Friday, 31 July 2015

Saint Thyagaraja

The period spanning latter half of 18th century and the former half of the nineteenth century is considered the golden age of Carnatic music, as in this period were born the holy trinity of Carnatic music; Sri Shyma Sastry, Sri Thyagaraja and Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar.  As a strange coincidence all the three were born In Thanjavur district, the first two in Tiruvarur and the third in Govindapuram. Of the three, Sri Thyagaraja who is also known as Thyagabrahmam comes of a Telugu Brahmin family of scholars who shifted south when Vijayanagar Empire fell to Muslim invasion. Thyagaraja came of a highly cultured family of scholars. His grandfather Giriraja Kavi was a poet and musician, attached to the Royal court of Thajavur. His father Ramabrahmam was a Vedic scholar, who gave musical discourses on puranas and Ithihasas. 

Shortly after his birth, his father had shifted from Thanjavur to Thiruvaiyaru, on the banks of the River Cauvery. Sri Thyagaraja became well versed in Sastras under the guidance of his father while his mother Seethamma encouraged him to sing devotional songs. He studied Sanskrit, astrology and was also well versed in his mother tongue, Telugu.  He started learning music under Sonti Venkataramanayya, one of the foremost singers of the day, from his very early age.  He was given sacred thread at the age of eight. By that time itself he had become well versed in Jayadeva’s Ashtapathi and in the Keerthanas of Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramadas and Purandaradasa. He had also started composing kritis in Telugu from that age. His objective while practising music was purely devotional, as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of classical music.  He did not want to use his musical talents to make money or make a name as simplicity, spirituality, vairagya, and sense-control marked his lifestyle. 

He was a great devotee of Sri Rama and he had the good fortune of being initiated by one mahatma, Ramakrishna Yatindrar, in Sri Rama Taraka Mantra who asked him to chant it 96 crore times which he also faithfully carried out in 21 years with rigorous chanting of 1,25,000 Namas every day. One day when he was chanting he heard the knock on the door. He opened the door only to see in his doorsteps young Sri Rama as he was when he followed Maharishi Viswamitra to protect his yaga from desecration by asuras. With overwhelming devotion out poured from him the kriti in Ataana  “Ela nee daya radhu----”.  Though the sight of  Sri Rama disappeared from his physical eyes it did not from his mind and from that day he started worshipping daily the family idol of Sri Rama with Laksmana and Sita Devi with great fervour, singing kritis.  His attachment was for Lord only and his desire was for His Grace only.  So when his father died, and assets were divided among brothers he took as his share only the idol of Sri Rama with Sri Lakshmana and Sita Devi. As his attachment was only for the Lord and not for worldly riches, he did not claim anything else.

Sri Thyagaraja married, at the age of eighteen, a girl called Parvati who died without leaving any children. He then married her sister, Kanakamba.  A daughter, Seetalakshmi, was born to them but his lifestyle did not change.  He was satisfied with what he got in Unchavritti, and did not hanker for any patronage or favours from the rich and powerful.  Though many people adored him for his kritis, he had also his detractors who were commenting that his music, born of devotion is only for laymen who do not have knowledge of music and not for elite pundits. When this comment reached his ears his comment was only in the form of kriti in Danyasi “Sangeeta jnanamu Bhakthi Vina-----“

Now an incident happened which silenced his detractors and enhanced his reputation.  One day a sanyasi came to his house.  He told Sri Thyagaraja that he had come for special biksha and requested him to sing for him first. Sri Thyagaraja gladly entertained him with his kritis and after a while, the sanyasi gave him a book for safe custody until he returns after his anushtanams and left.  Sri Thyagaraja waited for him to return after anushtanams and when he did not come back even after a while, went in search of him.  He did not find him anywhere.  As he did not want to eat without feeding the guest, he went to bed that night fasting.  That night in his dream Devarishi Narada appeared and said that he came as a sanyasi only to hear him and the book he had given is for him only.  Sri Thyagaraja woke up with a start and saw the book he had received for custody was the book on swaras, “Swararnavam”.  Gratitude to Divine Guru flowed out in the form of kriti in Bhairavi,Naradha Muni Guru Raya ---“

Now his fame started spreading and he got disciples to learn from him but his life style did not change.  Unchavritti and  puja in the forenoon and classes to disciples, pravachanam, Bhajan and  Aradhana in the afternoon was the routine. Now an incident happened that made his brother who already had a grievance that he was not encashing his talents and fame, to get angry with him.  King Serfoji of Thanjavur, who wanted him to adorn his court as royal vidwan, invited him to the court, sending a palanquin with royal honours.  His brother was delighted to hear the news as this honour would bring royal grants of land and money that will enrich their lives and so he advised his brother to accept it and move to Thanjavur.  But Sri Thyagaraja who was not enamoured of wealth and honours saw the royal court only as golden prison taking him away from his Rama. So he refused the royal invitation politely with the kriti in KalyaniNidhi chala Sukhama----“. 

