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Ponniyin Selvan Part I (52 – 53)

January 23, 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.

52. The Old Man’s Wedding

It’s a rocky shore, the Mamallapuram coast. The waves crash on the small rocks when the sea rises. Then, the ocean retreats allowing the rocks to dry. The sculptors of Mamallapuram, did not even leave a single rock out. They imagined and created according to the position and size of each rock, art that would live forever.

Athitha Karikalan and the other two men approached two such rocks that faced each other. Leaving the chariot Karikalan and Malaiamman sat on these rocks as if it were the throne. Parthipenthiran stood nearby. Often the rolling waves left them soaked upto their knees. When the waves crashed sprays of water rose and showered them with rain. At a distance boats carrying goods sped across the ocean tearing the water in orderly rows. They moved the goods from the boats to the tall ships that stood with their open sails.

“My heart boils when I see the goods that were reserved for Irattai Mandalam going to Ilankai!” said Parthipenthiran.

“What else to do? The best of the Chola battalions is in Ilankai. They have been triumphant in battle after battle. They have planted the flag of victory in Anuradhapura where Ilankai kings have ruled for a thousand years. Do we leave such warriors to die of starvation?” asked Athitha Karikalan.

“Who said to abandon them like that? We must send food. But it has to go from the Nagapattinam seaport of Chola Nadu. Or it should be sent from Sethukarai in Pandiya Nadu. What is the need to send it from this barren Thondai Mandalam? I was concerned that this would stand in the way of us going to war in the north!” said Parthipenthiran.

“My heart is also boiling when I think of that. Don’t know what those Pazhuvertaraiyar scoundrels’ intention is. How long to put up with this? Grandfather! Why are you still keeping your mouth shut? Open your mouth and say something!” said Karikalan.

“Child! ‘Oh!’, the ocean’s waves are howling nonstop. Competing with the waves your friend Parthipenthiran is howling. What can I say in the middle of this? Age has left me impotent …!” said Malaiamman Miladudaiyar.

“Parthipenthira! Be quiet for a moment. Let grandfather speak!”

“I will shut my mouth. Poor grandfather! In his old age he had with difficulty come down from the mountain fortress. Should I open my mouth in front of him? The sea cannot think! It’s howling nonstop! There is no one to restrain it. Even of our mallai king it is not afraid!” said Parthipenthiran. . 

“Son! Parthipenthira! There was such a time. All the kings of the world trembled upon hearing the name Thirukovalur Malaiamman. Like the serpent reacting to the sound of thunder, the Chalukiyar of Irattai mandalam. the Varna Kovaraiyar of Vallam, Vaithumbaraiyars, Kangars and Kongars would hide in their hole. Even the ocean king would be calm. Now that this body is a little weak, they have all started to play. The Pazhuvertaraiyars who came only yesterday from the west are now trying to destroy me who hails from a thousand year old tribe! It is not going to happen ever! Karikala! Just now you said that you don’t know the intention of the Pazhuvertaraiyars! I will tell you what their intention is, listen! Their intention is to isolate and weaken your brother and you. In Ilankai your brother Arulmozhi should face defeat. He should be disgraced because of that. Here, you should feel angry at your brother. Both of you should start fighting with each other. This old man should suffer seeing that! This is their secret intention …!”

While Miladudaiyar was speaking angrily, Karikalan interrupted, “They are never going to succeed, Grandfather! No one can separate me and my brother. I will sacrifice my life for Arulmozhi. Very often I think, ‘Should I get in the ship and go to Ilankai?’ Who knows what sort of difficulties he is having there? I am here spending my time comfortably well fed, clothed, sleeping in the palace. My sword and spear are rusting. Each moment stretches like an eon. It is not desirable to be here. Grandfather! Tell me! Shall I go to Ilankai on one of these ships that is taking food?”

“Prince! Excellent idea! You have said what I have been thinking of for many days. Come, let’s go! There is no use asking grandfather’s advice for this. If we ask him he will likely advise, “Don’t go, wait!” We can leave tomorrow. We can take half of the Thondai Mandalam battalion. We will come straight to Nagapattinam after somehow finishing the war in Ilankai. Then we will head to Thanjavur to take care of the Pazhuvertaraiyars …!” Parthipenthiran’s words poured out in a torrent.

“Karikala! See? What did I say from the beginning? Didn’t I say that he has to keep his mouth closed if I was to speak?”

“I am closing my mouth, Grandfather! Please finish what you were saying!” Parthipenthiran closed his mouth with his hand.

