Tiruvachakam has the unique distinction of combing intense religious fervour with keen literary insight. Simple and at the same time profound, it plumbs the depths of human emotions even as it reaches heights of philosophic perception and poetic feeling. About half a century ago, Dr. Pope, a great love of Tamil literature, felt drawn to this 'gem sweet and serene' and offered to the non-Tamil knowing public an English translation. Sri K. M. Balasubramaniam, who has now come forward with the translation in English verse of the whole of Tiruvachakam, has indeed done a labour of love. This work, more than any other, will help to acquaint those who cannot contains the very of Tamil poetry and Saiva Siddhantha philosophy. Any word of praise of congratulation to the author, however richly deserved, will in this particular context be almost a trivial tribute. For one has delved deep into treasure house of feeling, fervour and faith, for who has understood the teachings and tenets of this rich human philosophy so well as to interpret it to alien schools, for one who must have chanted the magic spell of Tiruvachakam a thousand times before he moulded a foreign medium to sing no less eloquently this song of the soul, for one who has achieved all this all this a spirit of dedication, there can be no greater reward than the rich satisfaction and sense of fulfilment that flow from the accomplishment of such a task!.
The Tamil literary heritage has been, from ancient times, enriched by the contributions of religious thinkers. Perhaps in no language have religion and literature met and mingled so much as in Tamil. The four famous apostles of Saivism – Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar and Manickavachakar – have left behind them as their legacy, poetry that is rich with devotion and lyrical beauty. The charm of their has stood ravages of time and even to-day rings and re-echoes in the sacred precincts of our temples. These disciple of devotion worshipped the feet of the Master through music and melody.
As a supreme example of this literary and religious tradition, Tiruvachakam has, for centuries, brought the message of hope and solace to millions. It rare merit is that it combines with the inspired outpourings of the soul, practical wisdom of a high order. Manickavachakar himself graduated to sainthood from the turbulent turmoil's of a political career. Tradition has it that his talents and integrity drew the attention and appreciation of the ruling king Arimarthana Pandiyan who appointed him as his Chief Minister. The story of how Manickavachakar gave up the lucrative service of the State to be a mendicant of the soul is itself as inspiring as it is dramatic. The Pilgrim's Progress took Manickavackakar from one shrine to another, and wherever he went he worshipped with words that sang of the Lord and rang with wisdom and piety. Students of literature agreed that this saint spent his last days in Chidambaram, where Tiruvachakam was completed Sri Vedachalam, popularly known as Maraimalai Adiga, Shi K. Subramania Pillai and Sri C. K. Subramania Mudaliar have in their critical works thrown considerable light on the life and work of Manickavachakar. There is still some controversy about have the period in which he lived. But during whatever period he might have lived, he belongs to all times.
Tiruvachakam which is the eight among the twelve Tirumupais (Religious Anthology of Saivism) is the story man's search for God. It was the first belief of Manichavakar that through seeking and through repentence, the grace of God can be attained. "Azhuthal Peralame." The stanzas in Tiruchatakam, TiruKothumbi, Kuyil Patthu, Arbudap Patthu, Tiruppulambal, etc. portray the Soul's agony and its quest for the grace of the Lord. The last two chapters of the book reveal the consummation of his aspirations and the ecstatic outbursts of this supreme attainment. The " Garland of Rapture" and "Hymn of the Highest Bliss" as they are appropriately translated, are the acme of poetic expression and philosophical thought.
Legend has it that God himself came to the earth and offered his services to write, as Manickakar dictated, his verses. Truly Tiruvachakam is poetry that the Lord himself would have been delighted to inscribe. The least that man can do is to cherish and chant it till the sweetness of its words draws out the divinity in him.
That day in the year 1948 just a decade ago when Dr. S. Kumaraswami Pillai, our beloved Father in law presented us with a copy of Dr. Pope's Translation of Tiruvachakam and Heiler's Book on Prayer, has proved a red-letter day in our humble life. It is the most eventful gift which has proved efficacious and but for that, our accidental introduction to the Reverend Doctor by another doctor, we wonder if we could ever have become the author of this Translation of Tiruvachakam. Hence we first express our gratitude to that good and noble soul-Dr. S. K. Pillai-for his seasoned gift of a seed which has given us this yield! Despite all our early political peregrinations of a particularly un-religious character, we have become eternally wedded to this sacred Tiruvachakam either due to our parentage or due to our past Karma. This soul-ful dedication of our humble self to this Spiritual Store-house of Tamil has been still further consecrated by our having committed to memory all the fifty-one chapters of Tiruvachakam by the year 1948. Our overwhelming devotion to Saint Manickavachakar first of all flowered into a Tamil Prabanda called 'Manickavachakar Malai' or 'A Garland Of Praise Of Manickavachakar' - a Centum of Tamil stanzas praising the Saint and commenting on his teachings. It was in the course of his Foreword to this humble work of ours that the late lamented Thiru. V. Kalyanasundara Mudaliar-that Saintly leader of the Tamils, for the first time called us 'Tiruvachakam Balasubrarnaniam' This new nomenclature soon became current among our friends. Later on in the year 1949 the present Head of the Dharmapuram Adeenam modified that nomenclature into "Tiruvachakamani Balasubramaniam' and on the solemn occasion of the recent Kumbabishekam of the Lord of Vaitheeswarankoil he presented us with a Gold Medal with "the name inscribed thereon, in the immediate presence of Sri Manavala Ramanujam, the then Vice-Chancellor of the Annamalai University. Since then this new name has been in vogue. But, this conferment of the 'title' or complimentary christening has, far from making as vain, instilled and fostered in us a keen sense of realisation of our responsibility to re-dedicate our soul to the rare and divine task of making Tiruvachakam ring and re-echo in every corner of the world.
