Category Archives: Volume 4: Shattered Dream

Chapter 1 : Chapter 2 : Chapter 3 : Chapter 4 : Chapter 5 :

Chapter 36: Victory or Death

 

Commander Paranjyothi stood rooted to the spot for a moment wondering what the lowering of the white flag meant and what could be the reason for this occurrence. There occurred a miracle in the vicinity of the fort wall as if in response to the queries that rose in his mind. On the wide and long fort walls that had been vacant all these days stood warriors armed with spears. Their steel helmets, copper armours that protected their chests and the tips of the spears they held gleamed in the yellow evening sun.

These warriors cheered in thundering voices, “Long live Maharajadhi Raja[i], Chaluka Kula Thilaka[ii], Tribhuvana Chakravarthy[iii] Satyacharya Pulikesi!” This was followed by thousands of voices hailing, “Jaya Vijayibhava!” Commander Paranjyothi stood shocked for some time observing this amazing sight. A soldier close to him pointed out to the top of the fort’s main entrance and called out, “There! There!” A tall majestic figure stood there surveying the surrounding area. Ah! There was no doubt that it was Emperor Pulikesi.

Paranjyothi at that point of time clearly understood why the white flag was lowered. Emperor Pulikesi had escaped from the battlefield and had gained entry into the fort either through a secret tunnel or by evading the Pallava soldiers and climbing over the ramparts of the fort at night. Now there was no scope for peace. Fighting a war was essential; attacking the fort was imperative. Thousands of men would shed blood that would flow like a river. The city of Vatapi will be set to fire. As the Commander was thinking thus, an arrow swiftly flew from the fort entrance. The Pallava soldiers exclaimed in surprise as the arrow was heading towards Paranjyothi’s head. For a moment it seemed that all their hearts would cease beating.  Fortunately, that arrow flew one span above the Commander’s head and hit the ground behind him.

While everyone else was disconcerted, the Commander was unperturbed. He smilingly commanded to remove the arrow that had struck the ground. A tiny manuscript was fastened to its tail. Paranjyothi read the manuscript which stated, “Victory or Death”. Paranjyothi felt as though a big burden was lifted from his chest. His internal conflict was resolved. The responsibility of starting the war again and causing bloodshed fell on Pulikesi again. The attack on the fort may now be conducted without feeling an iota of guilt.

When Paranjyothi reached this conclusion, he asked the warrior standing next to him, “Sadaiyya! Do you see the idol of Ganapathi at the fort entrance?” “I do, Swami! I too observed you standing close to the idol and looking at it!” said Sadaiyyan. “Good! I am entrusting an extremely important task to you. Once the sun sets and it is pitch dark, you and ten other warriors must approach the fort entrance unseen by the Chalukya soldiers. You must then extricate that idol of Ganapathi without causing any damage and bring it to my tent. Do you understand? You safely bringing that idol back will be a precursor to our winning the war!” said the Commander. “So be it, Commander! I will exercise utmost caution in bring the idol of Vinayakar[iv] to your tent!” said Sadaiyyan. Immediately the Commander turned his horse around and rode swiftly to Mamalla Chakravarthy’s tent.

The other commanders had already assembled at the Emperor’s tent. They had come to receive their final orders from the Chakravarthy. The Chakravarthy was awaiting the arrival of Commander Paranjyothi. He wore a serene expression. He was calmly conversing with those around him. Those at the tent were not yet aware of the white flag at the fort entrance being lowered and the Chalukya warriors standing on the ramparts prepared for war. When they had heard the Chalukya soldiers raising war slogans, they thought that it was the Pallava soldiers who had done so.

Paranjyothi made a stormy entry into the Chakravarthy’s tent, which till then was tranquil, and bowed to the Chakravarthy. He exclaimed, “Prabhu!…” when Mamallar interrupted asking, “Commander! Why are you so agitated?! After thinking for the last three days, I came to the conclusion that your suggestion was fair and just. I have decided to accept the offer of truce and bring the war to an end!” The Commander became even more agitated than before. Tears welled in his eyes. He said in a choked voice, “Prabhu! I’m a fool. My suggestion was ridiculous. Your initial command was both fair and just. Delaying the attack for three days as I had suggested was a blunder. Prabhu! The white flag e at the entrance of the fort has been lowered. Armed Chalukya warriors are standing atop the ramparts prepared for war…”

Everyone assembled in the tent were extremely shocked and furious after listening to Paranjyothi’s message. The Chakravarthy leapt up from his throne and roared, “Commander! Are you stating the truth?” “It’s the truth, Prabhu! I saw it myself! I headed straight here after witnessing this sight.” “Are you able to deduce the reason for this change?” asked Mamallar. “There’s no need to deduce, Prabhu! Pulikesi did not die at the battlefield. He managed to survive and has somehow entered the fort. I also observed the Vatapi Emperor standing atop the fort entrance and surveying his army. Here is Pulikesi’s message, which leaves no room for doubt. I found this message fastened to the tail of an arrow that was shot from within the fort!” As he spoke, Paranjyothi submitted the tiny manuscript on which ‘Victory or Death’ was written.

“This is good news; the responsibility and blame for Vatapi’s destruction will rest on him!” said Mamallar in an enthusiastic voice. He then asked, “Commander, do you harbour any uncertainty? May we start attacking the fort now?” “I am no longer unsure, Prabhu! We are prepared. Our elephant force will start demolishing the fort gates in one muhurtham. Our soldiers will also start scaling the ramparts and entering the fort!” said the Commander. He then told the assembled army chiefs and said, “All of you head to your respective forces. Please remind our soldiers how they ought to conduct themselves once they enter the city. Be prepared to start attacking once you hear trumpets being blown”.

The army chiefs, on hearing this, bowed to the Chakravarthy and Commander and spiritedly left. The Chakravarthy, his security guards, Manavanmar and Commander Paranjyothi were the only ones in the tent. Mamalla Chakravarthy asked, “Commander! What is your command regarding the soldiers’ conduct on entering the city!” “Prabhu! I have commanded them not to harass children and women. All the menfolk who oppose us ought to be killed while the ones who surrender ought to be imprisoned. All houses in Vatapi without exception must be set on fire and reduced to ashes. I have instructed the soldiers to kill those who attempt to extinguish the fire. I have asked them not to stop those citizens who are fleeing the city; but they ought not to carry any of their belongings with them. I have asked our soldiers to collect and hand over to us all the valuables they can find. Half the valuables secured by each of our soldiers will be returned to the finders. If you wish to convey any other order, please let me know,” said the Commander.

“Commander! I have nothing to add. You have acted with foresight!” said Mamallar. “Prabhu! An important task is pending. I have earmarked this task for the Prince of Lanka; you ought to command him!” said the Commander. Before Mamallar could reply, Manavanmar said, “I am waiting for the Commander’s orders!”

“I have heard that the wealth in the Vatapi Emperor’s palace far exceeds the wealth in any other sovereign palace in this world. Harshavardhanar distributes his wealth amongst his citizens every five years. The avaricious Pulikesi does not behave thus. The wealth that Pulikesi has accumulated in the last thirty years, which is comparable to Kubera[v]’s, lies in his palace. Manavanmar should assume the responsibility of carefully bringing those treasures from the palace to our army camp. The palace should be set on fire only when it is stripped of all its wealth. I have set aside five thousand warriors to assist Manavanmar in this mission.” The Commander said all this looking at Mamallar. “Commander! Manavanmar will fulfill your wishes. But besides the treasure in the palace, is there no other treasure in Vatapi worth safeguarding? What arrangements have you made for that?” When Mamallar asked this question, his voice choked. Paranjyothi understood that the Chakravarthy was enquiring about Sivakami Devi.

“Prabhu! I have retained that responsibility for myself. I do not wish to delegate this to anyone else,” he said.

“Very good. Is there no news from Shatrugnan yet?”

“I am expecting his arrival.”

“Commander! You have assigned tasks for everyone. But you have not delegated any task to me. What am I supposed to do?”

“Prabhu! I beseech you to stay right here in this tent.”

“Am I not even required to even enter Vatapi?”

“If the necessity arises, I will send you a message. Then, you must be prepared to come to Vatapi immediately. Please allow Kannan to accompany me along with the chariot.”

“You may take him along. I will be very anxious here.”

“Prabhu! By Vinayaka Peruman’s grace, everything will turn out well. Please do not worry. If necessary, I will send a message. Please give me leave now.”

“Adieu, Commander! As usual, may you return victorious!”

The Commander rushed out of the tent. After he left, the surprised Chakravarthy wondered, “How has he suddenly become so devoted to Lord Vinayaka!”

 


[i] Maharajadhi Raja – Great King of Kings

[ii] Chaluka Kula Thilaka – The Pride of the Chalukya Dynasty

[iii] Tribhuvana Chakravarthy – Emperor of the Three Realms

[iv] Vinayakar – Another name for Ganapathi

[v] Kubera – The God of Wealth in Hindu mythology

Chapter 35: Vatapi Ganapathi

 

Vatapi Ganapathi[i]


Human character may be categorized into two types. The first type of people takes the recurring acts of cruelty they witness very lightly. Then they start thinking. Finally they are able to engage in such cruel acts as a matter of habit. Incidents that initially arouse pity in them fail to evoke any emotion over a period of time. The second type of people feels more and more enraged and not indifferent when they repeatedly observe acts of brutality.  When they see suffering, they feel more sorrowful.  The more they witness injustice and violence being perpetrated, the firmer their resolve becomes to eradicate these evils. Commander Paranjyothi was of the second type. He did not belong to the demonic tribe of humans who became increasingly bloodthirsty when they witnessed gore. At the Vatapi War, he observed rivers of blood flowing in the battlefield, mountains of human corpses that piled up and the moans of those who were grievously injured and on the verge of death. This led Paranjyothi to think, “Why should such atrocities occur? Why do humans have to engage in barbaric acts and kill each other?”

Sivakami’s message reached him when he was in this state of mind. He felt that every word written in that message was true. He thought that God himself had preached thus through Sivakami Devi to prevent him from engaging in such brutal acts. If this were not the case, why did Aayanar’s daughter have to write to him instead of writing to Mamallar directly? Paranjyothi thought that as Sivakami Devi had herself said that there was no necessity to fulfill her oath, Mamallar would immediately acquiesce. Who stood to gain by tormenting the citizens of Vatapi in retaliation to the brutality perpetrated by Pulikesi at Pallava Nadu ten years ago? Moreover, there was no guarantee that the violence would end with this! We are avenging the injustice committed by Pulikesi ten years ago by torturing the citizens of Vatapi. Similarly, the Chalukyas may seek revenge on Pallava Nadu in a few years from now. When sovereigns seek revenge to uphold their honour and their dynasty’s glory, innocent people on both sides are put to untold misery.

