The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “dakshari (the legend of daksha’s sacrifice)” 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 3.2 - Dakshari (the legend of Daksha’s sacrifice)


Next to the legend of the three castles, which has established the title of Mahadeva to Shiva, the legend of Daksha’s sacrifice throws light on the slow and steady growth of Shaivism in India. Tiruvuntiyar in Tiruvacakam, because of this importance refers at length to these two legends emphasizing the most dramatic situations therein.

This conflict of Shiva with Daksha throws a flood of light on various references in Tevaram. It is, therefore, best to trace the history of this story, as a sort of ready reference. We may conveniently summarize what we know of Rudra mythology from the Vedas following Keith.

First, for his appearance, Rudra has braided hair, beautiful lips, firm limbs; he is brown and multiform, radiant (Suci) bright as Sun or gold—the Asura of heaven—wearing gold ornaments and sitting on a chariot seat. His belly is blue, his back red, his neck blue; he has mouth and teeth; he is copper coloured and red with blue-black neck though the throat is white. He is clothed in a skin, and dwells in the mountain. Coming to his formidable character, we find, he, as an archer, wields the lightning and thunderbolt but with no onslaughts on demons; though this ruddy boar of heaven is destructive and terrible, unassailable and therewithal a young unaging ruler and father of the world, therefore wise, beneficent, bountiful, easily invoked and auspicious (Shiva) full of healing remedies. He drinks with the mad muni, poison, from a cup, with dishevelled hair. In spite of these, niany passages deprecate his wrath and pray that his shafts—his cow-and-man-slaying weapons—may not fall upon the worshipper and his family and wealth. He is the Father of Maruts, the Rudras or Raudriyas and is Tryambaka (having three sisters or mothers) a reference to the three divisions of the Universe, and he is Agni.

By the time of the Brahmanas, he is one of the two great gods, Shiva and Visnu. He is there the lord of the cattle with a prescribed offering to save the cattle; for, he is the patron of robbers, highwaymen, cheats and swindlers followed by wide mouthed howling dogs, swallowing unchewed, their prey, and he is said to attack with fever, cough and poison.

Agni, Pasupati, Bhava, Sarva, Mahandeva, Isana and Ugradeva are the forms of Agni. Ambika is the sister, later the mother of Rudra, Uma, Haimavatl or Parvati is his wife. Even gods are afraid of him; his origin is traced to the evil deed of Prajapati consorting with his own daughter; the gods in their anger make up this most appalling of beings piercing Prajapati. According to Aitareya Brahmana, Prajapati is Mrgasira, is Rudra, the Mrgavyadha; Prajapati’s daughter is the constellation Rohini; and the arrow is, the Isu Trikanda in the sky. He appears once as a black being, claiming all that is over there, on the sacrifice as his own which claim, Nabhanedistha’s father admits. In the ritual he is marked out emphatically from the gods; and at the end of a sacrifice a handful of strew or at the end of a meal what is left over, is offered. His abode is in the north and not in the east where reside other gods. Snakes are conceived as his servants. Rudra was left behind when the Devas went to heaven.

The tendency to generalize his operations, credits him with the activity in almost every aspect of nature—mountains, woods, paths and streams receiving offerings in manifold places on varied occasions (snake infested places, mount of manure, waters, roads and trees), so much so, cowherds and maidens get a glimpse of him whilst drawing water in lonely haunts—a deliberate tendency to see in him a god with a comprehensive control over all nature. A formula must be altered in order to avoid the direct mention of his name. In Sutra literature he is called Hara, Mrda, Shiva and Sankara.

After discussing the various theories about Rudra, Keith concludes: “What is obvious is that the great god absorbs, as other great gods have done, a mass of Sondergotter, though in the Satarudriya form we have priestly ingenuity extending and amplifying Sondergotter in the best manner of the Roman Indigitamenta. It is probably to syncretism, again, that we owe the connexion of Rudra with thieves, robbers, and highwaymen, whose patron he seems to have been, and from whom, therefore, he is expected to protect his votaries, and we need not press the suggestion that he was regarded himself as tricky, or connect this aspect with the uncertain character of the lightning. Nor, in the Vedic texts does he ever become a snake god; his connexion with snakes is only incipient and it becomes much more marked in the epic, showing us clearly the process of identification in its advance. On the other hand, it is probable that some of his characteristics in the later Vedic period come from a god of death; this may primarily be due to identification with Sarva and Bhava, and it is suggested in his connexion with birds of evil omen and howling dogs; for such birds and dogs are closely connected with Yama as a god of the dead.


