Chapter 16 – Arulmozli Varma
About a thousand and more years ago, the best of kings, Paranthaka Sundara Chozla (AD 957-973), ruled as an Emperor without equal in South India. He had ascended the Chozla throne several years before the times of our story. For the past several hundred years Chozla power had been growing. Chozla Territories were spreading in all directions. Even so, when Sundara Chozla ascended the throne, his enemies in the south and north were powerful.
Gandara Aditya who had ruled before him, was immersed in devotion to God Shiva; he had merited the title Gandara-aditya who had knowledge of (knew) Shiva. He did not show much interest in expanding his territories. After Gandara Aditya, his brother Arinjaya, who ascended the throne, ruled for a short year. After Arinjaya’s death at Atrur, his son Paranthaka Sundara Chozla came to power.
Sundara Chozla had all the qualities essential for a great king. Being skilled in war, he led a campaign to the southern region in the very beginning of his reign. A great battle took place between the Chozla and Pandiya armies at a place called Chevoor. Mahinda, the King of Lanka, had sent a large battalion to help his friend Veera-pandiya, who ruled at that time from Madurai City. The large Chozla armies defeated the combined forces of the Pandiyas and the Lankans at Chevoor. Veera-pandiya who lost his armies, lost his crown, lost his friends, saved his life and ran from the battlefield to escape into hiding. He hid himself in the rocky caves of a desert and bided his time.
Most of the Lankan army was destroyed in the Chevoor battle. Some soldiers who survived, abandoned their fame and bravery and escaped to Lanka with their lives.
It had been the practice of the Lankan kings to send their men in support of the Pandiya kings, in the clashes between the Chozlas and Pandiyas. Sundara Chozla wished to put an end to this practice. He decided to send a Chozla contingent to land in Lanka and teach the island king a lesson. He sent a large army to Lanka under the command of a chieftain of Kodumbalur, known as Paranthaka the Younger Lord of Velir. Unfortunately the Chozla army did not land in Lanka all at one time. They did not have adequate shipping facilities for that.
The battalions which had landed first started advancing without any forethought. Mahinda’s Lankan army led by Commander Sena came out and surrounded the Chozla forces in a surprise move. A terrible battle was fought. In that engagement, the Chozla Commander lost his life. Stone inscriptions (deciphered in recent years) refer to him as the Younger Lord of Velir who fell in Lanka.
When Veera-pandiya who was hiding in the desert caves, heard this news, he gathered courage once again and emerged. Again he assembled a large army and entered the battlefield. This time, the Pandiya legion was completely destroyed. Veera-pandiya also lost his life. Aditya Karikala, the elder son of Sundara Chozla, took part in this final battle and performed various heroic deeds. He also acquired the title `The Valiant Prince who wrung the head of Veera-pandiya.’
In spite of all this, the Chozla Emperor and all his generals, advisors, ministers and soldiers, did not forget their wish to teach the Singhala King Mahinda of Lanka a lesson. A large force was gathered in readiness for the campaign. The question “Who should lead this legion?” arose. The Crown Prince Aditya Karikala – Sundara Chozla’s elder son — was at that time busy with his troops in the northern border. He had captured the ancient city of Kanchi, after routing the armies of the Rashtrakutas who had occupied the Thiru-munai-padi and Thondai Territories. He was making preparations to lead his armies further north.
In this situation, a fierce competition rose among the other generals in the Chozla nation for the privilege of leading the Lankan campaign. Jealousy and accusations resulted from such rivalry. It was very rare to find someone who did not wish to enter the battlefield in that ancient Tamil land! The competition was about who should go to the war-front. Enmity and envy would often result from such competition.
There was fierce rivalry amongst the Chozla generals about who should lead the Lankan campaign and establish the Chozla fame by destroying the pride of the Singhala Kings. Prince Arulmozli Varma, the younger son of Emperor Sundara Chozla, came forward to put an end to this rivalry. “Father! I have spent enough time in the luxury of the Pazlayarai Palace, as the darling child of my aunts, grandmothers and mothers. Please appoint me as the Commander of the Southern Armies. I shall go to Lanka and lead the Lankan campaign,” said the young Prince.
