Book 1 | Chapter 24 | Thanjavur Fort

Chattrams (resthouses) as part of the Thanjavur Palace

Vandiyathevan slept like a log through the night and woke up only after the sun had dawned. He woke up to the beautiful sounds of birds chirping. In perfect tune with this was someone who was singing the beautiful verses by Sundaramoorthy Swami — “Ponnaaar Meniyane ….”

He got up and looked outside towards the garden. Sendhan Amudhan had already taken a bath, was smeared generously with sacred ash and was collecting flowers from the garden, singing softly.

Vandiyathevan had to see the Emperor today. He had to see him before the Periya Pazhuvettarayar came back. If the Pazhuvettarayar gets back, he might never be allowed to meet the Emperor.

He quickly took a bath in the pond nearby. He dressed himself elegantly. He was not quite sure himself, why he had dressed himself so — was it because, he was going to meet the emperor? Or was it because he may meet the Pazhuvur Queen Nandini?

The friends decided to walk together to the fort together. Vandiyathevan had decided to leave the horse behind to rest and recuperate.

“Don’t you have any other relatives, other than your mother?”

“There are relatives. My mother has a brother and a sister. The sister has passed away. My uncle is the priest at the Kodikkarai Shiva temple. He is also the handler of the lighthouse there. He has a son and a daughter.”

Sendhan Amudhan described the daughter, Poonkuzhali, in great detail. He seemed to be enamoured of her.

“When she sings, the ocean king himself stops the waves and listens to her.”

Vandiyathevan said — “You should be lucky. She is the right person for you to get married.”

Amudhan thought for a little and mentioned — “Anna, I do not think she is very interested in me though.”

To this Vandiyathevan retorted, “Come on, Thambi. Does every marriage happen with the initial consent of the lady? I am sure you can convince her. Look at the Periya Pazhuvettarayar. Do you think the lovely Queen Nandini fully approved of getting married to that old warrior?”

“Anna, please do not talk about these big people in public. I urge you not to talk about these people once you are inside the fort. It is not safe for you. The two Pazhuvettarayars are the true rulers inside the fort.”

“But this was not the case, two years ago, was it?”

“No, this happened after the King moved from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur.”

“Why did the King have to move from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur?”

“Anna, I can tell you what I have heard. When the Chozha Kings captured Pandiyanaadu, there were some atrocities that were committed. When there are wars, there are war crimes. That is nothing surprising there. But there is talk of some Pandiyanaadu patriots who are regrouping and wanting to take revenge on the King. The Pazhuvettarayars convinced the King that, the security at Pazhayarai was not enough, and that, Thanjavur would be a better place. Also, there were better doctors in Thanjavur, than in Pazhayarai, to treat the King’s ailments.”

“Everyone keeps saying that the Emperor is sick. Does anyone know what his ailment is?”

“Oh, of course, everyone knows that. He has epilepsy because of which, both of his legs have ceased functioning. He is bed-ridden because of that. He is so weak that, he is not able to ride a horse or even ride a palanquin. More recently, they are saying that he is not also mentally doing very well.”

“What a pity.”

“Oh. Pity. Please do not use that word inside the fort. The Pazhuvettarayars will prosecute for using that word.”

Vandiyathevan got very irritated at this time. He thought — “How powerful these two have become. It is a mistake that the king did, by making these two in charge of the army, the granary, and the treasury. It has gotten into their heads. This needs to be stopped. If I get the chance, I should also try and warn the Emperor.”

They had reached the fort walls. The two friends parted ways.

The ring with the Palm Tree Insignia did wonders at the Fort gates. He was respectfully let in, without any issues. What he saw inside the fort gates impressed him. It was so different than Kanchipuram. The old city of Kanchipuram had only been partially restored by Aditya Karikalan. There were still several old, ancient looking areas inside the Kanchipuram city. In contrast, the buildings inside Thanjavur fort looked so new and modern. They had been built exquisitely with beautiful landscaping and trees all around. The streets inside the fort were filled with people, horse-mounted cavalry, and even elephants. Music wafted through the air from somewhere.

He walked down what looked like the main road. Vandiyathevan guessed that following the main road would lead him to the main palace where the Emperor stayed. After a little while of walking, the road he was walking on, led to a large palace with a very large tiger flag flying on its mast. He reasoned that, this was the palace he needed to get into.

Vandiyathevan quickly thought of a plan to get into the palace.

He also had to ascertain when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar would be back in town.

He noticed a guard on the side of the road.

“Sir, can you tell me where the Pazhuvettarayar is now?”

“Thambi, the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar is in the palace.”

“I am asking about the Periya Pazhuvettarayar. Has he come back? I heard he had gone to Nadunaadu.”

“Oho, I did not know he had gone to Nadunaadu, but he has not yet returned. Nandini Devi returned back yesterday late evening though.”

The palace was magnificently big. There were guards all around the palace. Tourists paused to balk at the sight of the palace and the large tiger flag. The guards waved away those who stayed for too long.

Vandiyathevan did not stand hesitating like the others. He walked straight up to the guards confidently. The guards stopped him by crossing their spears. Vandiyathevan took out and showed them his magic ring. They took a long look at it and waved him in.

The ring that Nandini Devi had given was indeed magical when it came to gaining him entry into difficult places.

He walked in through the gates wondering where he can find the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. He knew very well, that without his permission, an audience with the King would be impossible.

Suddenly he heard the commotion of a lot of people behind him. They were wearing expensive silk clothing and jewelry. They seemed like a group of poets. The guards seemed to recognize them and let them in.

“Take these poets to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar”, said the chief guard to the sentry.

“This was the best opportunity”, thought Vandhiyathevan, as he decided to follow the poets.