Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nammazhwar - Alwar who sang pasuram on Dwarakanath


Birth Period : 9th C. AD 
Birth Place : Azhwar Thirunagari (Kurugoor) 
Other Names ; Sadagopan, Paraankusun, Sadaari, Maaran, Vakulaaa Baranan, Kurugaiyar Kone 
Birth Month : Vaigaasi 
Birth Star (Natshatram) : Vishaakam (Vishaaka) 
Hamsam : Vishwaksenar (Commander of Sri Vishnu's army) 

Life History: 

Nammalwar was born in a clan "Vellalar tribe" on the 43rd day of kali yuga on Friday, under the star “Vishakha”, during the sukla pakshi, chathur dashi, in kataka lagna, in the month of vrushabha (May-June), in vasantha ruthu, in the year of Pramadhi, in Thiru kurugoor (near Thirunelveli) in the Pandaya dynasty of Tamil Nadu, to kariyar and Udayanangayar.

The child was extraordinary. For several days, it lived with eyes closed in perfect health, without food (neither breast fed milk nor any other). For days together, it never spoke. Distressed at this, the parents place the child at the shrine of Aadinathar, the deity of Kurugoor, surrendering into Him the entire burden of upbringing the child.

As the child was totally different from the general human nature, he was named Maran. He was also called “Sadagopan” as, unlike other children, he did not allow earthly ignorance to envelope him.

For sixteen long years, Maran sat motionless under the tamarind tree in Adinathar temple without food or drink, eyes closed, in padmasana ( one of the meditative posture), in utter silence. He was verily a SUN in human form with an aura encompassing the universe. He is believed to be the Avatara of Vishwak-Sena, chief of the hosts of Sriman Narayana in Vaikuntam.

Madhurakavi Alwar:

During that period, an elderly Brahmin scholar named Madhurakavi was on his pilgrimage to north Indian shrines. At Ayodhya, the pilgrim saw an extraordinary sweet glowing light as a star on the southern sky. Keen on knowing the source whence it emanated he traveled southward. Even when he reached Srirangam, (near Trichy in Tamil Nadu) the light was visible in far south. He continued his quest till he reached kurugoor, where the light merged with the person in Nammalwar, seated blissfully under the tamarind tree. 

Getting Nammalwar to speak:

With great difficulty, Madhura kavi succeeded in drawing out Nammalwar from his deep samadhi. He learnt from Nammalwar the secrets of all the shastras by becoming his disciple. Thenceforward, he remained at his lotus feet, recording the divine poem swelling out of the heart of Nammalwar in great ecstasy of Krishna Bhakti, sometimes rapidly and other times slowly, depending on the intensity of intuition and inspiration. At the very thought of the birth and beauty of Sri Krishna, the Alwar used to go into deep trance for months together.

Nammalwar is the seer of Dravidian Vedas. He sang four immortal poems as the Tamil version of the of the four Vedas – Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvanda.

Nammalwar stayed on earth in flesh and blood only for a brief thirty-five years. His return back to Vaikuntam through the Archaradhi gathi has also been sung by him in the penultimate portion of Thiruvaimozhi.


Madhurakavi composed "kanni-nun chiruthambu"—a short prabandha of just eleven poems, in praise of Nammalwar, which in tradition occupies a very central place. Madhurakavi spread the music of the poems of Nammalwar far and wie. During those days, it is said that everyone-be he an oarsman, or trader, a chieftain or a Brahmin, reached the transcendent state by merely singing these verses.

The "Sataari" placed on the heads of all the devotees in Vishnu temples is supposed to be Nammalwar himself. All other Alwars are his limbs as brought out in the following invocatory verse:

“Bhootam Saraschya, mahadaavya Bhattanatha
Sri Bhakti sara kulashekhara yogi vahaan
Bhakataangri-renu parakala yateendra mishran,
Srimat paraangusa munim pranatosmi Nityam."

 It was Sri Rangathaswamy of Sri Rangam who fondly referred to "Sadagopan" as Nammalwar (meaning, my devotee).

