Book 1 | Chapter 12 | Crossing the Kollidam

Kollidam river during rains near Mukkombu

To understand how our hero Vandhiyathevan landed at the astrologer’s house, let us go back in time, when the Shaivite saint, Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, and Vandhiyathevan had boarded the boat to cross the Kollidam River.

The Shaivite saint said, “Young man, please tell your friend here, that we can ride the boat together, only if he does not utter the eight syllable name (Namo Narayana). If he does mention the word, these oarsmen are known to me. I will make sure he will be pushed into the river. “

“If he does not say the five syllable word (Namah Shivaya), I will also try not to say my Lords name.”

“Who is this person to say I should not say my Lord’s Name?”

“The Lord’s name of Namah Shivaya is what protects the entire earth”, sang the Shaivite saint.

“Seeking the truth of my Lord, I repeat his name Namo Narayana”, sang Nambi.

Nambi continued, “Thambi, you ask this Shaivite saint. This great river that we are riding on, first washes Lord Narayana’s feet, and then flows down to Thiruvaanikaval, where Lord Shiva himself is immersed in it. So who is more important?”

On hearing this, the Shaivite saint pounced on Nambi, and the fight now became physical. Vandhiyathevan and the oarsmen had to separate the two, with great difficulty.

“Listen to me, the two of you. By fighting like this, both of you will end up going straight up to your respective Lord’s abodes now.”

One of the oarsmen said — “Whether they will reach the Lords abode or not is debatable, but they will definitely go into one of these crocodile’s stomachs”, as he pointed out a large crocodile in the water.

“I do not have any fear with crocodiles. Lord Narayana, in the form of Aadimoolam, came and rescued the elephant Gajendran from a crocodile.”

“Hmm. Lord Narayana would only come here if He is not flirting with the gopikas of Brindavan right now.”

And the debate continued unabated.

Vandhiyathevan sat bemused in between.

This is probably a good time to briefly explain to the reader, why this kind of rivalry was prevalent at that time. For about 300 years before this time, Buddhism and Jainism had started to percolate the predominantly Hindu fabric of the region. There were several good things that happened during this time, such as a new flourish of art and poetry. The Hindu factions however felt threatened, and regrouped to bring back Hinduism at large. The three main Shaivite saints sang the praises of Shiva and the Alwars sang the praises of Narayana. At this time, a third faction had emerged as well, with the birth of Adi Shankara at Kaladi, in Kerala. This great man brought about the neutral concept of Advaitha. With these three factions trying to outdo each other, there was a great deal of verbal and sometimes even physical conflicts.

On reaching the other bank, the Shaivite saint gave a final curse at the Veera Vaishnavite — “May you go to hell!”

The warrior that Kandanmaran had sent along with Vandhiyathevan went to Thirupanandal to get a horse for Vandhiyathevan.

Meanwhile, Vandhiyathevan and Alwarkadiyaan Nambi sat beneath a large tree, with each of them trying to get the other to talk about the midnight meeting at Kadambur. Both succeeded in not revealing too much.

Vandhiyathevan told him about his entrance into the Kadambur palace and about his meeting with his childhood friend. He described his visit to the andhapuram. He added some spice to the story here though.

“The young queen of Pazhuvettarayar is so beautiful that, not even the Deva apsaras like Ramba and Mohini could compare against her. She stood so much apart from all the other ladies in the andhapuram.”

Vandhiyathevan described the Kuravai kootthu performance.

When Nambi tried asking him about the guests and what they were speaking, Vandhiyathevan feigned ignorance on state matters.

“Being a young lad, you should become more responsible. You should know what is happening in the kingdom.”

“I have also been thinking on the same lines, since morning. Kandanmaran was talking very mysteriously today morning about some meeting that happened last night. He was also saying that something was about to happen very soon. He refused to tell me anything more. Nambiyaare, do you know anything about all this? About the Chozha Emperor? Who will succeed the Emperor?”

“I am a wandering Vaishnavite minstrel. How would I know about any of this?”

“Nambiyaare, if you will not get upset, I would still like to ask you one question.”

“Go ahead, I will not get upset.”

“At this age, and with your wisdom, I still find it amusing you have a thing for the young queen of Pazhuvettarayar. I feel that this entire Veera Vaishnavite outlook is all a farce. Pray tell me why you still have this physical longing.”

“Ahem. I do find it offensive that you ask me this question, but I will respond to it. It is not a physical attraction like what you call it. It is much more than that. It is a long story.”

“My horse is still not here. We have time. And I love your stories.”

“It is a story. A real story. And not a fantasy.”

“When I was young, we grew up in Pandiyanaadu, on the banks of the river Vaigai. One day, when my father went to the riverside garden (nandavanam), he found a beautiful baby girl. We searched for her parents in the vicinity, but in vain. My family decided to raise the child. Since we found her in the nandavanam, we named her Nandhini.”

“She grew up to be a devout Vaishnavite singing the Alwar paasurams so beautifully. After my father’s death, I took care of Nandhini. We went around to different temples singing the praises of Lord Narayana.”

“About 3 years ago, the Chozha kings routed the Pandiya kingdom. The Pandiya king was wounded very badly. However, close aides somehow rushed him to a safe house — my house. I was not in town. I was on a pilgrimage. Nandhini took care of the grievous wounds of the Pandiya king.”

“But very soon, the Chozha warriors found out about the safe house. They came and beheaded the Pandiya king right in front of Nandhini. The Pazhuvettarayar saw Nandhini and captured her as his wife, for her beauty.”

“I have been trying to meet Nandhini ever since. If she wished, I will do anything to free her. Until now I have not succeeded.”

Vandhiyathevan was moved after hearing this story that Nambi had just recited. He almost felt like telling him that it was not Nandhini in the palanquin, rather it was Madhuranthaka Thevar. But something in his mind, told him not to reveal this. He could not get himself to believe in this man completely.

It was at this time, the Kadambur warrior came back with a horse.

Vandhiyathevan decided to probe Nambi one last time.

“Nambiyaare, do you mean to say you do not know anything about the State matters? Who will ascend the throne if something happens to Emperor Sundara Chozhan?”

He observed Nambi’s face for any reaction, but could not sense any change.

“How would I know anything? You can maybe ask the Kudandhai Josiyar.”

“Is this astrologer so good?”

“He is the best. He can predict anything with his great astrological skills.”