Arunagiri was born in Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, and is believed to have lived in the middle of the fifteenth century A.D. He was the son of a Daasi (a dancing girl) named Muthu and had an elder sister by name Adhi. It is also said that Arunagiri was born to Muthu from the famous mystic saint of Tamil Nadu, Pattinathar, in an unusual manner.
When the boy attained the age of five, he was put to school. At his seventh year of age, his mother passed away. She loved the boy so much that while she was in the death-bed, she entrusted Arunagiri to the care of her daughter (i.e., the elder sister of Arunagiri) with specific instructions not to do anything that would displease him. Arunagiri's sister understood the anxious mental condition of her mother and gave her a word of promise that she would leave nothing undone to please Arunagiri and keep him happy.
As Arunagiri grew in age, he found the company of women more pleasing than his studies, which he virtually neglected and sought the pleasures of enchanting courtesans. Slowly, he became a confirmed debauch.
His sister, who came to know of this conduct of Arunagiri, tried her best to extricate him from the traps of public women. But nothing could prevent Arunagiri from his infatuated love for women. He must have his ways at any cost.
The poor sister could not do anything drastic, lest she should be harsh to Arunagiri or displease him, which would mean breaking her promise to her mother. Thus, did Arunagiri indulge in sex heedlessly and depleted all the wealth hoarded by his mother.
Slowly, he began to snatch away, one by one, the ornaments of his sister, sometimes with her knowledge and sometimes otherwise. The helpless lady could do nothing except pray to the Lord to save Arunagiri.
In the meantime, Arunagiri contracted many diseases and suffered much. Yet he would not learn a lesson. He squandered all his sister's wherewithal and left her a complete pauper. But he would yet demand money from her to satisfy his sexual appetite and if she pleaded helplessness, he would threaten her of sinking before her very eyes.
In spite of her being reduced to this most pitiable condition, she could not imagine displeasing Arunagiri. But, now she was utterly helpless. She grew desparate and said, "Brother! I had been helping you with all that I had. But now I find no means to help you. Yet I cannot think of displeasing you. Brother, tell me what can I do? Well, only one means is left now. Though we are born of the same mother, our fathers are dfferent. Hence, the pleasure that you seek from a woman, you can find with me!"
She would have continued, but her throat choked; she became silent.
Lo! These words entered Arunagiri's heart like sharp arrows and shook his very being so fundamentally that he repented with a contrite heart for all his past misdeeds and wept bitterly. And in a moment he decided to put an end to his life as an expiation for all the sins committed by him.
Before his sister could understand as to what was happening to Arunagiri, he ran posthaste, climbed the tower of the Arunachala Temple, repented with an honest feeling, cried aloud the Name of the Lord, "Muruga! Muruga! Muruga!" and jumped down, to put an end to his miserable existence and thereby be freed from his sins.
Who can understand the ways of the Lord! Ere Arunagiri fell towards the ground, when there stood the Lord with His outstretched hands and held Arunagiri in His warm embrace. Yet, Arunagiri knew not anything.
With His Vel, the Lord wrote His sacred Mantra on Arunagiri's tongue, gave him a Japa Mala, named him "Arunagiri-naathar," and commanded him to sing His glories. Arunagirinathar hesitated. The Lord Himself then gave the first line as:
From Thiruppugal #6:
muthai-tharu pathi thiru-Nagai
muthi-koru vithu-guru-bara ...... enavOthum
Deivayanai's Lord! O Saravanabhava, Sakthi-Vel holding! O Guru Supreme! O Seed (Source) for Moksha gaining! — Thus, sing.
Full text (Tamil & English) of "muthai-tharu pathi thiru-Nagai"
Listen to "muthai-tharu pathi thiru-Nagai"
(courtesy of Kaumaram.org)
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The Lord then disappeared. Arunagirinathar stood there totally transformed. He adopted the life of a renunciate. The erstwhile sinner shone now as a saint. His body was cured of all its diseases; his mind was purged of all impurities; his heart was brimming with devotion and he was in a highly ecstatic mood.
Arunagirinathar, having now got the complete grace and command of the Lord, at once completed the song. He was full of expression, love, and supreme devotion. As the waters of a reservoir rush forth when the floodgate is thrown open, wisdom and love flowed through the Saint in the form of Thiruppugal songs.
Arunagirinathar went from tower to tower of the Arunachaleshwarar Temple and poured forth poems in exquisite Tamil. He then went round the streets of Thiruvannamalai, singing the glories of the Lord in diverse ways. He was God-intoxicated out and out, and started on a pilgrimage to all holy places, singing the Thiruppugal ("Glory of God"), wherever he went, enjoying various kinds of divine experiences at different places.
