Chapter 12 – Nandini
Don’t we have to disclose how Vandiya Devan, whom we had left in a ferry-boat on the banks of the Kollidam, arrived at the doorsteps of the Astrologer of Kudanthai?
The Saiva gentleman, who objected to having Azlvar-adiyan in the boat, turned towards Vandiya Devan and said, “I let this fellow get in because of you, Thambi.
However, as long as we are in this boat he should not utter that eight-letter word. If he says it, I shall demand that he be thrown into this Kollidam! These boatmen are my men!”
“Sir! Devout Mr. Nambi! Did thy hallowed ears hear it?” asked Vandiya Devan.
“If this fellow does not utter the five-letter word, I too shall not utter the holy-name of eight-letters” said Nambi.
(Note: The eight letter word is the name of Vishnu — na-mo-sri-na-ra-ya-na-ya — worshipped by the Vaishnava sect; the five letter word — na-ma-si-va-ya — denotes Shiva worshipped by the Saiva sect.)
“Who is this fellow to object to my uttering the five-lettered holy name of the great God Shiva? No! Never!
Though you may be bound by chains and thrown into the deepest seas, Your only companion and hope is the name na-ma-si-va-ya!”
These words were uttered in a roaring voice by the Saiva gentleman. Upon hearing it, Azlvar-adiyan began singing in a louder voice:
I searched, and upon searching found the holy name, Na-mo-sri-na-ra-ya-na-ya;
Saying the words, “Siva, Siva, Sivaa!” the gentleman stuck both his index fingers into his ears! When Azlvar-adiyan stopped singing, he took his fingers out of his ears.
Azlvar-adiyan looked at Vandiya Devan and asked, “Thambi, you ask that fanatic Saiva fellow. He is in such
agony when he merely hears God’s name! Does not this river Kollidam wash the lotus feet of God Narayana who reposes in Srirangam and then come down here? Is it not because these waters, which have touched the feet of Narayana, have become hallowed, that Shiva performs penance while immersed in these waters at Thiru-anai-kava?”
Before he could conclude this long story, the Saiva zealot became very furious and rushed towards the equally fanatic Vaishnava Nambi. Since both entered into a fist fight at one end of the boat, it seemed as if the ferry-boat would soon capsize! One of the men and Vandiya Devan intervened and separated them.
“Oh, you great and best of devout souls! Both of you seem to have a wish to drown in the floods of this Kollidam and go directly to paradise! But I have several other engagements left on this beautiful earth,” said Vandiya Devan with some disgust.
One of the boatmen articulated his opinion, “I am not sure if one would definitely enter paradise if he falls into the Kollidam! But, I guarantee that you would enter the innards of a crocodile! Look over there!” His finger pointed at a big crocodile with its terrorizing, wide open jaws.
“I am not one bit scared about those crocodiles. Would he not come to my aid, Lord Narayana the original God, who saved the elephant Gajendra from such a crocodile? Where would he go?” said Azlvar-adiyan.
“Where would he go? Perhaps he is hiding in the sari-folds of the milkmaids of Brindavan!”
“Perhaps Shiva is entangled in another predicament: just like that time when, having given boons to the demon Bhasma, he was running around with terror; perhaps Thirumal has gone to save him from yet another such predicament,” retorted Nambi.
The fanatic Saiva replied: “Perhaps this fanatic ignoramus does not remember how Vishnu’s pride was demolished during the burning of Tripura?”
“Why do you argue like this? I don’t know! Why don’t each of you worship the God to whom you are devoted?” said Vandiya Devan.
It would be appropriate to explain to our readers at this time, why the Saiva devotee and Azlvar-adiyan argued in this fashion and why there was a similar wordy duel at Veera-narayana-puram.
In the ancient Tamil land, for almost six hundred years, (up till about the tenth century AD) the religions of Buddhism and Jainism held prestigious sway. Because of these religions, the Tamil land gained several advantages. Sculpture, painting, poetry, literature and other such arts were nurtured and developed. Emphasis was on Sanskrit.
