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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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 Arunagirinathar -Kandar Alankaram - Sirkali Govindarajan
Arunagirinathar: A Biography - Swami Anvānanda, 1975

 Works of Arunagirinathar

திருப்புகழ்  பாகம்-1, பாடல்கள் (1 - 330) unicode - pdf
திருப்புகழ் பாகம்-2, பாடல்கள் (331-670) unicode - pdf
திருப்புகழ் பாகம்-3, பாடல்கள் (671- 1000) unicode - pdf
திருப்புகழ்  பாகம்-4, பாடல்கள் ( 1001- 1326 ) unicode - pdf
கந்தர் அனுபூதி, கந்தர் அலங்காரம், வேல் - மயில் - சேவல் விருத்தம் unicode - pdf
Arunagirinathar's Thiruppugazh
Arunagirinathar - Sri A.S. Raghavan, 1998
Thiruppugazh a Musical Way of Worship, V. S. Krishnan, 2003

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Arunagirinathar: அருணகிரிநாதர்
Adiguru of Karnatic Music

Sachi Sri Kantha
Fifth International Tamil Conference Seminar,  
Madurai, Tamil Nadu,
5 January 1981

"...Arunagiri  felt that the Vijayanagara Empire, which had become the focus of resurgent Hindu culture, and which had offered a more successful resistance to Islam in the Deccan part of India, was crumbling. He sensed that, this was mainly due to the depreciation of moral values, both among the monarchs and the commoners. To conserve Hindu society and save it from the dissolution which threatened it from several directions, Arunagiri seems to have directed a "one-man resurgence campaign", by means of titillating musical hymns and centered it around the temples..."


Introduction

This study is mainly initiated to turn the attention of Karnatic musicologists, who have yet to recognise Arunagirinathar's greatness in this sphere; and to assign him, his due place in the South Indian musical history. We are indebted to V.S.Chengalvarayapillai and Kirupanantha Vaari for having thrown much light on Arunagiri's life history, and on the works of Arunagiri respectively.

Life History and Contemporaries of Arunagiri

Little is known about Arunagiri's personal life, and that little also mostly traditional and conflicting. One tradition says that, he had an infamous birth and in his youth days, led a riotous life of sex and sin. Due to a simple penetrating remark of his sister, one day, Arunagiri realised his shameful lie and forthwith ascended the high tower of Tiruvannamalai Temple, and threw himself down with the intention of killing himself. Miraculously, Lord Muruga saved him and showed him the divine path. Thereafter he became a great poet. Nilakanta Sastri notes,

"His life became the subject of many legends, but the references in the songs show that, for a time he led the life of a libertine which he afterwards regretted."

The same authority has assigned his period, as that belonging to Vijayanagara king, Deva Raya II; i.e, the first part of the 15th century. We know very little of Arunagiri's early training in music, and of the way in which his musical genius was kindled. Even in the absence of any reliable documentary data, it is not difficult to say with certainty that he was without a formal guru or teacher.

The following may be listed as contemporaries of Arunagiri.

1. Prauddha Deva Raya II (1422-1442): the emperor of Vijayanagar.

2. Villiputtur Alvar: a poet of good merit.

3. Tallapakkam Chinnayya of Tirupati: who is regarded as the originator of the modern bhajana form of worship.

4. Kallinatha (c.1420): author of Kalanidhi, a commentary of the Sangitha Ratnakara.

5. Maharana Kumbha (1433-1468): author of Sangitha Raja.

6. Kabir Das (1440-1518).

Details of his works:

The works of Arunagiri are of a numerous and varied character. These are,

1.Thiruppugazh: The divine praise of Lord Muruga . Though it is believed that he composed 16,000 hymns, presently we are left with only 1,367. Except for 6 hymns which are attributed to Lord Ganesa, all are delivered in praise of Lord Muruga.

2. Kanthar Antati: 102 stanzas on Skanda in Kattalaikkalitturai metre. 100 stanzas begin with one of the following letters: ci, cee, ce, cey, ti, tee, te and tey.

