Chapter 40: Fury

From the day soldiers of the ocean-like Pallava army surrounded the Vatapi Fort from all sides, Sivakami felt a raging fury that was akin to the core of a volcano. She was angry that she was unable to see Mamallar and Aayanar despite their camping a short distance away from the fort walls. She fretted about the outcome of the war. She wondered how she ought to behave with Mamallar and what she ought to tell him when she met him for the first time after the Pallava army had won the war. These thoughts tormented her. When Sivakami heard that Pulikesi was killed in the war that was fought to the north of Vatapi, her heart swelled with pride. She was also worried wondering how she would be treated by the Chalukyas in the aftermath of the Pallava victory.

When the Commander of the Fort, Bhimasenan, had requested her to write a message to Mamallar, she felt the pride she had never felt before. In deference to his wishes, she had written a message to the Commander. She had written in that message the decisions she had reached after exercising deep thought and also her entreaty. But this message did not reflect her true emotions that lay buried deep in her heart. The desire to seek revenge on the city and its residents who had insulted her and her art lay in the deep recesses of her heart.  So after sending the manuscript, she thought, “Why did I write that message? What right do I have to pen such a message? What will Mamallar and the Commander, who have mobilized such a massive army and invaded, think? Will they mock the fickle nature of the female mind? Even if they were to agree with what I had written, will they chide me later on?”

Certain incidents that occurred after she had sent her message caused her to regret her action. After the Commander of the Fort had visited Sivakami, crowds of people often congregated outside her house. The people who had almost forgotten Sivakami till then were reminded that she was the reason behind the grave disaster that had befallen them. They stood in groups outside her house and spoke of her disparagingly. When Sivakami, on hearing the noise outside her house, looked out of the window, they jeered at her, laughed loudly and made faces at her.

Sivakami’s lady-in-waiting, who knew what the matter was beforehand, forcefully dragged her away from the window. Then Sivakami could hear the sounds of the crowd’s raucous jeers and mocking laughter. The fiery anger that had previously raged in her heart and had subsided was now ignited again. “If Mamallar were truly a brave man, he would tear the message I had written in a helpless situation to shreds and enter this city with his army. He will fulfill the oath I had previously made. He will turn this city into hell and will cause these beasts who don’t possess an iota of civility to wail and flee. I will feel placated only when I witness that sight!” she thought. She derived happiness by seeing that sight in her mind’s eye.

As time passed, the street became more and more crowded and noisy. A few enthusiastic men in the crowd flung stones at the roof and main door of Sivakami’s house. The noise heard when these stones found their mark on the door caused the mob to laugh tauntingly. In the evening, the crowd suddenly fell silent for a moment. Then the sound of drums being played shattered the silence. As soon as the paying of the drums ceased, a thundering voice proclaimed, “The Emperor has returned to the Fort! He is going to decimate the Pallava forces and hoist the flag of victory! Everyone is ordered to return to their houses. Men well-versed in warfare must congregate outside the palace with their weapons!”

Immediately the crowd enthusiastically cheered, “Long live the Vatapi Emperor! Doom to Mamalla Pallavan!” The mob dispersed as it continued cheering enthusiastically. Miraculously, the very next instant not a soul lingered outside Sivakami’s palace.  Shortly thereafter, twenty Chalukya soldiers arrived at that desolate place. They stood guard outside Sivakami’s palace and on both sides of that street.

Sivakami felt somewhat composed when she came to know through her lady-in-waiting why these incidents had occurred. As Pulikesi had survived and had returned to the fort, the outbreak of war was a foregone conclusion. Sivakami was keen to witness her oath being fulfilled at all costs. It was possible that the brutal citizens of Vatapi and the demonic Pulikesi may harm her. Sivakami armed herself with a dagger in anticipation of such incidents. She had long decided that she would give up her life if her honour were under threat. She was armed with a dagger; there was also a well in the backyard!

The Pallava army had started attacking the Vatapi Fort. That evening a fearful din akin to a tumultuous ocean amidst cyclonic winds and torrential rains was heard. The sound of hundreds of war trumpets, thousands of drums and conches played in unison was heard. This was accompanied by thousands of soldiers raising victory slogans and lakhs of people enthusiastically cheering. When the ramparts of the fort, the mandapams and the towers echoed these sounds, the listeners felt as though their nerves were being contorted and a rage in their hearts. By sunset, the ten lakh residents of that large city were more or less in a stupor, oblivious of what they were doing and what they were saying. The fury that Sivakami felt was far more intense than what the citizens of Vatapi did.

She was unable to sit still even for a moment. But, she was unable to leave the house. For some time, she was pacing around the house. Then she looked out of the window. Frenzied people were running from east to west and from west to east. She went to the upper story of the house and looked around. It was evident that the city was in disarray. As the ramparts of the fort were close to the backyard of her house, she was able to see the soldiers stationed on the fort walls prepared for a combat. She was also able to see the soldiers marching down the roads and civilians running helter skelter.

Sivakami went downstairs again and instructed her lady-in-waiting to find out what was happening at the entrance of the house. The lady-in-waiting returned bearing the news that the Pallava army was going to attack the fort that night. She also said that she would not be able to stay with Sivakami that night and that as she was scared of the war situation she was going to live with her relatives. Sivakami pleading with her was in vain. She took the second lady-in-waiting along and left the house. When the duo opened the palace doors and left, Sivakami heard the soldiers posted outside, who had grown impatient, wonder why they had to stand guard outside the house. She closed all the doors in her house firmly and locked them. The front doors of that mansion were large like the main doors of a temple. Embedded in one of the front doors was a smaller door that was large enough to let an adult person inside. It was fitted with a separate latch and lock. The two ladies in waiting left the house through the smaller door.

During the time Sivakami lived in Vatapi, she usually slept for a very period of time. That night she did not sleep a wink. Her heart and her nerves throbbed with eagerness to know what was happening outside and what was going to happen. She heaved deep sighs; her heart beat fast; her stomach churned. Around midnight, Sivakami observed from the upper storey of her mansion that houses in several parts of the city were on fire. She realized that the oath she had undertaken nine years ago was being fulfilled. She experienced the contentment she had not felt thus far in her life. At the same time, she also felt an inexplicable sorrow.

The fire spread in all four directions. The great chaos that had prevailed in the city that evening assumed another form in the night. Spirited slogans of victory became shrieking and wailing. The citizens’ proud gait was transformed into fear-stricken fleeing. As time passed, one could see more and more women and children fleeing.  When Sivakami witnessed this, the contentment she felt vanished. Instead, she felt distressed. Finally, she went downstairs unable to witness that ghastly sight. “Ah! Hasn’t this disaster occurred because of me? What will be the final outcome? Is this large city truly going to be destroyed by the fire? Are the lakhs of men, women and children living in this city going to meet their end? Aiyyo! What is this? What will become of me?” Thousands of such thoughts rose and ebbed within Sivakami like waves. Then she paced around the main hall of the house as she was unable to bring herself to go upstairs. She paced around till her legs started aching. She lay down with her face on the bare floor. She thought that she will feel better if she wept. But she was unable to cry; it was as though something was blocking her tear glands and was preventing her from shedding tears. The dim light characteristic of midnight pervaded the muttram of her house. At that point of time, a thundering noise was heard outside the house.

A thought suddenly struck Sivakami. Was it Mamallar who had come? After fulfilling her oath, had he come to take her back to Kanchi? It would be good if it were so. The destruction of this vast city can be stopped at least now.  She intended to fall at his feet and plead, “Prabhu! That’s enough, please stop!” Thinking thus, Sivakami got up and ran swiftly. When she neared the door, she hesitated. She decided to open the smaller door embedded in the main door. The sight that met her eyes on opening the door instilled shock and fear in her. Neither Mamallar nor the Pallava soldiers were present there. Only an angry mob of Vatapi citizens were standing outside the door. A few people in that mob were arguing with the security guards posted outside the house.

The instant Sivakami’s face appeared at the entrance, fear-instilling sounds resembling a hundred cheetahs and tigers roaring were heard.  Several people in that gang pushed the guards aside and rushed towards the entrance. Sivakami understood the situation. She immediately closed the door. In her haste and fear, she forgot to latch the door. She then rushed to the backyard of that mansion. She went there without any concrete plan. Her natural instinct to flee from the frenzied mob gave her legs adequate strength to run swiftly towards the backyard.

When Sivakami crossed the door step of the rear entrance, in the dim-lit dawn she observed a ghastly female form sporting a garland of skulls and bones. Her blood froze for an instant. She felt goose bumps. On seeing Sivakami, that female apparition laughed heartily. Then that apparition asked, “Beautiful Sivakami! Artistic Sivakami! You temptress who mesmerized Mamallar and Naganandi! How will your beauty aid you now? Will your mesmerizing eyes and glowing face save you now?” and laughed. “Sivakami! I too was endowed with enthralling good looks like you at one time. I am in this state because of you. I waited for so long to seek revenge!” said the kabalikai gritting her teeth as she took the dagger fastened to her waist and aimed it at Sivakami.

At that time, Sivakami had lost the ability to think and to attempt escaping. She was shell-shocked. Nevertheless, God has endowed every living being with the natural instinct to safeguard oneself from danger. Spurred by that instinct, Sivakami took one step back. At that moment, unknown to the kabalikai a figure suddenly emerged behind her. That figure, which had entered through the rear entrance, firmly held the kabalikai’s hand that was aiming the dagger.

The iron-like grip forced the kabalikai to loosen her hold on the dagger, which fell to the ground. The enraged kabalikai looked around and asked, “You sinner! Have you come at the right time?” Sivakami closely observed the figure that had suddenly appeared and saved her life. Sivakami was incredibly amazed when she realized that it was the Vatapi Emperor, Pulikesi. Ah! Didn’t the citizens claim that the Emperor had died! Was this his ghost? Or…had the bikshu disguised himself as the Emperor as he had done in the past?

 

 

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