How a king turned minstrel
The story of Thirumangai Mannan is enacted at the Srirangam temple
The last of the Azhwars - Thirumangai Azhwar - made a significant contribution, visiting and singing the praise of Lord Vishnu in over 85 temples (Divya Desams). While all other Azhwars got things done by showing love and devotion to the Lord, Thirumangai Azhwar alone was different. The only Azhwar with a spear in his hand, he was aggressive, so much so that even the Lord had to humour him to make him sing His praise - a couple of cases in point being Tiru Indalur and Tiru Ninravur Divya Desams.
Initiated into Vaishnavism
Born in Tiru Kuraiyulur, 2 km from Tiruvali-Tirunagari near Sirkazhi, Thirumangai Mannan (king), who belonged to the Kallar Community, fell in love with the beautiful Kumudavalli of Annan Koil (another Divya Desam near Sirkazhi). To get Thirumangai Mannan initiated into Vaishnavism and devoted to Lord Vishnu, Kumudavalli laid down tough ‘wedding' conditions, one of which was to feed 1,008 Vaishnavites every day. Tirumangai Mannan, in this attempt, lost a lot of his wealth. But determined to fulfil her conditions, he turned a thief and resorted to ‘stealing.'
One night, Thirumangai saw a newly married couple, decked with jewellery, coming his way. It was Lord Ranganatha of Tirunagari taking along with him Amruthavalli Thayar of Tiruvali. In that darkness, in Vedarajapuram (the village between Tiruvali and Tirunagari), Tirumangai waylaid the couple threatening them with his spear.
Having relieved the two of their jewellery, Thirumangai put the booty in a bag but found it too heavy to even lift it from the ground. Lord Ranganatha revealed himself and initiated the bandit king into the ‘Ashtakshara Mantra.' The divine couple appeared in their wedding splendour, a sight that moved the reformed ruler, who became Thirumangai Azhwar.
Thirumangai Azhwar wanted Margazhi Festival to be a Tamil Divya Prabhandam festival as against just the Vedic recital that existed before his time. The 10-day ‘Era Pathu' festival called ‘Thiruvoimozhi Thirunaal' was specially created for the Lord to listen to the beautiful compositions of Nammazhwar.
At the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, the story of ‘Vedu Pari' is enacted every year as part of the eighth day celebrations of the Era Pathu festival.
The episode took place last week. Namperumal seated atop a golden horse was brought to the sand expanse on the eastern side of the temple.
The deity held in his right hand a sword, javelin and arrows while his left hand held the reins. A speciality was the performance of Kona Vaiyali (zig-zag fast-paced movement).
The gathering was also treated to an enactment of Vedu Pari as young members of the Kallar community armed with long sticks surrounded the deity. Thirumangai, who earlier in the evening walked in as the king (Mannan) with a bow and arrow in hand, was seen in a completely different form at the end of the Vedu Pari, dressed as Azhwar, one who had just received the initiation of the Ashtakshara Mantra.
The drama was followed by a ceremony, where the list of the Lord's jewels was read out.
The events of this annual Vedu Pari Utsavam came to an end with Veena Ekantham, a unique and the only one of its kind veena presentation. Srirangam is the only Divya Desam where this Yaazh Isai tradition of waking up the Lord and putting him to sleep is followed.
Namperumal listened in peace for almost an hour from 1 a.m. to the sweet tunes of the four-member Sathya Kootam Veena Vidwans (Srinivasan, Ramanujam, Govindan and Gopalakrishnan) and their presentation of Thirumangai Azhwar's paasurams.
Their final song on the Vedu Pari night – ‘Eth Sariga Sathanambu Ekantha Ranga' (Vijaya Ranga Sokka Nathar's composition) put Namperumal to sleep after a long and tiring evening with the Lord entering his sanctum at around 2 a.m.
It was Ramanuja, who wanted the veena recital to be an integral part of the daily routine at the Srirangam temple and gave it the most sacred role - that of both waking up the Lord as well as putting him to sleep.
Ramanuja assigned ‘Sathya Kootam,' a clan that belonged to a village near Srirangam for the Yaazh Isai performance. Thus began a tradition at the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam.
This has come to be included in the Limca book of records and the now 76-year old former National College (Tiruchi) Vice-Principal, Veena G. Rangarajan is noted as the 45th descendent of this tradition.
Vedu Pari Highlights
* 8th day of Thiruvoimozhi Thirunal celebrated as Vedu Pari.
* 900-year old ‘Veena Ekantham' tradition.
* Only occasion of Kona Vaiyali inside the temple.
During the 10-day Era Pathu festival, the artists present Yaazh Isai for about an hour every evening. Interestingly, while the daily morning and evening recitals are solo performances with the artist seated, Veena Ekantham during the Era Pathu Thiruvoimozhi festival is presented with the artists standing, the veena tied to their shoulder. In all, they present around 250 paasurams during this Tamil Prabandham festival. In addition, they also present kritis of other composers, including Tyagaraja and Dikshitar.
The tunes are elegant and simple in its presentation and in a conversational style. It takes ten years for an artist to attain proficiency. First, they master the repertoire vocally; then learn to play the veena and finally present the hymns on the instrument.
Every morning at around 5.15, the veena vidwans present for about 30 minutes Thondaradipodi Azhwar's 10 beautiful verses called Thiruppalli Yezhuchi to awaken Lord Ranganatha. The 10 verses of Thondaradipodi are set in five different ragas, one for every two verses - Bhoopalam, Bilahari, Dhanyasi, Malaya Marutham and Saveri.
In the evening for about 20 minutes, from 10 p.m., the team presents Kulasekara Azhwar's Paasurams to put the Lord to sleep. The ragas are Neelambari, Ananda Bhairavi, Sahana, Revati and the recital ends with Neelambari.
They present this daily veena recital for 262 days (there are no recitals on some special festival days) in a year. They also present the recital on another 29 festival days. They were paid Rs. 2.48 a month for their divine service! It is heard that even this miniscule payment has been stopped.
This Story featured in The Hindu Friday Features today ( 31st December 2010)