poyninṟa jñānamum pollā oḻukkum aḻukkuḍambum
inninṟa nīrmai iniyāmuṟāmai, uyiraḷippān
enninṟa yōniyumāyp pirandāy imaiyōr talaivā
meyninṟu kēṭṭaruḷāy, aḍiyēn ceyyum viṇṇappamē
This is the opening hymn of Thiruviruththam. Thiruviruththam is the first among the four books of Azhvar.
Material existence is the reason for suffering
The material existence is filled with various forms of suffering. Unless this bondage to matter terminates, the suffering does not end. The bondage to matter comes in the form of the body. The souls trapped in various bodies undergo diverse experiences of pleasure and pain. Hence, the scriptures describe the body as bhoga-sthāna (the field of experience) and the soul as bhoktā (the one who experiences). All forms of blemishes (doṣāḥ) dwell in the body. Azhvar calls it “aḻukkuḍambu”. Due to the association with the body which is full of blemishes, the self is deluded. This delusion leads to incorrect apprehension of truth, which is “poyninṟa jñānam”. The mind rests in half-truths and untruths. It perceives only the world which is available for experience to the senses of the body, and does not recognize the effects of action (karma-phala) or the possibly endless sequence of re-births that await the self or the presence of the Lord. Actions are a reflection of the mental state of the individual. When the mind is deluded, the actions pave the way for trouble. The soul assumes that it is acting in self-interest by gathering wealth indiscriminately and seeking various forms of pleasures available in the world. However, these actions, which constitute karma, destroy the self by strengthening the bondage to matter. They earn experiences for the soul which have the potential to further delude it. These harmful actions are called “pollā oḻukku” by Azhvar.
It is our desire to escape suffering when we know it. Even an ascetic or recluse bears this one desire. Once the material existence starting with the bondage to the body and leading to delusion and performance of faulty actions is clearly understood, the fear of suffering by nurturing this existence heightens. The enlightened soul seeks liberation from this bondage.
“inninṟa nīrmai iniyāmuṟāmai” is the intention of Azhvar’s hymn; “in order that we do not attain this state(of bondage) again”. Let the days of ignorance, misdeeds and bondage be done. Let us not attain this bondage again. May our bondage end with our present lives and not recur.
Azhvar employs the plural pronoun “yām” or “we”. Though it is only Azhvar who is enlightened truly and makes the petition in the hymn (note the singular aḍiyēn), he takes in the agony of all souls. He makes his petition on everyone’s behalf. Irrespective of the state of understanding or ignorance about the nature of fire, it does burn all who come in contact with it.
The bondage to matter is bound to cause suffering regardless of the understanding of the souls. Unable to bear the suffering of his fellow-selves, Azhvar requests the Lord to end the material bondage of all souls.
Narayana liberates the souls from bondage
The petition would bear fruit only if it was made to the person capable of responding to it. Narayana is the protector of all souls. This is known through His inclination to incarnate. “uyiraḷippān enninṟa yōniyumāyp pirandāy”. It is to rescue the souls that He appeared in various forms as Varaha, Narasimha, Rama, Krishna, etc. His prowess as the protector of souls is clearly revealed through His actions during these incarnations. Therefore, Azhvar petitions Him to protect all the souls from suffering.
Narayana is experienced ceaselessly by the liberated
Narayana is also referred as “imaiyōr talaivā” or the focus of the divine. “imaiyōr” refers to the liberated or eternally free souls whose have unperturbed experience of the Lord.
“imaiyōr” literally means “those who do not blink”; the implication is that the experience of Narayana or the desire to experience Narayana is not lost even for the span of a wink of the eye.
“talaivā” is used in the sense of master. The liberated souls serve the Lord out of love born from the ceaseless experience.
It is indicated that on liberation from material bondage, the souls attain ceaseless experience of the blissful Lord and serve Him.
Grant me the favour of listening
Azhvar requests the Lord to only listen to his prayer. He does not ask Him to fulfill his prayer. This is due to the fact that His mere listening is sufficient for fulfillment. The Lord does not have to exert Himself subsequently. His mere will is capable of addressing the prayer. “meyninṟu kēṭṭaruḷāy, aḍiyēn ceyyum viṇṇappamē”.
“Lord! You form the ceaseless experience of the liberated. You are our protector as proven by Your numerous incarnations. Grant Your grace by listening to my earnest prayer in order that we do not attain this state of suffering through bondage to body, delusion and dangerous actions.”
The hymn teaches us that
(i) material existence is the reason for suffering
(ii) the suffering is due to ignorance and faulty actions that arise due to association with the body
(iii) the cessation of suffering is attained only on liberation
(iv) liberation involves ceaseless experience of the Lord
(v) the Lord, being the protector of souls, must save us from suffering