21st September, 1947
From the time Bhagavan told me about the probable reason for the establishment of Manikkavachakar’s Mutt in Adi Annamalai I have been keen to hear the story of his birth and achievements. When an opportunity came I asked: “It is stated that while Manikkavachakar was singing the Tiruvachakam, Natarajamurthy wrote it down. Is it true? Where was he born?” BHAGAVAN: “Yes. It is true. That story will be found in Halasya Mahatmyam. Don’t you know?” NAGAMMA: “There is no copy of Halasya Mahatmyam in Telugu here. So I do not know.” BHAGAVAN: “I see. If that is so, I shall tell you the story in brief.” So saying Bhagavan narrated the following story: “Manikkavachakar was born in a village called Vadavur (Vatapuri) in Pandya Desha. Because of that people used to call him Vadavurar. He was put to school very early. He read all religious books, absorbed the lessons therein, and became noted for his devotion to Siva, as also his kindness to living beings. Having heard about him, the Pandya King sent for him, made him his Prime Minister and conferred on him the title of ‘Thennavan Brahmarayan’, i.e., Premier among brahmins in the south. Though he performed the duties of a minister with tact and integrity, he had no desire for material happiness. His mind was always absorbed in spiritual matters. Feeling convinced that for the attainment of jnana, the grace of a Guru was essential, he kept on making enquiries about it.
“Once the Pandya King ordered the minister to purchase some good horses and bring them to him. As he was already in search of a Guru, Manikkavachakar felt that it was a good opportunity and started with his retinue carrying with him the required amount of gold. As his mind was intensely seeking a Guru, he visited all the temples on the way. While doing so he reached a village called Tiruperundurai. Having realised the maturity of the mind of Manikkavachakar, Parameswara assumed the form of a school teacher and for about a year before that had been teaching poor children in the village seated on a street pial, near the temple. He was taking his meal in the house of his pupils every day by turn. He ate only cooked green vegetables. He was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Manikkavachakar. By the time Manikkavachakar actually came, Ishwara assumed the shape of a Siddha Purusha (realised soul) with many sannyasis around him and was seated under a Kurundai (yellow amanth) tree within the compound of the temple. Vadavuraar came to the temple, had darshan of the Lord in it, and while going round the temple by way of pradakshina, saw the Siddha Purusha. He was thrilled at the sight, tears welled up in his eyes and his heart jumped with joy. Spontaneously, his hands went up to his head in salutation and he fell down at the feet of the Guru like an uprooted tree. Then he got up, and prayed that he, a humble being, may also be accepted as a disciple. Having come down solely to bestow grace on him, Ishwara, by his mere look, immediately gave him Jnana Upadesa (initiation into knowledge). That upadesa took deep root in his heart, and gave him indescribable happiness. With folded hands and with joyful tears, he went round the Guru by way of pradakshina, offered salutations, stripped himself of all his official dress and ornaments, placed them near the Guru and stood before him with only a kowpeenam on. As he felt like singing in praise of the Guru he sang some devotional songs, which were like gems. Ishwara was pleased, and addressing him as Manikkavachakar, ordered him to remain there itself worshipping Him. Then He vanished.
“Fully convinced that He who had blessed him was no other than Ishwara Himself, Manikkavachakar was stricken with unbearable grief and fell on the ground weeping and saying, “Oh! my lord, why did you go away leaving me here?” The villagers were very much surprised at this and began a search for the person who was till then working in their village as a school-teacher but could not find him anywhere. Then they realised that it was the Lord’s leela. Some time later, Manikkavachakar got over his grief, decided to act according to the injunctions of Ishwara, sent away his retinue to Madurai, spent all the gold with him on the temple and stayed there alone.
Hearing all that had happened, the king immediately sent an order to Manikkavachakar to return to Madurai.
But then how could he go to the king without the horses? If he wanted to purchase them then, where was the money? Not knowing what to do, he prayed to Lord Siva for help.
That night Lord Siva appeared to him in a dream, gave him a priceless gem and said, “Give this to the king and tell him the horses will come on the day of the Moola star in the month of Sravana.” Startled at that vision he opened his eyes, but the Lord was not there. Manikkavachakar was however overjoyed at what had happened, put on his official dress and went to Madurai. He gave the gem to the king, discussed the auspicious time when the horses would be arriving and then was anxiously waiting for the day. He did not however resume his official duties. Though his body was in Madurai, his mind was in Tiruperundurai. He was merely biding time.
The Pandyan King, however, sent his spies to Perundurai and found out that there were no horses there meant for the king and that all the money meant for their purchase had been spent in the renovation of the temple. So he immediately put Manikkavachakar in prison making him undergo all the trials and tribulations of jail life.
“Meanwhile, as originally arranged, on the day of the Moola star, Ishwara assumed the guise of a horseman, transformed the jackals of the jungle into horses, and brought them to the king. The king was astonished at this, took delivery of the horses and according to the advice of the keeper of the stables, had them tied up at the same place where all his other horses were kept. He thanked the horseman profusely, and after sending him away with several presents, released Manikkavachakar from jail with profuse apologies. The same night, the new horses changed into their real forms, killed all the horses in the stables, ate them, created similar havoc in the city and fled. The king grew very angry, branded Manikkavachakar as a trickster and put him back into jail. Soon in accordance with Iswara’s orders, the waters of the river Vaigai rose in floods and the whole of the city of Madurai was under water. Alarmed at that, the king assembled all the people and ordered them to raise up the bunds of the river. For the purpose, he ordered that every citizen should do a certain amount of work with a threat of dire consequences should he fail to do his allotted work.
