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Ponniyin Selvan Part I (50 – 51)

January 11, 2015

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.

50. Paranthakar Center For The Ill

The sun-god rose the next morning and made the world bright. The golden pinnacles of Pazhaiyarai palaces shimmered in the bright red rays of the sun. A large elephant decorated with a howdah was in front of Kundavai Devi’s palace. Kundavai and Vaanathi came out of the palace and climbed on the elephant using the steps. The elephant moved like an earthquake to the Paranathaka Cholar medical center that was in the middle of the soldiers’ quarters. An elephant keeper walked by its side slowing it down. Women came out of their houses hearing the elephant’s jingle. Their faces breaking out into smiles at the sight of the royal women they held their palms together in greeting.

The elephant strolled through the other streets to reach the military settlement part of the town. The streets here were unique. Well fed roosters sort out each other for a fight. Male goats with curved horns looked around as if to say ‘Who wants a fight?’. Fierce hunting dogs were secured to the pillars with leather straps and chains. Small children were happily engaged in fencing holding bamboo sticks in their hands. ‘Chada-chadah’, ‘pada-padah’, the sticks cut each other noisily.

Colorful murals were drawn in chalk on the walls of the verandas. Mostly they depicted the tales of Muruga Peruman together with the history of the Chola Kings. The pictures of Muruga Peruman slashing the head of Soorapathumasuran as it repeatedly kept regenerating one after another, and Thurga Parameshwari throttling Mahishakaran were drawn in vivid and frightening detail. The walls of the verandas also realistically portrayed the many chivalrous acts of Chola Nadu warriors in the battlefields of Thennaru, Thanjai, Kudamooku, Arisilaru, Thirupurampalam, Vellur, Thakkolam and Sevur.

Once the elephant reached the streets where the military residences were pandemonium broke out. The roosters took flight beating their wings to coo from rooftops. Children ran calling each other. They knocked on their doors to give those inside the news. As the elephant walked through women, children and the elderly stood on their doorsteps greeting with joy, “Long live the young princess Kundavai Devi” or “Long live the precious daughter of Sundara Cholar!” Some of them walked behind the elephant. Gradually the crowd grew in size. They expressed their happiness shouting various tributes.

We have revealed before that in these houses lived the wives, children and parents of the soldiers who have left for the war in Ilankai. Kundavai had established a medical center for their benefit with her own funds. The Chola tribe had the habit of celebrating their ancestors. Among Kundavai’s ancestors the most famous was her great grandfather emperor Paranthakar I. Kundavai Devi named the medical center in his name. With frequent visits she stayed in touch with the welfare of the families of the soldiers.

The elephant stopped when it reached the center. Folding its front legs and then its hind legs it lowered itself. Both women stepped on the ground. After the elephant moved ahead, the crowd, especially women and children surrounded the princesses.

“Is the hospital useful to you? Don’t the doctors visit daily to treat the needy?” asked the princess.

“Yes, Madam! Yes!” replied many.

“I was suffering from cough for three months. After a week of the doctor’s medicine I am cured,” said a woman.

“Madam! My son broke his leg climbing a tree. He is well after the doctor put him in a cast for fifteen days with medicine. Now he is up playing. He has again started to climb the tree!” said another lady.

“My mother’s eyesight had been fading. She came to the hospital for a month for medicine. Her eyes are good now,” said another young girl.

“See, Vaanathi! The greatness of our Tamil ancestors? Don’t know how they determined which root to use for what ailment!” exclaimed princess Kundavai.

“They used their eyes of wisdom in their discovery. How else?” replied Vaanathi.

“It is true that they have discovered so many miraculous drugs. But they don’t have any for someone with problems of the soul like you. What can we do?”

“Akka! I don’t have mental illness. Please don’t say this over and over. My friends are killing me with endless teasing.”

“Serves you well! Didn’t you soften the heart of my brother who until then lived without a care! He sends word each time a person comes from Ilankai asking about you!” said the young princess.

During this time there was a commotion, “Make way for the doctor! Make way for the doctor!” The guards directed the people to make way. The senior doctor of the hospital greeted the princesses.

“Doctor! Didn’t you say that there were some more plants in the jungles near Kodikarai? I sent a young man to go there. Did he come?” asked Kundavai.

