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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (10 – 17)

January 20, 2016

From the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

10. Soodamani Viharam

Didn’t the sea rob the Kaviripattinam known as Poompuhar? Soon after that Nagaipattinam attained the status as the most important port city of Chola Nadu. Many foreign countries were eager to engage in commerce with Chola Nadu that was rich in natural resources fed by the River Ponni.

Commercial goods continued to arrive in big tall ships. In addition to pearls, garnets, diamonds and fragrant perfumes that arrived in ships, Arabian horses also came for sale.

During the time of Sri Sundaramoorthi Nayanar, Nagaipattinam was an exceptionally well built town. Nambi Arurar who saw this town described it as:

‘a feast for the eyes long avenue filled with jeweled palaces
thou dwelt on the dark hilltop Nagai seatown’

Do you know what things Sri Sundaramoorthi Nayanar asked for from the kayarogana Peruman who had taken residence at the Nagai Karonam sea? In addition to gold, diamonds, silk and jewelry as in other places, he also asked and received a horse of superior breed at Nagapattinam.

“Nambi also traveled to Nagai karonam in those days, he sang
and received beautiful gold precious gems clothes, a horse”

According to Periya Puranam, he returned to Thiruvarur after receiving these goods.

When he saw the Arabian horses that came and landed in Nagapattinam  harbor, Nayanar perhaps developed the desire to ride one of these horses.

Besides the description of Nagapattinam in puranam, it is also documented in history in the form of stone-cuttings and copper plates.

“Nagapattinam has streets filled with many temples, inns, lakes, gardens and towering palaces” – Anaimangala copper plates describe this city.

The same Anaimangala copper plates also tell about the Buddhist temple called Soodamani Viharam which was famous in those days in Nagapattinam.

***

The island that we call Malay Nadu now was at that time famously known as Sri Vijaya Nadu. Kadaram was an important city in that country. With Kadaram as the capital Sailendra tribe ruled over this great Sri Vijaya empire that extended in all four directions. Among them the king known as Maharathuvajan Soodamanivarman was outstanding. This king, ‘was a genius in the tricks of governing, in wisdom he was like Prahapathi; he was the sun to the learned men who were lotus flowers’ – Anaimangala copper plates praise in admiration.

The copper plates do say that this great king’s son called Mara Vijayothunga Varman built the Mount Meru sized Soodamani Viharam in Nagapattinam to ensure that his father’s name will live forever .

Readers may ask why the king of Kadaram, Mara Vijayothungan, should come to Nagapattinam and build a Buddhist vihara.

Sri Vijaya Nadu was one of the countries that had a long commercial relationship with Chola Nadu. Many of its citizens had moved to Nagapattinam and taken residence there permanently. Many others came and went frequently. Kadaram’s king and citizens belonged to the Buddhist religion. This king built Soodamani viharam in Nagapattinam to make it convenient for them to worship Buddha. The fact that Buddhist religion’s mother country was Bharatha Thesam may also have been present in his mind.

Tamil kings at all times believed in the equality of all religions. Therefore they gave permission for building Soodamani Viharam in Nagapattinam. Did they only give permission? Every now and then they also gave the Buddhist temple grants and land donations exempt from taxation.*

(* In the time after this story, Rajaraja Cholan donated to Soodamani Viharam, the village of Anaimangalam and many surrounding places, making them exempt from taxation; Rajarajan’s son, the historically famous Rajendra Cholan confirmed this land donation by documenting it in copper plates. These are the so-called Anaimangala copper plates. A total of twenty one leaves of copper sheets. Each measuring 14″ x 5″, they are held together by a large copper ring. These copper plates in recent times have traveled by ship across the sea and are now kept in a museum in Leyden in Holland in Europe. Therefore some history researchers refer to these copper plates as the ‘Leyden edict.’)

Since the time of Vijayalaya Cholar the Chola kings were entrenched in Saiva devotion. Athitha Cholar, Paranthaka Cholar and Kandarathithar were devoted to Saiva faith. They contributed much to the institution of temples. However they did not abhor other religions. Whatever religion the citizens of their kingdom belonged to, they cared for them in the same manner. Emperor Sundara Cholar went a few steps farther than even his ancestors. He gave special treatment to Buddhist temples. Because of this the Buddhists living in the Chola empire at that time were very happy. Arulmozhivarmar’s initiative to renovate the Buddhist viharas in Ilankai had further added to their happiness.

Amidst this, what was the reason for the turmoil in Soodamani Viharam today? Why are the monks running here and there without staying still? What is all the noise and cries at the entrance of the Soodamani Viharam? – good, we shall also follow Senthan Amuthan and have a look.

We said that Senthan Amuthan and the two others had arrived at the interior of Soodamani Viharam by taking the boat along the canal. Not seeing anyone there, Senthan Amuthan finally after much running around ended up at the vihara’s entrance. It was there, Lord Buddha’s temple called Saithiam, meant for lay people to come and worship was situated. Many devotees at that morning hour had arrived bearing plates filled with lotus, chenpaka flowers and other devotional treasures. But it seemed as if they had forgotten the reason for their visit. Monks were standing on the steps leading to Saithiam. Senthan Amuthan saw a man speaking to them from below. He also saw the tears welling in the eyes of some of the monks. He also noticed several of the devotees standing below, instead of chanting ‘Sathu! Sathu,’ fretting with cries of ‘Aha!,’ ‘Adada!’ and ‘Aiyo!’

When he went down and inquired he found out the reason. The man who was talking to the monks was one of the sailors from Parthipenthiran’s ship. The ship had come to Nagapattinam the previous night. As soon as the sailors told a few people soon after stepping onto the shore that the sea had taken the prince, the news had spread all over town. To find out if this news was true, the head monk had one of the sailors brought there early in the morning. The man told what he knew, exactly as he knew: ‘The prince who jumped into the sea during the storm never returned’ – he said in a sad voice.

From the crowd rose several voices sobbing and crying. Tears streamed down from the head monk’s eyes. Without raising his bowed head he went up the steps past the Saithiam and entered the vihara. Other monks also followed him. No one noticed Senthan Amuthan who had also joined them.

The head monk told the others: “Is this the will of God? I built so many castles in my head! I went recently to Thanjavur to see the emperor! At that time I told him about the generous initiatives of Arulmozhivarmar in Ilanaki. The junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi was also listening. She then called me privately and asked for a hospital to be built next to this vihara and promised to meet the necessary obligations. That is not all, “Achariyar! You would have heard the many rumors in the country. It may happen that the prince would be a guest at Soodamani Viharam for a few days. Would you be able to protect him?” Madam Kundavai asked. “Devi! If such an honor is bestowed on us, the way the eyelids protect the eyes we would protect him,” I said. What is the use? Was it the prince who drowned in the sea? It was the dreams of all the good people of this country that drowned! Chola empire itself has drowned. How did the ocean king dare to wreak such horrendous evil? Is there no one who can question that evil entity?” He cried.

All the other monks were shedding tears in silence. After the head monk’s speech silence took over. Senthan Amuthan decided that this was the best time and tried to approach the Achariyar.

Immediately several monks stopped him. “Who is he? How did he get here” They asked each other.

“Sir! My name is Senthan Amuthan! I am from Thanjai. I have something to tell your leader!” He said.

“Tell! Tell,” said many.

Seeing his hesitation the Achariyar said, “There is no secret that they cannot know. Please speak!”

“Sir! I have brought a patient!”

“Who is the patient? What is the ailment? Where have you left him?”

“I have left him in the Vihara’s central compound …”

“How did you get there?”

“I brought him by the canal route. Chills and fever – you must immediately …”

“Lord! The fever is infectious! Why did you bring the patient here? And at this time …”

Achariya! Until now I had believed that emperor Ashokar was of the Buddhist faith. Now I understand that it is not so …”

“Why do you say that?”

“I saw an Ashoka post near Kanji. On that it was stated that treating a patient was the primary moral obligation. But you are turning the patient away,” said Amuthan.

Achariya Bikhu looked at the others and said, “Wait a little; I will go and see!” To Senthan Amuthan he said, “Come, Appan!” and went with him.

The monk was startled to see a man and woman in the center yard of the vihara near the canal. “What is this you have dared to do? Women cannot come inside this Vihara! Even for the female monks there is a separate monastery built!”

It is hardly sufficient to state that the monk was astounded when he went closer and looked closely at who the young man was! Out of surprise and joy he could not say anything at first.

To be perfectly rid of any doubt he asked Senthan Amuthan, “Is it really Prince Arulmozhivarmar?”

It fell on the prince’s ears. “No, Achariyar! No! I am neither a prince nor anyone important. This girl and boy are trying to drive me mad. I am a boatman. A while ago I asked this woman, “Girl! Would you marry me? Both of us can get in the boat and go to faraway countries.” She started blabbering. That I was born to rule the world under one umbrella. That because she is a poor fisherwoman, she could not marry me. That it is sufficient for her that I be well. That in the future she would rejoice hearing of my great victories. How do you like the story? Am I the one who is insane? Or, is it them?”

Senthan Amuthan whispered something in the Acharaiya Bikhu’s ear. Even before that the monk realized that the prince was caught in the throes of the fever and was not in a fully conscious state. He also remembered Kundavai Devi asking him to provide the prince sanctuary.

He told the other monks, “This young man is indeed afflicted with that poisonous fever. If we send him outside thousands of people will catch it. Many thousands have died in Ilankai because of this fever. Therefore I will take this young man to my room and attend to him myself, in the meantime if he blubbers something under the influence of the fever you should not pay any attention!”

The monk went to the prince and lifted him up. Senthan Amuthan also lent a hand to carry him. Everone went up the steps.

‘Now, in a few seconds they would have climbed all the steps. They will open the door and go inside. The door will then close. Once closed, it will remain so. After that I will not be able to see him.’

It happened just as Poongkuzhali expected. Once the steps were climbed, the door opened. The head monk stopped Senthan Amuthan alone outside and told him something. After that everyone walked in through the open door.

