Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nammazhwar and Madhurakavi Azhwar

Many centuries ago, Kari and his wife from Thiruvanparisaram, Udayanangai, went to the Nambi temple in Thirukurungudi and prayed for a child. As they did, the Lord responded and promised to be born as their child.

Soon enough a child was born in the 7th century CE, who was so different from other children that he
was named “Maran”, one who is different.

The Pandian kings who ruled the region have also had the
names Maran and Kari.

So perhaps it was in keeping with the tradition, for the child’s father was a
petty chieftain in the Pandya kingdom.

Disappointed at the child who neither moved nor spoke, the
parents took the child to the Adhinathar Swami Temple in Thirukurugur, on the banks of the
Tambraparni River.

Here the child did something very different. He crawled into a hollow in the
trunk of the spreading branches of a tamarind tree inside the temple and went into deep

We don’t know what the parents did after that, but the boy continued his meditation
and sustained himself during that time without food or water.

Sixteen years later, while the boy was still meditating, Madhurakavi, a poet of some repute had
embarked on a journey to northern lands.

A beacon of light directed him back to Thirukurugur, not
far from Thirukolur, the place of his birth. The beacon stopped as Madhurakavi reached the Tamarind tree, where Nammazhwar was sitting in a state of deep meditation.

Madhurakavi was curious at the sight of a boy in deep meditation and threw a stone near the boy.

The sound caused the boy to open his eyes for the first time. Madhurakavi, asked the boy in Tamizh,
“If, within a little thing is born a living thing, what will it eat and where will it exist?”

If the question was profound and philosophical, the boy opening his lips for the first time was not outdone in the reply.

He just said.
“It will eat that and exist there.”

Madhurakavi had heard what he wanted. For the boy had said, that the soul will be influenced by the environment it is in and to get to a higher plane the environment must be changed.

By extension, a soul aspiring for a higher plane of salvation if born in a body devoted to the pleasures of
the flesh will be consumed by the pleasures of the flesh unless it pulls the body up to a higher plane as well.

Madhurakavi, though older, looked on the child as a saint and became his faithful disciple and recorded the saint’s verses sung in Tamil.

Thirty-seven deities of the 108 holiest shrines for the
worshippers of Vishnu in Tamil Nadu appeared before the saint who in turn sang of them.

The saint sang a total of 1296 verses and is hailed by later devotees as "Nam Azhwar" or "Our Azhwar".

Nammazhwar composed four works - The Thiru Virutham is a 100 stanza work. The Thiru Aasiriyam
is of 7 verses of unequal length, the Peria Thiruvandaadhi of 86 stanzas, The Thiruvaimozhi has 1102

Note that the Thiru here is an honourific title and gives an idea of the reverence these works invoke.

On reaching the age of 32, the saint decided to join his Lord. Madhurakavi, heartbroken to hear this, was directed by the saint to boil the waters from the River Tambraparni. Madhurakavi did so and from the waters of the Tambraparni emerged the image of Nammazhwar and some say the idol of the yet to be born Ramanuja as well.

A temple was built for the saint beside the Tamarind tree,
within the precincts of the Thirukurugur temple and this image has been kept for worship there beside a primary image of stone.

Nammazhwar’s fame even caused the town of Thirukurugur to be
renamed as Azhwar Thirunagari. In his 12 verses on Srirangam, Nammazhwar takes the role of the mother of Parankusa Naayaki lamenting on her girl’s frenzied devotion to Srirangam.

She says -
Thiruvaranga, what have you done to my girl?
You lie peacefully amidst the waters where fishes leap about
While my daughter swoons away.
Night or day she knows no sleep
Her tears are by the handful and show no signs of ceasing.
Her hands folded, eyes in trance, she mutters “discus” and then “lotus”
How can I live without you she asks as she swoons away.
Thiruvaimozhi 7.2.1

 Thanks to Indra Srinivasan for this article.


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