Chapter 42: Ranjani’s Revenge

 

Naganandi rushed towards Sivakami, who had fainted, and felt her temples and nostrils with his long fingers. He looked at the kabalikai angrily and said, “You sinner! What have you done?” The kabalikai burst out laughing. Her laughter resembled several ghosts laughing in unison at a graveyard in the middle of the night.  “Adigal! What sin did I commit! Didn’t I act in the manner you instructed?  Didn’t you ask me to kill her lover, Mamallan, as soon as he entered the house? How am I responsible if this virtuous woman dies after seeing the state of her dear lover?” Naganandi interrupted saying, “You idiot! This is not Mamallan; he is Mamallan’s charioteer, Kannabiran! Can’t you even distinguish between a ruler and a charioteer?” “Oh! Is that so? Didn’t you tell me that Mamallan would enter first and that I ought to kill him? I acted accordingly. Now you tell me that he is not Mamallan but his charioteer!”

As they were conversing thus, the sounds of people breaking open the front door with spades was heard. “Ranjani! Let bygones be bygones. Please render one final assistance for me. This maiden is still alive. If I had some time, I will revive her.  As long as she is in our custody, Mamallan will come in search of her. It is important that she lives till I seek revenge.  So, I will take her along with me and leave. The Pallava soldiers are breaking open the door. Please stay here from some time and somehow restrain them.”

“Adigal! I can manage one or two people. If several people break down the door and enter, how can I manage them singlehanded?” “This is the time to demonstrate your astuteness. Tell them that you’re Sivakami; they will be stunned for some time. Then spin some other tale! It would suffice if you restrained them for half a nazhigai!” “Ah! You deceptive bikshu! Are you trying to get me killed by the Pallava soldiers?” “Ranjani! I promise that you will not die at the hands of the Pallava soldiers! They will spare you thinking that you’re insane. They will never ever kill you. Go! Leave quickly! Please help me just this once! I will never ever forget you!”

The angry and suspicious kabalikai alternated between looking at an unconscious Sivakami and the bikshu. She reluctantly turned around to head to the entrance of the house. She had hardly taken two steps when the bikshu swiftly removed the poisoned knife that was fastened to his waist. He flung the knife with all might at the kabalikai’s back. The kabalikai turned around shrieking, “Oh!” Ranjani leapt towards Naganandi screaming, “You sinner! Your charlatan! Finally, you betrayed me!” As he quickly sidestepped her, she fell with her face to the ground. In a flash, Naganandi carried an unconscious Sivakami on his shoulder and headed to the backyard of the house.

Let’s take a step back in time and observe how this misfortune befell Kannabiran. When the sun was rising in the eastern horizon, Commander Paranjyothi entered Vatapi through the main entrance of the fort – the western entrance. He was desirous of heading straight to Sivakami’s palace. But that was not an easy task. The citizens of Vatapi, who were shrieking and wailing, were running helter skelter in the city that was ablaze. The Pallava and Pandya soldiers who were entering Vatapi by jumping over the ramparts were in a frenzy to loot the city of its fabulous wealth and were killing all those who came in their way. The roofs of the houses on fire rapidly fell down and blocked the streets.

Commander Paranjyothi had to travel through Vatapi’s thoroughfares overcoming such obstacles. He thought that he would remember the route he had taken to Sivakami’s house during his previous visit nine years ago and that he could easily trace her house. That was also not easy due to the pandemonium prevalent in the city then. He had to check with Kannabiran, who was following Paranjyothi in his chariot, if they were taking the correct route. By the time the Commander reached the street in which Sivakami lived, it was broad daylight. When he reached the corner of that street, he saw a huge mob leaving that place. When this mob saw the arrival of the Pallava soldiers holding Rishabha flags aloft, they were fear stricken and fled in all four directions.

When Paranjyothi reached the entrance of Sivakami’s palace, he observed that eeriness had descended on the palace and the street. This instilled a sense of fear in him. The doors of the palace were shut; dead silence prevailed within the palace. “Was the sculptor Aayanar’s daughter, to uphold whose oath we had embarked on this expedition exercising such monumental effort, safe inside? Will I be fortunate to retrieve her alive and hand her over to Aayanar, who is waiting outside the fort?” As Commander Paranjyothi was thinking along these lines, he saw a few Pallava horsemen holding Rishabha flags swiftly riding towards him from the opposite end of the street. Surmising that they may be bearing an important message for him, he told Kannabiran, who had brought his chariot to a halt and had dismounted from the chariot, “Kanna! Knock the door. As soon as the door is opened, inform the Devi that we have come to fetch her!” As instructed by Paranjyothi, Kannan knocked on the door. Shortly thereafter, the smaller door embedded within the main entrance opened. As soon as Kannan entered the palace, the door was shut again.

The leader of the Pallava horsemen, as Paranjyothi had anticipated, had brought a message. The Prince of Lanka, Manavanman, had sent the message. As ordered by the Commander, Manavanman accompanied by handpicked soldiers, had entered Vatapi through the northern entrance and had reached the Vatapi palace. He had made arrangements to remove the priceless treasures that were stored in the palace before the palace caught fire.  But despite searching for the Vatapi Emperor within and outside the palace, they were unable to trace him. On enquiring the palace guards, they came to know that the Emperor was last seen at the palace entrance asking the Chalukya soldiers to run for their lives and reach Nasikapuri. They said that he then headed to the southern entrance of the fort accompanied by a few soldiers. But the Pallava soldiers, who were standing guard at the southern entrance after having captured it, unequivocally stated that the Emperor had not exited through that entrance.

Hearing this, the Commander’s turmoil increased. He had come to know from Shatrugnan that it was Naganandi who had assumed the disguise of the Vatapi Emperor. Naganandi, who was more dangerous than a venomous snake, could seek revenge on the Pallavas through Sivakami. It was possible that the fake bikshu was torturing Sivakami. Probably, he was trying to hide her in a remote location so that no one could find her. Tormented by such thoughts, Paranjyothi rushed towards the entrance of that palace. As he neared the door, he heard a woman shrieking in a shrill and sorrowful tone.

Paranjyothi, like one possessed, used all his might to force open the door. As his effort was in vain, he roared, “Quickly bring the spades and break open the door!” The very next instant five to six soldiers armed with spades, started breaking open the door. In the next five minutes, the demolished door fell to the ground. Paranjyothi, followed by a few soldiers, ran into the house.  Despite searching the front quarters of the house, he was unable to find anyone. On reaching the backyard, the gory sight of a man and woman lying on the floor after being stabbed to death met Paranjyothi’s eyes. Paranjyothi realized that the dead man was Kannabiran. While the untimely death of Kamali’s husband saddened him, he did not have time to dwell on this tragedy. His attention was focussed on the female body that lay close by. As that body lay with her face to the ground, he was unable to identify her. He wondered if it was Sivakami and if the bikshu had escaped after killing both of them.

Oblivious of his actions, Paranjyothi turned the female body around. When he saw the kabalikai’s ghastly face, he felt somewhat consoled that it was not Sivakami Devi. Even as he was looking at her, she moved slightly and heaved a deep sigh. Paranjyothi was taken aback. She murmured, “Ah! Are you Mamallan?” Eager to know about Sivakami’s whereabouts, he asked agitatedly, “Yes, Lady! I am Mamallan! Who are you? Where is Sivakami Devi?” “What kind of a question is this? I am Sivakami; don’t you recognize me?” asked the kabalikai. The unsightly smile that appeared on her face then accentuated her hideousness.

Paranjyothi was dumfounded for a moment. Had Sivakami Devi transformed become insane after being imprisoned for long? No! That was impossible! Paranjyothi remembered that Gundodharan had met Sivakami a month ago and what Shatrugnan had mentioned about the kabalikai. The kabalikai must have entered the city through the tunnel that originated in the cave. “No! Why are you lying? You are not Sivakami. If you tell me the truth about Sivakami’s whereabouts…” “How will you compensate me if I told you the truth?” “I will save your life,” said Paranjyothi. “Ah! I have been stabbed by a poisoned knife. It’s impossible for you to save me!” “Poisoned knife? In that case Naganandi must have stabbed you! Lady, tell me quickly! Where is Naganandi headed to? Which route did he take? If you tell me, I will seek revenge on him for your sake.”

“Seeking revenge on Naganandi is futile! It is true that the fake bikshu killed me. But he did not do it of his own accord; that temptress Sivakami instigated him. Pallava! You think of yourself as Manmadan! But that is incorrect. That wily Sivakami does not love you. It is the lean and gaunt bikshu with whom   she is in love. It was she who eloped with Naganandi when she realized that you were coming. When I obstructed them, she instigated Naganandi to kill me. If you’re desirous of seeking revenge for my sake, wreak your vengeance on Sivakami. Don’t harm that foolish bikshu!”

Paranjyothi could not bring himself to hear these words. Unable to hear further, he said, “Lady! Where are the two of them now? How did they escape? Tell me quickly!” Thinking that her ruse had worked, she exclaimed, “Climb into the well in the backyard! There is a tunnel there! Don’t forget to seek revenge on Sivakami.” After saying this, she stopped talking. Her breathing also ceased.

 

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