Posted in Thirukkurugai Piran Pillan, Thiruvaimozhi

Arayirappadi of Pillan – An Overview

The Arayirappadi commentary presents the essence of Nammalvar’s Tiruvaimoli on a song-by-song basis. The Tiruvaimoli comprises a total of 1102 songs divided into ten centums. Each centum in turn is comprised of ten decads of 11 songs each. Pillan’s commentary typically begins with a preamble (avatarikai) that sets the context of a decad followed by detailed commentary on the 11 songs in the decad. In certain places, the author uses the preamble section to point to the continuity (sangati) between two or more consecutive decads. Since this commentary was composed at the behest of Ramanuja, this work is said to have the sanction of the sage himself. It is acknowledged by Srivaishnavite scholars that this commentary had a great influence on the later-day commentaries of the Tiruvaimoli authored by Nanjiyar, Nampillai and Periyavachan Pillai. Barring a countable few places, the later-day commentaries closely follow Pillan’s interpretation and choice of words to a greater extant, differing from them only in their offering of additional explanations, citations and anecdotal evidence from traditional history.

Nammalvar is celebrated in Srivaishnavism as the one who communicated the essence of the Vedas in simple Tamil language (vedam Tamil seidha maran). His Tiruvaimoli is considered the essence of Sama Veda and the Chandogya Upanisad in particular. This correspondence is brought out by Alagiya Manavala Perumal in his Acharya Hrudhayam vide aphorism 52. It is also communicated in traditional history that Ramanuja used Nammalvar’s Tiruvaimoli to develop clarity on certain topics in the Vedanta Sutras. With this background, it is not surprising that Ramanuja chose Pillan, the one well-versed in the scriptures, to write the first ever commentary on the Tiruvaimoli. When compared to later-day Manipravala commentaries on the Tiruvaimoli, Pillan’s commentary appears heavy in its usage of Sanskrit. Also, for most of the verses, this commentary provides short and succinct descriptions excepting those places where the author intends to demonstrate how Nammalvar’s verses convey the purport of the upanisads. We shall consider two such instances where Pillan explains the import of Nammalvar’s verses and subsequently points to their correspondence from the revealed scriptures (srutis).

In the 6th verse of the Uyarvara Uyarnalam Tiruvaimoli, Nammalvar points out that the nature, state and predilection of this world are subordinate to the Will of the Supreme Lord. In the 7th verse, he qualifies the abovementioned congruence by indicating that the world and the Supreme Lord are tied to each other in an organic relationship (Sariratma Bhava). In his commentary corresponding to this verse, we see Pillan’s genius in trying to establish the organic relationship between the material world and the Lord on firm scriptural footing:

Just as the individual soul pervades the material body and controls the latter, the Supreme Lord pervades all matter in-and-out unimpeded and remains their Inner Controller (antaryamin). He is the material cause of the basic elements of ether, air, fire, earth and water. He contains them all in His stomach during the time of the Great Deluge (pralaya). However, in comparison to other material causes and the three types of Individual souls (Baddha, Mukta and Nitya), the Supreme Lord possesses a unique kind of omniscience, possesses transcendental opulence, is an embodiment of auspicious attributes, controls the predilections of all the worlds and is beyond the laws of Karma.

Pillan offers 32 citations of support from the scriptures to prove the Visistadvaitic conception of the Supreme Brahman and His relationship with the world. In the process, he refutes the viewpoints of the Lokayatas, Mayavadins (Advaitins), the Bhaskara school of Mimamsa, The bhedabeda school of Yadaprakasa and other philosophical schools that don’t accept the authority of the Vedas.

Similarly, in the first verse of the Ondrum Devum Tiruvaimoli, Pillan establishes the Sovereign Supremacy of Sriman Narayana on firm scriptural foundations. Pouring into the ocean of the Srutis, Smritis, Itihasas, Puranas and other ancillary texts (Upabrahmanas), the author establishes unambiguously that the four-faced Brahma, Siva, Indira and the other demigods are but servants of Sriman Narayana. Sriman Narayana controls the dispositions of all living and non-living matter in the universe including the activities of the demigods. Pillan explains how knowing the Supreme Lord through the scriptures is a difficult exercise by citing some conflicting information from the scriptures. Although the Supreme Lord is the first cause for all beings, His identity can only be ascertained from the scriptures. Some view this Supreme Lord as Brahma, some as Siva and some as Vishnu. Some consider all these three to be equals while some hint at a Superior beyond these three. Similarly, the Chandogya Upanisad holds ‘Sat’ to be the cause of this universe, while another Upanisad attributes causation to ‘Atma’ and a third Upanisad attributes causation to ‘Brahma’. However, it is in the text of Mahopanisad that we find, in unambiguous terms, that Narayana was the only one then, when Brahma, Siva and others were in an unevolved, subtle state.  Thus, the Supremacy of Sriman Narayana can be established only after performing the herculean exercise of delving into different scriptural texts. However, the author opines that obtaining knowledge about the Supreme Lord is possible even without such a study. He claims that the Lord, in His iconic manifestation as Adippiran of Tirukkurukur, compels our attention and makes us immediately cognize His omnipresence. Thus, the author claims that the only Lord who is worthy of propitiation is Sriman Narayana and follows Nammalvar in urging the individual souls to surrender unto His redemptive grace in His iconic manifestations.

Thanks are due to Thirukkovalur Sri. Manivannan Swami for his suggestions to improve this draft.

[1] ‘Tiruvaimoli – An English Glossary, Vol I’ by Gwalior Sathyamurthi Iyengar, Anantacharya Indological Institute Publication, Bombay, 1981.
[2] ‘Bhagavad Vishayam – A Compilation of five commentaries on the Tiruvaimoli – Volume 1’ by Puttur Krishnaswami Iyengar, Puthur Agraharam, Trichy, 1975.
[3] ‘Bhagavad Vishayam – A Compilation of five commentaries on the Tiruvaimoli – Volume 4’ by Puttur Krishnaswami Iyengar, Puthur Agraharam, Trichy, 1993.

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