Saint Manikkavasagar

In Thiruvadavur, in the Pandya kingdom, there lived a pious Brahmin. He and his dutiful wife, due to merit earned in past lives, got a worthy son whom they named Vadavurar, after the native place.

As the child grew, his wisdom increased as well. Soon, Vadavurar had mastered all the scriptures. He also shone as the embodiment of all virtues and won the love and esteem of all. Even learned pandits and saints were attracted by his personality and wisdom. The king of Madurai, Arimardana Pandyan, heard of Vadavurar's qualities and discovered that Vadavurar was an all-rounder and was proficient in administration also. The king made Vadavurar his Prime Minister. Even as the role of the king's minister, Vadavurar shone with extraordinary brilliance and won the title of "Tennavan Paramarayar."

As days passed, however, dispassion grew in Vadavurar's heart. He had realised the unreality of the world. To him everything was painful — birth, disease, death, rebirth, etc. Vadavurar wanted to enjoy the eternal bliss of Sivanandam. Even while he was administering the affairs of the state, Vadavurar's mind was fixed on the lotus feet of the Lord. He would invite learned men and discuss with them the intricate points in the Vedas. Soon, Vadavurar realised that a Guru was necessary for real spiritual progress. Vadavurar longed to meet his real Guru. Whenever he went out on duty, Vadavurar also searched for his Guru.

One day, while the king was holding his court, the head of his cavalry entered and informed him that the cavalry needed immediate replenishment, as age, death and sickness had greatly effected its strength. The king immediately ordered the purchase of good horses. The task of buying good horses from the right place was entrusted to Vadavurar. He was extremely happy as Vadavurar was sure that he would find his real Guru during that tour. It was a God-sent opportunity for him. Vadavurar offered sincere prayer to Lord Somasundarar (Siva) in the temple and, besmearing Siva's holy ash on his body and with Siva's name on his lips, Vadavurar started on the errand of buying horses, with enough money. He reached Thiru Perunturai.

Lord Siva, who is the Indweller of all hearts, knew Vadavurar's mental condition and had decided to take Vadavurar into the divine fold. So, in the guise of a Brahmin and with a copy of the book Siva Jnana Bodam in his hand, the Brahmin was seated under a Kurunta tree near the temple at Thiru Perunturai. He was surrounded by others (the celestial servants in disguise). Vadavurar entered the temple and stood motionless before the Lord, in intense prayer. He shed tears of God-love. Then Vadavurar went round the temple. Near the tree he heard the holy vibrations of the Lord's name (Hara, Hara) which melted Vadavurar's heart.

Vadavurar glimpsed sight of the Brahmin, whose magnetic personality immediately attracted him. With overflowing love and devotion, Vadavurar ran to the Brahmin, as a calf to its mother after a long separation, and fell at the Brahmin's feet. By Siva's grace, Vadavurar was able to recognise Siva as his real Guru. Holding Siva's feet with his hands Vadavurar prayed, "Oh Lord, kindly accept me as your slave and bless me." The Lord was waiting for this! Siva cast a graceful glance on Vadavurar. This at once removed all Vadavurar's sins and purified his heart.

The Lord then initiated Vadavurar into the divine mysteries of Siva Jnana. This very initiation entranced Vadavurar. He tasted the divine bliss and was self-forgetfully absorbed in it. Then Vadavurar regained his consciousness and again fell at the Guru's feet and prayed, "Oh Lord, who has come to initiate me into the divine mysteries! Oh Lord, who has captivated me by a mere look! Oh Lord, who has melted my mind! Oh Lord, who has made me surrender all wealth, body, mind and soul! Oh my jewel! Oh wealth imperishable! Oh ocean of bliss! Oh nectar of immortality! Prostrations unto you!"

Singing Siva's glories, thus, Vadavurar removed all his belongings and offered all at the feet of the Guru. Vadavurar had become a Sannyasi. Smearing his body with sacred ashes, fixing his mind on the lotus feet of the Guru, Vadavurar plunged into deep meditation. When he awoke from this meditation, Vadavurar was filled with an eagerness to sing the glories of the Lord. With love as the string and his nectarine words as the gems, Vadavurar made a garland and offered it at his Guru's feet. The Lord was highly pleased with it, and called him "Manikkavasagar" since the hymns sung by Vadavurar were like gems in wisdom.

