Book 1| Chapter 41 | Sembiyan Maadevi
A master temple architect from Maamallapuram stepped up next and exhibited the miniature model of a temple. He explained how this was a new and unique temple construction. He expressed his desire to utilize this design for each of the 276 paadal-petra-sthalam temples, where the three main Shaivite saints had sung the Devarams.
The Royal Matron, Sembiyan Maadevi looked at the person standing next to Nambi and nodded her agreement.
“Eesana Shiva Bhattare, do you see how beautiful this temple design is? We should definitely do this. This has been my life purpose. If only, my husband had not turned northwards and headed towards Kailasam, I could have done so much more.”
The priest replied, “What is different now, O Matron? The Chakravarthy has ordered that all of your wishes be fulfilled without any question. The two princes are even more eager to ensure that your wishes are carried out.”
“Even then, my enthusiasm is dying down. I am hearing murmurs; some people feel that my temple building initiatives are affecting the Kingdom’s treasury. Apparently some are even asking why there should be so many temples for Lord Shiva. I do not care for public opinion, but from the Prince in Kanchi?”
Alwarkadiyaan Nambi stepped forward and said, “I am also one of those who question such.”
“Oh Mother, I disagree with this as well. You, of all people, should not be part of this.”
Eesana Shiva Bhattar interjected, “Oh Royal Matron, please forgive my brother Thirumalai. Sometimes, he gets emotional like this. I would like to apologize on his behalf.”
In those times, the division between Shaivites and Vaishnavites had not happened. In the same family, some could be staunch Shaivites, some could be staunch Vaishnavites, and yet others could worship both the Lords. Eesana Shiva Bhattar was one of those. As a priest, he took care of the Shiva and Vishnu temples.
“Thirumalai, calm down and speak your mind.”
“You build so many temples for that God who roams around with a skull in his hand. But for the great Lord who has saved the people of the Earth so many times, you have not raised any temple. Could you at least not renovate any of the olden temples?”
At this, Thirumalai’s cousin retorted, “For the great Cosmic Dancer, we need to build grand temples and mandapams. For a Lord who is always sleeping on his snake bed, why should one raise grand temples? He just needs a small dark room without a light.”
“Anna, the same sleeping Lord was the one who measured the Earth, Heavens, and Mahabali’s head in three giant steps.”
“But, the same God found it so difficult to find our Lord’s feet. He had to dig so deep into the ground just to get his blessings.”
Sembiyan Maadevi interrupted this verbal duel with a vibrant laugh.
“Stop, stop this bickering. Thirumalai, no one has said, we should not build or renovate Vishnu temples. Please tell me clearly which temple you are referring to.”
“Recently I had been to Veeranarayanapuram. Your father-in-law, the great Paranthaka Chakravarthy built a massive Vishnu temple there. The Vishnu over there stands guard”, and he looked at his cousin with disdain,” without sleeping, over the large Veeranarayana tank. The brick walls of the temple seem to be falling apart. I request you to please renovate that into a stone temple.”
“Yes. We can renovate this temple. Please stay and give me more details.”
She looked at the others and bid them to excuse themselves. The whole hall emptied out, except for the Matron and the Veera Vaishnavar.
“Thirumalai, what else did you see and hear during your pilgrimage? There must be some important things you want to tell me. Else, you would not have gotten my attention in such a manner a while ago.”
“Yes, Oh Queen. You started to say something about the Prince in Kanchi. I had to stop you. We have no idea about the people who were present in the hall then. There could even be spies in the midst.”
The old Queen sighed. “Yes. It has come to a point where members within the family have started doubting each other — even Prince Aditya Karikalan. There was a time, when he used to love me, even more than his mother. That is not true anymore. I should have perhaps left this Earth, along with my husband. I asked, but he asked me to stay back.”
“Oh Queen, it is the good fortune of this land, that you are here to guide us all.”
She sighed again and looked forlorn into the distance. “My own son has started to not listen to my words. Who else will?”
