By Swami Harshananda
Maṇikaṇṭhan Māṇikkavācagar lived in 9th or 10th cent. A.D. If the śivaśaraṇas and the dāsas spread the universal sect of bhakti in Karnataka, the Nāyanmārs and the Ālvārs did the same in Tamil Nadu.
Among the sixty-three Nāyanmārs who were great devotees of Śiva, Māṇikka-vācagar was an important person whose two great works Tiruvāsagam and Tirukkovai are popular even today. Born of brāhmaṇa parents at Tiruvaduvur near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, he became an adept in the knowledge of the scriptures, especially the āgamas. The Pāṇḍyan king, named Arimarttanam, who had heard of his stupendous knowledge and uncanny wisdom as well as impeccable character, appointed him as his chief minister.
Once the king sent him on a mission to purchase imported Arab horses from Tirupirendur. Mānikkavācagar met a great Śaiva saint, who was Śiva himself, received spiritual instructions and utilized the money given by the king for purchasing the horses, to build a temple for Śiva. The king jailed him for embezzlement of funds. But by the grace of Śiva he was released. He resigned being the minister and started roaming about as a minstrel of God. He is said to have defeated a band of Buddhist scholars in public debate at Cidambaram or Chidambaram. Of his two works Tiruvāsagam is autobiographical and reveals his spiritual struggles culminating in spiritual illumination.The Tirukkovai depicts the longing of the soul for Śiva, but using erotic imagery.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore