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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (80 – 83)

October 16, 2018

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

80. Goddess Earth’s Lover

Ponniyin Selvar rode his horse to the palankeen in which the princesses were seated.

Pulling his horse to slow down Vandhiyathevan said, “Careful! That wicked palankeen is going to crash into our meek horses!”

“Your palankeen just hit my horse!” He recalled himself shouting not very long ago at about the same place after willfully letting his horse collide with Nandhini’s palankeen. Not even six months have passed since that incident. But how much has happened since that day!

Kundavai surpressing her delight at Vandhiyathevan’s words said, “Brother! Both of you look so happy. Is there some good news that you were discussing?”

“Yes, Sister! We were talking about a happy occasion. But your friend Vanathi won’t like to hear it. Isn’t my wedding day just around the corner? We were admiring my future bride. We were discussing the various aspects of her charm,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

The smiles disappeared from the faces of the two women. Vanathi bent her head. Anger, surprise, doubt and fury flickered across Kundavai’s face.

“What kind of shameless talk is this? Why do you take so much delight in offending this girl,” she said.

Vanathi looked up. “Sister! What do you mean? Why should I be offended,” she said.

As Ponniyin Selvar stood there without saying a word Kundavai took him to task. “Aren’t you returning from the Kollidam shore? Who is this woman you saw there? What place? What name? What tribe?” She went on and on.

Vandhiyathevan intervened. “Princess! We did not see any prospective brides for the prince. We were admiring the splendor of goddess earth, the enchanting vitality of the five rivers. We were speaking about the beauty of Cholanadu. Isn’t coronation just around the corner? The prince meant his love for this earth princess!” He said.

“Aha! My brother never knew how to be so poetic. You have probably taught him!”

Arulmozhivarmar laughed. “Friend! Serves you right. Didn’t I say that as a result of your friendship I have acquired the skills of magical enchantment. See, even my sister thinks so!” He said.

“This is unwarranted accusation. It is as if both of you had planned on ambushing me!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“There are more accusations. My brother could not have mentioned those. We cannot go into this while standing on the middle of the road,” said Kundavai.

Vandhiyathevan said, “So, I was right!”

“Right about what?”

“Sending me away as commander of Eezhanadu troops is really punishment for my crimes; exiling me to an island!”

“See, Sister! How confident he is about the Chola tribe’s gratitude!” Arulmozhivarmar chuckled.

“It is true that we feel no gratitude towards him!” Kundavai told Arulmozhivarmar.

“What is this? Whose side are you on?”

“We can be grateful towards strangers. What is the necessity for gratitude among friends? Don’t you remember what Thiruvalluvar has said?

‘As quick as one’s hand during a wardrobe malfunction
A friend relieves one of adversity’

For straightening the skirt that has slipped must the waist offer thanks to the hand?” Kundavai said.

“Devi! There is no need for gratitude. If no punishment is given that will be plenty of gratitude!” Vandhiyathevan told her.

“Brother! You and your pal, remember this! Our elder brother Karikalan who is now in warriors’ heaven sent him to help me. I have not yet released him from his duty,” said Kundavai.

“Do not release him, Sister! Even life sentence would have my approval,” said the prince.

“I have some matters in Ilankai that he must help me with,” said Kundavai.

“Before I go I will come and take my leave of you, Devi!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Then you will have to come to Pazhaiyarai,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Sister! Where are you going now?” Arulmozhivarmar asked a little surprised.

“We are going to Thiruvaiyaru. Isn’t today markazhi thiruvathirai festival? Chempian Madevi, Mathuranthaka Thevar and Poongkuzhali went there in the morning. Are you also coming?” Kundavai asked.

“No, we are not. In fact to avoid going through the town of Thiruvaiyaru we rode along the riverbank and then turned back.”

Appar Peruman rejoiced seeing kailasam in Thiruvaiyaru. You don’t want to go there? Perhaps you have also become veera vaishnavars?”

“Nothing of the sort. If I am going to Thiruvaiyaru, I want to go like Appar Peruman!”

“What do you mean?”

“Appar says in his song! ‘without a trace,’ – is how he went. Without any glamour, without revealing that he is Thirunavukarasar, he went behind the crowd of devotees who were carrying flowers and water for the pooja. Because of it he was able to see kailasam in Thiruvaiyaru. If we go there in our royal glamour we cannot see god. People will also forget about god and surround us!”

“Yes, yes! Such is your horoscope! Once they see you they will start shouting, ‘Victory for the king! Victory for Ponniyin Selvar!’ But we have no such danger. And we are not even going among the crowds. We will watch the festival from the palace balcony!”

“Sister! Do you remember this old song? God created the universe, the earth and the stars in the sky. Isn’t it foolish to think of him as Athiraiyan, pinning him to one star? Do you remember the verse that speaks about this?”

“I do, Brother! Isn’t the particular encompassed in the whole?”

“Alright! You should go now. When will you be back in Thanjai?”

“We are not coming back to Thanjai. From Thiruvaiyaru we are going to Pazhiayarai.”

“What? What? You are staying for my coronation?”

“Yes, yes! What business do Vanathi and I have with your coronation?”

“Sister! Without you my coronation will not happen!”

“It will happen, why won’t it? Who selected the day? I hope he is not the one who chose the day for Ramar’s coronation?”