Commander Paranjyothi was thinking along these lines. Intermittently he also recollected Mamallar’s scornful words, which made him sad. Wasn’t he under the delusion that Mamallar’s emotions and intellect functioned in unison? Not only was Mamallar extremely dismissive of his suggestion, but he had also humiliated him! Wasn’t this trait characteristic of royalty?! Ever since the Prince of Lanka had come to Kanchi, Mamallar’s character had undergone a complete transformation! All these troubles are because of Manavanman. When Commander Paranjyothi had sought three days’ time from Mamallar, he had said that he needed the time to make preparations to attack the fort. The reason was valid. Commander Paranjyothi had learnt from his experience that it was preferable to make due preparations and complete a task in a day rather than embarking on a task unprepared and complete it in ten days’ time. So, in that instance he deployed his war strategies to the fullest.

However, in addition to the stated reason there was another important reason on account of which Commander Paranjyothi had sought three days’ time. He was desirous of safely bring Sivakami Devi, who was still residing within the fort, out before the attack began. How can one be sure that no harm will befall Aayanar’s daughter if she were to remain inside the fort when the Pallava army attacked the fort from outside? Mamallar and Paranjyothi had discussed this issue previously. Shatrugnan and Gundodharan were commissioned to ascertain if there existed a secret tunnel that led inside the fort so that a few people could be sent into the fort ahead of the attack. The Commander had sought three days’ time to see what became of their efforts.

The third day was drawing to a close; it was the sunset of the third day. If Mamallar were to pass orders that night, the attack would have to start. But Shatrugnan and Gundodharan had not returned. How can this tricky situation be resolved? It would be good if Mamallar were to change his mind and accept the truce without engaging in combat. If not, how can we ensure that no danger befalls Sivakami Devi?

Thinking thus of possible outcomes, the Pallava Commander was riding by the ramparts of the fort. It seemed that there was some disturbance within the fort. All these days dead silence had prevailed within the fort. But at that point of time all kinds of noises were heard. Paranjyothi felt heightened confusion on account of this. He brought his horse to a halt when he reached the main entrance of the fort. To attack the fort, it was imperative to first demolish the gigantic gates fitted to the massive main entrance. Only then was it possible for all the soldiers to enter the fort at the same time and capture the city within a short period of time. Though arrangements for this had already been made, the Commander wished to take one final close look before commanding the warriors in the elephant force to launch the attack.

So, he dismounted the horse and walked towards the entrance. It was then the exquisitely carved sculptures located at the entrance of the Vatapi Fort caught his attention. Amongst those sculptures was an idol of Ganapathi. Paranjyothi stood close to the idol with his arms folded. He silently prayed as follows: “Vinayaka Peruman, who removes all barriers! Please bless us so that the task for which we came ends well! Please be with us so that we may safely hand over my guru’s daughter, Sivakami Devi, back to her father, Aayanar. If you were to fulfill this prayer of mine, I in turn will ensure that you’re not harmed when we attack this fort. I will take you back to my native village, build a temple, consecrate you in that temple and perform daily prayers.

The instant Paranjyothi finished praying, a lot of commotion prevailed amongst the Pallava soldiers who were stationed some distance away from the fort entrance. When they observed the top of the fort entrance, they exclaimed in surprise. As this attracted the Commander’s attention, he looked towards the soldiers. One of them called out, “Commander! The white flag has been lowered!” The Commander hurried to the spot where they were standing and looked at the top of the fort entrance. The flag of truce that was fluttering for the last three days was no longer hoisted!

 


[i] Ganapathi – A son of Lord Shiva, whose possesses an elephant face and a human body

Chapter 34: Sivakami’s Missive

 

The message that Sivakami had written to Commander Paranjyothi was as follows: “This message is for the brave commander of the Pallava forces and my dear brother, Paranjyothi, from Aayanar’s daughter, Sivakami. I am indebted to you and the Pallava Kumarar for not having forgotten this helpless orphaned maiden for nine years and to have invaded this country to uphold my oath. News of the Great War fought to the north of this fort has reached here. People here are wondering if the Vatapi Emperor lost his life in that war.

The Chief of the Vatapi Fort, Bhimasenar, visited me and requested me to pen a message. Acquiescing to his request, I whole-heartedly wrote this message. The objective behind the expedition initiated by you and the Pallava Kumarar has been achieved. The Chalukya army and the Vatapi Emperor have been decimated. I beseech you to end the hostilities and accept the offer of truce extended by the citizens of Vatapi. I no longer harbor the desire that the Pallava Kumarar ought to fulfill the oath I had previously taken. If my oath were executed, the innocent citizens of this large city would lose their homes and belongings and would be put to untold hardship. I don’t wish them to be subject to such torture. By acting thus, no one stands to benefit.

It is evident that there have been several casualties on both sides in the war that just took place. I regret the disastrous slaughters that have occurred on account of me. My dear brother! When I was living all alone in this city for the last nine years, my mind was ceaselessly thinking. I realized that I had committed a blunder by refusing to accompany you and the Pallava Kumarar back to Kanchi when the two of you had come to Vatapi previously and had asked me to do so. I regret my foolishness in stubbornly insisting that I would leave the city only when my oath is fulfilled. Isn’t it sheer madness that humans who are endowed with a sixth sense kill each other in the name of war?

Is it correct for humans to kill living beings created by God? When we are incapable of creating even a minute organism, isn’t it sinful to slaughter thousands of people? The more I think about these issues, the more remorseful I feel that this horrific war had broken out because of me. There exists a God to mete out punishment or forgive erring humans. Elders have said that even an atom does not move in this world unknown to God. This being the case, why do humans have to take the initiative to punish other humans?

Anna! Let bygones be bygones. At least now bloodshed should end. Please forgive me for all the difficulty I put you through because of my foolish obstinacy. Please inform the Pallava Kumarar that I implore him to stop the war. Ever since the fort was laid to siege, the residents of the city have been extremely respectful to me. Should the Pallava Kumarar accept their surrender, they are prepared to seat me in a palanquin and send me back with all honours. Please make all this known to the Pallava Kumarar. I am extremely eager to see all of you. I hope that I will be fortunate enough to meet you and the Pallava Kumarar by sunset today. I hereby prostrate to the lotus feet of my dear father.”

Given Mamallar’s state of mind, the rage he felt on reading Sivakami Devi’s message was easily comprehensible. When Mamallar was about to tear the message apart, the Commander pointing out that the message was for him made Mamallar even more furious. “Is that so? Take your message, Commander! Take it by all means. Please pray to this great manuscript that preaches justice!” So saying, he flung the manuscript.

The Commander reverently picked up the manuscript and said, “Yes, Pallavendra! This indeed is a great manuscript to me. I had come to Kanchi to be educated by Thirunavukkarasar Peruman. I was not fortunate then. But today, I was fortunate to have read Sivakami Devi’s sermon. Isn’t Sivakami Devi the daughter of the sculptor Aayanar, whom I regard as my preceptor?!”

Mamallar’s felt uncontrollable rage. He, who had never spoken about Sivakami in public, spoke arrogantly in the presence of his Council. “Commander! I have committed two blunders in my life. I attempted to seat the sculptor’s daughter on the throne. I failed in that attempt. I made you, who had come to learn Tamil and sculpting, the commander of the Pallava Kingdom! That has now become the second blunder I committed. The sculptor’s daughter has proved that she is not fit to ascend the throne. You have proved that the son of a vaidhyar, who treats peoples’ ailments, is unfit to lead the army of a nation…” Tears welled in Commander Paranjyothi’s eyes. Humiliation and anger overcame him. He started saying, “Pallavendra!…”

When Mamallar roared, “Commander! Stop!” he was rendered speechless. Till then, Mamallar had never spoken to him thus. He had never uttered an insulting or hurting word. Paranjyothi was unable to comprehend this new anger-filled incarnation of Mamallar. Mamallar attacked him further with sharp words, “Who do you think I am? Who did the sculptor’s daughter think I was?  How did she dare write this message? How long have you two been conspiring to bring disgrace to the Pallava Dynasty? When this foolish girl unthinkingly insists, we ought to prepare for war. Do we have to end this war when she condescends to command us to do so?  Did she think that she was the raison d’etre of the Pallava Kingdom? Did she write this message thinking that the citizens of Pallava Nadu and the Pallava Chakravarthy are her slaves? I did not mobilize this massive army and prepare for this war for the last nine years to fulfill thesculptor’s fickle daughter’s oath. You need to understand this. I came to uphold the impeccable honour of the Pallava Dynasty.  I embarked on this expedition to execute the command Mahendra Pallavar had issued on his death bed. I invaded to ensure that the world does not mock Narasimha Pallavan, who won the title of Maha Mallan at the age of eighteen. I did not come to fulfill the oath of the short sighted sculptor’s daughter. I did not come here to listen to her preaching justice and to attain enlightenment. Since it is evident that you are unwilling to conduct this war further, I relieve you of the Commander’s post this instant!”

Mamallar, who spoke thus far looking at the Commander, turned to the Prince of Lanka and said, “Manavanmarey! Foreseeing that our Commander will betray me at an opportune moment, I brought you along. Fortunately, at least you are willing to obey me! Prepare to attack the fort immediately. We must start the attack tonight itself!” Pin drop silence prevailed after Mamallar’s fiery speech, which resembled a prolonged bout of thunder, came to an end. Everyone stood stunned. They had believed that Mamallar and Paranjyothi were inseparable friends sharing a common soul. Hearing Mamallar speak to Paranjyothi so harshly, they were in turmoil.

Manavanmar thought sadly, “What is this? This is an undesirable and unintentional outcome!  Haven’t I antagonized the Commander and made a permanent enemy out of him?”, as he stood still. Mamallar scolded, “Manavanmarey! Why are you standing still?” Manavanmar looked at Paranjyothi. Paranjyothi, who had stood dazed like the others till then, stepped forward and said in a choked voice, “Pallavendra! I seek a boon from you on the strength of the twelve year service I have rendered to the Pallava Kingdom!”

