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Venden Paari Vallal (Patron King Paari) was a renowned patron of Tamil arts. He reigned during the Sangam era (350 BCE to 200 CE). His kingdom, Parambu Nadu, was often harassed by the three storied kingdoms of the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas.

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Paari’s horses, their tongues lolling, heads bopping in rhythm, were tiring but his pursuers were persistent. The Cholan cohort had spare mounts and, with every change, closed the gap. He wheeled his chariot away from the path and into the trees. Hurling over thick roots in joint jarring bolts, and shakes that loosened his armour, Paari knew that one slip of the digging hooves will lead to a broken leg and send him crashing to the unforgiving ground.

He will not allow himself to be caught by his enemies and dragged through the dusty streets of humiliation. Honour demanded that he end his life but there was one remaining avenue, a slim chance, to make good his escape. These Parambu realms were his kingdom and he knew the lay as intimately as the curves and valleys of his wives.

Reaching the shallow river, Paari snapped the reins and drove his team of gasping sweat sleeked thoroughbreds into the waters. With a great clattering crash of sharp hooves, man, chariot and horses plunged into the swift flow and sent dozens of water fowls fluttering out of the brushes. Ordinarily, entering the stream was a mistake. Not only will the frightened birds give away his position, the gravel strewn river bed would slow him down and even shatter his chariot wheels. Any moment now he expected his axles to disintegrate and wheels to come loose. But he continued to coax his horses. The waters were not only shallow but also narrow and with thick growth on either side, his enemies too had to enter the water. That was what he hoped.

A whistling sound and a sharp whiff of air flew past his ear. Almost immediately, a dull thud followed, which Paari recognised all too well. One of his horses, the lead mare, shuddered and whinnied. A stubby arrow had lodged into its rump. But it was a war horse, accustomed to wounds and pain, and kept plunging forward, its hind muscles tightening and loosening. With every leap, thick blood spurted and darkened the brown glistening coat.

Paari heard a great shout behind him followed by the frightened high pitched neighs of horses. He threw back a glance. His lead pursuer’s mount had buckled, obviously having snapped a leg on the treacherous river bed and sent the man flying ahead. The closely packed horses had smashed into one another and filled the brook with the clamour of cursing men and screaming horses.

This was exactly what Paari had hoped for and the gods had once again rewarded his piety, his philanthropy and righteous living.

He continued round a bend and a small path opened on one bank of the brook. Paari wheeled his chariot and crested smoothly up the gentle slope. He continued to urge his chargers, albeit at a more subdued haste. Then, convinced that the enemy had yielded the chase, he leaned back heavily and brought his horses to a welcomed stop.

He quickly unshackled the team and led the horses, including the mare-she was a tough girl and would mend quickly-in a slow walk. He took advantage of his knowledge of the land and exploited every bit of cover and camouflage. Before long, he came across one of his patrols who were out searching for their king.

Weeks later, when Paari returned to the river with an escort, lush green creepers of morning glory had claimed the royal chariot. He saw this as a sign from the gods of the forests and flora and decided not to retrieve his chariot. His soldiers, impressed, spread the word.

Erudite poets of Paari’s court spun many poems of his philanthropy, a highly regarded trait in ancient Tamilakam (Home of Tamils) and far superior than mere bravery which is expected of all Kshatriyans (warrior class).

Mullaiku ther kodutha Paari – To a climber plant gave, his chariot, Paari.

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In India, even now, a generous soul is described as ‘Paari Vallal’ – synonymous with philanthropy.

Note: The above is an adaptation and dramatization behind the legend. There are other stories of how this legend took root.

*** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2017 ***