The Glory of Tiruvirutham

Nammazhwar being graced by the causeless mercy of the Supreme was able to realise the defects of this world, the misery associated with the cycle of births and deaths and the eternal happiness awaiting one in the Lord’s upper abode (Vaikuntam). However, the Supreme Lord’s grace notwithstanding, Nammazhwar continued to remain in this very world and the defects of material existence deterred his stay here. Having attained the knowledge of discerning the right from the wrong, Nammazhwar pleaded to the Lord to remove him from this world and to take him up to the VAikunTam. On the one hand, Nammazhwar was happy that he had realized the Lord in His true form while on the other hand, he was forlorn that he was still being kept in this world in a physical body associated with earthly defects. It is this longing of Nammazhwar that runs throughout the Tiruvirutham. Nampillai demonstrates this to us from Nammazhwar’s choice of words from the first song ‘inninra neermai’ to the last one ‘polla aruvinai’, indicating that his plea to the Lord, to remove the impediments to salvation, goes on forever.

A greater part of this prabandham is not sung by Nammazhwar as himself but by assuming a bridal mystic form. In most of the songs, Nammazhwar roleplays as Parankusa Nayaki and the Gentlemen referred to therein are SriviashNavite devotees or Bhagavathaas. In this context, a question is raised by Nampillai, as to why Nammazhwar picks up on The Devotees of the Lord as Gentlemen rather than the Lord Himself. The author himself provides the answers by pointing to three chief reasons: (1) It is the devotees who take steps to help another reach the altars of the Almighty; (2) It is the devotees who stand by as friends in distress and co-exist with us as faithful companions when our soul brooks separation from the Lord; (3) Even after attaining the Lord, it is along with these devotees one experiences the auspicious qualities of the Lord. In this context, Nampillai quotes from Thirvaimozhi where Nammazhwar proclaims that the devotees are his lifeline (adiyaar adiyaar tham adiyar, 3-7-10); yearns for togetherness with devotees (adiyaar kuzhankalai udan kooduvathu enrukolo, 2-3-10); and experiences the Lord in their company (anthamil perinbathadiyarodu irunthamai, 10-9-11). In the following sections, we will describe the EDU commentary on the Thiruvirutham along with some unique aspects of it.

The commentary of Nampillai on the Tiruvirutham, written in the Manipravalam style, contains explanation for each of the verses interspersed with quotes from Upanishads, the Epics, puranas ancient tamil literature, real life incidents and anecdotes. Each verse begins with an avatharikai or introduction followed by a detail exposition of the inner meanings of the verse. The special features of Nampillai’s Tiruvirutham EDU are seen in how the author delves deep into Tamil literature. Further, true to his wont, Nampillai deciphers the core meanings or the inner meanings known as swapadesam and records it explicitly in his commentary. The real life incidents, detailing the conversation that ensued between two preceptors, not only add credence to the context of the commentary but also provide us a peep into the life of our revered teachers. Further, wherever appropriate, Nampillai also extensively draws similarities from the Thiruvaimozhi to drive home the meanings of the verses of Thiruvirutham. We shall focus further on some of the salient aspects that will help us appreciate Nampillai’s unique commentating skills and how he goes about establishing a grammar of his own on how commentaries should be authored in future.

Contributions of the commentary to Tamil Literature:
As seen in the earlier sections, Nammazhwar sings the Tiruvirutham as a feminine character or in bridal mysticism. In Tamil literature parlance, assumptions of certain personalities, typically as a forlorn lover missing her beloved, falls into a category of types called as ‘Thurai’. In his commentary, Nampillai handles several types of ‘Thurai’, viz. the kala mayakku thurai, kaliru vinavuth thurai, veri villakkuth thurai and so on. We shall see a few examples belonging to each category:

(1) Kaala mayakkuth thurai – The seasonal conundrum: A gentleman promises to his beloved that he would return to her after his outing, on a particular period, say spring or rainy season. The beloved, on observing the dawn of the said season, starts feeling concerned that her beloved has not turned up. Her friend (thozhi) appears to console her with the message that the said season is yet to dawn and only the signs of it arrival have occurred and that the beloved had misunderstood the season from certain misleading geographical and botanical symptoms. This conundrum is highlighted in the 15th verse of Tiruvirutham, beginning with “Kadal kondezhuntatu vaanam avvanathai.” The context of this verse goes like this:

The clouds take off from the sea and it appears to be monsoon season. Despite this, the beloved one does not turn up despite promising to be home by this time. The friend allays her fear by pointing out the fact that the monsoon season has not set in even though the signs indicate so. Nampillai explains this as seasonal conundrum as per Tamil literature ‘kaala mayakkuth thurai’ and drives home the core message that the Lord, who is the beloved of Nammazhwar, would definitely turn up at the appropriate time without fail. Trough this, Nampillai conveys the core essence of Srivaishnavism that the Almighty will never fail the Atman and that He will come at the appropriate time to deliver us from the miseries of bondage.

(2) KaLiru vinavuth Thurai: A loved one goes on an elephant hunt. Finding no trace of elephants around, he approaches the maiden nearby and enquires whether she has seen an elephant. In the course of this conversation, he casually drops in a word of praise that her eyes resemble that of twin fishes. Taken aback by this spontaneous comment, she immediately responds by saying that the loved one has to confine himself to the purpose of his visit (elephant hunting) and not talk about her eyes. She adds a note of caution about the consequences of someone overhearing the loved one’s remark about her eyes. This hints to us that the loved one does not have any objection whatsoever to the remark, but is only worried about others overhearing this. Thus, they are gradually drawn towards each other in due course. This aspect of ‘kaliru vinavuth thurai’ is brought out by Nampillai in his commentary on the 15th verse of Tiruvirutham which begins with ‘Kayalo numa kankaL enru kaliru vinavi nirreer.’

(3) Veri vilakku thurai: Here, Nampillai uses this tool to point to Nammazhwar’s change in physique, indicating her emotional attachment to the Lord. Suffering from delay for non arrival of the beloved, the maiden is enveloped in suffering and her physique undergoes certain changes. The mother of the bridal mystic Parankusa Nayaki calls upon a doctor to attend to her problem. Parankusa Nayaki declines to be diagnosed, asserting that the Lord alone can be the medicine to her suffering. In this context, Nampillai compares resorting to medicine to propitiating the demigods. He asserts that the friends of Parankusa Nayaki caution her mother about appeasing other deities as it will only accentuate her daughter’s condition. Nampillai brings about this ‘veri vilakku thurai’ in the 20th verse of Tiruvirutham that begins with ‘chinmozhi noyO kazhi perum deivam.’ Thus, Nampillai underlines the quintessence of Srivaishnavism where the individual soul has to take refuge only in the Supreme Lord and at no point of time, turn towards the demigods and other deities.

Another notable contribution of Nampillai to Tamil literature lies in his usage of the five geographical classifications. The five geographies of the Tamil country are classified as (1) Kurinji, or the mountainous regions, (2) Marutham, the fertile plains, (3) Mullai, the forested regions, (4) Neithal, the sea shore and (5) Palai, the arid region. Nampillai brings out this classification in the 26th verse of Thiruvirutham that begins with ‘naanilam vaaikkondu.’ Here, Nampillai uses this classification to drive home the point that Nammazhwar’s suffering in this world is compared to that of a palai (arid) region. Since his longing for the company of the Lord made existence difficult, some of the Lord’s devotees counselled Nammazhwar to take shelter in the divine place where the Lord rests, specifically referring to the divya desa of Tiruvehka. This place is compared to an oasis for Azhwar suffering from the thirst of bondage.

Written by Vanamamalai Padmanabhan.

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