3. Kanthar Alankaram: 'The ornaments of Skanda' of 102 stanzas in Kattalaikkalitturai. These are said to be the 'Tiruvasagam' for Muruga.

4. Kanthar Anuputhi: 'The perception of Skanda' of 51 stanzas.

5. Thiruvakkuppu: 25 hymns had been deciphered. According to Arumuga Navalar, only the first 18 seem to be Arunagiri's compositions.

The chief and celebrated of his works is the Tiruppukal. The distinguishing features of these Tiruppugal hymns are as follows: (a) Most of them show a revelling in the erotic element first, and then a religious reaction against it. (b) Words are heavily packed with Sanskrit terms, and marshalled with rhymes and regular alliterations. (c) Hymns are set in different metres, and Arunagiri seems to have exhausted all its variations. Because of its rhythm when these hymns are set to music, the rhetorical blending achieved remains incomparable.

Social History of his period

To study the idea of Arunagiri's intention of social reform through music, it is better, if we glance through the social history of the period in which he lived. To quote Nilakanta Sastri,

"The king and his court led an extravagant and luxurious life in striking contrast to the modest living standard of the rest of the population. The pomp and ceremony of the court became more and more dazzling on the course of centuries, and may be said to have reached its culmination under the Rayas of Vijayanagar. The palace always had a large establishment attached to it; in theory there were 72 departments (niyogas) in a palace as in a temple. On the establishment there were large numbers of women, specially chosen for their youth and beauty. Some were imported from abroad while others were captured in war and enslaved. Many, needless to say were courtesans, skilled in the art of music and dancing, while others were the concubines of princes, nobles and courtiers."

With regard to the pastime of the court and the commoners, Nilakanta Sastri notes,

"There were arenas inside the royal palace in Vijayanagar where, for the amusement of the monarch and his court, fights between animals, and wrestling matches took place, the latter sometimes among women. Gambling, racing, cock and ram fights were the pastimes of common people besides the festivals and fairs of which there was no lack."

The role played by the temples, at that time, in modelling the life of commoners, is also worth mentioning. According to the same authority, 

"The temple was not merely a place of worship; it filled a large place in the cultural and economic life of the people...The daily routine, especially of the larger temples, gave constant employment to number of priests, choristers, musicians, dancing girls, florists, cooks and many other classes of servants. The periodical festivals were occasions marked by fairs, contests of learning, wrestling matches and every other form of popular entertainment. Schools and hospitals were often located in the temple precincts, and it also served often as the town hall where people assembled to consider local affairs to hear the exposition of sacred literature."

In this respect, foreign travellers like Nicolo die Conti and Abdur Razack had presented to us the photographic account of the socio-economic conditions that were prevailing at that time. These form the most authentic sources of information, as these travellers were actually entertained in the Vijayanagara Court. Nicolo die Conti, an Italian traveller visited the Vijayanagara Court in about AD 1420. Abdur Razack, a Persian, had been the guest of Deva Raya II, around AD 1442-1443.

Venkata Ramanappa observes,

"The reign of Deva Raya II, better known as Praudha Deva Raya, who is regarded as one of the greatest monarchs of Karnataka, witnesses a remarkable military activity. The empire was extended in all directions. The people enjoyed peace and plenty. There was religious harmony as the king followed a policy of tolerance. He was so much liberal that he employed the Muslims in the services of the state. It is believed that he kept Quaran beside him always."

It is interesting to note here that though the above statements on the contemporary social situation of first half of the 15th century in the Tamil Nadu have been expressed by different writers in different times, one can well notice the unanimity in their views to the effect that the social depreciation of values prevalent in the period under review, resulted from the many-sided pompous activities of the monarch as well as the common people, influenced by the then affluent situation.

It is also noticeable, that the impact of iconoclastic, expansionist Islam hardening the Hindu mind, into a fight for survival, were already prevailing in the contemporary scene around Arunagiri. He felt that the Vijayanagara Empire, which had become the focus of resurgent Hindu culture, which had offered a more successful resistance to Islam in the Deccan part of India was crumbling. He sensed that, this was mainly due to the depreciation of moral values, both among the monarchs and the commoners. To conserve Hindu society and save it from the dissolution which threatened it from several directions, Arunagiri seems to have directed a "one-man resurgence campaign", by means of titillating musical hymns and centered it around the temples.

Content, Character and Significance of his Musical Compositions

The content and character of Arunagiri's compositions can be listed as follows;

(1) the verses elaborate the dark problems of the society and offer wholesome solutions, by way of self-discipline, based on a very high standard of ethics.

(2) the verses extol the merits of Muruga bhakti and shows the need for it.

(3) the importance of worldly-life is stressed.

In this connection, it is not inappropriate here to quote the views of Venkataraman, which in a brief manner deals with the content and character of Arunagiri's works:

"For sublimity of thought and depth of mystic feelings, Arunagiri's hymns have few rivals in the entire range of devotional literature. His songs transport the devotee from the adoration of Sakala Murukan to the contemplation of Niskala Paramananda Veli (the formless expanse of infinite bliss), which is the svarupa-laksana or inherent attribute of Skanda."

Though the worship of Murugan is very old in South India, and Sangam poets like Nakkirar had composed Tirumurugarruppadai, it was left to Arunagiri to spread the Muruga bhakti across the corners of Tamil Nadu; and he moved through the length and breadth of the country, singing praises of Muruga. By means of soul-stirring, melodious musical verses set in diverse talas, he was able to attract the attention of the people from lower strata of the society, which remained unlettered. Six principal shrines of Muruga in the Tamil Nadu, Tiruchendur, Tiruparankunram, Tiruvavinankudi (Palani), Tiruveragam (identified with Swamimalai), and Palamuthirsolai (identified with Alagarkovil) figure prominently in Arunagiri's hymns. Having been a resident in Palani for a long time, he had attributed 96 hymns to this sacred place.

Couched in catchy rhythm, enlivened by homely wit and glowing with the truths of spiritual realisation, the compositions of Arunagiri formed a triple heritage of literature, music and philosophy. They served to create among the masses, a spiritual awakening and religious enthusiasm. In this connection, the opinions of Subramaniam and Thirunavukkarasu also supports the contention of mine. These two writers had said,

"Though the poems pronounce the mystic experience of the saint, they are based on the well established literary traditions of the land. His poems are known for its melody and mellifluousness which has a direct appeal to the hearts of the people. They have become very popular as hymns or sacred songs because of their rhythm and melody. In this poems the traits of melody reached a high water mark of excellence in Tamil literature. From his works we are able to deduce that literature can be a fine piece of musical composition." 

It is no doubt that rhythmical music is of wider appeal than non-rhythmical music. Rhythm gives a form and stability to music; it also lends colour and attraction to it. It should be remembered that the tala forms the backbone of the Natya Sastra also. When the modern means of communication and the mechanical means for the dissemination of information were then lacking, and when large number of masses were living a life of hypocrisy, Arunagiri chose the talas as his main aid to spread the cult of Muruga-bhakti, through music. Zvelebil's remark that, "Arunagiri's singing the praise of the Lord Skanda, his Tiruppukal, is the first step towards kirttanai." is pertinent at this junction. 

Hence, the two features which go to make Arunagiri's greatness may be listed as follows:

(1) He sang from soul, unfettered and free. His mind was so completely attuned to God that it refused to respond to the attractions of worldly pomp and the beauty of womanly body.

(2) Among Karnatic music composers, there is none to compare with Arunagiri, for the wealth of laya virtuosity. In the familiar talas, he has composed a number of hymns, bringing out several aspects of the tala. In addition, many unfamiliar talas, are known to us through his Tiruppukal hymns, and live only through them.

Position as Adiguru

According to Sambamoorthy's classification of Karnatic music composers, Arunagiri is,

(a) an Uttama Vaggeyakara (a creator of new musical forms).

(b) a prolific composer, who has more than a thousand compositions to his credit.

(c) a versatile composer, who has composed different types of musical compositions.

