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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (10 – 12)

February 24, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

10. Eyes Open!

After getting beaten up first in the river and later in the breach water Pazhuvertaraiyar was exhausted. He slept like a log for a long time. After an adequate amount of sleep, vague recollections and dreams began to circulate in his mind. In one instance Durga Parameshwari stepped out of her temple statue and took four steps towards him. With fiery eyes she said to him, “Aday! Pazhuvertaraiya! You and your tribe have been for generations under my wing. Therefore I am warning you. You have brought a woman to your house. That Nandhini is a monster reincarnated! She has come to destroy your tribe and the Chola tribe. She is abiding her time. Get rid of her from the palace and your heart! Or else, the reputation of you and your tribe will forever be tarnished!”

After giving this warning the goddess nimbly stepped back into her statue …!

Pazhuvertaraiyar woke up startled. His body was shaking. He had a difficult time believing that it was a dream. But … he knew, it had to be!

Morning had broken. The storm’s fury was down. Rain had stopped. ‘Cho!’ – the noise however continued. He walked to the courtyard and looked outside. What he saw was not comforting.

The break on the shoreline was now bigger. About half the floodwater from the river was gushing through the breach. The east and the south were inundated. On the west the water rushed forth rippling and curling around the temple. Beyond it lay the jungle thick with shrubs and stunted trees. He guessed that it was the forest next to Thirupurampayam village and somewhere in the middle of the forest would be the old pallipadai temple built to honor the battlefield death of Kanga king Pruthiveepathi.

He was reminded of the great war that had taken place there a hundred years ago. He also remembered his ancestors’ valorous performance in that war. Would Nandhini really shame such a glorified ancient tribe? Was there some truth in what Durga Parameshwari said in his dream?

Whatever it might be, he must from now on be very careful. He must find out what Nandhini’s secret was. First, he must make his way safely from here. If he reached Thirupurampayam village he could get some help there. Like him, someone else from the boat might have made his way there. But how would he cross the floodwater and reach Thirupurampayam village?

The water surrounded the temple as it gushed forth. It had the force to drag even an elephant in rut! How can he cross this? The water was surely burrowing its way around the temple. Who knew when the temple would come down! Only Durga Parameshwari had the power to save it. Even so, how would he leave from here? Who knew how many days it would take for this water to drain?

Fortunately, there was a way. In front of the temple was a big neem tree. It had somehow survived the storm. But the breach water was around the tree as well; burrowing in with rip currents. The tree was certain to fall ahead of the temple. If it fell it might bridge the water to the wooded area in the west. Even if that did not happen, the flood will carry the tree and lay it on some land. If he got on the tree when it fell, perhaps there would be a way out of here.

Until then he would have to remain in the temple. By the grace of the goddess he had food for one more day. He would have to wait here patiently for either the tree to fall or the flood to drain. What else could he do?

There was no use in being impatient. Devi Jaganmatha had saved him from dying in the flood because there were still great things to be accomplished by him. Therefore, Durga Parameshwari would lead him to the next step also! The day went by. Another night and day also did. The storm after wreaking havoc all over its path moved to the west.

Even the drizzling had stopped. But there was no relief for Pazhuvertaraiyar who was trapped in Durga Parameshwari temple. Kollidam flood appeared to have gone down. But the breach on the embankment kept getting bigger. The floodwater coursing around the temple had not gone down. It appeared to be getting deeper. How could he measure its depth? Or, could he even dream of swimming across this torrent of breach water?

Finally, at sundown that day just as Pazhuvertaraiyar had expected the neem tree fell. Fortunately the tree fell to the west across the water. Pazhuvertaraiyar got ready to cross to the other side. For a moment he wondered how he would find his way through the forest in the night. But his hesitation did not last for long. Deciding to leave he approached Durga Parameshwari’s sanctuary to thank her. He fell in front of her and worshiped.

At that time he heard a voice that made his hair stand on end. His first thought was that it was Durgai Amman speaking. But the sound came from outside.

“Magician! Magician!”

Again the same voice called, “Ravithasan! Ravithasan!” The voice sounded familiar.

Pazhuvertaraiyar rose to his feet. Hiding behind a pillar he looked outside. Across from the breach water at the other end of the fallen tree he saw a figure standing. The cry, “Magician! Magician,” reminded him of what his brother once told him. He wondered if by Durgadevi’s grace he was about to know a secret that had evaded him until then. So, he stood immobile.

He saw the figure walking on the neem tree to cross the water. Pazhuvertaraiyar did something strange that he would never have done normally. He lay down in the entrance hall of the temple. He pretended to be asleep.

The desire to find out more about the magician called Ravithasan had seized him. He must be the magician who sometimes visited Nandhini in the palace. What was his real relationship with Nandhini? Who was looking for him here, in this place, at this time? Why? The answer to these questions might tell him if Nandhini was betraying him! If Ravithasan got caught to him he resolved to find out the truth before letting him go.

