Amalanādhipirān has been written by Thiruppānāḻvār, who had been born into a lineage of people called Pāṇars. Pāṇars usually lived as musicians. They were outside outside the Varna („caste“) system, but probably received some respect as by their musical abilities.
Unfortunately, there are severe misunderstandings when it comes to Varna. Our revered godbrother Venkatesh Rāmānuja Dāsan has cleared all misconceptions on Varna in this article.
The image of caste / Varna is often dominated by the impression that people from lower Varnas are supressed and exploited. While this is partially true, the second aspect of the Varna system is not seen at all: Somebody might be born as a child of Brahmins, but only training in recitation of Vedas and the compliance with the rules and regulations prescribed for Brahmins make him an actual Brahmin. If we meet an guy in some bar in Delhi with a glas of Whiskey, he is no Brahmin, no matter what his parents were. This is because the consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited for Brahmins. If his parents were Brahmins, he is only the relative of Brahmins. He is not qualified to do any ritual activity that is associated with being Brahmin. This is because there is a symmetry: The higher the status in the Varna system, the more rules and regulations a person has to follow. Ignoring these lets him fall to the status as a Śūdrā, i.e. a member of the lowest caste, not authorized to recite Vedas.
So if that person we meet looks down on people because of their Varna, we might righly call him a hypocrite. He can only consider the hierarchy implied by the Varna system with respect to other people if he himself follows the rules of this system! Higher status always means more rules and a higher standard of conduct.
Our Āchāryas have always pointed out that being born in a low Varna or even outside the Varna system (like Westeners) is a great blessing. While those born into high Varna have to follow numerous rites and duties, casteless people are free, we have no specific religious dutied assigned to them and still get the same liberation as somebody born as Brahmin. They can freely use their time to praise and enjoy the Lord – as done by Thiruppānāḻvār.
In this wonderful movie about the life of Rāmānuja, the most important scene from the life of the Āḻvār is shown from minute 7:30:
One day, the Āḻvār was immersed in singing songs to Viṣṇu, as he was so often. Standing there and singing, he blocked the way of a Brahmin called Lokasārangamunivar, who had fetched water for the daily rites in the Śrīraṅgam temple. As by the strict purity rules the Brahmin was adhering to, he felt unable to move close to the Āḻvār. So he threw a stone and injured the Āḻvār at his head. Awakening from his extasy, the Āḻvār apologized and moved out of the way. But (some say in a dream, others say in actuality) Lokasārangamunivar started to loose eyesight and found the doors of the temple Sannidhi locked, because he had hurt an elevated devotee of the Lord. Only after ignoring the purity rules, hugging the Āḻvār and begging his pardon, he regained eyesight.
It is told that Lokasārangamunivar had a dream of Lord Raṅganātha, the main deity of the Śrīraṅgam temple, who asked him to carry the Āḻvār to him, i.e. Raṅganātha. To understand this, it is important to note that before Rāmānuja, people outside the four Varnas were not allowed to enter temples, as their mere presence would damage the purity of the temple. So while living close to Śrīraṅgam and being a highly elevated devotee of Raṅganātha, the Āḻvār had never entered the temple. It is told that the Āḻvār composed Amalanādhipirān upon seeing Raṅganātha for the first time.
The verses convey that Thiruppānāḻvār had a good knowledge of the relevant texts and pastimes of the lord even though his formal status was rather low. There is an interesting dichotomy: The Āḻvār starts with praises of incarnations or pasttimes of the Lord, but his focus always moves back to the form of Raṅganātha. This interplay between a somewhat formal and an intimate mood has been has been taught and expanded upon extensively by our Āchāryas, beginning with Manavāḷa Māmunigaḷ.
A simple English translation and some glimpses on the esoteric meanings are available at koyil.org.
Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan