Category Archives: Volume 3: The Bikshu’s Love
For a month after the Manimangalam Battle, Mahendrar lay bed-ridden in an unconscious state. It came to be known that the knife that was wielded on him in the battlefield was dipped in venom. Though the palace physicians tried their utmost to nurse him back to health, their efforts were not fruitful. Thiruvengadu Namasivaya Vaidhyar reached Kanchi in this situation. Commander Paranjyothi has despatched emissaries to fetch him from Thiruvengadu. Namasivaya Vaidyar’s treatment soon bore fruit. Clarity emerged in Mahendrar’s thinking.
The moment Mahendra Pallavar was able to think clearly, he enquired about Aayanar and Sivakami. He felt boundless sorrow when he was informed that Aayanar had fractured his foot and that the Chalukyas had imprisoned Sivakami and had taken her away. It seemed that he would suffer a relapse. When Mamallar visited his father, Mahendrar asked him the same question Aayanar had asked him some time ago. He asked, “Narasimha! Where is Sivakami?”
An extremely sorrowful Narasimhar replied, “Appa! Why do you worry about that now? You should first recover!” “Mamalla! It is obvious that the love you had professed for Sivakami was superficial. I will leave right away, I will find Sivakami and bring her back!” said Mahendra Pallavar as he tried to get up. Mamallar, who was both embarrassed and agitated, said, “Appa! I’m waiting for you to recover. I was wondering what you would say. When you yourself speak thus…”
“What else can I say, Mamalla? Aayanar’s skill in sculpting and Sivakami’s skill in dancing have spread from the Himalayasto Lanka. Is there a greater ignominy to the Pallava Dynasty than that Vatapi demon abducting a renowned dancer like Sivakami? I would rather lose my life in the battlefield than live under the shadow of such a slur.” “Thanthaye[i]! Don’t speak in this manner. The Commander and I have made arrangements to take leave of you as soon as you recover…” “What arrangements have you made thus far?” “We have mobilized an army.” “Madcaps! If you go with an army, neither will you be able to fetch Sivakami nor will you return.” A surprised Mamallar asked, “Appa! What else can be done? What do you suggest?” Mahendrar said, “Bring Paranjyothi and Shatrugnan along! I will tell you what I have in mind.”
When Mamallar, Paranjyothi and Shatrugnan met the Chakravarthy that evening, he spoke his mind. He suggested that Paranjyothi and Shatrugnan ought to travel to Vatapi in disguise and bring Sivakami back. Mamallar initially objected to bringing Sivakami back stealthily in this manner. Mahendrar said that there was nothing wrong in bringing back Sivakami, who was surreptitiously taken away, in a similar fashion. Mahendra Chakravarthy also stated that traveling to Vatapi incognito would help them in invading that kingdom in the future.
When Mamallar realized that Mahendra Pallavar intended invading Vatapi, he felt elated and quit objecting. After the discussions were over, Mamallar prostrated to his father and said, “Appa! I will go along with the Commander. Kindly give me leave!” he pleaded. Mahendrar initially objected. Finally Mahendrar made Mamallar promise that he will not act rashly and that he will act in accordance to Commander Paranjyothi’s counsel in all matters and then gave leave to him.
Two days later at midnight, six men mounted on six horses were in the muttram of the Kanchi Palace prepared to embark on a journey. The six men who sported fake beards and moustaches as part of their disguise were Mamallar, Paranjyothi, Shatrugnan, Gundodharan, Kannabiran and his father Ashwabalar. Those six men frequently looked up at one of the upper storeys of the palace. Shortly, Mahendra Chakravarthy and Bhuvana Mahadevi reached the front area of the upper storey. When Mahendra Pallavar said, “You may leave; return victoriously!” Mamallar and Paranjyothi bowed and then tapped their horses. When the horses exited the outer gates of the palace and reached the road, Mahendra Pallavar told Bhuvana Mahadevi, “Devi! This is the punishment for being born in a royal dynasty!”
[i] Thanthaye – Another word for father in Tamil
Emperor Pulikesi smilingly said, “Adigal! You may not have reneged on the vows you undertook when you became a bikshu. But our invasion ofSouth Indiahas been adversely affected by that dancer!” The bikshu asked in a shocked and angry tone, “How is that? What is the connection between the invasion and Sivakami?”
“Adigal! Is your ability to engage in subterfuges in any way inferior to Mahendran’s? We may have faced defeat in the battlefield before. But have our political strategies ever failed? Had you not been captivated by Sivakami and the God of Art who possesses her, could Mahendra Pallavan have imprisoned you? Please introspect and state the truth!”
When Pulikesi spoke thus, the angry expression on the bikshu’s face was replaced by a shy stubbornness. He lowered his head and said as he stared at the ground, “Emperor! Please forgive this bikshu who lost his mind! I am no longer worthy of being of service to the kingdom. Please forgive and free me considering the service I’ve rendered all these years!” “Anna! Why are you joking?” “No, thambi! I am not joking; I am stating the truth. Please give me leave. I shall leave.” “Where do you intend going?” “I will go to some uninhabited place. I will discover another mountainous territory like Ajantha and disappear deep inside the inaccessible mountains. There I will spend the rest of my life watching Sivakami dance…”
“Anna! If you take Sivakami away all by herself, will that girl consent to dance?” “You don’t understand the character of artists, thambi! The authority of an Emperor who rules a vast kingdom cannot make Sivakami dance. But an impoverished bikshu who does not even have a roof over his head can make her dance.” “Oho!” “Yes, thambi! That’s why I did not ask her to dance when I had disguised myself as you.” “Anna! This craziness doe not befit you. I will send Sivakami back to Kanchi. If that’s not possible, we will get her married to one of our commanders.”
Angry sparks emitted from the bikshu’s eyes. He said “Thambi! The man who approaches Sivakami with the intention of marrying her would have to be prepared to be despatched to the world of Yaman”. “Anna! Has Mamallan gone to Yama Loka?” asked Pulikesi teasingly. “No. That fool will face a punishment that is harsher than death in this world itself. Listen, thambi! I had resolved to kill Mamallan with my own hands. Two or three opportunities presented themselves. But I changed my mind in the last minute.”
“Aha! Had you not changed your mind and killed Mamallan, the Varaha flag would have been fluttering in thePallavaKingdomby now. Mahendra Pallavan and the Madurai Pandian would have lain at our feet.” “That could have probably happened. But that would not have been the just punishment for Mamallan who wanted to make Sivakami an object of his pleasure.” “How has he been punished now?” “He will experience torturous sorrow all his life thinking of the Chalukyas abducting his dear lover. This thought will gnaw his heart day and night. There can be no greater punishment for him.” “Good, anna! What do you have to say now?”
“I want to dissociate myself entirely from the affairs of the state. I have toiled for you and the kingdom for twenty five years. I want to live for some years for myself. Thambi! Please give me leave! I will go in search of an uninhabited place.” “Anna! You may dissociate yourself from the affairs of the state by all means. But you don’t have to go in search of forests and mountains. You may reside at Vatapi itself in a beautiful mansion. Build a dance hall in that mansion. Sivakami may dance blissfully there; you may appreciate her dancing.” “Thambi! Are you stating the truth? Will you make these arrangements for me?” “I will definitely make the necessary arrangements; but on one condition.” “Condition? Are you imposing a condition on me, thambi?”
“It is a condition; but it is a condition I beseech you to accept. It’s a task which no one but you can execute. Please be of assistance to me for one final time. Then I will ask nothing of you.” “What is that?” “It was the matter I had mentioned some time ago. News of Vishnuvardhanan lying grievously injured in Vengi has reached me. You must go immediately to Vengi and nurse him back to health. Like me, isn’t Vishnu a brother to you?” “He is indeed my brother; but he does not like the very sight of me! He has not yet forgiven me for having separated Bharavi from him and chasing Bharavi away…” “Anna! Why did you separate Bharavi Kavi<[i] from Vishnu? The consequences were disastrous!” “It was for Vishnu’s good. He was wiling away his time by incessantly reading and writing poetry…”
Pulikesi smiled and thought to himself, “Of my two brothers, one is obsessed with poetry while the other is obsessed with art. It is essential that I save the bikshu in the same manner he had saved Vishnu sometime ago”. He then said, “Yes, anna! You did it for his good. I had asked Bharavi to leave the country, as you had desired. But what was the outcome? Bharavi went to Ganga Nadu. He described Durvineethan’s daughter to Vishnu and got them married. Then he went to Kanchi. He sent messages describing Kanchi, because of which I was allured by Kanchi Sundari.” “Why are you relating those old tales now?” “I will refrain from doing so if you dislike it. But please render this final assistance to me, anna! We have returned unable to capture Kanchi. There can be no greater ignominy to our dynasty if Vishnuvardhanan too returned defeated from Vengi. Please help me this once. Take half our army along with you” The bikshu thought for sometime and said, “So be it, thambi; but you must give me your word!” “You want me to take care of Sivakami, don’t you? I promise I will. Won’t I do this for all the assistance you have rendered to me all these years? I will host her in a beautiful palace in Vatapi, look after her well-being till you return and then hand her over to you.” “Thambi! Sivakami is the Goddess of Art. He who approaches her with lust will meet his end.” “I will not forget that. But the more you speak of the art of dancing, the more I am drawn towards it. May I ask Sivakami to dance and watch?” “She will not dance.” “If she were to willingly dance…” “I have no objection.” “I am glad.” “Thambi! Our grandfather was conferred the title ‘Satyacharya’. You too bear the same title. Your behaviour should befit your title at least once.” “I promise that I will vigilantly take care of Sivakami and hand her over to you.” The long conversation between the Emperor Pulikesi and the Bikshu ended in this manner. It was during the second jaamam of that night the two of them walked up to Sivakami who lay half asleep and saw her in the moonlight.
[i] Kavi – Poet in Sanskrit
Naganandi Bikshu, who was unaware of envy raising its head in Pulikesi’s heart like a snake raising its hood, commenced sharing his most intimate thoughts. “Thambi! From childhood – for as long as I can remember, I grew up at the Ajantha caves. Bikshus and their disciples used to reside at the Ajantha Sangramam. I had not seen a living woman till I was twenty years old. That is, I had not seen mortal woman in flesh and blood. But I had seen women with soul. I had seen women with wide eyes that were capable of penetrating into one’s heart and perceiving one’s inner most thoughts. I have seen women endowed with divine beauty that is uncharacteristic of mortal women. I have seen maidens adorned with divine ornaments which enhanced their beauty. I have observed women who added to the splendour of the flowers they wore on their hair. I have also seen tranquil women, those who were mercy personified and enticing fantasy women whose appearance resembled Mohini’s[i]. I have seen them all on the walls of the Ajantha Viharam. In my eyes, all those wonderful forms were living men and women. When I approached them, they would welcome me, extend courtesies and enquire about my well-being. I used to converse with them uninhibitedly; I used to enquire about their well-being and also the happenings in the outside world. They responded to me in the language of silence.
“Amongst the paintings I used to see and converse with everyday, I was attracted to the painting of a maiden. A blue silk fabric wrapped around her waist and the upper cloth she wore was of the hue of tender mango shoots. These fabrics enhanced the beauty of her golden-tone body. The red of her smiling lips competed with the red water lilies adorning her black tresses. When the black eyeballs encased in her eyes that were shaped like lotus petals looked straight into my heart, I experienced a kind of sorrow and joy that I had not experienced thus far. No matter in which nook or corner of the viharam I stood, it seemed as though that Padmalochini was gazing at me. It must have been Brahma who painted such a wonderful portrait so skillfully. Though the painting was painted over three hundred years ago the colours had not faded and it seemed as though the portrait was painted only yesterday.
There was another remarkable feature about the portrait of that maiden. The posture in which she stood; with her waist curved and arms and legs bent indicated that she was engaged in a strange task. But I was unable to comprehend what she was doing. Despite thinking about her posture for long, I was unable to decipher it. I finally asked a bikshu who was residing in the chaithram. He said that the maiden was performing Bharata Natyam. Then I was desirous of finding out what Bharata Natyam was. Realizing that there was a treatise titled Bharata Shastram, I procured it and read it. I became well-versed with several aspects of the art of Bharatanatyam.
Following this, the maiden in the portrait commenced performing Bharatanatyam in my mind’s eye. She appeared in several Bharata Natyam costumes. Several mudras, hasthas[ii] and abhinayas flashed in my imagination. That imaginary maiden resided in my heart all day and night. That was when I felt the urge to step into the outside world and observe the men and women living in cities and the countryside. I was tempted to think such a maiden existed in reality somewhere. This craving propelled me to walk along the Ajantha River into the forests at the foothills of the mountain and stroll there. That was when I saw you one day, thambi. Your unconscious body still had life in it. Since then a change occurred within me. The maiden I had observed in the portrait and had tended in my imagination gradually faded away from my heart. You replaced her in my heart. When I realized that you were my own brother and a blood relation, there was no place for that maiden in my heart.
Thambi! Soon thereafter you and I left the Ajantha caves. You ascended the Vatapi throne. You and I waged several wars and won. We won by employing several political and military tactics. We caused the Chalukya Kingdom to span from the Tungabhadra to Narmada Rivers. The Emperor of North India, Harshavardhana was cautious seeing the Varaha flag.
During those days, it was not difficult for me to uphold the penances I was supposed to perform as a bikshu. I saw countless women in Vatapi and in the cities and villages I travelled to. When compared to the portrait of the maiden painted in the Ajantha cave, these women seemed to be lacking in beauty and grace. I was incapable of looking at these mere mortal women after appreciating the beauty of the maiden in the portrait. I was amazed why the men folk of the world were captivated by women. Thambi! When you married six women one after the other I sympathized with your pitiable condition!”
Pulikesi, who was silently listening thus far, interrupted. “Yes, anna! When I recollect that, I too am shocked wondering why I engaged in such crazy activities. What can be done? We become wise only with experience. You realized very early that it is unwise to lust after women!”
When Emperor Pulikesi uttered these words, a tinge of sarcasm was evident in his tone. But the bikshu who was endowed with a razor sharp intellect did not seem to think so. He continued speaking: “No, thambi no! I am not worthy of your praise. All of you realized the truth after experiencing life. But I, after abstaining from worldly pleasures for several years and losing my youth, fell in love with a woman. But my love is unlike the love professed by other men. Before I describe my love, I must tell you how I fell in love.
After Emperor Harshavardhana of North India had concluded a treaty with us and had promised that his troops will not cross theNarmadaRiverand reach the southern banks henceforth, I headed toSouth Indiato make arrangements for our proposed invasion. As there were several Buddhist and Jain monasteries in South India, my task was rendered easy. I was able to find bikshus who were willing to work for us even at the Kanchi Royal Viharam. Subsequently, I sent you a message asking you to come toSouth Indiawith your army. After sending this message I was about to leave forMaduraiwhen the singularly most important incident of my life occurred.
Thambi! Though I was whole-heartedly immersed in the task of expanding the Chalukya Kingdommy attention intermittently dwelt on painting and sculpture. I saw some exquisite sculptures at Kanchi. I heard that some wonderful sculpture works were being carried out at the harbour city recently christened as Mamallapuram. I headed there to view those sculptures before proceeding to Madurai. The sculptures at Mamallapuram were truly amazing. I heard that the senior sculptor under whose supervision these works were being carried out was living in a house he had built in the middle of the forest. I went looking for his sculpted house desirous of meeting him.
I witnessed several wonders in that great sculptor’s residence. Importantly, I was attracted to the sculptures portraying dance postures Aayanar was then sculpting. Those sculptures reminded me of the portrait of the dancer I had seen in the Ajantha caves. When I was admiring those sculptures a miracle occurred. A female form was walking towards us from the backyard of the house. The figure had both body and soul. But there was not an iota of difference between the portrait I had seen on the wall of the Ajantha cave and this female form. Her face that resembled the full moon, her golden-hued body, the colour of her clothes, wide eyes that were capable of penetrating into one’s heart and her hair style were identical to the portrait. For sometime I wondered whether this was reality or if I was hallucinating. That maiden’s red lips slightly parted and she asked, “Appa! Who is this swamigal?” It was only then I realized that this was real. The sculptor Aayanar told me, ‘She is my daughter, Sivakami; I am sculpting statues of her in various dance postures’. Shortly thereafter, Sivakami started dancing.
Thambi, from that moment the entire world seemed new to me. I realized that there were more important facets to life than war, statecraft and the burden of ruling a kingdom. I was attracted to Sivakami in the same manner as I was to the portrait of the dancer before I had met you at the foothills of Ajantha. I thought of Sivakami day and night in the same manner as I had thought of that dancer. Not only that. My soul and every nerve of my being throbbed with attraction.
Yes thambi! I fell in love with Sivakami; I was enthralled by her; I felt attracted to her. The intensity of my love for her was such that all the words for love in all the languages in this world are inadequate to describe the depth of my emotion. Words like love, enchantment and attraction have been used by crores[iii] of people for crores of times ever since this world came into being. But these words do not hold the same meaning for them as they do for me. My love does not have a physical aspect.
