Chapter 56 – A Palace Incident
Several hundred years ago, when Mahendra Pallava ruled from Kanchi, he had made arrangements for narrating the Great Bharata story at various places all over his kingdom. He arranged this in order to rekindle the spirit of bravery among the Tamils who had become peaceful in nature due to the spread of Buddhism and Jainism. He built several meetinghouses in many towns exclusively for the telling of the Bharata story. His arrangements continued, uninterrupted, in the Thondai Territories. People gathered in such meetinghouses or in open spaces to listen to the story of Mahabarata. Several singers who were experts in narrating the story of Bharata and the subplots of that great epic, who were maestro’s in miming the heroic deeds of the epic warriors existed in the country.
When Arjuna, the epic warrior had been on a pilgrimage he went to the Kingdom of Manipuri, where he met Chitrangi and fell in love with her. An exceptional son called Aravaan was born to her. This son born to Arjuna and the Mountain Princess was a very brave youth. On hearing that the Bharata War was about to take place, he came down to the plains to join the Pandava’s. Just as the war was about to begin, the leaders began looking for a perfect, brave youth for being offered as a sacrifice to the Deity of the Battlefield. Aravaan came forward saying, “Here I am; give me up as the Sacrifice to the Battlefield.” Since no other young warrior was braver than him on the Pandava side, they had to give him up as the sacrifice.
This story of brave Aravaan, who came forward to give up his life for the victory of his party, caught the fancy of the Tamil people. The Story-teller had finished this tale of Aravaan at the shore temple of Mamallai that night. The musicians ended the program by raising slogans such as, “Long life to Sundara Chozla the Emperor of the three worlds!” “Long life to the Crown Prince Aditya Karikala!” These sounds came floating down the sea breeze. Town-folk who had been listening to the story rose to disperse.
“The Story-teller has finished. Grandfather Malayaman will be back in a short while,” said Karikala.
“Aravaan’s story is completed. But, your story is not over yet?” asked Parthiban.
“Look at the strength of Malayaman at this age. Even now he keeps awake till midnight and goes to listen to the Story-teller,” said Karikala.
“There is nothing so fantastic about being alive till a ripe old age! There are many such old men in this town. They go and listen to the Story-teller because they cannot sleep at night!”
“Are you dismissing Thiru-kovalur Malayaman as one such ordinary old man? How many victorious battles he has fought? I wonder if we would even be alive till his age? Even if we are alive we may not be strong like him”
“My Prince, there is a reason for these old-timers being so strong.”
“What is that?”
“They are not caught in the seductive wiles of womenkind. They do not loose their heart to a mere priest’s daughter and go into a decline with desire for her. Even if some woman happens to tempt them, they do not hesitate to drag her by her tresses, throw her into their fortress and then continue with life.”
“Parthiba, Nandini is really not a priest’s daughter. There must be some secret about her birth …”
“How does it matter whose daughter she is? Priest’s daughter? Prince’s daughter? Even if she is a nameless orphan, so what? Look at that other old man of Pazluvoor! He saw her somewhere along the wayside; immediately dragged her in, threw her in his palace, a ninth one after the other eight!”
“I am astonished by that, My Friend!”
“Astonished? About how that old man became enmeshed in her wiles?”
“No, no! About how she, who once swore that she loved me and then declared that Veera-pandiya was her lover and tried to save his life, how that Nandini willingly married that old man! That is what astounds me.”
“I am not surprised by that. Sir, what surprises me is your behavior. How could you spare her, she who begged for the life of your lifelong enemy — that greatest coward, Veera-pandiya who is famous for escaping and hiding from the battlefield, that greatest rival of your Chozla clan? That is what astonishes me the most when I think of it. For one thing, you could have chopped her to bits there itself; if you didn’t like that, you could have at least bound her hands and feet and taken her prisoner. You did neither of these things! My Prince, I think I can remember now, you brought Veera-pandiya’s dead body and threw it outside the cottage. We all shouted impassioned slogans of victory. In the midst of all that commotion I could hear sobs from inside the house. I had asked `What is that?’ You had answered, `Some woman of the priest’s family! She is already petrified by these killings. None of you need go in and frighten her further.’ In the midst of the victorious enthusiasm we did not ponder on that incident. We all left that place with Veera-pandiya’s head. You came back with us, though you did not participate too much in our revelry. You seemed apathetic. I questioned you about that and you pacified me with some reason. I remember now about wondering if you had been badly wounded or something!” said Parthiban the Pallava.
“There was no wound on my body Parthiban! But, a wound that will never heal festers in my heart! That sight – of her falling at my feet in front of Veera-pandiya’s bed and begging for his life with folded hands, — it has been etched in my mind. I tremble with the thought, `Oh, why did I not grant her the one request she had?’ If I could have given my own life and brought Veera-pandiya back to life, I would have done it! That is not possible; I blame myself, curse myself. Parthiban, we feel so proud of our capabilities and achievements; we think that nothing is impossible to us; we even believe the ancient writings that declare, `Kings are Divine!’ But, do we have the power to bring back life to a dead body? Can any royal personage do it? All that we can do is take life; no man has the power to bring back life…”
“It is good that we do not have such powers. If you had possessed that power, what a terrible impropriety would have been committed! You would have brought Veera-pandiya back to life; he would have once again hid himself in some desert cave; and the Pandiya war would still be going on! All this because of a woman’s tears!” spoke Parthiban.
