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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (37 – 41)

December 18, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamoorthi. (While I get the feeling that Kalki was swimming in a vast ocean, I am beginning to feel like I am circling in a fish bowl. Just a side note … at this juncture …)

37. Trouble at Kadampoor

Ever since Athitha Karikalan arrived at Kadampoor the inhabitants of that palace felt as if they were walking on fire or standing on a bed of thorns. No one could guess at which moment what sort of verbal artillery would be fired by the prince. Therefore they were in a perpetual state of discomfort. Karikalan often made vague references to the secret plan to place Mathuranthakan on the Chola throne and made everyone squirm. Pazhuvertaraiyar could not stand it. He insisted to Sambuvaraiyar that Karikalan be told openly about the Petty kings’ opinion. Sambuvaraiyar on the other hand said, “Be a little patient; he is after all our guest; he also appears to be a very rude fellow. We don’t want one thing leading to another! We will wait for the proper moment to tell him,” and kept postponing it.

Resolving their dilemma of how to broach the topic, Athitha Karikalan himself one day brought it up in everyone’s presence.

“I came here seeking the wise counsel of Pazhuvur Grandfather and Kadampoor Uncle about an important matter. Let me ask now. Three years ago my father publicly crowned me as crown prince of Chola kingdom. All of you consented. Now it seems as if the emperor has changed his mind. Apparently he wants to crown Mathuranthakan and place him on the throne. It is for this reason that he has been sending me invitation after invitation to come to Thanjavur. I keep finding excuses to turn him down. Why should I go to Thanjavur? Why should I go in person to disagree with my father? Isn’t it better not to go at all? Pazhuvur Grandfather! Kadampoor Uncle! You are the elders. You know the rules. You tell me. Is it right that my father asks me after all this time to hand the kingdom to Mathuranthakan? Would it be a crime to disagree?” When Athitha Karikalan bluntly posed the question all were speechless.

Wishing to buy some time before committing himself with an answer, Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. He said, “Crown Prince! You would have consulted with your Thirukovalur grandafather about this matter. What did Malaiamman say?”

“Aha! All of you know very well that old man’s nature! Would he allow his grandson’s throne to be handed to another man? Instead he will cut me up along with my mother! Now Malaiamman is in the process of getting his troops together to fight for his grandson’s right to the throne! But I am not going to blindly follow his lead. Whatever happens to be your decision, I will accept it!” Karikalan answered meekly.

Deceived by his response Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Unlike Malaiamman, we will not instigate a son to oppose his father. Whatever the emperor’s order is we are obligated to comply. But we are privileged to say what is right. We cannot say that the emperor has no justification at all. We cannot also say that Mathuranthaka Thevar holds no right to the throne. Prince! Since you ask, we will be honest. You are free to make your decision. We think that allowing this argument to fester is dangerous to the kingdom. Therefore it is better to reach a compromise. Unlike in earlier times Chola empire is not restricted between two Vellaru rivers. It spreads from Kumarimunai to river Krishnai. Even if we divide it in two, each will be a big kingdom. So it is entirely justifiable to give what lies south of Kollidam to Mathuranthaka Thevar and keep the northern portion as your entitlement. That is our final opinion. If you agree with us we can proceed. I will take on the responsibility of persuading the emperor to accept this plan!”

Athitha Karikalan laughed out loud. His laughter started a fire in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s stomach. “Grandfather! It is a proper settlement to divide the kingdom into two and have the Pazhuverataraiyars in charge of the south and the Sambuvaraiyars for the north. It is a proper reward for the service your two families have rendered since the time of my grandfather’s father. But I have no desire at all to divide the kingdom into two. Dividing a kingdom that has been passed down generation after generation is akin to sharing one’s own wife! It may be agreeable to old men like yourself! But, for me – it is not!” Sparks flew from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes as he listened to Karikalan. He was ready to pull his dagger from its sheath.

At that moment Karikalan said, “Grandfather! What, you are leaving already? Hear me out fully. I disagree about dividing the kingdom. My ancestors, yourself and your ancestors have toiled for five generations sacrificing the lives of countless number of warriors to make Chola kingdom what it is today. It is criminal to divide it and create two smaller kingdoms. It will be cause enough for our ancestors like Rajathithar to curse us from warrior’s heaven. Therefore, please give up that idea. I am ready to give this entire Chola kingdom to Mathuranthakan; there is justification for that. Mathuranthakan is my great uncle’s son. Therefore Mathuranthakan ought to have been crowned instead of my father. Because of emperor Paranthakar my father was crowned. Let that folly end with him. Even though I have the most valid claim over this kingdom – because of the ‘after father, son follows,’ rule – I will give that up. But there is one condition. I will require a garrison of three hundred thousand soldiers to go to battle in the north. I must be granted the necessary armaments fitting a large garrison such as this and an year’s worth of food supply. I will also need three hundred large vessels that can be taken in the great ocean. I will make Parthipenthiran the sea commander. While he advances along the coast I will take the land route and wage war in the north. Parthipenthiran and I will meet at the mouth of river Kangai. Then we will travel farther north. Poets have sung that my ancestor Karikal Valavan planted the tiger flag on Himalaya mountain. I will achieve once more what my ancestors have achieved before. I will become the emperor of the countries north of river Krishnai that I will capture with the strength of my sword and the strength of the shoulders of the friends who will accompany me. Or else, if I die I will reach the warrior’s heaven with the thrill that we followed in the valorous tradition of the Chola tribe. Pazhuvur Grandfather! Kadampoor Uncle! What do you say? Will you agree to accept this condition and fulfill it?”

