Lord Skanda-Murugan

Life Story of Saint Arunagirinathar


by Siva Paramasivam

Great saints have hailed the glory of Muruga, Adi Sankara (Subrahmanya Bhujangam), Kachiappa Sivachariyar (Kanda Puranam), Nakkeerar (Tiru Murugatru Padai), Kalidasa (Kumara Sambhavam) and the list goes on like Pamban Swamigal, Vannacharapam Dandapani Swamigal, Chidambara Swamigal etc.

Tiruppugazh, composed by saint poet Arunagirinathar, is unique because it brings before us the image of Lord Muruga in full splendour and glory and bestows us the abounding grace of Muruga. Among many saints who guided humanity to the path of perfection, Arunagirinathar occupies a unique position. His songs not only sparks the flame of devotion in the minds of people but also the light of knowledge in the intellect. He showed the way to the life of virtue and righteousness. He showed the way to the Lotus Feet of Muruga.

All devotional works hail the glory (pugazh) of the Lord and come under the category of Tiru Pugazh, but only Arunagirinathar's works got that title because he alone described, in his own beautiful poetic style, the glory of the Lord truly, completely and magnificently. No other works portrayed the glory of the Lord so elegantly and elaborately as done by Arunagiri and therefore only Arunagirinathar's works have acquired the name, quite appropriately, as "Tiruppugazh". His works therefore rightly deserved the name "Tiru Pugazh".

Born in 15th century at Tiruvannamalai and he spent the greater part of his life there. The particulars of his parents are unknown; some say he was a son of a courtesan (dāsi) by the name of Muttu (Muttamma). As his father expired soon after his birth, Muthamma and sister, Adhi, brought him up. They aspired to bring him up in the rich cultural and religious tradition. Arunagiri showed a receptive mind and even studied the scriptures but gradually his interests turned elsewhere. It is said that Arunagiri grew up to manhood and found the company of courtesans more to his attachment than the company of God. He was mostly seen in their houses than in temples.

He used to get money from his sister each time to go to devadasi's. His sister always give whatever she earned to make his brother happy. Taking advantage of his sister's affection, he utilised all her jewels and possessions for the dāsi's. His body began rapidly lost its energetic youth and became diseased. One day he demanded money from his sister, but unfortunately she had no money. She was very sad and said, "Oh brother, I am sorry that there is no money to give you today." Arunagirinathar shouted how its possible and he wanted money now to have pleasure. His sister then said "Brother, if you need to have pleasure then please sell me to someone and that money can be used somehow".

Hearing that, Arunagirinathar felt how self centered and selfish he was. Arunagiri was well versed in Tamil literature, such as Tevaram, Tirumantiram etc. He gradually developed his sense of devotion to Lord Muruga. He composed poems for getting money from the rich people, the hard earned money also was spent to the courtesans. At last he learnt a lesson from hs sister and his mind went back in a few minutes over the wasted years of his life. On realisation of the ‘crimes' he committed against the religious and righteous path, he decided to end his life, went to the temple hit his head in all the pillars and steps, begging for forgiveness. He climbed up the Vallala Gopuram of the Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar temple and was about to jump down and dash himself to death on the granite stones beneath.

Arunagiri worships Lord Murugan who had rescued him from certain death by suicide
Arunagiri worships Lord Murugan who had rescued him from certain death by suicide. Painting from Tiru Avinankudi Tirukkovil, Palani.

But rather than falling to the ground, he found himself in the hands of a Saviour. "You are not born to die. You are born to save lives. You are not born to fall but make others rise. You are born to fulfill a divine mission. You are the chosen one to sing the glory of Lord Muruga." said the saviour, who was none other than Lord Muruga Himself. Arunagiri, who has been rescued from the darkness of death, now found himself before a power that radiated brilliant rays of brightness. He now got the vision of Lord Muruga.

