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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (52 – 58)

November 7, 2017

Translated from the novel written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

52. Obstacle for Release

Kundavai wondered how best she could console Manimekalai. As her own mind was clouded by sorrow and worry she felt herself at a loss.

Right then there arose shouts from the palace entrance.

“Vanathi! Please see what’s going on there! These people are forgetting about the emperor’s ill health and delicate state of mind. They are making such a ruckus,” she said.

After peering out from the palace balcony tower Vanathi hurried back inside.

Visibly excited she said, “Sister! He is here!”

“Who is he?” Kundavai asked with a smile.

“Him, Sister! Your brother!”

At once Kundavai responded, “Alright. In that case take this girl away!”

Sensing Vanathi’s reluctance the junior statewoman added, “Go quickly! He won’t leave without seeing you. I will call you.”

Just as Vanathi took Manimekalai’s hand and led her away Ponniyin Selvan entered.

“Brother! I hear that people are gathering wherever you go. Now you have brought them right here to our doorstep. The emperor is mourning; if their shouting reaches his ears, how tormented he will be,” said Kundavai.

“What can I do, Sister? Am I not mourning? Even before Karikalar’s body burnt to ashes the people started shouting, ‘Crown Arulmozhi!’ Their cries are a torture to me. I catch myself thinking of running away, without telling anyone. Then I worry that it will only add to the turmoil here. The people may even decide that Mathuranthakar and the petty kings have conspired together and killed me. When I think of the reaction it will unleash my mind shudders.”

“Of course. Don’t ever do that. Perish that thought! Besides what people may say, it will certainly break the emperor’s heart. It is enough that he feels hopeless mourning the deaths of Manthahinidevi and Karikalan,” said the junior stateswoman.

“That is what keeps me from running away. I am trying to pacify the people and get their consent for crowning Mathuranthakar. While I speak, the soldiers and people listen calmly. Once I move away they resume their shouting. I come away thinking that I have succeeded. But Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Kodumabalur Velar immediately do their part. They change the minds of the soldiers. Sister! The reason I came here is to talk about them. You must speak to Malaiamman and Velar. Their ears are deaf to my words. They may listen to you …”

“I have tried, Brother! I could not change their minds. We have to use a different strategy …”

“Sister! You may not have brought this up with Velar. If you discuss this with him he may not be so adamant about crowning me.”

“What is that brother?”

“You must tell him about your friend Vanathi’s vow. Didn’t she swear that she won’t be seated with me on the throne? If the senior Velar knows this he may loose interest in crowning me!”

“Brother! Did you think that I did not discuss this with him? I did. Do you want to hear his response? ‘Are you asking me to ruin a great empire for the sake of one little girl’s stupidity! If not Vanathi, then there are a hundred other princesses waiting in the Bharatha country to garland Arulmozhi. If they are told to ascend the throne, they will! They will even ascend the stake, if they are told,’ the colonel told me all the while glaring at Vanathi. That girl was trembling!”

“At least she did not faint!” Arulmozhi grinned as he looked around.

“I have sent Vanathi on an errand,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Sister! If you and Vanathi back me we can succeed. Both of us will appeal to the emperor. These two old men will only listen to the emperor …”

“Even then we won’t succeed, Brother! Chempian Madevi is in the way! If she adamantly opposes us what can father do? He may loose his mind. I am wary of troubling the emperor about this.”

“Then it is Chempian Madevi whom we must approach. We were right about her reluctance to crown Mathuranthakar. I just met her now at the chief minister’s residence. Only today she told the truth to Mathuranthakar. You should have seen our uncle’s face when she said, ‘You are not my son!’ His beautiful face turned ugly. Fortunately I happened to walk in on them at that moment …”

“Is that right? What happened then?”

“I greeted grandmother with a worshipping salute. I said, ‘Mother! I too know that Mathuranthakar is not your son by birth. So what? Would the man whom you brought up so lovingly cease to be your son? He is the one who must wear the crown!'”

“What was the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi’s response?”

“I came away before she gave an answer.”

“Brother! Even if Mathuranthakan is not Chempian Madevi’s son, didn’t you tell her that he is entitled to the Chola throne for another reason? Didn’t you tell that he is our father’s son, your elder brother?”

“I did not, Sister!”

“Why, Brother? Were you afraid that it will mar our father? Or, were you thinking of telling them later?”

“No, Sister! I found out that our faith in this information is baseless. That is why …”

“What do you mean, Brother?

“Yes, Sister! The chief minister knows the details. The twin babies, Mathuranthakan and Nandhini were born two years after our father returned from Eezhatheevu. Therefore, they cannot be our siblings,” said Arulmozhi.

After some thought Kundavai asked, “Knowing this, you still want to hand over the throne to Mathuranthakar?”

“Yes, Sister! After all, Mathuranthakar is Manthahini’s son. He was brought up as Chempian Madevi’s son. I, on the other hand, have no desire to rule. Your friend Vanathi also does not want the crown …”

“Brother! In the story of Ramar, Parathar turned down the offer of the kingdom and went in search of Ramar. When Kuhan heard about it he supposedly said, ‘A thousand Ramars cannot compare to you!’ The Chola citizens will be saying, ‘A thousand Parathars will not equal you!'”

“Afterwards, they can say whatever. Right now I want to be left alone. Sister! I have one last idea. I like to know what you think …”

“What is your idea, Brother?”

“You know that the Pazhuvertaraiyars are gathering their troops near Kudanthai?”

“Yes; I also know that many petty kings have joined their bandwagon. But I hear that it is a rather small battalion; that our grandfather and Velar with their troops will wipe them out in less than an hour!”

“I have an idea to prevent that. I will go on a horse and hand myself over to the Pazhuvertaraiyars. They will imprison me. After that our grandafather Malaiamman, and colonel senior Velar cannot do anything!”

In admiration Kundavai’s hand rose to touch the tip of her nose. “Excellent idea, Brother! But there is a slight risk,” she said.

“What is it, Sister?”

“Once you reach the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ army do you know what those soldiers will do? They will start shouting, ‘Long live Arulmozhivarmar! Crown Ponniyin Selvar!’ Instead of imprisoning you they might imprison the Pazhuvertaraiyars!”

Arulmozhivarman was taken aback. After a lengthy pause he said, “Yes; I did not foresee that danger. Fortunately you did. Just as I entered this Thanjai fort in disguise I will go there also in disguise …”

“However you disguise yourself how long can you hide yourself, Brother? Only one person needs to know! Within minutes everyone will know. Crowds will begin to gather!”

Arulmozhi frowned. “Sister! What are you saying? Why am I here in this world? To be a hindrance to others! I should have died when I fell into Kaveri,” he said.

“Brother! Who knows? Perhaps there is some truth in what the astrologers say and the palm readings indicate? Even if you push away the goddess of power she will find you no matter what. It’s all tied up to the time of your birth!”

“Sister! Have you also joined our grandfather Malaiamman? Have you changed your mind?”

“My mind did not change because of grandfather’s preaching. But brother Karikalan’s death has had its effect. He has written that you will make all his dreams come true. When I read that …” Kundavai’s voice faltered as tears welled in her eyes.

When Ponniyin Selvan read Athitha Karikalan’s letter tears streamed down from his eyes as well.

When he finished reading Kundavai said, “Brother! Whatever you may think, let me tell you what’s on my mind. I am at peace knowing that Mathuranthakan and Nandhini don’t belong to our family. I have no wish to place someone who does not belong to the Chola tribe on the throne. Even though I am devoted to Chempian Madevi and Manthahinidevi I cannot go that far. I can no longer tolerate the idea of crowning Mathuranthakan.”

“Sister! Sister! What are you saying? I said in front of Chempian Madevi, Aniruthar and Mathuranthakar, ‘I don’t want the crown!’ I said it in front of thousands of people and soldiers. Are you asking me to go back on my word,” asked Arulmozhivarman.

“Brother! Only Durga Parameshwari, the deity of our tribe, can show us the way. I am not sure what advice to give you. If Athitha Karikalan had listened to me we will not be having this conversation! How that great warrior succumbed to such a fate,” Kundavai grieved.

“How did you get this letter, Sister? Who brought it? How did it reach you? Why didn’t you tell me before,” said Arulmozhi.

“I received it just a short while ago. Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai brought it …”

“Yes, I have heard of Manimekalai. How did she get this letter?”

“She is here, Brother! You can ask her yourself! I cannot decide how much of what she says is true” said the junior stateswoman Kundavai.

The junior stateswoman had decided as soon as Arulmozhivarman walked in, to bring Manimekalai before him and have her bring up the subject of Vandhiyathevan. While they were talking, her mind was thinking about Vandhiyathevar waiting in the dungeon. Kundavai did not raise the subject herself. She was waiting for an opportunity to call Manimekalai. So now she called Vanathi and asked her to bring Manimekalai.

Manimekalai walked in with a tearful face. Ponniyin Selavn felt that she had reason to be sorrowful.

“Brother! Here is Manimekalai. She brought the ola, you can ask her how it came to be with her!”

“Sister! You safely delivered our brother’s last letter. For that, we will be forever grateful to you!” Before Arulmozhivarman could continue, Manimekalai abruptly fell at his feet and worshipped him.

“Prince! Ponniyin Selva! Did you mean what you just said? If it is true that you are grateful …”

Unable to continue Manimekalai broke down sobbing.

“Sister! What is going on? Why is this girl crying? Is she sad because our brother died in her house?”

“No, Brother! It is something else. Manimekalai! Tell the prince what you told me,” Kundavai encouragingly said to Manimekalai.

“Sir! I am the sinner who killed your elder brother. Throw me in the dungeon and release him!” Manimekalai said crying.

Confused Arulmozhivarman asked Kundavai, “Sister! What is she saying? Is she insane?”

“Not yet; Brother! But if the Vallathu prince is not released from prison, she soon will be!” She said.

“What? What? Who is in the dungeon?” Arulmozhivarman asked in surprise.

“Have you completely forgotten the Varnar tribe warrior whom I sent to Eezhanadu with my letter?”

For an instant Arulmozhivarmar looked as if he had just woken up from a long dream. His mind had until then been focused on events that followed one after another since his entry into Thanjai fort. Ever since word of Karikalar’s death arrived his mind had been preoccupied thinking of ways to seat Mathuranthakar on the Chola throne. He had completely forgotten about Vandhiyathevan. Upon hearing Vandhiyathevan’s name he said with a start, “Who is in the dungeon? My friend Vandhiyathevar? Why? Who put him there?”

Kundavai related the story Manimekalai had told.

After listening to her Ponniyin Selvan said, “Sister! There cannot exist a more ungrateful fellow than me. I never inquired after the Varnar tribe warrior. It is my fault! Those who dared to lock him up in the dungeon are even more at fault. I know how devoted he was to our brother. Who dared to hold him responsible for Karikalar’s death? What foolishness? The way this girl is putting herself in front to save him should teach all of us a lesson. I am even embarrassed to face her. All other matters can wait. I will go to the dungeon right away and get Vandhiyathevar released. You console Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter!” He turned and walked away brusquely.

When he reached the door Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Kodumbalur Velar appeared there. Their arrival made the prince suspicious. Senior Velar held his spear across the doorway as if to stop the prince. Behind him stood Malaiamman with his sword, its tip planted on the floor ready to stop the prince from proceeding further.

Ponniyin Selvan with a great deal of astonishment and a little anger asked, “Colonel! What is going on? Are you going to arrest me also?”

“Prince! Now we are stopping you from going to the dungeon. If necessary we will arrest you also,” said Poothi Vikramakesari.

It was not clear to Ponniyin Selavan if Velar was making fun or being serious. But he also was not in a mood for humor. Therefore in a voice that showed more anger than before he said, “With what authority have you come to stop me?”

“With what authority are you going to free the man in the dungeon,” asked the senior Velar.

“Colonel! Don’t I have that authority? Have you forgotten who I am? Or have you forgotten who you are?”

“I know who I am. And I know who you are. I am today the commander of Thanjai fort. Therefore I guard the dungeon. You are the emperor’s beloved son, Ponniyin Selvar. Still you have no authority to release the man locked up in the dungeon charged with the crime of murdering your elder brother. Only the emperor has the authority. Or the person who will follow the emperor to the throne has that authority. You are broadcasting that you will not ascend the throne. Therefore without the emperor’s permission you cannot free anyone from the dungeon,” said Kodumbalur senior Velar, Poothi Vikramakesari.

“Child! Velar has the facts right. Because the younger Pazhuvertaraiyan ran away the emperor has appointed senior Velar as Thanjai fort’s commander. Therefore you have no authority to release anyone form the dungeon,” Malaiamman ascertained.

Unable to answer them Ponniyin Selvan stood silently. Manimekalai’s sobs alone were heard.

53. Vanathi’s Idea

Kundavai who had been listening to the argument between the two petty kings and Arulmozhivarmar came forward. “Grandfather! Uncle! Must we stand in the doorway? Come inside! Ponniyin Selavn will not do anything against your word,” she said.

Malaiamman and Velar went in. Velar told the junior stateswoman, “If only the prince will agree to take the throne! Then there will be no trouble. We will be obliged to obey his orders. The emperor is waiting to hand over the kingdom. He wants to go to the golden palace in Kanji that Karikalan built. He wants to spend his last days in peace.”

“Uncle! That is exactly what I was telling the prince when both of you walked in. This girl came in the middle and complained. The prince felt sorry, so he wanted to go to the prison and release him.”

“Who is this girl? Why is she in tears,” asked Velar.

“Don’t you know, Uncle? She is Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai …”

“Oho! She is crying because Sambuvaraiyar is in prison. Don’t cry, Girl! The emperor has issued an order for your father’s release. Parthipenthira Pallavan is on his way to the dungeon to bring him,” said Malaiamman.

“Her concern is not for her father alone. She is worried about the Varnar tribe warrior. Release him. She is saying, ‘I am the one who killed the prince!'” The junior stateswoman said.