“Yes, Madam! That smart young man did arrive. Eesana Sivapattar brought him. I am sending one of my children with him. My son will return after Kodikarai. The soldier you sent says he will go to Ilankai …”

“Roots have to be fetched from Ilankai too?” Vaanathi asked.

“Yes, Madam! It appears when Hanumar brought Sanjeevi Parvatham from Ilankai to save the life of Lakshmanar he crossed the ocean along the Kodikarai route. Because some of the roots fell into the jungle of Kodikarai then, there are even today valuable plants to be found there. Because Ilankai had Sanjeevi Parvatham itself wouldn’t there be more precious roots there? If I can get the roots I am expecting I can certainly cure the emperor’s ailment. …”

“Let it happen by the grace of God. Where are the two young men now?”

“They are inside, Madam! They are waiting to bid farewell to you before beginning their journey!”

The chief doctor took the two princesses inside the hospital. They walked looking at those who have received their medication and those still waiting in the gutter. Their hearts and minds smiling at the sight of Princess Kundavai they thanked her for giving them such a good hospital.

Two people were waiting in the chief doctor’s room. The young princess smiled seeing Vandhiyathevan dressed in a new disguise. Vaanathi also didn’t fail to recognize him. “Akka! He looks like the one we saw at Kudanthai astrologer’s house!” she said into Kundavai’s ears.

“He does look like him. From the astrologer he had come to see the doctor. Like you he too seems to be having mind problems!” saying this she turned to Vandhiyathevan and asked, “Why, Sir! Are you the one who had agreed to go to Ilankai to bring roots for the emperor’s health?”

Vandhiyathevan’s eyes and lashes spoke in a secret language. With his mouth he uttered, “Yes, Princess! I am the one going to Ilankai. I may see the prince there! Do you want to give him a message?”

“If you see him you must certainly tell the news. Kodumbaloor Princess Vaanathi is not at all well. She frequently faints losing consciousness. He must leave immediately if he wants to see the princess.

“I will tell that, Madam!” Vandhiyathevan said looking at Vaanathi.

Embarrassed by Kundavai’s words, Vaanathi’s face beacme ten times more beautiful. Stifling her embrassment and shyness she stammered, “Sir! Don’t say anything like that. I beg of you. Kodumbaloor Vaanathi is very well under the Princess’ care, well clothed and well fed having four meals a day.”

“I will tell exactly that, Madam!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Very nice! You said ‘I will tell that‘ to me. You are saying ‘I will tell that‘ to her. Only one of them can be true?”

“So what, Madam! I will tell word to word what the plaintiff and the defendant said. The prince can be the judge to determine what is true and what is not!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“But don’t tell what one said as the other’s words and switch them around. You will be blessed!” said Vaanathi.

Kundavai wishing to put an end to this talk asked, “Doctor! Did you receive a letter to give there from the palace intelligence director?”

“Got it, Madam!  There is a general letter stating, ‘All government officials please aid these men because they are on a mission to bring medicinal plants for the care of the emperor’, and a separate letter to the coastguard at the Kodikarai lighthouse. I gave them the letters!” said the doctor.

“What is the delay? Shouldn’t we start at once?” asked Princess Kundavai.

“Yes; We should start!” replied Vandhiyathevan.

But it was not that easy to leave.

They left the medical center and came outside. The howdah elephant was waiting to take the princesses back. Two palace horses were eagerly awaiting to fly like the wind carrying Vandhiyathevan and his partner.

But Vandhiyathevan was plagued with doubt after doubt. Out of the blue warnings appeared in his mind that he found necessary to communicate to Kundavai. She cautioned them about the dangers they may encounter on the way.

The princesses got onto their howdah elephant. Vandhiyathevan and his partner climbed on their horses. The elephant did not appear to be moving. Kundavai signaled that the horses going on their long journey should depart first.

Vandhiyathevan reluctantly turned the horse. With his eyes full of longing he turned and looked at the princess one more time. ‘Chuleer!’ he whipped the horse as if he was angry at it. The horse, indignant, flew on its four legged leap. The doctor’s son struggled to keep up.

Kundavai sank into thought as the elephant began its trot. How strange the heart is? Why does it pay so much attention to this wayward young man after turning down mighty kings and heroic warriors? Why does it worry so much that he should successfully accomplish his mission and return safely …?

