We are learning about Alvars who showed us a path to overcome internal and external enemies in Kaliyuga. Their lives served as an example to give us direction. Today, let us talk about another Alwar “Sri Thiruppaan Alvar” (Thirupaanazhwar).
One of the biggest adversary in Kaliyuga is the caste system. Varna system that existed in ancient India was based on the character of an individual. Over the centuries, people misused the varna system and linked it to the “caste” for their own self-interest. Pious devotees were insulted immensely in the name of caste. We have a misconception that “Alvars” are Brahmins. That is not right. Alvars and Nayanars came from various castes. Thiruppan Alvar was a Shudra. He faced many difficulties because of his caste.
In this article, let us see how the Supreme Lord showed his magnificent grace on him.
Thiruppaan Alvar was born as the “amsha” of Swamy’s Srivatsam. Srivatsam is the mark/mole on Lord Vishnu’s chest and Thiruppaan Alvar is the Srivatsam’s incarnation. He was found as an infant in the pile of thrashed grain in a village “Uraiyoor” near Srirangam. A mala dasari couple from the village saw the infant, treated him as God’s gift and raised the child as their own. He was also called “Paanar” as he belonged to the caste of Mala dasaris. Paanar had a great devotion towards Lord Vishnu right from a very young age. He is the amsha of Srivatsam that resided close to Lord Vishnu’s heart! Is it not natural for him to have such deep devotion? Mala dasaris are none other than people who come during “Sankranti” and are called “Haridasus”. They are extremely skillful in singing the glories of God (sankeerthana). I will share an incident with you all.
I went to my native “Bheemavaram” during holidays. We tend to see many haridasus in those places of Andhra unlike Bangalore where there are none. So, one Haridasu came to our place. Haridasus carry a copper vessel on their head. They come singing “Hari Sankeerthanaas” with a tambura in the hand. I asked the Haridasu how they make the ends meet with the grains collected only during the festival time. He smiled and answered that he works as a senior manager in a bank! I was very surprised and asked him the reason why he is roaming around the streets for alms. He answered, “I am not begging. I belong to the Mala dasari sect. I do this to keep our family tradition alive. I have a different profession through which I earn. I do this as my family tradition and not for money. In fact, we don’t use these rice grains for our personal consumption. We (all haridasus) congregate at a place after Sankranti and organize “anna santarpana” with the grains collected.” My heart filled with immense joy and I offered my pranaams to him with reverence.
One may have any profession for a livelihood. But, being able to continue the original samskaraas and traditions is what makes one’s life complete! Being raised in a mala dasari sect, chanting Hari’s name was a natural habit for Thirruppan Alvar since childhood. Added to that, he had a melodious soulful voice. He is the greatest singer amongst all alvars. Unfortunately, Thiruppaan was not permitted to enter Sri Ranganatha Swamy’s temple as he was a shudra. Those were the times when shameful practices like untouchability were widely prevalent. What would be our response if we are not allowed to enter a temple? We whine if God really exists. We show our anguish by using accusing words. These are some things we need to learn from great devotees like him who have unparalleled love for the Lord. He was not worried not being able to enter the temple and was content seeing the Lord in the “Srirangam Vimanam” Srirangam vimanam has great importance. We will talk more about it when I make a article on Srirangam. So, everyday, Sri Thiruppaan Alvar would bathe in the river and have the darshan of vimanam from the river bank. He would sing glories of the Lord, but would go back home after the sunrise abiding to the local custom. The head priest of Srirangam temple was “Loka Saaranga Muni”. The priests set some rules that untouchables should not be seen or touched. Moreover, they ordered that no untouchable should be seen on the way to the river when they come to draw water from the river. So, Thiruppaan would come to the bank of the river to see the Sriranga gopuram and left before the crack of dawn.
But, one day, while singing the glories of the Lord, he went into the ultimate blissful state of consciousness (samadhi). He remained in that absorbed state oblivious of his surroundings. In the meanwhile, Saranga Muni with his disciples came to the river to draw water. Enraged that they had seen an untouchable, they tried to shoo him away by shouting and asking him to leave. Thiruppaan was in a deep state of devotion. So, he could not hear anything. They tried different ways like clapping their hands but in vain. They could not touch him as he was an untouchable. Then they threw stones at him in order to bring him to the wakeful state but failed to create any movement in him. He is in that highest state of Samadhi where the mind is devoid of the outside world! We can see the same in the history of Ramana Maharshi. He used to sit in an underground vault called Patala Linga for meditation. He sat there absorbed in the Self and was unaware of being bitten by termites and blood oozing out of his body. The blood would eventually dry up and Ramana Maharshi would remain absorbed, oblivious to all this pain. Thiruppaan Alvar was in the similar state. Then they hit him on his forehead with a heavy stone which made him bleed! This made Thiruppaan conscious of the outside world. Instead of reacting to the pain, he apologized to the priest for causing delay in the puja to the Lord and walked away! Such a great disposition (samskara)! How does the caste matter when one has such a superior samskara?
He showed the true meaning of samskara and devotion! No matter what caste one is born into, if his samskaraas are this great, he will be like Paanar. Similarly, a person with cheap samskara will be like these people in this case despite their caste. Many such unfortunate incidents occurred throughout our history. Nandanaar garu was tortured and forbid him from entering the Chidambaram temple. Bhakta Kanakadasu garu was tormented and was kept away from Udipi’s temple. Then, Lord Krishna turned to face kanakadasa! You can see this in Udipi even now. Krishna’s idol is turned towards the other side and his darshan is possible through a hole formed on the wall. Swamy did this for Kanakadasa! There are many such instances in the history.
I will tell you how Ranganatha Swamy came down for his ardent devotee. So, feeling triumphant, the priest and his followers left for the temple with pots of water for the Lord. They were shocked to see blood oozing out from the forehead of Lord Ranganatha in the temple! They cried in anguish and asked the Lord if they have committed any mistake that his forehead is bleeding to this extent! Is this not strange that they do not remember their misconduct few minutes ago? This simply means that they saw God only in the idol but failed to see the all-pervading God in fellow beings!
Then Ranganatha Swamy spoke from the idol, “You have humiliated Paanar. As an act of repentance, bring Paanar to the temple carrying him on your shoulders”. So, Loka Saranga Muni immediately ran to Thiruppaan Alvar and brought him to the temple on his shoulders. Thiruppaan was transfixed seeing the divine beauty of Ranganatha Swamy! With blissful tears rolling down his eyes and hands joined in reverence, he said “Swamy, you have finally fulfilled my wish to have your darshan. You have given permission to an untouchable!!”
Hearing those words, the priest and his followers said to Thiruppaan, “Swamy, you are not an untouchable. We are untouchables. Though we were serving the Lord this closely, our hearts remained filthy. You may have stayed away from the Lord physically, but your heart remained pure and close to him! From today onwards, you will be called as ‘Muni Vahanulu’ as Loka Saranga Muni became your vehicle (vaahana)”. Having said that, they carried him inside the temple. Captivated by the divine beauty of Ranganatha, he started to sing a “paasuram” on each part of the body of the Lord. At the end of each paasuram, that part of the body of Thiruppaan Alvar started to merge into the Lord. In the last paasuram when he sang about the eyes of the Lord, Thiuruppaan united with Ranganatha completely!
There is an idol of Sri Thiruppaan Alvar in Sri Anjaneya Swamy temple. You can see his idol when you visit Srirangam next time.