After eloquently voicing his question Karikalan paused. The two old men were perplexed. Visibly shaken Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Prince! Who are we to accept your condition? What right do we have? We must ask the emperor!”

Fuming, Karikalan stood up. He roared like thunder. “Grandfather! Whom do you suppose you are deceiving, bringing forth the emperor’s name? You cannot deceive me! You are keeping my father as a prisoner in the royal palace; you have turned him into a puppet who dances to your tune! You thought that I am not aware of it? Can anyone see my father without the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s permission? My father’s order to imprison my younger brother in Eezham and bring him here by force – was my father really behind it? Or was it at your insistence? Will any parent through his own volition subject his beloved son, a heroic warrior, whom the Chola people consider the apple of their eye, to this ordeal? Today all of Chola Nadu is angry at you for bringing Arulmozhi by force and drowning him in the sea …”

“Prince! Who laid this atrocious blame? I will slash the fellow’s tongue and cut him up into pieces …!” Pazhuvertaraiyar shouted.

“If it is just one person you can cut him up into pieces. Ten thousand, or rather hundred thousand, or a million people are saying it. If you are going to punish them, then all of Chola Nadu will turn into a graveyard and crematorium. That would make a proper kingdom for the Saiva devotee Mathuranthakan to rule. But, Grandfather! I don’t believe the rumors. People are ignorant fools. Without delving in they will keep repeating a story hatched by someone. Having been a friend of the Chola tribe for generations you will never have carried out such a horrendous act. If Arulmozhi drowned in the sea, it was just his fate. He must have drowned in the sea and died just to throw sand in the mouths of the augurers, astrologers and palmists who have been claiming, ‘ … born to rule over the three worlds!’ Grandfather! However great a warrior you may be even you cannot summon the cyclone in the middle of the ocean or have thunder strike the ship’s mast. Perhaps the Pandya Nadu sorcerers can; you cannot. Therefore you are not responsible for Arulmozhi’s fate. But please do not tell me, ‘I must consult with the emperor first.’ Then you might even say that you have to consult with that anpil Brahmarayan. The emperor and the chief minister are carrying empty accolades. They cannot do anything against your wish. You can perhaps say that you will ask Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani …!”

At this point Kanthamaran interrupted. “Sir! Those who are in our house as our family’s guests …,” he started shouting incoherently.

With fire in his eyes Karikalan turned towards Kanthamaran. Laughing like the Sivan who burned the three cities he said, “Kanthmaran! This is your house? I forgot! I also forgot that you are the heroic warrior born in the tradition of Valvil Ori.In your house and in your presence I must indeed be cautious! What have I said wrong? What have I done to your guests? … Kanthamara! Why are your hands and feet shaking? Have you also caught the chills and fever that is spreading in Eezham? But you did not even go to Eezham?”

Right then, Vandhiyathevan spoke. He said, “Crown Prince! Kanthamaran does not have a fever. He is angry because you called Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani, ‘Grandmother!”

Glaring at Vandhiyathevan, Kanthamaran began to draw his sword out. Parthipenthiran pulled him by his hand and made him sit down. He said something in his ear. Kanthamaran calmed down. His body however did not stop shaking for sometime.

After having a good laugh at Kanthamaran’s outburst, Karikalan turned to Pazhuvertaraiyar. “Grandfather! This is how young men would react sometimes out of control. Don’t mind them. You are grandfather to me. Therefore, isn’t Ilaiyarani my grandmother? She does not have any regrets about my addressing her in this manner; you have no regrets. Why are these kids bursting with resentment? Never mind! I have strayed far off from the topic. Please don’t pass the burden on to the emperor – my father. Your consent is as good as the emperor’s. You have the treasury. If I say that I am waging war with the north, not three thousand, thirty thousand soldiers will compete to join. There is  no difficulty in gathering three hundred ships also. You must agree! Mathuranthaka Thevar also must agree! That is all! What do you think?” Karikalan said.

Visbly shaken and lost for words, Pazhuvertaraiyar again cleared his throat. “Crown Prince! Even if I agree to your extraordinary request, don’t we need Mathuranthaka Thevar’s consent? Without the emperor’s blessing can you start on this long journey? Therefore, let’s all go to Thanjavur …”

“That, I cannot. Grandfather! After going to Thanjavur, if my father issues a different order I cannot disobey that. In addition my mother, Malaiamman’s daughter is there. My sister, the junior stateswoman is there. They will not agree to my disowning the throne and leaving the country. It will be difficult to ignore their sentiments. Grandfather! This matter must be decided here in Kadampoor palace. Go to Thanjai and bring Mathuranthakan here. After we discuss among ourselves and reach a decision, we can inform father. After all the preparations are made for the battle, I will come to Thanjai and take leave of my parents. Or, crown Mathuranthakan now and let my parents come to Kanji. I will settle them in the golden palace I have built there before leaving,” he said.

Pazhuvertaraiyar glanced at Sambuvaraiyar, who was staring at the ceiling. Seeing that no help was forthcoming from that quarter Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Crown Prince! What can I say against your command?”

“Please do not use the word command, Grandfather! Can this little boy command someone who has grown gray in the service of the Chola empire. Please say that you will fulfill my prayer,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Alright,” Pazhuvertaraiyar again cleared his throat.

“Thank you very much, Grandfather! Then please make arrangements to leave as soon as possible! Put Mathuranthakan on an elephant and bring him here in public. Or bring him in the golden chariot. What we don’t want is the junior grandmother’s covered palanquin!” Karikalan laughed.

Then he turned to Kanthamaran and others. “Kanthamara! It’s your lucky day! More guests are coming to your house. Mathuranthakar who will be the emperor after Sundara Cholar, is coming. He may bring his future empress, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter. Kadampoor palace is going to turn festive. Let Pazhuvur grandfather leave for Thanjai. We can go hunting. I was good at archery at one time. ‘Next to Arjunan, it is Athitha Karikalan,’ it was said. Without touching the bow for three years I have completely forgotten the art. I need practice. Parthipenthira! Vandhiyatheva! All of you, come! Where shall we go hunting? Shall we go to Kollimalai?” Karikalan asked nonchalantly.

Sambuvaraiyar who did not take part in the conversation until then said, “Crown Prince! Kollimalai is far. We don’t have to go that far. On the western side of Veera Narayana lake the forest is thick. It is called thundakaranyam also. It is filled with wild beasts. Some of them, dead now, adorn our taxidermy gallery. The lakeside forest is quite nearby. If we leave in the morning we can be home by night!”

“Let’s do that, Sir! As long as I am a guest here, what you deem is mine to comply! Can we take your daughter, Manimekalai also with us? There is always laughter in her presence,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“I have no objections! We can ask Manimekalai,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Why do we need women to go hunting? It will be plenty of work just making sure that they are safe. We cannot concentrate on the sport. In addition, doesn’t Nandhini Devi need company here?” Karikalan interjected.

“Yes, yes. Kanthamaran is always worried about Pazhuvur grandmother. There is also another hurdle to taking Manimekalai along. Someone may mistake her hopping around to a deer and target her with an arrow. Let the women remain in the palace, we will go hunting. We must leave early in the morning. Tonight, finish with the folk dance early and please go to bed early. Sir! Please send word to the huntsmen. Vandhiyatheva! Come! Let’s go to our digs!” Athitha Karikalan left dragging Vandhiyathevan by the hand. Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran stood looking at them with envy. Sambuvaraiyar went to give the order to the huntsmen. Pazhuvertaraiyar went to the anthpuram in search of Nandhini.

38. Nandhini Refused

Pzhuvertaraiyar went to see Nandhini somewhat excitedly. Whatever hopes he had when he came to Kadampoor none had materialized. He had thought that if he brought the young Athitha Karikalan to Kadampoor palace then through cajoling as well as threats he could make him act according to his wishes. He believed that Karikalan had to abide by his and Sambuvaraiyar’s demands. He knew of the danger for the entire Chola kingdom if Mathuranthakan was elevated to the throne. In the north Malaiamman and, in the south Kodumabalur Velan will oppose it. If Karikalan joins them there will be civil war. Who can say how it might end? Most citizens will be on the side of Sundara Cholan’s sons. Even Mathuranthakan’s mother is against him. Can one get entangled in a civil war depending only on the Kalamuga crowd? Protests might begin in Pandya Nadu, Sera Nadu and in countries north of Palaru. Therefore, if they agree on giving half the kingdom to Mathuranthakan now, and if that is southern Chola kingdom with Thanjai as capital, then later on they can proceed slowly. They can somehow end Kodumbalur Velan’s popularity. Then turning north they can take care of Thirukovalur Malaiamman also. Karikalan is such a rude fellow, any day he is bound to get involved in some perverse affair and die young. If that happens all worries are over. For now, it is best to aim for half the kingdom.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar came to Kadampoor only after consulting with Ilaiyarani Nandhini about his decision. He had Karikalan also brought there. But nothing was taking place as expected. Being a loudmouth, instead of obeying the elders Karikalan intimidated them. Pazhuvertaraiyar could not bear the sarcastic tone and doublespeak. Especially Karikalan’s frequent use of ‘old man’ to refer to him and ‘grandmother’ to refer to Ilaiyarani hurt him like poison soaked arrows. If this was not enough, Sambuvaraiyar’s behavior was also not satisfactory. Instead of standing by him and reprimanding Karikalan’s loudmouth behavior Sambuvaraiyar for the most part shut his mouth and remained silent. Even when he spoke he did reluctantly and incoherently. Perhaps he was cautious because Karikalan was a guest in his palace and he did not want any trouble! Whatever the reason Pazhuvertaraiyar was not at all satisfied with Sambuvaraiyar’s behavior.

It was also not easy to figure out how much of Karikaln’s talk that day was real, how much was sarcasm and how much was perfidy, with one thing on his mind and another on his lips. Who knows, if he is planning on some bigger offence after Mathuranthakan is also brought there? He can bring Malaiamman with a big garrison and have them surround Kadampoor palace? …

Considering all of this it was best to return to Thanjavur. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had good judgement. He can also be consulted. Even if Mathuranthakan is brought here, as a precaution he can have Kalanthakakandar wait at Kollidam shore with a big battalion. Whatever the scenario, Ilaiyarani should no longer be subjected to these foolish fellows’ sarcastic banter. It was imperative that he leaves her in Thanjai. Now there is a way for that. Why give that up?

