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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (35 – 38)

April 26, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

35. The Time is Near

We have seen once before the pallipadai temple that had been built a hundred years ago that is now surrounded by wilderness. It is here that Azhvarjadiyan to some extent found out about the insidious schemes of Ravithasan and others. Vandhiyathevan and others have now come to the same place.

Vandhiyathevan and his horse were taken near the wall on one side of the dilapidated pallipadai.

“Appan! Just wait here for a while! We will call you when the time comes. Don’t even dream of escaping! Other than someone who is familiar with the area it is impossible for anyone to enter or leave this wilderness. If you try to escape you will certainly lose your life,” said Ravithasan.

“If I find a way to escape you will cast your magic and kill me! Won’t you, Magician,” laughed Vandhiyathevan.

“Laugh! Laugh! Laugh all you want!” Ravithasan also laughed.

From afar a fox began to howl. Hearing it, a nearby owl groaned. Vandhiyathevan felt goosebumps; not from the cold. It seemed even the north-wind was afraid to enter that thick wilderness. Why, it had not even rained there. Only in places raindrops had fallen and the ground was wet. Without air it felt stuffy. By the time they arrived there the cloth around Vandhiyathevan’s waist had dried. Only the cloth-roll that was wrapped around was wet. He took it out and spread it over a rock to dry. He then sat on another corner of the same rock and leaned against the pallipadai wall. There was only one person near guarding him.

At a distance in the middle of the forest those who came with him sat in a circle. From inside the pallipadai one of them brought an old throne. They made the little boy called emperor to sit there. Keeping only two of the flame torches they put out the others. The smoke that arose as a result surrounded them on all sides.

“Rani has not arrived yet,” said one.

“She has to wait for the right time. I have said to come during the second jamam of the night. Until then someone sing the vazhuthi tribe encomium,” said Soman Sambavan.

Idumbankari tapped on a tambourine lightly. Thevaralan started to sing.

Vandhiyathevan was observing all of this from where he was seated; he was also listening. He knew that vazhuthi meant Pandya tribe. The song seemed a mournful lament to his ear. The sound of the tambourine and the melody of the sad song loosened his heart. A few words fell in his ear. They brought back to memory in his mind the great war that had taken place there a hundred years ago.

Yes; it was here that the three day long fierce battle between Varakuna Pandyan and Aparajitah Pallavan took place. Kanga king Piruthiveepathi came to assist the Pallavan. Like the hundred thousand soldiers who lost their lives in that war he also died there. The pallipadai temple that was built there in his memory is the one that now served as the meeting place for these saboteurs.

When the Kanga king died, the Pallava troops scattered and began to run. Pandya garrison’s victory appeared certain. At this time the Chola troops came for the Pallavar’s assistance. Leading that troop came Vijayalaya Cholan bearing ninety six wounds on his body. Four people carried this heroic old man who had already lost both his legs. With a sword in each hand he penetrated the Pandya garrison. Wielding both swords in chakra fashion he proceeded. The lifeless bodies of Pandya soldiers piled as mountains wherever he went.

The Pallava troops that had scattered and run began to return. Jana, jana, jana, janar! Gleaming in the golden rays of the afternoon sun ten thousand swords arrived! Dana, dana, dana, danar! From another side flew ten thousand spears sparkling. Swords and spears clashed! Thousand and ten thousand heads rolled. Thousand and ten thousand lifeless bodies fell! E-e-e-e! Horses dropped dead neighing! P-lee-lee-lee-lee! Elephant lives departed bleating! Dead men and animal carcasses floated in a river of blood. Twenty thousand hawks circled the sky covering it! Thirty thousand jackals surrounded the battlefield howling! Aiyo! Oh! Oh! – Fifty thousand wailing voices rose in unison! Don’t let go! Catch him! Chase! Chop! Slash! – a hundred thousand voices boomed. Ten thousand victory drums sounded, ‘Thump! Thump! Thump!’ Twenty thousand victorious horns blared ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ Sixty thousand ghouls laughed, ‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!’

Startled, Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes. He blinked at his surroundings. He realized that he had snoozed leaning on that wall. He recalled the frightening dream that he had during that half-awake, half-asleep state. Was that a dream! No! It must be the description of the battlefield in Thevaralan’s song that created this phantasmagoria in his mind.

Thevaralan was singing about the Pallavar and Kangar running away after losing to the Pandyar troops. It was the gleeful laughter of the listeners that must have sounded like a thousand demons in Vandhiyathevan’s ears and woken him up. The pounding on the tambourine suddenly stopped. The singing also came to an abrupt end.

A torch was seen in the distance. It kept moving closer. A palankeen followed the torch. The palankeen carriers lowered the palankeen. The curtains moved. From inside a woman stepped out. Yes; it was Pazhuvur Illaiyarani Nandhini. But when Vandhiyathevan had seen her on previous occasions she had been the fully adorned beauty worthy of worship. Now with her hair loose she was the raging Durgadevi. The sight produced fear in Vandhiyathevan’s heart; his body trembled.

As soon as Nandhini stepped out of the palankeen she let her eyes fall on the little boy. Holding her gaze steady she approached him. The little boy also gazed at her. All of the others were watching these two people.

The woman who had come looking for him in the old building – the one who was called mother by him, was standing behind the throne. When Nandhini neared the boy she extended both her arms. The little boy’s gaze shifted back and forth between her and the woman standing behind him.

