Tirumangai Alvar: Mysticism and Experience

Explore the theistic mysticism of Tirumangai Alvar through his works Periya Tirumoli, Siriya Tirumaḍal, and Periya Tirumaḍal. Discover how this saint's divine experiences and devotion to God are vividly portrayed in his hymns.

Tirumangai Alvar is a revered saint in the Tamil Vaishnavite tradition, known for his voluminous works that depict his deep theistic mysticism and divine experiences. His notable compositions include the Periya Tirumoli, Siriya Tirumaḍal, and Periya Tirumaḍal, which collectively offer a vivid portrayal of his spiritual journey and devotion to God. Unlike NammAlvar, Tirumangai Alvar's path to spirituality was not innate but rather a transformation from a life of indulgence to one of profound mysticism.

Tirumangai Alvar: The Theistic Mystic

Early Life and Spiritual Transformation

Tirumangai Alvar's early life was marked by indulgence in sensual pleasures just lie any ordinary boy.. However, a significant turning point occurred when he was initiated into spiritual life, leading him to become a mystic saint. His transformation is deeply rooted in the divine vision of the Supreme Being, which marked the beginning of his spiritual journey.

Periya Tirumoli: An Ode to Divine Love

The Periya Tirumoli is one of Tirumangai Alvar's most extensive works, consisting of 1084  hymns dedicated to various deities across Vaishnava centers in India. This section will explore the two primary aspects of his divine experiences as depicted in the Periya Tirumoli.

Devotional Hymns and Pilgrimage

Tirumangai Alvar's hymns vividly describe his visits to different Vaishnava centers, where he sings the glory of the arcā deities. These hymns are not only rich in devotional fervor but also provide detailed descriptions of the natural surroundings and the miraculous deeds of the deities.

Example:

'O Lord of Tiruvidavendai, this maiden is well aware of the Goddess Sri who has a face as beautiful as the shining moon, born from the milky ocean with nectar, ever youthful, and residing in your chest; yet, she cannot let go of her attachment to you. Please tell me, what do you plan to do with this charming, devoted lady who has such lovely eyes?'

Mystical Elements in Periya Tirumoli

The mystical elements in the Periya Tirumoli are profound. In the 7th decad of the second centum, Tirumangai Alvar assumes the role of a nāyaki (a maiden) to convey his devotional love for God. This poetic device vividly portrays his longing for communion with the Divine and the subsequent agony during periods of separation.

Example:

'O Lord, this girl, who has a sweet tongue, has not spoken to her friends with a smile; nor does she anoint her bosom with sandalwood paste, apply eyeliner to her eyes, or decorate her curly hair with flowers. Instead, she constantly speaks of Lord Vishnu, who measured the earth surrounded by oceans. Tell me, what do you intend to do with her?'

The Role of Nayaki: Expressing Devotional Love

Agony and Ecstasy: The Journey of Separation and Union

In his hymns, Tirumangai Alvar often expresses his love for God through the metaphor of a nayaki experiencing separation from her Beloved Lord (nayaka). This portrayal is dramatic and intense, capturing the psychological states of longing, distress, and ultimate joy upon reunion.

Example:

'My daughter feels each moment of her life is an eternity; she cries out that the sun is dead, the cool southern breeze feels burning hot; she wishes to tear away her own bosom.'

The Practice of Madal: Public Declaration of Love

The maḍal is a unique practice adopted by Tirumangai Alvar to publicly declare his love for God. This practice is graphically presented in his poems Siriya Tirumaḍal and Periya Tirumaḍal, where the lover (nayaki) exposes her feelings to the public in a dramatic fashion.

Mystical Experiences in Siriya Tirumaḍal and Periya Tirumaḍal

The Role of Emissaries in Conveying Love

Tirumangai Alvar often uses emissaries, such as bees, to convey his messages of love and agony to the deities. This poetic technique is particularly evident in the 6th decad of the third centum of Periya Tirumoli, where he addresses the bee to report his condition to the Lord at Tiruvali.

Example:

'O bee, who tramples on flowers with your wings spread wide, sipping nectar from fresh blooms. Would you convey my suffering to the Supreme Lord residing in Tiruvali, a place filled with orthodox devotees engaged in Vedic rituals?'