Once he reached this decision the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cheered up. He reached Nandhini’s anthapuram cheerfully. When he was at the doorstep he heard laughter from inside. For some reason the sound of that laughter annoyed him. Nandhini never laughed like this in Thanjavur. What is the happiness now? Why is she laughing? Who is laughing with her …

When he went inside he saw that her companion was Manimekalai. This somewhat calmed his mind. When Manimekalai saw him she placed her two hands over her mouth to suppress her laughter. Failing in her attempt to contain her mirth she ran out of the room continuing to laugh.

Nandhini’s laughter stopped as soon as she saw Pazhuvertaraiyar. Her face assumed her usual majestic countenance. “Sir! Please come in! Is the discussion over,” she said.

“Nandhini! Why was that girl laughing in that manner? Why is she running away laughing?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“Must I talk about it? Alright. It seems Manimekalai overheard from her room some of the talk in the assembly hall. She was laughing about Prince Athitha Karikalar’s sarcastic remarks about grandfathers and grandmothers …”

“Chee! Naughty girl! You too joined her in the laughter?”

“Yes; I laughed with her. I thought I will cry once she left. But you are here now!” Nandhini wiped a teardrop from her eye.

“Aha! It was my mistake to bring you in the midst of these fools. Tomorrow morning we will leave for Thanjavur. Just for one night, please be patient!”

“We must leave for Thanjavur? Is the mission accomplished?” Nandhini asked.

Pazhuvertaraiyar informed Nandhini of the decision made at the end of the discussion that day.

After listening Nandhini said, “Swami! You can go to Thanjavur. I am not coming. I have no intention of leaving from here until I teach a lesson to Athitha Karikalan. That arrogant prince must either fall at your feet and apologize for his sarcastic remarks or he must face your dagger!”

“Nandhini! What are you saying? How did this insidious thought enter your mind?”

“Sir! What is an insidious thought? Is it insidious to want to avenge a man who insults the husband who accepted my hand and married me?”

“No, Nandhini! Listen! Our Pazhuvur tribe’s friendship with the Cholars goes back six generations. Forgetting that, just because an ignorant little boy blurted something, can I raise my sword against that tribe? Do I kill with my own hands, Sundara Cholar’s son, the crown prince of our day? What kind of talk is this?” Pazhuvertaraiyar was aghast.

At times when he listened to Karikalan’s outrageous talk Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand had moved toward his sword. With the greatest effort he controlled himself at those moments. That is why when Nandhini bared some of those same thoughts he was alarmed.

“Sir! Your friendship with the Chola tribe goes back six generations; you are related also. It will be natural that you will feel reluctant to raise the sword. But I have no such relationship. I am in no way obligated to the Chola tribe. If Athitha Karikalan does not beg for mercy at your feet I will pick up the sword and kill him myself,” said Nandhini. As she spoke her eyes turned red, her brows crunched and her face underwent a drastic change.

39. Impending Tragedy

Pazhuvertaraiyar laughed. He laughed not very loud as though his laughter was a sarcastic response to Nandhini’s words. By the sound of that laughter though, all of the objects in that room shook.

Joy filled his heart when he heard that Nandhini would kill by her own hand those who insulted him. He felt proud knowing that Nandhini cared so much about protecting his reputation. Part of him wanted her to continue in that vain. Part of him also wanted to show that he did not like her speaking in that manner.

“Sir! Why are you laughing? Are you distrustful of my words,” she asked.

“Devi! I laughed wondering how you will lift a dagger with your softer that manthara petal hands. Especially when I, with my two long hands is still alive …”

“Sir! I know the strength and glory of your arms. Long like an elephant’s trunk, strong as Indran’s vajrayutham these are hands that massacred thousands of foes in the battlefield; hands that have kept the jeweled crown on the heads of Chola emperors. However, there is no one today who appreciates it. The times are such that kids who were born yesterday are poking fun at you calling you ‘old’. Like the sarparajan bound by the mantra you have to remain lame bound by your loyalty to the Chola tribe. My hands are indeed the bracelet adorned gentle kind; hands fit only for picking flowers and stringing garlands. Yet, because of accepting your hand with fire as my witness, these hands have become stronger. If the need arises to protect my virtue and the reputation of my husband then my hands can also take the sword. See, here …!” Nandhini pulled out the box from under her bed. She opened it and moved the clothes laying on top. She effortlessly lifted with one hand the long sword that lay sparkling underneath.

A dumbfounded Pazhuvertaraiyar stood there staring at the sword for a while. Then, “How long has the sword been in this box? I thought that you had your clothes and jewelry there,” he said.

After returning the sword back to its place Nandhini said, “Yes; I do have my jewelry and clothes in this case. The most important of my jewelry is this sword. It is to protect my virtue and my husband’s honor,” she said.

“But there never will arise a need for you to use this sword. As long as I am alive!”

“That is why I do not take this sword out. Surely you can save your honor with the strength of the same shoulders that guards Chola Nadu from Eezha Nadu to Vengi Nadu! Surely you can protect a foolish woman like me! However, you cannot always be on my side while taking care of the kingdom. When I am not with you, shouldn’t I be prepared to protect myself?”

