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.”

Book 2 | Chapter 30 | Wrestling Match

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

It was late evening. It was beginning to get dark. Vandhiyathevan was beginning to question Nambi’s motives. Where were they headed to? He hoped that he was not being led to some enemy camp. He had heard that the farthest that Chozha forces have been able to occupy was Thambalai. He could hear the constant sound of thundering hooves through the dark forest path. Thankfully, moonlight lit the path in front of them.

Suddenly Vandhiyathevan heard voices – sounds of celebration and cheering. He saw the lights of torches and a fire in the gathering. The horses stopped a little before the gathering. One of the horses turned quickly and headed towards Vandhiyathevan.

The warrior on the horse approached Vandhiyathevan and before he could realise, he threw a punch on his chin. Vandhiyathevan fell down but regained composure quickly. He threw a punch towards the warrior, who fell down. The two fell on each other and started wrestling. The warrior quickly removed Vandhiyathevan’s knife from his waist and threw it far away. It was now a fair fist fight. The two warriors rolled and fought. They kicked up a dust storm.

A crowd gathered around them. Within a few minutes, the warrior had overpowered Vandhiyathevan, had thrown him on the ground, and sat on his back. The warrior removed Vandhiyathevan’s waist cloth and the scroll within it. He got up, motioned to one of the two other riders to hold down Vandhiyathevan. The warrior walked over close to another, who was holding a torch and started reading the message.

“Nambiyaare, you are such a traitor. Get the scroll from him. I never should have trusted you as a companion. You are a coward too.”

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

By this time, several others in the crowd had seen the warrior’s face in the light of the torch, and started recognising him.

Folks around started cheering, “Ponniyin Selvar, Vaazhga!” There was celebration all around and everyone surrounded the Prince, and heaped more praises on him.

“All of you, get back to the camp. Make arrangements for a feast,” said the Prince, and the crowd dissolved.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the Prince with wonder. He thought that the Prince had the good looks of Arjuna and the strength of Bhīma. He was in awe of this man. He felt privileged that he had gotten punched by this man.

Some readers might feel a little sad that the greatest of the great rulers – Prince Arulmozhi Varman – the man whose name is what inspired the name of this novel, the ruler who would bring so much praise to the Chozha kingdom, the King who would later be called Raja Rajan – has been introduced in such a normal fashion, without any royal fanfare. But then, this is the way he met our hero, Vandhiyathevan, and this is the way he had to make an appearance.

The Prince approached Vandhiyathevan with a smile on his face.

“Welcome, my friend. Welcome to the beautiful island of Lanka. You have come seeking the Chozha forces from so far away. Is this welcome suitable to you, or would you like something more celebratory?”

Vandhiyathevan got up with a jump and paid his respects by joining his hands and bowing to the Prince.

“I bow to you, my Prince. The welcome is very satisfactory to me. The scroll that I brought from the Princess has been delivered to you. Now it is up to you to decide what to do with me.”

“I see that the scroll has been written by my sister herself. Did she give it to you personally?”

“Yes, Sire. I had the distinct honour of receiving it personally from the Princess. I started immediately after, and reached here without even halting anywhere.”

“I can see that. Else, you would not have been able to come here so quickly. For someone who has done me such a big favour, I wonder what I can give in return.”The Prince walked towards Vandhiyathevan and embraced him tightly. Vandhiyathevan’s tiredness vanished in a moment. He felt like he was in heaven.

Book 2 | Chapter 29 | Thambalai

“The people here would not recognise him. Did you not notice that everyone’s attention – including yours – was on the Chinese travellers? I hear that he also went to several other ancient pilgrimage centres with these travellers – some deep into enemy territory.”

Simhagiri / Sigirya – img src:

About 2000 years ago, that is, about 1000 years before the time when this story happened, there was a king named Valaham Bahu. During his time too, Tamizh forces had invaded this land. Driven out of his kingdom, he hid in a cave in a nearby mountain called Thambalai (present day Dambulla). After a few months, he raised a force and recaptured Anuradhapuram.

He then went on to pay homage to Buddha in the cave that had given him protection. He got sculptors to sculpt all kinds and sizes of Buddha statues and placed them in the cave. For some reason, the sculptors never felt satisfied. They then went on to sculpt some Hindu Gods and placed them in between the Buddha statues. These beautiful carvings can still be found in the rock temples of Dambulla in Sri Lanka.

Vandhiyathevan felt refreshed when he saw the sights around. It was a typical pilgrimage centre. Pilgrims were buying fresh flowers from vendors and walking towards the cave temples. Several Buddhist monks in ochre robes were to be seen there.

“Vaishnavare, we just saw Parthibendran return from this place. So, I guess, the Prince is not here. Why are we here now?”

“Thambi, I still believe that the Prince is here somewhere. I will decide otherwise only after searching myself.”

Nambi went towards a vendor, asked him something, and returned.

“Nambiyaare, did you get any information?”

“Apparently they are expecting two Chinese travellers. That is why the town is abuzz with activity.”

“Where are they coming from?”

“They had gone to Simhagiri yesterday and are returning today. They must have gone to Simhagiri to see the beautiful cave paintings on top of the mountain fort there. Ah. Look!”

Vandhiyathevan looked in the direction that Alwarkadiyaan Nambi pointed. There was a majestically-decorated elephant trundling down the main road. There were two people in the ambari on top of the elephant. The people did look like the Chinese tourists. There was a mahout, leading the elephant.”

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi moved to the side of the street as the elephant passed them. Vandhiyathevan was indeed impressed with the devotion of these two tourists who had travelled so far to make this pilgrimage.

“Did you see what I saw?”

“Nambiyaare, I think I saw what you saw too.”

“What did you see?”

“The Chinese travellers had a flat face. Their clothes were very different from ours.”

“Humph. Did you see the mahout?”

“No. Why should I?”

Nambi shook his head. “Did you not see the roving eyes of the mahout? Did you not notice the glimpse of recognition when he saw us?”

“No. How would the mahout know us?”

“I do not know whether to point out your irresponsible nature, or of the beautiful Princess who gave you this important task. Come with me.”

They followed the gathering of people who followed the elephant, which came to a stop outside the main Buddha Vihara in the centre of the town. The two tourists went into the Vihara amidst the holy chants of “Buddham Charanam Gacchaami”. The entire crowd of people that had followed the elephant also went into the Vihara. The mahout walked over to some men in the side and handed over the elephant to one of them. He called out to another and pointed in the direction of Alwarkadiyaan Nambi and whispered something in his ear. The mahout and two others quickly turned into a nearby street and vanished.

The person to whom the mahout had whispered something, came over to Vandhiyathevan and Nambi.

“Are you willing to come with me?”

“I was waiting for you to call me.”

“Any identification?”

Nambi showed a ring with the Kodumbalur insignia.

“Please follow me.”

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi followed the man through a narrow forest path, which eventually led to a small clearing in the woods, where there was an old dilapidated mandapam. The man asked him to wait for a little while. He then climbed up a tree and started observing the path in which they had come.

“Nambiyaare, I do not understand one bit of what is going on.”

“You will soon know.”

Vandhiyathevan noticed two horses tied to the tree near where they were standing. He tried as much as possible to try and remember the face of the mahout, but could not remember anything. His attention had been on the Chinese travellers. He was getting a little worried.

“Nambiyaare, can you not tell me who the mahout was? Is it the Ponniyin Selvar?”

“I think so.”

“But I thought you said that Simhagiri was under the hold of the enemy?”

“Yes. I did say that. I would think that the Prince went to see the beautiful cave paintings of Simhagiri.”

“Is that not dangerous? Would not the people here recognise him?”

“The people here would not recognise him. Did you not notice that everyone’s attention – including yours – was on the Chinese travellers? I hear that he also went to several other ancient pilgrimage centres with these travellers – some deep into enemy territory.”

“Oh. I am pretty disappointed. Is that not very careless of a Prince? Is this the same Prince that the entire kingdom speaks so highly of? Is this the same guy that the Kudandhai Josiyar said would become the most powerful ruler in this part of the country?”

“Oh. Did the Josiyar say so?”

“Yes, he did. Do you believe in astrology?”

“No, I do not. I do not have a need to believe in astrology. I know it. If you interact with the Prince, you will feel it too.”

Suddenly, there was the sound of horses. The man on the look-out on the tree jumped down. He unleashed the horses and handed over the reins of one of the horses to Nambi, and got on to the other.

“Sir, very soon, there will be a few horses that will go by this path. We should follow the horses.”

Vandhiyathevan interrupted, “What about me?”

Ayya, I have orders only to bring this man.”

“I have a very important message for the Prince.”

Nambi responded, “Thambi, please be patient. I will go and make arrangements for someone to come and get you.”

“But, my message is very important, and needs to be delivered as soon as possible.”

“Then, give me the scroll. I will deliver it.”

“No. I cannot do that. I have orders to deliver it personally.”

Vandhiyathevan was also worried to let Nambi meet the Prince alone. He had instructions from the Kodumbalur General to keep an eye on him.

The sound of the horses grew very near. The two men got on to their horses and got ready to ride.

Soon three horses were visible. As the horses passed by, Vandhiyathevan pulled down the nearby man from his horse. Before anyone realised, he was on top of the horse and flew behind the three horses. Nambi followed close. The man screamed, unsheathed his knife and threw it at Vandhiyathevan. Vandhiyathevan ducked and rode with this body crouched close to the horse’s back. The horse was a good one. It flew with the wind.