“I have no faith in time, star, astrology, augury or any of that. Sister! Any day that we do our duty is a good day. It is the days that we are lethargic are bad!”

“Let all your days be good, Brother! We will go and pray for you!” Kundavai said.

“What are you going to pray for me?”

“That your love for the earth goddess may come true; that your coronation takes place without any hindrance; we will pray to the deity of five rivers. ‘Let your mind not go astray from the good practices of the ancient Chola tribe,’ we will pray to the goddess of goodness.”

“So then you are certain that you won’t be present during my coronation?”

“We will experience it spiritually from Pazhaiyarai!”

“Sister! You are providing fodder to this Kodumbalur Princess’s vanity. She thinks that if she refuses to sit beside me on the Chola throne the sun will cease to rise! Her stubborness will end up in a disaster. Someone else will take her place. There is no use complaining afterwards,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“I have never complained; nor am I going to in the future,” said the Kodumbalur Princess.

“Even if you do, Vanathi, it will accomplish nothing! Those who love this earth, – nothing gets into their ears!”

“Don’t forget that you are the one who created this love of earth in my heart. Haven’t you, – a woman, – told me on so many occasions that you don’t have the heart to leave this beautiful Cholanadu, and that is why you will never get married?” Arulmozhi said.

“On those occasions you refused to listen to me. You said that there are other more beautiful places in the world. It is this Varnar tribe warrior’s influence that has turned you into such a lover of earth!” Kundavai said.

“God! Do I have to shoulder this accusation also,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“You have shouldered so many dreadful allegations. You are going to be scared of this? Brother! We have been talking for a long time. We will miss the festival! We will leave now.” Kundavai signaled to the palankeen carriers. The palankeen started to move.

After watching the palankeen for a while Ponniyin Selvar directed his horse towards Thanjai.

After having gone a short distance he said to Vandhiyathevan who was riding beside him, “Friend! I don’t believe that these women are going to the festival. I heard that Kudanthai astrologer has now moved near Thiruvaiyaru! They are going to him for consultation!”

“Sir! You have become better at predicting the future than the Kudanthai astrologer,” said Vandhiyathevan.

81. The Cat and the Parrot

Ponniyin Selvar’s prediction was correct. Once they reached the Chola palace in Thiruvaiyaru, Kundavai and Vanathi abandoned their palankeen and retinue there. They found out that Chempian Madevi, her son and daughter-in-law had gone to the temple. They told the palace guards that they were also going to the temple. Then with just one guard by their side they went in search of the astrologer’s house.

Yes; after his house was washed away in the flood, Kudanthai astrologer had moved to Thiruvaiyaru. He built a small house on the Kaveri shore on the town’s eastern edge and was living there.

Perhaps he had enlightenment by way of astrology that Thanjavur held the future and not Pazhaiyarai; perhaps he moved to Thiruvaiyaru for this reason!

The princesses were surprised when even as they stood on the astrologer’s doorstep to hear a sweet childish voice from inside say, “Welcome Dancing Queens! Please come in!” Wondering whom the astrologer has now found to replace the rude disciple who stood there as guard before, they went inside.

The answer waited in a cage hanging from the ceiling. A green parrot moved its head from side to side and after taking a good look at them with its tiny bead like eyes repeated once again, “Welcome Dancing Queens! Please come in!”

Hearing the parrot and the ankle-bracelets of the women, the astrologer came from inside.

Surprised at seeing the princesses he said, “Please come in! Princesses! Come in! This hut is so fortunate today!”

The parrot repeated after him, “This hut is so fortunate today!”

The astrologer scolded the parrot. “Cheechee! Be quiet,” he told the parrot.

“Sir! Why are you scolding the parrot? It is greeting the visitors properly. It gives the impression that there are visitors streaming in everyday. It is alluding to an endless traffic of queens and ranis,” said the junior stateswoman Kundavai.

“Welcome Dancing Queens! Please come in!” The parrot chimed in.

The astrologer again told the parrot to shut up. Then, “Princesses! Forgive me! When Thirugnana Sambantha Peruman visited Thiruvaiyaru he saw dance theaters on every street. He heard the sound of ankle-bracelets as girls took dance lessons. He had mentioned this in his songs. As in those days, today also there many young female students studying the art of dance in Thiruvaiyaru. Often they visit this hut to hear their horoscope! To welcome them I have trained this parrot to say these words! Please forgive me,” he said.

“There are no dancing queens here today,” said Kundavai.

“Devi! Today is Thiruvathirai feast. The dancing queens would have gone to help in the temple. But you are for real. You are here. This hut is indeed fortunate! I feel fortunate,” the astrologer said happily.

Then, “Please sit down! Whatever you may want to ask this poor man, please ask! As far as I can see I will tell you,” he said.

Both princesses sat down. After a long sigh Kundavai said, What are we to ask? The question that comes to mind is, ‘Is there any truth in this science of astrology?'”

“Devi! What can I say? Astrology is true to those who trust. To those who do not trust, of course it is a lie,” said the astrologer.

“I did have complete confidence in astrology. But this science has let me down!”

“In what way did it let you down, Madam?”

“What has taken place according to your horoscope? Did you even mention that my brother will meet with this untimely death?”

“How can I say that, Devi? Even if I know, can I open my mouth and say it? If I had, won’t they have stuck me with the Pandyanadu troublemakers? I can only generalize about government matters and the royal family. ‘A difficult period, … an obstacle is in the forecast; under the influence of an evil planet …’ – even this is dangerous to say. Moreover, I do not have Athitha Karikalar’s horoscope. I have never seen it,” said the astrologer.

“Even if you had, you won’t have said anything. Even if you had said anything, no one could have prevented that tragedy?”

“How is that possible, Madam! I am not Brahma! Even Brahma, can he erase what has already been written?”

“In that case, what is the use in looking at one’s horoscope?”

“Madam! What are you saying? If people like you did not care about horoscope, how can people like me make a living? Would princesses even step into this poor man’s hut,” said the astrologer.

Kundavai burst out laughing when she heard this. A smile appeared on Vanathi’s face also.

“Astrologer! Is this what you tell everyone who comes here to hear their horoscope?”

“Would I be so candid with everyone? You are famous for your reputation as the incarnation of both kalaimahal and thirumahal. Can I ever win a debate with such a personality? That is why I said that. But, Madam! Should you question the veracity of astrology based on the horoscope that I have not read? Shouldn’t you base it on what I have actually read? I have told about Ponniyin Selvar’s good fortune. Whatever may have taken place, finally the time is here when he will become emperor of this earth! I heard that a good day has been selected for the coronation,” said the astrologer.

“Sir! Did anyone come to you to choose an auspicious day for Ponniyin Selvar’s coronation?”

“No, Devi! The palace has its own priests for that! Chief Minister Aniruthar is an expert in the field of astrology!”

“Yes; they have selected the seventh day of January. Is that a good day, Astrologer?”

“It is a very good day, Madam! They have selected the day after much deliberation.”

“It may be a good day for coronation. But tell me if the coronation is guranteed to take place on that day!”

“Why, Devi! Why won’t it take place?”

“They chose a good day for Sri Ramar’s coronation. But his coronation did not take place on that day!”

“Devi! On that day Sri Ramar was visited by grandeur that was a million times greater than any coronation can bestow! Ramayanam was born because of it! Never mind about that. Why should you have any doubts? It seems that you don’t want the coronation to take place on that day?”

“Your are right!”

“The world thinks that there will be no one as happy as you to see Ponniyin Selvar take the throne!”

“To be honest I should be very happy. But the foolish pride of this Kodumbalur girl has wiped out my happiness. Do you remember the promise she made at your house in Kudanthai?”

“Promise? So many disasters happened on that day. I don’t remember anything well,” said the astrologer.

“Because the spiteful boatwoman Poongkuzhali said something this girl made a promise. She said that as long as she is alive she will not ascend the throne! Can one ascend the throne after life has departed, Astrologer?”

“Of course, that is not possible!”

“It was because of her foolish promise that Mother Kaveri grew angry and wanted to wash her away with the flood!”

“Yes; I remember now. I thought that was a playful prank!”

“The playful prank has now turned into an affecting malady! She will not sit on the throne she says! My brother must marry someone else to take the place of crown empress beside him on the throne. Meanwhile she will serve in his palace as a maid among maids! I cannot bear to hear any of this, Astrologer! Do you remember what you said about this girl?”

The astrologer’s face brightened. “I remember very well! Devi! Mother Kaveri took away along with my collection of astrology books the horoscopes of princes and princesses of various countries. But this girl’s horoscope is imprinted in my mind. The lines of her palm are right before my eyes. Madam! Whatever else may not come true from my reading of horoscopes, my reading of hers will certainly come true!”

“Do you remember what you told about her?”

“Yes, I do! I said that the man who is fortunate to marry her will marry in one person the goddess of wealth and the goddess of earth. I said that great queens from all over the world will long to have just a glimpse of this queen among queens! I said that even at birth her son will carry the victory flag. I said that wherever he goes, whatever he sets his sight on, there will be victory!”

“Sir! The more you carry on in this manner, the more worried I become!”

The astrologer sat up. “Devi! Worried? What for? The woeful period for the Chola tribe and Cholanadu has passed. Do you know that today is a special day?”

“Yes. Today is December’s Thiruvathirai day. It is Sivan’s day!”

“It is also the Chola tribe’s day. It is also the day of Thamilakkam. Listen! In the coming years on one of these markazhi thiruvathirai days a miracle will happen. A child of Thirumal’s incarnation absent the sanku chakram in his hands will be borne! Through that baby Cholanadu will reach newer heights not seen ever before! Aha! What extraordinary events are in the forecast! I probably will not be alive to see these. You will live a long live and experience these happy times!”

While the astrologer kept talking in this manner Kundavai listened forgetting her surroundings.

All of a sudden hearing a noise both of them turned. Inside the cage the parrot was frantically beating its wings. Vanathi had thrown a bound ola manuscript at the cat that was about to pounce on the parrot.

“Sister! Astrology has its uses. It could save this sweet talking parrot with this astrology manuscript. If not by now the cat would have torn apart its feathers!” Vanathi said.

82. Chinese Merchants

From ancient times people in various countries have tried to foretell events in the making. Just like the poor and uneducated masses, the ruling tribes and scholars also have tried to look into the future. Astrologers, diviners, fortune tellers and palmists were present in advanced societies at the forefront of education and sophistication.

On the other hand there were also those who doubted the basis of astrological science, and those who outright condemned this art.

This conflict arose in the intelligent mind of the junior stateswoman also. Yet whenever she was concerned about the future of Chola empire, the uncertainty made her seek the astrologer’s abode.

By all indications Kundavai’s mind ought to have arrived at the same tranquility as Sundara Chola emperor’s. After so many unexpected events, it was now certain that Arulmozhivarmar will be on the Chola throne. We have known the special affection that Kundavai has had for her younger brother from their small age. She believed that Cholanadu will benefit through Arulmozhivarman who had been born with sanku chakra lines on his palm. Her belief had been strengthened over time by various incidents, such as when a strange woman had appeared, – like god herself, to save the boy when he had by accident fallen into river Kaveri. The time was near for her belief to come true. Yet, why is there no peace in this princess’s mind?

Similar to that of Arulmozhivarman, several people have noted the special nature of Princess Vanathi’s horoscope. We don’t know if they had in fact researched the time and planetary positions to predict the future, or whether they were merely trying to please Kundavai Devi. We have at times witnessed the wisdom of the crowd. Moreover some people do have the gift of prophecy. Their words more or less have come true. The astrologer who had moved from Kudanthai to Thiruvathirai, recalling that day was the December festival of the sixth lunar asterism, spoke rather emphatically when he said, ‘A good day that will bestow glory on the Chola tribe!'”

Two years later on that same markazhi thiruvathirai, a baby was born in the Chola tribe. When that child grew up and came of age he became an emperor who would be compared to Chandrakupthan, Ashokan, Vikramathithan and Harshavarthanan. Crowned as Rajendran he conquered and ruled from Ilankai to Kangai, from Latchateevu to Srivijaya Theevu.

In a miraculaous manner the astrologer’s prediction would come true. But on that day Kundavai did not have complete faith in it; Vanathi found it preposterous. Circumstances allowed her to express her feelings. Throwing the astrologer’s palm leaf book at the cat she said, “Even astrology has its uses!”

When the astrologer saw it he said, “Princess! It is said that for the able even a leaf of grass is a weapon. Like that in your hand even this sacred bundle of leaves was able to save a life. After all isn’t it the tender limb that is going to save and shelter so many lives in the future?”

“Sister! This astrologer is very clever with flattery. Come, let’s go!” Vanathi said.

“Devi! Today you may not find my remarks pleasing. One day what I have said will come true. At that time don’t forget to think of this poor man,” said the astrologer.

Kundavai intervened. “Sir! It is not that this girl does not like your words. She is exuberant in her heart. But at the same time she is fretting, ‘I made a foolish promise!’ She took her anger out on your palm leaf manuscript! Please don’t mind her!” She said.

“Even the furor of the good people will bring only good results. My pet parrot who welcomed you in her sweet tongue has been saved,” said the astrologer.

Kundavai spoke with the astrologer a little a longer. In particular she inquired about Arulmozhivarmar’s marriage. She had reasons to be concerned. Because the day before Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari had asked her, “Madam! I am leaving for Kodumbalur. I want to take my brother’s daughter Vanathi with me.”

Caught off guard Kundavai had said, “Uncle! What is the hurry? You are not staying for the coronation?”

“Madam! I will return for the coronation. Until then what will I do here? I came with a big garrison. By god’s mercy our dream has come true without any fight. The emperor’s beloved son has agreed to wear the crown. All the petty kings have concurred. There is no need to keep this big garrison here anymore. It is really difficult for Thanjai townspeople to house all of them and provide food. Therefore I have to take my garrison back, split them into smaller groups and relocate them in different places,” the colonel said.

“Of course. Please do that. But why do you have to take my friend Vaanthi back,” asked Kundavai.

“Devi! There is a reason for that. Yesterday all of us petty kings met and came to a decision. Your grandfather and Arinjaya Thevar’s father Paranthaka emperor married six queens. He married a woman from each of our tribes; mine, Miladudaiyar’s, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s, Mazhavaraiyar’s and Sambuvaraiyar’s. Therefore during his time there were no clashes among the petty kings. Your grandfather Arinjayar also married several women from the petty kings’ tribes. He married your grandmother who came from the Vaithumbarayar tribe that he defeated. But your father did not follow this good practice. He married only your mother, Malaiamman’s daughter. Because of it envy and disagreements started among the petty kings. Yesterday we unanimously decided that from now on future emperors Chola empire ought to marry women from several petty king tribes like Paranthaka emperor and Arinjaya Thevar. We have decided to appeal to Ponniyin Selvar after the coronation. You can guess why I want to take Vanathi back with me? If I have her here others may think that I am trying to go against our agreement,” said Kodumbalur Velar.

Kundavai became very enraged when she heard this. But without showing her fury she said, “Colonel! You asked me once to be both mother and father to your brother’s daughter who had lost both her parents. Have you forgotten that? I cannot send Vanathi to Kodumbalur. I cannot be apart from her even for a second. If necessary I will take her and go back to Pazhaiyarai. We will even skip the coronation. We will remain in Pazhiayarai. There is no necessity for talk of marriage now. Once the coronation is over you can talk to Ponniyin Selvar about the petty kings’ wish. We can see then!”

The colonel agreed and left.

This was another reason for coming in search of the astrologer. This is why Kundavai seemed so concerned about Ponniyin Selvar’s marriage.

At the same time Vanathi’s mind was revisiting an old incident. The characters in that were also a bird and a cat. Along with the cat there were also an elephant and an elephant-keeper.

A jungle cat tried to attack a bird’s nest that was hanging by a thread from a tree and steal the chicks. The mother bird circled the nest trying to stop the cat. Vanathi saw it and screamed helplessly. A young man who was swimming in the river came running. Taking a look at the crisis he hurried away and returned on an elephant. He saved the bird nest and the tiny chicks that were inside from the jungle cat’s mouth.

Vanathi had thought that the young man was the elephant-keeper. Only later she would find out that he was Ponniyin Selvar. Aha! She wished that he had been just an elephant-keeper! Or an ordinary soldier! She became the target of such acrimony only because he turned out to be the beloved son of Emperor Sundara Cholar! She is in a situation where her friends and others like Poongkuzhali can insult her; can insinuate that she has hidden motives to become the Cholanadu empress …!

While Vanathi was trapped in such memories and Kundavai was engaged in astrology a loud voice was heard at the front door calling out, “Anyone cares for Chinese silk? Chinese silk!” There were also other voices.

Kundavai and Vanathi realized that there time was up and rose.

The astrologer’s disciple came in and asked, “Swami! There are two Chinese merchants. They want to hear their horoscope. Shall I tell them to come tomorrow?”

“No, let them come now; we will take our leave,” Kundavai answered. Then she took Vanathi’s hand and went out.

At the entrance the two princesses saw an elephant, and on the elephant two Chinese merchants seated with large bundles of fabric. They seemed to be questioning the elephant-keeper who stood below about something.

Not paying much attention to them the princesses with the soldier who had accompanied them returned to the Chola palace.

83. The Scene that Appar Saw

That day at dusk to mark the festival of the sixth lunar asterism, the deity of six rivers and the goddess of goodness graced the Thiruvaiyaru’s broad avenues lined with houses. Swami and Amman were seated on a silver kailasa chariot that was designed to invoke the snow covered kailaiyankiri.

At the front of the procession went elephants, camels and oxen. Trumpets and horns sounded from on top of them that produced echoes in all eight directions. Behind them row after row of people marched bearing banners. Group after group of orchestras followed them. Courtesans paused every now and then to perform before moving on. Nandhi Baghvan, Sandhikesuvarar, Vinayakar and god Muruga accompanied by Valli Thevayanai paraded on separate floats. Lastly Parvathi and Parameshwaran made their prescence seated on the kailasa chariot.

Farther behind them came the choirs singing the Thiruvaiyaru hymns sung by Appar, Sammanthar and Sundarar to the accompaniment of veena, table, cymbals and other instruments. In front and behind, thousands of people kept moving slowly with the procession blocking the streets. According to their preferences, the people were absorbed with either watching the elephants and camels, or listening to the choirs singing, or enjoying the courtesans’ dance performances, but most of them taken up by the presence of the passing deities.

As far as eyes could reach hundreds of torches lit the area and turned this rare occasion into a dreamland.

From the balcony of the Chola palace Kundavai, Vanathi and Poongkuzhali were watching this scene. Beginning from the elephants bearing the trumpet players to the choir singers at the end, they enjoyed watching the procession. They observed the ecstatic devotees and the commoners whose attention was diverted to the variously entertaining performances. They also rejoiced seeing the parading deities from Nandhi Thevar to Sivan Parvathi.

They also saw two Chinese merchants atop an elephant amidst the crowd of people disembarking from the elephant at places to disappear among the crowd and then climbing back on the elephant.

“Aha! Are these Chinese men really merchants? Or, are they spies from a foreign country” The suspicion arose in Kundavai’s  mind.

Naturally, the news of the recent turmoil in Cholanadu would have spread all over the world. It is possible on account of that many enemy kings would want to send spies in the disguise of Chinese merchats!

Poongkuzhali heard Kundavai and Vanathi discussing this. She told them, “They approached me at the main entrance of the temple and asked me, ‘Would you be interested in Chinese silk?’ I said to them, ‘Come to the Chola palace; the princesses will be coming from Thanjai; they may buy!’ Therefore they may come here. You can clear your doubts by directly questioning them!”

At that time aiyarappar and aram valartha nayaki seated in their kailayankiri chariot were at the entrance of the Chola palace. While the chariot paused pooja with lit lamps was offered to the Swami.Chempian Madevi and her son who had come in the procession entered the palace from there. Hearing that the princesses were on the balcony they came up.

Conversation centered on the festival’s highlights. Afterwards Sivagnana Kandarathithar’s spouse turned to her beloved son. “Child! Appar Peruman sang a pathikam about his Thiruvaiyaru experience. Please sing that. Let’s listen! I was not entirely pleased with the performance of the choir,” she said.

The princesses and Poongkuzhali also agreed. The former Senthan Amuthan and present day Mathuranthaka Thevarsang the pathikam in his sweet voice:

‘மாதர்ப் பிறைக்கண்ணியானை மலையான் மகளொடும் பாடிப்
போதொடு நீர் சுமந்தேத்திப் புகுவாரவர் பின்புகுவேன்
யாதுஞ் சுவடுபடாமல் ஐயாறு அடைகின்ற போது
காதல்-மடப் பிடியோடுங் களிறு வருவன கண்டேன்!
கண்டேனவர் திருப்பாதம்! கண்டறியாதன கண்டேன்!’