“Where is the need for that? Forget the past, I will never leave your side …”

“Sir! That is my wish also; but just this once, please go to Thanjaipuri by yourself …”

“What is this stubbornness? Why should I leave you here this time?” His eyebrows pulling together Pazhuvertaraiyar asked the question.

“Swami! There are two reasons. If you take me with you now those fools will laugh at us some more. ‘The old man has that much of trust in Ilaiyarani!’ – they’d say. Thinking about it makes my blood boil. The other reason is more important. All this while you have said that Sambuvaraiyar is your closest friend; you believed it also. But ever since the prince arrived, have you seen the change in his behavior? Even if you didn’t notice, I have …”

“I have also seen it. I am lost as to what may have caused this change …”

“You have an innocent heart; so you feel astonished. I have no surprises. Human greediness is the reason for Sambuvaraiyar’s change. Rumor was that Prince Athitha Karikalar does not even look at women and that he would remain a bachelor forever. You would have seen the exact opposite in his behavior ever since he arrived. He comes visiting often where women are gathered, he speaks lovingly. The reason is his heart has gone to Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai. ‘Can we take Manimekalai hunting?’ – Karikalar asked! Sambuvaraiyar is aware of this. Therefore he has forgotten the old plan. He has begun to dream about his beloved daughter being on the Thanjavur throne as empress …”

“Yes; you must be right. I never thought even in my dreams that Sambuvaraiyar was so fickle. Just two months ago we all gathered here in this palace to swear that we will put Mathuranthakar on the Thanjai throne. Cheechee! A man who cannot keep his word; is he even human?” Pazhuvertaraiyar hissed.

“Swami! That is why I am suggesting that I stay here. I will keep an eye on what they are doing. If they hatch some devious plan I will look for ways to wreck it.”

“Nandhini! Why must you involve yourself in this?”

“Shouldn’t a wife take an interest in matters that concern her husband? Why do they call us ‘partner for life’?”

“Whatever it is how can I leave you alone amidst these ruthless vile men? It does not appeal to me at all!”

“It’s not as if I am all alone here. There is Manimekalai; that girl will do anything for me …”

“That is true. I have also noticed. Your magnetism has made her your slave. But how long will it last? If Athitha Karikalan tempts her with the throne and the title of empress …”

“Sir! About that you need not have any doubts. Against my wish, Manimekalai will not consider even heaven’s Indrani status. If I say, ‘Stab Karikalar with this dagger!’ – she’ll do it. You often talk about my magnetism. It has completely taken over Manimekalai. If necessary I will prove it right now,” said Nandhini.

Pazhuvertaraiyar’s body trembled. His lips quivered. He felt a lump in his throat. Tongue faltering he said, “Devi! I know your power. But I do not want this sort of meddling in Karikalan’s affairs. He is an ignorant little boy. We should not take to heart his silly banter. If Karikalan wants to marry Manimekalai, let’s not stand in the way!”

“Sir! We may not stand in the way. But there is what is called fate! Who can stand in its way? Just as Manimekalai has affection for me I am also fond of her. I love her like my own sister. How can I agree to wed her to a man who is going to die young?” Nandhini asked. Her eyes seemed to be looking at something taking place far far away.

Pazhuvertaraiyar grew more excited. “Nandhini! What kind of talk is this? I was the leader of the Chola emperor’s velakarapadai at one time. I have promised to protect the emperor and his folk at the expense of my life …”

“Sir! I never said that you should break that promise!”

“If any harm befalls Karikalan because of you the blame will be on me. ‘Unable to bear a little boy’s teasing the old man has blundered,’ the world will condemn me. The good name our tribe has earned being the guardian of the Cholars for six generations will be lost …”

“In that case it is important that you leave this town at once!” Nandhini said in a voice shrouded in mystery.

“Why do you say that?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“I was wondering how to break this to you. Now I must. Durga Parameshwari has granted me some extraordinary powers. You know that. Through my magical powers I learned that Sundara Cholar bears the stain of sthrihathi from his young days. I have proved that to you. In the same way I am now seeing through my inner eye that Athitha Karikalan’s end is near. It will not be by your hands; nor mine. What is certain is that Yaman’s affectionate noose is getting closer and closer to him. The end may happen in the forest during hunting; or it may be during sleep at the palace; a tiger, bear or other animal may bring it; or he may die felled by an arrow shot by a friend erroneously striking him. Or his death may happen when a knife held in the tender hands of a woman plunges into his heart. But Sir, I promise that his death won’t be by this hand that you accepted in marriage. You married this orphan who stood abandoned on the roadside. You made her Ilaiyarani for the world to see. I will make sure that such a benevolent person’s name does not get tarnished. That is why, please don’t wait here at this time. I insist that you leave. Whatever ill fate that Karikalar may meet while you are here the world will link you to it. Weren’t you blamed for the sea taking Arulmozhivarman? In the same way you will be blamed for this also. Even if they won’t say that you are the cause of it they will ask why you didn’t prevent it! But even with your vajrayutham like hands you cannot prevent the ill fortune that is about to fall on Karikalar. Therefore, you must leave immediately. If you take me with you, that will also lead to unwarranted suspicion. They will say that you took me along because you knew beforehand. Therefore, only you must leave. I will be here to see that no infamy falls on your name whatever happens, however it may happen. Sir! Do you have that much of trust in me?” After asking the question Nandhini looked intently with her dark big eyes at Pazhuvertaraiyar as if trying to penetrate deep within his heart and see what lay there. Poor man! The old warrior was greatly disturbed by Nandhini’s piercing words. He succumbed to the arrows flying from her eyes.

