Friday, 15 May 2015

Chapter 38: When the Pictures tell a Story

Prince Arul Mozhi, Vandiya Devan
and Azhwarkadiyan

The Prince abruptly stopped his story to ask, “Did you hear the sound of footsteps?”

But Azhwarkadiyan and Vandiya Devan who were intently listening to the story said that they didn’t hear anything.

Azhwarkadiyan then said, “I feel as if this place is getting hotter every second,”

“I can faintly smell smoke,” said Vandiya Devan sniffing his nose.

Azhwarkadiyan asked worriedly, “Ayya! What if there is some danger waiting for us here?”

But the Prince calmly said, “If there is any danger, Kaveri Amman will warn us beforehand. No worries,” and continued the story.

“I heeded her warning and left the place immediately with my soldiers. Despite moving the camp, ten of my soldiers got the shivering fever. This fever will truly test the mettle of any warrior. I have seen soldiers who were once unfazed by deadly wounds, pining for their home after three days of this shivering fever. I truly felt that Goddess Durga herself had manifested as that deaf and mute woman to warn me away from that place. If I had not left on time, the entire army could have fallen prey to it.

Kaveri Amman did not give up on me after this. She followed me everywhere and saved me from many a mishap; deadly animals, poisonous snakes, an arrow in the dark, hidden enemies. Just as she appears suddenly, she would also disappear unexpectedly. These days, I am able to understand what she wants to say by just watching the expression in her face. That’s not all. I can also sense her presence intuitively without having to see her with my eyes. Even now… Both of you go and lie down on your beds now! It doesn’t matter if you are not sleepy, just pretend to be asleep,”

The other two hastened to their beds and lay down but they couldn’t close their eyes for more than a few seconds as they lay waiting for the deaf and mute woman to make her appearance.

Soon enough there was a figure standing by the window blocking the rays of the gentle moonlight. She put her finger on the lips and said ‘sshhh’ and beckoned the Prince to come near the window. Next she said something in sign language that the Prince understood and nodded. After this, he pointed towards his friends and said something for which the woman nodded and said ‘yes’.

The Prince immediately woke his friends and bid them to follow him. Hurrying after the Prince and the woman, Azhwarkadiyan Nambi and Vandiya Devan exited the Mahasenar Palace. Following the deaf and mute woman, they walked silently through a road that had a thick avenue of trees on either side. Suddenly they came to a clearing where a huge stupa stood towering over them and guarding it was a battalion of elephants that looked so real to Vandiya Devan that he was shocked to see the woman touching one of them casually. Not until Azhwarkadiyan whispered in his ears, “Do you see the elephants, don’t they look very real?” that he realized that they were made of stone.

Anuradhapura Elephant wall at Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba

Carved closely together the stone elephants that counted over hundred stood poised for an attack. Each elephant had large tusks but one of them had only one while the other was broken. The deaf and mute went near that elephant and bent down to remove a stone slab from underneath its legs. A few steps were seen underneath through which they climbed down. The others followed her down to find a small mandapam in the underground that was well-lit by two large oil lamps.

The woman took in her hands one of the lamps and beckoned the Prince to come with her to one side of the room. When the others saw that she was showing the Prince some pictures that were drawn on the wall, they relaxed and waited.

To the Prince, the pictures in the wall seemed like a story drawn chronologically to represent somebody’s life. They were drawn in the same manner as the paintings that he had seen in the monasteries of this Island Kingdom representing Lord Buddha’s past life. But the pictures on the wall were not Buddha’s but that of the deaf and mute woman’s past life. The Prince now understood that the woman had brought him there to tell him about herself.

The first picture was that of a young woman whose face almost resembled that of the deaf and mute woman, living on an island with her father, a fisherman. 
Oomai Rani

And then there was a picture of the woman looking through a thicket to see a man who looked like a Prince, siting under a tree. Unknown to him, there was a bear behind him waiting to attack! The woman shouted a warning and started running, luring the bear away from him. The Prince threw his spear on the bear and then started fighting with it with his bare hands. The woman stopped running stood behind a tree watching them fight. The Prince won the fight and then approached the woman to thank her. But she sheds tears and then runs away from him. Later, she comes back with her father who tells the Prince that she is deaf and mute.

The Prince is initially grieved to hear that but soon enough they become friends. He made a garland of wild flowers that grew in the woods and put it on her neck and they both were roaming around the island hand-in-hand.

One day, a huge ship came near the island. Many soldiers came down from the ship searching for the Prince. When they found him, they paid him homage and requested him to come along with them on the ship. The Prince consoled the woman and took his leave.

The woman was disconsolate after he left, so her father took her on his boat and took her across the seas. They arrived at a beach that had a lighthouse and was welcomed by a family that lived there. They got into a bullock cart and went on a long journey. They reached a big town that had huge fort walls and there they saw the Prince standing on the terrace with a golden crown in his head. When the deaf and mute woman saw him there, her heart broke into smithereens and she ran away from there. She reached the place that had the lighthouse and tried to give up her life by jumping from there. But a fisherman saved her life and brought her ashore. Thinking that an evil spirit possessed her, he took her to the temple and asked the pujari to exorcise it.

