Saturday, 30 April 2016

Chapter 20: Mother & Son

Dowager Queen Sembiyanmadevi

Prince Madhuranthakar went to his mother’s quarters for a private audience upon her request. Everybody in the kingdom unequivocally respected and revered this dowager queen for her single-minded devotion towards Lord Shiva. The Prince too had great respect for his mother once but now he bore only rage and contempt towards her. She was the sole reason for his lack of kingship.

How could a mother act thus, that too towards her own son? Even in stories, legend and myths it’s hard to come across a mother who would deny the throne to her own son. Why did he have the misfortune of being born to such a mother?

He found her sitting placidly with divine serenity on her face and his anger simmered down a little. He knelt and took her blessings as he would always did and she blessed him thus, ‘May your devotion to Lord Shiva know no bounds!’ and bade him sit next to her. The Prince’s temper rose again when he heard her blessing.

“Madhuranthaka! Is my daughter-in-law in good health? Is your father-in-law well?”

“Everybody is in good health and are fine but why would you be worried about them?” said the Prince muttering the last few words to himself.

“Did you meet the Chakravarthy before you left Thanjavur? How is his health?”

“I met him briefly before I left Thanjavur. His health is indeed declining day by day. He has more pain in his heart than anywhere else but I have heard that that’s how it is with people who feel guilty of wrongdoing,”

“Child! What are you saying? What wrongdoing did the Chakravarthy do? Why should he feel guilty?”

 “He is guilty of snatching a kingdom that rightfully belongs to me. He has wronged me gravely and that’s why he is feeling guilty,”

“Child! Who is responsible for the venom that you bear in your innocent heart? Who has poisoned your mind thus?” asked the queen pitifully.

“No one has poisoned my mind. Do you believe that your son is such a fool that he has no brains to speak of?”

“No matter how intelligent a person is it is possible to poison their mind with the choicest words. Didn’t Kaikeyi start hating Prince Rama thanks to Mantarai?”

“Yes I do know that a woman’s mind can be meddled with very easily…”

“Madhuranthaka! Whom are you referring to?”

“Mother! Why did you summon me?”

“Child! You seemed distant during the recitation,”

“That’s true. You brought that pious beggar to the palace, seated him upon the throne and honoured him with gold and grants. His pride must have multiplied a thousand-fold…”

“Ayyo! Do not talk such words my child! He might have been young in years but his wisdom and knowledge about this world is much more than anything you and I could ever learn…”

“Alright let him be a saint. If he is truly so, nothing that I say is going to lower his worth. I would like to know why you summoned me?”

Sembiyanmadevi sighed aloud and said, “I am astonished to see how changed a man you have become. I never dreamed that two years of living away from me in Thanjavur along with the Pazhuvetarayars would turn you against me thus. Be that as it may, I still have to do my duty towards my husband and fulfill my responsibility. Child! Before I tell you why I summoned you I need tell you how I married your father. Will you listen to my story patiently?”

Madhuranthakan rested his hands on his seat indicating that he was willing to listen to her.

“I was born in Mazhapadi. When you were a small child I had taken you there twice. The Shiva Temple at Mazhapadi was built by Kochankada Chola and was one among the 64 shrines that he built during his lifetime. Your grandsire and my father was an important man with a large household. The history of our clan is quite ancient and we were formidable warriors and kings of Mazhapadi. During the wars fought in Vijalaya Chola’s time our clan allied with the Pandya King. When the Cholas won the war, they stripped us of our power, lands and reduced us to the state of mere lords. However when I was young, I never once thought about all this and neither did they mean much to me. My heart and soul was fully engaged with Mazhapadi’s Lord Nataraja.

When I was very young someone told me the story of Sundaramurthy Nayanar and how he discovered this temple. Once while he was traveling with his disciples through the village he failed to see the temple that lay on his way due to thick grove of trees. And then he heard a divine voice, ‘Sundaram! Have you forgotten me?’ he turned around and asked his disciples whether they heard anything. Then he asked around if there was a Shiva temple somewhere close by. Soon he made his way to the temple and sang the divine Devaram “Ponnaar Meniyaney”.

