Thursday, 29 May 2014

Chapter 33 - A Lady on a Tree

Vandiya Devan started out on a tour of Thanjavur along with the two soldiers that Chinna Pazhuvetarayar had sent along. He knew exactly what Chinna Pazhuvetarayar would have told them. He would have asked them not to let him out of their sight. And he was sure that by now, guards at the fort entrance would have orders not to let anybody outside.

So while he was going around the fort, he was furiously thinking about ways to escape and hide but first, he would have to evade these guards that Chinna Pazhuvetarayar had sent with him. After that, he had to break out from the fort as well.

He could give the guards the slip very easily. He could always attack them and escape - but where would he run? He had a fair idea about how strong the fort was guarded, and the security inside was tighter than ever. Nobody could get into or leave the fort without Chinna Pazhuvetrayar’s knowledge. And if he tried to run away from these two soldiers they would raise the alarm. If caught he would then be led straight to the underground prison or else he would be killed.

I need to escape from here somehow without raising an alarm. There must be some way out of this fort. Most forts have an underground escape route. But how do I find it?

Chapter 32 - Inspection

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar
When Vandiya Devan saw Chinna Pazhuvettarayar, he started walking towards him, while the three soldiers got up and ran after him and caught him.

But Vandiya Devan boldly looked up and said, "Dalapati! You have come here at the right time. These soldiers tried to kill me after stealing everything that I had. Is this how you treat your royal guests in Thanjavur? I am not only your guest. I am the guest of the King and Queen too. If you can treat a royal messenger sent by the Crown Prince like this, then I dare not think about the fate of others, who come here as guests. I am surprised that you have thieves for your servants. If this had happened in Thondai Mandalam they would have been dead by now."

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was shocked to see that all his three soldiers were wounded by this, mere boy. Now he desperately wanted to recruit Vandiya Devan into his own army. So he spoke patiently, "Wait thambi! I don't think they could have done all this. Let me interrogate them."

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Chapter 31 - Thief! Thief!

Walking up and down the Chithirai mandapam, Vandiya Devan was lost in a myriad of emotions and thoughts as he looked at each painting that depicted the life history of the Chola kings.

"They were all such great warriors. They performed such brave acts! The Chola kingdom is indeed lucky to be under the rule of such brave kings," he thought.

Chithirai Mandapam

He also did not fail to notice one thing among the paintings - they also etched the role of the Pazhuvur warriors in the history of the Chola kingdom. Right from the time of Vijayalaya Chola, warriors from this clan had laid their life down for the Chola kings. One Pazhuvettarayar had carried King Vijayalaya on his shoulder during the Thirupurampayam war in his shoulders, while another had helped Aditya Chola kill the Pallava king Aparajitha Varman. And in many wars that King Paranthakan fought, it was the Pazhuvetars who had led the Chola army from the forefront. When Prince Rajadhithan was wounded, it was a Pazhuvettarayar who rallied forces and led the Cholas to victory and gave the happy news to the dying prince.

After seeing all this depicted in the paintings, Vandiya Devan was not surprised that the Pazhuvetars wielded so much power in the kingdom. They were after all the kingmakers in Chola history!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Chapter 30 - Chithirai Mandapam

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar took Vandiya Devan back to the Asthana Mandapam. He was not very satisfied with the explanation that the boy had given in the presence of the king. He wondered whether he had made a mistake in letting Vandiya Devan meet the king alone.
It was but natural to suspect him, since he had come from Aditya Karikalan. But Periya Pazhuvettarayar had sent him with his signet ring.  But Chinna Pazhuvetar couldn't believe that he could have heard the boy, say 'Abayam' as 'Abaayam.'

"It would be better to keep him in the fort, until Periya Pazhuvettarayar comes back. And if possible, I can even enlist him as an spy under my command. Who knows, he might be helpful. He seems bright enough. And if I can give back his kingdom, he will be grateful enough to serve faithfully."

After reaching Asthana Mandapam, he saw Vandiya Devan looking around here and there. He was looking for the important olai hoping that it might have fallen near the commander's seat.

"If I don't find that olai I will never forgive myself. How will I meet Elaya Piratti without it?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Chapter 29 - The Royal Guest

King Sundara Chola on his sick bed

After the poets left, the royal physician prepared the medicine for the king and the queen fed it to her husband lovingly. Chinna Pazhuvettarayar waited for a while and then came forward dragging Vandiya Devan along with him.
"My lord, do you see any improvement in your health due to the new medicine?"
"Our physician says that there is improvement, so does the queen. But I have lost all hope. I think all your efforts are in vain. Lord Yama has gone to Pazhaiarai in search of me. When he comes to know that I am not there, he will come to Thanjavur one day..."
"Prabhu! You shouldn't speak thus. Your ancestors..."

