Category Archives: Volume 3: The Bikshu’s Love
Despite the long siege, the Chalukyas are unable to make headway. Lack of food makes them seek the help of Jayanta Varma Pandian. In return, Pulikesi offers him the region south of Kanchi, on their victory against the Pallavas.
A contingent of Chalukya soldiers from Kanchi, along with the envoy from Vishnuvardhanan and Gundodharan, whom they have imprisoned, reach Pulikesi’s camp. The message from Vishnuvardhanan angers Pulikesi as it is about Harshavardhanar’s plan to invade the Chalukya Kingdom. After talking to the envoy, Pulikesi interrogates Gundodharan, who convinces Pulikesi that he is Naganandi’s messenger. Naganandi’s so called message emphasizes the untrustworthiness of the Pandian, the ambition of Ganga Nadu King to replace Pulikesi with Vishnuvardhanan, the rumour of Harshavardhanar’s invasion plans and Mahendra Varmar’s secret message to Harshavardhanar. In addition Naganandi advises Pulikesi to protect the sculptures at Mamallapuram and the sculptors of Pallava Nadu to avoid the wrath of Harshavardhanar, who is an art lover.
Gundodharan’s revelation about Mahendra Pallavar’s plan to consign the bikshus to stakes, acts as the last straw and Pulikesi decides to call for a truce and also expresses his desire to visit Kanchi.
Much against Mamallar’s wishes Mahendrar concedes to Pulikesi’s request and sends Mamallar southwards with an army to the banks of Kollidam River to punish Jayanta Varma Pandian. Pulikesi, as state guest gets a chance to watch Sivakami’s soul stirring dance. In an unguarded moment , Mahendrar reveals all the ruses he has employed to stall the Chalukya invasion. He also criticises Pulikesi’s indifferent attitude towards arts. Meanwhile Sivakami misunderstands Mahendrar’s motives and leaves Kanchi with her father through a secret tunnel, helped by Kamali.
An enraged Pulikesi decides to resume his attack which results in the burning of many villages in Pallava Nadu and amputation of the sculptors. Sivakami is taken as prisoner to Vatapi. Aayanar is saved from amputation by Naganandi but ends up with a fractured leg. He returns to his forest residence.
Two battles are subsequently fought between the Pallavas and the Chalukyas. Mamallar and Paranjyothi, after defeating and chasing away Jayanta Varma Pandian, rush back to Kanchi. They defeat and push back the Chalukyas. But Mahendra Pallavar is injured in one of the battles and is in a precarious condition.
Naganandi goes to Vengi to stabilize the situation as per Pulikesi’s request, but not without ensuring Sivakami’s safety. Though safe, Sivakami has to face humiliation and ill treatment in the hands of Pulikesi. The self-respecting Sivakami takes an ominous oath of leaving Vatapi only after seeing the city being destroyed.
When Mahendra Pallavar partially recovers, he comes to know that the Chalukyas have abducted Sivakami. Mahendra Pallavar commands Mamallar, Paranjyothi, Gundodharan, Shatrugnan, Kannabiran and Ashwabalar to head to Vatapi and bring back Sivakami surreptitiously. In a meeting marred by misunderstanding, Mamallar pleads with Sivakami to return to Kanchi with him. Citing her vow as the reason, Sivakami refuses to accompany Mamallar. Meanwhile, Paranjyothi informs Mamallar that Naganandi is swiftly walking towards Sivakami’s house. Accusing Sivakami of attempting to get them trapped in the hands of the Chalukyas, Mamallar leaves in a huff along with the others.
When Mamallar returns to Kanchi, he finds Mahendra Pallavar on his deathbed. Mahendra Pallavar, despite his precarious condition, secures the Ministers’ Council approval for the Pallava army to invade Vatapi. He then coerces Mamallar and secures his consent to perform an act that Mamallar will not have agreed to under normal circumstances.
That no moon night, Sivakami was sitting all by herself in her palace. As her lady-in-waiting had mentioned that her mother was unwell, Sivakami used it as a pretext to send her away. A lantern was Sivakami’s sole companion. Several thoughts rose in her mind. Every time she thought of Mamallar’s impending visit, her heart rose to her mouth. On one hand, she felt anger and pride. On the other hand, sorrow and eagerness overcame her.
She often felt that her love for Mamallar was the root cause for all her sorrow. Had she fallen in love with a sculptor’s son and had married him as was appropriate for her social stature, would she have faced this ignominy? Why did Mamallar have to captivate her, who was residing in a secluded house in the midst of a forest? Having acted in this manner, why did he have to leave her behind at Mandapapattu and go away? It was her love for Mamallar that impelled her to visit Kanchi! Again it was her love that instigated her to leave the fort through the secret tunnel! Ah! He was the reason behind all her sorrow! Though her anger towards Mamallar was fuelled by such thoughts, her anticipation of his arrival intensified as time passed.
That night, when Sivakami was immersed in deep thought, she was stunned by the sudden appearance of two bearded men and she sat up. However, the faces of the two men did not instill fear. They appeared familiar. She asked them confidently, “Who are you? Why have you come here in the middle of the night?” As soon as Mamallar asked, “Sivakami! Don’t you recognize me?” a surprised smile broke out on her face.
The smile that appeared on Sivakami’s face after a long time enhanced her beauty. But the smile on Sivakami’s face did not make Mamallar happy. The thought that Sivakami was happy at Vatapi caused Mamallar to frown. Sivakami stood up asking in an emotion-choked voice, “Prabhu! Is that you?” “When you’re leading a luxurious life at the Vatapi Emperor’s palace, how is it possible to remember old friends?” asked Mamallar in a harsh tone. Hearing those cruel words, Sivakami stood immobilized out of shock. She wondered if the person standing in her presence was truly Mamallar or a masquerader.
When both of them stood staring at each other, Commander Paranjyothi realized that it was inappropriate for him to be there. Immediately, he whispered into Mamallar’s ear, “Prabhu! Please do not delay! We do not have much time” and walked to the entrance of the palace. After Paranjyothi had disappeared out of sight, Mamallar asked, “Oh! It seems that you’re unable to recollect who we are. That’s alright. Do you at least remember your father Aayanar, Sivakami?”
Sivakami’s eyebrows knotted, anger caused her eyes to redden and widen; her lips twitched. She suppressed her anger with great effort and asked, “Illavarasey[i]! How is my father? Where is he?” “Yes; Aayanar is fine. He is as well as a man who has fractured his foot and has lost is only daughter can be. He keeps asking, ‘Where is Sivakami? Where is my dear daughter?’ Sivakami, come. Let’s leave!”
Tears filled Sivakami’s eyes; yet she made no effort to leave with Mamallar. “Sivakami! Why are you standing still? If you wish to see your father alive, leave immediately!” said Mamallar. Sivakami continued to stand motionless. “What is this, Sivakami? Don’t you wish to return to Kanchi? Ah! What I had suspected is true!” said Mamallar accusingly.
Sivakami broke her silence and asked, “Prabhu! What did you suspect?” “Why talk about it now? I will tell you later.” “What was your suspicion, Prabhu!” “Do I have to tell you now?” “You certainly have to tell me.” “I suspected that after having lived lavishly at the Vatapi Emperor’s palace, you will be reluctant to return with me.” Hearing this, Sivakami laughed! Sivakami’s laughter in the middle of the night sounded unpleasant to Mamallar’s ears. When Sivakami ceased laughing, she said in a firm tone, “Yes, Pallava Kumara! What you suspected is true. I am unwilling to leave this opulent palace. I am also unwilling to leave Vatapi; you may leave!”
Hearing this, sparks of anger darted from Mamallar’s eyes. He exclaimed, “What the elders had said is true!” “What did the elders say?” “They said that women are fickle!” “Haven’t you now realized the truth in that statement? You may leave, Prabhu!” Mamallar muttered to himself, “Ah! I traveled a hundred kadu in search of you. Who can be smarter than me?” He then said, “Sivakami; you don’t have to come for my sake. Come for your father’s sake! Come for your friend, Kamali’s sake! I promised them that I will bring you back!”
“I too have undertaken an oath, Prabhu!” “What oath have you undertaken?” “Why should I tell you?” “Tell me, Sivakami! Tell me quickly!” “You will not believe me even if I were to tell you. After all it’s a helpless maiden’s oath?” “That’s alright, tell me. We’re getting delayed!” “I have undertaken to leave Vatapi only when the city is set on fire, the houses are reduced to ashes, rivers of blood flow down the streets and the street junctions are transformed into graveyards!” “This is a monstrous oath! Why did you undertake such an oath, Sivakami?”
“Prabhu! Had you seen the horrific sights I saw en route to Vatapi, you will not ask this question. Had you witnessed the imprisoned men and women of Tamil Nadu being whipped at the street junctions and the Kalarani[ii] of Pallava Nadu dancing in their presence, you would not have asked why I took this oath.” “Sivakami, though I did not witness these sights, I’m aware of all what transpired. Notwithstanding this, why did you undertake such a ghastly oath?”
“Prabhu! Several years and eons ago, a prince claimed to be in love with me. He promised to make me his consort when he ascended the throne. He swore by the spear and told me that he would never ever forget me. At the banks of the lotus pond drenched in the full-moon light, he promised me that I would be his wife in this birth and in all subsequent births. I believed that he was a true warrior and that he would uphold his word. It was this belief that drove me to make this oath!” said Sivakami majestically and looked up to Mamallar. That sharp glance pierced Mamallar’s heart like a spear and disturbed him.
When Shatrugnan uttered the name Naganandi, those present were taken aback. Mamallar looked at Gundodharan as he exclaimed, “Ah! The bikshu? In that case, what Gundodharan said was not true!” “No, Prabhu! Gundodharan had stated the truth. The bikshu did visit Vengi enroute to Vatapi. Unfortunately he returned to Vatapi yesterday. It is now ten times more difficult to achieve our task on account of his arrival. If only we had come two days ago?…” said Shatrugnan.
“Did the bikshu return just yesterday? How did you come to know, Shatrugna!” enquired Commander Paranjyothi. “The entire city is talking about this, Commander! I gathered this from the people’s conversation. Wasn’t Pulikesi’s brother, Vishnuvardhanan, crowned as the King of Vengi last year? He probably ascended the throne at an inauspicious time; he died a few days ago. It seems Naganandi returned yesterday escorting Vishnuvardhanan’s wife and six month old infant son” said Shatrugnan. “The Pallavendrar’s prediction of the imminent destruction of the Chalukya Kingdom was not inaccurate. How did Vishnuvardhanan die?” asked Paranjyothi.
“Vishnuvardhanan was unable to complete annihilate the Vengi army. As advised by our Chakravarthy, the Vengi forces had retreated and hidden themselves in the forests on the banks of the Krishna and Godavari rivers. After Vishnuvardhanan was coronated, revolts broke out across the country. The soldiers in hiding used to unexpectedly attack. Vishnuvardhanan set forth proclaiming that he himself will quell the revolts. He was grievously injured in combat. The country revolted even more. Naganandi reached Vengi in this situation. He escorted Vishnuvardhanan’s wife and son to Vatapi. Prabhu, aren’t you aware that Vishnuvardhanan’s wife is Durvineethan’s daughter?” “Why do we have to worry about that, Shatrugna? You’re relating gossip instead of talking about the task in hand. Tell us what happened next!” said Mamallar.
“Sivakami Ammai, who was shocked seeing Naganandi Bikshu, soon regained composure and sat in the palanquin. I followed the palanquin for some distance. The palanquin came to a halt at the entrance of a beautiful palace located in a quiet street. Sivakami Ammai got down from the palanquin and entered that palace. I stood at the street corner thinking what to do next. Then I walked to the entrance of the palace. Two sentries were posted outside the palace. I asked them, “Does the danseuse from Kanchi reside here?” They responded, “Yes! Why are you asking?” I said, “I’m a bangle seller. I have brought beautiful bangles. I want to show it to Ammai”. They said, “No one is permitted to enter this house at night; you come tomorrow morning!” I gossiped with them for some time and gathered a lot of information. I gathered that Sivakami Ammai along with a lady in waiting and a cook resided in that house and that no one visited that house. Emperor Pulikesi had visited the palace just once and had asked Ammai to perform at the Royal Court. As Ammai had refused to do so, he punished her by forcing her to dance at the street junction daily. Hearing this, even I was furious. I left that place secretly cursing that cruel demon. When I reached the street corner, I observed a retinue of guards holding torches accompanying a palanquin. I hid behind the pillar of a house and observed who was coming. As I had expected, Naganandi Bikshu was seated in the palanquin…”
Hearing this, Mamallar gritted his teeth. Commander Paranjyothi interjected saying, “Shatrugna! Why are you unnecessarily lengthening your narrative? Did you meet Ammai and speak to her? Is there any news? Tell us about that!” Mamallar shot a slightly annoyed glance at Paranjyothi and asked, “Shatrugna! Don’t omit anything. Where did Naganandi go? To Sivakami’s house?” “Yes, Prabhu! He entered Ammai’s palace. He was there for a nazhigai and then left. I strolled around that street then. Once I approached one of the sentries and asked him if there was a rest house or market close by. It was then I observed Sivakami Ammai talking to the bikshu angrily. I was able to hear what she said so angrily. It gave me immense satisfaction…”
“Everyone here shares your sentiment!” said Gundodharan. “I slept peacefully in the night at a rest house in that street. Soon after dawn today I visited Ammai’s residence. Sivakami Ammai was shell-shocked seeing me. She sent the lady in waiting inside the palace on an errand and asked, “Shatrugna! What is this? Didn’t you go to Kanchi? Did you follow me here?” I said, “No, ammani! I went to Kanchi and related your message to Mamallar. He has come; so has the commander!”
Hearing this, Ammai became excited and restless. She asked, “Where has the army camped?” I informed her that the army had not marched to Vatapi, that the commander and Kannabiran had come along with Mamallar and that they were now at the foothills outside the fort. I told her that all of us would visit her tomorrow night which was a no moon night. I also told her that she should send away her lady in waiting on an errand and be prepared to come with us!” Saying this, Shatrugnan concluded his narrative. Mamallar asked, “Shatrugna! What did Sivakami say? Is there any news?” “There’s no news, Prabhu! Ammai did not speak much. She said that she would be waiting for us tomorrow night and gave me leave!” Hearing this, Mamallar was immersed in deep thought.
There stood a hill two kadu to the east of Vatapi. Dense forests surrounded the hill. Two adjacent caves were carved out of one of the hill slopes. The process of carving out the two caves was incomplete. Either the Buddhists or the Samanars must have started carving out the caves. Then for some reason, they must have stopped carving out the caves mid-way. A tiny stream was trickling out of one of the caves. The stream took a meandering path downhill spraying water along its course and finally disappeared amongst the verdant trees. But certain objects that lay scattered amongst the rocks by the stream and under the tress marred the scenic beauty of the place and instilled disgust. They were the symbols of the kabalikas – human skulls and cattle horns. The blood stains on some rocks indicated that those rocks were used as sacrificial altars recently.
