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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 devotional 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's the beliefs and principles embodied in the Alwars' poems that ultimately gave rise to the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member).

One of the Alwars was known as Thirumazhisai Alwar. He was the son of the sage Bhargava, but he was raised by tribal people and became a famous Shaivite poet, before ultimately converting to Vaishnavism. But my question is about when Thirumazhisai Alwar lived. As I discuss in this question, traditional Sri Vaishnava accounts say that Thirumazhisai Alwar, along with the first three Alwars, were all born in 4203 BC, almost a thousand years before the birth of Krishna!

Yet in this verse from his poem "Thiruchanda Virutham", Thirumazhisai Alwar says this:

Ninrathu Enthai Ooragathu Irundathu Enthai Paadagathu
Anru Vekkanaik Kidandhathu Ennilaatha Munnelaam
Anru Naan Pirandilen Pirandapin Marandilen
Ninrathum Irundhathum Kidandhathum En Nenjule

Before I was born, He was standing in Ooragam, was sitting in Paadagam and was lying down in Tiruvekka. At that time I was not born with wisdom; When once I was born with this wisdom, I never forgot. Therefore, the Lord left all those places and has taken permanent abode in my heart.

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For those who don't know, Ooragam refers to the Ulagalantha Perumal Vamana temple in Kanchipuram, and Tiruvekka refers to the Yatothkari Perumal Vishnu temple in Kanchipuram, where Vishnu stopped Saraswati from destroying Brahma's Yagna.

But I'm interested in Paadagam, which refers to the Pandava Thoothar temple, again in Kanchipuram. Pandava Thoothar means "messenger of the Pandavas", and it's a gigantic statue of Krishna sitting and showing his Vishwarupa form in the court of Duryodhana, which I discuss here. The story of the temple is that when Arjuna's great-grandson Janamejaya was listening to the Mahabharata, he heard the incident of Krishna showing his Vishwarupa form to the Kauravas, and he wanted to see the Vishwarupa for himself. So he went to Kanchipuram and prayed to Vishnu, and Vishnu appeared before him in the same manner that he had appeared to the Kauravas.

So my question is, why does Thirumazhisai Alwar say that the Vishnu was sitting in Padagam before he was born, when Thirumazhisai is said to have been born nearly a thousand years before Krishna and the Pandava Thoothar statue only appeared in the time of Janamejaya?

In the rest of the verse, Thirumazhisai Alwar speaks of his symbolic birth once he attained Jnana, so is it possible that he's referring to that here too? He could have lived a long life, and he may have only attained Jnana some time after Vishnu appeared before Janamejaya. Another possibility is that he means that Vishnu has eternally resided in these places, even if he hadn't manifested in statue form yet.

Are there any commentaries which shed light on this?

  • I wish to read these poems.Where can i read these poems with either english or hindi translation? – Vishal prabhu lawande Apr 25 '16 at 10:00
  • @Vishalprabhulawande Good question! This website has English translations of all the poems of the Alwars: 4000divyaprabandam.blogspot.com Or you can start by just reading the Thiruvaimozhi, which is a collection of poems by the Alwar Nammalwar: ibiblio.org/sripedia/ebooks/tvm The poems found in the Thiruvaimozhi are the most important to the Sri Vaishnava sect; it's in reference to the Thiruvaimozhi that Nathamuni, the first Sri Vaishnava Acharya, said "Namamyaham Dravida Veda Sagaram": i.imgur.com/NdrpAtd.jpg. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 25 '16 at 12:18
  • I also have a detailed English commentary on the Thiruvaimozhi if you're interested. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 25 '16 at 12:21
  • Thank you .I'l start with poems of Alwar Nammalwar :) BTW for some reason i'm unable to tag you in my comment. – Vishal prabhu lawande Apr 26 '16 at 3:06
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    @Vishalprabhulawande No need to tag the OP. He will auomatically tagged if someones comments on his/her post. Now Keshav will get a notification even though I didn't tag him. – Sarvabhouma Mar 23 '17 at 5:38
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Yes. Tirumazhisai azhwar is speaking about his symbolic birth. He says that he attained birth with wisdom due to grace of the Lord.

