Ponniyin Selvan Chapter 1 — Aadi Festival
We welcome our readers to get into the boat of imagination and go sailing down the flood of sourceless, endless time. Let us travel a century for every second and quickly reach the times of a thousand years before the present. In the southern end of Thirumunaipadi, which lies in between the Thondai Kingdom and the Chozla Kingdom, about two leagues far to the west of Thillai Chittrambalam, (Chidambaram Town) there spreads an ocean-like reservoir. It is known as Veera Narayana Lake. It is about a league and a half long north to south and about half a league wide east to west. Time has twisted its name: for these days the reservoir is known as Veeraanatthu Lake. In the windy months of Aadi-Aavani (August), when new floods fill the reservoir to almost overflow, anyone who looks at the Veera Narayana lake will surely recall with pride and astonishment the splendid deeds of our ancestors in Tamil Nadu. Did those ancients do things merely for the welfare of themselves and the people of their own times? … They fulfilled tasks that would benefit thousands of future generations in their sacred motherland. On the 18th day of the month of Aadi, in the early hours of the evening, a young warrior, mounted on a horse, was riding down the banks of this ocean-like Veera Narayana Lake. He belonged to the Vaanar clan which is famous in the history of the gallant Tamils. Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan was his name. Having travelled a long distance and being worn and weary, his horse was walking along rather slowly. The young cavalier did not seem concerned about this. The sprawling reservoir had so enchanted his heart! It was common for rivers of the Chozla Kingdom to run with flood waters touching both banks during the Aadi month festival of Padhinettam Perukku. The lakes fed by these rivers would also be filled to capacity, with waves jostling and colliding upon their embankments. Waters from the river called North Cauvery by the devout, but commonly known as Kollidam, rushed into the Veera Narayana Lake, through the Vadavaru stream and made it a turbulent sea. Seventy four floodgates on the lake distributed the bounty via aqueducts to distant tracts of the country side. With these irrigation waters from the lake, activities such as ploughing, sowing and seed transplanting were being carried out as far as the eye could see. Here and there, the song of farmers who were ploughing and women who were transplanting created a pleasant and joyous music. Listening to all this, Vandiya Devan was riding quite slowly, without prodding his tired horse. As soon as he had climbed the embankment, he had started counting the floodgates with the intention of finding out if popular claims, which declared the lake to have seventy- four floodgates, were true! After having come about one and a half leagues along the bank, he had counted seventy gates. Aha! How huge is this lake? How wide and how long? Can we not say that the tanks built by the great Pallava monarchs in the Thondai Kingdom are mere ponds and pools compared with this immense reservoir? Did not Prince Raja-aditya son of King Paranthaka who conquered Madurai, think of building this great tank to conserve the waters of the North Cauvery which were going wastefully into the sea? And did he not execute his thinking into action? How great a genius he must have been! Who can we compare to his brave nobility! During the battle at Takkolam, did he not, riding an elephant go to the forefront and single handed, enter combat? And in the course of that confrontation did he not receive enemy spears on his chest and give up his very life? And because of it did he not get the title Deva who reposed atop the elephant as he departed for the heavens meant for the brave? These kings of the Chozla Dynasty are remarkable! They were just as just as they were brave! And as in justice they excelled in the veneration of their Gods. Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan’s shoulders swelled with pride when he thought of his good fortune in having received the friendship of a Chozla prince of such a dynasty. Just like the waves that dashed against the banks of the lake because of the swift western breeze, his heart too bubbled with gratification and pride. Thinking all such thoughts Vandiya Devan reached the southern end of Veera Narayana Lake. There he could view the panorama of the Vadavaru stream separating from the North Cauvery and falling into the lake. For a short distance inside the embankment, the lake shore was silted forming a sandy beach. A number of casuarina trees and wood-apple trees had been planted on the beach so that rising flood waters would not destroy the embankment. Nanal reeds had grown thickly along the water’s edge. From a distance, the scenic view of the rushing waters from the tree lined North River merging into the lake in the south-west, seemed like a colorful, newly created painting. Vandiya Devan saw a few other things that increased the pleasing joyousness of this enchanting scene. Was it not the day of the Aadi Festival? Crowds of people from nearby villages, dragging their carts covered with canopies of sandal-colored, supple coconut-leaves, were coming there. Men, women, children and even several elderly folks all wearing new clothes and vividly dressed in various ways had come. Bunches of fragrant flowers, such as the hearts of country cactus, chrysanthemum, jasmine, gardenia, champaka and iruvatchi decorated the braids of women.
