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The Life History of Saint Manikkavachakar

(From the Thiruvasagam publication by Socio Religious Guild, Thirunelveli.)

    Paandya Nadu is the land that lies in the southernmost part of India, stretching between 
the Western Ghats and the Eastern Coast. When this land was ruled by the Pandyan Kings, 
the language was Tamil and the religion was Saivism; both were flourishing hand in hand. 
The historic river Vaigai, celebrated in the classics flows across Paandya Nadu.


    Vaadhavoor (வாதவூர்) is a village situated seven miles away from Madurai, the capital of 
Pandya Nadu. Vaadhu or Vaayu, the God of Wind worshipped Lord Civan, the Eeswarar, here. 
The village is, therefore, also known as Vaadhapuram, and in the village Temple, Lord Civan 
is worshipped as Vaadhapureeswarar. Here, an Amaadhya Brahmin named Sambupaadhaa Sirudhar
(சம்புபாதாசிருதர்) lived with his devoted wife Sivagnaanavathi (சிவஞானவதி), Both 
were ardent devotees of Lord Civan.

    At this point of history, Buddhism was slowly creeping from North into South India, 
trying to dominate Saivism. God felt the need to revive Saivite creed. So He blessed 
Sambupaadhar couple in Vaadhavoor (வாதவூர்) to beget a divine child. The child was named
Vaadhavoorar (வாதவூரர்).

    Vaadhavoorar, as he was growing, acquired knowledge in all fields. By the time he
reached sixteen years, he had become a master of all arts. His erudition, expository powers,
and intellectual knowledge won him the admiration of the Pandyan King.


    King Arimarthana Paandyan (அரிமர்த்தன பாண்டியன்) who was then ruling the Paandyan 
Kingdom invited Vaadhavoorar to his court and conferred the title "Thennavan Brahmaraayan" 
(தென்னவன் பிரமராயன்) on him. He then appointed him as his Chief Minister. Vaadhavoorar 
bowed to the will of God and accepted this honour. He served the king and the subjects 
so well that the people were pleased with him. The King was properly counselled and 
his powers strengthened.


    However, the ministerial powers and the benefits that followed, failed to interest 
Vaadhavoorar. He was well aware of the transitoriness of the worldly life and its pleasures. 
The Minister's post was sitting on him like water on a duck's back; his main desire being to 
seek a Guru who could guide him to attain Salvation.


    Once, the Cavalrymen of the court submitted to the king, that the Royal Cavalry needed
reinforcements. Some messengers in the court also submitted to the king that horses of good 
quality imported from other countries were available in the Eastern sea coast. The king, then 
ordered Vaadhavoorar to take sufficient gold and other treasures from the Royal Treasury 
and to proceed to the Eastern Coast to buy horses.

    Vaadhavoorar, obeying the king offered prayers to Lord Chokkanaathar (சொக்கநாதர்) 
(the other Name of Lord Civan) and left Madurai for the Eastern Coast. He was followed by
soldiers, servants, horses and camels loaded with treasures. They travelled many miles and
reached "Thirupperunthurai" (திருப்பெருந்துறை) on the Eastern Coast. Even as they were 
nearing Thirupperunthurai, Vaadhavoorar felt as though he was shedding off his bad karma from
his physical body, and his longing to seek a Guru is nearing fulfillment. At that moment he 
heard some congregation chanting the name of Civan which attracted him towards that place.
There he saw a Venerable Saint sitting under a "Kuruntha” tree (குருந்த மரம்) along with His 
disciples. Spontaneously Vaadhavoorar surrendered himself, prostrated and pleaded for His Grace.


    Lord Civan who was seated in the guise of a Guru accepted him as His disciple. Through 
the glowing rays emanating from His eyes, by touching him with His hands and imparting the 
mystic five letter 'Mantra' and also by placing His Holy Feet on his head, He gave him the
'Theeksha' name (தீட்சா நாமம்)  as 'Maanikkavaachakar' (மாணிக்கவாசகர்) (Maanikkam= Ruby,
Vaachakam = words; Maanikkavaachakar= one whose words are like Ruby).

