Friday, 17 April 2015

Chapter 32: Killi Vazhavan’s Elephant

The food was ready by the time the play ended. Steaming hot Pongal and vegetable curry were served to the soldiers on stacks of lotus leaves. As the famished soldiers ate through their meal, the Prince moved around them, chatting and enquiring about their health and well-being. The soldiers who were singled out by the Prince for conversation were elated beyond words while their companions looked at them jealously. Such was his charm!
Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar with his soldiers

The prince was very popular with the people from a very young age and their regard for him has multiplied ever since he assumed the command over Chola forces. His soldiers worshipped him because he had tirelessly worked on their behalf to get enough supplies from their homeland while campaigning in Elangai. They also loved his down-to-earth attitude and the way he casually mingled with the soldiers.

As the Prince moved amidst the feasting soldiers, many tried to talk to him by asking questions. “My Prince, When will we lay siege to Pulathiya?” asked many soldiers. The Prince gave varying answers to the same question, “What’s the point in attacking Pulathiya when Mahindan is in Rohana mountain?” while to some he said, “Be patient. Let us wait until the monsoon season ends to start the siege,” Some soldiers expressed their displeasure in sitting idle while some said that they would wait patiently if the Prince visited them at least once a month.

After speaking to the soldiers, the Prince went to his tent along with Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan. “Did you see how enthusiastic these soldiers are? If I had got ample support from Thanjavur, we could have captured the entire Elangai by now? We squandered a wonderful opportunity there. Now that the monsoon has begun, our soldiers will have to be idle until this season lasts,”

“Prince, there are bigger things to worry about, than capturing this Island. The Kingdom that your ancestor Vijayalaya Chola established is under a grave threat today. Plots and treasons are disintegrating it,”

“You are right. You both have brought me important messages for me while I am worrying about something trivial. Alright, tell me what is happening in the Chola Kingdom. Let the Prince of Vanar Clan begin his story first,”

Vandiya Devan narrated all that had befallen him during his journey from Kanchi to Thanjavur. He also recounted his adventures and the very many ruses and tricks that he had employed to escape from his enemies. At the end of it he said, “Ayya! Your father is virtually imprisoned in his own palace. The noblemen who once swore a holy oath to serve and protect him are plotting against your family. Your sister, Princess Kundavai is gravely worried and requests you to come immediately to Pazhaiarai,”

After this, Azhwarkadiyan began his story. He agreed with most of what Vandiya Devan had told and also told the Prince about spying on Ravidasan and his gang at the Pallipadai near Thirupurampayam and their plans to destroy the Cholas. In the end, he added that as the Kingdom faced so many threats and dangers, it would be best for the Prince to remain in Elangai for the time being.

Prime Minister Anirudha Brahmarayar
“The Prime Minsiter believes that it would be in the best interests of the Kingdom if you complete the campaign in Elangai. It is important that you gather the entire army and keep them garrisoned at North Elangai under your command. Before long, those who plot against your family will come out with their true colours. Having an army at your disposal will add to your strength and that of your family’s. He also bid me to tell you that Kai Kola Padai, Vanniyar Padai and Vellar Padai are ready to swear a holy oath pledging their swords at your feet,”

“Thirumalai! What does your Gurunathar think, he is? Is he under the illusion that he is Chanakya reborn in this world? Does he want me to fight with my brother and other relatives?”

“No Ayya! My Gurunathar does not think thus. But isn’t it your duty to punish those who are plotting against the Kingdom and your family?”

“How can I punish them? If these plots and treasons are truly happening then it is my father, the Chakravarthy who must punish them. I cannot act without my father’s commands,”

Vandiya Devan interjected now and said, “Prince, your father is not free anymore. He is under the guard of the Pazhuvur brothers. No one can approach him, without their permission. Your brother does not want to go to Thanjavur for some reason. In such a situation, it is your duty to protect your family. It is important that you leave Elangai immediately and come with me to Pazhaiarai,”

“Why should the Prince go to Pazhaiarai? I can’t understand it,” asked Azhwarkadiyan.