The man came near Pazhuvertaraiyar who pretended to be asleep. Again, “Ravithasan! Ravithasan,” he called.

Aha! This voice? Isn’t it the voice of the folk dancer who performed once at Kadampoor palace, who foretold the future? Should he strangle his neck and force the truth out of him? No! He should wait. It was more important to catch Ravithasan using this man.

“Magician! You are sleeping even before sunset? Or, are you dead?” The man turned Pazhuvertaraiyar’s body to look at his face. Pazhuvertaraiyar lay still.

In the haziness of the twilight hour when sunset and dusk mingled together Thevaralan – (Yes, it was him,) saw Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face. He wiped his eyes and looked again. In a pitiful voice that showed fear, horror, surprise and disbelief he howled, ‘Oohh! Oohh,’ Oh! Oh,’ Ah! Ah,’ and ran from there!

Before Pazhuvertaraiyar could open his eyes and sit up, Thevaralan had in two leaps passed the sacrificial altar in front of the temple and reached the fallen neem tree. Not wasting a second even to look behind, he sprinted across the tree-bridge to reach the other side. Next second he disappeared into the dense forest heavy with trees and shrubs. Without batting his eyelids Pazhuvertaraiyar stared at the running man. Once he disappeared he was overcome with doubt whether it was a mistake to let the man run away. So he also jumped up and ran. He could not run on the tree-bridge as fast as Thevaralan. He had to go slowly holding on to the branches every now and then.

On the other side he saw a footpath through the forest. He looked at it carefully. There appeared to be footsteps in the mud. Deciding they were Thevaralan’s he followed. Even though it was a waxing crescent moon, because the sky was covered with clouds the place was dark. From the wilderness rose all manner of sounds. The creatures that had made the forest their home, after having suffered through the storm and rain shouted out their joy at seeing the rain end from their dwellings in a multitude of tones, pitches and melodies.

The footpath ended after some time. But Pazhuvertaraiyar did not want to stop. Even if he had to comb the jungle the entire night he was determined to go after Thevaralan whom he hoped would lead him to the magician Ravithasan. So wherever he saw a clearing through the vegetation he went through it. After wandering in the forest in this manner for almost a quarter of the night he saw a light in the distance. The light was moving like a flame torch being carried by someone.

He walked fast towards the light. He almost caught up with it.

Finally, after being raised to shed light on an old building the light from the flambeau disappeared. Pazhuvertaraiyar knew that the building was Pirutheevapathi’s pallipadai temple in Thirupurampayam. He went close to the pallipadai. Standing next to a wall he tried to eavesdrop.

Yes; his expectations were not in vain. He heard two men talking. Because they were talking in a loud voice he could hear them well.

“Magician! Do you know for how long I have been looking for you? I was worried if you could not make it, or if Yaman had taken you also,” said Thevaralan.

Magician Ravithasan laughed out loud. “Why would Yaman care about me? He is on the trail of Sundara Cholan and his two sons. Tomorrow night their lives will come to an end,” he said.

Right then there was lightening that lit up both sky and earth.

11. The Tower Falls

When lightening struck, Pazhuvertaraiyar had a good look at the two men. He had seen the man called Ravithasan once or twice in his palace. Nandhini had said that he was an expert in necromancy.

His brother Kalanthakakandan had warned him about this same magician. The other man was Thevaralan who danced the velanattam at Kadampoor palace. Is this the first time he is seeing this man? What is his real name? … Is that possible? Is he Paramechwaran who was fired by him a long time ago from government work? … Never mind; he ought to pay attention to their talk.

“Ravithasa! This is what you have been saying for a long time. ‘The day is here,’ ‘Yaman is closing in,’ – you blabber! Yaman is taking all sorts of people! But he is not taking Sundara Cholan who is bedridden for three years. His sons – Yaman is terrified to even go near them. Didn’t we try so hard in Eezhanadu? …”

“Nothing lost, Appan! Yamatharman is much more intelligent than you and me! He is waiting so he can take all three in one day. Tomorrow is that day. Fortunately, you are also here! You are a good messenger of Yaman! Why are you shaking like this? Did you get caught in the Kollidam flood? Did you bring the boat?”

“I did. But it was a tremendous effort to save the boat from the flood and the wind! How long it has taken me to find you! Ravithasa! You want to know why I am shaking? I just came face to face with Yamatharman. No, no; I saw Yaman’s elder brother. I was horrified …”

“Paramechwara! What nonsense are you talking? Yaman and his brother? Why do you have to be afraid of them? They should be afraid of you!”

