Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Chapter 25: Mathottam

It’s been a long while since we parted with our hero Vandiya Devan. While our days in Thanjavur dragged on, Vandiya Devan had progressed on foot by the sea shore and had reached the banks River Palavi near Mathottam. As he neared Mathottam, he was amazed to see its green visage with swaying tall trees, just as it was described during the times of Sundaramurthy Nayannar and Sambandhar. The coast of Mathottam was rich in greenery with many orchards and fruit bearing trees. Many trees rose to great heights to cover the skies with its many branches while the tittering sounds of birds sounded almost musical.

The fort walls of this city rose high over the sea even as the waves crashed relentlessly over it. The sea port of Mathottam looked busy with many large ships and boats laden with goods waiting to be unloaded. Though these scenes were very similar to what Sundaramurthy Nayannar had described in his poems, not everything was the same. The throngs of devotees on their way to Ketheeswaram temple were missing and instead Chola soldiers patrolled the streets.
Ketheeswaram Temple
The port city of Mathottam had become a garrison for Chola soldiers who came with the Prince. Goods sent from the Chola Kingdom were unloaded here and messengers and soldiers who were sent on errands came here to take a ship home. Ravaged by war, the city was once controlled by Pandiya soldiers and by the Kings of Elangai next but since the reign of Parathaka I the city was in the hands of the Cholas.

When Vandiya Devan arrived here, the fort doors were firmly shut and he informed the guards that he wanted to meet their commander but they refused to allow him inside. He then, attempted to storm down their door with his horse and was arrested for his trouble and was taken to their commander. He explained to the Fort Commander that he had come bearing messages for the Prince and when they searched his belongings, they found the message and along with it, an emblem ring that belonged to the Pazhuvur clan.

The Lord Commander of the Chola forces was Kodumbalur Periya Vellar (Vanathi’s uncle). When the soldiers informed him about Vandiya Devan, he was with Prime Minister Anirudha Brahma Rayar and was travelling to Rameshwaram. Therefore, he ordered the soldiers to imprison Vandiya Devan until he could come back.

So the soldiers took Vandiya Devan to an old dilapidated mansion and imprisoned him inside a room. Our hero was quite happy about being arrested, as it was an opportunity to take rest and recuperate after a long journey on foot. On the first day, he was able to sleep without any interruption but on the second day his well-deserved rest was disturbed. He heard some weird noise from the next room. It seemed as if one man was trying to frighten another with empty threats. “Chi! Chi! Go away from here. If you come near me, I will kill you.” “Be careful! Do not come near me!” “I swear, I will kill you,” “I will kick you to death!”

Vandiya Devan could hear only one voice from the other room so it led him to suspect that his next-door neighbour might be a delusional soldier who has gone mad due to the rigours of the war. What if this man shouts himself hoarse all through the night? How can I sleep with him shouting thus?

“You will not listen to me! You will not leave me alone! Alright then, let me see what you will do now!” shouted the mad man and after a few seconds something fell into the room from the upper window. Vandiya Devan who was trying to sleep got up with a start and would have unsheathed his sword except that he started laughing. The thing that fell from the next room was a cat!

“Oh! You know to laugh as well is it?”

Vandiya Devan was now sure of the fact that the man next door was indeed mad but he also found it strange that his voice seemed familiar to him. After wracking his brains over whose voice it could be, he closed his tired eyes to rest awhile. But there was something soft near his feet, he opened his eyes and saw that the cat had settled down there. He pushed the cat away from him and then tried to sleep, again but soon enough there was something soft near his face as the poor cat tried to cuddle near his neck. He pushed it away yet again and tried to sleep and this time the cat sat near his head and tried to woo him with its tail. Vandiya Devan couldn’t bear it any more. He could easily face a hundred spears and arrows but not the brush of a cat’s tail. He picked up the cat by the skin of the neck and threw him through the window into the next room.

There was a commotion in the next room for a while. The lunatic in the next room was cursing the cat and the cat was mewing fiercely. Soon enough, he heard, “Go! Get lost,” and the faint sound of the cat’s ‘meow’ was heard. Vandiya Devan settled down to sleep again and had a very sweet dream.

Princess Kundavai sat next to him while he slept and was running her hand through his hair. While his sub conscious mind compared the softness of the Princesses’ hand and that of the bushy tail of the cat, he was very sad when the dream ended. He was instantly alert to the fact that he heard some noise that broke his sleep. Listening intently he heard the scratching of nails and grunts from next door and it looked as though the lunatic was trying to climb the wall.
Vandiya Devan
Vanidya Devan pretended to sleep, though his hand was on his dagger. Through half-closed eyes he saw two hands coming through the upper window and then a face! It was a familiar face and our old friend, Azhwarkadiya Nambi!
Azhwarkadiyan Nambi
Why has he come here?  How did he come? How did he know that I am here?
While these questions raced through his mind, he sat up and welcomed the fat Vaishnavan, “O! Vaishnavare! Welcome! Welcome to the holy Shaivaite site Thirukedeeshwarar!”

“My boy! I knew it would be you. Who else but you would sit so silently?” said Azhwarkadiyan hoisting himself through the window. 

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Volume 1 - New Flood