Monday, 24 April 2017

Chapter 6 – Manimeghalai

Sambuverayar’s daughter and Kandanmaran’s sister Manimeghalai was an energetic and spirited girl by nature who was cherished and loved by her family. The palace of Kadambur was her own royal court where she ruled over everyone like a queen. For many years, life was a happy dream until four months ago… something changed. Her family started pressuring her to agree to something that her heart couldn’t accept. Her pleas fell on deaf ears and but they seemed determined to have their way.

For the past three years, her brother Kandanmaran had been talking incessantly about his friend Vallavareyan Vandiya Devan. His wit, quick thinking, fiery temper, skill with the sword and spear were the many things that Kandanmaran would dwell upon incessantly. He would describe Vandiya Devan to be as handsome as Manmathan, as brave as Arjuna and as intelligent as Lord Krishna himself. He would often end the conversation by saying that ‘Vandiya Devan is the right groom for you. He is the only one who can keep a girl like you under his thumb’. Manimeghalai loved to hear him tease her with his friend but she would fight with her brother nonetheless.

“You are so full of talk. Why don’t you bring him here one day? Let me see how clever he really is.”

“We will see…” Kandamaran would say.

Before Vandiya Devan came to their Palace, Manimeghalai has spent many days and hours, daydreaming about him. Sometimes she would speak about him to her friends and companions too. While this went on for some time, unexpectedly, her brother’s plan to wed her to Vandiya Devan changed a few months ago. 

He started telling her that Vandiya Devan was an orphan with nary a home or land to his name. ‘He has nothing to offer… forget about him.’ Instead, he started hinting that she has a chance to become the Empress of the Kingdom. One day, he told her quite bluntly that she would be married to Prince Madhuranthakan (who was already married to Chinna Pazhuvetarayar’s daughter). He also told that Prince Madhuranthakan would be next Emperor of the Kingdom and she had a chance to be his queen consort and their progeny the future kings of the Chola dynasty. Her parents agreed and assented to everything that Kandanmaran proposed.

Manimeghalai couldn’t imagine herself as an Empress or as anybody else’s wife other than Vandiya Devan. Her brother’s words about Vandiya Devan remained etched in her heart and she struggled hard to forget all about him as her family demanded. She was also not very impressed with what she had heard about Prince Madhuranthakan - a coward who had never set foot on a battlefield. His piety and his declaration that he would become a Sanyasi and renounce the world too was well-known. Many were surprised when he did a sudden turnabout and married Chinna Pazhuvetarayar’s daughter after his public declaration. All this and more had not endeared him to Manimeghalai and she was determined not to wed this cowardly prince. 

Later, she also heard a bit of news that strengthened her resolve. A few months ago, when Periya Pazhuvetarayar had come to their palace, they were told that his younger queen Nandini Devi too had come along. She never visited the Anthapuram and nor did she meet her mother and greet them. This breach of etiquette was not only surprising but also became a point of conversation among the womenfolk to ridicule Periya Pazhuvetarayar and his jealous nature. As days passed on, the truth was revealed. Nandini Devi had not come to their palace at all. It was Prince Madhuranthakan who was brought there in a veiled palanquin in Nandini’s stead. That sealed her decision.

“I will never wed someone who hides his cowardly face within the veils of a palanquin. Never!’

Ironically, the day Prince Madhuranthakan had come hiding in the veiled palanquin, Kandanmaran’s friend too had come there. He had come to the Anthapuram and was there for a very short while but Manimeghalai was overcome by shyness. She stood behind the rest of the womenfolk and looked at him with bashful eyes. She couldn’t look up and see him face to face. Yet his twinkling eyes, handsome face and open smile created an everlasting impression in her young heart. He embodied everything that she had ever dreamed in a man and the few words that he spoke remained in her memory for long.

Meeting Vandiya Devan in flesh and blood and finding him much more than her own daydreams strengthened Manimeghalai’s resolve of not marrying anybody else, especially a coward like Madhuranthakan. She fought endlessly with Kandanmaran and ridiculed his attempt to marry her to Madhuranthakan and swore on the Gods that she would never agree to his plans.

