From : http://sriramanujar.tripod.com/
Let us not worry or bother and attach importance to the time period of nammAzhwAr as it has different time periods; some theories claim 3100 B.C (5000 years ago) and others claim 8th century A.D. However, the pAsurams composed by nammAzhwAr contain the depths and visions of philosophy equal to vEdAs, (or even more). These pAsurams along with those of other azhwArs were only compiled by nAthamuni and later propagated by embermAnAr (Sri Ramanujar) and hence, is even considered as the foster mother of ThiruvAimozhi (nammAzhwAr's 1102 pAsurams).
nammAzhwAr's parents, kAri (a veLLALa agriculturist) of Thirukkurugoor and udhayanangai, the childless couple, after praying to the Lord AdhinAthA, (who himself had announced through the archakA that his amsam will be born to them soon) were blessed with a male child with a divya tEjas in the year pramadhi, vaikasi tamil month and visAkam nakshatram on a friday (an incarnation of Vishvaksena, the Chief administrator of Mahavishnu). The parents' happiness was shortlived only as the baby did not even cry, move or open its eyes or mouth. Since the baby was different from others it was named "mARan" (later called karimaran).
It may be noted that this Divine baby AzhwAr did not eat/move; but did grow like other healthy kids (similar to baby ThirumazhisaiAzhwAr). The grief stricken parents, due to this unusual uncommon child went to Lord AdhiNatha, put the "immobile" baby in an emerald cradle under a tamarind tree besides the temple. This puLiyamaram(tamarind tree) also is supposed to be "AdhisEshan" (the Serpent of Mahavishnu) which grew here before the azhwAr's birth. This tree has flowers, which yield unripened "puLiyngAi" and not a ripened one (puLiyampazham). This tree, unlike other tamarind tree does not fold its leaves in the nights; and it is still called "uRangap puLiyamaram (the tree which does not sleep), like Lakshmana. (Even today one can witness this phenomenon ay AzhwArthirunagari).The parents observed penance by putting the kid in the cradle at the temple daily. One day when they relaxed by closing their eyes and fell into a short nap, the "little azhwAr" crawled towards the tree bottom and sat down cross-legged and closed its eyes. From then on, the divine child grew in the same state of meditation for 16 years. Needless to say, all sorts of people in that region from all walks of life; and from all religions came to see this marvel. The boy was a 16 year old divya tejas, Golden hued divine form. People affectionately named him nammAzhwAr(our azhwAr), sadagopan, parangusar, etc. (Sisters and Brothers, It is very clear and certain that it is nothing but His grace and order to bless us with this marvellous AzhwAr who has composed pAsurams whose depths of meanings will vary with the readers' capabilities and GnAna / Bhakti to the AzhwAr- A GREAT AZHWAR, REALLY)
The Elephant comes after; while the bell sound can be heard before. Like that the Graceful Lord had sent a brahmin saint by name "Madhurakavi" before this azhwAr's birth. This madhurakavi of Thirukkolur was on his pilgrimage tour (by walk, of course) to North India and was fascinated by the Beauty of ayOdhyA. He chose to stay there. Suddenly one night madhurakavi saw a very bright star (a new one which was not there before; nor was it seen by others even when madhurakavi saw it) in the southern direction. He was pulled by the magnetism of this light (in the nights) and started his journey back to south following the course and guided only by THIS SOUTHERN STAR. He found himseld at Lord AhinAthA temple and the star's brightness in nammAzhwAr's tEjas. He was simply excited and deeply attracted by the Divine figure and Golden hue of AzhwAr's face. Since he was a sanskrit and Tamil scholar and a great philosopher, too he wanted to test the azhwAr, without knowing that the azhwAr does not talk or open his eyes.
He just threw a small stone tnto a nearby pond and for that splash sound, our azhwAr opened his lotus eyes. Madhurakavi asked in tamil "Seththathin vayiRRil siRiyadhu piRandhAl yetthai thinRu engE kidakkum?" (meaning: If the small one is born in a dead's body(or stomach), what will it eat and where will it stay?)
nammAzhwAr, the one who has not opened his mouth since his birth (not even for food) opened his lips and answered "aththaith thinRu angE kidakkum" (meaning: It will eat that and stay there).
The small one refers to the individual soul and the dead one refers to the gross matter, the body. When the soul enters the body, the body comes into life; and when it leaves, it becomes a corpse. The soul experiences the pleasures and pains through the body and its senses and reaps only what it has sown quite unaware and unconscious of its true nature of its being part of the Almighty, as His body. So the soul will eat that and stay there; When the soul realises it true nature and does prapatti to Him Sriman Narayanan (realising the body/mind and intellect as not attached to its nature), it will eat His thoughts. verses and pAsurams as his "annam" and will stay there( at His abode as His servant rendering service to Him).
Madhurakavi was greatly impressed at AzhwAr's depth of answer and his philosophy. He prostrated at the feet of AzhwAr and with tears in his eyes said " O, Souther Sun! Please take me as your disciple: Please make me cross the ocean of Births and Deaths. Please protect me". Seeing him at his feet, nammAzhwAr said " Stay with me and write my pAsurams on Sriya:patih". From then on nammAzhwAr sang with utmost Bhakti, pAsurams on Sriman Narayanan and The Lord along with MahAlakshmi on His Garuda appeared before nammAzhwAr and blessed him. Not only that, my dear brothers. It is also told that all perumAls from various thiruthalams (Divya Desams) appeared one by one before him and got their quota of pAsurams. Such is the Greatness of "our AzhwAr". nammAzhwAr stayed under that tamarind tree for 35 years. His pasurams are compared to essence of Rig, Yajur, Sama & Adharvana vedas. After living for 35 years he wished to reach His abode (and so did the Lord, too). Madhrakavi's eyes welled with tears and immensely pleased and excited when he saw his AchAryA became one with the Lord and united with Him. Simulataneously, he was also blessed with a swarna vigraha (Golden statute) of nammazhwAr which he consecrated at the Tamarind tree. He performed daliy ArAdhanA to his AzhwAr and even ignored the Lord Sriman Narayana since then.
This NammAzhwAr was always a favourite for Sri Ramanuja , Sri Vedantha Desika and all seers of Visishtadvaita, due to its essence of our great Vaishnava philosophy and the doctrine of Saranagathi.
NammAzhwAr composed the following:
Thiruviruttam (100 verses as the essence of Rg vEdA)
ThiruvAsiriyam (7 verses as the essence of Yajur vEdA)
Periya ThiruvandhAdhi (87 verses as the essence of AtharvaNa vEdA)
ThiruvAimozhi (1002 verses as the essence of SAma vEdA)
The sentiments expressed in every single pAsuram of nammAzhwAr reflect Bhakti ecstasy of NammAzhwAr and will take us to such an interest and Bhakti for Sriya:pathih Sriman Narayana. It is impossible to select the best verse as all are equally excellent.(We will discuss his pAsurams in another series)
parasara bhattar's thanian on nammAzhwAr:
vAn thigazhum sOlai madhil arangar vAn pugazh mEl /
Aanra thamizh maraigal Ayiraum- EenRa /
mudhal thAi sadagOpan moymbAl vaLarttha /
Edhat thAi ErAmAnujan /
" ThiruvAimozhi' 1000 verses are the Vedas which declare the auspicious qualities of Sri Ranganatha. The natural mother is sadagopan(nammAzhwAr) and the foster mother is Sri Ramanuja, since he based his enire kalakshEpams on ThiruvAimozhi.
mikka iRainilaiyum meyyAm uyir nilaiyum/
thakka neRiyum thadaiYAgi -thokkiyalum/
Oozh vinaiyum vAzhvinaiyum Odhum kurugaiyOr kOn/
yAzhin isai vEdaththiyal.
"The ThiruvAimozhi" (tamil Vedam) composed by kurugaiyor kon-nammAzhwAr, contains the five realities namely.,
the nature of the Eternal ParamAtma
the nature of the Eternal jeevAtma
the means for the jeevAtma to attain the goal of ParamAtma
the blocks and hurdles on the way and
the goal of life i.e mokshA.
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