The Lord asked Manikkavasagar to remain at Thiru Perunturai and disappeared. Separation from the Lord and Guru, made Manikkavasagar suffer intense pain and anguish. Soon, Manikkavasagar consoled himself and lived in the remembrance of the Lord and Guru.

The king's servants, who had accompanied Vadavurar thought that Vadavurar had forgotten the mission, and, so, after waiting for a few days, gently reminded him. Manikkavaasagar sent them back to the king with the message that the horses would reach Madurai within one month. When the king heard of what had happened to Vadavurar, the king was angry — but, waited patiently for a month.

At Thiru Perunturai, Manikkavasagar was devoted to the Lord, forgetting the king and the mission. Manikkavasagar had spent the money he had brought in the construction of a temple. After waiting for a month, the king sent Manikkavasagar an angry note reminding him that one should be as alert in dealing with the king as one would be when dealing with a cobra, and asking Manikkavasagar to appear before the king at once.

Manikkavasagar was upset. He went to the temple and prayed for the Lord's protection. Moved by Manikkavasagar's sincere prayer, the Lord appeared in his dream that night in the same form of the Guru who initiated Manikkavasagar and said, "Oh noble soul, fear not. I, myself, will bring the best horses to Madurai. You can go in advance. Tell the king that the horses will arrive there on Avani Moolam."

The Lord disappeared after placing a very costly diamond in Manikkavasagar's hands. The next morning, Manikkavasagar took leave of the Lord of Perunturai and, with his ministerial robes, started for Madurai.

Manikkavasagar bowed before the king and gave him the diamond. Manikkavasagar explained, "Your majesty, I have already purchased the horses for the entire money I had taken. I was waiting for an auspicious day on which to bring the horses here. Avani Moolam is an auspicious day. In the meantime, as commanded by your majesty, I have returned. The horses will reach here on the auspicious day."

The king apologised to Manikkavasagar for the rash note he had sent earlier. Manikkavasagar built a big stable for the horses. His relatives, apprehensive of the real state of Manikkavasagar's mind, appealed to him to look after them and not to renounce the world. Manikkavasagar laughed and said, "Oh friends, the day the Lord initiated me, I have offered everything at His Feet. I have now no relatives except the Lord and His devotees. I have no connection with this body, even. My only attachment is with the Lord, who is the remover of all our sins and bestower of immortal bliss. Birth is painful. Death is painful. Everything that is not connected with the Lord is painful. I do not worry about anything in the world now. I will beg happily with my palm as my begging bowl and appease my hunger with the food that is received by chance. When the earth is ready to give me shelter, why should I resort to a special dwelling place? The perfume I smear my body with is the sacred ash. My only belonging is the garland of rudraksha, which destroys the sins of many births. Oh friends, when I am under Siva's protection, why should I fear anybody?"

With his thoughts fixed on the Lord, Manikkavasagar was expecting the forthcoming auspicious day.

In the meantime, one of the ministers had told the king that in truth Manikkavasagar had spent all the money in the construction of temples and that Manikkavasagar's statement was false.

The king's suspicion increased. He sent some messengers to Perunturai to see whether the horses were really there. They returned with a negative reply. Only two days remained now. The king did not get any information about the horses. So, the king ordered his soldiers to torture Manikkavasagar and get the money back. They informed Manikkavasagar of all that had happened in the court. Manikkavasagar kept quiet. They tormented him, according to the king's orders. Manikkavasagar bore everything, fixing his mind on the Lord. The Lord, Himself, bore all the torture, and the bhakta was relieved. The soldiers could not understand the secret of Manikkavasagar endurance. They tortured Manikkavasagar further!

Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord. The Lord heard His bhakta's prayer and wanted to play His leela. So, Siva willed that all the jackals of the place should assume the form of horses. Siva also sent His celestial servants to act as horsemen. Siva, Himself, assumed the form of a trader in horses and reached Madurai. The dust raised by the gallopping horses filled the sky. The people were wonderstruck to see the fine horses. That day was Avani Moolam. The thought that he had unnecessarily tortured Manikkavasagar pained the king's heart. He at once released Manikkavasagar and apologised to him. Both of them went to the place where the horses had been stationed.