“Pallava, you are an unfortunate who dislikes womankind. You have no experience of love. That is why you say such
“Yes; it is true that I have never been enmeshed in the wiles of any woman; but your dear friend Vandiya Devan would be mesmerized into a grinning idiot by one glimpse at any made-up face. That is why you like him better than me, is it not so, My Prince?”
“Ah! In the end you have come back to Vandiya Devan. I wondered how you had forgotten him all this while!”
“Yes, it is distasteful to you if I tell you the truth about him. I won’t mention it again. What happened after that, Sir? Did you never meet Nandini after that? Did you never ask her how she came to marry old man Pazluvoor when she claimed to have lost her heart to Veera-pandiya?”
“That night after the death of Veera-pandiya, after all the victory celebrations, you went to sleep in our camp. I could not sleep. Every nerve in my body trembled with an urge to see her again. I wanted to see her, console her, beg her forgiveness. At other times I wished to pour all my rage upon her. Anyway, I felt that I would have no peace if did not see her again and that I could never return home without her. So, after all of you had slept, much past midnight, I stole out of the camp with my horse. I neared that grove on the river bed. With an agitated mind, shivering body and weakened limbs, I dismounted and walked slowly towards the temple. I found that all those cottages had burned down to ashes. An old man and a woman were sitting amidst that devastation and wailing. I recognized them as the two people who had brought Nandini to Pazlayarai long ago. Upon seeing me, their fear and sorrow increased. In the beginning they could utter nothing clearly. Slowly, I dispelled their fear and questioned them. Apparently their elder daughter lived in a village across the river. They had gone to visit her because it was time for her childbirth. Nandini had refused to go with them; since she had been adamant, used to doing her own thing from childhood, they had decided to go without her. They had not realized that a battle was taking place around them. On the way back, they had seen some rogues binding the hands and legs of some woman and throwing her into a funeral pyre in the forest. They had felt that such atrocities were natural in times of war and had hurried away from that place with fear. On coming back they saw that their houses were aflame and no sign of Nandini. After disclosing this much, the priest and his wife began wailing even louder; `Prince, where is our dear daughter? Where is she?’ they asked. I had known even before that they were not Nandini’s real parents. Now it was confirmed.
“If they were truly her parents, would they have left her alone like that in the middle of a war and gone away? Therefore, I felt neither pity or mercy for them. All I could feel was an ambiguous sadness about Nandini’s fate. `Go find your daughter’s funeral pyre and you too fall in it and die!’ I cursed them and came back to the camp before daybreak. I don’t think anybody knew about my leaving or coming back …”
“Yes Sir! We never knew. I am surprised that you have locked up all these secrets in your heart for so many years after that. This is totally against the tenets of friendship. If I had been you, I would have shared all my feelings.”
“But, you were not me Parthiban! No one in the world could be in my position. If you had been me, who knows how you would have behaved?”
“Why worry about what happened long ago? What happened after that? When did you see Nandini again? Was it before or after she became the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor?”
“If I had met her before, she would have never become Pazluvoor’s Queen. When Lord Pazluvoor was married, you and I were not in Tanjore. Remember how disgusted we felt when we heard that news? Some months after that, I was coronated as the Crown Prince. My father, grandmother and other elders had made that arrangement so that there would be no confusion about the succession to the Chozla throne. Perhaps they feared that Madurandaka would be tempted by ill advice from someone or other. They anointed me as Crown Prince and gave me the title of Parakesari, with the right to issue edicts, and establish stone inscriptions on my own. My dear father blessed me wholeheartedly, `Henceforth, the responsibility of ruling this Chozla Empire is yours!’ All the citizens, people, ministers, generals and chieftains upheld it and raised cheers of victory. In those celebrations, I had almost forgotten Nandini. An incident which took place a few hours after the coronation proved that I could never forget her. My father led me, crowned with the antique, jewelled diadem of Chozla kings, to the inner courtyard of the palace to seek the blessings of my elder-grandmother, mother and other elderly women of our clan. My young brother, the Prime Minister and the Lords of Pazluvoor followed us. Along with the older women, my sister Kundavai, her friends and several other young noblewomen waited in the palace court to greet me. They all shone with silken garments and bright jewels; they welcomed me with bright happy faces. But, among all of them only one face caught my attention; it was Nandini’s enchanting face. The angel of my heart, Nandini, who I thought had burned down to ashes! How did she appear in that court? How beautiful she looked, dressed in those wonderful clothes and jewels, shining like an empress among all those queens! What ecstasy and triumph on her face? How did her loveliness become tenfold?
“Within a few seconds my heart built several dream fortresses. That day when I had been crowned as the Prince of the Chozla realm was truly the luckiest day of my life! Was the queen of my heart also going to be my royal consort? Is this becoming possible by some magic, some sorcery? ….. as I daydreamed, my mother Vanamadevi stepped up to me saying, `My Son! My Child!’ and embraced me with kisses. In that same instant a totally unexpected incident occurred. My father screamed loudly, `Aahh!’ and fell down in a faint. Everything became confused. I and the others tried to revive the Emperor. All those women except my mother and my elder- grandmother Sembiyan Madevi left the chamber. My father regained his senses soon. I led my sister Kundavai apart and asked her, `How did Nandini come here?’ My sister said that Nandini had married the Elder Lord Pazluvoor and was now the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. Sharp lances pierced my heart!
“My Friend, I had been wounded several times in battlefields, but the wound caused by my sister’s words, `Nandini is the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor,’ has not healed to this day.” Aditya Karikala finished and held his chest with both his palms as if that pain still lingered in him.