As Mamallar did not respond, Paranjyothi spoke further. “Prabhu! You and I had taken an oath standing beside Pulikesi’s Jayasthambam that is visible from here. We had vowed to demolish that false Jayasthambam, erect a memorial commemorating the Pallava invasion in its place and free Sivakami Devi and take her back. We toiled day and night for the last nine years to fulfill the oath. Please permit your humble servant to continue as a Commander till we fulfill the oath!”

The anger in Mamamallr’s face subsided and he smiled. “Why do you have to use such round about means to seek a boon? Commander! That’s my desire too. Start the attack immediately!” “Please forgive me. I have another request, Prabhu! If we begin our attack of the fort, we must emerge victorious within one day and one night. Please give us three days to make the necessary arrangements!” asked the Commander humbly. Mamallar’s silence indicated his reluctant acceptance of the Commander’s request.

Chapter 33: Ministerial Consultation

 

A week had passed since the Pallava army had conclusively won the Great War of Vatapi. Some distance away from the main entrance to the Vatapi Fort, a gigantic Rishabha flag was fluttering majestically in the sky. At the tent pitched beneath the flag, Mamallar’s Ministers’ Council had congregated. The faces of the ministers sitting around Mamallar revealed their pride on winning a decisive victory in a major war along with a tinge of worry.  However, Mamallar’s valorous handsome face exuded fire and brimstone! It appeared that a debate was underway at the Minsters’ Council on account of divided opinions. The reason behind the difference in opinions was a message seeking refuge that was sent by the Vatapi chieftans.

On returning from the battlefield, the Pallava army was divided into two. One force was strategically stationed two kadu to the east to attack the Vengi army that was marching towards Vatapi. Preparations were underway to deploy the second force to attack and capture the fort. A matter concerning the proposed attack of the fort made Mamallar furious. He was not even willing to give time for the soldiers who had returned after winning a major war to relax. He rushed the commander and the others. He mounted a horse and rode around the fort motivating the soldiers. Mamalla Chakravarthy himself explained to the soldiers how to cross the moat in one go, how to climb the ramparts of the fort, how to wield the spear and kill the guards stationed at the fort walls and what they ought to do on entering the fort. Mamallar’s behaviour made Commander Paranjyothi both angry and sad. He asked, “Why don’t you leave these tasks to me? Don’t you trust me?”

Mamallar’s urgency in initiating the attack on the fort stemmed from his concern that the enemy may call for truce even before the attack started. His fear was not unfounded. When it was decided to launch the attack on the fort on the following day, a white flag signifying truce was raised at the main entrance to the fort. Two people climbed down the ramparts on a rope ladder. They submitted the two messages they had brought to Commander Paranjyothi and returned.

One of the messages was written by the Chief of the Fort, Bhimasenan, to the Chakravarthy. The message stated that Vatapi chieftans had held discussions and had decided to relinquish control of the Vatapi Fort to the Kanchi Chakravarthy without any opposition, that all the wealth in the Vatapi palace and the elephant force and cavalry stationed within the fort would be surrendered to Mamalla Chakravarthy and that they were willing to comply with any other conditions he may have. The message requested Mamallar to mercifully refrain from attacking the fort and that he should allow the city’s womenfolk to retain their houses, wealth and freedom. The message concluded stating that if Mamalla Chakravarthy were to acquiesce to their request, the Chief of the Fort, Bhimasenan, along with his men are prepared to surrender.

This message calling for truce gave no room for suspicion; it was the truth.  The residents of Vatapi who stood in the mandapams atop the ramparts and observed the proceedings also came to know of the Great War that was fought between the Pallava army and the Chalukya army. As it was clear that the Pallava army had won the war, the Vatapi citizens were fear stricken. Wailing and lamenting filled the streets and homes. Everyone came to know that they did not possess adequate forces and weapons to safeguard the fort and that they had not accumulated sufficient food supplies to sustain them should the siege continue any longer. If the siege were to continue for a month, the citizens would have had to starve. If the enemy forces were to attack the fort and forcibly enter, then the citizens cannot expect mercy from them. Lakhs of women, children and aged people would be rendered helpless.

Taking all this account and in the absence of an altenative, the Vatapi chieftans and the Chief of the fort, Bhimasenan, called for truce. Mamallar had summoned the Minsters’ Council to discuss the offer of truce and come to a conclusion. That day Mamallar was impatient and short tempered at the Ministers’ Council; a phenomenon that had never occurred in the past. The very sight of the message made him furious. When the message was read out to everyone, sparks of fire flew from his eyes.  Those assembled understood that the Chakravarthy was not favourably inclined towards the offer of truce from his body language, facial expression and manner of speaking.  Despite this, when the Chakravarthy sought their opinion about the offer of truce, those assembled truthfully said that they were in favour of accepting the offer of truce and safeguarding the city and its residents.

The Chakravarthy’s fury escalated. When each one voiced his support for the truce, Mamallar reacted caustically, exclaiming, “Is that so?” and “Oh!” Commander Paranjyothi and Manavanmar of Lanka refrained from voicing their opinions.  “Why are you standing quietly without saying anything? Commander! What’s your opinion?” asked Mamallar pointedly. “Prabhu! I too believe that the hostilities must cease. What’s the use of innocent people suffering? Moreover, when they are begging for their lives by surrendering to the Chakravarthy, what other option exists?”

“Commander! What are you saying? Have you too started proselytizing justice and fairness? Have you forgotten the atrocities perpetrated by Pulikesi in our country? Aren’t you aware that we are duty bound to set this city ablaze and reduce it to ashes? Do you speak thus despite being aware of everything? What has overcome all of you suddenly? Are you all tired of war? Does the sight of blood scare you? Have you become attached to your lives and possessions? Manavanmarey! I hope that atleast you are on my side! Or have you too joined the ranks of Buddha Bhagavan’s foremost disciples and have become a pacifist?” asked Mamallar fierily.

Manavanmar understood very well Mamallar’s state of mind. He realized that Mamallar would go to any length to fulfill his promise to Sivakami and if the offer of truce were accepted, Mamallar would not be able to keep up his word. In truth, Manavanmar was extremely surprised that Commander Paranjyothi had spoken in support of acquiescing to the truce. Also, the thought that if the offer of truce were accepted, there would be no opportunity to employ the elephant force that he had specially trained to attack the fort lurked at the corner of Manavanmar’s mind.

Assessing the situation, Manavanmar said, “Prabhu! When all the valorous commanders of Pallava Nadu unanimously favour acceptance of the offer of truce, I was hesitant to offer a contradictory opinion. Specifically, I was unwilling to dispute the Commander!” Mamallar roared in a commanding tone, “Manavanmarey! If it’s mandatory that everyone must voice unanimous views, then there is no need for a Ministers’ Council. Everyone may bravely state their opinions here. There’s no need for anyone to be afraid!”

“Prabhu! I will state my opinion if you command me to do so. I believe that we ought not to accept this offer of truce. Does surrendering set right all the untold atrocities that have been committed?” Commander Paranjyothi interrupted saying, “What sin did the citizens of Vatapi commit? How can they be held responsible for the barbarian Pulikesi’s actions?” Manavanmar responded saying, “The Commander speaking thus surprises me. Didn’t these people happily witness the atrocities perpetrated by Pulikesi? Did they ever attempt to prevent him from behaving unjustly? They are the ones who strengthened the savage Pulikesi. They are the ones who shared and enjoyed the loot Pulikesi had plundered and brought back. They are the ones who enslaved and extracted work out of the men and women Pulikesi had imprisoned and brought back to Vatapi. Haven’t the citizens of the city insulted and earned the indelible enmity of the Pallava Kingdom by making the sculptor Aayanar’s daughter dance at the street junctions? Has our valorous Commander forgotten all this?” When Manavanmar spoke thus, Mamallar shot a sharp look at Paranjyothi.

Then Commander Paranjyothi said, “Pallavendra! It’s impossible for me to forget that which Manavanmar remembers. I was desirous of discussing this with you separately. But as Manavanmar raised the subject of Sivakami Devi, I too will voice my opinion here. The emissaries who delivered the offer of truce handed another manuscript separately to me. Here is the manuscript penned by Sivakami Devi. Please read this manuscript!” So saying, he removed a manuscript from the sheath of his sword and handed it over to the Chakravarthy. When the Pallavendrar read the manuscript, his already reddened eyes became even more fiery and resembled ignited coal.   The intense anger he felt made his hands tremble. As soon as he read the message, he was about to tear the bunch of palm leaf manuscripts to shreds. Then the Commander interjected and said, “Pallavendra! The message was for me. Please be merciful and return it to me!”

 

Chapter 32: The Kabalikai’s Love

 

The bikshu, after swearing by the names of several Gods with his face tilted skywards and his hands raised, sat down and placed Pulikesi’s lifeless body on his lap again. “Thambi! You have not died. All these days though we lived in two separate bodies, we shared the same soul. Like our soul, our bodies have become one now. Henceforth you are me; I am you! We are not two separate people!” After speaking thus in an emotion laden voice, the bikshu sobbed and cried in a manner that caused his body to shake.

It seemed as though he had lost self-consciousness and had immersed himself in an ocean of sorrow. The night was passing quickly. The moon was rising higher and higher. The shadows of rocks and trees became progressively shorter. The kabalikai, who was standing for a long time behind a rock, finally lost her patience.

She went and stood behind the bikshu and gently placed her finger on his shoulder. The bikshu, who was taken aback, looked around. “Ranjani! Is that you?” he asked. “Yes; it’s me!” said the kabalikai. “Haven’t you left yet?” “If that’s your order, I will do so.” “No, stay! You are the only one in this vast world who bears affection for me.” “There is not a soul to shower affection on me.” “Ah! Ranjani, why do you say so? Am I not there?” asked the bikshu.

The sorrow that was evident in his voice some time ago had disappeared without a trace and was replaced by deceptive affection. “Adigal! Why are you trying to deceive this helpless woman? Who will feel affection for this hideous form?” asked the kabalikai. “Haven’t you heard that love is blind? No matter how unsightly you may be, in my eyes you are Rathi!” said the bikshu. “You treacherous bikshu! Why do you intentionally prevaricate? You were the one who made me look repulsive. If you bore affection towards me, would you have behaved in this manner?” said that repugnant kabalikai.

