Azhwars were the incarnations of of Lord Sriman Narayana’s divine weapons and ornaments (“Azhwar” in Tamil means ‘one who is immersed’).
Since the advanced saints were always immersed in the Lord and His qualities, they were glorified as Azhwars and the places which was glorified by Azhwars are earmarked as Divya desams .
Out of the 12 azhwars, 4 Azhwars appeared towards the end of Dwapara yuga and Eight Azhwars appeared during Kali yuga. Thirumangai Azhwar appeared on the 397th year after the advent of Kaliyuga as per “Guru Parampara prabhavam” composed by Sri.Pinbhagzhagiya Perumal Jeeyar a disciple of Swamy Nampillai.
Neelan as he was called appeared on a bright Thursday in Nala varushey(year name), Karthigai maasey (karthigai month as per tamil calender[Nov-Dec])on Krithikai star on Pournami in Kallar kulam at Thirukuraiyalur – a small village near Thirunangoor about one hour drive from Sirkazhi.
The remote village of Thirunangoor near Sirkazhi reverberates with satsangh all through out the year .
Three important festivities are celebrated grandly in this village.
(1) Thai Amavaasai for 3 days (Jan-Feb)
(2)Thiruvedupari utsavam on Panguni-Pooram (March-April)
(3)Thiru avataara utsavam-10 day utsavam during Karthigai month culminating on Karthigaiyil Karthigai
Thirumangai Azhwar affectionately called as Kaliyan, was the valiant army chief of the then Chola King that the king gifted him with a small territory to rule over.
Hence, he was known as Thirumangai Mannan .
“Thirumangai mannan” who had that power , fame , position which took him to material pleasures like any human .
The possessions and power engulfed him .
Blinded by daring heroism, Neelan was indulged in sensual pleasures..
By Lord’s mercy , for his reformation he happened to meet Kumudavalli daughter of a physician in Thiruvellakulam who played a vital role in transforming Neelan into Azhwar.
Kumudhavalli a damsel (apsaras) who was named Thirumaamagal/Sumangalai along with her friends descended on Himalayan forests mocked at a siddhar who was being imparted knowledge by Kapila maharishi.
The infuriated rishi cursed her to descend to earth and get married to a human being .
When she repented for her mistake and asked for a means to go back to the heavenly planet, the sage advised her to transform Neelan(an amsam of Saarangam) and make him a great devotee and get married to him.
After accomplishing her mission, he blessed her that she would be able to get back to her heavenly abode.
Thus , she appeared as a small girl on the banks of Swetha Pushkarini(Thiru vella kulam) in front of Srinivasar Kovil in Thirunangoor.
A physician who happened to pass by was attracted to the small kid. He learnt from her about the cause of her appearance and adopted her as his daughter.
As he was childless for a long time, he considered to be Lord Srinivasar’s blessings .As she was seen holding Kumudha flower, he named her as Kumudavalli.
Once Neelan , the ruler of the province around Thirunangoor happened to come to Thiruvellakulam. He was mesmerized by Kumudavalli’s beauty and expressed his ardent desire to marry her. He approached her parents and expressed his desire .
The Parents were overjoyed as the King was at their doorstep . However , Kumudavalli expressed her desire “to marry only to a person who sported Thiruman kaapu ( Tilak ) on his forehead and got pancha samskaaram ( initiation ) done”.
Immediately Neelan set out in search of an Acharya to get initiated (pancha samskaaram in srivaishnava sampradaya) done.
No one dared to initiate him considering his qualities. The ever compassionate Lord Srinivasar of Thirunaraiyur appeared before him as a Priest and did panchasamskaaram to Neelan. Later, Thirukannapuram Lord Sowriraja Perumal imparted the intricate meanings of Ashtakshari to him. Hence, these two Lordships are considered as “Acharyar” for Azhwar.
Having fulfilled her condition, Neelan approached Kumudavalli .
She replied Oh Prince !
Am glad with your desire in entering a relationship with me .But please understand as your better half I have another condition . I wish you undertake to carry out the bhaagavatha dhadhiaaradanam to 1000 people for one year which gives me immense satisfaction.
Neelan accepts the condition with a smile as she would be his queen soon .
Now , the couple did dhadhiyaaradhanam for one year and continued with the kainkaryam later. The place where he did dhadhiyaaradhanai kainkaryam is known as “Mangai maadam”.
It was a grand feast every day . A vast area was covered with pandals .for devotees thronging daily . It became a sacred shrine with hundred of devotees gathering daily with vaishnava tilaks and glorifying Lordships with songs . Few were discussing the greatness of Neelan and kumudha .Filled with bhagavathas , the place became more vibrant with devotion.
