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Brief History

LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS

"O sing unto the Lord a new song… bless His name; show forth His salvation from day to day." - Psalm 96:1 & 2

Sastriar;s literary works may be broadly divided into two categories: lyrical compositions and literary pieces composed according to minor literary forms in Tamil. To the first category belongs collections of lyrics and hymns such as the Jebamalai (Garland of Prayers) and Gnanappadakkeerthanaigal (Collection of lyrics). Sastriar’s masterpiece Bethalem Kuravanji is a minor epic as was also Aranathintham. These and plays in verse such as Gnanath Thatcha Nadagam and Gnana Nondi Nadagam and the book in verse decrying superstition among Christian converts, Satrakkummi, belongs  to the second category. A brief resume of these works is as follows.

1. JEBAMALAI (garland of prayers). It was written to accompany daily worship, both morning evening, after the pattern of the Book of Common Prayer. Part I consists of 31 songs adapted to the days of the month setting forth the glories of the Triune god, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the divine attributes, the work of salvation etc. A short example from the Jebamalai on the incarnation is as fellows:

The Lord of the universe has come,
The Word which was from the beginning has come
The Lord of all the worlds has come,
The One and only One has come,
God from whom proceedeth the Holy Spirit has come,
He who is the beginning and end of time has come,
The Divine sovereign has come!

The Jebamalai also consists of praises to be used on occasions of joy and in circumstances of affliction and death.
Fifteen prayers for congregational use, the litany and other admonitions appertaining to piety are included in the Jebamalai.

Part II contains lyrics in the Viruththam meter numerical from one to twelve based on Scriptural narratives. In ancient times, David, Asaph and other inscribed their names in the Book of Psalms which they composed. In like manner, Vedanayaga Sastriar has thought fit to inscribe his name at the end of each lyric and of his major compositions.

II. The second collection of devotion lyrics is called GNANAPPADAKKEERTHANAIGAL. Those were composed on various occasions and form a treasury of the poet’s religious convictions and experiences.
A few examples of Gnanappadakkeerthanaigal are spiritually uplifting.
Pallavi:         Lord, have you no mercy?
                     Jesus, mercy have you none?

Anupallavi:        Eternal life, Lord Jehovah, Three in One
                          Who appeared as David’s son-

Saranam1:         Omniscient Being, who removes
                          Our nothingness; dreadful sinners are we,
                          Whose stony hearts Thou didst not destroy
                          The only good Shepherd, Jesus Christ!-

Saranam 2:         Thou all-pervading Light, in humility
                          Dwelt justice that did away
                         With our sins and unrighteousness,
                         Distinguished Israel’s crowned king!

Saranam 3:       Thou who are the consummation of Vedas
                          Preserver and Source of the Universe
                          Thou are Father and Mother who bore me.]
                          Lord Jesus, save me, Thou my only refuge!

Saranam 4:        O Devine King! Vedanayagam sings
                           About you; wicked sinners that we are
                          Hide us in Thy precious five wounds
                         And redeem us, Thou just and gracious Jesus!

(GNANAPPADAKKEERTHANAIGAL 344)                                               

The concept of God as both father and mother is found in Tamil devotional lyrics. The biblical idea of God as both father and mother is also encountered in Isaiah.

“Can a woman forget her sucking child? ….yet will I not forget thee”.
                                                                                       (Isaiah 49:15).

Another short lyric on Christ’s redemption on the cross runs thus:

Pallavi:        Other refuge have I none
                     Holy Babe who art from the beginning.
                     Grain me shelter in Thy five wounds
                     O Lord Jesus Christ!

Anupallavi:   In the lovely garden once
                     Sin was born by eating that forbidden fruit
                      To change which Thou ascended the cross
                     And breathed thy last
                      O Lord Jesus Christ!
(GNANAPPADAKKEERTHANAIGAL 243)

Another favourite Gnanappadakkeerthanaigal is No.35

Pallavi:                God’s only begotten son
                             Beginning and end of creation

Anupallavi:     Wherefore did you appear in a cattle manager
                         Adored by the shepherds
                         Wherefore did you, Fount of all knowledge
                          Become incarnate-as a result of our transgression

Saranam 1:      You who are the wealth of wisdom and grace
                    You divine three in one
                        The Son of the Highest; the Messiah
                         Who came to Bethalem-Shalom

Saranam 2:       Because of the first man Adam’s sin,
                         The second Adam was conceived in Mary’s womb
                        You were born to redeem the nations     
                        Lord Jesus Christ –Shalom.

Saranam3:        Boundless grace, countless are your blessings
                         To this humble servant
                          You have helped me to attain eternal life
                          This humble Vedanayagam-Shalom.

Song No.153 is based on the Song of Solomon

Pallavi:               Sweet dove, come after me, O good dove
                            Most beautiful one, O, virtuous one

Anupallavi:        Beautiful parrot, daughter of Jerusalem
                           Most beautiful and youthful garland of flowers
                          Which decks our garden;
                          Come, rise and enjoy other’s company
                         My beautiful deer, honey, listen to me
                        For I speak to you and love

Saramam 2:   The rainy season ceased,
                     The rain finally let up
                     And a variety of colourful flowers
                    Appeared on the earth
             Greenery bloomed Oho! Oho!
             Maidens, the time of cooling of birds has come,
            I hear the call of the wood pigeon,
           The fig has put forth her fruit
          The flowers have blossomed
         The deodar has flowered
        Throughout the land the delightful fragrance spreads;
       Lovely pictures are before us my friends, beautiful parrot,
      Come, let us take a walk.

