Skanda Shashti: Lives And Legacies Of Six Great Devotees Of Murugan

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Nov 2, 2019 06:50 PM +05:30 IST
Skanda Shashti: Lives And Legacies Of Six Great Devotees Of MuruganKartikeya on Gopuram in the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai (Wikimedia Commons) 
  • Chengalvaraya Pillai; Pamban Gurudasa Swamigal; Vallimalai Tiruppugazh Satchidananda Swami; Muruga Kirupananda Vaariyar; Sri Kumaragurupara Swami; Arunagirinathar: how these six great devotees of Kartikeya served dharma and people through devotion to their beloved deity.

Chengalvaraya Pillai — He Who Rescued Thiruppukazh

The ailing old man, a nonagenarian, struggled and got out of bed. The visitor protested. There was no need to get up. But the old man would not listen. Not only did he get up from the bed but he held the hands of the visitor and brought them to his own eyes, like one does with sacred objects, in respect.

The visitor was taken aback.

A venerable old man whom everyone respected doing this?

He objected, saying, “Sir, what are you doing?”

“No”, explained the old man. “These are the hands which searched for Thiruppukazh, the divine hymns written by Arunagirinathar. The hands that researched, proof-read and published them. Blessed am I to hold them to my eyes”.

Va Su Chengalvaraya Pillai could not hold himself back any longer. He prostrated at the feet of U Vesa — the grand old man of Tamil and said, “But for these feet that traversed the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu, we would have lost all our Sangam literature”.

Chengalvaraya Pillai
Chengalvaraya Pillai

It was the father of Chengalvaraya Pillai, Va Tha Subramania Pillai, a court clerk in Madras province, who had traversed the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu searching for the palm manuscripts of Thiruppukazh — songs composed by the musical and mystical genius, Arunagirinathar.

The palm manuscripts of Arunagirinathar’s Tamil songs, unique for their metrical rhythm, mathematical precision and mystical quality, were fast disappearing, with manuscripts in various places being left to destruction for want of attention.

The father-son duo, Va Tha Subramania Pillai and Chengalvaraya Pillai, were not born in affluent families, but they were possessed by the zeal to serve Dharma.

Working in a clerical job for a salary of Rs 25, obtaining regular increments and transfers, Pillai junior used his spare time for his Thiruppukazh research.

After retirement, he immersed himself in the discovery of manuscripts, proof reading and authenticating them and publishing them.

His Thirupukkazh publication became the standard version because of the immense research that went into the publication.

As a single individual, what he did in those days of limited mobility and constrained communication is something that would require an entire department of a university today.

Every bhakta of Murugan and every rasika of Thiruppukazh songs should thank ‘Thanigai Mani’ Chengalvaraya Pillai and his father Va Tha Subramania Pillai for their toil and devotion to Dharma.

Pamban Gurudasa Swamigal — A Living Embodiment Of Muruga Bhakti

The 79-year-old man was brought to the hospital with a broken leg after being hit by a horse carriage.

The doctors had clearly stated that the fractured leg could never be normal again. But the old man would not give up. He was a great Tamil poet and more, a great devotee of Murugan.

He had created Shanmuga Kavasam — a genre of devotional and mystic literature that invoked the deity to protect each and every part of the body from every possible danger.

The old seer started reciting the hymn he himself had composed. And soon, to everyone's surprise, he started walking. So says tradition.

To this day, the photo of the seer adorns the ward he was admitted to.

Pamban Gurudasa Swamigal (1848-2929) was born as Appavu in Rameswaram.

He was a child prodigy and composed deeply devotional as well as mystical poems in both Tamil and Sanskrit, spontaneously.

At a place called Pirampan Valasai near Rameswaram, he had a spiritual experience of Murugan.

Pamban Kumaragurudasa Swamigal (1848-1929)
Pamban Kumaragurudasa Swamigal (1848-1929)

He sang 6,666 songs on Murugan, and walked to all important punya teerthas, spreading Muruga bhakti.

Considered adept in Saiva Siddhanta, he was well versed in Upanishadic lore too.

During his time, a hatred for Sanskrit, mooted by colonial-Evangelist forces, was spreading amongst a section of Tamils.

The swami was extremely saddened by some Saivaites mouthing venom against Sanskrit. He was categorical in explaining to fellow Tamils the integral nature of Sanskrit and Tamil, and the highest principles of Saiva Siddhanta.

Vallimalai Tiruppugazh Satchidananda Swami — He Who Spread Thiruppukazh

The boy was a rogue and if anything he hated more than his classes, it was his mathematics teacher.

He was known in his circle of friends for composing uncouth rhymes against his teacher. But the boy, Arthanari, also showed an extraordinary ability to heal.

Born in a small village in Coimbatore district, the ruffian ended up as a cook in Mysore.

Soon after a few personal tragedies and a chronic stomach ache, he ended up in Palani — one of the six sacred abodes of Murugan where even he experienced miraculous healing, after which he stayed there and worshipped Murugan.

One day, he happened to hear a temple dancer singing Thiruppukazh and was drawn towards it. But he was illiterate.

He had to learn the alphabets and after great toiling, became deeply immersed in it.

Sri Vallimalai Tiruppugazh Satchidananda Swami (1870-1950)
Sri Vallimalai Tiruppugazh Satchidananda Swami (1870-1950)

He obtained sannyasa from another great mahatma, Kosakkadai Swamiyar, and took to spreading the word of Thiruppukazh.

He was guided in this effort by Sheshadri Swamigal. At Haridwar mela, the swami hoisted the Thiruppukazh flag.

Then he settled forever in a small, cave-like structure at a place called Vallimalai. He propagated Thiruppukazh in such a manner that almost every street resonated with Thiruppukazh songs.

The swami did not care for social restrictions and went everywhere spreading the fame of Murugan. Thiruppukazh sabhas were started in Scheduled Community areas as well as other places. Without explicitly stating so, he brought about social harmony.

What great academics and huge religious institutions could have seldom achieved, the swami with a loin cloth living in a cave did.

Muruga Kirupananda Vaariyar — The Great Story Teller

As the racist and pseudo-rational Dravidian movement seemed to engulf Tamil Nadu, there rose a voice that showed the Tamil masses the greatness and grandeur of Sanatana Dharma, that is the very soul of the Tamil language.

Thiru Muruga Kirupananda Vaariyar was fearless while at the same time a veritable ocean of knowledge.

He would lecture for hours without a single note, profusely quoting ancient Tamil classics as well as Sanskrit sources. The greatness of the swami was that his lectures would appeal to both the child and the scholar.

Skanda Shashti: Lives And Legacies Of Six Great Devotees Of Murugan
Thirumuruga Kirupananda Vaariar Swami (1906-1993)

Known for high-quality humour, in-depth knowledge of Tamil literature and a great devotion that could only be compared with the ancient seers of Tamil Nadu, Vaariyar became the benchmark for spiritual discourses in Tamil Nadu.

With the money he collected through his discourses, he carried out renovation of temples. He also launched a movement to stop the sacrificing of animals in temples.

Today, we may debate the political correctness of such a movement, but the movement that Vaariyar launched aimed not at legal curtailment but sought a change of heart among devotees.

He based his campaign on the principle of ‘compassion for all life’ (jeeva karunya) — a principle emphasised by Vallalar.

He was also critical of the pseudo-rationalism of the Dravidian movement. The gentle seer, who would not even harm a fly, was attacked and his puja utensils spoiled by the storm-troopers of the Dravidian movement.

He was also concerned about Hindu unity and functioned as the honorary editor of the official magazine of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), ‘Hindu Mithran’.

With the Tamil diaspora increasing in countries across the world, he travelled all over, giving discourses, thus keeping alive the spiritual umbilical chord of Dharma.

His death happened in-flight, supposedly when it was over one of the six sacred abodes of Murugan.

Sri Kumaragurupara Swami — The Emperor of Yogis

The child could not speak and the parents were frustrated. After a long time, the only son born to them was unable to express himself, as a result of which they decided to take him to Thiruchendur, the famous Murugan temple.

There, they undertook penance, at the end of which the child not only started talking but also obtained the ability to compose hymns of the highest mystical quality.

This child came to be known as Sri Kumaragurupara Swami who lived between 1625-1688 CE.

Traditional accounts of his life are filled with miracles. He revived a genre of literature called Pillai Tamizh where the poet transforms himself into a parent and beholds the divine as an infant passing through various stages of growth.

Tradition says that when he sang of Meenakshi, the goddess of Madurai, she appeared in the form of a child.

During the tumultuous times of Mughal imperialism, the swami walked all the way to Varanasi to spread Vedic Saivism. He met Dara Shikoh, then the governor of Varanasi province. For this, the legend goes, he learned Hindustani within a night by invoking Saraswati.

The 10 hymns he sang for this purpose form the Sahalakalavalli Malai, a very popular Tamil stotra on Saraswati.

It is said that he went to the royal court seated on a lion, to show that he being the emperor of hermits, should be treated with the respect due to an emperor and not as someone asking for charity.

He established a monastery in Kashi which was supported by Shikoh and lived there till he attained samadhi.

Arunagirinathar — From Playboy To Parrot

He was a playboy who could not survive a day without the company of women. But soon, he would be afflicted with diseases and poverty.

With guilt and shame, he decided to end his miserable life by jumping from the tower of Arunachala temple.

At this time, Murugan appeared before him. He not only saved him but also bestowed on him the ability to pour out songs that combined metric melody and deep spiritual truths of Shiva Advaita — the non-dual state based on the principle of Shivam.

Murugan himself asked Arunagirinathar to start composing songs, giving him the first lines himself.

Ultimately, he was made to get into the body of a parrot, according to traditional retellings of his life.

Arunagirinathar initiated into singing hymns by Murugan (‘Kalki’ cover, 1975)
Arunagirinathar initiated into singing hymns by Murugan (‘Kalki’ cover, 1975)

Though today, we have been able to secure only a minor portion of what he had sung, that itself forms an ocean and needs lifetimes to study and experience.

Arunagirinathar had travelled to at least 200 temples of Murugan and Shiva throughout India and composed the songs.

He also emphasised, beautifully, the integral nature of Shiva and Vishnu. He was a poetic and musical genius established in the Sayuja state of non-dual oneness with Murugan.

Such have been the missionaries of Murugan in the true sense of the term ‘mission’. They were not backed by huge empires. Mostly, they were loin-clothed mendicants. They were individuals who walked on their feet.

But they were all fired by the love for Murugan, which is the love for Dharma. It is through such dedicated lives that this nation lives, its culture constantly vitalised and Tamil, thereby, made the language divine.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.