Sunday, 27 March 2016

Chapter 15: Kalamugar

Kalamugars and Vandiya Devan

The heat of the early morning sun woke Vandiya Devan but he didn’t get up yet. He turned on his back lazily and spotted two Kalamugars coming his way on the road. Their mated hair, trident, holy ash, garland of skulls and unkempt appearance made many people wary of them. Kalamugars were staunch saivaites whose devotion to Lord Shiva was absolute. As he watched them approach, Vandiya Devan sorely missed the one person who could stand his ground against them– Azhwarkadiyan Nambi. Unwilling to be drawn into a conversation with them, he pretended to be asleep until they passed him by.

“Shivoham! Looks like this boy is a Kumbakarna…”

“Shivoham! If only we could get a boy like him, we could…”

“You are going by his appearance. He is a handsome boy for sure but he is of no use to us. He is going to be in grave danger, very soon,”

Vandiya Devan who was pretending to be asleep was curious to know what danger that would be but he couldn’t wake up now. He hoped that they would speak elaborately about that prediction…but they didn’t.

“That’s his fate. What can we do about it? Let us be on our way… come.”

The Kalamugars were a sect that branched out from the old Kapaligars. Unlike Kapaligars, the Kalamugars did not offer blood sacrifice but they retained all the other rituals practiced in their parent sect. It was widely believed that Kalamugars performed rigorous meditation in the funeral grounds and gained the power of third eye that granted them a glimpse of events to come. Many feared that their austerity gave them the power to curse anyone hence Kalamugars commanded great respect and fear and were given royal hospitality wherever they stayed. Many noblemen and petty kings gave many temple grants specifically to provide food for Kapaligars. Despite all this the reigning Chola Kings were not partial to Kalamugars and didn’t patronize them.

Vandiya Devan who was aware of this didn’t bother much about the ‘grave danger’ prediction.

Let them blabber something. What sort of grave danger is going to visit upon me that I haven’t seen already?

While this is what he told himself, he didn’t acknowledge the fact that he was still curious to know what that ‘grave danger’ would indeed be.

Vandiya Devan got up and looked around casually and noted that the Kalamugars were going towards an old mandapam. Next to the mandapam was an artificial cave with statues of lion carved out of stone. In days of yore, Jain monks meditated in those caves but now it was being occupied by Kalamugars. Vandiya Devan decided to talk to them before he could go on his way. He led his horse towards the artificial caves that was adjacent to the mandapam. Even while he was turning the bend at the mandapam he could hear them talk.

“That boy wasn’t pretending to sleep. I think he was really asleep,”

“How can you be so sure about that?”

“I am yet to see another man who would placidly sleep when someone is predicting that he would be in ‘grave danger’ soon.”

“That boy looked like a good warrior. Why don’t we make him join our sect? It would do good for us.”

“Why worry about him when we are going to get a royal prince who might be the next king?”

“Whom are you referring to?”

“Who else but Prince Madhuranthakan? Don’t you know about that?”

“But… what about the other two?”

“One is already dead drowned in the sea while the other is nearing death…”

Vandiya Devan’s desire to listen to any more conversation diminished after he heard this. He wanted to leave immediately and reach Pazhaiarai as soon as possible. After giving his news to the Princess he wanted to go to Kanchi. He was indebted to Prince Aditya Karikalar more than anybody else and it was his duty to stand by him while he was surrounded by dangers. Brash and audacious the Prince was known for courting risk and he rarely listened to anyone. That’s why it was important that he hastened to the Prince immediately rather than tarry time on unimportant things.

Vandiya Devan mounted his horse silently and started off. He turned towards the Kalamugars and found them staring at him silently. One of the Kalamugars seemed a bit familiar but he didn’t care to investigate who it was.

On his way to Pazhaiarai, Vandiya Devan saw many villages where people were thronging the streets intent on their work. It was obvious that they haven’t heard the news about Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar’s death in the sea. He wished to reach Pazhaiarai and give his news to the Princess before she heard anything to the contrary from other people.

What if she heard the news about Prince before I reach her? Would she believe it? No! She won’t do anything foolish but the same can’t be said about that Kodumbalur Princess.

This thought forced Vandiya Devan to ride his horse harder than ever but his horse whose hoof was recently shoed found it difficult to run any faster. Two hours before the dusk, the fort walls of Pazhaiarai were seen. He could see the guards in front of the walls and also the Durga temple that was built near it.

Now he pondered on how to enter the fort without getting arrested by the guards. He can’t show the Palm Signet ring here. They would know that he has it in his possession and would immediately arrest him. He would then be taken away to await Chinna Pazhuvetarayar’s pleasure and wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Kundavai.

Thinking thus, he brought the horse to a slow trot and stood near the fort walls. Just then he noticed a crowd of people coming towards the fort. Foot soldiers and body guards surrounded a horse drawn chariot shaped like a lotus.

Aha! Who is sitting in that chariot? That’s Prince Madhuranthakan Devar. The same prince who had come in the veiled palanquin of Nandini Devi is now coming to the fort in a chariot. That’s when Vandiya Devan got the idea to enter the fort.

