Volume 3 Chapter 5: The Spy From Kanchi


When the Vatapi Emperor, without paying much attention to Gundodharan, flippantly said, “Get an elephant to trample him!” the chief of the Vatapi spies subserviently said, “Arasey! It would be good if we enquire him and then mete the punishment”. “Yes, yes. I spoke absent-mindedly. Bring him close to me” commanded Pulikesi. Gundodharan was brought close to Pulikesi. “Who are you? What is your mission? State the truth!” asked Pulikesi in a fearful tone.

We have to note here that the Vatapi King had learnt to speak fluently in Tamil and also understand the language during the last eighteen months. As the language spoken in Vatapi contained a lot of Tamil words, Pulikesi did not find it very difficult to learn Tamil. “Aiyya! I am my mother’s only son. I was heading to Thiruvengadu, which is across the Kollidam River. I was going there to get some medicines from the vaidyar at Thiruvengadu” said Gundodharan. “Why do you need medicines? What illness befell you?” asked Pulikesi. Gundodharan pretended to tremble out of fear and said, “The medicines are not for me, aiyya. It’s for my mother. My mother swallowed the mortar when she was pounding puffed rice!”

This answer amused some of those present. A slight smile appeared on Pulikesi’s face too. “Why are you blabbering? How can your mother swallow the mortar?” chided Pulikesi. “No, she did not swallow the mortar. She swallowed the pestle!” said Gundodharan as he continued to tremble. “Did she swallow the mortar or the pestle? Tell me the truth!” roared Pulikesi angrily. “No, no! The mortar swallowed my mother!” said Gundodharan. “Are you clowning around with me? Do you know what I can do to you?”

“Aiyya! Please pardon me. I feel scared when I see all of you. So my tongue is unable to articulate my thoughts.” “Now compose yourself and state what happened without any fear!” “When my mother was pounding the puffed rice, the pestle slipped and fell on her hand. I am going to Thiruvengadu Namasivaya Vaidyar to procure medicines for my mother.” “Is that all or is there anything else? Tell me the truth!” roared Pulikesi. “Yes, aiyya! I promise that the pestle was injured!” blurted Gundodharan.

Suddenly the Vatapi Emperor burst out laughing. He continued laughing for some time and then told the chief of spies, “What do we do with this mad man?” The chief of the Vatapi spies said, “Chakravarthy! He is not a mad man, but seems to be fixated with his mission. He is tight-lipped. He ought to be interrogated in a different manner”. The leader of the soldiers who had brought Gundodharan in stepped forward and said, “Prabhu! We found this message when we searched him” and handed over a message.

Pulikesi took the message and like before handed it over to the interpreter. He read out the following message: “This is the mandate to the King of the Country with the Fish Emblem from the King of the Country with the Rishabha Emblem. I came to know that the monkey from the North has come to the banks of Kollidam to meet you. Don’t come under the spell of the puli[i]’s enticing speech. Do remember the story of the tiger that was trapped in the marsh pretending to pray and cheating the Brahmin. You must firmly believe that the puli from Vatapi cannot harm Kanchi’s rishabham. If the puli languishes in the marsh, it will die of starvation. Once this happens, there is possibility of establishing a long lasting relationship between the rishabham of Kanchi and the doe from Madurai.  But if you help to satiate the puli’s hunger, it will be dangerous for the doe from Madurai. Do keep this in mind and act as you deem fit”.

Even as the interpreter read out this message, the Vatapi Emperor understood the underlying meaning. His body trembled out of anger. The sound of him gritting his teeth unnerved everyone around him. When Pulikesi recollected laughing at Gundodharan’s talks of mortar and pestle some time ago, he felt ashamed. This further fuelled his anger. “You spy! How dare you clown around with Pulikesi of Vatapi? Take him away. Pluck his eyes out, behead him and feed the vultures!” he roared.

When he passed such a cruel command, Pulikesi’s reddened eyes were intently focused on Gundodharan. Suddenly, the anger in his eyes subsided and immense amazement was evident. This was because when the soldiers tried to drag Gundodharan away, he made some strange gestures with his head. Pulikesi, who attentively observed this, realized that Gundodharan traced the ‘Swastika[ii]’ sign with his head. That was why Pulikesi looked so surprised. “Stop!” Pulikesi again shrieked. “I have to ask this spy a few more questions. You leave him alone with me. Everyone else may wait outside the tent” he commanded.  



[i] Puli – Tiger in Tamil

[ii] Swastika – Readers will be reminded that Swastika was the symbol of Nazi Germany. But the ancient Indians did not mimic Hitler. There is historical evidence of Buddhists and Jains using the Swastika symbol in ancient times.

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