Having accomplished a very significant feat at Papanasam - helping the construction of several check dams across the Tamirabarani River to prevent future flash floods on the hill slopes - the narrator of the story leaves Papanasam towards his next destination, yet to be discovered by him. He only waits for the Lord's Guidance..............
There were about thirty rulers in Venad, in Southern India during the period of 450 years between Ravi Varma Kulasekhara (AD 1249-1314) and Marthanda Varma of Travancore (1729-1758). Almost all of them were interested in building temples, endowing classical education, construction and maintenance of irrigation facilities and fostering internal and external trade and commerce.
Vishnu Deva Varma was one such ruler – not much remembered by many - during that period, as his regime was very brief. He was a pious and peace-loving ruler. Unlike many other rulers of his time, he never believed in polygamy. His wife, the Queen Chitra
Devi was very devoted to him. After their marriage, she was struck by a very obscure disease and got crippled. However, she conceived and delivered a very beautiful baby girl. Unfortunately for them, though the baby girl was born healthy, within a couple of months of her birth, she too became crippled below her waist due to the same disease. The couple was shocked. Though Vishnu Deva Varma accepted the baby as a divine gift despite her physical handicap, Chitra Devi suffered psychologically. Some of the best ‘ vaidya’s treated the Queen, but her physical condition didn’t improve. Chitra Devi died, even as the baby girl named Mathi (to denote her moon-like beautiful face) was growing up. Vishnu Deva Varma never remarried and assumed the role of both a mother and father for the growing little girl.
When Mathi attained puberty at her age twelve or so, Vishnu Deva Varma started looking for suitable boys to marry Mathi, as per the then local customs. Many were willing to marry his daughter, but only for her wealth and the kingdom. Vishnu knew this and didn’t trust the Ruler families who married several women. He never wanted his lovely daughter to remain as yet another woman in the backyards of the rulers or their wards. He tried in the far-off kingdoms and provinces too. However, the stigma of physical handicap stayed as a stumbling block.
Vishnu Deva Varma was a peaceful person and also very brave. He also owned a large army of very committed soldiers, besides a huge armory, weaponry, and elephant division. No one dared to attack his province. He had a tactical understanding with descendants of even far reaching rulers from Hoyshala, Pallava, Chalukya dynasties, that the neighboring local kings and chieftains never troubled him.
Once when one of the Pallava dynasty chieftains wanted to raise money for one of their incursions into some of their enemy
territories Vishnu Deva Varma clandestinely helped him with gold in exchange for a large piece of landed-property in and around the river Tamirabarani. This transaction between them was well documented and Vishnu was more than happy to have acquired a lot of fertile land nearer to his province than to be burdened with having to protect the vast treasure of gold jewels and coins. Besides, there were frequent threats from some of the Muslim rulers of Northern India, who looted many kingdoms and temples for their valuable possessions. He established a number of colonies and provided endowments for a variety of charitable purposes.
One night, Lord Narayana appeared in his dreams and ordered him to donate a part of his kingdom to a noble Brahmin and entrust to him the responsibility of developing and maintaining the land for the common good, to benefit poor at large, in exchange for his willingness to marry Mathi and taking care of her for her lifetime. He was perplexed by the dream. Strangely, the very next day a Brahmin, Arunan living along the banks of the river Tamirabarani met him in his court. He was a vedic scholar. As though he had already read the mind of Vishnu Deva Varma, Arunan asked for his daughter in marriage and the marriage was quickly finalized. Vishnu Deva Varma gave his daughter Mathi to Arunan in marriage and along with his daughter, he also gave away large pieces of lands comprised in several villages along the banks of the river Tamirabarani, with the express condition that the property be used for the common good of the poor at large. He recorded this transaction and created ownership documents by way of several copper plate inscriptions, giving one copy to Arunan and retaining the other copy to himself. He also stipulated an additional condition that Arunan and every successive heir to Arunan should create similar
documents to be passed on to the next generation so that the land be properly used for common good forever into the future and that no individual would ever have the personal right over the property for own benefits.
Arunan was a sincere person and he took care of Mathi very well. Times passed by and the land passed hands, generation after generation over the next several centuries. Gradually over time, the hold over the properties loosened and many started exploiting the land for personal benefits. Many usurped large chunks of this land during successive invasions by neighboring rulers, chieftains, Muslim, British and finally by our own rulers after Independence.
When I was drawn to Brahmadesam, a village close to the banks of Tamirabarani, Adhi Kesavan was one of the first to meet me. It looked as though our meeting was ordained. His physical appearance, attire, mannerism, and stammered speech all pointed that he might have lost his normal senses. He was holding one copper plate in his hand, keeping it very close to his bosom. He was very restless. He claimed that he was the owner of vast properties that should have been used for public good, but misused and enjoyed by many for personal gains. He alleged that many had looted his property, depriving benefits to a lot of local poor people.
Many in the village concluded that Adhi Kesavan was a lunatic not to be taken seriously. But, I decided to give him a patient hearing. My inner voice told me my next project was already tied with Adhi Kesavan.