Wizard of words

There are four types of poets: Asu kavi — the spontaneous poet; madhura kavi — one whose verses are pleasing; vistaara kavi — one whose poetry is elaborate and chitra kavi — one whose words come together to form an image. Thirumangai Azhvar could compose in all four genres and was, therefore called Naalu kavi Perumal. His Thiruvezhukoottrirukkai, in praise of Lord Aravamudhan, the deity of Kumbakonam, falls in the category of ratha bandham, and it is because of this work that he is considered a chitra kavi. In this work, he uses words that represent numerals, to form a chariot. He uses the numerals in ascending and descending order to build the ratha of words. Thirumangai Azhvar’s ratha of words, can be represented in a figure as a ratha with seven decks. He cleverly describes and praises the auspicious qualities and amazing exploits of the Lord, while all the while using only words that refer to numerals from one to seven, said V.S. Karunakarachariar, in a discourse.

Often, he resorts to puns — the same word meaning a number but also meaning something else. In one case where he has to represent three, he talks of the three-fold fortification, which Ravana’s capital city of Lanka had. A capital city should ideally have three types of protections, to keep enemies at bay — a moat, hills and forests. Lanka is blessed in this respect, for instead of a moat, it has a sea, and of course, it has forests and hills too. When having to represent two, Thirumangai Azhvar says Rama’s arrow shot out of His bow, with the hiss of the forked tongue of a snake. Forked tongue can also be expressed as two tongued. Once, with His two feet, He measured the three worlds, and so on, using numerals up to seven, Thirumangai Azhvar’s work deals with philosophy, and also describes the Lord’s attributes.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 8:55:13 AM |

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