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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (10 – 11)

March 23, 2015

From Part II of the novel written by the late Kalki Krisnamoorthi.

10. Anirutha Brahmarayar

We have not paid attention to Azhvarkadiyan Nambi, whom we got to know at the beginning of this story. For this we ask forgiveness from Nambi and our readers. Especially we must ask for Nambi’s forgiveness now. Because Azhvarkadiyan is now very very angry! His ponytail is flapping over his forehead in the wind blowing at Rameshvaram beach. His walking stick is swirling over his head. Surrounding him are many Shaiva devotees and Shaiva fanatics. Because their protest is so heavy we are even a little worried about Azhvarkadiyan’s fate. However, his angry appearance and the speed at which his stick is twirling alleviate our worry.

Azhvarkadiyan left Pazhaiyarai the same day that he eavesdropped on Vandhiyathevan and the junior stateswoman. He traveled south as fast as air and mind could carry him. He didn’t get into any Shaiva – Vaishnava disputes on the way. He proceeded with a resolute mind avoiding all obstacles to his mission; foregoing all fights that came without invitation. He stopped in Madurai for a while. Finding out the information there that he had sought he left for Ramesvaram. On the same day that Vandhiyathevan reached Ilankai in Poongkuzhali’s boat, Azhvarkadiyan reached Rameshvaram.

As soon as he stepped on that holy ground the Vaishnava fervor that had been held back all those days burst forth. The fanatic Shaiva pattars who were swarming all over the island of Ramesvaram fanned the flames. Their job was to guide the pilgrims who visit this holy place, with having sacred baths, paying visits to the temple sanctuaries, and explain the various bathing and sanctuary programs in detail. Therefore, at the sight of new pilgrims the pattars will surround them. In this fashion they swarmed around Azhvarkadiyan also.

Appan! Come! Come! Clean away the heretic Vaishnava sins of your body by bathing in the sixty four holy waters of this temple! Isn’t this the place that cleansed Ramar of his sin? You can remove the sins that you committed wearing the Vaishnava religious marks!” said a pattar.

Another interrupted saying, “Rama theertham, Lakshmana theertham, Anjaneya theertham, Sukreeva theertham – there are sixty four such waters. Each person can bathe in the appropriate water and be cleansed of each one’s own brand of sin. You come with me to the Anjaneya water first! I will offer the necessary vow for the minor Vaishnava sin!”

Another pattar said, “Appan! Don’t listen to them! I will take you directly to the place where Ramar, to rid himself of the sin against creation that he committed when he killed Ravanan, molded sand from the ocean and worshipped as Sivalingam.”

Fire blazing from his eyes Azhvarkadiyan looked at them and said, “Stop your blasphemy! First of all wash your tongues with the waters that you talked about to rid yourselves of your own sin!”

“Oho! Because we mentioned Ramar and Laksmanan, you think we had taken on sin? Not at all. The name of this place is Rameshvaram; the place where Ramar prayed to Lord Sivaperuman and alleviated himself of sin. With that even the sin associated with the name Ramar was taken away!” said a brave Saiva pattar.

“Oh, Ignorant Scholars! Why do you clamor in this manner one behind the other? You haven’t even found out the meaning of the name of this place!”

“You tell us, let’s see!”

“Because Sivan took one of Brahma’s head he was marred with sin. Sivan visited the place touched by the feet of Ramar, the incarnation of Thirumal, and thus made holy, and cleansed himself of his Brahmahathi. Because in this place Ramar was worshipped by Aeshwaran it received the name Ramesvaram. Got it now, foolish scholars!” roared Azhvarkadiyan.

“Who is he! Who is calling us foolish scholars? You rogue! You have horns sprouting from your head?” a pattar hissed.

“No, Sir, Pattar! There is no horn sprouting from my head; the horn is in my hand, here! You ask who I am? I will tell you. The disciple of disciples of Nammazhvar who was born in Thirukurukoor, who read the vedas in Tamil! The one who smashes all others’ heads!” he raised his club.

“Disciple of Azhvar! Why do you tie your hair over your forehead? If you shave it off there will be no difference between the inside and outside of your skull!” said a Saivar.

“Priests! I was thinking of sacrificing my ponytail at this sacred shrine. You have reminded me about it!…”

“Aday! Go to the barbers’ street and bring a barber! Ask him to sharpen his knife well! Let’s tell him to get rid of his hair from the root!” said a pattar.

“Why call the barber for this? Can’t we perform this handiwork? Bring a sharp knife!” said another Saivar.

“Just a minute; there is just one more thing. Once upon a time my hair was very thick. I made a vow that for each Saiva whose head I smash I would remove one hair from my head. Accordingly three quarter and a half quarter of the hair is gone. In this town I am going to complete my vow and have a dip in the sea afterword. Let’s see, one by one please present your scalp!” Azhvarkadiyan raised his stick.

“Adaday! What is this Vaishnava speaking so rudely?” said one of them.

“You will break all our scalps? Is it possible?” said another.

“If it’s impossible where is three quarter and a half quarter of my hair?” Azhvarkadiyan began to twirl his stick faster.

“Beat him! Catch him! Cut him up! Slaughter him!” Each one shouted at will but no one in that crowd approached Vandhiyathevan.

At that time a shout out was heard from nearby that drew everyone’s attention. “Anirutha Brahmarayar, the honorable chief minister of Sundarachola Paranthakar, the emperor of all three worlds, is coming! Parak! Parak!”

Everyone looked in the direction of the sound in amazement. Azhvarkadiyan, more surprised than anyone else, tucked his stick under his arm and looked.

Where they fought was the corner along the wall of Ramesvaram temple. Once the corner was turned there was the enormous sea. The sight was extraordinary. Tall ships, small ships, vessels, boats, canoes, dhoneys, rafts and catamarans were seen in rows as far as eyes could carry. White sails that flew noisily tied to the masts mostly hid from sight the sea and the sky as well as the specks of islands that lay in the distance.

With the panegyrists, and guards following in the front and back the famed chief minister of Chola empire, Anirutha Brahmarayar was ceremoniously arriving by boat. He noticed the altercation taking place next to the temple wall. He beckoned with his hand, Azhvarkadiyan who was standing at the center of the crowd with the staff in his armpit to come closer. Respectfully folding his hands across his chest, Azhvarkadiyan went and stood on the shore.

“Thirumalai! What is this street drama?” asked Aniruthar.

“Guru! All this is the sacred drama of that ingenious puppeteer Kannan! I don’t know whether to believe what I see with my eyes or not. Am I looking at a dream? Or am I being just delusional?…

“Thirumalai! I thought that you were a true Vaishnavan. When did you turn into the skeptic who calls the world an illusion?”

“Guru! When you who were born into the true Vaishnava tradition had become a Saiva devotee why shouldn’t I turn into a skeptic? I will change my name and become the disciple of Sri Sankara Bagvath Pathachariyar…”

“Wait! Wait! Who said that I had become a Saiva devotee?”

“The marks on your sacred body do!”

“Aha! Thirumalai! You are just like you used to be. You give importance to outward signs. The santhanam on the forehead, what does it matter if we wear it horizontally or vertically?”

“Guru! I don’t know anything; I don’t know what is important or what is not important. You must clarify it for me.”

“I will clarify. Come and see me where I am staying! There! Do you see the small island in the sea? Come to the inn there.”

“Guru! These quarreling Saivars ought to allow me?” Azhvarkadiyan pointed his hand at the others.

The fanatic Saivars who were quiet all this while came closer.

Bramathi Raja! This Vaishnavan says he will break our scalps. He ought to be punished properly!” One of them began. Each one followed with his own version.

“I will punish him. You can go,” said Aniruthar.

They were not satisfied. “Can’t we punish him? Clip his hair-lock off, erase the marks off his body, lower him in the well…” One of them enumerated.

“What did you say?” Azhvarkadiyan turned with fire raging in his eyes.

“Honorable Priests! He is a big bully. You cannot punish him. I will take care of this,” said Anirutha Brahmarayar.

He looked at the men in his retinue and said, “Eight of you get down and bring him to our place!”

That was all. Next second eight of the soldiers jumped on the shore; they surrounded Azhvarkadiyan.

The boat went on.

Surrounded by the soldiers Azhvarkadiyan also went.

The pattars and others dispersed speaking among themselves about the rude behavior of the Vaishnavan.

11. Selected Service

Anirutha Brahmathirayar was seated majestically in one of the old guest houses in one of the smaller islands next to the island of Ramesvaram. All amneties necessary for him to conduct his official work were around him. Accountants, writers and his retinue of guards were ready in their respective places. A short while after leaving the boat and being seated in this hall he commanded to bring in the people who were waiting to see him.
Five people came in at first. They appeared to be wealthy businessmen. They presented a diamond necklace on a tray. Anirutha Brahmarayar accepted it and handed it to the accountant saying, “Please record and keep this for Chempian Madevi’s temple work!”
Then he asked the visitors, “Who are you?”
One of them said, “We have come on behalf of the Five Hundred group.” (This is a commercial group with a long name that conducted business with countries across the sea under the Chola rule.)
“My pleasure; your commerce is prospering in Pandya Nadu?”
“It is prospering day by day!”
“What are the citizens of Pandya Nadu saying?”
“They are saying that the Chola rule is better than Pandya rule. Especially they admire the compassionate and chivalrous Arulmozhivarmar. What is going on in Ilankai has spread among these people…”
“How is your shipping trade with the countries down south across the sea?”
“There is nothing lacking under Sundara Chola emperor’s rule. All the ships that were sent last year have returned. Not even one was damaged.”
“Any trouble with pirates?”
“Nothing last year, after our Chola navy wiped out the pirates near the island of Manakavaram there is no fear of piracy in the south sea.”
“Good; what have you done regarding the letter we sent?”
“We have made arrangements following the order. To send to the garrison in Ilankai we have stocked here in Ramesvaram island a thousand sacks of rice, five hundred sacks of corn and a hundred sacks of duram lentil. Arrangements must be made to send these to Ilankai.”
“Can you send these by your ships?”
“If we are ordered we will. We would like to know when the war in Ilankai will end.”
“Ah! Who knows about that? Doesn’t your business group have an astrologer? Ask him and tell me also!”
“Brahmaraja! Even we cannot believe all what our astrolger is telling us.”
“What is it that he is saying?”
“He is saying that wherever Arulmozhivarmar goes there will be victory. Under his rule he is saying that the Chola navy would travel across the seas and conquer those countries. He is saying that the tiger flag will fly in countries that are far, far away.”
“In that case, you are in for some good times!”
“Yes; he has also said that our shipping trade will prosper even more.”
“I am very happy. By the grace of Sriranganathar, may it happen. While the war in Ilankai is going on please continue to send once a month rice and other produce. Goodbye.”
“We will do that, goodbye.”
After the Five Hundred group representatives left, a guard came in and said, “Colonels of the selected kaikola troops would like to see the minister.”
“Ask them to come in!” said chief minister Aniruthar.
Three stately gentlemen entered. Their faces and conutenance carried the presence of Lakshmi. It was obvious that these men were fearless.
“Sundara Cholar’s selected kaikola troop?” asked Aniruthar. (The kaikola people who are today in Tamil Nadu facing difficulties because of the shortage of thread in the handloom weaving industry were famed warriors during the time of the Chola empire. The Chola emperors had the habit of selecting among them to form their internal retinue of soldiers. These chosen few were known as the ‘selected kaikola troop’. It was also a habit to have the emperor’s name precede the title. This comment was written in 1951.)
“Yes, Sir! But we are ashamed to say that.”
“Why is that?”
“We have been wasting time these past six months eating the emperor’s rice.”
“How many wings are there in your troop? How many soldiers?”
“Our troop has three wings; he is the head of the left wing; he is the head of the right wing; I am the head of the midwing. Each wing has two thousand soldiers. All of us are eating and sleeping. Spears, swords and shoulders are cloaked in laziness. It is as if we are about to forget the business of war.”
“What is your request?”
“We request to be sent to Ilankai. We want to fight in the garrison that is commanded by prince Arulmozhivaramar!”
“Alright; soon after I go to Thanjai I will ask the emperor for permission and let you know.”
“Brahmaraja! If the war in Ilankai ends before that…?”
“You don’t have to worry about that, it does not seem that the Ilankai war will end any time soon.”
“Are the Eela troops that strong? Send us there. We will tackle them head on!…”
“What head on? You will attack them from three sides, do we have to describe the fate of the enemy once the selected kaikolar’s three divisions enter a battlefield? The midwing will burst in the middle. At the same time the left wing from the left side and the right wing from the right side will descend on the enemy like thunder…”
“That is how we destroyed the Pandya garrison; we defeated the Serar.”
“Pandyar and Serar stood in opposition on the battlefield; so you attacked them and defeated them. You can tackle an enemy head on when they are within eyesight; or from three sides?”
“Like the asurar of Ravana’s days have the Ilankai soldiers turned into optical illusions? Are they fighting from behind the clouds?”
“They have indeed disappeared as optical illusions; but they are not fighting. If they fight we can find the place. Ilankai king Mahinthan can’t be found. His troops can’t be found. It is not known where they have hidden, in forests or mountains. Therefore there has been no fighting in Ilankai for six months. What is to be accomplished by sending you also there?”
“Chief Minister! Please send us! Let Mahinthan and his troops hide in forests and mountains; or behind the clouds; we will find them and bring them to the prince’s feet. If we don’t we will change our name from ‘hand selected Chola troop’ to ‘slaves of the landed’!”
“No! No! Don’t take any such vow now. Who in this Jambu Dwipa does not know of the brave deeds of the hand-selected Chola troop? As soon as I go back to Thanjavur I will ask the emperor and send you the order. Be patient until then. Enforce the peace by keeping the enemy in Pandya Nadu under control!”
“Chief Minister! There is no enemy in Pandya Nadu to control. The citizens are very happy that the war is at an end. Each one is leading a peaceful life by engaging in agriculture, commerce or technology. The Pandya royalty has been destroyed…”
“Don’t think like that! You think that with Veera Pandyan the Pandya tribe has come to an end. That is a mistake, there are still people seeking the right to the Pandya throne…! There are also people who will commit perfidy along with them…!”
“Aha! Where are those treacherers? Let us know!”
“When the time comes you will know. The jeweled crown of the Pandya tribe, the diamond necklace given by Indran and ruby embedded crown sword are still in Ilankai. They are hidden somewhere in the rohana mountain country. Until we bring them back the Pandya war will not end.”
“We have to get the jewels back; The day should come when we would seat prince Arulmozhivarmar on the Madurai throne with the Pandya jeweled crown and hand him the crown sword!”
“Aha! What are you saying?”
“Just what’s being uttered by the citizens’ mouths and what is in the minds of the soldiers!”
“These are important, government matters, let us not talk about it. I am going to tell something else that is important that will make you happy…”
“We are listening carefully, Chief Minister!”
“Don’t think that the war will end with the Ilankai war. Once prince Arulmozhivarmar ends the Ilankai war he will travel all over to make his presence known. He will travel the south seas with soldiers in thousands of ships. This great warrior will conquer conutries from Mankavaram, Mapapalam, Mayirudingam, Kadaram, Ilamurithesam, Srivisayam, Savakam to Putpakam. In the south he will capture the twelve thousand islands of Muneerpalantheevu. In the west, countries from Keralam and Kudamalai to Kollam will surrender at his feet. Then he will turn north. He will wage war with Vengi, Kalingam, Irattapadi, Sakarakottam, Angam, Vangam, Kosalam, Vithekam, Koorjaram and Panjalam. Like the literature-famed Karikal Valavan he will plant the tiger flag on the Himalaya mountain. Brave Colonels! Our southern commander has such plans. There will be work in Tamil Nadu for all those with a fierce will and warrior blood in their veins; there will be an opportunity to prove their individual might. Therefore you and your hand selected Chola troop should not lose patience!”
The three colonels unanimously shouted, “Long live Sundara Chola emperor! Long live prince Arulmozhivarmar! Long live Chief Minister Aniruthar!”
Then one of the colonels said, “Chief Minister! We would like to submit one more request. You know that our troop’s name is ‘hand selected Sundara Chola troop’. ”
“Yes, I know.”
“We have promised over the blood soaked hands of the enemy that we would sacrifice our life in the service of Sundara Chola emperor.”
“I am aware of that too.”
“Therefore we will not join anyone other than the emperor; we will not listen to anyone else.”
“That is exactly what I expected of you!”
“Once upon a time we were a part of the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ army. No one should doubt us on any account because of that reason…”
“Aha! What is this remark? Who is doubting?”
“There are rumors in the air about what is happening in Thanjavur.”
“What comes in the air, let it go with the air! You should not believe any of that! You should not perpetuate it.”
“The Kodumbalur landed gentry may fuel some suspicions about us…”
“They may; but no one will listen.”
“Human wound is not eternal…”
“Therefore true soldiers will not fear for their life.”
“Even if emperor for all three worlds, one day…”
“Must surrender at the feet of god.”
“The emperor is not well…”
“A star with a tail is luminescent in the sky!”
“In the event that something happens to the emperor, soldiers of our troop would like to be part of the internal retinue of Arulmozhivarmar!”
“It is your duty to act according to the emperor’s command!”
“It is your obligation to inform us of the emperor’s command. Please accept this obligation. Or else, give us permission to go to Thanjai and pay a visit to the emperor…!
“No; it is not prudent for you to go to Thanjai; there will be unnecessary disturbance. I accept the responsibility of informing the emperor of your wish. You can relax in peace!”
“The weight in our minds was lifted just by talking with you! We will take our leave!”
The three leaaders of the hand selected Chola troop left the room. ‘Aha! What is this attraction that Ponniyin Selvar holds, I don’t know! Even people who saw him only once lose their minds!’ Anirutha Brahmarayar mumbled to himself.
Then, in a loud voice, he ordered: “Where? Ask that rude Vaishnavan to come here!”

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From → Notes

One Comment
  1. Tired of wordpress! Posts get published as I work on a draft! Second time this has happened!

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