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Ponniyin Selvan Part I (1-29)

May 28, 2015

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthy.

1. July Festival

We invite our friends to take a ride in the boat of imagination to travel the limitless flood of time. At the speed of a hundred years per minute let’s go back nine hundred and eighty two years.

On the south side of Thirumunaipadi Nadu situated between Thondai Nadu and Chola Nadu, twenty miles west of Thillaichittampalam there is a lake that spreads like the ocean. It’s name is Veeranarayana Lake. It is about fourteen miles long north-south and four miles wide east-west. Its name having undergone the ravages of time it is now known as Veeranathu Lake. Those who see Veeranarayana Lake in the months of July and August when it stands flooded with the monsoon rain, cannot fail to contemplate with pride and awe their Tamil Nadu ancestors’ ingenious endeavors. Did our ancestors consider their welfare and that of the people of their time alone? Didn’t they through their work show their consideration for the generations that would follow them in their mother country for millenniums?

On the eighteenth day of the month of July a brave young man was traveling by horse along the shore of Veeranarayanapura Lake that spread like the ocean. He belonged to the Varnar tribe famous in the military history of Tamil Nadu. His name was Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan. His horse tired after a long journey was walking slowly. The young man did not mind. The expansive vista of the Veeranarayana Lake had captivated his mind.

It was common for Chola Nadu rivers to be flooded from shore to shore on the flood festival of July eighteenth. It is also common for the lakes that are fed by these rivers to be full and jostling with waves at this time. Water surged into Veeranarayana Lake from the river known as Vadakovari by pilgrims and as Kollidam by the locals through Vadavaru turning it into an ‘ocean’. Through seventy four sluices the river pumped out the water irrigating the surrounding area for many miles. As far as eyes could see there was ploughing and sowing going on in the fields with the lake’s water. The farmers who were ploughing and the women who were planting were happily singing sweet melodies. Listening to all of this Vandhiyathevan went slowly without hurrying the tired horse. From the time he started on the lake’s shore he started counting the stream outlets in order to see if there were in fact seventy four sluices as he had heard. After about fourteen miles he had counted seventy.

Aha! How enormous is this lake? How long is it? How wide is it? Doesn’t it make one think of the lakes constructed by the Pallava kings in Thondai Nadu as ponds? Paranthakar’s son prince Rajathithar planned this lake in order to make use of the water from the river Vadakaveri that was flowing into the sea unused. He succeeded in turning his idea into reality. What foresight? Who can measure up to his wisdom and courage? In the Thakkolam war wasn’t he at the forefront fighting from an elephant? Didn’t he give up his life there baring his chest to a lance? Didn’t he ascend to heaven from there with the fame ‘the lord who died on the elephant.’

These Chola kings are extraordinary men! Just as they excel in martial valor they do in virtue as well. Just as they excel in virtue they do in religious belief as well. When he thought how fortunate he was to have the friendship of such Chola kings Vandhiyathevan’s shoulders rose. Just as the waves rose and crashed on the shore of Veeranarayana Lake, his heart too swelled with pride.

With these thoughts Vandhiyathevan reached the south corner of Veeranarayana Lake. There he saw the sight of Vadavaru, a branch of Vadakaveri joining the lake. The lake formed a bed that extended to the shore. In order to prevent erosion of the bank karuvel and wood-apple trees were planted on the lake bed. Along the shore there was a dense cover of reed. From the southwest corner the sight of Vadavaru joining the lake with trees on both sides resembled a beautiful painting.

There was a lot more going on to make this scenic place even more attractive. Wasn’t it the eighteenth flood festival day? Crowds of people in caravans decorated with ivory colored coconut palm fronds were gathering from the surrounding villages. Men, women, children and even some elderly people have come dressed in festive new clothes. Garlands of thazhai, marigold, jasmine and chenpakam flowers decorated the womens’ hair. Families have arrived with picnic food. Some stood at the edge of the water and ate colored rice out of arica-nut leaves. Others more adventurous, walked a little in the water and had their meal on the shore of Vadavaru. After eating some children threw the used leaf boats in the water. They clapped and laughed at the sight of the boats clamoring through the sluice towards the lake shore. Some mischief makers surreptitiously removed the flowers from their girlfriends’ hair and dropped them in the water only to run to the other side to see them rush out of the sluice.

Vallavaraiyan stood watching this for a while. He listened to the women sing in their sweet voices. They sang boat songs, flood songs, kummi and sinthu:

‘Vadavaru is rising
Come and see, kids
Vellaru is moving fast
See the fun, pals
Kaveri is rolling
Come to see, friends!’

These flood songs happily flooded Vandhiyathevan’s ears. Some others sang of the Chola king’s glory. Some women sang of Vijayalaya Cholan who had been in thirty two wars and wore ninety six wounds as ornaments on his body. A girl sang of his son Athitha Cholan, who built sixty four Sivan temples from the place where kaveri originated to where it joined the sea. Another girl sang energetically of Athitha Cholan’s son Paranthaka Chola Maharajan who beat the Pallavas and the Pandyas sending a battalion to plant the flag of victory in Eelam. When one person sang others surrounded her to listen. Every now and then they shouted ‘Ah!’, ‘Ah!’ to show their happiness.

An elderly woman noticed Vanfhiyathevan who was listening to the songs seated on his horse. “Son! It appears that you have come a long way. You are tired! Get down from the horse and eat some curried rice!” she said.

At once many of the young women looked at our young traveler. They whispered and laughed among themselves about his appearance. Vandhiyathevan was embarrassed as well as delighted. For a moment he considered getting down and having the food as the elderly woman had suggested. If he did that he was certain that many of the young women will surround him and tease him. So what? Is it often that one sees so many beautiful young women at one place! Even if they laughed at him the sound would be music from heaven. To Vandhiyathevan’s youthful eyes all the women on the shore of the lake appeared as Arambai or Menakai!

But at the same time a scene in the southwest on the waters of Vadavaru made him hesitate. Driven by the upstream wind there were seven or eight tall ships with their white sails open speeding like floating white swans on water.

All the people who were taking part in the festivities began to look in the direction of the boats eagerly.

One sail boat speeding ahead of the others reached the point of the shore where it turned north. There were many well built soldiers carrying sharp and shimmering spears.

Some of them jumped off the boat and started chasing the people, “Go!, Go!” Without leaving much room for the soldiers to order them about, the people also gathered their pots and pans and other things and hurriedly climbed to the shore.

Vandhiyathevan didn’t understand any of this. ‘Who are these soldiers? Who are in the sailboats that are behind? Where are they coming from? Are they royalty by any chance?’

Vallavaraiyan approached an elderly person with a staff. “Sir! Who are these soldiers? Whose are those boats behind that look like a flock of swans? Why are these soldiers ordering the people? Why are people also hurrying?” he raised question after question.

“Son! Don’t you see? Among those boats there is a flag on the one in the middle. See what’s on it!” said the elderly person.

“Looks like a palmyrah tree.”

“It is a palmyrah. Don’t you know that the palmyrah flag is the Pazhuvertaraiyar flag?”

“Is it the great Pazhuvertaraiyar?” Vandhiyathevan asked in a startled tone.

“It has to be. Who else can come hoisting the palmyrah flag?” said the elderly person.

Vandhiyathevan, eyes widening in surprise looked in the direction of the boats. He has heard a lot about Pazhuvertaraiyar. Who hasn’t? From Eela Nadu in the south to Kalinga Nadu in the north the name of the two brothers, the older and younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was well known. Near Uraiyoor on the north shore of Vadakaveri was their city, Pazhuvoor. From the time of Vijayalaya Cholan the Pazhuvertaraiyar tribe was famous for its martial valor. Their families have had transactions with the Chola dynasty. Because of this and because of their tribal hierarchy and fame the Pazhuvertaraiyar clan enjoyed all the privileges of a ruling dynasty. They also flew their own flag.

Among the two Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers of the present, the older one had fought in twenty four wars. He had earned the distinction that there was no other soldier comparable to him in his time. Because he was now over fifty he no longer went to the battlefield. But he held several important positions in the Chola Nadu government. He was the Chola empire’s treasurer and minister of food. Both treasury and granary were under his management. He had the power to levy taxes as politics dictated. He had the right to stipulate the amount of tax a petty chief, palace head or lord should pay and the authority to collect it. Therefore the person most powerful next to Sundara Chola Maharajah was Pazhuvertaraiyar.

The desire to see this great warrior and person of importance filled Vandhiyathevan’s heart. But at the same time he remembered what Prince Athitha Karikalar had told him in private at the new gold palace in Kanji Nagar.

“Vandhiyatheva! I know very well that you are a true soldier. I am also entrusting you with this great responsibility with the belief that you are very intelligent. Out of the two letters I have given, one is for my father, the king, and the other is for my sister, the princess. I am also hearing variously about the management style of the high ranking officials in the Thanjai government. Therefore, no one should know about the message I am sending. However important the person is no one should know that you are taking a letter from me. You should not fight with anyone on the way. It’s not enough that you don’t start a fight. You should not get involved even if someone else forces you into a fight. I know very well how brave you are. You have proved it many times. Therefore if you decline a fight that is thrown at you it will not harm your reputation. Most importantly you have to be very careful with the Pazhuvertaraiyar brothers and my uncle Mathuranthakar. They should not even know who you are! They certainly should not know about the reason for your journey.”

The prince in line to the throne and the chief commander of the army in the north, Athitha Karikalar had said this. In addition he had emphasized over and over the manner in which Vandhiyathevan should conduct himself. Remembering all of this Vandhiyathevan suppressed his desire to see Pazhuvertaraiyar. He tried to get the horse to go faster. However much he tried the tired horse kept moving slowly. He decided to get a better horse the following morning after spending the night at the palace of Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar.

2. Azhvarkadiyan Nambi

As he left the lake shore and rode his horse south his heart danced in joy as the boats had moved in the lake’s waves. The enthusiasm that had lain buried deep in his heart now surfaced. His instinct told him that he was on the cusp of extraordinary experiences that no one else had known before. So much excitement just approaching Chola Nadu! How will the land and water of Chola Nadu itself be once we cross Kollidam? How would the people and women be? How many rivers? How many lakes? How many freshwater canals? How will the sight of the river Ponni that had been lauded in poems and paintings be?

How beautiful a sight would be the laurels, konnai and kadampu trees laden with flowers on its shore? How enchanting would be the winking waterlilies and the welcoming faces of the red lotus blooms in the canals? How majestic would be the temples with their intricate workmanship that the Saiva sons of Chola tribe had built on the banks of the Kaveri?

Aha! Pazhaiyarai Nagar! The capital of the Chola kings! Pazhaiyarai that made villages out of Poompuhar and Uraiyoor! How will it’s palaces, gateways, armories, shopping district, Sivan temples and Thirumal’s vinnakarams be? Vandhiyathevan has heard that in those temples accomplished musicians staged mesmerizing performances reciting divine praises of Saiva and Vaishnava faith. Very soon he will have the opportunity to listen to these. Is that all? He will be treated to some favors that he would not have even dreamed of a few days ago. He is going to see face to face Sundara Chola Maharajah whose valor is equal to Velan and whose beauty to Manmathan. Is that all? He is going to see his precious daughter the incomparable lady, Princess Kundavai!

But there should not be any obstacles on the way.What if there are obstacles? There is a spear in the hand, a sword in its sheath secured to the waist, my chest is armored, my heart is strong willed. But Mathanda Nayagar, Prince Athithar had placed one condition; which is not to get into any fights before completing the mission.That is the one condition that is most difficult to satisfy. Until now it has been satisfied. Aren’t there just two more days left in the journey? Until then I have to be patient.

Wishing to be in Kadampoor before sunset Vandhiyathevan in a short while reached the vinnakaram of Veera Narayanapuram. Because the July festival coincided with the bathing of the deity the orchards around the temple were crowded. Vendors have opened up shops selling jack fruit, bananas, sugar cane strips and various other delicacies. Some were selling flowers for women’s hair and lotus buds for offering at the temple. Others had stacks of coconuts, king coconut, ahil, sandalwood powder, betel, sugar-candy, aval and popcorn. Magic shows were taking place here and there. There was no shortage of astrologers, palm readers, psychics, fortune tellers and medicine men for poison-bite. As he walked looking around Vandhiyathevan noticed a large crowd around some people arguing in a loud voice. He was curious to find out what the argument was about. He could not overcome his curiosity. He stopped the horse alongside the crowd and got down. After patting the horse to signal it to wait there he broke through the crowd and went in. He was surprised to find only three people involved in the argument. Even though there were only three people many in the crowd from time to time cheered for one person or another. Vandhiyathevan understood that was the reason for the loud noise. He listened closely to find out what the argument was about.

Out of the three men, one was a pious and distinguished Vaishnava with sandalwood powder all over his body and his hair knotted over his forehead. He also had a short stick. He was short and sturdily built. Second was a Saiva devotee with lines of holy powder on his body. The third person was clad in ochre-red  cloth. His head was shaved. He belonged to neither Saiva nor Vaishnava sect but had surpassed both to be a pantheistic philosopher.

Saivar said: “Oh, Azhvarkadiyan Nambi! Answer this! Didn’t Brahma try to see the head of Sivaperuman and Thirumal, his sole? Didn’t they surrender at Sivaperuman’s feet unable to see neither beginning nor end? So, how can your Perumal be a greater god than Sivaperuman?”

Hearing this Azhvarkadiyan said shaking his club, “Alright, now! Brave Shaiva pathathooli Pattar! Stop talking. Didn’t your Sivan grant special powers to Ilankai king Ravanan? Didn’t those powers shatter into smithereens in front our Ramapiran’s kothandam bow? So how can your Sivan be a greater god than our Perumal?”

The ascetic in the red cloth interrupted: “Why are you two arguing in vain? However long you may argue, the matter of who is a greater god, Sivan or Vishnu will never be settled. Philosophy answers this question. As long as you are in the lower, pious track you will fight over Sivan and Vishnu. Above piety, is the sublime and the spiritual. Beyond that is reason and volition. Once you reach that state there is no Sivan or Vishnu. All is Brahma. What Sri Sankara Bagvat Pathachariyar has said in the doctrine of Brahma is ….”

Interrupting him Azhvarkadiyan said, “Enough already, stop! Do you know what your Sankarachariyar at the conclusion of his interpretation of all of the Uapnishads, Bagvat Gita and Brahma doctrine said?

‘Baja kovintham Baja kovintham
Baja kovintham moodamathe!’

“He said it thrice and then he looked at ignorant people like you and said ‘you are foolish'”. The crowd responded with a chorus of ‘Aha’ along with sarcastic laughter and clapping.

But Sanyasi won’t be quiet. “Aday! You with the ponytail in front, Nambi! You are right to call me foolish. Because of the plain stick you carry you become a plain stick. Aren’t I foolish to be talking to a plain stick such as you?” he said.

“Oy, Swami! This is not a plain stick that I have in my hand. When necessary it is enough to break your bald head,” he said raising his club.

“Oho!” his followers cheered him on.

“Appan! Stop! Let the stick stay in your hand. Even if you beat me with it, I will not be angry. I will not fight with you. To hurt is Brahmam; to be hurt is also Brahmam. If you hit me you are hitting yourself!” said the philosopher.

“Look here, everyone! The supreme Brahmam is going to paste the Brahmam. I am going to use this club on myself!” He moved closer to the sanyasi raising his stick.

Seeing this Vallavaiyan considered for a second snatching the club and pasting the Nambi with the ponytail on his face with his own stick.

But all of a sudden the sanyasi was nowhere to be seen. He has disappeared in the crowd. Seeing this the Vaishnava crowd cheered some more.

Azhvarkadiyan turned to the brave Saiva devotee and said, “Oy pathathooli Pattar! What do you say? Do you want to argue some more? Or are you going to run like the Swamiyar?

“Me? I will never run like that loudmouth philosopher. You thought I was also your Kannan. Didn’t he get beaten for stealing butter from the milkmaid’s house? …”

Before Pathathooli Pattar could finish Azhvarkadiyan interrupted him. “Is that so? Did you forget that your Paramasivan got beaten for bringing sand instead of flour?” he asked going closer to the brave Saivar brandishing his stick.

Azhvarkadiyan was a round man. Veera Saivar on the other hand was a skeleton.

The crowd that encouraged both of them also got ready to beat up each other.

Vandhiyathevan decided to stop this foolish fight.

He moved in front. “Why are you gentlemen fighting like this? Don’t you have other work? If you are itching to fight why not go to Eela Nadu? Isn’t a big war going on there?” he asked.

Nambi at once turned to look at him. “Who is this guy trying to uphold the law?” he asked.

Some in the crowd liked Vandhiyathevan’s handsome face and his brave countenance.

“Brother! You tell them! Tell these fighting cocks what is proper! We are behind you!” they said.

“I will tell what I know. It doesn’t appear that Sivaperuman and Narayanamoorthi are fighting among themselves. They are friendly and dignified. So why should this Nambi and Pattar be fighting?” Most of the crowd laughed at hearing this.

Veerasaivapattar said, “This boy looks intelligent. But can we settle an argument through humor? Let him answer the question if whether Sivaperuman is a greater god than Thirumal or not?”

“Sivan is a great god; Thirumal also is a great god. As gods they are both equal. You can worship whomever you like. Why fight?” said Vallavaraiyan.

“How can you say that? What is the evidence to say that Sivan and Vishnu are equal in their godliness?” demanded Azhvarkadiyan.

“Evidence? I’ll tell now! Yesterday evening I went to Lord Vishnu’s house. Paramasivan was also there at the same time. They were seated on similar seats. Their height was the same. In any case without leaving room for doubt I measured their heights with my arm. …”

“Aday, child! Are you making fun?” Azhvarkadiyan growled.

The crowd cheered. “Tell, brother! Tell!”

“When I measured they were the same height. Not leaving it there I asked straight out both Sivan and Thirumal. Do you know what they said? ‘Hari and Sivan are the same, those who don’t know this get sand in their mouth’, they said and gave me a handful of sand to put in the mouth of those who fight over them!” said Vallavaraiyan opening his right hand. In it there was a handful of sand. He threw it with force. Many in the crowd got excited. They each took sand from the ground and started throwing it over the heads of Nambi and Pattar. Others tried to stop this offensive act.

“Aday! Lechers! Are you atheists?” said Azhvarkadiyan brandishing his club.

It looked as if there was going to be rioting and fighting there. Fortunately, at that time a slight distance away there was a commotion.

“Wizard of all wizards, mighty warrior, victorious lancer, Udaiyar who courageously attacked the army of Mara Pandyan, the holy figure who bears sixty four wounds having fought in twenty four wars, the treasurer, the food minister, the tax collector of Chola Nadu, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is coming! Parak! Parak! Give him way!” panegyric was heard in a voice loud as thunder.

First came the panegyrists. Then came the drummers. Behind them were those bearing the palmyrah flag followed by soldiers marching with spears in their hands. On the excessively decorated elephant behind the soldiers was seated a dark and towering well built man. The sight recalled a dark cloud pausing on top of a tall mountain.

Vandhiyathevan joined all the others in the crowd now lining the two sides of the street. He surmised that it was Pazhuvertaraiyar who was seated on the elephant.

Behind the elephant was a palanquin with a silk curtain. Before Vandhiyathevan could figure who was inside, a rosy hand wearing bangles and bracelets reached out to move the curtain slightly. Like the full moon emerging from a cloud cover as the cloud moves, from inside the palanquin the face of a beautiful woman was seen.

Even though Vallavaraiyan had eyes that took pleasure seeing the beauty of the fairer sex and the woman’s golden face was comparable to that of the bright moon, for some reason he did not feel joy in his heart upon seeing this face. In his heart he felt an unrecognizable fear and distaste.

At the same time the woman’s eyes were looking intently next to Vandhiyathevan. The next second a scream ‘creech’ was heard in the frightened voice of a woman. Immediately the silk curtain on the palanquin closed as before.

Vallavaraiyan looked around him. His instinct told him that the woman closed the curtain screaming, after seeing something or someone near him. Therefore, he looked around. He saw Azhvarkadiyan behind him leaning on a tamarind tree. He also saw that the brave Vaishnava Nambi’s face had undergone a terrible change making it frightening. In Vandhiyathevan’s heart rose an unexplainable shock and revulsion.

3. Vishnu Temple

Sometimes a small incident can spark larger events. Such a small incident took place in Vandhiyathevan’s life now. Wasn’t Vandhiyathevan watching the entourage of Pazhuvertaraiyar from the sidewalk? His horse was standing a short distance away from him. It caught the attention of the last of the Pazhuvertaraiyar men who were passing.

“Aday! Look at this kuruthai!” said one.

“Don’t say kuruthai! Say kuthirai!” said another.

“Forget the grammar analysis; first see if it’s a horse or a donkey!” said another joker.

“Let’s find out!” One of them went near the horse. He tried to climb on it. The intelligent horse knew that it was not his master. It refused to let a stranger climb!

“This is a vicious horse. It won’t let me get up! It will only take the royalty. In that case Thanjavur Mutharaiyar must return to climb on it.” The other soldiers laughed when they heard this wisecrack. Because hundred years have passed since the fall of the Thanjavur Mutharaiyar tribe. Now the tiger flag of the Chola clan flew over Thanjavur.

“The horse might think that way. But if you ask me Thandavarayan who is alive is better than the dead Thanjavur Mutharaiyan.” said another soldier.

“Thandavaraya! See if this horse that is refusing to take you is a real horse. May be, this is a horse on stilts that came for Perumal’s festival day,” said another joker.

“I will test that also.” Thandavarayan who was going to climb on the horse twisted its tail. The proud horse kicked its hind legs four times and took off galloping.

Kuruthai is running. It’s a real horse!” The soldiers shouted “Ooy! Ooy!”, chasing the horse.

The horse ran into the festival crowd. People hurried away from its path so that they won’t be stepped on. Even then some of them got knocked down. The horse ran without control.

All of this took place quickly before Vandhiyathevan’s eyes. From his face Azhvarkadiyan knew that it was Vandhiyathevan’s horse.

“See, Brother! What those Pazhuvoor thugs did! Just show them the bravura that you tried to show me!” He said sarcastically.

Vandhiyathevan was furious. Yet he remained patient biting his teeth. Pazhuvoor soldiers were a big crowd. There was no point in getting into a fight with all of them. They weren’t even waiting for his fight. After laughing at the horse for running away, they hurried on.

Vandhiyathevan walked in the direction of the horse. He knew that it will stop on its own after a while. Therefore, he didn’t worry about it. He was determined in his heart to teach the proud men of Pazhuvertaraiyar a lesson one day.

Beyond the tamarind grove in a deserted place the horse was waiting desolately. It neighed when Vandhiyathevan approached. It sounded as if the animal that did not possess a mouth was criticizing him: “Why did you leave me and put me into this awkward situation?” Vandhiyathevan patted its back to calm it. Then he brought it back to the road. Many in the festival crowd told him, “Why did you bring this wild horse into this crowd? How many people has it kicked down?”

“What will this boy do? What can even the horse do? Isn’t it those thugs of Pazhuvertaraiyar who caused this?” One or two people tried to mediate.

“Brother! Which way are you going?” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“Me? I’ll go west a little, then turn south, go around east a bit and then go south west,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I didn’t ask all of that. I asked where you are staying tonight.”

“Why do you ask?”

“In case you are staying at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace, I have a small job there.”

“You know some magic tricks? How did you know that I am going to the Kadampoor palace?”

“What is there to wonder? Today there are many guests arriving there from many towns. That is where Pazhuvertaraiyar and his entourage are headed.”

“Really?” Vandhiyathevan asked with surprise.

“Really! You don’t know that? Elephant, horse, palanquin and all the retinue, all belong to the Kadampoor palace. They are taking Pazhuvertaraiyar. Wherever Pazhuvertaraiyar goes he must receive this reception.”

Vandhiyathevan was silently thinking. To stay in the same place as Pazhuvertaraiyar is not a trivial opportunity. He may have an opportunity to meet him. But he was still bitter over his experience with his unruly men.

“Brother! Will you do me a favor?” Azhvarkadiyan asked in a pitiful tone.

“What sort of help can I give you? I am new to this side.”

“I will tell something that you can do. Take me to Kadampoor palace today!”

“Why? Is a brave Saivar coming there? Are you going to settle the argument ‘Is Sivan greater god? Is Thirumal greater god?'”

“No, no! Don’t think that fighting is all I do. Today there is a big dinner at Kadampoor palace. After dinner there will be dancing, singing and revelry. I want to see the folk dance.”

“Even so, how can I take you?”

“Say that I am your help.”

Vandiyathevan’s earlier suspicion was reaffirmed.

“For that kind of dishonest work you have to find someone else. I don’t need a help like you, no one will even believe it. In addition, when I think about what you said I wonder even I would be let into the fortress today.”

“In that case you are telling me that your visit to Kadampoor is not by invitation!”

“In a way there is an invitation, Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaravel is my good friend. He had asked me several times that if I should ever come this way that I must visit their palace.”

“Is that all? Then you too will have a difficult time today!”

They both walked silently for a while.

“Why are you still following me?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“I too can ask that question; why are you following me? Shouldn’t you go your way?”

“Only because I am guilty of not knowing the way! Nambi! Where are you going? May be to Kadampoor?”

No; didn’t you refuse to take me there? I am going to the vinnakaram.”

“To the sanctuary of Veeranarayana Perumal?”

“Yes.”

“I too want to go there and worship the Perumal.”

“I thought may be you would not want to come to the Vishnu temple. A must see temple; a sanctuary to visit. A pattar named Eshwara Muni attends to the Perumal. He is a great prophet.”

“I have also heard; It is crowded. Is it a special occasion at the temple?”

“Yes; Combined with the July eighteenth festival it is also Andal’s auspicious day. That is why all of this bustle. Brother! Have you heard any of the Andal pasuram?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Don’t! Don’t hear it with your ears!”

“Why all this enmity?”

“No enmity; no animosity; I am telling for your good. If you hear Andal pasuram, you will relinquish the sword and the spear, fall in love with Kannan and embark on a heavenward pilgrimage like me!”

“Do you know any Andal hymns? Will you sing?”

“I know a few; I know some poems of Nammazhvar who did the Vedas in Tamil. I am going to sing in front of Perumal. If you want you can listen! Here, the temple is here!”

They were actually getting close to the Veeranarayana Perumal temple.

Vijayalaya Cholan’s grandfather, Paranthaka Cholan I, earned the title ‘the lion who won Madurai and Eelam‘. He is the one who laid the foundation for the Chola empire. His legacy is the gold roof of Thillai Chittampalam. In addtion to titles like Chola Sihamani, and Soora Sihamani he also had the special name of Veera Narayanan.

In Paranthakar’s time the Rashtrakuta kings of Irattai Mandalam in the north gained power. Paranthakar expected them to come to war from Maniya Kedam. Therefore he stationed his oldest son Prince Rajathithan with a large garrison in Thrumunaipadi Nadu. Rajathithan developed a plan when thousands of soldiers in his army were without work. He decided to use them in work that would help the citizens. The water that flooded the river that was known by devotees as Vadakaveri and Kollidam by others ran without purpose to join the sea. To make use of a portion of it he employed soldiers in the construction of a vast lake that resembled the ocean. He named it after his beloved father, Veeranarayana Lake. On its shore he built Veeranarayanpuram and a vinnakaram. In those days the Vishnukiraham was known as vinnakaram in Tamil. Doesn’t Narayanamoorthi dwell in water? Therefore it was customary to build the temple next to a lake.

Vandhiyathevan and Azhvarkadiyan went to such a Perumal’s temple. Once they were in the sanctuary Azhvarkadiyan began to sing. After singing a few mystic poems for Andal he began to sing from Nammazhvar’s Tamil Veda:

‘abound abound abound
gone is life’s wretched curse
fox and hell bound
Yaman has no business here
seeing the bad times
the seafarer on mortal earth
incarnate with music
and dance a home we saw
we saw we saw we saw
the sweetest sight we saw
come ye all inhabitants
let us worship worship
the one with the tulsi garland
lord of spring on mortal earth
dancing and singing
life extend and spread’

While Azhvarkadiyan was singing tears poured out his eyes and down his cheeks. Vandhiyathevan was listening carefully. Even if he didn’t cry his heart was melting. His opinion about Azhvarkadiyan changed. He thought, ‘he is a very pious man!’

Like Vandhiyathevan, others were also listening. Temple proprietors listened; Priest Eshwarapattar stood with tears in his eyes. Next to him his young son, – an infant still smelling of mother’s milk – was listening.

Azhvarkadiyan after singing ten hymns, stopped with this:

‘these ten out of the thousand sung by
prophet Maran Sadagopan
from Kurukoor in the poetic south
would cleanse our souls’

Pattar’s son, the child, after liestening said something to his father. Wiping the tears from his eyes he asked, “It seems Nammazhvar kurukoor Sada kopar has sung a total of thousand hymns. Do you know all of them?”

“This humble fellow has not been so fortunate, I know only a few tens!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“However many, you must teach this child,” said the priest.

Later, this place will become famous. The child with milk dripping down his angelic face listening to the hymns of Nammazhvar will grow up to be the first Acariya in the Acariya tradition with the name Nathamunikal. He will go to the Azhvar place called kurukoor to collect all thousand of the hymns. His apostles will sing the hymns with musical accompaniment and make them known all over the country.

Alavanthar, the grandson of Nathamunikal will perform many miracles. To visit the sacred place where these two men were born, the wealthy Sri Ramanujan himself will come one day. When he arrives he will be surprised to see Veeranarayana Lake and its seventy four sluices. Just like the lake water helps people’s lives by coursing through the seventy four outlets it dawned on the prophet to construct seventy four Acaraya stations to channel Narayanan’s flood of mercy to the multitude of lives. Accordingly there will arise seventy four Vaishnava priests with the title ‘kings of throne’.

We will take a look at Vandhiyathevan, leaving these great events to be described in detail by the history of Vaishnava priest heritage.

After worshiping Perumal, outside the temple Vandhiyathevan said to Azhvarkadiyan, “Nambi! I didn’t know that you were such a devotee and scholar. If I said anything offensive please forgive me!”

“I will forgive you; Brother! But now will you do me a favor? Tell me!”

“Didn’t I say that I cannot do what you asked? Didn’t you also agree?”

“This is a different matter. I will give you a small note. If you stay at Kadampoor Palace you should at a proper time give it to someone.”

“Give it to whom?”

“To the woman who was traveling in the palanquin behind Pazhuvertaraiyar’s elephant!”

“Nambi! Whom did you think I was? Am I the only one who gets caught to such jobs? If it was anyone other than your greatness who had said this to me ….”

“Brother! No need for excitement! If you cannot, then please go like a king! But if you can only help me with this, then you can also use my help one day. No harm; see you!”

Vandhiyathevan after that did not even wait for a second. He jumped astride on the horse and rode it fast towards Kadampoor.

4. Kadampoor Palace

After the long rest, Vandhiyathevan’s horse was rather invigorated. Within half an hour it reached the palace of Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar. Among the Chola Nadu petty chiefs of the time Chenkannar Sambuvaraiyar was one. The palace entrance was like the fortress entrance of a big city. Like the walls of a fortress the high walls that rose on both sides of the entrance curved and extended.

Elephants, horses, bulls, the keepers of these animals, the feeders, those who fetched water, the lighting crew with flame torches raising them in one place after another and those furnishing the torches with oil clamored about at the fortress entrance. A slight hesitation and fear seized Vandhiyathevan’s heart when he saw this. There is something special going on here. ‘Why did I end up here at this time?’, he thought. Curiosity to find out what the special occasion was also mounting. The fortress entrance was open. But at the entrance were some soldiers standing with spears. They looked like the messengers of the god of death. The brave young man thought that if he hesitated they would stop him and the smart thing to do was to ride the horse in bravely. He put his thoughts into action. But what a disappointment? As soon as the horse reached the gates, two soldiers crossed their spears to block the way. Another soldier took hold of the horse’s harness. One of them looked closely at Vandhiyathevan. Another raised a flambeau to his face.

His face flushed with anger, Vandhiyathevan asked, “Is this the tradition of your place? To stop the guests at the gate …?”

“Who are you, Son, speaking so rudely? Where are you from?” asked the guard at the entrance.

“You are asking my name and place? My place is Thiruvallam in Vanakapadi. At one time the warriors of your country were proud to display on their chest the names of my tribal ancestors! My name is Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan! Got it?” he said.

“Why not bring the town-crier along to broadcast all of this?” said one of the guards. Others laughed at hearing it.

