AN piLLai

Srimathe Ramanujaya Nama:

Thirumalai Anandazhvan was one of the 74 primary disciples (simhAsanAdipati’s) of Swami Ramanuja. He was given the title ananthANpiLLai and his descendants carry the name ananthANpiLLaiyAr to date. The reason for getting this title follows.

One time Ramanuja was giving a discourse on Nammazhvar’s thiruvAymozhi padhigam for Thiruvengadamudaiyan, “ozhivil kAlam”. As Swami was discoursing, he came to the pasuram with the verse “sindhu pU magizhum”. He then asked the audience if anyone would go to Thirumalai and perform pushpa kainkaryam for the Lord there, as per the wish of Azhvar. Legend has it that no one stepped forward to accept the kainkaryam, except for Anandazhvan. At this point, Ramanuja announced to everyone “ananthan ANpiLLai” - meaning ‘Anantha is the man’ (in the crowd). Swami was celebrating Anandazhvan’s bravery in stepping up to the arduous task. In recognition of Swami’s words about Anandazhvan, he came to be known as ananthANpiLLai.

Let us analyze the reason why Swami chose to call Anandazhvan by that phrase.

The accepted version is that the assembled audience feared to go to Thirumalai due to its then remote nature, the many wild animals that roamed its forests, the harsh winters and the fear of catching some deadly sickness in the hills. It is for these reasons that the rest of the audience failed to accept the task. In celebration of Anandazhvan’s bravery, Ramanuja called him ‘AN piLLai’.

Acharya purushas and scholars over the years have said that this is the right reason. Therefore this interpretation must be the right one.

However, it might be an interesting exercise to see if we can reinterpret this by looking at the word “AN” literally as male, rather than as one representing the qualities of courage and bravery.

We do not know who exactly were present in the audience on that day. But, surely there were some other stalwart disciples present there. Ramanuja’s disciples are known for their fortitude. Guru Parampara abounds with their many deeds of courage in the face of adversities. And there must be many more untold stories of their bravery. So, why did no one else step forward?

One possible reason is that the disciples had realized that accepting the task meant long physical separation from Ramanuja. Anandazhvan’s history itself shows that, except for a few meetings, he essentially remained separated from Ramanuja from that time forward. Perhaps it was the fear of this seperation that was the greater cause than any other fear.

If that is the case, why would Ramanuja call Anandazhvan ‘AN piLLai’. If we study this carefully, we can see that it was indeed very appropriate for Ramanuja to use that phrase.

Only a true ‘AN piLLai’ could have borne the separation from his acharya. The others who could not bear such a separation were not “men”. In our sampradhayam, we are all considered as women, with the parama purusha being our pati. We can extend this to a sishya acharya relationship also and say that, in this world, the acharya is the true purusha and he is the pati to all his disciples. This would be most apt particularly in the case of Ramanuja who is the jagadAcharya.

So, we can also take it, that it is not just that the audience could not bear separation from Ramanuja; they simply could not leave their pati. Since Anandazhvan was able to break out of this peNmai and say that he would undertake the task, he was dubbed ‘AN piLLai’.

But, would it not be true that Anandazhvan too would not have wanted to separate from Ramanuja or that he too could not do leave his pati? The answer would have to be yes to both.

Then why did he step forward and is this analysis showing Anandazhvan in a bad light? Far from it, it only brings out his greatness.

While the other disciples stood at the level of sEshtavam, Anandazhvan had gone to advanced state of pAratantryam. He simply decided to do what his acharya wanted - that someone go to Thirumalai and do flower service there. Even if it meant separation from Ramanuja, even if it meant the greatest loss to him, even if it meant that he would become an “ANpiLLai” in th eprocess, for the sake of his acharya’s happiness, Anandazhvan was willing to step forward. This showed that he was truly a paratantra of Ramanuja. Thus it is, that he let his true nature be destroyed and became an ‘ANpiLLai’.

 Anandazhvan Thiruvadigale Sharanam
Azhvar Emberumanar Jeeyar Thiruvadigale Sharanam

Written in Apr 2005