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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (65 – 69)

January 17, 2018

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

65. ‘Aiyo! Devil!’

Azhvarkadiyan summoned his men out from hiding. Together they walked towards the north entrance of Thanjai fort. Readers would have guessed why he did not seek the help of his men during his confrontation with Karuthiruman; obviously he did not want the secrets he was about to verify falling in the ears of others!

After having covered about half the distance they encountered a lone man running frantically towards them. In the dark after crashing into Azhvarkadiyan headlong the man tried to run again. Thirumalai Nambi grabbed him firmly. After taking a good look at his face he said, “Adada! Is it not the doctor’s son? Where are you running so frantically?”

“Oho! Brave Vaishnava! I was afraid it was some demon or ghost. Good; how long have you been walking on this shore? Did you pass two men on horses?”

“Yes; we did! What about them?”

“What about them? Good question; if you know who these men are, you won’t interrogate me in this manner. Didn’t you at least recognize one of them?”

“One of them did seem familiar … but?”

“Who, who did he resemble?”

“I thought of Vandhiyathevan. But I decided that could not be.”

“Oh, you fool! It is Vandhiyathevan!”

“What are you blubbering? Isn’t Vandhiyathevan in prison?”

“He was. But not anymore! Vandhiyathevan and another madman escaped from prison. They tied me up and got away.”

“Adaday! They have done a good job! While they were tying you up what were your hands doing? First of all why did you go to the dungeon at all?”

“I was carrying out the chief minister’s order. There is no time to be talking about this now. Don’t you also work for the chief minister? Come with me! We can catch them …!”

“Why should we catch them? Let them run! What does it matter to you and me?”

“The chief minister has found a ‘good’ person in you. If everyone is like you it will certainly help this Chola kingdom! Don’t you know that Vandhiyathevan is charged with the crime of killing Prince Karikalar? Not only that; a short while ago he stabbed another man near Senthan Amuthan’s hut …”

“God! What is this? Who was stabbed?”

“I did not see who it was. I came chasing Vandhiyathevan … alright, alright; if you don’t want to join me, go! Don’t stand in my way! You will be blessed! Let me go!”

“Son of the Medicine Man! I have seen many fools in this world but you have surpassed all of them! They are galloping on horses. Daring death they are on the run. You, a lone man, going on foot will catch them? What do I care? Go! Go!”

“You are right. That is why I asked for your help. You are refusing to come.”

“What can I do? I tried to stop them. One of them hit me hard with his club. I bore it and came. That pain is still there. I am not used to fighting. You, perhaps … yes; what is that on your hand. Looks like blood?”

“They attacked me in the prison. Vengeful savages!”

“And you are going behind these savages on foot? If they had done this to you even while in prison …”

“Then what do you suggest that I do?”

“I am not suggesting anything; why are you attacking me? If I was in your position I will go back and tell the proper authorities; return with at least five or six soldiers on horses and go on a manhunt. I will also get on a horse armed with sword and spear …”

The doctor’s son started to think. He had come running after stabbing someone near Senthan Amuthan’s hut. He was afraid that it might be the Chola tribe’s Mathuranthakar. But there was no point as this Vaishnavan says to go alone on foot. If it was Mathuranthaka Thevar who got stabbed in that garden it is best to lay that crime also on Vandhiyathevan. A man who killed one person will likely kill another, won’t he? The punishment will be the same for both crimes? … Once this thought entered Pinakapani’s mind he began to believe that it was Vandhiyathevan who killed the two princes.

“Vaishnava! You are right! I will come with you. You must help me. You must inform the proper people and send some cavalry men with me. I have a difficult time understanding the ways of people in high places. I have a difficult time communicating with them. Look here, I did tell colonel Kodumbalur Velar, and chief minister Anbil Aniruthar – yes, about the need to go after the escapees. I begged them to send some soldiers with me. Both started to insult me calling me a fool. I cannot understand what their motives are …”

“What else? They have no confidence in you. The don’t want to entrust you with this. You got tricked even inside the prison. You let the prisoners escape. They have no hope that you will catch …”

“I wanted to prove them wrong, that is why I started on my own. In any event, those men must stop at Kodikarai. I know all of Vandhiyathevan’s hiding places there. I also have people there who will help me …”

“Then, go! See what you can do!”

“However, it is better to be on a horse and with a few other men. Can you help me with that?”

By then they had come close to the main north entrance of the fort.

They saw at a distance on the royal thoroughfare throngs of people coming from the north. There were horses, foot soldiers and elephants with howdahs.

There were people at the entrance also. The light shed by the flame torches showed Kodumbalur Velar, Thirukovalur Malaiamman and chief minister Aniruthar among them.

“Our master is standing there at the entrance. Let’s go to him; are you coming?” Azhvarkadiyan asked. The doctor’s son hesitated.

“I asked you once. No use. Perhaps now that you have seen two men escaping he might believe you. But I doubt that he will send me with you,” Azhvarkadiyan said.

After some thought he continued. “You are right. Moreover, they seem to be waiting for something important. There is no use going to them now. Whatever we say will not get through their ears. Pazhuvertaraiyars are coming. It looks as if Sambuvaraiyar is also coming with them. There, there is Parthipenthiran, and Kanthamaran. We can tell them. They will have more interest in catching Vandhiyathevan.”

The procession soon approached them. First came the town-criers, cataloging the accolades, acts of chivalry and ancient glory of the Pazhuvertaraiyars. In the same manner the merits of Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar, Mazhapadi Mazhavaraiyar, Parthipenthira Pallavan, Neela Thangaraiyar and Irattaikudai Irajaliar were shouted out. In between they pounded on their drums; blew their trumpets.

At the forefront came the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, Parthipenthran and Kanthamaran riding on stately white horses. Elder Pazhuvertaraiyar and Sambuvaraiyar were seated in the howdah of the elephant that walked behind the horses. Behind it other petty kings came on horses and elephants. Behind and in front about a hundred soldiers came on foot armed with swords in their waist and spears in their hands.

When they saw Azhvarkadiyan and the doctor’s son Pinakapani standing in the middle of the road, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar briefly paused on his horse. “Vaishnava! Is there some news from the chief minister,” he asked.

“Colonel! The chief minister did not send me with any messages. He will deliver his message in person at the fortress entrance. But there is some important news …” Azhvarkadiyan paused.

“What? What? What?” The three men asked eagerly.

“Vandhiyathevan has escaped from the dungeon …”

“How can that be? Who is he? Indrajith? To disappear magically?” asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“There is a conspiracy here. Someone must have helped him,” said Parthipenthiran.

“It is the work of that Kodumbalur periya Velar,” said Kanthamaran.

“Even if he escapes where will he go? He must remain inside the fort,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“That is what Velar is saying. As a precaution the chief minister asked me to check around the fort. The chief minister does not want anyone reproaching the Kadampoor tribe …”

“At least there is one person with that concern, it is heartwarming to know that,” said Kanthamaran.

“Vaishnava! Tell the truth! Are you patrolling to hinder the escapee? Or to help?” Parthipenthiran asked. He always had his suspicions about the Vaishnavan.

“Sir! At any other time my response would have been different. But this is not the time to air our differences. This doctor’s son Pinakapani has a strange story to tell. He saw two men on horses and he thinks that they are the escapees, Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman. I must admit that I also passed two men speeding on horses.”

“Pinakapani! Is it true what this Vaishnavan is saying,” asked the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“I swear, Sir!”

“Then why not inform the chief minister and Velar immediately?”

“They are both very angry at me.”

“Why?”

“I am the one who let them escape.”

“How?”

“There was a madman in the dungeon claiming that he knew the whereabouts of the Pandyanadu crown and diamond necklace. Aniruthar sent me to fetch him. When I went the two men tied me up and got away from the dungeon!”

“In the end the chief minister could not find anyone but a fool like you for this job?” Parthipenthira Pallavan laughed.

The doctor’s son responded angrily, “Sir! I didn’t come here to amuse you. If you want to help …”

“What help do you want?”

“Please send four cavalry men with me. Please give me also a horse. It is my responsibility to bring those who got away. Didn’t I accomplish my tasks before? Colonel Pazhuvertaraiyar knows!” The doctor’s son Pinakapani said.

“What do you say?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked Parthipenthiran.

“We must help. The emperor has given me the responsibility of escorting you. Otherwise I will go with him myself. It is important to catch Vandhiyathevan,” said Parthipenthiran.

At that time, “Give me that responsibility. I will go with him. Even if Vallavaraiyan is knocking on heaven’s door I will bring him back,” said Kanthamaran.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar agreed. He took on the responsibility of pacifying Sambuvaraiyar and others.

Soon Kanthamaran, the doctor’s son and four other soldiers set off on horses along the north shore of Vadavaru. They went as fast as the wind; as fast as their minds would take them.

* * *

Mathuranthakan was not used to riding on horses. Even though Karuthiruman had experience, because he had been locked up in the dungeon for a long time his body was unfit. Yet their hearts were newly rejuvenated. They bore their fatigue with mental fortitude and journeyed on.

After traveling till midnight they stopped. Where they stopped there was a makeshift bridge of bamboo poles tied together to cross the river. Karuthiruman knew that there will be men following them. Therefore he figured that it would be best to cross the river at that point; after traveling along the south shore of the river for a short distance they can go back on the road to Kodikarai.

There was another reason for crossing the river at that place. Karuthiruman doubted that Mathuranthakan will be able to drive the horse through floodwater in order to cross the river. It will be impossible as long as the tide stayed high. If Mathuranthakan took the bridge he can take the horses one by one to the other side.

Mathuranthakan agreed with this idea. Before getting into the water they both sat down on the exposed roots at the base of a tree to rest. ‘Cho,’ the river ran noisily. From all around piercing their ears rose the wild intonation of the jungle critters. Stars spied on them peeking through the rapidly scattering clouds in the sky.

Mathuranthakan, whose life had been spent sleeping on silk mattresses, felt fear and discouragement about his future as he sat there on the ground in the middle of the night by the riverbank.

Sensing his state of mind Karuthiruman tried to cheer him. He said that Ilankai king Mahinthan was a friend of the Pandya tribe, and that once Mathuranthkan reaches him his troubles will be over; that Pandya tribe’s jeweled crown and the diamond necklace given by Indran were in Ilankai; he knew where these were kept; that Mahinthan will crown Mathuranthakan on the spot! In the meantime there was going to be war among the Chola petty kings and the Chola kingdom would break apart. The Pazhuvertaraiyar-Sambuvaraiyar side would be charged with the crime of killing Athitha Karikalan. Since Mathuranthakan is missing, the Pazhuvertaraiyars will accuse Velar and his side of killing him. Rumor will spread among the people that Arulmozhivarman had also aided in these murders. Therefore the people will begin to hate him also. While the Chola kingdom is thus enmeshed in a turmoil, the Ilankai king will gather a big battalion and come to war. He will capture Madurai. He will crown Mathuranthakar a second time for the world to see. He will change the name from ‘Mathuranthakan,’ to ‘Chola-Pandyan.’

