Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Paripatal on Vishnu

Paripatal was a pioneering initiative in the religious literary works in Tamil
Great Insights on the Vaigai River and Thiru Maliruncholai and the state of life in Madurai during that period
Lord Vishnu is referred to as Thirumaal / Maal / Maayon in the Paripatal

Paripatal is one of the 8 Anthologies that comprise a separate collection of poems of different lengths dating back to the Sangam Period.

Among these 8, Akanaanooru, Kuruntogai, Narriniai, Kalittogai and Ainkurunooru belong to the Akam category (Love subjects) while Purananooru and Pattirupattu belong to the Puram category (war theme/ guiding musicians to the patronage of kings).

Paripatal stands in a separate class by itself written on ‘Paripatal meter’ and in lofty rhymes with a musical verse whose length ranges from 25lines to almost 400lines. Out of all the Sangam classics Paripatal is the only one that is sung to the accompaniment of Yaazh and Flute and to the measured beat of drums by musicians. Much later, Azhvaars too refer to Yaazh in their Prabhandham but it was originally set to music by Paripatal.

The Paripatal authors may have belonged to a period between 300BC and 200AD though there are many differing opinion on this.  It is likely that Paripatal existed before Tholkappiyar but none of that is traceable. Out of the 70 songs, only 22 have survived the test of time with most getting lost/ becoming irrecoverable with passage of time.  Originally there were 8 songs on Thirumaal, 31 on Murugan, 26 on Vaigai, 1 on Sea Lord and 4 on Madurai.

The flow of Paripatal
Pari refers to a horse and these set of verses were so named as the rhymes sometimes galloped, at other times ambled and sometimes one got the feeling that the verses even leapt like a gambadoes of a Horse where all the feet are up in the air almost as if to jump the Vaigai in one go!!!!

Paripatal was written to be sung to the accompaniment of Yaazh and Flute along with the beating of the drum. These were set to one of the three musical modes – Palaiyaazh, Notiram and Kaantaaram. Each Paripatal has an author, music setter and the melody type (for some, the name of the authors is not traceable). There were 10 Music setters in Paripatal some of whom set to music their own composition. There were others who authored a Paripatal but the music composition was by others.

Currently there are 6 poems that deal with Thirumaal. These constitute the earliest devotional hymns in Tamil Literature. These are broadly based on divine myths and legends. The typical tone of Paripatal was highly emotional and all of these ended with a prayer to God.

Vaigai and its greatness
There are 26 songs based on the greatness of Vaigai River and the festivities surrounding that including the lives of the people of Madurai, religious practices and devotion of the people, sporting activities and games played during the peak periods at Vaigai. There is a lot of reference to Pandya Kings, Lord of the South and Madurai as Capital in different verses of the Paripatal

Parimelazhagar was the first to write a commentary on Paripatal. .

Paripatal’s reference to Lord Balarama!!!!
Very interestingly, Paripatal has a lot of reference to Balarama. Rarely in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham is there a reference to him. This throws up an interesting point of Balarama being worshiped here in TN during the period Paripatal was written.  Of course over the last many centuries, there is hardly any temple for Balarama. And it is Rama and Krishna to whom most of the temples are dedicated.
Pancharatna System and Paripatal
While Vaikanasa is followed pre-dominantly in most temples today, Pancharatna may have been a system of worship in those days for Paripatal makes great reference to that – Paratva, Vibhava, Vyuha, Antaryami and Archavatara.

Six Paripatal - Praise on Vishnu
In the six works on Thirumaal currently available, the names of the author are not available for a couple. Lord Vishnu is referred to as Thirumaal. Sometimes it is just Maal. He is also referred to as Maayon, the dark hued Lord.

The first Paripatal is on Thirumaal. Vishnu is referred to as one who is seen reclining on a serpent with 1000hoods. He is referred to as Sun, Moon, Easwara and Brahmma. Paripatal alone among the 8 anthologies does not have an invocation verse for this first Paripatal on Vishnu is seen as an invocation song.

The second Paripatal authored by Keeran Taiyaar (music setter- Nannaa Kannaar) starts with description of deluges in the Universe and refers to the five elements in the same order as mentioned in the Vedic Texts. In this 2nd poem, Keeran Taiyaar identifies Thirumaal with Balarama who is seen as an incarnation of Adisesha. There is also reference to Varaha Avatara in the 2nd poem.

On Garuda Vahana
The third is a beautiful hymn by Kattuvan Ilaveyinnannaar (Music Setter – Pettannaa Kannaar). This is in a form that can be chanted every day as a prayer. Here the Lord’s description is similar to one that is seen in ancient Sanskrit texts.  Lord is praised as one who provides Moksham and that all celestial beings are Thirumaal’s creation.  A reference is made to Garuda, Lord’s mount.   Lord’s Vamana Avatara is described here. There is also mention of Krishna’s achievements here.  The third poem is characterised by its brevity but every phrase has deep meaning attached to it. The poet calls Maal as a Lord of eternity and as the virtue of all things in creation. He is the heat in fire, fragrance in flowers, radiance of gems, essence of Vedas and so on. This third poem also provides an interesting note on the use of numbers to describe Thirumaal

Towards the end of the poem, one sees a lot of passionate fervour, brevity of expression and rich allusiveness. There is reference to various personalities of Lord and his appearance and exploits. In the end, the poet invokes the Lord’s blessings to keep the world safe.

Who is a True Devotee
In the fourth poem by the same author, he starts with a description of the true devotees of the Lord. He says that they envision God in their minds by purifying and controlling their senses, making them free from delusion of any kind. Parimelazhagar calls this cleansing of mind as Chitta Parikrama. He ends the fourth poem by concluding that God has no friends or foes and is above human limitations. He says that God is the sole refuge and protector of all.

In a short poem by Nallellunniyaar, there is a beautiful description of the Lord, his flag and discus, his form, ornaments, garments and his weapon. He calls Vishnu as the all pervasive Lord and states that the Lord is not only the origin and source of all creation but is also the essence of virtues.

On Thiru Maaliruncholai
In a poem by Illamperuvallutiyaar ( Music: Maruttvuan Nallachutanaar), the poet refers to the hills of Thiru Maalirunkunram, where he says one finds Lord Kannan and his elder brother Balarama. Despite having different complexions, both seem inseparable. He also refers to Silamparu, peacocks and cuckoos (also praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Periyazhvaar in their verses on Thiru Maalirun Cholai in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham).

Reference to a town near Madurai
The last poem again by an unnamed author has an easy style of presentation with a poetic grace to it. This is directed at the Lord of Iruntaiyoor (a place on the outskirts of Madurai) who is stated to be in a seated posture. In this poem the Lord is described as being bright and beautiful. The entire place is described beautifully giving us great insights into what it was during that period almost 2000years ago. There is also a mention of an exclusive temple for Adisesha near Madurai.

From a literary works point of view, Paripatal is a significant milestone in the history of the development of Vaishnavism. The significance of Paripatal authors is that they were ahead of the Azhvaars. In that sense, they were pioneers of religious literature in Tamil. They clearly began the Bhakti cult much before both Azhvaars and Nayanmars who then carried forward the legacy of Paripatal authors and took it to the next level of Bhakti.

While Rama and Krishna avataras are dominant in Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Krishna finds only a few references in Paripatal. There is absolutely no reference to Rama at all. It is Balarama who gets praised in Paripatal. Hence there may have been a great following for Balarama preceding the period of the Azhvaars. There are also brief mentions of Varaha, Vamana and Narasimha Avataras in the Paripatal.

From the Paripatal, it is clear that people were truly religious during that period. They were devoted to God. It does not seem that there were any religious fights during that period unlike the period of the Azhvaars and Acharyas. Worship of the Supreme Lord in his various forms was almost universal in the Sangam days.

(Each of the Paripatal on Lord Vishnu will be seen as part of this series….Follows shortly) 

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