“Karikala! You are an excellent warrior. Not many of your caliber have been born in the Tamil country. I have seen many wars in my eighty years. But I have never seen anyone who can penetrate the enemy and fight like you. During the Sevur great war you were not even sixteen. I have never seen anything like the way you, at that age, went into the enemy, the speed at which your sword swung left and right, the speed at which heads rolled off. That scene is still in front of my eyes. Like you, your friend Parthipenthiran is also an excellent warrior. Both of you are impatient and irascible. It keeps you from thinking rationally. You are provoked to do the opposite of what is prudent … ”

“Grandfather! You have given me this advice many times before …”

“I have. Are you saying that it didn’t serve any purpose? Are you telling me to shut up and return to my place?”

“No, no! Tell me what has to be done now.”

“You should call your brother Arulmozhi back to this place immediately. You and your brother should never be separated..”

“Grandfather! What sort of advice is this? If Arulmozhi comes here what is to become of the war in Ilankai?”

“The war in Ilankai has reached a climax now. We have captured Anuradhapura. Now it’s rainy seaon. For four months nothing can be done. We have only to guard the territory that we gained. This can be done by the other commanders. It is necessary that Arulmozhi be here now. Karikala! What is the use in hiding the truth? There is great danger facing the Vijayalaya Cholar tribe and the Chola empire that he founded. You and all those like you must stay in the same place with extreme caution. We should also amass all our power. It is impossible to predict when and what kind of danger is to come …”

“Grandfather! What are you frightening me like this for? As long as I have a sword in my hand what am I afraid of? Even if there was danger, what of it? I can deal with it alone. I am not the kind who shuns danger …”

“Child! Do you have to tell me how brave you are? In any case, you should also sometimes consider what Thiruvalluvar Peruman has said: ‘It is cowardly to fear what should not be feared; however, it is the work of the intelligent to know what needs to be feared.’

Fear has no place in the battlefield. Such a person is a coward. If a child like that is born in my tribe I myself would slaughter him with these hands made weak by age. But one has to be afraid of conniving and plotting that is invisible. Fearful, one has to take precautions suitable to these situations. Those who are born to royalty and in line for the throne cannot be careless in this matter. If they are it would destroy the country.”

“Grandfather! What kind of unknown dangers are you expecting? You have got to explain if we were to take cautionary measures …”

“I am going to explain. Some days ago there was a meeting in the middle of the night at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was there. In addition, Mazhavaraiyar from the south, Kizhar from Kunrathur, Vanangamudi Munaiaraiyar, the fearless Singha Mutharaiyar and Irattai Kudai Rajaliyar were there. These are the names that reached my ears. There may have been many others …”

“Let them meet; so what? All of them would have watched theater, ate until their stomachs were bursting, drank barrels of toddy and gone to sleep. What has that got to do with us? What threat can these old folks with graying facial hair pose?”

“What is the use of my saying anything as long as you have such high admiration for old folks? Aren’t I also an old man? I am older than all of them …!”

“Grandfather! Don’t be angry. Would I team you up with those hapless oldies? Alright, tell me what happened afterwards!”

“Again you are calling them ‘hapless oldies’. Don’t forget that the leading oldie among them just got married recently! Be aware that there is no young person more dangerous in this world than the old man married to a young woman!”

Athitha Karikalan’s face underwent a curious transformation when the matter of the old man’s wedding was mentioned. His eyes turned red twitching like the demon goddess demanding a blood sacrifice. His lips trembled. His teeth clenched.

Malaiamman did not notice any of this. But Parthipenthiran did.

“Why speak of that wedding now, Sir? Tell us what happened at the Sambuvaraiyar palace!” said the Pallava warrior.

“I was about to tell that. But, aren’t I the old man? My mind got side tracked. Listen, Karikala! Parthipenthira! You also listen! That midnight meeting was not just for old men. There were also a few young men. One of them is Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran. The other ….,” when he hesitated, Karikalan urged him, “Who, Grandfather? Who was the other person?”

“Your great uncle Kandarathithar’s son, your uncle Mathuranthaka Thevan!”

Hearing it Athitha Karikalan and Parthipenthiran burst out laughing.

“What is this laughter? What is the meaning of this laughter? Are you both teasing me again?” Miladudaiyar asked.

“No, Grandfather! No! You are calling Mathuranthakan a young man. We are laughing about that. Isn’t he the oldest of all oldies? Isn’t he the ripe Sivagnana oldie?” asked Athitha Karikalan.

“Haven’t you heard how manhood can return in old age sometimes? Like that youth has returned to Mathuranthakan. The guy who until a few days ago claimed ‘I am going to become an ascetic’ and ‘I am going to do service’, has now married one, two, three … hasn’t he?”

“Let him. Let him wed many more times; what about it?”

“Son! Mathuranthakar’s marriages are not the ordinary kind. They are political marriages. They are part of Pazhuvertaraiyar’s devious plotting …!”

