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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (1 – 6)

January 31, 2017

Translated from the Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan written by the renowned writer the late Kalki Krishnamoorthi. Source: Weekly installments currently appearing in the online edition of Kalki.

(Before in Parts I – IV:

At the turn of the first millennium the Chola empire was flourishing. The Chola army had gone to battle in all four directions conquering and extending the limits of the empire. During the time of Emperor Sundara Cholar the last representative of Madurai’s Pandya tribe, Veera Pandyan was killed. Pandya Nadu became part of the Chola empire.

Athitha Karikalan, Emperor Sundara Cholar’s eldest son and the man who killed Veera Pandyan, was made Crown Prince. He became the commander of the northern garrison making Kanji his residence. He sends a letter through a soldier named Vandhiyathevan from the ancient Varnar tribe, inviting his father to the newly built golden palace in Kanji.

Emperor Sundara Cholar is paralyzed. Bedridden in the royal palace in Thanjavur, his mind troubles him more than his body. In his younger days Sundara Cholar met a fisherman’s daughter in one of the islands beside Eezhanadu and fell in love with her. The two of them lived happily in that island for a short time until he was called back to the empire by his grandfather, Emperor Paranthakar.

In his deathbed emperor Paranthakar instructed that Sundara Cholar will take the throne after his son Kandarathithar. At that time Kandarathithar did not have children. Later he married Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter Chempian Madevi. Their son is Mathuranthakan.

Yet, following Kandarathithar’s death, owing to the wish of his father emperor Paranthakar and the unified consensus of the royal family his nephew Sundara Cholar takes the throne. He marries Thirukaovalur Malaiamman’s daughter. Two brave sons and a beautiful girl are born to them. Just as Sundara Cholar’s empire extended, his fame also spread. Yet, as he lay in bed he is haunted by the memory of the deaf-mute woman from Eezha island. He imagines that his past will put a curse on his children.

For many generations the Pazhuvetaraiyar tribe had enjoyed prominence in the Chola empire. During Sundara Choalar’s time the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar serves as treasurer and the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar holds the position of fortress commander. Sundara Cholar has complete trust in them. He does not like antagonizing them.

The Pazhuvertaraiyars and many of the Chola petty kings hate the ascendance of Athitha Karikalan. They also hate his sister Kundavai and brother Arulmozhivarman whom the Chola people adore. Citing Mathuranthakan’s heritage, they want to place him on the throne. A decision is made at a secret meeting at Kadampoor palace on the northern banks of river Kollidam. Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan by chance happens to witness the goings on at this meeting.

Vandhiyathevan after handing Karikalar’s letter to the emperor, meets the Princess Kundavai in Pazhaiyarai. As if connected in a previous birth, their hearts become one. Following Kundavai’s wish, Vandhiyathevan goes to Ilankai to bring back her younger brother Arulmozhivarman. A boatwoman named Poongkuzhali takes him by boat. In Ilankai Vandhiyathevan meets Arulmozhivarman near Anuradhapuram and gives him Kundavai’s letter. ‘Ponniyin Selva! The kingdaom is in danger. Come back immediately,’ the letter says.

As a child Arulmozhivarman once fell into the river Kaveri while taking a boat ride with his parents. No one in the boat saw him fall. A woman saves him and hands him back to those on the boat. She then disappears. The belief was that Mother Kaveri saved him. Thereafter he came to be known as Ponniyin Selvan.

Ponniyin Selvan who would later gain fame in history as Raja Raja Cholan is at this time engaged in the war in Ilanaki. King Mahinthan of Ilankai has run and hidden in the mountains after losing the war. Buddhist monks of a particular sect offer the throne to Arulamoazhivarman. He refuses.

While in Eezhanadu Arulmozhivarman meets a deaf-mute woman who roams the jungle like a mad person. She saves the prince from many dangers. He realizes that it was she who rescued him when he fell into river Ponni. Through her paintings she reveals her lifestory to him. The prince learns through her artwork of the immense love that had once bound Sundara Cholar to Manthahini.

Vandhiyathevan also meets this lady in Eezhanadu. He is struck by the physical resemblance between her and the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s Ilaiyarani Nandhini. He tells Ponniyin Selvar about it.

When she was a child Nandhini grew up in the Pazhaiyarai temple priest’s house. Athitha Karikalan befriends her then. Kundavai on the other hand detests her for her beauty. Following Chempian Madevi’s order Nandhini is sent to Pandya Nadu.

When Athitha Karikalan was on the trail of Veera Pandyan in the last days of the battle with the Pandyar, he meets Nandhini again in a small hut on the Vaikai riverbank. Nandhini begs him to spare Veera Pandyan’s life. Ignoring her plea Karikalan kills Veera Pandyan.

Members of Veera Pandyan’s rescue squad Ravithasan, Soman Sambavan, Idumabankari and others pledge to wipe out the Chola tribe to avenge their king’s death. They threaten to burn Nandhini also on the funeral pyre. She pleads with them to spare her so that she can help them achieve their goal. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar one day sees Nandhini. He is smitten by her. She becomes his wife. She secretly aids the saboteurs from inside the Pazhuvur palace.

At their last secret meeting in the Kollidam jungle the Pandya troublemakers crown a little boy as the future Pandya king. Nandhini herself takes on the responsibility of killing Athitha Karikalan. The saboteurs decide to kill Sundara Cholar and Arulmozhivarman also.

When Ponniyin Selvar is returning home from Ilankai his ship gets caught in a cyclone and he drowns. Vandhiyathevan and he are saved by Poongkuzhali. But Ponniyin Selvar is afflicted by the contagious fever spreading in Eezhanadu. Poongkuzhali and her aunt’s son bring him to Soodamani viharam in Nagaipattinam to recover. Kundavai asks Ponniyin Selvar to remain in hiding at Soodamani viharam, because of the perfidy underway in Thanjai.

Manthahini comes to Kodikarai in search of Ponniyin Selvar. Following Chief Minister Aniruthar’s order she is abducted and taken to Thanjai. Near Thanjai she escapes. Seeing the saboteurs Ravithasan and Soman Sambavan entering the Pazhuvur palace she follows them. Through the underground treasury cellar she reaches Sundara Cholar’s palace. Thinking that he was asleep Manthahini goes to him. Believing that the dead woman’s ghost was there Sundara Cholar throws a lamp at Manthahini. Kundavai and others intervene and tell him the truth. Sundara Cholar is ambivalent about her presence in his life again. Whether she sensed it or not, Manthahini again disappears.

Nandhini sends Athitha Karikalan a letter asking him to come to Kadampoor palace. Vandhiyathevan meets him on the way to stop him from going to Kadampoor. He informs Karikalan that Nandhini is Sundara Cholar’s daughter and about her involvement with the Pandya Nadu troublemakers. Karikalan rejects his argument and goes to Kadampoor palace.