Theses devotional lyrics comprise the events of Christ’s life, His humanity, name, appearance, the beauty of His native land and suffering on the cross. These are some of the themes on which these song celebrating divine love have been composed.

Pallavi:                I love you, O my king
                                           A thousand praises sing!

Anupallavai:                 To Jesus Christ the God of my tremendous salvation!
                                    You alone are the one who sustains me!

Saranam 1:                  Word of God, Heavenly Bridegroom, Father Lord,
                                     You are the source of all life
                                      Well spring of divine joy, Sachidanandha!

Saranam 2:                    King of Canaan, you who are worshipped in heaven
                                      With desire I search for you
                                       Pray and praise you.

Saranam 3:                    Wasted are the years when I did not seek you
                                       Bewildered at my hapless state was I
                                       You rescued and brought home safely the abandoned sheep
                                        That I was, do you correct me.

Saranam 4:                      Praise and worship be to you
                                        O Jehovah you protected me for ever and ever
                                        I wonder I worship you
                                        The Holy Word, Christ Jesus!

Saranam 5:                     You of whom man has searched from the beginning
                                       You who rejoice with us in our celebrations
                                        According to Vedanayagam’s praises
                                        I long to embrace you…

III. When he has only 25 years old,Vedanayagam wrote his masterpiece, BETHALEM KURAVANJI. He could have been challenged by Thirikooda Rasapppa Kavirayar’s “Kuttralak Kuravanji” which was quite popular among the masses. Of all his creative works numbering over 120, this stands out as the best Bethalem Kuravanji.  He spent one year pondering over the stupendous love of God for mankind. Ephesians 5 speaks of such love possessed by Christ, the Bridegroom for the Church, the Bride.

“Compared to other Kuravanjis, Bethalem Kuravanji supersedes them all in its vastness and versatility.  It is a mighty effort taken to bring home the eternal gospel to the masses that are endeared to it by its lilting charm, its purity of verse, and encyclopedic understanding of the Bible”. Hence it bears comparison with Cruden’s concordance.

In his preface, Sastriar explains that in Bethalem kurabvanji, the hero in procession is Jesus Christ Himself. The heroine, Deva Mohini, is the Church who falls in love with the hero. The herald is John the Baptist.  The vanity of the world and other forces of evil are depicted as moonlight and the south wind. Faith is depicted as Kuraththi, the gypsy woman, and her husband, the Kuravan, who is a bird catcher, is the pastor.  The birds he catches are the souls of men and the nets he uses to catch them are the Old and New Testaments.

Deva Mohini- the name itself suggests that she is allured by God-enters juggling balls and is greatly attracted by the procession of the Lord and mourns His disappearance. So she consults the Kuraththi who appears with a wand in her hand, basket on her hip. The kuraththi describes the beauty of Canaan and the loveliness of the mountains from which she hails and the greatness of Christ. Though she is a Gypsy woman who reads palms, does not use this to predict the future, but by prayers she assures Deva Mohini that her desires will be fulfilled. She dwells on the grandeur of His temple and the might of His kingdom. The predictions which the Kuraththi makes are the prophesies contained in the Word of God. Kuraththi is richly rewarded. At first Kuravan, who finds his wife, is jealous of the costly ornaments given to her by Deve Mohini. But later they rejoice that Deva Mohini will be united with her Lord.  In transporting the whole idiom of Christ, His bride –the Church, to the Tamil setting of the gypsy and the love lorn maiden , Vedanayaga Sastriar is integrating the indigenous with Biblical. The Church is united to Christ by faith nutured by the Word of God.

Kuravan’s friend Noovan is the assistant pastor or catechist. Their common enemy is Anti-Christ who tries to steal the souls of men.  While describing the richness of his mountain land, Kuravan sets forth God’s miraculous doings under the title ‘Mooligai Valam’ (the efficacy of mountain herbs)

Pallavi:                     About herbs know I,.
                                 The Lord of Bethalem, Praise!

Anupallavi:            The little Lord Jesus cradled in the manager
                               It took a miracle to convert a stick
                               To a snake and back to a stick
                               The water was turned to blood
                               Frogs overran the land of Egypt
                              In the time of Moses.
                            The word was spoken and boils broke out
                             Both on beast and man,
                            Hailstones rained on the land
                            Bright daylight turned to deep darkness.
                            Pharaoh’s heart was hardened
                            There broke out a plague of locusts
                            In the time of Moses”

In this type of verse, physical descriptions are interspersed with Biblical narratives and the hearers were moved not only by the beauty of the songs but by the exposition of the Word of God. Thus poet Vedanayagam propagated the gospel of Jesus through musical discourses and plays like Bethalem Kuravanji.

Two examples further establish this interweaving of the Biblical truth with the Tamil poetic style.