I was not attracted towards Sivakami’s appearance. I have seen paintings and sculptures that are for more beautiful than her. I did not fall in love with her golden-tone body. The golden glow of the full moon shining tonight is more luminous than her body. The beauty of Sivakami’s eyes did not captivate me. Sivakami’s fawn, Rathi’s soulful eyes are more beautiful than her eyes.
I did not fall in love with Sivakami’s tender body. There are numerous flowers in this world that are tenderer than her body. Yes, thambi. There is not an iota of physical attraction in my love for Sivakami. The vow of celibacy I undertook for your sake twenty five years ago has not been affected in any manner by Sivakami…” As Naganandi spoke in this manner his face exuded an uncommon joy. Pulikesi thought to himself, “This seems to be a strange madness. Has he become insane on account of languishing in Mahendran’s prison for long?”
The bikshu who guessed the train of Pulikesi’s thoughts by observing his facial expression said, “No thambi, no! I have not become insane. I never ever possessed the clarity of thought I do now. In truth it’s not Sivakami with whom I’m in love; I am captivated by the God of Art who resides within her. When an unselfconscious Sivakami blissfully dances in the cosmos, I too lose my self-consciousness. The joy I experience watching her dance far exceeds the joy I experience while performing all other tasks. Thambi! I have antagonized Mahendra Pallavan on several issues; I have hated him. But Mahendran and I concur on only one issue. One day Mahendra Pallavan told Aayanar that Sivakami is not destined to wed a mere mortal and that her wonderful art is worthy of being offered to God. I heard him when I was hiding behind the Buddha statue; I whole-heartedly supported his view. Thambi! Trust me; my love for Sivakami will not compromise in any way the vows I undertook when I became a bikshu!” concluded Naganandi Adigal.
The bikshu, seemingly oblivious of an emotional Pulikesi shedding tears, gazed at the full moon floating across the horizon and said: “Those barbarians thought that I was you, imprisoned me and took me away. After crossing the forest, they asked me to mount a horse. Seeing me struggle not knowing how to mount a horse they became doubtful. They initially thought that I was feigning ignorance. When they realized that I really did not know how to mount a horse, their leader asked me disparaging questions. They were taken aback listening to my responses. You used to wear ear-rings and so your ears were pierced. When they saw that my ears were not pierced, they knew for sure that I was not you. The anger they felt as they were unable to imprison you prompted them to torture me. The scars on account of the blows they inflicted are still visible on my body!” Saying this, the bikshu felt his face.
“Aiyyo! Anna! Seeing those scars I was unable to sleep for several nights. But why are you reminded of all that now?” shrieked Pulikesi. “Thambi! I did not remind you. I meant to remind myself. When I recollect those incidents today, I don’t feel sorrow. I only feel joy. That’s the fruit of helping others. When we experience hardship while helping others, one experiences the hardship only when the incident actually occurs. Soon the impact of the hardship disappears. Then only the happiness we feel on account of helping others lingers all our lives. But, thambi! If my relating those old stories causes you sorrow, I will not proceed further” said Naganandi and paused.
“Anna! What are you saying? Even I feel happing recollecting those days!” “In that case, fine. I tolerated the torture inflicted by those barbarians for sometime. When I was unable to withstand their cruelty any longer I announced that I belonged to the Buddha Sangramam at Ajantha. Immediately, they were frightened. They asked me how I found the clothes I was wearing. I told them that I found the clothes on the river bank and that I felt like wearing them. They brought me back to that very spot on the river bank. They searched the surrounding forest area. Concluding that some wild animal must have preyed on you, they left me behind and returned. I started walking towards Ajantha concerned whether you had found your way back.”
The Vatapi Emperor interrupted saying, “I walked along the river bank as instructed by you. Despite travelling a long distance along the serpentine river, there was no sign of human habitation. Frequently the mountain slopes formed a wall ahead of me and it seemed that there was no way beyond that point. The landscape did not change as I walked ahead. I wondered if I had misunderstood your directions and if I was walking in the wrong direction. Another terrifying thought struck me. I thought that you may have deceived me and that you may attempt to rule the kingdom by making peace with chithappa, Mangalesan. I finally reached the Ajantha caves that had exquisite paintings on their walls. As you had asked me to, I spoke to no one and spent time pretending to be the sculptor’s disciple. You reached there after a week. After listening to your story and observing the wounds on your face, I cried aloud repenting the injustice I had meted to you…”
“Thambi! You were not at peace even after weeping for what I went through. The Head Bikshu of the Sangramam saw both of us together one day. He saw us when we were swimming in a secluded spot in the river. He enquired about you; I stated the truth. I was scared that he would punish me for flouting the rules at Ajantha by bringing you there. But the Guru was neither angry with me nor did he punish me. That evening he summoned us to the Headquarter Viharam when no one was around and chronicled our past to us. Hearing that, you became even more agitated. Thambi! Your envy for me was akin to a fire that was progressively becoming an inferno.” “Yes, anna! That’s true; but at the same time I was ashamed of my base character.”
“It’s not your fault, Thambi! There was not an iota of fault on your part. I thought so even then. The Head Bikshu had informed us that both of us were twins and that I was the elder twin. Our father had kept me hidden ever since I was born and had handed me over to the bikshus when I was five years old. He had asked the bikshus to disclose my identity and hand over the reins of the kingdom to me only if some danger were to befall you. The Bikshu Guru narrated all this, expressing his wonder at fate that created a situation that resulted in my rescuing you. He profusely lauded my virtuous character. He said that you were born within half a nazhigai of my birth and since the horoscope indicated that you were destined to rule the kingdom our father selected you to ascend the throne. When I came to know about this, my love for you increased manifold. But at the same time your mind was poisoned. From that moment you started hating me. That did not surprise me; neither was I angry with you. I understood that it was natural for you to suspect me as by convention I had the right to ascend the Vatapi throne. I decided to set your suspicions at rest. I prostrated at the Bikshu Guru’s feet and requested him to allow me to join the Bikshu Mandalam. Though the Guru initially objected, he finally agreed. I tonsured my head, donned ochre robes and was ordained as a bikshu in your presence. I vowed to forego worldly pleasures forever. The flame that was ablaze in your heart was extinguished. You felt love and gratitude for me like before.”
“Anna! Since then I considered you to be my God. I acted in accordance with your wishes. I never flouted your words.” “You did not suffer any setback because of this. Thambi! I left you behind at Ajantha and went away. I travelled across the country for three years. I convinced the government officials and army chiefs to join hands with you. I was also inciting the citizens against Mangalesan. At the opportune time I fetched you from Ajantha. You advanced to Vatapi leading a massive army. Mangalesan was killed in the battle. You ascended the Chalukya throne on which our famous grandfather Satyacharya Pulikesi once sat and reined the kingdom.”
“Anna! I ascended the Vatapi throne with your assistance. You forsook the throne that was by right yours. You renounced all worldly pleasures and became a bikshu to set all my fears at rest. It was due to you herculean efforts that I was able to kill Mangalesan and ascend the throne. Following this you have been a mother, father, minister and military strategist to be for the last twenty years. It’s because of you that the Varaha flag is fluttering in the area that spans the Naramada and North Pennai Rivers. I acknowledge all this and am grateful to you. But why are you reminding me now of these old stories? How may I demonstrate my gratitude to you?” asked Pulikesi and looked at Naganandi’s face eagerly in the moonlight.
Pulikesi observed a gentleness that was not previously perceptible in the bikshu’s face, which was parched on account of harsh penances. “Yes, thambi! There is one thing you can do in return for all the services I have rendered to you” said the bikshu. “In that case, tell me what it is immediately. I will repay at least a fraction of the debt of gratitude I owe you for the last twenty five years.” “Thambi! Hadn’t I sent you a message even before you had left Vatapi? Do you remember what was written in it?” “You had written about several things, which one are you referring to?”
“I had asked you to retain Kanchi Sundari[i] and give me Sivakami Sundari!” “Why are you bringing that up now?” “I am asking you now what I had asked then.” “Anna! What is this? We were unable to capture Kanchi Sundari.” “Kanchi Sundari is out of your reach! Despite that I am asking you to hand over Sivakami to me.” “How is that possible? I was truly reminded of your message when I watched that girl dance in Mahendra Pallavan’s Court. I asked the Pallavan to send her with me. Do you know what he said? He said that she will not come with me as I had no artistic sensibility! Now are you asking me to invade Kanchi again?” “Not necessary, thambi! You do not have to invade Kanchi again. You were unable to assume control of Kanchi Sundari. But as I found Sivakami Sundari, I brought her along with me.” “What? What? Is it true?”