Whatever might be the historical fact, what counts in the history of religion is how that fact came to be looked upon by the later ages. The word Rudra is explained by Sayana as follows: “jRud” means suffering or sin etc., which causes suffering. “Thou art the God so called who drives this away.” “Shiva” is explained by Sabdhakalpadruma as one who attenuates asubha or sin, tracing it from the root ‘So’, to attenuate. “Rudra” is, therefore equated with “Shiva”, The destruction effected by Rudra is destruction of Sin. There is no malevolence but punishment. He thus becomes the embodiment of propriety. Since in the eyes of the worshipper, respect was due only to the performer of the greatest number of sacrifices, Rudra, the respectful, was called Upavitaf Punishment and dispensation of justice are the duties of kings and Rudra is King Bhava. Nothing escapes his thousand eyes. He is associated with the muni in the Rg Veda and kesins in the Atharva Veda— the long haired muni—a mortal becoming godlike—thanks to his austerities; perhaps the munis are the followers of the path of Bhakti and Yoga and the knowledge of the imperishable man. A story in the Kausitaki Brdhmana confirms this suggestion.


It is stated therein that a golden bird flew up to Kesin Darbhya who had sat down, not being consecrated (i.e., not having gone through the ceremonies needed to entitle one to perform the sacrific). The bird said, “Thou hast not been consecrated; I know the consecration; let me tell it to thee; I have sacrificed once; I am afraid of it perishing; thou dost know the imperishableness of that which once has been offered; it, do thou (tell) me.” The Brahmana proceeds thus: “He said, yes”. They two discussed together...... He said, “the bodies are consecrated by that sacrifice; but the man is consecrated indeed whose gods within are consecrated.”..... Now the imperishableness of what has once been offered is faith; he who sacrifices with faith, his sacrifice perishes not. Imperishableness is the waters, both those which are in these worlds, and those which are about the self. He, who, knowing, “In me there is imperishableness; sacrifices, his sacrifice perishes not. This imperishableness of what has once been offered Kesin Darbhya proclaimed to the golden bird”.

Many of these followers of Shiva, because of their disapproval of Vedic rites came to be called Vratyas, who however were glorified in Atharva Veda. Here begins the cosmopolitanism or freedom from castes of Shaivism, caring more for the salvation of the offscourings of society —prodigal sons of God. Coming to the Upanisads we pass from the ancient Brhad Aranyaka mentioning all the Vedic gods, and the sacrificial rites, through Chandogya laying no such emphasis on these gods, and Taittiriya mentioning their names only in its invocatory verse, Aitareya and Kausitaka to Kena, which gives a story of their ignorance. Brahma appeared before the Devas in the form of a wonderful being. Ignorant of Brahman, Agni, Vayu and Indra tried their skill with ‘It’ only to accept defeat. Brahman disappeared and Uma Haimavati appeared to expalin that It was Brahman. Gods were no more to be dreaded by the Atmajnanis of tapas, sraddha and santa and viraga. Mundaka Upanisad, adumberates the theory Avanarulale avan tai vananki” ‘He is to be obtained only by the one whom

He chooses; to such a one, that Atman reveals His own person. .Katha Upanisad speaks of God’s prasada. Svetasvatara is still more clear: “Tapah prabhavat deva prasadica brahmo ha svetasvataro the vidvan”—“By the greatness of austerity and by the God’s Grace the wise svetasvatara in proper manner declared Brahman’. Svetasvatara is the name of a Guru. Guru sisya parampara thus commences. The Upanisad speaks of the Lord of Kata, Svdbhava, Niyata releasing from fetters of the two unborn as the knowing Lord and the unknowing individual. It thus brings about the harmony of Bhakti and Jnana. It identifies the well-known Rudra with the unknowable Brahman.