The king accepted his refusal gracefully, respecting him all the more for his devotion and detachment, but his brother could not accept his rejection.  The infuriated brother vented his anger on the idol of worship by throwing it in River Cauvery one midnight. Sri Thyagaraja was overpowered with grief when he found the idol missing the next morning and he started looking for it here, there and everywhere and was immersed in grief without proper food, rest and sleep for days.  Even his brother was taken aback and regretted his action. A few days later Sri Rama appeared in Sri Thyagaraja’s dream and indicated where the idol could be found. Sri Thyagaraja waking up with a start, rushed to the place revealed and there in the river-bed discovered the idol buried in sand. He danced in delight singing the kriti in BilahariKanugontini Sri Ramuni Nedu-----“

His brother now reformed also joined him in his Bhajans and Aradhana.  Many eminent people were drawn to him and they visited Thiruvaiyaru to meet him and hear him.   Muthuswamy Dikshithar, one of the trinity of Carnatic music, met him many times and discussed the nuances of Carnatic music.  The son of Shyama Sastry, the other member of the Trinity, joined as his disciple.  One day a visitor came to see him when his disciples were singing a kriti in Aabhogi.  When Sri Thyagaraja learnt the visitor was from Mayavaram, he asked the visitor whether he knew Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar who had written the musical drama on Nandanar.  And the visitor was none other than the Bhagavathar.   Then in the course of his talk, Sri Thyagaraja asked him whether he had composed any kriti in Aabhogi.   Bhagavathar did not reply immediately  but that night composed the Kriti in Aabhogi  “ சபாபதிக்கு வேறு தெய்வம் சமானமாகுமா ---“ and sang this kriti next day before Sri Thyagaraja  and won his appreciation. 

At the request of Sri Upanishad Brahmam, his father’s friend who was living in Kanchipuram, Sri Thyagaraja left on a pilgrimage for the first time with his disciples.  After staying for a few days in Kanchipuram, visiting various temples there and singing Kritis on Lord Varadaraja, and Devi Kamakshi, he went to Tirupathi. At the time he went to the temple the curtain had been drawn and he could not have the Darshan of the Lord.  He saw the curtain as his accumulated sins that come in the way of his vision of the Lord and sang in anguish the kriti in Gowli PantuTera Teeyaga Radha ---“, with a prayer to Lord to remove the inner screens of pride, arrogance and jealousy from him.  The curtain fell down and he had Divya Darshan of the Lord. 

On his return besides visiting Tiruvottiyur, Sholinghur and Chennai, he also stayed at Kovur, a Siva Sthala, accepting the hospitality of the local landlord, Sundaresa Mudhaliar  When they were leaving Kovur, Mudhaliar secretly placed in his palanquin thousand gold coins, telling the disciples to reveal it to him only on reaching his place.  When they were journeying through the forest in the night, thieves surrounded them and at that time only disciples told him about the money.  Sri Thyagaraja said nonchalantly that it was Rama’s money and started singing the kriti in DurbarMundhu Venuka------“  Suddenly the thieves dispersed as quickly as they had come but in the morning they came back.  This time they fell at the feet of Sri Thyagaraja and prayed they meet again the two handsome princes who were guarding his palanquin with bow and arrow.  Sri Thyagaraja knew it was Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana who were guarding his palanquin and tearfully congratulated them on their good fortune to have the vision of Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana.  On learning this they completely reformed as Rama bhakthas and joined the palanquin bearers in carrying the palanquin of Sri.Thyagaraja for the rest of the journey.
On his return he continued his Rama Nama Sankeertan more vigorously in Thiruvaiyaru till his death.   Sri Thyagaraja took sanyasa towards the end of his life and attained samadhi on 6th January, 1847.  Before his death Lord Sri Rama appeared before Him and assured Him that he will join the Lord within a few days.  This Sri Thyagaraja conveys in one of his last kritis, in ManohariParithapamu kani Aadhina Palukula marichithivo----", where he asks the Lord “Have you forgotten the words of assurance which you, seeing my anguish, lovingly expressed when you were on the golden boat on the river Sarayu in the company of the incomparable Sita, the assurance that you take me to you in another ten days." The Lord had not forgotten and it happened on the Pushya Bahula Panchami day in Prabhava.

