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5. Periya Tiruvantati

`Periya Tiruvantati' (periya tiru antAdi) is a poem of eighty-seven stanzas, each stanza a venba, a special kind of four-lined verse in Tamil. Why the poem is called Periya Tiruvantati has been already explained.

To trace a definite logical link between stanza and stanza the poem will be difficult, perhaps unprofitable, though theology may desire and has attempted it. Each stanza may be considered as an independent lyric, and each is a gem, revealing one mood or state of being of Nammalvar. All the stanzas are connected, however, by association resulting from singleness of theme which is the love of God, and the trials, the failures and the successes of that journey of love.

Quite a number of verses in the poem are addressed by Nammalvar to his own heart. Here are some of them and it will be seen that they express different moods ranging from stern disapproval and misgiving to elation. The first is an invitation by the Alvar to his heart to join him in praising God:

Why, my heart,
Labouring under your burden,
Why do you still run ahead of me?
Come, tarry a little, join me.
Together we will fashion
Words running soft and sweet on the tongue,
Words of praise to Him
Who is dark as the Kaya 1 flower. 2

Alvar wonders at his own greed in trying to reach God.

What are we before the gods,
The eight Vasus,
The eleven Rudras,
And the twelve suns
Who worship Him?
To think of reaching Him indeed,
What a sin!
Do you realize, my good heart,
How over-weening our greed is? 3

The Alvar feels worried over his wayward heart:

Who is it who ever tries
To push me deep and deeper into sorrow and suffering?
It is you, my heart,
What is the good of advising you?
Wayward, irascible, you would never listen to me.
Come, turn in praise to His feet.
There, that is what we should do. 4

The Alvar encourages his heart telling it that words of praise to God, however weak, will not lessen His infinitude:

Learn this first, my heart.
He reclines aware, eyes closed, on the sea,
The loud waves caressing His feet.
You can sing His praise again and again.
Brushing aside our miseries.
Do you imagine, foolish one,
Our paltry words will erode His greatness? 5

The Alvar pleads with his heart to speak of God always even if it were in mockery:

There is not a moment to rest, my heart.
You could speak of Him in dispraise,
Laughing if you like
At the Lord of Mystery,
He of the sweet tulasi wreath,
At how he was beaten
By a woman of the cowherds.
You hang back even from that.
That is your curse. 6

The Alvar is distressed that divine grace has not reached him:

His Grace lifted high the Govardhana hill
To protect even the mute cows. 7
How comes it then
That He does not relent,
Does not reveal His form
Though I stand begging all day, every day?
Is the earth where we stand
So steep, my heart,
That even his Grace cannot flow upward here? 8

`The world of man is sweet,’ says the Alvar, `but far sweeter the world of God’:

Sweet are the days of friendship,
Sweet one’s family branching wide,
Sweet is the love of kinsmen,
Sweet are the uses of noble birth.
Yet, my good heart,
Do taste the limitless sweet of His praise,
He whose divine bow is ever bent
To protect those who love Him. 9

The poem ends with an appeal to the heart that it should ever try to dwell on His praise. It seems however, that as he confesses early in the poem, the Alvar did succeed in persuading his straying heart to walk the straight and narrow path:

Yea, we have agreed, my heart and I.
We have beaten with the Grace
Of our Lord dark-hued,
All our evil Karma
And driven it into the wild. 10

There are moving direct appeals to God in the poem:

Tell us, Lord.
What thou dost think
Of doing to us?
Wilt Thou say "Go your way"
And forsake us?
Or wilt Thou reveal to us
Thy form darkly bright as a mango tendril?
We do not know,
We have not known from the beginning of time
What dost thou think of doing to us.
Whatever Thy will
Will we not endure it? 11

The Alvar feels helpless lacking the will to follow the right:

What is it that I can do, my Lord?
I see what is good and what is evil,
But it is beyond me
To follow the one and give up the other.
Whatever am I to do? 12

Knowing that God is beyond him, the Alvar's love still goes out to Him:

O Lord, whose infinite good is a heady drink,
O Thou too subtle to be seen by us,
Sinners that we are,
We know neither the way to Thee
Nor how to near Thee.
Yet our love for Thee flows, a rising tide,
Tell us how or why. 13

The Alvar asks of God only one boon, not to forget Him:

O Lord, infinite in Thy glory,
I have ripened and lost myself
In Thy grace,
Do not change, I pray Thee.
I do not desire freedom from birth,
Nor to be Thy servitor in Heaven.
All the wealth I want
Is not to forget Thee. 14

Though in many places in the poem, Nammalvar speaks of the suffering and apparently unavailing nature of his quest, there are verses that indicate the joy of fulfilment:

When I see
The poovai, the kaya, the neelam and the kavi flowers,
Unworthy though I be,
My weak spirit and my body thrill and grow
In pride and joy
That all these are but the Lord’s form. 15

`This is enough,’ Nammalvar says, `To love Him is more precious to me than even the Heaven that is His final gift.’ 16

Who is more worthy of praise than I?
Whose praise is greater?
I have given my heart wholly away
To the Lord, dark as the sea,
To His infinite, dark glory and grace. 17

This love of his has been, Nammalvar records, amply rewarded. `He has come into my heart,’ the Alvar cries, `There is nothing more to wish for’:

He the divine cowherd
So distant from us,
He who changes his form so,
That no one can near Him,
He the infinite mystery
Who on that distant day
Measured the worlds with His feet,
Has today come to me.
How, I do not know,
And life is Passing sweet. 18

The Alvar wonders who is greater, he or God:

The earth and the far-flung sky
Are within Thee.
But Thou hast entered through the ear
Into my heart and remainest there ever.
Think of it, Lord of the discus
That savours the blood of evil ones,
Who can know who is greater,
Thou or I? 19

In range and in moving quality, `Periya Tiruvantati' is almost an epitome of the Alvar's magnum opus, `Tiruvaymoli'.


