by Sri Vimalkumar Ranganathan
The source of this article is “ThiruvAimozhippiLLai Vaibhavam” authored by the Scholar par excellence, Madurai Sri U. Ve. ArangarAjan SwAmin.
SwAmi ThiruvAimozhippiLLai was born in the year 1301 CE on the ascent of the Visakam star in the tamil month Vaikasi. It is not a coincidence that SwAmi nammAzhwAr was born on the same day. His birthplace is called Kunti nagaram near Madurai. In due course of time, the same town is now called kondhagai. SwAmi ThiruvAimozhippiLLai is a descendant of SwAmi uyyakkOndAr, who is one of the AchAryAs in the Srivaishnava Guru Parampara. The name of SwAmi ThiruvAimozhippiLLai’s mother is SAthvikai ammayAr. She was an ardent disciple of SwAmi piLlai lOkAchAriar. During SwAmi ThiruvAimozhippiLLai’s youth his mother performed upanayanam and took him to Srirangam where he was initiated into Sri Sampradayam by the great SwAmi piLLai lOkAchAriar.
It is important to note that SwAmi ThiruvAimozhippiLLai was then known as “SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr”.
After returning from Srirangam, SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr learnt all the sAstrAs and became a scholar in both tamil and Sanskrit. He became the chief priest in the court of the pAndya king in Madurai.
[Sidenote: The name “Kunthi-nagaram” : According to MahabhAratha, when Arjuna was conducting pilgrimage in South India , he married princess ChitrAngadhai, the daughter of the Pandya king babravAhan. The king built a city for the newlyweds and named it “Kunti-puri” after arjunA’s mother queen Kunti.]
Srirangam was a part of the Pandya empire during the 14th century AD. The Mohammedan Army led by Malik Gafur first attacked Srirangam in the year 1311. Although the Pandya king initially lost the battle, he developed an alliance with the kAkateeya emperor and defeated the Mohammedans, and thus regained control of what is now Tamilnadu.
The second attack by the Mohemmadans occurred in the year 1319. Again, they were defeated. But, the Mohammedans regrouped, regained strength and attacked in the year 1323. Their army commanded by ulooq khan conqured the South (including Madurai and Srirangam) and created maximum destruction possible. Sensing danger, SwAmi piLLai lOkAchAriar and his disciples left Srirangam with namperumAL and his consorts.
The pAndya king (named Sundara pAndian) was able to defeat the Mohammedans in the year 1326 and regain Madurai (Srirangam was still under the control of the Mohammedans). Unfortunately the king lost his life in war and the throne went to his young son, parAkrama pAndian who was just 10 years of age. SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr, who was then the chief minister, now had the responsibility guiding the young prince in ruling the magnificient pAndya empire. One could say SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr was ruling Madurai by proxy.
SwAmi piLLai lOkAchAriar was aged around 120 when he left Srirangam and finally arrived at a place named jyOthishkudi. Sensing his old body can no longer handle the physical stress, he decided his time had come to attain paramapadam. When his disciples were distraught with grief and worried about who will be the next AchAryan of the glorious Srivaishnava Sampradayam, he instructed thus: “Sri Thirumalai AzhwAr is now the chief minister of the pAndya kingdom in Madurai. He is a very well learned scholar and by experience, he has great administrative abilities. He came to Srirangam and accepted me as his guru. I pray to Sri RanganAtha to guide Sri Thirumalai AzhwAr back to our sampradayam and lead all the SrivaishnavAs”.
He gave the following instructions to his disciples:
SwAmi piLLai lOkAchAryar attained paramapadam. Smt. sAthvika ammayar, who is the mother of SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr couldn’t bear the separation from her AchAryan and she soon joined her AchAryan as well.
[Sidenote: SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr’s mother was widowed when she was very young. She was an ardent disciple of SwAmi piLLai lOkAchAryar and spent most of her life serving her AchAryan and his other disciples. SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr was raised by his maternal aunt].
After the departure of SwAmi piLLai lOkAchAryar, his disciples decided to take namperumAL to KeraLa, fearing attacks from the Mohammedan army. Around the same time, SrivaishnavAs in AzhwAr Thirunagari also decided to move SwAmi nammAzhwAr’s idol to KeraLa, again hoping for safety from the Mohammedans. They packed SwAmi nammAzhwAr’s idol in a box and hung that box in one of the tallest peaks in KeraLa, in a very elusive place. SwAmi thOzhappar was one of the SrivaishnavAs involved in transporting the idol of SwAmi nammAzhwAr.
SwAmi thOzhappar visited Madurai and met SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr, the chief minister. SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr drafted a letter addressing the King of KeraLa. He offered cash and kind to help SwAmi thOzhappar and the fellow SrivaishnavAs, along with some men for protection.
[Sidenote: SwAmi thOzhappar left his body in an accident when trying to retrieve the box carrying SwAmi nammAzhwAr’s idol. What a sacrifice!! No words or action can match our gratitude to all these great BhagavatAs in our sampradayam!!].
SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr narrated this incident to his aunt, who reminded the great minister about Sri piLLai lOkAchAryar. SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr was now becoming interested in approaching Sri Koora kulOthama dAsar and seeking knowledge. The next time when he saw Sri Koora kulOthama dAsar, the minister thought of him as Sri piLLai lOkachAryar himself and fell at his feet. Sri Koora kulOthama dAsar then narrated Sri piLLai lOkAcharyar’s instructions to bring the great minister into the SrivaishnavA fold.
SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr, did not want to abandon his important duties immediately as he felt the prince was still very young to rule the pandya kingdom without his guidance. He was still a very busy man. He therefore requested Sri Koora kulOthama dAsar to come to his palace every morning and teach him during the time he wears ThirumaN. The great Koora kulOthama daSar agreed out of compassion and strong will to fulfill his guru’s instructions. And so it happened.
One day, SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr was very busy in his royal duties and couldn’t meet Sri koora kulOthama dAsar. Koora kulOthama dAsar then stopped coming to the palace anymore. Missing the daily sessions, SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr decided to go to Sri koora kulOthama dAsar’s house and seek his pardon. Sri Koora kulOthama dAsar readily welcomed the great minister and served him prasadam. After this, SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr decided to renounce all the royal duties and surrender to the great AchAryan fully.
Sri Koora kulOthama dAsar gladly accepted SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr and took him to a town called Sikkil KidAram. SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr became a Srivaishnava in totality with no materialistic attachments.
Just as Sri piLlai lOkAchAryar desired, SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr learnt all the Srivaishnava works from the great AchAryA’s disciples.
SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr visited Thiruvananthapuram and learnt Sri Vachana Bhooshanam from SwAmi vilAnjOlai piLLai, who attained paramapadam after fulfilling his guru’s instructions. Immaterial of SwAmi vilAnjOlai piLLai’s birth in the lowest of the castes, SwAmi Thirumalai AzhwAr performed the last rites (just like Sri periya nambigaL performed the last rites of maranEri nimbi who was also born in the lower caste).
ManavALa mAmunikaL became one of the greatest AchAryas of Sri Sampradayam, that Lord Sri RanganAtha himself became his disciple and recited the beautiful “Sri SailEsa dayApAthram…” thanian.