Thondaradipodi Azhwar

Explore the journey of faith of Thondaradipodi Azhwar and learn about the trial and tribulation he overcame in his pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Listen to the audio above.

Ranganathar

Thondaradipodi Azhwar is a saint revered in the Tamil Vaishnavite tradition for his impact and importance. He is an Azhwar, one of the twelve saints venerated in this tradition. He has made invaluable contributions to the same level as Ramanuja and Nammalvar. His hymns and poems continue to be a source of inspiration for devotees. Even to this day, his teachings are highly relevant and have been majorly influential in forming the principles and customs of present-day Vaishnavites.

 

Birth and childhood

Thondaradipodi Azhwar was born 289 years from the start of Kaliyuga during Margazhi month and his star was Jyeshta (Kettai). He was born at Thirumandangudi, near Kumbakonam. His parents were Brahmins.

His childhood name was Vipranarayana and he is considered an incarnation of Vaijayanti Mala, the Tulasi garland of Perumal. Since his childhood, Vipranarayana was an incredibly devout worshiper of Perumal - a testimony to his unwavering faith!

 

Meaning of Thondaradipodi

Thirunakshatram shlokam calls him Bhaktapadarenu.

Bhakta + Pada + Renu - Bhaktapadarenu.

It means he considers himself as dust at the feet of Perumal’s devotees.

His humility and piety are ever so evident with this name itself,

In Tamil, Bhaktapadarenu became Thondaradipodi.

Thondar + Adi + Podi - Thondaradipodi.

 

Relocation to Srirangam

Azhwar, at just 16 years of age, headed to Srirangam. He lived in a parnasala in the beautiful Tulasi garden of Ranganathar Temple. Every day he made beautiful garlands for Perumal with great care and passion. He was dedicated to looking after the Tulasi plants and ensured they were well-watered. His extraordinary enthusiasm for making garlands justified the legend that he was an incarnation of Vaijayanthimala.

He was a Sarvasanga Parityagi as he stayed away from all kinds of relationships with the material world. He looked at all young girls as if they were his sisters and all women as if they were his mothers. He vowed never to look at women with a longing desire and remained unmarried.

Devotees visiting Srirangam were always eager to get a glimpse of the saint in the Tulasi garden, yet he never even looked at them once. He was in an eternal state of Vishnu Samshlesha Bhava - blissfully alone with Perumal. 

 

Trial and tribulation

Azhwar was very handsome. One day, Devadevi, a courtesan, arrived at Srirangam and was mesmerized by the sight of Azhwar in the Tulasi garden. His beauty, which was equal to that of Kamadeva, left her stunned. She yearned to make him her husband. She knew about his vow of celibacy and didn't have the courage to approach him.

She also started staying in the garden and taking care of it. Azhwar noticed her only after a few days. He asked her, Who are you? What are you doing here?. 

She replied, I am a courtesan from a distant place. I had come with my friends to get darshanam of Ranganathar. I have decided to remain here in Srirangam and serve the Lord by tending His garden and making garlands for Him for the rest of my life.

She kept her true motive for staying hidden.

Azhwar recollected that it was his first conversation in many years.

He hastily backed away.

Devadevi thought to herself - I will keep moving near him. Let me see how long he is able to control himself.

She was relieved he didn't throw her out of the garden and that she was on the way to achieving her goal.

One day, it started raining unexpectedly. Devadevi got completely drenched. She took shelter in the parnasala of Azhwar. She stood there shivering. Azhwar felt sympathy and offered his uttareeyam to her. She changed her wet clothes right in front of him. Seeing her beauty, Azhwar lost his control and approached her saying - you are so beautiful, shall I marry you?

Devadevi did not want to give in right away. She smiled and said, Swamy, according to our tradition, for marriage you need to give me 1000 varahas.

She then walked out of the parnasala.

However, by that time, Devadevi's image had replaced in his heart the image of Ranganathar which had been perpetually there for years.

Azhwar had been fully entrapped by her cunning plan.

Ever since then, they enjoyed spending most of their day time together.

Both were smitten by the arrows of Kamadeva and only waited for the marriage to happen.

Then a mysterious incident happened one day.

Azhwar was sitting in the Tulasi garden with his eyes closed, worrying about how he would ever get the 1000 varahas. At that time, a rich merchant approached him and started talking - It is a great fortune to get darshanam of a saint like you. I have heard quite a lot about you. Here, I have brought a number of exquisite ornaments to be offered at the lotus feet of Ranganathar. Every ornament is engraved with the words - Sri Ranganatharpanam astu. I don’t see any difference between you and Ranganathar. I wish you to accept one of these ornaments for yourself. Otherwise, I will be deeply disappointed.

The merchant gave Azhwar a golden plate studded with diamonds.

Azhwar was ecstatic! Now he could happily give Devadevi the money she wanted and marry her.

This ornament must be much more valuable than 1000 varahas.

He went and gave it to Devadevi.

She was also delighted at the thought of their marriage finally taking place.

But then, with shock and worry on her face, she read the engraving on the plate and said - Have you stolen this from the temple? How could you do something like this? We are going to be punished for this!

She started crying.

Azhwar was so innocent, he never imagined something like this would ever occur.

He said - No, no, it is not stolen. A devotee gave it to me out of respect. Wait, I will go and get him. He will tell you the truth.

Azhwar was not bothered about the danger of punishment, but he wanted to convince Devadevi about his honesty and integrity.

He went out and started looking around for the merchant.

But he was nowhere to be seen.

Azhwar returned to the garden disappointed.

He desperately tried again to convince Devadevi of his innocence.

She said - even if the devotee has given it to you, it is still stealing. He had brought it to be given to Ranganathar. His name is inscribed on it. He has no right to change his mind and give it to you.

In the meantime, some devotees who had come to the garden overheard the conversation between Azhwar and Devadevi.

They went and reported to the temple authorities.

The authorities said - we have been hearing a lot about him these days. He had taken a vow of celibacy and wanted to serve in the garden. That’s why we allowed him to stay there. Now, there is some woman living with him. And now, this!

They sent guards to get both Azhwar and Devadevi.

They found the golden plate inside the parnasala and brought Azhwar and Devadevi before the temple authorities.

A lot of people gathered.

Even though Azhwar narrated the incident, nobody believed him.

Meanwhile, the rich merchant who gave Azhwar the golden plate was still in the temple vicinity. When he heard about what was going on, he quickly rushed to the scene.

He came in and announced in front of everyone - He is innocent. I only gave it to him.

Everyone offered their apologies and returned to their own places.

Azhwar went straight to the sannidhi of Ranganathar and submitted the golden plate at the lotus feet.

He returned to the garden.

He was full of remorse - How could I behave like this? How could I get carried away by the mere lure of human flesh?

Even Devadevi was regretful - I have committed the worst of sins. I have dragged a pious saint into all these troubles.

Then they both pledged to continue living together, but as brother and sister.

Their togetherness now only made them purer and purer as days went by.

They started seeing divinity in each other.

 

Works of Thondaradipodi Azhwar

Azhwar composed two prabandhams praising Ranganathar.

  • Thirumalai - 45 verses praising Ranganathar.
  • Thiruppalliyeluchi - 10 verses of Suprabhatam for Ranganathar.

He has also sung in praise of Tiruparkadal, Ayodhya, and Gowardhana.



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What is the meaning of Thondaradipodi?

Thondaradipodi means dust at the feet of Perumal’s devotees. It stands for the humility and piety of the Azhwar.

What was the original name of Thondaradipodi Azhwar?

Vipranarayana.

Quiz

Thondaradipodi Azhwar was a devotee at which temple?
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