THE TWELVE AZHWARS ( MYSTICAL SRIVAISHNAVA SAINTS) OF SOUTH INDIA. (PART 2 OF 5)
ZOOMED IN PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE FIRST FOUR HIGHLY REVERENTIAL AZHWARS
MAY WE UNCONDITIONALLY SURRENDER UNTO THEIR LOTUS FEET.
- Madhurakavi Azhwar: (meaning sweet poet in Sanskrit)
- Madhurakavi Azhwar was born into a brahminical family, he wanted to break loose from the materialistic world and hence took to pilgrimage to Mathura and Ayodhya situated in the northern part of India. One day, one bright glow of light that appeared in the sky directed him southwards, which he followed and reached at the spot under a very holy tamarind tree, where Namazhwar ( we will discuss about him next) was seated for sixteen long years without a single movement , in an absolute yogic trance. To test Namazhwar, he threw a small pebble and asked him a riddle what is the duty, action and reaction of a subtle soul in relation to its gross body, what will it eat and where will it stay?. For the first time in sixteen years, our most dearest and highly esteemed Namazhwar moved and replied if the subtle soul identifies itself to the gross body it will only live and eat in the material world but if the spotless soul identifies itself to Parmatman it will eat , live and always reside at Parmapadam with the one and only one Lord Sri Krishna to serve him eternally. Madhurakavi azhwar immediately prostrated at the holy lotus feet of one and only Namazhwar and accepted him as his guru. All the works of Madhurakavi Azhwar revolve around his guru Namazhwar only. He completely surrendered unconditionally at the holiest of holy lotus feet of Namazhwar, his guru. Many people , then, who were orthodox in their views criticized him severely for serving a guru who is also a mere mortal but he never succumbed to their pressure but always pleaded with his guru Namazhwar to protect him from their constant onslaught. His is a classic example of the most obedient and subservient student to the most honoured, revered and admired guru in Srivaishnavism , the one and only one Namazhwar. His contribution to the divine 4000 verses is eleven in number. Here, please note , the quantum is not important it is the quality, the divine thoughts , and the greatest act of surrender unto the lotus feet of Namazhwar which is most vital. Madhurakavi azhwar is the priceless Kohinoor diamond , a brightest beacon light in Srivaishnavism. His devotion to his guru is par excellence and an eye opener for each of us that without our respective gurus we cannot attain Parmatman.. His affection and love for his guru withstood all the tests and he emerged victor and till date when any mention of guru or shishya (disciple) is brought about, none can forget our most beloved Madhurakavi azhwar for the highest devotion he bestowed on his even more loving guru Namazhwar. In Srivaishnavism, the philosophy propounded by Sri Ramanujar acharyan is that the only route towards Parmatman is through an acharyan( no direct access to our lord without a guru) who will lead us till Mahalaxmi amma , our dearest mother and she in turn will plead our case as her dearest children before Sriman Narayana and if our dearest lord is convinced about our sincere love and bhakthi with total unconditional surrender then only our case can be heard further and hence an acharyan can only guide us towards salvation and none else and hence we need to take utmost precaution to love our beloved acharyan, serve him first and then he will intermediate on behalf of us for our salvation. None can beat our dearest Madhurakavi azhwar in his highest service to his most venerable guru , our most beloved Namazhwar. Let us salute both our azhwars and practice and spread here and hereafter their ideals and values . Countless prostrations to our most beloved Madhurakavi azhwar, an ace in the guru shishya parampara . (master disciple lineage)
6. NAMAZHWAR : (Nam in Tamil means ours and hence he is very lovingly called our Azhwar)
As we have already seen above Namazhwar is the guru of our Madhurakavi azhwar who solely lived for his guru and conveyed that he did not know of any god other than his acharyan, the one and only Namazhwar swamy. One’s mind , if possible , can imagine what an impact a guru can have on his most erudite shishya (disciple). Firstly, let us know for sure, countless thesis on Namazhwar and his works will not do justice to his stature for he is the unparalleled king among the azhwars for his contribution to the 4000 holy verses is 1102 in number more than 1/4. It is a well known fact that uptil the age of sixteen he did not cry, move, eat or even open his eyes, he was in absolute yogic posture for he was born enlightened. He mentions later that till the age of 16 he lived , played , meditated on Lord Sri Krishna and hence our dearest lord himself