The greenery in the region assumed a green-gold hue in the yellow evening sun. At this time four people were seated on a rock that lay a short distance away from the caves. As they had traveled a long distance, they appeared tired. Their clothes were soiled, their locks were matted. They sported beards. Wrinkles, which were uncharacteristic for their age, were seen on their faces; the hollows of their eyes appeared deeper. Nevertheless, there was an unusual glint in their eyes; unprecedented courage and the determination to achieve what they set out to do shone on their faces.
One man stood atop the hill and was surveying the surrounding area. Those who were seated on the rock below often looked up to him. Suddenly the man who stood atop the hill enthusiastically exclaimed, “There!” The voice was that of our old friend, Gundodharan. Hearing him, the four men seated on the rock below smiled. They eagerly looked in the direction he had indicated. One man was making his way down the dense forest. He was the chief of the Pallava Nadu espionage force, Shatrugnan. Unlike the others, Shatrugnan was clean shaven. It was evident that he was returning from the city.
The five men surrounded Shatrugnan, who came with a cloth bag slung on to his shoulders. They asked him, “Shatrugna! Tell us quickly if your visit was a success or failure!” Shatrugnan said, “It was a success!” as he removed the bag from his shoulder. Fruits spilled out of the bag and rolled down. The manner in which everyone hurried to pick up the fruits indicated how hungry they were. But there was one person whose attention was focused on what Shatrugnan had to say rather than on the fruits. It is unnecessary to mention that it was Mamallar. “Shatrugna! You said that your visit was a success. What do you mean by that? Did you see Sivakami?” Shatrugnan said, “Yes Prabhu. I saw her!” and lapsed into silence again. “Why are you standing silently? Where did you see her? How is she?” asked Mamallar. “Prabhu! I saw Sivakami Ammai. Everyone sit down; I will explain where and how I saw her!” said Shatrugnan.
Immediately everyone sat down; Shatrugnan started talking: “Yesterday evening I entered Vatapi disguised as a bangle seller. There was no difficulty in entering the city through the fort gates. People enter and leave the city freely. They would tighten the security of the fort only if they were anticipating an enemy to attack; wouldn’t they? When the brave Vatapi forces have conducted successful military campaigns in all four directions…” At that point, Commander Paranjyothi interrupted saying, “What are you blabbering about, Shatrugna? What is this nonsense about successful military campaigns? Weren’t the Vatapi forces defeated in their invasion of South India? It is also obvious that the Vatapi forces that invaded Vengi are also in danger. Then how can you call the campaigns of the Vatapi army successful?”
Shatrugnan humbly said, “Commander! It isn’t me who is saying that the Vatapi army emerged victorious in all its military campaigns. I saw a tall jayasthambam erected at the street junction in the centre of the city. I read what was inscribed on the jayasthambam in Prakrit. I will try to recite to the best of my ability what was inscribed on that pillar. “Maha Rajadhiraja[ii] Rajamarthanda[iii] Ranathunga Sura[iv] Chaluka Kulathilaka[v] Sapta Loka Devendra[vi] Pulikesi Chakravarthy invaded South India and defeated Mahendra Pallavan on the banks of the North Pennai River. Mahendra Pallavan fled from the battlefield and hid inside the Kanchi Fort. Emperor Pulikesi continued his victorious campaign further south and crossed the Kaveri River by forming an elephant bridge. The Chera, Chola, Kalapalla and Pandya kings were waiting to seek refuge with the Emperor, who placed his lotus feet on their heads and blessed them. He returned to intensify his attack on the Kanchi Fort. Mahendra Pallavan surrendered and beseeched the Emperor to spare him. The Emperor acquiesced to Mahendra Pallavan’s request, enjoyed his hospitality and accepted the tribute paid by him. After successfully completing his military campaign in the South, the Emperor returned to Vatapi heralded by trumpets and conches that proclaimed his victory on this Monday of the Shalivahana[vii] era. May this jayasthambam proclaiming the successful military campaign and the Chalukya Dynasty flourish as long as this world exists!”
Those who listened to Shatrugnan exclaimed, “What perfidy! How arrogant! We ought not to rest till we raze that jayasthambam to the ground!” When they paused, Shatrugnan spoke further: “Prabhu! When I read the inscription on the jayasthambam, I forgot myself. I even raised a foot to kick the pillar. Fortunately, by God’s grace, I remembered the purpose of our visit to Vatapi. I managed by pretending to have lost my balance and falling down. People were swarming the streets. Had someone observed me, the consequences would have been disastrous!”
“Shatrugna! I am glad you remember the purpose of our visit to Vatapi. But you have not mentioned anything about that yet!” said Mamallar angrily. “Prabhu! Please forgive me. I walked ahead of the jayasthambam which is an excellent testimony to the ability of the Chalukyas to lie. As I walked, I observed the excessive wealth of Vatapi and its citizens’ ostentatious lifestyle. I was wondering how to trace and whom to enquire about Sivakami Ammai in this vast city that spanned at least a kadu from east to west and from south to north. I fortuitously saw her at the street junction…” Several voices exclaimed in unison, “What? At the street junction?”
“Yes; I saw her at the street junction. You will be shocked when you come to know what Ammai was doing there. I too was taken aback when I saw her; I was also distressed. But when I enquired and understood the reason, I felt incredibly proud. Prabhu! Sivakami Ammai is a testimony of the greatness of the women of Tamizhagam. Despite living desolately like an orphan a hundred kadu away at the enemy fort, Ammai has demonstrated the merciful nature of the women of Tamizhagam…” “Shatrugna! Why are you beating around the bush? What was Sivakami doing when you saw her?” asked Mamallar in a harsh tone. “Prabhu, I will tell you. Sivakami Ammai was dancing at theVatapi street junction…” “Aha!”, “What’s this?” “Shame! Shame!” “Is this what you described as the greatness of the women of Tamizhagam, Shatrugna!” exclaimed those present.
“Pardon me; please patiently listen to what I have to say. I too felt very ashamed when I saw Sivakami Ammai dance amidst a big crowd. I felt enraged. My ears were unable to tolerate the crass words uttered by the Vatapi citizens who had assembled there. I was so angry that I wanted to run to Ammai and tell her, ‘Stop this ignominy!’ Fortunately, my glance fell on the people who were standing being Ammai. Aha! How will I say this? Several men and women from Tamizhagam were chained together and made to stand there. They were guarded by demons holding whips. I stood frozen with shock on seeing this sight. When I recovered from the shock, I overhead what those in the crowd were saying, enquired around without arousing suspicion and understood the reason underlying this shocking incident…”
Shatrugnan then related the circumstances that led to Sivakami Ammai dancing at the street junction as he understood it. Mamallar and the others felt goose bumps when they came to know that Sivakami was dancing to prevent the men and women of Tamizhagam from being whipped. They eagerly listened to what happened further, “I stood mesmerized watching Sivakami Ammai dance like a cobra enthralled by mellifluous music. Ammai paused to regain her breath after dancing and then turned around. As soon as she turned around, indescribable shock was evident in her eyes for a few moments. I looked in the direction she was looking. Do you know who was standing there?” “Who? Who?” “Was it Pulikesi?” asked those present. “No, it was our friend Naganandi!” said Shatrugnan.
