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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (39 – 42)

June 18, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

39. Gajendra Heaven

All the while Vanathi remained in the carriage. Now they lowered the carriage and placed it on the ground. Vanathi stepped out of the palankeen. She stood gazing at the approaching procession. Kalamugar men also silently gazed in the same direction. The only sounds heard were that of the frogs croaking in the ponds brimming with water and the tree branches moving to the north-wind.

Vanathi did not contemplate running away. She knew that it would be impossible. She can escape from these Kalamugar men but running away from anpil Aniruthar was not something she would even dream of. His intelligence, political acumen and inventiveness for contrivance were well known. Moreover, his close relationship with the emperor was another factor. The palace women at Pazhaiyarai would gossip about other Chola empire officials and petty kings. But they will never speak of Aniruthar. They would fear that even whispering about him in the most private and closed corners of the anthapuram would somehow reach his ears. Everyone was aware that whatever the emperor may tolerate, he would not tolerate anyone speaking lowly of the chief minister who claimed his respect and personal affection.

Vanathi knew all of this. She knew that Princess Kundavai also had the utmost respect for him. Therefore she expected help and protection from him. When the Kalamugar men refuted it, her confidence began to unravel. Why did he want this orphan girl captured? Perhaps these men are lying! Perhaps it was the Pazhuvertaraiyars who are here! Or, maybe it was Mathuranthakar and his entourage. … Whoever it was, one thing was certain, she cannot tell anyone what she knows about the prince. Whatever may happen to her because of it! Even if she was to die! … Once she came to this conclusion, Vanathi regained her confidence. Let them come! Whoever it is! She would prove that she belonged to the Kodumbalur veleer heritage. She would also prove that she remained a trusted friend of Madam Kundavai.

A palankeen departed from the procession and advanced forward. The elephant, horses and men stayed behind. Once it was near Vanathi, the palankeen was lowered. Out stepped Chief Minister Aniruthar.

Following his order the palankeen carriers and Kalamugar men moved back.

Aniruthar looked at Vanathi from head to toe. “What is this spectacle! I am not dreaming, am I? Isn’t it the Kodumabalur princess who stands in front of me! Isn’t this Vanathi, the beloved daughter of young velar Paranthakan who reached the warrior’s heaven in the Eezha war,” he said.

“Yes, Sir! I too am not dreaming, or am I? Isn’t it anpil Anirutha Brahmarayar, who commands the respect and devotion of the Chola people? Isn’t it the chief minister who has the confidential affection of the emperor,” said Vanathi.

“Child! I am happy that you know who I am. It will make my work easy. You also will not undergo much difficulty.”

“Aha! You must not worry about that. If I undergo difficulty because of a prominent minister as yourself, I will not mind it. I won’t consider that a hardship.”

“Your words are making me even more happy. I do intend to trouble you needlessly. I am going to ask you one or two questions. You just have to answer them. Then …”

“Sir! Before you question me, I have a few questions myself …”

“Ask me, Child! Ask without hesitation. I am like your father. I consider you to be my daughter. A few days ago, I met your great uncle Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari at Mathottam. He wanted me to take care of you like my own daughter. I promised him just that …”

“Thank you, your excellency! The emperor once promised to be a father to this girl, who had lost her own father at a young age; now you have become a father. What more does she need?”

“Ask me soon what you want to know, Child! The sky is turning dark. It looks as if it is going to rain.”

“Father! Is it you who made these Kalamuga men stop your beloved daughter who was traveling in a plankeen and forcibly bring her to this place? Is it you who also said to burn this helpless girl’s hand over the flame of the torch? These terrifying men charged you with that crime. I did not believe it …”

“Child! They were telling the truth, I did command them so. If that is a crime I am responsible for it. …”

“Chief Minister of Chola Nadu, who has earned fame in all three worlds! Your words surprise me. ‘If that is a crime,’ you say! Both justice and law, you have learned and practiced. You carry the responsibility of enforcing law and order in the Chola empire; even if the emperor were to break the law you hold the power to restrain him and make him do the right thing. If you do  not know if an act is a crime or not, then who else would know? Is it a crime or not to forcibly abduct a foolish girl who is traveling by road, bring her to a deserted place and threaten her with torture? If you do not know then whom would you turn to for an answer? It was my knowledge that in the empire of Sundara Cholar that it was perfectly safe to be on the road. Particularly in the case of women, that there were severe penalties for criminals who harass them. Isn’t it astonishing that you doubt whether it is a crime?

Chief Minister Aniruthar was dumbfounded. He tried to interrupt her but it was of no use. In a stern voice now he responded, “Girl! Wait a minute! Do not extend all of your speaking skill! There is reason for me to question whether it is a crime or not. It depends on the answer you will give to my question. I heard that a woman knowledgeable of a very important government secret was traveling on the Nagaipattinam road. I ordered my men to stop her. They were carrying out my order. Perhaps they have made a mistake. Instead of a woman involved in perfidy against the kingdom they have caught you who was returning after a consultation with the Kudanthai astrologer. Child, you tell me! Was it your intention to return to Pazhaiyarai from Kudanthai? Did the palankeen carriers by mistake take you on the Nagaipattinam road? You were not going to Nagaipattinam with the intention of seeing a man who was plotting against the kingdom, were you? … If you prove that was not the case then their conduct was criminal; I too have my share in it! What do you say, Girl? I will ask more plainly. You are not going to Nagaipattinam to see Prince Arulmozhivarmar secretly, are you?”

The princess was now in a state of shock. She was so angry she wanted to set Chief Minister Aniruthar on fire. But she realized that there was no use in displaying her anger. From somewhere this innocent girl acquired at that time the ability to think shrewdly and strategically. Therefore, without answering the chief minister’s question directly, she said, “Sir! What manner of speech is this? Are you accusing Prince Arulmozhivarmar of plotting against the empire? Isn’t it a criminal offense to speak of the emperor’s son in this way? Isn’t that slander against the Chola tribe? Aha! I must inform Madam Kundavai about this immediately!”

“By all means, Child! If you answer my question then there is no need to wait here even a minute longer. I myself would take you safely back to the junior stateswoman …”

“If I don’t answer your question? …”

“You have no choice, Child! No one can easily escape from this old man, you must answer my question,” said the minister.

“Sir! The all powerful Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar! You cannot find anything about the prince from this powerless, penniless girl. Even if my hand was set on fire by these servants of Yaman I will not say anything.”

“Princess of the brave Kodumbalur velir tribe! I admire your courage. But you said that you will not divulge anything about the prince, that is not right. Already, you have given away a few details. If you can provide one more detail, you will have nothing to lose. My work also would have been made easy …”

Vanathi was again startled. Did something slip from her mouth by mistake? She felt her chest tightening. Her body trembled. ‘No, I didn’t say anything; this old man is trying to deceive me’ – the thought gave her a little courage. “Can lies be emerging from a mouth that is meant for the language of veda? Can the chief minister of Sundara Cholar make up stories? I have not told anything about the prince! Why do you say that I said something,” she asked.

“Think, Child! Think carefully! If you think that one does not reveal anything if one refrains from speaking, then that is a big mistake. I will tell you what you divulged by not answering; listen! All over the world there is talk that Prince Arulmozhivarmar drowned in the sea. Citizens and officials are engulfed by a sea of sorrow. You are aware of that. Yet you said that you will not divulge anything about the prince. What does that point to? It shows that you know that the prince did not die. When I said that you are going to Nagaipattinam to see him, you did not deny that also. You never asked, ‘How can I see the prince who is dead?’ You also did not say, ‘I am not going to Nagaipattinam, I am going somewhere else.’ Therefore you have admitted that the prince is in Nagaipattinam, alive, and that you are going to see him. There remains only two more things! You must tell where in Nagaipattinam the prince is; and how you came to know of it. If you provide these two details, then there is no need to wait here  even a minute longer, speaking to this old man. Wherever you want to go, you can go.”

Vanathi’s mind was completely distraught. She realized that the chief minister was right and that she had foolishly shed light on the prince’s whereabouts. Is there atonement for her blunder? Not at all! There was no remedy other than taking her own life.

“Sir! You said that you were my great uncle’s dear friend. You also claimed me as your daughter. I ask one favor of you. I don’t want to go to Nagaipattinam. Nor do I want to go to Pazhaiyarai …”

“You want to go yo Kodumabalur; that is understandable. I will take you there.”

“No, Sir! I don’t want to go to Kodumbalur either. I want to leave this world and go to the next one. Tell your men and ask them to sacrifice me on that altar that is seen over there! I am ready!”

“Child! I said that I will fulfill whatever your wish is. Therefore if it is the next world that you want to be in, then I will send you there. But before that you must answer my questions!”

“Sir! Do not torment me in vain. I am not going to answer any questions. If it is true that you consider me to be your daughter …”

“Child! There is no doubt about that. I consider you to be my own daughter. You perhaps do not know how important your family is to me! Your great uncle and I have been friends for forty years! But in government matters one cannot be partial toward friends and family. One cannot favor one’s own father. Or his beloved daughter. Why? Look at the emperor’s actions! Didn’t he order his own son to be imprisoned because he had been disloyal in his actions?”

“Sir! Is it about Ponniyin Selvar that you are speaking about in this manner? What is it that he did that was disloyal to the kingdom?”

“Oho! You seem to be unaware of it. Ponniyin Selvar left saying that he is going to fight against Ilankai. There, our brave troops defeated the Ilankai troops. Prince Arulmozhivarmar used that opportunity to grab the Ilankai throne. Isn’t that acting against the kingdom? When the emperor heard about it he issued an order to imprison his beloved son. The prince disobeyed that order and jumped into the sea on purpose to spread the rumor that he has drowned. He must have reached the shore somewhere and is hiding. Because you did not know these details perhaps you refused to reveal his location. If you try to hide such a perpetrator of the government that would be a serious crime. Therefore, please speak, Child,” said the chief minister.

All the anger that Vanathi has kept so far under control now exploded. She could not bear the blasphemy that the chief minister was spewing about Ponniyin Selvar. This mild mannered woman morphed into a warrior possessed:

“Sir! None of what you said is true. You laid unnecessary blame on the prince. The prince injected new energy into our tired troops in Ilankai. It is a well known fact that Ponniyin Selvar was the reason for our victory in Ilankai. The people of Ilankai fell in love with him, seeing his valor and admirable nature. They wanted to make the prince their king instead of their own who deserted the war and went into hiding. The Buddhist monks presented the Ilankai throne to Ponniyin Selvar. He refused to accept it. You have discredited such an honest person. When the prince heard that it was his father’s order he had himself arrested and set off to Thanjai at once. He did not jump into the sea on purpose. He did that to save the life of his beloved friend. He also did not commit perfidy against the emperor. I don’t know what sins my ears had committed to hear such blasphemy! …”

Smiling, Aniruthar said, “Girl! Do you know what people would think if thye hear you speak so vehemently on behalf of Arulmozhivarmar? They would think that the two of you are lovers!”

“Sir! Only half of that is true. It is true that I have lost my heart to him. I don’t want to hide this from you. But it is unlikely that the prince has a place in his heart for this orphan. The nightingale can fall in love with the moon that shines in the sky. But the moon is probably unaware even of the existence of the nightingale.”

“Aha! I had no idea that my beloved friend’s daughter was a fan of poetry. After all, aren’t you the confidential friend of the junior stateswoman Kundavai!”

“Enough, enough! I don’t want to hear your commendation. Either you let me go on my way. Or summon your men and order them.”

“Girl! You know a lot about Ponniyin Selvar. Therefore you must know where he is now. Just tell me that. I will immediately send you to your great uncle. He is on his way back from Ilankai. By now he must be in Madurai …”

“Sir! Someone who is friendly with such a vile man as yourself is no longer my great uncle. I have no family or kin. I said what everone knew about the prince. You will not find anything else from me. Do not delay me in vain …”

“Indeed, I should not delay you. It looks as if heavy showers are in the forecast …”

“Only showers? With folks like you there will be thunder, lightening, the great floods and the like!”

As if agreeing with her a long streak of lightening ran from one end of the sky to the other lighting up the place momentarily before disappearing. Once the darkness came over following the lightening there was thunder that shook up the earth from end to end.

“Girl! Won’t you say where Prince Arulmozhivarman is?”

“I will not!”

“What I guessed is right. You set off to the place where the prince is hiding to deliver a secret message, it is true, is it not?”

“Sir! This is a waste of time, I will not answer anymore of your questions.”

“In that case I must subject you to the harsh punishment given to those who plot against the kingdom. I have no other choice.”

“I am waiting to take the punishment. Sir! If I am to lay my head over the sacrificial altar, I will do just that.”

“Cheche! You are Kodumabalur velir daughter! Can we subject you to such a minor punishment? Look at that elephant over there!”

Vanathi looked in the direction that he pointed. Like a dark hill, there stood an elephant. It appeared like a figure cast in granite and painted over in black ink. Setting apart its darkness, two ivory tusks protruded in a rounded curve.

“Girl! You have heard of the elephant heaven, haven’t you? Hearing the elephant’s cry for help, Thirumal came to the rescue, killing the alligator and sending Gajendran to heaven. In response to that this Gajendran has sent many folks to the heavenly world where Thirumal resides. You said that you want to leave this world and go to the next one! At the blink of an eye, this elephant will fulfill your wish. When it wraps you in its trunk and flings you over you will land directly in heaven!”

The Chief Minister laughed. His laughter made Vanathi’s hair stand on its end. She concluded that the minister was not human, that he was a monster masquerading as a human being.

“Princess! I ask one last time, will you disclose the location of Ponniyin Selvan? Or will you go to heaven with the help of this Gajendran’s trunk?

Vanathi regained her courage. “Sir! Do you want to ask Gajendran to come to me? Or shall I go to him?” She asked majestically.

Aniruthar gestured with his hand. In addition he said something in a language that Vanathi did not understand. The elephant moved producing tremors in the ground. It came toward Vanathi. It wrapped its long trunk around Vanathi’s smooth, softer than flower petal form. It raised her up.

Waves of thoughts washed over Vanathi’s mind in those few seconds. Even she was surprised at her composure. The junior stateswoman often called her timid and cowardly. How surprised she would be if she was here now! Some day she would hear of this episode; she would know that she gave up her life for the sake of Ponniyin Selvar. She would tell the prince also about it. What would the prince think of her then? At least then would he realize that the Kodumabalur velar daughter had more courage than that boatwoman!

The elephant’s trunk went up slowly. With it went Vanathi. “Yes, yes! It is true what that Brahma-monster said. This Gajendran is going to send me straight to heaven! It is going to toss me up and throw me over. I don’t know how far away I will land. But when I fall I will not be conscious. My life would have departed!”

Vanathi was now above the elephant’s head. She shut her eyes. The elephant twirled its trunk. It was getting ready to throw her. By God’s grace at that moment Vanathi became unconscious.

40. Anaimangalam

Isn’t Vanathi, one of our heroines in the habit of fainting often? We ask our friends to forgive her just this once. Because, time has come for her illness to be cured.

When Vanathi came back to her senses at first it felt as if she was on a swing. Then she thought that she was traveling in the sky. ‘rym, rym,’ ‘jim, jim’ – she could hear the rain’s patter. ‘kup, kup’ – the cold wind hit her body goose-fleshing the skin. Alright, she decided that she was making her way to heaven through the clouds. Darkness surrounded all around. In between flashes of lightening appeared and disappeared.

She briefly remembered the chief minister talking about Gajendran’s heaven, the elephant wrapping her by its trunk and lifting her up. Exactly what Chief Minister Aniruthar said has taken place. ‘My life on earth has ended and now I am on my way to heaven. I will see in heaven, gods and goddesses.’

‘But out of all the gods the one dearest to my heart, I cannot see him there. What is the use in going to a heaven that cannot please the heart?’

‘Adaday! What is the turbulence! I am being thrown up and down. But my head lays somewhere soft and comfortable … it feels like mother’s lap. Why! Why not, it feels like the junior stateswoman’s lap … who is more than a mother! Ah! Who knows what Kundavai Devi is doing in Pazhaiyarai? Would news of me have reached her by now?’

‘It is time to be entering heaven leaving the cloud cover. What sort of conveyance is this? Is this heaven’s own flower adorned vehicle? Or is it Devendran’s Iravatham? Appah! The word elephant does invoke fear! Elephant and its curling and spiraling trunk! What a lot of strength it holds in that spiraling trunk! Let bygones be bygones! What’s there to be afraid of now? What’s there to worry?’

‘Why is it so soft, where my head is laying? It is dark all around, nothing is visible. Let me explore with my hand. Actually it feels like silk. It feels a little wet.’

‘Aha! What’s this? Who is touching my cheek? A hand as gentle as the soft jasmine petal?’

“Vanathi! Vanathi!”

‘Isn’t this the junior stateswoman’s voice? What a surprise? Can this be? Perhaps Sister is accompanying me to heaven?’

“Vanathi! Vanathi!”

“Sister! Is it you?”

“It is me. Who else?”

“Are you also coming with me to heaven?”

“What is this great hurry to go to heaven? Has this world soured already?”

“Then where are we going?”

“Have you forgotten that also? Don’t you know that we are going to Anaimangalam?”

“Where? Where are we going?”

“Fantastic! We are going to Anaimangalam! We are on an elephant heading there!”

“Aiyo! Elephant?”

“Crazy girl! Why are you shuddering like this! Are you afraid to even hear the word elephant?”

“Sister! Did I fall asleep just now?”

“Yes, yes! In the luxury of the howdah atop an elephant you happily fell asleep!”

“Nothing to be happy about, Sister! I had some frightening dreams!”

“It seemed that way! You were talking!”

“What did I say, Sister!”

“You said Kalamugar! You said sacrifice! You said elephant heaven! You said elephant’s trunk! You called Chief Minister Aniruthar a criminal and a backstabber. Serves that Brahmarayar well! If he heard what you called him in your sleep he will not sleep for many days!”

“Is that a real dream, Sister?”

“Real dream? Fake dream? What do I know? I have no idea what you saw in your dream!”

“Kalamuga men captured me. The chief minister asked me the truth about the prince. I refused to tell him. He immediately summoned the elephant and ordered it to hoist me up and fling me over. Throughout I remained firm without giving in even a little. Sister! I thought about you also at that time. I wish you had been there to see how bold I was.”

“Never mind; at least in your dream you are bold! I am happy to hear that!”

After a while Vanathi said, “I cannot believe it!”

“What can’t you believe?”

“I cannot believe that it was a dream.”

“Sometimes dreams tend to be like that. It would appear real. Even I have had such dreams many times.”

“What was your dream? Tell me!”

“Why? My younger brother appears in my dreams often. How many months have passed since he went to Ilankai? But when I close my eyes at night he is right there in front of my eyes …”

“You are lucky, Sister!”

“Only you will applaud my good fortune! You don’t know how painful it has been since the news came about him jumping into the ocean.”

“In that case even that is a nightmare of a dream, isn’t it? Is it real that he jumped into the ocean?”

“If that was a cruel nightmare how great that would be? It is true, Vanathi! The person who saw him jumping came to tell us! We have to believe him!”

“You mean the Varnar tribe warrior? Didn’t he say something else about the prince? Didn’t he say something about a boatwoman, and Nagaipattinam Soodamani Viharam?”

“This is all hallucination. Yes, you blabbed about boatwoman Poongkuzhali and Nagaipattinam Soodamani Viharam in your sleep! You also talked about becoming a Buddhist priestess! Why have you developed such distaste for this world so soon? Why should you become a Buddhist priestess?”

“Sister! Don’t you know my heart? What has life got to offer me here, after the sea has taken him? I wish just as I saw in my dream that the elephant would really fling me down!”

“Silly girl! If you also leave what will my fate be?”

“You are different, Sister! You …”

“Yes, yes! You like Arulmozhi more than me, don’t you?”

“Sister! I am not saying anything like that. I don’t have your will power. After he is dead …”

“Cheechee! What are you saying? Why should you say that he is dead? Do you know for sure? The Pazhuvertaraiyars, Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani and that simpleton Mathuranthakan would celebrate such news. Why should you and I say it? Or, why should we even think that?”

“Then, what are you saying? After he jumped into the sea during the cyclone … what else is possible? If he survived, won’t he be here by now?”

“Crazy girl! If he jumps into the sea does that mean the sea has taken him?”

“If he reached the shore won’t we know about it by now?”

“Have you heard my father’s story? In his younger days for several months no one knew where he was. They went looking for him, found him, brought him and crowned him. My grandfather Arinjayathevar disappeared completely after the Thakolam war. Only after several years his whereabouts became known. Let me tell you, Vanathi! Mother Kaveri saved my brother once. In the same way the ocean king would have brought Ponniyin Selvan to shore. There are many small islands between our shore and Ilanaki. Arulmozhi could have reached one of those shores! I started on this journey with you with the intention of speeding up the effort to find him. You seem not to remember any of this. It is not your fault. You have been shaken ever since the news of the prince arrived. Only now you are beginning to speak sensibly!”

After a short pause Vanathi asked, “Where did you say we were going?”

“To Anaimangalam.”

“Where is it?”

“It is by the shore near Nagaipattinam, the place you were talking about in your sleep. It is only a short distance between that Soodamani Viharam and Anaimangalam. Even if you were to become a Buddhist priestess, that would be convenient. But there is no hurry to be the next Manimehalai. We can make a decision after we receive reliable news about Ponniyin Selvan!” Kundavai laughed softly following her comment.

“Sister! Why do you laugh? How can you have the heart to laugh? Do you have that much confidence that the prince may have survived?”

“If I don’t have confidence would I behave this way, Vanathi? All of the horoscope that I have been studying cannot turn into a lie. The shell and chakra marks on my brother’s palm also won’t become a lie. Until now everything has taken place as was foretold.”

“What has happened as was foretold? I don’t understand!” Vanathi said.

“How would you know? While you run around insane? They said that Arulmozhi in his youth will face many hurdles. That has been happening. In the same way, the rest also must follow, shouldn’t it?”

“What is the rest?”

“I have said many times already. You have also heard me. Now why do you want me to repeat it? Go to sleep quietly. We’ll leave the rest for tomorrow!”

Again after a short silence Vanathi asked, “Are we going to be on the elephant traveling all night, Sister? Why?”

“You don’t remember even that? If we travel during the day we would be surrounded by the people in the villages on the way. ‘Where is Ponniyin Selvar? Where is the sacred son of Chola Nadu,’ they will ask. They will blame Pazhuvertaraiyar. They will curse Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. They may even insult the emperor. Why should we allow that? The Pazhuvertaraiyars may even say that I am the one who is instigating them! I set off at night to prevent that from happening. I explained this to you when we started from Pazhaiyarai; you want to hear it again. You are losing your mind! We must ask the Soodamani Vihara Buddhist monks to rid you of your madness. Never mind; go to sleep! I am also sleepy. We have to sleep tonight seated on this rocking and rolling hill,” answered the junior stateswoman.

Vanathi decided to remain silent. Her mind was in a turmoil. It sifted through everything that happened that day. All of it seemed real. At times she thought, ‘I am not mad; it is Sister who is trying to turn me insane.’ She tried to recall what followed after the elephant wrapped its trunk around her and lifted her up. Her mind was blank. What could have happened? Sister must have appeared at the right moment and saved her life. The chief minister would have been terrified at the sight of Sister. Yet, it was no easy task to save someone from an elephant’s hold! … Perhaps, this was what happened! … Is this the elephant that lifted her up by its trunk? It did have a howdah on top. Even in the dark that was visible. The junior stateswoman may have been present in the howdah. The elephant, instead of flinging her up and throwing, may have placed her in the howdah. Vanathi has on several occasions witnessed elephants being trained to do just that. Have the chief minister and the junior stateswoman planned this together? Why? To prevent her from traveling alone. The junior stateswoman may also have wanted to test her courage. Didn’t she once test it with a fake crocodile? … Whatever; it was a grave mistake to set off on her own. How peaceful it was to lie here with her head on Sister’s lap. How much encouragement and assurance are derived from Sister’s talk! There is no doubt that Ponniyin Selvan is somewhere safe. Perhaps they will meet him at the end of this journey! The thought excited Vanathi tremendously. Her excitable nature now took over from her timid self.

The elephant strode majestically. On top the howdah seesawed from side to side. Soldiers walked in front and behind. The rain became a drizzle and then stopped altogether. Crowds of clouds dispersed and disappeared from the sky. The stars began to peak from above.

Through the roof of the howdah, Vanathi looked up at the stars. She wondered if there was any connection between the stars that inhabit the sky and the people on earth. Was there any truth in the alliance between the stars under which she was born and those of Ponniyin Selvar? What the astrologers and Sister say about the son she was going to have, that he would rule the three worlds, would it come to pass? People are saying that the star with the long tail is a bad omen, to what extent is it true?

What can happen? Ponniyin Selvar drowning in the sea – was that the tragic outcome? Would he return as Sister hopes? If he does, what other tragedy is in the waiting! …

After wondering in this vain for a long time Vanathi fell into a light sleep. When she opened her eyes again dawn was breaking. Birds sang sweetly. The junior stateswoman was also waking up. Moving aside the silk curtain of the howdah she peered out. “We are at Anaimangalam. We are at the entrance of the Chola palace,” she announced.

The two princesses climbed down. They entered the palace. The palace maids who were ready and waiting took the two princesses on a tour of the palace. Finally they reached the lower level of the palace. They stood there on the decorative patio gazing at the sea mixing with the canal.

“Sister! You said that you would make arrangements to search for the prince. What arrangements have you made,” asked the Kodumbalur princess.

“Yes, Vanathi! The search has begun. Look over there, a boat is coming! Those who are on it may perhaps bring some news,” said Kundavai.

Vanathi turned and looked. Through the gap between the branches of the trees she saw a small boat making its way. There were two people on it.

“Sister! Who is in that boat,” asked Vanathi.

“The one who is rowing the boat is Senthan Amuthan. We freed a man one day from the Thanjavur jail, that’s him. The one seated is Poongkuzhali!”

Vanathi felt goosebumps over her body. “Sister! I don’t want to see that girl, I will go inside,” she said.

“What is this, why are you so afraid of her? Will she eat you up? I am here. You just be,” said Kundavai.

Boat was getting closer.

How did Vanathi who was caught in the elephant’s trunk survive? On this question, it was her second guess that was correct. The elephant didn’t throw her up. It raised her up and placed her gently in the howdah. Kundavai who was waiting there embraced her and placed her on her lap.

The chief minister then climbed into the palankeen. “Devi! Shall I take my leave? May you have a pleasant journey. May its conclusion also be pleasant,” he said.

“Sir! Many thanks for your help,” answered the junior stateswoman.

“You called the Kodumbalur princess a coward! I have not seen a more audacious personality.”

“She was always a coward. Only recently she has turned so bold,” said Kundavai.

“It is the result of your training. That girl would have thought me a monster; never mind. Lots of people have called me various names. I do not worry about that. Goodbye, Child!”

With that, the chief minister’s palankeen and his four soldiers started toward the west while the retinue of the elephant and horses headed toward the east.

A short time after the chief minister’s palankeen left rain took over. The palankeen carriers and the guards continued without minding the rain. When the rain turned into drizzle and ceased altogether the palankeen came to an abrupt halt.

“Why are you stopping,” asked the chief minister.

“Swami! It appears that there is someone lying at the foot of that tree,” answered one of the guards in front.

The chief minister stared in the direction that he pointed. A sudden flash of lightening lit up the scene. “Yes, it does seem as if someone is lying there. Let me get down and see,” said the chief minister.

When he climbed out of the carriage and went closer he heard the man groaning.

“Who’s there,” said Aniruthar.

In response, “It sounds like the chief minister,” a faint voice answered.

“Yes; it is the chief minister! Who is lying there?”

“Sir! Don’t you see? It is me, Mathuranthakan!”

“Prince! What is this state? How did you come here? What happened?” The chief minister asked excitedly as he tried to raise Mathuranthakar to his feet.

41. Mathuranthakan’s Gratitude

When the chief minister’s hand touched his body, Mathuranthakan cried.

“Aiyo! Father! I am dead! Do not touch me. My legs! They’re gone! Gone!” He shouted.

Aniruthar stopped trying to lift him up. “Prince! What happened to you? What happened to your legs?” He asked with concern.

“My legs are broken; I cannot walk; I cannot stand!”

The chief minister turned and ordered his men,”Aday! Bring the palankeen here!”

“Sir! How did this accident happen? Why do you lie here alone in the rain? Where is your retinue? How did they dare to leave you here in this state? No punishment will relieve them of this offense,” he said to the prince.

“Chief Minister! Do not punish anyone! No one is at fault. It was I who set out on horseback this evening alone. I was riding along the riverbank. All of a sudden rain caught on. There was lightening followed by thunder. The horse was startled and went wild. I got caught in this tree’s branches and fell off the horse. The horse has disappeared somewhere. My leg must have sprained or fractured by the impact of the fall. I could not stand up. Fortunately, you are here now!”

“It must be the good deeds of your father, the great Kandarathithar, that has brought me here at this time! Bite your teeth and be patient for a while, I will get you into the palankeen. I will listen to the full story after we reach this servant’s abode at Nathan kovil,” said Aniruthar.

When the palankeen was brought closer, the chief minister lifted the prince gently and laid him inside. He ordered the men to carry the palankeen gently without any jolts. He then followed the palankeen on foot.

In a short time they were at the Sundara Chola Vinnakaram called Nathan temple. Next to the Perumal temple there was a palace belonging to Chief Minister Aniruthar. They carried the prince in and laid him on a bed there. When examined under the light of a lamp it was found that the leg was not broken, and it was only a sprain.

The fear that had seized the prince now lessened. Both helped themselves to the devotional food from the Perumal temple.

“Prince! Now sleep through the night peacefully! In the morning we will do as you please. I am going to Thanjai. If you would go with me, I will take you there safely,” said the chief minister.

“Sir! You have done much harm to me. But today you have atoned for all of that. I will never forget your assistance today. I will always be grateful for this. In case I ever ascend the Chola throne, I will keep you as my chief minister,” said Mathuranthakan.

Pretending to be shocked Aniruthar said, “Prince I owe a great deal to the Chola tribe. It is my duty to advice and aid all who belong to this tribe to the best of my ability. Therefore there is no need for you to feel obligated to me. But you said that I have done harm to you. I do not understand that. I do not remember causing you any harm willfully. If you can kindly be more specific I would do whatever is necessary to make amends.”

“Aniruthar Sir! That you are a most learned and diplomatic genius, is known all over the world. But do not test your cleverness on me. Do not also think that I am unaware of the extent of the harm that you have done to me. Yet, owing to the help that you provided me today I will forget all of that. Tell me how I can express my gratitude. Tell me if there is anything specific that you would like in return.”

Smiling Aniruthar said, “Yes, Prince! There is a way for you to repay. This old man has one request to make. Hereafter, do not set off alone on a horse. Use a chariot with troops guarding in front and behind. A better mode would be a palankeen. Times have soured. People are angry due to various reasons. Today you witnessed in Pazhaiyarai! Therefore instead of an open palankeen, a covered palankeen will be even more suitable. If it is Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s palankeen, that would be the best. No one will suspect!”

Mathuranthakan was taken aback. The sign of fear was back on his face. After pausing for a moment to gather his wits he said, “Chief Minister! What manner of speech is that! What do you mean by asking me to travel in Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s covered palankeen? Is it your intention to insult me?”

“Prince! I did not know that you considered it an insult to travel in Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s palankeen. Since when have you been thinking so? Before it has been common for you to be traveling in that manner! It must be after the last time when you went to Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace and returned that you must have come to this conclusion. …”

Fear took hold of Mathuranthakan even more. On his face spread the shadow of fear. “Chief Minister! I … Kadampoor palace … I …” He faltered in his attempt to speak.

“Prince! Didn’t you go to Kadampoor on July eighteenth, the day of the flood festival, with the treasurer – the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar? I am talking about that. On that occasion you traveled in Ilaiyarani’s palankeen. I did not like it very much. A palankeen is suited for an old man like me. Young men like you ought to use an elephant or horse. But riding a horse takes a lot of practice. As soon as you recover I will make arrangements for that …”

Anpil Aniruthar! Careful! You are heaping more insults on me. Just because of this unfortunate incident today, you have concluded that I lack horsemanship. Just because I went in a palankeen at sometime or other you are saying that I always travel in Pazhuvur Rani’s covered palankeen. I was tolerant because of your age and the good deed you did for me today …”

“Prince! Your patience gives me immense pleasure. ‘The one who is patient will rule the earth,’ is the proverb. What does Tamil Nadu’s great poet say?

‘like the earth that carries the plowmen
a leader tolerates disdain’

The ground puts up with those who dig the earth. It does not simply tolerate! It provides them with clean water. This attribute of earth ought to rub on those who want to rule the earth also. Even if an old man like me says something offensive, it is best that someone like you who wants to be a ruler not take offense.”

“Sir! What are you saying? Are you charging me with the crime of wanting to rule this Chola empire,” asked Mathuranthakan. His lips were quivering; brows were knitted. Signs appeared that the fear was turning into anger and fury.

But the chief minister was not disturbed. “Prince! Why do you say that I am charging you with a crime? If you want to rule this empire, why would that be a crime? You were born in the tribe of the heroic warrior Vijayalaya Cholar. You are the beloved son of the scholarly and saintly Kandarathithar. You have every right to be on this Chola throne. How can this desire of yours be a crime? If anyone advises you that it is a crime and therefore you must engage in secretive and perfidious undertakings, please do not fall for it. Prince! Please lend your ears to this old man’s words. Your parent’s wish was one way – You also agreed with them and became immersed in Saiva devotion. Now your mind has changed. No one has the right to criticize it. You can publicly claim your right. You can let the emperor himself know about it. Instead, there is no need to go to Kollidam shore alone on this darkest night preceding the full moon seeking the support of the Kalamuga crowd. Nor is it necessary to meet at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace in the middle of the night like thieves to discuss deviant strategies. Please consider those who advise you along these lines your arch enemies!”

Mathuranthakan was plunged into great confusion. There was no end to his surprise when he realized the extent of what the chief minister knew. At the same time there was also fear, and owing to the fear, anger was also building up.

“Sir! How did you know all of this? Which cutthroat is pretending to be my friend and serving as your informer also,” he asked.

“There is no use in trying to find that out. I have eyes all over this vast empire! Ears too! Nothing can take place in this country without my knowledge. …”

“In that case, does the emperor also know all of this,” Mathuranthakan asked.

“No; he does not know, whatever secrets my eyes and ears find out, they lay buried in my heart. Unless absolutely necessary they will not come out. …”

“Yes, yes; many frightening secrets lay buried in your heart. If they come out even this Chola empire would shudder,” said Mathuranthakan. In his voice were a hypocrisy and vengeance that were not present until then.

The chief minister saw it. But pretending not to notice it he said, “The emperor is my close friend. But my heart holds secrets that even he does not know. Sundara Cholar is very ill. Due to many reasons his heart is already wounded. I did not want to tell him about the petty kings’ enmity and hurt him even more. The need also did not arise. Prince! You can be sure that I will never tell the emperor anything concerning you.”

“Sir! Anpil Aniruthar! Why this sudden affection for this simpleton Mathuranthakan?” Sarcastic laughter followed Mathuranthakan’s question.

“Prince! My affection is not sudden. The same way I treat Sundara Cholar’s sons, I have always held you in esteem. I never had an opportunity to show it before …”

“Today you have this opportunity! Because I broke my leg falling from the horse. Yet only a few days ago you would have strangled my neck and killed me right there at the foot of that tree …”

“Narayana! Narayana! What manner of speech is this, Prince!”

“Sir! Do not think that I do not know anything. Do not think that I am gullible enough to believe anything. Even when I was in my mother’s womb you began to plot against me. You had made arrangements to kill me as soon as I appeared on this earth. … There, I see surprise on your face. You are wondering how I came to know about it, aren’t you? Do not think that you are the only person in Chola Nadu who is privy to earth shattering secrets!”

Aniruthar’s face was now truly an extraordinary sight. Each second it took on a different hue until finally he forced on a smile and said, “Yes, Prince! It is true about my arrogance. Today my conceit is rightfully disgraced. If infanticide was planned following your birth then how did you survive? If that secret is also revealed then I would be completely satisfied!”

“You want to perhaps test the extent of my knowledge! Good, I will tell. Those who were chosen for the task of infanticide, took the baby away in a hurry soon after birth without even checking whether the child was a boy or a girl. When they saw that the child was a girl they came and gave you the news. ‘Let it be,’ you said and gave the child to a temple pattar to raise. I was born fifteen minutes after the girl. You did not expect it. My horoscope was very strong. I survived. After learning that your plan had misfired you tried in various ways to prevent me from taking the throne. You made arrangements to raise me as a Saiva devotee, that is – lunatic. You failed there also. I did not turn completely mad as you had expected. Sir! Chief Minister! Why are you so stunned? Why not just deny everything?”

The chief minister was indeed stunned. Forcing himself to speak he said, “Prince! When you know so much, what is the use in denying?”

“Yes; it is of no use! I also know the reason for your sudden affection for me. You do not like Athitha Karikalan. You wanted to place Arulmozhivarman on the throne. Because he was taken by the sea you are turning to me! But I will say one thing. I am going to forget all the harm you have done before. I thank you for your help today. If you tell me that you will be on my side from today on I will even appoint you as chief minister when I take the throne,” said Mathuranthakan.

“Prince! Your words make me immensely happy,” said anpil Anirutha Brahmarayar.

42. Fever Cleared

Ponniyin Selvan was in the room next to that of the Acharya bikhu at Nagaipattinam Soodamani viharam. He had high fever for three days; mostly he was unaware of his surroundings. The bikhus tended to him day and night giving medicine and water.

In between when he came to his senses he tried to see where he was. His attention was drawn to the painting on the wall. The painting depicted gods, demigods and celestial choristers in heaven. Some of them had various kinds of musical instruments. Some of them carried royal white canopies, some long handled white decorative fans and others plates filled with colorful flowers. The scene appeared surreal. The figures of the deities were life-like. After viewing these scenes often Ponniyin Selvan began to think that he had indeed arrived at the heavenly inhabitants’ place. He believed that all the gods and muscians have come to welcome him. He wondered how he had ended up in heaven. It seemed as if it was through the canal route bordered on both sides with dense cactus bushes bearing golden colored cactus blooms. The thought of the cactus flowers also brought to mind their fresh fragrance. He also remembered vaguely that the boat was in the hands of a heavenly maiden and lad. The boy had seemed to be a Saiva devotee. He was in the habit of singing melodious songs of devotion. What did the heavenly maiden do? She did not sing. She merely uttered a word or two every now and then which was in itself a heavenly rendition. She was looking at him with eyes filled with yearning and love. Where are the two now?

In the land of heaven it appeared that besides gods, demigods and celestial choristers, Buddhist monks also had an important place. Perhaps they are the ones safeguarding heaven’s sea of milk! Frequently a Buddhist monk approaches him. He pours a small amount of heaven’s ambrosia in his mouth. However many comforts paradise may offer one does feel excessively thirsty here. Can’t this monk pour a little more of the ambrosia in his mouth? Why this stingy mindset even in heaven?

Perhaps one should not drink too much of it! Is this ambrosia? Or is it some alcoholic beverage? Cheechee! Would monks even touch alcohol? Would they feed him such a drink? If not, why is he feeling so drowsy? Why is he losing his awareness soon after drinking it?

After three days of transiting in this manner between heaven and a memoryless void, on the fourth day Ponniyin Selvan rose fully conscious as if waking up from sleep. His body remained weak; but his mind was clear. He saw that the figures that he had envisioned were paintings on the wall. He saw that the gods and demigods were not there to welcome him, and that they were welcoming Baghvan Buddha who was paying a visit to heaven. He saw on another wall Baghvan Buddha riding in the sky among clouds. He saw that he was lying in a Buddhist vihara. When he started wondering where it was, and which Buddhist vihara it was, one by one he began to remember the incidents that had taken place since he started his journey from Ilankai. He remembered up to the time when he and Vandhiyathevan were in the turbulent sea being tossed around by the waves, finding themselves beaten up and tired after trying to battle with the waves. After that there was only confusion.

At that time one of the Buddhist monks came into the room. As usual he was carrying a vessel with the magic potion! When he came near the prince the monk stared intently at him! The prince took the vessel and examined what was in it. He decided that it was not heaven’s ambrosia. He knew that it was medicine or medicine mixed with milk. “Swami! What is this place? Who are you? How many days have I been lying here?”

The bikhu without answering turned his back and went away. From the next room the prince heard him say, “Achariyar! The fever has cleared. His memory is back!”

Now an elderly bikhu came into Ponniyin Selvan’s room. He too came to the bed and looked intently at the prince. Then with a look of happiness he said, “Ponniyin Selva! You are at Nagaipattinam Soodamani viharam. It is three days since you came here with very high fever. We were privileged to be able to serve you. We are fortunate!”

“I too am fortunate. I was eager to visit this Soodamani viharam. Once when I was at the harbor here I saw the viharam from the outside. God willing I have been brought here. Swami, how did I come here? Can you tell me,” asked Arulmozhivarman.

“Prince! First have the medicine that is in your hand. I will tell what I know,” said the bikhu.

After taking the medicine the prince said, “Sir! This is not medicine; heaven’s own ambrosia. You have gone to great lengths to treat me. But I will not thank you for it.”

Smiling, Achariya bikhu said, “Prince! There is no reason for you to thank me. Baghvan Buddha has said that it is a moral obligation to provide treatment to sick people. Buddhism demands that even sick animals be treated. There is nothing special about the care we provided to you. We are much obliged to the Chola tribe. Your father Sundara Cholar, your sister – the junior stateswoman, have been very supportive of Buddhism. We are aware of your initiative in Ilankai to renovate the Buddhist viharas there. In the light of these facts we won’t ask for gratitude for this very small service …”

Achariyar! I did not mean gratitude under those terms. I realize how ill I must have been. In Ilankai I have witnessed the fate of those afflicted with this fever. By reason, by now I should have departed for heaven. There, gods and celestial singers would have welcomed me! Today I would be in the midst of gods and goddesses enjoying their heavenly delights! You have spoilt that! You have brought me who was at heaven’s door back here to this earth that is filled with misery. Therefore, I do not consider that you have done anything good to me. Therefore I said that I am not going to thank you!”

Acharya bikhu’s face beamed with happiness.

“Ponniyin Selva! When the time comes for you to enter heaven Devendran and other gods will descend on chariots with blaring trumpets and horns showering flower petals to welcome you. But that day is still far. There are many deeds that you must attend to on this earth. Only after fulfilling those you can think of going to heaven,” he said.

Ponnoyin Selvan who was until then leaning back, sat up. His face had an extraordinary glow. The light from his wide eyes lit up the entire room. “Acharyar! What you say is the truth. I want to achieve some things on this earth. I want to complete many great tasks. Once I saw this Soodamani viharam from the outside. I saw the viharas and stupas in Anuradhapuram. I am going to rebuild this Soodamani viharam like the Apayangiri viharam there. I am going to construct large Buddha statues like the ones in Anuradhapura. I am going to renovate and rebuild the Sivan temples in Chola Nadu. After seeing the stupas and viharas in Ilankai when I think of the temples of Chola Nadu I feel small in mind and body. I am going to construct a temple in Thanjavur with a tower that rises to the sky. Maha Devar’s statue will be constructed to match its size. Acharyar! In this good Chola country Buddhist stupas and Sivan temples are going to compete with each other reaching for the skies. Thousands and thousands of years later future generations of this divine Tamil Nadu will stand in awe at their sight …”

The prince who spoke excitedly lacking enough strength in his body leaned on the bed. Acharya bikhu immediately grabbed him by his shoulders and gently laid him down on the bed. Caressing his forehead with his hand he said, “Prince! In time you will complete all the great plans you have in mind. First, your body must recover fully. For now, please calm down!”

 

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