Book 2 | Chapter 17 | Coronation Memories

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

So far, the Emperor had been narrating the story in a third person perspective. He now continued telling as if it was his own story.

“Kundavai, I am going to now tell you some things that I have not told anyone. Only my close friend Aniruddhan knows these events. Even he does not know all of it. These are things that no father would have to tell his own child. But I cannot get myself to tell this to your mother or to your brothers. I am sure you will listen and not laugh at me.”

“From that island, I took the boat to the mainland towards Kodikkarai. I headed straight to Thanjavur, where my grandfather, Paranthakar, was on his death bed.”

“When I reached there, I realised that the great Chozha Empire was in the throes of being shattered into a thousand pieces. The heir to the throne, Rajaditta Chozhan had died in the Thakkolam war. My father Arunjayar had also been grievously wounded in the same war and was fighting for his life. The Canara forces were aggressively striking Thondai Mandalam. Pandiya forces were advancing in the west. In the east, our forces had lost the war in Lanka. My grandfather was a dejected man. The kingdom that he had built over 40 years was on the brink of destruction.”

“At this stage, when he saw me, he saw hope. I had always been his favourite grandson. When I was young, he would never let me out of his sight. I had adamantly left for the Eezham war without his consent. When the forces told him that I was missing, he had continuously been sending ships towards Lanka to search for me. One such search party had found me.”

“He looked at me with hope. He saw a ruler in me. His astrologers had also confirmed the same. On his deathbed, he told me that, after him, my uncle Kandaraaditha Chozhan would take up the throne, and after him, I should become Emperor. He made me promise that ruling this Chozha Kingdom virtuously should be my life’s ambition.”

“My mind was never at peace. It always went back to the tribal girl who had saved my life once. How could I forget her? But, how could I make her my queen? How could I make a tribal deaf and dumb girl as the queen of the Chozha Empire? What would my subjects think of me?”

“Soon after, my grandfather passed away. My uncle, Kandaraaditha Chozhan was crowned Emperor, and I was crowned heir to the Empire.”

“Kundavai, do you see how much love the Chozha subjects shower on your younger brother, Arulmozhi? In those times, they showered me with the same love.”

“On the evening of the coronation ceremony, my uncle and I went up to the upper terrace of the palace to present ourselves to the people. When we stepped out, the crowd roared and cheered in happiness. One could genuinely see the happiness in each of the faces.”

“Suddenly, among those thousands gathered to see us, one face captured my attention – the one sad face in the entire gathering. She had tears in her eyes. The sadness was palpable. It was her – the tribal deaf and dumb girl from the island. My eyes were fixed on her. I saw visions of her face becoming bigger and coming closer. My head was spinning. My legs lost their strength. I fainted. The others thought that I was tired because of all the coronation ceremonies happening since morning.”

“Later, when I gained consciousness, I called my dear friend Aniruddhan to my side, and asked him to go and find the girl. They searched the entire city but could not find her. I asked Aniruddhan to send people to search for her all over the kingdom.”

“Eventually, Aniruddhan’s men reached Kodikkarai where they found a dumb girl at the lighthouse keeper’s house. The men reported that the girl was in a state of madness. However much the men had tried to explain to her, she had refused to come to Thanjavur.”

“After a few restless days, Aniruddhan and I set off to Kodikkarai. We drove our horses as fast as we could. My thoughts were clouded and confused me. What could I do, if I did met her at Kodikkarai? It was also most unfortunate that I was born a very beautiful boy, and as I had grown up, the entire kingdom was enamoured by my beauty – so much so that, the people of the kingdom completely changed my name from Paranthaka Chozhan to Sundara Chozhan. How could I, who was so worshipped, loved, and admired by my people, take this dumb girl back to Thanjavur or Pazhayarai as my queen?”

“The girl somehow had made my life easier. When we reached Kodikkarai, we heard that the day after Aniruddhan’s men had come asking for her, she had climbed atop the lighthouse and plunged into the ocean. A couple of folks had seen her jump and alerted others. They had taken their boats and searched for her, but could not find her. It was sadly assumed that she had committed suicide and Samudrarajan had engulfed her.”

