledgement.

Among the Chola palaces, Chempian Madevi’s palace occupied a central place. In the assembly hall she presided from her diamond studded gold throne. Dressed in the tradition of female Shaiva devotees, Karaikalamahl and Thilakavathiyar, in white silk, adorned with holy powder and a string of holy beads around her neck, she was proving that austerity was possible amidst abundance and luxury. Even without a tiara, her history of royal birth and marriage was plainly visible in her confident and self-assured demeanor. It was no wonder that the Chola people worshiped her as a goddess, never going against her wishes. Lately, this reputation had been tarnished when her son Mathuranthakar Thevar married into the Pazhuvertaraiyar clan against her wishes. In addition there were rumors that he wanted to ascend the throne. She was not too happy over this.

It was customary for sculptors and musicians to gather in the queen’s assembly hall cheering “Jay-jay.” Shaiva devotees and Tamil poets from far away arrived to receive accolades. There was also a crowd of holy priests who brought devotional food that had been blessed. On this day sculptors and Shaiva devotees had arrived from Thirumuthukunram (Viruthasalam), Thenkurankaduthurai and Thirumazhapadi, to request aid for renovation and remodeling of temples. They have brought building plans in the form of sketches and models. The queen agreed to provide help for the first two temples. Then she asked, “Mazhapadi? Which Mazhapadi?”

“The temple where Perumal gave voice to Sundaramoorthi Swamikal, that Mazhapadi,” answered the applicant.

“What is that incident?” asked the queen, the daughter of Mazhavaraiyar.

“When Sundaramoorthi Swamikal was visiting Chola Nadu temples, he had to cross a river at one point. After crossing the river he was on his way, when he heard a voice call, “Sundaram! Did you forget me?” Sundaramoorthi was shocked. He realized it was the lord’s voice. He asked his disciples,”Is there a Sivan temple in the vicinity?” “Yes, Swami! Behind those golden shower trees, there is Mazhapadi Sivan temple!” said the disciples. Sundaramoorthi, at once went there. There was a small temple hidden behind the golden shower trees. After worshiping, he sang from deep within his heart. The song meant, “Swami! How will I forget you? What kind of question is that? Do I have anyone else to think of other than you?”

… of the golden body

waist clad in tiger skin

red sandal wood lustrous locks 

tied in flower of golden shower

king of all great

precious jewel of Mazhapadi!

if not you

who else is there for me to think of?” 

The devotee continued: “Madam! That small temple is still there in the same place. We request aid for renovation, to rebuild it in granite.”

“Alright!” said Chempian Madevi.

Azhvarkadiayan and another person had been listening carefully.

44. “It’s All Her Doing”

A sculptor from the Mamalapuram great sculptors’ line came forward. He showed the queen his miniature replica for a granite temple. The queen admired it very much. She said to the person next to Azhvarkadiyan, “Pahttar! Look how special this is. I want to build all temples in Tamil Nadu following this fashion.”

“Madam! What is there to stop it? He can adopt this design to all of the temples that have been sung about. Once they see this design people will realize it is a temple blessed with a song,” said Eesahna Sivapahttar.

“Yes, yes! We should collect all poems sung by Appar Peruman, Gnana Sambanthar and Sundaramoorthi. We should build these sky reaching domes in granite in all the temples that they have toured and blessed. These are my two dreams. I doubt sometimes if they can be fulfilled. If only my husband had not gone west and then in a hurry gone to heaven; if only he had lived a little longer, my dreams would have come true.”

“What is lacking now, Madam? Hasn’t the emperor said that your ideas should be followed. His sons are willing to do it even before you speak. …”

“Nevertheless, I don’t feel encouraged now. I have heard things. People are criticizing that I am emptying the coffers with this temple renovation. They are asking, “Why does Sivan need so many temples?” I don’t care about others. But even the prince in Kanji …”

When the queen said this, Azhvarkadiyan stepped forward. “Madam! I am also one of these people,” he said. The queen looked at him in surprise. Others looked at him with concern. Azhvarkadiyan continued in an angry voice. “My stomach is boiling. Is there anything more unfair? Can you, the reincarnation of justice allow this injustice?” he howled.