After this era, a gap of more than 600 years fell in the path of Vaishnava Bhakthi while religions like Jainism, Saivism etc seemed to grow.

 In the ninth century, when the Divya Prabhandam, composed by all the Alwars was lost to human memeory, through yogic contact with Nammazhwar, Sriman Nadhamunigal resuscitated all the paasurams(verses) and systematized their singing at the Vishnu Temples. The great Ramanuja fostered this practice universally. He wrote 'Sri Bhashya' keeping the Sri-Sukthis of Nammalwar in mind. Manavala maamunigal and Vedanta desikar, by their compositions and discourses, gave the pride of place - Thiruvaimozhi occupies in Sri Vaishnavam.

Nammalwar's Works:

Nammalwar gave the Tamil version of the Vedas in the following works:—

This constitutes the essence of Rig Veda. Thiru means “Sri”. It is a poem of 100 stanzas each a quadrate. Viruttam is a style of poetry. Viruttam literally means an event. The event of 'falling in love with the Supreme being' is narrated poetically. 'Bridal Mysticism' is symbolized in a mellifluent way.

This constitutes the essence of yajurveda. It is a poem in seven sections or seven poems of unequal length. The breathless flow of the continuity of expression of the sun-lit beauty of the lord takes the reader to ethereal heights. In all, it has 71 lines.

This constitutes the essence of Atharvana Veda. It is a poem of 87 lyrical stanzas. The style is at once simple and direct, moving and inspiring and transports one to see god face to face.

THIRUVAIMOZHI (literally means Divine words)
This is the magnum opus of Nammalwar—the treasure of Vaishnavism. it consists of 1102 four lined verses or passurams. These appear in groups of eleven. One group, which is an exception has thirteen paasurams. Each group is known as a Thiruvaimozhi. Ten such groups is called a pathu (meaning ten in Tamil). Thiruvaimozhi therefore has 10 pathus that is 100 thiruvaimozhis and 1102 paasurams. The melody produces by chorus singing of these paasurams by devotees is a feast to the ears.


The above line is recited in the verse in the ?TirunaaL PaaTTu? dedicated to celebrate the birthday of Swami Desika.

What has this to do with Nammaazhwaar?

?Vaghula? is the fragrant flower of ?Magizhampoo? (in Tamil). Nammaazhwaar used to wear a garland of this flower. He is, therefore, known as ?VaghulaabharaNan?. It is said that the fragrance of this flower permeates to every syllable of his ?Tituvoimozhi?, considered to be the essence of Vedas. Says Desika:
? varNasthomai Vaghula sumano vaasanaam Udhvahantheem /
aamnaayaanaam prakritim aparaam samhithaam drishTavantham?

1. Those who have learned the Vedas are dear to Bhagavan; to help those not eligible to learn Vedas, Nammaazhwaar had rendered the Vedas in Tamil. Hence, he is known as ?Vedam Tamizh seitha Maaran?.
2. The moment one learns to recite Tiruvoimozhi instantly becomes dear to the Lord as if that one had learned to recite the Vedas. In fact, this is considered superior to the work of Paraasara in expounding the esoteric truths to be understood by even the lay folk.
3. For those, who cannot learn to recite even this Tituvoimozhi, Nammaazhwaar, out of his infinite compassion, took the incarnation of the ?Paadukas? of the Lord.
?DraminidOpanishaan nivesa soonyaanapi dhruvam aavisathi sma Paadhukaatmaa Satakopa swameva maananeeya:?

Through his Tituvoimozhi, Nammaazhwaar has given us some valuable message. The one who not only understood thoroughly the mind (Tiru uLLam) of the Azhwaar but also applied it in his own lifestyle was none other than Swami Desika. That is why we sing ?Vaghulabarana PerumaaL Vaasi ArindhiDu NaaL?.

Let us see how?

Nammaazhwaar looked around to see if there were any Vaishnavas who could give him company in enjoying the Gunaanubhavams of the Lord. He was totally disappointed to find none to dos so; they were so madly after filthy lucre and wasted their lives in singing the praise of mere mortals to earn their morsels. He lamented:

?True. I will antagonize) if I tell you the truth: Never mind; I will nevertheless tell what I have to. At least listen to me?
?Sonnaal virodham idhu; aagilum solven, kenmin?

In other words, ? I ask you not to sing the praise of mere mortals, if only for earning your livelihood. I know that if I say this to you, you will consider me as your enemy. Even if you do not ?follow? Oh! Friends, Vaishnavas, Countrymen! Lend me your ears?. For how long can these mortals provide you sustenance? If you sing the praise of Lord Venkata, He is sure to grant you all that you need and good for you, not for now only but forever. (KoLLak kuraivilan, veNDitrellaam tharum kOdhilaan).
So, please come on! Let us praise His glory?.

What was the response? None heeded his advice.
Swami Desika is the one who took this advice seriously.

Once, VidyaaraNya who was a minister to Vijayanagar empire wrote to Swami Desika ? Swamin: I described to the Emperor your poetic skills and how easily you demolish the arguments of your adversaries by sheer logic based on appropriate authority (PramaaNas). Since then, he has always been thinking of you. I beseech you to go over here and give us the pleasure of your abilities in praise of the Emperor?

Following the advice of Nammaazhwaar, he sent a slOka in reply commencing with the words ?kshoNeekoNa? meaning- ?What is the use of praising a petty king who takes pride in ruling over a miniscule bit of the land? How long can he provide sustenance? We do not care for this. We have decided to praise only Sriman Narayana who can grant not only ?moksha? but also all else as a bonus?

He goes on to substantiate this by citing the case of ?Kuchela Muni? who offered just a fistful of beaten rice (aval) and in turn was rewarded with unimaginable wealth and was transformed into a ?Kubera?, the Lord of wealth.

Azhwaar pleaded for a ?hearing? at least, even if his listeners did not ?heed? his advice but was sorely disappointed. Swami Desika removed his anguish through this incident In fact, Swami Desika employed almost the same words and sentiments which Azhwaar used. The ?Kuchela muni? was endowed with ?kubera sampath? in proof of Azhwaar?s general statement
?koLLak kuraivilan, venditrellaam tharum vaLLal?

Swami imagines that some materialistic minded poets posing a question to Azhwaar ?
?We are praising mortal kings for earning our livelihood. What is wrong in this? Can we do hard work like tilling the land which involves manual labor for which we are not cut out? What is wrong in adopting the easier means of gaining what we want by dishing out a few words of praise on ordinary human beings who could satisfy our needs of the hour??

The Swami replies:
?There is none in this world who could guarantee you whatever you need. Not only for now but forever. The only one who could grant all and more is our Lord?

When VidyaaraNya repeated his entreaty again, Swami Desika who was a ?Vairaghya nidhi? sent again another reply of 5 slokas commencing with the words-?silam kim analam bhaveth? These were also on the lines of Azhwaar?s Srisookti.

Swami asks ??What else do you want beyond food to eat, water to drink and clothes to wear? For securing these, you don?t need to do any hard labor. All you have to do is to gather a few grains from the fields, drink the copious waters that flow in the streams and use some bits of torn clothes to cover your body. These are all available for free. Why should you waste your talents on petty kings? I, for one, would never squander my God-given gift of fragrant speech and would never ever beg for anything which, for me, is no better in value than a piece of grass?/

Thus, Swami Desika followed the advice of Azhwaar and relieved him of his anxiety and also felt himself relieved. Thus, did Swami Desika understand the import of Azhwaar?s advice, as it is, and faithfully implemented it in practice.

Now, let us enjoy the couplet ?
?VaghuLabharaNap perumaaL
Thamizhin Vaasi arindhiDu naaL
Uthamamaana Purattaasi
ThiruvoNam enu naaLe?

Our NammAzhwAr has always been the most favourite for Sri RamAnujA , Sri vEdAntha dEsikA, Sri PiLLailOkAchAryA, Periyavaacchaan PiLLai, Sri MaNavaaLa maamunigaL and all Great seers of visishtAdvaita, till the AchAryAs of present times.

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