THE LIFE AND WORKS OF Saint Kumaragurupara Swamigal
by prof. P. MUTHARASU, M.A. B.T.
The Saiva Religion, the glory of which not only extends to the hoary past, but also continues even today, is one of the most ancient - if not the most ancient - of the several religions in India. It is the religion and practical way of life of the vast multitude of people throughout the length and breadth of India. The vitality of this religion is so forceful and everlasting that it has given rise to numerous sects differing from each other only in matters of detail, but agreeing in the fundamental belief regarding God, soul and bonds and the thirty six tattwas.
Whenever the light of this great religion began to flicker or fade in the gale of heretical creeds, some great saint, sage or seer appeared on the scene, by the Grace of God Siva, trimmed the flickering flame and made it burn bright. In the history of the Tamil land, such advent of saints or sages can be found to have been in unintermittent succession like the plantains. It is to this unending line of spiritual luminaries our Saint Kumaraguruparar belongs.
After the Saintly Four and after the days of Saiva Siddhanta tradition at the hands of Saint Meykanda Deva and his disciples, came the Muhamedan invasion and rule and that of the Nayaks of Vijayanakar and Madurai. Islam and Vaishnavism along with a soul-less monistic creed of Hinduism which suited to the agoistic tendencies of individuals, received the patronage of the ruling princes. The religion of Saiva Siddhanta, being relegated to the background, was glowing faintly in the cloisters of monastries without shedding its light among the people.
It is at this point of time in the early seventeenth century, Saint Kumaraguruparar appeared as an effulgent star to dispel the darkness. He was born in the town Srivaikuntam on the nothern bank of the river Tampraparni in Tirunelveli District, the southern part of the Then-Pandyan Kingdom. The district of Tirunelveli is noted for chaste and good Tamil among other regions of Tamil Nadu and for the intense fervour and love in following scrupulously the tenets of Saiva Religion. It is in this district another literary and religious luminary Sivagnana Swamigal flourished in the eighteenth century in the village of Vickramasingapuram on the upper reaches of the river Tampraparni. Both had been blessed by the Almighty, when they were five years old and both had the power to improvise songs at that tender age. Both having been born on the banks of Porunai (¦À¡Õ¨¿) which flows gracefully from the Potoigai Hills, the abode of Sage Agasthya established their many-sided excellence on the banks of Ponni (¦À¡ýÉ¢). Both are considered, adored and worshipped as the poetic, religious and philosophical gems of Thiruvavaduthurai and Dharmapuram Aadheenams. At the same time, it has been the unique glory of Saint Kumaraguruparar, that none but him had ever crossed the borders of Tamil Nadu to propogate Tamil and Saiva Religion in other parts of India. It is he who had established a Saiva Mutt on the banks of the Ganges and had spread the glory of Tamil literature and Saiva Siddhanta Philosophy among non-Tamils, by speaking to them in their own language Hindustani. The great and unequalled service to humanity and thereby to God Siva, commenced by him by founding the Kumarasawmy Mutt at Varanasi, has continued till this day and is still continuing with renewed vigour, its yeomen service from Cape Comorin to Himalayas under the esteemed and benevolent reign of the 21st Head of Sri Kasi Mutt, SrilaSri Kasivasi Muthukumaraswami Tambiran Swamigal Avergal, Tirupanandal.
Srivaikuntam, the birth-place of St. Kumaraguruparar is one of the nine sacred shrines of the Vaishnavites, on the banks of the above-said river. There are also nine Kailasas on its banks and the northern part of Srivaikuntam is called Kailasapuram. In this place, there lived, in the early part of the seventeenth century a couple named Shanmugasigamani Kavirayar and Sivakamasundari. They belonged to a very high and gifted vellala family, which was traditionally well-versed in Tamil and deeply devoted to Lord Senthilandavan at Tiruchendur, who is ardently worshipped as the family deity of each and every vellala family of this district. The happy pair lived harmoniously, dispensing their household charities and devoting their time to foster the spirit of love and reverence to the Feet of the Lord at Tiruchendur. They were blessed with a male child on a very auspicious day, and with His Grace they called him "Kumaraguruparar".