“Thambi! I disguised myself as you just for her sake. I saved her father’s life. It was for Sivakami’s sake that I assumed charge of the army and engaged in battle with Mahendra Pallavan at Manimangalam. It was for her that I stopped fighting mid-way and retreated.” “Anna! Tell me everything in detail!” asked Pulikesi. Naganandi related all what had transpired since he had arrived at South India three years ago.
Pulikesi, after listening to everything, asked disbelievingly, “Anna! Are you telling me that you are truly in love with that dancer?” “Yes thambi! I swear.” “But what will happen of the vow you took in the presence of the Guru at Ajantha? Are you going to join the ranks of the fake bikshus across the country who don ochre robes and womanize, anna?” “Thambi! I expected this question. I am prepared to respond but not in a few words. I have to explain in detail; will you heed me?” “I will definitely listen; but I will not compel you to tell me. You may confide in me if you so desire!” said the Vatapi Emperor. In truth, Pulikesi was keen to know what Naganandi had to say. At the same time, the seeds of jealousy were sown in his heart. All these days there was no place for anyone but him in the bikshu’s heart. He was the sole recipient of the bikshu’s affection. The bikshu had neither paid attention nor worried about anything but his well-being. After all these years a woman, a dancer, found a place in the bikshu’s heart! “Yes! The bikshu is more devoted to that girl than me these days! She must be a consummate temptress!” thought Pulikesi enviously.
“So what if the sun disappears? Will darkness envelop the world? Here I am,” announced the full moon as it rose in the east. The golden hued moon that appeared between two tall palm trees resembled the glowing face of a young girl looking out of a wood framed window. To the bikshu the full moon resembled Sivakami’s face. Naganandi and Pulikesi stepped out of the tent and sat on a bare rock. “Anna! What are you thinking about?” asked Pulikesi. “Thambi, when I entered the tent wasn’t I dressed like you? Do you remember my assuming this disguise once before?” “How can I forget that, anna! I can never ever forget that.” “Since that incident occurred twenty five years ago, I thought you may have forgotten about it.” “It does not matter whether twenty five years or twenty five yugams pass. I will remember that incident not just in this birth but in all subsequent births, anna!”
“Do you remember when we had first met, thambi?” “Why not? I had escaped from our chithappa, Mangalesan’s heavily guarded prison. I was hiding from that tyrant’s soldiers and was wandering aimlessly in the forests. After running for long my legs had slackened and I felt exhausted. I understood how difficult it was to withstand hunger and thirst. Finally, I fainted one day overcome by fatigue. When I regained my consciousness I realized that I was lying on your lap and that you were squeezing the juice of some green herbs into my mouth. What would have happened to me if you hadn’t reached there by God’s grace? Anna! What prompted you to exercise so much effort to save me that day?”
“I was living with the bikshus at the caves in theAjanthaMountainfor as long as I can remember. I was learning the arts of painting and sculpting. Nevertheless, I was frequently restless. The desire to see the world and mingle with young men of my age arose within me. Occasionally, unknown to the elder bikshus I used to walk along the river bank and leave the mountainous territory. But forests lay beyond the mountain and there was no human activity. It was when I was pining for company I saw you lying unconscious in the forests at the foothills of Ajantha. I showered on you all the affection I had bottled up in the last twenty years. I felt as much love for you as would young men in cities and villages would feel for their lovers. I nursed you back to consciousness by squeezing the juice of green herbs into your mouth.”
“Anna! When I saw you for the first time, I reciprocated your affection with the same intensity. I was very fond of our brother, Vishnuvardhanan. But the affection I felt for you far exceeded what I had felt for Vishnuvardhanan …” “I did not return to the Ajantha caves the day I found you. I did not return during the following two to three days either. The two of us were inseparable and were wandering around the forest arm in arm like newly wed lovers strolling in a garden. You related what had transpired in your life to me in detail. The two of us discussed ways to overthrow Mangalesan and regain control of the Vatapi Kingdom then itself.”
“By then Mangalesan’s men came there searching for me.” “When you heard the sound of men approaching at a distance, you were scared. You hugged me saying, ‘Anna! Please do not hand me over to them!’ I thought for a moment and then decided. I asked, ‘Thambi! Will you obey me?’ and you gave me your word. Then I wore your clothes and you wore mine. I also showed you the way to the Buddha Sangramam located in the Ajantha Caves. I also told you how one ought to behave there. I asked you to hide amidst the dense branches of a tree that stood at a distance.”
“I had barely hidden myself amongst the branches of the tree when Mangalesan’s men who resembled Yaman’s emissaries reached there. Their chief commanded, “Catch him and tie him up!” My heart bled. ‘I’ve escaped from grave danger’ I thought. I felt immensely grateful to you.” “Thambi! I had observed the similarity in our appearance even before. When we reached the banks after bathing in the river and falls, I observed the similarity of our reflections on the river surface. It was this knowledge that enabled me to save you then.” When Emperor Pulikesi asked in an emotion choked voice, “Anna! You asked me if I remembered those incidents. How can I forget that you dared to sacrifice your life for the sake of a stranger like me?” tears glistened in his eyes. The full moon wondered ‘Ah! What is this? Is the cruel Pulikesi whose heart is devoid of any mercy shedding tears?’ and dispatched two silver rays to ascertain this. In the moonlight the tear drops in Pulikesi’s eyes glistened like pearls bestowed by the deep seas.
It’s not surprising that Sivakami thought that Pulikesi and the bikshu was the same person. A short while ago, the Emperor Pulikesi himself was taken aback by this similarity. The Vatapi Emperor was seated in his tent all by himself. He was steeped in fatigue. None of the goals he had set for himself when he had left Vatapi were attained. They all came to naught due to Mahendra Pallavan’s ruses.
There was no news about the man who could defeat Mahendra Pallavan by countering his ruses; Naganandi Bikshu. Pulikesi’s spirits were sagging on account of this. His sole consolation was that he had arranged to teach Mahendra Pallavan a lesson through his Commander, Sashankan. Ah! Wouldn’t that fox Mahendra Pallavan realize that it was a monumental folly to deceive Pulikesi when he comes out of his hole?
The Emperor was waiting at the northern banks of the North Pennai River for Commander Sashankan to join him. He was angry wondering why it took so long for Sashankan to execute his commands and return to join him. It was then he heard that an army was advancing towards them from the South. Thinking that it was Sashankan who was coming, Pulikesi was eagerly waiting to hear what Sashankan had to say. When he heard a lone horse coming to a halt outside the tent, he was about to upbraid Sashankan for being so late. But it was not Sashankan who entered the tent. A tall person wearing the crown, bracelet and other ornaments that befit an Emperor entered the tent. Words cannot describe Pulikesi’s confusion and amazement hen he saw this person. “What is this? Have I gone mad? Or am I fantasizing? How can I, who am seated on the throne inside the tent, enter the tent from outside?” he wondered.
Observing Pulikesi’s baffled state, the person who entered the tent smiled. “Thambi! Why are you so scared? Am I a ghost or a monster? Are you unable to recognize me?” Enquiring thus, the person removed his crown. The bikshu’s tonsured head was visible. Pulikesi immediately stood up enthusiastically and asked, “Anna! Is that you?” He was about to embrace the bikshu when he stood rooted to the spot, surprised. “Ah! Why have you assumed this disguise? Your vow…?” he asked. Traces of envious anger were then evident in Pulikesi’s eyes.
“Thambi! Don’t be hasty. Wasn’t this disguise useful in saving your life once? Now it came handy to save my life. I have no second thoughts regarding my promise. Didn’t I promise you that I will not don this role within your kingdom? Have we reached your kingdom yet?” When Naganandi asked thus, Pulikesi angrily said, “Yes. But why is this region not a part of our kingdom? Has the Varaha flag been hoisted in thePallavaKingdom? Why is the gigantic Vatapi army retreating after being defeated by Mahendra Pallavan’s miniscule army? It’s all because of you!”
“Thambi! Don’t even utter the word ‘defeat’! Who was defeated? Neither the Vatapi army nor you were defeated. I was also not the cause of that defeat. Let’s discuss this at leisure. First, fetch me two pieces of ochre robes. If I continue donning this disguise, there will be unnecessary confusion. When I was entering, the sentries were gaping at me!” “Yes; there’s a reason for their gaping, isn’t it? They must have been shocked thinking when and how the Emperor who was seated inside the tent left the tent. Even I was confused for some time” Pulikesi said. He then commanded the sentries posted outside, “Fetch two pieces of ochre robes from the spies’ quarters immediately!”
