10. Gifts from Paalivel
The next day, at the Naalolakkam of King Paalivel, Koothanaar along with his paanar, paadini and viraliar had been invited and were seated in the assembly.
First in the agenda was honouring the artists of the Koothanaar group on behalf of the king. The minister felicitated the artists.
“For the past week, Paandaram Koothanaar and his dancers delighted us with their art – a virtual feast for the eye, enthralling our King and the audience. Cheyyon playing his flute, Nediyon who played his peri yaazh and siru yaazh, the lady paadini Polankuzhaiar with her sweet voice like that of a cuckoo singing, the percussion artist who sounded the thudi, muzhavu, and the thannumai, all gave rhythmic support for dance. This vast assembly appreciates their art and felicitates them.
Though our king desires to retain them in our court permanently, considering the wish of Koothanaar, and with an idea that their fame and name ought to be spread all over the Tamil country, His majesty has consented to give them leave.
On behalf of His Majesty King Paalivel, I wish you all our heart felt good wishes. To the enchanting young ladies Panmozhi and Yaazhini, our blessings that you get more laurels and excel in dancing, such that you are second to none in the whole of the Tamil country.
Apart from goodwill and best wishes, our King presents the group with fine clothes, these gold and silver ornaments, and a thousand gold coins.
Paandaram Koothanaar, delighted with the recognition, praise, and gifts, saluted the King and humbly received the presents. Then he made a short speech:
“Your Highness Valvil Paali! Under your patronage we stayed here peacefully without any worry. We offer our gratitude for these extravagant gifts, though they are no surprise, coming from one so gracious and generous. O great King, we will never forget your support for us poor nomadic artists. We whole-heartedly appreciate your depth of knowledge of the fine arts. It has been our privilege and immense pleasure to perform in your court, where we got genuine recognition because you understand the nuances of our art.
I shall now recite a poem of Kapilar who sang this in praise of Vaiyavi Kopperumbegan, which is appropriate for you as well.
‘Arukulathu … padai may akkurine” (pura naanooru 142)
Your charity is like the rain which not only falls on fertile Marudham lands and fields, but also on unfertile grounds;
Like the magnanimous rain, you are impartial, giving to all without discrimination.
But in battle you are not indiscriminate, you fight only your equals.
Your charity is matched only by your bravery in a battlefield.
Alitho thane… paadinal Varine!” (pura naanooru-111)
O! King of the black mountains of Kodagu!
It is not easy to win you over with the spear,
But the dancing viraliars with eyes like blue lilies,
win you over easily with their art!’
Thus has sung the poet Kapilar, a close friend of your grandfather.
Your love and warmth and gifts have made his poem a reality …”, Koothanaar concluded his speech in a voice choked with emotion.
“O Scholar! I am the lucky one, to have witnessed art as great as yours. You have a long journey ahead of you starting at sunrise tomorrow. You may want to rest well before that,” said the King kindly. Koothanaar’s group left the king’s court.
After resting a while in their rooms, Panmozhi and Yaazhini were too full of energy to stay indoors the whole evening.
“Akka! Why don’t we go bathe in the waterfall?” Yaazhini asked Panmozhi, who was thrilled by this suggestion. They looked for Cheyyon but were told by Polankuzhai that he was playing with some boys of the neighbourhood.
So the two girls left on their own, walking on the mountainous path, reaching the waterfall presently. The sun has fallen behind the hills and has scattered red over the sky. The birds were returning to their nests.
Both girls stood under the waterfalls fully clothed and enjoyed the waterfalls’ drumming rhythmically on their heads. Once they had bathed to their hearts’ content, they stepped out onto the elephant rock, squeezing water out of their clothes and hair. They roughly towelled their hair and let their long tresses loose to dry. They sat comfortably on the elephant rock, feeling satisfied with the day and with the unexpected bathing in the waterfalls.
It was a moment of closeness the sisters shared. In the dark sky, stars started to appear one by one; jungle insects gave a base humming shruti as a backdrop to the otherwise silent jungle.
Panmozhi was staring at the cascade of water, which stood out luminescent in the semi-darkness, and her imagination took her far away. Being close as they were, Yaazhini had already sensed her sister’s newly developed feelings for Kaarvannan. Now she wanted to hear about it from Panmozhi’s directly.
