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An Historical Sketch

Part 3

Their collection of hymns is known as Tirumurai, and was compiled by Nambi-Andar-Nambi said to have lived under King Râjarâja (c. 1000 A.D.). The first portion of it, known as Devâram, contains the hymns of Sambandha, Appar and Sundara. These persons are the most eminent of the sixty-three saints[1] of the southern Śivaites and are credited with many miracles. Tamil scholars[2] consider that Sambandha cannot have lived later than the beginning of the seventh century. He was an adversary of the Jains and Appar is said to have been persecuted by the Buddhists.

Of the other works comprised in the Tirumurai the most important is the Tiruvâçagam of Mâṇikka-Vâçagar,[3] one of the finest devotional poems which India can show. It is not, like the Bhagavad-gîtâ, an exposition by the deity, but an outpouring of the soul to the deity. It only incidentally explains the poet's views: its main purpose is to tell of his emotions, experiences and aspirations. This characteristic seems not to be personal but to mark the whole school of Tamil Śaiva writers.

This school, which is often called the Siddhânta,[4] though perhaps that term is better restricted to later philosophical writers, is clearly akin to the Pâśupata but alike in thought, sentiment and ritual far more refined. It is in fact one of the most powerful and interesting forms which Hinduism has assumed and it has even attracted the sympathetic interest of Christians.

The fervour of its utterances, the appeals to God as a loving father, seem due to the temperament of the Tamils, since such sentiments do not find so clear an expression in other parts of India. But still the whole system, though heated in the furnace of Dravidian emotion, has not been recast in a new mould. Its dogmas are those common to Śivaism in other parts and it accepts as its ultimate authority the twenty-eight Śaiva Âgamas. This however does not detract from the beauty of the special note and tone which sound in its Tamil hymns and prayers.

Whatever the teaching of the little known Âgamas may be, the Śaiva-Siddhânta is closely allied to the Yoga and theistic forms of the Sânkhya. It accepts the three ultimates, Pati the Lord, Paśu his flock or souls, and Pâśa the fetter or matter. So high is the first of these three entities exalted, so earnestly supplicated, that he seems to attain a position like that of Allah in Mohammedanism, as Creator and Disposer. But in spite of occasional phrases, the view of the Yoga that all three—God, souls and matter—are eternal is maintained. [5]

Between the world periods there are pauses of quiescence and at the end of these Śiva evolves the universe and souls. That he may act in them he also evolves from himself his energy or Paraçatti (Sk. Śakti). But this does not prevent the god himself in a personal and often visible form from being for his devotees the one central and living reality. The Śakti, often called Umâ, is merely Śiva's reflex and hardly an independent existence.

The remarkable feature of this religion, best seen in the Tiruvaçagam, is the personal tie which connects the soul with God. In no literature with which I am acquainted has the individual religious life—its struggles and dejection, its hopes and fears, its confidence and its triumph—received a delineation more frank and more profound. Despite the strangely exotic colouring of much in the picture, not only its outline but its details strikingly resemble the records of devout Christian lives in Europe. Śiva is addressed not only as Lord but as Father.

He loves and desires human souls.

"Hard though it is for Brahmâ and Vishṇu to reach thee, yet thou did'st desire me."

What the soul desires is deliverance from matter and life with Śiva, and this he grants by bestowing grace (Arul).

"With mother love he came in grace and made me his";

"O thou who art to thy true servants true";

"To thee, O Father, may I attain, may I yet dwell with thee."

Sometimes[6] the poet feels that his sins have shut him off from communion with God.

He lies

"like a worm in the midst of ants, gnawed by the senses and troubled sore"

ejaculating in utter misery

"Thou hast forsaken me."

But more often he seems on the point of expressing a thought commoner in Christianity than in Indian religion, namely that the troubles of this life are only a preparation for future beatitude. The idea that matter and suffering are not altogether evil is found in the later Sânkhya where Prakriti (which in some respects corresponds to Śakti) is represented as a generous female power working in the interests of the soul.

