Saturday, 2 July 2016

Chapter 25: Prime Minister Arrives

The city of Pazhaiarai was in turmoil that day. People converged from every corner of the city onto the street that housed all the royal palaces of Kings. Old men and women, children, girls, boys and soldiers everyone was out on the streets that day. Vaishanavaites, Shaivaites, Kalamugars forgot their inherent differences and stood shoulder to shoulder outside the palace demanding to know what happened to their dear prince.

Young men with sticks and sickles stood together banging their weapons angrily while many in the crowd urged them on saying, ‘You should bang the heads of Pazhuvur brothers thus’.

The royal palaces of Pazhaiarai were constructed in vast grounds to resemble the arc of a moon’s crescent. The courtyard in the front was extended and large. A large boundary wall screened the palaces from the public eyes. During festival days, the gates of the wall would remain open for the public to enter and watch the festivities and other days the gates remained shut. Today, however the guards at these gates tried to contain the crowds but they were unstoppable and they burst through the gates to come inside the palace courtyard. The throngs of crowd that entered the palace kept increasing every minute and the palace guards helplessly looked around trying to contain them. As the crowd kept increasing, people started pushing others from the behind and it soon looked as if a stampede was imminent. The cries of thousands of people filled the area and it was this uproar that Dowager Queen Sembiyanmadevi heard while she was speaking to her son Prince Madhuranthakan. The queen immediately bid the Prince to stay inside and stepped outside her chambers into the balcony to see what was happening.

The queen’s placid peaceful face brought a semblance of order among the unruly crowd below. They immediately stopped shouting and stood silently looking at her face and then one of the people from the crowd asked her, “Mother! Where is our Prince? What happened to Ponniyin Selvar? Where is our darling Arul Mozhi?” Following this, many others asked the same question and the uproar began again.

Sembiyanmadevi stood there dazed by their questions. She then knew that something untoward had happened to Arul Mozhi. Her heart was filled with dread and fear and she wondered whether the Pazhuvur brothers had a hand in it. If that were true then they have doomed her and her son to disgrace and infamy.

The royal messengers from Thanjavur now came forward with great difficulty and the guards who came along with them said, “Mother! These messengers have come from Thanjavur and they have brought very important news.”

Sembiyanmadevi appealed to the crowd to keep quiet and asked the messengers, “What news do you bring?”

“Mother! We are the bearers of very unfortunate news. Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar was on his way to Kodi Karai on the orders of Chakravarthy. His ship got stuck in the cyclonic storm that raged in the sea. One of the ships that came along with it broke into pieces due to the storm’s fury. The Prince jumped into the sea to save someone on the other ship and went missing in the sea. Arrangements have been made to search for the Prince all along the coast and in the sea. The Emperor and the Empress are distressed beyond words and they wish that you, Prince Madhuranthakan and Princess Kundavai come to Thanjavur immediately.”

Hearing this Sembiyanmadevi’s eyes was filled with tears and they started flowing copiously. Those who stood near the messengers cried out aloud and the crowd’s uproar started yet again. Those who didn’t hear the messenger’s news were distressed to see the old queen crying and knew that something catastrophic had occurred.

Many in the crowd started shouting then and one of them said, “Mother! You should not go to Thanjavur and nor should Princess Kundavai. The Chakravarthy must come here.”

Yet another shouted, “This news is false. Ponniyin Selvar didn’t drown in the sea. The Pazhuvur brothers have killed him in cold blood.”

“Prince Madhuranthakar should not go back to Thanjavur. He should stay here.”

Few others voices called out, “Where is Princess Kundavai? We wish to see her.”

Hearing this, Sembiyanmadevi bid one of her handmaidens to inform the Princess requesting her to come there. Azhwarkadiyan who was standing in front of the crowd heard this and left the place silently to bring Kundavai. When he entered Kundavai’s garden he found them trying to revive Vanathi who had regained consciousness just as he entered. He informed the Princess about the thronging crowds and their demands. Kundavai entrusted the care of Vanathi to her maidservants and left the palace hurriedly.

Princess Kundavai and Queen Sembiyanmadevi
She went to Sembiyanmadevi’s palace and joined the Dowager Queen in the balcony. The queen’s tears and worry lined face brought tears to the Princess’s eyes. This caused more distress to the crowd who saw this as proof that their Prince was indeed dead.

They shouted, “Ponniyin Selvar didn’t drown in the sea. The Pazhuvur brothers have killed him. We must seek vengeance for their vile act.”

Many others shouted, “They have imprisoned the Emperor in his palace. If the Princess would allow us we will go to Thanjavur and free him from their clutches.”

Kundavai was faced with a dilemma. She didn’t want to reveal to the crowd that Prince Arul Mozhi was alive and safe and yet she needed to somehow placate the crowd and send them back home. She could think of only one idea to get this done and she decided to use it.

Wiping the tears off her eyes, Princess looked down at the courtyard. Azhwarkadiyan and Vandiya Devan were standing in the forefront of the crowd. She signalled them to come upstairs and when Azhwarkadiyan came she whispered something to him.

Azhwarkadiyan stepped forward to the courtyard and signalled for silence and then with a booming voice he said, “Princess Kundavai does not believe that Ponniyin Selvar is dead at the sea. Years ago, Mother Kaveri saved his life and gave him back as a gift and she believes that the God of Sea too would save the Prince’s life and give him back to us. She consulted the Soothsayer and he too says the same thing. The Princess has therefore decided that she would make proper arrangements to search for the Prince. She requests you all to go back home now.”

After hearing this, the crowds cheered wildly and one of them said, “Where is this Soothsayer? We would like to hear this good news from him.”

Hearing this Vandiya Devan stepped forward and said, “It is true that the Prince was in grave danger but the stars foretell that his life is safe. He will be back among us soon.”

Someone from the crowd asked, “How do you know?”

“I am a Soothsayer. I studied the planets and stars and learned about the Prince’s fate.”

“Lies! You are lying. You are not the Soothsayer. You are spy.”

Startled Vandiya Devan looked down the crowd and found that the voice belonged to Pazhaiarai Physician’s son.

“Fool! How dare you call me a spy? Whose spy am I then?”

“You are the spy of Pazhuvur brothers or Pazhuvur Elaya Rani.”

“What did you say?” growled Vandiya Devan.

The balcony where they were standing was at least 12 feet in height and yet that didn’t deter Vandiya Devan from pouncing on the Physician’s son and soon the two were engaged in a fistfight while the rest of the crowd looked on.

Kundavai and the others watched this with trepidation from the balcony and the crowd started shouting yet again.

Just then, they heard the blaring of couches and pipes was heard and a herald announced the arrival. “Make way for Prime Minister Anirudha Brahmarayar” and the crowd parted automatically.

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