The petty kings decide that they don’t want a civil war. Therefore they try to negotiate with Karikalan. They offer him the territory north of Pennai river and Mathuranthakan the south. Karikalan says that they can reach a decision if Mathuranthakan was also present. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar leaves for Thanjai to bring Mathuranthakan.

Karikalan and Vandhiyathevan while out hunting in the forest on the west bank of Veera Narayana lake meet Nandhini and Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai who have come for a picnic and swimming. Manimekalai is in love with Vandhiyathevan. She had once helped him escape from a rather dangerous situation.

During the few minutes that Karikalan happens to be alone with Nandhini he tells her, ‘You are my sister.’ She rejects it as another lie.

Manimekalai sings to the accompaniment of her lute. While they are immersed in her delightful music a storm gets underway. Their boat becomes untethered and drifts off in the lake. Sambuvaraiyar arrives in a big boat to take them back.)

Part V

1. Three Voices

Ponniyin Selvar was waiting patiently at Nagaipattinam’s Soodamani viharam. He was eager to visit his parents in Thanjai. He wanted to prove that the charges against him that he tried to steal the kingdom of Ilankai were baseless. He also wanted to eliminate any possibility of being found guilty of disobeying his father’s word.

Yet, he was determined to leave only after he received word from his sister. He felt as if time was standing still. To pass the time he took part in the Buddhist monks’ daily worship sessions and poojas.

He spent part of the time studying the rare paintings on the walls of the monastery. He was enthusiastic about conversing with the monks, especially Soodamani viharam’s Acharya bikku. From China to Java the head monk had traveled to many countries in the east. He was able to talk at length about those countries, their cities and people.

South of China there were many countries in those days in the eastern sea that belonged to an empire called Sri Vijayam. Arumana Nadu, Camboja Thesam, Manakavaram, Thalaithakkolam, Mapapalam, Mayirudingam, Ilankasokam, Thamaralingam, Ilamurithesam and such countries or cities were either under Sri Vijaya empire or had cordial relationship with it. Among these a great city called Kadaram exceled over others in wealth and prosperity.

Whenever the Acharya bikku was free Ponniyin Selvar asked him to talk about these places. The monk obliged tirelessly. He spoke about the natural resources and the growing commercial prospects in those countries. With an abundance of gold and diamond mines, thriving red paddy and sugar cane fields, he said that these countries were in a position to compete with splendid Chola Nadu in every aspect. He talked about the relationship that had existed from ancient times between these countries and Thamilakkam. He talked about the Pallava sculptors who have traveled to these countries and the temples they have erected there showcasing their extraordinary work in architecture and sculpture. He also spoke about Thamilakkam’s influence on their art, music and dance. He spoke about how the ancient history books such as Mahabharatham and Ramayanam, the deities Vinayakar, Subramaniyar, Sivan, Parvathy, Thirumal along with Buddhist philosophy have taken root in these people’s minds and how the people of these countries unable to separate the different faiths worshiped all of the deities. He said that the people of these countries had a special regard for the father of Tamil language, the sage Agasthiyar, and that several temples have been built for this sage.

Arulmozhivarmar listened to these stories over and over, imprinting the details in his mind. He also found out about the land and sea routes to these countries. He learned of the possible dangers on the way and the available comforts.

“Swami! Would you visit these countries again?” He asked.

“If it is the will of Lord Buddha, Prince! Why do you ask?” The monk replied.

“Perhaps I could go with you, that is why.”

“I am a monk who had given up the world; you are the beloved son of the emperor who rules this earth. How can the two of us journey together? Just to keep you here a few days in this viharam safely has been a tremendous weight on me. My heart pounds every second, thinking what’s going to happen, … when …”

“Swami! I want to lift that weight at once. Right this minute I will …”

“Prince! Thinking of one thing, I said another. Even though it is a burden keeping you here, it is also a great privilege. Your father the emperor and your sister the junior stateswoman have helped Buddhism enormously. This will not even measure up to one thousandth of the gratitude that we owe them. And your own contribution to Buddhism cannot be treated lightly. Can we forget your initiative to renovate Anuradhapuram’s dilapidated stupas and viharams? Recognizing your work the monks offered you the jeweled crown of Eezhandu. Prince! Why did you reject it? If you had taken Ilankai’s throne of freedom, you could have traveled to the east in hundred ships with a large retinue. There would be no reason to contemplate a pilgrimage with this monk!”

“Gurutheva! Have you heard the kirantham called Mahavamsam that tells the history of Ilankai’s royal tribe?”

“Sir! What sort of a question is this? Can I be the leader of Soodamani viharam without studying the Mahavamsam?”

“Pardon me. Asking you whether you have read Mahavamsam is like saying whether you know how to read! In the royal history that Mahavamsam describes you have read of who and who have committed what atrocities! Son locked up his father in prison. Father cut up and killed his son. Mother poisoned her son and killed him. Son tortured his mother with fire … If the parent child relationship is like this … why talk about the uncles on one’s father’s side, mother’s side, the elder aunt, younger aunt, older brother, younger brother? Gurutheva! Doesn’t Mahavamsam state that Ilankai’s royal tribe had carried out these horrendous acts?”

“Yes, yes! It also tells about the punishment each one faced for these vile acts. With these examples Mahavamsam teaches the people morality – the principles of right and wrong. Don’t forget that. Mahavamsam is a sacred kirantham. An incomparable text that preaches justice!” Acharya bikku said excitedly.

“Swami! I am not criticizing the book Mahavamsam. I am merely alluding to how the desire to rule turns human beings more ruthless than demons. Is it wrong that I turned down the Ilankai throne that has been tarnished by such atrocities?”

“This is why the highly intelligent members of the Buddhist academy wanted to change the royal heritage of Ilankai. They envisioned a new era with you as the leader. It was wrong to reject it. You had the opportunity of being seated on the Ilankai throne and take Buddhism all over the world like Asokavarthanar …

“Gurutheva! Where is Asokavarthanar who ruled the Bharatha continent under one mantle? Where is this little boy who is today hiding in this Buddhist viharam seeking your protection? In truth, I don’t even deserve to be your disciple, how am I going to protect Buddhist philosophy?”

“Prince! Do not speak in this manner. You are not aware of the great energy that lies hidden in you. If only you will wholeheartedly accept Buddhism then you will gain fame as Ashokar …”

“From my young age Vinayakar, Murugan, Parvathi, Parameshvaran, Nandhi, Pirungi and Sandikeshvarar have set up temple in my heart. I will have to evict them to let Buddhist philosophy in! Gurutheva! Pardon this humble servant! When I said that I will go with you I did not mean that I will embrace Buddhism. I said that because of my desire to travel across the seas and see faraway lands! Yet, when I think about it again …”

“Prince! I did misunderstand your words. Yet, it is not as if there is no connection between Buddhism and yourself. In one of Lord Buddha’s previous incarnations he was born as emperor Sibi. He cut his flesh to save the dove’s life. The Cholars are descendants of that Sibi. That is why your tribe members bear the name Chempian! You should not forget this.”

