Aalavandar was born to Eswaramuni, the son of Sriman Nathamunigal, in the year 976 A.D in the tamil month of Aadi on a full moon day in the star of Uthiradam at Veeranarayanapuram called as KattuMannarkoil. As per Nathamuni’s desire, he was named as ‘Yamunai Thuraivar’.
Yamunai Thuraivar was a child prodigy that he was able to by-heart all the Vedas, Upanishid and was able to mine the meaning of difficult phrases.
After his father’s demise, when he was 12, he got into the school of a scholar called MahaBashya Battar. During those days, a scholar ‘AakiAzhwan’ was gaining popularity in the Chola King’s court. He proclaimed himself to be the Best and won many scholars in debates. As a prize for his gift, he collected 1/10 of their earnings as levy to him from those defeated also from those who restrained from debates with him.
During such years, AakiAzhwan sent a notice to MahaBashya Battar for such levy. Yamanuai Thuraivar got ferocious and told that they were not scholars who live their livelihood from debates and prizes. He squashed that letter by stating that they would not pay such levies. He also announced that he was ready to debate with AakiAzhwan.
Taken aback by the courage of Yamunai Thuraivar, the King invited him to his court for the debating with AakiAzhwan. But Yamunai Thuraivar refused the invitation and demanded a royal invitation and treatment for making his debate in the court. Owing to the demand, the King made the same to Yamunai Thuraivar.
On seeing the 12 year old boy coming in the royal procession, the queen got impressed and told the king that she is confident that Yamunai Thuraivar will win AakiAzhwan. Hearing this, the King told that if Yamunai Thuraivar wins the debate, then Yamunai Thuraivar would be made as a king for half of the kingdom, if not the king would part away the queen for ever.
The Debate was started. Yamunai Thuraivar was asked to choose his choice of subject for the debate. But he replied that he was ready to answer from any subject. AakiAzhwan made many questions and all of them were well answered by Yamunai Thuraivar. The court was stunned. Finally to conclude, AakiAzhwan asked Yamunai Thuraivar to have “Debate to Negate”. (The debater would raise a question or sentence and the opponent should negate the same based on Sastras and Vedas.)
Yamunai Thuraivar went ahead and made the following three questions immediately and asked AakiAzhwan to negate and prove them based on Sastras.
Those 3 questions spelled by Yamunai Thuraivar were:
- Un Thai Maladi Allal (Your Mother is not issueless)
- Entha Raja Sarvabowman (This King is a ruler of the world)
- Entha Arasi PathiViradhai (This Queen has no affairs outside)
Now AakiAzhwan need to Negate and prove with relevant base from Sastras as
- His mother is issueless …. ie, does not have a Child.
- The King is not a ruler of the world.
- The Queen has affairs outside.
As AakiAzhwan was unable to negate them, he accepted his defeat. Now the King asked Yamunai Thuraivar whether he would be able to negate them as told.
Yamunai Thuraivar told YES and started negating those 3 sentences with the proof from Sastras…
- “Kaakaa Vanthya Kathali Vanthya”, says sastra. The meaning is that by way of yielding one egg and one bunch of fruits, the crow and the Plantain tree are called as Non Yielder only. i.e., in other words, a single tree can never form or called as a groove. Also sastras proclaims that “Eka Puthroghya Logha Vadhath”. This is because, the mother of a single child will always be in the grip of the grief as she is left with no other alternate son or options for taking care of her. Given the above facts, AakiAzhwan’s mother is also childless.
- “Sarvabowman” literally means the king who rules the entire world. But as the Chola king was ruling only a portion of the world, he cannot be called as ‘Sarvabowman’.
- As per the Vedic sentences and Sastras, the bride is subjected to get married to the lords like Chandran, Gandharvan and Agni, who bless her with children, wealth and life. Hence any women who gets married through Vedic rituals, is not pure and cannot be called as solemate to her husband.
