Chapter 3 – Vinnagara Temple
Sometimes trivial incidents lead to events of great significance. One such incident now occurred to Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan. Remember, he was standing by the roadside to watch the procession of the Pazluvoor Lord and his entourage? His horse stood a little away form him.
Some of the men walking towards the end of the Pazluvoor retinue sighted the horse. “Dear chap! Look at this mule!” said one of them.
“Don’t say mule. Say mare,” corrected the other. “Set the semantic research aside! First of all find out if it is a donkey or a mule!” said a third man. “Let’s check it out!” said yet another as he approached the horse. He tried to jump on its back, but the intelligent horse realized that this was not its master; it refused to let him mount.
“Hey! This is a troublesome horse. It will not let me mount! Perhaps only a prince of well established lineage can ride it! Well then, Tanjore Muthuaraya will have to come back!”
His friends laughed at this witticism. Tanjore Muthuaraya’s dynasty had vanished a hundred years ago! Now, a flag bearing the tiger symbol of the Chozlas flew over Tanjore.
“The horse may think so. However, if you ask me I would say that a fully alive Thandavaraya is better than a dead Muthuaraya from Tanjore,” said another undaunted man named Thandavaraya.
“Thandavaraya, find out if this pesky horse that wont let you come near is really a horse! Perhaps it is a dummy dance-horse come in for the temple festival,” said another prankster.
“Ok, let’s examine it,” saying this Thandavaraya twisted the horse’s tail. The proud horse kicked its hind legs several times and began running amok. “Hey, the mule is running away! It really is a mare!” shouted the man and with cries of “Ooi, ooi,” they began to chase the horse even further.
The horse began running helter skelter amidst the festive crowd. People trying to avoid its hooves moved away in a hurry. Even so, some of them were kicked down. The horse ran wild. All this happened within a few seconds right in front of Vandiya Devan. From the expression on Vallavarayan’s face, Azlvar-adiyan, the Vaishnava, surmised it to be his horse.
“Thambi, did you see the work of those Pazluvoor brutes? What happened to the boldness that you showed in front of me? Could you not show your valor against them?” he pointed out.
Vandiya Devan felt a piercing outrage. Yet, he grit his teeth and remained patient. The Pazluvoor men were a large group. There was no point in confronting the whole lot. Neither did those men wait for him to pick a fight. Laughing over their pranks with the horse they had quickly marched ahead.
Vandiya Devan started walking in the direction in which the horse had gone. He knew that his horse would run for a while and then stop. So he did not worry about it. He felt that one day he should settle the score with those arrogant men of Pazluvoor and the idea became firmly etched in his mind.
His horse stood in a clearing beyond the tamarind grove, wearing a saddened expression. As he approached it, the horse neighed; the speechless creature seemed to say, “Why did you part from me and subject me to these travails?” He quietened the horse by patting its back and then led it back towards the road.
Several persons of the festive crowd asked, “Thambi why did you bring this unruly horse here? See how it has kicked us?” Others pacified them with words like “What will this young man do? What could the horse have done? We have to blame those Pazluvoor rogues for this mishap.”
Azlvar-adiyan waited at the roadside. Vandiya Devan frowned. What nuisance is this… It seems as if this fellow will not let go.
“Thambi, which way are you going?” asked Azlvar-adiyan.
“Me? I plan to go a little ways west and then a bit to the south; then go around east to travel southwest.”
“I am not asking all that. I meant, where do you plan to stay tonight?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Perhaps, if you were planning to stay at the fort of Kadamboor Sambuvaraya, I have an assignment to be done there …”
“What! Do you know magic or witchcraft? How did you know that I was going to Kadamboor Palace?” asked Vandiya Devan.
“What is so surprising about it? Tonight, several dignitaries from various places are going there. Lord Pazluvoor and his retainers are also going there.”
“Is that true?” said a surprised Vandiya Devan.
“Yes, it is true. The elephant, the horses, liveried footmen and other honors were from Kadamboor. They came to receive Lord Pazluvoor; all such protocols are always observed wherever he goes.”
Vandiya Devan became thoughtful. The opportunity to stay in the same lodgings as Lord Pazluvoor was not easy to come by. He may even chance to make the acquaintance of that esteemed warrior. However, the experience with the unruly retainers of the Lord still rankled bitterly.
Azlvar-adiyan interrupted these thoughts in a begging voice, “Thambi, will you do me a favor?”
“How can I help you? I am new to these parts.”
“It is a task that is possible for you. Take me along to Kadamboor Fort tonight.”
“Why? Is some fanatic Saiva coming there? Are you going to debate about the greatness of Shiva and Thirumal to conclude who is the greater God?”
“No. No. Did you think that getting into arguments was my only occupation? Tonight there will be a lavish banquet at Kadamboor. After the feasting there would be several entertainments: music, pantomimes, miracle plays, gypsy dancers and mystic oracles. I wish to see the gypsy dance and hear the oracle.”
“Even then, how can I take you along?”
“Say that I am your servant.”
Vandiya Devan felt that his earlier doubts were confirmed. “Find someone else for such deception and fraud. I do not need a servant like you. Anyway no one will believe it; from what you say, I doubt if they would even let me into the fort tonight.”
“Aha! That means you are not going to Kadamboor upon invitation!”
“Well, I have an invitation of sorts. Kandamaran, the son of Lord Sambuvaraya, is my close friend. He has invited me several times to come and stay at his palace if I come to these parts.”
“Is that all! Then even your situation is kind of doubtful tonight!”
Both kept walking onwards, silently, for a while. “Why are you still following me?” asked Vandiya Devan.
“I was about to ask you the same question. why are you following me? Why don’t you go your own way?”
“Well it is because of not knowing which way to go. Where are you going? Perhaps to Kadamboor?”
“No. You said you cannot take me there. I am going to the Vinnagara temple.”
“To the presence of the deity Veera-narayana-perumal?”
“I too would like to go to that temple and worship that perumal.”
“I thought that you would perhaps not come to a Vishnu temple. It is a temple that should be seen; a deity worthy to behold. The priest Eshwara Munigal offers services at the temple. He is a venerable man.”
“I too have heard this. But, it is very crowded. Is there some special celebration at the temple today?”
“Yes, today is the day of the Saint Andal. It is also the Aadi Festival of Padhinettam Perukku. All these festivities are because of this. Thambi, have you heard any of the invocative poems of Andal?”
“I have not heard any.”
“Don’t. Don’t ever listen to her poems!”
“Why this hatred?”
“It is not hatred. Nor is it enmity. It is for your benefit that I say it. If you ever happen to hear any of the melodious psalms of Andal, you will drop your swords and spears; like me, you too will fall in love with Kannan and start upon a pilgrimage to all the Vishnu temples.”
“Do you know any of these psalms of Andal? Can you sing them?”
“I know some. I also know some of the poems of Nammazlvar who translated the Vedas (scriptures) into Tamil. I am going to sing some of them at the shrine. If you wish, you can listen. Here comes the temple.” By now they had reached the Vinnagara temple.
Paranthaka Chozla I, a grandson of Vijayala Chozla, had won the title Conqueror of Madurai and Lanka. He was the monarch who established the foundations of the Chozla Empire. He achieved historical fame because he covered the roof of the temple at Chidambaram with gold. Besides titles like Jewel among Chozlas, Greatest of Warriors, he also had the honored name of Veera Narayana.
During Paranthaka’s times, the Rashtrakutas in the north were powerful monarchs. He expected them to come from Manyaketa (roughly present day Maharashtra) and invade the territories of the Tamils. Therefore he stationed a huge army, led by his eldest son Prince Raja-aditya, in the Thirumunaipadi Territories north of the Cauvery.
Prince Raja-aditya had a brilliant idea while his large numbers of soldiers waited in idleness, with nothing to do. Using them he wished to fulfil a major undertaking for the benefit of the population. Enormous quantities of flood waters flowing in the Kollidam river were going wastefully into the sea. Wishing to make use of these waters, he made his soldiers build a huge, spreading reservoir. In honor of his distinguished father he named it the Veera Narayana Lake. He then established the town of Veera-narayana-puram on its shores and also built a Vinnagara temple.
The Sanskrit term Vishnu Griha meaning Abode of Vishnu, became Vinnagara in Tamil. Does not Sri Narayana, i.e., Vishnu recline upon the primeval waters in sublime meditation? Therefore, it was customary in those days to build Vinnagaras on lake shores so that the deity would protect the reservoir. Therefore, the Prince
constructed a temple for Veera-Narayana at Veera-narayana-puram.
It was to this temple that Vandiya Devan went in Azlvar-adiyan’s company. At the sanctum sanctorium Azlvar-adiyan began singing. He sang a few devotional poems by Andal. He then sang a few verses of Nammazlvar:
Praise, praise,praise the Lord,
Gone is the curse of this wretched life;
There is nothing left here for Lord Yama,
Who created the hells of despair and death;
These creatures of the ocean-colored Lord,
Reckoned on this earth, the sorrows of these times;
See, they have come to worship him,
Serve him with dance and song;
We saw, we saw, we saw,
We saw things pleasing to the eye;
Come, Come all ye worshippers!
Come adore him, come here to salvation;
Follow the path of these souls dear to Lord Madhava,
Live on this earth with dance and song of his glory.
When Azlvar-adiyan sang these songs, tears overflowed from his eyes and streamed down his cheeks. Vandiya Devan listened attentively. Though tears did not stream from his eyes, he was very moved. His biased opinions about Azlvar-adiyan were somewhat transformed. This fellow is very devout, he thought.
Several others listened to the songs with interest. The temple trustees came to listen. The priest Eshwara Munigal heard them with tear laden eyes. The priest’s son, a mere child, stood nearby and listened with rapt attention. Azlvar-adiyan sang ten such poems and then stopped with these words:
These be merely parts
Of Thennan Gurukoor Maran Sadagopan’s Devotional compositions
numbering one-thousand and twenty which would melt any devout heart.
The priest’s son whispered something into his fathers ears. Wiping his tear-laden eyes the priest came forward to ask, “Sir, it is said that Gurukoor Sadagopa known as Nammazlvar has sung more than thousand such poems. Do you know them all?”
“I do not have that fortune. I know just a few of his ten-liners,” replied Azlvar-adiyan Nambi.
“I entreat you to teach this child all the songs you know,” requested the priest.
In later years this town was to attain several honors. The boy with the childish face shining with devotion would grow up to be known as Nadamuni Adigal the foremost of Vaishnava teachers. He would go to Gurukoor, the blessed
town from where Nammazlvar hailed; search and collect all thousand poems; set them to music; sing them and along with his disciples popularize those songs all over the country. Alavandar who would be born as the grandson of Nadamuni Adigal would perform several miracles.
Even the great Saint Sri Ramanuja himself would come to visit this hallowed place of their birth. When he comes he will be amazed by the Veera Narayana Lake and its seventy-four irrigation-gates. He would wish to establish seventy-four monastic seats to spread the holy word of Lord Narayana’s grace and benevolence to all the populace in the same fashion that the reservoir distributed its bountiful waters through seventy-four irrigation canals for the welfare of the people. Later seventy four such monastic-teaching-seats or pitams would be established.
Let us leave it to scholars to describe all these magnificent happenings of Vaishnava history and return to our hero Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan.
When they came outside the temple after their worship, Vandiya Devan said “Sir, Mr. Nambi! I did not realize that you were such a devout and learned person. If I had annoyed you with my impudence please forgive me.”
“I forgive you Thambi. Say, will you now do me a favor?”
“Did I not say that I cannot help you on your request? Did you also not agree?”
“This is something else. I will give you a small note. If you stay at Kadamboor Fort, you must find an appropriate time to give it to someone.”
“To the lady who was in the closed palanquin behind Lord Pazluvoor’s elephant.”
“Mr. Nambi! Whom do you take me to be? Am I the fellow for such activities? If anyone but you had uttered such words to me …”
“Thambi! Don’t be agitated. If it is not possible you can let it be. Go your way. However, if you help me in this matter, my help might be useful to you at some later time. There is no harm done. You can go.”
After this Vandiya Devan did not tarry any longer. He jumped on his horse and sent it galloping towards Kadamboor.