Category Archives: Volume 4: Shattered Dream
To meditate lifelong
At the feet of Our Lord
Kalki’s choice of Vageechar’s words to end his novel is indicative of the shift from romance to reflection, from mundane to spiritual.
The Great War at Vatapi fought after nine long years of preparation has made Mamallar the victor. Pulikesi meets his end in the battle. Paranjyothi, the war strategist, is not enchanted by the victory. What path does he choose to find solace?
The Machiavellian Naganandi ends up a tragic hero. What makes the reader pity rather than condemn him?
Honour of the state drives Mamallar to make difficult choices in his personal life. His friendship and allegiance too change on account of that. What has life in store for him?
After what seems like an endless wait, Sivakami’s oath is fulfilled and her honour is upheld. But why does happiness still evade her?
Read the scintillating fourth and final volume of ‘Sivakamiyin Sabadham’ for the answers. You will go through a gamut of experiences and realize that the end is in fact a new beginning.
The Simha[i] Flag
Sivakami shed copious tears and sobbed when she saw the lifeless Kannabiran, on whom a deathly calm had descended. “Amma! No matter how long you mourn and weep, Kannan is not going to rise from the dead. This is the nature of war. Kannabiran was not the only one who lost his life. Like him, thousands of warriors have lost their lives. Please come with me; the fire has reached the vicinity of this house,” said Paranjyothi.
Sivakami looked at him with tear filled eyes and sobbed, “Commander! I wrote to you requesting you not to proceed with this war!” “Yes, amma! I too exercised great effort. Just when my efforts were about to fructify, that fake bikshu came and spoilt everything. How can we prevent it if the city of Vatapi is fated to be destroyed?”
“Aiyya! Why do you blame fate? This sinner[ii] is responsible for everything. Long ago, you and he had stubbornly insisted that I accompany you. I foolishly refused to do so…” “Amma! Several things could have turned out differently. Of what use it to dwell on the past now? Please leave. Mamallar and your father are eagerly awaiting your arrival.” “Commander! How can I face him? I cannot bring myself to do so. I will stay here and give up my life. Please tell him that I had apologized to him a thousand times!” Even as Sivakami was speaking in this manner, a loud sound was heard at the entrance.
Shortly thereafter, Mamallar entered the palace. Aayanar followed him. Paranjyothi exclaimed aloud, “Ah! He himself has come!” He muttered to himself, “With this, my responsibility is over!” When Sivakami heard the words, “He himself has come!” she felt goosebumps. She raised her lowered head and looked towards the entrance. For a split second, Mamallar’s eyes and Sivakami’s eyes met. Unable to control her emotions, Sivakami lowered her head again. Her stomach churned and she felt so choked that she felt breathless and was unable to cry. She then felt so dazed that she did not comprehend what transpired around her. She regained consciousness hearing her father cry, “Ah! Is that Kannabiran? Aiyyo!” “Yes, it is indeed Kannan! It is the Kannan, who was desirous of liberating Kamali’s friend, seating her in the chariot and bringing her back, who is now dead stabbed by a venomous dagger at his chest! Aayanar! Ask your daughter if her oath has been fulfilled! Isn’t she at peace now? Ask her, Aayanar! Ask her!” Mamallar’s words had the impact of drops of molten lead being poured into Sivakami’s ears. Hadn’t she heard him utter such affection-filled nectarine words in the past? Now the very same person was mouthing such cruel words. She wondered, “Ah! Was it to hear these words that I patiently safeguarded my life during the last nine years?”
Mamallar’s harsh words also made Paranjyothi extremely sorrowful. When he started saying, “Chakaravarthy! Sivakami Ammai is extremely dejected…” Mamallar interrupted saying, “Why does Sivakami have to feel dejected? All her desires have been fulfilled. Hasn’t her oath been upheld? If she is doubtful, she can see for herself when she is travelling down the streets. She can derive joy by seeing the houses on fire, corpses accumulated on the streets and people running around shrieking. Respected sculptor Aayanar! Please take your daughter along and leave immediately!” Sivakami’s heart was shattered to a thousand smithereens; she felt dizzy. Then Aayanar went to her and said in a gentle voice, “My child! Don’t you recognize me?” Sivakami called out, “Appa!” as embraced him and sobbed.
Ever since Commander Paranjyothi had entered Vatapi at dawn, Mamallar’s agitation grew by the minute. He felt that his remaining idle outside the fort when some grave danger may befall Sivakami was a big blunder. He was unable to remain outside the fort when he received news from Manavanmar that Emperor Pulikesi was not found in the palace. He took Aayanar along and entered the city of Vatapi. He resolved that he would speak to Sivakami affectionately when he met her. But seeing Kannabiran, for whom he had immense affection and regard, dead, his heart hardened. That was the reason for his uttering such harsh words.
While Aayanar and Sivakami travelled in the chariot, Mamallar and Paranjyothi followed them on horseback. Paranjyothi related in detail all that had transpired ever since he had reached the entrance of Sivakami’s palace, in deference to Mamallar’s command. As the Chakaravarthy heard Paranjyothi’s account, he became more and more furious. Hadn’t Naganandi said that he had tried to kill Sivakami to protect her from further agony? Mamallar’s conscience acknowledged the truth in that statement. His fury increased multi-fold.
Sivakami rested her head on her father’s shoulder as they rode in the chariot and witnessed the gory sight at the streets of Vatapi. Sometimes she closed her eyes unable to witness such sights. Though she was able to close her eyes, she was unable to close her ears. The sounds of houses burning in the inferno, the strong gust of wind blowing, children shrieking, women wailing, the Pallava soldiers chasing their foes and the slogans of victory filled her ears and caused her to open her eyes and look around. In this situation, Mamallar rode up to the chariot once. Sivakami looked at him in the face.
But Mamallar did not look in her direction. He pointedly looked at Aayanar and said, “Respected sculptor! We may take another month to leave this place. If you so desire, I can send you and your daughter to Kanchi with adequate security. Apparently Naganandi Bikshu had said that he would like to take you and your daughter to Ajantha. If you wish to visit Ajantha, you may do so!”
Even amidst the horrific aftermath of war and all the difficulties he had faced, Aayanar was tempted when he heard the word ‘Ajantha’.. Aayanar was still unaware that Paranjyothi had ascertained the secret of the Ajantha dyes from Naganandi. So he turned to Sivakami and asked, “Amma! What is your preference? Do you wish to go to Kanchi or Ajantha?” That moment Sivakami’s heart became harder than a diamond. “Appa! I wish to go neither to Kanchi nor to Vatapi. Please ask the Pallava Kumarar to mercifully wield his sword at my chest and dispatch me to Yama Puri[iii]. Please ask him to render this assistance for old times sake!” After speaking thus, Sivakami again fell unconscious in Aayanar’s lap.
Mamallar turned around and reached Paranjyothi’s side. He felt slightly at peace after having directed such cruel words at Sivakami. “My friend! Do you see Pulikesi’s perfidious Jayasthambam there? We have today fulfilled the vow we had made nine years ago standing by that pillar. Please arrange to demolish that perfidious pillar and erect the Pallava army’s Jayasthambam in its place. May the Pallava army hoist the flag of victory atop the new Jayasthambam! To commemorate this momentous victory, the ‘Simha’ insignia ought to replace the ‘Rishabha’ insignia in our flag and our awards!” commanded Mamallar.
Sivakami felt as though she was gradually resurfacing from the dark depths of the deep sea. She could perceive sparks of light emerge and revolve around her in the pitch darkness. Amidst the complete silence, she could hear an indecipherable sound. Initially it was soft. The sound became progressive louder and soon resembled an uproarious ocean. Amidst that uproarious din, she could her certain sounds. Those sounds soon transformed into the sound of human conversation. Ah! The sound of two voices alternately speaking was heard. Sivakami thought one of the voices sounded familiar. But whose voice was that?