The moment the ochre robes were brought, Naganandi changed his robes. The two brothers sat next to each other on the same throne. “Thambi! Tell me what had transpired since you left Vatapi in detail!” asked Naganandi. Pulikesi related everything. The bikshu attentively listened and then said, “Ah! Mahendra Pallavan is more astute than I thought. He has been misleading us for long!” “Anna! I thought there was no one in this world to surpass you in statecraft.” “Initially, I made one mistake. It had far reaching and disastrous consequences!” “Adigal! What was that mistake?” “My heart softened when I saw that youth, Paranjyothi!” “You entrusted the message to that stealthy boy!” “You were the reason for that, thambi!” “Me, how is that?”
“I had visited Pandya Nadu, made the necessary arrangements and was returning to Kanchi. A young boy was tiredly sleeping on the banks of the lake. I was reminded of having seen you for the first time in that very state. So I developed a fondness for that boy and trusted him too. It was evident from his physiognomy that he would attain great heights. So I was tempted to bring him to our fold. I sent a message for you through him. Had that message reached you and you had advanced, we could have captured the Kanchi Fort in three days. Mahendra Pallavan would have lain at your feet.” “It was not your message, but the message that was penned by Mahendra Pallavan, that reached me. On account of that message, I wasted eight months on the bank of the North Pennai River. Mahendra Pallavan, heading a small cavalry, was pretending to attack us without engaging in actual warfare. After that, I advanced to Kanchi and laid siege to the fort. It was futile. Anna! This is my first defeat after ascending the Vatapi throne…”
“Appane! Don’t utter those words! What do you term as defeat? Who was defeated? Haven’t you learnt the first lesson in statecraft yet? The lesson is that one ought to never ever acknowledge one’s defeat. If you yourself acknowledge your defeat, your subjects will also say so. Your foes will echo your words. The news of Emperor Pulikesi’s defeat will spread across the country. The false message that Mahendra Pallavan had written may come true. Harshavardhana’s army may cross Narmada and enter your kingdom. Never ever utter the word ‘defeat’, thambi!”
“If I don’t mention it will defeat be transformed into victory, Anna?” “Why are you again brooding over defeat? How can you term your campaign a defeat? Think about it! You started your campaign to the South accompanied by an ocean-like army. You razed Vyjayanthi to the ground. You overcame the Pallava army on the banks of the North Pennai River. You laid siege to the Kanchi Fort and progressed further South up to the banks of the Kollidam River. You set Durvineethan, who was imprisoned by the Pallavan, free. Three key monarchs of Tamizhagam, the Cholan, Cheran and Pandian acknowledged your supremacy and paid tribute to you on the banks of theKaveriRiver.” “Anna! The Cholan had not come!”
“Kallapalan came instead of the Cholan. Who is going to enquire about the details, thambi? When you returned to the Kanchi Fort, Mahendra Pallavan surrendered to you. Just like Mahavishnu who placed his leg on Mahabali’s head, you too placed your leg on Mahendra Pallavan’s head and deigned to let him remain alive. You collected tributes from him and left Kanchi…” “I haven’t brought any tributes, Anna!” “So what if you haven’t brought any tribute. I have!” “What’s that?” “I will show you tonight. When news of your campaign as I just related spreads across Utthara Bharath[i], wouldn’t people say that you’ve returned after a victorious campaign? Or would they say you retreated after being defeated?”
“Anna! Words are inadequate to describe your astuteness! You can transform even defeat into victory. After listening to you, even I think that I have been victorious. But how will this news of my victory spread across Utthara Bharath?” “Ah! What is the purpose of the existence of Buddha Sangams and Samana seminaries? We must immediately dispatch someone to Nagarjuna Mountain.” “Anna! It would be good if you go there in person. You also have a task to complete at Vengi.” “What task?” “Vishnuvardhanan is grievously injured. Apparently chaos prevails everywhere in theKingdomofVengiwhich he had successfully conquered last year.” “But what will my visit to Vengi achieve?” “You must go there and counsel him. There is nothing that you cannot achieve Anna! You will transform defeat into victory.” “I cannot go to Vengi now.” “Why?” “There’s a reason.” “Tell me.” “I will tell you tonight, thambi when the sun sets and darkness envelops this region. I will tell you when the full moon rises. Why are we confined in this tent? Come, let’s step out!”
“Yes, yes! The beauty of nature ought to be appreciated!” said the Emperor Pulikesi caustically as he stood up. “What is the use of you being blessed with several fortunes? You are not blessed with the fortune of experiencing beauty” said Naganandi as he stood up. The two brothers stepped out of the tent arm in arm like two intimate friends of the same age.
[i] Utthara Bharath – North India
Pulikesi’s army was advancing towards Vatapi. The size of the army which was returning was merely half the size of the army that had left Vatapi. Nevertheless, it was a large army. There were approximately three lakh soldiers and seven thousand war elephants in that army. That army left a trail of graveyards and deserts as it progressed to Vatapi. Villages and cities were plundered. Those people who tried to safeguard their houses and possessions were mercilessly killed or mutilated. Houses, huts and hay stacks were set ablaze. Embankments of dams were demolished.
The Chalukyas soldiers engaged in such atrocities both on account of hunger and a desire to seek revenge. Not only did they engage in these destructive activities, but they also goaded the elephants to assist them. The war elephants were hungry and demented; they destroyed all the fertile farm lands on the way. They trampled the farms where crops were cultivated. They grabbed the roofs of houses and flung them away. They tore hay stacks apart. On account of all these incidents the route the Vatapi army took to return was easily identifiable. That route resembled an area hit by a fierce cyclone. The sound of people crying and complaining was heard long after the Vatapi army had crossed. Eagles and vultures circled that area. Foxes were howling in broad daylight.
Sivakami was also travelling to Vatapi along with the Chalukya army. But Sivakami did not feel as though the palanquin bearers were carrying her to Vatapi. She felt that it was her inexorable fate that was leading her somewhere. The fear and worry regarding what might befall her when the Chalukyas had captured her had now disappeared.
Sivakami gained courage that was completely unexpected of a helpless girl in her situation. She not only felt emboldened but also developed an awareness of her strength of character! She developed this confidence ever since she successfully appealed to Pulikesi to liberate the imprisoned women. An Emperor who ruled a kingdom that was considerably larger than thePallavaKingdomacceded to her request! Not only that; Sivakami gathered from his facial expression that he was willing to act in accordance to her wishes.
At the same time, Sivakami was witnessing another mystery (or thought she was witnessing one). When she observed Pulikesi’s face at the Kanchi Court the other day, didn’t she think that there was an unravelled mystery? She now understood what it was. The Bikshu Naganandi’s and Pulikesi’s faces were identical. Aha! She had solved the mystery! The Emperor Pulikesi and the bikshu was the same person! As she was aware that Mahendra Chakravarthy used to travel across the country in disguise, she assumed that it was natural for Pulikesi to do so. She was reminded of the interest the bikshu had shown in her dancing. She thought that Pulikesi had probably invaded Kanchi for her sake.
Sivakami was both shocked and amazed that she wielded so much influence. Pulikesi, who was known to be violent and cruel, was willing to act as per her wishes! This thought often occurred to Sivakami and made her more arrogant. This thought also reassured her about her safety. She felt emboldened thinking nothing will happen in contradiction to her wishes and that no harm will befall her.
Did Sivakami think of Mamallar during those days? Good question! Thoughts of Mamallar formed the basis of all her emotional experiences. But occasionally those thoughts assumed strange forms. Affection became anger; anger became sorrow, which instilled in her hatred and a desire to seek revenge. Mamallar, who was born to rule thePallavaKingdom, was unable to prevent the imprisonment of the women of Pallava Nadu. This humble sculptor’s daughter was able to free them! “How will he feel when Shatrugnan conveys this news to him? Will he be pleased? Or will he be angry? His opinions on this matter were of no consequence to those present here. Didn’t he treat me lightly thinking that I am a mere sculptor’s daughter? Wasn’t he a silent witness to all the insults his father had heaped on me? If he was truly in love with me, would he have accorded greater importance to the kingdom? Wouldn’t he have courageously expressed his desire to Mahendra Pallavar and have married her? Would this disaster have occurred had he done so?
Good; I will teach him a lesson. Now a great Emperor who rules a kingdom thrice as large as the Pallava Kingdome was willing to accord utmost importance to a casual request of mine! Let Mamallar come and observe this! Let Mamallar come in person and understand that I’m willing to give up such a prestigious position and return with him! What if he never turns up?” The instant this thought occurred to Sivakami, she felt that all the blood in her body had evaporated and that her body had become a cage made of skin. The next instant she regained her courage. “Can he refrain from coming? He will never ever act in that manner. Neither is he of such base character; nor is his love so shallow. He will definitely come to fulfill the promise he had made by swearing on the spear.”
Sivakami strengthened her resolve and thought what she would do if Mamallar does not come for her. “If he does not come, what does that mean? It means that he has no genuine love for me. It means that he was just pretending to be in love with me. In that case, all that happened was for good! Why should I regret being separated from someone who does not love me? I possess the wonderful art of dancing which my father imparted to me. There lies the expansiveKingdomofVatapi. Why should I destroy myself pining for someone who doesn’t love me?”
Even as Sivakami was thinking along these lines, she was pining for that love-less man. “Chi! Why am I unnecessarily imagining things? If he does not come for me, is there any purpose in my life? Why should I live? Dancing and artistic pursuits are all useless! I should not deceive myself unnecessarily! It’s only because of him that I continue being alive despite being imprisoned by the Chalukyas. I am going to Vatapi despite witnessing all the atrocities on the way because of him. I believe that he will seek revenge on these criminal Chalukyas and take me back. I am alive only on account of his love. I am going to Vatapi to uphold his honour. What if he forgets me? Good, it won’t take me long to commit suicide!” When Sivakami used to dance, her facial expressions used to change at lightning speed in accordance with the emotions expressed in the song. Sometimes it was impossible for the audience to follow her. Now Sivakami was experiencing myriad emotions that rose and ebbed at lightning speed.
Emperor Pulikesi did not approach Sivakami till the womenfolk of thePallavaKingdom, who were freed, reached the banks of theNorthPennaiRiver. Sivakami opined that the underlying reason was Pulikesi’s concern that Sivakami will come to know about his donning the guise of a bikshu. She decided that she ought not to reveal that she had already stumbled upon this during this journey. A large part of the Vatapi army had camped on the opposite banks of theNorthPennaiRiver. The small force that was accompanying Pulikesi had meanwhile joined the larger contingent. That night Sivakami had an astounding dream. But she was unable to decipher for a long time if it was a dream or an actual occurrence. That incident, irrespective of whether it was a dream or reality, aroused several new doubts and anxieties within her.
Sivakami’s palanquin was lowered at a short distance away from the Vatapi army camp. The area in which the army had camped was scenic and tranquil. The full moon was showering its milky white light across the sky and on the earth. A gentle breeze was blowing across the area. Sivakami who was exhausted after a long journey lay down under a tree. Her eyes closed of their own accord. Soon she fell under Nitra Devi’s spell and slipped into deep sleep. Her slumber was slightly disturbed by the sound of conversation. Nevertheless, her eyelids had lost their ability to open. But her eagerness to know who was conversing intensified. Her eyelids opened slightly upon exercising great effort. She saw an unexpected sight in the moonlight.
Emperor Pulikesi and the bikshu were standing next to each other. Their height, build, facial structure, nose, eyes and eyebrows were identical. Only their clothes were different. One wore the crown and ornaments that befit an Emperor. The second person sported a tonsured head and ochre robes. Observing this, Sivakami said to herself, “Ah! What’s this! Aren’t Pulikesi and the bikshu the same person? But here they appear to be two different people? So this is not reality, I’m dreaming. I’m fantasizing in my dream!” Her eyelids closed again.
Though her eyes were closed, her ears were alert. She heard the following conversation: “Anna! Weren’t you referring to this girl?” “It’s indeed her.” “Is she Sivakami?” “Yes; she’s Sivakami!” “In the message you wrote to me, you had asked me to retain Kanchi Sundari and hand over Sivakami to you. Was this the Sivakami you were talking about?” “Yes, thambi. Yes.” “I’m unable to understand why you’re so mesmerized by her beauty. I have seen several women who are more beautiful than her in Vatapi itself.” “If you watch her dance, you will opine otherwise!” “I saw her dance too at Mahendra Pallavan’s court! There was nothing spectacular about her performance.” “You cannot understand. You need to be able possess an appreciation of the arts. Weren’t you the one who said that there was nothing outstanding about the Ajantha paintings?” “Never mind. It suffices that you’re the one in our lineage who possesses artistic sensibility. Our campaign to the South has been a dismal failure. I am however satisfied that your desire has been fulfilled.”
“Thambi! You must safeguard her with utmost caution. You should ensure that she does not suffer any discomfort till I return.” “Why are you worried, anna?” “I am not worried about her. I am concerned for the art that resides in her. I am worried that the divine art should not be affected in any manner.” “You are indeed worried about the arts! If you ask me, I will tell you what I had told Mahendra Pallavan!” “What did you tell Mahendra Pallavan, thambi?”
“These lowly folk don’t deserve so much respect! I told him that we whip artists and make them dance in our country.” “Look, how can I entrust her to you? I will not go to Vengi.” “No, anna. No! Don’t take what I had playfully uttered seriously! Have I ever acted in a manner that contradicts your wishes? I will make the necessary arrangements to keep her happy. You may go without worry!” With this, the conversation seemed to have come to an end. Sivakami slipped into an unconscious state again.
The following dawn, when Sivakami woke up she gradually recollected the aforesaid conversation. She was confused whether the conversation had actually happened or whether it was a dream. After thinking for a long time, she decided that it must have been a dream. It was not possible that two people were endowed with identical appearance. Even if it were so, it’s not possible that one person was a bikshu and the other person was an Emperor. Both of them conversing in that manner in her presence was an impossible occurrence. Their conversation was conjured by her dazed mind. Didn’t she often wonder about the artistic appreciation that surprisingly lurked somewhere within the cruel Pulikesi? This must be the reason for her dreaming about two identical individuals conversing in that manner. Despite Sivakami concluding that Pulikesi and the bikshu were the same person, the above-mentioned dream confused and worried her immensely.
When Shatrugnan reached this point in his narrative, Mamallar felt that he was about to cease breathing. He was extremely eager to know what had happened. For an instant, he imagined several situations. He thought that Shatrugnan and Sivakami must have fled that place. But they must have met with a precarious situation on the way back. His heart itched to save her from that dangerous situation and bring her back.
He angrily asked, “Shatrugna, why are you lengthening the story? Where did you leave Sivakami before coming here? Tell me quickly…” “Prabhu! Sivakami Ammai must have crossed the North Pennai River by now! I left her in the area between the Ponnmugaliaru and North Pennai River. The sinner that I am!” said Shatrugnan sadly. Sparksof anger flew from Mamallar’s eyes. It seemed that he was angrier with Shatrugnan than with Pulikesi.
“What is this? Did you leave Sivakami behind with Pulikesi and come here all by yourself? Shatrugna! Don’t clown with me. Tell me what transpired quickly!” he roared. Then Aayanar said with an enthusiasm Mamallar found difficult to comprehend, “Prabhu! Let Shatrugnan continue with his narrative. I beseech you to listen patiently!” Shatrugnan continued with his narrative:
“I expected Sivakami Ammai to happily consent to my plan and agree to escape with me. But I was extremely disappointed. Sivakami Ammai, who was courageous till then, started weeping after listening to my plan. She closed her face with her hands and sobbed. I was unable to understand her situation. I attempted to console her. Then she stared at me wide-eyed and said, “I trusted his word and am now in this condition”. She then said, “No! No! This danger has befallen me because I did not heed him. How can I face him?” She then uttered several irrelevant words. Her behaviour shocked me. I was concerned if she was dazed.
Then Sivakami Ammai commenced narrating the atrocities she had witnessed the Chalukya forces perpetrating in our villages. It was only then my doubts regarding her clarity of thought were resolved. I patiently listened to what she had to say for some time. Then I said, “Amma! Mahendra Pallavar and Mamallar will avenge all this!” You ought to have seen Sivakami Ammai’s fury and ferocity then. When she shrieked, “Yes, Shatrugna! Yes! They must seek revenge”, I was concerned that the guards may become suspicious. Fortunately as the women were mumbling and blabbering in their sleep, the guards did not hear Sivakami Ammai shouting.
Then I gradually calmed her. I repeated my plan to escape. She then stared at me and said, “Aiyya! There are a thousand women like me. Some of them have been separated from their husbands. Some of them have left behind their new born infants. How can I alone escape allowing the Chalukya demons to abduct all the other women? I am neither married nor have I given birth to a child. How does it matter what becomes of me? You leave me here. You will be blessed if you can rescue even one mother of a new born infant from here.” Even my heart softened. Nevertheless, I strengthened my resolve and said, “Amma! Mahendra Chakravarthy has commanded me to bring you back safely. I am the Chakravarthy’s servant. I am duty bound to obey his command”. I knew that these words will not make her change her mind. Nevertheless I said again, “Amma! It’s true that you’re neither married nor do you have a child. But don’t you have a father? Won’t he be in distress after being separated from his only daughter? Don’t you have to think about that?”
Tears glistened in Sivakami Ammai’s eyes then. She said in a choked voice, “Yes, I have betrayed my father. Aiyya! He has escaped, isn’t it?” I said, “Amma! If you want him to recover, you must leave with me immediately!” Sivakami Ammai again closed her face with her hands and sobbed. She soon removed her hands from her face and said, “Aiyya! Please give me a day’s time to think. My body and soul are overcome by fatigue. Even if I wanted to leave now, I will not be able to take a step forward. I will tell you for sure tomorrow”. I too thought it would be beneficial to give her a day’s time and said, “So be it, amma! Nothing will be lost in a day. You decide by tomorrow”.
I thought that I will be able to change her mind by the night of the following day and bring her back with me. But an incident that I had not at all anticipated occurred the following evening. The Chalukya Emperor, Pulikesi, joined us at the banks of Ponnmugaliaru. He was accompanied by a small army! I guessed that he had left Commander Sashankan behind to bring up the rear guard and had advanced. That night itself everyone started traveling northwards. Words cannot describe my disappointment and sorrow. When I found an opportunity to meet Sivakami Ammai alone on the way, I said, “Amma! What have you done?” Sivakami said, “What did I do? If it is fated, what can I do?”
After traveling for two days, we stayed at the foot of the Thiruvenkata Mountain. During the two days of the journey, Pulikesi did not meet us. On the third day, we were resting by the shadow of a rock. We heard the sound of horse hooves nearby. Soon Pulikesi and a few horsemen came riding and stood at the bend of that rock. I expected the Emperor to dismount from his horse and approach us. But it did not happen. After the Emperor stood for some time surveying the area, he was about to mount the horse. It was then the most unexpected incident occurred. Sivakami swiftly detached herself from the women, leapt forward and ran. She then stood in the way of Pulikesi and shrieked, “Emperor! I implore you!”
Hearing Sivakami shriek, even the hard-hearted Pulikesi must have softened. Immediately, Pulikesi came close to Sivakami and asked, “Lady! What do you seek?” Aha! There are no words to describe the enraged words Sivakami Ammai spoke then! I don’t know where she derived such courage, astuteness and eloquence from. Sivakami Ammai majestically looked at Pulikesi and spoke. I will relate what Sivakami Ammai said in a choked voice to the extent I remember.
“Aiyya! Sovereigns like you who rule the world wage wars to demonstrate your valour and to earn fame. You befriend those whom you had regarded as your foes at one time. One day you are the guest of another sovereign in his palace. The following day the two of you wage a battle in the battlefield. Why should we poor women be tortured amidst your conflicts? How did we harm you? I beseech you to be merciful and send us all back. Some of the imprisoned women here have left behind wailing new-born infants. Several of them are married. If you don’t free them and send all of them back, they will go mad before they reach your capital city, Vatapi. When you return to your capital after a victorious campaign, would you like to enter the city with a thousand dazed women? How do you stand to benefit by this? Please allow the thousand women to return home. They will bless you whole-heartedly!” That block head devoid of artistic sensibility said, “Lady! You ought to demonstrate your proficiency in abhinayas in a dance performance. What is the use of demonstrating your expertise here?”
When Shatrugnan related this, Mamallar heaved a deep sigh and said, “Aha! Didn’t Aayanar’s daughter fall at the feet of that base man and seek a boon? She deserved this!”
Shatrugnan continued with his narrative: “Yes Prabhu! It seemed as though Sivakami Ammai thought along those lines. After listening to Pulikesi’s response, she lowered her head. She continued staring at the ground for some time. Then that sinner said, ‘Lady! I will not be cheated by your abhinayas. But there is an element of fairness in what you say. So I condescend to consent to your request. But I have a condition. You spoke very forcefully on behalf of these women. You must prove that your sympathy for these women is not a pretense. Didn’t you mention that they have been separated from their husbands and children? But you are neither wedded nor do you have children. You tell me 7hether you consent to come to Vatapi with me! If you consent, then I will free these women and send them back this very instant’. When I heard those words, I felt like killing that sinner.”
Mamallar angrily interrupted asking, “Did Sivakami agree to that condition?” “Yes Prabhu! Sivakami did not delay even for a moment. She immediately stood up and said, “I agree, Emperor! I agree to your condition!” At that instant Sivakami Ammai’s posture and facial expression were divine. It seemed as though the Sita who faced Ravanan, the Panchali who stood in Duryodhana’s court, the Savitri who debated with Yaman and the Kannagi who stood in front of Pandiankhad come together in the form of Aayanar’s divine daughter…” “Shatrugna! Enough of your ecstatic description! What happened next?” asked Mamallar.
“Shortly thereafter the Emperor released all of us. He commanded a few soldiers to escort us up to Ponnmugaliaru. All the women who were teary eyed and anxious till then became exultant. They heartily blessed Sivakami. But I was thunder struck. I fell at her feet and said, “Amma! I will not leave you and go. Ask another boon of the Emperor and retain me with you”. Sivakami stubbornly insisted, “It is of paramount importance that you leave. You should go and inform my father”. She refused to heed my advice. Finally I decided to leave as I had no other alternative. I feared that if I stayed there longer my disguise would come off, that I will not be of help to Sivakami and that I will not be able to bring her message here. So I asked, “If you so desire, I will go. What should I tell your father?” Sivakami Ammai said, “Ask him not to worry about me. Tell him that I will be safe in Vatapi. By the time I return from Vatapi, I would have learnt about the secret of the Ajantha paints…”
As soon as Shatrugnan said this, Aayanar enthusiastically said, “Did you observe? Pallava Kumara! Sivakami is safe. Not only that, she has also said she will return after learning about the secret of the Ajantha paints. Wasn’t it unnecessary for me to have sent Paranjyothi for this purpose? It’s my dear daughter who is going to fulfill my desire! Not only that! We now have to change our opinion about the Vatapi Emperor. Didn’t we think that he was incapable of appreciation and devoid of artistic sensibility? If that were so, would he have sent back the thousand women and taken only Sivakami along? Prabhu! Once I recover, I myself will go to Vatapi…”
Mamallar felt as though someone had pierced his ears with an iron rod when he heard Aayanar speak. When Mamallar heard that Sivakami had consented to go to Vatapi, he felt as though a thousand scorpions had stung him at the same time. It must be said that his pure love for Sivakami was corrupted by an iota of poison at that instant. He was unable to tolerate the idea that Sivakami had volunteered to go to Vatapi with Pulikesi. Aayanar’s talk had the effect of piercing his already wounded heart with a sharp spear. Mamallar desired solitude then. He desired to return to the lotus pond. He stood up with a start and asked, “Shatrugna! Do you have anything else to narrate? Did Sivakami send any other message?”
Shatrugnan hesitantly looked at Aayanar. When he observed that Aayanar was immersed in deep thought, he said softly, “Pallava Kumara! Sivakami Ammai sent a message for you too. She asked you to remember the vow you had made by swearing on the spear. She said that she was waiting at Vatapi for you to fetch her like Sita Devi, who had waited in Lanka”.
Till some time ago this world had seemed to be a vacuum; an arid desert to Mamallar. Now he felt there existed a lush green oasis in that desert.
Neither Aayanar nor Shatrugnan observed Mamallar standing at the doorstep. They were so engrossed in conversation. When Mamallar entered the mandapam, both of them looked up in unison. Shatrugnan immediately stood up and exclaimed, “Prabhu!” Shock rendered Shatrugnan speechless. Aayanar, who was reclining, enthusiastically pulled himself to sitting position and said, “Prabhu! Please come! Welcome! I was just thinking about you! Shatrugnan has brought good news. My child Sivakami is alive and safe!”
Hearing this, Mamallar felt faint. He walked up to Aayanar, looked at Shatrugnan and asked, “Shatrugna! Is this true?” “Yes Prabhu! It’s true!” Shatrugnan said with his arms folded. “Pallava Kumara! When I met you at the forest path some time ago, I crossed you without talking to you. Please forgive me. When I saw you all of a sudden, I felt embarrassed talking to you!” he said humbly. “Was that woman you? It was a good disguise!” said Mamallar. “Yes, even I was taken aback some time ago. The disguise of a woman suits him so well. Chakravarthy chooses the right person for every task” said Aayanar.
Mamallar murmured softly, “Only you find the Chakravarthy’s wisdom praiseworthy!” He then asked Shatrugnan, “Why did you assume the guise of a woman?” “It was only because Shatrugnan had donned that disguise was he able to trace Sivakami. I beseech you to sit down; Shatrugnan will explain everything in detail. I too will listen to what he has to say for a second time”. Mamallar sat down. Shatrugnan too sat down and commenced narrating his story as follows.
“The Chakravarthy was shocked beyond words when he came to know that Aayanar and Sivakami had left Kanchi through the underground tunnel. He immediately decided to leave the fort and commanded the forces to get ready. He then called me aside and commanded, “Shatrugna! You have rendered stellar service to the Pallava kingdom thus far. But your service now is more important than all the service you’ve rendered in the past. Had Mamallan been present here, I myself would have performed that task. I am now headed to the battlefield to uphold the honour of the Pallava dynasty. I am entrusting the task of tracing Sivakami and bringing her back with you. If you’re unable to rescue Sivakami and bring her back, you must safeguard her”. I asked, “Prabhu! If the Chalukya forces have captured Sivakami Ammai, what can I do single-handedly?” “I have indeed entrusted you with a difficult task. Shatrugna! You have donned several disguises thus far. But there is one disguise which will suit you the most; it’s the guise of a woman!” I immediately understood the Chakravarthy’s intention. I donned the disguise you saw me in some time ago, left Kanchi and reached this house.
When I arrived here, an unconscious Aayanar was brought to this house. He was not accompanied by Sivakami Devi. So I decided that she must have been imprisoned and left this place. Wherever I heard the voices of the Chalukya soldiers, I hid myself and observed. Finally to thenorth westof Kanchi I stumbled upon a large Chalukya force that was marching northwards. The sound of women complaining and wailing was heard amidst that massive mob. When I neared the force and watched closely, I realized that the weeping women were our women from the villages who were imprisoned. There was also a palanquin amidst the women. I came to know that Sivakami Devi was seated in that palanquin.
Soon, I ran towards that force with my hair untied and crying loudly. I pretended that someone was chasing me. I repeatedly looked back while running. The Chalukyas teasingly said, “Have you come? Come!” took me along and left me with the other captive women. For some time I too wept like the other women. Then I slowly neared the palanquin and confirmed that it was indeed Sivakami Ammai who was seated in the palanquin. I guessed the reason for them taking Sivakami Ammai along so respectfully. The commander of that force, Sashankan, wanted to carefully hand over the greatest artistic treasure of Pallava Nadu to the Vatapi Emperor and ask for an award for successfully plundering that treasure! This thought comforted me. I was confident that no harm will befall Sivakami Ammai immediately. However it was an impossible task to extricate Sivakami, who was surrounded by the demonic Chalukya forces, and bring her back. I was unable to think of a way to liberate her.
All of us were headed northwards. We soon reached the banks of Vellaru, which is also known as Ponnmugaliaru. Commander Sashankan seemed very confused. I was able to ascertain the reason for this from the Chalukya soldiers’ conversation. The reason was the message brought by the emissaries about the major battle fought between the Vatapi Emperor and Mahendra Pallavar at Manimangalam. I also surmised why this message confused Commander Sashankan so much. Sashankan had thought that the Vatapi Emperor, accompanied by a large part of the army, would have reached the banks of theNorthPennaiRiverby then. Wouldn’t Sashankan be surprised if he were to receive the news that Pulikesi had stayed back and fought a battle at Manimangalam, which is close to Mamallapuram? Sashankan was struggling to understand if the Vatapi Emperor was angry with him for advancing ahead of him. The day after we reached the banks of Ponnmugaliaru, Sashankan along with his forces stayed back at the southern banks of the river. The imprisoned women escorted by a few Chalukya soldiers were made to cross the river.
As soon as we reached the opposite bank, I decided, ‘This is a good opportunity. I will take Sivakami Ammai along and hide in the nearby hills. As there were only a few soldiers, we can escape without their knowledge in the night. That night when everyone was about to sleep, I arranged to be close to Sivakami Ammai. When all the other women had gone to sleep, I introduced myself in Prakrit[i]. Sivakami was initially extremely taken aback. Then she enquired about Aayanar and you. But I was then unaware of your whereabouts. I did not know that you had returned from your campaign in the South. So I only told her that Aayanar was saved and that he was still alive. Then gradually I informed her about my plan. Prabhu! I cannot describe my disappointment…”
Aha! Is this the same lotus pond we had previously seen? Didn’t Sivakami and Mamallar spend several delightful days on the banks of this lotus pond? Yes; this was the very pond. But its appearance had undergone a complete transformation. The lotus pond reflected the state of Mamallar’s mind. The pond which used to be filled with crystal clear waters was now mostly filled with slush. The lotus flowers, closed buds and the leaves that covered the pond like a green canopy and which had captivated those who set their eyes on this pond were no longer present. A few lotus leaves that were trampled along with the slush under the feet of elephants lay scattered. Along with the dried leaves lay a few wilted and lifeless lotus shoots.
The low lying branches of the trees on the banks of the lotus bond had been broken and the trees appeared tonsured! Ah! That wooden plank! Even that was broken and a part of that plank lay on the ground smashed to smithereens. The other part stood in the original place with broken edges. A shattered Mamallar sat on the broken wooden plank. Old memories competed with each other and flooded back to him.
He had come here looking for Sivakami several times during spring, when the trees in the forests were covered with tender shoots and flowers. When the birds in the forest used to chirp merrily, he and Sivakami sat quietly on the wooden plank. They used to be unaware of time slipping away as their eyes, hands and hearts did all the talking. When the moon rose in the horizon amidst the green trees, how many times had Mamallar compared Sivakami’s face to the full moon! For several days when they had stood at the edge of the lotus pond filled with crystal clear water, he had blissfully alternated between looking at Sivakami’s face and the reflection of her face in the water! Such memories initially infused happiness in Mamallar. But when he intermittently thought that he will never ever encounter such joyful experiences again, his heart was weighed down by torturous sorrow. When Mamallar felt that he will not be able to bear the weight of such memories, he stood up with a start. He rushed towards the horse, leapt on to it and rode towards Aayanar’s house.
The peace he had felt when he was leaving Kanchi had dissipated. Anger and rage filled his heart now. He felt enraged at his foes, the Chalukyas, who had abducted Sivakami. He also was furious with Aayanar who had foolishly lost her. He felt an indescribable suspicion and anger towards the bikshu. Ah! He had never held that masquerader in high esteem. Wouldn’t the bikshu have saved Sivakami, had he so desired? Why didn’t he save her? Why didn’t he send any message to Aayanar? What became of the bikshu? How did he mysteriously disappear?
The night when Sivakami’s arangetram had abruptly ended, Mamallar recollected the Chakravarthy pointing out to the bikshu who was near the Royal Viharam and had cautioned him. Immediately, Mamallar’s anger was directed towards his father. Wasn’t thePallavaKingdomin its current state due to Mahendra Pallavar’s ruses, treachery and disguises! It was because of Mahendra Pallavar that he had lost Sivakami! Suddenly a dangerous suspicion rose in Mamallar’s heart. Was it on account of one of Mahendra Pallavar’s ruses that Sivakami was imprisoned? If that were not the case, why did Mahendra Pallavar have to send him to the battlefield and fetch Sivakami from Mandapapattu? Why did he have to arrange for a tunnel to be built at the palace garden and make it known to Kannabiran’s wife? Probably, that woman Kamali was also an accomplice to the Chakravarthy in this ruse! Everyone had joined hands and betrayed him! Aha! This world is so deceitful! This deceitful world is filled with perfidy and ill-will!
Mamallar reached the entrance of Aayanar’s house in this state of mind. He was desirous of enquiring Aayanar about certain mysterious and incomprehensible aspects of Sivakami’s imprisonment. He stopped riding the horse at some distance away from the house and composed himself. Then he casually walked to Aayanar’s house and entered. He was surprised when he heard conversation within the house. Who was Aayanar speaking to? When Mamallar recognized the man sitting with Aayanar near the sculpture mandapam, he was taken aback. That man was the Chief of Spies, Shatrugnan!
It was not Shatrugnan’s presence in Aayanar’s house that surprised Mamallar. When he saw Shatrugnan’s face, he immediately recollected another face. The face he recollected was that of the woman he had seen at the forest path sometime ago! The two faces were amazingly similar. Was she Shatrugnan’s sister or niece? Or did Shatrugnan himself…? The doubt was resolved in a moment. Narasimha Pallavar observed the saree and a few pieces of women’s jewellery that lay next to Shatrugnan.