The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “kamantaka-murti (the story of kama or manmata)” 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 3.3 - Kamantaka-murti (the story of Kama or Manmata)


The story of Kama or Manmata going to kindle the passion of love in Shiva and meeting his death in that attempt is very popular in India. Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava has made this episode immortal. In the Tamil country, Kacciappar’s Kanta puranam gives the same story at great length. But this puranam is later than Tevaram.


The Buddhists speak of Mara and Kama conquered by Buddha, and Manimekalai praises Buddha’s feat as “Maranai vellum vzra” , Kamarkatanta Varna”. Shiva in his form of a yogi or jnani, or Buddha, burns to ashes Mara—this time it is Cupid: he is the son of Visnu. After the destruction of Daksa’s sacrifice, Shiva’s consort, in the form of Daksa’s daughter, gives up that form in disgust. She is born again as the daughter of Himavan or the god of Himalayas. Shiva, in the forests of the Himalayas, remains an ascetic yogi, initiating the great Rsis in that mystic art. The daughter of the Mountain went to perform Tapas for winning the hand of Shiva. The demon Taraka, according to Kumarasambhava and the Linga purana, but Taraka, Simhamukhasura and Surapadma according to the Tamil Kantapuranam, should be killed, if the universe were to be saved. This can be done only by the son of Shiva. How is the child to be born if the yogi of a Shiva and the daughter of Himavan do not come together? The impatient Devas request the Lord of erotic passions, Kama, to aim at Shiva his flower arrows, which usually kindle the passions in the hearts of Devas and men. Knowing the danger, he protests, but ultimately yields to their entreaties. Darkness or night is his elephant; the fish is his flag; the parrot is his horse; the zephyr is his chariot; the spring is his ally. Rati or Love is his consort; the moon is his royal umbrella; the cuckoo is his trumpet; the sea is his drum; the sugarcane is his bow; bees are his bow-string and five flowers are his arrows (the flowers are: lotus, asoka, mango, jasmine and blue lily, producing the unmattam, matanam, mohanam, santapam and vaslkaranam respectively according to Tivakaram in Tamil; whilst Karanagama however gives the names of the arrows as Tapini, Dahani, Visvamohini, Visvamardini and Madini). It will be seen all these paraphernalia of Cupid are notorious for kindling thoughts of Love. When Kama aimed his blooming arrows, Shiva opened his eye of the forehead and Cupid was burnt to ashes. Rati was promised by the Lord that her husband would become alive, but only be visible to her. Campantar refers to this boon.


The cult of Cupid or Kama was popular in the Tamil land. There was a temple near the mouth of Kaviri. Cilappatikaram speaks of this festival of victorious bow of Cupid occurring in the month of Pankuni. His five arrows are also known. The spring is spoken of as Cupid’s prince, having jurisdiction over all the living beings of the world. The Chapter VIII, therein, is a glorification of Cupid and as such is an interesting exposition of this cult: “The king Mara of great fame reigns supreme alike in Madura, Utantai, Vanci and Pukar”.

This is explained by Atiyarkkunallar. Kama’s chariot is the zephyr; his horse is the parrot; his elephant is the evening twilight; his army is the womenfolk. Therefore, Cupid’s chariot is under the protection of Pandya of Madura; his horse under the Cola of Utantai; his elephant under the Cera of Vanci whilst he himself along with his army remains at Pukar.

“Cupid’s friend Spring has come. This information is brought by the envoy, Zephyr. ‘The army (women) of this Lord of the victorious flag of makara will get itself ready in its beautiful forms’.—so proclaimed the trumpet bearer of a cuckoo—these words of the envoy”: Thus begins this chapter before describing the forlorn Matavi writing her famous love letter to Kovalan describing the suffering of her solitude.


A further development—a sublimation of this idea of Kama may also be noted. As Keith observes: “There is a real affinity between the process by which Buddhi and Ahankara are deemed to produce the world of experience and older myths of Prajapati and his desire, Kama, as playing their parts in the creation of the world, while still further back we have the picture of Purusa as at once the material and spiritual source of the world”. These form the rudiments of the Samkhya Philosophy which has been adopted in a way by Shaivism. Kama is said to be born in the form of Pradyumna, which is one of the three or four ‘vyuhas’ or divine manifestations of Visnu. This particular manifestation is referred in the Cankam Anthology—Paripatal as ‘Paccai’. When this is remembered, Arurar’s statement, that Kama was burnt by Shiva in the very presence of Visnu assumes a greater importance.

In this connection, the Vedic conception of Kama, which is equivalent to the Tamil word ‘Veli may be studied for understanding the growth and development of this idea in the religion and philosophy of India. Keith writes, “In the Atharva Veda is found the conception of Kama, ‘desire’ or love. He is described as the first to be born and he has arrows which pierced all hearts. He is not, however, as far as appears from the scanty notices we have of him a god primarily of human love though that side of his character may have existed from the first or have been attributed soon to him. In his cosmic aspect which is in accordance with the theosophic tone of the Atharva Veda, the one in which he is described in it, he is probably derived from the mention of Kama in one of the most important cosmogonic hymns of the Rg Veda as the first seed of mind regarded also as cosmic. It is not until the later literature in the last strata of the epic that we meet with the Indian Cupid with his arrows, who is described as the disturber of the hearts of men whom he vexes with pangs of love.”


