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Appendix II - The Lives Of The Alvars
I. Poygai, Bhutam and Pey Alvar
Poygai, Bhutam and Pey were contemporaneous. They are the most ancient of the Alvars.
Poygai Alvar, otherwise known as Saro-Muni, took birth from a golden lotus-flower in a tank situated within the holy Vishnu temple of Kancipuram. Born in the Dvapara Age, Siddartha year, he as actually a partial manifestation of Lord Vishnu’s conchshell, the Pancajanya.
Bhutam Alvar was born the following day in Mallapura, out of a Madhavi blossom. He manifested from Lord Vishnu’s club, the Kaumodaki.
Pey Alvar took birth from a red lotus-flower growing in the holy well of the Adi-Keshava-Perumal temple, in Mayura-puri. People called him Bhrantha-yogi because his love for God made him appear demented. He was empowered by Maha-Vishnu’s sword, the Nandaka, and his birth was one day after Bhutam’s. Thus, Poygai was born on Tuesday, Bhutam on Wednesday, and Pey on Thursday.
All three were blessed with the qualities of goodness; the lower modes of passion and ignorance could not touch them. They knew what bondage was and what release meant - thus, they refrained from mundane activities and became whole-hearted slaves of God. “God is our property and we are His,” they believe, and by that they lived their lives. All were perfect in the three features of ripe spirituality, namely knowledge, detachment and love for God. They strictly avoided the company of the world-minded. Roaming the countryside, each unknown to the other, they spent a day here, a night there, simply to benefit those who were willing to listen to them.
Poygai came one night to an open plain. A tempest brewed up unexpectedly. Rain began pelting down; howling winds rushed across the plain. To shelter himself, he found a narrow crevice close by, with a small shutter.
Bhutam Alvar chance to come to that same place. Finding the crevice, its shutter firmly closed, he cried out, “Anyone in? Open pray.”
“There is just enough room for one person to spend the night,” Poygai replied from inside.
“If one can sleep there, two can sit there. Open pray.”
“Whatever said this,” Poygai thoght, “cannot be an ordinary man.” He admitted him inside.
A third person came and knocked. It was Pey.
“No space can be spared for a third, for we have just enough room to sit together,” the two sheltered Alvars chimed.
“If two can sit, three can stand,” rejoined Pey.
Poygai and Bhutam liked the answer; they allowd him in. The three of them were now shoulder to shoulder in the dark crevice, hapilly conversing about the Supreme Lord in perfect amity.
“Now I have My devotees!” God thought to Himself. “Let Me relish their company. “At that moment, all three Alvars felt and invisible body squeeze between them. It seemed to be a ghost.
“What shall we do?” Poygai broke out at last. He fumbled about for his oil-lamp. Upon lighting it, the Supreme Charmer of hearts, Lord Narayana, Who cannot bear being separated from His devotes even for a moment, appeared to them. The Alvars were dazzled by His majesty and splendour. In great ecstasy, Poygai compose his Tiruvandadi, by defining God as represented in the manifested universe. Bhutam sang the second Tiruvandadi, which describes the Lord as Narayana; Pey sang the third, adding ‘Shri’ to Narayana. These three hymns overflow with knowledge of God, love for Him, and sight of Him. In each, however, one of these three aspects predominates. These stages of love of God are realizable to their fullest only in the spiritual world - yet by the Lord’s grace, the Alvars realized them all, even while tarrying on Earth.
According to some scriptures, Tirumalishai lived in Dvapara Yuga. He is also known as Bhakti-sara, “the essence of love of God”.
His birth was quite unusual. Bhargava risi, his father, was a very advanced devotee of Lord Narayana. After twelve months of pregnancy his wife gave birth to a ‘child’ which was a formless lump of flesh. Not knowing how to deal with such an aberration they deposited the lump of flesh in the shade of a bamboo-clump.
However the shapeless being was nurtured by mother Earth. Gradually the lump of flesh developed into a human form with all bodily features, and started breathing. Then out of hunger, the baby gave his first wail. But who could answer his desolate cry from such a remote place? Thus Lord Vishnu personally came to save His devotee. Touching the baby’s head, the Lord blessed him not be subject to hunger nor thirst. For the first time the eyes of the baby openned just so that he could see the wonderful form of the Lord. After a moment the Lord vanished from his view. The baby again started crying, not due to hunger, but rather out of separation from the Lord.
The cry fell on the ears of a woodsman. He brought the baby to his house, and his wife who was childless, became very happy. Milk start flowing from her breasts. But the child could not be fed by anything from this world. His only food was the blissful grace of God. He wouldn’t eat anything. But he still was misteriously growing very healthy.
