Sri ManavalaMamunigal Thirunakshtram (13th Nov’2007)
புந்தி வாழி புகழ் வாழி வாழியே! “
Sri MaNavALa MAmunigaL Vaibhavam
(Narrated by Sri Anand R “email@example.com)
Advent and Early Life
Sri ManavALa MAmunigaL, who is revered as an incarnation of AdiseSA, was born in the year ‘sAdhAraNa’ of the Kaliyuga, on a ‘MUlA’ nakshtram day in the bright fortnight of the tuLA-mAsam. His parents lived in ThirukkurugUr, revered as ‘AzhwAr Thirunagari’ in SriVaishNavA parlance, owing to being the birthplace of Saint SathakopA. The baby, who was to become the patron saint of the Southern School of SriVaishNavism, (for those who seek further information, it must be mentioned that there exists a dichotomy within the SriVaishNavA tradition, and accordingly people have organised themselves into northern and southern schools. It must also be mentioned that this dichotomy does not find support from the works of SrirAmAnujA, the preceptor whose name both schools revere), was christened ‘Azhagiya MaNavALan’ by his father, ThirunAveerudaiyapirAn tAtarannan. The child soon became a young boy and his father had him subjected to all the rites of passage prescribed by the SAstrAs. Azhagiya MaNavALan underwent a formal brahminical education and eventually entered the GrihasthAshramA. It must be noted that as a lad, he spent his time in Sikkil kadAram and not in ThirukkurugUr per se.
Azhagiya MaNavALan and ThiruvAimozhippiLLai
The birthplace of NammAzhwAr was a great centre of SriVaishNavA religion, and in those days, the leader of the SriVaishNavA community in and around AzhwAr Tirunagari was ThiruvAimozhippiLLai. This saint was a great admirer of rAmAnujA, and to honour the latter’s surrender and service to SriParAnkusA, he built a shrine for the author of the SribAshyam and established an agrahAram named ‘RAmAnuja-chaturvedi-mangalam’ around the same. As he was growing old, he wished to appoint a successor to ensure the future of SriVaishNavA scholarship in the holy spot which was home to SriVaishNava-Nambi. Synchronously with the emergence of this desire in ThiruvAimozhippiLLai’s bosom, Azhagiya MaNavALan came to ThirukkurugUr from his uncle’s place. Providence made the latter the disciple of the former and soon ThiruvAimozhippiLLai declared that he had found a worthy successor in Azhagiya MaNavALan.
He entrusted the administration of rAmAnuja-chaturvedi-mangalam to Azhagiya MaNavALan, and the latter impressed one and all with his sterling service. This earned him the epithet of ‘YatheendrapravaNan’, which is a title that clearly indicates the love and devotion he had for Udaiyavar. As per his AchAryA’s instructions, he composed the ‘YatirAja-VimSati’ a Sanskrit work of twenty verses honouring SriBAshyakArA.
He was blessed with a son, whom he lovingly named rAmAnujA.
Prior to his attainment of SriVaikuntham, ThiruvAimozhippiLLai realised that the ‘headquarters’ of SriVaishNavism, of course, the matchless Bhooloka Vaikuntham, SriRangam, was in need of a stalwart to protect and nourish the fragrant flower that was its glory. He ordered Azhagiya MaNavALan to proceed to ‘Periya Kovil’ and take charge of the SriVaishNavA empire once ruled by the great rAmAnujA.
Soon afterward he shed his mortal coils and found his way to Parama Padham.
Azhagiya MaNavALan and PonnadikkAl Jeeyar
Azhagiya MaNavALan had acquired much fame during his days as a protégé of ThiruvAimozhippiLLai. This brought several savants and devotees to him, who promptly became his disciples. One such disciple was Azhagiya-Varadhar, a scholar from VAnamAmalai. His devotion to Azhagiya MaNavALan was so great that he renounced the world and became a SriVaishNava ascetic solely out of a desire to serve the former without being trammelled by any other concerns. He came to be known as VAnamAmalai rAmAnuja Jeeyar. Owing to his love towards his preceptor, he came to be affectionately referred to as PonnadikkAl Jeeyar.