Thiru Mazhapadi Temple Today
Photo Courtesy:
This story made a great impression on me at a very young age. I would visit the temple daily and sit before Lord Nataraja and say the divine hymns of Devaram countless times. As I grew into a young maiden my heart yearned for Lord Shiva. I began daydreaming that the Lord would come out of that stone idol and claim my hand in marriage. I would imagine myself to be Uma, Parvathi, Dakshayani and would sit in meditation to make myself a worthy consort for my Lord. If someone in my family spoke about my marriage, I became frustrated. As years went by, my devotion to Lord Shiva became more steadfast and resolute. People around me started calling me ‘mad’ but they longer mattered to me. I spent all my waking hours at the temple serving my lord with all my heart and soul. I used to make hundreds of garlands and would meditate for hours together wishing for but a mere glimpse of his divine form.

One day, while I was thus engaged in meditation, someone arrived at the temple. Upon opening my eyes I saw many soldiers and a man stood there in front of them. I thought that my penance had been successful and that Lord Shiva himself had come to claim to my hand. I stood with my hands folded together with streams of tears rolling down my eyes. Lord noticed my tears and asked, ‘who is this maiden? why is she crying thus?’ and then I heard my father say, ‘This is my daughter. She is an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. She serves her lord here with flowers, songs and hymns and is forever found meditating.’

My father’s words woke me up and then I realized that it was not Lord Shiva who had come there but some man. I felt mortified. I ran all the way from there to home to hide my shame. But he didn’t leave me alone. He followed me back home and then asked my father for my hand in marriage. That’s when I knew that the man I saw at the temple was King Gandharathithar, my child!”

The dowager queen paused for a while. Memories of past events brought pearls of tears to her eyes. She wiped her eyes with the edge of her saree and continued. “I learned all about your father that day. He had ascended the throne a few years ago and since then he had been touring the Kingdom and visiting as many Shiva Temples as he could. He was around 40 years of age and was a widower. His first wife had died many years ago and he had no inclination to marry anybody else after that. However his chaste heart became restless after meeting me. In the presence of my father, he asked me whether I would marry him. I was overwhelmed and dazed. My heart sang to me and said that it was Lord Shiva who had come to me in mortal form to claim me. I agreed to marry him wholeheartedly. We were married soon enough and after that your grandsire was granted back all the ancestral lands that were taken away from us and he became the petty king of Mazhapadi again.

“My child, after our marriage your father and I decided to dedicate our lives to serve Lord Shiva. Therefore we decided that we would not sire a child. There was an important reason behind this decision. I never thought that I would be forced to share all this with you but now it is imperative that you learn why we acted so.”

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Sunday, 17 April 2016

Chapter 19: At the Nick of the Time

During the welcome reception of Thirunaraiyur Nambi, Pinagapani couldn’t enter the Sabha room. Nonetheless, he stayed with the thronging crowds outside and kept his eyes trained on Vandiya Devan. Vandiya Devan didn’t notice him because he was more intent upon sending silent messages through his eyes to Princess Kundavai. There was one more man who was looking at both of them unnoticed and that was our old friend Azhwarkadiyan Nambi.

After foretelling disastrous fortunes for Prince Madhuranthakan, Vandiya Devan exited his palace and came to the courtyard where his horse was tied. Pinagapani who was waiting for him with bated breath came near him and asked, “Appaney! Who are you?”

Vandiya Devan was startled to see Pinagapani there but he acted as though he didn’t recognise him and asked, “What did you ask?”

“I asked who are you?” repeated Pinagapani

“Who am I? Who are we in reality? Do you perchance refer to this body that is made of five elements – air, water, earth, fire and the sky? Or do you perhaps refer to this entity that rests within this body? Would you be referring to the supreme lord who created this universe and gave life to each one of us? Appaney! Your question is absurd. In truth there is no ‘you’, ‘I’ or ‘me’. Everything that we see around us is maya. It’s an illusion that has been woven around us to keep us bound to this physical plane. If you wish to learn more about it, you should listen to Thirunarayar Nambi’s discourse about the same and get enlightened.” Said Vandiya Devan and then he nimbly got onto his horse within the blink of the eye and trotted out of the palace before Pinagapani could raise an alarm.

Vandiya Devan in Pazhaiarai

However this didn’t deter Pinagapani. He hastened to the city guards and alerted them about the spy’s arrival and along with a few soldiers, they scoured the city and finally found on one of the streets.

“There! He is the spy. Imprison him immediately.”

“Are you insane?”

“Who is insane? Are you referring to my body, my soul or the supreme lord who created this universe?” shot back Pinagapani.

“From the way you are blabbering, it is evident that you are mad.”

