Chapter 21 – The Curtains Parted
Can two minds function at the same time in one body? Yes — Vandiya Devan knew the answer because of his experiences that day!
He was travelling through the most fertile of the bountiful Chozla lands. It was the season of new floods in all the rivers and streams. Fresh water rushed through canals, conduits and waterways into the lush fields; water was everywhere.
How appropriate, to call the Chozla land bounteous and its monarch the king of bounty! Thoughts of the dangers surrounding the Chozla monarch immediately followed. What is my duty in this situation? Shall I keep quiet after delivering the letters sent by Prince Karikala to the Emperor and think that my duty is done? Why should I interfere in this discord and hostility between royal cousins? How does it concern me, whoever sits on the Chozla throne? In some ways, if I think of it, these Chozlas are my ancestral enemies. Did not the Chozlas, Gangas and Vaithumbas join together to destroy the very existence of my forefathers of the Vanakapadi Kingdom? Can I forget all that injustice just because Prince Karikala befriends me today?
No, no! — How can I consider that old history as injustice? It is natural that kings fight and oppose each other. Victory and defeat are both natural. What is the use of the defeated group resenting the victorious? When they were powerful, weren’t my forefathers ruthless towards the kings they vanquished? Did they not try to completely destroy their enemies? Ah! What was that poem ? I can remember a poem about such activities of my clan:-
With countless armies made into leaf-mulch,
With the flowing red of battlefields stored for irrigation, In a dirt field ploughed by the war elephant,
That Vaana, the best of kings on this earth,
He planted the heads of the three kings: his enemies.
My ancestors also committed such dreadful deeds in the battlefield! The lot of those defeated in battle is lamentable. Can all kings be merciful like Rama and Dharma of the epics? Because of their merciful nature they were driven to the forests to suffer! Those epic heros suffered even though they were brave and were befriended by gallant men. There should be no mercy shown in matters of politics! If one thinks about it, we should consider these Chozlas as being more tolerant and merciful than any other such monarchs. If possible, they make friends with their enemies. Didn’t King Arinjaya marry the Vaithumba Princess? Isn’t it because of that famous beauty, the Princess Kalyani, that Sundara Chozla and his children are so handsome? Ah! … when I think of beauty, the face of that maiden of Kudanthai, that lady on the banks of River Arisil, comes to my mind! She is not coming into my mind suddenly from somewhere … her presence has been lurking in my heart all this while…
While his outer mind considered the complications of Chozla politics and enjoyed the beauties of Chozla land, his inner mind dwelt upon that maiden. Now the inner mind and outer mind began to consider the same object, frankly. He began to compare any beautiful sight to her enchanting personality. He recalled her lovely shoulders when he saw the grace of slender bamboos swaying in the breeze. The profuse blooms of creek-side water lilies were example of her dark eyes. He doubted if the lovely lotus could equal her golden face. Can he liken the sweet melody of bees humming in flower groves to her pleasing voice?
Poets can imagine such nonsense — how can they be reality? How beautiful she was! The very memory of her face makes my heart beat faster! I am not enthralled like that by these flowers and bees. Oh! Oh! I have forgotten all the advice given by my elders! There is nothing more impermanent in this world than the allure of women. Those who wish to succeed in life should never be enticed by the charm of women. If one falls prey to their enchantment it is the end! The story of Kovalan is a good example of that — Why think of Kovalan? Look at Lord Pazluvoor! That most powerful personage, the bravest of soldiers — aren’t people making fun of him because of such a predicament? — but the people do not know the truth! No
one knows about who travels in the closed palanquin with Lord Pazluvoor. They talk in ignorance. Still, Prince Madurandaka need not demean himself in that fashion. Why should he hide in a closed palanquin under the guise of Lord Pazluvoor’s queen, and go from town to town? Is this commendable in any man? Should he acquire his kingdom in this manner? Can he safeguard his gains obtained in this fashion? He will have to trust Lord Pazluvoor and his cronies and rule dominated by their power. On that issue — what Sundara Chozla does is also not commendable; he should not have given such prerogatives and powers to persons like the Lords of Pazluvoor. That too when he has two such capable, exquisite sons. And when he has a daughter whose intelligence and skill is praised by the whole nation…
That maiden — whom I saw at the astrologer’s house and met on the banks of the river — whom does she resemble?
… Could it be possible? — absolute foolishness! It can never be so! But, why not? If it is so, there is none more ill-fated than me. How did I behave?– so uncivilized — towards a lady admired by one and all from the Vindhya Mountains to Lanka Island. It is not possible… How can I face her tomorrow when I deliver the Prince’s letters?
With such disconnected thoughts crowding his mind, Vandiya Devan came along the Cauvery to reach the town of Thiru-vai-aru. He stood on the southern banks of the Cauvery, looking across the river to see the town on the northern bank. The fertility and beauty of that country overpowered his heart. He asked a passerby and confirmed that it was indeed Thiru-vai-aru. All that he had heard about that place seemed to be paltry compared to reality.
The description of that town by Gnana-sambanda in his Thevaram poems could be recognized in the actuality. There was no change in three hundred years.
Look at those luscious groves of trees on the Cauvery bank. How big are the fruits hanging from the trunk and branches of the jack-tree! There is nothing like this in the dry Thondai region! Look at those monkeys gathered in these fertile lands. How delightful to see them jump from tree to tree! I remember the descriptions in Gnana-sambanda’s poems:
Maidens dance on the stages set in the street-corners of Thiru-vai-aru. Song and music accompany that dance with melodious drumbeats; Monkeys hearing those drums (mattalam) think that the skies are thundering with an approaching storm: they climb to the top of palm trees and look up at the skies waiting for the rains!
How appropriate that description is even now? Look at those long-tailed monkeys scampering among tree-tops. I can hear the sounds of music and dance from the town! Along with the melody of the veena, flute and other such instruments, I can hear the sounds of dancing feet and ankle bells! The dancers here are not frenzied like the gypsy dancers of Kadamboor. This is classical dance —
decorous Bharata Natyam in full dignity. The music is from established classical culture. I can even hear the tap-tap of dance teachers beating time as their students practice!
Teachers keep time, while beguiling damsels dance;
Poets speak enchanting verse, making every sculpted stone come alive; Such accomplished people stroll in the streets of Thiru-vai-aru.
Aha! Gnana-sambanda was a good devotee of Shiva but, more than that he was an connoisseur of the arts! This town is exactly as he described it! I must stay in this town at least for tonight and enjoy this music and dance and I must worship at the shrines of the Lord of the five-rivers and the Lady who nurtured justice. Look at all those devotees at prayers on the banks of the Cauvery. How elegant they look with their foreheads adorned with broad ashen marks! Their chants of “Namasivaya” drown the sounds of the music and dance. Look, someone is singing the Thevaram songs so exquisitely. This town seems to be created by the Gods just for music and song! I must stay here tonight. What is the use of hurrying to Tanjore? I don’t know if I can even enter the fort? Even if I manage to go in, will I be able to meet the Emperor? The two Lords of Pazluvoor are said to guard the Emperor as if in prison
… Let me cross the Cauvery and go north.
When Vandiya Devan came to this conclusion, something happened. A palanquin was approaching along the Cauvery from the west. Footmen and guards walked in front and behind the palanquin. A suspicion crossed Vandiya Devan’s mind. He waited at the same spot till the palanquin came nearer. His surmise was correct. He could see the sign of the palmtree emblazoned upon the outer screens of the covered palanquin.
Yes! This palanquin must be coming from Kadamboor! They must have come by some other route, while I came through Kudanthai. But, there is no sign of Lord Pazluvoor! Maybe he is delayed somewhere on the way.
The palanquin turned south on to the Tanjore road. That decided it — Vandiya Devan abandoned the idea of tarrying at Thiru-vai-aru. He decided to follow that palanquin. Why did he decide to do so? Even he did not know at that time! He was sure that Prince Madurandaka was seated inside the palanquin. His feelings of disgust about the Prince increased. Still, he might find some good opportunity if he followed the palanquin. The bearers might put down the palanquin or the Prince might emerge for some reason or other. He could make his acquaintance and it might help him in entering the fort at Tanjore and meeting the Emperor.
I must speak and put up a pretense suitable to achieve my goal. If I don’t use such strategy and conniving I cannot complete my assigned task; particularly in such political matters.
Therefore, he let the palanquin and its guards go ahead and then followed them at a little distance. But no expected opportunity arose. They had already crossed the remaining four rivers between Thiru-vai-aru and Tanjore. The palanquin was not put down. The bearers walked steadily. He could soon see the ramparts and gates of the outer fort of Tanjore in the distance. Once the palanquin enters the fort, nothing can be done. He must do something bold and fearless.
What can happen? Will they chop off my head? It’s alright if they do so — there is no point going back with my life if I am unable to complete my assigned task. As a basis for all this thought, Vandiya Devan had a certain anger and disgust about the prince in the palanquin. His hands itched to tear apart the curtains of the palanquin and expose the fact that the person inside was not a woman but a full grown man! His heart was agitated!
While he was considering various options to execute his intentions, one of the men in the retinue of the palanquin hesitated. He stared at Vandiya Devan seated on his horse.
“Who are you Sir? You have been following us from Thiru-vai-aru?” he asked.
“I am not following you Sir! I am going to Tanjore. Doesn’t this road lead to Tanjore?”
“Yes. This is the road to Tanjore; but, only important persons can use this road. There is another road for commoners,” said that man.
“Is that so? I too am quite an important person!” said Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan.
The man smiled upon hearing this, “Why are you going to Tanjore?” he asked.
“My uncle lives in Tanjore. I heard that he was not keeping good health and am going to visit him.”
“What does you uncle do in Tanjore? Is he in service at the Palace?”
“Oh, no! He is an inn-keeper.”
“Ah! Is that so! Then, why don’t you go before us? Why do you follow us?”
“My horse is tired Sir. That’s why. Otherwise what pleasure do I have, to see your backsides?”
In the course of this conversation, Vandiya Devan came very close to the palanquin. An idea had occurred to him. He pulled in the reins, pressed both his legs against its flanks and pushed his horse towards the bearers carrying the end poles of the palanquin. They turned in fear and surprise.
Vandiya Devan immediately started shouting “Oh King, My Lord! My Sire! Your bearers are pushing against my horse! Help! Help! Oh dear!”
The screens shook and parted.