“Oho! If she claims that, then let’s lock her up also in the dungeon. We cannot release the Vallathu prince,” said the senior Velar.

Sobbing Manimekalai turned to Kundavai. “That is my request also, Princess! Please ask them to lock me up with him,” she said.

Colonel Velar touched his head with his forefinger. In a low voice he said, “It seems as if this girl has lost her mind!”

Vanathi who had been silent until then interrupted. “Periyappa! Manimekalai’s mind is in good form. It is you and Thirukovalur grandfather who have lost your minds. Vallathu prince is Ponniyin Selvar’s close friend. He carried the letter from the junior stateswoman to Ilankai, and brought Ponniyin Selvar back. The prince who is now in the heaven of the warriors also had complete trust in him. It is those who have accused him and locked him up who have lost their minds,” she said.

“Aha! When did this girl become so chatty? Is this what you learned from the junior stateswoman? Haven’t you yet learned to keep your mouth closed in front of elders? You speak only if you are spoken to. Otherwise you must remain silent,” said periya Velar.

“Colonel! Why reprimand this little girl? She said what is in everyone’s heart,” said Malaiamman.

“Yes, Uncle! You and I can no longer dictate to Vanathi. Tomorrow she will be seated on the throne as Chola empire’s empress. Then you and I will be carrying out her orders,” said Kundavai.

“If only Arulmozhi will agree to this then we have no issues. On the day of his coronation he can order all the prisoners to be released,” said Malaiamman.

“He can also order that you and I and all those on the outside be locked up in the dungeon,” said Colonel Periya Velar.

“You are both older than me. I regret that I have to disagree with you. Yet, because you are forgetting matters that require urgent attention and spending time on other …” Before the prince could finish the colonel interrupted. “Prince! Isn’t it an urgent concern to determine Cholanadu crown’s succession; and prevent unrest?”

“You have entirely forgotten the existence of the emperor,” said Arulmozhi.

“We have not. We were just returning after visiting the emperor. He is the one who wants to resolve the matter of the kingdom so that he can go and live in Karikalar’s golden palace.”

“I will go to the emperor now. I will obtain his order for Vandhitahevan’s release. Then you will not object!”

“Prince! It is better not to mention Vandhiyathevan’s name before the emperor. The emperor believes that Vandhiyathevan conspired with the Pandyanadu saboteurs and Nandhini  Devi and killed Karikalar …”

“Aha! Who gave him that idea?”

“We did not, Prince! Parthipenthiran convinced the emperor …”

“Then I will go and see the pallavar. I will ask him on what grounds he is making this accusation.”

“You cannot meet Parthipenthira Pallavan now. Following the emperor’s order he freed Sambuvaraiyar and had gone to Kudanthai with him. The emeperor has asked him to meet Pazhuvertaraiyar and the other petty kings there; speak with them and bring them here. He has sent word that we can peacefully negotiate the issue of the throne. He has also made it known that he approves crowning Mathuranthakar.”

Ponniyin Selvan beamed as he looked at the junior stateswoman and Vanathi. “You brought good news,” he said.

“Not at all. On the day Mathuranthakan ascends the throne against the wishes of the citizens and soldiers, there will begin the destruction of the Chola empire that has flourished for over hundred years,” said the colonel.

“There is no doubt in that; there will be unrest from Eezhanadu to Vadapennai river,” said Malaiamman.

“And both of you will be leading this unrest. That is your prerogative. Meanwhile I will appeal to the emperor and try to free Vandhiyathevan.” Arulmozhivarman turned to leave the room.

“Prince! Please do not go to the emperor with this request. There will be great harm done, Devi! Please stop your brother,” said Colonel periya Velar.

“Yes, Child! Listen to this old man,” said Miladudaiyar.

“What harm will arise,” asked Kundavai.

“Some rascals have started a lie. I hesitate to even give it voice. Yesterday our soldiers were told by two strangers that it was Ponniyin Selvar – out of his greed for the throne – who sent Vandhiyathevan to kill Karikalar …”

“God! What blasphemy is this?” said the junior stateswoman.

“Do you know what our soldiers did to the two men? They were repeatedly plunging their heads into the Vadavaru flood. By chance I happened to be walking by, so I was able to save them …”

Ponniyin Selvan interrupted. “No one in Cholanadu will believe this heresy. Can’t you see from our soldiers’ reaction,” he said.

“Today they will not believe, Prince! You don’t understand the nature of people. After a while this rumor will surface again. A few who don’t know you well may fall for it. Relatives murdering one another to take over the kingdom is common in foreign lands. You do know the history of the ruling tribe of Eezhanadu!”

“Colonel! To prevent a fake rumor in the future, are you telling me to leave my good friend in the dungeon now?”

“Not in the future, Prince! If you show the slightest interest in Vandhiyathevan today, some will fall for this rumor even tomorrow. It will reach the emperor’s ears. Think how hurt your father will be!”

Ponniyin Selvan’s face underwent a transformation like the full moon being covered by dark clouds. He looked at Kundavai and asked, “Sister! What do you think?”

The junior stateswoman’s face showed great suffering. She looked at senior Velar and asked, “Colonel! Who will spread such a vile rumor?”

“I took the men aside from our soldiers who were torturing them. Using both tact and threat I questioned them. They said that they were sent by Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran.”

At that time Manimekalai chose to speak. “I am ashamed for what my brother did. My good brother turned rotten because of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s influence. I am the one who really killed Athitha Karikalar. Please arrest me! Please release the vallathu prince,” she said amidst anger and tears.

The junior stateswoman touched her shoulder with affection. “Manimekalai! Calm down! No one will believe what you are saying. They will start another horrendous lie. We will find a way to resolve this situation,” she said.

Then she turned and faced the colonel. “Sir! My brother and I will take your advice. It is true that there will be a spate of ugly rumors if we try to free vallathu prince now. We must first find the true culprit. I will consult with the chief minister about this. His  disciple Azhvarkadiyan has gone in search of the Pandyanadu troublemakers. He will be coming back with some news. We don’t know what became of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. The truth may emerge when they are found also. Meanwhile I will find out from this girl everything that happened in Kadampoor! Until then please make the necessary arrangements to ensure that vallathu prince’s time in the dungeon is comfortable. It is certain that he did not commit this dreadful crime,” she said.

At that time the Kodumbalur princess said, “I have an idea, Sister!”

“Tell me, Vanathi!” Kundavai said.

“Do you remember when both of us visited the dungeon once before? In the same way why don’t we all go there today? Let’s take Kadampoor princess also!”

“What do you think about your daughter’s suggestion?” Kundavai asked the senior Velar.

“It shows that my daughter can be smart and intelligent. Vallathu prince was with Karikalan the night he died. He may shed some light on what happened,” said Colonel periya Velar.

Thus all of them embarked on a visit to the dungeon. Before leaving the fort the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had stopped the printing of gold coins. Therefore the mint factory was deserted. Only a few guards were present. They passed the tigers in their cages and through the underground path they reached the cellar where Vallathu prince Vandhiyathevan was locked up.

