The Alvars

The Alvars

Tiruppam Alvar or Munibahan
The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)
September 1935

ON the south bank of the sacred river Kaveri is situated Nichulapuri (modern Uraiyur). In the days of yore it was a very prosperous city. It was ramparted on all sides and was filled with palace-like houses.

St. Tiruppani Alvar was born in this city in 100 B.C. in the month of Kartic with Rohini asterism. He was an incarnation of Srivatsa mark on the breast of Sri Vishnu but appeared in the society of pariahs or chandals. In respect to the saints, divine wisdom and spiritual illumination are taken cognisance in place of social status. Our saint, though low in social order, was greater than those who are highest in society i.e the brahmanas. At the outskirts of the town he was discovered in a field by a man of lower class as if the child was heaven-dropped. The man had no son. He took up the god sent boon and took to his wife. Both husband and wife were extremely glad to have the divine child and their long-cherished desire was fulfilled. With great care and affection they brought up the child never allowing the abomination of their class to defile the body's atmosphere both physical and mental. It was fed with nothing but cow's milk.

Being a heaven-born child, all its instincts and tendencies were heaven-ward. The child grew into a boy and the boy into a man. From the very beginning the boy showed no taste for the glamour of the world. He had no taste for worldly occupation. His only avocation was to play on a lyre and sing for the glorification of Godhead. With the growth of age he realised his status in the society. He respected the settled laws of the land. He knew that reform consisted not in defying and infringing the conventions and usages enjoined by shastras, but in respecting them and exemplifying their spiritual sense by exemplary moral conduct. He thought that his birth in a low status was about temporary body, but by the grace of the Supreme Lord his soul might be enlightened. Thus the saint deeply fastened his thought on Sri Ranga Nath and taking up his sweet lyre played thrilling notes of His praise from its strings.

Tiruppani's attachment for Sri Ranga Nath grew more and more intense and at times he lost himself in ineffable joy for hours together. He would close his eyes and become utterly senseless and oblivious to the external world. One day while he was in such a state of trance, Muni, a priest of Sri Ranga Nath, came to the river Kaveri to draw water for the ablution of Sri Ranga Nath, He found Tiruppani in a lifeless state by the road-side. He called him and asked him to stay at a distance, being a chandal. Our saint did not hear the priest as he had lost his senses for the time being. This infuriated the priest and he took a pebble and threw it to the saint. It hurt him on the face, drops of blood trickled down. He came to his senses, opened his eyes slowly and seeing the brahmin at a distance, realised the situation in a moment. He made way in grief and repentance considering that he was hindrance to the service of his Lord and prayed for mercy. Tiruppani remained at a respectful distance. The priest went to the stream, performed his daily duties and took the holy water in pitchers with due ceremony and reached the temple gate. On arrival he found the gate closed from inside. He called for the other priests, but nobody responded. His heart sank and he began to muse in anguish praying with folded hands for mercy of the Lord. A long while after he heard a voice from within the temple, 'How you dare to hurt me by flinging stone to my faithful Tiruppani considering him to be of low origin while he was deeply immersed in chanting the holy name. From this time your service is suspended". Muni was in deep sorrow. He knew not how to atone and pacify the Lord. With great humility he begged the mercy of the Lord. He was broken with remorse. Finding him penitent, a similar voice came from within saying, 'Do not think Tiruppani low. He is my confidential servant. If you lift him on your shoulder and circumambulate the temple, the temple gate will open, otherwise not. Let it be obeyed." The priest found himself relieved and ran with delight to the Kaveri. He approached Tiruppani and falling at his feet, asked for his forgiveness for injuries both physical and mental which he had unwittingly, indeed, inflicted on his sacred person, and submitted to him humbly the wish of the Lord. Hearing these he drew back, but the importunities of the priest made him submit to the will of God.

Muni took him on his shoulders and conveyed him to the temple amidst acclamations and applauses, and carried him round the temple to the pleasure of the Lord. The gate was now flung open and all present fell prostrate at the feet of Sri Ranga Nath and sang the praise of the Lord. From that time onward Tiruppani Alvar was named Munibahan or Yogibara.