“Ranjani! Haven’t I explained this several times to you? Had you resided in the Vatapi Palace looking as beautiful as an Ajantha painting, wouldn’t some prince have won your hand? That’s why I acted in this manner.” “You yourself could have won my hand. Who would have prevented you?” “I have also explained that to you a thousand times. I will state the reason again; I had some tasks to execute. Foremost was securing my release from the Buddha Sangam.” “You’ve been saying this for a long time. When will you be released?”

“Ranjani, I have been released! The great obstacle that prevented you from fulfilling your desire no longer exists. Are you happy now?” asked the bikshu gently. “Are you stating the truth?” asked Ranjani. “I swear I’m stating the truth. The necessity for me to seek my release did not even arise. The members of the Buddha Sangam excommunicated me. This must have happened on account of your penances.”

The kabalikai asked suspiciously, “Why did they excommunicate you? How did the members of the Buddha Sangam dare to excommunicate the all-powerful Naganandi Bikshu?” “That’s a long story, I will tell you later. We now have an extremely important mission ahead of us. We must cremate this corpse immediately. If anyone comes to know of this, everything will go awry. Ranjani! Why don’t you bring the logs and build a pyre right here?” “I cannot do that!” “Why do you say so?” Won’t you help me?” asked the bikshu. “If you tell me why they excommunicated you from the Buddha Sangam, I will help you.”

“I will tell you briefly, listen! I knew beforehand that Mamallan of Kanchi is invading us. But, for certain reasons I did not reveal this to my brother and kept it as a secret. When this fool came to know of this, he thought that I had betrayed both him and the nation. He told me, who had saved his life by risking mine and had orchestrated his rise to such a powerful position, ‘I don’t want to see you as long as you’re alive!’ and sent me away. On account of his behaviour, he is now lying here as an orphaned corpse. You and I must cremate him!” said the bikshu and took a deep breath. He then said, “The bikshus at the Ajantha Sangramam came to know of this. They, who had accepted all the assistance that came to them through me, on realizing that I had fallen out of favour with the Emperor cursed and excommunicated me. They also faced the consequences of their behaviour. Ranjini! Those who oppose Neelakesi will not survive, they will face doom.”

“What became of the Ajantha bikshus?” asked the kabalikai. “Nothing at all. Within a week since the incident occurred, the bikshus had to shut down the Ajantha Sangramam and flee for their lives. A rumour had spread across the country that the Ajantha Art Festival was a conspiracy hatched by the bikshus to assist Mamallan of Kanchi. I was the one who sowed the seeds of this rumour. The citizens were prepared to march up to Ajantha and destroy the Sangramam and the sculptures and paintings that lay within the Sangramam. When the bikshus came to know of this, they closed all the secret routes that led to Ajantha and started fleeing northwards to Harsha’s Kingdom. After that, I myself tried to go to Ajantha again. Even I was unable to trace the route. I decided to address this issue later and returned. I came at the right time. Ranjani! Stand up! Do as I bid quickly! Build the pyre right away! Bring the fire!”

“What are you going to do after cremating the Emperor?” “Ranjani!  You must not divulge anything about the Emperor’s death or his cremation to anyone. You must not reveal this even to the wind. You must keep this matter extremely confidential, do you understand?” “Why the secrecy, Adigal?” “I will tell you later. Ranjani! We don’t have a moment to waste.” “You treacherous bikshu! You don’t have to tell me the reason. I’m aware of it.” “What do you know?” “After cremating this corpse, you are going to head to Vatapi through the secret tunnel! You’re going to proclaim that you are the Emperor. You are going to ascend the throne with the temptress from Kanchi by your side…”

Naganandi angrily stood up and said, “I will act in the manner you just described. Go to hell! Henceforth I will have nothing to do with you…” Before he could speak further, the kabalikai fell at his feet and said, “Adigal! Please forgive me. I will obey you.” “But you don’t trust me. What is the use of telling you?” “There is one way to instill trust in me!” “What is that?” “Hand over that dancer to me!”

“Ranjani! You waited for so long. Please be patient for some more time. Wait till the siege of Vatapi comes to an end. Haven’t I told you that I have a reason for safeguarding Sivakami? The time has now come. When I wreak revenge on Mamallan, I will hand over Sivakami to you. Then the Emperor of the southern country will be Neelakesi! You will be the Empress! The Kingdoms of Chalukya, Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Vengi will lie beneath our feet!” When Naganandi alias Neelakesi uttered these words, his eyes glowed like fire in the moonlight.

The kabalikai appeared assuaged. In deference to Neelakesi’s words, she brought the logs from her cave and started building a pyre. Then she muttered to herself, unheard by Neelakesi, “Perfidious bikshu! You’re trying to cheat me again. But your plans are never ever going to fructify. That temptress Sivakami will not give you a second look no matter how much you beseech her and even if you give her Devendran’s position. Finally you would have to fall at my feet!”

Chapter 31: The Bikshu’s Oath

 

One night after The Great War of Vatapi drew to an end an extremely sorrowful incident was unfolding at the vicinity of the kabalikas’ sacrificial altar that lay some distance away from the Vatapi Fort. When the rays emitted by the just rising moon in the east streamed through the trees and fell on the bare rocks, those black rocks and their pitch dark shadows resembled huge, dark ghosts, rendering that rocky terrain even more fearful.

A hideous female form was seen walking by the rocks, sometimes in the shadow of the rocks and some other times in the moonlight. That apparition was carrying another body on her shoulder. The stiff manner in which the body lay on her shoulder indicated that it was a corpse. As she walked in the moonlight, her shadow resembled a demoness’. One would have thought that it was a demoness who was carrying her prey for her consumption.

When one observed that female apparition closely, she was more fearful than an imaginary murderous fiend. Her tanned thick skin, short reddened tresses and fiery eyes made her look like a terrifying ogress described in novels. But the male corpse whom that woman carried on her shoulder was not so frightful. He looked regal. Who was it? Probably it was…

When this unsightly fiend turned around the corner of a rock, she was taken aback seeing someone walking towards her. She hesitated. Why was she shocked?  Was it fear? Was she too subject to fear?  Or was there some other reason?  The person walking towards her did so without an iota of hesitation. When he neared her, the bikshu’s voice asking, “Ranjani, is that you?” was heard. Isn’t it surprising that the repulsive monstress had a beautiful name like Ranjani? Nevertheless, in the past the woman did possess a captivating appearance that befit the name Ranjani[i]. It was the bikshu who had transformed her into a repulsive kabalikai[ii].

It seemed as though the kabalikai was even more shocked hearing the bikshu’s voice. Observing her stand shocked like a statue, the bikshu asked again, “Ranjani! Why this silence? Where did you go to hunt?” It seemed as though the kabalikai overcame her shock. “Adigal! Is it truly you?” she asked in a surprised and suspicious tone. “What kind of a question is this? Why do you doubt that it’s me? Who else but me will come in search of you in the middle of the night? Since I could not find you at your cave, I came searching for you! What is that? Whom are you carrying? Which sinner’s corpse are you bearing? Nowadays you seem to have no dearth of preys!”

As the bikshu was speaking in this manner, the kabalikai dropped the corpse she was carrying for so long with a thud. She exclaimed, “What fun!” and let out a terrifying laugh. “What is the fun? Where did you find the corpse?” asked the bikshu. “Adigal! I wept nonstop thinking of you as I walked for two kadu. All my tears were in vain!” said the kabalikai. “Did you weep? Why should you shed tears thinking of me? What kind of a joke is this!” said the bikshu.  “It is a big joke. I will narrate the joke from the beginning; listen to me!” So saying, the kabalikai narrated her story.

“I had gone to derive some amusement by watching the war. I was watching the war from the top of a hill that stood some distance away from the battlefield.  My God! What a war it was! How many casualties!  How many humans were sacrificed! The kabalikas sacrifice one human at this place once a month! That’s nothing! There lakhs of humans and thousands of elephants and horses were sacrificed. The sacrifices continued day and night for three days. Finally one side started fleeing while the other side was pursuing them. I did not even observe who was chasing whom. I took to flight fearing that they would capture me.  Today, I surreptitiously walked through the forest during daytime. In the evening, I could hear the sound of a horse galloping. I ran even faster thinking that someone was coming to seize me. For some time, the horse also continued galloping. When darkness had set in, I hid myself behind a tree to find out who was chasing me. The horse that was chasing me suddenly fell down. The man who was mounted on the horse lay immobile; he did not get up. When I went close to the horse, I realized that it was on the verge of death. It seemed that the man who lay on the horse had been dead for a long time. As his legs were fastened to the horses’ stirrups, he must have lay on the horse without falling down. I bent down and looked at his face; it was exactly like yours. Am I not a mad woman? I thought it was you, carried him on my shoulder and came here weeping…”

The bikshu must have been suddenly struck by a thought then. He bent down and stared intently at the corpse’s face in the moonlight. When the bikshu shrieked, “Thambi! Pulikesi!” it echoed across that vast rocky area. “Ranjani! You go away! You leave me alone for some time! Don’t stand here!” said the sobbing bikshu. Hearing this, the kabalikai became scared and walked away to stand behind a rock.

The bikshu sat down and placed Pulikesi’s corpse on his lap.  “Thambi! What became of you? Is this how you died? Isn’t it because of this sinner that you were reduced to this state?” said the bikshu and repeated beat himself at his chest and forehead. “Aiyyo! Thambi! Didn’t you pass away thinking that I had betrayed you? My brother, you are dearer to me than my own life! Will I betray you, who lived along with me in our mother’s womb for ten months? I had conspired to wreak revenge on Mamallan! You died before I could divulge my intention to you!…”

The bikshu again punched himself at the chest and said, “You base bikshu! May your anger be doomed! May your love be destroyed! Your Sivakami…! Ah! What will Sivakami do?…Thambi! I did not betray you. Neither did I betray our nation. Had both of us exercised some patience at Ajantha that day, this disaster would not have occurred! I would not have allowed this war to break out! I would have starved everyone from Pallava Nadu to death! I would have slaughtered Mamallan! Aiyyo! Things have come to such a pass…”

The bikshu gently lifted Pulikesi’s corpse from his lap and placed it on the ground. He stood up, lifted both his hands towards the skies and shrieked in a manner that caused goose pimples to the kabalikai hiding behind the rock. “Thambi! Pulikesi! I will avenge your death! I swear by the lotus feet of Buddha Bhagavan! I swear by the vengeful Rudran[iii] who bears a kabalam[iv].  I also swear by the bloodthirsty Shakti Bhadrakali[v] that I will seek revenge on those who killed you!”