Eesahna Pahttar, who was next to Azhvarkadiyan said, “Your Highness! It is usual for my brother to get into these tantrums. Please forgive him!”

At that time, Shivas and Vaishnavas were not separate and distinct races. In one family one can find both Shaivas and Vaishnavas. The same priest will conduct services in Sivan temple as well as Thirumahl temple. Eesahna Sivapahttar was broad minded in that way. Thirumalai Appan was his first cousin. Both had high regard and affection for each other. Therefore, Eesahna Sivapahttar apologized for his brother’s remarks to the queen.

The queen asked with a smile, “Thirumalai! Calm down a bit! What is the injustice now?”

“Madam! How many temples does Sivan, who beggs with a pail in his hand need? How many sky-domed temples? How many granite sculptures? Doesn’t Vishnu Moorthi who protects this entire world need a temple? Can we at least renovate an old temple?” Thirumalai howled.

“Madam! A walled in palace and domed temple, assembly hall and stage are necessary for the Peruman who dances joyfully so that the entire world can sleep. Isn’t a small place sufficient for Thirumahl who sleeps nonstop? Indeed, doesn’t he need a dark room with no lights? Why does he need domed temples and granite sculptures?” said Eesahna Sivapahttar.

“Elder brother! The Perumahl who sleeps nonstop is the Perumahl who went around the world! The Perumhl who imprisoned Mahapahli!” cried Azhvarkadiyan.

“The Perumahl who went around the world went to the nether world in search of our Sivaperuman’s footwork; he could not see his feet.”

“If your Sivan was so great, why does he need a temple? That is my question. When he dances he might hit the roof and knock the roof down,” replied Azhvarkadiyan.

Mallavaraiyan’s daughter laughed upon hearing this. “Stop fighting for a moment, Thirumalai! What are you saying? Who said we should not build a temple for Perumahl? Which town’s sky dome do you want to renovate? All you have to do is say it in a nice way!”

“Madam! Your father-in-law was emperor Paranthaka, known in all three worlds. I have been to Veeranarayanapuram, that is named for his title. There, Veeranarayana Perumahl guards the Veeranarayana lake day and night without a wink of sleep. The back walls of that temple are collapsing. If the temple falls down, the lake area and the surrounding towns in the hundreds will go to ruin. We have to build this temple in granite.”

“Alright, we will do that! Tell me all the details. Let the others leave now,” said the queen, the elder woman of the Chola tribe. Eesahna Sivapahttar and others took the hint and vacated the hall.

Chempian Madevi lowered her voice. “Thirumalai! Where and when did you go on your journey? What and what did you see? What and what did you hear? Describe to me in detail. You have something important to tell me. Is that why you interrupted?”

“Yes, Madam! I have several important matters. But I will wait for your permission. You began to say something about the prince in Kanji. That is why I interrupted. Who knows among the people who were here, who is a spy and who is not? So many strange things are happening in the country. It is impossible to say who will turn in what manner against whom.”

The elderly lady sighed. “People of the same family, joined in blood; it has come to the point that people have to suspect one another. Athithan Karikalan used to be so fond of me. He showed me respect and affection a hunderd times more than he did to his own mother! Even he is now doubting me! Thirumalai! It would have been good if I had left this earth with my husband! He had forbidden me to go with him! He had left me here to further his work! How unfortunate for me!”

“Madam! Your husband could read the past, present and future. Like Janaka Maharajah of the dark ages he ruled from the Chola throne. This country is fortunate that he had left you here. It is your responsibility to protect this Chola empire from ruination because of sibling rivalry. You alone can do this!”

“I don’t think so! After my son’s refusal to listen to me how can I expect others to? Let it be! Tell me about the spies. Who can be sending spies here? Do you think Athitha Karikala did? Is he so distrustful of me?” said Shaiva devotee, the queen.

“I heard with my own two ears, Madam! Or else, I would never have believed that Prince Karikalan had lost faith in you.”

“What did you hear, Thirumalai? What did you hear with your ears?”

“I heard them talking behind the granite temple at Mamalapuram. …”

“Who were they?”

“Athitha Karikalan, Thirukovaloor Malaiamman and Pallava Parthipenthiran. The three of them were talking. I was hiding in the dark temple. Malaiamman and Parthipenthiran were very angry that both Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers and your son Maturanthaka Thevar were keeping the emperor as their prisoner. Malaiamman said that you too had a hand in it. The others agreed. Parthipenthiran suggested to free the king by force. The others agreed to that also. But the prince wanted to try one more time to bring the king to Kanjipuram without an armed conflict. They decided to send a letter to the king about it through a courier. I know who this courier is. He is not an ordinary courier. Very smart guy; an excellent warrior. He is capable of spying in addition to being a messenger. I tried to talk to him. If I am at the fence, he is already in the foyer. Without telling me anything he tried to get information from me. Kudanthai astrologer tried his hand at him. There was no use. I heard that he went and handed the letter to the emperor. …”

“What happened after that? What was the emperor’s reply?”

“the emperor was going to furnish a reply the next day. Before that he came under the suspicion of the Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers. But he managed to escape from their hold!”

“In that case, he is a smart fellow. No doubt. What did you do then? After you left Kanjipuram?”

“I was going to come here straight. On the way I stopped to visit Veeranarayanapuram temple. Through the grace of Perumahl I stumbled upon another secret matter. …”

” What’s that? Another secret?”

“Yes, Madam! I heard that there was a dinner party at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Pazhuvertaraiyar was attending. With him Illaiyarani’s carriage also came.”

“Thirumalai! All this is her work! Chola Nadu is in trouble today because of her! Did you meet her?”

“I could not, Madam! I could not! As you wished I brought her up as my sister for so many years! I traveled all over learning devotional poems so I could teach her. My heart boils when I think of that! She refuses to see me after she married Pazhuvertaraiyar! …”

“What’s the use in crying over that? This is the way people are. We plan one thing, something else happens. What happened there in Kadampoor?”

“Thinking that it was Nandhini who was in the carriage, I went to Kadampoor to somehow meet her or at least to send a letter. Taking a big risk I jumped over the wall there. Only then I came to know this astonishing secret …”

“Thirumalai! Your ususal habit is this. You will just build up my curiosity, but will not come out with the news. What is this astonishing secret?”

“Pardon me, Madam! I am reluctant to talk about it. It was not the Pazhuvoor Illayarani who was in the carriage. We had thought that Pazhuvertaraiyar was taking Illayarani wherever he went. But that was a big mistake …”

“Who is he taking in the carriage then? Is there no end to this old man’s weakness for women?”

“It was not a maiden in the carriage, Madam!”

“If it is not a maiden …? Who is the man who would go around hiding in a carriage?”

“Pardon me, Madam! It was your son Mathuranthaka Thevar who was in the carriage!”

Chempian Madevi was speechless. “God! Do you have to punish me so for the mistake I made?” she said to herself. Azhvarkadiyan then told about the midnight meeting at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. It is impossible to recount the anguish of this great lady upon hearing about it. “Aiyo! My son! I tried to bring you up as the Shaiva prince. Is this the result? Do you have to bring shame on this great Chola dynasty? Should you be the cause of this great harm that is to befall the Chola empire?” she cried.

“Thirumalai! You come and see me later! I’ll talk to Kundavai meanwhile and tell you what to do about this.”

“Madam! It is better if you don’t speak about this to the princess.”

