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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (26 – 31)

November 5, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

26. Trouble on the Street

After seeing Kundavai shedding tears, Vanathi also began to sob. The iron heart of Anirutha Brahamrayar who had seen much sorrow and happiness in the world, also softened.

“Madam! This unfortunate fellow is the reason for the emperor’s suffering. I don’t know what penance I am going to do to unburden myself of this sin,” he said.

“Sir! There is nothing that you do not know. Even then, let me just say what I know. That fisherman’s daughter is not dead. She is alive – if we can let father know about it, his suffering will be over and he will have peace of mind. I came only to say this. I came to ask you to somehow bring my aunt here. But I see you are already trying that,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Madam! I too came to the same conclusion. I decided to let the emperor know that Manthahini Devi is alive. But if we just tell him he is not going to believe it. How can I make him believe that this is the truth and what I said before was a lie? That is why I thought of bringing her here. If he sees her in person, he will believe! I went to Ilankaitheevu specifically for this. But the Pazhuvertaraiyars have told the emperor that I went to Eezhanadu to engage in sabotage with your brother and elder Velar. At least to prove them wrong I am going to bring Manthahini Devi and present her to the emperor,” said Aniruthar.

“Sir! If we present her suddenly, it may have a deleterious effect on father! We must tell him beforehand,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Yes, yes! That was my decision. I thought of telling him once Manthahini Devi was here. I had planned on coming to the royal palace this morning. Before that Thiyagavidankar’s daughter poked her nose and ruined matters for me. I will one day deliver the punishement that troublemaker deserves,” said the chief minister.

“Aiyo! Don’t do anything like that. I don’t know if she is a good girl or a bad girl. But it is Poongkuzhali who saved Arulmozhi from drowning in the sea!”

“God saved him, Madam! Baghvan, who slumbers in the sea of milk, saved him. Without his kindness, what can this little girl do? If the science of astrology is to be trusted,  if the alignment of stars and planets are correct then – the sea, fire, storm or earthquake cannot do anything to the prince …”

“Without god’s grace nothing is possible, that is true. But even god’s will must be manifested through men! I am thinking of sending Poongkuzhali again to Nagapattinam, Sir! Or if you have other thoughts – if you are thinking of bringing Arulmozhi here in public …”

“No, Madam! No! Until it is certain who is going to ascend to the throne it is better that the people do not find out about Arulmozhivarman. I have thought of asking your father today once and for all. If we are going to crown Mathuranthakar, then it is better to send your younger brother to Eezhanadu again. While Arulmozhivarman is here the Chola people will never agree to crown Mathuranthakar. Chola Nadu will turn into a battlefield; there will be blood flowing in the rivers of Chola Nadu …”

“Sir! In that case isn’t it better to send Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan again to Nagapattinam?”

“Yes. If the emperor likes, Arulmozhivarmar can make a secret visit to Thanjai and go back!”

“Yes, yes! Only if the emperor sees with his own eyes that Manthahini Devi and Arulmozhi are alive, his mind can have peace.”

“Your father has no worries about the elder prince?”

“Not at all; the emperor believes that there is no one in this world who can harm Athitha Karikalan. What is your opinion, Sir?”

“I am not that confident. The elder prince is a ruthless warrior in the battlefield. But outside, it is not difficult to deceive him or harm him. Pazhuvertaraiyars are against him. Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani is secretly plotting a very dangerous move against him. I sent word through my disciple about these two developments to Karikalar. But it was of no use. After rejecting our repeated entreaties to visit Thanjavur, he has gone to Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace …”

“Sir! I have sent word to my elder brother that Pazhuvur Rani might be our sister. I asked the Varnar tribe warrior also to stay close and keep an eye on him. Aha! If only Vallavaraiyar was here now we could have sent him to Nagapattinam …”

“To make sure that child does not get into any trouble I would have sent my disciple also. Even here, if you are thinking of sending Poongkuzhali I would like to send Thirumalai also …”

“They still haven’t returned? If my aunt comes three fourths of the load in my heart will be lessened, Sir! As soon as she comes you will see my father and tell him about her, won’t you? I have to tell my mother the entire story from the beginning …”

“Aha! How many heartaches for Malaiamman’s daughter! In addition, what will Thirukovalur old man do when he finds out? If he hears that his grandson will be denied the crown, he will want to destroy the country …”

“Leave me the task of dealing with my grandfather. I am more worried about this girl Vanathi’s great uncle. He is eager to see a Kodumabalur woman on the Chola throne. Even this girl harbors that wish in her heart …”

Vanathi interrupted saying, “Sister! …,” in an angry voice.

Before Vanathi could continue Poongkuzhali burst in. Seeing her returning alone, the other three were perplexed.

“Karaiyar’s daughter! Where is your aunt? Where is Thirumalai?” The chief minister asked excitedly.

“Sir! My pride is hurt. I could not bring my aunt here as I had promised …”

“Was she already gone before your arrival? Or did she refuse to come with you? In that case …”

“No, Sir! We brought her inside the fort. It was after that, athai got caught in the crowd and disappeared!” Poongkuzhali said. She related what had happened.

Fortunately Manthahinidevi was at Senthan Amuthan’s house. Circumstances had convened to keep her there. The storm of the previous night had left Amuthan’s house in shambles. One of the trees in the garden had fallen over the roof. Senthan Amuthan, after being drenched in the rain had developed high fever and was babbling incoherently. The two sisters were busy moving the branches and the tree and putting the house back in order. Manthahini was happy to see Poongkuzhali. Thirumalai’s presence made her pause. After hearing from Poongkuzhali that he was one of them, she relaxed. On the way Poongkuzhali and Thirumalai had discussed and decided what to tell oomai rani and how to tell her in a way to make her go with them. Accordingly Poongkuzhali told her the following. She communicated to her athai through signs that the emperor was ill, that he may leave this earth any day, that he would like to see oomai rani once before he takes his last breath, and that he has not forgotten oomai rani during all these years, that if he sees her there was the chance that he may gain a new vitality and live a little while longer. She told her that this was the reason Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar had sent men to capture her by whatever means and it was in the chief minister’s palace that Poongkuzhali had stayed the previous night. She also informed her that the emperor’s beloved daughter Kundavai Devi was waiting at the chief minister’s residence to take oomai rani to her father. After hearing all of this Manthahini agreed to go with Poongkuzhali and Thirumalai. When they reached the entrance to the fort the emperor’s own velakara troops were entering the fort. Allowing them to pass, the three of them stood on the side. Manthhini watched the velakara force with wide-eyed enthusiasm. A large crowd followed the velakara troops into the fortress. The guards’ effort to stop them and close the gates was not successful. ‘Let’s not go with this crowd. There is a private underground way that leads to the chief minister’s palace. Let’s take that route,’ said Thirumalai. Poongkuzhali tried to communicate this to her aunt. Oomai rani, without paying attention to Poongkuzhali, began to follow the crowd that was entering the fort. Thirumalai and Poongkuzhali followed behind. Even after entering the fort, Poongkuzhali’s aunt did not pay attention to Thiruamlai who wanted to go in a separate way. She went along with the crowd. The other two were surprised by her behavior, since it was her nature to be intimidated by crowds. After a short distance some in the crowd began to notice Manthahini. ‘Doesn’t this lady resemble Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani?’ They said to each other. This worried Thirumalai and Poongkuzhali. They tried to block her way and stop her. Some people who saw Azhvarkadiyan said, ‘Who is this Vaishnavan? He is harassing a woman?’ Hearing their words, the velakara soldiers in front turned back. They surrounded oomai rani and made the others move away. Thirumalai and Poongkuzhali also had to move away from her.

