Sunday, July 18, 2010

Internal evidence account

The internal evidence account is the story of the Life of Saint Arunagirinathar told from Arunagirinathar, himself. The details of his life have been drawn from an in-depth study and analysis of Arunagirinathar's various works (Thiruppugal, Kanthar Anubhuthi, Kanthar Alangaaram, Kandar Anthaathi, Thiru Vaguppu, Vel Virutham, Mayil Virutham, Sevval Virutham, and Thiru-vElu-kootru-irukai) wherein his personal experiences, confessions, and truths were revealed. The internal evidence account is likely the most accurate version of the story of Arunagirinathar's life because it is told from the perspective of Arunagirinathar himself. One must keep in mind that the other two versions of Arunagirinathar's life, namely the traditional account and historical account, are more susceptible to the personal biases of the story-teller and historian, respectively.

[NOTE: The in-dented information that follows hereon after is a collection of references used by the author to give the internal evidence account of Arunagirinathar's life — either supporting or disproving facts about the Saint's life.]

The internal evidence account of Saint Arunagirinathar's life is based on Rao Bahadur V.S. Chengalvaraya Pillai's Tamil work, "Arunagirinathar: Varalaarum Noolaaraychiyum (Arunagirinathar: Life and research on his works)," published in the year 1947. Our revered and scholarly Pillai Avl. Has done a tremendous work, a novel and original thought of his, in codifying the "Murugavel Panniru Thirumurai" corresponding to the "Saiva Panniru Thirumurai," for which we are indebted to him. According to his research based on internal evidences of the Thiruppugal and other works of Arunagirinathar, the life of the saint, in his above work, is thus:

Apart from the fact that Arunagiri lived in Thiruvannamalai during the time of Pravuda Deva Maharaja, who ruled that territory in 1450 A.D., (already mentioned in "historical account"), no internal evidences are available as to say anything definite about Arunagiri's caste, his parents, and his early life.

Arunagiri was acquainted, even from his boyhood, with the earlier Tamil works, such as the Thevaara, Thirumanthiram, Thirumurugaatruppadai, Thirukkural, etc. He had the skill and capacity to compose poems and he was a devotee of Lord Murugan.

As fate would have it, Arunagiri fell a victim to the evil traits of courtesans and lost all his property in debauchery. Utilizing his talents of composing extempore songs, he earned wealth only to please his paramours. He was finally over-powered by poverty and many diseases took heavy toll of him, and he felt ashamed over his own plight.

Realizing his condition and also the meritorious deeds of his earlier lives, and elderly pious person appeared before Arunagiri and advised him to do penance and contemplate on the six-faced Lord Shanmukha. But, Arunagiri paid no heed to this saintly instruction and wasted his life for some more time, only to be ridiculed by his kinsmen and townsmen.

But, time is a great healer. The time for fruition of his past meritorious deeds approached and his mental attitude, too, underwent a change. He repented for his ill-spent life and for not having acted up to the advice of the pious person. He, therefore, offered up a prayer to Lord Murugan, sat near the big tower (Gopuram) of the Arunachaleshwarar temple at Thiruvannamalai and commenced sadhana in right earnest, but to no effect. He then decided upon a plan, that putting an end to his life, and to this end he climbed the temple-tower and dropped himself down.

Lord Murugan, whose eternal slave he was, held Arunagiri in His arms and saved him from death. The Lord then gave Arunagiri His Darshana - being surrounded by His devotees, veda-chants resounding, and dancing of His peacock. The Lord addressed him as "Arunagiri-Naathar," showered His side-glance grace, granted feet-touch, wrote His six-lettered Mantra on Arunagiri's tongue, and imparted knowledge of the Tamil language in its three aspects of prose, poetry, and drama. He also gave Arunagirinathar a japa-mala (rosary), removed his Mala (karmic dirt) and Maya (ignorance), gave Mowna-Upadesa, taught him the different Yoga-paths (techniques), imparted upadesa on jnana-marga, and revealed the highest secret of Pranava or Omkara. The Lord then commanded Arunagiri to sing His praises and, when the latter pleaded his ignorance, the Lord Himself gave the first line as "muthai-tharu…" and ordained Arunagirinathar to sing, thus, which, with the grace of the Lord, Arunagiri completed in no time.

Finally, Arunagirinathar attained the highest state of Sayujya — the Advaitic realization of being one with the Almighty Lord Skanda (Parabrahman). Thus, did Arunagirinathar live a glorious life of God-consciousness, exhibiting many a super-human deed, lifting people from the quagmire of samsara (cycle of birth-death-rebirth) and planting them firmly in the awareness of God; and the Saint continues to guide seeking souls to perfection, lending them the needed support, even today. May the grace of Saint Arunagirinathar be upon us all, always!

It is worthwhile to record that our revered and late Sri V.S. Chengalvaraya Pillai has quoted authorities for each and every one of the facts mentioned above from the nook and corner of Arunagirinathar's works and also from other sources, which all reveal Arunagirinathar's high scholarship, deep knowledge and devotion to God. However, it is astonishing to note that Pillai has knowingly omitted certain facts, which of course, he has admitted in the very preface itself. He says:

As we cannot with any certainty say that the printed Thiruppugal songs are Arunagirinathar's own words; and as it was the wont with the Tamil saints to depict themselves as being caught up in Maya, though really unaffected by it, for the sake of teaching to the world, I have consciously omitted even certain internal evidences afraid of quoting them as referring to Arunagirinathar's life, as for instance:

1. In Thiruppugal verses***** 392, 752, 1301, though Arunagirinathar's words are clear to prove that he led a life (of Grihasta) with wife, children, sister-in-law and other relatives, yet hesitating to boldly state as such I have omitted the same.

2. (a) As regards Arunagirinathar's caste, he condemns himself in T. No. 26***** as a "low one who avowedly consumes meat." From this, can one say he belongs to a meat-eating caste? And again, in verse 31 of the Kanthar Anthaathi, Arunagirinathar himself says, "O Brahmins, who mercilessly kill goats and do Yagas or sacrifices!" Is he, who thus condemns Brahmins (of their acts of killing of animals), one belonging to the meat-eating caste?

