Book 2 | Chapter 39 | This is War

Dilapitated mandapam (Near Patteeswaram / Pazhayarai)

The Prince leapt down from the horse and faced Vandhiyathevan. He took out two giant curved swords from the saddle of his horse.

“Get down from the horse right now. I have had enough of your sarcasm. All those words that you spoke last night, about your ancestors and how they were superior and I was ordinary, still sting me. How dare you speak such, in front of me?”

The Prince then started swinging the two curved swords in circles and dared Vandhiyathevan to come and fight.

Vandhiyathevan was confused. And slowly his warrior senses took over and he too unsheathed his sword. He could not believe what was happening. The swords clanged. But as the fight raged, his hesitation and confusion receded. He had to focus on his swords and his defence.

Nambi did not understand what was happening, but he was sure that the Prince would have a reason for this. He took hold of the reins of the three horses and moved to the side of the road.

The horsemen came closer. Nambi saw the Chozha flag of the tiger amidst them, and felt relieved. As they came closer, Nambi also recognised the warrior leading the pack. It was none other than the brave General Boodhi Vikramakesari. Nambi also recognised the warrior riding beside him. It was the commander of the Northern forces – Parthibendra Pallavan.

The swords clanged and the fighting was fierce. The spectator crowds grew.

When Parthibendra Pallavan arrived at the scene and observed what was happening, he looked at the General and said, “General, see what is happening here. What I had been telling you about Vallavarayan is true. The idiot is fighting with the Prince himself. Let me end this fellow’s life once and for all.” And he unsheathed his sword.

The General held back the Pallava Chieftain. “What a sword fight! It has been a long time since I witnessed such a good fight. The young lad is a fine warrior, no doubt.”

Amidst the crowd, the familiar face of a lady emerged. She was watching the fight with excitement. Her eyes flitted between the warriors. Vandhiyathevan caught a glimpse of her face. For a minute, he fumbled. The Prince took this chance, and swung at Vandhiyathevan’s sword, and it fell to the floor. Vandhiyathevan tried to recover by attempting to pick up the sword again, but the Prince ran to him, and hugged him tight.

“Vandhiyatheva, you are a fierce warrior. You did not lose to my sword. You were equal to me. You lost to the beautiful eyes of a lady in the crowd. Well, it happens to the best of us. So, not to worry!”

The General stepped forward, “Prince, I was the one who sent this warrior to you. Has he been misbehaving?”

The Prince laughed out loud, “Oh no! He has been pestering me, ever since he met me, to see where the war was happening. So, I wanted to give him a fight that he can participate in.”

The General looked at Vandhiyathevan and said, “You are a very good fighter. It has been a long while since I saw such a wonderful fight. You were equal to the Prince. It is said that anyone who cannot fight equal to the Prince cannot be a long-term friend to the Prince.”

Meanwhile, the Prince had walked over to where Parthibendran was standing. “Sire, welcome. I got news that you were looking for me. How is my brother in Kanchi? How is my grandfather doing?”

“I have important news from your brother and grandfather. It took me quite a few days, just to find you on this island. We should not waste any more time.”

“If it was not that important, you would not have come yourself. Come, let us go to that dilapidated mandapam on the side of the road. Thankfully, in Lanka, there is no shortage of such dilapidated mandapams.”

Book 2 | Chapter 38 | Pictures that told a Story

The queen was pregnant and realised that the mute girl was pregnant as well. Out of compassion, the queen took the mute girl to the palace. The girl gave birth to two children in the palace. The queen offered to raise one of the children in the palace. The girl first hesitated. After deep thought, she decided to leave both the children at the palace and she ran away into the dark of the night.

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, Anuradhapura. img src: wikimedia commons

The Prince paused and asked, “Did either of you hear any footsteps?”

Nambi and Vandhiyathevan had been so engrossed in listening to the Prince’s story that they had not heard anything.

Nambi however said, “But the place I am sitting in seems to be a little hotter than before.”

Vandhiyathevan also added, “And I think I smell some smoke too. Do you think this place is safe, Sire?”

“Do not worry. If there is any danger, Goddess Kaveri will come and warn us.”

The Prince continued, “We moved camp the very next day. Still, ten of my warriors got the fever. This fever can break the bravest of warriors down.”

“She started following me everywhere. She has saved me from dangerous animals, natural calamities, and even hidden enemy soldiers. She will appear abruptly and also vanish equally silently. Soon, I also got to understand her sign language. I started to understand what she was thinking. Sometimes, I even realise that she is nearby, without even seeing her.”

“Why, even now…,” the Prince stopped in mid-sentence.

“I think you both should sleep now. We need some rest.”

No one could sleep. Suddenly, they heard a hissing sound. And they could see a dark shadow near the window of the room. It was the same person who had saved them from the crumbling building earlier. The Prince leapt up and walked up to the window. The lady said something in sign language. The Prince motioned to his companions to quickly follow him. The three of them left the room and followed the lady into the darkness. After walking for a little while through dense shrubbery, they stopped at a clearing.

In the clear moonlight, Vandhiyathevan saw a large herd of elephants guarding a stupa. Vandhiyathevan stopped dead in his tracks. The lady however walked bravely towards the beasts.

Nambi whispered in Vandhiyathevan’s ears, “Notice how realistic these elephant statues are.”

And Vandhiyathevan breathed. Until then he thought that they were real animals. They passed through the herd of elephant statues. Vandhiyathevan noticed that there were probably a hundred such elephant statues. They were majestic beasts carved out of rock. Out of these elephants, there was one elephant, whose tusks were broken. The lady moved a rock below the feet of this elephant, and a flight of steps appeared below. She motioned them to follow her. The Prince and his companions went down the secret flight of stairs.

After walking down the passageway for a little while, they reached an underground hall. There were two lamps on either side of the hall. The lady picked up one of the lamps and motioned for the Prince alone to come besides her. She motioned to the Prince to look at the wall. There were paintings on the wall. The panels seemed to describe the events in somebody’s life. It was the life of a lady. And the facial features of the lady in the paintings seemed to resemble the features of the lady holding the lamp.

The Prince tried following the story on the panels. It showed a girl on an island, whose father had gone fishing in his boat. There was a young warrior, who looked like a prince, sitting on a tree. A bear then started climbing the tree. The warrior had not noticed the bear. The young girl screamed and distracted the bear. The bear then started chasing her. At this time, the warrior noticed the bear and attacked the bear with his spear. After a prolonged fight, the warrior killed the bear. When the warrior approached the girl and thanked her, she did not have any words for him. She just had tears in her eyes. She then went and brought her father, who had explained that her daughter was mute. The warrior first felt sorry for her, and then fell in love with her.

The panels further showed them spending time very happily on the island, until one day, a royal vessel came looking for the prince. The prince consoled the girl and promised her that he will come back. After a few days, the father and the girl crossed the seas and reached a lighthouse on the Indian mainland. It looked like they had family living there. The whole family got on to a bullock cart and headed towards the capital. From the walls of the capital, they could see a large crowd. They soon realised that it was the coronation ceremony of the prince.

The grief-stricken lady ran towards the shore, scaled the lighthouse and jumped into the sea. But the sea did not give up on her. A fisherman rescued her and brought her ashore. He thought she was possessed and took her to a temple. The temple priest performed some occult rituals to cure her. On that same day, there was also a queen from the palace who was visiting the same temple. The queen was pregnant and realised that the mute girl was pregnant as well. Out of compassion, the queen took the mute girl to the palace. The girl gave birth to two children in the palace. The queen offered to raise one of the children in the palace. The girl first hesitated. After deep thought, she decided to leave both the children at the palace and she ran away into the dark of the night.

She roamed through the forests for the next few years. She yearned to see the children often, and she would go and watch from a hidden perch near the River Kaveri. There were times when she would glance at the King and the Queen cruising and she would watch the children play. During one of those cruising holidays, she noticed one of the children fall into the water. She dived into the water and saved the boy, handed him over to the King and quickly swam ashore and disappeared.

This story was beautifully depicted on the walls of the underground hall. When the Prince and the lady came to the last panel, the Prince motioned to her that the boy was himself, and the lady who saved him was she. She had tears streaming down her eyes and hugged him tight.

She then took the Prince to the opposite wall and showed him some of the dangers that the Prince had faced and would be facing. They spoke in sign language for a while. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi watched all this from a corner of the room. Vandhiyathevan could still see similarities in the facial features of the Pazhuvoor queen Nandini and the lady in front of him. All kinds of thoughts flooded his mind. Several doubts. But he decided that this was not the time to clarify them.

The four of them climbed back up the stairs of the underground hall guarded by the elephant herd statues. The lady motioned to them to follow her. They climbed some steps towards the upper floors of the stupa. She climbed the steps lithely. They reached the top floor of the stupa. She pointed her finger to the corner of the city, where there was a big fire burning.

The Prince exclaimed, “Aha, that is the palace of the Emperor Mahasena, which is burning.”

Nambi gasped, “That is where we were sleeping just a little while ago. If we had stayed there, we would have also succumbed to the fire.”

Vandhiyathevan asked, “How can you so clearly find out that that was the place where we were sleeping?”

“Vandhiyatheva, that is the language of those pictures that I saw in the hall. They spoke to me.”

“Prince, how come I never heard anything?”

“Haha! You need to understand the language of pictures to be able to decipher. The pictures also told me to be very careful and of all the dangers that I would face. The pictures asked me to leave Lanka.”

“Excellent. I win the bet then. Let us leave for the mainland. Long live the language of pictures.”

Nambi interjected, “Hmm, I thought the pictures just told you to be careful of walking too close to the walls of houses, and not go in the open too much.”

“Nambi, that is true. How did you find that out?”

“I may not understand the language of pictures, but I can read facial expressions. I deciphered all this from the facial expression of the lady with the lamp.”

“Hmm. Anyway, there is only very little of the night that is left. Let us sleep right here on the terrace of this stupa, and leave at daybreak.”

The sharp rays of sunlight woke Vandhiyathevan. Deaf and mute people, people setting fire to palaces, bears climbing trees, Buddhist monks and crowning ceremonies had filled his dreams. The bright sunlight cleared all of that. He woke up to see that the Prince and Nambi had gotten up already and were preparing for their journey.

The three of them got down from the stupa and walked through the main streets towards the grand garden of Anuradhapura. In the centre of the garden was the 1500-year-old Bodhi tree. There were Buddhist monks and others who were paying their respects to this tree. The Prince also bowed and paid his respects to the tree.

The Prince looked around and found what he was looking for. In a corner, there were three horses all saddled up. Three men were holding the horses and smiled warmly when the Prince accosted them. The men explained that they were very happy to see the Prince, and they had been apprehensive that we had succumbed to the fire in the palace last night.

The Prince and his companions got on to the horses and rode swiftly through the northern gates of Anuradhapura. No one noticed them in the buzzle of the festivities. They headed towards the small town of Mahindalai – the town where Emperor Ashoka’s son Mahindan first set foot on Lanka to preach Buddhism.

Soon, they heard the sound of hooves, and a dozen warriors galloped towards them with their spears glinting in the morning sunlight at a distance. Vandhiyathevan gripped his sword.

Book 2 | Chapter 37 | Cauvery Amman

“I spent the next day thinking whether to move camp elsewhere, but I wanted to see her once more. Night fell, and I heard the wailing again. I gave strict orders to my soldiers not to follow me, and I went again, to the place where I had met her the night before.

Sinharaja Jungles, Lanka (img src: wikimedia)

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi sat down next to Prince Arulmozhi Varman. And the Prince began to talk.

“When I was young, my parents and my siblings had gone down on a leisurely cruise down the Kaveri River. I remember sitting close to the edge of the boat and staring deeply at the strong currents of the river and how small flowers were dancing on them. And then suddenly, I fell into the water. I still remember being swept by the strong currents of the river. I remember thinking that the river was going to sweep me into the ocean, and that I would never be able to see my parents or siblings again.”

“At that time, I remember someone saving me. Gentle hands swooped me up from the water and raised me upwards. I had swallowed a lot of water. I took a good look at the lady, and the face remains inscribed in my memory. And then I was handed to someone else, and hoisted on to the boat. I then got distracted by the love and affection of my family, who were immeasurably relieved that I had survived. After a while, the question of who had saved me arose. The lady had disappeared. Everyone on the boat had deemed it a miracle and assumed that it was the Goddess Kaveri herself who had saved me. They also started calling me ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ – the son of Goddess Kaveri.”

“The urge to meet the lady who saved me was very strong, and for a few years, I kept searching everywhere I went. And then slowly, I lost interest. Around a year back, I became the commander of the forces in Lanka. General Boodhi Vikramakesari was already present here at that time. I had expressed a desire to explore all the parts of Lanka that were under our control. With a small select force of a thousand troops, I scoured this island of Lanka from east to west and north to south. During one of these journeys, we had camped in a forest very close to this city. Near our camp was an elephant settlement as well. There were several uninhabited small islets near the coast as well.”

“There was something eerie happening in this area though. Every night, we would hear the moans and wails of a woman. Actually, we were not sure if it was a human wail, or the call of a bird. After a few days, we decided to go and investigate. We found that it was a lady, who started running very fast, once she saw us. I soon figured that it would be very difficult if we followed as a group. I ordered the rest of the force to stop, and I pursued her. After a distance, when she saw that I was alone, she slowed down and motioned for me to come near. I was terrified now.”

