Chapter 43: Buddha Bhagavan’s Sanctum


Commander Paranjyothi passed a few commands extremely quickly to the soldiers who had accompanied him. After commanding just four of them to follow him, he rushed to the backyard of that palace. He peered into the well that was located at the centre of the muttram in the backyard with a pavazhamalli creeper growing beside it. The wall surrounding the well was built with bricks for some distance into the well. Beyond that, rocks were jutting out. The water was deep inside in the well.

Paranjyothi’s heart beat fast as he held the steps that led into the well and climbed down. The four soldiers who accompanied him also climbed into the well. As the surface of the wall was uneven and there were holes in the wall, climbing down was easy. When they had covered three fourths of the distance into the well, Paranjyothi exclaimed with surprise, “Ah!” There was an aperture in the rock wall. There lay a long path beyond the aperture, which was pitch dark after a point. After signalling to the soldiers who accompanied him, Paranjyothi entered the tunnel, which was large enough for just one person to crawl in at a time. But the tunnel became bigger after some distance, enabling one to move in a sitting position. After travelling in this manner for some time, a flight of stairs was visible. After climbing down four to five steps, there appeared to be even ground ahead. Initially, it was pitch dark for some distance. When their eyes got acclimatized to the darkness, they observed the surrounding area. Paranjyothi realized that he was standing at the corner of a large underground mandapam that was carved out of rocks. There was a large statue of Lord Buddha directly opposite to where he was standing. Above the Buddha statue was a beautifully sculpted turret. In front of the statue were two rows of high, smooth and sculpted rock pillars.  Paranjyothi and two of the soldiers paced around the mandapam searching the back of the pillars and the nooks and corners. There was no one. But there lay behind a pillar a few robes and ornaments. Paranjyothi realized that they were the Emperor’s robes and ornaments. He decided that Naganandi must have discarded these and donned the robes of a bikshu. He wondered where Naganandi and Sivakami were and how they had mysteriously disappeared.

Inadvertently, Paranjyothi’s glance fell on Buddha Bhagavan’s statue. A thought suddenly occurred to him. He remembered the secret route behind the Buddha statue at the Kanchi Royal Viharam. Immediately, Paranjyothi rushed towards the Buddha statue. The rear of the statue was abutting the rock wall behind it. There was no way that a door or secret route lay behind the statue.

Paranjyothi was extremely disappointed. Nevertheless, he was convinced that the clue to the path he was searching lay within the Buddha statue.

“Prabhu! Buddha Bhagavan! If it is true that you’re an incarnation of Mahavishnu, you must guide me. I seek refuge in you!” Praying thus, Commander Paranjyothi touched the feet of the Buddha statue. A miracle occurred. The Buddha statue moved slightly from its original position, revealing a tunnel behind it. Paranjyothi exultantly thought, “Ah! Buddha Bhagavan has shown the way!” signaled to the other soldiers and took a step into the tunnel. He then witnessed an unexpected sight.

He could see several illuminated torches arrayed one behind the other approaching him from the opposite end of the narrow tunnel. The torch bearers resembled dark, fire sprouting ghosts. Leading that fearful procession was the tonsured figure of a bikshu, who was rushing carrying a woman on his shoulder.

Paranjyothi recognized the person who was rushing towards him in an instant. By the time the bikshu had travelled half the distance down the tunnel, Shatrugnan and his men had entered the tunnel from the other end. The bikshu was retracing his steps to ensure that Shatrugnan did not capture him.

Paranjyothi instantaneously exited the tunnel and along with his men hid behind the pillars.

Shortly after they had hidden themselves, Naganandi Bikshu emerged from behind the statue of Buddha Bhagavan. He was carrying Sivakami on his shoulder. Paranjyothi and his soldiers held their breath as they eagerly watched what he was going to do next.

Naganandi lowered Sivakami to the ground some distance away from the Buddha statue. He then stood in front of the statue. It seemed for a moment that he was immersed in deep thought. He looked around once and then sat next to Sivakami.

Paranjyothi understood that he wanted to seal the entrance to the tunnel. He signalled to the soldiers who accompanied him and leapt towards the bikshu. The soldiers followed him and held the bikshu firmly by his arms. The bikshu looked up to them. It was not possible to decipher his facial expression in the dark. But the words he uttered revealed his state of mind.

“Paranjyothi! Is that you? I was expecting you. If I were to lose, I wanted to lose to you. My desire has been fulfilled!” As he spoke thus, he stood up. Everyone came to the centre of the mandapam. Naganandi looked at Paranjyothi piteously and said, “Appane! Why are these people still clasping me? Where can I escape now? Your men are coming from that side and you have men standing here. All my scheming has come to an end. Henceforth, I would have to obey you. I wanted to somehow fetch Aayanar and you to Ajantha. That is now not possible. Appane! Please ask them to let go of me! I am prepared to act as per your command.”

When Naganandi pleaded thus, Paranjyothi softened a little.

He commanded the soldiers, “Let go of the bikshu!”

The soldiers released Naganandi and took a step back.

“Paranjyothi! Do you remember the old times? Didn’t I save you from a snake bite on the day you had first arrived at Kanchi? Didn’t I also help you escape from prison that very night? Do you remember all that?”

As the bikshu was speaking thus, he removed the dagger fastened to his waist. Observing the bikshu remove the dagger, Paranjyothi took two steps back and unsheathed his sword. That instant Paranjyothi thought, “Ah! I’m about to lose my life! Despite exercising monumental efforts, I committed this blunder just when we were about to attain our goal.”

“What is this? Why is the treacherous Naganandi turning around? At whom is he going to wield the dagger? Ah! Wasn’t he aiming the dagger at Sivakami Devi? The sinner he was!” By God’s grace, Naganandi hesitated for a moment as he aimed the dagger. That instant, Paranjyothi used all his might to cut that arm of Naganandi that held the dagger. The bikshu’s dagger missed its mark and fell some distance away from where they stood. Naganandi too fell to the ground like a felled tree.

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