It was at this psychologically ripe stage of our soul that, as stated in the beginning, we were accidentally confronted with Dr. Pope's Translation of Tiruvachakam. Needless it is to point out here that this new and interesting English version of Tiruvachakam took our soul by storm and pinned us to the pleasant task of perusing it from cover to cover. We laid the book down with mixed feelings of rapture and regret. That an English Missionary should have done this pioneer work of a very enviable nature so long as ago as 1900 A. D. delighted us and drew forth tears from our eyes. But we were equally full of melancholy and regret that so much of an unedifying nature had been said against our Saint by that Translator in his notes, in spite of his exceptionally sympathetic and even reverential attitude towards the former. We became at once anxious and all agog to make amends for this. 'We would never rest content till this blemish on record is blotted out and rebutted and till the last word about the Saint should be ours in print: This was our firm resolution born of our immediate reaction.
Nor was this all. At the time when the pious doctor had been engaged in this holy but herculean task of Englishing Tiruvachakam, he had literally no assistance or aid in the shape of a commentary on this work in Tamil, except an old book which too, as he has pointed out, was not of any material use to him. Hence he was labouring at this work unaided and unassisted, in a country which was a stranger to the tastes and traditions of Tamilnad as well as Tiruvachakam. And therefore it was that the learned Doctor, in spite of his unparalleled record of invaluable service to Tamil language and literature, had in the translation of the text faltered and fallen in a number of places, with his false interpretations or inaccurate grasp of the meaning of words, phrases and allusions. This constituted another reason for our resolution to undertake our own translation. This does not in the least imply that we are in any manner blind to unappreciative of our himalayan debt of gratitude to that exemplary Christian whose life was a long record of service to Tamil. Far from being so, we love and revere him to the unusual extent of even identifying our soul with his, if this extra-ordinary liberty we could ever be indulged with. That Dr. Pope has been included by us among the Canonized Saints of Saiva Calender in our work called "Manickavachakar Malai" and that this very humble work of ours is being dedicated to Dr. Pope with all love, veneration and gratitude are proofs positive that he is deemed by us not only as a Doctor of Divinity but also as a Divinity of a Doctor. Nevertheless, we wish to say that though Pope is dear to us, Truth is dearer still. Hence, with the aid of the variety of volumes of annotations and commentaries as well as the traditions and atmosphere around us of a helpful nature and above all, by the unfailing grace of the Lord so palpably and demonstrably shown, we have brought out this English version of Tiruvachakam. It is far from our intention to claim any degree of perfection for this work. At best it is and can only be, a little improvement or an advance over Dr. Pope's earlier version. No translator, indigenous or alien, can ever recapture the soul and breath, the aroma and ardour of the immortal and classical hymnology of Tiruvachakam. If the import of that eternal work is Lord Nataraja Himself, as even the Saint has indicated; and if that import could be neither explained nor apprehended by a mere intellectual medium of words; and if that has only to be heartily imbibed and mystically sensed by the soul through the instrumentality of the Lord's Grace, how can any poor mortal, however well-equipped he may be morally, intellectually, and linguistically, venture to recapture that 'import' and essence through the medium of another language and reproduce with faithfulness and fidelity to the original? Dr. Pope dared to dive into the fathomless depths of this spiritual Sea of Tiruvachakam. We too have dared to jump into that Sea after a lapse of fifty-eight years. We may be intellectually and linguistically ill-equipped to operate in the Pearl-fishery of translation but we have the ante-natal advantage of a common nativity and a closer affinity with Saint Manickavachakar. Well and truly may it be said of our humble translation that though its unheard melodies are sweeter, the melody that is audible may be a little sweet. Dr. Pope's translation was a line by line translation and hence it necessarily suffered on this account. But our translation, though it generally tries to follow the original line by line, has steered clear off the Scylla of too literal a translation and the Charybdis of a free and liberal one. Anyone who is proficient in Tamil and English will not fail to appreciate the harmonious golden mean we have attempted to strike while translating the original. We have not ventured to omit even a preposition or conjunction; yet we have made bold to recast certain lines in the translations in consonance with the English idiom and usage. In fact, as Swami Sivananda has so beautifully pointed out, our aim has been two-fold; firstly, the fidelity of the translation to the original should be full and complete and secondly, independent of the original and irrespective thereof, the translation itself must read like an original composition yielding the original's meaning without much effort. Judged by this two-fold test, the translation is a success, graciously concedes our Gurudev of Rishikesh. "No poetical work can be translated without losing its sweetness and harmony" says Dante. Hence we have attempted and achieved only what is humanly possible.
Tiruvadavurar was the name of a child that was born to a Brahmin couple in the village of Tiruvadavur which is situate on the river Vaigai about twelve miles to the south-east of Madurai. The child's father belonged to a sect of Brahmins called Amattiya from which were usually recruited ministers of State and mighty administrators. Tiruvadavurar proved a rare prodigy of Seaming and before he reached his sixteenth year, he had mastered all branches of knowledge then available, sacred as well as secular. He now presented a pleasing picture of perfect beauty and finished culture-in enviable scion of an ancient and illustrious family whose physical attractiveness was matched by his mental accomplishments. He had been an Indian anticipation of an English Wolsey, the boy-bachelor in more respects than one.
The reputation of this rarest gem of a young Brahmin reached the ears of the then reigning Pandyan whose name is given as Arimardanan by the author of Tiruvilayadal Puranam. But history does not approve of this name. Anyway, the scholar was invited to the Court and the King was so much captivated by the person and talents of young Vadavurar that he immediately appointed the latter as his Prime Minister with a new title of Tennavan Brahmaroyan and invested him with extra-ordinary and unlimited powers over the dominion and its administration. The youthful Premier conducted the administration of the kingdom, as if he was to the manner born and prosperity flourished and justice was reigning in the Land. Yet, it cannot be said that the Prime Minister had set all his heart on his job. He felt, in spite of himself, a feeling of estrangement between himself and the vast powers he exercised over a wide kingdom. A long distance seemed to separate his soul from the minister's work as a whole. It was all a case of Wolsey in the opposite direction. While all along the English Premier was too much identifying himself with power and aggrandising his own position, our Brahmaroyar was psychologically detaching himself from the power and glory of the State and attaching himself more and more to spiritual life. He was restless and all agog to seek a spiritual Guru who could lead him to salvation in this birth only. His spiritual thirst increased with every day and time was heavily hanging on him because a day that did not take him to a Guru was deemed a day that was wasted. But soon came an end to this mental agony of the Prime Minister.
One day, the King was informed by some messengers that the Equestrian Wing of the Standing Army was weak and depleted and that that was the right moment to replenish the Cavalry forces because ships' load of war-horses had just then arrived in a harbour of the Chozha country. They were all from an Aryan land, meaning a foreign country. As Dr. G. U. Pope also supposed, we are of opinion that the horses must have come from Arabia only, since there was during the time of Vadavurar commercial and cultural intercourse well-established between the West and India, particularly the Pandyan country. The King commissioned his Prime Minister himself to proceed at once to the said port and personally transact the purchase of enough number of horses; accordingly, the minister was also entrusted with an enormous treasure for that purpose.
The Prime Minister then started on his mission at the head of a vast retinue. As Pope remarks, "like St. Paul journeying to Damascus, he is on the eve of an unexpected and decisive experience." After passing through hills and dales, the Ministerial party was nearing the place called Tiruperunthurai, when a chorus of divine songs as if sung by a thousand voices was heard emanating from within a thick grove. This mysterious strain was too attractive to let the party pass without enquiring into the cause or source thereof. The Prime Minister who had now arrived at the proper psychological moment of a turning-point in his life, got down from his palanquin and unconscious of anything else slowly wended his way to the spot whence the sound was proceeding. As soon as he reached the place, the sight that greeted his eyes was too ravishing and rapturous to be described in words. He saw a mystic Guru who had a rosary of scarlet Eleocarpus beeds around his head, throat and breast who was smeared with sacred ashes of dazzling white, who had a third eyes of fire in the centre of his resplendent fore-head, and who held in his hand a sacred book. He was surrounded by 999 Sivan Adiyars.
Knowing that the book in his hand was the Siva Ganan Bodham which would enlighten the soul and God, our Vadavurar dropped of all his official attire and became dead unto the, mundane world. The hair on his body bristled, tears flowed down his cheeks and he fell prostrate at the feet of the Saviour. Then the Guru initiated him into the mystic Mantra and the doctrines of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy and by planting his hand feet on the devotee's crown he completed the formalities of the sacrament. The minister had now become the mendicant. He became charged with spiritual fervour and God-intoxication and gems of words wreathed themselves into gorgeous garlands and rained forth from his silver tongue. The Guru was delighted with unparalleled strains of the convert's soulful words; he christened him as 'Manicka-Vachakar' – 'He Ruby-Words' and blessed him, now had Vadavurar become so completely the Guru's own in word and action that he spent away all the funds it his disposal in feeding the thousands of Sivan's followers and in building and repairing the temple at Tirupernthurai.
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