When Ravithasan called the other man ‘Paramechwara,’ Pazhuvertaraiyar was startled. His suspicion was right! He also knew that it was him that the man referred to as ‘Yaman’s brother.’ He ached to wring the man’s neck and kill him at once. Because he wanted to hear more he controlled himself. They had not mentioned Nandhini’s name yet. What did the magician mean by saying that Yaman would visit Sundara Cholar’s family the next day? Was he really reading from horoscope? Was everything Nandhini said about his magical powers true? If perhaps by god’s will his word comes true? It would make his work easy! There would be no necessity to divide the Chola kingdom! But this Paramechwaran? What is his involvement here? Yes; yes; twenty years ago before leaving he had threatened, ‘I will destroy the entire Chola tribe,’ …! Aha! The man was talking about him! He should pay attention!

“Just like you told me I came here this morning. But you weren’t here. I searched all over thinking perhaps you got caught in the wind and rain. There is a small temple near the Kollidam breach. It looked as if someone was lying there. I wondered if it was you who was fast asleep. So I went closer to take a look, Whom do you think I saw? The elder Pazhuvertaraiyan himself …!”

The magician laughed out loud. ‘kreech kreech,’ the birds in the jungle called back. The dumb owls grunted.

“Did you see Pazhuvertaraiyan? Or his ghost?” Ravithasan asked.

“No. Not a ghost. He was sleeping with his face down. I rolled him over and took a good look at his face. Ravithasa! Can Yaman have two brothers? Just like Pazhuvertaraiyan, same face, same mustache, same scars – can there be another man with all these?”

“It was Pazhuvertaraiyan you saw! No doubt. Yesterday evening Pazhuvertaraiyan was crossing Kollidam in a boat. As the boat neared the shore it got turned by the wind. His people who survived and made it to the shore are still searching for him along the Kollidam riverbank. They were thinking that he may have drowned in the flood and died. When I went to look at the breach I heard them talking. So it is possible that you saw Pazhuvertaraiyan. Maybe it is his corpse, who knows?”

“No, no. A corpse would have its eyes open! When I rolled him over his eyes were closed. He seemed to be dead tired! …”

“Fool! What did you do? You just left him there? Why didn’t you drop a rock over his head?”

“You don’t know about Pazhuvertaraiyan’s head. If I drop a rock on his head, only the rock will shatter!”

“Then, you could have at least dragged him into the Kollidam breach water?”

“Didn’t I say already? When I saw him it was like seeing Yaman’s brother. When I did the velanattam in front of him at Kadampoor my heart was pounding, ‘thick! thick!’ If he had recognized me …”

“Why are you shaking now? That was months ago!”

“As long as he is alive I will be scared. I regret now. Like you said I should have rolled him into the flood …”

“No reason to regret. In a way it is good that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyan is alive. Only then the Chola petty kings will fracture and fight with each other after Sundara Cholan and his children die. The Pazhuvertaraiyars and the Sambuvaraiyars will be on one side, Kodumbalur Velan and Thirukovalur Malaiamman will be on the other side. They will fight. It will greatly facilitate our goal. While they fight among themselves we can be secretly gathering troops in Pandyanadu.”

“Ravithasan! Your talk is like, ‘If athai grows a mustache she becomes chithappa!’ For the Cholanadu leaders to clash among themselves, first – Sundara Cholan and his two sons must meet their end tomorrow! What is the guarantee that it will happen? Did you hear the news? …”

“What news?”

“It seems that Arulmozhivarman is alive and well in Nagaipattinam! People have surrounded him and are clamoring that he become the Cholanadu emperor! Did you hear that?”

Again, Ravithasan laughed. “No, I haven’t heard that, but I knew it! Whom do you think brought Arulmozhivarman out of his hiding place, the Buddhist monastery? Boatman Murugaiyan’s wife, our Revathasa Kiramavithan’s daughter Rakamaahl!” He said.

“So what? What is the use in having Arulmozhivarman surrounded by thousands of people? Our attempts never succeeded even when he had only two or three people with him out in Eezhanadu,” said Thevaralan.

“Didn’t I say that it worked in our favor? When Yaman is coming for the three of them on the same day …”

“Ravithasa! How will Yaman go near the prince when he is surrounded by thousands of people? You didn’t explain that …”

“He will, my friend, he will! Yaman will be seated at the tip of the goad! At the right moment he will take the prince’s life! Paramechwara! Chola people will seat the prince on an elephant and parade him into Thanjai. On the way the keeper is going to run into trouble. Our Revathasa Kiramavithan will take his place on the elephant. You can guess the rest!”

“Ravithasa! I agree that there is no comparison to your insight. We can trust Kiramavithan to finish what he has undertaken. What about Sundara Cholan?”

“I have left Soman Sambavan in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s basement. He has a spear. From there a passage leads to Sundara Cholan’s palace. I have even shown him the exact spot where Sundara Cholan is sleeping. Even a blind man can throw the spear from this place that I have selected. I have also told Soman, ‘Don’t be in a hurry; wait until tomorrow!’ …”

“What for? Isn’t it better to finish it off if the opportunity arises?”

