The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

by M. A. Dorai Rangaswamy | 1958 | 410,072 words

This page describes “life of arurar (sundarar)—examined” from the part dealing with the life and age of Nampi Arurar (Sundarar): one of the three Tevaram (Thevaram) Saints. The 7th-century Thevaram (or Tevaram) contains devotional poems sung in praise of Shiva. These hymns form an important part of the Tamil tradition of Shaivism

Chapter 6 - Life of Arurar (Sundarar)—Examined


The story as given in Periyapuranam may now be examined with the help of the references from Airurar’s hymns, i.e., Cuntarar Tevaram. As already pointed out, the name Cuntarar is not given by Cekkilar when describing our poet’s life in this world in the various carukkams. He describes our Saint as Nampi Arurar or Vantontar or Tampiran Tolar. The last term has to be explained at some length later on. The other names are found used by our poet himself: Arurar , Nampi and Vaniontan .

The statement that our Saint was born at Thirunavalur to Calaiyunar and Icai naniyar and that he was brought up by Naracinkamunai araiyar is borne out by references found in Arurar’s Tevaram. He calls himself the son of Icai naniyar or Cataiyanar.

He describes Navalur as the city of the Lord, as his own city and the city where Naracinkamunai araiyar lovingly serves the Lord. In various places, our poet refers to Navalur as his native place . Navalur is probably named after the ‘Naval tree’. Therefore, the terms ‘Naval urani or ‘Naval Aruran should be interpreted as ‘Uran of naval’ or Tiru navalur’. We find the expressions Navalar kon, Navalar mannan, Navalar ventan or Navalar koman in some verses and these also should be interpreted as the chief of the people of the place of Naval or Navalur. There is an underlying pun in these terms which suggest the idea of our poet being the chief of the orators or the great men of the tongue. ‘Na’ meaning, tongue, and ‘Kon’, ‘Mannan’ and ‘Koman’ meaning ‘king’ or ‘chief’.

Our Saint’s name is Nampi Arurar according to Periyapuranam. That is also according to the same source, the name of his grand-father. Our poet calls himself Aruran Nampi. Nampi is a title; Aruran alone remains to be explained. This is not a name which our poet earned because of his residence in Thiruvarur. It is a proper name; our Saint was named after the Lord of Thiruvarur as he himself had explained.

Aruran is shortened into ‘Urani in some places.


The first incident described by Cekkilar in the life of our Saint is the appearance of the Lord as an old man with the old cadjan leaf document to claim back our poet as His hereditary slave. Hymn 1 which is said to have been sung on the occasion of our Saint realizing that the old Brahmin who had come to reclaim him was Shiva Himself, does not give any details about this incident except for the chorus of an explanation, “I have become your slave. Can I now say ‘no’?” After all, this may refer to the eternal relationship between the soul and the Lord. Hymn 17 gives some more particulars about this incident. That hymn states that our poet was saved by the Lord accepting him at Thiruvennainallur. This is referred to in all the verses of this hymn. The second verse therein refers to the assembly where the poet was saved and where the poet spoke harsh words which brought him the reputation of being a ‘Vantontun’. This is a hymn which consists of 11 verses and it was pointed out that this verse might be argued as being an interpolation. The old cadj an leaf document above referred to is mentioned as ‘Avunam’. This ‘Avunam’ is referred to in other hymns as well. It might be that there was actually an old document of slavery and the old man, perhaps a Guru of Arurar utilized that old document to save him by creating the required feeling of spirituality in our poet.

Avanam’ means a cadjan leaf document as referred to above and it is one of the basis of the reference to avunam that the story of the Lord coming to save Arurar must have been built. The real difficulty about this kind of interpretation is that a similar term like ‘Avunam kontamai yanta’ is found in Campantar and in Appar also. The phrase would, therefore, mean nothing more than emphasizing the relationship between the soul and the Lord.

The verse 2 in hymn 95 of Arurar seems to go against the literal interpretation of this story: ‘Virrukkolvir orriyallen virumpiyatpatteni where our poet says that he of his own accord came to serve the Lord and not because of any compulsory legal relationship, like mortgage.

That our poet had some divine vision and a spiritual experience resulting in his conversion at Thiruvennainallur seems to be clear and an old Brahmin of a Guru must have played an important part in bringing about this spiritual conversion. The spiritual Guru is always looked upon by Shaivites as no other than Shiva Himself.

The second hymn sung by Arurar is hymn 13 and therein naturally he prayed for a life of sacrifice after this sudden conversion.


The next incident is what may be called the ‘Tiruvali diksa’ i.e., the Lord coming in the form of an old man whilst our poet was asleep and placing his feet on the poet’s head. It is the established practice among the Shaivites to look upon the spiritual preceptor as the very incarnation of God. There is nothing improbable in an old Brahmin, possibly, the one who brought about the poet’s conversion coming and sleeping at the place where the poet slept at Thiruvathigai and trying to place his feet on the poet’s head, only to walk away quietly without any notice after the event. But, there are not clear statements about this in this hymn No. 38.. The first verse states that the poet is living in the hope that the Lord will Come and place His feet on his head. The last verse describes the Lord as the great lover whom the poet had addressed without proper regard. Every one of these verses ends with an exclamation, “Would I slight Him even for a second?” It is on the basis of these references that the story of the incident stands. There is not the slightest doubt that the poet had undergone some kind of spiritual experience at the end of which he realized that he could not slight Him even for a second.


The next turning point is the experience of the divine dance at Citamparam and his hearing there a voice from the Heavens ordering the poet to go over to Thiruvarur. As already hinted, no hymn, sung after the vision of the dance, is available for our study. As for the hearing of the voice, we must remember our poet was living in an age when people were living in an atmosphere of visions and divine voices seen and heard by spiritually minded people. What Dr. Eliot says of Dante is true of Arurar as well: “It belongs to the world of what I call the high dream and the modern world seems capable only of the low dream. Dante’s is a visual imagination. It is a visual imagination in a different sense from that of a modern painter of still life. It is visual in the sense that he lived in an age in which man still saw visions. It was a psychological habit, the trick of which we have forgotten, but as good as any of our own. We have nothing but dreams and we have forgotten that seeing a vision, a practice now relegated to the aberrant and the uneducated, was once a more significant, interesting and disciplined kind of dreaming.”

