In the southern tip of Indian sub-continent, when the Pandiya dynasty was flourishing, there was a village known as Thiruvaadavur.
It was a popular village in the Pandya kingdom and there lived a pious Brahmin with his dutiful wife. By the grace of God, Lord Shiva they got a worthy son whom they named Vaadavoorar (vaatha-vUrar), after the native village.
The child grew well. Soon he had mastered all the scriptures. He was respected by all for his personality and wisdom.
He became very popular and his fame reached to Madurai, the capital city of Pandiya Kingdom.
The king of Madurai, Arimardana Pandyan, heard of Vadavurar’s qualities and discovered that Vadavurar was an all-rounder and was proficient in administration also. The king made Vadavurar his Prime Minister. Even as the role of the king’s minister, Vadavurar shone with extraordinary brilliance and won the title of “Tennavan Paramarayar.”
The parents and relatives were planning to find a suitable girl for him to settle him down. However, he was attracted to spirituality.
He wanted to enjoy the eternal bliss of Sivanandam (enlightenment of Saivism). Even while he was administering the affairs of the state to the satisfaction of the king, Vadavurar’s mind was fixed on the lotus feet of the Lord.
He would invite learned men and great sages and discuss with them his doubts on intricate points in the Vedas to clear. Soon, he realized that a Guru was necessary for real spiritual progress.
Vaadavoorar longed to meet his real Guru. Whenever he went out on duty, he always in the lookout for a suitable Guru.
One day when the King was holding his court, a messenger came in and informed that a ship arrived at the port with magnificent Arabic horses. As they were planning to replenish the cavalry for long, the King entrusted the task of buying the best horses with his Prime Minister, Vaadavoorar.
The King giving out the necessary fund for buying the horses
Vadavurar started on the journey of buying horses, with enough money. He reached Thiru Perunturai. But he wasn’t aware that God has different plans taking him to the divine fold.
So, in the guise of a Brahmin and with a copy of the book “Siva Gnana Bodam” in his hand, the Lord was seated under a Kurunta tree near the temple at Thiru Perunturai. The Brahmin was surrounded by many disciples.
Vaadavoorarr entered the temple and stood motionless before the Lord, in intense prayer and then went around the temple as per the tradition.
Vaadavoorar glimpsed a sight of the Brahmin, whose magnetic personality immediately attracted him and he realized that he was the suitable guru that he was looking out for. With overflowing love and devotion, Vaadavoorar ran to the Brahmin, as a calf to its mother after a long separation, and fell at the Brahmin’s feet.
Holding Siva’s feet with his hands Vaadavoorar prayed, “Oh guru, kindly accept me as your disciple and bless me.”
The Lord was waiting for this and cast a graceful glance on Vaadavoorar. The Lord then explained some principles of Siva Gnana and cleared his doughts and gave some preaching. This enlightened Vaadavoorar. He was self-forgetfully absorbed into the divine bliss.
Singing Siva’s glories, thus, Vaadavoorar removed all his belongings and offered all at the feet of the Guru. Vadavurar had become a Sannyasi (a sage). Smearing his body with sacred ashes, thiruneeru, fixing his mind on the lotus feet of the Guru, Vaadavoorar plunged into deep meditation. When he awoke from this meditation, Vaadavoorar was filled with an eagerness to sing the glories of the Lord.
Since the hymns sung by Vadavurar were like gems (Manikkam in Tamil) in wisdom, the highly please Lord called him “Manikkavasagar” and then onwards he became known by that name.
The Lord asked Manikkavasagar to remain at Thiru Perunturai and disappeared.
Manikkavasagar continued to be there and spending his time in praying, meditating and glorifying the god. The state officials who along with him to buy the horses started thinking that he had forgotten the mission, and, so gently reminded him that further delay would irritate the king and that would not be a good idea.
Maanikkavaasagar sent them back to the king with the message that the horses would reach Madurai within one month. When the king heard of what had happened to his Prime Minister, he was annoyed, but, waited patiently for a month.
But at Thiru Perunturai, Manikkavasagar was devoted to the Lord, forgetting the king and the horses. Manikkavasagar had spent the money he had brought in the divine services.
After waiting for a month, the king sent Manikkavasagar an angry note reminding him that he had failed in his mission and promises and asked him to return to Madurai immediately.
Manikkavasagar became very worried and he went to the temple and prayed to the Lord for a way out from the angry King. Moved by Manikkavasagar’s sincere prayer, the Lord appeared in his dream that night and said, “Oh noble soul, fear not. I, myself, will bring the best horses to Madurai. You can go in advance and inform the king that the horses will arrive there on Avani Moolam” (an auspicious day falls in the month of August).
The next morning, Manikkavasagar donning his ministerial robes started for Madurai and gained an immediate audience with the King
Manikkavasagar explained, “Your majesty, I have already purchased the horses for the entire money you gave me. I was waiting for an auspicious day on which to bring the horses here. Avani Moolam is an auspicious day. In the meantime, as commanded by your majesty, I have returned. The horses will reach here on the said auspicious day.”
Pleased with that statement, the king apologized to Manikkavasagar for the rash note he had sent earlier. Manikkavasagar built a big stable for the horses.
With his thoughts fixed on the Lord and praying him daily, Manikkavasagar was expecting the forthcoming auspicious day.
In the meantime, few of those who went out with him to buy the horses had intimated the king that in truth Manikkavasagar had spent all the money in divine services at Thiru Perunturai and that Manikkavasagar’s statement was false.
The king’s suspicion increased. Only two days remained now, he sent some officials secretly to investigate if a purchase was made whether the horses were really on its way to Madurai. They returned with a negative reply.
The king became very angry and ordered Manikkavasagar to be severely punished for the lies and continue to do so until the said auspicious day comes up.
Manikkavasagar bore everything, fixing his mind on the Lord. The Lord, Himself, bore all the torture, and the disciple was relieved. The soldiers could not understand the secret of Manikkavasagar endurance. They tortured Manikkavasagar further!
Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord. The Lord heard his disciple’s prayer and decided it was the time for his divine play. So, Shiva willed that all the jackals of the place should assume the form of horses and the Lord also sent out his celestial servants (shiva-shena) to act as horsemen. The Lord, himself, assumed the form of a trader in horses and reached Madurai.
That day was Avani Moolam.
The dust raised by the galloping horses filled the sky. The people were wonderstruck to see the fine horses and so did the King too. The thought that he had unnecessarily tortured Manikkavasagar pained the king’s heart. He at once released Manikkavasagar and apologized to him and along with him went to the place where the horses had been stationed.
The king was happy to see the high quality of the horses which looked majestic. The merchant was also very handsome and the king’s servants led the horses to the stable and all parted off gleefully.
Delivery of the horses
The day passed into night. In accordance with the Lord’s will, the horses assumed their original form of jackals, broke the reins and fled from the stable, howling. Some injured even real horses. A few old jackals remained in the stable.
Jackals running away
The next morning, the horsemen could not find any of those majestic horses delivered in the previous day and there were only a few old jackals in the stable. They immediately reported the matter to the king. The king personally visited the stable and investigated and got terribly angry with Manikkavasagar who, the king thought, had deceived him by magic.
The king’s soldiers again began to torture Manikkavasagar by making him stand bare feet in the hot sand during the warm Avani summer season.
Under the burning sun, he was kept standing in the very hot white sand of the riverside of Vaikai.
Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord for help. Unable to bear the suffering of his devotee, at once, the Lord caused a heavy flood in the river Vaigai. There was panic everywhere in the town. The people could not understand the cause of this untimely flood. The soldiers who were guarding Manikkavasagar also fled.
Manikkavaasagar had reached the temple in Thiru Alavai and was absorbed in meditation.
There was another linked story: “Lord Shiva and the Poor Old Lady” and we are sure you must have read that.
The Lord again came as a cooly to help out the poor lady and again shown his divined play and the king punished him by hitting him with a stick.
The blow, however, was felt by all beings in the whole universe (including the king) — since Shiva is in all. Manikkavasagar, too, felt the blow that the king gave the Lord. He got up from meditation.
The king came to the temple in Thiru Alavai and prostrated before Manikkavasagar and begged for his forgiveness. He requested Manikkavasagar to accept the rulership of the kingdom. The saint refused this offer but asked to be permitted to go to Perunturai.
Both of them came to Madurai and worshipped the Lord Somasuntharar there. Manikkavasagar then left for Perunturai. The king also renounced everything soon after this and reached the Lord’s abode.
At Perunturai, Manikkavasagar sang highly inspiring songs and the Lord appeared in the form of the Guru. The Lord then asked Manikkavasagar to go to Chithambaram.
On the way to Chithambaram, Manikkavasagar visited many shrines. In every shrine, unless the Lord appeared in the original form of the Guru, he would not be satisfied. At Thiru Uttarakosha Mangai, Manikkavasagar wept bitterly when he did not see the Lord as the Guru and the Lord had to accede to Manikkavasagar’s wish make his disciple happy.
On his way to Thillai, a Buddhist king of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and some monks challenged him in a debate. King had a daughter who was a dump and the king was on a pilgrimage to the Buddhist shrines to find a cure to her condition.
The dump princes started speaking
Manikkavasagar prayed to the Lord for help and then asked the girl to give out proper answers to the questions put by the Buddhist monks on Lord Siva. The dumb princes not only began to speak but gave fitting answers to those questions.
They were all wonder-struck at this miracle. The king and the Buddhists recognized the superiority of Saivism and embraced it. Thus Manikkavasagar restored speech to the Buddhists also.
Manikkavasagar reached Chidambaram and rolled on the holy ground. He stayed in a garden near the temple and sang the famous “Thiruvachagam”. The people of Thillai heard the songs and mesmerized.
One day Lord Siva desired to hear Thiruvachagam from the lips of Manikkavasagar and bestow moksha on him. So, Shiva went to Manikkavasagar in the disguise of a Brahmin.
Manikkavasagar welcomed the guest with respect and enquired of his needs. Lord Siva told Manikkavasagar, “I want to hear Thiruvachagam from your own holy lips. I shall write it down so that I can learn it and with its help free myself from the shackles of Samsara (The earthly life).”
The Lord wrote down what was recited
Manikkavasagar recited the Thiruvachagam and the Brahmin (Lord Shiva) wrote it down on palm leaves. Once completed, blessing him, the Brahmin disappeared!
At once, Manikkavasagar knew that the Brahmin was the Lord Himself. Manikkavasagar felt terrible anguish for not having recognized the Lord.
The Lord wanted to immortalize Manikkavasagar and to spread his glory.
So, the Lord the palm leaves with the songs he wrote on the step of Panchakshara of the Chit Sabha of Thillai.
The Brahmins of Thillai were surprised to see the palm leaves lying there. They opened the leaves and read the contents. In the end, it was written, “Manikkavasagar recited this and Thiru Chitrambalam wrote this out.”
The Brahmins wanted to know the meaning of these verses, so they showed this to Manikkavasagar who explained to them that the meaning of this is “none other than the Thillai Nadarajar”.
Meaning is “None other than Thillai Nadarajar”
Manikkavasagar at once merged himself at the feet of Lord Nataraja.
Recently a great Tamil Music legend Ilaiyraaja of Tamil Nadu released a ‘Composed and Orchestrated’ the Thiruvachagam
Thiruvachagam is one of the masterpiece in Tamil literature.