Sivakami, who was sitting till then, immediately stood up. Her lips twitched; her eyebrows were raised. Darts of anger that flew from her eyes assailed the bikshu. Sivakami angrily attacked the bikshu asking, “Fake bikshu! Why are you apologizing to me? What harm did you cause me?” The bikshu was stunned. Thinking that he had uttered something wrong, he stammered as he spoke, “Yes Sivakami! I have caused you great harm. I need to explain everything in detail. This is not something that can be clarified in one or two words. Please sit down and heed me patiently!”
“Aiyya! Before you explain everything in detail, please provide me with one detail. Who are you? Are you a monk who belongs to the order of the embodiment of kindness, Gautama Buddha, and who has renounced all worldly pleasures? Or are you the Chalukya Emperor who has donned ochre robes with treacherous intentions? Are you a mendicant who is genuinely passionate about sculptures, painting and Bharata Natyam? Or like Ravana have you assumed the disguise of a sanyasi to molest a humble sculptor’s daughter? Who are you? Are you Naganandi or Pulikesi?” When Sivakami paused after questioning in this manner, the ensuing silence was akin to the quiet after a prolonged bout of lightning and thunder.
Despite Sivakami’s enraged outburst, there was no change in Naganandi’s facial expression. He replied with surprising composure, “Amma Sivakami! Your suspicions are not baseless. But I am a genuine bikshu who has renounced all worldly pleasures. Your talent in dancing captivated my heart. I am not the barbaric Pulikesi who made you dance in the presence of prisoners at the street junction. Unfortunately I was born as his brother due to the sins I committed in my previous birth. Twenty five years ago I donned my brother, Pulikesi’s robes and pretended to be him to rescue him from murderers. Now, after twenty five years I assumed his disguise to fulfill your wishes. Yes, Sivakami. You had pleaded with me in the middle of the forest outside the Kanchi Fort to save your father. To fulfill your wish, I cast away the robes of a monk and assumed the disguise of an Emperor…”
A disconcerted Sivakami ran to the bikshu. She genuflected, brought her palms together and shrieked, “Swami! Please forgive the angry words uttered by this helpless girl. Did you save my father? Is he alive? Where is he? How is he?” “Amma! I saved your father’s life. I fulfilled my promise to you. If you sit down and listen patiently, I will relate all what had happened,” said the bikshu.
Sivakami sat down. The bikshu narrated how he had disguised himself as Pulikesi and had prevented the Chalukya soldiers from amputating Aayanar’s limbs, how Aayanar had fallen down from the mountain, had fractured his foot and had lost his consciousness, how he had transported an unconscious Aayanar to his forest residence and had taken leave of Aayanar after he had regained consciousness. Listening to this, Sivakami felt deeply indebted to the bikshu. She regretted having suspected him. She told the bikshu with tear filled eyes, “Swami! I am deeply indebted to you for having saved my dear father from torturous punishment and for having saved his life. Despite this why did you apologize to me when you came here? It is me who ought to apologize for having unfairly suspected you! I thought that the Chalukya Emperor and you were the same person and doubted you unnecessarily. I was angry thinking that it was you who had made me dance at the street junction after bringing me to Vatapi. Swami! Please forgive me!” When Sivakami uttered these words, copious tears filled her eyes.
“Sivakami! There is no necessity for me to forgive you. In truth, it is you who have to forgive me. I have betrayed you. I am the reason behind your being imprisoned all by yourself in this far off country! Please forgive me!” When the bikshu spoke in this manner in an emotion choked voice, Sivakami wiped away her tears and looked at Naganandi with amazement.
“Yes, Sivakami! I’m stating the truth. I am the reason behind the Vatapi army invading Kanchi. Initially, my brother, Pulikesi, had no such intention. The Vatapi army was supposed to march towards Vengi. It was I who asked Pulikesi to divide the army into two and lead one part of the army to Kanchi. It was I who wrote to Pulikesi stating that it would suffice if my brother Vishnuvardhanan led the second part of the army to Vengi…Do you know what is the disastrous consequence? Vishnunardhanan’s wife is now a widow. I carefully escorted her and her infant son to Vatapi only today. ..” “Swami! Were you away from this city all these days?” asked Sivakami. “I was not here, Sivakami! Had I been here, would I have allowed your divine dancing to become a laughing stock? The barbaric Pulikesi who is devoid of any artistic sensibility has acted in this manner! Had I known that he would behave in this manner, I would not have handed you over to him at the banks of the North Pennai River…”
When the bikshu mentioned about the banks of the North Pennai River, Sivakami recollected the image that had appeared in her dream when she was there. “When did you leave me on the banks of the North Pennai River? How is that possible? Didn’t I meet you near Kanchi and seek a boon from you?” she asked. “I continued my disguise as Pulikesi even after rescuing your father, Sivakami! I waged war with Mahendra Pallavan disguised as Pulikesi. I defeated him at Manimangalam and pursued you. You met me on the banks of Ponmugaliaaru and beseeched me to free the imprisoned women of Pallava Nadu. I agreed to do so if you would whole-heartedly come to Vatapi; you consented. Then I ought to have freed you and united you with your father. I did not do so. I deceived you and brought you to Vatapi!…But I never ever imagined that the savage Pulikesi would humiliate you in this manner. Do you understand why I apologized to you, Sivakami?” said the bikshu.