But Vandhiyathevan was missing. Instead there was the doctor’s son Pinakapani. His hands were cuffed to two chains that were in turn attached to two large iron rings hanging from the wall. When he saw them he howled pitifully, “Aiyo! Aiyo! Please let me out! Please let me out!”

54. Pinakapani’s Work

The doctor’s son Pinakapani had set his heart on securing himself a job in the higher echelons of the government. The beginnings of this desire can be traced to the day he met Vandhiyathevan. Ever since then it had been blazing like a fire inside him. Though, none of his undertakings up to now had brought him any success. At one time Nandhini Devi appeared to take a kindly interest in him. But afterwards the Pazhuvur Rani completely forgot about him. When he went to see Kundavai Devi, she did not even speak to him face to face. Other than being beaten up by Vandhiyathevan at the palace entrance for labeling him ‘a spy,’ no other gains materialized.

But when chief minister Aniruthar commissioned him to abduct Oomairani from Kodikarai, he felt confident that he would soon be achieving his dream. If he could accomplish this task then with the chief minister’s help no position will be unattainable. Once that happens, his first order of business will be to settle his score with Vandhiyathevan. Next, he will squash that Poongkuzhali’s arrogance.

Building such castles in the air Pinakapani went to Kodikarai. There he was able to lure Rakamahl into his hold. She was fooled by him. Assuming that he was one of the troublemakers, she discussed their plans with him. With her help he found Oomairani and brought her as far as the Thanjai fort entrance.

All along this journey Pinakapani’s mind was at work. It tried to delve into the secrets surrounding Oomairani. He remembered the stories he had heard from the madman in the dungeon when he was locked up there. At that time he had taken it for a madman’s senseless chatter. Now he wondered if there was some truth behind it.

When his journey accompanying the palanquin carrying Oomairani was near Thanjai fort, in the blistering storm a tree fell over him. When he had recovered from the injuries sustained during that accident he went to see the chief minister. In the meantime several important events had happened. Oomairani died trying to save the emperor’s life. Karikalar was murdered. The entire country was in a turmoil over who was next in line for the throne. Thanjai fort fell under Kodumbalur Velar’s control. News spread that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and the petty kings who supported them were gathering their troops. There were signs that a big internal war may arise.

In this turbulent time the doctor’s son Pinakapani went to see chief minister Aniruthar. Anpil Brahmarayar who was caught unawares in a deep well of sorrow and regret, did not want to spend too much time speaking to Pinakapani. Since he had carried out the work assigned to him he wanted to compensate him and send him away.

But when Pinakapani started talking about the madman he had met in the dungeon the chif minister began paying attention. When he heard that the madman knew the hiding place in Ilankai of the ancient Pandyanadu jeweled crown and diamond necklace reputedly given by Devendran, his interest grew. From Paranthaka emperor’s days all attempts to find this jeweled crown and diamond necklace have not yielded any results. Until these were found there would always be someone sprouting, claiming to belong to the Pandya tribe. Through Azhvarkadiyan, Aniruthar knew of the midnight drama where a little boy was placed on the Pandya throne and crowned in Thirupurampayam. In that manner someone would always appear from time to time. Eezha kings and Sera kings will help them. To show that Pandyanadu was part of Cholanadu, the Chola emperor must be crowned in Madurai also. During that ceremony the Chola emperor must wear this antique crown and diamond necklace.

These were matters already decided by Aniruthar. This is why Aniruthar asked every Chola commander who took his troops to Eezhanadu to bring back the aforementioned jeweled crown and diamond necklace. Until now no one has been able to. Now when anpil Anirutha Brahmarayar heard that an inhabitant of the dungeon knew of the whereabouts of these treasures, it is only natural that his interest was roused!

There was another news item that the doctor’s son related. It not only roused the interest of the chief minister it gave him cause for concern. Pinakapani said that the madman claimed to know an important secret about the Chola tribe, and that a certain prince who claimed entitlement to the throne did not truly belong in the tribe.

Upon hearing this Aniruthar at first decided to go in person to the dungeon and see the madman. Then he changed his mind. If he went he knew that there will be questions as to his motive. Malaiamman and Velar did not entirely trust Aniruthar. They believed that he was supporting Mathuranthakar because he was the emperor’s choice. A visit to the dungeon will produce newer suspicions. They may even think that he had gone to see Sambuvaraiyar. After considering the pros and cons Aniruthar decided to once again make use of the doctor’ son. He gave him his signature ring and asked him to pay a visit to the madman in the dungeon.

Accordingly Pinakapani went to see the madman. When he saw Vandhiyathevan locked up in the adjacent cell he was ecstatic. Standing in front of the cell he tried to talk to Vandhiyathevan. He got no response. He became angry. After hurling verbal assaults on Vandhiyathevan he went to the next cellar. Pinakapani saw that the man was not really insane. Gradually he broached the subject of the jeweled crown and diamond necklace. Immediately the madman became silent. He refused to talk about the mystery surrounding the Chola tribe also. “First bring me the order for my release; only then I will talk!” He said.

Pinakapani came back and informed the chief minister of his defeat. He also pointed out that if the man was freed then there will be a payoff. The chief minister also thought it wise. In the present confused circumstances surrounding the entitlement to the kingdom he felt that they should not hold a madman talking about dangerous secrets locked up in prison. He thought that it was important to bring the man to his palace and find out the truth.

To accomplish it he approached Kodumbalur Velar and vaguely communicated the news to him. Periya Velar could not think of any objections to the chief minister’s request to free a prisoner locked up by the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar many years ago. So he wrote an order for the mad prisoner’s release.

With the order Pinakapani went proudly back to the dungeon. First he stood before Vandhiyathevan’s cellar and announced that he had his release order. Believing it to be true Vandhiyathevan began thanking him. Immediately Pinakapani began showing his true colors. After verbally assaulting Vandhiyathevan he mocked him saying, “Your release will be on the skate at the carrefour!” Then he went next door and spoke cordially with the madman. He undid his chains. “Here, I have brought your release order. At least now will you tell me your secrets?” He asked.

The doctor’s son wanted to know the secret before he took the madman to chief minister Aniruthar. The madman did not seem very excited about his release or in any hurry to leave or to have any confidence in Pinakapani’s words. “What? How? Who gave the order? Am I really leaving the dungeon? Will they let me leave the fort?” He kept asking.

All of a sudden some bricks started to fall from the adjacent wall. When Pinakapani turned he saw Vandhiyathevan standing behind him. Pinakapani quickly drew out the knife he had tucked in his waist. But by then Vandhiyathevan had jumped over him. He grabbed his neck firmly. He knocked the knife also down. For a short time they dueled rolling on the floor. At that time the madman took one of the chains that hung from the large ring attached to the wall and brought it tightly around Pinakapani’s neck.

55. “Madman”

During the journey from Kadampoor to Thanjai, Vandhiyathevan remained mostly unconscious. They had tied him to a wooden wagon. The smoke and fire from the night of Karikalar’s death had taken their toll on him. During intermittent moments of wakefulness he experienced immense discomfort from the burning sensation in his eyes and bodily aches. In semiconscious moments grotesque caricatures appeared before him tormenting him.