(d) a major composer, who enriched the musical arena by handling common and rare talas, which no other composer had dared to approach.

(e) a composer, who appeals to both the classes and masses equally.

Traditionally, the title of 'Adiguru' or 'Sangitha Pitamaha' refers to the Karnataka composer, Purandara Dasar. His contributions in the field of Karnatic music, to be revered as Adiguru are as follows:

(1) He succeeded in presenting the quintessence of the Upanishads and the puranas in his songs, known as Devar namas or Dasara padagulu. These songs contain lofty ideas, sublime thoughts, valuable proverbs and beautiful similes.

(2) He composed Svaravali, Alankaras, Pillari Gitas, Prabandhas and Suladis, anc collectively groups them as 'Abyasa Gaana compositions'. Hence he had been referred to as the Adiguru of Karnataka Sangitha Pita Maha (the father of Karnatic Music).

(3) The art form, kriti, originated with Purandara Dasar.

(4) Suladi Sapta talas came to have their significance from the time of Purandara Dasar, although they were already known.

'Ishta Deiva' of the two composers

Whereas Arunagiri worshipped Muruga, and had compositions in praise of Him, Purandara Dasar's 'Ishta Deiva' turned to be Krishna. This reflects the change in political patronage to the different sects of Hinduism. The early rulers of Vijayanagara, upto Deva Raya II (1422-1443) and even his sons Vijaya II and Mallikarjuna were followers of Saivaism.

A Vaishnava work, Prapannamritam gives a legendary account of the conversion of Virupaksha II (1465-1495) to Vaishnavism. For example, Krishna Deva Raya (1530-1542) worshipped Vishnu, Siva and the God of Tirupati. Achutha Raya was a great patron of Vaishnavism and he encouraged the propagation of Vaishnavism in the Tamil country. Hence, it can be inferred that Arunagiri spread his musical message at the period, when the rulers patronised Saivaism. After a lapse of nearly 100 years, Purandara Dasar entered the musical arena, when the descendants of Arunagiri's patron had switched on their loyalty to Vaishnavism. This succinctly explains why the two composers had to have two different 'Ishta Deivas'. 

Though not discrediting the virtuosity of Purandara Dasar, it is proposed that Arunagirinathar qualifies competently for the title of Adiguru of Karnatic Music, than Purandara Dasar, on two counts.

(1) Historically, Arunagirinathar preceded Purandara Dasar by nearly 100 years. 

(2) There is a well known aphorism which is always being quoted with regard to the Indian music to the effort that, 'if shruti is the mother of Indian music, the laya is the father [Shruti mata; laya pita]. By virtue of his experimentation with the enormous amount of tala forms, which forms the backbone of Karnatic music and Natya Sastra, Arunagiri had elevated himself beyond comparison, with any other composers, in the past or even at present.

Conclusion

From the above considerations, it is concluded without reservation, that if ancient South Indian music is indebted to the Devaram and Tiruvasagam of the saints of Pallava period, modern South Indian (Karnatic) music owes its evolution to the saint-musician Arunagirinathar of the Vijayanagara period. Hence, Arunagiri seems to be a better recipient of the title, Adiguru of Karnatic music.


Acknowledgment

I would like to thank Dr.S.Gunasingam, University of Peradeniya, for reading the manuscript and for making constructive criticism.

