Chapter 7 – Laughter And Hatred
Vandiya Devan made up his mind as soon as he heard the words `Right to the empire’ uttered by Lord Pazluvoor. What are these men going to say about the rights to succession? Who are they to discuss it? I must definitely find out what is happening here. I better sit right here; there cannot be a more convenient hiding spot. Let the Nambi go do what he wants. Why should I bother about him?
Vandiya Devan had surmised earlier that something mysterious was taking place in that palace. The cryptic words of Azlvar-adiyan, the arrogant behavior of the gate-keepers, the frightening words of the frenzied soothsayer — all these had raised several doubts. Here was an opportunity to clear all those apprehensions! Why not utilize the heaven sent chance?
Well! Even Kandamaran, who I considered a dear friend, has not told the truth. He sent me to bed and has come to this secret midnight-meeting. I must not let him off easily tomorrow!
By now, Lord Pazluvoor had started talking. Vandiya Devan listened carefully. “I am here to announce a very grave news to you all. That is why Sambuvaraya has
convened this meeting. Right now, the health of Emperor Sundara Chozla, is cause for great concern. I have secretly asked the palace Doctors: they have said `There is not much hope now. He is not likely to live much longer.’ Therefore, we have to decide upon the next course of action.” So said Lord Pazluvoor.
“What have the astrologers said?” asked one of the men.
Another replied “Why ask the astrologers? Hasn’t the long-tailed comet been appearing in the evening skies for several days? Is that not enough?”
Lord Pazluvoor replied to this: “We have consulted the astrologers also. They postpone the time a little. That is all. Anyway, we have to now think about who is eligible to succeed to the throne …”
“What is left to think about now? Was not Aditya Karikala coronated as the Crown Prince two years ago itself?” declared a hoarse voice.
“True. But I would like to know if any one of us was consulted before the coronation took place. Each one of us gathered here belongs to well established clans that have strived for more than a hundred years, for more than four generations, to acquire the eminence of this Chozla Empire. My great-grandfather died in the battle of Thiru-puram-biyam. My grandfather lost his life during the war in Vellur. My father sacrificed his life at Takkolam. In a similar fashion, ancestors to each of you have given their lives to establish the greatness of this Chozla Empire. Young men from our families have died in the battlefield. Even today, sons from our family and clan are engaged in warfare in Lanka. But the Emperor did not consult our opinion for the decision about a successor to the throne. Even Emperor Dasaratha of the Epic convened an assembly of his advisors before deciding to crown Lord Rama as the Crown Prince; he consulted his ministers, advisors, army commanders and chieftains under him. But, our Sundara Chozla did not consider it necessary to consult anyone …”
“It is correct to say that he did not consult any of us. However, it is not accurate when the Lord of Taxes says that the emperor did not consult anyone! The opinions of the Elder Pirati Sembiyan Madevi and that of the Younger Pirati Kundavai Devi were asked for. Can Lord Pazluvoor deny this?” When a member asked this in a mocking voice, some others of the group laughed.
“Well! You all laugh! I do not know how you can think of laughter. My very heart burns when I think of it; my blood boils. I wonder why I should safeguard my life and live without any sense of shame. The soothsayer who danced in frenzy said that the Goddess is asking for a sacrifice. He asked for a human sacrifice; of a prince from a thousand-year old dynasty. Give me up as the sacrifice. My family is more ancient than a thousand years. With a blow across my throat, each of you with your swords offer me as the
sacrifice. The Mother Goddess will be satisfied; my soul will be satisfied.”
Lord Pazluvoor spoke the above words with as much rage as the frenzied soothsaying-dancer.
Silence prevailed for a short while. The whistling of the western breeze and the whispering of the trees near the wall were the only sounds.
“I beg for the patience and forgiveness of the Pazluvoor King for having uttered some words in ignorance and the thoughtless laughter that followed. You are our leader without any equal. We here, are all ready to carry out any of your commands. We will walk in the path you direct us. Please grant forgiveness,” spoke an emotional Sambuvaraya.
“I too lost my composure. You should forgive me. Think of one thing. Two hundred years before today, Vijayala Chozla broke the power of the Muthuaraya kings and captured Tanjore. During the battle of Thiru-puram-biyam, he helped the Pallava army and destroyed the legions of Madurai Pandiya. From that moment, the Chozla Kingdom has been growing and expanding day-by-day. The Chozla’s had not acquired this greatness even during the times of historic Karikala Valava who built the embankments for the Cauvery. Today, the empire spreads from Cape Comorin in the south to the Thungabadra-Krishna rivers in the north. The Pandiya Kingdom, Nanjil Kingdom, the Chera Kingdom which has not been subjugated by anyone so far, Thondai Territories, Paagi, Gangapadi, Nulampadi, Vaithumba Territories, the Chitpuli nation, Bana lands, Kudagu Hill Territories where river Ponni rises, — all these lands are now under Chozla control and are paying tribute. The Chozla tiger-flag flies in all these countries. By now, even Lanka in the south as well as Vengi and Rashtrakuta in the north should have come under our sway. I do not have to give you the reasons for them not being vanquished; you know the reasons ….”
Lord Mazluvoor intervened: “Yes. All of us know the reason. There are two reasons for Lanka, Vengi, Kalinga and Rashtrakuta not coming under our suzerainty. One cause is the Northern Commander-in-Chief, Prince Aditya Karikala; the other is the Commander of the Southern Armies, Arulmozli Varma.”