Sivakami realized that her eyelids were still shut. Exercising great effort, she opened her eyes slightly. The sight that then met her eyes simultaneously aroused surprise, pity, agitation and horror in her. She also wondered if this was a dream or if her dazed mind was hallucinating. She comprehended that she was lying on the floor of a viharam that was carved out of rocks. The uneven rocky terrain had a chilling impact on her body. A man lay on the ground a short distance from her. A majestic looking man, who resembled Samara Rudra Murthy, stood close to him holding his sword aloft. Several soldiers wielding swords and spears stood further away. Shock, anger and respect were evident in their facial expressions. The fire sparks and smoke that emanated from the torches a few soldiers were holding had transformed that cave mandapam into a scene from Yama Loka.
The massive statue of Buddha Bhagavan seated in a meditative posture had a beatific expression. Sivakami closed her eyes once again and opened them to confirm if the sight in front of her was a dream, a hallucination or reality. She realized that what was unfolding in her presence was reality. Gradually she regained clarity of thought and the ability to think. She observed that the man who lay on the floor was Naganandi Bikshu. She surmised that the man standing majestically next to him holding a sword aloft was Commander Paranjyothi.
“The soldiers who surrounded the two men and stood scattered in the cave must be Pallava soldiers. But how did they reach here? How did I come here?” The indecipherable sounds of human conversation soon became clear. Naganandi was saying, “Appane, Paranjyothi! May you lead a happy life! You are very virtuous and grateful! It was this hand that saved you from a cobra. It was this hand that freed you from the Pallavan’s prison. It was this hand that saved the life of the sculptor Aayanar, whom you regard as your achariar. This hand also saved his daughter from being killed by a kabalikiai some time ago. You have amputated that very right hand! Ah! You are such a grateful boy!”
Paranjyothi interrupted then and said: “Ah! You fake bikshu! Why did you stop relating the exploits of your sacred hands mid-way? Wasn’t this the hand that wielded the poisoned dagger at Mahendra Pallavar? Weren’t these the hands that enabled you to carry Aayanar’s daughter and run down the tunnel? When you realized that there was no escape route, wasn’t your hand about to stab the Devi with the poisoned dagger?”
“Yes, appane! Yes! All what you say is true. But why did I try to take away Aayanar’s daughter? Do you know why? Ah! Paranjyothi! You believe that you are far more affectionate, devoted and concerned about Aayanar’s daughter than I am. Your master, the foolish Mamallan, believes that his love for her exceeds mine! Appane! Do you understand the meaning of love? Paranjyothi! The reason behind Vatapi being set ablaze and falling into ruin is me. I sacrificed my own brother for Sivakami’s sake. I sacrificed the great Chalukya Kingdom that caused Harshavardhana to tremble at the altar of my love. Ah! How would you folks understand the meaning of love and affection?”
“Adigal, you’re stating the truth. I understood the meaning of affection only some time ago. We demonstrate our affection to someone by stabbing the person with a poisoned dagger, isn’t it? I came to know of this only a short while ago. You deceitful bikshu! I don’t have the time to converse with you. Had you not discarded your disguise and had continued wearing a king’s robes, I would have despatched you to your death by now. I am unable to bring myself to kill an ochre robe clad bikshu. I will spare you on one condition. Ten years ago, Aayanar had sent me to learn the secret of the Ajantha paints. I too promised that I will do so. You must be aware of the secret of the Ajantha paints. If you divulge the secret, I will spare your life. If not, pray to the God closest to your heart…If a barbarian like you does believe in the existence of a God, pray to that God!”
“Appane! I thank you for your mercy. I pray to only one God. That is Sivakami. I will pray to her. I was desirous of taking Aayanar and his daughter to Ajantha and demonstrate the secret of the indelible dyes in person. I am not fortunate enough to complete that task. Neither are they fortunate. You have determined that the price of my life is that wonderful secret that cannot be deciphered by anyone in this world! Bless you! I will tell you the secret. Ordinary dyes are made by extracting and boiling the juices of leaves, roots, vegetables and seeds of plants. These raw materials do dry up and disintegrate. Hence the paints made out of them also fade away and get completely erased ultimately. But there are certain rocks in the mountains that are naturally coloured. These colours remain unaffected by sunshine, rain and wind. So, the paints made by powdering the coloured rocks and converting the powder into liquid form are indelible. The paintings at Ajantha have been painted using such paints. Paranjyothi! I have disclosed to you the secret that no one but the bikshus of the Ajantha Sangramam knew of during the last five hundred years. Now, may I leave?”
“Adigal! Leave immediately. I may change my mind the next instant. You may leave by the secret tunnel through which you had planned to abduct Sivakami Devi. Be quick!” Naganandi exercised great effort to stand up. He picked up his amputated right hand with his left hand. “Paranjyothi! You are a good boy. You are sparing my life. It would have been good if you had beheaded me instead of amputating my arm. But as I’m still desirous of living, I beseeched you to spare me alive. You too complied. I understand that you wish me to leave before Mamallan’s arrival. Here I go. But I have one more request. Sivakami will regain consciousness in some time. You must inform her of one thing. You must tell her that I attempted to kill her by stabbing her with a poisoned dagger! That was my final gift to her as a testimony of my love for her!” Speaking thus, Naganandi turned to the direction where Sivakami lay. He observed that Sivakami had regained consciousness and was standing motionless like a statue, leaning against the rock pillar.
“Ah! Sivakami! Have you woken up? Did you hear what I told Aayanar’s disciple, Paranjyothi? Yes! I tried to kill you by wielding a dagger. I acted thus pitying you for what the future has in store for you. The Pallava Commander came in my way and preventing me from doing good to you. Sivakami! In the future…No, don’t think about the future. Forget this sinner! Forget this fake bikshu who placed his body, soul and possessions at your feet. Be as happy as you possibly can! But I will not forget you. Neither will I forget Paranjyothi and Mamallan! Farewell, Sivakami! Farewell! May Buddha Bhagavan protect you!” Speaking thus, Naganandi Bikshu faltered as he walked towards Buddha Bhagavan’s statue and disappeared behind the statue.
Everyone stood watching Naganandi escape through the tunnel. As everyone was aware that the Commander had consented to spare Naganandi, no one stopped him. Sivakami continued staring at Naganandi without batting an eyelid till he disappeared from her sight. When he had saved her from the kabalikai a short while ago, Sivakami wondered if he was Emperor Pulikesi or Naganandi Bikshu. Now she wondered if he was a human being, a demon in human form, a man driven to lunacy on account of a great sorrow or a merciless murderer.
Meanwhile, Commander Paranjyothi said, “Shatrugna! You came at the right time! Please check if there is a route to exit this underground Buddha Viharam! It would be difficult for all of us to exit through the tunnel, which leads to the well, through which we came! There must be a main entrance somewhere that has been sealed. Please identify that soon!” Shatrugnan said, “Commander! I have already found out where the main entrance is. Please command us to break open that entrance!”
The Commander suddenly remembered and asked, “Shatrugna! Where is Gundodharan?” “Ah! Commander! The dearest of my dear disciples was the target of the kabalikai’s dagger. As the demoness was not in the cave, we were looking for her in the tunnel. Did you see that barbaric woman?” asked Shatrugnan. “I did, Shatrugna! Kannan and the kabalikai lay dead next to each other. I don’t know how Kannan died. We have to return to that place and find out,” said Paranjyothi.
Paranjyothi, while speaking in this manner, walked towards Sivakami, who was leaning against the pillar, and respectfully bowed to her. “Ammani! You saw and heard all what transpired. By Ekambarar’s grace, all danger has blown over us. We are able to see you alive after nine years. Please sit down for some time and relax! Once the entrance to this cave is identified, we will leave. Your father and the Chakravarthy are waiting outside the fort!” he said.
Sorrow choked Sivakami. She stammered, “Commander! I want to see Kamali’s husband before leaving. Please take me to that house.” At the same time, the Pallava soldiers were breaking down the sealed main entrance to the viharam.
Commander Paranjyothi passed a few commands extremely quickly to the soldiers who had accompanied him. After commanding just four of them to follow him, he rushed to the backyard of that palace. He peered into the well that was located at the centre of the muttram in the backyard with a pavazhamalli creeper growing beside it. The wall surrounding the well was built with bricks for some distance into the well. Beyond that, rocks were jutting out. The water was deep inside in the well.