‘Padar!’ The door closed. It felt as if the door that was Poongkuzhali’s heart that closed.

‘Now in this birth there is no guarantee that I will see the prince. Would I at least have the pleasure in my next birth?’ With these thoughts Poongkuzhali stood there watching the prince disappear.

11. Blacksmith’s Shop

Vandhiyathevan tapped the horse urging it to go faster. He was heading to Pazhaiyarai. Because he remembered the path he had traveled before he proceeded by instinct without asking anyone for direction. First he took the forest route. He saw the horse having a difficult time on that terrain. Vallavaraiyan was also tired. It has been many days since he had a good sleep. Other than taking short naps in between in exhaustion, he had not slept peacefully in one spot. Once he reaches Pazhaiyarai and gives the news to the princess, his responsibility will be over; he can sleep in peace. He can sleep for a long time; why, he planned on sleeping for days at a stretch to make up for the sleep lost in days past.

He imagined his glee when he would tell the princess, ‘I have completed your mission!’ He imagined how Devi’s face would blossom upon hearing it. Thinking about it gave him goosebumps.

He also remembered something else. Since leaving Kanji, how many lies and tales has he told? He did it out of necessity. But when he dwelt on these his mind and body both shrank. After getting to know Arulmozhivarmar his attitude has changed. His belief was that those who deal in politics ought to be skillful in trickery and coverture. He also harbored the desire to redeem the kingdom his ancestors had lost owing to their failed political dealings. All that has now changed. After seeing the prince’s honesty and moral courage he had begun to dislike spinning tales and lying. He thought about the lie he had said for the magician to hear in order to save the prince the previous night. His heart beat in fear as he considered its potential for mayhem. If someone else had heard it? Perhaps someone tells it to Kundavai Devi? The junior stateswoman will not believe it! Still, what a huge risk?

Hereafter, he ought to stop spinning tales. He must tell the truth; if difficulties arise because of it, he must deal with them. Let people like that brave Vaishanava and Ravithasan do the spy work. Why does he need this hassle? Let the victory of the sword be his. That alone is sufficient, if he must lose his life because of it, that would be alright. He must give up all the deceit and trickery.

While he was thinking in this manner as he rode he did not at first notice that the horse’s gait had slowed down. Why, as he was caught in these thoughts while seated atop the horse he had also dozed for a while. He woke up startled when suddenly the horse buckled. He saw that the horse was having trouble placing one of its front legs down. He climbed down immediately. After petting the horse he examined the leg that seemed to have been hurt. There was a small sharp stone lodged in the hoof. He plucked it out deftly and threw it away. Fortunately it was not a big wound. After patting the horse again to comfort it he climbed on top again. He remembered the Arabs speaking in the ship:

“Tamils are cruel; foolish also. They ride the horses barefoot without nailing a cover on their hooves. How long will such horses stay alive?”

Vandhiyathevan rode thinking about this. When soldiers go to the battlefield they wear an armor covering their chest. It is a strange notion to fit a horse with an iron shoe. But he had heard before also about this practice in other countries. He must inquire in the first blacksmith’s shop that he passes. If possible I can try to fit a shoe on this horse. Or else, it is going to be difficult to ride it all the way to Pazhaiyarai. If it collapses on the way then he will have to find another one. How to? He will have to steal it from someone! Cheechee! The thought alone was cause for embarrassment.

Following his instinct Vandhiyathevan guided the horse from the forest track onto the royal thoroughfare. Come what may; hereafter it will have to be the main road. There can be no one here who knows him. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s entourage is still behind him. Magician too. Therefore there was no danger. Moreover, on the main road there would likely be a smithery somewhere. He can see about nailing an iron shoe for the horse there.

Vandhiyathevan’s expectations were not in vain. Within a short distance a village appeared. It seemed that there was something going on in the village. On one side the houses and streets were decorated with ribbons and streamers. It could be that they heard that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was coming this way, they would have thus decorated the place. He was certain that he would be long gone before Pazhuvertaraiyar and his entourage came along.

On the other side there were village people – women, men, the elderly and children stood in groups talking worriedly. He could not surmise what the matter was. Some of them seeing the man on the horse came to stop him. Without giving in he tapped the horse to keep going. He did not want to get involved in unnecessary trouble.

Passing the village he saw a blacksmith’s shop on the side of the road. He did not have the heart to go past it. He stopped the horse and went into the shop.

Inside he saw a blacksmith at work. A boy was blowing the bellows. At the same time as he entered he felt that there was another man disappearing through the back. But his attention was not focused on any of this. His eyes and attention were taken by the sword that the blacksmith held in his hand. It was an extraordinary sword. It appeared that the blacksmith was repairing it. One side of it shone like silver. Another part because it was just then removed from the fire was burning gold and red.

“Isn’t that some sword!” Vandhiyathevan marveled to himself.

12. ‘Shove Into the Fire!’

The blacksmith was completely engrossed in his work. After a short time when Vandhiyathevan cleared his throat he looked up.

“Who are you, Appan! What do you need? You need a sword or spear? There is no more need for sword and spear, is there? Why would you come for a sword,” said the blacksmith.

“What is this, Sir, why do you talk in this manner? You say that there is no demand for a sword just as you are working on one!” Vandhiyathevan responded.

“This work is very unusual; someone had brought an old sword for repair. A few years ago during the war between Pandya Nadu and Vada Pennai, there were heaps of swords and spears lying in this shop. Even at the start of the Ilankai war there was demand for new weapons. Now no one asks for a sword or spear. They come to me to sell their old swords and spears. Perhaps you are here for that?”

“No, no! I am going to need the sword for a little while longer. Once I finish the work I have agreed to I will pick up the drum and go on a pilgrimage to the Saiva sacred sites singing devotional songs. At that time I will leave my weapons with you.”

“Then why have you come looking for me now?”

“I have been riding my horse through the uneven terrain of the forest. I have still a long way to go. I hear that they fit an iron cover over the horse’s hooves! Can you do it?”

“Yes, it is the practice in the Arab country. Here too some have started fitting the hooves with iron cap. I have some experience in that work.”

“Can you fit those for my horse?”

“It will take a long time. I have to finish what I am doing now before I can take up your work.”

Vandhiyathevan considered it, he was also tired. The horse also had had a rough journey. He decided to wait and get the shoe fitted on its hooves.

“I will wait until you finish what you are doing now, after that you will do mine, won’t you?”

“Why not, alright!”

Vandhiyathevan remained for a while looking at the sword that the blacksmith was holding over the fire.

“This sword has extraordinary workmanship! It looks as if it has a royal history. Whose sword is this?” He said.

“Appan! A short distance from here is the river called Harichandra river.”

“I also have heard about it? What about this river?”

“I often go to Harichandra river to bathe.”

“Very good practice. You are collecting your blessings in preparation for your next abode.”

“Therefore I have resolved to stick to the truth as much as I can and not tell lies.”

“What’s to prevent it? Who is asking you to tell a lie? Am I?”

“If you don’t ask me about the sword then I will not have to tell a lie!”

“Oho! Is that so?” Vandhiyathevan thought to himself.

“I won’t ask questions. You also don’t break your vow. If you can finish your work and then do mine that will be more than enough!” The blacksmith continued with his work in silence.

Vandhiyathevan studied the sword. He marveled at the figure of fish engraved at its base. Why fish? Is there some significance to it? Is it mere decoration?

The blacksmith again held the spot where the fish was engraved over the fire and hit it with a hammer. It seemed that his intention was to hide the mark of the fish. Vallavarayan wondered about the reason behind it. While he wondered his eyes began to close. The goddess of sleep whom he had held at bay for so many days now began to cast her magical net over him with full force. Vandhiyathevan could not escape from it. For a short time as he sat there his head bent down and then jerked back again as he snoozed. Then he just lay right next to the blacksmith’s furnace and slept.

In his sleep Vallavarayan was haunted by many frightful dreams. One of the dreams was about the knife itself. A man came and asked the blacksmith for the sword. The blacksmith gave it to him.

“How much do you want to be paid,” he asked. “I don’t want to be paid for this. Let it be my gift to Pazhuvur Illaiyarani,” said the blacksmith.

“Careful! No one should know about this. Most of all, never say the name of the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani! If you do, do you know what we will do to you?”

“Why should I, Sir, say the name of the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani? I will not tell anyone.”

“There is a young man sleeping here! You are speaking so loudly!”

“He is fast asleep. Even if it thunders, he will not hear it!”

“In case you think that he has heard, just throw him in this fire and finish him off!”

At the end of this conversation Vandhiyathevan dreamt that the blacksmith and the knife’s owner were dragging him and throwing him into the furnace. Then that dream changed.

Messengers of Yaman took Vandhiyathevan to hell. Yamatharmarajan inquired about Vandhiyathevan’s life on earth. “He is an expert at telling lies. There is no limit to the lies that he had told,” said Chithrakupthan glancing at the palm leaf in his hand.

“No, no! All of that was in the service of the emperor’s family. To complete the mission that I had undertaken I said a few lies.”

“A lie is a lie, no matter what reason. Kick him into the biggest fire pit in hell,” said Yaman. From hell’s abyss came the terrifying sound of a hundred thousand voices howling.

The messengers of Yaman took him. They got ready to push him into the cavernous fire that threw out its flames blazing and engulfing. The faces of the messengers of Yaman looked like the faces of the Pazhuvertaraiyars. While he was standing there stunned by this likeness, Kundavai Devi came there. “He lied only to carry out my order. Therefore instead of him, put me in the fire!” She said.

At this time somehow Nandhini Devi also came there. “Place both of them in the fire,” said that blessed woman. The messengers of Yaman began to push both of them into the fire. “Aiyo, don’t!” Vandhiyathevan screamed trying to set himself free; opening his eyes he sat up. He was relieved to know that it was only a dream. Because it had seemed so real, his body continued to shake.

“Cheche! Hereafter, I should not lie for any reason whatsoever,” he decided.

“Did I sleep for a long time?” He asked the blacksmith.

“Not that long! Only two jamams, Appan! Do you come in the line of Kumbakarnan? You sleep so much during the day! How well you must sleep during the night,” said the blacksmith.

“God! Did I sleep for two jamams? Has the horse been fitted with the cover?”

“Not yet. But what is the use for a sleepy-head like you? You might even lose the horse! Worse than that, you might lost yourself!”

Vandhiyathevan was startled. A doubt crossed his mind. He ran to the entrance and looked outside. The horse was not in the place where he had left it!

“Aiyo! Where is the horse?” As he shouted his hand reached for his sword.

“Don’t worry! Your horse is safe. Go to the back and look!”

Vandhiyathevan went to the back. There in the palm leaf thatched shed with its three closed sides was his horse. The boy who was blowing the bellows for the blacksmith was putting grass in its mouth. When the horse saw Vandhiyathevan it shook itself and neighed.

“Sir! Come here and mind your horse a little. I have to take the measure of its hoof,” said the boy.

Vandhiyathevan went and patted the horse while the boy took the measurement.

“Who brought it here and tied it,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“I tied it.”

“Why?”

“Father told me to tie it.”

“What for?”

“Just a while ago the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and his entourage went down this road. If they had seen the horse in the front they would certainly have taken it.”

Vandhiyathevan remembered what happened at Thirunarayanapuram. Realizing his mistake he felt embarrassed. He felt grateful to the blacksmith and his son.

Once the hoof size was taken both went back to the forge.

The blacksmith began his work bending a piece of iron in the shape of a hoof.

“You saved my horse. Thank you very much for that,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“I am obliged to protect the property of my customers. It is my duty.”

“How long has it been since the Pazhuvertaraiyar entourage passed this way?”

“More than an hour. Amidst all that hullabaloo you were sleeping, that is what surprises me.”

“Alright, I slept. But you have wasted a lot of time! You could have started the work at least immediately after they went!”

“How to start? After hearing the news they brought, who would have the heart to work? I am resolving my mind and doing the work for your sake. Where are you coming from Appan?”

While contemplating what possibly was the news they had brought Vandhiyathevan answered, “I am coming from Ilanaki.”

The blacksmith looked him up and down. Then, lowering his voice he said, “When you were in Ilankai did you see Prince Arulmozhivarmar?”

Vandhiyathevan who had just that day decided to speak only the truth answered, “I did.”

“When did you last see him?”

“I saw him this morning.”

The blacksmith looked at Vandhiyathevan angrily.

“Are you playing with me, Brother?”

“No, Sir! I am telling the truth.”

“You would even tell me where exactly the prince is at this moment!”

“Oh! Certainly, if I am asked!”

“Let’s see, tell me where the prince is.”

“He’s at Nagapattinam, Soodamani Vihara.”

“Appan! I have seen so many liars. But I have never seen anyone who can make up stories like you.”

Vandhiyathevan laughed to himself. Everyone is ready to believe the lies he tells. But they refuse to believe the truth he speaks. This must be his particular star and horoscope!

“Brother! When did you start from Ilanaki?”

“Four days ago!”

“That is why you have not heard the news.”

“What news, Sir?”

“The news that the sea had taken Ponniyin Selvar!”

With difficulty Vandhiyathevan pretended to be shocked.

“Aiyo! Is that right! Who said?”

“Since yesterday there has been talk going around here. Today when Pazhuvertaraiyar went this way the town leaders asked him. Pazhuvertaraiyar said that the news was indeed true. Oh, why thunder has not stricken that treacherous villain?”

“Why are you cursing that old man?”

“This happened because of him. People are saying that his conniving had somehow drowned the prince in the sea. They even halted the reception ceremony prepared for him.”

“Do the people of this town have such affection for the prince?”

“Must you ask? Now all of them are shedding tears in mourning. Not just the people of this town! The entire Chola Nadu will weep and cry. It is going to curse the Pazhuvertaraiyars. Already the emperor is ill. We don’t know how this news will affect him. Who knows what other calamities are waiting? Thoomakethu has been appearing in the sky for some days now! Something has to give!”

Vandhiyathevan wondered about what other troubles could happen. It was good that this blacksmith didn’t believe him. Even if he does not lie anymore, there was no necessity to tell the truth about the prince. It is for some important reason the junior stateswoman had asked him to wait at Soodamani Vihara! After speaking with the princess he must act according to her advice.

“Brother! What are you thinking,” asked the blacksmith.

“In mid sea I also got caught in the cyclone. Realizing that it was God’s grace that saved me, I am thanking him.”

“Is there such a thing as God’s grace?”

“Elder-man! Why do you speak so?”

“If there is God’s grace, how can the atrocities of the Pazhuvertaraiyars still be happeneing? Would Ponniyin Selvar have drowned in the sea?”

“Elder-man! Pazhuvertaraiyars are powerful people. Should you speak about them in this manner? What if it falls in someone’s ear? Be a little cautious.”

“You should be more cautious than me. At least I am awake when I speak. You are spilling things in your sleep!”

“Aiyaiyo! What was I saying?”

“You called the Pazhuvertaraiyars messengers of Yama. You called the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani a female devil. In a way what you said is the truth. But if it falls on the ears of someone other than me what will be your fate? It was when you were blabbering in this manner, the Pazhuvertariayar’s entourage went by here. I was very frightened.”

“What did you do?”

“I closed the doors and stood in front. Before that I had your horse taken to the back and tied there.”

“Did I blurt out anything else in my sleep?”

“Oh, there was no end to it!”

“Aiyo! What did I say?”

“You were insisting that the prince come to Pazhaiyarai. He said that he would become a prisoner following Pazhuvertaraiyar’s order. You said a lot more. Brother! You talked about the Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman also. Careful, Appan! Careful!”

Embarrassed, Vandhiyathevan looked down. He became worried whether he had said anything inappropriate regarding the junior stateswoman. Hereafter, if he was to sleep he should bolt the door and sleep in a private room. Or else it would have to be in the jungle, or desert or a mountain cave that is not frequented by men.

“Brother! How did you get caught in the cyclone? How did you escape?”

“The ship I was on was struck by thunder and drowned in the sea. I floated for a long time holding the broken mast. Later with the help of a boatwoman I pulled out and reached the shore.”

“The prince also may have survived in that manner, couldn’t he?”

“If it was God’s will, he would have.”

“Where did you stay last night?”

“At Kodikarai indeed. The beach was crowded with Pazhuvertaraiyar’s people. So I slept for a little while at Kodikarai temple. I left before sunrise.”

“Perhaps that is why you did not hear the news about the prince.”

“Thank you for telling me, Sir! I must get to Pazhaiyarai fast. I must go without getting caught to the Pazhuvertaraiyar’s entourage. Which way is the best?”

“Pazhuvertaraiyar is traveling on the Thanjavur royal thoroughfare. If you go along the shore of river Mullai you can reach Pazhaiyarai.”

“It would help if you can speed up your work a little and fit the horseshoe.”

“Here!” With that the blacksmith started hammering the iron that was bent by the fire.

“This is for the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar! This is for the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar! This is for Sambuvaraiyar! This is for Mazhavaraiyar!” He called out as he hit.

From that Vandhiyathevan was able to know how angry the people were at the petty kings.

The horse was fitted with iron cuffs on its hooves. Vandhiyathevan tried to pay for the work. The blacksmith refused to accept it.

“I did it because you were a good person. Not for money,” he said.

Vandhiyathevan thanked the blacksmith and bid him farewell.

As he was leaving the blacksmith asked,”Brother! Why are you going to Pazhaiyarai?”

“Sir! If you don’t ask me about it, I won’t have to say any lies,” said Vallavaraiyan.

Laughing, the blacksmith said, “Appan! You are learning fast! Keep it up while you sleep also!”

When Vandhiyathevan started his journey again the sun was going down. In a short time the light faded and darkness grew. Before that Vandhiyathevan had found the Mullai riverbank. From there he had to just keep along the river. He won’t have to ask anyone for direction.

It was dusk now. But the sky was lit with a million thousands of stars. Mullai riverbank was not populated with many trees. There were only small shrubs present. Therefore the light from the stars was adequate to help see the way.

As if competing with the stars that dazzled in the sky thousands of fireflies were frolicking around the bushes on the riverbank. Vandhiyathevan’s heart brimmed with excitement. There were several reasons for it. While the entire country was mourning the prince, he alone knew that he was safe. He was also able to know to a great extent how fond the Chola Nadu people were of the prince. He felt happy when he thought of how he had again fooled the magician Ravithasan. Above all, it was the thought that he will soon be seeing Kundavai Devi that made him feel unabashedly exhilarated.

Is this any ordinary visit? He is going to see her after fulfilling the mission that the junior stateswoman entrusted in him! When he thought about all the setbacks he had encountered and how he had endured and won, he felt very proud. There was no doubt that by this time tomorrow he would have met the junior stateswoman. Aha! Just thinking about that meeting gave him goosebumps.

The starlit sky, the firefly strewn earth, the gentle breeze and the sound of the Mullai river gurgling over the rocks as it ran, made Vandhiyathevan feel uplifted. Both earth and sky were in harmony. He was reminded of an old love song. He could sing out loud in this place. There was no sign of people anywhere. Why, even the birds have returned to their nests. What is there to stop him from singing? Here is the song that he sang. There is no need to spell out whom he had in mind while singing it!

‘all the stars in the sky
upon seeing you doe
are riveted – there
they stand mesmerized!
honey is your voice
the gentle south breeze your words
eyes like the shape of fish – the sight of you
why does it intoxicate me so?’

When Vandhiyathevan stopped singing, as if to compete with him foxes began to howl from afar.

At the same time there was also someone laughing out loud.

Startled, Vandhiyathevan looked around. His hand went to his sword.

A figure emerged from the dark shadow of a punnai tree.

“Brother! Your song was fantastic! The competing ensemble from the foxes is even more fantastic!” Thevaralan laughed again.