On this Pushya Bahula Panchami day every year, thousands of people and hundreds of Carnatic musicians gather at his Samadhi in Thiruvaiyaru to sing in unison the Pancharatna Kritis, his immortal five gems of kritis, with accompanying artists on veenas, violins, flutes etc. as a climax to week – long festival of music commemorating the memory and works of this divinely blessed giant of Carnatic music.   His life was a confluence and symphony of three streams - spirituality, saintliness and sangeetha.  The divine words came vibrating from his soul as a moksha sadhana.  The goal of his music was to lay bare his soul at the feet of Sri Rama. Apart from thousands of songs of kriti type, of which only 700 are available now, he had composed Utsava Sampradaya Keertanas and Divya Nama Sankeertanas which are sung in devotional congregations.  He has also created two operas: Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka charitram.  While some of his kritis are in Sanskrit, the majority of them, including the operas, are in Telugu only.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Ramalinga Adigal

Ramalinga Adigal who is commonly known as Vallalar  was born on  05.10.1823 at Marudhur, a village 20 kms from Chidambaram in TamilnaduHe was the youngest of the five children of Ramiah pillai, who was a teacher in the local school and an ardent devotee of Lord Siva.  He was named Ramalingam.  The year after his birth, his father passed away and his mother Chinnammaiar shifted with children to her mother’s place near Ponneri.  After two years she again shifted the family to Chennai to stay with her eldest son, Sabapthy, who was working as a teacher there. When Ramalingam was five years old, Sabapathy put him to school.  But Ramalingam had no interest in formal education and he preferred to spend his time in the precincts of local Murugan temple known as Kandakottam.  Being a teacher himself, Sabapthy was upset with what he considered as the self-destructive behaviour of his younger brother and as a punitive measure he instructed his wife, Parvathi, not to give him any food. Parvathi being a compassionate person secretly fed him and gently prevailed upon him to pursue his studies at home. Ramalingam relented on condition that he is given a separate room which was agreed to.

Now in the solitary confines of the room Ramalingam set up a mirror and in front of it lit a small lamp and started mediating before it.   Unlike the other children of his age, he was totally disinterested in the usual games and pleasures of childhood.  He was proficient in Tamil language and his inclination was totally towards God.  He could compose wonderful devotional songs from a very early age of nine. Sitting before a mirror and meditating and composing poems and visiting the Kandakottam temple became the daily routine. He felt intensely devotional and poured out his devotion in the form of poems like Deiva Mani Malai, Kandar Sarana Pathu etc. One day Sabapathy who used to give religious discourses could not attend one engagement due to ill-health and he requested Ramalingam to convey the message of his inability to perform to the organisers.  As the organisers could not make alternative arrangements they requested Ramalingam to take up the role of his brother. A reluctant Ramalingam took the stage. His brilliant exposition and uninterrupted flow of words while enunciating a verse from the `Periyapuranam', and his brilliant exposition of Saiva Siddhantha kept the audience spell bound and awestruck.  “No ordinary person can perform a divine discourse as effortlessly and magnificently as Ramaligam” was the remark from the audience. Sabhapathy on coming to know of this felt proud of him and also ashamed that he could not recognize the greatness of his own brother.

Now his brother recognized that Ramalingam was a precocious child genius and let him carry on his routines undisturbed. The family also tried to anchor him to worldly life by getting him married.  Due to their insistence he married Danammal, his sister’s daughter. But he had no heart in the marriage and on the night he was supposed to consummate the marriage, Ramalingam recited his favourite work, Manickavasagar’s Tiruvachakam, to the bride. Marriage was no distraction from his spiritual yearning and religious activities and he did not lead an active married life. 

In 1858, Ramalingam accompanied by a few spiritually oriented friends and a disciple, journeyed southwards towards his birthplace. After worshipping in temples in places like Vaitheeswarankoil, Tiruvaarur, Seerkazhi and Chidambaram, he settled at Karunguzhi, near Chidambaram, where the village official of Karunguzhi, Venkata Reddiar, placed his house at his disposal. During his stay there Ramalingam used to be writing poems day and night.  On one day the people of the house had gone out to a nearby village and stayed there itself that night.  Ramalingam, whom we shall refer to as Adigal hereafter, was alone and writing.  As he was writing the lamp ran out of oil and absorbed in writing, he poured the contents of the vessel left by his side without looking into it, into the lamp and continued writing the whole night. The vessel had contained only water for his use which he had not noticed.  Yet the lamp continued burning on water.  Next day when the family members returned home they found the vessel empty and the lamp filled with water and burning.  After this miracle the people who were revering him as saint started to look upon him as God. 

There are also many other miracles attributed to him here and elsewhere. People now started seeing him not only as a saint and a poet but also as a mystic who can perform miracles to help them.   Adigal was not against performing miracles, as they formed the powers and plays of the Divine. However he was not for miracle mongering. But many started flocking to him not attracted by his teachings but only by his miracles and for deriving benefit from his power of Siddhis. So he later remarked regretfully towards the end of his life “கடை விரித்தேன், கொள்வாரில்லை (I opened the shop, only to find there were no buyers)

Adigal  gave beautiful expression to his devotion and his teachings through his poems. He composed many poems and 5818 of them divided into six Thirumurais were published under the title ‘திருவருட்பா”(Thiruvarutpa) i.e. Divine song of Grace, in 1867 by his first disciple, Velayutha Mudaliar, with his permission.  Thiruvarutpa is considered as an outstanding work of literature and of soul-stirring devotion, like Thiruvachakam, the work Adigal admired most.  Disciples thronged to hear these poems and drew immense inspiration from them.  There is an interesting incident connected with the name ‘Arutpa’.  Arumuga Navalar of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, an eminent Saiva Siddhanta scholar, filed a suit against Adigal in the court of the District munsif at Manjakuppam praying for a decree for the withdrawal of the name ‘Arutpa’ by the defendant, contending that it is ‘Marutpa’ (hymns of illusion) only.  On the day of hearing, Navalar was present in the court before time. Soon the Munsif resumed his chair and the defendant was called by name. Adigal entered the hall and the plaintiff, Navalar, stood in reverence and greeted Adigal with folded hands.  Munsif himself got up from the chair and paid reverence to Adigal automatically. After hearing the arguments from both sides, Navalar was asked why he stood up for Adigal and he admitted that Adigal was a nice and noble person blessed with mystic powers. The court in its judgement held that ‘Arutpa’ was a valuable treasure to the world of Tamil devotional literature and it is an outcome entirely based on Divine inspiration and also cited Navalar’s opinion of Adigal and his reverence to Adigal.  The court also held that in as much as it is admitted that Adigal is a wise spiritual soul, it cannot be argued that his renderings were of a worldly nature. So it decreed the case in favour of the defendant. The district munsif is the one who later became an eminent judge of Chennai High court, Justice Muthuswami Iyer. 

 In 1865, Adigal formed the ‘Sanmarga Sangh’ to preach his principles of one God, compassion towards fellow beings, jeeva karunyam, and adherence to vegetarianism, annadhanam etc.  In 1867, Vallalar established Dharmasala at Vadalur as a centre to give hospitality to the fatigued travellers, food to the indigent elders and medical aid to the patients without resources.  This Dharmasala continues to feed the poor every day since then and the kitchen fire has not been put out since it was first lit. As people started thronging the place at Vadalur, Adigal in search of solitude shifted to Mettukuppam, a village 5 kms from Vadalur. The hut where he stayed was named by him as ‘Siddhi Valagam’ which means ‘Place of Attainment’. Here he continued his long fasts and meditation and he also used to disappear and reappear without anybody knowing his whereabouts.

One day Adigal declared his wish to build a temple according to a design made by him. The devotees started work on it. It was inaugurated on January 25. 1872, and was called Sathya Jnana Sabhai.  This is not a temple in the usual sense as no offerings of fruits or flowers could be made, and no blessings were given. It was open to people of all castes except for those who ate meat, who can only worship from outside.  It was hexagonal shaped and had a lamp in its main altar. Daily pujas were performed for this lamp only. Puja consisted of one ritual only i.e. Deepa aradhana. There is a mirror in front of the lamp and the altar is behind curtains of black, blue, green, red, golden and white and multi colours, representing the veils of ignorance. When the curtains were removed, the Jyothi could be seen through the mirror.  Adigal lit the lamp on the inaugural day and it continues to burn to this day. There are no other rituals inside this Jnana Sabhai except the simple burning of camphor. There is a board restricting entry to vegetarians only.  The அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி அகவல் (Arutperunjothi Agaval) of Adigal is engraved here. 

In 1873 he started the movement Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Sathya Sangam, giving collectively to those present the "அருட்பெரும் ஜோதி” (ArutPerum Jothi) Mahamantra.  He said God is "அருட்பெரும் ஜோதி" and He is personification of mercy and knowledge. He said the path of compassion and mercy is the only path to God. He explained Samarasam as the the concept that encompasses all religious thoughts and respects all faiths and religions; Suddham as standing for purity and sublimity that is achieved through Indriya Ozhukkam, Karana Ozhukkam, Jeeva Ozhukkam, and Athma Ozhukkam;  Sanmargam standing for right and truthful path i.e. the one where there is no distinctions between humans. He underlined the principles which formed the foundation of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam as:
1)  God is one. He is ArutPerum Jyothi, the Vast Grace of Light.
  2) All are children of one God and there is no caste, religious or regional differences.
  3) One should recognize the divinity in every soul, respect it and live in peace and prosperity, in a spirit of love and unity.
  4) Compassion towards all fellow beings and compassion towards all lives such as animals, birds etc. should form the basis of all actions.
  5) To reach God, tread the path of simplicity and humility and not through rituals or extravagant ways of worship. 

  The essence of his teachings he outlined as பசித்திரு, தனித்திரு, விழித்திரு” (Pasithiru, Thanithiru Vizhithiru);  பசித்திரு representing the hunger for Moksha, தனித்திரு the freedom from delusions and விழித்திரு watchfulness over senses.