Paranjyothi’s heart beat fast as he held the steps that led into the well and climbed down. The four soldiers who accompanied him also climbed into the well. As the surface of the wall was uneven and there were holes in the wall, climbing down was easy. When they had covered three fourths of the distance into the well, Paranjyothi exclaimed with surprise, “Ah!” There was an aperture in the rock wall. There lay a long path beyond the aperture, which was pitch dark after a point. After signalling to the soldiers who accompanied him, Paranjyothi entered the tunnel, which was large enough for just one person to crawl in at a time. But the tunnel became bigger after some distance, enabling one to move in a sitting position. After travelling in this manner for some time, a flight of stairs was visible. After climbing down four to five steps, there appeared to be even ground ahead. Initially, it was pitch dark for some distance. When their eyes got acclimatized to the darkness, they observed the surrounding area. Paranjyothi realized that he was standing at the corner of a large underground mandapam that was carved out of rocks. There was a large statue of Lord Buddha directly opposite to where he was standing. Above the Buddha statue was a beautifully sculpted turret. In front of the statue were two rows of high, smooth and sculpted rock pillars. Paranjyothi and two of the soldiers paced around the mandapam searching the back of the pillars and the nooks and corners. There was no one. But there lay behind a pillar a few robes and ornaments. Paranjyothi realized that they were the Emperor’s robes and ornaments. He decided that Naganandi must have discarded these and donned the robes of a bikshu. He wondered where Naganandi and Sivakami were and how they had mysteriously disappeared.
Inadvertently, Paranjyothi’s glance fell on Buddha Bhagavan’s statue. A thought suddenly occurred to him. He remembered the secret route behind the Buddha statue at the Kanchi Royal Viharam. Immediately, Paranjyothi rushed towards the Buddha statue. The rear of the statue was abutting the rock wall behind it. There was no way that a door or secret route lay behind the statue.
Paranjyothi was extremely disappointed. Nevertheless, he was convinced that the clue to the path he was searching lay within the Buddha statue.
“Prabhu! Buddha Bhagavan! If it is true that you’re an incarnation of Mahavishnu, you must guide me. I seek refuge in you!” Praying thus, Commander Paranjyothi touched the feet of the Buddha statue. A miracle occurred. The Buddha statue moved slightly from its original position, revealing a tunnel behind it. Paranjyothi exultantly thought, “Ah! Buddha Bhagavan has shown the way!” signaled to the other soldiers and took a step into the tunnel. He then witnessed an unexpected sight.
He could see several illuminated torches arrayed one behind the other approaching him from the opposite end of the narrow tunnel. The torch bearers resembled dark, fire sprouting ghosts. Leading that fearful procession was the tonsured figure of a bikshu, who was rushing carrying a woman on his shoulder.
Paranjyothi recognized the person who was rushing towards him in an instant. By the time the bikshu had travelled half the distance down the tunnel, Shatrugnan and his men had entered the tunnel from the other end. The bikshu was retracing his steps to ensure that Shatrugnan did not capture him.
Paranjyothi instantaneously exited the tunnel and along with his men hid behind the pillars.
Shortly after they had hidden themselves, Naganandi Bikshu emerged from behind the statue of Buddha Bhagavan. He was carrying Sivakami on his shoulder. Paranjyothi and his soldiers held their breath as they eagerly watched what he was going to do next.
Naganandi lowered Sivakami to the ground some distance away from the Buddha statue. He then stood in front of the statue. It seemed for a moment that he was immersed in deep thought. He looked around once and then sat next to Sivakami.
Paranjyothi understood that he wanted to seal the entrance to the tunnel. He signalled to the soldiers who accompanied him and leapt towards the bikshu. The soldiers followed him and held the bikshu firmly by his arms. The bikshu looked up to them. It was not possible to decipher his facial expression in the dark. But the words he uttered revealed his state of mind.
“Paranjyothi! Is that you? I was expecting you. If I were to lose, I wanted to lose to you. My desire has been fulfilled!” As he spoke thus, he stood up. Everyone came to the centre of the mandapam. Naganandi looked at Paranjyothi piteously and said, “Appane! Why are these people still clasping me? Where can I escape now? Your men are coming from that side and you have men standing here. All my scheming has come to an end. Henceforth, I would have to obey you. I wanted to somehow fetch Aayanar and you to Ajantha. That is now not possible. Appane! Please ask them to let go of me! I am prepared to act as per your command.”
When Naganandi pleaded thus, Paranjyothi softened a little.
He commanded the soldiers, “Let go of the bikshu!”
The soldiers released Naganandi and took a step back.
“Paranjyothi! Do you remember the old times? Didn’t I save you from a snake bite on the day you had first arrived at Kanchi? Didn’t I also help you escape from prison that very night? Do you remember all that?”
As the bikshu was speaking thus, he removed the dagger fastened to his waist. Observing the bikshu remove the dagger, Paranjyothi took two steps back and unsheathed his sword. That instant Paranjyothi thought, “Ah! I’m about to lose my life! Despite exercising monumental efforts, I committed this blunder just when we were about to attain our goal.”
“What is this? Why is the treacherous Naganandi turning around? At whom is he going to wield the dagger? Ah! Wasn’t he aiming the dagger at Sivakami Devi? The sinner he was!” By God’s grace, Naganandi hesitated for a moment as he aimed the dagger. That instant, Paranjyothi used all his might to cut that arm of Naganandi that held the dagger. The bikshu’s dagger missed its mark and fell some distance away from where they stood. Naganandi too fell to the ground like a felled tree.
Naganandi rushed towards Sivakami, who had fainted, and felt her temples and nostrils with his long fingers. He looked at the kabalikai angrily and said, “You sinner! What have you done?” The kabalikai burst out laughing. Her laughter resembled several ghosts laughing in unison at a graveyard in the middle of the night. “Adigal! What sin did I commit! Didn’t I act in the manner you instructed? Didn’t you ask me to kill her lover, Mamallan, as soon as he entered the house? How am I responsible if this virtuous woman dies after seeing the state of her dear lover?” Naganandi interrupted saying, “You idiot! This is not Mamallan; he is Mamallan’s charioteer, Kannabiran! Can’t you even distinguish between a ruler and a charioteer?” “Oh! Is that so? Didn’t you tell me that Mamallan would enter first and that I ought to kill him? I acted accordingly. Now you tell me that he is not Mamallan but his charioteer!”
As they were conversing thus, the sounds of people breaking open the front door with spades was heard. “Ranjani! Let bygones be bygones. Please render one final assistance for me. This maiden is still alive. If I had some time, I will revive her. As long as she is in our custody, Mamallan will come in search of her. It is important that she lives till I seek revenge. So, I will take her along with me and leave. The Pallava soldiers are breaking open the door. Please stay here from some time and somehow restrain them.”
“Adigal! I can manage one or two people. If several people break down the door and enter, how can I manage them singlehanded?” “This is the time to demonstrate your astuteness. Tell them that you’re Sivakami; they will be stunned for some time. Then spin some other tale! It would suffice if you restrained them for half a nazhigai!” “Ah! You deceptive bikshu! Are you trying to get me killed by the Pallava soldiers?” “Ranjani! I promise that you will not die at the hands of the Pallava soldiers! They will spare you thinking that you’re insane. They will never ever kill you. Go! Leave quickly! Please help me just this once! I will never ever forget you!”
The angry and suspicious kabalikai alternated between looking at an unconscious Sivakami and the bikshu. She reluctantly turned around to head to the entrance of the house. She had hardly taken two steps when the bikshu swiftly removed the poisoned knife that was fastened to his waist. He flung the knife with all might at the kabalikai’s back. The kabalikai turned around shrieking, “Oh!” Ranjani leapt towards Naganandi screaming, “You sinner! Your charlatan! Finally, you betrayed me!” As he quickly sidestepped her, she fell with her face to the ground. In a flash, Naganandi carried an unconscious Sivakami on his shoulder and headed to the backyard of the house.
Let’s take a step back in time and observe how this misfortune befell Kannabiran. When the sun was rising in the eastern horizon, Commander Paranjyothi entered Vatapi through the main entrance of the fort – the western entrance. He was desirous of heading straight to Sivakami’s palace. But that was not an easy task. The citizens of Vatapi, who were shrieking and wailing, were running helter skelter in the city that was ablaze. The Pallava and Pandya soldiers who were entering Vatapi by jumping over the ramparts were in a frenzy to loot the city of its fabulous wealth and were killing all those who came in their way. The roofs of the houses on fire rapidly fell down and blocked the streets.
