Thursday, 1 December 2016

Chapter 42: Fever Subsided

In the meanwhile, at Nagapatinam Choodamani Viharam, Prince Arul Mozhi Varman lay on a wooden cot in one of the chambers allotted for the head of the Viharam. He battled through three days of fever that soared higher and higher. For most part, he lay unconscious in sleep, induced by the fever during which the old Bikshu sat next to him monitoring his progress and fed him medicinal milk and water.

The Prince woke up sometimes from his fever and wondered incessantly where he was lying. He kept looking at a painting on the wall by which he lay and was fascinated by its details. There were Devas, Yakshas and Gandarvas in that painting playing many musical instruments. Some were present with a hand fan hilted in gold and some held gilded umbrellas. The others bore many coloured flowers placed on an ornamental plate in their hands. To the Prince’s fevered mind, this painting seemed so vivid that he thought that they were literally standing there in front of him. Whenever he woke up from his fevered dreams, he thought that he had indeed travelled to the heaven and that these Devas, Yakshas and Gandarvas were welcoming him to their world. He often wondered, how he had come to the heaven. His last memory of the living world was travelling on a boat through a beautiful canal steered by a handsome youth and a beautiful girl.

The handsome youth seemed to be utterly devoted to Lord Shiva because he sang many Devaram songs and hymns. The beautiful girl didn’t sing. She sat down silently listening to the youth singing and speaking but a few words. To the Prince, these few words seemed like the most beautiful melody that he had ever heard. Where did they go?

In the heavens, apart from the Devas, Yakshas and Gandharvas, there seemed to be a special place for Buddha Bikshus too! Maybe it is they who guard the ‘nectar of life’ in the heavens. He also noted that an old Bikshu came near him at varying intervals and fed him some nectar. Though the heaven seem to be fine and nice, the Prince suffered through unbearable thirst during his stay there.

Why is that old Bikshu being so stingy with nectar? Why can’t he give me more and slake my thirst?

Maybe one is not allowed to imbibe more than one’s share of nectar! Is this really nectar? Or could it be wine? No! No! Would a Buddha Bikshu willingly touch wine and why would they feed it to him? If that was not wine, then why am I feeling so sleepy? Why do I lose consciousness?

For three days, the Prince lingered between heavens and the black void of fevered unconsciousness. On the fourth day, the Prince woke up completely shaking off the dredges of unconsciousness that the fever had brought on. Though he felt weak and tired, he was fully conscious and aware of his surroundings. Now when he looked at the wall, he knew that it was just a painting where Devas, Yakshas and Gandharvas were welcoming Lord Buddha to the land of the heavens and not him. He saw the rest of the paintings in the room where Buddha was travelling through the skies to reach the heavens. He surmised that he was lying in a Buddha Viharam but couldn’t figure where?

He tried to remember everything that had happened since he left Elangai. He remembered the burning ship and the night that he spent with Vandiya Devan battling the sea waves. He didn’t remember much after that.

A young Bikshu came into the room holding a bowl. Ah! The bowl of nectar! The Prince took it from his hands and peered into it. It was not nectar. It was just milk probably with some medicine mixed into it. He looked back at the Bikshu and asked, “Swami! Where am I? Who are you? How long have I been here?”

The Bikshu didn’t reply instead he withdrew silently to the adjoining chamber and said, “Acharyarey! The fever has completely subsided and he is fully conscious now.”

Some time later, an old Bikshu entered the Prince’s chamber and checked on him. He stood near the cot and looked intently at the Prince’s face. He looked happy when he addressed him and said, “Ponniyin Selva! You are staying at Nagapatinam Choodamani Viharam. You came here three days ago in the grips of a shivering fever. We were fortunate enough to lend our roof and assistance to serve and protect you.”

“I think I am the one who was indeed fortunate. For many years, I have wanted to visit this Viharam. Once I came close to the shores of Nagapattinam but couldn’t come inside. Thankfully, I was lucky enough this time around, to stay here. Swami! Do you know how I came here? Who brought me?”

“My Prince! Please drink the bowl of medicine that you have in your hands and then I will tell you all the details that I know.”

The Prince drank the medicine and said, “Ayya! This is no medicine but nectar. You have nursed me through my fever and taken care of me with such dedication but I am not going to thank you for it…”

The old Bikshu smiled at the Prince and said, “Prince! There is no need to thank me. Our Lord Buddha has decreed that it is our prime duty to look after those, who are sick and maimed. There is nothing special about healing you. It was our duty. We are indebted to the Chola dynasty. Your father and the Emperor and your sister Princess Kundavai have done much and more for us. You have helped our brethren in Elangai by rebuilding our monasteries. What we have done doesn’t compare with what you and your family have given us.”

“Acharyarey! That’s not what I meant. I am aware of how deadly this shivering fever is. I have seen hundreds of mine own soldiers dying because of it. I should be dead by now and must be travelling to the heavens, being welcomed by Devas, Yakshas and Gandharvas who would bring me nectar and flowers and play divine music. Instead, I am sitting here, drinking medicine. You brought me back right from the doorstep of heaven to this world that is filled with sickness, sadness and heartache. That’s why I am not thankful to you…”

The old Bikshu’s face flushed with joy when he heard the Prince’s words.

“Ponniyin Selva! When it is time for you to go to the heavens the God of the heavens, Devendran himself would come down and to take you with him. But now is not the time for you to go to the heavens. There is much and more that you have to achieve before you could even think about leaving this world.”

The Prince who was until then sitting reclined on the cot, sat up after hearing the Bikshu’s words and said, “Acharyarey! You are right. There are many things that I wish to achieve before I leave this world. I want to rebuild this Choodamani Viharam and make it as imposing and grand as the many Viharams that I have seen in Elangai. I want to sculpt huge Buddha stupas and statues just like the ones in Elangai. I want to rebuild all the Shiva Temples in our Kingdom in stone. After seeing the huge statues of Buddha in Elangai, I feel ashamed by our own pitiful attempts at sculpting Gods, who are mightier than anything else in this world. I will build a huge temple for Lord Shiva in Thanjavur and its Gopuram would be stand out as a marvel of our architectural ingenuity and skill. In time, all the temple and Buddha Viharam will compete with each other in stature and size and it would be a glorious sight to see for our future generations…”

After speaking thus with passion, the Prince reclined again, tired and sore. The Old Bikshu held the Prince by his shoulders and slowly lowered him onto the cot and said, “My Prince! All your dreams and intentions will bear fruit in time but right now you need to regain your strength and health. Please take rest.”

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Volume 1 - New Flood