Chapter 54 – Venomous Fiend
The three noblemen spent that night in one of the old Pallava palaces in Mamallai. After the night meal, Malayaman walked back to the shore temple to listen to the Story-teller recount the tale of Aravaan. Aditya Karikala and Parthiban went up to the terrace.Karikala kept gazing at the nighttime view of the Mamallai coast for some time. A few lights burned indifferently here and there. Silence prevailed in the streets. They were closing temple doors after midnight services. The roar of the ocean could be heard as a melancholy background drone. The expert villu-pattu (folk-song) maestro and his group were retelling the story of Aravaan, in the courtyard of the shore temple; town-folk gathered around them, to listen to their story, could be seen as dim shadows in the light of torches.
“Look at this old man, he has gone to listen to the Story-teller at this ripe old age! Whatever you say, there is something commendable about these old timers. Who in these days has the will of mind and strength of purpose like them?” asked Karikala.
“Prince! You too have started talking of the glory of ancient times and oldmen. What have we not achieved in our times that has been done by these old-timers? I have not heard of anyone even in epics and fables performing such brave, daring deeds like you, at such a young age,” said Parthiban.
“Parthiba! You are pure of heart; I know that you will not conceal something in your mind and speak something else. If you didn’t do that you will not be my friend but, my worst enemy. You flatter me too much. There is nothing like flattery to hurl a man into the deepest abyss.”
“Sir, if one makes up untrue stories about a person and recounts them with a selfish motive, such tales are flattery. Consider Madurandaka, who is slave to those Pazluvoor fellows in Tanjore; if I go and praise him saying, `You are the bravest among brave!’ it is flattery. If you ever find me doing anything stupid like that, you must kill me immediately with the sword in your hand. Not a single word of excess have I uttered about you. Which warrior of ancient times has achieved so much at such a young age? Perhaps we can consider your great-grandfather, Raja-aditya who `Reposed atop the elephant,’ as comparable to you. But, I cannot say he was greater …”
“Stop this Parthiban, stop this! How can you compare me with Raja-aditya? We are not qualified even to talk about Raja-aditya who reached the heavens meant for the brave, after wrecking havoc on the huge Rashtrakuta forces with a tiny battalion. How can we compare ourselves to him? Forget this Chozla Dynasty. Consider the great heros of the Pallava clan in which you are born! Will we ever see men equal to the great Mahendra Pallava and Mamalla Narasimha in these lands once again? Think of valiant Narasimha Pallava who established his victory pillar in Vatapi, the capital of Chalukya Pulikesi who had ruled all the lands from Tungabadra to Narmada under one canopy! You and I are nothing compared to him! Can anybody in our times or after us, create a dreamworld like this exquisite Mamallai? … Oh! Look around you in all directions once more! Look over there where the Story-teller is holding court! Do you think they are ordinary men who gouged granite boulders to build those exquisite chariots of stone? My whole body quivers with elation to think how splendid this Mamallai must have been three hundred and fifty years ago. Don’t you feel anything like that? When you think of your forefathers don’t your shoulders swell with pride?”
“My Prince, sometime ago you accused me of flattering you. You forgot that I often point out the faults in you. This foolishness of wasting a lifetime with sculpture, art and music has taken hold of you too. It is because of such a madness that all the victories won by my forefathers became useless. What did Narasimha do after establishing his victory pillar in Vatapi City and coming back? He sat here sculpting stones and gouging boulders! And what was the result? Within a few years the Chalukyas rose back to power. They came back with large armies bent upon vengeance; destroyed Kanchi and Uraiyoor and went as far as Madurai! If Nedumara, the Pandiya had not faced those Chalukya hordes at Nelveli and defeated them, all these southern lands would be under Chalukya rule even to this day!” said Parthiban.
“No, Parthiba, no! We have not heard of any ruling dynasty lasting for ever in this world. Even the Ishvaku line of Rama came to an end. Rashtrakutas appeared to overthrow the Chalukyas. It is natural for empires to achieve glory at one time and shrink to nothing at other periods. Some empires last with splendor for long times and then disappear without trace. Think of my own ancestors — Karikala Valava and Killi Valava of Sangam Times ruled with such pomp! What do we know about them now? Because some bards wrote about them and their times we at least remember their names! Who knows if those bards sang the truth or let their imaginations run wild in a drunken stupor? But Mahendra and Mamalla created this world of sculpture. This will last for thousands of years and proclaim their fame to all the world. What have we done, comparable to their creations? We killed thousands of men in battlefields and raised mounds of dead bodies; made rivers of blood flow! What else have we done to establish our fame in history?” asked Karikala with some despair.
When Parthiban heard these words, he wondered if it was Aditya Karikala talking; he was stunned into silence for some minutes. After some time he sighed and spoke up, “Prince, if you yourself talk in this fashion about combat and war, what can I say? Your mind is not steadfast today, that is why you are rambling in this fashion. Sir, why don’t you share the sadness in your mind with me? Open up your austere heart to me?”
“Parthiba! If I open up my heart and show it to you, what do you think you will find inside? Whom do you think will be inside?”
“That is what I would like to know, My Lord!”
“My mother and father who gave life to me will not be there. My sister and brother, more dear than life, will not be there. My closest friends, you and Vandiya Devan will not be there. A woman, the embodiment of deception will be found there. The Young-Queen of Pazluvoor, the personification of all sordid sins will be there. All these days, I have not spoken to anyone about this torture by that venomous fiend, Nandini who dominates my heart. I have told you now.” When Aditya Karikala spoke, the fiery heat of a furnace rose from his words.
“Prince, I could guess this somewhat. Whenever the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor was mentioned, your face darkened and eyes turned bloodshot exhibiting some unbearable pain. How did this undeserving passion take hold of your heart? You are born in a tradition which considers every alien woman as a mother. The nobles of Pazluvoor are blood relatives to you over several generations. Lord Pazluvoor is old in age. Though he is enemy today, it was always not the case. Yo u father and grandfather showed such regard for him. Such a man’s legally wedded wife — however wretched and sinful she is — how can you even think of her in this way?”
“I should not! I know I should not. All this mental torture is because I realize this. But, she did not take possession of my heart after she became the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. This poison of passion for her had gripped my heart much before, much much before that. I have not been able to get rid of this unworthy obsession, however I try. I speak as if everything was her fault. Only God knows whose mistake it was. Perhaps all the blame should be cast upon the Creator who brought us into this world. Or, we must blame Fate, which made us meet and then separated us!”
“My Lord! Had you met Nandini before she became the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor? Where, when and how did you meet her?”
“That is a long tale. Do you wish to hear it today?”
“I surely do! I shall have no peace if I do not know the details. You are asking me to leave for Lanka tomorrow; I cannot do my duty properly over there if I leave you like this. I must know the situation and offer you some solace. Only then will I find rest.”
“My Friend! Are you going to comfort me? There is no solace for me in this birth. I am not sure if I will find peace even in my next birth. Anyway, I will tell you; for your peace. I do not want you to go away thinking that I have secrets from you. You should not depart for Lanka with such thoughts.”
After saying this, Aditya Karikala hesitated for some time. He then began disclosing his story.