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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (42 – 47)

September 8, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

42. Malaiamman Mourns

When Sambuvaraiyar came upfront leaving Nandhini’s anthapura room he called Kanthamaran aside. He said to him, “Son! Our tribe has suffered a setback today as never before. If we want to put this behind us you must listen to me and follow my instructions!”

Kanthamaran had been affected by Karikalar’s death very much. He also realized how impetuous he was in wanting to kill Vandhiyathevan. “Father! It is my stupidity that has brought this tragedy on our tribe. Please forgive me for that. Whatever you command me to do I will carry it out,” he said.

“You must leave this palace at once without anyone’s knowledge. You know that there is an underground passage that leaves from under my bed in my bedroom. It meets the one from the hunting gallery near the palace wall …”

“Father! Under such tragic circumstances you are asking me to run away through the hidden passage leaving you here alone,” said Kanthamaran.

“Child! You forgot your promise already? Yes; you must go. You are the one person now remaining in the tribe of Kollimalai leader Valvil Ori. If necessary, you must go to that same hill and live in hiding. You must return only when I send word that Mathuranthaka Thevar will be crowned,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Forgive me, Father! I cannot live in hiding. Must Valvil Ori’s tribe earn the disgrace of producing such a coward also? If you tell me to sacrifice my life I will do it this very moment. But I will not agree to live in hiding,” said Kanthamaran.

After thinking this over Sambuvaraiyar said, “Son! I said that to test you. You don’t want to run away or hide yourself. Good. I am going to give you a dangerous mission that will require courage. Leave immediately by the underground passage! But don’t go to Kollimalai! Go straight to Thanjavur! The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar will probably be there. If he is there tell him what has happened here! If he is not there, tell the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar …”

“Sir! What shall I say happened here?”

“What do you mean? Tell them about Karikalar’s death! Tell them, ‘Because of fate, unexpectedly, our plan has been put into motion; Karikalar is dead! The time has come to crown Mathuranthakar!’ Malaiamman and Kodumbalur Velar will fight us. Tell them that we must gather all our troops now and defeat those two,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“If they ask me how Karikalar died, what shall I tell them,” said Kanthamaran.

“What else? Tell them that Vandhiyathevan of the Varnar tribe killed him! Another important detail, keep this in mind! Vandhiyathevan went to Eezhanadu. He met Arulmozhi Thevan there. When he returned he met with the junior stateswoman in Pazhaiyarai. News has arrived that Arulmozhithevan after being in hiding in Nagaipattinam has now come out. We must spread the rumor that Arulmozhithevan wanting to ascend to the throne sent Vandhiyathevan to kill his brother. We must create the impression that Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman was behind this. Tell this to the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Mathuranthaka Thevar! …”

“Father! What you are saying could very well be the truth! Friend-betrayer Vandhiyathevan could have come to this palace with this dangerous goal!”

“He might have, Son! But we have to find out the reason for Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s sudden and mysterious disappearance! Vandhiyathevan is accusing her, and the Pandyanadu goons who were helping her! …”

“The man who committed the crime will always try to shift the blame to someone else. Now I understand everything. Father! Pazhaiyarai Kundavai Devi has never liked Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. She must have planned to kill Karikalar and abduct Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani at the same time. Chief Minister Aniruthar appears to be in on this also. That is why they sent this Vandhiyathevan. Aiyo! Without knowing their treacherous motives we have suffered!”

“Kanthamara! There is no use regretting what has happened. We must pay attention to what follows. You leave immediately! Before news of Karikalar’s death reaches Sundara Cholar, or anyone else in Thanjai, the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Mathuranthakar must be told. Therefore, hurry! You know about the underground passage that leads into Thanjai fort! …”

“I do, I do!”

“Then leave immediately!”

“I will, Father! My sister, Manimekalai … it is about her that I am worried …”

“You don’t have to! I will not let her blurt out to anyone else like she did to us. If she starts blubbering again, I will kill her with my own hands …”

“Aiyo, that is what I am worried about. I am afraid of your anger …”

“Don’t be! I know how to change her mind! Aha! Fate acts in mysterious ways! At first we thought of giving her in marriage to Mathuranthaka Thevar. Then we changed our minds and decided to marry her to Karikalar.  Karikalar today is lying dead. Fortunately Manimekalai never cared about him. We will have to follow our earlier plan. …”

“Yes, Father! It looks as if Manimekalai’s heart is now with that traitor Vandhiyathevan.”

“There is nothing like that, Son! Manimekalai is not old enough to know her heart. I will take care of her. You cannot delay one more minute here!”

At that time hearing the loud noise from outside the walls of the palace Kanthamaran asked, “Father! What is going on? It looks as if Malaiamman’s troops are here! When you saw Malaiamman this morning what did that old man say?”

“He had the most auspicious news. The old man was very happy to hear about Manimekalai wedding Athitha Karikalar. He is bringing a granddaughter of his to be wedded under the same awning! Now, wasn’t that magnanimous? When I invited him to the palace he said once the sun rises he will arrive at an auspicious hour. It looks as if the soldiers are already celebrating the supposedly upcoming wedding!” Sambuvaraiyar tried to laugh at his own comment. But his laughter died midway.

“Come! Come! I will walk you to the underground passage. On the way, you must not delay even a second. Somewhere on the way you must get yourself a horse and hurry,” he said.

Sambuvaraiyar picked up a lamp in his hand. Both entered the underground passage. They walked fast. Once Kanthamaran was past the palace boundary Sambuvaraiyar embraced him and gave his blessing. When he asked, “Do you want the lamp,” Kanthamaran replied, “No, Father! Don’t I know this way well? Even with my eyes shut I can go!”

Once he disappeared from sight in the tunnel Sambuvaraiyar returned. On the way he entered the hunting gallery. He listened carefully for any noise in the adjacent room. Nothing was heard. He hesitated for a few seconds. Then, as if arriving at a decision, he sighed deeply. After adjusting the wick to burn brightly, he returned the lamp to its place and went back hurrying.

Once Sambuvaraiyar returned to the palace foyer he gathered all of the women from the anthapuram. All of them were in a highly agitated state. From the tearful Manimekalai who was forcibly brought back by Kanthamaran they had somehow found out about Karikalan’s death.

“Ladies! A great tragedy has befallen our tribe as never before. You must be prepared to leave this palace any moment. You must will yourself to spend many days in the jungle and the mountain. Everyone gather your clothes and jewelry and come to the piazza. Not a sound, no crying or weeping! Do you understand?” He cautioned.

Sambuvaraiyar then came to the front entrance of the palace. He wanted to go up the front tower and find out what the commotion outside was about. He didn’t have time for it. Because even before he reached the front entrance soldiers from outside had broken down the fort’s gates and were piling in. The guards at the entrance fell to the ground unable to stop them.

If that wasn’t enough, soldiers were climbing the wall and jumping from there as well.

Sambuvaraiyar’s heart experienced great fear and trepidation. Perhaps Malaiamman found out about Karikalan’s death? How? So fast? Alright. Sooner or later he will find out. But these men must be stalled here at least for a little while longer. A half nazhikai will be sufficient. By then he would have put his plan in motion …

Sambuvaraiyar stood majestically in the piazza that was between the fort’s entrance and the palace. He held a sword, sharp and shining, in his hand. Behind him stood seven or eight soldiers bearing long spears. Some of them held flame torches providing light.

Behind the soldiers who entered breaking the entrance gates, came Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Parthipenthiran.

When he saw Smabuvaraiyar standing at the center of the piazza, Parthipenthiran pointed him to Malaiamman. Both men walked toward Sambuvaraiyar.

Even as he was walking Malaiamman asked, “Sambuvaraiyar! What is this I hear? Will you commit such atrocity? Oho! What is this? You have your sword drawn out! What is your intention?”

“I am waiting here to ask you precisely that. What is your intention? What is the purpose of breaking the front gates? This morning I myself came and invited you. You said you will wait till tomorrow for an auspicious hour …”

“Sambuvaraiyar! Auspicious hour is already here; that is why I came. Where is Athitha Karikalan? Where is the heroic warrior who beheaded Veera Pandyan? Where is the triumphant warrior of Sevur battlefield? Where is my grandson?” Malaiamman asked.

“You are asking me? What do I know? Whichever venue pleases the prince, he will be there. I have already told you that I did not want to have any word with that rude child! Now, this ought to be stale news for Parthipenthiran!”

“Aday, Sambuvaraiya! Do not fool me with lame excuses! Bring Athitha Karikalan to us at once! Or else, I will raze this place to the ground, – the fort, the ramparts and your palace!” Thirukovalur Malaiamman roared.

“Parthipenthira! What is this old man yelling about? Has he lost his mind? Who am I to hand the prince over to him? Who is he for that matter? Am I keeping the prince in prison? Or is he here to take the prince by force,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

In a calmer voice Parthipenthiran said, “Sambuvaraiyar! Don’t be offended! The old man has reason to be angry. Take a look at this ola here and you will find out!” He handed a small piece of palm leaf to Sambuvaraiyar.

Sambuvaraiyar stared at it in the light of the flambeau.

“Prince Athitha Karikalar’s life is in danger. Come immediately with troops to save him,” it was written in that ola.

Even as he was reading it Sambuvaraiyar could feel the perspiration beading on his face. Just as his body had trembled when he saw Karikalan’s corpse, his body shook now also.

“What perfidy! How treacherous! Who would have written this note,” he stammered.

“What does it matter who wrote it? Bring Athitha Karikalan here at once! Or, take us to where he is! Or, shall I ask my soldiers to search,” Malaiamman asked.

“Alright, Sir! I will take you to where Karikalan is. Parthipenthira! You know the place. I found out just now that he has gone to Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s anthapuram. You take him there,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Yes, Grandfather! Come! I will take you,” Parthipenthiran said turning in the direction of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s anthapuram.

“Aiyo! What is this?” He howled. In the direction where he turned he saw a fire blazing. Over the flames rose dark billowing clouds of smoke.

All turned around to look. “Fire! Fire!” Terrified cries rose from everyone’s mouths.

Recovering from his initial shock Parthipenthiran said, “Sambuvaraiyar! I did not at first believe this ola. Now, I do. There is perfidy and treachery. Grandfather! Tell them to arrest these saboteurs at once! I will go look for the prince and bring him!”

“Yes, sabotage, Parthipenthira! There has indeed been perfidy and treachery. But you are the ones behind it. You broke down the gates and entered this fort. You have bid your soldiers to start a fire. If the prince is in danger it is because of you! Careful! There will come a time for revenge!” Sambuvaraiyar retorted boldly.

Without paying any attention to him Parthipenthiran ran. At the same time the women from Sambuvaraiyar’s palace walked out into the piazza in a huddle. Their faces showed their confused state of mind. But not one whimper was heard from anyone.

Some of them noticed the rear of the palace awash in light. They embraced each other and pointed to the blazing fire. Manimekalai also saw it. “Aiyo! Fire! Fire! He is there,” shrieking she began to run towards the fire. Sambuvaraiyar stepped in front of her slapping her hard on the face. His beloved daughter, the apple of his eye, who had never known anyone to treat her in this manner stood aghast staring into his face.

Feeling sorry Sambuvaraiyar said, “Foolish girl! Didn’t I warn you before? Why are you making me angry?” Then he said, “Look over there! See! There is no need for you to cry or run,” pointing to Vandhiyathevan who emerged from the shadows walking unsteadily. He was carrying Athitha Karikalan’s lifeless body over his shoulder.

Malaiamman watched the confrontation between Sambuvaraiyar and his daughter. Now his attention also was drawn toward Vandhiyathevan. With wide eyes he stared at Vandhiyathevan walking unsteadily carrying someone on his shoulder. For some reason his body trembled. There was fear in his heart. He wanted to query the man who was now near him. But his tongue faltered. His throat felt dry.

His gaze unwaveringly fixed on Malaiamman, Vandhiyathevan approached him.

“Sir! Here is Prince Athitha Karikalar! I could not bring to you alive the heroic warrior who beheaded Veera Pandyan. I saved only his body before it perished in the fire. Please take your grandchild who has been killed by fate and perfidy!” Vandhiyathevan lowered Prince Karikalar’s body gently and laid it down.

Then he collapsed on the ground unconscious.

Old man Malaiamman sat down next to the body of the prince. He gazed at his brave beautiful face for a moment. Then all of a sudden as if a hill was collapsing his entire body heaved. “Aiyo!” A sad cry rose from his throat like the tumultuous sea.

He beat himself repeatedly on his head and chest with his well sculpted old hands.

“My treasure! I came for your wedding; here I am at your funeral,” he wailed in a voice that reverberated through the ends of the earth.

The elderly man then proceeded to visit one by one his memories of the prince since the time of Athitha Karikalan’s birth as he cried. He talked about the celebrations that took place on the day of his birth. He wept describing how as a baby the prince had played on his lap, shoulders and arms. He told about teaching him to take aim with the spear, wield the sword and fight. He described in minute detail the heroic performance of the prince in the Sevur battlefield at the age of sixteen and mourned.

“Aiyo! Why didn’t you die in those brave confrontations with Pandyan and reach a warrior’s heaven? Did you have to succumb to the perfidy of this traitor Sambuvaraiyan, and his gang of saboteurs? Alas! It was I who sent you here to be his guest! I am getting old; I sent you thinking that you needed friends, that if you marry his daughter he will be on your side. I believed I was sending you to Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. But instead I have sent you to be a guest at Yaman’s palace! I am the traitor! I am the one who killed you!” He repeatedly hit himself on his head.

He then abruptly let go of his grief assuming an angry stand. Turning around he roared, “Aday, Sambuvaraiya! Tell the truth! How did the prince die? What trick did you play? Even Devendran cannot win if he came to battle face to face! How many fellows did you set after him? Where did they hide and how did they kill this heroic warrior? Tell the truth!”

Angrily Sambuvaraiyar responded, “Old man! Owing to your age I am tolerating you. How did the prince die? I know only as much as you! The fellow who brought his corpse, perhaps he can tell! What is the use of questioning me?”

“Aday! This happened in your palace while he was your guest. You speak as if you haven’t a clue. Who will believe this? Good; when Sundara Chola emperor asks, you can give the answer! Soldiers! Arrest this Sambuvaraiyan. Break down this palace with its ramparts and raze it to the ground!” The old man thundered.

Parthipenthiran who just returned looked at Malaiamman. “Sir! We don’t have to destroy this palace. Agnibaghvan has undertaken that chore! There, take a look,” he said.

Malaiamman looked. He saw the fire that had been burning in one corner of that big palace now spreading rapidly. He saw that fire growing, towering towards the sky engulfing pinnacles, balconies, lofts, rooftops and towers leaving only ashes in its wake still advancing fast extending its thousand, ten thousand red tongues. He also saw the Thirukovalur soldiers standing aghast at this monstrous sight.

“Alright, alright! The lord of fire has indeed taken on our work. Good, Parthipenthira! Let’s leave at once. Emperor Sundara Cholar, the ruler of the three worlds has been sending word for three years that he wants to see his eldest son. My daughter Vanamadevi has been sending me request after request to bring the prince. At last let them at least see the lifeless body of the prince. Let’s not sacrifice this heroic warrior’s body to the fire that has engulfed the treacherous Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Let’s take it to Thanjavur. We’ll lay it in the emperor’s presence. Let the mother and father at least weep over the beautiful face that life has abandoned. Let the emperor deliver the proper punishment to the treacherous villains who killed the prince,” said Malaiamman.

43. Back in Kollidam

In the village called Thirunaraiyur on the north shore of Kollidam there was the temple residence of Saiva elder Nambiyandar Nambi. At its entrance stood a palanquin belonging to the palace. Its carriers and guards stood nearby. At a distance stood a crowd of villagers.

At the center of the crowd a heated argument was taking place between two men. The villagers were following it with growing excitement.

If we make our way through the crowd and peek in we will find out that the two men are not strangers. One of them was the Azhvarkadiyan nambi called Thirumalai. The second person was the brave saivar who at the beginning of our story engaged in an argument with him on a boat. He was the principal admisnitrator of Nambiyandar nambi’s saiva temple residence.

