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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (75 – 79)

February 20, 2018

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

75. Disastrous Outcomes

In the private assembly hall of Thanjaipuri palace Emperor Paranthaka Sundara Cholar was seated on its famed throne of justice. On both sides were seated the most prominent of the palace women. Cholanadu ministers, colonels and young princes stood in front of the emperor in a salutatory pose. Among the women were the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi, udaiya pirati Vanamadevi, the junior stateswoman Kundavai and Kodumbalur princess Vanathi.

As if wary of her present company Poongkuzhali also stood on a side. Among the men were the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar, Chief Minister Aniruthar, Colonel periya Velar, Miladudaiyar Malaiamman, Prince Arulmozhivarmar, the newly birthed Mathuranthaka Thevar and Parthipenthira Pallavan. Behind the chief minister Thirumalai stood to a side.

The emperor after taking a look at those present said, “Are all the invitees here? I don’t see the Kadampoor king?”

“Sambuvaraiyar’s son just returned. Father and son will soon be here,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Oh! Kanthmaran is back? What news did he bring? Did he bring those who ran away?” Sundara Cholar asked.

“No, Lord! He did not bring them. But he says that Vandhiyathevan has been killed. The other madman could not be caught; apparently he has escaped,” said Parthipenthiran.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. Everyone thought that he was going to speak. But he remained quiet.

“I don’t know what other disaster will arise out of my folly! Chief Minister! You know my intention; I have invited here all those who are dear to me and my tribe. You must tell them why they are here, and explain my position to them. I think that you can do this better than me!” The emperor said.

“Certainly, Emperor!” The chief minister answered. Facing the assembly he said:

“All of you know that the emperor’s heart is wounded owing to several reasons. He recently lost his eldest son who was equal to Abimanyu and Aravan. The reason behind the prince’s death is still a mystery. Our king has not seen this heroic son for three years. After building a palace out of gold in Kanji, Karikalar sent word again and again asking his father to come and stay there. Yet the emperor did not go. All of you know the reason. The emperor resided in this Thanjai city safeguarded by the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar. All kinds of rumors floated in the country. In this situation if the emperor left he feared that someone might think that his faith in the Pazhuvertaraiyars had diminished! The emperor did not want to leave room for such speculation. I will speak openly about a matter that the emperor is reluctant to address. The tribal kings assembled here must forgive me for this. Our king had been for sometime ill, losing the use of both his legs. Because of it, his spirits were low. But more than that there was something else. Our emperor’s body and soul were more pained by the growing enmity and disagreement among you, who have been friends of the Chola tribe; have been pillars of this great empire; have generation after generation reaffirmed your friendship through marital vows. All of you fought together in the Thakollam war under the leadership of Rajathithar. But when he died unexpectedly during that battle all of you through your joint determination and valor changed defeat into victory. You recaptured Thondai Mandalam and Kanga Mandalam. In the Sevur battle you defeated the Pandyar and brought Pandyanadu under our rule. In Eezhanadu you made king Mahinthan flee and raised the tiger flag. These extraordinary feats were possible only because you were united and believed that the wellbeing of the Chola empire was your wellbeing!”

“That state of mind has in recent years changed. For some reason differences have arisen. You have split into two sides. Our king toiled to erase this division. He understood that the throne’s succession was the divisive element. None of you spoke to him directly about it. But our wise king knew it intuitively. He wanted to have an open discussion about it with all of you. He was hoping to go to Kanji after that. He decided to leave Chola empire to the great and wise saivar Kandarathithar’s beloved son. He believed that he could persuade Athitha Karikalar to accept his decision. That is why he wanted Karikalar to visit him. In the meantime the unexpected tragedy happened. The emperor was happy when he heard that Karikalar was coming to Kadampoor king’s palace. He thought that his visit will help eliminate the hostility that has arisen between you. He thought that if Karikalar married Sambuvaraiyar’s beloved daughter, then all of you will be brought together and the matter of the throne can be easily resolved. I also believed it. Many among you would have hoped for it. Even our Thirukovalur king did not object to Athitha Karikalar’s Kadampoor visit because of this reason. But all our hopes perished. Prince Athitha Karikalar met with an untimely death at Kadampoor palace …”

“Are we going to find out how it happened? It is better to know this before you proceed further,” said Thirukovalur Malaiamman.

“Yes; without knowing that it is not possible to go any further,” said the colonel.

“Heroic Gentlemen! What happened is over. Let’s not dig the past … the emperor thinks so!” Chief Minister Aniruthar said.

“How can that be right?  The Chola tribe is famous for its adherence to the rule of law. Even a helpless orphan’s death leads to an inquiry. An agreement is reached about who is responsible and punishment is given. How can we turn a blind eye in the case of the untimely death of the crown prince?” Colonel periya Velar said indignantly.

Sundara Cholar sighed. “Kodumbalur Uncle! Please listen! Can anyone be sadder than me about my son’s death? I am rejecting an inquiry. Why? Because I know that no one here is responsible for it. I lost my son because of my sins. Give me the punishment. I will accept it. Don’t look anywhere else,” he said.

“Lord! Your admission only creates the impression that you want to protect the guilty person. The people of this country already have several theories about the prince’s death. It is better to know the truth and make it public. Whoever is responsible must be given the right punishment!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“A word from the wise! It is the law of the land. If this heinous crime is not solved the people will lose their faith in the justice system,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Elders! Why do we need discussions and arguments over this? If this youngster sounds like a loudmouth, please forgive me. The guilty person has been punished. I have just returned after killing with my own spear the traitor Vandhiyathevan who murdered Prince Karikalar; who drove my sister mad, ruining her life. What do we need an inquisition for?” Kanthamaran was heard saying.

When the chief minister was speaking Kanthamaran had walked in. The others noticed his presence only when he began speaking.

The elder Pazhuvetaraiyar muttered under his breath, “Fool! Absolute fool! Did Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar deserve a child like this?”

Chief Minister Aniruthar asked, “Kanthmara! Is it really true that you killed Vandhiyathevan with your spear? Did you really see him? You went after him in the night!”

“Chief Minister! I know that you have no confidence in me. Just because it is after dark, can’t a person be seen, recognized?”

“He is a fighter. Didn’t he put up a fight?”

“Yes, you have no confidence in my skills also. Therefore let me appeal to the emperor. There were two who ran away. One is the madman who had been in the dungeon a long time. He tried to stop me. At that time the other man was crossing over to the opposite side of the river. I felled him with my spear. He must be the Varnar tribe Vanthiyathevan.”

“You did not bring the dead man’s body back with you?”

“If I had known that you would have such doubts I would have spent more time searching the Vadavaru flood. But I would have missed this assembly!” Kanthamaran said.

“Yes; your absence will have been a great loss!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Young man! Why are you so keen on finding Vandhiyathevan?” Periya Velar Poothi Vikramakesari asked.

“Must you ask? This sad incident happened in my house. If the guilty person is not found won’t you suspect me and my father?”

Sundara Cholar intervened. “Child! Kanthamara! Even if others suspect, I will never suspect. Don’t I know how devoted and loyal your father is to the Chola tribe? Never mind! Where is the elder Sambuvaraiyar?” He said.

“Emperor! It is sad that I have to expose my family’s disgrace. My sister heard me telling my father that I had killed Vandhiyathevan. Enraged she came to attack me with her knife. My father is trying to calm her. Soon he will be here. He sent word that whatever decision is reached in the assembly he will comply,” said Kanthamaran.