“But, I went closer to her. The moonlight lit up her face. She had the most enchanting smile. And then it dawned on me. This was the person who had saved me from drowning in the River Kaveri, when I was young. I then proceeded to ask her who she was and why she was roaming around my camp, and as to why she was wailing in sorrow.”

“She did not answer. After a while, tears of sorrow flooded from her eyes. I could not bear to see so much sorrow in front of my eyes. She seemed to want to tell me, but she could not. And then I realised that she was a mute. She did not have the capacity to talk. She suddenly hugged me and kissed my forehead, and before I realised, she ran away and vanished.”

“When I went back to camp, and the others asked me who she was, I told them that she was a normal lady, who had suffered immense sorrow in her life. I also told them, if she did come by in the future, the soldiers were not to pursue her or trouble her.”

“I spent the next day thinking whether to move camp elsewhere, but I wanted to see her once more. Night fell, and I heard the wailing again. I gave strict orders to my soldiers not to follow me, and I went again, to the place where I had met her the night before. She was there standing, smiling, waiting for me. She tried telling me something, but I did not understand anything. Then she took my hand and took me with her. I understood that she wanted to show me something.”

“She took me through dense forest, and at the end of the trail there was a small hut, and I saw a flickering lamp inside. Next to the lamp lay an old man. I could sense that the man was ill. He was shaking and shivering. His eyes were red as embers. His whole body shook when he shivered. I realised that he was affected with a rare kind of fever that was spreading in this region.”

“She took me out of the hut and using sign language, motioned to me to move my camp quickly. She seemed to tell me that this fever was spreading in this region, and I should save myself and move my camp. I also got to understand that she wants me to do this because of her immense love for me.”

The Prince sighed, “I gave orders to move the very next morning.”

Book 2 | Chapter 36 | Is the status worth it?

It is not right to accept the throne from the Buddhist monks. Religious emissaries should never interfere in politics. This would lead to problems in religion and in politics.

Vandhiyathevan rushed towards where Prince Arulmozhi and the woman stood. She looked very much like the Pazhuvoor Queen Nandini. But she was not decked in her usual royal finery. The face looked like her, but was it her? Vandhiyathevan could not tell for sure. As he approached them, she slid into the dark shadows and vanished. He tried to follow her, but the Prince restrained him.

“Who is that lady?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

Nambi arrived there panting heavily. “She must be the Guardian Goddess of the Chozha dynasty,” he said. He pointed to where the three of them had stood moments ago. A large part of the wall of the building had caved over and there stood a large mound of rubble. There would have been no chances of survival.

“Who do you think she was, Vandhiyatheva?” asked the Prince.

“It was perhaps my mind playing tricks on me, but she looked like the young Pazhuvoor Queen Nandini. Did you two not notice the similarity?”

“I did not take a close look. But I think it must be your mind playing tricks on you. How could Nandini be here in Lanka?” said Nambi.

“To be honest, there have been times when I have noticed the similarity too. Anyway, let us keep walking,” said the Prince.

“Prince, when the lady called you near her, what did she tell you?”

“She warned me that there are two people who have come to Lanka to kill me. This lady has saved me a few times before as well.”

“Prince, I think, I may know who the two people could have been. I saw them earlier with Parthibendra Pallavan. I thought I saw them near the house which crumbled, a few moments ago.”

Vandhiyathevan immediately turned around, “You two keep walking. Let me go take a look around that house again.”

The Prince restrained him again. “Do not go there now. We have work to do. You will have time and opportunity to investigate later. I came without any guards only because of you. Would it be right if you leave me alone like this?”

These words filled Vandhiyathevan with shame. “Ayya, from this moment on, I will never leave your side.”

They soon reached the old palace of King Mahasena. In one of the inner rooms, three beds were neatly laid out for them. The soft moonlight streamed in through the high windows in the room.

“Several hundred years ago, the great kings of Lanka, their princes, and their wives used to grace these rooms. The same rays of the moon used to light these rooms up, even then. Now, these rooms are being used by ordinary people, like us. What do you say, Vandhiyatheva?”

“Oh Prince, you can speak such about yourself and this Vaishnavar here. Please do not include me in the list of ordinary people.”

The Prince chuckled and remarked, “Yes, I forgot. You belong to an illustrious lineage of vallattharasars. Please forgive me.”

“Would you like to listen to some verses that speak about my lineage?”

Vandhiyathevan went on to recite a short couplet about the Vaanarkulam clan, which spoke about how generous the chieftains were towards poets and other artists.

The Prince was sufficiently impressed and quipped that Vandhiyathevan indeed deserved to be in the grand bed chambers of the Lankan kings.

“Speaking of deserving people, I am indeed very upset at you, Sire. I still cannot fathom why you turned down the offer from the Buddhist monks to take over as the Lankan Emperor.”

He chuckled and added, “If you did not want it, I was right there standing next to you. You could have given it to me.”

The three of them laughed loudly.

The Prince then went on to explain: “It is not right to accept the throne from the Buddhist monks. Religious emissaries should never interfere in politics. This would lead to problems in religion and in politics. Moreover, these monks are not the leaders of the entire Buddhist population in Lanka. There are two other Buddhist camps similar to this one. If I accept the throne from these monks, then I would have to rule this kingdom as per their wishes. The other two camps would immediately become our adversaries as well.”

Vandhiyathevan nodded and said, “Hmm, now I understand.”

“It is getting late. We should sleep now.”

But Vandhiyathevan could not hold back his questions. “But, Prince, I will not be able to sleep until I know who the lady, who saved our lives, is.”

“Hmm, I do not know yet who the lady is. But there are some things that I know about her.”

Book 2 | Chapter 35 | Lankan Throne

Present day Anuradhapura. Wikipedia
Present day Anuradhapura. Wikipedia

The monk looked in the direction of Prince Arulmozhi. The lamp was put off, and there was darkness again. In a few minutes, Vandhiyathevan noticed that the monk was walking silently in the dark towards them. The monk came to the place where the three of them were standing.

“Devapriya, welcome. The Buddhist senate is waiting for you. Guru Mahathero has also come. I cannot express how thankful I am to you for coming here at the specified time.”

“Sir, I have several faults in me, but there is one principle that I have always tried to uphold – to keep my word.”

“I am glad to hear that. May Lord Buddha shower you with his blessings. May I ask who these two are? Are they trustworthy?”

“I trust them as much as I trust my two hands. Even then, if you wish, I can leave them here outside, when I come with you.”

“No. If you trust them so much, we will trust them as well.”

Vandhiyathevan could not understand what was happening. All he could figure out was that they were going to a very important meeting. He was surprised that the Prince trusted this monk with as much as his life itself.

The three of them followed the monk to the place where they had originally sighted him. He pulled a hidden lever in the short wall. A small cavity opened, where he had placed his lamp. Simultaneously, another small opening moved aside to reveal a passage. The three of them walked into the passage. The door closed behind them. The passage winded underground. It was pitch dark except for the small lamp that the monk held. The silence was deafening. Every once in a while, Vandhiyathevan kept wondering whether all this was a treacherous plot to kill the Prince.

The passageway ended in a mandapam. It was a large hall with beautiful round marble pillars and several large statues of Buddhas in all poses – standing, meditating and lying down. They walked onwards through another passageway that led from this hall to an even larger hall. This hall was grander than the first one. The pillars were made of wood, with embellishments of precious gems, which glimmered in the light of the monk’s lamp. More beautiful Buddhas adorned the sides of the walls. Vandhiyathevan was fascinated by all this. He was very surprised to see the Prince walk past all this with nary a glance.

They continued walking and the passageway eventually ended in a large hall with plain granite walls. But this hall was different. There were several Buddhist monks seated on the floor – peace and calmness radiating from each face. On a small throne-like chair sat the Guru Mahathero. Next to him were two other thrones. There was a bejewelled crown and a royal sceptre placed on the smaller throne. The larger golden throne was empty. These artefacts glimmered in the light of the many torches that were hung on the walls of this granite-walled hall.

When the three of them entered the hall, the monks who had been sitting on the floor got up and hailed, “Long live the Buddha.” One of the senior monks pointed to a normal seat and requested the Prince to be seated. He obliged.

Guru Mahathero then spoke in a strange Balinese language to the Prince. The senior guru translated,” I am glad you were able to make it to this Buddhist Mahasangam. I can imagine you would have faced several hardships to get here. The fact that you are here means that the blessings of the Buddha are with you.”

“Buddhism came to Lanka from the Indian mainland. However, successive rulers from the mainland have continuously been attacking this small island and destroying our Viharas. Only about half of the Buddhist places of worship remain today. Several of them have been demolished. Several more have been burnt down. You are the first prince who has ordered the rebuilding of these places of worship. This Mahasangam is indebted to you.”

The Prince bowed and accepted the blessings.

“The Parahara festival has not been celebrated since the last Pandiya conquest, when the Pandiya King had prohibited celebrating this festival. You have allowed this to happen from this year. You have also helped us by making all the arrangements for this festival. We are very happy regarding this as well.”

The Prince bowed his head again and said, “It is my pleasure, sir. Do let me know if there is anything more that needs to be done from my side.”

“Yes. There are some requests from our side. But before that, there is something more that needs to be said.”

“Before the last incarnation of the Buddha, there lived an emperor named Sibi. He had been recognised as one who realised the meaning of peace and followed the principles of Buddhism of this day. The Chozha kings have claimed that you are part of the lineage of Emperor Sibi – some of your Emperors have hence named themselves Sembiyan. Until now, the Buddhists have not recognised that as the truth. But now, having seen your acts of generosity, we believe that you are indeed part of the lineage of that great King Sibi.”

The monks then brought forward a very old Buddhist monk. He seemed to be possessed and was babbling incoherently in a foreign tongue.

The senior guru looked at the Prince and translated, “The Gods have spoken. They bless you. You will rule over a large kingdom – a kingdom as large as that ruled by King Asoka. They also wish that you spread the Buddhist religion, just like how King Asoka did. Oh, Prince, may we ask what is your response to the Gods’ request?”

The Prince responded, “I am not clear as to what exactly the Gods want.”

The guru continued, “I can elaborate on that. Look at that throne. Look at the crown and the sceptre. All the rulers of this beautiful island of Lanka, who have been authorised by this Buddhist Mahasangam have sat on that throne, adorned with that crown, and held that royal sceptre – including great rulers such as Dushtakamanu and Mahasenar. Are you willing to ascend that throne?”

Vandhiyathevan watched all of this excitedly. He looked at the Prince for his reaction, but there was absolutely no facial expression that suggested happiness or any other feeling.

The Prince peacefully responded, “But the current King Mahendan is still alive. While he may not be here, he is still the king…”

“To change the current king is what the Gods wish. The original lineage of kings in this island came from a prince who ran away from his kingdom on the banks of the Ganges. They ruled this kingdom justly for many years. More recently, this has not been the case. Fathers have killed their sons. Sons have killed their fathers. Siblings have killed each other. So much adharma has happened in that lineage, and this has angered the Gods. They are not the right lineage to uphold the principles of Buddhism.”

“The last king Mahendan has run away and hence we consider the throne as abdicated. Further, he does not have any children or siblings. Hence arises the need for a new king to be chosen – and this Mahasangam holds that responsibility. This Mahasangam now wishes that you ascend the throne. If you accept this, we can do the coronation today itself.”

There was deathly silence for a few minutes in the room. Vandhiyathevan had reached the peak of excitement. The Prince got up from his seat. Vandhiyathevan fantasised about placing the bejewelled crown on the Prince’s head.

“Oh, leaders of this great Mahasabha, I bow to you. I am honoured that you are placing so much trust and confidence in me. But what you are asking of me is beyond my realm of decision-making. I was born in Chozhanaadu. I breathed the fresh scent of the Chozha lands and grew up drinking the waters of the Chozha rivers. I came here to this land on the orders of my father, Emperor Sundara Chozhan. I am not at a liberty to take this decision without his assent.”

The chief priest interjected, “Prince, are you aware that your father is almost held captive within his own palace rooms?”

“Yes. I am well aware that his health has failed him and he is restrained to his bed. But there are people whom he has appointed to rule the kingdom on his behalf. If I do not get their assent, I would be branded as a traitor of my own land. “

The priest said, “If you so desire, we can send a monk delegation to meet the Emperor and ask for his assent. The Emperor is a great supporter of our religion, and I am sure he will not refuse our request.”

“What about the citizens of this country? Would you not have to ask them?”

“The citizens of this country whole-heartedly want you as their Emperor, Prince.”

“I would also like the assent of my dear sister. My mother gave birth to me, but my sister brought me up and nurtured her intelligence in me. Without her assent, I would never take a decision. Over and above all of this, I also listen to my conscience – my inner voice. My inner voice is not quite agreeing with your proposition at this time. Please forgive me.”

There was again a deafening silence for a little while. Vandhiyathevan could hear his own heart beating.

The chief priest took a deep breath and said, “Your response was not very surprising to me. While we, as a learned group of men, have decided and strongly feel that you are the best person for this throne, we would also not like to force this upon you. We would like to give you some time to go and think about this – a year to be precise. We will then send for you and we will assemble here to listen to your decision.”

“There is one more thing. While several Viharas in Anuradhapuram have been damaged by the wars, this Vihara is still standing, mainly because this exists under the ground. The passage to this Vihara is known only to those who you see in front of you. No one can come here without being guided by one of us. Kings of Lanka are guided here once in their lifetime for their coronation. We request you, hence, to not talk about anything that happened today and about this place, to anyone. The same goes for your friends as well. If you violate this, you will be subjected to severe curses from the Gods.”

“You do not need to mention the curses. We have given our word that we would not talk about this to anyone. And we will not go against our word.”

The three of them bowed to the gathering, and one of the monks guided them outside. The cool air was refreshing, as the three of them walked out.

Vandhiyathevan, who had been silent all this while said, “Sire, while I agree with the richness of the Chozha land and kingdom, why did you not accept that throne? Ok, fine, you did not want the throne. Could you not have given it to me? I was standing right beside you.”

“Vandhiyatheva, don’t you remember the story of Emperor Saali that I had told you earlier today. The prince who gave up the throne, because of his love for the girl named Ashokamala.”

“Oho. So, there is a girl in your life also? Who is that?”

“Not one, but two. I love two girls – Satyam and Dharmam. For these two girls, I refused the throne.”

While they were walking down the road close to an old building, a silhouette appeared on the other side of the road and clapped twice. The Prince motioned for the other two to follow him and crossed the street swiftly towards the figure. As they reached the other side, there was a loud sound behind them. When they turned back, they saw that the old building they had been walking close to had crumbled and fallen into rubbles. If they had not moved, the three of them would not have survived.

Vandhiyathevan turned around to catch a quick glimpse of the figure that had warned them. He stood there dumb-struck, unable to believe his own eyes. It was Nandini. He wondered how the same Nandini that he had met in Thanjavur, could appear here at Anuradhapuram. The next moment, she vanished.

Book 2 | Chapter 34 | Anuradhapuram

The three of them reached the outskirts of Anuradhapuram when the sun was beginning to set. Vandhiyathevan was blown off his feet by the impressive city. He was awestruck by the size of the city, the height of the city walls, the grand mandapams, the beautiful stupas, and the overall grandeur of the city. He thought to himself that the three grand cities of Thanjavur, Pazhayarai and Kanchi were no match for this city. Perhaps Pataliputra of Ashoka, Ujjain of Vikramaditya or Kaveripatnam of Karikal Valavan may come close to the grandeur of this city. As they rode closer to the city, the crowds grew.

Lavishly decorated elephants parade during the Kandy Esala Perahera festival in Sri Lanka.
Kandi Perahara festival ; img src: latimes.com

The three of them reached the outskirts of Anuradhapuram when the sun was beginning to set. Vandhiyathevan was blown off his feet by the impressive city. He was awestruck by the size of the city, the height of the city walls, the grand mandapams, the beautiful stupas, and the overall grandeur of the city. He thought to himself that the three grand cities of Thanjavur, Pazhayarai and Kanchi were no match for this city. Perhaps Pataliputra of Ashoka, Ujjain of Vikramaditya or Kaveripatnam of Karikal Valavan may come close to the grandeur of this city. As they rode closer to the city, the crowds grew.

The Prince pulled his horse to a secluded area, “The horses have travelled a long distance. They need rest. Let us wait until it is fully dark, before we enter the city.”

The three of them sat down on a large rock nearby.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the Prince and asked, “ Sire, I kept hearing that there is a war in Lanka. Here, it does not seem so. Is there a festival going on in Anuradhapuram today?”

“Yes. Today is one of the very important festivals for the people here. There is a war in Eezhanaadu, but how should that affect the common people? Earlier today you had described how grandly Sri Jayanthi was celebrated in Pazhayarai. Why should these people be deprived of a similar festival? What do you think, Nambi?”

“Hmm, in a way, you are right Sire. Here, the enemies are outside; there, the enemies are within. Enemies within are much more dangerous than enemies outside.”

“But, if there are more enemies within, should not the Prince be in Thanjavur right now? The mark of a brave person is to be where the problem is.”

Thambi, you keep quiet. If that is the case, why did you run away from the Thanjavur fort?”

“Hmm. Please stop this war between the two of you.”

After darkness fell, the three of them entered the town. There was no checking at the gates. The crowds were entering the town in large masses for the festival. Vandhiyathevan saw several buildings in a dilapidated state. At the same time, he also saw several buildings being rebuilt. He was still thinking about why the Prince was doing all this humanitarian work.

In the last hundreds of years, the Lankan kings had always been at war, directly or indirectly, with the Chozhas. Given that, the natural instinct would have been to burn this entire capital city down to cinders and declare victory. But that was not what Prince Arulmozhi was doing. He thought there must be some ulterior motive.

And then it struck him – his own reasoning of why the Prince was doing all this. Prince Aditya Karikalan had been crowned as heir-apparent for the mainland empire, and he now had Madhuranthakan to compete with, as well. Perhaps, Prince Arulmozhi felt that he could establish an empire at Lanka and make himself an independent king of this magnificent island. He also remembered what the Kudandhai astrologer had told him.

They went through a side street, and in a corner of the street, they came to a stop outside a deserted looking house. The three of them dismounted from their steeds. The Prince clapped his hand three times. And as though by magic, a door opened. The Prince stepped in through the door and started walking through the darkness. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi followed him.

“The horses know the way – so don’t worry,” said the Prince, looking at Vandhiyathevan.

After walking for a few seconds in pitch darkness, he could see a faint light at the end of the passageway. Slowly the light grew brighter, and he began to hear voices as well. It looked like the interiors of an old palace.

“We have to be careful here. King Mahasenar can come at any time and drive us out of here.”

“Sire, who is this King Mahasenar?”

“King Mahasenar used to be the Emperor of this land around 600 years ago. He used to be a very benevolent king and did a lot of good for these parts. After his time, it is said that his ghost still roams around this area. No one has occupied this palace since then.”

There were people waiting to attend to the Prince and his guests in the room. After having a hot bath and a hot meal, the three of them reconvened on the terrace of the palace. From where they stood, they could see what was going on around them, but no one else could see them.

“Sire, you said you had to go meet someone at midnight?”

“There is still time. The moon has just come up. Once the moon comes in line with that large stupa over there, we can leave.”

“That stupa is so big, as are most of the Buddha statues here. Why do the sculptors create such big statues and stupas here?”

The Prince smiled and answered, “The first sculptors did it to show how big a god Buddha was. Then the rulers who came next wanted to prove how big a ruler they were, and ordered the sculptors to create bigger and bigger works of art.”

In the distance, Vandhiyathevan could hear the roar of thousands of men cheering. He looked in that direction and saw a large procession inching down the road. There were several thousands of people. There were hundreds of elephants. It was quite a sight.