The conquest of Kama is one of the eight acts of Shiva’s heroism as remembered and cherished in the Tamil Country. The Tamilian tradition is that this act took place at Kurukkai in the Tanjore District. It is, therefore, called Kurukkai Virattanam. Appar refers to this Virattanam and Tirumular also in his usual way gives his mystic interpretation of this story. He mentions this as the last of the heroic acts of Shiva.


According to the Agamas, the form of this Kamari is exactly like that of Yoga Daksinamurti with the addition of Manmata sculptured as fallen down with his bow and arrows on the left hand and on the right hand respectively accompanied by Rati and Vasanta. Campantar refers to the Yogic form as Kamari. The Purva karanagama assigns four arms and three eyes and a terrific look, one arm carrying a snake, the other arm aksamala, the third and the fourth being kept in the patakahasta pose and suci pose respectively. The Kamari is found sculptured on one of the pillars near the tank in the Ekamparesvara temple in Conjivaram but it is very modern. Daksinamurti form is separately discussed by us.


The Pallava architecture of the 7th century as embodied in the Kailasanatha temple at Conjivaram, has many panels describing the various episodes of this story. The following descriptions seem to refer to the representations of Parvati’s Tapas. “Returning along the South wall, the space between the South-east corner recess and No. 4 cell, has Parvati, seated under a banyan tree; one large and two small elephants are on the left side. A Yogi sits with his knees bound on the back of a large animal. A female attendant is on the right”. Between 7 and 8: “Parvati is seated under a tree; a deer is on her left and two are underneath; a bird, probably a peacock is on a branch of the tree; a female attendant is on her right”. Similarly we have between 9 and 10, between 10 and 11, 12 and 13, 13 and 14, and 15 and 16. The scheme adopted seems to be this: the cells portray Shiva’s acts whilst recesses between the cells portray Parvati’s or Sakti’s acts.

There are various forms of Daksinkmurti. Rea speaks of a few of such forms, preaching war to his disciples seated in the opposite panel. Shiva is said to have eight hands, the upper and left supporting an elephant’s skin over his head, in his right arm carrying a drum, a club and a trident, whilst one of the left touches his crown, the other holds what Rea calls a noose which probably is Aksamala and the lowest is empty. Possibly this is Kamari.


Arurar uses the beautiful compound Kamakopa, one who is infuriated against Kama. Arurar mentions the names ‘Kaman’, ‘Maranar’. The Tamil word is ‘Vel’ (desire and therefore the Lord of passions) and Arurar uses the compound “Kamavel” and “Velaliya kaman” (Kama, the lord of erotic passions). His bow of sugarcane is referred to by Arurar. So are the arrows of flowers; these are fragrant, they are full of honey. He gives the number as given in many places.

Why Kama came is also explained. “You assumed a great form of penance. The Devas begged of him. He came to destroy this penance. He came very near erasing the well established great penance and meditation. He was very haughty. Shiva’s eye was opened; only the very end of the eye opened The eye had become completely reddened. It was a beautiful eye of red. It was a mere twinkling of the eye ‘Imaitta’ It was an eye of fire, the eye on the forehead—“Kannutal” and “Nayanatti”, “Kan alal”. The fire of the eye burnt his body. He is thus the very fire unto Cupid. Here comes a beautiful idea. Shiva is engaged in a great penance and this burning of the passions is a great sacrifice. It is a great sea of ‘Homa’ or sacrifice. In that fire Shiva danced This was done in the presence of the very father of Kama, that great Visnu. “What a victory! Like the paper doll burnt retaining its form only to be wafted away by any small puff of breath, Cupid remained only to be dissolved into air by the breath of Rati”. That is how Kalidasa describes the final dissolution of Kama. Arurar suggests the very same idea when he speaks of Shiva making the body of Kama become burnt and shattered—“Kamanakam kalaintan”. Kama lay there a heap of ashes.


Reference has been already made to Tirumular’s Tirumantiram. The esoteric meaning of this mythological story lies on the very surface; it is the conquest of the passions.

Irunta manattai icaiya irutti
Porunti ilinka valiyatu pokkit
Tiruntiya kaman ceyalalit tankan
Aruntava yokam korukkai amarntate”.

“This mind is made to co-operate and to be in communion. It is sent through the path of Linga (or, it is made to get away from the phallic way). The action of Cupid is destroyed. The great meditation of rare penance becomes established at Kurukkai”. Arurar also feels that this story connotes a great mystic truth. He does not express it himself but asks of God, “What is the import? What is the significance of this victory of staring at Kama?” Why was he baked to be reduced to ashes?”

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