“Grandfather! Why are you still speaking mysteriously? Please be more open! What do the Pazhuvertaraiyars want? What is the purpose of going from town to town holding these meetings? What are they trying to do with Mathuranthaka Thevan?”

“Nothing else. They want to dispute your brother’s and your claim to the throne and install Mathuranthaka Thevan on the Chola throne. To get his permission for this they are keeping your father a prisoner at the Thanjavur frotress!” said Miladudaiyar.

53. Malaiamman’s Tantrum

Indeed, Athitha Karikalan did not fall down unconscious when he heard the last words spoken by the wise king Malaiamman of Thirukovalur whose experience matched his expertise and whose expertise matched his knowledge! Nevertheless, for a second he was paralyzed with inaction. Parthipenthiran also was speechless and stood there silently. Even the ocean seemed subdued. The shouts of the men singing ‘ehlelo’, transferring goods from the boats to the ships had also stopped.

Embarrassed for having overcome by surprise, Athitha Karikalan lifted his face abruptly to face his grandfather and asked, “Grandfather! That people are talking like this all over the country fell on my ears also. I thought that it was a false rumor. How are you so certain? Do you really know? Can this happen?”

“Why not? Before your grandfather it was your great uncle Kandarathitha Thevar who ruled Chola Nadu! Hasn’t his son got more right to the throne than both of you?” replied Miladudaiyar.

“Not at all! That incompetent fool, cannot speak four words together, has never taken a sword in his hand, a man who ought to have been born a woman, he has a claim to this empire? Or is it Athitha Karikalar who at the tender age of twelve still with baby’s breath entered the battlefield, the lion who beheaded Veera Pandiyan, a soldier who has never known defeat, who has the right? Sir! Miladudaiyar! Has your intellect been blunted just because you are old?” Partipenthiran hissed.

Karikalan after ordering him to be quiet said, “Grandfather! This empire is of no significance to me. If I want I can establish ten such empires with the help of the sword in my hand. But how is this justified? If from the beginning it has been said that the empire is Mathuranthakan’s then I would not stand in the way. How can it be changed after I was coronated as the crown prince in the eyes of the country, the towns and the people? Is this agreeable to you?”

“Not only it is not agreeable to me, I will never allow it. If you agree to hand the empire over to Mathuranthakan I would first chop you into pieces with this sword. Then I would chop your mother who carried you for ten months before giving birth. Then with my own sword I would kill myself, who gave birth to your mother. As long as there is life in me I would not allow this Chola empire to leave you out.” As the elderly man thundered, his faded eyes lit up. Overcome by emotion his weak frame shuddered.

Parthipenthiran shouting, “Talk like that, Grandfather! Talk like that!”, hugged Malaiamman. Tears welled in his eyes.

Karikalan sat staring at the deep sea for a while. Then he looked at his grandfather. “Grandfather! If that’s how you feel why are we waiting? Let’s gather our troops and go to Thanjavur. Let’s destroy completely the Pazhuvertaraiyars, and all those with them, Mazhuvaraiyar, Sambuvaraiyar, Mutharaiyar and Munaiyaraiyar and take over the Thanjavur fortress. We will imprison Mathuranthakan. We will free the emperor. If we have your blessing, who in this world is capable of defeating Parthipenthiran and I?” he said with pride.

“No one can defeat you in war. That is true. But if there is deliberate perfidy against you what will you do? When you approach the fortress with an army they will spread tales that you have come to war against your own father! They will even say that the emperor had died unable to bear this disgrace. Wouldn’t there be people who would believe it? In that situation, what will you do, child? You will be disheartened! Can you bear the accusation that you came to fight with your own father?”

Athitha Karikalan covering his ears said,” Siva Sivah! Can’t bear to hear this!”

“That is why I said at the beginning; that there is great danger surrounding us!”

“What is the strategy, grandfather? What is the strategy?”

“First we have to send someone trustworthy to Ilankai to bring Arulmozhi back. He will not come easily leaving his battle and the soldiers under his command. We have to send someone who is capable of changing his mind and bring him back …”

Parthipenthiran stepped forward. “Sir! If you grant me permission I would go and bring him,” he said.

“That is Karikalan’s wish; your wish. But whoever who goes shouldn’t be like Vandhiyathevan poking his head into unrelated matters. …”

“Did you see? I told you!” said Parthipenthiran.

“Have you heard any news of Vandhiyathevan, Grandfather?” asked Athitha Karikalan.

“At first, I was even suspicious of him, if he had joined with our enemies. But then it got cleared.”

“See, Parthipenthira!” said Karikalan.

“Let him finish. Before that you are in a hurry! Sir! What was it that was suspicious about Vandhiyathevan?”

“I came to know that he was also at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace on the day of the meeting. Then I found out that he had no connection to their treacherous plotting.”

