Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Chapter 22: What’s that noise?

As they neared the lake, Vandiya Devan saw Princess Kundavai waiting for him in the boat but he hesitated to move forward due to Azhwarkadiyan’s presence.

Realizing this Azhwarkadiyan said, “Why are you standing here hesitating? The Princess has been waiting for you long. Get on the boat and give her the good news, ‘The Prince has arrived and is safe’ and then you can go on about your exploits. I will take my leave now and see if I can control the madness that we have unleashed upon the city today. Your dare devilry comes with a heavy price and I end up cleaning all the mess in the end…” said Azhwarkadiyan and returned to Anirudhar’s palace.

Vandiya Devan watched him surprise. How did he know all these details? He didn’t even ask me anything! Was he merely guessing or did he really know everything?  

Vandiya Devan had heard that there were two types of beggars in the world – those who did it as a profession and those who were forced by circumstances. In the same manner, may be there are two types of spies around.

I became a spy when my hand was forced and have since then courted nothing but trouble but Azhwarkadiyan is surely a spy by profession therefore he goes about his work without any worries. But who does he work for? Is there any truth in the stories that he told about his past life?

Thinking thus, he came to the bank of the lake and looked at the Princess’s face and forgot everything else.

Aha! This is the face that followed me through all my trials and tribulations.  

As he looked at the face of the woman who had stolen his heart his heart fluttered and he lost his voice to the wonder of her beautiful visage.

Intoxicated with love and beauty, Vandiya Devan stepped into the water and got into the boat. The Princess signalled the boatman and the boat started moving.
Vandiya Devan Meets Princess Kundavai
“Soothsayer! Will you predict something for me or do you serve only the Princes of this realm? How do you predict the future? Do you perchance look at the stars and the planets or do you watch the movements of birds like crows and sparrows? Maybe you are one of those who predict future by looking at the face of the person…is that why you are staring at me so intently? However be warned if you persist thus no high-born woman will ever demand your service.” spoke the Princess with a smile.

“I am not looking at your face to predict your future. I am looking because I am trying to remember where I have seen you…”

“I know you have a very bad memory. Allow me to refresh it. Almost forty days ago, we met at Kudandai Jodhidhar’s house and then we met again on the same day near the banks of Arisalaru…

“Stop! Please! I cannot believe your words. Surely it can’t be forty days. I believe that I have seen you 40,000 years ago. Didn’t I see you hundreds of eons ago? I have seen you on the mountains, on the swirling currents, dense woods, on the banks of the river… Didn’t I save you once when a fierce tiger hunted you in the woods? Then, I was a hunter who lived in the forest and I trapped many colourful birds and parrots for your pleasure. Don’t you remember you would take these birds from me and set them free and laugh gaily? Once, I was a fisherman and I went to the seven seas to catch silver and gold fish for you and what did you do? You set them free and watched with pleasure as they swam away from us. I brought you pearls, corals and many other precious things from the floor of the ocean but what did you do? You called small boys and girls and pressed a handful of these gems onto their hands and smiled happily. I brought you a rare fruit from a tree that bears them once in 300 years but you fed it to your pet parrot and watched with pleasure as it pecked and ate it slowly. I went to the heavens and got you all the fragrant flowers that blossomed there but you said that they didn’t compare to the scent of the mullai (jasmine) that grew in your backyard. Then I went back to the heavens and got Indira’s precious gemstone haaram (Long necklace) but you disdainfully declared that you wouldn’t touch anything that was worn by a fickle god. Then I went to Kailasam and lay prostrate at the feet of Devi Parvati. Devi in all her benevolence removed her anklets and gave it to me and I wanted you to wear but you said, ‘Ayyo! How can I wear the divine anklets of Devi Parvati? Please give it back to her.’ I then went to war and won over hundreds of kings and presented their crowns at your feet but you kicked them aside with nary a thought and I was worried that your beautiful feet might have been hurt. Devi! Are these memories true or not? Or do you still think that we met just forty days ago?” said Vandiya Devan.

