Today ANI ANUSHAM – Varusha Thirunakshatram of Sri Nathamunigal. Below is the article from Nrusimhapriya on the great preceptor.
Amazing act of preservation
Today in all vaishnava temples, in many Hindu households, and even in mylapore music concerts, the hymns of the Nalayira DivyaPrabandham are recited or sung. Whether their meaning is understood or not, it is an amazing fact that the same verses were recited in perhaps the same style 1200 years ago. The words have been preserved and have come to us unsullied, unaltered and with a little guidance can be easily comprehended. One man was responsible for this amazing act of preservation – Sri Nathamuni, the anthologist of the songs of azhvar-s. He did what Namdiyaandaar Nambi did to the Saivite Tirumaraigal and much later, what Swaminatha Iyer did to Sangam literature. Sri Nathamuni established an oral tradition of their recitation down the ages. He also gave them vedic stature (vedasamyam). Sri Nathamuni was the first preceptor of the guruparamara tradition, a continuous preceptor disciple lineage, another unique practice in the Vaishnava tradition preserved till today.
Tirumangai Azhwar, in tiruneduntandakam (v.4), refers to the lord as one who has become the excellent tamil sounds and Sanskrit word. He thereby seems to suggest the path of two fold scripture (Ubhaya –Vedanta). In this significant phrasing, Tirumangai affirms that the Tamil scripture has an autonomous divine origin along with Sanskrit.
The significant role of Sri Nathamuni
It was Sri Nathamuni who gathered the precious hymns of the azhvar-mystics and saved them for humanity in the tamil scripture known as Aruliccheyal and as Divya Prabhandam. His full name was Ranganatha-Muni. He was born to Isvara bhatta of Sottai clan in the vedic lineage of Sathamarsana, with the birth asterism of Anuradha in the month of Ani/Mithunam. It is taken to be a sign of divine purpose that this revered savant picked up a clue to the scripture quite accidentally. Sri Nathamuni was the finder of the treasure, and he did not keep it for himself. He gave it to the world.
The quest begins
It is well known that Sri Nathamini was sparked off on his profound quest when he heard for the first time the Tiruvazhmozhi decad, ‘Aaraa amudhe adiyen udalam’ etc. (V8.1), hymning the deity of Thirukkudandhai. The meaning runs as follows:
“You are my insatiable Nectar!
My body melts with love towards you.
In ‘Kudanthai’ of water-filled paddy fields,
my Lord,I see your reclining body asleep, aglow “.
Sri Nathamuni was startled by the beauty of the poem and asked the devotees (who sang them) where from they learnt those verses: the last verse they sang mentioned the words, ’this ten out of thousand’. This led to next question, ‘were there more?’. The did know that these were the compostions of a sage in Thirukkurugur. Thus began Sri Nathamuni’s quest for the rest of the verses. This is the most plausible version.
A passion that defied all odds
It is important to remember and cherish with gratitude Sri Nathamuni’s passion, which drove him to trek down from his native Kattu mannar kovil to Thirukkurugur/ Azhvar Thirunagari in search of the other hymns. The life-time of Sri Nathamuni is indicated by S.Krishnaswamy Ayyangar to be 823 – 917 and by M.U.Raghava Ayyangar as 825-918, and we have to visualize how challenging and stressful if must have been for Sri Nathamuni to have undertaken the long journey over what must have been a difficult terrain. Sri Nathamuni was fortunate to have met the second-generation disciple of Nammazhvar himself, Parankusa Dasar, who imparted to him the ten-stanza hymn (Kanni-nunn-Siru-t-Taambu) the composition of his preceptor Sri Madhura Kavi on his guru Nammazhvar.
Yogi par excellence
Sri Nathamuni was a yogi par excellence. His renowned grandson Alavandar/Yamuna personifies him as the totality of bhakti-yoga, Parasara bhattar applies to him the metaphor, jnana-jimuta (Nimbus of Knowledge), which appropriately describes Sri Nathamuni’s spiritual power. Vedantacharyar affirms that he held in his palm the substance of scriptures. The poet Vadivazhakiya Nambi Dasar describes him as one without a match for his penances. Pilla lokiyam Jiyar describes him as one of ultimate realization (parama-hamsa). The poetic-esoteric work Acharya Hrudayam (aphorism no. 115) says that Sri Nathamunigal was verily like the Swan-manifestation the Lord assumed when He imparted the scripture to the aspirants mentioned in the Svetasvatara Upanishad. Sri Nathamuni seems to have gone to great lengths to play down his yogic proficiency. It was nevertheless plausible that the simple-sounding Kann’ hymn of just ten stanzas became a powerful spell (mantra), when recited and repeated by Sri Nathamuni 12000 times. He could behold the azhwar meterialising before him in a vision, and teaching him entire corpus of the Divya Prabhandam.
Debt of gratitude
It is not easy for us to imagine the extent and nature of the excitement, fulfilment and peace that Sri Nathamuni must have experienced as he came by object of his quest, the Divya Prabhandam scripture. There is a beautiful precedent to this in the account of the hebraic: prophet nioses who “wrote upon the tablets the words of the ten commandments; the skin of his face shone while he talked with the Lord” (Exodus 34).
