We have already learnt from the life stories of sacred Alwars that they have reactivated 108 divya desams. There was only one Alwar who visited all Divya desams. He is Tirumangai Alwar. Today we will look into his life story. It’s an interesting one. There used to be a great warrior in Chola empire. He was born with the Amsha of Lord Vishnu’s bow “Sharnga”. Usually many people have a wrong notion that Alwars and Nayanars must be Brahmins, as Bhakti (devotion) is generally identified with only Brahmins and not others. God doesn’t care about caste. He sees only devotion. So it is enough to have just Bhakti.
Thirumangai Alwar was also born in Sudra community. Since his childhood he was very brave. He was so valorous that he used to defeat 1000s of soldiers single-handedly in a battle. Hence people used to call him “Parakaludu”, because he used to be like Yamaraj for enemies in the battle.
Seeing his courage, king got impressed and assigned him as ruler for the place Thirumangai. After getting kingdom, he started to slowly divert from war/courage to wine/women. He used to spend time with prostitutes. If he happens to see a beautiful woman, he must own her. Like that, he fell into the intoxicated stage of spending with women always.
Alwars were sent by Lord to build an empire of devotion by writing Keerthans etc.. But instead of forming a Bhakti empire, he started to form another empire. Lord decided to teach him a lesson and place him back on track.
For this, another woman was sent into his life. One damsel was cursed by sage Kapila and was sent to earth. While she was lamenting because of the curse, sage Kapila assured her that even his curse would be used for the purpose of bringing back a great devotee into the right path. Having given assurance, she was sent to take birth on Earth. She descended onto the Earth. When encountered by a physician Dhanvantari and asked who she was, she replied, “I am an apsara who descended to Earth. I don’t remember anything else and don’t know where to go.” He said, “Alright. You are just like my daughter. I will take care of you. You can stay at my residence.” He named her Kumudavalli.
She was a very beautiful woman as she was an Apsara. As such word spread, and Thirumangai came to know about her beauty. He desired to own her. In the beginning he tried by asking or threatening. But she did not bend, she descended for a purpose. Finally he went to her house with his associates and asked her father for Kumudavalli’s hand in marriage, saying that he would want to make her his queen.
He was spellbound by her beauty when he saw her at her home. He thought, “Though I have been with many women, I have never seen such a beautiful woman in my life. My life would be successful if I am able to get just this one woman.”
His life would really become successful because of her. We shall see what that is in a while.
When he placed the proposal near her father, the physician asked her, “Dear Kumudavalli, Is it okay for you to marry this king?”
She replies, “I shall marry him, but on two conditions.” First condition is that he (Thirumangai) do pancha samskaras like a Vaishnava. Second condition is Thiruvaradhanam: meaning he should feed 1008 Vaishnavas with food daily, wash their feet, sprinkle washed water on his head, and render them various services during the time of the feast remembering Lord. If he could do these two, then I shall marry him.
He decided to do anything for her. He went and got pancha samskaras done first. Because he is a king, he advertised about feast for 1008 Vaishnavas and they started to come. He asked them to come daily for feast. From the next day, they started to come. He was washing their feet and sprinkling the washed water on his head. He was fanning them while they were eating and discussing about Vaishnava temples etc..
Vaishnavas always talk about Lord Vishnu. After some time in their association, his heart slowly started to change. He used to take food after them, which is like eating their remnants. Food and association definitely changes heart.
A person may have committed many mistakes in the past. But one day anyone will decide to change. At that time, if food and association are regulated, definitely there will be a change in life. If you change your association, your life would change for sure in two to three months.
He did this for one year and fulfilled the word given to her. But this has become a habit for him. He personally decided to feed 1008 Vaishnavas daily. He made this his rule and slowly started to immerse himself in the devotion of Lord Vishnu. Gradually he started to get rid of violence, anger etc.. and started to loose interest in kingdom, battle etc.. This is called Yaga samskaram. Now there is a dearth of money and he stopped paying tax as well. King sent soldiers to catch and bring him. But because he is parakaludu, he defeated all of them and sent them back.
Later king sent a huge army and afterwards he also came in person. But no one could stand before his valor. Everyone had to run away. Then Lord Vishnu appeared to him in his dream and said, “Dear son, you cannot cheat the king when you are under his rule. I shall show you a way to find treasure.” Lord Vishnu gave him directions to find the treasure.
In olden days, there was a rule that everyone has to convert 1/6th of their income into gold and store at a certain place. Many wealthy people have done that in the past. They are the same treasures that people find these days. When Lord told him about treasure, he went and brought it. He payed taxes with the found treasure and used the rest to feed Vaishnavas. Even that money got over after few days. The question is how to get the money now?