“Mother! Who are you? Who harassed you, tell! We will hang him right here on this spot!” One of the velakara soldiers asked Manthhini. Oomai rani stood quietly.

Meanwhile one of the men said, “Doesn’t she look like Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani?”

Another man said, “That must be why. The woman is so arrogant!”

Yet another man said, “The entire Pazhuvur crowd is an arrogant lot!”

The scene was unfolding very close to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. So a few Pazhuvur soldiers came to see what was going on.

One of them heard the velakara soldier saying, “Pazhuvur crowd is an arrogant lot.”

“Who is the fellow who is insulting the Pazhuvur men? Step right in front,” barked one of the Pazhuvur soldiers.

“I am the one who said that! What are you going to do?” The velakara soldier came in front.

“You are the arrogant lot. Time is here to rid you of your arrogance,” said the Pazhuvur soldier.

“Aha! You are saying that because you drowned our prince in the sea? It is the existence of traitors like you that brought the storm and destroyed the city,” said a man in the crowd.

“What did you say?” The Pazhuvur soldier went to attack him.

The velakara soldier stopped him. The crowd turned on each other, shouting and physically assaulting each other.

“Long live the munificent men of Pazhuvur!” Some shouted. “Long live Emperor Sundara Cholar who reigns over the three worlds!” Some shouted.

“Long live Kodumabalur Velar!”

“Long live Thirukovalur Malaiamman!” These voices were also heard.

At that moment, seated on a horse the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar himself arrived. The fighting stopped when they saw him. The people scattered and ran in different directions. Velakara troops marched on. The Pazhuvur soldiers surrounded Kalanthakakandar and told him what happened. Poongkuzhali and Azhvarkadiyan stood on a side. They looked everywhere. They did not see Manthahini anywhere.

“Aiyo! What is this? How can this be? This is a fine state of affairs here in the capital! How can we find athai? Did something bad happen? Did someone take her?” Poongkuzhali lamented.

After Kalanthakakandar and the Pazhuvur soldiers left, they looked everywhere. Manthahini was nowhere.

“I will look around some more. You go and tell the chief minister and the junior stateswoman; just the two of us will not do. The chief minister and the junior stateswoman will take other steps,” he said.

Poongkuzhali hesitated to go. Again Azhavrkadiyan said, “Listen to me. Nothing could have happened to your aunt. She must have seen a known face in the crowd. I am guessing this from the way her attention was focused in one direction. That is why she kept following the crowd. Even now it seems to me that she went behind this person. She can be found; you go and inform the chief minister.” After that, Poongkuzhali came to the chief minister’s palace.

Upon hearing this Kundavai became very worried. The news did not seem to affect Aniruthar so much.

“See, Princess! Now you understand how the demon of trouble is lurking in the corner waiting for an opportunity? All what is needed is for the news that Arulmozhivarmar is alive to be public. The kingdom will be on fire,” he said.

“Nothing like that will happen as long as you are chief minister. Now tell me about my aunt. It looks as if my worst fears will come true! How are we to find her,” she asked.

“Please do not worry about that; since she is inside the fortress she cannot leave without my knowledge. I have the right setup for that. I will also make arrangements to look for her. Now, Manthahini Devi will not leave this place without seeing the emperor,” he said.

27. In the Underground Room Filled with Treasures

It is now necessary for us to follow Manthahinidevi from where Poongkuzhali left her. Azhvarkadiyan’s reason for her disappearance in the crowd was correct. In the crowd that followed the velakara soldiers into the fort, Manthahini spotted the saboteur named Ravithasan. When one is deprived in one faculty it is normal for the others to take over. Manthahini could not hear; she could not speak. As if to compensate for this handicap, her eyes were extraordinarily sharp. While Azhvarkadiyan and Poongkuzhali kept their gaze on Manthahini Devi their eyes missed seeing Ravithasan.

Manthahini also possessed the natural instinct to foretell imminent good and the bad. She knew that Ravithasan was there for a vile reason. She knew already about Ravithasan’s attempt to kill Arulmozhivarmar in Eezhanadu! Her eyes stayed fixed on Ravithasan as she walked with the crowd on Thanjai streets.

When the crowd abruptly dispersed upon the arrival of the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar on a horse at the height of its riot, Manthahini saw Ravithasan hurriedly entering an alley with another man. She also hurried along and entered the same alleyway. In the one minute time period when this happened, Thirumalai and Poongkuzhali – pushed around by the crowd – had momentarily taken their eyes away from Manthhini. Afterwards when they looked for her, she was missing. After entering the alleyway Manthahini looked behind a few times to see if Poongkuzhali and Thirumalai were following. They were not. Yet she decided that it was important to stay on the trail of Ravithasan and kept going. Ravithasan and his companion went on the same path that Vandhiyathevan took when he escaped from Kalanthakakandar’s men at the beginning of this tale. We have also met Ravithasan’s friend before. He is none other than Soman Sambavan whom we saw at the midnight meeting of the saboteurs at Thirupurampayam pallipadai.

They walked very fast effortlessly traversing through the many nooks and cranies of the alleyway. They did not mind the muddy ditches filled with rainwater. The branches were still moving from the light wind that was still present. Drops of water kept dripping from the branches. They had no inkling that someone could be following them. So they hurried along without looking back. Even if they had, they would not have seen Manthahini Devi.

Finally, their hurried journey ended at the back wall of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace grounds. A tree uprooted during the storm had fallen across the wall. Ravithasan and Soman Sambavan climbed on the fallen tree and easily reached the top of the wall. They jumped into the palace garden. After watching them Manthahini Devi also in a matter of seconds climbed over the tree and lowered herself into the garden.

Leaving Soman Sambavan behind, Ravithasan approached the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. As the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani were not there, the palace seemed eerily empty. Yet, one was able to hear the voices of women. Soon enough two maids came to the rear balcony. They saw the trees fallen to the ground in the palace garden.

“Aha! It’s like the asokavanam destroyed by Hanumar,” said one.

“If our Sita Devi was here now, she would have been very sad,” said the other.

After they talked in this vain for a while and when they were about to turn and go back inside, Ravithasan cupped his hands around his mouth and produced the sound of the owl. The two maids turned and looked. Ravithasan hid himself out of sight. One of the maids said, “Look, girl! The owl is hooting in broad daylight! It has also lost its mind after the night’s storm!” The other maid did not say anything.

