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From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Thu Feb 09 1995 - 01:08:05 PST
This the second of several excerpts from a paper by Dr. Friedhelm Hardy, entitled "The Tamil Veda of a Sudra Saint: The Srivaisnava Interpretation of Nammalvar". Dr. Hardy has done extensive work on the poetry and milieu of the Alvars and later Srivaisnava tradition. To facilitate easy reading, I will post excerpts of only 50-100 lines each. EACH OF THE POSTINGS SHOULD BE RELATIVELY SELF-CONTAINED. If you miss any of the postings, please ask me and I'll mail you a copy. The paper can be found in _Contributions_to_South_Asian_Studies_, v. 1., Gopal Krishna, editor, Oxford University Press, 1979. ---- PAPER CONTINUES HERE ---- [...] Nammalvar referred to himself as "naaTaN" and "vaLa-naaTaN".... Various inscriptions, dating from the 11th to 13th century AD, document the activites of the periya- or vaLa- naaTu, provincial agricultural assemblies. One such organization mentions in an inscription at the Trivikrama PerumaaL temple in TirukkOvalUr (one of the 108 divya-deSams of the Srivaisnavas) that they had a Bhoomi vigraha consecrated and were making a special endowment for it. Clearly concerned not only with secular but also with religious matters, this assembly introduces itself as: We, the members of the citramEzhi periya-naaTu, who are the children of the glorious earth-goddess and have been born into all four varNas, have studied and understood the fine Tamil and Sanskrit... Thus affairs like those of a temple are dealt with by an institution which consists of twice-born and sudras and which prides itself on the fact that its members are conversant with both the cultures of the North and the South. By including sudras it transcends the division of "sabha" and "oor" on the village level. The smaller organization called "naaTu" has been described as `comprising various ethnic groupings whose social and cultural interactions constituted a microregion'. It is precisely this social and cultural interaction of all four varnas in religious matters which is denoted by the symbol whose evolution will be traced below. [...] [Note: The rest of the paper refers frequently to the Tiruvaymozhi, Nammalvar's greatest composition --- over 1000 verses of intense bhakti and philosophy.] Of the songs themselves, three are of particular interest here: Tiruvaymozhi 4.10; 3.7; and 7.9. The first of these songs is dedicated to the temple in Tirukkurugoor; apart from mentioning the two names by which Visnu in that temple is referred to in later works, viz., `aadippiraaN' (primordial lord) and `polintu niNRa piraaN' (the lord who abounds in splendour), it concerns itself with proclaiming Visnu's superiority over other gods. [...] Tiruvaymozhi 3.7 sings the praise of the true devotees of Visnu. The poet sets up a new scale of values which supersedes the (Sanskritic) varNa system. In verse 9 he says: Our masters are those who serve the servants of the enlightened ones who [have realized with clarity] that they are the slaves of Visnu, although they may be [like] CaNDaalas [even in the eyes] of CaNDaalas, not possessing any respectability (nalam) whatsoever and being below any of the four jaatis which are the basis for a noble lineage (kulam). Of particular interest in this verse is the metaphorical master --- servant/slave symbolism of bhakti which replaces the varNa system. Tiruvaymozhi 7.9 shows how the Alvar understood his own activity as a poet: What can I say about him ... who speaks inside me, himself singing his own praise with my words, which arranging for the sweet stanzas to be spoken by me in his words...? The Most High makes me sing sweet verses about himself, having taken me over [as his instrument] because of my lack of talent to compose by myself fine poems, after seeing his beauty... Thus the Alvar feels `inspired' and impelled to compose his poems by the experience of Visnu's beauty, and in fact regards himself merely as an instrument for Visnu's own activity of revealing himself to all men. ----------- FOOTNOTES & ADDENDA ---------------- 1. CaTakOpaN: This is the name he himself used; among Srivaisnavas he is much more frequently referred to by the honorific title `Nammalvar', viz., `our saintly lord'. 2. ASPECTS OF NAMMALVAR'S HAGIOGRAPHY The life-story of CaTakOpaN (1) which evolved in Srivaisnava circles derives its essential themes from his works, ... a few old 'taniyan' and 'muktaka' verses, and perhaps some locally evolved traditions. But it appears to me that the legends are not derived from any oral traditions of strictly historical value. What we are dealing with is almost from the beginning of the hagiographic developments a `vaibhavam', a legendary account of the marvels and miracles in the life of a supernatural being. The locality of Nammalvar is evident from the srutiphalas [verses which conclude individual songs]: the temple town Kurugoor on the pank of the Porunal (Skt. taamraparNI) --- today Alvartirunagari in the Tirunelveli District. ... The poet refers to himself as CaTakOpaN (this appears later sanskritized as SaThakopa, SaThaari, SaThaarati, SaThavairI, etc.), CaTakOpaN MaaRaN, MaaRaN CaTakOpaN, MaaRaN, and finally as Kaari MaaraN CaTakOpaN. He describes himself as Vazhuti nATaN and VaLuti vaLa nATaN, nakaraaN, kON, and also as turaivan. The interpretation of these names and titles is difficult and complex, but certain points seem clear. `MaaRaN' and `CaTakOpaN' are personal names of the author (note that one is Tamil and the other Sanskrit), which `Kaari' ought to be his father's name. The titles suggest that he was a `chieftain' (turaivan) or `leader' (kON), an `official' (nakarAN), and a dignitary in organizations in and around Kurugoor. Once he mentions that `his chest is adorned by a garland of makizh flowers', which gave rise to the Sankrit name `BakulaabharaNa'.