Ponniyin Selvan Chapter 24 – A Cuckoo And A Crow
Vandiya Devan slept through the night like a log and woke up only after sunrise in the morning. Even after waking, he was lying down without the will to get up. The light breeze ti. blew briskly, leaves of the creepers and trees rubbed against each other making a swishing murmur. With that background drone, a young voice was melodiously singing a pleasing Thevaram poem composed by the Saint Sundara Mur O Lord of golden hued body with a tiger skin draped around the waist; Upon matted locks, burnished red, you wear the shining crescent! On hearing the song, Vandiya Devan opened his eyes and looked out. Outside, in the garden he saw tall konnai trees (the bignonia family) draped with wreaths of golden yellow flowers! Sendan Amudan held a large flower tote in one hand and a long bamboo pole in the other. While he sang, his hands plucked the yellow flowers with the harvest pole. He appeared neatly dress ed, having risen and bathed early, his forehead was adorned with broad ashen marks making him appear like another ever youthful Markandeya, that ardent devotee of Shiva. Vandiya Devan rose from his bed thinking about Amudan’s unfortunate mother who could not hear the melodious song of her son. He wondered why he too should not cultivate a pleasant garden, serve in temples and lead a calm and quiet life. Why should he bear sword and spear and wander from place to place? Why should he roam about in readiness to kill or be killed by others? such thoughts jostled his mind. -But soon, his heart cheered up. Can everyone in the world be meek and gentle like Sendan Amudan? There are many who are thieves, robbers, and conniving evildoers who harm the guileless folk. A government was needed to control such people and establish some law and order. Kings and ministers were essential to form such governments. Velaikara Battalions were essential to protect such kings. Messengers like himself to carry letters to such kings were also needed… Yes, today I must somehow or other meet Emperor Sundara Chozla. I must present myself before the Elder Lord of Pazluvoor returns; if the old man gets back I may not have an opportunity. Vandiya Devan went to the lotus pond in the garden for a swim and bath. He came back refreshed and dressed himself neatly with clean cloth and correct ornaments. He was going to present himself to the Emperor – shouldn’t he be attired properly? Perhaps it was that thought that made him dress caref ully; or, maybe it was the idea that he was soon going to see the YoungQueen of Pazluvoor once again, which occupied his thoughts! None can tell. After the early morning meal, Sendan Amudan was ready to depart with his baskets to deliver the flowers at t he temple before the morning service. Vandiya Devan went with him with the idea of meeting the Emperor. Both friends walked. Vandiya Devan had already decided not to take his horse to the fort. It was important to let the horse rest completely. Soon he ma y have to use it for some hurried journey. Who knows? It was better to leave the horse behind, in the garden. Till they reached the main gateway of the fort, he talked to Amudan and found out several other pieces of information. When Vallavarayan had aske d, “Do you have any other family besides your mother?” Sendan had replied, “I do have some. An elder sister and an elder brother of my mother. Her elder sister died some time ago. Her brother is headman of a small community attached to the Kuzlagar temple at Kodi Karai. My uncle is also the keeper of the lighthouse on that coast. In the nights he lights the fire atop the tower and is in charge of other such things. He has one son and one daughter. That daughter, …” Amudan hesitated. “That daughter? What about her?” “Nothing. There is something peculiar about members of my family. Some of them are born dumb while others are blessed with a most pleasing voice for they sing very well.” “Your uncle’s daughter is not dumb I hope?” enquired Vandiya Devan. “N o. Not at all.” “That means she can sing very well! Can she sing better than you?” “Ridiculous! Your question is foolish – like asking `Can the Cuckoo sing better than the Crow?’ When Poonkuzlali sings, the Ocean King will stop throwing his noisy waves and listen quietly. Sheep and cattle will listen spellbound…” “Is your cousin called Poonkuzlali? What a pretty name!” “Is it just her name that’s pretty!” “She must be ravishing. Otherwise, will you be so captivated?” “The spotted deer and the gorge ous peacock must beg at her feet for beauty. Divine maids like Indrani and Rathi must perform penance for several births to become as lovely as her.” Vandiya Devan realized that Sendan Amudan was not fully involved in service at the temple. “That means sh e is a suitable bride for you. If she is your maternal uncle’s daughter, you have all the rights for her hand? When is the wedding?” “I will never say that I deserve her. In no way am I qualified for her. If, like the olden days a competition was arrange d to select a groom for her, all the kings of the world will compete for her hand. Divine beings might come forward seeking her hand like they did for Princess Damayanti of the myths. Such things may not happen these days.” “So? Are you saying that you wi ll refuse even if she is willing to marry you?” “Quite silly! If the God I worship appears before me and asks `Will you come with me to the heavens just as you are, like Saint Sundara? Or, will you remain on this earth with Poonkuzlali?’ – I will say tha t I would stay back with Poonkuzlali. But, what is the use of my saying it?”
“Why not? When you wish it the marriage is almost settled, isn’t it? Does everyone arrange marriages after asking the bride? For example look at Elder Lord Pazluvoor – he has ma rried a young maid after his sixty fifth year! Was that marriage performed with that lady’s consent?””My friend! Those are affairs of nobility. Why should we discuss it? More important, let me give you a warning hint. You are about to enter Tanjore. Do n ot utter anything about the Lords of Pazluvoor inside the fort. It may be unsafe to do so.” “Why Thambi, you are thoroughly frightening me!” “I am telling you the truth. Really, nowadays it is both those Lords of Pazluvoor that rule the Chozla Kingdom. There is no authority higher than theirs.” “Even the Emperor is not more powerful?!” “The Emperor lies on his sickbed. People say that he does not cross the lines drawn by those men of Pazluvoor. They say that he does not even listen to the words of his o sons!” wn “Is that true?! The domination of the Pazluvoor Lords must be quite strong. They were not so powerful even two years ago?” “No; after the Emperor came to Tanjore, the power of those fellows has gone beyond limit. There is no one to question the m. Rumor has it that even the Honorable Anirudda Brahmaraya left in disgust and went away to the Pandiya Kingdom.” “Why did the Emperor move to Tanjore from Pazlayarai? Do you know Thambi?” “I can tell you what I have heard. Three years ago, Veera pandiya died in the battlefield. It was reported that the Chozla armies committed several atrocities in the Pandiya lands at that time. War means anything can happen; Madurai is now under Chozla rule. But, it is said that some of the men loyal to Veerapandiya have sworn vengeance; they conspire together. The Lords of Pazluvoor felt that they would not be able to guard the Emperor from such assassins at Pazlayarai. They asked him to move to Tanjore. The fortress here is stronger. Its guard and safety is more eff icient. Besides, the doctors felt that Tanjore was a better place than Pazlayarai to treat the Emperor’s illness.” “Everybody talks about the Emperor’s ill health! But no one says what is wrong with him!” “Why? It is well known. The Emperor has paralysis ; he has lost the use of both his legs.”
“Oh! Can he not walk at all?” “He cannot walk, neither can he ride upon a horse or elephant. He is bed ridden. They can carry him from place to place in a palanquin or litter. Even that, I believe is very painful. Therefore, the Emperor never leaves the palace. Some say that for the past few months even his mind is deteriorating” “Oh! What a pity!” “Don’t feel pity, my friend! The Pazluvoor men may think it to be treason and put you in prison!” Pazluvoor! Lord P azluvoor! Men of Pazluvoor! Everywhere, to whomever I talk, their name crops up. However capable they are, why has so much power been given to them? The treasury, the granary, Tanjore City guard, policing and information gathering in the nation, taxation — everything seems to be under their control. The Emperor should not have let that happen. Because of all these powers, they have started scheming against the Emperor! How long will their plots be successful? I must do my best to thwart their plans. If pos warn the Emperor. sible I must also By now they had come to the main entrance of Tanjore Fort. Sendan Amudan parted from his new friend and walked towards the temple of Talikulattar. Vandiya Devan neared that fort with several dream castles of his own!