AzhwAr/AchAryas vAzhi thirunAmams – Simple explanation

SrI:  SrImathE SatakOpAya nama:  SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama:  SrImath varavaramunayE nama:

Whenever we study any prabandham, we have to look for 3 important aspects.

  1.  vakthru vailakshaNyam – The greatness of the author
  2. prabandha vailakshaNyam – The greatness of the work itself in its final form
  3.  vishaya vailakshaNyam – The greatness of the subject that is being explained –

vakthru vailakshaNyam describes the greatness and special skills and qualities of the author. prabandha vailakshaNyam describes the greatness of the literary work. vishaya vailakshaNyam describes the greatness of the subject matter explained in the prabandham.

vAzhi thirunAmams are poems that glorify an AzhwAr or AchArya and are written in simple thamizh that makes them easy to understand. Most of them are written by an AchArya named appiLLai.

appiLLai’s vaibhavam (greatness) – vakthru vailakshaNyam :

appiLLai’s given name is praNathArthihara. He is one among the eight primary disciples (ashta dhig gajangaL) of maNavALa mAmunigaL. They all established mutts/thirumALigais and took a huge responsibility in spreading SrIvaishNava sampradhAyam far and wide. appiLLai remained inseparable from another AchArya called appiLLAr. It is indeed an interesting episode in yathIndhra pravaNap prabhAvam on how he surrenders at the lotus feet of maNavALa mAmunigaL and does kainkaryams under his guidance. Also, not much is known about his early days.

It was golden days for the sampradhAyam (nalladik kAlam). maNavALa mAmunigaL was living in SrIrangam with many disciples and scores and scores of AchAryas were reaching SrIrangam to surrender at mAmunigaL’s lotus feet after hearing about his greatness. It is during this time that appiLLAr and appiLLai reach SrIrangam after winning over several debates with scholars from other philosophies and successfully establishing SrIvaishNava philosophy.

appiLLai and appiLLAr are close associates of eRumbi appA who is also one of the ashta dhig gajangaL and hails from the village called eRumbi near ghatikAchalam (ShOLingar). He has composed many works like SrI varavaramuni dhinacharyai, vilakshaNa mOksha adhikAra nirNayam, SrI varavaramuni satakam etcThey learn about the greatness of mAmunigaL from eRumbi appA and get the desire to become mAmunigaL’s disciples. Then, ponnadikAl jIyar also meets appiLLai and appiLLAr. ponnadikkAl jIyar is the primary disciple of maNavALa mAmunigaL. He explains about the greatness of mAmunigaL and further suggests that appiLLai and appiLLAr are great scholars and will easily understand the greatness of mAmunigaL that he is none other than AdhiSEshan and also the reincarnation of emperumAnAr. Then, ponnadikkAl jIyar takes them to kOyil aNNan’s thirumALigai and makes them further understand the value of mAmunigaL and his works! appiLLAr and appiLLai surrender at mAmunigaL’s lotus feet and become his disciples and later come to be among his primary 8 disciples – ashta dhig gajangaL.

appiLLai has composed the vAzhi thirunAms of AzhwArs and OrAN vazhi AchAryas. He has given the commentaries for thiruvandhAdhis. He also has written other prabandhams and granthams. vAzhi thirunAmam is his celebrated work and he stayed with his AchArya with lot of love and devotion and worked for taking the glories of our sampradhAyam.

While appiLLai has composed many of the vAzhi thirunAmams, all of the compositions are not attributed to him! For eg., “sIrArum ethirAsar..” is a vAzhi thirunAmam composed on emperumAnAr by maNavALa mAmunigaL. vAzhi thirunAmams for various AchAryas have been composed by others as well, however we come to know that many of them are composed by appiLLai. Thus, we have seen the vakthru vailakshaNyam (author’s greatness).

Greatness of the work – prabandha vailakshaNyam

It is essential to know what they are and the importance of vAzhi thirunAmams. “vAzhi” is a word that denotes mangaLASAsanam. The words vAzhi, nama:, pORRi, jaya denote that we are performing mangaLASAsanams towards a revered person. mangaLASAsanam expresses the heartfelt wishes for a person, wishing that person to be well. It is wishing to bestow all the goodness on them. Our pUrvAchAryas, especially, piLLai lOkachAryar, has explained about it in his grantham SrI vachaNa bhUshaNam.

