Chapter 39: The Destruction of Vatapi


Mamalla Chakravarthy stood outside his tent watching the massive Pallava army nearing the ramparts of the Vatapi Fort. His conscience kept telling him that the most important incident in his life was unfolding in front of him. On account of the Pallava army launching a fierce attack on the fort that night, he secured a pre-eminent place in history for several thousand years thereafter and came to be known as ‘Vatapi Konda Narasimhan[i]’. But will the primary goal that prompted him to mobilize this gargantuan army and invade Vatapi be achieved? It was a foregone conclusion that he would fulfill the promise he had made to Sivakami either that night or on the following day. The Vatapi Fort being demolished and the city being set ablaze within three days was a certainty…But will Sivakami be alive to witness this? Ah! Of what use was it even if that unfortunate woman were to witness Vatapi on fire and then leave the city? Will she be able to lead the joyful life she had previously led? No, never. All her fantasies had become a shattered dream. It was possible for Sivakami to experience moments of happiness even in that shattered dream; even that fortune was denied to him. Henceforth his life would be akin to a barren desert. In that seemingly endless desert, only mirages would offer him solace.

Mamallar was immersed in such thoughts when he saw Paranjyothi, who had taken leave from him, walking towards him. He was surprised. When Paranjyothi came close to him, he asked, “Commander! Is there a fresh development?” The Commander said, “Yes, Prabhu! Shatrugnan returned,” and then related what Shatrugnan had told him in brief. Mamallar after listening to Paranjyothi asked, “Is there any change to our plan due to this news?” “Nothing significant, Prabhu! But it is now imperative to attack the fort at the earliest. Isn’t a snake slithering past our feet more dangerous than a tiger that attacks us from the front?” “It seems that you believe the kabalikai’s tale.  Do you suppose that it was Naganandi Bikshu and not Pulikesi who sent you the message proclaiming war? In that case, we ought to be even more worried about Sivakami Devi. May I also accompany you into the fort right away?” “No, Prabhu! I believe that it’s best that you remain here.”

Commander Paranjyothi was determined to ensure that he was the first person to meet Sivakami Devi. He had not forgotten the disastrous consequence of Mamallar meeting Sivakami first and speaking to her previously. He considered it his duty to prevent such an occurrence again. Mamallar was not desirous of meeting Sivakami immediately for several reasons. So he said, “As you say, Commander! Don’t forget one thing. Your statement that a snake is more dangerous than a tiger is entirely true. Don’t show any mercy to Naganandi. As long as that fake bikshu is alive, the two of us will never be peaceful during our lifetimes. You will not forget this, will you?” “I will not forget, Prabhu!”

Observing the Commander hesitantly standing despite the conversation concluding, Mamallar asked, “Is there any other news?” Paranjyothi stated, “Yes, just one more thing. You haven’t changed your mind about your command to set Vatapi on fire, have you?” “Commander! Enough! I am heading to the fort entrance this instant. Trusting you henceforth is futile. You may smear yourself with vibhuti, wear rudrakshas and perform Shiva Pujai!” “Prabhu! The Peruman who smeared himself with vibhuti had reduced Tripuram to ashes. Burning Vatapi down is a facile task for him. You will witness the city of Vatapi burning tonight itself!” “In that case, why this hesitation and questions?”

“I wanted to confirm your wish for sure. You had ordered the city to be set on fire once our army enters the fort. I wish to act differently. First, we will begin destroying Vatapi. Then, I am going to command our army to throw illuminated lanterns from outside the fort into the city.” “What is the necessity for this?” “I had stated that our soldiers would be awarded half the wealth they bring from the city. So, when they see the city ablaze their ardour would increase multi-fold. Prabhu! We must enter the fort before dawn tomorrow. If we delay further, it would be impossible to rescue Sivakami Devi. Please be prepared by dawn. I urge you not to sleep tonight and watch Vatapi being destroyed!” After speaking thus, Paranjyothi swiftly left without waiting for the Chakravarthy’s response.

Just as the Commander had said, the destruction of Vatapi began at around midnight.  Scaffolds were erected outside the walls of the fort. Pallava soldiers, specially trained for this purpose, stood on the scaffolds and flung illuminated torches and sulphur bombs into the city. The wind served to fan the flames of the torches further. The places where these torches fell instantly caught fire.  The sulphur bombs exploded and served to spread the fire. By the third jaamam of that night, fire enveloped the city of Vatapi, which was inhabited by lakhs of people, from all sides. Vayu Bhagavan[ii] also came to the aid of Agni Devan[iii]. The raging wind further intensified the fire, which in turn gobbled the mansions and towers of Vatapi.

Clouds of smoke that accompanied the fire spread in all directions and reached the skies. At the same time, the Pallava and Pandya soldiers surrounded the fort from all sides and attempted to scale the ramparts. The Chalukya soldiers stationed on the ramparts prevented them from doing so. Thousands of Tamil warriors, attacked by swords, spears and arrows, fell lifeless to the ground. Like the waves that lash the shore in quick succession a storm, more and more Tamil warriors attacked the fort.

The four entrances to the fort were also subject to brutal attacks. When ten to fifteen elephants wielding massive wooden masts and iron rods ferociously attacked each of the fort entrances in unison, the gates were smashed to smithereens and fell apart. Just as Commander Paranjyothi had told the Chakravarthy, by the time the fourth jaamam of that night drew to a close the Pallava soldiers entered the city of Vatapi that was already set on fire. The Pallava soldiers who had attacked the ramparts started jumping into the city from all four sides. The rising sun was witness to the historic scene of the city of Vatapi succumbing to fire.


[i] Vatapi Konda Narasimhan – The Narasimhan who won Vatapi

[ii] Vayu Bhagavan – The God of Wind

[iii] Agni Devan – The God of Fire

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