Chapter 45 – The Spy Who Committed A Crime
About two thousand years ago, a famous Chozla monarch named Karikala Valava built banks all along the River Cauvery. The banks remained in good repair for a long time and kept the flooding river within bounds. Later (about the seventh century AD) the power of Chozla monarchs diminished and their enemies, the Pallavas, Pandiyas, Vaanars and Kalabras became powerful. In those times the river which had no guardian crossed its bounds by breaking its banks. This happened several times. Sometimes when the floods were unusually heavy, the very course of the river changed. A new course would replace the old river and later the old river could become the new course.
If the river changed direction completely for long periods, the old river bed would become fertile farmland tilled by the farmers. Sometimes the old river became a shallow lake or pool of stagnating water. Some lakes would grow to be rather large with splashing waves during the rainy months.
There was one such creek or lake to the south of the Chozla Palace in Pazlayarai. Chozla monarchs had deepened the old river bed and connected it to the new river by a canal. Because of this, the lake was always filled with fresh, flowing water. The large body of water was in some ways a protection to the palace complex, particularly to the mansions of the Chozla women. None could enter the palace complex from that direction easily. Only the officials closely connected to the palace complex were permitted to enter the lake by boat or otherwise. Beautiful gardens and orchards were planted along the banks of this lake. Womenfolk of the Chozla Maligai wandered without care in these gardens. They would gather in groups to spend their days in pleasure and merrymaking. They would dance and sing like the peacocks and nightingales in the gardens. Sometimes they would swim without care or hold boat races on the lake and compete with each other.
When one king died and the next came to power, the new monarch of the Chozla clan usually built himself a new mansion and went to live in it. The old king’s widows and his other children continued to live in the old palace. The Chozla Maligai complex was full of such palaces. In that complex, Kundavai’s palace excelled in beauty and dignity next only to the grand palace of Lady Sembiyan Madevi. Was it not the palace in which Sundara Chozla had lived while in that city? After the Emperor had moved to Tanjore, Kundavai became the sole mistress of that exquisite palace.
The garden behind this palace was exceptionally beautiful. Kundavai had filled it with rare flowering shrubs and trees. Her garden had tall, spreading banyan trees with their roots reaching for the earth. Lofty teak-wood trees were covered with fragrant creepers. Ashoka-cypress and mango mingled with tiny flowering bushes. In the midst of pleasing groves were beautifully carved marble gazebos, and creeper laden arbors. Kundavai and her friends spent most of their evenings in the garden. They would gather together teasing each other; telling stories, recounting tidbits of news. They would sing and dance and show off their learning to one another. Sometimes they would break away in small groups sharing secrets with each other. For some time recently, Kundavai and Vanathi were wont to go away by themselves.
That evening, Kundavai and Vanathi were enjoying themselves in the long swings hanging from the branches of the banyan tree. They could hear the pleasing sounds of birdsong mingled with the chatter and laughter of women. But Kundavai and Vanathi were not laughing. They were not even smiling; in fact they did not particularly seem to like the mirth of their friends. They could hear one of the girls singing from the gazebo. She was singing about Lord Krishna because it was the day of Krishna’s birth.
The maid hears the melody of the divine flute in the moonlight. The maid who is in love with Krishna, is tortured by
when my soul is in agony?
Parrot: O Beauty, I have come to tell you of dear Kannan who suffers for love of you, He says, from the day he parted from you, even fresh butter tastes bitter!
Kundavai who had been listening to the song now spoke up. “Fantastic Kannan — who has come to this Tamil country to be revered by all! If he spends all his time in eating butter and playing the flute to enchant the milkmaids, what about all other things?” she said.
She then looked at Vanathi who had not replied and asked, “What my dear? Have you also become enchanted with Krishna’s beguiling flute?”
“Akka, what did you say?” asked Vanathi.
“What did I say! Where has your mind gone?”
“Nowhere. It’s right here, with you.”
“You thief! Why do you lie? Your heart and mind are not here at all! Shall I say where they have gone?”
“Tell me if you know.” Vanathi smiled.
“I know very well. It has gone to the battlefield in Lanka. Your mind is conniving more tricks to enchant that blameless youth, my brother who is there!”
“One half of what you say is true, Akka. My heart and mind often wander to Lanka. But I don’t think of ways to enchant him. All I can think of is how he must be suffering in the battlefield. Perhaps he is wounded, perhaps he has to face other hardships. Where does he sleep? What does he eat? Who dresses his wounds? When he is suffering in such ways, here I am — comfortably enjoying the luxuries of this palace, eating six-course meals and sleeping on silk beds! The very thought distresses me. If only I had wings, I would fly away this very minute …”
“Fly away! What would you do there in Lanka? More hinderance to him?”
“Never. Like Subadra for Arjuna and Bhama for Krishna, I shall be his chariot driver. I will bear all the arrows aimed at him on my own chest and …”
“You think he will keep quiet, watching you receive those arrows?”
“If he does not care for that, I will wait for him in the camp. When he returns from the front, I shall clean and anoint his wounds. I shall spread a soft bed for him to lie upon. I shall cook a tasty meal and wait for him. I shall play a melody on the veena to soothe him.”
“Impossible! Such things can never happen. Vanathi, the Chozla men don’t take their women to the battlefield.”
“They are not concerned about wounds. They are more afraid of women.”
“Why? What can women do to them?”
“Yes; what about him?”
“Do you remember how he stood spellbound when he saw all of us?”
“I remember that too. But, you are wrong in saying `All of us’. He stood spellbound looking only at you. Akka, in fact he did not even see any of us standing nearby!”
“Vanathi! What lies you tell! Are you teasing me?” asked Kundavai.
“No, No! I’ll ask you something. Will you answer truthfully?”
“Ask and see.”
“Why did you suddenly remember that youth now?”
“You have become a real chatterbox. What is wrong in remembering him?”
“Who said it is wrong? No one said it is wrong. It’s natural. Even I have been concerned. I wonder what happened to him afterwards?”
“Why should you be concerned about what happens to him?”
“Why not? If one had met someone and if one remembered that someone often, it’s natural that one should wish to find out more about that someone!”
“Excellent nature! My dear, we should not let our mind wander like that. We should control our senses…. Oh! listen. What is that sound Vanathi? It sounds like the drummers proclaiming something. Come let us listen.”
Yes; in the distance they could hear the rumbling sounds of the proclaimer’s drums. The drumbeats were followed by a loud voice announcing something. They hurried towards the mansion, ears sharpened to catch the proclamation.
An announcer was declaring in a loud voice:
“An enemy spy entered Tanjore Fort by showing a false signet ring. He entered the fort and escaped after spying inside the palace. He escaped after fatally wounding two men. He is young and well built. Capable and cunning like a magician. His name is Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan. Anyone who protects him or gives him asylum will be subject to the death sentence. A thousand gold coins is the reward for anyone who finds him. This is by order of the Commander of Tanjore, Lord Kalanthaka the Younger Lord Pazluvoor.”
After the announcement, the drums rolled like thunder, once again. For some reason, Kundavai shivered.
A maid came up to them and said, “Devi, a gentleman of the Vaishnava faith has come to see you. He says his name is Thirumalai Appan Azlvar-adiyan Nambi. He says it is urgent.”
“I’ll see him,” said Kundavai as she walked quickly into the palace.