 

 


[i] Ranjani – In Sanskrit, Ranjani means pleasing / charming

[i]i Kabalikai – Female kabalika (cannibal)

[iii] Rudran – Manifestation of Lord Shiva

[iv] Kabalam – Skull

[v] Shakti Bhadrakali – A ferocious manifestation of Goddess Parvati

Chapter 30: The Great War of Vatapi

 

More than a month had passed since the uncustomary art festival held at Ajantha drew to an abrupt and awkward closure. During that one month, a fierce competition broke out between the Chalukya army that was rushing from the north and the invading Pallava army that was marching from the south to reach Vatapi. It was the Pallava army that won the battle of speed.  When the Chalukya army was still six kadu to the north of Vatapi, the ocean-like Pallava army had reached Vatapi without any impediments and had surrounded that expansive city’s fortress from all sides.

The citizens of Vatapi were alarmed by this unprecedented disaster. Vatapi’s residents, who were extremely proud of Emperor Pulikesi’s brave deeds and of his fame spreading far and wide even across the high seas to far flung nations, had not even imagined that another king would invade their country. The Pallava invasion that was akin to thunder striking across clear skies numbed and shocked the people. Everyone was aware that their Emperor was not present in the city at that point of time and that the forces deployed for the fort’s security were inadequate. Hence most of the city’s womenfolk felt extremely apprehensive. The Samanars, Saivites and Saktars who were inimical towards the Buddhists said, “The Ajantha Art Festival, in reality, is a plot hatched by the Buddhists!” The Chief of the Fort, Bhimasenan, also had to provide additional security to the Buddhist Viharams and monasteries which were the targets of the citizens’ angry attacks.

Commander Bhiman had also made arrangements to read out the emergency messages sent by the Emperor through his emissaries to help citizens overcome their fear. The Emperor has stated in that epistle that he was rushing to Vatapi along with the massive army that had been stationed at the banks of the Narmada River, that another large force stationed at Vengi Nadu was also marching towards Vatapi, that there was no need for the citizens to lose heart should the Pallava army lay siege to the Vatapi Fort ahead of his reaching Vatapi and that he would teach the Pallava army a lesson by decimating it and liberating Vatapi from the siege very soon. After hearing the above epistle that was read out at the street junctions, the Vatapi residents managed to somewhat overcome their fear and muster courage.

When Emperor Pulikesi, accompanied by the large army that was stationed on the banks of the Narmada River, was four kadu away from Vatapi, he received news of the Pallava army reaching Vatapi ahead of him and surrounding the fort. He immediately stopped marching ahead. As the army from Vengi had to cross several forests, mountains and rivers on its way, it came to be known that this army would take time in reaching Vatapi. In this situation, Emperor Pulikesi after discussing with his ministers and army chiefs, decided not to engage in war immediately and to wait for some time. He decided to launch a ferocious attack against the Pallava army once the forces from Vengi arrived and to tarry at the same place till then. But the doyens in warfare, Mamalla Chakravarthy and Commander Paranjyothi, did not allow him to execute his decisions.

The Pallava army chiefs debated at the Minsters’ Council whether to attack the Vatapi Fort or to confront the massive army headed by Pulikesi first. Manavanmar and Aditya Varmar opined that as their mission was to capture the Vatapi Fort, they ought to attack the fort immediately. Commander Paranjyothi said Pulikesi ought to attacked and slaughtered before the arrival of the forces from Vengi, that the Vatapi Fort was not going to disappear and that the longer the Vatapi Fort was under siege the easier would it be for the Pallava forces to capture the fort.  The Chief of Spies supported the Commander. After deploying a small force to continue laying siege to the Vatapi Fort, a major portion of the Pallava army started marching northwards.

Emperor Pulikesi came to know of this. He realized that if he retreated at this juncture, the Chalukya Kingdom’s honour would come to naught. He prepared himself for war. Three kadu to the north of Vatapi, the two mammoth armies locked horns. This sight was akin to a turbulent ocean where the waves rose and lashed without any impediments. The gory battle continued for three days and nights. Thousands of warriors, stabbed by swords and pierced by spears, met their end at the battlefield. Mounds of the corpses of those who had died fighting bravely, with their arms, legs and heads mutilated, lay at the battlefield.

The dead elephants that lay on the battlefield resembled black granite hills. The corpses of humans and those of horses were all piled up together. The pathetic moaning of humans, the horrific shrieking of elephants and the sorrowful neighing of horses that were on the verge of death mingled together to form an intolerable din. Rivers of blood flowed in all four directions at the battlefield. The mutilated limbs of warriors floating on the rivers of blood presented an excruciating sight. It is impossible to provide an accurate description of that war in which lakhs of warriors and thousands of elephants and horses were deployed. Only great playwrights like Valmiki, Vyasar, Homer and Kambar[i] could do justice.

It was possible to estimate the relative strength of both sides from the very beginning of the war. Those who understood the intricacies of warfare could surmise the outcome of the war. The Chalukya army that had travelled a long distance nonstop was unable to withstand the assault of the invigorated Pallava army, which had the opportunity to rejuvenate itself after reaching Vatapi. A key contributory factor to the weakness of the Chalukya army was that a major part of its elephant force was stationed along with its army at Vengi.

At the dawn of the third day, the victory of the Pallava army and the defeat of the Chalukya army became a certainty. That afternoon, the Chalukya commanders and ministers surrounded Pulikesi and forcefully impressed upon him that it was necessary for him to retreat to a safe place till the arrival of the forces from Vengi for the welfare of the kingdom. The Chakravarthy, realizing that there was no alternative, acquiesced. It was decided that the Emperor escorted by what remained of the cavalry would safely retreat when that day drew to a close. But a major disruption that occurred in the evening prevented them from executing that decision. The Pallava army had saved the elephant force that had been specially trained by Manavanmar for the very end. That evening they launched an attack by that force.

When five thousand ferocious elephants armed with iron poles pounced on the Chalukya cavalry, those unsuspecting horses were taken aback. The horses dispersed and fled in all four directions. The remaining Chalukya soldiers fled even faster than the elephants. For the whole of the third night, the Pallava soldiers pursued the fleeing Chalukya soldiers and hunted them down. The following dawn, the battlefield in which a terrible war had raged during the last three days, was filled with corpses of the Chalukya soldiers. Not even a single living Chalukya soldier was seen.

Amidst the blowing of trumpets and conches signifying victory and the sound of victory slogans reaching the skies, the Pallava Chakravarthy and his commanders garlanded and congratulated each other and celebrated the conclusive victory secured by the Pallava army. Despite the uproarious celebrations, a small worry lingered at the bottom of their hearts. They were wondering what became of the Chalukya Emperor, Pulikesi. It was not known whether the Vatapi Emperor battled till the very end and embraced heroic death or if he had taken flight after observing several Chalukya soldiers fleeing the battlefield. If he had died at the battlefield, they would need to accord his mortal remains the honour due to a powerful Emperor. If he had fled, it was possible that he would mobilize an army again and attack them. After debating about Pulikesi’s fate for long, the Pallavas decided that it was futile to continue engaging in such discussions. After making arrangements for a force headed by Shatrugnan to comb the battlefield thoroughly for Pulikesi’s corpse, Mamallar and the other headed towards Vatapi again.

 


[i] Valmiki, Vyasar and Kambar – Valmiki and Kambar are the authors of The Ramayana in Sanskrit and Tamil respectively. Vyasar is the author of The Mahabharata.

Chapter 29: Traitor

 

The conversation that was taking place on the river bank between Pulikesi and the bikshu was becoming increasingly contentious. Emperor Pulikesi tried hard to talk Naganandi out of his obsession for Sivakami. But all what the Emperor said in this regard served to fuel Naganandi’s anger. When Pulikesi increasingly spoke in a demeaning manner of Sivakami, the bikshu furiously defended her and spoke even more highly of her. When the combative conversation between the brothers escalated and they were about to physically attack each other, a gory incident that occurred in the vicinity caught their attention.

A man shrieking, “Aiyyo! Aiyyo!” in a bloodcurdling manner came running and stood for an instant on the banks of the Vadora River, that was flanked by perpendicular cliffs. He again screamed, “Aiyyo!” rushed towards the river and jumped into it. He sank into the river. Shortly thereafter, his head resurfaced above the water some distance away from where he had jumped. A horrific scream that caused rocks to shatter was heard. The man sank into the water once more, never to rise again.  There were no signs of his sinking there. The Vadora River continued flowing with a tinkling sound along its mountainous course.

Emperor Pulikesi observed this incident which had transpired in a few seconds with rapt attention, without batting an eyelid.  When the man who jumped into the river resurfaced shrieking and sank again, he felt his chest tightening. After staring intently at the spot where the man had sunk for some time, Pulikesi turned around and looked at Naganandi. The smile that then appeared on the bikshu’s face caused Pulikesi to shiver. “Anna! What did you do to that resident of the chaithya?” asked Pulikesi. The bikshu let out a ghastly laugh and said, “What did I do to him? Nothing at all! I blessed the man who painted such a portrait. When he bowed to receive my blessing, I scratched the rear of his neck with my little finger slightly. He must have felt a burning sensation when the poison in my nail mingled with his blood. Shortly thereafter, he must have felt that his entire body was on fire. His brain must have also felt the heat. To cool his body and brain, he ran in that manner and jumped into the river. Along with his body and brain cooling down, his life also left him!”…”Aiyyo! Anna! When did you become such a cruel demon? After joining the sangam of Buddha, who is the very embodiment of mercy, and donning ochre robes, how could you commit such heinous acts?” asked Pulikesi.

Naganandi stared at Pulikesi and hissed, “Oh! Did you realize that I was a merciless demon only now? Didn’t I commit crueler acts than this for your sake and for the sake of your kingdom? Why did you not come forward to preach justice to me then? Have you forgotten that you had happily agreed when I suggested that we poison Kanchi’s drinking water and kill all its residents?…” “Yes! Yes! I have not forgotten all that; but that was in the past!” said Emperor Pulikesi and heaved a sigh.  After staring at the river for some time, he looked at Naganandi.