Every Shaivite looks upon the sight of Kailas as the be-all and end-all of his life. The story of Appar going on his pilgrimage to Mount Kailas and God ordering him to return to Tiruvaiyaini to have a vision of Kailas is significant. Our poet Arurar had the vision of Kailas at Kajumalam, i.e., Cikali according to Periyapuranam. Though the word Kailas does not occur in the hymn, it represents a vision which the poet had. In verse 3, he spoke of a dream of the Lord and his disappointment after waking up from the sleep. Thereafter came the vision. Verse 4 shows the result. The poet was sure, that he would never be born, that he would reach Him. His quest after the Lord was spoken of in verse 5. His mind no longer went on the multifarious paths. It now went in search of the Lord and nothing else. He prayed for the Lord with all his love and his whole body was full of bliss and then came the vision. A net was spread out for catching a hare and a great elephant of a God fell into it. The verse 9, speaks of the people who have a clear vision of the Vedas remaining at home and of some delusion where the pond and its bank along with a bath therein appear like a great fact. The poet exclaimed that he had not realized the impropriety of believing in this delusion as truth. Then came the vision. The poet stated that the Lord was attained by those who bitterly wept for the past and repented.

On reaching Thiruvarur, it is said he had addressed hymn 73 to the worshippers of Shiva asking them whether Shiva would accept him as his servant. The poet was conscious of his power of concentration on God and he spoke of his shoulders as those embraced by the God of Wealth, a fitting description of the bride-groom of Paravai.

In two other places also, our poet is said to have had a vision of God. Whilst he was sleeping at Tirucculiyali he had the vision of the Lord of Tirukkapapper in a form which was not found anywhere else and in that dream the poet was told that it was the form of Thirukanaper. Hymn 84 said to have been sung at this time exclaims, “When am I to reach this Lord of Kanaper?” It is said that the Lord appeared in the form of a youth and in this hymn the poet addresses the Lord as ‘Kalai’ or the youth. This hymn describes the beautiful personal appearance of the youtli and in the last verse the poet speaks of the youth and there is the reference to the poet’s contemplation of the form. Verse 6 speaks of his pining for the sight of the Lord and the Lord showering His blessings on him.

From Thirupurampayam, Arurar, whilst going on his way to Thirumudhukundram asked of a Brahmin coming on the road, the way to Tirumutukunr. The Brahmin replied that that was the way to Thirukoodalaiyathoor, a place which Arurar never thought of. In hymn 85 sung at Thirukoodalaiyathoor, Arurar expressed his feeling of wonder “I have not understood this wonderful miracle of the Lord coming this way.” This may be due to some spiritual experience the poet had or to the poet thinking of the Brahmin who had reminded about this temple as none other than the Lord Himself as stated in the Purana. But the hymn refers to the Lord going that way with the Mother Goddess and surrounded by Devas and Bhutas: these references make it a vision.

At Thirukanatumullur also, it is said, our poet had a vision of the Lord and the hymn No. 40 states that he had seen Him and worshipped Him there. Wherever the word ‘kantu’ is used by our poet, Cekkilar explains it as a vision seen by the poet. In hymn 62 sung at Thirukolakka, the poet exclaims: “I have seen him at Kolakka” and Cekkilar states that the Lord appeared before oui' poet in that sacred place.

It is said that the poet was going to worship at Thiruvarur temple as usual after his marriage with Paravaiyar and our poet mentally prayed to the Lord for becoming a servant of the congregation of Shaivites assembled at Tevaciriya mantapam. According to Periyapuranam, the Lord appeared before him, made him realize the greatness of this congregation and ordered him to sing, starting the first half of the line with “Tillai val antunartam atiyarkkum atiyen.” There is nothing in hymn 39, the famous Thiruthondathogai referring to the vision but this hymn refers to a vision of the congregation whose significance one has to study separately.


The next important episode is that of his marriage with Paravai. Except the references to Paravai, we do not have any detailed description of the episode of his love with Paravai in any hymn. But as a true yogi according to Periyapuranam, Arurar looked upon every event of life as being inspired by his Lord. It is from this point of view, Cekkilar is describing Arurar’s love affair. Verse No. 10 of hymn No, 51 gives support to Cekkilar’s version of the story. According to our poet, the Lord saved him and accepted him as his servant giving him Paravai of the beautiful eyes.

The mystics waver for some time through two contradictory experiences of exhilaration and depression. When the idea of God’s Grace is uppermost in their mind they are so full of divine bliss that they look upon every event of life as having been brought out by the Lord and then they exclaim that they can never be separated from Him. But the world around them soon drags them down and they undergo experience of the dark chamber, feeling almost separated from the Lord. In a spirit of self-condemnation, they exaggerate all their drawbacks into heinous crimes. Arurar was no exception to this rule. In hymn 51, he felt that Paravai and Cankili were the ennobling gifts of God. In hymn 52 and 60, he condemned himself as forgetting the Lord because of his intoxication with passion for women.

The other incidents of his life with Paravai may also be conveniently dealt with at this stage. We are told that at the instance of Kuntaiyur Kilar, a great heap of paddy appeared as a gift from the God and that Arurar sang hymn 20 as a result of which the Bhutas transported the mountain of paddy to Thiruvarur. Hymn 20 explains Paravaiy5r’s pang of hunger, and requests the Lord to give him servants to transport the paddy which the poet got at Kuntaiyur. This hymn only proves that Arurar had no separate existence of his own, always identifying all the details of his life with the even flow of God’s Grace. It is in this light that we must understand his request for labourers.

