Posted in Periyazhwar Thirumozhi, Thiruvaimozhi Pillai

Periyazhvar Thirumozhi Svapadesam – A Review

‘Periyalvar Tirumoli Svapadesam’ is a brief commentary written in the manipravala style involving an admixture of Tamil and Sanskrit languages. This work conveys the rich essence of each of the 473 verses of Periyalvar’s Tirumoli. The commentary for each verse begins with a preamble, followed by the essence of the particular verse. Wherever appropriate, the author Srisailesa (Thiruvaimozhi Pillai) uses the preamble to point to the connection between verses within and beyond decads (a ‘decad’ contains ten verses).

This work carries special significance as a major portion of a palm leaf manuscript, containing an earlier commentary by Periyavacchan Pillai on Periyalvar Tirumoli, was lost to the ravages of time. This work, therefore, is the earliest written commentary that we have today on the Periyalvar Tirumoli. The extent of correspondence between this commentary and a later day commentary (on the same work) written by Srisailesa’s disciple Manavala Mamunigal indicates the influence this work had on the subsequent one. In most places, we can notice Mamunigal’s commentary following the same pattern of exposition as that of this work.

The author’s prowess in writing resplendent commentaries is reflected in the introduction to this work (the Avatarika) itself, where he points to the following connection between Periyalvar’s Tiruppallandu and Tirumoli. In the process, the author explains the rationale for Periyalvar composing these 473 verses in the first place.

Even though Periyalvar had sung paeans for the Lord’s auspiciousness in His incarnations as Narasimha and Rama (verses 3 and 6 of Tiruppallandu), his favourite among the Lord’s incarnations is the Krishnavatara. We can see that, in addition to singing the pastimes of Lord Krishna in verses 8 and 9, Periyalvar visualizes Krishna in His iconic manifestations as the Lord of Srirangam (9), the Lord of Srivilliputtur (10) and the Lord of Tirukkoshtiyur (11). Unlike His various incarnations, Periyalvar reckons that the Lord is the most unsafe in His iconic manifestation as He is solely dependent on the conductor of worship (archaka) to attend to His daily needs. Thus, the author concludes that Periyalvar embarks upon the task of singing this entire Tirumoli — beginning from ‘Vanna Madangkal’ through the ‘Senniyongku’ decads — for His auspiciousness and well-being.

The manner in which the author reflects the true intentions of Periyalvar and his profound knowledge of classical Tamil are evident throughout this commentary. For example, in the Manikkangkatti decad (1-3), Periyalvar, fresh from enjoying the Divine Body Parts of Krishna in his roleplay as Yasodha, resorts to singing a lullaby to baby Krishna by rocking His cradle. In this context, the author makes the following observations in his commentary:

Irrespective of the form the Supreme Lord takes in His incarnations, His movements, gestures and mannerisms are a sight to behold even for the celestials. In such a case, will Alvar, having observed the Divine Form of Krishna in meditation, be left far behind? Thus, Alvar resorts to eulogizing the Easy-accessibility and the Sovereign Supremacy of the Lord, as he envisions himself rocking the cradle of baby Krishna.

Periyalvar uses the word ‘manik kuralane’ in the first verse of this decad. The Tamil word ‘mani’ refers to ‘being small’, which is the import of the word ‘kural’ as well. The fact that Periyalvar uses one as the adjective of the other is to emphasize, in this context, how the Supreme Lord, in His incarnation as Vamana, appeared at the site of Mahabali’s sacrifice as an alms-seeking mendicant and subsequently grew in size and stature to measure the three worlds.

The author’s commentary is also impregnated with deep philosophical insights, as evidenced in the following introduction to the Senniyongku decad. The Supreme Lord manifests Himself in five states – Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Antaryami and Archa – to help His subjects mend their ways and facilitate them to take refuge under His feet. However, the author reckons that nowhere are His intentions more clearly demonstrated than in His iconic manifestation at Tirumala. Here, we see how the author conveys the essence of Srivaishnavism by explicating the doctrine of the Supreme Lord’s Causeless Grace in great detail:

In the case of Alvars, the Lord blessed them with the knowledge that dispels ignorance at the very beginning and then He used them as vehicles to help mend the ways of His subjects. On the other hand, He blesses us, the mortals, with this knowledge anytime before the separation of our soul from this body. He does this by first ploughing the earth of our material existence and begetting us the recognition of a devotee (bhagavata). Subsequently, He waters this earth through the chosen advice of preceptors and finally harvests the soul that has matured in steep devotion to the Supreme. Despite having attended to us with such tender care, the Lord continues to be disheartened by the fact that His response to our upliftment was not timely enough as He willed it to be.

Thus, the author establishes the core philosophy of Srivaishnavism, wherein he highlights the extent to which the Supreme Lord would go to get back a soul that is separated from Him.

[1] ‘Periyalvar Tirumoli with the commentary of Manavala Mamunigal and the Svapadesam of Tiruvaimoli Pillai’, published by Srivaishnava Grantha Mudrapaka Sabha, Kanchipuram, 1912.

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