(b) Further, in his work, "Sasanat Tamizhkavi Charitam," Rao Saheb M. Raghava Iyengar refers to Arunagirinathar as "Sarva-Bhauma Dindima Kavi," "Ashta-Bhasha Paramesvara," etc. Now, if we propose to claim Arunagirinathar to be a Brahmin because there is a lot of the usage of Sanskrit language in his Tamil works, (it cannot be; since) we are led to think that one who had obtained "countless powers" due to the special grace of Lord Murugan, should the use of Sanskrit language present any difficulty?

*****T. No. refer to the Thiruppugal numbers in the author's work, "Murugavel Panniru Thirumurai."
To avoid these confusions, I have stated that Arunagirinathar's caste is unknown, being satisfied that he is a great Tapasvin and a Knower of Truth, concludes Sri V.S.C. Pillai.***
***As I had no occasion to study the Thiruppugal songs earlier, when I read this preface of his, I was eager to have a first-hand knowledge of what Arunagirinathar says in the songs referred to in the preface as well as in all the other Thiruppugal songs. I, therefore, felt it was necessary to glance through them, at least, and in doing so many facts were revealed.
Now, let us consider the above points.

1. A free rendering of T. No. 392 would be:

Wife ridiculing, all townsmen ridiculing, all women-fold ridiculing; father and relatives;

Dejected in mind, I also dejected in heart, all people thoughtlessly using condemning words and speaking low of me;

Darkness enveloping my pondering mind, I thought "Is this the happiness of my having taken birth?";

And reflecting thus daily, when I decided to cast the soul off from this body - those feet that you granted then, O Lord grant me again;

The song begins with the words, "wife-ridiculing." While the ridicule of his wife, father, relatives, etc. is the cause of Arunagirinathar's taking a decision to put an end to his life, Sri Pillai has taken the effect as an authentic information but ignored the very cause itself. In a song of this type, to take some facts as relevant and cast away some others as irrelevant, and that too, to ignore the cause-factor and accept the effect, neither seems to be rational nor brings soundness to one's research.

Moreover, the facts that Arunagirinathar decided to end his life, that he knew the different earlier Tamil works, etc. are supported by a few authorities only. While these facts can be taken as relevant to Arunagirinathar's life, why not also take that Arunagirinathar was married, had a wife, children, mother, father, and relatives - a fact that Arunagirinathar says in unambiguous terms in not less than 30 places, i.e., in his Thiruppugal poems as well as in his other works.

Further, it is said that it was the wont of great Tamil saints and poets to take upon themselves the shortcomings of the masses, repent for such low acts and invoke the grace of God to condone their evils and shower His blessings; and this method they adopted as an effective means of transforming people, as the poems are given in first person, capable of touching the hearts of people when they recite them. It is, therefore, held by many that the shortcomings depicted by Arunagirinathar in Thirupugal songs need not necessarily refer to him and should not be taken literally. Sri V.S.C. Pillai also contributes to this view, and there is some truth in it. But he seems to have forgotten the important point that this view is advanced primarily to relieve Arunagirinathar of such evils as debauchery, etc., and not so much to deny that he was a householder; because while prostitution is an evil and sin, Grihasthasrama (state of householder) is not an evil, crime, or shortcoming. On the other hand, Grihasthasrama is a praise-worthy stage of life, more so according to the Tamil scriptures. It is, therefore, really ununderstandable that, while contributing to the above view, Sri Pillai should accept that Arunagirinathar indulged in prostitution but not be prepared to accede that he led a householder's life. When remote and vague internal evidences are given due authenticity to support even minor facts, what is the harm in accepting that Arunagirinathar led a family life when there are umpteen evidences for the same? Will it diminish Arunagirinathar's greatness? Or can we add an inch to his greatness in ignoring this fact? Perhaps to accept that he had wife and children might lend support to the acceptance of that fact that Arunagirinathar's son has referred about Arunagirinathar in one of his Sanskrit works and that a descendant of Arunagirinathar has donated for the construction of an altar for him at his native village Mullandiram, - facts which are proved by historians based on inscriptions, etc. (as seen earlier)! Is it not strange that he who, setting aside the traditional and historical accounts, has set forth to write the life of Arunagirinathar based mainly on internal evidences should ignore certain vital facts of life so conspicuously disclosed in his works!

Here we can have a useful and pertinent diversion to see how far this view is right - the view that what Arunagirinathar has portrayed of himself in the Thiruppugal songs do not refer to him, that he never led an evil or sensuous life (including a family life), and that his early life was pure and unblemished.

It is true that great men take upon themselves the evils of the general masses, and Arunagirinathar, too, has done so in some Thiruppugal songs with the intention of educating and reforming the evil-doers. This can be evident from such songs as T. No. 121: "Seeralasadan"; T. No. 180: "Thitamili"; T. No. 183 "Pancha Paadagan"; T. No. 576: "Pulaiyanaana"; T. No. 611: "Avaguna Viraganai"; T. No. 291: "Thaakkamarukkoru"; T. No. 363: "Maalaasai Kopa"; etc., wherein he condemns himself in general terms - as a sinner, an egotistic person, a fool, a good-for-nothing person, an uncultured, an unlettered, etc. , etc., - and prays to the Lord for His grace. Such poems are depictions, no doubt, because the evils mentioned in these are of a general nature. Also, there are poems which can prove that he was well-versed in the earlier works of the Tamil and Sanskrit languages, that he was cultured, that he had practised Tapas in his earlier births, etc., all which will be contradicted if the above verses are to be taken literally. Since the condemnation in these Thiruppugal songs is of a general nature, we can easily take these poems as depictions and not literally as referring to himself.

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But, all Thiruppugal poems are not of this type only and Arunagirinathar cannot be said to merely take upon himself the evils, shortcomings and misdeeds of others, because there are also poems of a quite different type wherein he does not condemn in general terms as a low man, a fool, etc., but says something worse and of a different nature altogether, i.e., something of a personal nature.

