PORALAVOOR ADITHIRI WAS THE NAME of the aged Vaidika that the boy Karthika Thirunal spotted on the ghats of the Kalyani. In his time, Poralavoor Adithiri was a legendary Sōmayāji and a Dviyāji. But there was no way for Karthika Thirunal to know of his eminence.
As the Adithiri drew closer, the boy dutifully performed a Sāṣṭāṅga Namaskaram and stood at a respectable distance. The Adithiri looked at him for a couple of minutes and mistook him for an Ampalavāsi (or Ambalavāsi) or the community of traditional temple-dwellers who live in the precincts of temples and perform various services therein. This is how the Adithiri began the conversation:
“Which is your Varyam or Pisharam, my boy?” (Varyam is a sub-sect of Ampalavāsi. It literally means, “committee or board.” Members belonging to this group typically sat on the committees of temples in a supervisory role. From this flows the familiar surname, “Varier” or “Warrier.” Pisharam was another sub-sect, engaged mostly in teaching the sacred lore of Sanatana Dharma. They were also caretakers of temples. The surname “Pisharody” or “Sharody” is derived from this word. Its etymology lies in the Sanskrit word, Bhiksha or Bhikshu.
“I live in the adjoining house, Acharya. I assume you are a stranger to this place?”
“Yes. I come from the north and I’m going to Thiruvananthapuram. Can you show me a house in this town where I can cook my meals?”
In the deeply traditional climate of that era, Brahmanas in Kerala as elsewhere could only cook and eat their food in the homes of Ampalavāsis.
Karthika Thirunal said, “Please do not worry about that Acharya. I will arrange everything you need. May I kindly know what brings you all the way to Thiruvananthapuram?”
The Adithiri said, “I am a poor man and I have nine daughters. They have all grown up and I need to get them married and it is already too late. I don’t have money. I hope to see the Raja in Thiruvananthapuram and obtain some money to get at least one daughter married.”
“And what is the amount of dowry you have to pay in your hometown?”
“A thousand fanams at the minimum.” (One fanam was about 3 paise in those days)
Prince Karthika Thirunal fell silent when he heard this. After a few moments, he stood up and walked up the ghats and reached his house. The Adithiri performed his ablutions and Nitya-Karmas.
Karthika Thirunal returned after sometime and escorted the Adithiri to his house. He handed a jug of water so that the old man could wash his hands and feet. Then he made him sit on a large and comfortable wooden seat and said, “Acharya, I am a Kshatriya. We have a Brahmana cook at home. You can dine here and stay as along as you wish.”
The Adithiri intuitively knew that this lad was telling the truth. A simple but delicious meal was spread over a plantain leaf in due course.
After the meal, the boy-Prince led him to the Poomukham or portico, bowed to him and said, “Acharya, I want you to do me an honour.” Then, he presented the Adithiri with a piece of silk and a bag containing a thousand fanams. He said, “I hope this will save you the arduous journey to Thiruvananthapuram.”
The Acharya was stunned. Throughout, he had been impressed with this lad’s conduct and upbringing. But this was too much. Even as he was grappling for the appropriate response, Karthika Thirunal clapped his hands. An attendant who was waiting for this signal immediately materialised with another piece of silk and a bagful of coins. And so it went on till there were nine pieces of silk and nine coin-filled bags at the Adithiri’s feet. The next moment, the boy fell prostate at his feet and said, “Acharya, please pardon me for deceiving you like this but I could think of no other way. All I seek is your blessing.”
The old man was deeply moved. This was no occasion for words. He lifted the boy up, seated him on his lap and in the next second, Karthika Thirunal felt warm tears atop his head.
BUT THERE WAS a backstory to how such a young lad could raise this substantial amount of money. Nine thousand fanams. Although Prince Karthika Thirunal had no royal authority, he had exercised it as a birthright, by the sheer dint of the force of his blossoming personal magnetism. He had sent a brusque but unambiguous note to a neighbouring chieftain named Vattaparambil Valiathan: “If you send the items requested in this letter, your obligation will not be forgotten by Our Realm. If you don’t, your refusal too, will not be forgotten.”
Eventually this news reached the ears of Karthika Thirunal’s formidable uncle. Vattaparambil Valiathan was Martanda Varma’s trusted feudatory. He had helped him in the tide-turning conquest of Kayanculam. And Martanda Varma was known for his fierce temper.
When the boy arrived at Travancore, Martanda Varma’s courtiers trembled at the fate that awaited him. Karthika Thirunal was ordered to go directly to Martanda Varma’s bedroom and once he entered it, the door was bolted from outside. Minutes later, his uncle came to him, lifted the boy off the ground and took him in a fond embrace and said with tears in his eyes, “you have preserved the high dignity of our lineage, my son! May the Devatas bless you with a long and illustrious life. Always remember this: No supplicant shall be turned back from the Travancore door. Charity is our household divinity.”
Karthika Thirunal never forgot this.
He succeeded Martanda Varma in 1758 as Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, and outclassed his uncle in piety, justice and magnanimity, and epitomised the epithet showered on him: Dharma Raja.
When Rama Varma was thirty, Tipu Sultan the tyrant of Mysore, invaded Travancore and met with his first humiliation there. In a battle fought across the flooding river of Aluva, his superior force was severely battered by Rama Varma’s nimble but ferocious army. The damage was so extensive that Tipu himself fell into a ditch twice and had to be carried away by his soldiers to safety. That fall broke his leg and subjected him to painful bouts of lameness for the rest of his life. Tipu’s sword, palanquin, royal seals, rings and personal ornaments fell into the hands of Rama Varma’s Diwan, Keshavadas Pillai.
Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma is the same “accursed Raman Nair” that Tipu mentions in his angry letters to his general, Budruz Zaman Khan.
Recalling this victorious battle later in his life, Rama Varma said, “Now I truly feel the blessed tears that the venerable Adithiri had shed over my head.”
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