“I am not insane. I am the physician who came along with you to Kodi Karai. Guards! This is the spy who escaped from Thanjavur fort. Imprison him immediately!”

When the guards came towards Vandiya Devan, he warned them, “Be warned! Do not lay a hand on me.  I am the soothsayer who came along with Prince Madhuranthakar.”

“No! No! No! He lies! Bind and chain him immediately. He is the spy.” Shouted Pinagapani.

Soon a large crowd had surrounded them gawking at them and guessing whether Vandiya Devan could really be the spy.

“He doesn’t look like a Soothsayer.” Said one of them in the crowd

“Neither does he look like a spy.”

“Have you ever seen any soothsayer who is so young?”

“Why not? If you have the sight it doesn’t matter how young you are. Would a spy roam on the streets of the city so boldly?”

“Why would a soothsayer bear arms?”

“If he is a spy, who does he work for? What is there to spy in Pazhaiarai?”

While speculation about Vandiya Devan’s life, motives and intention ran rife among the crowd, Pinagapani impatiently shouted, “Imprison this spy immediately! This is the order of Pazhuvur brothers.”

Unfortunately for him, this had an adverse effect on the crowd. When they heard the name ‘Pazhuvur’ they decided that Vandiya Devan was after all innocent and sought to help him escape.

That’s when Azhwarkadiyan elbowed his way through the crowd and asked, “I am looking for the soothsayer who accompanied Prince Madhuranthakan.”

Pinagapani countered it saying, “No! No! He is the spy.”

“What’s this trouble? If you are truly the soothsayer come along with me. Princess Kundavai wishes to consult you,”

Vandiya Devan’s heart skipped a beat and he immediately said, “I am the soothsayer. I am ready to come with you,”

Pinagapani who was horrified by the turn of events shouted himself hoarse. “Don’t let him escape! He is the spy! He is the spy!”

‘Why don’t you prove that you are a soothsayer? I will take you to the Princess if you can predict something for us.” Said Azhwarkadiyan and signaled him with his eyes.

“How should I prove that?” asked Vandiya Devan hurriedly.

“There! Do you see those two men on the horses? They look like royal messengers bearing some important message. Why don’t you tell us what possible message they could be bringing here?”

Vandiya Devan trained his eyes on the men who were trotting slowly and looked at them intently and then he said, “These messengers are bearers of unfortunate news. Someone belonging to the royal family has met with an accident at the sea.”

The messengers soon reached the crowd and they stopped the horses from proceeding further. Azhwarkadiyan asked them, “Looks like you are royal messengers. What news do you bring?”

“Yes we are messengers. We bring news about Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar. His ship was trapped in a fierce storm and the prince jumped into the sea to save someone. He is lost to the sea!”
Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar's death news

When the messenger gave the sad news to the crowd a universal shout of dismay and sorrow was heard. It was difficult to discern from where such a huge crowd came. Scenes of wailing, crying and disbelief were seen all over the place. People crowded around the messengers asking them for more details, not wanting to believe that they have lost their beloved prince.

The people in the city knew that the Pazhuvur brothers detested their prince and that they had sent soldiers to Elangai to imprison him. The prince’s death news was the last straw that broke their back. They openly started cursing them for the tragedy that had struck the kingdom.

“Pazhuvetrayars are responsible for this. It is them who had drowned our dear prince in the sea.” As the talk spread further, everybody in the crowd started shouting against the brothers and unrest spread further.

Stuck in the crowd, the messengers from Thanjavur couldn’t move anywhere. Azhwarkadiyan then took charge of the situation and asked the guards who had accompanied Pinagapani, “Why are you guards watching all this silently? Help these messengers reach the palace. Disperse the crowds!”

The guards who too were in despair after hearing the news about the Prince snapped out of it and tried to lead the messengers by parting the crowds. As the messengers moved towards the palace so did the crowds but one soul alone didn’t wail about the Prince’s fate. “Ayyo! What is happening here? This is a plan to help that spy escape!” However no one noticed the poor physician’s son and he couldn’t move out of the crowd as well. He was swept away by the sea of people who were proceeding towards the palace of dowager queen.

Thankfully, Vandiya Devan had got down from the horse right when the crowd had started gathering. When the crowd started moving, Azhwarkadiyan grasped his hand and said, “Leave the horse. We can find it later. Let’s go now,”

Appaney! If you hadn’t arrived at the nick of the time, I know not what would have happened to me.”