Several had come with families bringing stewed rice and fancy picnic foods. Some stood by the water’s edge and ate their picnic rice-dishes from platters of plantain-flower petals. Others, more brave, had ventured further into the water to cross over to the bank of the Vadavaru. Some children threw the platters from which they had eaten into the floodgates and clapped their hands with laughter to see the petals float through the gates to be rushed onto the canals. Some mischievous young men plucked the flowers off the heads of their loved ones and threw them into the water, merely to see them being cast upon the shore. Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan stood there watching all this for a while. He listened with an eager ear when some of the girls with pleasant voices sang. They sang traditional boat-songs and flood-songs as well as folk songs like Kummi and Sindhu. Come, oh ye young maidens, Look at the North river bubbling by! Come watch, oh ye friends, Look at the White river rushing by! Come, oh come all ye girls, To look at the Cauvery tumbling by! Such flood-songs pleasingly flooded the ears of Vandiya Devan. Others sang ballads about the bravery and fame of Chozla kings. Some girls sang of Vijayala Chozla who had fought in thirty-two battles and had worn his ninety-six body wounds like ornaments. Others sang acclaiming the bravery of his son, Aditya Chozla, and how he constructed sixty-four Shiva temples all along the Cauvery – from where it rose till it mingled into the sea. One girl sang the fame of King Aditya’s son, Paranthaka Chozla, who had not only conquered the Pandiya, Pallava and Chera kings but had also sent an army to Lanka to hoist his victory flag. When each girl sang, several people stood around her listening with rapt attention. They applauded with loud shouts of “Ah, ah” and expressed their happiness! An elderly woman noticed Vandiya Devan who was sitting on his horse and listening to all this. “Thambi! You seem to have come from a long distance; you are tired! Come down from your horse to eat this stewed rice,” she said. Immediately several young girls noticed our youthful traveller. They whispered amongst themselves about his appearance and laughed merrily. Vandiya Devan was overcome by a certain mortification on one side and delight on the other. For a moment he considered dismounting and eating the food offered by the old woman. If he did so, the young maids would surely gather around to tease and laugh. So what? Is it easy to behold so many beautiful maidens in one place? Even their laughter and teasing would be heavenly music. In Vandiya Devan’s eyes all those girls on the lake shore appeared like the heavenly nymphs Ramba and Menaka!
At the same time he noticed something towards the south- west along the flow of River Vadavaru and hesitated. About seven or eight large boats with white, spreading sails filled with the breeze were coming swiftly like white swans floating with wide-spread wings. All the people engaged in various merriments turned to avidly look in the direction from which the boats were coming. One of the boats came forward more swiftly and reached the lake shore where the embankment turned west. Several well-built footmen carrying sharp & shiny spears were in that boat. Some of them jumped on to the lake shore and started shoving the people with shouts of “Go! Move!” Before being pushed around too much, the people picked up their containers and belongings and quickly started climbing upon the bank. Vandiya Devan could not understand any of this. Who were these men? Who were coming in the sailboats behind them? Where were they coming from? Perhaps they belonged to the royal household? Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan approached an elderly man leaning upon his cane by the bank. “Sir, whose men are these? And whose boats are those coming behind like a school of swans? Why are these footmen chasing away the people? And why are the people hurrying away?” came his questions, one upon the other. “Thambi! Do you not know? There is a flag flying in the middle of those sailboats. See what is embossed on it!” said the elder. “Seems like a palm tree.” “It is a palm tree! Don’t you know that the palmtree-flag belongs to the Lord of Pazluvoor?” “Is it the great warrior, Lord Pazluvoor, who is coming?” asked Vandiya Devan in a startled voice. “It must be so. Who else could raise the palmtree-flag and come?” said the elderly man. Vandiya Devan’s eyes opened wide with immeasurable surprise as he looked towards the boats. Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan had heard much about Lord Pazluvoor. But, who would not have heard about them? The names of the brothers – The Elder Lord Pazluvoor and The Younger Lord Pazluvoor — were renowned from Lanka in the south to the Kalinga Kingdom in the north. Pazluvoor, situated on the northern banks of the Cauvery near the city of Uraiyoor was their capital. Even from the times of Vijayala Chozla, the Pazluvoor Family had won heroic fame. They had a lot of give and take with the royal family of the Chozlas. Because of this and also because of their nobility, bravery and fame the Pazluvoor clan had all the distinguishing characters of a royal family. They also had the right to carry their own pennant.
The elder of the present Lords of Pazluvoor had fought in twenty-four campaigns. During his times he had won acclaim as having no equal in war in the Chozla Kingdom. Since he had now crossed the age of fifty, he no longer entered the battlefield directly. Nevertheless, he now held several eminent positions in the government of the Chozlas. In the Chozla Empire, he was the head of finance; head of food supply. He had the authority to levy taxes according to political needs. He had the right to call upon any princeling, nobleman or squire and order them thus: “This year you shall pay this much tribute” and the powers to implement such orders. Therefore, next to Emperor Sundara Chozla he was the most powerful man in the Chozla Kingdom. Vandiya Devan’s heart brimmed with an eagerness to meet this powerful, illustrious and noble Lord of Pazluvoor. At the same time he recalled the words uttered in privacy by Prince Aditya Karikala, at the new Golden Palace in Kanchi City. “Vandiya Deva, I know you to be a brave man. At the same time I trust you to be intelligent and give you this immense responsibility. Of the two letters I have given you, deliver one to my father the Emperor and the other to my sister the Younger Pirati. (Pirati is the term used to refer to princesses of the ruling house.) I hear all sorts of rumors about even the senior officials of the kingdom in Tanjore. Therefore, the contents of my letters should not become known to anyone. Even the most eminent persons should not realize that you are carrying letters from me. Do not get into quarrels with anyone on the way. You should not merely avoid conflicts of your seeking; but also not be involved in disputes thrust upon you. I very well know about your courage. You have proved it several times. Therefore, there shall be no loss of valor in escaping from duels forced upon you. Most important, you should be particularly careful about the Lords of Pazluvoor and also my Young Uncle Madurandaka. I do not wish them to know even who you are! They should definitely not know why you are going!” The Crown Prince of the Chozla Empire and the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Armies, Prince Aditya Karikala had told him all this. The Prince had repeatedly advised Vandiya Devan about how he should behave. Since he recalled all this, Vandiya Devan suppressed his desire to meet Lord Pazluvoor. He whipped his horse to move on quickly. In spite of the prodding, his tired horse merely plodded ahead. Having decided to spend the night at the Kadamboor fortress of the noble Sambuvaraya, he resolved to procure a better horse before resuming his journey the next morning.