“There was in Madurai an old woman by name ‘Pittuvani Ammaiyar’. She was a pious devotee of Lord Siva. She was living alone earning her livelihood by daily preparing and selling ‘pittu’ (pittu is sweetened powdered rice pressed into conical shapes). She had no one to do her allotted work on the river bund nor had she the money to hire a person to do it. She was therefore greatly worried and cried, ‘Ishwara! What shall I do?’ Seeing her helplessness, Ishwara came there in the guise of a cooly with a spade on his shoulder and called out, ‘Granny, granny, do you want a cooly?’ ‘Yes’, she said, ‘but I do not have even a paisa in my hand to pay you.
What to do?’ He said, ‘I do not want any money and would be satisfied if you give me some portion of pittu to eat. I shall then do the allotted work on the river bund.’ “Pleased with that offer, she began making pittu but they did not come out in full shape but were broken. Surprised at this she gave all the bits to the cooly. He ate as many of them as he could and went away saying that he would attend to the bund-raising work. Surprisingly, the dough with the old woman remained intact even though she had prepared and given bits of the pittu to the cooly. The cooly went to the workspot, but instead of doing the work lay down there idly standing in the way of others doing their work.
“The king went round to inspect the progress of the work and found that the portion allotted to Ammaiyar remained unattended to. On enquiry, his servants told him all about the pranks of that cooly. The king got infuriated, called the cooly and said, ‘Instead of doing the allotted work, you are lying down and singing.’ So saying he hit the cooly on the back with a cane he had in his hand. The hit recoiled not only on the king himself but on all living beings there and all of them suffered the pain on that account. The king immediately realised that the person hit by him was Parameswara himself in the guise of a cooly. The king stood aghast. Parameswara vanished and soon a voice from the sky said, ‘Oh king! Manikkavachakar is my beloved devotee.
I myself did all this to show you his greatness. Seek his protection’. Soon after hearing that voice, the king went to see Manikkavachakar, and on the way he stepped into the house of Pittuvani to see her. By that time she had already got into a vimanam (a heavenly car moving through the skies) and was on her way to Kailasa. The king was greatly surprised and saluted her and from there he went straight to Manikkavachakar and fell at his feet. Manikkavachakar lifted him with great respect, and enquired of his welfare. The king entreatingly said, ‘Please forgive me and rule this kingdom yourself.’ Manikkavachakar, looking at the king, said with kindness, ‘Appah! (a term of endearment) As I have already agreed to serve the Lord, I cannot be bothered with the problems of ruling a kingdom. Please do not mistake me. Rule the kingdom yourself looking after the welfare of the people. Henceforth you will have nothing to worry about.’ So saying, smilingly, he put on the dress of a sannyasin, went about visiting holy places singing the praise of Siva. There are several stories like this.” NAGAMMA: “When was the Tiruvachakam written?” BHAGAVAN: “No. He never wrote. He merely went about singing his songs.” NAGAMMA: “Then how did Tiruvachakam get to be written?” BHAGAVAN: Oh that! He was going from one place to another until he came to Chidambaram. While witnessing Nataraja’s dance he started singing heart-melting songs and stayed in that place itself. Then one day Nataraja, with a view to making people know the greatness of Manikkavachakar and to bless those people with such an excellent collection of hymns, went to the house of Manikkavachakar in the night, in the guise of a brahmin. He was received cordially and when asked for the purpose of the visit, the Lord smilingly and with great familiarity asked, ‘It seems you have been singing Hymns during your visit to the sacred places of pilgrimage and that you are doing it here also. May I hear them? I have been thinking of coming and listening to you for a very long time but could not find the required leisure. That is why I have come here at night.
I suppose you don’t mind. Can you sing? Do you remember them all?’ ‘There is no need to worry about sleep. I shall sing all the songs I remember. Please listen’. So saying Manikkavachakar began singing in ecstasy. The Lord in the guise of a brahmin, sat down there writing the songs on palm leaves. As Manikkavachakar was in ecstasy he hardly noticed the brahmin who was taking down the songs. Singing on and on, he completely forgot himself in the thought of God and ultimately became silent. The old brahmin quietly disappeared.
“At daybreak, the dikshitar (priest) came to the Nataraja Temple as usual to perform the morning puja and as he opened the doors he found in front of the Nataraja idol a palm-leaf book on the doorstep. When the book was opened and scrutinised there were in it not only the words ‘Tiruvachakam’, it was also written that the book was written as it was dictated by Manikkavachakar. It was signed below ‘Tiruchitrambalam’, i.e., Chidambaram. The stamp of Sri Nataraja also was there below the signature. Thereupon, all the temple priests gathered in great surprise and sent word to Manikkavachakar, showed him the Tiruvachakam, and the signature of Nataraja and asked him to tell them about the genesis of the hymns.
“Manikkavachakar did not say anything but asked them to accompany him, went to the temple of Nataraja and standing opposite to the Lord said, ‘Sirs, the Lord in front of us is the only answer to your question. He is the answer.’ After having said that, he merged into the Lord.” As he narrated the story, Bhagavan’s voice got choked.
Unable to speak any more he remained in ecstatic silence.