Even then he had not finished with his long list of memories. He started again, “Devi, I can remember yet another memory. Once we were traveling in a golden boat fitted with silver oars…”

Ayyo! This soothsayer has truly gone mad. I think we should go back to the palace,”

 “No Devi! Until I got into this boat my mind was clear or else would it be possible for me to meet Prince Madhuranthakan and convince him that I am a soothsayer? Do you think I could have escaped from that physician’s son so easily? It was when I saw your face that I got intoxicated and lost my senses,”

Ayya! Then please do not look at my face. You are free to stare at the clear waters, the gardens, and the palace or even at this deaf boatman and tell me what happened to the mission that I set you on? Did you succeed or not? Has the Prince returned? Does he fare well? If yes, where have you left him? And then tell me about your journey?”

Devi! If I had not concluded my mission successfully I would never have shown my face to you. Yes the Prince has returned and I crushed hundreds of obstacles to bring him back to you but I can’t say that he fares well. When I left him he was suffering from shivering fever but he is in the capable hands of the boat girl Poonguzhali and my friend Senthan Amuthan. They are utterly devoted to him and would lose their lives to save him,”

Suddenly they heard hundreds of voices raised in protest, women wailing and crying. Princess and Vandiya Devan looked at the banks of the lake worriedly trying to ascertain the source of the disturbance.

“What’s that uproar? It sounds as if hundreds of people have gathered and are shouting and wailing?”

“Yes. It seems like that.”

Friday, 20 May 2016

Chapter 21: Are you truly my Mother?

“My Child! When your father ascended the Chola throne the Kingdom was in shambles. You know all about your grandsire King Paranthaka Chola. During his glorious reign, the tiger flag of the Cholas flew all the way from Elangai to Krishna River. However during the last years of his reign many misfortunes fell upon the royal family and the Kingdom. Rashtrakutas came with a huge army to oust our rule. They fought with our army that was led by the King’s heir and Crown Prince Rajadhithan at Thakollam. Rivers of blood flowed endlessly as soldiers fell on both sides and in the end the Rashtrakutas’ army retreated in defeat but not before slaying our peerless Prince who died bravely on his elephant. Your uncle Aringhzha Chola (Sundara Chola’s father) too was gravely wounded at the war and his whereabouts were unknown. Aringhzha Devar’s young son Sundara Chola who had gone to Elangai was also missing. It was your father who was next to Paranthaka Chola as he lay in his chambers reeling from the misfortunes that had struck the kingdom and the family.

All his life your father stayed away from the affairs of the Kingdom. He was a saint at heart and wished only to serve his Lord with a single-minded devotion. He abhorred wars and battles. He believed that it was the common people who would ultimately suffer trying to serve the greed of the kings. He used to argue with his brothers and his father about this. He led his life on his own terms for a very long time by visiting temples, shrines, holy places and went on many pilgrimages. Swords, spear, bow and arrow were no use to him as he did not bear arms and nor did he learn the art of warfare from his teachers. He hated politics, schemes, and intrigues because they gave birth to betrayals, treason and slaughter. He used to ask, ‘a common thief steals gold from other people and in the same manner the King tries to covet lands from other Kingdoms. What’s the difference between the King and the thief?’

My Child! It was truly unfortunate that a man of such sentiments had to take on the mantle of the Kingdom. The misfortunes that fell upon the kingdom and the death of his heir had left King Paranthaka Chola prostrate with grief. He summoned your father one day and said, ‘You will need to bear the burden of this Kingdom henceforth’. And your father accepted it because he didn’t wish to cause any more pain to his father. Your father was a widower then and his first wife Veeranarayani Devi had died many years ago leaving him childless. Your father had no intention of getting married again and your grandsire was worried about who would succeed your father. Thankfully, your cousin Sundara Chola was found alive in one of the islands near Elangai and was brought back to the Kingdom.

Paranthaka Chola was very fond of Sundara Chola right from the time he was born. Many astrologers too had predicted that through Sundara Chola and his heirs, the Chola Kingdom would attain unparalleled greatness and glories. That’s why he decreed that after the reign of your father, Sundara Chola and his heirs should succeed him and rule and kingdom. Your father explained all this and more to me while on his deathbed. He wanted Sundara Chola and his heirs to inherit the throne after him.