Imaginary Narratives and Mystical Dialogues

In his mystical narratives, Tirumangai Alvar employs imaginary characters and dialogues to express his deep longing for God. The use of an imaginary mother to convey the nayaki's condition is a recurring theme, adding a layer of emotional depth to his hymns.

Example:

'O lady, the man who took my daughter resembled a cowherd who has previously abducted many maidens; he entered my home, kissed her lovely red lips, and my daughter, with cheerful eyes, followed him willingly, chattering affectionately like a parrot. Have they reached Tiruvali, surrounded by fields and trees?'

Tirumangai Alvar's Pilgrimage: A Journey of Divine Encounters

Tirukkannapuram and Other Vaishnava Centers

Tirumangai Alvar's pilgrimage to various Vaishnava centers is a significant aspect of his spiritual journey. His hymns often describe the divine atmosphere of these places and his mystical experiences during these visits.

The Divine Beauty and Attributes of Deities

In the 8th centum of Periya Tirumoli, Tirumangai Alvar vividly describes the beauty and attributes of the deities he encounters. His detailed portrayal of the Lord's ornaments, apparel, and divine form reflects his intense devotion and spiritual insight.

Example:

'My daughter exclaims: 'The Lord is so beautiful! He holds a powerful bow (saranga) in his hand, carries an attractive discus, the conch, and a shapely club; His four hands are like four hills. Has she really seen the Lord of Kannapuram?' She admires the ornaments worn by the Lord—the crown with a tulasi garland, the shining earrings, and the golden necklace. She describes the base of his feet as lotus flowers, his two palms as lotus too; her eyes are fixated on the crown studded with pearls and the golden necklace.'

Motherly Love and Divine Incarnations: Unique Mystical Expressions

Role of Demons and Mother Yasoda in Devotional Hymns

Tirumangai Alvar's mysticism also includes expressions of love through the characters of demons extolling Lord Rama's victory and Yasoda, the foster mother of Lord Krishna. These narratives highlight the divine attributes and deeds of the deities.

Childhood Pranks and Boyhood Deeds of Krishna

The hymns addressed to Lord Krishna often depict his childhood pranks and boyhood deeds, adding a playful and affectionate dimension to Tirumangai Alvar's devotion. These descriptions are rich in cultural and theological significance.

Example:

'O gracious Lord, come running to me, hold my bosom with your tender hands, and drink the milk. O my beautiful child with wide red eyes like the lotus, I have been calling you to suckle. Where are you? Are you playing with the cowherd boys?'

Theological Significance of Tirumangai Alvar's Mysticism

Ananya-Bhogya: The Soul's Exclusive Love for God

The concept of ananya-bhogya, where the soul exists solely for the pleasure of God, is central to Tirumangai Alvar's theology. His hymns emphasize the loving relationship between the soul and the Supreme Being, despite the anguish caused by separation.

Parama-Bhakti and the Path to Moksha

While Tirumangai Alvar's hymns do not explicitly mention parama-bhakti (the highest stage of devotion leading to moksha), his intense longing for God and ultimate desire for liberation are evident throughout his works. His concluding hymns appeal for divine grace and liberation from the cycle of births and deaths.

Example:

'O Benevolent Lord, shower your grace on those who seek you as their sole refuge to escape forever from the hell-like bondage; O Supreme Ruler of the universe, O Kanna with lotus-like eyes, You are the essence of the Vedas. I grieve, and only You can save us with Your grace (aḍiyorku arulay un arule).'

Conclusion

Tirumangai Alvar's works, particularly the Periya Tirumoli, Siriya Tirumaḍal, and Periya Tirumaḍal, offer a rich tapestry of theistic mysticism and divine experiences. His transformation from an ordinary individual to a mystic saint, his deep devotional love expressed through the role of a nāyaki, and his vivid descriptions of the deities and pilgrimage centers reflect his profound spiritual journey. Tirumangai Alvar's hymns continue to inspire and guide devotees on the path of devotion and mysticism.

 

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Knowledge Bank

What are the notable works of Tirumangai Alvar?

His notable works include the Periya Tirumoli, Siriya Tirumaḍal, and Periya Tirumaḍal, which collectively offer a vivid portrayal of his spiritual journey and devotion to Perumal.

What is the practice of maḍal in Tirumangai Alvar's works?

The maḍal is a practice adopted by Tirumangai Alvar to publicly declare his love for God, graphically presented in his poems Siriya Tirumaḍal and Periya Tirumaḍal.

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