“Fool! If Sundara Cholan is killed earlier won’t the sons be on alert? What use is it anyway, a sick old man’s death? Never mind that; what news have you got? What’s about to happen in Kadampoor tomorrow is more important than anything else!”

“It’s all very festive in Kadampoor. With marriage talk, love is in the air. I just don’t like you relying on that Pazhuvur Rani so much …”

“Is she Pazhuvur Rani? Call her Pandimadevi! Have you forgotten that two days before he died Veera Pandyan made her his queen? Have you forgotten her promise to seek revenge for Veera Pandyan’s death? Didn’t she a week ago at this very place receive Pandya tribe’s victory sword from the Pandya son?”

“Yes, yes! But you should have seen your Pandimadevi yesterday, after spending an afternoon happily at Veeranarayana lake …”

“Instead of being happy, how else should she be? There is no one who has mastered the art of hiding their real self than Nandhini. If not, could she have survived in Pazhuvertaraiyan’s palace for three years? Could she have helped us from inside there? By the way, you said that you saw Pazhuvertaraiyan at Kollidam Durgai Amman temple! I also heard about his boat capsizing. When did Pazhuvertaraiyan start from Kadampoor? Why?”

“I am not sure. What I heard was that he would bring Mathuranthaka Thevar back with him. Pazhuvertaraiyan left yesterday morning. After he left the princes went hunting. The princesses went to Veeranarayana lake to bathe. You will not be so confident if you had seen the joyous sight of the princes and princesses returning …!”

“You don’t worry about it at all. The fact that Pazhuvertaraiyan was sent to Thanjai speaks volumes about Pandimadevi’s heart!”

“Who can be sure about a woman’s heart? The reason that old man was sent home could be for revenge, or romance …”

“What are you blabbering, Paramechwara? Nandhini has completely forgotten that old episode. She hates Karikalan like poison!”

“I am not talking about Karikalan. I am talking about his messenger, Vandhiyathevan. Have you forgotten that Nandhini let him escape more than once?”

The magician laughed out loud. “Yes; very soon it will be clear why Vandhiyathevan’s life was spared. When that comes out don’t think that you will be the only person in for a surprise! There are many more people who will be surprised! Especially, Sundara Cholar’s beloved daughter Kundavai will be surprised. Won’t she be, when it comes out that the handsome young man who stole her heart is the culprit who killed Athitha Karikalan?” He asked.

“What are you saying, Ravithasan? Is Vandhiyathevan actually going to do it? Is he on our side?”

“Don’t ask questions! Does it matter whose hand it is? The victory sword bearing the Pandya fish emblem is going to do the job. The blame will fall on Vandhiyathevan. What do you say now about our Rani?”

“Let the drama unfold. Ask me then and I will tell you!”

“Whatever may not happen one thing is certain. Tomorrow night Karikalan’s story will be over. Nandhini will finish what she has undertaken. We too must do our work …”

“What is our work?”

“Tomorrow night we must wait in the underground passage that exits from Kadampoor palace. Once the job is over Nandhini will come through that. Before the night is over we must reach Kollimalai with her. We will wait there and observe the turmoil in Cholanadu. If it is convenient …”

“If it is convenient …?”

“We must take all the treasure lying in Pazhuvertaraiyan’s basement room via the tunnel. How fitting it is to prepare for war against Cholanadu with money stolen from the Chola treasury?” Ravithasan laughed.

Paramechwaran who acted as Thevaralan said, “Alright, alright! Don’t go too high with those castles in the air! First, let’s cross Kollidam and reach Kadampoor. Let the Kadampoor saga unfold as you have planned. Then we will think about emptying Pazhuvertaraiyan’s treasury. What do you say? Shall we start? We’ll cross Kollidam in the night?”

“No, no! When the sun rises we will take the boat. The wind would have slowed by then. The flood also will be down a little.”

“Then, we will sleep in the pallipadai hall for the night?”

Ravithasan was thinking. From not too far away came the sound of foxes howling. Ravithasan’s body trembled.

“Ravithasa! Why do you shudder like this for some pitiful fox?” Thevaralan asked.

“My friend! You will not talk like this if you had been buried up to your neck in Kodikarai quicksand; and experienced the horror of a hundred foxes surrounding you waiting to feast on you! I do not fear the roaring lion or the elephant in rut. But when I hear the fox it is visceral. Come! Come! Let’s not spend the night in the graveyard. We will go to a temple or inn near a village. Or else, you mentioned the Durgai temple on Kollidam riverbank? We will go there. If that old man is still sleeping there we will drag him into the flood. We will be doing him a favor. If he happens to be alive day after tomorrow, he will have his heart broken!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was listening to them as best as he could. Every word of theirs went down his ears like molten lead. His heart fumed like a volcano about to erupt. He felt ashamed and hurt, knowing that the woman he fell in love with and married was there to avenge Veera Pandyan’s death and that she had deceived him for the past three years.