    From this time onwards Vaadhavoorar came to be known as Maanikkavaachakar. He 
now offered to his Guru all the treasures he had brought with him to buy horses. Surrendering 
himself completely to his Guru, he said that himself and everything he had brought belong to 
God. The Guru bade him to use all that he had brought in the service of God. Thereafter 
Maanikkavaachakar built a small abode for Lord Civan at Thirupperunthurai. (This later on 
became the Sanctum Sanctorum of the modern Temple built by later kings). By this and other 
related activities he exhausted almost all the treasures he had brought for buying horses.


    Days rolled on.  Maanikkavaachakar was completely transmuted and immersed in the
Lord's Service. However, his attendants reminded him of their unfulfilled task of buying horses. 
Maanikkavaachakar's mind was so engrossed in Lord Civan, that his mind could not perceive the
attendant's remarks. Thereafter the king's men returned to Madurai and reported the matter to 
the king. On hearing the news, the king sent a messenger with a message summoning Mannikkavaachakar
to come to Madurai immediately. On receipt of the King's message only, Maanikkavaachakar realised 
the purpose of his mission. Not knowing what to do, he prayed to his Guru for guidance. 
The Guru advised Maanikkavaachakar to assure the king that the horses will reach Madurai on 
the day of Aavani Moolam (ஆவணி மூலம்) (Aavani falls during August - September, 
Moolam - One of the 27 stars). Also He gave a ruby to be given as a gift to the king. 
Maanikkavaachakar then left Thirupperunthurai for Madurai. Reaching Madurai, he met the king
and offered the ruby, promising that the horses will come on the day of "Aavani Moolam".
The king was pleased by his reply. 


    The time had come for Civan to keep his assurance. He transformed the foxes in the 
forest as horses. He made the celestials to become horsemen. He Himself mounted on a horse 
as the Chief horseman. They all galloped towards Madurai. Learning the imminent arrival of the
horses the king was happy.

    The horses were galloping forward in such large numbers that the dust raised by them
appeared to cover the earth like a second sky. Lord Civan brought the entire herd before the king 
and paraded the horses up and down. The horses were also made to perform different kinds of steps. 
The king, well pleased, honoured the Chief horseman by presenting a silk shawl to Him. 
The Chief horseman (Lord Civan) received the gift at the tip of His horsewhip. This disrespectful 
act made the king unhappy. The king was pacified immediately by Maanikkavaachakar explaining that 
in the land of the Chief horseman, this was the custom. The experts, who knew all about the horses 
testified to the king that the horses were of good colour and gait. The king's men then led 
the horses to the Royal stables.

    In the same night the horses took their original form as foxes, killed all the other real 
horses in the stables, and escaped, creating panic in Madurai city. The stable men became terrified 
and reported the scary event to the king. The king was upset. He summoned his ministers and others 
and discussed the event. He then gave orders that Maanikkavaachakar be punished and the treasures 
taken from the treasury be recovered from him. As per the king's orders Maanikkavaachakar was made 
to stand under the hot sun with a brick on his head. Maanikkavaachakar, suffering thus, 
prayed to Lord Civan.


    To make the king realize the greatness of Maanikkavaachakar, Civan created immediately 
a deluge in the river Vaigai followed by heavy rain. Water rose in the river breaching its bank 
and entered into the city. The people got alarmed and hurried to the King for relief. The king 
prayed to the river goddess and offered flowers and gold to appease her. However, the floods 
did not recede. The king held urgent discussions with his ministers, and ordered that all 
the citizens of Madurai should join hands to close the breaches on the banks of river Vaigai.


    There was an old lady called 'Vandhi' (வந்தி) in Madurai, who earned her livelihood by 
selling 'puttu' (புட்டு) (steamed and sweetened rice flour). She had none to help her to carry out 
her portion of the task in filling the bank of river Vaigai. Civan, in the guise of a labourer, came
near Vandhi and called out loudly "can any one pay me and keep me as a helping hand? " 
Vandhi was delighted and asked Him to work for her in filling her portion of work. She promised 
to give 'puttu" as wages. He agreed, ate some 'puttu' and then proceeded to do His work.