“Who ever you are you cannot go inside today! All of today’s guests are already here. It is the order of my boss to not let anyone else in!” said the leader of the guards.

Seeing that there was an argument going on, some soldiers who were standing at a distance came near. One of them said, “Aday! It looks like that kuruthai that we chased at that festival!”

Another said, “Call it a donkey.”

“See how stiff the guy on top of the donkey is!” said another.

These words fell on Vandhiyathevan’s ears. “Why get into trouble? Shall we just go back? Or, show them Athitha Karikalar’s seal and go in?” the idea appeared in his mind. Can there be anyone from Vadapennai to Kanyakumari who can stop him after seeing the seal of the prince, the commander of the northern army?

It was when he was having this internal debate the Pazhuvertaraiyar men’s jokes fell on his ears. Immediately he decided on what course of action to take.

“Let the horse be; I will go back!” he said.

The soldiers let go of the horse’s harness. Vandhiyathevan clamped his two feet to the lower abdomen of the horse. At the same time he drew out his sword from its sheath. The sword rotated in his hand at lightening speed resembling the wheel rocket of Thirumal. The horse leaped forward into the fortress. The soldiers standing in the way fell to both sides. Spears came down clanging. The horse leaped on the soldiers who had joked. They scattered in all directions from this unexpected attack as if struck by lightening.

Within this time several other events took place. Gates were slamming shut. “Catch! Catch!”, there were shouts. ‘Clang! Clang!’, sounded the swords and spears. Suddenly the siren indicating danger rang out ‘Dadum! Dadum!’

Soldiers surrounded Vandhiyathevan’s horse. Twenty, thirty, more than fifty it seemed. Vandhiyathevan jumped on the ground from the horse. Wielding his sword, “Kanthamara! Kanthamara! Your people are killing me!” he shouted.

When they heard this, the soldiers in shock moved back hesitantly.

At that time from the palace’s balcony, “What is the noise there? Stop!” a voice thundered. Seven or eight people stood there watching what was taking place below.

“Sir! Some guy had crossed the security. He is shouting the junior boss’s name!” said one of the men below.

“Kanthamara! Go and see what the ruckus is!” – the same thunderous voice said from the balcony. Vandhiyathevan thought perhaps the voice belonged to Chenkannar Sambuvaraiyar.

He and the soldiers around him waited in this manner for a while.

“What is the commotion here?” they heard a young voice. Those standing in the way parted. A young man came through. He looked with surprise at Vandhiyathevan who stood there twirling the sword lightly like the Subramaniar who annihilated Sooran.

“Vallava! Is it really you?” shouting with emotion the young man ran and hugged Vallavaraiyan.

“Kanthamara! Because you insisted so many times, I came to your house. I received this fabulous reception!” Vandhiyathevan pointed to those around him.

“Chee! Fools! Go! Your brains are like the pestle sprouting!” said Kanthamaravel.

Kanthamaravel dragged Vandhiyathevan by his hand. His feet were not touching the ground. His heart was also jumping with joy. What more can excite a young person’s heart than finding a friend? Yes, there is something called love. But as much as there is happiness and enchantment, there is also heartbreak and agony in love. In the excitement of a youthful friendship there isn’t even a shadow of unhappiness. Only heartfelt happiness.

As they walked Vallavariyan asked, “Kanthamara! What is the bustle here to day? Why all the security?”

“I will tell in detail later what is going on here today. When you and I were in the garrison on the shore of Pennaiaru, didn’t you say, ‘I want to see Pazhuvertaraiyar; I want to see Pazhavaraiyar; I want to see that one; I want to see this one’? You can see this one, that one and everyone today!” said Kanthan Maravel.

Kanthan Maran took Vallavaraiyan to the palace balcony where the guests were seated. First he stopped in front of his father, ‘Father! I used to tell you about my friend Vandhiyathevan of the Vanar tribe! This is him!” he said. Vandhiyathevan placed his palms together in greeting. Sambuvaraiyar did not appear to be happy.

“Is that so? Is he the one who made all the ruckus at the entrance?” he asked.

“My friend was not responsible for the commotion. The fools we have got to guard were the reason!” said Kanthan Maravel.

“Even then today of all days, and at night he didn’t have to arrive so noisily!” said Sambuvaraiyar.

Kanthan Maravel’s face crumbled; he didn’t want to argue with his father. He took Vandhiyathevan away. He took him to Pazhuvertaraiyar who was seated at the center on a stage. “Uncle! This is my best friend Vandhiyathevan of Vanar chiefdom. He and I performed border patrol at the Vadapennaikarai encampment. He used to always say then, ‘I must see the great warrior, the elder Pazhvertaraiyar.’ He would ask, ‘Is it true that Pazhuvertaraiyar has sixty four war wounds on his body?’ I would reply, ‘One day you count it yourself,'”

Pazhuvertaraiyar with a frown on his face, “Is that so, Son! You won’t believe unless you see it? Are you so distrustful? Do you doubt, ‘How can any other tribe be as brave as the Vanar tribe?'”

Both friends were shocked. They didn’t expect that he would take what was said in praise as insult.

Anger stirred in Vandhiyathevan’s heart. But without exposing it, “Sir! The Pazhuvertaraiyar tribe’s fame has spread from Kumarimunai to the Himalayas. Who am I to doubt it?” he said humbly.

“Good answer; Intelligent boy!” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Relieved, both young men left the place. Sambuvaraiyar beckoned his son and whispered in his ear, “Quickly give your friend food and a secluded place to sleep! He is tired after a long journey!” Maravel angrily shook his head and left.

He took Vandhiyathevan to the interior of the palace. There were many women there. Vandhiyathevan greeted Maravel’s mother. He guessed that the girl seated behind her was Kanthmaran’s sister. From what Maravel had talked about his sister, Vandhiyathevan had been imagining a lot. He was somehow disappointed now. His eyes searched among the women for the damsel who was traveling in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palanquin.

5. Folk Dance

From the lodgings of the fairer sex, the two friends came out. From inside, a woman’s voice called, “Kanthmara! Kanthamara!” “My mother is calling me. Just wait here! I will be back,” Kanthamaran went inside. Vandhiyathevan heard several female voices asking questions and Kanthamaran trying to answer with difficulty. This was followed by the sound of the women’s laughter.

The thought that they could be making fun of him caused Vandhiyathevan embarrassment and anger. When Kanthamaran came outside he took Vandhiyathevan’s hand and said, “Come! Let’s take a tour of our palace.” He showed him Kadampoor palace’s piazzas and terraces, theaters, marble halls, pinnacles and towers, pottery and sculpture, warehouses and stables. In between, Vandhiyathevan asked, “Kanthamara! When you went inside the anthapuram leaving me in the front, there was a lot of laughter and talk from inside, what was the matter? Were they so happy to see your friend?”

“They were happy to see you. My mother and others liked you. But they were not laughing about you…”

“Then why did they laugh?”

“You know Pazhuvertaraiyar? After all these years he had married a young woman. He has brought her in a covered palanquin. But instead of sending her to the anthapuram he had kept her under lock in his guest house! One of the maids took a peep at her from the balcony and had described her beauty. The laughter was about that! They are quarreling whether she is a Sinhala woman, Kalinga woman or Sera Nattu woman! Haven’t you heard that Pazhuvertaraiyar’s ancestors came to Tamil country from Sera Nadu?”

“I have heard. Why, you have told me that before. Let it be, Kanthamara! How long has it been since Pazhuvertaraiyar married this mysterious beauty?”

“Less than two years; since the marriage, he does not leave her even for a short time it appears! Whenever he travels he takes her with him in the palanquin. All over the country people are making fun of it. Isn’t it a matter for ridicule when someone after a certain age falls for a woman?”

“That is not the reason. Shall I tell the real reason, Kanthamara? Women are always a bit jealous. Don’t think that I am criticizing the women of your family! The female world is like that! Your family’s women are dark beauties. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s sweetheart is bright and golden. Therefore, they don’t like her! Instead of saying that they are just making up other stories!…”

“Aday! This is news! How do you know about her color? Have you seen her or what? Where, how did you see? If Pazhuvertaraiyar knows this your life is not yours!…”

“Kanthamara! I am not a person to be frightened of this. You know that. Besides, I haven’t done anything improper. When Pazhuvertaraiyar’s entourage was in Veeranarayanapuram I was among the crowd on the sidewalk watching them. It seems all the retinue, elephant, horses and palanquin were sent by you all in their honor? Is that true?”

“Yes, we did send. What’s wrong with that?…”

“What’s wrong? Nothing. I was comparing the reception given to Pazhuvertaraiyar and the reception I received here. Nothing else….!”

Kanthamaran laughed softly and said, “We gave him the respect a tax collector was due. To you, we gave the respect a warrior was due. Some day by the grace of Murugan, if you become the son-in-law of this house then we will welcome you with the respect a bridegroom is due!” Then he added, “You were going to say something else; but the conversation got side tracked. Yes, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s sweetheart is bright and golden you said, how did you find out?”

“Pazhuvertaraiyar was on Kadampoor palace’s gigantic dark elephant like the god of death! My mind was engrossed in him. When I was daydreaming that I should become like him one day, next to him I saw a covered palanquin. When I was wondering who was in the covered palnquin, a hand moved the curtain of the palanquin slightly. Through the opening a face could be seen. Hands and face were golden color! That is all I saw! From what you said now I guessed that the woman was Pazhuvertaraiyar’s sweetheart.”

“Vandhiyathevan! You are a lucky man. Talk is that no man has seen Pazhuvur Illaiyarani with his eyes. Even for a second you saw her hand and face, didn’t you? From what you saw, do you have any idea in which country she may have been born?” asked Kanthamaran.

“At that time I didn’t think about it. Now when I think back, she may be a princess from Kashmir; or across the seas from places like Java, Kadaram, Yavanam and Misiram. She may also be from Arabia. In that country only it seems that women wear a mask from the time they are born to until they die!”

At that time the sound of instruments were heard from nearby. Sallikaradi, drums, flute and uduku were being played together.

“What is that loud music?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“Folk dance is starting. This is the opening act. Do you want to watch the folk dance? Or do you want to finish dinner and sleep in peace?”

Vandhiyathevan remembered Azhvarkadiyan mentioning folk dance. ” I have never seen folk dance. I must see it,” he said. When the friends walked a few feet and turned the stage came into their vision. There was a crowd assembling in front of the stage. The stage was set for folk dance on the spacious front grounds covered with white sand that lay between the palace walls and the ramparts of the fortress. The stage had pictures of peacocks, roosters, swans and other birds. Roasted rice, saffron tinted millet, colorful flowers, beads and bells decorated the stage. Oil lamps and flame torches were trying to drive the dark away. But the fragrant smell of ahil mixed with the smoke from the torches was spreading like fog reducing the light of the torches and lamps. Musicians sat in front of the stage and along its sides vehemently sounding out their instruments. The smell of the flowers, ahil and the loud music, all made Vandhiyathevan dizzy.  

Once all the important guests arrived, nine female folk dancers came on stage. They wore formfitting dance attire with tightly clasped jewelry, ankle-cuffs with rows of tiny bells on their feet, along with flowers that please Murugan – kanni, kadampam, kurinji and chevalari on their hair. They were tied to each other with a long garland made out of the same flowers. Some of them balanced effortlessly, parrots carved out of sandal wood and painted green.

After greeting the audience they began to dance and sing. They sang songs telling of Murugan’s glory. They sang of his chivalrous acts. They sang of the power of Vetrivel who killed the evil demigods Sooran and Kajamukan and who made the ocean go dry. They sang praising the Sivakumaran who came to Tamil Nadu on this earth and married the mountaineers’ daughter guarding the crops leaving the maidens in heaven waiting. They sang praising Velavan’s kindness. The singing, dancing, the sound of the drums and the flute, all made the people feel intoxicated. The folk dance ended with the chanting of:

‘Let hunger, illness and enmity disappear!
Let rain, fertility and wealth appear!’

The women then left the stage.

Next, for Velan dance a couple of courtesans, a man and a woman took the stage. Their clothing was the color of blood. Their sevalari garlands were as red as blood. They wore reddish kunkumam on their foreheads. Their mouths were red as blood from eating beetle and aricanut. Their eyes were red like the guava fruit.

The dance began peacefully. They danced alone or linking their hands. With time the crowd became more boisterous. The woman took the spear that was leaning against one side of the stage. Thevaralan tried to take it from her; she protested. Finaally Thevaralan jumped high as the stage shook and leapt across to forcibly snatch the spear from Thevarati. She climbed down from the stage appearing to be frightened of the spear.

Thevaralan took the stage alone and with the spear in hand danced as if possessed. Sooran and other evil demigods got powdered. The beheaded Sooran’s head repeatedly regenerated. As it regenerated Velan’s fury grew. From his eyes sparks flew. In the end Soorapathuman fell dead. Thevaralan put the spear down.

Now all other instruments stopped playing. The sound of uduku alone was heard. Standing next to the stage the priest beat the uduku vehemently. Every atom on Thevaralan’s body came alive and danced. The crowd whispered to each other ‘He is here!’

After a short while the priest pleaded with the Thevaralan, “Vela! Muruga! Thevasenapathi! Kantha! Soorasamhara! Grant us knowledge!”

“Ask! I shall tell! Whatever you need, ask!” said the possessed man.

“Will it rain? Will it flood? Will the country prosper? Would all the wishes come true?” asked the priest.

“It will rain! It will flood! Country will prosper! Wishes will come true! But you did not make an offering to my mother! Thurgai is asking for sacrifice. Pathrakali is asking for sacrifice. Sandikeswari who destroyed Mahidasuran is asking for sacrifice!…” the possessed man cried in rage as he danced.

“What sacrifice do you want?” asked the priest.

“If asked, will you give?” said the possessed man.

“We will; certainly we will give!” answered the priest.

“She is demanding royal blood; royal blood of a thousand year old tribe!” screamed the man in a feral tone.

Pazhuvertaraiyar, Sambuvaraiyar, Mazhavaraiyar and other dignitaries who were seated in front of the stage looked at each other. Their bloodshot drunken eyes engaged in secret conversation.

Sambuvaraiyar nodded his head at the priest.

The priest stopped beating the uduku. The dancer dropped like a felled tree on the stage. Theavrati rushed in to carry him away.

The crowd silently dissipated; outside from a distance was heard the sound of foxes howling.

Vandhiyathevan excited by the events of the night turned in the direction of the howling foxes. A head appeared over the outer wall of the palace. It was Azhvarkadiyan’s head. For a moment Vandhiyathevan was subjected to a frightening realization. He had the illusion that Azhvarkadiyan’s beheaded head was placed on the wall. When he blinked his eyes and opened them again the head was not to be seen! He felt silly for having indulged in such an illusion. His mind was disturbed by emotions that he had never before experienced.

6. Midnight Meeting

After the folk and Velan dances an elaborate dinner was served to the guests. Vallavaraiyan could not taste the food. His body was tired; his mind was shaken. His friend Kanthamaran proudly pointed out the identity of the guests there. Besides Pazhuvertaraiyar and Sambuvaraiyar, there was Mazhavaraiyar from Mazhapadi in the south, Perunilakizhar from Kunrathoor and Mumudi Pallavaraiyar. In addition, there were Thalthonki Kalingarayar, Vanangamudi Mutharaiyar, Thevasenapathi Poovaraiyar, Fearless Singha Mutharaiyar, Irattaikudai Rajaliyar, Kollimalai Perunilavelar. Kanthamarn pointed at them and whispered in his friend’s ear without others knowing. These gentlemen were not ordinary men. They are not seen assembled together easily. Most of them were petty chiefs of tributaries; or they have achieved the status of petty chief through their brave acts. At that time ‘Raja’ and ‘Arasar’ had given way to the term ‘Araiyar’.

The title ‘Araiyar’ was given to petty chiefs and others who have gained the same status. There was also a tradition to address them by the town or place and the suffix of ‘araiyar’.

At that time petty chiefs were not only those born and raised in the luxury of royalty. Those willing to fight in the forefront of battles were able to extend and maintain their right for the title. Therefore these were men who had fought and been wounded in wars. Today all of them functioned under the leadership of Sundara Chola emperor of Pazhaiyarai while ruling their tributaries. Some occupied positions of power in the greater Chola government.

Rightfully, Vandhiyathevan ought to have been happy to see these prominent men of the Chola empire in one place. However, there was no happiness in his heart.

‘Why are so many gathered here?’, this thought appeared in his mind often. His mind was perturbed by several unclear suspicions.

With this disturbed frame of mind Vandhiyathevan went to sleep in the place that Kanthamaran had offered him. Because of the large number of guests, Vallavaraiyan was given an open hall in one corner of the palace’s top story.

“You are very tired; therefore, sleep in peace. I will take care of the other guests, then come and lie down next to you,” Kanthamaran had said before leaving.

As soon as Vandhiyathevan lay down, his eyes began to close. Soon the sleep fairy took possession of him. But, what is the use? The mind, the sleep fairy had no control over it. Even though the body is immobile, the eyes are closed, the thoughts that are buried deep in the mind take shape in the form of dreams. Events and experiences devoid of meaning and context occur in the world of dreams.

From afar a fox was heard howling. One became ten and then hundred, howling as a chorus. Howling, they came closer and closer toward Vandhiyathevan. In the dark the eyes of the animals sparkled as burning coal. As they approached. Vandhiyathevan turned to the other side looking for a way to escape. On that side, there were ten, hundred and thousand dogs that came running as a flock. The eyes of these hounds glittered as fiery sparks.

Vandhiyathevan trembled thinking of his fate, getting caught between these foxes and dogs. Fortunately he saw that there was a temple in front. He ran into the temple and bolted the door behind him. When he turned, he saw that it was the temple of Kali. From behind the statue of goddess Kali with the grotesquely opened mouth, came a priest. In his hand was a dangerous looking scythe: “You have come? Come!” he said as he got closer and closer.

“What is the history of the tribe you were born into? How long have your tribesmen been ruling? Tell the truth,” the priest asked.

“The Varna tribe Vallavaraiyan ruled for three hundred years; in my father’s time we lost to the Vaithumbaraiyars,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“In that case you are not a valid sacrifice! Run!” said the priest.

All of a sudden in the place of goddess Kali, Kannan appeared. In front of Kannan two women with garland in hand were dancing and singing the Andal pasuram. When Vallavaraiyan was enjoying this behind him he heard the song, ‘We saw, we saw, we saw, we saw the sweetest sight.’ He turned his head. It was Azhvarkadiyan Nambi. No! It was Azhvarkadiyan’s head that was singing! The head was placed on the sacrificial alter!

Unable to face the sight Vandhiyathevan turned; he knocked himself on a pillar. The dream was disturbed; eyes opened. But he witnessed a sight that combined the dream with reality.

Directly opposite to where he was sleeping a head appeared over the palace wall. It was the head of Azhvarkadiyan Nambi. Now he was sure that it wasn’t a dream, or his imagination. Because the head stayed there for however long he looked. He was also able to surmise that it wasn’t just a head, that there was a body attached to the head. Because Azhvarkadiyan’s hands could be seen gripping the edge of the wall. In addition he was peering intently inside the wall. What was he peering at so intently?… There must be something devious going on here. Azhvarkadiyan could not have come with good intentions. He is here with bad intentions and the intent to harm. As the best friend of Kanthamaran isn’t it his duty to prevent him from doing harm? Should he be just lying down without preventing the danger that is to befall the house of the host who had provided him with a meal?

Vandhiyathevan jumped up. He secured the knife that he had placed on his side, in its sheath and to his waist. He walked in the direction of Azhvarkadiyan’s head.

Wasn’t Vallavaraiyan sleeping in a hall situated in the corner of the top story? From there to reach the parapet wall he had to cross and go around the towers, stages, pinnacles and pillars. After walking for a while, Vallavaraiyan hesitated when he heard someone talking. From behind a pillar while holding onto it he stood on tiptoe and looked down. Below in a small yard that was surrounded on three sides by tall walls about ten to twelve people were seated. The tall walls hid the light from the half-moon. But an oil lamp that was mounted on one of the walls shed some light. They were the gentlemen he had seen at dinner; petty chiefs and Chola empire officials. They must be gathered there at midnight to discuss something very important. Azhvarkadiyan was watching intently from the parapet wall what these people were doing and what they were talking. There is no doubt that Azhvarkadiyan was an extremely smart man. From where he was positioned it was possible to see everyone down; to hear what was being said. But those down below cannot see Azhvarkadiyan. The palace walls and parapet walls were constructed in that way. Azhvarkadiyan has somehow managed to find this place! He is clever; no doubt. But his cleverness will not fool this Vandhiyathevan of Varnar tribe! Must catch that Vaishnava imposter by hand and …. But if he were to catch him he cannot approach the parapet wall without attracting the attention of the people below. There may be danger in making himself visible to them. He remembered Sambuvaraiyar saying, “Of all days he need not have come here today!” These men have gathered to discuss something important. It is clear that they don’t want outsiders knowing about their deliberations. Under these circumstances if they suddenly see him, isn’t it possible that they would become suspicious? Before he tells them of Azhvarkadiyan, he could jump from the parapet wall and run away. Therefore, only he would come under suspicion. How can he answer the question, “You were sleeping; now why are you here?” It will only put Kanthamaran in an awkward position. Aha! There, Kanthamaran is seated on one side. He too is part of this discussion. Once I speak to Kanthamaran in the morning I can find out everything.

At that time the palanquin parked behind the people caught Vandhiyathevan’s attention. Ah! Isn’t this the palanquin that was following Pazhuvertaraiyar’s elephant? Wonder in which part of the palace is the woman in the palanquin, the woman who had moved the curtain to look outside? It appears that this old man didn’t even send her to the anthapuram where the other palace women resided? This is the problem when old people marry young women. They become plagued with doubt. They cannot bear to be separated from their young wives even for a minute. Perhaps, even now, the young wife of Pazhuvertaraiyar is still inside the palanquin. Aha! See the fate of this world famous warrior! At this age he had become a slave to this young woman! It’s not as if she was like Rathi, Menakai or Rambai! Vandhiyathevan had not forgotten the revulsion he had felt when he saw her. He could not understand why this brave Pazhuvertaraiyar was so drawn to her. Stranger still was Azhvarkadiyan’s behavior. He is probably waiting on top of the parapet wall because this palanquin was parked here! But what do we know of the relationship between him and her? She may be his sister or lover. Pazhuvertaraiyar may have taken her away by force! He is capable of that. Therefore Azhvarkadiyan is wondering around looking for an opportunity to see her and speak to her! What do we care? Let me go and sleep quietly.

When he so decided he heard his name being mentioned from below. Immediately he started paying attention. “There was a young man, friend of your son, where is he sleeping? This should not fall on his ears. We should keep in mind that he works for the commander in the north. Until we are certain about our plan’s success no one can come to know about it. If there is any doubt that he knows what is being said here then he cannot be allowed to leave the fortress. It would be necessary to finish him off…”

Readers can imagine how Vandhiyathevan felt when he heard this. Yet he did not budge from that place. He was determined to hear the entirety of their conversation.

Who is the commander in the north? He is the eldest son of emperor Sundara Cholar. The crown prince who will be at the Chola throne next. What is their objection to him being employed there? What is it that they discuss that his employer should not know?

At that time he heard Kanthamaran speaking on behalf of his friend. “Vandhiyathevan is sleeping peacefully upstairs in the corner most room. He’s not going to hear what’s being said here. He is not a person who will interfere in something that does not concern him. Even if he finds out there will not be any damage to your work. I am responsible for that,” said Kanthamaran.

“I am also happy that you have such confidence in him. But none of us really know him; that was the reason for my warning. What we are going to discuss now is about the rights of a big empire. Even if one word leaks out by carelessness it can lead to dangerous consequences. All of you must keep that in mind!” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

7. Laughter and Rage

As soon as Vandhiyathevan heard Pazhuvertaraiyar’s talk about the right to govern he made a decision. What are they going to speak about the right to govern? Who are they to speak? I must find out what’s going on here in this meeting! I will have to sit here. There won’t be a place more comfortable than this. Let Azhvarkadiyan be. What do I care about him?

Vandhiyathevan has had a premonition that there was something mysterious happening there today. Azhvarkadiyan’s ambiguous comments, the palace guards’ uncouth behavior, Sambuvaraiyar’s half-hearted welcome, the psychic dancer’s predictions – all of these had made him suspicious. To rid of those suspicions and to find out the truth there is now by god’s will an opportunity. Why let it slip?

Aha! Even Kanthamaran whom he considered his best friend didn’t tell him the truth. After sending him to bed he had come for the secret midnight meeting. I have to confront him tomorrow.

By now, below Pazhuvertaraiyar had begun to speak. Vandhiyathevan listened carefully.

“I have come to inform all of you of an important development. Sambuvaraiyar has called this meeting just for that. Sundara Chola Maharajah’s health is of great concern. I spoke to the palace doctors privately. They have said, ‘There is no hope anymore; he won’t live for long.’ Therefore, we have to think about the future.”

“What are the astrologers saying?” asked one person in the gathering.

“Why go and ask the astrologers? For some days in the evening there has been a comet with a tail in the sky! Isn’t that enough!” said another.

Pazhuvertaraiyar said: “We have consulted the astrologers. They are giving a little bit more time; that is all. In any case we have to decide who has the right to succeed…”

“What is there to think? We have crowned Athitha Karikalar two years ago!” said another person speaking in a hoarse voice.

“True, but I want to find out if any of us was consulted before the crowning. Each one of us gathered here comes from a tradition that has toiled for the betterment of the Chola empire for four generations for over hundred years. My grandfather’s father died in the Thirupurampiyam war. My grandfather lost his life in the Vellur war. My father sacrificed his life at Thakolam. Like that the ancestors of each one of you had given their life for the sake of the Chola empire. Young men from each one of our families have died in war. Even today children from our families and tribes are fighting in Eela Nadu. But the great king did not ask our opinion about who should take the throne next. Even Thasarathar called his cabinet to discuss the coronation of Ramar. He consulted with the ministers, army commanders and petty chiefs. But Sundara Chola Maharajah didn’t find it necessary to ask anyone.”

“It’s true he didn’t consult us. But it is not correct for the honorable tax collector to say that he didn’t consult anyone. The opinions of the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi and the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi were sought. Can Pazhuvertaraiyar say ‘no’?” When someone questioned in a sarcastic tone, some in the gathering laughed.

“Aha! You are laughing! I don’t know how you can laugh. My belly is on fire when I think about it; my blood boils. It feels like ‘Why hold onto this life to live this disgraceful life?’. The psychic today said that Durga is asking for sacrifice. He said, ‘a sacrifice of a thousand year royal heritage is necessary. Offer me as sacrifice. My tribe goes back a thousand years. Each one of you plunge the knife on my neck and give me up as sacrifice. Mother Durga will be satisfied; my soul will also attain peace…”

Pazhuvertaraiyar paused after speaking in the same possessed voice of the dancer. Silence fell. There was only the sound of the wind blowing from the west and the trees outside the fortress wall moving along with the wind.

“Pazhuvur king should kindly forgive the ignorant and sarcastic speech and the laughter. You are our supreme leader. All of us here are prepared to carry out your orders. We will follow your direction. Please forgive us!” Sambuvaraiyar said emotionally.

“I too lost my patience. You must forgive me for that. Consider this. Exactly one hundred years ago today Vijayalaya Cholar defeated the Mutharaiyars and captured Thanjavur. In the Thirupurampiam war he assisted the Pallava army and destroyed the Pandya troops. Since then the Chola empire has been expanding. Chola empire did not reach this height even in the time of Karikal Vallavar who developed the shore of the river Kaveri. Today the Chola empire spreads from Kumari Munai in the south and Thungapathrai – Krishnaivarai in the north. Pandya Nadu, Nanjil Nadu, Sera Nadu that has never bowed to anyone, Thondai Mandalam, Pahi Nadu, Kangapadi, Nulampadi, Vaithumbar Nadu, Seetpuli Nadu, Perumpanapadi, Kudaku Nadu where the river Ponni originates – all of these places come under the Chola empire, paying taxes. In all these places the tiger flag of Chola Nadu is up. Eelam in the south and Vengai in the north also should have been under us. I am not going to tell the reasons why they are not; Those reasons, all of you are aware of!…”

“Yes; everyone knows. There are two reasons why Eelam and Irrataipadi and Vengi and Kalingam are not under us. One is the commander in the north Prince Athitha Karikalar; the other reason is his brother and the commander of the south Arulmozhivarmar…”

“I agree with Mazhavaraiyar’s reason. For the last hundred years the tradition of choosing the commander of Chola Nadu was different. Only those with extensive war experience would be appointed commanders and chiefs. But what has happened now? The elder prince is the commander in the north. What is he doing? He is not engaging in war with Irattai Mandalam and Vengi Nadu. He is sitting in Kanjipuram building a palace in gold. Warriors of noble birth, I am asking you. Until now has a Tamil king built a palace in gold for himself? Even the world renowned and now in heaven, Paranthaka emperor who captured Madurai and Eelam didn’t build for himself a gold palace. It was for Thillai Chittampalam that he weaved a gold roof. But Prince Athitha Karikalar is building a gold palace in Kanjipuram for himself. The palaces that the Pallava emperors have for generations inhabited do not meet his status. He is building a palace in gold. He is embedding precious gems and lapis lazuli on its walls. Not one copper coin has been sent to the treasury in the capital by him from the treasure taken from the victories in Kangapadi, Nulampadi and Kudaku…”

“Is the construction of the gold palace complete?”

“Yes, through my private spies I found out that it is. In addition, Sundara Chola Maharaja received letters from his precious eldest son inviting Sundara Chola king to spend some time at the new gold palace.”

“Is Maharaja going to Kanji?” asked one person in a sad voice.

“You don’t have to worry, I will see that nothing like that happens; there is also my brother, the commander at the Thanjai fortress. No one can enter the Thanjai fortress without the permission of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. No one can visit the emperor without my permission; no one can deliver a letter. Until now I have stopped letters two or three times.”

“Long live Pazhuvertaraiyar!”, “Long live the Pazhuvur king’s ingenuity!”, “Long live his name!”, cheering broke out.

“There is more, the dealings of Prince Arulmozhi Varmar who has gone to war in Eelam are even stranger than those of the crown prince. What do we know about the philosophy of war? What was the practice of our ancestors for hundreds of years? If our troops are sent to war in another country, they should find their food in those other countries. The soldiers should be paid with revenue generated in those countries. The balance ought to be sent home to the government treasury. But do you know what Arulmozhivarmar is doing? He wants food to be sent from here by ship to the soldiers in Eela Nadu! For one year I have sent about ten times several shiploads of food….”

“Strange! Strange!”, “Cannot put up with this injustice!”, “Never heard of such a practice!”, voices rang out.

“Listen to Arulmozhivarmar’s reasons for this request. It seems if we generate the revenue for the soldiers’ welfare where we have gone to war, we would earn the dissatisfaction of the citizens there. It seems, we are at war with the ruling dynasty of Eelam, but not with the Eelam people. Therefore, it seems, we should not subject them to any kind of hardship! Once we win the war with the ruling tribe we should govern to the satisfaction of the people there. Therefore, money and food must be sent from here, it seems!”

At this time one person in the meeting said, “Nothing should be taken from the people where we are at war; that we should bend down and worship their feet – this philosophy of war was never heard of until now!”

“Listen to the trouble arising from this. The ventures of both princes are bankrupting the treasury and the granary. I am compelled to levy more taxes from all of you. This is why they have made me the tax official! If I didn’t consider the Chola Nadu supremacy important, I would have given up this position long ago!”

“Ah! No, no, no! Your being in this position is great protection for us. Have you spoken to the king about these improper dealings?”

“Why not? Many times I have spoken. Each time the answer is, ‘Talk to the elder stateswoman; talk to the junior stateswoman!’ As I said before, the king has lost his ability to think independently! Even in important matters he does not listen to our advice. His aunt, the elder stateswoman’s word is the divine word for him; next to that, he would suggest to seek the advice of his loving daughter princess Kundavai Devi. Having gone gray working for the government, the other ministers and I must go to this girl who has not gone farther than Kollidam in the north and Kudamuruti in the south, for advice; how does that sound! From the inception of Chola Nadu we have not heard of women interfering in policy matters! How long can we tolerate this insult? Or, if all of you unanimously demand I will give up the responsibility of this government and the problem of collecting taxes to fill its coffers and wait in my native place….”

