Friday, April 1, 2016

Vedu Pari Thiruvali Thirunagari

The entire sequence of Thiru Mangai Mannan's Vedu Pari was enacted at Veda Raja Puram on the night of March 22

It was a devotional night at Thiruvali – Thirunagari, an ancient Divya Desam about 10kms from Sirkazhi, with over 5000 devotees witnessing the unfolding of a dramatic set of events relating to Vedu Pari episode on the streets of Veda Raja Puram, a remote village near Thiru Kuraiyalur, the birth place of Thiru Mangai Azhwar.  While versions of Vedu Pari are enacted, in parts, in different Divya Desams, the one at Veda Raja Puram was truly special and original with the entire sequence of events being played out in full in the most traditional way last Tuesday giving the devotees a unique experience of that dramatic night well over a thousand years ago at this very location. It was this episode relating to the late night robbery act that brought about the transformation in Mangai Mannan and was instrumental in him being crowned as Thiru Mangai Azhwar.

‘Pandha Kaatchi’ – Over a 100 Ghee Lit hand held Lamps
The newly married couple (Vayalali Manavala and Amruthavalli Thayar), sporting glittering jewellery had arrived at Veda Raja Puram at 10pm after their Thiru Kalyanam earlier in the day at Thiruvali. A couple of kms away at Thirunagari, Mangai Mannan was alerted by his ministers about this ‘Golden’ opportunity to loot. 
At the strike of mid night, he came galloping on his horse back with 100s of young boys leading the way with ghee lit lamps held aloft to light up the dark streets for their King’s trip. This ‘Pandha Kaatchi’ through the streets of Thirunagari and Veda Raja Puram was one of the big highlights of the Utsavam for it provided the devotees with a nostalgic feel of night trips in centuries gone by.

Just after 1am, the entire village was abuzz as the thief made a rapid entry into Veda Raja Puram with his retinue. For the next couple of hours, the entire episode of Vedu Pari was enacted with Mangai Mannan trying to make do his loot, the police inspector verifying the correctness and safety of the jewels and finally the newly married couple displaying their real identity providing a Garuda Sevai darshan to Mangai Mannan. The entire place reverberated with sacred chanting, by Prabhandham experts, of the first set of verses of Thiru Mangai Azhwar’s Periya Thirumozhi where he recommends chanting the Narayana Mantra to free oneself from wrong thoughts.  Following this, Vayalali Manavala, Amruthavalli Thayar and Thiru Mangai Azhwar made their way back to Thirunagari on a joint two hour procession amidst recital of over 200 verses of Periya Thirumozhi.

As the clock ticked towards 5am, a delighted Thiru Mangai Azhwar having just been initiated with the Ashtakshara Mantra showcased his joy by performing a 30 minute Vaiyali (special fast paced dance run) in the Agraharam opposite the Tirunagari temple that proved to be a fitting finale to the Vedu Pari Utsavam.

Vedu Pari - The Legend
Mangai Mannan fell in love with the beautiful Kumudavalli of Annan Koil. Wanting to get him initiated into the devotional path, Kumudavalli laid tough ‘wedding’ conditions, one of which was to feed 1008 Vaishnavites every day. Mangai 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, Mangai Mannan way laid a newly married couple at Veda Raja Puram and threatened to lash out his spear even going to the extent of trying to bite and remove the expensive anklets. Having packed the jewellery into a sack, he was unable to lift the bag and wondered if the person in front of him wielded a magic mantra. It was then that the couple displayed their real character. The thief of a few minutes ago received enlightenment and transformed into a Saint Poet. It was after this episode that he went on to contribute over a 1000 verses in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham.

Ministers’ ‘Dhoothu’ 
Historically, the story goes that the ministers of Mangai Mannan who heard of a rich newly married couple coming the way of Veda Raja Puram informed their chieftain of an opportunity to bolster their treasury that would help him feed the Vaishnavites. As a first step, the ministers requested the couple to hand over a part of their wealth but they refused. It is only after the Ministers’ ‘Dhoothu’ that Mangai Mannan rushed from Thirunagari (at midnight) to Veda Raja Puram on his Horse Vahana to try to loot their belongings.

This legendary event was enacted at the Thirunagari Divya Desam by two members of a family that has been presenting the ‘Dhoothu’ for several centuries based on a historical document relating to the Vedu Pari episode. At Veda Raja Puram, the cousins also presented the mediation episode between the Thirumangai Azhwar and the Lord immediately after the initiation of the Ashtakshara Mantra asking the Lord for forgiveness of the robbery act of that night. At the end of the Vedu Pari Utsavam, they presented ‘Mangalam’ at Thirunagari after the Vaiyali enactment as a thanking gesture to the Lord and Thayar.

Police Inspection after the Robbery Act
Minutes after Vedu Pari, K Govindarajan of Veda Raja Puram, donning the role of a Police Inspector, followed the foot marks made by the horse to track down Mangai Mannan and conducted a thorough check to ensure that he had not whisked away any of the expensive jewellery. He came back to inform the couple that their jewellery was indeed safe. His family has been performing this ‘jewellery inspection’ for over 5 generations on the night of the Vedu Pari as a service to the Lord without any remuneration. Govindarajan feels blessed to play this sacred role, one that his fore fathers, who were all farmers, were assigned centuries ago. 

The first verses after the Enlightenment -Vadinen Vaadi....
Thiru Mangai Azhwar in his first set of sacred verses ‘Vaadinen Vaadi Varunthinen..’ composed after he was initiated with the Narayana mantra looks back at his life that had until then been one of distress and provides a realistic solution to devotees with a troubled mind based on his own experience.

He says that in the first part of his life, he went about seeking worldly pleasures and wastefully spent time down the wrong path. He bemoans that those days spent in pursuit of physical pleasures were distasteful. He had found it difficult to stop his wavering thoughts and control his unstable mind. Frustrated at his own constant craving for physical pleasures and realising that seeking such pleasures was a futile and endless exercise, he probed his mind, seeking redemption. And thankfully before it was too late, he was directed into a new life with God’s grace.

Having been initiated with the Narayana Mantra, his life turned around for the good and softened him as a person. He concludes that chanting Narayana’s name is the perfect mantra for redemption from the past misdeeds and is sure to give purity of thought, love and strength to face all challenges in life.

Thiruvali / Thirunagari in ancient times
Thiru Mangai Azhwar refers to Thiruvali as a ‘radiant’ town where the sounds of conches and the Vedic chants never seem to cease. He praises the Vedic Seers as those living for generations in Thiruvali learning and teaching the sacred verses and performing the rituals with great devotion amidst the beautiful Ashoka, Punnai and Serundi trees. Peacocks are seen dancing in big numbers. The fish caught in the paddy fields are seen jumping out on to the face of the farmers and moving into the sugarcane fields.  Cool lakes are filled with swans and blue water lilies. Male crabs are resting on lotuses while the bees are heard humming sweet tunes and are seen sipping nectar from the Jasmine and Shenbagam flowers. 
( A part of this story featured today in The Hindu Friday Review)

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