Arurar must have obtained the labourers for transporting the heap of grains and the story of the Bhutas removing them to Thiruvarur may be interpreted by those who do not believe in miracles as a poetic way of stating this truth by the astonished public.


Gold was required for running the family and in addition, Arurar had to feed his followers and other visitors to Thiruvarur on important festivals like Pankuni Uttiram. As already explained, whatever he got, he deemed as the gift from God. In hymn 45, he described God as that great lightning which showers gold on him thereby allowing him not to leave the Lord. According to Periyapuranam, Arurar found, on waking up from sleep at Pukalur, the bricks turned into gold. There is no specific reference to this miracle in the Thiruppugalur hymn, where the poet addressed his colleagues not to sing of men but of God who would give them food and clothes in this birth and make them rulers of the Sivalokam in their next birth. Probably the tradition which Periyapuranam describes grew out of the feeling that this hymn was born out of the joy at the transformation of the bricks or any gift from the God which inspired the poet to address the hymn to other poets, hankering after gold, and knocking at the door of mean minded human beings. The miracle of the bricks may be explained away by the people who do not believe in miracles as gifts from a patron who chose to remain incognito for fear of Arurar refusing to accept any gifts from any human hand and that this fear it was which drove that patron to place the gold he offered in the form of bricks.

At Thiruveezhimizhalai the poet referred to the Lord giving gold coins probably to Appar and Campantar and wound up the hymn with a request that he might also be so blessed. It is rather curious that on this basis no tradition was built up to say that here also Arurar was given gold.

Periyapuranam tells us that at Thirupachilachiramam Arurar prayed for gold and sang the hymn No. 14 in great disappointment. Verse No. 4 therein exclaims: “Is there no other Lord but Himself if He does not give us anything?” In verse No. 9 he mourns: “If He will not forgive our mistakes and give us anything, is there no other Lord?” Probably on the basis of this statement, this story must have been built. But if we analyse the other verses, we find the hymn expressing the pang of separation from the Lord. “Whatever we may say, if He is going to get away from us in the twinkling of an eye, is there no other Lord?” “If He does not love us and if He remains a lunatic, is there no other Lord?” “If He pretends to be all truthful, in effect turning out to be untruthful, is there no other Lord?” “If He talks big and does but little things or makes us suffer, is there no other Lord?” “If He will not pardon our talk, is there no other Lord?” In this feeling of despair, may be involved a feeling of financial strain; for, as already pointed out, the poet depended on the Lord for everything in this world and the other.

At Thirumudhukundram, hymn No. 63 was sung according to Periyapuranam with the intention of getting gold from God and we are told Arurar got 12,000 gold coins which were thrown out into the river Manimuttaru to be taken out at the temple tank at Thiruvarur. There is no specific reference to this in this hymn or in hymn No. 43, (but unfortunately the last two lines of the 10th verse of hymn No. 63 are missing), unless we interpret the references herein as the blessings the Lord showered on His followers as indirectly suggesting this very gift. It is hymn No. 25 according to Periyapuranam especially the verse No. 9 therein that made the gold come out of the tank. Nor is this hymn clear about the miracle. This hymn addresses the Lord as the Lord of Mudhukundram and it is this hymn which refers to the gift of gold to the poet. This hymn must be, therefore, the basis for the story of Arurar getting gold from God at Mudhukundram. When the hymn is specifically mentioning Mudhukundram in every one of its verses it is not clear why it is stated to have been sung at Thiruvarur. The Tevaram editions give this as a Thirumudhukundram hymn. Every one of the verses in this hymn requests God to shower His blessings so that the poet’s misery may be destroyed in the presence of Paravai, who was suffering for want of wealth. The verses 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9 beg of the Lord to give, the word used being is ‘tantarulay’. It is not clear whether the words ‘cemponai’ ‘tantaruli’ are to go with the finite verb “arulir”. Because of the reference to the presence of Paravai, it must have been thought that this hymn could have been sung at Thiruvarur at the place of the residence of Paravaiyar, »under the impression that women like Paravaiyar could not have followed Arurar on his pilgrimage. In this view of things, verse No. 2 has to be interpreted as asking the Lord to give in the presence of Paravaiyar, the gold which the Lord offered already at Thirumudhukundram. But the hymn, as it stands, seems to suggest that Paravai must have accompanied Nampi Arurar when he begged for gold for her sake at Mudhukundram.

In all cases of miracles one has to differentiate between what even the sceptic will believe from what the believers alone could accept as true. As matters stand at present, miracles are beyond modem science. As Alexis Carrel has pointed out, science cannot disprove them. It is open to the believer to accept the miracles described in Periyapuranam as historical facts. But in so far as scepticism continues in the world, it is also necessary for us to point out what is beyond any cavil. It is in this light these explanations are offered especially to those who are not orthodox Shaivites to whom a belief in Shaivite miracles may not be possible. Therefore, these remarks ought not to be understood as any denial of these miracles.

During his travel through the Tontai Nani, before he married Cankiliyar, our poet sang hymn 5 at a temple in Kanci. After his desertion of Cankiliyar also, he has come to Kanci to sing another hymn. This latter hymn has to be distinguished from the other hymn of Kancipuram. It is because of this, Cekkilar takes the former hymn to have been sung before and the latter after the desertion. There is not a whisper about his losing the eye or undergoing any suffering in the former hymn. This hymn 5 is addressed to the Lord of Tiruvonakantantali. The first verse states that if Shaivites worship Him with ghee, milk and curds, they will have mercy from their Lord and that they have only to rely upon His feet. Verse 3 asks, “In lean years can we mortgage you and eat?” Verse 7 exclaims, “You give nothing. You say nothing”. Verse 9 enquires, “What can your servants get from you?” Because of these references, the hymn has been taken to have been sung with the intention of getting gold. If this were so, it must have been for the sake of other Shaivite worshippers. The general trend of the hymn seems to suggest that the poet is referring in a jocular vein to various characteristics of God. Verses 2, 6 and 9 justify this kind of interpretation and the remarks of the poet in the last verse still further strengthens this view.