“No! No! Pazhuvur lord should not abandon us. The Chola empire that was created with the greatest of hardship by thousands and thousands of soldiers spanning four generations would go to smithereens in a second,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“In that case you have to advise me what I should do in this situation. You have to recommend the remedy for this woman-run empire that is worse than alli rajyam.

8. Who is in the Palanquin?

For a while the participants debated among themselves. Because several people were speaking at once Vandhiyathevan did not hear anything clearly.

Sambuvaraiyar said in a loud voice, “Shouldn’t we answer Pazhuvur king’s question? What will be the gain of each person speaking at random? It is nearing midnight. The moon has come out.”

” I have a suspicion. Few others may have the same suspicion. If Pazhuvur lord won’t get angry I like to clear it!” said the same hoarse voice that had spoken earlier.

“Isn’t it Vananga Mudiyar who is speaking? Please come into the light!” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Yes; It is I. Here I am in the light.”

“I am used to taking out my anger in the battlefield; on my enemies; not on my friends. Therefore, you can relax and ask me anything.”

“In that case, I shall. Some folks are accusing Pazhuvertaraiyar of the same mistake that he is accusing Sundara Chola Maharaja of! Even though I don’t believe it I would like to clear it at this time!” said Vananga Mudiyar.

“What’s that? How? You must provide details.”

“We all know that lord Pazhuvertaraiyar wedded two years ago…”

Sambuvaraiyar, at this time spoke in an angry tone, “We object to Vanangamudiyar speaking about this matter. It is not at all proper to question our great leader and chief guest out of the blue in this manner….”

“I plead with Sambuvaraiyar to be patient. Let Vanangamudiyar ask whatever he pleases. It’s best to bare your chest and ask, rather than to keep it in. It is true that I married a woman when I was over the age of fifty five. I completely agree. But, I never pretended to be the incarnation of Rama in the dark ages. I also never took a vow of a single bride. I loved this woman; she too loved me. We married following the tradition of the old Tamil country with mutual consent. What is wrong in this?”

“Nothing wrong in that!” several voices rose.

“I am not saying that it was wrong to wed. Who among us has sworn to monogamy? But… But….”

“But what! Please ask what’s on your mind without hesitation!”

“Some people say that Pazhuvertaraiyar consults the newly wed Illaiyarani in all matters. They say that even in government matters Illaiyarani’s advice is sought. They say that you are taking the Illaiyarani wherever you go.”

There was laughter in the meeting.

“Who is it that laughed? Step in front and explain the reason for the laughter!” Sambuvaraiyar jumped up and growled drawing his dagger out of its sheath.

“I am the one who laughed! Don’t get excited, Sambuvaraiyar!” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Then he continued, “Vanangamudiyar! Is it a crime to take my wedded wife with me wherever I go? It is true that I take her with me often. But it is a mistake to say that I ask the Illaiyarani’s advice in government matters. I never do that…”

“In that case, I beg lord Pazhuvertaraiyar to rid me of one more suspicion. Why is the palanquin that should be in the women’s quarters here, where we are having secret deliberations? Is there someone inside, or not? If no, then where did the sound of bangles and the sound of someone clearing their throat that we heard just a while ago come from?”

Once Vanangamudiyar voiced his questions a curious silence fell over the crowd. Since many had the same thoughts and questions, no one dared to speak against Vanangamudiyar. Sambuvaraiyar’s lips muttered something. But no words were heard even from his mouth.

Pazhuvertaraiyar’s voice rang out tearing that silence: “Good question; I am obliged to answer. Before this meeting is over I will clear your suspicion. Can we be patient for another fifteen minutes? You do have that much of confidence in me?”

“We have, we have. We have complete confidence in Pazhuvertaraiyar!” several voices called out.

“Please don’t think that I have any less faith and respect in Pazhuvertaraiyar than anyone else here. Because he asked for openness I complied. Otherwise I am prepared to carry out his orders. At this moment I am even prepared to give my life if necessary!” said Vanangamudi Munaiaraiyar.

“I know the heart of Vanangamudiyar. I also know the trust that all of you have placed in me. Therefore, let us first make a decision about why we are gathered here. Let Sundara Chola Maharaja live long in this world and rule this Chola empire. But in case something should happen to him, if the doctors’ prediction comes true, if the the evil omens like the recently spotted falling star are correct, we must decide who is entitled to the Chola throne.”

“We want to know your opinion about it. There is no one here in this meeting who would disagree with you.”

“That is not right. Everyone ought to think and be open about their opinion. I want to remind you a few old facts. Twenty four years ago the great warrior, scholar and honorable Kandarathithathevar passed away unexpectedly. At that time his son Mathuranthaka Thevar was a one year old baby. Therefore, he had said before dying that his younger brother Arinjayathevar should take the throne. It was his good wife and empress Chempian Madevi who informed us of his wish. Accordingly we crowned Arinjaya Cholar as emperor. But fate had it so that emperor Arinjayar did not wait for longer than an year on the Chola throne. His eldest son Paranthaka Sundara Cholar was a young steer, having turned twenty years of age. So for the benefit of the kingdom ministers, petty chiefs, heads of tributaries and factions decided together to crown Paranthaka Sundara Cholar. There is no room there for regrets. Because until two years ago Sundara Chola Maharaja had governed well. He respectfully consulted us in his decisions. Because of this the Chola empire continued to prosper. Now his health is of concern. In this situation who is entitled to the throne next? Kandarathithathevar’s son Mathuranthakar is now of age and able to govern. By his knowledge, education, character, piety and devotion, he is eligible for the throne. Sundara Cholar’s son, Athitha Karikalar, who is one year younger than him is the commander in Kanji of the army in the north. Between these two, who is justified to claim the throne? What is the tradition? What is the law? What is the precedent in Tamil Nadu history? Is the son of the elder Mathranthakar justified in taking the throne? Or is the grandson of the younger, entitled to the throne? Each one of you should voice your opinion freely from the heart…”

“The elder Kandarathithathevar’s son Mathuranthakar has the right to the throne. That is according to law, justice and custom,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“That is my opinion also!”, “That is my advice also!”, said the participants, one by one.

“Your advice is my advice too. Mathuranthakar is entitled to the throne. But to claim this right are we prepared to work for it? Are we prepared to fight for it giving our mind, body and wealth? Are we prepared to take a vow at goddess Durga’s feet this very minute?” Pazhuvertaraiyar’s voice had a frenzy that wasn’t there until then.

The meeting was silent for a while. Then Sambuvaraiyar said, “With god as our witness we are prepared to take a vow. But before we do that you have to make one thing clear. What is Mathranthakar’s opinion? Is he prepared to accept the throne and take on the burden of government? We have heard that Kandarathithar’s ascetic son had given up the material world in order to devote himself completely to Shaivism. We have also heard from many people that he is not interested in government. We have also heard that his mother Chempian Madevi is entirely opposed to him ascending to the throne. We would like to know the truth behind this from you.”

“Good question; you asked at the right time. I am obliged to clear this also. I should have spoken before. Pardon me for leaving it out,” Pazhuvertaraiyar began with this introduction: “It is a well known fact that Chempian Madevi has tried to channel her only son’s interest away from government and towards Shaiva devotion. But the country does not know the reason behind this; the people don’t know. It is because the elder stateswoman was afraid that it might jeopardize his life if it became known that he was interested in governing…”

“Aha!”, “Is that why?”, rose voices at the meeting.

“Yes; Isn’t it natural for a mother to wish for her only son’s safety more than for his throne? Respecting his mother’s word as god’s word, Mathuranthakar also had turned toward celibacy and a renunciation of worldly objects. He was completely immersed in Siva devotion. But, lately his mind has been changing slowly. The thought that this Chola empire is his and it’s his duty to protect it, had taken root in his mind. If he knows that all of you support him, he is prepared at the right moment to publicly speak about his views..”

“What is the proof for this?”

“I will give you proof now, that will satisfy you. If I did are you all prepared to take the vow?”

Several voices sounded, “We are! We are!”

“No one has any doubts?”

“No! No!”

“In that case I will bring the proof. I will also resolve Vanangamudi Munaiyaraiar’s doubts!” saying this Pazhuvertaraiyar rose. He walked with confidence towards the covered palanquin.

“Prince! Please move the curtain and step outside. Bless these warriors who are prepared to sacrifice their mind, body and wealth for you with your presence!” he said in a humble voice.

Vandhiyathevan who was listening with uncontrollable curiosity from behind a pillar on the balcony cautiously looked below. As before a hand moved the curtain on the palanquin to a side. It was a golden shade. The same rosy hand that he had seen before. But what he had taken for bangles before, he realized now was a bracelet of the kind that a prince would wear. Next minute the golden face like the full moon appeared. A handsome figure like Manmathan stepped out smiling. Aha! Is he Kandarathitha Thevar’s son prince Mathuranthakar? I made a mistake in assuming it was a woman just because the person was in a palanquin? Vandhiyathevan checked to see if Azhvarkadiyan who made the same mistake as him was still peering from behind the wall. The place was in dark because of the tree that cast its shade around it. Nothing was visible.

Down below frenzied shouts arose: “Long live Mathuranthakathevar! Long live the crown prince! Vetri Vel! Veera Vel!” Vandhiyathevan saw the participants at the meeting standing up shouting, holding their swords and spears high. Thinking that it might be dangerous to wait there any longer, he rushed back to his bed.

  1. Conversation on the Road

Vandhiyathevan had until then lived his life in the dry country north of Palaru. Therefore he did not know how to swim in the flooding river. Once he stepped into the river to bathe while serving as border patrol on the Vadapennai shore. He got caught in a vortex. The deadly maelstrom made him go round and round. At the same time he got pulled down. Very soon all of Vandhiyathevan’s strength had been sucked out by the vortex. Just when he was giving up hope thinking, ‘No longer can I fight this; I am going to drown in this current’, by god’s will he came out of the vortex. He was saved by the flood that carried him and threw him onto the shore!

When Vandhiyathevan returned to his bed that night he had the same feeling as getting caught in a maelstrom. It seemed as if without intent he had got caught in a political struggle. Just as he escaped from the river current can he escape from this political maelstrom? Will god save him again?

The information he gathered at the midnight meeting at Kadampoor palace left him fighting for his breath. Only a few years had passed since the Chola empire became free of aggression from its external enemies. Prince Athitha Karikalar was a warrior; talented in warfare; skilled in political strategy. Using his expertise and knowledge together with the capable army of the Chola empire he wiped out the dominance of Irattai Mandalam king Krishnan from Thondai Mandalam. Somehow outside aggression came to an end. In this climate internal warfare and perfidy are raising their head. What would be the result of this internal enmity that is even more dangerous than outside aggression?

Well known warriors, ministers, officials and leaders of Chola Nadu are involved in this dangerous mission. What sort of men are Pazhuvertaraiyar and his brother? What is their power? Influence? How prominent, influential and powerful are the others who have gathered here today? Is this the first of such meetings? Who knows to how many other places Pzhuvertaraiyar has taken Mathuranthakar in a covered palanquin? Adada! How convenient his marriage to a young woman in his old age has turned out to be for this perfidy?

Until today, there has been no doubt in Vandhiyathevan’s mind about prince Athitha Karikalar’s right to the Chola throne. Even in his dreams he has not considered that a competition could arise. He had heard about Kandarathithar’s son Mathuranthakar. He knew that like the father the son was also an prominent Shaiva devotee. But he has never heard that he had a right to the throne or that he might contest it. Until now that thought has never appeared in his mind.

But what are the rules of the argument? Who really has the right to the throne? Athitha Karikalar? Or Mathuranthakar? As he weighed the question, it seemed that both sides had a valid argument. If there was a contest, who will win? What was his duty? Aha! We set out on this journey from Kanji building all sorts of imaginary towers? We wanted to reach the higher ranks of the Chola empire by serving the crown prince Athitha Karikalar! In time we thought of even gaining back the ancestral tributary belonging to the Varnar tribe! It seems as if the very branch of the tamarind tree that we grabbed in order to achieve all of this is about to break…? Because of these thoughts, when he came to bed a second time Vandhiyathevan struggled  for a long time to fall asleep. In the fourth quarter of the night when in the east light was beginning to take hold, sleep finally overtook him.

The next day even when the red rays of the rising sun hit him sharply, Vandhiyathevan did not wake up. Only when Kanthamaran came and shook him he woke up startled.

“Was it a good night’s sleep?” Kanthamaran inquired in the usual manner of addressing a guest. Then he added, “After all the other guests had gone to sleep I came here. You were serving Kumabakarnan well!”

Vandhiyathevan, placing a lid on all the thoughts that began to surface, said “All I remember is coming here and falling on this bed after watching the folk dance. Only now I am opening my eyes. Adada! So much time has gone. It is as if a quarter of the day is past after sunrise! I should leave immediately. Kanthamara! Order your men to get the horse ready!”

“Fantastic! You are going to leave now? What is the hurry? You have to spend at least ten days here before leaving,” said Kanthamaran.

“No, my friend! In Thanjavur my uncle is not feeling well. News arrived that it was unlikely that he would survive. Therefore I must leave soon and see him. I have to go immediately,” Vallavaraiyan lied through his teeth.

“In that case at least on your return you must stop and spend a few days here.”

“No problem, we will see then. Now let me take my leave!”

“Don’t be in such a hurry! You can leave after breakfast. I will also come with you until Kollidam river.”

“How is that possible? There are all these big shot guests at your house, leaving them..”

“To me, there is no bigger guest than you!..” Kanthamaran paused abruptly. “Those who came are important guests indeed. But my fatere is there to take care of them; there are also palace officials. I didn’t talk to you for a long time last night. My mind will be at peace if I chat with you a little at least on the way. I will certainly come up to the Kollidam shore!” he said.

“I have no objections. Your wish, your convenience” said Vandhiyathevan.

Half an hour later both friends left the palace of Sambuvaraiyar on two horses. The horses went slowly. The journey was pleasant. The friends didn’t even mind the west wind gathering the road dust and showering it back over them. Their minds were taken up in the discussion of old memories.

After a while Vandhiyathevan said; “Even though I stayed only one night at your place it has been very useful for me. Buth there is only one disappointment. While at Vadapennai shore you had described your sister so much! I could not even see her well. When she peered from behind your mother only one eighth of her face was visible! Your sister has modesty and shyness a bit more than that is necessary in women.”

Kanthamaran’s mouth and lips were itching to say something. But no words materialized.

“No harm done. You are the one saying that I should spend a few days at your house on my way back? We can see then. In that time perhaps your sister’s shyness might disappear a little? Kanthamara! What did you say your sister’s name was?”

“Manimekalai!”

“Adada! What a sweet name! If her beauty and character were like her name..”

Kanthamaran interrupted in a voice that pleaded, “Pal! I beg you of one thing. Forget my sister; forget everything I said about her to you; don’t bring up her topic!”

“What is this, Kanthamara! Altogether topsy-turvy! Even yesterday night you hinted about me coming as the son-in-law of your house!”

“It is true that I said that. But now there is a different situation. My parents have decided to wed my sister in another place; Manimekalai also has agreed!”

Vandhiyathevan said ‘Long live Manimekalai!’ to himself. He also did not have difficulty guessing to whom they have decided to give Manimekalai. They would have decided on prince Mathranthakar who emerged from the covered palanquin. Perhaps they are building these relationships to strengthen Mathuranthakar’s side. Pazhuvertaraiyar is an evil genius!

“Aha! You have chosen one of yesterday’s wealthy guests as the bridegroom! Kanthamara! There is no surprise in this for me; no disappointment also. In a way it is what I expected…”

“You expected? How is that?”

“Who will give their girl to a poor orphan like me? What girl will agree to marry a man with no place or home? Just because the ancestors of my tribe had once ruled, what is it worth now?”

“Pal! Enough, stop! Don’t insult me and my family so much! The reason is not what you point out. There is an other important reason. If you know it even you will agree. But I am not going to make it public now. When the time comes you will find out yourself!”

“Kanthamara! What’s this, you keep speaking so mysteriously today?”

“Please forgive me for that. It is such an important matter that even to you I cannot speak freely. Please believe that however anything is that no harm will befall our friendship. When the time comes to make it public, you will be the first to know. Trust me until then. Trust that I will never give you up!..”

“Thank you for this promise. But I don’t know what this situation is that let go of me! Anywya, I am not someone who depends on another person for survival. I rely solely on my sword and spear!”

“The time may arrive soon to make use of that sword and spear. At that time we will stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for the same side; then your ambition may come true…”

“What’s this? Are you expecting a war anytime soon? Or do you intend to go to the war in Eela Nadu?”

“To Eelam? You will be astonished if you hear about the beautiful war taking place in Eelam! It seems that rice and other food products must go from Chola Nadu to our soldiers in Eelam! Disgraceful! I am talking about a different matter. Be patient, I will tell you when the time comes; please don’t make me tell you now!”

“Alright, alright! Don’t say anything if you don’t want to. Don’t even open your mouth. There, Kollidam can be seen!” said Vandhiyathevan.

In fact, the floods of the river Kollidam could be seen at a distance. In a few minutes the friends were at the river bank.

The flooding during the month of July broke over the banks of this great river. The other side seemed far away. The trees there looked like small shrubs. Vandhiyathevan stood in astonishment at the sight of the swirling reddish flood water drawing circles in the water as it rushed riotously trying to brake the banks, roaring ‘Ho’, towards the eastern sea.

At the jetty there was a boat. Two boatmen were ready with long poles in their hands. One person had already climbed in. He looked like a Shaiva scholar.

Seeing those walking on the bank, “Sir! Are you coming in the boat?” one of the boatmen asked.

“Yes; he is coming, halt the boat!” answered Kanthamaran.

Both friends jumped down from the horses.

“I have arrived without thinking. What to do with this horse? Can it go in the boat?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“No need, there are two men following us. One of them will take your horse back to Kadampoor. The other one will come with you in the boat and get you a horse on the other side!” said Kanthamaran.

“Aha! What forethought! Aren’t you a true friend!” said Vandhiyathevan.

You would have thought Kollidam was like Palaru and Pennaiaru. You won’t have thought that it was not possible to take  the horse across!”

“Yes; Forgive me for underestimating your Chola Nadu river! Oh my father! What a river? What flooding? Isn’t it rising like the ocean?”

The two friends embraced and took leave of each other.

Vandhiyathevan went to the riverbank and climbed into the boat.

One of the men who came with Kanthamaran also got into the boat.

The boat was ready to leave. The boatmen were ready to ply.

Suddenly from a distance, “Stop! Stop! Stop the boat!” a voice heard.

The boat men hesitated without plying.

The man who shouted arrived in a hurry at the bank. At first glance Vandhiyathevan knew who it was; It was indeed Azhvarkadiyan Nambi.

Once he knew that the new arrival was a Vaishnava, the Shaiva in the boat said, “Go! Let the boat go! I will not come with that heretic on the boat; let him come in the next boat!”

But Vandhiyathevan told the boatmen, “Wait a while. Let him also come! There is plenty of room in the boat! We can take him!”

Vandhiyathevan wanted to find out from Azhvarkadiyan several details about the previous night’s events.

  1. Kudanthai Astrologer

When the river Ponni who was born and bred in Kudaku Nadu reached the age of puberty, she wanted to join her bridegroom, the ocean king. She went hurrying across forests and hills, rocks and valleys. As she got closer and closer to the ocean king her mind and body were ecstatic in the excitement of seeing her mate. As she went near two hands arose to embrace her lover. Spreading both her hands she leaped forward. But for the enthusiasm in her heart two hands did not seem sufficient; her loving hands grew from ten to twenty and hundred. Extending all of those arms she approached the ocean king. How elaborately decorated was this bride who was joining her loving husband by the Chola Nadu mothers? Adada! How many beautiful green dresses were worn? How many ways did they adorn with the colorful flowers? In what ways did they shower the fragrances? Aha! How to describe the sight of the punnai and kadampam trees that grew on both sides showering their pearl and diamond like flowers? Can even the floral showers of the gods compare to this?

River Ponni! Is there a maiden who does not rejoice at the sight of you! Is there a woman who is not happy at seeing your bridal extravaganza?

Isn’t it natural that women gather around you just like a bride is surrounded by all the town’s maiden?

Arisilaru is the name of one of the golden hands that Ponni lovingly stretches to embrace her groom. Very close to the south of Kaveri is the beautiful river Arisilaru. Those who come from far must be informed of the existence of such a river. The dense cover of lustrous green trees on both sides completely hide the river. Arisilaru may be described as the royal maiden who has since birth never left the interior of the palace. There is no metaphor for this maiden river’s beauty.

Good; let our friends leave behind the thought of the interior of the palace and approach Arisilaru. Let them make their way through the dense grove of trees! Adada, what a rare scene? Isn’t this like beautifying the beautiful and sweetening the nectar?

Who are these damsels seated in this colorful boat carved in the shape of a swan? And who is the stately lady at the center, like the full moon among the stars, the queen born to reign over all of seven worlds? Who is the quiet beauty seated next to her with vina in hand? Who are these celestial choristers whose sweet voices are mixing the flood of music with the river’s own? Their eyes are shapely as fish; or a shade of blue; faces like lotus flowers; eyelids are the petals of the waterlily. Aha! The one playing the vina, one could admire the way those kanthal petal like fingers linger over the strings of the instrument all day long!

How to describe the sweetness of the melody they are singing? Even the river flood has stopped its rolling noise to listen! Even the peacocks and koels that inhabit the trees are immersed in silence! What is shocking if human beings, those lucky beings with an ear to listen are mesmerized by this divine music? Let us listen to what the women on this boat are singing:

Haven’t we heard these sweet Tamil songs somewhere? Yes, these verses are from Cilappatikaram. However, in these women’s rendition there is more enchantment and allure than in any other before. Perhaps they are good friends of the river Ponni! That is why they are so overcome with emotion in their singing. Adada! How the poems in their imaginative conception of meaning and melody are integrated and flowing as ambrosia through their voices? Poem, harmony, music, lyric! There is nothing there. Pure fantasy! An out of the world trick to make those who sing as well as those who listen lose their minds!

The boat floated towards the opening the trees made on the bank. Two women step out; one of them possesses the stately demeanor of a woman fit to be queen of all seven worlds. The other is the one who moved her fingers over the vina to produce the sweet music. Even though both are beautiful there are differences. One has the elegant beauty of the red lotus flower. The other has the sweetness of the water lily. One is full moon; the other the early morning crescent moon; one is the dancing peacock; the other the singing koel; one is Indrani; the other is Manmathan’s lover; one is the river Kangai that runs in leaps and bounds;  the other is the twisting and turning Kaveri.

Without leaving the readers in speculation and doubt let us name them. The elegant beauty is emperor Sundara Cholar’s precious daughter Kundavai. Her brother Arulmozhivarman is history’s famous Rajarajan. A leader whom the citizens hailed as ‘Princess’ or ‘junior stateswoman’. The founding Tamil daughter of the Chola empire’s glory. The grand dame who raised Rajarajan’s son Rajendran to be a brave warrior and great king.

The other woman belonging to the Kodumbaloor noble tribe had come seeking the privilege of living with Princess Kundavai. Later on in history, she would become incredibly fortunate. Today she is the picture of sweet sobriety.

These two women stepped out of the boat. Kundavai said to the other women, “All of you wait here. We will be back in half an hour!” These friends were all daughters of Tamil Nadu petty chiefs, born in palaces. Considering the friendship of Kundavai Devi a privilege they have come to live in the Pazhaiyarai palace. When Kundavai left with one of them telling  them ‘I will be back soon’, their eyes showed disappointment and jealousy.

On the bank there was a chariot tethered to a horse. “Vaanathi! Get in the chariot!” said Kundavai to her friend. After Vaanathi she also climbed in . The chariot sped.

“Sister! Where are we going? Can you tell me?” asked Vaanathi.

“Why not? We are going to Kudanthai astrologer’s house!” said Kundavai.

“Why are we going to the astrologer’s house, Sister? What do we want to find out?”

“What else? To find out about you. For some months now you have been preoccupied, losing weight. We want to know when you will get better and be your normal self again!”

“Sister! You are very kind; there is nothing wrong with me. Let’s go back!”

“No, child, no! Not to ask about you; It’s me I am going to inquire about?”

“What are you going to find out about yourself? What do you want to know from the astrologer?”

“Will there be marriage for me? Or will I spend my life being a virgin forever?”

“Sister! Why ask the astrologer about this! Isn’t it your heart you ought to be questioning? You just have to nod your head! From the Himalayas to Cape Kumari, won’t the rulers of fifty six nations come running? Why, they will even come from across the sea? Who knows which prince is destined with the honor of wedding you? Aren’t you the person to decide that!”

“Vaanathi! Even if there is truth in what you are saying there is an obstacle. If I marry a prince from another nation won’t I have to move to his country? I don’t like going to another place leaving behind this Chola Nadu where the river Ponni flows! I have taken a vow not to move to another country…”

“It won’t be an obstacle. Any prince who marries you will be a slave at your feet. If he is asked to live here he will.”

“Aha! Like harboring a rat on your lap are you saying to bring a foreign prince here and keep him here? Do you know the problems that will arise?”

“However, those who are born female, haven’t they got to be married one day?”

“There is no doctrine stipulating that, Vaanathi! Consider Owaiyar! Didn’t she live a long life as a single maiden and poetess?”

“Owaiyar through god’s will turned old at a young age. You haven’t changed like that?”

“Yes. If it turns out that I have to be wedded, then I will wed an orphan among the Chola Nadu warriors. That kind of person will not have a kingdom. He will not demand that I go with him to another country. He will remain in Chola Nadu…”

“Sister! Then you will not leave this Chola Nadu?”

“Never. Even if I am to be made queen of the heavens I will not.”

“Today my mind has attained peace.”

“What’s that, my friend?”

“If you move to another country I must leave with you. I cannot live away from you. At the same time I also don’t want to leave this splendid Chola Nadu.”

“If you get married you have to leave?”

“I am not going to marry, Sister!”

“Girl! Where is the advice you gave me?”

“Am I like you?”

“You rogue! I know everything. You think you can pour sand over my eyes? You have no great affection for Chola Nadu. The Chola Nadu you are in love with has gone bearing a sword and spear to fight a war in Eezha Nadu. You thought that I am not aware of your secret?”

“Sister! Sister! Am I such a fool? Where is the sun? Where is the morning dew? What is the use of the dewdrop wishing for the sun’s affection?”

“The dewdrop is tiny! The sun is bright, big! But the dewdrop imprisons the sun within it, or not?”

Vaanathi in a voice brimming with excitement and eagerness said, “That’s what you think! You are saying even the dewdrop can have the sun?” But then she lost heart. “The dewdrop desires; it imprisons the sun. But what is the use? In a short time it has its punishment. It dries in the heat and disappears without a trace!”

“That is incorrect, Vaanathi! Seeing the dewdrop’s desire the sun unites with it. He does not want other men seeing the object of his desire. At night he lets it loose again. Doesn’t the dewdrop that vanishes appear again?”

“Sister! You are saying this to comfort me.”

“In that case you are saying that your mind does have a problem. All these days you maintained ‘No, nothing’? That is why I am going to Kudanthai astrologer.”

“If the problem is in my mind, what is the use of asking the astrologer about it?” Vaanathi sighed.

Kudanthai astrologer’s house was near the Kali temple in an isolated corner of the town. Instead of entering the town of Kudanthai, the chariot went around to reach the house. The way the charioteer drove towards the house seemed to indicate that he had done this many times before.

The astrologer and a disciple were waiting in anticipation at the entrance to the house. The astrologer greeted the visitors with respect.

“Madam! The embodiment of both Saraswati and Lukshmi! Welcome! Welocme! It is the good fortune of this pauper’s humble aboard, that you have come here once more!” he said.

“Astrolger! No one else would come to see you now, would they?” asked Kundavai.

“They won’t, Madam! Nowadays not many people come to see me. Only when the world is troublesome people come in search of astrologers. Now under the rule of your esteemed father – king Sundara Cholar – citizens are trouble free. All have been blessed with health, wealth and happiness. Why would they come looking for me?” replied the astrologer.

“In other words you are saying that I am here because of my problems!”

“No, Madam! Not at all! What fool would proclaim that the precious daughter of the abundantly blessed Pazhaiyarai king is in trouble? Because the world is a better place this poor astrologer is in trouble. No one notices him. Therefore, like Ambikai you have come to solve this pauper’s problem. Madam! Please come inside the hut. I am guilty of impropriety for having stopped you here!” the astrologer equivocated.

“Park the chariot in the shadow of the fig tree by the temple!” Kundavai told the charioteer.

As the astrologer led the way, Kundavai and Vaanathi entered the house.

The astrologer cautioned his disciple, “Son! Keep watch at the front; in case someone turns up here by mistake, don’t let them come in!”

In order to welcome the princess, the astrologer’s house has been made to appear nice. In a recess on the wall was a picture of Ambikai, decorated. For seating there were two seats prepared. The oil lamp was burning. Ornamental kolam had been drawn on the floor. Wooden slates featuring signs of the zodiac together with palm leaf manuscripts lay scattered.

After the women were seated, the astrologer also sat down.

“Madam! Please be kind and tell me the reason for your visit.”

“Astrolger! Shouldn’t you find that out in your astrology?” said Kundavai.

“Alright Madam!” The astrologer closed his eyes and recited some mantra for a while.

Then he opened his eyes and said, “Your highness! You have come especially to ask about this maiden’s horoscope, today. This I am told by the grace of goddess Parasakthi, is this true?”

“Aha! Wonderful! What’s to say about your power? Yes astrologer! I came to inquire about this girl. One year ago she came to Pazhaiyarai palace. For eight months she was very happy. Among my friends she was the most playful and jolly. For four months something has happened to her. Often she is tired. It’s as if she is in a trance; she has forgotten to laugh. She says that there is nothing wrong with her body. If her parents come and ask tomorrow, I don’t know what to say…”

“Madam! Isn’t she the precious daughter of Kodumbaloor noble king? Isn’t her name Vaanathi?”

“Yes; you do know everything!”

“The horoscope of this princess is with me. I have compiled it! Please be patient!” The astrologer opened an old box next to him and burrowed inside. Then he brought out a horoscope and carefully examined it.

  1. Sudden Entrance

The town known by the name of Kumbakonam even in the English dictionary was in the time of our story called Kudanthai or Kudamooku. It was famous not only as a holy place but owing to Kudanthai astrologer also. A short distance from Kudanthai in the southwest direction, Pazhaiyarai, the interim capital of the Cholar presented a majestic sight with its skyline of palace pinnacles and temple towers.

Kudanthai astrologer had collected the horoscopes of all the royal residents of Pazhaiyarai palaces. Delving into them he found that of Kodumbaloor princess Vaanathi. After examining it for a while, he lifted his head and looked at Vaanathi’s face. Again he examined the horoscope. Other than reverting his attention between the two in this manner, there was no indication of him opening his mouth to say anything.

“What is it, astrologer! Are you going to tell anything or not?” Kundavai Devi asked.

“Madam! What to tell? How to tell? Once before I happened to see this horoscope. I could not believe it; I doubted whether it was possible and put it back. Now when I see this girl’s beautiful face and the horoscope together I am in shock!”

“Be shocked! Be shocked! Once you are over the shock please say something specific!”

“This is a very lucky horoscope Madam! I hope you will not be offended. This is a step above your horoscope even. I have not until now seen such a lucky horoscope!”

Kundavai smiled; Embarrassed Vaanathi said, “Sister! He is calling this unlucky woman the luckiest in the world! What follows will be in the same vain!”

“Madam! What are you saying? If I am mistaken I will give up my occupation,” said the astrologer.

“No, astrologer! Don’t do anything like that. Just say something good to those who come. But you are speaking broadly without saying anything specific. That is why she is doubtful!”

“Be specific? Here! Four months ago there was an incident that can be taken as a bad omen. Something fell by accident; but in truth it was not a bad omen. From that will spring all manner of fortune for this princess!”

“Vaanathi! What did I say? You see?”

“Looks as if you have talked to him beforehand!”

“See astrologer, this girl’s talk!”

“Let her speak Madam! Now let her say what ever she has to! Tomorrow wedded to the king of kings…”

“Tell that. If you speak to young women about marriage won’t they happily listen?…”

“That is what I am about to say, Madam! One cannot bring up the subject of marriage suddenly. If I did, ‘this old man has lost his mind’, they will say!”

“Where will his groom come from? When will he arrive? What are his characteristics? Can these be told from the horoscope, astrologer!”

“Aha! Why not? Of course it can be!” The astrologer again examined the horoscope.