Later the Azlvar’s (Vaishnava saints) and Nayanmar’s (Saiva saints) appeared. They sang melodious poems — devotional songs in nectar-sweet, divine Tamil. They fostered and developed the Vaishnava (of Vishnu) and Saiva (of Shiva) sects of Hinduism. Their preaching was quite powerful. They utilized the power of art, sculpture and music for their missionary work. Several others set their songs to divine music and sang them. Those who listened to these musical poems were enticed, enamored and subject to fanatic devotion. The Shiva and Vishnu temple-towns mentioned in such devotional songs acquired new merit and fresh holiness. Temples, which till then were built with wood and brick, were renovated and rebuilt with stone and sculpture. Such holy renovation-works were undertaken even since Vijayala Chozla’s times by the Chozla monarchs and members of their family as well as other nobility.
At about the same time an important event occurred in the Kerala nation. A great soul was born in the village of Kaladi. At a very young age he gave up worldly pleasures and became an ascetic. He studied all the sciences and literature in the northern language (Sanskrit) and became an expert. He then established the foundation for the Advaita philosophy, based on the principles gained from the Hindu scriptures — Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavat Gita and Brahma Sutras because of his expertise in Sanskrit. He, Sankara the Teacher, traveled all over the Indian sub-continent and established eight religious-seats for propagating Advaita philosophy. Ascetics who espoused his philosophy spread his word all over the country. (Advaita meaning non-dual, advocates the non-dual nature of existence; that God is only one; and that God and man are one and the same.)
Thus, in the Tamil lands, during the times of our story (tenth century AD) there was a great religious revival and awakening. Certain harmful consequences, arising out of this revival, also spread throughout the countryside. Fanatic Shiva devotees and fanatic Vishnu devotees rose here and there. They entered into fights wherever they met each other. Sometimes, Advaita philosophers also entered into these disputes. Wordy duels often turned into fistfights and brawls.
There is an interesting story that reveals the extent of this rivalry between the religious sects of those times. A man from Srirangam, of the Vaishnava sect, was once walking along the outer walls of the Shiva temple at Thiru-anai-kava. Suddenly a stone hit his head. He was wounded and bleeding. The Vaishnava man looked up towards the sky. He saw a crow sitting atop the old temple tower and surmised that a piece of brick from the dilapidated spire dislodged by the crow must have fallen on his head. Immediately he forgot his wound and pain and became quite delighted. He said, “Oh you devout Vaishnava crow from Srirangam! Good that you are demolishing this Shiva temple completely!”
In those days, this fanatic rivalry between the Vaishnavas and Saivas was widespread. Knowing about this will be very helpful to readers who may have the intention of reading further chapters in this story.
When the boat reached the other shore, the Saiva gentleman looked at Azlvar-adiyan and cursed him with these words: “May you loose all prosperity and become utterly destitute,” before he went on his way.
The footman from Kadamboor who had come with Vandiya Devan went away towards the nearby village of Thiru-panan-thal, saying that he would come back with a mount for him. Azlvar-adiyan and Vandiya Devan sat down under a large banyan tree on the river bank. Several kinds of birds roosting in the thick, leafy branches of that wide-spreading, large tree raised a pleasing musical sound. Both of them, Devan and Nambi, tried to pry the secrets from each other’s mouths. For a while they talked of this and that in a round-about fashion.
“Well Thambi, you did go to Kadamboor without taking me with you?”
“Even my entry into that fortress was fraught with great difficulty, Mr. Nambi.”
“Is that so? How did you go in? Perhaps you did not go at all?”
“I did enter. I did go in. If I make up my mind to do something will I take a backward step? The gate-keepers stopped me. I goaded my horse to gallop inside and all the men obstructing my way fell away in confusion. Before they could rise and surround me, my friend Kandamaran came to my rescue and took me inside.”
“That’s what I thought. You are a very courageous fellow! And then, what happened? Who else had come there?”
“All sorts of dignitaries had come. I do not know their names. Lord Pazluvoor had come. His young bride had also come. Dear me! How shall I describe the beauty of that lady!”