In a short time the one who did not answer returned. She went to the gazebo in between the palace and the underground treasury room. Readers may remember that it was here in this belvedere that Vandhiyathevan met Pazhuvur Rani for the first time. The maid scrutinized the garden. Again the owl hooted. The woman walked toward the sound. Ravithasan emerged from behind the tree. With her wide and beautiful eyes she looked at him sharply.

“Magician, you are here? Ilaiyarani is not even here! Why did you come,” she asked.

“Girl! I am here because Ilaiyarani sent me!” Ravithasan replied.

“Even there, you didn’t leave Rani alone? Why did you come here? If anyone finds out …”

“Big deal! What’s the harm?”

“Don’t speak like that! The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is suspicious. One day he called me and gave me a stern warning. He has ordered that if the magician comes I ought to inform him …”

“Forget him! Their time is up! You don’t worry! I need the key for the underground cellar. Bring it quickly,” said Ravithasan.

“Aiyayo! I am not going to!”

“Look here, your mistress’s ring!” Ravithasan showed Ilaiyarani’s signature ring.

“You stole this somewhere, or what? Who knows?”

“You wretch! You are calling me a thief? Even after seeing the Ilaiyarani herself trembling in my presence, you are saying this? Look! Tonight, nine ghosts will come and carry you alive to the crematory …”

“No, no! You keep your ghosts! What do I care? If you show Ilaiyarani’s ring, I will bring whatever you want. But don’t be in a hurry! The women keep coming here to look at the devastation by the storm. When everyone is eating I will bring you the key. Until then be patient …!”

“Alright; bring me also some food! It has been two days since I ate. Bring plenty of food,” said Ravithasan.

After the maid left Ravithasan and Soman Sambavan were seated on a fallen tree, talking. Unbeknown to them Manthahini also sat down a little away from them out of their sight. Even though she did not understand the conversation between Ravithasan and the maid, she guessed that something was about to happen.

After a long time the maid came back. Ravithasan went to meet her. He took the bundle of rice and the ring of keys from her. The two of them went to the gazebo and then walked on the path leading to the underground cellar with the treasures. The lock opened after the first, second and third keys were turned in the lock. Inside the cellar it was pitch dark.

“Adada! I forgot one thing! How to enter this dark cellar without a light? Bring me a lamp or at least a flame torch,” he said.

“How can I be carrying a lamp or flame torch in the middle of the afternoon? If anyone sees me and becomes suspicious?”

“I don’t know about that! You are telling me that you are not smart enough for this job? Bring me a torch or a flame! Or else I will send twelve fire-mouthed devils in the night …”

“Aiyayo; be quiet! I will somehow bring it,” the maid said.

“In the meantime I will eat,” said Ravithasan.

After the maid went back to the palace Ravithasan went back to Soman Sambavan in the garden. He gave him the bundle of rice. “You may have to wait in the cellar for two or three days. You have to wait for a good moment, right? So you keep this bundle of rice. Take the spear and follow me without a noise! That girl has gone to bring a flame torch. Before she returns you must be inside the cellar,” he said. Both went hurrying. Without their knowledge, Manthhini also followed.

28. Underground Passage

After surveying his surroundings with caution, Ravithasan pointed to the open door of the cellar and asked Soman Sambavan to go in.

“You won’t be able to see anything at first. But don’t wait near the door because of it. Go a little further in and wait,” he said.

After Soman Sambavan went inside the cellar, it seemed as if the darkness had swallowed him whole. Ravithasan turned and walked along the path up to the gazebo. He waited watching the Pazhuvur palace from there. If anyone else other than the maid should come, he had to be ready to quickly go inside the cellar and close the door!

While Ravithasan stood there watching the palace, Manthahini sneaked in quietly into the cellar. To someone who was accustomed to the eerie darkness of the wilderness, the pitch dark cellar was not a challenge! In a few seconds her eyes adjusted to the dark. A few feet from her she saw Ravithasan’s companion rubbing his forehead after having walked into a pillar. She went in the opposite direction. There was a staircase going down. She went down the steps and positioned herself there.

Soman Sambavan must have heard a noise. “Who is it? Who is it,” he called. The sound traveled through the open door and reached Ravitahsan’s ears. At the same time Ravithasan saw the maid coming from the palace with a flame torch in hand. He turned to warn Soman Sambavan. From the cellar entrance he said, “Sambava! Where are you? Did you call me?”

“Yes, I did!”

“What is the matter? If someone hears you outside? Did you think that I will leave you here by yourself?”

“No, no! I called to ask something!” Soman Smabavan went to Ravithasan.

At this time a bright light appeared near the cellar door. “Oho! The woman is here with the torch; she is going to see you. Go! Go! Go farther back and hide behind a pillar! Hurry,” said Ravithasan.

Soman Sambavan backtracked hastily. Next second the maid stood at the cellar door with torch in hand.

“Magician! Magician! Where have you gone?” She said.

“I have not gone anywhere. I am waiting for you.” Ravithasan took the flame torch from her hand.

“Girl! Lock the door from outside. Come back in half an hour with the key! Knock on the door! If I answer, then open the door! Make sure that no one is around,” said Ravithasan.

“Alright, Magician! But, I am warning you. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar is onto something. If you get caught, please don’t turn me in!” The maid pleaded.

“Girl! Do not worry in vain! Didn’t I say that Kalanthakakandar’s days are numbered!”

“Why are you asking me to open the door again? There is another way to go out from the cellar.”

“That path will not be useful today; Vellaru is flooded. The water is running over the bank. Go now! Come back in exactly half an hour!”

The maid left locking the door behind her. At the same time that she turned the key from the outside, Ravithasan bolted the door from inside. Carrying the flambeau he hurried towards Soman Sambavan.

“Sambava! You said that you wanted to ask me something. Ask now,” he said.

“Did you come here once before?” Soman Sambavan asked.

“Once? I have been here many times. All that gold we have accumulated, where did you think it came from?” Ravithasan said.

“I am not asking about that. Just now, didn’t you go outside after leaving me here? Again …”

“Now I am back!”

“In the middle, did you come?”

“I didn’t come in the middle, I didn’t come on the side. Why do you ask?”

“After you left, the light from the doorway momentarily went out. I walked straight into the pillar.”

“Perhaps the door was swinging back and forth.”

“It seemed as if a figure walked in; I heard footsteps.”

“This is your imagination. This cellar is like that. In the dark you will see shadows. All of a sudden there will be momentary flashes of light. You will hear strange noises. People who entered here have died simply out of fear. Here and there you will find skeletons. Pazhuvertaraiyar has not cleaned them up for a reason. He wants to literally scare the daylights out of those who sneak in here …”

“Can anyone sneak into this cellar?”

“Usually no one can. I don’t think anyone has entered except me. I have also entered with the help of either Ilaiyarani or the maid …”

“Then, what did you mean about skeletons?”

“That? If Pazhuvertaraiyar wants to teach someone a lesson he will leave the cellar door ajar. Those who have heard of the underground treasury room will enter out of greed. Then they never leave.”

“You are saying that other than you no one who entered this place has gone back out?”

“That is how it used to be. Now I have doubts concerning two people …”

“I know whom you mean. You are talking about Vallavaraiyan and Kanthamaran.”

“Yes.”

“We are still keeping them alive!”

“How many times do I have to tell you? Ilaiyarani is keeping Vallavaraiyan alive for an important reason. When Sundara Cholan’s tribe is destroyed Vandhiyathevan also will die. The time has come for that. Come! Come! Let me show you all the hidden paths in the cellar … Be careful about just one thing! There is a room heaped with diamonds. All the diamonds that the Cholars have accumulated for over a hundred years, they have left it here lying around. If you let your mind be dazzled by the luster of those diamonds, then you are likely to forget the reason why you are here!”

“Ravithasa! To whom are you saying these words? Just like you, haven’t I also sworn over the headless torso of Veera Pandyan?”

“Who said no? When I saw those heaps of diamonds, even my mind swooned; that is why I warned you. Never mind; come, let’s go. First, I will show you the way to the Cholan’s palace. Then, after I leave you can take a tour of this cellar leisurely. It may become useful later on.”

Ravithasan began to walk holding the flambeau. Soman Sambavan walked beside him.

They went on the same path that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Ilaiyarani Nandhini used once before. In the dim smoky light of the flambeau, the pillars and their shadows towered over them like monsters, enormous and dark. Bats inhabiting the dark appeared as miniature devils. Giant spider webs appeared in places with giant spiders at the center. On the floor were an assortment of living beings, some traveling at high speed while others crawled ever so slowly. As Ravithasan had said, there were plenty of unrecognizable sounds. The noise from the storm that was still waging outside, somehow from somewhere, entered that underground cellar producing echoes of its own.

Abruptly, Soman Sambavan stopped. “Ravithasa! Didn’t you hear footsteps?” He asked.

“Why not? We will hear our own footsteps. Don’t be alarmed for no reason! If you are so frightened when I am here, how will you spend two or three days alone,” said Ravithasan.

“I am not frightened; instead of worrying for no reason after you leave, I want to know while you are here. Didn’t you say that folks who entered this cellar died here,” said Soman Sambavan.

“Yes; their ghosts will be around. So what? Devils scream at the sight of us! That little fellow Vandhiyathevan waited here unafraid and somehow escaped also. You and I, who have seen so many devils and demons, why should we be frightened?”

“Never mind about the devils and demons, who is afraid of them? Other creatures, poisonous critters can be here?”

“Are you going to worry about scorpions and snakes? They will run to their holes at the sight of us …”

“Even then, the thought of spending two or three days here is kind of worrisome, Ravithasan! If we get an opportunity before that …?”

“No, no! Don’t make that mistake! Today is Tuesday; Wednesday and Thursday – you have to wait it out. Observe when Sundara Cholar is alone. His crown empress will always be at his side. On Friday night, she is sure to go to Durga Parameshwari temple. It is then, that you have to finish your job. Sundara Cholan’s tribe will be wiped out on Friday. Any time before, or after, – will ruin our plan,” said Ravithasan.

Talking, they hurried along. Soman Sambavan alone, kept looking around as he walked. Yet, they did not see oomai rani who was following them noiselessly leaping from the cover of one pillar to the next. From one end of the cellar they reached the other end. In front of them stood a tall wall. No entryway was seen. But, from the small lattice window at the high end of the wall a little light came in. After giving the torch to Soman Sambavan, Ravithasan climbed that perpendicular wall planting at random his feet and hands on the rugged surface. After looking out through the window for a while he climbed back down hurriedly.

“Do we have to jump out through that lattice window? Is that the way,” asked Sambavan.

“No, no. Only a mouse can go through that lattice window. But from there the Chola palace can be seen. A very important place in the palace can be seen,” said Ravithasan.

“Where Sundara Cholan is sleeping?”

“Yes, you can find out by watching through the lattice window the sort of traffic that is there. Now, come with me! Watch what I do carefully!”

Ravithasan bent down. After examining carefully he placed his foot firmly on a circular stone. With both hands he pushed a square shaped stone; from below opened a passage.

“God! An underground path inside the underground cellar,” Soman Sambavan exclaimed.

“Yes; no one knows the existence of the path except the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Ilaiyarani. I am the third person who knows! Now, you also know! You saw how to open it?”

Both went down the passage. In a short time the light from the flambeau disappeared. Oomai rani leaped from her hiding place. She stared into the opening of the passage. She placed one foot to go down. Then, on second thoughts, she took it back out.

After thinking for a while she looked at the wall that Ravithasan had climbed. She went in one leap to the wall and climbed it just as Ravithasan had done. When she reached the lattice window she sat down and looked at out. Outside was a garden with a beautiful palace. She felt goosebumps when she saw the palace. Her instinct told her that inside the palace were people more dear to her than life itself. She also knew that the men going down in the secret passage were intent on hurting these folks who were dear to her. She prayed to the god who resided in her innermost soul to give her the power to put an end to their evil plan.

While she was contemplating going back down, her eyes were drawn to a peculiar drama that presented itself on the upper level of that palace in the distance. Ravithasan and Soman Sambavan who were a while ago present in the cellar had now reached the upper level of the palace and stood hiding behind a pillar. They were trying to take a look inside the palace. Because it was noon time the upper level of the palace was clearly visible. There was no torch in Ravithasan’s hands. Sambavan held only a spear. Ravithasan took that spear and took aim at someone inside the palace. Oomai rani felt her heart would stop. Fortunately, Ravithasan did not throw the spear. After taking aim and pretending to throw it, he gave it back to Soman Sambavan. Next second, both disappeared from the spot.

Oomai rani also slid back down from above. She stood hiding, watching the opening to the underground passage. Soon the light from the torch again lit up the passage entrance. Both men came out. They closed the opening to the underground passage.

“You know how to open this?” Ravithasan asked.

“Yes, I do. You don’t have to worry anymore. I will certainly carry out the task that I have undertaken! Sundara Cholan’s life will end on Friday! You can carry on with your plans,” said Sambavan.

“Ilaiyarani will take care of Karikalan. Nothing to worry there! It looks as if that little tiger has escaped from the ocean and is now in Nagaipattinam. But this time around he cannot escape. The two female devils who have protected him are now here in Thanjai. I saw the boatwoman and the deaf-mute in the crowd. Even that cutthroat Veera Vaishnavan is here. Therefore the little tiger also cannot escape anymore. I am going to send Kiramavithan to Nagaipattinam. Sundara Cholan’s tribe will be crushed this Friday …”

“Then there is Mathuranthaka Thevan?”

“Let him be. It is good to have a simpleton like him on the Chola throne for a while. Pandya emperor also must reach the proper age!”

Conversing in this manner Ravithsan and Soman Sambavan hurried back on the same path.

29. Royal Sighting

After they disappeared from view, oomai rani went to the spot where the underground passage was. She tried hard to open it, but she could not. As she had been hiding farther away from them, she did not get a good look at Ravithasan opening it. She felt certain that at least one of them would return. So she decided to wait there.

Her expectations were not in vain. Soman Sambavan returned after sending Ravithasan off. He held the flame torch in his hand. But it was burning dimmer than before. He did speak boldly to Ravithasan. But it was obvious from the way he kept looking around that he was not without apprehension.

Anxiously he sat down near where the passageway opened. In a short time the flame went out from the torch. After that he kept looking at the lattice window on the wall. The light that came through the window also began to fade. When it completely disappeared, knowing that the sun has set, he started to open up the underground passage. Manthahini moved closer to him. The path opened; Soman Sambavan was about to step in.

‘kreech,’ – a long wailing cry rang out from a place very close to him at that moment. Soman Sambavan had witnessed many horrifying events in his life. But he had never heard such an inhuman sound before. If there was such a phenomenon as a devil, it must sound like this, he thought. The first time he heard it, Sambavan paused with hesitation; he waited until its echo died. When he heard the cry a second time all the hair on his body stood erect. When it sounded a third time in very close proximity to him, his determination crumbled. He started to run blindly through that dark cellar without paying attention to where he was going.

Soon after he disappeared, oomai rani stepped into the open underground passage. After a series of steps she was on a flat surface. She walked very fast. Even if Soman Sambavan had seen her going in and returned, he could not have caught her. She walked so fast in what seemed as the unending dark passage to hell. Yet there was an end even to that. The path ended in a perpendicular wall. A small gap could be seen on top. Exploring with her hands she discovered a series of steps. When she climbed the steps her head suddenly hit the top. Between the steps in the underground passage and where her head had hit, small gaps were present. Crawling through one of the gaps she came outside. All around her were giant monstrous forms. She was not startled by the scene as she was used to seeing enormous statues in Eezhatheevu. She made sure that she knew where the passage ended. Ten headed Ravanan was lifting up kailaiyangiri with his twenty hands. On the hill were seated Sivan and Parvathi. Below the hill there was a valley. His twenty hands were holding the mountain above. She knew that she had entered that sculpture gallery through the gap present between two of those hands. Ordinarily no one would guess that there existed a passage beneath kailaiyangiri. No one will dream of exploring under it. This also held the potential for a good hiding place.

After marveling at the ingenious construction of that sculpture cum underground passage for a few hours, Manthahini took a tour of the sculpture gallery. Even though the light was dim, her dark eyes that were used to seeing in the dark, did not miss anything. In one place in sculpture form was the scene of one of the Chola ancestors, emperor Sibi, carving out his flesh to save the life of the pigeon. Because they were descendants of Sibi the Chola tribe was known by the title ‘Chempian!’ After carefully studying that sculpture oomai rani moved on. One of the sculptures depicted the scene of river Kangai falling from an enormous Sivaperuman. Beside the river Bageerathan stood with his palms pressed together in prayer. River Bageerathi that cascaded, entered a gigantic Rishi’s mouth and exited through his ear. In the Ganges that came out in this manner a hermit of small stature was collecting water with his rounded vessel. He ought to be Augustiar who was known as kurumunivar. He emptied that vessel over another small mountain. The river that flowed from the small spherical vessel kept growing bigger and bigger. When these sculptures were made water would have flown through these Kangai and Kaveri rivers also. But there was no water now. Kaveri grew long and winding coursing through rocky mountains and groves thick with trees. On both its sides were present many Sivan temples. Finally, where Kaveri was to meet the sea, was present the outside wall of that sculpture gallery. Acting on a hunch, oomai rani pressed her hand on the wall there. A small door opened. She went out through it. She was now in the palace garden. Beyond it in close proximity were the magnificent pinnacles of the palace. She looked around. In the dim light of that dusky hour, she saw that there was no one present in the garden. Trees lay broken and fallen just as in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s garden. Therefore even if someone was present they could not have seen her emerging from the sculpture gallery. She stood close to the sculpture gallery waiting for it to be completely dark. Perhaps that stooge of Yaman with the spear in hand may turn up. Therefore she kept looking inside the sculpture gallery also from time to time.

One by one the palace lights came on. In a short time the palace was completely lit. The lamps in the lower level spread their light through the lattice windows. The lamps upstairs shone brightly competing with the stars in the sky.

“Aiyo! The night looks more dangerous than day,” thought Manthahini.

Looking around the palace carefully she noticed that the part of the palace adjascent to the sculpture gallery alone was not adequately lit. It was in this part of the palace that scoundrel who tried to kill her beloved son – whom she saved from the Kaveri flood – in Ilankai, and his friend climbed up and stood on the balcony. This is the place where Ravithasan took the spear from the other man and pretended to aim it at someone. Fortunately, there weren’t many lights lit in this part. Why? Good; soon that too may well be revealed.

Once the sun went down and darkness enveloped the palace garden Manthahini leapt like a startled deer and reached the palace. In that rear section of the palace there were circular verandas under sloping roofs, rows of pillars to support the roof, and stairs going up in places. On the verandas were enormous copper pots used in cooking during big feasts, old ivory palanquins, broken thrones, and other such items. After going around looking at these for a while, Manthahini finally felt bold enough to go up the stairs to the next level. Just like on the lower level there were circular balconies and ornate pillars that lent support to the sloping roof that extended over the balconies. The moonlit balconies were furnished with marble seats and finely crafted lattice windows. In this upper level that appeared forsaken by human beings Manthhini went round and round. She hesitated very much to enter the interior of the palace. In one place seeing a light coming from inside she went closer and peeked from behind a pillar. Aha! What did she see? She saw sights from which she could not peel her eyes away.

At the center of a large room a person lay on an ornate bed. Surrounding him stood four women and two men. From their demeanor it was obvious that they were devoted and loyal to him. A short distance away stood two maids displaying even more respect and humility.

There was only one lantern burning in that room. That too was affixed to the light stand next to the bed and shed only a dim light. Manthahini took a look at those surrounding first. She knew that one of them was her beloved niece Poongkuzhali. From her hidden vantage points she had seen the others also before. But she was not sure that she knew who each person was.

When she finished studying them, with utmost trepidation Manthahini turned her eyes toward the person lying on the bed. Her heart stopped for a moment. Yes; it was him! A very long time ago, that can be described as many many eons – when she was frolicking around as a little girl in jungles, he came and took shelter and robbed her of her heart and life itself – it was him; the one who turned Poothateevu where she lived at that time into paradise for a short time; the one who was taken by groups of men who arrived in tall ships! Aha! How he has changed!

Even after that time which can very well be described as a previous incarnation, Manthahini has seen him several times without his knowledge. When he went on pleasure rides on the river Kaveri, she has seen him from behind the dense thickets. When he paraded the streets in cities in golden chariots drawn by elegant white horses she has stood as one among many and watched him. But it has been a while since she last saw him. It is in that period that he has changed so much. Beard and mustache were covering his face. Cheeks were drawn in; lines appeared on the forehead. Aha! Where has that light that was ever present in those eyes once upon a time gone? God! Do people change like this? Manthahini has seen many afflicted by the poisonous flu in Ilakaitheevu after many days of fever at the time of their last breath.

Aha! His charismatic face that was once as bright as the golden sun has also changed drastically! Perhaps his final days are here also!

Manthahini was suddenly reminded of the terrifying scene that she witnessed that afternoon. The murderer known as Ravithasan and his friend had stood on the same spot where she was now. It was from here that they were taking aim with the spear. Perhaps they were taking aim at the person lying on the bed? Manthahini’s body trembled at the thought. Her vision became cloudy; she felt as if she was about to collapse. Firmly planting her feet on the floor, tightly holding onto the pillar for support, she fought back the feeling of despair and loss.

30. Indictment

Emperor Sundara Cholar had been feeling low in both mind and body for some days. It was not an exaggeration when the junior stateswoman told the chief minister that he had not slept at all on the night of the storm. The following day his mind remained anxious even during daytime.

Late in the afternoon the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s visit increased his anxiety. His complaints centered on Chief Minister Aniruthar for the most part. He said that ever since his return to Thanjai all the rules about people entering the fort had been broken. He noted that all sorts of people were entering the fort on the pretext of seeing the chief minister and that because of that the safety of the emperor himself may have been compromised. Upon hearing these two complaints the emperor had smiled to himself. He did not consider them important.

But, he could not ignore the rest of Kalanthakakandar’s complaints. He said that an argument that day on the streets between people who had come from outside and the velakara troops had escalated to a near state of chaos, and that fortunately he happened to arrive there at that time and made peace between the two sides and sent them on their way preventing any calamity; that while it was known all over the country that Chief Minister Aniruthar was exemplary in his character, his behavior was the exact opposite, that he had brought by force some woman from Kodikarai, that he used the palanquin and men from the Pazhuvur palace for this activity, that he loaned the men and the palanquin without knowing the purpose, and that if any scandal should arise it’s going to fall on the Pazhuvur family’s head.

Finally, he brought up another dubious incident. “I was worried about some magician frequenting the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. I was reluctant to take any action, aware that he was coming to see the Ilaiyarani. Still, I had assigned a spy to keep an eye on that palace. Today he came and told me that he saw a man jumping over the wall into the rear garden of the treasury minister’s palace. Immediately I sent a few men to capture him. They caught him right there in broad daylight. It turned out to be Azhvarkadiyan, the loyal disciple of the chief minister himself.

‘Why did you jump over the wall,’ he was asked. He refused to answer. ‘The chief minister’s order,’ he said. Emperor! If the chief minister behaves in this manner how can I take responsibility for the safety of Thanjai fortress? My brother is away at the time, so I have had to burden you with this!”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s grievances escalated the emperor’s inner turmoil. “Alright! Aniruthar will be here this evening. I will question him about this. Especially, I am hurt by the news of the forced abduction of the Kodikarai woman. It is true, Colonel? You have no doubts,” he asked.

“No doubts at all! None whatsoever! Last night the palanquin carriers and the soldiers accompanying them returned at midnight with this news. When they were approaching Thanjai fort, they got caught in the storm. Some people were hurt by a tree falling. It was providence that the palanquin was not hurt by the tree, they told me. Fortunately, we were spared the guilt of matricide! In addition to this matter, the emperor must also conduct a full inquiry into the affairs of Azhvarkadiyan!” Kalanthakakandar then took his leave from the emperor.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did not want to be present at the time of Aniruthar’s visit. In his heart he was afraid that the chief minister will throw a barrage of unrelated questions at him to intimidate him. Particularly, if the chief minister, in his presence succeeds in obtaining permission from the emperor to open the treasury to aid the people affected by the storm, it would mean big trouble. How can he possibly face his brother the next day?

The emperor was anticipating Aniruthar’s visit from morning. But the chief minister arrived only at sundown. His stoic nature was also shaken. The plan that he had carefully put into action had gone astray. Thinking that there will arrive some news of Manthahini, he kept postponing his visit to the royal palace to see the emperor. Late in the afternoon Azhavarkadiyan arrived with rather awkward news. On a hunch that oomai rani may have taken that path, he had gone into a narrow alleyway, and because he thought he saw a woman climbing over the wall and jumping into Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace compound, and that thinking that it could be oomai rani that he too jumped over the wall and that before he could begin his search there younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men seized him, he said.

“I could not give them the actual reason, Sir! To come out of there, I had to bring up your name,” he said.

This detail became a source of great worry for the chief minister. “When there were so many palaces in this Thanjavur fortress, did she have to break into the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s residence? I cannot even begin a public search employing my men! Let’s see. In a way it is good that elder pazhuvertaraiyar is not in town. I can place guards around his palace. I do have a man inside that palace. I will send word to him! Yet, what an awkward situation this boatwoman has created,” said the chief minister.

“Swami! Even if the boatwoman has not interfered, it is not certain that oomai rani would have submitted to your plan. She would have somehow tried to run away,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“I had a kind of hope. That after coming all this way she would not leave without seeing the emperor. We will try everything possible. But it is not right to postpone my visit to the emperor anymore. Come with me! Bring the boatwoman also. I must disclose all information about the two princes to the emperor. The emperor might believe if he hears in person from the boatwoman who rescued the younger prince from the sea,” he said.

Chief Minister Aniruthar, his disciple and Poongkuzhali went to the emperor’s palace. The junior stateswoman and Vanathi were waiting for them at the entrance. The news that oomai rani was not found gave the junior stateswoman cause for concern. That she was seen entering the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s compound made her worry even more. She was anxious that no new complication should arise from this latest development.

“Sir! There is an underground passage to go out from the elder Pazhuvertariayar’s palace, it seems! If she takes that path?” The chief minister was reminded of Vandhiyathevan. “Madam! Is it so easy to find that path? Would everyone be as lucky as the Varnar tribe young man? In any event I will make arrangements to have guards watching outside the fortress also,” he said.

After that, leaving Azhvarkadiyan and Poongkuzhali with the junior stateswoman the chief minister alone went inside the room where the emperor was lying. After paying his respects to the emperor and Vanamadevi who was seated beside him, he informed the emperor that he could not come sooner because he was held up making inquiries about the damage caused by the storm all over Chola Nadu and making arrangements for the necessary steps to be taken to bring relief. The emperor was somewhat satisfied hearing about these arrangements.

“At least you are here, at a time when the treasurer is absent! That turned out to be fortunate! But what is this that I am hearing? You have brought a woman from Kodikarai by force? The commander of the fort told me just now. Brahmaraya! I never expected this sort of behavior from you! Perhaps there is some explanation? In any event shouldn’t I have been informed? Or, have you decided that because I am bedridden there is no need to inform me of anything, there is no need to consult me about anything? Kundavai tells me that Arulmozhivarman did not drown in the ocean and that he is safe at Nagapattinam Buddhist viharam. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about it. If he survived why didn’t he come here? Why didn’t anyone tell me the news until now that he is safe and sound? Minister! There is a lot going on around me that I am not privy to. In my kingdom there is so much going on without my knowledge. Instead of being alive under such circumstances …” His voice faltering, his vocal cords failing him, the emperor struggled to continue. Tears welled up in his eyes.