Pazhuvertaraiyar reminded himself of the relationship between the Chola tribe and the Pazhuvur tribe that had been forged over six generations. In fact, who exactly were Sundara Cholan and his children? After all, Sundara Cholan’s grandmother herself had come from the Pazhuvur tribe. It was only in recent times he had become aggravated by Sundara Cholan’s children. Just because of Athitha Karikalan’s childish behavior and his dislike of Malaiamman, what atrocious schemes he had lent his hand to? He had allowed the Chola tribe’s arch enemies, the Pandya saboteurs to work from the palace, using wealth stolen from his treasury! Aha! As these rascals said would there really be three gruesome killings tomorrow night? As long as he had breath in his body he would stop it. There were still sixty nazhikai left. A lot could be done. He ought to leave during the night itself, reach Kudanthai and send word to Thanjai and Nagaipattinam. After that he would go to Kadampoor. Before these scoundrels reached Kadampoor he ought to be there …

Why let them go to Kadampoor? Won’t it be better to finish these rascals off here? He had no weapon, so what? His hands were as good as vajrayutham. Why would he need any other weapon? These fellows would have knives tucked in their waist. He would strangle them before they could even reach for their knives.

But, was it prudent to fight with them here? “I have found out the information I was after. Our goddess Durga Parameshwari herself has toppled the boat and brought me here to reveal these terrible secrets. My most important duty is to protect the emperor and his sons from danger! And most of all, I must stop any harm to Karikalan in Kadampoor. If anything happens to him the blame will forever be on me and my family. All the past glory of Pazhuvur tribe’s service to the Cholars over so many generations will bite the dust. If Karikalan is killed by the monster whom I believed to be a woman and brought to my palace, nothing more shameful can ever happen to me!”

“Aha! Inside that beautiful form can there be such poisonous venom? Can such deceit be hiding behind that bewitching smile? Is it really true, what these rascals said?”

The saboteurs’ words that ignited an angry fire in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s heart, in a way provided him a little satisfaction also. Nandhini might be treacherous. She might have fooled him and betrayed him saying that she loved him. But she did not betray him out of some carnal longing for Karikalan or Kanthmaran or Vandhiyathevan! She did not care about those foolish little boys. She was only using them for her end!

This deduction subconsciously gave some satisfaction to Pazhuvertaraiyar. It was important to prevent the murder of Karikalan not only to protect his family’s reputation and his; but also for saving Nandhini from such a cruel misdeed. Perhaps it would be possible to change her mind. Because she was trapped by these saboteurs she could be going along with them! If these men were killed here perhaps Nandhini would have her freedom …?

Carried away by these thoughts the brave old man forgetting his surroundings cleared his throat. Like a lion’s roar the sound startled the two saboteurs.

“Who is there?” Thevaralan whose real name was Paramechwaran asked.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stepped outside knowing that it was neither possible nor prudent to remain hiding anymore.

As the two saboteurs stood astounded by the sudden appearance of this tall large figure in that darkness of the rainy season, Pazhuvertaraiyar laughed savagely. The sound of his laughter shook the entire jungle. “It’s me, Yaman’s elder brother,” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Ravithasan and Thevaralan tried to run. But Pazhuvertaraiyar did not leave any room for that. With his long arms he grabbed both of them. His right hand held Ravithasan’s neck. His left hand held Thevaralan’s arm. His grip, stronger than vajrayutham left the two men helpless.

However strong his hands were Pazhuvertaraiyar knew that he could not fight both men at the same time. He pushed Thevaralan down, with his face to the ground. Keeping one leg on the back of the fallen man he began to squeeze Ravithasan’s neck with both of his hands. But Thevaralan did not just wait. Struggling, he was able to pull out a knife from his waist. He tried to stab the leg that was pressing him down. Pazhuvertaraiyar saw it. With his other leg he kicked Thevaralan’s wrist vehemently. The knife flew and landed far away. Thevaralan’s hand became limp and lifeless. But the leg that was pressing him down moved ever so slightly. In that fraction of a second Thevaralan wriggled himself out and jumped up. Making a fist with his good hand he began to pummel Pazhuvertaraiyar. His punches fell on a granite rock. It was Thevaralan’s hand that hurt. It seemed that it would end up like his other hand.

Meanwhile, Ravithasan tried hard to remove Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hands from his neck; it was of no use. The old man’s iron grip did not budge. Ravithasan’s eyes started to bulge. Feebly he cried, ” Thevarala! Quick! Hurry! Climb on the temple! Push the tower down!”