The news of the divine child spread and people from everywhere came to see him. In particular, one childless couple brought some milk for him. Understanding their intention, the child Tirumalishai drank a little. Then, he gave them back the milk that remained and requested them to drink it. Soon the couple gave birth to a son who was named Kani-kannar. Kani-kannar would later on become Tirumalishai’s faithful disciple and companion.
At the age of 7 years old, Tirumaishai was studying all scriptures and systems of philosophy. While studying the Mahabharata, he came across one verse which says: “The final conclusion is that Narayana alone is to be worshiped”. This statement caused such an intense impression within him; that he decided to dedicate his whole self towards this goal. He then sat down and engaged in deep meditation for seven years.
During his meditation , Rudra appeared and requested him to ask for a boon. “What can I gain from you?” asked the Alvar,”Can you grant me moksha?” “No, only Narayana can do it”, replied Lord Shiva. “Can you prolong for one day the life of a person who is destined to die?”, asked the saint. “That depends on the person’s karma”, replied Shiva. Then Tirumaishai said: “So if you really want to give me a boon, then help me to pass this thread thru the eye of this needle”. Then Rudra became angry and opened his third eye. Fire issued from the eye, erupting forth in streams and as if the whole world was going to be consumed in flames. But nothing happened to the Alvar, and Lord Shiva left the place in shame.
One day the three Alvars - Poygai, Pey and Bhutam - in the course of their pilgrimage they came near the location were Tirumalishai resided. Here they had a vision of a spiritual sign, and they decided to follow it towards the direction it came from. Eventually they found someone sitting in meditation. They concluded that he was no other then Tirumalishai. The Alvars said“Prabhu, are you well?” . Immediately Tirumalishai replied: “Poygai! Pey! Bhutam! You are here! Are you well?” They then greeted each other. This event brought tears of joy to all of them. They began talks about God and His infinite glories and drank the nectar from it. After some time the three Alvars left for another pilgrimage.
Tirumalishai went to visit Lord Varada-raja, the famous Deity of Kancipuram. Hearing that the Alvar was there, Kani-kannan, who was born by the Alvar’s grace, came to see him. He fell at the feet of the saint and surrendered to him.
At that time an old woman from the town also approached Tirumalishai and resolved to engage herself inthe service of the saint. After some time, he became very pleased with her service. Thus he requested her to choose a boom from him. She requested him to return her youth. And it so happened. Not only did she became young , but also extremely beautiful. She was so beautiful that the King Pallava-Raya fell in love with her and asked her to marry him.
As the years passed the King began to get old, but his partner remained always youthfull. The King was struck with this miracle. She explained to him that if he wanted the same boon he should approach Kani-kannan, the Alvar’s disciple, who come everyday to beg alms in the palace.
The King awaited Kani-kannan’s coming and then begged him to invite his master to his palace. “Impossible, sir”, replied the devotee,”my master doesn’t go to any man’s door nor he even cares for kings like you”. The king then said “ as you are a beggar at my door, so sing a verse in my praise”. Kani-kannan composed a verse saying that the only objects worthy of praise is God and saintly people and not a worldly man like him.
The king became extremely angry and banished both the master and the disciple from his kingdom. Kani-kannan ran to his master and related the incident. Tirumalishai said that he could not leave this place and leave his Lord Varada-raja behind. Therefore, he decided to invite the Deity to come with them. So he did, and the Lord agreed.
As the Lord, the Alvar and his disciple left King Pallava-raja’s country, all the yogis, devas and others minor deities also departed with them. The kingdom became godless, deprived of saintly people and all prosperity. Realizing the circunstances, the king ran after them and fell at the feet of Tirumalishai and Kani-kannan. Then the king begged them to pardon him and asking them to come back to his kingdom. The trio then returned to Kanci.
After some time, the Alvar decided to visit Lord Aravamudan at Kumbhakonan. On the way he passed through different towns. As the saint proceeded towards Kumbhakonan, he passed through one particular town where the local Deity, while on the altar, turned His face toward the direction that Tirumalishai was travelling, and remained in that position. Arriving at his destination, the Alvar went at once to see Lord Aravamudan. In ecstasy he composed two poems called Tiruvandadi and Tirucchandaviruttam. In one of the verses he says: “Let me see You rise and speak”. Aravamudan, Who is Lord Vishnu lying down on Shesha, then began rising up. Then the Alvar immediately stopped the rising of the Lord by saying: “Oh My Lord, pardon me. I pray to You to stretch Yourself on Your Shesha couch as before”. However the Deity remained in that position half lying and half risen. Even to this day this Deity can be seen like that.
Tirumalishai remained immersed in yoga meditation for 2300 years, subsisting solely on a little milk. He is said to have lived for 4700 years.