Shaivite sects multiply, not at all in a desirable way, as is referred to in Maitri Upanisad. “Verily, the source of the net of delusion (Moha) is the fact of the association of one who is worthy of heaven with those who are not. Now, there are those who are continually living upon handicraft; moreover, there are others who are twin-beggers, who perform the sacrifices for the unworthy, who are disciples of Sudras and who though Sitaras, know the scriptures. And moreover, there ‘are others who are rogues, who wear their hair in a twisted knot. And moreover there are others who falsely wear the red robe, ear-rings and skulls. With these one should not associate”. This very Upanisad has Vaishnavite leanings; thus starting the age-long conflict between Shaivism and Vaisnnvism, though this Upanisad stands for the harmony of Trimurtis and the three paths of Karma. Bhakti and Jnanam and identifies Bharga of Gayatri with Rudra.


As the conflict against Shaivites of Shiva had already started, the significance of Mahadeva burning the three castles is clear indeed. Daksha s sacrifice may be studied a little more closely from this point of view. The story is told in the Santi Parva of Maha Bharata: Daksha performed a sacrifice, attended by all gods except Rudra, who was not invited. The conversation between Daksha glorifying Visnu and Dadici glorifying Shiva reveals this conflict.

Daksha: We have many Rudras, armed with tridents and wearing spirally-braided hair, who occupy eleven places. I know not Mahesvara.

Dadici: This is a pre-concerted plan of all the gods that Mahadeva has not been invited. Since I perceive Sankara, and no other deity, to be supreme, therefore, this sacrifice of Daksha shall not be prosperous.

Daksha: I offer to the Lord of sacrifice (Visnu), in a golden vessel, this entire oblation purified by rites and by texts, the share of the incomparable Visnu. He is the Lord, the allpervading god of the sacrificial fire.

Devi, the wife of Shiva, feels the insult and Shiva creates Virabhadra who goes and destroys the sacrifice when Daksha praises Mahadeva and completes the sacrifice.


The story as told in the Bhagavata Purana brings out this rivalry very clearly. When Daksha came to the sacrifice, all stood up except Brahma and Mahadeva. Daksha addressed at this insolence of Shiva, “Hear me, ye Brahman Rsis, with gods and Agnis, while neither from ignorance nor from passion, describe what is the practice of virtuous persons. But this shameless being (Shiva) detracts from the reputation of the guardians of the world (Prajapati), he, by whom, stubborn as he is, the course pursued by the good is transgressed. He assumed the position of my disciple, inasmuch as, like a virtuous person, in the face of the Brahmans and of fire, he took the hand of my daughter. This monkeyeyed (god) after having taken the hand of (my) fawn-eyed (daughter), has not even by word shown suitable respect to me whom he ought to have risen and saluted. Though unwilling, I yet gave my daughter to this impure and proud abolisher of rites and demolisher of barriers, like the word of the Veda to a Sudra. He roams about in dreadful cemeteries, attended by hosts of ghosts and spirits, like a mad man, naked with dishevelled hair, laughing, weeping, bathed in the ashes of funeral piles, wearing garland of dead men’s skulls, and ornaments of human bones, pretending to be Shiva (auspicious), but in reality Asiva (inauspicious), insane, the lord of Pramathas and Bhutas, beings whose nature is essen tially darkness. To this wicked-hearted lord of the infuriate, whose purity has perished, I have, alas, given my virtuous daughter, at the instigation of Brahma”. He follows up this speech by a curse, “Let this Bhava (Shiva) lowest of the gods, never, at the worship of the gods, receive any portion along with the gods, Indra, Upendra (Visnu) and others.” Then he departed. This action roused the fury of Nandisvara, the chief follower of Shiva. He cursed in return: “May the ignorant being, who, from regard to this mortal (Daksha), and considering (Shiva) as distinct (from the supreme spirit), hates the deity who does not return hatred, be averse to truth. Devoted to domestic life in which frauds are prevalent, let him from a desire of vulgar passions, practise the round of ceremonies, with an understanding degraded by Vedic prescriptions. Forgetting the nature of the soul, with a mind which contemplates other things, let Daksha, brutal, be excessively devoted to women, and have speedily the face ot a goat. Let this stupid being, who has a conceit of knowledge, and all those who follow this contemner of Sarva (Shiva), continue to exist in this world in ceremonial ignorance. Let the enemies of Hara (Shiva) whose minds are disturbed by the strong spirituous odour and the excitement of the flowery words of the Veda,, become deluded. Let those Brahmans, eating all sorts of food, professing knowledge and practising austerities and ceremonies (merely) for subsistence, delighting in riches and in corporeal and sensual enjoyments, wander about as beggars”: This curse rouses the anger of Bhrgu who delivers in his turn the following curse: “Let those who practise the rites of Bhava and all their followers be heretics and opponents of the true scriptures. Having lost their purity, deluded in understanding, wearing matted hair, and ashes and bones, let them undergo the initiation of Shiva, in which spirituous liquor is the deity. Since ye revile the Veda (Brahma) and the Brukmanas, the barriers by which men are restrained, ye have embraced heresy. For this (Veda) is the auspicious (Shiva), eternal path of the virtuous, follow the heresy in which your god is the king of the goblins.” This was a curse by a Brahman, which could not be avoided, and so, according to the story, Shiva went away with his followers and Daksha and the other Prajapatis celebrated for a thousand years the sacrifice in which Visnu was the object of adoration. It was this humiliation and disgrace of Shiva that apparently made Daksha neglect Shiva, when he invited all the gods to sacrifice which he individually celebrated.