He was however miraculously saved from the death by Lord Muruga who also transformed him to a holy saint instantaneously".′Arunagiri could not believe his eyes and ears. Lord Muruga was standing before him majestically, holding the sparkling Vel (lance), His Mayil (peacock) nearby and radiating an aura of charm and splendour. It was as if all the power, beauty and knowledge of the universe had personified and descended on earth. Overwhelmed with emotion and wondering how he became worthy of such an enormous grace, Arunagiri folded his hands and bowed in reverence. Words failed him. The Lord, full of mercy, blessed him, conferred him the saintly advice (Upadesa) and set out the sacred tasks before him. Arunagiri was delighted at being initiated to saint-hood directly by Lord Murugan.

Arunagirinathar had the fortune of belonging to the "Blessed Three" who received the saintly advice (Upadesa) direct from Muruga, the other two being Lord Shiva and Saint Agasthiyar. Lord Muruga helped Arunagirinathar with the beginning of his inspired poesy in his praise with "Muthai Tharu patthittirunagai..."; He showered His grace on Arunagirinathar by directing to proceed on the divine path. He wrote on his tongue, Sadatcharam (Aareluthu) using His Vel.

Deeply immensed with the spiritual raptures, Arunagirinathar began to do penance at Illayanar Koil of the temple gopuram at Arunachaleswarar's shrine. Lord Shiva appeared before him and blessed him with Tiruneer (holy ash) removing his fear. Goddess Unnamulai blessed him with encouraging words "Nin Pirappu Oliga" (There will be an end to your birth). Goddess Valliammai also showered Her grace on him by divine touch, "Sparisa deekchai".

Having received the gracious enlightment, Arunagirinathar continued to sing Tiruppugazh in praise of Lord Muruga. The variety of the rhymic pattern of hymns has no comparison and it is vast in the field of bhakti literature. He went out singing the praises of Lord Muruga all over Tamil Nadu. It is said that he had travelled to many shrines of Lord Muruga especially the celebrated Six Abodes (Aaru padai veedu) for worshipping the God by devotional songs. His dedication to his ‘Ishta Deivam' (Muruga) did not make him a narrow minded sectarian. He worshipped with devotion whichever be the diety in the temples he visited and he sang about them.

In his religious tour Arunagirinathar went to Tiruvennainallur. He enjoyed the darshan of Lord Muruga in a dancing pose there. He then went and stayed at Chidambaram, singing in praise of Lord Subramanya inside the shrines near temple gopurams. He went to Sirghali, the sacred birth place of Tirunganasambanthar, he woshipped the saint as an embodiment of Lord Muruga. Then he visited Kaverippoompattinam, Karivananagar and Tirumannippathikkarai.

He was directed by God to reach ‘Melai Vayalur' near Tiruchirappalli. He went and stayed there for some time. Then he visited Tiruvarur, Tirumaraikādu, Tiruchendur, Palani, Kumbakonam, Tiruchengodu, Pāndikkodumudi and returned to Tiruccirappalli. He left for Viralimalai, Kodumpaloor and Kadampanthurai. When he stayed in Palani, he had the friendship of Kalisaichevagan also known as Kaverichevagan, a philanthropic chieftain. He went to Tiruchendur again through Madurai. Lord Subramanya of Tiruchencur appeared before him in the form of a beautiful child and showered grace on him.

Arunagiri then proceeded to Vayalur and prayed before Lord Muruga. It is believed that the Lord again appeared before him in the form of a person and ordained him: "Sing about Me, about My Vel (lance), about peacock (Mayil) about Ceval (rooster) about Vayalur and about my various other abodes". "It is indeed a rare honour to be able to sing Thy glory", Arunagiri said and prostrated before Vayalur Muruga in total submission and surrender. After worshiping the shrine of Poyya Ganapathy nearby, he set out his historic journey; the journey that took him many holy places and gave him an illuminating experience.