III. Nammalvar and Madhurakavi-Alvar
In Shrimad-Bhagavatam, canto XI, chapter 5, verses 38-40, Narada prophesizes the birth of holy saints in Kali Yuga along the banks of the holy rivers of Dravida-desha (South India). These included the Alvars, among which Nammalvar became the most prominent for his devotional writings.
Nammalvar was born in a line of rulers in BC 3102, only 43 days after the departure of Lord Krishna from this world. His parents had prayed at the holy shrine of Tiruk-Kurungudi, desirous of a son. The Lord had, by His own sweet will, decided to personally manifest as their child. The tulasi garland around the Lord’s neck had fallen as a divine sign, and the pujari had presented it to the couple.
From Nammalvar’s birth, he never cried, but simply smiled a heavenly smile and remained wonderfully silent and severe. He would not suck his mother’s milk either. Sixteen years passed but the child would neither open his eyes nor his mouth. Inwardly, the boy mused to himself: “Except for You, My Lord, I shall not see anyone. And what is there for me to tell others, except for Your glories.”
Though distressed, the boy’s parents humbly resigned themselves to the will of God. All the sacraments such as the upanayama were duly administred to him by his brahmana parents.
Madhurakavi Alvar had already taken his birth before the advent of Nammalvar. He is said to be an incarnation of Ganesha who came to herald the appearance of Nammalvar.
One day, Madhurakavi left his home and went on pilgrimage to the north of India, seeking liberation. Upon returning, one night in the southern direction he saw a strange supernatural light in the sky. He understood this to be a divine sign. Sleeping during the day, he followed it by might. After some days it led him to a tree, under which Nammalvar sat in deep meditation.
Seated in padmasana, Nammalvar was as still as a statue. Madhurakavi wondered whether he was alive. As a test, he dropped a stone and the figure opened his eyes. But was he dumb? Madhurakavi then put a question to him: “If in the womb of what is dead, a sutle thing is born, what of what is dead, a subtle thing is born, what does it eat and where does it abide?”
The saint answered, “It eats that; it abides there.”
Upon hearing this, Madhurakavi at once surrendered to the Alvar. He had found his eternal guide who would lead him to salvation. At that moment, Lord Vishnu also revealed Himsel to Nammalvar in all His divinity, riding on Garuda with Lakshmi at His side. Overwhelmed with ecstasy, the Alvar’s deep uncontrollable love for his Lord poured from his heart in the form of four divine songs. These are Tiruviruttam, Tivashiriyam, Periya-Tiruvandadi and Tiruvaymoli, which are considered to be the very essence of the Rg, Yajur, Atharva and Sama Vedas respectively.
Nammalvar had never tasted the so-called sweets of this earthly world. From birth he had always relished Lord Krishna as his only food, as his only drink, as his only means of confort.
In the Tiruvaymoli he clearly formulated the essentially five-fold Truth of the Vedas and the sublime doctrine of Trust, Faith and Grace as taught in the holy Dvaya Mantra, the essence of the Vedas. He showed to the world, by precept as well as by practice the nature of love of God, which he ascertained to be three-fold.
Many miracles occurred by his presence. He resided on the southern bank of the Tamraparni River, while one yogi lived on the northern bank. This yog owned a dog which would daily cross the river at about midday and roam the streets of holy Tirunagani. Once the dog did not return on time. The yogi walked down to the river-side to ascertain the cause. Mid-way across the river , he could see the dog swimming towards him. Suddenly, to his horror, a huge flood-wave came down upon the animal and drowned it. The yogi could see the dead dog floating dowatream; yet as he gazed, the dog’s head burst open and its soul emerged, and like a shooting star flew heavenwards. On that same day the dog had eaten the remnants of Nammalvar.
When Nammalvar left this world for the spiritual kingdon, his first disciple constructed temples and installed Deities to commemorate his spiritual master. He also established, on a royal scale, daily, monthly and annual ceremonies in memory of Nammalvar’s glory and his works. At the same time, he proclaimed far and wide the eternal truths embodied in the four Dravida Vedas.
During this time, no one could be declared a poet without having first passed before a council of three-hundred of the King’s panditas. Some of these erudite panditas came to hear Nammalvar’s growing fame. They challenged Madhurakavi to defend his master before the council. The latter agreed and soundly defeated them all, firmly establishing Nammalvar as a great personality and popularizing his teachings. Of the many spiritual truths which he had revealed, the fundamental truth, or the basis, is the concept that God is one.
IV. Kulashekhara Alvar
Kulashekhara Alvar was a royal saint and the crown- gem in the lineage of the rulers of Tranvacore. In the modern times, Travancore is known as Trivandrum, Kerala. By tradition, the kings of Travancore do not own the kingdom. The actual owner of the kingdom is Shri Ananta Padmanabha, Lord Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, the main Deity of Trivandrum. The king is simply God’s vassal and minister. Invariably twice a day the king used to go before the Deity to present a report of his daily administration of the country. Such I the ancient line of the vedic kings among whom Kulashekhara appeared.