“I do, Swami! I now understand several issues which confused me before. But I still cannot understand one thing. Why did you act in this manner? Why did you behave so treacherously, why did you bring this helpless girl here? Of what use is this poor girl to you, who have renounced this world?…How do you stand to gain by separating me from my helpless father who has fractured his foot? What did you seek to achieve by imprisoning me and bringing me here?…”
“Sivakami! I will tell you, listen! The brave Vatapi army which invaded Kanchi, as advised by me, is now reduced to half. Vishnuvardhanan, who conquered Vengi and crowned himself King last year, died before he could consolidate that victory. You were the reason behind all these disasters! I did all this keeping you in mind. I will tell you why, listen!”
With this introduction, Naganandi started relating his story. He told her about his childhood spent in the Ajantha caves. He spoke about the painting of the Bharatanatyam dancer on the wall of the Ajantha caves and his fantasies. He also recounted in an emotional tone how he had travelled across South India to understand the environment there and how he was stunned watching the painting at the Ajantha cave coming to life and dancing at Aayanar’s residence.
“Sivakami! Since that day, I became a new person. All the castles I had built in the air regarding the Chalukya Empire attaining supremacy lay shattered. My aspiration to bring this wide-spread Bharata Kandam under the control of a Buddha Sangam which I would ultimately head also vanished. I decided that kingdoms and sangams were no longer important to me and that I would spend the rest of my life watching you dance. Since then I was fixated on bringing you to Vatapi. To achieve this, I engaged in deceitful activities and employed several ruses…”
When the bikshu spoke in this manner, the dual emotions of pride and compassion that Sivakami simultaneously felt came to the fore. She arrogantly thought, “Aha! Two large kingdoms waged a war on account of this humble sculptor’s daughter!” Then the compassionate thought, “Aiyo! All the atrocities I witnessed on the way from Kanchi to Vatapi were on account of me” also occurred. “Sivakami! Your artistry mesmerized me so much that I caused a war to break out. I put in monumental efforts to save you from that coward, Mamallan. But all that has come to naught. The barbarian Pulikesi has treated you and your art in a demeaning manner by making you dance at the street junction. Sivakami! Forgive me. I will make good the insults you have faced and the sorrow you must have experienced. I will make arrangements to send you to your father’s house. I have argued with the Emperor and have secured his consent for this.”
Shouldn’t Sivakami have danced with joy on hearing these words? Either due to fate or on account of a woman’s peculiar perspective, Sivakami was not happy. She was silent and was immersed in thought. “Sivakami! Why are you silent? Tell me when you want to leave! I will arrange for a palanquin and adequate security to take you back. I will arrange for ladies in waiting to serve you and soldiers to safeguard you during your return journey. They will escort you up to Ponmugaliaaru and return…” Sivakami, who was calmly sitting and listening to the bikshu till then, suddenly stood up like one possessed and uttered the following horrific words.
“Adigal! Listen to me. Do you know when I will leave Vatapi? One day the brave Mamallar, whom you maligned as a coward, will invade this city. He will decimate the Chalukya forces like a lion attacking a skulk of foxes. He will despatch the sinner Pulikesi, who made me dance at the street junction, to Yama Loka. Rivers of blood will flow down the streets in which the imprisoned men and women of Tamizhagam were taken in procession. The corpses of the Vatapi citizens will lie desolately at the street junctions where the prisoners of Tamizhagam were made to stand and were whipped. The mansions and towers of the capital city ofVatapiwill be set ablaze and be reduced to ashes. This city will become a graveyard. I will leave this city only after seeing this sight with my own eyes. Mamallar will come to defeat the Chalukya savages, hold my hand and take me back. I will leave only then. I will not leave when you send me. Even if you were to send me by a palanquin or an elephant, I will not leave!” A smile appeared on Naganandi’s face after listening to this fearful oath. It seemed as though the wicked bikshu felt secretly happy that his ruse had worked yet again!