“Grandfather! How did you come to know all of this?”

“I did not receive an invitation to the dinner at Kadampoor palace. That was reason enough for suspicion. Later, I took Kizhar of Kunrathur who was returning after the gala and held him hostage at my Malai fortress. I found out from him everything that happened there. Vandhiyathevan it seems is a friend of Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran….”

“Yes; Didn’t they both belong to our garrison? They both served as guards at the Vada Pennai shore. I knew they became friends from then on …”

“However, Vandhiyathevan was at the palace that day. It was impossible to know if he was involved in the deceit or not. Then there was a way. When it became known that Vandhiyathevan escaped from the Thanjai fortress after stabbing Kanthamaran in the back…”

“Grandfather! I will never believe this. Vandhiyathevan whatever he may or may not be capable of, is not a person who stabs one in the back. Especially, not a cutthroat who would stab a friend in the back…..”

“If it became known that this friend is involved in a deceitful plot against his master? If that friend had attempted to recruit him for this plan?….”

“Whatever happened, he would fight face to face. He would never stab in the back!”

“I am amazed at how confident you are of your friend, Son! Whatever the truth, he is being hunted because Pazhuvertaraiyars have charged him with the crime of stabbing Kanthamaran in the back. This is all I know. But for some reason there had been a fight between Vandhiyathevan and Kanthamaran. Isn’t this proof that he is not involved in the treachery against you?”

“There is no need to go this far for that. If Vandhiyathevan were to join our enemies, then this earth would turn upside down. The sea with its waves would dry up. The sky will fall. The sun will rise at night. The Chola tribe will be totally destroyed…,” said Athitha Karikalan excitedly.

“I agree with the Prince. Vandhiyathevan will never join the enemies against us. I can speak of only one fault with him. If he sees a beautiful woman’s face he will lose his head. He would be enchanted!”

Athitha Karikalan smiled upon hearing this. “This is why I told him to go see the princess after giving my letter to the emperor. After he sees the princess once, how can he escape? Other than to become her slave?” he asked.

At once Malaiamman Miladudaiyar exclaimed, “Oho! Is that what you asked him to do? I didn’t know, no? Was there any news from Vandhiyathevan after he left Thanjavur? Or was there even any news from the princess?”

“I have been waiting for it every minute. So far nothing…”

“After Arulmozhi gets here we should also bring your sister here. Then we have nothing to fear. We can leave all deliberation to the princess and just do what she advises! …”

“Grandfather! Aren’t you worse than Vandhiyathevan in this matter?”

“Yes, Karikala! Your sister got hold of the scepter when she was just two years old. She made me, your grandmother and your parents dance according to her will. Even now it is that way with me. Her wishes are my order. Karikala! Don’t think it’s an insult to you if I speak so of your sister. It is nothing but a matter of pride for you. No one as wise as the princess has yet been born among men or women. You know our chief minister Anirutha Bramarayar? If he seeks advice from the princess, then what more is there to say?” Miladudaiyar spoke ecstatically.

Parthipenthiran who was envious of Vandhiyathevan said, “All of that is fine; who disagrees? But what if Vandhiyathevan before seeing the princess had been enchanted by another woman’s face? For example if he had seen that mohini called Pazhuvur Illaiyarani?” Because his last words were spoken in a low voice, they did not fall into the ears of the elderly man. But they did fall into Athitha Karikalan’s ears. He swiftly turned and looked at Parthipenthiran with fiery eyes. That look shook the core of the Pallava soldier’s existence.

Malaiamman stood up from the rock. He said, “Parthipenthira! Aren’t you going to Ilankai tomorrow itself? Young men like you have a lot to talk about. I am an old man, I will walk slowly to the palace. Both of you can finish your discussion and return leisurely.”

After he had walked a short distance Parthipenthiran earnestly addressed Vandhiyathevan: “Prince! Your Highness! Your mind is troubled. There is a pain that is ripping your heart. I know it has to do with Pazhuvur Illayarani. Whenever there is talk about either the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar or Pazhuvur Illaiyarani your reaction is profound. Your eyes become red spewing fire. How long will you harbor this agony letting it fume within you? You have called me your life’s best friend a thousand times. Shouldn’t you confide your soul to such a friend? Shouldn’t you tell what this agony is about? Shouldn’t you grant me an opportunity to find remedy? How long can I wait seeing you suffer in this way?”

Athitha Karikalan letting out a long sigh stood up from the rock. He said, “My friend! My heart ache is forever. It’s an ache that can only end at my death. There is no remedy for it. Nevertheless, there is nothing that I cannot talk to you about. Tonight I will. Now let’s go with the old man to the palace. It is not wise to send him alone!”

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