Category Archives: Volume 1: Paranjyothi’s Journey
Paranjyothi, a brave and rustic youth from the village of Thirusengattukudi in the Chola Kingdom, travels to Kanchi, the capital of the Pallava Kingdom, by foot to enroll himself as a student at the Saivite saint, Thirunavukkarasar’s monastery. He meets Naganandi, a bikshu, on the way. Naganandi, who saves Paranjyothi’s life by killing a cobra that was about to bite him, predicts that Paranjyothi will face difficulty that very night. Paranjyothi is not convinced. By the time the duo reach Kanchi, the fort gates are sealed. However, a security guard named Marudappan who is Naganandi’s loyalist, lets them in.
On entering the fort, Marudappan informs Naganandi that the arangetram of danseuse Sivakami, daughter of the renowned sculptor and painter Aayanar, came to an abrupt halt that evening and that he had received orders to seal the fort gates. Speculation of an impending war is rife in the city. After listening to this news Naganandi and Paranjyothi part ways. While Naganandi heads to the Royal Viharam, Paranjyothi strolls around Kanchi in search of Navukkarasar’s monastery.
Suddenly, the temple elephant runs amok and charges towards Aayanar and Sivakami, returning to their forest residence in a palanquin. The palanquin bearers set the palanquin down and flee. Paranjyothi, who fortuitously arrives there, wields his spear deftly at the elephant, which turns and starts chasing him. Aayanar and Sivakami are however rescued. Paranjyothi manages to escape the elephant, but loses the bundle he is carrying. The bundle contains amongst other things, some money and messages from his maternal uncle, a renowned physician, to Thirunavukkarasar and Aayanar, requesting them to enroll Paranjyothi as their student.
Due to the impending war, the Pallava Emperor Mahendra Varmar imposes a curfew for citizens at night. The city guards who find Paranjyothi wandering around aimlessly in the city imprison him. Naganandi Bikshu helps Paranjyothi escape from the prison, takes him through a secret route out of the Kanchi Fort and introduces him to Aayanar, who is willing to take Paranjyothi under his tutelage. When Aayanar is in the midst of a conversation with Naganandi and Pulikesi, Sivakami heads to the lotus pond near their forest house. There she meets her lover, the Crown Prince Narasimha Varmar, Mahendra Pallavar’s only son.
Meanwhile, Naganandi persuades Aayanar to send Paranjyothi to Nagarjuna Mountain to learn about the secret of the indelible paints used in the Ajantha Caves as ‘guru dakshina’ from Paranjyothi. Aayanar, who is zealous to know about the indelible paints used in the Ajantha Caves, readily agrees and secures a high breed steed and travel permit from Mahendra Pallavar for Paranjyothi. Naganandi hands over a written message to Paranjyothi to be carried.
When Paranjyothi heads to Nagarjuna Mountain carrying Naganandi’s message, he befriends the brave and mysterious warrior, Vajrabahu on the way. That night, Vajrabahu drugs Paranjyothi to sleep and replaces the message Paranjyothi is carrying with a message penned by him.
Unaware of this, Paranjyothi continues his journey and stops at the Buddhist monastery on the banks of the North Pennai River, as instructed by Naganandi. The senior bikshu of that monastery sends Paranjyothi with six horsemen who are supposedly heading to the Nagarjuna Mountain. Paranjyothi, suspecting the horsemen were heading elsewhere, tries to escape. The horsemen imprison him and lead him to the Chalukya army camp where he is produced before the Chalukya Emperor, Pulikesi.
At the Chalukya army camp Paranjyothi runs into Vajrabahu, who asks Paranjyothi to state the truth to Pulikesi. Paranjyothi is produced before Emperor Pulikesi, who reads the message Paranjyothi is carrying. Pulikesi is unable to comprehend the message and cannot understand what Paranjyothi says as he does not know Tamil. So he solicits Vajrabahu’s assistance. Vajrabahu states that the message may be for Pulikesi’s brother, Vishnuvardhanan, who is the ruler of Vengi.