“What? Did you see her?!”
“Yes. Why not? My friend Kandamaran took me to the inner courts of the women. I saw her there. Amidst all those women, the Young-Queen of Lord Pazluvoor was the greatest beauty. Among all the dark-colored beauties, that queen’s face shone like a radiant full-moon. All the heavenly beauties: Ramba, Urvasi, Tilottama, Indrani, Chandrani — all of them must be mentioned only after her.”
“Dear me! You describe her with such rapture! Then, what happened? Did you see the gypsy dance?”
“Yes. It was very captivating. I thought of you at that time.”
“I was not fortunate to see it. What happened after that?”
“The velan attam (oracle-dance) took place. The `divine-man’ and `divine-woman’ came upon the stage and danced with frenzy.”
“Did the spirit manifest? Did they declare any oracle?”
“Oh, yes! `All endeavors will be achieved. The rains will be good; the land will be bountiful,’ said the soothsayer.”
“Is that all?”
“He then said something about political affairs. I did not listen to that carefully.”
“Dear, dear me! Is that so? You should have noticed Thambi! You are a young man; you seem to be brave and courageous. If anybody talks about political affairs at any place, you should listen carefully.”
“You say the truth. I too felt the same thing this morning.”
“Why feel so in the morning?”
“This morning my friend Kandamaran and I talked all along the way as we rode to the banks of the Kollidam. I believe that after I had gone to bed last night, all the dignitaries who were at Kadamboor convened a midnight-meeting to discuss some important political affairs.”
“What did they discuss about?”
“That, I do not know. Kandamaran said something in a cryptic fashion but he did not explain clearly. He said that some event was to take place very soon and that he would explain at that time. All his statements were rather mysterious. Why Sir! Do you know anything?”
“Everybody in the countryside and city is talking about it? A comet can be seen in the skies and the empire may be subject to some grave danger; there may be a change in the Chozla monarchy; this and that … Such talk has been heard even in the Thondai lands. Also, I believe that all sorts of important officials meet together quite often, to discuss about the `Rights to the succession’ of the Chozla throne. What do you think? Who is likely to succeed to the throne?”
“I don’t know anything about such matters. What connection do I have with political affairs? I am a devout Vaishnava; I am a slave to those who serve the Azlvar saints; I sing the devotional songs that I know and go from one holy place to the other.”
After uttering these words Azlvar-adiyan began singing the following words:
I spied upon his golden presence;
I saw his divine grace.
Vandiya Devan interrupted him, “Let good fortune be yours. Please stop this.”
“Dear me! You ask me to stop singing these divine Tamil psalms!”
“Mr. Azlvar-adiyan Nambi! I have a suspicion. Shall I disclose it?”
“You will not come to beat me up with your wooden-staff?”
“You? Is it possible for me to hit you?”
“I think that all your devotion, your Vaishnava fanaticism, your psalm singing — everything is one big deception. I suspect it to be a big masquerade!”
“Oh! Oh! What talk is this? Offense! Abuse!”
“No offense and no forgiveness. You put on such guise to hide your womanizing! I have seen some others like you: who wander around with an obsession for womankind.
What you find in such women, that I do not know! I seem to dislike any woman I see.
“Thambi, I too know of some men who are crazy about women. But don’t mix me up with such fellows. I am not a masquerader. Your suspicions are incorrect.”
“Then why did you ask me to deliver your note to the girl who came in the palanquin? That too, how can you lose your heart to a woman who is married to another? Did you not want to come to Kadamboor mainly to see her? Don’t deny it.”
“I won’t deny it. But your reasoning is not correct. There is a much more appropriate justification. It is a long story.”
“My horse hasn’t arrived yet. Tell me that story. I can listen.”
“By `story’ I do not mean an imaginary tale. It happened truly. An astonishing account. You will be shocked if you hear it. Do you want me to recount it?”
“If you would like to.”
“Alright. I shall tell you. I am in a great hurry to go someplace else; nonetheless, I will tell you that story before I go. I may need your help sometime later. You won’t refuse it then, will you?”
