Book 1 | Chapter 40 | Pazhayaarai

Mandapam in ruins near Patteeswaram temple. (img src:

Before we get to Vandiyathevan’s entry into Pazhayarai, the reader is invited to get a brief glimpse of this beautiful city. It was one of the finest cities in the Chozha land filled with grand temples like Thirusakthimutram and Patteeswaram. It was a planned city with segregated areas for soldiers, traders, merchants, and royalty. Palaces were grand and the streets were wide.

After the Emperor had left for Thanjavur, the visits of royalty from other nations had decreased. Half of the soldiers were in Lanka. The remaining were in the northern frontier. Hence, the roads were relatively empty.

It seemed like today was a festival of sorts. There were skits and plays happening on the side of the roads. Most of these plays were depicting Lord Krishna’s stories. Ah, it was Shree Jayanthi — Lord Krishna’s birthday. There was general festivity all around.

In the middle of all this, Vandiyathevan heard a familiar voice singing the Alwar Paasuram. Aha, it was Alwarkadiyaan Nambi. There was a group that was beginning to form around the man.

He also noticed a line of chariots waiting outside the Vinnagaram Perumal temple.

A group of royal ladies were coming out of the temple towards their chariots. There was Sembiyan Maadevi, the widow of the great Chozha King Kandaraaditha. The Royal Matron had a majestic aura about her. Behind her came Arunjaya Chozhan’s wife, Queen Kalyani. She was the current Emperor Sundara Chozhan’s mother. The Emperor definitely got his looks from his mother. After that came one of Sundara Chozhan’s wives, Paranthaka Devi. And then came, Princess Kundavai, Vaanathi, and several of her hand-maidens.

While the Chozhas had traditionally been staunch worshipers of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga, the royal family did not have any animosity towards Lord Vishnu and his followers. The royal ladies had come to the Vishnu temple today on account of Shree Jayanthi. Just at the time when Sembiyan Maadevi was about to step into her chariot, she noticed Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, who seemed to be singing louder than before, just to attract her attention.

The Royal Matron gestured for one of the guards to get Nambi closer to her. Nambi approached the chariot and paid his respects.

“Thirumalai, it has been a while since I last saw you. Had you been on a pilgrimage?”

“Yes, Royal Matron. Tirupati, Kanchi, and Veeranarayanapuram were some of the places I had been to.”

“Hmm. Come to my palace tomorrow, and tell me about all that you saw and heard during your pilgrimage.”

Nambi hesitated and said, “I need to leave tonight.”

“Then, I will expect you in the evening.”

Nambi bowed low and excused himself.

Nambi’s eyes met with Kundavai’s. Through her eyes, she expressed her intention to meet him as well. Nambi expressed his approval by bending his head low and showing his respect.

Sembiyan Maadevi’s palace was the biggest and lay in the center of the royal complex. In the middle of the hall where she met people, there was a large golden throne studded with precious gems. On it sat the Royal Matron swathed in a simple white silk sari. The only ornament that she wore was a rudraksha necklace. She had bright sacred ash smeared on her forehead. She represented the ultimate example of humble piety coexisting with opulent royalty. The aura around here was due to her personality, rather than her beauty.

Such a lady was now facing some confusion. Her son, Madhuranthakan had wed the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s daughter, against her wishes. She was also getting news from various quarters that he was beginning to have a desire to ascend the throne. The Royal Matron had raised her son in a pious way, hoping that he would never come to this very decision. She raised him to be a Shiva Bhaktan away from all the royal activities. She had not wanted any confusion on who should ascend the throne. She had already made up her mind that one of Sundara Chozhan’s sons would be the heir to the throne.

It was normal that Sembiyan Maadevi’s meeting hall was always full of temple sculptors, Devaram singers, poets, and temple priests. Today was no different. Temple priests put forward requests for renovating temples. One of them was the priest of Mazhapaadi.

The Matron asked about the history of the temple.

“O Matron, this temple was the one where Lord Shiva called out to Sundaramoorthy Swamigal. Sundarar was about the cross the river near the town, when he heard Lord Shiva calling out to him — ‘Did you forget to meet me here?’ Sundarar immediately went behind the clump of Konnai trees from where the voice came from, and found a small Shiva temple. It is here that he composed the famous ‘Ponnaaar Meniyane’ song.”

“The temple still remains small. We request you to help in renovating it.”

“Yes. We will begin renovating this temple soon.”

Alwarkadiyaan watched all of this intently from the corner of the hall.