Chapter 51 – Mamallai
We welcome our readers to Mamallai Port. More than three hundred years have passed since the times of Mahendra Pallava and Mamalla Narasimha who had made this port town into a dream world with spectacular sculptures and rock cut temples.
The town appears somewhat dull and this does not delight our hearts. Mansions are in ruin; palaces appear dilapidated. Not much of a crowd in the streets or in the port. There is not much trade now. Nor are there many large warehouses. Export and import goods are not piled into mounds in market streets.
In those early years, the sea had come inland as a deep channel, a safe, natural harbor for sailing ships. Now the channel is silted, shallow and filled with dirt. Only tug-boats and small rowboats could now go in that shallow sea channel. Ships and sailboats had to anchor far away in the deep sea. Tug-boats or barges must carry goods to load and unload those ships.
But, in these past years Mamallai had acquired several new attractions. The beautiful stone-cut temples along the shoreline particularly captivate our attention. They are not like the temples excavated from boulders and rocks during the times of Pallava Mahendra and Narasimha. They were built of stone quarried from rock-mounds. They seem like beautiful crowns adorning the Ocean King’s forehead. How is one to describe the beautiful architecture of those temples?
A Vinnagara for the Perumal who measured the three worlds, Lord Vishnu, can be seen in the midst of the town. It is a temple built by Parameswara Pallava who nourished both Saiva and Vaishnava sects equally, considering them his own two eyes. Thiru-mangai Azlvar had visited this holy place and worshipped the Lord in Eternal Repose and sung several sacred psalms in sweet Tamil. Even during the times of that saint, the Pallava Empire must have existed in splendor; the following psalm attests the fact:
Worship Him with all your mind,
Oh! worship Him my foolish heart,
Worship Him the Lord in Eternal Repose,
Him of Mallai Port,
Where ships come ashore to be loaded,
With wealth from far lands,
Trumpet handed elephants and gemstone mounds.
A Hundred years after Thiru-mangai Azlvar’s time, the sun had set on the glory of the Pallava Empire. The greatness of Kanchi, `A City without equal for Learning,’ had diminished. Trade in the `Mallai Port where ships anchored,’ has dwindled.
But, there is no decline to the magnificence of the astonishing art treasures in that town which brings undiminished fame to Tamil culture. The intricate sculptures carved on rock-faces and the delicate art work on stone towers remain fresh even after three hundred years. The town was filled with tourists who came to enjoy these art treasures rather than with traders who came to import or export goods.
A beautiful chariot yoked with twin horses ran through the streets of Mamallai. The trimmings of the decorated horses, the jewelled embellishments on the chariot and the gilded canopy which shone like another fiery sun in the evening light declared its occupants to be of noble birth. Yes, three noblemen were seated inside the spacious, golden chariot.
One of them was the bravest among brave, Aditya Karikala, the eldest son of Emperor Sundara Chozla. This Prince had entered gory battlefronts at a very young age and performed several remarkable deeds of valor. In the final battle he had killed Veera-pandiya of Madurai and won the title, `The Valiant Prince who wrung the head of Veera-pandiya.’ Sundara Chozla had fallen sick only after this victory over Veera-pandiya which had brought all the Pandiya lands under Chozla rule. In order to establish without doubt that Aditya Karikala had all rights to ascend the Chozla throne, Sundara Chozla coronated him as the Crown Prince. From then the Prince also had the right to issue edicts on his own under the title Parakesari, as well as record such edicts in stone inscriptions.
Later, Karikala journeyed north to free the Thondai Territories from the rule of Kannara Deva the Rashtrakuta. Here too, he performed several deeds of daring. He drove the Rashtrakuta armies north of the River Pennar. Before he went further north, he had to consolidate the strength of his forces. Therefore, he came to Kanchi: to collect a larger army and equip it with the necessary armaments and supplies for a northern invasion. In this situation, the Lords of Pazluvoor began to raise objections to his endeavors. They said that the northern invasion should be attempted only after the campaign in Lanka was concluded. All sorts of other rumors began floating around. It came to be known that adequate supplies and food was not being sent to feed the forces in Lanka. Because of all this, Karikala’s brave heart was filled with rage and anger.