Commander Paranjyothi had to travel through Vatapi’s thoroughfares overcoming such obstacles. He thought that he would remember the route he had taken to Sivakami’s house during his previous visit nine years ago and that he could easily trace her house. That was also not easy due to the pandemonium prevalent in the city then. He had to check with Kannabiran, who was following Paranjyothi in his chariot, if they were taking the correct route. By the time the Commander reached the street in which Sivakami lived, it was broad daylight. When he reached the corner of that street, he saw a huge mob leaving that place. When this mob saw the arrival of the Pallava soldiers holding Rishabha flags aloft, they were fear stricken and fled in all four directions.
When Paranjyothi reached the entrance of Sivakami’s palace, he observed that eeriness had descended on the palace and the street. This instilled a sense of fear in him. The doors of the palace were shut; dead silence prevailed within the palace. “Was the sculptor Aayanar’s daughter, to uphold whose oath we had embarked on this expedition exercising such monumental effort, safe inside? Will I be fortunate to retrieve her alive and hand her over to Aayanar, who is waiting outside the fort?” As Commander Paranjyothi was thinking along these lines, he saw a few Pallava horsemen holding Rishabha flags swiftly riding towards him from the opposite end of the street. Surmising that they may be bearing an important message for him, he told Kannabiran, who had brought his chariot to a halt and had dismounted from the chariot, “Kanna! Knock the door. As soon as the door is opened, inform the Devi that we have come to fetch her!” As instructed by Paranjyothi, Kannan knocked on the door. Shortly thereafter, the smaller door embedded within the main entrance opened. As soon as Kannan entered the palace, the door was shut again.
The leader of the Pallava horsemen, as Paranjyothi had anticipated, had brought a message. The Prince of Lanka, Manavanman, had sent the message. As ordered by the Commander, Manavanman accompanied by handpicked soldiers, had entered Vatapi through the northern entrance and had reached the Vatapi palace. He had made arrangements to remove the priceless treasures that were stored in the palace before the palace caught fire. But despite searching for the Vatapi Emperor within and outside the palace, they were unable to trace him. On enquiring the palace guards, they came to know that the Emperor was last seen at the palace entrance asking the Chalukya soldiers to run for their lives and reach Nasikapuri. They said that he then headed to the southern entrance of the fort accompanied by a few soldiers. But the Pallava soldiers, who were standing guard at the southern entrance after having captured it, unequivocally stated that the Emperor had not exited through that entrance.
Hearing this, the Commander’s turmoil increased. He had come to know from Shatrugnan that it was Naganandi who had assumed the disguise of the Vatapi Emperor. Naganandi, who was more dangerous than a venomous snake, could seek revenge on the Pallavas through Sivakami. It was possible that the fake bikshu was torturing Sivakami. Probably, he was trying to hide her in a remote location so that no one could find her. Tormented by such thoughts, Paranjyothi rushed towards the entrance of that palace. As he neared the door, he heard a woman shrieking in a shrill and sorrowful tone.
Paranjyothi, like one possessed, used all his might to force open the door. As his effort was in vain, he roared, “Quickly bring the spades and break open the door!” The very next instant five to six soldiers armed with spades, started breaking open the door. In the next five minutes, the demolished door fell to the ground. Paranjyothi, followed by a few soldiers, ran into the house. Despite searching the front quarters of the house, he was unable to find anyone. On reaching the backyard, the gory sight of a man and woman lying on the floor after being stabbed to death met Paranjyothi’s eyes. Paranjyothi realized that the dead man was Kannabiran. While the untimely death of Kamali’s husband saddened him, he did not have time to dwell on this tragedy. His attention was focussed on the female body that lay close by. As that body lay with her face to the ground, he was unable to identify her. He wondered if it was Sivakami and if the bikshu had escaped after killing both of them.
Oblivious of his actions, Paranjyothi turned the female body around. When he saw the kabalikai’s ghastly face, he felt somewhat consoled that it was not Sivakami Devi. Even as he was looking at her, she moved slightly and heaved a deep sigh. Paranjyothi was taken aback. She murmured, “Ah! Are you Mamallan?” Eager to know about Sivakami’s whereabouts, he asked agitatedly, “Yes, Lady! I am Mamallan! Who are you? Where is Sivakami Devi?” “What kind of a question is this? I am Sivakami; don’t you recognize me?” asked the kabalikai. The unsightly smile that appeared on her face then accentuated her hideousness.
Paranjyothi was dumfounded for a moment. Had Sivakami Devi transformed become insane after being imprisoned for long? No! That was impossible! Paranjyothi remembered that Gundodharan had met Sivakami a month ago and what Shatrugnan had mentioned about the kabalikai. The kabalikai must have entered the city through the tunnel that originated in the cave. “No! Why are you lying? You are not Sivakami. If you tell me the truth about Sivakami’s whereabouts…” “How will you compensate me if I told you the truth?” “I will save your life,” said Paranjyothi. “Ah! I have been stabbed by a poisoned knife. It’s impossible for you to save me!” “Poisoned knife? In that case Naganandi must have stabbed you! Lady, tell me quickly! Where is Naganandi headed to? Which route did he take? If you tell me, I will seek revenge on him for your sake.”
“Seeking revenge on Naganandi is futile! It is true that the fake bikshu killed me. But he did not do it of his own accord; that temptress Sivakami instigated him. Pallava! You think of yourself as Manmadan! But that is incorrect. That wily Sivakami does not love you. It is the lean and gaunt bikshu with whom she is in love. It was she who eloped with Naganandi when she realized that you were coming. When I obstructed them, she instigated Naganandi to kill me. If you’re desirous of seeking revenge for my sake, wreak your vengeance on Sivakami. Don’t harm that foolish bikshu!”
Paranjyothi could not bring himself to hear these words. Unable to hear further, he said, “Lady! Where are the two of them now? How did they escape? Tell me quickly!” Thinking that her ruse had worked, she exclaimed, “Climb into the well in the backyard! There is a tunnel there! Don’t forget to seek revenge on Sivakami.” After saying this, she stopped talking. Her breathing also ceased.
Naganandi Adigal, disguised as Emperor Pulikesi, saved Sivakami’s life in the nick of time! Sivakami, on seeing the angry mob at the entrance of her palace, shut the doors and rushed inside. The very next instant the sound of horses swiftly galloping towards her palace was heard. Most of the people assembled there quickly dispersed thinking that it was the Pallava warriors who were coming. The few people who stayed behind and the security guards were shell-shocked when they realized that it was Emperor Pulikesi. The citizens of Vatapi were disconsolate observing the misfortune that had befallen their king, who till ten days ago had reigned their expansive kingdom spanning the Narmada and Tungabhadra rivers as its undisputed monarch.
On seeing the Emperor, the few people who remained there started wailing and complaining loudly. The Emperor, understanding the situation, whispered something to a warrior close to him. After calming down the chaotic crowd, he said in a loud voice, “Respected citizens! The Emperor is grateful for the loyalty you have demonstrated during this dangerous period. This calamity has befallen us due to unexpected acts of treachery. The Emperor is determined to seek revenge at the appropriate time. The Emperor has come here to accord apt punishment to the maiden from Pallava Nadu, who is also a reason behind the occurrence of this disaster. He requests you to allow him to perform that task and asks all of you to finds ways and means to safeguard your lives. The merciless Pallava demons are engaged in unjust warfare and have set fire to your houses. Please try to save your family and possessions; please go to your houses immediately!”
Hearing this, the citizens started wailing and complaining even more loudly as they started leaving that place. Then the Emperor told the security guards posted outside the palace, “You have performed your duty well. I am very happy. Now, you try to save your lives. I command all those who survive to come to Nasikapuri! I will reach there soon and meet you!” Hearing the Emperor speak thus, the soldiers’ eyes brimmed with tears. They bowed to the Emperor and left. Then the Emperor looked at the chief of the cavalry that had accompanied him and said, “Dhananjaya! Do you remember all what I had said?” “Yes, Prabhu! I remember,” said Dhananjayan.
