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prabandham and commentaries

From: Badrinarayanan Seshadri (
Date: Wed May 31 1995 - 16:57:00 PDT

Till very recently, I was of the opinion that one hardly
needed any commentaries to interpret aazhvaarkaL and their
prabandham. I was of the opinion that just a little bit
of thamizh knowledge is sufficient to understand pretty
much the entire prabandham.

I was completely mistaken.

I had rarely looked at a full length commentary except
once when I read through the commentary of prathivaadhi
bayankaram annangaraachchaariyar on siRiya thirumadal and
periya thirumadal.

I also knew that periyavaachchaan piLLai had written
extensive commentaries on prabandham (I am not sure
whether he had commented on every bit of prabandham), but
I hardly knew the quality of his commentaries. I had read
a few passages of piLLai's commentary on some other books
but that really did not convey the magnitude of the beauty
and the splendour in piLLai's commentary.

And then I happened to come across piLLai's commentary on
thirumaalai a month or so back (triggered by the
discussions on vaNdinam muralum sOlai). From then on, I
have been totally captivated by his commentary.

It is very difficult to explain piLLai's skills in writing
commentaries, his understanding of aazhvaarkaL and his
knowledge of the srutis and smurutis. One has to read and
experience this oneself. He is simply awesome. My entire
outlook of thirumaalai has totally changed now and this is
all due to periyavaachchaan piLLai's commentary. What we
see on the outset in aazhvaar paasuram is only a tiny
fraction of the actual content.

piLLai's commentaries are in manipravaaLam. It is thus
very difficult to directly understand what he says unless
one has a good understanding of both thamizh and
sanskrit. Or, one has to rely on "translations" of his
commentaries in spoken thamizh (and even here it is useful
to know a little bit of sanskrit terminology).

Every single word in thirumaalai is pregnent with meaning.
Every word has a purpose and I could see the right
interpretaions for passages that I had earlier completely
misunderstood or thought as inconsequential. For the first
time I saw the interconnection between the various
paasurams in thirumaalai -- as to why the first paasuram
was placed first and why the order in which they appear is
important. piLLai quotes extensively, from various sruti
works, puraanaas, ithihaasas as well as other prabandhams,
and anecdotes from the lives of nancheeyar, battar etc.
I would even go so far as to say that piLLai knows more
about prabandham than the aazhvaarkaL themselves:-)

If you get a chance, read piLLai's commentaries, DO NOT
MISS THEM. It is one of the greatest pleasures one can
ever experience. If I find time, I will try to post some
gems from thirumaalai with piLLai's commentary.

My only regret is that there doesn't appear to be a good
sri vaishnava commentary of paripaadal (those portions
that sing about vishnu). The only old commentary available
on paripaadal is by parimElazhakar (a vaishnavite) but
that is extremely cryptic. I am trying to obtain as much
information on paripaadal as possible. It seems like
paripaadal had influenced a lot of aazhvaar's works. I am
not sure if the great scholars like periyavaachchaan
piLLai were aware of paripaadal. This is truly our loss!


Graduate Student
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Cornell University