Mathuranthakan’s heart swelled listening to Karuthiruman. He felt encouraged as never before in his life. Victory trumpets from long gone battlefields blared in his ears. Coronation music played in his ears. Voices of a thousand people shouted, “Long live the Pandya emperor! Long live the great Chola-Pandyan!”

At this time Mathuranthkan’s self-indulgent fantasia was interrupted by the sound of horses. Light from torches came from a distance.

Karuthiruman had not expected anyone to reach them that fast. He jumped up excitedly. “Prince! Rise! Get on your horse! Before they come we must cross the river,” he said.

In a second he was atop his horse. Seeing Mathuranthakan struggling with his horse he said, “Sir! Please do me a favor. Walk on the bridge and go to the other side. I will bring both horses across.”

“Fantastic! You think that I am a coward? If I cannot cross this river on a horse then how will I ever reach Ilankai? How will I conquer Pandyanadu and take the throne?” Boasting he climbed on the horse slowly.

As both horses were led into the water, Mathuranthakan’s horse suddenly folded its front legs and knelt down. “Aiyo,” screamed Karuthiruman. Fortunately the horse gathered itself up and stepped into the water.

Inside Mathuranthakan was terrified. But hiding his terror he said, “What on earth? You got so frightened?”

Perhaps Mathuranthakan’s horse was wounded in its legs; it did not move as fast as the other horse. Often it tended to go with the flow of the floodwater. Mathuranthakan tried hard to turn it around and make it go towards the opposite bank. The sound of the horses on the shore was getting louder and louder.

Halfway across the river Karuthiruman paused. While waiting for the prince to catch up, he had another idea. After reassuring Mathuranthakan he hurried on to the opposite bank. Climbing onto the shore he stationed the horse under a tree. Leaping down from the horse he hurried on foot to the north side using the bamboo bridge. He already had possession of Mathuranthakan’s small knife. Hastily he cut the rope ends hanging from the bridge and tied the pieces end to end. Once he had an adequate length he tied one end to the bridge. He took the other end across the road and tied it to the trunk of a tree.

In the dark that was deepened by the shadow of the tree no one could see the rope running across the road! Certainly not men speeding on horses.

When he finished he was about to run back across the bridge. Changing his mind he climbed on one of the trees hastily and sat hidden among its branches.

Mathranthakan’s horse had almost crossed the river. Given a few more minutes the horse will climb out of the water and carry on.

Even before the thought disappeared from his mind the horses on the road arrived. Out of about five or six horses two came in front. They toppled headlong on Karuthiruman’s rope that ran across the road.

Karuthiruman could not help himself. He laughed out loud, “He, he, ha!”

Terrified one of the horsemen screamed, “Aiyo! Devil!”

From the sound of the voice Karuthiruman knew that was the doctor’s son Pinakapani. His only regret was that the fall did not break his neck and kill him.

The other man rose without the slightest distress. He is our old friend Kanthmaran indeed!

66. Mathuranthakan’s Disappearance

Following his fall and that of his horse, Kanthamaran rose with no trace of alarm. Even as he raised himself up he had his spear ready in one hand. His aim was already on the horse that was approaching the opposite bank. He had no doubt in his mind that the rider of that horse was Vandhiyathevan.

The old friendship that Kanthamaran had felt for Vandhiyathevan had now morphed into a vindictive hatred. He felt that in many ways Vandhiyathevan had betrayed his friendship; that Vandhiyathevan was the root cause of all the disgrace that had fallen on him and his family! He had leaked the secrets he found out while staying at his residence to many outsiders. He had even told it to members of the royal family! Why? Is it because of his loyalty to the Chola tribe? Not at all! His motive was only to gain their trust with this divulgence, and then to betray them as well. There is no doubt that he has helped the Pandyanadu trouble makers. Was this double betrayal for personal gain, or is it a byproduct of Nandhini’s influence? It is true that he himself was caught for a brief period in Nandhini’s lascivious net! Yet would he even have dreamed of carrying out such ruthless acts?

More than anything else Kanthamaran was furious at Vandhiyathevan for wrecking his beloved sister Manimekalai’s mind. While Kanthamaran was eager to place Manimekalai on the throne as empress adorned with the jeweled crown on her head, this vile saboteur has made that innocent girl declare publicly, “I am the one who killed Karikalar!” Should he allow such a vile man to run away? Should he stand as a mere spectator? No! It is better to take Vandhiyathevan back alive! If that is not possible he must leave from here at least with the consoling knowledge that he has got rid of him for good. It was with this determination Kanthmaran had set off on this manhunt.

Now unexpectedly the horse has buckled down. It is unlikely that it will survive. The doctor’s son Pinakapani’s horse also has met with the same fate.

Vandhiyathevan on the other hand is about to reach the opposite bank! It will take some time for his soldiers  to be here. Even when they come it will be impossible to cross the river’s torrent and reach Vandhiyathevan. Therefore the only recourse is to kill him.

These thoughts scuttled through Kanthamaran’s mind within a second. So once he was standing up and his feet were firmly planted on the ground he raised his spear, took aim and threw it with all his might.

‘Vroom …,’ the spear flew and in the blink of an eye struck Mathuranthakan. ‘Veel …,’ cried Mathuranthakan and fell into the water. His horse struggled to get ashore on its own.

As he Karuthiruman watched from among the branches above his body and mind were shaken by the sequence of events that unfurled so rapidly below on the ground.

He had not expected any of this. Even if the danger posed by the rope did not cost them their lives he had expected at least some broken limbs. Not only did one of the men recover, but he had shot back up and hurt Mathuranthkan with his spear. Getting over his initial shock, Karuthiruman jumped down from the tree screaming furiously.

With a monstrous strength that anger created he attacked Kanthmaran and pushed him down. The doctor’s son who had just then scrambled to his feet tried to stop him realizing that it was Karuthiruman and not the devil who had frightened him.

With all his anger Karuthiruman stabbed Pinakapani with the small knife. He then pushed him down and started running across the bridge.

The soldiers following Kanthmaran and Pinakapani saw the man running on the makeshift bamboo bridge. Guessing what had gone on there they brought their horses to a halt.

“Catch him! Catch him! Catch the man running on the bridge!” Kanthamaran shouted.

The four men jumped down from their horses and ran behind Karuthiruman. Having fallen down a second time Kanthamaran lay in shock for a second. Then he also managed to get up and run behind the four soldiers.

The doctor’s son who was badly injured by the knife also frantically rose and followed them. But within five or six steps his life’s energy was depleted. His eyes turned dark. His head rotated. Unable to stand firmly he stumbled and fell into the river. Those who ran before him did not see him falling.

A pity; the doctor’s son Pinakapani who had built so many castles in the air, in the end died without seeing any of his evil desires come to fruition! His imaginary castles all drowned and disappeared in the Vadavaru flood! The river also became his final resting place.

* * *

Karuthiruman – who was running on the bridge after attacking Kanthamaran and stabbing the doctor’s son, – was three quarters of the way down the bamboo bridge when he turned and looked behind. He saw the men leaving their horses and pursuing him. He did something clever at that time. Where he stood the bamboo poles were tied up together by rope and propped up from below.

With the same knife that he had used on Pinakapani he cut off the rope ties hastily. He kicked the poles propping up the bridge with his leg and ran further down.

When he reached the shore, again he severed the ties attaching the bamboo poles to the base of a tree. He picked up that end of the bridge and pushed it into the river flood.

Next second a third of that bamboo bridge tore itself from the rest and was in the water floating with the river’s current.

Those running on the bridge failing to see the torn part kept running until they tumbled into the floodwater one after another! Kanthamaran who came last of all was the only one who did not fall.

The men who unexpectedly landed in water, after drinking too much water and struggling to breathe finally put their heads out. Kanthamaran ordered them to swim to the other side. Two of the men followed his order and began swimming in earnest. The other two men had a difficult time swimming against the current. They clambered back onto the part of the bridge that still remained.

Kanthamaran at first was livid. But he realized that there was no use in asking them to swim again. So he made them remove some more piles from the bridge and had them tie it into a theppam. Holding onto this floating device Kanthamaran and the other two men reached the opposite bank.

They joined the other two men who had with great difficulty reached the shore. They said that even before they reached the shore the man on the run had disappeared in the dark and that they heard two horses leaving; they said that they decided it was pointless following them on foot.

But Kanthamaran did not want to give up. He figured that the man who jumped down from the tree, who pushed him down and ran off on the bridge, must be the madman from the dungeon the doctor’s son had talked about. It was to save Vandhiyathevan the man had tied the rope across the road and waited on the tree. He had no doubt that it was Vandhiyathevan who succumbed to his spear. He had seen with his own eyes the man falling from his horse into the flood’s torrent. Yet, if he can find the lifeless body his heart will be more gratified. He can even take Vandhiyathevan’s body to Thanjavur. He will then receive the great honor of having killed a man who betrayed the Chola tribe in the most unimaginably grievous manner! By that he can also erase the infamy that had fallen on the Sambuvaraiyar tribe. Vandhiyathevan’s attempt to escape is reason enough to prove his guilt. If it is proven that Athitha Karikalar was murdered by Vandhiyathevan, then Sambuvaraiyar tribe will not have to bear that dreadful charge anymore.

With these thoughts Kanthamaran went down the Vadavaru bank. The four soldiers went behind him. As they walked they checked to see if Vandhiyathevan’s body had come to rest anywhere along the shore. In the dark this was not an easy task. Yet Kanthamaran did not give up hope. He kept going further and further. After having gone a long way in this manner they heard the sound of a big waterfall. When they went closer they saw a kalangal had been built at that spot across the river. Water collected there before falling into the valley beneath with added velocity producing rippling currents and waves as it ran further.

If Vandhiyathevan’s body had come that far it would likely have fallen into this gorge and drowned. It will take many days for it to emerge again. It may even disappear completely without ever being sighted again. Therefore, there was no use in searching any further.

While Kanthamaran was thus contemplating, he saw a dark object hurtling down with the frothing whitewater across the river dam. Aha! That must be Vandhiyathevan’s body! A ruthless enemy has left this earth! Let god forgive his sins! But is it even possible? Can even god forgive this man’s sins? No! No! He must face the consequences in his next birth!

Never mind. Vandhiyathevan’s life on this earth has ended. From now on he won’t have to worry about him. He can return to Thanjai and take care of other matters.

With this thought Kanthamaran turned back. … Aha! How great a disappointment awaited him in Thanjai! How shocked Kanthamaran will be when he finds out that the man who succumbed to his spear and fell into the river’s torrent was not Vandhiyathevan, but Prince Mathuranthakan? Would it surprise anyone if he felt that the earth itself had gorged itself open from underneath him?