13. Poisonous Dart

Seeing Thevaralan in that palce at that time gave Vandhiyathevan’s heart a jolt. He was reminded of Thevaralan’s  frenetic dance at Kadampoor palace and the words he had spoken at that time. He was also reminded of the stories Ravithasan and Thevaralan had told while the cyclone was brewing at mid sea.

It is difficult to know how much of it was true, how much was fiction. But it was certain that they were involved in a secret and dangerous terror plot. He realized that he had got caught to one of them this time, and in this desolate place. For a moment he wondered if he should just tap the horse and drive on from there. With this thought he looked around! The light from a fire was seen in the distance. It must be a cremation ground.

Someone’s mortal body was being fed to the fire. While there was life in that mortal body how many allurements it may have been subjected to and tormented with? How many joys and sorrows it would have experienced! In ten minutes what would remain is a handful of ash. That is the fate of all those born in this world; be it kings of kings or the poor beggar, all have to one day be consumed by fire and turn into a fistful of ash!

Fear, just as it had seized him, left him just as quickly. Why should he fear this costume-loving saboteur and run? He has come to tell something. Let’s hear it! Perhaps he is the one who disappeared from the back when he entered the blacksmith’s shop! Even that amazing sword could be his. Wasn’t there a fish depicted near the handle? Perhaps he can gather some new information by talking to him.

Therefore Vallavaraiyan slowed the horse down to a trot. Having had a shoe fitted for the first time the horse also seemed to be having difficulty. He didn’t have the heart to make it run.

“How in this place, Appan, have you sprouted suddenly?” Vallavaraiyan asked.

“Shouldn’t I be the one asking that question? We left you tethered to the mast of the ship in the middle of the ocean. How did you escape,” said Thevaralan.

“You think only you know magic? I also know a little magic!”

“I am happy about your newly cultivated faith in magic. I also found out through my magical power that you were traveling here all by yourself. That is why I came here ahead of you, and was waiting.”

“Why were you waiting? What is it that you want from me?”

“Make a guess! Or use your magic to find out!”

“You had shared your secrets with me in mid-sea. I don’t know how much of that is true, how much you made up. Yet, I have decided to forget those secrets. I am not going to tell anyone …”

“I am also not worried about that. The moment you decide to share those secrets with someone else your tongue will be cut off. You will be muted!”

A tremor went through Vandhiyathevan’s body. He was reminded of the dumb women he had met in Thanjai and Ilankai. He walked silently for a short time. Why is this villain following me? How do I escape from him? If there was quicksand as in Kodikarai how convenient it would have been? Or, can I just push him into the river and proceed? There’s no use in that. The river does not have much water. If there is no other way, there is his sword. He will have to use it.

“Brother! I know what you are thinking. But it will not work. Don’t try anything foolish!”

Vandhiyathevan wanted to change the subject. He needed time to think of a way to escape. Until then he has to engage him in talk.

“Where is your companion Ravithasan?”

After laughing demonically Thevaralan asked, “Shouldn’t you be the one to know that? Where is Ravithasan?”

Vandhiyathevan was startled. He should not have mentioned Ravithasan; that was a mistake. Is he testing me after talking to Ravithasan? Or –

“What, Brother, you are silent? Won’t you say where Ravithasan is? Never mind! Where is that boatwoman Poongkuzhali? At least tell me that!”

Vandhiyathevan jumped as if he had stepped on a snake. He was reluctant to say anymore.

“You won’t talk about her also; never mind. I suppose that it is reasonable that you want to save her. Brother! Just now you sang a love song! Were you thinking of her?”

“No, I promise I did not!” Vandhiyathevan said earnestly.

“Why are you so earnest? Why all this anger?”

“Alright, alright! Now there is no time to dwell on any of that. Why are you holding on to the bridle? Let go of it! I must be going, it is urgent!”

“You didn’t ask why I am here!”

“I can if you are willing to tell.”

“This Mullai riverbank has some extraordinary powers. Whatever anyone wishes for here will come true.”

“I am not wishing for anything.”

“That is a lie! Whoever you had in mind while singing that love song, she also wants to see you! If you wish you can see her.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

“What is this fiction?”

“It is not fiction, Brother! Look over there!” Thevaralan pointed. An object was visible dimly in the far distance. Vandhiyathevan looked carefully. It was a palankeen – a covered palankeen, he saw.

Aha! That palankeen! Where have I seen this? Why, isn’t it Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s palankeen? Perhaps Nandhini was inside? He could not control the desire to find out.

He rode the horse to the palankeen. The curtain with the palmyrah emblem could be seen. The curtain also appeared to move.

Vasndhiyathevan jumped down from his horse.

At the same time a strange noise emanated from Thevaralan’s throat.

Seven or eight men jumped out of the surrounding bushes and came running. They fell on Vandhiyathevan. They held him immobile. They tied his hands and feet with cloth. One tied his eyes also. One took his sword by force. They tossed Vandhiyathevan into the palankeen. Some picked up the palankeen immediately and started to walk fast. Others went in front and behind. Thevaralan went in front showing the direction. One of them took the horse and walked with it.

All of this happened very fast. It is not an exaggeration to say that it all happened in the blink of an eye! Vandhiyathevan was taken aback when so many came and attacked him all at once. He was not expecting such an attack. He was unable to think until he was inside the palankeen and the palankeen started to move. He was also unable to find out what was going on.

But as the palankeen started to move his mind began to clear gradually. The cloth around his eyes came off easily. With his bound hands he pushed the curtain and looked out. He saw that the palankeen was leaving the riverbank and cutting across the land.

It won’t be difficult to untie his legs and hands and free himself. It would also be not difficult to jump down from the palankeen. The horse was following. It won’t be impossible to push the seven or eight men and hop on his horse and ride off. He considered whether he should do it. But something stood in the way. There was a strange smell inside the palankeen. At first it was refreshing. He didn’t have the heart to tear himself away from its allurement. Where is this palankeen taking him? There were reasons to conclude that it was taking him to Nandhini. The desire to see her raised its head ever so slightly from the bottom pit of his heart. It gradually grew bigger. Many objections rose. Overruling all the objections the desire took a life of its own. What would she do to me? Let’s find out why she is asking me there! If I can fish something out, why not? Would I be incapable of countering her devious scheme? It is doubtful that he will ever have another chance to see her. There won’t be an opportunity to go to Thanjavur hereafter. It is also dangerous to go there. It is much easier to see her here on the way. Why not see her also one more time? …

Yes, yes! There was also another important reason for seeing Nandhini. The dumb queen he saw in Ilankai! Was he correct in thinking that she resembled Nandhini. Shouldn’t he find that out?

His head began to nod as he was thinking in this manner. Can he be sleepy? No, no! This is not sleep! He has slept for a long time in the afternoon! This is a delusion. It is the smell in this palankeen that is clouding his senses. Aiyo! How frightening! He must jump out of the palankeen!

Vandhiyathevan tried to undo the ties around his hand; he could not, his hands would not move. He tried to sit up; that too was impossible. He tried to shake his legs; they refused to move. That was it. His eyelids closed; consciousness soon faded, he lost knowledge of his surroundings.

When Vandhiyathevan regained his senses and opened his eyes he remembered what had happened and tried to jump out of the palankeen. But, surprise! Surprise! He was not in the palankeen now. He was in a large room. The room was lit by torches. Here too there was a smell in the air! But this was not like the earlier smell, this smelled like ahil; what he inhaled before had made him unconscious, this fragrance cleared his senses. He sat up on the seat where he was lying! He looked around. A door opened. Vandhiyathevan turned eagerly.

Nandhini came through the open door. He stared at her wide-eyed. There were many reasons for his astonishment. One was her indescribable beauty. Another reason was the unexpected nature of this meeting. Yet another reason was how much she and the elderly woman in Ilankai looked alike. Was it mere resemblance? Or is the old lady herself appearing adorned in silk and jewelry?

In a sweet voice that chimed like silver bells Nandhini said, “Sir! You are a very good person!”

Vandhiyathevan said,”Greetings!”

“Only good people leave without saying goodbye! Didn’t you leave from Thanjai palace without telling me,” said Nandhini.

Vandhiyathevan laughed.

“I helped you to enter the Thanjai fortress. I removed the palmyrah ring from my finger and gave it to you. Shouldn’t you have at least returned it before leaving,” she asked.

Embarrassed, Vandhiyathevan stood in silence.

“Where? At least now you can return it! Its use is over now. You don’t have any thoughts of returning to Thanjai fortress, do you?” Nandhini held her beautiful hand out.

“Devi! Illankai colonel Poothi Vikrama Kesari had taken that ring. Therefore I am unable to return it, forgive me,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You gave my ring to my arch enemy, didn’t you? You are so very loyal!”

“I did not give voluntarily. It was taken from me by force.”

“The heroic soldier from the Varnar tribe gave into force? I cannot believe it!”

“Madam! I I am now here by force, aren’t I? Your men …”

“Tell me the truth, Sir! Think carefully and tell me! Did you really come here through force? Didn’t you come willingly? After being put in the palankeen didn’t you have time to jump out and run?” Nandhini’s questions pierced Vandhiyathevan’s heart like sharp arrows.

“Yes! I came willingly,” he said.

“Why did you come?”

“Why did you ask them to bring me?”

“To get my ring back.”

“That was all?”

“There is another reason. Weren’t you present that night in the treasury cellar that is under my husband’s watch?”

Vandhiyathevan was startled.

“You thought that I didn’t know? Nice. If I did not know could you have escaped that night?”

“Devi …”

“Yes! I knew, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar also knew. Pazhuvertaraiyar ordered the guard to kill you then and there. Behind his back it was I who changed that order. Because of that you survived. Your beautiful friend became the target. If not, now your bones will be lying next to the mounds of pearls in that treasury room!”

Vandhiyathevan was plunged into a sea of astonishment. He could not take all what she said as truth. If it is not true, how did he know that she was hiding there that night? He felt obliged to thank her at least for appearance’s sake. He began, “Madam …!”

