Sivakami had started dancing at the Vatapi street junction on the first day of shuklapaksham[i]. She danced for the whole of shuklapaksham and krishnapaksham[ii] set in. She danced through krishnapaksham and soon it was shuklapaksham again. Sivakami’s performances at the street junction continued. Commander Virupakshan kept changing the performance venue often. He produced the imprisoned men and women of Tamizhagam at the important street junctions of Vatapi, one after the other. Sivakami used to go to the street junction where the prisoners were assembled and dance. Everyday crowds thronged to watch this spectacle. Men, women and children came in large numbers.
Government officials arrived in chariots. The women from the royal family and their ladies in waiting came in palanquins. The news of the danseuse imprisoned by Emperor Pulikesi dancing at the Vatapi street junctions spread far and wide. So people from the neighbouring areas came to watch the performances. People from far flung locations also came to view the spectacle. The entire nation was speaking about this issue.
There was a gradual change in the attitude of the Vatapi citizens towards Sivakami. Initially they were stunned watching her amazing performance. They marvelled at the wonderful art form. They felt love, solidarity and pity for the embodiment of art who had forsaken her native place, country and family and had come to a distant country. Several people in the audience were desirous of conversing with Sivakami. They wanted to express their wonder, regard and affection for her. They were desirous of visiting the palace in which she lived and befriending her. They wanted to invite her to their homes and extend hospitalities to her. But Sivakami did not reciprocate the friendly overtures of the Vatapi citizens. The joy she experienced while dancing coupled with the natural fatigue that followed her performance and her bitter state of mind rendered her incapable of striking a conversation with the audience.
As days went by, she came to be known as an arrogant person in Vatapi. The affection and solidarity the people had initially felt for her soon transformed into hate and mockery. People increasingly teased and laughed mockingly at Sivakami as she arrived at and left the dance venue. The very people who had appreciatively described Sivakami’s dancing as “wonderful” and “divine” soon started calling it a “mad woman’s buffoonery”!
When Sivakami passed by seated in a palanquin, young children ran after her hooting. Sometimes, they even flung mud at her. All this did not have an iota of an impact on Sivakami. Her heart had hardened. She had developed unshakable resolve. Sivakami had developed the ability to treat fame, disrepute, praise and scorn alike. She cultivated the detachment of an enlightened soul, who like water drops on a lotus leaf, was awaiting the divine call.
Sivakami had been dancing at the Vatapi streets for almost one and a half months. Trumpets heralding sunset were heard. Sivakami stopped dancing; she paused to regain her breath, turned around and started walking towards the palanquin. She was shocked and confused seeing a figure and stood rooted to the spot. It was Naganandi Adigal.
Sivakami observed a wide-eyed Naganandi staring at her angrily, without even batting an eyelid. Naganandi’s facial expression changed in an instant. The anger in his eyes was replaced by pity. His facial expression and look in his eyes seemed to indicate that he was pleading for her forgivance. Sivakami, whose confusion heightened, slowly regained composure, managed her confusion, walked to the palanquin with her head lowered and sat in it.
As usual, the palanquin headed to the palace. But Sivakami’s heart dwelt on Naganandi who stood amidst the crowd. “Who is this bikshu? Is he the Vatapi Emperor in disguise? His appearance is identical; but the expression in his face and eyes is very different. The facial expressions of the hard hearted Pulikesi who was devoid of any emotion and the kind, gentle and appreciative bikshu are so different.” The bikshu’s appearance reminded Sivakami of Pallava Nadu and her forest residence. She recollected her life during the days gone by. Not even a year had passed. But it seemed as though several eons had passed!
Even after returning to the palace, Sivakami’s mind did not regain its usual calm. She was assailed by an indescribable anticipation and a meaningless agitation. Whom did her heart seek? Whose arrival did her eyes expect as they frequently darted to the entrance? Was it Naganandi bikshu? When Naganandi entered the palace one jaamam after the onset of night, Sivakami’s lit-up eyes and facial expression indicated that she had been expecting him. Naganandi and Sivakami faced each other. The sharpness of their looks indicated that each tried to penetrate into the other’s heart and understand the mysteries that lay within. Pin drop silence prevailed in the palace for some time. The calm was disturbed when the bikshu said in a choked voice, “Sivakami! Please forgive me!”