The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “lingodbhava-murti (depiction of the pillar of fire)” from the part dealing with Nampi Arurar (Sundarar) and Mythology, viz. Puranic stories and philosophy. 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 1.2 - Lingodbhava-murti (depiction of the pillar of fire)


Every ninth verse in Campantar’s hymns refers, as though such a reference were a religious ceremony, to the story of Visnu and Brahma among the Trimurtis searching for the head and toe of Shiva. This form of Shiva is known in the Agamas as Lingodbhava murti. The story as given in Kurma, Vayu, Shiva, Linga and Vamana Puranas is summarised in Shiva Parakkiramam Raja Raja’s Inscriptions of Tanjore describe this form as Linga Purana Deva—the Lord of Linga Purana. This usage can be traced to Tirunavukkaracar, who refers to this story in every one of the verses of his hymn known as ‘Ilinkapuranat tirukkuruntokai’. The Linga, Purana gives this as the coming into form of the Lingayat’s manifestation: hence the name Lingodbhava mentioned in the Agamas.


The story as told in Lingapurana is shortly as follows:

There was a deluge after destruction and before creation. Visn was sleeping on the ocean and thereafter Brahma appeared. Both of them claimed to be the creators of the Universe. A pillar of fire—a luminous Linga rose in their presence. They agreed, that one, who found out the crown or the root of the pillar first, should be hailed the creator. Visnu, in the form of a boar, burrowed down to reach the foot of this pillar. Brahma, in the form of a swan flew up to reach its crown. They returned crest fallen, to pray to the Lord of Lords. Sivananda Lahari refers to this more than once.

In a few versions, it is stated that Brahma, learning from a ‘talai flower’ which he met on the way that it was falling from Shiva’s crown, entreated it to bear a false witness to Brahma reaching the crown of the pillar. At this, Brahma was cursed by Shiva that the former should have no separate temple or worship. According to one version, it was because of this falsehood Brahma lost one of his five heads; and this will connect the Brahmasiraschedana Murti with the Lingodbhava Murti.

The story of the Brahma appearing like a pillar of fire before the Devas to whom Uma comes and explains, occurs in the Upanisads but there it appears in the form of a Yaksa. The Skambha hymns of the Atharva Veda which speak of the supporter, the supreme soul, and which ask, “How far did Skambha penetrate into that highest, lowest and midale Universe” and answering, “Skambha is all” seem to be adumbrating this story of the pillar.


Coming to the description of the image as given in the Agamas, we find the Linga in the midst of which appears the Candrasekhara. According to Karanagama one fifth at the top and bottom of this lingam should be left uncarved. Shiva’s form appears up to the knees. At the top, on the right of the linga, is Brahma in the form of a swan, whilst Visnu appears on the left at the bottom in the form of a boar. Brahma and Visnu are also there, facing the Lingam with hands held in anjah pose. Kamikagama interprets the boar’s posture as burrowing down. Visnu and Brahma stand submissive, shorn of their egotism. Their forms are, sometimes, omitted but not the boar and the swan. Karanagama makes Shiva’s four hands hold the axe, the deer, the abhaya and varada poses. Silaparatna, however, inserts the trident in one of His hands.


Turning to the sculptures of the age of Arurar, we find representation in the Kailasanatha temple itself.

In the subsequent age of the Colas, on the western wall of the Garbhagrha on the outer side, this image is always seen, as required by the Agamas. But its earliest appearance is only in the reign of Rajasimha; the plate No. XII (Rea) gives a photograph of this image. A sketch of it is given in plate LX. The idea of a pillar is made clear by the portion of a pillar up above the crown of Shiva. Perhaps fig. 2 in Plate XLIV represents Shiva appearing before the submissive Brahma and Visnu.

There is no description of these—but Mr. Gopinatha Rao gives another photographic plate and a critical description.