“You ought to be used to it by now. That’s how it happens all the time. You will endanger yourself somehow and someone will come at the nick of the time to save you,” said Azhwarkadiyan cheekily.

They had by then reached the edge of the street and waited until the crowds had gone and then Azhwarkadiyan took him towards the opposite street where the palaces of noblemen and ministers lay.

They went to Prime Minister Anirudhar’s locked palace and approached the garden grounds. Through the garden lay a path towards Princess Kundavai’s palace gardens. As they neared the place, Vandiya Devan could see the lake that adjoined the Princess’s palace. On the lake, there was a boat and a fair maiden seated waiting for him. Vandiya Devan’s heart soared high in anticipation of meeting her again. 

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Chapter 18: The Soothsayer

As the crowd dispersed from the Sabha Room, Sembiyanmadevi told her son, “Madhuranthaka! Do rest awhile and then come to my chambers. I will bid farewell to Nambi and his entourage and join you there. I have important matters to discuss with you,”

“As you wish, Mother.” said Madhuranthakan and withdrew to his quarters, which was just as well. He would need sometime to compose himself as his heart was brimming with anger, jealousy and resentment.

How dare she bring such pious beggars to the palace? She has no royal pride and if things were to continue thus, she would drag the glorious name of Cholas through the mud.

He felt that the Pazhuvur brothers were absolutely right about his mother’s madness. The queen needs to see any wandering mendicant or a sanyasi and they would be brought to the Palace with great respect and treated to a royal feast… and if they were to sing hymns or talk about some temple, then she would immediately open the royal treasury for them. The treasures of the glorious Cholas are being depleted thus… by these pious beggars.

If this weren’t enough there is Princess Kundavai who goes about opening medical clinics all over the Kingdom. The remainder of gold in the treasury that is left behind after temple renovation is used to for her charity work.

If these two women waste gold on such trivial things, where would I find the gold to fulfil my heart’s desire? How can I raise huge armies and conquer other lands?

And now she wishes to speak to me again? What could be so important for that old woman? She might speak about some obscure tale of Lord Shiva or the deeper significance of his cosmic form, or about kundalini meditation. She drove me mad for twenty years with these tales and made me the laughing stock of all in the Kingdom. I will not allow her to talk thus to me henceforth and if she persist, I would have to shut my ears.

Before my mother sends for me again, I need to speak to that Soothsayer. How surprising? He seems to know about two secret incidents so far… He surely has some strange powers indeed! If he can see the past events through his sight, surely he can see what is to come in the future…

Before he left the Sabha Room he saw the soothsayer standing hesitating at the entrance. He signalled him to come along with him to his quarters.

Vandiya Devan in the meanwhile was trying to convey various messages through his eyes to the Princess but she didn’t turn towards him instead she withdrew from the hall along with the dowager queen with nary a glance at him.

What is this? Has the Princess completely forgotten me? It must be so! She meets thousands of people everyday. How can one expect her to remember someone whom she had met once or twice? I was insane. I thought about her all through my trials and tribulations but why should she think about me? It is the bee that hovers around the beautiful flower for its sweet nectar. The bee is of no consequence for the flower though. The flower instead looks up to the sun and smiles… who could be the sun that makes Kundavai smile? I wonder…

Nonetheless wouldn’t she be interested in knowing how I fared in my mission? Could it be possible that someone had already informed her about the Prince? How can that be? No! No! She is worried about something and that’s why she pretended not to recognize me. She might have wondered how a man that took her confidential message to the Prince could come back to the city as a part of Prince Madhuranthakan’s entourage.

Aha! How surprised is she going to be when I tell her how I managed to hoodwink Prince Madhuranthakar into believing that I am a soothsayer? But how do I meet her?

“You there! What are you thinking?” Madhuranthakan’s question startled Vandiya Devan. By then they had reached the Prince’s quarters in the Palace.

In those days there were astrologers who would predict the future by reading one’s horoscope and Palmists who would delve into the lines of one’s palm. There were also many obscure ways of predicting future - by calculating the time of the question and direction (which is generally known as Prashnam astrology) and there were also Soothsayers who genuinely possessed the sight and could see the future events unfold in front of their eyes. Some would sit in meditation and recite one’s life history and other impending events while others would sit in front of a lamp and look deep into the fire to see the future. Few other Soothsayers knew the art of reading faces and could accurately predict past, present and future.

