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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (1 – 4)

August 6, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

1. At the Kedilam Riverbank

Among the rivers that fed Thirumunaipadi with fresh water was river Kedilam. Thiruvathikai house where Siva took Appar Peruman under his wing is on this riverbank. Thirunavalur where Peruman stopped Sundaramoorthi and took him under his wing is also near this river. The royal thoroughfare that ran from Thondainadu to Nadunadu and Chola Nadu in those days lay between these two sacred places. The jetty where the royal thoroughfare crossed river Kedilam bustled with life always. Birds could be heard chirping and beating their wings from the trees of the riverbank. Travelers would untie their oxen and pause to enjoy their meals packed for the journey. The rice that they tossed playfully while eating, crows came to catch in midair. The rice that was missed and ended up in the river, fish swam up to swallow. Children would then excitedly clap, shout ‘Aha’ and laugh in delight.

At the beginning of October, river Kedilam gushed forth flooded with more water than usual. Because of this the excited chatter arising from the travelers stopping to open their lunch parcels was also more than usual. The travelers were surprised when they suddenly heard a louder noise than all of theirs combined coming from the road a short distance away. Some climbed on the embankment to take a look. At first only the cloud of dust hung in the air! Then they were able to make out the oncoming royal retinue of elephants, horses, palanquin and footmen. When they came closer the town crier’s shouts were heard loud and clear.

“Make way for the heroic warrior who entered the battlefield at the age of twelve, the koparakesari who beheaded Veera Pandyan, Irattai Mandalam’s nightmare of a lion, Thondai Mandala chief, Commander of the northern route, the beloved son of emperor Sundara Cholar who rules over the three worlds, Athitha Karikala Chola Maharajah! Parak!

Everyone at the Kedila riverbank scrambled to the shore hastily when they heard this thunderous call that echoed across the land. Eager to see such a heroic warrior, they lined up on both sides of the port making way in the center. Panegyrists, trumpeters and flag bearers reached the water’s edge first. Behind them came three horses side by side. On the horses were three young warriors. Even from a distance people began to point to them discussing who was who. “The one in the center is certainly Athitha Karikalar! Can’t you tell by the gold crown? How that crown shines in the midday light,” said one.

“You are amazed at this crown? Wait and see when he wears the jeweled crown that belonged to Karikal Valavan! It is said that it will dazzle the eyes with the brightness of a million suns,” said another.

“It is not the crown of Karikal Valavan, Brother! It is just customary to say that. Sundara Cholar’s jeweled crown was made during the time of Paranthakar. No one knows for how many more days though …” said another.

“They have been counting Sundara Cholar’s remaining days. But it is beginning to look as if he is immortal,” said the first speaker.

“Let him live! As long as he is alive there will be no trouble in the country!”

“We cannot say that; ever since news arrived that the sea has taken Ponniyin Selvar, it seems that there is trouble all over Chola Nadu. Those who come from there are predicting war.”

“War between who? War for what reason?”

“They say that there is going to be war between Pazhuvertaraiyars and Kodumabalur Velar. The petty kings are meeting at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace to try and prevent any such thing. Athitha Karikalar is also going there, apparently.”

“The horses are here; lower your voices,” one cautioned. “Do you see how sad Prince Athitha Karikalar’s face is,” he asked.

“How can he not be sad? For Athitha Karikalar, his brother was his life. When there is no news of this brother, won’t the elder brother hurt? The father cannot even walk!”

“This is all part of life, Brother! These are not the reasons for the prince’s lack of vitality. Karikalar’s desire is to go to war against Irattai Mandalam; he is unhappy that it has not happened!”

“Why has it not? Who is standing in the way?”

“Who else? It is the Pazhuvertaraiyars! They are refusing to provide the necessary armaments for battle!”

“All kinds of reasons are being invented. None of you know the real reason,” said one.

“Know-it-all! Why don’t you tell the real reason,” said another one.

“Apparently Athitha Karikalar was in love with some Pandya Nadu woman. When the prince was away at the Vada Pennai battle, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar had married that woman. She is the one, now, as Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani, wields complete power over Chola Nadu. Ever since this happened Athitha Karikalar’s heart has soured, it seems!”

“Perhaps … perhaps? Haven’t the elders stated that at the root of all conflict in the world there is always a woman?”

“Who are the elders who have said that, Brother? Sheer madness! If the prince had liked a girl, would she go and marry a sixty year old man? People will say anything, but those who listen ought to have some sense!”

“Then why is Athitha Karikalar still unmarried? You tell me!”

“Be quiet! They are here. The one on the right side of the prince must be Parthipenthira Pallavan. Who is on the left? Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan?”

“No, no! Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran. Thinking that the prince may not come with only a letter of invitation, Sambuvaraiyar sent his son in person.”

“This just shows that there is something important going on.”

“It can be political. Or it can be matrimonial. As long as Athitha Karikalar remains unmarried petty kings will try to get him in their net. The first woman to marry him will have the luxury of being seated on the Chola empire throne!”

Varying viewpoints were in this manner being expressed by the people gathered there witnessing the scene unfolding on Kedila riverbank. The three horses came to the water’s edge and stopped. The chariot that came behind the horses stopped a short distance away under the arasa tree. In the chariot was sixty year old warrior Thirukovalur Malaiamman. From his horse at the water’s edge Athitha Karikalan turned and looked at him.

2. Grandfather and Grandson

As the old man beckoned from the chariot, Athitha Karikalan turned his horse and went to him.

“Child! Karikala! I am thinking of saying goodbye to you here and proceeding to Thirukovalur. Before I go I must discuss with you some important matters. Please get down from the horse and come to the seat under the arasa tree,” he said.

“Alright, Grandfather!” Athitha Karikalan jumped down from the horse. The old man also got down from the chariot. Both went to the seat under the arasa tree.

Parthipenthiran looked at Kanthamaran and said, “That is good. I was afraid this old man was going to latch onto us the whole way.”

“If he did I was thinking of pushing him into the river’s torrent,” said Kanthamaran. Both laughed heartily at their own jokes.

Facing Athitha Karikalan, Malainadu owner Thirukovalur Malaiamman said:-

“Athitha! You were born on this day twenty four years ago! You were born in my palace in Thirukovalur! I remember the celebration then as if it happened yesterday. Those belonging to your tribe and mine, and many petty kings from Chola Nadu and Thondai Nadu were there. About thirty thousand soldiers belonging to them were there. I cannot describe the grandeur of the feast that was laid out for them. Even your father’s coronation was not accompanied by such a big feast and celebration. All of the wealth accumulated in my treasury from my ancestors’ time over a hundred years was wiped out in the three day celebration!”

“Your great grandfather emperor Paranthakar himself came to Thirukovalur for this. Your great uncle Kandarathithar and your father Sundara Cholar also were there. There was no end to their happiness when they heard the news about the male child. They were happy that you were born to continue the Chola tribe. Until then your grandfather’s elder brother had no one after him. Your father was the only son for Arinjayan also. At your age he was as handsome as Manmathan. No one had seen such a beautiful child in the Chola tribe or among the petty kings before that. Because of that your father also encountered some difficulties. He was the pet child of the entire family. The palace women enjoyed dressing him up as a girl. They would forever be thrilled by lamenting, ‘If only he had been born a girl!’ Kings of kings and petty kings from Ilankai to Vinthya mountain waited in line to give their daughters in marriage to your father. In addition to the fact that his beauty surpassed that of Arjunan and Manmathan, they were also eager because of his entitlement to the Chola throne. In the end, I had the good fortune of having your father as my son-in-law.”

“In our tribe men and women were not known for their physical beauty. We would measure beauty by the number of battlefield scars on the bodies of our male children. For our women, beauty and style meant virtue and character. When it was decided to wed my daughter to your father the entire Malaiamanadu was in an uproar. All the Tamil petty kings were so jealous; I didn’t pay attention to it. All three worlds were aghast at the splendor of your parents’ wedding in Thanjai. Even so, the celebration following your birth was bigger than that celebration. A happy discussion took place about what to name you. Some said that it should be the most famous of your tribesmen, Karikal Valavan. Myself and some others insisted that it has to be your grandfather’s brother Rajathithyar’s name. In the end both were combined and you were given the name, ‘Athitha Karikalan.’

“Look over there! Athitha! That is the Thirunavalur temple tower. The sacred place of birth of Nambi Arurar Sundaramoorthi Adigal. Twenty five years ago your great uncle Rajathithaya Cholar camped there. I have heard of many warriors in literature and poetry. I have also seen many heroic soldiers in this chivalrous Tamil Nadu. But I have not seen anyone like Rajathithyar. Anyone who had seen him in action in the battlefield will say the same.”

“He was getting ready here, assembling a large garrison to go to war against the north country. He was determined to defeat the Irattai Mandala king Kannara Thevan and raze his capital Maniyakedam to the ground. Rajathithyar thought that only if he destroyed Maniyakedam completely in the way Pallava emperor Mamallar had destroyed Vathabi, he can wipe out the arrogance of Irattai Mandala people and gain fame like Mamallar. Assembling a large garrison required for this was not an easy task. They say that Mamallar took seven years to put his battalion together. Rajathithyar said that he did not need so long and about three or four years ought to be sufficient. He chose the territory between rivers Kedillam and south Pennai as the best place to assemble and train the troops.

“Athitha! You have not been fortunate to see this place between these two rivers in those days. Those who witnessed those scenes will never forget as long as they have life in their bodies. Rajathithyar was in Thirunavalur with thirty thousand soldiers. In Mudiyur on the Pennai riverbank Chera petty king Vella Kumaran was camping out with twenty thousand soldiers. Your grandfather Arinjayan was with me in Thirukovalur. In addition Kodumabalur senior Velan, Pazhuvertaraiyar – who is today the Chola Nadu curse, Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyan, the petty king of this Thirumunai – Munaiyatharayan, Mazhavaraiyan of Mazha Nadu, Kunrathoor Kizhan, and Vaithumbarayan waited with their troops between these two rivers. The cavalry, the army of elephants and the selected kaikozhar’s fencers and swordsmen all camped out here. Frequent practice sessions were held among the troops camped out here. When elephants clashed with elephants it would seem like an earthquake was underway. The sight and sound of the horses galloping in unison while soldiers on top wielded spears was akin to a deluge rising to inundate the universe at the end of time. When soldiers practiced archery the shower of arrows raining from their taut bows completely masked the sky. When thousands of soldiers pounced on enemy soldiers shouting ‘nawelo nawel’ – it seemed like the end was here for life on earth. Crowds gathered to witness the drama.”

“The people here in this Thirumunaipadinadu and Nadunadu are good people. In addition they are also brave people. When the troops were camped out here much damage was caused to their farming and agriculture. They did not mind any of that. It is to express his gratitude to such good citizens that Rajathithyar constructed many reservoirs in these two places. He also took the initiative to keep Veera Narayanapura lake replenished with water diverted from Kollidam river. Athitha! The one who benefited most from that lake is Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar. I am astonished when I compare how he stood servile in front of Rajathithyar then and the rich man’s arrogance that he displays today!”

Athitha Karikalan interrupted. “Why should you care about Sambuvaraiyar’s arrogance? Tell me about the Thakolam war. The large garrison assembled on this Kedilam riverbank, when did it start from here? Even with all the preparation, even with my grandfather being a great warrior, why did our troops fail in Thakolam? Didn’t you fight in that war? You would have witnessed it first hand,” he said.

“Yes; I was also in that battlefield. That is what I am going to speak to you about.”

“Rajathithyar was assembling the various kinds of armies here and training them. Due to certain reasons he could not leave as planned. There was news from Ilankai that war had started there. To bring it to an end successfully, troops had to be sent there. With an enemy in the south the emperor did not like the chief commanders and colonels of Chola Nadu to go too far into the north. He said, ‘When we receive news that the Ilankai war is over we can leave.’ Unable to disregard his father’s opinion Rajathithyar also waited patiently. But the enemies were not willing to wait. Irattai Mandala emperor Kannarathevan arrived with a large garrison to attack Chola Nadu. He was advancing southward. Kanga king Poothuhan also joined Kannarathevan with his troops. As if the north sea merged with the south sea, Irattai Mandala troops and Kanganadu Poothujan’s troops surged forth as an ocean. In this ocean, resembling whales were – thousands of elephants; like Makara fish – tens of thousands of horses. This ocean of army that rose like the seven seas combined at earth’s destruction, advanced as if it would completely drown the south. Our spies who gathered information about their troops, came running at the speed of wind and thought, and relayed this news.”

“But emperor Paranthakar said that even this was good in a way. Rather than sending our troops long distances and have travel-worn soldiers fight the enemy in the enemy’s land, a better war strategy would be to lure the enemy troops near our territory and squash them from all four sides, the emperor said. Only after hearing that the enemy troops were near vada vengadam he gave permission to leave.”

With permission or not, Rajathithyar departed. Three hundred thousand foot soldiers, fifty thousand horsemen, ten thousand war elephants, two thousand chariots, three hundred and twenty colonels, and thirty two petty kings were in this garrison. I was fortunate to be one of them. But, my bad luck, I came back alive.”

“After three days of traveling our troops and the enemy troops met at a place called Thakolam about twenty miles north of Kanji!”

“Athitha! We have heard in puranam about the battle between Devendran and Viruthirasan. We know about the clash between Raman and Ravanan, the war between Pandavar and Gauravar. These battles are nothing, those who saw the Thakolam war in person would say. The enemy’s troops were twice as many as ours. It seemed as if there were five hundred thousand soldiers and twenty thousand war elephants in that garrison. So what? A colonel like your great uncle Rajathithyar was not there. Therefore it seemed that Veeraluxmi and Jayaluxmi were on our side.

“The battle went on for ten days. It was impossible to keep tally of the dead men on the two sides. Like dark hills elephants lay on the ground dead. Even though there was much damage on both sides, it was the enemy’s side that was soon losing ground. The enemy saw the reason for this. They knew that Jayaluxmi was following Rajathithyar’s elephant wherever it went with the tiger flag hoisted majestically. Rajathithyar’s elephant ended up wherever our troops appeared to be losing. Once they saw that elephant and the great man seated on it our soldiers would be reenergized and attack the enemy with three times more vigor. After watching this for ten days the enemy’s side planned a flagrant offensive. That it was a deceitful trick came to light only afterwards. It was Kanga king Poothuhan who planned and carried it out. All of a sudden this cutthroat had the peace flag up on his elephant. He came forward with both his hands above his head saying, “Surrender! Surrender!” It was Rajathithyar who was near him then. Poothuhan must have acted after seeing the howdah on his elephant with the tiger flag. When the great soldier Rajathithyar heard this enemy king saying ‘I surrender,’ he felt pity. He wanted to know if Irattai Mandala emperor himself was seeking peace in order to halt the war or if Poothuhan was leaving him and coming to join us. He had the conch blown as siren and had the bodyguards around him move. He signaled for Poothuhan’s elephant to approach his. Rajathithyar saw the tears streaming down Poothuhan’s face. This made his heart even more sympathetic.

‘Inside the worshipping hands awaits a crushing enemy,
and in tears shed crying as well’

This verse by the great Tamil Nadu poet was not present in Rajathithyar’s mind at that time. He saw tears and he melted. He let Poothuhan come closer. Then he asked, ‘What is it?’ Rajathithyar was disgusted by his answer. Poothuhan said that because defeat was certain for Irattai Mandalam he had told Kannarathevan to surrender, and since he refused he had come on his own to surrender. When Rajathithyar heard this he insulted Poothuhan vehemently.”

“While he was saying that he cannot admit such a betrayer to his side and that he should turn back and go, Poothuhan at the blink of an eye carried out a horrendously deceitful act. He released an arrow from the bow that he was stealthily carrying. When this poison soaked arrow pierced Rajathithyar’s chest unexpectedly he collapsed. Because no one expected such betrayal even the surrounding soldiers were not aware at first about what had taken place. They had only heard Rajathithyar ordering Poothuhan to go back. Poothuhan immediately steered his elephant away and raced from there!”

“When word spread that Rajathithyar died while seated on the elephant all those in our battalion felt that thunder has struck each and every one of them. Owing to this great loss they even forgot about the fighting. Petty kings, colonels, soldiers – everyone started weeping helplessly. Under these circumstances it is no surprise that the enemy got the upper hand! In a short time our garrison was forced to retreat. The easiest task is to chase someone running! I too am one of those who ran! The enemy troops were even here on this Kedilam riverbank. Only then we came back to life. We faced reality. We stopped the enemy. I took my family from Thirukovalur to my fort in the western hill country. I recruited troops in the same hills. From time to time I kept attacking the enemy that had reached this Kedilam riverbank. Even then the enemy that came here at that time did not leave this region for many years. They kept giving trouble from one spot and another. The town of Kanji was in their hands. Three years ago it was you after defeating Veera Pandyan, came north and redeemed Kanji …”

Athitha Karikalan once again interrupted. “Grandfather! I know all of this. But however many times I hear about the Thakolm war and Rajathithyar’s history it never bores me. Why did you now remind me of Rajathithyar? Please tell me,” he said.

“Child! Your great uncle Rajathithyar wanted to expand the Chola empire from Ilankai to the river Ganges. He died without seeing his wish carried out. The talk around the country is that my grandson Athitha Karikalan is a great warrior like him. People in this Tamil country say that you will accomplish what he could not. I reminded you of his story so that you also will not be deceived by perfidy like Rajathithyar …”

“Grandfather! My great uncle lost his life in the battlefield cheated by enemies. Why do you remind me of that now? I am not in the battlefield! I am not in the midst of enemies who can betray me! I am going to see my father’s close friends! Why would they, in what way would they – betray me,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Listen, Karikala! Thiruvalluvar Peruman who said that in the enemy’s worshipping hands and tears lies a ruthless weapon, has also said that infighting is more dangerous than external foes.

‘Fear not the enemy akin to a sword,
fear the enemy who poses as a friend’

There is no need to fear the enemy who openly threatens like a sword. He has said to fear the enemy who pretends to be a friend. Child! You are going in the midst of enemies who act like friends. Even in the face of my objections you are proceeding. They have invited you saying that it is to settle some dispute that has arisen regarding the kingdom. I hear that they also have the intention of tying one of Sambuvaraiyar’s daughters around your neck. But I do not know their real motive; neither do you. Many kings of kings are waiting in this Bharatha country to give you their girls. It does not have to be this Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter. I also hear that they want to make peace by divvying up the kingdom between you and Mathuranthakan. I don’t know what ingenuity or what perfidy lie behind that idea. Whatever it is, I will immediately go to Thirukovalur, gather all of my army and wait at Vellatankarai. If you have any suspicion while you are at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace, please send word at once! …”

Malaiamman saw that at this point Athitha Karikalan’s attention was somewhere else and not with him.

“Grandfather! Look!” Hearing Athitha Karikalan’s words delivered in a tone of alarm, the elder warrior looked in the direction that he pointed.

3. Hawk and Dove

Where Athitha Karikalan pointed, there was a riverside resting place. It was built of stone. A philanthropist must have built it for travelers to take shelter in rain and sun.

After long exposure to harsh sunlight and rain it was showing signs of old age. Along its periphery were sculpted figures. These could not be seen by Malaiamman’s old eyes.

“See, Grandfather,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Child! You mean that building? I don’t see anything there! It looks empty. There is no one there,” he said.

“Grandfather! Only now I realize that you have aged. Your eyesight has declined because of it. Look over there! A big Rajali! How enormous! How broad are its wings? Terrible! Terrible! It is holding a tiny dove in its legs; don’t you see? The dove is shedding blood torn by Rajali’s pointed nails, don’t you see? God, how amazing! Look at the other dove, Grandfather! It is circling the ruthless hawk! How it is pleading with the hawk! The dove that is trapped under the hawk’s feet must be its mate! It’s begging for the life of its mate! Grandfather! Is it begging? Or is it going to attack the Rajali? The way it is beating its wings, it seems to be readying for a fight. God! See the courage of this female dove! It is going to attack the hawk! It is going to fight with this ruthless monster to save its lover’s life! Grandfather! Do you think the Rajali will have mercy? It will not! It will not! Never! It has been fattened by many such doves! Treacherous Rajali! I will kill you now!” Athitha Karikalan picked up a gravel stone and threw it. The stone hit the edge of the building and fell down.

“Monster! You deserved it!” Athitha Karikalan laughed menacingly like rolling thunder.

The old man already had reservations about the mental state of his grandson. This served as further proof.

“Grandfather! Why do you stare at me like that? Go near the building and take a look,” said Karikalan.

Malaiamman went closer to the building and looked closely at the spot where Karikalan’s stone had struck. There was a sculpture there. It was a rather realistic carving of a hawk pecking on a dove held by its toe nails, and of another dove about to pounce angrily on the hawk.

Malaiamman came back and said, “Child! It is true that I have aged. My eyesight is not as sharp as it used to be. It became clear only after I went and took a closer look. Excellent craftsmanship!”

“Excellent craftsmanship? Call it a wonder, Grandfather! A sculptor from emperors Mahendravarmar and Mamallar’s days must have done it. At first I thought that the scene was real,” said Karikalan.

“Athitha! Wonder is not just in that stone! It is in your eyes also; in your mind also. Many travelers pass this way everyday. Three out of four will not even notice this sculpture. Many others will give it only a cursory glance. Only a few like you will be moved by it! …”

“I am not moved, Grandfather! I am angry. My anger makes me want to break down that sculpture. I don’t want to excessively praise someone who made a sculpture like this.”

“Karikala! I am shocked. What is going on? When did your tough as diamond mind become so faint? It is natural for a hawk to kill a dove. If the lion king begins to feel pity for the goat then it is no more a lion king; it will also become a goat. Those who want to be seated on the throne and rule, have to murder their enemies and saboteurs. Those born to be emperor and rule the world under one mantle, must kill the enemy kings. If Rajali does not kill the dove, can it be Rajali? Why are you distressed over this,” said Malaiamman.

“Grandfather! What you say is correct. But after seeing the agony of that female dove shouldn’t the Rajali feel pity? Shouldn’t it feel sorry for the female and let go of the male? Sir! You tell me, what will you do when you are about to kill your enemy, if his lover should come in between and beg for the life of her man? Won’t you feel pity in your heart …,” asked Karikalan.

“If a woman interferes like that I will kick her out with my left foot and kill my enemy. Karikala! I have no doubt about it. Valluvar has said that there is a weapon lurking in the tears and the worshipping hands of the enemy. A woman’s tears are more dangerous than a man’s. Because a woman’s tears have more power to soften one’s heart. A man who relents like that cannot accomplish anything great in this world. He is weaker than a woman!”

“Grandfather! What is this? Why do you speak so lowly of women? When you speak degradingly of women, doesn’t that degrade my mother as well?”

“Child! Listen! There is nothing comparable to the love I have for your mother. Six sons were born to me. They grew up to be heroes like Beeman and Arjunan. I have lost all of them in the battlefield. I did not cry when news of their end arrived. But I cannot describe the agony in my heart when I knew that she will be seated on the Chola throne after her marriage. Did I show my heartache outside? No! Did I show it to her? No! Do you know what I told her the day before her marriage? Listen, Karikala! ‘Daughter! You are going to wed the king who will rule this earth! Do not be vain about it! You are going to marry a man as handsome as Manmathan! Do not be vain over that also! You will only have trouble because of marrying such a famous man. Many women serving in your palace will be more happy than you. Prepare yourself for heartache and disappointment. If you don’t have children, your husband will certainly marry other women. You should not agonize over that. If you have children you must raise them as brave warriors. If you receive news that they have been killed in war you should not shed even a single drop of tear. If your husband is happy, you also must be happy! If he is sad, try to cheer him up! If your husband is ill take care of him! If your husband dies, you also lay yourself on the funeral pyre! Even if your heart is bleeding, not a drop of tear should fall from your eyes! This is the tradition of women in the Malaiamman tribe. I advised your mother in this way. Even today she behaves accordingly; she makes others behave in the same way. Karikala! She has raised your brother and you to be incomparable warriors. After your father became ill she is by his side day and night taking care of him. Whenever I think of having your mother as my daughter, my shoulders grow taller with pride,” said Malaiamman.

“Grandfather! There is no limit to the pride I feel when I think of my mother. But, tell me this! Supposing an arch enemy of my father raises his sword and is about to kill him. What will my mother do then? Would she come forward crying and begging the enemy to spare her husband? Especially if that enemy is someone known to my mother …”

“Child! Your mother will never beg from the enemy. Malaiamman’s daughter will never disgrace her family in that manner; and the family she married into. She will consider her husband’s arch enemy her arch enemy as well. She will not bring her palms together in front of the enemy; she will not cry, if the husband dies she will also die over his body immediately! Or she will turn her heart into stone and live; she will live to avenge the enemy!”

Hearing this, Athitha Karikalan sighed. “Grandfather! Shall I take my leave,” he said.

“Do you have to go?”

“Still questioning, Grandfather! We have come more than halfway!”

“Yes, we are here more than halfway. I told you in the beginning not to go; then I told you to go. After hearing the news about your brother I decided that it was better that you went. I don’t believe that Arulmozhivarman would have died …”

“Neither do I …”

“When your father was young, for a while, his whereabouts were not known. Like that Arulmozhivarman also would have taken shelter in some island. I think that he will be here in a few days. Yet I hear that this news has wreaked havoc in Chola Nadu. Your parents must be grieving. At this time it is important that you be close to them. Under these circumstances it is better to go as Pazhuvertaraiyars’ friend than enemy. This is why I agreed for you to accept Sambuvaraiyar’s invitation. He did not invite me on purpose. If he had, I would have come along …”

“Grandfather! Are you so afraid for my sake? Do you regard me as such a helpless person,” asked Karikalan.

“No, Son! No! Don’t I know what a brave soldier you are? I would confidently send you all alone to face ten thousand heavily armed enemy troops. But I am afraid to send you alone to face a woman who can deceive your mind with tears.”

“I have not heard that Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter is such an expert in sorcery. Grandfather! She is a girl who is afraid to even come in front of men, I hear; Kanthamaran has told me. I also will not do anything in a hurry without my parents’ permission. I also am aware that there are two unwed girls in your ancient tribe.”

“Athitha! I was not thinking about that. There are my eldest son’s two daughters who are of marriageable age. But I am not thinking of having them tie a knot to you. Already several Chola Nadu petty kings are jealous; they feel enmity toward me. With this added, there will be no end to it. I will somehow be more satisfied if instead you should marry Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter. I am too old; my body is weak. Sometimes my heart also loses confidence. Sometimes I wonder if I will see my grandson again; if this is the last time I am going to see you. Hereafter, I am of no use to you. You certainly need some new friends. You need people who care about you. Therefore, if you marry Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter I will in fact be very happy.”

“Grandfather! Even for the sake of your happiness I cannot do it. I am not going to Sambuvaraiyar’s palace to seek his friendship; nor to marry his daughter. You can be at peace over that.”

“In that case why are you going, Child! Can’t you tell me the truth? When your two friends were speaking, a few words fell in my ear. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar got married when he was over sixty, it seems that Mohinidevi has sent you a letter, and that is why you agreed to come to Kadampoor – this is what they were saying, is it true?”

“Yes, Grandfather! It is true,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“God! What are these times! Karikala! Listen to me. For two thousand years, the Chola tribe has preserved and passed down its mightiness. You were born into that tribe. Some of your ancestors were emperors who ruled the world under one mantle. Sometimes they were petty kings who held only Uraiyoor and its surroundings. Some, like Ramapiran vowed themselves to one bride. Some married many women who gave birth to many heroic sons. Some were Saiva devotees, some worshipped Thirumal; there were some who proclaimed, ‘there is neither god no demon!’ But none behaved in a manner that left a blemish in their reputation. They did not desire their neighbor’s women. Child! Marry as many young women as you may like. Your grandfather’s father, the famous Paranthaka emperor married seven women, like him you also get married. But don’t even glance at the Mayamohini who is married to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

“Forgive me, Grandfather! I will not do anything dishonorable like that. I will not bring disrespect to the Chola and Malaiamman tribes!”

“Then why are you accepting her invitation? Child?”

“Let me tell you the truth before leaving. At one time I did her great harm. I am going to ask for her forgiveness,” said Karikalan.

“What nonsense? Forgiveness from a woman? I cannot bear to hear this,” said Malaiamman.

With his head hung down Athitha Karikalan remained silent for a while. Then drawing courage he told his grandfather the old history. He explained in detail how he had gone in search of Veera Pandyan, how he came across his hiding place and Nandhini begging for his life to be spared; the manner in which he killed him in a fury without listening to Nandhini and how ever since then he had lost his peace of mind and been restless.

“That memory is forever troubling me. Grandfather! I will have peace only if I see her and ask forgiveness. She also appears to want to forget the past. She is also keen on preventing any unrest in the kingdom. That is why she has invited me. I will finish what I am going for and will soon return to Kanji, Grandfather! When I return I will board the ship to search for my brother,” said Athitha Karikalan.

Old man Malaiamman sighed. “I understand so much that I did not until  now. Much that was mysterious to me for so long is beginning to make sense now. It is true that no one can fool one’s destiny,” he said.

4. Aiyanar Temple

At the same time that both grandfather and grandson were talking at the Kedila riverbank, our old friends Azhvarkadiyan and Vandhiyathevan were engaged in a strange business at a place called Thirukanadu Mullur on the north shore of Kollidam.

In those days north Kaveri that is Kollidam was considered a sacred river like south Kaveri. For the benefit of the devotees bathing there, in autumn Sivaperuman from the Kanadu Mullur temple would make his presence as a bull rider daily on the Kollidam shore. A festive mood prevailed everyday at noon. Crowds of devotees would arrive from neighboring villages. Saivars and Vaishnavars would come. Even though the Vishnu temple at the locality was small, from that temple also Baghvan would arrive on his eagle and grace Kollidam shore with his presence.

Facing such a crowd of people who had come to bathe in north Kaveri on that autumnal day was Azhvarkadiyan, who had planted a nawel branch in the sand and was shouting “nawelo nawel! Orators and Poets! I have come to nawelantheevu to argue that Vaishnava religion is the superior religion. Saivars, Sakthars, Adwaits, Kapalikars, Kalamugars, Buddhists and Jains – whoever, can join in the debate with me. If they win I will parade them around town on my shouldres. If they lose they should hand over everything but their loincloth to me! nawelo nawel!” Heaped in front of him lay rudraksha bead chains, variegated ornamental clothing, water jugs belonging to religious mendicants, large ear-rings, silk shawls and gold coins. It was clear from this sight that he had beaten many in the course of many hours spent debating. Leaning on a kadamba tree next to him stood Vandhiyathevan with his sword drawn. All he had was his sword and the cloth wrapped around his waist. His stance indicated that he must have wielded his sword and frightened away anyone who tried to outmaneuver Azhvarkadiyan. This was confirmed by his words to the crowd of Saivars who came shouting at that time.

“Warning! Welcome are those who want to debate by the rules. Anyone who loses control and lays a hand on this Vaishnavan will be meat for this sword!” He followed his speech with a couple of strokes with his sword in the air. The belligerent Saivars calmed down. One of them said, “Oh, Vaishnava! Do not let your head swell because you have won today! Go to Thirunaraiyur! There is Nambiyandar Nambi! He will make you turn your back and run!”

“Tell your Thirunaraiyur Nambi to come and debate with Ananthapattar from Thirunarayanapuram! Even I may be there,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Even after he shouted ‘nawelo nawel,’ many times no new person came to have a war of words. So he removed the nawel branch and planted a victory flag that bore the symbol of ‘sanguchakram.’ Some Vaishnava men who were watching immediately hoisted him onto their shoulders and began to dance and sing,

‘Narayanan is our god!
Let us all worship and praise!’

Afterwards they begged Azhvarkadiyan, “Veera Vaishnava! You must have dinner and bless our home with your presence!” “Thy wish be granted,” proclaiming majestically Azhvarkadiyan took Vandhiyathevan and went with them. Both tried their hands at sour-rice, curd-rice and milk-rice until their bellies were bursting. Of the items that he had gained debating Azhvarkadiyan gave just one silk shawl that could be draped as a shirt to Vandhiyathevan. He gave the rest to the Vaishnava men in exchange for gold coins. He informed them that he was in need of gold currency as he was traveling up to Harithvaram in the north to spread the glory of Vaishnava religion. The good Vaishnava men also generously gave him more gold coins than the items were worth. Accepting it Azhvarkadiyan and Vandhiyathevan started toward Kadampoor in the afternoon.

Because Kollidam was flooded they could not take their horse across. Because there were too many people in their boat the boat capsized when they were about to reach the other side. Like the others Vandhiyathevan also had to swim in the river flood and reach the shore. At that time Vandhiyathevan’s cloth-roll around his waist that he had safeguarded in so many precarious situations for so long and the emblems in it that he had been safely holding on to for so long and even the junior stateswoman’s letter were lost in the river flood. With it the gold coins were also lost. The trick they played was to collect money to buy new horses. It worked and they did get some money. But they learnt that in those rural areas a horse could not be found even for money. Horses may come for sale in the weekly bazaar in Kadampoor village; or else they will have to go to Thirupahthipuliyur to buy.

The friends discussed whether they ought to go to Kadampoor or not. They discussed the pros and cons. In Kadmapoor they may be able to get news about Athitha Karikalar’s visit. Isn’t it good to know if he has left from Kanji and on which route he is traveling? But they cannot be spotted by anyone known to them in Kadampoor. It will be dangerous if they run into Kanthamaran. In case if Pazhuvertaraiyar’s entourage is there already, that also will pose difficulties.

“Vaishnava! You are the one who can jump over walls in the dark. We can get two horses from Sambuvaraiyar’s stable,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I can jump over walls. But the horses also must be able to do it,” said the Vaishnavan.

“If the Pazhuvur troops are there we can get away with two of their horses. They frightened my horse before in Kadampoor! I must seek revenge for that,” said the Varnar tribe Warrior.

All along the way they talked about their meeting in Kadampoor a few months ago and the strange events they witnessed that night. They reached Kadampoor at sunset. As they expected Kadampoor was bustling with activity. Entrances to the fortress and palace were hung with garlands and decorated with banners and flags. At the fortress entrance as well as around the wall security was more heightened than before. No surprise there, considering that it was the crown prince Athitha Karikalan who was coming! At the same time the treasurer, elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was also expected with his queen. Both of their entourages will be here. For a few days the palace will be in an uproar.

On Kadampoor’s market street both friends overheard the people discussing the royal visits. From their talk they gleaned that neither party has yet arrived. They also found out that Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran had gone to Kanji to bring Athitha Karikalar. Among this loud chatter some also whispered about Prince Arulmozhivaramar, ‘whom the sea had taken away.’ From their talk they had the vague impression that many were not in favor of the festive mood and merriment in the wake of such a horrendous tragedy.

Azhvarkadiyan and Vandhiyathevan walked through the town listening to all the talk while pretending to be not interested in any of it. They did not want to stay anywhere in town for the night. There will be some dilapidated building or inn outside the town! If not, it was better to go to Thirunarayanapuram for the night. They can sleep peacefully there in Perumal temple’s hall of hundred pillars. After the events of the previous night, they needed a good night’s sleep.

When they passed Kadampoor and had gone on the road a short distance a dense bamboo forest with an Aiyanar temple came into view.

“Vaishnava! I cannot walk any farther. We can sleep in the temple for the night. This is a good place to be out of sight,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Appan! What you are saying is wrong. What is the guarantee that someone else won’t end up in a place like this just as we did,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“If they come with horses that will be very good,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“No horse can enter this bamboo forest. It is hard even for people!”

“There must be a footpath somewhere. At least the one used by the temple priest must be somewhere!”

After going round and round the bamboo thicket, finally they found a narrow footpath. It was very difficult to walk on it without thorns pricking their skin. After a short distance there was a clearing, with a small Aiyanar temple in the middle. In front of the temple was a sacrificial altar and rows of elephants and horses that were made out of clay and fired up in the kiln. It is customary for devotees of Aiyanar to bring such horses and elephants made of clay.

When he saw them Vandhiyathevan said, “We were so worried about horses! We can ask Aiyanar and borrow two of these horses!”

“Don’t you know the proverb, ‘Don’t step into the river relying on a clay horse,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Vaishnava! Our Aiyanar is a powerful deity. He can grant a wish immediately, unlike your Vishnu who sleeps during the day leaving the devotees languishing,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You are saying that he may give life to these clay horses? Very good. Money saved!”

“If the faith is real then even clay horses can become alive! If you think about it, what do our bodies consist of? Made out of clay and given life by Brahmathevan!”

“Well said, Brother! We forget that this body is made out of earth. It is to remind ourselves of it, Vaishnava Achariya men have instructed us to make a paste out of the holy earth and apply it over our foreheads and bodies!”

“Shh!” Grabbing Azhvarkadiyan with one hand Vandhiyathevan pointed with his other hand. It was a little after sunset. In the dim light of that small clearing surrounded by the dense bamboo forest Aiyanar’s vehicles appeared to have gained life and become mobile. An elephant and a horse were moving. Vandhiyathevan stood in shock for a moment not knowing whether to believe in this miracle that his eyes were witnessing. Yet he did not want to miss out on an opportunity to demonstrate to Azhvarkadiyan Aiyanar’s supernatural power. Before he could say, ‘Vaishnava! Did you see,’ Azhvarkadiyan gripped his hand, held a finger to his lips and put an end to talking. He then dragged Vandhiyathevan by the hand behind the cover of the bamboo.

The horse and elephant had made a little gap by moving. A man’s head appeared in that gap. The head turned and looked in all directions. It was rather eerie to see this head with no torso so close to Aiyanar’s sacrificial altar, turning around with wide open eyes. Vandhiyathevan who had witnessed many a frightening scene felt his body shuddering; but he shook his fear away seeing that Azhvarkadiyan’s hold on his hand remained firm neither shaking nor loosening.

While they were watching the head rose. A man’s figure up to his chest was seen. Then the full body of the man emerged. From where he stepped out there was a small opening visible like the gaping mouth of hell. A careful scrutiny revealed his identity. It was Idumbankari, a servant at Kadampoor palace as well as a member of Ravithasan’s terror group.

At the sight of him the two friends turned to look at each other and their eyes communicated their mutual surprise. After checking his surroundings once more Idumbankari walked toward the temple leaving the gap open. He opened the temple door and went inside. In a short time there was a light flickering from inside the temple. They knew that a lamp had been lit inside.

“Brother! What do you think about this,” Adiyan whispered.

“I think that Aiyanar is a powerful deity; didn’t you see the horse come alive,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“That is fine! The guy who came now, what do you think about him?”

“He appears to be the temple priest. Shall we also go and worship Swami?”

“Wait a little! Let’s see if more will turn up for worship.”

“You think more are coming?”

“Why is he then lighting the lamp?”

“What is unusual about the priest lighting the temple lamp?”

“Brother! Don’t you see who he is?”

“I see him, he got me the horse on the south bank of Kollidam! That Idumbankari! I am thinking of asking him for a horse here …”

“Good thinking.”

“You don’t like the idea?”

“Idumbankari is not some fellow who bought you a horse, he is part of Ravithasan’s group.”

“In that case I have another good idea.”

“What? What?”

“While Idumbankari is busy with Aiyanar service, I am thinking of seeing where he sprouted from all of a sudden.”

“How?”

“Can’t I go in through the opening that he came out of?”

“You can, but the risks inherent in it …”

“Is there anything without risk?”

“It’s entirely up to you!”

“Vaishnava! You wait here and watch what’s going on …”

“No problem! I will keep watch here. You have any idea where the underground path may lead?”

“I do, Swami, I do! I want to know that it is correct.”

“Why do you have to know that?”

“It may be useful at some point. Who knows?”

At that time voices were heard from a distance. “There is no time to waste, Vaishnava! You will wait here until I return, won’t you? Or will you behave like what Sukreevan did to Vali?

“I will remain here as long as I have life. But what is the certainty that you will return?”

“If I have life then I will also return …”

While speaking Vandhiyathevan ran in four leaps toward the hole in the ground. He stepped into it and in a second disappeared into that dark abyss. It seemed as if the earth swallowed him up in one gulp. Idumbankari emerged from the temple and looked around. He saw the hole left open. Immediately he went and turned the spear planted next to the sacrificial altar. The elephant and horse moved back closer. The opening closed without a trace! His job done, Idumbankari returned to the temple doorstep. At the same time Ravithasan, Soman Sambavan and others emerged from another side. Azhvarkadiyan hid himself further behind the bamboo thicket. Ravithasan sat down on the front steps of the temple. Others sat on the ground in front of him.

“Friends! The time is near for the oath we undertook to come to fruition,” said Ravithasan.

“We have been saying this for the last six months,” said one.

“Yes; no exaggeration there. It has been getting closer every day for the last six months. It is now so close we can count the days on our hands. We have news that Athitha Karikalan has started from Kanji. Old man Thirukovalur’s attempts to stop him didn’t succeed!”

“What is the guarantee that no one else will stop him on the way?”

“Athitha Karikalan is not someone who retreats the foot that he has placed forward, now he won’t listen to anyone …”

“If his sister’s message reaches him …”

“How will it reach him? We left the young messenger tied up in the woods!”

“Really? I saw the guy this morning on the north shore of Kollidam. Another of our enemies has joined him.”

“Who?”

“That fake Vaishnava clown!”

“In that case we must be careful. We must make sure that they don’t run into Athitha Karikalan.”

Letting go of the leash we are chasing after the tail now. When the guy was in our hands we could have finished him off. Why Rani asked us to let him go free, I cannot fathom …”

“Friends! I too did not understand it then. It dawned on me later; I admit that Rani has surpassed me in her thinking. It is for a very important reason that Rani has asked to keep Vandhiyathevan alive. There is no need for further explanation at this point. Don’t worry about Vandhiyathevan. But if you see that Vaishnavan take his life without a second thought …,” Ravithasan said. 

 

 

 

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