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Thirumangai Alwar is one of the greatest exponents of the Sri Vaishnava cult of Bhakti or devotion to God as an easy way of approaching the Divine. He has left behind numerous noble devotional poems. Of all the twelve Alwars the lion's part of the contribution is made by Thirumangai Alwar. His pasurams shoot upto 1351 in the total four thousand hymns of Divya Prabhandam whereas the contribution of Nammalwar is 1296. Yet the poetry of Thirumangai Alwar is considered to be the exposition of the poems of Nammalwar for it is elaborate in particulars. Thirumangai Alwar went on a pilgrimage from Himalayas to the South till Thirukkurungudi and invoked nearly 86 Divyadesams out of the one hundred and eight Thirupathis. Wherever he went he sang in praise of the beauty and glory of the God enshrined in that Tirupati profusely.
Alwar's literary contributions
The literary compositions of Thirumangai Alwar are six. They are Periya Thirumozhi, Tirukurunthandakam, Thirunedunthandakam, Thiruvazhuk Koorirupai, Ciriya Thirumadal and Periya Thirumadal. These prabandams are considered to be six vedangas. Most of his compositions are highly poetic and esoteric. His outpourings are tinged with an atmosphere of service to the Lord. Thirumangai Alwar is an exemplar of Dasya Bhava for he regards himself as the servant and slave of the Divine. He purifies his heart and soul by constantly uttering the name of Lord Narayana. The Lord takes pity on him and pulls him out of the mire of worldly turmoils. This is the noble message conveyed by this Alwar in his touching and emotional verses.
Significance of Tirupati
Down the ages the sacred hills of Thiruvenkadam also known as Tirupati has been an important place of worship from the vedic and mythological times till to-day. Alwars and numerous bhaktas have dedicated their lives to him singing in praise of His glory and splendour. Thirumangai has sung of Lord Venkatesa in several pasurams. In all his prabhandams this Alwar refers to Lord Venkatesa at Thirupathi as Maha Vishnu in nearly 23 places. He refers to Tirupati as the residing place of Sri Vishnu in 2 or 3 places. He claims that the Deity of Venkadam is none but Lord Krishna who helped the Pandavas. He mentions Tirupati as the light evanascent of veda in two places. A clear reference to the mythological and historical incident regarding the construction of the temple is also made. Thiru-venkatanatha took the role of Guru to teach the secrets of Thirumantram to his chief disciple Thondaman Chakravarthy who found out the Lord of Thirupathi and built him a temple.
An important Prabhandam
'Peria Thirumozhi' is said to be a comprehensive compendium of SriVaishnava cult and culture blended harmoniously with the extolment of the supreme Lord in his Archa manifestation. His experiences, the excellence of the Lord through the Ashtakshara Mantra are dealt from divergent facets. Peria Thirumozhi consists of 1084 Pasurams divided into 11 decads. Fifty five Pasurams are devoted to the Lord of Thiruvengada hills. The three Tirumozhis 8, 9, 10 consisting of hymns each and the first Thirumozhi of II decad of 10 Pattus. The preceding Tirumozhi is about Tirumangai Alwar's visit to Sholingar. Proceeding from there, Thirumangai Alwar reaches the cool and enchanting glades of Thiruvengadam hills. His outlet in the form of verse depicts the thrilling scenes he witnessed on his way to see the Lord residing on the crest of the venerated hills of Thiruvenkadam. Alwar catches a glimpse of the majestic and magnificent dark lined hill of Venkadam even at a distance. This vision renders an impressive effect on Alwar. Naturally his wonder and excitement make him burst into poems expressing his emotions, views and concepts. The welled up joy makes him come closer to the revered Abode of Lord Venkatesa. Each hymn of the eight decad concludes with a refrain in the way of encouraging his soul to reach Thiruvengadam.
