Vandiya Devan crossed the street hurriedly to reach the place where the Prince and Nandini stood. By the time he was across the street, he was not sure whether he had seen Nandini at all? How could it be Nandini? Though her face had resembled Nandini’s, she was attired simply like a sanyasi, with no jewels on her person and her wind-blown hair was moving in waves around her.
When Vandiya Devan had reached the Prince, the woman had disappeared among the shadows of the dilapidated mansion that stood on the other side.
“Ayya! Who is that woman? She looked very familiar,” said Vandiya Devan.
Azhwarkadiyan who had lumbered behind him said, “Whoever that woman was, I am inclined to worship her as a Goddess. If she had not clapped her hands and called us to the other side, we would be rotting under the rubble,” pointing opposite the street where the massive stones of the mansion lay piled like a small hillock. The rubble from the mansion was big enough to bury an elephant underneath and would have killed these three people almost instantly.
“You were right to call her a Goddess. If she had not warned us on time, we would have died,” said the Prince.
“Prince! What did you call that woman?” asked Vandiya Devan.
“Why do you ask that? Why did you try to follow her?” asked the Prince.
“This Vaishnavan called her a Goddess, while to my eyes she resembled the she-demon who has come to destroy the Chola dynasty,”
“Whom are you referring to?”
“I might be hallucinating but to my eyes she seemed like the younger wife of Periya Pazhuvetarayar, Nandini Devi. Didn’t you notice the resemblance?”
“I didn’t see properly. Nonetheless you are probably imagining things. How could the Pazhuvur Queen, Nandini Devi come to Elangai and stand on its streets alone?” asked Azhwarkadiyan.
“We cannot dismiss what he says as imagination or hallucination. Even I have felt that there is a remarkable resemblance between them. Come! Let us leave this place,”
Instead of walking along the shadows of the mansions and palaces they walked in the middle of the street.
“Prince! The woman who called you across the street, what did she say?”
“She said that two assassins have come here to slay me in cold blood. She said that they would bide their time for the right opportunity,”
“My God! Was it us that she was warning you off?”
Ponniyin Selvar laughed at Vandiya Devan’s horrified statement and said, “No. She didn’t specify and say that it was you two. But it doesn’t matter if it was because she also said that I have a long life ahead. She has saved me from many mishaps ever since I have come here,”
“Ayya! I know who has come here to kill you. I saw them accompanying Parthibendra Pallavan, when he came here searching for you. I saw two shadows moving through the ruins of that mansion that almost fell on us. I am sure it must be them,”
“Ayya Vaishnavarey! You are telling me now! You both walk ahead, let me inspect those ruins for these assassins,” said Vandiya Devan and tried to turn back but the Prince caught his hand and stopped him.
“It is pointless to search for them now. We can deal with them later. You are not to move away from me until I command otherwise. I came to this ruin of a city without any entourage or bodyguards because you were accompanying me. Would you abandon me in the middle of the streets in the dead of the night? What would I do if somebody attacks me after you left?”
The Prince’s words charmed Vandiya Devan to the core and he immediately said, “Ayya! I swear, I will not leave you alone even for a second,”
To this Azhwarkadiyan said to Vandiya Devan, “I too swear on my Lord that I will never leave you alone for a second. You can be the Prince’s armour while I will be yours,”
After walking for a short while, they reached Mahasenar’s Palace. A large airy room was readied for them to rest with three large bed steads to lay down. They lay down on the bed that was bathed with cool moonlight from the large windows that lay open near them.
“Hundreds of years ago, in this palace Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses probably lay on these very bed steads. And the moon probably peeped on them through those windows just as it does now. How disappointing that it should find ordinary people like us, lying down here?”
“Ayya! You are free to call this Vaishnavan and yourself anything that you choose but I beseech you, do not call me ‘ordinary’ because I am anything but that,”
“Of course, I forget. You are no ordinary man. You are the Prince of Vallam,”
“Yes I am. I could even tell you what some bards had sung about my ancestors but I am afraid that this Vaishanvan might just die of jealousy,”
“While that may be true, Thirumalai also appreciates great poetry, so let us hear this poem,”
Yen Kavigai Yenduvasam
Yenkiriyidu yenpari edhu enbarey –
Vaanan Varisai Parisu
Pettre paavendarai, Vendhar Parthu
Ponniyin Selvar listened to it intently and said, “Thirumalai! You are a poet too, tell me the meaning of this poem?”
“Ayya! Looks like you are testing me. Here is the meaning. Outside of the palace of the Great Vanar King, lords and chieftains are waiting for an audience. But they have to wait for their turn because the King is busy with the poets and bards. Their poems and songs delight him so much that he gives them many gifts and tokens of appreciation. Some get gold coins, while some get bejewelled umbrellas, some take home huge harams and bracelets studded with large precious stones while some get the best elephants, chariots and horses too!
As each one of the poets come out of the palace, the Lords and Chieftains who are waiting outside watch them jealously riding away with the treasures that they had gifted the King once. “Oh no! That’s my chariot!” “That’s my palanquin” “That poet is riding away on my best horse!” Such was the greatness of the Vanar King who would reward true talent with the best of the treasures. My Prince! Am I correct?”
“How can I fault your interpretation Thirumalai? What a lovely poem this is? What imagination? If only we knew who the poet was! Prince of Vallam, It does not matter whether your kingdom was big or small when a poem such as this was sung for your ancestors. They were great indeed. And you, a scion of this dynasty has as much right as the kings of Elangai to sleep on this royal bedstead. It wouldn’t be amiss to say that you are entitled to sleep even on King Dushtagamanu’s royal bedstead too, if it is available,”
“Yes! Yes! I am entitled to many things indeed. But sadly there is no respect for title and no value for talent in this sad world. Did those Bikshus offer the crown of Elangai to me? No indeed. Instead they offered to it to someone who was happy to refuse it. I felt very angry when they did that. I almost grabbed the crown from their hands and would have crowned myself the King. I controlled myself because I didn’t want this Vaishnavan competing with me,”
Ponniyin Selvar laughed at Vandiya Devan’s hilarious wishes for a while and said, “Didn’t I tell you about Truth and Dharma? Don’t you think they are enough reasons to refuse the crown of Elangai?”
“I once used to be fascinated by truth and dharma, Prince but I have henceforth decided that I will have nothing to do with them,”
“Aha! Why do you want to take such a decision? Why so much anger against them?”
“I am not angry with them. Didn’t you tell me that you were in love with two maidens called Truth and Dharma? How can I think about women who belong to somebody else?”
Ponniyin Selvan laughed yet again at his funny repatriate and said, “I am yet to meet another man who jokes so well,”
“Yes, ayya! It’s all a joke to you while I am sitting here regretting a lost opportunity. You didn’t want the throne of Elangai, then you could have turned towards me and said, ‘Please give it to him’.” Asked Vandiya Devan with mock anger.
After Ponniyin Selvar had laughed his fill, he said, “Vandiya Devarey! Accepting the throne means accepting the responsibilities of ruling a Kingdom and let me assure you, that is not a mean task. And I don’t think it is proper to accept the Kingdom from the Buddha Bikshus. I have always believed that religious leaders ought to stop with leading the people towards the faith. They must not interfere in the affairs of the kingdom. If they do, it will lead to disasters that will not only affect the Kingdom and the people but also their faith. Moreover the Maha Sangam that we saw today does not represent all those who follow the faith of Buddha. There are two more Maha Sangam in this Kingdom who believe that they have the right to choose the next king. If I had accepted the crown from them, I would be expected to rule the Kingdom as per their wishes, while the other two Maha Sangams would be against me,”
“Does the Prince of Vallam understand the situation here?” asked Azhwarkadiyan.
“Yes. I understand. There are fools in our Kingdom who would fight and riot about who the bigger God is – Vishnu or Shiva. In the same manner, we have fools here, fighting over other Gods,”
|Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar, |
Azhwarkadiyan and Vandiya Devan
“Please, don’t start fighting again. It is very late in the hour and I can hear the people who had gone with the Perahara Festival coming back. Let us get some sleep,” said the Prince.
“I can’t sleep until I know the identity of the woman who saved us from being buried alive in the rubble,”
“I do not know who she is but I do know many things about her. If you wish to know more, come and sit here,” said the Prince.