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Re: Tirumazhisai Alvar

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Tue Jan 07 1997 - 11:19:21 PST

Sri Murali Rangaswamy wrote:
> A common misconception of this incident is that since the Azhwar belonged 
> to the fourth caste, he was not privy to the Vedas. Therefore, the Brahmins
> stopped their recitation upon his arrival. However, Sri Anbil Ramaswamy 
> provided a brilliant explanation for this incident in light of the 
> Azhwar being an Amsham of the Sudarshana Chakram.

There was some disagreement about this famous episode
in Tirumazhisai Alvar's life earlier as well. In all the
accounts that I had read, the brahmins had stopped 
chanting because they saw a sudra in their midst.

To settle the confusion, I did some research in an attempt 
to find the original story, as best as can be reconstructed.
Luckily, I have in my personal library Garuda Vahana Pandita's
``Divya Suri Charita,'' one of the oldest and best respected 
hagiographies of the Alvars and early Acharyas.  

The DSC mentions this episode in the following verse:

	tam Apatantam prativIdhi yoginam
	   vicintya SUdram kRtaSUrpavikrayam
	vihAya vedAdhyayanakriyAdaram 
	   dvijAtibAlA dadhati sma maunitAm    (3.50)

Roughly translated, the sloka says that the brahmins
at Kumbakonam, thinking there was a sudra in their
midst (the yogi Tirumazhisai Alvar), stopped their
Veda adhyayanam and fell silent.  And if I am reading
the verse correctly, it also says that the brahmins
were ``atibAlA:'', very childish in behavior.

On the authority of this work, it is demonstrably clear
that the brahmins discriminated against Tirumazhisai Alvar
purely because they saw him as a sudra.  There is no mention
in the Divya Suri Charita about being startled by a dazzling 
brilliance, the Alvar's sudarsana amsatva notwithstanding. 
It is unlikely that this particular set of brahmins would
ever see past the mere body and external appearance of the
Alvar anyhow.

There appears to be reluctance on the part of some of us
to accept the fact that some brahmins in the past have
committed grave bhAgavata apacArams and have generally
been unadmirable people.  There is no need to deny the
obvious facts of history by explaining or rationalizing
them away.

At any rate, this story serves to illustrate that spiritual
greatness is in no way determined by jAti.  We, the 
Sri Vaishnavas community, no matter how many stories and how much
proof our own tradition has offered, fail to practice
and perceive this truth to this day.