There stood a hill two kadu to the east of Vatapi. Dense forests surrounded the hill. Two adjacent caves were carved out of one of the hill slopes. The process of carving out the two caves was incomplete. Either the Buddhists or the Samanars must have started carving out the caves. Then for some reason, they must have stopped carving out the caves mid-way. A tiny stream was trickling out of one of the caves. The stream took a meandering path downhill spraying water along its course and finally disappeared amongst the verdant trees. But certain objects that lay scattered amongst the rocks by the stream and under the tress marred the scenic beauty of the place and instilled disgust. They were the symbols of the kabalikas – human skulls and cattle horns. The blood stains on some rocks indicated that those rocks were used as sacrificial altars recently.
The greenery in the region assumed a green-gold hue in the yellow evening sun. At this time four people were seated on a rock that lay a short distance away from the caves. As they had traveled a long distance, they appeared tired. Their clothes were soiled, their locks were matted. They sported beards. Wrinkles, which were uncharacteristic for their age, were seen on their faces; the hollows of their eyes appeared deeper. Nevertheless, there was an unusual glint in their eyes; unprecedented courage and the determination to achieve what they set out to do shone on their faces.
One man stood atop the hill and was surveying the surrounding area. Those who were seated on the rock below often looked up to him. Suddenly the man who stood atop the hill enthusiastically exclaimed, “There!” The voice was that of our old friend, Gundodharan. Hearing him, the four men seated on the rock below smiled. They eagerly looked in the direction he had indicated. One man was making his way down the dense forest. He was the chief of the Pallava Nadu espionage force, Shatrugnan. Unlike the others, Shatrugnan was clean shaven. It was evident that he was returning from the city.
The five men surrounded Shatrugnan, who came with a cloth bag slung on to his shoulders. They asked him, “Shatrugna! Tell us quickly if your visit was a success or failure!” Shatrugnan said, “It was a success!” as he removed the bag from his shoulder. Fruits spilled out of the bag and rolled down. The manner in which everyone hurried to pick up the fruits indicated how hungry they were. But there was one person whose attention was focused on what Shatrugnan had to say rather than on the fruits. It is unnecessary to mention that it was Mamallar. “Shatrugna! You said that your visit was a success. What do you mean by that? Did you see Sivakami?” Shatrugnan said, “Yes Prabhu. I saw her!” and lapsed into silence again. “Why are you standing silently? Where did you see her? How is she?” asked Mamallar. “Prabhu! I saw Sivakami Ammai. Everyone sit down; I will explain where and how I saw her!” said Shatrugnan.
Immediately everyone sat down; Shatrugnan started talking: “Yesterday evening I entered Vatapi disguised as a bangle seller. There was no difficulty in entering the city through the fort gates. People enter and leave the city freely. They would tighten the security of the fort only if they were anticipating an enemy to attack; wouldn’t they? When the brave Vatapi forces have conducted successful military campaigns in all four directions…” At that point, Commander Paranjyothi interrupted saying, “What are you blabbering about, Shatrugna? What is this nonsense about successful military campaigns? Weren’t the Vatapi forces defeated in their invasion of South India? It is also obvious that the Vatapi forces that invaded Vengi are also in danger. Then how can you call the campaigns of the Vatapi army successful?”
Shatrugnan humbly said, “Commander! It isn’t me who is saying that the Vatapi army emerged victorious in all its military campaigns. I saw a tall jayasthambam erected at the street junction in the centre of the city. I read what was inscribed on the jayasthambam in Prakrit. I will try to recite to the best of my ability what was inscribed on that pillar. “Maha Rajadhiraja[ii] Rajamarthanda[iii] Ranathunga Sura[iv] Chaluka Kulathilaka[v] Sapta Loka Devendra[vi] Pulikesi Chakravarthy invaded South India and defeated Mahendra Pallavan on the banks of the North Pennai River. Mahendra Pallavan fled from the battlefield and hid inside the Kanchi Fort. Emperor Pulikesi continued his victorious campaign further south and crossed the Kaveri River by forming an elephant bridge. The Chera, Chola, Kalapalla and Pandya kings were waiting to seek refuge with the Emperor, who placed his lotus feet on their heads and blessed them. He returned to intensify his attack on the Kanchi Fort. Mahendra Pallavan surrendered and beseeched the Emperor to spare him. The Emperor acquiesced to Mahendra Pallavan’s request, enjoyed his hospitality and accepted the tribute paid by him. After successfully completing his military campaign in the South, the Emperor returned to Vatapi heralded by trumpets and conches that proclaimed his victory on this Monday of the Shalivahana[vii] era. May this jayasthambam proclaiming the successful military campaign and the Chalukya Dynasty flourish as long as this world exists!”
Those who listened to Shatrugnan exclaimed, “What perfidy! How arrogant! We ought not to rest till we raze that jayasthambam to the ground!” When they paused, Shatrugnan spoke further: “Prabhu! When I read the inscription on the jayasthambam, I forgot myself. I even raised a foot to kick the pillar. Fortunately, by God’s grace, I remembered the purpose of our visit to Vatapi. I managed by pretending to have lost my balance and falling down. People were swarming the streets. Had someone observed me, the consequences would have been disastrous!”
“Shatrugna! I am glad you remember the purpose of our visit to Vatapi. But you have not mentioned anything about that yet!” said Mamallar angrily. “Prabhu! Please forgive me. I walked ahead of the jayasthambam which is an excellent testimony to the ability of the Chalukyas to lie. As I walked, I observed the excessive wealth of Vatapi and its citizens’ ostentatious lifestyle. I was wondering how to trace and whom to enquire about Sivakami Ammai in this vast city that spanned at least a kadu from east to west and from south to north. I fortuitously saw her at the street junction…” Several voices exclaimed in unison, “What? At the street junction?”
“Yes; I saw her at the street junction. You will be shocked when you come to know what Ammai was doing there. I too was taken aback when I saw her; I was also distressed. But when I enquired and understood the reason, I felt incredibly proud. Prabhu! Sivakami Ammai is a testimony of the greatness of the women of Tamizhagam. Despite living desolately like an orphan a hundred kadu away at the enemy fort, Ammai has demonstrated the merciful nature of the women of Tamizhagam…” “Shatrugna! Why are you beating around the bush? What was Sivakami doing when you saw her?” asked Mamallar in a harsh tone. “Prabhu, I will tell you. Sivakami Ammai was dancing at theVatapi street junction…” “Aha!”, “What’s this?” “Shame! Shame!” “Is this what you described as the greatness of the women of Tamizhagam, Shatrugna!” exclaimed those present.
“Pardon me; please patiently listen to what I have to say. I too felt very ashamed when I saw Sivakami Ammai dance amidst a big crowd. I felt enraged. My ears were unable to tolerate the crass words uttered by the Vatapi citizens who had assembled there. I was so angry that I wanted to run to Ammai and tell her, ‘Stop this ignominy!’ Fortunately, my glance fell on the people who were standing being Ammai. Aha! How will I say this? Several men and women from Tamizhagam were chained together and made to stand there. They were guarded by demons holding whips. I stood frozen with shock on seeing this sight. When I recovered from the shock, I overhead what those in the crowd were saying, enquired around without arousing suspicion and understood the reason underlying this shocking incident…”
Shatrugnan then related the circumstances that led to Sivakami Ammai dancing at the street junction as he understood it. Mamallar and the others felt goose bumps when they came to know that Sivakami was dancing to prevent the men and women of Tamizhagam from being whipped. They eagerly listened to what happened further, “I stood mesmerized watching Sivakami Ammai dance like a cobra enthralled by mellifluous music. Ammai paused to regain her breath after dancing and then turned around. As soon as she turned around, indescribable shock was evident in her eyes for a few moments. I looked in the direction she was looking. Do you know who was standing there?” “Who? Who?” “Was it Pulikesi?” asked those present. “No, it was our friend Naganandi!” said Shatrugnan.