Volume 1 Chapter 1: Travellers

 

One spring evening two travellers were walking down the highway that traversed the banks of the Mahendra lake, towards Kancheepuram. One was a big-built six footer; a Bikshu clad in ochre robes. His body was parched and hard due to the hard penances he had performed and harsh activities he had indulged in. His face did not evoke feelings of love or devotion; instead it instilled a sense of fear. The other traveller was an eighteen year old well-built and good looking youth. As both the travellers had covered a great distance by foot, they appeared tired.

“How far is the capital?” enquired the youth. “There”, said the Bikshu. Turrets of mansions were visible amidst the thick foliage in the direction the Bikshu indicated. The young traveller watched this sight intently for some time. He then asked the Bikshu “Will it take a nazhigai to reach there?”

“It should take that much time”

“In that case, I will rest for some time and then come. Please go ahead if you are in a hurry” said the youth, keeping his bundle and staff down. He sat down facing the lake. The Bikshu sat next to him, facing the west.

In the horizon, the golden hued sun was shining brightly like Tirumal’s discus. The red rays of the evening sun had spread across the sky, giving it a red hue like bloodshed in a battlefield. Small groups of clouds that were dispersed across the sky seemed to be on fire. In the direction of the setting sun, the crystal clear waters of the Mahendra lake glittered like liquid gold.

But the northern side of the expansive lake presented a very different picture. The shadow of the small hills that stood on the banks of the lake fell on the waters, giving the water a blue-black hue. Small flocks of white cranes that stood on one foot in a meditative posture offered a stark contrast to the dark waters. Sometimes, a small flock of white cranes suddenly took to flight. Words are inadequate to describe the beauty of this sight. The flight of the white cranes against the backdrop of the blue-black waters, dark sky, and lush green hills would enthuse people. The spiritually inclined would become rapturous.

The youth, who observed this sight, muttered to himself, “It is not appropriate to call this massive water body Mahendra lake. It should be called Mahendra ocean”. The Bikshu replied as he got up “The water level in the Mahendra lake has now receded. You will be stunned when you see the lake overflowing during Aipasi and Karthigai, after the monsoons.”  

“Are you leaving, Swami?” asked the youth. “Yes, Paranjyothi. You probably prefer not accompanying me” said the Bikshu as he started walking. The youth, whose name was Paranjyothi, picked up his staff and bundle and followed the Bikshu.

There was a lot of traffic on the highway. Carts were carrying travellers, paddy and hay. On the other side of the highway, paddy ready for harvest spread across the fields. Labourers were bundling harvested paddy. The fragrance of freshly harvested paddy and hay emanated from the fields.

There was a picturesque village down the road. As soon as one crossed the village, the fragrance of jasmine flowers enveloped the area. It was not just the nose but the entire body that relished the fragrance of the jasmines.

The youth let out an appreciative sigh.  Vast flower gardens met his eye. Jasmine flowers adorned the bushes like stars in the sky. Fields filled with golden hued chrysanthemum flowers dotted this white landscape.

“How will all these flowers be used?” wondered the youth. “Half these flowers will be dedicated to the Gods in the temples, while the rest will adorn the women of Kanchi…Look!” said the Bikshu and suddenly stopped.

A snake slithered across the road, entered the garden and disappeared. “The fragrance of these jasmines attracts the snakes” said the Bikshu.

When the snake was out of sight, both resumed walking. Both were silent for some time. Paranjyothi then burst out laughing. “What prompted you to laugh?” enquired the Bikshu. Paranjyothi was silent for some time and then said, “Adigal, this afternoon you saved me by killing a snake. Aren’t you a Bikshu? The thought of you engaging in violence made me laugh.”

“One can even kill a calf[i] in self-defense” said the Bikshu. “But the snake was about to bite me and not you” said Paranjyothi in a mocking voice. “Shouldn’t I protect my disciple?” asked the Bikshu.

“Disciple? Who are you referring to?”

“You once saved my life. My act was out of gratitude…”

“When did I save your life?”

“Three hundred years ago…”

“What!”

“In a previous birth”

“Oh! You’re a seer who is aware of the past, present and the future. Please forgive me.”

The Bikshu walked silently.

Paranjyothi enquired “Swami, can you predict the future?” 

“Shall I tell you of a future occurrence?”

“Please tell me.”

“This country will face a huge war”

“War?”

“Yes, a terrible war. Blood will flow in the Palar[ii].The Mahendra lake will be filled with blood.”

“Aiyya, that scares me. That’s enough.”

After some time Paranjyothi said “The affairs of the state do not concern me. If you know something about my future, please tell me.”

“Tonight you will get into trouble.”

“Shiva Shiva! Can’t you say something good?”

“By Lord Buddha’s grace, you will overcome the difficulty.”

“I  am a Saivite[iii]. Will Lord Buddha bless me?”

“Lord Buddha’s kindness is boundless.”

“Who is walking towards us?” asked Paranjyothi.

In the dim twilight, a wondrous figure was approaching them.

“Isn’t it evident? A Digambar Jain[iv] monk is coming” said the Bikshu.

“Are Jain monks still here?” enquired Paranjyothi.

“Most of them have left for the Pandya kingdom. The rest are leaving.”

The Jain monk approached them. Unlike the Bikshu, he was short and squat. He was wearing just a loin cloth. In one hand he was carrying a kamandalam[v], a fan made of peacock feathers[vi] in the other and a small mat under his arm.

As he came near, the Bikshu said, “Buddham Saranam Gacchami[vii]”. The Jain monk said “Hail the feet of Lord Mahaveera”

“Sir, where are you going in this darkness?” asked the Bikshu.

The Jain monk responded “Ah! I have no work in this anger-filled land. Thondai mandalam [viii] has become a graveyard in which Shiva dances[ix]. I am leaving for the Pandya kingdom”.

“Is there any important event today?” enquired the Bikshu. “Yes, the entrance to the fort is going to be sealed”, said the Jain monk as he resumed walking.

“At one time, the Jains were very powerful in the Pallava kingdom. King Mahendra Pallava conformed with the Jains’ wishes. But now…”, the Bikshu stopped.

“What about now?”, asked Paranjyothi

“Nowadays the Saivites and Vaishnavites have a lot of clout.”

“Oh! The Jain monk was mentioning that the gates of the fort are going to be closed. What was he referring to?” Paranjyothi asked.

“Look there!” said the Bikshu.

As they turned a corner, the western side of the Kanch fort was visible. The massive gates of the Kanchi Fort were sealed.



[i] The cow and calf are sacred to the Hindus.

[ii] Palar – A river that flowed through the Pallava kingdom.Southern India was then divided into four regions and ruled by four dynasties – the Cheras, Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas

[iii] Saivite – Hinduism comprises two subsects. The subsect which  worships Shiva is known as Saivites. The subsect which worships Mahavishnu is known as Vaishnavites.

[iv] Digambar Jain – Jainism is a religion founded by Mahaveera. There are 2 sects of Jains – Digambars and Shwetambars.

[v] Kamandalam – A water container carried by monks

[vi] Jain monks carried a fan made of peacock feathers to sweep away insects and other small organisms found in their way. The intention is to indulge in minimum violence.

[vii] Buddham Saranam Gacchami – A Buddhist greeting which means “Attain refuge in Buddha”

[viii] Thondai mandalam – Another name for the Pallava kingdom

[ix] In the Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva who is responsible for destruction dances in the graveyard when he is angry. The Jain monk makes a derogatory reference to this.

One comment

  • sujatha.s
    January 31, 2012 - 11:31 am | Permalink

    me too have started travelling!

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