On hearing the above explanations, the court, the King and AakiAzhwan too accepted them. The Queen rose from her seat and embraced Yamunai Thuraivar saying “O Child, u came to rule me…!” (“Ennai Aalavandeerey”), by then he was called as “Aalavandar”. The King also gave him half of his kingdom as promised to the queen.
Aalavandar took over the kingdom parted to him. As years passed, he coupled his life with the lady “SriRanganachiyar” and was blessed with the following off springs ‘ThiruvarangaPerumal’, ‘DeiyvathirkarasuNambi’, ‘PillaiyarasuNambi’, and ‘Sottai Nambi’. Enjoying the richness and wealth, Aalavandar started forgetting his Vedic way of life which he was used in his childhood.
This took Manakkal Nambi into deep distress as he felt that Aalavandar, Nathamuni’s grandson, should be the lead light for Vaishnavism in the world.
He also was sleepless as he was not able to keep the word given to his Acharya UyyaKondar, for shaping Aalavandar as the chief pontiff lead for spreading and establishing the Vasihnavism and rooting its heritage and principles in the world. His steps to meet Aalavandar went futile. He managed to port “Thoothuvalai”, (a variety of spinach) into the kitchen of Aalavandar and told the chef to include the spinach in the daily menu as it will help to enrich the knowledge power of the King, Aalavandar. The chef also did the same and Aalavandar took with much delight.
(Note: Even today, on the Thirunakstra day of Aalavandar, ie, on the Star of Uthiram in the Tamil month of Adi, Thoothuvalai (Spinach) and Athandai Vathal (dry spices) is offered to Aalavandar at Srirangam)
Six months passed. Manakkal Nambi was not able meet Aalavandar. He decided to use a tactics to meet him. He stopped porting the Spinach to the chef for three days. As the spinach was missing in the daily menu, Aalavandar enquired the same with the chef. Chef told that it was an old Brahmin man who gave the spinach daily and asked them to add to the daily menu, which was done. Also told him that they he was not seen for the past three days. As Aalavandar thought there must be some reason behind the act of the old Brahmin Man. He instructed the chef to bring that old man to him once he contacts the latter.
The next day, Manakkal Nambi came to deliver the spinach to the chef. As per the King, Aalavandar instructions, Manakkal Nambi was taken to meet him. On seeing Manakkal Nambi,
Aalavandar said,”Oh Brahmin! I was pleased with your daily spinach. Ask me anything you want, I will give”.
Manakkal Nambi replies, “O King! I came to give and not to take. There is one wealth which was given to me by your grandfather. I wish to hand over the same to you”.
Appreciating his honesty, Aalavandar said, “I am already possessing lot of wealth. Hence, let the said wealth be with you as I don’t require the same”. But Manakkal Nambi was unbending.
Aalavandar said,” Ok, then place the wealth and leave”.
Manakkal Nambi told, “It is an immovable property. I cannot bring the same. Hence request you to come along with me where I can show you”.
Taken aback by the determination of Manakkal Nambi, Aalavandar decided to go with Nambi and explore the wealth left by Nathamuni for him.
The Journey started. Manakkal Nambi neither took Aalavandar to Manakkal nor to his (Aalavandar’s) birth place. Rather took him along the banks of river Coleroon. On the way, Manakkal Nambi was chanting and explaining Aalavandar the meaning of Pursha Suktam, Smirthis, Sri Vishnu Purana and Sri Bagavad Gita. This helped to make a phenomenal change inside Aalavandar.
Aalavandar immediately surrendered himself to Manakkal Nambi and pleaded with tears to forgive him and accept him as his disciple. Manakkal Nambi, preached him the explanations of “Charama Solka” and accepted him as his disciple.
