Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan got up eagerly and sat on the ground near the Prince’s bedstead.
“When I was a small boy, I travelled along with my parents on the royal barge in river Cauvery. My elder brother and sister too had accompanied us on this pleasure trip but they were busy discussing something. I loved to watch the river while sitting on the barge and sometimes the river currents would try to drag down, Kadamba flowers to its depth and I used to lean down from the barge and try and rescue the flowers one by one… Once when I was at it, I slipped and fell headlong into the river. I still remember the impact of banging my head on the floor of the river. When I tried to surface, I was caught in the river current that pushed me in the opposite direction.
Somewhere in a distance, I could hear people shouting but I was helpless and found myself drifting along with the strong river current. My hands had begun to feel weak and I thought that I would drown soon. My last thoughts at that time were about my family; my parents, brother, sister and all my relatives and friends, who would mourn me. Just before I became unconscious, I felt that someone was lifting me from the water. I opened my eyes and saw that a woman was holding me aloft from. Though I saw her face for a few seconds, time could not erase that memory from me. Her face remained etched in my mind for many years and I still remember wondering about the fact that she looked very familiar to me but her identity was a mystery.
|Kaveri Amman saves Prince Arul Mozhi|
The woman handed me over to someone and within a few moments, I was back on the barge with my family. Their distress and their relief distracted me and I basked in their love. It took a while for them to ask around as to who had rescued me from a certain death. When they asked me, I looked around the barge searching for the face of that beautiful woman but couldn’t find her there. In the end, everybody decided that it was the divine Goddess Cauvery who must have saved me from drowning. Since then on the very date of this accident, my mother arranges for a Puja to honour the River Goddess.
It didn’t really matter to me whether it was really Mother Cauvery who saved my life because I only wished to look upon that woman’s divine face once again. Many a time, when I had strolled by the river bank I would look around in earnest wishing to see whether the Goddess would rise above the waters, so that I might gaze upon her face.
As years passed, I had come to believe that she was no Goddess but an ordinary woman but my quest didn’t end. Whenever I was among the people for a festival or a temple function, I would look at the faces of the women there, hoping against hope to catch the glimpse of the woman who had saved me. When I came of age, I realized I ought to stop looking at the womenfolk lest people misconstrued my intention. But by then, I had lost hope of seeing her ever.
About a year ago, I came here as the Commander to lead our forces into battle. Lord Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari who had reached here ahead of me had captured many cities and this city of Anuradhapuram which had changed hands many times was then under the control of King Mahindan. Our forces had laid siege to this city. I was new to this Kingdom and wanted to learn more about this place therefore the Lord Commander handpicked about a thousand soldiers and sent them along with me. I set out with them to see the places that we had captured, cities, mountains, woods and forests. I also visited many beautiful isles and islands that are near the mainland. Once when we were on our way to the city, we were encamped in the woods that were near Yannai Erravu (Known today as Elephant’s Pass). At this coast, the sea waters from both sides enters into a narrow canal and many herds of elephants use that route to move across the mainland hence it is called ‘Yannai Erravu’.
|Yannai Eravu (Known as Elephant Pass today)|
|Elephant Pass Today|
A strange incident occurred during our stay here. In the dead of the night a screeching noise was often heard. The soldiers ignored it for a while and when they started hearing it almost every night, they tried to find out whether it was a wounded animal or bird. The sound that they heard was almost inhuman but was tinged with sorrow and pain. Soon everybody heard the voice around the camp every night. Some got truly disturbed and scared thinking that it was a voice of a ghost. I ignored it at first but soon found that the soldiers had nothing else to discuss but this. I told them to go back home and hide in their mother’s lap if they were so scared. My words riled them and they sought to solve the mystery of the voice that night. A few soldiers set out in the direction from where the voice was heard. When they approached the place, they saw a woman running away from there but they couldn’t catch her. Even after this, we kept hearing the voice every night near the camp.
“Then one night, I set out with a few soldiers to find out why the woman was wailing every night. When she saw us approaching from behind a tree, she stood surprised and then started running. We ran behind her but I knew intuitively that it would be impossible to catch her. I asked the others to stop and went after her alone. When she saw that I alone was coming after her, she stopped running and stood there as if she was welcoming me. Now I was hesitant and approached her slowly. It was a full moon night and I saw her face then. She stood there smiling at me and at that instant, I knew who she was. She was Kaveri Amman, the Goddess who saved me that day.
“I stood there looking at her as if in a trance and then said, “Mother! Who are you? How and when did you come here? Do you know that I have wished to meet you for so many years? Why didn’t you come to me directly? Why do you go around my camp screaming and wailing?” But there was no response from her. I repeated the questions again but it was all in vain. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and tried to say something but couldn’t. That’s when I understood that she was deaf and mute.
“When I realized that I felt her sorrow and helplessness but she suddenly hugged me protectively as if I were her child and then ran away from there without looking back. I didn’t follow her this time and allowed her to get away. When I made my way back to the camp, my soldiers were waiting worried and eager. “She is not a ghost or a spirit. She is as human as you and me. She is demented due to a great tragedy that occurred in her life. If she comes back here again, please do not trouble her,”
“I was tempted to move the camp from the woods the next day, but I was in a dilemma. I wanted to meet that woman once more and with that thought in mind I lingered there. That night, she came again, just as I expected. I left strict instructions with my soldiers about not following me. She stood her just like the night before with a welcoming smile playing on her lips. She tried to tell me something using signs but I couldn’t understand.
“Then she took my hand and led me deep into the forest. I didn’t hesitate even for a moment to go along with her. She went ahead moving thorny bushes and branches lest it hurt me. After walking for a while through the woods, we came upon a hut. A small lamp was flickering inside the hut and an old man lay on a cot shivering in fever. His malady was so intense that his body was shivering uncontrollably and his teeth were chattering. His eyes were as red as burning coals and his mouth was blabbering something that no one could comprehend…
“Do you remember that Bikshu we saw today at the underground monastery? Maha Guru and the other Bikshus said that the Gods have come upon him while I was privately wondering whether he has fallen prey to the shivering fever that is spreading in this Kingdom. But I didn’t wish to mention it in their hearing. I think I might have made a big mistake in allowing these people to celebrate the Perahara Festival. This city is already half destroyed by wars and if the shivering fever came upon its people, the rest of them will have to abandon it forever…
Saying thus, the Prince sat silently mulling about the fate of the city and its people for a while. Vandiya Devan waited for a while for the Prince to resume and when that didn’t happen, he said, “Ayya! Who cares about what happens to this city? Tell us what happened in that hut?”
“Nothing happened in that hut. Kaveri Amman didn’t allow me to linger there for a long time. She took my hand and led me out and with the help of a few signs she was able to tell me what she wanted. “Do not stay in this region. Leave this place immediately or risk the shivering fever.” I understood that she gave this warning out of the love that she bore me and immediately moved the camp. My soldiers were very happy about my decision, as they didn’t have to hear the wailing of the woman anymore…