“Akka! What are you thinking?” Vaanathis’ voice brought Kundavai back to this world. “Nothing, Vaanathi! I was thinking of that young man’s proud nature. I am wondering why we sent word to my brother through him …!”

“Yes, Akka! He is a wicked man! A robber even …”

“What’s that? Why do you say robber?”

“Ordinary robbers will take gold, silver and such useless things. I am afraid this young man is going to steal the goddess of Chola Nadu. You won’t give any room for that, would you?” said Vaanathi.

“You rogue! You thought that I am like you? Never!” replied Kundavai.

When the elephant had walked a short distance the princesses saw women gathered in a crowd. Ordering the elephant to be stopped, Kundavai asked, “Why have you gathered here? Do you have something to say?”

One of the women came forward: “Madam! There is no news about our husbands in Ilankai. It seems that the Thanjavur men have refused to send rice from here? Without food in their stomach, Madam! how can they fight?” she asked.

“Don’t you all worry about that. Grain goes to them from the Mamallapuram harbor. Even if Thanjavur men refused, would the prince agree? Would he let Chola Nadu soldiers go hungry!” said the princess.

On another day, Kundavai would have got down and comforted the women. Because her heart was caught in a different kind of turmoil she wanted to be alone. The elephant continued toward the palace.

51. Mamallapuram

We want to take our friends to the Mamallapuram which they know very well of.

Three hundred years have passed since Mahendra Pallavar and Mamalla Narasimmar made a heaven out of this harbor town with its extraordinary work of sculpture.

The town’s appearance is slightly faded. This does not please us.

The storied palaces are broken and in ruin. There isn’t a big crowd on the streets of the harbor as before. There isn’t a lot of commerce. There are no warehouses. Imported goods are not heaped in piles along the street.

We saw before the sea tunneling into the earth to form a deep channel forming a natural harbor where ships can safely enter and stop. Now sand had been beaten into the channel filling it and reducing the depth very much. In the shallow sea water only small boats and rafts can come. Ships and sailboats will have to stop further away in the ocean. Goods for sale have to be transported in boats to the ships.

In the time that lapsed it should be noted that Mamallapuram attained some new special features. Especially our eyes are drawn to the beautiful granite temple on the shore. It is not like the temples of Mahendran-Mamallan’s time carved out of hills. It is a temple constructed out of stones brought from the hills. It is positioned like the crown jewel of the ocean king. Adadah! How to describe the architectural beauty of this temple?

Apart from this in the center of the town is the temple of the sleeping Perumal who had fathomed the three worlds. This vinnakaram is the holy work of Parameshwara Pallavan who worshiped and cultivated both the Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions as his two eyes. When Thirumangai Azhvar visited the sleeping Perumal in the temple he was moved to compose Tamil poems of devotion and piety. The Pallava empire was flourishing and Mamallapuram was a wealthy harbor even in the poet’s time, can be understood from this poem:

‘with heaps of treasure to invigorate the senses

happiness flowing my kind healthy

carrying heaps of gems nine kind all over

I am broken

mountain sea supporting ships

Mamallapuram recumbent

own him your soul-man

own him my foolish soul!’

In the century following Thirumangaiyar’s time the sun had set on the Pallava empire. ‘Kanji, incomparable in scholarship‘, was also diminished in its glory. The commercial appeal of the shipping route that the poet sings about was also waning.

But there was no damage to the works of sculpture that was meant to bestow eternal glory to this heavenly city. The figures carved on the rock surface and the chariots carved out of the hills have remained in the same condition as they were at the time of their creation three hundred years ago. There were more crowds who have come for the aesthetic pleasure of viewing the antique sculpture than businessmen exporting goods.

A beautiful vimanaratham drawn by two horses was speeding along the streets of Mamallapuram. The decorated horses, the intricate artwork on the chariot, the gold inlaid canopy that glittered in the evening sun all proclaimed that it belonged to the royalty.

Yes; in the spacious interior of the gold chariot there were three people seated. One of them was Sundara Cholar’s eldest son Athitha Karikalan. Beginning from a young age he had been in wars performing heroic deeds. He killed Madurai Veerapandiyan in the first war and earned the title ‘the lion who beheaded Veerapandiyan‘. Sundara Cholar fell ill soon after Veera Pandiyan’s ascension to heaven and Pandiya Nadu came under Chola Nadu. Thereafter, Sundara Cholar crowned Athitha Karikalan as the prince to establish without doubt that he was next in line for the throne. From then on Athitha Karikalan also had the power to engrave his name in stone and to award privileges, the insignia of authority.