Among the many beauties of the Tiruvâçagam is one which reminds us of the works of St. Francis and other Christian poetry, namely the love of nature and animals, especially birds and insects. There are constant allusions to plants and flowers; the refrain of one poem calls on a dragon fly to sing the praises of God and another bids the bird known as Kuyil call him to come. In another ode the poet says he looks for the grace of God like a patient heron watching night and day.

The first perusal of these poems impresses on the reader their resemblance to Christian literature. They seem to be a tropical version of Hymns Ancient and Modern and to ascribe to the deity and his worshippers precisely those sentiments which missionaries tell us are wanting among pagans—fatherly love, yearning devotion and the bliss of assured salvation. It is not surprising if many have seen in this tone the result of Christian influence. Yet I do not think that the hypothesis is probable. For striking as is the likeness the contrast is often equally striking.

The deity described in words which almost literally render "Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear" is also the spouse of Umâ with the white breasts and curled locks; he dances in the halls of Tillai; and the line "Bid thou in grace my fears begone" is followed by two others indicated by dots as being "not translateable."[7]

Nor can we say that emotional religion here uses the language of a mythology which it has outgrown. The emotion itself while charged with the love of god, the sense of sin and contrition, has in it another strain which jars on Europeans. Śiva sports with the world and his worshippers treat him with an affectionate intimacy which may be paralleled in the religion of Kṛishṇa but hardly in Christianity.[8]

Thus several hymns have reference to a game, such as tossing about a ball (hymn vii), battledore and shuttlecock (xiv) or some form of wrestling in which the opponents place their hands on each other's shoulders (xv).

The worshipper can even scold the deity.

"If thou forsake me, I will make people smile at thee. I shall abuse thee sore: madman clad in elephant skin: madman that ate the poison: madman, who chose even me as thy own."[9]

Again, though in part the tone of these poems is Christian, yet they contain little that suggests Christian doctrine. There is nothing about redemption or a suffering god,[10] and many ideas common to Christianity and Hinduism—such as the incarnation,[11] the Trinity, and the divine child and his mother—are absent. It is possible that in some of the later works of the Sittars Christian influence[12] may have supervened but most of this Tamil poetry is explicable as the development of the ideas expressed in the Bhagavad-gîtâ and the Śvetâśvatara Upanishad.

Chronologically Christian influence is not impossible and there is a tradition that Mâṇikka-Vâçagar reconverted to Hinduism some natives of Malabar who had become Christians[13] but the uncertainty of his date makes it hard to fix his place in the history of doctrine. Recent Hindu scholars are disposed to assign him to the second or third century.[14]

In support of this, it is plausibly urged that he was an active adversary of the Buddhists, that tradition is unanimous in regarding him as earlier than the writers of the Devâram[15] who make references (not however indisputable) to his poem, and that Perisiriyar, who commented on it, lived about 700 A.D.

I confess that the tone and sentiments of the poem seem to me what one would expect in the eleventh rather than in the third century: it has something of the same emotional quality as the Gîtâ-govinda and the Bhâgavata-purâṇa, though it differs from them in doctrine and in its more masculine devotion. But the Dravidians are not of the same race as the northern Hindus and since this ecstatic monotheism is clearly characteristic of their literature, it may have made its appearance in the south earlier than elsewhere.

The Tiruvaçagam is not unorthodox but it deals direct with God and is somewhat heedless of priests. This feature becomes more noticeable in other authors such as Paṭṭaṇaṭṭu Piḷḷai, Kapilar and the Telugu poet Vêmana. The first named appears to have lived in the tenth century. The other two are legendary figures to whom anthologies of popular gnomic verses are ascribed and some of those attributed to Kapilar are probably ancient. In all this poetry there rings out a note of almost defiant monotheism, iconoclasm and antisacerdotalism.

