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The Tradition of Araiyar Sevai

From: Venkat Iyengar S. (
Date: Sun Dec 16 2001 - 11:11:49 PST

                            SrImatyaI GodayaI Nama:

Recently there have been some queries about Araiyar sevai and with the
adyayana utsavam commencing today i thought of sharing some information on
Araiyar Sevai to supplement the information on this list/archives.
Knowledgable members are requested to add/correct anything to this as they
think  appropraite/necessary.


The term Araiyar Sevai denotes "service of the Araiyars".Sometime around
9th century AD  Swami Nathamunigal  retrieved  the Nalaiyira
divya prabhandam which had been lost at that time and classified  the
divya prabhandam into Iyarpa which was meant to be chanted and Isaippa which 
was suitable for singing.
     With his nephews Keelai Ahatthu Aazhwan and Melai Ahatthu Aazhwan
Swami Nathamunigal set the pasurams of Isaippa to tune(pan) and trained
his nephews to sing and worship the prabhandams in front of the Lord at
SriRangam.So they were the first Araiyars who
performed in front of the lord at SriRangam. Since then this tradition has
been handed down through the  succesive generations of the descendents of Swami 
Nathamunigal and  i believe our generation is VERY FORTUNATE to be able to
witness the Araiyar Sevai in its pristine form even after more than a thousand
years at places like SriRangam and Srivilliputtur.I would recommend all
Bhagavathas who have not witnessed the Araiyar Sevai to atleast plan and
try to witness it once in their life time at either SriRangam or Srivilliputtur.


The Araiyar Swamigal performs the service only in front of the Utsava
Murthy,usually within the temple.
The Araiyar sevai commences with the AruLa paTTu(Issuance of the gracious 
commandment by the Lord to the Araiyar) through the BhaTTar when the
officiating bhaTTar calls out:      Thiruvaranga PerumaaL Araiyar

Araiyar Swamigal Comes forward saying:    aaindhen Aaaindhen

Araiyar Swamigal while comming forward puts on the 'kulam' or the 'Araiyar
Kullai'(on the head) which is cylindrical and slightly tapered towards the 
top,and has a red outer color with the shangu ,chakram and thiruman.This
'kulam' is very special as it has been handed over the succesive
generations.The BhaTTar swamigal will then tie a parivattam(Piece of garment 
used by the lord) on the "Kulam" and then put on a large Special
garland(Perumal Malai) on the Araiyar Swamigal. Araiyar Swamigal will then
take a suitable position a few yards in front of the lord and start the
sevai using a pair of  cymbals called 'kulittalam' for maintaining rhythm.The
first few notes from the cymbals and  Araiyar Swamigal will be in a
special private communion with the Divya Dampathis during the service.

Araiyar Sevai consists of the following

These are short phrases extolling the Vaibhavam of Perumal and Thayar
(Nachiyar).The phrases for thayar ends with the word ...Nachiaar and for
perumal the phrases end with the word ...Perumaal.A few phrases for both
Thayar and Perumal are recited.Usually after this a Mangalam is also recited.
This set of phrases end with ...Mangalam and during finishing the last one
will end with ...Mangalaaamee.During this the Araiyar Swamigal maintains
the rhythm with his cymbals.It is a divine experience to listen to the
Kondattam rendered in a unique rhythm and melody,and after listening once
one would like to hear again and again.This service to the Divya Dampathis
is rendered on many occasions during various festivals and not just during
Adyayana Utsavam.Also Araiyar Swamigal on certain occasions may sing some 
songs in praise of the lord in simple language with thalam.These songs are
known as pallupattu.


This service is done during the Thiruadyayana utsavam.Depending on the
particular day the Araiyar Swamigal will take up a select set of 
pasurams sing them along with the rhythm using the cymbals and perform
abhinayam to convey the import of the pasurams with Hand gestures,steps
using their legs and body/facial gestures.These gestures are not elaborate
as seen in the Natyam traditions but subdued and used sparingly.Also
the Araiyar swamigal may walk a few steps in front or back or
sideways.The explanation of the pasurams is done with the TampirAn-paDi
commentary.A certain pattern is followed in the choice of pasurams at
Srirangam,Srivilliputtur and Azhwar Thirunagari corresponding to the local
history and tradition of the temple.To illustrate this  i shall
mention a part of the pattern at Srivilliputtur during Nammazhwar 
Moksham day.
 On this day (rather night),the Araiyar Swamigal after completing 
Muthukkuri will be say a few feet in front of the processional diety at
the chintamani chettiar mandapam on the outer prakaram of the Andal temple.He
will sing one pasuram with Thalam perform abhinayam and take a few steps
backwards and stop.The KainkaryapArars with the pallaku move few steps forward 
(Since the Araiyar Swamigal is facing Perumal and thayar he will move
back and perumal and thayar will move forward) and stop.Now Araiyar Swamigal 
will sing another pasuram and perform abhinayam .This goes on for a few
times with one pasuram recited and abhinayam done on each occasion.This
way both Araiyar Swamigal and perumal will proceed to the
sannidhi.The pasurams that i could identify were from Nachiyar Thirumozhi
one was Sindura cempodi...(Thirumaalirumsolai pasuram),another was 
Menn Nadai annam pirandhu Vilaydum..(Pasuram on Srivilliputtur) and some
other pasurms were from the pathu on Ranganatha Perumal (Nachiyar
Thirumozhi).Later on there would be thodakkam of Thiruvaimozhi last PathU
which starts with the famous pasuram on Thirumogoor Emperumaan 
	ThaaLa Thaamarai Thadamani Vayal Thirumogoor...

In the Mandapam Perumal and Thayar are in the centre ,Araiyar Swamigal
facing perumal and Thayar also in the centre towards the entrance ,the 
adhyapaka ghosti and other bhagavathas sit on the sides
During this Service the son may join the father sometimes as Araiyar 
Swamigal sings the Pasurams.The Araiyar Swamigal also Explains the
pasurams with the TampirAn-paDi commentary.for some pasurams there
may be no commentary for some a brief commentary and a lomg one for
some of them(Eg the commentary on Muniye .. lasts for more than an hour)

This is something about how the tradition is at Srivilliputtur
on the day of Nammazhwar Moksham

3)Dramatization of Certain episodes
The Dramatization of certain episodes with appropriate abhinayams
is done on selected days at Srirangam ,Srivilliputtur and Azhwar
Thirunagari during the adyayana utsavam.The slaying of kamsa,the Vamana
Avatharam,the churning of the milky ocean and the birth of Sri Andal are 
enacted on special days.The slaying of kamsa is done on the 4rth day
of pahal pathu and Vamana Avatharam on the 7th day of pahal pathu at
SriRangam.On the 10th day of Pahal pathu Amrutha mandanam (churning of the
milky ocean)is done at Srirangam and Srivilliputtur(It is probably
Nachiaar Thirukkolam at Thiruvallikkeni on this day).At Srivilliputtur
Abhinayam on the birth and life of SrI Andal is also done.

In this sevai the prediction of future /good fortune is made by the
Kattuvici(soothsayer) to the love-lorn lady (Nayaki),with the help of pearls.
Here Araiyar swamigal sings certain pasurams and perfoms abhinayam
simultaneously taking the role of Nayaki,her mother and the soothsayer
(Kattuvici).This is performed on the ninth day of pahal pathu at
SriRangam, the 10th day at Azhwar Thirunagari
and on 3 occassions at Srivilliputtur-during Margazhi Masam,Thai Masam and
Adi Masam-on the day after the Temple car reaches its Nilay after

Apart from SriRangam,Srivilliputtur and Azhwar Thirunagari ,Araiyar
Sevai is also done at Melkote(karnataka).Here the Araiyar Swamigal sings
the pasurams but does not perform Abhinayam.At Thirukkurungudi a very
famous Divya desam with a rich tradition of Araiyar Sevai,i was told 
the Araiyar swamigal is very old and thus cannot perform  Service.There is 
also evidence that Araiyar Sevai existed at Kanchipuram and Thirumalai in
the past.There are famous anectodes related to Kanchipuram and Thirukkungudi
which can be found in the Archives.

Araiyar Swamigal has the foremost role in the commencement/conduct of the
rituals during various utsavams at Srivilliputtur and SriRangam,and  may
the Lord SrI Rangarajan,SrI Rangamannar and Thayar SrI Ranga Nachiyaar and
SrI Goda Nachiyaar be pleased to grace the Araiyar families who are
continuously engaged in singing  Nithya Mangalam to the Divya Dampathis
with Kula abhivriddhi and therby continued and uninterrupted service for all
times to come. 

adiyen Ramanuja dasan
Venkat S Iyengar

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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