“If it is justified I will help you. If you do not like it, don’t tell me anything.”
“No. No. I must surely tell you the story. The young bride of that demon, Lord Pazluvoor, the girl to whom I asked you to carry a note, her name is Nandini. You will be surprised if you hear what I have to say about Nandini. You will wonder if there can be such atrocities in this world.” With this preamble, Azlvar-adiyan started narrating the story of Nandini.
Azlvar-adiyan Nambi was born in a village on the banks of the River Vaigai, in the Pandiya Kingdom. All his family were ardent Vaishnava devotees. One day, his father was walking in the gardens along the river bank when he found an orphan baby girl who was abandoned in the garden. He brought the infant home. Because the child was very attractive and beautiful, all the members of his family loved and nourished her. Since the child was found in a garden (nandavan), they named her Nandini. Nambi, considering her a younger sister, loved and cherished her.
As Nandini grew in years, her devotion to God Vishnu also grew. All the people around them believed that she would become another Andal (Vaishnava saint) to captivate all their hearts. Azlvar-adiyan believed it more than anyone else. After his father’s death, he took up the responsibility of raising that girl. The two of them travelled from one town to another, singing Vaishnava poems and spreading the belief in devotion to Vishnu. People who heard Nandini, wearing basil-leaf garlands and singing the psalms of the Azlvar saints, were enchanted.
At one time Azlvar-adiyan had to go on a journey to Thiru-venkadam (Tirupati). His return was delayed. A mishap occurred to Nandini.
The final great-battle between the Chozla and Pandiya kings was fought near Madurai City. The Pandiya armies were totally destroyed. King Veera-pandiya had fallen in the battlefield with wounds all over his body. Some of his personal servants found him: they tried to revive him and save his life; they brought him away from the battlefield and into the house of Nandini which was nearby. Nandini, upon seeing the condition of the Pandiya king, was filled with pity and she nursed him in the sickbed. However, the Chozla soldiers soon found this out. They surrounded Nandini’s house, entered inside and killed Veera-pandiya. Lord Pazluvoor, captivated by the beauty of Nandini whom he found there, imprisoned her and took her away with him.
All this happened three years ago. After that Azlvar-adiyan could not see Nandini at all. From that day, Azlvar-adiyan was trying to meet and talk to Nandini. If she wished it, he would free her and take her away. He had not succeeded in that endeavor so far.
Upon hearing this tale, Vandiya Devan’s heart was touched. For a second, he considered telling Nambi that the person inside the covered palanquin in Kadamboor was not Nandini; that it was Prince Madurandaka. Something in his heart prevented him. Perhaps all this tale was the fertile imagination of Azlvar-adiyan. Therefore, he did not reveal the secrets he had learned at the Kadamboor fortress. By now they could see the footman from Kadamboor coming back, leading a horse.
“Thambi, will you do me one favor?” asked Azlvar-adiyan.
“How can I help you? Lord Pazluvoor is capable of controlling all this Chozla Empire. I am a single fellow with no powers. What can I do?” Vandiya Devan answered him carefully. Later he asked, “Mr. Nambi, are you saying that you do not know anything about political affairs? Can you say who is eligible to succeed to the Chozla throne if something happens to Sundara Chozla?” After saying this he examined Nambi’s face eagerly to see if there was any change in his expression. There was not an iota of change.
“What will I know of such matters, Thambi? Perhaps, if you ask the Astrologer of Kudanthai, he may be able to tell you something.”
“Oh? Is the Astrologer of Kudanthai that capable?”
“Very capable. He will make predictions based on astrology; he will know your mind and explain the future. He knows all the worldly activities and will base his predictions accordingly.”
Vandiya Devan made up his mind to see the astrologer before he went any further! From ancient times humanity is fascinated in finding out about what will happen in its future. Princes have this fascination; paupers have it too. The most learned and knowledgeable have it; the foolish and ignorant ones also do so. There is no surprise about the fact that our youthful hero, Vandiya Devan, who was travelling upon secret government affairs across cities and nations, had such a fascination.