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Ponniyin Selvan Part I (56 – 57)

February 5, 2015

Ponniyin Selvan is the well known Tamil novel written by the late renowned Indian author Kalki Krishnamoorthy. This is a translation.

56. Anthapuram Incident

Many centuries ago when emperor Mahendra Pallavar ruled from Kanji, he had seen to it that the story of Mahabharatham was read widely all over the country. At a time when owing to Buddhist and Jain propaganda people were turning to pacifism in Tamil Nadu, his intention was to bring about a revival of heroism and fortitude. In several locations he built Bharatha Halls to facilitate the study of the story of Bharatham. What he began was still being carried out in Thondai mandalam. At night people gathered in halls or out in the open to listen to the story of Bharatham. There was a proliferation of songstresses who composed and could perform with passion the main narrative of Bharatham and its sub-narratives in poetic, musical and prose form.

Arjunan during his pilgrimage saw princess Chitrangi of Manipuri in the forest near Manipuri. They fell in love. A son named Aravan was born to Chitarngi. Born to the hill country princess by Arjunan, Aravan was a great warrior. Hearing about the impending start of the Bharatha war he came to join the Pandavar army. Before the start of the war when there was talk of a sacrifice of a great warrior Aravan stepped forward saying, “Here I am! Offer me as battlefield sacrifice!” Because there was no other soldier greater than him on the Pandavar side, it became a necessity to offer Aravan as sacrifice.

The story of the brave Aravan who gave up his life for his side’s victory captivated the Tamil people’s hearts. Wherever they built a temple for Thraupathai Amman, next to it they built one for Aravan and celebrated him.

It appeared that the Aravan story was over that night near the five chariots of Mamallapuram. Shouts of “Long live the emperor Sundara Cholar of the three worlds!” or “Long live the Lion Athitha Karikalar!”, came floating in the air. The crowd that was listening to the story rose and began to disperse.

“The story is over. Malaiamman will return in a short while!”, said Karikalan.

“The story of Aravan is over; But the story you were telling is not over yet!”, said Parthipan.

“Look at Malaiamman’s resolve at this age! See,even now he is up at midnight to go for the storytelling!” said Karikalan.

“Is it such a wonder to be living to an old age? There are so many old people in this place. Because they cannot sleep at night they go for the storytelling! ….”

“You are placing Thirukovalur Miladudaiyar with those other old men? He had seen so many battles! It is doubtful that we will be alive at Malaiamman’s age. Even if we did, we won’t be as strong as him.”

“King! There is a reason why people from the old days are strong …”

“What is that reason?”

“They don’t get caught in female trappings of desire. They don’t wallow in the memory of losing one’s heart to a pitiful priest’s daughter. Even if they lose their heart to such a woman they would drag her by her hair to their home before doing anything else! ….”

“Parthipa! Nandhini is really not from a priest’s house; There must be a mystery surrounding her birth! …”

“Does it matter whose daughter Nandhini is? Whether it is a priest’s daughter? Whether it is a king’s daughter? Or an orphan? Look at that other old man, Pazhuvertaraiyar! He saw her somewhere on the way; at once he dragged her and locked her up as ninth to the eight already in his anthapuram….”

“Pal! When I think of it, it is a bit odd to me! …”

“Think of what? How this old man got caught in her net?”

“No, no! How did she, who at one time said that she was in love with me, who then was in love with Veera Pandyan and tried to save his life, agree to marry this old man? It is odd when I think of it.”

“There is nothing odd about it, Sir! What is surprising to me is your behavior! Pandyan, the eternal enemy of the Chola tribe, the coward who runs and hides after losing, yet heralds himself as ‘Veerapandyan’ – you let the woman who sheltered him and begged for his life, go free? When I think about it that is what is most surprising. Either she should have been slain right then and there; if that wasn’t desirable her hands and legs ought to have been bound and imprisoned! You returned without doing either of these two! … Now even I remember, Your Highness! You carried Veerapandyan’s body and dropped it at the entrance to that hut. We all applauded our victory as if we were drunk. In the middle of this there was the sound of someone sobbing from inside the hut. ‘Who is that?’ I asked. ‘Some women from the priest’s house. They are already frightened out of their wits. None of you go inside!’, you replied. In our victorious mood we also did not pay any heed to it. We, at once picked up the head of Veerapandyan and left, you also came with us. But you did not so much join us in our celebration and joy. You appeared less excited. I asked the reason. You gave some excuses. I even remember thinking if you had suffered some serious injury.”