  On Thursday the 30th January, 1874 he told his disciples that he would be leaving his body and entering all the bodies of creation and asked them to continue the lamp worship as laid down by him leading a life of compassion, purity and simplicity.  After taking leave of all those present he locked himself inside the room in the Siddhi Valagam.  The news that Adigal had locked himself up in his room became known widely and it gave rise to all sorts of rumours necessitating Government intervention.  When the officials broke open the door there was not any trace of Ramalinga Adigal in the room. The police examined Siddhi Valagam and its surroundings extensively and later the collector and Revenue Member conducted an enquiry and it was finally concluded that there was no evidence to suspect any foul play as nothing could be found ‘’to lend the least support for any sort of suspicion’’. His disappearance was gazetted in Government records. His disciples concluded that he had merged with the Great Light of Grace, changing his body into subtle, invisible deathless body or as we would put it, realized total union with God.
   Ramalinga Adigal was a revolutionary bhaktha who took the role of a reformer seeing the many ills plaguing the society. Steeped in ignorance, people were following certain outmoded customs, dogmas, beliefs and practices. He felt the need of the hour was transformation in socio-religious practices changing wrong concepts. He wanted everyone to live in the spirit of universal brother-hood, showing compassion towards all lives. He was opposed to superstitions and rituals. He perceived God not as an identifiable image, not necessarily in the form of an idol or form restricted to a class or religion. He perceived God as all-pervading Divine Power. So he introduced the universal and uniform concept of Jyothi worship and Suddha Sanmarga besides advocating a casteless society and preaching that path to Moksha was through service to mankind only.  He says in one of his songs:
  சாதியிலே மதங்களிலே சமயநெறி களிலே
சாத்திரச்சந் தடிகளிலே கோத்திரச்சண் டையிலே
ஆதியிலே அபிமானித் தலைகின்ற உலகீர்
அலைந்தலைந்து வீணேநீர் அழிதல்அழ கலவே
நீதியிலே சன்மார்க்க நிலைதனிலே நிறுத்த
நிருத்தமிடும் தனித்தலைவர் ஒருத்தர்அவர் தாமே
வீதியிலே அருட்சோதி விளையாடல் புரிய
மேவுகின்ற தருணம்இது கூவுகின்றேன் உமையே


Monday, 20 July 2015


Kediliyappa Pillai was a minister in the court of Vijayaranga Sokkanatha Nayagar who ruled from Trisirapuram, now called Tiruchirapalli.  Kediliyappa Pillai had given in adoption his first born to his elder brother, who had no children.  He got a second child only after long years of prayer to Thayumaneswarar and so he named the child Thayumanavar.  Thayumanavar was taught Tamil and Sanskrit, and he was a keen student of Vedanta and Siddanta, learning quickly Upanishads and Siva Jnana Bodham, besides Tiruvachakam, Thevaram and other works of Saivite saints.  Besides the study of sastras and religious literature, he was also seeking a Guru, who will satisfy his spiritual thirst. He preferred solitude to company, reflection to reading, introspection to seeking out and spent time in meditation and prayer at rock-temple. 

When Thayumanavar was in teens, Kediliyappa Pillai passed away and the king now requested Thayumanavar to take up his job, as he was impressed by his scholarship and spiritual disposition.  He took up the new responsibility but continued with it his quest for a Guru and his spiritual pursuits. In his quest for a Guru, he used to engage in discussion with any sage, asking them searching questions but could not convince himself to adopt any one of them as his Guru.  One day he saw at the entrance to the shrine of Lord Dakshinamurti, a Sage sitting in deep meditation, looking graceful. He approached the Sage with great reverence, eager to engage in discussion, putting his usual questions. But at a glance from the sage, his nerves failed him and he fell at the Sage’s feet speechless.  If he was lost for words, the Sage, known as Mouna Guru Arulananda Sivachari, also did not speak. With tears of joy pouring from his eyes, Thayumanavar poured out his heart to the Sage and requested the Sage to take him as his disciple. Mouna Guru, who speaks very rarely now took him aside and told him to continue in family life for the present and that he would meet him again when the time was ripe and then initiate him into Sanyasa.  In the meantime his advice was “Summa iru” meaning be quiet in body, mind and speech.  Thayumanavar parted from him reluctantly, to pursue his spiritual exercises more vigorously along with his ministerial duties. 

At this time an incident happened which made the king and the people regard him more as a spiritual master than as the country’s minister.  One day as he was in the court handling an important paper, he suddenly squeezed and threw it down unconsciously.  The king was aghast and the people in the court felt he had shown disrespect to the king.  He suddenly recovered, apologised and tried to put matters right without offering any explanation. What had happened was; though he was bodily present in the court, mentally he was in the shrine of Devi Akilandeswari at Tiruvanaikovil.  There the dress of Devi caught fire and he had acting on impulse quickly put out the fire by squeezing the affected part. This had been noticed by the Sivachariar who could not react as quickly as Thayumanavar.  When the Sivachariar reported this incident to the king, the king realized Thayumanavar’s mystic powers. Then on he became king’s minister cum master.

Soon after, the king passed away and  his queen Minakshiammai ascended the throne.  She wanted him to continue not only as her minister but also become her paramour as well. So one night he left Tiruchirapalli without informing anybody and went beyond the limits of the kingdom to Ramanathapuram.  Here he preferred to stay aloof and practice inner solitude and silence. But this could not last for long as his brother Sivachidambaram Pillai and cousin Arulaiyappa Pillai having heard of his departure from Tiruchirapalli, traced him to Ramanathapuram and entreated him to come to Vedaranyam and settle in household life.  Then he remembered the advice of the Guru at Rock fort temple and so went with them to Vedaranyam.  

There he married Mattuvarkuzhali, a fair and chaste woman who was a good companion to him in his life of Yoga and meditation.  He read to her ancient books of wisdom and taught her meditation.  They led a simple life, a life of purity and meditation.  Thayumanavar, like his father earlier to becoming minister, supervised the local temple.  They had a son who was named as Kanakasabapathi.  The duration of his household life was short as Mattuvarkuzhali passed away soon after. Thayumanavar placed the child under the care of his brother and waited for his Guru to come as promised. And the Guru came one day when he was meditating on the sea shore near Vedaranyam. Satisfied with the spiritual advancement of his disciple, the Guru ordered him to take to ascetic life, and instructed him in the higher stage of the Yoga, with a warning that he should not be carried away by the Siddhis that would unfold themselves but keep to the illumining and blissful road leading to Oneness with the Consciousness and Bliss of the Supreme. After initiating him in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Guru left him.

Thayumanavar left Vedaranyam as a wandering ascetic clad in loin cloth only, visiting various shrines, singing the glory of the Lord.  Many songs and places later he arrived back at Ramanathapuram.  This time he was given a grand welcome with royal honours. Thayumanavar rejected all royal honours and preferred to spend his life in a garden hut in Lakshmipuram.  There he practiced Nirvikalpa Samadhi in silence and was mostly in a state of trance. From that highest state of divinity, he poured out his spiritual intuitions in sublime verses. He wrote them on palm leaves. His disciples Arulayya and Kodikkarai Jnani copied and sang them to the public. The songs spread like wild fire. He wrote in silence, lived in silence and immersed himself in Divine Silence avoiding all publicity.  He suddenly felt one day that his mission was over and he wanted to shed the body. He entered into his room and closed the door, leaving a note outside wherein he entreated his disciples to live in silent meditation and enjoy the inner bliss. In the night when he did not appear for supper, the disciples went to call him and saw the note. They gently called and knocked. Getting no response they broke open the door and entered the room to find only the lifeless body with the face as serene as ever. The disciples adorned the body and took it in a procession singing his songs, in which the King and all the prominent local people joined and they later buried the body.

Thayumanavar was a great saint, philosopher and poet.  Like the saying “சாத்திரத்திற்கு திருமந்திரம், தோத்திரத்திற்கு திருவாசகம்Thayumanavar’s songs are said to be “சாத்திரத்திற்கு சாத்திரம், தோத்திரத்திற்கு தோத்திரம் as they combine both sastra teaching as well as praise of Lord. His songs are couched in simple language easily understandable by all and in that way he is said to be the forerunner of  Bharathiyar and Vallalar.  His key teaching is to discipline the mind, control desires and meditate peacefully.  Of the songs he wrote 1454 are said to be available now.  His philosophy is called Advaita Siddantham as his teachings outline Sivadvaitam.  He sees Consciousness as one’s Self;
பாராதி பூதம் நீ அல்லை – உன்னிப்பார் இந்திரியம் கரணம் நீ அல்லை
ஆராய் உணர்வு நீ என்றான்  (ஆனந்தக்களிப்பு)

He sees Lord as perfect bliss pervading everything and so he refers to Lord as பார்க்குமிட மெங்குமொரு நீக்கமற நிறைகின்ற பரிபூர ணானந்தமே. (பரிபூரணானந்தம்) and he says elsewhere
எங்கெங்கே பார்த்தாலும் எவ்வுயிர்க்கும் அவ்வுயிராய்
அங்கங் கிருப்பதுநீ அன்றோ பராபரமே. (பராபரக்கண்ணி 84.)
A few of his songs from பராபரக்கண்ணி which explains his philosophy, his teachings regarding mind discipline are as follows:
எல்லாரும் இன்புற் றிருக்க நினைப்பதுவே
அல்லாமல் வேறொன் றறியேன் பராபரமே. (221.)
ஒன்றே பலவே உருவே அருவேயோ
என்றே அழைப்பதுன்னை என்றோ பராபரமே. (118).
தன்னை அறிந்தால் தலைவன்மேற் பற்றலது
பின்னையொரு பற்றும்உண்டோ பேசாய் பராபரமே. (94).
சினமிறக்கக் கற்றாலுஞ் சித்தியெல்லாம் பெற்றாலும்
மனமிறக்கக் கல்லார்க்கு வாயேன் பராபரமே.(169).
கொள்ளித்தேள் கொட்டிக் குதிக்கின்ற பேய்க்குரங்காய்க்
கள்ளமனந் துள்ளுவதென் கண்டோ பராபரமே.(172.)
உள்ளபடி யாதுமென உற்றுணர்ந்தேன் அக்கணமே
கள்ளமனம் போனவழி காணேன் பராபரமே. (275.)
The songs of Thayumanavar are sparks of Divine essence and music of the inner Soul.   They were a favourite with Ramna Maharishi and he was sometimes so emotionally moved when he read out some of the songs of Thayumanavar, that he would be unable to continue; records Devraja Mudaliar. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015


