Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chapter 11: Therinjakaikola Padai

There were many islands dotting the landscape of Rameshwaram. Prime Minister Anirudha Brahmarayar was staying in one of these islands in an ornate mandapam along with his entourage. Royal scribes, bodyguards, soldiers and palanquin bearers stood at their stations, while the Prime Minister got down from the boat and walked up to the mandapam to listen to the petitions of many of those who had come to meet him.

Anirudha Brahmarayar
Five people came forward to meet him. They looked prosperous and rich and came bearing a plate that held a navarathna (nine precious gems) haram (long chain). Offering the plate respectfully to the Prime Minister they bowed low and offered salutations. Anirudhar took their gift and gave it to his master of coins and said, “Keep this aside for Sembiyan Madevi’s temple renovation.”

He looked at his visitors and asked, “Please introduce yourself,”

“We represent the Nanadesai Tisaiyayirattu Ainnutruvar (a popular merchant guild),”

“Good. Is your business prospering in Pandiya Kingdom?”

“Yes indeed. Our business is expanding in Pandiya Kingdom.”

“What do people in Pandiya Kingdom talk about?”

“Most are of the opinion that Chola reign is better than that of the Pandiyas. Many ardently admire Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar’s generosity and bravery. The Prince’s brave exploits in Elangai are known even in Pandiya Kingdom…”

“What’s the state of business across the sea in the island kingdoms?”

“Business is flourishing thanks to the peaceful reign of King Sundara Chola. All our merchant ships returned with precious goods and merchandise,”

“Did you ships face any trouble with the sea pirates?”

“We haven’t faced any trouble in the past year, not since our Chola Navy destroyed the pirates who were looting merchants in the manka vaar theevu (Malay Peninsula).”

“Very good. What arrangements have you made regarding the message that I had sent to you?”

“We have followed your orders. We have brought thousand sacks of rice, five hundred sacks of corn and hundred sacks of pulses along with us to Rameshwaram. Please make arrangements to send it to Elangai.”

“Can you send it to Elangai in your ship?”

“Yes. We can send it. Can you tell us when the war in Elangai will end?”

“Ah! Now how can I predict that? You merchants have an official astrologer in you guild don’t you? What does he say?”

“Brahma Rajarey! We are finding it difficult to believe our astrologer’s predictions…”

“Why? What does he say?”

“He says that there will be victory wherever Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar goes.  He says that under his reign, Chola navy will capture all the island kingdoms beyond our seas. He says that our flag will fly high over many kingdoms…”

“If that is so, then your fortunes would rise surely…”

“That’s true. He has assured us that our business with the island kingdoms will flourish…”

“Very good. With the blessings of Shri Ranganathar, may his predictions come true… Until the war goes on in Elangai, you will need to send food supplies once a month. You may leave now.”

After the merchants left, a soldier announced, “Commanders of Therinja Kaikolla Padai are waiting for an audience,”
“Ask them to come.”

Three men bearing arms, armour and long swords approached the Prime Minister. Tall, broad chested and gaunt, they had a commanding presence that proclaimed their vocation. (Today the Kaikola community is involved in making handloom products but during the medieval Chola Period they were an elite army that was formed to protect the merchants. A selected handful of soldiers and commanders from this army would become the elitist bodyguards of the King. This handful of soldiers were called Therinja Kaikola Padai. This unit of soldiers normally took on the name of the ruling king.)

Therinjakaikola Padai

Anirudhar looked at the men in front of him and said, “You are the commanders of Sundara Chola Therinja Kaikola Padai?”

“That’s right Prime Minister. But we are ashamed to call ourselves thus.”

“Why is that?”

“We have been whiling away our time idly here, we are afraid that we might forget how to fight.”

“How many regiments are there in your army? How many soldiers?”

“There are three regiments in our army. We each of us are commanders of these regiments. Each regiment has 2000 soldiers lazing around on ample food.”

“What is it that you wish?”

“We wish to be sent to Elangai. We wish to join Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar and fight along with him,”

“Alright. When I go to Thanjavur, I will petition your appeal to the king.”

“Brahmarajare! What if the war in Elangai comes to a conclusion before that?”

“You don’t have to worry about that. The war in Elangai is unlikely to end so fast,”

“Is that so? Are the Elangai soldiers so proficient in the art of war? Please send us there, we will win it soon,”

“I have no doubt about it. The bravery of Therija Kaikola Padai is legendary. Your war tactics and brave deeds are worthy enough for poetry and songs.”

“Yes. The brave deeds of our soldiers is indeed worth a song. Thanks to them, we were able to vanquish the Pandyas and the Cheras…”

“The Pandiya and Chera army came out in the battlefield to fight with us. It was easy to battle them as they were there in plain sight. But in Elangai, the situation is different. How would you fight an army that you cannot see?”

“Are you saying that the Elangai soldiers have learnt magic tricks? Do they belong to the era of Ramyana to vanish in thin air? Do they fight with us from magic chariots that can ride the sky?”

“They have vanished. And the war has come to a stand still right now because our army needs to find their hideout to fight. Elangai King Mahindan has also gone missing. Our soldiers in Elangai haven’t fought any battles in these six months, as they are busy searching for Mahindan and his army. What’s the point in sending your army there? You would sit idle there too.”

“Maha Mandiri! Please send us there. We will find Mahindan and his army even if they have hidden themselves within the bowels of earth. If we fail, we will name our army as ‘Vellar’s slave army’…”

“Please don’t resort to such drastic measures. Everybody knows about the valorous deeds of your army. When I reach Thanjavur, I will consult with Chakravarthi about your request and send you a message. Please be patient until then. In the meanwhile, your army can help to restore peace and order in the Pandiya Kingdom…”

“Maha Mandiri! There is no uprising or rebellion happening in Pandiya Kingdom. The people are happy about the peace that we established and are busy rebuilding their life. The royal line of Pandiya Kings has been destroyed…”

“Ah! That’s wrong. There are still many out there who would claim the Pandiya throne and they would try to regain their right through force…”

“Who are they? Where are they? We will take care of them immediately…”

“You will know about them very soon. The dead Pandiya king, Veera Pandiyan has hidden his valuable ancient golden crown, diamond studded sword and the precious gemstone haram that gifted to his ancestors by God Indra somewhere in the Rohana Mountain in Elangai. Until we find these treasures, the Pandiya war is far from over…”

“True. We need to retrieve these treasures and we need to crown Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar with the golden crown of the Pandiyas…”

“What? Why do you say that?”

“We have merely expressed the wishes of everybody in this kingdom…”

“Be that as it may but let us not discuss successional matters here. I have another news that would please you people…”

“Yes Maha Mandiri…”

“Once Elangai is totally under Chola sovereignty, Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar is planning a battle campaign to capture Island Kingdoms that lay beyond Elangai. He is also planning an expedition towards Vengai, Kalingam and towards the northern kingdoms. He wants to follow on the footsteps of his ancestor Karikala Vallavan and hoist the tiger flag in Himalayas. Brave Commanders! Our Prince will soon undertake these expeditions and when he does, he will need brave soldiers and astute commanders like you to accompany him. Please advice your soldiers to be patient until then…”

Delighted by the future plans of Arul Mozhi Varmar, the commanders, shouted themselves hoarse, “Long Live Sundara Cholar! Long live Arul Mozhi Varmar! Long live Maha Mandiri!”

“Maha Mandiri! We have just one more petition! You do know that the name of our army is ‘Sundara Chola Therinjakaikola Padai,”

“Yes. I know,”

“We have taken a sacred oath to fight and die in the service of Chakravarthi Sundara Chola…”

“I know that too…”

“Our loyalty binds us to the King and we will not join anybody else nor will we listen to anybody else...”

“That’s exactly what I would expect from you…”

“We were once a part of Pazhuvetrayar’s army. We do not wish to be suspected unduly because of that…”

“Why do you say that? Now who would suspect you?”

“We have heard many alarming rumours from Thanjavur…”

“They are mere rumours. I request you not to believe in any of them or repeat them elsewhere.”

“We are worried that Kodumbalur Vellar’s supporters and followers might create such suspicion about us…”

“They will not. Even if they do, no one will believe them…”

“There is nothing certain in this world… human life is futile.”

“May the Chakravarthi live a long life…”

“But he has been unwell for some time now,”

“There is a comet seen in the sky…”

“If something untoward happens to the Chakravarthi, our army wishes to swear a holy oath to serve Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar,”

“It is your duty to follow the commands of your King.”

“Then please petition to the King on our behalf or else grant us permission to meet the Chakravarthi in person.”

“No. I do not think it would be wise for you to go to Thanjavur. It will give rise to unnecessary conflicts and confusion. I will place your petition before the King and let him decide. I will let you know his decision soon. You have my permission to take leave…”

After the commanders left his presence, the Prime Minister murmured, “Aha! What is this magnetic attraction that people have for the Prince? Many seem to fall under his spell after meeting him once.”

Later, he called aloud and said, “Bring that fat Vaishnavan here. I wish to speak to him.” 

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