“I have not, Gurutheva! Even if I forget, the blood that courses through my arteries won’t let me forget. On one side are emperor Sibi and Manuneethi Cholar in my blood, flesh and bones telling me, ‘Help others. Sacrifice your comforts for the sake of others!’ On the other side are Karikal Valavar, Vijayalaya Cholar and emperor Paranthakar in my blood roaring, ‘Pick up the sword! Gather all four groups of troops! Go to battle in four directions! Sail across the seas! Take the Chola empire to new heights that the world had not seen!’ On yet another side are Saiva devotee Kochenkanar, Athitha Cholar who conquered Thondai Mandalam, the sage Kandarathithar residing in my heart preaching, ‘Help the temples! Build bigger Sivan temples! Build temples whose towers will rise toward the sky like Mehru mountain!’ Caught between these ancestors I feel at a loss. Gurutheva! Unable to bear their hegemony sometimes I really think of taking up Buddhism and becoming a monk. Please kindly tell me about the Buddhist religion. Tell me about Lord Buddha,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

The monk’s face lit up when he heard this. “Prince! What can be there that you do not already know, about Buddhism or Lord Buddha?” He asked.

“Then tell me about the paintings on these walls. There is a painting where it seems that a prince is leaving in the middle of the night! What is it? Who is the woman sleeping next to him? Who is the baby in the cradle? Why is there so much sadness on the face of that prince?” The prince asked.

“Sir! In his young days Lord Buddha was like you a prince born to a royal heritage. He was married to a beautiful maiden called Yasotharai. They had a beautiful son. The king was ready to hand over the responsibility of the kingdom to the prince. Sidharthar though wanted to find a way to alleviate the hardships that people undergo in this world. He decided to leave his beloved wife, precious child and the kingdom. This is the scene of his leaving the palace at midnight. Prince! Have you not heard this history before?”

“Yes, yes! I have heard it several times. But the way this painting instills it in one’s heart, oral telling cannot. It makes you want to wake the sleeping Yasotharai and warn her, ‘Sidharthar is leaving you! Stop him!’ Alright, now tell me about the next painting!”

Acharya bikku went on to explain each of the other paintings depicting Lord Buddha’s story. Deep in his heart the bikku did wish that Arulmozhivarmar would embrace Buddhism. Therefore he told the history of Sidharthar eagerly. In the end he came to the picture where Sidharathar receives enlightenment while meditating  under a bothi viruksham. When he finished his explanation of this picture Ponniyin Selvar asked, “Gurutheva! Would you be angry if I disagreed with you?”

“Prince! I have been trained to control my five senses and my heart. Feel free to express your opinion,” said the monk.

“I do not believe that Sidharthar received enlightenment while seated under the bothi viruksham.”

A frown appeared on the bikku’s face even though he had his five senses and heart under control.

“Prince! A branch of the great bothi tree was brought to Ilankai during the time of Asokavarthanar. That branch took root and now even after a thousand years has not perished. It still stands tall at Anuradhapuram. You would have seen this sacred tree in Anuradhapuram. Then why do you say, ‘I don’t believe,’ he asked.

“Gurutheva! I am not saying that the bothi viruksham does not exist. I am also not saying that Sidharthar did not meditate under it. I am only questioning that if that was where he received his enlightenment. I am saying on the day Sidharthar left his wedded wife, the son he had borne and the kingdom that was rightfully his, in the middle of the night – to find a way to alleviate humankind’s misery, he had already received his divine illumination. I have not heard anything as extraordinary as this in any other history. Ramar, to honor his father’s word, gave up the kingdom. Parathar, owing to his loyalty to his brother said, “I don’t want the kingdom.’ The great king Harichandra, gave up the kingdom to fulfill his promise. In the case of emperor Sibi also, because he had given sanctuary to the dove he parted with his flesh. But Sidharthar had not made a promise to anyone. He did not want to satisfy anyone. In order to find a way to alleviate humankind’s misery on his own accord he sacrificed everything he had and left. After Lord Buddha received enlightenment under the bothi tree did he do anything that was more extraordinary? Therefore is it wrong to say that he had already received the divine illumination when he left the royal palace?”

Ponniyin Selvar’s words fell as sweet ambrosia in Acharya bikku’s ears. “Sir! There is great truth in what you said. Yet it was under the sacred fig tree that it dawned on Lord Buddha the way to solve mankind’s problems. It was there that he started to preach to the people.”

“Swami! I have heard Buddha’s teachings. It seems to me that more than in those teachings the greater lesson is in his act of sacrifice. I too want to follow in his steps. Didn’t I just say that my ancestors tug at my heart endlessly pulling me in three different directions. I want to be free of those ties. Please accept me as your disciple,” said the prince.

“Prince! I must be very fortunate to have a disciple as you. But I am not qualified for it; I also don’t have the courage. When the great academy of Buddhism assembles in Ilankai you can make an application,” said the bikku.

“I have no doubts about your qualifications. But you said courage. What do you mean?”

“Yes, I don’t have the courage! For two days a rumor has been going around in Nagaipattinam. No one knows who started it. People are saying that you are in the viharam, that we are trying to make you a Buddhist monk. Many people are angry about it. They are even talking about storming into this monastery and finding out the truth!”

“Aha! What madness! What do people care about me joining the Buddhist faith? Why should they be angry if I put on an orange cloth and enter the ashram? I am not even married. They cannot say that I am leaving my wife and children,” said the prince.

“Sir! The people are not angry with you at all. They are angry at us for fooling you and trying to make you a Buddhist monk. A rumor alone has stirred up so much anger. What will happen if it becomes the truth? The people will raze to the ground this viharam. Under your father’s rule we are able to go about our lives peacefully. Daily we pray,

‘போதியந் திருநிழர் புனித நிற்
பரவுதும்
மேதகு நந்தி புரி மன்னர் சுந்தரச்
சோழர் வன்மையும் வனப்பும்
திண்மையும் உலகிற் சிறந்து வாழ்கெனவே!’

I do not want to spoil this good situation. That is why I said that I lack the courage,” said the bikku.

Before he even finished speaking there began to be heard from the entrance the loud commotion of people gathering and speaking.

After listening for a while the bikku said, “Prince! The people have arrived to prove what I said was right. I don’t know how I am going to contain this. Only Lord Buddha can show a way!”

