The boat sped through the narrow canal that had thick vegetation shielding them from prying eyes on both the sides of the bank. The place where Poonguzhali pointed out was an isolated corner with the statue of huge Nandi (the divine bull who guards Lord Shiva) that had obviously given the place its name ‘Nandi Mandapam’. The Mandapam was used by the Shiva Temple at Nagapattinam where once a year, Lord Shiva and his consort Devi Parvathi were brought there to give darshan to their devotees. During this annual festival, scores of people would visit the Nandi Mandapam and spend the entire day on the banks of the canal. Since it was near the outskirts of the town, not many people ventured out there on other days.
As the boat neared the mandapam, the Prince saw the women who were waiting for him and after that, he didn’t look anywhere else. When the boat stopped near the banks of the mandapam, Princess Kundavai, came down the steps to receive her brother. Vanathi stood behind the pillar of the mandapam, watching him with anxious eyes.
Senthan Amuthan and Kundavai, helped the Prince to get down from the boat. After he got down, Senthan Amuthan and Poonguzhali took the boat around the Mandapam and waited for him to return.
“Thambi! You have become so frail and lean!” cried Kundavai her voice was laced with sorrow while tears threatened to escape her eyes.
Ponniyin Selvan said, “Forget about my health, why is your face so gaunt and drawn? Why are you looking so worried? I know that many things have occurred that has pained your heart, that’s why you sent me that Olai summoning me immediately back home.”
“Yes. There are many things for us to discuss and talk. Come here… the prince who refused the golden throne of Elangai, sit beside me on this stone seat.”
Ponniyin Selvan bent down and sought the blessings of his sister instead. Kundavai lifted him up and breathed the scent of his hair, while tears streamed from her eyes.
After they sat, Kundavai said, “Thambi, I shouldn’t have summoned you here today. The head of Choodamani Viharam told me that you have recovered from the shivering fever but I can see that you have not. I couldn’t sit quietly after I came here, I had to see you.”
“Akka! Don’t fret. If you had not summoned me here and sent the boat, I might have started for Pazhaiarai. Even when I was suffering from the fever, all that I could think of was your message, asking me to return home. And the messenger, who brought your Olai, let me tell you, I haven’t seen a more valorous warrior than Vandiya Devar. I tested him in many ways but he passed them all… where is he?”
Kundavai’s face lit up when the Prince spoke of Vandiya Devan and she smiled when she said, “Thambi! Don’t we have many other things to discuss? Why are you worried about him?”
“Why do you talk thus? Has he courted your displeasure in some way?”
“No! No! Why would I be displeased? He promised me to bring you back home and he kept it…”
“And the tricks that he employed to achieve his ends… My God! I can’t describe them enough. Where is he Akka? When I heard that you have come here, I thought he would have escorted you? Instead, you brought this faint-hearted princess who swoons all the time.”
“Thambi! You don’t know how brave my friend has become in the time you have been away. Yesterday, our Prime Minister’s elephant wrapped her in its trunk and threw her. She didn’t know that I would catch her atop the elephant. You should have seen how brave she was when she faced the Prime Minister…”
“Enough with your friend’s praise… give me news about my friend.”
“What’s there to tell about him? He has accomplished his mission successfully and has now gone back to our brother Aditya Karikalan.”
“If that is so, then he has broken his word. He told me that he would not go back to Kanchi and that he would stay in the Chola Kingdom.”
“How is that possible? We who are living in the Chola Kingdom have no inkling of what our fate would be tomorrow? If you have so much love for him, then why don’t you speak to the Emperor and return his ancestral kingdom.”
“What will he do with that?”
“He will do whatever the rest of the noblemen in our father’s court do. You went ahead and rejected the throne of Elangai, do you think he too would reject it?”
The Prince smiled at his sister and said, “Akka, I rejected the throne of Elangai in the presence of witnesses and despite that I was accused of treason and soldiers and ships were sent to imprison me.”
“Thambi! If you had accepted the throne, no one would have dared to imprison you. You would have been an independent king who is beholden to no one.”
“Do you really think that I should have grabbed the throne, disrespecting the wishes of our father?”
“Ponniyin Selva! If you had accepted the throne of Elangai, our father would have been pleased. He would have divided the rest of the Kingdom between your brother and Madhuranthakan and would have achieved a measure of peace in his heart. Even now, efforts are being made to divide the kingdom. The north of Kollidam will be one-half of the Kingdom and south would be another. Father believes that if you come here, you would help with the division of land and wealth. Earlier when he had sent word, you didn’t heed them, that’s why he sent soldiers to imprison you this time. Father knows that you have refused the throne of Elangai.”
“I will never agree to divide the kingdom instead we can hand it over to our uncle intact.”
“If that is so, then you and the Prime Minister are of one mind in this matter.”
“Yes. Prime Minister agrees with me on this. His journey to Elangai was for the sole purpose of discussing this with me. Akka! Shall I tell you the real reason why I rejected the throne of Elangai?”
“Who would you tell, if not me?”
“Yes. I have no one else to share my innermost thoughts with. When I first went to Elangai, I thought it was a land of great wonders but it was only after I went there that I learned that it was a very small kingdom. If you have a horse, you can travel from the west coast to the east of this kingdom within a single day.”
“Thambi! Is the Chola Kingdom that big? Can’t someone journey through our lands within one day?”
“The Chola Kingdom is also very small and if someone were to offer me the throne, I would refuse to accept it. I blame those who divided this divine Tamizhnadu as Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdom. That’s why no matter how many brave courageous kings are born in this land, they did not achieve any measure of greatness. At the same time, look at the northern land, which was united under the rule of great kings like Chandragupta, Samudra Gupta, Harshavardanar… they were able to unite many kingdoms under one umbrella. Is there any king or emperor in the South who was able to do that? Only two kings of note have appeared in our history, Kanchi Pallava kings, Mahendra Varma and Narasimha Varma. Now even that dynasty has but disappeared. Akka! If ever I rule any kingdom, I will not be happy with a small tiny kingdom. I would want to rule a kingdom that is vast and large all the way from Elangai to the Ganga River in the North. I would like to conquer all the lands and island kingdoms that lie past Elangai and hoist our tiger flag there. That’s the kingdom that I want to carve…. What are you looking at? Do you think I have become mad?”
“No Arul Varma. I am happy that there is one more person just like me, who delights in building castles in the air. If you are mad, then I too am mad… and to a larger degree than you are. Do you know our grandfather King Paranthakar too had many dreams just like this? During his lifetime, none of these dreams came to pass, but I am convinced that I would see them become a reality during my lifetime. I know it in my bones that I would not die before seeing our kingdom spread out vast and large from Elangai to River Ganga. For a time, I had believed that our brother Aditya Karikalan would achieve this dream of mine, but now I have no such aspirations of him. Aditya Karikalan is a great warrior but he lacks self-control over his mind and heart. Such a person can never achieve great deeds but I still believe that you can fulfil my dreams. But if you too are unable to achieve this dream of mine, I will not be disappointed because I am sure your son would not fail me. I will cherish and nurture your son, as my own, right from the time he is born. I will shape him into a warrior that the world has never seen before and he will be the one who will fulfil all my dreams. I will tutor him and teach him about world politics and the art of ruling and he will be the greatest king that the world has ever seen.”
“Akka! Now I am sure, you are indeed madder than I am. I have no intention of getting married and you are sitting here and talking about the son that would be born to me. If your companions are dreaming of marrying me and ruling the kingdom beside me as the queen, then please ask them to forget such futile dreams, as it will never come to pass. That’s my final word on the subject.” Said Arul Mozhi Varmar and for a second he glanced pointedly at Vanathi who was listening to their conversation from behind the pillar.
Next, he glanced at the Nandi statue and said, “I have some news for you Akka. Though Elangai is a very small kingdom, the kings who ruled it was indeed great. They planned great things and accomplished them. You should see the Buddha stupas that they have built there… it almost touches the clouds. They have built Buddha Viharams that had thousand or two thousand rooms! I have seen mandapams that were built with 11,000 pillars! They wanted the people to know the extent of Buddha’s greatness and they showed that with the sheer size of his statue. You know, I have seen statues that are as tall as that coconut tree over there. Just look at this Nandi statue… so small. In Kailasham, the hoards of Lord Shiva trouble him incessantly and it is Nandi’s duty to control them. Would anybody build the divine bull Nandi as a tiny puny statue? Look there, Akka! The Nandi is growing right in front of me and it is hitting the roof of the mandapam. The hoards of Lord Shiva stand puny in front of him, wanting to meet their divine lord. If Nandi is so huge, how large would the statue of Lord Shiva be indeed, I wonder? We might have to build a mandapam that would be called as Southern Meru and its gopuram will touch the very clouds. Today, in our kingdom, all the temples that have been built so far are just large enough for Agastya Perumal. Their stature does not match the greatness of Lord Shiva by any measure. I do not want to rule this Kingdom, however, whoever rules it, I would request them to make me responsible for temple renovation work.”
“Thambi! I think we need to have a contest as to who is indeed mad here. The kingdom is under a great threat thanks to the conspiracies of the noblemen who act as though they are our friends. And if they were not enough, we have people who are waiting for the right chance to start a civil war. I have been seeing a dreadful dream for many nights now. A murderous sword of glistening steel flashes like a lightening and I know not on whom, it will fall. Either it will claim the flesh of someone dear to us or it will shatter this kingdom into pieces. We need to work together and avert this danger somehow.”
“Yes Akka, I was able to understand these dangers from what Vandiya Devan told me. You do know who poses the greatest danger to the Kingdom, don’t you?”
“You are referring to Pazhvur Queen Nandini Devi, aren’t you?”
“Yes Akka, I hope you do know who she really is?”
“From the details that Vandiya Devan told me, I was able to piece it together. That’s why I wanted to talk to you desperately.”