Unique piece in Tamil Literature – Foremost among the ‘Pillai Tamil’ poets
Name your children after the Lord for at least then we can utter his name whenever we call them. This will earn us the merit of calling the Lord’s names every day
(This series on Periyazhvar will take a look at each of the five Cantos and the 473 verses of Periyazhvar Thirumozhi)
Each of the works of the Saint Poets Azhvaars has a unique aspect to it. Nam Azhvaar and Thirumangai Azhvaar have contributed over a 1000 verses each. Andal is seen as the Epitome of the yearning of the feminine individual towards the male - the unflinching love of a young girl for the Lord.
PERIYAZHVAR AT SRIVILLIPUTHUR
Among them, Periyazhvar has created a niche for himself with his Thirumozhi that stands in a class by itself. It occupies the first place in the 4000verses. Periyazhvar is the only one who sung an entire set of benedictory verses - a prayer for the welfare of the Lord himself. No other decad in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham has such an exclusive set of verses praying for the ‘long years’ of the Lord. The first 12verses of Nalayira Divya Prabhandham are presented prior to the commencement of every recital of the Prabhandham at temples. He is also the only one among the Saint Poets to be called ‘Periya’ Azhvaar, the big one.
Periyazhvaar is unique because he was fully committed to divine living – to live for God and to share his pure love for God. In his verses, he refers to anecdotes describing the scenario sharply, beautifully and gracefully handling deftly different emotions.
Vishnu Chittar’s trip to Koodal Nagar
Vishnu Chittar (later Periyazhvar) was a true devotee of Lord Narayana and had dedicated his entire life to selfless service of the Lord in Srivilliputhur. He was invited to a debate in Koodal Nagar (Madurai) after King Vallabha Deva was told by an invisible voice that ‘what is required / you want after death should be accumulated in this life itself.’ The king spent sleepless nights on this and sought to know its inner meaning. He summoned his head priest Selva Nambi to find him the answer. Selva Nambi, who had heard of Vishnu Chittar, sent an invitation to Srivilliputhur to get Vishnu Chittar to participate.
Simultaneously at Srivilliputhur, Vishnu Chittar was instructed by the Lord in his dream to go to Madurai to participate in a debate that was being organised by the Pandya King with a direction to spread the Vaishnavite message on life’s philosophy.
There was a huge prize on offer to the one who provided insights into this. Many scholars came forward but the bag with the golden coins hung in the balance. When it was time for Vishnu Chittar to come up with his presentation, he stunned the Pandya King with his description of Lord Narayana and projecting him as the Supreme Being giving various references from the Vedic Scriptures and stating that worshiping him in one’s life time with devotion was the highest form of worship and was likely to lead one to what we want after death.
Even as he was finishing his speech, the golden coins were showered on him, for Vallabha Deva was truly impressed with his presentation and had got the answers that he sought. It was then that he was conferred the title of ‘Bhattar Piran’ by Raja Simhan I (Vallabha Deva) and was led into a royal procession around the streets of Madurai in a grand event witnessed by a huge crowd. The melodies of musical instruments resonated everywhere and Bhattar Piran was surrounded by a royal retinue with the Pandya king requesting him with open arms to ascend and mount on to the elephant top.
As he moved along in the procession, he suddenly had darshan of the Lord along with Goddess Lakshmi on Garuda mount against the back drop of the clear blue sky.
Immediately he fell into a trance and watching the Lord in high sky praised him expressing concern of his safety. Verses poured out instantly as he sung for the Lord’s long life. It was seen as so sacred that Thiru Pallandu became the first decad of the Naalayira Divya Prabhandham.
Vedantha Desikan on Periyazhvar
Vedanta Desikan in his Prabhanda Saaram provides a delightful description of this event in Madurai
பேர் அணிந்த வில்லிபுத்தூர் ஆனி தன்னில்
பெருந் சோதி தனில் தோன்றும் பெருமானே
முன் சீர் அணிந்த பாண்டியன் தன் நெஞ்சு தன்னில்
துயக்கற மால் பரத்துவத்தைத் திருமாச்செப்பி
வாரணமேல் மதுரை வலம் வரவே
வானில் கருடவாகன நாய்த் தோன்ற
வாழ்த்தும் ஏரணி பல்லாண்டு முதல் பாட்டு
நானூற்று எழுபத்து ஒன்று இரண்டும்
எனக்கு உதவு நீயே
Born in Aani in Srivilliputhur with great skill, he enlightened the Pandya king on the transcendental truth and sang benediction to Lord Narayana who he saw with Goddess Lakshmi on Garuda in the sky as he rode around Madurai on the mighty elephant. He sang hymns starting with Thiru Pallandu and other beautiful 471 and 2.
The place where Periyazhvaar had this vision of Lord Narayana in Madurai is referred to as ‘Mei Kattu Pottal’.
Trend Setter in Tamil Literature – Pillai Tamil
Periyazhvaar was a trend setter in Tamil literature. His KrishnaAnubhava is seen from his seeing himself as a mother of a cute unique child, enjoying every action of this child. Through his verses that bring great poetic expression of the growth of a new born, Periyazhvar lures every mother to sing for her child. His poems are studded with pearls of events from Puranas, Itihasa and Vedic lore.