1 A dark blue wild-flower. [Back]

2 Periya Tiruvantati 1.

muyaRRi sumanthezhunthu munthuRRa neNYchE,
iyaRRuvaay emmodun^ee koodi,-nayappudaiya
naaveen thodaikkiLavi yuLpothivOm, naRpoovaip
pooveenRa vaNNan pugazh

3 Periya Tiruvantati 10.

irunNaalvar eerainthin mEloruvar, ettO
torun^aalvar Oriruvar allaal, thirumaaRku
yaamaar vaNakkamaar Epaavam nanneNYchE
naamaa migavudaiyOm naazh?

4 ibid. 12.

neeyanRE aazhthuyaril veezhvippaan ninRuzhanRaay?
pOyonRu solliyen? pOnNeNYchE,-neeyenRum
kaazhththupathE samtharinum kaikoLLaay, kaNNan thaaL
vaazhththuvathE kaNdaay vazhakku.

5 ibid. 15.

paarththOr ethirithaa neNychE, paduthuyaram
pErththOthap peedazhivaam pEchchillai,-aarththOtham
thammEni thaaLthadavath thaaNGkidanthu, thammudaiya
semmEnik kaNvaLarvaar seer.

6 ibid. 38. The allusion is to how Yasoda, mother of Krishna, punished Him for His childish pranks.

paalaazhi neekidakkum paNpai, yaam kEttEyum
kaalaazhum neNYchazhiyum kaNchuzhalum,-neelaazhich
sOthiyaay! aathiyaay! tholvinaiyem paalkadiyum,
neethiyaay! niRsaarnthu ninRu.

7 In Krishna avatara. [Back]

8 Periya Tiruvantati 74.

enRum orun^aaL ozhiyaamai yaaniranthaal,
onRum iraNGkaar urukkaattaar,-kunRu
kudaiyaaga aakaaththa kOvalanaar, n^eNYchE!
pudaithaan perithE puvi.

6 ibid. 78.

thuNain^aaL perunkiLaiyum tholkulamum, suRRath
thiNain^aaLu minpudaiththaa mElum, kaNain^aaNil
Ovaath thozhilsaarNGkan tholseerai n^anneNYchE,
Ovaatha vooNaaka uN.

10 ibid. 26.

yaanumen NneNYchum isainthozhinthOm, valvinaiyaik
kaanum malaiyum pugakkadivaan,-thaanOr
iruLanna maamEni emmiRaiyaar than^tha,
aruLennum thaNdaal adiththu.

11 Periya Tiruvantati 6.

neRikaatti neekkuthiyO, ninpaal karumaa
muRimEni kaattuthiyO, mEnaaL-aRiyOmai
enseyvaa NneNNinaay kaNNanE, eethuraiyaay
enseythaa lenpadOm yaam?

12 ibid. 3.

ivaiyanRE nalla ivaiyanRE theeya,
ivaiyen RivaiyaRiva NnElum,-ivaiyellaam
ennaal adaippun^eek koNNaa thiRaiyavanE,
ennaal seyaRpaala then?

13 ibid. 8.

arugum suvadum therivuNarOm, anbE
perugum migavithuven? pEseer,-parugalaam
paNpudaiyeer! paaraLantheer! paaviyEmkaN kaaNpariya
nuNpudaiyeer nummai numakku.
Another interpretation is that God's love for man is ever-growing. [Back]

14 ibid. 58.

maalE! padichchOthi maaRREl, iniyunathu
paalEpOl seeril puzhuththozhinthEn,-mElaal
piRappinmai peRRadikkeezhk kuRREva lanRu,
maRappinmai yaanvENdum maadu.

15 Periya Tiruvantati 73.

poovaiyum kaayaavum neelamum pookkinRa,
kaavi malarenRum kaaNthORum, paaviyEn
mellaavi meymigavE poorikkum, avvavai
ellaam piraanuruvE enRu.

16 ibid. 53.

onRuNdu seNGkaNmaal! yaanuraippathu, unnadiyaark
kenseyva NnenRE yiriththin^ee,-ninpugazhil
vaikumtham sinthaiyilum maRRinithO, neeyavarkku
vaikuntha menRaruLum vaan?

17 ibid 4.

ennin migupugazhaar yaavarE, pinnaiyummaR
ReNNil migupugazhEn yaanallaal,-enna
karuNYchOthik kaNNan kadalpuraiyum, seelap
perunchOthik kennenchaat peRRu?

18 ibid. 56.

varavaaRon Rillaiyaal vaazhvinithaal, ellE!
oruvaa Roruvan pugavaaRu,-urumaaRum
aayavardhaam sEyavardhaam anRulagam thaayavardhaam,
maayavardhaam kaattum vazhi.

19 ibid. 75.

puviyum iruvisumpum n^inakaththa, n^eeyen
seviyin vazhipugunthen NnuLLAy,-avivinRi
yaanperiyan n^eeperiyai enpathanai yaaraRivaar,
oonparuku n^Emiyaay! uLLu.

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