“My mind was split in two. One half was splintered at the loss of her. The other half seemed to be at peace. The question of what would I do with her was now answered. With these conflicting thoughts, I returned to Thanjavur. I immersed myself in royal affairs. I won wars and expanded the kingdom. I married your mother. I had two beautiful sons, and then you.”

“However, I still could not forget her death. The sight of her jumping from the top of the lighthouse into the ocean still vividly comes to mind. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a shock. I have always assured others around me that it was a bad dream of scenes from the various wars that I had been through.”

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

The Emperor seemed to look into a distance with glazed eyes.

“Appa! You have lived with this guilt and suffering for so many years. No wonder, your illness has grown worse over the years. Now that you have told me about it, I feel that your heart will be lighter and you will become stronger.”

Kundavai’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“I can see that you do not believe in ghosts. But, the ghost of the dumb girl comes here often. She stands beside that pillar, behind that lamp there. If you do not believe me, ask your friend Vanathi. I am sure she saw the ghost too. I think she must have fainted only after seeing the ghost.”

“Appa, Vanathi is a very fearful person by nature. She would run in fear even if she saw a pillar in the darkness. I doubt if she saw or heard anything the other night. It is a surprise to me that she is of the courageous warrior clan of Kodumbalur.”

“Anyway, let us not talk about Vanathi. Let me finish what I have to say.”

“Do you remember the day when we were all sailing down the Ponni river – the day when the young Arulmozhi suddenly went missing? Do you remember the lady who came in the water with the young boy in her arms?”

“Yes, Appa, how I can I forget that day?”

“Do you remember that after taking Arulmozhi and handing him to people in the boat, I also fell unconscious? You all thought that I had fainted due to the stressful events of the day.” Kundavai nodded silently.

“It was not the stressful events, my dear girl. If you remember, the lady from the water vanished soon after I had taken the boy from her. All of you had decided that it was the Goddess Kaveri.”

The old king paused.

“It was not the Goddess. The lady who gave me Arulmozhi was the deaf and dumb girl from Lanka – the same lady love of mine. Had she really died? Was this a ghost? I fainted in confusion.”

“Do you remember the day of your brother’s coronation as Crown Prince? Karikalan had come to the anthapuram, and I had followed him in. I saw her again, this time, amidst the ladies of the palace. She was there glaring at Karikalan with such contempt. That was when I had fainted again. The ghost has been haunting me ever since.”

“In recent times, she has been coming down here in the middle of the night, and warning me. It seems that she has forgiven me for driving her to her death. But she has been warning me that I should not be committing the same sin again. She has been telling me that I should not be giving the kingdom to someone who does not rightfully inherit it.”

The old king caught his daughter’s hands and said, “Will you help me, Kundavai? I do not want this cursed kingdom to go to my sons. Please help me to dispose it off to Madhuranthakan.”

“I have been stuck with this guilty consciousness ever since I became the heir to the throne, and again, when I was made emperor. I felt terrible that I became king when my uncle’s son was still alive. I am being cursed now for what I had done before.”

“Let Karikalan also not have this kingdom, nor Arulmozhi. Let them not inherit a cursed kingdom. Let Madhuranthakan have it. I would like Madhuranthakan to be crowned when I am still alive. After that, I will go off to Karikalan’s golden palace in Kanchi, and rest in peace.”

“Appa, will the Royal Matron agree to this?”

“That is where I need your help. I need you to bring her here. I wonder why the wise Royal Matron had not thought of this before. I wonder what she has against her own son. Why did she have to do all this? Anyway, now that Madhuranthakan has a desire to ascend the throne, it is only right that she agrees to crown him as the head of this kingdom.”

“Appa, it is not enough if one has the desire. One must have the capability to rule this kingdom.”

“How can he not have the capability – he who was born to Emperor Kandaraaditha and the Royal Matron?”

“The subjects of this kingdom will never accept him.”

“My girl, if you ask the subjects, they would have crowned your younger brother, Arulmozhi, as the heir by now. Would that have been right? Would Arulmozhi have accepted it? Not everything should be done according to the wishes of the subjects. Now, please help me. Please request the Royal Matron to come and visit me.”

