This article is about Saint Thirumalisai Alvar. For the Tamil language film, see Thirumalisai Alvar (1948 film)
Thirumalisai Alvar is a Tamil saint revered in the Srivaishnavism school of south India, in Tondai Nadu (now part of Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts). He was born in 4203 BCE. The legend of this saint devotees of Srivaishnavism believe that he was the incarnation of Vishnu's disc, Sudarshana. He is believed to have been born at Jagannatha Perumal temple, Tirumazhisai by divine grace.
A childless tribal couple called Tiruvaalan and Pankaya Chelvi engaged in cutting canes found the child and took it home. The couple also had a son named Kanikannan who was a disciple of Thirumalisai Alvar.
The word azhwar means the one who dives deep into the ocean of the countless attributes of god. Azhwars are considered the twelve supreme devotees of Vishnu, who were instrumental in popularising Vaishnavism. The religious works of these saints in Tamil, songs of love and devotion, are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham containing 4000 verses and the 108 temples revered in their songs are classified as Divya desam. The saints had different origins and belonged to different castes. As per tradition, the first three azhwars, Poigai, Bhutha and Pey were born miraculously. Tirumizhisai was the son of a sage, Thondaradi, Mathurakavi, Peria and Andal were from brahmin community, Kulasekhara from Kshatria community, Namm was from a cultivator family, Tirupana from panar community and Tirumangai from kazhwar community. Divya Suri Saritra by Garuda-Vahana Pandita (11th century AD), Guruparamparaprabavam by Pinbaragiya Perumal Jiyar, Periya tiru mudi adaivu by Anbillai Kandadiappan, Yatindra Pranava Prabavam by Pillai Lokacharya, commentaries on Divya Prabandam, Guru Parampara (lineage of Gurus) texts, temple records and inscriptions give a detailed account of the azhwars and their works. According to these texts, the saints were considered incarnations of some form of Vishnu. Poigai is considered an incarnation of Panchajanya (Krishna's conch), Bhoothath of Kaumodakee (Vishnu's Mace/Club), Pey of Nandaka (Vishnu's sword), Thirumalisai of Sudarshanam (Vishnu's discus), Namm of Vishvaksena (Vishnu's commander), Madhurakavi of Vainatheya (Vishnu's eagle, Garuda), Kulasekhara of Kaustubha (Vishnu's necklace), Periy of Garuda (Vishnu's eagle), Andal of Bhoodevi (Vishnu's wife, Lakshmi, in her form as Bhudevi), Thondaradippodi of Vanamaalai (Vishnu's garland), Thiruppaan of Srivatsa (An auspicious mark on Vishnu's chest) and Thirumangai of Saranga (Rama's bow). The songs of Prabandam are regularly sung in all the Vishnu temples of South India daily and also during festivals.
The name of the Azhwar comes from his birthplace, Thirumazhisai, a suburb in modern day Chennai. He was born to Bhargava maharishi and his wife Kanakangi after an unusual 12 months stay in the womb. The fetus came out as just a lifeless lump of flesh with no arms and legs. The couple were terribly depressed and with unwillingness left it under a bamboo bush and proceeded with their spiritual journey. Vishnu appeared with his consort and blessed the "flesh" with their kataksham and it turned into an lively human being.
He was later picked up with both the arms affectionately by a tribal named Thiruvalan. A really blessed couple Thiruvalan and pankajavalli, was overwhelmed by the grace of god for this gift of a baby. The boy grew on to become Thirumazhisai azhwar. He also has an eye on his right leg.He lived up to 10 years of age in a hamlet near thirumazhisai village named as Pirayampathu. This Alwar was an incarnation of Sudarsana Chakra ( the divine discus of Lord Vishnu).
Thirumazhisai Alwar decided to learn about all other religions. He studied Buddhist, Jain and other literature. He became a staunch devotee of Siva assuming the name of Siva Vakya. One day, he saw an old man planting a plant upside down and then trying to water it with a broken pot using a tattered rope to lift water from a waterless well. Sivavakyar asked him why he was attempting such a foolish act. The old man was none other than Pey Alwar who replied that what he was doing was only less foolish than Sivavakya's allegiance to Saivism, knowing full well that the Vedas and Smritis proclaim Sri Narayana as the Supreme deity.As a result of an argument with Pey Alwar, finally he got initiated into Vaishnavism by Pey Alwar.