In many of his Thiruppugal songs, which are rather more in number than the depiction-poems, he vividly describes his different experiences with the prostitute women - how they lure men, what they talk in privacy, how they offer measured (i.e. less or liberal) enjoyment in commensurate with the wealth offered by men, what modifications their different limbs undergo before, at the time of, and following the sexual act, what sounds they produce, what experiences the lover himself undergoes, etc., etc. One can clearly see that there is an element of one's personal experience in these poems. While the evils and wrong deeds of others, which are of a general nature, can be portrayed in oneself, experiences cannot be so done unless one has had them for oneself. Such poems as T. No. 46: "Angai Menkuzhal Aaivaar"; T. No. 287: "Koonthal Avizhthu"; T. No. 329: "Angai Neettiya"; T. No. 336: "Kumutha Vaaikkani"; T. No. 364: "Megamenum Kuzhal"; T. No. 785: "Paadagach Chilambodu"; etc., can give ample testimony to the fact that these are Arunagirinathar's personal experiences.

Not only this. In certain Thiruppugal songs, Arunagirinathar vehemently criticizes and abuses public women with such piercing, forceful and dirty words that they cannot be mere depictions. He must have undergone such suffering and torture at their hands that he scolds, abuses, criticizes, and curses them to his heart's content, as though to avenge for the harm they have done to him. He does not seem to be satisfied with attacking them in a few poems; he takes recourse to it again and again. Such must have been the immensity of his suffering at the hands of the fallen women that he could not rest satisfied with merely praising the Lord for having saved him from their clutches, but also vehemently attacks them as though in a revengeful attitude. This can be evident from T. No. 267: "Thodaththulakkigal"; T. No. 269: "Thiruttu Naarigal"; T. No. 677: "Kanavaalan Koorvizhi"; T. No. 698: "Kadiya Vega Maaraatha"; T. No. 884: "Kuritha Nenjaasai"; etc., etc.

Further, a scrutiny of such songs as T. No. 392: "Manaiyaval Nagaikka"; T. No. 509: "Kumara Gurupara"; T. No. 513: "Makara Merikadal"; T. No. 916: "Thiruvuroopa Neraaga"; etc., will leave no room to doubt that Arunagirinathar not merely led a family life but that his indulgence in debauchery was real and not a mere depiction, because the special favors conferred by the Lord, as acknowledged by the Saint in these poems, are of a purely personal nature and were granted to Arunagirinathar and not to somebody else, and as these divine favors saved him from indulgence in prostitution, ridicule of his wife, etc., these facts cannot be as much real and pertaining to Arunagirinathar as the favors obtained by him. It cannot be that the blessings mentioned were received by him and the evils which those blessings cured or removed are of someone else, i.e., these songs cannot be depictions.

Above all, Arunagirinathar himself says in unambiguous terms that his entanglement in the meshes of public women was due to his past deeds and as ordained by Brahma (T. No. 584: "Vidhiyathaagave"; T. No. 842: "Thodutha Naal Mudhal").

Thus, we can see that the Thiruppugal songs are of various types: there are poems of self-condemnation by way of depiction of others' evils upon himself, to educate the masses and help turn the minds of men towards God; there are poems of confession and repentance over his past evil life with the courtesans, to be freed fro which he seeks God's grace; there are gratitude-showing poems wherein he acknowledges the special favors conferred on him, which saved him from the clutches of prostitute women; there are poems of severe attack and criticism of public women, to avenge the harm done to him. There are also poems which do not come under any of the above classifications. There are poems which reveal the different kinds of spiritual experience obtained by Arunagirinathar purely out of the Lord's infinite grace; there are poems which are only praises of God (T. No. 100: "Naatha Vindhu"; T. No. 270: "Araka Sivanari"; T. No. 366: "Saravana Jaataa"; T. No. 101: "Bothkantharu"; T. No. 654: "Paramagurunaatha"; T. No. 730: "Seethala Vaarija"); there are poems which contain information on different subjects such as diseases (T. No. 228: "Vaadamodu"; T. No. 260: "Irumaluroga"; T. No. 582: "Valivaada"); Yoga (T. No. 190: "Moolankilarodu"; T. No. 647: "Naalu Sathuratha"; T. No. 652: "Mathiya Manguna"; T. No. 896: "Pancha Pulanum"; T. No. 1114: "Neerunila Mandaatha"); music (Tala); etc., etc. Hence, we cannot bring all Thiruppugal songs under a single category of depiction, etc., nor can we relegate one category of poems to another. They have to be carefully sifted and Arunagirinathar understood in his true perspective, which is, of course, not an easy task.

Though the Thiruppugal songs are, in general, variegated in their nature and purpose in their first halves, their second halves are almost of a uniform nature in that they extol the Lord of Six Faces in diverse ways. Hence, the name Thiruppugal - songs of praise (Pugal), of God or the Glorious One (Thiru).

The dexterity of Arunagirinathar in dealing with the theme dealt with each Thiruppugal is such that he infuses life into it. His ability is par excellence and he is a past master in the art of revealing facts and his experiences - whether temporal or spiritual, sensory or divine - in touching and lively expressions. This has so much endeared Arunagirinathar to Saint Thayumanavar that the latter exclaims:

Aiyaa Arunagiri Appaa Unnaippol
Maiyaaga Oru Sol Vilambinar Yaar?

"O Arunagirinathar, my (spiritual) father! Who has, like you, uttered a word of truth?"
(a) As regards Sri Pillai's views on T. No. 26 and Kanthar Anthaathi verse 31, I may quote from Sri Sadhu Anuvanandaji's article, "Life of Sri Arunagirinathar," published in the Sri Vallimalai Thiruppugal Sacchidananda Swami Centenary Jayanti Souvenir (1970) as follows:

"These are not formidable objections, for Arunagirinathar as a Gowda Brahmin may be permitted to partake of certain animal-food by the rules of his caste, but even then Arunagirinathar deplores his indulgence in it. Even a Brahmin could condemn animal-sacrifices in Yajnas as they have become scarce at the time, being disapproved by the better class of Brahmins."
Thus, the statements that Arunagirinathar ate meat and yet condemned Brahmins eating meat are neither irreconcilable nor do they nullify our claim to Arunagirinathar being a Brahmin.

Apart from the above reply, we may offer one from another point of view, which would appear to be more appropriate and convincing:

Arunagirinathar's confession of "eating meat with eagerness" only hints at the fact that he did belong by birth, to a non-meat-eating caste (a Brahmin) and that his eating meat was only accidental, i.e., in and due to the company of courtesans (who are meat-eaters), T. No. 391: "Soodu Kolai"; who are dirty ones that give stimulating and intoxicating food-stuffs as diet, T. No. 677: "Kanavaalang Koorvizhi"; who commit murders, who spoil the high and noble births of people, who have no regard for the caste-distinctions, T. No. 817: "Vangaara Maarpilani") and whose association is the cause for the five great sins (Pancha-Mahapatakas) and many other vices, from which meat-eating cannot be excluded. And, Arunagirinathar's condemnation of the Brahmins' merciless acts of himsa or cruelty of killing goats in Yajnas, only, again, hints that though he belonged to the Brahmin caste, yet, he condemned it because it is an act of cruelty which deserves condemnation whether done by Brahmins or others. In both these statements, Arunagirinathar has stated bare facts - facts as they are, for which act he is outstanding. A Brahmin openly confessing that he ate meat, and at the same time condemning the Brahmins' merciless act of killing animals in sacrifice enhance his greatness, for who but Arunagirinathar would venture to state facts so frankly? He is an exceptional type of person to whom disclosing facts thread-bare is simple and spontaneous. While Arunagirinathar, thus, condemns the cruel acts of Brahmins, he, on the other hand, also praises them for the observance of their pious and prescribed religious deeds in T. No. 625: "Thaathu Maamalar": "O Lord who is worshpped daily, as prescribed in the Vedas, without any flaw, and very ceremoniously by the 3000 glorious Brahmins (at Chidambaram)"; T. No. 432: "Vilaikku Meniyil": "O Lord who is enshrined at Thirukkonamalai, where reside eminent Brahmins who are versed in the four Vedas which are eternal"; T. No. 504: "Kuruthi Pulaal"; T. No. 577: "Bhoga Karpakkadavul"; etc., etc.

(b) If Arunagirinathar's use of Sanskrit words is attributable to the "countless powers" he attained due to the Lord's grace, can we not, with the same breath, say that his knowledge of the different earlier Tamil works referred to in Thiruppugal, etc., is also due to the very same "countless powers" conferred by God? Why should we, then, attribute them to Arunagirinathar? One would do justice in attributing all that is of any worth in Arunagirinathar to the Lord's grace, rather than attribute certain aspects to the Lord and certain others to Arunagirinathar, which Arunagirinathar himself would feel shy to claim.

Arunagirinathar says in T. No. 432: "Vilaikku Meniyil": "O Lord Muruga, whose form is of the essence of the songs composed by Vasishtha, Kasyapa, Yogis well up in Tapas, Agastya Muni, Idaikkaadar, and Nakkirar!" While the songs composed by the latter ones are in Tamil, those of Vasishtha and others are in Sanskrit. It is, therefore, quite evident that Arunagirinathar was well conversant not only with the Tamil works of Idaikkaadar and others, but also with the Sanskrit works of Vasishtha and others.

Also, Arunagirinathar's mention of "Munis offering Tarpana, uttering 'Aadityaaya' (to the Sun-God), doing the Gayathri Japa and Archana in the early morning, after a clean bath, facing the east" (T. No. 508: "Velaippol") can be taken as sufficient proof of not only his knowledge of the Sanskrit language but also his belonging to a caste to which these rituals are obligatory and with which he was naturally well conversant; for, otherwise, he could never give such a meticulous detail.

A critical study of his Thiruppugal songs will, on the other hand, reveal to our own surprise that Arunagirinathar's knowledge of the Tamil language was conferred on him by Lord Skanda, whom he extols as the Tamil-God.

"O Lord, who gave me the glorious Tamil language that I could daily sing the praises of your radiant divine feet," says Arunagirinathar in T. No. 214: "Sarana Kamalaalayattai."

We do not find Arunagirinathar acknowledging anywhere to this effect in regard t the use of Sanskrit in his works. It appears that Lord Murugan ordained Arunagirinathar to sing in the Tamil language, though he knew both the languages, giving him a special power to compose poems in that language when He gave the first line to start with. Perhaps, but for this special conference and ordainment to sing His glories in the Tamil language, Arunagirinathar would have, in all probability, done it in the Sanskrit language itself in which he seems to have had a greater mastery even from his early life. Yet his proficiency in, his knowledge of, and his love for Sanskrit is so much that he could not resist the spontaneous overflow and lavish use of Sanskrit phrases and words, and even full stanzas, in many a Thiruppugal, as well as in his other works. Such exuberant use of Sanskrit in Tamil works is also a special feature of Arunagirinathar's works and is rarely seen in the Tamil works of other saints. Hence, we can conclude, with all emphasis, that Arunagirinathar's knowledge of the Sanskrit language was not due to the "countless powers" conferred on him by the Lord, but that he was well-versed in both the Sanskrit and Tamil languages even from his early life, having born in a Brahmin family.

And, if we are to accept that Arunagirinathar knew the Thirukkural, etc., merely because there is direct or indirect mention of them in a few places in his works, we should also be charitable enough to accept that he knew the Vedas, the Upanishads, etc., to which also he makes reference in innumerable places. But, surprisingly, Sri Pillai has failed to record all these facts, i.e., that Arunagirinathar was well-versed in Sanskrit and that he knew the Vedas, Upanishads, etc. His research does not seem to be impartial, certain facts being intentionally omitted.