“I will ensure that she comes. Until then, you take care of yourself.”

On the way out, she paid her respects to Queen Vaanama Devi.

Things were slowly beginning to clear up in Kundavai’s mind. The smoke was clearing up. She began to realise that this was all part of a treacherous plot by a group of people trying to capture the kingdom. She realised that her father, her brothers, and the family were in grave danger. She also realised that she was now bearing the heavy responsibility of protecting her family from this danger.

Book 1 | Chapter 27 | Abhayam or Abhaayam

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace in Madurai

After the poets left the room, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar went closer to the king, without releasing his iron grip on Vandiyathevan. The royal doctor mixed a medicine potion and handed it to the Queen, who gently fed it to the King.

“Sire! How is the new medicine? Is it working?”

“The Queen and the doctor claim that it is working. I do not fully agree with them. I think that all of this effort is futile. Lord Yama is waiting at the gates for me.”

“Do not worry, Oh King. There is no cause of alarm in this palace. I will make sure that even Lord Yama does not get close. But I just now heard that this young lad telling you about some danger ..”, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s voice trailed off.

Vandiyathevan’s mind worked at lightning speed. He had to get out of this predicament quickly.

“Oh no! I was requesting help from you, Oh Lord. You are well aware that the Tamizh word for help (abhayam) and danger (abhaayam) sound very similar, Prabhu.”

“I was lamenting the loss of my ancestor’s kingdom. We had lost all of it to the Chozha emperors. I was asking for help. Please help. Can you please help, by giving us back even a small piece of our kingdom?”

The Queen and the King smiled and acknowledged the quick wit and command of the Tamizh language of the lad.

“Commander, I like this young lad. Very smart lad. Why cannot we help him with his request?”

“It is up to you and Prince Karikalan to decide such matters, Oh King.”

Vandiyathevan interjected — “Aha. If I ask my Master, he says it is the wish of Pazhuvur Thevar. Here, the Commander says that it is the Prince’s wish. My request is caught in the middle.”

“Commander, this young lad brought with him a message from Karikalan. My son wants me to come to Kanchi and stay in his Gold Palace for some time. With my health condition, I do not think this would be possible. We need to send back a message asking him to come here and visit me. Something in me wants me to see my Princes here now. Can you also send a message to Arulmozhi in the Eezhanaadu? I need to discuss a very important decision with him.”

“When Arulmozhi comes, you can also express your displeasure about sending food grains from Chozhanaadu to war torn Eezhanaadu.”

“Chakravarthy, it is not me, nor my brother, who is expressing displeasure. It is the people of Chozhanaadu, who do not like it.”

“Arulmozhi will never do anything that the common people of Chozhanaadu dislike. Once the Periya Pazhuvettarayar is back, let us discuss about sending someone to Eezhanaadu with the message. Send the return scroll to Kanchi with this young lad itself”

“This warrior has come from Kanchi just now. He must be tired. Let him rest. I will send the return message through another messenger.”

The Queen rose up from besides the King. The Commander got the message that it was time for him to leave. She said in closing, “Commander, this young man is a guest to this palace. Please take care of him well.”

The Commander nodded his assent, but words failed to come out.

Book 1 | Chapter 26 | The Emperor’s Poem

Mandwa Haveli, Rajasthan.

The announcer announced that the poet group was approaching. The announcer spoke encomiums about Tamizh poets and their significant to the history of the region.

The poet group walked into the room and stood with respect in front of the king. The poets then hailed the King.

The King seemed very happy seeing the group of poets.

“Please sit down. It has been a while since I listened to some sweet Tamizh poetry.”

Vandiyathevan settled down with the poets. The Fort Commander noticed this. The Commander decided to investigate Vandiyathevan after the audience of the poets.

One of the poets recited a poem that praised the Emperor for helping the Buddhist monks. The poem talked about how a strong Shaivite King like Sundara Chozhan was still open to helping other religions.

Another poet got up and recited another poem praising the Chozha Emperor. The King asked him to explain the poem in detail.