Before Vandiya Devan could answer, the Prince said, “There is nothing worse in this world than a man’s greed for land. That alone, can compel him to do vile deeds. I went to Simhagiri Mountain Fort today. Do you know the history of that place?”
Simhagiri Fort is known as Sigiriya today
“No,” said Vandiya Devan.

“Around 500 years ago, this island kingdom was ruled by a King named, Dadusenan. He had two sons, Kasiappan and Magallan. The commander of Dadusenan and Kasiappan plotted together to seize the throne. Kasiappan imprisoned his own father and became the king. Magallan crossed the seas and went to Tamilnadu. In the meanwhile Kasiappan, raised the walls of his father’s prison and killed him treacherously. After committing the most heinous of the crimes, Kasiappan was tormented by the thought that Magallan might come back one day to avenge their father. He came to Simhagiri fort as it is a stronghold that cannot be captured easily. He hid himself within its walls for about 18 years. One day, Magallan came back home along with a large army of the Pandya King who had agreed to aid him. Kasiappan completely lost his mind and came out of his stronghold to confront his brother and with result lost his life. That wretched scoundrel, who would kill his own father to ascend the throne, had built that fortress and within it are some of the most beautiful paintings and art that I have ever seen. They were painted hundreds of years ago and yet they have not faded in time,”

Frescos of Sigiriya Fort

“Ayya! Can I ask you something?”

“Why this hesitation? Ask.”

“Isn’t Simhagiri Fort under the command of the Elangai army?”

“Yes. I have no intention of laying a siege to capture it. It will only lead to pointless loss of life,”

“I was not asking about that. I was more concerned about that fact that you entered the enemy’s fort without any thought for your safety. What possessed you to disguise yourself as a mahout and go along with those travellers from China? When I saw you mounted on the elephant’s back I was astounded. I didn’t know whether I could believe my eyes. Why did you go to the enemy’s stronghold with no care for your life?”

“Is my life so precious, Thirumalai? Do you know how many soldiers from our land have lost their life here?”

“My Prince, those soldiers lost their life in the battlefield while you sought to endanger it without any cause,”

“There was cause for my actions. I had two reasons to go to Simhagiri. I had always wanted to see the beautiful paintings of Simhagiri and I fulfilled it today,”

“My Prince, What about the second reason?”

“I knew that Parthibendra Pallavar was in Elangai right after he came ashore in Trikona Malai. I didn’t wish to see him today, so…”

“May I ask, why?”

“I also knew that our Prime Minister had come to Manthotham and was expecting a message from him. When I get messages from two elders, I always give precedence to the first,”

Vandiya Devan delighted by the Prince’s reply said happily, “Well said, My Prince. I have finally won!”

“My Prince, he has tricked you,”

“He didn’t. I should rather say that I deliberately fell for his trick. When I sent that soldier to get you here, he pushed him out of the horse and got on it instead. So I wanted to teach him a lesson…”

“That was a good lesson indeed My Prince! Each one of those lessons weighed rather heavy on my body. My body and chest throbs with pain whenever I think about it. Is this how you would treat a messenger who brought you news from your sister? Never mind, if you are coming to Pazhaiarai with me…”

“Thirumalai! I am reminded of an old poem that I heard long back. One of my ancestors was called Peru Killi Vazhavan and the bards sang about a wondrous elephant that he possessed. It was so huge that one of its leg was in Kanchi, while the other in Thanjavur, one other in Elangai and another in Uraiyur.

“Kanchi orukaal mithiyaa oru kaalaal
Thathuneerth thanthanjai thaanmithiyaap – pitraiyum
Eezham oru kaal mithiyaa varume nam
Kozhiyar kokkillik kaliru!”

Such was the poet’s imagination. In this Island Kingdom there are hoards of wild elephants but what’s the use? If only we could have one elephant like this, I could be in Kanchi, Thanjavur, Pazhaiarai and in Elangai at the same time?”

Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan laughed at this and then the Vaishnavan asked, “Since you don’t have this magic elephant, what do you propose to do?”

“What’s there to do? Haven’t we decided that he would be coming with me to Pazhaiarai?”

“Please defer your arguments for now. Let us go to Anuradhapuram tomorrow. I will meet Parthibendra Pallavan and then decide what to do,” 

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Volume 1 - New Flood