Thirumangai Alwar and Thiruvenkatamudaiyaan

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Devotion to Lord Venkatesa

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.

Soul’s desire

“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.

Attitude

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.

Seeking Asylum

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.

Servitude

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

Recapitulation

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
t he 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. 7-1-3-1550).
Realisation
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.
Reconciliation
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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