    Vandhi's labourer carried sand on His head and started dumping sand on the breach. 
However, He availed frequent breaks, during which He danced, sang and relaxed. When the king 
came to see the progress of the relief work, his men complained to the king, that everyone in the 
city were doing their share of duty in closing the breaches, except Vandhi's labourer 
despite their command.

    The king ordered that the hired labourer be brought before him. When Vandhi's labourer 
appeared before the king, he beat Him with a cane. Lo! The lash of the cane was felt on the back 
of the king, the queen, the ministers, the guards and indeed on the back of everyone in the universe!
Lo! By then Vandhi's man dumped a basketful of sand on the breach and vanished. The flood receded!
The king then realised that it was Lord Civan who created the deluge! Realizing the greatness of 
Maanikkavaachakar, the king beseeched him to forgive and bowed before him and said, "Great Soul! 
I am Blessed! Because of you only, I was able to see with my own eyes Lord Civan in the form of a 
Horseman, and also as a Labourer. Forgive me; absolve me of all my natal sins;
I pray you, to take over the rule of my kingdom from me"


    Maanikkavaachakar expressed his desire to the king that allowing him to serve God is
more blessed than to rule the Pandyan Kingdom. As desired by Maanikkavaachakar the king relieved 
him from his ministership and asked him to take any amount he wanted from the Treasury to serve 
Lord Civan in any manner he wanted. Maanikkavaachakar then moved from Madurai to Thirupperunthurai.
From there, he proceeded to the temple in Thiru-Uthara-Kosa-Mangai, (திரு உத்தரகோசமங்கை)
where Lord Civan conferred on him 'Ashtamaa Siddhi' (அஷ்டமா சித்தி) (eight occult powers). 
He continued his pilgrimage to ' Thirukkazhukkundram' (திருக்கழுக்குன்றம்) and various other 
Holy places, finally reaching Chidambaram.

During his sojourn he outpoured his love of God in the following poems.

    Civapuraanam (சிவபுராணம்), which begins with "Namachchivaaya Vaazhha" (நமச்சிவாய வாழ்க), 
Arupudhap Paththu (அற்புதப் பத்து), Adhisayap Paththu (அதிசயப் பத்து), Kuzhaitha Paththu (குழைத்த பத்து), 
Sennip Paththu (சென்னிப் பத்து), Aasaip Paththu (ஆசைப் பத்து),  Vaazhaap Paththu(வாழாப் பத்து), 
Adaikkalap Paththu (அடைக்கலப் பத்து), Chethilaap Paththu (செத்திலாப் பத்து), Punarchip Paththu
(புணர்ச்சிப் பத்து), Arul Paththu (அருட் பத்து), Thiruvaarthai (திருவார்த்தை ), Ennappathigam (எண்ணப் பதிகம்), 
Thiruvenbaa (திருவெண்பா ), Thiruppalli Ezhuchi (திருப்பள்ளியெழுச்சி), Thiruvesaravu (திருவேசறவு), 
Aanandamaalai (ஆனந்த மாலை), Uyirunnip Paththu (உயிருண்ணிப் பத்து), Prarthanaip Paththu (பிரார்த்தனைப் பத்து), 
Thiruppaandippathigam (திருப்பாண்டிப் பதிகம்), Thiruchchathakam (திருச்சதகம்),  Neethal Vinnappam 
(நீத்தல் விண்ணப்பம்), Thiruppulambal (திருப்புலம்பல்), Piditha Paththu (பிடித்த பத்து).