A pregnant noble lady who had come to the temple for a visit sees the woman there. The Pujari told the noble woman about her and when she learned that the woman was pregnant with a child just like her, she feels pity for her. She took the woman along with her in a palanquin to a city. In the palace, the woman gave birth to twin children. The noble lady who turned out to be the Queen of the Kingdom asked the woman to give up one of her children saying that she would bring him up as her own. The woman at first refused to part with her child and then later agreed to the queen’s request and left both the children at the palace. For many years, she roamed through the forest and whenever she felt like seeing her children she would hide herself behind the tree and watch them.

Once she saw a palace boat bearing the King and the Queen and their children. Unnoticed by either of them, one of the children slipped and fell into the river. The woman immediately swam towards the child and save his life and then disappeared in the woods after handing him over.

All these incidents were drawn on the wall using a piece of charcoal and Prince looked at each picture intently trying to understand each incident of her life. When he came to the last picture of her rescuing the child, he said, “The child who fell into the river was me and the woman who saved my life was you” using sign language. Delighted by the fact that he had understood her pictures the woman hugged him lovingly.

Next she took him another wall in the mandapam where few more pictures were drawn. They were not pictures about her life but about the dangers that might befall the Prince, if he were not careful.

Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan kept watching the Prince and the woman silently. Vandiya Devan would often compare the face of the woman and that of Nandini’s and constantly thought about their resemblance to each other. He didn’t ponder about it aloud as it was not the time and place for such a discussion.

Soon they came out of the underground mandapam from under the elephant’s legs. The woman climbed the stupa to reach the top of the building. The others were astonished by her unfailing stamina. Weary and tired, Vandiya Devan climbed after them and half-way up, they noticed a palace burning.

“Aha! Mahasenar’s palace is burning!”

“Is that the place where we were sleeping?

“The very same,”

 “And if we were there right now…”

“We would have fed the belly of Lord Agni then,”

“But how can we know that that is Mahasenar’s Palace that is burning?

“The pictures that were drawn in the mandapam spoke to me,”

“But we didn’t hear anything,”

“I am not surprised. The pictures will speak only to those who understand its language,”

“What else did those pictures tell you, ayya?”

“The pictures told me many secrets about my family. They also told me to leave this island kingdom immediately,”

“May these pictures live long! It looks like they too want the Prince to come home with me,”

“Prince! Did those pictures tell you not to walk near the houses, not to walk under trees and not to sleep inside houses?”

“That’s correct! How did you know?”

“You know the language of the pictures while I can discern the language of sings. When Kaveri Amman was talking to you, I was watching the signs of her hands and understood,”

“Good! There is still time until dawn, let us climb to the top of this stupa and sleep there. We can leave when the sun rises.” Said Arul Mozhi Varmar.

Vandiya Devan found it difficult to get up even after the sun rose. The events of the previous night starting with the Buddha Bikshus had fused along with the pictures that he had seen in the mandapam and they had played on his mind, making it difficult to separate the reality from the dream.

After he woke up completely he saw that Azhwarkadiyan and the Prince were ready to leave. They got down from the stupa and walked towards the Maghamegavanam. Amidst the garden of this complex was the sacred Maha Bodhi tree.

Buddha Bikshus and common people were found sitting here and offering flowers and prayers to Lord Buddha. The Prince neared the tree and bowed low saying, “In this world, Kingdoms and Kings will rise and fall with the tides of time but truth and Dharma will always stand tall, unbowed and unbent. This Bodhi tree is proof of that,”
Maha Bodhi Tree Today

Saying thus, the Prince looked around and saw two soldiers looking hither and thither with three horses readied for journey. When the Prince neared them, they looked relieved and joyful. The Prince conversed with them for a while and took the reins of the horses from them.

“It was Mahasenar’s palace that went up in flames last night. These soldiers thought that we might have died there and were very worried. They were very happy to see us alive,”

“While it is true that thousand-year old tree lives on, it is also true that Dharma has died in this world, a long time ago,” said Vandiya Devan.

“Don’t you ever say that again? How can Dharma vanish from this world while I am still alive?” said Azhwarkadiyan.

They mounted the horses and exited the city walls through the northern gate. The city gates were still open to the people and the people who had come for the festival the previous night were camped in front of the gates. It was so crowded with elephants, horses and people that no one noticed them coming out of the gate.

“There used to be a city called Mahindalai in the North east direction of Anuradhapura. King Ashoka’s son Prince Mahinder came to this city and started spreading the faith of Buddha in this Island Kingdom from there. He was a very lucky man! Despite being a Prince, he didn’t take his army across the sea to capture lands. He didn’t have to hide himself or be wary of hidden enemies. He didn’t have to roam around this island wearing a disguise,”

“Such was the sorry fate of that Prince,” said Vandiya Devan.

The Prince laughed at this comment and said, “You should not leave me, ever. When you are next to me, even the worst of the troubles becomes a happy adventure,”

“The reverse is equally possible, my Prince. Even a happy adventure might just become a trouble too,” said Azhwarkadiyan.

Just as they were trotting through the road, they saw a cloud of dust at a distance and it soon became apparent that an army of horsemen were approaching the city on full trot bearing sword and spears. With their arms shining in the glare of the sun, Vandiya Devan warned the Prince, “Ayya! Draw your sword!”

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