“This piece of sculpture is very much at variance with the textual descriptions. The figure of Shiva Candrasekhara has eight arms (not 4) of which some are seen carrying the parasu, the sula, an aksamala and some other objects while one is held in the abhaya pose and another is resting upon the hip (Katyavalambita). Then again the one fifth part of the linga on the top is not left unsculptured nor is the part of the linga lower than the knees of the figure of Shiva, equal to a fifth of the total length of the linga. But the sculpture agrees with the Sanskrit texts in that the legs of Shiva below the knees are left out unsculptured; the digit of the moon is shown on the crown of Shiva; the boar avatara of Visnu with four hands out of which two are shown as digging the earth and the other two as carrying the sankha and the cakra and not an ordinary boar as stated in the Agamas is carved out at the bottom space of the panel; Brahma is seen flying in the air in his own form instead of as a swan; one of his legs as also that of the other deities on the left of the linga is horizontal while the figures of Brahma and Visnu each having four arms are sculptured on the right and left of the linga; they have each one arm lifted up in the pose of praising, while the other rests upon the hip and remaining ones carry their respective weapons.”


According to the tradition of the Tamil land the mountain of fire was the original form of the present Tiruvannamalai hill. This feat also according to this, took place in the Tamil country.

Lingapuranadeva described in S.I.L, Vol. II, No. 44 is worthy of notice as we very often find a representation of the scene in Shiva temples. The Tanjore temple itself bears a sculpture on the west wall of the central shrine. The group is now known as Lingodbhava. The following is the note of the Epigraphists.

The Karanagama states:

Lingakarasya madhye tu Candrasekharavat sthitam
Nalikadhasthitam padam lingodbhavasamanvitam;
Virincirhamsarupena cordhvargo vamaparsvake
Dakse varaharupasya rupenadhogato harih
Vamadaksinaparsvasthau krtamjalisamanvitau
Svarupena dvipddasthavajavisnu vibhoh pare

The story is that Brahma and Visnn once had a dispute about their relative superiority. Both of them appeared before Shiva who had assumed the shape of a huge linga. Visnu had to find out the bottom and Brahma the top of this linga. The former became a boar and went on burrowing into the earth and the latter soared into the air in the shape of a swan to trace the top. Neither of them could achieve his object and accordingly it became evident that Shiva was superior to both of them. In the group set up by queen Abhimanavalli, the gods Brahma and Visnu figure. The latter is said to have the face of a boar. The swan form of Brahma is not mentioned. The group must have closely followed the representation in stone of the same scene on the west wall of the central shrine.

Tradition asserts that the hill at Tiruvannamalai in the South Arcot district represents the linga of the Linga purana. Accordingly pilgrims who visit the temple at Tiruvannamalai have to circumambulate the hill itself. It is worthy of note that the linga at Tiruvannamalai is believed to be one of the five lingas which are supposed to consist of the elements (panchabhuta). The Ekambranatha temple at Conjeeveram has the prthvilinga (made of earth) and the Jambukesvara temple on the island of Srirangam the ap-linga (made of water). The vayu-linga (made of air) is at Kalahatsti in the North Arcot district; the akasa-linga (made of space) at Chidambaram and the tejo-linga (made of light) at Tiruvannamalai in the South Arcot district. The ancient names of these five shrines offer no justification for this supposition. Apparently the idea of tracing them to the five elements is a comparatively recent one.


There are 37 references to this story in Arurar. In the light of these references to the scupltures, Agamas and Puranas, Arurar’s verses describing or suggesting this story may be studied. He says, “There is one ancient authority” “Pantutan piramanam onrunte”: thus begins the poet in one place. It happened, the poet says, in former times “Mun” as told in the Linga purana. ‘Visnu and Brahma were then the ancient ones’—“Pantai Mai Piraman”. ‘The two did not know’ “Iruvaral ariyonna’. There were the two who are by your (God’s) sides’—“Iruvartam ulaiya ninravar,” in this the form represented as Ekapada or Tripada Trimurti. The very names of Visnu, Narayann and Hari used in the Lingapurana™ are referred to by Arurar in the Tamil forms, ‘Naranan’, ‘Ari’, “Atal Ari”—‘the conquering Ari or the powerful Ari’ “Ollari”—‘the resplendent Ari’, suggestive of the phrases in the Purana (Bhasadhyasto Bhagavan Harih).