“I repeat what I said. Leave this place immediately. Leave the city loudly cheering, ‘Glory to Mamalla Chakravarthy!’ Go to the forest that’s in the vicinity of the kabalikas’ sacrificial altar. I will reach there ahead of you!” The Emperor again whispered to the chief of the cavalry, “There is a mad kabalikai in the cave close to the sacrificial altar. Kill her ruthlessly!” The very next moment Dhananjayan and the other horsemen disappeared from that place. Then, the street was desolate.
Naganandi, who was disguised as Pulikesi, reached the door of Sivakami’s residence and knocked softly. He then pushed the door of the smaller entrance and it fell open. He immediately entered the palace and latched the door. When he attentively scanned the front quarters of the house, he realized that there was no one there. He headed to the backyard. He arrived just in time to firmly grasp the kabalikai who held a dagger aloft and rescue Sivakami. When the kabalikai said, “You sinner, have you come?” the bikshu observed her closely with his magnetic eyes. He said, “Ranjani! Please come here!” and walked further down. Sivakami was amazed to see the enraged demoness obediently follow him.
The bikshu ushered Ranjani to behind a pillar. He asked in a low tone so that Sivakami could not hear, “Why are you behaving thus?” “Bikshu! What wrong have I done? Seeing the city on fire, I was worried for you. I came here to rescue you and take you away!” “Is that so? I’m very happy. But why were you on the verge of killing that maiden from Pallava Nadu?” “That was also to save you. How can one be sure that no danger will befall you on account of her? Isn’t she from our enemy state?” “You fool! How can she put me in peril?”
“Bikshu! Isn’t love far more dangerous that all other perils?” said the kabalikai. “You’re not yet rid of your stupidity. When you’re there, will I even look at another woman…” “In that case, why are you so concerned about her? How does it matter to you if I seek revenge by killing her?” “You idiot! You have no reason to wreak vengeance on Sivakami, only I do. How many times have I told you that I’m carefully safeguarding Sivakami to seek retribution against the Pallavan?”
“Bikshu! Nothing is lost now, isn’t it?” “Nothing is lost. In one way, your rushing here is for the good. Ranjani! You must help me now. If you act as per my instructions now, I will behave in the manner you desire for the rest of my life…!” “Bikshu! Are you stating the truth?” “How many times have I promised you? What will you do if I promise you now and break my promise later on?” “I know what to do.” “Do that. But for now, do what I ask you to!” “Tell me, Adigal!”
The bikshu lowered his voice further and told the kabalikai what she ought to do. “Do you understand what I said? Will you comply with my instructions?” he asked. “I will definitely do that!” said the kabalikai. Then she asked with a grisly smile, “Bikshu! After you have sought your revenge, may I seek mine?” The bikshu’s face fell. “Ah! It seems that you will never be rid of your suspicion. How many times have I told you that you may do so! Leave quickly! I can hear sounds of a chariot and horses approaching!” The kabalikai headed to the front quarters of the house and approached the main entrance. She unlatched the smaller door and hid herself close by. Like a tigress waiting to prey on an unsuspecting goat, she hid her right hand that held a dagger behind her and waited. A murderous rage was evident in that demoness’ eyes.
After sending the kabalikai to the front quarters of the house, Naganandi Bikshu approached Sivakami. “Sivakami! Do you still doubt me? Do you still have no faith in me?” When the bikshu asked this in a gentle tone, Sivakami became even more confused. She started saying “Emperor!” and then paused hesitantly. “Oh! It’s my mistake!” said Naganandi and removed the crown from his head. Sivakami’s doubts were cleared. “Swami! Is that you? In this place…” she said. “Yes, Sivakami! Once I had assumed this disguise and had saved your father’s life…Had I arrived even a moment later, that demoness would have killed you! She wouldn’t have killed just you but also the art of dancing that enthralls this cosmos…” “But…” said Sivakami hesitantly. “Why are you hesitating, Sivakami? Ask what you want to quickly!” “Nothing! I am surprised at the influence you wield over that kabalikai!” “That’s the power of love, Sivakami! That demoness is in love with me! That is why she obeyed my command so quickly!”
Seeing Sivakami smile, the bikshu spoke further, “But don’t think that she always looked so appalling! I had mentioned this before, do you remember? Once upon a time, she was the most beautiful woman at the Vatapi palace. One day, she spoke ill of you. So, she was reduced to this state.” “Aiyyo! What a cruel punishment!” “She was at least spared after this punishment. Do you know what became of the artist who painted a portrait of you prostrating before Pulikesi? I touched his neck and blessed him! That was it! He felt as if his body was on fire. Soon thereafter, that artist jumped into the river. He did not resurface after that!” “Aiyyo, how cruel!…Why did you act thus?” asked an extremely agitated Sivakami.
“Ah! These were not the only things I did for your sake, Sivakami! This massive city of Vatapi is on fire today. Do you know who the reason behind this is? Do you know who is the reason behind the Pallava soldiers entering the city and committing atrocities and lakhs of citizens running around aimlessly in a frenzied manner? It is this sinner, who betrayed his nation and his clan!” said the bikshu and punched his chest hard. He looked at Sivakami who stood stupefied by his behaviour and said, “Sivakami! Even as I was leaving this city and heading to the Ajantha Art Festival, I came to know that the Pallavan was invading us. Despite that, do you know why I hid this news from my brother, Pulikesi, and accompanied him to Ajantha? It was solely for your happiness. I behaved thus so that you could witness your oath being fulfilled and then leave this city. It was solely for this purpose I sacrificed the life of my brother, who was dearer to me than my own life. This sinner is responsible for the death of the Vatapi Emperor!” said the bikshu and punched his chest again.
Sivakami trembled; she firmly held the bikshu’s hand and prevented him from punching himself. The instant Sivakami held Naganandi with her tender hands, he calmed down. “Sivakami! Forgive me for causing you distress!” “What is there to forgive, Swami? You had once saved my father’s life. Today, you have saved mine. Am I not indebted to you for all this? But you need not have undergone so much difficulty for this helpless maiden…” “Sivakami! I have not yet saved you. If you feel even an iota of gratitude for all the assistance I have rendered to your father and to yourself, you must help me now!” “What should I do, Swami?” “Trust me and come with me!” Suddenly, Sivakami became suspicious and hesitant. She asked, “Where do you want me to come? What’s the purpose?” “Sivakami! You’re not yet completely out of danger now that that demoness’ attempt to kill you has been thwarted. The Pallavas have set fire to this city, which has spread to the neighbouring street. In another half a nazhigai, the fire will spread to this house too. Not only that; didn’t you observe the enraged mob of citizens who have congregated outside this house? Their fury is such that they will not hesitate to cut you to pieces. They think you are the reason for the calamity that has befallen this city…!”
At that point of time, a noisy commotion broke out outside the house. The sounds of a door being opened and shut, someone shrieking and something falling down with a thud were heard in quick succession. Sivakami shuddered. “Don’t you hear the commotion caused by the hysterical people outside, Sivakami? Do you want to remain here and be killed by the frenzied mob? Won’t you come with me?” asked Naganandi. Sivakami gained confidence that Naganandi was stating the truth. “Adigal! Where and how will you be taking me?” she asked. “Anticipating such a danger, I had built a tunnel from this house. If you believe in me and accompany me, I will lead you outside the fort in half a nazhigai!”
“Swami! That is one thing I cannot do; I beseech you. I will not leave this house; you may leave.” “Sivakami! You have not heard all what I have to say. You speak without realizing where I intend taking you. You probably think that I may take you to the Ajantha Mountains, as I had mentioned once before. I have forgotten that dream, Sivakami! I have realized that you will never ever change your mind. Now, I want to ensure that I help you escape and hand you over to your father. As soon as we exit the fort, I will straightaway hand you over to your father and go my way.”
