Tirumangai Alvar

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December 2, 1995


The star Krittikai in the month of Kaarttikai (late November-early December) is an auspicious day for all Sri Vaishnavas for it is the birth star of one of their most revered saints, Tirumangai Alvar. He is the second most prolific author among the 12 Alvars, next only to Nammalvar. Of the 24 poems by the twelve Alvars consisting of almost 4,000 verses, Tirumangai’s share is 6 poems with 1,253 verses. Nammalvar’s share is 4 poems with 1,296 verses.

Tirumangai Alvar and Kumudavalli

In his early days, as a man of the sword, our Lord Narayana was far from Tirumangai Mannan’s thoughts. His spiritual journey started with a commitment he made to his sweetheart Kumudavalli in exchange for her hand in marriage. While most women may have asked for her suitor’s everlasting love, or a diamond ring, or a gold bangle, all our gentle lady Kumudavalli sought from Tirumangai was that he must wear the marks of Sri Vaishnava and serve food (amudu) for 1,000 Vaishnavas everyday for a period of one year. This service, initiated as a price for carnal pleasure, turned -into a labor of divine love towards the devotees of our Lord Narayana. Years rolled by. Tirumangai spent all his wealth in the service of Vaishnavas. With his coffers empty, Tirumangai could not continue the service. He could not bear the thought of having to turn away the Vaishnavas who by then were accustomed to blessing the Tirumangai’s abode with their presence.

The feeling of despair turned to anger at the sight of the greedy idle rich strolling around with all their gaudy and ostentatious jewels and showing contempt for the simple and devout Vaishnavas. This was enough to drive Tirumangai to actions that a certain individual of English folklore in Sherwood forest, a continent away, would resort to and become famous world over. But it was not just fame that was in store for our good Tirumangai.

Our Lord Narayana decided to intervene and turn Tirumangai away from the ways of the sword. He and His consort, our divine mother Sri, appeared before Tirumangai as a newly wed couple bedecked with priceless ornaments. Tirumangai stopped the couple and forcibly relieved them of all the jewelry. But, there was one piece on our Lord’s toe that wouldn’t come off however much Tirumangai tried. In frustration Tirumangai put his head on the lotus feet of our Lord with the intention of biting the ring off. At that moment Tirumangai was drawn in by the beauty of the lotus feet and realized the true nature of the couple standing in front of him. The Lord then instructed the esoteric meaning of “Tirumanthram” for Tirumangai. Thus Tirumangai learnt of the efficacy of the divine name “Narayana” from our Lord Narayana Himself!

Tirumangai immediately went on to sing the poem “Periya Tirumozhi” (Great divine poem) consisting of 1,084 verses. The first ten of these verses are dedicated to the name “Narayana”. These first 10 emotional verses give aid and comfort to people like me who have strayed in their youth. Tirumangai comes down hard on himself with intense self criticism for the violence he had caused, albeit for a good cause, for having sought fleeting worldly pleasures, for having squandered his days on mundane pursuits. He ends each of these ten verses with a celebration of the divine name Narayana, for after finding this sweet name, Tirumangai declares, he was free from all the sins and assured of the everlasting bliss at the lotus feet of our sweet Lord Narayana. These 10 verses will bring emotional tears of longing for the lotus feet of our Lord Narayana to the eyes of any Vaishnava.

Here is the first of these ten Tamil verses:

வாடினேன் வாடி வருந்தினேன் மனத்தால்

பெருந்துயர் இடும்பையில் பிறந்து,

கூடினேன் கூடி இளையவர் தம்மோடு

அவர்தரும் கலவியே கருதி,

ஓடினேன் ஓடி உய்வதோர் பொருளால்

உணர்வெனும் பெரும்பதந்தெரிந்து,

நாடினேன் நாடி நான் கண்டுகொண்டேன்

நாராயணா என்னும் நாமம்.
Born into this worldly body,

A receptacle of profound sorrow,
I am weltering, I am filled with remorse;
I have let myself run after beautiful women,
seeking the fleeting carnal pleasures of the union they give;
Lo and behold! Through the grace of our Lord I now realize
there is a greater goal,
That which will deliver me into eternal happiness;
I have searched for this state And have now found it
In the sweet name Narayana.

When you offer your prayers on this day, think of this great Sri Vaishnava saint.

Notes

  1. This post is based on my recollection of Tirumangai’s story as narrated by elders.
  2. I have not included many epsiodes from Tirumangai’s long life story. This may be found in many publications including the one by Ramakrishna Mutt in English titled “Life of Sri Ramanuja.”
  3. Tirumangai Mannan’s other names include Parakaalan, Kaliyan, and Kalikanri.
  4. The time period of this saint is 800 - 900 C.E. as reckoned by modern scholars.

Raghunath Govindachari adds:

Thanks to Dr. Dileepan for posting the touching verse by Tirumangai mannan. In the version of his story that I have heard, it is the metti (toe rings) of Thâyâr that he tries to remove with his teeth and his consciousness is transformed instantly by the grace of Thâyâr. In fact, this is acted out during the Vedupari day during Vaikuntha Ekadasi festivities. This is the biggest event after Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Nammalvar’s moksham. True to the name, that day Lord Ranganatha and pakkathu nacciyaar come riding a horse when Tirumangai Alvar sends first his gangs, then his trusted lieutenants and finally comes himself to rob the divine couple. The enacting of the whole episode is unforgettable.