Arulmozli Varma was barely nineteen years old at that time. He was Sundara Chozla’s cherished younger son; he was the beloved child of all the queens who lived at the Pazlayarai Palace; he was the darling of the Chozla nation.
Sundara Chozla was possessed of a handsome countenance. His father Arinjaya had fallen in love with her beauty and married Kalyani, Princess of the enemy kings of Vaithumba. The son born to Arinjaya and Kalyani was named Paranthaka; however, the citizens and countrymen of the Chozla nation who saw the handsome face of the Prince called him Sundara Chozla (sundara meaning beautiful.) He came to be known by this name.
All the children born to this handsome Prince were attractive and beautiful. But the youngest child, Arulmozli, surpassed all others in beauty. The charm of his handsome face was not of this world; it seemed to be divine! When
he was a baby, the queens of the Chozla palace would repeatedly kiss his cheeks and make them flush. More than any other person, his elder sister Kundavai cherished him. Though she was barely two years older to him, Kundavai felt that the responsibility of rearing this divine child was hers! In his turn, Arulmozli returned all the love and adoration that his sister showered upon him. The brother would not cross the line drawn by his elder sister. The Younger Pirati had to merely utter one word; even if all the three great Gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva came together and said something against that, Arulmozli would not consider their words. The elder sister’s words were gospel to the younger brother.
The sister would often peer into her darling brother’s face. Not just when he was awake; she would gaze upon the face of her sleeping brother for hours together. There is some divine grace in this boy; It is my duty to bring it to the forefront and make it shine! thought the young Princess. When her brother slept, she would often pick up his hands and study the lines on his palms. To her, those lines would appear to have the sign of the Conch and Discus. Aha! He is born to rule this world! He will bring the whole world under one rule, she would think. But, there was no possibility of his ascending the Chozla throne. Princes elder to him — eligible to ascend the throne — there were two others before him. Then, how could he acquire a kingdom? On which throne could he sit? Who knows divine intentions? The world is big; several kingdoms and territories exist on this earth. Have we not heard of princes and kings who ventured into alien lands and by their prowess acquired kingdoms? Have we not read of such happenings in novels and epics? That ancient prince who was thrown out of his kingdoms on the banks of the Ganga, did he not sail the seas to reach Lanka and establish a mighty nation? Didn’t his Singhala Dynasty rule firmly in Lanka for a thousand years?
Kundavai thought of such things constantly. In the end she came to the conclusion that her younger brother was the appropriate commander to lead the Lankan campaign.
She said, “Thambi, my darling brother Arulmozli! It will be difficult for me to part from you for even one second. However, the time has come for me to send you on your way. You must lead the Lankan campaign and leave for the island.”
Arulmozli agreed joyously. He had waited for the day — to escape from the life of luxury and the smothering love of the maids and queens in the palace. His beloved sister had now ordered him to do so. What other worry could he have? What other impediment?
If Kundavai had made up her mind, there was nothing that would not take place in the Chozla nation. The Emperor loved his beloved daughter to that extant! He trusted her implicitly!
Prince Arulmozli was appointed the Commander of the Southern Armies. He led his men into Lanka, and conducted the campaign for some time. But the war would not end easily. There was a difference in his method of campaigning and that of others. Supplies and support requested by him did not come from his native land. Therefore, once in the midst of all his endeavors he came back to Tanjore. He spoke to his father and arranged matters to his satisfaction. He prepared to depart for Lanka once again.
Kundavai had arranged for several auspicious ceremonies at the main palace in Pazlayarai, to bid farewell to her darling brother. When Arulmozli stepped out, the victory drums in the palace courtyard boomed; conches were blown; kettle-drums beaten loudly. Cheering shouts rose sky-high.
All the royal ladies of the Chozla clan blessed their beloved Prince; they anointed his forehead with holy ashes, and warding off evil eyes, sent him on his victorious journey.
