Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Emperuman at various divya desams sports a variety of tirunamams, some of which are unique and distinctive. There is the ‘KAi sina VEndan’ of TiruppuLingudi, ‘KaLlar PirAn’ (The Chief Thief) of Srivaikuntam, the ‘nandA viLakku’ PerumAL, ‘PattharAvi’ of Tirunindravoor and so on. Each of these holy names indicates a particular endearing trait of the Lord or some specific drama enacted by Him for the benefit of His devotees. Thus, when we hear the name ‘Parthasarathy’, it immediately brings to our mind the Lord’s soulabhyam in assuming the role of a mere charioteer and piloting the Pandavas to victory in the battle of Kurukshetra. The name ‘RangarAjA’ similarly portrays the Lord’s penchant for enacting various roles from time to time for protecting the good and eliminating evil, with this earth as the theatre and its inhabitants in supporting roles with the Divine Consort as the unchanging Heroine in all the plays. The nitya kalyANa PerumAl of Tiruvidavendai reminds of His undying love for His MahishIs, while the very mention of the AkkArakkani Perumal of ChOlasimhapuram makes us recollect the eternal love the Lord has for His true devotees and His intolerance towards their detractors.
Thus there might be any number of the Lord’s names striking an emotional chord in us. There is however one which is extremely evocative of poignance even in our stony hearts, which are capable of remaining unmoved by even the most touching of scenes. This is none other than the sobriquet of Emperuman at the divyadesam known as ‘ThiruvekkA’ near Kanchipuram. The Lord here is called ‘YathOkta kArI’ in Sanskrit, its Tamizh equivalent being ‘Sonna vaNNam seida PerumAL’. This tirunAmam literally means one who has carried out orders without demur. This is a rather funny monicker for the omnipotent Lord, to whose tunes the whole universe dances, the mere movement of whose eyebrow controls the fortunes of multitudes, at whose beck and call even exalted deities like BrahmA, RudrA, Indra etc.remain and out of fear of whom the Sun, the Wind, the Fire and other illustrious functionaries perform their allotted tasks faultlessly.
We wonder therefore as to whose dictates the Lord could have obeyed implicitly, to merit such an appellation. The unique name ‘Sonna vaNNam seida PerumAL’ indicates that the Lord carried out the errand immediately, unquesioningly and without demur. We who know the boundless influence His Consort exercises over Him, would be inclined to think that it was She whom the Lord obliged with alacrity’however, we would be wrong, for once. Could it be any of the Celestials, the Nitya SUrIs, who enjoy such proximity to the Lord as to command obedience’ Again, No is the answer. Which other class of people could exert such influence on Emperuman, as to elicit implicit obedience’ His deovtees, of course, especially the Azhwars, who so immersed themselves in Him and His exploits as to take the liberty to tell Him what to do.
The Azhwar we are concerned with here is Sri Tirumazhisai Piran, who has to his credit two important prabandams, the NAnmukhan TiruvandAdi and the Tirucchanda Viruttam. A study of Divya Prabandas would be very much incomplete without a perusal of these pasurams, which tower head and shoulders above the other components of the Divine Four Thousand, in terms of their lilting metre and poignant purport.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
This Azhwar would appear to be different from the other Azhwars. While the latter accepted the supremacy of Sriman Narayana axiomatically, Mazhisai Piran arrived at the same after much analytical study and engaging in imbibing what would be known today as Comparative Theology. He appears to have weighed and discarded the relative merits of Buddhism, Jainism, Shaivam etc., before plumping for Emperuman as the Supreme Godhead, on the authority of the Shruti, capable of bestowing the ultimate fruit of Moksha. This is evident from his own pasuram’
“SAkkiam kattrOm, SamaNam kattrOm, SankaranAr
Akkiya Agama nool ArAindOm bhagyattAl
SenkaN kariyAnai sErndOm yAm teedilamE
Engatku ariyadu ondru il”
Whatever one might be told and however credible and authentic be the source, we attach much greater importance to what we learn through our own objective analysis. Such too is this Azhwar’s conviction, which shines through in all his pasurams’so much so that the main thread of his verses appears to be establishing the Paratvam or Supremacy of Sriman Narayana. Such is his greatness that Swami Desikan extolls him as ‘Mazhisai vanda sOdi’.
Coming back to the Sonna vaNNam seida PerumAl, Azhwar, who was born in Tirumazhisai, was attracted by the reclining Emperuman at the TiruvekkA divyadesam and made the place his permanent residence, performing various kainkaryams to the Lord and imparting divine wisdom to disciples, the principal of whom was one KaNi KaNnan. The latter was extremely devoted to his illustrious Acharya and, as behoves an ideal Guru, Azhwar’s love for his disciple too knew no bounds. KaNikaNNan used to accept bhikshA from various households, including the King’s, and submit the same to his preceptor, with which Azhwar performed tiruvArAdhanam to the Lord, sharing the prasadam with his disciple.
A doddering old woman residing near Azhwar’s Ashramam was attracted by Azhwar’s radiance (resulting from his blemishless wisdom and bhagavat anubhavam) and, impelled to be of some utility to the great soul, undertook the job of cleaning the Ashramam premises, decorating it with floral designs (‘KOlam’), keeping it spotless as behoved the distinguished inhabitant, etc.
After some years of this, she made bold one day to beseech Azhwar to restore to her the prime of youth, with its attendant physical and mental qualities. Laughing to himself at the incorrigible infatuation of people with material desires, Azhwar granted the wish of the old woman, who was instantly transformed into a delightful damsel who became the cynosure of all eyes. It is no wonder therefore that this lady came to the notice of the King, one PallavarAya, who made her his queen.
After a few years in the enthralling company of his new acquisition, the King felt something strange happening (or,rather, not happening). While he was growing older, succumbing to the inexorable advance of age, he found that no such phenomenon was affecting his consort. She was as young and sprightly as she was when he married her, despite her being subject as much to the laws of time, as he was; in fact, she appeared to be growing younger, if such a thing were at all possible. When pressed for the secret of her unfading youth, the queen was reluctant to reveal the same. However, with continued pressure, the King was able to learn the way she had reacquired her youth. From then on, he was beset by only one thought’how to regain his past years and become young and virile again, if only to keep pace with his beautiful queen, who looked as if she would never cross sixteen. Looking at her master’s obsession, the queen herself suggested a way for him to gain the Azhwar’s favour. Knowing how attached Azhwar was to KaNiKaNNan, she suggested to the KIng that he approach the disciple, so that his aim could be achieved easily.
The King contrived a meeting with KaNikaNNan on one of the latter’s visits to the town for seeking bhikshA, took the unwilling bhagavata to his palace and offered him all upachArAs. He then requested Kanikannan to bring Azhwar to the palace, so that the King could satisfy his cherished desire. Knowing his master’s ways well, Kanikannan told the King point blank that Azhwar, who was forever immersed in communion with the Lord, would never visit any palace. Disappointed but unwilling to give up, the King prayed that he be taken to the Ashramam to pay his respects to Azhwar. Kanikannan refused this request too, for he was sure that Azhwar would never be willing to see someone so immersed in mundane pleasures and caring little for the Lord and His devotees.
The King was in a fix’neither would Tirumazhisai Piran come to his castle, nor would the latter meet the King even if he went to the Ashramam. How else could he seek the Azhwar’s blessings for an unending spell of youth’ Was it his lot to go on ageing and become a doddering old man, while his queen remained ever youthful, and all this while the elixir of youth was close at hand’ His ministers suggested a way out’recognising the greatness of Kanikannan himself, they told the king that even a verse of blessing from the former could do the trick. However, when the disciple’s compliance was sought, he refused categorically, telling the King in no uncertain terms that all his verses of praise were reserved for the Lord and the Azhwar: he had none to spare for adulating mortals, however high they were placed”nA koNdu mAnidam pAda vanda kaviyEn allEn’, as another Azhwar would have said.
