Ponniyin Selvan Chapter 25 – Inside The Fort
The signet ring with the palmtree emblem had miraculous powers like the magical rings in fairy tales! In that morning hour, various people – vendors of milk, curds and other dairy products, fruit and vegetable sellers, butchers, farmers, others engaged in various trades, clerks and accountants, petty officials and others – were trying to enter the fort. The officious gatekeepers were letting them in, one by one, through a small wicket gate placed on o of the big doors. The guards stood around with cocky insolence. ne But, as soon as our young hero showed the palm tree signet ring, they became very reverent; they even opened one of the large doors to let him enter. Vandiya Devan entered the fort of Tanj ore. Oh yes! We do not know the auspicious moment in which he set foot in that great fort, but we do know that several significant events followed that entry. We could even consider that moment as one of the most important moments in the history of South India! For some time after entering that fort, Vandiya Devan was immersed in astonishment. Kanchi City (from where he came) was the capital of the ancient Pallava Empire. It had withstood the attack of several enemies. The buildings, mansions and palaces in that city were now badly maintained, dilapidated ruins. Of course many of them were well sculpted, architecturally beautiful. But several parts of that city were in ruins. After Aditya Karikala took over, he had renovated some of the public buildings a nd palaces. These new structures looked like isolated sprigs of fresh shoots on a dying tree. In facts they made the dilapidation more obvious. But this Tanjore!? Tanjore was quite the opposite thing. Everything looked new. New palaces, new buildings, new temples. The whitewashed mansions interspersed with buildings of brick baked of red earth shone like some jewel, set with a cluster of rubies enhanced by pearls and diamonds. Trees in the gardens and by the roadside had grown luxuriously tall, nourished by that fertile reddust. Coconut and areca nut palms; ashoka cypress, laurels, spreading banyan, fig and sacred ficus; jack, mango and neem – they painted a picture of varying hues of emerald. That greenery was pleasing to the eye and joyous to the heart . A new city built by an architect of illusion. I feel new excitement when I enter this new city; my heart fills with unexplainable pride! Vandiya Devan who had seen the fuss and fret in letting people enter inside had surmised that the inner city would b e empty. But it was quite contrary: all the streets were crowded with hustle and bustle. Horses, and chariots yoked with horses rushed past noisily. Bells – tied around the necks of elephants which walked slowly, gracefully like tiny, black, moving hilloc ks – tinkled all around. Vendors selling flowers, fruit, milk, fish and other edibles called out their wares and raised a huge din. Huge drums boomed and large bells tolled periodically announcing the passing hours. The gentle breeze carried the melody of musical instruments and voices of young men and women raised in song. Everything was festive like one big carnival. This is a city! This is the capital of an empire that is growing and spreading day by day! Vandiya Devan did not wish to let anyone know that he was a newcomer to that exquisite city. If he asked the way of anyone they would look him up and down and ask arrogantly, “Are you new to this town?” – They may even think him to be an uncivilized villager if he asked the way to the royal palace. Therefore, he should somehow find his way without asking anyone and reach the palace. It may not be difficult. Wherever he looked he could see mansions festooned with bunting and crowned by high flying pennants and flags. The flags fought the swift breeze and raised a “Chat, pat” noise. Tigerflags and palmtree flags were more profuse. He saw one huge flag emblazoned with a rampant tiger, flying sky high, rising above all the others. That must be the Emperor’s palace, thought Vandiya Devan Vallavarayan as he began walking in that direction. He thought of what he must do next. The first, important task is to present myself to the Emperor and personally deliver the letter and the verbal messages conveyed by Prince Aditya. It may not be possible to see the E mperor without the Younger Lord Pazluvoor’s permission. How can I obtain that permission? God helped me enter the fort. But, can I be complacent, thinking that God’s grace will aid me till the end? I must connive something to manage entry into the palace t o meet the Emperor. What is the strategy to adopt? Oh my clever brain! Descendant of generations of illustrious Vaanar’s! Think of something! Polish up your imagination. Get to work! Imagination is essential; not just for writers and poets. Fellows like me entangled in such political turmoil also need plenty of imagination. Let me think… He had already made sure that the Elder Lord Pazluvoor had not returned to the fort. As soon as he come in he had asked one of the gatekeepers, “Why man, has Lord Pazluv oor come back?” “Whom are you asking about, Thambi? The Younger Lord is in the palace!” “Don’t I know that! I am asking about the Elder Lord who had journeyed to the central provinces.” “Oh! Was it to the central provinces that the Elder Lord went? I di dn’t know that! The YoungQueen’s palanquin returned last night. The Elder Lord has not returned yet. We got word that he will probably return tonight,” said the gatekeeper. That was good news. He must somehow meet the Emperor before the Elder Lord Pazluv oor returns. How …? An idea occurred to him. The worry lines vanished immediately and a mischievous smile and joy blossomed on his face. He did not have to wander much to reach the Emperor’s palace. He kept walking in the direction of the large tiger fl ag. Soon he reached the portals of the large palace. What a wonderful building. A palace comparable to that of the King of Gods; a palace like that of legendary Vikramaditya of Ujjain! How exquisite is the carving on these portals? The horses with raised f orelegs, carved on the pillars, seem to be ready to leap forward! Several roads from all directions came to meet in a large plaza in front of that palace. At the head of each of these streets two horsemen and two footmen stood guard. People walking about the streets turned back without coming near them. Some persons stood near them to stare at the palace portal and the big flag before they turned back. If the people crowded around too long, the guards made signs to disperse them. Even those who gathered in groups talked softly, whispering to each other. Vandiya Devan did not hesitate like these others. He walked forward with pride and confidence. As soon as he stepped into the plaza two horsemen barred his way. The horses stood nose to nose and long lances crossed in front of him. The footmen came near him. Vandiya Devan showed them his magic ring. That was it; the lances parted and the horses moved away. But three men examined the ring, one after the other. Finally the man who seemed to be in charge said, “OK, let him in.” Vandiya Devan walked in cockily. Now what? How many other guards like this? Where would I find the Younger Lord Pazluvoor? Should I ask? Whom shall I ask? – Can I manage to see the Emperor without his permission? Where would I find the on his sick bed in this huge mansion! … Emperor Catching sight of a group of men behind him, he turned around. Yes; about ten to fifteen men came in a group to hesitate in front of the guards. Those men wore scarves of rich silken cloth. They were dre ssed in pearl necklaces, golden anklets and eardrops. Some had adorned their forehead with horizontal ashen lines. Others wore marks of sandal paste, red kumkum powder or aromatic civet spots. Oh! Don’t these men look like poets and bards! Yes they were a group of bards! One of the guards, their leader, was saying, “The bards and poet kings have come; let them enter.” He then ordered one of the footmen: “Lead these people to the audience chamber of the Younger Lord Pazluvoor.” “Masters! Poets! if you rec eive any presents or rewards please come back this way – and remember me! If you do not get any awards you can leave by the other gate!” Everybody laughed at these words of the guard. Vandiya Devan who had hesitated on the steps to listen to this convers ation felt “The fruit has slipped into the cream!” He decided to follow the poets and get to the presence of the Younger Lord Pazluvoor. He did not have to ask anyone. Then comes my cleverness; my goodluck will surely help, he thought. He quietly mingled i nto that group of poets.