மாசில் வீணையும் மாலை மதியமும்
வீசு தென்றலும் வீங்கிள வேனிலும்
மூசு வண்டறை பொய்கையும் போன்றதே
ஈசன் எந்தை இணையடி நீழலே.
The flowing Grace from incomparable feet of the Lord is like the melodious music flowing from Veena, refreshing chillness of the evening moon, soothing touch of the gentle breeze, exhilarating joy of early spring and charming sight of a lake with humming bees circling swaying flowers, all rolled into one.
The above song was not sung by a lakeside on a cool spring evening with the moon in the sky and music in the air but sung by Thirunavukkarasar as he emerged out of burning-hot lime kiln alive after a lock-up for seven days. As Lord had kept him comfortable through that ordeal, as we see from the song, he must be an ananya bhaktha alright, but why the suffix aartha? That we shall see briefly in this blog.
The original name of Thirunavukkarasar was Marul Neekkiyar. He was born in a devout saivite family in Thiruvamur. He had an elder sister by name Thilakavathyar who was a few years older than him. When Thilakavathyar attained age twelve her parents arranged marriage for her with Kalippakaiyar who was a commander in the army. Before the marriage could be celebrated war broke out and Kalippakaiyar had to leave for the front. As the war was going on Thilakavathyar’s father succumbed to a serious illness and her mother also followed him unable to bear the shock of his death. Before she could recover from parents’ loss came the news from the battlefield that Kalippakaiyar had attained a martyr’s death in the battlefield. As the marriage had been agreed to though not celebrated, she still considered him as her husband and did not want to live after his death. But as her brother weepingly attached himself to her legs and cried that she should not take out her life, she decided to live for the sake of her brother but to lead an austere life forsaking all luxuries of life, including ornaments. She spent her time engaged in charity work and service to devotees of Lord Siva.
In the meantime Marul Neekiyar who was interested in the study of various religions was greatly attracted to Jains’ advocacy of Ahimsa. So he converted to Jainism and joined their monastery near Cuddalore, changing his name to Dharmasenar. There he mastered their scriptures and became their chief spokesman in their debate with other religious sects including Buddhism and Saivam. Thilakavathyar distressed by the turn of events wound up her establishment at Thiruvamur and shifted to Thiruvathigai and spent her time in prayer and service to the Lord in Veerattanam temple. Daily she prayed to the Lord that He should bring back her brother to the Saivite fold. One night Lord appeared in her dreams and assured that her brother will come back to her soon but in great distress and she should bring him to the Veerattanam temple, smeared all over with sacred ash and her wish will be granted.
Soon after this Dharmasenar had a severe burning pain in the stomach that was unbearable. The Jain priests tried all medicines and magic in their knowledge, but to no avail. When their efforts failed and he could not stand it any longer, Dharmasenar thought of his sister. He sent a message to her through the cook in the monastery seeking her presence and help. She told the cook to convey to him that she cannot come to the monastery but asked him to come to her. Dharmasenar left the monastery that night without informing anybody relinquishing all the symbols of Jainism. He reached Thiruvathigai and fell down at the feet of his sister pleading that she save him from the excruciating pain. She asked him to surrender to the benevolent Lord Siva and seek his Grace with faith and applied the sacred ash on the burning stomach. Then itself he had a little relief and the next morning it was total when he went to the Veerattanam temple with his sister, fell at the Lord’s feet with his body smeared all over with sacred ash and passionately pleaded with tears in his eye through the song starting with “கூற்றாயினவாறு விலக்ககிலீர்” (Kootrayinavaaru vilakkagaleer i.e. please cure this deadly pain). His pain completely disappeared and a voice rang out that he will be called thereafter Navukkarasu (king of language) in view of the beautiful song he sung, pleading for cure with a promise not to leave His fold thereafter. Now not only the name changed but the person also changed totally. With the mind engaged in Shiva Dhyan, tongue chanting the Panchatchara Mantra “Om Namasivaya” and hand carrying a cleaning instrument for cleaning the temple grounds, Thirunavukkarasu was now a completely transformed person with body, mind and speech totally devoted to the service of the Lord.
When news of this cure and change of faith reached the Jain monastery, the Jain saints there were very much rattled. They feared that the inefficacy of their Mantras and medicine to effect the cure, which could be secured by surrendering to Lord Siva, will undermine faith in their religion not only among the followers but also of the king, a convert to Jain faith. So they rushed to the king and presented a twisted version saying Dharmasenar had enacted a false drama to change faith and thereby had brought discredit to their religion, which should not go unpunished. The king believing them sent his guards to bring Tirunavukkarasu without disclosing the purpose. Thirunavukkarasar refused to accompany them to the court, with the song starting with “நாமார்க்கும் குடியல்லோம்,” (namarkkum kudiyallom i.e we are not citizens of anybody)
The king was furious at this and the Jain saints also added to his anger stating that Dharmasenar's act of blasphemy compounded now by defiance should be suitably punished by confining him to the burning lime kiln. The king agreed and also decreed accordingly. Unperturbed, Thirunavukkarasar entered the kiln with Panchatchara on his lips and Lord Siva’s form in his heart and after seven days when the kiln was opened he walked out safe and sound, to the amazement of the assembled and sang the song we saw in the beginning.