Conversation between the Gypsy woman (Singhi) and her husband (Singhan)

Where have you wandered all this while,without my permission, Singhi?
I have been predicting the future of Bethalem Nather to the daughter of Zion, Singha.

4. Why has the serpent bit your foot, Singhi? This is the miracle that Jesus wrought for me by removing the poison, Singha.

24. Why are your lips trembling and red, Singhi?
I have received the holy communion, Singha

33. Who expounded the  unsearchable truth of God, Singhi?
Vedanayagam, the Sastriar who conducts Sadhur, Singha.

36. Does countless praise please the Bethalam Nathar, Singhi?
His goodness to us is as vast at as the ocean, Singha.

(Bethalem Kravanji)

(The Wealth of the mountains)

Viruththam:  Thou wise Lord Bethalem, full of grace
                      Kuravanji addresses the daughter of Jerusalem
                      With wise speech, the evangelical church
                       Concerning the wealth of our dear mountains.
(Notations):   Thina thein thina then thein thina then then  thein thina thinana…
                       Then thein thina then thein thina then then thein thina thinana

Saranam1 : The denizens of heaven gather together and praise Thee
                    The hold ascetics practice their devotion
                    The leaders of the mullai lands (shepherds) worship thee
                    The wise men led by stars offer their gifts, unto thee
                    Everyone distributes charity to the poor and needy
                    All the violence of sin shall cease
                    The spirits of evil lose heart and tremble
                    The Lord of the stars dwells in our mountains

Saranam2:   The very first mountain was the mountain of Eden
                     That is the mountain which the Lord made our home
                     The Lord of righteousness was revealed on the mountain
                     The Lord of eternal life dwells in the mountains
                    The devil took us for a ride in the mountain
                     So the Lord of heaven put a curse on the mountains
                     After we had left that particular mountain
                     Bethalem became our mountain abode

Saranam3: the Mountain Ararat was the mountain of Noah
                     Miraculously the ark came to rest on the mountain
                    The mountain of Moriah was the mountain of Abraham
Moses struck the mountain of Meribah with his rod
                    Out gushed the water and quenched the thirst of Israel
                    The mountain of the Ten Commandments was the mountain of Sinai;
                    The mountain of Bethalem is the mountain of righteousness.

Saranam10: The holy mountain of Zion is the golden mountain
                    The Bride of the Lamb dwells on this mountain,
                   Chaste virgins dwell on this mountain
                   Where the wedding of the Lord Takes place.
                   Different kinds of sufferings He underwent at Golgotha
                  That is the mountain where He suffered and died
                  Original sin was wiped out on that holy mount
                  The gate of heaven is opened at the mount of Bethalem.

 In 1827, the Rev. L.P. Haubroe became the head of the S.P.G. Mission. There were communal tensions between the so called higher caste members of the congregation and those who were considered to belong to the lower castes. Rev. Haubroe sought Sastriar’s advice on this matter. Sastriar advised a note of caution and said that separate seating should not be given up all of a sudden. But as people get educated and grow in the love of God, these distinctions will disappear and caste restrictions will be set aside. Rev. Haubroe was so incensed and he excommunicated a number of Vallalas including Sastriar. Sastriar’s monthly salary from the church was also terminated. Things came to a head in 1829 and Sastriar and others wrote to the Home Board. The excommunicated members gathered in Sastriar’s home for worship. When King Serfoji of Thanjavur heard that Sastriar, his boyhood friend and fellow student was in financial straits, he invited him to his court and awarded him a monthly salary of Rs.35. So full of gratitude was the Sastriar on receiving royal patronage, that he composed a devotional lyric:
 “I worship the astounding One,
  I worship the Heavenly Son,
 I worship Him who brings salvation,
I worship Him who grants divine wisdom
I worship the lotus feet of Him who gave me vision,
I worship Him who is dearer to me than my two eyes,
I worship him who showed me the heavenly way,
I worship Him who brought me out of this situation,
I worship, I worship Guru Jesus Christ’s feet”

(-Jebamalai-1 Evening-2 verse7)

After he had composed Bethalem Kuravanji, he sang it at the court of Raja Serfoji of Thanjavur. The king was so touched by the play in verse that he asked the Sastriar to compose a similar epic on the presiding deity of Thanjavur, Brihadeeswarar. Sastriar refused with some trepidation. The king and vidwans at the court tried to persuade him to settle for a short composition on Vinayagar. But Sastriar was firm and affirmed that he could not sing the praises of anyone but Jesus Christ. He told the king that though he was like a horse or elephant in the king’s stable which the king fed, the owed allegiance to God his Master.  On witnessing his single-minded devotion to Jesus Christ, the king told Sastriar that he was free to sing and praise Jesus Christ wherever he wished. Thus he became known as the man who composed verses only about Jesus Christ. Vedanayaga Sastriar sang about this incident in traditional folk dance style.

I know not any song but praising the Lord
I can sing of none but my Lord
Praising Him daily and glorifying Him
Are What I can sing about; O wise lady
Of Jesus alone I sing
I can talk of nothing but Jesus.      (Sastrakkummi)

It is interesting to note that even regarding the unhappy incident with Rev.L.P. Haubroe, Vedanayaga Sastriar expressed his feeling in verse.

