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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (39 – 40)

July 26, 2015

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

39. HERE IS WAR

As soon as Vandhiyathevan said, “Take your sword from its sheath,” the prince responded with, “Here, I have,” and drew out his sword. At the same time Vandhiyathevan also drew his sword from its sheath. They were monstrously huge swords. The men who had waited with the horses near the bothi tree in Anuradhapuram had also given these swords.

When the prince jumped down from his horse and sternly stated, “Get down! I cannot tolerate your grandiloquent rhetoric! I must take care of this here and now,” Vandhiyathevan was shocked. He didn’t know if it was make-believe or real. However, since the prince had jumped down from the horse he too had to get down.

“Why, Sir! Why are you hesitating? Didn’t you try to ridicule me last night? Didn’t you say that my ancestors were waiting at the palace entrance of your ancestors’? Didn’t you tell that they were fuming because the poets were making away with their umbrellas and carriages? I cannot stand it anymore thinking about it. We must settle our score one way or another before we leave from here!” The prince approached Vandhiyathevan brandishing the sword while holding it with both hands at its base.

Yes; we have stated that it is not an ordinary sword! Even for the strongest, it was a monumental task to hold it upright in just one hand. Only by holding it with both hands one can swing it or attack the enemy.

When the prince thus brandished his sword he did not look like the soft-hearted prince who was raised amid the luxury of a palace. He resembled the ancient heroes Bheeman, Arjunan, Aravan and Abimanyu. Moreover his behavior reminded one that he had come in the path of Vijayalaya Cholar who bore ninty six battle scars on his body and Rajathitha Thevar who died on top of an elephant.

Vandhiyathevan also started to swing his sword with both hands. In the beginning there was confusion and reluctance in his mind. As the fight progressed his mind became strong. It became possessed by the desire to win. It forgot the fact that the opponent was the prince he admired. Reason disappeared. The knife swirling in the enemy’s hand became the sole focus of his eye. His attention became fixed on how to evade that knife, how to knock it down and how to wound the enemy.

What began slowly, the speed at which the swords moved and the rhythmic noise of their striking each other – ‘danar, danar’ – gradually gathered speed. Azhvarkadiyan too was at first unable to comprehend the prince’s action. Yet he believed that there could be a purpose. It can be a strategy to stop those who were coming, to figure out who they were and to decide on an appropriate course of action. Therefore Azhvarkadiyan waited after parking their two horses in the middle of the road, holding the reins in his hand.

The soldiers on horses who were coming from the opposite direction were getting closer. Azhvarkadiyan’s fear disappeared once he saw the tiger flag flying in their midst. If they are our people, who can it be?

The panegyrists who came in front beat on their drums and provided that information.

“Ilankai Colonel who made Mahinthan flee the Eezha war, Kodumabalur elder Velar Poothi Vikrama Kesari Maharajah who beheaded Veera Pandyan in the Vaikaiaru war is here! Parak!” A voice akin to thunder announced.

“Pallava descendant – the hero who beheaded Veera Pandyan in the Vaikai war – Parakrama Poopathi who defeated the Vengai army in the Vada Pennai war – Parthipenthira Varmar is here! Parak!” Another voice sounded as thunder.

Behind the panegyrists about thirty soldiers came on horses. Amidst them seated on stately white horses were the colonel, the elder Velar; and Parthipenthiran. Following the soldiers on horses a big elephant with a howdah also came.

The foot soldiers who followed behind were seen dimly in the cloud of dust that engulfed them. The soldiers on horses who came in front appeared annoyed by the obstruction ahead of them.

“Who is that?”, “Move!”, “Make way!” Shouts were heard.

Then there were murmurs and whispering followed by “Oho!” and “Aha!”; expressions of surprise.

The soldiers jumped down from their horses. They surrounded the sword fighters.

Even Poothi Vikrama Kesari and Parthipenthiran climbed down from their horses. They stood at the forefront of the gathering.

Parthipenthiran was visibly disturbed. To Vikrama Kesari he said, “Do you see? Isn’t it true what I said about Vallathan? Absolute loud-mouth! He had begun his game even with the prince. Do we just lay still watching this?…” He raised the sword in his hand.

Poothi Vikrama Kesari laid his hand on his to hold him back. “Be patient, let’s just watch! What a fantastic sword fight! It’s been many days since I saw anything like this,” he said.