The story of the sacrifice, as narrated here, differs from the Mahabharata account, and since this account throws some light upon the development of Shaivism in that remote period, it may be taken notice of. Satl (Umd) requests her husband to permit her to go to the sacrifice performed by Daksha. Shiva warns her that she would be insulted. In spite of this warning, she goes and is slighted by her father. Remonstrating in vain with Daksha to change his attitude towards Shiva, she gives up the ghost. Shiva’s followers, who had accompanied Sati, were prevented by a mantra of Bhrgu from destroying the sacrifice. They returned to narrate the tale to Shiva, who, in his wrath, created out of a lock of his hair a terrible spirit who led Shiva’s followers to the scene of sacrifice and destroyed it. The story is, that later, Shiva himself went to the place, plucked out the beard of Bhrgu, who was pouring oblations into the fire, tore out the eyes of Bhaga and knocked out the teeth of Pusan, for all these had been partisans of Daksha. Daksha’s head was cut off.


The Varahapurana gives a different version. Rudra born of Brahma’s anger was asked in vain to create beings, whereupon, Brahma created Daksha and six other Prajdpatis, who begot Indra and other chilaren, who in their turn performed sacrifices to please Daksha. Inactive Rudra, hearing of their voices, bestirred himself into activity and became angry with the creation effected by others, the fiery anger shooting up in the form of demons rushing against Devas. Daksha prayed to Rudra to appease himself and gave Gauri in marriage.


Kurma Purana story gives a third version. Daksha paying a visit to Shiva, his father-in-law was not pleased with the respect shown. When Shiva’s wife Satti went to her father Daksha s house, Daksha reviled Shiva and abused Sati. At this insult, she burnt herself to death but was born as Haimavati or Parvati. Shiva hearing the death of Sati cursed Daksha to be born as a Ksatriya Pracheti committing incest with his own daughter. This Pracheti performed a yaga at Gangadvara but refused any offerings to Shiva. Dadici alone remonstrated and cursed all those present to become heterodox and prayed to Shiva. At the request of Parvati, Shiva created Virabhadra with thousand heads, eyes and arms resembling in the brightness ‘vafavamukhagni’ having side tusks, carrying sankha, cakra and bow and besmeared with ashes. Parvati created Bhadrakalt. The sacrifice was destroyed. He plucked out the tooth of Surya, putting out his eyes. Hands and tongue of Agni were cut off. Indra’s arm, lifted to strike, remained stiff. Canara was crushed by the toe. Garuda fled for life. Daksha came to his senses and prayed.


The story prevalent in South India is given at length in the Tamil Kanta Purana, Dakshakantam, with some variation.

The image of Virabhadra is described in the Karanagama. The terrific image indicating anger has four arms carrying sword, shield, bow and arrow, three eyes, fire emitting jata, side tusks, garlands of bells and skulls and scorpions; a yajnapavftta of serpents, beautiful anklets, pair of sandals and short drawers.

