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Re: Thirumangai Alwar and Thirujnanasambhanda Nayanar

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Thu Oct 09 1997 - 13:05:13 PDT

> I have a particular question regarding the meeting between Thirumangai
> Alwar and Thirujnanasambhanda Nayanar at Seergazhi. I have read that the
> Alvar defeated jnanasambhandar in debate and received the title
> 'Nalukavi perumal' from him.

This meeting, while mentioned in some traditional biographies,
is recognized by most authorities as being anachronistic.  
The great Saiva saint tiru-jnAna-sambandhar postdates tirumangai
AzhvAr by at least a century.

Nonetheless, the story is an interesting one.  Tirumangai had
already been reputed as "nAlu kavi perumAL" (master of four-fold
poetry) before he had a chance meeting with Sambandhar at 
Sirkazhi, where the latter was then at residence.  The AzhvAr
proposed a debate with the Sambandhar, but soon discovered
that there was no temple to PerumaaL in that area.  This being
the case, he refused to enter the disputation in such a place.

By chance, a Vaishnava woman passed by, and Tirumangai asked
to borrow an image of Vishnu.  She gladly lent him her Lord
taaDalan (Krishna?).  Recharged, he then began his debate
with Sambandhar.  The latter composed a poem which Tirumangai
criticized.  Sambandhar asked Tirumangai to compose one in
return, and the story goes that Tirumangai then composed the 
10 verses in praise of kAzhic cI rAmar (Sri Rama at Sirkazhi). [*]

[*] It may strike the reader as strange that the story
declares that Tirumangai composed a poem to Rama at Sirkazhi 
when it was just stated that no Vishnu temple existed in 
that area.  It is, however, very much in the style of the
AzhvArs to not stick to singing of a particular manifestation 
of Vishnu at any particular shrine.  For example, in tirukkaNNa-
puram, reputed to be a temple to Krishna, kulasekhara AzhvAr
praises the god there predominantly as Rama.  Similarly,
it would not be out of character for Tirumangai to praise his 
idol of Krishna also as Rama.

The story continues that Sambandhar was delighted at hearing 
this, confessed that he was beaten, and declared that the AzhvAr
fully deserved the title of nAlu kavi perumaaL.  As a tribute,
he presented Tirumangai with his spear (vEl), which is why
Tirumangai is invariably depicted with this weapon in Vaishnava
temples.

Not a story to be taken very seriously, but still charming in
its own way.

Mani