References

  • Krishnaswami, A. The Tamil Country under Vijayanagar, Annamalai University, Annamalai Nagar,1964.
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. A History of South India, Oxford University Press, London, 1958, 2nd ed.
  • Puranalingam Pillai, M.S. Tamil Literature, The Bibliotheca, Munnipallam, Tinnevely district, 1929, pp.280-282.
  • Saletore, B.A. Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire (AD 1346-1646), vol.2, Paul & Co, Madras, 1934, pp.165-172.
  • Sambamoorthy, P. A Dictionary of South Indian Music and Musicians, vol.1, Indian Music Publishing House, Madras, 1952, p.29.
  • Sambamoorthy, P. Great Composers, book 1, 2nd ed, Indian Music Publishing House, Madras, 1962, pp.3-9, 33-35.
  • Sewell, R. A Forgotten Empire-Vijaya Nagar,National Book Trust, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India, 1962 (First Indian edition), pp.63-93.
  • Somasundaram Pillai, J.M. Two Thousand Years of Tamil Literature: an anthology, South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, Madras, 1959, pp.348-355.
  • Subramaniam, S.V. and Thirunavukkarasu, K.D. Thamil Ilakkiya Kolhai-2. Ulagat Thamil Araichchi Niruvanam, Madras, 1977.
  • Venkataraman, K.R. Skanda Cult in South India. [In] The Cultural Heritage of India, vol.4, Haridas Bhattacharya, editor, Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta, 1956, p.313.
  • Venkata Ramanappa, M.N. Outlines of South Indian History, with special reference to Karnataka, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi, 1975, 2nd rev.ed., pp.163-166.
  • Zvelebil, K.V. History of Indian Literature, vol.10: Tamil Literature, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1974, p.110.
     

Arunagirinathar: A Biography - Swami Anvānanda, 1975

If a correct assessment of Arunagirinatha's personality in his early years is made from his own compositions and from contemporary literature of other writers, the following facts emerge:

Arunagirinatha was a traditional type of devout Hindu. Lord Muruga was the family God whom his ancestors have been worshipping. In his Tiruppugazh, he prays: “Oh, Kanda! The glorious God of the hills! Pray bestow Thine blessings accepting the ardent worship of this humble son to You, my ancestral deity."[1]

His learning, especially of religious and spiritual literature must have been acquired in his early years and it was both vast and deep. In the Tamil language, he excelled in expression and learning. In his compositions, he exhibits familiarity with the Tamil Works such as: Tevaram, Tirukkural, Kaarigai, Ula, Easal, Kalambakam, Kovai, Sindu, Madal and Maalai. He had also cultivated the art of writing eulogies of rich men to obtain presents of money from them.[2] His compositions abound in the use of Sanskrit words and they also show that he was familiar with the Itihasas, Puranas, the Gita, the Upanishads, Agamas, Mantra and Tantra Sastras, Yoga Sutras and Kama Sutra.

His archanaon Lord Muruga in two songs are mostly in Sanskrit.[3] One is therefore entitled to assume that his mastery of Sanskrit language was equal to that of Tamil and that he was quite capable of composing original work in Sanskrit. Unless he was born in a family whose traditions were such that every young male member from his early years received the highest cultural and religious education, prevailing in those days, it would not have been possible for Arunagirinathar to have acquired the vast learning that he has exhibited.

That he was leading a debaucherous life in his early years is admitted by him in his prayer to Lord Muruga, thus: “Will I ever get to know how to attain Your holy feet before becoming too old wasting my youth, as I am, by indulgence in sinful sexual pleasures?”[4] Here one must utter a word of warning that all references to a life of lust in many of his poems should not be taken literally -- that is to say, as confessions of his own guilt.[5]

But his life of debauchery could not have lasted very long. Perhaps, it proved to be a costly indulgence and he was soon reduced to a life of penury and became very dejected. In one of his songs, he says:[6]

"…To me, who seeks the company of prostitutes all the time, spending on them whatever little money I earn by bestowing lavish praises on men who lack wisdom, who never pray to Your holy feet, who are dunces, who indulge in devilish activities and who have no sense of gratitude; pray Muruga, grant me Moksha (from all this)".

In another song, he speaks with poignant emotion about his despicable state, thus: [7]

"…Ridiculed and jeered at by my wife, by the people of the town, by the women of the place, my father and my relations being disgusted in their minds by my conduct, everyone scolding me or indulging in loose talks about me and being treated as a despicable person by the very people whom I have loved, my mind became confused and full of gloom. I thought within myself, ‘Is it for this that I strove to obtain this human body which is a treasure, indeed?’…"
Arunagiri worships Lord Murugan who had just rescued him from certain death by suicide. Painting from Tiru Avinankudi Tirukkovil, Palani.

