Chapter 37: Shatrugnan’s Fear

 

The war trumpets were blown one muhurtham after sunset, just as the Commander had informed the Chakravarthy. The Pallava soldiers who had surrounded the Vatapi Fort from all sides started marching towards the rampart. It seemed as though that ocean-like army along with its flags fluttering in the wind would inundate the Vatapi Fort. The Pallava army elephant force marching towards the four fort gates was akin to black granite hills getting displaced.

The earth trembled under the weight of the elephants, which were specifically trained for this mission to carry iron poles and sturdy wooden masts with their trunks. Clouds of dust rose up to the sky and disappeared. The din caused by one lakh warriors and ten thousand elephants moving forward in unison resembled the uproar in the ocean during a raging cyclone. For some time that gargantuan army marched in darkness. Suddenly, illuminated torches were sporadically visible. Shortly thereafter, these multiplied to thousands and their light blinded the eye. The smoke from these torches spread in all four directions and created a terrifying surreal sight.

Commander Paranjyothi stood outside his tent and was looking around. He was pacing to and fro impatiently and drawing patterns on the ground with his sword, anticipating the arrival of someone. It was in this situation Sadaiyan and four others reached the tent carrying the idol of Ganapathi from the fort entrance.  Paranjyothi commanded them to keep the idol inside the tent. Paranjyothi followed them into the tent and asked Sadaiyan, “Appane! You and your men stay here and safeguard the Ganapathi idol. I have prayed that if we are able to bring Sivakami Devi unharmed out of the Vatapi Fort, I will build a temple in my village, instate this Vinayaka Peruman in that temple and conduct prayers thrice a day, every day!” He again said, “Sadaiya! If you stay here and guard the idol, you will lose your share in the loot from our plunder of Vatapi. I will compensate you for that!” he said. “Swami! We will abide by your command!” said Sadaiyan.

Commander Paranjyothi then stood with his arms folded and eyes closed for some time in front of the Ganapathi idol and prayed. At that moment the sound of someone running towards the tent was heard outside. The next instant a dishevelled Shatrugnan entered the tent. His face was ashen as though he had seen a ghost. Paranjyothi asked him, “Shatrugna! Why are you in this state? Why do you look terror-stricken? Are we in grave danger? Were you unsuccessful in your mission?” “Commander! I have faced several grave dangers during my lifetime. But the dangers I faced yesterday and today was unprecedented,” said Shatrugnan and looked at those present.

The Commander, understanding the gesture, asked everyone else to leave. As soon as they had left, he said, “Shatrugna! The attack on the fort has begun. There is no time to delay. Tell me what happened quickly! Were you successful in your mission? Tell me about it first!” “Commander! There is a secret underground tunnel that leads into the fort. I have found out where it is. But it’s no mean task to enter the fort through that tunnel. The attack on the fort has begun. Now, entering the fort through the tunnel does not serve our purpose. I came here to seek your advice!” So saying, he related his tale.

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