“No! What you don’t feel in your heart, why do you want to say out loud? Don’t try to thank me!”

“No, Devi …”

“Do you know why I mentioned that I saved your life that day? Not for your gratitude. To warn you not to use that underground path again. There is now much tighter security. Do you understand?”

“I have no intention of going there again.”

“Why would you? You don’t have the habit of remembering people who have helped you! Because of you, your friend was in danger. I had him brought to my palace, had him receive treatment and then sent him away. That ought to satisfy you! Or, just like betraying one’s trust, is the betrayal of friendship also in your blood?”

Like a poisonous dart each word that Nandhini uttered pierced Vandhiyathevan’s heart. Perplexed, he remained silent.

“You had the doctor’s son who accompanied you to Kodikarai imprisoned and brought back; did you find out what happened to him?”

“I was going to ask you.”

“I’ll tell you; but what happened to Prince Arulmozhivarmar who left Ilankai with you? If you tell me that, then I will tell you about the doctor’s son.”

Vandhiyathevan was astounded. Is this where this interrogation is leading – to obtain information about the prince. He decided not to be fooled.

“Queen! Please don ask me about that,” he said.

“Yes! I should not ask about that. Even if I did you will not provide me an answer. How is your lover? At least can you talk to me about that?”

Fire blazed from Vandhiyathevan’s eyes. “Who are you talking about? Careful!” He said.

“Aha! I am being careful. Don’t think I am talking about Pazhaiyarai’s majestic queen. She won’t even look at you. She will treat you like the dust beneath her feet. I am asking about the boatwoman who took you to Ilankai and then brought you back. Isn’t Poongkuzhali your lover?”

“No, not at all! She has shown me her lovers. She showed me the fire-mouthed devils that burst out at midnight from the Kodikarai marshland. She called them her lovers.”

“She is fortunate! Because her lovers have light. They appear bright in front of one’s eyes. My lovers remain in the dark. Have you ever slept in an old building in the middle of the night? Have you heard the bats and owls flying around beating their wings, ‘chada-pada,’ their forms indecipherable? Such formless shapes are forever flying around in the abandoned building that is my heart. They are flapping their wings. They hurt my soul. They bruise my cheek as they fly about. Where are these formless shapes coming from? Where are they going? Why are they going in circles around me? Aiyo! Do you know?” – Nandhini’s frantic eyes looked around.

Vandhiyathevan’s resolve was shaken. Pity on one hand and an inexplicable fear on the other hand seized his mind.

“Devi! Don’t! Calm down,” he said.

“Who are you to tell me to calm down?” Nandhini asked.

“I am a poor young man of the Varnar tribe. Who are you, Devi?”

“You want to know who I am! That is what I also don’t know. That is what I am trying to find out. Who am I, a human being? Or a devil, or demon, you want to know?”

“No, no! Possibly a divine maiden who had accidentally fallen off from heaven! Owing to a divine curse …”

“Yes! There is some divine curse over me. I just don’t know what it is. I know who I am and why I have been born. Until now there is one sign that God had given me. Look!” Nandhini held up the sword that was next to her. The sharp sword that had been newly polished shone in the light of the flambeau blinding one’s eyes.

Vandhiyathevan looked at that sword. He knew at once that it was the same sword that he had seen at the blacksmith’s shop.

Until then he was being tormented by the poisonous darts that were Nandhini’s words. Seeing the sword made of iron, his mind grew strong. Because he was used to weapons like swords and spears. They had formed an alliance with him since birth, therefore they were not a cause for alarm. Even if Nandhini were to use that sword on him he was not afraid!

“Devi! I saw! I saw the sword! A sword fit for kings! A sword suitable for heroic warriors! How did it come to be in these beautiful soft hands? What is the sign that God had provided you through this?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

14. Flying Horse

Nandhini took the shining sword and held it against her bosom. She raised it to her face and kissed it with her coral red lips. It seemed like a red lotus flower kissing a burning red flame one moment. The next moment it turned into a dark cloud the color of blood cutting across the face of the full moon. Nandhini’s face then became the terrifyingly beautiful face of Kali who demands blood sacrifice and is worshipped by Kapalikar men. Once she returned the sword back to its place next to her, her face resumed her earlier attractive countenance.

“Yes, the sign that God had provided me is this sword. But I cannot fully understand the meaning of this sign. I send this sword to the blacksmith’s shop often to have the rust removed, get it tempered and honed. I protect it like a mother tiger would protect her young cub. Before it is old enough the cub should not get caught to the long horned wild buffaloes! I protect it in the same way the Arabs take care of their horses. Just like Vanamadevi tending to the ailing Sundara Chola emperor I tend to this sword. God has still not indicated to me what I should do with this sword. I still don’t know if it is God’s wish that I should with these hands that have been stringing flowers into garlands drive this sword into some evil person, or if with my own hands I should drive this sword into my chest, spread the blood that gushes out over this body that had been decorated with clothes and jewels and end my life – if that is what is God’s wish – I still don’t know. The deity who had given me this sword will also indicate to me when the time comes. Since I don’t know when that time will come I am prepared day and night. Yes, it is well known news all around the country that the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani who is famous for her beauty is very fond of clothes and jewelry. Day and night, all twenty four hours, I decorate and beautify this body of mine. Poor man! The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar believes that owing to him and his status I dress and behave in this manner, always well adorned and happy about it! He does not know the fire that is scorching in my heart!”

Vallavaraiyan who had been listening to all of this as if in a dream, came to his senses and asked, “Madam! Where is the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar?”

“Why? Are you terrified of seeing that old man,” said Nandhini.

“No, Madam! I have not been afraid to see you, why would I be afraid of Pazhuvertaraiyar?” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Aha! That is the reason I like you. For some reason everyone is afraid of me. The brave warrior who had fought in so many battles and who carried sixty four wounds on his body, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, is frightened of me. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar – Kalanthaka Kandakar who can even beat the daylights out of kalan – begins trembleing when he has to see me. Mathuranthaka Thevar who wants to rule this Chola kingdom as its sole emperor, is fearful and servile when he visits me. Even Sundara Chola emperor who is one step away from yamalogam begins shaking when I go near him. He even faints at the sight of me. The fellow who came today, Parthipenthira Pallavan! I have heard a lot about his fearless heart and his bravery. I also know of him as Athitha Karikalar’s dearest friend. But within fifteen minutes of being next to me, how he became tame and dependent! He is following me, forgetting even his duty to return promptly to Athitha Karikalar. He is prepared to take on with his head what I dictate with my foot. At the same time he is shaking when he comes near me. When I see that, I am reminded of something. When I was a small child I liked seeing the fire. I will go closer to the fire. I will extend my finger eagerly to touch the flame. But I will not have the courage to do it. I will pull my finger back just as quickly. Many times I have done this. This old memory came back to me when I saw Parthipenthiran getting closer to me and then retreating in fear. Is it only Pallavan? Athitha Karikalar, on whose behalf you left Kanji as a messenger with his letter, he is the same. From the days when we were children he had enormous affection for me; with that there was fear also. How my life has changed in so many ways because of that! Sir! When you see your prince again, would you give him a message for me? ‘I have forgotten the past. I am now his grandmother, the Pazhuvur Rani. Don’t be afraid to see me at all. I will not bite him and eat him up!’ – would you tell him this?”

“Devi! It is not certain that I will go back alive and see Athitha Karikalar, if I did there are many stories that I have to tell him. I cannot promise that I will give your message. Please forgive me!”

“Yes! Of all the people I have met, you are the only one with courage. You speak what is on your mind without hiding it. That is why I like you. Varnar tribe warrior! I don’t meet many people. I don’t travel in a chariot like Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. If I have to go somewhere I go in a covered palankeen. I only see people through whom I can get something done. They are mostly cowards. They will not dare to speak what’s on their mind. You tell what is on your mind openly …”

“I have learnt that there is no use in hiding, Rani! No man can harbor a secret in his heart that your eyes cannot pierce and find out!”

“That may be true. But I still am unable to find out what is in your heart. Never mind, you asked about Pazhuvertaraiyar. My husband and Parthipenthiran, with their entourage have gone to the neighboring village. They are having the dance-drama of Kannaki and Velanattam there. They have gone to see if they can find something about the prince from the psychic dancer. Mad people! They have not caught the man they ought to be questioning, they have gone to the soothsayer. They will take a long time to return. That is why I got you down here. Sir! I am asking again. You do know the truth about the prince, don’t you? You would share it with me, won’t you?”

“No, Devi! I cannot! I made a decision just today, not to make up stories and to always speak the truth. Therefore I cannot speak about the prince. Even just now I forgot my decision. You must forgive me!” Vandhiyathevan unwrapped the cloth roll fastened to his waist and took out the ring with the palmyrah insignia.

“Madam! Here is the ring with the palmyrah seal that you gave me. It is true that in Ilankai Poothi Vikrama Kesari’s men stole it from me by force. But the colonel gave it back. Here, I submit it to you; you must kindly accept it!” He held out the ring with the emblem.

Examining it carefully, Nandhini knew that it was the signature ring that she had given. “Sir! It is not in my habit to take back something that I gave. I was testing your honesty. You passed the test. You did not make it necessary for me to ask my people to search you. You can keep the ring in my memory,” she said.

“Madam! Think carefully! If this is with me I will have to use it again if it becomes necessary …”

“I am not worried about that. You may use it in whatever way. Now I am going to ask them to cover your eyes and take you back in the palankeen. They will leave you in the same place where they found you …”

“If I refuse?”

“You cannot go back from this old palace and fortress. You will keep coming back to the same spot.”

“Devi! This fortress? This old palace?”