Arunagirinathar had to face the challenges made by Villiputhurar. He was a poet going about the Tamil Nadu, challenging every learned scholars to contest with him on matters of ‘Pandityam (scholarly skills); the condition was the loser should have his ears cut off in the challenge. When Villiputhurar failed to explain the meaning of the verse 54 of Kandar Anthathi, but he was graciously permitted by the saint to keep his ears intact.

Arunagirinathar went to Kanchipuram and praised 32 charities performed by Goddess Kamakshi there in hs Tiruppugazh. Then he visited Tiruvamathur, Chiruvai, Vallimalai and Tirutthan and worshipped the God with his poems. It is also mentioned that Arunagirinathar went on pilgrimage to some sacred places in the north such as Haridwar. On his return to south, he visited Jegannatham Visagapattinam ect. During this period of Visagappattinam the region of Tiruvannamalai was under the rule of Prabuda Devaraya a strong beliver of Hindu and a friend of a Sambanthāndan, who was both arrogant and boastful about his learning and spiritual attainments.

Arunagirinathar visited over 300 temples of Shiva, Muruga, Vishnu and other deities. Every temple had a unique history of its own. Impressed by the sanctity, the power and importance of the temple, Arunagirinathar composed songs on the Lord, bringing forth all the unique characteristics. While referring to the history of a temple, we often find special mention being made about Arunagiri's visit there, as if his mere visit has brought sanctity and sacredness to the temple. After an extensive of visit of temples, Arunagiri returned to Tiruvannamalai to lead a quiet life of devotion. The King Prabhuda Devaraja honoured him and granted him the privileged status of a 'Poet of the Royal Court'.

Sambanthāndan wanted to please his friend Prabuda Devaraya; persuaded him to invite Arunagirinathar to a contest in which he and Arunagirinathar should each undertake to manifest their ‘Ishta Deivam' before him. It was stressed that he who failed in the attempt should leave his domain.

Arunagirinathar was prepared for the proposal saying that Lord Muruga would yeild to his prayer and he would bless Devaraya by His darshan. Sambanthāndan first undertook to manifest his personal diety Kali and his proceedings were with great pomp and ceremony. Kali did not choose to present. Arunagirinathar started singing Tiruppugazh appealling to Lord Muruga with complete devotion, pleading to provide darshan and fulfill his prayer. Lord Muruga appeared with His peacock through one of the pillars of the Mandapam to bless Arunagirinathar. The brilliance of the manifestation of Lord Muruga was so bright as equal to hundreds of suns and the people were unable to see this with their ordinary eyes. Due to this everybody lost their eyes including the king and ministers.

Under the pressure given by Sambanthāndan, he requested Arunagirinathar to bring the parijatha flower in order to cure the eye sights. Arunagirinathar is said to have entered the body of a parrot in order to fetch the parijatha flower. While Arunagirinathar transformed himself as a parrot, left his body secretly in the temple tower. His enemy Sambanthāndan found and burnt his body.

On his return with the parijatha flower, Arunagirinathar couldn't find his original body. Thinking it is a grace of God for a purpose, he sang the great Kandar Anuboothi and settled himself on the temple tower in the form of the parrot. There is a form of a parrot in one of the sthubis (Kili Gopuram), testifying to this story. Kandar Anuboothi, a short poem of 51 short quatrains as an essence of his mystical experiences though Kandar Anuboothi and Kandar Alankaram are smaller poems in simple language they are as popular as Tiruppugazh itself.

Aiming at God realization, many saints followed the path of knowledge (jñāna). They went through the hard path of struggle and sacrifice. They denied themselves the basic necessities for the achievement of their aim. But the case of Arunagirinathar was different. He did not undergo any penance or meditation. He did not undergo any path of struggle. Yet, for some strange reasons, he qualified himself to the grace of the Lord. While other saints, having led a life of virtue, realized God at the end, Arunagiri, having pursued the path of pleasure, realized God at the very beginning. Strange indeed are the ways of God. There was something in him, beyond all his weaknesses that made Lord to choose Arunagiri as His ideal disciple. Perhaps, it was the devotional bend of mind that remained dormant in Arunagiri's heart. Perhaps, it was his genuine sense of guilt or eagerness to atone for his sin. Perhaps, it was his inherent strength to rise up to the high task expected of him.

Whatever that be, Arunagiri proved himself worthy of Lord's finest Messenger. Arunagiri rose up to the occasion, came out of his world of illusion, lived up to the high demands of his new role and admirably fulfilled the divine task expected of him.

Many saints derived inspiration from temples like Saint Śrī Ramadas from Bhadrachalam, Śrī Ramana Maharshi from Tiruvannamalai and Bhattathiri from Guruvayoor. Arunagirinathar received enlightenment from Tiruvannamalai and Vayalur. While Tiruvannamalai transformed Arunagirinathar into an enlightened sage, Vayalur made him a scholar. Arunagiriathar composed number of songs on Muruga in his unique style. What provided speciality for his songs was his 'temple experience'. It was an enlightening experience for him to visit the six abodes of Muruga, Tiruchendur, Tirupparamkundram, Tiru Avinangudi, Swami Malai, Tiruttani and Pazhamudhir Colai, where Lord Muruga performed various acts of bravery, marriage, renunciation, enlightenment and redemption.

It is believed that Arunagirinathar composed over 16,000 songs but only 1365 songs have been traced. Having had the vision of Muruga and the experience of realizing Him, Arunagiri emphasized the various divine qualities of the Lord, His benevolence, His knowledge, His bravery and courage, His exquisite beauty and brought all His magnificence into full focus in his Tiruppugazh. In the song: "Thandayani Vendayum, Kinkini Sadhangayum" he likened the beautiful face of Muruga to that of beautiful energetic moon.

He did not differentiate between Shaivite and Vaishnavite thoughts and ended his song addressing Muruga as "Perumale", the term normally used by Vaishnavites to address Lord Maha Vishnu. He referred Muruga as "Malon Marugane" (Son-in-law of Maha Vishnu - Tirumal), as, according to legend, Muruga's consorts, Valli and Deivayanai were daughters of Tirumal in their previous births. Arunagirinathar conveyed messages of truth and Dharma by citing instances from Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Kandar Alangaram, an ornament of verses Arunagirinathar made for adoring Muruga portrays the splendour of the Lord from His sacred head to His Lotus feet. It is believed that just as Tiruvachagam would please Lord Shiva, Kandhar Alamgaram would please Lord Muruga. Kandar Anuboothi, containing 51 stanzas, depicts Arunagirinathar's experience of having received the saintly advice (Upadesa) and having experienced the presence of Lord Muruga. It is said that Anuboothi which means divine experience is the ultimate of all Arunagiri's works. All these songs are ideal for daily prayer and one who renders them with devotion is sure to overcome the storm and sail through the ocean of life smoothly.

Arunagirinathar says, so long one has the grace of Lord Muruga, the mighty Lord of Death, Yama Raja, cannot come near. There is a general impression that death is something untoward, something ‘unfortunate', and something to fear about. One who has the actual knowledge of death fears not. Death is not an end in itself. Death occurs only to the body and not to the soul. Death means transition of the soul from a temporal world to an immortal world, from material to spiritual and from Maya (illusion) to real. This view is expressed in the dialogue between God of Death (Yamaraja) and Naciketas, the nine year old inquisitive boy as revealed in Kathopanishad and one finds almost similar views in Arunagirinathar's works.

Arunagiri had not received any formal learning. He had no opportunity to study scriptures in depth. In fact, he spent time seeking pleasure. It defies reason how such a person could compose a great masterpiece like Tiruppugazh that equals the knowledge of the Vedas? Arunagirinathar himself answers this question: "This knowledge, this talent, and this skill do not belong to me. They are the gift of Lord Muruga" (Yam Odhiya Kalviyum Em Arivum). It was the enormous grace of Muruga that helped him to compose a work of such magnitude and find answers to various human problems.

Arunagirinathar used the pleasing medium of music and the sweet language of Tamil to communicate with God. He composed Tiruppugazh in the Chandam style which means setting the verses in conforming to beats or rhythm. Going through his songs, it would seem that Tamil has rarely been handled so beautifully in poetic verses before. According to Tamil scholars, the poetic expression of Arunagiri, his language and style, the metaphors and similes he used, all went into making his works an outstanding literary masterpiece. "Villukku Vijayan, Vakkukku Arunagiri" so goes a Tamil saying. "If Arjuna is known for his archery power, Arunagiri is known for his vocabulary power".

As Arunagirinathar composed Tiruppugazh after receiving the enlightened upadesa from the Lord, his songs acquired an inherent strength and power and those who render these prayers would find fulfillment in life.

The seventh and ninth centuries C.E. witnessed a phenomenal rise in Shiva worship. The 63 Nayanmars hailed the glory of Lord Shiva in magnificent verses. They brought a new revolution to Bhakthi movement. It gave a new era of Shaiva Siddhanta. Arunagirinathar gave another direction and brought Muruga at the centre stage of worship. Though Muruga worship existed even from the period of Tolkappiyam, it was Shaiva Sidhantam that prevailed all over. Though Arunagirinathar himself worshipped at Shiva temples and drew inspiration from saints like Jnanasambhandar, he highlighted the glory of Muruga, as never before. The songs of Arunagiri have brought the glory of Muruga to an all time high. Muruga, already known as Tamizh Kadavul, became the Lord most loved, adored admired and worshiped.

With every word selectively chosen like a flower, the song that Arunagiri composed brightened up as a colourful garland. While saints appreciated the depth, range, and message, scholars appreciated the diction, poetic excellence and the literary richness. Devotees found in Tiruppugazh a novel, easy and pleasant form of worship. Never before, there was a poet of such distinction. Never before, literature and devotion blended so harmoniously.

It is difficult to judge who is greater, the poet Arunagirinathar who composed the verses with remarkable skill or the saint Arunagirinathar, who propounded the doctrine of devotion (bhakti) in a convincing manner. Needless to say, it is his devotion towards Muruga that helped the poet in Arunagiri to bloom in full colours. The immortal works of Arunagirinathar would continue to inspire the spiritual seekers for many more years to come.

Śrī Sachidananda Swamigal dedicated his entire life to highlight the glory of Tiruppugazh. Seshadri Swamigal described Tiruppugazh as the Maha Mantra that would transform the life of devotees Thayumanavar said: "Oh Arunagiri! Who else can compose a word of truth as beautifully like you" (‘Ayya Arunagiri').

Chidambara Swamigal said: "Oh Tiru Porur Kumara, as your enchanting body is adorned with garlands composed by Arunagiri and Nakkeerar, I feel the fabulous fragrance from you.". Many saints hailed the glory of Arunagiri in the form of Pillai Thamizh and Sannidhi Murai. There were many saints like Pamban Swamigal, Vaidyanatha Desikar, Poet Veera Raghava Mudaliar, Poet Sahaya Devar, Chidambara Munivar, Kandappa Desikar, Kirupananda Variyar, Sengalvaraya Pillai, Calcutta Tiruppugazh Mani Iyer, T.M. Krishnaswamy Iyer, Pithukuli Murugadas, et al., who took the glory of Tiruppagazh to great height.

Matchless in its appeal to the intellect and heart, Tiruppugazh stresses the importance of knowledge and devotion. Tiruppugazh penetrates into the self, awakens the inner consciousness and enlightens the soul. It synthesizes the different concepts explained by saints and aims at reaching the Lotus Feet of Muruga. The songs not only delight the heart, they enlighten the intellect, heal the disease, console the mind, ensure happiness and take the devotees to the right destination in life.

Courtesy: Siva Paramasivam