Thambi, that was good work.”

But Vandhiyathevan did not respond.

They followed at a respectable distance behind the three horses through a narrow forest trail.

Book 2 | Chapter 27 | Mad elephant

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

Lankan Forest img source unsplash
Lankan Forest – img src unsplash photographer Sameera Thilakaratne

General Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, also known as the Kodumbalur Periya Velaar was a wise old man, who had seen many a war. He was one of the trusted generals of the Chozha Empire. After his younger brother had been killed in the war in Lanka, he had taken a particular interest in seeking revenge. This was one of the main reasons he was the General of the forces that were fighting in Lanka. We have also heard about the problems that were being created by the Pazhuvettarayars in sending supplies for the troops in Lanka. So, the generations-old rivalry between these two clans had only been increasing day-by- day.

It was no surprise that, given the rivalry between the Pazhuvoor and the Kodumbalur clans, the General had become incensed when he saw the palm tree insignia ring on Vandhiyathevan. It was only due to good fortune that Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar had sent Nambi hurriedly to let the General know about the real reason why the Vaanar clan warrior was in Lanka. Nambi was a trusted messenger, and the Kodumbalur General had gotten the message.

When Nambi and Vandhiyathevan met the General, the latter tried to reconcile from the previous meeting.

Thambi, I hope you were treated well.”

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

“Oho. It looks like this young man has a good sense of humour.”

“General, what he says is true. The cat did scratch me very violently. And yes, he does have a sense of humour. Apparently, his ancestors were poets. So, he retains some of their sense of imagination too.”

The General roared in laughter seeing the scratch marks on Nambi.

“If you cannot handle a small cat, how are you going to cross the jungle paths of Lanka? I am glad you are going to be taking this young man as your companion.”

“General, I do not require any companion. I forgot to take my wooden staff when I went there. That was the problem.”

“Ok. Then you should be the companion to this young man. Make sure you feed this young man a good meal before you leave.”

Thambi, try to have a decent meal before you leave. I apologise if the meal you get is not the best. That is all we can afford. Mahendran’s forces breached all the lakes and rivers before they left. All the crops are lost. The supplies coming in from the mainland are also neither regular nor sufficient.”

“I did hear this elsewhere as well, sir. I overheard some of the ladies in the army camp complaining to the Princess that their kin in Lanka were not getting enough supplies from the mainland.”

“Oho, so this information is known there as well. Good. And what did the Princess reply?”

“She reassured the ladies that, with the Kodumbalur General in power in Lanka, their men were in safe hands, and that they should not worry.”

The General smiled proudly.

“There is no one equal to our Princess in kindness and generosity.”

“There is one other person, General – the next Princess of the kingdom.”

“And who are you talking about now?”

“The Kodumbalur princess, of course.”

“How is Vanathi doing, young man?”

“She is doing very well, sir. She is an inseparable companion to the Princess. You can never see either of them without each other’s company.”

“I am very glad to hear this. Has the Princess given any message for me?”

“No, sir. But I will be honest with you. She has sent a message about Vanathi for Prince Arulmozhi, which I can relay only in person. I am not at liberty to share it with anyone else.”

The General smiled and hugged Vandhiyathevan.

“I have never seen such a smart warrior as you.”

“The two of you should not be wasting any further time. You should leave.”

“General, should this Veera Vaishnavar definitely accompany me? I would prefer to journey alone.”

Thambi, it would be better if the two of you travel together. It is difficult to track the Prince down. Also, Nambi carries a scroll for the Prince too.”

The General went close to Vandhiyathevan and whispered in his ear, “Thambi, do not worry about Nambi. He is a reliable person. But I would advise you to be careful, none the less. I would also like you to pay attention to the message that he delivers to the Prince, and let me know the same, once you return.”

Vandhiyathevan had originally thought that the General was sending Nambi as a spy along with him, but he now realised that it was quite the contrary – he was being sent as a spy with Nambi.

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi started on their journey that night with the company of two soldiers. They travelled eastwards for two days. Initially, they passed through a few towns. They passed through damaged embankments on rivers and lakes. Then slowly the path turned towards the forests.

Dense vegetation surrounded them. Nambi and Vandhiyathevan debated on the effects of war. Nambi was heavily anti-war, while Vandhiyathevan, warrior that he was, tried to justify the need for war. Then they turned southwards. The forests became deeper and denser. They were also rising in altitude. Along with the merry chirping of birds, they could occasionally hear the frightening sounds of wild animals too.

The knowledgeable Nambi was describing the kinds of animals that lived in these forests – elephants, jaguars, cheetahs, bears, and wolves. Nambi described how lone wolves and cheetahs hunted together in those jungles.

“Nambiyaare, I hear the sound of water gurgling somewhere. Is there a river nearby?”