Adede, it looks like an enemy army marching.”

“No. This is the biggest festival of this land – the Perahara festival.

The procession inched closer to them. Vandhiyathevan had never seen such a sight. The elephants were all decked up in gold ornaments. The elephant in the centre had a bejewelled box studded with exquisite gem stones, and a large golden umbrella on top of it. The elephants around this main elephant had Buddhist monks on top of them, holding feather fans with silver handles. The monks and people around the elephants had lamps, whose light embellished the scene with grandeur.

In the midst of the procession danced a hundred people dressed in uniquely different costumes. They were dancing to the beats of an instrument similar to the udukkai. The dancers were in a trance. Vandhiyathevan was reminded of the devarattam that he had witnessed at Kadambur. The dancers here rose in the air, swirled and fell back to the ground. Several of these dancers rising into the air at once, was a sight to see.

Behind these dancers came another row of thirty elephants, similar to the ones that had earlier gone. The middle elephant had an exquisite bejewelled box, with a golden umbrella on top. The surrounding elephants had monks with the white feather fans. Then came more dancers. Vandhiyathevan saw some dancers who were dressed as Rathi, Manmadan, and even Lord Shiva.

“Sire, how come, Lord Shiva is also here?”

“There was an emperor named Gajabahu. He brought Lord Shiva to this island, and it is lore that he refuses to leave this island.”

“Oy, Veera Vaishnavare, did you see that?”

Before Vandhiyathevan could finish his sentence fully, yet another row of elephants passed, and the dancers behind were dressed as Lord Garuda.

“Haha. Did you see that? Garudaalwar and my dear Lord Vishnu are also here. “

Behind the next row of elephants came a set of dancers who were enacting a war scene. The dancers performed with swords, knives, and spears. At times, the dance had the intensity of fighting and at other times, there was the grace of a dance form.

While Vandhiyathevan and Nambi watched the procession in awe, the Prince started telling the history of this festival.

“There was a time when the kings of Lanka and Tamizh Naadu had friendly relations. King Gajabahu and King Cheran Senguttuvan had friendly relations. Once, Cheran Senguttuvan had invited Gajabahu for a festival, which commemorated Kannagi.

The Lankan King stayed on and witnessed several such festivals in the mainland. After Gajabahu went back, he organised another festival in Lanka and invited the Tamizh King to it. He had incorporated some of the Gods from Tamizh Naadu – Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Karthikeya and Kannagi, in that festival. He just ensured that Lord Buddha took first place, and the other Gods followed behind. The people of this land liked it so much, that the King made it an annual festival, and it still happens.

“But, Sire, I do not see any God figurines.”

“Did you not see the bejewelled boxes on the elephants?”

Vandhiyathevan could not resist and quipped, “They have the Gods locked in boxes, so that they do not escape to Tamizh Naadu?”

The Prince laughed and responded. “No. The box on the first elephant has a tooth of the Buddha. The people here treat that as a priceless artefact, which represents the Buddha himself. For the other Gods, each box contains the ornaments from their respective temples.”

Vandhiyathevan wondered what would have happened if the Periya Pazhuvettarayar had come in place of the Prince, and smiled to himself.

The procession had ended and receded into the distance. The three of them got down from the terrace and walked in the opposite direction. The streets were empty. After walking for some time, they reached a large lake brimming with water. The reflection of the stars and the moon on the water was beautiful. The lake was surrounded by beautiful flowering plants, whose fragrances filled the air. On one of the banks of the lakes, there was a statue of a lion, from within which water was flowing into the lake as a fountain. The three of them walked towards the statue. On the base of the statue were some lotus buds. The Prince counted them out loud. There were 12 buds. Vandhiyathevan was now beginning to understand the code. Perhaps it meant the twelfth hour of the night.

Vandhiyathevan, however, could not figure out, who could have asked the Prince to come here at this time of the day. He could reason out why the Prince had asked them not to bring along any weapons. Perhaps, it was going to be a meeting of an amorous nature? And instantly, Vandhiyathevan’s mind crossed the ocean, straight to Pazhayarai, to Princess Kundavai.

“Sire, this seems to have been part of a palace.”

“Yes. This was part of Dushtakamanu’s palace. You can still see some larger portions of this palace there,” said the Prince pointing to some ruins nearby.

“Hmm. Perhaps, that part closest to this lake, would have been the anthapuram ̧ and the royal ladies would have come to play in the water in this lake.”

“There is one other interesting incident associated with this lake. Around a thousand years ago, Saalivaahanan, a descendent of Dushtakamanu, was wandering in this nandavanam. He chanced to see a beautiful girl filling her vessel with water, and watering the plants. He fell in love with her. He then came to know that she was of a gardener family and that her name was Ashokamala.”

“His father did not agree to Saalivahanan’s request to marry her. His father had been adamant in saying that, if Saali wanted to marry Ashokamala, then he would need to abdicate the throne, which Saali was prepared to do.”

Vandhiyathevan’s mind raced back to Kodikkarai. Was the Prince mentioning this story with her in mind? He was thinking about how to bring up the topic of Poonkuzhali with the Prince.

At that time, a marble couch, which had been placed near the lion statue, moved. A gap was seen. A light flickered. There was someone coming from a passage behind. A Buddhist monk emerged from the hidden passageway. Vandhiyathevan stood there in amazement.

Book 2 | Chapter 33 | Lotus Feet

There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka.

At the crack of dawn, the next morning, the Prince, Vandhiyathevan and Nambi left the camp and moved towards Anuradhapuram. After following a forest trail for a little while, they hit the Rajapaattai. The Prince had not brought any guards with him for protection.

Vandhiyathevan was feeling on top of the world. He had finished the work that the Princess had given him. Also, his long-time wish of meeting the Prince had come true. And had he just met the Prince? He had even befriended him. He recollected the events of the previous day. He was so friendly with his troops. He was still surprised to see the unaffected common man in this war zone. He reflected upon the differences between the war strategy of the brutal Aditya Karikalan and the benevolent strategy of Arulmozhi Varman.

When they were nearing Anuradhapuram, the Prince stopped his horse near a large Buddha statue. This whole island had so many such beautiful and large Buddha statues that Vandhiyathevan had by now stopped paying attention to them. The Prince got off his horse and went and stood near the Buddha statue. Vandhiyathevan got off his horse as well. Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, who was riding a little ahead, turned his horse around and came close to the statue.

“Aha, what a sculpture,” exclaimed the Prince.

“I do not understand what is so special about this sculpture. There are a hundred similar ones all over this place,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I like the fact that you always speak your mind.”

“There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka. After having seen the sizes of some of these Buddha statues and the Viharas, I sometimes feel ashamed of our small Shiva temples. In yesteryears, there lived some great Lankan kings. Their kingdoms might have been small, but their hearts and devotion to their God were big. They expressed their devotion through these big Buddha sculptures and Viharas.”

The Prince went close to the Buddha statue, and looked closely at the padma paadam (holy feet) and the lotus flowers that were placed near the feet. He touched the feet, prayed for a moment, and got back on to his horse.

When the three of them had started riding, Vandhiyathevan exclaimed, “Nambiyaare, I am afraid the Prince has fully converted to Buddhism.”

The Prince heard Vandhiyathevan’s comment and responded, “I do have a place in my heart for this religion too. Buddha gave me an important message.”

“But, we did not hear anything.”

“The flowers near the Buddha’s feet told me to come to the Simhathar Lake in Anuradhapuram at exactly midnight.”

Book 2 | Chapter 32 | Where should I go?

I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy).

The play ended. Dinner was ready. The feast was served to the soldiers. The Prince wandered around and spoke to the soldiers. He enquired about their health and their families. He answered their questions and addressed their concerns. Vandhiyathevan realised why the entire kingdom loved and respected this man so much. The soldiers felt immense love and respect for their Prince.

The soldiers were getting a little antsy with the inaction and asked him when and where the next battle would be. The Prince responded by telling them to wait out the rainy season.

After the meal, the Prince excused himself and went towards the tent that was set up for him. He took Vandhiyathevan and Alwarkadiyaan Nambi with him.

“Did you see the enthusiasm of these soldiers? If only Thanjavur had cooperated, we would have finished operations in Lanka by now. But now, we have to wait out the next three months for the rainy season to pass.”

Nambi responded, “Sire, I am surprised you are worried about the situation here, whereas the situation in the mainland is graver. The great Chozha Kingdom established by Vijayalaya Chozhan and expanded immensely by Paranthaka Chozhan and Sundara Chozhan is in danger of disintegrating into bits and pieces.

“Hmm. That is true. Both of you bring important messages. Let me hear them. Vandhiyatheva – please start.”

And Vandhiyathevan started his story. He narrated every incident since the day he left from Kanchi, to when he visited Kadambur, Thanjavur, Pazhayarai, and then now to Lanka. He spoke about every conversation he heard, every plot that he came to know of, every danger he had faced, and how he had escaped. He ended by telling the Prince about how worried Princess Kundavai was, about this whole situation. He also reiterated her request for him to come back to the mainland for the sake of the Kingdom.

Nambi then started talking about his travels. Several of the incidents that he had been through corroborated with what Vandhiyathevan had just talked about. Nambi also talked about the midnight meeting at Thiruppurambiyam Pallippadai. He ended his narration with the Chief Minister’s advice of not endangering himself by coming to the mainland.

“He suggests a temporary pausing of expansion efforts in Lanka, and asks you to consolidate the Tamizh forces in Lanka, in one place. He says that there will be a time very soon when the conspirators will come into the open. At that time, this force would be very useful. He also tells you that several focus forces within the Kingdom, such as the Kaikolaar forces, are also waiting for that time.”

The irritated Prince shot back, “Thirumalai, what does your gurunaathar think? Does he think he is Chanakya or something? How dare he suggest that I fight against my own kinsmen?”

“Sire, that is not what the Chief Minister says. He says action needs to be taken against conspirators of treason in the country. And this should be done at the right time.”

“Even if that is so, why am I to be the person to punish them? Should that not be the Emperor himself?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “Ayya, the Emperor is being held hostage in his own palace. The Pazhuvettarayars are not letting anyone near him. He does not even have that liberty. Your elder brother seems to have taken a pledge never to come to Thanjavur. In this situation, is it not your duty to come to Pazhayarai and restore order?”

The Prince was lost in thought for a little while.

“Hmm. This mann aasai (desire for land) is a dangerous vice. Look at what it is making people do. Do you know the history of Simhagiri fort, which I visited today?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “I have not heard about it, Sire.”

“About 500 years ago, there used to be a king named Dhaadusenan. He had two sons – Kasyavan and Mahendan. Kasyavan and Dhaadusenan’s General conspired against the kingdom. Kasyavan imprisoned his own father and took over the throne. Mahendan escaped to India. Soon Kasyavan built a wall around where his father was imprisoned and killed him. Ridden with guilt and a fear that his brother would come back for revenge, Kasyavan built this powerful fort of Simhagiri on top of a mountain. He also built very strong fortifications around it.”

“Soon enough, Mahendan returned with the help of the Pandiya King. The foolish Kasyavan, in a moment of carelessness, came out in the open to fight the war, and lost his life. In that fort, where this tyrant lived, there are some beautiful paintings. These have been painted a few hundred years ago, but they still remain very well preserved. I had the good fortune of seeing these paintings when I visited with the Chinese travellers.”

Nambi asked politely, “Ayya, can I please ask you a question?”

“Of course, please ask.”

“From what I know, and what you have said until now, it looks like Simhagiri is still under the control of the Sinhalese army. In that situation, was it prudent of you to go into the fort with the Chinese travellers? Did you have to risk your life to do that?”

“Thirumalai, why should my life alone be so important, that it should not be risked? There are so many Chozha warriors here, who are risking their lives every day, for the sake of the Kingdom.”

“But, those warriors risk their lives in the battlefield…”

The Prince interrupted Nambi, “I had two reasons to go to Simhagiri. I had been desirous of seeing the paintings in the fort for a very long while, and that wish got fulfilled today.”

“And the second reason…”

“I knew that Parthibendra Pallavan had reached Lanka, the minute his ship shored on Trikonamalai harbour, but I did not wish to meet him immediately. I also got to know that the Chief Minister had come to Maathottam, and I was also expecting a message from him. If I get suggestions from two elders, it would only be proper of me to adhere to the wishes of the first person whom I meet.”

“According to that logic, my side wins.”

Nambi countered, “Ayya, this fellow is trying to fool you using logic.”

“Nambi, he did not have to fool me. I had noticed him overpower my man and get on to his horse. I wanted to bring him here and teach him a lesson.”

“Yes. It was a nice lesson. My back still hurts thinking about the lesson. Is this the way the Prince of Chozhanaadu treats a messenger with an official scroll? Anyway, I am at least glad that the Prince is leaning in favour of coming with me to Pazhayarai.”

The Prince said, “I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy). This land of Lanka has so many wild elephants, but does not have that kind of an elephant.”

The three of them had a hearty laugh.

The Prince finally said – “Let us head to Anuradhapuram. I will meet Parthibendra Pallavan when we get there. Let me also hear what he has to say. And then I can make up my mind where to go.”

Book 2 | Chapter 31 | Dushtakamanu

The Prince came and sat on a tree stump in the centre. He was not wearing a beautiful gold crown, pearl necklaces, or dressed in fine silk. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi were sitting close to him. They were getting ready for an enactment of the tale of Elela Singhan.