The first sign of God's grace and compassion came to Aruna­girinatha after a Mahatma sought him and spoke to him in a sweet voice with love and affection. The Mahatma advised him "to meditate on the six-faced God Shanmukha".[8] But Arunagirinatha did not heed the advice for some time and people began to deride him for ignoring the advice of the Mahatma. A change soon came over him. He began to worry very much over his pitiable state. He thought of the advice of the Mahatma and attempted to spend some hours in meditation facing the image of Lord Muruga installed in the Gopuram. But his will, weakened by his immoral life, lacked the strength to persist in that attempt. The crisis in his life started mounting up. He decided to surrender, at the feet of Lord Muruga, the body that had failed to serve Him in any way, He decided upon suicide. At this moment, Lord Muruga appeared standing on a dancing peacock, halted him in the act and took possession of him.[9]

"Oh Gurunatha! You came along on the peacock holding the Vel that broke to pieces the Krauncha Mountain in Your hand and took possession of me in that the people of the world may admire Your grace."

"When I was about to shed life from my body, out of compassion for me and to elevate me to a better and praise-worthy status, You came upon the scene, dancing, accompanied by Your celestial devotees and showered grace on me.”

One must assume that after this surrender to Lord Muruga that was accepted by Him, the lure of lust should have left Arunagirinatha. For, if surrender to the Lord does not relieve one instantaneously of all dross, then surrender will have no meaning. One may safely assert that after Arunagirinatha was taken possession of by the Lord, all prayers in his songs there­after seeking to be relieved from the attraction of lust are for the benefit of others and not for himself.

Here, one must pause for a moment. Was Arunagirinatha’s decision to end his life born of mere disgust and frustration, a simple attempt at suicide, in order to put an end to suffering, which can no longer be endured? One must remember that God does not intervene in every instance of attempted suicide to save the person. The manifestation of Lord Muruga standing on his dancing peacock is not an every day occurrence. It is not vouchsafed even to His most sincere devotees. Yet Arunagirinatha the dissolute was rewarded with this supreme act of compassion.

In our sastras, it is said that the state of mind of a person at the last moment when life is about to leave the body, is very important from the point of view of his rebirth. If one were to utter the name of Narayana or Shiva and fix his mind on His form at the time of death, he is assured of moksha and release from rebirth. Arunagirinatha had realised with great poignancy that the body had failed to serve the purpose for which God had intended it. He had misused it for immoral purposes. What was there left for him to do except to surrender the mind and the body to the Lord? He sings thus:[10]

Oh mind of mine!
Trust not the body
That infernal machine
Turning out pleasure and pain.
Brahma who sits on the Lotus
Created it to bind the mind.

Oh mind of mine!
Free thyself from fear.
To seek Him, endeavour
Patiently and steadily.
Let us go to Him
Show our love and surrender.

Oh mind of mine!
It's good you decided to surrender.
See Him on His peacock Vahana
He has now taken charge of you.
Doubt not, there is no Greater State.
Dwell on His holy name
Always, ‘Mainda, Kumara'.

A kshatriya warrior of old, leaving his house, his wife and children and relatives and abandoning all his desires and possessions, goes to the battlefield with the assurance that if he should die there, he will attain Vira Svarga (Valhalla). Similarly, a great bhakta is always prepared to sacrifice a limb or an eye or even his life for the sake of God in the full belief that the Lord will accept the sacrifice and make him one of his possessions. Lord Muruga came to the rescue of His devotee who was preparing to shed his body and saved him not only from death, but accepted him as dear to Him and took possession of him. How beautifully Arunagirinatha has expressed it when Lord Muruga appeared before him!

Kinkini thith thimi, thith thith
The anklets on the dancing feet jingled,
A sound that to other sounds
Closed my hearing.

The Kadamba garland that He wore
Suffused me with its cloying fragrance,
And my breath was held.
His moon-like countenance and tender smile
Caused such cheer and ecstasy
That my mind was lost.

For a moment He looked at me,
A cool liquid light poured out
From His long lotus eyes.
It filled my heart tasting like nectar
And I was lost to Him forever.

Biography of Saint Arunagirinathar
By Swami Anvānanda
From: Saint Arunagirinatha, (Madras: Pongi Publications, 1975) pp. 31-36

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If a correct assessment of Arunagirinatha's personality in his early years is made from his own compositions and from contemporary literature of other writers, the following facts emerge:

Arunagirinatha was a traditional type of devout Hindu. Lord Muruga was the family God whom his ancestors have been worshipping. In his Tiruppugazh, he prays: “Oh, Kanda! The glorious God of the hills! Pray bestow Thine blessings accepting the ardent worship of this humble son to You, my ancestral deity."[1]

His learning, especially of religious and spiritual literature must have been acquired in his early years and it was both vast and deep. In the Tamil language, he excelled in expression and learning. In his compositions, he exhibits familiarity with the Tamil Works such as: Tevaram, Tirukkural, Kaarigai, Ula, Easal, Kalambakam, Kovai, Sindu, Madal and Maalai. He had also cultivated the art of writing eulogies of rich men to obtain presents of money from them.[2] His compositions abound in the use of Sanskrit words and they also show that he was familiar with the Itihasas, Puranas, the Gita, the Upanishads, Agamas, Mantra and Tantra Sastras, Yoga Sutras and Kama Sutra.

His archanaon Lord Muruga in two songs are mostly in Sanskrit.[3] One is therefore entitled to assume that his mastery of Sanskrit language was equal to that of Tamil and that he was quite capable of composing original work in Sanskrit. Unless he was born in a family whose traditions were such that every young male member from his early years received the highest cultural and religious education, prevailing in those days, it would not have been possible for Arunagirinatha to have ac­quired the vast learning that he has exhibited.

That he was leading a debaucherous life in his early years is admitted by him in his prayer to Lord Muruga, thus: “Will I ever get to know how to attain Your holy feet before becoming too old wasting my youth, as I am, by indulgence in sinful sexual pleasures?”[4] Here one must utter a word of warning that all references to a life of lust in many of his poems should not be taken literally -- that is to say, as confessions of his own guilt.[5]

But his life of debauchery could not have lasted very long. Perhaps, it proved to be a costly indulgence and he was soon reduced to a life of penury and became very dejected. In one of his songs, he says:[6]

"…To me, who seeks the company of prostitutes all the time, spending on them whatever little money I earn by bestowing lavish praises on men who lack wisdom, who never pray to Your holy feet, who are dunces, who indulge in devilish activities and who have no sense of gratitude; pray Muruga, grant me Moksha (from all this)".

In another song, he speaks with poignant emotion about his despicable state, thus: [7]

"…Ridiculed and jeered at by my wife, by the people of the town, by the women of the place, my father and my relations being disgusted in their minds by my conduct, everyone scolding me or indulging in loose talks about me and being treated as a despicable person by the very people whom I have loved, my mind became confused and full of gloom. I thought within myself, ‘Is it for this that I strove to obtain this human body which is a treasure, indeed?’…"
Arunagiri worships Lord Murugan who had just rescued him from certain death by suicide. Painting from Tiru Avinankudi Tirukkovil, Palani.

The first sign of God's grace and compassion came to Aruna­girinatha after a Mahatma sought him and spoke to him in a sweet voice with love and affection. The Mahatma advised him "to meditate on the six-faced God Shanmukha".[8] But Arunagirinatha did not heed the advice for some time and people began to deride him for ignoring the advice of the Mahatma. A change soon came over him. He began to worry very much over his pitiable state. He thought of the advice of the Mahatma and attempted to spend some hours in meditation facing the image of Lord Muruga installed in the Gopuram. But his will, weakened by his immoral life, lacked the strength to persist in that attempt. The crisis in his life started mounting up. He decided to surrender, at the feet of Lord Muruga, the body that had failed to serve Him in any way, He decided upon suicide. At this moment, Lord Muruga appeared standing on a dancing peacock, halted him in the act and took possession of him.[9]

"Oh Gurunatha! You came along on the peacock holding the Vel that broke to pieces the Krauncha Mountain in Your hand and took possession of me in that the people of the world may admire Your grace."

