A lush growth of trees that grazed the sky once again surrounded Aayanar’s forest residence. There was a dense growth of well spread-out branches, green leaves and tender shoots. Bunches of flowers abounded some trees. When the branches of trees rustled in the gentle breeze, the dry flowers fell to the ground forming flower carpets at sporadic intervals. The fragrance of those flowers spread in all directions. The occasional chirping of the forest birds provided an interlude to the silence which enveloped that area.
The lotus pond that was located a short distance away from Aayanar’s house was once again brimming with water. Lotus leaves were floating on the pond. Water drops resembling pearls glistened on those leaves. When the lotus leaves swayed in the gentle breeze, the movement of those water drops was a feast to the eyes. But there was no one around to appreciate this scenic sight.
Hundreds of disciples used to work around Aayanar’s forest house previously. At this point of time, not a disciple was in sight. The sound of a solitary chisel from within Aayanar’s house accentuated the vacant sorrow of that area. Yes; the sculptor Aayanar, armed with a chisel, was back at work. Nine years had passed since Aayanar had lost his dear daughter. He was able to survive for so long only because he had focussed his attention on sculpting.
There were far more statues depicting dance postures than there were twelve years ago. Every statue reminded the viewer of Sivakami. The colour of the paintings on the walls had faded. This confirmed the fact that Aayanar had not yet discovered the secret of the Ajantha paint additive. Aayanar’s appearance had vastly changed. His hair had turned completely white. His eyes had sunk and his face was wrinkled. It would not be inappropriate to refer to him as the aged Aayanar.
As Aayanar was completely focussed on his work, he did not hear a two-horse drawn chariot coming to a halt outside his house. He looked around when he heard a child calling out, “Thatha!” Mamalla Narasimha Chakravarthy and his two children entered the house. Mamallar’s appearance had also changed to some extent. His previously youthful face now exuded a mature and statuesque glow. Clear thinking replaced his youthful aggression while his raw bravery had evolved into firm resolve.
The eight year old boy and six year old girl who accompanied Mamallar seemed to be siblings. The two children resembled Mamallar. They ran to Aayanar calling out, “Thatha!” Aayanar welcomed them saying, “Come, my dears!” He embraced and mollycoddled them. Tears glistened in his eyes. One cannot be certain if they were tears of joy or tears of sorrow shed on account of being reminded of a possibility not fructifying!
The children played with Aayanar for some time, after which Mamalla Chakravarthy said, “Kundavi! Mahendra! Step out and play for some time. I will talk to thatha and then come!” So saying, he held their hands and escorted them outside. He instructed the charioteer, “Kanna! Have an eye on the children!” The man holding the reins of the horses was indeed Kannabiran, who now sported a thick black moustache.
When Mamallar returned after leaving the children outside, Aayanar said, “Prabhu! I have complied with your command. I have completed sculpting the hundred and eighth statue today”. Observing Aayanar becoming increasingly disoriented after being separated from Sivakami, Narasimha Chakravarthy had commanded him to complete sculpting statues of the hundred and eight dance postures. Even since Aayanar resumed working, he was mentally stable. “Aayanar! I have also completed my preparations. We are embarking on our campaign on Vijayadasami[i]. We will leave for Vatapi in the evening after performing Ayudha Poojai[ii] in the morning!” said Mamallar.
“Aiyya! I too heard about it. Gundodharan mentioned about the massive army that has now assembled at the foothills of the Thirukazhukunram Mountain. It seems that this ocean-like army comprises massive contingents of elephants, horses and infantry. Apparently, several more warriors will be joining the army. I heard that mountains of swords, spears and lances have been accumulated. When Gundodharan related all this to me, I myself felt like visiting Thirukazhukunram.” “Aayanar! The forces assembled at Thirukazhukunram constitute just a third of our army. Commander Paranjyothi at the head of a gargantuan army stationed on the banks of Ponmugaliaaru in the north is awaiting our arrival. The Pandya army is also advancing from the south to join hands with us. I received news of this army reaching the banks of the Varaha River today.”
“Prabhu! Please forgive me. I was worried that you were whiling away your time. I now understand that the efforts you’ve exercised are akin to Bhagiratha’s[iii]. “ “Did you compare my efforts to Bhagiratha’s, Aayanar?” “Yes, aiyya!” “Do you remember an old incident? Mahendra Pallavar, you and me were viewing the rocks at the Kadal Mallai harbour. Suddenly there was a downpour. One rock was hollow in the centre as though it had split into two. The rain water that filled the hollow was soon overflowing. I had said, “The Akash Ganga[iv] is flowing!’ Immediately Mahendra Pallavar said, ‘This rock is appropriate for a statue. Bhagiratha’s Penance may be sculpted here’. You too agreed and asked the sculptors to begin sculpting that rock. My father then related Bhagiratha’s story to me.
I was amazed listening to Mahendra Pallavar relate Bhagiratha’s story. Bhagiratha faced several insurmountable obstacles to his penance. I was astounded that he was able to overcome all obstacles and emerge successful in the task he had undertaken. The story my father had related to me as a child was extremely useful to me now. Aayanar! When I failed to bring your daughter back from Vatapi, I thought I could mobilize an army in three years and invade Vatapi. Paranjyothi and I had planned thus during our return journey from Vatapi. The task we set out to accomplish in three years had taken us nine years!”
“Pallavendra! Did you say nine years have passed? It seems to me that nine eons have passed!” “I share your sentiments, Aayanar! It seems several eons have passed since I last saw Sivakami. But, what can I do? For two years, the country was famine-struck as it had not rained. One year excessive rains played havoc. Then I was obliged to help the Prince of Lanka, Manavanman. Following that, I had to arbitrate the conflict between the Pandian and the Cheran. Whenever such incidents disheartened me, I often went to harbour and observed Bhagiratha’s Penance. I regained confidence and courage. Finally my efforts like Bhagiratha’s bore fruit. I am leaving for war next week.”
“Prabhu! What’s this? You’re saying that you are leaving for the battlefield?” asked Aayanar. “What else do you expect me to say, Aayanar?” “Please say that we will be leaving, Pallavendra! I don’t know how long I will live. I would like to see Sivakami at least once before I die.” Mamallar wiped away the tears that filled his eyes and said, “Aiyya! You must live for the sake of your daughter. Don’t even think of death. If you feel a compulsion to come, I will take you. Please be ready to leave on Vijayadasami!”