By Evelyn Einhaeuser
In the deep South of India lies in the small and remote village of Alvar Tirunagari a temple that was built around a sacred tamarind tree. In India trees are revered as givers of knowledge. Many people here in India who are still connected to nature think for example that the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat played an important role in the Buddha being able to achieve enlightenment as it helped him in gaining wisdom.
The Tamarind Tree in Alvar Tirunagari is supposed to be more than 5000 years old. It's leaves never close like the ones of others of the same species and it is said that it is always awake and offering prayers to the divine. Also the tree rests on the roof of the temple with no roots to be found.
One of the priests of the temple told me that the tree is an incarnation of Adishesha, the divine snake that carries the God Visnu. It is also closely connected to Nammalvar, one of the twelve most revered saints of Vaishnavism that lived 3000 BC.
When Nammalvar was born, he did not cry, open his eyes or speak a word. The baby in the womb, according to Vedic tradition, is considered divine and omniscient. On touching the earth a particular vayu called shatha envelops the baby so that it forgets it's divine nature and comes under the spell of ignorance, thereby having to undergo the sufferings of mortals. But Nammalvar was not affected by that vayu and therefore preserved himself the divine qualities of omniscience. As the humble parents did not know what to do with the child, they brought him to the tree and the temple where the child opened his eyes for the first time. The parents were told to leave the child in the tree, where the boy remained silently sitting in Padmasana for 16 years.
When 16 years later a very learned scholar named Madhurakavi was travelling in North India, he saw an astral glow drawing him towards the South. He followed the light which brought him to this small town and then merged into a young boy sitting in the hollow of the tamarind tree. Fascinated, Madhurakavi wanted to establish contact with this boy who was seated cross legged, with his eyes closed. He yelled, threw stones on the floor, but the young man did not react. Unable to elicit any reaction from the child, he asked him a riddle: "If the small (the jivanatma) is born in a body that is destructible, what will it eat and where will it stay?" meaning, if the subtle soul is embodied in the gross body, what are its actions and thoughts? Nammalvar broke his lifelong silence and responded, "That it will eat, it will rest!" meaning that if the soul identifies with the body, it will be the body but if it serves the divine, it will stay in the divine realm and eat(think) of God. Madhurakavi realized the divinity of this child and became his disciple.
In the 9th century the famous teacher Nathamuni came to the temple where he had a vision of Nammalvar and received in a state of meditation the text of the Yoga Rahasya ( "secrets of Yoga"). Unfortunately some of the verses of the precious text on Yoga and Yoga as a therapeutic tool got lost over the centuries. In the 20th century the famous Yogi T. Krishnamacharya, a direct descendant of Nathamuni, came to the temple. As he was entering the temple, he met an old man sitting at the entrance and asked him where he could find Nathamuni. The old man pointed to a mango grove and instructed Krishnamacharya to go there after he had a dip in the river Tamraparani. As he came out of the river, Krishnamacharya lost consciousness and collapsed on the bank of the river. In a trance like state, he found himself in the middle of a mango grove where an old man was seated under a tree with his disciples. Prostrating to this old man, Krishnamacharya requested him to instruct him in the teachings of the Yoga Rahasya. The old man in a sweet voice began to recite some verses, which Krishnamacharya listened to intently. When Krishnamacharya regained consciousness, he found himself back on the bank of the river. The mango grove had disappeard, but he could remember all the verses he had received when in that state. He ran back to the old man and narrated his experience. The old man said "Son, you are blessed, you have received the teachings of the Yoga Rahasya from Nathamuni himself. Please go and offer your prayers to Lord Visnu and go home". When Krishnamacharya came out of the temple to thank the old man, he was nowhere to be seen. And then he realized that the old man had looked exactly like the sage who had recited the verses in the mango grove. This is how Krishnamacharya was able to revive the Yoga Rahasya which is still considered an important text on Yoga.
Many magical incidents have happened in and around the tree and the temple and it is considered as one of the 108 divya desams, the most important temples dedicated to Lord Visnu.
You can't visit the tree and temple without feeling touched deeply by it's mere presence.
For those believing in reincarnation it is even said that if you have a vision of Nammalvar in the temple, you will be freed from the cycle of death.