“There must be. I am not sure. The sound you are hearing resembles a herd of elephants drinking water.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to get caught in the middle of a herd of wild elephants?”

“No. It is not. Elephants in herds are safe. You just need to step aside.” Meanwhile, one of the soldiers had climbed a tree to see what was going on.

“Ayyo, there is a lone mad elephant headed our way.”

Nambi got the jitters and screamed, “Run!”

“Nambiyaare, you said you were not worried about a herd of elephants, why are you afraid of a single elephant? There are three of us who have spears. You have a staff in your hand.”

“No. One can even manage a herd of elephants, but a lone mad elephant is more powerful than a thousand of your spears. It is very dangerous.”

As he spoke this, the elephant came into full view. It was charging towards them.

The four of them started running away from the elephant. After running a few steps, they realised that they were running towards the edge of a deep ravine. The soldiers and Vandhiyathevan darted to the sides towards the dense forest.

Vandhiyathevan turned back and saw Nambi standing rooted to the spot. It was a familiar sight. He stood swinging his staff and screaming, “Stop! Do not come near me. Stop!”

Book 2 | Chapter 26 | Veera Shaivite Cat

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was.. ”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejeweled scepter. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan was puzzled as to why and how this Veera Vaishnavar had come here.

“I was just thinking about you a little while ago. I open my eyes and you jump across the wall.”

Thambi, why were you thinking about me? If you had been thinking of Lord Rama, at least you would have gotten some punyam. Why think of mere mortals like me?”

“Actually I started thinking of Lord Rama only. I was thinking about how Lord Rama had worshipped Shiva at Rameswaram. And then I was reminded of Lord Hanuman. And immediately I thought about you. I wondered if you had also jumped across the ocean to reach here.”

“Who am I, to be compared with the great Hanuman? He had wreaked havoc here in Lanka when he came here. And look at me – I cannot win against a common cat. Look at how he has scratched my leg. My legs are bleeding now.”

“Why did the cat take so much offence to you?”

“I came here searching for you. I tricked the guards in the front gate, and climbed over the back wall. While climbing down the wall, I inadvertently stepped on the cat’s tail. This irritated the cat very much and it started attacking me.”

“Oho. I think I know what is happening here now. The cat came to me and was petting me gently with its tail. I think it is a Veera Shaivite cat. That is why it took a liking to me and hatred towards you.”

“What you say could very well be true. If only I knew this before, I would have given a few whacks to the cat with my staff.”

“Interestingly, ever since I set foot on this holy soil, I have also been feeling a very strong Veera Shaivite attitude. My sword is seeking out the blood of a Veera Vaishnavar. I recollect how you helped me earlier, and that is why I am refraining.”

“When did I ever help you, Thambi?”

“Do you not remember telling me about your sister, the Pazhuvoor Rani? You even showed me the palanquin in which she travelled. I saw the same palanquin outside Thanjavur a few days later. I told her that I had a message for her from you.”

“You seem to be well-versed in the art of telling blatant lies.”

“What I consider imagination, people like you call lies.”

“Anyway, what happened after that?”

“She gave me a ring with the palm tree insignia and asked me to come and see her in her palace.”

“And did you go and see her?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And…”

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was…”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejewelled sceptre. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

“Hmm. They say that the treasury, under the control of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, has countless riches. It seems that it is still not enough for Nandini Devi. And what did she say she would give you in return?”

“She promised to make me the Fort General of Thanjavur.”

“Hah. That would be nice. If you become the Fort General, then I would get undeterred access to Thanjavur.”

“I doubt if that would even be possible. Look at me. I am now caught in this mess, at the beginning of the mission.”

“Do you know why you have been imprisoned?”

“I brought along the ring with the palm tree insignia, thinking that it would have some power here also. It looks like that is the mistake I made.”

“Yes. That is a big mistake. Did you not know that the General here is from Kodumbalur? The Kodumbalur clan and the Pazhuvur clan have been arch-enemies since a very long time. But, do not worry. I am here to free you. Come with me.”

“No. I will not come with you. Please leave soon. My sword is begging me for some Veera Vaishnava blood.”

“I have enough blood within me. Give some to your sword if you want. Come, let us leave now.”

“No. I will not come.”

“Why are you being so adamant?”

“I thought I would get a good night’s sleep today. Travel has made me tired.”

“Oho. So, you want to sleep. Is this how you will finish the task that Princess Kundavai gave you? Did you not promise her that you would not rest a minute till you reached this scroll to her brother, Prince Arulmozhi?”

Nambi took out a scroll from his hip pouch.

Vandhiyathevan looked blankly at Nambi, took the scroll and stammered, “How did you get this scroll?”

“I got it from General Vikrama Kesari. He asked me to return this ring with the palm tree insignia as well. He also asked me to let you know that you can start your journey at any time.”

