Thursday, January 5, 2017
Not a ghost
The Vaishnavaite tradition of south India recognises twelve azhwars as being the foremost of Vishnu's devotees. The earliest of them are believed to have lived in the fourth millennium BCE. The azhwars expressed their devotion mainly through poetry; because most of their verses gained popularity during the Bhakti movements of the 7th and 8th centure CE, it is easier to defend the proposition that they lived during that time and not, as legend would have it, almost 5,000 years earlier.
Because there were only twelve azhwars, it is slightly easier to memorise their names, especially when there are sixythree nayanmars on the Shaivite side of the divide. Even so, in trying to mug up those azhwar names, there was a hurdle; not that they were difficult to remember, but the names would bring to mind other, frightening associations. The second and third azhwars were Bhoodathazhwar and Peyyazhwar, both names being synonymous with ghosts and so were accorded even more respect, and at a different level.
Through all that, the idea of the azhwars were remote, that they were not only temporally but also spatially in a different zone. It was something of a shock to see this gate, leading to a shrine, in the busy Arundale Street in Mylapore. The sign on it says "The site of Peyyazhwar's avatar", indicating his birthplace. But the approach and the shrine, appearing to be largely ignored, indicate Peyyazhwar's presence here in a rather ghostly fashion!