In Pursuit of Universal Love -- The Tiruppugazh Way
Feature article from The Indian Express (Madras) of Saturday 29 June, 1991
by SR Subramanian
The scene: Arumugamangalam village in Tirunelveli district. The anguished parents of a four-year-old who is unable to walk, wait for the verdict of attending doctors. The doctors ultimately express their helplessness and pronounce that the boy's handicap will remain ever for life. The parents stand dumbfounded. Should their sone suffer in silence this malady permanently?
Suddenly a flash comes to their mind like a bolt of lightning. The thought of visiting Tiruchendur, the magnificent seaside resort and the Holy Abode of Lord Subrahmanya, their family deity. The pray earnestly that the Lord cure the disease of their child and make him walk the distance of one kilometer along the beach leading to the temple.
Their prayers are indeed answered. The merciful Lord's infinite grace passes on to the young boy with the result that within the next few months the boy, completely cured of his handicap, runs fast on the sandy beaches of Tiruchendur giving a challenge to his parents who are unable to cope with his speed.
The lad who won the grace of Lord Subrahmanya at that tender age is ‘Guruji' Śrī A.S. Raghavan, the founder of and the moving force behind Thiruppugazh Anbargal (Thiruppugazh Lovers), a unique organisation set up witt the aim of spreading love, unity and brotherliness among people through the medium of Thiruppugazh, the immortal song collection of Saint Arunagirinatha.
Thiruppugazh represents the musical outpourings of Saint Arunagirinatha towards Lord Subrahmanya or Karttikeya or Murugan as He is variously known. The saint, who lived in the 15th century, sang us these sweet and soul-stirring Tamil songs numbering 16,000. In these songs, Arunagirinatha sings the glory of Muruga and seeks His grace. The entreaties of Arunagirinatha to his beloved deity for annihilation of strifes and human sufferings and for mortals' leading happy lives devoid of multifarious diseases also bear eloquent testimony to his concern for the well-being of humanity at large.
The story of Arunagirinatha is itself inspiring and serves as a proof as to how the grace of Lord Karttikeya can transform the personality of an individual, he be placed in any situation. Given to worldly pleasures during the early part of his life, the saint came to be afflicted with a dread disease. Dissatisfied with mundane existence and suffering, Arunagirinatha decided to end his life. To execute his plan, he climbed up the lofty temple tower of Tiruvannamalai where he was born, and leapt down with Lord Muruga's holy name on his lips. Presto! The Lord manifested himself before Arunagirinatha, as Guru, the Eternal Teacher, and took him in His hands as though He was holding a delicate bouquet!
Blessed by the Lord, the saint did penance for twelve long years when the divine Protector appeared before him. the time for His handing over Thiruppugazh to suffering humanity had now come. The Lord wrote gently the Pranava mantra ‘OM' on the saint's tongue with His Vel (spear) and ordained him to sing His glory. To a hesitating Arunagirinatha, the Lord even acted as the prompter giving the first word for the maiden musical offering! Lo! an unending stream of words began gushing from Arunagirinatha's blessed tongue, in chaste Tamil, as though from open floodgates! Thus emerged the priceless gems for all ages -- Thiruppugazh, Kandar Anubhuti, Kandar Alankaram and other offerings.
Apart from six holy shrines of Lord Subrahmanya, viz. Tirupparamkundram, Tiruchendur, Palani, Swamimalai, Tiruttani and Pazhamutircolai, Arunagirinatha visited a large number of holy places in the country and sang in praise of Lord Subrahmanya manifesting in these shrines. He also visited Katirkamam, the abode of Muruga in Sri Lanka. Because of the divine accreditation, Thiruppugazh songs are marked for distinct masterliness, exquisite poetic beauty and unique rhythmic pattern and are replete with deep spiritual fervour.
The movement started by Śrī Raghavan for propagation of the celestial verses in praise of Lord Muruga is unparalleled. Himself an expert musician, Śrī Raghavan has set melodious tunes to these songs, which are instantly appealing to the ear. It is a sheer mystical experience to be present when a large assembly of devotees sing these hymns in chorus in perfect harmony and in a highly disciplined manner.
The organisation at the instance and guidance of Guruji has evolved a well-structured training scheme to those who aspire to learn these songs -- at no cost whatsover. From modest beginnings there are now (in 1991; many more today) more than 2,000 students, both men and women, of all age groups, undergoing training in Thiruppugazh and other works of Arunagirinatha at their convenience in different parts of the country. A noteworthy feature of the training is that in all these classes, the standardised system designed by the founder is followed without the slightest deviation. The selfless dedication of a select band of proficient trainers is indeed remarkable. The language too seems to be no bar. The writer has come across English and Hindi transliterations of Thiruppugazh songs with some young aspirants having no knowledge of Tamil script.
The Thiruppugazh Anbargal is now a registered body with five chapters (in 1991; many more today) functioning actively in Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Bangalore. The movement has crossed the seas too with trained disciples popularising the songs in Canada, USA and UK. The organisation also brings out publications periodically, apart from holding conferences and lecture sessions when the efficacy of works of Arunagirinatha and the eternal values enshrined in them are highlighted.
For more information about Thiruppugazh Anbargal, inquire by e-mail from Balu Iyer (in Kerala) or Subbiah K. Iyer (New Delhi).
Saint Arunagirinathar: Was he a Shakta?
The Tiruppugazh Way: The Story of Guruji A.S. Raghavan
Guruji's new book: 'thalam thoRum tamizhk kadavuL'
"Saint Arunagirinathar" by A.S. Raghavan
Thiruppugazh — Musical Way of Worship
Articles about other Muruga bhaktars
Kaumaram.com's Tiruppugazh resource section