Sivakami, who was sitting till then, immediately stood up. Her lips twitched; her eyebrows were raised. Darts of anger that flew from her eyes assailed the bikshu. Sivakami angrily attacked the bikshu asking, “Fake bikshu! Why are you apologizing to me? What harm did you cause me?” The bikshu was stunned. Thinking that he had uttered something wrong, he stammered as he spoke, “Yes Sivakami! I have caused you great harm. I need to explain everything in detail. This is not something that can be clarified in one or two words. Please sit down and heed me patiently!”
“Aiyya! Before you explain everything in detail, please provide me with one detail. Who are you? Are you a monk who belongs to the order of the embodiment of kindness, Gautama Buddha, and who has renounced all worldly pleasures? Or are you the Chalukya Emperor who has donned ochre robes with treacherous intentions? Are you a mendicant who is genuinely passionate about sculptures, painting and Bharata Natyam? Or like Ravana have you assumed the disguise of a sanyasi to molest a humble sculptor’s daughter? Who are you? Are you Naganandi or Pulikesi?” When Sivakami paused after questioning in this manner, the ensuing silence was akin to the quiet after a prolonged bout of lightning and thunder.
Despite Sivakami’s enraged outburst, there was no change in Naganandi’s facial expression. He replied with surprising composure, “Amma Sivakami! Your suspicions are not baseless. But I am a genuine bikshu who has renounced all worldly pleasures. Your talent in dancing captivated my heart. I am not the barbaric Pulikesi who made you dance in the presence of prisoners at the street junction. Unfortunately I was born as his brother due to the sins I committed in my previous birth. Twenty five years ago I donned my brother, Pulikesi’s robes and pretended to be him to rescue him from murderers. Now, after twenty five years I assumed his disguise to fulfill your wishes. Yes, Sivakami. You had pleaded with me in the middle of the forest outside the Kanchi Fort to save your father. To fulfill your wish, I cast away the robes of a monk and assumed the disguise of an Emperor…”
A disconcerted Sivakami ran to the bikshu. She genuflected, brought her palms together and shrieked, “Swami! Please forgive the angry words uttered by this helpless girl. Did you save my father? Is he alive? Where is he? How is he?” “Amma! I saved your father’s life. I fulfilled my promise to you. If you sit down and listen patiently, I will relate all what had happened,” said the bikshu.
Sivakami sat down. The bikshu narrated how he had disguised himself as Pulikesi and had prevented the Chalukya soldiers from amputating Aayanar’s limbs, how Aayanar had fallen down from the mountain, had fractured his foot and had lost his consciousness, how he had transported an unconscious Aayanar to his forest residence and had taken leave of Aayanar after he had regained consciousness. Listening to this, Sivakami felt deeply indebted to the bikshu. She regretted having suspected him. She told the bikshu with tear filled eyes, “Swami! I am deeply indebted to you for having saved my dear father from torturous punishment and for having saved his life. Despite this why did you apologize to me when you came here? It is me who ought to apologize for having unfairly suspected you! I thought that the Chalukya Emperor and you were the same person and doubted you unnecessarily. I was angry thinking that it was you who had made me dance at the street junction after bringing me to Vatapi. Swami! Please forgive me!” When Sivakami uttered these words, copious tears filled her eyes.
“Sivakami! There is no necessity for me to forgive you. In truth, it is you who have to forgive me. I have betrayed you. I am the reason behind your being imprisoned all by yourself in this far off country! Please forgive me!” When the bikshu spoke in this manner in an emotion choked voice, Sivakami wiped away her tears and looked at Naganandi with amazement.
“Yes, Sivakami! I’m stating the truth. I am the reason behind the Vatapi army invading Kanchi. Initially, my brother, Pulikesi, had no such intention. The Vatapi army was supposed to march towards Vengi. It was I who asked Pulikesi to divide the army into two and lead one part of the army to Kanchi. It was I who wrote to Pulikesi stating that it would suffice if my brother Vishnuvardhanan led the second part of the army to Vengi…Do you know what is the disastrous consequence? Vishnunardhanan’s wife is now a widow. I carefully escorted her and her infant son to Vatapi only today. ..” “Swami! Were you away from this city all these days?” asked Sivakami. “I was not here, Sivakami! Had I been here, would I have allowed your divine dancing to become a laughing stock? The barbaric Pulikesi who is devoid of any artistic sensibility has acted in this manner! Had I known that he would behave in this manner, I would not have handed you over to him at the banks of the North Pennai River…”
When the bikshu mentioned about the banks of the North Pennai River, Sivakami recollected the image that had appeared in her dream when she was there. “When did you leave me on the banks of the North Pennai River? How is that possible? Didn’t I meet you near Kanchi and seek a boon from you?” she asked. “I continued my disguise as Pulikesi even after rescuing your father, Sivakami! I waged war with Mahendra Pallavan disguised as Pulikesi. I defeated him at Manimangalam and pursued you. You met me on the banks of Ponmugaliaaru and beseeched me to free the imprisoned women of Pallava Nadu. I agreed to do so if you would whole-heartedly come to Vatapi; you consented. Then I ought to have freed you and united you with your father. I did not do so. I deceived you and brought you to Vatapi!…But I never ever imagined that the savage Pulikesi would humiliate you in this manner. Do you understand why I apologized to you, Sivakami?” said the bikshu.
“I do, Swami! I now understand several issues which confused me before. But I still cannot understand one thing. Why did you act in this manner? Why did you behave so treacherously, why did you bring this helpless girl here? Of what use is this poor girl to you, who have renounced this world?…How do you stand to gain by separating me from my helpless father who has fractured his foot? What did you seek to achieve by imprisoning me and bringing me here?…”
“Sivakami! I will tell you, listen! The brave Vatapi army which invaded Kanchi, as advised by me, is now reduced to half. Vishnuvardhanan, who conquered Vengi and crowned himself King last year, died before he could consolidate that victory. You were the reason behind all these disasters! I did all this keeping you in mind. I will tell you why, listen!”
With this introduction, Naganandi started relating his story. He told her about his childhood spent in the Ajantha caves. He spoke about the painting of the Bharatanatyam dancer on the wall of the Ajantha caves and his fantasies. He also recounted in an emotional tone how he had travelled across South India to understand the environment there and how he was stunned watching the painting at the Ajantha cave coming to life and dancing at Aayanar’s residence.
“Sivakami! Since that day, I became a new person. All the castles I had built in the air regarding the Chalukya Empire attaining supremacy lay shattered. My aspiration to bring this wide-spread Bharata Kandam under the control of a Buddha Sangam which I would ultimately head also vanished. I decided that kingdoms and sangams were no longer important to me and that I would spend the rest of my life watching you dance. Since then I was fixated on bringing you to Vatapi. To achieve this, I engaged in deceitful activities and employed several ruses…”
When the bikshu spoke in this manner, the dual emotions of pride and compassion that Sivakami simultaneously felt came to the fore. She arrogantly thought, “Aha! Two large kingdoms waged a war on account of this humble sculptor’s daughter!” Then the compassionate thought, “Aiyo! All the atrocities I witnessed on the way from Kanchi to Vatapi were on account of me” also occurred. “Sivakami! Your artistry mesmerized me so much that I caused a war to break out. I put in monumental efforts to save you from that coward, Mamallan. But all that has come to naught. The barbarian Pulikesi has treated you and your art in a demeaning manner by making you dance at the street junction. Sivakami! Forgive me. I will make good the insults you have faced and the sorrow you must have experienced. I will make arrangements to send you to your father’s house. I have argued with the Emperor and have secured his consent for this.”