King Kulashekhara was born in Kali 27. His father, For long time King Dridha-vrata was childless. And after intent worship and prayers, Lord Narayana sent him a saintly son. His son, Kulashekhara-Alvar, is recognized to be the incarnation of the Kaustubha gem of Lord Vishnu.
As a kshatriya of great prowess, he conquered all his enemies and neighbouring kingdoms in all directions. His internal administration was characterized by virtue, justice, peace and happiness. He was endowed with many exalted material qualities, however he was devoid of virtues which leads to liberation. In fact, he was worldly wise, but spiritually blind.
But Kulashekhara was to become a saint and savior for uplifting humanity. He was transformed by God’s grace, which started operating through him. The Lord commanded Vishvaksena to administer to the King the five-fold sacraments called Panca-samskara. Thus his vision of the world and of himself changed. He became dettached from the world and the synptoms of prema-bhakti manifested within him.
He invited many wise men to his capital and he engaged in hearing and reciting from all shastras. This inspired him to compose his master piece, Mukunda-mala-stotra, by extracting the nectar from all scriptures.
His worshipable God was Lord Ramacandra, and therefore he selected the Ramayana for daily recitation.One day there came the passage where Lord Rama fought alone against 14.000 rakshasas. Upon hearing this, King Kulashekhara, out of devotional ecstasis, became mad with worry thinking that Lord Rama was fighting alone. Then he commanded his army to immediately proceed with him to help Lord Ramacandra. To save the king from this predicament, the ministers expeditiously dispatched a secret army to approach from the other direction and inform the King that Lord Rama, single handed, had already killed all the rakshasas. Upon hearing this, the king’s joy was inexpressible.
The daily recitation of the Ramayana went on as usual. Every important event of Lord Ramacandra’ lila was celebrated with a great festival. The speaker purposefully avoided some distressfull passages in the text which would disturb the mood of the king. One day, however, the oficial speaker could not attend the daily recitation and thus sent his son. The new speaker, unaware about the mood of the King, read the passage of Ravana’s kidnapping of Sita-devi. At once the King’s emotions blazed like fire. His wrath rouse to an uncontrollable state. He commanded his complete army to follow him in order to save mother Sita. At this time, the ministers could not do anything because the king had mobilized all his army ultimately. King Kulashekhara and his army reached the seashore along the southernmost part of India, which faced Ravana’s kingdon, the island of Shri Lanka. Although hundreds of miles of ocean separated the continent to the island, King Kulashekhara, in trance, entered into the ocean along with his army in order to try to cross over it. He was neck deep in the see when Lord Ramacandra and Sita-devi came to save him and ensured that everything was under control.
After this episode the ministers were especulating as to the cause for this God-intoxicated behavior of the king. The only reason the ministers could ascertain was his association with the pure devotees the king had invited to live in his palace. These pure vaishnavas had free access to any part of the palace.
So the ministers conspired against these vaishnavas. Some jewellery was stolen from the King’s Deities and the vaishnavas were accused of the theft.
But King Kulashekhara’s reaction was free from any suspicion: “No! Never! The lovers of God are incapable of stealing. It’s impossible that even a slight notion of vice can enter into their thought, what to speack of them acting improperly. I can prove my word. Let a venomous cobra be placed into a vessel and I shall put my hand into it.” As soon said as done. “If they are innocent nothing will happen. But if they are guilty let it bite me and kill me”.
The ministers were thus put into shame. They confessed their trick and begged for the King’s pardon. The King pardoned them.
For a long time King Kulashekhara had the desire to give up his kingdom and go to Shri Rangam and simply engage in devotional service unto the Lord. This desire eventually became unbearable. Hence he entrusted the kingdom to his son Dridha Vrata and left for Rangakshetra. There he experienced always increasing devotional emotions and composed the poem Perumal Tirumozhi. Perumal is a title with which Kulashekhara-Alvar is distinguished, by feeling sorrow when God is in sorrow and happiness when God is happy.
V. Peryi - Alvar
Peryi-Alvar, also known as Vishnu Chittar, was born in a high line of brahmanas in Shri Villiputur, in the year Kali 16. From early childhood he intuitively was a pure devotee of Lord Vishnu.
When meditating on the pastimes of Shri Krishna, he was inspired by Sudama, the mala-kara, who offered garlands and worshiped Krishna and Balarama when They entered Mathura, on this way to the arena of Kamsa. The Alvar then resolved to devote himself to supplying flowers for the daily worship of Lord Vishnu in His arca form of Vata-sayin in his town, Shri Villiputur.
