Category Archives: Chapter 2: Capital

Volume 1 Chapter 2: Capital

 

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?”

“Don’t you know? Today Sivakami’s Bharatanatya[i] arangetram[ii] was to be held at the emperor’s court. So, people were exuberant.”

“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.

 



[i] A form of classical dancing that originated in Southern India

[ii] The first professional performance of an artist

[iii] Monks wore ochre robes

[iv] Viharam – Buddhist monastery

[v] Navukarasar – Short form of Thirunavukarasar, a Saivite saint who lived during those times.

[vi] Stone platforms (Sumaithangi in Tamil) were erected at periodic intervals of major roads and highways to enable travelers to rest and keep their luggage. Sumai means load or burden, while thangi means bearer.