Sivagamiyin Sapatham

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Sivagamiyin Sapatham
Author Kalki Krishnamurthy
Original title சிவகாமியின் சபதம்
Country India
Language Tamil
Genre Historical, Romance, Spy, Thriller, Novel
Publisher Kalki
Publication date
1944
Media type Entertainment
Pages 2600 pages

Sivagamiyin sabatham (The vow of Sivagami — சிவகாமியின் சபதம் in Tamil) is a Tamil historical novel written by Kalki in 1944. Believed by some to be one of the first historical novels in Tamil it was originally serialized in the weekly Kalki for about 12 years. This was later published as a novel. Along with Ponniyin Selvan, this is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written in Tamil.Set in 7th-century south India against the backdrop of various historical events and figures, the novel created widespread interest in Tamil history when it was being published in the 1940s. Honour, love and friendship form important themes that run through the course of the novel.

Plot synopsis[edit]

It would be tough to point out who the real hero of the novel is. Mahendravarman I, the Pallava emperor plays an important role in the first half of the story while his son Narasimhavarman comes into his own as the novel progresses. The plot revolves around the historical events of the Chalukya king, Pulakesi II laying a siege of Kanchi and Narasimhavarman avenging this by attacking Vatapi, the capital of the Chalukyas.

The novel is divided into four parts.

Part 1: Paranjothi's Journey[edit]

The novel begins with the arrival of Paranjothi in the city of Kanchi to attain tutelage under the Tamil saint Thirunavukkarasar. But he ends up saving the damsel Sivagami and her father Aayannar from a mad elephant by throwing a spear at it, almost by reflex. There is considerable unease in the town since the Chalukya king Pulikesi is on his way to attack Kanchi. That night Paranjothi is arrested by the guards and is kept in a cell since Mahendravarman wants to see and award the young man who saved the life of his most important artists. But Paranjothi manages to escape from the prison with ample help from Naganandhi, the buddhist monk who accompanied him to Kanchi.

Naganandhi takes him out of the Kanchi fort through a secret tunnel to meet the master sculptor Aayannar, who stays outside the fort in a small settlement. Paranjothi plans to join the legendary sculptor as a student and believes that should be possible since his uncle, a friend of Aayannar, has provided a letter asking Aayannar to take care of his nephew. Naganandhi, who has promised Aayannar that he would get him the secret behind the dyes used in the Ajanta paintings, asks Aayannar to send Paranjothi on a trip to the Vindhyas to meet a monk who Naganandhi says, should give Paranjothi the secret formula for the dyes. Accordingly, Paranjothi is sent with a note written by Naganandhi.

Narasimhavarman continues visiting his lover, Sivagami who has mastered the ancient Indian dance form, Bharathanatyam. But this growing romance between the prince and the sculptor's daughter does not have the approval of the emperor. Mahendravarman also orders a livid Narasimhavarman, that he should stay in Kanchi and safeguard it when he goes and takes care of Pulikesi in the battle field.

Meanwhile, en route, Paranjothi meets a soldier, Wajrabahu, who gives him company till the inn where they decide to stay for the night. When Paranjothi is fast asleep, Wajrabahu changes the content of the letter that Paranjothi is carrying. The next day both part ways. Paranjothi is captured by the soldiers of the approaching Chalukya army. He is taken to Pulikesi and presented as a spy. Pulakesi deciphers the letter that Paranjothi is carrying to mean the young man should be given the secret of the Ajanta dyes. Unable to communicate with Paranjothi (since Pulikesi does not understand Tamil and Paranjothi does not understand the language that Pulakesi spoke). Pulikesi asks Wajrabahu to interrogate the surprised Paranjothi. Having confirmed from Wajrabahu that Paranjothi indeed knew nothing, Pulakesi orders Paranjothi to continue his journey to the Vindhyas accompanied by his soldiers. Wajrabahu informs the scared Paranjothi not to worry and asks the young man to trust him. Paranjothi leaves from Pulakesi's camp with some soldiers accompanying him. At night when the soldiers are asleep Paranjothi escapes with the help of Wajrabahu who takes him to the Pallava camp. Paranjothi believes Wajrabahu is a Pallava spy only to later realize that it is fact the Pallava King, Mahendravarman himself.

Part 2: The Siege of Kanchi[edit]

Seven months pass and Paranjothi is now a trusted and able commander in Mahendravarman's army. With the battle with Pulikesi fast approaching, Paranjothi returns to Kanchi and soon becomes a close friend of Narasimhavarman. The prince also finds him a suitable companion to describe his lost love and longing to meet Sivagami. Satrugnan, the spy chief, in the Pallava army, comes with the news from the emperor asking Narasimhavarman to launch an attack on Durveneedhan, a local chieftain who tries to attack Kanchi in this hour of crisis.

