Periya Azhwar – Bhakti as Maternal Love ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

This article was first published in the ‘Speaking Tree’ section of the Times of India newspaper.

Your relationship with the Divine is your prerogative; and every devotee’s bhava or emotions is unique. One can relate to Him as a friend as in sakhya bhava, as a servant in dasa bhava, as a lover in madhurya bhava or have a peaceful relationship in shanta bhava. You can even exhibit parental feeling towards Him in what is known as vatsalya bhava.

Perhaps no one epitomises the vatsalya bhava better than Saint Vishnu Chittar or Periyalwaar (“elderly scholar”) as he was fondly called. Vishnu Chittar was born in Srivilliputtur, in the heart of the Pandyan kingdom in the Tamil month of Aani under the Swati Nakshatra. The Vathapatrasayee Temple with a sleeping Vishnu on a banyan leaf is located here in Srivilliputtur. Born to a pious couple Mukundachari and Padmavalli, the child was believed to be the incarnation of Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. And it was here in the temple that Vishnu Chittar would make garlands of flowers for the deity of the Vatapattrasayi temple every day as part of his kainkaryam (service to the Lord).

Vatapatrasayi as seen by Sage Markandeya

Vallabhadeva, the devout king of Madurai, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and was in a constant quest to learn and understand the glories of the Supreme Truth. On the advice of Selva Nambi, the chief priest of his kingdom, he decided to hold a spiritual conference. He said that a bagful of money and jewels would be given to the best speaker. The conference continued for days but none could impress the king. One night, Vatapatrasayee appeared in Periyalwaar’s dream and asked him to take part in the conference. Periyalwaar was very unsure of himself, but his implicit faith in Hari made him participate.

Periyalwaar explained to the audience that Hari is Narayana, the Parabrahmn. The form from where the entire universe was created, sustained and will merge into him in the end. To achieve moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, one had to meditate upon Him. Even as he spoke, a miracle happened: the precious bag that was hanging from the hall ceiling descended close to Periyalwaar. He was declared victor ‘Bhattar Piraan‘- or the foremost amongst the priests. The king honoured Periyalwaar by making him sit on a decorated elephant and a grand procession was taken out. All this happened in front of the Koodal Azhagar temple, which is located in the centre of Madurai.

Koodal Azhagar Ashtanga Vimana, Madurai Picture by the Author

It is said Vathapatrasayee Himself came to watch the spectacle. Just then Periyalwaar received a vision of the Lord and his consort witnessing the procession.

Courtesy: Ramanujadasyai
Painting of Periyaalwaar mounted on the elephant at the Koodal Azhagar temple

Worried that the divine couple were coming to a world ridden with adharma, he expressed his vatsala and blessed God, as a parent would bless a child, to protect Him from the evil eye. Periyalwaar burst into a song, a hymn that became popular as the Thirupallandu, which consists of 12 paasurams. Perhaps he is the only saint who showed his bhakti by blessing none other than God. At that moment, he felt the same feelings as Yashoda had towards Krishna. The following is just the 1st stanza or paasuram:

Pallandu Pallandu Pallayirathandu,
     Palakodi noorayiram ,
    Mallanda thinthol manivanna ,
   Vun sevadi sevee thirukappu

Which translates as : “For several years, several more years, for several thousands of years and for crores of lakhs of years, The strong shouldered blue hued victor of wrestlers,
May your reddish sacred feet be well protected”

Periyalwaar, later used the entire prize money to renovate the temple and he continued to live a simple life. Periyalwaar was also the foster father to Andal – the only female azhwar saint and you can read about her here.

Today, 22nd June 2021 is the Thirunakshatram or Birth anniversary of this great saint Periya Azhwar Vishnu Chittar

Koodal Azhagar Temple, Madurai Picture by the Author

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5 thoughts on “Periya Azhwar – Bhakti as Maternal Love ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

  1. Pingback: SriVilliputtur and the Birth of Andal ©Sangeeta Venkatesh | sojourn-with-san

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