Manickavasagar or Manikkavacakar, meaning Sea of Jewels, was a Tamil poet saint who composed a book of Shaiva songs and hymns known as Tiruvacakam
. He was among those poets who emerged during the revival of Hindu Bhakti movement
and one of his works comprises a volume of the Tirumurai
which is the major religious literary work of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta. Manickavasagar was a minister of Varagunavarman II, the Pandya
king and he resided in the great city of Madurai
. The devotional poetic works of Manickavasagar depicts the bliss of experiencing God and the agony of being estranged from God. Even though he was one of the important poet saints of Southern India, still Manickavasagar was not recognized amongst the sixty three nayanaars.
Early Life of Manickavasagar
According to legend, Manickavasagar was born in Vadhavoor (Thiruvadhavoor) near Madurai, on the banks of Vaigai River. He served as an Adi Saiva Brahmin
and as a part of his profession Manickavasagar wore the crest tilted knot to indicate his servitor ship to Lord Shiva. It is believed that king Varagunavarman II had selected him as a component of his legion. Once, Manickavasagar was entrusted with a huge sum of money to acquire horses for the royal cavalry. But on his way, the poet encountered an ascetic devotee of Lord Shiva, who was actually the Lord himself in disguise. Manickavasagar used the money to construct a temple of Lord Shiva
at Tirupperunturai. He later achieved enlightenment and realised that material belongings are temporary in face of eternity and spirituality that are eternal.
Later Manickavasagar traveled to different places and temples, singing and composing devotional hymns and songs. Ultimately, he lived in Chidambaram. Tiruvacakam, composed by the poet saint is located close to the Shiva idol there.
Poetic Works of Manickavasagar
Tiruvilayadal Puranam, which means an account of divine deeds, containing his works and a poetic and detailed hagiography of Manikkavasagar was composed in 16th century. It is now unavailable in its original form. His other works include Vadhavoorar Puranam and a 12th century CE Sanskrit
work. But these are not available at present either. The poetic works of Manickavasagar contain several parts. A collection of 20 hymns, known as the Tiruvembavai, contains praises of Lord Shiva and the poet saint has envisioned himself as a woman following the Paavai Nonbu.
The 20 hymns of Tiruvembavai and 10 songs of Tiruppalliezhuchi, devoted the Lord Tirupperunturai, are sung all around Tamil Nadu
in the 9th month of the Tamil calendar Margazhi and considered as a holy month. A festival is conducted in the Tamil month of Aani to celebrate the poet saint.
The hagiography of Manickavasagar is found in the 16th century AD work of Thiruvilaiyadar Puranam.