Beginning with this verse Mathuranthaka Thevar sang up to the next ten verses completely forgetting his surroundings.

Those who were listening also forgot themselves. They also saw the sights that Appar Peruman had seen that day.

Silence took over after the singing. After some quiet Kundavai turned to Chempian Madevi. “Ammah! You have once before told me the history of this song sung by Appar. Please tell the story again. Let them also listen,” she said. As others also insited Chempian Madevi told the history.

When Appar Swami reached old age and his body was weakened he wanted to go to kailaiyankiri and see god. He traveled north for a long way. Unable to walk any longer he fell down tired. At that time a kind elderly person appeared and said, “Appar! Where are you going in search of heaven? Go to Thiruvaiyaru on the banks of river Ponni! That is heaven on earth!” He then disappeared. Knowing this was god’s word, Appar came back to Thiruvaiyaru. Just the sight of this place delighted him. He saw many devotees with flower garlands in their hands and brass kettles with kaveri water going to visit the deity of five rivers. They sang the god’s praise as they went. Appar also went behind them. At that time two elephants – one male and one female – appeared in the Thiruvaiyaru countryside. These male and female elephants presented Appar a vision of sivam and sakthi. Before he reached the temple Appar saw many such male and female pairs of animals and birds. The rooster came frolicking with its hen; the male peacock came dancing with the female peacock; in the nearby grove the male cuckoo bird enjoyed its song with the female cuckoo bird; The wild hog roared like thunder as it paraded with its womankind; the heron flew with its good partner; the green parrot and its mate were speaking their baby tongue on the verdant trees; the ox and cow walked by majestically. In this manner Appar visualized all life that walked past him as man and woman as sivam and sakthi. He saw that the entire world was a manifestation of sakthi and sivam. ‘This world is heaven; there is no separate heaven,’ he realized. While he walked ahead with this feeling of true wisdom, he saw the deity of five rivers and the goddess of goodness parade in the kailasa chariot. He expressed lyrically in sweet Tamil all what he had seen and experienced that day with his inner eyes and outer eyes and sang it with music. To emphasize what he had seen until then but yet not understood was made clear to him that day in Thiruvaiyaru he added in much wonder the line ‘I saw what I had not seen before,’ at the end of each verse.

As the elder stateswoman told the story everyone listened forgetting their surroundings entirely.

At the end Kodumbalur Princess had a question: “Madam! Appar Swami had sung sa admirably of love in the animal and bird kingdoms. Why doesn’t he mention the human species?” She asked.

“In the human race there is no true love that does want a reciprocal benefit. That is why Appar did not mention the man and woman of the human race,” said Poongkuzhali.

“That is not right, my Daughter! If Appar Swami had seen you and my son then he would have sung about human love also,” said Chempian Madevi.

“Yes, yes!” The other two women agreed.

At this time there arose a commotion in the front. A place guard came in and said, “There are two Chinese silk merchants. They are refusing to leave without seeing the princesses!”

The junior stateswoman was surprised as well as angry. “Who are these loudmouths? Tell them that we don’t want anything now and ask them to leave!” She said.

Meanwhile Poongkuzhali said, “Devi! I had asked them to come. Pardon me!”

“In that case let them in,” said the junior stateswoman.

Before long the two Chinese merchants came in with their two bundles.

84. Coronation Gift

The two Chinese merchants appeared with thick mustaches and beards on their faces and big turbans on their heads.  In the dimly lit balcony their faces could not be made out. It was difficult even to tell their age.

Kundavai’s suspicions were further validated. Intelligent as she was she commanded the guard, “The light is not sufficient to see the garments. Bring a bigger flambeau!”

“I will send a better light,” said Mathuranthaka Thevar and left. With him Chempian Madevi also left.

After they left Kundavai asked the Chinese merchants, “Sir! Why are you in such a hurry? Can’t you bring your bring your merchandise during the day? Why come in the night?”

“Princesses! Pardon us! It has been many days since we arrived in Thanjai. We have tried so hard but we could not gain entry to the palace. Day after tomorrow the vessel will leave from Nagapattinam. We have to leave on that. That is why we are in a hurry,” said one of the merchants.

Even though his voice sounded a bit strange they surprised to hear his flawless Tamil.

“Sir! For a Chinese merchant, you speak Tamil very well,” said Kundavai.

“I have been here on business in Cholanadu for a while now. That is why I have learned a little Tamil. I like Tamil and Tamilnadu,” said the merchant.

“Then why are you in a hurry to go back to your country? Can’t you wait at least until the coronation is over? What is the hurry?”

“If we miss this ship day after tomorrow, no one knows when the next ship will be. Ships are not that frequent from Nagai as it used to be!”

“Why is that?”

“Don’t you know why, Devi! Seafaring is not as easy as before. There are too many pirates. Frenetic soldiers from Arab country get on ships everywhere from the western seas to the eastern seas. Even on the coasts and harbors they are waiting. When they see merchant ships they hop onto them. They fight ruthlessly killing everyone aboard and leave with all the goods. Because of this merchant ships no longer leave one by one. Ten to twenty ships sail together. If a batch of ships leave day after tomorrow, no one knows how long the wait will be for the next one. Princess! Please be generous and take a look at the silk we have brought!”

While speaking the merchant began to open his bundle. The other merchant also unraveled his.

