Sri PeriyaVAcchAn Pillai Thirunakshtram today (4th Sept’07)
(written by Anand R (email@example.com))
This day, which marks the birth of our beloved Yamunaitthuraivan, Vasudeva-Krishnan, also marks the birth of SriKrishnaSuri, whose father was known as YAmunadesika. Right at the outset we note that the prefix ‘Periya’ is given only to some special individuals and entities in the SriVaishnava world. Periya Piraatti, Periya Perumal, Periya Kovil, PeriyAazhwaar, Periya Jeeyar for example. Therefore from his sampradAyic name, we have an insight into the greatness of SriPeriyaVAcchAn Pillai. Tradition records that the lord Himself manifested his potency through this great Acharya for elucidating the nuances of the Tamil Vedas for the sake of the devout. (It must be mentioned here that even though Our Sriman Narayana has nothing binding upon Him as ‘work’ in our world, He always works overtime!!!! An important precept for his devotees no doubt!!).
Let us sanctify ourselves with fond and sincere remembrances of the king among commentators, the venerable PeriyaVAcchAn Pillai whose glory remains unmatched in the world of SriVaishnava scholarship.
The Vedas which are the bedrock of all philosophy in India (even those views which are considered non-Vedic can be traced to the influence of Upanishadic philosophy) are not comprehensible even to people who study them for years. Hence SriRAmAnujA painstakingly explained the verses of the Shruthi in accordance with the eternal truths of Visishtaadvaita. This could not however reach everyone, as Vedantic philosophy is not easily accessible to the Jivan caught in the wiles of prakriti. SriNammazhvaar’s ThiruvAimozhi which is equal in all respects to the SAmA Veda, although available in lovely nectarine Thamizh was not easy to understand. Even to this day, some writers write in their own interpretations into verses from the Divyaprabandham such as “Aran NaaraNan, AaNvidai Pulloordhi…etc”, which is usually not very productive. To drench all jivatmas in the divine outpourings of the Aazhwaars, SriKrishnaSuri was born on the same day which marks the advent of the one and only Jagadguru, SriKrishna Paramatma, at Chenganur, to blessed NAcchiyArammal and YAmunadesika. His acharya, SriNampillai, had been born under the asterism of ThirumangaiAazhwaar, krithhikaa in the month of Kathikai. He belonged to the Purvasikha community and was a SriVaishnava by tradition and upbringing (some great beings are ‘born’ as Vaishanavas, for some others ‘ birth’ as a Vaishnava occurs when they gain an insight into what is known as Svarupajnanam. Pillai was of the former category).
Life and Contributions to SriVaishnavam
SriKrishnaSuri, being an acharya of the highest calibre, practised the SriVaishanava way of life with utmost sincerity. His lifespan of about ninety-five years stands testimony to this (for what could be more conducive to one’s health and well being, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of life, than the practice of SriVaishnavam and a taste for the name of Narayana?). Water in a river can be accessed only if we make an effort to do so, whereas rain does not wait for us to do anything (although singing ‘Aazhimazhaikkanna’ can work wonders). Likewise, PeriyaVAcchAn Pillai rained down his wisdom on all of us without anyone ever having made so much as a small effort to obtain the same.
Our tradition rightly takes pride in giving equal respect to both Sanskrit and Thamizh scriptures. SriPeriyaVAcchAn Pillai furthered this practice by commenting upon Sanskrit works as well as Thamizh Prabandhams. SriKrishnaSuri is the only acharya who commented upon the entire DivyaPrabandham. He also commented upon portions of the RAmAyana and MahAbhArathA, shlokas from the PurAnaratnam, and other texts of the same class.
He also wrote an elaborate commentary on the Gadya-Trayam of Bhagawad RAmAnujA. Two matchless works of SriYAmunAcharya, SriChatusshloki and SriStotraratna, too became more accessible to every reader thanks to his efforts. It must be noted here that his commentaries on Sanskrit texts were in ManipravAla.
