Book 2 | Chapter 33 | Lotus Feet

There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka.

At the crack of dawn, the next morning, the Prince, Vandhiyathevan and Nambi left the camp and moved towards Anuradhapuram. After following a forest trail for a little while, they hit the Rajapaattai. The Prince had not brought any guards with him for protection.

Vandhiyathevan was feeling on top of the world. He had finished the work that the Princess had given him. Also, his long-time wish of meeting the Prince had come true. And had he just met the Prince? He had even befriended him. He recollected the events of the previous day. He was so friendly with his troops. He was still surprised to see the unaffected common man in this war zone. He reflected upon the differences between the war strategy of the brutal Aditya Karikalan and the benevolent strategy of Arulmozhi Varman.

When they were nearing Anuradhapuram, the Prince stopped his horse near a large Buddha statue. This whole island had so many such beautiful and large Buddha statues that Vandhiyathevan had by now stopped paying attention to them. The Prince got off his horse and went and stood near the Buddha statue. Vandhiyathevan got off his horse as well. Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, who was riding a little ahead, turned his horse around and came close to the statue.

“Aha, what a sculpture,” exclaimed the Prince.

“I do not understand what is so special about this sculpture. There are a hundred similar ones all over this place,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I like the fact that you always speak your mind.”

“There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka. After having seen the sizes of some of these Buddha statues and the Viharas, I sometimes feel ashamed of our small Shiva temples. In yesteryears, there lived some great Lankan kings. Their kingdoms might have been small, but their hearts and devotion to their God were big. They expressed their devotion through these big Buddha sculptures and Viharas.”

The Prince went close to the Buddha statue, and looked closely at the padma paadam (holy feet) and the lotus flowers that were placed near the feet. He touched the feet, prayed for a moment, and got back on to his horse.

When the three of them had started riding, Vandhiyathevan exclaimed, “Nambiyaare, I am afraid the Prince has fully converted to Buddhism.”

The Prince heard Vandhiyathevan’s comment and responded, “I do have a place in my heart for this religion too. Buddha gave me an important message.”

“But, we did not hear anything.”

“The flowers near the Buddha’s feet told me to come to the Simhathar Lake in Anuradhapuram at exactly midnight.”

Book 2 | Chapter 32 | Where should I go?

I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy).

The play ended. Dinner was ready. The feast was served to the soldiers. The Prince wandered around and spoke to the soldiers. He enquired about their health and their families. He answered their questions and addressed their concerns. Vandhiyathevan realised why the entire kingdom loved and respected this man so much. The soldiers felt immense love and respect for their Prince.

The soldiers were getting a little antsy with the inaction and asked him when and where the next battle would be. The Prince responded by telling them to wait out the rainy season.

After the meal, the Prince excused himself and went towards the tent that was set up for him. He took Vandhiyathevan and Alwarkadiyaan Nambi with him.

“Did you see the enthusiasm of these soldiers? If only Thanjavur had cooperated, we would have finished operations in Lanka by now. But now, we have to wait out the next three months for the rainy season to pass.”

Nambi responded, “Sire, I am surprised you are worried about the situation here, whereas the situation in the mainland is graver. The great Chozha Kingdom established by Vijayalaya Chozhan and expanded immensely by Paranthaka Chozhan and Sundara Chozhan is in danger of disintegrating into bits and pieces.

“Hmm. That is true. Both of you bring important messages. Let me hear them. Vandhiyatheva – please start.”

And Vandhiyathevan started his story. He narrated every incident since the day he left from Kanchi, to when he visited Kadambur, Thanjavur, Pazhayarai, and then now to Lanka. He spoke about every conversation he heard, every plot that he came to know of, every danger he had faced, and how he had escaped. He ended by telling the Prince about how worried Princess Kundavai was, about this whole situation. He also reiterated her request for him to come back to the mainland for the sake of the Kingdom.

Nambi then started talking about his travels. Several of the incidents that he had been through corroborated with what Vandhiyathevan had just talked about. Nambi also talked about the midnight meeting at Thiruppurambiyam Pallippadai. He ended his narration with the Chief Minister’s advice of not endangering himself by coming to the mainland.

