Thursday, 16 April 2015

Chapter 31: The Eleyley Singan Play

In the midst of the woods, over a thousand Chola soldiers had camped near a dried pond. The cooks were preparing the night’s meal in giant vessels atop huge pits of fire. The delectable aroma of vegetables and spices was enough to rouse the appetites of our hungry travelers and the soldiers.  The soldiers were busy rehearsing for a play until the food got ready and to their delight when the Prince joined them, their enthusiasm knew no bounds. Their commander had a tough time reigning in their excitement. With much difficulty, he made his soldiers sit in a crescent formation.

They had cut a giant tree but had not removed the entire trunk portion that was left protruding from the earth. The Prince used this tree trunk as a seat and sat amidst them. He was now dressed as a Prince ought to be, with silk dhoti, pearl harams in his neck and a golden crown rested on his head. Along with him sat the Commander of their border forces, Azhwarkadiyan and Vandiya Devan.

Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar

The soldiers then started the Eleyley Singan play that they had been practicing a little while ago. A thousand years ago back in history, warriors from across the Chola lands had captured the island kingdom under the leadership of EleyleySingan (he was also known as Manu Needhi Cholan), while the defeated king of Elangai hid himself in the mountains. 

Statue of Manu Needhi Cholan at Madras High Courth

The crown prince of Elangai was called Dusthagamanu. He was a peerless warrior and dreamed of liberating his kingdom from the invaders right from a young age.

Once when he was very young, he slept on his bed by bending his body uncomfortably without stretching his legs and arms. Seeing this, his mother asked him, “Child! Why do you sleep like this? Free your arms and stretch your legs comfortably,”

“Mother! How do I stretch my arms and legs? On one side, there are Chola soldiers while on the other, there is the sea? How can I sleep comfortably in the bed, when I am being suffocated thus?”

A Painting of King DutuGenumunu (161 BC - 137 BC)

When Dusthagamanu came of age, he rallied an army to oust the invaders but his men lost heart and turned away from battle. Undeterred, he sought out Eleyley Singan at the battle field and addressed him thus, “King! My army has disintegrated against your superior forces, leaving me alone in this field. I know you as a true warrior. I challenge you for a single combat against me. Whoever wins, gets to be the King of this island and the defeated can claim a seat in the heavens,”

Eleyley Singan was astonished by Dusthagamanu’s courage and determination to win his birth right. Hence he agreed for a single combat and ordered his soldiers not to interfere. When their battle of fist began, people from far and wide came to witness it. Soldiers who ran away from Dusthagamanu’s army too rallied back to see their Prince fighting for their freedom. The fight dragged on for many hours. Dusthagamanu fought fiercely because his birth right and the fate of his people were at stake. Eleyley Singan didn’t fight with his usual vigour because he felt sorry for the Prince. In the end, Eleyley Singan fell dead and Dusthagamanu won his kingdom back. After becoming the king, Dusthagamanu raised a Pallipadai temple to honour Eleyley Singan’s kind heart and valour.
Battle between Eleyley Singan and Dushthagamanu

Dakhina Stupa today was once the tomb of
Eleyley Singan (Elara Sohana) built by King Dushthagamanu
Dramatizing this story, the Chola soldiers enacted it with much drama, songs and poems. Raising enthusiastic cheers and clapping their hands with much enthusiasm the crowds encouraged the soldiers acting in the play. The soldier who played the role of Eleyley Singan was appreciated for his artistic portrayal of the valorous soldier and many in the crowd cheered him madly. While the play was in progress, the Prince turned towards Azhwarkadiyan and said, “Thirumalai! In the cave temples of Thambilai, the historic battle between Eleyley Singan and Dusthagamanu is immortalized in a beautiful painting. Did you see it?”

Beautiful murals of Dambulla (A Heritage Site Today)

“No, Ayya! We didn’t have the opportunity to visit the temples as we saw you in the streets. We didn’t have the time to see anything else after that,”

“Aha! You must see the statues and the paintings Thirumalai. While there are many beautiful statues and paintings in our Kingdom, this island is a treasure trove of rare art,”

“My Prince, the statues and the paintings of in this island will not go anywhere. We can see them anytime we choose. But seeing you like this was a lucky chance. Before we arrived in Thambilai, we saw Parthibendra Pallavan on his way back to Anuradhapuram. He had come searching for you here,”
Parthibendra Pallavan
“Yes. The Commander told me that my brother’s dear friend had come here. Can you guess the purpose of his visit?”

“I needn’t guess. I know why he has come here. Your brother has sent him to bring you back to Kanchi,”

“Really? What about your friend here? Do you know the message that he got for me from my sister, after hazarding so many dangers?”

“Your sister has asked you to come to Pazhaiarai immediately. My Prince! When Kundavai Devi secretly handed over the Olai to him, I was watching them from the garden house…” Vandiya Devan immediately pinched Azhwarkadiyan in the back.

Azhwarkadiyan winced with pain and said, “What a wretched jungle this is? The insects are biting us even during the night,”

This did however not please the Prince, he said, “Chi! How dare you spy on my dear sister?”

“My Prince, you ought to be thankful that I was there to help him on his way here. If we had come by Anuradhapuram, I am sure that he would have fought with someone and would have died. That’s why I got him through the forest path and there too, he tried to fight with a mad elephant. Thankfully I vanquished the mad beast with the help of my staff and brought him to you safely,”

“Oho! So you came here only to escort him safely to me?”

“No Ayya! I have brought a message for you from the Prime Minister,”

Azhwarkadiyan delivers Prime Minister's Message

“What is it? Tell me quickly,”

“The Prime Minister is of the opinion that you stay in Elangai for some more time, rather than hurrying back home,”

“So there are three messages from three elders. I wonder whom I should listen to?”

Vandiya Devan interjected with his opinion now, “My Prince, forgive me. You ought to listen to your sister’s words,”

“Why do you say thus?”

“I say it because your heart is telling you to give precedence to your sister’s words more than anybody else’s. If you are not disposed to honour your sister’s words, I am bound by her command. I have promised her that I would bring you back with me at any cost,”

The Prince looked steadily at Vandiya Devan for a while and said, “I have long wished for a brave companion and friend to stand by my side. At last I have got one,”

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