Chapter 41: Here is your Lover!

 

Naganandi Adigal, disguised as Emperor Pulikesi, saved Sivakami’s life in the nick of time! Sivakami, on seeing the angry mob at the entrance of her palace, shut the doors and rushed inside.  The very next instant the sound of horses swiftly galloping towards her palace was heard. Most of the people assembled there quickly dispersed thinking that it was the Pallava warriors who were coming. The few people who stayed behind and the security guards were shell-shocked when they realized that it was Emperor Pulikesi. The citizens of Vatapi were disconsolate observing the misfortune that had befallen their king, who till ten days ago had reigned their expansive kingdom spanning the Narmada and Tungabhadra rivers as its undisputed monarch.

On seeing the Emperor, the few people who remained there started wailing and complaining loudly. The Emperor, understanding the situation, whispered something to a warrior close to him. After calming down the chaotic crowd, he said in a loud voice, “Respected citizens! The Emperor is grateful for the loyalty you have demonstrated during this dangerous period. This calamity has befallen us due to unexpected acts of treachery. The Emperor is determined to seek revenge at the appropriate time. The Emperor has come here to accord apt punishment to the maiden from Pallava Nadu, who is also a reason behind the occurrence of this disaster. He requests you to allow him to perform that task and asks all of you to finds ways and means to safeguard your lives. The merciless Pallava demons are engaged in unjust warfare and have set fire to your houses. Please try to save your family and possessions; please go to your houses immediately!”

Hearing this, the citizens started wailing and complaining even more loudly as they started leaving that place. Then the Emperor told the security guards posted outside the palace, “You have performed your duty well. I am very happy. Now, you try to save your lives. I command all those who survive to come to Nasikapuri! I will reach there soon and meet you!” Hearing the Emperor speak thus, the soldiers’ eyes brimmed with tears. They bowed to the Emperor and left. Then the Emperor looked at the chief of the cavalry that had accompanied him and said, “Dhananjaya! Do you remember all what I had said?” “Yes, Prabhu! I remember,” said Dhananjayan.

“I repeat what I said. Leave this place immediately. Leave the city loudly cheering, ‘Glory to Mamalla Chakravarthy!’ Go to the forest that’s in the vicinity of the kabalikas’ sacrificial altar. I will reach there ahead of you!” The Emperor again whispered to the chief of the cavalry, “There is a mad kabalikai in the cave close to the sacrificial altar. Kill her ruthlessly!” The very next moment Dhananjayan and the other horsemen disappeared from that place. Then, the street was desolate.

Naganandi, who was disguised as Pulikesi, reached the door of Sivakami’s residence and knocked softly. He then pushed the door of the smaller entrance and it fell open. He immediately entered the palace and latched the door. When he attentively scanned the front quarters of the house, he realized that there was no one there. He headed to the backyard. He arrived just in time to firmly grasp the kabalikai who held a dagger aloft and rescue Sivakami. When the kabalikai said, “You sinner, have you come?” the bikshu observed her closely with his magnetic eyes. He said, “Ranjani! Please come here!” and walked further down. Sivakami was amazed to see the enraged demoness obediently follow him.

The bikshu ushered Ranjani to behind a pillar. He asked in a low tone so that Sivakami could not hear, “Why are you behaving thus?” “Bikshu! What wrong have I done? Seeing the city on fire, I was worried for you. I came here to rescue you and take you away!” “Is that so? I’m very happy. But why were you on the verge of killing that maiden from Pallava Nadu?” “That was also to save you. How can one be sure that no danger will befall you on account of her? Isn’t she from our enemy state?” “You fool! How can she put me in peril?”

“Bikshu! Isn’t love far more dangerous that all other perils?” said the kabalikai. “You’re not yet rid of your stupidity. When you’re there, will I even look at another woman…” “In that case, why are you so concerned about her? How does it matter to you if I seek revenge by killing her?”  “You idiot! You have no reason to wreak vengeance on Sivakami, only I do. How many times have I told you that I’m carefully safeguarding Sivakami to seek retribution against the Pallavan?”

“Bikshu! Nothing is lost now, isn’t it?” “Nothing is lost. In one way, your rushing here is for the good. Ranjani! You must help me now. If you act as per my instructions now, I will behave in the manner you desire for the rest of my life…!” “Bikshu! Are you stating the truth?” “How many times have I promised you? What will you do if I promise you now and break my promise later on?”  “I know what to do.” “Do that. But for now, do what I ask you to!” “Tell me, Adigal!”

The bikshu lowered his voice further and told the kabalikai what she ought to do. “Do you understand what I said? Will you comply with my instructions?” he asked. “I will definitely do that!” said the kabalikai.  Then she asked with a grisly smile, “Bikshu! After you have sought your revenge, may I seek mine?” The bikshu’s face fell. “Ah! It seems that you will never be rid of your suspicion. How many times have I told you that you may do so! Leave quickly! I can hear sounds of a chariot and horses approaching!” The kabalikai headed to the front quarters of the house and approached the main entrance. She unlatched the smaller door and hid herself close by. Like a tigress waiting to prey on an unsuspecting goat, she hid her right hand that held a dagger behind her and waited. A murderous rage was evident in that demoness’ eyes.