Apart from commenting upon primary texts, he also added to the treasure-trove of SriVaishnava literature (indeed, it would take a devotee a lifetime or so to simply read all the works written by our PoorvAcharyas). His works include, Parandarahasyam (on the three secrets of SriVaishnavam), Nigamanappadi (on the import of the three secrets), Rahasyathraya Vivarana (a clear definition of each rashaya), Rahasyatrayadipika (on the Artha Panchakam), SakalpramAnatAtparyam (a discussion of Visishtaadvaita, which is truly the philosophy obtained when all pramAnas are used correctly), ManikyaMAlai (on the time-honoured relationship between a preceptor and his diciples), and texts in praise of the Lord and the Aazhwaar who was responsible for his birth (UpakArasmrithi and KaliyanarulappAdu).
In our world we find scholars who know but a little being puffed up with unwarranted pride. However SriKrishnaSuri who plumbed the depths of the ocean of SriVaishnavam was the very personification of humility and compassion towards those who lacked knowledge. This is very much in accordance with the verse ‘Vidya dadhaathi Vinayam’. SriVaishnava PoorvAcharyas never blow their own trumpets. Why should they? Is it not a fact that behind their mere utterances, one can hear the resonant call of the PAnchaJanyam?
Pillai’s compassion is illustrated by the amazing account of VaradarAjan, his cook. This simple man was ridiculed by a bunch of scholars who told him that they were discussing a work called ‘Musalakisalayam’, when he enquired them as to what they were talking about with such interest. The term means ‘sprouting of the pestle’ (the Mousalam is a very interesting instrument, in the case of the YAdavAs, it served as a harbinger of destruction to the race, and in this case it was a proximate cause for the birth of a famous acharya). VaradarAjan did not know of the mischief behind this reply and happily narrated this incident to Pillai. The latter was upset that people had made fun of him in this manner (as a matter of fact, one who is truly learned will never laugh at someone who is not, for ridicule is the refuge of the weak). Moved by the tears of his innocent cook, he blessed him with knowledge and the means to obtain it (the means being referred to here are dedication and commitment, no shortcuts can make us learned). In due course of time VaradarAjan became SriVAdikesari AzhagiyamaNavALa Jeeyar and wrote a text which bore the same name as the non-existent text alluded to by the proud scholars who had played with him earlier. This acharya’s SriNrisimhaashtakam is another delightful composition that Adiyaen has had the good fortune to learn.
This incident in Pillai’s life conveys three lessons – never feel proud of one’s achievements (which are the gifts of Sriman Narayana for the prapanna, and the fruits of good karma for the uninitiated), never doubt the grace of the Lord and the Acharya (for these two made a Jeeyar out of VaradarAjan), and finally, never despair (for with the Lord ever ready to drive our chariots in the battlefield known as life, there is no reason why we should lose hope under any circumstance whatsoever).
Finally, there is one text which owes its existence to Pillai but was not ‘authored’ by him in the sense of being an original composition. It is the famous Paasurappadi RAmAyanam which is a veritable treat. With verses and phrases sourced from the sacred 4000, SriPeriyaVAcchAn Pillai described the life of Perumal (the name given to SriRAmA in our tradition) without introducing any words/constructions of his own. A PArAyaNam of this text is supposed to bless us with the merits of reading both RAmAyana as well as the Thamizh Veda. Adiyaen finds immense delight in these verses, as well as the concluding decad of Perumal Thirumozhi (AnganaedumaDhiL…).
Along with countless SriVaishnavas, I salute the Vyaakhyaana-Chakravarthi, without whose grace, it would be well nigh impossible for us to appreciate the esoteric truths laden in the verses of the matchless Tamil Veda. I salute the great commentary writer who was born in response to SriThirumangaiAazhwaar’s offer to the Lord of Thirukkannamangai (“Kanna! Nin tanakkum kurippaagil karkalaam kaviyin porul thaanae” – Periya Thirumozhi, 7-10-10). I salute the dispeller of darkness, who single-handedly churned the ocean of the Naalaayira DivyaPrabandham and obtained the nectar of its meaning for posterity.
Jayaraman, P. (1994), Periya VAcchAn Pillai, in RAmAnujam, V.V (1994), Gadyatrayam of Bhagawad RAmAnujA (Text in Sanskrit with commentary of Periya AcchAn Pillai), and SriRangapriya Pathippakam: Chennai.
SriPeriyaVAcchAn Pillai Thiruvadigale Saranam