“I agree with the reasons given by Lord Mazluvoor. For the last hundred years the practice for appointing a commander in the Chozla Kingdom was different. Brave warriors, with the experience of several campaigns would be selected as Generals of the army and as Commanders-in-Chief. But what has happened today? The elder Prince is a commander for the northern armies. What is he doing? He is not planning campaigns against the twin territories of the Rashtrakutas or against Vengi (modern Eluru of Andhra) in the northeast. He sits in Kanchi, building a Golden Palace! I ask you, the bravest warriors born in the best of clans: till now, has any king in the Tamil Nation
built a Golden Palace for his own dwelling? Even the most famous Emperor Paranthaka, who conquered Madurai and Lanka and is now in his heavenly abode, did not build himself a Golden Palace. He merely covered the roof of the temple in Chidambaram with gold. But Prince Aditya Karikala builds himself a Golden Palace in Kanchi, for his residence! Apparently, the huge palaces from which great Pallava monarchs ruled their empires for several generations, are not adequate for the prestige of our Prince! He builds a Golden Palace! He embeds rubies and diamonds in the walls of that palace. Not a copper coin from all the treasures captured from our campaigns in the Gangapadi, Nulampadi and Kudagu Territories has he sent back to the treasury in the capital till now.”
“Has the construction of this Golden Palace been completed?”
“Yes. My spies tell me that it has been completed. In addition letters arrived for the Emperor from his beloved elder son! He wants the Emperor to come and stay for a while, in that newly constructed Golden Palace.”
“Is the Emperor going to Kanchi?” asked another alarmed voice.
“You need not have any concern about that. I am there to take care that nothing like that will take place; my brother, the Commander of Tanjore is also there. None can enter the fort of Tanjore without the consent of the Younger Lord Pazluvoor. None can interview the Emperor without my knowledge; nor can they give letters. Twice or maybe thrice, I have stopped letters that arrived for him.”
“Long life to Lord Pazluvoor! Hail the Chanakian political astuteness of the Pazluvoor king! Long life to his bravery!” such shouts arose.
“Please listen a little longer! Much more than the deeds of the Crown Prince, the activities of Prince Arulmozli Varma who has gone to Lanka are peculiar. What do we know of the rules of warfare? For generations and over several hundreds of years, what policy have our ancestors followed? If our armies invade enemy territories, the food supplies and payments for our armies have to be procured from those enemy lands. The wealth to pay our army must be captured in those enemy regions. Excess treasures should be sent back to the government treasury in the capital city … But, do you know what Prince Arulmozli is doing? He wants food supplies to be sent from here, by ships, to feed our soldiers in Lanka! For the last one year, ten times, I have sent such shiploads of supplies.”
“Most unusual and peculiar! We cannot tolerate such illegalities! Never heard of such behavior!” rose several voices.
“Listen to the reasoning of Prince Arulmozli for this peculiar behavior. If we try to procure supplies for our armies from the territories we invade, we would cause a lot of inconvenience to the civilians and gain the displeasure of the farmers in that land. Our dispute is with the royalty of Lanka; not with Lankan populace. Therefore we should not harass them in any way. After winning our battles against their royalty, we should rule with the full approval of those people. Therefore, the food and monies must be sent from the homeland.”
Someone from the meeting intervened by saying, “We should not demand anything from the nations we have conquered! We should fall at their feet and worship their people! I have never heard of such conduct in warfare.”
“Ask me about the consequences of such activities! Because of these undertakings of both the Princes, the treasury and granary in the royal palace at Tanjore often become empty! I am compelled to levy more taxes on you and also collect tributes from all of you. Perhaps that is why the Chozlas have appointed me as their Tax Official. If I had not considered the welfare of this country as most important, I would have given up my positions long ago!”
“Oh no! Never! Your holding these positions gives us several assurances. Why have you not spoken about these things to the Emperor?”
“Why not? I have personally spoken to him about it several times. Every time I am put aside with words like, `Ask the Elder Pirati. Ask the Younger Pirati.’ Remember I told you earlier, the Emperor has lost the capability of thinking for himself. Neither does he ask our opinion on important matters. The words of his elder aunt, the Elder Pirati Sembiyan Madevi, are gospel to him; after that he wants me to consult with his beloved daughter the Younger Pirati Kundavai. I, who have grown grey in the service of this nation, I, along with other ministers, have to go and stand in the presence of that slip of a girl — a girl who has not crossed the River Kollidam in the north or River Kudamuruti in the south — and then consult her opinion. How is this story? From the days of this Chozla Kingdom being established, I have never heard of such interference from women in the politics of the nation. How long can I tolerate such humiliation? If all of you unanimously agree, I shall give up my official positions which trouble me to levy taxes and fill the treasury, and go back to my own city.”
“No! Never. Lord Pazluvoor should not forsake us like that. The Chozla Empire has been established with the aid of thousands of brave men shedding their blood over four generations; such a nation will be torn apart in confusion within a short time if he does that,” said Lord Sambuvaraya.
“Well then, you should all give me your ideas about what to do in this situation. What is the solution to this women’s rule which is worse than the power of the amazonian Queen Alli?” asked Lord Pazluvoor.