Appan! Wasn’t your sister already hysterical saying, ‘I am the one who killed the prince!'” Old man Malaiamman said.

“Yes, yes! She said that to hide Vandhiyathevan’s guilt and help him escape. At that time she has not completely lost her mind. But now she has. It is our tribe’s misfortune,” said Kanthamaran.

“Young Sambuvaraiyar! You are so convinced that it was Vandhiyathevar who killed Prince Karikalar! How? Did you see with your own eyes? Or did you hear it from someone who saw?” The chief minister asked.

“Minister Sir! Do we need a looking glass for the wound in one’s hand? This Varnar tribe soldier was the only person present where the prince lay dead. His guilt was written all over his face. The place was Pazhuvur rani’s anthapuram. Why did he go there? If he is not guilty why did he run away,” said Kanthamaran.

“The chief minister accepted the responsibility of finding the escapees. I like to remind everyone of that,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Pallava Prince! It is true that I did. But I did not expect that young Sambuvaraiyar will become the judge and deliver the punishment also. Vandhiyathevar comes from the ancient Varnar tribe. His ancestors at one time ruled over a big kingdom. Their women were given in marriage to the Chola tribe. Tradition dictates that any suspicion about a descendant of tribal kings must be dealt with by the emperor,” said chief minister Anirutha Brahmarayar.

“Sir! An escaped convict can be captured alive or dead, this is also tradition,” said the Pallava tribe warrior Parthipenthiran.

“Young Sambuvaraiyar did not bring the dead Vandhiyathevar! He left him in the Vadavaru flood,” said chief minister Aniruthar.

At that time the elder Sambuvaraiyar entered the assembly hall. All eyes turned towards him. They saw the anguish on his face.

Kanthamaran went to him and asked in a low voice, “How is Manimekalai?”

Sambuvaraiyar answered rather harshly in a loud voice, “She is the same. I left your mother to guard her!”

The emperor told Sambuvaraiyar, “Sir! If you must attend to your beloved daughter, we can postpone this discussion for tomorrow.”

“No, Lord! Nothing will be gained by my being there. If the Varnar tribe soldier who died of my son’s spear should regain his life, that might help,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

Hearing the pain and bitterness in his voice the assembly fell silent.

Chief minister Aniruthar picked up from where he left. “Sir! We were speaking about the terrible tragedy that happened in your palace. We all know how hurt you are that your palace happened to be the venue for the prince’s untimely death. The emperor is not holding you responsible in any way. Still, isn’t it better to know – in order to prevent a host of rumors spreading across the country; what caused the prince’s death. This assembly thinks so. Do you have anything that you can tell us about it? The young Sambuvaraiyar maintains that the prince’s death was caused by the Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan. What do you think?” He asked.

For a while Sambuvaraiyar stood in shock. He looked around. When his eyes fell on Kanthamaran he became emotional. “Yes, yes! This fool said it on that day also. I did not think so. Even today I do not. Listening to him I invited Prince Karikalar to Kadampoor palace. That had resulted in so many tragedies. My tribe and I have been disgraced forever,” he said.

Old man Malaiamman in a sympathetic voice said, “Sambuvaraiyar! Don’t fret! What happened has happened; you invited my grandson with good intentions. No one here wants to hold you responsible for Karikalan’s death. That is why we want to find out the truth. We would appreciate your help!”

“How can I help? My son is saying one thing. My daughter is saying the the exact opposite. I believe neither. Nor do I claim to know the truth. I feel I have been let loose in the wilderness with both my eyes tied behind a cloth. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar perhaps can help better than me. He is the primary cause of everything. He is the one who first brought Mathuranthaka Thevar secretly to Kadampoor. He also suggested that I marry my daughter to him. Ever since then my family and I have been caught in the house of Saturn. I hear that even that Mathuranthaka Thevar has now mysteriously disappeared. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar then came with his Ilaiyarani. He had the prince come down from Kanji. He left the two in my palace and went away. Ask him why he left. Ask him where his Ilaiyarani has gone now …!”

Sambuvaraiyar went on ranting in this manner.

The emperor stopped him. “Enough! Enough! Please stop! This is why I said not to have an inquiry. You did not listen. Isn’t there enough hostility among you already? Do we need new clashes? Sambuvaraiyar! You are not responsible for what happened in your palace. That is why I freed you from prison without delay. My old sins are the cause of my son’s untimely death. It is no one else’s fault. You don’t have to say anything about it. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar also does not have to say anything,” he said.

The sound of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar clearing his throat was heard like a lion’s roar. “Great king of the Chola tribe! Kindly forgive me! I cannot not speak! I must say what is in my heart. I must divulge the truth that I know. Yes, learned king! I have also considered being quiet; carry out my pledge without saying a word. Once I was the head of the velakara troops. I had vowed that I will cut off my head if I failed in my duty. I could not save Athitha Karikalar. Therefore I must carry out my promise. Before that I want to tell the truth that I know. Or else there will be unnecessary suspicions and unnecessary finger-pointing,” he said.

When the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar paused there was complete silence in the assembly hall. Everyone’s heart had melted.

The emperor’s voice was thick with emotion. He said, “Uncle! Please think a little! Why must we dwell in the past? The dead will not return alive. You won’t have knowingly betrayed the Chola tribe. Therefore, let’s forget about what happened and let’s talk about what needs to be done!”

“No, Sir! I must tell what happened. I must reveal what terrible crimes I was about to commit against the Chola tribe. Our goddess Durgadevi saved me. I must pay my dues to that Parameshwari. Please be merciful and hear me out,” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Seeing that he cannot help the old man the emperor remained silent.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar told his story without holding anything back beginning from when he saw Nandhini by the roadside three years ago and fell in love with her. He said that he chose to ignore his brother, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s frequent warnings. He said that because of Nandhini’s instigation he decided to support Mathuranthaka Thevar for the throne and joined the other petty kings in their perfidy. He told about taking Mathuranthaka Thevar in a covered palankeen and about the midnight meeting held in Kadampoor palace. He said that it was Vandhiyathevan who first sowed the seeds of doubt in his mind about Nandhini and her link to the Pandyanadu troublemakers. But he said, with sadness, that time and time again Nandhini’s lascivious pretense had dulled his intelligence. Finally when he was trapped by the Kollidam breach he found out about the Pandya saboteurs’ plan and he hurried back to Kadampoor palace, he said. On the way he disguised himself as a kalamuga saivar, and with Idumbankari’s help reached the anthapuram through a secret passage; and when he hesitated for a moment hiding in the yazhkalangiam, because he wanted to hear what transpired between Nandhini and the prince, because even at that time he gave into his temptation to catch both of them in their folly, the prince fell dead, he said. When he ran forward to hold him, the lamp went out suddenly and that he was surrounded and attacked by several men, that he fainted and woke up in the pachai mountain cave, he said.

