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Thiruppugazh (Tamil திருப்புகழ் tiruppukazh "Holy Praise" or "Divine Glory") is a 15th-century anthology of Tamil religious songs dedicated to Murugan, the son of Shiva, written by the poet-saint Arunagirinathar. The anthology is considered one of the central works of medieval Tamil literature, both for its poetical and musical qualities, and for its religious, moral and philosophical content.
The work and its contents
There are no historical records of the life of Arunagirinathar, and what we know of the composition of the Tiruppugazh is largely derived from oral traditions and legends recorded in commentaries on the work. According to these, Arunagirinathar led a hedonistic life as a young man. His disgust at his own conduct led him to attempt suicide by jumping off the temple tower at Tiruvannamalai. He was saved by a stranger, who, according to legend, was Murugan himself. Arunagirinathar was transformed, and began a long pilgrimage, visiting the arupadai (Six Abodes of Murugan), the six temples most sacred to Murugan, and over 200 other holy shrines in India and Sri Lanka. At each of these, he composed songs in praise of Murugan, which are collected together in the Thiruppugazh. The majority of the songs are sung to Murugan, but there are also a few songs that sing of deeds of Siva or the avatars of Vishnu, and of the power of Parvati. Almost all songs end addressing Murugan as Perumal, a term that traditionally had strong associations with Tamil Vaishnavism.
The worship of Murugan has strong roots in Tamil Nadu. According to Tamil legends, Murugan was the brave warrior who defeated the powerful demon Soorapadman, and was seen as being the epitome of youth, compassion and beauty. Arunagirinathar's songs build on this tradition, hailing Murugan as the source of all knowledge, who even gave saintly advice to his father, Lord Shiva. Murugan is described as being full of love and compassion. Arunagirinathar says in the Thiruppugazh the songs will, by the grace of Murugan, convey the pearls of devotion and wisdom. The songs contain philosophical musings on God, expressed in simple terms, placing particular emphasis on the role of God's grace or mercy in helping the individual deal with the troubles and ills that afflict humanity. The songs also deal with issues of morality and living a virtuous life on Earth, with many exhorting people to seek true happiness in God.
Language and style
Early mediaeval Tamil religious poems were written in a language and style that followed the pattern of classical Tamil literature. The Thiruppugazh, in contrast, was written in a form of Tamil that was quite different from pure classical Tamil. Its metres, too, are more obviously rhythmical than the stylised classical metres.
The Thiruppugazh makes extensive and deliberate use of the imagery associated with the five landscapes of classical akam poetry. The usage is not, however, straightforward. Whereas akam poetry uses the imagery in the context of secular, sensuous love, the Thiruppugazh uses the same imagery in the context of the longing of the individual for God. The imagery used in the following verse is illustrative of this usage:
- I do not wish to dwell in this illusory body,
built of the sky, water, earth, air, fire and desires.
Enlighten me, that I may praise the glory of your holy name
in the wise, beautiful Tamil tongue,
O Lord of the celestial heavens
who protects the Kurava woman of the sweet, child-like words
who wields the spear which destroyed the majestic hill
and wears a garland of scarlet flowers
where bees dance seeking honey. (Song 1304)
- I do not wish to dwell in this illusory body,
The reference to Kuravas and hills, and the imagery of the bees making honey from scarlet ceccai flowers, are characteristic of the kuriñci landscape. In secular poetry, the image of bees entering flowers symbolises the clandestine union of lovers, and the backdrop of the hills calls to mind the raw forces of nature. The union which Arunagirinathar uses this to symbolise, however, is that of the soul with God, and the imagery specifically calls to mind the legend of Murugan's wooing of Valli, the daughter of a Kurava chief. This appropriation of secular imagery to religious purposes is characteristic of the Thiruppugazh: just as it call people to turn from hedonistic pleasures to a life centred on God, it turns the language formerly used to celebrate carnal love to celebrate God.
The poet Arunagirinathar represents a remarkable blend of Tamil literary genius, devotion to Murugan and musical expertise. Although music had always been an integral part of the Tamil hymns such as Tevaram, Arunagirinathar was one of the first to set all his compositions to music in the style of "Santham"—setting the verses within a certain length to conform with rhythm (thala). Arunagirinathar utilises certain repetitive phrases to achieve movement and colour in his poems. By combining the Tamil hard or soft consonants and long or short vowels in different ways, Arunagirinathar produces hundreds of compound rhythmic words such as, tatta, taatta, tantha, thaantha, thaiya, thanna, thaana, thanana, etc. . At the beginning of each poem in the Thiruppugazh, Arunagirinathar gives the rhythm notations.
