“Why did we watch this movie? It is your kind of movie,” Meera rolled her eyes.
“Stop wheeling your eyes to the ceiling,” Radha patted Meera’s back, “It wasn’t that bad. Dev Anand was a charmer. How well he picked up the transitions in life!”
“Amma, no doubt, he is a great actor. My point is that the script and the storyline glorify the impossible.”
Radha widened her eyes.
“Amma, the hero is a guide, a thief, later a monk? Don’t you think that’s a little preposterous? I don’t believe that anyone can undergo such a drastic transformation in one lifetime.”
“Why not? Didn’t you start eating curd rice once you realized that it is good for digestion?”
“Should I laugh at this joke? You are comparing a person’s character transformation to curd rice. ”
“I believe all fictional stories trace back to some real person’s memoir. Movies and stories depict chapters from some person’s experiences.” Radha was hell-bent on proving her point.
“Oh, is it? Then what about horror movies? Do you think zombies are real?” smirking at her mother gave Meera immense pleasure.
“I am talking about human emotions, their values, and the metamorphosis in their lives. Similar to a rag to riches, there have been many instances of emotional turbulence that change a person’s character drastically.”
“Amma, only epics have larger than life heroes. We have only one life to live, and in this rut, what you say is quite impossible.”
Radha held her head in her palm in dismay, “Fine then, I will tell you a story of a man, who lived centuries ago. If you don’t believe his story, that’s fine, at least you will have a lesson to take from him.”
“I am all ears, go on.” and Meera crashed on the sofa with a thud.
“Oh, that is so romantic. Are you a ruler or a poet?”
Kaliyan pulled Kumudavalli closer, “Anything for you. Just say yes.”
“You desire for everything at lightning speed,” Kumudavalli replied, freeing herself from his firm grip, “My father has to agree.”
“Who will deny a proposal from an efficient ruler?”
“No, that’s confidence. I need your consent first. You do like me, right?”
“I do,” blushing away from his gaze, Kumudavalli admired his virility and his righteousness at asking her approval. Yet, she had a lot to ask of him. She was unsure if he would agree.
“Then you will marry me?” Kaliyan beamed in excitement.
“Yes, I would. But you will have to agree to a condition.” The romantic scene turned into a dramatic prelude.
“Promise me that you will undertake and devote to Pancha samskaram,” Kumudavalli extended her hand.
“What sort of a condition is this? I am a Vishnu devotee but I am a soldier and a ruler. Do you even know what it takes to commit to Pancha Samskaram? I will have to vow to lead a life that would not cause any displeasure to Sriman Narayana. It starts with sattvic food, to not taking another human’s life. I work for the Chola dynasty, and have many enemies. How will I protect my people?” Kaliyan hadn’t anticipated a rejection. “Is this your way of a subtle yet clever rejection?”
“Oh Swami, I only want my better half to walk a righteous path. A path that would not only do good to him but also the others around him. I wish that you perform the Pancha samskaram and feed at least a thousand people each day. I desire that as a couple we both lead a life of devotion and benevolence.”
“A thousand people? You must be joking. My tiny kingdom of Ali Naadu doesn’t even have so many families.”
“People will come and avail your great service once the word spreads. There is always a first to many beginnings. We have only one life to live, how we live is up to us, right?”
“Yes, you are. It isn’t as if you are urging me to change my inclination towards spirituality. Though I am not a religious person nor a model of rectitude, I am ready to try. Let’s see what is in store for me. I agree with both your demands. Didn’t I tell you, anything for you.”
Kumudavalli couldn’t contain her happiness, it was a dawn of new beginnings in their life.
“So this was your transition? A king/ruler/proud person accepting Vaishnavism, that too for a woman. Come on Amma, and what did I learn from this?” Meera gapped in surprise.
“Why do you jump to conclusions? Episodes will unravel themselves henceforth only. Be patient.”
“As you command, your highness!” chuckled Meera, cuddling a pillow.
“Don’t doze off, your lowliness,” Radha bowed down in style and continued with her story.
Soon the festivities began. The whole town of Thirumangai, which was the capital city of Ali Nadu was ornamented with flowers, oil lamps, rangolis, and colorful decorations. It was their beloved king’s wedding. Once the wedding ceremonies were done, Kaliyan gathered the court for an urgent meeting.
He announced with folded hands, “I am extremely grateful for your presence and blessings. On this auspicious day, I swear on the Gods that I will always be kind to the kind; I will protect the dignity of my people. I have promised my new bride that I will feed a thousand people every day. And today I take an oath to do the same. I hope all of you will support and guide me, as you have for so many years.”
A commotion broke out in the court. Some courtiers felt that the decision was very humble and would add to the good books of the kingdom. However, there was a section of the court which was totally against it. Feeding a thousand people would be a mammoth task.
Kumudavalli felt ecstatic. The love of her life had not only agreed to her clause but had already started working on it. The annadhanam, a sacred offering of food to the common man commenced on the day of their wedding itself.
Kaliyan and his wife’s altruistic deed spread like wildfire. Citizens, rich or poor, of any caste and creed, were welcome at his kingdom for a meal. Every single day people would gather at the hall built for this very purpose and would eat to their heart’s content. This practice continued for a couple of years.
The cycle of life continued but as they say, every good thing comes to an end. So did in their lives. To give a word is one thing, but to abide and adhere to it is a completely different ball game.
First, Kaliyan consumed his own wealth, penny by penny to fulfill the expenses. Later he started asking for loans. Loans with sky-high interest rates, which would be impossible for him to pay in a lifetime. Later, he stopped paying the various taxes to the Emperor. Finally, he laid his hands on his own kingdom’s treasury.
His courtiers advised him to stop this madness. They warned him that it would have a detrimental effect not only on his career as a ruler but also on the well-being of his citizens. Kaliyan turned a deaf ear to all the warnings, and soon he was summoned by the Chola Emperor.
“Kaliyan, I have very high regard for you. You have been the best Military Chief the Chola empire has ever had. As a token of appreciation, I gifted you the land of Ali Nadu. But what is this that I hear?” The Emperor gave a puzzled look since he still believed that all that he heard were rumors.
“Yes, it has been a little difficult to manage expenses. But, with the grace of Lord Narayana, I will surely recover from bankruptcy.” Kaliyan spoke with pride.
“Then, what I hear is true? You have been consuming the royal khazana, which is meant for its subjects’ well-being?”
“With all due respect Sir, isn’t annadhanam a way to help the subjects?”
“It is good only when it goes to the needy. Do you think all the thousand-odd people who come to your place do not have the means to earn a single meal? Also, news mongers say that you promised your wife that you will do this. Please, your honeymoon period is done with. Stop this madness immediately and concentrate on uplifting your kingdom. We need to head to other kingdoms for war, your complacency will ruin our stand.”
“War? But I am in no position to leave my kingdom. I have given my word and will strive to abide by the same.”
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think of this day. With a rock on my heart, I declare that you no longer will rule the kingdom of Ali Nadu. I take away all your privileges. You may leave now.” And the Emperor turned away from Kaliya, “We have lost a great ruler today.”
Kaliyan was left clueless. He knocked door to door to request for loans or donations. But who would come forward to give a loan to a debtor? What would he keep as security, he didn’t even have a home now. He had to take prompt action.
Kaliyan was a man of principles, but they were set to test now. He had only one option left. He had to resort to looting. As strange as it may sound, he couldn’t think of any other fruitful option. To keep up with his righteousness, he decided to loot only the wealthy, who denied to help him. Soon he became a highway thief. Wealthy people were wary of walking through these paths, not only in the dark but during the day too.
Kaliyan gathered a group of thieves to help him. He had four special assistants, each having a different expertise.
Nizhalil oodhanguvan – He could hide in a person’s shadow. The victim would never notice anyone or even the fact that his gold coins are missing.
Neeril nadappan – He could walk on thin water. His movements were delicate and deft.
Thaal udhuvan – He was one of the best locksmiths. He could decode and open any lock by just blowing air into it.
Theera vazhakan – Finally, no one could win a case with this fellow. If a victim finds out about the robbery and complaints at the local court, he will be the one defending Kaliyan. He would answer and raise questions, such that the victim finally would agree that nothing happened.
With his four musketeers backing, Kaliyan spread his wings as a dacoit, looting the rich.
Kumudavalli’s heart broke each time Kaliyan left for his escapades. She tried very hard to put sense into him, “You have committed yourself to Pancha Samskaram, please stop all your crimes. Let both of us together ask for penance at the lotus feet of our Lord, Sriman Narayana. We are his children, He will forgive our sins.”
“These men have more than they are worthy of. None of them has the heart to give a penny to the needy. They do not deserve the life that they are living in. Taking away a few drops from the ocean will not empty it.” Kaliyan brushed her off and left for the next steal.
Kumudavalli ran to the temple at home with moist eyes, “Lord, what have I done? I have awoken a monster. Would this ever stop?”
On the highway, Kaliyan was on his toes, restless. He had news, from his closest informers that a wedding party was on its way. The informer had also assured that the whole procession had women and men wearing precious jewelry. He had also spotted a huge golden chest and was sure it was filled with gold coins to the brim.
Soon, they heard loud noises made by thavil and nadaswaram. The festivities and sound of celebrations neared. Kaliyan and his favorite assistants waited with bated breath for their next move. Once, the bride and bridegroom were near, they pounced out of the bushes making loud thunderous noises that could frighten even the bravest of brave.
“Welcome, welcome, there is nothing to be afraid of as far as you cooperate with us.” Kaliyan directed his assistants to spread out long blankets. He ordered the people in the procession to throw and gather all their valuables on the blankets. Terrified by the sudden turn of events the people in the wedding procession complied with him.
Kaliyan inspected each gem, jewelry that was collected, “This is the best loot I have ever had in a long time. You seem to be a filthy rich lot,” turning towards the groom, “Why haven’t you freed yourself from all the burden. You are so lean, the jewelry is unnecessarily adding to all the weight of your body. Let me help you.” Kaliyan went over to the groom and started removing the groom’s ornaments one after the other.
