|© 2002 Sumeetha V.|
You are probably wondering how Vandiya Devan arrived at the Jodhidar's house when we had left him on the banks of Kollidam.
Here is how it happened -
After Azhvarkadiyan got into the boat, the Saivaite looked at Vandiya Devan and told him, "Thambi, I am allowing this fellow on the boat only because of you and on only one condition. He should not say that Mahavishnu's name while he is on it. If he does, I will ask the boatmen to throw him in the river."
"Nambi, did you hear that?" asked Vandiya Devan.
"If he does not say his Shiva's name then I will not say my lord's name."
"Who are you to tell me not say Shiva's name?" growled the Saivaite and started singing a song about his lord.
Immediately Azhvarkadiyan started singing poems of Aandal. Hearing this the Saivaite said, "Shiva! Shiva!" and shut his ears with a disgusted look on his face.
After the song was over, Azhvarkadiyan looked at Vandiya Devan and said, "Thambi, this saivar doesn't even want to listen to my lord's name but little does he realize that this Kollidam River is flowing directly from Srirangam where it washed my lord's feet. That is why Lord Shiva had meditated under this river at Thirvinaikaval because he knew that it is holy "
Even before Azhvarkadiyan could finish, the Saivaite pounced on him from the other end of the boat. Vandiya Devan, the Kadambur soldier and the boatmen had to intervene and separate them both.
"I think you both want to capsize the boat, fall into the river and attain motcham. But I have no intention of dying right now," said Vandiya Devan.
"I don't know whether we will attain motcham, but one thing is for sure - we will surely end up in a crocodile's stomach," said one of the boatmen, pointing towards a passing crocodile.
"I am not afraid of crocodiles. My lord saved a mere elephant from a crocodile. He will surely save me also," said Azhvarkadiyan.
"No, No, your lord is very busy hiding himself behind the gopis of Vrindavan," said the Saivaite.
"Or may be your lord Shiva has got another Bhasmasuran troubling him which is why my lord has gone to help him."
"This Vaishnavan seems to have forgotten how his lord got defeated during the Tripurasamharam."
Why are Azhvarkadiyan and the Saivaite fighting like this? We saw a similar scenario in Veeranarayanapuram also.
About 600 years ago, Buddhism and Jainism were flourishing in Tamil Nadu. And during the same period great devotees of Vishnu and Shiva who were called Azhvars and Nayanmars appeared and composed beautiful songs and poems praising their gods, Shiva and Vishnu. Patronized by kings, they travelled from one place to another and were instrumental in building and renovating many temples in South India. Thanks to these great devotees, Buddhism and Jainism declined in Tamil Nadu.
At the same time, in a remote village in Kerala, there appeared a great saint. Renouncing the world at a young age he came to be known as Adi Shankaracharya. Travelling all around India he propounded a new meaning to the Vedas and to the Bhagwad Gita. He also established 8 seats of learning all over the world. Following his teachings, there appeared many Advaita Sanyasis who travelled from one place to another.
During the time of our story there was a huge religious movement happening in South India. On one side there appeared Veera Vaishnavas and on the other Veera Saivars. Both parties tried to establish the supremacy of Vishnu over Shiva (or vice versa) by debating endlessly. And sometimes the Advaita Sanyasis also joined these debates. If you remember we saw one such debate in Veeranarayanapuram and, not unlike that scenario, most of these debates ended in fistfights also. There is also a popular story, which is told about the conflict between Saivaites and Vaishnavaites -
Once a Veera Vaishanavar was walking by the temple walls of Thiruvinaikaval. Suddenly a stone fell on his head and he started bleeding. When he looked up he saw a crow sitting on the gopuram of the temple.
Immediately he forgot his pain and hailed the crow, "Hey Veera Vaishnava crow of Srirangam! Raze this Shiva temple of Thiruvinaikaval to the ground!"
Now that we have learnt of the religious situation in South India then, we can return to our story.
After the ferry reached the bank, the Saivaite looked at Azhvarkadiyan and cursed him for one last time, "May you go to hell!"
The Kadambur soldier also left with the Saivaite to buy a horse from the nearby town. Vandiya Devan and Azhvarkadiyan sat under the banyan tree near the riverbank to talk.
Both Nambi and Vandiya Devan were interested in learning about each other's experience in Kadambur palace the previous night. But they approached the subject in a roundabout way initially.
"Thambi, you left me and went off to Kadambur alone yesterday "
"You don't know, it became so difficult for me alone to get inside,"
"Really? Then what did you do? You didn't go?"
"No, No I went. Once I make up my mind to do something I do it no matter what happens. The palace guards stopped me but I threw them aside and entered the palace. Later my friend came and took me inside."
"Oh yes! I thought something like this would have happened. You are a very brave soldier indeed! What happened after that? Did you meet the guests? How many had come?"
"Many guests had come. I don't remember their names. But Pazhuvetar had come with his young wife. My God! How can I describe her beauty?"
"You saw her!"
"Of course I did. My friend took me to the anthapuram. I saw her there. Among all the dark complexioned women she looked like an apsara. Ramba, Urvasi, Indrani and all other heavenly damsels are incomparable before her beauty."
"I see. What happened after that? Did you watch the Kuravai Koothu?"
"Oh yes I did. It was very nice. I remembered you while I was watching it."
