The Pallava army had camped in the vast area that surrounded Thirukazhukunram. Neither Lord Shiva, whose temple was located atop the hill nor the eagles which partook the prasadam[i] every day, had witnessed such a sight ever before. The entire landscape to the north of the hill was occupied by elephants. It was unimaginable that so many elephants lived in this world! Those who witnessed this sight were concerned that the earth may split under the weight of so many elephants assembled in a single location.
If one were to turn to the east, one would think that there were no living beings on this earth other than horses. All were high breed horses imported from Arabia and Persia through the Mamallapuram harbour. There were white, chestnut and shiny black coloured horses and also chestnut coloured horses with white spots. Ah! While it was impossible to draw one’s eyes away from the sixteen thousand beautiful steeds, it was disconcerting to think how many of these would return alive from the impending war.
Horse drawn chariots, bullock carts and beasts of burden like cows, camels and donkeys occupied the area up to the southern horizon. Sacks of grains, clothes, daggers, shields, swords, spears, lances, tridents, bows and arrows, several other uncommon weapons, mounds of thick ropes, rope ladders, hooks, spades, torches were stocked in the carts. Numerous weapons and tools that were yet to be loaded on to the carts lay around. Observing the canopies that were heaped like a mountain in one place, one would think that it was possible to cover the sky with these without allowing a single raindrop reach the earth.
The entire human race seemed to have congregated to the west of the hill. Countless warriors, akin to bees, swarmed the area! The strength of this infantry seemed to exceed Ravaneswaran[ii]’s famed infantry. The military camp comprising the four forces of the Pallava army covered the entire region and the numerous Rishabha flags hoisted amidst the camp were fluttering in the sky.
Mamalla Narasimha Chakravarthy was approaching this ocean-like army in a chariot. The uproar that was heard on seeing him arrive from a distance was akin to turbulence of the ocean on a full moon night. The din of conches and trumpets being blown and drumbeats rose up to the skies and echoed in all four directions. The deafening tumult of slogans such as “Long live, Mamallar!”, “Doom to Pulikesi!”, “Glory to Kanchi!” and “May Vatapi be ruined!” raised by the valorous army caused the earth to vibrate. A majestic man seated on a high breed steed detached himself from the cheering army and rode towards the Chakravarthy’s chariot to receive him. Two warriors who held flags bearing the Rishabha insignia followed him. The warrior who rode towards Mamallar was the Lankan prince, Manavanman.
Manavanman’s father and Mahendra Pallavar were friends. Like Mahendra Pallavar, Manavanman’s father was passionate about the arts and had ignored matters of the state. As a result of this, a vassal named Attathan annexed the kingdom after his death, thereby preventing Manavanman from ascending the throne. Manavanman sent emissaries to Kanchi seeking Mamallar’s help. That was when Thondai Mandalam was in the clutches of a major famine. Yet, Mamallar sent a small force to Lanka by ships. By the time that force reached Lanka, Manavanman was summarily defeated and was hiding in the forest. Realizing the small force sent by Mamallar was inadequate to wage war with Attathan, Manavanman boarded the ship along with that force and came to Kanchi.
Mamallar felt a natural affection for Manavanman as he was Mahendra Pallavar’s friend’s son. The warmth and sympathy Mamallar felt for Manavanman on account of the latter reposing confidence in him and seeking refuge soon developed into intimate friendship. Soon they became inseparable friends. The relationship between Mamallar and Manavanman was akin to what Mamallar had hoped to strike with Paranjyothi. In truth, Mamallar and Paranjyothi were never close friends. This was because Paranjyothi was unable to consider himself as Mamallar’s peer as the latter was a descendant of an ancient royal clan. Also, ever since they returned from Vatapi nine years ago, Commander Paranjyothi was totally involved in preparing for the invasion. He was completely focussed on mobilizing an army, training the new recruits, appointing mahouts and horsemen from the new recruits and procuring weapons. So, he never had the time to nurture a companionship with Mamallar. Hence, Mamallar felt the need to for a companion with whom he could cultivate a transparent relationship. The Lankan prince, Manavanman fulfilled that need.
When Manavanman had left Lanka and reached Kanchi, Mamallar had promised to assist him by sending a large army. But when Manavanman observed that a large army was being mobilized for the Vatapi invasion, he stated that he was not willing to take away a major part of that army. He said that he would continue to live in Kanchi till the end of the Vatapi War and then head to Lanka. Mamallar was extremely happy hearing this. Mamallar was concerned that Commander Paranjyothi would object if a large army were to be sent to Lanka at this point of time. So Narasimhar was at peace when Manavanman said that the Lanka expedition may be postponed. He praised Manavanman’s magnanimity and selfless character to one and all.
Following this, Manavanman whole-heartedly involved himself in the preparations for the Vatapi invasion. He was particularly skillful in engaging elephants in warfare. So he focussed his attention on picking and training elephants for battle. Paranjyothi and Mamallar realized that it was the strength of Pulikesi’s elephant force that gave him his initial victories during his invasion of South India and that the inadequate strength of the elephant force had caused Mahendra Pallavar to retreat and to hide within the fort. So they decided to mobilize a gigantic elephant force for the Vatapi invasion and procured thousands of elephants from Chera Nadu. Manavanman was extremely useful in picking the right elephants for battle and training them.
As the appointed day for the Pallava army to embark on the Vatapi expedition neared, a fierce argument broke out between Manavanman and Mamallar. Manavanman sought Mamallar’s consent to accompany the invading army to Vatapi. Mamallar thought otherwise. He was unwilling to allow a guest who had sought refuge to accompany him to the battlefield. Another thought weighed on him; a competent person was required to oversee the Kanchi Kingdom and to collect and dispatch weapons and food stocks after he and Paranjyothi had left for Vatapi. No one was more suited for this task than Manavanman.
A third reason that Mamallar harboured deep within his heart underpinned his desire to leave Manavanman behind at Kanchi. Life is transient; it is impossible to predict when and in what form Yaman would strike. It is impossible to foresee when one’s life may be in danger when one has to travel a long distance and attack an enemy. Mamallar was determined not to return to Kanchi without decimating Pulikesi and razing Vatapi to the ground. If he was unable to emerge victorious, he may have to give up his life on the battlefield. If this were to happen, a capable person was required to prevent the Pallava Empire from disintegrating and to maintain the stability of the empire by coronating Price Mahendran. Such a competent person should also be trustworthy.
There was no one else besides Manavanman who could be trusted with the Kanchi Kingdom and the Prince, Mahendran. Mamallar did not particularly trust his brother-in-law, Jayanta Varma Pandian. Mamallar was aware that at one point of time Jayanta Varman was desirous of bringing entire Tamizhagam under his reign. Mamallar had sought the Pandian’s assistance in invading Vatapi without betraying his distrust. Jayanta Varman had also sent a large army led by his son, Nedumaran. It was that army which had reached the banks of the Varaha River. Though Mamallar had sought the Pandian’s aid for the war, he had reposed his entire confidence on his dear friend, Manavanman and had decided to ask him to stay behind at Kanchi. But Manavanman was stubbornly insisting that he would also come to Vatapi. Their argument remained unresolved.
Mamallar and Manavanman dismounted from the chariot and horse respectively. They affectionately embraced each other. Then Manavanman pointed out to Aayanar, who was seated in the chariot, and asked, “Anna! Why did you bring this elderly man along? Has he come to view the invading army? Or do you intend bringing his along to the battle?” Mamallar responded saying, “Why do you ask, thambi? Aayanar insists that he will go to the battlefield ahead of everyone else. Prince Mahendran is competing with him to go to the battlefield. Kundavi insists that she will also follow her brother to the battlefield. It seems that our charioteer Kannan’s son, armed with a dagger yesterday, said that he would behead the Chalukyas and ended up felling most of the plants in the garden!”
Manavanman laughingly said, “Do take seasoned warriors like the elderly Aayanar, Junior Kannan, Crown Prince Mahendran and Kundavi Devi to the warfront. Incompetent people like me may be left behind at Kanchi!” “I will not leave you behind at Kanchi all by yourself. Mahendran is willing to stay behind at Kanchi if you’re there. Kundavi is willing to follow suit if her brother is at Kanchi,” said Mamallar. Immediately Manavanman lifted the Kumara Chakravarthy and said, “You’re a child and so am I. Both of us will remain at Kanchi. All other menfolk may proceed to the battlefront!” Kundavi curtly interjected asking, “Mama, aren’t you a child to your father?” Manavanman lowered Mahendran to the ground, stood with his arms folded in front of Kundavi and said with mock-humility, “Devi! Can anyone dare to open their mouth in your presence? What I said was wrong! Please forgive me!” Everyone including Aayanar burst out laughing.
That evening, when Mamallar and Manavanman met by themselves, Manavanman asked, “Anna! Do you really intend bringing Aayanar along to Vatapi?” “Yes, thambi! There are two important reasons for my bringing him along. Our soldiers will be motivated when they see the maimed elderly man and are reminded of his daughter. If we manage to retrieve alive the woman, for whose sake we are embarking on this invasion leading a gargantuan army, wouldn’t it be appropriate to hand her over to her father immediately?” said Mamallar. He then heaved a deep sigh, which caused Manavanman deep sorrow.