Lord Skanda-Murugan

Arunagirinathar's Views on Acquisition of Wealth

Saint Arunakirināthar, poet-composer of the vast Tiruppukal collection

by S.R.S. Ayyar

The scriptures specify four key attributes that are intertwined with human lives (purusārthas), viz.,

  1. kāma (fulfillment of desires);
  2. artha (acquisition of wealth);
  3. dharma (righteousness); and
  4. moksa (liberation).
In Tamil phraseology these are known as aram, porul, inpam and vītu. These four precepts which steer human destiny are based on a set code of values that are relevant for all times. It should be understood that Vedic dicta do not impose any restrictions on men and women acquiring wealth or experiencing earthly joys. Rather, these are very much an integral part of grihastāsrama (married life). Only when these pursuits assume extreme proportions and transgress moral norms, the people concerned become the unhappy victims of their irrational action.

The ultimate goal of all enlightened men and women is liberation (moksa) from the vicious cycle of births and deaths. Adi Shankara says:

Births and deaths by turn (do I face)
In mother's womb lie I again and again
Ocean of life this, impassable and boundless is;
Oh Murāri! have mercy and protect me!1

Saint Arunakirinātar laments: "The number of distressful life forms I have assumed exceeds the sands of seven seas."2

The saint further bemoans: "When would the triple desires perish, thereby putting an end to the mighty seven births!"3. The triple desires which the saint refers to are one's spouse, children and wealth. These are the root causes for seven births which occur ceaselessly, viz, gods, human beings, animals, birds, reptiles, aquatic organisms and plant life.

Many of Arunakirinātar's mellifluous Tiruppukal and other musical praises on Lord Murukan bring to light the above four driving forces in one's life. Lord Siva and sages are said to have praised the glory of Murukan and sought from Him the visual exposition of the love-bound purusārthas.4 This paper will discuss wealth (artha) as Arunakirinātar views it, including the unique characteristics of wealth, its overbearing influence on men and women resulting in their varied behaviour, the state of the people suffering lives of privation, and Arunakirinātar's invaluable advice on wealth-related matters.

Before proceeding to a detailed discussion on wealth in Arunakirinātar's perception, I would mention his philosophy of life. His repeated narrations on trials and tribulation of human beings caused by multifarious diseases, the agonising condition of the aged, the trying times on the inevitable arrival of the messengers of the Lord of Death, as also the saint's desperate appeals before his favourite deity for the total emancipation from worldly bondages are all likely to give one an impression that his is a fatalistic outlook on life.

This is far from true. Arunakirinātar is out-and-out practical in his approach towards life and his supplications bear out this fact amply. He is not one who would "don saffron robes, grow long hanging beards, totter about in the woods, eat vegetables and fruits, torment the body (with sacrifices) and wander around the entire world.5 On the contrary, the saint is praying for long-standing health, wealth of all sorts, a consummate life marked by fortune, esteem etc.6 Needless to say, he is seeking such favours from Murukan on our behalf.

It is common knowledge that food, clothing, and shelter are the three basic necessities of life. The very existence of a man depends on fulfillment of these vital needs. The saint outlines beautifully the pathetic state of a man looking after a sizeable number of kith and kin, with a wide variety of wants -- nice clothes, wholesome food, drugs to cure diseases, spouse, house to be of his own, etc., in a Tiruppukal hymn:7

"Clothes do I need to attire (myself)
Sumptuous food to satisfy the mighty hunger,
For a lustrous body
(Need I) water (for bathing) and (costly) dress;
Remedies to destroy diseases affecting the body,
A young woman (wife) to remain indoors,
A home of my own to sleep;
Having gained all these (facilities)
Become I a householder, getting immersed
In that delusory ocean (called household)
And support the vast kinsmen;
My (life) will (thus) pass away in waste".

How does one go about to satisfy his needs? We all know that there is a price attached to all goods and services we get from others (except God's gifts like air, water and sunlight). One has to work and earn money and pay that price. The able-bodied who idle away their time and look to others for theirs survival indeed exist as parasites and prove to be a burden to the society which will look down on them. Avvaiyar, the grand old saint-poetess of Tamil literature exhorts people to "go in search of wealth, even sailing across the ocean".

One would realise the utility of money in its true measure only when he or she ceases to be in possession of it. It is like experiencing the severity of hot sun while moving away from the cool shade of a tree. Untold are the miseries that stem from poverty, which Arunakirinātar brands as "all-destroying". "Once a person falls into the clutches of the heinous penury, at that very moment his handsomeness, wealth, nobility of mind, virtues and the glory of his home and family all flee away from him," says that saint in Kantar Anupūti.8

In Tirunelvayil Tiruppukal, the bard of Tiruvannāmalai equates himself to an "outstretched worm writhing in pain over the fire of poverty."9

Arunakirinātar wants to be cut off from the cycle of births and deaths, and becomes apprehensive if Lord Murukan would grant him the boon. In that event, his taking a re-birth in this planet in inevitable. Why not then tell the Lord what all he would like to have in his next birth? Let us listen to the saint's prayers at Palani.10

"If Thou make me fall into the birth
That's akin to the dark sea and the hell,
(Murukan) Bestow Thy grace and have a mind
To enslave me so that
The dumbness, blindness, bodily deficiencies
And even the slightest penury do not near me,
And the (lustrous) form of gods,
Lofty lineage, wisdom and just conduct accrue to me".

It is worth noting that penury is one among the malaises which the saint wants to be insulated against. And he is making sure to remind Murukan that he should not suffer deprivation even to a wee bit.

Arunakirinātar reflects on the futility of some people who strain every nerve at amassing wealth. He wonders "if it is at all necessary for men to go to countries like Pankalam (Bengal), Conam and Cīnam (China) seeking wealth and suffer hardships in order to get their amorous desires fulfilled".11 The first half of a Tiruppukal hymn in praise of the presiding deity at Kodainagar (also known as Vallakkottai) has been designed to convey the message to worldly-minded that men who consider acquisition of wealth as their life's mission and lose themselves in sensual pleasures land in the miserable infernal regions.12

Arunakirinātar displays a distinct flair in expressing his derision at men who spend their days in flattering unmerited people in order to earn their livelihood. Such people are adulated undeservingly as a cloud (in benevolence), the sun (in the dazzle of fame), a brilliant pearl (in sweetness), Manmata (in handsomeness) and Karna (in charity) etc.13

The bard on one occasion reminds us of men who, like those employed in royal courts to sing the glory of the king, scout out the dwelling places and wealth of spiteful and miserly dullards and eulogise them by equating them with Pari and Kari through many sorts of classified poetry and ruin themselves in the process.14 He takes pity on 'men who go places in search of moneyed men and shower lavish praises on them and yet made to walk off day after day thoroughly fatigued, since they are asked to come back the next day.15

Arunakirinātar draws a parallel between the transient wealth and the water flowing in convolution in a river. In Kantar Alankāram, he tells of "the wealth of kings who mounted on chariots, elephants and horses, traverse with their troops to wage battles, will vanish like writings on water" and adds that "there is no other alternative to get rescued than joining the assembly of men who are at Murukan's service -- Murukan who directed His dazzling spear at Cūr and the mountains".16 The saint laments on the ignorance of men who are proud of their glory, unmindful of offering worship to Lord Murukan and asks them, "Can they take with them the jewels they wear, women adorned with gold ornaments, the mansions and the money-bags when the belligerent Kāla (Lord of Death) snatches away their lives?"17

Since wealth is impermanent in the hands of its possessor and is of little value to him when his life terms ends, he will do well to be benevolent towards the poor. Arunakirinātar lays great emphasis on such fellow-feeling. "How can the rich get redemption who, despite knowing that wealth is transient, do not give away any money in charity?" asks the saint.18 He calls those men cruel who accumulate wealth and do not help the needy. Tiruvalluvar says, "cruel men who amass wealth and lose them to others are ignorant of happiness they would experience if the money is given to the poor and they get delighted".

The saint is evidently ill-disposed towards hypocritical sermonisers. In Kantar Alankāram, Arunakirinātar says, "some people sermonise that the human body is like a bubble surfacing on water all of a sudden and vanishing instantaneously and that wealth, on a closer look, resembles lightning which appears and peters out in a moment. But when starving men approach such persons and seek alms the so-called scholarly speakers leave that place quietly. Such men are not friendly with Lord Murukan.19

What is in store for those people who cling to their hoards of money without any charity? The saint mentions three categories of people who are destined to suffer in the nether world, viz, people who learn literature that induces them to engage in heated arguments and verbal onslaughts; people who lead their lives ever seeking wealth, but do not mete out any portion of it to others; and lastly those with who do not sing praises of the darling offspring of the Lord who gave half of His body to Goddess Uma.20

The teachings of Arunakirinātar on wealth could be summed up as follows: One should surrender at the twin holy feet of Murukan in order to prosper in life and keep away the dreaded poverty. While amassing wealth should not be regarded as the sole aim of one's life, it is necessary that one earns enough to support himself and those who are dependent on him, lest he should prove burdensome to society. There is no use flattering unfit men; one should always bear in mind that wealth that has come into his possession is impermanent in nature, and hence one should help the poor to the extent possible. Benevolence has to be accompanied by devotion to Lord Murukan. One of the surest ways to get the grace of Murukan is to lead an altruistic life as outlined by Arunakirinātar and recite as often as possible Tiruppukal and other hymns which by divine right have acquired an everlasting and exalted status.

End Notes

  1. Bhaja Govindam (Adi Shankara)
  2. "Yelu Katal Manalai": Citamparam Tiruppukal
  3. Stanza 39, Kantar Anupūti
  4. Māka Cancara Rajakampīra Valanattumalai Tiruppukal
  5. Kāvi Uduthum: Citamparam Tiruppukal
  6. Charana Kamalalayathai: Cuvāmimalai Tiruppukal
  7. Udukka Thugil Venum Katir Kāmam (Sri Lanka) Tiruppukal
  8. Stanza 19, Kantar Anupūti
  9. Ariviladhavar... Tiruppukal
  10. Thimira Udhadhi... Tiruppukal
  11. Vengalam Bānam: Tiruccentūr Tiruppukal
  12. Adhi Muthanālilil
  13. Mughilum Iraviyum... Tiruttani Tiruppukal
  14. Vanchaka Lobha... Kundrutōrātal Tiruppukal. Pari and Kari, two legendary characters noted for charity.
  15. Utayavarkal... Tirutani Tiruppukal
  16. Stanza 49, Kantar Alankāram
  17. Stanza 78, ibid
  18. Stanza 60, Kantar Antāti
  19. Stanza 66, Kantar Alankāram
  20. Kāti Moti... Tiruppukal

See also these related resources:
"Muruga -- The Ever-Merciful Lord" by S.R.S. Ayyar
"Was Arunagirinathar a Shakta?" by Sadhu Ram
Index of articles from the First International Conference on Skanda-Murukan