"Oh Mind! Reach Thiruvengadam" (Tiruvengadam atai nenjame). The desire of the longing soul is expressed here. In the opening song of the eighth decad, Alwar tries to set himself at ease on the beautiful hills of Vengadam. He then speaks of the scenario of the sacred hills of Venkadam. Here the red fishes frisk freely in the perennial cascades of water. After breaking the Kurunthai trees as the Lord of cowherds, He slumbers with his Lotus eyes closed on the Milky ocean. He alone tore asunder the mighty beak of the demon Bakasura. The second song reveals the vyuha aspect of the Lord relaxing as an infant on the banyan leaf and also his vibhava manifestation as Lord Krishna. Even as a child he suckled to death the demoness Puthana. His dazzling colours of resplendent white, ash grey and brilliant black were adored by sages and seers. This mischievous divine child Krishna is visualised as the Lord of Thiruvenkadam in the subsequent stanzas too. Walking across the Marudha trees he made them fall down. He lifted the huge Govardhana hill and protected the cows and cowherds from the wrath of Indra. This divinity holding the discus (Sudarsanam) has Lotus - like feet worshipped by the Heavenly being. He has settled down on Thiruvengadam hills about which Alwar's mind always longs to go. Waging war on behalf of the Pandava princes his omnipotence was victory. He becomes entrhoned in the hearts of the Ayarpadi Gopis, of his true devotees sporting chiefly in dance. The Lord of Thiruvengadam dwells on the hills of Vengadam which abounds in rich powers enriched with water. As dwarfish brahmachari he begged Maha Bali, the king of Asuras for three feet of land. As Rama his single arrow pierced through seven trees at a single stroke. He rescued the elephant-God Gajendra from the powerful grip of the
crocodile. Extolling the magnificent avatars of the Lord as Vamana and Sri Rama, Alwar brings to limelight several divya desams. As Narasimha, the man-lion, He defeated Hiranya tearing him to pieces with his powerful nails. This glorious Lord lives on the venerated hills of Thiruvengadam. This great Lord manifests Himself in all the five elements (Buthams) such as air, water, ether, light and earth. This Lord is praised by thousand sacred names. He is the monarch of mortals and immortals. He is the companion and consort of Lakshmi (Sri Devi) adorning the Lotus flower. The last hymn speaks of the significance of the Ashtakshara Mantra with eight syllables. The citers of these songs of Kaliyan written in chaste and choicest of words are sure to attain the heavenly abode of the Lord. In this decad of ten hymns Alwar urges every one to seek shelter in these sacred hills of Lord Venkatesa. A casual stay in this Tirupati will absolve one of sins.
Coming towards Tirupati (Vengadam hills) Alwar seems to get a feeling of exhilaration in witnessing the Lord dwelling on Thirumalai hills. As he approaches he believes that the Lord would receive him with love and sympathy. Reaching the threshold of the temple Alwar feels a sort of coldness. This formal attitude of the Lord baffled Thirumangai Alwar. Yet he is reconciled with a ray of hope. Perhaps the thick fog of Alwar's activities has prevented the Lord from helping him or in rendering his blessings. The ninth decad of 10 hymns throw light on the ephemeral nature of worldly existence and all its glamourous belongings. Alwar has accumulated sin upon sin by showering love on kith and kin. Naturally Alwar is pulled into the mire of Samsara. Feeling himself off, Alwar dedicates himself at the Lotus feet of the Lord. This separation alone renders him succour from being drowned in the ocean of earthly bondage such as the sweet company of enchanting women with sparkling deer-like eyes. Alwar makes a clean breast of his numerous sexual adventures. He thus wasted his time, life and energy, being enthralled by beguiling young damsels. He had neither mercy nor sweet word towards the helpless ones. Consequently, he has been subjected to agony and misery undergoing several births and deaths. Shaking off his aloofness, Alwar feels an affinity and nearness towards Lord Venkatesa. In a passionate mood Alwar calls the Lord as 'father'. He considers the hills around Thiruvenkadam as a casket made of copper (cheyyar) for it is the costliest and most coveted of possessions one would desire. Thirumangai Alwar continues to pour out his feelings. The materialistic frame of the Universe is made of the five primeval elements but they are vitiated by the vicious activities of men like him. They deplete the soul which in turn becomes inert. The mercy of God alone revitalise his lost soul and charge it with life and energy. Alwar pleads with God to accept him as an errant son. As a child he has done many an unpardonable act and also as an adolsecent ever so many sinful deeds. He wants the Lord to save him from the
cyclic rebirth once again. He characterises himself as an absolute sinner without any redemption and so makes a total surrender. The last hymn declares these verses to be a panacea to wipe off one's sins if these songs are read with piety and reverence.
