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The Unqualified Azhwar

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Prapanna Jana Koodasthar - Sri Nammazhvar

We are all aware of Sri Nammazhwar’s life story. He was born at TirukkurugUr as an entirely unique child, the likes of which the world has never seen and would never see. Whereas every mortal child emits a cry immediately upon emerging from the mother’s womb (in fact this is supposed to be one of the vital signs of normalcy in a newborn), the child of KAri and udayanangai never let out even a whimper, not only at birth, but never even later. Why do infants cry? Normally because they are hungry, sleepy or have some ache or pain. Since the Satakopa sisu was beyond these mundane wants or botherations, he did not cry. We see infants perceptibly thinning, when they miss even a single feeding and become extremely cranky when they miss their beauty sleep. However, this extraordinary baby never emitted a single sound of complaint nor did he appear in any way affected by staying off any form of intake and not closing its eyes even for forty winks. It was this distinct difference from normal infant behaviour that gave the child the name, ‘MAran'( one who is different).

These were not the only aspects of uniqueness in Sri Nammahwar. Normal children insist on running about and engaging in mischief once they are mobile and are usually difficult to control, being carbon copies of Denis the Menace. Sri Nammazhwar gave his parents no anxious moments on this count and confined himself entirely to the hole in the Tamarind tree on the premises of AdinAtha PerumAL sannidhi at TirukkurugUr. The child never walked, never ran, never moved out of his apparently permanent perch in the tree. This continued for sixteen long years, till Sri MadurakavigaL recognised the unusual teenager as an apostle extraordinaire and became an ardent disciple. Even after this, Azwar did not move out of his tree-home and it was the Emperumans of all the divyadesams who came running to the Tamarind tree, for obtaining adulation by the unmoving Azhwar.

It is clear therefore that Azhwar did not engage in any of the activities ascribed to normal human beings, either as an infant or after growing up. He was not affected by adoloscence or the normal teenage troubles. Far from courting delightful damsels, he preferred his own company and that of the Lord, who was his constant companion in thought and formed his all “uNNum sOru, parugum neer, tinnum vettrilai, yAvum KaNNan”. Wealth in any form had no meaning for him, having been blessed with the foremost of all riches’ Bhagavat anubhavam.

Sri Nammazhvar
Thus, without engaging in any human activity, without going out anywhere from the tall tamarind tree, without courting any sort of human company, without apparently learning anything in the formal sense, Azhwar must have been totally ignorant of the ways of the world. He could not have known the intensity of love that a girl could have for her beloved, nor the depth of emotion carried by a devoted husband for his wonderful wife. He could not have known the infatuation some people have for ladies, in and out of wedlock. He could not have imagined the overwhelming love some people have, not for their human counterparts, but towards wealth and riches in any and all forms. He could not have known the extents to which people perjure themselves for amassing wealth, praising skyhigh, idols with feet of clay. He could definitely not have had an inkling of how mercenary people are, surrounding the death-bed of a person, in the fond hope of benefiting from the fortune he would leave behind, hovering about like vultures which have sighted pray. Nor could he have known the ways of the oldest profession, which discards its customers after sucking out all that they have to offer. Thus the Azhwar, confined to his tree-home throughout his life, without anyone to tell him anything either about the world or of anything else, bereft of human company whch he wantonly eschewed, could have hardly known any of the aforesaid and a hundred other things which mundane mortals become aware of at the appropriate points of time in life, either through personal experience or through others.

Thus, if there is anyone totally unqualified to speak about or comment upon the ways of the world, it is Swami Nammazhwar, who put into actual practice what Sri Kulasekhara Perumal vowed to do “uNdiyE udayE ugandu Odum im maNdalam tannodum kooduvadillai yAn” and kept entirely away from polluting human company. Other Azhwars like Sri Vishnuchitta, Sri Kalian, Sri Tondaradippodi etc. might be more qualified in this regard, having lived among frail mortals like us, moved as one among us and been witness daily to some human failing or the other, but not Sri Satakopa Muni.

Despite this apparent lack of worldly knowledge, we find Sri Nammazhwar spaeaking quite knowledgeably, at times even cynically, about the ways of the world and its mortal inhabitants.
Describing the mercenary attitude of relatives and friends, he points out, as if personally affected by their attitude, as to how they surround one when one is affluent, sucking one’s wealth away like leeches and caring not for one when one is in penury or dire straits

“tuNaiyum sArvum AguvAr pOl suttratthavar pirarum
aNaya vanda Akkam uNdEl attaigaL pOl suvaippar”

“poruL kai uNdAi sella kANil pOttri endru Ettri ezhuvar
iruL koL tunbatthu inmai kANil ennE enbArum illai”.

Azhwar categorically rules out any permanence in the so-called pleasure we hanker after, with all the authenticity of one who has experienced them and found them to be puerile “illai kaNdeer inbam andO!”

Not having had even a negligible experience of female company, Azhwar is still able to speak with authority on the plight of those who delight in it to the exclusion of all others

“paNimin tirvaruL ennum amseetha paipoom paLLi
aNi men kuzhalAr inba kalavi amudu uNdAr
tuNi munbu nAla pal Ezhaiyar tAm izhippa selvar”.

