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The Alwars (also spelled Azhwars) are a group of 12 ancient Vaishnava saints who lived in Tamil Nadu and are famous for their poetry in praise of Vishnu. The collection of their 4000 poems, known as the Naalayira Divya Prabhandam, is considered by many to be the "Dravida Veda", or South Indian Veda. The Alwars are crucially important figures in the history of Vaishnavism; it is the principles and beliefs embodied in the Alwars' poems that ultimately gave rise to the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member).

In any case, one of the Alwars was a king called Kulashekhara Alwar, and here is a poem from his Perumal Tirumoli, taken from JSM Hooper's book "Hymns of the Alvars":

  1. If Thou wilt not my portion'd grief dispel, I have no hope but Thee, Vitruvakodu's Lord, girt with its groves of flowers with fragrant smell I'm like a babe, which weeps, yet thinks of mother's grace, though she with anger fierce has thrast it from her face.
  2. Girt on all sides by walls that heaven touch, Vitruvakodu's Lord, e'en like a well-born girl who only knows her husband, though deeds such as men may mock her lover does, so will I sing, Though thou'lt not be my Lord, Thy anklets tinkling.
  3. Surrounded by wide lands which fishes see, Vitravakodu's Lord, e'en if Thou wilt not look on me, I have no other hold but Thee - like subjects looking to the rod of wreathed king, though he regards them not and works deeds harrowing.
  4. Though by illusion from Thee woe I have without a remedy, Vitruvakodu's Lord, At Thy grace only win I look, Thy slave, Like a sick man, who, though physician cut with knife And brand, yet loves him with a love as long as life.
  5. Slayer of elephant great and fierce of eye Vitravakodu's Lord, Where shall I go and live? Save for Thy feet, like a great bird am I Which goes around and sees no shore and comes at last Back o'er the tossing sea and perches on ship's mast !
  6. Though red fire conies itself and makes fierce heat, The lotus red blooms not Save for the fierce-rayed one Who in the lofty heavens has his seat. Vitruvakodu's Lord, though Thou will not remove My -woe, my heart melts not save at Thy boundless love.
  7. E'en when forgotten wholly by the sky The green crops only look, (Vitruvakodu's Lord!) At the great black clouds as they rise. So I, Thy servant, more and more will set my mind on Thee, Though Thou wilt not remove my human misery.
  8. With gathered waters all the streams ashine Must spread abroad and run And enter the deep sea And cannot stand outside. So refuge mine, Save in the shining bliss of entering Thee, is none, Vitravakodu's Lord, thick cloud-hued, virtuous one !

My question is, why does Kulasekhara Alwar address Vishnu as "Vitruvakodu's Lord" in every stanza of the poem? The only help the translator provides is that Vitruvakodu is "a place in the Chera country." (The Cheras were one of the empires that ruled South India, Kerala in particular, and it was the empire that Kulasekhara Alwar ruled.)

But why is Vishnu called the lord of Vitruvakodu? Is Vitruvakodu one of the Divya Desams, the 108 sacred places of Vishnu praised by the Alwars in their poetry? Did Vishnu or one of his incarnations (avataras) do something famous in Vitruvakodu?

  • Could it be that 'Vitruvakodu' was where the poets lived? It's generally seen that poets usually use large amount of local references in poetry. – Vineet Menon Aug 5 '14 at 12:11
  • @VineetMenon Kulasekhara Alwar was born in Periyar. He was initially in Travancore, and then when he was king he was in Uraiyur, Madurai, and Kongu, and he spent his later days in service of the Rajagopala Swami temple in Mannarkovil, so he never lived in Vitruvakodu. Now he was the king of the Cheras, and Vitruvakodu is apparently "a place in the Chera country", so he is referring to a location that was within his empire, I'm just not sure why he singled out that location. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 5 '14 at 18:13
  • okay, that was simply a guess. Let's wait for someone for an answer, or as is the norm with your questions, you could answer it. :) – Vineet Menon Aug 6 '14 at 4:51
  • @VineetMenon Yeah, I followed the norm again! – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 8 '14 at 4:56
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    your questions are so specific that no one can answer them at in our current set of users. Hopefully we will get more learned (wo)men as users as the site progress. – Vineet Menon Aug 8 '14 at 5:01
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I was right about Vitruvakodu being one of the 108 Divya Desams. The reason I couldn't find it initially is that it's more commonly spelled as Vitthuvakodu or Thiruvitthuvakodu. (Thiru means holy and it is commonly added to the names of Divya Desams). Vitthuvakodu is a village in Kerala, and according to this page it is the location of the fampus story Rama's ancestor Ambarisha a story and the sage Durvasa described in the Srimad Bhagavatam. Briefly, Ambarisha was engaging in an Ekadasi fast in honor of Vishnu here, and Durvasa came to him, asking for food. Then Durvasa went to take a bath, and Ambarisha had some water before Durvasa came back because it was important to break the fast at the right time. Durvasa was furious, and created a chakra (discuss weapon) to kill Ambarisha. But Ambarisha was a steadfast devotee of Vishnu, so the chakra was destroyed by Vishnu's Sudarshana chakra, which started chasing Durvasa. It only stopped chasing him when he fell at Ambarisha's feet and asked for forgiveness. In any case, after that incident Ambarisha attained Moksha at this location.

It is also the home of the Vishnu temple called Abhaya Pradhaya Perumal or Uyyavantha Perumal, which was established by the Pandavas after Arjuna engaged in Tapsya at this location (presumably inspired by Ambarisha). Each of the Pandavas apparently established their own Vishnu statue in the temple; here is the Vishnu statue established by Yudhishtra, for instance:

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But the main deity of the temples, the one referred to as Abhaya Pradhan or Uyyavantha, is the idol installed by Arjuna (the photo isn't too clear, so I included a drawing as well):

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It's presumably the darshan of this idol that inspired Kulasekhara Alwar to compose a poem addressed to "Vitthuvakodu's lord".

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