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TIRU PALLAANDU OF PERIALVAR

Prema Nandakumar
The spiritual revolution that was begun by the Alvars had many facets. If the first
three Alvars, Poygai, Bhutam and Pey, saw the Supreme as clearly as one sees a jewel
placed on ones palm, Perialvar (circa 8th century) saw the Lord as a little babe growing
up in every household. Thus the Supreme not only became a close presence but became
an integral part of ones everyday experience. Where can there be a demarcating line
between the deity and the devotee when Baby Krishna is carried on the hips by Yasodha
and placed in the cradle and rocked to sleep? It is obvious that generations of devotional
singers have mesmerized us into the presence of the Lord by songs like Surdass Jasoda
Hari, palne jhulave, thanks to the original inspiration that came from Perialvars songs
on Krishnas childhood, boyhood and youth.
Born Vishnuchitta at Srivillipputtur1 to Mukundacharya and Padmavati in the
month of Ani under the Swati asterix, Perialvar was a pious Brahmin who loved growing
a variety of flowers in his garden which he tended with maternal love. He enjoyed
gathering fresh blossoms at dawn and stringing garlands for decorating the presiding
deity of the place, Vatapatrasayi. Considered as an incarnation of the Lords mount
Garuda, Perialvar lived in the rainbow iridescence of Mother Nature full of meditative
love for the Lord. The Vishnu Purana which speaks of Krishnas birth and childhood
was his favourite scripture. And so it came to pass that this little Krishna growing up in
Gokula first mentioned in the Purana became a living experience for the devotee. His
verses known as Perialvar Tirumoli inaugurated a new genre in Tamil literature called
Pillai-t-Tamil (Childhood in Tamil).
Traditional accounts refer to Perialvar being called upon to take part in a religious
contest in the court of the Pandyan King Vallabhadeva at Madurai. His minister Selva
Nambi announced a sumptuous prize for whoever successfully proves the supremacy of
his personal religious belief. The Guru Parampara Prabhavam says that the Lord
Vatapatrasayi appeared to Vishnuchitta in a dream and commanded him to proceed to
Madurai and get the prize money. But the prize money is for a Vedic scholar,
exclaimed the humble devotee. The Lord assured Perialvar that His grace would
accompany the garland-maker to the court. With utter humility Vishnuchitta proceeded
to Madurai. We are not given details of the contest except that Perialvar won the day by
proving the supremacy of Narayana quoting from a variety of pramanas (source texts)
like the Vedas, the Smritis, the twin epics and Puranas. The king was overjoyed and
caused the victor to be seated on an elephant and taken in a procession around Madurais
streets. Even as Perialvar remained self-lost in the vast spaces of Gods love for him, he
had a vision of Narayana and Lakshmi riding the mount Garuda. It is said that this vision
1

Srivillipputtur is one of the 108 temples hailed by the Alvars. The tower of Andals temple in
Srivillipputtur has been adopted as the emblem of the Tamil Nadu government.

was vouchsafed to him right in front of the Koodal Azhakar temple. 2 When Perialvar
realised what had happened, he was deeply upset. Ah, the Lord, in all His glory, descend
amidst us, mere mortals? Will not someones evil eye fall on this Divine Brilliance and
affect the Lord? For, Perialvar was blessed with a maternal heart that helped him sing of
Krishna as a child.3 Immediately Perialvar took up the bells hanging on the sides of the
elephant, and using them to keep his beat, sang the decad Pallandu, pallandu which now
forms the opening of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. In this poem, the devotee a
mere mortal, blesses the Lord with eternal life!
Hail your presence along with Lakshmi
Who has been residing in your breast
For years countless; and we too
Be never divorced from you; so be
The brilliant discus on your right
And the Panchajanya conch
That sounds thunderous in battles.4 (verses 1-2)
In the course of twelve verses, the Pallandu projects the central ideal
Srivaishnavism which lies in becoming a perfect servant of the Lord.

of

We have no place in our group


For those who go after material riches.
Those who are the race of serviteurs!
Join us to carry the holy dust
To prepare for the Tirumulai festival.
Come to salute the Lord
Who pulled out by roots the dread race
Of dire demons in Lanka. For seven lives
We have been free of all blame.
Come, let us hail Him with Pallandu.
(verse 3)
So the verses role on like gentle waves, coaxing the devotees to sing the
Sahasranama of the Lord and get the signs of the conch and discus imprinted on their
shoulders to mark their serviteude for the victor who humbled Banasura. Of course, this
is a comfortable serviteude, for there is no lack of all that is good and pleasant that one
needs in life. Perialvar lists them:

The temple is in Madurai and is one of the 108 divya desas in Srvaishnava theology. Its hstory stretches
back by two millennia and more as it is mentioned in ancient Tamil Sangam classics like Madurai Kanji
and Paripadal.
3

Perialvar would sing later ten verses of waving the lights to remove the effects of evil eye upon Krishna
(Perialvar Tirumoli, 2-8).
4
Translations of Tiru Pallandu verses are by Prema Nandakumar.

Cooked food with a generous amount of ghee,


Serviteude to the Lord which keeps one close to Him,
Supari to chew, chain for the neck, jewels for the ears,
Sandal paste to smear on the body, -- granting these
He makes me a sattvic person. Garuda blazes
On his flag. I sing Pallandu for Him.
(verse 8)
Nay more!
Putting on the garments that you had worn,
Eating as prasada cooked food offered to you,
We are your servitors who decorate ourselves
With the Tulsi strings discarded by you,
We busy ourselves with service for the festival
Of Tiruvonam for you, and sing Pallandu.
Lord who rests on the serpent with spread hood.
(verse 9)
Perialvar sings further that the day he and his people called themselves servitors of
Narayana, their race has been freed from slavery. Nor does he forget to mention his
benefactor Selvanambi in the penultimate verse. The twelfth verse is phala sruti.
Perialvar says that he had spoken these words as he was overwhelmed with love. And
those who recite it with joy will recognize the good times that had now come to them,
and repeat the blessed Ashtakshara, Namo Narayana when they reach Paramapada.
The Pallandu verses are considered incandescent and recited at the opening and
closing of Tiruvaradhanam (ritual worship) of Narayana. As he had thus blessed the Lord
in ecstatic terms, Vishnucitta came to be called Perialvar (the elderly Alvar) from now
onwards. He returned to Srivillipputtur and led a peaceful and long life, offering flower
garlands daily to Vatapatrasayi.
His verses totaling 473 in number have been a
concourse of endless delight in all these centuries.