    On his way to Chidambaram, he stopped in Thiruvannaamalai (திருவண்ணாமலை). In
that place during the month of "Maargazhi" (மார்கழி) (December - January), he observed young 
maidens, getting up at dawn and going from door to door waking up other maidens for a bath. 
This joyous scene has been brought forth in Thiruvembaavai (திருவெம்பாவை). He, by seeing 
the maidens playing an indoor game called "Ammaanai' (அம்மானை), composed Thiruammaanai. 
In Thiruk-kazhuk-kundram he composed the Thirukkazhukundrap Pathigam (திருக்கழுக்குன்றப் பதிகம்).

    In Chidambaram, he entered the temple through the Eastern gate and had a holy dip 
in the Sivaganga (சிவகங்கை ) tank. Thereafter, he reached the Sanctum Sanctorum and offered 
worship to Lord Civan in cosmic dance posture known as Nataraajaa ( நடராஜா). With loving 
tears he sang in praise of Lord Nataraajaa as found in Kanda Paththu (கண்ட பத்து).
From Thillai he proceeded to Naageshwaram and Thiruppullicharam and offered worship. After that
Maanikkavaachakar settled down finally in Chidambaram.

    Maanikkavaachakar sang the following songs in Chidambaram-  Kulaap Paththu (குலாப் பத்து), 
Koil Thirup-padhigam (கோயில் திருப்பதிகம்), Koil Mootha Thirup Padhigam (கோயில் மூத்த திருப்பதிகம்), 
Keerthith Thiruagaval (கீர்த்தித் திருஅகவல்), Thiru Aandappaguthi (திருவண்டப் பகுதி), Potrith Thiruagaval
(போற்றித் திருஅகவல்), Thirup Porchunnam (திருப்பொற்சுண்ணம்), Thiruththellenam (திருத்தெள்ளேணம்), 
Thiru Vundhiyaar (திருவுந்தியார்), Thiruththonokkam (திருத்தோணோக்கம்), Thiruppoovalli (திருப்பூவல்லி) 
Thirupponnoosal (திருப்பொன்னூசல்), Annaip Paththu (அன்னைப் பத்து), Thirukkothumbi (திருக்கோத்தும்பி),
Kuyil Paththu (குயில் பத்து), Thiruththasaangam (திருத்தசாங்கம்), Achchap Paththu (அச்சப் பத்து).


    A devotee of Lord Civan had gone to Eelam (North Sri Lanka) whose habit was to chant
continuously the mystic words "Chemponnambalam" (செம்பொன்னம்பலம்), "Thiruambalam" (திரு அம்பலம்) 
"Thiruchitrambalam" (திருச்சிற்றம்பலம்). This reached the ears of the Buddhist king who was then 
ruling Sri Lanka. He summoned the devotee to his court. The devotee, even while occupying his seat, 
was muttering "Chemponnambalam', Thiruvambalam','Thiruchitrambalam'. The king asked him to explain 
the significance of what he was saying. The devotee explained all about the mystic words and also 
about the greatness of Saivism, which flourishes from its epicenter, Chidambaram. He further asserted 
that if anyone sincerely utters these mystic words even once, they will receive the benefit arising 
out of saying 'Namachchivaaya' (நமச்சிவாய) 21,600 times, (This figure represents the total number of
breaths one normally makes in 24 hours).

    A Buddhist priest, who was present at the Court, was provoked by this assertion. He
claimed that there was no God greater than Lord Buddha who gave the world the "Thirupedagam" 
(திரிபிடகம்). He also challenged that he will go to Chidambaram soon and establish the greatness
of Buddhism over Saivism. The king took this challenge to himself and journeyed to Chidambaram 
with his followers and his daughter. The king's daughter was born deaf and dumb. They settled 
themselves in the Temple Hall in Thillai. The guards objected to their stay in the Temple premises.
The Buddhist priests said that they had come to challenge Saivism and to establish the greatness 
of their own religion. The priests in Chidambaram brought this to the notice of the Chola king. 
The king was concerned over these events. That night Lord Natarajaa appeared in the dream of all 
the Temple priests and conveyed to them to request Maanikkavaachakar to face the challenge 
thrown by the Buddhists.