The whimsical and cruel Pulikesi commands Paranjyothi be escorted by nine horsemen to Vishnuvardhanan and commands Paranjyothi to be killed if Vishuvardhanan cannot decipher the message,. Vajrabahu assures Paranjyothi that he will meet Paranjyothi on the way before he is taken to Vishnuvardhanan.
The following day Paranjyothi, accompanied by the horsemen, sets out to meet King Vishuvardhanan. They stop at an isolated hut occupied by an old man for the night. When everyone is asleep, the old man wakes up Paranjyothi and escorts him to the two horses waiting outside. Paranjyothi realizes that the old man is Vajrabahu in disguise. Vajrabahu and Paranjyothi ride away, pursued by the horsemen. In a fierce combat that follows, Vajrabahu and Paranjyothi kill all the horsemen. Vajrabahu also finds a message one of the horsemen was carrying for King Vishnuvardhanan and retains that message.
Vajrabahu then takes Paranjyothi along with him to the Pallava army camp. Paranjyothi surmises Vajrabahu is a spy to the Emperor Mahendra Varma Pallavar. As Vajrabahu and Paranjyothi travel for several days together towards the Pallava army camp, their friendship grows. During their conversation, Vajrabahu informs Paranjyothi that the whereabouts of Mahendra Pallavar who left Kanchi purportedly for the army camp, was unknown. Paranjyothi expresses his desire to join the Pallava army to Vajrabahu, who promises to assist him.
On reaching the Pallava army camp, Vajrabahu asks Paranjyothi to wait outside and says that he will secure Emperor Mahendra Varmar’s consent to allow Paranjyothi inside the camp. While Paranjyothi is waiting restlessly outside, he observes that the Pallava army is suddenly jubilant. On enquiring, he is informed that Emperor Mahendra Varmar has reached the army camp.
One spring evening two travellers were walking down the highway that traversed the banks of the Mahendra lake, towards Kancheepuram. One was a big-built six footer; a Bikshu clad in ochre robes. His body was parched and hard due to the hard penances he had performed and harsh activities he had indulged in. His face did not evoke feelings of love or devotion; instead it instilled a sense of fear. The other traveller was an eighteen year old well-built and good looking youth. As both the travellers had covered a great distance by foot, they appeared tired.
“How far is the capital?” enquired the youth. “There”, said the Bikshu. Turrets of mansions were visible amidst the thick foliage in the direction the Bikshu indicated. The young traveller watched this sight intently for some time. He then asked the Bikshu “Will it take a nazhigai to reach there?”
“It should take that much time”
“In that case, I will rest for some time and then come. Please go ahead if you are in a hurry” said the youth, keeping his bundle and staff down. He sat down facing the lake. The Bikshu sat next to him, facing the west.
In the horizon, the golden hued sun was shining brightly like Tirumal’s discus. The red rays of the evening sun had spread across the sky, giving it a red hue like bloodshed in a battlefield. Small groups of clouds that were dispersed across the sky seemed to be on fire. In the direction of the setting sun, the crystal clear waters of the Mahendra lake glittered like liquid gold.
But the northern side of the expansive lake presented a very different picture. The shadow of the small hills that stood on the banks of the lake fell on the waters, giving the water a blue-black hue. Small flocks of white cranes that stood on one foot in a meditative posture offered a stark contrast to the dark waters. Sometimes, a small flock of white cranes suddenly took to flight. Words are inadequate to describe the beauty of this sight. The flight of the white cranes against the backdrop of the blue-black waters, dark sky, and lush green hills would enthuse people. The spiritually inclined would become rapturous.
The youth, who observed this sight, muttered to himself, “It is not appropriate to call this massive water body Mahendra lake. It should be called Mahendra ocean”. The Bikshu replied as he got up “The water level in the Mahendra lake has now receded. You will be stunned when you see the lake overflowing during Aipasi and Karthigai, after the monsoons.”
“Are you leaving, Swami?” asked the youth. “Yes, Paranjyothi. You probably prefer not accompanying me” said the Bikshu as he started walking. The youth, whose name was Paranjyothi, picked up his staff and bundle and followed the Bikshu.
There was a lot of traffic on the highway. Carts were carrying travellers, paddy and hay. On the other side of the highway, paddy ready for harvest spread across the fields. Labourers were bundling harvested paddy. The fragrance of freshly harvested paddy and hay emanated from the fields.
There was a picturesque village down the road. As soon as one crossed the village, the fragrance of jasmine flowers enveloped the area. It was not just the nose but the entire body that relished the fragrance of the jasmines.
The youth let out an appreciative sigh. Vast flower gardens met his eye. Jasmine flowers adorned the bushes like stars in the sky. Fields filled with golden hued chrysanthemum flowers dotted this white landscape.
“How will all these flowers be used?” wondered the youth. “Half these flowers will be dedicated to the Gods in the temples, while the rest will adorn the women of Kanchi…Look!” said the Bikshu and suddenly stopped.
A snake slithered across the road, entered the garden and disappeared. “The fragrance of these jasmines attracts the snakes” said the Bikshu.
When the snake was out of sight, both resumed walking. Both were silent for some time. Paranjyothi then burst out laughing. “What prompted you to laugh?” enquired the Bikshu. Paranjyothi was silent for some time and then said, “Adigal, this afternoon you saved me by killing a snake. Aren’t you a Bikshu? The thought of you engaging in violence made me laugh.”
“One can even kill a calf[i] in self-defense” said the Bikshu. “But the snake was about to bite me and not you” said Paranjyothi in a mocking voice. “Shouldn’t I protect my disciple?” asked the Bikshu.
“Disciple? Who are you referring to?”
“You once saved my life. My act was out of gratitude…”
“When did I save your life?”
“Three hundred years ago…”
“In a previous birth”
“Oh! You’re a seer who is aware of the past, present and the future. Please forgive me.”
The Bikshu walked silently.
Paranjyothi enquired “Swami, can you predict the future?”
“Shall I tell you of a future occurrence?”
“Please tell me.”
“This country will face a huge war”
“Yes, a terrible war. Blood will flow in the Palar[ii].The Mahendra lake will be filled with blood.”
“Aiyya, that scares me. That’s enough.”
After some time Paranjyothi said “The affairs of the state do not concern me. If you know something about my future, please tell me.”
“Tonight you will get into trouble.”
“Shiva Shiva! Can’t you say something good?”
“By Lord Buddha’s grace, you will overcome the difficulty.”
“I am a Saivite[iii]. Will Lord Buddha bless me?”
“Lord Buddha’s kindness is boundless.”
“Who is walking towards us?” asked Paranjyothi.
In the dim twilight, a wondrous figure was approaching them.
“Isn’t it evident? A Digambar Jain[iv] monk is coming” said the Bikshu.
“Are Jain monks still here?” enquired Paranjyothi.
“Most of them have left for the Pandya kingdom. The rest are leaving.”
The Jain monk approached them. Unlike the Bikshu, he was short and squat. He was wearing just a loin cloth. In one hand he was carrying a kamandalam[v], a fan made of peacock feathers[vi] in the other and a small mat under his arm.
As he came near, the Bikshu said, “Buddham Saranam Gacchami[vii]”. The Jain monk said “Hail the feet of Lord Mahaveera”
“Sir, where are you going in this darkness?” asked the Bikshu.
“Is there any important event today?” enquired the Bikshu. “Yes, the entrance to the fort is going to be sealed”, said the Jain monk as he resumed walking.
“At one time, the Jains were very powerful in the Pallava kingdom. King Mahendra Pallava conformed with the Jains’ wishes. But now…”, the Bikshu stopped.
“What about now?”, asked Paranjyothi
“Nowadays the Saivites and Vaishnavites have a lot of clout.”
“Oh! The Jain monk was mentioning that the gates of the fort are going to be closed. What was he referring to?” Paranjyothi asked.
“Look there!” said the Bikshu.
As they turned a corner, the western side of the Kanch fort was visible. The massive gates of the Kanchi Fort were sealed.
There was a large moat adjoining the walls of the fort. It was about hundred feet wide and quite deep. The water in the moat was blue green.
The highway down which our travelers came forked into two near the moat. One branch of the highway turned right and the other ran adjacent to the moat. Travelers and carts which came down the highway turned either left or right and continued their journey. There was a narrow wooden bridge across the moat that led to the gates of the fort. The Bikshu gestured Paranjyothi to follow and walked across the bridge. Paranjyothi followed him.
“Why is the bridge so narrow? How will vehicles enter the fort?” asked Paranjyothi. “They cannot enter through this gate. The bridges leading to the northern and eastern gates are wide. Even elephants can walk across those bridges” said the Bikshu. They crossed the bridge and reached the entrance of the fort. A gong was suspended there, along with a stick beside it. The Bikshu hit the gong with the stick.
A man looked out from the higher storey of the fort and asked, “Who’s that?” As it was dark, one could not recognize his face. “It’s me, Marudappa”, said the Bikshu. “Is it you, Adigal! I will come right away” said the man and disappeared.
Some time later, the sound of the bolts of the fort gates being opened was heard. The gates opened wide enough to let one person inside. The Bikshu entered the fort and then pulled Paranjyothi inside. The gates were then shut.
Paranjyothi looked towards the city, as soon as he entered. The city was illuminated by bright lamps. The din of thousands of people talking was heard. As Paranjyothi had never seen a big city until now, he was astounded.
The Bikshu asked the guard who opened the gates, “Marudappa, why does the city seem subdued? Why were the gates of the fort shut so early? Is there any news?”
“I do not know the exact reason. The city was quite festive since this morning…” As Marudappan was talking, the Bikshu intercepted asking, “Why?”
“Which Sivakami are you referring to?” asked the Bikshu.
“Aayanar’s daughter, Sivakami”
Paranjyothi, who was not attentive thus far asked, “Who? Aayanar, the sculptor?”
“Yes”, responded the guard, looking at Paranjyothi intently. “Adigal, who is this boy?” he asked the Bikshu
“He is my disciple, you tell me further”
“As the arangetram was underway, emissaries came with some important information. The Chakravarthy left the court immediately. He did not return. The Kumara Chakravarthy and ministers also left. The arangetram abruptly ended. I received orders to seal the fort gates at sunset. What do you think it is, aiyya? Will there be a war soon? But who on earth is strong enough to wage a war against the Chakravarthy of Kanchi?” said Marudappan.
“Don’t say that, Marudappa. One never knows what the future holds, even for emperors. But why do we need to discuss these things. How is your son?” asked the Bikshu
“He is fine by your grace, Swami”, said Marudappan
Marudappan’s son was once bitten by a snake. Chances of his survival were slim. The Bikshu had saved him by administering medicines. This was the reason for Maruddapan’s gratitude and devotion to the Bikshu.
“It is not because of me, Marudappa. It is by Lord Buddha’s grace, goodbye” said the Bikshu and proceeded. Paranjyothi accompanied him.
“Adigal, how did he let you enter, despite orders to seal the fort gates?” Paranjyothi asked.
“It is due to the ochre robes[iii] I’m wearing” said the Bikshu
“I never knew that Bikshus were honoured in the Pallava kingdom. But why do the Jains…?”
“Jains interfered with the affairs of the state. We do not get involved in politics. In fact, we do not even meet people from the ruling dynasty. Anyway, what is your intention? Do you want to come with me to the viharam[iv]?”
“No Swami. I am headed to Naukkarasar’s[v] monastery. My mother insisted that I stay nowhere but there.”
“In that case, we have to part ways here.”
“Swami, do you know where Navukkarasar’s monastery is? How do I go there?” Paranjyothi asked.
“It is close to the Ekambareshwar temple. Look at the temple tower there!”
Paranjyothi observed. Several temple towers dotted the landscape of this large city. During the time of this story, almost one thousand three hundred and twenty years ago, towers of temples in Tamil Nadu were not as high as they are now. Towers were constructed above the temple’s sanctum sanctorum. Moreover, temple towers, turrets of Jain schools and palace roofs were all similar.
“There are towers everyone. Which one are you referring to?” asked Paranjyothi
“It is difficult to point out from here. You go down this street and then enquire. Navukkarasar’s monastery is close to the temple’s sanctum. Careful, my boy. These are dangerous times” so saying, the Bikshu went down another road.
The young traveler walked in the direction shown by the Bikshu. In those times, Kanchi was amongst the most prominent cities in Southern India. Every street in this city was wide enough for chariots to pass. Houses were large. Stone pillars were erected across the city. Large earthen lamps placed on these pillars were burning brightly. The market place was filled with produce from Kashi to Kanyakumari. Shops selling fruits, flowers, confectionery, grains and precious gems were located in the market place.
Paranjyothi was filled with boundless amazement as he walked down these streets. He heard people discussing the abrupt end to Sivakami’s arangetram and the fort being sealed. Periodically, he asked people passing him, “Where is the Ekambareshwarar temple?” They directed him. He took time to reach the temple. As Paranjyothi was immersed in the novel sights and sounds of the city, he was not in a hurry to reach the temple.
As he was strolling down the streets, he suddenly heard a lot of noise and commotion. People frantically dispersed in all directions. “The temple elephant is running amok. Flee! Flee!” they warned. The sounds of children crying, women screaming, doors of houses being hurriedly shut, cows mowing and carts hurriedly moving caused indescribable confusion.
Paranjyothi was stunned for a moment. He was unable to decide whether he should also flee and in which direction he should run. He was observing the incidents that unfolded before him. Ahead of him, there was a palanquin. A stunningly beautiful young woman and an old man who seemed to be her father were seated in the palanquin. The palanquin bearers, hearing the commotion behind them, had kept the palanquin on the road and fled. At the same time, he could hear the mad elephant run towards him at a speed that caused the ground to vibrate.
Paranjyothi, who observed all this, stood indecisively for a moment. The next moment, he resolutely and quickly opened the bundle he was carrying. He took the tip of a spear kept inside the bundle and attached it to the staff he was carrying. By the time he held the spear in his right hand, the elephant had come close to him.
Paranjyothi hurled the spear at the elephant with all his might. The spear hit the elephant’s left eye. The spear had pierced the elephant’s thick hide and had entered its body. The elephant let out a terrible roar, removed the spear with its trunk and stamped it under its foot. Then it turned towards the youth who had flung the spear.
Paranjyothi knew the consequences of hitting a mad elephant with a spear. So, he began running quickly in the direction opposite to where the palanquin was. By the time the elephant moved its gigantic body around, he had covered a long distance. As he was running, he turned around and looked. The elephant was chasing him. Immediately, he ran down a by lane without looking back. He again reached a wide road. He saw five to six elephants manned by mahouts hastening the spot. Paranjyothi stood at the corner of the street. He guessed that these elephants were being sent to tame the mad elephant and commenced walking slowly.
Paranjyothi became conscious of his body only then. His heart was beating rapidly. His body was drenched in sweat. As Paranjyothi had walked the whole day, he was already tired. As he had run fast, he was even more tired. His feet slackened. His body shivered due to the recent excitement. He felt he would be unable to walk further if he did not sit down and relax for some time. He sat on a stone platform[vi] erected on the road side.
The full moon was glowing brightly in the sky. The gentle breeze that was blowing helped Paranjyothi relax. As he recovered from fatigue, he started thinking, “What was the purpose of my visit? Why did I get involved in this adventure? What motivated me to hurl the spear at the mad elephant? Had the elephant caught me, what would have been the consequences? I would have never again seen my mother, who loves me more dearly than her own life.”
Paranjyothi recollected the faces of the young woman and old man seated in the palanquin. He resolved that he had hurled the spear at the mad elephant to protect them. Who could they have been? Was she Sivakami, whose arangetram people said had ended midway? Was the elderly gentleman, Aayanar?”
Paranjyothi. thinking thus, lay down on the stone platform. His eyelids closed involuntarily. Nitra Devi embraced him gently in her soft arms.