At that time king Vallabhadeva of Madhurai, met a brahmana who spoke a few words to him and awoke the desire for attainning moksha. After that, the king was very eager to know the genuine process of self-realization. He consulted his minister who suggested he summon a council of the wisest men in the kingdom. Each one would give his opinion on the subject.
Meanwhile, in Shri Villiputur, the Alvar had a wonderful dream. His beloved Deity Shri Vata-sayin appeared before him and commanded him to attend the king’s court. “What?’, the astonished Alvar exclaimed. “Look at my hands! They are scarred from constant labour in the garden. I am poor and illiterate and yet You want me to go and speak to the king in the midst of great scholars!”.
The Lord softly replied: “Do not fear. Simply do as I say and I will arrange everything.”
* Arriving in Madhurai, he was welcomed by the king’s minister and invited to speak before the council. The Alvar become like Dhruva, who was touched by the transcendental conch of Lord Vishnu and empowered to utter wonderful prayers. Quoting many evidences from the shastras he proved that one who aspires for liberation should meditate upon and surrender unto the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, Who alone can grant mukti. In fact he simply opened his mouth and the Lord spoke through him.
Peryi-Alvar’s discourse was unparalleled and the glories of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead was established definitively, leaving no room for impersonal concept. No one dared even breathe a word in protest.
The king and all his ministers were very much enlivened and began to glorify the Alvar, saying: “He has revealed to mankind the light that shines on the very summit of the Vedanta.” They led him through the streets of the capital in a grand procession.
As parents like to witness the glory of their son, so the Lord likes to witness the glories of His devotees. Then Lord Vishnu , along with His entourage, descended personally to that spot to see His devotee being glorified. Upon beholding His beloved Lord, Peryi-Alvar was filled with ecstatic joy. However, he never allowed his heart to swell with pride.
The Alvar started praying: “Here is my God! That Supreme Person Who is so worthy of the adoration of even the most exalted demigods. At this very moment I am not feeling ecstatic love for You - love that makes me forget myself and strikes me down senseless. I am feeling fear instead. Fear for Your safety in this unworthy place. What moves me now is not the love of a belover, but the protective love a mother feels for her child.”
Then Peryi-Alvar composed a devotional poem called Tiruppallandu.
After blessing the king, Peryi-Alvar returned home to his devotional service as gardener of Shri Vata-sayin. He wrote many devotional poems, such as Tirumozhi, which were manifestation of his love for the Lord in the mood of separation. Such intense feelings of separation burned his heart so much, causing him to leave this world.
Andal is the only woman among the twelve Alvars. Peryi-Alvar was digging his garden one day when he discovered a child covered in earth, just as King Janaka had found Sitadevi. He named her Andal. The year was Kali 97.
Peryi-Alvar’s sole occupation was daily to present a flower garland to his deity Shri Vata-Sayin. As time passed, Andal blossomed into an attractive maiden. In her father’s absence, she would take up the garland he had intended for the Lord and wear it in her hair. Placing herself before a mirror, she would admire herself for hour, saying, “Don’t I match Him (God) in beauty?” When her father discovered this he chastized her severely for her offence and decided not to offer the garland to the deity that day.
At night Peryi-Alvar dreamt of Vata-Sayin who questioned him why he had failed to bring his daily garland. The Alvara explained the reson.
“Desecration?” the Lord replied, “You mean consecration, rather. We consider your fragrant garlands to smell even sweeter after your daughter has worn them. We want no others, but those.” Peryi-Alvar woke up in amazement.
As Andal grew, her love for God also grew. It became so furious in intensity it could no longer be kept in secret. Her father remained very anxious. Andal was in the full bloom of youth and yearned more and more for a husband with divine nature.One day her father said to her, “Pardon my suggestion, but surely you should marry a God. But Who among Them?” Andal asked her father to describe the different manifestations of the Lord. At this he began to name and glorify each of the 108 main deities of Lord Vishnu. Upon hearing the name of Shri Ranganatha her heart at once melted, revealing Who was holding her heart captive.
Peryi-Alvar was perplex. That night, however, Shri Ranganatha appeared in his dream and announced He would propose for his daughter’s hand and heart Himself. In Shri Rangan the Lord manifested His desire to the head priest, commanding him to journey to Shri Viliputtur and bring His fiancee to Him. The priest arranged for Andal to be brough over great pomp and made very opulent preparations for the wedding ceremony. This was conducted, and Andal embraced her Lord and, before the eyes of everyone present, merged into the body of Lord Ranganatha.
Shri Andal is today worshipped in her arca-vigraha in numerous temples of Vishnu in South India. The poetry she has written about her passionate feelings for the Lord remains as well.
Tondaradippodi was born in a South Indian brahmana family in the year Kali 288. He was named Vipra-Narayana. Later he became known as Tondiradippodi-Alvar, which means ‘the foot-dust of the slaves of the Lord’.