The Ninth Thirumozhi of the First decad presents a picture of the desperate and frustrated Thirumangai Alwar seeking asylum to the Divnity, making an open confession of his past and present lapses in virtue in a penitent mood for being absolved of them. The ninth Thirumozhi brings out the essence of Saranagathi, absolute surrender, to the Lord as the only path of redemption. Though Alwar could not recollect all the details of his previous lives yet his present life has proved him a sinner both on the domestic and public side violating moral and ethical laws of society and religion. The last resort was to take refuge at the divine feet of Lord Venkatesa who is easily accessible in the archa form. The tenth (10th) Thirumozhi is significant for it indicates Alwar's joy in achieving his cherished aim of being accepted by the benevolent Lord Venkatesa. This Thirumozhi is highly impressive and exhilarating. The depressed soul of Alwar is blessed with benediction and generosity. The reticence of the Lord is broken by the rapture of Alwar. The culmination is the absorption of the former into the self of the latter blending both in one. This divine communion with the Lord is brought out in 10 verses indicating the Dasavataric avathar as Narasimha, Vamana, Rama and Krishna. In the first two songs Thirumangai Alwar identifies Sri Rama with Lord Venkatesa. Long ago the Lord had come down from his Heavenly abode on his vehicle of Garuda to destroy Mali, the forefather of Ravana. The next few verses say about Lord Krishna who swallowed the entire universe with its limitless sky and retained them in his belly floating on a banyan leaf on turbulent waters of the deluge. This episode reveals the antiquity of Lord Venkatesa. As a Dwarf the Lord measured the land and sky with his two feet. The Lord manifested himself as Narasimha tearing asunder the atheist Hiranya and then relaxed on the coils of Adisesha, the Lord of Sepents. All these episodes reveal Lord Venkatesa in myriad forms. The Lord then came and halted on the reputed hills of Venkadam to save mankind. After making Thirumangai Alwar get rid of the coils of human birth the Lord made him his own. The thrill of oneness made the Alwar catch a glimpse of the dark cloud with a silver lightning on the venerated Vengadam Hills. The implication is the divine vision of the dark-hued Lord with his golden consort. Finding the Lord enthroned in his little heart Alwar extols the achievements of Lord Kirshna. He married the deer-like Sathyabhama winning the contest of subduing seven bulls. This glorious Lord of cowherds dwells on the hill of Vengadam where pearls and gems burst out of bamboos. This Lord is accessible to the theist whereas inaccessible to the atheist. Ultimately, the devout prayers of Alwar were answered. As a result the Lord has chosen to reside in Alwar's heart. So, the saint will never leave him even for a second. The last stanza blesses the reciters with immortality.
The first Thirumozhi of the second centum of Periya Thirumozhi is a continuation of the praise of Lord Venkatesa. Thirumangai Alwar is in a jubilant mood for he has been accepted by Lord Venkatesa after being tested of his earnestness in seeking the Lord's Feet as the only asylum. Being favoured by the Lord, Alwar has decided to spread the fruits of his labour to all devotees. In doing so, Alwar addresses his own heart and mind for being blessed to serve as slave from that moment onwards. 'Servitude being today is to serve Venkatesa'. This decision serves as the refrain of all the hymns of this pathu. He wants all to follow him in his service to the Lord urging the Lord to rejoice. Lord Venkatesa dwells on the hills of Vengadam where the hunters live by lighting the fragrant twigs of April tree for cooking. Here the hunter women tune folk songs along with the beetles. This Lord does good to all those who love Him and lifts them up from the Ocean of life. Rescuing them he makes them attain Divinity, now that the mind of Alwar has become calm and steady in the service of the Lord. To be in his service is to be blessed and fortunate, Alwar gives a note of caution to the devotees not to join the twin sects of Buddhists and Jains who disturbed the religious peace of the region. Alwar warns the devotees to be saved from the traps set up by the saffron robed Buddhists and Jains with their heads clean shaved who became fat and obese by overeating. The manifestation of the Lord in the Archa form is subtle and simple, Vyuha and Autonomous aspects are beyond one's reach for worship. The Archa form as the divine hills is above all minor differences and derogatory ways for Lord Venkatesa is the primeval being of Vaikuntham'. The epilogue to this pathu is a fitting conclusion for the four decads in praise of Venkadam hills covered by dark clouds with streaks of lightning.
