Saturday, 28 January 2017

Chapter 2 – Grandsire and Grandson

The chariot stopped and Thirukovallur Malaimaan who was seated on it, said, “Child! Karikala! I wish to take your leave here and travel to Thirukovallur. Before I leave, I wish to speak to you about a few things. Will you sit with me for a while, under that tree.”

“Alright, Thatha!”

The Prince and his Grandsire then walked towards the tree and sat under it. 

Watching them, Parthibendran looked at Kandanmaran and said, “Thank the Gods! I was worried that the old man would come with us all the way to Kadambur Palace.”

“If he had, I would have drowned him in the floods of Kollidam River.”

Both men then laughed, mighty pleased with their own humour.

In the meanwhile, Thirukovallur Malaimaan looked at his grandson and said, “Aditha! You were born on this day 24 years ago in Thirukovallur in my own palace. I remember the festivities that we had then like it happened yesterday. Many noblemen of your clan, my clan and that of Thondai Mandalam had gathered there to celebrate the birth of the royal heir. Along with all these noblemen, over 30,000 soldiers had come along as an entourage. The festive gaiety that followed your birth can’t be described in one day. Even your father’s coronation paled in comparison to the celebration that we had after you were born. Whatever treasure my ancestors had hoarded in over hundred years was spent on that one single day!

Did you know, your great grandfather Paranthaka came to Thirukovallur along with the King Gandarathidhar and your father? You can’t imagine their happiness when they learned that a male heir has been born to the royal dynasty. Your great grandfather’s sons died without siring an heir and of all the sons only Aringzha Chola had a child, your father. He was the most handsome prince to be born in your family. Poor man! He was subjected to much and many inconveniences because of that. When he was young, the palace womenfolk enjoyed dressing him up as a woman and engaged in games about how beautiful he would be, if only he was a woman! When he grew up, scores and scores of noblemen fell over their feet trying to offer their daughters’ hand in marriage to him. He was ripe for plucking indeed! He was not only handsome but also the heir to the Chola throne. I was fortunate when he accepted my daughter’s hand in marriage and he became my son-in-law.

Our clan is well known for bravery and not for beauty, be it men or women. We consider battle scars to be symbols of beauty among the men and for women virtue, honour and duty are the qualities that make them truly beautiful. When it was decided that Sundara Chola would wed my daughter, the people of my kingdom rejoiced and I became the object of envy among the other noblemen who had been vying for the Emperor’s hand in marriage. I didn’t let it bother me. Their marriage was solemnised in Thanjavur and the celebrations that followed were in accordance to royal nuptials in any kingdom, yet they can’t be compared to the celebrations that followed your birth. There arose a huge argument about what name you should bear. Some of your relatives wanted you named after the most famous king born in your clan – Karikala Valavan while I wanted you to be named after your grandfather Rajadhithar. Finally, we named you Adithya Karikalan and satisfied the wishes of all concerned.

There! Adhitha! Do you see the temple tower of Thirunavalur Temple? That’s where Sundaramurthy Nayanaar was born. That’s where your grandfather Prince Rajadhithar had camped when he went on to fight his last war. I have seen many warriors in my life and have heard of much more in stories, legends and myths but I am yet to meet another man who can compare with Rajadhithar’s might and skill. Those of us, who were fortunate enough to fight along with him, will attest to that.
Thirunavalur Temple Today
Image courtesy:

Rajadhithar had camped here to invade north. He wanted to conquer Eratai Mandalam and defeat King Kannara Devan. Centuries ago, Narasimha Pallavar destroyed Vatapi and the Chalukya stronghold along with it, Rajadhithar wished to do something similar and win a glorious name for himself. To amass an army for invasion is no mean feat. It took Narasimha Pallavar seven long years to build an army and hoard the supplies needed for the same but Rajadhithar accomplished it within four years. He built an army, trained them in the art of war and established barracks for them here.

Adhitha! You were not fortunate enough to see the sights that I had seen when Prince Rajadhithan had camped here. Those of us, who saw it, will never forget it. Rajadhithar stayed at Thirukovaloor with 30,000 soldiers and the Chera King Vellan Kumaran came there with 20,000 soldiers. Your grandfather Aringzhan was also with me at Thiruvkovaloor and he was helping me train 50,000 soldiers. Many noble clans including Kodumbaloor Vellar, Kadambur Sambuverayar and these pesky Pazhuvetrayars too had come and camped near the banks of this river. The Prince used to organize mock battles among us to train the soldiers. Elephants, horses and foot soldiers bearing blunt weapons would test their battle readiness in many games. 