“Emperor! In this way I have betrayed the Chola tribe irreparably. I let the Pandyanadu troublemakers into my palace. I allowed them to steal from our treasury to fund their plan. They planned to kill both of your sons and you on the same day at the same time. A deaf-mute goddess saved you, sacrificing her own life. A mere animal – an elephant, saved Ponniyin Selvar. I tried to save Athitha Karikalar and failed. I am the beginning, middle and end for the cause of his untimely death. Sir! I will now carry out the promise I made in Durga Parameshwari’s sanctuary,” he said. Then he swung the long sword that he held in his hand. Knowing his intention everyone stood helpless. Only Ponniyin Selvar who had been inching toward him slowly, suddenly leaped forward and grabbed the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hand.

“Sir! Please wait! For generations it has been the tradition during coronation that the crown is placed on the new Chola king’s head by the Pazhuvertaraiyars. At my coronation also it is your experienced hands that must place the crown on my head. After that you may proceed as you wish. Until then please wait,” he said.

Needless to say that the emperor and the petty kings were thrown into a sea of surprise by this latest development!

76. Vadavaru Turned!

During this long story readers could not have missed the inconsistent and seemingly erratic behavior of some of the characters. We would like to inform them that we claim no responsibility for it. Human nature is not consistent. People’s surroundings and experiences are always shaping their behavior and mindset. From one day to the next they will contradict themselves in speech and conduct.

At the beginning of this story the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was the leader of a conspiracy at the highest echelon. Now he wants to publicly acknowledge his crime and as punishment he is ready to cut his head off.

The elder Sambuvaraiyar, blown out of his mind by the sight of the lifeless body of Prince Karikalar, and worried that this terrible crime will weigh on his family, tried burning down his old palace itself. Eager to find someone else to blame he set his son off on that course. Now assured that he will not be blamed, and aware of his beloved daughter’s immense love for Vandhiyathevan, he has begun to change his tune.

At the beginning of this story we made the readers believe that the fake Mathuranthakan who went about in a covered palankeen was the real Mathuranthakan who will later become uthama Chola emperor. This was necessary for the narrative’s progression. Why! Even though chief minister Aniruthar had to a certain extent known the old secrets, he also thought that it was Mathuranthakan who ought to be crowned. He did not fully know the details of past events. Even though he knew that the fake Mathuranthakan was not Kandarathithar’s son, he assumed that he was the son born to Sundara Cholar and Manthahini. Because of it he also had to stumble into a contradictory position.

Lastly, we saw Arulmozhivarmar whom we had considered to be the most honest and law abiding character contradict himself. After rejecting the throne all along, he is suddenly declaring publicly, “I will crown myself!” Obviously circumstances are now dictating a change in his behavior also.

* * *

Yes; Arulmozhivarmar’s words surprised the assembly. At the same time its members felt peace. They had known deep within their hearts that it was Ponniyin Selvar who was qualified in every way to ascend the throne. They also knew that he was the choice for the majority of people who lived in Cholanadu. They have been concerned about the consequences of crowning someone whom the people did not want. However owing to several reasons no one there dared to say that Ponniyin Selvar ought to be crowned.

When Ponniyin Selvar himself said, “I am going to be crowned. I am going to be crowned by your esteemed hands,” to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar everyone felt happiness and peace. Relieved they told themselves, “This is a good ending. But, thank God! We did not have to arrive at this arduous decision!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar realized that Ponniyin Selvar had put an end to his attempt at taking his own life. He understood the meaning of his words also. The prince’s action and words mellowed his heart. Overcome by emotion his body trembled. Tears welled in his eyes.

Steadying his mind and emotions he said, “Chola tribe descendent! Ponniyin Selva! Your words give me immense pleasure. I have wanted to ask you to accept the crown. I have been silent because I felt that as an enemy of the Chola tribe I had forsaken that right. Your grandfather, the great man Kandarathitha emperor willed it. He insisted that the throne must go to a descendent of his brother. We toiled against his order. Owing to the growing animosity among us we favored crowning Mathuranthaka Thevar, the son of that saiva scholar. Your father also agreed. My heart shudders when I think of the destruction we were about to set in motion. Prince! You are the one entitled to the Chola throne that your father now occupies. You are also the person who is qualified. When you were a baby I have carried you and entertained you on my shoulders. I have studied your features, seen the lines on your palm. I have said on those occasions, ‘You are going to be the great king who will rule this earth.’ I have happily described more than a hundred times the episode when Mother Kaveri saved you from drowning. It is only in the last three years I let my mind be ruined by lust and malice. Ponniyin Selva! It is only right that the Chola crown should adorn your head; but I have lost my right to carry that crown and place it on your head. My hands have also forsaken that right. The only right thing that my hands can do now is to kill me to punish me for my crime.”

“No, no! Don’t!” Several voices rose in that assembly.

Sundara Cholar spoke in a voice filled with compassion. “Uncle! What are you saying? What are you doing? What crime have you committed against the Chola tribe? Nothing! You thought of placing my great uncle’s son on the throne instead of mine. How is that a crime against the Chola tribe? Doesn’t my great uncle’s son have a greater claim for the Chola crown? Even now if you will permit me to say what’s on my mind …”

Chief minister Aniruthar interrupted. “Lord! All across the country voices are rising. They are saying, ‘Arulmozhivarmar must be crowned!’ Kandarathitha Thevar’s son who has been dwelling in the forest also affirms it. Ponniyin Selvar himself has reached that conclusion. We have no need to think of an alternative anymore!” He said.

“Even if any of you think of an alternative I cannot endorse it,” said Senthan Amuthan as Mathuranthaka Thevar.

“My son is right. We need not think any further,” said Chempian Madevi.

“Madam! There is no one here who will oppose you. Let god’s will prevail. But it is not right that Pazhuvur uncle should take his life saying that he has betrayed our trust. His attempt to crown your son isn’t a crime against the Chola tribe,” said the emperor.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar after clearing his throat said the following: “Sir! Please listen! Listen to the horrendous results that would have followed if my attempt had succeeded! I wanted to kill myself without revealing any of this. I did not want to hurt my brother Kalanthaka Kandar who will never dream of anything other than the Chola empire’s glory. But I have turned my heart into stone. I have decided to tell the truth. Emperor! The person whom we thought was the great Kandarathithar’s son, whom we wanted to place on the Chola throne, is the son of the arch enemy of the Chola tribe, Veera Pandyan! …”

“Aiyayo!” “No!” “That cannot be!” Voices rose in that assembly.

“It will be difficult for you to believe. I too would not have believed it if I had not heard it with my own ears. King of kings! Once again I must expose my shame. The woman whose beauty I fell for three years ago and whom I installed as dictator in the palace, she is Veera Pandyan’s daughter! I heard her saying this to Athitha Karikalar with my own ears. She had come to Pazhuvur palace seeking revenge on Athitha Karikalar for killing Veera Pandyan. She and her conspirators planned to kill Karikalar and install Veera Pandyan’s son on the Chola throne. By the grace of our goddess Durgadevi, the later travesty did not happen. It is to open my eyes Durga Parameshwari sent that Varnar tribe soldier. It was through him I found out these terrifying secrets. I wanted to find out more from him. But young Sambuvaraiyan has killed him and left him in the vadavaru flood. Absolute fool!”

When everyone stood aghast Kanthamaran alone spoke. “Sir! In any case that Vandhiyathevan is also with the saboteurs, isn’t he? What is wrong in my killing him?” He said.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar glared at him angrily.

Aniruthar cut in at this point. “Sir! he says that he has killed the Varnar tribe warrior! What is the proof that it is Vandhiyathevan?” He asked.

His voice low Parthipenthiran said, “Perhaps the truth will come out if vadavaru flood can turn and flow west bringing back the dead man’s body!”

“Who knows? Vadavaru may indeed turn around,” said Chief Minister Aniruthar.

As if to lend credence to his words, there appeared at the doorway of the assembly hall Vandhiyathevan himself, his clothes thoroughly soaked and dripping with water. His disheveled state and agitated demeanor created the illusion of a dead man walking out of water in the minds of the spectators.

“Aha! Vadavaru has turned around! It has resurrected even the dead,” exclaimed chief minister Aniruthar.

We must inform our readers how Vandhiyathevan turned up at that instant in that place!

Vandhiyathevan felt hopeless after Ponniyin Selvar, Kundavai and others left. The soldier who had wanted to perform astonishing feats before the world did not relish being an object of pity for others. He found the anthapuram a harsher prison than the dungeon. Owing to Ponniyin Selvar’s influence he may escape scrutiny; he may not be charged with the crime of murdering Karikalar. But in the palace there will always be doubt about him. His innocence will always be under question. The kindness and sympathy of the junior stateswoman will come to an end. He cannot even dream of marrying the sister of the future emperor Ponniyin Selvar. The palace women will always treat him like a pardoned soldier. Ministers and colonels will view him with distaste. The royal tribe’s mind is fickle. Who knows for how long Prince Arulmozhivarmar’s friendship will last?

Aha! If he had left on the horse from Senthan Amuthan’s garden as he had intended first, by now he would be in Kodikarai. Why? He might even have reached Eezhatheevu. When he was attacked by the doctor’s son, who were the men leaving on the horses? One would be Karuthiruman who had earned the name, ‘madman.’ In truth, he was not a madman. He was very smart. Who was accompanying him? They say that the old Mathuranthaka Thevar is missing. Could it be him? Yes, yes. It must be! There was a reason why both men would leave together. What a surprise it will be in Thanjai if his real identity becomes public! If those two men reach Eezhanadu safely, what will be the result? Why? Pandyanadu jeweled crown and diamond necklace will finally be in its owner’s hands! He will with king Mahinthan’s help begin a battle to reclaim his territory. If he can prevent it … He is the only one who can prevent it. What is the use in hiding in this anthapura room?

Vandhiyathevan was going in circles in thoughts and action. Frequently he paused by the lattice window on one of the walls. He was in a corner room on the upper level of the palace. Vadavaru ran alongside of it. The palace’s boundary wall also served as the fort’s outer wall in that stretch. If he crawled through the lattice he will land in vadavaru. Or he can with more exertion climb down the perpendicular wall and reach the water. It seemed below on the lower level there was a doorway and steps leading to the river that the palace women used for bathing in the river. He did not know how he could reach this door from upstairs. Maids and princesses will know. If he is going to escape he must do it without their knowledge …! While he was thus contemplating looking out through the lattice window, the scene that he witnessed outside startled him.

In the grounds of the adjacent palace a woman with her hair undone was running like a madwoman. Aha! This is the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace and garden. Yes, yes! It is the same garden! Who is the woman? Eeshwara! Isn’t it Manimekalai? What has happened to her? Why is she running like this? His chest heaved at the memory of her compassion towards him on the night of Karikalar’s death in Kadampoor palace. Two older women were running behind her as if to catch her. But they were lagging behind. They cannot catch her! She was already at the outer wall. Stepping onto a tree beside the wall she had climbed the wall also. Aiyo! What is she doing? She is wielding a small knife. What is she doing with it? God! She has plunged herself headlong into the river!

In that second Vandhiyathevan was flooded with the memory of Veeranarayana lake where Manimekalai and Nandhini were once about to drown. He recalled choosing to lift Nandhini out of the water first and Manimekalai’s disappointment because of it. He could no longer stand there and watch. He crawled through the lattice and jumped into the river.

A few seconds lapsed as he struggled with his breath in the water. Then he pulled himself up and looked around. Yes; near where he had jumped were the steps and doorway leading into the palace. He was near where Manimekalai had jumped into the water. Fortunately the river’s flood was moving towards him. Manimekalai will float towards him.

With difficulty Vandhiyathevan reached the shore. He walked fast in the direction opposite to the river’s flow. Aha! There is Manimekalai! Is she alive? Or, is this a lifeless body? Aiyo! Will he once again have the misfortune of having to carry home lifeless someone who cared about him? Adada! How much this girl loved him! The melody of her song which she sang as she strummed on her lute floated towards him in the air just like her body. It made him wince.

Setting his reverie aside he jumped into the river and picked Manimekalai up with both hands. Gods! Please save this girl’s life! He will go to every temple in Cholanadu and prostrate himself in every sanctuary. He will go to the temples of Sivan, Vishnu, Amman and Aiyanar, and thank each and every deity. Please spare this innocent girl’s life! …

Calling out to all the deities Vandhiyathevan brought Manimekalai ashore. Having just returned from death’s door following Pinakapani’s attack, the feat of throwing himself into the water had drained whatever strength he had in him. With her clothes wet, Manimekalai’s body was heavy. Carrying her and walking in the water, he struggled to breathe. It was impossible to carry her any further. So he laid her on the landing leading to the door. He wondered what he should do next. Manimekalai’s body was still warm. But he was not up to the arduous task of resuscitating her. He needed a woman’s help. He will have to go into the palace and fetch someone.

The entryway from the beach into the palace was before him. He went and charged his body against the door with all his might. Luckily the bolt on the inside gave way. The door opened. He ran through the open door. A long narrow passage gave way to corridors and open areas. He did not see anyone. “Is there no one here? Is there no one to help a woman?” He howled as he ran. Finally at the entrance to a big hall two guards tried to stop him. He pushed them aside and ran in. He was startled to find himself suddenly in the presence of the emperor seated on his throne, surrounded by several men and women. The sight of Poongkuzhali among them gave him hope. “Ocean Princess! Ocean Princess! Manimekalai threw herself into the river. Won’t you help?” He howled.

77. The Tallest Tree Fell!

Vandhiyathevan entered the assembly hall from the anthapuram door. Therefore he was closest to where the women were. Poongkuzhali who was in the back turned when she heard someone. She was startled to see Vandhiyathevan in his wet clothes. When Vandhiyathevan saw her he told her of Manimekalai’s fall.

She heard him. The junior stateswoman Kundavai and Vanathi also heard him. The three women hurried through the same door where Vandhiyathevan had entered. They followed the trail of water on the floor.

The others in that hall did not hear Vandhiyathevan clearly. Some heard only the word, ‘help.’ Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran did not even hear that. They heard only an incongruous howl.

At first these two men wondered if they were seeing a ghost. In those days many believed that the spirits of those who die unexpectedly ahead of their time would hover around on earth without leaving permanently. The chief minister was saying, ‘Perhaps vadavaru will turn.’ Vandhiyathevan’s appearance even before the chief minister finished his utterance prompted this fantasy in them.

But when the guards rushed in behind Vandhiyathevan, their fantasy ended.

“Emperor! Pardon us! This madman came running through the palace beach house entrance. We stopped him, but he would not listen!” The guards said as they tried to drag Vandhiyathevan out with them.

Mother of my mother! How unbreakable is this fellow’s life? He lives through any kind of danger! Parthipenthiran marveled. With that sentiment jealousy also flared.

By accident Vandhiyathevan has ended up here, Parthipenthiran thought. He is not going to allow this traitor to escape again, he decided. Within a second Parthipenthiran was next to Vandhiyathevan his hand on the escapee’s shoulder restraining him.

“He is not a madman. He is a murderer! He is the traitor who killed Athitha Karikalar!” He said while gesturing to the guards to leave.

Kanthamaran ran behind Parthipenthiran and grabbed Vandhiyathevan’s other shoulder. Both of them together dragged him before the altar of justice where emperor Sundara Cholar sat.

The emperor after taking a good look at Vandhiyathevan said, “Are you saying that this child – there’s still traces of milk on his face; killed my son? I cannot believe it! Isn’t he the one who brought Athitha Karikalar’s letter to me?” He said.

“Yes, Sir! He is the one who brought the letter. He is the one who secretly met Nandhini Devi in the covered palankeen outside Thanjai fort. He is the one who escaped from the fort once before; and now from the dungeon!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“He is the one who ran away after stabbing me in the back,” said Kanthamaran.

“Why, Son! Isn’t he the one you claimed just moments ago to have killed with your spear?” Chief Minister Aniruthar asked.

“Yes, I did. How could I have known that you will collude with this murderer, resurrect him and bring him back?” Kanthamaran answered.

All throughout Ponniyin Selvar had stood helplessly. He was seething at Vandhiyathevan. He decided that Vandhiyathevan had again tried to escape and his amateur swimming skills had brought him here. It took a few seconds for him to calm himself.

When he heard Kanthamaran’s last words he strode majestically up to the podium and stood next to Vandhiyathevan.

“Father! This vallathu prince is my best friend. He saved my life in Ilankai and again in the sea. I am happy that he is alive. Charging him with a felony is equivalent to charging me!” He said.

His commanding authority left everyone else silent. After some interval Chief Minister Aniruthar spoke. “Ponniyin Selva! Please think a little! The man supposedly killed by young Sambuvaraiyar’s spear is suddenly before us. For whatever reason, he stands here accused. Isn’t it better to have an inquisition and find out the truth?” He said.

Parthipenthiran joined him. “Yes, Sir! You will be seated on the Chola throne soon. You will have the authority to punish or pardon any wrongdoing. But is it prudent to rule out an inquiry altogether? Won’t it leave room for unnecessary suspicions?” he said.

“In addition our ilango must think of something else. There are rumors spreading that the prince in order to secure the throne for himself sent this man to kill his elder brother. We should not leave any room for that,” said Kanthamaran.

Aghast at this last revelation everyone stood still. Only Sambuvaraiyar took a step forward to slap Kanthamaran vehemently on his face. “Fool! You will be the nemesis of our ancient tribe. There is no one like you to blubber without any consideration for time or place!” He said angrily.

His lips quivering Kanthamaran stared at his father. It was impossible to say what he would have said or done at that moment. Fortunately the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar came between father and son. Clearing his throat he said, “Sambuvaraiyar! Your son has made up for all of his foolish behavior. He has done a great service to Chola empire! When you hear about it you will be proud that you had borne him. Please be patient. Don’t be angry at him!” While he spoke he dragged Sambuvaraiyar away from his son. Then he turned to young Sambuvaraiyan and asked, “Didn’t you say that you killed this Vandhiyathevan with a spear? Can you be certain that it was him who was crossing the river on a horse at that time?”

The chief minister intervened and said, “Sir! Please permit my disciple to say a word.”

Azhvarkadiyan came to the front. “Gentlemen! I will admit to my mistake. This vallathu prince did not escape on a horse. He saved our real Mathuranthakar from the murderer and in the process was wounded himself. I brought him to the palace in the covered palankeen. He has been here for four days. Therefore young Sambuvaraiyar could not have thrown the spear at him,” he said.

“That is what I surmised, Sambuvaraiyar! Please forgive your son’s mistakes. He has done a great service to Cholanadu. The man who was killed must be Veera Pandyan’s son. Since that evening the old Mathuranthakar has been missing. He must be the one who tried to escape. God has saved this kingdom from an enormous mistake!” The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

Before the shock and surprise from his words were over the elderly man continued. “Emperor! Please lend your ears to my last words! Thoomakethu has disappeared following its evil trajectory. Your brave son Athitha Karikalar has also departed. But the future is good for the great country that your ancestors and my ancestors founded. This is why the Chola empire has escaped a folly unheard of even in fiction. The person responsible for this narrow escape is the Varnar tribe warrior Vandhiyathevan. It was through him I came to see the light of day. The day we held the midnight meeting at Kadampoor palace this young man arrived there by chance! My shame began that day when I realized that I had to hide something from this little boy. Later my brother told me that he had met and spoken with Nandhini outside Thanjai fort. My brother also told me that this young man escaped from the fort with Nandhini’s help. From that day suspicion took root in my mind. I began to question what was going on around me. Even though the darkness of delusion frequently shrouded my intellect, again and again the light rays of truth entered and tried to chase the darkness away. Finally by the grace of Durga Parameshwari I learned about the Madurai troublemakers’ perfidy. If I had not eavesdropped on their conversation I would never have believed it. Even after that your beloved daughter, the junior stateswoman, confused me with another twist. She told me that Nandhini was her sister and that I should not harm her. I wondered if she too had been fooled. In any case I wanted to go to Kadampoor and find out the truth. Kalamuga saivar have made me their leader. Listen to my shame; Nandhini sowed the seed of envy in my heart that I must become the next emperor. The kalamuga crowd fanned this evil desire. They wanted Mathuranthaka Thevan to be crowned first in a fake attempt to seize control and then throw him away and make me the emperor. One of these kalamugar was Idumbankari, a guard at Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. He also worked as a spy for the Madurai troublemakers. I threatened him and found out that the Madurai saboteurs were at that moment hiding in the hunting room of Kadampoor palace. I heard that Athitha Karikalar had gone to Nandhini’s room, and that Manimekalai and Vandhiyathevan were also hiding there. My determination to avert a catastrophe was compromised by my desire to eavesdrop on the conversation between Nandhini and Karaikalar; to find out their secret. I was also hoping to find out the truth about Nandhini. Learning that there was a way to enter Nandhini’s room through the yazhkalangiam I went there. I arrived at the right moment. I heard the truth about Nandhini from her own mouth. I also learned that Athitha Karikalan’s character was spotless. I also learned to what extent Nandhini and her cronies were planning to go, to avenge Veera Pandyan’s death. I tried to stop them. But I could not triumph over fate. I had the misfortune of seeing Karikalan collapse lifelessly in front of me …”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar broke down covering his face with his hands. His sobs were heard like waves crashing in the sea during a storm. No one dared opening their mouth at that time. Everyone’s heart melted at the sight of a great old warrior’s sorrow.

With his iron-hearted determination the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar brought his sobbing to an end. He removed his hands from his face and looked around. “Fate ended Athitha Karikalar’s life. But by Durga Parameshwari’s grace Ponniyin Selvar who faced great danger at the same time triumphed fate through intelligence and survived. Lord! Emperor! Brahmarayar! My dear friends, the petty kings! Place Arulmozhivarmar on the throne! The empire will reach new heights of glory,” he said.

“Sir! Your wish will come true. We were afraid that Ponniyin Selvar will be the obstacle. Fortunately for Cholanadu he has agreed to accept the crown! But you did not tell us how Athitha Karikalar died,” said chief minister Aniruthar.

“Why do you want to know that? Does it matter by whose hand he died? It was really fate that killed him!” The brave old man said in a trembling voice.

“If we don’t find out then the suspicion on this young man here will never disappear. He may be punished for Karikalar’s death,” said the chief minister.

“Aha! He will be charged with the crime? Who is accusing him?”

“Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran!”

“Aha! Absolute fools! Kanthamara! Parthipenthira! Why are you accusing this young man? What is the proof that he killed Athitha Karikalar?”

Aniruthar answered that question also. “He was at that time hiding in Nandhini Devi’s anthapuram. Manimekalai was also there. Manimekalai says that she did the killing. That cannot be. The knife she showed has no blood on it. Therefore she must be saying that to protect Vandhiyathevan! She may have seen Vandhiyathevan killing Karikalar from his hiding place!”

“If Manimekalai didn’t do it, how could Vandhiyathevan have? With what weapon?”

“With this weapon! With this sharp thiruku knife that is soaked in blood which has since dried!” Parthipenthiran said displaying the knife we have seen before.

When Vandhiyathevan brought Karikalan’s body from the burning palace and laid it down before himself fainting, Parthipenthiran had taken the thiruku knife from him and kept it safely. Now he showed it.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Where? Give it here,” and took it from him.

After looking at the knife carefully he mumbled, “Aha! This is Idumbankari’s knife!”

Then, “Kanthamara! Parthipenthira! You and I must circle Vandhiyathevan three times and worship at his feet! Like this old man the two of you fell in Nandhini’s lascivious net. This young man is the only one who did not. He did not throw this knife. Or kill Athitha Karikalar,” he said.

“How can you be so sure,” asked chief minister Aniruthar.

“Yes, I am sure. I know the man who threw this knife and killed Karikalar!”

“Who? Who?”

“Yes, yes. It must be told. If not your suspicions will not end. All of you, listen! This young man was hiding in the yazhkalangiam. I came down through that. So that he will not scream at my sight I grabbed him and squeezed his neck from behind. His eyes bulging he fell down unconscious. At that time he could not have known who killed Athitha Karikalar.”

“Who? Who? Who killed?”

“I borrowed the knife from Idumbankari and brought it with me. I am the one who threw this! This, my right hand, did! This hand that belongs to the tribe that has crowned the Chola emperors. But it did not throw it at Prince Karikalar. I threw it at Nandhini. I wanted to kill that bewitching devil who had trapped me in her lascivious net and thrown me into a vengeful pit. It missed its mark and fell on Karikalar!”

“Aiyayo!” and “Ahaho!” – Cried several voices.

“I tarnished the hundred years long service of the Pazhuvur tribe to the Chola tribe. I don’t know how I can remove this stain!”

“Brother! I will remove it!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar roared as he marched toward his older brother with his sword drwn.

“We have vowed to avenge anyone who betrays the Chola tribe. I will fulfill that pledge now. I will kill you this second and erase the shame that had befallen our tribe!” The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar raised his sword.

“Don’t! Don’t! Please don’t spill blood here,” said Sundara Chola emperor.

Prince Arulmozhivarmar and chief minister Aniruthar leaped ahead and grabbed the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s hands.

“Brother! I will not leave you the task of erasing the disgrace that I had brought on our tribe. Furthermore I will not have you labeled, ‘The younger brother who killed his elder brother!’ I will carry out my vow to Durga Parameshwari myself!” After saying this the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar raised the thiruku knife in his hand over his chest. As he had replaced his sword in its scabbard everyone had assumed that he had changed his mind. No one had thought that he would use the thiruku knife that he had taken from Parthipenthiran on himself.

“Aiyo! Don’t!” Arulmozhivarmar cried as he leaped toward the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. But before he could stop him the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar had carried out his intention. Like the thevatharu tree that had grown roots and stood tall for a long time falling uprooted from the earth with its roots, branches, leaves and all, he fell to the floor.

“Ha ha!” “Adada!” These voices rose in that assembly.

Some came running to the fallen elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

At the same time some ran towards emperor Sundara Cholar who leaned back in his seat with his eyes closed. The assembly dismissed itself.

* * *

That night as the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar was battling with death several people came to see him. The emperor, Arulmozhivarmar, Aniruthar and even the junior stateswoman Kundavai had come. The emperor and others spoke with admiration about the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s service to the Chola tribe and the empire. They spoke of his brave performance in so many battlefields in his younger days. They recalled with admiration how he had turned defeat into victory in the Thakolam battle by taking command of the scattered soldiers and transforming them into winning force. They praised his conduct as Cholanadu treasurer.

They took their leave without uttering a word about the incidents of the last three years.

Then the four of them waited hiding in the room where the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar lay out of range of his eyesight.

At that time the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar walked in with Azhvarkadiyan. After offering a seat in front of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar he also sat down.

Recognizing Azhvarkadiyan with his rapidly fading sight the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “Aha! Why is this Vaishnavan here? I don’t want to go to vaikundam young man! I want to go to sivapatham!”

“Sir! Sunrise tomorrow will mark the vaikunda ekathasi holy day! Even if you want to go to kailasam you must go through vaikundam,” said Thirumalai.

“No! No! You go back to your Mahavishnu …

“Sir! I am not here as Mahavishnu’s messenger. I have brought news from my sister.”

“Who is your sister?”

“I am talking about my sister Nandhini who grew up with me. Sir! Nandhini sent me to express her gratitude. She said to thank you for taking the blame for Karikalar’s death in order to spare her. She said that however many births it may take she can never forget your love!”

“Aha! She still believes that! Let her dwell happily in her belief. However much she may have deceived me I am unable to forget her. I am unable to be angry at her. She is the daughter of the innocent woman who gave her life to save the emperor! Perhaps she will follow me in coming births also!” A faint smile appeared on the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face where death’s shadow had been creeping.

“Vaishnava! The truth must be told. You may as well be the recipient. The knife I threw did not strike the prince. He had fallen before that. The reason why I said I killed the prince was not to spare Nandhini of the crime; there is a reason that is a hundred times more important. Move closer to me! I will tell you. Your friend Vandhiyathevan, he is a rare human being! The Chola tribe is indebted to him. He has stolen the junior stateswoman’s heart. I was needlessly hostile towards her. As reparation I declared myself guilty. If I did not publicly say it, and sacrifice my life, someone will always be accusing Vandhiyathevan. Now no one will dare say it. Vaishnava! One day tell this to the junior stateswoman. Listening to Nandhini I have been unfriendly. Please ask her to forgive me!”

After this long speech the old warrior was out of breath. If Azhvarkadiyan’s heart had melted would it surprise anyone that tears were pouring out of Kundavai Devi’s eyes as she listened from her hiding place?

“Vaishnava! One more thing. Tell chief minister Brahmarayar! Pandyan’s crown and diamond necklace must be brought from Ilankai. Vallathu prince is the man for that! Go with him and bring those. Then go to Madurai, and have a coronation there for Ponniyin Selvar. Do you understand? Ask Arulmozhi a favor for me! Do not hold my brother responsible for my actions. Tell him that there is no better friend to Chola tribe than him! Devi! Durga Parameshwari! I have fulfilled my vow! I am coming! Protect the Chola tribe!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiayar’s voice that had been gradually weakening completely disappeared. The flame of that great brave warrior was also quenched.

78. Friends Part

Four horses were nearing the jetty at river Kollidam. Four soldiers were seated on the four horses. Of course we know these soldiers. They are Parthipenthiran, Kanthamaran, Vandhiyathevan and Ponniyin Selvar.

The first two had come prepared to cross Kollidam by boat and journey north. The other two were there to send them off.

Once they reached the jetty the four friends climbed down from their horses.

“Kanthamara! You are no longer angry at your old friend? Or, are there any traces left,” asked Ponniyin Selvar.

“Sir! How can I be angry at him? I have plenty of reason to feel sorry about my ignorance. Forgetting all the harm I did to him, he has agreed to be friends with me again, there is no comparison for such generosity. He saved my sister from drowning, can I repay my debt in this birth? When I think about how my mind got derailed, even I am astonished. I should have married Manimekalai to him as I had intended in the beginning! Then she will not be a madwoman today,” said Kanthamaran.

“Why do you say that? There is a little memory lapse from the shock of falling into the river. Won’t it be alright in a few days,” said the prince.

“It does not seem to be an ordinary memory lapse. She remembers everyone. She remembers everything. Only Vandhiyathevan and me – she is unable to recognize. When I think of the affection she had for me I feel that my heart will burst. ‘Aiyo! I had killed my beloved brother with my own hands,’ – her cry is forever in my ears …”

“Why should she cry like that? You are alive!”

“I am alive. It would have been better if I had died. Yes. Sir! She thinks that I killed Vandhiyathevan and because of it she had killed me. Sometimes she cries thinking of me. At other times she thinks of my friend and cries, ‘Will the river turn around? Will it bring back the dead?’ However much anyone tells her she does not accept that I am her brother. She cannot recognize Vandhiyathevan also. ‘Who are you? Have you seen the vallathu prince?’ She is asking him! …”

“Is that right?” When Ponniyin Selvar turned he saw tears welling in Vandhiyathevan’s eyes.

“Adada! How happy she will be if she knows that Vandhiyathevar is not vallathu prince anymore, but now he is vallathu king! How sad that she is missing this,” said Parthipenthiran.

When Kanthamaran heard this he looked at Ponniyin Selvar with surprise.

“Yes, my friend! The emperor has decided to return vanakapadi to your friend and make him vallathu king. In the same way he is thinking of making the territory ruled by Vaithumabarayar next to vanakapadi into a separate kingdom for you. Now the two of you must live side by side. You must behave in a manner that does not hurt your friendship,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“It seems as if there is no limit to the emperor’s kindness. In that case, I don’t have to return to Kadampoor?” Kanthamaran asked excitedly.

“You don’t have to. Your old palace there has mostly burned down. If you go there again old memories will resurface. Build a new palace on the south shore of palaru. Once your sister’s health improves she also can come and live there.”

“Prince! I don’t think that Manimekalai will come and live with us after this. Your grandmother Chempian Madevi has promised to take her on pilgrimage with her. Manimekalai also likes the elder stateswoman a lot. Even today the elder stateswoman has taken my sister to Thiruvaiyaru.”

“Yes; it is a big group. Even the newly wedded uncle and aunt of mine had gone with them. Listen to this joke. I must consider the Ocean Princess to be my aunt in the future!”

“The Chola tribe had never had a low profile wedding as the one between Mathuranthakar and Poongkuzhali,” said Parthipenthiran.

“My coronation will also be simple,” said Arulmozhi,

“That will never happen! …,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Pretending to be startled Ponniyin Selvar asked, “What will not happen? My coronation?”

Embarrassed Vandhiyathevan said, “I said that a low profile coronation is impossible. Already the people have started to make inquiries and talk about your coronation!”

“Son of the King! Shouldn’t we be present at your coronation? You are sending us at this time to the north. They say that the coronation will take place in January! Vandhiyathevan is lucky …” said Kanthamaran.

“Nothing like that. Soon I will be sending Vandhiyathevar also to Eezham. Friends! trust me! Without you my dear friends my coronation will not happen!” Ponniyin Selvar stated firmly.

“Many thanks, Sir! Once the day is fixed for the coronation please send a messenger on horse. We will come at once,” said Kanthamaran.

“Friend! Now we don’t have to concern ourselves about it. Without you there I will not have a coronation. Believe me. Don’t forget why I am taking the crown. Not to live a life of leisure in the palace, its splendid piazzas and gardens. Friends! I have told you about my dreams ever since I went to Eezhanadu. Once again, let me tell you. Listen! Chola empire must grow to new heights during our lifetime more than was achieved during the time of my grandfather’s father Paranthaka emperor. We must extend the kingdom on all four sides – in the north up to the banks of river kangai, in the east across the sea to Srivijaya kingdom, Cholanadu troops must go and plant the tiger flag. In the west we must capture the hill country and the thousands of islands in the sea. In the mountains a ‘sera’ king has emerged. In Pandyanadu also a pandyan will suddenly emerge. It is the Ilankai kings who are behind these sera and pandya men. Therefore we must find Mahinthan and his men who are hiding in the mountain dwellings of Eezhanadu and destroy them. We must bring the entire Ilankai island under our rule. It is not enough only to extend the empire. We must erect Sivan temples and Vishnu temples bigger than the Buddhist stupas of Eezhanadu. A thousand years from now people must marvel at the feats we have accomplished in our brave country. Friends! These dreams will come true during our time. Each one of you must help me. Parthipenthira! I have given you the highest position, that of my brother Karikalar, as commander of the northern boundary. You must do your duty well. My brother’s sudden death would have given our enemies new hope. Vengi king and even Irattirakuda king will be expecting internal turmoil in Cholanadu; infighting among petty kings. Therefore our soldiers must guard the vadapennai shore like an iron wall. Pallava Prince! After making the necessary arrangements and leaving Kanthamaran as commander there, you must return to Kanji at once. Once there, prepare the gold palace that my brother built for the emperor. As soon as I am crowned the emperor wants to leave for Kanji!”

Kanthamaran’s eyes were now filled with tears.  “Son of the king! My skills haven’t been proven in the battlefield yet. You are making me commander. Am I qualified?” He asked his voice faltering.

“Friend! The almighty god has given me some powers. Among them is knowing who is qualified for what. Just like I am making you commander of the northern border, I have made your friend Vandhiyathevan commander in the east! I am confident that both of you will perform your duties well,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“At least for a while it is good to have one of them in the north and the other in the south. If they are together and if you are not around old memories may lead to new clashes,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Sir! That will never happen again!” Kanthamaran said as he moved closer to Vandhiyathevan.

“Friend! You have forgiven my sins, haven’t you?” He asked.

Vandhiyathevan instead of answering, simply spread his arms and embraced Kanthamaran in a tight hug.

For a while both friends shed tears silently.

Then Parthipenthiran and Kanthamaran climbed into the boat that was ready.

After watching the boat until it was half way across the river, Ponniyin Selvar and Vandhiyathevan turned their horses toward Thanjai.

79. Meeting on the Road

The entire country was awash with anticipation of Ponniyin Selvar’s coronation which was expected to take place soon. The people eagerly awaited the day.

Athitha Karikalar’s sudden death, Manthahini’s sacrifice of her life, and the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s fulfillment of his vow had all taken a toll on emperor Sundara Cholar. Yet he felt comforted by the knowledge that the disagreements over the throne’s succession had been settled and that both petty kings and the people unanimously agreed to crown Arulmozhivarmar.

As soon as January was upon them the emperor wanted to choose an auspicious day, unburden the weight of the kingdom on Ponniyin Selvar and leave for Kanji. He had decided to spend the rest of his days in the gold palace that his brave son had built for him. It was not surprising that Sundara Cholar wanted the coronation to be a simple affair without too much extravaganza.

Arulmozhivarmar was in complete agreement with his father. He decided not to appear in public until the coronation was over. The direct route from Kollidam jetty to Thanjavur would take him and Vandhiyathevan through Thiruvaiyaru. If they went into that town it was certain that the people there will surround them and make a fuss. Therefore the two friends without entering that town, traveled a little west to cross river Kaveri. Once they reached kudamurutti river, they followed it towards the royal thoroughfare.

In the month of December, in that region where five rivers ran next to each other the water and land together were resplendent. In place of floodwater flowing to the brim, the river was now half-way down serenely uncovering a beautiful expanse of beach. On both sides of the river coconut, kamuku, kathali and sugar cane flourished. In the absence of groves golden paddy grew in fields their mature stalks bending over with the weight of the grain. In between in canals and ponds red lotus, white water-lily and chenkazhuneer presented their faces as colorful portraits.

As Vandhiyathevan rode admiring the scenery Ponniyin Selvar said, “Pal! Can there be any other place as rich and beautiful as this? How fortunate it is to be crowned as emperor of this place! I am surprised that until recently I rejected the idea!”

“I am not surprised about it, Sir! The fickle nature of the royal mind has long been a subject of discussion among elders” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You are wicked. And ungrateful. You did not even thank me for making you commander of the Eezhanadu troops. You are insulting me calling me fickle minded!”

“What seems like insult to ordinary folks may turn out to be praise for the royalty – perhaps? Today you may give a fellow capital punishment. Tomorrow you may forgive him and make him commander. This kind of fickle mindedness can only add to a king’s popularity! ‘Aha! How kind is our king?’ – the people will say, won’t they?”

“Yes, yes! But the man who was made commander today can be given capital punishment tomorrow, what will the people say then?”

“They will call him the new incarnation of manu neethi Cholan; the great king who is impartial and just!”

Ponniyin Selvar laughed out loud. “In that case you won’t be surprised if I take back the vanakapadi kingdom, and the position of commander of Eezha battalion?”

“I won’t be surprised. I won’t be sad also. Even now I am wondering if you are sending me to Eezham as commander to honor me, or to banish me from beautiful Cholanadu and turn me into an exile!”

“I do want to make such an intelligent man as yourself my chief minister and keep you near me. But I am afraid that Aniruthar is not prepared to give up his position for you.”

“If that is the only reason, I will ask chief minister Aniruthar myself.”

Ponniyin Selvar laughed. “No, there is another reason,” he said.

“That is what I thought.”

“What did you think?”

“That nowadays you have one thing on your mind and you say something else on the outside.”

Vallathu king! Can you give an example to prove your accusation?”

“I certainly can. The day has been fixed for your coronation in early January. You are aware of that. Yet you told those men we bid farewell just now, ‘Without your presence my coronation will not take place!’ What am I to make of that?”

Ponniyin Selvar again laughed. “Yes, I have always spoken my mind. After getting to know Vandhiyathevar I have come to appreciate the art of magical enchantment!”

“Don’t praise me unnecessarily. What magical enchantment can there be that you don’t already practice? What can compare with hypnotizing an elephant, and disguising as the elephant-keeper to fool the public?”

“Alright! You can learn those tricks from me now.”

“Perhaps you are chasing me to Ilankai afraid that I will learn too much?”

“Friend! Don’t you want to go to Eezhanadu?”

“Who is saying that? I am prepared to go to places even farther than Ilanakai if I am ordered to. The sooner you send me the happier I will be!”

“You are so eager to leave me?”

“Yes, Sir! I have decided that the greater the distance one keeps from kings the better. If one is at a distance one can safeguard the king’s friendship instead of losing it.”

“If that is the case you may be in for some disappointment.”

“Are you saying however far I may go I cannot keep your friendship?”

“No, no, I mean that you cannot be away from me for too long. In a few days I am planning to join you in Eezham. I am planning to go with you across the seas to other islands. My only regret is that we cannot take Ocean Princess with us …”

“You learned the art of magical enchantment from me. I in turn after getting to know you vowed to always speak the truth. Now, can I say what’s on my mind?”

“By all means!”

“You are taking the Chola empire from my friend Senthan Amuthan, your uncle Mathuranthaka Thevar. There is a certain justification for that. One can reason that it is the choice of the people. But if you steal Poongkuzhali from him, there is no greater travesty than that. There is no justification for that. Please remember that the Ocean Princess is now Mathuranthaka Thevar’s lawful wife,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Ponniyin Selvar laughed out loud. Then he said, “You won’t hesitate to put me in the same camp as the ten-headed Ravanan!”

Then, “It is fair that you take the side of your friend! But what about Poongkuzhali? Did she want to marry my uncle,” asked Arulmozhivarmar.

“Is there any doubt? Son of the king! You can become emperor of the Chola kingdom. You can rule the entire earth under one mantle. But no one can force Poongkuzhali to do anything against her wish. I was fortunate to learn the magnitude of Poongkuzhali ammai’s love for the beloved son of Chempian Madevi. I have seen such love only in one other place!”

“Where was that? If you can talk to me about it, please do!”

“I saw it in Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi. Where else can one find such love?”

“That is a lie! Have you already forgotten your vow to speak only the truth? Keeping one thing in mind, you are conjuring something else for me to hear!”

“Not at all, Sir! I am saying what is on my mind.”

“You have not seen such love anywhere else?”

“I am saying no, aren’t I?”

“You scoundrel! Merciless monster! A woman was ready to lose her life for your sake. Now she has lost her mind! Her love does not impress you?” Ponniyin Selvar asked with real anger.

Vandhiyathevan was silent for a while. Then, “Sir! You are turning around causes and effects. It is not that I don’t have sympathy for Manimekalai. I think of her and I start crying. But I am not the reason she is mad. The reason is her brother Kanthamaran! Anyway the two of us are dead to her. What is the use in speaking about it,” he said.

“I am sorry for losing my temper …” Ponniyin Selvar began.

“I am neither hurt nor surprised. I expected this kind of angry outburst. That is why I said that I wanted to leave for Ilankai soon.”

“I said that there was another reason for sending you to Ilankai!”

“Yes, Lord!”

“My sister thinks that if you went away for a while, then when you return Manimekalai may perhaps recognize you!”

“I know, Sir! I know that the junior stateswoman is more keen to send me away than you! Oh, look who’s here! The very people we are talking about!” Vandhiyathevan pointed.

The two friends who had been riding alongside of river kudamurutti were at that time approaching the royal thoroughfare between Thiruvaiyaru and Thanjavur. On the royal thoroughfare a palankeen was coming surrounded by attendants in front and behind. Kundavai Devi and Kodumabalur princess were in the palankeen. Their eyes widened in surprise at the sight of the two friends on horses. Their faces blossomed in delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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