“Do you know where the Prince is at this time?”

“No. No one knows. Last we heard was that he had left Anuradhapuram and gone towards Malai Nadu. The General has ordered me to accompany you and help you in navigating this new land.  

A fraction of doubt still clouded Vandhiyathevan’s mind. “Can we meet the General before we leave?”

“Of course, we should meet him before we leave. You should give him any news you may have about Vanathi.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain now that Nambi was a sorcerer and knew the dark arts.

Book 2 | Chapter 25 | Thiruketheeswaram

These scenes seemed to be exactly like what Sambandhar and Sundarar had described in their paasurams. The only difference now was that, in place of the devotees thronging to the Thiruketheeswaram temple, there were battalions of armed soldiers roaming around the city. It had been a cantonment city for the last hundred years.

Though it seems like a short time, we have lingered in Thanjavur for a long time now. We have forgotten about our young hero – Vandhiyathevan.

Vandhiyathevan had walked along the coast from where Poonkuzhali had dropped him off and reached the grand city of Maathottam (now called as Thiruketheeswaram). The entrance to the city was filled with fruit trees of every kind. The port of this bustling city was filled with boats and ships of all kinds and sizes. Goods were being loaded and unloaded from these ships.

These scenes seemed to be exactly like what Sambandhar and Sundarar had described in their paasurams. The only difference now was that, in place of the devotees thronging to the Thiruketheesaram temple, there were battalions of armed soldiers roaming around the city. It had been a cantonment city for the last hundred years. The city had been under the control of the Lankan kings for a while and the Pandiya kings during other times. More recently, since Paranthaka Chozhan, it had mostly been a Chozha province.

It was at the fort gates of this cantonment town that Vandhiyathevan stood today, looking at the tall fort walls. He had tried getting in through the gates, but entry had been refused. He had tried his earlier method of forcing entry into the fort, like what he did at Kadambur. He was promptly captured and taken to the Fort Commander.

“I have an important message for Prince Arulmozhi from Thanjavur. I cannot discuss this any further with anyone other than the Commander of the Lankan forces.”

They searched him and found a scroll addressed to the Prince and the ring with the palm tree insignia. The commander of the Lankan forces, General Kodumbalur Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, was informed about Vandhiyathevan. The General was leaving for Rameswaram, along with the Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. The General gave orders to imprison Vandhiyathevan, until he got back from Rameswaram.

Surprisingly, Vandhiyathevan was very happy about this decision. He was tired from the long journey. Imprisonment was the best way to rest, he thought. He was taken to a dilapidated house in the city, and put under guard.

He spent the first day sleeping and rejuvenating his body. The second day, an interesting thing happened. He started hearing an agitated man shouting in the room next to his.

“Do not come near me. I will kill you. I will send you straight to heaven. What do you think of yourself? You do not know who I am.”

Vandhiyathevan heard only one voice though. There was no one replying to this. He heard this shouting for several hours that day. Towards evening, the shouting increased, and suddenly something dropped into his room through the low wall separating the two rooms.

Vandhiyathevan was petrified for a moment, but as he regained his composure and saw what had fallen, he started laughing heartily. It was a cat. The man in the next room had been threatening a cat all this while. One other thing that was puzzling Vandhiyathevan was that the voice seemed very familiar. He could not remember when or where he had heard this voice, but he had definitely heard this voice before.

He tried to sleep now, but the cat would just not let him sleep. After a little while, he got very irritated at the cat and threw it back over the low wall. There was commotion on the other side of the wall again, with the voice threatening to kill the cat again.

“Who threw the cat back here? Is there someone on the other side?” asked the voice from the other room.

Vandhiyathevan kept quiet. He pretended to sleep, but had his hand on his sword. He waited. He saw two hands trying to climb the low wall and then a face slowly appeared.

Vandhiyathevan recognised the face now, and realised why the voice was so familiar. It was Alwarkadiyaan Nambi.

He got up and sat down. “Veera Vaishnavare, welcome! Welcome to the holy Shiva-sthalam, Thirukedeeswaram.”

“Oho, it is you, thambi. I thought it should have been you. Who else would be sitting so smugly without making a sound?”

Book 2 | Chapter 13 | Ponniyin Selvan

While the Princess’s mind was flitting between so many of these thoughts, Vaanathi’s clear thoughts were focused on only one person – Prince Arulmozhi. She was worrying about the Prince, and the potential hardships that he was facing in Lanka. She was thinking about when he would return.

While Vandhiyathevan was walking towards Maathottam, and while Nambi was narrating his experiences to Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar, Princess Kundavai and her best friend Vanathi were nearing Thanjavur in a covered ambari atop an elephant. The Princess had not travelled to Thanjavur for a while, because of one predominant reason. Thanjavur did not have separate palaces for the ladies of the royalty. Everyone had to reside in the main palace of the Emperor. The rest of the palaces in the city had been taken over by the Pazhuvettarayars, their family, and various members of the administration.