Arunagiri's poems can be enjoyed for their literary value as well as for their devotional. Arunagirinathar has combined his poetic skill and his devotion towards Muruga with remarkable ease. Scholars hail Thiruppugazh both as a literary masterpiece and as a work of devotion.
Arunagiri was not a born poet nor a devotee but rather started out in a different way of life and transformed himself into an erudite scholar and versatile poet. (Arunagirinathar describes this in Kandhar Anuputhi) (The Adoration to God) thus: "This talent, this skill, this knowledge and this devotion, do not belong to me. These are the gifts of Muruga. It is only you, Lord Muruga, who make me sing." (Yaam Odhiya Kalviyum Em Arivum Thame Pera Velavar Thandhadhanal").
Arunagiri has woven a beautiful garland, made not of fragrant flowers (Poomalai) but of beautiful verses of Tamil and has presented it to all so that they also could offer it to the Lord and derive immense inspiration, knowledge and blessings from Him. Thiruppugazh is an ideal form of prayer, a beautiful set of songs, a panacea for all ills and above all a way of life.
Popularity of Thiruppugazh
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The word "Thiru Pugazh" (Tamil) means hailing the glory of God. As all devotional works hail the glory of God, they all come under the category of 'Thiru Pugazh' (Glory to God). However, only the works of Arunagirinathar have got the name "Thiruppugazh" because he alone succeeded, to a great extent, in describing the glorious qualities of the Lord vividly, completely and comprehensively.
Though Arunagirinathar composed Thiruppugazh, the verses written in manuscript form remained at different sources. No effort seem to have been made for many years to retrieve them and bring them to light. Perhaps, the first concrete attempt towards this end was made by Sri V.T. Subramaniam Pillai of Tiruthani. Realising the value and importance of these songs, he made thorough search and collected the songs scattered at different places. His son, 'Thanigai Mani' Sri Chengalvaraya Pillai, a great devotee of Lord Muruga, continued the task left behind by his father and brought many Thiruppugazh songs in printed format. Sri Sachidhananda Swamigal, a disciple of Saint Seshadri swamigal, took Thiruppugazh as the mission of his life and popularised them. Many others like Pamban Swamigal, Sri T.M. Krishna Swamy Iyer, Thiru Kirupananda Vaariyar, Pithukulli Sri Murugadoss who have taken the glory of Thiruppugazh to great height. Guruji Sri A.S. Raghavan of New Delhi has started a powerful Thiruppugazh movement in the 1980s which spread across India and the world. He founded the organization called "Thiruppugazh Anbargal", which has evolved a well-structured training scheme to those who aspire to learn these songs at no cost. Guruji Raghavan has set close to 500 compositions to music in various Ragam and Taalam.
"Thiruppugazh is a Maha Mantra“said Sri Seshadri Swamigal. “Oh Arunagiri, who else can compose a word of truth as beautifully as you”, said saint Thayumanavar. “Oh Thiru Perur Kumara, as your enchanting body is adorned with garlands weaved by Arunagiri, I feel the aroma of fragrance from you”, said Chidambara Swamigal. “The songs of Thiruppugazh are so powerful that they would reverberate all over the world and kindle the light of devotion in one‘s heart”, said Arunachala Reddiyar.
"Thiruppugazh" is a musical mantra that would lead the aspirant to the path of devotion, enlightenment and bliss. Thiruppugazh is panacea for all ills. It is a powerful and effective Mantra because every verse of it contains the divine sanction of Lord Muruga," says V.S.Krishnan, a humble devotee. "It is a great privilege and blessings" he adds,"to be able to author book on a subject such as Thiruppugazh which has been hailed by great saints as an outstanding work of devotion".
- "A History of Tamil Literature". Mu Varadarajan (Trans from Tamil by E.Sa Visswanathan, Sahitiya Akademi, Madras 1988). Retrieved 2006-06-16.[dead link]
- "Thiruppugazh: Glory to Lord Muruga". V.S. Krishnan. Retrieved 2007-06-03.
- "Thiruppugazh: musical way of worship". Githa Krishnan. Retrieved 2008-11-25.