“Yes; once upon a time this Chola Nadu was under Pallavar rule for a long time. Pallava emperors had then built a fortress and palace here. Then Chola Nadu came under the Pandyars. The Pandya kings lived in this palace for some time. There was a big battle here during the time of Vijayalaya Cholar. The fortress collapsed. The palace was also half destroyed. We are in the half that didn’t fall down. Some call this fortress Pallavarayan Fort; some call it Pandyarayan Fort. There is truth in both. But only people who know it well can come in here and then leave. What do you say? Shall I ask my people to take you back? Or, do you want to try and find the way …”

“No, Devi! I don’t have time to be exploring. Let the people who brought me take me back. But … before I go … isn’t there any other reason why you brought me here? Isn’t there no other matter that I can assist you with? If there is anything, please tell me!”

“Good; since you ask, I will. I want a flying horse. If you can, you can get one for me.”

“What? Did you say flying horse?”

“Yes; flying horse!”

“Do you mean the horse from the Arab country that can run as fast as flying?”

“No, no! I cannot climb on such horses. I am not talking about a horse whose feet touch the ground as it gallops. I mean the horse that spreads its wings like the birds and flies in the sky. I have heard in stories that such miraculous horses are present somewhere in this world. I want such a feathered flying horse!”

“Why? To fly to heaven?”

“Do I look like someone who is destined for heaven? I have not done that many good deeds. I have committed many atrocious sins.”

“Those who reside in heaven, do they only do good deeds? There also, they commit sins. As retribution for that they come to earth. Once they have fulfilled what they came for, they return!”

“No. I don’t want to go to heaven. There is a desert in Pandya Nadu. In the middle of it are some bare rocks. Rocks devoid of grass or weeds. There are some caves on these rocks. Once upon a time thigambara jainars meditated in these caves. Now there are snakes and foxes living there. I like these desert rocks a lot more than amaravathi town.”

“Devi! Your tastes are peculiar!”

“If I get a flying horse I would go to this desert. From there I would fly to Ilankai island. I hear that there are mountain peaks touching the sky and dense forests with tall trees covering these mountains in Ilanakai. Like the herds of buffaloes that are seen in Chola Nadu there are herds of elephants that roam the forests of Ilanakai, I hear; I would see all of that. Moreover, there are mountains in this world that have been covered by ice from the beginning of time, I have heard. They shimmer as silver mountains at sunrise. I want to travel on a flying horse and see the tops of these mountains. Farther away there are deserts that are ten thousand times larger than the Pandya Nadu desert that are expansive wildernesses of white sand. At noon it would feel like being inside a burning fire. I want to go to these places. Even farther away I hear that the sea has frozen owing to severe cold, letting people and animals walk across it. I want to ride the flying horse to see these places …”

“Devi! I cannot fetch such a flying horse for you. But there is an easier way to get to these places. If you get on a boat you can reach Ilankai in half a day. If you go on a ship …”

“Sir! It is not a way that I am not aware of. But I am afraid of the sea. I am afraid of getting on a ship. Even while crossing the river by boat, I am frightened when the boat rocks. Therefore your suggestion is of no use to me. You may go now!” Nandhini stood up.

“Devi! Don’t you have anything else to tell me?”

“No! But it seems that you have something to say.”

“I want to ask a question. I need an answer to that. Were you not in Ilankai a few days ago? Were you not standing alone in the dark shade of Anuradhapura roads.

“Not at all. I have never gone anywhere beyond the confines of Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. Why did you have this doubt?”

“Madam! I saw you a few days ago in Ilankai. Or, I saw an illusion that resembled you. You speak of a flying horse! I thought perhaps you have such a horse and that you have traveled on such a horse. But you were not adorned in these luxurious clothes and jewels. You were standing wearing an ordinary sari with your hair loose and without any jewelry. Are you not that woman?”

“No, I am not, Sir! Did this woman you speak about, did she open her mouth and say anything?”

“No; she only used gestures. But you are acquainted with magicians. Perhaps through some magical power an illusion was created there!”

“If it is not me, or any illusory likeness? …”

“She must be someone who resembles you, but someone who cannot speak.”

Nandhini’s eyes stared into the distance. She exhaled deeply.

“Sir! A while ago you told me that you wanted to do me a favor!”

“Yes!”

“Did you really mean that?”

“No doubt.”

“In that case, listen. If you ever happen to see that lady again, somehow catch her and bring her to me. If that is not possible at least take me to her,” said Nandhini.

In fifteen minutes Vandhiyathevan was standing on Mullai riverbank. Next to him stood his horse. Those who brought him there had disappeared in a second. Thevaralan was nowhere to be seen.

Vandhiyathevan rode the horse slowly along Mullai riverbank and journeyed all night. In the third quarter of the night the star with the tail had reached its maximum size and was seen blocking a long section of the sky. Is anything tragic really going to happen because of this thoomakethu that had caused fear in people’s hearts, or is it all some pointless and blind adherence to superstition? The thought crossed his mind in between thoughts of Nandhini. Her words were imprinted in his mind. The distaste he had felt when he had first met her at the Thanjai palace was no longer present. The feeling that she was someone who had suffered through some terrible times had cultivated a certain sympathy for her. Yet, there was also anger because of the mystery surrounding her intentions, her aspirations and her true biography. Together with her incomparable beauty it seemed that she also possessed a certain mystical power. Therefore it is better not to have any contact with her from now on. It would have been better if she had taken back the palnyrah ring. But she refused to take it back! He can throw it in the river, but he didn’t have the heart to do that. In these dangerous times it may become handy again, why throw it?

Once he reaches Pazhaiyarai and gives the message to the junior stateswoman, then he can throw it. After that he should not enter into these troublesome ventures.

In the fourth quarter of the night the morning star appeared in the east. Vandhiyathevan had heard that it was not good to go against Sukiran. After tying the horse to a tree he also lied down on the ground and slept.

15. Kalamugar Men

The morning sun’s reddish rays fell sharply on Vandhiyathevan’s face and woke him up. His sleep so rudely interrupted, he did not want to get up. Opening his eyes he surveyed the place. At a distance he saw two frightful looking mendicants coming. Vandhiyathevan knew from their open, lose and unkempt hair, the trident held in one hand and the fire pot in the other, that the two were kalamuga fundamentalists.

He thought that Azhvarkadiyan ought to have been here to engage in a war of words with them. Closing his eyes he pretended to be sleeping while they passed him.

Even when he felt they had stopped next to him he did not open his eyes. When one of them even cleared his throat, he did not open his eyes.

Sivoham! The boy is a good Kumabakarnan,” said one.

Sivoham! It will be so good if we can get hold of a young man like him,” said the other samiyar.

Sivoham! You are saying that because he is good-looking! He is of no use to us. Very soon he is going to be in great danger,” said the first veera Saivar.

Holding his sleeping pose made Vandhiyathevan feel out of breath. However, if he woke, then his cover would be blown. He also won’t be able to eavesdrop any longer. What if they were about to describe the nature of danger that awaited him?

But his hopes did not materialize.

Sivoham! It is his fate! Come, let’s go!” As the other veera Saivar prodded they moved away.

After waiting until they had gone Vandhiyathevan stood up. The words, “Very soon he is going to be in great danger,” kept echoing in his ears.

Kalamugar men came in the tradition of the old Kapalihar men! They do not offer narapali like the kapalihar. Otherwise they followed the tradition of the kapalihar. Many believed that they had obtained the power to know of future events through severe penance and fasting, spending their time in crematory grounds. Laymen believed that they also held the power to deliver curses. Because of this, in order to not become the subject of their anger, many were prepared to offer them hospitality. Many petty kings had made donations to furnish kalamuhar men with regular meals at temples. Until now the kings of the Chola tradition alone had not shown any kind of support to kalamuhar.

Vandhiyathevan who was aware of this comforted himself saying, ‘They are blabbering something; what new calamity can befall me that I have not already encountered?’ However his desire to find out about the future had not completely disappeared.

When Vandhiyathevan stood up he saw the kalamuhar men walking beside an old building in the distance. Near the building was a manmade hill. On the hill was a cave, its entrance the open mouth of a lion. These caves that were built by thikampara Jains in the old days have been taken over by the kalamuhar.

Vandhiyathevan was eager to approach them and engage them in talk. Leaving the horse where it was tied he walked toward them. When he was closer he heard the kalamuhar talking on the other side of the cave.

“That boy was not faking his sleep. It must have been real,” said one.

“How can you be so certain,” said the other.

“I have never met anyone until now who did not want to know more after hearing there is danger in the forecast for him!”

“The boy does seem to be a fighter. It would be beneficial to have him with us. What do you say?”

“Why do we need young men like him? In a few days even the fellow who is going to be on the Chola throne will be joining the kalamuham …”

“Whom are you referring to?”

“Who else? I mean Mathuranthaka Thevan! Don’t you know that?”

“How can that be? The other two …?

“One has drowned in the sea and died. The days of the other are numbered …”

Vandhiyathevan did not at all want to listen to the kalamuha mendicants anymore. He also abandoned the idea of talking to them.

He wanted to reach Pazhaiyarai as soon as possible, give the news to the princess and then leave for Kanji. Isn’t he more indebted to Athitha Karikalar above anyone else? It is true that there are many dangers surrounding him. Even Parthipenthiran had fallen for the beauty of Pazhuvur Rani. With his penchant for action, no one can predict when and what sort of danger Athitha Karikalar would fall into. His primary duty was to go to him and protect him. It is a crime to waste time on the way. He ought to leave this very minute.

Silently Vandhiyathevan turned back and got on the horse. He tapped the horse urging it to go fast. When he passed the kalamuhar’s cave, he saw them staring at him. One face looked familiar. But he didn’t want to stop.

On the way he passed many villages crowded with people. News of the prince did not appear to have reached these places. People were going about their chores diligently. This was good. Before the news about the prince reached Pazhaiyarai he must get there. He must tell the truth to the junior stateswoman. If anything else falls on Kundavai Devi’s ears there may be unintended consequences! The junior stateswoman may hesitate to believe. That Kodumbaur princess will take her own life! … This thought made Vandhiyathevan very agitated. But the horse did not know about his anxiety. With the newly fitted shoes the horse was having difficulty even keeping up with its usual pace. Finally just an hour before sunset he glimpsed the high walls of Pazhaiyarai Fort.

