Book 2 | Chapter 35 | Lankan Throne
The monk looked in the direction of Prince Arulmozhi. The lamp was put off, and there was darkness again. In a few minutes, Vandhiyathevan noticed that the monk was walking silently in the dark towards them. The monk came to the place where the three of them were standing.
“Devapriya, welcome. The Buddhist senate is waiting for you. Guru Mahathero has also come. I cannot express how thankful I am to you for coming here at the specified time.”
“Sir, I have several faults in me, but there is one principle that I have always tried to uphold – to keep my word.”
“I am glad to hear that. May Lord Buddha shower you with his blessings. May I ask who these two are? Are they trustworthy?”
“I trust them as much as I trust my two hands. Even then, if you wish, I can leave them here outside, when I come with you.”
“No. If you trust them so much, we will trust them as well.”
Vandhiyathevan could not understand what was happening. All he could figure out was that they were going to a very important meeting. He was surprised that the Prince trusted this monk with as much as his life itself.
The three of them followed the monk to the place where they had originally sighted him. He pulled a hidden lever in the short wall. A small cavity opened, where he had placed his lamp. Simultaneously, another small opening moved aside to reveal a passage. The three of them walked into the passage. The door closed behind them. The passage winded underground. It was pitch dark except for the small lamp that the monk held. The silence was deafening. Every once in a while, Vandhiyathevan kept wondering whether all this was a treacherous plot to kill the Prince.
The passageway ended in a mandapam. It was a large hall with beautiful round marble pillars and several large statues of Buddhas in all poses – standing, meditating and lying down. They walked onwards through another passageway that led from this hall to an even larger hall. This hall was grander than the first one. The pillars were made of wood, with embellishments of precious gems, which glimmered in the light of the monk’s lamp. More beautiful Buddhas adorned the sides of the walls. Vandhiyathevan was fascinated by all this. He was very surprised to see the Prince walk past all this with nary a glance.
They continued walking and the passageway eventually ended in a large hall with plain granite walls. But this hall was different. There were several Buddhist monks seated on the floor – peace and calmness radiating from each face. On a small throne-like chair sat the Guru Mahathero. Next to him were two other thrones. There was a bejewelled crown and a royal sceptre placed on the smaller throne. The larger golden throne was empty. These artefacts glimmered in the light of the many torches that were hung on the walls of this granite-walled hall.
When the three of them entered the hall, the monks who had been sitting on the floor got up and hailed, “Long live the Buddha.” One of the senior monks pointed to a normal seat and requested the Prince to be seated. He obliged.
Guru Mahathero then spoke in a strange Balinese language to the Prince. The senior guru translated,” I am glad you were able to make it to this Buddhist Mahasangam. I can imagine you would have faced several hardships to get here. The fact that you are here means that the blessings of the Buddha are with you.”
“Buddhism came to Lanka from the Indian mainland. However, successive rulers from the mainland have continuously been attacking this small island and destroying our Viharas. Only about half of the Buddhist places of worship remain today. Several of them have been demolished. Several more have been burnt down. You are the first prince who has ordered the rebuilding of these places of worship. This Mahasangam is indebted to you.”
The Prince bowed and accepted the blessings.
“The Parahara festival has not been celebrated since the last Pandiya conquest, when the Pandiya King had prohibited celebrating this festival. You have allowed this to happen from this year. You have also helped us by making all the arrangements for this festival. We are very happy regarding this as well.”
The Prince bowed his head again and said, “It is my pleasure, sir. Do let me know if there is anything more that needs to be done from my side.”
“Yes. There are some requests from our side. But before that, there is something more that needs to be said.”
“Before the last incarnation of the Buddha, there lived an emperor named Sibi. He had been recognised as one who realised the meaning of peace and followed the principles of Buddhism of this day. The Chozha kings have claimed that you are part of the lineage of Emperor Sibi – some of your Emperors have hence named themselves Sembiyan. Until now, the Buddhists have not recognised that as the truth. But now, having seen your acts of generosity, we believe that you are indeed part of the lineage of that great King Sibi.”
The monks then brought forward a very old Buddhist monk. He seemed to be possessed and was babbling incoherently in a foreign tongue.
The senior guru looked at the Prince and translated, “The Gods have spoken. They bless you. You will rule over a large kingdom – a kingdom as large as that ruled by King Asoka. They also wish that you spread the Buddhist religion, just like how King Asoka did. Oh, Prince, may we ask what is your response to the Gods’ request?”
The Prince responded, “I am not clear as to what exactly the Gods want.”
The guru continued, “I can elaborate on that. Look at that throne. Look at the crown and the sceptre. All the rulers of this beautiful island of Lanka, who have been authorised by this Buddhist Mahasangam have sat on that throne, adorned with that crown, and held that royal sceptre – including great rulers such as Dushtakamanu and Mahasenar. Are you willing to ascend that throne?”
Vandhiyathevan watched all of this excitedly. He looked at the Prince for his reaction, but there was absolutely no facial expression that suggested happiness or any other feeling.
The Prince peacefully responded, “But the current King Mahendan is still alive. While he may not be here, he is still the king…”
“To change the current king is what the Gods wish. The original lineage of kings in this island came from a prince who ran away from his kingdom on the banks of the Ganges. They ruled this kingdom justly for many years. More recently, this has not been the case. Fathers have killed their sons. Sons have killed their fathers. Siblings have killed each other. So much adharma has happened in that lineage, and this has angered the Gods. They are not the right lineage to uphold the principles of Buddhism.”
“The last king Mahendan has run away and hence we consider the throne as abdicated. Further, he does not have any children or siblings. Hence arises the need for a new king to be chosen – and this Mahasangam holds that responsibility. This Mahasangam now wishes that you ascend the throne. If you accept this, we can do the coronation today itself.”
There was deathly silence for a few minutes in the room. Vandhiyathevan had reached the peak of excitement. The Prince got up from his seat. Vandhiyathevan fantasised about placing the bejewelled crown on the Prince’s head.
“Oh, leaders of this great Mahasabha, I bow to you. I am honoured that you are placing so much trust and confidence in me. But what you are asking of me is beyond my realm of decision-making. I was born in Chozhanaadu. I breathed the fresh scent of the Chozha lands and grew up drinking the waters of the Chozha rivers. I came here to this land on the orders of my father, Emperor Sundara Chozhan. I am not at a liberty to take this decision without his assent.”
The chief priest interjected, “Prince, are you aware that your father is almost held captive within his own palace rooms?”
“Yes. I am well aware that his health has failed him and he is restrained to his bed. But there are people whom he has appointed to rule the kingdom on his behalf. If I do not get their assent, I would be branded as a traitor of my own land. “
The priest said, “If you so desire, we can send a monk delegation to meet the Emperor and ask for his assent. The Emperor is a great supporter of our religion, and I am sure he will not refuse our request.”
“What about the citizens of this country? Would you not have to ask them?”
“The citizens of this country whole-heartedly want you as their Emperor, Prince.”
“I would also like the assent of my dear sister. My mother gave birth to me, but my sister brought me up and nurtured her intelligence in me. Without her assent, I would never take a decision. Over and above all of this, I also listen to my conscience – my inner voice. My inner voice is not quite agreeing with your proposition at this time. Please forgive me.”
There was again a deafening silence for a little while. Vandhiyathevan could hear his own heart beating.
The chief priest took a deep breath and said, “Your response was not very surprising to me. While we, as a learned group of men, have decided and strongly feel that you are the best person for this throne, we would also not like to force this upon you. We would like to give you some time to go and think about this – a year to be precise. We will then send for you and we will assemble here to listen to your decision.”
“There is one more thing. While several Viharas in Anuradhapuram have been damaged by the wars, this Vihara is still standing, mainly because this exists under the ground. The passage to this Vihara is known only to those who you see in front of you. No one can come here without being guided by one of us. Kings of Lanka are guided here once in their lifetime for their coronation. We request you, hence, to not talk about anything that happened today and about this place, to anyone. The same goes for your friends as well. If you violate this, you will be subjected to severe curses from the Gods.”
“You do not need to mention the curses. We have given our word that we would not talk about this to anyone. And we will not go against our word.”
The three of them bowed to the gathering, and one of the monks guided them outside. The cool air was refreshing, as the three of them walked out.
Vandhiyathevan, who had been silent all this while said, “Sire, while I agree with the richness of the Chozha land and kingdom, why did you not accept that throne? Ok, fine, you did not want the throne. Could you not have given it to me? I was standing right beside you.”
“Vandhiyatheva, don’t you remember the story of Emperor Saali that I had told you earlier today. The prince who gave up the throne, because of his love for the girl named Ashokamala.”
“Oho. So, there is a girl in your life also? Who is that?”
“Not one, but two. I love two girls – Satyam and Dharmam. For these two girls, I refused the throne.”
While they were walking down the road close to an old building, a silhouette appeared on the other side of the road and clapped twice. The Prince motioned for the other two to follow him and crossed the street swiftly towards the figure. As they reached the other side, there was a loud sound behind them. When they turned back, they saw that the old building they had been walking close to had crumbled and fallen into rubbles. If they had not moved, the three of them would not have survived.
Vandhiyathevan turned around to catch a quick glimpse of the figure that had warned them. He stood there dumb-struck, unable to believe his own eyes. It was Nandini. He wondered how the same Nandini that he had met in Thanjavur, could appear here at Anuradhapuram. The next moment, she vanished.