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Editor's Note - 21 (February 1, 2010)

Hail To Kooresa – The Millennium Acharya

Dear Fellow-Bhagavathas,

As I write this Note, the Srivaishnava world is in the middle of a great millennium celebration (1,000 years) of an extra-ordinary Acharya, whose image has been ironically etched in our memories as the ultimate Ramanuja Dasa. He is, of course, Koorath-Azhwan whose 1,000th Avathara year completes on February 3. His Thaniyan is as follows:

ஸ்ரீவத்ஸ சிஹ்நமிச்ரேப்யோ நம உக்திம் அதீமஹே !
யதுக்தய: த்ரயீ கண்டேயாந்தி மங்கள ஸூத்ரதாம் !!

“Koorath-Azhwan's divine works have attained the state of Thirumangalyam which adorns the neck of Veda Manthras. We offer our salutations to the great scholar Kooresa, with the same reverence as we have in respect of the sacred Veda Manthras.”

Born in a village by name Kooram near Kanchi in 1010 on Thai Hastham, Azhwan, as he is affectionately referred to, was a great scholar in his own right and possessed all the attributes of an ideal Acharya himself, but chose to remain quintessentially a humble Sishya to the great preceptor of our Visishtaadvaitha Sampradaya, Sri Ramanuja.

The reason is Aala Vandhaar, the grandson of Nathamunigal, had identified Ramanuja as the beacon of our Sampradaya who would establish our faith on an unassailable footing. Azhwan played his part to perfection in helping Ramanuja achieve Aala Vandhaar’s vision in style.

That Azhwan was seven years older to Yathiraja makes his integrity and humility even more adorable. Azhwan was so pious and devout that it was believed that there could be none like him. He led a life strictly in accordance with the Saasthras and relied on Uncha Vruththi for Bhagavath Araadhanam and a living.

It so happened one day that it was raining heavily and Azhwan could not go out for his Uncha Vruththi. So, he merely offered fruits to the Lord in his daily Pooja and starved as he read the sacred texts during the Swaadhyaayam time. In the evening also he merely did his daily rituals and slept off. There was the sound of the temple bell signaling Namperumal’s Thiru Araadhanam and Nivedhanam (offering of Thaligai to the Lord) even as Azhwan’s wife Andal was distraught at her husband’s plight.

She cried to the Lord asking Him if what was happening was in order and pleaded for redress. Greatly touched, Lord Ranganatha appeared in the dream of a temple official and directed him to take the Prasaadhams to Azhwan’s house, with temple honours.

Seeing this, Azhwan asked what the matter was and the official explained to him. Taking a third of the divine Prasaadham, Azhwan gave the rest for Andal to eat. By Namperumal’s grace Andal begot twin children who later had the great fortune of being named by Sri Ramanuja himself. They are Parasara Bhattar and Veda Vyasa Bhattar (Srirama Bhattar).

We shall briefly recapitulate a poignant episode in the life of Azhwan which highlights his Acharya Bhakthi, integrity and utmost sacrificial nature. The Chola king who ruled at that time was a Saivite fanatic who ill-treated and harassed Srivaishnava preceptors and scholars. Sensing danger and obliging his disciples, Ramanuja fled Srirangam.

The king caught hold of Azhwan and Periya Nambi and threatened them with dire consequences if they did not reveal the whereabouts of the great Saint. But they bluntly refused to budge. Not only that, the king demanded a written acknowledgement from them to the effect that there is no god superior to Siva. Azhwan refuted it saying all gods are only subordinates of Vishnu who is the Supreme God. Further, interpreting the word ‘Sivam’ so as to mean a capacity measure, he wrote mockingly that another measure by name ‘Dhronam’ is bigger than ‘Sivam’ and hence Siva is not the greatest, and gave it to the king.

An enraged king ordered the court servants to blind them. Azhwan, at once, saying “I shall do it myself”, plucked his eyes off and threw them away. The servants removed the eyes of the other Acharya. Thus, they gave up their vision to save Ramanuja Darsanam. It truly is as much a saga of sacrifice as that of courage and commitment.

Koorath-Azhwan composed the Pancha Sthavams, a set of five hymns, whose verses (over 400 in number) are soaked in devotion, erudition and grandeur. They are:

  1. Sri Sthavam on Ranga Naachiyaar (11 Slokas);
  2. Vaikunta Sthavam on Vaikunta Nathan (101 Slokas);
  3. Athimaanusha Sthavam on the super-human deeds of human Avatharas of the Lord (61 Slokas);
  4. Sundarabaahu Sthavam on the Lord of Thirmaalirun-Cholai (132 Slokas);
  5. Varadaraja Sthavam on the Lord of Hasthigiri (102 Slokas).

The least we can do, at this hour of celebration of the illustrious Acharya, is to recite his hymns and learn their meaning. May Azhwan shower his blessings on one and all!

Meet you in the next Note.

எங்கள் தூப்புல் பிள்ளை பாதம் என் சென்னியதே!

Natteri P. Srihari (a) Lakshmi Narasimhacharyar

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