There, at the entrance to the fortress is the temple of Durga. At the speed of light many ideas flooded his mind about how to enter the fortress. But none seemed practical. The palmyrah ring was of no use here. Because the guards had already been informed that he would be carrying it. If they see the ring they will arrest him without any questions. He will be sent to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. He did not want to get caught before seeing the junior stateswoman.

Slowing the horse down as he reached the entrance with these thoughts he saw another crowd approaching from another direction. Soldiers bearing spears, men carrying accolades, horsemen – amid all of them there was a golden chariot in the shape of a lotus flower. Aha! Who is seated in that chariot? Isn’t it Prince Mathurantahka Thevar? The same prince whom he had seen at Kadampoor palace and the Thanjavur treasury cellar! – Vandhiyathevan became excited as a plan to enter the fortress began to take form in his mind.

“I have never seen anyone who would not want to know more when he hears that he is in danger,” – the words of one of the kalamugar men had become imprinted in his mind. Didn’t he himself give in to that curiosity? He is going to try the kalamugar’s idea here.

Vandhiyathevan drove his horse at high speed toward the lotus flower shaped golden chariot.

None of the men in Mathuranthaka Thevar’s retinue was expecting anything like it. Therefore before anyone could stop him the horse had reached the chariot. Vandhiyathevan raised himself up and stood on the horse. His gaze focused on Mathuranthaka Thevar’s face. He then shouted, “Oh! Danger!” Immediately he crashed down from the horse and rolled on the ground. The horse ran a few more steps and came to a stop.

Everything happened within seconds. Some of Mathuranthaka Thevar’s men upon seeing the horse speeding toward the chariot, hurriedly drew out their swords. Some took aim with their spears. Meanwhile as he tried to stand atop the horse and then toppled down in the process their fears subsided.

They began laughing at the fallen man; Mathuranthakar also laughed. The chariot had by then stopped. Following a sign from Mathuranthakar two soldiers went to Vandhiyathevan to pick him up. Before that he had sat up by himself. Without the soldiers’ help he jumped up and stood. As if he didn’t care at all about his fall his gaze remained fixed on Prince Mathuranthakar.

“Please bring him here,” said the prince.

The two soldiers led him by his hand to the chariot. Still his eyes were focused on Mathuranthakar’s face.

“Appan! Who are you,” asked the prince.

“I … it is me! Lord Emperor! Don’t you recognize me,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“What are you blabbering? … Aday! Go to a side,” said Mathuranthakar to the soldiers. The soldiers moved away.

“Whom did you think I was,” asked Mathuranthakar again.

“Pardon me, Prince! I spoke in error. You are still … still,” he stuttered.

“Have you seen me before this?”

“I have … no, I have not …”

“Have you seen me or not? Tell the truth!”

“Since yesterday I have vowed to speak only the truth. That is why I cannot say for certain!”

“Oho! Since yesterday you are speaking the truth! Good joke,” Mathuranthakar laughed. “Why should it make it a problem to be certain,” Mathuranthakar asked again.

“What can one say these days with certainty? One person resembles another. One day he is in the covered palankeen; another day he is in the chariot …”

“What did you say?” Mathuranthakar asked in a somewhat startled voice.

“Because one person resembles another I cannot say with certainty, I said!”

“Whom do I resemble?”

“I have seen you twice. Or, I have seen someone like you. Is it you, that is, is it the person I have seen before, it was doubtful. To find that out … just now …”

“You stood on the horse to take a good look?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“What did you find out?”

“I saw that you can be the same person that I saw before or perhaps not.”

From his tone and the expression on his face it was apparent that Mathuranthakar was becoming angry. “You are a thoroughly unscrupulous fellow. You should be …”

“Prince! Don’ be angry. I will tell where I saw you, or the person that I saw before. After that you can decide.”

“Then tell me, quickly!”

“A large fortress, high walls on all four sides. Many great warriors were gathered there. Midnight. In the dim light of the smoking flambeau mounted on the wall they were speaking angrily. Along the wall there was a palankeen. Everyone asked question after question from the leader of these warriors. He became angry. He swiftly rose and walked to the palankeen. He pulled the silk curtain covering the palankeen. From inside emerged a handsome gentleman. When they saw him the warriors gathered there shouted, ‘Long live, Long live!’ Some also said, ‘Long live the crown prince!’ I remember hearing, ‘Victory for the emperor,’ also. Sir! The person who emerged from the palankeen, his face looked like your face. If I had said anything wrong please forgive me!”

Perspiration began to bead on Mathuranthaka Thevar’s forehead who had until then been listening without interrupting. A shadow of fear spread across his face.

“Fellow who speaks the truth since yesterday! Were you in that crowd of warriors,” he asked.

“No, Sir! I promise I was not!”

“Then how are you relating this like someone who had been present?”

“Even I do not know for sure whether the scene I saw was real or was a dream. Please listen to another episode. A darkened cellar, an underground path in it. A path that bent and twisted, going down and then up. Three people were coming on it. One person carried a torch and walked in front. Behind another person came as guard. In the middle was a handsome gentleman – a princely son like Manmathan in appearance. When the light of the flambeau spread to the nooks and corners of that underground cellar it seemed that there were gold, diamond and precious stones sparkling all over. It looked like a cellar where kings would store there secret treasures. Grotesque monster forms were carved on the pillars. The face of the handsome gentleman walking in the middle of the three people in that underground path looked like your beautiful face. Only you can say if this is true or not …”

Prince Mathuranthakar said, “Enough, stop!” There was fear in his tone of voice.

Vandhiyathevan was silent.

“Are you a soothsayer?”

“No, Sir! It is not my profession. But I will tell what has happened. I will also tell what is going to happen.”

“You shouted something when you were standing on the horse, what was that?”

“Danger, I shouted.”

“Who is in danger?”

“You are in danger!”

“What is the danger?”

“Several dangers are surrounding you. Likewise there are many positions waiting for you. I must talk about these leisurely. Your soldiers have even confiscated my knife! If you take me with you inside the fort …”

“Alright, come with me! We can talk leisurely!”

Mathuranthaka Thevar signaled to the leader of the guards accompanying him. Pointing to Vandhiyathevan he ordered that he be brought with them inside the fort. The leader of those soldiers was not exactly thrilled by the order. Yet, he obeyed taking Vandhiyathevan with him.

Within a short time the doors of the Pazhaiyarai fortress opened. Mathuranthaka Thevar, his entourage and Vandhiyathevan entered the fort.

16. Mathuranthaka Thevar

We met Mathuranthaka Thevar, an important figure in this story, at the very beginning in Kadampoor palace. Once again we saw him when we went at midnight to the palace through Pazhuvertaraiyar’s underground cellar.

We did not on those occasions adequately introduce to our readers this famous prince – who would later be on the Thanjai throne with the title ‘Parakesari uthama Cholar.’ We want to make up now for that oversight.

Before we tell about Mathuranthaka Thevar we must also remind the readers about his ancestry.

Before Sundara Cholar it was his uncle Kandarathitha Cholar who had reigned over Chola Nadu for a long time. He and his wife, Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter – Chempian Madevi – were distinguished Shaiva devotees. They gave their entire life to serving the temples.

Kandarathithar wanted to compile all the devotional poems of praise scattered all over Tamil Nadu into one volume. His wish did not happen during his lifetime. Yet he collected some hymns. In the tradition of the thevara pathihangal he also composed a few poems. Among them the pathikam he sang about Chithamparam is still in use today in the section called thiruvisaipa.

Kandarathithar has written about his father, the great king Paranthaka emperor’s gift of a gold roof in Thillaiampalam:

warring king won the south and Eezham
peaceful Cholan Kozhiventhan chempian
adorned by his gold
bracelet wearing beautiful maidens sing and dance
that is Thillaiampalam
there our king god supreme
reigns!

He says in this song that his father conquered both Pandya Nadu and Eezha Nadu. In the last verse he also has mentioned his name and that it was during his time that Thanjai became the Chola capital.

Kandarathithar did not believe in expansion of the kingdom through war. Because he had seen and empathized with the hardship and suffering that people undergo in a war he tried to avoid war as much as possible; he sought peace. Because of this during his reign the Chola empire shrank.

Kandarathithar in his late years married Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter. Their son Mathuranthakar was an infant during Mathuranthakar’s last days. Enemies were raising their heads all around the kingdom. At the same time Kandarathitahr’s younger brother Arinjayan, wounded in war was about to die. Arinjayan’s son Sundara Cholan had come of age, fought in several wars and was known as a great soldier. Therefore Kandarathithar had informed the citizens that after him it was Sundara Cholan who was entitled to the throne. He also said in order to prevent future disputes within the family later on, that in the future it would be Sundara Cholan’s heirs who would be entitled to the throne.

He asked his wife to raise their son Mathuranthakan to be a Saiva devotee and to engage him in the service of Saivism. These arrangements were well known all over the country in those days.

Chempian Madevi acted according to the promise she made to her husband. From a very young age she cultivated in Mathutanthakan’s heart Saiva devotion and a renouncement of worldly desire.

Until about twenty years of age Mathuranthakan followed his mother’s word as god’s. He did not have an affinity for the affairs of the kingdom; the thought that Chola throne was his never even surfaced in his mind.

From the time he married the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter two years ago his mind began to change. The desire that raised its head ever so slightly in the beginning was fanned by the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani and made bigger. A small spark was soon blown into a forest fire. We saw for various reasons the Chola Nadu petty kings scheming in support of Mathuranthakan. They were waiting for Sundara Cholar to close his eyes to place Mathuranthakan on the throne. But Mathuranthakan did not want to wait that long. He began to feel that Sundara Cholar had no right to the throne and that Chola empire ought to have been his. In addition Sundara Cholar was now ill and unable to take care of the kingdom! Therefore, why should not he ascend the throne and take on the responsibility of the kingdom immediately?

It had now become the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ responsibility to keep under control Mathuranthakan’s rage for power. They did not want to spoil their scheme by acting in a hurry. Both sons of Sundara Cholar were heroic warriors. They had taken a place in the hearts of the citizens through their chivalrous acts and extraordinary character. The great leaders Kodumabalur Velar and Thirukavalur Malaiamman were behind them.

A large part of the troops in the army also liked Sundara Cholar’s sons. Therefore Pazhuvertaraiyars decided to be patient while Sundara Cholar was alive. In the meantime they also knew that the emperor’s mind was beginning to change. If Sundara Cholar himself said that the throne is for Mathuranthakar after him, then there will be no trouble. The junior stateswoman and Chempian Madevi were the only people who can oppose this. The junior stateswoman’s tactics can be won by counterattack. But if Chempian Madevi, who is praised as a near-deity all over Tamil Nadu stands in the way, it is not easy to cross that barrier. It was well known that this great woman did not want her son to ascend to the throne. How would the people accept a son taking the throne against his mother’s wish? Either, this great woman also ought to ascend to heaven following in the footsteps of her husband. Or, her mind must be changed. Who is more capable of changing a mother’s heart than her own son?

Therefore the Pazhuvertaraiyars have been urging Mathuratnthaka Thevar to talk to his mother and change her mind. In this matter, Mathuranthakar showed no interest. The desire to rule had consumed his mind as a frenzy. But he hesitated to talk to his mother about it. Why? – he simply did not want to meet the great lady or talk to her.

Now, Chempian Madevi had herself sent word to Thanjai. She had informed that she was planning to carry out one of her husband’s most important wishes, and that her son ought to be with her at that time. Accordingly the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked Mathuranthakar to go to Pazhaiyarai. He also told him to use this opportunity to argue with his mother about his right for the Thanjai thorne and try and change his mother’s mind.

17. Thirunaraiyur Nambi

Mathuranthaka Thevar entered Pazhaiyarai city with his entourage and Vandhiyathevan. The procession went through the soldiers quarters passing the various sections such as the schoolhouse, the music house, the new soldiers and the married soldiers quarters. From there it went through the shopping district, civilian residential areas, temple district and the sanctuary streets surrounding the temples. Here and there people stood at the entrances and watched the procession. But Vandhiyathevan saw that there was no special fervor in their manner. The first time he entered this city it was immersed in a celebration. Now the streets were deserted. Pazhaiyarai almost looked liked a ghost town. It was clear as daylight that the Pazhaiyarai people did not have much faith in Mathuranthaka Thevar. This was in a way convenient to Vandhiyathevan. There won’t be any chance of seeing someone who may recognize Vandhiyathevan’s face that may lead to trouble.

When they were nearing the ancient palace they saw another procession coming from another direction. In the middle of that procession was an open palankeen. Even though it was not clear who the person was, it was apparent that the occupant was a young Saiva devotee. There were people crowding in front and behind the palankeen. Among them were musicians singing to the beat of cymbals producing sweet music.

In between ‘Thiruchittampalam!’ and ‘Hara Hara Mahadeva,’ shouts of ‘Long live Thirunaraiyur Nambi!’ and ‘Long live the favorite son of tricky Pillaiyar,’ rose sky-high.

Mathuranthakar looked at that procession with distaste in his eyes. He questioned the soldier beside him. “Yes; Thirunaraiyur Nambi is the one in the palankeen,” he answered.

“Even then, what a big fuss! There is no one paying any attention to us! They are producing such a ruckus over this Nambi,” said Mathuranthaka Thevar.

The procession stood a bit away from where they were. Yet, Vandhiyathevan felt that one of the people beside the palankeen looked like the fundamentalist Saivar who fought with Azhvarkadiyan while crossing the Kollidam river by boat.

Mathuranthaka Thevar and his entourage reached the palace road and then the palace of Chempian Madevi. The elder stateswoman was standing at the entrance. She appeared to be waiting there to welcome someone. Mathuranthakar got down from the chariot and greeted his mother. She blessed him kissing his forehead. “Son! You came at a good time! Thirunaraiyur Nambi is on his way here! If you must, freshen up and come soon to the saba mandapam,” she said.

Vandhiyathevan noticed that Mathuranthakar’s face had lost its sheen. Poor man! Perhaps he thought that it was to welcome him the elder stateswoman had been waiting at the palace entrance. What a disappointment! Isn’t it natural for Mathuranthakar – the man wanting to be on the Chola throne tomorrow – to be disappointed at finding out that it was for the Saiva devotee coming in the palankeen in the procession behind him that she was waiting?

In the palace everyone went to the section reserved for Mathuranthakar. He took his time changing his clothes and getting ready. He did not seem that eager to go to the assembly hall. Man after man came from the mother. Finally Mathuranthakar was on his way. He asked, “Where is that soothsayer?” Vandhiyathevan who was dying to go to the assembly hall with him said, “Here I am!” Taking him and a few others Mathuranthakar went to the assembly hall.

An audience had gathered in the hall. On one side Chempian Madevi, Kundavai and a few other palace women were seated. On the stage in the center a young man was seated. He wore holy ash and bead chains. He had a charismatic face. In front of him lay a few palm leaf manuscripts. He held one in his hand also. Next to him stood an elderly man wearing holy ash and bead chains. He was in a state of ecstasy. The assembly hall was filled with people. Vandhiyathevan knew that the young man was the person who arrived in the palankeen and the person beside him was the one he had seen in the Kollidam boat. Even though his eyes roamed about the hall it finally came to rest on the beautiful face of Kundavai who was seated next to the elder stateswoman. Kundavai Devi’s eyes showed surprise when they first saw him. After that it did not appear that the princess’s eyes turned toward him even once. He even began to wonder whether she recognized him.

When Mathuranthakar entered the saba mandapam everyone except the women rose in respectful acknowledgement. Once he was seated everyone resumed their places.

Chempian Madevi told Mathuranthakar, “Son! This young Nambi is from Thirunaraiyur. He has the blessing of the Pollah Pillaiyar there. He has found a few thevara pathihangal there that no one else has. Once upon a time Mangaiyarkarasiar who was born in our Chola tribe became the great queen of Pandya Nadu. Accepting her invitation Arurudaiya Pillaiyar Gnanasambanthar went to the city of Madurai. There, he won over the Jains in a war of words. He has some poems that were sung by Sambantha Swami at that time. In those poems Sambanthar has sung about our Chola queen also. Hearing these songs are a source of immense joy to me. If your father was alive he would have been so happy, at least you are here to listen!”

Mathuranthakar said, “I am listening, Mother! Let the hymns begin!” But his face did not show happiness. His mind was somewhere else. He did not like seating an ordinary boy adorned with holy ash and bead chains on a big stage and making a big fuss. He sat there patiently to satisfy his mother.

Thirunaraiyur Nambiyandar Nambi with the blessing of Pollah Pillaiyar began to sing from the manuscript in his hand. He started with the songs that Gnanasambanthar sang in wonder – ‘Isn’t this the place where Mangaiyarkarasi who excels in the wealth of Saiva devotion lives?’ – when he first saw the great city of Madurai.

mangaiyarkarasi daughter of chola king
hands lined with bangles doe-like
princess of the lotus, pandya queen
serving the entire land
by sivan’s grace lord of fire
blessed with knowledge and wealth
together with angaiyarkanni dwells in
Madurai this is!’

‘king whose fame has spread all over the earth
cholan of the jeweled crown his daughter
musician poetess pandya queen
known for her gracious service
….
annalar resides with umai
Madurai this is!’

When Chempian Madevi heard these words like pearls tears started rolling from her eyes. She rejoiced at her good fortune amassed in previous births that had endowed her with a life as a queen and a marriage in a tribe that had borne such a mangaiyarkarasi.

The only line that made an impression on Mathuranthakar’s mind was the one praising the Chola king, ‘king whose fame has spread all over the earth, Cholan of the jeweled crown.’ He grew angry at the thought that this celebrated ancient crown of the Chola tribe that ought to have adorned his head was taken by someone else.

Sambanthar goes to see Mangaiyarkarasiyar. Pandymadevi sees this child and worries, “Aiyo! Where is this child? Where are the Jains who are like brahma rakshashas? How can this child win in an argument with them?” Knowing this Sambanthar tells Pandymadevi –

for the doe-eyed women witnessing this battle of words
great queen please listen!
do not feel sorry thinking
this is a soft lotus mouthed child
elephants and towering mountains
I have dealt with
I do not entertain fools
in the presence of the Madurai lord!’

When Thiruvaraiyur Nambiyandar sang this pathikam Chempian Madevi forgetting all about this world happily imagined herself to be Mangaiyarkarasi and the Nambi who was singing to be Gnanasambanthar.

Mathuranthaakar thought, “Yes, I am young! But I will not be afraid of Thirukovalur Mallaiamman and Kodumabalur Poothi Vikrama Kesari and the sons of Sundara Cholar who have their support. Just like Sambanthar who had the blessing of Alavayaran I have the support of Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

None of the songs got through Vandhiyathevan’s ears. His eyes and attention were completely on Kundavai Devi. He was thinking, perhaps the junior stateswoman did not recognize him, or she is ignoring him even after recognizing him, or she is perhaps angry that he did not come to tell her the news that he had completed the mission entrusted in him. In addition he was wondering how to meet the junior stateswoman in private to give the news.

When the singing was over Chempian Madevi told the elderly person with Nambiyandar, “Sir! When I look at this young person it seems as if Gnanasambanthar himself has been incarnated again. Take him and go from place to place all over Thamilagam. Gather the thevara pathihangal that you find in these places. We must compile the works of Appar, Sambanthar and Sundara Moorthi separately. We must have them sung in saiva temples daily. This was my husband’s wish. I want to see it done during my lifetime. I will arrange for the palankeen, men and material support that you will need for your travel. I will send my son to request permission from the emperor!” The cheerful cries that rose in that assembly pierced Mathuranthakar’s ears like sharp iron rods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

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