After he returned to Thiruvarur deserting Cankiliyar at Thiruvottiyur, Nampi Arurar is said to have gone to Nakappattinam where also he is said to have received from God gold, clothes and ornaments. The hymn 46 is full of such prayers for ornaments, unguents, varieties of dresses, gold, scimitar and dishes overflowing with ghee. In verse 5, he demands these things to be given from the treasury (Pantaram) perhaps the temple treasury. If this interpretation is correct the temple treasury must have given him all that he prayed for. Verse 8 demands one third of that great treasure which was deposited inside Arur. It is not clear what the poet was referring to. Could it be that he was demanding a share of the wealth which the poet had amassed for the Arur temple? In verse 10, the poet says that the Lord accepted him as His servant or slave with the promise that He would give him great wealth and that now Nampi Arurar would not be deceived. He even threatened in verse 9, ‘to sit dharuna’ or offer satyagraha for getting the livelihood from his Lord.

The last place where he is said to have received gold is at Thiruvanchikulam and that from the hands of the Cera king Ceraman Perumal. There is no specific reference to this gift in any other verse of Nampi Arurar. According to Periyapuranam, this gold was robbed by the Bhutas in the form of the hunters of Thirumuruganpoondi. Hymn 49 sung at this place refers to the highway robbers and asks of the Lord why he stays there in the midst of the cruel hunters who knock away even the clothes. There is no reference here to the poet himself having been robbed of his gold. These poor hunters clothed in rags, the cruel and hard hearted, living on cows are accused of nothing but snatching away the clothes which probably they were badly in need of.

In conclusion, it may be stated that though all the stories of the gift of gold are not conclusively proved by internal evidences, the prayer of gold especially in Nakappattinam hymn 46, goes to justify the traditional statement that Arurar always looked to God for the wherewithal of his life and that he looked upon whatever he received from any source whatsoever as direct gifts from God.


The most important incident of Arurar’s life from more than one point of view is the episode of his love for Cankiliyar. To justify this second marriage, the story of his previous birth at Kailas where he fell in love with two damsels is referred to. Some of the modem critics, as already stated do not accept this portion of Periyapuranam giving this story as coming from the pen of Cekkilar. Questions of previous births are much more beyond Scientific study than even miracles. Therefore, no useful purpose will be served in discussing this topic. Polygamy was not unknown to the age of Arurar and we need not go beyond this custom.

The story about God intervening and suggesting to Cankiliyar that she must demand of Arurar a promise of non-desertion under the ‘rnakilam tree’ rather than inside the temple, is on the basis of verse 9 in the 89th hymn. It has already been pointed out that some may argue that this verse may be apocryphal though this must have been in existence at the time of Cekkilar. That Nampi Arurar lived with Cankiliyar as man and wife is proved by various references in his own hymns and as is the characteristic feature in Nampi’s life, he honestly believed that he was inspired by God even in this love affair. He looked upon Cankiliyar as the gift of God. In the Nakappattinam hymn he speaks of God as the connecting link of Cankiliyar with himself.

At Thiruvamathur, he gave expression to the divine bliss and in verse 4, he stated that he went to Thiruvottiyur and embraced Cankili and that was the Grace of the Lord of Amathur. In hymn 51, verse 11, our poet couples the gift of nectar to the Devas along with the gift of Cankili to himself.

Cankili is mentioned in hymns 54:2 and 69: 3. These two references give us the further developments of the story of Cankili. He must have promised Cankili that he would never leave her, in a moment of his love for Cankili forgetting his own nature and mission in life. His worship consisted in the outpourings of his heart in the beautiful hymns he sang from temple to temple, in the company of worshippers who followed him wherever he went. It is this life of song and service that represented to our poet the highest conceptions of bhakti and ‘alimai’. To be imprisoned at Thiruvottiyur almost like a sick patient, must have been unbearable to this spirit of worship and service. There was some special attachment to Thiruvarur as far as this poet was concerned. This is revealed by the various hymns he had sung at Thiruvarur exclaiming, “Can I forget Him?” “When shall I reach Him?” “Will He accept my services and bless me?” “How long shall I be separated from Him?” “I am afraid of the worldly pleasures”. In one hymn he sang of sending birds as envoys of love to the Lord of Thiruvarur. According to Periyapuranam, it has already been seen, our poet heard a voice at Citamparam calling upon him to go over to Thiruvarur—a tradition which emphasizes the special attachment of Arurar to Thiruvarur. There was also Paravai at Thiruvarur and this also must have made the place unforgettable. In hymn 59, verse 11, he speaks of the Lord of Arur who cannot be forgotten because of the damsel. The damsel, it is true, may be interpreted to mean the Mother Goddess; God of Arur cannot be forgotten because of the Mother Goddess who represents to the Shaivites the most important aspect of Lord’s Grace. Periyapuranam tells us that whilst at Thiruvottiyur he thought of Thiruvarur and sang hymn 51; this thought must have sent Arurar on his journey to Thiruvarur. The promise he had given to Cankili must have come to his mind and he probably was overcome by a feeling of criminal desertion. He sings as, “Cankiliyo tepaip punartta tattuvapai-c-calakkanen enkulakka-p pirintirukken ennarur iraivanaiye?” This shows his moral sensitiveness which made him sing elsewhere that he had not committed any mistake—“Kurram onrum ceyta-tillai kottai akkinir”.

On his starting to leave Thiruvottiyur, according to Periyapuranam, he became blind. He got one eyesight at Kancipuram and the other at Thiruvarur. Modern psychology will explain this away as the blinaness that has been brought on by the poet’s feeling of sin and cured by his feeling of holiness or trust in God. However much this may be explained away, the fact of the poet’s greatness, feeling such an amount of remorse as to become blind and to rely so much on God as to become cured of blinaness, stands before us to be considered with reverence and awe. This is probably the significance of the yogic path, our poet has followed, the path of friendship as a path of salvation unless purified by such incident as this, will become a path of passion. It is this incident which proves that the path of God is not a path of licence, but a path of morals.