If he was examining or if he was merely pretending we do not know.

The astrologer then lifted his head and said, “Madam! The groom for this princess does not have to come from far. He is nearby; but this great warrior is not in the country now. He has crossed the sea and gone abroad!”

When she heard this Kundavai looked at Vaanathi.

Even though Vaanathi tried to suppress her happiness, her face betrayed her.

“What else? Who is he? What tribe? Is there any sign to tell from?”

“There is. The man who is fortunate to marry this girl will have the mark of spiral-shell and chakra on his palm, Madam!”

Again, Kundavai looked at Vaanathi. Her face was lowered; she was looking at the ground.

“In that case, will she also have some markings on her palms?” asked Kundavai.

“Madam! Have you ever seen her feet?”

“Why astrologer! What’s this! Are you telling me to hold her feet?”

“No; I am not saying anything like that. But there will be a time when thousands of ruling class women, empresses, princesses, will fast and be penitent for the opportunity to touch this great lady’s feet, Madam!”

“Sister! This elder is teasing me. Is this why you brought me here? Let’s leave!” Vaanathi said with genuine displeasure.

“Why are you getting worked up, Girl? Let him say what he wants…”

“I am not saying what I want; this is all specified in this horoscope. Poets compare the soles to the lotus flower. Ask this girl to just show the bottom of her feet. There will definitely be the mark of the red lotus petal.”

“Enough! Astrologer, if anything more is said of her she will drag me by my hand and leave. Please say something about her future husband…”

“Aha! I will! The lucky fellow who will wed her will be a great warrior. He will fight and triumph in many battlefields. He will be a king of kings; He will be seated at the emperor’s throne for a long time hailed by thousands of kings…”

“I don’t believe what you are saying. How can it be possible?” Doubt and fear appeared on Kundavai’s face mixed with happiness and love.

“I also don’t believe. He has other motives. He thinks this will make you happy!” said Vaanathi.

“Today, if you don’t believe, there is no harm; one day you will. At that time don’t forget this poor astrologer…”

“Sister! Shall we go?” Vaanathi asked again. Along the edge of her dark eyes two teardrops glistened.

“I will say one more thing. Hear that and leave, There will be many dangers and malignity of evil planets for the warrior who marries this princess; there will be many enemies…”

“Aiyo!”

“But in the end the all the dangers and evil forecast will disappear; the enemies will be destroyed. The prince who weds this goddess will overcome all obstacles and reach the highest honor… Apart from that there is something else… Madam! I am an old man. Therefore I will be frank. Please take a look at this girl’s abdomen one day. If there are no lines in the shape of a fig leaf, I will give up astrology…”

“What is so special about the fig leaf?”

“Don’t you know the lord who rests atop the fig leaf? She will bear a child who will be like that Mahavishnu. Her husband will have many obstacles, dangers and evil forecasting. But the child who will be born of her will have no obstacles. What he thinks will come true; what he takes on will be perfected; what he touches will turn into gold; wherever he steps foot will fall under his jurisdiction; wherever he looks the tiger flag will be flying there. Madam! The troops under her son’s command will march without hindrance like the new monsoon flood. The goddess of wealth will be at his service. The fame of his birth place will reach all three worlds. His tribe’s glory will last as long as this world!…”

When the astrologer spoke in this frenzied manner, Kundavai was looking at his face as if swallowing each and every one of his words.

“Sister!” hearing the faint voice she turned, startled.

“Something’s the matter with me!” she said faintly. Then suddenly she collapsed on to the floor.

“Astrologer! Please bring some water quickly!” Kundavai said laying Vaanathi on her lap.

The astrologer brought water; Kundavai splashed the water over Vaanathi’s face.

“Nothing will happen, Madam! Don’t worry…” said the astrologer.

“I am not worried; this is usual. This has now happened five or six times! In a little while she will open her eyes. Then she will want to know if this is heaven or earth!” said Kundavai.

She continued in a soft voice, “Astrologer! I came especially to ask this. It seems that people have been talking all over the country for some time now? For a few days now a comet appears on the sky? Does any of this mean anything real? Is there a danger to the empire? Will there be a troublesome change?” asked the junior stateswoman.

“Please don’t ask me that, Madam! There is no horoscope for countries, kingdoms and matters of government; these cannot be foretold by astrology. This was not covered in the science I learned. Prophets, ascetics and yogis may be blessed with spiritual vision. This pauper does not have that power. In the dealings of government time, stars, horoscope and astrology, all are powerless…”

“Astrologer! That is a clever response! Don’t examine the horoscope of the empire. But you can tell me about my father and brother? Reading their horoscope would be just like reading the country’s?”

“I will discuss this another day, Madam! Mostly, this is a rather dangerous and troublesome time. Everyone should be a little careful…”

“Astrologer! From the time my father, the emperor, left Pazhaiyarai for Thanjavur, I have been worried.”

“I have said before, Madam! There is an evil forecast for the great king. Many dangers await your family. By the grace of goddess Thurga these will be nullified.”

“Sister! Where are we?” asked Vaanathi’s faint voice.

Like the butterfly’s wings Vaanathi’s eyelids opened and closed on Kundavai’s lap.

“My little girl! We are still here on this mortal earth! The car adorned with flowers hasn’t arrived yet to take us to heaven. Get up! We will ride in our horse driven chariot to the palace!” said Kundavai.

Vaanathi sat up saying, “Did I faint?”

“You didn’t faint. You fell asleep on your sister’s lap! I even sang a lullaby. Didn’t you hear it?”

“Don’t be angry, Sister! Without my knowing my head started spinning.”

It would spin; it would; if this astrologer had made such a forecast for me my head would also spin.”

“Not because of that, Sister! I didn’t believe all that he said, did I?”

“Whether you believed him or not? But you managed to frighten the astrologer! A coward like you ought not to be taken anywhere…”

“I said before that I didn’t want to see the astrologer! You are the one…?”

Indeed it is my mistake. Get up, let’s go. Can you take four steps to reach the entrance? Or do I have to carry you on my waist?”

“No! No! I can walk.”

“Wait a while, Madam! I will give Devi’s devotional food, please take it before leaving,” the astrologer began to tie up the leaves of manuscripts.

“Astrologer! You said a lot about me; you didn’t say anything about Sister?” Vaanathi asked.

“Madam! I have already told about the junior stateswoman. What can I say that is new?”

“The great warrior who will wed Sister…”

“An impossible veteran” Kundavai interrupted.

“Why doubt? The powerful son of a king…”

“Fitted with all thirty two virtues in chiromancy; In knowledge Prahaspathi; technique Saraswathi; beauty Manmathan; no Arjunan!”

“This prince suitable for the junior stateswoman, from where and when will he come?”

“He is, Madam! He is! Certainly he will be here, very soon he will be here.”

“How will he come? On horseback? In a car? On foot? Or will he jump straight out of the sky through the roof!” Kundavai Devi asked sarcastically.

“Sister! There’s the sound of hoofs!” Vaanathi said with alarm.

“What no one can hear, you will hear miraculously!”

“No, I am not kidding. Listen!”

There was in actuality the sound of a horse speeding on the street.

“So what? Would the streets of Kudanthai town lack for horses?” said Kundavai.

“No; it appeared to be coming here!”

“You imagine too much. Get up, let’s go! ”

At this time there was a commotion outside; voices were heard.

“This is the house of the astrologer?”

“Yes; who are you?”

“Is the astrologer there?”

“Don’t go in!”

“I will!”

“I won’t let you.”

“I must see the astrologer.”

“Come later.”

“I cannot come later; I am in a hurry!”

“Aday! Aday! Stop! Stop!”

“Just! Move a little! If you stop me I will kill you…”

“Sir! Sir! Don’t! Don’t go in!”

The shouts and commotion were coming nearer and nearer; ‘padar’ the front door opened. A young man inadvertently and hastily burst in.

From behind a man was trying to grab him by his shoulders. Wriggling out of his hold the young man crossed the front step and came in. Readers would have guessed who the young man was. Our brave man Vandhiyathevan indeed! In unison the eyes of all three in the house gazed at the soldier.

Vandhiyathevan also looked at those inside. No; he looked at one among them. Not even that; he didn’t look at all of Kundavai Devi. He just looked at her golden face. Even her face, he didn’t take it in entirely! He looked at her red lips that were slightly parted in surprise; he looked at her wide eyes that showed elegance, surprise and playful laughter. He looked at her eyelashes and the dark eyebrows; he looked at her ivory hued forehead; he looked at her dimpled cheeks that were a vermilion red. He looked at her neck that was smooth and shining as a seashell. He looked at each separately. Each left its imprint in his mind.

This was just a few seconds. At once he swiftly turned to the astrologer’s disciple and asked, “Why Sir, inside, inside…you could not say that there were ladies inside? If you had would I have burst in like this?”, pushing the disciple to one side he crossed the front step again. But before going outside he made sure to turn look at Kundavaidevi one more time.

“Oh dear! It’s as if a storm blew in and ceased!” said Madam Kundavai.

“It hasn’t ceased; listen!” said the Kodumbaloor princess.

At the entrance the argument between Vandhiyathevan and the astrologer’s disciple was still continuing.

“Astrologer! Who is this?” asked Kundavai.

“I don’t know, Madam! Looks like someone from out of town; a rather rude young man.”

Thinking of something Kundavai suddenly laughed out loud.

“Sister, why are you laughing?”

“Why? We were talking if my bridegroom would come on a horse or elephant or if he would jump from the roof, I laughed thinking of that!”

Now Vaanathi also could not stop herself from laughing. Even the noisy altercation outside quitened in the sound of the two women’s laughter.

Silent and deep in thought, the astrologer offered kunkumam to the two princesses. Receiving it, the princesses rose and went outside the house. The astrologer accompanied them.

When he saw them Vandhiyathevan, who was standing to a side at the entrance said in a loud voice, “Please forgive me. This genius didn’t say that there were ladies inside. That is why I walked in abruptly. You must forgive me for it!”

Kundavai raised her pleasant face and looked at him once with her proud eyes that were filled with mischief and ridicule. She did not utter a word in response. She took Vaanathi by her hand and hurried toward the chariot under the banyan tree.

“Looks as if the women of Kudanthai town cannot show respect. Can’t they turn and at least say a word out of curiosity why this man is here addressing them?” Vandhiyathevan’s loud voice fell in their ears.

The cahrioteer had the chariot ready with the horse fastened. Once the two princesses were in he got in the front.

The chariot sped toward Arisilattankarai.

Vandhiyathevan stood there watching until the chariot disappeared from view.

  1. Nandhini

How did Vandhiyathevan whom we last saw boarding the ferry at Kollidam happen to arrive at Kudanthai astrologer’s house at this time?

As the boat began to move the Shaiva devotee who objected to Azhvarkadiyan going in the boat said to Vandhiyathevan, “Brother! I let him get in because of you. But as long as he is on the boat he cannot say that eight letter word. If he does I will tell them to push him into the Kollidam river. The boatmen are my people!”

“Respectful Nambi! Did it fall in your blessed ears?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“If he does not say the five letter word then I too will refrain from saying the eight letter holy word!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Who is he to stop me from reciting the five letter incantation of the omnipresent Sivaperuman? I say no! No!

Even if all learning is locked up and thrown in the sea

There will remain the good sense of Namasivaya!”

The Shaiva devotee roared righteously.

I sought and I found

Narayana is his name!”

Azhvarkadiyan began to sing in a loud voice.

“Siva Siva Sivah!” The Shaiva devotee plugged both his ears with his fingers.

Once Azhvarkadiyan stopped singing he removed his fingers from his ears.

Azhvarkadiyan looked at Vandhiyathevan  and said, “Brother! Ask this brave Saiva. He has difficulty hearing the name of Thirumal? This river Kollidam comes down after bathing the lotus-like feet of Thirumal who sleeps in Srirangam. Doesn’t Sivaperuman bathe in the same water and meditate in Thiruvanaikaval because this water is holy water that has touched the feet of Perumal.” Before he could finish the elder Saiva became agitated and jumped on Azhvarkadiyan. As both wrestled, the boat rocked as if it might turn over. The boatmen and Vandhiyathevan intervened and pulled them apart.

“Pious gentlemen! It appears that both of you wish to fall in the Kollidam flood and directly ascend to heaven. But I have unfinished business in this world!” said Vandhiyathevan.

One of the boatmen said, “Don’t know whether falling into Kollidam would guarantee a place in heaven! But certainly there is room in the crocodile’s stomach! Look over there!”

In the water where he pointed was a crocodile with its mouth wide open.

“I am not at all afraid of  crocodiles; Where has Narayanamoorthi who saved Gajendran gone?” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Where has he gone? He is perhaps hiding behind the sari border of the shepherd-women of Brinthavanam!” said the Saiva.

“Or Sivan may be facing another predicament like when he ran off hollering after granting a wish to Pathmasuran; Thirumal may have gone to save Sivan from his predicament,” said Nambi.

“It seems that this Vaishnava does not remember the hit Thirumal’s reputation took during thiripura samharam!” replied the elder Saiva.

“Men of god! It is not clear why you fight in this manner! Whomever god you have faith in, worship that god!” said Vandhiyathevan.

Why did the elder Saiva and Azhvarkadiyan fight in this manner? It would be helpful if readers are informed at this time why an argument like this took place at Veeranarayanapuram.

In the ancient Tamil country, for about six hundred years Buddhism and Jainism were influential. Tamil Nadu had many benefits because of this influence. Sculpture, painting, poetry, literature and other arts flourished. Azhvars and Nayanmars appeared later. They composed a large body of devotional Tamil hymns. They contributed to the spread of both Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Their mode of propaganda was very powerful. In addition to sculpture they incorporated music in their propaganda. Many set the hymns of Azhvars and the devotional songs of Moovar  to heavenly music and began to sing these melodies. These hymns mesmerized the listeners and instilled in them a fervent piety. The Vishnu temples where the Azhvars sang and the Saiva temples where the Moovar sang attained more recognition and status. Temples that were made of red earth and wood were now rebuilt in granite. This rebuilding was aided from the time of Vijayalaya Cholan by Chola kings and their kin.

Something special happened in Kerala Nadu at this time. A propeht was born in a place called Kaladi. At a young age he gave up the world and became a Sanyasi. Studying  all of the scriptures in Sanskrit he became enlightened. Veda Upanishad, Bagvath Gita, Brahmasutra – based on these he established the philosophy of Advaitism. Aided by his proficiency in Sanskrit he traveled all over the country and set up eight Advaita schools. Advaita sanyasis who supported his philosophy were spread all over the country.

At the time of this story in Tamil Nadu, that is about 980 years ago, (written in 1950) there occurred a great conflict over religion. There were also negative manifestations arising out of this conflict that spread. Fanatical Vaishnavas and Shaivas sprang up in places. They got into arguments wherever they met. In these verbal wars sometimes the Advaitists also took part. These religious clashes sometimes turned physically violent.

There is a tale to illustrate the Shaiva – Vaishnava fight of that time.

A Vaishnava from Srirangam was walking along the outside wall of the Thiruvanaikaval temple. Suddenly a stone fell on his head. He was bruised with blood oozing out. The Vasihnava looked up. He knew that the crow perched atop the tower had displaced a stone from the old temple tower. At once he became joyous forgetting his pain and injury. ‘Brave Vaishnava crow of Srirangam! Break down the Sivan temple of Thiruvanaikaval!’ he is said to have uttered.

In those days this perception of Shaiva – Vaishnava difference was widespread. Being aware of this would help in understanding the rest of this story.

Once the boat reached the opposite shore the elder Shaiva went on his way after delivering a parting curse at Azhvarkadiyan. “May you be destroyed!” he said.

The Kadampoor soldier who accompanied Vandhiyathevan left saying that he was going to get a horse at the neighboring town of Thirupananthal. Azhvarkadiyan and Vandhiyathevan sat down at the base of the fig tree on the shore. On the widespread branches of the tree were hundreds of birds chirping amicably.

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi wanted to pick each other’s mouth for information. At first they beat around the bush.

“Why, Brother! You didn’t take me along when you went to Kadampoor palace?”

“Even my getting in there turned out to be a big problem, Nambi!”

“Was it? Then how did you go? Perhaps you didn’t go at all?”

“I did, I did, would I back off after commiting myself to something? The guards at the entrance stopped me. I kicked the horse to go in. All those who stopped me fell over on the ground. Before they could rise and surround me my friend Kanthamaran came running and took me in.”

“That is what I surmised. You are a very courageous man. Alright, what happened afterwards? Who and who were there?”

“There were many prominent people. I don’t know all of their names. Pazhuvertaraiyar was there. His young wife was also there. Oh! How to describe her beauty?…”

“Did you see her?”

“Yes, why not? My friend Kanthamaran took me to the anthapuram. I saw her there. Of all the ladies Pazhuvertaraiyar’s young queen stood out as the most beautiful! Among the other dark beauties, her face shone like the full moon. Arambai, Urvasi, Thulothamai, Indrani, Sandrani, all have to follow her!”

“Oh, well! I am impressed! What happened then? Was there folk dance?”

“Yes, there was. The performance was excellent. I thought of you while it was going on.”

“It wasn’t meant for me! What happened after?”

“The dance of Velan. Thevaralan and Thevaratti took the stage and danced furiously.”

“Were they possessed? Did they have predictions?”

“Aha! Wish will come true; there will be rain; there will be grain; the dancer proclaimed…”

“That’s all?”

“He also talked about governement matters. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Adada! That is all! You should have paid attention, Brother! You are a young man; You appear to be a talented soldier. If you hear anyone discussing government matters you should pay attention.”

“You are right. I was thinking the same this morning.”

“Why this morning?”

This morning Kanthamaran and I were talking on our way to Kollidam shore. It seems that after I went sleep last night the guests at Kadampoor palace had a meeting to discuss government matters.”

“What did they discuss?”

“That, I don’t know. Kanthamaran merely alluded to it, he didn’t make it clear, he said something was about to happen soon. I will tell you then, he said. His talk was mysterious. Why, Swami! Do you know anything?”

“About what?”

“They are talking all over the country? There is a star with a tail in the sky; there is danger to the kingdom; Chola empire is facing changes; this and that – they are saying. The talk had spread upto Thondai Mandalam. It seems that lot of big shots are meeting frequently to discuss the future course of the throne. What do you think? – Who will be at the throne next?”

“I don’t know any of this, Brother! What do I have to do with government matters? I am a Vaishnava; devotee of the disciples of Azhvars; a man who roams the country singing the hymns I know!”

When Azhvarkadiyan began to sing, “I saw his holiness the golden form”, Vandhiyathevan interrupted, saying “For heaven’s sake, stop!”

“Adada! You are telling me to stop the holy Tamil pasuram?”

“Azhvarkadiyan Nambi! I am beginning to have doubts. Shall I tell you?”

“Please, tell me!”

“You won’t raise your club and start beating me?”

“You? Can I beat you?”

“Your Vaishnavism, piety, singing – all this I am thinking is an act.”

“Aiyayo! What manner of speech? Blasphemy! Blasphemy!”

“It is neither balsphemy nor salutation. You put on this act to hide your lust for women. I have seen a few like you. They are crazy about women. I cannot fathom what it is that you see in women. When I look at women I feel only disgust.”

“Brother! There are some who are crazy about women. Don’t include me with them. I am not acting. You are wrong to think that.”

“Then why did you ask me to take a letter to the woman in the palanquin? And can you fall for woman who is someone else’s wife? It was to see her that you wanted to go to Kadampoor palace? Don’t deny it!”

“I am not denying. But your reason is incorrect. There is a proper reason. It is a long story.”

“No sign of a horse yet. Please tell the story! Let’s hear it!”

“It is a story that is not fictional; a true story. Unbelievable history! You will be shocked to hear it! Must I say it?”

“If you wish, please tell!”

“Yes, I will. I am in a hurry, yet I will tell the story before leaving. I may have to ask seek your help again. Will you then help me witout fail?”

“If it is within reason I will. If you do not wish you don’t have to tell me anything.”

“No, no! I must tell you. The young wife of that demon Pazhuvertaraiyar, I asked you to take a letter to her, her name is Nandhini. You will be surprised to hear what I am going to say about her. You will be outraged that there can be such injustice in the world!” – With this introduction Azhvarkadiyan began the story of Nandhini.

Azhvarkadiyan was born in a village on the riverbank of Vaikai in Pandya Nadu.His family were devout Vaishnavists. One day his father went to the garden by the riverbank. He saw an orphan infant girl lying there. He took the infant home. Because the infant was lively and beautiful the family cherished her with love. Because she was found in Nanthavanam she was named Nandhini. Adiyan considered her his sister and cherished her. As she grew in years he devotion to Perumal also grew. All around her believed that she would become another ‘Aandahl’ and captivate all devotees. This belief was stronger in Azhvarkadiyan. After his father died he took on the responsibility of raising her. Both of them traveled from place to place singing the hymns of Azhvars and spreading Vaishnavism. Those who heard Nandhini in her tulsi garland sing the hymns in pietic ecstasy, were mesmerized.

Once Azhvarkadiyan went on a pilgrimage to Thiruvenkadam. His return was delayed. During that time Nandhini was faced with adversity.

The final great battle between Pandyar and Cholar took place near Madurai. The Pandya troops were destroyed. The severely wounded Veerapandyan fell in the battleground. Some of his closest men found him and tried to bring him back to life. At night they brought him to Nandhini’s house. Taking pity on Pandyan’s condition Nandhini took care of him. But soon the Chola troops found out. After surrounding Nandhini’s house, they went in and killed Veerapandyan. Pazhuvertaraiyar fell in love with Nandhini’s beauty and imprisoned her and took her away.

This happened three years ago. After that Azhvarkadiyan could not see Nandhini. Since then Azhvarkadiyan had been trying to speak to her in private, and to rescue her if she wanted. So far he has not succeeded…

Vandhiyathevan’s heart melted when he heard this story. He thought for a moment if he should say that Nandhini was not in the palanquin and that it was instead prince Mathuranthakan. But something in his mind stopped him. He wondered if the entire story was Azhvarkadiyan’s imagination. Therefore he did not divulge the secret that he lerant at Kadampoor palace.

At that time the Kadampoor soldier was seen coming with a horse at a distance.

“Brother! Will you do me a fovor?” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“What favor can I do? Pazhuvertaraiyar has the power to control Chola Nadu. I am a lone man without any influence. What can I possibly do?” Vandhiyathevan spoke with caution. Then, “Nambi! You say that you don’t know anything about governement matters? Couldn’t you tell who has the right to the throne if something happens to emperor Sundara Cholar?” he said.

Vandhiyathevan gazed eagerly to see if there was any change in Adiyan’s facial expression following his question, not even a flicker of change took place.

“How would I know all this, Brother! If you ask Kudanthai astrologer, perhaps he will tell!” said Nambi.

“Oho! Is Kudanthai astrologer so clever?”

“Exceptionally clever! He can read horoscope also; He read one’s mind also; with knowledge of world affairs, he can foretell accordingly!”

‘In that case I must see him!’ Vandhiyathevan thought to himself.

From ancient time the human race has been fascinated with the foretelling of future events. Kings have this fascination; Beggars have it; ascetics who have renounced everything have it; those caught up in domestic life have it; scholars have it; fools have it. Is it surprising that our young soldier who had been traveling the country daring the unknown in order to complete his secret government mission should have this fascination also?

13. Waxing Crescent Moon
After the chariot of the princesses disappeared the astrologer took Vandhiyathevan inside the house. He sat on his astrologer’s seat. He asked the young man who was looking around also to sit down; he looked him up and down.
He asked, “Son! Who are you? Why are you here?” Vandhiyathevan laughed.
“What is it, why are you laughing?”
“No, you are such a famous astrologer; you are asking me a question? Can’t you tell from astrology who I am and the reason for my visit?”
“Oho! Why not? I can do that. But if I find answers for myself, I am wondering who will pay the fee.”
Vandhiyathevan smiled and said, “Astrologer! Who was it that just now paid a visit and left?”
“Oh! Them? I see whom you are speaking about. I know, Son, I know! They were here, when you dragged my assitant and came in, you are asking about them, aren’t you? They got in the chariot and left with the dust trailing, you are asking about them?” the astrologer questioned in a roundabout manner.
“Yes, yes! It was them I was asking about…”
“Ask all you want. Who said not to? They are two ladies!”
“That I know; Astrologer! I am not blind. I can tell a man from a woman. Even if it is a man disguised as a woman I can tell.”
“Then what are you asking?”
“They are women, who are they, what tribe…”
“Oho! You are asking about that? Among women there are four kinds, Pathmini, Chithini, Kantharvi and Vidyathari . – You seem to be familiar with the art of chiromancy, predicting the fortune from outward appearnce. In those four categories, they are the Pathmini, – Kantharvi kind.”
“God!…”
“Why? Son!”
“If I call god, why do you respond?”
“What is wrong with that? Haven’t you heard that god is omnipresent? It appears that you don’t live in the company of elders! God is the one within me; he is the one within you also. He is the one within my assitant whom you dragged in here…”
“Enough, enough, please stop.”
“God is the one who told me to speak; he is the one asking me to stop!”
“Astrologer! They just left this place, I asked who these women were, where they were from, which tribe they belonged to, what is the name. If only you would reply without beating around the bush.”
“If I did what will you give me, Son?”
“My goodwill.”
“you can keep your goodwill. If you can pay me in gold, then talk!”
“If I pay in gold do you promise to tell?”
“Even then I will only tell what I can! Son! Listen. All manner of people visit the astrologer’s house. One cannot speak about one to another. I won’t tell you about those who left from here now. If someone asks about you I won’t tell them a word about you also.”
“Aha! What Azhvarkadiyan said about you is completely true.”
“Azhvarkadiyan? Who is that? Who is this person?”
“You don’t know? He spoke as if he knew you well! You haven’t heard of Azhvarkadiyan Nambi?”
“I may know the person; I may have forgotten the name. Describe him a little, let’s see!”
“He is short and stout, ponytail over the forehead. Wraps his vetti tightly over the flabby belly. Takes the santhanam paste and draws it vertically all over the body. If he sees Saivars he will get into a fight. If he sees advaitists he will raise his stick. Just now you said ‘You are god, I am also god’; if Azhvarkadiyan heard this he would say ‘God is attacking god’, and try to beat you with the stick…”
“Son! Listening to what you are saying, it seems as if you are speaking about Thirumalaiappan..”
“He has different names?”
“This brave Vaishnava will take on different names in different places.”
“He will also change his act according to his company!”
“Aha! He will change his act according to circumstance.”
“Can there be a bit of imagination and falsehood in his talk?”
“Can be three quarter to half lies and imagination; about half may be true.”
“In other words, a very difficult man!”
“Can’t say that also. A good man for good folks; difficult for difficult people.”
“One cannot do anything relying on his talk.”
“Relying and not relying depends on the subject…”
“For example, his recommendation that you will tell the right thing if I came to you for horoscope…”
“I said there is half truth in his speech, that belongs in that half.”
“In that case please read my fortune, horoscope; it is late. I must go, Sir!”
“Where do you have to go in such a hurry, Son?”
“Can’t you see that in the horoscope? Where to go, where not to go, would the mission succeed if I go? This is what I came to find out from you.”
“To tell the fortune I need some data, Son! I need horoscope; if not horoscope, then at least the date of birth, the star, I must know; if not that, at least the name and place of birth, you must tell me.”
“My name is Vandhiyathevan!”
“Aha! Vaanar tribe?”
“Yes.”
“Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan?”
“The one and only.”
“Now you are speaking, Son! Why didn’t you tell before? I even had your horoscope! If I look I will find it.”
“Oho! How come?”
“Astrologers like us, what other work do we have. We collect the horoscopes of young men and women of noble birth.”
“I am not someone born into any big nobility…”
“You are not serious! Your tribe is famous! Poets have sung about the Vaanar tribe! You probably haven’t heard.”
“Please tell me one poem, let’s hear.”
“Is there a mouth that does not sing the fame of Vahnan
Is there a chest that is not inscribed with the name of Vahnan
Is there a pole that does not hoist the flag of Vahnan
Is there a kingdom without this root!”
It was clear from his singing that the astrologer was not a musician. Yet he set the poem to melody and sang with emotion and clarity.
“How is the poem?” he asked.
“The poem is sweet to the ear. But I may have to tie my flag on a bull’s horn myself. Only the fig tree branch may sustain my roots; even that is doubtful. The branch may break because of the weight and would bring me also down!” said Vandhiyathevan.
“Today your situation is such; who can see what it will be tomorrow?” said the astrologer.
“I came thinking that you have seen it all!” said Vallavaraiyan.
“What can I see, Son? Like everyone else I am a mortal being. But the planets and stars tell what is going to happen in the future. I know a little about what they say and I tell this to people who want to know, that is all!”
“What are the planets and stars saying in my case, astrologer?”
“They are saying that you will rise day by day.”
“Right! Already the height is too much. I have to bend to enter your house! What is the point in rising some more? Instead of generalizing please say something specific.”
“If you ask something specific, then I can be specific.”
“Will my mission in Thanjavur succeed? Please tell.”
“If you are going about your own personal affairs, it will be succesful. Your stars are at their high now. If you are going on someone else’s behalf, then I must consult their horoscope!”

Vandhiyathevan shook his head placing his finger on his nose. “Astrologer! I have never seen anyone smarter than you!” he said.
“Don’t flatter me, Son!” said the astrologer.
“Alright. I will make myself clear about what I want to know. I want to visit the emperor in Thanjavur, will this be possible?”
“There are two astrologers, mightier than me, in Thanjavur. We have to ask them.”
“Who are they?”
“The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is one; the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is the other.”
“They say that the emperor’s health is dire? Is it true?”
“Someone will always say something! Who’s to stop? Don’t believe all of that! Don’t say it in the open!”
“If anything happens to the emperor, can you tell who will take the crown next?”
“The next crown is not for you; not for me; why should we worry about this?”
“To that extent, we are safe!” said Vandhiyathevan.
“It’s true, Son! Entitlement to the throne is no small affair; it’s a very dangerous one, isn’t it!”
“Astrologer! Now he is in Kanji, prince Athitha Karikalar.”
“He is. You have come on his behalf!”
“At last you have found out; my pleasure. How is his future.”
“I don’t have his horoscope in hand, Son! I must take a look to say anything.”
“How is the future of prince Mathuranthakar?”
“It is strange. Like women’s. Always under others’ domination…”
“Even now they say that it’s a woman’s rule in Chola Nadu? They say it’s worse than Alli rajyam?”
“Where do they say that, Son?”
“They are saying that north of Kollidam?”
“They seem to be talikng about the influence of the newly married elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s young queen.”
“What I heard was different.”
“What did you hear?”
“They say that the emperor’s precious daughter Madam Kundavai is the woman reigning!”

The astrologer stared into Vandhiyathevan’s face. He tried to find out from his face if his inquiries were because he knew that it was Kundavai Devi who had departed from his house a while ago. But there was no indication of that.
“Big mistake, Son! Sundara Chola emperor is in Thanjai, Madam Kundavai is in Pazhaiyarai. In addition…”
“In addition, what? Why have you stopped?”
“In the day one should look around before speaking; at night one should not even do that. But there is no harm in telling you. Nowadays what power does the emperor have? All the power is displayed by the Pazhuvertaraiyars!”
Saying this the astrologer scrutinized Vandhiyathevan’s face again.
“Astrologer! I am not Pazhuvertaraiyar’s spy; don’t have such suspicions. Just now you spoke about the unstable nature of kingdoms and ruling classes. You cited as an example my own Vaanar tribe. Please tell the truth; how is the Chola dynasty’s future?”
“I will tell the truth; I will say without any doubt. In the last part of June, Kaveri and her tributaries begin to flood. Those living around Kaveri know that it is the freshet that will swell day by day. Through August and September the flood will keep swelling. In November, December the flood will begin to drain off. The inhabitants of the Kaveri shore also know that this is the draining flood. The Chola empire today is like the new flood that rises day by day. It will continue to rise and spread for hundreds of years. The Chola empire now is like the waxing crescent moon. There are many days before full moon. Therefore the Chola empire will continue to grow..”
“During the time I spoke with you here, you have made this one aspect very clear. Thank you, if you can tell me one more thing. I have wanted for a long time to travel by ship…”
“This wish will definitely come true; your fortune is in the lunar asterism of the cart; you will be perpetually in motion as if there was a wheel on your feet. You will walk; you will go by horseback; you will go on elephant; you will also travel by ship; you are destined for a sea voyage very soon.”
“Sir! Can you please tell about the commander of the army in the south, prince Arulmozhivarmar who is now conducting the war in Eezham? What are the stars and planets saying about him?”
“Son! Those who travel the seas use a magnetic device to find the direction. Lighthouses are also helpful. But more than any of this, do you know what turns out to be the strongest ally of the sailors in midsea? The north star that appears at the base of the sky in the north. Other stars – planets will keep moving. Saptarishi constellation will also change direction. But the north star alone will remain in the same place. Sundara Chola emperor’s youngest son prince Arulmozhivarmar is like the north star. He is strong willed and unmovable by anything. Generous and morally impeccable, he excels in heroic valor as well. With education he also has knowledge of the world. His face shows the fulfilment of a child that can make one forget that there is such a thing as hunger; fortune fairy’s favorite child. Like the sailors who look upto the north star for direction, it would greatly benefit young men like you embarking on the sea voyage of life to have Arulmozhivarmar as your guide.”
“Oh oh! You speak so much of prince Arulmozhivarmar? It is like a woman in love describing the man she loves?”
“Son! Any Chola man you ask in the Kaveri region will tell the same.”
“Thank you very much, astrologer! When the time comes I will follow your advice.”
“I spoke knowing that your lucky star is also at its peak.”
“Goodbye, astrologer. Together with my heartfelt gratitude, I would like to give what I can; you must please accept.”
Vandhiyathevan gave the astrolger five gold coins.
“Vaanar tribe’s generosity has not gone away!” The astrolger accepted the gold.