Manakkal Nambi then reached Srirangam along with Aalavandar and made him to see “Thayar” and took him through Santhanu Mandapam and Gayathri Mandapam. Finally they stood in front of the Lord Renganatha - Namperumal between the two legendary Pillars in the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Manakkal Nambi, showing the LORD, loudly said to Aalavandar “This is your ancestral property. The wealth left by your grandfather to you. Take it and preserve it for the sake of the world”
Aalavandar had no words to say. He was elated and was motionless. He cried infront of the LORD, pleading with tears asked him not to discard him for his ignorance but to accept him for the sake that he is the grandson of Nathamuni. Now the LORD accepted him with his usual grin. (Grandfather’s wealth was regained by the Grandson)
Aalavandar left his kingdom and palace. He took the form of a Pontiff. He learned all the Prabhandas and Rahasyas from Manakkal Nambi.
Now at this stage, Manakkal Nambi handed over the idol of Sri Ramanuja to Aalavandar which was gifted to Nathamuni by NamAzhwar.
Many days passed. Due to the divine grace of NAMPERUMAL, Aalavandar became the principal leader of the vaishnava community and a pioneer in spreading Vaishnavism in the country. Towards the end of his earthly existence, ManakkAl Nambi called AalavandAr and advised him to seek the guidance of Kurugai Kavalappan in learning Ashtanga YogaRahasyam.
Accordingly, AalavandAr went to VeeraNArAyaNapuram to meet Kurugai Kavalappan where the latter was in deep meditation, in a secluded spot. Not wanting to disturb him, AalavandAr remained outside. However, Kurugai Kavalappan came out and asked whether anybody from the family of SottaiKulam was around?
AalavandAr self introduced himself and was puzzled as to how he had been identified. When enquired Kavalappan as to how the later was able to identify him. Kurugai Kavalappan said, “When I am lost to the outside world in the experience of Namperumal’s loving presence, HE doesn’t even attend to the affectionate calls of His beloved PeriyaPiRAttiyAr. But this time, I could sense that Namperumal was obsessed by someone out here and was trying to see you by peering over my shoulders. Immediately I concluded that it can only be someone from my Acharya NAthamuni’s family clan, as is not that only they can be more beloved than PiRAtti for him?”
(This incidence was narrated in the history to tell us about the glory of NAthAmuni)
AalavandAr sought his blessings for learning Ashtanga YogaRahasyam. Kurugai Kavalappan gave him a palm-leaf-manuscript. It was inscribed on it as to come before Thai Poosam (in the star of Poosam-tamil month of Thai), as he was destined to attain eternal bliss on that day. Returning to SriRangam, AalavandAr thought of Sri AnathaPadmanAbha Swami of Thiruvanathapuram when he heard the Thiruvaimozhi Pasuram “Kedumineer” and proceeded to Thiruvanathapuram.
When he was at Thiruvanathapuram, Aalavandar thought of Kurugai Kavalappan and found that it that date was the date as inscribed on the palm –leaf-manuscript. He realized the significance of the same and was in deep grief.
After this incident , as there were no experts to hand it down to subsequent generations, history tells us that, Ashtanga YogaRahasyam faded into oblivioAalavandAr spent the rest his life in SriRangam in serving NAMPERUMAL and gained many (20 in number, to be exact) disciples. He expounded on all the Rahasyathrayam, Prabandhas and their inner meanings to all of them. Meantime, ManakkAl Nambi shed his mortal coils and attained the blessed state shed his mortal coils and attained the blessed. AalavandAr’s disciples performed the last rituals with due diligence.
- Stothra Rathinam,
- MAyAvAta Khandanam,
- Aagama PrAmANyam,
- MahaPurusha NirNayam,
- Siddhithrayam(Atma Siddhi, Ishwara Siddhi, Samvid Siddhi),
- Sri GeethArtha Sangraham,
His invaluable works were instrumental in taking Vaishnavism to greater heights and remain to this day, the cherished ancestral property of all practicing Vaishnavas.