Brahma is mentioned as ‘Piraman’. He is ‘aja’—the unborn; this word appears as ‘Ayan’ in Tamil. This seems to be the favourite word with Arurar; the poet says that even this unborn principle of this Universe could not fathom the divinity of Shiva. Or, the poet may be ironical. ‘Brahma is the Lord of the Vedas’, “Veda mutalvan” His function is then glorified. He is the creator of aeons: i.e., the very time giving place to spatial expansions and formations, “Uli pataittavan” Brahma is “Nan mukan”—‘the Lord of four faces’. We would expect Brahma to be with five heads. Has he lost the other head prior to this event? Perhaps our poet does not think of cutting away the fifth head in connection with the lie uttered here. The other description of Brahma which has captivated the mind of the poet is his abode of the lotus. The flower is ‘Pu’, (the flower), emphasising its beauty, appearance and colour. ‘He is on it’— Pu micaiyan” It is ‘Malar’—‘the fully blossomed flower’; ‘he is on it’—“Malar micaiyan” ‘He rises up on the flower and resides there’ —“Onki malar uraivan' ‘The flower is not only full of fragrance but also wafts the sweet smell—it makes a gift of it’—“Virai taru malar’ What is this flower? ‘It is the lotus and he is on it’—“Tamarayin melan” ‘It is a very big flower—a throne of flower’—“Puventiya pltattavan” ‘It is a flower of purity and he appears glorious and resplendent, the prince of the pure flower’—“Tu malar-t tonral”. ‘He is red in colour’—‘Ceyyan’ .


The poet enjoys the colour contrast—the red colour of Brahma and the blue or black colour of Visnu, whom he describes in the same verse as “Kariya nirattan” He calls Visnu in another place as “Kariya maT He is enamoured of this beautifully black one or the good black one—“Nalla kariyavan” The colour of the eye of the Visn has attracted the attention of all—Pundarikaksa of the ‘Kapyasam Pundarikam’ fame. Arurar speaks of him as one with eyes like the beautiful red powder specially prepared by women “Cinturak kannan The term, the poet is more often using is ‘Mai’ —the wonderful, the big, the black, the magician, etc. It is used often in referring to this story with ‘Ayan’ except in 7: 20: 9. The poet speaks of him as ‘Netu mal’ —the Lord who grew so tall as to reach the heavens for measuring out the universe by three steps. This is again emphasised by the term ‘Netiyon’ reminding us of the Purana’s superlative description of Vinnu ‘He is the Mal of the flood’, the mahaghora ekarnava of the Purana, “Vellattu malauan”. The conch is also mentioned. His symbol is Cakra—‘Aliyan’; in this connection, he connects all the greatness of Visnu—‘Umparan’, ‘Uliyan’, ‘Aliyan’. But after the Gita and the Mahabharata, his conch has become more dear to his devotees. Is not Antal addressing her love-sick hymn of ‘Karuppuram narumo’ to this very conch? He holds the conch in his hand—“Cankentu kaiyan” There is the Anantasayana form of Visnu, another sign of his greatness. The poet refers to this along with Brahma’s greatness. Brahma is residing on the big flower; Visnu on the couch of the serpent with its big or open mouth—“Pel vay aravin anaiyanum periya malar mel uraivanum” The suggestive force of these lines refuses any translation. All this glorification is only to show that Shiva is beyond this beyond—“Netiya malukkum netiyar” Has not Brahma been described for a similar purpose, the Lord of Vedas and the creator of aeons?