was his food, water and shelter, he did not want anything at all from this transient world from his birth itself he wanted to break the shackles of worldliness and reach the transcendental. It is beyond an iota of doubt that a baby who does not drink milk at its birth, does not move one bit and sits in a padmasana ( lotus ) position can only be a divine incarnation. It is believed he is the first mortal to have attained permanent salvation in the kali yuga and hence whoever serves him unconditionally at his lotus feet can also reach easily Parmapadam for he is very dear to Lord Sri Krishna. Namazhwar could only at all times think of our Parmatman and none else. He is lovingly also called Adi guru. He is also called Satagopan , one who has conquered all the senses. His love for lord Sri Krishna is beyond any words or expression for our lord himself acknowledged that in this mortal world, to constantly think and chant the divine names of our lord is very rare , Namazhwar is a mahatma who could not bear separation from Sriman Narayana , he is most closest to our Sri Govinda himself and hence when his time came to leave the world, our lord himself seated in Garuda vahanam (vehicle ) lovingly carries him back to his abode Parmapadam. Can we , with all our senses, imagine this most wonderful sight where one of our beloved Sri Govinda’s most loved one merging with him in oneness? To write or speak about Namazhwar for an ordinary mortal is very difficult for he has broken every frontier to reach and merge with Parmatman, his 1102 verses can they even be explained in 10,000 pages or even more for he is an institution in himself. His love for the transcendental , his shift away from every material existence is a very clear indicator to each one of us that we need to totally break the shackles of this samsara ( wheels of mortal life) to attain permanent salvation an abode of total peace free from any single worry, care or concern. The very best part of our dearest Namazhwar is, he is humbleness personified for he constantly mentions despite his highest Himalayan stature that everything is Parmatman driven and ordained, nothing is done by him, is there any iota of doubt in our minds of our greatest Namazhwar and his zero ego. Namazhwar is one in countless whose lotus feet when worshipped with devotion can enable us to find and reach our Parmatman Sriman Narayana and our dearest of dear Lakshmi amma whom our beloved Namazhwar adored beyond a point. Countless namaskarams to our dearest one and only one Namazhwar , may his glories reach the entire cosmos with a resounding pitch and may we all be a part of this holy sound uttering in unison Sriman Narayanam charanam sharanam prabhadhye. Hail Hail to Namazhwar our very own dearest.
7. Kulashekhara Azhwar
- Kulashekhara Azhwar was a king from Kerala state. He had to fight wars as it is a duty of the kings to protect his subjects. At one point, he realized that this entire bloodshed is a total waste of time, loss of precious human lives and a mere tool of hatred and is highly loathsome as it is against the interests of humanity . On becoming aware of the ill effects of bloodshed he wholeheartedly surrendered unto the lotus feet of Sriman Narayana under our lord’s grace and mercy. His love for Lord Sri Rama is unparalleled. Once a sage was narrating tales from our most divine Ramayana, at a point when Sri Rama was in danger and to be harmed, Kulashekhara was so engrossed that he commanded his battle to protect Lord Sri Rama. His army was baffled since it was only a narration but at the insistence of their beloved king the army prepared to fight for protecting Lord Sri Rama , and when Kulashekhara azhwar comes out of his trance he realizes and commands his army to withdraw. Can we think of anyone as passionate as Kulashekhara Azhwar in his bhakti for our dearest lord?. Also Kulashekhara azhwar was very fond of devotees of our Lord and hence served them everyday, this was a bone of contention amongst his jealous ministers and hence they hatch a plot and inform him that our lords devotees stole precious jewels from the treasury. Kulashekhara azhwar asked to bring before him one of the most poisonous snakes in a pot and he decides that he will put his hand in the pot of snakes for he is very sure that they will never bite since the Srivaishnava devotees whom he loves beyond a point can never steal a paise for they crave for none other than our dearest lord himself. This was a test put by our greatest of great Lord Sri Govinda himself but our dearest Azhwar passed this exam with flying colours for none of the snake ever bit him. What a love! Beyond any realms of doubt he is one of the truest Sri Vaishnavite who loved our dearest lord Sri Madhava as he equally loved his devotees too. Any sentence beyond this would be redundant.
As conveyed earlier, this series is a very summarized version, for the greatness of all the Azhwars , their works and devotion to our divine Keshava and Lakshmi amma cannot just occupy few lines or pages but requires an encyclopedic work and that too will fall short beyond any measure. Kulashekhara Azhwars love for our dearest lord can be seen when he explores the various possibilities of serving Sriman Narayana, sometimes he feels he should be born a fish, or a flower adorning the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna etc, and every time he imagines what should his role be in bhakti he feels all this lacks something and is not permanent, then our lord himself comes to his rescue and promises that the first threshold of the sanctum sanctorum of Tirupati would be named as Kulashekhar padi ( padi in Tamil means step, so the first step is reverentially called as Kulashekhara Azhwar padi). Similar to this, at our most wonderful Bhoolokam Vaikuntam, Sri Pandarpur, we have Namadevchi payari ( Saint divine Namadev’s steps). Unasked our lord knows everything and bestows very correctly what we deserve and aspire, we can rest assured that all that we crave , our lord will grant it in the greatest measure but patience we must keep, for everything will come only at the right time in the most appropriate manner as ordained by our dearest of dear Sri Govinda. What a divine love our lord has for Kulashekhara azhwar and what a surrender and devotion of our beloved Azhwar unto the divine lotus feet of our Parmatman. Countless salutations and prostrations to Kulashekhara azhwar.
May we follow all his loving principles, values and methods of worship of Sriman Narayana ,when our beloved Azhwar has attained Parmapadam will he not plead with our lord on behalf of each of us , to grant us permanent salvation. Surely he will and our lord will listen to him and act.
8. Periazhwar/ Vishnuchittar:
- ( Peria in Tamil means big , he is lovingly called as Big Azhwar, not because of his physical size but because of his biggest wisdom and highest love to Sriman Narayana. He is also called SriVishnuchittar for his chit/ his all indriyas is always on Lord Vishnu ).. He has one of the most exalted positions since his foster daughter our very own dearest Andal amma( we will read about her shortly, foster because she was found near the Tulasi maddham in his home) has married Lord Sri Krishna and hence he is the father in law of our dearest lord Sri Govinda and at the same time one of his most precious verses, beyond any human comprehension, in praise and benediction for our dearest lord Sri Krishna called Pallandu (Pallandu in Tamil means countless praise be the lord where in he blesses our Lord Sri Krishna just like a mother would to her son and hence he is also our lords mother. In every Srivaishnava temple , till date , irrespective of the gender, age or any other consideration everyone in chorus sing Pallandu everyday as blessing our lord. Can we bless our dearest lord or do we seek his blessings? Yes, to both. We surely need his grace and blessings in the greatest measure but at the same time , if we consider him as our son can’t we bless our lord Sri Krishna? Is there anything more heavenly than this? Our emotions, our bhavana leads us closer to our dearest lord, we may think of him as our mother, father, baby, brother, guru etc , he is ever ready to accept the role you offer him, that is his greatness, his saulabhyam ( easy accessibility), his karuna/ daya ( his immense compassion). Our lord’s love for us is unconditional and he is ever ready to come running to us , if only we seek him…how easy and simple yet how difficult we make it. If only we realize this simple truth how much quicker we can extricate ourselves from our severe bondages. Alas ! if only………
Sri Vishnuchitta was a Devout Brahmin serving the Lord Vatapathrashayi ( Lord Sri Krishna) in Srivilliputtur a small temple town in Tamil Nadu. He nurtured the flower garlands and weaved beautiful garlands with the best fragrant flowers of different hues and colours with Tulasi leaves intermittently. His garlands were superlative and our lord looked stunning and highly lovely in the wonderful garlands woven by our dearest Peria azhwar so lovingly. Our lord is known as alankara priyan ( he loves to adorn / beautify himself ) Once the king of Pandya kingdom wanted a debate on the supremacy of gods, lord Sri Krishna wanted Vishnuchitta to take part in the debate but our azhwar ,humblest of humble, felt he knew nothing much to stand in the midst of the august assembly and debate but our lord Sri Krishna insisted and he entered into the tip of our azhwar’s tongue and very boldly in the royal assembly amidst erudite scholars our dearest azhwar spoke volumes on Sriman Narayana’s supremacy in all the three worlds and won hands down. Sri Vishnuchitta was seated on an elephant and taken on a procession as a celebration of the victory of our lord and a wonderful sight, the crowning glory moment, wherein our lord with Lakshmi amma had personally come to witness the holy spectacle, seeing our lord in his garuda vahanam (vehicle) our peria azhwar jumps out of the elephant and rushes at jet set speed to our lord to remove the evil eyes which he feels will affect the divine consort. THIS SIGHT IS BEYOND THE SCOPE OF ANY WORLDLY CONSIDERATION IN THE HISTORY OF BHAKTI WHERE A HUMBLE PURE DEVOTEE IS WARDING OFF THE EVIL OF OUR MOST BELOVED LORD SRI KRISHNA, WHO CAN WARD THE EVILEST OF EVIL AT A BLINK OF AN EYELID BUT HERE WE HAVE OUR DEAREST AZHWAR SO MUCH WORRIED ABOUT THE EVIL EYES CAST ON THE DIVINE CONSORT AND HERE THE ONE AND ONLY ONE PALLANDU IS SUNG BY OUR AZHWAR WHICH IS THE TESTIMONY OF THE HIGHEST BHAKTI WHERIN THE JIVATMA IS BLESSING THE PARMATMA , UNBELIEVABLE TO MANY , BUT THE HEIGHT OF TRUTH, NO HUMANLY WORDS CAN EVER DESCRIBE SUCH A CELESTIAL SIGHT…..COUNTLESS MILLION PROSTRATIONs TO OUR PERIA AZHWAR (RIGHTLY HE IS CALLED PERIA WHICH MEANS BIG IN TAMIL FOR HE HAS TAKEN THE ROLE OF A MOTHER TO OUR GOD AND HENCE HE IS DEFINITELY BIGGER THAN THE SON………BEYOND ANY COMMENT…HAIL HAIL, HUMBLE GREETINGS TO OUR AZHWAR WHO ONLY CAN BE SO THOUGHTFUL AND TO THIS DATE IN THE SRIVAISHNAVA TEMPLES PALLANDU (BENEDICTIONS TO OUR DEAR LORD) IS ACCORDED THE HIGHEST STATURE, IT CONTAINS COUPLE OF COUPLETS WHICH CAN BE READ AND UNDERSTOOD IN OUR NEXT FOR FEW PHD’S WOULD BE HIGHLY INADEQUATE FOR DECODING PALLANDU FOR IT IS THE HIGHEST PRISTINE LOVE OF A PUREST OF PURE DEVOTEE TOWARDS OUR PARMATMAN… A TRUE MERGER OF AN INDIVIDUAL JIVATMA WITH THE ONE AND ONLY PARMATMA…NOTHING MATERIAL CAN TOUCH THIS , IT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD ONLY AT THE TRANSCENDENTAL STATE. COUNTLESS SALUTATIONS AND NAMASKARAMS TO SRI PERI AZHWAR, MAY HIS DIVINE GLORIES REVERBERATE ACROSS THE ENTIRE COMOS.