Chapter 47 – Mr. Esanya Bhattar of Pazlayarai
After visiting the Princess, Azlvar-adiyan went towards the house of his elder brother Mr Esanya Bhattar. The house was very near the Northwest Shiva Temple, about half-a-league from the Chozla Maligai complex. If one walked towards the Shiva Temple from the palace complex, one could appreciate the extensiveness and greatness of Pazlayarai to some extant.
Azlvar-adiyan recognized that the festive celebrations had become somewhat quiet. In the residential neighborhood, several groups of women had gathered in street corners talking angrily about something. These were the women who had adorned the shoulders of their beloved brothers and husbands with garlands of vanji flowers and enthusiastically sent them to the battlefields of Lanka. Each and every household in that street could claim to have at least one brave warrior who was a veteran of the several Chozla wars. Thirumalai Nambi Azlvar-adiyan now noticed the women from such households mumbling in a disgruntled fashion. He worried about the consequences of such discontent.
By the time he neared the Shiva Temple, darkness had descended completely. It was one of the temples celebrated in the song of songs composed by Saint Appar. During the times of the Saint, followers of the Jain faith had raised large brick edifices around the temple. The brick constructions comprised of several cave-like chambers in which Jain monks sat in meditation and prayer. These artificial caves were known as muzlai’s. Even today, as if to remind us of that past heritage there
quickest way to reach his house was by way of the entrance between the Jain caves though there was a more roundabout access from the other end of the town. Thirumalai entered the temple through the short-cut. He noticed some devotees standing about in the inner corridors and recognized some of them as the men who had been costumed like Krishna and Balarama in the street-pantomime. Before he could wonder about their presence in that place, he noticed his elder brother walking hurriedly out of the inner sanctum. Mr. Bhattar quickly took hold of Azlvar-adiyan’s hand and dragged him out of the temple.
“Anna! what is this?” asked Azlvar-adiyan.
“Listen to this Thirumalai! Henceforth let our relationship exist only outside the temple. You are an atheist; a disbeliever who ridicules Lord Shiva; Don’t enter this holy temple anymore! Do you understand? I have been patient too long. I could not tolerate your behavior in the presence of the Elder Pirati today. If you want, feel free to come home and fill your large stomach! But do not enter the premises of this temple! If you come here I cannot be responsible for the consequences!”
With these words Mr. Bhattar pushed Azlvar-adiyan outside and pulled the entrance door shut. He did not spare even a moment to listen to Thirumalai who was trying to say something … He firmly drew the bolts and locked the entrance door and went back into the temple.
“Aha! Is that the matter!” muttered Azlvar-adiyan as he dusted himself off. He stood about for a while and then walked around the temple two or three times. He went around the Jain caves, anti -clockwise, making sure that his perambulations would not be misconstrued as those of a worshipper. (The devout offered prayers at temples by walking around the sanctum in a clockwise fashion.)
He noticed that all the doors to the Jain caves were tightly shut. Finally he entered the portals of his brother’s house. His brother’s wife was quite fond of her jovial bother-in-law. He chatted with her even more merrily than usual and satisfied his hunger with extra helpings of the food from the Shiva Temple before coming to lie down in the front porch. He remembered something he had seen along the banks of the River Kudam-urutti the previous evening.
Azlvar-adiyan had hidden himself hurriedly in a copse of bamboo canes by the roadside when he had heard the hoofbeat of quick horses along the road. The first horse was galloping as if it was out of control. The horse appeared dripping wet; was it sweat or had it crossed a river? This was not clear. A youth was seated on that horse; in fact he was tied with ropes binding him to his steed. The youth’s face was full of fear mingled with a certain determination. Four to five horses followed a little behind. Men bearing lances and other weapons rode those horses. They were soon nearing the first horse. Soon they would catch up. A soldier lifted up his lance and took aim; he was about to throw it … another man stopped him. The frightened youth now passed close to the bamboo canes. A thorny branch caught in his hair. The cane tugged him back as the horse tried to drag him forward. The soldiers caught up with him.
The men looked at the youth with surprise, shock and anger. They questioned him harshly and he answered with hesitation. Nothing was clear. “Where is he?” “Where is he?” — the question was repeated again and again. The youth answered tearfully again and again “He fell into the river.” “He drowned in the water.” The men went down the riverside taking the youth with them.
At that time Azlvar-adiyan had not understood the meaning or significance of the incident. Something was appearing to make sense now. Meanwhile he remembered the group of street players. He particularly recalled the voice of the man who had mimed Kamsa, hiding his face behind the large wooden mask. He felt that he could recognize the voice of the man who had played the part of Kamsa. Things were beginning to make sense.