Aayannar and Sivagami, after being prodded by Naganandhi leave from their settlement to a buddhist monastery to get away from the impending war. Naganandhi almost gains Sivagami's trust by promising her that he will make her famous by arranging for her performance in all the important sites of the Chola and Pandya kingdoms. From the buddhist monastery Sivagami notices Narasimhavarman chasing Durveneedhan's forces and in a sudden twist of events Narasimhavarman rescues Aayannar, Sivagami from an impeding flood. Unknowst to them the flood actually results due to the breach of the bank of a lake by Naganandhi.

The prince, sculptor and the dancer along with Gundodharan a student of Aayannar (who is actually a spy working for the Pallavas) take refuge in the village, Mandapapattu. The romance between Narasimhavarman further blossoms with Sivagami getting convinced that the prince would eventually marry her even though she is a poor sculptor's daughter. Naganandhi tries to assassinate Narasimhavarman but is locked in a room in a temple by the quick wits of Gundodharan. Naganandhi, however, manages to escape and steal the royal seal of the Pallavas. The emperor Mahendravarman reaches the village and almost begs Sivagami to forget marrying Narasimhavarman something which Sivagami claims is very difficult for her to do. Finally the royal party leaves for Kanchi leaving behind Aayannar and Sivagami.

Mahendravarman returns to Kanchi. Nanganandhi is arrested by Mahendravarman in Kanchi. As per the orders of the king, the fort is properly protected and is ready to face the invasion of Pulakesi's army. The siege of Kanchi by Pulakesi begins.

Part 3: The Monk's Love[edit]

Pulikesi tries bulldozing his way into the fort only to realise that Mahendravarman has fortified the city almost impregnably. He decides to camp outside the fort as long as it takes since he believes that the stockpile of food would soon run out in the fort forcing the Pallava king to surrender. But the city of Kanchi has stocked well and continues to thrive and Pulakesi realises that his forces are running out of food and the elephants are slowly turning uncontrollable.

He calls truce and says he wants to enter Kanchi as the King's friend much to the disbelief and dismay of Narasimhavarman, who does not trust the sincerity of Pulikesi. But Mahendravarman tries to convince and finally makes sure Narasimhavarman is not in town when Pulakesi enters it, by asking the prince to go to war with the Pandya kings in the south. Pulikesi enjoys the royal hospitality. Sivagami comes from Mandapapattu and performs in the royal assemblage after being requested by Mahendravarman. Aayannar and Sivagami stay in Kanchi waiting for the fort gates to reopen. Pulakesi leaves Kanchi and on the final day Mahendravarman reveals how he managed to outwit him as Wajrabahu. This hurts Pulakesi's ego though he doesn't reveal much. On leaving the fort Pulikesi orders his forces to destroy all the villages in the vicinity and also to cut the hands of artisans as way of getting back at the connoisseur of arts, Mahendravarman.

Mahendravarman releases Naganandhi. Not aware of the danger that awaits them, Sivagami and Aayannar leave Kanchi using a secret tunnel only to be caught by Pulakesis's forces. Naganandhi dressed as the king Pulakesi (it must be mentioned here that Naganandhi is Pulakesi's twin brother) rescues Aayannar from the soldiers. Mahendravarman is seriously injured in a battle with Pulakesi's forces. He is bed ridden and realises his folly of extending a hand of friendship to the Chalukya king. He orders Narasimhavarman to avenge this shame to the Pallava dynasty and rescue Sivagami from the clutches of the Pulikesi.

Sivagami is taken along with the other prisoners to Vatapi. Naganandhi confesses his love for Sivagami to a shocked Pulakesi, who promises to take care of Sivagami. Naganandhi leaves to take care of other matters at hand. In Vatapi, Pulikesi raises a victory column claiming his victory against the Pallavas. Sivagami refuses to dance in front of the Persian emissaries in Pulakesi's court. But Pulakesi devises a devious way of making her dance by beating the captured Pallava citizens and stopping only when Sivagami dances. This continues every day.

Humiliated Sivagami vows that she would not leave Vatapi until Narasimhavarman burns it down and rescues her. She cites the vow as a reason and refuses to come with Narasimhavarman when he makes a secret visit to come and rescue her.

