The Great Alvar

Sri Perialvar, Srivilliputhur

Next friday is the appearance day of the alvar Sri Vishnu Cittar, also popularly known as Sri Perialvar (which means “Great Alvar”). Sri Vishnu Cittar was born in the south Indian temple town of Srivilliputhur to a devout Sri Vaishnava couple Sri Mukunda Bhattar, and Srimati Padmavalli. They named their son “Vishnu Cittar” or “One whose mind dwells on Vishnu.”

True to his name, the male child of the couple grew up to be a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Eschewing the paths of speculative knowledge and fruitive works, Sri Vishnu Cittar dedicated himself to service of the deity of the Lord in the main temple of Srivilliputhur- Sri Vatapatrasayee (“Lord who reclines on a Banyan leaf” referring to Lord Krsna’s pastime with Sage Markandeya in the 12th canto of Srimad Bhagavatham). Sri Vishnu Cittar collected the best flowers from his garden, strung garlands, and offered these with utmost devotion to the Lord, who accepts His devotees offerings with love.

Sri Vatapatrasayee Perumal, Srivilliputhur

The ruling king of the land, a devotee of Lord Vishnu desired to know the ultimate meaning of the Vedas, and so inquired about this from his ministers. The king ordered that a bag of gold coins be tied to the ceiling of the assembly hall where the scholars were brought to debate the answer to his query, decreeing that when the true meaning was spoken, the bag of coins would fall, and would be the reward for the speaker of the vedic conclusion.

That night, Lord Krsna appeared in a dream to Sri Vishnu Cittar, saying that He was immensely pleased with his service of flower garlands. He desired that Sri Vishnu Cittar travel to the king’s court and speak about the truth of the Vedic scriptures. Sri Vishnu Cittar replied that he had no skills for doing so, being uneducated in these matters. The Lord exhorted him to go, speak boldly, and claim his reward. The Lord also appeared the same night to the king’s chief minister, urging him to bring Sri Vishnu Cittar to the royal assembly hall.

When Sri Vishnu Cittar arrived in court, the minister mocked him, suspecting it was his greed that made him appear there, despite his well-known lack of scholarship. Sri Vishnu Cittar offered prayer to the Lord, and began speaking about how Lord Vishnu, the consort of the Goddess of Fortune was the means and the ultimate goal, and shelter of all living entities. As the words flowed from his mouth, the king and his ministers were amazed at Sri Vishnu Cittar’s eloquence. The bag of gold coins fell, showering the assembly hall with gold coins, as Sri Vishnu Cittar showered his humble praises on the Supreme Lord.

With deep reverence for Sri Vishnu Cittar, the king seated him on a royal elephant, and processed him through the streets of the capital city of Madurai, so all the citizens could see the one who had resolved the king’s vedic query. At this time, the Supreme Lord Vishnu along with His consorts Sri and Bhu devis appeared in the sky to Sri Vishnu Cittar, and all the residents of the city. Sri Vishnu Cittar, moved by the Lord’s appearance, grabbed the bells on the elephant, and using them as cymbals, sang the famous Pallaandu song, sung daily in south Indian Vaishnava shrines following completion of deity worship. Pallaandu means “many years,” and Sri Vishnu Cittar was blessing the Lord, with strong shoulders that defeated Kamsa’s wrestlers to live many hundreds of thousands of years, for His name, fame, qualities, pastimes, and associates were all eternally praiseworthy. It was after this public display of the Lord’s mercy on Sri Vishnu Cittar that he was given the name “Perialvar” or the “Great alvar” since he showered benedictions in return on the Lord who had first blessed him..

Sri Andal & Her father, Sri Perialvar standing on either side of the Lord in Srivilliputhur

Sri Vishnu Cittar continued his humble service to the Lord in Srivilliputhur. Later, the Goddess of Fortune appeared as his daughter, Sri Godadevi, also known as Sri Andal- the only female alvar. (Sri Andal’s marriage to Lord Ranganatha is mentioned by Srila Prabhupada in his purport to Madhya CC 9. 79)

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