Shouldn’t Sivakami have danced with joy on hearing these words? Either due to fate or on account of a woman’s peculiar perspective, Sivakami was not happy. She was silent and was immersed in thought. “Sivakami! Why are you silent? Tell me when you want to leave! I will arrange for a palanquin and adequate security to take you back. I will arrange for ladies in waiting to serve you and soldiers to safeguard you during your return journey. They will escort you up to Ponmugaliaaru and return…” Sivakami, who was calmly sitting and listening to the bikshu till then, suddenly stood up like one possessed and uttered the following horrific words.
“Adigal! Listen to me. Do you know when I will leave Vatapi? One day the brave Mamallar, whom you maligned as a coward, will invade this city. He will decimate the Chalukya forces like a lion attacking a skulk of foxes. He will despatch the sinner Pulikesi, who made me dance at the street junction, to Yama Loka. Rivers of blood will flow down the streets in which the imprisoned men and women of Tamizhagam were taken in procession. The corpses of the Vatapi citizens will lie desolately at the street junctions where the prisoners of Tamizhagam were made to stand and were whipped. The mansions and towers of the capital city ofVatapiwill be set ablaze and be reduced to ashes. This city will become a graveyard. I will leave this city only after seeing this sight with my own eyes. Mamallar will come to defeat the Chalukya savages, hold my hand and take me back. I will leave only then. I will not leave when you send me. Even if you were to send me by a palanquin or an elephant, I will not leave!” A smile appeared on Naganandi’s face after listening to this fearful oath. It seemed as though the wicked bikshu felt secretly happy that his ruse had worked yet again!
Sivakami had started dancing at the Vatapi street junction on the first day of shuklapaksham[i]. She danced for the whole of shuklapaksham and krishnapaksham[ii] set in. She danced through krishnapaksham and soon it was shuklapaksham again. Sivakami’s performances at the street junction continued. Commander Virupakshan kept changing the performance venue often. He produced the imprisoned men and women of Tamizhagam at the important street junctions of Vatapi, one after the other. Sivakami used to go to the street junction where the prisoners were assembled and dance. Everyday crowds thronged to watch this spectacle. Men, women and children came in large numbers.
Government officials arrived in chariots. The women from the royal family and their ladies in waiting came in palanquins. The news of the danseuse imprisoned by Emperor Pulikesi dancing at the Vatapi street junctions spread far and wide. So people from the neighbouring areas came to watch the performances. People from far flung locations also came to view the spectacle. The entire nation was speaking about this issue.
There was a gradual change in the attitude of the Vatapi citizens towards Sivakami. Initially they were stunned watching her amazing performance. They marvelled at the wonderful art form. They felt love, solidarity and pity for the embodiment of art who had forsaken her native place, country and family and had come to a distant country. Several people in the audience were desirous of conversing with Sivakami. They wanted to express their wonder, regard and affection for her. They were desirous of visiting the palace in which she lived and befriending her. They wanted to invite her to their homes and extend hospitalities to her. But Sivakami did not reciprocate the friendly overtures of the Vatapi citizens. The joy she experienced while dancing coupled with the natural fatigue that followed her performance and her bitter state of mind rendered her incapable of striking a conversation with the audience.
As days went by, she came to be known as an arrogant person in Vatapi. The affection and solidarity the people had initially felt for her soon transformed into hate and mockery. People increasingly teased and laughed mockingly at Sivakami as she arrived at and left the dance venue. The very people who had appreciatively described Sivakami’s dancing as “wonderful” and “divine” soon started calling it a “mad woman’s buffoonery”!
When Sivakami passed by seated in a palanquin, young children ran after her hooting. Sometimes, they even flung mud at her. All this did not have an iota of an impact on Sivakami. Her heart had hardened. She had developed unshakable resolve. Sivakami had developed the ability to treat fame, disrepute, praise and scorn alike. She cultivated the detachment of an enlightened soul, who like water drops on a lotus leaf, was awaiting the divine call.
Sivakami had been dancing at the Vatapi streets for almost one and a half months. Trumpets heralding sunset were heard. Sivakami stopped dancing; she paused to regain her breath, turned around and started walking towards the palanquin. She was shocked and confused seeing a figure and stood rooted to the spot. It was Naganandi Adigal.
Sivakami observed a wide-eyed Naganandi staring at her angrily, without even batting an eyelid. Naganandi’s facial expression changed in an instant. The anger in his eyes was replaced by pity. His facial expression and look in his eyes seemed to indicate that he was pleading for her forgivance. Sivakami, whose confusion heightened, slowly regained composure, managed her confusion, walked to the palanquin with her head lowered and sat in it.
As usual, the palanquin headed to the palace. But Sivakami’s heart dwelt on Naganandi who stood amidst the crowd. “Who is this bikshu? Is he the Vatapi Emperor in disguise? His appearance is identical; but the expression in his face and eyes is very different. The facial expressions of the hard hearted Pulikesi who was devoid of any emotion and the kind, gentle and appreciative bikshu are so different.” The bikshu’s appearance reminded Sivakami of Pallava Nadu and her forest residence. She recollected her life during the days gone by. Not even a year had passed. But it seemed as though several eons had passed!
Even after returning to the palace, Sivakami’s mind did not regain its usual calm. She was assailed by an indescribable anticipation and a meaningless agitation. Whom did her heart seek? Whose arrival did her eyes expect as they frequently darted to the entrance? Was it Naganandi bikshu? When Naganandi entered the palace one jaamam after the onset of night, Sivakami’s lit-up eyes and facial expression indicated that she had been expecting him. Naganandi and Sivakami faced each other. The sharpness of their looks indicated that each tried to penetrate into the other’s heart and understand the mysteries that lay within. Pin drop silence prevailed in the palace for some time. The calm was disturbed when the bikshu said in a choked voice, “Sivakami! Please forgive me!”
If it were true there exists a God who is the embodiment of mercy, why did he create so much sorrow in this world? Why does human kind have to experience so much sorrow? These questions have been asked since days of yore. Enlightened souls have also responded to these questions. What humans regard as sorrow is not sorrow in reality. Ignorance clouds our intellect like clouds which obscure the sun. So we perceive certain things as sorrowful. In truth, sorrow is a kind of happiness. Recently, Shri Subramania Bharathiar[i] sang in praise of Parasakthi[ii] as follows.
Love itself She is;
Yet Miseries She inflicts
To make and break is Her play
In Her is happiness boundless.
But why does Jaganmatha[iii] Parasakthi, who is love personified and is the fount of joy, accord so much sorrow and difficulties to her children? What we regard as sorrow and difficulty is not actually so. When we examine issues with a clear perspective, what we regard as sorrow is joy and what we regard as difficulty is pleasure. But it is not easy to believe in this philosophy. People will disbelievingly ask, “How can there be joy in sorrow and pleasure in difficulty?” But if we examine our life experiences, we will understand that there is truth in this philosophy.
We read sorrowful stories and epics. We watch sad plays. We sing and listen to plaintive melodies. Don’t we seek and experience melancholy in this manner? Why? Because joy is inherent in all sorrow. We undergo several difficulties during our lifetime. We believe that these difficulties are unbearable and life is not worth living. But we somehow endure all difficulties. When we look back at the times of excruciating distress after a few years, we feel a strange joy. We feel happy recollecting and talking about the difficulties we have experienced.
Sita Devi experienced untold sorrow when in forest on exile. No woman would have experienced as much sorrow as she did. When she was living at the palace in Ayodhya as Shri Ramabiran’s consort and was pregnant, Rama asked her, “What do you desire?” She responded, “I want to return to the forest and visit all the places where I had experienced difficulty!” Doesn’t Sita’s desire prove the philosophy that what we perceive as sorrow is not truly so. It is our ignorance which prompts us to think in this manner. There is joy inherent in sorrow.
It is not right to philosophize when Sivakami is in a difficult situation at the street junction. The discussion at the beginning of the chapter was to understand Sivakami’s behaviour. Commander Virupakshan had asked her to dance at the street junction to stop the men and women of Tamizhagam from being whipped. Sivakami initially thought that acting in that manner would be demeaning to the divine art of Bharathanatyam and refused.
But when the whipping commenced on Virupakshan’s command, Sivakami’s resolve vanished. The very next instant Sivakami Devi started dancing at the Vatapi street junction; her performance was superb. She danced blissfully as if to prove the philosophy that happiness is inherent in sorrow. While dancing, she lost all consciousness of herself, the outside world, time and location. The sight of Sivakami dancing was akin to the Goddess of Beauty dancing in an ecstatic rage.
When Sivakami was dancing at the Vatapi street junction, it seemed as though the earth and the sky had come to a standstill. The womenfolk of Vatapi who were walking down that street stood still and watched appreciatively. The imprisoned men and women from Tamizhagam watched motionless. The demons who held whips stood speechless. Their commander Virupakshan also stood still. All of them stood like statues. They stood mesmerized oblivious of time slipping by.
The sun had set; the fort gates were shut and trumpets were blown to announce the sunset. But this did not disturb Sivakami’s ecstatic dancing. Sivakami finally stopped dancing and stood. She looked around like someone who was travelling all this time through a joyous world and had just returned to earth. She realized that she had been dancing at the street junction. Amidst the unbearable shame and sorrow, she also felt happiness and pride. The chained Pallava Nadu men and women looked towards Sivakami. She observed the gratitude in their eyes. She walked to the palanquin and sat in it without speaking a word to anyone; the palanquin reached the palace.
One thousand three hundred years ago, Vatapi was the capital of one of the three kingdoms that flourished in Bharata Kandam. Like Kanyakubhaj and Kanchi, Vatapi’s fame had spread far and wide and even overseas. Every time Pulikesi’s army returned from a military campaign, it brought back enormous wealth from the nations it had defeated. Hence Vatapi was prosperous those days. Trade flourished in that city. Traders of precious gems from far flung countries used to visit Vatapi.
As famous Jain temples and Buddhist monasteries were situated in Vatapi, travellers from several countries used to visit the city. Therefore Vatapi used to be perpetually vibrant. This was particularly true when the Emperor was in the capital city. Vassals used to come bearing tribute to gain an audience with the Emperor. Ambassadors from far-off countries likeChinaandPersiaused to visit. The streets of Vatapi flanked by mansions and temple towers were always teeming with people and were reminiscent of a temple fair. The sounds of carts and chariots were incessantly heard.
Sivakami observed the sights and sounds of Vatapi while she was carried around in a palanquin. She mentally compared Kanchi and Vatapi. She very well understood the difference between a city whose affluence and culture grew from ancient times and a new citythat was suddenly endowed with wealth. The clothes and ornaments worn by the affluent men and women of Kanchi were subdued. Their dressing was aesthetic. The citizens of Vatapi were flashily dressed.
The people of Kanchi greeted each other with affection and respect when they met. The citizens of Vatapi laughed loudly and created a commotion when they met. At Kanchi, when masters commanded their servants, they did so with affection and consideration. The masters in Vatapi ordered their servants around harshly and used foul language. Sivakami observed another difference between Kanchi and Vatapi.
Bikshus, Digambar monks, orthodox sanyasis[i], mendicants, kabalikas and beggars flocked the streets of Kanchi and troubled the passers-by. It seemed as though those who sought alms were found aplenty in a place inhabited by philanthropists. Not many bikshus and mendicants were seen in the streets of Vatapi. As the population was not charitable, not many beggars were there! As Sivakami passed by the streets of Vatapi pondering about these issues and in awe of the city’s wealth, she saw a sight she had not hitherto witnessed at a street junction.
A group of men and women stood there. Their hands were chained together. They stood with their heads lowered. They were surrounded by ruffians, who looked like Yama’s messengers, holding long whips. Sivakami was distressed seeing this sight. As the men and women who were thus imprisoned seemed to hail from Tamizhagam, her sorrow increased multi-fold.
Sivakami wondered for a moment if she should stop the palanquin and enquire about them. But she was unable to muster the courage to do so. Her palanquin went ahead. After the palanquin had moved some distance away from the street junction, Sivakami looked around unable to suppress her curiosity. It seemed to her that some of the prisoners were pointing out to her palanquin and that they were looking towards her with tear-filled eyes. Sivakami immediately looked away and commanded the palanquin bearers to take her home.
When Sivakami returned home, she narrated the sight she saw to the lady in waiting and asked her if she knew anything regarding this. As the lady in waiting claimed ignorance, Sivakami asked her to enquire into the matter. The lady in waiting complied. She returned with news that caused Sivakami unbearable horror and sorrow. The lady in waiting brought the following news. Emperor Pulikesi had imprisoned several men and women in Pallava Nadu and had brought them to Vatapi. Some of them had tried to escape. Some others refused to engage in slave labour. Certain others were obstinate and refused to eat. Emperor Pulikesi had commanded such mischief-mongers be taken to the street junction and be publicly whipped as punishment. The whipping incident had begun that day only. It was to continue for two months. Every evening the citizens of Vatapi would be entertained in this manner.
Sleep evaded Sivakami that night. She felt a sorrow that was far more intense than what she had experienced in her grief-stricken and unhappy life till then. She felt as though someone was whipping her often. She recollected pleading with Pulikesi on the banks of Ponnmugaliaaru and securing the release of the women who had accompanied her. It seemed that those who were freed that day were only a fraction of the people the Chalukyas had imprisoned. The larger contingent of the army that had left ahead of Pulikesi’s contingent must have imprisoned many more people.
Sivakami now understood why the Chakravarthy had spoken to her that morning and had asked her to look around Vatapi. That tyrant had acted in this manner to make Sivakami fall at his feet and beg him. But his desire was not going to be fulfilled. She decided that she will not plead with Pulikesi under any circumstance. She would never do so! That barbarian was trying to seek revenge in this manner! Sivakami regretted her decision to look around Vatapi. She struggled all night unable to sleep.
The following day dawned; the sun rose. As the sun traversed across the sky, Sivakami’s distress intensified. As the sun continued to travel westwards, her body and soul trembled. By then the men and women from Pallava Nadu must have been produced at the street junction! Their hands must have been chained to their backs. The demonic guards must be standing behind them holding long whips. They would soon start whipping the prisoners. The resolution Sivakami had made the previous night vanished. She hurriedly commanded the guards stationed at the entrance to fetch a palanquin. As soon as the palanquin was brought, she hurriedly sat in it and commanded the bearers to take her to the street junction they had crossed the previous day.
When Sivakami’s palanquin neared the street junction, the prisoners’ faces exuded a joy not hitherto seen. They spoke amongst themselves. Several of them beseeched Sivakami, “Amma! Thaye! Please rescue us!” Sivakami was disconcerted by this unanticipated call for help. She wished that she indeed had the power to save these people. She asked the bearers to lower the palanquin, stepped out and approached the crowd. Once again the prisoners cried out, “Amma! Thaye! Please rescue us!”
Sivakami neared the prisoners. Some of them bore marks of whip lash. She observed blood oozing out of their wounds and staining the ground at several places. Sivakami felt dizzy; her stomach churned; she felt faint. She overcame these emotions and regained composure. She then asked one of the female prisoners, “Amma! Why do you ask me to save you? I too am a helpless woman like you! I too have been imprisoned by the Chalukyas. I don’t have the power to rescue you!” The lady responded, “You do possess the power to save us, thaye! The demon standing there told us so”.
Sivakami approached the chief of the warriors who resembled a demon. She spoke in the mixed dialect spoken in Vatapi. She said, “Aiyya! Why do you torture these people by whipping them? Please refrain from doing so! Stop this sinful act!” The chief of the warriors laughed heartily. He then paused to think and said, “We are powerless, thaye! It’s the Emperor’s orders!” “In that case, please wait for some time. I will intercede on their behalf to your Emperor. Till then…” That warrior interrupted Sivakami saying, “Not necessary, amma! You don’t have to approach the Emperor. You have the authority to prevent them from being whipped. We will stop if you say so; but on one condition!”
Sivakami, who was surprised and disbelieving as the soldier spoke, became alert when she heard the word ‘condition’. Sensing there must be some treachery in this, she asked, “What’s the condition?” The barbarian said, “You must dance at this very place in front of all of us. We will not whip them. If you continue dancing until sunset, all of us will watch you dance. You may return to your house at sunset. We will take them back to the prison. If you wish that they not be whipped tomorrow, you may dance here tomorrow too.”
Sivakami’s heart at that moment was akin to a volcano emitting molten lava and black smoke. Aha! Is this what that tyrant had planned for her? Is he trying to seek revenge? Was this the reason for him pretending to appreciate my art when he was disguised as a bikshu? But that treacherous man’s desire will never ever be fulfilled. I will never ever dance at the street junction of Vatapi under any circumstance.
Sivakami stood rooted to the spot with fury writ large on her face and eyes. The chief of the warriors asked, “What is your decision, thaye? Are you going to dance? Or may I ask them to proceed with their duty?” That question’s impact was akin to a heated spear being pierced into Sivakami’s ears. She resolutely looked at the soldier and said, “Aha! Are you asking me dance at this street junction? No; I will never ever do that!” The chief of warriors smilingly told the men holding the whips, “Fine, you may carry out your orders!”
[i] Sanyasi – Hindu monk
Most of the Vatapi forces marched in theNorth West direction towards Vatapi from the banks of the North Pennai River. As Sivakami travelled with that army too, she was witness to incidents that were more horrific than the atrocities perpetrated in the villages of Thondai Mandalam. She saw houses and hay stacks being set on fire, war elephants destroying verdant groves, crops being obliterated, innocent villagers being murdered, sturdy youths and young women being imprisoned and infants who were separated from their mothers shrieking.
An inferno was ablaze in Sivakami’s heart. She was desirous of meeting the Vatapi Emperor again and requesting him not to engage in such atrocities. She tried to meet him several times. She requested her guards to take her to Pulikesi. It seemed that those guards did not heed her. Every night when she slept, she heard a sound that resembled a ghost laughing. She used to wake up with a start. It appeared that the Vatapi Emperor was walking with his back towards her at a distance. By the time she sat up that figure would disappear. She used to think that she was hallucinating.
When Pulikesi was young he was tortured by his chithappa, Mangalesan. On account of this he had become hard-hearted and cruel. Ever since he ascended the Vatapi throne with Naganandi’s assistance, he spent all his time decimating his foes within the country and waging wars with external adversaries. It was uncharacteristic of Pulikesi to empathise with others’ sorrows. There were two reasons for Pulikesi becoming ten times crueler than he used to be before.
Firstly, he was furious that his invasion of South India had ended in failure because of Mahendra Pallavar’s ruses. Secondly, he was envious that Naganandi, who had thus far thought only about the glory of theVatapi Kingdom and his welfare, had now fallen for the charms of a girl from Pallava Nadu. Emperor Pulikesi gave vent to his fury by torturing the innocent citizens on his way back to Vatapi. He also wondered how he could take revenge on Sivakami. Sivakami, who was unaware of all this, was optimistic of convincing the Vatapi Emperor to command his forces not to commit atrocities should she have an opportunity to meet him face to face again. However, her desire to meet him was not fulfilled till they reached Vatapi.
Sivakami was taken to a large and beautiful palace in Vatapi. Two ladies in waiting were appointed to act as her escorts and to serve her. They spoke a dialect that was a combination of Prakrit and Tamil. Sivakami was able to easily comprehend what the ladies in waiting said. They informed Sivakami that the Emperor had commanded that Sivakami be housed in the palace and that they ought to ensure that she was comfortable. This was what she had expected. So Sivakami decided that Emperor Pulikesi would soon visit the palace to meet her. She incessantly thought about how she ought to behave and what she ought to say when he visited her.
Sivakami held two contradictory opinions about the Emperor. Sometimes, she felt furious recollecting the atrocities perpetrated by his army. She also felt proud that a helpless girl like her could wield so much influence on such a cruel king. Sivakami was frequently reminded of Sita, whom Ravanan had abducted and had imprisoned at Ashoka Vanam[i]. Her situation was akin to Sita’s. Rama had defeated Ravanan, had freed Sita and taken her along with him. Similarly, Mamallar would come one day and rescue her from that barbarian, Pulikesi!
Sivakami, who believed that Mamallar would come to her rescue, also pondered on the difference between her and Sita. Ravanan was captivated by Sita’s beauty and had abducted her. But Pulikesi was impressed with her dancing prowess and had imprisoned her (Sivakami’s view was shaped by the firm belief that Pulikesi was the bikshu in disguise). So Sita did not possess the kind of clout she did with Pulikesi. Her art will give her the power to make Pulikesi dance to her tune. “Ah! I am not going to spare that wicked bikshu! He would have to come to me anyway!”
Sivakami’s desire was fulfilled on the eighth day of her arrival to Vatapi. The Emperor visited her palace. When the lady in waiting rushed in and announced the Emperor’s arrival, Sivakami hurried to welcome him and attack him with her sharp glances and speech. When the Emperor entered the palace, surveyed her from top to bottom and laughed in a ghastly manner as he had in her dream, her intentions vanished into thin air. She felt an indescribable fear that rocked her body and soul. She felt tongue-tied.
When Pulikesi enquired, “Sculptor’s daughter! Queen of Dancing! The artistic treasure of Mahendra Pallavan! Are you well? Do you like your stay at Vatapi?” Sivakami trembled. Was this the same bikshu who was ecstatic seeing her perform the most prosaic pieces? Was this the same Naganandi was so overcome by emotion that he struggled to speak every time he approached her? He had not behaved in this manner when she had beseeched him to free the womenfolk of Thondai Nadu on the banks of the Ponnmugil River. Has his return to Vatapi transformed him?