Azhagiya MaNavALan at SriRangam
Azhagiya MaNavALan had not forgotten his preceptor’s wish. Soon enough, he obtained NammAzhwAr’s consent and blessings, and made his way to the capital of the SriVaishNavA Empire, SriRangam. En route to the foremost divya-desam, he paid obeisance to the empress divine, AndAl, GodAdevi, at SrivilliputtUr, and obtained the blessings of the one with immaculate shoulders at ThirumAliruncholai. Upon reaching SriRangam he was invited to stay with ‘Annan’ a VaishNavA scholar and resident of the holiest of places on the earth. Annan also made arrangements for Azhagiya MaNavALan to perform ‘mangaLAsAsanam’ for the Lord of SriRangam.
This was indeed a moment of bliss, for such an opportunity does not come one’s way without the Lord willing it to be so. With great joy the young stalwart performed the mangaLAsAsanam after soaking up the benign glances of SrirAmAnujA and Thanikkovil NAcchiyAr.
Having delighted in this singularly auspicious act, he proceeded to pay his respects to the memory of PiLLai LokAchAryA, by visiting his residence. Upon setting foot in the vicinity of the AchAryA’s TirumALigai, he is supposed to have proclaimed it to be the fertile soil which nurtured the secrets of the SriVaishNavA tradition (rahasyam viLaindha Mann).
After having taken up residence at SriRangam, Azhagiya MaNavALan spent his time in the service of the Lord and in masterful expositions of the rahasya-granthAs bequeathed upon us by SriLokAchAryA and his brother, Azhagiya MaNavALapperumAL nAyanAr.
Azhagiya MaNavALan at Tirumala
With the passage of time, there arose in Azhagiya MaNavALan; s heart, a desire to see the multifarious archA-manifestations of the Lord and the divya-desams celebrated by the AzhwArs in the divya-prabandham. With the permission of Lord RanganAthA, he embarked on a tour of holy places, and covered all the temples falling within the borders of ChozhanAdu and ThondainAdu. The Lord brought him to Tirumala, precisely on the day of commencement of the PurattAsi-Brahmotsavam.
Meanwhile, ThozhappaiyyangAr, a SriVaishNava scholar belonging to the lineage of Periya-TirumalA-Nambi had been apprised of a significant dream by a resident of TirumaLA, in which the latter had seen the sacred Thiruvenkadam Hill as AdiseSA himself, supporting a reclining VaishNavA with a VaishNavA ascetic at his feet. He rightly surmised that the savants seen in the dream were none other than Azhagiya MaNavALan and PonnadikkAl Jeeyar. The twosome received a warm welcome from the SriVaishNavAs at Tirumalai, and Azhagiya MaNavALan performed mangaLAsAsanam for the Lord of Thiruvenkadam. He remained on the sacred hill for a few days and gave several talks on the tradition nourished by the loving care of Udaiyavar, and gained a large number of followers on account of his scholarship and devotion to the Lord.
Another divya-desam and its Lord were waiting for him.
PaeraruLALan and Azhagiya MaNavALan
In SriVAishNavA parlance, Kovil is used to denote SriRangam and SriRangam alone. Likewise PerumAL Kovil refers to the temple dedicated to Lord VaradarAjA of Kanchipuram. SriPerundevi ThAyAr’s glance fell upon Azhagiya MaNavALan, and the latter made his way to Thirukkacchi. After basking in the warmth of the Lord’s matchless beauty, Azhagiya MaNavALan reached SriPerumpudur.