Arunagirinathar was an ananya bhaktha of Lord Muruga whose devotional work, Thiruppugazh, is well known for its poetical and musical qualities, as well as for its religious, moral and philosophical content.   Pugazh means glory and Lord’s glory is Thiru Pugazh, Thiru standing for the Lord. All devotional works hail the glory of the Lord only but Arunagirinathar’s work only has the unique distinction of being called Thiruppugazh because it alone captures in rhythmic beauty that can be set to beats the glory of Lord Muruga completely and magnificently.  Besides Thiruppugazh and other works like Kandar Alangaram, Kandar Anthadhi and Kandar Anubhuthi, on Lord Muruga, he had also composed works on  the weapon, vehicle and flag of the Lord i.e. Vel, Mayil and Seval, virutham and vakuppu.

Arunagirinathar was born in Tiruvannamalai as the son of a courtesan called Muthammai.   He had a elder sister, Aadhi, who was very fond of him. She brought him up after her mother’s death, in a rich cultural and religious tradition. But she was indulgent towards him and did not correct him when he strayed into the company of courtesans. So as he grew up he spent most of his time in their houses and squandered over them all the properties inherited from his mother.  He used his talents to write poems on rich people and the money he thus earned also he spent on his sexual pursuits. When that was also not enough, taking advantage of his sister’s affection, he persuaded her to part with her jewels and her other possessions, in his pursuit of sexual favours from courtesans. Soon his body became diseased and his sister had also run out of money and jewels.  And the matters came to a head one day when she had nothing left except the clothes she was wearing and he was also demanding money. Still loving him and not able to stand his suffering she offered him her own body, saying, 'If your lust is so insatiable, you can use my body for your sexual satisfaction as I am also a woman'. 

These words deeply shocked and shamed Arunagirinathar.  He decided to commit suicide by jumping off one of the gopurams in the Arunachaleswarar temple. He climbed up the Vallala gopuram of the Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar temple and jumped down. Instead of hitting the granite blocks beneath, he found himself landing in the cradled hands of a Saviour. The Saviour was none other than Lord Muruga.  The touch of the Lord transformed him, physically and mentally, from a debaucherous, diseased person to an ardent devotee, pure in mind and body.  The disease in the body had gone and malams in his mind had been washed away. The Lord wrote the shatakshara on his tongue with His Vel, gave him a Japamala and also set out his task as singing songs in His glory. As Arunagirinathar struggled for words overwhelmed by the Grace of the Lord, Lord himself spelt out the first word for the first song as “Muthai Tharu”(முத்தைத்தரு).  Having received the inspiration, Arunagirinathar poured out the famous song:  “முத்தைத்தரு பத்தித் திருநகை  அத்திக்கிறை சத்திச் சரவண ----- (Muthai tharu pathi thiru nagai, athikkirai sathi saravarana ----), with words flowing freely and ideas coming automatically.

Having got a new direction and inspiration, he set out on his holy mission of visiting different temples and composing songs of Thiruppugazh.  He travelled throughout India, still singing his songs, and visited many of the country's famous pilgrimage centres. Traditional accounts say that he composed more than 16,000 songs in praise of Lord Muruga.  Most of them have been lost, but more than 1,300 of the surviving ones had remained in manuscript form for a number of years. ignored and forgotten.  In 1871 Subramania Pillai, a District Munsif, had the opportunity to hear the rendering of a Thiruppugazh song while he was on a tour of Chidambaram. Captivated by the song, he set out on a mission to search for the entire body of Tiruppugazh songs. He toured all over south India, collected manuscripts, including palm leaves, assembled the texts and published them in two volumes, the first in 1894 and the second in 1901. After his demise, his son Chengalvaraya Pillai brought out a new edition of the songs.