 He decided to test Kalamugar’s statement here - “I am yet to see another man who would placidly sleep when someone is predicting that he would be in ‘grave danger’ soon.”

He knew that he was eager to learn more about the ‘grave danger’ that the Kalamugar had predicted. The same could be true for others too!
Prince Madhuranthakan

Vandiya Devan immediately turned his horse towards the chariot and the Prince’s guards were caught unawares. They didn’t stop him until he came very close to the chariot. He stood on the stirrup of the horse and shouted, “Danger! Grave Danger!” After that he suddenly jumped out of the horse and fell down.

The procession stopped and one half of Madhuranthakan’s guards caught Vandiya Devan’s horse while the other half tried to target him using their spears. But when he fell down from the horse they laughed. The Prince too laughed out aloud and then he asked his guards to bring him closer to the chariot.

Vandiya Devan who would normally be incensed by the fact that someone laughed at him seemed unconcerned about it and was staring at the Prince intently.

“You there! Bring him here,” said the Prince

When Vandiya Devan was brought near the Prince, he asked, “Who are you?”

“I… I am… Chakravarthy! Don’t you know me?”

“What! What are you saying? Who do you think I am?” asked Madhuranthakar after bidding his guards to move away.

“Who do you think I am?” repeated Madhuranthakar.

“Forgive me Prince. I mistakenly called you ‘Chakravarthy’. You are still… still…”

“Have I met you before? Have you seen me before?”

“Yes. I have seen you. No… I haven’t met you.”

“Have you seen me before or not? Speak the truth!”

“I have decided to speak only the truth since yesterday. That’s why I am finding it difficult to say whether I have seen you or not,”

“Oho! So you have been speaking truth only since yesterday is it? Good joke!” said the Prince and laughed and then asked, “If that is so then why would you find it difficult to say whether you have seen me or not,”

“My Prince! In today’s world, it is very tough to define truth. One person looks like the other. I saw someone in a veiled palanquin one day and on another day the same person is seen travelling in a chariot…”

“What did you say?” said Prince Madhuranthakan and his voice betrayed the fact that Vandiya Devan’s words had shaken him up.

“I said that since one person resembles the other, it is very difficult to discern whether I have met you or not,”

“Whom do I resemble?”

“I have seen you twice or someone who resembles you very closely. I do not know whether it is you that I have seen or someone like you… that’s why I tried to come close to you,”

“What did you find out? Am I the one that you have seen or nor?”

“You could be the person that I have seen or you could not?”

It was evident that Vandiya Devan’s cryptic answer had enraged Prince Madhuranthakan.

“You are a vagrant… I will have you…”

“My Prince! Please don’t get angry. Allow me to tell you as to where I have seen you. You can decide how to punish me after hearing me out.”

“Alright! Tell me where you have seen me,”

“It was a huge fort. Many great warriors have assembled there for a midnight meeting. I can see the huge oil lamps that have been lit on the walls. By its light I can see a veiled palanquin and the warriors discussing something of import. The leader of these warriors is asked many questions and in answer he comes near the palanquin and opens the veils. A handsome man comes out of the palanquin and smiles at the warriors who hail him victoriously. ‘Long Live the Prince!’ ‘Long Live Chakravarthy! Ayya! The handsome prince who came out of the palanquin resembled you greatly. Have I erred in any of the detail that I just narrated to you?”

Prince Madhuranthakan who had been listening to Vandiya Devan in rapt attention started sweating after he finished. A shadow of fear was seen in his face.

“Were you one of the warriors in that assembly that night?”

“No. I was not one of the warriors who had assembled there,”

“Then how can you describe it so accurately?”

“My Prince! I know not whether these events that I just described happened in truth or in a dream. I can describe yet another event for you. A dark underground chamber with nary a light and a pathway that takes one around and around…one needs to climb down and up many times before you reach the path. Through this pathway I see three people going. One is carrying a fire torch and the other is guarding them with a spear and in the middle there was a handsome Prince whose beauty could only be compared to that of Manmathan. When the fire torch cast a light around the chamber I could see many huge pillars there and a pit in the midst of which awaited the treasure of the world! Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, gold, diadems, coins and wealth of indescribable proportions! The prince who was coming through this unground chamber resembled you greatly but whether it was ‘you’ or not is something that only you can confirm,”

Prince Madhuranthakan whose fear was heightened with every word that Vandiya Devan uttered said, “Enough! Stop!”

“Are you a soothsayer?”

“No. That’s not my profession but I do have the sight that shows me what has happened and what will happen in the future,”

Madhuranthakan thought for a while and said, “You shouted something while on the horse. What were you saying?”

“I said that you were in grave danger,”

“What danger?”

“Many dangers lie in your path however there is also greatness awaiting for you. I cannot speak about them in the middle of the road. Take me along with you inside the Fort and I will read your fortune for you…”

“Alright! Come with me. We can speak in leisure…” said the Prince and then called the Commander of his guards and bid him to include Vandiya Devan in their entourage. The Commander didn’t seem very enthused with the Prince’s idea to include a complete stranger in their midst but he didn’t protest the command.

As they neared the Fort the guards manning the city opened the gates and Vandiya Devan successfully entered the city.

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