Prodigal Ananya Bhaktha
பச்சை மாமலைபோல் மேனி பவளவாய் கமலச்செங்கண்
அச்சுதா ! அமரர் ஏறே ! ஆயர்தம் கொழுந்தே ! என்னும்
இச்சுவை தவிர யான்போய் இந்திரலோகம் ஆளும்
அச்சுவை பெறினும் வேண்டேன் அரங்கமாநகர் உளானே !
Pacchai mamalaipol meni, pavalavay kamalachengkan,
Achchutha! amarar ere! aayar tham kozhunthe! ennum,
Icchuvai thavira yan poy inthira lokam aalum,
Achchuvai perinum venden, Arangama nagar ulane!
O Lord of SriRangam. When I have the soul-filling experience of calling you by your your holy names like, “O Achuta, the one with the body like the great green mountain, the one with lotus eyes and coral coloured lips; O Lord of the divines and the leader of the cowherd race” I don’t desire even the overlordship of even Indra Loka if offered to me.
The above song forms part of Thirumaalai, sung by Thondaradipodi Alwar, one of the twelve Alwars, the haloed group of ananya bhakthas of Lord Vishnu. Thirumaalai contains forty-five pasurams and is acclaimed with a pun on the word “Thirumaal” as “திருமாலை அறியாதார், திருமாலை அறியாதார்”(One who has not learnt Thirumalai does not know Thirumal). The background events leading to this composition is the reason he is named a prodigal ananya bhaktha.
Alwar’s original name was Vipranarayanan. He had a beautiful flower garden in Srirangam, where he used to grow flowers which he gathered with care, and wove into garlands for Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. He was a bachelor and he stayed in a little hut in the garden. He was an ananya bhaktha of the Lord and had no interest in other people or their affairs. One day two sisters, both of them temple dancers were passing by the side of the flower garden, when the younger of the two, by name Devadevi, stopped by to admire the well-kept beautiful garden. As she was going through the garden, she saw Vipranarayanan working in the garden blissfully oblivious of the surrounding. Even when she paused before him deliberately, he did not take notice of her. As a woman who takes pride in her beauty, she is not used to such indifference from young men.
She asked her sister about him and learnt he was Vipranarayanan who had eyes only for the Lord and no woman held any attraction for him. Then she took it as a challenge to make him not only notice her but also to make him her dasa as well, which she conveyed to her sister, who tried to dissuade her. But she failed and left. Devadevi dressed in a simple plain sari and wearing only a Tulasi mala, approached him and told him that she wanted to help him in pushpa kaingaryam and she would do it without in anyway disturbing him. An unsuspecting Vipranarayanan, taken in by her appearance and approach, gladly agreed. She also played her part truly, staying in the background and singing songs on Lord as she went about her work of tending the garden, picking the flowers and weaving the garland.
One day it rained heavily and she stood outside his hut without entering. Vipranarayanan who was doing Puja finished it and came out. He saw Devadevi standing outside the hut, completely drenched. When asked why she did not enter inside, she replied that she did not want to disturb his Puja. This impressed him all the more and he invited her inside the hut and gave his upper cloth for changing into. Changing into the ill-fitting attire, she turned on her full charm, which bowled him over completely. From then on Lord was forgotten and he became Devadevi dasa. Once Devadevi knew he had been hooked she left him stating she wanted to be with her mother. Unable to bear the pangs of separation from her, he followed her to her place.
Once he became attached to her, Devadevi lost interest in him as she had won the challenge. Her mother who was interested in his money only, allowed him to stay with them until he exhausted all his money and then turned him out. Vipranarayanan came to his hut heart-broken and still pining for Devadevi. That night a handsome young man knocked at the door of Devadevi’s house and introducing himself as Vipranarayanan’s disciple, he presented a golden vessel as sent by Vipranarayanan who would be calling on them later in the morning. Devadevi’s mother received it and looking forward to extract more such treasures from him, went to bed.
The next morning when the priests opened the temple doors they found a golden vessel used for Puja missing. They reported it to the king who sent his soldiers looking for it in all the houses. They found it in Devadevi’s house. It was the same vessel delivered by Vipranarayanan’s messenger to their house. When the soldiers learnt about it they went to Vipranarayanan’s place and arrested him. His pleas that he had no disciple and he knew nothing about the vessel went in vain and they put him in prison and reported to the king. The king who had known about Vipranarayanan’s devotion to Lord Ranganatha, was confused and postponed trying him to next day.
That night Lord appeared in King’s dream and told him that Vipranarayanan was innocent and that He only delivered the vessel to Devadevi’s house to help his devotee who was pining for her. Next morning the king himself went to the prison and released Vipranarayanan telling him about the dream and apologizing for suspecting such a great devotee of Lord. Vipranarayanan was deeply moved that Lord had not forgotten him while he has forgotten him totally in his infatuation for Devadevi. He went and prostrated before Lord Ranganatha and cried seeking forgiveness. It is then he sung the 45 pasurams of Thirumaalai in a mood of penitence. This and his only other composition, Thiruppalliezhuchchi figure in the first one thousand of Nalayira Divya Prabhandam, revered as Tamil Veda by Tengalai Vishnavites.
After this incident he returned to the fold of ananya bhakthas of the Lord never to stray again. As he worshipped all the bhaktas of Sri Vishnu and put the dust of their feet on his forehead, he was revered as Thondaradipodi Alwar.