Poigai Azhvar and Bhootatazhvar, the first two among the 12 Azhvars, lit the lamps of gnana with their verses. It is apt that they talk of lamps in their very first verses. The Tamil word for lamp is ‘vilakku.’ The same word ‘vilakku,’ when used as a verb, means to explain, to instruct, to demonstrate. And the lamps lit by the Azhvars were also explanations of Vedic truths, M.A. Venkatakrishnan said in a discourse.

There is a similarity between knowledge and the traditional lamps we light with wicks and oil. Suppose we want to light many oil lamps, we first light one lamp, and then many more from the first one. The first lamp loses none of its brightness by serving as the source from which all the other lamps are lit. Some lamps lit subsequently may even shine brighter, but the original lamp’s light is not dimmed by the act of its lighting other lamps. Likewise, when a person imparts knowledge to others, he loses nothing of his own . If you have wealth and give away, your wealth is depleted by the amount given. But to give of one’s knowledge does not leave one poorer.

A lamp dispels darkness. Gnana dispels ignorance. Poigai Azhvar lit a lamp with the world as a receptacle. Bhootatazhvar refers to his work as ‘gnana vilakku’ — the lamp of knowledge. The first three Azhvars, Poigai Azhvar, Bhootatazhvar and Peyazhvar, met at Thirukkovilur. Centuries after the time of the Azhvars, Villiputhurar, who wrote the Mahabharata in Tamil, celebrates this fact. He says he is from Thirukkovilur, which is where the first three Azhvars lit a lamp of Tamil verses and worshipped Mukunda. Thus he, too, emphasises the fact that the verses of the Azhvars are a lamp.

When Poigai Azhvar, Bhootatazhvar and Peyazhvar were gathered in a small room at Thirukkovilur, they sensed the presence of Lord Narayana there. Recalling this in his ‘Mudal Tiruvandadi,’ Poigai Azhvar says the Lord came with His consort to where the Azhvars were. What was the need for the Lord to come down to a small, cramped room? He left His abode and came down to a small room, because the Azhvars were there, the Azhvars whom He had sent to dispel the darkness in the minds of the ignorant.

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