“Anna! I have not forgotten all the assistance you have rendered me. My life is yours and so is this kingdom. I have done nothing for you in return for all the support you have extended to me all these days. I intend doing so now. I have experienced the pleasure of sitting on the Vatapi throne and ruling the kingdom for thirty five years. I have had enough. You assume the pleasure of ascending the throne and the responsibility of ruling the kingdom from now. I will spend the remaining days of my life in the Ajantha Sangramam, donning the ochre robes you’re currently wearing. You spent your youth at the Ajantha Mountains, which is the abode of Prakrithi Devi[i] and Kalai Devi[ii]. I will live here during my old age. You assume the burden of ruling the kingdom henceforth…”

When Pulikesi spoke thus, the bikshu understood that these were genuine words that came from his heart. A smile replaced the fury that was raging on his face thus far. When Pulikesi paused and remained silent, the bikshu built castles in the air. His face reflected his joyous dreams.

“Anna! What do you say? Are you agreeable to this?” asked Pulikesi. Though the bikshu completely trusted his words, he asked again to reconfirm Pulikesi’s intention, “Thambi! Are you stating the truth?  Or are you mocking this mere ochre clad bikshu?” “Anna! I swear by the holy name of our grandfather, Satyacharya Pulikesi, that I’m stating the truth. I am prepared to prove my intention this very instant. I will undertake the vows of a bikshu today itself. I will also speak to the Acharya Bikshu and release you from monkhood. But on one condition. You must give up that dancer from Kanchi.”

The glance that Naganandi shot at Pulikesi resembled that of a tiger staring at the hunter who had killed its mate! Pulikesi might have met the same fate as the artist who had painted the portrait ‘The Dancing Maiden’s Surrender’. But at that point of time, the duo observed seven to eight people hastening towards them from the opposite banks of the Vadora River. They were not civilians; they included ministers and commanders. It seemed as though they were coming to communicate an important and urgent message to the Emperor. Observing this, the bikshu controlled the fury raging within and said, “Ah! I suspected that was some treachery in your offer to abdicate the kingdom in my favour. My suspicion has come true!”

“Anna! Think before you speak! How can a sculptor’s daughter ascend the throne that was once occupied by Satyacharya Pulikesi? I will never ever consent to this.  Chase away the temptress who caused a rift between you and me, ascend the Vatapi throne and rule the kingdom for as long as you live!” pleaded Pulikesi.

Like before, Naganandi hissed like a cobra and said, “You malicious man! You sinner!   May doom befall you! May your capital be set to fire and be reduced to ashes! Your kingdom will be ruined! Even if I were to secure Devendran’s position, I will not give up Sivakami. Do you think I will sacrifice her to secure this lowly Chalukya Kingdom? Never! You are going to soon face the consequences of your ungrateful and treacherous behaviour. From this moment, our relationship stands severed. I will never ever meet you again. Here I leave. I will take Sivakami along and leave your kingdom. Look at those people! They bear news of your destruction!”

As Naganandi was sprouting these fiery words, those on the opposite bank crossed the bamboo bridge that spanned across the river and were walking towards the rock on which the Emperor and the bikshu were seated. True to his words, Naganandi took two steps forward and then hesitated as though he was struck by an afterthought. It seemed as if he wanted to confirm the news borne by those who were coming.

The Emperor was shocked observing the anxiety and fear writ large on the faces of those who were coming. He asked, “All of you have come as a group. What’s the occasion? Is there some important news?”

“Yes, Prabhu! Indeed it’s important news. But I feel hesitant to convey an implausible news!” said the Prime Minister of the Chalukya Kingdom.

“What’s the important news? Who bore the message? From where did he come from? All of you are pallid with fear. Are our enemies invading the Chalukya Kingdom? Tell me quickly!”

“Maha Prabhu! You just stated the news!”

“Why are you blabbering? What did I say?”

“Didn’t you ask if enemies are invading our kingdom?”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, Emperor!”

“It’s indeed unbelievable news. Who is the aggressor? It cannot be Harshavardhanar from the north. Recently I received a cordial invitation from him. We do not have foes in the west and east. Our attacker would have to come from the south.  Is Mamallan of Kanchi invading us?”

“That’s the news, Prabhu!”

“I cannot believe this. Even if that were the case, why are all of you so unsettled? Nothing is lost!”

“Perumane! A large part of our army is stationed on the banks of the Narmada River. Yet another chunk is in Vengi…” said the Prime Minister hesitantly.

“So what? Can’t we bring our forces to Vatapi before Mamallan leaves Kanchi?”

“Mamallan is not in Kanchi, Prabhu! The Pallava army had crossed the North Pennai River a week ago. It must have neared the Tungabhadra River by now!”

“How miraculous! Who brought this news?”

“They brought this message from Vatapi. They rushed non-stop without even halting at night!” said the Prime Minister and produced two emissaries before the Emperor.

“Who sent you? Have you brought a manuscript?” asked a shell-shocked Pulikesi.

“No, Perumane! There was no time to even pen a message. The Chief of the Vatapi Fort verbally asked us to communicate this message to you. Six of us left Vatapi five days ago. Four people fell down on the way. The two of us managed to reach here.”

“Minister! Could they be stating the truth? Didn’t we hear that Mamallan was constructing ships for the Lanka invasion?”

“Yes, Prabhu! This news is difficult to believe. But, they do bear the insignia of the Chief of the Vatapi Fort. It seems that another set of emissaries are following them with a detailed manuscript. If they’re stating the truth, the Pallava army must have crossed the Tungabhadra River by now. As a famine has broken out in the province on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, we had redirected the army stationed there to Vengi only a few days ago.”

Pulikesi stood stunned for some time. A truth must have struck him suddenly. He looked at Naganandi who stood a short distance away listening to this conversation.

He again looked at the Prime Minister and asked, “Minister! What was our espionage force doing? Why wasn’t the news of Mamallan’s invasion conveyed to us before? Why didn’t the news of the Pallava army leaving Kanchi reach us when we were still at Vatapi?”

The Prime Minister bowed and said, “Prabhu! The chief of our espionage force was removed from service one year ago. Our bikshu assumed his responsibilities. You should ask the adigal!”

The gazes of everyone assembled there including the Emperor fell on the bikshu.

Pulikesi asked, “Adigal! Were you aware of Mamallan’s impending invasion beforehand? Did you intentionally hide this news from me?”

“Thambi! Do you want me to respond to your query in the presence of everyone assembled here?” asked the bikshu.

“Adigal! Have you forgotten what you had said some time ago? Didn’t you say that the relationship between us has ceased to exist? Now, why do you profess the existence of one?  Please state the truth immediately!”

“In that case, I will speak. I was aware of Mamallan’s invasion beforehand. I did not tell you as a punishment to an ungrateful sinner like you!” roared Naganandi.

When the Emperor commanded, “Imprison this traitor!” the eight people present there surrounded the bikshu.

The bikshu immediately drew out the small, curved dagger fastened to his waist and said, “Careful! The person who nears me will immediately go to Yama Loka!”

The eight people drew out their respective swords from their sheaths.

“Well done! The eight of you, who are the epitome of bravery, will together kill a lone bikshu. Emperor Pulikesi’s fame will spread all over the world. Mamallan too will be impressed and return,” said the bikshu in a mocking tone.

Hearing this, Pulikesi said, “Stop! Don’t tarnish your swords by killing that debased traitor. Give way!”

The eight people, obeying the command, made way. But they continued to be watchful thinking that the bikshu may attack the Emperor.

Emperor Pulikesi told the bikshu, “Adigal! It would be a mistake to kill you. It is not the appropriate punishment for you who betrayed your brother who reposed his faith in you and your country. You must live long and atone for the monumental sin you have committed. You must recollect your treachery and shed repentant tears. You wicked ghost in human form! Go! Go to Vatapi and take your Mohini along! Uphold at least this promise of yours! I don’t want to see you as long as you’re alive! You depraved man who dared to betray a kingdom driven by your lust for a woman! Go! May you live long and repent recollecting your betrayal!”

Naganandi stood like a stone statue listening to the anger-filled emotion-laden words uttered by Pulikesi. When Pulikesi stopped speaking, he started walking eastwards along the river bank without uttering a word.

Pulikesi, who was staring intently in the direction the bikshu went, immediately turned around after he left and wiped his tears. Then he looked at those present and said, “Minister! Commander! The message the emissaries have conveyed must be true. There is no room for doubt. I ignored your words of caution regarding the bikshu. Though all of you and I are going to face the consequences of this, nothing is lost. We will teach Mamallan that it’s no joke to intentionally trifle with a tiger. We will butcher all the Pallava soldiers who crossed the Tungabhadra River and will ensure no one returns. All these days, I regretted that I was unable to secure a definitive victory in my invasion of the southern country. Now there is an opportunity to redress the regret. The Pallava Nadu is going to be annexed to the Chalukya Kingdom.”

 


[i] Prakrithi Devi – Mother Nature

[ii] Kalai Devi – Goddess of Art

Chapter 28: Festivity & Disaster

 

The sight of centuries-old lush green banyan trees standing tall with widespread branches is breathtaking. The aerial roots of such ancient banyan trees grow close to the parent trees and the offshoots of the parent trees appear to be independent trees themselves. Two faiths that developed as offshoots of the Sanathana Hindu Dharma[i] and established themselves as distinct faiths were Buddhism and Samanam.  In ancient times, these two faiths were instrumental in significantly augmenting the artistic treasures of Bharata.

Two thousand years ago, bikshus started carving chaithyams and viharams out of the granite rocks that lay on the banks of the crescent-shaped river, whose precipitous flow tore across the inaccessible Ajantha Mountains. The wonderful arts of sculpting and painting flourished in that secluded province for almost six    hundred years up to the times of Emperor Pulikesi I and Emperor Pulikesi II. Sculptures carved out of indestructible boulders and portraits painted with indelible paints abounded. The Brahmas[ii] living in the chaithyas created Gods and Goddesses, valorous men and women, handsome males and females who were beauty personified who captivated the eyes and hearts of the viewers.

