Sunday, 18 December 2016

Chapter 43 – Nandi Mandapam


The next day, a younger Bikshu came to the Prince’s chamber. The Prince was awaiting the arrival of someone or anyone who could answer his questions but the Bikshu didn’t give him any answers. He listened to him patiently and said, “Ayya! Our Gurudeva will answer all your questions.”

The old Bhikshu finally came to the chambers and asked, “Prince, How are you feeling now?”

“Ayya! I am feeling so fine that my body is questioning my motives. It is asking, ‘why are you sitting quietly? Get up and run, mount a horse and race him or fight with an elephant! Don’t lie down like an invalid’. My appetite is voracious today. Whatever food the Bikshus gave me today, wasn’t enough by any measure. I can’t believe that I was unconscious and delirious with fever for three days! I feel as if I was never ill in the first place! Your medicines are very potent indeed!”

 “Ayya! You shouldn’t listen to the dictates of your body now. After the fever subsides, it is but natural for you wish so, but if you do so your body will weaken and god forbid if the fever strikes again, your life will be in danger.”

“Gurudeva! I am not worried about the dangers that I face in life.”

“You are not worried indeed but lakhs and lakhs of people who live in your Kingdom are out of their mind worrying about you. People are shedding tears and praying against hope for a miracle that would rescue you.”

“Ayya! I do not understand your meaning. Why are people so worried? Don’t they know that I am in excellent hands undergoing treatment here? Are they worried about my shivering fever?”

“My Prince! People don’t know that you were suffering from fever and nor do they know that you are living here. If they knew that, wouldn’t they assemble in front of the Viharam? I doubt if this Viharam can withstand such an assault! You should have seen the state of the people when the rumour spread that you were lost in the sea. Why… even I stood in front of the Viharam, mourning your death.”

Ponniyin Selvar sat up on the cot and said, “Gurudeva! I can’t understand what you are saying. Who brought this news to this town? When did it come? Who would spread such malicious lies?”

“Prince! I know not who brought the news but on that morning, everyone hereabouts had heard the rumour and was mourning your death. We heard that one of the ships that you were travelling was struck by lightening and had sunk and that you tried to save someone in that ship and were lost to the sea. We heard that Lord Treasurer Periya Pazhuvetarayar searched for you high and low along the coast and came back saying that you were lost to the sea. We at the Viharam too had heard this and were in deep mourning. That’s when one of my bhikkhus came to me with the news that someone had brought a patient in a boat through the canal that connects the Viharam. And that patient was you. Since then you have been here under my care.”

“Gurudeva! Do you know who brought me here?”

“A young man and a young woman.”

“Yes… I can remember them faintly. I thought it was all a dream. Do you know who they are? Is the young man Vallavareyan Vandiya Devan?”

“No Ayya! He called himself Senthan Amuthan. He looked like an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. I didn’t learn the young woman’s name. She seemed robust and courageous.”

“I can guess who that is. It must be the boat girl Poonguzhali, daughter of Tyaga Vida Karayar, the guardian of the lighthouse at Kodi Karai. Did they tell you why they brought me here?”

“No My Prince! I didn’t ask them about it.”

“Did you inform anyone about the fact that I am safe here?”

“No Ayya! The people who brought you here asked me not to inform anyone that you are safe here. When I saw your health condition, I too felt that it would be better not to inform anyone. You needed all the rest that you can get and if people knew that you were here, they would have razed the Viharam to the dust.”

“Gurudeva! Something is wrong. I came back from Elangai because my father, the Emperor had ordered me to be imprisoned for treason. On the way, many untoward incidents happened. I suspect that I have been brought here in secret just so that they can blame me later for not accepting my father’s commands. That’s why they have started these rumours that I am lost in the sea. Gurudeva! By giving me sanctuary here, you too have committed treason… I think you should send me away to Thanjavur immediately.”

“Prince! If by giving you sanctuary here, I have committed a royal treason, then I would happily accept any punishment for the same.”

