DEVOTEE The avatara utsavam of Thirupaan Azhwar was celebrated in Srirangam recently. S. Prabhu

The story of Thirupaan Azhwar, whose birthday (Rohini star in Karthigai) was celebrated at Woraiyur and Srirangam recently, is a classic illustration of the Lord sharing the pain with the devotee and being by his side when he needs Him the most.

The Paanar community, that lived in Srirangam on the banks of the River Cauvery near Melur, was known for playing sweet music. However, the Paanars were considered outcasts and weren't allowed inside temples. One among them, born in Woraiyur, a Divya Desam on the Southern banks of the Cauvery, had developed a special devotion for Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam.

Being denied entry into the temple, this young man, who had only heard of the Lord and had never seen him, would wake up before dawn every morning and walk up to the banks of the River Cauvery with a veena in hand and immerse himself in the thoughts of Lord Ranganatha. He would visualise the Lord, engage in deep conversations with Him, and sing His praise.

Pelted with stone

On one such occasion, Sage Loka Saranga reached the banks of Cauvery for a bath on his way to Ranganathaswamy temple. Finding this young man blocking his way, the sage gestured the devotee to move away from his path (prior to his bath and during this early morning ritual before meeting the Lord, the sage would not talk to anyone).

With no reaction from the man, the sage lost his patience and in a fit of anger threw a stone at him. With blood oozing from his forehead, the man opened his eyes and realised that he had obstructed the path of the sage. Immediately, he moved away to allow the sage to carry on with his rituals.

To his shock, on reaching the temple the sage found blood on the forehead of Lord Ranganatha. While initially he wondered about the reason for it, slowly he realised the truth. It became clear to him that Lord Ranganatha was unhappy with his treatment of the young devotee. He heard the Lord say “I share the pain of those who show utmost devotion to me. You have hurt Paanar, who despite not being able to visit me, has been steadfast in his devotion.”

The Lord also ordered the sage to carry the devotee on his shoulders and bring him to the temple. Accordingly, the next morning, the sage reached the southern banks of Cauvery to find the man, once again immersed in prayer. Falling at his feet, the sage sang his praise and carried him on his shoulders right up to the Ranganatha sannidhi. For the first time, Paanar entered the temple in Srirangam and found himself in front of the deity that he had only visualised. Paanar, instantly showered 10 verses of praise beginning with a description of the feet - ‘Amalanaathipiraan… Thiru Kamala Paatham Vandhu En Kannin Ullana Okkinrathey.'

He ended the verses with the words ‘En Amuthanai Kanda Kangal Matrondrinai Kaanaavey.' Now that he had seen the Lord, he wanted the Lord to take him along.

Truly impressed with this composition and the unflinching devotion of Paanar, Lord Ranganatha immediately accepted his devotee's praise. In front of a startled sage and all his followers, Paanar merged with the Lord and attained salvation.

The man from the Paanar community who sang these 10 beautiful verses in praise of Lord Ranganatha came to be called Thirupaan Azhwar.

Grand honours

As a celebration of his contribution to the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham and the ten sweet songs he composed on Arangan, Thirupaan Azhwar was presented with an exclusive Viswaroopa darshan of Lord Ranganatha at the Periya Perumal Sannidhi in Srirangam on the occasion of his birthday.

Thirupaan Azhwar, in a special alankaram, adorned with glittering ornaments, was positioned opposite Lord Ranganatha as early as 4 a.m. to get the first glimpse of his favourite Lord.

After the Viswaroopa darshan, Thirupaan Azhwar was accorded grand honours referred to as ‘Keezha Padi Honours.' Namperumal tied His ‘Parivattam' (silk turban) on the Azhwar's head, placed His own garland around his neck, wrapped his shawl around the shoulders and handed him the sacred sandal paste all of which seemed to bring a smile on the face of His devotee.

An hour later, at 5.30 a.m., Thirupaan Azhwar bade good bye to Lord Ranganatha and after a brief stopover at the Nammazhwar sannidhi, Thirupaan Azhwar, accompanied by the loud chanting of Naalayira Divya Prabhandam and Vedic recital, proceeded to the Thayar shrine. He then made his way through the sands on the eastern side of the temple to Andal sannidhi.

Thirupaan Azhwar entered his shrine at 6.30 a.m., as devotees began chanting of ‘Amalanaathipiraan.'

At his avathara sthalam in Woraiyur, Tiruchi, a 10-day avatara utsavam was conducted. This included Araiyar sevai, Veda Paaraayanam, special thirumanjanam as well as a procession inside the divya desam.