"When I was about to shed life from my body, out of compassion for me and to elevate me to a better and praise-worthy status, You came upon the scene, dancing, accompanied by Your celestial devotees and showered grace on me.”

One must assume that after this surrender to Lord Muruga that was accepted by Him, the lure of lust should have left Arunagirinatha. For, if surrender to the Lord does not relieve one instantaneously of all dross, then surrender will have no meaning. One may safely assert that after Arunagirinatha was taken possession of by the Lord, all prayers in his songs there­after seeking to be relieved from the attraction of lust are for the benefit of others and not for himself.

Here, one must pause for a moment. Was Arunagirinatha’s decision to end his life born of mere disgust and frustration, a simple attempt at suicide, in order to put an end to suffering, which can no longer be endured? One must remember that God does not intervene in every instance of attempted suicide to save the person. The manifestation of Lord Muruga standing on his dancing peacock is not an every day occurrence. It is not vouchsafed even to His most sincere devotees. Yet Arunagirinatha the dissolute was rewarded with this supreme act of compassion.

In our sastras, it is said that the state of mind of a person at the last moment when life is about to leave the body, is very important from the point of view of his rebirth. If one were to utter the name of Narayana or Shiva and fix his mind on His form at the time of death, he is assured of moksha and release from rebirth. Arunagirinatha had realised with great poignancy that the body had failed to serve the purpose for which God had intended it. He had misused it for immoral purposes. What was there left for him to do except to surrender the mind and the body to the Lord? He sings thus:[10]

Oh mind of mine!
Trust not the body
That infernal machine
Turning out pleasure and pain.
Brahma who sits on the Lotus
Created it to bind the mind.

Oh mind of mine!
Free thyself from fear.
To seek Him, endeavour
Patiently and steadily.
Let us go to Him
Show our love and surrender.

Oh mind of mine!
It's good you decided to surrender.
See Him on His peacock Vahana
He has now taken charge of you.
Doubt not, there is no Greater State.
Dwell on His holy name
Always, ‘Mainda, Kumara'.

A kshatriya warrior of old, leaving his house, his wife and children and relatives and abandoning all his desires and possessions, goes to the battlefield with the assurance that if he should die there, he will attain Vira Svarga (Valhalla). Similarly, a great bhakta is always prepared to sacrifice a limb or an eye or even his life for the sake of God in the full belief that the Lord will accept the sacrifice and make him one of his possessions. Lord Muruga came to the rescue of His devotee who was preparing to shed his body and saved him not only from death, but accepted him as dear to Him and took possession of him. How beautifully Arunagirinatha has expressed it when Lord Muruga appeared before him!

Kinkini thith thimi, thith thith
The anklets on the dancing feet jingled,
A sound that to other sounds
Closed my hearing.

The Kadamba garland that He wore
Suffused me with its cloying fragrance,
And my breath was held.
His moon-like countenance and tender smile
Caused such cheer and ecstasy
That my mind was lost.

For a moment He looked at me,
A cool liquid light poured out
From His long lotus eyes.
It filled my heart tasting like nectar
And I was lost to Him forever.
 


End Notes

[1] Tiruppukazh: “kaathala mungkuRi…”

[2] Tiruppukazh: “irukanaka maameru…” and “aRivillaap piththar…”

[3] Tiruppukazh: “naathapinthuka laathi namo nama”

[4] Tiruppukazh: “thaathala mungkuRi…”

[5] Swami Anvananda, Saint Arunagirinatha, (Madras: Pongi Publications, 1975) pp. 41-45 (Chapter V: ‘The Lure of Lust’)

[6] Tiruppukazh: “arivillaap piththar…”

[7] Tiruppukazh: “manaiyavaL nakaikka…”

[8] Tiruppukazh: “kamala kumiLitha…”

[9] Tiruppukazh: “arivaiyar nenjuru…” and “kothi muDiththu…”

[10] Tiruppukazh: “antho manamey…”


 

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