It is said that Lord Shiva gave him his darshan and offered him a boon that the alwar would seek. The Alwar wanted 'Moksha" for which Lord Shiva replied that he wil not do that since Alwar was an incarnation of Sudarsana Chakra, and the next is the Alwar wanted a Long Life for which Lord Shiva replied that it has already been pre-ordained. The great Alwar then asked Lord Shiva that if he could not grant 'Moksha' and only Lord Narayana could then he could offer his services to Narayana only. Lord Shiva then granted him the title 'Bakthisara" the honorofic by which he came to be known. After visiting several temples, he reached Tiruvekka, the birthplace of Poigai Alwar.
Learning different religions
Thirumazhisai decided to learn about all other religions. So, he studied Buddhism, Jainism and other literature. He became a staunch devotee of Siva assuming the name of Siva VAkya. One day, he saw an old man planting a plant upside down and then trying to water it with a broken pot using a tattered rope to lift water from a waterless well. Sivavakyar asked him why he was attempting such a foolish act. The old man was none other than Pey AzhwAr who replied that what he was doing was only less foolish than Sivavakya's allegiance to Saivam, knowing full well that the Vedas and Smritis proclaim Sri Narayana as the Supreme deity.
As a result of an argument with Pey Azhwar, he finally got initiated into Srivaishnavam by Peyalvar. After visiting several temples, he reached Tiruvekkaa, the birthplace of Budat Azhwar. Tirumazhisai Azhwar himself says
சக்கியம் கற்றோம், சமணம் கற்றோம், சங்கரனார் ஆக்கிய ஆகமநூல்
ஆராய்ந்தோம்; பாக்கியத்தால் வெங்கட்கரியனை சேர்ந்தோம்
sAkkiyam katrOm, SamaNam katrOm, SankaranAr aakkiya Aagamanool
aarAindhOM; BhaggiyathAl venkaTkariyAnai SerndOm
“ We had learned SAkkiyam (Buddhism) SamaNam (Jainism) and the Agamic Scriptures made by Lord Shankara (Shiva); Due to sheer grace, we landed at the feet of TiruvengadathAN. ”
There is also evidence in his couplets that show that he asked God to help reveal their ignorance to them.
Displeasing Pallava king
Legend also says that when Kanikannan, his disciple displeased the pallava king for not agreeing to restore the king's youth. Earlier on he granted youth to an old unmarried maid of the temple. The king married that woman but he himself was an old man and thus wanted to enjoy life as a youth with his new wife. Tirumalisai refused him and the king decided to banish him. Tirumalisai Alvar asked the God from the temple, Yathotkari, to leave with him.
கணிகண்ணன் போகின்றான் காமரு பூங் கச்சி
மணிவண்ணா! நீ கிடக்க வேண்டா
செந்நாப் புலவனும் போகின்றேன் நீயும் உன்றன்
பை நாகப்பாயை சுருட்டிக் கொள்
KanikaNNan Poginraan Kaamaru poong Kachi
ManivaNNaa! Nee Kidakka Vendaa
Sennaap Pulavanum Poginren Neeyum Unran
Pai Naagappaayai Suruttik KoLL
“ KanikaNNan is going out of kAnchi Oh! Manivanna!, You don't have to lie here anymore. Since, as the fluent poet that I am also leaving with him, you also roll your serpent bed and follow me"And, accordingly all of them left KAnchipuram ”
There are 216 of his paasurams in the 4000 Divya Prabhandham. His first Prabandham named Thiruchchanda Viruththam contains 120 hymns and starts from 752 paasuram and ends at 871 paasuram. The second Prabandham of Thirumalisai Alvar is titled Naanmugan Thiruvandhadhi and it contains 96 verses. The work of Naanmugan Thiruvandhadhi starts from 2382 paasuram and ends at 2477 paasuram.
He has sung in praise of 20 temples.
- Thiru Kapistalam/
- Thiru Anbil.
- Thiru urakam.
- Thirupper Nagar.
- Thiruvenkadam .
- Azhagar Kovil.
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- Rao, P.V.L. Narasimha (2008). Kanchipuram – Land of Legends, Saints & Temples. New Delhi: Readworthy Publications (P) Ltd. p. 27. ISBN 978-93-5018-104-1.
- Dalal 2011, pp. 20-21
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- Kodayanallur Vanamamalai 2001, p. 51
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