Chapter 19 – Battlefield And Forest
It was a practice among the Tamils of the ancient times to erect a hero stone and raise a memorial for great warriors who died bravely in the battlefield. If the memorial was marked merely by a stone tablet the place was known as the stone monument of the warrior. If a statue of a divinity was consecrated along with the marker, the place came to be called a palli padai or memorial shrine and temple.
One such memorial-temple existed near the village of Thiru-puram-biyam, on the northern banks of the River Manni about half a league from Kudanthai. It had been erected in memory of a great warrior, the Ganga King Prithvi-pathi who had died in a great battle near that village.
Those who read world history may recall that the great battles of Waterloo and Panipat changed the very course of history. The battle of Thiru-puram-biyam had a similar significance with regard to South Indian history. That battle took place in the year AD 885, about a hundred years before the times of our story. It is essential that all persons interested in the history of the Tamils should know the details of that battle.
The early Chozla kings of the Sangam Age — Karikala Valava, Ilan-chet-chenni, Perunar-killi, Thodi-thot Sembiyan — ruled with great fame and prosperity. For about five to six hundred years after their times, a long eclipse clouded the fame of the Chozla’s. The Pandiyas in the south and the Pallavas of the north squashed the Chozlas into becoming petty chieftains. Towards the end, the Chozlas had to give up their coveted capital city, Uraiyoor, to the Pandiyas and move east. The Chozla chieftains who moved east made Pazlayarai, near Kudanthai, their new capital. But they did not forget their rights to their long time capital, i.e., Uraiyoor. Neither did they give up their title of Rooster Kings — a title of monarchs who ruled from Uraiyoor which was also known as Kozliyoor (kozli in Tamil means rooster.)
Of the Chozlas of Pazlayarai, Vijayala became famous as an incomparable, brave warrior. He had fought in the
forefront of various battles and had ninety-six war-wounds on his body. Latter day poets sang his praises enumerating his wounds to be `Ninety and twice of three more’ and said that he `Wore on his brave body ornaments of battle-wounds numbering ninety and six.’ His son, Aditya Chozla was comparable to his father in bravery. He also took part in several great campaigns. Vijayala Chozla had retired in his old age after crowning his son as the king.
At that time the enmity between the Pandiyas and Pallavas had grown to result in several skirmishes and fights. The Pandiya king of that time was Varaguna. The Pallava monarch was Aparajita. The battles between these two powerful rulers often took place on Chozla territory! Just like the rooster caught in the midst of a clash between one elephant and another, the Chozla people suffered: caught in the midst of the enmity of two super-powers.
King Vijayala tried to make the best use of these wars for gaining his own supremacy. In each skirmish or battle he would join forces with one opponent or the other. Victory and defeat were equal: but the warrior spirit of Chozla men became well established.
Several tributaries branch from the Cauvery to form a delta — the fertile lands of the Chozla country. All these tributaries branch and flow to the south of the Cauvery. There is only one tributary between the Kollidam and Cauvery rivers. It is known as the River Manni.
The final test of strength between the super-powers took place as a great battle near the village of Thiru-puram-biyam situated to the north of the Manni. The armed strength of both sides was more or less equal. Pallava Aparajita was supported by the Ganga King Prithvi-pathi. Aditya Chozla also supported Aparajita.
Compared to the armies of the Pandiyas, Pallavas and Gangas the Chozla battalion was tiny. But Aditya knew that if the Pandiyas were victorious this time, the Chozlas would be totally destroyed. Therefore, like the Cauvery mixing into the mighty ocean, his tiny army joined the larger Pallava forces.
The battlefield spread across one square league. The four divisions of the army — chariot legions, elephant brigade, cavalry and infantry were ready. When elephant clashed with elephant, like two mountains hurled against each other, the skies thundered. Horses flew against horses like furious storms thrown one against the other; lances and long spears held by the horsemen shone like lightning. Chariot dashed against chariot: broken into smithereens and thrown in all directions. The noise of the whistling arrows and clashing swords filled the skies and shook the four corners of the world. After a fierce conflict lasting over three days, the field looked like a sea of blood. Dead horses and elephants appeared like islands in that sea. Lifeless bodies formed dunes. Broken chariots floated like driftwood from a sunken ship. Both sides had lost thousands, tens of thousands of men.
After the first three days of battle, a very tiny battalion of the Pallavas remained intact. Those men who lived were very tired. But Pandiya forces attacked again and again as if they owned some divine spell against tiredness. A council-of-war was held in King Aparajita’s tent. The three kings — Aparajita, Prithvi-pathi and Aditya together with their generals, met to discuss further action. They decided that they could no longer oppose the enemy; it was best to retreat to the north of the Kollidam.
At that point a miracle happened in the battlefield. Vijayala Chozla — weak with old age, bearing numberless war-scars over his body, having lost the power to use his legs because of wounds — somehow came to the battle front. The old war-lion realized that if the Pallava forces withdrew beyond the Kollidam, the Chozla entity would be completely wiped out. His roar instilled new life in the remaining Pallava men.
“One elephant; give me just one elephant,” shouted the old monarch.
“All our elephant brigade is lost. Not one elephant remains alive,” they said.
“One horse. At least bring me one good horse,” he asked.
“Not a single horse survived,” replied the men.
“At least, have two brave warriors of the Chozla nation survived? If you are alive come forward!” roared the brave soldier.
Instead of two, two-hundred came forward.
“Two men — with courage in their heart and strength in their shoulders — two among you lift me up. The others follow two after two to take their place. If the two carrying me fall, those behind come forward.” The bravest of brave men spoke with a firmness.
Two giants came forward and lifted Vijayala onto their shoulders. “GO! Go to the war-front!” he roared.
