Chapter 38: Gruesome Cave

 

The tale that the Chief of Spies, Shatrugnan related to Commander Paranjyothi with uncharacteristic agitation was as follows: Shatrugnan and Gundodharan, as commanded by the Chakravarthy and the Commander, had combed the area surrounding the fort to ascertain if there was a secret tunnel that led into the fort. They carefully searched the rocky terrain in the vicinity of the kabalikas’ sacrificial altar thinking that it was highly likely that the entrance to the secret tunnel was located in that area. One night, when they were engaged in this reconnaissance, they observed something burning and went close to that scene. A man and a woman were standing close to the fire. It was evident that the man was Naganandi Bikshu and the woman was a ghastly looking kabalikai. Shatrugnan and Gundodharan tried eavesdropping on their conversation, but could not comprehend anything clearly. But they heard the names of Pulikesi and Sivakami being mentioned often. It was clear that Naganandi was seeking the kabalikai’s assistance. As dawn was setting in, the bikshu and kabalikai pushed away a rock that sealed the entrance to a cave and then entered the cave. As soon as they entered, the entrance to that cave was again closed.

After waiting for long, Shatrugnan and Gundodharan decided to remove the rock and enter the cave. Fortunately, they observed someone moving the rock from inside and hid themselves. The kabalikai alone came out. They waited for her to leave the place so that they could enter the cave. All day, she did not budge from the entrance of the cave. It was evening when she left the place. After asking Gundodharan to stand guard outside the cave, Shatrugnan alone entered the cave. Oh God!  Recollecting the macabre sights in that cave would render one sleepless for the rest of his life. Human skulls and skeletons lay heaped in that cave. The stench was unbearable. As it was pitch dark inside the cave, Shatrugnan was unable to find out if the entrance to the tunnel was located therein. Suddenly, the dim light that pervaded the cave disappeared. Shatrugnan looked around to locate the entrance of the cave. The entrance to the cave was no longer visible. A chill went down his spine when he thought the kabalikai may have sealed the entrance from outside. He lost sense of the time he spent in the dark and stinking cave filled with skulls and skeletons. Despite trying hard, he was unable to locate the entrance to the cave.

For what seemed to be four eons, he paced around the dark cave in vain. Suddenly light streamed in from one side. The entrance to the cave opened and the kabalikai immediately entered. She was carrying a human skull and bones. Shatrugnan went to the farthest corner of the cave and stood with his back against the wall. After carefully keeping the skull and bones aside, she sat on the ground at the centre of the cave and removed a large boulder. When she lowered herself at the area where the boulder was, Shatrugnan guessed that it was the entrance to the tunnel. Shatrugnan felt happy thinking all the time he had spent cave withstanding hunger and thirst was not futile. It seemed that the kabalikai after entering the tunnel had changed her mind.

She exited the tunnel, closed the entrance and lay there talking to herself.

From her speech, Shatrugnan came to know that she had been in love with Naganandi Bikshu on account of which she hated Sivakami, that Pulikesi had died and it was his skull and bones she had brought into the cave some time ago, that Naganandi was going to masquerade as Pulikesi and was desirous of ascending the Vatapi throne and making Sivakami his Empress – an occurrence the kabalikai was determined to prevent at all costs. After talking to herself in this manner for long, the kabalikai fell silent.  Shatrugnan, thinking that she had fallen asleep, decided to escape. He inched his way to the entrance of the cave. As soon as he reached the entrance, he swiftly jumped out. As he was jumping out, someone grabbed his hand from inside the cave. A shocked Shatrugnan looked around. The kabalikai, who was standing inside the cave, was firmly holding his hand. She then let out a blood-curling growl. Shatrugnan froze in shock and thought that death loomed large over him. Nevertheless, in an attempt to save himself, he tried extricating his hand.  He was unable to extricate his hand from the kabalikai’s iron-like grip.

The kabalikai then shrieked, “Lambodhara! Lambodhara!” Shatrugnan was rendered speechless with shock when he observed Gundodharan come running from behind a rock calling out, “Here I come, thaye!” As Gundodharan came running towards Shatrugnan, he gestured with his eyes. The kabalikai who was standing inside the cave said, “Lambodhara!  Hold on to this stealthy spy. I will bring a dagger. You wouldn’t leave him, would you?” “I will never do that, amma! I will be the first person to behead him!” So saying, Gundodharan held on to Shatrugnan tightly. Immediately, Gundodharan gestured to Shatrugnan and loosened his grip. Shatrugnan extricated himself and fled. Gundodharan raised a hue and cry as he pursued Shatrugnan. After running in this manner for some time, they came to halt behind a rock. “Swami! I became this kabalikai’s disciple only to find out what became of you. Don’t worry about me; I will stay here and manage her. You rush back. Our army must have started attacking the fort by now!” said Gundodharan. “The entrance to the tunnel lies inside the cave, Gundodhara! I will inform the Commander and return with a few men. Till then, you have to somehow manage this demoness. Don’t let her enter the tunnel!” said Shatrugnan and then ran swiftly to inform the Commander. Shatrugnan was unaware of what became of Gundodharan after that.

After listening to the shocking and fearful tale, Commander Paranjyothi said in a worried tone, “Shatrugna! You have brought such important news at a critical time. We do not even have the time to think about this. The attack on the fort has started. We will gain entry into the fort before dawn tomorrow. You take a hundred warriors along and go to that kabalikai’s cave! Please ensure that no one uses that tunnel as an escape route. If possible, you and Gundodharan enter the fort through that tunnel. As soon as the fort gates are thrown open, I will head directly to Sivakami Devi’s house. If Lord Ganesha[i] chooses to bless us, we will be fortunate to rescue Sivakami Devi and hand her over to Aayanar.”

 


[i] Ganesha – Another name for Lord Ganapathi

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