Book 1 | Chapter 5 | Kuruvai Koothu

Theru koothu — Street play — source wikipedia (Gowri Sankar Photography)

They walked along a long passageway to the other end of the courtyard, to the andhapuram (the ladies quarters). Kandanmaran introduced his friend to his mother and to the other ladies in the room. Vandhiyathevan looked around the room to see if he could spot the lady whose fair hands he had seen earlier in the covered palanquin, but in vain.

As they left the room, Vandhiyathevan heard the ladies giggling and laughing.

“I wonder what they are so amused about now”, said Vandhiyathevan.

“They were talking about the Pazhuvettarayar’s new wife. There is a lot of talk about whether this old man, who had crossed the ripe age of 50, needed to have wed such a young lady. The lady is supposed to be extremely beautiful. One of the hand-maidens who had seen the new young queen was describing the lady as we walked in.”

“Yes, with such a fair hand, I am sure she must be a very beautiful maiden”, said Vandhiyathevan, surprising his friend.

“You have seen her? Be careful. Pazhuvettarayar might even kill you. They say that, the warrior king does not spend even a minute without her. He takes her in the covered palanquin everywhere he goes. He does not even let the young queen to come to the andhapuram.”

Vandhiyathevan laughed and said — “I did not do anything wrong to go see her. Neither am I afraid of all these threats of Pazhuvettarayar. I was in Veeranarayanapuram earlier today, when the convoy of the Pazhuvettarayar passed by. At that time, I saw a fair hand from inside the covered palanquin open the silk screen of the palanquin. The hand and her bangles were all that I saw.”

“Judging by the color of her fair hand, she is probably from Kalingam or Kashmiram. Or perhaps from across the ocean like Kadaram. Or maybe even from an Arab country. I have heard that ladies from the Arab countries cover themselves from head to toe, right from birth.”

“I heard that the elephant, the soldiers, and the grand reception were all arranged by the Kadambur palace?”

“Yes, why do you ask, my friend?”

“No. I was just thinking about the reception given to Pazhuvettarayar, and the reception that was meted out to me.”

Kandanmaran laughed heartily and said, “With Lord Muruga’s blessings, if you marry my sister, we will give you a befitting maapillai (bridegroom) reception.”

At this moment, the sound of musical instruments filled the air.

“Kandanmara, what is that sound?”

“Kuravai kootthu is going to start. Would you like to see it?”

“Aha. I have never seen this wonderful art form before. I would love to see it.”

A stage had been set up in one of the open courtyards surrounded by the fort walls. There was adequate lighting with torches. Kuravai kootthu was a dance art form glorifying Lord Muruga, son of Lord Shiva. The artists sang songs describing the valour of the Lord. Nine dancers danced graciously to these songs.

Once the Kuravai kootthu finished, a male dancer and female dancer ascended the stage to dance another traditional art form — devarattam (the dance of the Devas). Vandhiyathevan noticed that this was much more intense. The percussionist drummed an intense beat and the dancers seemed to go into a trance as the dance progressed. At the end of the dance, the two dancers were in a trance and were dancing in a wild frenzy.

The fort temple priest started a slow eerie beat with his udukkai. He stepped up onto the platform and asked the possessed dancer — “Vela, Muruga, please tell us the future of this great kingdom.”

To this, the dancer in trance replied — “The kingdom will prosper. Rains will come. Crops will flourish. But you fools forgot one thing. You forgot to give your sacrifice to my mother. Mother Kali is upset. She is asking for the sacrifice now.”

“What is it that she desires?”

“Will you be able to give? Whatever she asks?”

“Yes. We will definitely please the Mother.”

“She wants narabali (human sacrifice). She wants the blood of a royal. A royal from a family which has ruled for a 1000 years. Can you give this?”

Sambuvarayar looked at the priest and made a sign. The priest stopped beating the udukkai. There was a hushed silence. And then the possessed dancer fainted. He was taken away swiftly. And the crowd dispersed.

In the deathly silence, Vandhiyathevan heard the sound of howling wolves. Instinctively he turned towards the direction of the sound. And he caught sight of a familiar face. Someone was clinging atop the tall fort wall. A face so familiar. Where had he seen this face? It was Alwarkadiyaan Nambi.