For about three hundred years before and after the times of our story, several brave men, comparable to the great heros of the epics, were born to serve at the lotus feet of Mother Tamil. Warriors comparable to Bhima, Arjuna, Bhishma, Drona, Gatotkacha and Abimanyu appeared in the Tamil Kingdoms. Their deeds of bravery astonished the world. Each victory in the battlefield gave them added vitality. Old men had the strength to move mountains. Youth had the capability to fly across the skies and gather stars from the heavens. Two such brave men were seated in Karikala’s chariot along with him that day.
One of them was Malayaman of Thiru-kovalur. His mountain stronghold was popularly known as `malai-nadu’ or `miladu’ country. Therefore he had the title Milad-udayar. Sundara Chozla’s second wife, Empress Vanama Devi was his daughter. Thus, he was Aditya Karikala’s grandfather. In age and experience he was comparable to Grandfather Bhishma of the epic Mahabarata. Though Karikala had a great regard for his grandfather, sometimes the older man’s advice irked the Prince’s patience.
The other man in the chariot was Parthiban. He was the scion of a minor family of the ancient Pallava Dynasty. He was somewhat older than Prince Aditya Karikala. Since he had no kingdom to call his own he wished to gain fame as a brave warrior of the battlefield; he sought the company of Karikala and functioned as a right arm to the Prince in the various campaigns. He had gained the confidence and personal friendship of Aditya Karikala by helping him in many combats. Since the victory over Veera-pandiya they had become inseparable friends.
As they rode in the chariot, the three of them were discussing the vague rumors that came to them from Tanjore.
“I cannot tolerate the insolence of these Pazluvoor nobles anymore, not even for a second! Day by day they cross the limit. How arrogant they must be, to accuse my messenger of being a `spy’? I believe that they have announced a reward of one thousand gold coins for his capture. How can I tolerate all this? The sword in my scabbard shrinks with shame! And you advice me to be patient!” spoke Aditya Karikala.
“I am not advising patience. But, I did warn you even before, that you should not send Vandiya Devan on important missions like this. I knew that he, an impatient youth, will mess up any assignment. Is it enough if he is proficient in the use of his sword and spear? A messenger on political affairs must be sharp of mind also,” said Pallava Parthiban.
Parthiban had never liked the affection shown by Prince Karikala towards Vandiya Devan. He would always find some fault with that noble youth of the Vaanar clan. He would find some impropriety in his every act. He did not miss this opportunity now.
“You have started again, your old story! You cannot pass the time of day without finding fault with Vandiya Devan. If he is not sharp of mind, who is? I had ordered him to somehow or other deliver my letter to the Emperor; he has fulfilled his assignment! Those Pazluvoor fellows have become angry because of it. How is Vandiya Devan at fault?” asked Karikala.
“Oh, he wouldn’t have stopped with the assignment you gave him. He would have interfered in other irrelevant affairs,” said Parthiban.
“You keep quiet for a while! Grandfather, why are you silent? What is you opinion? What is wrong if we take a large army and invade Tanjore, free the Emperor and bring him here to Kanchi? How long are we to watch these Lords of Pazluvoor guard the Emperor like a prisoner? How long are we to fear these Pazluvoor fellows?” spoke an enraged Aditya Karikala.
Malayaman of Thiru-kovalur, Lord Milad-udayar, who had the experience of over sixty battlefields in his lifetime, cleared his throat as if to reply. But, catching a glimpse of the sea shore ahead of them, he said, “Let us first get off this chariot. My son, let us go and sit down in our usual place and talk. I am too old, it is not easy for me to talk in a moving chariot.”