Sivakami thought for some time and said, “Swami! I trust you completely. However, I will not leave this house. I will leave only if he comes and leads me out by my hand. If that does not happen, I will die right here!” Naganandi’s facial expression underwent a sudden change. Fury raged in his eyes. He laughed angrily and said, “Do you believe that your lover, Mamallan, will come here and take you back? That will never happen!” A voice asked, “Why not?” Both of them turned around. The kabalikai said, “Sivakami! Don’t believe what the bikshu says! Here is your lover!” As she spoke, she threw the body she was carrying on the ground. Sivakami stared for a moment at the man who was stabbed by a dagger. She shrieked, “Anna!” as she ran towards him. Kannabiran opened his eyes. He looked intently at Sivakami for an instant. He murmured, “Thangai! Your sister, Kamali, and little Kannan are fondly anticipating your return!” The next moment the affable man breathed his last. A helpless Sivakami fell unconscious to the ground.
From the day soldiers of the ocean-like Pallava army surrounded the Vatapi Fort from all sides, Sivakami felt a raging fury that was akin to the core of a volcano. She was angry that she was unable to see Mamallar and Aayanar despite their camping a short distance away from the fort walls. She fretted about the outcome of the war. She wondered how she ought to behave with Mamallar and what she ought to tell him when she met him for the first time after the Pallava army had won the war. These thoughts tormented her. When Sivakami heard that Pulikesi was killed in the war that was fought to the north of Vatapi, her heart swelled with pride. She was also worried wondering how she would be treated by the Chalukyas in the aftermath of the Pallava victory.
When the Commander of the Fort, Bhimasenan, had requested her to write a message to Mamallar, she felt the pride she had never felt before. In deference to his wishes, she had written a message to the Commander. She had written in that message the decisions she had reached after exercising deep thought and also her entreaty. But this message did not reflect her true emotions that lay buried deep in her heart. The desire to seek revenge on the city and its residents who had insulted her and her art lay in the deep recesses of her heart. So after sending the manuscript, she thought, “Why did I write that message? What right do I have to pen such a message? What will Mamallar and the Commander, who have mobilized such a massive army and invaded, think? Will they mock the fickle nature of the female mind? Even if they were to agree with what I had written, will they chide me later on?”
Certain incidents that occurred after she had sent her message caused her to regret her action. After the Commander of the Fort had visited Sivakami, crowds of people often congregated outside her house. The people who had almost forgotten Sivakami till then were reminded that she was the reason behind the grave disaster that had befallen them. They stood in groups outside her house and spoke of her disparagingly. When Sivakami, on hearing the noise outside her house, looked out of the window, they jeered at her, laughed loudly and made faces at her.
Sivakami’s lady-in-waiting, who knew what the matter was beforehand, forcefully dragged her away from the window. Then Sivakami could hear the sounds of the crowd’s raucous jeers and mocking laughter. The fiery anger that had previously raged in her heart and had subsided was now ignited again. “If Mamallar were truly a brave man, he would tear the message I had written in a helpless situation to shreds and enter this city with his army. He will fulfill the oath I had previously made. He will turn this city into hell and will cause these beasts who don’t possess an iota of civility to wail and flee. I will feel placated only when I witness that sight!” she thought. She derived happiness by seeing that sight in her mind’s eye.
As time passed, the street became more and more crowded and noisy. A few enthusiastic men in the crowd flung stones at the roof and main door of Sivakami’s house. The noise heard when these stones found their mark on the door caused the mob to laugh tauntingly. In the evening, the crowd suddenly fell silent for a moment. Then the sound of drums being played shattered the silence. As soon as the paying of the drums ceased, a thundering voice proclaimed, “The Emperor has returned to the Fort! He is going to decimate the Pallava forces and hoist the flag of victory! Everyone is ordered to return to their houses. Men well-versed in warfare must congregate outside the palace with their weapons!”
Immediately the crowd enthusiastically cheered, “Long live the Vatapi Emperor! Doom to Mamalla Pallavan!” The mob dispersed as it continued cheering enthusiastically. Miraculously, the very next instant not a soul lingered outside Sivakami’s palace. Shortly thereafter, twenty Chalukya soldiers arrived at that desolate place. They stood guard outside Sivakami’s palace and on both sides of that street.
Sivakami felt somewhat composed when she came to know through her lady-in-waiting why these incidents had occurred. As Pulikesi had survived and had returned to the fort, the outbreak of war was a foregone conclusion. Sivakami was keen to witness her oath being fulfilled at all costs. It was possible that the brutal citizens of Vatapi and the demonic Pulikesi may harm her. Sivakami armed herself with a dagger in anticipation of such incidents. She had long decided that she would give up her life if her honour were under threat. She was armed with a dagger; there was also a well in the backyard!
The Pallava army had started attacking the Vatapi Fort. That evening a fearful din akin to a tumultuous ocean amidst cyclonic winds and torrential rains was heard. The sound of hundreds of war trumpets, thousands of drums and conches played in unison was heard. This was accompanied by thousands of soldiers raising victory slogans and lakhs of people enthusiastically cheering. When the ramparts of the fort, the mandapams and the towers echoed these sounds, the listeners felt as though their nerves were being contorted and a rage in their hearts. By sunset, the ten lakh residents of that large city were more or less in a stupor, oblivious of what they were doing and what they were saying. The fury that Sivakami felt was far more intense than what the citizens of Vatapi did.
She was unable to sit still even for a moment. But, she was unable to leave the house. For some time, she was pacing around the house. Then she looked out of the window. Frenzied people were running from east to west and from west to east. She went to the upper story of the house and looked around. It was evident that the city was in disarray. As the ramparts of the fort were close to the backyard of her house, she was able to see the soldiers stationed on the fort walls prepared for a combat. She was also able to see the soldiers marching down the roads and civilians running helter skelter.
Sivakami went downstairs again and instructed her lady-in-waiting to find out what was happening at the entrance of the house. The lady-in-waiting returned bearing the news that the Pallava army was going to attack the fort that night. She also said that she would not be able to stay with Sivakami that night and that as she was scared of the war situation she was going to live with her relatives. Sivakami pleading with her was in vain. She took the second lady-in-waiting along and left the house. When the duo opened the palace doors and left, Sivakami heard the soldiers posted outside, who had grown impatient, wonder why they had to stand guard outside the house. She closed all the doors in her house firmly and locked them. The front doors of that mansion were large like the main doors of a temple. Embedded in one of the front doors was a smaller door that was large enough to let an adult person inside. It was fitted with a separate latch and lock. The two ladies in waiting left the house through the smaller door.
During the time Sivakami lived in Vatapi, she usually slept for a very period of time. That night she did not sleep a wink. Her heart and her nerves throbbed with eagerness to know what was happening outside and what was going to happen. She heaved deep sighs; her heart beat fast; her stomach churned. Around midnight, Sivakami observed from the upper storey of her mansion that houses in several parts of the city were on fire. She realized that the oath she had undertaken nine years ago was being fulfilled. She experienced the contentment she had not felt thus far in her life. At the same time, she also felt an inexplicable sorrow.
The fire spread in all four directions. The great chaos that had prevailed in the city that evening assumed another form in the night. Spirited slogans of victory became shrieking and wailing. The citizens’ proud gait was transformed into fear-stricken fleeing. As time passed, one could see more and more women and children fleeing. When Sivakami witnessed this, the contentment she felt vanished. Instead, she felt distressed. Finally, she went downstairs unable to witness that ghastly sight. “Ah! Hasn’t this disaster occurred because of me? What will be the final outcome? Is this large city truly going to be destroyed by the fire? Are the lakhs of men, women and children living in this city going to meet their end? Aiyyo! What is this? What will become of me?” Thousands of such thoughts rose and ebbed within Sivakami like waves. Then she paced around the main hall of the house as she was unable to bring herself to go upstairs. She paced around till her legs started aching. She lay down with her face on the bare floor. She thought that she will feel better if she wept. But she was unable to cry; it was as though something was blocking her tear glands and was preventing her from shedding tears. The dim light characteristic of midnight pervaded the muttram of her house. At that point of time, a thundering noise was heard outside the house.
