Chapter 8 – Who Is In The Palanquin?
For a while, the men in that meeting talked and argued amongst themselves. Since several voices were raised at the same time, Vandiya Devan could not hear anything clearly.
In a louder voice, Lord Sambuvaraya said, “Don’t we have to answer the requests of the King of Pazluvoor? What is the point of each one talking like this? It seems to be hours past midnight. Look at the moon!”
“I have a certain doubt. Some others also, like me, may have a similar reservation. If Lord Pazluvoor promises not to be angry, I would like to ask about it,” said a hoarse voice which had spoken once before.
“Is it Vanangamudi Raya, who is talking? Please, let him come forward into the light,” said Lord Pazluvoor.
“Yes, it is me! Here, I have come up into the light.”
“It is customary for me to show all my anger in the battlefield and against my enemies. I have no anger against friends. Therefore, please ask any question without any hesitation.”
“I will surely do so. The allegations against Emperor Sundara Chozla, those very same accusations are placed against Lord Pazluvoor by some people! I may not believe them, but I would like some clarification,” said Vanangamudi Munai Raya.
“What are they? What charges? Please explain.”
“We all know that Lord Pazluvoor married a young girl about two years ago…”
With an angry voice, Lord Sambuvaraya interrupted: “We object to such words by Munai Raya. It is totally indecorous to ask such improper questions of our beloved leader, our chief guest.”
“I request Lord Sambuvaraya to please remain patient. Let Munai Raya express his reservations freely. It is better to voice one’s opinions in the open than bury them in the mind. It is true that I married a young girl after my fifty-fifth year. I certainly accept that. But, I never declared myself as a reincarnation of Lord Rama who vowed to have only one wife! I never said that I will wed only one maid. I love that girl; she returned my sentiment. According to the ancient tenets of this Tamil country, willingly, we married each other. What is wrong in that?” asked Lord Pazluvoor.
“Nothing wrong!” replied several voices.
“I never said there was anything wrong about his marriage. Who amongst us is monogamous? But … but …”
“But what? Ask without reluctance.”
“Some people say that in all matters Lord Pazluvoor consults and acts according to the wishes of the Young-Queen he married recently. They say that he acts according to her direction even in matters of the state. It is said that he takes his Young-Queen along wherever he goes.”
A laugh was heard in their midst.
Lord Sambuvaraya jumped up. “Who laughed? Let him come forward and explain why he laughed!” he roared while drawing his sword from its scabbard.
“I laughed! Don’t be agitated Sambuvaraya!” said Lord Pazluvoor. He then continued, “Munai Raya! Is it a crime to take my legally wedded wife wherever I go? It is true that I take her with me to visit several places. But it is inaccurate to say that I consider the Young-Queen’s opinion in matters of the state. I have never done that.”
“If so, I request Lord Pazluvoor to clear just one more doubt. Why has this palanquin, which should have stayed in the women’s courtyard, come here to our confidential meeting? Is there someone inside the closed palanquin or not? If there is no one inside, how is it that I heard somebody clearing their throat? Was it the jingle of bangles that I heard inside, a little while ago?”
When Munai Raya asked these questions, a curious silence prevailed amidst that gathering. Since these doubts had occurred to most of them, none spoke against the words of Munai Raya. Lord Sambuvaraya was muttering something to himself. But nothing was said.
Tearing the silence apart, in a distinct voice, Lord Pazluvoor said, “Good question. I am obligated to give an answer. I shall clear your misgivings before we conclude our meeting. Can you wait another half an hour? Do you have that much trust in me?”
“Yes we do. We have complete trust in you, Lord Pazluvoor,” said Sambuvaraya.
“Let no one think that my reverence or loyalty to Lord Pazluvoor is less than that of anyone else. Since he invited us to speak freely, I asked. Apart from that I am ready to obey all his orders. I shall give up my very life if he commands it!” said Vanangamudi Munai Raya.
“I know about Munai Raya. I also recognize the trust you have all placed in me. Therefore, let us now come to a conclusion about the matter for which we convened this meeting. Let Emperor Sundara Chozla Paranthaka live long in this world and rule this Chozla Empire for a long time. However, unfortunately, if something happens to him: if the words of the palace doctors’ come true, if the
omens forecast by the comet appearing in the sky come true — we have to decide who is eligible to succeed to the Chozla throne.”
“We request that you state your opinion on this matter. There is no one here who has anything to say against your views.”
“That is not correct. Each one of you must think and then express an impartial opinion. Permit me to recall some old history to your memories. Twenty-four years ago, King Gandara Aditya who was a great philosopher and devout soul, died unexpectedly. When he died, his son, Madurandaka, was a one year old child. The Queen-consort of Gandara Aditya, the Lady Sembiyan Madevi, announced to us, the wishes of the King: his younger brother Arinjaya was to accept the Chozla throne after him. Therefore, we crowned Prince Arinjaya as the Chozla monarch. However, fate did not decree that Arinjaya should sit on the throne for more than a year. When Arinjaya died, his son, Paranthaka Sundara Chozla, was a youth of twenty-four. Considering the welfare of the nation, all of us — the ministers, advisors, territorial chieftains the heads of all the clans and leaders of the cities and districts — decided unanimously, and crowned Sundara Chozla. None of us had cause to regret this. Because, until two years ago, he ruled the nation with justice; he respected our wishes and opinions and ruled this country lawfully. Because of him the Chozla power grew to include all neighboring nations under its sway.
“Now, the health of Sundara Chozla is cause for concern. In this situation, who is eligible to succeed the Emperor? Madurandaka, the cherished son of King Gandara Aditya, is now grown up; he has the intelligence, education, the character, the devotion to God, all the qualities of a person worthy of the throne. Sundara Chozla’s son, Aditya Karikala, who is younger to him by one year, is stationed in Kanchi as a Commander-in-Chief. Who between these two has the right to succeed to the throne? What is the code of inheritance among the clans? What is the law? What is the ancient tradition of the Tamils? Is it justice if the elder brother’s son, Madurandaka inherits the nation? Or, is it legal for the grand-son of the younger brother to succeed? Each of you must consider this and clearly state your decision.”
“Madurandaka, the son of the elder brother Gandara Aditya has the right to succeed. That is legal, justice, tradition,” said Lord Sambuvaraya.
“I agree”, “That is my opinion too,” so rose several voices.
“Your convictions are mine. Madurandaka deserves the throne. However, is everyone here ready to support and further this belief? Are you all ready to sacrifice your lives, your wealth and very soul for this cause? This very minute, are you all ready to swear in the name of Goddess Durga and take an oath of allegiance?” When Lord Pazluvoor asked this question his voice had a certain harshness, not heard till then.
Silence prevailed for some time. Lord Sambuvaraya then said, “We are ready to take such an oath of support. Before that, we need one clarification. What are the feelings of Prince Madurandaka? Is he ready to accept the throne and rule this Empire? We have heard that the cherished son of Gandara Aditya has forsaken the pleasures of worldly life and is fully involved in the devotion and worship of God Shiva. Several persons have said that he has no interest in worldly kingdoms. We have also heard that his mother, the Elder Pirati Sembiyan Madevi is totally opposed to his ascending the throne. We wish to know the truth about this from you.”
“A good point and you raised it at the correct time. I must clarify this question. I should have explained earlier — forgive me for not doing so,” with this long introduction Lord Pazluvoor spoke as follows: “The whole nation knows that the Lady Sembiyan Madevi discouraged her only son from having any interest in affairs of the state and raised him as a Saiva ascetic. But, neither nation nor people know the reason behind such behavior. The Elder Pirati feared that his very life would be in danger if her son Madurandaka had any wish to rule the empire … “
“Aha! Is that so!”
“Yes! To any mother, the wish that the son to whom she gave birth should stay well and alive is greater than a desire that he should sit upon the throne of the Kingdom. Young Prince Madurandaka, who considered the words of his mother as gospel, turned his mind in the path of devotion and asceticism. Nevertheless, for sometime, his mind has slowly undergone some transformation. `This Chozla Empire is mine; it is my duty to rule the nation!’ such thoughts have taken root and grown in his heart. If he knows that all of you are ready to support his cause, he is ready to come forward at a suitable time and openly declare his intentions.”
“What proof do we have for this?”
“I will, without delay, produce proof that will satisfy all of you. If I furnish such proof, will each of you take an oath of allegiance to this cause?”
Several of the men said “We will! We will!”
“I hope no one has any other kind of reservation?”
“Then, I shall show proof. I shall also clear the doubts raised by Lord Vananga-mudi Munai Raya.” With this declaration, Lord Pazluvoor rose from his seat. Walking majestically, he neared the closed palanquin.
“Prince! Please part the curtains and grace the outside with your appearance. Permit these brave warriors, who are ready to sacrifice their very life, wealth and soul for you, to gaze upon your face.” Lord Pazluvoor spoke in a very deferential voice.
Vandiya Devan, who was sitting behind the pillar on the upper terrace and listening to all these discussions with an overpowering curiosity, now peeped down carefully. As before, a hand parted the curtains of the palanquin. It too was a golden hand. It seemed to be the very same fair hand he had seen once before. But he now realized that he had surmised the golden bracelet worn by royalty to be a bangle. A dazzling face, comparable to the full moon, could be seen the very next instant. A handsome figure, comparable to Manmatha, the God of Love, stepped out of the palanquin and smiled.
Aha! Is this Prince Madurandaka, son of Gandara Aditya Deva? I mistook him to be a woman? I concluded that it must be a girl, because of the closed palanquin!? But, did Azlvar-adiyan Nambi also make the same mistake?
Vandiya Devan looked around to see if Nambi was still thrusting his head above the wall. That spot of the palace wall was now shrouded by shadows cast by the trees. He could see nothing.
By now he heard some shouts from below. “Long Live Madurandaka! Praise the Crown-Prince Madurandaka! Victory to our brave spears!” They were passionate outbursts. Vandiya Devan saw that all the men in the courtyard were now standing; they held their swords and spears high up above their heads and cheered. Thinking that it would be dangerous to remain any longer in that spot, he turned around and hurried back to his terrace and laid himself down.