Book 1 | Chapter 26 | The Emperor’s Poem

Mandwa Haveli, Rajasthan.

The announcer announced that the poet group was approaching. The announcer spoke encomiums about Tamizh poets and their significant to the history of the region.

The poet group walked into the room and stood with respect in front of the king. The poets then hailed the King.

The King seemed very happy seeing the group of poets.

“Please sit down. It has been a while since I listened to some sweet Tamizh poetry.”

Vandiyathevan settled down with the poets. The Fort Commander noticed this. The Commander decided to investigate Vandiyathevan after the audience of the poets.

One of the poets recited a poem that praised the Emperor for helping the Buddhist monks. The poem talked about how a strong Shaivite King like Sundara Chozhan was still open to helping other religions.

Another poet got up and recited another poem praising the Chozha Emperor. The King asked him to explain the poem in detail.

The poem detailed three stories where the Chozha Emperor had helped Lord Indra, Lord Surya, and even Lord Shiva. The poem talked about Lord Indra losing his steed Airavatha, and how the King gave a better steed to the Lord. It talked about how Lord Surya, the sun God lost his seven horses in his fight with the planet Rahu, and how the king gave seven of his best horses to the sun God. And lastly, it spoke about how the king gave his bejeweled palanquin for the wedding procession of Lord Shiva and Parvathi.

The Emperor was beaming with happiness on hearing this poem.

“My dear Emperor, forgive me for I have a committed a mistake”, said the Commander.

“What did you do, Chinna Pazhuvettarayare? Did you bring back the elephant, the horses, and the palanquin that I gave to the Gods? You are very well capable of doing that.”

The Emperor could not control his laughter on making this sarcastic comment. The entire room broke into laughter.

“The poets reciting the poems brought such happiness to you. It is my mistake that I did not bring in these people more often to you. Perhaps it could have kept you in better spirit.”

The Emperor looked at the poets and asked — “Do any of you know who wrote this poem?”

The poets did not know who the poet was and looked at each other.

“I know this poet who wrote this poem. He resides in this palace unable to stand the heavy crown of the Chozha Empire on his head.”

The poets were pleasantly surprised. The chief of the poets, Nallan Saathanar, got up and asked — “Aha, was this poem written by you, Sire?”

The Emperor admitted that this poet was indeed written by him.

“Some years back, another group of poets came to visit me at Pazhayarai. Some of you might have also been there. The poets recited several poems, and I sent them off with gifts, befitting their poetic eloquence. Kundavai was with me, at that time.”

“I told her that I could sing much better than these poets, and that was when I made up this poem. She liked the poem very much, and so, I asked her for a gift in return. The young girl that she was, she got up on my lap, and gave me a tight hug and a couple of pretend slaps on my cheeks.”

When Vandiyathevan heard Kundavai’s name mentioned, he smiled. He had to meet this Princess, who was praised to be the most intelligent and beautiful person in the entire Chozha royalty. Instinctively, his hand caressed his hip pouch. He paused. He could not feel the scroll that Prince Karikalan had given for Princess Kundavai.

“It must have fallen down when I took the Emperor’s scroll out. What a blunder I have done.”

Vandiyathevan was distracted and the voice of the still speaking Emperor fell on deaf ears. His thoughts were all on where the other scroll could be. Could it have gotten into the hands of the Fort Commander?

The Emperor was saying — “If I had written the poem today, I would have added that I gifted the Lord of Death, a sturdy buffalo steed as well. It is on this steed that he is heading here to take me away.”

Hearing this, the Queen Vaanamadevi, silently wept.

The Commander interjected — “I would never let that happen.”

“Commander, you are very well capable of stopping even Lord Yama from getting in here.” Vandiyathevan could sense the sarcasm in the King’s voice.

The King continued, “Wasn’t it Naavukarasar, who sang that we should never fear Death (Namanai Anjom). He had a severe colic disease. The Lord Almighty cured him of that.”

“It has always been my desire to collate and preserve the poems and songs that the Shaivite Saints have sung. This will not be able to done in my lifetime. I am confident that someone in my lineage will do this, in the future.”

The King was getting exhausted, physically and mentally. The temple doctor whispered something in the Fort Commander’s ear.

“Sire, you had mentioned you wanted to hear a poem from the Sangam age. I think it would be advisable to listen to that, and then we will excuse ourselves.”

The chief poet sang a song which described the trade links that the early Chozha kings had with the rest of the world. The song described Poompuhar as being an established trade port, where goods were imported and exported to several countries.

After listening to the song, the King said — “The song talks about how goods and food came in from the Eezhanaadu in those days. You wanted me to hear this. It is with this intention that you had brought the poets. Is it not, Commander?”

The Commander sullenly nodded his agreement.

The poets excused themselves from the room. Vandiyathevan tried slipping past with them as well. As he neared the door, an iron hand caught his shoulders and held him from leaving the room.