The poem detailed three stories where the Chozha Emperor had helped Lord Indra, Lord Surya, and even Lord Shiva. The poem talked about Lord Indra losing his steed Airavatha, and how the King gave a better steed to the Lord. It talked about how Lord Surya, the sun God lost his seven horses in his fight with the planet Rahu, and how the king gave seven of his best horses to the sun God. And lastly, it spoke about how the king gave his bejeweled palanquin for the wedding procession of Lord Shiva and Parvathi.

The Emperor was beaming with happiness on hearing this poem.

“My dear Emperor, forgive me for I have a committed a mistake”, said the Commander.

“What did you do, Chinna Pazhuvettarayare? Did you bring back the elephant, the horses, and the palanquin that I gave to the Gods? You are very well capable of doing that.”

The Emperor could not control his laughter on making this sarcastic comment. The entire room broke into laughter.

“The poets reciting the poems brought such happiness to you. It is my mistake that I did not bring in these people more often to you. Perhaps it could have kept you in better spirit.”

The Emperor looked at the poets and asked — “Do any of you know who wrote this poem?”

The poets did not know who the poet was and looked at each other.

“I know this poet who wrote this poem. He resides in this palace unable to stand the heavy crown of the Chozha Empire on his head.”

The poets were pleasantly surprised. The chief of the poets, Nallan Saathanar, got up and asked — “Aha, was this poem written by you, Sire?”

The Emperor admitted that this poet was indeed written by him.

“Some years back, another group of poets came to visit me at Pazhayarai. Some of you might have also been there. The poets recited several poems, and I sent them off with gifts, befitting their poetic eloquence. Kundavai was with me, at that time.”

“I told her that I could sing much better than these poets, and that was when I made up this poem. She liked the poem very much, and so, I asked her for a gift in return. The young girl that she was, she got up on my lap, and gave me a tight hug and a couple of pretend slaps on my cheeks.”

When Vandiyathevan heard Kundavai’s name mentioned, he smiled. He had to meet this Princess, who was praised to be the most intelligent and beautiful person in the entire Chozha royalty. Instinctively, his hand caressed his hip pouch. He paused. He could not feel the scroll that Prince Karikalan had given for Princess Kundavai.

“It must have fallen down when I took the Emperor’s scroll out. What a blunder I have done.”

Vandiyathevan was distracted and the voice of the still speaking Emperor fell on deaf ears. His thoughts were all on where the other scroll could be. Could it have gotten into the hands of the Fort Commander?

The Emperor was saying — “If I had written the poem today, I would have added that I gifted the Lord of Death, a sturdy buffalo steed as well. It is on this steed that he is heading here to take me away.”

Hearing this, the Queen Vaanamadevi, silently wept.

The Commander interjected — “I would never let that happen.”

“Commander, you are very well capable of stopping even Lord Yama from getting in here.” Vandiyathevan could sense the sarcasm in the King’s voice.

The King continued, “Wasn’t it Naavukarasar, who sang that we should never fear Death (Namanai Anjom). He had a severe colic disease. The Lord Almighty cured him of that.”

“It has always been my desire to collate and preserve the poems and songs that the Shaivite Saints have sung. This will not be able to done in my lifetime. I am confident that someone in my lineage will do this, in the future.”

The King was getting exhausted, physically and mentally. The temple doctor whispered something in the Fort Commander’s ear.

“Sire, you had mentioned you wanted to hear a poem from the Sangam age. I think it would be advisable to listen to that, and then we will excuse ourselves.”

The chief poet sang a song which described the trade links that the early Chozha kings had with the rest of the world. The song described Poompuhar as being an established trade port, where goods were imported and exported to several countries.

After listening to the song, the King said — “The song talks about how goods and food came in from the Eezhanaadu in those days. You wanted me to hear this. It is with this intention that you had brought the poets. Is it not, Commander?”

The Commander sullenly nodded his agreement.

The poets excused themselves from the room. Vandiyathevan tried slipping past with them as well. As he neared the door, an iron hand caught his shoulders and held him from leaving the room.