67. ‘I do not want a mortal kingdom!’

Once the procession of the petty kings and the Pazhuvertaraiyars passed Azhvarkadiyan began walking with his men towards Senthan Amuthan’s garden. Near the garden under a tree Mathuranthaka Thevar’s palankeen was discreetly parked. Its carriers hovered nearby.

He found out from them that they were waiting there for the prince following his order. Azhvarkadiyan went inside the garden. After sending his men to search the outside quietly, he alone went and stood at the doorstep. He pressed his ear to the door and eavesdropped. He heard the worried voices of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali from inside the hut. In between he also heard a man groaning on his deathbed.

One of the men returned after looking around. Thirumalai Nambi looked at the objects the man had brought in the light that streaked through the crack in the door opening. He knew that those were the crown, diamond necklace, vakuvalayam and other finery that Prince Mathuranthakar wore normally. There was also his silk vestment. Azhvarkadiyan’s satisfaction upon seeing these was reflected on his face.

“Alright; enough of searching! Call the others also here. With your weapons ready stand prepared!” Azhvarkadiyan said. Then he knocked lightly on the door.

There was no answer. So he knocked again louder.

“Who is there? What do you want here?” Poongkuzhali’s voice was heard.

“Madam! It is me, Azhvarkadiyan called Thirumalai Nambithasan. Please be kind and open the door. It is important,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

He heard footsteps inside. Poongkuzhali stood near the door and said, “What can be so important here for you? You are a brave vaishnavar. This is a saiva devotees’ hut. You know that the master is not well. Why are you troubling us at this night hour?”

“Ocean Princess! I am indeed a veera vaishnavan; that is why I am here to discountenance the evil and protect the good. If the door is not opened it will be forcibly broken,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Vaishnava! You are a brave man. Must you choose us for your display of chivalry?” While speaking Poongkuzhali abruptly flung open the door. Anger flashed from her eyes.

She had planned on taking her anger out on Azhvarakadiyan. But when she saw the soldiers behind him she was startled. “Sir! What is going on? Who are they? Why are they here? Are they with you?” She asked.

“Yes; they came with me. They are here on government work. People who obstruct their work will receive royal punishment,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Fine government work! Fine royal punishment! Instead of hearing such talk we are dying to get away to Kodikarai and hear only the ocean’s waves. Never mind. Please ask them to stand a little away. Only you will come inside. I don’t know what government matter can be waiting inside this rickety hut. Isn’t one person enough for this? Athan is lying on that bed sick. If they come inside he will be disturbed. It can only be detrimental to his condition,” she said.

Once he entered the hut Azhvarkadiyan himself drew the bolt and locked the door.

“Poongkuzhali! You surprise me! When did you become so detached from matters concerning the government? What happened to your plan of marrying the crown prince and being on the throne? When that plan succeeds, government will be your only preoccupation!”

“Sir! Vaishnavar! I have given up that notion entirely. In the last few days I realized how discomforting the burden of kingdom can be, how personally painful it can be. I will no more want to be even ten katham from the throne. Vaishnavar! I will give you some happy news. I have decided to marry my athan Senthan Amuthan. We have informed Chempian Madevi when she visited a short while ago and received her blessing also. Once Amuthan’s health improves a little, we will leave for Kodikarai.”

Azhvarkadiyan interrupted saying, “Aha! You made a good decision! Azhvar had 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’

In the same way both of you have decided, ‘We don’t want this mortal kingdom!’ That you can live in Kodikarai sea as fish among fish! Anyway, who knows? If fate has destined that you will carry the crown on your head and be seated on the thorone, it will happen. Even if one refuses, it will not let you go!”

“Enough with the sarcasm, Sir! Tell us why you are here,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Madam! Have you given up only your desire to rule? Or have you and Senthan Amuthan abandoned your desire to live also? I came to find out,” said the Vaishnavan.

“What kind of a question is that? We both want to live on this earth at least a while longer. It is only today we made the decision to get married. Vaishnavar! Give us your blessing! Bless athan as well so he may recover soon,” said Poongkuzhali.

“I am prepared to give my greetings and blessings; but these cannot go to waste. If the two of you want to keep living, why did you help those men to escape from the dungeon,” asked Thirumalai.

Poongkuzhali pretended to look surprised. “What? We don’t know about this! We did not help anyone to escape,” she said.

“Vandhiyathevan who was in prison charged with the crime of killing Karikalar, and another madman escaped today; they came up to these gardens; two men left from here on horses. There is blood outside this hut. There are signs indicating that several people have come and gone from here today. Therefore, one can only conclude that both of you helped the escapees. Because of the high regard that chief minister has for you he sent me in person. If Kodumabalur Velar’s men were here, they will arrest you immediately,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“We are very grateful to the chief minister and yourself, Vaishnavar! In two days my cousin will be better. We will then leave for Kodikarai. After that we will never set foot in Thanjavur again. Until then you must kindly protect us from the soldiers,” pleaded Poongkuzhali.

“I have no objection to helping. But you must tell me the truth! Did no one else other than the three of you come here,” he asked.

“Why not? You are here! A short time ago Chempian Madevi and Prince Mathuranthakar came to inquire after athan’s health. Now there is always the traffic of soldiers around Thanjavur fort! How do we know who came and who went? Vaishnavar! I can definitely answer your first question. We did not help anyone to escape from here …!”

“Do you swear?”

“Yes; I swear. We did not help anyone to escape from here!”