Hymn 54, verse 1 begs of the Lord for some medicine for the eyes. Verse 2 cries in despair, “What shall I do for the love of Cankili and how shall I explain even if I am a liar? I shall do nothing wrong to the holy feet even if I go wrong. I had agreed to accept willingly all you do”. The hymn is very expressive of the sufferings of blinaness and even a casual reader will not fail to note the ring of seriousness of personal suffering. The poet cries, “I cannot bear to be dragged in haste like a dog tethered to a stick.” “I am getting lost in hell even in this very birth.” “How can I live without eyes in my face, O! Lord of the three eyes!” The suffering is as unbearable as when Saturn enters the constellation Makham and the poet addresses the Lord Himself as Saturn. Hymn 69 sung at Thirumullaivoyal describes the Lord as the great one who had deprived his eyes because of Cankili and begs of the Lord to remove his sufferings at Thiruvenpakkam. He again referred to the Lord depriving his eyes of their sight. He spoke of the cataract (patalam in the eye). He pleaded for pardon for his wrongs. He stated, “I exclaimed ‘Are you here?’ and God replied, ‘We are here; you go’.” He spoke of the Lord giving him Cankili. In this place he had received a walking stick to which he had made a reference in verse 10. But when he went to Thiruvalangadu, he was so overpowered by his feeling of sin that he condemned himself as one who had become a prey to women. We had already pointed out that there was no real contradiction. At Tiruvekampam in hymn 61, there is a cry of joy: “Ah! what a great thing! I have received my eyesight, to have the sight of this Lord worshipped by the Mother Goddess.” From this it must be assumed that he had been restored at Kancipuram only the sight of one eye. But at Thiruvaduthurai the poet speaks of his being without eyesight. Should we take this to have been sung before he reached Kanci? At Thiruvarur in hymn 95, he speaks on behalf of all worshippers crying in despair, “If they come and if they do not see and you do not listen to them, then you alone may go on living happily.” In the second verse, he spoke of ‘marraikkan’, the other eye. It is this which has suggested the story of getting one eyesight at Kancipuram and the other at Thiruvarur. In Vi 7, he accused the Lord of the deprival of his eye. Therefore, it is clear that till he came back to Thiruvarur, he did not recover his eyesight completely. It was seen that the poet was speaking of a cataract of the eye and curiously enough some would say that he begged the Lord to give him spectacles (Kam-pinotu nettirankal) at Nakappattniam; even after he was cured of blinaness he must have felt the necessity for spectacles. Should one argue that this was also sung before he got the eyesight? There is also the further question whether spectacles were in existence in that age. But as ‘kampu’ and ‘nettiram’ are only varieties of dresses, this kind of interpretation of begging for spectacles in his age has no place at all.

All the poems which he sang when he was blind are full of poetic emotion. As music is considered to be the proper language of emotion, Cekkilar always refers to these verses by emphasising their musical aspect. According to the tradition, Arurar never went back to Cankili but our poet speaks of the Lord as the great prop of Paravai, Cankili and himself. If all the three had not lived together, this reference must be taken to refer to the Lord bringing in together Paravai, Cankili and Arurar at the first instance.

During that period of his blinaness he came to suffer from other ailments of the body. Mental suffering is known to bring on bodily ailment. He referred to this disease as ‘Utampil atu noy’, tormenting his body in the hymn No. TO ® sung at Tiruyavatuturai on his way to Tirutturutti. According to Periyapuranam, at Tirutturutti he was ordered to bathe in the northern temple tank and the poet was cured of his new disease whilst he bathed as directed in the tank.

Hymn 29 sung at Thirukurukavur, in verse 4 refers to the Lord as removing the poet’s diseases including fever, but this hymn is said to have been sung before he became blind. In the Tirutturutti hymn also, the poet speaks of the Lord removing the disease tormenting his body; perhaps the Thirukurukavur hymn was sung by the poet when he felt that God had saved him from all diseases, thanks to a feeling of perfect health. After he became blind, this feeling of perfect health and happiness must have been disturbed a great deal. In hymn 3 sung during this period of blinaness he spoke of the body as that which could not bear even the prick of a paddy’s tail. It is this feeling that must have allowed the diseases to torment his body and it is this which he refers to in hymn 74 as having been removed by the Lord, thanks to the development and strengthening of his trust in God which was to a certain extent shattered by his sudden blinaness.


In this life of pilgrimage and self-surrender, he relied on none but God and whenever he was about to starve with his followers, the tradition states that he had the food supplied in a miraculous way.

The paddy incident of Kuntaiyur had already been described. When Arurar was going from Cikali to Thirukurukavur his followers and himself were overcome by hunger and thirst and the Lord Himself according to Periyapuranam came in the form of a Brahmin putting up a thatched shed of a pandal for supplying water and viaticum (poti corn) and expecting this group of Shaivites. It is said that whilst they were asleep, the pandal and the old man had disappeared.

Again when our poet coming from Tirukkalukkundram to Thirukkachur Alakkoyili our poet had to lie down because of starvation and according to Periyapuranam, the Lord came in the form of a Brahmin to beg for food from houses in the village and to feed the poet and his followers. In the hymn 29 which was sung at Thirukurukavur except for the reference in verse 3 that the Lord removed the hunger of those who sang of him and his exclamation in the first verse, “I had not known all this”, there is not any specific reference to this miracle. The poet sang of the Lord protecting the poet from fever and other diseases and from slander. He described the Lord as one who removed the illusion from the minds of the worshippers. In verse 7, the poet stated that he had come without bearing probably the poet’s suffering. As already seen, our poet took even ordinary incidents to have been inspired by God and if anybody fed him on the way he would have described it as God Himself feeding the followers and himself.