Tirumazhisai was not stuck to one philosophy in his life. He wanted to explore many philosophies and religions. He has followed many philosophies before becoming a Vaishnava. He has been a Buddhist, Jain, Shaiva in his lifetime before becoming a Vaishnava.

In a poem he said when he reached the birthplace of Pogai azhwar

"sAkkiyam katrOm, SamaNam katrOm, SankaranAr aakkiya Aagamanool
aarAindhOM; BhaggiyathAl venkaTkariyAnai SerndOm"

I have been a follower of Jainism for long, follower of Buddhism for long, a follower of agamas written by Shiva(shaiva) too. But, due to sheer grace, I landed at the feet of TiruvengadathAN.

According to traditional Vaishnava accounts, he lived for unbelievable period of 4700 years. Even though he was born in Dwapara yuga, he considers that his birth happened after he has realised the lord.

Swami Vedanta Desikan quotes this verse in his work Upakara Sangraham while explaining section 5 23rd upakara i.e., favour done to us by the lord.

viveka-vyavasāya-viṣeśangkaḻ

anRunAn piRanthilEn; piRanthapin maRanthilEn”,
“inRAka nAlaiyEyAka
iniccirithu ninRAka ninaruL enpAlath E” enkiRapadiyE, vivEka-vyavasAya- vishEshangkaLaip piRappitthathuvum;

Here is the alternate translation for the verse of Tirumazhisai Azhwar from the question:

My Lord was standing in Thiruvoorakam; he was sitting in ThirupAdakam; and the lying-down posture in ThiruvekkA. At that time, I was not born (since I didn’t acquire wisdom of my being a servant of the Lord); now, after getting the knowledge, I have not forgotten it. Hence, the Lord has taken these postures of standing, sitting and lying-down in my heart.

Taittiriya Upanishad Brahmananda valli chapter 6 also says:

असन्नेव स भवति | असद् ब्र्हमेति वेद चेत् अस्ति
ब्र्हमेति चेत् वेद | सन्तमेनम् ततो विदुः इतिः |?

If a person takes Brahman as a non-reality, then he becomes non-existent. If he thinks Brahman as existent, then he becomes consequently wise.

It is clear that Azhwar is talking about his birth with wisdom when got realised that he is the servant of the Lord. Not only Tirumazhisai Azhwar, every sātvik soul considers its birth when it gets enlightenment about lord.

He mentioned the deity forms of the god to indicate that he got enchanted due to the manifestation of Lord in those holy places. Lord followed him wherever he(Tirumazhisai) went just to capture azhwar's heart towards him. This makes clear that Azhwar got this wisdom by the grace of Lord.

We also find another example from scriptures who is also got enchanted due to virtues of the Lord. Quoting from Kishkindha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana

अहम् अस्य अवरः भ्राता गुणैः दास्यम् उपागतः |
कृतज्ञस्य बहुज्ञस्य लक्ष्मणो नाम नामतः ||

aham asya avaraḥ bhrātā guṇaiḥ dāsyam upāgataḥ |
kṛtajñasya bahujñasya lakṣmaṇo nāma nāmataḥ ||

I am the one who obtained servitude by the justness of this faithful and knowledgeable one, and his younger brother, by name I am named as Lakshmana.

Periyavachan Pillai who wrote commentaries for Nalayira Divya Prabandham says in his commentary:

When a person gives debt to another, he comes to ask for the money. First he comes and stands at the door steps and requests him to pay the amount. If he doesn’t get it, then the next time he sits on the front yard and forces him to pay. If he doesn’t get even then he lies down in front of the houses and refuses to leave unless he gets the money back. Similarly Bhagavan stands, sits and lies down to get kainkarya from us (that is the debt).

The above are the reasons why Tirumazhisai alwar said that he was born after Pandava Thootar statue.

Sources:

  1. Vedanta Desikan's Sri Upakaram Part 1[vol2] by Anbil Sri Sowmia Narayanan

  2. Tiruchchanda Viruttam text with free translation and commentary by Dr. N. Ranganathan

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