Chapter 5 – The Gypsy Dance
Both friends came out from the inner chambers. A voice from inside called out, “Kandamara! Kandamara!”
“My mother is calling me. Wait right here. I’ll be back instantly,” said Kandamaran as he went inside once again. The voices of several women talking all at once, the sound of questions being asked one upon the other and Kandamaran answering them with some confusion could be heard. He also heard the women inside laughing gaily. The thought that they were perhaps laughing at him caused some shame and anger in Vandiya Devan. When Kandamaran came out, he took hold of his friend’s hand and dragged him onwards saying, “Come let us look around our palace.”
He showed him all the beautiful moonlit terraces, music rooms, dance halls, storage rooms, well furnished chambers, living quarters, audience halls, turrets, towers, stables and other places. After a while Vandiya Devan asked, “Kandamara, you made me wait outside your mother’s chambers and went in again. At that time what was so special to provoke the laughter and joy inside? Were the women so happy to see me, your friend?”
“They were all very happy to meet you. In fact my mother and others liked you a lot. But they were not laughing about you …”
“Then why the laughter?”
“You know the Lord of Pazluvoor? At this age, after all these years he has recently married a very young girl. He has brought her here in a covered palanquin. Apparently he has kept her locked up in his own chambers without sending her to the inner apartments in the palace. One of the maids who saw the girl by peeping in through the window, came and described her beauty. That is the cause for the laughter. They were discussing if she was a Singhala girl, a Kalinga lady or perhaps a maid from Chera. You know that the ancestors of the Pazluvoor clan originally came here from the Chera country?”
“I have heard it too. Perhaps you had told me earlier. That’s OK! Kandamara, how long is it since Lord Pazluvoor married this mysterious beauty?”
“It must be less than two years. He has not left her alone for even a short while from the time he married her! He takes his ladylove along wherever he goes; in a closed palanquin! In fact there has been a lot of sniggering about it all over the country. Vandiya Deva, won’t there be ridicule and derision if men who are past a certain age get involved in such entanglements with women?”
“I do not think that is the reason. Kandamara, shall I tell you the real reason for the laughter? Generally women are envious. Don’t think I am belittling the women in your family. All womankind is like that! The women of your household are dark-colored beauties. However, Lord Pazluvoor’s beloved is rosily-fair and golden hued. That is why these women do not like her; they are making up stories about her…!”
“Hey! What is this wonder? How do you know about her complexion? Why, have you seen her? Where? How did you see her? If Lord Pazluvoor knows of this, your life is not yours!”
“Kandamara, I am not afraid of all that. You know it. Moreover, I have not done anything improper. I was watching, one among the crowd on the roadside, when Lord Pazluvoor and his retinue went past. The elephant, horses, livery, footmen, drummers — I believe all these were honors sent by your family to receive him. Is that true?”
“Yes we had sent all those accolades. So what …?”
“So what? Nothing. I was just comparing the reception that you accorded to Lord Pazluvoor and the welcome given to me; nothing else …”
Kandamaran laughed lightly, “We gave him the tribute and honor due to the official who levies taxes. A welcome appropriate to a great warrior was given to you! Sometime, with God Muruga’s grace, when you become the son-in-law to our house we shall give you the honors due to a bridegroom and welcome you.”
He then added, “But, you were about to say something else; we were sidetracked. Oh yes! You were saying that Lord Pazluvoor’s beloved was very fair and light in color. How did you know that?”
“Lord Pazluvoor was coming seated on the dark, huge elephant from Kadamboor Fort: like Yama, the God of Justice seated upon a huge water-buffalo! All my thoughts were concentrated on him. While I was building dream-empires about one day becoming famous and powerful like him, a covered palanquin followed him. Even as I wondered about who could come in a covered palanquin, a hand from inside parted the curtains. I could barely see the face within. The hand and face were golden-hued. That was all I saw. From what you said just now, I realize that she must be the beloved of Lord Pazluvoor.”
“Vandiya Deva, you are a lucky fellow! It is being said that no man has glimpsed upon that Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. You could at least see her hand and face for a second. From what you saw, can you guess anything about the nation which gave birth to that beauty?” asked Kandamaran.
“I did not ponder about it at that time. Now that I think of it, she is perhaps a woman from the Kashmir country; or she is a beauty who hails from the distant lands across the sea like Java, Kadaram (Malaya), Yavana (Greece-Rome). Maybe she is a princess from Arabia: I believe that women in that country are hidden behind veils from birth till death.”
At that moment, the sound of musical instruments could be heard somewhere nearby. Several kinds of drums, flutes, pipes and instruments like salli, karadi, parai, udukku were being tuned together. “What is that noise?” asked Vallavarayan.
“The Kuravai Koothu (gypsy dance) is about to begin. The drums and flutes are being tuned in preparation. Would you like to watch the gypsy dance? Or, would you like to eat early and sleep well?”
Vandiya Devan recalled Azlvar-adiyan mentioning the gypsy dance. “I have never seen the gypsy dance; I must surely see it,” he said.
When they walked ahead a little and turned, they could see the stage being set for the dancers. The guests were gathering in front of the stage. The stage for the gypsy dance was set in a wide courtyard spread with clean-white sand and situated in a spot surrounded by the palace walls and the towering battlements of the fort. The stage was decorated with colorful drawings of cocks, peacocks, swans and parrots. They had further decked the stage with several fragrant flower garlands, red-rice popped white, colored millet, yellow turmeric and other powders, kunrimani (small red berry-beads), and other vivid decorations. Tall oil-lamps and flaming torches tried to drive the darkness away. But the swirling fragrance from
smoldering frankincense and smokey torches created a misty screen dimming the lights. The musicians sat on both sides and in front of the stage and played their instruments with gusto. The fragrant flowers, sweet smelling incense and the drum beats all together made Vandiya Devan feel light-headed.
After all the important guests were seated, the nine maidens who were to perform the gypsy dance came on the stage. They wore the tight fitting clothes and ornaments suitable for dancing; they had bell-filled anklets on their feet; brilliant red hued flowers of the hill country, flowers favored by the God Muruga, decorated their hairstyles. A long garland woven with such flowers thrown upon their shoulders, seemed to bind them to each other as they stood upon the stage. In their hands they daintily grasped beautiful parrots made of sandalwood painted a vivid green.
After greeting the audience they began to sing and dance. They first sang a few verses in praise of God Muruga. They sang of the brave deeds of Muruga; and they sang of his victorious spear which killed the demons Soora-padma and Gaja-mukha and then dried up the vast ocean. They sang of how he chose for his bride, a maid from the Tamil country, a gypsy maid from the hills who was guarding the millet fields, even as heavenly nymphs offered prayers to marry the young warrior-God. Their song celebrated the grace and benevolence of Velan, i.e., Murugan who bears the spear. The lyrical songs, the fast paced dance, the quick drum-beats, enchanting flute all in combination bewitched those who were watching. With the following words of prayer the dance concluded:
Let hunger and disease be destroyed;
Let enmity be routed;
Let rain and fertility increase;
Let bounty grow boundless.
The maidens stepped off the stage and moved away.
Next, a man and woman dressed as oracles — thevar-aalan and thevar-aati, came on stage. The divine-man and divine-woman wore blood-red clothes. They had brilliant garlands made of blood-red oleander flowers. They had painted their foreheads with bright red kumkum powders. Even their lips seemed blood-red because they had chewed the betel leaf and areca-nut. Their eyes seemed blood-shot!
The Velan Attam or oracle dance, began calmly enough. They danced by themselves and with arms linked together. As time passed the tempo and passion increased. The divine-woman picked up a spear from the side. The man tried to pry it from her hands; and she would not let go. The dance became more frenzied: finally the man leaped across the resonating stage, jumping high, he plucked the spear from his companion. With an expression of fear on her face she moved away behind the screens.
The divine-man now danced all by himself with more and more rapid movements. He acted the part of the God Velan
killing the demon Soora. Soora’s head was chopped off repeatedly. But the severed-head grew back again and again. Velan grew angrier and angrier as the head came back again and again. Sparks flew from his eyes. In the end Soora fell dead. Thevar-aalan threw his spear down.
By now all musical instruments were quiet. Only the little hand-held drum, the udukku could be heard. A priest stood near the stage fanatically beating the hand-drum. Each part of Thevar-aalan’s body shuddered. Those in the audience whispered to each other: “The spirit has materialized.”
Soon the priest looked at the frenzied Thevar-aalan and said, “Vela! Muruga! Commander of the Gods! Lord who killed Soora! Please reveal your divine predictions to us, your devotees.”
“Ask fellow! Ask whatever you want! I will reveal all!” replied the delirious man. “Will the rains be good? Shall we have plenty of water? Will the land be bountiful? Will our desires be fulfilled?” asked the priest.
“The rains will be in season. The waters would be abundant. The land will be fruitful and desires will be fulfilled! But you have not made offerings to my Mother! The Goddess desires a sacrifice. The Mother-Goddess wants a sacrifice!” shouted the dancer in delirium.
“What sacrifice?” asked the priest.
“Will it be offered if I ask?”
“Yes, we will offer it. We shall surely offer the sacrifice.”
“She wants the blood of royalty! She thirsts for the blood of a prince from a thousand year-old dynasty!” shouted the frenzied dancer in a horrible voice.
The dignitaries seated in front of the stage — Lord Pazluvoor, Lord of Mazluvoor, Lord Sambuvaraya and others, they looked at each other. Their eyes seemed to talk a secret language. Lord Sambuvaraya seemed to make a sign to the priest.
The priest stopped beating his hand-drum. The dancer dropped upon the stage like a felled tree. The woman dancer ran in to help him out. The audience dispersed silently. Somewhere outside, the howling of wolves could be heard.
Vandiya Devan, who had been watching all this with some agitation, looked towards the direction in which the howling wolves were heard. There, atop the outer ramparts of the fortress, he saw a head!
It was Azlvar-adiyan’s head. For a second he was subject to a horrifying feeling. It appeared as if the severed head of Azlvar-adiyan had been placed upon those walls. He blinked his eyelids to look again: the head was no longer there! He felt ashamed about the worthless fear that had
taken hold of him. Several other emotions beyond his experience seemed to agitate his thoughts.