by Sri TA Varadhan
The earliest known mention of the avatAra rahasyam of svAmi maNavALa mAmunigaL happened during svAmi nampiLLai's time. This incident happened when srI vadakkuth thiruveedhip piLLai had finished transcribing the commentary on thiruvAymozhi of svAmi nampiLLai (known as eedu 3600ppadi), and svAmi nampiLLai came to know about the transcription.
svAmi nampiLLai at first was unhappy about the transcription since it was written without his command, but later on listening to the reason for the transcription (for svAmi VTP to remember the commentary and its intricacies without forgetting), and seeing that the commentary was a word by word transcription of his own words, he was very pleased that the thiruvAymozhi commentary (that waes entirely based on svAmi nanjIyars earlier work, and thena added to by svAmi nampiLLai) was available for everyone.
svAmi nampiLLai then gave the commentary to his shishya known as eeyuNNi mAdhavap perumAL for safekeeping, and propagation. eeyuNNi mAdhavap perumAL was hesitant, thinking that he was not qualified to do that job, but svAmi nampiLLai had confidence in his abilities, and mentioned the following -
"Listen - Lord varadarAja has appeared in srI kandAdai thOzhappar's dream (kandAdai thOzhappar was a shishya of svAmi nampiLLai), and told the following to him -
jagad rakshaaparO ananthO janishyadhyaparOmuni:
thatharasyaas sadhaachaaraa saathvikaa: thathva darsina:
anantAzhvAn, who has a great interest in the saving of the universe will take avatAram as another saint. Those who will be shishyAs of that saint will be filled with sathvaguNA and will have the thattvagnyAnA.
Ananta will take another avatAram per the words of Lord varadarAjA Himself, and he will spread the holy thiruvAymozhi and this commentary to the world. So, pass this along your shishyavarga so that it may be available for him."
During the life of svAmi maNavALa mAmuni, there were multiple instances in which he had made known His original form to various people. The following is one of them that has been recorded in yatIndrap pravANap prabhAvam -
svAmi maNAvALa mAmunigaL's original name was azhagiya maNAvALap perumAL nAyanAr. In his earlier stages of life, svAmi undertook to visit many holy places, and srIperumbUdUr and kAnchipuram were among the first few that he visited. In srIperumbUdUr, where nAyanAr was spending some time, enjoying and worshipping srI ramAnujA, rAmAnuja commanded him to proceed to kAnchipuram. In that command, in the form of a dream, rAmAnujA said " Go and meet kidAmbi nAyanAr and learn from him. After you learn srIbhAsya, per my and thiruvAymozhip piLLai's wish, please spread the word of the AzhvArs primarily".
svAmi went to kAnchipuram and started learning srIbhAsya under srI. kidAmbi nAyanAr, a descendant of srI. kidAmbi AccAn. ALong with kidAmbi nAyanAr, two other AchAryAs, selvanAyanR and aigaL appa taught him srIbhAsya. (The three were always together and were great friends).
One day, when kidAmbi nAyanAr was teaching srIbhAshya to AM nAyanAr, aigaL appa mentioned "The complexity with which srIbhAsya is being taught is not corresponding to the brilliance of AM nAyanAr". At that time, kidAmbi nAyanAr asked aigaL appa himself to start teaching AM nAyanAr. AM nAyanAr started learning srIbhAsya and also simultaneously started teaching it to others. Seeing the scholarship, and the additional deep meanings being taught by srI AM nAyanAr, aigaL appa was very happy. kidAmbi nAyanAr too heard about this, and he came to the place where AM nAyanAr was giving the discourse. Upon request of his shisyAs, svAmi AM nAyanAr gave great discourse on tarka, mImAmsa and it was a source of wonder for everyone concerned, since they were unaware of svAmi's learning/knowledge.
kidAmbi nAyanAr then requested AM nAyanAr to give discourses on AzhvAr's works, and simultaneously, he taught AM nAyanAr srIbhAshya. kidAmbi nAyanAr was continuosly amazed by the scholarship and ability of AM nAyanAr while he was teaching the thiruvAymozhi commentary.
One day, when he and AM nAyanAr were alone, he asked AM nAyanAr about his true form, telling him "I know certainly that you have an avatAra visEsha, please do not hide that from me, please show me as it is". AM nAyanAr then said "You are my AchArya, and I will not hide my true form to you, please do not let anyone else know about this rahasya that is due to the Lord's command", and asked him not to be afraid, and showed his true form as AdisEshA.
kidAmbi nAyanAr, with some fear, requested AM nAyanAr to return to his human form, which he did. After this, svAmi kidAmbi nAyanAr started bringing warm milk everyday to svAmi AM nAyanAr, given that milk is the natural food for AdisEsha.
Even to this day, for svAmi maNavALa mAmunigaL, this tradition of offering warm milk is continued. In the temple of srI yathOkthakAri svAmi, the icon of svAmi maNavALa mAmunigAL is depicted with the "vyAkhyAna mudra", or the teaching form, the only place where he is depicted such. This is where svAmi gave his discourses on srIbhAsya.