40. Water Play

Six hundred years before the time of this biopic, aside from the three Tamil kings, there were seven petty kings who were notably famous. They were given the title ‘vallal’. One of the seven was Kollimalai’s leader Ori. He was famous for his skill in archery. If he bent his big bow, mounted his arrow on the string and pulled it, like the arrow that went through seven trees, his arrow would go through a tiger, a deer, a hog, a rabbit and finally a tree also. His talent in archery had been famously sung by poets in this way. Thus he came to be known as Valvil Ori.

Seran, a powerful king in those days did not favor Valvil Ori. He sought the assistance of Thirukovalur leader Malaiamman Thirumudikari to attack him. Kari’s valor was no less than Ori’s. Moreover, Malaiamman Kari was stronger with respect to arms. Malaiamman took his battle to Kollimalai. He killed Ori and destroyed his mountain fort also.

At that time the territory next to Kollimalai was ruled by a petty king named Athikaman Nedumananji. Theirs was a relationship forged through marriages. He wanted to seek revenge on Malaiamman Kari who killed Valvil Ori. Thinking that he cannot accomplish it alone he sought the help of Chola king Killivalavan, who held a grudge over the escalating power of Malaiamman and his friendship with Seran. So Cholan Killivalavan and thakadur Athikaman together attacked Thirukovalur Malaiamman. In the battlefield Malaiamman died. Two of Malaiamman’s young sons were captured by the Chola soldiers. Athikaman and Killivalavan who had wanted to wipe out Malaiamman’s tribe ordered the children buried up to their necks in the ground and be trampled by elephants and killed. A poet who had known and benefited by Malaiamman’s generosity happened to be passing by. He begged the Chola king to spare the children’s lives.

“King! Take a look! Take a look at the faces of the children buried up to their necks! Look at the smile hovering over their faces! The children are laughing looking at the elephants that are about to trample them, they are laughing at the dancing trunks, thinking that this is a playful game. Do you really want to kill such innocent children? What are these children guilty of? Can you punish the children for their father’s guilt,” said the poet.

Cholan had a change of heart upon listening to the poet. He changed his order immediately. He had the children pulled out of the ground. He had them raised in the palace. When they were old enough he gave Thirukovalur kingdom back to the oldest of the two children.

Ever since then for century after century, Thirukovalur tribe gratefully celebrated their friendship with the Chola kings. The friendship was still alive at the time of Sundara Cholar, who married Malaiamman’s daughter Vanamadevi and made her his crown empress.

The tribes of Kollimalai Valvil Ori and Thakadur Athikaman disappeared. Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyars claimed that they were an offshoot. Sambuvaraiyar never forgot the animosity between his ancestors and Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s tribe. Therefore it was natural that they did not want Malaiamman’s grandson being crowned as the Chola emperor! Athitha Karikalar’s arrogance and his slighted behavior towards the petty kings further flamed their hatred of him. That is why the Sambuvaraiyars actively participated in the plan to put Kandarathithar’s son Mathuranthakan on the Thanjai throne.

But, ever since the day Karikalan arrived in Kadampoor the elder Sambuvaraiyar’s mind gradually began to change. His beloved daughter Manimekalai was the reason. There were several signs indicating that Manimekalai had stolen Athitha Karikalan’s heart. It was generally said of Karikalan that he would remain a bachelor, that he refused to make even eye contact with women. A man of such reputation was now frequently seen visiting with women and engaging in friendly chatter. Especially he was often complementing Manimekalai on how smart she was. Ever since Karikalan came Manimekalai was also excited. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar thought that she had also grown fond of Karikalan. Sambuvaraiyar rejoiced seeing their happiness. If Karikalan married Manimekalai, his beloved daughter will be the Chola empress! Her child will be entitled to the Chola throne! He can also attain the status that is held by Thirukovalur Malaiamman today. Why should he be the obstacle? Why should he hinder the prospects of his beloved daughter?

It was true that Sambuvaraiyar had thought of marrying his daughter to Mathuranthakan. But Mathuranthakan already had two wives. He was not only married to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter, she also had given birth to a son. Therefore if Mathuranthakan ascended to the throne it will be Pazhuvertaraiyars who will earn the right to the throne. Manimekalai will have to live the life of the many female helpers in the Thanjai palace.

But if Manimekalai marries Athitha Karikalan she will be the crown empress. The throne will belong to the child born to her.

Crowning Mathuranthakan is a near impossible endeavor. The people will oppose it. There will be war with Malaiamman and Kodumbalur Velan. Mathuranthakan’s mother was even against the idea. Why undertake such a difficult task?

Crowning Athitha Karikalan is an already settled matter. There will not be any difficulties in carrying it out. Pazhuvertaraiyars’ obstinacy will be the biggest hurdle. Of them the elder one lies submerged in his lust for Ilaiyarani. No one even can tell how much longer he will be alive. Why should he step into this dangerous affair relying on this old man? It is true that he has given his oath that he will take Mathuranthakan’s side. So what? Is there no way that we can settle this without breaking that oath? It is well known that Mathuranthakan is a simpleton. One can even make him say, ‘I don’t want the kingdom.’ Or we can insist that his mother’s consent was necessary.

Sambuvaraiyar’s mind had begun to think along these lines. Therefore he enthusiastically supported the idea of sending Pazhuvertaraiyar to Thanjai. He thought that in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s absence he can talk privately with Karikalan and better acquaint himself with his state of mind and reach a common ground. Therefore he himself saw to the needs of Pazhuvertaraiyar and sent him off to Thanjai with his retinue.

After Pazhuvertaraiyar had left, Athitha Karikalan and his friends set off on their hunting trip. Sambuvaraiyar was even prepared to send Manimekalai and the other girls with them. But Kanthamaran who had a different plan, objected. He knew that Karikalan’s interest in Manimekalai was for the sake of Nandhini. Because of it his dislike for Karikalan had grown. He could not explain any of this to his father. Therefore, “What can we do with women while hunting? There will be time enough only to make sure that they are safe. Besides, this is the month of October. Any minute it may start raining. Lakeside forest will be flooded. the girls will feel lost,” he countered.

Accordingly Sambuvaraiyar also gave up the idea. Athitha Karikalan left with his friends Parthipenthiran, Vandhiyathevan, Kanthamaran and other hunters.

After the men left Sambuvaraiyar’s palace felt empty. Nandhini looked at Manimekalai. “When the men are at home we find them inconvenient. But when they are absent also we are not satisfied. There isn’t even anything to mock and laugh about,” she said.

“Yes, Sister! We also could have gone hunting. I like being a spectator. Sometimes I go with my father and brother. But today for some reason Kanthamaran was adamantly against it. Perhaps he thought that you will not care for it,” said Manimekalai.

“Yes; I am not so fond of hunting. Blood frightens me. But Kanthamaran’s intention was not that, Girl! He wanted to keep you and one of your houseguests apart,” said Nandhini.

Dimples appeared on Manimekalai’s cheeks. After staring at the ground for a while she said, “Let the men get lost, Sister! We do not need their company. We can go to the lakeshore bathing spot and play in the water! Will you come,” she said. When Nandhini agreed Manimekalai informed her father and made the necessary arrangements.

We have seen that at the lower end of Veera Narayana lake the shore is wide with seventy four sluices. On the upper end there is no such shore. Depth of the lake gradually decreased ending in flat ground. Farther west the forest was thick and dense.

In this region where water level gradually decreased and the ground became flat a few islands were present. Trees, shrubs and vines had taken over these islands. On the shore of one of these islands there were steps leading to a bathing hall. It was customary for women from Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace to come here for baths and leisurely outings. To reach the place one has to go around the lake for about twenty miles. Or one must cross the lake by boat. Because of the inaccessibility and because it was generally known that Sambuvaraiyar women bathed there, no strangers ever came there.

Nandhini and Manimekalai reached the island by boat. There were two other women who ferried the boat. In the boat they also brought the necessary items for cooking. Once they reached the steps leading to the bathhouse the companions left the boat and began the cooking in the hall. Nandhini and Manimekalai sat on the steps gossiping. Manimekalai was naturally gifted with intuition; she loved mischief. She started speaking like Pazhuvertaraiyar, then she went on to impersonate Karikalan, Kanthamaran, Parthipenthiran and Vandhiyathevan, mimicking their speech and mannerism. Nandhini watched, laughing out loud. But it was apparent that her attention was not fully with Manimekalai and her mind was drifting to some private contemplation every so often.

All of a sudden Manimekalai jumped up. “Sister! We did not go hunting; but the game is here in search of us!” Screaming she pulled the knife from her waist.

Startled Nandhini also stood up. She looked in the direction where Manimekalai pointed. There was a cheetah on one of the branches of a sprawling big tree. The animal stared at them as if weighing the pros and cons of attacking them. Right then, from the water’s side came the sound of horses galloping through water.

41. Karikalan’s Murderous Frenzy

Didn’t Athitha Karikalan say that it had been a long time since he had been out hunting and that his archery skills needed some honing. Those who were present at the hunting that day on the banks of Veera Narayana lake disagreed. Much of the wild life was consumed by his arrows that day.

Rabbits, deer, bears and cheetahs fell dead. When no animals were in sight his arrows targeted the birds in the sky. Hawks and falcons fell to the ground shrieking. Karikalan’s murderous wrath escalated as time passed. For those accompanying, there was not much to do. As men sped on their horses shouting, the inhabitants of the forest scattered and ran from their dwellings. That was the only assistance the men provided. Karikalan did not permit them to even target the animals that posed a danger to him. Once Kanthamaran shot an arrow on a bear that leaped on Karikalan. “Kanthamara! Were you aiming at the bear? Or me?” Karikalan asked him. Kanthamaran was furious. After that he did not touch his bow.

By the time the sun was high over their heads they were all tired. They entertained the notion of taking a short break and then returning home. But Karikalan kept driving his tired horse on and on.

In the morning when they started Kanthamaran rode alongside Karikalan. After he said, ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ – Kanthamaran stood behind and joined Parthipenthiran. He complained about the rude behavior of the prince. Parthipenthiran tried to pacify him.

Now it was Vandhiyathevan’s turn. Karikalan and he were now leading in front. Vandhiyathevan did not bring a bow and arrow. He was not well accustomed in the art. He had only his spear. So he carefully avoided interfering with Karikalan’s sport. He was ready to use his spear in the event of an unexpected threat. Until noon no such necessity arose.

Kanthamaran said to Parthipenthiran, “Isn’t this enough for today? It looks as if he will wipe out all of the wildlife here in one day. To cool his killing frenzy we will have to go to Kollimalai. ‘Enough for today! Let’s go home!’ – please tell him!”

“Brother! There is a rage in his heart. Giving up a huge kingdom is no easy task! He is showing all of that anger in his hunting, which is good. Or else he will take it out on me and you. Let him say, ‘Enough,’ when he is tired. Let’s not interfere,” said Parthipenthira Pallavan.

At this time the forest and its surroundings heard a loud roar. Fear appeared on Kanthamaran’s face.

“Aiyo! Wild boar! Please tell the prince to stop,” he said.

“Why be afraid of the wild boar? What chance does the boar have after what the tiger and bear had suffered at the prince’s hand?” Parthipenthiran asked.

“You don’t know. The hogs in these jungles will massacre the tigers and bears! They can knock an elephant down! Horses do not count at all, arrows and spears will simply bounce off the boar’s skin, they will not go in! … Sir! Sir! Please stop!” Kanthamaran yelled.

At the same time there was great movement within the vegetation as if a tornado was making its way. Next minute there emerged like baby elephants the dark figures of two wild boars. They paused for a moment and stared at the horses and the men on top.

Kanthamaran shouted, “Careful, Sir! Careful!”

Some of the huntsmen who were following had by now caught up. They blared their horns and drums with deathrow urgency and shouted, ” Hah! Hooh!”

Who knows what the hogs thought. Perhaps they were reminded of their babies. Perhaps they were driven by the realization that they must terminate any impending danger to their calves. Or they may have been startled by the noise of the horns and drums. The two pigs tore off in two different directions.

Looking at them Kanthamaran said, “Crown Prince! Let them get lost, a wild boar cannot be chased without five or six hounds!”

Without paying attention Karikalan bent his bow and released the arrow. “Aha!” The exhilarated prince shouted when the arrow pierced the rear end of one of the pigs. Next second the hog shook itself so violently the arrow shot off and landed on the ground; the hog ran on.

Kanthamaran’s laughter at that instant held a tinge of sarcasm. Karikalan looked at him. “Kanthamara! Let’s take a bet! Vandhiyathevan and I will follow that pig and bring it back dead. You and Parthipenthiran, chase the other hog and bring it back dead! We must not return to the palace without killing these two hogs,” he said. Then he nudged his horse. Vandhiyathevan followed.

For a while they were able to see the path of the wild boar they chose to follow. As the animal ran it left a trail of trampled scrub in the forest. Then a small creek intervened. It served to take the rainwater from the forest to the lake. From there onwards they were unable to tell in which direction the boar had gone. They could not tell if the hog crossed the creek or if it went in one of two directions along the creek.

Right then their attention was drawn to the panoramic view of the lake from the creek. On the lake there was a boat. They saw that the boat was carrying women. But they could not be sure who they were. The boat appeared to come towards them. Then it abruptly changed direction and went towards an island along the shore of the lake and disappeared.

“Vallavaraiya! Who was in the boat? Didn’t they all seem like women?” Karikalan asked.

“They looked like women; other than that I was also unable to see who they were,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Perhaps they are the Sambuvaraiyar women?”

“Perhaps; but why should they come this far?”

“Yes; it cannot be them … Didn’t Pazhuvertaraiyar leave this morning? Did he?”

“Yes, Sir! He did. I saw the palace gate opening and him riding out on the elephant.”

“Just him?”

“Yes; only the old man left. Ilaiyarani did not.”

“Where would we see a heroic warrior like that old man? Even my grandfather Malaiamman ranks next to him …”

“I have heard about those old men from other people. I have witnessed your valor directly in the battlefield; I saw it in Kadampoor palace also. You kept old men as well as the young studs trembling! …”

“That is true, but when the opportunity I was seeking through all that rioting knocks on the door, my mind and body, both give in. You cannot find a more pathetic coward in all of Chola Nadu …”

“Prince! When you were out hunting today it did not seem like you were shaking from head to toe! You made the forest’s animals and birds and those following shudder!”

“Would you call this valor? A lowly hound jumps on a leopard and kills it; the wild boar confronts a rutting elephant. Does the ability to hunt require courage? Listen, Vallavaraiya! My trick has worked. Pazhuvertaraiyar has left Nandhini alone and gone. Yet when I think of meeting her alone and talking to her I feel afraid,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Sir! There is good reason for that; until now you have thought of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani in a certain way. Now you have found out that she is your sister. She on the other hand has joined the Pandya Nadu saboteurs who want to wipe out your entire tribe. Explaining this to her is no easy task. When I had an opportunity I could not do it …”

“Friend! Every morsel of information that you have brought is startling. I still cannot believe. But when I think back to the old days it seems that it can be true. There was always a smokescreen between her and me. Pazhaiyarai elder stateswoman – Chempian Madevi, was adamant in those days that I should not associate with Nandhini. But she did not tell the reason; if she had none of this would have happened …”

“Chempian Madevi may not have known the whole truth. She may have known that the child was abandoned by some deaf-mute orphan. She may not have known that Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani was Sundara Cholar’s daughter.”

 

 

 

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