Aniruthar who had been quiet out of respect until then, interrupted. “Lord! Please stop! It is forty years since our friendship began. I did not do anything against your wellbeing until now; in the future also I will not. I may have left out a thing or two out of my desire to not trouble you unnecessarily. If that is a mistake, please forgive me. I will now answer all your questions. Kindly remain calm,” he pleaded.

“Chief Minister! In this birth I will not have peace. I don’t know if I will have peace even in my next birth. When my precious children and my beloved friend are working against me …”

“Lord! You will soon find out who is working against you. I am not part of that perfidy. I am holding this chief minister position only in name. I have said many times before that I will gladly hand over this position to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. Even now I am willing to do that. If you are even slightly dissatisfied with me …”

“Yes, Chief Minister, yes! All of you are ready and willing to abandon me at any minute. It is only this Malaiamman’s daughter who will stay with me and die with me when the last breath leaves my body. Among all my sins, I have done something good. That is why I have been blessed with her as my life’s companion,” said the emperor.

These words brought tears to Vanamadevi’s eyes. Sobbing, she left the room.

“King of kings! Every word that you said about Malaiamman’s daughter is true. Those who were born to her also have enormous faith in you.”

“Yet, they do not respect my words. They do not obey my orders. They are involved in matters that I am ignorant of. You are also with them! You knew already that Arulmozhivarman survived his ordeal in the sea and is safe at Nagaipattinam Buddhist viharam! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Forgive me, Lord! I was not certain until yesterday about it. I was confident that the prince was not in any danger. We cannot undo everything that the astrologers have said about his horoscope, can we?”

“Chief Minister! There is no limit to the harm that is possible through the science of astrology. I am thinking of expelling all astrologers from this kingdom. Everyone is trying to put Arulmozhi on the throne even while I am alive solely based on what the astrologers have said about his horoscope; don’t you also belong with them?”

“I avow to the contrary, Lord! In fact, I thought it was prudent if the younger prince did not come back to Chola Nadu for a while. When I went to Ilankai that is what I told the prince. But when I came here, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men have already gone to Ilankai to capture the prince. You also gave permission for that. Because this news has spread all over the country, the people are very angry at the Pazhuvertaraiyars. The talk among the people is that it was the Pazhuvertaraiyars who have on purpose sunken the ship that the prince was on …”

“Lies! Chief Minister, lies! Absolute lies! Parthipenthira Pallavan has told me everything. The prince was not on the ship sent by the Pazhuvertaraiyars. He was on Parthipenthiran’s ship. On the way he jumped into the sea of his own accord. Against Parthipenthiran’s advice, he jumped into the turbulent sea saying that he wanted to save someone on another ship that was burning.When I think about it now I think that the entire story was fabricated, a perfidy designed to fool me. It is when I think that even Kundavai was in on this, I am unable to bear the pain. I have thought that even if the entire world turned against me, Kundavai will remain on my side. I told her tales that a father will not under ordinary circumstances tell his daughter …”

“King of kings! Even if the entire world told me that the junior stateswoman is against you, I will never believe it; you also should not. If the junior stateswoman has kept something from you, there must be a very good reason for it. There is no lie in the news that the younger prince jumped into the sea to save his friend. The boatwoman who saved the prince and his friend and brought them to shore is in the next room. She has also witnessed everything that happened in Ilankai. King! Shall I call her,” said Aniruthar.

The emperor said eagerly, “Is that so? Call her immediately. Chief Minister! Is she the woman you ordered to be brought by force from Kodikarai?”

“It is the woman who came in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palanquin. She is waiting in the next room. I will call her.” Aniruthar clapped his hands. Poongkuzhali and Azhvarkadiyan enetered the room.

31. Twilight Dream

After taking a good look at Poongkuzhali the emperor asked, “I have not seen this girl before? But her face looks familiar. Brahmarayar! Who is she?”

“She is Kodikarai Thiyagavidankar’s daughter. Her name is Poongkuzhali!”

“Aha! That is why,” said the emperor. He then mumbled to himself, “There is a slight resemblance to her aunt! But she is not like her; very different!”

His words fell on Poongkuzhali’s ears faintly. Until then Poongkuzhali had never seen the emperor. She had heard that he was more handsome than Manmathan. She had also thought that it must be true of the father who had borne the prince. She was startled to see the emperor, disfigured by physical and mental illness. She felt embarrassed to think that she wanted to fight with him for deserting her aunt. Out of shock, fear and shyness she forgot to even pay her respects to the emperor.

“Child! Is your father Thiyagavidankar well,” the emperor asked her.

Only then Poongkuzhali came to her senses. She realized that she was in the presence of the emperor who ruled from Ilankai to river Krishna under one mantle. She fell on the floor and worshipped the emperor. Then she stood up and held her palms together in salutation.

“This girl can speak, can’t she? Is she perhaps like her aunt, a mute?” When the emperor asked the question his face fell showing his despair.

“Emperor! This girl can talk. What would take nine women to articulate, she will put into words in no time at all! The shock of being in your presence has turned her speechless,” said Aniruthar.

“Yes; everyone falls silent when they see me. No one tells me anything,” said the emperor.

Again he looked at Poongkuzhali and asked, “Girl! The chief minister says that you saved Prince Arulmozhivarman from the turbulent sea. Is it true?”

Faltering Poongkuzhali replied, “Yes, Lord! … if it is a mistake …”

The emperor laughed; the tone of his laughter was frightening.

“Brahmaraya! Listen to her! ‘If it is a mistake,’ she says. If saving the life of the prince is a ‘mistake,’ she wants to know. It is as if I wanted my son to drown in the sea and die. Someone had told her that I am that kind of a monster. Chief Minister! Is this what the citizens of this country think of me,” asked Sundara Cholar.

“Lord! Out of fear she blurted out something. Please don’t pay attention to it. Girl! The entire country is in your debt for saving the prince. The emperor is also immensely happy. Whatever reward you want for that, you can ask. Now, tell the emperor everything that happened! Don’t be afraid,” he said.”

“Let her answer this first! She says that she saved the prince from the ocean, how did she know that he was the prince? Has she seen him before,” said the emperor.

“Yes, Lord! I have seen the prince a few times when the prince boarded the ship to Eezhanadu with the soldiers. Once, the prince also called me Samuthra Kumari,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Aha! Now she is speaking,” said Sundara Chola emperor.

Then, prodded by the chief minister from time to time, Poongkuzhali reluctantly related the events beginning from her ferrying Vandhiyathevan to Ilankai by boat to bringing the prince to Nagapattinam. But heeding to Aniruthar’s warnings she did not say anything about Manthahini.

After listening to her the emperor said, “Girl! You have performed an incomparable service to Chola Nadu. Nothing can repay you for that. But, I have one question. Tell me! After bringing the prince ashore at Kodikarai, why didn’t you bring him here? Why did you take him to Nagapattinam?”

“Swami! Running a high fever the prince was barely conscious. Because there were good medical professionals at Nagapattinam Buddhist monastery we took him there. We knew that the monks were devoted to the prince. In his condition, the prince could only be taken in a boat, not on a horse or wagon …”

“Pazhuvertaraiyar was at Kodikarai at that time, why wasn’t he informed …?”

After a slight hesitation Poongkuzhali spoke in a majestic voice. “Emperor! The entire country knows that Pazhuvertaraiyar is an enemy to the prince. Under such circumstances, how can I dare to hand the prince over to Pazhuvertaraiyar?”

“Yes, yes! Are Pazhuvertaraiyars the only enemies of my sons? I am also an enemy. That is what the world thinks. Never mind! Chief Minister! Yesterday’s storm would have wreaked havoc in Nagapattianm most of all. It pains my heart to think that the prince could be in danger again.”

“Lord! Chola Nadu is fortunate. At present all omens are good for the country. Therefore …”

“Chola Nadu is fortunate, but I am not, Brahmarayar! Before I close my eyes I want to see my sons once more …”

“Please do not talk in that manner. Blessed with sons and a daughter of such caliber, who can be more fortunate? I will send the men out today. To bring the prince safely, I will send my disciple Thirumalai also,” said the chief minister.

Only then the emperor turned his eyes toward Azhvarkadiyan. “Aha! He was standing here all this while? Isn’t he the man the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was talking about? Isn’t he the one who climbed over the wall of Pazhuvertaraiayar’s palace?”

“Lord! There was a good reason for that. Permit me to talk about it tomorrow. You are tired already!” The chief minister said.

At this time Malaiamman’s daughter, Kundavai and Vanathi enetered the room. “Chief Minister! We will stop here for today. The doctors have sternly ordered not to tire the emperor unnecessarily,” the great queen said.

She also said, “I hear that this girl can sing well. Please ask her to sing a devotional song. The emperor likes music.”

“Alright, Madam! My disciple sings the Azhvar hymns well. I will ask him to sing as well,’ said the chief minister.

Poongkuzhali sang an Appar thevaram. Azhvarkadiyan sang a pasuram.

With the singing, Sundara Cholar closed his eyes. Within minutes his face looked peaceful and calm. His breath came steady and even. It was obvious that he had fallen into a deep sleep.

As the day was ending and darkness loomed, a maid lit a lamp and brought it in. Everyone including the chief minister left the room. Malaiamman’s daughter alone waited beside the emperor a while longer. As Kundavai beckoned her from the outside she also left the room. After that, silence reigned in that room. The faint sound of Sundara Cholar’s breath alone was heard.

Even though Sundara Cholar fell into a deep sleep in that twilight hour because he was tired after a sleepless night and because of the lulling sweetness of the Tamil hymns sung by Poongkuzhali and Azhvarkadiyan, his sleep was not a peaceful one devoid of thoughts. Old and new memories, combined with real incidents and wishful imaginary scenes took on the form of dreams subjecting him to novel experiences.

***

In the quiet deep blue ocean Poongkuzhali and he were going in a boat. As she rowed Poongkuzhali sang to the beat of the ocean’s churning roar.

“Don’t be tired, my soul! – your
dreams will one day come true!
After the long dark night
didn’t you see dawn blossoming
enlivening the earth awakening lotuses?
To make the world happy the sun will rise!”

The song made Sundara Cholar happy. The lethargy in his heart was replaced by excitement. “Keep singing! Keep singing!” He encouraged Poongkuzhali. The boat kept drifting in the deep ocean.

Suddenly, darkness surrounded. A heavy wind began to blow. In the sea that was peaceful only a short while ago waves rose and fell as mountains. The boat that was rocking as gently as a cradle now struggled being tossed into the clouds one second and then falling deep down into the abyss the next. The sails torn into shreds were blown away by the wind. Yet the boat managed not to capsize. Sundara Cholar marveled at Poongkuzhali’s expert boatmanship.

Just as fast as the wind had swept in, it suddenly came to a stop. The turbulence in the sea gradually went down. Once again there was calm. In the eastern horizon there were signs of dawn. In a short time the golden sun rose. The water shimmered as a sea bathed in gold. Not too far away stood islands of visually pleasing emerald coconut groves. From the islands came the cheerful chirping of birds. Sundara Cholar realized that these were islands bordering the coast of Eezhanadu. He remembered that it was in one of these islands that he met Manthahini in a previous incarnation.

With his eyes on the islands he said, “Poongkuzhali! You have finally brought me to paradise itself! How am I going to thank you?” As Poongkuzhali did not answer he turned to look at her. He was taken aback. Because it was not Poongkuzhali who was in the boat. It was Manthahini! She was as she had been thirty years ago!

After a short time pulling himself out of his shock he said, “Manthahini! Is it you? Is it really you? Is it you who brought me here in the disguise of Poongkuzhali?” He remembered that she lacked the ability to hear him. Yet, as if she read his lips, she smiled.

He tried to get up and go near her. But he was unable to stand up. He remembered that his legs could no longer carry him.

“Manthahini! I have become feeble. I cannot come to you; you must come near me. Look here, Manthahini! If anyone offers to make me the emperor of the three worlds ever again, I will not leave your side. We don’t have to go to these islands bordering Eezhanadu. Someone will always turn up here. Paddle the boat to the middle of the ocean! We will go far away across the seven seas and to the islands there,” said Sundara Cholar. Manthahini smiled as if she understood his words.

Emperor Sundara Cholar, his crown empress and children were enjoying a leisurely ride on river Kaveri in the highly ornate palace boat. Renowned musicians were performing. Sundara Cholar closed his eyes enjoying the music. He was suddenly jolted by cries of ‘Aiyo! Aiyo!’ Several voices complained, ‘The child is missing, Arulmozhi is missing!’ Alarmed, Sundara Cholar looked around. A woman was trying to push his beloved baby Arulmozhi into the water of the Kaveri flood. Terrified Sundara Cholar rose to jump into the water. At that time he saw the face of the woman. He knew that it was the disfigured face of Manthahini. In an instant, all life drained out of his body. He collapsed on the floor of the boat.

***

Perhaps it was due to the force of that fall, Sundara Cholar woke up from his sleep and his dream. He was perspiring even in that weather that was cooler than normal owing to the storm. He felt an enormous weight lift away as he realized that he had been dreaming. He looked up. No one was in the room. Only the lamp was burning. Perhaps they went to the next room because he had fallen asleep! He wondered if he should clap his hands and summon them. “Let’s wait a while; let the panic of the dreams wear away!” He thought to himself.

At that time a faint sound came from the rafters above. What can it be? He turned his face slightly in the direction of the sound. It appeared as if a figure was climbing down along the edge of the rafters holding on to a pillar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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