A search, not for meaning, but for beauty

A friend recently asked me “Are you now a theist”. And as always, when confronted with any such deep questions, I stuttered, stammered and changed the subject. This also incidentally explains why I’m a sparkling conversationalist.

This came at the same time I sat through Tharai Thappatai, a recent Tamil movie which featured an excerpt from Thiruvaasagamwhich moved me beyond measure. Do listen to it, if that’s all you gain from reading this.

A google search revealed that this experience is not unusual and rather a common occurrence, for திருவாசகத்துக்கு உருகார் ஒரு வாசகத்திற்கும் உருகார், meaning “One whose heart is not melted by Thiruvasagam cannot be melted by any vasagam”.

The prelude to the composition of the Thiruvaasagam is equally intriguing. Also since this is just a rehash of notes from various places in the internet, the veracity of the following must be taken with a pinch of salt. But let’s believe and persevere.

The poet, Manickkavaasagar, was in the employ of a Pandya king Varaguna in the eighth century thereabouts. Not as a poet, but in the capacity of an administrator on whom the Raja had great faith. So much so that once the Raja gave him a great deal of gold coins  and sent him on a mission to buy horses to fortify the cavalry.

Manickkavaasagar obediently proceeded to do so and headed towards the east from Madurai, halting at Thiruperundhurai.

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Now whom should he meet but the Lord Shiva, in the guise of a brahmin seated under a tree chanting hymns. Overpowered, Manickkavaasagar listened in bliss to the Lord, had a gyaanoodhayam (i.e. light bulb moment), forgot about the horses and spent the money building temples in Thiruperundhurai.

The Raja was puzzled at the non-appearance of his trusted aide, let alone the expected horses and promptly issued a polite summons to which the busy poet replied saying “Wait a month”. This capricious behavior, as expected, enraged the Raja and after a horse-less month, he sent an angrier note commanding Manickkavaasagar to return at once and explain his appalling behavior. As you can guess, there was a lot more drama fueled by Shiva’s playful antics and after jackals turning into horses and back into jackals and floods in the Vaigai, the Raja finally realized he had been admonishing the Lord himself and promptly released Manickkavasagar, whom he had been keeping in prison and begged forgiveness. Also if the internet is to be believed, became a staunch Shaivaite though his father and grand father were Vaishnavaites.

Manickkavaasagar, giving up his administrative post, went around Tamil Nadu visiting temples and singing the Thiruvaasagam and ended up at Chidambaram where once again, he bumped into Shiva, again in the guise of a Brahmin. The Lord very earnestly requested Manickkavaasagar to dictate to him the Thiruvaasagam so that he could learn it and proceeded to pen it down on palm leaves and then, as was the practice with him, disappeared. The palm leaves, which Shiva left lying at the door step of the Sabha were discovered and treasured, while Manickkavaasagar, merged with his master and left this earth, leaving not his body but a record of his journey behind, for us to peruse and marvel at.

And we should note that the poet was born as Vaathavurar, but titled Manickkavaasagar by the Lord since he gave us words as precious as rubies.

 

Wiki has this to say about Thiruvaasagam that “it discusses every phase of spiritual path from doubt and anguish to perfect understanding in Shiva, from earthly experience to teacher-disciple relationship and ultimately freedom from rebirth”. And for me, here begins an (extremely slow but hopefully steady) journey to read the Thiruvaasagam, in search, not for meaning, but for beauty. And also an earnest desire to see what made a man swerve from the world and forget his king and horses, and embrace the so called spiritual path.

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