In Pazhayarai, Princess Kundavai and her hand-maidens could come and go as they pleased from their independent palaces. Movements in Thanjavur fort were much more restricted because of security rules imposed by the Pazhuvettarayars. The Princess did not also like the attitude of the Pazhuvoor queen. It was also the wish of the ageing Emperor that the Princess stay at Pazhayarai.

However, ever since she had met Vandhiyathevan and heard his stories, she had felt very guilty about being in Pazhayarai. Her elder brother was in Thondainaadu, the younger was fighting a war in Lanka – it did not feel right not to be with her father in Thanjavur. She felt obligated to play a role in the administrative affairs of the Kingdom. The sinister plots that Vandhiyathevan had mentioned reaffirmed her decision to go to Thanjavur and be with her father. Her father’s life itself might be in danger. She guessed that several of these plots were being driven by her arch-enemy Nandini. She had to be there at Thanjavur.

There was one other reason why she had to be at Thanjavur. She had to get regular updates about Vandhiyathevan. She had heard that the Pazhuvettarayars had sent guards to capture Vandhiyathevan. If the guards were indeed successful in capturing him, they would bring him to Thanjavur. She could help reduce the sentence and perhaps even free him. The Princess also had one more thing in her mind – she had to somehow convince Kandanmaran that it was not Vandhiyathevan who had stabbed him in the back.

While the Princess’s mind was flitting between so many of these thoughts, Vanathi’s clear thoughts were focused on only one person – Prince Arulmozhi. She was worrying about the Prince, and the potential hardships that he was facing in Lanka. She was thinking about when he would return.

Suddenly, Vanathi turned towards the Princess and asked her, “Akka, you told me that you would tell me the story of how your brother got the name – Ponniyin Selvan. At the rate at which this elephant is moving, it would take a while to get to Thanjavur.”

The Princess agreed to tell the story.

When Emperor Sundara Chozhan had just come to power, the whole family used to go on cruises down the River Ponni. The yacht would be filled with happiness and laughter. The children used to be on one side of the craft, having fun, while the elders would be sitting on the other side, indulging in light banter. This used to happen on a regular basis, providing a respite from the stressful life of the Emperor.

On one such excursion, Princess Kundavai had suddenly noticed that Prince Arulmozhi was not to be found. Out of everyone in the family, Kundavai was the one who was closest to Arulmozhi. At this time,

Arulmozhi was five years of age, and Kundavai, seven. When she could not find her brother, she started shouting to attract the attention of the elders. Everyone started searching the boat, but in vain. The ladies started wailing. Some of the soldiers and the Emperor himself jumped into the water to search.

At that very moment, an amazing sight was seen. Right in front of the anchored boat, there was a lady who had the Prince raised in her arms. She was half way submerged in water. When the Emperor saw this sight, he swiftly swam to the lady, and took his child into his arms. By this time, more soldiers had reached close to him. Hands grabbed the child and pulled him on board. More people helped the Emperor to board the yacht. Once on board the yacht, the Emperor fell unconscious. In the confusion that ensued and the relief that was felt, no one remembered to look for the lady who had helped save the Prince. No one even remembered how she looked like. The lady did not come forward to claim the pride either. She just vanished.

People assumed that it was the Goddess Kaveri herself had come to the rescue of the Prince. People familiar with this incident started calling him – Ponniyin Selvan.

Book 2 | Chapter 12 | Nammazhwar corrects Nambi

“Thirumalai, please tell me what you have seen and heard during your travels. Tell me as is, without hiding anything.”

“Are you asking me to narrate here? Things that I say might shock anyone who hears them – even Vayu Bhagavan, the Wind God, Bhooma Devi, the Earth, and Samudrarajan, the Lord of the Ocean.”

Anbil Sri Vadivazhagiya Nambi Perumal temple – img src: divinetraveller.net

At this time, we would also like to bring to the attention of the reader some archaeological facts. About a hundred years ago, in the village of Anbil, in the Lalgudi Taluk of the Tiruchirapalli district, a merchant had wanted to renovate his old house. While digging its foundation, he found metal plaques with a lot of historical inscriptions.

He handed these to Shri RSL Lakshmana Chettiar, who then handed it to two experts in archaeology and Chozha history – Shri Swaminatha Iyer and Shri Gopinath Rao.

These plaques had a lot of details regarding the Emperors of the Chozha dynasty. These included land grants by the Emperor Sundara Chozhan to his Chief Minister Anbil Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. The plaques also had details about the Chief Minister and his family. These details had great archaeological value and confirmed several historical events.

Alwarkadiyaan entered the room, circumambulated his Guru three times and prostrated before him.