During the thirty sixth year of the reign of Emperor Pulikesi, a festival whose grandeur had not been witnessed by that province thus far was conducted. That year was also the last year of the Chalukya Emperor’s reign. In ancient Bharata Nadu the influence wielded by the various faiths waxed and waned with the rise and fall of the ruling dynasties. Like in the present times, those days too there lived narrow-minded people deeply attached to their respective faiths who lacked religious tolerance and in whom prejudices ran deep. Periodically, great souls who viewed all faiths equitably and who caused arts to flourish also emerged.

During the times of this epic, foremost amongst the kings who possessed such forbearance were Harshavardhanar in the north and Mahendra Pallavar and Mamalla Narasimha Pallavar in the south. Emperor Pulikesi of Vatapi, after returning from his Kanchi expedition, gradually joined the ranks of such broad-minded kings. He encouraged arts to flourish by endowing sizable grants to the Ajantha Buddha Sangramam. Due to this, the Ajantha bikshus acted in a manner that was unprecedented during the last six hundred years – they decided to invite Emperor Pulikesi to preside over a festival commemorating sculptures.

A highway was constructed across the forests and mountains to receive the Emperor and his retinue. The Emperor and his retinue, minsters and strategists, army commanders, famous poets and art connoisseurs of the Chalukya kingdom and foreign dignitaries travelled on elephants, horses and palanquins to Ajantha to participate in this art festival. The Ajantha bikshus accorded royal welcome and warm hospitality to the visitors. The visitors divided themselves into groups and visited the chaithyams and viharams and appreciated the sculptures and paintings.  As it was possible to clearly view the life-like paintings on the inner walls of the viharams only during noon when the sun was shining brightly, arrangements were made for the guests to stay overnight so that they could see the paintings on the following day and then return. After the Chakravarthy’s important engagements for the day were over, arrangements were made for relaxation.

Evening set in; the sun was setting behind the imposing mountain peaks in the west. As time passed, the shadows cast by those mountain peaks extended towards the east. These shadows caused the golden glow cast by the setting sun on the high peaks in the east to recede southwards. The half-moon shaped Vadora River sang, danced, frolicked, leapt, tripped and rose again as it swiftly flowed. Parijatham tress covered with lush green leaves, flowers and buds that grew on the sloping rocks extended up to the horizon. They were interspersed by konrai trees covered by its bright hued blossoms. Two statuesque men were sitting on a riverside rock and conversing. They were Emperor Pulikesi and Naganandi Bikshu.

The brothers were conversing, seated on that very rock on the banks of the Vadora River they had sat on thirty five years ago, sharing their fantasies about the future and delineating their strategies for capturing the Chalukya kingdom and taking it to great heights. But the difference in their appearance and the course of their conversation between then and now was stark. The river that had reflected their innocent faces thirty five years ago now mirrored their line-ridden, wrinkled and cruel faces that manifested the maturity age endows, their worldly experiences, the gory acts they had engaged in, their inner turmoil and deep rooted passions.

Importantly, intense anger was evident on Naganandi Bikshu’s face. Angry sparks flew from his blood shot eyes. Every work he uttered was akin to an agniastram[iii]. “Ah! Thambi, you ask me what I wish for. Shall I tell you? A horrific earthquake should erupt this very instant, consume Ajantha Mountain and push it deep down. I wish that a thousand thunders simultaneously erupt, destroying the chaithyams and viharams, the bikshus residing here, you and your retinue and myself!” said Naganandi.

Hearing this, Pulikesi said in a laid-back manner, “Adigal! Our Ajantha trip has been truly beneficial. Words are inadequate to express my happiness. For some time now, you were transforming into a very docile person. Only today, you seem to be the Naganandi Bikshu of old!” So saying, he smiled. “Yes, thambi, yes! Today, I have become the old Naganandi. Careful, you will face the consequence of this transformation!” hissed the bikshu like a snake.

“Anna! What do you propose doing to me?” asked Pulikesi. “I am going to stab you with this poisoned dagger tonight when you’re asleep…” Pulikesi burst out laughing. Then he enquired in a mocking tone, “Then what will you do? In other words what do you intend doing with my corpse?” “I will fling it in this river.” “Then? What will you tell those who enquire about me?” “No one will ask!” “Why not? Won’t the citizens of the Chalukya kingdom enquire how their Emperor vanished in the dead of the night?”  “They will not! Only if they come to know of the Emperor’s disappearance will they enquire. No one will come to know of that.” “How is that possible?”

“I had once saved your life by donning your robes; I was beaten up and tortured. In another instance, I had disguised myself as you, combatted with Mahendran in the battlefield and had killed him by wielding the poisoned dagger. Our identical appearance will help me. People will never come to know of your disappearance. The disappearance of Naganandi Bikshu will not even cause a ripple. By right, this Chalukya kingdom is mine. I whole-heartedly gave this kingdom to you. For the last thirty five years, I thought of nothing but your welfare and progress. But you humiliated me in the presence of several people today by calling me merciless and ungrateful person devoid of fraternal affection! Ah! I am extremely shocked that this earth has not yet split into two and consumed you!”

“Anna! Anna! What are you saying? How did you bring yourself to curse me thus? In what manner did I humiliate you?” “There can be no greater insult than this. What can be more degrading than your command to paint a portrait with indelible dyes of Sivakami prostrating before you and seeking your forgivance? Is this why you brought me here? Is this the reason behind your organizing this art festival? Ah! You wicked beast! Hell awaits you, who used one art to degrade another!”

“Anna! What has overcome you? How did that dancer from Pallava Nadu mesmerize you? What power does she possess to separate two brothers, who despite having two distinct physical bodies shared a soul? Anna! Anna! Look at me and speak! Recollect our intimate friendship of thirty five years and speak! Thirty five years ago we had sat on this very rock and had built castles in the air. You have achieved most of what we had dreamt about. Keep this in mind and speak! Tell me with this divine Vadora River, Akasavani and Bhoomi Devi[iv] as witnesses! Has that maiden from Kanchi become more important to you than me? Are you cursing me thus on account of her?”

The bikshu said in a tone that was harsher and angrier than before: “Yes, yes! I speak with the lotus feet of Buddha Bhagavan as witness! I swear by the Sangam and Dharmam[v]. Sivakami is far more important to me than you! You, your kingdom, sons and friends are not equal to a speck of dust on her foot. Doom will befall your descendants and you, who disgraced her! Do you know what became of the artist who painted the picture of her seeking refuge?” “Adigal! What did you do to that unfortunate man?” The bikshu laughed in a blood chilling manner and said, “Wait and watch! Soon, someone will inform you!”

“Anna! I have realized one thing. It is a blunder to uphold the vows of celibacy and monkhood from a very young age. One must renounce the world only after experiencing the joys and tribulations of worldly life. People, who embrace monkhood during their youth, fall for the charms of a temptress later in their lives and become crazy like you!” “Pulikesi! I was patient all along! I will no longer tolerate you uttering even a word about Sivakami.” “Adigal! You are so merciful to Sivakami and strive your utmost to uphold her honour. Does she reciprocate your feelings? Does she feel a thousandth of the allegiance you feel for her?”

The bikshu’s facial expression indicated that Emperor Pulikesi’s questions had the impact of his heart being sawed into two by a sword. Nevertheless he overcame that intolerable sorrow very quickly and said confidently, “You don’t have the right to ask that question; but I will tell you. Sivakami is not as hard-hearted as you. She also feels affection for me”. “Anna! I never imagined even in my wildest dreams that you could be deceived thus!” “Thambi! I have not been deceived; Sivakami saved my life the night we embarked on our journey to Ajantha.” “How did that happen? What danger befell you for Sivakami to rescue you?” “I was about to stab myself with this poisoned dagger. Sivakami held my hand and saved me.” When the bikshu spoke, that incident appeared in his mind’s eye. Tears filled his eyes. Pulikesi smiled and said, “Aiyyo! Have you, a genius, changed thus? Do you know why Sivakami saved your life? She wants you to be killed by her lover, Mamallan. That foolish girl still harbours such fantasies!”

At the background of the brothers’ conversation was an incident that had occurred that afternoon. Emperor Pulikesi, the bikshu, the Chinese traveller and luminaries of the Chalukya kingdom were viewing the amazing paintings at Ajantha as a group. The divine life of Buddha Bhagavan and incidents from his previous incarnations were depicted in the interior walls of the chaithyams and viharams. Scenes from social life of those times were portrayed on the outer walls of the verandahs. The dominant theme amongst the contemporary paintings was the life of Emperor Pulikesi. One such painting showed Emperor Pulikesi, seated majestically on his throne, receiving tribute from emissaries of the Persian King.

It is not surprising that this painting enthused all the viewers. However another painting not only caused discomfort amongst the viewers but was also instrumental in triggering a disaster later on.  That doomed painting depicted a dancer prostrating at the feet of Emperor Pulikesi and seeking his forgivance. There was no doubt that the artist who painted this portrait was very gifted. He had used his imagination to paint the image of Pulikesi. In that portrait, Pulikesi resembled an angry Devendran who was about to decimate his foes. The artist had captured the intense sorrow and the beseeching expression of the maiden who was prostrating very well. The scared and pitying expressions of the ladies in waiting served to highlight the dancer’s surrender.

The artist had also depicted a bikshu worriedly rushing towards this scene. On observing the depiction of the bikshu, the viewers understood that he was hastening to save the dancer from the king’s punishment. When the person who was explaining the paintings uttered a few words about the philosophy underlying the painting, everyone looked at Naganandi in unison. For an instant, Naganandi’s face resembled a snake with its hood raised. The very next moment, Naganandi realized that a hundred eyes were observing him closely. Immediately, his facial expression changed and he smiled. “Wonderful! Wonderful! This painting is peerless. The expressions and imagination are exquisite. Who is the artist who painted this? He needs to be duly rewarded!” said Naganandi.

 


[i] Sanathana Hindu Dharma – Hinduism

[ii] Brahmas – The artists who created the sculptures and paintings are compared to the creator here

[iii] Agniastram – Fire (agni) emitting arrow (astram)

[iv] Akasavani and Bhoomi Devi – Goddess of sky and earth respectively

[v] Dharmam – Justice

Chapter 27: The Conflagration Within

 

Naganandi Adigal, whose eyes were as captivating as a snake’s, pointedly gazed at Sivakami who was staring at him with indescribable surprise. “Sivakami! Don’t you believe me? If only I could open my heart and show you… If only I could tear open this hard heart and showing you the fire raging within all day and night…” Speaking thus, the bikshu punched himself hard at his chest twice. Immediately he grabbed the small dagger fastened to his waist, removed the dagger from its sheath and was about to stab himself. Sivakami quickly held his hand and prevented him from doing so.