Hymn 41 sung at Thirukkachur also does not refer to any miracle. The hymn refers to the Lord going a-begging at midday and asks the Lord, “Will not your worshippers feel for this act of begging?” but since the poet states that the Lord goes a-begging in the Kapala or skull, it could not possibly refer to the Brahmin going and begging. This hymn must be taken to be referring to the Bhikshatana form. Verse 7 begs of the Lord to think of those who think of Him “Ninaivaravarai nmai kantay.” If the miracle had happened, it would be very untair for the poet to make that suggestion to the Lord who had come to rescue the worshippers even before they ever thought of Him. But there is nothing miraculous or improbable in a casual help of this kind from a Brahmin whom as usual our poet would have considered to be no other than the Grace of God.


Eyarkon Kalikkama Nayunar is one of the congregation of Shaivites assembled at Tevaciriya mantapam of Thiruvarur. Aftei’ Arurar was completely cured of his blinaness and the Lord made Paravai reconciled to Arurar, it is said that this Kalikkamar developed a hatred for our poet because he was responsible for the bringing of the Lord to the position of an errand boy. He committed suicide but at the approach of Arurar, Kalikkamar is said to have become alive. Unfortunately there is no reference to this miracle, in the Tiruppupkur hymn which is said to have been sung at this place—except for the phrase, “Eyarko nnrra irumpini tavirttu”, ‘the Lord who removed the chronic disease from which Eyarkon was suffering.’ This Eyarkon is spoken of as the Lord of twelve velis of wet land and this reference to twelve velis is explained in verse 2 as that piece of land which had been given away probably by Eyarkon to the Lord in grateful recognition of the rains which the Lord brought, after the whole country suffered without rain for a long time.


The other great miracle attributed to our poet is bringing back the Brahmin boy swallowed by a crocodile many years back. Hymn 92 is said to have been sung on this occasion. Verse 4 therein is interpreted as requesting the Lord to order the God of Death and the crocodile to give back the boy and it is said that as soon as this verse was sung the boy was brought. If this hymn was a prayer for the return of the boy, it is a surprise that there is not any mention about this in verses 1, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

In verse 3, our poet prayed that he might be saved from future birth. In verse 7 he prayed for escape from hell. Verse 5 says that His hall of Dance is the graveyard. Verse 8 says that the Lord will make even blind eyes see. Verse 6 is a rhetorical interrogation, “Is becoming a slave unto the Lord a crime?” The last verse usually explaining the hymn and its purpose, does not mention any word about this miracle.

Verses 2 and 9 refer to ‘Mani’ and this word is interpreted as an unmarried boy. Both these verses speak of that ‘Mani’ having come to bathe in the tank, as having duped our poet or as having created a delusion. An attempt is made to interpret this sentence as to mean, “What sin does this unmarried boy do to deserve death?” The reading in all the available editions is “Enaik kiri”, which is only possible if we take the word in the accusative case. In the sense of ‘Which’ the form should be “Enai kiri” without the doubling of ‘k’. Verse 2 seems to be addressing the ‘Mani’ and speaking of him in the second person ‘Mani ni’. “Is it fair that you who had come along with others on the way, should get away?” In the very next phrase in that verse which addresses the Lord, probably there is a feeling that this person who had come along with them and disappeared was none other than the Lord. If the boy had been brought by the crocodile there is no necessity f the poet referring to this disappearance in verse 9 It looks though the poet is referring to some experience of his, but it is n possible to state definitely what it could have been.

There is another miracle narrated in the Periyapuranal That is of the river Kaviri, which was in floods stopping its flc and thereby piling up its flowing water as high as the Himalay on the western side whilst the river bed was dry on the easte: side for allowing Arurar to cross the river to reach Tiruvaiya: from Tirukkantiyur. Hymn 77, said to have been sung at the tin of this miracle, gives definite reference to this miracle. The po stated therein that he was always thinking of the Lord but as y had not any communion with Him, that he knew of no mistal committed by him and that even if there was any mistake the Lo: might order that to be erased. In the 9th verse he sang of rea zing the Lord, as if He were a radiating hunger. He confessed t] futility of all conscious efforts and in that sense spoke of the ir possibility of his swimming against the current in the sense th he could not go against the will of the Lord. It looks as thoug that this reference to the impossibility of swimming had been take literally, and the tradition had grown that the poet was pathe! cally crying to the Lord that he could not reach Tiruvaiyaru b cause of the flood in the Kaviri. It was impossible for Cekkilar leave off this tradition which must have become universal by h time.


The last miracle is our poet going on a white elephant Mount Kailas. The question must have arisen how the people this world got this hymn which was sung after he left this worl “Unuyir veru ceytan” (1)—thus sings the poet—‘the Lord hi separated the soul from the body’. This verse 1 itself seems run counter to the tradition that he went with this original hoc as is made clear by Nampiyantar Nampi in his Tirut toptar Tin vantati, “Manava akkaiyotum pukkavarai.”

The verse 10 answers the question how the world got this hymn. There the Lord of the Oceans is ordered to bring this hymn to the notice of the Lord or the king of Vanci. If Ceraman accompanied our poet, where is the necessity for informing him? Anyway Periyapuranam tells us that Arurar did not know of Ceraman following him. It would be very difficult to prove this hymn to be genuine in the literal sense. Nor, is it clear why Arurar should have gone over the sea? From this reference to the sea a later day oral tradition had woven a story of Ceraman going to Mecca, a tradition which cannot be believed by anyone who has studied the mental development of these saints as revealed in their works. The significance of this hymn as an allegory is explained later in this study.