"Ah, my ancestors were not scared of Lord Yama. If only I were fortunate enough to die in a battlefield like my ancestors, I would welcome death with open hands. My uncle Rajadhithar died bravely in the battlefield of Thakollam. And people now herald him as the "Brave Prince of the Thakollam war." But what will people say about me? "The old king who died in his sick bed!" My other uncle, Kandaradithar who was a great Shiva devotee was also not afraid of death. He travelled all over the kingdom visiting Shiva temples and died. But here I am, not even able to move my legs. How long will I lie like this here, a burden to everyone? But something tells me that I won't live long..."

"Chakravarthi! Our royal physician says that there is no danger to your life. So do the astrologers, but I heard this boy telling you that you are in danger here."

"This is the young man who has come from Kanchipuram. Yes, you said something about danger. What were you referring to, thambi?"

Vallavareyan's mind worked furiously. It was obvious that Chinna Pazhuvettarayar had overheard what he had tried to tell the king. And he urgently needed an idea so he sought the help of literature!

Chapter 28 - The Iron Grip

The chief of the royal poets got up and asked, "Lord! Then you are the great poet who wrote this poem..."

"Yes, I am that great poet," said the King sarcastically.

The poets were flabbergasted.

Princess Kundavai
Sundara Chola then began, "My dear poets! You don't have to be so surprised at this. Years ago, when we were all in Pazhaiarai we had a small gathering of poets just like today. And many poets came and sang poems and obtained gifts from me. Kundavai who was with me was full of praise for them. I then told her that I could compose a poem too. And as a joke, I composed this poem and asked her to give me a gift. But that naughty girl gave me only two playful slaps, as a present. This happened, some eight years ago but I can still remember it very clearly."

When the King mentioned Kundavai's name, Vandiya Devan's heart skipped a beat. He couldn't wait to meet this wondrous princess. He also noticed how proud Sundara Chola looked when he spoke about his daughter.

Vandiya Devan's hand instinctively went to the bundle of cloth that he had tied around his waist because that was where he had kept the olai that he had give to Kundavai. But he had a shock when he realised that the bundle was empty.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Chapter 27 - The Royal Poets

As the royal poets entered the king's courtroom, the announcer heralded their arrival, "Behold the royal poets, gems of the literary world, the literary giants!"

After they all piled into the room, they came forward and blessed the king with a poem,

"May you live a hundred autumns, O King!
May your fame spread far and wide!
May you and your kingdom prosper!"

King Sundara Chola however didn't like them shouting thus. but he didn't give any indication of his feelings. Instead he spoke as a gracious host and asked how they fared.

But Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was sharp enough to notice this. He immediately said, "Noble King, the poets have come only to pay their respect to you. I request you not to trouble or strain yourself too much."

"Yes, my Lord! The noble Pazhuvettarayar is right. We do not want to cause you any inconvenience," the poets said in a chorus.

"I am very happy to see you all together after such a long time. Everybody please sit down. And I would like to hear the new Tamil poems that you have composed."

All the poets sat on the rich carpet that was spread for the visitors. Vandiya Devan also sat along with them. He couldn't deliver the complete verbal message that Prince Aditya had tasked him to. But he thought he might be able to talk to the king again, after the poets left.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Chapter 26 - Danger! Danger!

Chinna Pazhuvetar
Walking through the palace, they reached the Asthana Mandapam with Vandiya Devan in the lead. There he saw Chinna Pazhuvettarayar, sitting on a throne with his soldiers and servants around him.
A servant was holding olai suvadis - palm leaves on which were written messages for Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. The accountant was waiting with the daily accounts and the soldiers for orders from their master. In short, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar looked the very image of power!

When he saw Vandiya Devan, his face brightened and he asked, "Who are you thambi?"

Whenever Chinna Pazhuvettarayar  saw young warriors like Vandiya Devan he became very gracious. That was because he wished to enlist all bright young warriors in his band of warriors.

"Thalapathi, I have come from Kanchipuram. Prince Aditya Karikalan has sent a message."

As soon as he heard that Vandiya Devan was from Kanchipuram, Chinna Pazhuvetar's face fell.

Chapter 25 - Thanjavur Fort

Chola Flag with Tiger Sigil
The signet ring with the image of the palm tree was like the magic ring in mythological tales. At the entrance of the fort, there were flower-sellers, vegetable and fruit vendors waiting to get inside; the guards were exercising the utmost authority in allowing them inside.

But our young hero did not hesitate, he walked up briskly towards the entrance and showed his magic ring to them. Immediately ,the guards respectfully withdrew and opened the door to let him inside.

Vandiya Devan did not know that this was a momentous occasion - his stepping inside the fort. This would set off a chain of many important events in the history of the Chola kingdom.

Chapter 24 - The Crow And The Nightingale

Vandiya Devan slept like a log the whole night. In the morning he woke up only when he heard Senthan Amudan singing beautiful hymns while plucking flowers from the garden. He instantly felt sorry for his friend's mother, who couldn't hear such a beautiful voice. His sweet voice, pure devotion and simple life made Vandiya Devan to ponder on his own life and mission.

"Why should I forever roam around like this carrying a sword ready to kill somebody or be killed by somebody? Why shouldn't I tend a garden like Senthan Amudan and live my life peacefully?" thought Vandiya Devan.

After some time his thoughts ran in a different direction. "Not everybody can be good soul like Senthan Amudan. There are people who plot against one other and try to harm others. People need a king to protect them. And kings need bodyguards like Velkarars to protect them from enemies. They also need messengers like me. Yes, today I will have to meet the King at any cost before Periya Pazhuvettarayar returns."

Monday, 12 May 2014

Chapter 23 - Amudan's Mother

Senthan Amuthan
As the Velkarar's army passed by, Vandiya Devan noticed that these soldiers too amused themselves at the cost of others, just like the Pazhuvur soldiers.
One of the soldiers walked into a sweet shop and picked a basket full of adhirasam and distributed it among his friends. After that, he took the basket and placed it on the shop owner's head and laughed merrily.

One other soldier, snatched a flower basket from an old woman and threw the flowers high up in the air, while his friends tried to catch the flowers that were falling. One other band of soldiers stopped a bullock cart that was coming by, made the driver get down and drove it towards the market crowd.

Noticing all this, Vandiya Devan thought, "These soldiers are also like the Pazhuvur soldiers, amusing themselves at the expense of the common people. Thank God! They didn't notice me. Otherwise there would have been a bloody skirmish." He also didn't fail to notice one difference. The townsmen didn't seem to resent them for all the trouble that they caused. In fact most of them joined them in their merriment.

Chapter 22 - The Velkarars

Nandini and Vandiya Devan
A fair hand parted the veils of the palanquin. Vandiya Devan immediately got down from his horse and went near the palanquin sayi
ng, "Maharaja! Maharaja! Your palanquin bearers..."

When he looked up, he was dazed. His speech slurred, "No! No! You are the princess of Pazhuvur. Your horse came and hit my palanquin."

All this happened within a blink of an eye. The palanquin bearers and the other soldiers immediately surrounded Vandiya Devan and held him and his horse. Despite all this activity around him Vandiya Devan was unable to take his eyes off the beauty that was before him.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Chapter 21 - The Veil Parted

Can a man dwell in two different worlds at the same time?

Yes he can. If you need any proof, you must take a glimpse at Vandiya Devan.

As he was traveling through the Chola Kingdom, his eyes were admiring the beauty of the rich Chola land.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Chapter 20 - Our First Enemy

Azhvarkadiyan greatly appreciated the timely help given by the bat. Ravidasan and his gang thought that the bat had made the sound and continued with their discussion, while Azhvarkadiyan listened in.

"Hey, this bat frightened us out of our wits. Let us kill it," cried one of the gang members.

But Ravidasan said, "No, why do you want to kill this bat unnecessarily? Instead let us save our swords to kill our enemies. Bats are our friends. Just like us, they come out of their nests, when men are asleep.

"Listen to me, friends! Until we have the great treasury of Thanjavur we need not worry about gold. All that we need is, people who can take up this dangerous task and complete it successfully. We need to divide ourselves into two groups. One group should immediately go to Elangai and the other should go to Kancheepuram. We need to complete both the tasks at the same time, otherwise our enemies will be forewarned. Who among you is willing to go to Elangai?"

"I will go!"

"Let me go!"

"On second thoughts, I think we should decide who should go, in the next meeting. We need to make a lot of preparation before we leave."

"Ravidasarey, which is the best route to Elangai?"

"We can go via Kodi Karai. That would be the easiest way. But reaching Kodi Karai from here is difficult. Moreover the Cholas, have spies all through that route. So the best thing to do, would be to go to Sethu and cross the sea there. We will land near Mandhotham. From there we will have to find our way. Whoever goes to Elangai must know to swim and row a boat. Who among you knows to swim?"

"I know."

"I know too."

"First we must meet the Elangai King, Mahindan, and talk to him about our plans. So whoever is to go there must know to speak Sinhalam. Where are our other two friends, Soman Sambavan and Edupankari?"

"Here they come!" said one of the men.

The two men came from the opposite direction, making their way through the shrubs. Azhvarkadiyan wound himself around the tree to avoid detection.

Chapter 19 - The Battlefield

In those days, it was a practice to build memorial temples for war heroes. These temples were called Pallipadai. Near Kudandhai, there was a small village called Thirupurampiyam where a Pallipadai was built for the Ganga king Prathivipithan, in memory of his heroic deeds in the gory war that took place here.

In the world history, there are many famous battles that have changed the course of the history, for e.g. the Battle of Waterloo, The Wars of Panipat etc. In the same way, the war that was fought near Thirupurampiyam changed the course of Tamil history.

The Chola dynasty, like any other royal power in the world, had seen its share of ups and down. After the reign of great kings like Karikalan Vallavan, Perunalakilli, Eranchet Chenni, there was a steady decline in their power. The Pandya and Pallava kings gained more power and suppressed the Cholas. And thanks to the Pandyas, the Cholas were forced to relocate from their old capital, Uraiyur, to Pazhaiarai, which was near Kudandhai. But they still retained their titles, which proclaimed Uraiyur as their capital.

Many years passed and Vijayalaya Chola became the king of the Chola Kingdom. He was a great warrior. Tales about this king are legendary in the Chola history. It was said that he had 99 scars from various battles on his body. Poems and songs heralded the bravery of this old king.

Due to his advanced age, Vijayalaya Chola crowned his son, Aditya Chola as the king and retired from public life. During that time there arose a bitter fight among the Pallavas and Pandyas. Both were powerful kingdoms who had reduced the Chola kingdom to ignominy. The Pandya King was Varagunavarman at that time.

Because of the enmity between these two powers, the Chola Kingdom was subjected to many an inconvenience - they fought their wars on Chola territory. Nevertheless, the Chola king turned this situation to his advantage. Each time there was a war, he would join one of these warring sides with his small army.

Very soon, what was to be the final war between the two kingdoms was declared. This was the war that was to decide the fate of the three kingdoms, Chola, Pandya and Pallava. And this war happened near Thirupurampiyam. This time the Pandya king came with a huge army while the Pallava king had the support of the Ganga king, Prathivipithan and Aditya Chola and his small army.

Even though the Cholas had a small army, they nevertheless joined in because they knew that if the Pandyas won, their fate would be sealed. There were countless elephants, horses, chariots and foot-soldiers on both the sides. And when both the armies met in battlefield, it was a storm in the making. The battle went on incessantly for three days. Blood flowed like rivulets everywhere. Heaps of bodies of soldiers, horses and elephants lay decomposing.

After three days of war, a very small section of Pallava army had survived. And even they were wounded and tired. But the Pandya forces, scenting victory, were thirsty for more blood. They kept on attacking the Pallava forces with more vigour.
Ganga King Prathivipithan's Pallipadai
Photo Credit: Puli Vamsam Albums
War Memorial of Ganga King PrathivipithanPhoto Credit: Puli Vamsam Albums

In the Pallava camp, the three kings Aparajithavarman (the Pallava King), Prathivipithan (the Ganga King) and Aditya Chola held a council of war where they decided that retreating would be their best option to survive the onslaught of the Pandya forces.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Chapter 18 - Edupankari

Azhwarkadiyan Nambi
It has been some time since we left our friend, Azhvarkadiyan near Kollidam river. Let us see what he is doing.

After Vandiya Devan left for Kudandhai in his horse, Azhvarkadiyan said to himself, "This young man is very clever. If I ask him, one question he has hundred questions for me. I couldn't find out exactly who he is working for or where he is headed. I couldn't even find out whether he attended the midnight conference in Kadambur. Thank God! I mentioned Kudandhai Jodhidar's name. Whatever information I couldn't find out I am sure the Jodhidar would."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Chapter 17 - The Laughing Horse

Princess Kundavai and her friends
Kundavai had decided that Vanathi was the right life partner for her brother, Prince Arulmozhi. But there was only one problem with Vanathi. She was frightened of everything. And Kundavai was not ready to marry her brother to a cowardly girl. So to make Vanathi brave, she had arranged for the crocodile game. But Vanathi passed the test successfully.

After they came to the boat, they rowed around for a while and then came near the bank, where Kundavai's companions had tied the dead crocodile. They all got down from the boat and played in the water for some time. Suddenly one of the girls screamed, "Crocodile! Crocodile! Somebody help."

Immediately the other girls started screaming. But Vanathi did not get scared, instead she said, "The crocodile is strong only when it is in the water and not when it is lying on the shore. So don't be scared."

Chapter 16 - Prince Arulmozhivarmar

Mark of Kingship
About 980 years ago, when King Sundara Chola was ruling Chola Kingdom there was no other royal power in South to challenge him. The power of the Cholas was steadily rising as they expanded their territories and improved economy and trade. Prior to Sundara Chola's reign, his uncle Gandarathidathevar (Prince Madhuranthakan's father) ruled the Chola kingdom. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and was not interested in waging wars. Taking advantage of the situation, the Pandya king who was in hiding tried to win back his kingdom, with the help of the Sri Lankan king. Sundara Chola rallied the Chola troops and crushed their revolution and sent the Pandya king back into hiding.

After restoring order in the Pandya kingdom, the generals and commanders wanted to teach a lesson to the Elangai king, Mahindan, whose support had enabled the Pandya King to rise again and again. Sundara Chola decided to send Kodumbalur Illaya Vellar (Vanathi's father) as a commander of the troops to Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately for Kodumbalur Illaya Vellar, the Chola army arrived in batches and he had to lead a small batch towards the capital. Due to the lesser number of soldiers and limited resources, the the Chola army was defeated and Kodumbalur Illaya Vellar died bravely of grave wounds.
Learning about the defeat of the Chola army in Sri Lanka, the Pandya King who was in hiding, came out in open and started rallying an army again. But this time, he paid a terrible price for rising against the Cholas. It was Sundara Chola's eldest son Aditya Karikalan who led the army, and he won the war by beheading the Pandya king, thus earning the title - The slayer of Veera Pandiyan.

Despite these victories, the Elangai king still supported the Pandya dynasty and continued to be hostile towards the Cholas . Sundara Chola decided to send his army again, to teach him a lesson. There arose a big argument among the prominent commanders and generals in the Chola kingdom, as to who should lead the army against Eezham.

Prince Aditya Karikalan was at war with the Rashtrakutas in the border therefore Sundara Chola's youngest son Prince Arulmozhivarmar, came forward and expressed his wish to lead the army to Eelangai.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Chapter 15 - Vanathi's Schemes

Kodumbalur Vanathi
What did the other women in the boat do after Princess Kundavai and Vanathi left for Kudandhai Jodhidar’s house? Let us see that now.

Tharakai, see how lucky this Vanathi is – Kundavai Devi seems to have some special love for her.”

“Nothing of that sort, Varani. Vanathi has been acting strange for the past few months - and she faints for no reason at all. That’s why Kundavai Devi has taken her to the Jodhidar. In case a ghost or a spirit has possessed her, we need to exorcise it. Kundavai Devi is worried because Vanathi’s parents are dead, and her uncle has appointed ‘her’ as a guardian.”

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Chapter 14 - A Crocodile In Arisalaru

After he had left the Kudandhai town, Vallavareyan went towards the Arisalaru River. As he proceeded towards the land of the Cholas, he couldn’t help admire the beauty of his surroundings.

There was greenery everywhere! Green fields, trees, crops, small ponds, beautiful lakes and friendly villagers… No wonder the kingdom was so prosperous!

As he passed by, he saw farmers toiling in their fields while their wives cooked food in homes made of thatched huts. While the people were at work, hens fed on the grains kept outside the huts. Children ran hither and thither engaged in pranks and games while some sat outside and play pallaanguzhi.

As he passed by, Vallavareyan could smell cooked rice and fried fish. It made his mouth water. In those days, most soldiers ate meat and fish, just like him.

He also noticed that there were many ironsmiths in the villages he passed, where craftsmen made swords and spears.

While Vallavareyan was enjoying the picturesque scenery, his inner mind was engaged elsewhere on a beautiful woman appeared in his inner mind.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Chapter 13 - Waxing Moon

Kundavai and Vanathi
After the chariot had left, the Jodhidar took Vandiya Devan inside his hut to his pooja room.

After pointing him to a seat, the Jodhidar asked him, “Who are you, thambi? How did you come here?”

Vandiya Devan started laughing.
“Why are you laughing, thambi?”

“Nothing, Jodhidaray! I was thinking that since you are such a learned astrologer, can’t you find out who I am through your astrology.”

“Why not? I can find that out myself. But the only problem is that if I see astrology that way, then who is going to pay my fees?”

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