Your father didn’t covet the throne and nor did he wish to rule the Kingdom. He possessed a pure heart that dwelled constantly upon Lord Shiva. Though he ascended the throne and became the King, it was his brother Aringzha Chola and Sundara Chola who took care of the affairs of the Kingdom. He toured all through the Kingdom visiting Shiva temples and other holy places. He didn’t wish to marry or sire an heir and was content with his lot in life until he met me. Unfortunate that I am, your father happened to meet me at Mazhapadi and developed affection towards me. It was my good fortune to marry someone like him and I know not what good deeds I did in my past life to merit such a life partner. You are fortunate too, as you get to call him your father. In this world, there are very few people who are blessed with eyes to see the divine form of Lord Shiva. Therefore it is our duty to fulfil his last wishes…”

Prince Madhuranthakan who was listening to his mother intently until then was fuming with anger.

“Mother! My father didn’t tell me anything about this. How can it be my duty to fulfil his last wishes?”

“Child! Listen to me. When your father attained a seat in Kailasam, you were but a mere child. Therefore he entrusted me with the responsibility of fulfilling his last wishes. During the early years of our marriage we had decided not to sire a child but unfortunately I couldn’t uphold this resolution. The devotion that I felt towards Lord Shiva during my formative years had transformed into love towards your father. As days went past, I yearned for a child. When I saw other women with children I felt doomed and sad. I turned to Lord Shiva and ardently wished for a child and he fulfilled my wish. When my womb quickened I was thrilled and yet I was afraid that your father might be angry with me. He didn’t get angry but he did entrust a huge responsibility on my shoulders…

Child! I promised your father that I would bring you up away from the affairs of the state as a devotee of Lord Shiva. Until a few years ago, I thought that I had kept my promise..

My dear child! I have been hearing many accounts of how much you have changed and I want your assurance that you haven’t. I want to tell everyone that you are still mine own son. Will you give me this assurance? Will you heal my wounded heart with your sweet words?” begged the Dowager Queen.

“Mother! Why are you speaking so mysteriously? Who is telling you lies and falsehood about me? What kind of assurance do you expect from me?” lashed out Prince Madhuranthakan.

“My Child! Have you lost the ability to learn the deepest wishes of my heart? Alright then, I will tell you. Many tell me that your heart has strayed away from the path of righteousness that leads towards Lord Shiva and that you have fallen into the deepest pits of greed. They say that you wish to ascend the throne and rule this kingdom. Your enemies have corrupted your pure heart and have led you astray. I want your assurance that this isn’t so and that you are not interested in ruling this Kingdom. If I hear this from your own mouth I would be assured,”

Prince Madhuranthakan stood up abruptly in anger and started shouting.

“My heart was not corrupted by my enemies. The people whom you call as my enemies are those who wish to see me ascend the throne that rightfully belongs to me. Are they my enemies? Those are the people who are ready to pledge their life and sword to my services. Do you think they are my enemies? No. My one true enemy is you, who gave birth to me…”

In his anger, the Prince forgot the courtesy and the respect that was due to his mother. He also forgot Chinna Pazhuvetarayar’s advice asking him to speak sweetly to his mother and change her mind gradually.

“Yes. You are my enemy. What kind of a mother are you? Are you even a woman? I have seen women all around the world fighting for the rights of their son. I have heard of such woman in stories, myths and mythologies but I have seen none like you. Your actions and words are not like the women of this world. Are you a woman or a demon from the nether world? What harm did I cause you? Why do you act against me thus? Why do you wish to snatch a Kingdom that rightfully belongs to me and give it to somebody else? You take my father’s name… and say that it’s his wish but I do not believe you. You say that someone has corrupted my mind but I think that it’s your mind that has been meddled with by someone who wishes to turn mother against the son. Listen to me! I will not give up my rights to this kingdom not even to keep you or my dead father happy. The Chola Kingdom is mine, by rights. The ancient throne of Cholas is where I belong. The golden crown of King Karikala Peruvellathan belongs to me and I will not give them up. Here is the rudraksha chain that you gave. I have been wearing this out of respect for you. It is this that has made the people of this kingdom laugh at me. You can keep this…”

After shouting at his mother madly the Prince attempted to remove the chain hurriedly but the chain became twisted and it became impossible to remove it.