    Next morning all the priests shared their dream experience and in consultation with the 
King approached Maanikkavaachakar. They explained to him the situation and the dream they had 
on the previous night and requested him to challenge the threat of Buddhists. He agreed and 
reached the temple accompanied by the three thousand resident priests. Maanikkavaachakar 
worshipped, implored the Grace of Lord Civan and then reached the Temple Hall to face the Buddhists. 
The Chola King, scholars and poets have also assembled in the same Hall. Maanikkavaachakar arranged 
a curtain to be hung between him and the Buddhist priests. Maanikkavaachakar opened the debate 
and it went on and on. The Buddhist priest refused to see the truth in the arguments and continued 
to insist on their own views. In a trice the Buddhist priest and other followers with him 
lost their power of speech. The king of Eelam was perplexed. He then requested Maanikkavaachakar 
to grant the power of speech to his daughter, promising to embrace Saivism if his daughter 
could be made to speak.

    Maanikkavaachakar directed the king's daughter to answer all the questions thrown by
the Buddhist priests, which was repeated by him. Immediately the girl started speaking by 
replying the questions. The questions and answers formed the verse Thiruchchaazhal (திருச்சாழல்). 
Elated by the events, the Eelam king prostrated at the feet of Maanikkavaachakar and embraced Saivism. 
The king later requested Maanikkavaachakar to restore the power of speech to his followers also.
Maanikkavaachakar graced them and their speech was restored. Asking forgiveness they all too 
embraced Saivism.

    Maanikkavaachakar continued to remain in Chidambaram and sang more verses such as
Thiruppadaiaatchi (திருப்படையாட்சி), Thiruppadai Ezhuchi (திருப்படை எழுச்சி), Achchap Paththu 
(அச்சப்பத்து), and Yaathiraip Paththu (யாத்திரைப் பத்து), Pandaaya Naanmarai (பண்டாய நான்மறை) etc.

    One day Lord Civan in the guise of an elderly learned man came to Chidambaram and
requested Maanikkavaachakar to repeat all the poems he had sung so far to enable him to put 
them in writing on Palm Leaves. He obliged and repeated all the poems. After writing all these 
poems in Palm Leaves, the Old Man requested Maanikkavaachakar to bring out a treatise on 
'Kovai' (கோவை). This he did and the same was recorded. These four hundred poems are known as 
"Thirukkovaiyar" (திருக்கோவையார்). After writing these two great works for a few days, 
the Old Man suddenly disappeared! Maanikkavaachakar then only realised that the Old Man 
who wrote his poems was none other than Lord Civan Himself! Maanikkavaachakar was deeply
moved by Civan's grace.

    Next morning the priests who came to the Chidambaram Temple saw a big Palm Leaf Bundle 
on the steps leading to the Sanctum Sanctorum.  The Temple Priests were astounded and amazed 
to find a Palm Leaf Bundle in the inner steps leading to the Sanctum Sanctorum enclosed 
by another room, which was locked by them in the previous night. On opening the Palm Leaf Bundle, 
they found a number of poems written on it, and at the end found the following words;
"Retold by Maanikkavaachakar and written by the Lord of Thiruchchitrambalam" 
(மாணிக்கவாசகன் சொல்ல திருச்சிற்றம்பலம் உடையான் கைச்சாத்திட்டது).

    The Priests approached Maanikkavaachakar and learned from him that it was Lord Civan 
Himself in the guise of an Old Man had been to Maanikkavaachakar, wrote all these poems as 
narrated by him and disappeared instantly. The Priests then realised that Lord Civan alone must
have placed it on the inner steps of the temple.

    The priests then requested Maanikkavaachakar to explain the inner meaning of these poems. 
He agreed and came to the Temple. Standing in front of Lord Natarajaa, Maanikkavaachakar said, 
"The Sum and Substance of his entire poems is nothing else than the Supreme Lord Natarajaa Himself". 
Saying thus, Maanikkavaachakar disappeared and merged with the Supreme in front of the king, 
ministers, priests and many others.


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