The only profession he knew was fighting. Hence he became a thief. He used to hide and rob people passing by. He would beat them up if anyone resisted to give money. He used to use the robbed money to feed devotees. These are two conflicting features. Sharnga, being a bow is valorous. But because it descended down as a human, it started doing robbery and all.
Only Lord can take away the bad qualities and retain the good qualities in a devotee. He assured before sending them down on to Earth that He would take care of them. One day, he and his associates found no one to rob. Being afraid of robberies, people stopped taking the usual route and were going in a different path. Now the whole budget got exhausted and there was no money for the next day Thiruvaradhanam.
Thinking how to get money, he climbed up a tree and started to watch. He alerted his associates to rob anyone that they would find on that day. Meanwhile there was a big wedding team coming along. He saw that and told to his associates, “A big team is coming. They have a lot of jewelry on them. It’s going to be a big day for us. We don’t have to worry for feasts for one year. But don’t leave even a single person or a single ornament. Just attack them.”
On receiving the order, their group attacked the passers by. They placed a cloth and started collecting jewelry from the people. The collected jewelry looked like a heap of mountain. They demanded bride and groom as well to take off their jewelry. Groom also took all the jewelry and gave them. But He has one toe ring with a diamond studded, which was not coming, no matter how much He tried to pull the ring out.
Parakaludu was ordering Him to take out that ring as well. Even though groom said that it’s not coming, parakaludu still demanded to somehow pull it out.
Groom asked, “We have given you everything else. What would happen if you don’t get just this one ring?” for which para kaludu replied, “With this ring we would get leaf plates to serve food for the devotees.”
The groom tried again and said, “This isn’t coming out. You try it by yourself.”
Meanwhile Parakala’s associates came and informed him, “The cloth in which we collected jewelry is so heavy that we are unable to pick it up. Looks like This man is a magician. You better look about Him.”
Parakaludu got very angry and said to groom, “So this is all Your magic. I will see what mantra from You will work. If I don’t get this ring out, I shall get it even by severing Your toe.”
He goes near His foot and tries to pull out the ring with his teeth. As such when he bends to place his mouth near His feet, his head touches the feet and his heart changes.
The reason his heart changes is because that’s not a normal feet. As glorified by Annamacharya,
“Kamini papamu kadigina padamu, pamu dala nidina padamu.”
“Prematho Sri sati pisigedi padamu, Brahma kadigina padamu”. It is the same feet.
Lord Vishnu and Mother Lakshmi came as bride and groom in order change to him. Even though he was trying to pull out the ring, it doesn’t come out. His heart keeps changing simultaneously. He then asks the groom, “What mantra did you use? Neither the toe ring is coming out nor the jewelry bag is lifting up. Tell me that mantra.”
The groom (Lord in disguise) asks parakaludu to come near with folded hands. Parakaludu leaves his false ego and goes near with folded hands, places his ear near to His mouth. Then the Lord Himself instructs sacred Ashtakshari mantra in his ear. With this his life changes. Immediately he could see Lord Narayana in His original form. Kumudavalli came to him immediately. She got rid of her curse and went back to her original planet.
When you see idols of Alwars, if you happen to see an Alwar with a woman, then you are sure it is Thirumangai Alwar.
Then he started singing pasurams on Lord Vishnu effortlessly. Just see the will of Lord and how He changed a thief into a great devotee.
He repented saying to Lord, “Dear Lord, I have committed so many sins and mistakes. With Your appearance my heart has now changed completely.”
Then Lord consoles Him, “Dear parakala, do not feel sad. All those are the pastimes that I played.”
Lord further made a statement, “Whatever happened between us both now will be celebrated as dopidi uthsavam every year in all Vaishnava temples.”
You would find in any Vaishnava temple during dopidi uthsavam, this drama of robbery between Lord, Thirumangai Alwar including roles of Kumudavalli etc.. This play being offered to the Lord as a token of remembrance. This is something that Lord Himself desired to happen.
When you go to Sri Rangam, you would see a mandapam by name Bhojaraman sannidhi in the 4th prakaram (enclosure). There are prasadams being sold near that place. This play is organized in that mandapam every year. They would do the entire drama in dravidian language. You would still understand it and feel happy if you know the story.
Because he (Thirumangai Alwar) had lot of power, he worked very hard to get Sri Rangam temple built. Most of the construction that you see now in Sri Rangam temple was done by Thirumangai Alwar.
When you go to such divine places, please remember such great personalities at least once.