Thevaralan ran and climbed on to the pallipadai temple’s tower. They had already observed a wide crack on the temple’s tower. If that part of the granite moved even a little the tower would come down crashing. Following Ravithasan’s cue, Thevaralan pushed the cracked ledge of the tower with all his might. When the structure crashed it pulled down a tree also with it.

Pazhuvertaraiyar knew that the tower was about to fall. He took one of his hands from Ravithasan’s neck and tried to shield himself from the falling tower. With the greatest difficulty Ravithasan seized that moment to get away from his hold. The tree and the tower fell over Pazhuvertaraiyar. Hit on his head, Pazhuvertaraiyar became unconscious.

12. Thoomakethu Disappeared!

After a long time when Pazhuvertaraiyar’s memory slowly returned he saw that he was in a brutal battlefield. ‘Jana jana’ – swords clanged. From one side blared the victory trumpets. With them a thousand voices shouted, “Long live the great Rajathiraja Pandya king! Death to Pandya enemies!’

From another side thousands of voices cried, “Kanga king has fallen! Run! Run!” Some voices cried to stop those from running.

All of a sudden there was silence in the battlefield. Pazhuvertaraiyar looked around. Vijayalaya Cholan who had lost both his legs entered seated on the shoulders of a tall well-built man. He was carrying a giant sword in each hand.

“Chola warriors! Stop! Pallavar men! Don’t run! At six or a hundred, death awaits! Follow me! We will massacre our enemies,” he shouted.

The Chola and Pallava warriors stopped when they heard his words. Fear and fatigue disappeared from their faces. Hope and audacity returned. Those who were retreating began to advance. Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at Vijayalaya Cholan who had brought about this amazing change. He also looked at the soldier on whose soldiers he was seated. Wonder of wonders! He saw that the soldier was himself. That Pazhuvertaraiyar, with his one hand holding Vijayalaya Cholan and his other hand brandishing a long sword, penetrated the enemy front. Wherever the two went, Pandya heads rolled.

The war had completely changed. Pandya garrison scattered and ran. The Cholars and Pallavars won. Victory drums thundered. Vijayalaya Cholar was seated in front of the Pallava emperor! Pazhuvertaraiyar stood next to him. Pallava emperor told the Chola king, “Mighty warrior! Today defeat turned into victory because of you. From now on Cholanadu is free! You and your brave son Athithan and your descendants will forever rule Cholanadu as free kings!” Vijayalaya Cholar said to Pazhuvertaraiyar who was standing next to him, “Athan! We won because of you. I appoint you as the free Cholanadu’s commander and treasurer. Your descendants will be treasurers and commanders as long as they are loyal to the Chola tribe!” The scarred face of Pazhuvertaraiyar beamed.

Then suddenly the face turned angry. The old Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at the new Pazhuvertaraiyar. “You rascal! You wretched cutthroat! The axe-handle who came to ruin my tribe! You ruined the reputation that we had built over six generations! You betrayed your friend! You betrayed your master! You took into your house the arch enemies of the Chola tribe! You gave them money! It is you who has brought about the demise of the Chola tribe! May you perish! The shame that you have brought on yourself and your tribe will not go away until the end of time!” He cursed. Tears poured from the eyes of the Pazhuvertaraiyar who was being cursed.

After that several other Pazhuvertaraiyars appeared. Each one described his valorous acts. Each one cursed Pazhuvertaraiyar. Then all of them together cursed him. “Cutthroat! You betrayed your tribe and the kingdom! You ruined the fame that we earned sacrificing our lives! What were you thinking?” They said.

The Pazhuvertaraiyars disappeared. Kodumabalur Velirs and Thi\rukovalur Malaiammans appeared. They surrounded Pazhuvertaraiyar who stood alone. “Cheechee! Do you call yourself a man? You called yourself and your ancestors stalwarts of the Chola tribe! Now, what do you say? You have turned out to be their Yaman! Traitor! Where is your dignity?” They laughed boisterously.

The Chola citizens who gathered behind them began to throw rocks and dirt at Pazhuvertaraiyar. At that time emperor Sundara Cholar parted the crowd and came walking on his weak legs. He looked angrily at the Velirs, Malaiammans and others. “Cheechee! What are you doing? You are throwing rock and dirt on the heroic warrior, Pazhuvertaraiyar? You are calling him a cutthroat? My tribe and I will be destroyed by Pazhuvertaraiyar’s betrayal? So what? No one has the right to blame him! Treasurer! Come with me to the palace,” he said. The crowd dispersed. Sundara Cholar also disappeared. Brother Kalanthakakandar alone stood in front of Pazhuvertaraiyar. “Brother! The emperor trusted us! How can you betray him? Is it right to shelter the female demon who came to destroy his tribe?” He said. Then he also disappeared.