The sensation of gratitude felt for Sri Nathamuni by his successors was evident in their acknowledging and adorning him as the grand ancestor of the path of two-fold scripture (ubhaya – vedaanta – maarga). Lord Sriman Narayana is identified as first preceptor not only for Sri Vaishnava guru parmpara, but also for Sri Sankara Sampradayam (narayanam padma-bhavam vasishtham etc). It is, however, Sri Nathamuni who is acknowledged as first acharya who installed the guru lineage here on this earth, says a grateful Appillai, a disciple of Sri Manavala Mamunigal.
It was Tirumangai azhvar who originally introduced Thiruvazhmozhi also (in the great temple of Srirangam) in the festival of Veda recitation (adhyayana utsava) held annually from the eleventh day of the bright (sukla) fortnight of the month of margazhi/dhanus. Subsequently Sri Nathamuni, in his time, enlarged the scheme of recitation to include the entire 4000 verses of the Divya Prabhandam. It was through this manner of canonization of the Divya prabhandam and the concomitant institutionalization of psalmodists (araiyar-s) , that Sri Nathamuni ensured the preservation, learning and bequeathing of the precious scripture for generations to come.
Sri Nathamuni’s five disciples were, Pundarikaksha ( Uyyakondar), Thirukkurukaik kavalappan, his nephews of the ‘west house’ and of the ‘east house’ whom he taught to recite the tamil scripture in the celestial music system (deva-gana) and appointed them as the araiyar-s; and Thirukannamangai andan whom he first equipped with the esoteric meaning of the ‘twin sacred formula’ (dvayarnantra) before imparting to him the fine sensibilities of the tamil scripture.
Uyyakondar was entrusted with the bringing up of Sri Nathamuni’s grandson Yamuna in the tradition (sampradaya). Uyyakondar who sensed his own end approaching, did however discharge this responsibility without any deficiency, by deputing his own disciple Srirama misra (Manakkal Nambi) on assignment. Sri Nathamuni’s school of eight part yoga was represented solely by Thirukkurukaik kavalappan on whose expiry, alas, it was lost.
The lineage continues
Sri Nathamuni is said to have composed two works in Sanskrit of which one is available in fragments and the other is completely lost. The next in succession was his renowned grandson-prodigy, Yamuna/ Alavandar who wrote nothing in tamil, and is considered the father of the sanskrit hymnal (strota-patha) literature. His Stotra rathna contains literal translations from the tamil, scripture into sanskrit verse, and this precedent came to be readily adopted by all his successors, culminating in the versatile personality of Vedantacharyar. Yamun’simmediate successor was Sri Rmanujar who wrote almost all of his nine definitive works exclusively in sanskrit.
The acceptance of the tamil scripture by such sanskrit personalities of great learning and long¬time orthodoxy was not something ‘promoted’ (as we would say today) through any state pressure or by other vested interests. They had no mental barrier to overcome, and the tamil scripture stood on its own in poetry, grandeur, philosophic content, humanistic values, and clear affirmations of godhead. Its divine inspiration was visible for all to see.
The author of Acharya Hrudhayam (aphorism 65) points out that Sri Ramanuja relied on the Dravida Veda to compose his Sri bhasyam, a commentary on the Brahma sutra. This affirmation of scriptural validity has an echo in Vedantacharya’s Adhikara sangraham, where he says that his studious learning of the tamil scriptures enabled him to grasp clearly the obscure regions of the vedas. While Sri Nathamuni described the Thiruvazhmozhi as an Upanishad of a thousand branches, Vedantacharya extolled it as the scripture Dramidapanishad Tatparya Ratnavali which is benign to hear.
Another point of view
Traditional accounts depicts Sri Nathamuni as invoking Nammazhvar ina vision at Thirukkurugur, and receiving by azhwar’s grace the entirety of the 4000 – verse tamil scripture. Tradition further suggests that prior to Sri Nathamuni’s recovery of precious literature, there was a total lapse of racial memory in respect of hymns of azhwars.
One of the difficulties in traditional accounts of the lives of azhvar-s and acharya-s is the mix of myth and fact. Usually the factual and historic content will be very little and the traditional account is totally believed, it is very difficult to demythify these traditional accounts. In fact it is not permitted. They are as sacred as the life of Christ or Prophet mohammed, not questioned.
A somewhat varied reading of the history and times of this extraordinary event is proposed in a perceptive paper (Journal of Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, Mumbai, 1998) by Pandurangan of Pondicherry. He cites inscriptions to establish that the names of azhvar-s were well-known to the people long before the canonization of Nalayira Divyaprabhandam and that the study and recitation of the sacred hymns were continuously carried out at various important centres, and not completely lost, as suggested by the guru parampara accounts.
Pandurangan further points out that there were Vishnu shrines antecedent to the recovery and compilation of the Divyaprabhandam by Sri Nathamuni, and that the absence of hymns on these shrines, especially those located in the Kongu land (today’s Salem, Namakkal, Coimbotore, Karur), should he explained on the ground that no azhvar hailed from thereabouts and that “the activities of Sri Nathamuni for rediscovering the sacred hymns of azhvar-s were mainly confined to the Pandya, Chola and Kerala countries, but not to Kongu region which witness wars through his time, and the situation would not have permitted Sri Nathamuni to undertake a journey in the war-tore region for his sacred mission.”
Thus the story of Sri Nathamuni combines in itself historicity and mysticism, making him a semi-divine personality, who shines as the star of the first magnitude in the firmament of Sri Vaishnava literature.
Also read a tamil and english articles on Sri Nathamunigal here