In the brief span of time during which Sivakami had held Naganandi’s hand, she underwent two amazing experiences. She realized that Naganandi’s hand and his entire body were trembling. Nine years ago Sivakami, who had the same feelings for the bikshu as she did for her father, happened to accidentally touch his hand a few times. Then she had thought, “His physique is taut like a diamond. His body is not made of mere flesh, blood, nerves and skin. It seems as though his entire body is made of bones. He must have undertaken extremely harsh penances to harden his body thus”. It surprised Sivakami that that very bikshu’s body has lost its rigidity and was supple.

Naganandi while continuing to hold the dagger was staring at Sivakami for some time. Then like someone who had regained his consciousness, he flung the dagger away. Immediately, Sivakami too let go of his hand. “Sivakami! I suddenly lost my mind and became mesmerized! Please remind me what I had told you a while ago and why I removed this dagger,” asked the bikshu. Sivakami responded, “Swami! Some time ago you said that you were giving up your monkhood and that you were going to ascend the throne and rule the kingdom” and then hesitated.

“Yes, Sivakami! What I said was the truth. I’m going to Ajantha for this very purpose. Thirty five years ago, I undertook the vows of a monk on the banks of the Ajantha River. I am going to renege on my vows at the banks of that very river and return. I am going to seek liberation from that very honourable Guru who had indoctrinated me as abikshu. Do you consent to this?” asked Naganandi Adigal. Sivakami, who was gripped by an incomprehensible fear, said, “Swami! What is this? Why do you have to renounce Buddhism – a faith you’ve practiced for all these years? As a consequence of your action, wouldn’t you develop worlidly attachments?  The penances you have observed all these years will become futile. How do you stand to gain by your action?”

Even as she spoke, she instinctively knew that she was committing a blunder by asking these questions and that she had fallen into that bikshu’s trap. The bikshu asked her in turn, “Do you ask how I stand to gain?” and laughed out aloud. “Don’t you know? In that case, I will tell you. Heed me! It is for your sake I’m going to give up my penances as a monk, Sivakami! It is solely for you! As prescribed by the Ajantha tradition, I am going to seek the Guru’s consent to give up my vows to acquire worldly knowledge. But I have violated my vows several years ago itself.  I flouted my vows that very day I saw you – a statue endowed with life, in your father Aayanar’s forest residence amidst the wonderful stone statues.   But I don’t regret it. I am prepared to spend sixteen thousand years in hell in exchange for living with you for one day. I am ready to forego enlightenment in lieu of being the recipient of your affection for one moment…”

Sivakami trembled out of fear. The suspicion that was smouldering within her all these days turned out to be true. But why had the fake bikshu concealed his emotions for so long?  Why had he spared her for so long and had not troubled her in any manner? She got the responses to these questions the very next instant.

“Sivakami!  An opportunity arose nine years ago for me to redeem my soul and for you to safeguard your happiness. I would have probably upheld my vows had you accompanied Mamallan when he had come here to fetch you or had you given me an opportunity to unite the two of you. You too would have led a happy life thereafter. But you had unnecessarily suspected me, had aimed the poisoned dagger at my back without understanding my true intention and had injured me. The poisoned dagger did not kill me that day. But if that very poisoned dagger were wielded on me today, I will not live beyond half a nazhigai! Sivakami, when you had held my hand some time ago, a doubt arose in your mind. You were shocked that my hand, which was hard like iron and stone nine years ago, is now so soft. You are the reason for that change, Sivakami! I had hardened my body by observing harsh penances. By consuming venomous herbs for long, I had converted my blood into poison. Those days if a poisonous snake bit me, only the snake would die. No harm would befall me. When the odour of my sweat spread, all the poisonous snakes in the region would slither away quickly unable to bear the intensity of the odour. You yourself have observed this several times…” When Naganandi Adigal said this, both of them were reminded of the incidents that had occurred at Mandapapattu ten years ago on a full moon night.

“By consuming therapeutic herbs and undergoing treatment, I have transformed my previously steely body into a soft one. I have eradicated the poison that had mingled with my blood. It was in these efforts I was engaged in for the last nine years. This was the reason for my not meeting you for several days at a stretch. Sivakami! I am capable of leading a householder’s life like a thirty year old youth. After all this you cannot reject me. You will have to atone for the sin of causing me sorrow through your rejection for several hundred rebirths hereafter! Even then you will not be absolved of your sin!”

Sivakami felt that her head was about to explode. When the bikshu sat in front of her and spoke in this manner, she also wondered if it was a dream for a moment. The comfort and happiness the thought provided her disappeared the very next instant. No; this is not a dream but horrific incidents occurring in reality in her presence. It was a fact that the bikshu was staring at her with his blood-shot eyes.

As soon as Sivakami realized that danger was looming large, her mind attained clarity. There was only one way to escape from this lunatic. She had to buy some time from him by being humble and pleading with him. If God were kind to her, Mamallar would have freed her and taken her along with him before this frenzied bikshu returned from Ajantha Otherwise, she would have to employ an alternate tactic. So Sivakami opened her mouth to beg and plead with the bikshu.

The bikshu prevented her from doing so by saying, “No, Sivakami! You don’t have to tell me anything today. You don’t have to respond in haste. I initially thought of discussing these issues with you after returning from Ajantha. But by the time we stopped for the night at the state guest house on the outskirts of Vatapi, I decided that I ought to divulge my innermost feelings to you and that it is only fair that I give you enough time to think through everything and come to a decision. Neither am I going to force you nor pressurize you. I will never ever ask you to act in a manner that is contrary to your wishes. But I will tell you what I have to say in a single breath; please heed me patiently. You can communicate your decision to me once I return from Ajantha.” When Sivakami heard these words, she became somewhat placated and less agitated.

Naganandi started relating his tale again from the beginning, “The instant I saw you at your father’s residence, you usurped the place in my heart that was previously occupied by my brother and the Chalukya Kingdom. Since then all my thoughts and actions became flawed. The Vatapi Emperor’s invasion of the southern country was not a success only on account of those mistakes. Ah! Your tender heart would melt if only you knew how much mental torture I had experienced those days. On one hand, the fiery love I felt for you scorched my heart. At the same time the intense envy I felt towards those associated with you, your friends and those whom you loved seared my mortal body. You would have been shocked had you been aware of the ferocious conflict akin to the war between the Devas and the Asuras[i] that was raging in my heart then. At one point of time I used to feel an uncontrollable fury and urge to kill all those associated with you. But I lost the courage to do so as I feared that you will lose your affection for me if you came to know of this. I had several opportunities to kill Mamallan and Mahendra Pallavan. But they survived because I was scared of the consequences should you come to know. Didn’t Paranjyothi rescue you from the mad elephant the day he arrived at Kanchi? It was for this reason I helped him escape from the prison and brought him to your house. I could not bear the sight of you expressing your gratitude to him. Kalaivani! I was also jealous of your father’s influence on you. But as he was fortunate to beget you, I saved him from the soldier who was about to wield the sword on him. Since then, I have been gloating about my hands as these were the hands that saved your father.”

Hearing this, Sivakami’s heart truly melted. “This bikshu may be a merciless demon; his heart may be the abode of a ghost; the blood flowing in his veins may contain snake venom. But hadn’t he saved my father’s life on account of his love for me?” thought Sivakami. Understanding Sivakami’s train of thought, the bikshu spoke further like one possessed, “Listen to me, Sivakami! I had saved Aayanar because he had given birth to you. Let me cite an example to illustrate how I sought revenge on those who antagonize you. Haven’t you lived fearlessly in Vatapi unaffected by any danger all these years? You may have probably guessed the reason for this. It was only because everyone knew that you were living under my protection that no one approached you. One woman in the palace was envious of this. She was the Chief Consort’s sister. That woman, who was endowed with a venomous mind, tried hard to seduce me. As she was not successful, she started bad-mouthing you. ‘Do I lack the beauty of the artist from Kanchi?’ she had asked. The following day, when she neared me, I held her hand and scratched her with my finger nail. She slept that night, woke up the following day morning and saw herself in the mirror. That was it; she lost her mental stability and became deranged! She was looking so hideous. She left this city without informing anyone and was loitering around the mountains for long. Now she has joined the kabalikas and is feeding herself by engaging in cannibalism…”

Sivakami was again gripped with fear; she wished that this frenzied bikshu would leave soon. “Sivakami! A few days ago I inadvertently met that embodiment of Kali[ii]. Do you know what she said? ‘Swamigal! You are bound to hand over you lover, Sivakami, to me one day. My hunger will be satiated only if I consume her body!’ said that mad woman. She thinks that I will hand over your body to her for her to consume. She did not realize that my hunger for you is a hundred times more intense than hers! How will she understand the ardour that grips me every time I see you that makes me want to gobble you up?”

Suddenly Naganandi Bikshu was transformed into a python. It seemed to Sivakami that he was approaching her like a python that was nearing her with its mouth wide open and its forked tongue protruding out with the intention of  gorging her. As she moved back with her eyes tightly shut, she shrieked, “Aiyyo!” Naganandi laughed and said, “Sivakami! Did you get scared? Open your eyes and see. It’s me, the bikshu, who is speaking!” Sivakami opened her eyes. She realized that the sight she had seen some time ago was a fantasy. Nevertheless her eyes were filled with fear. Naganandi stood up and said, “Sivakami! Think about all what I had said! You seem to think that I’ve gone mad! Fortunately, I have not yet become mad. I still possess clarity of thought. But if the love I bear towards you is not reciprocated, I may become crazy in a few days. Then, I cannot predict my actions.

Sivakami, I will take leave of you. You must strengthen your resolve and communicate your decision to me when I return. I am about to perform a sacrifice for your sake whose magnitude far exceeds all the sacrifices I have made for you thus far. You will come to know about it before I return. After you come to know about it, you cannot but feel mercy for me.” After speaking thus, Naganandi gazed at Sivakami with uncontrollable eagerness for some time. He then abruptly walked towards the entrance. Long after the bikshu had left, Sivakami was trembling.

 


[i] Devas and Asuras – Gods and demons respectively

[ii] Kali – An angry embodiment of Goddess Parvathi