During the 7th century, in the Tamil month of Thai, on a Valarpirai Sunday, Pradhamai Thithi and Magam star, a baby was born to Bhargava Maharishi and Kanagangi. He was deformed with no limbs. Very upset over the birth of such a deformed child, the couple left the baby near a bamboo bush. Mahavishnu along with Mahalakshmi blessed the deformed baby and his limbs grew to become a beautiful child. Once the baby became normal, he cried out of hunger and Mahavishnu fed and blessed the baby. Once Mahavishnu left, the baby cried again missing him. A man, Thiruvalan, who had come to cut bamboo, heard the cries and was very happy to take the baby as he was childless. His wife, Pangayachelvi was so ecstatic seeing the baby that she was ready to nurse him but the baby did not drink her milk. The baby was still with no appetite or any other activity. This is the birth of Thirumazhisai Azhwar.
An elderly man in the town of Thirumazhisai who was a Bhakta of Mahavishnu, heard about the baby and brought milk for him. The baby had only this milk and it became an everyday practice. One day the child did not drink the milk fully and left some balance. The old man and his wife drank the balance milk and they attained youth instantly. The lady conceived and delivered a baby boy. The couple named the child Kanikannan.
Thus Thirumazhisai Azhwar was born to Bhargava Maharishi and Kanagangi and brought up by Thiruvalan and Pangayachelvi. At a very young age, he was in search of God and tried Jainism and Saivam to find Him. For a few years he was a follower of Saivam with the name Sivavaakiyar. After visiting many Sivan temples, he reached Mylapore where he met Peyaazhwar. Peyaazhwar understood who Thirumazhisai Azhwar was, taught him the Narayana Mantra and Thirumazhisai Azhwar became a Vaishnavaite.
For many years, Thirumazhisai Azhwar did penance in the temple of Thirumazhisai. When he was in Yogam in a cave, the first three Azhwars viz, Poigai azhwar, Boothathazhwar and Peyaazhwar were on pilgrimage together and they could see a light from the cave and found Thirumazhisai Azhwar inside. They were very happy to meet each other.
After some time, Thirumazhisai Azhwar went to Thiruvekka Perumal temple in Kanchipuram and did dhyanam on the banks of the pond where Poigai Azhwar was born. Kanikannan who was born by the blessing of Thirumazhisai Azhwar was serving the azhwar here. An old lady used to clean and decorate this place with kolams and flowers.
Azhwar was pleased with the lady’s services and granted her a boon. She wished for youth and turned into a beautiful young woman. The Pallava king fell in love with her and made her his queen. As the king grew old, he learnt his queen’s secret of attaining youth and wished for it. The queen advised that he can get the Azhwar’s blessings through his disciple Kanikannan. On request, Kanikannan came to the King’s court, but said that Azhwar will not visit the king. The king requested Kanikannan to sing his praise and he refused saying that he will sing only the Lord’s praise. The king ordered him to leave the town of Kanchipuram. Promptly Kanikannan reported this to Thirumazhisai Azhwar and told him that he has to leave the town as per king’s orders. Azhwar replied that he will leave the town along with Kanikannan and asked the Perumal also to leave with them. He sang to Perumal as follows:
கணிகண்ணன் போகின்றான் காமுறுபூங் கச்சி
மணிவண்ணா நீகிடக்க வேண்டா - துணிவுடைய
செந்நாப் புலவனும் போகின்றேன் நீயுமுன்றன்
பைந்நாகப் பாய்சுருட்டிக் கொள்
“Lord, Kanikannan is leaving, Lord of Kanchi, you need not lie down here, I am also going, you roll your serpent bed and leave!”
Hearing this, Perumal packed up and left along with the Azhwar. Imagine the devotion Azhwar had for Perumal for the Lord to leave with him. The relationship Azhwar had with the Lord is incredible!
The whole town was lifeless once Perumal left. The king realised his mistake, fell at Kanikannan’s feet and requested him to return. Kanikannan in turn requested Azhwar to return who in turn requested Perumal:
கணிகண்ணன் போகொழிந்தான் காமுருபூங் கச்சி
மணிவண்ணா நீகிடக்க வேண்டும்- துணிவுடைய
செந்நாப் புலவனும் போக்கொழிந்தேன் நீயுமுன்றன்
பைந்நாகப் பாய்படுத்துக் கொள்
“Kanikannan is back, Lord of Kanchi, please stay here, I am also back, please recline on your serpent bed!”
I heard this story from my mother when I was very young and was thrilled imagining Mahavishnu rolling his serpent bed. I was only aware of the name Kanikannan and now very happy to understand the full story and share it here.
Thirumazhisai Azhwar further travelled to many other places and sang in praise of the Lord. He has sung hymns on the following temples