Posted in Śrīvaiṣṇava texts, Śrīvaiṣṇava Ācāryas, Āḻvārs

What is Tirumaḻicai Āḻvār’s body made of?

While continuing to read the Āṟāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāvam, we came across twice the reference to Tirumaḻicai Āḻvār being a pañcaśaktimayavigraham. That is, his divine body is made of five śaktis, aka five upaniṣads. While clearly this means that his body is claimed to be aprākṛta (not made of matter), how exactly to translate śakti (or, ahem, upaniṣad) in this context? We tried ‘energies’ yesterday, and added a footnote. But what exactly is that a reference to? Are they the aprākṛta equivalents of the pañcabhūtas that exist solely in Vaikuṇṭha? How would you translate the word?

Also, this brings us to another question: some texts claim that the Āḻvārs are the incarnations of Nārāyaṇa’s divine weapons, and that, therefore, it means Nityasūris come down to earth. I remember Velukkudi Swami even saying that while it might seem unfair that there should be a set of cetanas who were never touched by karman (the Nityasūris), others were thrown into the saṃsāra (and on what basis were they chosen?), the balance is established by the liberated ones going to Vaikuṇṭha, and the Nityasūris coming down to this saṃsāra as Āḻvārs and Ācāryas. And then there are people who say that this suggestion was meant to elevate the Āḻvārs and the Ācāryas, that it was simply exaggerated praise, and that except for a couple of them (like Rāmānuja), they were all saṃsārins with a wish to become liberated, whom Nārāyaṇa uses to redeem the others.

But as we saw above, the GPP suggests that Tirumaḻicai Āḻvār’s body was aprākrta. The first three Āḻvārs were not born in a womb either, although I don’t remember anything said about their bodies. And we’re yet to discover what’s said about the other Āḻvārs’ bodies. Is Tirumaḻicai then special? Why? And so far as I have read and heard of his story, he is the only one who performs miracles, like opening a third eye on his big toe and produce a counter-fire to Śiva’s fire from his third eye. Or does any other Āḻvār perform miracles too? Which is interesting, as I’m reading works on Christian hagiography to compare and contrast with the Śrīvaiṣṇava one, and one thing that catches my attention all the time is prevalence of references to miracles performed by saints, which, if I’m not wrong, is an important criterion to canonise them. As Prathik pointed out, Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār is indeed said to have had disciples with powers like walking on the water. But the Āḻvārs themselves don’t go about performing miracles, methinks. So why is Tirumaḻicai an exception? He is also often described as meditating. Does that yield siddhis, although he doesn’t seek them out or misuse them? What’s the deal?

And while you’re at it, maybe you could help us understand this verse, which was cleverly composed in the cantam metre, probably by the author of the GPP (whom I’ll presume to be Piṉpaḻakiya Jīyar till I know any better), which makes it sound exactly like Tirumaḻicai (whose exquisite Tiruccantaviruttam is made of 120 verses in this very metre). The most problematic was line 1, but also the first half of the second line:

akkaraṅkaḷ akkaraṅkaḷ eṉṟum āvat’ eṉ kolō?
ikkuṟumpai nīkki, eṉṉai īcaṉ ākka vallaiyēl,
cakkaraṅkolkaiyaṉē caṭaṅkar vāyaṭaṅkiṭa,
uṭkiṭantavaṇṇamē puṟampocintu kāṭṭiṭē

Is it akkaraṅkaḷ (<akṣara), or is it a- karaṅkaḷ (‘those karas’)? Or the one as well as the other, in which case, which one is which? The context is that Tirumaḻicai has just been snubbed by a set of ritualists who don’t want him to be accorded the highest honour (agrapūjā) at a sacrifice because he was briught up, hence considered a Shudra. So he asks the Lord reclining inside him to come out and show Himself so as to shut the ritualists’ mouths (that’s the last two lines), if He is capable of turning him into the Lord. And then what could kuṟumpu mean here? Ignorance? Mischief? Or I just read Maṇavāḷa Māmuṉikaḷ’s commentary on the Jñānasāram and he glosses it as karman (presumably as something that causes mischief). And whose kuṟumpu is He supposed to remove? The ritualists’? Tirumaḻicai’s? And interestingly, a few such texts speak of the Āḻvārs experiencing what the average soul would experience only in Vaikuṇṭḥa, after shedding their mortal coils, like Tirumaḻicai getting sārūpya immediately after uttering the verse above. The plot thickens!

PS: image source:

[UPDATE] Please check the comments below, as they contain a few answers to the questions raised above.

5 thoughts on “What is Tirumaḻicai Āḻvār’s body made of?

  1. 1) panchashaktimayam or pancha-upanishanmayam means made of five shaktis/upanishats. They are five elements called “parameshti, pumaan, vishvah, nivruttah, and sarvah”. Translating them as supernatural energies (apraakrta shakti) and adding a footnote would be most apt, as no scholar in this world can ever explain what/how they are. It is panchabhuta counterpart found in srivaikuntham alone. So anyone who has seen it will not come to tell us, and anyone who is discoursing here has clearly not seen/known about it.

    2) Azhwars being nitya samsaris is the most accurate account, as accepted by our Acharyas. All other accounts are exaggerated. To know the truth of this statement, we need to keep aside all books of praise (including gpp), and look at commentaries on actual texts, like eedu. Nampillai very clearly says “nityasamsaariyaay ponda ivarai” in the first sriyahpatipadi. Similarly, Periyavacchan pillai says “azhwar tirumangai azhwar agirar” in tirunedundandaga vyakhyanam. Similar is the case of tondaradippodi azhwar as well.
    Even tirumazhisai azhwar himself says “shamanam katrom shakkiyam katrom…”. They are the chosen ones who could see their own past, present and future, the deeds of all others in all three times, and also of bhagavan. “sakshatkrta sva-para-vruttantar(gal)”. So, we need to trust their words when they are talking about their past. That is what our Acharyas have done as well.

    3) Other Azhwars have also performed miracles, out of their yogic power, or by bhagavan’s sankalpam. For ex, nammazhwar getting tamraparni river water boiled, and getting bhavishyad Acharyan tirumeni and his own tirumeni out of it.. nammazhwar showing himself to nathamunigal after 4000 years and giving him 4000 verses..
    Tirumangai azhwar getting wealth from devapperumal (which is why devapperumal is also called azhaittu vazhvitta Perumal) to complete his tadeeyaradhanam to 1000 Srivaishnavas daily.. also, azhwar taking away golden Buddha statue and hiding it from the offenders (incidents of urangaa puli, tolaa vazhakku etc. See sloka jitabaahya-jinaadi-mani-pratimaa).. azhwar dunking many people in Kaveri and giving them moksham (the reason for that patch of kaveri to be called kollidam today).. periyazhwar doing paratattva nirnayam ( establishing narayana as the supreme) even without prior knowledge of meanings of Vedantas (see taniyan gurumukham anadheetya). . Mudalazhwargal being born as ayonijas.. etc.
    In all these, the Azhwars show that bhagavan acts through them for specific purposes – mostly to attract many other jeevatmas towards Himself.

    4) akkarangal – I got a clarification from sri u. ve. KB Devarajan swami. He explained thus: akkarangal means aksharangal, indeed. Azhwar says “who made the aksharas as aksharas? Meaning, who identified the objects with their words for the first time? (As in, naming the cow as a cow.. tree as a tree, etc). Isn’t it bhagavan within the person – whoever it is? These ignorant people are not realising your indwelling nature, but are proud of the akshararashi that they have grasped (in the name of Vedas). If you are capable of making me as the master (which I believe is true), then just show yourself in the same way you reside within me, even now, to these people.. so that their ignorance is lost”. Kurumbu here is ignorance, and of the ritualistic people.

    I hope the answer is not longer than the post!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Marvellous, Swamin! Thank you very much for the clarifications! And a special thanks for helping with the verse! Adiyen 🙏🏼


    2. Another question, Swamin: so the prAmANyatvam of the GPP and other such works is less than that of the vyAkhyAnas and the rahasyagranthas then? I remember Devareer saying that the GPP is a Grantham to be studied as well. So where does that fit in? I mean, which category of Granthams does it fit into?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, vyakhyanas of arulicheyal and rahasya granthas hold the highest place at all times, and for all purposes.
        GPP is indeed to be studied to know about our Acharyas. Just the part of the grantha claiming Azhwars to be incarnations or something can be ignored. It is just to add praise to them, to make us understand their stature. Otherwise, the incidents are very much true, and Pinbazhagaram Perumal Jeeyar would not write things on his own (given that he is nampillai’s shishya). For that matter, Azhwars hailed as incarnations was already existing even before the time of nampillai, so Jeeyar adds it in his work. That is all.

        Also, any grantha (ex: Periya tirumudi adaivu, divyasuri charitam etc.) is accepted only to the extent that it agrees with 6000padi GPP. Such is its pramanyam. This status is also because, except for that small exaggeration, it doesn’t go against any of the vyakhyanas or rahasyarthas.

        Liked by 2 people

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