"I just was not lucky enough to watch it. What happened after that?"
"There was a war dance by Devaralan."
"Did the Gods come upon him? Did he prophesy anything?"
"Yes he did. He said the land will prosper, rains will come and the kingdom will prosper."
"Is that all?"
"He said many other things related to the kingdom. But I didn't bother to listen to all that."
"You made a big mistake, Thambi. You should have listened to it. You are such a brave soldier but if you want to grow in life you must pay attention whenever somebody talks about the kingdom."
"I agree with you, Nambi. This morning, I too felt the same way."
"Kandanmaran came along with me to Kollidam. He was telling me that after the feast all the guests had an important meeting where they were discussing something about the kingdom."
"What did they discuss?"
"I don't know. Kandanmaran was talking generally. He didn't tell me anything specifically. But from his mysterious talk I was able to deduce one thing. Something is going to change in this kingdom. What do you think it is, Swami?"
"What do I think about what?"
"Everywhere people are talking and discussing different rumours. A comet is seen in the sky for the past few days. Will there be some change in the kingdom? People are saying that many big officials are sitting together to discuss who the next heir is. Who do you think would be the next king?"
"How will I know all that, Thambi? I am just a poor devotee of my lord Vishnu. All that I do is travel from one place to another singing my lord's praises."
Saying thus Azhvarkadiyan started singing one of his favorite Aandal poems.
"Please for God's sake stop your song," begged Vandiya Devan.
"It is such a beautiful song, Thambi! And you are asking me to stop it."
"My dear Nambi! I have a doubt. Shall I tell you what it is?"
"Sure why not?"
"Promise me that you won't pick up your stick and come after me."
"Are you joking, Thambi? How can I come after a brave soldier like you?"
"I think your Vaishnavam, devotion, songs is just a drama that you put on. Am I right?"
"Oh my god! How can you say that?"
"I think you are acting as if you are a big Vaishanavaite just to hide your desire for women. I have seen many people like you who are mad after women. I just can't figure out what you see in them."
"Thambi! There are people who go after women. But I am not one among them and neither is my devotion towards my lord an act."
"Then in that case why did you ask me to give your message to that lady in palanquin that too when you know that she is another man's wife. And you wanted to come to Kadambur only to meet her. Please don't try to deny it."
"I don't deny it, Thambi. But I wanted to meet her for a different reason. That is big story."
"My horse hasn't come yet. I have a lot of time. Why don't you tell me that story?"
"This is not just any story, Thambi, but a real one. Are you sure you want to hear it?"
"Only if you wish to tell me."
"Yes I think I will tell you. Who knows, you might be able to help me later. I hope at least then you will help me."
"Yes I will, but only if I know that it is for the right cause."
"Ok. You know this Pazhuvetar's younger wife - her name is Nandini. You will be shocked to hear her story. It will make you wonder whether there is any dharma in this world "
Azhvarkadiyan was born in a remote village in the Pandya Kingdom. His father was a staunch Vaishnavaite. One day his father found a beautiful baby girl abandoned in their garden. He brought the baby home and adopted her as their daughter. And since the baby was beautiful and was found in a garden she was named Nandini. Azhvarkadiyan loved and cared for her just like a brother.
Growing up in an orthodox Vaishnavaite family, Nandini's devotion towards Mahavishnu blossomed. Noticing this, Azhvarkadiyan sought to bring her up like another Aandal. After their father's death he took charge of her future. They both travelled from one place to another collecting and compiling songs written by the Azhvars.
Three years ago Azhvarkadiyan had gone on a pilgrimage to Tirupati. While he was away Nandini fell into a terrible danger.
The final war between the Pandyas and the Cholas was taking place. The Pandya king suffered a terrible defeat. Wounded severely in the battle, the Pandya king was saved by his bodyguards who sought to hide him away until he recovers. As Nandini's hut was in the outskirts of the village they took the wounded king there. Nandini took pity on the dying man and dressed his wounds. At the same time, the Chola soldiers started searching high and low for the Pandya King. Soon one band of soldiers found him in Nandini's hut and killed him at once. Pazhuvetar, who was one of the commanders who was leading the Chola soldiers, kidnapped her and married her, being enamoured by her beauty.
All this happened three years ago. Since then Azhvarkadiyan had been trying to meet her and if possible help her escape but in vain.
After listening to his tale Vandiya Devan felt sorry for Azhvarkadiyan. He even thought of telling him that it was not Nandini who was in the veiled palanquin but Madhuranthakan. But something stopped him from doing so. He didn't want to take the risk of telling him that information without knowing for sure whether the story he had heard just then was true or not.
Even as he was thinking thus, he spotted the Kadambur soldier and the horse at a distance.
"Thambi, I need your help."
"How can I help you Nambi? Pazhuvetar is a very important and powerful nobleman in this kingdom and I am but a poor soldier. I don't know how I can help you?" answered Vandiya Devan carefully. But after a pause he asked, "Nambi, you say that you are not interested in political affairs. But can you answer this question? If something happens to the king, whom do you think will ascend the throne next?" and watched whether there was any change in Nambi's countenance but there was none.
"How will I know that? You should ask Kudandhai Jodhidar only."
"Really? Is he that good?"
"Oh yes he is. He is an expert in astrology."
Vandiya Devan immediately decided to meet him on his way.