The king was happy to see the good quality of the horses. The merchant was also very handsome. Manikkavasagar knew that it was the Lord Himself and so mentally prostrated to the merchant. The king's servants led the horses to the stable.

Day passed into night. In accordance with the Lord's will, the horses assumed their original form of jackals, broke the fence and fled from the stable, howling. Some of them injured even the real horses. A few old jackals remained in the stable. The next morning, the horsemen did not find any of the horses and there were only a few old jackals in the stable. They immediately reported the matter to the king. The king got terribly angry with Manikkavasagar who, the king thought, had deceived him by magic. The king's soldiers again began to torture Manikkavasagar by making him stand barefeet in the hot sand during the warm Avani season. Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord for help. Unable to bear the suffering of His devotee, at once, the Lord caused a heavy flood in the river Vaigai. There was panic everywhere in the town. The people could not understand the cause of this untimely flood. The soldiers who were guarding Manikkavasagar also fled.

Manikkavasagar went to the temple and worshipped Lord Somasundarar and was completely absorbed in meditation.

The king was puzzled. He wanted to save the city from destruction. So, he ordered everyone in the city to bring one basketful of mud and throw it on the bank of the river to stem the flood. Everyone, except an old woman by name Vandi (Vanthi), did so. She sold Pittu (a South Indian delicacy eaten by Tamils) and earned her living. She was so much devoted to Lord Somasundarar that she would daily offer it to Him first and then sell it. She was in distress. She prayed to the Lord for help. Lord Siva, out of His compassion, appeared as a young labourer before the old woman and offered his services in return for a handful of pittu.

With a dirty cloth around his waist and a basket on his head, he would sing and dance and then put the mud on the bank of the river. He ate Vandi's kind offering and threw the mud with such force that it caused new breaches! For some time, he would sit idle and again sing and dance. The king's servants found the breach not closed where the Lord (in disguise) was working and reported the matter to the king. The king who personally supervised the work, noticed the idleness of the labourer, and hit him with a stick. The Lord threw the mud on the breach and it was closed. The blow, however, was felt by all beings in the whole universe (including the king) — since Siva is in all.

The king at once understood that it was all the Lord's leela and he also recognised the greatness of Manikkavasagar. At that time, the king heard an invisible voice, "Oh king, your entire wealth was spent on me and my bhaktas. By this act Manikkavasagar earned for you great merit. Instead of being grateful to him, you have tortured him. The jackals turning into horses, and this sudden flood, were all leelas performed by me for the sake of My devotee. At least now, open your eyes and learn a lesson for your future." In the meantime, Manikkavasagar had reached the temple and was absorbed in meditation. Manikkavasagar, too, felt the blow that the king gave the Lord. He got up from meditation.

The king was in search of Manikkavasagar. On the way, the king learnt that the old woman had been taken to the Lord's abode in a celestial car. When the king came to the temple in Thiru Alavai, he prostrated before Manikkavasagar. He requested Manikkavasagar to accept the rulership of the kingdom. The saint refused this offer but asked to be permitted to go to Perunturai. Both of them came to Madurai and worshipped the Lord. Manikkavasagar then left for Perunturai. The king also renounced everything soon after this and reached the Lord's abode.

At Perunturai, Manikkavasagar sang highly inspiring songs and prayed that he should see the Lord in the form of the Guru, as Siva appeared at first. The Lord fulfilled Manikkavasagar's wish. Siva then asked Manikkavasagar to go to Chidambaram. On the way to Chidambaram, Manikkavasagar visited many shrines. In every shrine, unless the Lord appeared in the original form of the Guru, he would not be satisfied. At Thiru Uttarakosha Mangai, Manikkavasagar wept bitterly when he did not see Siva as the Guru. The Lord had to adapt to Manikkavasagar's wish! By stages, Manikkavasagar reached Chidambaram and rolled on the holy ground. He stayed in a garden near the temple and sang the famous Thiruvachagam. The people of Thillai heard the songs and enjoyed its bliss.

In Ela Nadu (Ceylon), there was an ascetic who was constantly repeating, "Long live Ponnambalam."

The king of the place could not understand this, as he was a Buddhist, and had called the ascetic to him. He went to the palace and sat down in front of the king with the same words!

Upon being asked by the king to explain the meaning, the ascetic said, "Oh king, Ponnambalam is a sacred place in the Chola kingdom. This place is also called Chidambaram. Here the formless God takes a form, of Nataraja, the divine dancer, for the welfare of the world. The object of His dance is to free the souls from the clucthes of Maya. Inside the temple there is a tank called Siva Jnana Ganga tank. In this tank Hiranyavarman, the son of Manu, took his bath and got his leprosy cured. Those who take a bath in this sacred tank and then worship Lord Nataraja are purified of all sins. For them there will be no more birth. They will attain eternal bliss."

The Buddhist Guru (in the king's palace) who heard all this questioned, "Oh king, how can there be a God other than Lord Buddha? I will myself go to Chidambaram and defeat the Saivite in argument and convert the temple into a Buddhist shrine." So saying, the buddhist king left for Thillai.

The king, with his dumb daughter, accompanied the Buddhist guru.

The Saivites sent a message to the Chola king asking him to arrange a debate with the Buddhists when the latter had arrived at Chidambaram. The day prior to the appointed day, the Brahmins prayed to Lord Nataraja for success in the debate. That night the Lord appeared in their dream and said, "Approach Vadavurar and request him to oppose the Buddhist guru in argument."

The next morning, the Brahmins approached Vadavurar who readily agreed. Manikkavasagar went to the temple, worshipped the Lord, and entered the hall of the debate. He did not like to see the face of the Buddhists, so, Manikkavasagar sat behind a curtain. The Buddhists opened the debate. Manikkavasagar explained the principles of Saivism. The Buddhists could not offer counter-arguments. They went on repeating their arguments! Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord for help. At Siva's instance, Devi Sarasvathi withdrew Her grace from the Buddhists, and they became dumb. The Buddhists were defeated in argument.

The Buddhist king understood Manikkavasagar's greatness and said, "You have made my teacher and all his disciples dumb. If you can make my dumb daughter speak, I and my subjects will embrace Saivism." Manikkavasagar asked the Buddhist king him to bring his daughter.

Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord for help and then asked the girl to give proper answer to the questions put by the Buddhist Guru on Lord Siva. The dumb daughter not only began to speak but gave fitting answers to those questions. They were all wonder-struck at this miracle. The king and the Buddhists recognised the superiority of Saivism and embraced it. Manikkavasagar restored speech to the Buddhists also.

One day Lord Siva desired to hear Thiruvachagam from the lips of Manikkavasagar and bestow moksham on him. So, Lord went to Manikkavasagar in the disguise of a Brahmin. Manikkavasagar welcomed the guest with respect and enquired of his needs. Lord Siva told Manikkavasagar, "I want to hear Thiruvachagam from your own holy lips. I shall write it down, so that I can learn it and with its help free myself from the grips of Samsara."

Manikkavasagar recited the Thiruvachagam and the Brahmin (Lord Siva) wrote it down on palm leaves. Then the Brahmin suddenly disappeared! At once, Manikkavasagar knew that the Brahmin was the Lord Himself. Manikkavasagar felt terrible anguish for not having recognised the Lord.

The Lord wanted to immortalise Manikkavasagar and to spread his glory. So, Siva kept these songs (which He had written on the palm leaves) on the step of Panchakshara of the Chit Sabha. The Brahmins of Thillai were surprised to see the palm leaves lying there. They opened the leaves and read the contents. In the end it was written, "Manikkavasagar repeated this, Thiru Chitrambalam wrote this."

The Brahmins wanted to know the meaning of these verses, so they showed this to Manikkavasagar.

Manikkavasagar took the palm leaves to the temple, and, pointing out to the image of Lord Siva, said, "This Thillai Nataraja is the meaning of these stanzas." Manikkavasagar at once merged himself at the Feet of Lord Nataraja.

No comments: