Appar also known as Tirunavukkarasar was born Marulneekiyar in an agriculturist family of Thiruvamur in Tirumunaipadi Nadu. He lost his parents in an early age and was brought up by his sister Thilakavathiyar. He grew up as a pious young man, with a seeking to know the best among religions. So he went to Pataliputra,where he was drawn towards Jainism. He was renamed Dharmasena, and became a Jain monk. In the meantime, his sister Thilakavathiyar, was beseeching Lord Shiva at Thiruvadhigai Veeratam, to make her brother see reason, and return to Saivism. The Lord, moved by her prayers, gave Dharmasena severe stomach pain. The Jains did all that they could to cure the pain, but all their actions only ended up aggravating it. When the pain became unbearable, Dharmasena decided to return home, to see his sister one last time, before giving up his life.
When he came home, Thilakavathiyar took him to Thiruvadhigai Veeratam and asked him to sing a hymn in praise of the Lord. With His grace, Marulneekiyar was immediately relieved of pain. He was overjoyed, and took to Saivism. He went from place to place, carrying a sickle (termed Uzhavaram in Tamil) singing the praise of the Lord, and cleaning temples of vegetation. The Jains unable to see Dharmasena leave their fold, did all they could to put an end to his life. They influenced the Pallava King who was also a Jain at that point, to put him into a lime kiln, to give him poison and to throw him into the sea tied to a huge boulder. Each time, he was able to come out unscathed due to the grace of the Lord. The King was moved by his devotion, and he himself converted into a Shaivaite and built temples for Lord Shiva. With the grace of God, he went around spreading Shaivism, through hymns and performed several miracles. Due to the sweetness of his words, the Lord gave him the title Thirunavukkarasar.
On hearing about Saint Thirugnanasambandar, he desired to meet him. When Gnanasambandar came in his pearl palanquin, Thirunavukkarasar became one of the bearers. Gnanasambandar was equally eager to meet Thirunavukkarasar, jumped down from it, and fell at his feet calling him "Appare" (My father). As he grew older, Appar desired to visit Kailash. He walked up North, till such time he could walk no longer. He then started to crawl. His muscles got wasted and blood started to pour. His bones were getting ground and began to break. He would still not stop moving in the direction of Kailash. Moved by his devotion, Lord Shiva restored his health and asked him to go to Thiruvaiyaru where he showed him the vision of Kailash.
Last days of Appar at Thirupugalur
After spending some time in Thiruvaiyaru, he reached Tirupugalur. The Agneeswara Temple at Thirupugalur has several specialities,
- It is a temple where the Lord is worshipped in three different forms - Bhootheswara for the Past, Varthamaneeswara for the present and Bhavishyeswara for the future.
- It is the temple where Agni worshipped Lord Shiva also known as Sharanyeswara or Kona Piraan and gained a human form with two faces, seven flames, five arms and two legs.
- It is here that bricks were turned to gold for Sundaramurthy Nayanar, because of which, till date the temple is a popular Vasthu Sthalam, from where people take back three bricks and use them in the construction of their new house, to be rid of Vasthu Doshas.
- The Goddess Karuthazh Kuzhali also known as Soolikambal, is one of four sisters who grants wishes of safe pregnancy and delivery.
- The temple is surrounded by a moat said to have dug by Banasura. The Lord is called Kona Piran as he is supposed to have titled when Banasura tried to uproot him for his mother's worship.
|The magnificent moat around the Tirupugalur temple|
Appar is said to have come here and performed Uzhavara pani, namely clearing of vegetation using a sickle. The Lord wanting to test him, made precious gems and diamonds appear in the midst of rubble. Appar without a second look, dumped the gems along with the stones and pebbles he was clearing from the pathway. The Lord then sent the Apsaras - Ramba, Menaka and Urvashi to distract Appar and make him fall to worldly ways. But Appar was undettered by the glamorous maiden and their sensuous moves - he started singing hymns in praise of the Lord, on hearing which the maiden bowed before him and returned to their abode.
