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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