With apparently all options explored and having drawn a naught at all of them, the King became angry with disappointment, true to the Gita dictum, ‘KAmAt
KrOdha: abhijAyatE’. In a classic example of unrequited desire turning to annoyance, he vented his fury by ordering the unobliging Kanikannan out of his kingdom. There was no place within his frontiers for one who would not oblige the Soverign himself. Hence a royal decree was issued, banishing Kanikannan from Kanchi and its environs.
Kanikannan took the extradition in his stride, for the Lord is present everywhere to the wise (‘Sarvatra samadarsinAm’) and though banishment from TiruvekkA would mean separation from the Emperuman of his fancy, he could of course visualise the same Lord in any other image or even without an image”tamar ugandadu evvuruvam avvuruvam tAnE’. However, he was more dismayed at the separation this would entail from his beloved master, the Azhwar. He went to Azhwar to give him the news with a heavy heart and tearful eyes, seeking his permission to leave TiruvekkA and Kanchi and continue his kainkaryam elsewhere.
To his utter astonishment, Tirumazhisai Piran told him that he (Azhwar) had no desire to live in a place which did not have room for his beloved disciple. Kanikannan was overwhelmed by this display of affection on his Acharya’s part and made arrangements for them to leave together.
‘Wait’, said the Azhwar, telling his disciple that he was not prepared to endure separation from the Emperuman of TiruvekkA, just because he happened to be within the unjust King’s jurisdiction. The Lord was of course stationery, in His arcchA samAdhi, and could not move. Nor could the Azhwar stay at TiruvekkA. What could be the solution for them to leave, but not to part with the Lord’ ‘Simple!’said the Azhwar, ‘We will ask the Lord to go with us’. Kanikannan was astounded’was it possible for the Lord to leave His permanent environs and come with them just like that’ And would He do it’ Despite his unshakeable faith in Azhwar’s greatness, the disciple was somewhat doubtful about the Lord’s compliance, which was against all nature and also the Lord’s own laws.
Master and disciple repaired to the Sannidhi and standing before the Lord, Azhwar explained the situation to Him, speaking as if to a live, listening being. As was his penchant, he ended his narration with a scintillating verse, summing up the matter and exhorting the Lord to pack up and accompany himself and Kanikannan’
“Kanikannan pOgindrAn, kAmaru poom Kacchi
MaNIvaNNA! Nee kidakka vENdA’tuNivudaya
SennA pulavanum pOgindrEn, neeyum unthan
PainnAga pAi surutti koL”
‘Kanikannan is going, banished by the King. I do not want to remain in a place where the King has no honour and am accompanying my sishya. Without us, what would you do here’ You had better roll up your snaky bed and follow us’ commanded Azhwar.
There are several noteworthy things here.
One is Azhwar’s insistence that he would not forsake his disciple. As the quit order was only to Kanikannan, Azhwar could have very well remained behind and continued his kainkaryam to Emperuman. However, to Azhwar, the devoted disciple was as dear as the Lord Himself and hence not to be forsaken.
Another is the Azhwar’s supreme confidence that Emperuman would listen to him, despite being in arcchA samAdhi and YOga nidrA. Who else but Tirumazhisai Piran would even dream of speaking to the Lord, leave alone requiring Him to pack up and leave His preferred abode for some unknown destination’
Azhwar’s confidence stems from the fact that he considered himself to be an integral part of the Lord and, as such, could not imagine an existence away from his Emperuman. BhaktisAra too believed in the dictum, ‘nAn unnai andri ilEn kaNdAi NaraNanE! Nee ennai andri ilai’. We have no separate existence from Emperuman, nor does He have one without us, as we form the sharIram and He, the sharIri (the owner of the body). As such, Azhwar could not imagine the Lord adopting any course of action, other than leaving with himself and Kanikannan. Not for a moment did Azhwar consider the fact that he was addressing the Supreme Lord, who, in his current arcchAvatAra, faced inhibitions in interacting with His human subjects. Such was his confidence that the Lord would not bear separation from him (Azhwar) and that Azhwar would hardly live without the Lord.
Commanded thus, the Lord just upped and left, to everyone’s astonishment, and followed Azhwar and Kanikannan on their journey out of Kanchi. And when the Lord leaves, what happens’ Automatically, His inseparable Consort followed Him, as did all the lesser deities inhabiting KanchIpuram. All temples thus wore a deserted look. The residents of the illustrious town, seeing the unheard-of procession of deities, big and small, rubbed their eyes in disbelief and decided to follow their objects of worship, just as the entire citizenry of Ayodhya did, when Sri Rama left for the jungle. Within the span of a few hours, Kanchi became a ghost town, with only the King and his courtiers remaining in what was previously a town teeming with life, learning and commerce. Streets were deserted, the Sun had almost disappeared even though it was still midday, plunging the whole place in near-darkness. Life had come to a grinding halt, reducing the King to a ruler without subjects.
Realising his folly, King Pallavaraya was remorse-stricken at his hasty banishment of Kanikannan, which had had such disastrous consequences not only for him (the king) but for the town as a whole, reducing it to a shambles. Not standing on prestige, he made immediate amends by going in search of Kanikannan and profusely apologising to him for the unjust decree. Kanikannan, who had never harboured any grudge against the King, consented to return to Kanchi. And with him returned Tirumazhisai Piran, who told the Lord that there was no need for Him to forsake Kanchi and that He could once more unfurl His mattress and resume His apparent slumber at Tiruvekka’
“Kanikannan pOkku ozhindAn, kamaru poom Kacchi
MaNivaNNA! Nee kidakka vENdum’tuNivudaya
SennA pulavanum pOkkozhindEn, neeyum undan
PainnAga pAi padutthu koL”
Normalcy was restored and Kanchi returned to its former hustle and bustle. The Lord too resumed His former reclining posture. While doing so, however, He placed His left hand under His head (formerly it was the right), to signify for posterity His unquestioning compliance with Azhwar’s commands.
It was this episode of the Lord obeying the devotee to the letter, that gave Him the sobriquet, ‘Sonna vaNNam seida PerumAl’ the Lord who did as He was told. Swami Desikan describes the glory of this Emperuman in ‘VEgAsEthu Stotram’, terming Him ‘Shrita jana paratantram’ (one who is bound by what His devotees wishes), ‘BhaktimatAm YatOktakArI’ (one who does what He is told to by bhaktAs). The Acharya tells us further that anyone who meditates on this episode of the Lord’s movements to and from Kanchi, in unquestioning obedience of His devotee’s dictum, would never run helplessly hither and thither in this Samsara
‘pratyAdisanti bhava sancharaNam prajAnAm
bhaktAnugantu: iha yasya gatAgatAni’.
From all the aforesaid, it appears as though you could wind the Lord around your little finger, if only you had the right equation with Him, the equation of love, devotion and unquestioning faith. If you have all this, He is verily a trusting and compliant lamb, sitting when asked to sit, standing when told to do so and lying down when so ordered. This episode is indeed unique in the annals of the Lord and His exploits, for, never before, and perhaps never after, has He displayed such docile compliance, transgressing even the self-imposed immobility of the arcchAvatAra. Azhwar’s achievment in having the Lord follow him is perhaps a better demonstration of Emperuman’s abject acquiescence with His devotees’ dictates, than of Yasoda’s in making Krishna dance to her tunes and tying Him up, for, while the Gopi had a live, active, walking and talking Lord to deal with, in Azhwar’s case it was a stony Emperuman, with self-imposed vows of being silent and stationary.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore