The nightmare had its own after effects. As trusted by people, the early morning dream petrified Mangamma. She knew someday, her end would be in the hands of her grandson. But that did not stop her from being ambitious and politically active. She was angered beyond words by Sethupathi of Ramanathapuram who had announced autonomy from Madurai, refusing to pay tribute to the Madurai Naiks. Mangamma wanted to teach a lesson to the old Marava and sent a written caution through her trusted company of soldiers to pay the tribute. Sethupathi never wrote back to her, but sent word through the soldiers that he would visit the Queen soon at Madurai. Trusting the cunning Sethupathi, Mangamma waited for him in her capital, anxious for the money.
When he did turn up a month later, Sethupathi showed no notice of getting message. At best he tried to ignore it. He happily ate and slept at the Tamukkam Palace with his aides, visited temples in and around the temple town, yet skirted around the issue. When Mangamma chided him gently that he was getting old and forgetting things, his reply was more diplomatic. “I remember I am old, only when young people like you remind me of my age, Queen,” he said. Mangamma understood his ploy of taking a dig at her inexperience and she fumed inwards. He was after all a guest now and she could not insult him or confront him in the Palace. After enjoying the Madurai hospitality for over a full month, Sethupathi left for Ramanathapuram, loaded with gifts from the Queen- a remembrance of her kind hospitality even to the gravest enemies. Ravi Varma faulted again with his tributes and Mangamma was in dire need of money. Money for all her development works in the Kingdom. She had to revamp the road from Madurai to Tiruchirapuram, build a few bridges across Coleroon in the Cauvery delta region to help agriculture. And canals- she needed many canals to draw water from perennial Cauvery. For all these works, she needed tribute from Ravi Varma. She sought General Veerappa Naik and ordered him to take a force to Travancore to collect the tributes due to Madurai. The army of soldiers, elephants and horses left for Travancore. This was a repeat every year- the forces were lethargic and tired. There was no opposing to the army that entered freely the gates of Kalkulam, the entry point to Travancore Palace. When King Ravi Varma himself welcomed Veerappa Naik with folded arms, the army was totally baffled. With nil resistance, the forces pitched tents within the Kalkulam Fort and were pampered silly by the Travancore forces.
When Ravi Varma sought a private audience with Veerappa Naik, he was confused. Yet, he planned to play along and met the King. Ravi Varma had known fully well that he was forsaken by his Generals last time. Now all he wanted was to quell the domestic struggle for power between his generals. A small favour in return for the tribute that would be paid regularly from now on. Also, he promised half the Kingdom to Madurai, if he got help to crush the revolt. That made Veerappa Naik sit back and think. He did not have time to send message to Mangamma in Madurai and wait for her reply. He had to decide now- what was better for the Kingdom. Greedy that he was, Veerappa Naik accepted the offer. He wanted to go down in history as a great man responsible for annexing half the Travancore Kingdom with Madurai. Swiftly, he organised an elite company of stealth warriors who invaded the homes of every general in the middle of the night with help from the Travancore forces.