“Akka!”, Yaazhini called out in a soft voice. “What deep thoughts! Wishing he were here in my place?” she asked teasingly.
Starting guiltily out of her reverie, Panmozhi quickly denied it: “No, not at all! What nonsense!”
“Um-hm! Liar! Then why are you blushing?” Yaazhini laughed and gave Panmozhi a hug. Affecting a dramatic voice, Yaazhini stood up, reciting with her nose in the air, and her eyes glazed over, “Ah, the sweet unforgettable moment when he touched me…!” She couldn’t keep it up however, when Panmozhi slapped at her playfully, and both girls burst out in giggles.
When they stopped laughing, Panmozhi, holding Yaazhini’s hand shared her confidential thoughts with her.
“Yaazhini, my sister, my companion in the art of dance… not only that, dearest friend of mine. Who will I tell this to, if I don’t tell you, my dear sister? So far, I have not lost my heart to any other young man. But on seeing Vannan, at the first sight my heart and mind decided that he is the one for me. I feel as if I have known him, that we have been a couple, in several previous births. His manner of speech, actions, his intelligence, his kindness … I love everything about him. He is quite simply the man of my dreams.”
Panmozhi’s face glowed beautifully with the emotion of love.
“Akka! You are lucky. I am so happy for you …” saying that, Yaazhini hesitated. Panmozhi picked up the feeling that there was more her sister wanted to say but was not sure of saying it. She prompted her, “But…? I hear a but somehow in your sentence…?”
Yaazhini smiled, shook her head, and said, “No, nothing really… just that… he is a person in the service of the great Chozha King. I am worried slightly that… what if he forgets nomads like us?” Yaazhini expressed her apprehension.
“Do you mean to say that he comes across so many beautiful women, that he may forget me …?” asked Panmozhi, not really wanting to accept that as a possibility.
“Noo, not at all about other women, silly! He certainly did not come across as such a flaky nitwit. My concern was more about his official duties … that they could keep him from coming back to you. But no matter! He told your father that he will meet us in Uraiyur … and he did not strike me as a young man who made promises lightly” Yaazhini reasoned.
“Yes, Yaazhini! Did you notice his eyes when he said those words? Didn’t you see the glow of truth in them? He will certainly come to Uraiyur to meet me. On this very same elephant rock, in the presence of the moon and Mother Kaveri he promised me.” Panmozhi wanted to put her thoughts to words in order to reassure herself, and the minute she said the words she knew within her heart that they were true.
After a few moments of silence, Yaazhini said again, “Akka! Now I have another worry!”
“What worry? That yendhai and aunt come to know about this?”
“So what if they come to know? They will be happy for you surely! But the difficulty is for me!”, said Yaazhini.
“What is your difficulty?”
“We will be separated. You will get married and go away with your lover and husband. Then with whom shall I dance?”
“Don’t worry! We will find you a suitable husband in Puhar… apart from that, I will never give up dancing, we will never separate! We will dance together in the great Chozha’s court. You can’t get rid of me that easily!” Panmozhi jokingly twisted her ear.
“Imagination is all fine! But akka, we can’t predict what will happen in the actual course of our lives”, said young Yaazhini, showing a rare philosophical side of her nature.
“Well said! Like a 90-year old grandma!” Panmozhi chided her with affection.
“Akka! Akka!?” came Cheyyon’s voice from the mountain path. Spotting his sisters on the elephant rock, he said, “There you are! Mother is worried! Did you realize how late it is?! She sent me in search of you.”
“We were about to head home. Good Cheyya, you can lead us home!” so saying they started down the path.
They were leaving this country early the next day. Who knew if they would ever come back here? Panmozhi wanted to say her private goodbye to this place, the waterfalls, the special elephant rock. She stood for a moment, closing her eyes, wanting to hold it all in her mind’s eye, and never let go of the memories associated with this dear place. She took leave of the elephant rock, the throne on which this princess and her prince Vannan established their kingdom of love. The nearly full moon, only slightly chipped on the top right, peeped out of the eastern hills. The sound of the waterfall gradually faded.