Sri Tattvanidhi replaced the shield by a club which along with the bow is said to be on the right, whilst the rest are held in the left arms. This speaks of Bhadrakalt by his side, whilst Daksha with a goat’s head and anjali pose is on the right.

Pancaratragama, gives him sword, arrow, bow and club. Silparatna gives him eight hands and makes him ride on a uetala’, surrounded by ganas. Silpasangraha mentions three varieties: sattvic, tamasic and rajasic forms with two, four and eight arms respectively. Seated figures represent yoga vira; standing figures, bhoga vira; walking figures, viravira.

In Tanjore, a panel shows Shiva putting the head into the fire whilst a woman (the wife of Daksha) and the priest with the ladle run away.


Coming to the sculpture of Arurar’s age, pl. XXXVI of Rea represents this story. This is Rea’s description of panel No. 18, in the Kailasanatha Temple: “Shiva kills a double headed Rdksasa with his trident. A figure on Shiva’s left—midway up the panel—has a tiger’s legs and probably represents Vyagrapdda. On the upper portion of the panel, Shiva is seen seated with his wife Parvati, soaring through the sky.” There is no two headed asura, known to mythology. The figures are all Devas. The Devas are running for their life, some holding their hands in anjali pose; some have fallen down, probably, Daksha and Yajna. The serpent Yajnopavita, the anklets, wristlets and armlets, the flowing cloth, the necklace, the girdle of serpent, the dishevelled back portion of the jata dancing up and down in two halves, the ring-like ear ornament on the right ear and a bell-like pendant ear-ring on the left ear are all there. There are four arms: the right back is holding the trident; the right front is held up as though supporting something. The left front arm is held in catura pose; the back left arm is not clear.

Every heroic act of Shiva was in ancient times shown as a drama and as a dance. Perhaps to witness this dance, Patanjali and Vyaghrapada had also come. Shiva and Parvati on the bull had come on the scene at the end, as described in Kantapuranam.


The speech of Daksha as quoted from the Bhagavata Purana and as found in Tamil Kantapuranam breathes fire against Shiva. It is this vituperation against Shiva and Parvati, that comes to the mind of Arurar, as it did to Campantar. Daksha had no regard for Shiva or his daughter “Pena munivan” Daksha had not honoured Shiva—“Palikkum peruntakkan;” not honouring Shiva, he had refused offerings to Him—“Kontatutal puriya varu Takkan peruvelvi” —in the great sacrifice of Daksha. The puranas describe the sacrifice in glowing terms where all the Devas were assembled. Arurar calls it again and again ‘Peru velvi —‘the great sacrifice.’ The people who attended this sacrifice were all great Devas—“Peruntevar” There came there innumerable Devas—“Paia Devar”

The performer of this sacrifice is again referred to as great—“Peruntakkan. He was full of all that should bless man—wealth, knowledge and perhaps pride etc.—“Nirampiya Takkan. He was a Rsi, being the veritable Pralapati—“Munivan ; He was one who never thinks of the Lord—“Karutatavar” Arurar describes the sacrifice by the Tamil term ‘Velvi and by the Sanskrit term ‘Eccam a corruption of ‘Yajna , the last term suggesting a slur on it by its association with the word in Tamil ‘eccam . Daksha does not know any propriety—“Perrimai onru ariyata Takkan where Arurar uses ‘Perrimai in the sense in which ‘perri is used in Nalatiyar “Perri pilaiya torunatai yar.” The important events of the puranic episode are suggested by these descriptive titles of Daksha. It was this intoxication of spiritual power, knowledge and wealth that sent Daksha on the path of arrogance and unrighteous acts. This brought down its own retribution. The whole programme of his sacrifice went to pieces—“Utaittay velvi tanai.” The whole sacrifice failed to achieve its greatness; God saw to it that it ended in disrepute—“Manamai ceytan.

