Thursday, 5 February 2015

Chapter 18: What is the Worst Betrayal?

Those who have read the history of ancient Tamil Nadu would know that women played a very important role in the social affairs of the kingdom. This is true, especially of women belonging to the royal family. Royal women, princesses and queens had their own income and assets through lands, villages and pastoral property. They used the income that came through these assets in various ways. Some devout women used it to renovate and rebuild temples, while some donated huge sums to temples to light lamps, some donated food and shelter to mendicants and sages.

While most women spent their income on temples, King Sundara Chola’s daughter spent hers in a different manner. She used her income to open free adhura salai (medical clinics). With an intention of providing free medical service she wanted to open adhura salai (clinics) all over the Chola Kingdom. We saw that she had established one such free clinic in Pazhaiarai in the name of her grandfather. She had long wanted to provide the citizens of Thanjavur with an adhura salai in her father’s name. She took the opportunity of her visit to the city to start this service on the auspicious day of Vijayadashmi (Navrathri).

Outside the Thanjavur fort, near Purampadi there was a Perumal Temple (Lord Vishnu Temple). Kundavai had arranged for festivities at the Garuda mandapam of this temple to proclaim the grants that were being given for the adhura salai. People thronged to the Garuda mandapam to participate in the festivities and to have a glimpse at their beloved princess. Important ministers and officials of the Chola court too attended the ceremony. Court scribes and stone inscribers were at hand to engrave the grants that were to be made to the adhura salai in stone edicts for posterity. Soldiers of the Thanjavur Fort Guard came in large numbers shouting cheers and along with them came the Pazhuvur Brothers mounted on elephants. Prince Madhuranthakan too came along with them perched on a shifty white horse seemingly uncomfortable with his mount. Princess Kundavai, Vanathi and many other royal women came in their palanquins, while Pazhuvur Elaya Rani’s came in hers.

Seated in a separate enclosure made of sheer silk, Princess Kundavai and other women watched the inaugural ceremony, which began at the signal of Periya Pazhuvetrayar. The ceremony began auspiciously with a devaram song ‘mandiramavadu Neer’ rendered by court singers in accompaniment to Yazh, and Madalam (ancient string instrument and drums). Their sweet voices brought on a silence and engrossed the audience completely.

But there were some faint whispering in the woman’s enclosure. Pazhuvur Elaya Rani and Kundavai were conversing in low tones. “Princess! There was once a time when Sambandha Perumal sang this beautiful song and cured the Pandiya King with just his Thiruneer (holy ash). Why do you think this song does not work the same for others today? Even the Thiruneer has lost its power so people have to resort to other medicines like herbs, roots and odd potions.”

“Very true Rani! In those days, Dharma was upheld by all. That’s why Sambandhar’s song held the power to cure the King. But today, people commit sins without any conscious. For instance there are people who plot and commit treason against their own king in today’s times. That’s why Sambandhar’s song and the Thiruneer has lost its potent magic.” Saying thus, Kundavai looked at Nandini trying to discern her thoughts through her reaction.

But there was no reaction on Nandini’s face. “Is that so? Are there people who plot against the king? Who are they?” she asked innocently.

“That’s what I am trying to find out. Some try to blame others while the other try to blame somebody else. I am finding it tough to gleam the truth out of it. That’s why I have decided to stay here for a while. How will I find the truth if I stay in Pazhaiarai?”

“That’s a good decision Princess. If you ask me, it would be best for you to stay here otherwise this Kingdom will lose its power. I can help you too if you stay and so will the guest who is staying in my house.”

“Who is this guest?” asked Kundavai.

“His name is Kandan Maran. He is the son of Kadambur Sambuverayar. Have you met him? He is a tall young man who keeps muttering ‘spy’, ungrateful friend’ and ‘betrayal of trust’ all the time. A moment ago, you spoke about Raja Dhrogam (betrayal of king’s trust) what do you think is the worst betrayal of all?”

“I think that the worst betrayal that anybody could do is to break the heart and trust of a man who has sworn to protect you. A wife who betrays the trust of her husband is surely worse than royal treason.” Saying this Kundavai yet again waited for some reaction from Nandini but there was none to be had.

Unfazed Nandini replied, “Very true Princess. But Kandan Maran will not agree. He will say that the worst betrayal of all is the betrayal of a friend. Did you know that he was stabbed in the back by someone who Kandan Maran had considered as his most close friend.”

“Who is that? Who is capable of doing such a foul deed?”

“Someone called Vandiya Devan it seems. He belongs to a place called Thiruvallam that his ancestors ruled once upon a time. Have you heard about him?”

Kundavai bit her teeth in seething frustration and said, “Seems a bit familiar to me. What happened next?”

“This Vandiya Devan ran away after stabbing his friend in the back. My brother-in-law sent his soldiers to catch the spy.”

“Do we know for sure that he is a ‘spy’?”

“How will I know that? I only know what Kandan Maran says. Why don’t you come and talk to him?”

“I will. I had heard that his injuries were dangerously grievous. Has he been staying long at your palace?”

“Yes. They brought him to my palace right after the day he was stabbed. It fell on my head to cure him. His wound was very deep and is not fully healed.”

“It is quite surprising that he is not fully healed despite the loving care that you must have showered on him. Rani! I will come and meet him for sure. His father and their clan have rendered many services for the Chola Kingdom right from the time of King Paranthaka I.”

“That’s why I called you. At least on the pretext of meeting Kandan Maran, you will visit our poor little palace…”

At the end of this conversation, the devaram song ended and the court scribe read out the grants that were to be given to the adhura salai. As with all royal documents, it began with King Sundara Chola’s great deeds and that of his ancestors. At the end of it read, “The village named ‘Nallur Mangalam’ whose deeds were drawn up in the name of our beloved daughter Kundavai Piratti will henceforth be declared as iraiilli village (Tax free village). The income from this village will henceforth be used for the Thanjai Purampadi Adhura Salai.” After reading the olai, the royal scribe handed it over to Periya Pazhuvetar, who received it with due ceremonies and gave it over to his tax official.

After this, Kundavai’s grants for the Adhura Salai that was inscribed in a stone edict was read out aloud. “The lands of the village Nallur Mangalam will henceforth belong to the villagers. Instead of the tax that they have to pay to the Kingdom, the villagers under the leadership of their village head man must deliver 200 bags of rice every year. They should also deliver 50 padi cow’s milk (uri) and goat’s milk and hundred coconuts every day to the athura salai.” Meticulously inscribing all the details, the court scribes had also has engraved the names of those officials who had written the deeds.

After reading the grants aloud, the court official presented the engraved stone edict and the deeds to the village headman of Nallur Mangalam, with due ceremony. The villagers placed the stone edicts atop an elephant that was richly decorated to carry around their village proudly.

Princess Kundavai
The audience gave a resounding cheer and shouted “Long live Sundara Chola Chakravarthi” “Long live the Slayer of Veera Pandiyan, Crown Prince Adithya Karikalan” “Long live Ezham Konda Devar, Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar” “Long live Princess Kundavai” While there was a loud echo to these cheers, when the Pazhuvur soldiers shouted “Long Live Pazhuvur Devar Periya Pazhuvetrayar!” “Long live the Commander of Thanjai Fort, Chinna Pazhuvetrayar!” there was almost no response from the crowd.

Smug with this blatant display of public opinion, Kundavai wanted to see Nandini’s face to discern some truth from her expressions however she was disappointed (which was just as well) because if she had seen her face when the crowd was cheering the Crown Prince, she would have been frightened.

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