Vaishnavam or the worship of Vishnu is one of the six ancient paths to Godhead as per Hinduism, the others being gANApatyam (worship of Ganapathi), kaumAram (worship of Subrahmanya or Kumara), souram (the worship of Surya), shaivam (the worship of Shiva) and shAktam (the worship of the Goddess or Shakti). Vishnu, considered the preserver, is also an ideal subject for bhakti or devotion. His sports or leelas also make him an ideal object of adoration which has resulted in His being the subject of the maximum number of prayers, songs and hymns.
Andal (circa 8th century AD), the only woman among the 12 Alwars (the greatest devotees of Vishnu) needs no introduction. Found by Vishnu Chittar a.k.a. Periyalwar at Sri Villiputtur, she desired none but Vishnu as her husband. During the month of Margazhi (Dec/Jan) she organised the girls of the village into a band which observed certain rituals called ?Nonbu?. For each day of the month she composed a verse and together they are called the Tiruppavai. ?mArgazhi tingaL? is the firs verse of the Tiruppavai.
The Mukunda Malai of Kulashekhara Perumal (often identified with Kulashekhara Alwar, one of the 12 Alwar) is a shloka in Sanskrit comprising 46 verses. The composer was one of the rulers of the Kozhikode region. The Mukunda Malai is composed in a spirit of total surrender to Godhead.
Narayana Teertha (late 16th-early 17th centuries AD) was a saintly composer hailing from Andhra. Afflicted with a chronic illness, he travelled to various shrines in search of a cure which he finally found at the Venkatesa Perumal shrine in Varahur. In gratitude he composed the Krishna Leela Tarangini which tells the story of Krishna in song and verse from His birth till His marriage with Rukmini. ?AlOkayE shrI bAlakrShNam? is one such song.
Adi Sankara (circa 6th century AD) the great Advaitin, composed a number of shlOkas in praise of several deities along with his Vedantic works. Vishnu was a favourite deity evidently for even the deeply philosophical ?Moha Mudgaram?(Bhaja Govindam) is dedicated to Vishnu. The ?Vishnu Bhujangam? is a less well known work of his, but pregnant with deep meaning.
Swati Tirunal (1813-1846AD) and his immortal composition ?bhAvayAmi raghurAmam? really need no introduction to lovers of Carnatic Music. The king, who ruled over the erstwhile Travancore state, was a prolific composer, most of whose works were dedicated to Ananthapadmanabhaswami, a manifestation of Vishnu, enshrined at Tiruvananthapuram. ?bhAvayAmi? is a pr?cis of the Ramayana. Originally all the verses in it were set to raga sAvEri. Later Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer tuned it as a rAgamAlika which is how it is sung today.
Sesha Iyengar (17th century AD) has earned the prefix ?mArgadarshi? (one who shows the path) for his compositions are said to have set the standard that most other composers from Tyagaraja to Swati Tirunal followed. He used the mudra ?kosala? and is therefore considered to have been a native of Ayodhya (earlier known as Kosala) who later migrated to the south. He composed a number of songs on Sri Ranganatha, whose shrine at Srirangam is the holiest of the Vaishnavite holies. ?Rangapate? is one such creation.
Hailed as one of the greatest composers in Tamil, Arunachala Kavi (1711-1778AD) was a goldsmith by profession. It was however his proficiency in Tamil that attracted poets and scholars. Based on the Kamba Ramayanam, he created the Rama Natakam, a set of songs that depict the Ramayana as a play. His song ?En paLLi kONDIr? is dedicated to Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam and was composed by way of a prayer before the first staging of the Rama Natakam, which like the Kamba Ramayanam was premiered at the Srirangam temple. For more details on this composer and his works, see Charsur?s album ?Tamizh Moovar?.
Vishnu is said to have undertaken nine avataras or incarnations and the tenth one, it is believed, will happen when the great deluge or pralayam takes place. The mangaLam is dedicated to all these ten avatarams. Vishnu is considered the harbinger of all that is auspicious and it is apt that this offering concludes with a mangaLam or benediction, a prayer for peace and prosperity.