All the maids-of-honor in Kundavai’s court stood on the palace steps carrying golden patters laden with a lighted lamp. These maids were no ordinary folk. They were from the famous noble families of the south. They had come to Pazlayarai, considering it a great opportunity, to serve the Elder Pirati Sembiyan Madevi and to become companions to Kundavai Pirati. Vanathi, a daughter of the Kodumbalur chieftain, the Younger Lord of Velir, was one among them.
When those girls saw the Prince coming down the palace steps, all of them felt a certain agitation in their hearts. When the Prince came closer, they waved their platters with the lighted lamp before him (to ward off the evil eye). At that moment Vanathi felt her whole body shiver.
The golden platter in her hands slipped and fell with a “clang” to the ground. The thought, “Oh dear! What is this ill omen!” rose in every mind. But when they saw the wick burning bright even if the lamp had fallen, they felt it was after all a good omen. The elders assured them, “This is a good sign.”
Prince Arulmozli smiled at the girl who had dropped the plate for no apparent reason and continued his descent down the steps. As soon as he moved ahead, Vanathi fell down in a swoon. She had fainted with the mortification of having committed such an impropriety. Upon the orders of Kundavai, the serving maids carried her into the palace. Kundavai hurried inside, without even waiting to see her beloved brother mount his horse and depart; she went in, to revive her friend.
Holding the reins of his horse, the Prince who had seen the girl faint, sent his footman inside to find out “How is the girl who fainted?”
Kundavai sent the footman back with the words “Tell the Prince to come back here for a minute.” The brother who had never crossed the commands of his sister, came back accordingly. The sight of his sister trying to revive the young girl lying on her lap touched his heart.
“Akka! Who is this girl? What is her name?” he asked.
“She is the daughter of the Younger Lord Velir of Kodumbalur. Her name is Vanathi; of a timid disposition.”
“Oh! Now I understand why she fainted. Was it not her father who led the earlier campaign to Lanka? Didn’t he die in the battlefront over there? Perhaps she remembered that.”
“Maybe. But don’t worry about her. I can look after her. I called you back to wish you well. Go to Lanka and come back victorious and soon. Send me news as often as you can!” said the Younger Pirati.
“Fine! You too send me news if anything happens here.”
By now, Vanathi was regaining consciousness; perhaps due to the pleasant sound of Prince Arulmozli’s voice! Her eyelids opened softly. Upon glimpsing the Prince, her eyes opened wider. Her face gained some color and revived; coral red lips smiled; cheeks dimpled.
Along with her senses a shyness also returned. She sat up quickly. She was mortified upon seeing the Princess behind her. She recalled everything that happened. “Oh! What have I done Akka?” she asked with remorse.
Before Kundavai could reply, the Prince intervened, “Don’t worry about that Vanathi! Anyone can make a mistake. You have every reason to be agitated. I was explaining it to my sister.”
Vanathi wondered if she was dreaming or if it was real. The Prince who never looked at any woman was talking to her. He is consoling me and cheering me up! How can I bear this fortune? – Look, how my whole body shivers, I am dizzy again….
“Akka, my men are waiting. Permit me to leave. When you send me news from here, let me know how this girl feels. Look after this orphan girl carefully.” He then departed.
The other maids and companions were watching all these happenings from the windows and balconies. The flame of jealousy began to glow in their hearts.
From that day onwards Kundavai showered a special affection upon Vanathi. She kept her by her side constantly. She had her personal tutors teach her all the arts and learning she had. She took Vanathi along wherever she went. She led her into the garden and talked secrets. She shared all her dreams about her younger
brother with her new friend. Vanathi listened to everything carefully.
After the above incidents took place, Vanathi fell into fainting fits four or five times. Kundavai would revive her and soothe her. When Vanathi would sit up, with her chest heaving with sobs, Kundavai would console her with words such as “My dear foolish girl! Why are you crying like this?”
“I don’t know Akka! Please forgive me,” Vanathi would reply. Kundavai would embrace her and comfort her.
All these activities further enraged the other maidens in the palace.
Therefore, was it not natural for those girls to talk in that fashion, when the two friends had gone away in the chariot towards Kudanthai?