When he heard that the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi who was paying a visit to Nambiyandar wanted to speak to that great man in private the above veera saiva elder came outside. The sight of Azhvarkadiyan naturally made him angry. The memory that he had lost on a previous occasion to the distinguished veera Vaishnavan in a debate fueled that anger.

“Aday! Pretentious Vaishnava, who deceives the country scribbling your god’s name all over your body, where have you come? Go, find a place where there will be pongal and pulliyotharai!” He said.

“I am here after a good meal of pongal and pulliyotharai. I hear that in the saiva ashram you have been fattened on a diet of ash. A pity! What can you do? Your Sivaperuman starving of hunger dined on poison. At that time if our Narayanamoorthi’s sister Parvathi did not grab his neck what would have been the fate of your Sivan,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Aday! Veera Vaishnava! Stop talking! Don’t try flying higher and higher. Even though your Peruman flew very high didn’t he come back unable to see Sivapaeruman’s head?”

“What yarn are you spinning? When our Mahavishnu in his vaman avatharam measured the earth with one foot and the sky with his other foot, wasn’t your Sivan’s crown below that foot,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“That your Mahavishnu was born on this earth ten times exposes his bravado, doesn’t it? And what sort of births? Fish and tortoise …” said the veera saivar.

“That’s all you know! Why did Baghvan come as a fish? To bring the four vedhas that had drowned in the sea! That is why our azhvar has sung,

‘unceasingly opulent, surrounded by divine courtesans,
the prospect of ruling heaven and earth I do not want
grant me the more austere birth of being born a fish
in a pond in the pleasant gardens of Thiruvengadam'”

“Appan! Your azhvars are only twelve. Our nayanmars are sixty three! Keep that in mind!”

“Oho! Now that has become a bragging point? Pancha Pandavrs were only five. But Thuriyothanathiyar were a hundred – are you about to say?”

“Loudmouth! Are you comparing our nayanmars to the Thuriyothanan crowd? It is amoung your azhvars one finds peyazhvar and poothathazhvar.”

“It is your Sivaperuman you keeps a retinue of goblins! You have forgotten that?”

While the veera vaishnavan and the veera saivar were thus waging a war of words, supporters took sides and encouraged them with their intermittent cheers. The crowd fell silent when they saw Sivagnana Kandarathithar’s beloved spouse Chempian Madevi walking out of the madalayam. To bid farewell to her Nambiyar Nambi accompanied her.

Mazhavaraiyan’s daughter taking her leave from Nambiyandar looked at Azhvarkadiyan. “Thirumalai! You have started your fighting even here,” she remarked.

“No, Devi! This is not fighting using our limbs. This is a war of words. It is this distinguished veera saivar who started the war. Our war of words entertained those gathered here. That is why they have not come into the madalayam,said Thirumalai.

“Appan! Even for the sake of entertainment and dialectic we should not create differences in status among deities. It will create confusion in the minds of ordinary people! My father-in-law Paranthaka Thevar weaved a golden roof over Thillai Chittampalam. In the same way he also donated to the Anantheesewarar temple in Veeranarayanapuram. We must all follow in the path he showed,” said Chempian Madevi.

Once Deviyar was seated in the palanquin the palanquin traveled westward. Guards walked in the back and in front. Azhvarkadiyan walked staying close to Chempian Madevi’s palanquin.

After the palanquin had traveled a short distance Azhvarkadiyan asked the elder stateswoman, “Devi! What happened to the matter that you came to see Nambiyandar about?”

“My mind is now clear of any confusion, Thirumalai! Nambiyandar said that if there was no way of preventing Mathuranthakan from ascending to the throne, then it is only right to tell the truth to the world. I agreed with him wholeheartedly. Now I feel confident,” said Chempian Madevi.

“The chief minister also expected Nambiyandar to say that. Anyway it is good that you made this journey. Madam! There is now greater urgency for you to make a decision about this. A most terrifying news has arrived from Kadampoor. The people of this town are not yet aware of it. If they were they will not have been present here today. They will have gone to see the funeral procession of the prince,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Thirumalai! What are you saying? How frightening? Which prince? Whose funeral procession,” asked Devi.

“Forgive me, Madam! No such tragedy has ever visited the Chola tribe. They say that Athitha Karikalar has passed away at Kadampoor palace, they say that it is under unnatural circumstances. No one knows how, or who was responsible. Different versions have emerged. After Athitha Karikalar’s sudden death Kadampoor palace caught fire and has burned down completely. They are bringing the dead body of the prince in a procession to Thanjai. Thirukovalur Malaiamman is bringing Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar and his family under his custody. There are over a hundred thousand people in the procession! Before they reach Kollidam shore we should cross that river!”

“Thirumalai! This is really frightening! Does this mean that the calamity that people were expecting following thoomakethu’s appearance is now here? Aha! Is this any way for that extraordinary warrior’s life to end? Aiyo! How tormented Sundara Cholar will be to hear this? I hope the ailing emperor will not suffer a setback because of this news. Only the merciful Sivaperuman can save the Chola tribe,” said Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter.

“Madam! Apart from its tragic nature, I am also worried that this event will lead to the breakup of the Chola empire itself.”

“Why do you think that, Thirumalai?”

“A big fight can start between the Cholanadu leaders and petty kings. While blood is being shed in internal squabbles, foreign enemies will be encouraged to attack! Must I elaborate about the consequences, Madam!”

“Thirumalai! Why do you say that there will be fighting among the petty kings and the leaders?”

“You know very well the reason, Madam! Some will say that your beloved son Mathuranthakar ought to ascend to the throne next. Others will say that it ought to be Arulmozhivarmar. Already Kodumbalur Velar’s troops are camped outside the fort. Malaiamman is taking the body of the prince to Thanjai. Petty kings who side with the Pazhuvertaraiyars are gathering their troops together. A river of blood will flow when Cholanadu soldiers begin killing each other. In our fine rivers such as Kaveri instead of water there will be blood! Even the highly intelligent chief minister Aniruthar is perplexed. He is afraid that the great kingdom of Cholanadu founded by Vijayalayar and ruled by Athithar, Paranthakar and your beloved husband Kandarithithar may vanish during our lifetime. Even Aniruthar cannot think of a way to prevent it,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Thirumalai! By god’s grace I will prevent such a disaster befalling this empire. I know how. It is to make sure that I can do this, and to be strong in my decision, I came to Nambiyandar. You are saying that a fight for the throne between Mathuranthkan and Arulmozhivarman will lead to a civil war!”

“Yes, Madam! How can we stop such a war? Until now the winning argument was that Athitha Karikalar was older by a few years! Now he is no more. Arulmozhi is younger than your beloved son. But Malaiamman and Velar and the Cholanadu people will insist that the crown belongs to Arulmozhivarmar. Pazhuvertaraiyars on the other hand will disagree …”

“Thirumalai! Whoever agrees or disagrees, Mathuranthakan will not have the throne. I will see to that. I will carry out the will of the great man who was my spouse. If it is decided that the throne is not for Mathuranthakan, then there will be no civil war, am I right?”

“Yes … Madam! Only you can at this time save Cholanadu from destruction; there is no other way,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“There is nothing I can do on my own. Maheshwaran with Parvathi on his side must grant me this power,” said the elder stateswoman.

For a short time the two traveled in silence. Soon Kollidam jetty came into view from a distance.

“Thirumalai! You delivered a terrible news just now. You said that Athitha Karikalar has passed away. That this heroic warrior who ought to have ruled the three worlds is no more is in itself tragic. You said that his death was unnatural. What happened? Did he die under tragic circumstances? Did he take his own life? Or, are they saying that someone murdered him,” asked the elder stateswoman.

“Devi! There are many rumors about it. Because it happened in Sambuvaraiyar’s house, Malaiamman suspects them. He has imprisoned them. He is bringing them to Thanjai. Apparently Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran alone has escaped …”

“I don’t believe that Sambuvaraiyar was the cause. However opposed one is, how can one have the heart to kill the emperor’s beloved son who has come to his house as a guest? Sambuvaraiyar will not have done this. What has he said about this? How does he think Karikalan died?”