A battle was still being fought in one corner of the field. The southern forces were fighting bravely, making the northerners retreat. Vijayala Chozla seated on the shoulders of two brave men entered that fight. He rushed into the midst of the enemy legion, swirling two large swords held in each hand; none could oppose him or stop him. Wherever he went dead bodies of enemy men rose in piles on both sides. Men who retreated earlier came back to see this miracle. They stood in shock to see the inhuman bravery of Vijayala Chozla. They cheered each other and came back to fight.
And that was it. The fickle Goddess of Victory changed her mind; her favor was now bestowed upon the Pallava army. The three kings gave up the idea of retreating
beyond the Kollidam. They too entered the battle field. Soon the Pandiya army began its retreat. They did not stop till they reached the borders of their Pandiya Territories.
Ganga Prithvi-pathi performed various deeds of valor that day. He established his brave fame and gave up his life in the field.They erected a hero stone in his memory in the battlefield. Later it was built into a memorial-temple or palli padai.
That gory battlefield lay waste for a few years; not a weed grew on that land. People avoided going near the place. After a while, forest began claiming the land for itself. Trees and creepers began growing thickly around the memorial temple. Wolves took up abode among the bushes. Owls and bats lived in the dark branches of tall trees. In the course of time, no one went near that temple. Over the years the building began to crumble. Soon it turned into ruins. By the times of our story, the place had become a totally deserted ruin in the middle of a forest.
Azlvar-adiyan reached the ruined memorial when darkness was setting in. The gargoyles carved on the upper walls of the memorial stared at him and tried to frighten him. But that brave Vaishnava was not one to be frightened easily. He jumped up and climbed on to the roof of the structure. He then hid himself carefully amidst the branches of a tree that covered the roof. He kept watch in all directions. Soon, his eyes were able to peer into the darkness and discern various shapes. His ears were able to hear even the tiniest of noises.
One hour, two hours and even three hours passed after sunset. The darkness around him was suffocating. Now and then he heard the rasping sound of forest trees: branches rubbed against each other. There! a wild-dog was climbing a tree. An owl hooted; bats screeched. Birds frightened by the wild-dog beat their wings loudly as they tried to perch on higher branches. Wolves had begun to howl.
He heard a noise above his head: looked up. Some small animal — lizard or squirrel jumped to a different branch. A small patch of the clear sky could be seen through the branches of the tree. Stars twinkled and peeped down. In that silent, dark forest the stars seemed to extend a friendly smile towards him. Therefore, Thirumalai Nambi Azlvar-adiyan looked up at the stars and started talking softly:
“Oh! My dear star friends! Today you seem to be laughing at the foolishness of these human beings on this earth. You have good reason to laugh! You might remember that horrible battle which took place in this very spot a hundred years ago; and how the whole area was a wretched ruin of blood and death. Perhaps you were surprised at mankind and their petty enmities! You wondered why they butchered each other to create rivers of red. It is called bravery! Even a hundred years after a man’s death they consider him an `Enemy’ — they referred to it as the `Enemy memorial’. They are going to meet near the enemy
memorial and talk and conspire of more harm to the living in the name of the dead! Oh you twinkling lights of the skies! Why won’t you laugh? Yes. Laugh as much as you wish. Dear God! Is my coming here a big waste? Is the whole night going to pass like this? Are those men, whom I expected, coming here, or not? Did I hear wrong? Did I not see correct? Or did those men who made the sign of the fish change their plans and go some place else? — What disappointment? Disappointment? I cannot forgive myself if I am cheated today… Ah! … I think I can see some light in that direction. What is it? The light is now hidden. No. I can see it. No doubt now. Someone is coming here; he is holding a torch of burning twigs. No, not one man — I hear two men. My waiting has not been wasted.”
The two men who came crossed the path and went beyond the memorial temple. They stopped in the midst of a small clearing nearby. One fellow sat down. The man holding the lighted twigs looked around. There was no doubt: he was expecting some others. After sometime, two others came and joined them. They must have been very brave men; men who had come to that spot several times before. Otherwise, they could not have found their way in that darkness in that forest. Those who came first and the late comers talked amongst themselves. But, Azlvar-adiyan could not hear a single word! Oh dear! All my effort seems useless. I cannot even see those men clearly. What shall I do?
Two more men joined them very soon. They talked of something to each other. One of the men who came last, had a bag in one hand. He opened the string tied around his bag and poured its contents on the ground! Gold coins shone brightly in the light of the burning twigs. The man who dropped the coins laughed like one possessed:
“My friends! We are about to destroy the Chozla Kingdom using Chozla gold! Isn’t it funny?” He laughed loudly again.
“Ravidasa, don’t make such a racket! Let us talk softly,” said another.
“Fine! What does it matter how we talk in this place? If anybody hears us, it will be owls and bats; wolves and wild-dogs; luckily they cannot repeat what they hear!” Ravidasa laughed even more loudly.
“Maybe. But, it is better to talk softly.”
They started talking amongst themselves, softly. Azlvar-adiyan felt that it was a waste to sit on top of that roof without hearing anything. He must get down and go near the clearing to listen to their talk. He must manage to avoid the danger from such activity. Azlvar-adiyan started down from the roof top. His stocky body disturbed the tree branches and made a slight noise.
One of the men in the clearing jumped up quickly, saying, “Who is that?” Azlvar-adiyan’s heart stopped beating for a
few seconds. There was no way of not being discovered, except to run. Running would cause more noise. They will surely catch him. A vampire bat on the tree spread open its huge wings; it then opened and closed its wings lazily several times and whistled “Oorm, oorm,” loudly, twice.