In some of his poems Arurar refers to Vannppakai and Cinkati and calls himself their father. According to the tradition preserved in Periyapuranam, they are the daughters of Kotpuli Nayunar of Nattiyattankuti and adopted by Arurar as his own chilaren at the instance of the natural father. There is nothing specific in the hymns to support this tradition of their being the chilaren of Kotpuli. It is true Arurar referred to Kotpuli in his hymn on Nattiyattankuti where also he described himself the father of Cihkati, but Cinkati or Vannppakai is nowhere mentioned as the daughter of Kotpuli. That these two persons are women is clear from the references to them by Arurar. He describes ‘Cinkati’ as “Punkular Cihkati”; “Cilaiyar vanutalal nalla Cinkati;” “Maimman tatankan maturamanna mojiyal matac Cinkati” and “Nankai Cinkati.” In describing himself as the father of Vanappakai, the poet uses the term “Vapappakai yavaj appun.” He calls himself their appun, “Tantai” and “Tammani’ all the three words meaning father in Tamil.

Cinkati’s name is given as ‘Cinki.’ If that is so, Cinkali must be taken to be a corrupt form of “Cinki ati” or Cinki alikal. This word Ati or Adigal is usually used in the sense of the Sanskrit word “Svami” either to a king as in the phrase Perumanatikal or to a great religious person as in llankovatikul Cekkilar alikali etc. It must be therefore taken that Cinkati was a great religious personality and probably “Cetiyal Cinki” emphasizes this fact. ‘Cent’ and ‘Cetar’ are used in the sense of ‘Sistas’ in Sanskrit. There is also the expression “Cetar Punkular Cinkati.” ‘Cetu’ also means goodness. Cinkati is also called famous, “Pukala Cinkali” and Vanappakai is similarly called “Cirppakai.”

As far as Vanappakai is concerned, the poet described her in one place as “Cirppakai nani”. ‘Pakai’ is the contracted form of Vanappakai and the term ‘nani’ applied to her, leaves no doubt in any one’s mind that she was also a great religious personality.

In two hymns, both of them are mentioned. There are 18 references to them, 8 references to Cinki and 10 to Vanappakai inclusive of the above two. The question arises what is the real relationship between these and Arurar? Prima facie, they seem to be his own chilaren; but the reference to them as Jnani and Atikali i.e., spiritually great persons lead us to interpret this term Appan as the spiritual Guru in which case they may be according to the old tradition the chilaren of Kotpuli or somebody else. But even here nothing prevents Arurar being the natural father of these spiritually great women and it is worth remarking that even on the basis of the chronological arrangement of Arurar’s hymns, reference to these chilaren came only after Arurar’s marriage with Paravai. The fact that the poet Arurar mentioned these as his chilaren along with his father would justify in taking these references literally.

Vanappakai means the enemy of the forest and it may also refer to the lion; but on this score Vanappakai could not be identified with Cinkali because in the two references already quoted, these two are mentioned together as two different personalities. These names suggest the name Narasimha, the Pallava king Rajasimha who was ruling during the time of Arurar in whose honour probably they were named Vunappakai and Cihkati. Or, they might have been named as such in memory of Naracinkamunaiyaraiyar who was Arurar’s patron in his younger days. But this name Naracinkamunaiyaraiyar itself must have been assumed by that prince after the then ruling king not Rajasimha but Narasimha Mamalla, for if Rajasirmha was ruling during the adulthood of Arurar, the king who must have been ruling during his childhood must be Narasunha I. If these chilaren were themselves such great spiritual personalities as to be described Ankal and Jnani, the spiritual stature of Arurar certainly grows in height.


Nampi is the title usually of a prince and it is used to be conferred on important individuals.” In this way it has come to mean by the time of Pinkalantai, the elite among men. Owing to the spread of the temple cult, the priests, the Adi Shaivite Acaryas, some of whom appear to be the ‘Kula Gurus’ of the Colas had confered on them the title of Nampi. The name of Nampi Anta? Nampi will occur to anyone conversant with the Shaivite Literature. Perhaps Purusottama Nampi, one of the authors of the 10th Tirumurai, was another. From this, we may infer that the title of Nampi which occurs in the phrase Nampi Arurar, is due to our poet being an Adi Shaiva Acarya. Arurar calls himself “Maraiyartam kuricil.” Not only was he born in the Brahmin community but he had also undergone the course in four Vedas and 6 angas—“Nanmarai (ar) ankam otiya navun.” From the descriptions of the course of studies obtaining in various Universities or Centres of Learning of the Pallava Age such as Kanci, Bahur and Ghatikacalam, we know this is not an empty boast.

He was blessed with not only the highest learning of the age, he was also reputed to be of exemplary character which makes him describe himself with modesty as “Cilamtan peritum mika valla Ciruvan.” In another place, he spoke of himself in the first person, “Iliyak kulattip pirantom”—those of no low caste. As this is a reference in plural to all the bhaktas, it is safer to interpret it as referring to the community of bhaktas, of which Periyalvar speaks as ‘Tontakkulam’ —a holy community, which our poet had visualised in his Thiruthondathogai. He is often proud of describing himself as Atittontan, Shiva tontan (for which the other reading is Ciru tontan); Sivanatiyarkalukkatiyan atittontan; Atiyar ati nayuran; Atiyar atiyan; Atiyavarkkatiyavan; Atiyan; Atiyan; Meyppattan etc. According to Periyapuranam, he was called Van tontan because he abused the old Brahmin who claimed him as his slave. Even otherwise, the firm hold he had on Shiva completely relying on Him for everything and threatening at times to sit dharnna would justify his name of Vantontan. In one place he describes himself as ‘Annkka Vantontan’.

The name Nampi may also be explained as being deserved by him because he grew up as a prince of Narasinkamunaiyaraiyar’s family. Periyapuranam calls him Tampiran Tolan. This term, as already pointed out, occurs in the inscriptions in the sense of companion to the king. Arurar did not call himself Tampiran Tolan though Periyapuranam states that this title was conferred on him by Shiva Himself. Arurar spoke of the Lord being his Tolan; and his Tutan, a companion and an envoy. Probably it is this term ‘Tutun’ which is responsible for the story that the Lord went to appease the anger of Paravai on behalf of Arurar. As Arurar relied upon God for everything in the world and believed that it was the Lord who arranged everything for him, the Lord is his companion and envoy in more senses than one.