“My body did not suffer any injuries. But my heart was left with an incurable wound. The sight of her holding up her palms and begging for Veerapandyan’s life in front of the bed where he was lying never left my mind. ‘Aiyo! I refused to give what she wanted’, my heart cried. If I could give my life and bring back Veerapandyan to her instead I would have done it. Because this was impossible I blamed myself. I cursed myself. Parthipa! We think so much about our strengths. We become arrogant in the belief that there is nothing impossible for us. We read in texts that ‘kings are like Maha Vishnu’ and end up believing it. But do we have the power to bring back the life once it leaves the body? Does anyone born in the royal tradition have this power? We can only take away life; but no human has the capability to give life!…”

“It is good that way. If you have had that ability, how dreadful it would have been? You would have given back Pandyan’s life. He would have again hidden in some hole in a mountain. Perhaps the Pandya war would still be going on! All this for the sake of a woman’s fake tears!” said Parthipenthiran.

“Pallava! You are an unfortunate woman hater! You don’t know what love is! That is why you are speaking in this manner!”

“Yes; I have not been trapped in any woman’s charm. But your friend Vandhiyathevan whom you trust is someone who would fall for any face made bright by henna. That is why you like him more than me. Isn’t it, King!”

“Aha! In the end you have come back to Vandhiyathevan, haven’t you? I was wondering why you have forgotten him all this while!”

“Yes, if I tell the truth about him it would be bitter for you. I won’t bring it up. What happened afterwards, King! Did you ever meet Nandhini again? You never asked how the woman who pined for Veerapandyan came to marry the old man Pzhuvertaraiyar?”

“On the night Veerapandyan was killed after the victory celebrations all of you were sleeping in the encampment. Sleep would not come to me. Every nerve of my body pulsed with the desire to see her again. I wanted to see her, comfort her and ask her forgiveness. Then again I wanted to show her how angry I was. It seemed as if I would never be at peace, I would never return to Chola Nadu if I didn’t see her again. Therefore, in the middle of the night without any of you knowing I got on the horse and went from the encampment. I reached the island in the middle of the river Vaikai. With my heart throbbing, body shaking, legs staggering, I got down from the horse and slowly went near the Perumal temple. I saw all the huts burnt down to ashes. An old couple were wailing seated next to one of the burnt huts. When I went near and looked closely I recognized them as the couple who had brought Nandhini to the palace garden before. Their sadness and fear increased ten fold at the sight of me.

At first they could not speak at all. I encouraged them slowly to speak. There eldest daughter lived in a village across the river. Hearing that she was about to give birth, they had gone to see her. Nandhini refused to go with them. They went on their own, leaving behind the stubborn girl who was used to acting according to her own will. On their way back, they saw some villains trying to forcibly throw a woman with her feet and hands bound, into the funeral pyre. Thinking that these tragic events are part of war time and frightened to go near these men they had hurried to get back. When they came they saw the burnt huts. Nandhini was nowhere. Relating this, the priest and his wife cried, ‘Prince! Where is our daughter? Where is our precious girl?’ I had known before that they were not the real parents of Nandhini. Now I was certain about it. If they were real parents would they have left her alone like this, and gone? Therefore, I didn’t feel any sympathy or kindness towards them. My horror at finding out what happened to Nandhini was weighing heavily on my chest. “Find the pyre where your daughter was burnt and you also burn to death!”, I cursed them in my fury and I returned to the encampment. All of you were sleeping soundly. None of you knew about my leaving or returning…”

“Yes, Prince! We didn’t know. It is a wonder that even after that you have kept all of this inside you for all this time. I never even dreamed that you would behave in this manner, not honoring our friendship. If I was in your position I would not have not told you,” said Parthipan.

“But you weren’t in my position, Parthipa! No one in this world could have been in my position. Who can tell what you could have done if you had been in my position?”

“King! Let’s not argue about what happened. What did happen afterwards? When did you see Nandhini again? After she became Illaiyarani? Or before?”

“If I had seen her before, she would not have become Pazhuvur Rani. When Pazhuvertaraiyar’s wedding took place you and I were not in town. When the news reached us, you would remember us discussing it with disgust? A few days after that my coronation took place. My father, grandmother and other elders made it happen so that there was no doubt about who was next in line. Who knows if they were afraid that someone would poison Mathranthakan’s mind? With the title of prince, I was also given administrative powers such as authorizing stone engravings in my name. ‘From now onward, yours is the responsibility of ruling this Chola empire’, my father proclaimed wholeheartedly. Countrymen, townsmen, ministers and generals, all applauded in agreement. I have forgotten Nandhini entirely in this excitement. But a short while after the coronation there was an incident to make me never forget her.

Still wearing the Chola empire crown I was taken to the women’s interior part of the palace by the emperorHe took me to receive the blessing of my mother, grandmother and other women. Following me, my brother, chief minister and the Pazhuvertaraiyars came. There in the women’s wing stood as a crowd, the elderly matrons, my sister, her friends and several other young women. With faces blossoming in happiness, sparkling in their jewelry and clothes, they were waiting in anticipation of our arrival. But among all those faces, there was only one face visible to my eyes, it was the face of Nandhini. The goddess of my soul, the one I believed had burnt to ashes! How did she come here to be with the palace women? How is she here at the center of the royal women fabulously dressed and decorated as Maharani? How lovely is that face in that smile? How is she ten times more beautiful than before? In a few seconds my mind had built many palaces in the sky! Is this day when I was crowned as the one entitled to the Chola throne, going to turn out to be the luckiest day of my life? Am I going to have the queen who stole my heart as my empress at the throne also? By some trick of Indra, by some magic, would this happen? … While my mind was occupied in this manner, my mother Vanamadevi stepped forward to kiss me on my forehead and bless me saying, “My child!” At the same time the incident that no one expected happened. My father screamed, ‘Ah’, and fainted, crashing to the floor in a bundle. At once, the place was in disorder. All of the others and I concentrated on picking up the emperor and help him gain consciousness again. All the women other than my mother and grandmother Chempian Madevi had gone inside. Father, soon regained consciousness.

“I took my sister away and asked her, ‘How did Nandhini get here?’ Kundavai said, “Nandhini is married to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and is now the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani.” My heart was pierced by a sharp dagger. Pal! I have been wounded in battle many times. But the wound that Kundavai’s response, ‘Nandhini is Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’, inflicted on my heart has not yet healed!” said Athitha Karikalan pressing his chest. It was clear that the pain in his heart was still present.

57. Maya Mohini

Parthipan, who had been listening without too much sympathy from the beginning, now felt his heart also melting. He wiped the tears that welled in his eyes.

“My king! I have never even dreamed that such misery could arise out of love for a woman! We had no idea that on the day of the coronation that you had endured such an experience. Therefore, we were surprised to see you low in spirits. We tried so much to cheer you up with our teasing. I can remember that now!” he said.

“Yes; you tried humor. You tried to cheer me. You spoke about the great accomplishments I would have during my reign. On that day itself you extended the Chola empire from Ilankai to the Himalayas! In addition you went overseas and conquered kingdoms. I still remember all that talk. I also remember how much heartache it gave me.

Later, one day Nandhini sent word for me to come to the Pazhuvur palace. There was a struggle in my heart as to whether I should go or not. In the end I decided to go. I wanted to clear my doubts about several matters by questioning her. I wanted to find out the truth about her birth. A suspicion had arisen in my mind about a connection between my father seeing Nandhini in the anthapuram without warning and his fainting. Even though the emperor soon regained consciousness that day, you would remember that he never went back to be his old healthy self.

I thought by speaking to Nandhini I might find out about some so far unexplained mystery. This was merely an excuse, the truth was that I went attracted to her beauty. I fooled myself by bringing forth these other reasons. Pazhuvertaraiyar was not in town. There was no one to stop me in his palace; there was no one who knew about the old friendship between me and Nandhini. They thought that the crown prince was there to receive the blessings of the Pazhuvur palace queens.

I met Nandhini in the gazebo inside the palace garden. Parthipa! You have heard the stories of seamen. In some places in the ocean there are rip currents like vortexes. Ships that get caught in these vortexes are instantaneously demolished. In the presence of Nandhini, my fate was like the ship caught in a vortex. My body, soul and heart – all shattered into a thousand fragments. Even I was shocked by the words that came out of my mouth! While in my heart I thought, ‘Aiyo! Why do I speak this way?’, my mouth kept blubbering. Nandhini congratulated me over my coronation.

“There is no happiness in it for me!” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“What kind of question is that? How can I be happy? After what you have done?” I replied.

