Book Review – Sivakamiyin Sabadham Vol #1

Am onto the next blockbuster from Thiru Kalki Krishnamurthy – Sivakamiyin Sabadham, a four volume historical fiction set in the times of the great Pallava King Mahendra Varmar. As in the Ponniyin Selvan series Book Review – Ponniyin Selvan #1, all the historical events are facts with a few fictional characters introduced by Kalki.

I wish I could read Tamil easily just to read Kalki’s works in the language that he wrote them in. Have to work on my Tamil reading speed … it takes me a long time to read.

The great Pallava King Mahendra Varmar ruled between 590 CE to 630 CE. It was during his time that the stunning stone sculptures were commissioned at Mahabalipuram aka Mamallapuram, a city named after his son, Narasimha Varmar.

This four book series is about Mahendra Varmar, Narasimha Varmar, Paranjyothi, the sculptor Aayanar and his daughter, the danseuse Sivakami. Its also a story of transformation – Paranjyothi who goes to Kanchi to get educated becomes the commander of the Kanchi fort… and later becomes a Saivite saint, Siruthonda Nayanar.

Sivakamiyin Sabadham

Summary of Vol 1 – Sivakamiyin Sabadham

Paranjyothi, a brave and rustic youth from the village of Thirusengattankudi in the Chola kingdom, travels to Kanchi, the capital of the Pallava kingdom, by foot to enroll himself as a student at the Saivite saint, Thirunavukkarasar’s monastery. He meets Naganandi, a bikshu, on the way. Naganandi, who saves Paranjyothi’s life by killing a cobra that was about to bite him, predicts that Paranjyothi will get into trouble that very night. Paranjyothi does not believe him. By the time the duo reach Kanchi, the fort gates are sealed. However, a security guard named Marudappan who is a Naganandi loyalist lets them in.

On entering the fort, Marudappan informs Naganandi that the arangetram of danseuse Sivakami, daughter of the renowned sculptor and painter Aayanar, had come to an abrupt halt that evening and that he had received orders to seal the fort gates. Speculation of an impending war is rife in the city. After listening to this news, Naganandi and Paranjyothi part ways. While Naganandi heads to the Royal Viharam, Paranjyothi strolls around Kanchi in search of Navukkarasar’s monastery.

Suddenly, the temple elephant runs amok and charges towards Aayanar and Sivakami, who are returning to their forest residence in a palanquin. The palanquin bearers set the palanquin down and flee. Paranjyothi, who fortuitously arrives there, wields his spear deftly at the elephant, which turns and starts chasing him. Aayanar and Sivakami are, however, rescued. Paranjyothi manages to escape the elephant, but loses the bundle he is carrying.

The bundle contains amongst other things, some money and messages from his maternal uncle, a renowned physician, to Thirunavukkarasar and Aayanar, requesting them to enroll Paranjyothi as their student. Due to the impending war, the Pallava Emperor Mahendra Varmar imposes a curfew at night. The city guards who find Paranjyothi wandering around aimlessly in the city imprison him.

Naganandi Bikshu helps Paranjyothi escape from the prison, takes him through a secret route out of the Kanchi Fort and introduces him to Aayanar, who is willing to take Paranjyothi under his tutelage. When Aayanar is in the midst of a conversation with Naganandi and Paranjyothi, Sivakami heads to the lotus pond near their forest house. There she meets her lover, the Crown Prince Narasimha Varmar, Mahendra Pallavar’s only son.

Meanwhile, Naganandi persuades Aayanar to send Paranjyothi to Nagarjuna Mountain to learn about the secret of the indelible paints used in the Ajantha Caves. This, he says, can be Paranjyothi’s ‘guru dakshina’. Aayanar, who is extremely keen to know about the indelible paints used in the Ajantha Caves, readily agrees and secures a high breed steed and travel permit from Mahendra Pallavar for Paranjyothi.

Naganandi hands over a written message to Paranjyothi to carry with him. When Paranjyothi heads to Nagarjuna Mountain carrying Naganandi’s message, he befriends the brave and mysterious warrior, Vajrabahu, on the way. That night, Vajrabahu drugs Paranjyothi to sleep and replaces the message Paranjyothi is carrying with a message penned by him.

Unaware of this, Paranjyothi continues his journey and stops at the Buddhist monastery on the banks of the North Pennai River, as instructed by Naganandi. The senior bikshu of that monastery sends Paranjyothi with six horsemen who are supposedly heading to the Nagarjuna Mountain.

Paranjyothi, suspecting the horsemen were heading elsewhere, tries to escape. The horsemen imprison him and lead him to the Chalukya army camp. At the Chalukya army camp Paranjyothi runs into Vajrabahu, who asks Paranjyothi to state the truth to the Chalukya Emperor, Pulikesi. Paranjyothi is produced before Emperor Pulikesi, who reads the message Paranjyothi is carrying.

Pulikesi is unable to comprehend the message and cannot understand what Paranjyothi is saying as he does not know Tamil. So he solicits Vajrabahu’s assistance. Vajrabahu states that the message may be for Pulikesi’s brother, Vishnuvardhanan, who is the ruler of Vengi. The whimsical and cruel Pulikesi commands that Paranjyothi be escorted by nine horsemen to Vishnuvardhanan and that Paranjyothi be killed if Vishnuvardhanan cannot decipher the message.

Vajrabahu assures Paranjyothi that he will meet him on the way before he is taken to Vishnuvardhanan. The following day Paranjyothi, accompanied by the horsemen, sets out to meet King Vishnuvardhanan. They stop at an isolated hut occupied by an old man for the night. When everyone is asleep, the old man wakes Paranjyothi up and escorts him to the two horses waiting outside.

Paranjyothi realizes that the old man is Vajrabahu in disguise. Vajrabahu and Paranjyothi ride away, pursued by the horsemen. In a fierce combat that follows, Vajrabahu and Paranjyothi kill all the horsemen. Vajrabahu also finds a message one of the horsemen was carrying for King Vishnuvardhanan and retains that message.

Vajrabahu then takes Paranjyothi along with him to the Pallava army camp. Paranjyothi surmises Vajrabahu is a spy to the Emperor Mahendra Varma Pallavar. As Vajrabahu and Paranjyothi travel for several days together towards the Pallava army camp, their friendship grows. During their conversation, Vajrabahu informs Paranjyothi that the whereabouts of Mahendra Pallavar, who left Kanchi purportedly for the army camp, were unknown.

Paranjyothi expresses his desire to join the Pallava army to Vajrabahu, who promises to assist him. On reaching the Pallava army camp, Vajrabahu asks Paranjyothi to wait outside and says that he will secure Emperor Mahendra Varmar’s consent to allow Paranjyothi inside the camp.

While Paranjyothi is waiting restlessly outside, he observes that the Pallava army turns jubilant suddenly. On enquiring, he is informed that Emperor Mahendra Varmar has reached the army camp.

The above summary has been done by the author himself before starting volume 2 !! How considerate of Kalki and it shows his greatness as a writer.

I just realised that Thiru Kalki Krishnamurthy lived a very short life. He died in 1954, at the age of 55. In that short period of time, he has written such amazing books and so many of them. Talk of being prolific !! Its only because of him that many Tamilians have a good grasp of Chola and Pallava history.

Left to the “left” distortians that wrote our history textbooks, the Chola and Pallava history would have been reduced to a footnote or not even that. We would have lost some glorious characters who were not only great warriors but also great rulers who promoted our arts, sowed the seeds of early democracy and established “Bharat” as a geographical unity long before the colonial powers broke us into 8 pieces.

Am nearly half way through Vol 2. Its impossible to stop reading Kalki’s books. Ms. Nandini Vijayaraghavan has done an outstanding job of translating these four volumes. Yet to catch a single grammatical error 🙏🏿.

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