Minute by minute the voices of thousands of people kept growing louder and louder around Soodamani viharam.

2. Murugaiyan Came!

Acharya bikku and Arulmozhivarmar listened to the increasingly loud noise akin to the roar of the ocean coming from outside Soodamani viharam.

The prince was highly disturbed that the Buddhist monastery and its monks have been placed in this predicament by him.

“Swami! I am sorry that you have been placed in this situation because of me,” he said.

“Prince! We will not mind if a hundred such calamities visited us on your account. Can this ever equal the help you and your family have given us,” said the bikku.

“Not only that. I never liked doing anything secretive like this. Why should I be here and say ‘no!’ Why should I get you involved in this deceitful situation? Because of your kind treatment my body has also now healed. I will now step outside and let the people know who I am. I will also inform the people that you gave me shelter, provided me treatment and saved my life. No dishonor should fall on this monastery because of me,” said the prince.

“Sir! There is nothing deceitful about this. Your enemies are trying to find out your location. The rumor that they have spread in Nagaipattinam these last two days proves that. In such a situation what is so wrong about keeping your presence here a secret? It is within law that sometimes the royal family has to be discrete. Didn’t the five Pandavar retreat to the forest for an year? Can we say that Dharmar went against the truth at that time?” The bikku asked.

“Gurutheva! I know that your knowledge and argumentative capacity are exceptional. I cannot win an argument with you. But I will say this; the five Pandavar had to remain hidden because of the oath that they had accepted. I have no such necessity. You speak of my enemies. Who are these enemies of mine? Why should they feel enmity towards me? I have no desire to rule. I can say this publicly and make friends out of these enemies also. You will also not be harassed because of me. If this can bring the people some satisfaction let them know that I am alive! Who is going to lose from this?”

“Prince! You are right. In your position I will do the same. But what is standing in the way is the promise that you made to your beloved sister Madam Kundavai. You have said many times that in the Chola tribe there is no one as intelligent as Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. In my opinion there is no one in any tribe. She has instructed to keep you here until she sends word. She will not have asked that without an important reason. It is the talk all over the country that Chola Nadu petty kings are plotting against emperor Sundara Cholar’s family. There is also talk that it is the Pandya Nadu saboteurs who are engaged in this perfidy. The people are under the impression that we are helping these saboteurs and that is why they have gathered outside. Under these circumstances is it prudent that you step outside and identify yourself? Think about it! Rather than that, let’s be inconvenienced by this attempt to protect you! … We will never back down in our effort! …”

While the head monk was speaking a young bikku came running.

“Swami! The situation is beyond control. Thousands of people have surrounded the viharam shouting, ‘We want to see the prince.’ When we say, ‘The prince is not here,’ it is of no use. They are shouting, “We must come inside the viharam and see for ourselves.’ If we don’t resolve this, they may enter by force,” he said.

“What can we say to them? Only Lord Buddha can do something to change their minds,” said the head monk.

The prince said, “Gurutheva! I have an idea. Kindly please listen. Your disciples have told the people that I am not here. If I go in front of the people now, that will make your disciples liars. That may aggravate the situation,” he said.

“It certainly will. We will have to suffer the consequences,” said the bikku.

“Instead of that let me make your disciples’ words true …”

“Prince! That is not possible even by you. What they said has been said. We cannot undo it.”

“There is a way. Before the people enter the viharam I can leave from here!”

“Aha! To save our skin must we be immoral? Must we chase you out?”

“Gurutheva! There is no immorality. Or betrayal. Five miles from here there is the Chola palace in Anaimangalam. Just like the other day when I went to see my sister, I will now leave by way of the canal. Later when it is convenient I will return,” said the prince.

Acharya bikku appeared to like this idea. “Yes, yes! If we do that there will be no necessity to bring you out now. We will also be abiding by your sister’s wish. But there may be a crowd where the canal leaves from the viharam also! They will see you leaving in the boat,” he said.

“Gurutheva! I have an idea. Let’s announce that one person in the crowd can come inside the viharam and look around,” said the young bikku.

“Isn’t it enough if one person takes a look? Won’t he go and tell the others outside,” said the Guru.

“If we can delay this until dark then it would be easier for the prince to leave. Not only that, there are signs that a storm is headed this way. Even from here we can see that the tide has risen. The sea appears increasingly more turbulent. Perhaps it is Lord Buddha’s grace, who knows? Perhaps it is the Lord’s plan to resolve our predicament through a storm,” said the young bikku.

“Don’t say that. Just to relieve us from our difficult situation, we don’t want any storms,” said the Guru.

“Swami! I think that we should try your disciple’s idea. If only one person comes in I can perhaps speak to him and change his mind,” said the prince.

“I am also thinking that. Two days ago a boatman and his wife from Kodikarai came to the viharam and asked about the prince. They were convinced that the prince was here. The boatman’s wife made a big ruckus …!”

“Aha! Who is this boatman? Do you know his name,” asked the prince.

“Yes; he said that his name is Murugaiyan. He said that he is Kodikarai Thiyagavidankar’s son …”

“I know him well. He will not do anything against my wish. Why didn’t you bring him to me?”

“We didn’t think that his wife can keep our secret. He and his wife are now in the crowd outside …”

The fruit slipped and fell into the milk. Bring the boatman Murugaiyan here quietly. He will not cross the line I draw. After dark he will return and take me to the Anaimangalam Chola palace in the boat,” said the prince.

Acharya bikku said “Prince! These days no one is to be trusted completely. I think it is this boatman and his wife who have been for the last two days spreading the rumor about you.”

“Even if that is the case … no harm done. In any event we have to let someone enter the viharam. The man does dance to his wife’s tune. Still, he will not listen to her against my wish. If possible bring him here,” said the prince.

With the Acahrya bikku’s permission the junior monk left. After a few minutes the elder monk told the prince, “My mind is not at peace. Let me go and take a look outside. Let me find out firsthand what the crowd’s temperament is like. Prince! No harm should come to Soodamani viharam through my fault; no harm should come to you also!” Then he too departed.

3. The Sea Rose!

Acharya bikku was troubled by what he saw outside. Thousands of people were gathered there. Their appearance and the noise they made indicated that it was an angry crowd. It would be very simple to turn their anger into a vile frenzy. Many held swords, spears, clubs and other weapons in their hands.

Some others were carrying mattocks. Perhaps they have decided to raze the viharam to the ground if the bikkus will not listen. They had ample justification for doing it. Beginning from emperor Paranthakar’s time there have been frequent wars between Chola Nadu and Eezhanadu. Many Chola warriors have died in Ilankai. Doesn’t prejudice grow through associative thinking? Isn’t that part of human nature? The Chola people’s frustration over the Ilankai war had to a certain extent turned on the Buddhist religion that was widespread in the island. Any minor incident was enough. The ignorant people were ready to take their revenge on whatever Buddhist viharams were still left in Thamilakkam and the bikkus who lived there.

Achariya bikku was convinced that momentum was gathering for such a reaction. Someone with a vile motive had instigated the people now. Only Lord Buddha’s mercy will save them from this great danger! … The crowd clamored even more upon seeing the head monk.

Like the ocean’s roar, “Give us Ponniyin Selvar. Or else we will flatten this vihram to the ground!” – voices rose in unison from thousands of angry people. At the same time Acharya bikku noticed that the sound of the ocean had also become louder. What the young bikku said was true. There was a severe storm gathering. Soon it will hit the shore. Even if the viharam survived the attack from the crowd, the bikku was now worried if it would survive the onslaught of the storm.

Meanwhile the young bikku moved his hands up and down asking the crowd to be quiet. The crowd quietened somewhat.

“Honorable people! Our leader is here. Please be quiet. All of you cannot enter the viharam. Please select one or two among you! Let them enter the viharam and look around! You must accept what they find! Do you agree? Who is coming in with me?” He asked.

Hundreds of people shouted, “I am coming! I am coming!”

The young bikku again held his hands up. “What is the use of everyone shouting? Choose someone. Let me make a suggestion. Tell me if there is anyone here who has seen Ponniyin Selvar recently. I will take that person. He will be able to recognize the prince!” He said.

Rakammahl who was creating an uproar from the front row cried, “We have seen him!”

The young bikku asked the boatman, “Appan! Is that right, what she is saying?”

“Swami! It is not entirely correct. She did not see the prince recently. It is true that I saw the prince during the last month in Eezhanadu. I fell on his feet and begged for forgiveness for the harm I had done to him through my ignorance. The way he smiled at me with kindness on that occasion is still imprinted in my mind. I can easily identify him,” Murugaiyan replied.

“In that case you are the man for the job. Your wife isn’t that far off. In her mind your experience is her experience. Now also, if you come and search inside the viharam she will agree with your verdict. Your wife must know that women are not allowed in the Buddhist viharam where monks are meditating. Therefore, you come with me,” the young bikku said.

He went down the steps, took Murugaiyan by the hand and climbed back up again. He looked at the people and said, “This boatman has seen the prince recently. I am taking him inside. He will search the monastery and return to tell you what he finds. Do you all agree with this?”

The voice of approval from the crowd was not very enthusiastic. Some mumbled, “Yes.” Others whispered among themselves, “Is there some perfidy here?” Their whispers together competed with the noise from the sea.

Noticing their lukewarm response the young bikku said in a loud voice, “Honorable People! Our Acharyar is also here. If you have any questions ask him. In the meantime I will take the man and show him around inside.” He left with Murugaiyan.

When the people took in the majestic appearance of the Acharya bikku and his calm face they became timid. No one had the temerity to be a loudmouth.

Acharya bikku looked at the crowd. Then he looked at the sea behind them.

“Honorable People! I am aware of the reason that you have gathered here. Today, I have learned how much love you have for the emperor’s beloved son Ponniyin Selvar, Prince Arulmozhivarmar. Like you I too love Ponniyin Selvar. When the news came that Arulmozhivarmar has drowned in the sea I stood on this same spot and shed tears. No one who likes Buddhism cannot help but like Arulmozhuvarmar. He had done much to help Buddhism and Buddhist monks. He made arrangements to renovate the old fallen viharams and stupas in the Buddhists’ sacred city of Anuradhapuram which were neglected during the time of Buddhist kings. Can we possibly be accomplices to any scheme that intends to harm this innocent prince? Nothing should have happened to the prince; may the news about his drowning be a lie – we prayed. There are reasons why we are more fond of Ponniyin Selvar than all of you …”

At this time a man from the crowd interrupted saying, “That is why we are worried. We are afraid that your love for him will go overboard, that you will shave his head, wrap him in orange cloth and turn him into a monk!” People laughed mockingly at his outburst.

Acarya bikku became defiant. He realized that there was only one way to rid the people of their doubts. Without thought or analysis, giving in to his emotions of the moment he made a promise.

“I will not request the beloved son of the emperor Ponniyin Selvar, Prince Arulmozhuvarmar to embrace Buddhism. Even if he wants to I will not condone it. I will never make the crown prince who was born to rule the world, who has your love, to shave his head or wear an orange robe. I will not be an accomplice to it. I promise this at the feet of Lord Buddha! Putham kachami! Tharmam kachami! Sangam kachami!”

When the crowd heard his words spoken eloquently and with emotion their hearts underwent a change. Many had tears in their eyes. Silence took over for a while.

Acahrya bikku continued. “It is natural that you care so much about the Chola prince who is the apple of your eyes. Your worries about Ponniyin Selvar may have now dissipated. Now start worrying about your family, house and property. Honorable People! It appears that a storm more severe than we have ever heard about or seen is heading our way. There, turn and look behind you!”

The people turned. As the bikku said there was an extraordinary sight. It was frightening as well. The sea had risen to the height of the sky, grazing the dark clouds. This dark colored water did not stand still. It was moving forward. If this mountain was to move forward up to where they were standing it was certain that not only them, even Soodamni viharam will be under water.

As the people stood stunned at the sight Acharya bikku said, “Now turn and look at Nagaipattinam where all of you live!”

The city of Nagaipattinam was a little west of Soodamani viharam. It was a sprawling city. Next to the beach were warehouses, tollhouses and other buildings. Beyond those buildings houses lay east to west, and north to south spreading for about five miles.

The rising sea had crossed the warehouses and tollhouses. It was entering the city streets. The boats and catamarans from the sea appeared hoisted up and dangling in midair atop the mountains of water. The sails on the boats fiercely danced before being torn apart into smithereens.

“Honorable People! We know that once upon a time Kaviripattinam was taken by the sea. May Lord Buddha save our Nagaipattinam from such catastrophe! You must now go back and try and save your children, families and belongings to the extent that you can!” Acharya bikku cried in an emotional voice.

The crowd began to move toward the city in waves. Those in the front started to run. Those behind followed the ones running. At first they moved as one big mass. Later they scattered and ran in all four directions. Within a few minutes the place was vacated.

Boatman Murugaiyan’s wife Rakammahl alone stood at the same spot crying, “My husband! My husband!”

“Mother! No harm will come to your husband! He will return safely. You save yourself,” the bikku told her.

“No, no! How can I go, leaving my husband? I’ll go inside the temple,” said Rakammahl.

“No, Child, no! Women should not enter the viharam where Buddhist monks live! Don’t you know,” said the bikku.

A man who had stood behind without running with the crowd now approached Rakammahl. He whispered something in her ear. As he tugged at her hand, she went with him halfheartedly.

“Aha! Who is this man? What is the relationship between him and this woman?” Acharya bikku wondered as he went back inside to Ponniyin Selvar.

In the meantime Murugaiyan had overcome his initial surprise and was now listening attentively to the prince.

“Muruga! Tonight you must return and take me by boat to Anaimangalam,” the prince told him.

“Prince! You need not wait until dark. The crowd has dispersed. You can leave now,” said Acharya bikku.

Briefly he described what had just taken place outside. “Swami! If the people are no longer here, why must I leave,” asked the prince.

“What is the guarantee that they will not return? In addition, you said that you will make our word true! You must graciously do that,” said the bikku.

The truth was the bikku was afraid that the rising sea was about to wash into the viharam and drown it. Therefore he wanted the prince out of there. Anaimangalam lay farther away from the shore in the east. The sea will not go that far. Even if it did the big Chola palace there cannot be inundated.

The prince accepted the bikku’s plea. An order was issued to bring the boat at once. In the meantime Acharya bikku told the other monks who had assembled there, “We belong to the merciful Lord Buddha. Nagaipattinam people have been put to a great test. I saw the sea rising and water rushing into the city. Roofs are flying in the wind. Trees are falling. In Nagaipattinam and surrounding areas there will be children and elderly people unable to escape the storm. All of you go out and help in any way you can the people you see stranded. Pay attention to children and the elderly first. Save as many as you can from the fury of the ocean king! I am an old man. I will wait here and take care of the evening pooja!”

All the monks went out. The boat arrived in the canal. The prince said goodbye to Acharya bikku and climbed in. Murugaiyan began to row. The bikku stood watching until the boat disappeared from sight. His face was lit as if there was a halo around it.

4. Nandhi Drowned!

As the boat moved the prince noticed the ever escalating level of water in the canal. The boat rocked precariously. Murugaiyan was having a difficult time rowing. Minute by minute the storm picked up more velocity. ‘Chada chada,’ trees broke and fell on both sides.

As the boat neared the nandhi mandapam the prince saw that the water was above the bull’s head. From it he could gauge how high the water has risen.

“Murugaiya! Stop the boat for a second,” said the prince. Murugaiyan stopped the boat. But he could not control its rocking.

The prince hopped from the boat into the nandhi mandapam. Holding onto a fallen tree he climbed to the building’s tower. He surveyed the surrounding area from there. South of the canal the ground was flooded. Half the trees in the coconut grove were already down. He could see that the sea had risen to the height of the coconut trees.

Arulmozhivarmar looked at the north where Soodamani viharam was situated. He saw the waves lapping at the steps of the viharam.

Struck by a sudden realization Ponniyin Selvar’s body shuddered.

“Murugaiya! Turn the boat! Go back to the viharam,” said the prince.

Thiyagavidankar’s son who was by nature not very talkative, and who held the prince in very high esteem turned the boat without a word.

Going back was quicker. But the prince felt each second stretching as an eon. When the boat reached the viharam it was surrounded by water. The water level was climbing. Unlike the viharams of Eezhanadu, Nagaipattinam’s Soodamani viharam during those days was not very majestic or tall. If the water level went up a little farther even the tower of the building would be submerged.

The prince jumped from the boat on to the upper level where water had still not seeped in. He ran here and there excitedly. Without going to the lower level he methodically cheked every corner of the upper level. Even there he had to sometimes wade through water at chest level.

More and more there was only disappointment. In the end he came to where the majestic statue of Gauthama Buddha stood. Water had climbed up to the statue’s chest. The prince looked around him. Then he put his head under the water. “Aha!” His cry of happiness mixed with surprise indicated that he had found what he was looking for.

Yes; Acharya bikku was seated at the base of the statue hugging the lord’s feet. Ponniyin Selvar went under and carried the bikku up after forcibly removing his hands from the statue. It was easy to carry the bikku under water. When they emerged it was not that easy. The prince struggled with the weight of the hefty well built body of the head monk.

“Murugaiya! Murugaiya!” He called.

“I am coming!” Murugaiyan came with the boat.

His legs stumbling Ponniyin Selvar hurried towards the boat with Acharya bikku.

5. Separated from Mother!

Carrying the monk the prince jumped into Murugaiyan’s boat. To the thrust of their weight, the boat responded with a devilish dance. For a moment it seemed that it would capsize. With the utmost difficulty Murugaiyan steadied the boat.

“Murugaiya! Row! Go to Anaimangalam palace!” Ponniyin Selvar shouted. His voice carried hardly above the roar of the ocean and the stormy wind. Yet looking at his face Murugaiyan instinctively understood. He began to row. It was not easy navigating among the fallen towers of the viharam and the Buddha statues in the water. With a lifetime of experience battling storms and heavy winds in the sea Murugaiyan rowed expertly. The prince marveled at his maneuvers. He wanted to help him. But he was reluctant to let go of the monk. The monk for his part tried to get out of the prince’s hold from time to time. The boat was going past the Budddha statue. The sea water was up to the statue’s eyes. There was no doubt that in a few minutes the statue would be under water.

The prince held the bikku tightly. Bikku’s face showed that he was surprised at how strong the prince was. If the mind was strong willed then perhaps the body would be too! Even a body that had lost weight after so many days of flu!

The boat went past the Buddha’s statue. The bikku could not take his eyes off the statue. The statue disappeared. Tears poured from the monk’s eyes.

“Prince! What have you done,” he said.

Reading his lips, the prince bent down. “Swami! It is I who should ask that question! What did you dare to do?” He said in the bikku’s ear.

“Prince! This viharam has been here for over five hundred years. It was here even during the great Tharmapatha munivar’s time. The militant saivars – the Pallava emperors even spared the viharam from destruction. Such an ancient viharam has drowned during my time in front of my eyes. This red brick viharam cannot survive this flood! When the water recedes there will only be a few stunted walls! Why should I live after the viharam is gone,” said the bikku.

“If the viharam is destroyed we can build it again. If it is the will of Lord Buddha, I will rebuild it. If you disappear I cannot bring you back, can I?” Prince Arulmozhivaramar asked.

Because of the noise the sea and storm created they could not continue their debate. In addition the terrifying spectacle all around them left them speechless.

Large vessels with broken masts as well as tiny fishing boats were cruising toward the shore. Many broke into pieces either by hitting the sand, crashing against the buildings or trees that were devilishly swaying. Roofs tore off the houses and landed in the flood. Some roofs were floating. With the greatest difficulty people were trying to hold on to these roofs. They were all howling.

Trees fell down from the force of the wind. Some of the trees were in the water floating. People tried to save themselves by clinging to these trees. Cattle went by bleating. The prince and the monk were tormented by these scenes. Their helplessness added to their agony.

Looking straight ahead Murugaiyan rowed with caution. Soodamani viharam was on the coast of Nagaipattinam. From there the canal ran south for a short distance. After that it went southwest for five miles and then turned and headed south again. Anaimangalam palace was situated at this second turn.

When they passed the nandhi mandapam not only the entire bull was under water the flood rolled touching the top edge of the building. In the coconut plantations that stretched from the mandapam three fourths of the trees were down. The furious dance of the palm fronds atop the remaining trees looked like a performance by the devils themselves with their hair undone. Some fronds got torn by the wind and blew away.

A calf had somehow found sanctuary atop the nandhi mandapam. It was there clinging on for dear life. With terrified eyes it scouted the area. Its body was shuddering. Legs were trembling. ‘Ammah!’ – its faint cry fell on the ears of those in the boat.

“Aiyo! Poor thing! What will happen to this calf separated from its mother!” Just as the prince was wondering a tall coconut tree broke and fell behind the mandapam. It missed the calf just by a few feet. The tree created a splash in the water that washed over the mandapam. The calf that was already shivering could not withstand the sudden onslaught of this wave. It fell into the water. Pushed along by the flood it struggled to stay afloat.

The prince who was until then holding the bikku firmly cried ‘Aha!,’ and let go of his hands. Within an instant the bikku had jumped into the water.

The boatman Murugaiyan dropped the oar and grabbed the prince. The prince glared at him and wrestled his hand saying, “Let go!” Meanwhile the bikku had in two leaps reached the calf and had taken hold of its two front legs. The calf prompted by its natural survival instinct tried to keep its head above water. Dragging the calf the bikku came back to the boat. The prince lent him a hand. Both together pulled the calf into the boat. With help from the prince Acharya bikku also climbed into the boat.

The rocking of the boat caused the calf that had done well until then to splay awkwardly down. Fortunately it fell on the inside. The bikku sat down next to it. He laid its head on his lap and gently stroked its body.

“Gurutheva! A while ago you were trying to give your life away holding on to Lord Buddha’s feet at Soodamani viharam! If you had succeeded would we have now saved this innocent life?” The prince asked.

“Sir! You stopped me from my stupidity. I am grateful for that. Yes, I am happy that I saved this calf. I will not worry so much now if Soodamani viharam is destroyed,” said the bikku.

“Acharyar! You are so happy because you saved one calf’s life. So many lives are at peril today. Thousands of people – men, women, children, the elderly – they are suffering! So many creatures that cannot speak – cattle, horses, birds – will lose their lives! What is the solution for all this suffering?”

“Sir! We can only help to the best of our ability. Beyond that there is nothing that we can do. We have no power over nature. Can we control the storm? Can we control the rain? Or for that matter, can we make rain? Can we stop the sea from rising? Aha! In countries to the east of the ocean I have seen volcanoes spitting fire, earthquakes cleaving the earth. What can we do? We can only help the life that is in front of us!”

“Gurutheva! Why do natural disasters happen? Why do tornados and earthquakes arise? Why do plagues happen? Who is responsible for the suffering they bring to mankind and other creatures? We cannot stop nature’s failings. But is it impossible for god? Why is god not preventing these natural disasters, why is he simply watching the suffering of living beings?”

“Ponniyin Selva! From the beginning of time prophets and sages have tried to answer your question. But they have not been universally satisfactory. Therefore Lord Buddha did not say anything about god. He did not indulge in the analysis of god at all. ‘Help others. Try to alleviate the suffering of others. You will attain true happiness only in this work. You will achieve from this nirvana, surpassing all worldly joys and sorrows!’ This is what Lord Buddha preached,” said the bikku.

The boat turned west of the nandhi mandapam and went towards Anaimangalam. Ponniyin Selvar was immersed in thought. He compared in his mind the Buddhist philosophy that the bikku laid out with the philosophy of his ancestors’ religion. Saiva and Vaishnava religions also insisted on helping others. ‘Helping others heals the body!’ – goes the saying. But at the same time his ancestors also had insisted on one’s obligation to have faith and worship god. They have celebrated god depicting him as the ruthless Ruthiran  and the merciful Vishnu. They have given form to Jaganmatha describing her as the loving Umadevi as well as the terrifying Durga Parameshwari. Which of these philosophies is the truth? Can the world’s mother be the ruthless Ranapathra Kali? Why not? One minute the mother hugs her child with love. Next minute she turns angry and beats the child. The child does not always understand why he or she is being beaten. But can anyone say that the mother who beats the child does not love him … or her …?

At sundown the boat neared the Chola palace at Anaimangalam. Those who were in the boat saw that the sea had not come as far as this palace. Murugaiyan stopped the boat at the ornate pier leading to the palace. Until then nature also had been kind to those on the boat. Even though there had been a storm and the sea had flooded the rain was limited to a mere drizzle.

When the boat reached the pier the raindrops were becoming heavier.

Anaimangala palace guard was standing at the entrance with a flame torch. He was surrounded by people from the surrounding areas who had come there seeking shelter. When the boat arrived at the jetty he held the torch up. He saw Ponniyin Selvar’s face. At once he came running.

Meanwhile the prince and Acharya bikku got down. They gently placed the calf on the ground. When the palace guard bent down to touch the feet of the prince, he held his hands and stopped him midway. At that time the torch got knocked down from the guard’s hand and fell into the canal. The flame flickered brightly for a second and then died.

“Prince! I was worried about Soodamani viharam! It’s good that you came here,” said the guard.

“You know about my being at Soodamani viharam?”

“Yes, Sir! I learned about it when the junior stateswoman and Kodumablur princess were here. The junior stateswoman ordered not to tell anyone …”

“You must still obey that. Who is at the front?”

“They have come running here after the sea flooded into the coastal villages. They want shelter for the night. You are here, I will chase them away …”

“No! No! Give them a place to stay and sleep. Whatever food you have please give them. But don’t tell them about me. It’s good that your torch fell into the water. Take us upstairs by a different route,” said the prince.

Just as they entered the palace the rain started pouring along with the wind and storm.

6. Murugaiyan Cried!

Readers would have understood that in the last few chapters we described what happened in Nagaipattinam at the time when a tree fell near Thanjai behind the palanquin that Manthahini was in, and about the same time as when the boat drifted away for the storm wind that blew over Veera Narayana lake.

Throughout that night Nagaipattinam and its surroundings were in a state of chaos. Each one had his own life to worry about. No one was in a position to help another person. Even so, the Buddhist monks roamed the streets of Nagaipattinam helping the people to the extent that they were able to.

On this same night Acharya bikku and Ponniyin Selvar were up for a long time talking inside the Chola palace at Anaimangalam. They worried about the hardship and loss that this storm had wrought on the people of the coast.

