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‘Because of their mother’s untimely demise, I never celebrated my girls’ birthdays. I was cruel to my children, true. But I was a drowning man, reaching for brushes that continued to snap or slip through my fingers. Four grey years came and went without a single sound of laughter to break the gloomy silence. Not a single joyful festivity in the palace. Dreadful. My despondency robbed my poor girls of the joys of life.

‘Therefore, when I made known my wish to celebrate the princesses’ fifth birthday, the whole nation rejoiced. The sun shone again. Flowers bloomed and boasted full colours. Butterflies exploded in their millions. Birds sang, Kabi. The birds which had stricken dumb found their voices. The air throbbed with love and life. It was a time of great happiness. And the people of Parambu enjoyed many days of spontaneous celebrations.’ He threw a look at me and said,

‘In their euphoria, many suggested that I crown myself king.’

‘But you did not,’ I said.

‘I declined for reasons of statecraft,’ said Pari.

‘Prince Warmilan?’

‘Oh no, Uncle had nothing to do with my not giving myself a crown,’ said Pari. Seeing my questioning frown, he said,

‘It is an open secret among the nobility but a secret for those who chose not to know. There are only three crowned kings in all of Tamilakam. The Cheran, the Cholan, and the Pandyan. These kings, the Moo-Vendhar, referred to the smaller kingdoms which littered the periphery of their realms, including Parambu, as Velirs.’

‘I know this story and heard it often enough from others, but would like to hear it from you,’ I said.

‘There are as many versions as there are priests and their interpretations of god, and all of us subject to the vagaries of our oral tradition. And so too the history of the Velirs.

‘My people originated in the north out of the misty memories of mythology wrapped in the history of Dwarka, the ancient city of Lord Krishna. When the ocean reclaimed that heaven on earth, my ancestors moved south and settled in Tamilakam.

‘The Vaanaras, the indigenous people, your people, referred to us as Velirs. Outsiders. People from beyond the fence. Over the years, the word Velir came to mean different things to different communities. As most of our forebears arrived without their women, they intermarried with the Vaanaras, itself a maligned term. We borrowed from your culture as you borrowed from us. But on the political stage, we always remained Velirs. Outsiders. With the demise of Emperor Ravana of Lanka, the Vaanaras exerted and absorbed the weaker clans and formed nations. In time, the more resourceful consolidated their power into the present-day kingdoms of the Cheran and Pandyan, and the empire of the Cholan.’

Much of what Pari said found favour with what I already knew but it was refreshing to hear it from him. For a Velir to accept a crown, the Moo-Vendhar have to acknowledge the coronation. But they never accorded this recognition. If a Velir chieftain dared to conduct a coronation, he risked the wrath of the Moo-Vendhar. The Velir chieftains, Pari included, called themselves kings. But the Moo-Vendhar addressed the chieftains as raj princes. There was no coronation; no yagna, ritual over an open holy flame; no blessing from the gods; and no acceptance as peers to the Moo-Vendhar.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued Monday 9 September 2019