By nature Vipra-Narayana was a saint, completely detached from this world. As a result he remained free from natural entanglements such as marriage. Having been blessed by Lord Ranganatha, he resolved to devote his life to cultivating and suppling tulasi leaves for the Lord’s pleasure.
One day a very captivating but mundane woman named Deva-devi, who was a frequent visitor to the court of King Chola, passed through the beautiful garden of Vipra-Narayana and decided to stop and rest for some time. She noticed how Vipra-Narayana, his mind being fully absorbed in his service and on thoughts of his Deity, did not pay her the slightest attention although she was very close to him.
Deva-devi’s sister had told her he was a devotee, a saint, and for fun she had made a wager: “If you are able to deviate his heart from God to you, I will become your slave for six months”. Deva-devi had accepted. Approaching Vipra-Narayana and falling at his feets she told him destiny had made her a prostitute but that she now repented for her sinful life. Begging for shelter at his feet she offered to assist him with any menial service in his garden. Out of innocence, Vipra-Narayana consented.
Deva-devi was determined. For six months she worked with complete dedication and devotion. Then one day during the rainy season, she was out gardening in the rain, completely wet and shivering. Vipra-Nriayana felt sorry for her and called her into his cottage. This was the moment for which she had been wait for so long. Taking advantage of the situation, she suggest she would massage his weary limbs. Again a victim of his innocence, Vipra-narayana allowed her to do so.
Deva-devi was a mistress of the art of seduction. She easily captured the brahmana’s heart so he could no longer concentrate his mind in his Deity. Having won the wager, there was no reason for Deva-devi to remain in that place any longer and she returned to her house. Mad with lust, Vipra-Narayana ran after her, sat outside her front door and submitted himself to all kinds of injuries and indignities.
One day, Lord Ranganatha and His consort Shri passed by that street in a procession. When Lakshmi-devi saw Vipra-Narayana in that condition She asked Her Lord what had happened to his faithful and dedicated servant. After Lord Rannganatha narrated the story, Shri demanded that He help Vipra-Narayan and once again engage him in His sevice. But the Lord simply smiled and said He had a plan.
That same day someone knocked at Deva-devi’s door, claiming to be Vipra-Narayana’s servant. He delivered a golden cup to her which she happily received. The following morning Shri Ranganatha’s pujari discovered that the Lord’s golden cup was missing from the altar. The king immediately had the pujari and other attendants arrested.
One of Deva-devi’s maids, whose lover was one of attendants, had witness the whole scene in the house of her mistress. She at once informed the king that Vipra-Narayana had given the cup to Deva-devi and that it now lay hidden under the pillow.
The cup was retrieved and Vipra-Narayana and Deva-devi were brough before the king. They naturally denied and participation in the theft, but on the weight of the evidence against them, Deva-devi was fined and Vipra-Narayana was detained for further investigation.
Once again Lakshmi intervened, requesting Her Lord to stop playing with His devotee.
That night Lord Ranganatha appeared to the king in a dream and said to him:
“Dear king, know My servant Vipra-Narayana to be innocent, so far as his present life is concerned; but in past lives he has committed acts for which he must now pay retribution. This is why I have devised a measure which allows ends of justice to be satisfied. He has been made to suffer, though only slightly.”
The next morning the king had Vipra-Narayana release and Deva-devi’s money returned to her. Vipra-Narayana was saved by the special grace of His Lord. Old recollections of his worshippable Deity now flooded his mind and he regained his saintly nature. He came to value the danger of women’s assocation. Thinking of how to purify himself of his sin, he discovered the only remedy was to drink the water which had washed the lotus feet of the vaishnavas. From this he received the name Tondaradippodi, and he served Lord Ranganatha until his final breath.
Tiruppan-Alvar appeared in a candala family in the year Kali 342, in Tamil Nadu, South India. Actually, he was not born in the normal way - he was found in a paddy field. The stalks of green and yellow paddy around him were glowing at that time.
Due to belonging a low class family, he was not allowed to dwell with people from higher castes. In spite of that, in the childhood his parents protected him from eating indiscriminated food and other things which could pollute him. He was fed pure cow’s milk.
Since his childhood, Tiruppan had no attraction for things of this world. His natural tendencies were directed towards God. He used to absorbe himself for hours singing songs in glorification of the Lord. He would close his eyes and become utterly senseless and oblivious to the external world. He would enjoy visions of God and experiencing His closeness.
Following the traditions of his family and his caste, Tiruppan adopted the profession of musician, a lyre-player.
One day, Tiruppan was seated on the banks of the Kaveri, in Shri Rangam, near the temple of Lord Ranganatha. He was immersed in such deep meditation on the Lord that he looked like a lifeless statue. At that time, the head pujari of Lord Ranganatha, Loka Saranga, happen to come to the river side to fetch water from the river for the daily abhisheka of the Deities. Tiruppan was seated on the path where the pujaris would pass carring vessels full of water. Loka Saranga demanded that he move from there, but Tiruppan did not respond to his request. He was in devotional trance and unaware of the situation. Being a brahmana, Loka Saranga thought that this candala was provoking him with indiference, and therefore became very upset. He grabed a pebble and flung it at him. It hit him in the face and drew blood.
Tiruppan came ouy from his trance, opened his eyes and at seeing the enraged brahmana at once realized the whole situation. He then immediately moved away from the place expressing his grief and repentance at the offense which he had commited, though unwittingly.
Back at temple, Loka Saranga felt something strange. Normally Lord Ranganatha used to reciprocate with the service of his faithfull devotee but this time was different. The countenance of the Lord was not as blissful as usual, and the brahmana had the clear impression that his sevice was not being accepted by the Lord. At the same time he was mentaly regretting the incident. He was morose, feeling remorse and anguish.
While lamenting, Lord Ranganatha along with His eternal consort appeared to him and said: “How dare you hurt My faithful Tiruppan? We are sorely offended by you.” Then Shri inquired from the Lord why He delayed bringing Tiruppan nearer to Him. The Lord then said: “I have often tried to, but as I advance he receeds, because he is sensitive of his humble birth and he thinks that any contact with Me would contaminate My nature. The time has come for settling the matter, and you will have your wish soon fulfilled.” So the Lord spoke to Loka Saranga: “You shouldn’t think Tiruppan a low person - he is My very soul and My intimate friend. I want you to go to him and, with all reverence and humility, lift him up upon your shoulders and triumphally enter Our shrine. Let the world witnesses this spectacle.This is My command.”
Loka Saranga immediately went to the spot and found Tiruppan absorbed in meditation. He fell at his feets and begged forgiveness for injuries both physical and moral. Then he submitted the wish of Lord Ranganatha.
The Alvar retreated to a distance and said: “Don’t touch me. I’m low born and it’s inadmissible for me to step in the Lord Ranganatha’s land.” “But sir”, said Loka Saranga, “Don’t fear. I will carry you on my shoulders. This is the desire of the Lord. Further resistance will be desobedience.” Then Tiruppan gave up: “As the Lord wishes”, he said.
Loka Saranga without delay carried the Tiruppan into the Lord’s shrine. When he was about to deposit the Alvar in one of the holy yards of the temple, the Lord along with all His entourage, appeared before him. His devotional ecstasy then surpassed all limits and he starded praising the Lord with a song Amalam-Adipiran, he composed at that time.
While gazing and staring in astonishment, Tiruppan Alvar tarried not on the Earth to see any other sight, but melted and passed int the Lord’s substance, in his 50th year of age.
Shri Tirumangai is the last of the Alvars of the Shri Sampradaya. He was born in Kali 397 in a shudra class family. His name at birth was Nila (blue) because of Lord Krishna’s color. He is said to be the incarnation of the bow called Sharnga.
His father was the military commander in the army of King Chola. Nila learnt from him the use of different weapons and other military arts. Soon he became distinguished for his martial qualities and for his conquests of kings who were in opposition to the supremacy of King Chola.
Being unmarried, he use to behave like a libertine. He was what is known as ‘a gratifier of the senses’. He was also`known by the name Kalian.
During this period of his life, a group of very young apsaras from Svarga-loka descended onto the kingdom. There they found a wonderful place with a lake containing many lotus flowers. One of the apsaras was attentively engaged in pluking flowers when the other apsaras departed living her behind. Verily she did not know what to do. By chance, a vaishnava physician appeared on the site. Out of curiosity he asked her what such a lovely girl was doing alone in such a remote place. After hearing her story, the vaishnava brought her to his house and treated her as she were his own daughter. She was named Kumuda-Valli, because the lotus flowers were the cause of her being left behind. She grew up and bloomed into a beautiful maiden. Hence, the parents were worried because they were unable to find a suitable match in marriage for her.
In the meanwhile, one of Kalyan’s spies notice this girl of such exquisite beauty and reported back to Kalyan; how she would be the perfect wife for him. He became excited and without delay he rushed to Kumuda-Valli’s house. As soon as he saw her, his heart burnt with love and passion. Then Kalyan approached to her parents and requested her hand in marriage. They replied that the decision would be exclusively hers.
Kumuda-Valli vehemently denied to marry a non-vaishnava man, who was not initiated with the five-fold sacraments. However Kalyan was determined to get her hand in marriage by any means.
He at once went to the presiding Deity of the kingdom, Shri Nambi, and prayed fervently that He bestow him the requisite sacraments which his beloved lady had demanded. He prayed with such faith that the Deity personally administred the cakra and the conch imprinted on his arms , along with twelve marks of tilak over his body. He then rushed back to Kamuda-Valli who said: “There is another condition. You have to sumptously feed 1000 vaishnavas daily and eat only their remnants after sipping the holy water obtained from washing their feet.”
Kalyan out of love for Kamud-Valli accepted this condition, and thus they got married.
He strictly followed his promise. All money in his possession was used for a daily banquet. Hoever, after a couple of months had passed he was out of money. He even spent the taxes he was to pay the king. After having a confrontation with the king, Kalyan was finally arrested and put in the king’s prison in Kanci. There Lord Varada-raja appeared to him in a dream and revealed to him a treasure hidden on the bank of the Vegavatti river. Kalyan told the king about the dream and was alowed to go there accompanied by palace guards. He indeed found the treasure. He paid the amount owed to the king and still had enough money to continue feeding the vaishnavas. The Lord saved His devotee in the same way that He saved Draupadi. His promise to his wife was kept.
However, after some time, he again ran out of money. At that time he had to take to robbery by plundering travellers on the road. Such activity is morally perverse, but the fact is that God was pleased by Kalyan’s sincerity and once more acted in his favor. By feeding the vaishnavas and taking their remmanents, Kalyan was pleasing the Lord.
While Kalyan and his gang were waiting for their next victim, the Lord appeared on the road in the disguise of a brahmana and his wedding procession; accompanied by His wife and entourage. The brahmana was carrying a bundle full of priceless jewelry. Kalyan directed the attack and without difficulty took all the belongings of the group. When the dacoits tried to lift all the product of the robbery, they could not even move it one inch. The bundle was stuck to the ground as if by magic. Kalyan then said: “Who are you?You look like a wizard.” The Lord in disguise replied: “I will teach you a mantra by which you will be able to move the bundle. Now you come here and bend your head and put your ear near my mouth.” “What?” vociferated the chief of the dacoits, “Either you give me the mantra now or I will cut your head off with my sword.” “Come on...”, said the Lord, “don’t be nervous”. Then the brahmana asked Kalyan to repeat the eight syllable mantra: om namo narayanaya. Kalyan tested the mantra and to the surprise of all the bundle could be lifted. He was about to leave when the Lord said to him: “I have some more to give you.” Kalyan curiously replied “What more?.” The Lord then explained the spiritual potency of the mantra.
Kalian was struck with wonder. Then the ‘brahmana’ revealed Himself as Lord Narayana with His eternal consort, mounted in Garuda.
Kalyan immedately composed six songs glorifying the Lord. Thus he became the Tirumangai Alvar.From this point on his life transformed radically. His wild nature was now used integrally in the sevice of God. Accordingly, that many saintly qualities manifested in his heart.
After this incident he went on pilgrimage in the North - Haridwar, Badrinath, Naimisharanya, etc. He gained respect and was praised by all.
The Alvar came to visit Lord Ranganatha in Shri Rangam. There he compose many songs glorifying the Deity. The Deity appeared to him and requested him to stay in the temple and expand the constructed area of the temple. Of course, Tirumangai-Alvar accepted the service but now he needed a large ammount of money for doing that. To obtain the money, Tirumangai involved himself in a very exciting series of adventures.
Tirumangai’s brother-in-law told him of a temple that possessed a valuable golden murti of Buddha. They planned to steal it. But the altar was protected by an intricate mechanical system which made it impossible to enter and touch the Deity. The only person who knew the secret was the architect who had constructed it. They found that the man lived on an island in the Bay of Bengal. Arriving on the island they indirectly approached the architect. Taking advantage of his slyness, the group obtained the secret of the altar’s protecting scheme. Returning to the temple they were able to take the murti off. However his brother-in-law happened to fall into a trap. He then said to Tirumangai: “You have to flee from here at once. But don’t leave me here alive. Please cut my head off. It would be better”. And Tirumangai did so.
Leaving that place, the group carried the murti as it were a dead body in a funeral, with the head of the Alvar’s brother-in-law on the top.
This time Shri Lakshmi-devi interfered and requesed the Lord to save His devotee. Lord Vishnu sent Garuda with the mission to rescue the body, join it with the head and give him life.
Returning to Shri Rangam Tirumangai melted the murti and payed for the construction. Again he had more problems when the money was exausted, he still had to pay a substantial amount in wages to the workers. “What to do?”, thought the Alvar. Therefore he put all the worker on a boat used for crossing the river. Half way across the river he made the boat sink and the workers died. Again there was more problems. Now the wives, children and relatives of the workers were demanding compensation. Again, “What to do now?”, thought the Alvar. Then a new miracle happened. The workers who had died appeared before their families and requested them not to struggle for money, because now, they are in the heaven and are better them before.