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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