Vandhiyathevan, Kanthamaran and other young men surrounded Pazhuvertaraiyar. “Gray mustached old man! Why hasn’t your desire turned gray? Your lust for women has ruined you! What are your sixty four scars saying now? Are they the symbol of valor? Or, are the worm infested wounds the payment for betrayal?” They laughed out loud. Pazhuvertaraiyar tried to draw his sword out to kill them. But the sword was missing from its place.

Now, Kundavai appeared. She raised her hand to silence the young men. “Grandfather! Don’t pay any attention to their mockery. Chase that poisonous serpent who masquerades as a woman from your palace! Then all will be set straight,” she said. As the young men and Kundavai disappeared, women from Pazhuvertaraiyar’s tribe began to arrive. Ten, then hundred, then a thousand women from six generations surrounded him. “Aiyayo! Is this your fate? Did you have to bring this charge on our heads? We sent our husbands and brothers; our sons whom we carried in our wombs, to the Chola battlefields! They shed their blood and gave their lives to bring fame to the Pazhuvur tribe! In a second you have destroyed everything!” They wailed.

“Women! Please shut your mouths and go back to the anthapuram! No infamy will be caused by me!” Pazhuvertaraiyar answered with difficulty. The women pointed to Yamatharmarajan arriving on his bull with spear and noose in hand. He said, “Pazhuvertaraiya! Greetings! You helped me take the lives of Sundara Cholan and his two children in one day! Thank you very much for that!”

“No, no! I did not help you; I will not! I will stop you! Yaman! Stop! Stop!” Pazhuvertaraiyar screamed. He tried to chase Yaman. But something very powerful was holding him back. A great weight lay over him. He could not budge from where he was.

“You see! We were right,” the Pazhuvertaraiyar women wailed. The sound of their wailing grew louder minute by minute. Pazhuvertaraiyar could not bear it. He tried to speak. But his voice did not carry above the crying and the wailing. He tried to cover his ears. But he could not move his hands.

With the greatest effort he pulled one hand out. The effort forced his eyes to open. In a flash his memory returned. He realized that he was waking up from a nightmare. But the wailing however continued. He listened carefully. It wasn’t women wailing. It was the sound of foxes howling!

He remembered the conversation that took place when he laid there semiconscious.

“The old man is dead!”

“Look carefully! Pazhuvertaraiyan’s life is very sound. Even Yaman will be afraid to come near him!”

“But the foxes won’t be. Whatever life is remaining they will take care of it. When the sun comes up only the old man’s bones will remain.”

“You pushed the tower at the right moment. Or else, this here will be me. The old man would have killed me!”

“Where? Let’s see if this moves!”

Then, “Not a bit! From one enemy’s pallipadai we made the tomb for another.” The magician’s laughter had followed.

“Enough with the jokes, come! The boat is going to tear off with the river’s flow. After that we cannot cross Kollidam!”


Remembering this conversation Pazhuvertaraiyar took stock of his situation. Yes; a portion of the pallipadai tower was on top of him. It’s weight was pressing him down. But he was able to breathe! How?

Fortunately, the tree that fell with the tower lay over his shoulder while the tower was over the tree. It was the tree that had saved his life. If the tower had fallen directly on him his head and chest would have been flattened. The old man was astounded at the strength of his body. He realized that even after bearing this weight for so long his life persisted. But is it possible to continue, however sound his life may be?

Yes; he must by whatever means save his life. And then he must save the Chola tribe. If he did not, his tribe would forever carry the blame – that much was certain. His ancestors would curse him in the next world also. Therefore he must lift this tree and move from under the building. Aiyo! Who knew how long he had been lying here? The terrible events that he wanted to prevent, would they have happened already?

Meanwhile the foxes were coming nearer and nearer. He could hear their panting beside his head. Aha! Pazhuvertaraiyar had become weak even for these foxes? Let’s see! Pazhuvertaraiyar used both of his hands. Using all the strength that remained he tried to lift the tree. As the tree lifted up slowly, the tower lying over it began to slide. His grunts kept the foxes at bay.

After a half hour that seemed like an eon his work paid off. The tree and the granite budged a little, freeing him. Exhausted by the effort, he lay there staring at the sky exhaling deeply. Because several trees had been downed by the storm the sky was clearly visible from where he lay. No dark clouds covered it. Like sparks of diamonds countless number of stars glittered playing peekaboo while light clouds moving fast in the process of dispersing covered and uncovered the stars. As Pazhuvertaraiyar watched, his attention was drawn to the unusual shape of a star that suddenly appeared in the north. Adada! Had thoomakethu, that even a few days ago appeared with a long tail, shrunken to this state? On one end of the star was a hazy white extension that was about a foot long. Why was the tail that even ten days ago extended right across the sky from corner to corner now so small? …

Taking his eyes off from the sky he looked around him. He saw that the foxes had not gone away! There were about ten, or twenty, or fifty of them. In the dark their eyes lit like smoldering ember. Perhaps they were waiting for the old man to die! Let them wait! Let them wait! At least they are showing that much of respect towards Pazhuvertaraiyan! …

Suddenly the sky, the earth, and the entire forest area lit up. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes were nearly blinded. It wasn’t lightening. What was it? He looked at the sky. He saw a brightly lit flame traveling diagonally across the sky. Its brightness overwhelmed his eyes. After closing his eyes for a second he opened them again. The flame had become smaller; gradually its light grew dim; and then it disappeared altogether. Once again darkness surrounded.