14. Crocodile on the Riverbank

In those days people going to Thanjavur from Kudanthai would follow the river Arisilaru or Kaveri to reach Thiruvaiaru. They would then turn south towards Thanjavur. These were the points convenient for going past Kudamurutti, Vettaru, Vennaru, Vadavaru – the other rivers on the way.
Leaving Kudanthai, Vallavaraiyan first went towards Arisilattankarai. As for the beauty of Chola Nadu, what he saw on the way exceeded what he had heard. Doesn’t every place offer more than its share of magic when one happens on it the first time? Emerald green paddy fields, ginger and saffron lined yards, sugarcane and plantain groves, coconut and arica-nut orchards, reservoirs, canals, ponds and irrigation channels kept coming one after another. Canals were taken over by blooms of waterlily and kuvalai. In the ponds pink and white lotus, blue waterlily and the red kuvalai together presented a feast for the eyes. Flock after flock, white cranes appeared in the sky. Red legged herons stood meditating on one leg. Water noisily gushed, ‘gup gup’, out of the sluices. Ploughmen tilled the blackish earth fertilised with leaf cuttings and manure by ploughing deep into the muddy fields. Women did the planting in the tilled fields. While planting, they sang melodious folk songs.

Next to the sugar-cane plantations were the mills set up with sugar-cane-presses. Juice was extracted from the mature stems of the sugar cane planted the previous year. Smell of the sugar-cane extract, together with the caramel smell as the juice got cooked, went up the nostrils.

In the midst of the coconut groves stood huts with leaf-thatched roofs and houses with tiled roof. In the villages, entryways were waxed clean and shone like glass. Paddy was spread to dry in front of some houses. Hens roamed in to peck on the paddy, then turning back with a loud cry of ‘cockaracko’. The girl-children who were guarding the paddy didn’t chase away the hens. The children kept up with their games of chozhi and pallankuzhi as if saying ‘How much paddy can a bird eat?’ Smoke came out of the rooftops of the huts. Accompanying the smoke was the smell of paddy being steamed, red millet getting roasted and the stench of scorched meat. In those days soldiers were mostly carnivores. Vallavaraiyan was the same; the aroma made his mouth salivate.

Here and there on the roadside were blacksmiths at work. Fire glistened from the furnaces. From the workshops came the ‘clang, clang’ sound of metal being shaped on anvils.

In these workshops, along with the necessary tools of laymen such as ploughs, mattocks and crow-bars, lying around in piles were knives, shields, spears and lances. Both laymen and soldiers competed to get in the line to buy these.

Tiny temples appeared even in small villages. From inside the temples was heard the sound of auspicious bells, drums, chanting and devotional songs.

Mariamman and other village patron deities were decorated and paraded by the priests as they blessed with the oil lamp and collected their due paddy to the beat of the tambourine.

The cows with bells around their necks were herded by children for grazing. Some of the children played the flute.

Farmers rested at the base of the trees after toiling in the fields. They set up the sheep to fight and gazed in amusement.

Upon hearing the female peacocks coo from rooftops, male peacocks with their burden of long feathers swiftly flew to sit by their mates.

Doves moved here and there nonchalantly moving their beautiful necks. Poor parrots and mynahs! They sang from inside their cages.

While enjoying these scenes Vandhiyathevan drove his horse slowly.

His eyes had much work to do. His mind was also happily engaged in the scenery. Yet, deep within the fog of his mind a woman’s face lingered. Aha! Couldn’t she have opened her red lips and spoken a few words with him? What would she have lost in the act? Who can she be? Whoever she is, couldn’t she have shown some respect? Do I look like someone who can be ignored in this manner? The old astrologer dodged his way out of revealing who she was! A clever man; an extraordinarily clever man. How does he take the measure of another person’s mind? He speaks with such experience of the world! Indeed, he didn’t really say anything important! He was careful not to say anything about the affairs of the kingdom. Or he just made what everyone already knew seem like a revelation. Yet, didn’t he say that his lucky stars are at their peak? Let Kudanthai astrologer live long…

With these thoughts Vandhiyathevan proceeded. Every now and then the scenes that he encountered drew him away from his thoughts into this world. He finally reached Arisilattankarai. After a short distance along the river bank, the sound of women’s bangles and laughter were heard. The dense tree cover along the riverbank kept them hidden. Vandhiyathevan looked closely as he went, to find out where they were.

Suddenly he heard a woman’s cry for help, “Aiyo! Aiyo! Crocodile! Crocodile! Aiyo! I am frightened!” He tapped his horse in the direction of the voice. In the space between two trees he saw them. There was fear in the faces of many of them. Surprise! Surprise! Two among them were the ones who left the astrologer’s house as Vandhiyathevan entered. In a second, Vandhiyathevan saw all of this. Is that all he saw? At the base of a huge tree that spread its shade around, camouflaging against the tree’s roots, with half its body in the water and half on the ground was a fierce crocodile opening its mouth. Only recently Vandhiyathevan had seen a fierce crocodile approaching with its mouth open in the Kollidam river. He has also heard how ruthless a crocodile is. Therefore when he saw this crocodile he was shocked. His body was trembling. Because, the crocodile was so close to the women who had been laughing just a while ago. It was a terrifying sight with its mouth open exposing its grotesque teeth. The crocodile had to take just one leap. The women’s fate would be over! Trapped by the dense tree cover behind them the women were not in a position to run free.

Even though his mind was shaken, Vandhiyathevan did not lack in determination. He thought for no longer than a moment about what he ought to do. He took aim with his spear and threw it. The spear landed on the hard surface of the crocodile’s back and stood perpendicularly, piercing it. Our soldier immediately drew his sword and ran forward with determination to finish this work of the crocodile.

Like before, at this time there was the sound of the women’s laughter. To Vandhiyathevan, it was as if an iron rod had been thrust into his ears. Why are they laughing at such a dangerous time? He paused in astonishment. He looked at the women’s faces. He didn’t see fear or alarm in their faces. Instead he saw the signs of laughter that was mocking.

It was difficult to believe that these were the women who had a moment ago cried out, “Aiyo! Aiyo!”

“Girls! Just wait, why are you laughing?” One of them… the woman he saw at the astrologer’s house – her stately voice sternly addressing the others reached his ears as if in a dream.

Next to the crocodile he hesitated with his sword raised. He stared at the crocodile; he looked again at the faces of the women. A doubt appeared that made his mind and body cringe in embarrassment. Within that time the woman – the damsel who had been occupying his mind – parting the others, stepped forward. She stood in front of the crocodile as if protecting it.

“Sir! Thank you very much. Do not exert yourself in vain!” she said.

15. Vaanathi’s Pretense

Didn’t the junior stateswoman Kundavaidevi and Kodumbalur princess Vaanathi leave for Kudanthai town in the chariot? We should find out what the women in the boat spoke and did after their departure.

“Look here, Thahrakai! See the sudden good fortune of this Kodumbalur woman! Why does our junior stateswoman like her so much?” said one.

“There is no affection or anything, Vahrini! For four months that girl has been behaving strange. She faints often. The junior stateswoman is worried because they have entrusted her with a girl with no mother or father. That is why she has gone to the astrologer to find out what is troubling Vaanathi! It may be the work of some demon or devil! In that case shouldn’t we get rid of it with some prayer or trick?” said Thahrakai.

“There is no demon or devil! What demon will come after her? Isn’t she capable of driving away a hundred demons?” said Vaarini.

“Even Vaanathi’s fainting is pretense! Her idea is that she can somehow catch the prince in her net with this kind of behavior!” said another one.

“What Niravathi says is correct! Is that all! That day when the prince was leaving didn’t she drop the tray with the flame on the floor? That too was done to get his attention! Can a tray held by both hands slip and fall like that? Or, is our prince a tiger or bear for her to be so afraid?” said Vaarini.

“How she pretended at once as if she had fainted? How devious one must be?” said Niravathi.

“More than her pretense, the joke is that both Kundavaidevi and the prince got fooled!” said Senthiru.

“This is the age of those who conjure up lies, artifice, pretense and deceitfulness!” said Manthahini.

“The prince after having left for the war came back again to see Vaanathi before leaving, what more can be said? Her acting was that succesful, you see?” said Vaarini.

“Nothing like that; the prince has such a good nature. If a woman faints, would he leave without inquiring after her? You don’t need to have any other interpretation!” said Thahrakai.

“What you say about the prince is true. Who else is there in these seven times two fourteen worlds that is as good as him? Not even in stories and epic poems; but what I say is different. This girl – this Vaanathi – and her fainting spells, do you know what it means? There was no need to go to the astrologer for that. If I was consulted I would have explained!” said Vaarini.

“What is the meaning? Tell us, will you?” said Senthiru.

Vaarini said something in Senthiru’s ear. “What is the secret? Shouldn’t we know?” asked Niravathi.

“The fainting is not any ordinary spell! It is the spell of romance!” said Senthiru.

Immediately everyone burst out laughing. Hearing it the birds on the trees along the riverbank beat their wings loudly and flew away.

“If our prince returns from Ilanakai she will again try to hypnotize him. We have to be careful not leave room for that!” said Niravathi.

“My name is not Thahrakai if by the time the prince returns this Vaanathi is not afflicted with madness and starts blubbering; I will change it to Thahdakai!” said Thahrakai.

“Leave this alone! Shouldn’t we do what the junior stateswoman had asked us to do before she returns? Come,” said Manthahini.

Two of the women then plied open a board that was already slightly open on the floor of the boat. Underneath in a box like space lay a crocodile! That is, a dead crocodile stuffed with fiber and cotton. They took it out. They rowed the boat near a big mango tree by the riverbank that had thick roots spreading all over. They placed the crocodile by the tree. It lay half among the roots and half in water. In appearance it was as frightening as a real crocodile. In order to prevent it from being washed away with the flood, they tied its legs with a rope to the roots. They buried the rope in the water so it won’t be seen.

“Why, Manthahini! Why did the junior stateswoman ask us to tie this dummy crocodile to the tree?” asked Thahrakai.

“You don’t know? Doesn’t Vaanathi behave like a coward? To rid her of her fears and make her courageous!” said Manthahini.

“If we put everything together, it seems as if Kundavaidevi is planning to marry Vaanathi to the prince!” said Niravathi.

“If there is any talk like that I will kill this Vaanathi with poison. You wait and see!” said the jealous Vaarini.

“There is no reason for you to be so bitter. The emperor of Irattai Mandalam, the rulers of Vengi Nadu, Kalingam and even the emperor of faraway Kannosi in the north are waiting to give their daughters to our prince! Amidst this who is going to pay attention to this Kodumbalur Vaanathi?” said Manthahini.

“These kings may be waiting as you say! But isn’t our prince’s wish that matters? The prince is known to have said, ‘If I ever marrry it will be to a woman from Tamil Nadu.’ Don’t you all know this?” said Senthiru.

“In that case, very good. Each one of us should show our talent! Can’t we accomplish what this Vaanathi can? Haven’t we got her hypnotic powers?” said Thahrakai.

We want to tell our readers now about the incident that spurred these women’s talk.

16. Arulmozhi Varmar

About 980 years from today (this was written in 1950), Ko Rajakesarivarmar Paranthaka Sundara Cholar king exceled as the incomparable emperor of the south country. He took the throne about twelve years before our story. During the centuries of the recent past the Chola hand was becoming stronger day by day. The Chola empire was spreading in all four directions. However at the time when Sundara Cholar ascended the throne enemies in the south and north had become powerful. Kandarathithar who ruled before Sundara Cholar immersed himself in Saiva devotion and gained fame as ‘Sivagnana Kandarathithar.’ He did not pay much attention to expanding the empire. His brother Arinjayar who came to the throne after Kandarathithar held it for only one year. After he died in Ahttur of Thondai Nadu, his son Paranthaka Sundara Cholar ascended the throne.

Emperor Sundara Cholar possessed all the good qualities required of a great ruler. A talented warrior, Sundara Cholar led his army to the south even at the very beginning of his rule. A great war took place between the Chola and Pandya garrisons at a place called Sevur. At that time to aid the Madurai king Veerapandyan, Sinhala country king Mahinthan had sent a big battalion. The great army of the Cholars defeated the Pandya army as well as the Sinhala country battalion at Sevur. Veera Pandyan escaped from the battlefield saving only his life, losing his army, throne and partners. He spent his time hiding in a mountain cave in the middle of the dry land.

In the Sevur war the Eezhaa battalion was mostly destroyed. The remaining soldiers shedding their valor and fame, holding only to their life fled back to Eezhaa Nadu.
In this way it has been the tradition of Sinhala kings to interfere in the war between Cholars and Pandyas and aid the Pandyas by sending troops. Sundara Chola emperor wanted to put an end to this tradition for ever. Therefore he wanted to teach a lesson to the Sinhala kings by sending a Chola garrison to Ilankai. He sent a big battalion under the command of a colonel belonging to the Kodumbalur petty chiefs’ family, called Paranthakan Siriya Velahn to Sinhalam. Unfortunately the Chola battalion did not all reach Sinhalam in one trip. The shipping amneties needed for that weren’t there. The troops who landed first without thinking began to advance. The Sinhala troops under the command of King Mahintha’s colonel Sena, came unexpectedly and surrounded the Chola troops. A great battle ensued. In that the Chola colonel Paranthakan Siriya Velahn established his fame before losing his life! In history’s stone engravings he earned the name, ‘Paranthakan Siriya Velahn made famous in Eezham.’

When this news reached king Veerapandyan who was hiding in the mountain cave, he regained his courage and came out. He gathered a large army and fought once more. This time not only the Pandya army lost hopelessly, but Veerapandyan also lost his life. In this war the eldest son of Sundara Cholar, Athitha Karikalan bravely stood in the forefront and performed magnanimously; he earned the name, ‘great king who beheaded Veerapandyan.’

Nevertheless, the desire to teach the Sinhala king Mahinthan a good lesson had taken hold of not only emperor Sundara Cholar’s mind, – it was present in the minds of Chola Nadu colonels, ministers and soldiers. A large garrison was prepared. The question rose of who should lead this army. At that time the eldest son of Sundara Cholar, the crown prince Athitha Karikalan was in the north. After defeating and chasing away the Rashdirakudars and their Irrattai Mandala troops who have for some time wielded power over Thirumunaipadi and Thondai Mandalam, he had made the ancient Kanji Nagar his residence. Moreover, he was preparing to lead his army toward the north.

Under these circumstances, there was much competition among the other Chola Nadu colonels for leading the troops to Eezhamandalam. From the competition rose jealousy and backbiting. In the old Tamil country it was rare to see someone who didn’t like going to war. There would be competition only about going to war. From this sometimes enmity and jealousy would grow.
At this time there was competition among Chola Nadu leaders over who should go to Eezhanadu to avenge Mahinthan and establish the heroic valor of Chola. Sundara Chola king’s younger son Arulmozhivaramar stepped forward to remove this competition and bring peace among everyone.

“Father! It is enough that I have been growing up as the pet child among the palace aunts and grandmothers all these days. Please appoint me the commander of the south garrison. I will go to Ilanakai leading the army!” said Ilango Arulmozhivarmar.

Arulmozhivarmar was then only nineteen years old. He was Sundara Cholar’s youngest child; he was the favorite baby of all the royal women of Pazhaiyarai palace; in fact he was the favorite child of the entire Chola Nadu.

Sundara Chola king was a very handsome man. His father Arinjayar, fell in love and married Kalyani, a woman from the Chola tribe’s arch enemy Vaithumbarayar tribe, for her beauty. The name that parents gave Sundara Cholar born to Arinjayar and Kalyani was Paranthakar. People in the country saw his handsome appearance and called him ‘Sundara Cholar.’ It in turn became his name.

All the children born to such a man exceled in beauty. But the last born Arulmozhivarmar exceeded the others in beauty. The charm of his face did not just belong to the human race; there was godliness. When he was an infant the Chola royal women made his cheeks soft and rosy with their kisses. His sister Kundavai was more fond of him than anyone else. Even though she was older than Arulmozhi by only two years she considered that the responsibility of his upbringing was on her head. Arulmozhi also was equally affectionate towards Kundavai. The younger brother will not cross the line drawn by the elder sister. One word from the junior stateswoman was sufficient; against that even if Brahma, Vishnu and Sivan came together Arulmozhivarmar will not heed. Elder sister’s word was divine for the younger brother.

The elder sister would often gaze into the brother’s face. Not just when he was awake but even when he was asleep she would look at him for hours. ‘There is something divine about this child! It is my responsibility to bring it out and make it shine!’ she would think. When the brother was sleeping she would look at his palms. The lines there appeared to be in the shape of a conch shell and wheel to her. ‘Aha! he was born to rule the earth. He was born to bring all the world under one umbrella!’ she would think.

But, there was no room to think that he would be on the Chola throne. Elder to him – entitled to the throne, there were two. Then, ‘For him, where is the kingdom going to come from! Which throne is he going to ascend? What is god’s will, who knows? The world is big. There are many countries, many kingdoms on this earth. Haven’t we heard in stories and epic poems of those who went from one country to another, ascended the throne and ruled over kingdoms owing to their strong armed martial prowess? Didn’t the prince who was chased away from the Bengal country where the river ganges flows get on a boat, reach Ilankai and rule there? Didn’t that Sinhala royal tribe last for thousands of years?’

Madam Kundavai thought in this manner without pause. In the end, when the dispute rose over who should command the troops going to Ilankai she came to the conclusion that it ought to be Arulmozhi.

“Brother, Arulmozhi! It is very difficult for me to be separated from you for even a moment. Nevertheless the time has come when I must tell you to leave. You must go as the commander of the Ilankai battalion!”

The prince happily agreed to this. Arulmozhivarmar’s mind had been in a turmoil wondering if he would ever escape the palace life and the embraces of the palace matrons. The devoted sister herself has said to leave! From now on what is there to worry about? From now on what is the obstacle?

Once Kundavaidevi concedes there was nothing in the Chola empire that cannot be achieved! Emperor Sundara Cholar had so much love for his precious daughter; so much confidence!
Ilango Arulmozhivarmar became the commander of the Chola garrison in the south. He went to Ilankai also. He led the army and carried out the war there for a while. But the war would not end easily. There was a difference between the way he conducted the war and the way others did. Equipment and skilled labor did not arrive from the mother country as he wanted. Therefore he had come to the mother country once in between. He spoke to his father and made arrangements according to his liking. He prepared to leave for Eezham again.

To send her precious brother to war Kundavaidevi had planned an auspicious ceremony at the main palace at Pazhaiyarai. When Arulmozhivarmar started trumpets blared in the foreground of the palace; crowds cheered; drums were beaten; shouts of well wishes reached the heavens.

All of the Chola matrons bid farewell to the favorite child of the palace blessing him with words, adorning his forhead with holy powder and gesturing to remove the evil eye.

At the palace’s tower entrance, where Arulmozhithevar was to go down the steps to the street, Kundavaidevi’s friends stood bearing gold plates with oil and burning wicks. These women were no ordinary friends. They came from the south’s famed petty chiefs’ families. They considered it a privilege to serve Chempian Madevi at Pazhaiyarai palace and be Madam Kundavai’s friend. Among them was Kodumbalur Siriya Velahn’s daughter Vaanathi. When they saw the prince coming at a distance, they all became excited. When he came near they blessed him with the lamps held in their hands.

At that time Vaanathi’s entire body suddenly began to tremble. The plate in her hand fell down making a loud noise. ‘Adada! What a bad omen!’ everyone thought. But when they saw the wick still burning even after the plate had fallen down everyone was relieved. ‘This is a very good omen’ assured the elders.

Ilango Arulmozhivarmar, after smiling at the girl who for no reason at all had become frightened and let the plate fall down kept on walking. Soon after he walked past her Vaanathi also collapsed on the floor in a bundle. ‘Aha! What a blunder I made’ – this thought had made her faint. Following Kundavai’s orders the other women lifted her and laid her in another room. Madam Kundavai without even waiting to see her brother leave went inside and tried to bring Vaanathi back. Arulmozhithevar seeing Vaanathi fall down from the entrance sent someone to find out “How is the girl who fell down? Did she regain consciousness?” Kundavai sent the person back saying, “Tell the prince to come and see for himself and then go!” The prince who never goes against the elder sister’s word came back into the palace. He was touched to see his sister holding Vaanathi against her bosom and trying to wake her up.

“Sister! Who is this girl? What is her name?” asked Ilango.

“She is the daughter of Kodumabalur Siriya Velahr; Her name is Vaanathi; she is a bit fearful by nature!” said Kundavai.

“Aha! Now the reason is clear why she fainted. Isn’t her father who went to Ilankai and died in the battlefield? She must have thought about that!” said the prince.

“Could be, but you don’t worry about her! I will take care of her! Go to Ilanaki and come back soon a victor! Send me news frequently!” said the junior stateswoman.

“Alright; if anything out of the ordinary happens here please send me word!” said Ilango.
At this time, owing to the prince’s majestic voice perhaps, Vaanathi was beginning to regain consciousness. At first her eyes opened slightly. When they saw the prince in front the eyes broadened wide; then the face blossomed. Because of the smile that appeared on her mouth, her cheeks dimpled.

With consciousness came self-consciousness. She sat up at once. She turned and looked behind; she was embarrassed to see herself being supported by the junior stateswoman. In a second she remembered everything that had happened.

“Sister! I did this?” She said with tears welling in her eyes.

Before Kundavai could respond the prince said, ” Don’t worry about it, Vaanathi! Everyone falters. In addition you have an important reason for it; this is what I was just saying to the junior stateswoman!”

Vaanathi could not believe if she was seeing right or hearing correctly. The prince who normally would not lift his head to look at a woman is speaking to me in this manner? He is comforting me with words? How can I describe my luck? – Aha! I am having goosebumps. I am about to faint again!…

“Sister! Troops are waiting, I will bid farewell. When you send word to me please inform me how this girl is faring. Please look after this girl who hasn’t a mother or father!” The prince said before leaving.
Kundavaidevi’s other friends were watching and listening to all of this from the upstairs balconies. Jeolousy lit its flame in their minds.

From that day on Madam Kundavai began to show a special affection towards Vaanathi. She kept her at her side always. She instructed her in the arts and litaerature that she was schooled in. Wherever she went, she took her with her without fail. Kundavaidevi took her to the palace garden often and spoke to her confidentially. She told her of the dreams that she held with respect to her younger brother’s future propspects; Vaanathi also listened carefully.

Following the incident related above, Vaanathi fainted about four or five more times. On every occasion Madam Kundavai tended to her and brought her back to her senses. Each time Vaanathi woke up sobbing and crying.

“Why, silly! Why do you cry like this!” Kundavai would ask.

“I don’t know, Sister! Forgive me!” Vaanathi would say.

Kundavai would embrace her, kiss her on her forhead and comfort her. All of it fanned the flames of jealousy in the other women. Therefore, wasn’t it natural that these women spoke the way they did after Kundavai and Vaanathi left for the astrologer’s house in the chariot?
17. The Horse Leapt

Kundavai had decided that the proper bride for her incomparable brother Arulmozhivarman was Vaanathi. But there was one fault with Vaanathi; it was her fearful nature. The woman who is going to wed the greatest warrior, who will bear the son to rule the world under one umbrella, can she be such a coward? Kundavai wanted to change her fearful nature and turn her into a brave woman. She had arranged the stuffed crocodile drama for that. But the Kodumbalur princess passed this test victoriously.

Once Kundavaidevi and Vaanathi returned from the astrologer’s house they got into the swan like boat. The boat went a short distance; It was usual for Kundavai and her friends to stop the boat where the tree cover was dense on both sides of the river and then get in the water and play. Today also, they went to the same place and got down. Once they were down, one of the women screamed, ‘Aiyo crocodile!’ The woman pointed to the base of the tree where they had got down from the boat crying, ‘Crocdile! Crocodile!’ Immediately all the women began to run screaming, ‘Aiyo! Crocodile! So frightening!’

But the fearful Vaanathi alone was not at all afraid. Even after seeing a fierce crocodile with its mouth open so close and sudden she was not fearful. Vaanathi was not afraid even while everyone else pretended to be afraid as Kundavaidevi had instructed.

“Sister! The crocodile’s power is only when it’s in the water! On the shore it cannot do anything. Tell them not to be afraid!” said the Kodumbalur princess.

“Hey, you wicked being! It seems as if you know already ‘This is not a real crocodile; stuffed crocodile!’ Someone must have told you!” said the other women.

“Even a real crocodile does not matter to me. I am only afraid of the lizard!” said Vaanathi.

It was at this time that Vandhiyathevan arrived to save these women from the mouth of the dangerous crocodile. He leapt off the horse and threw his spear at the crocodile.

A tremor ran through Vallavaraiyan’s body when he heard the elegant woman speak. The disappointment he experienced at the astrologer’s house that she didn’t speak to him disappeared. But, that crocodile – that frightening crocodile lying behind her with the open mouth – was giving him discomfort. Why is she standing in front of the crocodile? What does she mean by saying not to worry about it? Why is the crocodile lying in the same spot all this time?

The woman added, “Sir! You apologized for barging into the astrologer’s house. We left without answering you. From that you may have formed the opinion that Chola Nadu women didn’t know the meaning of respect. Please don’t think that way. Because the girl who accompanied me had suddenly fainted, my mind was a little disturbed. That is why we didn’t answer!…”

Adada! What a sweet voice! Hearing her words, why is my chest heaving like this? Why is my throat so dry? Even the flute and veena and tambourine and the war drum didn’t make me so giddy with happiness. They didn’t shake me like this. Why am I unable to say anything in response to her? Why is my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth? Why has the wind stopped blowing completely? Why is the Arisilaru flood standing still? Then this crocodile!… Why is it just lying here?

When Vandhiyathevan’s mind was thus perturbed the woman’s voice reached him as if in a dream: “Even now you thought that you were saving these helpless women when you did this! You threw the spear at the crocodile. It is rare to see soldiers who can throw a spear so fast without missing the target!…”

The women who were standing to a side under the tree again laughed out loud. Vandhiyathevan’s romantic dream shattered by the laughter. The magic link that was the woman’s speech got spliced by the laughter. He took another careful look at the crocodile. Without regard to the woman in front of him, he moved closer to the crocodile. He tugged at his spear and pulled it from its back! Blood did not gush out of the opening that the spear had made! So, what did come? Some plantain fiber and cotton came out!

Again those mischivous women laughed. Now they laughed and giggled clapping their hands.

Vallavaraiyan’s mind and body shrank. Never before has he experienced such indignity? Such disgrace in front of this many women? – Are they really women? No! No! They are female monsters! – I should not even stand near them! I should not even look at their faces! Cheechee! My beloved spear! Was this your destiny? You had to face such dishonor? How am I going to rectify this and erase the dirt that was hurled at you!…

All of these thoughts penetrated Vandhiyathevan’s mind within a few seconds. If those who laughed were men, the place would have turned into a battlefield! Those who dared to laugh would have that very second lost their lives! Their blood would have run mixed with Arisilaru’s red-earth flood! But these were women! What can be done to them? Only thing that can be done is to run away from them!

Without even looking at the woman who had unsettled his mind, Vandhiyathevan ran and climbed onto the riverbank. His horse that was standing there also chose that moment to neigh. It appeared to Vandhiyathevan that the horse too had joined the women in laughing at him. Therefore he took all his anger out on the horse. He jumped atop it and gave two slices with the head whip, ‘slice! slice!’ The indignant horse leapt, tearing through the riverbank’s footpath.

For a short time Madam Kundavai was looking at the direction of the horse. Until the dust the horse had stirred up settled she stood there watching.

Then, she turned to her friends and said, “Girls! You still don’t know good manners. You should not have laughed in that manner. When we are alone you can laugh and riot however much you like. Shouldn’t you be modest when there is a stranger around? What will that young man think of the Chola Nadu women?”
18. Idumbankari

At the Kollidam jetty we left the Thirumalaiappar called Azhvarkadiyan. Let’s now pay some attention to this brave Vaishnavar.

After Vandhiyathevan left on horseback to Kudanthai, Thirumalaiappar looked in the direction that he took and said to himself.

‘This young man is very tricky. If I go through the fence he is already in the foyer. I could not find out whose guy he really is, where he is going or why he is going. I don’t know if he took part in the perfidious meeting at Kadampoor palace. Fortunately I have talked to the Kudanthai astrologer about him. Let’s see if Kudanthai astrologer can find out what I could not!…’

“What, Sami! Are you speaking to the arasamaram, are you talking to yourself?” Thirumalaiappar turned when he heard the voice.

The servant who had come from Kadampoor and had found a horse for Vandhiyathevan stood next to him.

“Appan! Are you the one who spoke? I am neither speaking to myself; nor to the peepul tree. There is a spirit housed in this tree; I was chatting with it!” said Thirumalaiappar.

“Oho! Is that so? Is the spirit Shaivam or Vaishnavam?” said the man.

“I was asking exactly that. You came and interrupted. The spirit has disappeared; never mind! What is your name, Appan?”

“Why do you ask, Sami?”

“In midriver you saved the boat from capsizing! Shouldn’t I keep someone as good as you in my memory?”

“My name… my name.. Idumbankari, Sami!” he said hesitantly.

“Oh! Idumbankari? I remember hearing the name before!”

At that time Idumbankari did a strange thing. He brought his two open palms together, and wiggled his two little fingers; while doing it he looked up at Thirumalaiappar’s face. “Appan! What is this gesture? I don’t understand?” said Thirumalaiappar. Idumabankari’s dark face darkened even further; eyebrows moved closer.

“Me? I didn’t make any gestures?” he said.

“You did, you did! Didn’t I see? In Bharathanatyam there is a sign for Thirumal’s first incarnation. You did that?”

“Thirumal’s first incarnation? What is that? I don’t know Sami!”

“Don’t you know Vishnu’s first incarnation? Machavatharam.”

“You mean fish?”

Yes, Appan, yes!”

“Well done, Sami! Your eyes are rather strange! There is a spirit up the tree! There is a fish incarnation in my bare hands! Perhaps the Sami is too fond of fish?”

“No, no! Don’t speak like that Appan! Never mind. There was a fanatic Saivar in the boat with us, did you see in which direction he went?”

“Why not? I saw. He came in the same direction I went to get the horse; he was cursing you as he came…”

“How did he curse me?”

“If he sees you again that fanatic Saivar will snip the ponytail in front and shave your head…”

“Oho! He knows that job too?”

“He will wipe away all the holy name on your body and apply holy powder instead!”

“In that case I must see him; do you know his place?”

“He said his place is Pullirukumvellur!”

“First order of business is to go and visit that fanatic Saivar. Appan! Where are you going? Perhaps you are headed in the same direction?”

“No, no. Why should I come there? I am going to again cross Kollidam and go to Kadampoor. Otherwise, won’t my master pluck out my eyes?’

“In that case, turn now Appan. The boat is about to leave!”

When Idumbankari turned he realized that what Azhvarkadiyan said was true; the boat was ready to leave.

“Alright, Sami! I am going.” Idumbankari hurried toward the jetty.