“Please give me permission to leave my Vaishnavism and the obligation to serve you right now. I will now convert to the Kaalamugam sect in Shaivism. I will grow a beard, take up a skull, and roam the country. I will use this same staff to break open every Vaishnavar who comes my way.”

“Stop! Stop! I fear you now.”

“Why should you fear? Only Vaishnavites need to fear.”

“But I am still one.”

Nambi was clearly confused.

“Are you the one hailing from the illustrious family that unfailingly served Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I also hear that you went to the Shiva temple today and did pooja there?”

“Yes. That is also true.”

“Sire – please clarify all this to me. You were my Guru, who taught me that Lord Narayana is the only God in this whole wide world.”

“The fact that I went to the Shiva temple is true. But the God that I saw inside was Lord Narayana.”

“How is that possible? “

“Nammazhwar himself has said that one can see whichever God he wants to see, wherever he wants. He never used to hate any of those who worshipped other Gods.”

“I am sorry. I have not heard all of Nammazhwar’s songs. He does make a lot of sense. I also doubted you. Please forgive me.”

“I would like to go and settle down in Thirukkurugur. I would like to spend the rest of my life collating and spreading the thousand songs that Nammazhwar sang. Will you grant me that wish?”

“What leads you to ask me this wish?”

“Earlier this month, I was at Veeranarayanapuram. When I was singing an Alwar Paasuram, the temple priest Ishwara Bhattar was overjoyed and requested me to teach him more such songs. I felt very ashamed that day, that I did not know many more of these beautiful songs. That led me to think that I should spend some time towards this noble purpose.”

“Thirumalai, the Gita says that each one should do what they are supposed to be doing – swadharmam. There will be people born to collate and spread the Paasurams. But for you and me, our dharmam is to serve the Empire. Service to the Emperor is our duty.”

“I have not forgotten our promise. There are just things that make me doubt if we are on the right track. I am also hearing things about you.”

“And what are you hearing?”

“I hear that the Emperor has given you a large tract of land in Anbil, in return for your converting to Shaivism. I also hear that you are going against dharma by traveling across the seas.”

“You should not believe these rumours. It is true that the King has given me land. But do you know that I had become minister at least four years before that? Do you know when our friendship started?”

“The Emperor and I were classmates when we were young. We studied together. At that time, no one thought Sundara Chozhan would become Emperor. But you know the turn of events that led to him becoming the Emperor.

He anticipated several problems if he ascended the throne. He made me promise to be with him as a minister always. He said that he would not take up the throne if I refused. I promised him that day, that I would be with him always.”

“I know about all this. But the rumourmongers on the road do not.”

“I do not care about the rumourmongers. You probably guessed that I did not come to Rameswaram to go to the temple. I just got back from Maathottam.”

“I guessed so, sire.”

“The so-called learned pundits claim that Sundarar and Sambandhar wrote about Maathottam from here. The songs described the place so well that I am pretty sure that the saints must have crossed the sea to go there.”

“Sire, did you go to Maathottam to see the beauty that these poet-saints have described?”

“No. I described all that because I am going to send you there. I went there to meet the Prince.”

“Did you see Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Aha. Anybody who hears the Prince’s name gets enthused so quickly – even you, Thirumalai. Yes. I saw him. I confirmed with him all the news I had been hearing from Lanka.”

“The Prince confirmed that most of Mahendran’s army has been defeated. Several of the army has dropped their arms. Mahendran, himself, has escaped into the hilly regions of Rohana.”

“Why doesn’t the Prince then come back with our army? The whole confusion of sending rations to our troops will also stop.”

“That is not what the Prince thinks, and I agree with him. If the Prince comes back now, Mahendran will come out of the hills and will regroup another army. And there would be another war. Either the people of Lanka would have to become our friends, or we would have to establish a permanent Chozha empire there. One of these needs to happen.”

“Do you know what our forces are doing in Lanka now? They are rebuilding and renovating the temples and monasteries in Anuradhapuram.”

Nambi smirked, “Oho. The Prince is building temples for the Buddhists? I hope he would not convert to their faith also. Do you also approve of this?”

“It does not matter if you or I approve or disapprove of this. You and I can fight over which God is better than the rest. But someone like the Prince, who is the ruler of a Kingdom, needs to take care of all of his subjects, immaterial of religion. I approve of that ideology.”

“After speaking with the Prince, I realise that he is one of the few people who command respect naturally. The entire kingdom is ready to do anything for him. The merchants I met earlier today are willing to give away wealth. The chieftains are ready to give their lives.”

“I met a yogi recently, who said something very profound. He said, in the recent years, Indian rulers have predominantly come from the northern states. He said that there would be an invasion soon from outside of the region. They would come and destroy the temples of the country. They would impact the culture of the country.”