“Ayya! I am grateful for these kinds words, yet I am surprised that you accepted me under your care, without interrogating the people who brought me here.”

“There was no need to ask anything of anyone, Prince. I am duty bound to serve all those who are sick, ill or maimed. Moreover, the last time I met your sister, Princess Kundavai had hinted that you might be staying here.”

“Is that so? Did my sister say that? When did she say this?”

“She said this, just a few days before you came to this. And the young man who brought you said the same.”

“Gurudeva! That young man and woman, did they leave immediately after they left me here? Is there any way I can meet them? I wish to speak to them.”

“Ayya! Don’t be impatient. Both of them are staying in this town and they come here every day to know the state of your health. Though, I don’t know why they haven’t come here still…”

Right at that moment, a young Bikshu came inside with a message for the old Bhikshu. The old Bhikshu nodded his head and said, “I will come there.” and exited the room. The Prince waited impatiently until the old Bhikshu came back in.

“Gurudeva! I do not wish to stay here, any longer. I don’t want to be known as the Prince who tried to escape his father’s commands. I don’t want any harm to befall this Viharam just because I have been given sanctuary here.”

The Bhikshu acceded to the Prince’s request and said, “In truth, we too do not wish to take on that responsibility and nor do we wish to stop you from leaving. You are free to leave right now. There is a boat waiting for at the canal.”

“To go where?”

“That’s for you to decide. The people who brought you here, have come with a boat to take you back.”

The Prince hesitated despite his wish to leave. A mysterious smile bloomed on the Bhikshu's face making him wonder what was actually happening around him.

“They have returned? Did they tell you why?”

“They did. At an hour’s journey through the canal, there is a place called Nandi Mandapam. They said that two women are waiting to meet you there.”

When Prince heard this, he immediately bounded out of the cot and said, “Gurudeva! Take me to the boat immediately!”

The Bhikshu took the Prince to the canal that was situated at the back of the Viharam. When Senthan Amuthan and Poonguzhali saw him walking on his own hale and hearty, their faces became animated with joy.

After the Prince got in the boat, the old Bhikshu folded his hand in salutation and said, “Ayya! We consider it our good fortune for helping you through this ordeal and our door is open to you all times. I wish that you come back here for another week so that you completely recover your health.”

“Gurudeva! I think that I will be coming back here or else, I wouldn’t leave this place without bidding farewell to the other bhikshus in the Viharam.”

When the boat started moving, the Prince looked at Senthan Amuthan and Poonguzhali and said, “When you last brought me through this canal, I thought that you were divine beings who were tasked to take to heaven. Instead, you tricked me and took me to a monastery of all places! I need to know what happened after you rescued Vandiya Devan and myself. But before that, tell me who is waiting at Nandi Mandapam?”

Though the Prince had asked the question to both of them, Poonguzhali maintained a studied silence and left Senthan Amuthan to answer him. When the Prince learned that Princess Kundavai and Vanathi had come to meet him, he said, “Why did my sister bring that faint-hearted girl who swoons at every turn?”

Senthan Amuthan then said, “Ayya! Something strange is happening to all the girls in our Kingdom. They wish to abandon the faith they are born in and join the faith of Buddha instead.”

“Who are saying thus?”

“I believe that Kodumbalur Princess has been saying so and so is my cousin here.”

“Just these two Amudha! I don’t think it would be a big loss if we lose these girls to the faith of Buddha. I know of many monasteries in Elangai where women live as Buddha Bikshunis. I can personally escort them to one of these monasteries if they so wish.” Said the Prince and laughed along with Senthan Amuthan.

Later, Senthan Amuthan related all that had happened ever since Poonguzhali rescued them in the middle of the sea. Ponniyin Selvan listened to him intently and compared the events with many of the memories that he remembered.

Finally, Poonguzhali pointed to some place in the middle of the canal and said, “There is Nandi Mandapam” and the Prince turned round to see where she was pointing.

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