Wondering what this strange phenomenon was Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at the sky again. He looked at where the shrunken thoomakethu had been. It was not there any more. Aha! It was thoomakethu that fell. What did this mean? What was its significance? It was a sign that something terrible was about to happen in the world. It was a sign foretelling of danger to someone in the royal family. When a long tailed star fell the death of a member of the royal family would follow. This was a longstanding belief among people. There were those who denied it. The truth or consequence would be known tomorrow. Tomorrow? No! Today, it would be known …! The eastern sky was brightening! It would soon be morning! Before tonight three unbelievably terrible events might take place in three different places. He was the only one who had this information. He was the only one who had the power to stop these events. If he succeeded he would have won over even the bad omen of thoomakethu’s demise. If not … Pazhuvertaraiyar could not even imagine it. He ought to act! He ought to save the three Chola men.

His first and most important duty was to save Athitha Karikalan! If he was harmed the blame would fall directly on his head. Therefore he ought to cross Kollidam and reach Kadampoor at once. Before that he ought to go to Kudanthai and send a warning to Thanjai and Nagai. That was all that he could do. Beyond that, fate would play its hand.

Pazhuvertaraiyar tried to get up. His entire body was sore. There was an unbearable pain on his chest where the tree had fallen. He felt as if one of his legs was fractured. All over his body, there were numerous wounds.

The brave old man did not mind any of this. Clenching his teeth he stood up with great effort. He looked around. Fortunately by that time the foxes that had been waiting for his death had run away. Perhaps they were unnerved by the flood of light thoomakethu’s fall produced!

He tried to deduce in which direction the city of Kudanthai lay. Then he started walking carefully, firmly planting his feet. Fallen trees lay all over the way. A wilderness of floodwater awaited following the rain and the Kollidam breach. Without heeding these obstacles Pazhuvertaraiyar walked. His body’s troubles were overshadowed by his mind’s anguish. Two jamams after sunrise he reached Kudanthai. He did not want to go to the town’s center. People would be curious about the state of his appearance. They would surround him asking, what? – and why? He would not be able to do his work quickly or effectively.

Therefore, he ought to find someone at the edge of town, somewhere where there would be no crowds and send a letter to Thanjai and Nagai. Then he must find a ride and reach Kadampoor. He remembered the astrologer who lived near Durgai Amman temple. It was a rather isolated place without any houses nearby. The astrologer, a sweet natured man, would be the right person. The royal family and the chief minister knew him. Did that matter? Anyone would do this. Perhaps because he knew them personally the astrologer would be more eager to help. Aha! He could also test at this time if the astrologer really knew astrology, and if there was any truth in astrology.

Pazhuvertaraiyar walked towards the Amman temple. The big tall tree beside the temple had fallen down for the storm. Beside the tree and the temple was a chariot with two horses. Its design drew Pazhuvertaraiyar’s attention. The front part of the chariot was constructed like a boat. Such vehicles were generally used during a flood. If caught in a big river during flooding the boat could be disengaged from the chariot. Horses, untied would swim to shore. Those in the chariot would row the boat to shore.

Such vehicles were rare in Cholanadu. Whose was it? It ought to be from the royal palace. Or it could belong to the chief minister. Perhaps its occupants were inside the astrologer’s house consulting about their horoscope! Who could it be? Should he ask the driver of the vehicle? No! His appearance might unsettle him. It was best to simply go in. Whoever was inside, he could borrow their chariot. It would help him to reach Kadampoor!

When Pazhuvertaraiyar stood on the doorstep he heard a female voice coming from inside the astrologer’s house. It sounded like the junior stateswoman. The old man was astounded. Why would she be here? At this time … His disappointment soon gave way to hope. If he could explain the danger awaiting her father and two brothers that intelligent girl would take necessary action. The weight on his shoulder would be lifted. After that he would go peacefully to Kadampoor. His main responsibility lay there!

When Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the astrologer’s house, the guard – the astrologer’s disciple whom we have seen on a previous occasion – stopped him. In the state that Pazhuvertaraiyar was in, the guard did not recognize him. Therefore he sternly said, “Stop!” Pazhuvertariayar replied with a grunt and shoved the guard aside by his neck. The disciple took a sommersault and landed on the street. Sending tremors through the earth like an elephant in rut Pazhuvertaraiyar entered the astrologer’s house.


From → Notes

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