The foot soldiers who came behind – about three hundred of them – they also joined the spectators. They formed a circle to watch the drama.

Meanwhile a woman emerged from the howdah on the elephant. Making her way through the horses and soldiers she advanced and stood in the front line. It is not easy to describe the excitement on her face. When the swords moved, her eyes also darted following in their direction. When the fighters jumped from one spot to another, her waist also unconsciously swayed along with them. After a while she removed the blue water-lily flower that was secured in her hair. Holding it by its stem she started twirling it this way and that way. To the rhythm of the sword fight the stalk in her hand also gyrated. We don’t have to tell our readers who this girl is. Yes; they cannot have forgotten Poongkuzhali? For a while during the fight the prince was facing her. The swordsmen gradually moved as they fought and turned a half circle. Finally Vandhiyathevan was facing Poongkuzhali. In between Vandhiyathevan’s eyes have been observing the crowd of soldiers that had been increasing in number. They also noticed Poongkuzhali. For a second his attention veered because of the shock of seeing her there. That lone second was sufficient for the prince. His sword struck Vandhiyathevan’s like Devendran’s vajrayutham. The hero of the Varnar tribe stumbled. The sword fell down from his grip.

The roar emanating from those surrounding at this time was like that of the ocean. Above all that commotion was heard a young woman’s enthusiastic laughter. Vandhiyathevan attempted to retrieve the sword that had fallen down. Before that the prince leapt and hugged him.

“You did not lose to my sword. You gave an equally skillful fight. But you lost to a woman’s piercing glance! There is no shame in this. It can happen to anyone!”

Vandhiyathevan tried to offer another reason. Before that Colonel Poothi Vikrama Kesari and Parthipenthiran were by their side.

“Prince! I am the one who sent this young man to you! Has he behaved in an inappropriate manner? For a while here, we were stunned!”

“Yes, Colonel! I could not stand his criticism. ‘They said there is a war in Ilankai, where is the war? Where is the war?’ – he taunted me with his questions. ‘Here is war!’ – I showed him!”

Hearing the response from the prince those surrounding cheered loudly again.

The colonel came to Vandhiyathevan and patted him on his back. “Appan! It’s been many days since I witnessed a sword fight like this! You are a good friend to the prince! Often his shoulders will ache like this! Wasn’t he born in the tribe of emperor Paranthakar who was known as ‘kuncharamallan’? Those who cannot engage in a fight face to face cannot be his friend for too long!”

Meanwhile the prince said to Parhipenthira Pallavar, “Sir! I heard that you had come looking for me. I was in fact hurrying to meet you. Is my brother in Kanji well? How is my grandfather?”

“Your brother and grandfather have sent you a very important message. It has taken four to five days just to find you in Ilankai. We cannot delay one more minute…” Before Parthipenthiran could finish the prince said, “Would you have come if it wasn’t important? We will not wait another minute. Please tell me the news now!”

At this time the elder Velar interrupted and said, “We cannot speak on the middle of the road amidst all these men. There is an old building! Let’s go there! Fortunately there is no shortage of old buildings in this Ilankai!”

All of them walked towards the dilapidated building that was a little away from the road.

40. ADVICE TO A KING

While they were walking Vandhiyathevan asked Azhvarkadiyan, “What’s this, why is the prince behaving in this manner? The other day he started boxing; today it is a sword fight. Can’t he at least tell beforehand? It looks as if this friendship with the prince has its own dangers!”

Overhearing this the prince came to them.

“Yes, Sir! My friendship is dangerous. You would have found that out last night! If you don’t want danger you should stay at least a hundred miles away from me,” he said.

“Prince! I am not saying because of that. I am prepared to stay by your side and face any danger. But if you suddenly, like this …?”

The brave Vaishnava interrupted. “Don’t you understand, Brother? The prince employed this strategy to help find out who the people who were coming and to take the proper course of action! Whoever it was who were coming, they would have paused to watch the sword fight!”

“What Thirumalai says is correct. There is also the matter of my horoscope. Whoever becomes friendly with me is very likely to earn the enmity and dislike of others. Because of that, if I want to be friends with someone, it is usual that I would fight with them often. Only those who can tolerate this can be my friends!” The prince said.

“In that case, alright! Hereafter, instead of waiting for you to begin the fight I myself would initiate it. Prince! I who came to deliver you a message, forgot to give you an important message. I want to do that now! I must. If you don’t want to hear it, then draw out your sword again!” Vandhiyathevan replied.