From a study of the above views, we may make an assessment of Arunagirinathar's early life as follows:

(a) He was a native of Mullandiram near Thiruvannamalai and a descendant of the Gowda Brahmins who were learned scholars and poets, himself being a talented Sanskrit poet, called "Dindima Kavi" (Sri Raghava Iyengar's research);

(b) He was well-versed in the earlier Tamil works such as Thevaaram, Thirukkural, Thirumanthiram, etc. (Sri V.S.C. Pillai's research work);

(c) He was highly learned in Sanskrit language and had deep knowledge in the Sanskrit literature, because he makes free use of Sanskrit words and phrases in his works as also there is a lot of reference to the Vedas, Upanishads, Gayathri-Mantra, Tarpana, etc., in his compositions;

It cannot be argued that the use of Sanskrit words, etc., was due to the "countless powers" conferred on Arunagirinathar by the Lord, for the same argument will hold good in respect of item (b) above. Hence, if we are to take internal evidences as authentic in respect of item (b), we cannot help accepting item (c) as true.

Items (b) and (c) suggest that Arunagirinathar must have hailed form a highly religious and cultural family whose tradition it is to educate their children in both the Tamil and Sanskrit languages, i.e., he belonged to a Brahmin family.

(d) Being a native of Mullandiram, he lived at Thiruvannamalai. His settlement there may be either in his boyhood for his education, or after his marriage for his livelihood. That he lived at Thiruvannamalai, where the Lord blessed him when he tried to commit suicide, is evident from many Thiruppugal songs, and is beyond doubt;

(e) Even before he was ordained by the Lord to sing His glories, Arunagirinathar had the capacity to compose poems, which he made use of to earn wealth to be given to his paramours (T. No. 146: "Irukanaka"; T. No. 494: "Arivilaap"; etc.);

(f) He was a married man and had a wife, children, father, mother, and in-laws (T. No. 392: "Manaiyaval Nagaikka") and yet he fell a victim to the lures of prostitute women (T. No. 132: "Thakara Narumalar"; T. No. 436: "Seelamula Thaayaar"), which was due to his Prarabdha Karmas or fate (T. No. 584: "Vidhiyathaagave"; T. No. 842: "Thodutha Naal Mudhal");

(g) Dejected and fed up with the wretched life of debauchery, which resulted in contracting many diseases and poverty and also the ridicule of his wife, kinsmen, and even his paramours, Arunagirinathar decided to put an end to his life (T. No. 392: "Manaiyaval Nagaikka"; T. No. 394: "Kothi Mudhithu"); and

(h) When Arunagirinathar attempted suicide, the Lord held him and conferred various blessings on him (T. No. 392, 513, 515, etc.).

After Ordainment

Arunagirinathar who was saved by the Lord and commanded to sing His glories, undertook a pilgrimage to pay his homage to Lord Murugan enshrined in almost ever town, village, and even out-of-the-way places, and wherever he went he paid his tribute to the Lord of that place by dedicating one or more Thiruppugal songs in honour of that Lord by referring to the name of the place in that particular song. Thus, we gather form the available songs that Arunagirinathar visited more than 200 places of Lord Skanda, big and small, scattered all over India. Some of these places are:

-Vaitheswaran Koil
-Mayuram -Sikkal
-Swami Malai
-Virali Malai
-Kathirkamam (in Ceylon)
-Papa Nasam
-Rameswaram (all these places are south of Thiruvannamalai)
-Valli Malai
-Hardwar (Mayapuri)
-Mount Kailasa
-Jagannath (Puri)
-and back to Thiruvannamalai (these places are north of Thiruvannamalai)

The Thiruppugal songs had a special charm. These verses appealed to the people and touched their hearts because of their beauty, style, rhythm, depth of meaning and above all the grace of the Lord who commissioned Aruangirinathar with the mission of moral regeneration, religious unity, and dissemination of spiritual wisdom. The Thiruppugal poems were felt to be a boon by one and all - the sensuous man found not only his deplorable condition portrayed but also a way out shown; vain Pandits who wasted their time in debates were made to see their folly; devotees who needed more inspiration found verses of surrender and invocation; the aspirant who thirsted for wisdom go the required material for contemplation and enquiry; etc. Thus, the Thiruppugal songs were a mine of social, religious, and spiritual wealth that could satisfy and uplift each and every kind of person. People were, therefore, easily attracted towards the Thiruppugal songs. Men and women everywhere began to sing Arunagirinathar's verses and dance in ecstasy. His Thiruppugal songs soon became so popular that people in the north and south, in the east and west began to recite them, says Arunagirinathar himself in one of his songs (T. No. 384: "Pattar Ganappriya"). This brought Arunagirinathar name and fame, and great reverence from every quarter.

It is rare that name and fame go unencountered by jealousy and hatred. It is said that the great literary scholar and poet, Sri Villiputturar, the author of the Mahabharata in Tamil-verses and a staunch Vaishnavite, went about the Tamil country, inviting poets and men of learning for a literary contest, defeated them by his vast erudition, and, as a punishment, cut off their ears. He was an embodiment of vanity and haughtiness. Probably God, the Almighty, wanted to teach Villiputturar a lesson. So, he heard about the great fame of Saint Arunagirinathar and could not tolerate it. Villiputturar went to Thiruvannamalai with the evil intention of putting down Arunagirinathar in a contest. Though the Saint was not eager for such a contest - he being a devotee of God and a personification of humility - he accepted it, taking it as the will of God. Arunagirinathar answered all the questions put by Villiputturar, and now the Saint's turn came. Arunagirinathar composed a series of poems called, "Kanthar Anthaathi," and Villiputturar annotated and expounded the meaning of the verses at once. But when it came to the 54th verse, in spite of his best efforts, he could neither decipher the poem nor make out anything whatsoever from it. Indeed this was most strange! He accepted his defeat at the hands of Arunagirinathar who wrote the meaning for the poem, which is even today the only available commentary on that particular verse. And, as per the terms of the contest, Villiputturar's ears were to be cut off, for which he offered himself. But Arunagirinathar would never indulge in any act of cruelty. He let off the scholar go unhumiliated but took a word from him that he shall never repeat this inhumane act anymore. This act of compassion earned for Arunagirinathar the title "Karunaikku Arunagirinathar" meaning "Arunagirinathar for compassion."

As we have seen earlier, Arunagirinathar lived during the reign of Pravuda Deva Raya II (who ruled in the second quarter of the 15th century) to whom Arunagirinathar makes a reference in one of his Thiruppugal songs. Arunagirinathar's extraordinary love for Lord Murugan and his compassionate attitude towards Villiputturar evoked the admiration and reverence of Pravuda Deva. The king considered himself most fortunate to be an admirer of a Saint to who God is a living reality. The king virtually adored the Saint. He accorded a royal reception to Arunagirinathar and honored him suitably in his court.

There was a great Devi-Upasaka - a devotee of the Divine Mother - Sambandandan by name (pronounced 'Sambanthaandaan'). He was an ardent Jain and had intimate friendship with the king Pravuda Deva, for his own ends. The wide-spread fame of Arunagirinathar and the special honor accorded to the Saint by the king kindled Sambandandan's jealousy towards Arunagirinathar, as he feared he would no more get the king's favor. He, therefore, struck upon a cunning plan to defame Arunagirinathar. He approached Pravuda Deva and said: "You adore Arunagirinathar. But he is not really as great a devotee of Lord Murugan as you take him to be. If you think he is really so, ask him to manifest his Ishta Devata in an open assemply. And I challenge, I can do so and give you Darshana of my Divine Mother. If I fail, I shall leave your kingdom; and if Arunagirinathar fails, let me go away."

Pravuda Deva could not tolerate this jealous attitude of Sambandandan and prayed to Arunagirinathar, conveying the former's challenge, to accede to the contest. A big assembly was convened at the courtyard of the Arunachaleshwarar Temple. The king wit his consort, nobles and the public at large gathered there to witness this unusual contest. Sambandandan made all sorts of feats, pomp, and show to manifest his Ishta Devata - Kali - but failed. Now came Arunagirinathar's turn. The Saint made no special efforts, but sang a Thiruppugal song, which begins with "Athala Sendanarada" (T. No. 1056). The free translation of the song is:

"O Son-in-law (Lord Skanda) of Lord Vishnu, who (as Lord Krishna) helped Bhimasena (one of the five Pandava brothers), who has his Gada weapon ever on his shoulders, to drive away the vast army of enemies;

Who, played on His flute which attracted back the cows that were scattered;

Who, being the driver to the chariot of Arjuna, blew His conch which shines like gold and emanates notes of the Vedas;

Whose divine feet scaled the earth itself and pressed (it into the nether regions);

Who has Garuda as His vahana (vehicle)!

O Lord Muruga who resides in the heart of Pravuda Deva Maharaja as to make it dance in joy!

O Lord of Lords! Come dancing, O Lord, come dancing in such a way that when you dance, everything dances - the Adisesha dances in the nether worlds; the mount Meru dances on the earth; Kali dances with Lord Siva, the bull-rider; the Ganas of Siva dance around Him; the sweet Sarasvathi dances; Brahma, who is seated on the lotus, dances; the Devas dance; the moon dances; your mother-in-law, Lakshmi Devi, seated on the red-lotus, dances; your father-in-law, Lord Vishnu, who showed His visvarupa (cosmic form), dances; and the Peacock (on which you ride), too, dances. (Come dancing, O Lord, please come.)"

No sooner did Arunagirinathar finish the song than the Lord appeared before the assembly, on a dancing peacock, by manifesting Himself from a pillar and gave Darshana to all. These facts, viz., that the Lord appeared in no time, on a dancing peacock and gave His vision to all, are revealed by Arunagirinathar himself in two of his other Thiruppugal songs (one of Viruddhachala, T. No. 755: "Thirumozhi"; and one of Thiruchirappally, T. No. 331: "Arivaiyar"; respectively). The pillar from which Lord Murugan appeared as also the Mandapam where the assembly was convened are to be seen even today in the Arunachaleshwarar Temple, where a small shrine is dedicated to Lord Murugan. As the Lord here came out of a Khamba (pillar), He is called, "Khambattu Ilayanaar."

[NOTE: The in-dented information that follows hereon after is a collection of references used by the author to give the internal evidence account of Arunagirinathar's life — either supporting or disproving facts about the Saint's life.]

There are, of course, different versions with a lot of variations regarding the above incidence. Some hold that when Sambandandan prayed to Kali, she appeared before him and said to him that she could be seen by him alone and not by the king and others. Another version, in this context, is that the Devi was bound by Her promise to give Darshana only for a period of twelve years, which period was over just the day prior to the contest and so she did not appear at all. Sambandandan, however, requested Devi not to allow Murugan to manifest Himself, at least, to which she agreed. And so when Arunagirinthar sang the "Athala Sedanarada" song, the Lord did not appear. He, therefore, sensed some mischief somewhere and through his yogic vision found out that the Devi was holding Murugan as a small baby on her laps and entertaining Him with Her conversations, thus, preventing Murugan's appearance in the assembly. Arunagirinathar, it is said, sang the Devandra Sanga Vaguppu and then the Mayil Virutham to which latter's tune a peacock danced before Kali, and She, being enamoured of the melody of the music and the dance of peacock, unconsciously loosened Her hold on Murugan when He jumped over to the peacock, hastened to the assembly and gave Darshana. However, the view that the Lord gave immediate Darshana seems to be more correct, reasonable, and even supported by the Saint's own words.

The Lord cannot be bound or held in check by anything except the true love of His devotee, which can attract the Lord from any realm and manifest Him in no time on the physical plane. Moreover, to Arunagirinathar, Lord Murugan was not merely the personal God (Ishta Devata), He was also the Supreme Being. This is evident even from the above Thiruppugal. Though the Lord is addressed as the son-in-law of Lord Vishnu, etc., which all points to the theological aspects of Him, He is asked to come dancing in such a way that when He dances, everything, everywhere, dances, including Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, which reveals that He (Murugan) is the Supreme reality that is behind even the trinity. This is amply made clear in another poem also (T. No. 433: "Agaramumaagi"):
O Lord who is (the beginning of all things) like the Akara or the letter 'A' which stands first among alphabets, who is the Lord of all things, who is beyond everything, who is the essence of all things, who is Brahma, who is Vishnu, who is Siva, who is beyond this trinity; who is all things here, who is whatever thing anywhere is, and who comes as the sweetness (of all things)."
Adobe  Acrobat file Full text (Tamil & English) of "agaramum aagi"

Listen to "agaramum aagi"
For the complete collection of Thiruppugal songs, click here

The Murugan that Arunagirinathar manifested was not so much the theological God but the Supreme Reality that is behind the different manifestations. Hence, there should be no question of the Devi holding Skanda somewhere in Kailasa. It does not, whoever, mean that one God is inferior or superior to another. Every manifestation of God has different aspects; at least two - the Absolute and the relative. Lord Krishna was not merely the friend and charioteer of Arjuna but also the Bhagavan or Supreme God who gave Gita-Upadesa as also showed Arjuna the visvarupa. Similar is the case with all Gods - Lord Skanda, Devi, etc. The Lord is all aspects at once and it is the attitude of the devotee with which the Lord is invoked, viz. Sattvika, Rajasika or Tamasika, that determines matters.

Arunagirinathar had pure devotion and his invocation was not motivated by personal ends, while that of Sambandandan was prejudiced and motivated. This accounts for the spontaneous manifestation of Lord Skanda and the non-appearance of the Devi, respectively. God is a slave of the devotee's love, whichever be the form, and whoever be the devotee. The incidence only proves the greatness of Arunagirinathar and his pure love for God, which was equally great towards the Divine Mother, too, as can be seen from many of his Thiruppugal songs. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that Arunagirinathar had the blessing of the Divine Mother, too.

Under such circumstances to say that the Devi was holding fast to Murugan preventing Him from coming to the assembly would at best disclose one's inadequate understanding of Arunagirinathar's love for Murugan as also his concept of God, which was one of the spiritual Reality behind everything. That is why Arunagirinthar says in the above Thiruppugal, "O Lord! Come dancing so that when You dance, Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Kali, etc., - everything dances!" When such is the prayer, if Kali were really to hold fast to Murugan, Arunagirinathar's prayer would have manifested not only Murugan alone but would have brought Kali, too, with Him.

When Arunagirinathar manifested Lord Skanda and the king had Darshana, it is said that the king lost his eye-sight due to the divine brilliance which human sight cannot endure. At once, Arunagirinathar gave Bhasma (vibhuthi/holy ash) and brought back the king's eyesight. This is one version; while the other is that Arunagirinathar fetched the Paarijaatha flowers from heaven and restored the king's vision. It is thus:

Having defeated in the contest, Sambandandan disappeared from the assembly in utter shame and left the kingdom. But his enmity to Arunagirinathar did not subside. He somehow wanted to do away with Arunagirinathar and so, after sometime, he approached the king again. Knowing that the king who had lost his eye-sight would be eager to get it back somehow, Sambandandan said to the king: "O mighty king! There is only one way of getting back your eye-sight. If the heavenly Paarijaatha flowers are brought and placed over your eyes, they will regain vision. And this super-human act, only Arunagirinathar and myself are capable of doing. But I wish that Arunagirinathar do it, as my bringing the flowers will affect his fame and glory. Please, therefore, request Arunagirinathar to fetch the flowers and in case he declines to do so, I shall at once bring them for you."

The king, not knowing Sambandandan's evil intentions but desirous of regaining his vision requested Arunagirinathar accordingly, to which the latter readily agreed. Arunagirinathar climbed the temple gopuram (tower) left his physical body there, entered the body of a parrot that was just dead then, and flew to the heavenly region. It is said that he did this as one cannot go to heaven with this Panchabhuta-Sarira (or body made of five elements). [But, strangely, the parrot's body, too, is made up of the same five elements!] Sambandandan took this opportunity and informed the king that Arunagirinathar is dead, that his body lies in the Arunachala-Gopuram and that it should be burnt soon. The king, too, without due investigation or thought, ordered it to be cremated, which the evil-minded Sambandandan got done without the least delay, lest Arunagirinathar should come back.

The Arunagirinathar-parrot returned from heaven with the Paarijaatha flowers only to find his body missing from the Gopuram. Taking it to be the will of God, the parrot went to the king, offered the flowers to him and, to his great joy, restored the king's eye-sight. The king felt extremely sorry for his hasty and unconsidered action in getting Arunagirinathar's body burnt. He wept bitterly and begged the Saint's pardon. The Arunagirinathar-parrot, his divine mission being over, flew away and seated itself on the arms of the Lord, for eternity.

There seems to be no authentic internal evidence either for the king's losing eye-sight on having the Darshana of the Lord, or for the rest of the story, which is all mostly based on hearsay.

It is indeed strange and unbelievable that:

(i) When the Lord is made to appear for the purpose of giving Darshana to the king, that he should lose his eye-sight by that vision of God; and that in that huge assembly only the king should lose his eye-sight and no-one else. In fact, if someone's eye-sight were to be affected, it should have been that of the evil-intentioned Sambandandan and not the pious, devoted king.

(ii) Arunagirinathar should physically (as a parrot) go to heaven to fetch the Paarijaatha flowers; for the Saint who could manifest the Lord Himself in an open assembly by a mere prayer, to fetch a few Paarijaatha flowers by another prayer should have been no difficult job.

(iii) The king should order, without proper investigation, for the cremation of the body of Arunagirinathar who had gone for the king's benefit and service, and that too at the king's request.

In support of Arunagirinathar becoming a parrot, one of his Thiruppugal songs (T. No. 425: "Sariyaiyaalarkkum") is quoted wherein Arunagirinathar prays to the Lord to grant him the faultless state of Sayujya, which is also the endless state of fame and supreme joy itself (Sukha-Svarupa). In Tamil, the word for "Bless" or "Ananda" as well as for "parrot" is written in the same way, as Suka. And so when Arunagirinathar says, "Sukha-Svarupa," it is interpreted as the Svarupa (or form of a parrot). But, in the above interpretation, one important factor is forgotten, viz., that the "Suka-Svarupa" prayed for by Arunagirinathar is almost like an explanation of the earlier and essential part of the prayer, i.e., "the faultless state of Sayujya."

Sayujya is the state of oneness with the Lord. It is the fourth and final state of liberation - the first three being: Salokya, Samipya, and Sarupya - and the form of the parrot cannot be equated with Sayujya. Even if the parrot perches on the arms of the Lord forever, it cannot be called the state of Sayujya. The sate of being a parrot can at best be Samipya, not even Sarupya; what to say of Sayujya? Hence, 'Ska' should be taken to mean only the state of Ananda and not of a parrot. It is the state of Satchidananda that is really the state of endless glory and Supreme Bliss.

Moreover, there is a subtle difference between "Svarupa" and "Rupa." While the latter refers to the "external form," the former denotes a "state" or "essential nature" and has reference to the inner attainment, a state of consciousness. Sukha-Svarupa is a Sanskrit term and clearly indicates the "state of happiness" or "final beatitude" attained on liberation, though the term can be given a distorted Tamil meaning of "the parrot's form." Above all, this prayer is only for the final attainment, not for going to heaven to fetch Paarijaatha; nor did the Lord grant Arunagirinathar the body of a parrot in fulfillment of his prayer. It was Arunagirinathar, himself, who entered the dead body of a parrot. It seems to be a travesty of affairs to try to justify this act of Arunagirinathar by investing it with a divine will, as though the Lord ordained him to enter the parrot's body. When the Arunagirinathar-parrot did not find his body, he could have entered into some other human being's body, if Arunagirinathar wanted it. If it be argued that Arunagirinathar was contented with being in the parrot's body because "anything that has a beginning has an end," and so his human body had to disappear, the same law holds equally good in the case of the body of the (dead) parrot, which was not granted to Arunagirinathar in a divine way but into which he entered of his own accord. To say that the Lord chose to grant Arunagirinathar the state of parrot (Suka-Svarupa), from amongst Arunagirinathar's innumerable prayers, to justify which he is said to have gone to heaven as a parrot to fetch Paarijaatha flowers, creating a need for it on account of the king alone losing his eye-sight in that huge assembly on having a vision of the Lord - all these appear to be stories for entertainment and far-fetched from truth.

Neither can the king alone be said to have deserved the losing of eye-sight, nor is it necessary for Arunagirinathar to go to heaven to fetch Paarijaatha flowers (for he could have obtained them by a mere prayer), nor would the king have ordered the cremation of Arunagirinathar's body thoughtlessly (as he was obliged to protect it till his return), nor also would the Omniscient Lord interpret Arunagirinathar's prayer for the Sayujya state of Sukha-Svarupa as one of a parrot-state.

Indeed the whole story seems to be a conjured up on, for there is a shrine dedicated to Arunagirinathar in the western part of the Arunachaleshwarar temple in Thiruvannamalai, which is said to be the Samadhisthana of Saint Arunagirinathar, where his body was interred on his attaining liberation.

Thus, in short, we may sum up the life of Arunagirinathar, based on internal evidences, inscriptions, etc. as follows:

Sri Arunagirinathar was a descendant of the family of Gowda Brahmins, which came from the north and settled in Mullandiram and other villages. He was well-versed in Tamil and Sanskrit even from his young age. He had good education and up bringing. He was a married man and had wife, children, in-laws, and other relatives. Probably for the sake of his education, his parents and he had settled in Thiruvannamalai.

Even though married, as fate would have it, he fell a victim to the courtesans of Thiruvannamalai, lost all his property, and contracted incurable venereal diseases, on account of which he was not only ashamed of himself, but was also ridiculed and laughed at by his near and dear ones.

To end this kind of wretched life, he climbed the top of the Arunachala Temple Gopuram and dropped himself down to commit suicide.

The all-merciful Lord Skanda, to whom Arunagiri had love in his heart, held him in His arms, wrote the sacred Mantra on his tongue with His Vel, gave a Japa-Mala, named him "Arunagiri-naathar," and commanded him to sing His glories, giving him the first line to commence the sacred mission.

The sinner, in a moment, became a saint of the highest realization, had diverse divine experiences, and in addition to being cured of all his diseases. He became a Sannyasin (renunciate) in the true sense of the term. He sang over 16,000 Thiruppugal songs and composed many other works, won Villiputturar in a literary contest and made Lord Murugan manifest Himself to give Darshana to King Pravuda Deva in a challenge with Sambandandan.

Finally, Arunagirinathar attained the highest state of Sayujya — the Advaitic realization of being one with the Almighty Lord Skanda (Parabrahman). Thus, did Arunagirinathar live a glorious life of God-consciousness, exhibiting many a super-human deed, lifting people from the quagmire of samsara (cycle of birth-death-rebirth) and planting them firmly in the awareness of God; and the Saint continues to guide seeking souls to perfection, lending them the needed support, even today. May the grace of Saint Arunagirinathar be upon us all, always!


Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.

Venkataramiah, K.M. Sivan Arul Thirattu. 2nd ed. Republic of South Africa: Natal Tamil Vedic Society, 1990.

See Also:

audio  fileArunagirinathar (Part 1)
(MP3 - 20MB | Artist: Kripananda Variar | © Kripananda Variar)

audio  fileArunagirinathar (Part 2)
(MP3 - 20MB | Artist: Kripananda Variar | © Kripananda Variar)

Sacred works of Arunagirinthar (Thiruppugal, Kanthar Anubhuthi, etc.)


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