Later, Athitha Karikalan traveled to the north in order to free Irattai Mandalam from Kanara Thevan’s rule. He performed many chivalrous acts in battlefields there also. He drove the Irattai Mandala army to the north of Vada Pennai. To go further north it was necessary to strengthen the army. Therefore he began to reside in Kanji to recruit and to enrich the armory. At this stage the Pazhuvertaraiyars began to obstruct his plans. They said that they can go to war in the north only after the war in Lanka was over. Several other rumors floated in the air. It became known that the Lanka garrison did not receive the needed food from Chola Nadu. Owing to all of this Athitha Karikalan’s heart was boiling in furor.

In the three hundred years before and after the time of this story, warriors as great as those we read about in classics were born from the womb of the Tamil mother. Warriors like Bheeman, Arjunan, Bhishmar, Thronar, Thadothgajan and Apimanyu were born in the Tamil country. They performed deeds shocking the world. Each war victory strengthened their shoulders further. Men of old age developed the power to move mountains. Young adolescent men had the ability to sail the winds and reap the stars from the skies.

Two warriors of this caliber were seated in the chariot side by side with Athitha Karikalan at that moment.

One of them was Thirukovalur Malaiamman. Malaiammanadu, which he ruled had its name shortened to Maladu and Miladu with usage. Therefore, he had the title of ‘Miladudaiyar’.

Sundara Chola emeperor’s second wife Vaanamadevi was his daughter. Therefore, he was Athitha Karikalan’s grandfather. In age and wisdom, he was akin to the Kaurava grandfather Bhishmar. Even though Athitha Karikalan was devoted to him at times his advice tested the young prince’s patience.

The other person in the chariot was Parthipenthiran. He is an offshoot from the ancient Pallava tribe. He was a little older than Athitha Karikalan. Lacking the power to rule he wanted his legacy to be in the battlefield. He went to Athitha Karikalan. He served Athitha Karikalan as his right-hand in the war against Veera Pandiyan. Because of it he had earned Athitha Karikalan’s friendship and trust. From the day that Veera Pandiyan fell the two of them became inseparable.

While traveling in the chariot the three of them were reflecting on the news from Thanjavur.

“I cannot tolerate for a moment the arrogance of these Pazhuvertaraiyars. Day by day they are going over the limit. What self-conceit to label the messenger I sent a spy? Apparently they have announced a thousand gold pieces for those who would turn him in. How can I put up with this? My sword in its shield is cringing in shame. You on the other hand are preaching patience!” said Athitha Karikalan.

“I am not preaching patience. But I said earlier not to send Vandhiyathevan for something as important as this. I knew that impatient guy would spoil the matter. Is it sufficient to just be able to wield a sword or throw a spear? To be a courier in diplomatic matters a sharp wit is essential …” said Parthipenthiran.

He did not like the affection that Athitha Karikalan had for Vandhiyathevan. He was always criticizing him. He will find fault in whatever he did. At this instance also he was criticizing.

“Have you begun, your story? For you, without Vandhiyathevan to complain about, time will not pass. If he does not have intelligence, who does? He had accomplished my order by whatever, however means to deliver in person my letter to the emperor. Pazhuvertaraiyars are angry because of this. What is Vandhiyathevan’s fault in this?” Athitha Karikalan asked.

“He would not have stopped with what you had sent him for. He would have poked his head into other matters!” replied Parthipenthiran.

“You just take a break! Grandfather! Why are you silent? What is your opinion? Why don’t we go with a large battalion and rescue the emperor from Thanjavur and bring him to Kanji? How many days would we watch the Pazhuvertaraiyars keep the emperor as if in prison. How long do we cower in fear of the Pazhuvertaraiyars?” fumed Athitha Karikalan.

Thirukovalur Malaiamman – Miladudaiyar – experienced in sixty four battles in his lifetime cleared his throat in order to answer. Instead, seeing the waves of the ocean ahead he said, “Let’s first get down from this chariot, Son! Let’s go sit at our usual place and talk. Aren’t I an old man? It’s not easy to speak in a moving car.”

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