“No! Tell me the message, I am listening!”

“In the crowd that surrounded us there was a woman holding a blue water-lily flower in her hand, you even said that I lost to her piercing glance! Do you know who that woman is?”

“I don’t know; I didn’t look at her well. I don’t have that habit.”

“Prince! She is the one who sent you a message; I forgot to tell. How to tell; from the time I met you my time had been spent in either dueling with you or trying to escape from falling buildings! Therefore there never was an opportunity to tell this. All of a sudden when I saw that girl I remembered that I had not conveyed her message. This unsettled me a little. You chose that moment to knock my sword down…”

“Never mind; who is that girl? Why should she send me a message?”

“Sir! She is Poongkuzhali.”

“Pretty name. But I have not heard it.”

“Sir! Do you remember the name ‘Ocean Princess’?”

“Ocean Princess – Ocean Princess – I don’t remember any name like that! I don’t even remember seeing her!”

“Please try to remember. If you cannot remember it will break that girl’s heart. You were about to take the boat at Kodikarai to join the ship. At that time a woman reached the shore rowing a boat alone. You were watching with astonishment. She too in order to find out who all the people were came near you. ‘Who is this girl?’ – you asked the lighthouse-keeper. ‘She is my daughter,’ he said. ‘Oho! She is your daughter? I thought that she was the girl-child of the ocean king!’ You responded. That girl has not forgotten it. Only with her help I was able to cross the sea and reach Ilankai…”

“After hearing your account I too can remember vaguely. But what work has the Kodikarai Ocean Princess have here in Anuradhapuram? Why has she come with them? Perhaps she has come in search of you?…”

“No; that cannot be the case. There is no reason to come in search of me. If she has come in search of someone it can only be you. I don’t know why!”

While speaking Vandhiyathevan looked at Poongkuzhali who was coming with the colonel. She was walking with her head bent. Yet he knew that her thoughts and attention were on the prince. He also saw her every now and then stealing a sideways glance at the prince. Her intuition must have told her that they were speaking about her. If not there was no necessity for her to walk with her head down! Amammah! Those eyes can roam endlessly never resting for one second in one spot!

They reached the building that stood without its roof and only with its artfully constructed pillars. The surrounding trees had grown tall, reaching upward providing some shade for the building. At the center of the hall was a stage. The prince, the colonel and Parthipenthiran went and sat there. Vandhiyathevan and Azhvarkadiyan stood at a short distance away.

Poongkuzhali was standing on another side behind a pillar. From there she was able to see both the prince and Vandhiyathevan.

Around that roofless building the soldiers stood in two rows as if in an army lineup. At a distance were the horses and the elephant.

“I am eager to hear what my brother and grandfather had to say!” The prince said to Parthipenthiran.

“Prince! Chola empire is in great danger. You probably know …”

“Yes, Sir! The emperor has been ill for a long time …”

“That is not the only danger; there is great danger to the empire itself. Those who are in high-ranking positions have turned into enemies. They have begun to scheme against the emperor, the crown prince and yourself. They have decided against your brother for the throne and instead have chosen that cat with the rudraksha beads around his neck, Mathuranthakan who masquerades as a Shaiva devotee. The Pazhuvertaraiyars, the Sambuvaraiyars, Irattai kudai Rajaliyar, Mazhapadi Mazhavaraiyar; and many other traitors have joined in this combined effort. But we don’t have to worry at all about their plan. The north and south garrisons are under us. Thirukovalur Miladudaiyar and Kodumbalur elder Velar are on our side. With their help and the army’s we can in a minute crumble their efforts. But we ought not to allow them too much time. The perfidy of the traitors must be nipped in the bud. Because of this situation your brother and grandfather have asked me to bring you to Kanji at once. Your grandfather thinks that at a time like this it is important for the brothers to be at the same place and not to be apart. In addition I also want to speak about what’s on your brother’s mind. He is not interested in ruling from one place. He is eager to travel across the seas, to conquer those nations and have the tiger flag flying in those places. Ever since the Pazhuvertaraiyars objected to his northern invasion his war frenzy had increased ten times. Therefore as soon as you reach Kanji he wants to go to Thanjai with an army, kill all the traitors, put you on the Chola throne and crown you…”

The prince who was until then listening attentively with respect placed his hands over his ears and said, “No! Don’t say such unwelcome words! Myself and the Chola throne are far apart!”

“If it does not please you, I will not say; it is your brother’s wish; your wish. Something that you brothers must discuss and decide. But it is important that the two of you join in destroying the saboteurs. Come to Kanji immediately. We will destroy the Pazhuvertaraiyars and the Sambuvaraiyars without a trace. We will send the Shaiva masquerader Mathuranthakan to Shaiva heaven itself. After that your brother and you can decide what is best!” Parthipenthiran said.

“Sir! Can we decide everything? Should not we find out what our father – the emperor – his wish? Perhaps you have already found out? Did my brother receive any private message from my father…?”

“Prince! It is important at this time to speak the truth. There is no use in covering up. It is impossible to know your father’s wishes at this time. The emperor is not a free man now. He is under the custody of the Pazhuvertaraiyars. No one can see the emperor without their permission; no one can speak to him. How can we find out his wish? Your brother tried hard to get his father down to Kanji. He built a palace in gold. He sent an invitation that the emperor ought to visit and be present at the house-warming ceremony. But there was no reply from the emperor …”

“Isn’t it a known fact that my father is ill and cannot walk?”

“Prince! Your father – the emperor of the three worlds – has to walk on foot to Kanji? Are there no elephants or horses? Are there no carriages or wagons? Aren’t there gold chariots and pearl palankeens? Won’t thousands and ten thousands of petty kings compete to carry him over on their heads? That is not the reason; the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ perfidy is the reason. Thanjai palace has now turned into the emperor’s prison… Prince! If you want to save your father’s life come immediately!”

It was apparent that these words had disturbed the prince’s mind. For the first time a trace of worry appeared on his handsome face.

The prince after being thoughtful for a while looked up at the colonel’s face,

“Colonel! What is your thinking? A few days ago chief minister Anirutha Brahmarayar was here. He has my father’s respect, confidence and affection. He advised me to stay in Ilankai for a while. You too agreed with him. ‘There’s no fighting here, why should I be here?’ – You pacified me when I asked this question. The chief minister has also sent this Vaishnavar with the same advice. You know how much I respect my sister. I will not cross her line. I came to Ilankai on her suggestion. The junior stateswoman has now sent a letter through this Varna tribe warrior. In a way my sister’s message is along the same lines as what Parthipenthiran has said. But she has asked me to leave at once and come to Pazhaiyarai. My brother though has asked me to come to Kanji. Colonel! What is your opinion?” He said.

“Prince! Until this morning I was of the opinion that you should remain in this Ilankai island. Even last night I was arguing with him for a long time. Even after he debated for a long time I did not agree. But early this morning, there, she is standing there, this girl came with some news. When I heard it I changed my mind. Now it seems to me that you ought to go to Kanji immediately!” The Ilankai colonel said.

The prince turned his eyes toward Poongkuzhali who was watching him from the cover of the pillar.

“I have heard that Abimanyu was killed by enemies attacking him from all four directions. It appears that I will be killed by mere messages that are arriving from all four directions!” The prince said.

“What is the news that this girl has brought?” He asked.

“Let her say it!” The elder Velar pronounced.

Poongkuzhali reluctantly came forward. She stood before the prince. She turned and looked in all four directions. She looked at the colonel. She looked at Parthipenthiran; she looked at Vandhiyathevan and Azhvarkadiyan who were standing at a distance. The prince’s face alone – she could not look up.

“Tell quickly, Girl!” The colonel said.

Poongkuzhali was trying to speak. But no words came out.

“Aha! The whole world appears to have turned dumb,” Arulmozhivarmar said.

That was it. Poongkuzhali raised her eyebrows and looked at the prince once, for a fraction of a second. Her eyes began to fill with tears. She started running from there. Running, she disappeared behind the dense thicket of trees in the distance.

Everyone stood staring in response. Vandhiyathevan stepped forward. “Sir! Once before she ran like this. I followed her and caught up with her. If I am permitted I would do the same again!” He said.

“Do that! But before that let the colonel tell the news that she brought!” The prince said.

The colonel replied, “That can be stated in two sentences. Prince! The Pazhuvertaraiyars have sent two big shiploads of soldiers for the purpose of imprisoning you. Having entered the Thondaiman river canal these large vessels are waiting there, hiding.”

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