The prince asked the palace overseer how much grain was in storage at the palace and how much money was at hand. He found out that the granaries were stocked to the brim with grain. He also found out that there were twelve copper urns filled with gold coins that Chempian Madevi has sent for granite overlay and renovation of the Neelayathatchi Amman’s temple at Thirunagai Karonam.

“Gurutheva! You have the means to act according to Buddha’s doctrine. Use up all the grain in storage and provide meals to the poor. Distribute all the gold coins from the copper urns to those who have lost their homes,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“How is that justified? Perhaps the grain can be used. Can we spend the money that your great aunt, Chempian Madeviyar has sent for temple work on something else? Won’t that elderly lady feel sad,” said Acharya bikku.

“Acharyar! I will explain to my great aunt. Now I will spend this money on helping the suffering of the poor. In the future I will build hundreds of Sivan temples all across Chola Nadu and make my grandmother happy. I will build tall towers. I will build stupas to a height that the sea will never be able to drown. I will build a great temple in Thanjai that will tower towards the sky invoking comparisons to thakshana mehru! Sir! Don’t worry if Soodamani viharam is completely flattened by today’s calamity. Next to it I will build another bigger Soodamani viharam in granite that will not give into any sort of flood!” The prince spoke rousingly.

“Ponniyin Selva! It delights me to hear you speak about the future with such enthusiasm,” said the bikku.

“Yes, yes. It is god’s will that I be in this world to accomplish great things. Therefore he has saved me from harm on numerous occasions. Think about even today. This Murugaiyan came at the right time from out of the blue. If not, you and I would have remained inside the monastery. We won’t have imagined that the sea will rise and so quickly wipe out the viharam.”

“That is true, who would have expected that something that had not happened in the last five hundred years will today happen at this very auspicious moment? Lord Buddha who is the sea of mercy rose to the occasion and saved you from the fury of the ocean. Through you he saved my pitiful life also. I completely agree with your decision. Treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar will be angry if money is spent from the government treasury. Your grandmother on the other hand will not be angry if money reserved for temple work is given to the poor who have lost their homes. You have made the proper decision. But shouldn’t you be in the forefront and carry it out? This poor ascetic cannot accept such a big responsibility! …”

“Gurutheva! If I am at the forefront I will have to reveal my identity. I was deeply impressed by your comment about Pandavar’s retreat to the forest. I am also reminded of our senthamilnadu poiyamozhi pulavar’s words.

‘Truth is that which
does not malign’

and

‘A lie can take the place of truth
if the act of concealing serves the greater good’

Doesn’t Tamil literature say this? My most erudite sister thinks that if I reveal myself to the public now, it will cause unrest in the country. There is no harm to anyone if I remain in hiding. Therefore it is you who must aid the people who are affected by the storm,” said the prince.

“Ponniyin Selva! For some reason I have changed my mind. I consider this the best moment to reveal yourself to the public. I think that this is Lord Buddha’s will,” said the bikku.

At this time both men heard the sound of someone sobbing. They saw that it was Murugaiyan. He was seated in a corner covering both his eyes and sobbing.

The prince went over to him. “Murugaiya! What is the matter? Why are you angry,” he asked.

“My wife … my wife …” Murugaiyan sobbed.

“Yes, yes! We completely forgot about your wife. It is natural that you are worried about her in this weather. But there is nothing that we can do in the dark. As soon as the sun comes up we will look for her,” said the prince.

“Sir! I am not crying about that. No harm would have come to her. She has dealt with worse storms and floods,” said Murugaiyan.

“Then why are you crying,” the prince asked.

Faltering the boatman said the following. “I am sorry that I didn’t trust her. She is the one who dragged me here from Kodikarai. She is the one who thought that you could be in Soodamani viharam. I came on her insistence. I was worried that she would harm you. Now I realize what a mistake that was. A while ago you praised this pitiful boatman. You said that god saved your life through me. But it was really my wife who made me do this. When I thought about how I had doubted her I started crying!”

Hearing this another question appeared in Arulmozhivarmar’s mind. “Appan! Your wife is innocent. It is wrong that you doubted her. But how did she know that I am here?” He asked.

“My aunt and my sister Poongkuzhali left for Nagapattinam in the boat. From that my wife guessed it.”

“Which aunt?” The prince asked excitedly.

“Sir! The same aunt who saved you many times from danger in Eezhatheevu.”

“Aha! Where are they now? What happened to your aunt and Poongkuzhali? You said that they came here?”

“Yes; they did. But their journey was hindered!” Murugaiyan started to cry again.

Ponniyin Selvar became very worried. He calmed the man down and found out the details. He was outraged that the Eezha arasi was abducted by some scoundrels. When he heard that Rakamaahl tried to stop them and she got beaten for that his doubts about her were cleared. The prince now had more respect and regard for her.

“Gurutheva! Did you hear? If there is one idol in the world whom I celebrate that is Eezha arasi Manthahini Devi. I cannot forgive the people who will hurt her in any way. I was never angry with the Pazhuvertaraiyars for wanting me imprisoned. But I cannot tolerate it if they hurt oomairani. I will destroy the Pazhuvertaraiyar tribe before anything else. I won’t forgive even my father and mother if they hurt the Eezha arasi. Gurutheva! I am leaving for Thanjavur tomorrow. I am going to disguise myself as a merchant and take boatman Murugaiyan along with me. Unless I find out about Eezhatharasi my mind will have no peace! Acharayar! You must carry out the task of assisting those affected by the storm. If you don’t want your name associated with it then call it ‘Eezhathu Nachchiyar alms-house.’ I don’t know if you are aware that Eezhatrharasi is fond of Buddhism. She normally resides in the Buddhist monastery in Potha theevu that people call Pootha theevu,” said the prince. The monk agreed without any objections.

The next day the storm’s fury lessened. The sea also retreated. But the havoc that had been wrought was beyond description. More than half the number of houses in Nagapattinam were roofless, reduced to mere walls. On one of the streets Prince Arulmozhivarmar was walking in the disguise of a merchant with a sack over his shoulder. Behind him was Murugaiyan carrying an even bigger sack. They walked taking in the destruction caused by the storm and flood.

From behind the broken wall of a house a woman watched them coming. She was none other than Murugaiyan’s wife Rakamaahl. She waited patiently until the prince and Murugaiyan were near her. Then out of the blue she threw herself at the feet of the prince. Murugaiyan tried hard to get her attention. He placed his finger over his lips. ‘Shh,’ he hissed. It was of no use.

“Beloved son of the Emperor! Heroic Warrior! Ponniyin Selva! The long awaited son of Chola Nadu! You did not drown in Soodamani viharam! My eyes are blessed!” She howled.

The eyes of the passersby on the street fell on the prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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