Mutthu Thaandavar-In a town named Seerkaazhi, normally associated with the Tamil composer TirugnAnasambandar, another Tamil composer, MuttutaanDavar was born in 1560 into a family that traditionally constructed and played musical instruments for temples. They belonged to a community named the Isai VElala community. The child was named tAnDavan (one who dances) after naTarAja, the god of dance, the presiding deity at neighbouring Cidambaram.
When he was young, tAnDavan was afflicted with an incurable disease which severely affected his appearance and his health. He was unable to follow his family’s profession, and many in the town shunned him. So, he found relief in listening to the songs sung on Lord Shiva, by a lady called ShivabhAgyam, who belonged to a family devoted to the arts. He would go everyday to her house and listen to her despite protests from relatives and family, who eventually stopped feeding him. As a result, he took the prasaadam (blessed food offered) at the temple once a day. But this weakened him.
One day, while worshipping, he found himself near the room that contained the vaahanams (the mounts and vehicles of the gods), and crawled in and fainted. No one knew, and soon the priests extinguished the lamps and left for the day. Guards locked the temple doors. When taanDavan awoke to consciousness, he realized he was locked in and cried out loud to the god of the temple, Brahmapureeshawa, asking him for help. Soon the temple priest’s young daughter approached with a vessel of food. She fed him and asked him what his trouble was. When he told her, she told him to go to Cidambaram and compose a song a day on the Lord. When taanDavan protested, saying he could never find words for so many songs, the little girl asked him to use the first words he heard from devotees as he entered the temple.
The child then disappeared. It was dawn. The guards came in and so did the priests. They could barely recognise the effulgent being they found in the sanctum. Gone was the emaciated figure. He was iridescent like the mother of pearl. They renamed tAnDavan MuttutAnDavar. Then MuttutaanDavar realised that the girl was LokanAyaki, the presiding Goddess of Seerkazhi who had come in the guise of the priest’s daughter.
MuttutAnDavar began his journey to Chidambaram, an act that soon became a daily ritual. On the first day, he reached the sanctum there and heard the words BhoolOka kailAya giri Cidambaram. He used the words as the opening line of his first kriti. As he finished singing the piece, five gold coins appeared on the steps below the deity, which he took as the Lord’s reward for his composition. MuttutAnDavar gratefully accepted the coins and also found that his illness was cured. MuttutaanDavar continued to compose daily at the temple. But one day, when he entered the sanctum, MuttutAnDavar found complete silence. No one spoke. He waited patiently, hoping that someone would say something and he could use the words. But all the devotees remained silent. MuttutAnDavar could only hear his heart speaking, crying out in desperation. Thus sprang the composition – pEsAdE nenjamE (O mind! Do not speak!) . He realised that his dependence on the words of others had ended. He now began composing on his own.
Once, on his way to Chidambaram, he was bitten by a snake. To cure the poison, he composed “Arumarundondru tanimarundidu” (in mohanam, made popular by D.K. Jayaraaman). Another day, the river Kollidam was in spate and MuttutAnDavar could not cross to reach Cidambaram. Out of sorrow sprang the piece – kANAmal vINilE kAlam KazhittOmE. The speciality of this song is its graphic description of the Cidambaram Temple. Then, the river parted and on reaching the sanctum, out of gratitude, he sang – darisanam seivEnE.
He continued to compose songs, daily. The story is told that in 1640AD, in the month of aavani, the day of the star poosham, MuttuTANDavar appeared in the sanctum and sang the piece mANIkkavAcagar pErenakkutaravallAyO ariyEn. A great light emanated from the sanctum and in that light, MuttutANDavar was gathered into the arms of the Lord and became one with him.
Very few of MuttutaanDavar’s songs have survived. Annaamalai University, under the auspices of Sangita Kalanidhi Tiruppamburam N Swaminatha Pillai, collected sixty of them and set them to ragas. These are sung by many today and the kritis have been rescued from near oblivion.