Angrily glaring, Veerapandyan’s head came before him. “Aday! Are you the one standing in the way of my revenge?” It asked. Sometimes Nandhini appeared exquisitely dressed with a magnetic smile on her face and tried to charm him back into her net. At other times she laughed dreadfully like a demon, her face tearful and her hair untied. A shadow followed Athitha Karikalan with a dagger in hand. Whenever Vandhiyathevan tried to stop that shadow another monstrous shadow grabbed his neck from behind throttling him. Ravithasan and his friends threw him into a blazing fire. While his body burned Kanthamaran came by. He said, “Aday! Friend-betrayer! You deserve this!” Parthipenthiran heckled him saying, “Aday! Is the marriage fixed between you and the junior stateswoman Kundavai? When is the auspicious moment?” Out of the blue Senthan Amuthan appeared. He tried to pull him out of the fire. The doctor’s son Pinakapani beat Senthan Amuthan on his head with a big stick from his hiding place behind a tree.

Vandhiyathevan felt an unbearable thirst as his body burned in the fire. “Water! Water!” He wanted to cry. But no sound came out. His throat was dry and his tongue was plastered to the roof of his mouth making speech impossible. Manimekalai brought heaven’s ambrosia in a challis and poured it in his mouth. Before he could thank her she disappeared in the dark! … Aha! In return for this girl’s love the three worlds can be awarded to her! But how foolish it was to think of giving Manimekalai the three worlds when he did not even have a square foot to call his kingdom?

There is Poongkuzhali! ‘Look at my lovers!’ She is pointing to the fire-mouthed devils. What a strange girl! ‘Why are you dwindling in this mortal earth? I will take you to the immortal world, you will see!’ She says. ‘You mean the world of Ponniyin Selvar?’ Vandhiyathevan asks her. Immediately the fire-mouthed devils surround him from all directions. Terrified Vandhiyathevan closes his eyes. The devils bundle him up and roll him down from the top of Kodikarai dunes …

Startled Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes. He saw that he had been placed on a boat by soldiers carrying flame torches. What is this river, perhaps Kollidam or Kaveri or Kudamurutti … once again darkness descends bringing the curtain down over his consciousness.

After many such ordeals there suddenly arose a noise as if the seven seas were rising in turbulence. A giant wave broke over him drowning him. Fully conscious Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes. Thanjavur fort was visible from a distance. An ocean of people surrounded the cart where he lay. He knew that it was the crowd’s noise that gave him the impression of the seven seas on the rise. He sensed that Athitha Karikalar’s final procession was nearing Thanjai fort and that was the reason for the crowd.

Within a short time the crowd had moved away. Only he and Smabuvaraiyar are taken into the fort surrounded by a few soldiers. Aha! He who was that great warrior’s trusted friend could not be by his side during the final rites. His misfortune did not end there! Even though he had tried very hard until the last minute to protect him, because he failed, they have charged him with the crime of killing him! Without letting his revered body burn in the Kadampoor fire he made it possible for these crowds of people to pay their last respect to this great warrior. Irrespective of what he tried to do he is now on his way to the dungeon that holds behind bars murderers and saboteurs. So what? Vey soon the junior stateswoman and Ponniyin Selvar will make inquiries. When they hear of his arrest they will be alarmed. They will immediately come running with the key to the dungeon. They will save him. Even though he could not save Karikalar’s life they will praise him for his effort …

But … will they really praise him? Will they even remember him? Grieving the loss of a brother won’t they forget everything else? Even if he says that is he innocent will they believe him? Even if they do will they be friendly as before?

His hope gradually dissipated as he was led to the dungeon through the mint factory. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had closed the factory. Only a few soldiers stood here and there. They were not adorned with medals displaying the palmyrah emblem. After dismissing the old prison guards Kodumbalur Velar had placed his men. They stared at the two new prisoners. “He is Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyan.  The other man is Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan,” he heard them whisper. When they were led through the room that held the caged tigers they appeared as symbols of the Chola tribe’s merciful tradition. But when he was again led down a flight of stairs and was locked up in a room alone he had lost all hope. He is never going to leave from there. Only his body may leave this room after his life departs – he thought to himself. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was already suspicious of him. Parthipenthiran was consumed by jealousy. Old man Malaiamman on the hand had more faith in Parthipenthiran. Pazhuvertaraiyars will vouch for Sambuvaraiyar’s innocence. Who will take an interest in him? No one. They will charge him with murder. Will they even have a public inquisition? At least then he can try telling the truth. No, no! There will be no inquisition. If there is an inquisition, then the truth about Nandhini and Ravithasan’s gang will emerge. No one will want that. They will let him die in this prison. Or, with no inquiry they will decide that he is the one who killed Karikalar, and they will take him to the carrefour and hang him on the skate.

God! How excited he was when he first set out to Thanjai city! What dreams he had? Especially after meeting the junior stateswoman Kundavai, and Vanathi, at the astrologer’s house; how ebullient he was when he came to Thanjai buoyant in a sea of happiness? At that time he had feared if the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar would suspect him of espionage and lock him up in the dungeon. It had now come to pass by an entirely different route! He was as carefree as a bird in the sky; how they have locked him up in this dark cellar! How can he survive this? He cannot! He has to find a way to take his own life … Vandhiyathevan sat helplessly despairing over such thoughts.

Right then there was a sound as if a man was clearing his throat. Following that a gruff and haughty voice sang,

“Ponnar Meniyanay …”

Vandhiyathevan was reminded of Senthan Amuthan. But he was not the singer. Senthan Amuthan’s voice was of a divine sweetness. Yet … who is singing this devotional song in this place …

Siva Siva! Unbearable. Is it not enough that he is in solitary confinement? Must he endure such virtuoso performance?

“Who are you, Appa?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“It’s me, – the madman!”

“Appa! Madman! Kindly stop your singing!”

“Why? You don’t like my song?”

“Why not? I love your song.”

“You like it … now that I have stopped?”

“You don’t sound like a madman. Who taught you this song?”

“There was another young man sometime back in your room. He was there only for a few days. He sang this song nonstop. I memorized it then!”

Vandhiyathevan knew that the young man was Senthana Amuthan. He had heard that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had locked up Senthan Amuthan for helping him escape. He must have been in this room. Aha! Senthan Amuthan was a precious little friend! A rare find!

“Who is the young man? Do you know?” He asked.

“Why not? His name is Senthan Amuthan. A deaf-mute’s son. If only the world found out who he really is ….”

“What will happen?”

“The world will turn upside down!”

“If the world turns upside down, we will be out of this prison?”

“Of course.”

“In that case why don’t you tell me who he is!”

“Would I? So easily? I will only say that in the Chola emperor’s ear! Isn’t it still Sundara Cholar who is the emperor of Cholanadu?”

“Yes; you have doubts about it?”

“A few days ago some changes took place here. The old guards were replaced by new guards. They shut down the mint factory. When that was open there used to be the unending noise of the goldsmiths working.”

“Why was it shut down? Why were the guards changed?”