Midway he turned and looked. Meanwhile Azhvarkadiyan had done a curious thing. He had rapidly climbed the peepul tree and gone behind its dense branches. Therefore he was hidden from Idumbankari’s view.

Idumbankari reached the jetty. One of the boatmen asked, “Are you coming across?”

“No, I will come in the next boat; you can go!” said Idumbankari.

“Aday! Is that all? I stopped the boat seeing you hurrying here!” The boatmen dropped the pole and plied the boat into the river.

Meanwhile, Thirumalaiappar who had climbed halfway up the peepul tree and hidden himself there said, “Oho! What I surmised was correct. He didn’t get on the boat; he is coming back. I have to see the direction he takes. I saw very well his hands doing the machahastha sign. What is the meaning of that? Fish! Fish! What does the fish symbol signify? Ah! Isn’t the fish drawn on the Pandya flag? Perhaps, ahaha!.. can that be? Let’s see! Let’s wait and see. The patient will rule the country, the impatient – the jungle… But, in these times it seems as if it is better to rule the jungle than the country! In any case let’s wait and see!..” In this manner Thirumalaiappar was talking to the invisible ghost on the peepul tree. Soon it happened as he had expected; the boat left without Idumbankari. From the riverbank Idumbankari checked under the tree. Then he searched all around with his eyes. Making sure that Azhvarkadiyar was nowhere, he returned to the base of the same peepul tree. After looking around once more he sat at the base of the tree. His eyes were looking around in all directions as if he was expecting someone or something. But, he didn’t look up on the tree. Even if he had, since Thirumalaiappar had hidden his body well, he would not have seen him.

About half an hour passed in this manner. Thirumalaiappar’s legs were beginning to turn numb. It appeared that he could not wait on the tree for long. Idumban didn’t appear to be leaving from under the tree. How to escape? However cautiously he might try to climb down from the other side, it would not be inaudible. If he hears anything Idumbankari will immediately turn. He had a sharp dagger tucked in his waist. What is the assuarance that he will not use it on him?

What else to do? Should he shout like a devil or demon and jump on him? If he jumped he might mistake him for the ghost and he might faint in horror! Or he might get away by running! At that time he can also run away!… When Thirumalaiappar arrived at this idea it turned out that his patience will not be tested any longer. A man was coming from the southwest from the Kudanthai road. Thirumalaiappar’s instinct told him that it was for this man that Idumbankari had been waiting. Soon it became apparent that his instinct was right.

As soon as he saw the new person Idumban stood up from underneath the tree. The man who came performed the gesture as Idumban. He brought his palms together and wiggled the little fingers to do the machahastham; Idumban repeated the gesture.

“What is your name?” asked the new man.

“My name is Idumbankari; your name, Sir?”

“Soman Sambavan!”

“I was expecting you.”

“I have come in search of you also.”

“In which direction should we go?”

“West, of course!”

“Where to?”

“To the enemy’s pallipadai!”

“Near Thirupurampayam…”

“Don’t speak loud! It’s going to fall on someone’s ears,” said Soman Sambavan looking all around.

“There is no one here; I have checked already.”
“No place where they can hide?”

“Not at all!”

“In that case, let’s start. I don’t know the way very well. You go in front! I will come a little behind. Check often to see if I am behind you!”

“Alright. The path is not good; It’s rough with stones and thorns, one has to step cautiously!”

“Yes, yes, you start! Even if it’s jungle, if you see another person you should hide. Do you understand?”

“I do, I do!”

Idumbankari went west along the shore of Kollidam. Behind him Soman Sambavan followed. Azhvarkadiyar waited on the tree until they disappeared from sight. He had been seeing and hearing everything.

Aha! These are bad times! There is so much unexpected that is going on. I am about to find out something very mysterious. By god’s grace this opportunity has come. Now it is up to me to get to the bottom of it. I could only find something halfway at Kadampoor palace. I should not be fooled here in the same way. Thirupurampayam pallipadai – would be the temple of Kanga king Prithiveepathi. It’s hundered years since that temple was built. Therefore it is in ruins; forest had encroached all around; the village is further away. Why are they headed there! If it was just between the two of them, they will discuss it here. If it is something to do, they will do it here. There is no need to go ten miles into the forest! Therefore it is certain that more people are coming there. Why? Why should one of them call Prithiveepathi’s temple, ‘enemy’s temple’? Whose enemy is Prithiveepathi? Aha! It seems like my thinking was correct! In any case let’s find out. They are going along the shore of Kollidam. I can go along the shore of Manni. Even if the forest cover is more thick along the shore of Manni, there is no harm. What do I care about jungle territory and stones and thorns? They ought to be afraid of me!…

Mumbling to himself with these thoughts Thirumalaiappar climbed down from the peepul tree and went south for a while. The river Manni appeared. Along its shore he headed west. Through the uninhabited thick jungle territory Azhvarkadiyar reached Thirupurampayam temple at sunset.
19. Battlefield Forest

It was customary in the old Tamil country to plant a memorial stone for the soldiers who lost their lives in the battlefield and build a temple. A memorial stone alone would be called a ‘nadukat kovil.’ If a deity’s statue is included and built as a temple the place is called a ‘pallipadai.”

There was a ‘pallipadai’ temple five miles northwest of Kudanthai, on the north shore of river Manni, near the village Thirupurampayam. This is a memorial built for Kanga king Prithiveepathi who died in a great war. Those who know world history are aware of how the course of history changed following the battle of Waterloo. The war in Thirupurampayam was of such significance as far as Tamil Nadu was concerned. This war took place about hundred years before our story. It is important that Tamil people are aware of this history.

For about five hundred to six hundred years following the glorious reign of ancient Chola kings like Karikalvalavan, Perunatkilli, Illanchet Chenni and Thodithot Sembiyan, a prolonged period of bad times fell on the Chola name. Cholar were threatened by the increasingly powerful Pandyar in the south and the Pallavar in the north. In the end unable to withstand the Pandya aggression the Cholar had to leave their longtime capital of Uraiyoor. They moved to the town of Pazhaiyarai near Kudanthai. Nevertheless they did not give up their right to Uraiyoor as their capital. They also did not abandon the title ‘Kozhi Venthar.’

Among the Pazhaiyarai Chozhar, Vijayalaya Chozhar was the most famous. He had stood at the forefront and fought in many battlegrounds bearing ninty six wounds on his body. Future poets would describe him as ‘Victorious defender who counted two threes over ninety wounds’ and ‘upon his wounded body he bore as ornaments ninety six scars.’ His son Athitha Chozhan was as good a warrior as his father. He took part in many wars and became famous.

When he reached old age Vijayalaya Chozhar crowned his son and retired. At that time the rivalry between Pandyar and Pallavar had reached its peak giving way to frequent wars. The Pandya king of that time was Varakunavarman; Pallava king was Aparajithavarman. The fights between these two great kings mostly took place in Chola Nadu. It suffered like the rooster caught between two clashing elephants. The Chola people suffered. However, Vijayalaya Cholar made use of these wars to his benefit. In each war he joined one of two sides with a small army.

Even though victory and defeat were transient, Chola Nadu was gaining experience in war.

It is well known that Chola Nadu is made fertile from the many rivulets that branch off from the river Kaveri. All the rivulets branch off south of Kaveri. The river that branches off of Kollidam and flows between Kaveri and Kollidam is the same; its name is Manniyaru. The last battle of strength between Pandyar and Pallavar took place north of Manniyaru, near the village of Thirupurampayam. Both sides were more or les equal in terms of troops. Kanga king Prithiveepathi had come to help the Pallava king Aparajithavarman. Athitha Cholan also had joined Aparajithavarman’s side.

In comparison with the Pallava and Pandya army, the Chola army was small. However, Athithan knew that if Pandyan won this time it would be the end of the Chola tribe. Therefore, like the river Kaveri that joins the ocean, he joined the great Pallava army with his smaller one.

The battlefield spread ten miles across ten miles. The four armies consisting of war-chariots, elephants, horses and footsoldiers took part in the war. Like mountains colliding when elephants attacked each other there were tremors in all directions. When horses stormed one another the spears held by the horsemen shone like lightening strikes. Chariots crashed into each other breaking into pieces that flew in all directions. The universe trembled from horizon to horizon at the destructive noise of the swords and spears. After three days of nonstop war the battlefield was a sea of blood. In that sea dead elephants and horses lay in heaps. The broken parts of chariots floated like pieces of ship that had capsized. On both sides thousand to ten thousand soldiers lay dead.

After three days of such brutal fighting only a part of the Pallava garrison remained. Those remaining were very tired. As if they have been granted immunity from fatigue the brave soldiers of Pandya Nadu returned to attack over and over. A meeting gathered in Aparajithavarman’s tent. Aparajithan, Prithiveepathi and Athithan together with their commanders deliberated. They decided that they cannot continue and that the best solution was to retreat toward the north shore of Kollidam.

Meanwhile, there happened a miracle on the battlefield. Vijayalaya Cholan weakened by age, with ninety six scars on his body, unable to stand on his wounded legs, had somehow arrived there. The roar from the old lion, who realized that if the Pallava garrison retreated to north of Kollidam, then it would be impossible for Chola Nadu to raise its head for a long time, gave the remaining soldiers new life.

“An elephant! Give me an elephant!” he said.

“Our entire elephant battalion is lost; not even one survived,” they said.

“A horse, at least bring a horse!” he said.

“Not even one horse is left alive,” they said.

“Are there at least two Chola Nadu soldiers left alive? If there are please come forward!” Vijayalayan screamed.

Instead of two, two hundred people stepped forward.

“Two people. Two of you with strength in your shoulders and determination in your minds please carry me on your shoulders. Others follow behind two by two. If the two who are carrying me fall, then the two behind pick me up!” said that great soldier. So two Beemasenar came forward and carried him.

“Go! Go to the war front!” he roared.

The fight was still going on at one spot in the battlefield. The southern hunters were attacking easterners and were pushing them back. Vijayalayan went to this battle seated on the shoulders of the two. He penetrated the enemy while wielding two long swords in both his hands like Thirumal’s chakrayutham. No one could stop him. Wherever he got through the bodies of the enemy were piling up on both sides.

Yes; to see this wonder many soldiers who had retreated came forward. They stood in astonishment at Vijayalayan’s immense courage. Then, encouraging each other, they also entered the battlefield. That was it; goddess Jayalakshmi’s eyes of mercy turned toward them.

Pallava commanders gave up the idea of retreating up to the north shore of Kollidam. The three kings, each one surrounded by his soldiers, entered the battle. In a short time the Pandya troops began to retreat. They stopped only when they reached the boundary of Pandya Nadu.

The Kanga king Prithiveepathi after many brave acts in that day’s war, left his fame and body on that battlefield and joined the warriors in heaven. In this warrior’s memory a memorial stone was laid in that battlefield. Then a ‘pallipadai’ temple also was built.

For some time the battlefield where this gory war had taken place remained without grass or weeds. People avoided the place. After some time the forest began to encroach. It surrounded the ‘pallipadai’ temple, foxes moved into the bushes. In the dark branches of the trees owls and kotans lived. As time passed people stopped going to the ‘pallipadai’ temple. Therefore, day by day the temple also deteriorated. In the time of our story it was in ruins.

Azhvarkadiyan reached this dilapidated ‘pallipadai’ temple when it was getting dark. The gargoyles seated on the outside rim of the tower tried to frighten him. But would this brave Vaishnava scholar be afraid? He hopped on to the temple tower. He hid in the branch that had grown over the tower. He remained there scrutinizing the surroundings. His eyes had the power to tear through the dark and see. His ears were also sharp enough to hear the faintest sound.

Half an hour passed in the dark; one hour; one and a half hour passed. The surrounding darkness creeped up over him, suffocating him. Every now and then there was a rustling heard among the forest trees. There! There is a skunk climbing the tree! There is an owl growling! On this side is a kotan hooting! Frightened of the skunk, a bird jumps to a branch above beating its wings loudly. There, the foxes have begun to howl. There was a sound overhead. He looked up; A squirrel or chameleon, or some other such being was climbing between the branches.

Through the small gaps between the branches a small part of the sky was visible. Twinkling stars peered down. In that deserted forest the stars in the sky appeared to be his only companions. Thus Thirumalaiappan named Azhvarkadiyan looked at the stars peeking through the branches and spoke softly:

‘Oh, Stars! Today you seem to be winking and laughing at the ignorance of the people on earth. You have good reason to laugh. You have witnessed the war that happened here a hundred years ago and the blood that was shed here in its aftermath. You are wondering why human beings hate each other in this way? You are astonished why this blood was shed. They call it courage.

‘Even after a hundred years after a man’s death he is treated as an enemy! This ‘pallipadai’ is the enemy’s ‘pallipadai’! They are going to meet near the enemy’s ‘pallipadai’. To hurt the living in the name of the dead! Stars of the sky! Why won’t you laugh? Laugh, laugh all you want!’

‘God! Did I come here in vain? Is this how the night is going to be spent? Are those men not coming here? Did I hear wrong? Did I mistake them? Or have those fish signallers changed their minds and gone somewhere else? What a disappointment; what a disappointment? If I get fooled today I cannot forgive myself!… Ah! There is some light! What is that? The light has disappeared; there it is again. No doubt. There, there is someone with a flame torch! No, there are two of them coming. Waiting here was not in vain!…’

The two who came went past the ‘pallipadai’. They stood in a little clearing in the dense forest. One sat down; the one holding the torch kept looking around. There was no doubt that he was expecting someone. After a while two more men arrived. They must be very brave. They also must have been here before; or else, how can they find the way in this dark and thick forest?

The early arrivals and the later ones were speaking. But it did not reach Azhvarkadiyan’s ears. ‘Adada, this is going to be useless, after taking so much trouble to get here! Can’t even see their faces!’

Then, two more people arrived; Againg the early arrivals spoke to the latecomers. One of the men who came last had a bag in his hands. He opened it and poured out its contents. Gold coins glittered in the light of the flame torch.

The man who poured the coins out laughed like a mad man. “Friends! We are going to torch Chola Nadu with its own money! Isn’t this a big joke?” he laughed again out loud.

“Ravithasar! Don’t make a noise; speak softly,” said one.

“Aha! What will happen here? Only foxes, weasels, hooters and owls can hear us! Fortunately they will not tell anyone else!” said the man called Ravithasan.

“Even then isn’t it better to speak softly?”

Then they started to speak in a soft voice. Azhvarkadiyan felt it was futile for him to be sitting on top of the building without hearing what was being said. He must get down from the tower and get closer to the meeting so he can eavesdrop. And be prepared for the inherent dangers of this course of action – With these thoughts when Azhvarkadiyan attempted to climb down, the branches produced a rustling sound as his body moved against them.

Two of the men immediately jumped up and growled, “Who’s there?”

Azhvarkadiyan’s heart stopped beating for a short time. There was no other way but to run away without getting caught to them. Even when he runs through the forest there will be a rustling sound! Won’t they come and catch him?

At that time a hooter brought its wings up and beat it down growling ‘uhm uhm’.

20. “Enemy No. 1”

Azhvarkadiyan appreciated the help provided by the hooter at the right moment. Because, the saboteurs meeting in the forest saw the hooter beating its wings and growling and assumed that it was the cause of the noise.

“Aday! This hooter frightened us! Chop it up!” said one.

“No! Save your daggers for more important matters. Sharpen them to wipe out our enemies without a trace! Owls and hooters are not our enemies; they are our friends! We are up at a time others are sleeping. Owls and hooters are also up with us!” said the man called Ravithasan.

Listening to him speaking, Thirumalaiappan quietly took one step at a time to reach the big marutha tree. The large roots of the hundred year old tree ran in all directions. There were gaps in between the roots on the ground; there were also grooves at the base of the tree. Azhvarkadiyan stood against the tree in one of those grooves camoflaging himself.

“As long as the treasury of Thanjavur lasts we will not be lacking in funds. We need the will power to complete what we began. Until we fulfil our mission we must have the resolve to keep it a secret! We should divide ourselves into two groups. One group must immediately leave for Ilanakai. The other group must wait in Thondai Mandalam until the right moment arrives. The two tasks must be carried out around the same time. If we finish one enemy before the other, then the second will be warned! We cannot leave room for that. Understand? Who and who would like to go to Ilanakai?” said Ravithasan.

“I’ll go!”, “I am the one!” – several voices were heard at the same time.

“We can decide who is going at our next meeting in Pandya Nadu! Until then there are a few more arrangements to be made here!” said Ravithasan.

“Which route is the best to go to Ilankai?” asked one man.

“We can go from Kodikarai, it is a good route to cross the sea. But going up to Kodikarai from here is difficult. All along there are enemies; here and there, there will be spies. Therefore, it is best to go to Sethu, cross the sea into Mathottam. Those going to Ilankai must be able to row the boat, ply the catamaran and swim in the sea. Who can swim here?”

“I know”, “I also know” – voices rose.

“First, you must meet and speak to Ilankai king Mahinthan and then get to work. Therefore at least one among those going to Ilankai must know Sinhala. Ah! Our Soman Sambavan still hasn’t come? Did anyone see him today?”

“Here I am!” a voice was heard very close to Azhvarkadiyan.

Adiyan pressed himself further against the tree. Adada! How incovenient this cursed fat body is! Two new people joined the meeting. Azhvarkadiyan put his face out a little and looked. He knew that the newcomers were the two men who met below the arasa tree in Kollidam.

When he saw the newcomers Ravithasan said, “Come! Come! I was afraid if you had run into some danger, or if you had decided against coming; which route did you take, from where?”

“We came along the Kollidam shore, on the way a group of foxes surrounded us. We got late trying to get away from the foxes!” said Soman Sambavan.

“There is reason to be afraid of lions and tigers. What can be accomplished by those who get frightened by foxes?” asked one of the men who had come earlier.

“Don’t talk like that, Appan! Fox is more threatening than lion or tiger! Because lion and tiger are lone fighters. One can tackle them. But foxes come in groups; therefore, they have more strength. Because Chola Nadu foxes came in droves our great king got defeated and lost his life! Or else would it have happened?”

“We will completely destroy that fox culture! We will wipe them out without a trace!” Soman Sambavan shouted indignantly.

“Here is the means for that!” Ravithasan pointed to the pile of gold coins.

After examining a few in his hand Soman Sambavan said, “Ah! One side is tiger! The other side is palmyrah!”

“Chola gold; Pazhuvertaraiyar’s seal. I have accomplished what I promised. What’s your news? Our Idumbankari should have brought some news?” said Ravithasan.

“Yes; he has; Ask him! He would tell!”

Idumbankari began; “Following your order, I am working as a servant at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Only yesterday night it paid off. Yesterday there was a big feast at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, Vanangamudi Munaiaraiyar, Mazhapadi Mazhuvaraiyar and several others were there. Folk dances and Velan dances took place. Thevaralan who performed the Velattam was possessed by the deity and foretold the future. What he said was favorable to us. Everyone had thought that the Pazhuvertaraiyar’s Illaiyarani had come in the palanquin that accompanied him. Pazhuvertaraiyar informed everyone that Sundara Chola emperor was not well and that he was not going to be alive for long. Everyone together decided that Athitha Karikalan was not the person who should ascend the throne next, but it ought to be Mathuranthaka Thevar. Some asked if Mathuranthaka Thevar would agree to it. Pazhuvertaraiyar said, ‘I will let him answer himself’, and opened the palanquin’s curtain. From inside came Mathuranthaka Thevar! He announced that he would accept the crown…”

“They are going to crown this hero who dresses as a woman! Let them crown; events are turning out as we expected. This type of upheaval in Chola Nadu will benefit our plans. Whichever, whatever happens, they won’t suspect us, would they? Idumbankari! You have brought some important news. But how did you find this out? How did you get the opportunity?” asked Ravithasan.

“When they had the meeting at midnight they chose me as guard to make sure that no one else is in the vicinity. I used my eyes and ears while guarding. ”

“Did you find out anything else during that time?”

“Yes, there was another stranger observing the proceedings from the top of the fortress wall!”

“Aha! Who is he?”

“A Vaishnava with a ponytail in front…”

“Aha! Him? I thought so! What did you do with him? You didn’t turn him in to Sambuvaraiyar?”

“No. I thought perhaps he was one of us. I thought perhaps you had sent him.”

“You made a big mistake; He is not one of us. He is short and stout; quarrelsome. name is Thirumalaiappan; ‘Azhvarkadiyan’ – he calls himself.”

“He is the one. I realized my mistake this afternoon; it became apparent that he was not one of us.”

“How did you find out?”

“Yesterday night a childhood friend of Kanthanmaran had come to Kadampoor palace. He did not have anything to do with Pazhuvertaraiyar’s meeting. He was sleeping somewhere in a corner peacefully. This morning the junior boss came up to Kollidam shore to bid farewell to his friend. Knowing his plan I went in front of him often; he asked me also to come. He turned back at Kollidam’s north shore. He asked me to return after I got a horse for that young man on the south shore. I said that I would go from there to see my aunt in Kudanthai and got away. That is how I was able to come here without any room for suspicion.”

“Alright, alright! How did you find out about the fanatic Vaishnavan?”

“That fanatic Vaishnavan got on to the boat at Kollidam just as the boat was leaving. I became suspicious from his angry conversation with Kanthanmaran’s friend, whether he belonged with us. Moreover, it appeared that he was waiting for me at the south shore. I showed him our secret sign. But he did not understand. So I decided that he was not one of us…”

“You have made a big mistake! We should not show our sign to complete strangers. Friends! Listen to this; our work is in Kanjipuram! It is also in Ilankai. Our most important enemies are present in these two places. But more than these two men, our most dangerous foe, our principal foe is this Thirumalaiappan who roams with this false name Azhvarkadiyan. He is capable of destroying us and our mission compeletely. He is aiming to take away the goddess who is our supreme leader. Hereafter if any of you see him anywhere, meet him under any circumstances, plunge the weapon in your hand into his chest and kill him. If you don’t have a weapon, strangle him with your hands and kill him. Or trick him and kill him with poison. Or push him into the river to be eaten by crocodiles. Or make some excuse to lead him to the cliff and push him down. Kill him without mercy like you would when you happen to see a scorpion or snake! If you offer him as sacrifice to Thurgadevi or Kannaki Amman, even better. In any case as long as he is alive he will be detrimental to our work!..”

“Ravithasar! For you to be so insistent he must be a strongman. Who is this?”

“Who is he? He is a dangerously qualified spy!”

“Whose spy?”

“Even to me it was for a long time doubtful. I suspected if he was Sundara Cholar’s spy or Athitha Karikalan’s spy; I know that he is not. Now I am wondering if he can be that old wretch in Pazhaiyarai, the elder stateswoman’s spy.”

“Aha! Is that so? Why does Sembiyandevi who is immersed in Saiva devotion and temple work need a spy?”

“All that is a lie. Just like how this front-ponytailed fanatic Vaishanavan is a disguise, so is that old queen’s Saiva devotion. Isn’t she the devil who can turn against even her own child? Isn’t that why her own brother Mazhavaraiyan has also fought with her and joined the side of the Pazhuvertaraiyan?”

“Ravithasar! Is there anyone else like this front-ponytailed Vaishnavan?”

“There is an astrologer in Kudanthai. I suspect him also. While pretending to tell their fortunes he manages to get people to talk. None of you should go to him. If you do you are sure to be deceived.”

“Whose spy do you think he is?”

“I haven’t still figured that out. Perhaps he works for the fake prince who is now in Ilankai. But I am not that worried about the astrologer. No serious damage would come from him. It is the Vaishnavan I am afraid of! He should be killed on the spot without any mercy like a scorpion or snake!”

Azhvarkadiyan’s body trembled as he heard this while hiding beneath the marutha tree; he was sweating all over. He was beginning to doubt if he would leave from there alive. As if his predicament wasn’t bad enough, he had the urge to sneeze at that time. However much he tried he could not control himself. He put his cloth in the mouth and sneezed. At that moment the air was still; the murmur of the trees had also ceased. Therefore the saboteurs heard the faint disturbance that was Azhvarkadiyan’s cautious attempt to suppress a sneeze.

“There is some noise behind that marutha tree. Take the flame and see what it is,” said Ravithasan.

The man with the flame came toward the tree. As he got closer the light turned brighter and brighter. Done! He is about to turn the corner. As soon as he turns, the light is going to fall on him. What will happen? If I escape it would be in the next life!

Thirumalaiappan’s heart was beating fast. He looked around for a way to escape; he didn’t see a way out. He looked up; on the branch above, a giant bat was meditating in its upside-down pose! Immediately he had an idea. He reached out his hands and grabbed the bat and held it ready in his hands. Once the man with the flame came past the tree, he through the bat on his face. The torch dropped on the ground and the light dimmed.

The man who was hit with the feathers of the bat cried, “Hey! Hey! What! What?” There was the sound of people running. Azhvarkadiyan also ran; the next second he disappeared into the thick forest. Several men together shouted, “What? What” The flambeau man began to describe being attacked by a bat. For a short distance these details continued to fall on Thirumalaiappan’s ears.

21. Curtain Rustled

Can a man be of two minds? It became known from Vandhiyathevan’s experience that day that he could.

He was passing through the most fertile region of Chola Nadu. It was the season of fresh new water in the rivers. Water rushed into irrigation channels and fields down valleys and through sluices and flood-gates. Wherever one looked there was water. How appropriate to call Chola Nadu ‘valanadu’ and the Chola king, ‘valavan’! – When he thought of this he was immediately reminded of the dangers facing Chola Nadu and the Chola king. Under these circumstances what was his obligation? Should he merely hand the prince’s letter to the emperor and think that he had done his duty? Why should I interfere in this inheritance war and hatred among the royal kin? What do I care about who gets on the Chola Nadu throne? If one delves into it weren’t they our tribe’s enemies in ancient times? Didn’t the Cholar, Kangar and Vaithumbar together wipe out the great Vahnar kingdom? Just because today Athitha Karikalar is fond of me can all that injustice disappear?… No, no! How can those old incidents be called injustice? It is natural for kings to fight among themselves. Like that it is natural for victory and defeat to alternate. What is the use of losers being angry at winners? When our ancestors were in a good position they also beat up the other kings! They wanted to destroy them without a trace! Ah! What is that poem? I remember!

‘With a well built army stagnating blood as water
on the elephant trodden sacred mud – as god
the king of poetic kings Vahnan seized
and planted the three kings’ crown!’

Like this our ancestors have also committed some atrocities in the battlefield. For those who lose in the battlefield doom is the destiny. Can all kings be liberal and compassionate like Ramar and Yudhishtra? Because they were of that nature they went to the forest and made their lives difficult! They underwent difficulties even though they were brave and were assited by brave men. Kindness has no place in governence. In truth it must be said that the Chola dynasty is somewhat merciful. They try to make friends out of enemies also. To achieve this they are willing to marry into other tribes. Didn’t Sundara Cholar’s father Arinjaya Cholar marry the daughter of Vaithumbarayan? Isn’t it because he is the son of this famed beauty Kalyani that Sundara Cholar and his children surpass in thier beauty?… Ah! The word beauty brings to mind that lady at Kudanthai… the woman on the shore of Arisilaru. This thought did not arise newly out of nowhere. It was memory that had been sweetly dormant in his heart!

When Vandhiyathevan’s mind was occupied with the natural abundance of Chola Nadu and its political embroilment this woman lay in his subconscious mind. Now both conscious and subconscious minds chose to ponder her. After that any natural object of beauty on the outside was compared to the woman’s aspect. The smooth bamboo raised the memory of her shoulders. The waterlilies crowding the canals were a metaphor for her eyes. The doubt arose if the lotus flower was any match to her golden face. Is it correct to compare the sound of her voice to the bees buzzing around the flowering trees of the riverbank? The poets have been saying this, but in truth where do these metaphors lie? Do they even come anywhere near the woman’s beauty? I felt tremors when I saw her face! Even now my chest tightens at the thought of it! These flowers and bees do not produce such feelings! No, no! We have forgotten the advice of our elders! There is nothing more wickedly deceitful in this world than desire for women.

To succeed in life a man ought never to fall into lascivious nets cast by women. If he did, he is finished! Isn’t Kovalan’s story an extraordinary narrative of this matter! Is it only Kovalan? Today isn’t this the reason that people are able to ridicule the most prominent and brave warrior of Chola Nadu, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar? But the people don’t know the truth! They don’t know whom Pazhuvertaraiyar is taking about in that covered palanquin! Therefore, they speak foolishly. Still, that Mathuranthaka Thevar does not have to shame himself in this manner. Cheechee! Who goes about from place to place in a covered palanquin in the disguise of the Pazhuvertaraiyar rani? Is this becoming of a man? Does one really need to grab a kingdom in this manner? Can he keep a kingdom that is taken in this manner? Hasn’t he got to trust and be under the control of the Pazhuverataraiyar men to govern? In this regard even emperor Sundara Cholar’s actions are not commendable! He should not have given so much power and prominence to men like Pazhuvertaraiyar. And when there are two beloved sons like jewels? And with a daughter whose talent and knowledge the entire country admires…? That lady, the one seen at the astrologer’s house, the one who spoke on the riverbank, – whose face does she resemble?.. Can it be? – Insane! It can never be! – Why not? In case it is, then there is no fool like me! There is also no one as unlucky as me! How could I have behaved in that rude and ill-bred manner toward this princess whose fame is spread from Ilankai to mount Vind’hya? It cannot be! How can I face her tomorrow with the prince’s letter?

Letting his thoughts roam the sky and the earth in this manner, Vandhiyathevan traveled along the shore of Kaveri and reached  Thiruvaiyaru. While he stood on the southshore of Kaveri, Thiruvaiyaru lay on its northshore. The beauty and splendor of the village stole his mind. He inquired to make sure that it was indeed Thiruvaiyaru. What he had heard about the glory of this sacred place did not entirely measure up to the reality. It was exactly as described in Gnanasambanthar’s thevaram. In three hundred years there had been no change. There, how spendid those trees have grown on the shore of Kaveri! On the jack fruit trees hang enormously sized fruits. This is not seen anywhere in Thondai Mandalam. Aha! Monkeys would always find a fertile place. How beautifully they are leaping from branch to branch? What has Sambatha Peruman said? Here it is?

“As the baton ran bracelets jingled
from the bud-like faces eyes darted
like fish dancing statues the ornamented
fair strolled in Thiruvaiyaru!”

Women are dancing on the stages of Thiruvaiyaru streets. Drums beat alongside the singing and dancing. The monkeys mistake the drumbeat as thunder and climb to the top of the trees to stare at the sky for signs of rain! Adada! Even today how fitting it is! The monkeys are climbing to the tip of the branches of the tall trees! That is not all! From the village emerges the sweet melody of singing and dancing. The sound of dancers’ anklet-bells were heard to the accompaniment of lute, flute, tabla and mridangam. The dancers here are unlike the folk dance performers at Kadampur Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Aha! Here it is a harmonious and sweet melody. The anklet-bells of talented Bharathanatyam dancers, there, even the sound of the sticks held in the dance teachers hands can be heard in the background!

Aha! Sambantha Swamikal was an exceptional Saiva devotee; more than that he was an exceptional loyalist! This Thiruvaiyaru remains even today just as he had described! I must stay in this famous place a day at least and worship Aiyarappar and Nayaki Amman who preached morality! Adada! How many devotees practising their daily rituals are seated along the Kaveri shore! How beautiful is the lines of holy powder they are wearing! Sometimes over the dancing and singing the chant of ‘Namasivaya’ is heard! Why? There, someone is singing beautifully in a sweet voice Sambanthar’s thevaram itself! This Thiruvaiyaru had been chosen by god himself for music and arts! I must stay here definitely for a day and then leave! What is the use of hurrying to Thanjavur? Am I going to be able to enter the fortress or not? Even if I did, will I be able to see the king? The two Pazhuvertaraiyars are keeping the king like a prisoner it is said…? I must go to Kaveri’s north shore!

When Vandhiyathevan reached this decision something else happened. From the west along the Kaveri’s shore a palanquin came. Behind and in front of it some soldiers also came. Vandhiyathevan had a suspicion. He stood there waiting until the palanquin got closer; it was as he had thought. There was the seal of palmyrah drawn on the palanquin’s curtain. Aha! This is the palanquin coming from Kadampoor! While I came on the Kudanthai route, they have come along another route. But Pazhuvertaraiyar is not to be seen! Perhaps he had stayed somewhere on the way.

