Nammalwar
[The Supreme Vaishnava Saint and Poet]

Maran, renowned as Mammalwar(“Our Saint”) among the Vaishnavas, and the greats of their saints and poets, was born in a small town called Kuruhur in the southernmost region of the Tamil country – Tiru-nel-veli(Tinnelvelly). His father, Kari, was petty prince who paid tribute to the Pandyan King of Madura. We have no means of ascertaining the date of the Alwar’s birth, as the traditional account is untrustworthy and full of inconsistencies. We are told that the infant was mute for several years after his birth. Nammalwar renounced the world early in life and spent his time, singing and meditating on God, under the shade of a tamarind tree by the side of the village temple.

It was under this tree that he was first seen by his disciple, the Alwar Madhura-kavi-for the latter also is numbered among the great Twelve, - “lost in the sea of Divine Love. “ Tradition says that while Madhura-kavi was wandering in North India as a pilgrim, one night a stage light appeared to him in the sky and traveled towards the south. Doubtful at first what significance this phenomenon might have for him, its repetition during three consecutive nights convinced him that it was a divine summons and where this luminous sign led, he must follow.

Night after night he journeyed southwards till the guiding light came to Kuruhur and there disappeared. Learning of Nammalwar’s spiritual greatness he though that it was to him that the light had been leading him. But when he came to him, he found him absorbed in deep meditation with his eyes fast closed and, although he waited for hours, the Samadhi did not break until he took up a large stone and stuck it against the ground violently. At the noise Nammalwar opened his eyes, but still remained silent. Madhura-kavi then put to him the following enigmatical question, “If the little one (the soul ) is born into the dead thing (Matter), what will the little one eat, and where will the little one lie?” to which Mammalwar replied in an equally enigmatic style, “That will it eat and there will it lie”.

Subsequently Nammalwar permitted his Disciple to live with him and it was Madhura-kavi who wrote down hi songs as they were composed. Nammalwar died in his thirty-fifth year, but he has achieved so great a reputation that the Vaishnavas account him an incarnation of Vishnu Himself, while others are only the mace, discus, conch, etc., of the Deity.

From the philosophical and spiritual point of view, his poetry ranks among the highest in Tamil literature. But in point of literary excellence there is a great inequality; for while some songs touch the level of the loftiest world poets, others, even though rich in rhythm and expression, fall much below the poet’s capacity.

In his great work known as the Tiru-vay-moli (the Sacred Utterance)which contains more that a thousand stanzas, he has touched all the phases of the life divine and given expression to all forms of spiritual experience. The pure and passionless Reason, the direct perception in the high solar realm of Truth itself, the ecstatic and sometimes poignant love thtleaps into being at the vision of the “Beauty of God’s face”, the final Triumph where unity is achieved and “I and my Father are one” – all these are uttered in his simple and flowing lines with a strength that is full of tenderness and truth.

The lines which we translate below ar a fair specimen of the great Alwar’s poetry; but it has suffered considerabley in the translation, -indeed thegenius of the Tamiltongue hardly permits of an effective rendering, so utterly divergent is it from that of the English language.

Nammalwar’s Hymn of the Golden Age


‘Tis glory, glory, glory! For Life’s hard cuse has expired; swept out are Pain and Hell, and Death has nought to do here, Mark ye, the Iron Age shall end. For we have seen the hosts of Vishnu; richly do they enter in and chant His praise and dance and thrive. (1)

We have seen, we have seen, we have seen – seen things full sweet for our eyes. Come, all ye lovers of God, let us shout and dance for joy with oft-made surrenderings. Wide dothey roam on earth singing songs and dancing, the hosts of Krishna who wears the cool and beautiful Tulsi, the desire of the Bees. (2)

The Iron Age shallchange. It shall fade, it shall pass wary. The Gods shll be in our midstl. The mighty Golden Age shall hold the earth and the flood of the highest Bliss shall swell. For the hosts of our dar-hued Lord, dark-hued like the cloud, dark-hued like the sea, widely they enter in, singing songs, and everywhere they have seized on their stations (3)

The hosts of our Lord who reclines on the sea of Vastness, behold them thronging hither. Meseems they will tear up all these weeds of graspng cults. And varied songs do they sing, our Lord’s own hosts, as they dance falling, sitting, standing, marching, leaping, bending. (4)

And many are the wondrous sight that stike mine eyes. As by magic have Vishnu’s hosts come in and firmly placed themselves everywhere. No doubt it, ye friends and demons, if , born such, be in our midst, take heed! Ye shall never escape. For the Spirit of time will slay and fling you away. (5)

These hosts of the Lord of the Discus, they are here to free this earth of the devourers of Life, Disease and Hunger and vengeful Hate and all other things of evil. And sweet are their songs as they leap and dance extending wide over earth. Go forth, ye lovers of God and meet these hosts divine; with right minds serve them and live. (6)

The gods that ye fix in your minds in His name do they grant you deliverance. Even thus to immortality did the sage Markanda attain. I mean no offence to any, but there is no other God but Krishna. And let all your sacrifices be to them who are but His forms. (7)

His forms he has placed as Gods toreceive and taste the offerings that are brought in sacrifices in all the various world. He our divine Sovereign on whose more-marked bosom the Goddess Lakshmi rests. His hosts are singing sweetly and deign to increase on earth. O men, approach them, serve and live (8)

Go forth and live by serving our Lord, the deathless one. With your tongues chant ye the hymns, the sacred Riks of the Veda, nor err in the laws of wisdom. Oh, rich has become this earth in the blessed ones and the faithful who serve them with flowers and incense and sandal and water. (9)

In all these rising worlds, they have thronged and wide they spread, those beauteous forms of Krihna – the unclad Rudra is there, Indra, Brahma, all. The Iron Age shall cease to be – do ye but unite and serve these. (10)

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Arya
15.07.1915

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