“Devi! Once before a Varnar tribe warrior, a young man, visited Pazhaiyarai. Do you remember? Even Madam Kundavai employed his services, she sent him to Eezhanadu with a letter!”

“Yes, yes; I remember. What about him?”

“Next to the lifeless body of the prince, only this young man was found seated. Therefore, Sambuvaraiyar is saying that it he who killed …”

“Thirumalai! That would never have happened. I remember seeing that child …”

“I think the same, Madam! But circumstances and witnesses are against Vandhiyathevan!”

“Aiyo! A pity! The junior stateswoman had so much faith in that young man. If she hears this she will be petrified!”

“Madam! I was about to bring this up. Once you reach Kudanthai it is good to meet the junior stateswoman and take her to Thanjai …”

“That is my intention. The junior stateswoman is waiting for me there …”

Before the junior stateswoman hears from anyone else, it is best that you tell her …”

“Then, you are not coming with me now, Thirumalai?”

“Devi! With your permission I want to take leave of you on Kollidam’s southshore …”

“Where are you going?”

“There is a mystery surrounding Karikalar’s death. I want to find it.”

“How?”

“Devi! I have told you once before about the Pandyanadu troublemakers. I saw one of them when I was coming on Kollidam’s southshore,” said Thirumalai.

“Why didn’t you go after him at that time?”

“Only after I reached Kollidam’s southshore I came to know about Karikalar’s death. Arasi! Bid farewell to me! I know where the saboteurs usually meet …”

“Alright, so long! What shall I tell the junior stateswoman Kundavai? I am very worried about her.”

“Tell her not to worry if Vandhiyathevan is charged with the crime. Tell her that I will somehow find the real culprit!”

“By god’s grace may you succeed in your mission,” said Chempian Madevi who was an ardent saiva devotee.

By then they had reached the Kollidam shore. Boats were waiting to take the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi and her retinue.

Azhvarkadiyan caught a smaller boat and asked the boatman to leave immediately, ahead of the other boats.

44. In the Mountain Cave

Once he reached Kollidam’s southshore Azhvarkadiyan headed west. He saw that the place was a wilderness of water because of the Kollidam breach. But in places inundated by the breachwater there were signs that water was draining, an indication that the riverflow has subsided. Finally he reached Thirupurampayam. He marveled at how this place alone was not affected by the flood. Going over in his mind about the historical tale that in the ancient time of the great deluge when the rest of earth was under water this place alone was untouched, he reached the pallipadai jungle. Even though many trees were down because of the storm it had not deprived him of a place to hide. The jungle remained thick and impenetrable. From his hiding place he watched three men and women as they stood talking at the pallipadai temple entrance. Upon careful scrutiny he saw that he could identify the three men. All three men had been present at the first meeting of the saboteurs in this pallipadai jungle. One was Soman Sambavan, another was Kiramavithan and the third person was Idumbankari. The woman was boatman Murugaiyan’s wife. While Idumbankari talked, the others seemed excited by his news. “Alright! Then we can leave immediately for pachai mallai. It will take us two days to get there,” Azhvarkadiyan heard Soman Sambavan saying.

Wanting to get a headstart over them Azhvarkadiyan turned. He was startled by a knife that pointed to his chest. Relief flooded when he saw it was Poongkuzhali’s hand that held the knife. They communicated their mutual awe by grinning at each other. Through gestures they also communicated the necessity to remain silent.

Once Azhvarkadiyan was sure that the saboteurs had gone from there he asked, “Poongkuzhali! How did you get here from Thanjavur? Why have you come?”

“I came for revenge,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Revenge? For what?”

“One of them is the rascal who escaped after killing my athai. I followed him and caught up with him here. Three others were already waiting for him here. I am perplexed to see my brother’s wife with them! In the meantime you appeared here suddenly. What shall we do now? If you will follow me I will follow them and kill the man who killed my athai,” she said.

“Aiyo! A pity! You mean your aunt oomairani, Manthahini? Why did one of them kill her,” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“He didn’t plan to kill my aunt. My aunt bore the spear that was aimed at the emperor,” she said.

“Oho! Is that right? Oomairani sacrificed her life to save the emperor’s? When did this happen? Let me hear the full story!”

“Is this the time to be talking? They will run away!”

“Poongkuzhali! I know where they are going. I also guessed why they are going, and whom they are going to meet there. It is best not to meddle with them on the way. We can go where they are going. And once I find out what I had come for, you can have your revenge,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Alright, then let’s go! On the way I’ll tell you what happened in Thanjavur,” said Poongkuzhali.

* * *

Both crossed Kollidam by boat and reached the opposite bank. Then they traveled in a northwesterly direction. After journeying for three days and nights they reached the foot of pachai mallai. It was not easy to find the people they were after because of the thick overgrown jungle at the base of that mountain. They were discouraged by the seeming reality that their journey this far may have been a wasted effort.

Suddenly an owl was heard screeching. Another one sounded as if in response. Azhvarkadiyan’s face beamed. He silently signaled to Poongkuzhali to follow him. From where the owls had sounded there was a clearing. There were about seven or eight people present. Some were lighting a fire and cooking. Others were talking. There seemed to be an element of surprise in the news that they appeared to be exchanging, the newcomers and those who were already present.

Ravithasan was one of those already present. He was pointing to a mountain cave at a distance and saying something to those who had just arrived. Azhvarkadiyan noticed this. “Poongkuzhali! The people I came in search of are probably in that cave. I will slowly check the cave out. If anyone of these men come near the cave, alert me,” he said to Poongkuzhali.

“I cannot cry like an owl. I will pretend to be a cuckoo bird,” said Poongkuzhali.

To let air and light in, there were many holes made in the cave. Therefore plenty of light entered the cave. In that light Azhvarkadiyan witnessed an extraordinary scene. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar donned a tiger skin attire like that of the kalamuga mendicants. Beside him lay a necklace of skulls strung together. His face appeared white as if he had lost a lot of blood. He appeared to have been lying on the floor and was now slowly waking or regaining consciousness and was trying to sit up. His face looked as if he was stepping out from a nightmarish world. His eyes looked around, wide and disoriented.

Beside him was Nandhini. She had no jewelry or make-up. Her hair was not tied. Yet her attractive countenance dazzled ten times more striking than before. In a voice filled with affection, support, regret and sorrow she was saying, “Sir! Have this porridge,” and was handing him an earthenware bowl.

Pazhuvertaraiyar turned and looked at her. For a while a smile blossomed on his face indicating pleasure and happiness.

“Nandhini! My great queen! Is it you who just spoke? Was that your voice? Where are we? I was at death’s doorstep, is it you who brought me back? What Savithri did the other day to Sathyavan, did you do for me today? It seemed as if you were touching my chest with your tender hand. Is it true? For three years you refused to even touch me; finally, has your heart relented? Where is it? Give! Give the porridege! Porridge from your hand is like heaven’s own ambrosia to me,” he said.

While accepting the earthenware bowl from her hands his manner abruptly turned hostile. Glaring at her he said in an angry voice, “Treacherous monster! Is it you? You had the nerve to touch me? Were you trying to stab me? And I woke up then? Is this porridge in this vessel? Or is it poison to end my life? From your hands, even heaven’s ambrosia will become poison,” and knocked the vessel out of her hands. It hit the wall of the cave and broke into smithereens.

45. ‘Bid me farewell!’

It did not seem that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s anger surprised Nandhini in any way. For three years she had treated this great warrior of an old man like a doll at the end of a string dangling from her hand.

Today, for the first time that string broke. The doll that was dancing to her tune had begun to think for itself. Nandhini appeared to have been expecting this. She no longer had use for this doll.