Madhuranthakan was a very handsome man. Some might even call him ‘beautiful’ as he possessed more feminine grace and elegance in his form. However his anger and hatred towards his mother had deformed his features and his face became ugly and fearsome to look upon. Sembiyanmadevi who was truly taken aback by his tirade closed her eyes, as she couldn’t bear this transformation. She waited until he had shouted himself hoarse and then spoke to him softly.

“Child! Calm down! I might be a demon in disguise of a woman but I beg you to listen to my words,”

The Prince’s wrath and anger subsided a bit after hearing her soft entreat. He said, “Tell me…”

“A little while you spoke about the nature of a true mother who might be a demon to others but would never harm her own children. In the same manner, I too am trying to save you from harm. I do not want you to ascend the throne of this kingdom and not just because it was your father’s wish, there is yet another reason for this. I fear for your life Madhuranthaka. Won’t a mother want to see her only son alive and living? Is that a crime? Your wish to ascend the throne will instantly earn you enemies among those who support the claim of Prince Aditya Karikalan. Kariklan and his brother are seasoned warriors while you are not. The entire army of Chola Kingdom support Sundara Chola’s sons and they would never look to you as their leader. In such a situation, who would support your claim? Who would you trust? Can you wage a war against them with no one to support your rights? My Child! I see many ill omens all around me. Every night a comet is seen stretching its tail from one end of the sky to another. It is known that whenever a comet is seen on the sky death occurs in the royal family. What if this death comes for you? Wouldn’t a mother want her only son alive? What is more important – claim to a kingdom or life? Would you call me an unnatural mother just because I want my son alive?”

The queen’s words calmed the Prince’s heart a bit and he spoke to her calmly, “Mother! If only you had told me that this was your worry then I wouldn’t have spoken to you thus. I would have given you news that would have extinguished such worries. I am not without any support mother! Chola Kingdom’s most powerful noblemen support my claim and are ready to pledge their swords for my cause. Pazhuvur brothers, Kadambur Sambuverayar and many more back my claims. They have sworn a holy vow to help me ascend my rightful throne…”

“Child! I have no faith in these promises or holy vows. These very same people once pledged their word, honour and the strength of their armies to support Sundara Chola and his sons. When they were not true to their own king how can you expect them to be true to you? If you are depending upon the might of their armies then you must know that they command only a fraction of soldiers when compared to both the princes. The northern command is under Aditya Karikalan while the southern command is under Arul Mozhi…”

“Mother! The noblemen who support my cause are capable of raising huge armies at my behest,”

“Even if I were to agree to that child, what about the people of this kingdom? Don’t you know how popular Prince Karikalan and Arul Mozhi are with the masses? You might have seen today. If either of these princes had come to this city today, wouldn’t they have flocked to the roads to cheer them? Did they even spare a glance for you? Once before, you too commanded the same respect and love from this city but ever since you allied yourself with the Pazhuvur brothers, you have fallen out of grace…”

“Mother! Why are you so worried about people’s love? How is that going to affect me? The realm is mine and I will rule over them and whoever sits on the throne will demand respect from the people and it’s their duty to be devoted to the king,”

“Child! I can see that whoever has educated you about the affairs of the Kingdom has not taken the trouble to teach you many finer points of politics. A king who does not have the love of his subjects cannot rule over them for long…”

Just then they heard a roar of voices and confused babble of several hundred people from the gates of the palace. Worried, the dowager queen went near the window and saw a sea of people heading towards them.

“Child! Some calamity has befallen the Chola Kingdom. This is the first sign of things to come. I will go to the palace balcony to learn what is amiss with these people. Until then, I want you to stay inside.”

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Volume 1 - New Flood