RAmAnujA and Azhagiya MaNavALan
Pious tradition regards Azhagiya MaNavALan as an incarnation of AdiseSA. It was indeed a singularly interesting event when he reached the shrine of SrirAmAnujA, who is also regarded as AdiSeSA in human form, at SriPerumpudur. The archa-vigraham of SrirAmAnujA here, was consecrated in his time, and is known as the ‘ThAmugandha thirumaeni’. Upon setting foot in Perumpudur, Azhagiya MaNavALan broke into a poetic outburst and extolled the land which had been home to the Lord of Ascetics. He remained there but for one night, and was advised by SrirAmANujA in a dream that he ought to learn the SribAshyam from KidAmbi nAyanAr of Kanchi. Accordingly he remained in Kanchi for a year and learnt the SribAshyam thoroughly. It is believed that the teacher, KidAmbi nAyanAr, recognised the divine nature of his ‘student’ and that the latter displayed his true form as AdiseSA to his ‘guru’ upon being requested by him to do so.
Engae Suttriyum Ranganai Saevi
In keeping with the time honoured dictum, ‘wherever you may go, return to offer salutations to the Lord of SriRangam’, Azhagiya MaNavALan returned to the Matchless temple of Periya PerumAL. Soon he became a leading exponent of Ubhaya-VedAntA.
Periya Jeeyar and His Disciples
Azhagiya MaNavALan had several relatives and in some way or the other, this kept him away from the uninterrupted service of the Lord. To remedy this, Azhagiya MaNavALan renounced the world, and accepted SamnyAsA under the guidance of SriSathakopaJeeyar (the first pontiff of the famed Ahobila Mutt).
Thus freed from human bondage, he proceeded to take over the administration of the PallavarAyan mutt, and accepted Paravasthu BhattarpirAn Jeeyar as his disciple. He came to be revered as Periya Jeeyar through his untiring services to the Lord. It must be noted that the appellation ‘Periya’ is not handled lightly by SriVaishNavAs. It is conferred only upon special individuals like PeriyAzhwAr, PeriyavAcchAn PiLLai and so on.
Periya Jeeyar, who was also known as MaNavALa MAmunigaL, went on to raise a mandapam in honour of ThiruvAimozhippiLLai with soil from the thirumALigai of PiLLai LokAchAryA. This building came to be known as ‘ThirumalaiyAzhwAr Mandapam.’
Two famous SriVaishNavAs of SriRangam, KandAdaiyaNNan and Kovil Utthama Nambi, maintained a distance from Periya Jeeyar as they were conscious of their own heritage and standing in the SriVaishNavA world. MaNavALa MAmunigaL made the two sons of KandAdaiyaNNan become the disciples of VAnamAmalai Jeeyar.
ErumbiappA, a relative of the KandAdai family came to meet Periya Jeeyar. After having discussed traditional matters with the ascetic, he went back to his native village of ErumbiyUr, without accepting MaNavALa MAmunigaL as his preceptor, and without taking his prasAdam. Upon reaching his residence he found himself unable to enter the house as the door refused to budge. Realising the significance of this occurrence, he hastened to SriRangam and became a disciple of Periya Jeeyar.
A vaishNavA who had taken to the erroneous philosophy of advaita, came to debate with MAmunigaL. The ever-smiling ascetic brought him back into the fold of SriVaishNavam through the latter’s former teacher, Vedalappai.
Another important disciple of Periya Jeeyar was PrativAdi Bhayankaram AnnangAchArya Swami of Kanchi. Originally a resident of Thirukkacchi ,He had been involved in performing Tirumanjana-kaimkaryam for the Lord of Tiruvenkadam for some time. One day, he came across a devotee from SriRangam who spoke to him about the glory of MaNavALa MAmunigaL. The conversation persisted for more time than it should have, given that SwAmi was in charge of the Tirumanjana-Kaimkaryam, and he forgot to add fragrances to the holy water. However, the archakAs who performed the Tirumanjanam reported that the service had been remarkably flawless and the waters alluringly fragrant. He reasoned that this must be on account of the greatness of Periya Jeeyar, and made his way to SriRangam. He was met by the messengers of MAmunigaL who had been sent to bring him to SriRangam, and overjoyed at this divine coincidence, he met the saint and became his disciple.
ErumbiyappA and VAnamAmalai Jeeyar were instrumental in making disciples out of AppiLLai and AppiLLAr, a pair of scholars who had previously been aloof with regard to their relationship with MAmunigaL. Kovil Utthama Nambi followed suit, acting upon direct instructions from Periya PerumAL himself to the effect.
Of all the disciples of MaNavALa MAmunigaL, eight scholars are referred to collectively as ‘ashta-dik-gajangal’ and they are; VAnamAmalai Jeeyar, BhattarpirAn Jeeyar, ThiruvenkadarAmAnuja Jeeyar, KoilaNNan, PrathivAdi Bhayankaram ANNan, ErumbiyappA, AppiLLai and AppiLLAr.
MaNavALa MAmunigaL’s granthAs
Apart from YatirAjavimSati, SrI MaNavALa MAmunigaL authored several texts of great clarity and philosophical profundity. He wrote commentaries on SriVachanabhUshaNam, Tattvatrayam and Mumukshuppadi of SriPiLLai LokAchAryA, ‘AchAryahrudayam’ of Azhagiya MaNavALapperumAL nAyanAr, IrAmAnusa-nootrandAdi of ThiruvarangatthamudhanAr, JnanasAram, PrameyasAram of AruLALapperumAL EmperumAnAr, and also on those verses of PeriyAzhwAr Tirumozhi for which PeriyavAcchAn PiLLai’s commentaries were unavailable.
His most famous work perhaps is the ‘Upadesa-IrattinamAlai’ in which he sings paeans to the AzhwArs and AchAryAs without any restraint in his arguably prolific use of poetic license.
He is supposed to have written a gloss on the GitA named ‘thAthparya-deepam’ which is currently untraceable. He is also credited with a short work on the esoteric import of the ThiruvAimozhi, known as the ‘ThiruvAimozhi NootrandAdi’.
Other texts include a manual on ThiruvArAdhana-kramam, and the Arthi-prabandham.
His lucid exposition of hard to grasp concepts and great clarity of writing earned him the title ‘VichadavAk SikhAmaNi’.
Periya Jeeyar and the Lord of SriRangam
MAmunigaL was desirous of visiting the Lord’s abodes on earth once again. He had done so earlier in his pUrvAshramA but wanted to have the pleasure of beholding the Lord’s multifarious manifestations once again. The Lord of SriRangam granted him this legitimate wish, and he acted upon it with great eagerness.
To safeguard and to perpetuate the tenets of SriVaishNavam, he made his disciples take on special roles within the tradition. He named PrativAdi Bhayankaram ANNan ‘SribAshyAchAryA’ and made him responsible for the propagation of the SribAshyam. Likewise he named KandAdaiyaNNAn and SuddhasattvamaNNAn, ‘Bhagawad-sambandhAcharyA’ and ‘ThiruvAimozhiyAchAryA’ respectively and entrusted the task of taking the meanings of the DivyaPrabandham to people to these two scholars.
The Lord of SriRangam ordered him to discourse on the ‘Idu’ commentary of NampiLLai for a sufficient span of time, and he complied with the Lord’s will by delivering a sustained and comprehensive discourse on the same for a year. During the said year all festivities in the temple were suspended, and the Lord, along with his consorts, the AzhwArs and the preceptors, glorified his expositions by attending them every other day.
Towards the end of this special event, a five year old named AranganAyakam (who is believed to have been the mouthpiece of SriRanganAthA Himself, at least on that occasion), eulogised MAmunigaL with the following verse
‘SriSailesa dayApAtram, dhIbhakthyAdi guNarNavam,
yatheendrapravaNam vande ramyajAmAtaram munim!’
This was adopted as the ‘Thaniyan’ for MaNavALa MAmunigaL, and issued to SriVaishNavA centres at Tirumala, Tiruvadari, TirumAliruncholai, Melkote and so on.
All his life, Periya Jeeyar had not visited the Divya-deshams in Northern India. To make up for this, one of his devotees took his ‘thiuvadicchuvadugaL’ to the various VishNu temples in North India, spreading the glories of MaNavALa MAmunigaL, wherever he went.
Meanwhile KandAdaiyaNNAn had undertaken a divya-desam tour at his AchAryA’s insistence and the two devotees met each other at Thiruvenkadam.
Overjoyed at this fortuitous coincidence, they paid obeisance to the Lord of the Seven Hills, and returned to seek the blessings of MaNavALa MAmunigaL at SriRangam.
MaNavALa MAmunigaL – The Final Years
Periya Jeeyar sent ErumbiyappA back to his hometown on coming to know that this was what the latter’s ageing father wished.
Then he gifted a beautiful archa-vigraham of ‘Aranganagarappan’ to VAnamAmalai Jeeyar and entrusted the administration of the DeivanAyakan temple at VAnamAmalai to the scholar who was overcome with gratitude.
His birthplace seemed to call out to him, and he proceeded to AzhwAr Tirunagari to pay his respects to NammAzhwAr.
On the way he became the preceptor of MahAbalivANa nAdarAyan, a local ruler, who carried him up to the point of land under his rulership on palanquin. He also offered a small rural hamlet to Periya Jeeyar who named it ‘Azhagiya MaNavALa Nalloor’.
Eventually he reached ThiruppullAni, famous for the darbha-sayana thirukkolam of PerumAL. After having beheld the lovely form of the Lord, he finally reached AzhwAr Tirunagari. There he composed a vAzhitthirunAmam in praise of Saint SathakopA.
When he went to Melkote to learn the esoteric import of certain verses of AchAryahrudayam from JananyAchAryA, he was extolled as a rAmAnujA himself, by the scholar who was duly impressed with Periya Jeeyar’s remarkable mental acuity.
As a true VaishNavA, MaNavALa MAmunigaL returned good for evil done unto him, when he besought royal pardon for those who had set fire to his monastery.
His tireless service, love, compassion and auspicious attributes have led to his being regarded as the last preceptor in line of teachers common to all SriVaishNavAs.
In the year rudrothkAri, in the month if mAsi, on a Saturday in the bright fortnight, which was a dwAdasi marked by the sacred asterism of SravaNam, MaNavALa MAmunigaL attained SriVaikuntham and returned to Sriman nArAyaNA’s eternal service.
His body was given a glorious burial at ‘thavarAsan-padditthurai’, and his obsequies were performed by his son, Jeeyar nAyaNAr.
VAnamAmalai Jeeyar, who had won multitudes of disciples during his tour of the north, returned to be informed of the departure of his preceptor to the Land of the Lord and was overcome with grief. He recovered from this only too human reaction, and arranged to have the thiruvadhyayanam of MAmunigaL done with utmost care at VAnamAmalai.
Srimathe ramyajAmatru MuneendrAya Mahatmane
SriRangavAsinae bhooyAth, nityasrIr NityamangaLam.
vAzhum MaNavALa MAmnuivan, vAzhiyavan
Maran thiruvAimozhipporuLAi mAnilatthor thaerumpadi uraikkum seer.
Seyya thAmarai thAzhinAi vAzhiyae
Selai vAzhi thirunAbhi vAzhiyae
thuyyamArbum purinoolum vAzhiyae
sundara thirutthoLinai vAzhiyae
kaiyum endhiya mukkolum vAzhiyae
karuNai pongiya KaNninai vAzhiyae
PoyyilAdha MaNavALa MAmuni pundhivAzhi pugazhvAzhi vAzhiyae
AdiyArgal VAzha, Aranganagar VAzha
MaNavALa MAmuniyae! Innum Oru NootrAndirum!
AzhwAr EmperumAnAr Jeeyar Thiruvadigale Saranam