“In that case, Vandhiyathevan who escaped from the dungeon must be in this hut,” said Thirumalai.

Before he even finished a pitiful groan rose from under the bed where Senthan Amuthan lay.

68. ‘Prince for a Day!’

When Azhvarkadiyan heard the groan coming from underneath Senthan Amuthan’s bed he said, “Aha! Is that the matter? Wise saiva devotees! Have you begun your pranks like Paramasivan?” and started moving towards the bed.

Poongkuzhali at once pulled out the knife from her waist. Brandishing it she said, “Vaishnava! After insulting Sivapaeruman you cannot remain in this world even a second longer. If you take one more step you will be heading to Vaikundam!”

“Mother! Maha Sakthi! May thine be the last word. It is not easy reaching Vaikundam. If you can send me there with your own hands, what more can I ask for,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

At this time Senthan Amuthan rose from his bed. He said, “Poongkuzhali! No! Put the knife back! Sivaperuman will not be tarnished by the Vaishnavar’s remark. Evil can never lead to good. Lies and deception can never bring any good. Let’s tell this Vaishnavar the truth and ask for his help. After all he is a friend of Vandhiyathevan!”

“Now that is how you toe the line! Can this servant of the deceitful dealer Krishna Paramathma be tricked by some pitiful saiva devotees? If you surrender at the feet of the merciful Narayanan he will certainly come to your aid. Didn’t our Thirumal save even Gajendran from the crocodile’s mouth …”

“Yes; yes! Before your Thirumal gets here from Vaikundam, your friend would have departed from this world!” Poongkuzhali answered as she ran towards the bed.

The others followed her. They found Vandhiyathevan who lay hidden under a heap of clothes under the bed, and moved him to the bed.

Vandhiyathevan was unconscious. Even then he was groaning from time to time. That was the only indication that he was still alive.

Vani Ammai boiled the medicinal roots, mixed it with turmeric powder and brought it to apply on Vandhiyathevan’s wound. While Azhvarkadiyan and Senthan Amuthan held Vandhiyathevan’s hands and legs tightly, Poongkuzhali and Vani Ammai appled the still warm medicine on his wound and bandaged it.

Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes stung by the warm astringent medicine. When he saw Azhvarkadiyan he cried, “Vaishnava! How you let me down! You brought me here and then sent someone to kill me also?” Then he fainted again.

Azhvarkadiyan’s uneasiness showed on his face. He sensed that Vandhiyathevan’s words would likely cause suspicion in the minds of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali. He looked at them.

Poongkuzhali’s smile gave him courage.

“Vaishnavar! Is it you who sent Vandhiyathevar here?” She asked.

“Yes, Mother! But I didn’t send anyone behind to kill him.”

“Never mind about that; why did you send him here?”

“I sent him to escape. I had two horses ready outside this garden for him and his friend …”

“Then how did you know that he did not escape? How did you know that he was in this hut?”

“I saw someone else going on the horse that I had for him. That is what made me suspicious …”

“When Thirumal was thinking of one thing, Sivan thought of another.”

“What is this riddle, Mother? How did he get wounded?”

“Vaishnavar! I do not know with what intention you sent him here. But he arrived at the right time here and saved me from becoming a widow even before I was married!”

Before Poongkuzhali even finished speaking Azhvarkadiyan and Senthan Amuthan exclaimed in astonishment, “What? What? What?”

Poongkuzhali turned to face Amuthan. “Yes, I did not tell you. Outside there was a fellow taking aim at you with his spear. At that time the Varnar tribe warrior came in between and bore the spear and saved you,” she said.

Tears welled in Senthan Amuthan’s eyes. “Aiyo! My friend put himself in danger for my sake?” He said.

“So what? You have put yourself in so much danger for his sake,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Madam! In this world rarely one is able to promptly repay a debt of gratitude to another. We are fortunate if we don’t end up hurting someone who has been good to us. It is indeed a miracle that Vandhiyathevan was here at the right time to save Senthan Amuthan! But you said something about marriage. What is that? You said that he saved you from widowhood!”

“Yes, Vaishnavar! It was today that he and I decided to get married. We received Chempian Madevi’s blessing also. Within a quarter nazhikai after the elder stateswoman left, a spear was poised to go through him. Even I could not have stopped it. If his life is taken, then what is my fate? I will be a widow even before I become a bride!”

“By the grace of the kind and benevolent Thirumal nothing of the sort will happen. Chempian Madevi’s blessing will not go to waste. You will marry this holy man and live a long and happy life. But who is the scoundrel who wanted to kill this most meek child? Did you see him? Did you recognize him?”

“Why not? I saw him and recognized him. It was that scoundrel, the doctor’s son Pinakapani! He also unlawfully abducted my aunt from Kodikarai and sacrificed her at the hands of a murderer! Such unlawful conduct is becoming common in Chola kingdom …”

“What atrocity? There is going to be a thousand fold more of this kind. Tonight unrest will begin in Cholanadu. There is going to be a big clash between the petty kings. All over the country people are going to fight with each other and lose their lives! Unless a miracle happens by the grace of Srimanth Narayanamoorthi these calamities facing the country cannot be stopped,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Vaishnavar! You are almost issuing a curse! Why not grant your blessing for a better future,” said Amuthan.

“Let the country be! We will go to Kodikarai,” said Poongkuzhali.

“We can go. What do we do about this innocent friend who saved my life,” asked Senthan Amuthan.