They looked upon their son as a boon bestowed upon them in response to their fervent prayer to God Muruka of Tiruchendur, one of the holiest of holy shrines, where the unseen God is felt as a living presence. They brought him up very tenderly under their loving care. The child grew, but to their utter dismay and shock, it remained dumb and mute till it attained its fifth year. It was as if the gifted child was not willing to open its mouth except before the presence of the Lord of Tiruchendur. The parents were grieved, and in great dread, they could do nothing better than to take the child to the sea-coast shrine of Tiruchendur. They took to severe penance laying the child in front of the Lord at Shanmugavilasam and prayed fervently for the grant of the power of speech for their child. Their prayers were answered and the boy-saint was blessed with the beautiful and vivid vision of the Lord "With twelve arms, the sharp spear, with handsome little feet, with twelve eyes bestowing grace, with six blooming faces and radiant crown on His six heads." The gifted child won the power of speech and the bountiful divine learning. The divine vision was so over-powering that the boy-saint broke into spontaneous effusions of scintillating poetry singing in praise of the Almighty Muruka of Tiruchendur. Tradition holds that he saw a flower dropping from one of the hands of Lord Muruka and taking that as a clue, he sang the beautiful philosophical as well as eulogical poem called "Kandar Kalivenba" beginning with the word "puu" (â - Flower). The parents who had the rare fortune of having been blessed with such a divine child, felt exceedingly exhilerated and sang and danced in a state of ecstasy. Then they returned to Srivaikuntam with a heart full of feelings of gratitude and admiration towards the Lord of Tiruchendur, with the boy-saint, Kumaraguruparar.
After the miraculous incident at Tiruchendur the boy-saint who was graced with divine power and divine speech and mastery of all the classics, grammar and the philosophical literatures returned to Srivaikuntam, Devotion to God, being his soul force and lofty ideals to serve the fellow human beings, were as natural in him as smell in flowers and they had wholesome and luxurious growth on and on. When he was at Srivaikuntam he adored Lord Kailasanathar of his place of birth in Kailai Kalambakam. It is a prabandham (minor poetical composition) of 100 songs of varied metres sung in anthathi style. It is unfortunate that we have only eight stanzas surviving for study and enjoyment today. The first two songs amongst the eight handed to posterity, emphasise the importance of prayer and devotion to Lord Vaikuntha Kailasar, who will surely grant us bliss, and the powerful karma will flee resulting in the injunction on Brahma to desist from putting us into the despicable mayic bodies. The other songs deal with the beauties of nature around Kailasapuram and the cosmic dance of Lord Kailasanathar.
It was natural that his divine mind did not want to be caught in the whirlwind of the ways of the world. Hence he started on a pilgrimage visiting and worshipping at the famous Siva Shrines in the Pandyan territory viz. Tirunelveli, Thirukkuttalam, Rameswaram, Tiruppuvanam and Tiruparankundram. As he was approaching the capital city of Madurai, a large number of Saiva devotees received him with due pomp and grandeur. He remained in a Mutt, specially arranged for his stay in the company of devotees, worshipping the Lord of Aalavoi ( ¬ÄÅ¡ö) who originated and presided over the first Tamil Sangam.
When he was at Madurai, at the request of the devotees there and due to his own overwhelming devotion at heart, he extemporised a Pillai Tamil on Goddess Meenakshi. Here the poet portrays the divine mother as the divine child of the Pandyan King Malayathuvajan, as described in the Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam (Divine Sports) and the various stages of Her Infancy. The famous Thirumalai Nayak was then ruling, and Goddess Meenakshi appeared before him in his dream. To his thrill and amazement, she told him that Kumaraguruparar who was then at Madurai, had composed a Pillai Tamil in Her praise and that he should make all arrangements for its exposition to a learned assembly. The King woke up with astonishment, sent for his ministers and enquired of them about the Visit of Kumaraguruparar. They narrated to him all the details of his childhood, the beatific vision of Lord Senthilandavan at Tiruchendur his divine learning etc. At once, the King went along with them to the divine poet, explained to him the command of Goddess Meenakshi and entreated him to give discourses on his MEENAKSHI AMMAI PILLAI TAMIL. Kumaraguruparar readily consented and the King made elaborate arrangements for the discourse.
The exposition of the Pillai Tamil was commenced on an auspicious day by the author in the front hall of the Meenakshi Temple before a large audience, which included the King. According to tradition, probably on the fifth day while he was explaining the fifth section of his Pillai Tamil i.e. Varukai Paruvam (ÅÕ¨¸ô ÀÕÅõ), Goddess Meenakshi, greatly moved by the exposition took the guise of the temple priest's daughter, entered the assembly hall and seated herself on the lap of the King. No one suspected anything as they all knew the girl. Listening to the poem with rapt attention, she took the pearl garland from the King's neck and put it around the poet's neck when he was explaining in a sweet and melodious manner. The beauties of the song beginning with "Thodukkum Kadavul Pazhampadal" (¦¾¡ÎìÌõ ¸¼×ð ÀÆõ À¡¼ø) and disappeared instantaneously to the great surprise and ecstasy of every one there. The poet was invoking Her in endearing terms, in that song, fervently praying for the condescension of eternal bliss. On conclusion of the discourses, the Nayak King was very much delighted and showered very many gifts on the poet. He adored him by mounting the poet on a golden throne, decorating him with ornaments of gold and gems, presenting him with elephants, horses, palanquin, umbrella and banner. At the request of the King, he stayed for some more time at Madurai and during the period, he composed MADURAI KALAMBAKAM in praise of Lord Siva at Madurai.