It may be partly explained by the fact that in the south Brahmanism was preceded, or at least from early times accompanied, by Buddhism and Jainism. These creeds did not make a conquest, for the Dravidian temperament obviously needed a god who could receive and reward passionate devotion, but they cleared the air and spread such ideas as the superiority of good deeds to rites and the uselessness of priests. Even now verses expressing these thoughts are popular in the Madras Presidency, but the sect which produced them, known as the Sittars,[16] is entirely extinct.

Caldwell attributes its literature to the seventeenth century, but the evidence available is small and it is clear that this theistic anti-brahmanic school had a long life. As in other cases, the Brahmans did not suppress so much as adapt it. The collection which goes by the name of Śiva-vâkyam contains poems of different ages and styles. Some are orthodox, others have no trace of Brahmanism except the use of Śiva as the name of the deity. Yet it would seem that the anthology as a whole has not fallen under sacerdotal censure.[17]

The important sect of the Lingâyats should perhaps be regarded as an offshoot of this anti-brahmanic school, but before describing it, it may be well briefly to review the history of orthodox Śivaism in the south.

By this phrase is not meant the sect or school which had the support of Śankara but that which developed out of the poems mentioned above without parting company with Brahmanism. Śankara disapproved of their doctrine that the Lord is the efficient cause of the world, nor would the substitution of vernacular for Sanskrit literature and temple ceremonies for Vedic sacrifices have found favour with him. But these were evidently strong tendencies in popular religion.

An important portion of the Devâram and the Kanda Purâṇa of Kachiyappar, a Tamil adaptation of the Skanda Purâṇa, were probably written between 600 and 750 A.D.[18] About 1000 A.D. the Tirumurai (including the Devâram) was arranged as a collection in eleven parts, and about a century later Sekkilar composed the Periya Purâṇa, a poetical hagiology, giving the legends of Śivaite saints and shrines. Many important temples were dedicated to Śiva during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

There followed a period of scholasticism in which the body of doctrine called the Śaiva Siddhânta was elaborated by four Âcâryas, namely Mey-Kaṇḍa-Devar,[19] (1223) Aruṇandi, Maraiñâna-Sambandhar and Umâpati (1313). It will thus be seen that the foundation of Śivaite philosophy in Tamil is later than Râmânuja and the first Vishnuite movements, and perhaps it was influenced by them but the methodical exposition of the Śaiva-Siddhântam[20] does not differ materially from the more poetic utterances of the Tiruvaçagam. It recognizes the three entities, the Lord, the soul and matter as separate, but it shows a tendency (doubtless due to the influence of the Vedânta) both to explain away the existence of matter and to identify the soul with the Lord more closely than its original formulæ allow.

Matter is described as Mâyâ and is potentially contained in the Lord who manifests it in the creative process which begins each kalpa. The Lord is also said to be one with our souls and yet other. The soul is by nature ignorant, in bondage to the illusion of Mâyâ and of Karma, but by the grace of the Lord it attains to union (not identity) with him, in which it sees that its actions are his actions.

In modern times Śaiva theology is represented among Dravidians by the works of Śivañânar (1785) and his disciple Kachiyappar: also by the poems of Râma-linga. Śivaism in Madras and other parts of southern India is still a vigorous and progressive Church which does not neglect European methods. Its principal organ is an interesting magazine called Siddhanta-Dipika or the Light of Truth. In northern India the Śivaites are less distinct as a body and have less organization, but temples to Śiva are numerous and perhaps the majority of Brahmans and ascetics regard him as their special deity and read Śivaite rather than Vishnuite texts. But it is probably also true that they are not sectarian in the same sense as the worshippers of Kṛishṇa.