“Why? Do you doubt her also?”

“Isn’t it natural, Madam? Isn’t she Athitha Karikalan’s dearest sister?”

“So? Thirumalai! I will believe if you told me that the sun rose in the west and set in the east. I will believe if you told me that Thirumal was a greater god than Sivaperuman. But I will not believe you if you find fault with Kundavai. The day she was born the palace midwife laid the baby in my two hands. From that day I brought her up. I treated her better than my own daughter. She also loves me and respects me like her own mother and father. …”

“Madam! One question. Did Kundavai Devi tell you about her visit Kudanthai astrologer?”

“No; what about it?”

“Did she say anything about meeting a young man of Vanar tribe at Kudanthai astrologer’s house and later at the banks of Arisilaru?”

“No; what are all these questions? What do you mean?”

“It means that the princess has a secret she has not shared with you. This young man is Athitha Karikalar’s messenger; it is not a mistake to say spy.”

“Thirumalai! So be it! If she did not tell me something there is good reason for that. I would rather die than suspect her!” said Sivagnana Kandarathithar’s queen to the throne.

“Oh! Oh! Oh! No need for that! Let’s hope your trust is not misplaced. The princess had wanted to see me. I will tell her that you want to see her,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

45. Spy Who Committed A Crime

The Chola king called Karikala Peruvalathan developed the two banks of the river Kaveri. This measure protected both sides of the river. It lasted for a long time keeping the water from flooding. Later, Chola tribe lost its power. Pandiyar, Pallavar, Kallapalar and Vaanar began to gain power. During this time Kaveri flooded frquently, lacking the necessary infrastructure. With frequent flooding of this manner, even the course of the river would change going up and down from time to time. Old Kaveri will become new Kaveri; new Kaveri will become old Kaveri. If the course changed drastically the old river bed would sometimes become fertile land for farming; at other times it would stagnate and form canals generating waves like the sea.

On the south side of the Pazhaiyarai palaces, such a canal formed. The Chola kings broadened and deepened the canal and preserved it as a permanent body of water. It gave good cover for the palaces, especially for the interior that was reserved for the women. No one could approach the palace from the canal side. Only those closely associated with the palace can approach by boat. The palace gardens were next to the canal. The palace women strolled in the garden regardless of time, without fear. They sang, danced, swam in the canal, took boat rides.

When a Chola king dies and a prince takes over the throne a new palace is built. The king’s widow and other children would remain in the old palace. Among the Pazhaiyarai palaces Madam Kundavai’s ranked next to Chempian Madevi’s in terms of beauty and elegance. It was the one inhabited by Sundara Cholan. After he went to Thanjavur, she took over the palace. The garden of the palace was exceptionally beautiful. There were tall fig trees reaching toward the sky as well as flowering shrubs, climbing plants with flowers covering trees and arbors. It was the habit of Kundavai and her friends to spend a good amount of their evenings in the garden. Sometimes they will all sit together and enjoy telling stories. At other times they will break into groups of two or three and have private conversations. For some days now it has been the habit of Kundavai and Vaanathi to break away from the others. On that day they were both seated on the swing that was hanging from one of the fig tree branches. The women’s laughter could be heard over the chirping birds in the garden. But Kundavai and Vaavathi were not laughing. They did not much care for the others’ laughter. They were not even talking much. Seated in an arbor a girl began to sing. It was the birthday of Kannan. The song was about Kannan. In the light of the moon a girl hears the music of Krishna. It pains the girl who is in love with Kannan. She sings of her pain. A parrot from one of the branches tries to comfort her.


In this lonesome moonlight – here

Who is the musician playing his flute?

What is the benefit of hurting this

poor girl who does not have her love?


The flute he plays in order to 

make the world happy

This miracle that was never heard before

Why does it hurt you so? – girl


Pretty one! I will praise you

and garland you

At a time when I am of low spirits

Have you come to comfort me?