“You are my mother! Not her,” he asked.

“Yes, darling!”

“Why does she call herself my mother?”

“She is the mother who raised you!”

“Why didn’t you bring me up? Why didn’t you keep me with you? Why is she hiding in a mountain cave?”

“Darling! To carry out your father’s wish. To avenge those who killed your father!”

“Yes; I know that!” The child rose and went to Nandhini.

Nandhini hugged him with both her arms. She kissed his forehead. Perhaps to prevent her from leaving him again the little boy also held her tightly.

Yet, the scene did not last for long. Nandhini unclasped his baby fingers forcefully and freed herself. She made the little boy sit on the throne. She went back to the palankeen. From inside she took the sword that we have seen before. She gestured to the palankeen carriers. They carried the palankeen and sat farther away out of sight.

Nandhini approached the throne. She placed the sword across it. Looking at the sword with uncontrollable excitement the little boy asked, “Can I hold this in my hand?”

“Wait a little, my darling,” said Nandhini. Then she looked at Ravithasan and others one by one. “There is no one who has not taken the oath present here,” she asked.

“No, Devi!” Soman Sambavan replied.

Addressing Ravithasan, Nandhini began, “Colonel …” Ravithasan laughed.

“Today you can laugh. Next month, this day, what is it going to be like, who knows!”

“Devi! We have been waiting for a long time wondering when such a good day would arrive.”

“Sir! We are only a few. Our emperor is a tiny baby. Chola empire is vast. Its military might is immeasurable. If we had rushed we would have ruined the mission. Because we were patient now the time for victory is near. Ravithasar! Do you have anything to say? Does anyone else here have anything to say?”

Ravithasan looked at the faces of the people there one by one. All appeared to have taken a vow of silence.

“Devi! We have nothing to say. You are the one who must speak. You said that the time has come for our resolution to materialize. You must kindly tell us where, how and by whom it is going to be achieved,” he said.

“Alright; I came here just for that. That is why I asked you all to be here without fail. I had our emperor also brought here,” said Nandhini.

Including the little boy who was seated on the throne everyone was staring at Nandhini’s face. She went on:

“Some of you were in a hurry. You even suspected if I had forgotten our pledge. That doubt was unwarranted. Please keep in mind, I have more reason than anyone else to remember. No, I did not forget. For the last three years, day and night, I have not thought of anything else. I have not thought of anything else other than of viable strategies, opportunity and time to seek revenge according to our pledge. Wherever I went, whatever I did, whomever I spoke to, I had no other thought than its potential use for achieving our goal. Time and opportunity have come together now. Chola petty kings and high-ranking officials are divided into factions. Pazhuvertaraiyar, Sambuvaraiyar and others have decided to crown Mathuranthakan. Kodumabalur Poothi Vikrama Kesari and Thirukovalur Malaiamman are against it. I hear that Poothi Vikrama Kesari is advancing toward Thanjai with the southern garrison. I have also been informed that Thirukovalur Malaiamman is recruiting troops. Any minute a war might start between the two sides.

“Devi! We hear that you are taking considerable effort to see such a war does not happen. We hear that there is going to be negotiations at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace.”

“Yes; I am the one who organized it. But can’t you guess the reason behind it?”

“We cannot, Rani! Elders have said that even the Supreme Being cannot measure the depth of a woman’s heart. How can we?”

“You cannot possibly do that. Hear it from me, I will tell you. We cannot say what repercussions may arise if an internal war begins in Chola empire before our mission is completed. Sundara Cholar is still alive, there is also Anbil Brahmarayan; they will intervene and quieten the two sides. Or even if one side wins and the other loses our goal will become impossible to achieve. That is why I have now begun this peace talk. Before a fight actually starts we should carry out our plan. Once that is completed there will be no end to the fighting that will start among the Chola empire petty kings. Until both sides are completely annihilated war will go on! Now do you understand … the reason for beginning the peace talk?”

When they heard this there were signs of awe and excitement on the faces of those gathered there. Marveling at the sharp intelligence of Pazhuvur Illaiyarani they spoke among themselves in faint voices. Even Ravithasan could not help being surprised.

“Devi! We admire your extraordinary vision. We understand the reason for peace talk But you said that the day is near for our goal to be completed. Who is going to carry it out? How? When?”

“I have made the arrangements with that also in mind. Invitation has been sent to our primary enemy to come to Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace using the peace talk as a cover; he will certainly be there. We must carry out our plan there. Veera Pandyan’s trusted bodyguards! Your time for revenge is near. Today is Saturday? Before next Saturday our dream will be fulfilled! …”

All twenty of those gathered there shouted, ‘Aha,’ in unison. Some jumped up and down. Overcome by excitement the man with the tambourine pounded it twice. Growling, the owls that were asleep on the branches woke up and hopped onto other branches. The bats beat their wings, ‘chada, chada,’ and took flight. Vandhiyathevan’s horse shook itself.

Vandhiyathevan also looked up. He could only discern that Nandhini was delivering some exciting news to those gathered around her. None of her talk fell on his ear.

Raising his hand, Ravithasan quietened the others.

“Devi! Your last words have given us enormous pleasure. We rejoice that the time to kill and avenge our primary enemy is so near! But who will have the pleasure of carrying it out?”