The people Thirumunaipadi were very good. They hosted a vast garrison of soldiers in their midst and yet didn’t complain. Farmers hereabouts couldn’t sow grains and harvest their fields because of the war preparation yet they didn’t complain and rendered all help that was possible to the army. The Prince felt indebted to them and that’s why he commissioned his soldiers to help them by building many dams and reservoirs to help them. The dam that he built at Veeranarayanapuram is a fine example of how much he cared for the people. Kadambur Sambuvereyan too benefited a lot from that dam. I have seen him bowing low and eloquently thanking the Prince for his great work. Look at him today… his rise to power has been swift indeed.”

Adithya Karikalan then interjected and said, “Thatha! Who cares about Sambuvereyan and his power? Tell me about the Thakollam war. When did the army leave these banks? Despite the many preparations and training that was given to our soldiers, how did we lose this war? How did we lose Prince Rajadhithan? You fought along with them, didn’t you? Only you can tell me what happened there.”

“Yes. I will tell you about it.”

“Rajadhithar had gathered vast armies here to invade the north but due to various reasons, he couldn’t start the invasion. A war erupted again in Elangai and the Prince had to send one portion of his army there. The Emperor didn’t allow the army to proceed towards the north, especially when Elangai was up in arms again. He didn’t want his army generals and commanders to march up north to invade when one part of his kingdom was in trouble. He asked the Prince to wait until the war in Elangai had a successful conclusion before starting on the invasion plans. The Prince acceded to his father’s wise request and waited patiently. In the meanwhile, the Erattai Mandalam King Kannara Devan too was gathering an army to counter the massive forces that Rajadhithar had amassed. When the Ganga King Boothakan joined his forces with Kannara Devan, they started proceeding towards our Kingdom. Their armies came towards us like a sea that has broken bounds to engulf the land. Our spies came rushing to us with much and more information about the army that was coming towards us.

But the Emperor was unfazed by the approaching danger. He felt that it was a good thing that the enemy was marching towards us. His reasoning was sound. Instead of us marching towards the enemy kingdom along with fatigued soldiers and burdened with food and water supplies, wouldn’t it be better for us to wait for the enemy to come to us where we can have the upper hand? It was only after the enemy forces came near Venkatam that the Emperor ordered our army to start.

But the Prince didn’t wait for the Emperor’s approval. He led his army to meet the invading enemy with three lakh foot soldiers, 50,000 horse soldiers, 16,000 war elephants, two thousand chariot warriors, 350 generals and 32 kings. I was fortunate to be one among the kings who was led by this prince but I was also unfortunate to be one among the survivors. 

After marching for three days, we met the enemy forces at Thakollam. In myths and legends, we have heard of great wars that have been fought between Indra and Virata. Who can forget the Great War that Rama and Ravana fought on the last day? And Mahabharata is full of such battles and wars between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. After seeing the gory battle that happened in Thakkollam, I don’t have to imagine how these legendary battles might have been fought. The enemy forces had twice the size of our army. They had five lakh foot soldiers and 30,000 war elephants but we faced them undaunted because we had a huge advantage that none of their superior numbers could match. We had Prince Rajadhithar and that made all the difference. That’s why the Goddess of war favoured us right from the beginning.

For ten days, the war went on. It was impossible to count the dead on both the sides. I can still see the pile of dead elephants looking like a small mountain in the battlefield. Though both the sides suffered huge losses, the enemy forces had weakened to a larger degree. They were in awe of Prince Rajadhithar’s skill in battle and war tactics and knew that until he led our forces, a Chola victory was imminent. Whenever our soldiers became exhausted, he would take his elephant there and when they saw the Prince, their exhaustion vanished and they fought with great vigour. Our enemies noted all this and soon they knew that unless they brought down the Prince, they stood no chance. They came up with a treacherous plan of which we were totally unaware. It was the Ganga King who planned and executed it. 

In the thick of the battle, Ganga King Boodhakan approached Prince Rajadhithan screaming for mercy and with a hoisted peace flag on his elephant. The Prince who first thought that it was the Eratai Mandala King who was calling for the peace, allowed this swine to approach him.

Boothakan came near Rajathidhan with his eyes streaming with tears and his hands folded in salutation and his head bowed low. The Prince felt sorry for the king so he coaxed his elephant to go near his. 

I wish that the Prince had remembered wise Valluvar’s words about the enemy who approaches with devious tears. But Rajadhithar had no such misgivings. He genuinely felt sorry for the king. When he neared the king, he asked him, ‘What news do you bear?’ and the Ganga King’s answer made the Prince squirm with revulsion. He said that since the armies of Erratai Mandalam were poised to be defeated, he wished to defect from the losing side and enter an alliance with the winning side. The Prince cursed the Ganga King’s decision with many harsh words.

He told Boothakan that he would never allow a cowardly worm like him to fight along with their brave forces and advised him to leave the battlefield along with his army. That’s when he did the unthinkable. He took the bow and arrow that he had readied way before the parley and shot a poisoned arrow at the Prince. The Prince fell down and confusion and chaos reigned for a while. No one around knew what exactly happened though most of them could hear the Prince asking the Ganga King to leave. Immediately after the Prince fell, the Ganga King too turned his elephant and fled the scene.
Prince Rajadhithar

Our army became disorganised after the fall of Rajadhithar. Commanders and Generals started fleeing with their battalions. I too was among the many Kings who fled the battlefield that day. And the enemy forces drove us like cattle herds as we tried to flee for our life. It was only after we came to this Kedilam River that we regained our senses. We took a stand again and stopped the enemy forces from advancing. I went to my mountain fort and brought a fresh army to attack the enemy. Many of their armies scattered and had captured many parts of these regions. It took me few years to get rid of them in the hereabouts. They still held the city of Kanchi and it was only three years ago, that you threw them out and captured it back.”

Adithya Karikalan interjected again and said, “Thatha, you have narrated this tale many times, yet I can’t help wanting to hear it again and again.”

“Child! Rajadhithar wanted to expand the Chola Kingdom all the way from Elangai to Ganga River but he died without fulfilling that dream. People say that you are the very embodiment of bravery, just like him and that only you have the capacity to fulfil Rajadhithar’s dream but I fear that you too might fall for treason. That’s why I narrated this sad tale of this brave Prince.”

Thatha! My grandfather died in war because of the enemy’s treasonous plans. Why would you remind me that now of all times? I am not going to a war. I am going to meet my father’s noble friends. Why would they harm me in any way?”

Karikala! You should never fear the enemy who stands before you with his sword unsheathed but it is the friends who extend one hand in greeting while hiding a sword in his back that you should fear. You are going amidst friends who are in truth your enemies. They are calling you there with many false reasons saying that they wish to stop a civil war in the Kingdom. They want to foist one of Sambuverayar’s daughter on your head but I still can’t fathom the real reason as to why you were invited there. Noble families and Kings will fall over their feet to give their daughters’ hand in marriage to you and you really don’t need to marry this girl anyway. I also heard that they wish to divide the kingdom and give one-half to you and the other half to your uncle. But something doesn’t seem right here and I fear there is some treason at work. That’s why I am going to Thirukovallur to bring my army. I will garrison it near the banks of Kollidam. While you are at Kadambur Palace, if you scent even a hint of danger, I want you to send word to me.”

It took some while for the old man to see that the Prince was not paying any attention to his words. He was instead looking at something and pointed it to his grandfather, “Thatha! Look at that.”

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Chapter 1 – Banks of Kedilam

Kedilam is one of the rivers that made the Kingdom of Thirumunaipadi fertile and green. Along the banks of this river is a Shiva Temple much celebrated by Appar Perumal. Further down this river is yet another temple of Lord Shiva where Sundaramurthy Nayar had composed many of his poems in Thirunuyavalur. Situated betwixt these two places lay the king’s road that led one from Thondai Mandalam to the Chola Kingdom. The banks of Kedilam were always busy thanks to the many pilgrims who bathed in the river before visiting the temples. 

That year in the month of Aipasi (October to November) there were many people gathered near the banks of the river and the flow of the water too was very high. Drowning the sounds that these pilgrims made, yet another noise was heard on the King’s road. Startled by the noise, many went up trees to see what was happening. At first, they could only see the dust of the road rising up and soon they could see an entourage of elephants, horses, royal chariots and palanquins, royal heralds, flag holders, drum beaters marched at the head of the procession.

The clear voice of the herald soon cleared the people’s doubt about who was approaching. 

“A Warrior born and bred on the battlefield! A Prince who became a seasoned warrior at the tender age of 12 years! The lion from whose shadow the Rashtrakutas flee! Noble Lord of Erattai Mandalam! The Crown Prince of Chola Empire! The Eldest Son of Emperor Sundara Chola! Prince Aditya Karikalar arrives!”

The thunderous voice of the herald caused a busy flurry of activity at the banks of the river. Those who were half way across the river came back to the banks to watch and cheer for the Prince. Those who were bathing hurriedly dried and dressed themselves to watch and gawk at the royalty who would soon arrive.

After the herald and the flag holders there came three warhorses bearing three warriors. Even when they were at a distance, people pointed towards and started talking.

“You see the one in the middle, that is Aditya Karikalar. Don’t you see the golden crown that he is wearing? See how it glows in the sun!”

“This crown is not as glorious as Karikala Valavan’s crown. You should see that. They say that it glows with the radiance of over thousands of suns.”

“The one that you are referring is not the crown of Karikala Valavan. Though they call it the same, for tradition’s sake, it was made during the time of Parthaka Chakravarthy. That’s the crown that was given to Sundara Cholar during his coronation. Though we don’t know how long he would wear it.”

“People have been saying that for a very long time… but the Emperor is still lingering.”

“I hope that he does. So long as he is alive, there won’t be any confusion or chaos in the Kingdom.”

“That too is not certain. Ever since the news about Ponniyin Selvar came, the entire Kingdom is troubled. Who knows when there will be a civil war?”

“Who is going to fight whom?”

“They are expecting a fight to erupt between the Kodumbalur clan and the Pazhuvur clan. To avoid this, they have organised for peace talks at Kadambur Sambuverayar’s palace. Aditya Karikalar is also on his way there.”

“The horses are coming near, talk softly…”

As the horses neared them by, they said, “Why is Prince Aditya Karikalar looking so grim and upset?”

“Isn’t it natural? His brother is lost in the sea and no one has any news about him. Everyone knows how much he loved his brother and his father has become invalid.”

“That’s not the reason why the Prince is looking grim. He is upset because his plans of invasion against the Eratai Mandalam have been foiled.” 

“Who foiled his plans?

“Who else but he Pazhuvur brothers. I heard that they refused to give the Prince the supplies that are needed for an invasion.”

“You people don’t know the real truth, that’s why you are carrying on with such lies. The real reason as to why the Prince is upset is not known to one and all…”

“Really! So it is you who knows everything. Why don’t you tell us then?”

“I have heard that the Prince was in love with some woman from the Pandya Kingdom. When the Prince was battling with the Pandya army, Periya Pazhuvetarayar swooped in and married that woman. Now she has become the Pazhuvur Queen and is literally ruling over the Kingdom. Ever since the Prince heard about this, I have heard that he has lost his mental balance.”

“It’s possible… Our elders say that women are the sole reason for most wars.”

“Who are these elders who say such absurd things? This is sheer madness and I haven’t heard a more malicious lie than what you told. So what if the Prince had loved a woman? What possessed her to go and marry an old man instead? I can’t believe that people are peddling such lies…”

“If that is so, then why the Prince still unmarried? Tell us if you know everything.”

“Be quiet! The horses are coming closer. The one on the right side of the Prince is Parthibendra Pallavan. Who is the warrior on the left? Is it Vallavareyan Vandiya Devan?”

“No! No! It is Kadan Maran, noble Sambuverayar’s son. Instead of sending a message, Sambuverayar sent his son instead to invite the Prince to Kadambur Palace.”

“That itself shows that something important is going to be decided at Kadambur Palace.”

“They probably want to decide who would succeed the throne next. And until Karikalan is unmarried and single, all these noblemen will try to get him as their groom. He is the heir apparent and the crown prince after all. And the woman who marries him first will become the queen!”

Such were the conversation and conjectures that the people debated upon. The three horses went all the way to the banks of the river and stopped. Aditya Karikalan got down and went towards the chariot that had followed them behind.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Ponni’s Beloved – The Story so far…

In the 10th Century AD the glorious Cholas ruled over the land of Tamil Nadu with Emperor Sundara Chola on the throne. Sundara Chola was bedridden with paralysis and there was confusion all over the Kingdom about who would ascend the throne next. The Emperor had two sons and one daughter. The eldest Aditya Karikalan was anointed the Crown Prince of the Kingdom but his uncle Madhuranthakan (whose father ruled prior to Sundara Chola) also wished to ascend the throne as well.

The story begins when Aditya Karikalan sent his trusted bodyguard and friend Vandiya Devan with two messages for his father, the Emperor and the other for his sister Princess Kundavai. Vandiya Devan learns at Kadambur that all the important noblemen of the court led by the Pazhuvur brothers are hatching a conspiracy to crown Prince Madhuranthakan as the next Emperor.

While on his journey, Vandiya Devan also meets a fat Vaishnavan Azhwarkadiyan Nambi (also known as Thirumalai) who wants to meet with Periya Pazhuvetarayar’s wife who was once his sister. Vandiya Devan uses his name to meet with Nandini and she gives him a signet ring.

Nambi in the meanwhile finds out that a gang of Pandya bodyguards is hatching a murderous plan to kill Prince Aditya Karikalan who had beheaded their King and they were being aided with gold right from the treasury of the Cholas by Nandini.

Vandiya Devan goes to Thanjavur and successfully delivers his messages to the King in private. Chinna Pazhuvetarayar suspects his intentions and tries to imprison him. He escapes from the soldiers and ends up in Nandini’s palace where she tries her best to allure him with her seductive beauty. He escapes from the fort through the underground passage and saves Kandan Maran’s life.

He meets Princess Kundavai with the help of Isana Shiva Battar and learns that she is the same woman whom he had fallen in love with at Kudanthai. She then sends a message to Arul Mozhi Varman, her younger brother who is warring in Elangai to come back as soon as possible and hands it over to Vandiya Devan.

Vandiya Devan goes to Kodi Karai and with the help of Poonguzhali, the boat girl, he goes to Elangai.

In Kanchipuram, Aditya Karikalan’s grandsire advises him to bring his brother Arul Mozhi back from Elangai. His friend Parthibendran agrees to go to Elangai and before he left, Karikalan reveals how much he loved Nandini and how she had betrayed him by trying to save the life of Pandya King and then subsequently marrying the old man Periya Pazhuvetarayar.

Kundavai arrives in Thanjavur and her father confesses to her that he had once loved a deaf and mute woman in Elangai who later committed suicide by jumping from the lighthouse. The emperor believes that he sees her ghost in the night but Kundavai suspects that Nandini is acting like her mother to learn the truth of her birth.  She also learns that Nandini could be her own sister!

In Elangai, Vandiya Devan meet with Nambi again and they both set out to meet Prince Arul Mozhi and they successfully give him the messages. They also meet a deaf and mute woman who loves the Prince as her own son and saves his life many times. Vandiya Devan is astonished by her resemblance to Nandini and suspects that she might be her mother.

They also receive news that the Emperor has sent two ships to imprison the Prince on the charge that he tried to grab the throne of Elangai for his own from the boat girl Poonguzhali. The Prince leaves his companions and friends along with Poonguzhali to meet the ships. Vandiya Devan gets caught by a pirate ship and the Arabs imprison him. The Prince finds out that the ships that were to imprison him were destroyed by the Arabs. He sets out in Parthibendran’s ship to rescue Vandiya Devan. In the midst of a fierce storm Vandiya Devan kills the Arab pirates with the help of the Pandya gang who later abandon him alone in it. The Prince rescues him and later Poonguzhali rescues them both.

The Prince contracts shivering fever and is incoherent. Vandiya Devan and Poonguzhali take him along with Senthan Amuthan to Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam to treat his fever. In the meanwhile, Periya Pazhuvetarayar and Nandini who are at Kodi Karai learn that the Prince is lost in sea. Parthibendran falls for the seductive allure of Nandini and is enamoured by her.

Vandiya Devan travels to Pazhaiarai to give Kundavai the news that the Prince has arrive and is safe though the rest of the Kingdom thinks that he is dead. There are riots in Pazhaiarai when the news spreads. Kundavai meets with Vandiya Devan and then sends him to Kanchi with a message for her brother asking him not to meet with Nandini. Nandini had sent him a message with Kandan Maran asking him to meet at Kadambur and Kundavai feared that it was a trap to kill him.

Vandiya Devan and Nambi set out again to Kanchi. Kundavai meets Prince Arul Mozhi and asks him to wait in the Viharam for some time.

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Volume 1 - New Flood