Thiru Manickavasagar, author of the ‘Thiruvasagam’ an important scriptural work in the tamil saivaite scriptures, is one of the most revered among the tamil saivaite saints known as the Nayanmargal. He was born at Thiruvathavoor near Madurai in a Brahmin (Amattiya) family. He completed learning religious works and the agamas of the Saivaite order very early in life. Impressed by his intellect, the Pandya king Arimarttanar employed him as his prime minister. Although he was a loyal aide to the king and a “brilliant courtier” enjoying all the luxuries attached to his honoured position, his mind was always immersed in sacred writings on the Saivaite faith. His soul was filled with infinite pity for the sufferings of the people who, he felt, passed through the cycle of births and deaths only to suffer irremediable woes.
His soul longed for Siva and “he yearned to meet a guru who would teach him the way of release”. So, it was not surprising that, even when he was sent by the king to purchase horses for the kingdom, his mind continued its search for the guru. He did meet the guru (Siva), as the legends go, on the way. Manickavasagar spent all the king’s money on the guru’s disciples and assistants. Learning of this, the king brought him back. According to the legends, when the king ordered punishment to be meted out to Manickavasagar, Siva intervened on behalf of his devotee and performed some miracles. Ultimately, Siva ordained that Manickavasagar should visit temples, sing songs and spread Saivism, the legends say.
In Tiruvannamalai, Manickavasagar is believed to have stayed in the village of Adi Annamalai and here the Lord appeared to him and granted him the divine outpourings of the Tiruvempavai, the sacred chants of Lord Siva which are sung till today in all Siva temples during the month of Karthigai. At the place where the Lord actually granted him dharshan, there now stands a temple known as the Manickavasagar temple. The outside walls of the temple contain frescoes of the 63 Nayanmars and hindu gods and goddesses notably one of Lord Shiva-Nataraja.
Recently, a festival was celebrated here in honour of the saints’ birth anniversary. The whole external structure of the temple was decorated splendidly with golden lights and inside the shrine, abhishekams were performed to the shivalingam and to the statue of the saint himself depicted in the position of playing a veena (since he was known for his musical talents in vocal singing and the playing of musical instruments). After the religious ceremony, the temple authorities had also organised a live instrumental and vocal music concert with compositions of the saints’ works played and sung by local musicians. This was quite pleasant and made a fine change from the usual blaring of loudspeakers with recorded music which is often the practice at small temple festivals.