Besides the forty pasurams singing in praise of Thiruvengadam continuously, the remaining fifteen songs lie scattered in other Tirumozhis. Alwar's pilgrimage to the other shrines made him recollect the sweet memories of his visit to other Divya desams. So, there are stray references to Lord Venkatesa and His Hills in solitary songs. The first of the pasurams is seen in 4th Pathu of the 3rd Thirumozhi as the eighth hymn. While looking at Lord Perarulalan of Chempon Sei Koil of Nagai, Thirumangai Alwar is reminded of the Lord of Vengadam hills. Alwar pays homage to Him through the local deity. The manifestation of the Lord as Krishna illumined by sacred vedas above destroyed Banasura cutting off his 1000 hands with His Chakrayutha. On the crest of Vengadam hills Enlightened by lightnning seated is the Good light Illumined by Vedas;
(4-3-8) The temple is one of the celebrated eleven Tirupatis around Tirumangur in Thanjavur District. Proceeding from Thirunangur Thirumangai Alwar goes to Thiruvellakulam (also known as Annakulam), Sri Narayan of this shrine reminds the Alwar of the Lord of Venkadam hills. So he bursts out in the 5th pasuram extolling Lord Venkatesa as the Beacon Light beaming out on the dark sea of misery. It provides light for the victims to reach the shore of blessedness. 'Potent Light of Thiruvengadam Hunters keep vigil from molestation' Thirumangai Alwar then goes to Tiruvellarai (also known as Swethagiri) where Sri Pundarikakshan makes Alwar compare Him with the Lord of the Hills in the fourth verse of the 5th Pattu of the 3rd Thirumozhi. Here stands Lord Pundarikakshan who resembles Lord Venkatesa in his magnificent standing posture. The same Lord blessed the five Pandavas, the destroyer of the unconquerable destroyer of the Kauravas and their army forces.
Nayaka - Nayaki approach
Thirumangai Alwar considers himself Parakala Nayaki in his mad love to the Lord. The sickness of the love-lorn maiden worries the mother. The damsel in love has thinned out lamenting 'Venkadame, Venkadame' which reverberate the glory of Venkadam hills and its reputed dweller Sri Venkatanathan. Due to sleeplessness the maiden's spear-shaped eyes have withered. The pathetic plight of the daughter makes the mother wail loudly. Alwar's thoughts visualise the magnificent Lord of Venkadam hills whom Parakala Nayaki loved and adored. While extolling Lord of Thiruvenkadam, Thirumangai Alwar speaks of Lord Vishnu as the fountain of all thoughts and the goal of all penance. Indeed He is the Lord of Vadamamali hills called Tirupati. This Lord is enshrined in the heart of Alwar. (No. 5-6-7-1404) In Thirunaraiyur Pathigam Alwar makes a reference to the Lord of Hills. Assuming the form of a dwarf garbed in the skin of deer the Lord got a gift of land (earth) from Mavali and measured the world with His holy feet. Thirunaraiyur is encircled by valleys enriched with honeycombs. The Lord of this place was sought and found by Alwar in Thirunaraiyur. No. 6-8-1-1518
As he is blessed and favoured by the Lord, Thirumangai Alwar is not ready to give his mind to others. He feels happy in the company of the Lord who has willingly come to Him. So, Alwar relishes in thoughts about the milky ocean covered by clouds (No. 7-1-31550).