“It seems that the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar has run away abandoning his post as guardian of the fort. Kodumbalur Velar has taken over the Thanjai fort. I gathered this from the guards’ chatting …”

“Oho! Is that right,” said Vandhiyathevan. He was truly surprised.

He had been tried and trusted by Kodumbalur Poothi Vikramakesari. Will he now trust his account and free him? Can he even do that? Who has the power to dismiss a guy charged with the crime of killing Prince Karikalar?

“What, Brother! You have become quiet? Shall I start singing again,” said the madman clearing his throat.

“No, no! I was thinking about what you just told me. You said that Senthan Amuthan is not the deaf-mute’s son. I wonder whose son he is.”

“Forget that. Let’s talk of something else.”

“Why do you call yourself a madman?”

“That’s what everyone calls me here.”

“Why?”

“I know where the Pandyanadu jeweled crown and the diamond necklace gifted by Devendran are in Eezham. I tell everyone here that if I am released I can show them where these things are. Because of this, they say that I am insane.”

“Those who call you insane are the truly insane ones!”

“Do you believe me?”

“Absolutely; but what’s the use? I can in no way help you!”

“Don’t say that. It is becoming a trend here. Those who occupy your cellar have greater chance of being released …”

“What trend is that? Do elaborate …”

“There was the doctor’s son, Pinakapani; he was locked up in your cell. Pazhuvur queen Nandhini Devi herself came and took him away. Then came Senthan Amuthan. Kundavai Devi and the Kodumbalur princess came to free him.”

Vandhiyathevan sighed deeply. “No princess or queen is coming to release me,” he said.

“In that case I will set you free,” said the guy next door.

“Now you are really talking like a madman,” said Vallathu prince Vandhiyathevan.

“No, trust me!”

“I have no choice, I will have to trust you.”

“Then, be patient. Until the guards leave after giving us our dinner,” said the man who had earned himself the moniker, ‘mad.’

56. “Timely Remedy”

That night Vandhiyathevan waited eagerly for the last of the guards to leave. He was dying to know what the madman had to say.

Then he heard a sound like a mouse scratching near one of the walls. Vandhiyathevan was not afraid of lions and tigers. But he was afraid of cats and mice. Alarmed whether he will have to spend the night in that dark room among mice he asked, “Madman! Are you asleep?”

There was no answer. Other than the mouse scratching there was no other sound.

Within a short time a few bricks rolled down from the wall and a hole appeared.  The madman’s voice came through the hole, “Appan! Are you sleeping?”

“No, I am not. I am waiting for you. What is this?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“This is six months of work. Before that it took another six months to break the chains from my hands,” said the madman. Gradually making the hole even bigger the madman crept into Vandhiyathevan’s cellar.

Taking his hands and helping him through the hole Vandhiyathevan said, “You went to so much trouble to create this hole? What is the use? If you made a hole on the outer wall at least it can be of some use!”

“There is no outer wall from here. The exit is only through the room with the caged tigers. Sometimes this room is vacant. Then it stays unlocked. Therefore it is easier to leave from here than from my room.”

“You are divulging this to a fellow you met only today. If I expose you what will you do?”

“One can tell a person from his voice if he can be trusted or not. I trusted Senthan Amuthan. But not Pinakapani. From your voice I decided that I can trust you. Moreover, if we want to escape it must be done now. This is the best time.”

“Why?”

“Didn’t I say that I heard the guards talking? There were two who were wondering about the tigers. “When we open the cage what if the tiger jumps on us?” One fellow asked. “We simply have to die!” The other man replied. From that it is certain that they will not open the cages. I think that I should take my chances while they are still new to their jobs. Instead of dying here isn’t it better to try and escape?”

“True!”

“Instead of one person, two are better. You are not like me; you are new. You are strong. We can tie up the two guards, take their keys and leave.”

“Good idea! When do we start?”

“Be patient; I will tell you at the right time.”

“I am also very tired. Even it is one … or two days – it is better.”

The madman then learned about everything that had happened in the outside world during the time that he was locked up from Vandhiyathevan. When he heard about Athitha Karikalar’s death he said, “Aha, in that case it is important that we escape now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“They will have to crown the next prince.”

“Prince? The emperor is weak in both body and mind. He wants to give up the burden of the kingdom altogether.”

“Who is going to be crowned?”

“Some of the petty kings want Mathuranthakar to be crowned. Some others want Ponniyin Selvar to be crowned!”

“What is the emperor’s opinion?”

“To prevent unnecessary infighting the emperor also wants to crown Mathuranthakar!”

“Then it is essential that we escape as soon as possible,” said the madman.

Then he related in detail how he found out about the location in Eezhanadu of the Pandyanadu crown and diamond necklace. When once again Vandhiyathevan asked about the Chola tribe secret he said, “I won’t tell you now. If we both escape safely, then I will. If not that secret will have to die with me!”

Vandhiyathevan’s mind worked frantically. He tried to guess what the madman’s secret was. Shadows of memory darted across his mind as he tried to put the puzzle together.

* * *

When the doctor’s son appeared out of the blue Vandhiyathevan was astounded. He worried if Pinakapani would become an obstacle to the plan he and his neighbor had hatched. He did not trust Pinakapani’s questionable sweet talk. The madman and he were alike in this respect. They decided that Painakapani was there with a devious motive. They vowed that they will not leave the prison without the other person. They also decided what to do if Pinakapani returned.

Therefore when Pinakapani came a second time they were forewarned. When the doctor’s son showed the signature ring to the madman and was coaxing him to tell the secret Vandhiyathevan crawled through the hole made by the madman and entered his room. When Pinakapani saw him a duel followed. At another time Vandhiyathevan would have knocked Pinakapani down within seconds. But his body still ached from the wounds suffered in the fire and his throat from the stranglehold of the kalamugan. So the duel was uncharacteristically prolonged. Pinakapani fell down only when the madman wrung his neck with the chain.

Both men tied Pinakapani to the iron rings attached to the wall. At this time Vandhiyathevan said, “Pinakapani! Do you remember both of us going to Eezhanadu in search of the sanjeevi moolikai to cure the emperor? We did not succeed then in bringing the root. But you have now come to us as timely remedy. Thank you for your help. As the doctor’s son, it is better for you to stay with the art of healing. Why are you interfering in the work of spies, and subjecting yourself to unnecessary hardship?”

Pinakapani did not answer. The sudden turn of events had made him speechless. But from the light of the flambeau he had dropped on the floor the fiery sparks flying from his eyes were clearly seen. The two men took hold of the signature ring from the doctor’s son. Vandhiyathevan took Pinakapani’s turban and wrapped it around his head.

They came out of the room and locked the door. Then they slowly went up the steps of the dungeon. As they were not familiar with the place they walked with caution surveying the place. When they heard the tigers growling they were reluctant to proceed. Perhaps forewarned by their escape the tigers have been let out from their cages?

Vandhiyathevan and the madman slowly peeked into the room with the caged tigers. There was only one guard in that room. He was staring at the tigers. Is he contemplating whether to open the cage and set the tigers on them? By then the doctor’s son had started to yell. It had probably alerted this guard. What a mistake it was not to have stuffed some cloth into Pinakapani’s mouth?

57. “Release”

Vandhiyathevan stood at the entryway stalled by fear. He contemplated jumping on the guard who stood there grooming his mustache. But he could see two more guards at the entryway past the tiger cages. One of them after gesturing to this guard moved away.

Are they talking about him? Even if he takes this guard down there will be other entryways and other guards. Can he take all of them down? Instead what if he in one leap opens a tiger cage? Won’t it be easier to escape in the ensuing mayhem?

While he was thus contemplating he was startled to hear the guard say, “Oho! You are thinking of escaping?”

One of the tigers growled. “Be quiet, Dog!” The guard rebuked. Seeing that the guard had been talking to the tiger, Vandhiyathevan laughed. The guard turned around.

“Look at him, Sir! This tiger is trying to scare me. I have seen so many tigers like this. Its bravado won’t work on this lion,” the guard said giving his mustache another twist.

“From inside a cage a tiger is no different than a mouse. It has no bravado!” He said holding up senior Velar’s insignia.

“You may proceed, Sir! The chief minister’s people are waiting for you at the entrance. You should hurry!” The guard said. Then he turned in their direction and shouted, “Aday, Madman!  Won’t you be quiet?”

At that time Vandhiyathevan was holding the madman’s hand. Feeling the tremor running through his hand Vandhiyathevan tightened his grip as reassuarance.

Together they walked past the guard towards the front. “Release, they want release! If everyone is let out, then how do we make a living,” they heard the guard say.

However bold Vandhiyathevan seemed to be, at that moment his heart was pounding. The guard had mentioned the chief minister’s men on the outside. Here, inside, the place was dark. Therefore it was easy to fool the guards. But outside in bright light, what if the chief minister’s men detect the change in people? There is no harm in trying. He has to be prepared for whatever outcome. Fortunately the madman was an intelligent madman. He would lend a hand.

After crossing the dungeon’s many doorposts they went through those of the mint factory as well. Once presented with Velar’s insignia the guards let them pass. No one suspected them. No one stared at them. As they walked Vandhiyathevan’s mind worked furiously and reached a plan. When they were making their way through a rather long corridor he whispered in his companion’s ear, “Are you going to the chief minister’s house? Or are you coming with me?”

“If I go to the chief minister’s house I will again end up in the dungeon! I will go with you. Where are you planning to go?” He said.

“With god’s help we can even reach Eezhanadu! In front of the chief minister’s men you should call me ‘Pinakapani.’ What is your name?”

“Madman!”

“Your real name! The name your parents gave you!”

“Ah! That? My parents named me Kariya-Thirumal. Neighbors and others call me Karuthiruman.”

“Good name! Karuthiruma! When we are on Thanjai streets I will touch your shoulder. You must be prepared to run with me immediately. You can run fast?”

“Oh! In running, even Eezhathu king Mahinthan can’t compete with me!”

Vandhiyathevan laughed. “You are a fine Madman! …” He said.

Crossing the factory where gold coins were printed they came outside. Contrary to Vandhiyathevan’s expectation and concern, the chief minister’s men were not many. There were only two. One of them was heavy. Vandhiyathevan remembered seeing him before; but he could not recall when or where.

“Are you the chief minister’s men,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Brother! Have you forgotten us already,” said one of them.

“No, no! Are you taking us to the chief minister’s residence,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Yes, we are! You may even have forgotten the way to the chief minister’s residence!”

Karuthiruman at that time remembering Vandhiyathevan’s instructions said, “Appa, Pinakapani! I am afraid. The chief minister might shove me in the dungeon again!”

“He won’t, Appan! You don’t know our chief minister. But don’t try to run away! If you tried anything like that we will put you in the dungeon,” the fat guard said. Then he started walking in front. The other guard followed behind Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman.

There was no noise on Thanjavur roads. There were no people. Once Athitha Karikalar’s final ceremony was over those from inside the fort had returned to their daily chores. Outside the fort Kodumbalur troops stood on guard. No one was permitted to enter the fort. Vandhiyathevan walked looking around him carefully. It won’t be difficult escaping from these two men. But they should not be caught again; they also have to leave the fort! With these thoughts in mind Vandhiyathevan scouted the area checking both sides of the road.

Once they came past the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace Vandhiyathevan’s optimism grew. He knew that the small alley – the one he took when he was running away from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men – will soon appear. In that twisting and turning alley there were many nooks and corners. On both sides were the garden walls covered by low hanging branches from the trees. It is there he hoped to take his chances. Just as he did before they can jump into the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace garden. Inside there, it will be possible to hide behind the thickly grown trees. Just as before he expected to escape through the underground treasury cellar path. There was no other way …

They were at the alley, when Vandhiyathevan was about to touch Karuthiruman’s shoulder … what on earth? What is this crowd? Palankeens! Horses! Soldiers bearing spears! Such pomp! It must be a royal entourage or a high ranking official.

The chief minister’s men upon seeing the alley moved into it to make way for the oncoming crowd. They stood hiding the other two men behind them.

The crowd soon went past them. Following the armed soldiers, on three white horses came Malaiamman, Kosumbalur Velar and a third person in the middle. Vandhiyathevan saw that it was Ponniyin Selvar in the middle. Aha! How close he was! Yet, how very far?

For a moment Vandhiyathevan was tempted to leave the soldiers and position himself in front of them. But he gave up the idea just as soon. How can even Ponniyin Selvar show mercy to the man charged with the crime of killing his brother? … or be friendly? He may even feel disgusted by his presence. What Malaiamman or Velar may do was unpredictable. In the meantime his attention was drawn to the palankeens that followed. Aha! The junior stateswoman Kundavai! Kodumbalur princess Vanathi! Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter Manimekalai! Vandhiyathevan’s chest heaved with unbearable anguish.

In the past he would have approached any of these women and asked for their help. They also would have gladly helped him. But now? How distressed will the junior stateswoman and Princess Vanathi will be to see the man who betrayed and killed Athitha Karikalan!

Never mind! They have at least taken this foolish girl Manimekalai under their wing. At least that is a relief. Would Manimekalai have told them all that happened in Kadampoor? Did she tell them that she is the murderer? Probably not. If she had, they won’t be taking her with them so kindly.

The palankeens went past the alley. The soldiers following them also passed.

“Alright, come! We can go now,” said the chief minister’s men and started to walk.

Vandhiyathevan decided this was the moment he had been waiting for. After touching Karuthiruman’s shoulder he turned and sprinted down the alley. Karuthiruman ran behind him.

They heard the two guards running behind them. For a while they ran without looking back. Then Karuthiruman looked behind him. “One has stayed behind; only one man is following us,” he said.

Vandhiyathevan turned and looked. He saw that the fat man had stayed behind. Even though it was only one of the guards it would be hard to put up a fight. So he signaled to Karuthiruman and kept running.

He paused only when he reached the spot where he had jumped over the wall before. The low hanging branch was still there. Grabbing it he leaped onto the wall. From up he gave a hand to Karuthiruman and hauled him up also. Both of them together twisted the branch and severed it from the trunk.

