The saint Manikkavaachagar was born in the village of Thiruvaadhavur (near Madurai) in Tamil Nadu around the 9th century A.D. He was bestowed this name for his gem-like words and captivating devotional verses.
Manikkavaachagar (often called ‘Manivaachagar’) served for a while as the minister to the Pandiyan King by name – Arimarthana Pandiyan. He was an efficient administrator but his heart was not in the affairs of the world and was focused on obtaining Lord Shiva’s grace only. He thus incurred the king’s anger on many occassions. Lord Shiva saved him from the wrath of the Pandiyan king on several occassions. It was on Manikkavaachagar’s behalf that Shiva unleashed flood in the Vaigai river when Manikkavachagar was punished by king Arimarthana Pandiyan and made to stand in the dry sands of Vaigai in the hot sun.
Later, Shiva visited Madurai again to correct flood damage to the city. He chose to help an old woman by name Vanthi who had none to assist her to seal the river banks to stop future flooding (The king had ordered every householder to assist in this task). Lord Shiva took the form of a coolie laborer to help her and was whipped by the king Arimarthana Pandiyan for not working and idling casually! This famous incident is celebrated every year as the “Bittukku mann sumandha leelai’ (Manual labor in exchange for a sweet riceflour cake) on the Moolam star of the Aavani month (Shravan) (i.e., mid-august to mid-September). The whipping on Lord Shiva was felt by all people of the whole city just to reinforce faith in the city that Lord Shiva is everywhere and in every one’s heart. It also showed how much Shiva loved Manikkavachagar so as to endure this whipping. It was also a lesson to the king that Lord Shiva is the real master and ever present in all citizens’ souls and showed the king that he was merely human. This lesson was needed – as kings often became tyrants and used to harass devotees who lived a life with only God as their supreme master and not the king.
In a second incident, Lord Shiva transformed a set of jackals into attractive horses temporarily to save Manikkavaachagar from his imprisonment. It showed the extent that Lord Shiva was ready to influence Nature (temporarily, at least) to release His beloved devotee from jail by temporarily satisfying the king’s demand for horses through this event – celebrated as ‘Nariyai Pari Aakiya Leelai’ ( i.e., ‘Transformation of Jackals into Horses’). This was probably also to transform the king himself into His devotee later – by showing him that wealth and form were mere illusions.
Manikkavaachagar was not one of the sixty-three Nayanmars (the group of Shaivite saint devotees whose lives were spent serving Lord Shiva and who lived in Tamil Nadu). But he holds a unique place in the Shaivite world and occupies a place very adjacent to Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati. His work ‘Thiruvaachagam’ holds a special value in the world even today after a thousand years. The section in it called ‘Shivapuraanam’ is a well-recited work read devotedly even today around the globe. It is often said that if one’s heart cannot melt on reciting Thiruvaachagam, it will not melt for anything else.
Manikkavachagar also played a vital role in defeating the Buddhists and in removing Buddhism that was strongly influencing Tamil Nadu at that time. This tells us that the Lord was and still is indeed aware of political and religious changes prevalent all around threatening Shaivism or even the fundamental undoubted belief in Gods.
In the end, in order to ensure that Manikkavachagar’s work was not lost for ever to humanity, Lord Shiva Himself assumed the guise of a Brahmana scholar and by His Own Hands, wrote all verses of Thiruvaachagam as Manikkavachagar recited it to Him at Chidambaram. Soon after this, Manikkavaachagar was absorbed into the effulgent flames with Lord Shiva inside the Chidambaram Natarajar temple.
Author’s website: bharathkumark.simplesite.com