Translation of an article by Sri. TA Krishnamacharya Swami. The article by sri TAK Swami was based on an upanyasam made by Sri Karappankadu Venkatacharya Swami in the 1940s in the Nammazhvar Sannidhi at Thiruppathi.
As Visishtadvaitam has been mentioned in the Vedas, it is considered as being timeless. At different times it has become hidden and has been brought forth by Azhvars and Acharyas. Swami Nammazhvar and Swami Ramanujar are considered as the leaders among Azhvars and Acharyas and both have brought this sampradhayam to the front and made it shine for the world.
Amongst the 108 divyadesams that Azhvars sang about, Koil (Srirangam), Thirumalai and Perumal Koil (Thirukkacci Varadaraja Perumal Koil) are considered as the prime three. Srirangam was sung by all Azhvars, while Thirumalai was sung by all Azhvars but Thondaradippodi Azhvar. This could be one reason to consider Koil as the first and Thirumalai as second among the divyadesams.
However, looking at it in a certain way it can be taken that Thirumalai should be considered as the first. Thiruppanazhvar enjoyed Sri Ranganathar from feet to head and sang the glorious "amalanadi piran" pasuram. At the end of these pasurams he said that his eyes having seen Arangan will not see anything else. However, even he sang about Thiruvenkadavan in his first and third pasurams of amalanadi piran. When the vyakyanam for these pasurams are read, it is understood that the Lord when descending from Sri Vaikuntam stood first at Thirumalai and then rested at Srirangam. Since He stopped at Thirumalai first, it can be considered as first even ahead of Srirangam. Also, since Thiruvenkadavan and Sriranga nathan are one and the same (based on the amalanadi piran pasurams), we can consider that Sri Thondaradippodi Azhvar also sang about Thiruvenkadamudaiyan. After all, all the Azhvars speak in one voice and speak the same words. Therefore, Thirumalai can be considered as the primary divyadesam.
In bringing the light on the Srivaishnava siddhantham, Swami Nammazhvar and Swami Emperumanar both were deeply attached to Thirumalai.
The first part of the Dvaya mantram explains the Saranagati thathvam. That is, attaching one's self to the Lord's lotus feet through His consort Sri. The second part of Dvayam requests the fruit of eternal kainkaryam following the surrender. These two thathvams of Saranagati and Kainkaryam were both presented to Thiruvenkadamudaiyan by Sri Nammazhvar through the "agalakillen" and "ozhivil kalam" pasurams. Sri Ramanujar also began Sri Bhashyam by praying that he attain Bhakti to Lord Srinivasa, who is the para brahmam. Emperumanar also presented the great Vedartha Sangraham to Lord Srinivasa. Thus, as Sri Nammazhvar and Sri Ramanujar were greatly attached to Thirumalai, it can be thought of as the first divyadesam.
It must be understood that Srirangam is not being put down through these words (nahi ninda nyayam).
It is said that the only refuge for the soul is that which is presented by an acharya. As acharyas, we need to know what Sriman Narayana, Sri Nammazhvar and Sri Ramanujar have told and followed.
Sriman Narayana has pointed to Bhakti as the path to Moksha in many places but He has also emphasized Sarangati as the main path for mumukshus ("mumukshurvai SarNam aham prapadhye"). Sri Nammazhvar also has advised Bhakti margam in several pasurams but he performed Saranagati through the "agalakillen" pasuram. Sri Ramanujar also emphasized Bhakti in several places in Sri Bhashyam but performed Sarangati through the Gadya Trayam. Thus, as acharyas all of them have pointed to prapatti as the primary method even ahead of Bhakti, and that the prapatti would lead to the fruit of eternal kainkaryam.
Let us look further at Azhvar's prapatti. Sri Lakshmana swore that he would do everything for Sri Rama ("aham sarvam karishyAmi") and obtained the fruit of kainkaryam through Sita pirAtti. Sri Nammazhvar also wished to do kainkaryam to Lord Srinivasa and through pirAtti's purushakAram surrendered to Thiruvenkadamudaiyan. However, Nammazhvar's Saranagati is to be considered greater than even that of Sri Lakshmana. Even though Ilaya Perumal said he would do everything that Sri Rama commanded, he did not accept Sri Rama's command to stay back in Ayodhya. Sri Nammazhvar's word was that he should do every kind of service and without break to the Lord. As there are no false words in Azhvar's works, it is clear that he performed that kind of service to the Lord. Thus Azhvar's saranagati is considered higher.
Let us look at the agalakillen pasuram further. Here Sri Nammazhvar expressing his inability to do anything surrenders to Thiruvenkadamudaiyan, who is the repository of all kalyANa guNas, through pirAtti. By reahing the Lord through Her in the very first line, Azhvar makes sure that he will get what he is seeking. It is said that there are four requirements for the attainment of moksham. They are the body, the soul, the Lord and His consort. Sri Varaha Perumal when advising Bhooma Devi indicates that the body is a requirement ("susvasthe shariire sati"). The nama: term in the Thirumantram shows that the soul (that has understood its incapacity to save itself and surrendered to the Lord) is a requirement. In the Carama sloka, the Lord has shown that He is a requirement. And the Dvaya mantram shows that without pirAtti's sambandham He will not complete this work. Since it is clear that the purpose of Sarangati is incomplete without pirAtti, Nammazhvar approaches Her in the very first line of the pasuram.
That pirAtti sambandham is needed for Sarangati to work is clear when looking at Kakasuran and Ravanan. Due to the fear of a curse, Ravana did not even touch Sri Sita, whereas Kakasura did an unthinkable sin against Her. Ravana during the war lost everything and stood incapable of doing anything in front of Sri Rama. Kakasura ran the three worlds to escape Sri Rama's astra and failing fell at His feet without even being able to move. Since Saranagati is falling at His lotus feet expressing our inability to do any thing, both of them should have been saved. Yet while Kakasura's greater sin was forgiven, Ravana was killed. The reason being that in the case of Kakasura, Sri Sita was with Sri Rama but not so in the case of Ravana. In addition, after Ravana was killed, Sri Hanuman requested Sri Sita that She permit him to kill all the rakshasis that were guarding and torturing Her. Sri Sita however told Hanuman that everyone sins in this world and that he should let them go. It is clear that if She can convince Sri Hanuman, who was born in the vAnara race that does not easily give up any thing, She can convince the Lord who would listen to Her to forgive our sins.
During the avatara times, She might be separated from Him for some time. But, She never leaves Her Lord at Thirumalai and as such Nammazhvar surrenders to Him there. By Her presence, the kalyANa guNas that come to the fore are Vatsalyam, Svamitvam, Sauseelyam and Saulabhyam. Nammazhvar further talks about these guNas in the pasuram as "nigaril pugazhAy", "ulagam moonRudaiyAy", "ennai ALvAne", and "thiruvEnkadaththAne". In the final line of the pasuram he performs complete surrender to Him.
Thus Nammazhvar shows the upAya and upEya meanings that are Saranagati and Kainkaryam through his pasurams "agalakillen" and "ozhivil kalam". This Ramanuja siddantham, that kainkaryam is the moksham and that it is obtained through His grace, is seen in surrendering to Thiruvenkadamudaiyan and in performing service to Him.