“Businessmen! There is no use spreading your wares here at this time. In the dark we cannot assess the quality of your silk. We also didn’t bring the money to pay in the event we select anything,” said the junior stateswoman.

The merchant who had spoken before feigning surprise stood up immediately and brought his palms together in front of him. “Princess! Would we accept payment from you? That is a fine notion! If you choose to wear these silk dresses won’t we consider that a payment for our penance in previous births and rejoice? We didn’t bring this merchandise to sell, we brought these as coronation gifts,” he said.

“In that case you have come to the wrong place. None of us here is being crowned. Prince Ponniyin Selvar is the person. Go in search of him and present him your gifts!”

“No, Devi! We have come to the right place. Everyone says that the best way to gain the attention of Ponniyin Selvar, one must first approach the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi,” said the Chinese merchant.

Hearing this all the women had a good laugh. “Who is everyone? Where did you hear this and who said it?” Kundavai asked.

“Why, Madam! Even today during the festival several people were saying this. ‘The younger brother will not cross the older sister’s line,’ they were saying. You can ask my friend here if you like!”

The friend who had been quiet until then said, “Yes, Princess! It is true. ‘Ponniyin Selvar’s coronation is the same as Kundavai Devi’s,’ the people were talking. ‘From now on it is a woman’s rule in Cholanadu! It will be a good one,’ the people were talking!”

Again the princess laughed out loud.

“Therefore Princess, you must kindly accept these presents,” said one of the merchants.

“And then you must submit our request to Ponniyin Selvar,” said the other merchant.

“What request? What do you need from Ponniyin Selvar? First tell us that,” said Kundavai.

“Devi! He has so much to do. Not just for us. From Cholanadu to China the merchants and people of all the countries are relying on Arulmozhivarmar. During Emperor Paranthakar’s time the seas were safe. Except for the threat of storms, sea voyages had no other danger. Pirating was unheard of. No one even dreamed of it. Cholanadu vessels carried their cargo fearlessly as if they were on land. Cholanadu ships touched on Manakavaram, Mayirudingham, Mapapakam, Ilamuri Thesam, Srivijayam, Chavakam, Kadaram, Cambojam and other seaports for export and import before proceeding to our China. In the same manner ships were leaving from China to Cholanadu without any hindrance. Those days seem like an old dream, Devi! We will tell you the truth. There is no guarantee that we can take these silk garments back to our country safely. Rather than have these robbed by Arabian pirates it is better to give these to the Cholanadu Princesses as gifts!”

Listening to the merchant from China, Kundavai’s interest was piqued. Her eyes widened like beetles.

“Do you think that Ponniyin Selvar can do this? Do you think that seafaring will be without danger as in the time of Paranthaka emperor? Do you believe that Ponniyin Selvar’s fame will spread to Manakavaram, Mayirudingham, Kadaram, Srivijayam and other countries,” she asked.

“Not only us! The business community of Cholanadu thinks so! Why? We went to an astrologer a short while ago. Even he said so!”

“What did he say?”

“Ponniyin Selvar will go with shiploads of soldiers across the seas; he will wipe out the pirate gangs; he will make journey on the sea as safe as before; Cholanadu will recapture its days of glory as during emperor Paranthakar’s time. This is what the astrologer told us. But he also said that Cholanadu Princesses should not pose any obstacles!”

“That is all? Did he say anything else to insult the princesses?”

“Aha! Insult? No, Devi! There is no one in Cholanadu who can insult Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman and Kodumbalur Princess. How will the astrologer who depends on the mercy of the Princesses dare to say anything?”

“What else did the astrologers say about us?”

“He said that the Princesses had just been to see him. He said that both will be married soon. Madams! If these silk garments won’t be accepted as coronation gifts, then please at least accept them as wedding gifts,” said the merchant who had spoken first.

“When she heard this Vanthi said, “Sister! These Chinese merchants are just troublemakers. Please tell them to leave!”

“Wait a little, Vanathi! Let’s see how far their rowdiness will go,” Kundavai told her. Then looking at the merchants she said, “Merchants! So it was both of you who arrived at the house of the astrologer on an elephant?”

“Yes, Devi! We have reaped the benefit of going in search of the astrologer. We heard of your visit. The astrologer’s prediction that we will have the good fortune of meeting you today also has come true. In the same way if his prediction about Kodumbalur Princess should come then all our worries will be over!”

Again Vanthi said, “Sister! Please ask them to leave!”

“Merchants! So it was you who were riding on the elephant at the festival. You at times got down from the elephant and went among the crowd?” Kundavai asked.

“Yes, Devi! We were curious to find out what the people were saying about the upcoming coronation.”

“What were the people saying? They are satisfied about Ponniyin Selvar being crowned?”

“No; no one was talking about the coronation.”

“Then, what were the people talking about?”

“They were talking about Mathuranthaka Thevar’s piety and fame.”

“That is good news. Poongkuzhali! Did you hear that?” Kundavai told Poongkuzhali. Then she asked the merchants, What else did they say about Mathuranthaka Thevar?”

“They spoke about Mathuranthakar’s generous nature. They lauded the fact that even though he had a rightful claim to the Chola kingdom he was able to say, ‘I don’t want the kingdom!'”

“Is that right? What did they think the reason was?”

