It was said earlier that EDU, one of the commentaries of Thiruvaimozhi, is outstanding piece of scholarship. This commentary was recorded in a language called Manipravalam that contains an admixture of Tamil and Sanskrit languages. The commentary primarily explains the import of Nammazhwar’s verses interspersed with quotes from the Upanishads, Itihasas, Puranas and other ancillary scriptures. In addition, the commentary also includes anecdotes (itihya) indicating conversations between earlier preceptors of Srivaishnavism. Nampillai reports certain happenings in the context of particular verses and points to multifarious interpretations that are possible to the same verses, thereby adding great credibility to his work. Further, the author points to the coherence between different decads of Thiruvaimozhi and explain the logical order of the hymns that represent the emotional journey of Nammazhwar. Finally, as described earlier, the commentary of Nampillai also posits the philosophical concepts that underlie practical Srivaishnavism. The value of this commentary can only be appreciated if we go into nuances and finer details in the commentary pattern of Nampillai. We shall delve into some of them in further detail:
a) Quotations from the Scriptures/Tamil Literature:
Nampillai is known to extensively use quotations from Srimad Ramayana in his commentaries. While interpreting the ‘tholum orey nangudai’ verse (3-7-2), a discussion is said to have taken place between Parasara Bhattar and a disciple as to whether the Lord possesses four shoulders in His abode at Srivaikuntam. Parasara Bhattar in turns refers the disciple to the following verse from Valmiki Ramayana which appears in the Yuddha Kanda under Mandodari Chattusloki: “tamasa: paramo dhatha shanka chakra: gadha dhara:” Nampillai uses this verse from the scripture to drive home the point that the Supreme Lord does possess Four Divine Shoulders in His abode at Srivaikuntam.
In the context of ‘thida visumbu eri vali’ verse (1-1-7), Nammazhwar prefixes the term ether or ‘visumbu’ with ‘thidam’. Nampillai explains this term by drawing a reference from Taittariyopanishad: “tasmatva yetasmatatman: akasa sambudha: akasath vayuhu:’ In this verse, as spelt out in ‘atmana akasa sambudha:’ Nampillai points out that ether (akasa) comes to existence before the other panchabhutas and exists for sometime even after the other four cease to exist. By referring to ether as ‘thidam’, Nampillai informs us that Azhwar refers to this temporal permanence of ether over the other four bhutas by employing this adjective.
Nampillai’s mastery over Tamil Sangam literature is visible in his quoting of Tirukkural in the context of the ‘en neermai kandirangi’ verse (1-4-4). This context of this verse involves Nammazhwar role-playing as Parankusa Nayaki (assumption of feminine form or bridal mysticism), experiences a change of physique due to separation from Lord Almighty. During this period, her skin, which otherwise bears its normal color, appears bleached and indicates an absence of blood circulation. In this context, we see that Nampillai quotes the following couplet from Tirukkural to drive home the point that the skin whitens when a beloved is separated from her love: ‘pullik kidandhen pudai peyarndhen avvalavil allik kolvarre pasappu’ (1187).
b) Unbiased Reporting:
One of the hallmarks of Nampillai’s commentating prowess is his unbiased reporting. He makes it a point to record different prevalent interpretations and differences in opinions among his earlier preceptors and present them as-is in his commentary. In the ‘thenum palum kannalum’ verse (2-3-1), Nammazhwar narrates the Supreme Lord’s causeless grace and His free-mingling attribute based on Azhwar’s union with the Lord. It is said that Yamunacharya interpreted this verse as honey mixing with honey, milk mixing with milk, ghee mixing with ghee and so on. On the other hand, Ramanuja appears to have interpreted this line as a special mixture of honey, milk and ghee. Thus, Nampillai has recorded the fact that the interpretation of Ramanuja has differed from that of Yamunacharya, thereby giving rise to two possible interpretations. Similarly, in the context of the ‘ariya kalathulle adimai’ verse (2-3-3), Nammazhwar narrates how the Supreme Lord mixed freely with Him and enabled Him to perform service at His feet even at a time when he had no knowledge about the nature of the Supreme. Yamunacharya is said to have interpreted this line as: “Having graced Azhwar at a time when the latter had no knowledge, the Supreme Lord left him, to suffer in this world.” However, Ramanuja is said to have offered an alternate interpretation taking the context of this verse into account: “The Almighty graced Azhwar who was steeped in bondage even when he had no knowledge about the Supreme.” There have also been occasions in the EDU where Nampillai has quoted the viewpoints of others (referred in collective as ‘Tamilians’) when the latter’s interpretations did not run contrary to the tenets of Srivaishnavism.
c) The use of Real-Life Examples:
Nampillai’s mastery over the affairs of the world is also clearly reflected in his commentary on certain verses. He was not only an ecclesiastic, but also had thorough understanding of the contemporary social life as it is evident from the following examples. In the context of the verse ‘avaravar samayam thorum’ (3-4-10), there arises a question as to whether the defects of the individual soul affect the Lord when He pervades them from the inside. Nampillai explains this verse by drawing upon a real-life example. He likens the Supreme Lord to a prince who visits a prison. Although the prisoner and the prince are inside the same premises, the inmate is there to suffer for his deeds while the prince is there out of his own volition. Similarly, the Supreme Lord, being the indwelling spirit of the soul, and who is beyond the cycle of births and deaths, is not affected by the defects of the soul which is bound by karma. In another example, Nampillai explains the practice of agriculture in the context of the verse ‘yezhmai pirapukkum shemam’ (4-6-9). Here, Nammazhwar is in a state of emotional distress from pangs of separation from the Lord and turns sick. The friends of Nammazhwar (who has assumed a bridal form) instruct her mother to smear her with speck of dust from the feet of devotees of the Lord to cure her ailment. Nampillai compares this to how farmers fasten their harvested paddy bundles using a sample of the harvest itself. Similarly, the remedy to the bride’s sickness is to beget the company of the devotees of the Lord, who are one with the Lord Himself.
Article contributed by Vanamamalai NS Padmanabhan Swami.