‘Guruji’ Sri A.S. Raghavan

Arumugamangalam is a small village in Tirunelveli District. The year was 1928. Sri Subbiah Sastrigal and Smt. Ramalakshmi Ammal couple felt sad that their four-year old boy was unable to walk. They took the child to the Doctor, but despite his best effort, the Doctor could not be of any help. ‘It seems, the disease is uncurable”, said the Doctor. The parents could not accept the fact that their dear child could not walk in his life. It is said that when one door is closed another door will be opened. When the door of the medical science was closed, they decided to knock at another door; the door of Senthil Andavan, the Lord of infinite grace. They recalled almost similar experience which Shanmuga Sikamani-Sivakama Sundari couple went through. When they found that the child born to them was dump, they took the child to Tiruchendur, stayed there and surrendered at the feet of Senthil Andavar. Could the Lord allowed someone, who was destined to sing the glory of Muruga, to remain mute? “Never”, the Lord seemed to say and gave voice to the child. He was Kumara Guruparar, who composed Kandar Kali Venba, Madurai Meenakshi Pillai Thamizh and many other songs hailing the glory of Muruga. The Arumugamangalam couple thought that just as Senthil Andavar gave voice and vision to Kumara Guruparar, the Lord would lend His support and help to their son to walk on his own legs. They took refuge at Senthil Andavar, took the help of Sivalinga Nadar, a disciple of Muruga and an expert in the Siddha system of medicine. What a grace! Soon, the child started walking so briskly through the sandy beach of Tiruchendur that even their parents could not match his speed. He feasted his eyes at the splendour and elegance of Lord Muruga. It was this child who later gave sweet sound of music to Thiruppugazh, went to different places where disciples reside, and hailed the glory of Muruga to great height. He was Sri A.S. Raghavan, affectionatly called by Anbars as Guruji.

After his formal education, Sri Raghavan left the eastern shores of Thiru Chendur and reached the western shores of Thiru Chembur. Having settled in Bombay, he got the opportunity to learn the basics of Carnatic music from Sri Vaidyanatha Bhagawathar. Later Sri Raghavan shifted to Delhi. Even while doing his duties, he ruminated what was the role Senthil Andavar had assigned for him. That was the time when temple Othuvars, bhajan singers, musicians were rendering Thiruppugazh songs in their own way. “Why not we set Thiruppugazh to music and start the practice of rendering Thiruppugazh in a systematic way?” The suggestion came from Sri Raghavan’s friend, Narayanan. The suggestion appealed Sri Ragahvan very much. “It is an opportunity to combine my musical talent with devotion which Thiruppugazh symbolizes”. He felt that the musical talent gifted to him was to be used for hailing the glory of Muruga. He recalled the lines from Kandar Anubhu which said that God gives knowledge and talent to be given back to him (Yam Othiya kalviyum…17) .

Sri Raghavan took up Thiruppugazh study seriously. The more he studied, the more he got absorbed in it. As the grace of Muruga guided him through, Sri Raghavan and his friends sat together, selected certain songs and gave each one a distinct tune ( carnatic based raga) and thala on the lines of chandam. Sri Raghavan and friends started singing in the raga set by them and it then became a practice. When, in 1958, a standard formula of ragas and talas was established, Sri Raghavan started conducting classes. More and more devotees joined his class. A method of conducting Thiruppugazh recital was also prescribed. Soon, Thiruppugazh form of worship (Thiruppugazh Vazhipadu) was held at temples and residences. Those who learned from Sri Raghavan received his blessings and started conducting classes. Some disciples left Delhi and started new classes at the plce where they settled. The divine voice of Sri Raghavan that echoed the devotion towards Muruga was heard at many places in India and abroad. “There is no one in this generation who can render Thiruppugazh in the way Arunagirinathar intended as exactly as Sri Raghavan,” commented Sri Subbudu, the then correspondent of ‘the Statesman’. Many Sabhas and Associations felicitated him for the exemplary services he has done in expounding Thiruppugazh.

Under the leadership of Sri Raghavan, Thiruppugazh Isai Vazhipadu was held in Uttara Swami Malai temple, Sankara Kendra at Delhi, the Chembur Murugan temple at Mumbai, Ved Bhawan at Kolkata, Kundrathur temple near Chennai, Annarpurneswari temple at Coimbatore, Sri Balu Iyer’s residence at Tiruvananthapuram and at many other halls. On 2nd November 1997, a grand Thiruppugazh recital was held at Detroit (US) where devotees came from neighbouring regions in large number. As Arunagirinathar said in his Tiruchendur song (moolum vinai sera), he went to places where devotees reside, searched them and illuminated the whole place with the light of Thiruppugazh (masiladiyargal vazhkindra oor senru thedi vilayadi…). Apart from cities, Thiruppugazh classes were started at even remote towns like Thrissur and Tiruppur and even within one town or city, there were many more classes. In the year 1975, a grand Thiruppugazh festival was organized at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, wherein many scholars participated and many research papers were submitted. Among the dignitaries who turned up to hear Guruji, special mention should be made of Sri R. Venkataraman, former President of India, the Tamil litterateur, Ki Va Jagannathan, Seetha Ravi, Editor of Kalk and the names go on. An ardent devotee of Sri Ramana Bhagavan, Sri Raghavan used to say that while reciting Thiruppugazh, the individual notion disappears and the singer is united with Muruga.

According to Guruji, there is no distinction of any sort and all devotees are one before God. Guruji always emphasises the three qualities the devotees should cultivate: anbu (love) avirodha (free from negativism) and thondu (service). “True devotion would help one to cultivate these values“, he often used to say. He also wrote a serial in Kalki magazine under the title “Thalam Thorum Thamizh Kadavul” (The different abodes of Tamil God Muruga). The serial which covered most of Muruga temples in Tamil Nadu became very popular

Recipient of titles like “Thiruppugazh Thondar” from Sri Abhinava Vidyathirtha Swamigal of Sringeri Mutt, ‘Bhaktha Ratna” from Swami Chidanandji Maharaj of Sivananda Ashram, Guruji ’s contribution in creating a spiritual awakening and Muruga worship has been appreciated by heads of mutts, men of letters and great musicians. He was conferred the title “Guhasri” in the presence of Thava Thiru Nataraja Sivacharya Swamigal and other distinguished personalities during the Valli Kalyana Mahotsavam at Palani. “If Thiruppugazh occupies a prime position among devotional literature and is adopted as a way of life by Muruga devotees today, it is largely due to the selfless service rendered by Guruji”, said Sri Sundararajan, an ardent devotee of Muruga in Bangalore.
Thanks to the able leadership and guidance given by Guruji and the overwhelming participation of devotees, a powerful Thiruppugazh movement or Thiruppugazh wave started sweeping across the country and abroad. “I have not done anything. “I was a mere tool in the hands of Senthil Andavan”, said Sri Raghavan. Having satisfied that he could take Thiruppugazh to the tongue, ears and hearts of many devotees, on 17th May 2013e, Guruji attained the Lotus Feet of Muruga.

.After witnessing Karthigai deepam at Tiruvannamaloai , a devotee said: “When I see the Karthigai deepam lit atop the Tiruvannamalai Mountain, I think of Lord Arunachala, who represents fire among the five basic elements. As the Jyoti is lit atop the hill, not just Tiiruvannamalai but the whole southern land and beyond gets illuminated. Just as one lamb is lit from another lamp and many other lamps are lit, from Guruji, a few disciples learnt Thiruppugazh and from few to many and from many, the whole land is illuminated.