Image of the granite and festival image of Thondaradipodi in Alwarthirunagari Temple
|Literary works||Tirumaalai , Tiruppalli Ezuchi|
Thondaradippodi Alvar or Vipra Narayanan is one of the twelve azhwar saints of South India, who are known for their affiliation to Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. The verses of azhwars are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham and the 108 temples revered are classified as Divya desam. Thondaripodi is considered the tenth in the line of the twelve azhwars.
Western scholars have suggested various times between the 5th and 9th centuries AD as the period of Thondaradippodi Alvar. As per Hindu legend, he was born as Vipra Narayanan and got devoted to Ranganatha of the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple. Since he worshipped even the dust from the devotees of Ranganatha, he attained the name Thondaradipodi.
His works are the Tiruppalli Ezuchi having ten verses and Tirumaalai having forty verses, both of which are counted among the 4000 stanzas in the Nalayira Divya Prabandam. The works of Thondaradipodi and other azhwars contributed to the philosophical and theological ideas of Vaishnavism. Along with the three Saiva nayanmars, they influenced the ruling Pallava kings of the South Indian region, resulting in changing the religious geography from Buddhism and Jainism to the two sects of Hinduism.
In South-Indian Vishnu temples, Thondaradipodi azhwar has images and festivals associated with him. The Vasantha Utsavam festival is celebrated in Srirangam and for nine days in the garden believed to have been maintained by him. The verses of Thondaripodi and other azhwars are recited as a part of daily prayers and during festive occasions in most Vishnu temples in South India.
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 during the 5th to 8th centuries AD. 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 Pei 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.
According to traditional account by Manavala Mamunigal, the first three azhwars namely Poigai, Bhoothath and Pey belong to Dwapara Yuga (before 4200 BC). It is widely accepted by tradition and historians that the trio are the earliest among the twelve azhwars. Along with the three Saiva nayanmars, they influenced the ruling Pallava kings, creating a Bhakti movement that resulted in changing the religious geography from Buddhism and Jainism to these two sects of Hinduism in the region. The azhwars were also instrumental in promoting the Bhagavatha cult and the two epics of India, namely, Ramayana and Mahabaratha. The azhwars were instrumental in spreading Vaishnavism throughout the region. The verses of the various azhwars were compiled by Nathamuni (824-924 AD), a 10th-century Vaishnavite theologian, who called it the "Tamil Veda".
Birth and early life
Thondaradippodi Alvar was born in a small village by name Thirumandangudi Chola region in Prabhava year, Margazhi month, Krishna chaturthi, Tuesday in Kettai (Jyestha) Nakshatram (star). His father ‘Veda Visaradhar’ belonged to "Kudumi Sozhiyap Brahmanar" community also called as "Vipra" people, whose routine work is to praise about Sri Vishnu. On the 12th day after his birth, he was named as "Vipra Narayanar". From an early age, bhakti towards Sri Vishnu was taught to him. He grew up with a well rounded personality. It is said that in spite of being good and beautiful and dedicated to Sri Vishnu bhakti, he had no conceit and treated all the aged persons and persons who are younger to him in the same way and gave proper respect to them.
As per Hindu legend, he was under the influence of a prostitute, whose mother stole all the money of Vipra Narayanan. When he was need of money, Vishnu came in his rescue and showered gold in him. He became a staunch devotee of Ranganatha of Sriranganathaswamy temple. He constructed a big Nandhavanam (flower park) in Srirangam, where various beautiful and fragrance flower plants are grown. He worshipped all the bhaktas of Sri Vishnu and put the podi (Small tiny dust particles), which is found under the feet of them in his head and sang songs in praise of Sri Ranganathar. From then, he was called as "Thondaradipodi Alwar".
He composed Tirumaalai comprising 45 verses and Tiruppalli Ezuchi comprising 10 verses. The verses of Tirupalli Ezhuchi are sung for waking up Rangantha, with the verses beginning with "votary bearing the dust of the god's feet". All his verses are in praise of Ranganatha, the presiding deity of the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple. Thondaradipodi vehemently opposes the caste system prevalent during his times and mentions that the ultimate way to reach Vishnu is through service to him and his devotees. He believed that Rangatha is none other than Krishna himself and he has captured his soul. He uses the phrase "Prospering indolents" in his 38th verse meaning the devotees of Vishnu who left their corporal body in earth, but merged their soul to god. His verse starting with "Pachaimamalai pol meni" is the most popular verse and commonly chanted in all Vishnu temples during day-to-day worship and during festivals. The verses of Tirupalli Ezhuchi was first sung in the Srirangam temple and the azhwar gives Ranganatha a wake-up call describing how the inmates of earth come here to watch Ranganatha rise at dawn.
The birthday of the Azhwar is celebrated twice in a year in the Srirangam temple during the birth star in the Tamil month of Margazhi. The Vasantha utsavam is a nine-day festival celebrated during the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May-June) when Ranganatha, the presiding deity of the temple enjoys the ambience of the garden created by the azhwar. As per a Hindu legend, Thirumangai Azhwar, who built the surrounding walls of the Srirangam temple, left the garden untouched, though it blocked the path of the wall. Spring signifies a period that brings cool breeze in the evenings and new flowers blossom. As per Hindu legend, when Jothista Homam, a penance, when done during the period, helps devotees attain moksha. It is believed that one devotees are liberated from his curse if they drink the sacred water of Vishnu during the festival. During the mid of 15th century during the Vijayanagara rule, the Vasantha Mandapam was built inside the garden for the festive image to spend the evenings during the festival. Every evening during the festival, the festival image of Ranganatha is brought to the garden. In earlier centuries, the Devadasi Community in Srirangam, offered dance performance in front of the festive images of the temple in the Vasantha Mandapam during the festival. The practise is discontinued in the temple, but a practise is still continued at the Puri Jagannath temple. Vasanthotsavam is one of the three festivals of the temple when Ranganathar goes back to his sanctum led by the a set of men singing Divya Prabhandam and also makes a pass by through the Ranganayagi shrine. During the festival, the festival image of Ranganatha is taken in a procession on a horse mount around the four Chitirai streets of Srirangam. A special ablution performed for the festive image at the Vasantha Mandapam concludes the festival. 
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