She looked at Nambi again, “You said, there are spies here. Who do you think could have sent spies? Aditya Karikalan?”
Nambi started to narrate a meeting that he had overheard. “It was in the stone temple at Maamallapuram. Three of them were present — the Crown Prince, Thirukovilur Malayamaan, and Pallavan Parthibendran. In the darkness, I was hiding behind a pillar and listening. They were claiming that the Pazhuvettarayars and your son Madhuranthakan have kept the Emperor imprisoned in his own palace in Thanjavur. Malayamaan was saying that you could also be involved in this.”
“They were planning to take an army to Thanjavur to bring back the Emperor by force. The Prince intervened at this time, and mentioned that one more attempt should be made to bring back the Emperor without a war. They decided to send a messenger to Thanjavur.”
“I know that messenger. He is a very smart warrior. He is not only a messenger, but well versed in the art of espionage. I met him and tried getting information from him. This warrior was so smart that, not only did he not divulge any information, but he was trying to get information out of me. The Kudandhai astrologer also tried, but in vain. I heard that he succeeded in delivering the message to the Emperor.”
The Queen who was listening to all of this intently asked, “And then what happened? Did the Emperor give any reply message?”
“Apparently, the Emperor told him that he would give a reply the next day. But during this time, the Pazhuvettarayars started doubting this young man. On noticing this, the young man slipped and escaped from the famed Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s fort guards. He is now on the run.”
“Hmm. If he was able to do all this, he is definitely a very wise man. There is no doubt.”
She sensed that there was more that Nambi had to say. “Where else did you go from Kanchi?”
“I was on the way here. But, on the way, in Veeranarayanapuram, by Lord Vishnu’s grace, I got to know about another secret.”
She exclaimed, “One more secret?”
“Yes. There was a meeting that was being organized that night in the Kadambur fort. All the vassal kings were there, including Periya Pazhuvettarayar. He was accompanied by his young wife’s palanquin.”
The Matron’s voice was now laced with deep sorrow. “It is all because of her — the current state of affairs in the Chozha Kingdom. It is all because of her. Did you meet her?”
“No. I could not. I tried. The fact that I raised her as a sister makes my blood boil. I had such high expectations of her.”
“What else happened in Kadambur?”
“When I knew that she was headed to Kadambur, I pursued. I wanted to somehow meet her. I climbed the outer walls of the Kadambur fort. There was a meeting with the vassals happening in the courtyard. This was where I learnt the secret.”
Nambi paused for a while.
“Thirumalai, go on. I am listening.”
“Pardon me, your Highness. But I feel very hesitant to even say it.”
Nambi somehow got to his senses, and said in a low hushed voice. “We all thought that Pazhuvettarayar was taking his Queen in the palanquin. We were all wrong. It was not the Queen.”
Nambi stumbled over his words, and could not get himself to say it.
“It was your son, Madhuranthaka Thevar.”
Sembiyan Maadevi could not believe what she had just heard. Her face paled. The sorrow in her eyes deepened.
Nambi continued to narrate what had happened in the courtyard in Kadambur. He told her about the secret plan and the support of the vassals of the kingdom.
She felt ashamed for her son. She buried her face in her arms and wept.
She wiped her tears and turned to Nambi.
“Thirumalai, please see me once before you go. I want to talk to Kundavai and see what we can do in this situation.”
“Would you need to tell the Princess about this, Oh Queen?”
“Do you doubt her also?”
“Isn’t that natural? Kundavai is very close to Prince Aditya Karikalan.”
“I have supreme faith in the Princess. I would never doubt her intentions, Thirumalai.”
“Did the Princess tell you about her visit to the Kudandhai astrologer? Did she tell you about the Vaanarkula warrior that she met during the journey?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“The warrior that the Princess met is the same messenger-spy that Aditya Karikalan has sent. There must be something that the Princess knows, but has not shared with you.”
“I do not suspect her of anything. If she has not told me of something, there must be a reason.”
Nambi bowed low and wished to be excused. He said, “The Princess wanted to see me as well. I will let her know that you wanted to meet her.”