“It is natural that there will be competition among us on that account. This is why, in order to settle it without any heartache to anyone, I arranged for Veera Pandyan’s beloved son, the emperor, to be brought here. Veerapandyan’s sword is also here. By his own hands, whomever this little baby hands the sword to, will carry out the task. Others must stand nearby ready to assist. If the chosen person fails, others must step forward and carry it out. I will be in Kadampoor palace. Idumbankari will be one of the guards at the fortress. We will help the person accepting the task of avenging, to enter the palace. Do you all agree with this arrangement?”

The bodyguards all looked at each other excitedly. It appeared that everyone was in agreement.

Ravithasan said: “Your idea is good. We all agree with it. But one more issue. You must insist that whoever is given the responsibility of competing the goal, all of the others must obey his command. Until the emperor is of the right age, all the others must follow this man’s words as law.”

Nandhini smiled hearing this.

“That includes me also,” she asked.

“Yes, Devi! There cannot be exceptions,” said Ravithasan.

“My pleasure! Do you all agree with what Ravithasan said now?” Nandhini asked the others.

All of them looked at one another; they hesitated to answer. It appeared that some did not agree with this arrangement.

Soman Sambavan asked, “How can that be right? How can we subject the Devi who has given us all the help to common law?”

“Do not worry about me. I live only to avenge the cruel murder of emperor Veera Pandyan. Whomever is the avenger I am willing to be his slave forever,” said Nandhini.

Then she turned to the little boy who was listening without fully understanding their conversation. She said, “My darling! This heroic sword is your father’s. Take this with your baby hands and give it to the person here whom you like most!”

Ravithasan moved closer and said, “Emperor! Take a good look at all of us! Take this heroic sword and give it to the one who appears the most valorous and courageous!”

The child-emperor looked around from his throne. With uncontrollable eagerness and excitement all were looking at the emperor. Every person’s eyes beckoned, “Please give it to me! Please give it to me!’

Ravithasan’s eyes alone in belligerent authority commanded, ‘Give it to me!’

The little boy after turning and looking at each person two or three times, picked up the sword in his hands. He could barely lift it.

Everyone’s excitement reached its peak. The little boy abruptly turned in the direction of Nandhini. “Mother! You are the one I like more than anyone else. Until I am bigger it is you who should rule the kingdom!” With these words he handed the sword to her.

36. The Figure in the Dark

Nandhini accepted the sword handed to her by the little boy who was called emperor. She embraced it hugging it to her chest. Then she picked up the little boy and hugged him against her bosom. From her eyes tears streamed down.

The others stood in shock witnessing this scene. Ravithasan overcame his shock first. He said, “Devi! The emperor did not fully comprehend our request. Therefore he has given the sword to you. Explain again to him well …”

Nandhini stopped him; in a teary voice she said: “No, Sir, no! The emperor fully understood and handed me the sword. Don’t be disturbed by my tears. I am shedding tears of joy because I have the pleasure of avenging the murder of Veera Pandya emperor!”

“Devi! Please think about it! When so many of us from the emergency squad are here alive …” When Soman Sambavan thus began, Nandhini interrupted.

“There is no need to think, the responsibility is indeed mine. It does not mean that you have nothing to do. Half of you please take the emperor safely to the panja pandava mountain. Others come to Kadampoor. Those who can enter Sambuvaraiyar’s palace, come inside. Others be ready and wait outside. Be there with horses that can travel fast. Once the mission is completed shouldn’t we try our best to have everyone escape alive,” Nandhini said.

“Madam! There is something we have forgotten; please allow me to say it,” Ravithasan said.

“Go on, Sir! Be quick! Pazhuvertaraiyar has gone to the Kalamughar meeting at Kollidam shore. I must be in the palace before he returns,” said Nandhini.

“Didn’t you say that our primary enemy Athitha Karikalan will be at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyan’s palace? It is not that certain,” said Ravithasan.

“Why do you say that,” asked Nandhini.

“I have good reason. A letter is going to Athitha Karikalan asking him not to come to Kadampoor palace for any reason. Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman and Chief Minister Aniruthar have sent word …”

“You thought that I wasn’t aware of this?”

“Knowing it you still expect him to come to Kadampoor?”

“Yes; I certainly am. That Pazhaiyarai female serpent does not know Athitha Karikalar’s nature. Anpil Brahma monster also does not know; even you who excels in magic and phantasmagoria does not know. If anyone prevents him from doing something, Athitha Karikalar is certain to do the opposite. I know this; I know this with certainty. Athitha Karikalar is not like Arulmozhivarmar, a puppet in anyone’s hand. He is not a cowardly simpleton like Mathuranthakan. Just because his sister and the chief minister have sent word not to come to Kadampoor, Athitha Karikalar is sure to come there,” said Nandhini.

“Devi! Please do not depend on it completely. Their message will not reach Kanji,” said Ravithasan.

“What do you mean, Sir? Please explain,” said Nandhini. Her voice sounded anxious now.

“Devi! Do you know through whom the message is being sent to Athitha Karikalan,” asked Ravithasan.

“I do not know for sure; but I can guess.”

“Good! There is no need for guessing. We have caught him. He was in the same building where the emperor had taken shelter from the rain. He knows all of our secrets. We would be inviting our own annihilation if we let him continue from here alone. Idumabankari! Where is that spy, bring him here,” said Ravithasan.

Idumabankari went to the pallipadai temple. Nandhini’s attention turned in that direction. Her face that had been haughty until then, now displayed a beautiful smile.

Idumbankari and two others approached Vandhiyathevan. They jumped over the warrior who was seated half asleep out of boredom and fatigue. For a moment Vandhiyathevan considered wrestling with them. He decided against it. He would wait and see what they would do to him. With a big rope they bound his hands to his body. Then two of them led him by his shoulders and brought him in front of Nandhini.

Vandhiyathevan looked at Nandhini and smiled. Nandhini’s face did not show any changes; there was peace in her face.

“Sir! Again …” She began.

“Yes, Devi, I have come again! But I didn’t come of my own accord,” he looked around at the others.

“Mother! He is the one who saved me in the dark from being eaten by the ghost. Why is he tied up?” The little boy next to Nandhini asked.

Vandhiyathevan told the little boy, “Child! Be still! You should not interrupt when elders are speaking. If you do the tiger will swallow you up!”

“I will swallow the tiger,” said the little boy.

“Can the fish swallow the tiger,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

A frightening roar arose from the throats of those surrounding him. For a second it made even Vandhiyathevan shudder.

Ravithasan said in a loud voice, “Devi, did you hear? We cannot let him escape alive. According to your wish we let him escape on previous two occasions. We cannot do that any longer.”

“Magician! What is this big lie you are telling! Did you spare my life? Isn’t it I who spared your life! Devi! Please take a good look at this magician! Is he really Ravaithasan? Or is he Ravithasan’s ghost,” Vandhiyathevan asked.

Ravithasan laughed demonically. “Yes! I am the ghost! I am going to drink your blood today,” he said.

Again a frightening roar escaped the throats of those assembled there. The little boy said, “Mother! He has a good horse. Please tell him to give it to me!”

“Child! You come with me! I will take you on my horse,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Ravithasan glared at Vandhiyathevan. “Aday! Shut your mouth,” he told him. To Nandhini, “Devi! Please give the order soon,” he said.

Nandhini calmly asked, “How did he come here? When did he come?”

“This spy tried to kidnap the emperor from the building where he had taken shelter for the rain. Fortunately we were there at the right time to stop him. If we had delayed even one minute it would have ended badly,” said Ravithasan.

“Sir! Is it true, what they are saying?,” Nandhini asked.

“Only you know if those with you are capable of speaking the truth! How can I know, Devi,” said Vandhiyathevan.

The smile on Nandhini’s face disappeared as quick as lightening. She looked at Ravitahsan and said, “Sir! Please all of you go and stand over there. I must find out some matters from him in private.”

“Devi! Time is running out, we are in danger. At this time …” Before Ravithasan could finish, Nandhini said in a stern voice, “Please remind yourselves of the promise that we made just now. Without saying another word please go and wait over there. Take the emperor also with you!” In the little boy’s ear she said, “Son! Please go with them! I will get the horse for you from him.”

Without another word Ravithasan and others moved away taking the little boy with them.

In the dim light of the flame torch Nandhini looked piercingly at Vandhiyathevan and said, “Sir! It looks as if you and I are engaged in a duel.”

“Madam! This duel seems to be impossible; it does not seem to be ending. My body and hands are tied up,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Leave aside your playful banter for a minute. Did you come here on purpose? Or are you here by accident?”

“I did not come here on purpose! I didn’t come accidentally either. It was your people who brought me here by force. If not I would by now have reached the Kollidam shore.”

“I see how unpleasant it is for you to see me. I also see how eager you are to get away from me.”

“I have no qualms seeing you, Devi! Moreover, I do regret parting from you. Just grant me permission; you are suffering, tethered on the one side with old Pazhuvertaraiyar and on the other side to these ruthless magicians. Please say the word. I will set you free from all of them and take you with me …”

“Where will you take me?”

“I will take you to your mother who is roaming the jungles of Ilankai island like an orphan,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Disappointedly, Nandhini let out a long sigh.

“You want me also to wander like an orphan? Perhaps a time like that also will come. Then I will seek your help to take me to my mother. Before that my goal must be completed. Would you help to achieve it,” she asked.

“Madam! Don’t I have to first know what that goal is before I make any promises?”

“Those who truly care will not talk like this. Without knowing what the task is they will be ready to make it happen.”

“Those who care would try to warn and save you from danger, Madam. These savages have perfidiously got you trapped in great danger. They are going to use you for their purpose …”

“What you are saying is not correct! I am the one who is using them for my purpose! Please be informed of that.”

“They have brought a small child from the jungle to deceive you …”

“Do you know the importance of the child?”

“To be put on the Pandya throne and crowned …”

“Again you are wrong. Not only on the Pandya throne; to place on the throne of the Chola empire that extends from Thungapathrai to Ilankai!”

“Oh Mother! With whose help are you going to achieve this laborious undertaking? These people gathered here, this pack of jackals? Can you conquer the great two million strong army of the Chola empire with the help of these ten or twenty jackals that hide in their holes during the day and emerge only at night?”

“I am not relying on them alone. I trust the sword that is in my hand here. With its help I will carry out the wish in my heart.”

“Madam! You are never going to use that sword. Your arms also do not have the necessary strength; nor does your heart.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s just something that I felt in my heart.”

“I can prove you wrong right here on this spot now!”

“In that case I would be most fortunate. Aren’t I a lucky fellow to die decapitated by your beautiful hand?” Vandhiyathevan stood bending his neck and looking at the ground as if ready to be decapitated.

“Is being decapitated by my hand your only desire? Don’t you wish to be crowned!”

Vandhiyathevan looked up and asked, “How many folks would you crown with the one crown that you have?”

“That is my prerogative. Finally, whomever I wish to crown I will place it on his head.”

“In that case what is to become of the small child?”

“Whether to crown him or not is up to me!”

“Devi! Whomever you wish to crown, please do. I do not need it.”


“Many have commented about the beauty of the curly locks that line my skull. I don’t want to spoil it by having a crown.”

“You will not give up your jokes. Very good, Sir! What did the junior stateswoman do when she herad the news about Ponniyin Selvan drowning in the sea? Was she very unhappy?” Nandhini asked changing the subject.

Startled, Vandhiyathevan said, “Of course, she was sad! If not? Would all women be heartless?”

“I heard that Kodumbalur girl tried to take her life by jumping into the canal. Is that true? Who saved her?”

The question reminded Vandhiyathevan of the danger Vahnathi was in. Wondering what may have happened to her, Vandhiyathevan remained silent.

Making herself sound severe Nandhini asked, “Alright; you will not talk about it. I know. Are you going to stop Athitha Karikalar from coming to Kadampoor palace?”

“I will try to stop him,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I am saying that you will fail.”

“I am not saying that I won’t. Devi! I said that I will try. If the prince has made up his mind it is not easy to change it!”

“You understand well Athitha Karikalar’s nature.”

“You know him more than me.”

“Alright; however much I say you will not join my side. You will remain on my enemy’s side. Right?”

“Madam! Who is your enemy?”

“Who is my enemy? Indeed it is the Pazhaiyarai princess! Who else?”

“That is your fantasy. Devi! I want to tell you a truth, an important truth …”

“Enough, enough! If you say truth that means it is an absolute and gigantic lie. I should know! Keep your truth to yourself!” After maliciously rebuking Vandhiyathevan, Nandhini clapped her hands. Ravithasan and others returned to their places. Vandhiyathevan realized that he did not make good use of the opportunity that he had. This monstress is going to tell them to kill him. God! What kind of a death! Couldn’t he have lost his life heroically in a battlefield fighting his enemies? Is this what is written on his head?

Ravithasan’s group surrounded him. Like the wolf pack that grunts nearing its prey they roared.

“Rani! I knew that he will not give in however much you may say. You should start at once. We would leave after sacrificing him in this sacred grounds,” said Ravithasan.

“Magician! Caution! That is not my wish. None of you should do anything to him. If anyone touches him I will avenge him by slaughtering him with this sword,” Nandhini roared.

Ravithasan and others stood in shock.

“There is much that I want done by him. Do you understand? I am leaving now; you also start. Let him go wherever he pleases. No one stop him,” said Nandhini.

“Devi! One request! We are prepared to do as you wish. But he has a horse. Is it good to let him go first? Please think a little,” he said.

“Good; tie him to that pallipadai temple pillar. It will take him some time to untie himself. Meanwhile you would have crossed this pallipadai jungle,” she said.

Vandhiyathevan was tied to the pallipadai pillar. His horse was tied to a tree a short distance away. Nandhini left in the palankeen. Two men carried the throne away. Ravithasan’s group hurried away with the little boy. The light of their flame torch grew dimmer and then  it also disappeared. Darkness surrounded Vandhiyathevan.

The events that he had witnessed there just a while ago seemed like a dream. In the dark, giant bats beat their wide wings, ‘chada, chada.” Speechless hooters grunted. Foxes took turns to howl in formidable tones. Listening to their howls Vandhiyathevan felt that they were coming closer and closer. In the forest many formless figures dawdled.

He recalled the dream that he had at Kadampoor palace. He shuddered thinking that a thousand foxes were about to tear him into pieces and gorge on him. Hastily, he tried to untie himself. It was not very easy.

With a little light it would have been easier. But there was no indication of light there. No lightening; not even the flickering of fire flies. Even if the clouds had moved away and stars have appeared in the sky there was no way their light could enter that forest.

Aha! What is that noise? There will be many critters dallying in he forest; no surprise there! No this is someone’s footsteps! The horse neighed softly. It fidgeted on its legs uneasily. Perhaps there is a tiger or some such thing around? Vandhiyathevan worked frantically with the rope; there was no use.

There appeared a figure. In that pitch black of darkness a dark shadow of a figure. Is it human? Or … what else can it be?

It came closer and closer. Vandhiyathevan drew all of his stamina together. He channeled all of his physical strength into his legs. He kicked with all his might!

‘Veel!’ – the figure retreated, shouting. When it retreated, there was a clang – ‘danar!’ Perhaps it crashed into the pallipadai wall.

It remained there for a while. It appeared to be leaning against the pallipadai wall. Even though nothing was visible in the night Vandhiyathevan felt that it was staring at him. He tried harder than before to untie himself. Those demonic magicians had made the ties so tight! Alright, the next time he runs into Ravithasn he would complain!

The figure moved. It appeared to enter the pallipadai. Soon he heard gravel stones knocking around, ‘dun dun,’ in the pallipadai temple.

There was a light at the temple entrance. The figure was coming out of the temple holding a flame. It was approaching him. It was the figure of a Kalamuga Saivan. Long beard, unkempt hair, a necklace of skulls, a terrifying sight. Holding the light against Vandhiyathevan it stood staring at him.

37. Disguise Uncovered

For a moment Vandhiyathevan was consumed with fear at the sight of the frightening looking Kalamuga Saivan at that time in that place. Soon his natural audacity drove away the fear. “I have seen him somewhere! Where?” He wondered.

Yes, yes; the two men who had stared at him while he was lying under the tree at Harichandra riverbank! He was one of them! Was that all? Had he seen this face only once? Hadn’t he seen these piercing eyes anywhere else?

Meanwhile the Kalamuga Saivan took a good look at him and bellowed, ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!” That voice, it did seem familiar!

“Ada, che! Is that you? Is it for you I dragged myself here in the middle of the night?” When the Kalamuga Saivan spoke it seemed that he was trying to alter his voice slightly.

“Then, whom did you come for,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“I came looking for the prince,” said the Kalamugan.

“Which prince?”

“What do you care about that? Why do you ask?”

“I too am a prince, that is why.”

“Look at the face of the handsome prince …!”

“What is lacking in my face, Sir? If I wear like you, a beard and mustache, unkempt hair and skeletons around my neck, would my face turn handsome?’

“Why don’t you try it? You will find out.”

“How many days will it take to grow a beard and mustache?”

“Not a big deal. It will grow in a day. If you like, even within the hour …”

“That is what I also thought …”

“What did you think?”

“Nothing. Untie these ropes around me. I will also join your group.”

“Enough, enough! There are other spies like you in our group. That is why our big meeting today ended the way it did.”

“How did it end?”

“We thought that the prince will attend the big meeting; once he takes the throne he will accept our great Guru as his royal Guru – we waited thinking that he is going to make these promises! The prince never came.”

“Undo these ties; I will tell you why the prince did not come.”

“Which prince?”

“Who else? Kandarathithar’s son Mathuranthakar indeed!”

“I guessed correctly!”

“What did you guess?”

“I mean my guess that you are a spy.”

“How did you guess that?”

“When I came looking for the prince I saw some people leaving this forest. I know who they are. They must have tied you up suspecting that you are a spy. But why did they leave you alive, I cannot figure that out.”

“I will tell you why, untie me!”

“You don’t have to say anything. I also will not untie you. Unless if you agree to do as I say …”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You must agree not to interfere in matters that are not your concern, and perform one hundred and eight somersaults!”

“Is that so?” Vandhiyathevan said.

During the conversation his hands were not idle. They had been slowly untying the knots.

When the Kalamugan said, ‘Do one hundred and eight somersaults,’ all the knots had come out.

That was it; in one leap Vandhiyathevan jumped on the Kalamugan. He pushed him down. The flame that the Kalamugan was holding fell down; but it did not extinguish fully, providing some light.

Vandhiyathevan straddled across the Kalamugan’s chest and shook his beard. The beard came undone in his hand. At the same time the Kalamugan pushed Vandhiyathevan away and stood up.

Vandhiyathevan picked up the flame that was about to go out and held it up. The beardless and mustache-less face of the Kalamugan was none other than that of the Veera Vaishnava Azhvarkadiyan. Both men smiled staring at each other’s faces.

“Vaishnava! You told me not to interfere in matters that are not related to me! What are you doing,” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“I did not get myself in danger, like you, Appan! If I had not come here now …”

“You think that you undid my knots?”

“Even if you had untied yourself, you cannot leave this forest without my help. You will be today’s dinner for the foxes.”

“Never mind the foxes. If you had only seen the magician-foxes that were here a short time ago – what matters is that I was able to escape those foxes!”

“I too know those magicians. Were there only magicians? Was there anyone else?”

“A little fish was there. A strange fish that wants to gobble up a tiger!”

“Aha! Tell me! Tell me! Who and who were here? What happened? Give me the details!”

“Why are you disguised like this? Where did you go last evening? What happened there? If you tell me all that I will tell you what happened here!”

“There is not much for me to say. I found out that there was going to be a meeting of Kalamugar early in the evening. I dressed up like this to see what was going to happen there. I thought that I could come to meet you at Kollidam jetty. The big meeting took place; elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was there. Kalmugar’s great guru also came. But the one important person whom everyone was expecting did not come!”

“It was Prince Mathuranthakar they were expecting?”

“Yes; how did you know that?”

“If Mathuranthakar took the Thanjai throne, it would indeed be a fantastic outcome!”

“Why do you say that?”

“He could not tame a wild horse! How can he tame petty kings like Pazhuvertaraiyar, the trouble mongering Kalamuga Saivars and quarrelsome Veera Vaishnavars?”

Laughing, Azhvarkadiyan asked, “Did you see Mathuranthakar on the way? Do you know what happened to him?”

Vandhiyathevan related how he had followed Mathuranthakar, how his horse became frightened of the flame torch and began to run recklessly, how he went in search of him and in the end saw only the horse standing on the embankment.

“Aiyo! Poor man! Who knows where the horse ditched him? His life may be in danger. That is why he did not come to your big meeting; shall we go look for him again?”

“Very pretty! What do you care about it? Let’s take care of our work, come! Leave immediately! Before sunrise we should be at the Kollidam jetty.”

“If Mathuranthakar is lying dead in a drain or paddy field? Even then would you say ‘what do we care?”

“Nothing like that would have happened. Aniruthar would have made the proper arrangements beforehand.”

“Chief Minister Aniruthar? What does he know about this?”

“Aha! What are you asking like that? Nothing can take place in this kingdom without anbil Aniruthar knowing.”

“Oho! Does he also know about the secret meeting that took place at Kadampoor palace?’