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In his work, "Sansana Tamizh Kavi Charitam," Rao Saheb M. Raghava Iyengar, has given a detailed account of his researches, with appropriate authorities, based on certain Sanskrit works and inscriptions around Thiruvannamalai which reveal many interesting facts about the early life of Arunagiri. The salient features of his research may be summarized as follows:
It is almost an accepted fact that Arunagiri belonged to the time of Villiputturar, the author of the Tamil Mahabharatam. Villiputturar lived during the same time as the Irattaiyar (the twin-poets) whose period is the middle of the 14th century.
Arunagirinathar, in his Thiruppugal, refers to two persons — (1) Pravudadeva Maharaja (a king who ruled during Arunagirinathar's time); and (2) Somanathan (the head of a Mutt). Based on Arunagirinathar's description of the political condition prevailing then, it can be assumed that the king referred to by Arunagirinathar should be Pravudadeva Raya II, who ruled during the earlier part of the 15th century. As regards the time of Somanathan, he is believed to have lived about 1370 A.D., based on an inscription in the wall of the Siva Temple at Puttur. It is also ascertainable that the said Somanathan was one of the foremost among the Sivacharayas — learned Vidvans and Gowda-Brahmins — who came from North India and settled at Mullandiram and Devikapuram sometime earlier. Considering the above data, the author concludes that Arunagirinathar's time should be between that of Pravudadeva and Somanathan, i.e., between the close of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century.
From other inscriptions, it is learnt that from amongst these Gowda Brahmin scholars and Pandits, some were talented Sanskrit poets called, "Dindima Kavis." Historians*** hold that our Arunagirinathar is a descendent of these Dindima Kavis and he is himself referred to as such in one of the Sanskrit works of his posterior entitled, "Saluvabhyudayam," who says that his father, Arunagirinathar by name, was a "Sarva-Bhauma Dindima Kavi," an "Ashtabhasha Paramesvara," a past master in compositing Chitra Prabandha, and one greatly revered by the three Tamil kings: Chera, Chola, and Pandya. Sri Raghava Iyengar proves, from internal evidences and coincidence of time, place, etc., that the Arunagirinathar referred to in the above Sanskrit work is our Arunagirinathar, the author of Thiruppugal, etc., works.
*** Most prominent among them being the late Sri T.A. Gopinatha Rao who has published a lengthy article in the "Indian Antiquary" of 1918.
Further, there is an inscription of 1550 A.D. in the Siva Temple of Mullandiram, which records the gift of a piece of land by a Brahmin lady to erect a small altar to "Annamalai Natha" inside that Siva Temple. This lady is said to be a descendent of the Dindima Kavi Annamalai Natha. It is believed that the Annamalai Natha, in whose memory the altar was built, is our Arunagirinathar, because Arunagirinathar, being a divine-inspired poet and saintly soul of an extraordinary calibre, became so famous that many temples came to be dedicated to him and one of his descendants donated for one such in his very birth place, Mullandiram. From all these, it is proved and held that Arunagirinathar belonged to a Brahmin family of Mullandiram near Tiruvannamalai.
One objection to this view is: though Arunagirinathar is referred as Dindima Kavi, etc., in the Sanskrit work of his son (to which facts there are corresponding internal evidences in the works of Arunagirinathar), Arunagirinathar's greatness was not so much due to these factors but was due to his extraordinary devotion to Lord Murugan and his innumerable compositions of Thiruppugal songs, to which there is no mention in the Sanskrit work. This objection does not seem to be a serious one because when a person is referred to, all aspects of his life need not necessarily be mentioned. So long as the facts mentioned about Arunagirinathar in the Sanskrit works do not contradict any of the facts available about him, it can be safely taken as authentic, for no description of a person can be complete. That he was an expert in composing as a Chitra Kavi, that he was a Dindima Kavi, and that he was revered and worshipped by the three kings — all which are fully relevant to Arunagirinathar — are facts which can be substantiated from his Thiruppugal and other works. Again, if all these do not refer to our Arunagirinathar, who is he that is referred to by these? There seems to be no one else of that time period to whom all these can be attributed. To simply say that these do not refer to our Arunagirinathar would be a meaningless objection unless the existence of another person to whom these refer can be proved. It cannot be that someone else was, who was such a great poet as to be called as Dindima Kavi, expert in composing poems as a Chitra Kavi and worshipped by the great Tamil kings and yet whose name or life-history or any of his works is not available on record. If these were really to refer to such a great person other than Arunagirinathar, something about him or at least some of his works must be available for reference, somewhere. Hence, in the absence of any such thing as this, these details may be taken, in all probability, to refer to Arunagirinathar, the author of Thiruppugal and other works, and it can be safely regarded as such.
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