Without having earned or saved a penny for himself or for others, not having even a nodding acquaintance with business or commerce, Azhwar still gives a graphic description of the impermanence of wealth and prosperity, pointing out how exalted monarchs are often reduced to the state of penniless paupers and the lack of any guarantee in this life of continued affluence and power

“andru mudal indru arudiyA
vAzhndArgaL vAzhndE nirpar enbadu illai”

The tendency of poets and others to extoll the praises of the wealthy and powerful, in the hope of benefiting from their largesse and heaping on them totally undeserved paeans of hypocritical praise, comes in for caustic comment by Azhwar, who paints these scenes so realistically as if he had been witness to them

“mAri anaya kai mAl varai okkum tiNdOl endru
pAril Or pattraiyai pacchai pasum poigaL pEsavE”

Azhwar’s portrayals of the pleasures of the flesh that the Lord can afford to those who desire the same, leave us wondering as to how such detailed knowledge on the subject could have been acquired by this celibate saint. This is especially true of the decads “VEy maru tOLiNai meliyumAlO”, “Malligai kamazh tendral eerumAlO” etc., where Azhwar describes both the pleasures of physical union as well as the distress occasioned by separation from the beloved.

We are therefore left wondering as to how Azhwar could exhibit knowledge, that too in such intricate detail, about phenomena he could never have come acroos, having eschewed all human company and confined himself all his life to a hole in a tree.

The solution to this apparently inexplicable riddle is provided by Azhwar himself , that too in the opening decad of Tiruvaimozhi, in the very first verse thereof

“uyarvara uyar nalam udayavan yavan avan
mayarvara madi nalam aruLinan yavan avan”

Azhwar tells us that it is the Lord who has blessed him with unblemished wisdom. It is this wisdom that enables Azhwar to perceive matters mundane in true light, unaffected by eyes jaundiced by sensual pleasures. While the actual players in a drama would be unable to detect any defects in their action, dialogue delivery etc., an onlooker is instantly able to perceive such shortcomings. Similarly, Azhwar too, in his role as a non-participating observer, is able to clearly perceive and mirror the frailties in human conduct. Thus, even though he never had an occasion to be an actual player in the Great Human Tragedy, he is proficient in perceiving vividly the faults and foibles of the human race, due to the divine wisdom bestowed on him by Emperuman. And he sees them all in his mind’s eye, just as Sanjaya did. It was as if Emperuman told Azhwar too, “divyam dadhAmi tE chakshu:” (I endow thee with superhuman eyes, capable of perceiving not only what happens in the immediate vicinity, but the world over, as clearly as if it is occurring right in front of your eyes).

Apart from the blessing of blemishless wisdom, Azhwar’s tirunamam itself tells us how he was able to divine the erratic and wayward nature of the world, without ever being an integral part thereof. The name “SathakOpa:” refers to someone who vented his anger on “Satham”. We are told that all babies, on being born, retain full memories of their previous births and also the wonderful wisdom accumulated over innumerable births. However, the moment they emerge from the protective confines of the mother’s womb, an ill-boding wind known as “Satham” strikes them with such force that the infants instantly forget all that is stored in their grey cells and begin to cry in fear at the strange and unfamiliar environs they have been thrust into. In the case of Azhwar, however, this cruel draught could not succeed in its mission, with the saint just shooing it away. Thus, he retained all his wisdom, thereby able to recollect the wicked ways of the world, without ever setting eyes on a human being.

A third explanation is also to be found in Tiruvaimozhi, for Sri Nammazhwar’s apparently unlimited knowledge about people and their behaviour. In more than one verse, Azhwar puts the entire credit for the composition of Tiruvaimozhi at the lotus feet of the Lord, telling us time and again that it is He who actually authored the songs, with Azhwar acting just as an output device

“PaNnAr pAdal in kavigaL yAnAi tannai tAn pAdi
tennA ennum en ammAn TirumAlirum sOlayAnE”

“tannai tAnE tudittu”

“en nenjattuL irundu ingu irum Tamizh nool ivai mozhindu” etc.

Hence, when Azhwar speaks in a worldly-wise manner, as if aware of the entire gamut of emotions human beings are capable of , despite being a total stranger to human society, it is actually Emperuman speaking from within the Azhwar, making fun of us, showing us up to be the hypocrites we are, exhorting us to stay away from paths of peril, telling us to keep our senses under strict control, lest they lead us astray from the narrow and straight path to Paradise and so on.

Azhwar’s state reminds us of that of Sri PrahlAdAzhwan, who too, despite his tender years, was well aware of the human race’s predilection for sensual pleasures and its thirsting for a variety of desired objects, without its wants ever being satisfied fully, as one satisfied desire immediately gives rise to another. Therefore he prays to Sri Nrsimha to bless him (Prahlada) with the sort of attachment to the Lord, which ordinary mortals have towards various objects of puerile pleasure they covet

“yA preeti: avivEkAnAm vishayEshu anapAyinI
tvAm anusmarata: sA mE hridayAt mApasarpatu”.

Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Dasan, sadagopan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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