A thought suddenly struck Sivakami. Was it Mamallar who had come? After fulfilling her oath, had he come to take her back to Kanchi? It would be good if it were so. The destruction of this vast city can be stopped at least now. She intended to fall at his feet and plead, “Prabhu! That’s enough, please stop!” Thinking thus, Sivakami got up and ran swiftly. When she neared the door, she hesitated. She decided to open the smaller door embedded in the main door. The sight that met her eyes on opening the door instilled shock and fear in her. Neither Mamallar nor the Pallava soldiers were present there. Only an angry mob of Vatapi citizens were standing outside the door. A few people in that mob were arguing with the security guards posted outside the house.
The instant Sivakami’s face appeared at the entrance, fear-instilling sounds resembling a hundred cheetahs and tigers roaring were heard. Several people in that gang pushed the guards aside and rushed towards the entrance. Sivakami understood the situation. She immediately closed the door. In her haste and fear, she forgot to latch the door. She then rushed to the backyard of that mansion. She went there without any concrete plan. Her natural instinct to flee from the frenzied mob gave her legs adequate strength to run swiftly towards the backyard.
When Sivakami crossed the door step of the rear entrance, in the dim-lit dawn she observed a ghastly female form sporting a garland of skulls and bones. Her blood froze for an instant. She felt goose bumps. On seeing Sivakami, that female apparition laughed heartily. Then that apparition asked, “Beautiful Sivakami! Artistic Sivakami! You temptress who mesmerized Mamallar and Naganandi! How will your beauty aid you now? Will your mesmerizing eyes and glowing face save you now?” and laughed. “Sivakami! I too was endowed with enthralling good looks like you at one time. I am in this state because of you. I waited for so long to seek revenge!” said the kabalikai gritting her teeth as she took the dagger fastened to her waist and aimed it at Sivakami.
At that time, Sivakami had lost the ability to think and to attempt escaping. She was shell-shocked. Nevertheless, God has endowed every living being with the natural instinct to safeguard oneself from danger. Spurred by that instinct, Sivakami took one step back. At that moment, unknown to the kabalikai a figure suddenly emerged behind her. That figure, which had entered through the rear entrance, firmly held the kabalikai’s hand that was aiming the dagger.
The iron-like grip forced the kabalikai to loosen her hold on the dagger, which fell to the ground. The enraged kabalikai looked around and asked, “You sinner! Have you come at the right time?” Sivakami closely observed the figure that had suddenly appeared and saved her life. Sivakami was incredibly amazed when she realized that it was the Vatapi Emperor, Pulikesi. Ah! Didn’t the citizens claim that the Emperor had died! Was this his ghost? Or…had the bikshu disguised himself as the Emperor as he had done in the past?
Mamalla Chakravarthy stood outside his tent watching the massive Pallava army nearing the ramparts of the Vatapi Fort. His conscience kept telling him that the most important incident in his life was unfolding in front of him. On account of the Pallava army launching a fierce attack on the fort that night, he secured a pre-eminent place in history for several thousand years thereafter and came to be known as ‘Vatapi Konda Narasimhan[i]’. But will the primary goal that prompted him to mobilize this gargantuan army and invade Vatapi be achieved? It was a foregone conclusion that he would fulfill the promise he had made to Sivakami either that night or on the following day. The Vatapi Fort being demolished and the city being set ablaze within three days was a certainty…But will Sivakami be alive to witness this? Ah! Of what use was it even if that unfortunate woman were to witness Vatapi on fire and then leave the city? Will she be able to lead the joyful life she had previously led? No, never. All her fantasies had become a shattered dream. It was possible for Sivakami to experience moments of happiness even in that shattered dream; even that fortune was denied to him. Henceforth his life would be akin to a barren desert. In that seemingly endless desert, only mirages would offer him solace.
Mamallar was immersed in such thoughts when he saw Paranjyothi, who had taken leave from him, walking towards him. He was surprised. When Paranjyothi came close to him, he asked, “Commander! Is there a fresh development?” The Commander said, “Yes, Prabhu! Shatrugnan returned,” and then related what Shatrugnan had told him in brief. Mamallar after listening to Paranjyothi asked, “Is there any change to our plan due to this news?” “Nothing significant, Prabhu! But it is now imperative to attack the fort at the earliest. Isn’t a snake slithering past our feet more dangerous than a tiger that attacks us from the front?” “It seems that you believe the kabalikai’s tale. Do you suppose that it was Naganandi Bikshu and not Pulikesi who sent you the message proclaiming war? In that case, we ought to be even more worried about Sivakami Devi. May I also accompany you into the fort right away?” “No, Prabhu! I believe that it’s best that you remain here.”
Commander Paranjyothi was determined to ensure that he was the first person to meet Sivakami Devi. He had not forgotten the disastrous consequence of Mamallar meeting Sivakami first and speaking to her previously. He considered it his duty to prevent such an occurrence again. Mamallar was not desirous of meeting Sivakami immediately for several reasons. So he said, “As you say, Commander! Don’t forget one thing. Your statement that a snake is more dangerous than a tiger is entirely true. Don’t show any mercy to Naganandi. As long as that fake bikshu is alive, the two of us will never be peaceful during our lifetimes. You will not forget this, will you?” “I will not forget, Prabhu!”
Observing the Commander hesitantly standing despite the conversation concluding, Mamallar asked, “Is there any other news?” Paranjyothi stated, “Yes, just one more thing. You haven’t changed your mind about your command to set Vatapi on fire, have you?” “Commander! Enough! I am heading to the fort entrance this instant. Trusting you henceforth is futile. You may smear yourself with vibhuti, wear rudrakshas and perform Shiva Pujai!” “Prabhu! The Peruman who smeared himself with vibhuti had reduced Tripuram to ashes. Burning Vatapi down is a facile task for him. You will witness the city of Vatapi burning tonight itself!” “In that case, why this hesitation and questions?”
“I wanted to confirm your wish for sure. You had ordered the city to be set on fire once our army enters the fort. I wish to act differently. First, we will begin destroying Vatapi. Then, I am going to command our army to throw illuminated lanterns from outside the fort into the city.” “What is the necessity for this?” “I had stated that our soldiers would be awarded half the wealth they bring from the city. So, when they see the city ablaze their ardour would increase multi-fold. Prabhu! We must enter the fort before dawn tomorrow. If we delay further, it would be impossible to rescue Sivakami Devi. Please be prepared by dawn. I urge you not to sleep tonight and watch Vatapi being destroyed!” After speaking thus, Paranjyothi swiftly left without waiting for the Chakravarthy’s response.
Just as the Commander had said, the destruction of Vatapi began at around midnight. Scaffolds were erected outside the walls of the fort. Pallava soldiers, specially trained for this purpose, stood on the scaffolds and flung illuminated torches and sulphur bombs into the city. The wind served to fan the flames of the torches further. The places where these torches fell instantly caught fire. The sulphur bombs exploded and served to spread the fire. By the third jaamam of that night, fire enveloped the city of Vatapi, which was inhabited by lakhs of people, from all sides. Vayu Bhagavan[ii] also came to the aid of Agni Devan[iii]. The raging wind further intensified the fire, which in turn gobbled the mansions and towers of Vatapi.
Clouds of smoke that accompanied the fire spread in all directions and reached the skies. At the same time, the Pallava and Pandya soldiers surrounded the fort from all sides and attempted to scale the ramparts. The Chalukya soldiers stationed on the ramparts prevented them from doing so. Thousands of Tamil warriors, attacked by swords, spears and arrows, fell lifeless to the ground. Like the waves that lash the shore in quick succession a storm, more and more Tamil warriors attacked the fort.
The four entrances to the fort were also subject to brutal attacks. When ten to fifteen elephants wielding massive wooden masts and iron rods ferociously attacked each of the fort entrances in unison, the gates were smashed to smithereens and fell apart. Just as Commander Paranjyothi had told the Chakravarthy, by the time the fourth jaamam of that night drew to a close the Pallava soldiers entered the city of Vatapi that was already set on fire. The Pallava soldiers who had attacked the ramparts started jumping into the city from all four sides. The rising sun was witness to the historic scene of the city of Vatapi succumbing to fire.