“In the year 1830
A terrible incident befell me,
The woes that beset Thy servant
Due to Rev. Haubroe’s injuction, (were compensated by)
The love that is greater than a mother’s
And granted me a generous salary
The Lord has planted in the heart
Of King Serfoji who rules Thanjavur,
Life on this earth flourished
May the King who lives and rules
Live forever age after age
May God sustain the love
That King Serfoji bears me
May God have mercy on me
And on my house and my song”.

Once a dancer enthralled the court with her performance, she sang as she danced, after which the King turned to the poet and queried “Can you compose a song such as this?” The poet in reply composed two hundred lines starting from the incarnation of Jesus Christ. King Serfoji was astonished and gratified.

On another occasion King Serfoji asked Sastriar to felicitate him without mentioning Christ. Sastriar sang thus:

May the King live forever!
May King Serfoji live forever!
May the grace of the Lord who has born in the manger
Surround the son of Thulasi Maharaj!
The Pandyan who rules the South
The one beyond compare (Serfoji)
Whose praise fllourisheth everywhere
May his fame and prestige
Dwell with “His Highness”
And may he rule on the throne forever and ever!”

Raja Serfoji, in appreciation of Sastriar bestowed on him the privilege of traveling in a mena (Palanquin) and to wear the turban (chappathi mundasu) and jegha (apron coat) and vigu (loose trouser) as was permitted to courtiers  and noblemen.  He also wore an embroidered shawl across the right shoulder and right arm as yoga vastram which was worn by Brahmin pandits and Vedic scholars.

Vedanayaga Sastriar was one of the outstanding Tamil poets and composer who adorned the court of Maharaja Serfoji  and he was a contemporary of Sri. Thyagarajar who was perhaps the most versatile of Carnatic Musicians… Ven. Vedanayagam Sastriar lived up to the ripe old age of 90 in Thanjavur. He devoted his entire life and soul to Tamil Christian Literature and so was called Kavirayar (King among poets). Sastriar knew Sanskrit, Telugu and Latin.  The appellation ‘Sastriar’ was generally adopted by highly learned Brahmin Vedic scholars and this title indicate his scholarly achievements and sincere piety.”

IV. Gnanath Thatcha Nadagam (Drama of the Divine Carpenter) was completed in 1830 and the premiere was held before Raja Serfoji who is mentioned in the 10th and 17th songs of the second section of the book entitled “Noah’s Ark’. It starts with a description of Creation and the Garden of Eden and how Adam and Eve were placed there and told not to eat of the tree of life and of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The second part describes how the world was destroyed by the flood and how Noah built the Ark and survived. The abundance of profusion of the natural order and elements of geography are included and the glories of the world with God had created are the subjects of this book. This is composed in the style of the Boat song.

Gnanath Thatcha Nadagam has 450 stanzas. The Ark of the Covenant, one race, spiritual joy, the brazen serpent, joyful exuberance are some of the seven divisions comprising the play in verse. The story is basically how Noah built the ark and survived the flood. Jesus Christ is the Divine Carpenter. This Divine Carpenter created the world which is represented by the big city. The sun and moon shed their beams, stars twinkle in the sky and water bearing clouds bring rain. He created the river and streams to provide water for mankind. The houses in that city represent the temples which are the bodies which house the souls. His description of the body is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of the bones which became a great army. Sastriar declares that this temple should be inhabited by God. Instead mankind worshipped other gods and the world became the abode of sin. God wanted to destroy the world through a deluge. But in that wicked world dwelt one religious man. Noah. God commanded Noah to build an ark in which he and his family could escape the general destruction. Noah considered all the trees, the custard apple, gooseberry and even papaya for suitable material to build the ark but God directed him to select gopher wood. Then he had to save two of every species of which 96 are named in the play. Then follows catalogue of birds and insects, cereals and vegetables. 115 types of provisions are specified. Noah also stored water for all the denizens of the ark. Sastriar mentions that Noah did not forget to take his spectacles. And he also took with him spoons and forks an anachronism which reflects the life style of the missionaries.  The verse from Philippians 4:19 is appropriate for this incident “God will supply all our needs”.

He described the flood and how it encompassed the earth.  He describes the situation, in which he mentions 100 species of fish. He mentions that many continents and cities and which were covered with water. He mentions the cities of London, Moscow, Philadelphia, Finland, Australia, Austria and the many places he named testified to his knowledge of geography. The ark which floated over many places came to rest on the summit of Mount Ararat. He hails the king with gratitude to God for Noah’s survival.

The following is an interesting song where Sastriar compares the human body with the universe.

Gnanath Thatcha Nadagam-Section 4

 1. All that I had beheld in the universe
   I have seen in the construction of the human body
  Planet, sun, moon and star,
 Heaven and earth and all that is therein.

Just as the Lord of heaven controls the universe
So does the head direct the actions of the body.

Just as the sun in the midst of the solar system , sheds its light
So does the heart spread warmth and vigour to the body.

    6. Just as the moon’s glow is soft and moist
       So is the brain in the head of man.
      The heart is the seat as the sun is the core
     and the liver is similar to the planet Thor. (Thunder)

 

7.  Just as rain is to the earth, so are our tears
     And the sweat like the dew
    The trembling of man is like the quaking earth
    Eyes inflamed with wrath are like thunder and lightning bolts.

 

15. Just as the angels in heaven, so is man
    Who can acquire knowledge, give counsel
   And have freedom of thought and action.

V. Gnana Anadadi

Gnana Andadi is based on the mystical Song of Solomon found in the Bible.

Gnana Andadi has 100 stanzas and its content can be summarized as follows:

One day as the bride is asleep the bridegroom refuses to wake her and goes for a stroll in the garden. On returning, he knocks at the door but the heroine who is in a deep sleep is unable to open the door immediately. So the hero goes away. When she realizes what has happened, the distraught heroine searches everywhere for her lover and is even flogged by the gate keepers of the city. On seeing the plight of the suffering heroine, her handmaidens go in search of the hero and explain the situation to him. The couple is reunited. The bridegroom in Gnana Andadi is Christ Himself who conquered death, and the heroine is the Church. She mourns for her beloved thus:

From that day to this day my suffering gets worse;
Unable am I to eat or sleep
Why is my beloved angry with me?
O, what shall I do,
There is no one to comfort me
Poor maiden that I am!

She describes her lover in the words of St. John in the book of Revelation: “In the midst of seven golden lamp stands moves one like the Son of Man. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. His head and His hair are as white as wool and His eyes are like a flame of fire; He has in His right hand seven stars and his Countenance is like the sun shining in  its strength (Revelation 1:8, 13, 14, 16). He is deathless and yet He conquered death to redeem mankind. He rises from the dead and is victorious over sin, Satan and death. He is Jesus Christ.
Sastriar  quotes Isaiah: “And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty  God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Even with a thousand tongues it is impossible to praise Him sufficiently even over thousands of years. The heroine mourns her sinful state: “I have loved the world, the devil and the lust of the flesh. Please tell the bridegroom that I repent of these and crave only Him”. Her maidens intercede on her behalf: “When you were crucified on the cross, did you not show compassion for the thief  hanging on your right hand side?  You who showed compassion to Mary of Magdala, You who forgave Peter who denied you, you who opened the eyes of doubting Thomas who would not believe.

Her maidens realized that Christ also loved the heroine according to Ephesians 5:25 ‘Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it”.

The heavenly bride sings about her spouse:

He is present everywhere
 He, who knows all, dwells in my heart;
Love that springs from the grace of God
Dwells here and in my heart.
In all living things He dwells,
He who is King David’s royal Son!

The heavenly bridegroom replies:

“Daughters of Jerusalem,
My beloved is like unto a garland.
The heavenly bride rejoices
The Sweet words she speaks are a law unto me
God rejoices with His bride”.
 
(Gnana Andadi verses 89, 90)

In the song dedicated to the Lord “Parabaran Malai” Sastriar expressed the fact that he belonged to the Lord:

“O spotless One!
 The One who has no beginning and no end!
Fount of true wisdom,
Holy, one Heavenly Sun!
If you are my Father, I am not lost.
I rejoice to claim this fact, O Lord”,

Thus Gnana Andadi is another work which expressed the ideal relationship between God and man, Christ and the Church.

VI. Aranathintham

Aranathintham is the finest example of the epic poem which was composed in 1821. Sastriar “succeeds with fetching rhythm and deft verse to describe the great quest of Christ to redeem fallen man”.  The word Aranathintham is a composite of three words: Aranam meaning the Bible plus Athi ( the beginning) plus Anatham (the end). The poet gives this title because, in it, he summarizes the entire message of the Bible.  He says that it is an introduction to Bala Sarithiram which is composed upon the birth of Christ. He quotes Psalms 119: 18 “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law”. In his preface, he mentions that it was mean t to be sung during special festivals of Christians such as the season of Lent.

Aranathintham is similar to Milton’s epic of heaven and it includes the divine counsel, the Father’s promise, the dialogue between Father and Son, the Son’s vow to destroy evil and His incarnation. God’s love for Zion, Zion’s rebuttal of this love in arrogance, God overcoming her initial refusal are some of the subjects which are contained in this work. Divine justice is the theme of the first part and the divine episode in which divine mercy was shown forms the second part of the book. The difference between Old and New Testaments is set forth by the poet.

He mentions that the first and second chapters are written as though sung by his two sons, Gnanasigamani and Noah Gnanadickam who appear before the public and declare the attributes of God. They also give brief accounts of the creations redemptions and destruction together with the Litany and the creeds of Athanasius and Nicaea. The third chapter is meant to be sung by Sastriar himself with all his disciples explaining all the points previously mentioned.

The fourth chapter is to be sung Gnanadeepam, the adopted daughter of Sastriar, who describes the receptions of the ten virgins to the Bridegroom and the celebration of the wedding between the Lamb of God and the daughter of Zion (The Church).The latter part is similar to the story delineated in Gnana Andadi. In this poetical work, the hero and heroine are separated because of the heroine’s sin (fallen man) and the Bride and Bridegroom are finally reunited through the victory over sin and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The song of celebration of the victory won on the cross is sung by the daughter of Zion in the following verse:

Coming to her senses, the daughter of Zion declares
The will of God is made manifest
She is decked in lovely embroidered silken vesture
And presents a glorious picture,
She appears like the rising moon,
And rejoices the heart of God,
She confesses everything to her Lord with tears,
Nellai Vedanayagam sings the song of Victory
The Babe of Bethalem was visited by the shepherds
And sought after by the wise men
The Messiah who is our Lord
Has given us the victory
He is the subject of her rejoicing:
(Chapter IX Realisation of the Bride)

In this work Sastriar enumerated various Biblical incidents in which God’s greatness is revealed. For example:
Song No.19
V.75   Did not Isaac take refuge with Abimelech?
           Did not Pharaoh gift land of Goschen to Jacob?
(Genesis  26: 12-16, 47:5,6)

V.77 Daniel found favour with Nebuchadnezzar
        So did Mordecai with Agaseurus (Dan. 2:45-8, Esther 6)

V.79 Sennacherib came with a mighty host against Israel
       Who but God destroyed them all and wrought salvation for His people?
(2 Kings 19:35)

V.88  You were subjected to judgment by Pontius Pilate
        How did Jesus achieve greatness on that occasion?
 (Mathew 27: 1,2,13)

When Sastriar recited this work at Court where the King gave audience, the king was greatly pleased and presented him with hundred gold coins. But he told Sastriar, “Do not attempt to convert people to your faith”. Sastriar was displeased. He went home with a heavy heart and he bitterly repented that he did not rise to the occasion and insist that he must preach the faith. So he returned to the court with the money and waited to see the king to return the king’s bounty. But the king had already left and the chief minister told him that he was asked merely not to force people to change their faith. There was no ban on preaching the faith. So he told the Sastriar to go home in peace. He even dispatched a student to carry the money back to Sastriar’s house. This hymn describes his feelings:

Pallavi:  “I have believed the Messiah,
               On Him I base my trust,
               I surrender and take my refuge
               At the feet of Him whom I have believed.

Saranam1: One Lord, He who grants sure refuge
                  David’s Son, Heavenly Immanuel
                  Guru and Lord, I look only to you.

Saranam2:  The vision of Your lotus feet,
                    To You I cling, You care for all my needs
                    I worship You daily, O what joy and blessing!

Saranam3: Show Your compassion Master!
                  Almighty word , remove our affliction
                  Blessed are Your feet to which I cling!
                 
Saranam4: Of sinners I am the chief
                   And allow anger to rule over me
                   Forsake me not and grant me Your compassion!

Saranam 5: O word who is from the beginning
Your servant suffers much!
But we look to you.

Saranam 6:  We bless the Holy Gospel
                    Sastriar sings Your Praise,
                    To you  our songs ascent.

(Gnanappadakkeerthanaigal 256)

VII. Gnana Nondi Nadagam

In 1800, Vedanayaga  Sastriar composed Gnana Nondi Nadagam (The Scared Drama of the cripple). This is a type of literary piece in which a cripple finds salvation.

The subjects is a robber who in the course of his nefarious career strikes up a friendship with a loose woman.  She encourages and eggs him on and appropriates all his ill-gotten gains. It happens that once he steals a horse belonging to a solider. The guards capture him and drag him before an officer who orders that his hand and foot be chopped off. The robber lies crippled in a pool of blood.  While in this pitiable state a man moved by compassion rescues him and anoints his wounds with oil and gives him medicine. He then directs him to undertake a pilgrimage. The cripple makes the journey and is pardoned of his sins and even has his arm and leg restored. The cripple first receives wooden limbs and then those of flesh and flood.

In the opening verses, Sastriar explains that his efforts to praise God elaborately through this work is like the effort of an ant which tries to drink the waters of the oceans or a rat trying to scale the height of Meru ( a peak of Himalayas). Sastriar uses literary forms to illustrate God’s redeeming love for mankind. When Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, man’s inward self became crippled, and so God sent his Son to defeat sin. Every human being is identified with the cripple. God restores the cripple to purity, health and righteousness. The wooden limbs signify the Law of Moses and the restored limbs that of the dispensations of grace. This is faithful to Biblical revelation.

According to the Bible, Cain was the world’s first murdered who killed his younger brother. Nondi (the cripple) claims that he is a descendent of Cain. Jacob the deceiver dupes his father who is old and blind and usurps his bother’s birthright and blessing. This father of Israel is Nondi’s father. Achan who plunders the enemy tent and hides the booty in his own tent, disobeys specific instructions from Jehovah not to do so and thus brought  the wrath of Jehovah on himself and his family  and had to perish. Nondi claims to be descended from him. The mighty Samson who loses his strength by confiding in a Philistine woman is his uncle. King David who commits adultery and murder to acquire Bathsheba is a relative. This type of hardened sinner masquerades as god-fearing man. He had three wives symbolizing lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and lust for gold.

Nondi traces the roots of sin to the fall in the Garden of Eden after which Adam and Eve clothe themselves with fig leaves.  God curses them as well as the serpent. That is how he loses his leg and his arm and becomes a cripple. But God declares that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. At Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments are given to Moses by God. Sastriar compares it to the cripple being fitted with wooden legs. But these artificial limbs are painful to use. Finally the Son of God came to Bethlehem, died on the cross and the blood that He shed heals the cripple. The overjoyed Nondi dances with great enthusiasm and joy and with leap and bounds.

Seeing the temple he cries out,
Where the eternal Christ our father,
He beholds and dances with all his might
Hail, Holy Scripture!
May the curse be forever lifted,
This song of victory,
Vedanayagam sings

VIII. Chenna Patna Prevesam (Welcome to Madras)

In 1809, the Christians of Verpery, Madras( Chennai)  invited the Venerable Vedanayaga Sastriar and bestowed on him the title Gnanadeepa Kavirayar (king among poets of the Devine Light) and presented him with a palanquin. They seated him in the palanquin and took him out in procession. Sastriar composed a piece called Chenna Patna Prevesam, a part of which concerns the palanquin.

The Lord is not overtly praised as in his other works. The first Stanza is the invocation. The remaining 149 stanzas are about his departure from Thanjavur, incidents during travel and arrival in Madras and about the munificence of Muththusamy and other events, In this composition he specifies the banquet given consisting of eight types of rice, vegetables, fried foods and palagarams   (eats) such as athirasam and describles the ancient forest life of the Tamils and the practices of hospitiality.

Chenna Patna Prevesam is composed as though sung by Vaman who was Sastriar’s chief disciple. In those days, long before the advent of the railway, Sastriar and his entourage had to walk the whole way from Thanjavur to Madras. Their first stop was Kumbakkonam, where they were offered hospitality by Mr. Packianathan. They then passed through Mayruam (now know as Mayiladudurai) and Sirkazhi and finally reached Cuddalore.

There Sastriar’s former student Pichaimuthu welcomed them with much affection and got ready a feast. However when Sastriar paid a call on a local missionary leader Rev. Aliceberg, he was met with abuse and the man tried to drive them out of town. But Pichaimuththu and Ponniah Koman offered them hospitality and presented sastriar with a pruseful of gold. From there the troupe went to Pondicherry. Here they were welcomed by Ananadadorai. He hosted them for eight days and was deeply appreciative of Sastriar’s music. He sent a letter of recommendation of Prof. Mariamuththu of Mylapore. Sastriar’s group walked all the way and reached Mylapore at midnight. Mariamuthu welcomed them and ordered food to be prepared at that late hour. He entertained them for six days.

Sastriar composed short pieces and sent them to his former students at Verpery. One of these happened to be sent to Muththusami Pillai who was a leader of the church. The headquarters of the London Missionary Society was situated in Verpery. Sastriar praised Muththusami pillai as being a worthy successor of ancient Tamils heroes, who were noted for their generosity. Muththusami Pillai with a group of friends rushed to Mylapore. They thanked God for bringing Sastriar safe to Madras, and they conducted him to Verpery. On the way a snake crossed their path. Sastriar reflected that it was like the first serpent which wrecked the peace and harmony of Eden. The escorts cut the snake in two with a sword.

Vaman describes Muththusami’s residence as akin to heaven. It was adorned with silken curtains, coloured mosaics and gilded mirrors.  The pillars that supported the stage on which he was to sing were made of ivory. There were glittering chandeliers shedding a soft glow in the room. The waiting audience was singing praises of God. Sastriar feasted them with his music.

Then followed descriptions of the banquets that were given in his honour. In particular Elizabeth, the wife of a colonel (a foreigner) greatly appreciated Sastriar’s music and loaded him with gifts such as gold turbans, golden bracelets and rings and Bengal cottons.

When the residents of St. Thomas Mount heard of Sastriar’s services in propagating the gospel, they invited him to their township. Sastriar who visited them was reminded of the disciple of Christ, St. Thomas who worked and died there. Sastriar’s group extolled the love of Christ in shedding His blood for mankind.

Upon returning to Verpery, he was insulted and abused by a drunken Christian called Sikuvaimuthu. But Savarirayan who heard of it asked Sastriar not to worry about his incident but to ignore it just like a lion ignores the whining of a jackal. Sastriar also visited Poonamallee where he ministered. In Vepery he continued to hold his musical discourses and was presented with a palanquin worth six hundred gold pieces and awarded the tile of Gnanadeepa Kavirayar. The Christians of Verpery seated him in the palanquin and took him out in a procession to the accompaniment of music.

IX. SASTRAKKUMMI

 In Sastrakummi, Vedanayaga Sastriar ridicules superstitious practices and beliefs and exhorts Christians to forsake them. He himself spurned superstitious beliefs and its practices in any form. One of the arguments that Sastriar used was this: the courtiers and learned men were jealous of the affection that the king cherished for Sastriar They tried to ridicule him by asking him what kind of vehicle his God traveled in knowing the fact that Christ Jesus once went on an ass. And they boasted about the number of Gods they worshipped. Sastriar replied in verse:

If a single Brahmin appears on your path
It is not a good omen,
But if a donkey brays,
That is considered a good portent
A dhobi’s (Launders) donkey’s bray is a good sign in the making
But a Guru’s appearance is ruinous!
What sort of reasoning is this, O wise lady? (Verse 154, 155)
The king was greatly amused.