The poet is referring to the Ulas of Visnu, which have become popular before his age. The orthodox will see no anachronism here, for, according to them these feats occur in every aeon—in the aeon, say, previous to the springing up of the pillar of fire. The grammarians may explain that these are to be taken as mere proper names denoting Vinnu without connoting any of their meaning. From a historical point of view, these terms only show the great popularity of these stories. It is significant that these relate to the playful activities of Kannan or Krnna.

Visnu is the great god of protection. His protection is patent when the world is manifest during all its evolutionary stages. When there comes the destruction, Visnu swallows it all, to keep it safe within himself. He spits it out, as it were, at the time of creation. Indeed he is verily the great enchanter and magician—‘Mayan’. This will suggest he is performing all the three activities of creation, protection and destruction. But his is a dependent activity, a Karya’ according to Lakullsa, the ultimate basis and foundation of all these, being Shiva, as is shown by this very story. “Manninai untumilnta mayan” sings the poet. There is a pun on the word ‘Mani; it means not only the world but also the earth or mud. It is a freak of some chilaren to eat mud. Kinna had this freak and when his mother made him open his mouth, the seven worlds were seen. Thus the line does not only refer to Vinnu in general but also to Krishna Avatara in particular.

In Krishna’s childhood, the demons lay in ambush assuming various forms to take Krishna unawares and to make an end of him. Two demons stood in the form of two ‘marutu’ trees to crush him in between them when he would pass for grazing the kine. Krishna, in a playful way tore away the plants as a child would a bush, and passed in between them—“Marutu kiri utu pona mat” Another demon ‘Kesi’ came in the form of a horse and Krishna tore away its mouth—“Ma vayp pilantan” “Turankam vay pilantan” Kamsa, the uncle and sworn enemy of Krishna, had a powerful elephant of the forest and Krnna—as the deceitful child—tore away playfully its tusk—“Kana anaiyin kompinaz-p pilanta kalla-p pillai”

The seven demons came in the form of bulls when it was declared by the father of the shepherd princess Nappinnai, that she would be given in marriage to anyone controlling these proud bulls. Krishna, as a humble shepherd jumped into the arena and controlled the seven bulls all at the same time. Krishna’s shoulders are the beloved of Pinnai, the princess—“Pinnai nampum puyattan”


In the presence of these two gods rose the pillar of fire. The poet in one hymn makes Visnu and Brahma search in all the three fires of the world, i.e. the Sun, the Moon or the Lightning and the Fire: “Cutar munrilum onri-t turuvi” perhaps because it encompassed the whole universe. In the Vedas, Visnu is said to have taken three steps. Possibly our poet is suggesting that this Vedic feat was done in this search for the Lord by both Brahma and Visnu having in mind the comment of Sakapuni. Here is the comment of Durgachary as quoted in the Nirukta of Yaska, wherein appears the comment of Sakapuni: “Visnu is the Sun; How so? Because the hymn says ‘in three places he planted his step, i.e., plants his step, makes a planting with his steps. Where then is this done? On the earth, in the firmament and in the sky’ according to Snkapuni. Becoming terrestrial fire he strides over, abides in wherever this is on earth; in the shape of lightning in the firmament and in the form of the Sun in the sky. As it is said, “They made him to become threefold.”