It is not easy to estimate the relative numbers of Śivaites and Vishnuites in south India, and good authorities hold opposite views. The Śivaites are more united than the Vishnuites (whose many divisions and conspicuous sectarian marks attract attention) and are found chiefly among the upper classes and among ascetics, but perhaps there is much truth in an opinion which I once heard expressed by a Tamil Brahman, that the real division is not between the worshippers of Śiva and of Vishṇu, but between Smârtas, those who follow more or less strictly the ancient ritual observances and those who seek for salvation by devotion and in practice neglect the Sanskrit scriptures. There is little hostility. The worship of both gods is sometimes performed in the same building as at Chidambaram or in neighbouring shrines, as at Śrîrangam.

In south Kanara and Travancore it is generally held that the two deities are of equal greatness and in many places are found images representing them united in one figure. But the great temples at Madura, Tinnevelly and Tanjore are all dedicated to Śiva or members of his family. If in the philosophical literature of the Siddhânta the purity of the theism taught is noticeable, in these buildings it is rather the rich symbolism surrounding the god which attracts attention.

In his company are worshipped Parvatî, Gaṇeśa, Subrahmaṇya, the bull Nandi and minor attendants: he is shown leaping in the ecstacy of the dance and on temple walls are often depicted his sixty-four sports or miracles (lîlâ). For the imagination of the Dravidians he is a great rhythmic force, throbbing and exulting in all the works of nature and exhibiting in kindly playfulness a thousand antics and a thousand shapes.

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- Footnotes:


A complete list of them is given in Foulkes, Catechism of the Shaiva religion, 1863, p. 21.


Tamilian Antiquary, 3, 1909, pp. 1-65.


Edited and translated by Pope, 1900.


Established opinion or doctrine. Used by the Jains as a name for their canon.


Thus the catechism of the Śaiva religion by Sabhapati Mudaliyar (transl. Foulkes, 1863) after stating emphatically that the world is created also says that the soul and the world are both eternal. Also just as in the Bhagavad-gîtâ the ideas of the Vedanta and Sâṅkhya are incongruously combined, so in the Tiruvaçagam (e.g. Pope's edition, pp. 49 and 138) Śiva is occasionally pantheized. He is the body and the soul, existence and non-existence, the false and the true, the bond and the release.


E.g. Hymn vi.


Pope's Tiruvaçagam, p. 257.


Yet I have read that American revivalists describe how you play base ball (an American game) with Jesus.


Pope's Tiruvaçagam, p. 101.


It does not seem to me that the legend of Śiva's drinking the hala-hala poison is really parallel to the sufferings of the Christian redeemer. At the most it is a benevolent exploit like many performed by Vishṇu.


Although Śiva is said to have been many times incarnate (see for instance Catechism of the Shaiva religion, p. 20) he seems to have merely appeared in human form on special occasions and not to have been like Christ or Kṛishṇa a god living as a man from birth to death.


The lines which seem most clearly to reflect Christian influence are those quoted by Caldwell from the Nana nuru in the introduction to his Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian languages, p. 127, but neither the date of the work nor the original of the quotation is given. This part of the introduction is omitted in the third edition.


Tamilian Antiquary, 4, 1909, pp. 57-82.


Ib. pp. 1-57; Sesha Aiyer gives 275 A.D. as the probable date, and 375 as the latest date.


The Śaiva catechism translated by Foulkes says (p. 27) that Śiva revealed the Tiruvaçagam twice, first to Manikka-Vaçagar and later to Tiru-Kovaiyar.


Sanskrit, Siddha.


Space forbids me to quote the Śiva-vâkyam and Paṭṭaṇaṭṭu Piḷḷai, interesting as they are. The reader is referred to Gover, Folk-Songs of southern India, 1871, a work which is well worth reading.


The date of the Skanda Purâṇa creates no difficulty for Bendall considered a MS. of it found in Nepal to be anterior to 659 A.D.


One of his maxims was adu, adu âdal, that is the mind becomes that (spiritual or material) with which it identifies itself most completely.


It is contained in fourteen śâstras, most of which are attributed to the four teachers mentioned above.

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