As for the training he received as a prince though there are not direct references, the hymns throw some light on his upbringing. When he referred to ‘Navalur’, he spoke of himself in plural, ‘Namakku’ and described it as the city both of Naracinka-munniaraiyar and himself. He was proud of his strength developed probably as befitting a prince: ‘Malai malinta tojuran’: Uran of the shoulders like mountains; ‘Mallin malku tiral tol uran’: Uran of the shoulders full of wrestling strength; ‘Tirumaruvum tiral tolan’: He of the shoulders of strength embraced by Wealth; ‘Matayanni Navalarurani Uran Naval city great in the strength of elephants; ‘Kulalar mannan hula Navalurkkoni: The king of Naval and the Lord of the enemies. He described himself as Navalurali; Navalar kon; Navalur Mannan; Navalurkkon; Navalar Ventun; Navalar Komani

One may be tempted to take the term Navalaruran to mean only a resident of Navalur. But in view of much clearer and unmistakable references to his princehood, this will not be correct. In his 18th hymn, he described himself “Kulalar mapnap kulana-valurkkoni’, the ruler of the enemies and the prince of Navalur of the proper community. Probably he spoke of this community of rulers because of his training under Naracinkamunaiyaraiyar. His references to the strength of his shoulders assume a new significance in view of this description of Arurar, i.e., the king of his opponents. It is in this light we have to interpret the reference to the Lord as ‘He who brings confusion to those chiefs who refuse to pay tribute to the Pallava king who was then ruling the country’: ‘Mannulakam kaval punta urimaiyar Pallavarkkut tirai kota manna varai marukkum ceyyum perumaiyar. That reference seems to establish some connection between Citamparam and Pallavar, perhaps suggesting that Hirunyavarman mentioned in Koyil Puranam as worshipping at Citamparam and improving the temple was a Pallava king.


In the hymn quoted above is found developed the divine right theory of king. This is a philosophy which is something new to Shaivism which preached absolute self surrender to God without reference to political or worldly motives. There was the illustrious example of Appar refusing to follow the command of the Pallava king. He retorted by saying that ‘Namarkkum kntiyallom’. ‘We are the servants of none but God.’ ‘Parantu pakateri varuvar collum pani ketkak katavomo parrarrome.’ “Civane ennum navntaiyar namaiyala utaiyaranre navalanti vakattinukku natarapa kavalare evi vituttarenum katavamalom kanimaiyotu kalavu arrome,” “Ummotu marrum ularay ninra pataiyntaiyan paniketkum paniyom allom,” “Vantirar mannavanavanran are” —‘Are we bound to listen to the orders of those who rule the world riding on elephants?’ ‘Our Lords are those who utter the word of Shiva; even if the Emperor of Jambudvipa orders us, we shall not obey, for we are devoid of all stratagem, deceit and cruelty’; “Pataiyutaiyan pani ketkum puniyomallom.” It is not our duty to listen to the orders of the chieftains of the army’. ‘Who are you? What have I to do with your king?’

In a sense, this is believing only in the brotherhood of God’s followers. To a certain extent this attitude was necessary in the Age of Appar, because the king was an anti-Shaivite to start with. But when the Pallavas, thanks to the Satyagraha of Tirunavukkaracar, became Shaivites and great temple builders, there was no necessity to preach any anarchism. It was the duty of any Shaivite to offer his help in this Pallava propagation of Shaivism and it was from this point of view that Arurar felt that those who opposed the great Shaivite Pallava king were opposing the will of Shiva. Apart from this, the divine right theory of king has slowly crept into the minds of the learned people of the age. Nammalvar sings, “Tiruvntai Mannaraikkanil Tirumalaikkantene ennum”—“When ever she sees the kings of royal wealth, she says she sees the Lord God.”


But Arurar has also been honoured by the rulers of the three ancient Royal families of the Panilyas, Ceras, and the Colas. If we follow the chronology given in the Periyapuranam, our poet entered the Panilya country only in the company of the Cera king, i.e., almost at the fag end of his life. It is really surprising that he had stepped into the Pandya country only during the closing years of his life. Can it be that his aggressive support of the Pallava, stood in the way of his going to the Pandya country? After his friendship with the Cera, he visited the Pandya temples and the temple in the Cera land. It is this visit to these temples almost in his later age that created a feeling of separation and it was this which he gave expression to in some of his poems when he exclaimed, “Katalurattolavatenru kolo.” ‘When shall I worship Him with all my love?’ His feeling of surprise was also expressed—‘Is this Puvunam?’ He referred to the three kings in his hymn 2:4 where he stated that hymn was sung in their presence at Parankundram. At Thiruchuzhial Arurar spoke of the worshippers becoming kings in their respective points of the compass—“Ati tolavar avvat ticaikku aracakuvar. One wonders whether he had any reference to these three kings gaining the upper hand or somewhat of freedom.

But there is one incident which does not fit in with this interpretation of Arurar’s aggressive support of Pallava king in the early part of his life. Hymn 15 which is said to have been sung immediately after he married Paravai in the early part of his life refers to Kotpuli, a commander who had conquered the opposing rulers. This Kotpuli if our interpretation is correct must have been one of those friends of Arurar supporting the Paliavas. This verse which mentions Kotpuli refers to the Cola country but this reference simply means that Nattiyattankuti was within the old Cola country—“Cenni nanir tol pukal Nattiyattankuti Nampi.” The name Cola country had become a geographical term losing all political significance and there was nothing preventing this Cola country being under the control of the Paliavas. The real difficulty arises because of Cekkilar calling Kotpuli Nayapar, a commander of the Colas—“Valavar tantiriyaray.”

Or, it must be assumed that Kotpuli and the Cola king were on the side of the Paliavas long before Arurar met the Pantlya king. According to Periyapuranam the Cola prince was there as the son-in-law of the Pandya king suggesting probably a new realignment in the political picture of the land.

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