In all Arunagirinathar visited over 216 holy shrines of Muruga, Siva and other deities.  At every temple, he composed a song highlighting the glory of the Lord and the unique features of the shrine. He did not believe in any differences on the basis of Saivite or Vaishnavite thought.  He addressed Muruga by relating him to Lord Vishnu, as the son-in-law of Perumal.  He had also described the acts of valour and playful pranks of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations, Rama and Krishna. It is as if he tried to bring about a unity between these two schools of thought at a time when differences between Saivites and Vaishnavites were strong.

After his extensive pilgrimages, Arunagirinathar returned and settled down in Tiruvannamalai to spend the remainder of his life there.  We shall see two incidents that happened during this period.  The local king Pravuda Devaraya conferred on him several honours.  This provoked the jealousy of a scholar in the court, Sambandandan, who had established himself as a favourite of the king in the court.  His jealousy motivated him to hatch a plot against Arunagirinathar and he hoped to belittle Arunagirinathar in the eyes of the king.  Sambandandan had done great tapas earlier in his life and obtained a boon from Kali Devi, his Ishta Devata, that for a period of twelve years she would appear before him whenever he summoned her. On the strength of this, Sambandandan challenged Arunagirinathar to a competition in which both would try to make his chosen deity manifest in a form that would be visible to everyone, with the condition that loser should leave the kingdom forever. The competition was held in public in the Arunachaleswara Temple, with the king also in attendance.  Sambandandan, full of confidence, undertook to manifest his Ishta Devata first. To the accompaniment of great pomp and ceremony, he called on Kali Devi to appear, but as twelve year period had been over, she refused to manifest herself.  Then Arunagirinathar invoked Lord Muruga through the Thiruppugah song, “' அதல சேடனாராட, அகில மேரு மீதாட,   அபின காளி தானாட ------“ (athala sedanaaraada, akila meru miidhaada abina kaali thaanaada ----).  As he sang and danced, there was an ear-splitting noise and a very bright flash over a pillar.  And Lord Muruga appeared there on his peacock. Everybody including the king fell on the ground and worshipped the Lord.  In that instant, Sambandandan, made a silent exit and left the kingdom forever.  The place where this happened is called “Kambaththu Ilaiyanaar Sannidhi” in the temple.

Villiputhurar  who wrote Mahabharatham in Tamil was his contemporary. At one time Villiputhurar was going round challenging every Tamil scholar to a contest in poetic skills on the condition that the loser in the contest should have his ears cut off.  Hearing of Arunagirinathar's fame as an extempore poet, he came to Tiruvannamalai and challenged him to a competition. Under the rules of this contest, Arunagirinathar had to compose extempore verses that Villiputhurar undertook to explain. If Arunagirinathar could compose a verse that Villiputhurar could not ascertain the meaning of, the latter would concede defeat and agree to have his ears cut off.  Arunagirinathar in return agreed that he would have his own ears cut off if he failed to produce a verse that baffled Villiputhurar.  The competition began with Arunagirinathar composing the verses of a poem that later became known as Kandar Anthadi.  Villiputhurar easily deciphered the meaning of the first fifty-three verses, but could make no sense of verse no. 54, which ran as:
  திதத்தத்தத் தித்தத் திதிதாதை தாததுத் தித்தத்திதா
திதத்தத்தத் தித்த திதித்தித்த தேதுத்து தித்திதத்தா
திதத்தத்தத் தித்தத்தை தாததி தேதுதை தாததத்து
திதத்தத்தத் தித்தித்தி தீதீ திதிதுதி தீதொத்ததே

This is a masterpiece of alliterative prosody which has a succession of apparently meaningless syllables, with the meaning:
O Prime among Gods who is worshipped by Siva who dances to the beat sounding 'thithaththath thaththiththa'; Brahma; and Vishnu who drank the milk and curds in the cowherds’ houses and has as his bed the serpent Aadhisesha in the  Ocean of Milk ! The servant and follower of Devasena!  When this wicked body which is subject to births and deaths and which is formed by bones and other elements is burnt by the funeral pyre, You must make my mind think of You and sing Your praise and surrender to Your Feet. 

This song where the word “திதத்தத்தத்” comes in all four lines is composed in the intricate “yamakam” style and  Villiputhurar could not tell the meaning of this song.  He accepted defeat and offered his ears to be cut off according to the challenge. But Arunagirinathar graciously forgave him and made him shed his arrogance and honour fellow scholars.

Arunagirinathar used the pleasing medium of music and the sweet language of Tamil to communicate with God.  Thiruppugazh has been set in chandam style which means setting the verses in conformity to rhythmic beats.  His language and style, the metaphors and similes he used, all went into making the Tamil saying "வில்லுக்கு விஜயன், வாக்குக்கு அருணகிரி” (Villukku Vijayan, Vakkukku Arunagiri) i.e. "If Arjuna is known for his archery skills,  Arunagiri is known for his language skills".  In recent times Guruji Sri A.S. Raghavan created a powerful Thiruppugazh movement,  giving each song a distinct Raaga, and this has spread throughout India and abroad.