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Srirangam Araiyar Nathamuni.

From: Tirumanjanam Sundara Rajan (
Date: Wed Feb 07 2001 - 14:39:55 PST

***Srirangam Araiyar Nathamuni.***

Araiyar Nathamuni svami passed away on Saturday, January 27, 2001, in
his tiru-mALikai (residence) in East Uttara Street, Srirangam.  He was
69 and the distinguished leader of what may be termed as the
'convocation of Araiyars'. To-day (Thursday, Feb 8) will be observed as
the 'Subha-sveekAram' marked by the receiving of 'alankAram' honours
from the periya-sannidhi, followed by the 'sEvA-kAlam' of
'aruLi-c-cheyal' recital.

No one had asked me to write this 'in memoriam', but 
I wish to share my understanding of what the Araiyar stood for.

Araiyar Nathamuni svAmi, truly succeeding his father Araiyar
SaThakOpAchArya svAmi, was an instinctive upholder of the majesty of the
Araiyar tradition.  The sacred 'araiyar-sEvai' service in the Srirangam
Great Temple has excited uninformed curiosity of an increasingly larger
section of seekers of spiritual-packages, and the tradition has been
rather blandly lauded as an 'art' or, worse, 'performing art'.   To term
something as 'art' relieves one of the effort of knowing about the
object or tradition so identified, and anyone bandying the word 'art'
feels no obligation whatsoever to declare what he understands by 'art'.

The temple service of  'araiyar sevai' has been presumed to be some kind
of medieval and limited pageantry, which is what it was not. The 'sevai'
certainly drew upon some elements of nATyam, but only for that much of
("vENDuvana kETTiyEl", as ANDAL counselled) body language as helped
vivify the profound poetry and mysticism of  'aruLi-c-cheyal'
hymns ('divya-prabandham') of the Blessed AzhvAr saints.   [One would
certainly invite frustration in looking for the titillations of costume,
tap-dancing and gymnastics dominating to-day's "bharata-nATyam" shows
choreographed to pedestrian compositions 'zung' by gifted voices.]

The 'sevai' service is mostly psalmody, with occasional soft
gesticulations to highlight the lyrical-mystical import of a verse, and
more frequent 'viNNappam' (=submission) of the contextual
'tampirAn-paDi vyAkhyAnam' which has been handed down the generations of
the 'araiyar' family.    There are those who would not for all the world
miss listening to the 'koNDATTam' (= ecstatic apostrophising of
namperumAL) by the 'araiyar' at the commencement of the day's
service-in-assembly or at the eager moment when  the Lord sets out from
the AsthAnam (= sanctum sanctorum) on 'puRappADu' .

These are just 'notes' on this ancient and sacred service which truly
constitutes a communication with the Lord in His audience, and NOT a
quasi-religious entertainment.   This in the manner that the Jew maestro
Mendelssohn assiduously learnt and rendered as prayer, and not as music
recital, the great Bach composition, "Passion of Christ".   It was on
the recent pakal-pattu (Dec 27 2000 - Jan 5 2001) day that I observed a
lady veteran-devotee of the service openly sobbing as she recounted to
another how poignantly had Araiyar Nathamuni rendered the
strident lines of "paNDai nAn-maRaiyum vELviyum" opening the
'periya-tiru-mozhi' decad (5:7) devoted to periya-perumAL.

Nathamuni svami had, almost single-handedly, prevailed against repeated
(vulgar) attempts to connect the 'araiyar-sevai' to the ubiquitous
loud-speaker, and to telecast it.   No mean achievement this,
considering how joyfully most of the Tamil population loves the unabated
and insane noise pollution that saturates the atmosphere.

I would especially like to docket the report I had from a friend, that
it was again Nathamuni svami who stood the ground arguing against a
proposal to commission a mini-golden chariot ('tanga-ratham') as a sort
of fund-raising quickie-taxi service for namperumAL !

He was no forbidding 'grey eminence', and was full of anecdotes,
explanations for the episodes marking the Great Temple calendar, and
suggestions for understanding apparent riddles about the Temple. (It was
he who once delineated to me the plausible route taken by ANDAL's party,
from their arrival by barge at what is now the big Rajagopuram in
Srirangam South, and  towards the site of their camp, marked by ANDAL
sannidhi in to-day's mElai aDaiya-vaLaindAn (the 'all-enclosing')

Araiyar Nathamuni svami had put up with  chest illness for nearly three
years.   He had made his 'araiyar-viNNappam' (submissions) in the last
tiru-adhyayana-utsavam (Dec 27 2000 - Jan 16 2001) with his customary
reverence and dignity.  This was followed just a week later by the
adhyayana-utsavam of Sriranga-nAcchiyAr.   It was on the evening of the
fifth (and concluding) day (Jan 26), and  I noticed that only his
brothers, Araiyar Ramanujam svami and Araiyar Varadan svami, were in the
'sevai'.   I visited Nathamuni svami's home and his wife informed me
that his other brother, Araiyar Sampat, had taken him to the physician
as he experienced discomfort.   Next morning, Araiyar Nathamuni passed
away, reportedly without visible struggle.

Ever since one remembered, one had looked at or looked for Araiyar in
every 'puRappADu' excursion of namperumAL.   He had rendered his
services in the last 'adhyayana' festival, and exited rightaway
thereafter, almost by special leave of Sriranga-nAcchiyAr.   Nunc
dimittis, is what the Christians say for this private, ultimate moment
with the Maker.   An era has truly ended,  as identified with Araiyar
Nathamuni.   His own three brothers and their sons, and the collateral
Araiyar family would continue with his service.

"Sri-ranga-nAthO jayatu, 
Sriranga-Sree-Scha vardhatAm!"

aDiyen rAmAnuja-dAsan,
tirumanjanam Sundara Rajan.

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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