Book 1 | Chapter 25 | Meeting the Emperor

Gangaikonda Chozhapuram temple built by Rajendra Chozhan. img src: http://madhujagdhish.blogspot.com

Vandiyathevan reached the main hall of the palace. The gigantic hall looked like a small Durbar. He presumed that the person presiding over the Durbar would have to be Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. And there he was, sitting majestically on a throne-like chair. The messages that had come in today were being read out to him, and he was dispatching appropriate orders to the soldiers. Others were giving updates on happenings in the town. It seemed to Vandiyathevan that the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar looked a tad more majestic than his elder brother.

All of a sudden, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s gaze fell on Vandiyathevan. The Fort Commander always had an appreciation for young warriors. It was perhaps because he was always on the lookout to hire the best warriors for his army. He smiled at the young warrior and asked — “Young warrior, where are you from?”

Vandiyathevan replied in a soft voice — “I am from Kanchipuram. I bring a message for the Emperor from my master Prince Aditya Karikalan.”

On hearing the word Kanchipuram, the Fort Commander, became instantaneously angry. “What did you say? Where are you coming from?” he repeated angrily.

“I bring a scroll from the Prince from Kanchipuram.”

“Give that to me.”

“The scroll is for the Emperor.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar snatched the scroll from him and read it. He grumbled to himself — “Hmm. There is nothing new in this.”

“The Prince asked me to deliver the message directly to the King.”

“Hmm. I will deliver it to the King. Does the Prince not have even that much trust in me?”

“Oh no, it was not the Prince. It was your elder brother who had ordered so.”

The Commander was clearly flustered on hearing this last statement from Vandiyathevan.

“Where did you see my elder brother?”

“I saw him on my way, at Kadambur. There was some high-level meeting happening there. ”

Vandiyathevan showed the ring with the palm leaf insignia, and said — “He also gave me this at that time.”

The Commander was now sufficiently convinced about Vandiyathevan’s genuineness.

“Oh, then you should go and meet the Emperor now itself before the poet group comes.”

A guard was assigned to take Vandiyathevan to the Emperors room.

When Vandiyathevan saw the Emperor bed-ridden, tears brimmed in his eyes. What a great man, and how he has been reduced to thus. Such was the love for the Emperor in the Chozha kingdom.

“Chakravarthy, I bring a message from my Master and your son, Prince Aditya Karikalan.”

The Emperor’s face lit up and smiled at the Queen, the daughter of the great King Malayamaan.

He read the message and looked up at the Queen again. The smile had faded.

“It seems our son has built a palace of gold in Kanchipuram, and he wants us to come and stay there for some time.”

He sighed.

“Has anyone in our lineage ever built a golden palace for ourselves to live? Our ancestors have raised golden domes for temples such as in Chidambaram, never for ourselves.”

Vandiyathevan gathered his courage and spoke softly — “Chakravarthy! To a son, his parents are his Gods to be worshiped. So he has built a golden palace for his Gods. What is wrong with that?”

Emperor Sundara Chozhan looked at Vandiyathevan — “I do not know who you are, but you speak very sweet words. But I still do not agree. The parents may be the God for the son, but not to everyone. Shouldn’t one build a golden temple for someone who is worshiped by all?”

Vandiyathevan had a quick reply to that as well — “For the son, the parents is God. For the common man, the King is the God. The Vedas say that Kings are the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. With this reasoning, is this not the Golden temple for all?”

The King looked at his wife and said — “Devi, look at this boy. He is so intelligent. I am so glad that our Adityan has a confidante like this boy. I do not need to worry any more about our son.”

“Thambi, whether or not it is apt to build a golden palace, I do not think I would be able to travel. You are looking at me. Do I look like I can travel? Adityan only has to come and see me. Come tomorrow, and I will keep a reply scroll ready for you to take back to my son.”

At this time, Vandiyathevan could hear the shuffling of steps coming closer to the room. “Aha, the poet group is coming. The Fort Commander might also be accompanying them”, thought Vandiyathevan. He needed to warn the King right now, and he should do it as succinctly as possible.

“Chakravarthy, please listen to what I have to say to you. You should leave Thanjavur fort as soon as you can. There is abhaayam (danger) surrounding you here.”

When he was telling this, the Fort Commander, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar stepped into the room. He had heard the last few words that Vandiyathevan was speaking. His face became red with anger.