Jain saints told the king that he has survived only through the power of Mantras learnt from them and that he should be punished this time by making him drink poison. The king followed their advice but on the one who has entrusted himself to the Lord who once drank the terrible poison of Aalahala itself to save the Devas, this had no effect. Still the Jain saints did not give up. They persuaded the king to let him be trampled under the elephant’s foot. The elephant instead of crushing him went round him and then charged on the Jains who came to witness the spectacle. They ran to the king and said that if he is allowed to get away with his magic, people will lose respect for the king himself and so he should be punished, this time by drowning in mid-sea with both hands and feet tied and body also tied to a big boulder . As Thirunavukkarasar sank in water, the bonds broke, the boulder turned into a float and on it he triumphantly rode the waves chanting Panchatchara and landed in Thiruppathiripuliyur. He proceeded to Thiruvathigai to offer his grateful thanks to the Lord in Veerattanam temple who had seen him through all these ordeals. In the meantime the king realized the Truth, repented his actions, denounced the Jains, renounced their faith, came and met Thirunavukkarasar and changed over to Saivam.
After worshipping in several temples Thirunavukkarasar came to Sirkazhi to meet the child prodigy Thirugnanasambandar, who had been blessed with the breast milk of Uma Devi as a toddler of three years and who had started singing hymns on Lord Siva from then onwards. Thirugnanasambandar also hearing about the venerable figure of Thirunavukkarasar coming to meet him, went to receive him. When Thirunavukkarasar saw Thirugnanasambandar, he fell at the latter’s feet. The latter lifting the other with his tender hands, fell full-length at the other’s feet calling the much older Tirunavukkarasar as Appar, father. And from then on Thirunavukkarasar was referred to as Appar. Let me also refer to them hereafter as Appar and Sambandar. After spending some time together Appar and Sambandar parted company to go their separate ways, only to meet again at Thirupugalur and travel together to a few places.
When they were staying in different mutts in Tiruvizhimalai with their followers, they found there was a severe famine in that place due to drought caused by the failure of seasonal rains. They prayed for the alleviation of peoples’ sufferings due to drought. Lord appeared in their dreams and said that he will grant them each a gold coin, which they can use individually to provide food for the people. From next morning they found gold coins at designated places which they utilised in feeding the people. Sambandar found that feeding took place earlier in Appar’s place than his. When enquired why the delay in his place, he learned from his people that what he received was flawed coin and so of a lesser value than Appar’s, which was flawless. So when they went to the shop to procure grains, the people from Appar’s place were attended to first and then only they were attended to. Sambandar wondered why this discrimination and then it struck him that services of Appar who served the Lord not only through mind and word like him but also through body, by cleaning the temple gardens wherever he went, received more value than his. He prayed to Lord that he may also be granted a flawless coin and was rewarded similarly thereafter. Soon the rains fell and the sufferings of the people eased. Then only both Appar and Sambandar left the place to continue their pilgrimage.
In Tirumaraikadu, it was Appar’s turn to wonder. In the temple at Tirumaraikadu, the main door was closed and devotees were using a small side door for entering and leaving the temple. On enquiry, they leant that Vedas who once worshipped in the temple, left sealing the door after their worship. Both the saints wanted the people to have the services of the main door. So they decided that Appar will sing and have the door opened and after the worship Sambandar will sing and have the door closed, and thereafter the opening and closing of door can become routine. Appar had to sing 11 hymns to get the door opened, while after Sambandar’s first hymn itself the open door responded and closed. Appar wondered why this discrimination and then cleared his doubt himself that Vedas were quick to oblige the one who had received the milk of Jnanam from Uma Devi herself.
Soon after, they parted ways with Sambandar going to Madurai and Appar going to Kanchi. From Kanchi, Appar went to Kalahasthi and there arose a desire in him to go to the abode of Lord Siva, Mount Kailas. So he went north and travelling with difficulty, enduring hardships he reached the foot of the mountain, worshiping in many shrines on the way. Unable to walk further he started crawling uphill. When that too became difficult for him he tried to roll uphill to reach the top. When he was lying down tired and exhausted with no strength left even for rolling, an elderly Saivite saint with sacred ash smeared all over the body came that way and tried to persuade him to go back after refreshing himself in the pond nearby. Appar declined saying that he will rather lay down the body there itself than go back without the Darshan of Lord in Kailas. The old man disappeared and a voice rang out from the sky instructing him to have a dip in the pond and rise up in Thiruvaiyaru where he will be blessed with the desired vision. Now feeling rejuvenated, he entered the pond and had a dip only to find himself getting up from a pond in Thiruvaiyaru. As he got out of the pond to go to the temple, he saw the whole town transformed into Kailas, with Nandikeswara, Sivaganas, Devas and Apsaras standing in attendance on Lord Siva, who was seated with Parvathi Devi by his side. It was as if whole Kailas was transported to Thiruvaiyaru. Grateful Appar poured out the hymn starting with “மாதர்பிறைக்கண்ணியானை” (mathar piraikkanniyanai i.e the one with the pleasing crescent moon) and ended it with “கண்டறியாதன கண்டேன்” (kandariyadhana kanden i.e I had seen wonderful sights which I had never seen before).
Appar worshipped the Lord in Dasa Marga, surrendering himself to Lord as a slave to his Master. Such was the greatness of Appar that not only time and again Lord came to his rescue when he was tormented by Jains because he had gone back to Saivam, but also transported as it were Kailas to Thiruvaiyaru in answer to his prayers, forgiving his earlier prodigal ways as Dharmasenar when he vigorously refuted the tenets of Saivam . As he came back to the faith praying for relief from his physical distress, “aartha” suffix is added and he is referred to as aartha ananya bhaktha.