After sending the kabalikai to the front quarters of the house, Naganandi Bikshu approached Sivakami. “Sivakami! Do you still doubt me? Do you still have no faith in me?” When the bikshu asked this in a gentle tone, Sivakami became even more confused. She started saying “Emperor!” and then paused hesitantly. “Oh! It’s my mistake!” said Naganandi and removed the crown from his head. Sivakami’s doubts were cleared. “Swami! Is that you? In this place…” she said. “Yes, Sivakami! Once I had assumed this disguise and had saved your father’s life…Had I arrived even a moment later, that demoness would have killed you! She wouldn’t have killed just you but also the art of dancing that enthralls this cosmos…” “But…” said Sivakami hesitantly.  “Why are you hesitating, Sivakami? Ask what you want to quickly!” “Nothing! I am surprised at the influence you wield over that kabalikai!” “That’s the power of love, Sivakami! That demoness is in love with me! That is why she obeyed my command so quickly!”

Seeing Sivakami smile, the bikshu spoke further, “But don’t think that she always looked so appalling! I had mentioned this before, do you remember? Once upon a time, she was the most beautiful woman at the Vatapi palace. One day, she spoke ill of you. So, she was reduced to this state.” “Aiyyo! What a cruel punishment!” “She was at least spared after this punishment. Do you know what became of the artist who painted a portrait of you prostrating before Pulikesi? I touched his neck and blessed him! That was it! He felt as if his body was on fire. Soon thereafter, that artist jumped into the river.  He did not resurface after that!” “Aiyyo, how cruel!…Why did you act thus?” asked an extremely agitated Sivakami.

“Ah! These were not the only things I did for your sake, Sivakami! This massive city of Vatapi is on fire today. Do you know who the reason behind this is?  Do you know who is the reason behind the Pallava soldiers entering the city and committing atrocities and lakhs of citizens running around aimlessly in a frenzied manner? It is this sinner, who betrayed his nation and his clan!” said the bikshu and punched his chest hard. He looked at Sivakami who stood stupefied by his behaviour and said, “Sivakami! Even as I was leaving this city and heading to the Ajantha Art Festival, I came to know that the Pallavan was invading us. Despite that, do you know why I hid this news from my brother, Pulikesi, and accompanied him to Ajantha? It was solely for your happiness. I behaved thus so that you could witness your oath being fulfilled and then leave this city. It was solely for this purpose I sacrificed the life of my brother, who was dearer to me than my own life. This sinner is responsible for the death of the Vatapi Emperor!” said the bikshu and punched his chest again.

Sivakami trembled; she firmly held the bikshu’s hand and prevented him from punching himself. The instant Sivakami held Naganandi with her tender hands, he calmed down. “Sivakami! Forgive me for causing you distress!” “What is there to forgive, Swami? You had once saved my father’s life. Today, you have saved mine. Am I not indebted to you for all this? But you need not have undergone so much difficulty for this helpless maiden…” “Sivakami! I have not yet saved you. If you feel even an iota of gratitude for all the assistance I have rendered to your father and to yourself, you must help me now!” “What should I do, Swami?” “Trust me and come with me!” Suddenly, Sivakami became suspicious and hesitant. She asked, “Where do you want me to come? What’s the purpose?” “Sivakami!  You’re not yet completely out of danger now that that demoness’ attempt to kill you has been thwarted. The Pallavas have set fire to this city, which has spread to the neighbouring street. In another half a nazhigai, the fire will spread to this house too. Not only that; didn’t you observe the enraged mob of citizens who have congregated outside this house? Their fury is such that they will not hesitate to cut you to pieces. They think you are the reason for the calamity that has befallen this city…!”

At that point of time, a noisy commotion broke out outside the house. The sounds of a door being opened and shut, someone shrieking and something falling down with a thud were heard in quick succession. Sivakami shuddered. “Don’t you hear the commotion caused by the hysterical people outside, Sivakami? Do you want to remain here and be killed by the frenzied mob? Won’t you come with me?” asked Naganandi. Sivakami gained confidence that Naganandi was stating the truth. “Adigal! Where and how will you be taking me?” she asked. “Anticipating such a danger, I had built a tunnel from this house. If you believe in me and accompany me, I will lead you outside the fort in half a nazhigai!”

“Swami! That is one thing I cannot do; I beseech you. I will not leave this house; you may leave.” “Sivakami! You have not heard all what I have to say. You speak without realizing where I intend taking you. You probably think that I may take you to the Ajantha Mountains, as I had mentioned once before. I have forgotten that dream, Sivakami! I have realized that you will never ever change your mind. Now, I want to ensure that I help you escape and hand you over to your father. As soon as we exit the fort, I will straightaway hand you over to your father and go my way.”

Sivakami thought for some time and said, “Swami! I trust you completely. However, I will not leave this house. I will leave only if he comes and leads me out by my hand. If that does not happen, I will die right here!” Naganandi’s facial expression underwent a sudden change. Fury raged in his eyes. He laughed angrily and said, “Do you believe that your lover, Mamallan, will come here and take you back? That will never happen!” A voice asked, “Why not?” Both of them turned around. The kabalikai said, “Sivakami! Don’t believe what the bikshu says! Here is your lover!” As she spoke, she threw the body she was carrying on the ground. Sivakami stared for a moment at the man who was stabbed by a dagger. She shrieked, “Anna!” as she ran towards him. Kannabiran opened his eyes. He looked intently at Sivakami for an instant. He murmured, “Thangai! Your sister, Kamali, and little Kannan are fondly anticipating your return!” The next moment the affable man breathed his last. A helpless Sivakami fell unconscious to the ground.

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