Knowing that his end was near, Appar went around the temple, singing a hymn " Podhuginren Unnadike Poompugalur Meviya Punniyane" and entered the sanctum sanctorum on Chithirai Sadhayam wherein he merged with the holy consciousness of the Lord.
Appar Gurupoojai :
Every year, the commemoration of Appar attaining mukthi is celebrated on Sadhayam star in the Tamil month of Chithirai. Devotees from far and wide, gather at the temple to witness this spectacular event. There are several events that take place as a fore-runner to the Gurupoojai.
|The Tirupugalur temple decorated for the Gurupoojai|
On the morning of the event, the 63 Nayanmars are taken in procession through the streets surrounding the temple. In the afternoon, an episode of Kattamudhu, where the Lord brought packed food for a hungry Appar is recreated at the Kattamudhu mandapam, by the side of the temple. The crowds start to swell as dusk approaches. The festivities of the evening, begin with a discourse on the life of Appar. Around 10 pm, a beautifully decorated Appar is brought around the temple Praharam. The devotees who are waiting patiently cheer in joy to see him approach.
The Velakurichi Aadheenam, Srila Sri Sathya Gnana Mahadesika Paramacharya Swamigal, leads the procession. He then, proceeds to recreate the Uzhavara Pani of Appar where the Lord tested him by making precious gems and diamonds appear amidst pebbles and stones. This is done in a small pit, where sprouts are grown specifically for this purpose. Coins are thrown into the pit as the sprouts are cleared using the sickle while devotees sing Appar's hymns.
Once all the coins are thrown away along with the weeds, the procession of Appar moves forward to where the Apsaras are waiting for him. Arambayar Natanam, as this event is called is a very interesting Jugalbandhi where the Apsaras dance gracefully to different songs which are interspersed with Appar's devaram recited by the Sivanadiyars. This continues till the early hours of the morning, when the Apsaras finally accept defeat and return to Devaloka.
Appar then leaves on his final journey around the village of Tirupugalur. By now, the Nadaswaram has been silenced, the dancers have departed and a very solemn air hangs over the devotees who are singing the hymns of Appar as he is taken around in procession through the streets of Thirupugalar. The numbers that have been growing over the evening are now at its maximum. A frenzy of devotion seems to have caught on, as even those who were sitting silently through the dancing, are now seen singing. Some devotees are seen weeping as the procession goes around.
|Appar going around in procession one last time|
It is around dawn when the procession approaches the temple. By now the maha mandapa, and the front passage into the temple are jam packed as people are jostling with each other to make sure they have obtained a vantage position to witness Appar merging with the divine consciousness. The Adheenam is waiting for the procession to enter.
It seems like forever for the procession to enter the temple and reach the front mandapa. The Sivanadiyars are singing the final hymn of Appar " Podhuginren Un Adikke Poompugalur Meviya Punniyane". Many of them are visibly choking over their tears and the air is absolutely solemn. Slowly yet steadily, the idol of Appar is raised into the mandapa leading to the sanctum. Within minutes, he is taken over by the priests who lead him into the sanctum. The lights are dimmed and Appar is placed at the feet of Lord Agneeswara also called Saranyapureeswara, as Appar took his final refuge in him.
When the Harathi is shown, a ray of light is seen emerging from Appar and merging with the Lord. The crowds that were waiting the whole night, for this moment, cry out loud. It is a moment of ecstasy for everyone present, to see the Lord's greatest devotee merge with him.
The priests step out and the doors are closed. Slowly the crowds trickle out, with a sense of fulfilment, of peace and joy of having experienced a once in a life time event.
About Mangala Rural Retreat:
Tirupugalur is clearly out of the regular tourist circuit dotted with good hotels and restaurants and this divine experience was made possible thanks to Mangala Rural Retreat, an agraharam house converted into a home stay by Prakriti Foundation. It is a very well maintained property right behind the temple, with five well appointed airconditioned rooms, awesome traditional South Indian vegetarian food, delightful double swings, a courtyard and Thinnai to boot. And what's more - it also has modest Wifi!
If you intend to be around here, do check out Mangala!
|A view of the rustic interiors of the Mangala Rural Retreat|
For more details look up http://www.mangalaheritageretreat.in/