So, in today’s narrative by our Thirukolur Thozhi (Friend), she began, “Did I, for the sake of my Acharya, reject even the association of PerumAL, when granted by someone who was offensive to my Acharya?”
“avan vENDAm endrEno AzhwAnaip pOla”!
‘AzhwAn’ implies ‘the one who won our hearts’. As the sloka goes, ‘Nagareshu Kaanchi’ which means, the best among towns is Kaanchi, near which is a village named Kooram.
This is the birthplace of ‘Srivatsa Chihnar’, born in the month of Thai (Mid January to mid February as per English calendar) in the Hastham star. He was a wealthy man and a great philanthropist who did Annadanam (providing prasadam meals for the needy) everyday.
People called him ‘KoorathAzhvAn’ because of his generosity and humility. He was greatly respected for the things he said ‘No’ to. Let’s see what those are.
Our story begins in Kancheepuram Devanathan temple. The temple doors were closed for the day. Perundevi Thaayar and Perumal were relaxing along with ‘Thirukkacchi Nambi’ whose Seva was fanning them with a whisk (chAmaram). As he had such a personal service to them, Perumal and Thaayar were in the regular habit of conversing with Thirukkacchi Nambi.
Suddenly, they heard a loud thud, interrupting their conversation. Thaayar asks “The temple doors are already closed for the day, who is closing their door this loud?” Thirukachi Nambi replied, ”That’s KoorathAzhvAn’s house. They must have completed their daily Annadanam.” Perumal jokingly says, “KoorathAzhvAn seems to be wealthier than me!”
The next day, Thirukacchi Nambi told KoorathAzhvAn about the conversation, which made him feel that he would rather be known as Ramanuja’s Sishya, not the wealthiest man in town. So he distributed all his wealth to the needy and journeyed along with his wife Andal to Srirangam to fully serve Sri Ramanuja.
On the way, KoorathAzhvAn noticed that his wife seemed to be afraid. He asked her why she was scared, because people who don’t possess valuables are not in fear of losing anything. She replied, “I didn’t have the heart to give away the golden bowl which you eat your food in, Swami.”
He asked her to throw it away immediately. “Now I am sure your fears are gone. It will no longer be necessary for our service to Ramanuja, let’s go to Thiruvarangam and begin our new, blissful life.”
Later, one day, Ramanuja and AzhvAn travelled to Kashmir’s Sharada Devi temple to obtain the Bodhayana Vritti, an ancient, essential manuscript needed by Ramanuja to write his commentary on the Brahma Sutras.
It had been Swami ALavandhAr’s dying wish for Ramanuja to write that commentary, and Ramanuja had promised that he would do so. The King permitted them to take the Sutras with them. Swami Ramanuja and AzhvAn then left for home. On their way, they encountered the Rishis from Kashmir. The Rishis didn’t want to let go of the Sutras, so they took it back from Ramanuja.
Ramanuja was extremely sad that even after receiving the Bodhayana Vritti, He was unable to imbibe its knowledge. To his surprise, AzhvAn said, “While you were asleep yesterday, I read the entire scripture and everything is registered in my mind. Do you want to listen to it now, or after we reach Srirangam?”
AzhvAn was an Eka sandha grAhi -someone who remembers everything that he read, even if he only read it once. He helped Ramanuja complete his famous commentary, Sri BhAshyam, by sharing all the knowledge he had read in the Bodhayana Vritti, stored in his peerless memory! He was a very sincere and loving devotee of Sri Ramanuja. His love for his Acharyan was limitless.
As we all know, Ramanuja was driven out of Srirangam by a cruel, fanatical Chola king. When Ramanuja and AzhvAn were summoned by the king, KoorathAzhvAn wore Ramanuja's saffron Sannyasi robes and went to the king, posing as Ramanuja, with Periya Nambi pretending to be KoorathAzhvAn.
When they were asked to sign an agreement, stating that they accept Shiva as the Supreme God, they refused, declaring that Sriman Narayana is the one and only Supreme. This led to the kingsmen taking away Periya Nambi’s eyes and before they could come to Koorathazhvan, he plucked out his eyes himself. On the way back, Periya Nambi attained the Lord’s lotus feet. KoorathAzhvAn’s bhakti is unmatched. He sacrificed his eyes so that all our eyes could see Perumal.
One day, Koorathazhvan along with his wife wanted to take darshan of Arangan, but the guard said, “Any acquaintance of Ramanuja is not allowed inside!” People who were gathered there spoke very highly of KoorathAzhvAn and asked the guard to let them in.
After this the guard relented, and permitted their entry. But KoorathAzhvAn said, “We should attain Perumal only through Acharyan, not with our own virtues. I refuse to enter any place where Swami Ramanuja is disrespected. Even if Perumal Himself comes before me in such a way, I would not want to see Him (avan vENDAm)!” He returned home without going to the temple.
Thirukolur Pen Pillai concluded, ”I don’t have such strong faith and devotion to Acharyan as KoorathAzhvAn, who wears Acharya Bhakti as his identity. What right do I have to live in Thirukolur?”
Sri Ramanuja agreed, “Yes, among shishyas, Koorathazhvan is one among the best. With Acharyan’s blessing, our Perumal never says no to their bhaktas. “Without Acharyan I don't want to see Perumal” - shows Koorathazhwan’s vairAgyam and extreme love for his Acharyan.”
“Who are you going to tell me about next, dear child?”
Thirukolur Pen revealed, “advaitam vendrEno emperumAnAraip pola?”
What is interesting here is that so far, she told stories of people who were known to Ramanuja, but is now about to narrate a tale of Sri Ramanuja to Ramanuja himself.