MANIKYAVACHAKAR, THE SAIVITE SAINT
WHOSE WORDS WERE PRECIOUS GEMS.
Manikyavachakar, so called because his words (Vachakam) were like precious gems, was a Tamil poet-saint who lived in the Southern Indian city called Madurai in the ninth century.
He is best known for his book of Shiva hymns called ‘Thiruvasakam’ which is a book dedicated to his God, Lord Shiva. Thiruvasakam forms volume eight of a great Saivite (meaning pertaining to Lord Shiva) text collection called ‘Tirumurai’
He was born in a temple priest family at a place called Vadhavoor very near to Madurai which was ruled by the Pandya Kings. From childhood, he was known for his scholarliness in imbibing all the religious texts of the time. He was also known for his compassion and above all, for his devotion to Lord Shiva. Unknown at that time to many, he was a restless seeker of his Guru and God, Lord Shiva.
Soon enough, his reputation reached the ears of the then Pandya King who lived in Madurai. Impressed by the young Brahmin’s wisdom at such a young age, he sent for him and soon made him a minister in his Pandya court.
As the story goes, the king soon decided to buy a fleet of horses for his cavalry and entrusted the task to the young minister. Thus Manikyavachakar set out to carry out this task, though his mind was restless, seeking his Lord Shiva.
Manikyavachakar, though intent on carrying out the task assigned to him, was unable to concentrate due to his preoccupation with Shiva. Thus, he made several visits to Saivite temples during his journey. While on this temple tour, he came to a village by name Tirupperundurai.
Little did he know then that the life transforming event would happen here.
For, unknown to him, Lord Shiva himself, assuming the role of a simple school teacher met him there. Seeing the limitless Grace on the ‘schoolteacher’s face, Manikyavachakar felt a very strong magnetic pull towards this person and instantly fell at his feet, imploring the teacher to accept him as his disciple.
And that’s what exactly transpired. When the school teacher embraced him and blessed him, Manikyavachakar broke out in the most beautiful hymns and poetry in praise of Lord Shiva. He was so overwhelmed by devotion that he is said to have discarded everything including the valuables there itself.
It was the Lord himself, on hearing the beautiful words uttered by his disciple who named him ‘Manikyavachakar’… A person whose words are like precious gems. Later, the Guru, having initiated his beloved disciple by giving him ‘Jnanopadesha’ took his disciple’s leave and vanished, leaving the latter dumbstruck in the realization that it was Lord Shiva Himself who had bestowed His Grace on him.
Legend has it that Manikyavachakar was traced by the angry king and imprisoned for some time. But through the Grace of Lord Shiva, he realized the greatness of Manikyavachakar and later begged his forgiveness and even requested him to join him in the court again.
But the saint-poet politely declined saying he wasn’t cut out for such things and became a total poet -devotee of Lord Shiva, visiting various Shiva temples in the present day Tamilnadu.
His visit to Thiruvannamalai , the famed place where Giri pradakshan ( Circumambulation of the sacred hill there) is done, and later where the great saint Ramana Maharshi lived, is treasured today also because that’s where he composed two of his poems which are part of his epic work, ‘Thiruvasakam’.