“Just remind yourself of one thing. During the Veera Narayanapura festival both of us watched standing under a tree Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s palankeen as it passed.”

“Yes; I still remember your excitement when the palankeen curtain lifted a little. ‘Can you take a letter to the Pazhuvur Rani,’ you asked me.”

“You said, ‘Chee! Chee! What kind of work is that?’ You thought that I wanted to send some love letter. Following the chief minister’s order, I simply wanted to warn Mathuranthakar, ‘Don’t be ruined listening to the wretchedly disloyal folks!”

“Did you know that it was Mathuranthakar who was in the palankeen?”

“I suspected. When the curtain moved the secret was out. You are a tough guy. However much I pried you refused to say that it was not the Pazhuvur Rani in the palankeen, but Mathuranthakar!”

“Aren’t you tough as well? You refused to say where you were headed this evening!”

“If I had you would have insisted that you poke your head into that also. Even now what a predicament you got yourself into, see! At least from now on …”

“Did the chief minister know about the Kalamugar meeting and Mathuranthakar’s plan to attend it?”

“If not would he have sent me there? At the same time he had made arrangements to see that Mathuranthakar did not get there. You said that some guy held up a flame torch, it was possibly one of Aniruthar’s men. He would have purposely frightened the horse and made it run wild. Someone would have taken care of the prince who fell from the horse. By now he is probably in a chariot or palankeen going toward Thanjai. Come! Let’s be on our way!”

“Vaishnavar! I am not coming.”

“What’s this, what about the work that you undertook? I heard that Athitha Karikalar has left Kanji. Only if we travel like the wind physically as well as in our minds …”

“You can give the letter to Athitha Karikalar! Unlike Mathuranthakar, he will not arrive in the night dressed as a woman; he will not also travel secretly at night …”

“What are you going to do?”

“To tell the truth, it was not Mathuranthakar whom I was following this evening. I was following someone else when I accidentally saw Mathuranthakar.”

“Let me try some astrology; it was a woman you were following.”

“You are a wicked Vaishanavar! Before anything else, one of these days I will break your skull.”

“That is something that you cannot do. Already I have pawned my skull to another Kalamugan. Never mind, who were you following from Kudanthai? Who is the woman?”

“Kodumbalur princess had come to Kudanthai astrologer’s house. She was traveling alone by palankeen. Actually I was not following that rather insane girl. For a while her palankeen happened to be on the same road that I was on. Suddenly some men attacked h0er palankeen. After tying up the maid who was going along with her they took Vanathi away. Vaishnavar! Without knowing what happened to her I don’t want to go with you.”

“Why do you care so much about that girl?”

“Why are you so dismissive like that? She is the daughter of the great warrior, young Velar, who died in Eezham! She is the beloved friend of Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman! Moreover, wasn’t there talk of giving Vanathi in marriage to Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Appan! Ponniyin Selvar has drowned in the sea! What’s there to discuss about his marriage now?”

“What is the certainty that he has died? Isn’t it only a guess?”

“Then do you think that he is alive?”

“Vaishnavar! If you think that you are going to put words in my mouth and pull out some secrets, then please forget about it!”

“Alright! Alright! I know that you are a tough guy. But don’t worry about Vanathi Devi. You know that she is the junior stateswoman’s favorite!”

“That is why I am worried. The junior stateswoman may not know that Vanathi Devi is in danger!”

“If she does not know today, she will find out tomorrow.”

“What is the use in finding out tomorrow? If the Kalamuga men sacrifice her tonight …”

“Are you saying that they were Kalamuga men who attacked Vanathi?”

“That’s what it looked like. Vanathi’s maid also told me.”

“If that is the case you need not worry at all. Kodumbalur tribe belongs to the Kalamugar sect. If they find out that Vanathi Devi is a Kodumbalur girl, the Kalamugar men will treat her like royalty!”

“Oho! I didn’t know that!”

“That is why Kalamugars are opposed to Mathuranthakar …”

“What is going to come out of those skull adorned mendicants’ opposition?”

“You do not know. The most prominent families in this country belong in the Kalamuga sect. There are many in the army also. That is why Pazhuvertaraiyar had made this arrangement today. He tried to gain the support of  Kalamugars for Mathuranthakar. It did not succeed because of the troublesome horse. Come, let’s go! Are you coming or shall I leave?”

Unwillingly, Vandhiyathevan got up and  took hold of the horse. From the thick forest they found an opening big enough for one person and made their way out.

“Look over there!” Azhvarkadiyan pointed to the sky.

Vandhiyathevan saw the tail of thoomakethu extending longer than ever before occupying half the sky. The cold north-wind was blowing. Vandhiyathevan’s body trembled. Far away a village dog cried in a weak and sorrowful voice.

38. What Happened to Vanathi

At sunset when darkness surrounded from all sides Vanathi was in the palankeen on the Kudanthai – Thiruvarur road. Her mind was disturbed. It wanted to go to Nagaipattinam Soodamani Viharam and attend to the prince who was lying there with fever. But how was that possible? Would they allow her inside the Buddhist monastery, can she see the prince there, even if she did can she take care of him – these questions left her perplexed. When she thought of traveling to Nagapattinam alone, she became discouraged. She tried to wrestle with her mind against it. Is anything easy to achieve in this world? How much struggle is involved in accomplishing any goal? How bold that boatwoman must be to take a boat alone in the sea? How courageous she must be to take the boat in the rain and cyclone amid waves the size of mountains and save the prince? How foolish of her to feel discouraged over this short journey? There is no harm if she cannot go inside the monastery at once. It is enough to be somewhere nearby and find some information about the prince. There is no harm if she cannot see the prince; if she can just see that boatwoman, that would be sufficient. Yes, that’s right, if she gets to know her then using her she may be able to see the prince. She must somehow prove that her love for him had no strings attached. After that she can even give up her life. Or she can join the Buddhist academy and become a priestess …

Vanathi moved the curtain and peered outside. She wanted to ask the palankeen carriers around what time they expected to reach Nagapattinam the following day. She thought that she saw some figures standing behind the tall trees on the roadside. She looked carefully. They were Veera Saiva Kalamugars. Vanathi did not worry about it at all. When she grew up in the Kodumbalur palace Kalamugars came there often. They would speak to her uncle and receive any goods that they needed. Even the great Guru of the Kalamugar had once visited Kodumbalur. He was welcomed and given poojas. Her uncle had made it possible for temples to provide meals to Kalamugars. Therefore the Kalamugars will not harm her. They may even help her. Vanathi also knew that today was their big meeting. She had seen the Kalamugar crowds on the road from Pazhaiyarai to Kudanthai. Yet, why are they hiding behind the trees? Will they harm her mistaking her for someone else? …

Just as she was having these thoughts, the men suddenly came running and surrounded the palankeen. Even though she did not feel afraid she wanted to tell them who she was. Before she could attempt it she saw two men tying the maid to the tree. Frightened, she was about to scream when one of the Kalamuga men held a trident against her face and warned, “Woman! Do not scream! If you do not scream, we will not harm you. Or else we would stab you with this trident and kill you.”

Vanathi gained a little confidence. Wanting to sound assertive she said, “Do you know who I am? Kodumabalur Velar’s daughter. If you touch me, you are doomed.” Courage seemed to reside only in her heart. When she spoke her voice quivered.

The Kalamugan said, “We know all of that. That is why we were waiting for you. Just for a little while, do not make a noise. Or else …” He thrust the trident again.

At the same time there arose the sound of a whip lashing, ‘Chuleer, Chuleer,’ along with cries of ‘Aiyo! … Aiyo!’ Vanathi knew that it was the palankeen carriers who were being beaten. Kalamugars must have whipped them! She became angry and wanted to climb out. But there was no time. The palankeen carriers started to run with the palankeen. Kalamugar men also came running with it. While running they screamed horrifically. Vanathi realized that there was no use in her screaming. It was also impossible to jump out of the palankeen that was moving. Even if she jumped she would be in the middle of these horrific men! She wondered where they were taking her, and why they were taking her.

After running for about fifteen minutes they stopped near a Durga temple that lay hidden by the trees. By then it had turned very dark. One of the men went inside the temple and brought the lamp that was burning there. He held it against Vanathi’s face. One of the Kalamugar looked closely and Vanathi and said, “Girl! Answer our question! We will let you go without any harm. Or wherever you want to go we will take you there safely.”

A new suspicion dawned in Vanathi’s mind. “Question about what? What do you want to ask me,” she asked.

“Girl! You started on this long journey to meet someone secretly! Who is it? Who were you going to meet?”

Vanathi’s suspicion was confirmed. Her mind in that second underwent a life changing transformation. A doe until then who became frightened at the faintest of sounds turned into a fearless lioness.

“What concern is it of yours whom I am going to meet? Who are you to ask me that? I will not answer,” said Vanathi.

Kalamugan laughed. “You don’t have to say; we know. You are going to meet Prince Arulmozhivarman! Tell us where he is hiding. We will let you go without any harm,” he said.

“Do whatever you want to. You cannot find anything from me.” Vanathi stated firmly.

“You are saying that we can do anything to you? If you know what we are capable of you will not dare speak in this manner!”

“What are you going to do? Why don’t you say it?”

“First we will take one of your gentle beautiful hands and hold it in the flame. Then we will repeat with the other hand. Then we will set your dark hair on fire …”

“Go ahead. Here is my hand! Bring the flame here,” said Vanathi.

She knew to some extent the treacherous schemes and foul play going on in the kingdom. “These savages must be the saboteurs’ men. They are trying to find the location of the prince. Their aim is to harm him. If I am undergoing such cruel treatment on account of him, what better luxury can there be,” thought Kodumbalur princess Vanathi. The thought gave her courage.

“Girl! Think carefully! Do not be stubborn in vain! Later on you will be sorry! You will be a blind woman to the end of your days,” said the Kalamugan.

“Burn me atom by atom; chop my body into pieces. But you will not find anything from me,” she said.

“In that case we must simply carry on! My Man! Bring that torch here,” said the Kalamugan.

Vanathi’s attention turned to something else then. She saw a long procession of elephants, horses, infantry and palankeens making its way towards them. She thought by god’s grace she was being delivered some unexpected help.

“Caution! Look over there,” she pointed. Kalamugan laughed again.

“Do you know who is coming,” he asked.

“It looks like Chief Minister Aniruthar. If I shout now, they will hear. Careful! Leave me and run away! Or else …,” said Vanathi.

“Yes, Girl! It is Chief Minister anbil Aniruthar indeed. It is according to his order that we kidnapped you,” said the Kalamugan.

Again, fear seized Vanathi. Unknowing to her, a terror filled scream rose in her throat. To suppress it she tried to cover her mouth.






From → Notes, Uncategorized

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