In one hymn the poet exclaims, ‘He rose high; he rose high’—“Nintavan; mntavan” ‘beyond the search of Brahma and Visnu’, “Naranan Nanmukhan netave” ‘He stretched Himself up as a magic, as the huge fire whose nature was impossible to be discovered’—“Kanpariya mat eriyay niruknton.”™ ‘He is taller than the tall Vinnu’—“Netiya malukku netiyar” The poet addresses the Lord ‘Those who have seen you could not realise your truth; you grew up as a fire’—“Nummai-k kantarkkum kanparitayk kanaloki nimirntir” ‘He is the principle of the principles that stood there as a fire’—“Talalay ninra tattuvan” The poet is moved by this wonder of these very gods always with Him failing to see Him in His true colours—‘Truvartam ulaiyd ninravar ulka uyar vana-t tuyarvan” —‘His form rises into the high heavens so that the Two always by His side may pause and consider’. He expresses this idea again and again: "There is the Lord of the Heaven, who could not be realised even by that Divine child of the deceit’—“Kallap pillaikkum kanparitaya Vananatan.” ‘If we had known He is the person who is one with Brahma and Visnu and who, all alone away from them, stretches into the unknown heights, we would not have come to serve Him’—“Utanay-t taniye antaram celvatu arintomel nam ivarkku atpatome”™ ‘Even by the masters of the Vedas, He cannot be described, He that is unknown to Vinnu and Brahma, He is a great illumination’—“Ariya-c curutiyarkkum collavonna-c coti” ‘He is the illumination impossible to be grasped by intellect’—“Antarku ariya cotiyan” What can be more wonderful than this magic of sudden appearance and uprising of this flame of fire beyond the reach of all? The poet asks, ‘Why do you so roam about showing the magic form unapproachable even unto Brahma and Vinnu?’—“Nanuka vannam analum ay a vetam katti-t tirivatu enne.” This according to the poet occurred in the primeval forest—“Natum kattil”™ Or, this may simply mean, ‘When they searched’.


‘Visnu and Brahma were frightened, thus stretched He, my Lord, the Father’,—“Ayanau Malum veruvita ninta emman” They proceeded to find out. The poet uses the roots, ‘Tetu’, ‘Natu’, ‘Netu’, and ‘Turuvu’. ‘Tetu’ implies a physical search; ‘Natu’ implies a purpose, a mental longing; ‘netu’ perhaps connected with ‘natu’, implies the length of attempt; ‘turuvu’ implies searching through and through—‘Natum kattil’; ‘Nati’; ‘Teti’; Weta’; ‘Turuvi’. The fire Pillar was a physical presence, but it came as a magic; they did not understand. The poet speaks of their seeing Him and yet not seeing Him. The first seeing is the sight of the physical presence. What is not seen is two fold; nonperception and non-realization. Even as a physical presence, it is never seen as a whole; they see but its parts; it is infinite. Man does not perceive anything unless he can put it under its genus and species as known previously by him. Unless it is related to his knowledge so as to become meaningful, what he sees is a mere sensation. There are various stages of this perception according to the knowledge of the seer. He refers to the physical presence as well—“Nannariya Ati” —‘The beginning of all, who could not be approached.’ The poet refers to all the stages, perception and realization. God is not an object to be seen in the physical sense; He is one to be experienced and realized. “Kalalati kana matta ariyanay ninra” —‘He who stood as one whose feet adorned with the heroic anklets were impossible for the visual powers of the two (Brahma and Visnu) to grasp.’ “Kantilara yavarkal kalal kanparitaya piran” —‘He is the Lord whom they did not look in; kalal’ or foot became difficult or impossible to be seen.’ “Atiyum mutiyum kanpariya pariyavan” ‘He is the huge one—the all pervasive—whose crown or foot could not be seen.’ “Kanpariya”, “Kanavaritaya” or “Kana”, is very often used. What they could not see is also explained, thereby enriching this conception of looking. ‘He is the light of lights—the supreme light’—“Param cutar”, —‘the goal of our efforts—the ultimate value’—“payan”— ‘the final experience or bliss; this they could not’—“Kanpariya payane” He could not be seen by them as that great principle conferring bliss—“Kana aritaya Cankaran,” ‘they have not known Him as conferring Happiness.’ “Kana-c campu—‘They have seen the thing in itself’—“Kana aritaya......tattuvan” they have not seen his characteristic feature—“Tanmaikana.”

