Book 1 | Chapter 50 | Veerapandiyan’s Head

Pudhu mandapam, Madurai. img src:

“I was twelve years old, when I first met her. It was a summer afternoon, when my brother, sister, and I were playing in the pond behind our palace, in Pazhayarai. We had finished playing and were heading up the stairs to the garden, when we heard our grandmother, Sembiyan Maadevi’s voice. She was sitting in the garden with three others. One of them was a young girl, who was in our age group. We assumed that the other two adults were her parents. It was her large inquisitive eyes that captured me that day. I can still picture them. “

The Prince stared into the darkness and did not speak for a while.

“My grandmother told us that these people were from Pandiyadesam and would be staying at Eesana Shiva Bhattar’s house. She introduced the young girl as Nandini and encouraged my sister to include her, whenever we played. She said that Nandini could be a good, loyal friend to my sister.”

Karikalan sighed. “But I could sense that my sister did not like Nandini.”

“When we walked back to our palace, my sister commented on how ugly and awkward Nandini looked, and that she could never face Nandini with a straight face.”

A chuckle escaped Karikalan’s lips. “That is when I learnt an important life lesson. Women are born with jealousy. However beautiful a woman may be, if she sees someone more beautiful than her, she cannot tolerate it.”

“I used to tease my sister quite a bit. I used to tell her that Nandini did look beautiful. We debated a lot regarding this.”

“A few years later, my father and I embarked on the war against Pandiyanaadu. The Eezham king at that time had also sent a force to help the Pandiya army. We tore them apart. The Pandiya king Veerapandiyan went missing. We did not know whether he went into hiding, or if he died. The Eezham forces retreated. We chased them all the way to Sethu. What remained of them boarded their boats and fled. My father wanted to teach the Eezham king a lesson, to not interfere in the mainland wars. He planned to send a strong force under the leadership of Kodumbalur Siriya Velaan. We waited at Sethu until this expedition set off and left only when we got information that the force had landed safely.”

“It was two years before we reached Pazhayarai again. Both my sister and Nandini had grown up and changed considerably. Both were even more beautiful than before. They also seemed to have forgotten their initial differences and settled into a close friendship. I noticed that Nandini was decked in fine clothing and jewelry too. It was probably my sisters doing. The adolescent Nandini felt very shy talking to me.”

“I tried very hard to break her shyness towards me. Talking to her gave me immense pleasure. I cannot put in words the feelings that I had. But I soon realized that, people around me did not like this. Ever since we returned, my sister Kundavai started showing signs of hatred towards Nandini. Even my grandmother pulled me aside one day and said `Nandini is from a priest family. You are an Emperors son. It is not advisable to spend too much time with her.’ I was shocked. I lost some respect for my grandmother. I went against her wishes and continued talking to Nandini.”

“One day, I came to know that, Nandini and her family had gone back to their town in Pandiyanaadu. I was devastated. I showed scorn towards others. I showed my anger on my sister. Thankfully, I had to travel north with the Chozha army to drive out the Rashtrakoota forces that had occupied Thirumunaipaadi and Thondai Mandalam. That was when we met and became dear friends. With the help of Malayamaan, the two of us drove the Rashtrakoota forces to the other side of the river Paalaar, and we captured Kanchi.”

“Then, we received bad news from Lanka. Our forces were destroyed there and our Kodumbalur warrior had died in battle. On hearing this news, the Pandiya king who had been hiding so long, came out of hiding and regrouped an army. He used this army to recapture Madurai.”

“Parthibendra, you must remember how we felt on that day. We felt so much anger that we started immediately to Pazhayarai. My father had started becoming immobile already. His legs were not strong enough. I took an oath to my father, that I would not return back, without capturing Madurai, and that I would bring back the Pandiya king’s head to Chozhanaadu. You remember all this, don’t you?”

Karikalan was shaking by now.

“My father wanted us to take the army which was led by Kodumbalur Boodhi Vikrama Kesari. We accepted and started. We met Periya Pazhuvettarayar on the way and he had expressed his displeasure at not having been appointed the Army general. The Kodumbalur general did not want any controversy in this matter, and handed over the reins of the army to me.”

“Hah. You remember that war, don’t you? We routed their army. We recaptured Madurai. We were not satisfied with that. We did not want this to happen ever again. We instructed our army to chase down every living Pandiya warrior and kill them. You and I took a small force and followed the Pandiya king. The Pandiya king’s bodyguard formed a human shield around their king, determined to give their lives for their king. We killed each one of them. When we had killed each one of them, we realized that it was a ploy. In the middle stood an elephant with a flag with the fish insignia, but no sign of the king. It was not very surprising. The Pandiya king was adept at fleeing from the battlefield.”

“We did not back down. We searched in all directions. I was also searching along the banks of the Vaigai river. I spotted a single horse’s hoof marks. There were blood stains on that trail as well. I followed this trail. It led to a small settlement. There was a Perumal temple in the middle and a couple of huts of the priests. Flowering plants abounded in the area.”

“If you remember, I had given strict orders to you and the army that no one should ever step into that settlement. All of you probably thought the order was because of the temple in the settlement. What I had not told any of you was that, I had spotted my childhood love in there. I had seen Nandini in the settlement. She was looking different than before. She wore her long hair in a side bun like Aandal. She had adorned her hair with flowers. She also wore a flower garland on her neck. When I had asked her about it, she had said that, when she left Pazhayarai and came here, she had made a pledge not to wed any man, and like Aandaal, if she ever wed anyone, she would marry only Lord Krishna.”

“Heh. I remember sniggering, since I did not believe in the nonsense she was talking. Yet, I did not give my opinion to her. I had asked her if she needed any help. She was the one who had requested that no one come into this settlement. She had said that only her two aged parents lived here, other than her. She had an elder brother, who had gone on a pilgrimage. And hence my order to you and the army, never to enter that settlement.”

“I went and saw her, a couple of times. Love was rekindled.”

“These memories flashed in my mind at that time also, when I saw the single horse tracks leading to the same settlement. I saw the horse tied to a tree, and the blood stains led to one of the huts. I peeped in through a window, and what did I see? It felt like a hot iron rod had been driven into me. Veerapandiyan was on a cot. Nandini was nearby feeding him a glass of water. There were tears in her eyes.”

“I was livid with anger. I kicked open the door of the hut. She came screaming in front of me and fell at my feet. She asked me to pardon the injured man. I was taken aback. I asked her how she was related to the man on the bed.”

There were tears in Karikalan’s eyes now.

“You know what she said? She said that the man on the bed was her lover. She claimed him as the man who had agreed to marry her. I lost even the little sympathy that I had for the wounded man on the bed. I would even have pardoned him if he had conquered my kingdom. He had conquered the woman who lived in my heart. I kicked Nandini to the side, and in one swoop of my sharp sword, I felled Veerapandiyan’s head.”

“Sometimes, nowadays, I feel shameful that I committed such a deed, but that was a time, when I was filled with the bravado of war, and with anger. When I left that hut, I turned back and looked at Nandini. Our eyes met. Her eyes were glowing with anger. Embers of fire.”

“By that time, you had come searching for me. You saw the decapitated head of Veerapandiyan and raised victory cheers. But my heart was heavy, burdened with sorrow.”