“And at that time, a Prince from the South will emerge and rule large parts of India and protect our culture. I think the time is now, and the Prince is ours.”

“Gurudeva, it seems to me that you are building castles in the clouds. If you had seen all that I have seen and heard in the recent past, you would not be so celebratory. There is danger lurking for the Chozha kingdom.”

“Thirumalai, please tell me what you have seen and heard during your travels. Tell me as is, without hiding anything.”

“Are you asking me to narrate here? Things that I say might shock anyone who hears them – even Vayu Bhagavan, the Wind God, Bhooma Devi, the Earth, and Samudrarajan, the Lord of the Ocean.”

“Hmm. Ok, then. I know of a cave deep inside this island, where no one can hear us.”

Book 2 | Chapter 11 | The Chief Minister

Aniruddha Brahmaraayar held office on one of the smaller islands near Rameswaram. He was surrounded by accountants and other administrative personnel.

Aniruddha Brahmaraayar held office on one of the smaller islands near Rameswaram. He was surrounded by accountants and other administrative personnel. Several people had come to see him. Some merchants came and visited the minister. The minister recognized them as merchants from the Pandiya Empire.

“How is the trade in the Pandiya Empire?”

“It is going very well, sire. People are mentioning that the administration is much better under the Chozha Empire than what it was before. Our ships are all returning safe. The great Chozha navy has completely vanquished the pirates of the Indian Ocean.”

“Did you get my scroll about supplies for Lanka?”

“Yes. We have readied enough food grains and supplies to be sent to the Chozha army fighting at Lanka. We would like to know when the war would end.”

“That is a very hard question to answer. Why don’t you ask your astrologer?”

“He says that, wherever Prince Arulmozhi goes, there would be victory. He would conquer distant lands across the ocean.”

“That means very good news for you as traders, is it not?”

“Yes. By God’s grace, this would mean a good future for us.”

“Please make sure that you send similar supplies to Lanka every month. You may leave.”

Once the merchants left, the chieftain and commanders of the Kaikolar clan requested an audience. They were a tribe of very brave soldiers, who had been hand-picked by the Emperor himself.

“Hmm. Brave warriors of the Sundara Chozha Chakravarthy’s Kaikolar clan, welcome.”

“Thank you, sire. But these days, we feel ashamed to be addressed so. We have been idle for the last six months, and not participated in any war activity. Please send us to Lanka. We would like to help Prince Arulmozhi to win the war there.”

“I will mention this to the Emperor, when I reach Thanjavur.”

“What if the war ends by that time?”

“Do not worry. It will not. “

“Are those warriors so powerful that our army cannot vanquish them so easily? Let us try our hand at them.”

“No. It is not that. The Lankan army is not to be found anywhere. They are hiding in the dense forests. Their king Mahendran is also missing. He is also in hiding. If an army is not in your sight, how will you fight them? There has been no war in Lanka for a few months now. What is the use of sending you also there?”

“Send us there. We will hunt down the Lankan army and bring them to the Prince’s feet.”

“Please be patient. I will speak to the Emperor. I want you to protect the Pandiya empire until then.”

“But the Pandiya empire is a peaceful Chozha land now. There is no one to claim the throne.”

“You are mistaken. There are still some people who wish to bring back the old Pandiya Empire. Do not be complacent. The Pandiya royal crown and the bejeweled royal sword are still in Lanka, hidden somewhere in the mountains. Until we capture that, the Pandiya war is not over yet.”

“The royal jewels must be brought back and Prince Arulmozhi crowned as Pandiya king.”

“These are royal matters. Let us not get into such topics. But do listen – I have good news for you.”

“Once the Lankan war is over, the Prince has plans to take the naval fleet towards the south and south-eastern seas and expand the Chozha Empire to faraway lands. He also hopes to go westwards to Kerala, and then north to Kalingam and onward. Your services will definitely be required then. Be prepared. Keep your men trained and ready.”

The chieftains hailed the Emperor, the Prince, the Chozha Empire and the Chief Minister.

“There is one more request from all of us.”

“I would like to hear it.”

“As you know, we are a select group of warriors handpicked by the Emperor to serve him and his family. We would like to tell you that we will do just that. We will serve only him and his family.”

“This is what I expect from you.”

“We keep hearing rumours from Thanjavur. We keep hearing stories about the Pazhuvettarayars.”

“Let rumours be rumours.”

“We also know that the Emperor is not keeping good health. And if something happens to him, we request orders to serve under Prince Arulmozhi.”

“Your obligation is to do what is ordered by the Emperor.”

“And we would like you to take on an obligation to let us know what the Emperor has ordered.”

“I will definitely take it upon myself to do the same. Please rest assured.”

“Minister, we feel much better now.”

The warriors left. The Chief Minister then summoned his guard to bring Nambi in.