Beautiful! I came to tell of Kannan’s

distress over his love for you

Since he separated from you 

Even butter has tasted bitter for him!

Kundavai was paying attention to the song. When it was over she said, “Why do we deserve this Kannan for Tamil Nadu? If he spends his time eating butter and ghee and playing the flute for women, what about everything else? Since Vaanathi didn’t reply she asked, “Why are you silent? Have you also fallen for Kannan’s flute?”

“Sister! What did you ask?” said Vaanathi.

“What did I ask? Where was your attention?”

“Nowhere. Just here with you.”

“You cheat! Why do you lie? Your mind is not here. Shall I tell you where it is?”

“If you know, then tell me!”

“I know! It has gone to the war in Lanka. My innocent brother is there. You are scheming how you can turn his mind around!”

“There is some truth to what you said, Sister! My mind is frequently in Eezha Nadu. But I am not thinking about turning his mind around. I am thinking of the difficulties during combat, if he is injured or if he gets enough to eat; when he gets to sleep. It pains me to think that while he is undergoing these difficulties, I am here having a good life, sleeping on silk pillows, without a care for food or clothing. If I had wings I would have flown there now!”

“What will you do there? You will only be a burden for him!”

“Not at all! I will chauffeur his chariot like Subathirai did for Arjunan and Sathyabama did for Krishnan. I will bear the arrows that come his way.”

“If you bear the arrows, will he stand for that?”

“If he does not like it, I will wait in the barracks. Once he returns from the battlefield I will clean and dress his wounds, I will cook and clean and sing lullabies to make him sleep.”

“This is not possible, Vaanathi! Chola warriors don’t take women to the battlefield …”

“Why is it like that, sister, why?”

“They are more afraid of women than their wounds. …”

“Why is that? what can women do?”

“They won’t do anthing; but if women like you went to the battlefield, what if the enemy soldiers fell for your beauty and charm and surrender. Then our Chola warriors cannot show how better they are at warfare. The Chola race does not want to be known for victories that women earned them.”

“Can that happen? Is the enemy so foolish as to fall for the charm of women?”

“Why won’t they? Hey, Vaanathi! We saw a young man at Kudanthai astrologer’s house. Do you remember?”

“I do; What about it?”

“Do you remember how flustered he was at seeing the two of us there?”

“I remember that too. His confusion was not seeing both of us. Only you had that effect on him. He did not even look at anyone else, Sister!”

“Vaanathi! That’s a good lie! You are teasing me, aren’t you?”

“Not at all! If I ask you something, will you answer truthfully?”

“Ask and see!”

“Why did you remember that young man now?”

“You have become a real loudmouth! What’s wrong in remembering him?”

“Who said anything was wrong? Did I? It is natural. I too was worried about that young man!”

“Why should you worry?”

“Why shouldn’t I worry? If we see someone and we think of them often, isn’t it natural to wonder what became of them?”

“Natural indeed! We should not let our minds stray like that. We need to have some control. Listen, Vaanathi! Is that the sound of drums? Let’s hear what the announcement is! Listen!”

Yes; from afar, came the sound of a public announcement with the accompaniment of drums. The announcement was: A spy from Satturu Nadu escaped with information from Thanjavur palace, after entering the palace showing a fake signature ring. He had attacked two people and left them critically injured. Young man; well built. A trickster like Indrajith. Name is Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan. Those who give him shelter will be executed. Anyone who turns him in will receive 1000 gold coins as reward. This is the order of general Pazhuvertaraiyar Kalanthakakandar.

The announcement was followed by the beating of drum, “Dum, Dum, DaDadum …” Kundavai Devi felt herself shivering. At that time a maiden came in saying, “Devi! A Vaishnava devotee named Azhvarkadiyan is here to see you. He says it is urgent.”

“I’m coming,” said Kundavai, climbing down from the swing covered in vines and flowers.


From → Notes

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