Book 3 | Chapter 43 | Nandi Mandapam
All through the day, the Prince asked the junior monk so many questions but got only the same reply: “My master will tell you all.” The Prince was waiting for the head monk the next day, so that he could ask all his questions.
The head monk came as expected and enquired about the Prince’s health.
“Acharyare, I am feeling much better. My body is itching to get out and get some activity. I cannot believe that I have been in a semi-conscious state for so long here. I thank you for the wonderful medicines that you have administered to me, that I have become so much better.”
The monk smiled, “You should not give in to these thoughts. The mind always plays these tricks when one recovers from a fever. You need to rest a little more. If this fever relapses, it could be dangerous to your life.”
“I do not worry about my life, sir.”
“You might not worry, but the kingdom needs you. The people are so confused and worried after hearing the news of your drowning. The entire kingdom is grieving.”
“I do not understand what you are saying, sir. Why should the kingdom grieve? Don’t they know that I am being treated by you here? Are they worried that I might not survive this terrible fever?”
“No one knows that you are here and are being treated for a fever. If the people knew, do you think the monastery would be so calm and silent? The people would have broken the walls and would be swarming around this room. That day, when the news of your drowning in the ocean came to this town, there was not a soul who was not shedding a tear. The sound of wailing was everywhere.”
“I still do not understand, sir. The news of my drowning?”
“Yes, a few days ago, we all got news that the ship in which you were returning back to India, got caught in a thunderstorm and sank. We heard that the Periya Pazhuvettarayar camped near Kodikkarai and searched that entire coast for a few days but could not even recover your body. Hence it was assumed that you had drowned in the ocean.”
“A few hours after we heard this distressing news, I was grieving near the front gate of our monastery, when a young monk came and told me that there was a boat with a very sick man, in the canal, which runs by the rear of the monastery.”
“I rushed to the boat and found you in the boat. We have been treating you for four days now, and you gained your consciousness only yesterday.”
“Sir, can you tell me who brought me here?”
“There were two people who came in the boat, a young man and a young woman.”
“Did he give his name? Was it the Vanarkula Veeran, Vandhiyathevan?”
“No, sire. He said his name was Sendhan Amudan. He seemed like a staunch Shaivite. The girl did not give her name, but she seemed to be a strong girl – in both the physical and mental sense.”
“I think I can now recall. It all seems like a dream though. Did they tell you why they brought me here?”
“No, they did not tell me. All they told me was to keep this a secret.”
“There seems to be something fishy going on here. I started from Lanka, because my father had ordered me to be captured and brought back to Thanjavur. It looks like a lot has happened between then and now. I wonder if all this is being done to avoid me being captured. The rumour of me drowning in the sea, also seems to be suspicious. Sir, you keeping me here in the monastery will itself amount to treason. You need to send me off to Thanjavur right away.”
“If keeping you here is treason, I would most likely continue doing it, and accept any punishment for it.”
“How did you just accept me in, without asking any details?”
“For a monk like me, accepting a sick person to nurse back to health is my duty. Also, Sendhan Amudhan did mention that it was Princess Kundavai’s wish that you be accepted here.”
“Oh. The Princess has also weighed in. That is good to hear. Did the two of them leave immediately after dropping me here? Is it possible to find out where they are? I would like to meet them and get more details.”
“There is no need to get excited, oh Prince. They are living somewhere in the city. They come once every day to enquire about your health. They have not yet come today.”
At that time, a young monk peeped in through the door and beckoned to the head monk.
“I will be right back, Sire.”
When the head monk returned, the Prince seemed even more excited.
“Aacharyare, I need to get to Thanjavur. I cannot be disobeying the Emperor’s orders. I cannot be hiding here. I cannot be responsible for this holy place to be brought to disrepute.”
“Sire, you can leave right now. I do not want to keep you here without your wish either. A craft is waiting in the canal. The two people who dropped you off are waiting for you.”
The monk seemed to have a very mischievous smile on his face. There was something that he knew, but not telling the Prince.
“Did they not tell you where we are heading?”
“It seems that if you sail downstream for a little distance, there is a Nandi Mandapam. And that there are two ladies waiting for you there.”
The Prince jumped up from the bed. “Sire, please lead me to the canal right away. I am late already.”
Seeing the Prince walking towards them in a lively gait, Sendhan Amudhan and Poonkuzhali smiled in happiness.
As he got into the craft, the head monk said, “Sire, I would highly advise you to come back and stay for a week more, to get all of your strength back. And if there is anything at all that we can do for you, at this Choodamani Viharam, it would be our blessing to serve you.”
The Prince replied, “Sire, I too am thinking of coming back here again. I have not thanked you and the other monks properly. It is improper to just leave abruptly like this.”
As the craft started to move, he looked at his dear friends. “The last time, when you brought me through this canal, I thought you were Devas and were taking me to heaven. You cheated me and brought me to a monastery after all.”
He smiled, “Anyways, let all that be. I would like to know all that happened after I almost passed out in the middle of the ocean. Also, can you tell me who is waiting for me in the Nandi Mandapam?”
Poonkuzhali did not open her mouth. Amudhan mentioned that it was the Princess Kundavai and the Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi, who were waiting at the Nandi Mandapam, at Aanaimangalam.
“Aha. Why has my sister brought that girl, who keeps fainting for everything, with her?”
“These days, several women of Tamizhnadu, are considering moving away from the Shaivite sect and becoming Buddhist monks.”
“Who are these people, Amudha?”
“The Kodumbalur Princess has been saying so, it seems. And so is this girl here.”
“It is only two of them, who are saying this, Amudha. Losing two women to Buddhism is not that bad. I have seen so many ladies in the Buddhist sects in Lanka. I can take them and induct them there.”
To the best of his knowledge, Amudhan brought the Prince up to speed with what happened since the tropical storm in the sea. The Prince seemed to recollect and piece his memories together.
“There, we have reached the Nandi Mandapam,” said Poonkuzhali as they neared a mandapam on the banks of the canal. The Prince looked in the direction, as they cruised towards the mandapam.