When Vandiya Devan entered Kudanthai Jodhidhar’s house for the second time, he experienced the pleasure of reliving his first glimpse at Kundavai. He remembered how her complexion pink and flushed and her eyes wide in surprise when she saw him barging him inside the house. He remembered her soft voice and cultured tone laughing…
Jodhidhar who was making preparations for the evening pooja greeted him happily.
“Welcome! Welcome! Vallavareyan Vandiya Devan you are most welcome!”
“Jodhidharey! Though your astrology is not very accurate your memory is sharp indeed!”
“One needs a sharp memory to learn astrology as we need to memorize the names of the planets, directions, bhukti, stars and their movements and many other minute details that rule our fate. Keeping this in mind we need to take into consideration the past, present and future before we can predict even a small thing. But why do say that my astrology is not very accurate? Didn’t my predictions come true?”
“Can’t you find that out in your astrology?”
“Of course I can but I would rather use my deduction skills to find out. My predictions about your future must have come true or else why did you seek me out again?”
“True! Very true! Your predictions did come true.”
“There! That is very gratifying to hear. Now tell me which prediction came true?”
“All of your predictions came true. You predicted that ‘your mission might become successful or not successful’ and that was very accurate.
“Thambi! You have a great sense of humour.”
“True but I am also quick tempered.”
“You need to leave your temper outside when you come into my house.”
“I would have done that but there was no one out there to guard it. What if someone makes off with my bag of temper? I didn’t see your disciple outside? Where is he? I still remember the way he barred my entry the last time I came here.”
“Today is Amavasya (Dark moon). He has gone to the banks of Kollidam.”
“What’s the connection between Amavasya and Kollidam river bank?”
“Today, a huge gathering of Kalamugar Saivaites are meeting near the banks of Kollidam. My disciple belongs to that sect.”
“I have been thinking for some time now. I want to turn myself into a Vaishnavaite like your friend Azhwarkadiyan Nambi.’
“I saw some Kalamugars while I was on the way here. They were all wearing garlands of skulls. I found it terribly repulsive. I would rather be a Vaishnavaite than hold skulls.”
“That’s surprising. You have fought in so many battles and wars, why do you fear skulls?”
“I do not fear them but I do find them distasteful. There is a difference in killing your foes in the battlefield and wearing their skulls as a garland.”
“Didn’t your master Aditya Karikalar behead Veera Pandyan and take it along with him in a victory procession?”
“He had sworn a holy oath to behead Veera Pandyan hence he did that. I know that he regretted his actions later but he never wore the head or the skull as a garland like these Kalamugars do. Why do they do it anyway?”
“They wear a garland of skulls to remind themselves that life is transient filled with momentary happiness and sadness. Do you know why we smear the holy ash on our body? It is to remind ourselves that we too would one day turn into ash.”
“I understand what you are saying. None of us here are immortal. One day we will be dead and gone and turn into ashes. But why does Lord Shiva hold a decimated head on his head. He is an eternal being, he can’t die?”
“The head that Lord Shiva holds denotes the pride of man. He carries it with him to remind us that if we win over pride then we will attain a state of pure bliss and happiness.”
“How could the head denote pride of the man? I don’t understand.”
“There are many things that you need to understand thambi! Let me tell you the story. Once Brahma and Vishnu taking pride in their prowess tried to establish supremacy over each other claiming that they were powerful than the other. Shiva interjected in this fight and became a long pillar of fire and asked Vishnu to find his feet and Brahma to find his head. Vishnu took the form of a wild boar and dug through the ground to find the feet while Brahma turned into a swan and flew high to find the head. Vishnu came back and said that the pillar of fire was endless and that he was unsuccessful while Brahma lied and said that he had seen the head. Enraged by his lie, Lord Shiva took for himself one of Brahma’s five heads and since then the lord of the creation is seen with only four heads.”
When the astrologer finished the narration, Vandiya Devan started laughing.
“Why are you laughing thambi?”
“If someone were to punish me in the same manner as Brahma then at the very least I will need ten thousand heads.”
“So you have told so many lies!”
“That’s right. I think there is something special about my horoscope. After meeting Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar I decided to speak only the truth. I trued to stay true to my resolution and uttered a very important truth at one point but no one believed it and who ever heard it laughed.”
“Thambi! Times are so bad these days. People find it difficult to distinguish lies from the truth.”
“Looks like even your astrology is fated to be false. Do you remember what you told me about Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar? Didn’t you compare him to the Dhruv Nakshatram (Pole Star)?”
“Yes I did. What of it?”
“Haven’t you heard about the rumours of his death?”
“How could I not hear? The entire kingdom is under turmoil.”
“So do you think the Dhruv Nakshatram drowned under the sea?”
“It cannot drown in the sea but it might be hidden beneath the clouds. Today if you look at the night sky you will see dark clouds and nary a star. If a star is hidden by the clouds it doesn’t mean that it has disappeared is it?”
“Is that so? Then do you know any news about Ponniyin Selvar?”
“How would I know that? You were the one who jumped into the sea along with him. If someone in this Kingdom knows about the Prince that would be you. I had thought to ask you about him.”
Sensing the dangerous turn of their conversation Vandiya Devan changed the subject.
“What of the comet? How is that faring?”
“You will find it extending from one end of the sky to another. Very soon it will disappear and god knows what calamity it will bring upon us. Our elders say that death is imminent in the royal family when the comet appears in the sky.”
Vandiya Devan’s mind ran through different possibilities from one location o another. King Sundara Chola paralyzed and weak lying on the bed to Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar in the grips of a deadly fever and Prince Aditya Karikalar who would soon meet Nandini in Kadambur Palace and Prince Madhuranthakar who had earned the disrespect of the subjects whom he wished to rule.
Whom will the comet strike dead?
“Never mind all that. Why should we discuss royal affairs? Tell me about my future?”
“Whatever I predicted earlier holds good even today. You will encounter many dangerous situations but you will also get unexpected help against your adversaries.”
Just then he heard a sound outside the hut and wondered whether it was impending danger or help. The astrologer and Vandiya Devan looked towards the door when Princess Vanathi and her companion entered the hut.
Vandiya Devan leapt to his feet and bowed respectfully and said, “Devi! I didn’t know that you were headed here. If I had known I wouldn’t have come here.”