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.

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