She pretended as if she didn’t know what I meant. We carried on in this manner. I accused her of rejecting my love and turning to Veerapandyan. I insulted her for marrying Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Prince! At first you killed my love; then you killed the man who loved me in front of my eyes; you won’t be satisfied until you kill me also. You cannot bear that I am alive. Well; satisfy yourself by killing me also!” she pulled out a small knife from her waist.

“Why would I kill you? You are the one who is tormenting me alive!” I said.

“In the end, my mouth uttered the words that even today shame me, when I think of it. “Even now there has been no harm done. Say the word! Say that you would leave this old man and come away! I will give up this empire for you. Both of us will board a ship cross the sea and go to a faraway place!” I said. “Nandhini laughed in a terrifying manner when she heard it. I get goose bumps even now when I think of it.”

“What would we do across the sea in a faraway place? Live by chopping wood? Or by having a plantain grove?” she said.  “You won’t like it! From growing up in a priest’s house, now you have become Pazhuvur Illaiyarani?” I said.

“I am not thinking of stopping here. The intention is to be empress on the Chola empire throne. If you wish, tell me, kill the two Pazhuvertaraiyars, put Sundara Cholar in prison, become the emperor and make me your queen!” she said. “Aiyo! What terrible words you speak?” I said. “Wasn’t it terrible to kill the wounded Pandyan in front of my eyes?” asked Nandhini. This ignited my fury. In my frenzy I left, after cursing and insulting her. Even then she didn’t let me go. “Prince! If you change your mind please come back to me. When your mind is willing to make me the empress, please come back!” she said. After leaving her that day I haven’t seen her!” said Athitha Katrikalan.

Parthipenthiran, frightened and shocked upon hearing this said with a long sigh, ” King! Can there be a vampire like this in this world? It’s good that you didn’t meet her again!”

“It’s true that I haven’t been to see her! But she won’t let me alone, Pallava! Night and day she circles me and haunts me. In the day she takes over my mind. At night she is in my dream. Sometimes she comes to hug me and kiss me with a radiant smile. At other times she comes with a sharp dagger to stab me and kill me. Sometimes she comes with tears in her eyes, sobbing. At other times she comes howling with her hair untied and loose, scratching her cheeks with her finger nails. Sometimes she comes like a mad woman laughing frightfully. At other times she comes to comfort me with a calm face. God! I cannot describe how this witch torments me. Remember what grandfather said this evening! He gave various reasons for why I could not go to Thanjai. In truth, the reason for my not going to Thanjai and wanting to invite my father to Kanji is, Nandhini…”

“King! You are not going to Thanjai because you are afraid of a woman? What can she really do? Are you afraid that she will poison you and kill you?…..”

No, Parthipa, no! You haven’t still understood me. I am not afraid because she would kill me. I am afraid that she will make me act according to her wishes. ‘Put your father in prison!’, ‘Drive your sister out of the country!’, ‘Kill this old man and put me on the throne!’, like this if the mayamohini says again, I am afraid I might follow her orders. Friend! Either Nandhini dies; or I should; or both of us should. Or else I will not have peace of mind in this birth!” said Karikalan.

“King! What manner of speech is this? Why should you die? Grant me permission! I will go to Ilankai later. I will go to Thanjavur immediately and kill her. If I am cursed with the sin of woman-killing, so be it….”

“If you did something of the sort I would consider you my mortal enemy. If Nandhini has to be killed, I would kill her with my own hands. After killing her, I would kill myself too! I cannot bear it if anyone else should even hurt the nail on her index finger! Friend! Forget Nandhini! Forget everything I told you about her! Like grandfather said you start tomorrow and go to Ilankai! Somehow persuade my brother Arulmozhi and bring him here! We will make him wait here. Let the grandfather and grandson deliberate and do what is necessary. We will go to Ilankai, with a large fleet we will again travel the south seas by ship. We will travel to countries like Java, Pushpakam and Kadaram and plant the flag of victory. We will then turn west. We will go to Arabia, Persia and Misiram and leave our mark of Tamil valor and plant the tiger flag. Parthipa! Did you know that in those countries there is no restriction as virtue as in this country? The kings would take any woman of their choice under their rule and keep them in their Anthapuram…!” said Karikalan.

Before Parthipan could respond to this Thirukovalur Malaiamman enetered. “There is no story as wonderful as Aravan’s in this world. Not in any of the countries you were talking about now. But are you still up talking without sleeping? Parthipenthira! You do remember that you are leaving for Ilankai tomorrow?” he said.

“That is what we are talking about without going to sleep!” replied Parthipenthiran.

(End of Part I)

 

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