The tale that the Chief of Spies, Shatrugnan related to Commander Paranjyothi with uncharacteristic agitation was as follows: Shatrugnan and Gundodharan, as commanded by the Chakravarthy and the Commander, had combed the area surrounding the fort to ascertain if there was a secret tunnel that led into the fort. They carefully searched the rocky terrain in the vicinity of the kabalikas’ sacrificial altar thinking that it was highly likely that the entrance to the secret tunnel was located in that area. One night, when they were engaged in this reconnaissance, they observed something burning and went close to that scene. A man and a woman were standing close to the fire. It was evident that the man was Naganandi Bikshu and the woman was a ghastly looking kabalikai. Shatrugnan and Gundodharan tried eavesdropping on their conversation, but could not comprehend anything clearly. But they heard the names of Pulikesi and Sivakami being mentioned often. It was clear that Naganandi was seeking the kabalikai’s assistance. As dawn was setting in, the bikshu and kabalikai pushed away a rock that sealed the entrance to a cave and then entered the cave. As soon as they entered, the entrance to that cave was again closed.
After waiting for long, Shatrugnan and Gundodharan decided to remove the rock and enter the cave. Fortunately, they observed someone moving the rock from inside and hid themselves. The kabalikai alone came out. They waited for her to leave the place so that they could enter the cave. All day, she did not budge from the entrance of the cave. It was evening when she left the place. After asking Gundodharan to stand guard outside the cave, Shatrugnan alone entered the cave. Oh God! Recollecting the macabre sights in that cave would render one sleepless for the rest of his life. Human skulls and skeletons lay heaped in that cave. The stench was unbearable. As it was pitch dark inside the cave, Shatrugnan was unable to find out if the entrance to the tunnel was located therein. Suddenly, the dim light that pervaded the cave disappeared. Shatrugnan looked around to locate the entrance of the cave. The entrance to the cave was no longer visible. A chill went down his spine when he thought the kabalikai may have sealed the entrance from outside. He lost sense of the time he spent in the dark and stinking cave filled with skulls and skeletons. Despite trying hard, he was unable to locate the entrance to the cave.
For what seemed to be four eons, he paced around the dark cave in vain. Suddenly light streamed in from one side. The entrance to the cave opened and the kabalikai immediately entered. She was carrying a human skull and bones. Shatrugnan went to the farthest corner of the cave and stood with his back against the wall. After carefully keeping the skull and bones aside, she sat on the ground at the centre of the cave and removed a large boulder. When she lowered herself at the area where the boulder was, Shatrugnan guessed that it was the entrance to the tunnel. Shatrugnan felt happy thinking all the time he had spent cave withstanding hunger and thirst was not futile. It seemed that the kabalikai after entering the tunnel had changed her mind.
She exited the tunnel, closed the entrance and lay there talking to herself.
From her speech, Shatrugnan came to know that she had been in love with Naganandi Bikshu on account of which she hated Sivakami, that Pulikesi had died and it was his skull and bones she had brought into the cave some time ago, that Naganandi was going to masquerade as Pulikesi and was desirous of ascending the Vatapi throne and making Sivakami his Empress – an occurrence the kabalikai was determined to prevent at all costs. After talking to herself in this manner for long, the kabalikai fell silent. Shatrugnan, thinking that she had fallen asleep, decided to escape. He inched his way to the entrance of the cave. As soon as he reached the entrance, he swiftly jumped out. As he was jumping out, someone grabbed his hand from inside the cave. A shocked Shatrugnan looked around. The kabalikai, who was standing inside the cave, was firmly holding his hand. She then let out a blood-curling growl. Shatrugnan froze in shock and thought that death loomed large over him. Nevertheless, in an attempt to save himself, he tried extricating his hand. He was unable to extricate his hand from the kabalikai’s iron-like grip.
The kabalikai then shrieked, “Lambodhara! Lambodhara!” Shatrugnan was rendered speechless with shock when he observed Gundodharan come running from behind a rock calling out, “Here I come, thaye!” As Gundodharan came running towards Shatrugnan, he gestured with his eyes. The kabalikai who was standing inside the cave said, “Lambodhara! Hold on to this stealthy spy. I will bring a dagger. You wouldn’t leave him, would you?” “I will never do that, amma! I will be the first person to behead him!” So saying, Gundodharan held on to Shatrugnan tightly. Immediately, Gundodharan gestured to Shatrugnan and loosened his grip. Shatrugnan extricated himself and fled. Gundodharan raised a hue and cry as he pursued Shatrugnan. After running in this manner for some time, they came to halt behind a rock. “Swami! I became this kabalikai’s disciple only to find out what became of you. Don’t worry about me; I will stay here and manage her. You rush back. Our army must have started attacking the fort by now!” said Gundodharan. “The entrance to the tunnel lies inside the cave, Gundodhara! I will inform the Commander and return with a few men. Till then, you have to somehow manage this demoness. Don’t let her enter the tunnel!” said Shatrugnan and then ran swiftly to inform the Commander. Shatrugnan was unaware of what became of Gundodharan after that.
After listening to the shocking and fearful tale, Commander Paranjyothi said in a worried tone, “Shatrugna! You have brought such important news at a critical time. We do not even have the time to think about this. The attack on the fort has started. We will gain entry into the fort before dawn tomorrow. You take a hundred warriors along and go to that kabalikai’s cave! Please ensure that no one uses that tunnel as an escape route. If possible, you and Gundodharan enter the fort through that tunnel. As soon as the fort gates are thrown open, I will head directly to Sivakami Devi’s house. If Lord Ganesha[i] chooses to bless us, we will be fortunate to rescue Sivakami Devi and hand her over to Aayanar.”
The war trumpets were blown one muhurtham after sunset, just as the Commander had informed the Chakravarthy. The Pallava soldiers who had surrounded the Vatapi Fort from all sides started marching towards the rampart. It seemed as though that ocean-like army along with its flags fluttering in the wind would inundate the Vatapi Fort. The Pallava army elephant force marching towards the four fort gates was akin to black granite hills getting displaced.
The earth trembled under the weight of the elephants, which were specifically trained for this mission to carry iron poles and sturdy wooden masts with their trunks. Clouds of dust rose up to the sky and disappeared. The din caused by one lakh warriors and ten thousand elephants moving forward in unison resembled the uproar in the ocean during a raging cyclone. For some time that gargantuan army marched in darkness. Suddenly, illuminated torches were sporadically visible. Shortly thereafter, these multiplied to thousands and their light blinded the eye. The smoke from these torches spread in all four directions and created a terrifying surreal sight.
Commander Paranjyothi stood outside his tent and was looking around. He was pacing to and fro impatiently and drawing patterns on the ground with his sword, anticipating the arrival of someone. It was in this situation Sadaiyan and four others reached the tent carrying the idol of Ganapathi from the fort entrance. Paranjyothi commanded them to keep the idol inside the tent. Paranjyothi followed them into the tent and asked Sadaiyan, “Appane! You and your men stay here and safeguard the Ganapathi idol. I have prayed that if we are able to bring Sivakami Devi unharmed out of the Vatapi Fort, I will build a temple in my village, instate this Vinayaka Peruman in that temple and conduct prayers thrice a day, every day!” He again said, “Sadaiya! If you stay here and guard the idol, you will lose your share in the loot from our plunder of Vatapi. I will compensate you for that!” he said. “Swami! We will abide by your command!” said Sadaiyan.
Commander Paranjyothi then stood with his arms folded and eyes closed for some time in front of the Ganapathi idol and prayed. At that moment the sound of someone running towards the tent was heard outside. The next instant a dishevelled Shatrugnan entered the tent. His face was ashen as though he had seen a ghost. Paranjyothi asked him, “Shatrugna! Why are you in this state? Why do you look terror-stricken? Are we in grave danger? Were you unsuccessful in your mission?” “Commander! I have faced several grave dangers during my lifetime. But the dangers I faced yesterday and today was unprecedented,” said Shatrugnan and looked at those present.
The Commander, understanding the gesture, asked everyone else to leave. As soon as they had left, he said, “Shatrugna! The attack on the fort has begun. There is no time to delay. Tell me what happened quickly! Were you successful in your mission? Tell me about it first!” “Commander! There is a secret underground tunnel that leads into the fort. I have found out where it is. But it’s no mean task to enter the fort through that tunnel. The attack on the fort has begun. Now, entering the fort through the tunnel does not serve our purpose. I came here to seek your advice!” So saying, he related his tale.