As Sivakami’s heart was in turmoil, she was unable to respond to Pulikesi. Observing this Pulikesi said, “Lady! Why are you silent? Do you think it’s beneath you to speak to Pulikesi, who is incapable of appreciating arts? I don’t completely lack artistic sensibility. If it were so, would I have housed you whom I had imprisoned in this palace? Doesn’t this beautiful palace befit the peerless Queen of Dancing from Pallava Nadu? Are you comfortable here? Do the ladies in waiting serve you well? If you find anything lacking, say so!”
Though Sivakami found Pulikesi’s speech repulsive, she decided that she ought not to keep quiet. She strengthened her resolve and said, “Prabhu! I am comfortable here. I have no complaints. Thank you very much!” “Aha! It’s you who spoke! Thank God! Seeing you stand silently, I was wondering if I had imprisoned a living being or a stone statue your father had sculpted. I am very happy that you spoke. If you truly want to demonstrate the gratitude you just expressed, there is an opportunity…” Pulikesi hesitated to speak further.
Sivakami remained speechless fearing what he would say next. “Lady! The foolish Mahendra Pallavan said that I was incapable of appreciating arts; you believed him. The difference between Mahendra Pallavan’s and my ability to appreciate arts is as stark as the difference between a jackal and a tiger; the difference between a pond and an ocean and the difference between the miniscule Thondai Mandalam and the expansive Chalukya Kingdom. You will soon realize this. Queen of Arts! Listen to me! The Emperor of Persia has sent emissaries to my Court. The Persian Emperor has sent tribute and gifts and has sought my friendship in return. A large assembly will congregate at the Coronation Hall tomorrow to welcome the Persian emissaries to accept their tribute. You must dance in that assembly.”
Sivakami, who was scared and confused till then, gained uncharacteristic courage when she heard the word ‘dance’. She looked at Pulikesi directly in the eye, without a trace of fear or hesitation, and said in a firm tone “I will not dance”. Pulikesi glowered angrily for an instant. Pulikesi gritted his teeth to suppress his uncontrollable anger and said, “Lady! Why do you stubbornly refuse to dance? I will give you three days to think about this!”
“There is no need to think, Prabhu! You will make me dance in your Court and then trumpet to the world that you have defeated Mahendra Pallavar. You will point out to me and state, ‘She is a slave from Pallava Nadu!’ Ah! I understood your intention. You may be able to imprison me and enslave my mortal body. You may also control my soul; but you cannot enslave my art. I will not dance in subservience to your authority and fearing your command! I will never dance” said Sivakami.
When Sivakami uttered these words in an angry tone, Pulikesi’s eyes reddened and emitted sparks of anger. When Sivakami finished talking, Pulikesi laughed in a ghastly manner as he had before. “Lady! Be patient! Why do you get so agitated? I have no intention to enchain your body or your art. You don’t have to dance if you so desire. Don’t think that you have been imprisoned in this palace. You may leave the palace whenever you wish. You may stroll around Vatapi and return. Though Vatapi is not as picturesque as Kanchi, there are interesting places to visit. The sentries stationed at the entrance of this palace are not here to detain you in this palace. They are here to serve you. They will fetch a palanquin for you whenever you desire. If you wish to see me again, you may send me a message through them. Sculptor’s daughter! You don’t have to live in constant fear of my authority. You can live as you please independently and comfortably!”
Once Emperor Pulikesi finished talking, he observed Sivakami keenly. Sivakami failed to observe the intense hatred and vengeance in Pulikesi’s eyes. The helpless girl was staring at the ground. She was gloating that she had vanquished Pulikesi of Vatapi, who was renowned for his cruel and torturous ways. That evening Sivakami told the guards of her palace that she wished to look around Vatapi and asked them to fetch a palanquin. Pulikesi telling her that she was not a prisoner and that she may stroll around outside the palace was etched in her memory. She sat in the palanquin and ventured out to ascertain if she was truly free.
That night, neither Mahendra Pallavar nor his chief consort Bhuvana Mahadevi slept. They sat on the upper storey of the palace in the crystal clear light provided by the silver stars and spoke about the past and the future. “Devi! I never expected to face such humiliation during the last days of my life. My dreams have been shattered! How true is Political Science that states even a person’s most intimate friends abandon him during times of misfortune! Look at the stars twinkling in the sky! They used to praise me saying, “Mahendra! Is there anyone else on earth who is wiser than you? No one can match your philanthropy, virtuous character, ability to vanquish foes and appreciation of arts.” Now those very stars wink at me, laugh teasingly and ask “Mahendra! Does this humiliation suffice? Haven’t your cunning and strategizing come to naught when fate intervenes?”
As the Chakravarthini was aware that Mahendrar’s body and soul were grievously injured, she did not wish to hurt him further. However, she involuntarily spoke the following words. “Prabhu! How can we blame fate for the activities we undertake of our own volition?” Mahendrar smiled sadly and said, “No matter how shrewdly we humans act, fate does intervene and defeats our purpose. Fate appeared in the form of Sivakami to prevent me from achieving my goals!”
“Ah! Why do you blame that poor girl? What can she do?” asked the Pallava Queen sympathetically. “It is only fair that as a woman, you understand her situation and support her. But it is on account of Aayanar’s daughter that all my intentions have been thwarted. I have been trying to separate Sivakami from Mamallan. I adopted several ruses and ploys to achieve this. My ruses and ploys were futile; it was fate that finally emerged victorious.”
“Didn’t fate fulfill your objective? You made several arrangements to separate that girl from Mamallan. Fate came to your assistance and transported her to Vatapi. In this situation, why do you have to attempt to trace her and bring her back? I don’t understand your action!” said Bhuvana Mahadevi in a genuinely amazed tone.
“That is what I meant when I said that my action is a punishment for being a descendant of the ancient Pallava clan. Not bringing Sivakami back will cause an indelible slur to the Pallava Dynasty. Pulikesi will brag that he returned after defeating the Kanchi Pallavan. As long as Sivakami remains in Vatapi, the world will believe Pulikesi’s claims. Sivakami’s fame has spread far and wide from Lanka to Kanyakubhaj. I myself sent a message to Harshavardhanar inviting him to view the sculptures at Mamallapuram and watch Sivakami dance. What will the world think if Sivakami is imprisoned in Vatapi? Can there be a greater ignominy to the Pallava Dynasty?”
“Swami! Sometimes I have held the crown you wear in my hands. Its weight made me wonder how to bear this weight on your head. But in the last two to three years I have realized that the burden in bear in your heart is thousand times heavier than the burden on your head. It is so true when people refer to ‘Rajya Baram[i]’!” said the Chakravarthini emotionally.
“At one time I bore that burden very enthusiastically. Now that burden is imposing an unbearable weight on my heart. Devi! I used to build castles in the air till three years ago. Yes; I ignored the Kanchi Fort and built castles in the air. I thought that I could transform this world into heaven. I cursed all my ancestors in my heart. I regretted that they had unnecessarily spent their lives in warfare and bloodshed. I started building indestructible stone temples dedicated to all religions at Mamallapuram. As soon as the construction of temples was completed, I had intended to invite Harshavardhanar and Pulikesi. That Chalukya demon dashed all the castles I had built in the air to the ground. The fire he has set to the villages in Thondai Mandalam is not going to be extinguished soon. The disgrace to the Pallava Dynasty will not be erased till the Pallava forces invade Vatapi and defeat Pulikesi. If this is not achieved during my lifetime, it must be achieved during Mamallan’s lifetime.” “Prabhu! My brave son will definitely fulfill your wishes. He will erase the slur on the Pallava Dynasty!” declared Bhuvana Mahadevi proudly.