His entire composition especially the first two cantos is seen as a great literary work in Tamil extolling the everlasting enjoyment of experiencing Child Prodigy. Nowhere else in the 4000 verses or even for that matter in Tamil literature do we see such expressive songs on the growth of a child from his infancy, and the wonderful moments a mother has with her child. All other decads in the first canto (other than Thiru Pallandu) fall under Pillai Tamil, one of the 96 kinds of poetic compositions. Periyazhvar is considered to be the foremost among the composers of this genre called Pillai Tamil.
In this Pillai Tamil, the poet takes on the role of a mother and looks at the growth of a child through its 10 different phases dedicating around 10 verses for each. Periyazhvar has retold the story in his own inimitable style visualising himself as Yashodha, the mother of Krishna and presenting his thrilling experience of dealing with this extra ordinary new born child.
Periyazhvar Thirumozhi - 473 Verses
Periyazhvaar composed 473 verses comprising of 5 Cantos with the final one being the shortest. Periyazhvaar Thirumozhi is about the experience he had when he assumed the role of Krishna’s mother, his associates and lived the life of those people through these verses.
The first two cantos comprising of over 200 verses reveal his mystic experiences as he takes on the role of Mother Yashodha. It is an unusual parental / motherly attitude of Periyazhvar converting himself into playing the role of Yashoda and enjoying the infant to boyhood stages of Krishna. Over half of these 473 verses portray the joyful pleasures of a doting mother with a clever and mischievous child experiencing the move from infancy to boy hood. Throughout the first half his outpourings as Yashoda are highly emotional and excel in compassion and include several other expressions. In these verses, Periyazhvaar through Yashoda brings out the different moods of a mother and her handling of an extraordinary child.
Second half of Periyazhvar Thirumozhi
In the 2nd half of Periyazhvar Thirumozhi, he brings to us his own experiences with Lord in his various moods and his own spirited journey to attain the Lord. He takes on the role of Hanuman and conveys Rama’s message to Seetha. He sings praise of the Lord in different temples including Thiru Maliruncholai, Srirangam, Thiru Venkatam and Thiru Kottiyur. He conveys his absolute surrender to the Lord and expresses gratitude for Lord’s protective grace (Yetridai Mann Konda Enthai).
With Andal continually thinking of the Lord, she implored cuckoo to call her beloved Lord, asked the cloud as her personal messenger to informed the Lord about her languishing ailment of Love in her heart rendering hymns expressing her blooming full grown bosom dedicated intently for the Lord who holds delightfully the conch and the chakra. Even a mild whisper to negate this ( love) will result in her ending her life she says.
Finally convinced of her dauntless love for the Lord, into the 2nd half of the Periyazhvaar Thirumozhi, he speaks unhesitatingly in the third canto. He took her to Srirangam for his marriage /merging with Lord Ranganatha. Later King Vallabha Deva built the Veli Andal Sannidhi ( in West Adayavalanjan) in the 8th Century AD, the place when Periyazhvaar brought Andal to meet with Lord Ranganatha in Srirangam. In a thanking gesture, Periyazhvaar refers to the king as Kon Nedumaran Ten Kudar Kon (4.2.7).
Periyazhvar brings to us the feeling of parental love and the agony of separation from one’s daughter. He falls into a sorrow mood missing his daughter and says that without her, the house has become desolate.
‘When Yashodha finds my only daughter will she welcome her with open hands as the daughter in law’ he asks in a verse. The wonder boy of Brindavan who plays the flute mesmerises the entire universe finding great jubilation among birds and animals. Gandharvas and celestial damsels forgetting themselves gather around Krishna and remain spell bound on listening to his mysterious flute recital.
In the early verses he talks about the child’s broad shoulders, wide chest and his abilities as a wrestler. In the final set of verses he is still immersed in the praise of Krishna and presents to us the essence of Vishistadvaita doctrine ‘Unnai Kondu Ennum Vaithey…’
Thrilled with the sighting in the air, Periyazhvar ends his Thirumozhi with the Senniyongu verses describing his mystic experience – He says that ever since the Lord on the Garuda mount in the sky ‘adopted me’, the ocean of birth and deaths has dried up and become a sanctified place.
'The experience is truly amazing' was Periyazhvar's fitting finale to his Thirumozhi. In the last decad - Senniyongu - he says he has been blessed that the Lord quit the milk ocean and the Northern hills (Thiru Venkatam) and immersed in him. He calls the Lord his father and protector of his soul.
It is a great lesson for true devotion in each of our lives when we hear him say that his hunger is not when he is starved of food but of the days when he has not worshipped the Lord with fresh flowers, singing praise of him and reciting vedic scriptures.
He appeals to devotees to name their children after the Lord for at least then we can utter his name whenever we call our children. This even if it’s not in meditation will earn us the merit of calling the Lord's names repeatedly every day.