“He suggests a temporary pausing of expansion efforts in Lanka, and asks you to consolidate the Tamizh forces in Lanka, in one place. He says that there will be a time very soon when the conspirators will come into the open. At that time, this force would be very useful. He also tells you that several focus forces within the Kingdom, such as the Kaikolaar forces, are also waiting for that time.”

The irritated Prince shot back, “Thirumalai, what does your gurunaathar think? Does he think he is Chanakya or something? How dare he suggest that I fight against my own kinsmen?”

“Sire, that is not what the Chief Minister says. He says action needs to be taken against conspirators of treason in the country. And this should be done at the right time.”

“Even if that is so, why am I to be the person to punish them? Should that not be the Emperor himself?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “Ayya, the Emperor is being held hostage in his own palace. The Pazhuvettarayars are not letting anyone near him. He does not even have that liberty. Your elder brother seems to have taken a pledge never to come to Thanjavur. In this situation, is it not your duty to come to Pazhayarai and restore order?”

The Prince was lost in thought for a little while.

“Hmm. This mann aasai (desire for land) is a dangerous vice. Look at what it is making people do. Do you know the history of Simhagiri fort, which I visited today?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “I have not heard about it, Sire.”

“About 500 years ago, there used to be a king named Dhaadusenan. He had two sons – Kasyavan and Mahendan. Kasyavan and Dhaadusenan’s General conspired against the kingdom. Kasyavan imprisoned his own father and took over the throne. Mahendan escaped to India. Soon Kasyavan built a wall around where his father was imprisoned and killed him. Ridden with guilt and a fear that his brother would come back for revenge, Kasyavan built this powerful fort of Simhagiri on top of a mountain. He also built very strong fortifications around it.”

“Soon enough, Mahendan returned with the help of the Pandiya King. The foolish Kasyavan, in a moment of carelessness, came out in the open to fight the war, and lost his life. In that fort, where this tyrant lived, there are some beautiful paintings. These have been painted a few hundred years ago, but they still remain very well preserved. I had the good fortune of seeing these paintings when I visited with the Chinese travellers.”

Nambi asked politely, “Ayya, can I please ask you a question?”

“Of course, please ask.”

“From what I know, and what you have said until now, it looks like Simhagiri is still under the control of the Sinhalese army. In that situation, was it prudent of you to go into the fort with the Chinese travellers? Did you have to risk your life to do that?”

“Thirumalai, why should my life alone be so important, that it should not be risked? There are so many Chozha warriors here, who are risking their lives every day, for the sake of the Kingdom.”

“But, those warriors risk their lives in the battlefield…”

The Prince interrupted Nambi, “I had two reasons to go to Simhagiri. I had been desirous of seeing the paintings in the fort for a very long while, and that wish got fulfilled today.”

“And the second reason…”

“I knew that Parthibendra Pallavan had reached Lanka, the minute his ship shored on Trikonamalai harbour, but I did not wish to meet him immediately. I also got to know that the Chief Minister had come to Maathottam, and I was also expecting a message from him. If I get suggestions from two elders, it would only be proper of me to adhere to the wishes of the first person whom I meet.”

“According to that logic, my side wins.”

Nambi countered, “Ayya, this fellow is trying to fool you using logic.”

“Nambi, he did not have to fool me. I had noticed him overpower my man and get on to his horse. I wanted to bring him here and teach him a lesson.”

“Yes. It was a nice lesson. My back still hurts thinking about the lesson. Is this the way the Prince of Chozhanaadu treats a messenger with an official scroll? Anyway, I am at least glad that the Prince is leaning in favour of coming with me to Pazhayarai.”

The Prince said, “I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy). This land of Lanka has so many wild elephants, but does not have that kind of an elephant.”

The three of them had a hearty laugh.

The Prince finally said – “Let us head to Anuradhapuram. I will meet Parthibendra Pallavan when we get there. Let me also hear what he has to say. And then I can make up my mind where to go.”