Finally, a toe ring on the groom’s feet caught Kaliyan’s glance. “Is that toe ring too important to you? Don’t behave as if it is your mangalsutra. Come on, get rid of it. Hurry up!”
“I tried hard, but I am not able to remove it,” the groom smirked in sarcasm, “I hear you are great at uncoiling mangled puzzles. You were a great ruler, is it? This should be an easy task, or have you lost your mettle?”
Kaliyan fumed at this sudden insult, he kneeled and started pulling the toe-ring apart. He started with light pulls, but finally, when the toe-ring wouldn’t give in, he lost his cool and tried harder. No effort could get the ring from the toe. Finally, Kaliyan gave up.
“You keep the toe-ring. It is attached to your toe like Karna and his armor attached to the chest.”
“Oh, is it? Why don’t you pick the blanket full of jewels and leave? We are getting late.”
Kaliyan thumped a fist on his palm in rage. He jumped across the blanket, tied the four corners, and tried to lift it. This was something that he did day in and day out. But, today it seemed as if the sun rose in the west. Kaliyan’s comrade looked in dismay. He was not able to lift the blanket. It didn’t even seem to be very heavy. Pearls of sweat ran down his temple. Kaliyan’s rage turned into disappointment and he was perturbed by the turn of events.
“Lord Narayana, why are you testing me? I feel like Raavana, who couldn’t pick the bow at Goddess Sita’s swayamvar.”
It finally dawned upon him that it wasn’t like Raavana was not mighty enough, it only meant that his heart was not clean enough.
Kaliyan turned towards the groom with folded hands, “Are you a magician? You look like a Gandharva– a celestial being. Or are you Lord Vishnu himself, who has come to punish me?”
“Come near me,” the groom called Kaliyan. With folded hands, he went near the groom, and the groom spoke in Kaliyan’s ears. He uttered the ashtakshara mantra, Om Namo Narayanaya, in a hushed tone. A flush of enlightenment ran down his entire body.
“How can I punish my child?” and in an instant, the bride and bridegroom transformed. They were none other than Lord Vishnu and his consort Goddess Mahalakshmi.
Kaliyan froze. It was a sight for which many saints and sages prayed for years.
“There is only one life to live, isn’t it Kaliyan? That is what your wife told you. But walking on a path of righteousness is more important. The purpose of your life is not to feed people alone. You have a greater task at hand. You are here to enlighten souls and help people to find inner peace with your knowledge. Use it wisely”
Kaliyan was overwhelmed, he could not utter a word. His heart filled with emotions, he sang the first poem in praise of the Lord, one among many more to come in the future.
Vadinen vadi varundhinen manatthal perun thuyaridum idumbaiyil pirandu
Koodinen koodi ilaiyavar thammodu avar tharum kalaviye karudhi
Odinen odi uyvadhor porulal unarvenum perumpadhan therindhu
Nadinen nadi nan kandukonden narayana vennum namam.
Lord Narayana embraced Kaliyan, “Spread the joy, my dear son. You will perpetually be the king of Thirumangai in everyone’s heart. Your presence will be immortal and you will be like Kaalan- the God of death to people who do not lead a righteous life. Long live Parakaalan.”
“So he did change after all. So unreal. By the way, Amma, what is the meaning of this particular poem?”
“Yes, he did. He later wrote more than 1250 poems. This particular poem means, Having been born into this body, a repository of immense sorrow, and pining and crying, I am devastated with self-pity. I sought earthly pleasures, ran behind young beautiful dames. I searched all around and ultimately realized that there is a greater goal that will yield eternal happiness. I have now found that grandeur in the enticing name of Narayana.
His knowledge and hold over Tamil vocabulary are still praised. He has written poems and songs that praise the Lord, that talk about his incarnations. But his best works, remain the ones where he has written poems in Nayaki bhava– where he pretends to be a gopika wanting to be one with Lord Krishna. He is considered the twelfth Alwar– a saint in Vaishnavism.
Coming back to our point, I believe that change is the only constant. If such a great soul had turmoil in life and chances to change, why not us?”
“So true. Yes, maybe what you say is true. There is only one life, how we live is important. Moreover, people do change sometimes for the good. But personally, do you think this person really existed?”
Radha patted her head in disbelief, “Millennials, you need proof for everything. Go and ask your Guruji.”
“My Guruji?” Meera opened her eyes and mouth wide.
“Yes, your Guruji- Wikipedia.”
- Pancha Samskaram: It consists of the guru initiating a person into Vaishnavism through five steps. For a detailed read, check https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samasrayana
- Sriman Narayana/Lord Narayanan: Hindu deity, Vishnu
- Vaishnavism: Devotion to the god Vishnu and his incarnations (avatars)
- Khazana: Treasure
- Thavil: A barrel-shaped percussion instrument from Tamil Nadu.
- Nadaswaram: A double-reed wind instrument from South India.
- Ashtakshara: Eight letter mantra “ Om Namo Narayanaya” is the mantra for Lord Vishnu.
- Swayamwar: In ancient India, it was a practice in which a girl of marriageable age chose a husband from a group of suitors.
- Karna, Raavana, and Sita: Characters from Indian mythological epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.
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