Who can do mangaLASAsanam?

Can one to mangaLASAsanam to those who are greater in age and status and qualities? One may question whether ordinary people like us have the credentials and eligibility to perform mangaLASAsanam to emperumAnAr with words like “sIrArum ethirAsar thiruvadigaL vAzhi”! piLLai lOkAcharyar has answered such questions in his SrI vachaNa bhUshaNa dhivya SAsthram.

This act is done out of love. For example, periyAzhwAr has sung “pallANdu, pallANdu” for emperumAn. He raises a question and answers that himself – “Is it acceptable to sing pallANdu, pallANdu to emperumAn and wish Him well?” When we are established in true knowledge, during those times we are said to be in gyAna dhaSai. At those moments, we are fully aware that He is our protector and we are all the ones protected by Him and we submit our prayers to Him. We long to perform services (kainkaryams) to Him.

However, periyAzhwAr was established in true love – prEma dhasai. His feelings towards emperumAn were similar to those of yaSOdhAp pirAtti towards kaNNan emperumAn. It is appropriate to wish well for emperumAn and sing pallANdu to Him from that state. When we have love towards someone and wish them well, we can do mangaLASAsanam that they should be well. It is appropriate and does not mean that we are assuming ourselves to be greater than them and that they have become lesser to us! We remain in service to them, however due to our overflowing love (pongum parivu), we sing pallANdu to them! periyAzhwAr sings pallANdu to emperumAn due to his overflowing love (pongum parivu) and hence it is acceptable and appropriate.

It is in accordance with one’s true nature (svarUpam) to do mangaLASAsanam to a learned person by saying words like “May dhEvarIr live long for a hundred years! pORRi, vAzhi” etc. When such a learned person lives well and for long, all the people of the world will gain prosperity because of such person. So, everyone can do mangaLASAsanam without any hesitation. With the help of vAzhi thirunAmams composed by appiLLai, we also can do mangaLASAsanam at appropriate occasions/days. Such is the arrangement of our elders.

Now, let us learn about how to do mangaLASAsanam to emperumAn, AzhwArs and AchAryas. When elders visit emperumAn or AzhwAr, AchArya sannidhi, it is appropriate to ask “Did you do mangaLASAsanam well?” instead of asking “did you get good dharSan/sEvai?”. Our elders have made it easy for us to mangaLASAsanam to emperumAn, AzhwArs, OrAN vazhi AChAryas everyday by reciting the vAzhi thirunAmams.

If we look at the compositions of vAzhi thirunAmams, they contain the divine beauty, their works, the great services performed by them etc. While reciting the vAzhi thirunAmams, we are able to recollect their greatness , their contributions for our betterment and this helps to develop gratitude towards them. While recollecting their selfless services, contributions, their works, we can feel grateful for having association with such great AchAryas and AzhwArs. It also reminds us of the yeoman services done by them for our sampradhAyam and give them their due respect. It becomes important to recite vAzhi thirunAmams for all these reasons.

When can one recite the vAzhi thirunAmams?

One can recite vAzhi thirunAmams everyday based on the star for that day and reciting the AzhwAr/ AchAryan vAzhi thirunAmam corresponding to their birth star. For e.g., we can chant emperumAnAr’s vAzhi thirunAmam on thiruvAdhirai day. On punarvasu day, one can chant the vAzhi thirunAmams of kulaSEkhara AzhwAr, mudhaliyANdAN, ponnadikkAl jIyar et al.,We can do this every month for all the AzhwArs and Acharyas on their respective thirunakshathram days. This practice is followed until today in many sannidhis. On the annual thirunakshathram day, vAzhi thirunAmam will be chanted twice in all sannidhis for the respective AzhwAr and AchArya. We can follow the same kramam (practice) at our homes as well. We can chant the vAzhi thirunAmams of the AzhwAr or AchArya with their birth star on that particular day, after doing thiruvArAdhanam and sARRumuRai to our gruhap perumAL. We can chant them twice on their annual thirunakshathram day. This practice will help us establish their greatness in our hearts. Thus, we have seen the prabandha vailakshaNyam of vAzhi thirunAmam.

Greatness of the subject matter – vishaya vailakshaNyam

It is in general practice that we chant the vAzhi thirunAmams of AzhwArs and OrAN vazhi AchAryas. OrAN vazhi AchAryas start with periya perumAL and end with maNavALa mAmunigaL. Similarly, we can chant the vAzhi thirunAmam of the 12 AzhwArs.

AzhwArs and OrAN vazhi AchAryas

This sampradhAyam is being sustained from time immemorial by passing on the highest teachings and practices between an AchArya (teacher) and a Sishya (disciple). This is what is referred to as OrAN vazhi. The first AchArya is periya perumAL. The first three AchAryas, namely, periya perumAL, periya pirAtti, sEnai mudhalvar reside in SrI vaikuNtam. Rest of the AchAryas are from this samsAric world and they are many in number.

OrAN vazhi AchAryas:

  1. periya perumAL
  2. periya pirAtti
  3. vishvaksEnar (sEnai mudhalvar)
  4. nammAzhwAr hailed as prapanna jana kUtasthar- leader for those who have surrendered (SaraNAgathi) at the lotus feet of emperumAn through an AchArya
  5. nAthamunigaL
  6. uyyakkoNdAr (puNdarIkAkshar)
  7. maNakkAl nambi (SrI rAma miSrar)
  8. ALavandhAr ( yAmunAchchAryar)
  9. Periya nambi (mahA pUrNar)
  10. emperumAnAr (SrI rAmAnujar)
  11. embAr (gOvindhap perumAL)
  12. parASara bhattar
  13. nanjIyar (vEdhAnthi)
  14. nampiLLai (lOkAcharyar)
  15. vadakkuth thiruvIdhip piLLai (SrI krishNa pAdhar)
  16. piLLai lOkAchAryar
  17. thiruvAimozhip piLLai ( SrI SailESar)
  18. maNavALa mAmunigaL ( ramya jAmAthru muni)

This is the list of OrAN vazhi AchAryas. In addition to this, our guru paramparai is expanded based on each one’s AchArya, their thirumALigai/ mutt and lineage. For example, if one is associated with SrI periya nambi thirumALigai, they will chant the vAzhi thirunAmams of all the AchAryas in that lineage starting with SrI periya nambi. The same is true for other lineages like embAr, kUrathAzhwAn etc. While each one chants specific lineage vAzhi thirunAmams based on their AchArya, the vAzhi thirunAmams of AzhwArs and OrAN vazhi AchAryas is commonly recited by everyone.

AzhwArs are jIvAthmAs like us who were chosen by emperumAn to influence and guide samsAris like us and provided them with blemishless knowledge and devotion (mayarvaRa madhinalam) for that purpose. This is similar to how a hunter who desires to capture a group of deer uses a young deer and tames it first, later uses the young deer as a bait to attract and capture other deer. emperumAn also provides AzhwArs with blemishless knowledge that turns into pure devotion and as a result sing pAsurams outpouring with love, devotion and the highest truths. These pAsurams are called 4000 dhivya prabandham. It is through these prabandhams that AzhwArs brought out the deepest meanings from vEdhas in a very simple, easily understandable thamizh language. It was for these prabandhams, AchAryas wrote detailed commentaries (vyakhyAnam) at a later time. More specifically, emperumAnAr was a visionary leader who had a huge role in bringing the principles of this samparadhAyam into a path and also establishing 74 seats of AchAryas (simhAsanAdhipathis) who are still spreading the knowledge and practices of this sampradhAyam far and wide to anyone that is interested.

emperumAnAr also took a lot of efforts to establish paths by which anyone who is interested can learn, practice and perform service (kainkaryam) to emperumAn through the SrIvaishNava sampradhAyam. This is the wish of emperumAn as well. It is emperumAn’s compassion on all of us that we have a way to learn about one’s true nature through the words of AzhwArs and AchAryas, and the practices laid out by them. It is only due to the continuous practice of these AchAryas that we are able to learn and walk on this path with unobstructed practice from ancient times. This is the greatness of the subject – vishaya vailakshaNyam.

Let us now enjoy the meanings of every vAzhi thirunAmam in the upcoming articles.


adiyEn ranjani rAmAnuja dAsi
adiyEn vidhyA rAmAnuja dAsi

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