Vandiya Devan knew that he was in a fix. He wondered what questions the Prince might ask of him thinking that he is a Soothsayer.

I will have to give some clever answers somehow escape from this palace and meet Kundavai. But how?

“Nothing of consequence my Prince. I was thinking that if only I had learned a few Devaram hymns instead of being a Soothsayer, then Queens and Princesses would have received me respectfully too,”

“What’s stopping you from doing so? You can do it even now,”

“My Prince! All our fates are already written. We will get what we rightly deserve,”

“What do you think about that boy who was reciting the hymns at the Sabha room? What about his future?”

“He has a very bright future indeed. Shiva Yogam and Raja Yogam (fortune of a king) will take him on a path to greatness. He will be well received by kings, queens and princes and his name will be added to the many great saints who have worshipped Lord Shiva,”

While Vallavareyan took a shot in the dark here, he didn’t know that his words had a very profound effect on the Prince. He immediately asked him, “What about my future?”

“Your future too is similar to that Nambi. Shiva Yogam and Raja Yogam will take you on the path of greatness…”

Appaney! Be more specific,”

Vandiya Devan needed some time to concoct a believable story hence he said, “Prince! If you want more specific predictions kindly light a big lamp and incense. I can look into the fire and tell your future as it unfolds in front of my eyes,”

The Prince restlessly issued a string of orders to his retainers and they hurried around to follow his orders. Soon a lamp was lit along with the incense and Vandiya Devan seated himself in front of it while Madhuranthakar sat on the opposite site.

Vandiya Devan sat down with his eyes closed as if he were in meditation while his mouth mumbled away mantras. Next he shook his body rather theatrically and shivered as though he was cold and then he opened his eyes wide and looked deep inside the fire.
Vandiya Devan acts the Soothsayer for Madhuranthakan

Ayya! Do forgive me if I had something impertinent. Your future is not similar to that boy we saw in Sabha room.  All through his life, that boy would be supported by Kings and Queens for his knowledge and piety but you… what can I say? How do I say it? I am astonished…”

Appaney! What are you seeing? Tell me!”

“Aha! I have no words to describe what I am seeing here. I see a row of Kings standing with their heads bowed. Ministers, Noblemen and Merchants are standing in large numbers with their hands joined together in salutation. Behind them, an army of soldiers with their armours gleaming in the sun and their arms sharp are standing cheering wildly. On top of Fort countless numbers of people are perched wanting a glimpse…”

“Glimpse of whom? What are they saying?”

“My Prince, I can hear thousands of voices and they are saying, ‘Long Live the King!’ ‘Long Live Tribuvana Chakravarthy!’”

“And then… what?”

“I see the people surging forward while the soldiers are trying to stop them from entering the Fort. People are angry with the guards for not allowing them inside and are fighting with the soldiers… too much noise…”

“Alright! Why are these people gathered here? Tell me that.”

“Yes. I can see that now. I see the huge tiger flag flying as high as the sky. Below that I can see other flags – The Fish, The Palm Tree, The Lion, The Bull and The Pig flying under its shadow. I see a palace that can only be described to be as wondrous as the one that Mayan built for the Pandavas. In there I can see the golden crown of the Cholas. One truly needs a thousand eyes and one to see the gleam of this gold and the sparkling gemstones that are studded within. Next to that are the ancient throne of the Cholas and the royal umbrella of the Kings gleaming with white silk. Beside the throne stand two beautiful women – apsaras who have come down from the heaven waiting to fan their king and a the foot of the throne there are hundreds of golden pots filled with holy waters of river Cauvery. My Prince! They are waiting to anoint the Chakravarthy of Chola Kingdom!”

“Who is going to be the Chakravarthy? Tell me fast!”

“There… I can see the doors of the palace opening. Ushers are heralding the arrival of someone. A mighty old man enters the palace and yet another warrior who looks like his brother comes in bearing arms. Behind them is a Prince whose handsome mien can only be compared to that of Manmadan (Handsome God of Love).”

“Who is it? Who?”

“Ayya! That Prince resembles you in all aspects… It is you! The two old men lead you towards the throne amidst cheers of victory from all those who were gathered there. Thousands of flowers and grains fall upon your head blessing you with fortune, riches and grace. There… you are near the throne now. But what is this? Who is that woman… inauspicious incarnate with her hair wildly free and is standing in front of the throne…She says, ‘Do not! Begone!’ but you don’t listen… you push her to one side… Aha! What’s happening here? I can’t see anything but smoke… smoke…”

“Look again! Look carefully! Tell me what you see!”

