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Arunagirinathar Statue at Venjamakoodalur Temple, near Karur.
|Born||15th Century A.D.|
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Arunagirinaadhar (Aruna-giri-naadhar, Tamil: அருணகிரிநாதர், Aruṇakirinātar, IPA/Tamil: [aɾ̪uɳəɡɨɾɨn̪aːd̪ər̪] ) was a Tamil great saint-poet who lived during the 15th century in Tamil Nadu, India. He was the creator of Thiruppugazh (Tamil: திருப்புகழ், Tiruppukaḻ, [t̪iɾ̪upːʉɡəɻ], meaning "Holy Praise" or "Divine Glory"), a book of poems in Tamil in praise of the Saivam God Murugan.
His poems are known for their lyricism coupled with complex rhymes and rhythmic structures. In Thiruppugazh, the literature and devotion has been blended harmoniously.
Thiruppugazh is one of the major works of medieval Tamil literature, known for its poetical and musical qualities, as well as for its religious, moral and philosophical content.
Arunagiri was born during the 15th century in Thiruvannamalai, a town in Tamil Nadu. His father died soon after his birth and his pious mother and sister instilled in him, their cultural and religious traditions. Legends claim that Arunagiri was attracted to the pleasures of the flesh and spent his youth in pursuing a life of debauchery. His sister always gave whatever she earned to make her brother happy, and he frequently visited the devadasis. It was said that since he was enjoying his life in dissipation, he started to suffer from leprosy and because of it people started to avoid him.
There came a time when his sister had no money to meet his demands for dissipation. Arunagiri said he was going to kill himself because of this. To prevent Arunagiri from committing suicide, his sister said that he should sell her in order to have money, upon hearing which Arunagiri realised how selfish he had been. He decided to end his life, went to a temple and hit his head against the pillars and steps, begging for forgiveness. He considered jumping to his death from the temple tower but according to legends, the God Murugan himself prevented him from committing suicide, cured his leprosy, showed him a path of reform and piety, initiated him to create devotional songs for the benefit of mankind.
Arunagiri sang his first devotional song thereafter and decided to spend the rest of his life in piety, writing devotional poetry and singing in the praise of God. He was a devotee of Lord Murugan and worshipped him at the sacred Vedapureeswarar temple in the town of Cheyyar.
His fame drew the jealousy of the chief minister of the Kingdom. He accused Arunagirinathar of espousing false beliefs. The king arranged a public gathering of thousands and commanded Arunagiri to prove the existence of Murugan to others. According to Tamil Hindu tradition, it is recorded that Arunagiri began performing his devotional songs for Lord Murugan and soon after, the form of child Lord Murugan miraculously appeared before those gathered, thus saving his life.
Arunagiri, rendered his first song 'Mutthai tharu' after the miraculous rescue from suicide, at Thiruvannamalai. Arunagiri visited temples all over South India and composed 16,000 songs - about 2,000 alone remained in this earth. His songs show the way to a life of virtue and righteousness and set the tone for a new form of worship, the musical worship.
The works of Arunagirinathar include
For Lord Murugan's devotees Thiruppugazh is equivalent to Thevaaram, Kandar Alangaram is equivalent to Thiru Vaasagam and Kandar Anubhuti is equivalent to Thiru Mandhiram. In the Kandar Anubhuti, it is revealed that Arunagirinathar was an exponent of Shaktism. He believed that Devi had incarnated on the Poosam Nakshatram day for the benefit of mankind, in many places, extolling the sanctity of these places, 'She' had a green coloured complexion, and 'She' was the personification of the Vedas. In Thiruppugazh, he describes the divine vehicles of Devi. He has shown familiarity with rituals pertaining to Vamachara, though one who worships the Devi internally may not worship her externally. It was seen that the title nātha, was normally conferred on a person, when he becomes an adept in the worship of Devi.
The Thiruppugazh songs remained in manuscript form for a number of years and were gradually forgotten. V.T. Subramania Pillai and his son V.S. Chengalvaraya Pillai of Thirutthani understood their value, retrieved and published them.
In 1871 Subramania Pillai, a District Munsif, had the opportunity to hear a rendering of a Thiruppugazh song while he was on a tour of Chidambaram. Captivated by the song, he decided to set out on a mission to search for the entire body of Thiruppugazh songs. He toured all over South India, collected manuscripts, including palm leaves, assembled the texts and published them in two volumes, the first in 1894 and the second in 1901. After his demise, his son Chengalvaraya Pillai brought out a new edition of the book of songs.
He also went to so many shrines such as Shiva temple and Muruga temples, Melakadambur is one of them. He wrote a song about this shrine's Lord Muruga "kaviri seerumon seeraru soozh kadambooril" - means Muruga is blessing us from the place where the tributary of the river Cauvery is the Vadavaaru. The place Kadambur lies in the banks of the river Vadavaaru.
There is no doubt that Arunagirinathar possessed a deep knowledge of music and rhythms. His compositions contain references to various ragas (known as paNs in Tamil) such as Varali, , Lalita, Bhairavi, Malahari, Bowli, Gowla, Kuranji etc. Though he has himself not employed them, he mentioned the fundamental five Marga talas - Shashatputam, ShashapuTam, Shatpitaputrikam, Sampatveshtakam and Udghattam as well as three others - Utsava, Darpana and Charchari talas. His compositions are set in complex meters and form an alternate system of talas called Chanda (meter-based) talas.
The original music of Arunagirinathar has unfortunately not survived which has necessitated them to be re-tuned in recent times. Early musicians who set Tiruppugazh to music included Carnatic musical giant, Kancheepuram Naina Pillai (1888-1934) and his disciple, Chittoor Subramaniam Pillai (1898-1975). Several musicians including G N Balasubramaniam, Alathur Brothers and M M Dandapani Deshikar used to render many of these prominently in their concerts and soon there was not a single musician who had not learnt at least a few of these.
A great number of these were also set to music by noted Tiruppugazh exponent A S Raghavan which enabled these masterful creations to gain mass popularity. He set to tune more than 500 of these songs in over 100 Ragas and several of these are being rendered by his large following of Tiruppugazh devotees (“Thiruppugazh Anbargal”). Thanks to him, Thiruppugazh classes sprung up both in cities and rural areas, and Thiruppugazh Anbargal started performing in various forums including Temples, Music Sabhas and homes of devotees where they attracted large audiences. Some of these students who settled in countries outside India started Thiruppugazh classes in their new communities, thus extending the reach of his movement to other continents, and giving the movement an international footing. Other musicians who have set music to Tiruppugazh include Chitravina N Ravikiran.