On another occasion, Sastriar was hungry. He sent one of the maids, Sundari to buy dosas for breakfast. She was berated severely by the woman who sold the dosas because, on the previous day when Sundari had  been the first customer there had been no sales afterwards. So the woman refused to sell her dosas to Sundari. The hungry Sastriar composed the following verse condemning what stemmed from irrationality and ignorance.

A little girl named Sundari was sent
Early one morning to buy dosais
The vendor screamed at her, ‘misbegotten one’
You purchased the first dosai
After which I sold no more
You ruined business for me’

Sastriar condemned astrology and frowned on the distinction between good days and bad days.

Will the Lord create a day that is rotten
If He had so done
Can you by any means make it a good one
O wise lady?
X. PERINBAKKADAL

This book contains contemplations on the nativity and sufferings of Christ. It consists of four parts, Gnanath Tharattu Thiruchabaith Tharathu, Perinbakkadal and Pralaba Oppari. The first three were composed in 1813 and the last in1834.

(i) Gnanth Tharattu consists of verses composed on the Nativity of Christ and its consequences and significance,. These lyrics were meant to be sung at Christmas time and had the air of Christmas Carols. An example is:

‘Rah rah ro
Rah rah ro
Babe who was from the beginning
Rah rah ro, rah Yesu!
Lord rah rah ro Yesu, sleep little baby who came to atone
For sin that was born
Of eating the forbidden fruit, sleep on!
Thou Who came to set right the consequences of sin
Who sought us while we uncaring lived, sleep on!
O holy unblemished one, wise, divine being, Immanuel!
Great and glorious king of the Jews sleeps on!
O Thou who camest to redeem mankind from falling into
Hell’s pit of eternal fire, O Lord, sleeps on’.
Thou who camest to take God’s wrath,
Curse and punishment on Himself
And conquer hell and death and nullify sin’s wages
O King sleep on!

(ii) Thiruchabaith Tharattu consists of lullabies for children. These reflect the poverty of the Son of God ay His birth and innumerable blessings accruing from the incarnation.
(iii) Perinbakkadal follows the order of Church catechism and ponders on the passion of Christ.

(iv) Pralaba Oppari is a dirge on the death of Christ. This could be used as a requiem and is specially appropriate to be sung just before participating in the Holy Communion. The last two sections are specially meant to be sung and meditated upon during the season of Lent. Here are two excerpts from Perinbakkadal and Pralaba Oppari.

Divine Qualities

V-39:  He who is without beginning or end
            The self-existent One, everlasting Being
            The unchanging Light
            Who became incarnate

V-40:   Compassion that is beyond search
            Grace without measure
             I praise you!

V-44:   Wisdom without measure
             Good in men personified
              Great king worshipped
              Worshipped by the denizens of heaven

V-63:  Wisdom without measure
           Sea of Joy,
            Almighty Being!
            Light in all its glory,

V-292 Sir, who created me
            Eternal and everlasting Being,
             O Holy One who bore all our sorrows

V-90 Will not the daughters of Jerusalem lament
          And return beating their breasts

V-91 Will not the voice of the daughter of David be heard everywhere?
          Will not the lament of Eve be heard in Jerusalem?

V-98 why is the lady of sorrows overwhelmed with grief
          Is the God of grace faced with vengeful death?

XI. DHYANAPPULAMBAL

Another collection of meditations on the passion of Christ is called Dhyanappulambal. These songs are meditations on the suffering of Christ and fall into two categories. (1) Meditation on the cross (2) the song of Hindustan.

The first is divided into three sections.

The beginning of Sorrows: These verses dwell on the Anointing of Christ in Bethany in anticipations of His death and continue till the institution of the Last Supper.
The suffering of Christ: His mental and spiritual agony in Gethsemane, the trial in the High Priest’s courtyard, Pilate’s judgment and the crucifixion, death and atonement.
The Resurrection of Christ: Christ’s resurrection and His various appearances to His disciples and His Ascension are sung with surpassing joy.

In 1808, the Thanjavur congregation gave him the title of Veda Siromany (Gem among Evangelical Poets). On any festive occasion their practice was always to offer the honoured place and ‘first gift’ to the Sastriar. In the same year, the congregation at Tranquebar requested the Sastriar to hold the premier of Gnana Nondi Nadagam in their city. They bestowed the title of “Suvisesha Kavirayar” (King among Evangelical Poets) and also gifted him with a palanquin. In 1815, Trichy Christians united with the Europeans and requested him to perform the Perinbakkadal for 45 days. One June 18, 185 the Trichy congregation under Pohle awarded him the title of Veda Sastriar. This is equivalent to the degree of Doctor of Divinity. It was after this event, that he became known as Vedanayaga Sastraiar and the title has been hereditary to this day.

XII. GNANA ULA (The Divine Procession)

In Gnana Ula, Vedanayaga Sastriar enumerates the manifold attributes of God and in a true spirit of humility exclaims thus:

Thousands of Tamil words cannot adequately convey your glory
Unable to express a fraction of your greatness; here I sing!
I know not the appropriate way to praise you, by my compositions
All I do is babble about your greatness”.

This is reminiscent of Charles Wesley’s “O for a thousand tongues to sing”.
 
 
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