When the guard reached them they shoved the branch onto his face. Without pausing to look at the result they jumped to the other side. In the garden they stood in the cover of the dense thicket of trees and shrubs watching if anyone was following. Once they were sure that no one was following they started walking.

“Appa! We are safe,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Are we? How are we going to leave the fort?” Karuthiruman asked.

“There is a way. Be patient,” Vandhiyathevan answered.

Once they reached Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace Vandhiyathevan paused. The palace was not as noisy as before. But there were people going about. It will be prudent to enter the cellar when it was dark.

With this conclusion Vandhiyathevan sat down on a log. He asked Karuthiruman also to sit.

“Now we must wait until dark to continue our journey. Until then let me hear your story, tell me!” He said.

“I cannot, I said so before!”

“In that case I cannot take you outside!”

“If I hide the truth and make up some story out of thin air what will you do?”

“Truth or figment of your imagination, whatever! We have to pass the time!”

Karuthiruman began his story. In truth it did sound like fiction.

58. Karuthiruman’s Story

Kariya-Thirumal, known as Karuthiruman was from a place called Thoputhurai a little north of Kodikarai on the coast. He made a living ferrying boats between Thoputhurai and Eezhatheevu. About twenty five years ago when he was returning from Eezham to Thoputhurai he was caught in a storm. He struggled to bring the boat to shore without it toppling. When he reached the shore near Kodikarai lighthouse he saw a woman floating in the turbulent sea. Feeling sorry he pulled her onto the boat. She was unconscious. He could not tell if she was alive or not. He could not also bring the boat to shore there.

Rowing in the direction of the wind he finally reached the shore near a place called Thirumaraikadu. When he brought the unconscious woman to shore and was looking at her with concern a few rather affluent men arrived on horses. With their assistance she gained consciousness. But she did not talk, or seem to hear the others talk. “She is a born deaf-mute,” one of the men said. One of them who appeared to be their leader took Karuthiruman aside and told him a strange tale. Once the storm ended he wanted Karuthiruman to take her to Eezhanadu or one of the nearby islands and leave her there; he said that Karuthiruman will be paid handsomely for the task. Karuthiruman agreed and took the money. Once the sea was calm he took the woman in his boat. In the middle of the sea he saw a man floating while holding onto a log. He helped the exhausted man also onto his boat. At first the woman became alarmed by the sight of the man. Then she ignored him altogether. Karuthiruman dropped both of them off at an island near Eezhanadu.

On that island was an elderly person. He said that the woman was his daughter. He said that she had always been a deaf-mute and now sadly she could not even recognize her father. Karuthiruman told him about saving the woman from the sea.

The man who got on the boat at mid-sea gave a letter to Karuthiruman and asked him to take it to the Ilankai king. The gesture informed Karuthiruman that the man must be a very important person. After giving the letter to the Ilanakai king Karuthiruman came to know that the person he saved was the Pandyanadu king. Ilankai king sent a retinue of men to bring the Pandya king. Because Karuthiruman was worn out he did not go with them. After a few days Pandya king arrived at the Ilankai king’s palace. Both kings traveled to the mountains in the south end of Ilankai. They spent a few days there. Pandya king who had grown fond of Karuthiruman took him along on their journey. Ilankai king gave the Pandya king a tour of the mountain country. Finally he took him to a remote valley. There in a mountain cave was an immense collection of gold coins, precious gems and jewels. After having shown these the Ilankai king opened a gold trunk. Inside were a sparkling jeweled crown and a diamond necklace. From the kings’ conversation Karuthiruman gathered that the crown was the ancient crown of the Pandya tribe and the diamond necklace was the necklace supposedly gifted to the foremost Pandya ancestor by Devendran. Ilankai king insisted that the Pandyan take these with him. Pandya king refused to do it. When he wiped out the Cholar and was crowned in Madurai, he wanted the Ilankai king to bring these to Madurai himself and give it to him publicly for the world to see.

The Pandya king then gave Karuthiruman as many gold coins as he could carry and asked him to provide a comfortable living for the deaf-mute woman and then join him in Pandyanadu.

When Karuthiruman came back to Poothatheevu he did not find the woman there. Her father was also missing. After searching for them he found her in Kodikarai. She did not recognize him. He learned that the lighthouse keeper was her brother and that soon after bringing her to Kodikarai their ailing father had passed away. She did not at first recognize her brother and sister. When she once again fell into the sea and was saved her memory returned. Her family saw that she was pregnant. She herself was aware and at the same time terrified of her condition. She went to Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple often and helped out there. However much Karuthiruman tried, she did not recognize him.

While in Kodikarai he met the deaf-mute’s sister. When he saw that she was also similarly handicapped he took pity on her. He wanted to marry her. Before that he wanted to pay a visit to the Pandya king. During this time Chola emperor Kandarathithar’s queen, the Saiva devotee Chempian Madevi came to worship at Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple. She met the deaf-mute woman Manthahini and her sister Vani. She took both of them with her to Pazhaiyarai.

Karuthiruman went to Pandyanadu. There was a battle in process and he followed the king to the battlefield. The king asked him to take a letter to the Ilankai king. On his way back he wanted Karuthiruman to try and bring the deaf-mute woman with him.

Karuthiruman went to Pazhaiyarai from Ilankai. He had not forgotten about Vani. Mostly he went there only to see Vani. But in Pazhaiyarai a frightening revelation awaited him. At daybreak on the banks of arisilaru he came across a woman digging a hole in the ground. Next to her lay a bundle. From inside came the faint sound of an infant crying.

Outraged as to who this wretched woman was who wanted to bury a child alive he went closer. The woman looked up at him. She turned out to be Vani.

* * *

“Young man! Just imagine how I must have felt at that moment,” said Kariya-Thirumal.

“I will do that; now go on with the story,” answered Vandhiyathevan.

“I can’t. The rest is for the ears of the royalty. If I had not gone to Pazhaiyarai at that time none of this hardship I endured afterwards would have come to pass,” said Karuthiruman.

“In that case, let’s go! Tell it directly to those of the royal tribe!” Laughing Vandhiyathevan stood up.

With Karuthiruman he went to the treasury cellar. No one was in sight. The door was locked with a big lock. But when Vandhiyathevan pressed its secret inner door the big door opened. Both went in and bolted the door from inside.

On the way Vandhiyathevan entered the place where precious stones, pearls and gold were piled up. He asked Karuthiruman, “Does your Rohana country mountain cave contain as much wealth?”

“Hundred times more,” answered Kariya-Thirumal.

Once Vandhiyathevan secured a few gold coins in his waist pocket they set off. Vandhiyathevan walked in front through the underground passage. He opened the secret door on the fortress wall also. This time around there was no guard present. He put his head out and surveyed the outside. Vadavaru flood ran filled to the brim on both sides. Far away a torch was lit. Seeing that no one was around Vandhiyathevan stepped outside. Once Karuthiruman also came out he closed the door. As he stood there wondering how to cross Vadavau his eyes fell on a boat stuck among the roots at the base of a leaning tree.

 

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One Comment
  1. ramesh kumar permalink

    next part please

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