The poet also uses the word, “Arivonna” and other connected terms denoting intellectual knowledge—“Arivonnappatiyan” —‘He is the form of nature which cannot be known’. ‘They do not know His beginning’—“Atiyum arikalar” “Ariyonna iraivan” — ‘He is the all pervasive Lord and Sovereign who could not be known.’ “Turuvi......ariyata mattan” —‘He is the Mahat, the great all pervasive matrix, for, the Universe is His form perhaps because He is all pervasive’. ‘Or, He is the Lord of the Mahat which could not be known even by any thorough search’. The idea of clarification also comes. ‘He is difficult of clear understanding’.—“Terivariyan” He is an illumination impossible to be known by intellectual cogitation—“Aritarkariya cotiyan.” The poet also refers to the conception of realization and experience by using the suggestive word, ‘unar’ connected with ‘uni (to eat) and therefore to experience. ‘He is the Lord of the Universe beyond the experience or realization of the Two’—“Unara Ant an.” The poet perhaps refers to all the human faculties when he says, ‘the Lord was not within their power—within their reach’—“Tam param allavar”


The efforts of these two in their search is described by the poet. ‘They searched everywhere’—“Enkum natiyum” Visnu went as the boar and Brahma as the swan.” This does not attract the attention of the poet very much; for it is only once that he refers to this metamorphosis and even there he does not minimise the greatness of these gods by mentioning these forms as theirs. He simply states that the swan and the boar could not see Him though they searched everywhere—“Enamdtu annam enkum natiyum kanpariyan” ‘Brahma went in search of His crown; Visnu in quest of His foot’—‘Atiyum mutiyum.’' “Afi inaiyum tiru mutiyum” ‘The one flew up and the other went burrowing down’—“Parantum itantum”

At every step the poet emphasises their defeat. He pathetically exclaims, ‘Alas!, they searched everywhere; they wandered far and wide; they were perplexed and confused’—“Ava avar tetit tirintu alamantar.” In the first stage it is their egotism that predominates. Tirunavukkaracar in his, ‘Ilinka purana-t tiru-k kuruntokai’ emphasises this fact of their non-submission and their non-worship. Arurar walks but in His illustrious foot-steps and therefore he speaks of their not coming near Him and taking refuge in Him with humility, inspite of their overpowering sovereignty—“Ko entiya vinayattotu kuruka-p pukal ariyar.” They had not worshipped at His feet praising Him with the eight flowers—“Atta putpam avai kontati porri......kdnpariya periyavan.” The worship may be physical or mental. If it is physical, the eight flowers are punnai, the white erukku, cenpakam, nantiydvattam, nilam, patiri, atari and the red lotus. If it is mental, the flowers are human excellences—ahimsa, control of the sense organs, forbearance, grace or universal love, true knowledge, truth, tapas and kinaness. They did not see God because they were devoid of these.


In the end they were tired—“ayarntum”; confused—“alamantar.” The truth at last dawned on them. They wasted no further time. Without any further delay they fell at His feet, the refuge of all—“Taldtu unran caran paniya ‘They concentrated on Him; praised Him sincerely; that was how what was not known and non-existent to them became known all-existent; this is the greatness of the Lord’—“Ninaintu initu etta-p perrulanam perumaiyan” They worshipped Him; in that fire-pillar as the great Linga or symbol of the great Lingam—the Great unknowable symbolized (as Brahma states in the very beginning of the Linga Purana story)—“Nepumalayan pdrriceyyum kuriye” —‘The great symbol worshipped by the Great Mal and the Unborn’. In passing, it is clear that the poet interprets the Linga as a sign and a symbol—one way of translating that Sanskrit word.

It has already been pointed out that every one of the feats of Shiva ends in a dance. Our poet therefore sings of the Lord dancing in that Hall of dance when He thus was unknowable to the conqueror of the horse and the prince of the flower of purity—“Turankan vay pilantanum tu malar-t tonralum ariyamal tonri ninru arankil atavallar” Is not this beautiful phrase, “Atavallan” that has captured the imagination of Raja Raja, the Great, who endearingly calls his Nataraja of this Great temple “Atavallan” and christens the measures after this beautiful phrase? This makes very clear the influence of Arurar.

Thus may be summarised the spiritual pilgrim’s progress of the Two as suggested by our poet.

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