Calmly Nandhini rose and worshipped the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. In a voice cracking with emotion she said, “You have said many times that my words are sweeter than honey and ambrosia. But today my words will be like the porridge I gave, more bitter than poison. Yet, please allow me to say a few words before I take my leave. The same mouth that had called me ‘apple of my eye,’ and ‘beloved wife,’ today called me a treacherous monster! For three years I deceived you and betrayed you. I was an orphan in the desert. You brought me from there to this palace. You made the queens and princesses treat me with respect. You fought with the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar who means the world to you. The accusations and sarcasm hurled at me by others did not diminish your affection for me. I betrayed the person who has trusted me and lavished on me unimaginable glory. That is true. I lived in your palace only to carry out my intention. I did many things without your knowledge. I stayed in touch with the saboteurs. I charmed the minds of young men like Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran using them to my advantage. But, Sir, I have never betrayed you in one respect. Since the day I married you publicly I have known you alone as husband. No blemish had been placed on your age old tribe that had produced great warriors generation after generation by my bad conduct. That kind of dishonor will never be yours even if I continue to live …”

“Nandhini! What are you saying? What more infamy can befall my tribe? Aiyo! With my hand … with my hand … Wretched woman! You had a sword! Where is it? Cut my hand off with it! That is the only help you can give me! No, no! Don’t! There is one more important task for this hand. It is very important. Do not listen to me and do anything like that!”

Swami! I will not do anything like that. I could not even use it on the person whom I had coveted for a long time to avenge. When I was in a daze, afraid that the chance was about to slip away, you came to my aid …”

“Vile wretch! I came to your aid? What are you saying? Traitor! Devil incarnate as woman! If I anticipated this I would never have gone there! God! When I got caught in the Kollidam flood why didn’t Yaman take me away?”

“Swami! You did not come to my help. I did not ask for your help also. You came in the tribe that has for generations affirmed its alliance with the Chola tribe, even to the extent of sacrificing one’s life in the service of the Chola tribe. I on the other hand came to settle my score with the Chola tribe. That is why I never divulged my true intention to you. Sometimes I have thought of getting my work done through you. Think about it! Today you are calling me, ‘Monster,’ and ‘Devil incarnate as woman!’ But haven’t you on so many occasions stood helpless as a drunk losing your sight and senses gazing at the beauty of this hapless woman’s face? On those occasions I have considered using you to settle my score. But I did not want to involve you directly in such a treacherous act and bring dishonor to your tribe. This is why I tried so hard to make you go to Thanjai from Kadampoor. And you went. But fate brought you back at the nick of time! You did not by your volition return to help me. It was fate that brought you there at that moment! Yes, Sir! It was fate that made you suspicious about my conduct. If your intention was only to prevent me from seeking revenge you would have arrived in public. It was because you suspected my conduct that you came secretly and in disguise. At least in that matter, your suspicion must be over! Or else, at least now, be rid of it! Elders have said that a husband and wife are partners for life. It was because I was a true wife to you fate brought you back at the right moment …”

“Nandhini! Enough! Stop! Your words are torturing me. Instead, please kill me once and for all! I don’t have strength in my arms to even put up a fight! I have no strength in my body also. If you can’t summon up the courage to use the sword, then please add some poison to the porridge!”

“King! Forgive me. No … you cannot forgive me, not in this birth! I will say this though, please listen! In our next birth if we both happen to be on this earth, at that time we will have no recollection of this incarnation. That I lived a life of deception in your palace, that I used the wealth in your treasury for my vengeful schemes, this last occurrence brought on by fate in Kadampoor palace, you will not remember any of this. I also will not. For my betrayal of you in this birth, I want to seek amends in the next one. In my next birth, I will marry you. I will be a truly faithful spouse to you. As long as this life lasts, this will be my prayer to all the gods.”

His body and soul both mellowed by these words the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Nandhini! You go away! Leave this place at once! If you keep talking in this manner I will loose my senses. I will neglect my duty! All the harm you have done until now is enough! Don’t confuse me and drive me mad any longer! Go, go now!”

“Swami! Please forgive me! If I had listened to the advice of those who came with me, we would have by now crossed this pachai mallai and Kollimallai and entered Kongunadu. But I did not have the heart to leave without speaking to you and taking leave of you. Once you were out of Kadampoor palace you fainted. The men told me to just leave you there. I did not agree. I made them carry you. Even though we walked day and night without stopping, three days have gone by. When we reached this place also they wanted to abandon you here. I was adamant. I said that I will leave only after you regained your consciousness. I won. You tried to kill me. That is understandable. But because of fate something else happened. You who wanted to take my life – I resurrected. Just now you knocked down the porridge from my hands. But it was these hands that fed you water and tended to you the last three days when you were unconscious. For three years you had me as the mighty queen of your palace showering on me great prestige. I cannot repay that in this incarnation. Still, I have been fortunate to serve you these past three days. This memory will satisfy me as long as I live. I am leaving, Sir! Please bid me farewell!”

“Nandhini! Why are you telling me? Just go! The more you delay, the more my mind will vacillate!”

“Yes; you will even want to kill me again. Swami! If death is by your hand this servant will consider it a windfall. Anyway, was it to kill me that you came in disguise?”

“Why did I disguise myself? You said that I doubted your integrity and I wanted to catch you. That is not correct, I disguised myself and came via the secret passage because I feared that if I appeared before you as Pazhuvertaraiyan and you spoke two words to me, my heart will melt all over again. I wanted to leave no room for you to talk, I wanted to take you by surprise, throw the knife at you while you stood in shock. I threatened the Kadampoor servant Idumbankari and took his knife from him. Not only that, Nandhini! I came in the disguise of a kalamugan, so that I will not be made the laughingstock of the country if rumor should spread that old man Pazhuvertaraiyan turned jealous and killed his young wife. But just as you said, while I had my plan, fate had its own. I cannot try this again. So, leave! Only, tell me this! If I did not interfere at that time, what would have happened? How did you think of executing your plan?”

“Oh, yes; I was going to talk about it. Your anger has disturbed my mind as well. Swami! When you went to Thanjai, I gave you my word, ‘No harm will come to your tribe and its reputation through my hand!’ I tried very hard to keep it. I planned to carry out my scheme through either Manimekalai, Kanthamaran or Vandhiyathevan. Most of all I had my hopes on Manimekalai. For a different reason I hoped that Karikalar will turn frantic and rush to kill Vandhiyathevan who was hiding there; and at that time Manimekalai will kill him. So that Manimekalai will not be accused, Vandhiyathevan I hoped will volunteer, ‘I am the one who killed!’ This way I would have taken revenge on Pazhaiyarai Kundavai also. Such was my plan. But there was no need for any of this. The prince took his life with his own hands …”

“No, Nandhini! No! Karikalan did not take his own life. Are you trying to fool even me?”

“Swami! If you had not thrown Idumbankari’s knife at that time, Karikalar would have killed himself with Veera Pandyar’s sword …”

“Yes, yes; if I had come a second later I would not have done this horrendous deed. Instead my suspicion would have been on you. Nandhini! Destiny has had its run. We cannot change anything now. In a way fate has done me a good turn as well. You said that in our next birth you wanted me to be your partner in life! Sweeter words than that, I have never heard. I did not even ask you. When my life departs it is these words that I will be thinking of. Yes, Nandhini! In this birth, you and I can no longer be together. Therefore, leave. Before leaving, if there is any porridge that I tossed away remaining, give it to me! If there is no porridge, at least give me some water from your hand! To show that you have forgotten what I said in the beginning, that you have forgiven, give me a mouthful of porridge or water before you go,” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Alright, Sir! For such kindness I will be grateful as long as I live!” Nandhini went to get porridge from the stove.

Azhvarkadiyan decided it was time to slip away from the cave. He had found out all what he wanted to know. There was no use remaining there any longer. There will only be danger. He left thinking that he will decide on the next course of action once he was outside the cave.

46. Azhvan in Danger!

Azhvarkadiyan and Poongkuzhali were seated under the tree at the foot of the hill. “Girl! Mission accomplished. Shall we go?” Azhvarkadiyan said.

“Vaishnavar! If your mission is finished you can go. My mission isn’t,” said Poongkuzhali.

“What is your mission?”

“I came in search of the scoundrel who killed my aunt.”

“You didn’t find him? He is not among those traitors?”

“He is!”

“Then what?”

“Did I come to worship at his feet and collect my bundle of blessings? I came to get revenge for revenge, murder for murder.”

“Poongkuzhali! Who are we to punish those who have sinned? There is always god!”

“Is there? Even so, I doubt that god is punishing humans for their atrocities.”

“Let’s not talk about god. In this world the responsibility of punishing wrong-doers is with the king; and the officials appointed by the king.”

“If the king and his appointees fail in their duty?”

“How can we determine that they have failed?”

“Vaishnavar! One of those scoundrels there, threw a spear from the balcony and killed my aunt. He killed a helpless woman who was deaf and dumb, who never intended harm to anyone, who had been an unfortunate being all her life. The emperor, his queens, Thanjai fortress commander – the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, they were all watching. Still, they let him escape …”

“Poongkuzhali! They did not do anything to catch Soman Sambavan?”

“The emperor who rejected her all her life gathered her in his lap and cried. All of the others stood passively in their bewilderment. Once I said, “I am going behind the murderer,” the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was jolted into action. He accompanied me, but in the underground passage he had to turn back.

When we were both in the underground passage, a cry rose in the dark. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar pursued it and found a man. He held him and shouted, ‘Here, the murderer!’ The man replied, ‘No, I did not kill!’ The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar recognized the man’s voice. He was astounded. ‘Aiyo! Why did you come here?’ He asked. ‘I came to see if all the treasure here is safe,’ the voice replied in the dark. ‘Aiyo! God! If anyone sees you here what will they think? They will think that you are the one who tried to kill the emperor.’ said Kalanthaka Kandar. ‘Is the emperor dead,’ asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s beloved son-in-law Mathuranthaka Thevar. ‘Foolish Child! Come with me! Before anyone sees you, come!’ Kalanthaka Kandar took the son-in-law by his hand and left. Then I followed the murderer alone. After all the difficulty, after coming all this way, you are asking me to go back?” Poongkuzhali said.

“Girl! You should have been born a man. If you had been you would have been a dictator of a big empire. Never mind. Listen to this. Give me your verdict! If a person intends to kill one person, but ends up killing someone else by accident, should that person be charged with the crime of murder?”

“I don’t understand your question. The one who killed, did commit the crime of murder!”

“How can that be? You have heard Ramayanam. Thasarathar released the arrow thinking that it was the elephant drinking water. It fell on the rishi kumaran. Was Thasarathar punished for the crime of killing rishi kumaran? No! Take the case of Soman Sambavan whom you followed here. He threw the spear to kill the emperor. But, the emperor is alive. Your aunt came in between, took the spear and died. Isn’t that suicide? Then how can Soman Sambavan be charged with the crime of murder?”

“Vaishnavar! You have a very peculiar way of dishing out justice …”

“This isn’t just mine. Even the lord of the universe Narayaana Moorthi himself is peculiar in this regard. In this world the sinners are prosperous. Good people – benevolent souls – suffer and die. There must be some divine justification for this?”

“Get lost, Vaishnava! And take your Narayanan with you. I will come after doling out my kind of justice.”

“Poongkuzhali! I did not raise this topic for your sake alone. There in that cave are two people. One of them killed Athitha Karikalar. But he did not intend to kill him. The knife he threw to kill someone else, struck the prince killing him. Can we call this person a murderor?”

“Vaishnava! Don’t meddle with my brain. Who is in that cave?”

“The treasurer of Chola empire, the heroic warrior who fought in twenty four battlefields, who carries sixty four scars on his body. The tax collecting lord, the head of the petty kings group – the elder Pzhuvertaraiyar is seated in that cave …!” Like a town-crier Azhvarkadiyan announced in a loud voice.

At the same time Ravithasan, Revathasan, Parameshwaran, Soman Sambavan and others came running. Poongkuzhali moved away at once standing at a distance. The men surrounded Azhvarkadiyan. Ravithasan held a walking stick in his hand. Raising it he said, “Aday! Pretentious Vaishnava! Anbil Aniruthar’s spy! Finally got caught to us? Of our three plans we succeeded only in one. We failed in the other two. We don’t have to worry about those failures anymore. We have found you, the person we have been searching for three years! This time, you will not escape from us!”

“Azhvarkadiyan in a voice that was louder than before said, “Appan! Who is the one searching? Who is the one running? All are the children of that Narayana Moorthi himself! Without him even an atom will not move in this world! Ravithasa! You listen! Let your companions also listen! Leaving all the other small-change deities, surrender at the sacred feet of Mahavishnu! Baghvan will forgive all of your sins and save you! Do not fall, throwing away your lives in the service of mortal beings. Worship Narayanan and reap the benefit of narajanmam, seek your place at the paramapatham! Let’s see, join me in singing:

‘Narayanan is god –
let’s all worship!'”

He began to sing.

Ravitahsan started laughing. “Why, Vaishnava! Paramasivan is not god? Worshipping Paramasivan will not bring me to paramapatham?” He said.

Excitedly Azhvarkadiyan said, “Paramasivan is a deity of destruction! Narayanan is the savior! Have you forgotten our Narayana Moorthi saving gajarajan when he was caught in the crocodile’s mouth?”

“Appan! Didn’t the Vishnubaghvan who saved gajarajan kill the crocodile? Like that, didn’t your mahavishnu destroy Ravanan, Kumbakarnan, Iraniyatchan, Iraniyakasipu, Sisubalan, Kanthavakiran and others?” Ravithasan said.

“Those who suffer at the hands of our peruman will also reach heaven. After killing Iraniyan, Ravanan, and Sisubalan gave them heaven. Your Paramasivan on the other hand burned down the thiripurar with his third eye. Did he give them heaven?”

“Alright, alright! Enough with your chatter! Now let Narayanan come and save you!” Ravithasan held up the club in his hand.

Wishing to help Azhvarkadiyan, Poongkuzhali drew her knife she had tucked in the waist. At the same moment her attention was drawn to a woman who came running out of the mountain cave her hair loose and flowing. For a moment she was startled believing it was her aunt Manthahini. Then she realized, “No, no, she is Pazhuvur Rani Nandhini!”

By then Nandhini was beside Azhvarkadiyan. She stopped Ravithasan’s raised hand with hers.

“Don’t! Don’t hurt my brother! Ravithasa! If it is true that I am your rani then drop the stick,” she said.

“Sister! Thank you. But they cannot hurt me. Narayana Moorthi whom I worship will save me,” Azhvarkadiyan said.

Ravithasan laughed. “How will he save you? Once he appeared from out of a pillar to save Prahalathan; would Narayanamoorthi today appear splitting this tree in two?”

“Magician! You don’t believe me? Good! Look over there! Look at Aiyanar temple over there! Do you see the horses made out of clay in front of the temple? By the grace of Narayanan those clay horses are going to come to life! Soldiers bearing spears will ride those horses to capture you and save me!”

Everyone turned in the direction of the temple. They were aghast unable to believe their eyes. Because it really did appear as if the clay horses had come to life and were galloping towards them. On each horse was seated a soldier armed with a spear!

47. Nandhini’s Disappearance

Among those who were taken aback by the sight of the horses racing toward them the first one to come to his senses was Ravithasan.

“Devi! This fake Vaishnavan has once again shown his handiwork. I have warned you many times, ‘He is a spy. Do not trust him!’

“He has brought people to catch us. But he cannot catch us. Even if his god Narayanan comes it will be impossible to catch us. Come, let’s go. Before the horses get here, let’s go up the mountain,” said the magician.

“Nandhini! Don’t go with those traitors! Enough with the tragedies caused by your association with them,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Nandhini looked at Azhvarkadiyan. “Thirumalai! I have been wanting something for a long time, do you remember? I have been asking you to take me to my mother. At least now if you promise me that you will take me to my mother, then I will go with you. Or else I will go with them,” she said.

“Yes, yes; he will take you to your mother in yamalokam! Just like he killed your mother he will kill you and send you to yamalokam! Nandhini! You no longer want the friendship of these traitors. One of them killed your mother! Look at the magician’s face! ‘Murderer!’ It’s written,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

His face erupting in anger Ravithasan shouted, “Lies! Lies!”

In Nandhini’s eyes that had seemed peaceful until then anger surfaced.

“Thirumalai! Is this true? My mother is dead? I will never see her?” She said.

“If you have doubts ask this girl. It is one of them, Soman Sambavan, who threw the spear and killed your mother. She saw it. She came after the man who killed her aunt! Poongkuzhali! Speak!” Azhvarkadiyan implored.

“Yes! I saw with my own eyes! I came here to take revenge on the man who killed my aunt,” said Poongkuzhali.

Nandhini’s frenzied laughter bordered on insanity. “You came to take revenge? Revenge! Revenge! Isn’t it enough the way I took revenge?” She said. Then she turned to Ravithasan. “My enemy! Cutthroat! Is this what you did,” she said.

“Rani! You are mistaken. I did not betray you. Soman Sambavan threw the spear at the emperor. That dumb madwoman came in between and died! Her fate! What do you say? Are you going with us or not? There, those horses are here already,” he said.

It did not appear that Nandhini was listening. Abruptly she sat down. She covered her eyes with her hands. She sobbed and wept so that her entire body was shaking. With the weeping came the frenzied laughter.

Ravithasan looked at his men. “Run! Run and climb the mountain! There is no use depending on the rani any longer,” he told them. Soon all were running.

“Vaishnava! Here, payment for your mischief!” Ravithasan hit the vaishnavan on his head with the stick before running himself.

Namo, Narayana!” Azhvarkadiyan cried as he rubbed his head.

All those who ran entered the mountain cave. In a short time they stood above the cave on the hilltop at the mouth of river Kanari.

At the same time the horses reached the foot of the mountain. Because there were large rocks spread all over and there was no travel-worn path the horses took a long time to get there.

Azhvarkadiyan saw that the horsemen leading were the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and Kanthamaran. Behind them he saw Senthan Amuthan tied to one of the horses.

“Come! Come! You came at the right time,” he said. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and Kanthamaran jumped down from their horses. Their attention was drawn to Nandhini who was seated down crying.

Kanthamaran went to Nandhini. He tried to say something. But no words came out of his mouth.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar turned to Azhvarkadiyan. “Vaishnava! How did you get here? Why are you here,” he asked.

“Colonel! I came in search of the same person that you have come looking for. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is inside that cave,” he said.

“Really? He is alive?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said eagerly.

“Yes, he is alive. Yaman will be terrified to go near your elder brother! So, those murderers there, they did not succeed in your brother’s case!” Azhvarkadiyan pointed to Ravithasan and others standing on the top of Thirumalaikunru.

“Who are they? Why are you calling them murderers?”

“These men belong to Veera Pandyan’s emergency squad, magician Ravithasan and his crowd. They are the ones who tried to kill the emperor. They are the criminals who killed Prince Athitha Karikalar,” said Thirumalai.

“Lies! Lies! Vandhiyathevan killed the prince! Are you trying to hide your friend’s crime,” interrupted Karikalan.

“Fool! Be quiet!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar scowled at Kanthamaran.

He then turned to the Vaishnavan. “Did they try to kill the treasurer also? How did he escape,” he asked.

“With the help of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani who is sitting here crying!”

“Why is Ilaiyarani crying?”

“She heard that her mother passed away. So she is crying! Can’t we postpone these inquiries for later?”

“Yes, yes! We must first see the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar; you go and tell him that I am here!”

Even at that time the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s reverential awe for his elder brother did not diminish even a little. He hesitated to walk in on him unannounced.

“Sir! Your brother is not going anywhere. I will go and tell him that you are here. Aren’t you going to do anything to catch those murderers?”

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar pressed his forehead with his hand. “Yes, yes! Once before also my mind slipped! I let the fellow who tried to kill the emperor escape,” he said.

“He has not escaped; he is there, on that hill. Hurry! Tell your men!”

Colonel Kalanthaka Kandar immediately barked out an order to his soldiers. They ran leaving behind their horses to where river kanari turned into a waterfall from the mountain. When they reached that place large rocks began rolling down from the top. One or two soldiers fell to the ground hit by the rocks while others scattered to avoid the rocks from falling on their heads.

“How did they climb to the top, do you know?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“They went inside the cave and from inside they climbed. There must be a secret passage inside the cave. Come, let’s go and see!” Azhvarkadiyan said. As he led the way Kalanthaka Kandar and Kanthamaran followed.

At that time from inside the cave a towering figure emerged unsteadily. Standing at the entrance to the cave, the figure stared at those coming. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did not immediately recognize his older brother. When at last it dawned on him that the person with the bruised up body and death pallor was his brother, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar ran and hugged him crying, “Brother!”

Tears poured from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes. “Brother! You warned me so many times! Without listening to you I have suffered,” he mumbled in a soft voice.

As Azhvarkadiyan and Kanthamaran were about to go inside the cave, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stopped them. “Where are you going,” he asked.

“The murderers went inside there …”

“What murderers?”

“Magician Ravithasan and his friends.”

“They are not murderers,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“See? Didn’t I say that Vandhiyathevan is the murderer,” said Kanthamaran.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stared at him sharply. “How did this foolish young man come here?” He asked.

“It was Kanthamaran who brought the news from Kadampoor.”

“What news?”

“He brought the news that Prince Karikalar had died. Sambuvaraiyar sent word through him that we must gather all our might and make arrangements to put Mathuranthakar on the throne immediately!”

“Aha! Is that right?” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said in a tone that showed very little enthusiasm. Then he asked, “How is the situation in Thanjavur?”

“Brother! I must explain in detail. You are very weak. Shall we please sit down and talk,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

The treasurer sat right there at the cave’s entrance.

“Sir! If you give us a little room we can go in the cave and see if there is a way to climb up,” said the Vaishnavan.

“What for,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Ravithasan and crowd climbed the hill by going in through the cave,” said Thirumalai.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar shook his head. “There is no use going inside the cave, Appan! They have pushed a rock from above and blocked the way. The rock almost fell on my head. It is a divine feat that my life has been spared! Go! Both of you, go! See if there is another way to climb the hill,” he said.

When Azhvarkadiyan and Kanthamaran went away the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes fell on Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali.

“Who are they? Why are they here?” He asked.

“The girl is Kodikarai Thiyagavidankar’s daughter Poongkuzhali. She came in search of the man who killed her aunt. Senthan Amuthan came in search of her. It was him who guided us here so we could find you,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Tell me everything that happened in Thanjavur,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. Accordingly the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar did. He told that a man belonging to the magician’s crowd hid in the treasury cellar, waited for the right moment and threw a spear aimed at the emperor; that Manthahini Devi came in between to save the emperor and lost her life. Then he continued:

“Brother! In the meantime Kodumbalur Velan arrived with a big garrison and began attacking Thanjavur fort. Without you there I could not decide whether to start a war with Velan or not. Neither could I ask the emperor for advice. Chief Minister Aniruthar is in the fort. He told me to wait until you returned, and until then it would be enough if we just took care of the safety of the fort. Fortunately at this time Prince Arulmozhivarmar and Kodumbalur Velar’s daughter Vanathi arrived. The prince came in the disguise of an elephant-keeper. Vanathi told me that she had brought an urgent message from the junior stateswoman. Thinking that it was to our advantage to have Velan’s daughter in the fort I let her elephant in. At the entrance to the emperor’s palace I came to know that the elephant-keeper was Prince Arulmozhivarmar. I was perplexed. Brother! The young prince does have an extraordinary power. When I saw his face my limbs started shaking. My heart melted. Unbeknown to me my palms rose in front of me together. I had to greet him and welcome him. It is no surprise that the Cholanadu people start dancing not knowing head or tail at the mere mention of Prince Arulmozhivarmar! …”

“Enough, enough! Don’t we know that already? So I was right to think that the news about Arulmozhivarman drowning in the sea was nothing but fiction. Tell me what happened then! Why did the prince disguise himself as the elephant-keeper?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“If the Kodumbalur Velan knew he would have stopped him outside. He would have barred him from entering the fort. Thinking that Velan’s troops also will make a big fuss, he came in this disguise. For that, we must applaud the prince. It was when the prince met the emperor and while they were talking the murderer threw the spear from above. By divine intervention, it fell on the dumb lunatic and she died. If it had fallen on the emperor and he had died, our tribe would have been marred forever …”

“It isn’t now? Tribe is forever marred!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar mumbled to himself.

“Brother! What did you say,” asked Kalanthaka Kandar.

“Nothing, go on,” said the treasurer.

“Now, a miracle happened. The emperor who had been disabled for so long was all of a sudden walking. He ran to the deaf-mute, placed her head on his lap and started wailing. For a moment we all stood speechless. It was this woman Poongkuzhali who shouted, ‘I am going after the killer,’ and ran from there. May she be blessed! It was because of her that I had the good fortune of seeing you here today even in this condition.”

With tears in his eyes the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Brother! I have heard in ancient mythology about the devotion of younger brothers to their elder brothers. But even among them one cannot find one as devoted as you. Never mind; tell me what happened then!”

“I also followed Poongkuzhali. In the underground passage I caught a man in the dark. I thought that he was the killer. When I heard his voice I knew it was Mathuranthaka Thevan.”

“Why was he in the underground passage?”

“I also don’t know why. When I asked he did not give me a proper answer. I was afraid that someone will think that he is the killer.”

“Perhaps, he is?”

“No, Brother, no! That weakling will not go that far. Besides, I saw with my eyes the man who ran away after throwing the spear. Mathuranthakan did not agree easily to leave the cellar. I slowly persuaded him and took him to the palace and left him there under guard. I was going to go back to the treasury cellar but there was much else going on. Rumor had already spread outside, ‘The emperor is dead,’ and that someone had killed him. Kodumbalur Velar had ordered his troops immediately to attack the fort. Kaikolar troops joined the Veleer troops. Our troops were at that time unprepared. To command them I wasn’t present at the entrance. Veleer and kaikolar troops began to break down the gates; they started climbing over the wall and enter the fort. By the time I came to know about it and reached the entrance ten thousand of them were already inside. Our soldiers were only about two thousand. They fought valiantly with those from the outside. I went and ordered them to stop. I gathered our soldiers in one place. Deciding that there was no use in waiting in the fort I left with our soldiers. Veleer and kaikola troops tried to stop us. We struck back and felled all those who tried to stop us and came outside. ‘If either Pazhuvur family or Mathuranthaka Thevar is hurt even in the slightest way I will destroy the Kodumbalur tribe,’ I sent a message to Poothi Vikramakesari. Then, I came hurrying thinking that you will be in Kadampoor. On the way, on kudamurutti riverbank Kanthamaran was speeding on his horse. When he saw the Pazhuvur flag he stopped; the news he delivered shocked me. He said that it has been a few days since you left for Thanjai. I asked what message Sambuvaraiyar had sent. The elder Sambuvaraiyar sent word that Prince Karikalar had died, Vandhiyathevan had killed him; therefore this ws the time to seat Mathuranthaka Thevar on the throne, that we must make all necessary arrangements immediately, and we must send letters to all those on our side and gather our troops. It seemed right to me. I believed that you also must be engaged in the task of strengthening our side, and that you will return soon. I led our troops to the  Thirupurampayam ridge between manniyaru and Kollidam and left them there. I had olas written to Mazhapadi thenravar Mazhavarayar, Kunrathoor Kizhar,  Mumudi Pallavarayar, Thanathonki Kalingarayar, Vanangamudi Munaiyatharaiyar, Theva Senathipathi Poovaraiyar, Fearless Singha Mutharaiyar, Irattaikudai Rajaliyar and had couriers on horses hurry with them. I asked everyone in my ola, to gather their troops and come as fast as they could to Thirupurampayam. Brother! You need not worry at all! We will destroy Kodumbalur Velan and Thirukovalur Malaimman so that they can never again raise their heads. We will recapture Thanjavur fort. We will also place Mathuranthaka Thevar on the throne!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar declared excitedly.

But his words did not seem to produce the slightest excitement in the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. His attention suddenly veered in another direction.

“Brother! Who is that? Who is it who is covering the face with both hands, and crying and sobbing,” he asked.

“Elder Brother! Can’t you see? It is Ilaiyarani! A pity! She must have had a very difficult time trying to save you! Pleased forgive my criticism of her, Brother! I hear that magician Ravithasan and his cronies abducted you and it was Ilaiyarani who saved you. It is true, isn’t it,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

“Yes, yes! It is Ilaiyarani who saved my life. If Nandhini did not tend to me you will not have seen me alive. The world will not have known the truth,” the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“Even I did not appreciate Ilaiyarani’s exemplary character! How will the world know,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

Without paying attention to his words the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Nandhini has not left this place still? I thought that she would have gone with those men who climbed the steps up in the cave and fled?”

“How can Ilaiyarani go leaving you behind,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Never mind that! How did you know that we were here, in this place?” The elder brother asked.

“We were staying near Thirupurampayam pallipadai. Kanthamaran was guarding the Kollidam shore. When he saw Senthan Amuthan trying to get on a boat he caught him. You will remember that I had Senthan Amuthan in jail for a few days once before because he helped Vandhiyathevan escape. Kanthamaran was already very angry at him. Now, again he suspected that he was involved in some spy work. So he brought him. When we talked to him we found out about you. He had heard about his uncle’s daughter Poongkuzhali going after some murderer alone by herself and he came in search of her. Poongkuzhali told him not to join her and sent him back. Yet he had discreetly followed her. At that time he overheard some culprits near Thirupurampayam pallipadai. He found out that some scoundrels had abducted you and taken you to the green mountain area. Knowing that Poongkuzhali and the Vaishnavan were heading to green mountain he tried to follow them without their knowledge. When we heard this Kanthamaran and I started with fifty soldiers. Senthan Amuthan was adamant that he join us. We figured that it was also good and tied him to a horse and brought him. It was good that we came. We found you. What is there to worry about now, Brother! Let’s go now. I will make arrangements for the men to carry you, so you won’t be in pain. By now a large garrison would have collected in Thirupurampayam. We can capture Thanjavur fort in one jamam,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Yes, we must go to Thanjavur immediately!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stood up. He slowly walked towards Nandhini.

Nandhini who was until then seated on a rock sobbing stood up abruptly when she heard the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar clearing his throat. Her frenzied eyes looked around. Azhvarkadiyan who was beside her said in a low voice, “Nandhini! At least now, say yes; say just one word that you will come with me! We will leave this country and go to vadanadu. We will journey to Brinthavanam, Vadamadurai, Ayothi, Kasi, Harithvaram, Rishikesam, and other sacred stations. We will recite Srimanth Narayanan’s holy name, sing azhvars’ hymns, and live our lives happily. I am prepared to give up my government work and come with you.”

With tears in her eyes Nandhini looked at him. “Thirumalai! Even after I betrayed you to this extent, your affection for me has not changed. May Narayanan whom you worship  bless you!” She said.

At this time Poongkuzhali asked Senthan Amuthan, “There! Look at Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani! Doesn’t she resemble our aunt?”

“Yes, with her hair untied she is exactly like your athai,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“From now on, she is going to be my aunt; the affection I had for my aunt, I will now give Ilaiyarani,” Poongkuzhali answered.

“I am with you on that, Poongkuzhali!” Senthan Amuthan told her.

By now the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was standing beside Nandhini.

Seeing him Nandhini fell on the ground and worshipped him. She touched his feet and then raised her hands to her face pressing her fingers against her eyes. Standing up she looked at the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar once. Then she abruptly turned around. Her eyes fell on the horses that belonged to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and his men. She ran fast towards the horses. She leaped on to the first one. She took its reins in her hand and gave it a tug. The horse began to gallop.

Those who were helplessly standing unable to fathom her intentions now started to go after her. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, Azhvarkadiyan, Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali, all took a step forward.

“Stop!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar roared. Once again all of them stood paralyzed and helpless. They stared at the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar stood gazing at Nandhini’s figure atop the horse. The horse, speeding like the wind, soon made a turn at the foot of the mountain and disappeared from sight.

Yes; Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani Nandhini Devi also disappeared. We will no longer see her in this story.

Perhaps, many years later, in another place, under different circumstances we may see her. Who can say?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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