With a few men left to guard the Madurai forces camp in Kalkulam, the left were happily chopping off heads of revolting generals in Travancore. What they did not know in the thick of the night was that this was a ploy of Ravi Varma to split the army and attack the separated groups. When the team led by Veerappa Naik returned after attacking the separatists, they found their camp run over and annihilated. Furious, Veerappa Naik and his small team of elite forces thundered into the open gates of Travancore Palace, again a mistake. The Travancore forces that were readily awaiting them with cannons and guns, charred the unsuspecting brigade to death, including Veerappa Naik. Only a few soldiers remained who ran for their dear life. The horses and elephants were captured by the Travancore King and the eloping soldiers were more than happy to be alive. When Mangamma got word of the betrayal by Ravi Varma, she went red with rage. Summoning Narasappaiah, she ordered the forces leave at once to Travancore and capture Ravi Varma, dead or alive. Additional forces from Tiruchirapuram were called and the Naik army in full strength invaded Travancore. Ravi Varma was more than happy now- with his revolting generals dead and gone, Madurai forces driven away, he vacationed in his summer retreat with minimal forces. He never expected a forceful retaliation from the Queen of Madurai- a widowed woman with only a chit of a grandson. He forgot the mighty army that already had the cannons and brave hearts like Narasappaiah. All Narasappaiah wanted was a revenge- a bitter revenge for the death of their elite forces, including Veerappa Naik, who was married to Narasappaiah’s sister Meenamma who now stood a widow. Cornered in his summer retreat with almost an extinct group of soldiers, Ravi Varma had no choice, but fall on Narasappaiah’s feet. This time again, the Madurai army plundered every home of Travancore, carrying back loads of gold and jewellery, hoisted atop their own horses and elephants. When the victorious army reached Madurai, they had shocking news awaiting them, Kumaraiyya and his forces from Mysore had pitched tents near Tiruchirapuram, planning to attack the city. He had conquered the palayams of Coimbatore and Erode enroute Tiruchirapuram by sheer stealth, the Kings of those areas had by themselves paid tributes to the Mysore King Chikka Devaraya. They had travelled split as small groups, feigning a pilgrimage to Rameswaram from Mysore. This was a failure of Madurai spies, they had failed to notify the Queen in advance of the onslaught by the Mysore King. Kumaraiyya had regrouped the forces at the gates of Tiruchirapuram fort and they were getting ready to attack. The forces of Tiruchirapuram were on their way from Travancore to Madurai when they got news of Kumaraiyya’s onslaught. They travelled with lightning speed and by the time they reached Tiruchirapuram, Chikka Devaraya’s forces had been summoned back to Mysore to fight the Marathas who had occupied Mysore. Lady luck was smiling at Mangamma- Travancore had been bought, Chikka Devaraya turned away for the moment, busy confronting the Marathas and Sethupathi tried to feign friendship. She expected no trouble for a few years now, but trouble started from the most unexpected quarter- her own people. The Palace was abuzz with rumours doing the rounds that the Queen was in love with Dalavoy Narasappaiah. Fanned by her own aides, the rumour did its rounds in the streets of Madurai and when she herself was privy to the news, Mangamma was devastated. She carefully avoided Narasappaiah in the private confines of the Palace. He too got wind of the rumours and tried to steer away from her. Though devastated beyond words, Mangamma pulled herself together. She had no time for the gossip mills that worked overtime. She chose to ignore them, ignoring might probably put an end to them, she thought- though in vain. The tongue is sharper than the sword, that she knew. She spent more time in Meenakshiamman temple, adoring the deity and overseeing the free noon meals that was provided at the temple with donations from the Royal Treasury of Madurai. She spent her evenings listening to recitals of Kambaramayana, Devaram and Thiruvasagam. She avoided speaking to her aides other than her trusted Alarmelamma. But little Vijayarenga who had no inkling of the happenings, he longed for his horse riding and sword fighting lessons with the Raja Guru- Narasappaiah. He was the only male permitted beyond the Palace Courtyard and Vijayarenga wished he could spend more time with him. As he grew up, Vijayarenga hated spending more time in the Womens’ Only areas of the palace, he never interacted with men. And he wished he had more friends. Mangamma tried to keep him more company, but felt the little one was moving farther away from her. She then summoned few ministers and generals who had sons the age of Vijayarenga and constructed a summer retreat for the little King in an orchard.
Mangoes from Salem and Erode, guavas from Krishnankovil, jackfruits from Travancore, bananas from Tiruchirapuram- she had all the choicest trees planted in the orchard and was extremely happy when young Vijayarenga took instant liking to the secluded retreat in the orchard brimming with trees and teeming with lives of birds and crickets. The group of passionate young men who visited Vijayarenga often brought him immense happiness. Did Mangamma know this innocuous band of friends would one day conspire against her?
|Tamukkam Palace of Queen Mangamma, presently hosts the Gandhi Museum, Madurai|