Esanya Bhattar had returned home after the midnight worship. He saw Azlvar-adiyan sleeping on the thinnai, (raised front porch.) “Thirumalai! Thirumalai!” He called angrily.
Bhattar’s wife spoke up on Thirumalai’s behalf, “Why do you curse him like this? What is it that he said newly — that which he has not uttered before now? It is you who have become a fanatic Saiva!”
“You know nothing! Do you know what he said in front of the Elder Pirati? `Why does Shiva who wanders the burning grounds clad in ashes need a temple?’ That is what he asked. It was like molten lead in my ears! I Believe the Elder Pirati could not sleep a wink last night!”
“He will not say such things anymore. I shall advice him and correct him. He would listen if you talked calmly to
“Enough of this calmness and quietness! Let him go to Rameshwaram immediately. Let him worship at the Shiva shrine where Lord Rama prayed to overcome His sins; that is his penance. Till he does this I shall not even look upon his face.”
Azlvar-adiyan’s lips trembled with agitation to reply in kind. But he held his silence, thinking that impatience would only ruin the situation.
Bhattar’s wife intervened once again, “Why not? If we tell him to go to Rameshwaram, he will surely do so. Perhaps we should also go along with him. Even after all these years we have no children. I wonder what sins we may have committed in our previous births…. Thirumalai, shall we all go to Rameshwaram?”
(Some devout Hindus believe that a visit to Rameshwaram will reward childless couples with children.)
Mr. Esanya Bhattar looked at them both angrily and left the house. He returned after some hours and addressed his younger brother calmly.
“Thambi! The elders have said wisely that anger is a wretched sin! I gave room to anger unnecessarily. I hope you are not too upset?”
“Oh! No!” said Azlvar-adiyan.
“Well then, why don’t you stay here itself for some time? I wish to know your opinion on several important matters. I have to talk to you; hope you can stay for a while here itself?”
“I shall not go anywhere Anna! I have no intention of parting from you so soon!”
Mr. Bhattar went away once again. Azlvar-adiyan’s lips trembled, “Ah! Is that so!” Soon he too left the house quickly without even telling his sister-in-law. He went round and round the brick cave ramparts several times. If he heard any unusual noise he quickly hid himself and watched. He was not disappointed. Soon one of the doors to the Jain caves opened silently. Mr. Esanya Bhattar came out first after looking in all directions! Behind him came another man. Who was he? The face was not clear. His build resembled that of the actor who played Kamsa’s part. Who is he? I shall not rest till I find out! All that anger and fury was because of this; all that pretence and deceit was for this man?
The two men who emerged from the cave went first; Azlvar-adiyan followed silently and secretly. Soon they reached the banks of the lake. It was that very same lake which lapped on the garden banks of the Chozla Maligai. But they were on a wharf quite far from the Palace Complex. Azlvar-adiyan hid himself in a grove of thick trees on the bank. He thrust his head between the branches and watched.
A boat danced softly on the gentle waves; it seemed like a boat from the palace. The boat-man stood on the shore. Upon seeing Mr Bhattar and the man following him, the boat-man dragged the boat ashore. They climbed into the craft and it
Prime Minister, the Honorable Anirudda Brahma-raya. The Prime Minister was now in Madurai to straighten the administration of the newly conquered Pandiya Territories. His family lived in Tanjore. Therefore his mansion in Pazlayarai was locked shut.
Azlvar-adiyan quickly made his way to this mansion. Upon seeing him, the watchmen respectfully welcomed him. He ordered them to open the main door and let him in. And following his orders they locked the door shut once again after he had entered. Thirumalai walked through the three courtyards and reached the gardens at the back. A foot-trail cut a path through the trees and creepers along the lake shore. Azlvar-adiyan followed the path and soon reached Kundavai’s garden. He hid himself in a gazebo and waited and watched. His troubles did not go unrewarded. A scene that could have been dramatized by the great romantic poets such as Kalidasa, took place there.
The boat soon came to the bank. Mr. Esanya Bhattar and Vandiya Devan came ashore. They began climbing the steps leading up from the wharf.
Kundavai was seated on a marble garden seat atop the steps. When the two men had reached the top, the Younger Pirati Kundavai Devi stood up.
It was only then that Vandiya Devan looked up to gaze into the Lady’s face. And he stood looking. A tendril of a flowering creeper stretched its gentle arm between the two of them, barring the path. A beautiful butterfly — a multicolored butterfly flew in to sit on a flower of that creeper. Kundavai had slightly lowered her face to look at that butterfly. Vandiya Devan kept looking at her without blinking an eyelid.
The soft waves on the lake became quieter. Birds stopped singing. The whole universe stood still! Several eons