Kandanmaran felt vexed and frustrated with his sister. At first, he tried to pacify her with sweet words. Later, he tried to sway her mind by saying, ‘Vandiya Devan is a friend turned enemy. He stabbed me in the back and left me to die. If you marry him, I will not hesitate to kill both of you…”

Then he would show the gaping wound on his back and eloquently describe how Nandini Devi had nursed him back to health.

“If you really love me, you will forget all about Vandiya Devan.”

After Manimeghalai heard this she did indeed change her heart. She loved her brother and knew that it would be impossible for her to wed the man who had tried to kill him. She tried to forget Vandiya Devan, yet the man would creep into her dreams and give her sleepless nights.

The chirpy girl who used to skip around the palace with boundless energy and enthusiasm had become a shadow of her old self. The old womenfolk in the palace hinted that this transformation was because she had become old enough to be married. Her companions and handmaidens teased her often and tried to cheer her up but in vain.

Though for the past few days, she was almost her old self because she had reason to believe that her parents and her brother had changed their mind about marrying her to Prince Madhuranthakan. She also learned that they had decided to get her married to the Crown Prince, Aditya Karikalan.

Next, to Prince Madhuranthakan, Aditya Karikalan was almost a giant in the people’s opinion. His bravery the glorious victories on the battlefield were well known to all. Added to that he was the Crown Prince of the Chola Kingdom, the heir apparent of a dynasty that was celebrated for its glorious legacy. 

Kings far and wide would happily give away the hands of their daughters to this Prince, wouldn’t they? 

Yet the Prince had shied away from marriage for various reasons so long. When she heard rumours that her parents were considering offering her hand in marriage to the Crown Prince she was excited and relieved.

When she learned that their palace would be used as a seat of power to broker peace between Aditya Karikalan and the Pazhuvur clan, she almost became her old self and was excited to play the hostess to such esteemed guests. When she learned that Periya Pazhuvetarayar would be bringing along his queen (and this time for real), her curiosity knew no bounds. She knew that Nandini Devi was instrumental in saving her brother’s life. Kandanmaran’s new-found eloquence about Nandini’s beauty, grace and intelligence made Manimeghalai all the more curious to meet her. She also knew that Nandini was responsible for the peace talks that were to happen soon and that it was her idea to wed her to the Crown Prince. Kandanmaran wanted his sister to become Nandini’s companion and friend during their visit at the palace and learn courtly behaviour and etiquette from her. Manimeghalai had no objections to this scheme. That was another reason for her enthusiasm.

The past week saw her overseeing the arrangements for the guest rooms. She stayed up late checking the palace wing that has been allocated to the Prince and his entourage and the Pazhuvur clan. Most importantly, she would often visit the chambers that have been made ready for the Pazhuvur queen to ensure it didn’t lack in material comforts. Her scrutiny vexed her servants and handmaidens who were made to clean and decorate the rooms again and again.

She also scrutinised the chambers that were allocated for the Crown Prince.

Someone called Parthibendra Pallavan was also accompanying the Prince it seems. God knows who that is? These days, one can’t be sure when someone will change. That Vandiya Devan too was once a part of Aditya Karikalan’s entourage. If only he didn’t turn out to be such a traitor, he too could have come here along with the Crown Prince.

Thus ran her thoughts and though she tried to keep herself engaged with the novelty of playing the hostess, she couldn’t forget her brother’s friend.

Periya Pazhuvetarayar and his queen were expected to arrive that night, therefore, late in the evening, Manimeghalai found herself back in the guest wing scrutinising the servants as they made things ready. As she walked through the chamber, she stood for a while in front of the ornate large mirror that was kept there. She looked at herself rather objectively and then decided that she was indeed attractive. Just when she had decided to move, she noticed that there was another face along with hers in the mirror. It was the face of a person that had tormented her in many dreams.  She couldn’t help but scream.

The next instant, the other face disappeared and only hers was seen in the mirror.

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Volume 1 - New Flood