In Thirunaraiyur Pathu Alwar continues his praise of the Lord of Venkadam hills. This Lord is Lord Kama who tore asunder the mouth of the horse. He was Lord Krishna tied to the mortar for eating butter. In fact He is as sweet as honey and milk. Hence the mind of Alwar would not think of anybody else. (7-3-5-1572). The Thirukkannamangai Pathigam speaks of Alwar's search for the Lord. Thirumangai Alwar is able to find in Thirukkannamangai Lord Venkatesa who has settled down in the crest of North Venkadam hills. This Lord is the cause for producing day and night. He is being worshipped by one and all. (No. 7-3-10-1640) While talking about her love - smitten daughter the wailing mother depicts her condition. The young maid prattles about Venkadam hills with its cascades. Mentioning the names of several Thirupathis like Thiruneermalai, Thirumaiyam, Thirukkannapuram with its flow of fortune like a river the lady pines and droops. The Lord of Vaikuntham blesses all from Thiruvenkadam. He is seen in the standing pose. This sea-complexioned Lord has settled down in Thiruvallavazh. (No. 9-7-9-1837) Thirumangai Alwar goes and worships the Lord in Thiruthanka for He has made the Alwar his slave. Alwar speaks of the enchanting beauty of the Lord which is precious like gems and costly as gold. He is being seen with the brightness of lightning and is worshipped on the crest of Venkadam hills. (No. 10-1-2-1849) Feeling miserable about the sorrowful state of her daughter the troubled mother pleads with the Lord. She is like the gum oozing out of the Murangai tree. Her bangles have been snatched from her by Him who is on the sea-complexioned Venkatam hills. (No. 10-9-2-1933)
Activities of Lord
Thirumal who performed the pot dance has subdued the seven bulls. He alone protected the cows and cowherds from the rain caused by Indra. So goes on the speech of the Mother in praise of the Lord. (No. 10-10-5-1947) Inspite of her pitiful state the lady in love never crosses the border of morality. She wonders why her bangles slipped though the Lord is enthroned in her heart. Has she lost her feminity? Yet she delights in singing of Thiruvengadam hills where the Lord dwells. (No. 11-3-7-1978) While playing the game of chazhal two damsels speak of the magnificence and grandeur of the Lord of the milky ocean and sacred hills of Thiruvenkadam as of getting three feet of land from Mavali cunningly. Her friend retorts that the Lord of Venkadam hills has settled for ever in the heart of Alwar Kaliyan. (No.11-5-10-2001) Thirukkurunthandagam makes a special reference to Lord Venkatesa in its seventh hymn. Singing in praise of the Lord, Thirumangai Alwar says of Him as the one who blesses him with wisdom in this birth and servitude in Heaven. Though settled in Thiruvarangam the Lord changes his complexion as red and black in tune with the ages (Yugas). But He is the same to all in the venerated hills of Venkatam. The devotees who think of this Lord can be seated on the head of Alwar. The Vainava cult of honouring not only the Lord but also his disciples is brought out here.
Abode of the Lord
Three references are made to Lord Venkatesa in Thirumangai Alwar's verse composition 'Thirunedun-thandakam'. Alwar addresses the Lord as the one seen in Thiruneerakam and also at the crest of the majestic Venkadam hills. 2059 In the seventh hymn of Thirunedunthandagam (No. 2060) Thirumangai Alwar addresses Him in several ways. Alwar calls Him as the one standing on the snow - clad hills of Tirumalai. The seeker goes on in serch of Him. 2060 The grief of the longing daughter finds an outlet with tears rolling down on her breast. He is the Lord of Thirukkannapuram surrounded by fragrant bowers. He delights in the pot dance of the court yard. He is the Lord of the North Venkatam hills.
Inspite of his visit to nearly 86 Divya Desams it was just at the shrine of Thiruvenkatam hills Thirumanagai Alwar received the divine acceptance. Being enthralled by this divine realisation Alwar expresses his immortal utterances towards the Lord standing majestically on the crest of Venkadam hills to bless the mortals as well as the immortals for ages to come. Alwar's visit to Thiruvenkadam has become stationary. Recollecting his sweet memories and emotions in tranquility the mind of Alwar is flooded with the vision of Lord Venkatesa, his favourite deity. The Emperumans of other shrines remind him of the Lord of Sacred hills.
Naturally Thirumangai bursts out in verses. Recitation of these pasurams will certainly help the devotees to find a place in the Heavenly abode. Alwar urges every one to seek shelter in the holy hills of Venkadam. A short stay there will absolve one of sins for, Lord Venkatesa dwells here. The entire region is covered with dense forests of gigantic trees and rich foliage. Dark clouds shower rain in plenty enriching the earthly abode of Lord Venkatesa who is primeval in origin and powerful in prowess.
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