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In the canon of medieval Tamizh Literature, the Thiruppugazh is regarded as an integral and central work of extraordinary poems. The poetic, rhythmic, musical structure combined with perfect yet complex tongue- twisting rhyming lyrics, makes the text one of its kind! The poem is in praise of the Commander-in-Chief of the army of Gods, Lord Karthikeya, worshipped as the victorious One; the One who became “Swaminatha” (Guru) while explaining the secret of the sacred sound & syllable of the cosmic universe – ॐ (Aum), to his father Lord Shiva Himself!
The author of Thirupugazh was born in Tiruvannamalai, a small town in the Vijayanagar Empire in the 15th century CE. This Shaivite saint-poet Arunagirinathar, is said to have reeled out the poem seamlessly by the divine touch of Lord Muruga, at a time when he was about to commit suicide!
From a Sinner to a Saint – it’s never too late to change!
Arunagiri lost his mother at the early age of seven or eight but she entrusted him to the care of his elder sister. She showered a lot of love and affection on him, which Arunagiri took for granted. Unfortunately, he grew up obsessed with the company of women and abandoned himself to the pursuit of carnal pleasures rather than to the study of scriptures, Tamizh and Sanskritam, he seemed to have a flair for. He led a debauched life, distressing his sister who tried her best to keep him away from the traps of infatuation and depleting the wealth his deceased mother had left for them.
Arunagiri contracted many diseases due to his reckless habits that reduced him to poverty. In spite of the pitiable condition they were in, one day he vehemently demanded money from his sister for satisfying his carnal appetite.
In despair and in a choked voice she said “ oh Brother! I have helped you with all that I had. Now I have nothing to give you. I had promised our mother that I would never displease you. Now I am helpless. Seeing you suffering is unbearable for me. Perhaps you could satisfy the pleasure that you seek from a woman, by selling me off!”
These sad words from his sister pierced Arunagiri’s heart like a thousand arrows. With a heart aching with sorrow, feeling shameful for his misdeeds he wept bitterly seeking her forgiveness.
Deciding to end his life as an atonement for his sins, Arunagiri rushed to the Arunachala Temple, climbed to the top of the temple tower (the Vallala Gopuram of Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar temple) and, fervently calling the name of Lord Muruga in honest repentance, dropped himself to the ground.
Who can understand the ways of divine intervention?
It is believed that Lord Muruga outstretched His hands and held Arunagiri in a compassionate embrace. Giving a sacred touch of a mantra with His Spear, renaming him as “Arunagiri – naathar”, the Lord commanded him to sing. When Arunagirinathar hesitated
The Lord commenced the song with His own words …..
முத்தைத்தரு பத்தித் திருநகை
அத்திக்கிறை சத்திச் சரவண
முத்திக்கொரு வித்துக் குருபர …… எனவோதும்
muththaiththaru paththith thirunakai aththikkiRai
You are the Consort of DevayAnai* with a beautiful smile and lovely pearl-like teeth
You are Saravanabhava holding the powerful spear SakthivEl!
muththikkoru viththuk gurupara ……
Oh Supreme Guru/ You are the source for Mukti
And then it was a perennial flow of poetry and prose blending exquisite literature and devotion for Arunagirinathra. He transformed into a saint with no ordinary attainment.
Works of Saint Arunagirinathar
The Sage-Poet Arunagirinathar is believed to have composed over 16,000 songs but only 1365 have been traced. He traveled to around 300 temples in Tamizh Nadu, including the celebrated six main abodes of Lord Muruga, known as Aṟupadai veedu, the sacred shrines that extol the supreme valour and divine exploits of the Lord namely:-
1.Thirupparankundram (Madurai district, Tamil Nadu):
-the place where the divine wedding of Shri Muruga with Devayanai (daughter of Indra-King of Devas) took place
2. Tiruchendur (Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu):
-where Sri Muruga vanquished the demon Surapadman with his Spear Vel in a battle which lasted for six days.
3. Palani (Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu):
– The hill on which Sri Muruga settled down as a recluse, leaving Kailasha, after being outwitted by his brother Lord Ganesha in a contest.
4. Swamimalai (Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu):
– where Sri Muruga expounded the Pranava Mantra to Lord Shiva.
5. Tiruttani (Thiruvallur district, Tamil Nadu):
– where Sri Muruga married Valli, daughter of a tribal chieftain
6.Pazhamudircholai (Madurai district, Tamil Nadu):
-where Sri Muruga gave darshan to the devotees along with Devi Valli and Devi Devayanai.
His illuminating experiences in the temples translated into remarkable songs that explained the history, characteristics, sanctity, power and significance of each holy place. The most venerated works of Arunagirinathar are :
- Kanthar Anubhuthi
- Kanthar Alangaaram
- Kandar Anthaathi
- Thiru Vaguppu
- Vel Virutham
- Mayil Virutham
- Sevval Virutham, and
Influence of Tiruppugazh
Scholars, saints, bhaktas, have lauded Tiruppugazh for the Jnana it radiates , the devotion it kindles, the cures & solace it gives. They have spent their lives glorifying and spreading the musical.
To mention a few :-
- The great Shaiva Siddhanta philosopher Saint Thayumanavar (1705–1744) said: “Oh! Arunagiri, who else can compose a word of truth as beautifully as you” (Ayya Arunagiriyappa, Unnaipol Meyyana Or Sol Vilambinar Yar”?)
- The Tamizh poet Pamban Swamigal ( 1848 – 1929) adopted Thiruppugazh as his way of life
- The legendary Shaivite spiritual teacher Kripananda Variyar Swamigal (1906-1993), who helped renovate and rebuild many temples across the state of Tamil Nadu, was renowned for his discourses on Thiruppugazh
- The scholar & writer par excellence Vannasarapam Dhandapani Swamigal ( 1839 – 1898)
- A.S. Subramanian known as Thiruppugazh Thatha
- Ki Va Jagannathan – journalist, author and Editor of Kalaimagal (1906 -1988)
- Guruji A S Raghavan ( 1928 – 2013) who established a Tiruppugazh movement across the world http://www.thiruppugazh.org/?p=2074 )
Even today the Tiruppugazh is sung in many temples by othuvars , devotional singers who offer the hymns as a part of structured temple worship.
Dissolving divisiveness – The inclusive nature of Tiruppugazh
Though most Arunagirinathar’s hymns are dedicated to Lord Muruga, some of the verses vividly narrate the miracles and deeds of Lord Shiva, the various incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the benevolence and power of Goddess Parvati. The songs end with his signature word “Perumale” – a term that calls for the veneration of Lord Vishnu, by Vaishnavites.
Combining pleasant music as the medium in Chandam style ( where the words in a particular length, conform to a particular time cycle), with the sweet language of Tamizh Arunagirinathar dissolved the divisions between Shaivites and Vaishanavites, bringing a new dimension to Sanatan Dharma by invoking Lord Muruga as the magnet for worship, as never before!
Tamizh scholars, admiring his poetic excellence, depth & range of language, richness of content, use of similes and metaphors, lofty principles and inspiring messages have commented on the outstanding literary masterpiece as:
வில்லுக்கு விஜயன் வாக்குக்கு அருணகிரி
Villukku Vijayan, Vakkukku Arunagiri
“If Arjuna is known for his archery , Arunagiri is known for his vocabulary”.