The palanquin turned south in the direction of Thanjavur. That was it. Vandhiyathevan gave up the idea of staying at Thiruvaiyaru. He decided to follow the palanquin. Even he didn’t know at that time the reason for his decision. He was certain that it was Mathuranthaka Thevar in the palanquin. His dislike of him grew a little more. Nevertheless, if he followed the palanquin a good opportunity may arise. Those who are carrying the palanquin may put it down. Prince Mathuranthakar may come out for some reason or other. At that time he can meet him. It may help him to gain entry to Thanjavur fortress and to see the emperor. He would just have to speak and act accordingly. Can a mission be accomplished without the use of subtlety and enchantment? And in political affairs?

Therefore, Vandhiyathevan followed behind, letting the palanquin and its entourage go ahead. But no such opportunity as he had expected arose. They had covered the four rivers in between Kaveri and Thanjavur. The palanquin was never placed on the ground; it was going nonstop. At a distance Thanjavur fortress entrance and wall began to appear. After the palanquin goes inside the fortress, his plan cannot succeed. Boldly and confidently something must be done before that. What will happen? Will his head roll? So what? What is the use in going back alive without fulfilling the mission?

While he was thinking of a solution to this, one of the men in the entourage slowed down and stared at Vandhiyathevan.

“Who are you, Appa! Why are you following us from Thiruvaiyaru?” he asked.

“I am not following you, Sir! I am going to Thanjavur! This is the road that goes to Thanjavur?” said Vandhiyathevan.

“This road is going to Thanjavur. But only important people can be on this road; there is another road for others!” said the soldier.

“Is that right? But I am also a very very important man!” said Vandhiyathevan.

The soldier smiled upon hearing it. He asked, “Why are you going to Thanjavur?”

“My uncle is in Thanjai; I heard that he is ill and I am going to see him,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“What is your uncle doing in Thanjai? Is he employed in the palace?”

“No, no; he is the innkeeper!”

“Oho! Is that right! Alright, why don’t you go ahead? Why do you stay behind?”

“The horse is tired, Sir! That is why! Otherwise, what satisfaction is there for me in looking at your back?”

Speaking in this manner, Vandhiyathevan had moved very close to the palanquin. Immediately the solution that he had been raking his mind for, appeared. Digging his feet into the horse’s belly, pulling the head-rope, he steered the horse onto the men carrying the palanquin. They turned back in fear.

At once Vandhiyathevan shouted, “Maharajah! Maharajah! The men carrying the palanquin are attacking my horse! Aiyo! Aiyo!” The curtain covering the palanquin rustled.

22. Velakara Padai

At first, the exterior curtain – the one bearing the palmyrah seal – moved. Then the silk curtain behind it also started to move. Just as Vallavaraiyan had seen before, the golden hued hand also appeared. In a second, Vandhiyathevan, deciding that it was no longer proper to be seated on the horse jumped down.

He ran near the carriage. “Prince! Prince! The people carrying the palanquin…” he said looking up.

He looked again; he closed his eyelids, then opened them again to look; his eyes dazzled! Speech stuttered. Throat became dry.

“No, no! You are.. Pazhuvur princess! Pazhuvur princess… Your men’s horse attacked my palanquin!…” he blurted out.

All of this happened in the blink of an eye. The lancers who were walking behind and ahead of the palanquin came running and surrounded Vallavaraiyan. Vallavaraiyan knew that he was surrounded. Reflexively his hand went to his sword. But he could not remove his eyes from the fascinating moon like face that dazzled at the center of the silk curtain!

Yes; contrary to Vallavaraiyan’s expectation, the figure he saw now in the palanquin was really a woman! Woman, but what sort of a woman! Vandhiyathevan had never thought that this kind of beauty, beauty that could drive the spectators insane could exist in this world!

Fortunately, at that minute a neuron fired in his brain. An extraordinary idea dawned in his mind. He decided to use it.

With great effort, clearing his throat and regaining his ability to speak he said, “Forgive me! Aren’t you Pazhuvur Illaiyarani? I came all this way to see you!”

A faint smile appeared on Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s angelic face. The lotus bud parted a little to reveal slightly the row of white pearls. The luster of that smile left our young soldier gasping for breath.

It seemed that the soldiers around him were waiting for orders from their mistress. When she signaled with her hand, they moved at once and stood a short distance away. Two soldiers took hold of the horse that had collided with the palanquin.

The elegant lady in the palanquin looked at Vandhiyathevan. Two sharp lances pierced Vandhiyathevan’s heart!

“Yes; I am Pazhuvur Illaiyarani!” said the lady. What is it in her voice that intoxicates me so? Why is my head spinning upon hearing that voice?

“What did you say just now? You complained? About the palanquin carreers?”

Soft as Benares silk, intoxicating as toddy, sweet as wild honey, blazing as the rainy season’s lightening – can all of this be combined in one woman’s voice?.. it appears so!

“Did you say that they hit the horse with the palanquin?…”

The playful smile that hovered over the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s coral colored lips indicated that she was enjoying the joke. Because of this Vandhiyathevan grew bolder.

“Yes, Maharani! That is what they did! My horse became agitated!” he replied.

“You too are agitated! Go to the Thurgaiamman temple priest and have him beat you with margosa leaves! The fear will be cured!”

By now Vandhiyathevan’s fear was indeed cured; he was even beginning to smile.

Now the expression on Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s face changed; the cooling smile of a moon turned into fiery anger.

“Jokes aside; tell the truth! Why did you drive the horse into the palanquin?’

A proper response must be made. Or else…? Fortunately, that response had already appeared in Vandhiyathevan’s mind.

A little softly, in a voice intentionally lowered to exclude others and hint at secrecy, he said, “Devi! Nandhini Devi! Azhvarkadiyar… he is the one, Thirumalaiappar… asked me to meet you. That is why I staged this; Pardon me!”

Saying this he looked intently at Pazhuvur Rani’s face. He looked eagerly to find out the reaction to his reply. It was a matter of throwing a stone at the fruit on the tree. Will the fruit fall? Will it be ripe? Will the stone hit me back? Or would I be hit by some unexpected thunder?

Pazhuvur Rani’s eyebrows arched up. Surprise and doubt appeared in her eyes. Next second the lady had arrived at a decision.

“Alright; it is not proper to have a conversation standing in the middle of the street; tomorrow come to our palace! We can speak at length about all matters,” she said.

Vandhiyathevan was thrilled. It seems as if the mission would succeed! But, there is no use leaping three quarter way across the well; the other quarter must be crossed.

“Devi! Devi! They won’t let me into the fortress! They won’t let me into the palace also? What to do?” he said excitedly.

Pazhuvur Rani immediately took a silk bag that was lying near her in the palanquin and took out an ivory ring.

“If you show this they will let you inside the fortress; they will also allow you into the palace!” she said handing the ring.

Vandhiyathevan accepted it eagerly. For a second he examined the ivory ring bearing the Palmyrah seal. When he looked up again to thank the Rani the curtains on the palanquin were closing.

Aha! When Rahu engulfs the full moon it does it gradually. But these curtains on the palanquin had engulfed that talking full moon in one second!

“At least from here on, don’t follow me! There will be danger; wait and come slowly!” the silken voice was heard from inside the palanquin’s curtain. Then the palanquin moved; soldiers went in front of it and behind it as before.

Vandhiyathevan held the horse’s bridle and stood to a side of the street. His eyes observed and conveyed to his subconscious mind that the Pazhuvur man who approached him and spoke to him had turned two or three times and looked at him. Yes; his conscious mind kept circling around the beautiful figure of Pazhuvur Rani. Was it all true, what was heard and seen here? Or was it a beautiful phantasmagoric dream? Can there be such a beautiful, magnificient form in this world!

In the puranas are found heavenly women like Arambai, Urvasi and Menakai. It is also known how their beauty was able to hinder the spritual journey of the ascetics who had given up everything. But in this world… the talk around the country that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar waits as a slave at this beautiful woman’s feet is perhaps true. If it is, there is nothing surprising in it! Where is the gray and elderly Pazhuvertaraiyar, severe in appearance with battlescars all over his body? And where is this great and tender beauty of a young woman? What won’t that old man do for a smile from her?…

After standing on the side of the road for a long time immersed in such thoughts, Vandhiyathevan got on his horse and rode it slowly towards the Thanjai fortress.

He reached the main entrance of the fortress at sunset. The town began at a short distance from the fortress itself. Streets selling various goods, and streets housing people employed in various jobs surrounded the fortress layer after layer. The streets were noisy with people coming and going, those buying goods and those calling out prices, bullock carts and horse wagons. Vandhiyathevan was eager to walk down these streets and see the people and the lifestyles of the inhabitants of the new capital of Chola Nadu. But there was no time for that now. First and foremost is the mission at hand; sightseeing comes later.

With this determination Vandhiyathevan approached the main entrance of Thanjai Nagar. The gigantic doors at the fortress entrance were at that time closed. The guards who stood at the entrance were making the people to get to a side and stand along both sides of the streets. The people also stood to a side. Yes, instead of each one going about their work, they waited as if in expectation of a parade or procession. Men, women, children and the elderly – all stood eagerly.

Up to a short distance from the fortress entrance it was empty. Only the entrance guards stood there.

Vandhiyathevan wanted to find out the reason. When everyone else stood to a side, he didn’t want to approach the guards alone. Unnecessary argument and fight may arise from it. At this point his mission was more important, and not his bravado; this is not the time to get into unnecessary fights.

Therefore, Vandhiyathevan stood to one side of the street where he was able to watch the fortress entrance. Nearby there was the smell of flowers. He turned and looked; he saw a young man, wearing the Saiva symbols of holy powder and bead chains, standing with flower baskets in both hands.

“Kid! Why is everyone standing to a side? Is there a parade or something on the way?” he asked.

“Aren’t you from around here, Sir?”

“No, I am from Thondai Nadu!”

“That is why you are asking; it would be better for you also to get down from the horse.”

Thinking that it would be more convenient to speak to the young man, Vandhiyathevan jumped down from the horse.

“Kid! Why did you want me to get down?”

“Now the velakara army would leave the fortress after paying a visit to the king; that is why these people are waiting on the side.”

“To watch the spectacle?”

“Yes.”

“Why should not I sit on the horse and watch?”

“You can; but if the velakara soldiers see you there will be trouble.”

“What trouble? Will they take the horse away?”

“They will take the horse away; they will take the people also away, they are bad.”

“Would people let them take the horse and the man away?”

“What else? Velakara army’s word is the law here in this town. No one here questions them. Even the Pazhuvertaraiyars don’t interfere in the affairs of the velakara padai.”

At this time from within the fortress was heard a noisy commotion. Along with drums and horns the cheers of hundreds of people rose producing echoes.

Vandhiyathevan knew about the velakara padai. In the ancient tamil country, especially in Chola Nadu, it functioned as an important institution. ‘Velakarar’ served as bodyguards to the ruling king of the time. But there was a difference between other ordinary bodyguards and them. They have taken a vow to sacrifice even their own lives in order to save the king’s life. They have vowed to cut their heads off with their own hands at the sanctuary of Thurgai in the event the king fell into danger through their negligence or circumstances beyond their control. Isn’t it natural that the soldiers who had taken such a difficult vow enjoy certain privileges not available to others?

The two doors of the fortress entrance slammed opened noisily. In front came two soldiers on horses. In their right hand they held a flag that flew high. The flag bore a curious depiction. In the red color flag was a tiger and a crown underneath. Below the crown was a sacrificial altar, with a decapitated head next to a large sacrificial knife. The flag was a little frightening.

Behind the flag bearing horsemen came a bull carrying two kettle drums. Two men stood beating the drums.

Behind the bull came about fifty soldiers beating drums small and large and tom-toms. Behind them another fifty came blowing ‘pam, pam, papam’ into long and curved horns. Behind them walked about thousand soldiers. Majority of them sounded out the following cheers in voices as loud as thunder.

“Long live Paranthaka Chola emperor of the earth!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Long live Sundara Chola king!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Long live Kozhi Venthar!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Long live Thanjaiyar Kohn!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Long live the Peruman who defamed Veerapandyan!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Long live the Ko Rajakesari who conquered Madurai, Eezham and Thondai Mandalam!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Long live the Karikal Valavan tribe!”

“Long live! Long live!”

“Victory to Thurgai Makali Parathpari Parasakthi!”

“Victory1 Victory!”

“Victory to the tiger flag!”

“Victory! Victory!”

“Vetti Vel! Veera Vel!”

Those who heard these cheers arising from hundreds of voices were overcome with emotion. When the procession came through the fortress entrance the echoes produced by the cheers also combined together. Many among the crowds on the sides of the streets joined in the cheering. In this manner, from the time the Velakara padai soldiers emerged from the fortress entrance, walked down the streets and disappeared into the distance, there was much commotion.

23. Amuthan’s Mother

Velakarar Padai went along main street. Some of the soldiers who were at the tail end performed some mischivous acts. One of them went inside a delicatessen and brought out a basket full of sweet cake and distributed it among the other soldiers. When he turned the empty basket upside down over the shopkeeper’s head, the soldiers and pedestrians on the street roared with laughter, ‘Hah Hahhah.’ Another soldier grabbed the flower basket from an elderly woman’s hand. He poured the flowers out saying, “Flower shower!” The soldiers who tried to catch the flowers he threw, leaped and laughed and had a good time. Another soldier stopped a bullock cart that came opposite, untying the bull from the cart and chasing it away. The agitated bull ran among the crowd trampling a few people; again there was only laughter and merriment!

Vandhiyathevan who had been observing all of this thought, “Aha! They are fooling around just like Pazhuvertaraiyar’s soldiers. Their foolhardiness is a cause for misery to others. Fortunately, I had kept out of their sight. Or else there would have been a fight. It would have spoiled the mission.” But he also sensed one difference. The people here did not dislike the playful behavior of the Velakara padai soldiers. The people joined them in their merriment!

When vandhiyathevan turned to ask about this he did not see the young boy with the flower baskets. Amid the crowd and commotion the boy had gone somewhere. Perhaps he went to do his work.

Vandhiyathevan found out that after the Velakara Padai leaves no one is allowed into the fortress. Those who could go in and out of the palace, day or night, were limited to the members of the royal family, ministers and generals. Vandhiyathevan found out that the Pazhuvertaraiyar family also had this privilege. Therefore, he changed his mind about entering the fortress that night. Vandhiyathevan didn’t want to put the ring with the seal to the test by showing it. It was better to spend the night outside, see the city and then enter the fortress after sunrise. Even if he were to enter the fortress at night won’t it be impossible to visit the king and hand him the letter?

Seeing the sights Vandhiyathevan went slowly through the streets surrounding the wall of the fortress. After traveling several miles that day his horse was very tired. It needed to be given rest soon. Otherwise the horse will not be of any use for the following day’s work! A place must be found as soon as possible to rest comfortably.

Thanjaipuri was at that time a town that was newly expanding and growing. In addition the time was evening. Hundreds of street lights were lit, providing illumination.

The streets were crowded with people. Those who came from out of town on business were seen walking. Among them were people who had come from Chola Nadu cities and villages. People from countries that were newly added to the Chola empire were also seen. Many had come to the capital from places situated from the river Porunai to the shore of Palaru and from the eastern coast to the western coast. Even a few people who had come from north of the Vind’ya mountain and from countries across the seas were seen occasionally.

Like flies people surrounded the shops selling hoppers and sweet cake and were buying the goods. Bananas and other fruits lay in heaps. The flower shops were beyond description. Mullai, Jasmine, Thiruarthi and Chenpakam appeared as hills. Women surrounded these flower hills buzzing like bees.

When Vandhiyathevan came in the vicinity of the flower shops he was reminded of the young flower vendor. How convenient it would be if he could see him again? He could be consulted about a place to spend the night comfortably!… While he was thinking in this manner Vandhiyathevan saw the young man approaching at a short distance. He got down from the horse and went near him.

“Brother! There is nothing in the baskets? Where are the flowers? Were they all sold?” he said.

“I didn’t bring the flowers to sell. The flowers were for temple pooja; they had been delivered; I am returning home.”

“To which temple are you providing this flower delivery service?”

“Have you heard of Thalikulathar temple?”

“Oho! I have heard of Thanjai Thalikulathar. It sounds like the same. Is it a big temple?”

“No; it is a small temple. For some time now it has been the Thurgaiamman temple that has been popular in Thanjai. There is more pooja, offering, sacrifice and festivals happening there. The royal family and the Pazhuvertaraiyars frequent the temple of Thurgaiamman. Thalikulathar temple is not that popular; there aren’t many people coming there to worship…”

“You are delivering these flowers? Do you get paid?”

“My family has free tenure of land for this purpose. Issued by emperor Kandarathithar this has been in my family from my grandfather’s time. At the moment my mother and I are performing this duty.”

“Is Thalikulathar temple a red stone work? Or is it granite?” asked Vallavaraiyan. Because he had seen many red stone temples being turned into granite on his way he raised the question.

“It is red stone; I hear that very soon it will be turned into granite. It seems that Pazhaiyarai elder stateswoman wants to begin this holy work immediately. But..” the young man hesitated.

“But what?”

“What is the use in repeating rumors? I have heard it said – in daylight look around before speaking, at night don’t speak at all. This is a junction of four roads; there are people all around us…”

“This is the kind of place where one can tell secrets without fear. In this big crowd and noise no one can hear us.”

“What secrets have we got?” said the young man, looking at Vandhiyathevan a bit suspiciously.

Aha! This boy is intelligent! His friendship would be rewarding! Much can be found out! But I should not make him feel suspicious unnecessarily – Thinking in this manner, Vandhiyathevan said, “Yes; what secrets are there? There is none. Never mind, brother! I have to sleep somewhere peacefully for the night. I am very tired after a long journey. Where can I stay? Can you guide me to a good inn?”

“There is no lack of places to stay in this town! There are many guest houses; For those coming from abroad there are also government inns. But, if you wish…”

“Brother! What is your name?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“Amuthan; Senthan Amuthan.”

“Adada! What a fantastic name? Even hearing it I taste honey in my mouth… You were about to ask me to stay at your house if I wished?”

“Yes, how did you know that?”

“I have magic; that is how. Where is your house?”

“Our garden lies within earshot when you cross the townlimit; the house is inside the garden,” said Amuthan.

“Aha! In that case I will certainly come to your house. I cannot spend the night amid the bustle of this city. Moreover, I want to meet the honest woman who produced an honest son like you.”

“My mother is indeed an honest woman; But she is unlucky…”

“Adada! Why do you say that? Perhaps your father…”

“My father passed away; but not only that. My mother is unlucky from birth. You will find out. Let’s go.”

After a fifteen minute walk, they reached the flower garden that lay outside the town. Vandhiyathevan was pleasnatly seduced by the sweet smelling fragrance of the nocturnal flowers. The hustle and bustle of the town’s streets did not reach here.

In the middle of the flower garden was a tiled roof house. Next to it were two huts. Two families who helped with the garden work lived in those huts. Amuthan asked one of them to feed and tie Vandhiyathevan’s horse to a tree.

Then he went into the house. When Vandhiyathevan saw Amuthan’s mother he understood her misfortune. The elder woman was unable to speak. She was also unable to hear. But Vandhiyathevan saw compassion and love on her face. There was also intelligence. Isn’t it one of creation’s wonders that when one is deformed in one organ they are compensated with extraordinary intelligence?

With a few signs from Amuthan his mother found out that the guest was a foreigner. Her face expressed her kindness and hospitality.

In a short time the woman laid down a leaf and served food. First came stringhoppers and sweet coconut milk. Vandhiyathevan had never  tasted such a delicious dish. He ate about ten to twelve stringhoppers and half a measure of coconut milk. Then came tamarind curry and corn bread; he tasted that also. Even then his hunger was not satiated; finally he devoured a quarter measure of rice and half a measure of curd! Then only he rose from the leaf.

While eating he found out some matters from Amuthan. He inquired which other important persons were inside the Thanjai fortress besides the emperor and his palace entourage.

There were the elder and younger Pazhuvertaraiyars and their entourages. Because both the treasury and granary were inside the fortress, the officials and accountants attending to these were also there. Anirutha Brahmarayar, a minister who held the confidential trust and affection of the emperor and the eulogist also lived in the fortress. In addition the soldiers who guarded the Thanjai fortress under the leadership of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and their families were also there. Gold and silver jewelry merchants, gem merchants and goldsmiths also had been accomodated inside the fortress. Under the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar were hundreds of book keeping officers employed in taxation. Thurgaiamman temple was in a corner inside the fortress. The temple priests, aids and managers lived near the temple.

After finding out this information Vandhiyathevan asked, “Are all the ministers present inside the fortress now?”

“How can all of them be there? They will be going in and out on various errands. Anirutha Brahmarayar has been out of town for some time. The rumor is that he has gone to Sera Nadu. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar left four days ago. Rumor is that he went to Nadunadu, north of Kollidam.”

“He may have returned? Perhaps you are not aware!”

“This evening Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s palanquin returned. I saw it at the fortress entrance; but Pazhuvertaraiyar didn’t come. He may have stopped somewhere on the way and may be returning tomorrow.”

“Brother! Prince Mathuranthakathevar is also residing in the fortress?”

“Yes; Mathuranthakar’s palace is next to the Pazhuvertaraiyar palace. He is the son-in-law who married the daughter of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

“Oho! Is that so? I didn’t know it until now!”

“Not many people know. Becuase of the emperor’s ill health the wedding was not publicized.”

“Good; Mathuranthakathevar is now in the fortress?”

“He ought to be; but Mathuranthaka Thevar does not usually come outside. People don’t usually see him. Rumor is that he is a saiva devotee who spends his time mostly in meditation and worship.”

“Yet he has married after all these days?”

“Yes; it is a bit surprising. They also say that after the marriage the beidegroom’s mind has changed; what do we care about that? It is better not to speak about high places…”

Vandhiyathevan was eager to find out more information from Senthan Amuthan. But he didn’t want to arouse his suspicion by asking too much. Such a quiet boy’s friendship would be of great help to him. He was fortunate to have found a house like this to stay in Thanjai. Why spoil all of that? Moreover, the previous night’s sleeplessness was added to the tiresome long journey. Sleep was in his eyes. Knowing his state Senthan Amuthan soon got his bedding ready.

Finally, in the hazy moment before sleep the beautiful face of Pazhuvur Illaiyarani appeared in Vandhiyathevan’s mind. Oh! How beautiful! How glamourous! When he thought of how he had come upon that enchanting face in the palanquin and his own dumbstruck response of shock and awe he was reminded of another experience.

Once, in his younger age when he was walking through the forest, suddenly in front of him a snake appeared dancing, raising its opened head. It’s beauty was extraordinary! The attraction involuntary! Vandhiyathevan could not remove his eyes from the snake’s opened head; he could not bat his eyelids either. He stood staring; the snake kept dancing! When the snake danced, his body also swayed to its rhythm – what may have come of this will never be known. Suddenly a mongoose appeared and jumped on the snake. Both began fighting. Vandhiyathevan made use of the opportunity to run away!…

Cheechee! What an example! Should this most magically beautiful woman of the world be compared to a dancing snake? One glance at her angelic face will satiate hunger!… Tomorrow I am going to see her again! How sweet is her voice! She is indeed an extraordinary beauty. But that other woman I saw at Kudanthai astrologer’s house and at Arisilattankarai?… Her face was also enchanting! There was beauty!… Even though both faces were attractive what a big difference! That one was majestic and generous; this one, magical and seductive!.. While he was thus comparing the two women’s faces, the ruthless dictator of a queen, the goddess of sleep compleltely took possession of Vandhiyathevan.

24. Crow and the Koel

After sleeping like a log Vandhiyathevan woke up only after the sun was up. Even after waking he lay there without having the heart to get up. ‘Cho’ – the west wind blew swiftly; the branches and leaves on the trees grazed one another. Harmonizing with that pitch, a young boy’s sweet voice sang the devotional hymn of Sundaramoorthi Swamikal.

Hearing it, Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes and looked. In front of him appeared konrai trees with garlands of golden flowers hanging from them. Senthan Amuthan with a basket in one hand and a rake in the other was plucking the golden shower flowers while singing. Having bathed  early in the morning and adorned with sacred ash he looked like the Saiva devotee Markandan. Vandhiyathevan rose with the thought that his mother wasn’t blessed to hear this sweet and beautiful voice of her child. Why shouldn’t he also spend his time like Amuthan growing flowers and serving the temple? Why should he with sword and spear in hand go from place to place? Why should he roam about ready to kill and be killed at all times? – These thoughts arose in his mind. But his mind changed in a little while. Would everyone in the world be Saiva devotees like Senthan Amuthan? There will be thiefs, robbers, imposters and those who enjoy torturing the destitute. Government is necessary to curb these people and maintain law and justice. To govern there must be kings and ministers. To protect them from danger Velakara army is necessary. Like him people are also necessary to carry letters to the kings…. Yes! Sundara Chola emperor must be seen today. Before the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar returns the emperor must be paid a visit. If he returns it may not be possible….

Vandhiyathevan handsomely dressed himself after bathing in the lotus pond next to the flower garden. Can one be ordinary while visiting the emperor? We cannot tell if this alone was his intention or if he harbored thoughts of seeing Pazhuvur Illaiyarani again that day.

After breakfast, while Senthan Amuthan left with flower baskets for mid-day pooja, Vandhiyathevan set out to visit the emperor. Both of them were walking.

Vallavaraiyan had already decided not to take the horse inside the fortress. It was important to give the horse time to rest. Very soon he may need the horse for a rapid getaway. Who knows? However it may turn out, it was best for it to remain here.

He found out a few more details by chatting with Amuthan until they reached the entrance to the fortress.

“Besides your mother don’t you have any other relatives?” To Vallavaraiyan’s question Amuthan replied: “There are, there is a sister and a brother of my mother. Sister has passed away; brother performs the flower service at Kodikarai Kulakar temple. In addition during the night he lights the lamp on the lighthouse and serves as the lighthouse keeper… He has a son and a daughter; the daughter…” He paused.

“What about the daughter?”

“Nothing. Our family is strange. Some will be born dumb; others will have a sweet voice; they can sing well…”

“Your uncle’s daughter is not dumb?” said Vandhiyathevan.

“No, no!”

“Then you are saying that she is a good singer. Does she sing better than you?”

“Good question. It’s like asking, ‘would the crow sing better than the koel?’ When Poongkuzhali sings, the king of the ocean will halt the waves and listen in silence. Cattle and wild animals of the forest will stand mesmerized…”

“Your uncle’s daughter’s name is Poongkuzhali? Beautiful name!”

“Only the name is beautiful?”

“She must also be beautiful; otherwise, would you be so enraptured?”

“For beauty, the deer and peacock are beggars in front of her. Rathi and Indrani must do many incarnations of pennance to have her beauty.”

Vallavaraiyan saw that Senthan Amuthan’s heart was not entirely given to Saiva devotion.

“In that case you mean she is a suitable bride for you. Uncle’s daughter is traditionally so! When is the wedding?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“I will never say that she is suitable for me. I am in no way suitable for her. Like in the old days if a suyamvaram is held for Poongkuzhali, kings from fifty six countries would compete! Lords from the heavens would arrive just like in the case of Thamayanthi. But in this sinful age nothing like that would happen…”

“Then you are saying that even if she wanted to marry you, you would refuse!”

“Are you kidding?; If god appeared before me and asked, ‘Do you want to come to heaven like Sundaramoorthi in this body? Or do you want to live with Poongkuzhali on this earth?’ I would say, ‘I will live with Poongkuzhali’; but what is the use of my talk?”

“Why is there no use? When you are willing isn’t the wedding almost over? Is anyone marrying with the woman’s approval? For example, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar at over sixty five years of age has got married! Would the marriage have taken place with that Rani’s consent!…”

“Brother! These are matters of high places, why should we discuss it? I am warning you, specifically. You are going inside the fortress; in there don’t speak anything about the Pazhuvertaraiyars. If you do, there will be trouble!…”

“What is it, Brother? You are frightening me to the core?”

“I am speaking the truth. Truly, it is the two Pazhuvertaraiyars who are now ruling the Chola empire. There is no other power above theirs.”

“Even the emperor does not have power over them?”

“The emperor is down with illness. People say that he does not cross the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ line. And that he doesn’t have ears even for his own sons’ words.”

“Is that the matter? Pazhuvertaraiyars’ influence must be strong. Two years ago they didn’t have such influence?”

“No; after the emperor came to Thanjai their influence has surpassed all limits. There is no one who can question them. Rumor is that even Anirutha Brahmarayar has become frustrated and gone to Pandya Nadu.”

“Why did the emperor leave Pazhaiyarai and come to Thanjavur? Do you know, Brother?”

“I will tell what I have heard; three years ago Veerapandyan died in the war. Rumor is that at that time the Chola troops performed some atrocities in Pandya Nadu; isn’t that the nature of war? Madurai became part of the Chola empire. But, apparently some people close to Veerapandyan have vowed to take revenge and are making plans. Because they cannot protect the king if he remained in Pazhaiyarai, the Pazhuvertaraiyars have brought the king to Thanjai. Here the fortress is strong; security is also more tight. In addition doctors have said that Thanjavur was better than Pazhaiyarai for the emperor’s health.”

“Everyone is talking about Sundara Cholar’s health. But no one seems to know what is ailing him?”

“No one knows? The emperor has paralysis and has lost power in both of his legs.”

“Adada! So he cannot walk at all?”

“He cannot walk; he cannot get on an elephant or horse; he is bed-ridden. He can go from place to place only with a palanquin. Even that is very painful. Therefore the emperor never leaves the palace. They are even saying that for some time now, his mind has also been affected.”

“Aha! What a pity!”

“You should not use the word pity, Brother! Pazhuvertaraiyars will punish you calling it defamation of the king.”

Pazhuvertaraiyar! Pazhuvertaraiyar! – wherever and whomever one speaks to, the talk is always about the Pazhuvertaraiyars! However heroic they may be? The emperor should not have allowed the treasury, granary, Thanjai city security, espionage – all of this to be under their control. Isn’t it beacuse he relinquished so much power to them that they are plotting against the emperor? How successful will their treachery be? We must try as much as we can to make it fail. If we get a chance we should also warn the emperor!…

By then the fortress entrance had arrived. Senthan Amuthan left his new friend and went towards the Thali Kulathar temple. Vandhiyathevan approached the fortress entrance, erecting castles in his mind.

25. Inside the Fortress

Like the magical rings in fiction, the ring bearing the palmyrah emblem also had supernatural powers.

In the early hours of the morning there were milk and curd vendors, florists, vegetable sellers, fruit shopkeepers, workers of various toils, accountanats, officers and others trying as one big crowd to enter the fortress. The entrance guards had on display their excessive authority while letting people in one by one through the wicket.

But as soon as our young soldier showed the palmyrah ring, the soldiers with much respect opened one of the fortress gates; Vandhiyathevan entered the fortress.

Aha! We don’t know the alignment of the stars at the time Vandhiyathevan set foot inside the Thanjaipuri fortress! How many important incidents would follow from there! It turned out to be a turning point in the history of the Chola empire! For a short while after entering the fortress Vandhiyathevan was steeped in wonder.

Kanji is the capital of the old Pallava empire. It came under attack from enemies several times. The palaces, towers and other buildings were dilapidated and decayed with mildew and blooming toad-stools. They were buildings bearing exquisite sculptural art; yet many parts were broken and fallen. A few palaces alone that Athitha Karikalar had renovated since his arrival, stood out like occasional sprigs on a dying tree, highlighting the city’s ruined visage.

Thanjai’s appearance was different. All were new palaces; new towers. Amid white limestone palaces a few buildings built with red clay -fired red bricks sparkled like rubies among pearls and diamonds. Fattened by the nutrients of the red earth the intermittent trees in the palace gardens were tall and lustrous. The many shades of green arising out of the thick crop of leaves on the punnai, coocnut, ashokam, arasu, banyan, jack fruit, neem and other trees provided a pleasant sight for the eyes invigorating the mind. This is the newest town built by the extraordinarily gifted Mayan. Entering this city, one felt a new excitement; the heart overflowed; an unknown pride seized it.

Observing the palace’s security and the obstacles for entrance, Vandhiyathevan expected the interior to be deserted without too many people. But contrarily the streets were jubilantly crowded. Horses and horse driven chariots raced noisily sending tremors through the earth. The bells on elephants, moving like dark hills with deliberate and majestic steps, were heard from all four sides! The yells of flower, vegetable, fruit, milk and curd sellers burrowed through the ears. Every now and then together with the temple bells, the sound of kettle drums interspersed. Women’s singing was accompanied by the sweet music of instruments. It all felt like a joyous festival.

Isn’t this the ideal city! The capital of an empire that is expanding day by day would indeed be like this!

Vandhiyathevan didn’t want to show that he was entirely new to the city. If one asks for directions they would look you up and down and ask with contempt, ‘Are you new to the place?’ If one asked for directions they would even think that person had come from the boondocks. Therefore, the emperor’s palace must be found without asking anyone for directions; it won’t be impossible…

Whichever direction one glanced in there were streamers and flags on all towers and palaces. ‘Chada-chada pada-pada’, they flew noisily battling with the severe west wind. Mostly palmyrah and tiger flags were seen. Above all other flags flew one big tiger flag majestically reaching the clouds. Vallavaraiyan guessed that it must be the emperor’s palace and walked in the direction of that flag while thinking about what he needed to do next. First and foremost, he must meet the emperor and hand him the letter. In addition he must tell him what Athitha Karikalar has asked him to tell. Without the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s permission he cannot see the emperor. How does one get his permission? God has helped him to enter the fortress. But can one leave the rest to God also? I must find a way to see the emperor! What is the way? Oh, brain, thou descended from the Vahnar line! Do a little work, let’s see! Let your imagination take off! Imagination is necessary not only for poets and fiction writers. The power of imagination is necessaryy for those like you involved in the affairs of the kingdom; where, show your expertise, let’s see!…

Vandhiyathevan made sure that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar has not yet returned to the fortress.

Once he came past the fortress entraance, he asked a guard inside, “Why, Sir! Has Pazhuvertaraiyar returned?”

“Whom do you mean, Son! The younger one is in the palace.”

“Don’t I know that? I mean the elder who went to the central region.”

“Oh! The elder went to Nadunadu? I didn’t know that. Yesterday evening the young queen’s palanquin returned. The elder king has not yet come back; news arrived that he might return tonight!” said the guard.

This is good news. Before the elder Pzhuvertaraiyar returns, somehow he has to see the emperor and give the letter, what is the way?… An idea dawned in Vandhiyathevan’s mind. That very moment the expression of concern on his face disappeared; a mischivous smile and cheerfulness appeared.

He didn’t have to roam around too much to find the emperor’s palace. He walked in the direction of the big tiger flag. Soon he was at the palace entrance. Aha! What a palace! Like Devendran’s palace in heaven and Vikramathithan’s in Ujjayini city? How captivativating is the sculpture work on the pillars of the entrance tower? The horse carved on each pillar appeared to raise its front legs and leap in real time!

Several paths appeared from all four directions to reach the palace. At the end of each path stood two soldiers on horses and a few foot soldiers. Many of the people on these streets turned back without going near them. Some came near them, had a peek at the palace entrance, looked up at the tiger flag and turned. If it appeared that people were pausing too long and a crowd was gathering, the guards signaled with their hands to leave. The people who gathered also without being loud, spoke softly in each other’s ears.

Vandhiyathevan did not hesitate like the others. Walking fast and brisquely he approached the guards on the path to the palace. At once the two horses with their faces grazing each other blocked the way. The spears of the horse men and foot soldiers touched tip to tip to block the way.

Vandhiyathevan extended his magical ring. That was all; as soon as they saw it there came a pall over their brisque and pride demeanor. One after another three people scrutinized the ring.

“Alright; make way!” said one. Two spears parted; Vandhiyathevan walked ahead brisquely.

So what? How many more barriers are there? Where is the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar? How to inquire? From whom to inquire? Without the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s permission it is not possible to see the emperor; In this big spacious palace who knows where the ailing emperor is? How does one find that out?…

Vandhiyathevan sensed a group of people behind him and turned to look. Yes; ten to fifteen people came as a group and stood near the guards. They had on expensive gold and yellow colored silk cloth. They wore pearl necklaces, bead necklaces and ear rings. Some had sacred ash on their foreheads, others had sandalwood paste, vermillion or sago pottu. Ah! They look like poets!.. Yes, in the next second it was known that they were poets.

One of the guards – perhaps their leader, in addition to saying, “Distinguished poets have arrived! Make way!”, said to one of the soldiers, “Take them to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. He is in the visitor’s hall!”

When he added, “Poets! If you receive an award come back this way! Or else, go back another way!”, the others laughed.

Vandhiyathevan who had waited listening to this conversation thought, ‘the fruit slipped into the milk!’ If he went along with these poets he can reach the place where the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was. There would be no necessity to ask anyone for directions. After that, there is my ability; there is also luck! While thinking in this manner he went along with the crowd of poets.

26. Danger! Danger!

Vandhiyathevan entered the visitors hall before the poets. He guessed that the person seated majestically on a high throne there was the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Around him stood many with their hands folded and their mouths covered. One stood carrying the letters that had arrived that day. The commanders of the security force stood awaiting their day to day orders from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Servants awaited to perform his bid. Some footmen stood behind fanning him. One was ready with the beetle box in his hand.

Even Vandhiyathevan who was second to none in pride and self-importance approached the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar with a little modesty and humility.

The younger brother appeared a step above the older one in his stately countenance. When he saw our warrior he asked pleasntly, “Who are you, Son! Where are you from?”

The younger Pazhuverataraiyar’s face would involuntarily blossom at the sight of brave young men. He was very eager to have in his security force all of the brave young men in the country.

“Colonel! I came from Kanjipuram! The prince had sent a letter!” Vandhiyathevan replied in a humble voice.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face became severe at the word Kanjipuram.

“What? What did you say?” he asked again.

“I came with a letter from the Prince in Kanjipuram!”

“Where? Give it here!” Even though he asked contemptuously there was a bit of alarm in his voice.

With utmost servility Vallavaraiyan took out the leaf scribe saying, “Colonel! The ola is for the emperor!”

Paying no heed to it the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar took the letter and looked at it curiously. He gave it to the man standing next to him and asked him to read it. Listening, he mumbled to himself, “Nothing new!”

“Colonel! The letter that I brought…” said Vandhiyathevan.

“What about the letter? I will give it to the emperor!”

“No; I was asked to hand it to the emepror in person…”

“Oho! You don’t trust me? Prince Athithar instructed you so?” When he said it mustard and gram were exploding on the Thanjai frotress commander’s face.

“The prince didn’t say that; It was your brother who ordered that!”

“Why? Why? Where did you see the elder brother?”

“On the way I spent a night at Kadmapoor Sambuvaraiyar’s house. That is where I happened to see him. He also gave this ring…”

“Aha! Why didn’t you tell me this before? You spent the night at Kadampoor? Who else was there?”

“Many prominent men from Mazhanadu, Nadunadu and Thirumunaipadi Nadu were there…”

“Wait, wait! I will find out leisurely. First, you give this letter to the emperor and come! Afterwards the Tamil poets will be here. They will be talking, ‘valla valla valla,’ without a pause… Take this boy to the emperor!” younger Pazhuvertaraiyar ordered a soldier who was standing nearby.

Following the soldier Vandhiyathevan went further into the palace. The throne of the Chola empire that extended to the sound of the ocean on three sides had of late turned into a sick bed. Paranthaka Sundara Chola emperor was lying down on that throne. Even though he had handed the task of governing to others and was undergoing medical treatment, he had to offer his presence at certain important occasions and to certain important people. It was important for the welfare of the kigndom, for the ministers, colonels and velakara padai soldiers to visit him daily. Vandhiyathevan was speechless when he saw the thin ailing figure of the emperor who had earned the name ‘asakaya surar’ for his valiant performance in many battle fronts, who was famously compared to Manmathan for his appearance and was known as ‘Sundara Cholar’ all over the country. Tears welled in his eyes. He piously handed the letter after toucheing the emperor’s feet in greeting.

The emperor, taking the letter asked in a weak voice, “Where are you coming from? Whose letter?”

His toungue faltering Vandhiyathevan said “Lord! I came from Kanji. Prince Athitha Karikalar’s letter!”

The emperor’s face immediately brightened. Next to him was seated the daughter of Thirukovilur Mallaiamman’s daughter Vanamadevi. He looked at her and said, “Devi! A letter has come from your son!”

“Aha! The prince has built a palace in gold at Kanji. He has invited you and me to come and spend a few days there!” A frown appeared on the emperor’s face as he spoke.

“Devi! See your son’s work? My grandfather, the world famous emperor Paranthakar, gave all the gold in the palace to Thillaiamapalm, wove a gold roof over it and made it Ponnampalam. None of our ancestors built themselves a palace in gold. They considered building a temple more important than building a palace. But Athitha Karikalan has done this! Aha! How can we atone for this insult to god?”

Devi’s face that had blossomed a little upon hearing about the son’s letter turned sadder than before; she could not provide an answer.

Vandhiyathevan at that time forcing himself to be courageous and bold said, “Lord! There is nothing wrong in what your beloved son did? He had done what is appropriate. First and foremost, aren’t the mother and father, the gods of a son? Therefore isn’t it proper that your son built a gold palace for Devi and yourself?”

Sundara Cholar smiled and said, “Son! I don’t know who you are. You are very wise; you speak skillfully. But even if parents are god to the son, it is not the same for others! Shouldn’t a gold temple be built for the god everyone worships?”

“Lord! For the son, his father is god; for the people, their king is god. Vedic writings say that kings are the likeness of Thirumal. Therefore it is fitting that a gold palace has been built for you!” said our warrior.

Sundara Cholar again looked at Mallaiamman’s beloved daughter and said, “Devi! Do you see how intelligent this boy is? If our Athithan has the help of people like him, we need not worry about him. We also need not fret about his absent mindedness!”

Then looking at Vandhiyathevan he said, “Son! Whether it was proper or not to build a palace in gold, it is not possible for me to come to Kanji. You can see! I am always in bed. It is impossible to undertake a long journey. It is Athithan who must come here to see me. We also want to see him. Come tomorrow again! I will tell them to have a reply!”

At this time, Vandhiyathevan knew a crowd was approaching the reception hall. Aha! It must be the group of poets! Perhaps the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar would come with them. Then it won’t be possible for him to say what he wanted to say! It must be said now in four words, quickly! –Making a decision in a few seconds he said, “Emperor! Please! Kindly listen to my request! You must leave this Thanjai. Here you are surrounded by danger! Danger! Danger!…”

While he was thus speaking the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the reception hall. The poets followed him.

The last words that Vandhiyathevan spoke fell on the fortress commander’s ears. His face burst forth in a flame of anger!

27. Visiting Poets

Parak! Parak! Here comes the the great poets! Scholaraly bards! Those who have reached the shores of the great ocean that is Tamil! Those who came in the tradition of Agathiyanar! Those who have tasted the essence of Tholkapiyam and other Sangam classics! Those who have read Cilapathikaram and others of the five major plays backwards and forwards! Those who have also dipped their minds into the divine Tamil code of Thirukural! Those who know grammar to understand literature! Those who know literaure to define grammar! Talented in reciting their own poetry. Imagine the scribes of their poetic endeavor that can provide fodder and long lives to millions and millions of termites!

The great poets gathered as a group in the presence of emperor Sundara Cholar.

“Long live! Long live! Long live the great emeperor Sundara Cholar who rules the seven worlds under one umbrella! Long live the Perumal who brought down Pandyan! Long live the Peruman who enriches the poets! Long live the kind sponsor of poetic lives! Long live the beloved grandson of the great scholar emperor Paranthakar!” they cheered.

Sundara Cholar did not care much for this shouting and cheering. However, without showing it on the outside, forgetting his ailment, he tried to get up to welcome them.

Immediately, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar came in front and said, “Lord, the poets are here to visit and pay their respects to you and not to cause discomfort to you. Therefore, please do not trouble yourself!”

“Yes, yes! King of kings! Lord the emperor! We didn’t come to give you even the least bit of discomfort!” said the head of the poets, Nallan Sahthanar.

“I am very happy to see all of you after a long time. Everyone, please be seated. You must recite a few poems before leaving!” said the Tamil enthusiast, the emperor.

Everone sat on the luxurious carpet on the floor. Our warrior Vallavaraiyan also grasped this opportunity and seated himself among the poets. He didn’t have the heart to leave before telling the emperor everything he wanted to tell. He thought perhaps he could do it if another opportunity arose.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar observed this. His moustache was twitching. At first he considered sending him out. Then he decided that it was best to have him there within his sight. Therefore, he pretended not to notice him. After the poets left, he wanted to take him outside and find out what message he had given the emperor. ‘Danger! Danger!’ – his voice kept sounding in his ears.

“Poets! It has been a long time since I heard Tamil songs. My ears are hungry for Tamil songs. Has anyone of you brought any new songs?” asked emperor Sundara Cholar.

At once a distinguished poet stood and up and said, “Lord! I have come from the Sundara Great Chola hermitage that is named after you in Ulakapuram. The Buddhists all over this Tamil land are praising you, a Saiva devotee, for helping their Buddhist monastery with your generous gift. Since they came to know about your illness, the monks have been very unhappy and have been conducting prayer meetings for your health. Please grant me permission to recite that hymn here!”

“Please do; I am waiting to hear it,” said the emperor.

The poet sang the following verse set to music.

“Buddha in the shade of the fig tree, the one who spreads your fame
the great Nanthipuri king Sundara
Cholar his wealth beauty and
strength may it excel forever in this world!”

(In those days Pazhaiyarai also had the name Nanthipuri. A while before when Chola territory was under Pallava rule the name Nanthipuri was popular. Therefore Nanthipuri king is mentioned in this old song.)

When they heard it all the poets praised it with cheers of, “Great! Great!”

“So much gratitude from Buddhists, surprise, surprise!” said a brave Saiva bard.

“Yes; It is a matter of surprise. My service to Ulakapuram Buddhist monastery was miniscule. Do I deserve so much praise?” said the king.

“Who can withhold eternal gratitude and praise after enjoying the emperor’s superior generosity? Even Indran, Sooriyan and Sivaperuman have enjoyed the fruits of your bounty!” said another distinguished poet.

With a smile hovering over his face, Sundara Cholar asked, “What is that? Indran, Sooriyan and Sivaperuman too? Why should they thank me?”

“Please grant me permission to recite a song!” said the poet.

“Alright!” said the king.

The poet opened the ola he had in his hand and read:

“For Indran’s transport he provided an elephant
He provided seven horses
to the sun-god who works everyday
For Sivan’s wedding
he provided a palanquin
Pazhaiyarai city
Sundara Cholar who can compare to him
in this world!”

When he finished reading, all the poets expressed their appreciation with cheers of ‘Aha!’ and ‘Well done!, Well done!’ while nodding their heads and waving their hands.

Sundara Cholar his happiness showing on his face asked, “Can someone explain the meaning of this song?”

Many stood up at the same time. Then everyone except Nallan Sahthanar sat down. Nallan Sahthanar related the meaning of the song.

“Once there was a war between Thevendran and Viruthirasuran. In it Indran’s Iravatham died. Indran was wondering where he could find another one so valuable. In the end he came to emperor Sundara Cholar who lived in Pazhaiyarai city and requested, ‘I need an elephant that is as good as Iravatham.’ ‘I don’t have an elephant as good as Iravatham. I have only better ones!’ He took Indran to his elephant stall. Indran stood helpless at the sight of thousands of elephants there that stood like hills not knowing, ‘which one to choose?’ Observing his confusion Sundara Cholar himself chose an elephant and gave it to Indran. Observing his fear, ‘How am I going to control this elephant? It’s not possible even with my vajrayutham!’ – he gave a goad stronger than vajrayutham…

“Later on, once, a great war ensued between the sun-god who provides light to the entire world spreading his red rays and the demon called Rahu. Rahu tried to engulf Thinakaran.He could not! The Sun’s rays burnt Rahu. But all of the seven horses that pulled the sun’s chariot were dead, poisoned by Rahu’s timelessly potent poison. When the sun stood astounded with no way of resuming his journey, Sundara Cholar who saw his helplessness approached him with seven new horses and asked, ‘You must harness these horses to the chariot and give life to the world!’ The sun also appreciated very much the timely help from a Chola emperor of his tribe.”

“Then there was the wedding of Sivaperuman and Parvathidevi at Kailaiyankiri. The bride’s family had come with their dowry. But they had forgotten the palanquin. They spoke sadly about the lack of a vehicle for the procession except an ox. When Sundara Cholar came to know about it, immediately he asked for his pearl-palanquin to be brought from the Pazhaiyarai palace. Piously he offered the palanquin as his offering for Sivaperuman’s wedding. Who is there in this wide world surrounded by oceans, like emperor Sundara Cholar?…”

Emperor Sundara Cholar who had been listening to all of this laughed out loud. Even his inseparable wife, Malaiamman’s daughter Vanavan Madevi, the maids and the palace doctor were a little encouraged when they heard the laughter of the emperor who had not laughed because of the severity of his illness.

The commander of the fortress, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar who had been standing there all the while, brought his palms together and bowed to say, “Lord! I have done a great mistake; Please pardon my mistake!”

“Ah! Is it the colonel speaking? What mistake did you make? Why pardon? Perhaps you brought back the white elephant I gave Indran and the horses from the sun-god? Did you also forcibly take away the palanquin I gave Sivaperuman? You are capable of it!” When Sundara Cholar laughed after saying this the poets also laughed with him. Vandhiyathevan laughed more than anyone else. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar noticed it and gave him a stern look. He turned to the emperor and said:

“King of kings! This is my mistake. All this while I had prevented learned men like them to visit you. I did according to what the palace doctor said. But now I realize that it was a mistake. These poets’ vsist had put a smile on your face. You laughed out loud hearing their talk. The sound of that laughter had put a smile on the face of the empress who has everything, and the faces of the maids. I too am happy. Isn’t it my mistake that I kept these poets who are able to make you so happy, away from your presence?…”

“Well said, Colonel! At least now you have realized it, haven’t you? You understand the reason why I said, ‘Don’t listen to what the doctor says; don’t prevent the poets from coming’? said the emperor.

The palace doctor got up and started to say something with hands folded and one palm covering the mouth. Sundara Cholar, ignoring it, said to the poets, “Does anyone know the poet who sang this extraordinary song? If you do, you must tell me!”

Nallan Sahthanar said, “King of kings! That is what I don’t know! We have also been trying to find out. We are prepared to honor him with the title, ‘Emperor of Poets,’ and carry him in a palanquin. Until now our efforts have been not succesful.”

“There is no surprise in that. Indeed the bard who can fit in so many lies in a four-line verse will not want to reveal his name to the public?” When the emperor said this, one ought to have looked at the beautiful faces of the poets! Not even on one face, there was life. They didn’t know how to respond.

At this juncture, our Vandhiyathevan boldly rose and said, “Lord! It should not be dismissed flatly in that manner. If ordinary people claimed something that was nonexixtential, that would constitute a lie; if those involved in the affairs of the government said it, that would be political diplomacy; if poets said it, it would be called imagination, embellishment and metaphor…”

All of the poets turned to look at him shouting excitedly, “Well said! Well said!”

The emperor also looked closely at Vandhiyathevan and said, “Oh! You are the one who brought the letter from Kanji, aren’t you? Clever boy! You refuted me properly!” Then he said to the assembly, “Poets! Even though the song was extraordinary, there is no necessity to find the poet or to honor him with the title of emperor-poet. I know the poet who sang this. Already the Chola empire crown is seated on his head pressing down its unbearable weight. This bard is also holding more titles than he can bare to carry like ’emperor of the world,’ emperor of the three worlds,’ and ’emperor of the seven worlds.’

The readers should not discard it as a lie, if they are told that the poets who heard this were drowned in a sea of disbelief. They must use the rules of speech and grammar and accept it as the authorial license for imagination, embellishment and metaphor.

28. Iron Grip

As their surprise waned a little, like the deceleration that follows the surge of the new flood, the leader of the poets, Nallan Sahthanar began, “Lord! In that case, the poet who composed this poem song…” and then faltered.

“Indeed it is the emperor of the world who is lying ill in front of you in his bed with his legs paralysed!” said Sundara Cholar.

From among the poets rose various experssions of surprise and ‘aha!’ Some at a loss for vocal expression merely shook their heads and bodies. Yet others completely at a loss for expression of their conscience were seated like stones!

Sundara Cholar said: “Distingusihed Poets! Once some poets and bards came to see me at Pazhaiyarai. Some of you may have been present in that group. Each one recited a poem about the generous nature of the Chola dynasty; they sang about me also. They sang, ‘I gave him this,’ and ‘I gave him that.’ At that time the junior stateswoman Kundavai was at my side. After the poets left with their awards, the princess praised their songs. I challenged Kundavai,’I can sing better than all of the poets.'” Then I sang this song for amusement. ‘Give me a prize!’ I asked. ‘Here is your prize!’ the child climbed on my back and gave me two slaps on my cheeks. That memory is with me as if it happened only yesterday; but it was more than eight years ago!…”

‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ and ‘Marvelous! Marvelous!’ the poets cheered in delight.

A tremor ran through Vandhiyathevan when he heard the name of Kundavai. He had heard a lot about the beauty and intellect of this renowned Chola princess. He is the fortunate father who gave birth to this extraordinary princess; her mother is the distinguished lady seated next to him. How proud is Sundara Cholar when he speaks of his beloved daughter! How his voice falters and melts!…

Vandhiyathevan’s right hand felt around the silk cloth-roll tied around his waist. Because the letter he had brought for Madam Kundavai was in that cloth-roll. The moving hand paused in shock; he was perplexed. ‘Aiyo! What is this? Can’t find the letter? Where did it go? Did it fall somewhere? When I took the emperor’s letter could it have acceidentally fallen out? Where could it have fallen? Perhaps it is in the assembly hall? In that case would it get into the hands of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar? If it does will it cause any danger? Adadah! How embarrassing! What a big blunder! How to solve this?…’

Vandhiyathevan could not be seated there after he found out that the letter he brought for Kundavai Devi was missing. The conversation there also did not entirely reach his ears; whatever that reached also did not quite stick in his mind.

Facing the group of poets who were drowned in a sea of surprise, Sundara Cholar proceeded further:-

“Kundavai must have repeated to someone the verse I coined playfully. One possibility is she may have told it to Eesanya Pattachari of Pazhaiyarai’s Thirumehttali temple. He had spread it all over the country and paved the way for the world to make fun of me!…”

“Lord! So what if you had sung it? The verse is excellent! No doubt. You are the emperor of the ‘world’ as well as ‘verse’!” said Nallan Sahthanar.

“However, if I were to sing this song now I would have added another gift. I would not have stopped with the elephant for Indran, horse for the sun and palanquin for Sivanar. Didn’t Sivaperuman kick Yaman for the sake of Markandan? Yaman escaped that kick. But the bull that served as his transport fell and died on the spot unable to bear Sivaperuman’s wrath. Pazhaiyarai Sundara Cholar sent Yaman a bull when he heard that Yaman was at a loss lacking transport!… I would have added this figment of my imagination also. It is on that bull Yaman is riding triumphantly towards me. Can even our Thanjai fortress commander the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar stop Yamadharmarajan and his bull?”

When Sundara Cholar spoke in this manner, the blessed lady Vahnavan Madevi’s eyes filled with a river of tears. Many of the poets began to sob and cry.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar alone remained firm.

“Lord! In your service I am prepared to go to war even with Yaman!” he said.

“No doubt about it, Colonel! However, no human being has the power to war with Yaman. That is why we must pray to god so that we will not fear Yaman. Poets! ‘We will not fear Yaman’ – didn’t one of the great sons of Tamilakam sing that?” said the emperor.

One of the poets rose and sang:

“we are not bound by anyone
we will not fear Yaman
we will not be ruined by hell
nor insolence
we will not be deceived
we are unaware of illness…”

The emperor interrupted and said, “Aha! Who can sing so boldly except a prophet who had himself seen god? Appar Swamikal had severe colic; by the grace of god the disease disappeared. Therefore, he had sung, ‘we are unaware of illness.’ Poets! Stop singing about me and my gifts, hereafter sing such divine words. Appar, Sambanthar and Sundaramoorthi have sung thousands of such pious and splendid Tamil songs. If we collect all of these songs, how great that would be? One lifetime will not be enough to learn and enjoy singing them!”

“King of kings! If you permitted we will begin that sacred endeavor now!”

“No; This cannot be done in my lifetime. After me…” Pausing, Sundara Cholar became immersed in thought.

The palace doctor went near the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and said something in his ear.

Noticing that, Sundara Cholar, as if struck by thunder, looked at the audience with wide open eyes. The emperor appeared to have suddenly returned from another world, from the doorstep of death, from the congress of Yaman’s world.

“Lord! You have expressed the desire to listen to a Sangam verse. Can they leave after reciting that?” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Yes, yes; I forgot. Not only my body; my mind is also becoming numb. Where? Let them recite the Sangam verse!” said the king.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar signaled to Nallan Sahthanar. The leader of the poets rose and said; “King! Among your ancestors, Karikal Peruvallathar was very famous. The great warrior who planted the tiger flag on Mount Himalaya. During his reign, Poompuhar – Kaveripattinam – was the capital of the great Chola kingdom. Various goods were brought from various foreign countries on ships. One of the Sangam era poets who describes Poompuhar’s wealth and propsperity has detailed what goods came from which countries. This is that part of the song:

“Gold and diamonds from the northern hills
Sandal and harvest from the fertile lands
South sea pearl red coral eastern sea
abundance of Ganges fruits of Kaveri
Eezham for food goods made in Kazhakam…”

At this line, when Sundara Cholar signaled, the poet stopped.

“Colonel! This song tells that during the time of Karikal Vallavar food products came from Eezhanadu to Tamilakam. You brought these poets to inform me of this?”

“Yes, King!” The voice of the fortress commander was heard barely.

“I have been informed; now the poets can be given prizes and sent away!” said the king.

“Poets! You may now take your leave!” said the fortress commander.

The poets wished the king, ‘Long live!’ as a chorus and left.

Vallavaraiyan shaken by the knowledge that the letter for Kundavai Devi was missing, thinking that he too could leave with the poets, rose and walked in the center of the group.

But his plan did not succeed. When he approached the door a powerful hand of steel gripped his wrist tightly. Vallavaraiyan was a strong person! Yet the swiftness of that iron grip shook him from head to toe and stopped him in his tracks.

He looked up and found out that it was indeed the hand of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar that had stopped him.

The poets left the assembly hall.

29. Our Guest

Once the poets left, the palace doctor mixed the medicine and brought it to the emperor. Mallaiamman’s daughter, the queen, received it in her hand and gave it to the emperor.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar who had waited patiently until then, without loosening his grip dragged Vandhiyathevan and went near the king.

“Lord! Do you find any benefit with the new medicine?” he asked.

“The doctor says that there is benefit; the queen also says. But to me somehow there has been no hope. To tell the truth, Colonel! All of this appears to be a wasted effort. My destiny is calling me. I think that Yaman had gone to Pazhaiyarai in search of me. Once he finds out that I am not there, he will come here in search of me!…”

“Lord! You should not lose hope and speak in this manner. You should not break our hearts in this way. Your ancestors…”

“Ah! You are telling me that my ancestors did not fear the sight of Yaman! If I had the good fortune to stay at the forefront of the battlefield and lose my life while fighting like many of my ancestors, I too will not fear that kind of death; I will not be tired. I will welcome it with enthusiasm. My uncle Rajathithyar gave up his life while fighting from an elephant at Thakolam. He founded the heroic honor of the Chola tribe forever at the Thakolam battlefield. He earned the fame, ‘Lord who gave up his life seated on an elephant.’ What fame would I receive? My name would be, ‘Sundara Cholan who died on his sick-bed’? Another one of my uncles, Kandarathitha Thevar was involved in Saiva devotion and thereby lost his fear of death. To visit sacred places of pilgrimage he traveled to places on the west shore. He passed away there. He received the name, ‘Lord who graced the west with his presence.’ I am not a Saiva devotee like him; I am also handicapped to go on pilgrimages. How many days will I lie like this? As a burden to those who care about me!… But there is something in my heart that tells me. That I won’t be on this earth for long…”

“Emperor! The palace doctor says that you are not in any danger. The astrologers are also saying that there is no danger. But this boy was telling you something about danger…”

“Ah! Isn’t he the boy who came from Kanji Nagar? Yes, he said something about danger; what were you talking about, Son? About my condition?”

Vallavaraiyan’s brain worked at lightening speed. If he agrees that he was warning about ‘Apahyam’, it would certainly cause suspicion and danger to him. A way must be found out of this dilemma. Good; let’s try this trick. With the help of grammar a long vowel can be turned into a short one!

“Lord the Emperor! Who am I to speak of danger? What danger will befall while our brave colonel the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, the palace doctor and the great queen who is like Savithri Amman are here? ‘Apayam’ ‘Apayam’ I beseeched you. An ignorant boy like me is the only representative now of the old Vahnar tribe. I am serving the great Chola kingdom to the satisfaction of your beloved son. Please consider returning at least a small part of our ancient ancestral kingdom. King of kings! Shelter! Shelter! This ignorant boy is seeking shelter!” Vallavaraiyan spoke breathlessly and stopped.

Heraing it Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face crumbled. Sundara Cholar’s face again blossomed. The great queen’s face filled with kindness.

“It appears that as soon as this child was born Saraswathi Devi had written on his tongue! His speech is extraordinary!” said Devi.

Vandhiyathevan seizing the moment said, “Madam! Please say a word on my behalf. I am an orphan without mother or father; I have no other support. I am the only one who can plead my case. Like the advocacy of Parvathidevi to Paramasivan and Lakshmidevi to Mahavishnu on behalf of their devotee you must  speak for me. From our ancient territory even if ten villages were given back, I would be very satisfied.”

Sundara Cholar was very happy and surprised to hear this. He looked at the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and said, “Colonel! I like this young man very much. If we look at Devi’s face it’s as if she is considering to adopt him as the third boy. We can fulfil his request, can’t we? There won’t be any difficulty? What is your opinion?”

“Does this humble servant’s opinion matter? Isn’t it Prince Karikalar’s opinion that we must know?” said the commander of the Thanjai fortress.

“Emperor! If the prince is consulted, he says that he must ask Pazhuvur Thevar. Pazhuvur Thevar says that we must consult the prince. Between the two of them my request…”

“Child! Don’t worry! We can ask both at the same time!” said the emperor.

Then he turned to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and said, “Colonel! This boy brought a letter from the prince. In the letter Athithan had written that I must again return to Kanji. He has built a palace in gold there. He wants me to at least spend a few days there!”

“Whatever your wish, it shall be done!” said the commander of the fortress.

“Ah! You will do what I wish. But my legs are refusing. It is impossible to travel to Kanji. I feel disgusted at the thought of journeying in a palanquin with curtains drawn like the palace women. We must write and send a reply telling Athitha Karikalan to come and visit…”

“Can the prince leave Kanji and come here at this time? Our enemies in the north are still strong!”

“Parthipenthiran and Malaiamman will take care from there. Something in my mind tells me that the prince ought to be here by my side at this time. Not only that; we must send a request to Ilanko in Eezhanadu to come here immediately. With both of them here I want to discuss an important matter and make a decision. When Arulmozhi comes here you can also let him know about your objection to sending food to the Eezha troops…”

“Emperor! Pardon me. I didn’t object to sending food to Eezham. The treasurer also didn’t object. The Cholanadu citizens are objecting. In the last harvest the produce was less in Cholanadu. The people are objecting to sending shiploads of rice to Ilankai while it is not even sufficient for our own people! Now they are mumbling in their mouth. In a few days, their cries would become louder. Their cries would be heard inside this palace in a way to affect your illness!…”

“Arulmozhi will never want to do something that the citizens object to. For all of this, let him come here once and then go back. When the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar returns we will decide about sending a person to Ilankai; when is he returning?”

“He will certainly be back today!”

“To Kanji also we can write a letter tomorrow. We can send the letter through this boy, can’t we?”

“This boy had come from Kanji without a break. Let him rest here for a few days and then return. We can send the letter through someone else.”

“Do that. He can even be here until the prince comes!”

As Malaiamman’s daughter stood up, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “I have troubled you to speak at length today. You must forgive me. It has prolonged until Devi has had to warn me!”

“Colonel! This child is our guest. Please provide him with the necessary comforts. If only the emperor had been well, we could have asked him to stay in our palace itself!” said Malaiamman’s daughter.

“I will take care of it, Madam! You don’t need this worry. I will take good care!” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. Unconsciously his hand reached for his moustache, giving it a twist.

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