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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (12 – 13)

April 1, 2015

From Part II of the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

12. Guru and Disciple

At this time we want to disclose to the readers an incident from the annals of Tamil Nadu history research. There is a village called Anbil in Lalkudi Taluk in the district of Thiruchirapalli. In translation, Sanskrit scholars have used the name ‘Premapuri’. (This chapter was written in 1951.) About forty five years ago from today a velahlar in this village dug a foundation in order to break down his old house and build a new one. At that time an astonishing object was found buried under earth. Many copper plates were punctured at the corner and bound together by a ring. There were letters inscribed on the plates. For a while he kept possession of these plates that were too heavy for even two people to carry. Then he gave the plates to Sri R.S.S. Chettiyar who had arrived to renovate the village temple. Sri Lakshmana Chettiyar guessing that there may be inscriptions pertaining to history in these plates gave them to the great Swaminatha Iyer. Seeing that the plates contained very important narratives, Iyer gave them to Sri D.A. Gopinatha Rav, M.A. who was involved in stone engravement research. Srigopinatharav was very happy as if a great treasure had been unearthed when he saw these copper plates. Because, such important descriptions were engraved in these copper plates about the Chola dynasty.

Details about the fifty acre land gifted to the ‘honorable minister’ Anirutha Brahmarayar of Anbil by Sundara Chola emperor in the fourth year of his rule were engraved in these copper plates. Mathava Pattar who wrote this land deed had traced on the plates the Chola lineage up to Sundara Cholar. In addition he had remarked about Anirutha Brahmarayar’s Vaishnava heritage including his father, mother, grandfather and great-grandfather’s work for the temple of Sriranganathar. Mostly what was written in the Anbil copper pages with regard to the Chola dynasty was in agreement with that found in previously unearthed Anaimangala and Thiruvalankattu copper plates. Therefore the historical veracity of those earlier findings were now confirmed. Because there was also additional information that was not present in the earlier ones, the Anbil-copper-leafs became well known in Tamil Nadu history research.

Therefore we ask the readers to keep in mind that Anirutha Brahmarayar was a historically famous Chola empire minister as they read this story further.

Azhvarkadiyan entered the hall where the honorable minister Anirutha Brahmarayar was seated. He circled him three times. He fell down and greeted him!

After pronouncing four times in a loud voice, “Ohm Hram Hreem Vashattu” he said, “Guru! Bid me farewell!”
Aniruthar said smiling, “Thirumalai! What are you cracking? Why do ask you ask for leave?”
I am going to join the kalamuga veera Shaiva tradition after offering to this great sea the Vaishnava tradition that was given by Thasan, the name of Azhvarkadiyan and the privilege of serving you. I am going to go from place to place carrying a bare scalp in my hand saying the mantra ‘Ohm Hram Hreem Vashattu’! With a crown full of knotted hair and a long beard I will break the skulls of any Vaishnava who comes before me with this stick…”
“Appan! Stop! Stop! Will my skull face the same fate?”
“Guru! Are you still seeking asylum under the Srivaishnava tradition?”
“Thirumalai! Why do you doubt that? Whom did you think I was?”
“Who are you? This is where I am having doubts. You are the greatgrandson of Anbil Ananthazhvar Swami who made it his life’s goal to serve the Srirangar who safeguards the worlds while resting between two rivers?”
“Yes Appan! It is I!”
“You are the grandson of Anbil Anirutha Pattachariyar who professed the glory of the Srimanth Narayana name to all the world?”
“Yes; it is I! I was given this great person’s name!”
“You are the first born son himself of Narayana Pattachari who mesmerized millions of devotees with his singing of the sweet songs of the Azhvars?”
“Yes Sir; Yes!”
“You are the son of the leading woman who served in the golden temple where Sri Ranganathar lived lighting the daily lamp and serving food to the pilgrimages on a silver plate?”
“No doubt!”
“In that case, are my eyes deceiving me? Is it a lie that I see in front of me? Is it a lie that I hear with my two ears?”
“What are you saying, Appan? What has happened to cast doubt on your eyes and ears?”
“I heard with my ears that you worshipped at the Sivan temple here.
“It is true; your ears didn’t let you down.”
“It seems the marks on your body that my eyes see as evidence of your visit to the Sivan temple are also true?”
“It is also true!”
“You are the guru who taught me in these dark ages that Srimanth Narayanan is god, the hymns of Azhvars constitute veda and the route to heaven is through the celebration of the name of Hari?”
“Yes; what about it?”
“If the guru that you are, says one thing and does another, then what is there for me as a disciple to do?”
“Thirumalai! You are speaking about my visit to the Sivan Temple?”
“Guru! Which god did you worship there?”
“What is the doubt? It was Narayana Moorthi!”
“I have heard that there is the figure of Lingham in the Ramesvaram temple. That is why the fanatic Saiva pattars here cackled around me?”
“Child! Isn’t it true that you are the devotee of the Sadagopar who was incarnated at Thirunagar?”
“What is there to doubt?”
“Remind yourself of Namazhvar’s sacred words. If you have forgotten I will remind you; Listen;

