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tondar-adi-podi azhwAr

From: sudarshan (
Date: Sat Aug 01 1998 - 12:02:41 PDT

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

It was very interesting to skim through the recent debate amongst several
members on Saint Tondar-adi-podi's phrase in Verse #8 of the "tirumAlai":

               ..... poruppariyanagil pEcchil pOvadE noyadAki....
              and : ..... thalaiyai AngE aruppadE karumam kandAy .... etc.

The above lines have been interpreted by some members in such a way as to
suggest that the AzhwAr incites a sort of vicious intolerance of other
faiths like the Buddhist, the Jains and the Materialists. 

It is highly unlikely Tondar-adi-podi could have meant anything vaguely or
remotely suggestive of religious "fundamentalism" of the kind that is the
bane of our present times. 

For a moment let's stop approaching the "4000" as if it were holy scipture
where every turn or twist of phrase, word, punctuation or syntax must be
invested (we anxiously believe) with some special meaning or significance
of dogma or doctrine.

Instead we would do better to approach "tirumAlai" as if it were sheer
poetry.... sublime expressions of the human spirit revelling itself in a
rare state of spiritual excitement.

If the "tirumAlai" is regarded as poetry then we must treat it as such. We
must stop parsing it word by word, phrase by phrase as if it were the
inviolable scripture of a violent mullah. We must stop subjecting stanzas
to a sort of merciless and clinical investigation belonging more in the
surgical ward than within the heart of a spiritual aspirant. It is simply
not possible to understand the AzhwAr's message by stripping it naked of
its overall context, of its larger message of truth and beauty. 

The "tirumAlai" must indeed be regarded as poetry and deserves to be
treated tenderly. Rather than look within it for confirmation of some
doctrine or dogma (which the faithful will certainly find in it) the
layman-reader must instead look into it for its inner voice, the truth of
what is unsaid in it, of what lies beneath and between its lines. Context
becomes more important than mere content of some phrases and expressions
used by the Saint.

The verses that precede and succeed Stanza#8 give us a clue to the context
in which the Saint talked of "cutting off the heads of those who do not see
the Truth of Tiruvarangam".

Please read Stanza #7:

              " pulaiyaram Aki ninra puttodu samanam ellAm,
                 kalaiyarak katra mAndar kAnbaro? kEtparo dAm?
                 talaiyarup pundam sAkEn satiyam, kAnmIn iyyA !

Please then read also Stanza # 9,

                " marrumOr deivam undE? madhiyilA mAniddangAl!
                  uttrapOdinri nIngal oruvan enra unnara mAttIr
                  arramEl onru ariyIr, avanallAl deivam illai,
                  katrinam mEyyta endai kazhalinai panimIn neerE !

Stanza #8, about which a great debate has been raging on the list for the
past few weeks, cannot really be understood without reading it in
conjunction with the verse that precedes and succeeds it. As a stand-alone
verse Stanza#8 by itself can give rise in the minds of the reader to
various "anartham" (perverse interpretations) a few of which we even
witnessed on the list these few weeks.

In Stanza #7 the Saint exclaims: "Hark! Why would the wise ones who art
well-versed in the truths of the VedAs look to the pseudo-faiths
(pulai-aram)? Why would I do it? I would first cleave MY HEAD OFF and die
before I did anything like that!"

Look at Stanza #9 now. Here the AzhwAr says,"Oh Ye misled ones! Pity Thee!
Thine reasoning is lost! Do you believe there is any other one greater than
Narayana? No! None at all! You cannot know this because you do not
recognize Him as the Supreme One! He is beyond your understanding and hence
you make no effort to pursue Him! Alas! But I DO PRAY FOR YOU NOW so may
you resort to Him, embrace His sacred Feet, for He that was Krishna, shall
surely tend to Thee with the same kindness and love that He showered on the
grazing herd (of Brindavanam)!".

Now, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", do you really believe that Stanzas#7, #8 and
#9, when viewed in the above context, sound really like the virulent "sound
and fury" of a fulminating mullah?

Hardly !

In Stanza #7 the AzhwAr actually says that he is willing to cut HIS OWN
HEAD OFF first before straying from the path of wisdom. Tell me, how many
"fundamentalists" of the present times express a willingness to cut off
their own heads first before setting out forth to change the world?

In Stanza #8 the AzhwAr actually renders a heart-rending prayer for the
poor ones of the earth who lack the spiritual wherewithal to realize the
truth of Lord Narayana; he invokes the compassion of Krishna the cowherd
("Anirai" = "kanru inam") to tend to the upliftment of the ignorant ones of
the world! Tell me, how many "fundamentalists" as we know them today are
known to actually say a prayer for the spiritual well-being of those whom
they seek to convert?

No, the language of Tondar-adi-podi is not the language of religious
intolerance, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s"! It is the language of a true saint
whose heart flowed out to the wretched of this world! It is the language of
pity. It is the language of one who sees clearly and who rues the condition
of those amongst him that choose, out of ignorance or spiritual cussedness,
to remain blind.

The language employed in the "tirumAlai" is the language of human
brotherhood common to all faiths and creed.

The 'taniyan' to the "tirumAlai" itself speaks volumes indeed for the utter
saintliness of the AzhwAr and the purity of his purpose :

        "matronrum vEndA manamE ! madil arangar katrinam mEyyatha
kazhalinaikkIzh !
         utra tirumAlai pAdum seerth todar adi pOdi emperumAnai
         eppozhuthum pEsu !"

Hearken, My Mind! Cease thy frivolous fretting! Cease whatever you are
doing! Praise ought thee constantly the Saint Tondar-adi-podi who has
strung together this hymnal garland called "tirumAlai" to adorn the same
Lord who tended with care and love the unknowing herds bounding around Him!
The Lord who is verily the One that rests in the holy town of Srirangam
hedged in by lofty ramparts!".

The "tirumAlai" is an idyll of love, compassion and brotherhood.

It is not a polemic of competitive religion.