Afterwards, Kumaraguruparar moved northward on his pilgrimage to worship in the shrines of the Chola territory and came to Tiruchirappalli. There he was received by the ruling Nayak King with all honours and grandeur. He worshipped Thayumana Eswara in the temple on the mount and stayed there as the royal guest. At the time, Pillaiperumal Iyengar, a vaishnava poet met the King and Kumaraguruparar in the palace. While they were conversing with one another the King asked both of them to suggest a suitable symbol to be engraved in his gold currency. The Iyengar said that "garuda" would be suitable symbol; but Kumaraguruparar told him that the "Bull" would be more suitable. He explained to the King in a suitable manner that the bull would exert itself even when they were obstacles on the way. The King was very much pleased and ordered to have the Bull engraved in all the coins.
This incident led to a religious disputation between the Vaishnavites and the Saivites under the leadership of Pillaiperumal Iyengar and Kumaraguruparar. Though our Saint was above such religions disputes, he had to agree in order to establish truth and the supremacy of Saiva Siddhanta Philosophy. He won the dispute in the great assembly convened for the purpose by the Nayak King of Tiruchirappalli.
Some days after, he moved further northward and worshipping at several sacred shrines came to Tiruvarur, the place of Kamalai Gnanaprakasar, the divine Preceptor of Gurugnanasambandar, the founder of the Dharmapuram Aadheenam. He worshipped God Siva in the famous and very ancient temple named Poonkoil (âí§¸¡Â¢ø) and sang "Thiruvarur Naanmani Maalai" in praise of the Lord.
History of Tamil Devotional Literature will clearly reveal the existence of this mode of worship from very ancient times, even before the Sangam period. The saying of St.Thiruvalluvar "¦À¡Õû§º÷ Ò¸ú ÒÃ¢¾ø" and some songs of the Paripaadal, a Sangam work bear ample testimony to this. Saint Thirumoolar says "À¡ð¼Å¢ Â¡ÅÉ À¡ÄÅ¢Â¡§Á" which means that the nectar of songs is equal in merit to the sweetness of milk offered in worship. This is considered to be the easiest form of worship for all, as we need not perform the elaborate rituals prescribed in the agamas, for the different kinds of worship. We need only our will to praise the Lord by repeating what has been already sung in devotion by the saints and devotees who flourished before.
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The songs of Kumaraguruparar form part of these invaluable treasure of devotional poetry that abound in our language.
The songs in Thiruvarur Naanmani Malai can be said to be a store-house, wherein we find charming descriptions of the ancient town Thiruvarur which was once the capital of the Chola Kings. Among other things, the greatness of the temple, its history from the times of Musukuntha Chola, the famous Mantapam(Hall) called Thevasiriyan where His devotees assemble, the Grace of Lord Thiagaraja and the various divine the Grace of Lord Thiagaraja and the various divine references about Him, the episode of God Siva intervening to pacify the anger of Paravaiyar for the sake of His friend and devotee Sundramurthy Nayanar, are vividly described in this work.
Kumaraguruparar is noted for his lofty imagination in describing anew what is known already to one and all. In the eighth song of this poetical garland, he gives an interesting and new description to the Arthanari («õ¨Á-«ôÀ÷) form of God Siva. Having in mind the oft quoted puranic story of Siva giving two measures of paddy to Uma for performing all the thirty-two kinds of charities, he says that no one can find in the world in one and the same Form, the left side performing thirty two kinds of charities and the right side receiving alms. This is found in Tiruvarur and he prays that let this Form be there showering grace for ever (song 8). In more than one place, he refers to the god of death, Yama and states that those who have clung to His Feet steadfastly will never harbour any fear of death in their heart (song 26). He gives a very graphic account of Yama as a fisherman who is very keen in catching hold of the poor souls(fishes) and plunging them into the ocean of births and deaths. He prays to the Lord to give him the power and strength of mind to escape from the grip of Yama and to dwell for ever in the waters of His Grace (song 18). In another song he says that, even though Yama vied with the Lord, ignorant of the greatness of His devotees and particularly of Markandeya, he was extremely fortunate in seeing His Feet and experiencing their impact on his physique (¿ÁÉ¡÷ ¦ºö¾ ¿üÈÅõ ¦ÀÃ¢§¾ - song 33).
The inscrutable ways of the Lord in answering the prayers of His devotees, which often seem conflicting with one another, are described in a majestic manner in one song (24). The feeble minds of the human souls can never find out the real meaning and force of His divine activities and it will suffice that they ponder over them in reverences.
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