‘Lingham’s ancient scripture writers
Jains and Buddhists
for those creating arguments and others
he was god!…’

When Sadagopar has concluded in this manner is it wrong that I see Narayanan in Sivalingam?”
“Aha! Sadagopar’s holy word! Word! He cast aside the Lingham worshippers with Jains and Buddhists, see!”
“Appan! I don’t know when you would give up your contrarian nature. Listen to what else our Sadagopar has said:

‘He is water earth fire time
the immense sky
the twin lights Sivan
and Bramah…’

All of this is Srinarayana Moorthi, he has sung. There is more, Thirumalai! Hear and cleanse thy soul!

‘Prophet with four faces and three eyes!
my wicked
sweet mouth lotus-eyed jewel
my thief!
my life! come live
in my head…’

Did you hear, Thirumalai! Sadagopar prays to ‘Mukannappa’ to descend on his head! You are objecting to my visiting the Sivan temple!..”
“Lord guru! Forgive me; Pardon the blasphemy! I have wasted time without studying all of Namazhvar’s hymns. I have doubted you also. Thou must now bless me a with a wish.”
“If you tell me what you want I can think about it.”
“I want to go to Thirukurukoor and stay there. After collecting all of Namazhvar’s pasurams I want to travel from place to place singing these hymns…”
“Why did you think of this?”
“When I was coming from north Venkadam at the temple of Veeranarayana Perumal I sang a few of the Azhvar pasurams. The priest there, Eeshvara Pattar shed tears of joy…”
“Eeshvara Pattar is a devoted priest; good disciple.”
“One of his young sons also was listening standing next to him. This young boy’s angelic face shone like the face of the full moon when he heard the Azhvar pasurams. ‘Do you know the other hymns?’ the child still with the baby’s breath asked me. It was embarrassing to say ‘no’. ‘Why not devote myself to the work of the Azhvars?’ It occurred to me then. Today I am convinced…”
“Thirumalai; hasn’t Geethachariyar instructed that each one must do what is owed to him?”
“Yes, Guru!”
“There will be prophets to collect and distribute the hymns of the Azhvars. In the same way god’s disciples will be born in this country who will study the religious philosophy underlying Azhvars hymns and make it known all over the continent of Bharath. You and I have taken on the duty of serving the kingdom. Have you forgotten our promise to devote your mind, body and soul to the service of the Chola emperor?..”
“I have not forgotten, Guru! But the question whether it is the right choice has been gnawing at my mind. Especially, when I hear what’s being said of you in some places…”
“What are they saying?”
“There are people saying that you have given up the Vaishnava tradition because the emperor has granted you fifty acres of land and deeded it on a copper engravement also. They are saying, against sectarian tradition you have also undertaken a journey by ship…”
“Don’t pay attention to what those jealous fellows are saying. They think that our sect ought to be like frogs in the well. It is true that the emperor has given me free tenure of fifty acres of land. He has also inscribed it on copper. But you know that I have been minister under the emperor for four years before that?”
Azhvarkadiyan was silent.
“Do you at least know when the emperor and I became friends? When we were young we both learned under the same teacher. We learned Tamil and Sanskrit. We studied Math, Astronomy, Logic and Grammar. Then no one even dreamed that Sundara Cholar will be on the throne. He or I, never even thought about it. Who thought that Rajathithar and Kandarathithar would pass away and Arinjaya Cholar would take the throne? Who could have thought that Arinjayar would die so soon and Sundara Cholar would have to step upto the throne? Sundara Cholar expected many problems when he was crowned. He said that if I helped him by standing next to him he would accept the crown or else he would reject it. I promised to him then that I would help him in the affairs of the government. I am fulfilling that promise even today. Don’t you know all of this, Thirumalai?”
“I know, Lord Guru! What is the use if it’s only me who knows? People don’t know? Those in the country and towns who gossip, don’t know?”
“You don’t worry at all about those who gossip. Before, even I have been confused about leaving the acharya tradition and getting involved with government. But for the last two days there has been no such confusion. Thirumalai!You know that I didn’t come here to pay a visit to the Ramesvaram temple and that I came here in order to go to Mathottam?”
“So I guessed, Lord Guru!”
“You guessed correctly. Mathottam at Palavi riverbank is just as it was described then by Sambanthar and Sundaramoorthi.

‘bees humming flower garden
peacocks dancing Mathottam
a sacred place  devotees
from all over can praise’

Sambanthar has thus sung, how could he have written without seeing this Mathottam? Some frog-in-the-well pandits say that he wrote it while taking a peek at Mathottam while standing on the soil in Ramesvaram. You should not pay attention to what such people say…”
“Swami! Did you go to this sacred place to enjoy the natural beauty of Ramesvaram?”
“No; Because I want to send you there I talked about it. I went to see prince Arulmozhivarmar…”
“Did you see the prince, Lord Guru?” asked Azhvarkadiyan. Only now there sounded in his speech some eagerness and enthusiasm.
“Aha! Even you are eager to find out about the prince? Yes, Thirumalai! I saw the prince; I spoke to him. I found out in person how true the news coming out of Ilankai was. Listen, Appan! Ilankai king Mahinthan had a big army. That army is not there now. Do you know what happened to it? It disappeared like the dew facing sunlight! There were several soldiers who went from Pandya Nadu and Sera Nadu in Mahinthan’s army. When they heard that our prince was the commander they all dropped their weapons. Unanimously they have all joined our side. How can Mahinthan wage a war? He had gone. He is hiding in the mountainous rohana nadu. So there are now no enemies for our army to fight against!”
“In that case, Lord Guru! The prince should simply return with our troops? Why stay there any longer? Why all the upheaval about sending grain to our soldiers?”
“We can return saying that there is no enemy. But the prince does not like that, so do I. Once the prince and the army come this side, Mahinthan will emerge out of the mountains. Once again the war will begin. What is the use of that? Either the Ilankai king and citizens should become our friends or the rule of the tiger flag ought to be established there permanently. The prince is aiming for both these outcomes. Do you know what our soldiers are now doing in Ilankai? In the past wars the town of Anuradhapuram has been completely destroyed. The ancient Buddhist vihara, temples, sanctuaries and towers are all damaged and dilapidated. Following the prince’s order our soldiers are now renovating these broken buildings!”
“Wonderful. Perhaps, the prince will give up both Saivam and Vaishnavam and join the Buddhist religion? Would you affirm that also?”
“It doesn’t matter whether you and I affirm or not. People like us can fight over the glory of our religion. But the ruler of a country must support and nourish all the religions that are practiced by his subjects. The prince has arrived at this truth without anyone else’s input. He is also putting it into practice when the opportunity arises. Thirumalai, listen to this! I have heard that the prince has the mark of the chakram on his palm, you too would have heard. But I have never asked him to show me his palms. Whether there is the mark of chakra on his palm or not, I am certain of this. If there is one person who can be the sole emperor of this earth that person is prince Arulmozhivarmar. Some people have been thus glanced upon by the gods at birth. Just now some businessmen and colonels of the kaikola troops were here, talking, did it fall in your ears? Did you see how these parsimonious businessmen turn generous when it’s about the prince? Did you see how the soldiers are competing to be under his command?”
“Somedays ago I saw an ascetic on mount Pothiyam; he is a prophet with spiritual vision. Do you know what he said? ‘If there is a time for the elephant, there will come a time for the cat. The time is now here for the south to prosper. For a long time in this blessed Bharatha soil, great emperors, warriors, spiritual leaders and poets have been born in the north. But the north is soon going to fall under a bad spell. A ruthless tribe will come from beyond the Himalaya mountain and break the north into pieces. They will break the temples and statues. Human rights will be in great danger. Then only the south will preserve our equity, veda philosophy, temple, culture and hand it back to us. Valiant emperors will be born in this south and rule all over. Wise men, scholars and prophets will be born in this south country!’ said the prophet on mount Pothiyam. I now have hope that this yogi’s prophesy will come true, Thirumalai!”
“Swami! You are building some castles in the sky. But there, they are trying to uproot the foundation of the empire. Lord Guru! You won’t be so happy if you saw what I saw and heard what I heard. You will be terrified of the danger awaiting this Chola empire…”
“Thirumalai, yes, I have forgotten. Too much excitement had dulled my sense. I have yet to hear the news you discovered during your travels. Tell me, I am listening. However frightening they may be, tell me without hesitation!”
“Swami, are you willing me to speak here? The god of the winds will tremble at the news I have brought; the ocean king will stand still; the birds will curl up losing their ability to fly; even the celestial goddess and mother earth will howl. Are you ordering me to tell in public such stories?” said Azhvarkadiyan.
“In that case, come! There is an underground cave unseen by wind and fire on this island. Come there and tell me in detail!” said Anirutha Brahmarayar.

13. Ponniyin Selvan

At the same time as Vandhiyathevan was making his way from Nagatheevu to Mathottam, and Anirutha Brahmarayar and Azhvarkadiyan were discussing the state of the empire – Kundavai Devi and Kodumbaloor princess Vaanathi were approaching Thanjai Nagar on an ampari elephant.
The junior stateswoman has for some time decided that she was not going to go to Thanjai. There were several reasons for this. Thanjai still did not have enough palaces to house each woman separately in her own palace. All women had to reside in the emperor’s main palace. Other palaces were occupied by the Pazhuvertaraiyars and other high level government officials. At Pazhaiyarai the palace women felt free. They could go out as they wished; and return as they wished. But at Thanjai they have to abide by the rules of the Pazhuvertaraiyars. It would be impossible to come and go as they wished in and out of the palaces or the fortress. The junior stateswoman does not like such rules and restrictions. Moreover, the arrogance and self-important ways of the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani were abhorred by Madam Kundavai. The emperor also liked the palace women to reside in Pazhaiyarai. Owing to these reasons Madam Kundavai continued to live in Pazhaiyarai. She kept her desire to see her ailing father and to serve him, restrained.

But since Vandhiyathevan’s visit, there has been a change in the mindset of the junior stateswoman. Is it right for me to be boating in the canal and singing and dancing in the gardens of Pazhaiyarai while treacherous plots are being hatched against the empire? Elder brother is in Thondai Nadu; and the younger brother in Eelanadu; shouldn’t I pay attention to the affairs of the government when both are away? Elder brother Athitha Karikalan has asked to let him know from time to time through confidential messengers what is going on in the capital? How can I know what is going on in Thanjai if I stay at Pazhaiyarai?

The news conveyed by Vandhiyathevan was frightening. Until now the junior stateswoman didn’t like the Pazhuvertaraiyars exerting power beyond their status. Now they have also begun to plot about the throne. Sadly they have pulled the supremely mild Mathuranthakan also into their net. They have converted to their side the Chola Nadu petty chiefs and many other high level officials. No one knows what will happen, when. Who can see the consequences of their deceitful scheming and covetousness? They may even put an end to Sundara Cholar’s life! Who is to say they won’t? Won’t it be easier to place Mathuranthakan on the throne if something happened to the emperor when his two sons were away? They will do anything for this! Even if they don’t think about it that monster woman Nandhini will coach them. Even if they are reluctant, she would encourage them. Therefore, it is better that I stay in Thanjavur near my father hereafter. I can monitor to what extent the treachery and perfidy would go. At the same time I can make sure that nothing dangerous happens to my dear father.

Why do they want to put the mild mannered Mathuranthakan on the throne? For the sake of justice? Not at all. It is because once he is crowned they can conduct business as they want while keeping him as a puppet. Then Nandhini’s order will be the law of the land. Others must live in fear of her power. The other palace women must bow down to her. Cheechee! Can we let this happen? As long as I am there this will not happen. Let’s see her ingenuity.

It will be difficult in many ways to stay in Thanjavur. Mother and Father will ask, ‘why did you come here, instead of being comfortable in Pazhaiyarai?’ There will be no freedom. Someone will raise the subject of her marriage. I will not want to hear it. I will have to see Nandhini sometimes. I cannot bear her vain superiority. But is it right to weigh these matters now? There is great danger to the empire. There is also the concern that father’s life may be in danger. Under these circumstances isn’t Thanjai the place for me?”

Apart from all of this there was also another important reason. It was the desire to find out if there was any news of Vandhiyathevan. The junior stateswoman heard that Pazhuvertaraiyars, upon hearing that he had gone in the direction of Kodikarai had sent their men to catch him. Smart and agile, would this young man get caught to them? If he is caught they will bring him to Thanjavur. Isn’t it important that I be there at that time? They cannot easily put away a messanger of Athitha Karikalan. They have to charge him with a crime. For this reason they have claimed that he stabbed in the back and tried to kill Sambuvaraiyar’s son. There is no doubt that it is a lie. But it must be proved that it is a lie. It may be useful to speak to Kanthanmaran and hear his account…”

While Kundavai’s mind was thus perturbed by thoughts of perfidy and complicated entanglements, the mind of her friend Vaanathi who was on the elephant with her, was focused with the purity of milk and the clarity of crystal solely on one subject. It was about when prince Arulmozhivarmar would return from Ilankai.

“Sister! You said that a letter was sent asking him to return immediately? If he does, where would he come? To Pazhaiyarai? Or Thanjavur?” asked Vaanathi.

Vaanathi’s worry was that the prince might arrive in Pazhaiyarai while they were in Thanjavur.

Madam Kundavai who was immersed in other thoughts turned and looked at Vaanathi. “Whom are you inquiring about? Ponniyin Selvan?” she asked.

“Yes, Sister! I am asking about him. You have referred to the prince four or five times as ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, you didn’t give a reason for that. You have been dodging it by saying you will explain later. Please explain now. Thanjavur fortress is still far away. This elephant is crawling like a tortoise!” said Vaanathi.

“If the elephant goes faster than this we cannot be on its back. With the ampari we will topple down! Girl! Do you know what happened in the Thakkolam war?”

“Sister! Please tell how the name ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ came about!”

“You rogue! You don’t want to forget that; I will, listen!” began Madam Kundavai.

When Sundara Cholar came to power his family life was filled with happiness. The emperor would take leisurely boat rides on the river Ponni with his family. At these moments the boat was a place of merriment. The verses of the panegyrists accompanied by the music of the lute would rise competing with the flood of Kaveri. In between someone would put on a show. Laughter would emerge mingling with the sound of the boundless Kaveri.

Sometimes the adults would be happily talking among themselves. To a side the children would be riotously playing. Sometimes together they would all immerse themselves in enjoying a staged show.

One day while the emperor, the queens and the children were joyfully riding on the Kaveri a voice rang out all of a sudden, “Where is the baby? Where is baby Arulmozhi?” The voice belonged to Kundavai. Arulmozhi was then five years old. Kundavai was seven. For everyone in the palace Arulmozhi was the apple of the eye. But the one who held the most affection was his elder sister Kundavai. It was Kundavai who noticed first that he was missing on the boat. Immediately she shouted as stated above. Everyone was deeply alarmed. They searched the boat. But on the palace boat where does one search? They looked round and round but the child was not to be seen. Kundavai and Athithan were screaming. The queens sobbed, the maids wailed. Some of the boatmen jumped into the river and searched. Sundara Cholar also jumped into the water and started looking. But where can one search? Who knew how far the flood water could have carried the baby? Who even knew when the baby had fallen into the water? Without a plan or aim, those who jumped into Kaveri dived in all directions. The baby was not found. During this time some of the queens, and maids fainted. There was no one to care for them. ‘Aiyo’, the sad cry of those who retained their sense rose above the roar of the river Kaveri. Hearing it the inhabitant birds of the shore trees were forced into silence.

Suddenly there was a miraculous sight. It appeared at a distance from the boat amid the river’s flood. A female figure stood raising a baby in its two hands. Below the waist the figure was hidden in water. Only the woman’s golden face, bosom, and the raised hands were visible. Most of even that was hidden by the child. Like everyone Sundara Cholar also saw this sight. Immediately he dived and swam in that direction. He extended his hands and received the child. Within that time the boat also was by his side. Those on the boat took the child from his hands. They pulled the emperor on to the boat. Once the emperor was on the boat he fainted. Everyone was involved in taking care of him and the child. No one paid attention to what became of the woman who had saved the child. No one had noticed her enough to describe her. She too did not come forward claiming, ‘I am the one who saved the child!’ Therefore, everyone unanimously came to the conclusion that it was goddess Kaveri who had saved Arulmozhi Varmar. It was decided that each year on that day there would be a pooja for river Ponni. Arulmozhi Varman, who was until then the pet child of the palace, from that day on became the pet child of Ponni. Everyone in the palace who knew of the incident began to address Arulmozhivarman by the name ‘Ponniyin Selvan’.       
     

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