“My Prince! Forgive me! I can only see smoke now.”

“Look again! Tell me who that woman is? Have you ever seen her before?”

“My Prince! The woman has vanished and so have you. Everything is gone up in that smoke… the palace, the throne and the crown. I think there is someone in this Palace who knows the dark arts of magic. I feel as if my face is burning… it’s burning!”

Saying thus, he closed his face with his hands and rocked back to and fro. After a while he took his hands of the face and opened his eyes to find the Prince burning up in anger. His eyes were slits of red and his lips were trembling with rage! Vandiya Devan wondered fearfully whether he had fanned the Prince’s heart desire beyond the limits.

“See again! Tell me what you see!”

“My Prince! There is no use in trying to see something that has vanished. I might see it again but not immediately. I can however look into the fire and tell you other things…”

“Tell! Tell me what else do you see?”

“There is too much confusion out there. The people are angry, confused and scared. A royal messenger gives them some news. Someone from the royal family has had a tragic accident. Someone has drowned in the water… poor man! I can see the crowds lynching the messenger for giving them this news. My Prince! Do not ever go out in the crowds during such a time. It might be fatal for you,”

“Who has drowned in the sea?”

“I hear many people crying and wailing therefore I can’t hear clearly as to who has drowned. Now that scene has vanished. Here is another one. I can see men wearing garlands of skulls with tridents and unkempt hair. They are Kalamugars. One of them is wielding a huge sword and is waiting by the sacrificial stone. Here too I can see a Prince arriving and the Kalamugars surround him hailing him wildly. Ayya! I beseech you do not ever go near any of them,”

When the prince heard this, he started sweating and his hands trembled. Vandiya Devan noted this and said, “My Prince! I can’t see anything else anymore. My eyes are burning… my head is aching. Someone is using dark magic that is preventing me from seeing anything more,”

Just then a messenger came with summons from his mother and the Prince left the palace with barely contained anger. Before he left Vandiya Devan sought his permission to see the city, “Ayya! I need fresh air. My headache is excruciatingly painful. I wish to see this city for a while. I will probably get relieved from this pain,”

Pazhaiarai’s Physician’s son Pingapani had found a new hobby in life. Until a sometime ago, he was content with learning the art of healing from his father but after his trip to Kodikarai he was a changed man thanks to Vandiya Devan who literally opened his eyes to many possibilities of life.

It is but natural for people who are in love wanting to talk and share their experiences with people around them. Unfortunately for Vandiya Devan that person turned out to be Pinagapani. Since the Physician’s son appeared to be simple (if not stupid) Vandiya Devan spoke to him about vagaries of love and the inherent dangers of losing one’s heart to a woman. Citing himself as an example, he described the many trials and tribulations that he was facing after he fell in love with a woman.

At first Pingapani ignored Vandiya Devan’s talks about love but the more time they spent in each other’s company he became jealous of his companion and developed an irrational resentment towards him. He tried to quiz him and asked him to reveal the identity of the woman who had stolen his heart. Vandiya Devan refused to tell him who she was and this in turn increased his anger towards him. By the time they reached Kodi Karai he considered Vandiya Devan to be his sworn enemy.

Pinagapani’s jealousy and resentment increased hundred fold after they met Poonguzhali. His proposal to her was not only rejected but also mocked and when he realized that she thought Vandiya Devan was a better man than him, his anger knew no bounds and he was maddened. He sought to get his companion arrested by the Pazhuvur soldiers but didn’t realize that they would arrest him instead. They took him to Thanjavur and locked him in the underground prison to await King’s justice. He had enough time within the precincts of the prison, to brood over his fate.

We saw how Princess Kundavai fought with Chinna Pazhuvetarayar to release him from the Prison but before she could meet him, Pazhuvur Queen Nandini Devi had him released and met him at her palace. Nandini was furious with Vandiya Devan for escaping from her palace without taking her leave and she suspected that Kundavai had sent him to Elangai with a message to her brother. She believed that he would return one day from Elangai and try to meet the Princess in Pazhaiarai. Therefore she needed someone in the city to keep an eye out for him. After meeting Pinagapani she decided that he could be used to spy on Vandiya Devan, if he ever turns up.

“The man who betrayed you at Kodi Karai and left you at the mercy of our soldiers will come back one day to Pazhaiarai. I want you to follow him and tell me what he does, where he goes and whom he meets. If you do so, I will reward you beyond your dreams,”

Later, Chinna Pazhuvetarayar too called him and gave him similar orders. “If you could help us catch that spy I will enlist you in my secret order of spies and make a commander out of you.”

Since then, Pinagapani lost all his interest in his father’s profession. Building many castles in the air, he roamed through the streets of Pazhaiarai incessantly and followed random strangers. Sometimes he would get suspicious and would run towards them to see their face closely. When he found that they didn’t resemble Vandiya Devan he would leave cursing. Many thought that he was insane but he was determined to catch the spy somehow.

When Vandiya Devan entered the city along with Prince Madhuranthakan’s entourage, Pinagapani didn’t notice him at first. Instead he joined the crowd that had come along with Thirunaraiyur Nambi to check whether Vandiya Devan could be there. When Nambi’s entourage met the Prince’s chariot in the streets, one of his men turned towards them for a split of a second and Pinagapani’s heart almost stopped beating. He had spotted Vandiya Devan! But before he could raise an alarm, he had entered the palace along with the Prince!

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Friday, 1 April 2016

Chapter 17: Thirunaraiyur Nambi

 Vandiya Devan entered Pazhaiarai city again along with Prince Madhuranthakan’s entourage. As they passed through the Chola warriors houses at Ariya Padai Veedu, Pambai Padai Veedu, Pudu Padai Veedu, Manapadai Veedu and through the many temples and the market, Vandiya Devan noted that people didn’t greet the Prince enthusiastically and nor were they curious enough to throng the streets to gawk at him. He couldn’t help but remember the excitement and delight of the citizenry during his last visit, when they celebrated Krishna’s Janmashtami.

People had thronged the streets moving from one street play to another… Jostling crowds, merriment at every corner, delighted happy faces were to be seen everywhere. However today, the streets were deserted and no one came out of their houses even while the Prince’s entourage were hailing his presence loud and clear.

It was easy to deduce from this less than tepid reception that Madhuranthakan was not a popular Prince in the city. Vandiya Devan was however happy about the lack of crowd, as he could avoid the eyes of anybody who might possibly recognize him.

When the procession neared the Chola Palaces, they could see a huge procession coming from the other end of the street. In the midst of the procession was an open palanquin bearing a young Saivaite. As the crowd passed them by Vandiya Devan noted that the people were more enthusiastic about the young anchorite who was seated in the palanquin then their own prince! The devout crowd passed by singing hymns, songs and playing drums and many stringed instruments. Many cheered the procession by shouting, ‘Thiruchitrambalam!’ ‘Hara Hara Mahadeva!” “Long Live Thirunarayayur Nambi”

Prince Madhuranthakar viewed the procession with resentful eyes and then asked something about the Saivaite who just passed them by. The soldier confirmed that the Saivaite was indeed Thirunaraiyur Nambi.

“How strange? The people of this city ignore their own Prince and yet crowd around this Nambi and cheer him wildly!”

Vandiya Devan who had turned around to see the tail of the procession noted that one of the Saivars along with Thirunaraiyur Nambi resembled the Saivar who had crossed the Kollidam River along with him and Thirumalai.

The prince’s entourage proceeded ahead and they soon reached Sembiyanmadevi’s Palace. Periya Piratti was waiting outside accompanied by her handmaidens and companions bearing Aarthi plates and flowers. Madhuranthakar got down from his chariot and greeted his mother by seeking her blessings. The dowager queen lifted her son and breathed the scent of his hair lovingly and said, “My son, you have come here at a very opportune time. Thirunaraiyur Nambi has come here. Refresh yourself soon and come to my Sabha Mandapam.”

Vandiya Devan couldn’t help but note that the Prince’s face lost colour when he heard his mother speak thus.

Poor man! He thought that his mother had arranged for a welcome reception for his sake at the palace and was waiting to welcome him with garlands and flowers. Instead when he found that they were waiting for the young Saivaite whom they had just seen in the streets, he was naturally disappointed.

In Sembiyanmadevi’s palace, the Prince got ready to meet Thirunaraiyur Nambi at a very slow pace. He had no interest in glorifying yet another Saivaite but his mother sent message after message asking him to hurry up. At last, when he was ready, he asked, “Where is that soothsayer?” Vandiya Devan who was waiting impatiently to go along with him came forward and said, “I am here,” The Prince took him and few other bodyguards and went to the Sabha Room.

The Sabha room was packed with people. Queen Sembiyanmadevi and Princess Kundavai sat on their seas on side while in the center of the room, sat the young anchorite Thirunaraiyur Nambi. There were many Olai Suvadi placed before him. Next to him stood the same Pattar whom Vandiya Devan had encountered at Kollidam. Vandiya Devan’s eyes roamed all through the Sabha Room and finally rested on the Princess’s face. Kundavai looked surprised to see him at first and then she didn’t turn towards him at all. It made our hero anxious and hurt leading him to wonder whether she had forgotten him altogether!

Thirunaraiyur Nambi with Prince Madhuranthakan and Vandiya Devan

When the Prince entered the Sabha Room, men stood up respectfully and bowed low towards him.

Sembiyanmadevi said, “My Son! This Nambi is from Thirunaraiyur and due to the blessings of Polla Pillaiyar (Lord Ganesha) he has found a few rare Devaram hymns. Centuries ago, a Chola Princess Mangaikarasiyar became the queen of Pandya Kingdom. She invited Gyanasamandar to Madurai to debate with the Jain monks. Gyanasamandar won the debate and also sung many Devaram hymns where he describes the glory of the queen too. We are truly fortunate beings to be given the opportunity to listen to these hymns. If your father had been alive he would have been thrilled to listen to him but I can only wish that you hear them instead,”

The Prince said, “I can’t wait to hear them Amma! Let the recitation begin…” Though he gave his assent thus, his mind and heart were engaged elsewhere. He loathed the fact that his mother esteemed young Saivars like this boy and showered him with such respect and attention but he swallowed his words and remained patient. He had to please his mother…

The Nambi started reading the hymns chronologically where Gyanasamandar described the beautiful city of Madurai and praises it with many verses.

Listening to the verses intently, pearls of tears formed in Sembiyanmadevi’s eyes. She was profoundly moved by the potent words of the hymns that described Queen Mangaikarasiyar. She thought herself to be fortunate to have been married into the same family where the erstwhile Pandya Queen was once born. While the mother thought thus, the son could only hear the hymns that described the Chola might and their glories. He found himself thinking about the Chola throne and his rights towards it.
Queen Sembiyanmadevi with Princess Kundavai
As the Nambi continued his hymns, there came a dialogue between the Pandya Queen and Gyanasambar.

“Ayyo! This boy is so small. How can he debate with those old monks?” Gyanasambar assures the queen with sweet words that he had the blessings of his Lord and that he could defeat the Jain monks.
Saint Poet Gyanasambandar
When Sembiyanmadevi heard these verses she imagined herself to be Queen Mangaikarasi and the young Nambi to be Gyanasambandar and experienced a bliss that was indescribable in words.

However Madhuranthakar inferred the same verses differently.

Yes! I am a young man however I will not be scared by the likes of Thirukovallur Malaimaan and Kodumbalur Vellar who support Sundara Chola’s sons. I will claim my birth right and ascend the throne…

Vandiya Devan oblivious to the hymns or their inherent meaning found himself looking at Princess Kundavai. The Princess didn’t look towards him and nor was there any indication that she recognized him. Vandiya Devan was sorely disappointed and crushed by the Princess’s disregard. He kept wondering what could possibly have angered her.

Could it be because he didn’t go to her directly or could it be because she expected him to come early?

While he churned up one question after another he was also thinking up a viable plan to meet the Princess alone.

When the recitation ended, Sembiyanmadevi told the Nambi’s entourage, “Ayya! When I look at this boy, I feel as though Gyanasambandar himself has been born anew to take us on the path of devotion. I bid you to take him all through the land of Tamil Nadu. Bring forth all the Devaram hymns sung at many temples under one fold. Segregate the hymns sung by divine saints Appar, Gyanasambandar and Sundara Murthy and let their verses be heard all through the temples of Tamil Nadu. This was my Lord Husband’s wish and I want to fulfil it during my lifetime. I have arranged for palanquin, men, guards and gold for your entourage to travel through the Kingdom. My son here would get the Chakravarthy’s permission for this venture,”

The dowager queen’s announcement was greeted with loud cheers from the crowd gathered but Prince Madhurathakan found them extremely unpleasant.

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Volume 1 - New Flood