The Lord made the sacrifice without any intervening space there, heaping up and huddling all the Devas together—Nirantaram ceyta.” The whole field of sacrifice was clearly packed up with their remains. In this, the Lord had no obstruction, he was free from enemies, dangers or any nuisance whatsoever—“Nirantaram ceyta nitkantakan” ‘Nirantaram’ is however interpreted as destruction by the Tamil Lexicon. The Devas tried to run away for their lives: the Lord made them flee—“Anrimaiyorai iritta Nampi.” He enjoyed kicking the Devas and making them roll on the ground—“Imaiyavarai uruntota utait-tukantu” They had done the dangerous act of eating away the offerings of Daksha’s sacrifice and it looked as though the Lord rolled them, so that they might vomit the poison. The idea of kicking and making them roll suggests that the Lord played the game of balls or ‘centu’. The sound of the verse echoes the sense—“Kontatutdl puriya varu Takkan peru velvi centatutal purintan” The Lord first drove all the Devas by shouting and uttering threats—“Paia devaraiyum telittittu.” They ran pell mell hudaling together as explained above. Their organs were mangled and cut away. ‘The great gods lost their heads, shoulders, teeth, hands and eyes along with their greatness.’ The poet gives further particulars of this destruction. The god, whose shoulders were worsted and broken was Indra. The proud Sun it was, who lost his eyes and his teeth. Daksha and the Yajna Purusa lost their heads whilst Agni lost his hands according to Tiruvacakam, though Arurar does not give these details. The moon was rubbed away by the Lord’s toe and all his rays were shattered. The sacrifice was completely destroyed. This was all an act of Grace, making them gorge out the poison. The Poet exclaims, “The Lord has conquered the Devas in the sacrifice.” Is it not the import of the whole story?


Though the references seem to know of the tradition preserved in Kurmapurana and Tamil Kantapurana, they suggest as in Varahapurana, that Shiva himself did this heroic act. The term Virabhadra is never used. Nanacampantar even speaks of the cutting of Sarasvaffi’s nose, which is ascribed in the Puranas to Bhadrakali, to Shiva himself. The worship of Virabhadra and other awe inspiring forms came into South India, thanks to the Northern influence; In Ciruttontar Puranam, this Mahabhairava is said to have come from the North. But these awe inspiring forms are not often met with in South Indian Temples. Virabhadra cult with its Tantric elaborations became prominent in later times so as to deserve a ‘Parani’, the Takka Yaka-p parani, from the pen of Ottakkuttar the court poet and teacher of the Shaivite Colas, Kulot-tunga II, Rajaraja II and Rajadhi Raja II of the 12th century. Even after this, though the temples and images of Virabhadra are very common in the Telugu and Kannada countries, such images and temples are very rare in Tamil land. In the age of Tevaram, probably this cult has not developed in the Tamil country. Like the burning away of the three castles, the suppression of Daksha’s sacrifice is attributed to Shiva Himself directly. The Sanskrit Lexicon Amarakosa also directly calls Shiva, the destroyer of the Sacrifice, Kratudhvamsin.


The poet is conscious that there is here an esoteric significance. He asks, “What is the gracious act of destroying the organs of the Devas in Daksha” s Sacrifice?”

Tirumular speaks of this in Tirumantiram,

Kolaiyir pilaitta piraca patiyai-t
Talaiyai-t tatintittu-t tananki ittv
Nilaiyula kukkivan ventumen renni-t
Talaiyai yarintittu-c canticey tane

“The Lord cut away the head of Daksha Prajapati, who was guilty of murder (as causing the death of Sati) and offered it to the sacrificial fire. The Lord thought that he was required for this world wherein stands fire (where reigns the Law of conservation of matter and energy). He cut the goat’s head and fixed it on to Daksha

—a wonderful way of converting the proud murderer into a meek lamb. Thus the heroic act is a symbol of God’s Grace.

Tirumular further explains this in Tirumantiram, where his idea seems to be that the inner principle always with us in this sacrificial pit of a body seems to be hostile as long as we are up against the law, but when we get submerged and take refuge in Him, He saves us from all obstacles.

“Even those who have realized clearly like the Devas, may get confused but you do not get confused. Daksha is dead; God showed His displeasure and then showed His Grace. This is the unsullied message given there for us, that, it is He who is to be reached when we become tender and loving.”

Telintar kalankinum nnkalan kate
Alintan kataivatem ati-p piranai
Vilinta natutakkan velviyai viya-c
Culintan karulceyta tuymoli yane

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