Neelan loved the new role. He never questioned the spending even the coffers of Thirumangai was coming to a stock out position . The Ministers whispered about the coffers getting emptied , but he continued the services selling his jewellary and other precious things .
The news reached the chozha king. He summoned Neelan to return the entire money or face repercussion. As Neelan didn’t oblige, the king had to send an army . Neelan defeated the army with ease . Shocked , the king came in person to wage a war.
Knowing Neelan’s might, the king with the help of his minister, conspired a plan to trick Neelan and arrested him.
Neelan was locked up in a temple for 3 days without food and water.(very similar to bhakta Ramadasar). The ever compassionate Lord Varadarajar of Kanchipuram appeared in Neelan’s dream informing that he could use the wealth lying on the banks of Vegavati river in Kanchipuram to clear the king’s dues.
The next day , Neelan informed the king that he would return the entire money given a chance . The King sent Neelan along with his soldiers to the banks of Vegavati river.
He cleared the king’s dues and kept the balance with him for continuing the bhagavatha kainkaryam which he got infected to.
Neelan resigned from the king’s service and dedicated his full time for bhaagavatha kainkaryam. To continue the kainkaryam, Neelan resorted to looting wealth from the rich peasants who were egoistic selfish and greedy .
He did that by waylaying with the help of his four friends -Neermel nadappan(one who could walk across water), nizhalil odhunguvaan(one who was an expert in following a person’s shadow), thaaaludhuvaan (one who could open any lock without key), tholavazhakkan(one who could not be defeated in any argument).
As the looting expedition was also getting a bad name to Neelan who was doing a great kainkaryam ( service ) Lordships of Thiruvaali divyadesam along with Thaayar had to intervene.
The Lordships appeared as a newly wed couple fully bedecked with costly jewels and set out on a closed palanquin to Thiruvaali .
Neelan’s friends who came to know of this, informed Neelan that if the bridal party is looted, they would have enough wealth to support lifelong bhagavatha kainkaryam. Neelan was very pleased . He immediately galloped on his horse(Aadalmaa) followed by his thief-friends and reached the place which is presently known as “Thirumanan kollai”.
On reaching the place, Neelan threatened the couple to part with their entire jewellery. Accordingly , the couple surrendered all their jewellery except the toe ring on the bride as it could not be removed. Though Neelan had the entire loot , Lord veiled a maya on him which made him to lure for the toe ring too which was very attractive.
Neelan himself bent down to remove the ring but as his efforts were futile, he tried to remove the ring with the help of his teeth by his mouth. Unknowingly, he surrendered to Thayar’s lotus feet for the material wealth .But , by coming into contact with Goddess (Thayar’s) lotus feet, wisdom dawned on him. He was mesmerized and choked with no words . He attempted to move quickly and thus bundled the entire loot in a big cloth. Looking at the divine couple , he tried to lift the baggage but for its weight .
Shocked that the small booty could not be lifted , Neelan thought that the bridegroom must have cast a spell on the bundle . He wanted to frighten the bridegroom now . He threatened them with a dagger to reveal the secret which made that booty so heavy that he couldnt lift it .
The mischievous bridegroom smiled and agreed to share the secret with him . He advised him to purify himself in the nearby stream and wait under the banyan tree (arasa maram).
Neelan did as advised and the bride groom uttered the sacred Ashtakshari mantram on Neelan’s right ear.
Wisdom dawned on Neelan and there was an instant flash ….
he repented for all his deeds.
He understood his real purpose of his birth .
The divine couple appeared as Lord Lakshmi-Narayanan on Garuda vahanam and blessed their child .
Lord addressed him as Thirumangai mannan as he had the blessing of Thiru (Thayar first).
Now the jeevatma “Thirumangai mannan” in ecstasy repenting for all his misdeeds outpours torrential verses instantaneously in presence of Divyadampathigal starting with the most beautiful verse ….
“vaadinen vaadi varundhinene manathaal……”
concluding each phrase glorifying “Narayana” naamam…..
The name N A R A Y A Y A N A itself can give stature and wealth. The name destroys miseries .This Holy name gives a seat in heaven a seat in Paramapadam .It will give you strength It will give you everything .This lovely name will give more that what a loving mother can give …And thus Azhwar reveals saying ..
I have found such a good word in HIS holy name….
This wonderful incident is recapitulated every year in the holy place and is celebrated grandly as “Thiru vedupari utsavam” on the night preceding Panguni Uthiram in the month of March-April .
As part of 10 day brahmotsava celebrations at Thiruvaali, on the sixth day, Lord (Perumal ) arrives to wed Goddess ( Thayar ) and set out on a “moodu pallaku”.
The divine wedding (thirukalyanam) takes place in the afternoon and saatrumarai goshti gets over by 9 p.m .
Later the divine couple set out on a palanquin slowly and head toward Thirumangai maadam and rest in a mandapam. Azhwar sets out from Thirunagari temple at midnight and swiftly reaches the mantapam and goes round the couple thrice.
A screen is drawn and it is presumed that all the ornaments are removed. Lord gets ready to give darshan on Garuda vahanam along with Thayar. Meanwhile Thirumangai mannan is taken to a nearby mandapam where thousands of devotees throng to have the beautiful sight of Azhwar riding on the horse for about an hour.
Later Azhwar is taken towards Perumal who imparts the Eight syllable mantra “Ashtakshari. The bhog is offered to the Lordship. Azhwar circumblates around Lordships with benevolence.
Lord blesses Thirumangai Azhwar with prasadam, maalai, parivattam. The assembled goshti start reciting “Vaadinen vaadi….” slowly and after completing of the first 10 pasurams, mangalaaarthi is given to both Perumal and Azhwar.
This beautiful incident is re enacted at this holy place and happens around midnight .Almost around 2 AM , a group of devotees playing the role of Neelan’s friends ente the temple to inform Neelan about the newly wed couple.
Within minutes, the temple doors are opened . Thirumangai mannan in blue velvette dress wearing innumerable intrinsic jewellery holding gem studded sword , precious gems studded dagger and all other weapons required by a king majestically gallops on his favourite horse”Aadalma”. The gathering rushes outside the temple and set forth on the journey to loot the wealth .
The night is pitch dark . The sevarthees bearing torches literally run along with Neelan ( Our Azhwar ) . It is a sight never to be missed. The zeal with which Kaliyan rides on the horse is inexplicable.
One has to be physically present to witness this Neelan swiftly marches through the narrow muddy roads to reach the place .Meanwhile Lord ( Perumal) and Thayar in Kalyana Thirukolam arrive giving darshan to the assembled devotees.
One devotee relished his experience that when the azhwar sets out from the temple to loot the Lord, his valour ,pride ,strength ,determination can be seen on Azhwar’s thirumugam and when he returns after having Perumal’s darsanam, Azhwar’s speed is reduced as he becomes submissive having shed away his pride and takes about 4 hours to reach the temple as the procession moves slowly.
Coming back to the divine incident , Neelan who becomes transformed to Thirumangai Azhwar decides to visit all the holy shrines and glorify the Lordships .
Lord captivated his attention by giving HIM beautiful darshan in all the temples. In his divine pasurams, he vividly describes the Lord, location of the holy place , surroundings and the opulence .
Azhwar now sets to have darshan of all Divya desams and glorifies LORD the maximum number of temples – 86 divya desams and has the credit of glorifying 47 divya desams exclusively.
His outburst of HIS BLISS was shared through HIS pasurams and visited almost about 86 temples . He also took efforts to construct Temple walls of Srirangam without affecting ThoNdaradippodiAzhwAr’s nandhavanam.
(“pAdi pAdi paraparappAi thirinthAr”)
His compositions were
1. Periya thirumozhi
2. Periya thirumadal
3. SiRiya thirumadal
4. Thiru nedunthANdakam
5. Thiru KurunthANdakam
6. Thiru vezhuk kurrirukkai.
His pAsurams are marvellous; excellent and have unsurpassed beauty in them.
Here is one of his periya thirumozhi pasurams recorded at the venue
vAdinEn vAdi varundhinEn manatthaal/
perun thuyaridum idumbaiyil piRanNdhu/
koodinEn koodi iLaiyavar thammOdu/
avar tharum kalaviyE karudhi/
OdinEn Odi uyvadhOr poruLaal/
uNarvenum perumpadhan therindhu/
naadinEn nAdi nadi nAn kaNdukoNdEn/
nArAyaNA vennum nAmam.
Being born into this body, a reservoir of profound sorrow, I am repenting, melting and crying, I am filled with pathos and self-pity;I have let myself run after beautiful women, seeking the sensual pleasures from their union; Through the grace of our Lord I have now realized that there is a greater goal and That will deliver me into eternal happiness; I have been searching for this state and have now found it IN THE SWEET NAME NARAYANA.
This pasuram will bring tears to the eyes of any Vaishnava for AzhwAr’sBhakti and love and his heart longing for the lotus feet of our Lord Narayana.
All glories to the devotees who will be attending the Thiruvedipuri Utsavam on March 29 , 2018.
Adiyen Ramanuja dasan