“You cannot save him. There is no use even if you wait here. Soldiers are roaming the country looking for the men who escaped from prison. Soon they will be here also. I am not sure how I am going to dissuade the guards outside,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Sir! Vaishnavar! You are a smart person. You advice even the chief minister. You will be blessed if you can think of a way to save this Varnar tribe warrior who has been severely wounded by a murderer. Both of us will be forever indebted!”

“Devi, it is not that easy!”

“Sir! I see my status going up by the second! Until yesterday I was the ‘boatwoman.’ A while ago it was, ‘Madam!’ Now you are saying, ‘Devi.’ Very soon I will be ‘Princess!'”

“Yes, Princess! To save this brave young man who is lying here unconscious there is only one way. This most fortunate man who is about to marry you must agree to be ‘prince’ for a day. If he is prince, then you are princess!”

“Vaishnavar! Why, this sarcasm? I must be prince for a day? What for,” asked Amuthan.

“I am going to tell both of you a secret that only I am aware of. Listen. No, first take a look at this!” Azhvarkadiyan opened the bundle of cloth that he had with him.

The silk epaulet, crown and pearl necklaces that Mathuranthakan was wearing sparkled from inside. “Aha! Prince Mathuranthakar had these on. We just saw him a short time ago,” said Amuthan.

“From where were these obtained,” asked Poongkuzhali.

“They were lying near the fence here. And, please hear the secret I am about to tell you. When I was coming along Vadavaru shore I saw two people speeding on horses. Those horses were left by me here for Vandhiyathevan, and the madman who escaped with him from prison. Even you have met this madman!”

“Yes; I have. Whomever he met, he would carry on about the Pandya tribe’s jeweled crown and diamond necklace.”

“He is the one! On one of the horses speeding along Vadavaru shore was the madman. The person on the other horse appeared to be Prince Mathuranthakar. These objects that were found in the vicinity of this hut prove it.”

“How ridiculous! Why should Mathuranthakar throw away his crown and run away?”

“That is a puzzle to me as well. I am going to inform the chief minister and send people after those on the run. But before that I am afraid a great upheaval is underway.”

“What upheaval?”

“Pazhuvertaraiyars and the petty kings on their side are closing in on Thanjai fort. Kodumabalur Velar, the chief minister and Malaiamman are waiting at the fort’s entrance anticipating them. The emperor’s wish is to have a peaceful discussion to decide about the succession to the throne. It is his command. But before any discussion the Pazhuvertaraiyars will ask, ‘Where is Mathuranthakar?’ When they hear about his disappearance they will pounce on Kodumbalur Velar! They will say that the colonel has killed Mathuranthakar to make sure that Ponniyin Selvar will have the crown. Even if periya Velar denies it, he cannot prove it. There will begin immediately a dangerous civil war. Cholanadu will soon fall apart.”

“Before that we would have left this place!”

“Devi! That is impossible!”

“Then what are you saying?”

“Let Senthan Amuthan wear the crown and jewels for now. I will bring the elephant that brought Ponniyin Selvar. Let him ride on it. I will have my men walking in front and behind shouting, ‘Long live Mathuranthakar!’ The palankeen that Mathuranthakar came on is also here. We will close the curtains and put Vandhiyathevan inside it. Devi! You can walk beside the palankeen. Leave the rest to me,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What sort of a ludicrous idea is this,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“Just a crown on his head will disguise him,” said Poongkuzhali.

“In the night who can recognize who is on the elephant?People will look closely only if they have a reason to doubt. I will go with you. It is my responsibility to take all of you into the fort to the chief minister’s residence. There is no other way to save the Varnar tribe warrior!”

After some more argumentative discussion Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali agreed to go along with Azhvarkadiyan’s idea.

69. ‘A sword for a sword’

When the Pazhuvertaraiyar-Sambuvaraiyar crowd reached the Thanjai fort entrance it was like the clashing of oceans.

“Treasurer of Cholanadu, the taxing lord, heroic warrior who bears sixty four scars from thirty six battlegrounds, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is here!” Such honorary announcements were repeated by panegyrists for each of the other petty kings. In the same manner Kodumabalur Velar and Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s side made known their presence. In between trumpets and drums blared. Walls of the fortress produced echoes.

Because colonel periya Velar, Malaiamman, the chief minister and others were standing, down on the ground, Pazhuvertaraiyars also had to disembark from their respective vehicles. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar felt that the colonel and others were staging a welcome at the fort’s entrance only to make sure that the visitors abandon their vehicles and be escorted in on foot. He told the others so. He asked that the others leave him the task of speaking to the colonel’s group.

Periya Velar and others felt that they will need to chat for a while with those arriving. Therefore instead of congregating before the gates, they waited in the flag square to the side. When the petty kings approached them on foot colonel periya Velar said, “Come! Come! Petty kings of the Chola kingdom, come! May the Chola tribe and kingdom benefit from your arrival!”

When the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar immediately volleyed back, “Yes, Sir! May our visit benefit the Chola kingdom! May it also benefit by your departure,” periya Velar’s eyes turned red.

“Sir! It is the custom of Kodumabalur Velar tribe to march forth in all directions so that the Chola kingdom may flourish. The whole world knows that my beloved brother, Paranthaka siriya Velar lost his life in the Eezham battlefield. I too was in Eezhanadu until a few days ago. Our tribe does not know the art riding a horse inside a clay pot. We also are not in the habit of keeping safe within the walls of the fort, guarding our women and wealth. If it is true that the Chola tribe will benefit by your arrival and my departure then we will not wait here a second longer!” The elder Velar roared.

Chief minister Aniruthar intervened. “Descendants of royal heritage! Must we doubt the good that all of you bring to Cholanadu? Each one of you represent generations of service to the Chola kingdom. Each one of you have ancestors who sacrificed their lives for the glory of the Chola tribe. Cholanadu will need your friendship and hard work now and forever. This is why Paranthaka emperor is mourning the ill-feeling among you. Setting aside even his monumental grief over the untimely death of his beloved son, the heroic warrior who decapitated Veera Pandyan, Athitha Karikalar – he has invited all of you here together. We can speak cordially before the emperor about the throne’s succession and all other matters and come to a decision. Great kings! I beg you all. Don’t hurt the emperor who is mourning the loss of his eldest son with your vendettas,” he told them.

His words struck a chord with everyone. They realized that this was not the time to air their personal grievances.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was quick to respond. “Chief Minister! We are prepared to follow the emperor’s order. When can we see him? Can we see him tonight? We want to hear the emperor’s wish straight from his mouth,” he said.

“Colonel! Your request is fair! There is no doubt that it will be granted. But all of you are aware of the emperor’s physical and mental state. Moreover, he wants to speak to Chempian Madevi one last time about the crown. He wants to try to change her mind one last time. You are aware of the reason behind it. Therefore, the emperor will call all of you before tomorrow’s end. Tonight he would like all of you to enter the fort peacefully and spend the night in your palaces. He has ordered periya Velar to provide accommodation for those who have traveled from afar …”

Again the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar interrupted. “Chief Minister! We do not need accommodation. We have been trained to live in battlefields. If the emperor will see us only tomorrow, what is the urgency that we must enter the fort tonight?” He asked.

“What is the urgency that you must spend the night outside instead of in the comfort of your palace?” asked the chief minister.

“Chief Minister! Perhaps Kalanthaka Kandar is afraid to step inside Thanjai fort?” Periya Velar said.

“Afraid? What does it look like? Black? Red? Does it have a horn? Wings? Perhaps senior Velar who has fled Eezhanadu in a hurry might know?” shot back the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“What on earth? It is impossible to keep these two men from butting their heads against each other,” while the chief minister was quietly thinking to himself the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat rather loudly and stepped forward. Everyone turned to him with the utmost respect.

“Younger Brother! Kodumbalur Velar came in the tribe of Pari Vallal. Men of the Velar tribe never go back on their word. When periya Velar offers us shelter inside the fort, why should not we accept it?” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“Elder Brother! We do not need shelter from anyone. We do not need their promises. We have the swords and spears of thirty thousand soldiers. I am the commander of Thanjai fort. Unless the fort is in my hands again, I will not agree to go in,” said Kalanthaka Kandar.

Colonel Velar said to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, “Sir! If the emperor orders me I am prepared to do just that!”

“Did he capture the fort following the emperor’s order?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“No; I captured the fort with the strength of the sword!” Periya Velar said.

“I will recapture it with the strength of my sword! We can test it right now!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand reached for his sword.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar placed his hand on the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s to calm him. “Brother! This is not the time to raise the sword. We are here obeying the emperor’s wish!” He said.

“Elder Brother! What is the guarantee that he won’t lock us up in prison once we enter the fort? How can you trust a man who attacked the fort without waiting for the emperor’s order?” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar asked.

“Didn’t you trust him when you left this fort leaving behind our women and children here? You left Prince Mathuranthakar also!” The elder man said.

“I am wondering now if that was not a mistake. If Mathuranthakar was hurt in any way I will destroy the Kodumabalur tribe before anything else!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar shouted.

Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari who had been nonchalant until then was now livid! A most dangerous confrontation would have arisen at that moment there.

Fortunately at that time there arose a commotion at the fortress entrance. Everyone’s attention was diverted.

Moments before chief minister Aniruthar had walked over to Azhvarkadiyan when he had beckoned him over quietly. Azhvarkadiyan shared his secret with the chief minister. Armed with new knowledge the chief minister strolled back to where the Pazhuvertaraiyars and elder Velar were standing. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s pronouncement concerning Mathuranthaka Thevar fell in his ears.

“Colonel! What is to be anxious about Prince Mathuranthakar? He will not be harmed by anyone. Even a while ago Mathuranthaka Thevar and his mother Chempian Madevi left the fort to pay a visit to Senthan Amuthan who provides flowers for the temple …” Before the chief minister could finish Kalanthaka Kandar interrupted.

“Yes; mother and son left the fort. But only the mother returned,” he said.

“Aha! How do you know that?” The chief minister asked.

“Chief Minister! You think that only you are equipped with well trained spies? Mathuranthaka Thevar did not return to the fort. I must know why!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

A smile broke out on the chief minister’s face. At the same time from the fortress entrance arose a chorus of voices chanting, “Long live Prince Mathuranthaka Thevar!” Everyone turned eagerly in that direction. On the elephant that was just entering the fort ‘Mathuranthakar’ was seated adorned in his crown and other finery. Next to the elephant a covered palankeen trailed.

“Colonel! Mathuranthaka Thevar needed some time. Vani Ammai’s son Senthan Amuthan had been severely wounded when he fell from a horse. Chempian Madevi had instructed the prince to bring him to the palace in the palankeen. The son stayed behind to carry out the mother’s wish. He has Amuthan in the palankeen and he is on the elephant. Very soon when coronation takes place doesn’t he have to parade on the crown elephant? He is already rehearsing for that!” Chief minister Aniruthar said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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