Among Sri AalavandAr;s 20 disciples, Periya Nambi, Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi, TirumalaiAandAn, Periya Tirumalai Nambi, TiruvarangaPerumal Arayar and Maaraner Nambi were closest to his heart. Aalavandar imparted to each of themprofound truths of the Sastras.
One scholar named Tirukkachi Nambi, although not a direct disciple, was very affectionate towards AalavandAr.
Knowing about these disciples will make us gain a better understanding of Swami AalavandAr’s knowledge and life history.
Let us have a few beautiful glimpses into the lives and work of Aalavandar’s disciples.
Periya Nambi was born in the year 996 A.D (Tamil year Heyvilambi), in the Tamil month of Maargazhi under the asterism of Keattai (Jyeshta) on a Wednesday under the Bhaaradwaaja Gothram at SriRangam. He was a scholar in Shaastraas and Prabhandhas and came to be known as ‘Sri Maha Poornar”.
He was instrumental in bringing Sri RAmAnujA from Kanchi to Srirangam by chanting immensely moving verses from Swami Aalavandaar’s Stotraratnam. He was also one of the five gurus of SriRAmAnujA (who is known as pancha-acharya padaashraya) and is said to have performed the sacred PanchaSamskaaraas (which confirm one as a Vaishnava), on behalf of SriYaamunaacharya for SriRAmAnujA. In this he was directed by the ever-benevolent LORD of Kanchi (Paerarulaalan). He is also credited with the giving of the epithet ‘Tiruppaavai Jeeyar’ to SriRAmAnujA, upon noting the latter’s deep affinity for Kodai’s matchless Tiruppaavai.
He has left as a Thaniyan (Eulogy) for Sri Munivahana’s ‘Amalanaadippiran’ and the text Tirupathikovai.
His daughter ‘Athuzhaai’ and son ‘Pundareekakshan’ became disciples of Sri RAmAnujA under his guidance. On his counsel, Sri RAmAnujA went to Tirukkosthiyur Nambi for learning ‘Rahasyathraya Mantra’ and also sought Tiruvaranga Perumal Arayar for learning ‘Acharya Nishtai’. He saw Sri RAmAnujA in the form of his Acharya Aalavandar.
- When Maaraneri Nambi who was born in a lower caste (as they were referred to in those days,) accepted upon himself the dreaded killer disease (known as ‘RajaPavai’) as Acharaya Prasadam, Periya Nambi nursed him and also did the last rituals when the former attained eternal bliss. This deed of his created a needless furore in his community and he was nearly excommunicated.. When Sri RAmAnujA discussed this issue with him, he is supposed to have replied that Maaraneri Nambi was in no way inferior to JaDayu (Eagle in Ramayana) or Vitura (Brother of Pandu in Mahabaratha). Later NAMPERUMAL Himself proclaimed that Periya Nambi was without blemish and his actions beyond reproach.
- It is remarked in history that the first three Azhwars namely PeyAzhwar, BoothathAzhwar and PoigaiAzhwar came as ritual-guests to his house.
- Periya Nambi accompanied KoorathAzhwan to Tanjore from Srirangam to the Chola King’s Court. There the king penalised them by plucking their eyes for following Vaishnavism. On their way back to Srirangam, Periya Nambi departed the earthly life on the laps KoorathAzhwan saying ‘Is SriRangam more divine and precious than the laps of a devotee?’
Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi was born in the year 987 A.D (Tamil year Sarvajith), in the Tamil month of Vaikhaasi under the asterism of Rohini in the family of Selva Nambi under Kaashyapa Gothram at Tirukkoshtiyur.
He had numerous disciples. He was a man of principle and avoided sycophants.. He is said to have obtained a comprehensive and insightful understanding of the import of the Rahasyathraya Mantra ( TiruMantram-Dvayam-Charamasolkam) from SriAalavandaar. He kept his knowledge a secret so as to be able to impart it only to a worthy disciple.
- Aalavandaar is supposed to have handed over the idol of Sri RAmAnujA to Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi.
- He was the man who famously made Sri RAmAnujA make 18 trips from SriRangam to Tirukkoshtiyur to learn the secret Mantras. He finally imparted his esoteric knowledge concerning the Rahasyathraya to Sri RAmAnujA as advised by Periya Nambi and as willed by NAMPERUMAL
- When Sri RAmAnujA made this secret knowledge public, Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi realized Sri RAmAnujA’s greatness and called him as ‘Emperumanar’.
- He is credited with a- Thaniyan(eulogy) for ‘Periya ThiruMozhi’
- His daughter ‘Devaki Piratti’ and son ‘Sowmya Narayanan (a) TherkAzahwan’became disciples of Sri RAmAnujA.
- He was instrumental in directing Sri RAmAnujA to TiruMalaiyAndAn for learning the import of SriNammaazhvaar’s‘ThiruvAimozhi’
- He assigned KidambiAachan as Sri RAmAnujA’s personal chef to safeguard his life.
- He blessed and gifted the idol of Sri RAmAnujA to his daughter before attaining parama padham . (This idol is even now worshipped at Tirukoshtiyur in Nambi Sannathi)
TiruMalaiyAandan was born in the year 988 A.D (Tamil year Sarvadhaari), in the Tamil month of Maasi under the asterism of Makham under Kaashyapa Gothram at TiruMaaliruncholai.
He dedicated himself to the lovely kaimkaryam of offering garlands to Sri SunderRaja Perumal (Azhgar). (Even today AZHGAR has on bath on TiruMalaiyAandan’s anniversary at Silambaru river)
- As per the directions of Tirukoshtiyur Nambi, he expounded on the inner meanings of ‘ThiruvAimozhi’ to Sri RAmAnujA. He also learned some of the inner meaning of the same from Sri RAmAnujA who, as we all know is the all-knowing AdiSesha.
- His son ‘SundaraTholudaiyaan’ became a disciple of Sri RAmAnujA.
- He noticed Sri RAmAnujA’s devotion to NammAzhwaar and the latter’s magnificent ‘ThiruvAimozhi’ and named him as ‘Sadagopan Ponnadi’ in recognition of this reverential fondness SriUdaiyavar had for SriSathari.
- He wrote a Thaniyan (eulogy)for ‘Thirupalliyezhuchi’
Periya Tirumalai Nambi:
Periya Tirumalai Nambi was born in the year 974 A.D (Tamil year Bhava), in the Tamil month of Chitirai under the asterism of Swathi. He spent most of the years of his life at Tirumala offering water from Papavinasa Theertham to Tiruvenkatamudayan. Pious tradition records that once he was also addressed as ‘Appa’ (thaatha) (Father!) by the LORD of seven hills (who is the parent, preceptor and friend of all beings).
- He wrote:- Thaniyan(eulogy) for ‘Amalanaadippiran’
- He was the maternal uncle of Sri RAmAnujA
- Periya Tirumalai Nambi arrived to Sriperumpudur on hearing the birth news of Sri RAmAnujA. On seeing that the child was marked for eternal service to Sriman Narayana ,, he named the baby boy ‘ElaiAzhwan’ (Laskhmanan).
- As requested by Sri RAmAnujA, he brought back Govindhan (another nephew of Periya Nambi) to the folds of SriVaishnavism from Saivam.
- He made his son ‘Pillai Tirumalai Nambi’, ‘Pillan’, his nephew KidambiAachan and two daughters seek spiritual guidance from Sri RAmAnujA who accepted them as his disciples.
- During Sri RAmAnujA’s first visit to Tirumala, Periya Tirumalai Nambi himself came down the hills, despite his old age, to welcome him. When Sri RAmAnujA asked him why he came all along as he could have asked some younger disciples to welcome? Periya Tirumalai Nambi is supposed to have replied, “I could not find anyone in Tirumala who was younger than myself”
- He bade his disciple Govindhan become a disciple of Sri RAmAnujA and when he came back restless, Periya Tirumalai Nambi asked him to go back to Sri RAmAnujA saying, “A cow sold cannot be bred again”.
Tiruvaranga Perumal Arayar:
Tiruvaranga Perumal Arayar was born in the year 1017 A.D (Tamil year Pingala), in the Tamil month of Vaikaasi under the asterism of Keattai (Jyeshta). He was the son of Sri Aalavandaar. He learnt ‘Acharya Nistai’ from his father Sri Aalavandaar. He practiced the tradition of singing Pasurams with music in the paths laid by his grandfather Naathamuni.
- Once NAMPERUMAL himself is said to have commanded Arayar to sing Pasurams on HIS gentle gait.
- Arayar pleased Sri Paerarulaalan, the LORD of Kanchi, and obtained Sri RAmAnujA as a prize for Srirangam.
- He instructed Sri RAmAnujA on the works of Sri Aalavandaar.
- He guided his brothers ‘DeiyvathirkarasuNambi’, ‘PillaiyarasuNambi’, and ‘Sottai Nambi’ to become disciples of Sri RAmAnujA.
- He wrote:- Thaniyan (eulogy) for SriTondaradippodiyaazhvaar’s‘Tirumalai and ‘Thirupalliyezhuchi’
- He is said to have named Sri RAmAnujA ‘Lakshmana Muni’.
Maaraneri Nambi was born in the Tamil month of Aadi in the star of Aailyam at a place called Puranthagam. Although he was born in what was considered a lower caste, he was a man with a great soul. He was a follower of Aalavandar.
- Since his philosophical insights resonated with those of NammAzhwar, Aalavandar named him Maaraner Nambi (Maran = NamAzhwar; Ner = like or equal).
- Due to the rigid Caste rules that prevailed in those days, he visited the new house (Tirumaligai) of Aalavandar, one day before the house warming ceremony. Upon hearing this, Aalavandar decided to forego the function as he deemed the visit of Maaraneri Nambi was more purifying than a house warming ritual.
- He accepted the disease (the dreaded killer ailment known as ‘RajaPillavai’) of Aalavandaar as Aachaarya Prasaadam
Tirukachi Nambi was born in the year 1003 A.D (Tamil year Sobhakiruthu), in the Tamil month of Maasi under the asterism of Mirugasheersham at Pursha Mangalam, now called as Poonamallee, as the 4th son of VeeraRagavan and his wife Kamalam.
- He devoted himself to the lovely kaimkaryam of offering flowers to Sri Perarulalan, the LORD of Kanchi daily. He obtained the flowers in a saatwic manner from Poonamallee.
- He used the ancestral land he had inherited from his father for cultivating the flowers.
- He was also engaged in the service of fanning the LORD of Kanchi, during which he had the unique opportunity to have conversations with the LORD himself.
- He is said to have advised Sri RAmAnujA’s father to perform ‘Puthirakameshti Yagam’ (a yagam for begetting a child).
- He assigned the service of boring water for SriVaradarajaswamy Kovil (Perumal Kovil)to Sri RAmAnujA.
- When Sri RAmAnujA pleaded with him to be his Acharya, he refused on the grounds that he was not an ‘andhana’. However pious tradition records that SriRAmAnujA did receive six important commandments from SriPaerarulaalan through Kanchipoornar.
- He wrote:- Thaniyan (eulogy) for ‘Tiruchandavirutham’ ‘Sri Varadharaja Ashtakam’
In spite of having a great number of disciples as mentioned above, Aalavandaar appointed none of them as his successors for spearheading the revival of Vaishanavism. Rather he made all of them Acharyas in various capacities to Sri RAmAnujA.
Having familiarized ourselves with the lives of these great saints, let us proceed to take a dip in the sanctifying river of divine grace known as SriRAmAnujA.