There were about a thousand soldiers in the gathering. The commander was having a difficult time getting them in order. He was trying to get them to sit in a semi-circle. The army cooks were cooking up a feast, and the veritable smell of kootan-soru was making the soldiers drool. The Prince came and sat on a tree stump in the centre. He was not wearing a beautiful gold crown, pearl necklaces, or dressed in fine silk. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi were sitting close to him. They were getting ready for an enactment of the tale of Elela Singhan.

Around a thousand years before this time, a large Tamizh force had captured several parts of Lanka. The leader of the force at that time was a warrior named Elela Singhan. The Lankan king had been driven off to the forests in the mountains. The Lankan king’s son, Dushtakamanu, plotted from a very young age to recapture Lanka from Elela Singhan. The young prince gathered up a force and waged war against Elela Singhan. The small army was destroyed by the large Tamizh army. Dushtakamanu had then approached Elela Singhan and challenged him to a singular wrestling match. It would be a fight to the death, and the victor would get Lanka.

Elela Singhan, impressed by the bravery of this young prince, accepted the challenge. Intending to return Lanka to the young prince, Elela Singhan fought with a lesser intensity. He died and Dushtakamanu won back Lanka. They had raised a Pallippadai temple in honour of Elela Singhan.

The Chozha warriors enacted the story of Elela Singhan beautifully in front of the Prince. The actors performed brilliantly and the audience was held spellbound.

The Prince turned towards Nambi and asked, “Have you been to the beautiful cave temple of Thambalai? There is a painting in the cave, which describes this incident of Dushtakamanu so beautifully.”

“No, Sire. We did not have time to go to the cave temple. We saw you when we reached Thambalai. The temple will not go anywhere, but meeting you was of utmost importance. I guess we reached in the nick of time. On our way, we saw Parthibendran. It looked like he had been searching for you and had still not found you.”

“Yes, my Commander also told me that Parthibendran had come looking for me. I wonder why he was looking for me.”

“Of course, I know. Your brother Aditya Karikalan has sent him to bring you back to Kanchi.”

“Oho. And I am assuming you also know about the message that Vandhiyathevan has brought for me.”

“Yes, I do. He brought a message from your sister, Princess Kundavai, to bring you back to Pazhayarai. I was spying from the empty palace next door to her palace when all this happened.”

The Prince seemed a bit annoyed to hear this. “Chi, so you have started playing your dirty tricks on my sister too?”

“Oh, Prince, only because I knew this young man’s intention, he has reached. The troubles that I faced to make sure he reached here safely, is known only to Lord Buddha. If he had come through the usual route via Anuradhapuram, he would not be here with you today. “

“Oho. So, you came to Lanka, and all the way here, only with the single purpose of bringing this young man safely to me?”

“No, Sire. I bring a message too, from the Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. He feels that you should stay here in Lanka for a little more time, and feels that would be the best course of action for you.”

“Hmm. If three elders give me three contradicting directions, what am I to do?”

Vandhiyathevan responded, “Prince, you should do what your sister asked you to do. I tell you this, because, within you, your heart feels that you should always listen to what your sister says. Also, I have promised your sister that I would bring you back to Pazhayarai. So, I think that would be the best course of action.”

The Prince looked at Vandhiyathevan up and down and smiled.“I have been waiting so long for a brave companion and friend like you.”

Book 2 | Chapter 30 | Wrestling Match

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

It was late evening. It was beginning to get dark. Vandhiyathevan was beginning to question Nambi’s motives. Where were they headed to? He hoped that he was not being led to some enemy camp. He had heard that the farthest that Chozha forces have been able to occupy was Thambalai. He could hear the constant sound of thundering hooves through the dark forest path. Thankfully, moonlight lit the path in front of them.

Suddenly Vandhiyathevan heard voices – sounds of celebration and cheering. He saw the lights of torches and a fire in the gathering. The horses stopped a little before the gathering. One of the horses turned quickly and headed towards Vandhiyathevan.

The warrior on the horse approached Vandhiyathevan and before he could realise, he threw a punch on his chin. Vandhiyathevan fell down but regained composure quickly. He threw a punch towards the warrior, who fell down. The two fell on each other and started wrestling. The warrior quickly removed Vandhiyathevan’s knife from his waist and threw it far away. It was now a fair fist fight. The two warriors rolled and fought. They kicked up a dust storm.

A crowd gathered around them. Within a few minutes, the warrior had overpowered Vandhiyathevan, had thrown him on the ground, and sat on his back. The warrior removed Vandhiyathevan’s waist cloth and the scroll within it. He got up, motioned to one of the two other riders to hold down Vandhiyathevan. The warrior walked over close to another, who was holding a torch and started reading the message.

“Nambiyaare, you are such a traitor. Get the scroll from him. I never should have trusted you as a companion. You are a coward too.”

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

By this time, several others in the crowd had seen the warrior’s face in the light of the torch, and started recognising him.

Folks around started cheering, “Ponniyin Selvar, Vaazhga!” There was celebration all around and everyone surrounded the Prince, and heaped more praises on him.

“All of you, get back to the camp. Make arrangements for a feast,” said the Prince, and the crowd dissolved.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the Prince with wonder. He thought that the Prince had the good looks of Arjuna and the strength of Bhīma. He was in awe of this man. He felt privileged that he had gotten punched by this man.

Some readers might feel a little sad that the greatest of the great rulers – Prince Arulmozhi Varman – the man whose name is what inspired the name of this novel, the ruler who would bring so much praise to the Chozha kingdom, the King who would later be called Raja Rajan – has been introduced in such a normal fashion, without any royal fanfare. But then, this is the way he met our hero, Vandhiyathevan, and this is the way he had to make an appearance.

The Prince approached Vandhiyathevan with a smile on his face.

“Welcome, my friend. Welcome to the beautiful island of Lanka. You have come seeking the Chozha forces from so far away. Is this welcome suitable to you, or would you like something more celebratory?”

Vandhiyathevan got up with a jump and paid his respects by joining his hands and bowing to the Prince.

“I bow to you, my Prince. The welcome is very satisfactory to me. The scroll that I brought from the Princess has been delivered to you. Now it is up to you to decide what to do with me.”

“I see that the scroll has been written by my sister herself. Did she give it to you personally?”

“Yes, Sire. I had the distinct honour of receiving it personally from the Princess. I started immediately after, and reached here without even halting anywhere.”

“I can see that. Else, you would not have been able to come here so quickly. For someone who has done me such a big favour, I wonder what I can give in return.”The Prince walked towards Vandhiyathevan and embraced him tightly. Vandhiyathevan’s tiredness vanished in a moment. He felt like he was in heaven.