Part 4: The Shattered Dream[edit]

Nine years pass. Mahendravarman has died, never recovering from the injury he sustained from the battle with Pulakesi's army. Narasimhavarman, now crowned King, is married to the Pandya princess, Vanamadevi. He continues his preparation for attacking Vatapi. Meanwhile the differences between the brothers Naganandhi and Pulikesi increases. Naganandhi believes that he should be ruling the country, something he forsook when he took up the buddhist way of life. He also hides from Pulakesi the fact that the Pallava forces are on their way to attack Vatapi. What further adds to Nangandhi's anguish is the non-subjugation of Sivagami.

Pulikesi visits Ajanta to take part in a cultural festival and at that time Narasimhavarman reaches Vatapi. The citizens of the fort offer to surrender. Meanwhile a battle ensues between the returning Pulakesi's army and the Pallava forces outside the Vatapi fort. Pulakesi is killed in this battle but this information is not known to the Pallavas since the body is taken and cremated by Naganandhi. Naganandhi returns to Vatapi as Pulikesi(through a secret tunnel) and withdraws the surrender offer. Narasimhavarman's forces burn down the city.

The novel climaxes with Naganandhi being allowed to escape by Paranjothi on the grounds that Paranjothi does not want to kill a buddhist monk. Paranjothi feels disturbed with war and the cost that humans have to pay and announces that he taking the life of a Saivite and takes up the name Siruthondar. Sivagami is united with her aging father. She is initially heart-broken on realising that Narasimhavarman is married to someone else, but later decides to dedicates herself to the God Shiva of Kanchi, Ekambareswarar.

Characters[edit]

Mahendravarman
Kalki portrays him as a connoisseur of arts. He is also someone who was well versed in disguising. Kalki also portrays him as a compassionate king who was easily accessible and who sought and got advice from his courtiers. Though he gets converted from being follower of Jainism to Shaivism he remains tolerant of other religions and respects their practices. He dreams of a day when peace reigns and kings do not have to fight war with each other.
Narasimhavarman
Outshone by Mahendravarman in the first half of the book, Narasimhavarman takes a life of his own later on. He is the prince who is head over heels in love with the dancer, Sivagami. His love for Sivagami even makes him promise her that he would even relinquish his throne if there was precondition for marrying her. He is portrayed as an obedient son and more importantly someone who understands the practicality of a situation when he agrees to marry the Pandya princess to avoid any problems when he is planning is attack on the Chalukyas.
Pulakesi
The Chalukya king is portrayed as being ruthless and almost barbaric. Unlike his brother, Naganandhi, he does not have an inclination towards art and sees them as being a waste of time. He has deep respect towards his brother and mentor, Naganandhi. Kalki paints a clear contrast between Mahendravarman and Pulakesi. While the former's courtiers are shown as respecting the king for his wisdom and knowledge the latter's subjects fear his ruthlessness. While the Pallava king consults his ministers and acts on their advice the Chalukya king acts more on his whims.
Naganandhi
The fictional twin brother of Pulakesi would probably qualify as the villain of the novel. He dons the role of a buddhist monk and this provides him the license to move freely between the various kingdoms. He has an eye for the art and is also portrayed as a cunning statesman and spy. On more than one occasion he confesses that his love for Sivagami has more to do with her artistic abilities than her physical self. He uses the visual similarity that he has with Pulakesi to his advantage to save Ayanar. Having spent his childhood and most of his youth in a buddhist monastery under highly challenging circumstances he possesses a body that is immune to any poison. He dedicates his life to the well-being of the state and his brother.
Sivagami
The mystical dancer who Mahendravarman claims can portray even those postures and nuances that the creator of Bharathanatyam had not thought of. She is in love with Narasimhavarman. Being alone in the sculptor's settlement she only has a parrot and deer for company. Her fame had spread to distant lands. She is also portrayed as being selfless and generous. She is ready to undergo punishment for the sake of freeing the captured women from the Pallava empire.
Paranjothi
The able commander of the Pallava army, Paranjothi is portrayed as being a brave soldier. Then he becomes a monk called siruthondar and he gone under studying with thirunaavukkarasar.
Aayanar
Sivagami's father and master sculptor is portrayed as someone who is fanatically in search of the secret behind the Ajanta dyes. He was so curious to know that secret that he was even ready to risk his life and escape from the Kanchi fort and wanted to talk with Pulakesi to get the information.
Satrugnan, Gundodharan
The spies of the Pallava empire. They are portrayed as being extremely capable and have a very good sense of humour.

Further reading[edit]

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