“Mathuranthaka Thevar had fallen in love with a boatwoman and was adamant that he would make her the crown empress. This had changed the minds of the petty kings who were on his side. Apparently they had said, ‘In that case Mathuranthakar cannot be crowned; the crown must go to Ponniyin Selvar.’ This is what the people were saying. Princess! If the most fortunate boatwoman is here we want to present her also with silk dresses!”

Now Poongkuzhali said, “Devi! Kodumbalur Princess is right. These merchants are just some troublemakers. Please ask them to leave immediately!”

“Wait a little, Poongkuzhali! Why are you angry? They didn’t say anything to disrespectful of you? They were in fact praising you,” said Kundavai.

“Phey don’t have to praise me or insult me! They don’t have to give me gifts also!” Poongkuzhali started to leave.

“Madam! Are you the lucky lady? Aha! The people were right,” said one of the merchants.

“What else did they say,” asked Poongkuzhali smiling.

“When one of them said that Mathuranthaka Thevar gave up Chola kingdom for Poongkuzhali another person said, ‘For Poongkuzhali, does one give up only one kingdom? If I had nine kingdoms I would have given up all of them!’ I fully agree with him,” said that Chinese merchant.

Poongkuzhali feigning anger said, “Sister! You must immediately make arrangements to punish this merchant; or else I will tell Ponniyin Selvar and have him punished!”

Mathuranthaka Thevar after conducting the evening pooja arrived with the flower offerings in his hand. He heard what Poongkuzhali was saying. He said, “There is nothing wrong with what the merchant is saying! Why does he need punishment? I also agree with him, Poongkuzhali!”

When the Chinese merchant turned towards this new entrant Poongkuzhali saying, “If a real merchant says it then it is alright. But how can one agree with an imposter,” pulled that merchant’s Chinese turban. The turban fell down. Along with it his mustache and beard also slipped from his face.

The face of none other than Vandhiyathevan presented itself from underneath!

“Sir! Help!” When Vandhiyathevan howling tried to put his arms around the other Chinese merchant’s neck, his turban, beard and mustache also came undone.

Ponniyin Selvar’s face emerged smiling.

The three women could not keep their laughter down for a long time.

When Chempian Madevi came to the balcony they told her what had happened and enjoyed another round of laughter.

“Mother! When I saw them near the temple I had a suspicion. That is why I boldly invited them to the palace.” Poongkuzhali said.

“Yes; I recognized my friend. That is why I left them here went away to offer pooja, said Mathuranthaka Thevar.

“Vanathi! You and I are the fools who could tell their fake costume,” said Kundavai.

“Why did they come in this disguise and try to deceive us? Ask them, Sister!”

“What for, Vanathi! My brother is not someone who is capable of such pranks. It is bad influence from certain friendships that is making him wear costumes and conjure lies,” said Kundavai.

“Devi! Don’t blame Vandhiyathevan for this. This excellent idea of disguising ourselves as Chinese merchants was entirely mine,” said Arulmozhi,

“I meant that such an idea would ever crop up in your head was because of the company you keep these days. Never mind, don’t play these deceptive pranks anymore!”

“Sister! Thiruvalluvar had sung the glory of honesty. But even he has said,

the lie can blaze as truth
if it provides the benefit of clarity

“When Thiruvalluvar sang that kural he won’t ever have dreamed that one day you will make use of it in this way.”

“Alright! Let’s leave Thiruvalluvar alone. When Ramar went to the forest, in order to make the Ayothi people who were following him go back, didn’t he use some deceptive tactics? Didn’t he wake up while the people were still sleeping and tell Sumanthirar to drive the chariot towards Ayothi for a while and then direct it towards the Kangai shore?”

“Brother! I am very happy if you intend to follow Ramar in everything else also! Never mind! What benefit of clarity resulted from your fake costume? Will you tell me that,” asked Kundavai.

“We were able to mingle among the people and find out what they really thought without revealing our true selves!”

Eagerly Kundavai asked, “What did you find out about the people’s opinion, Brother?”

“Quite a lot, Sister! Most importantly, I learned that the people want this Chola kingdom to recapture the glory of emperor Paranthakar’s days. Even though our disguise as Chinese merchants was meant to deceive, all what we told you now is true. After meeting both of you on the way, we went to Thanjai. Near the Thanjai fort entrance we actually saw two Chinese merchants. We paid money and got these bundles of silk from them. We disguised ourselves like them and came back. What I said now about Arabian pirates is what those merchants had told us. My friend and I have experienced firsthand the ruthlessness of Arabian bandits in the sea. Sister! In any event, it is certain that my friend and I are leaving for Eezhanadu as soon as the coronation is over. Once our work there is finished, we plan to travel to other countries across the sea. We don’t know if we will return alive, or we will be in warriors’ heaven losing our lives in battlefields. Therefore we came behind you in a hurry to ask all of you to stay with us until we leave, and send us off with your blessing!”

When Ponniyin Selvar was speaking tears welled in Kundavai’s eyes.

Rather emotionally she said, “No one can explain why wars have been instituted. Can’t human beings love one another and be happy?”

“Doughter! It is not like that. As long as the world exists, there will be no end to war. Even Paramasivan and Parvathi had to battle! There are some born in this world to uphold justice. They have to battle!”

Needless to say that these words spoken by the meek saiva devotee Chemopian Madevi her listeners were thrown into a sea of astonishment.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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