The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “kalasamhara-murti (markandeya and the conquest of death)” 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 3.6 - Kalasamhara-murti (Markandeya and the conquest of death)


Conquest of death is the dream of man. Shaivites represent this as realized in the Sage Markandeya. There are two sides to every act of God. From one point of view it is destruction and punishment; from another point of view it is purification and grace. Markandeya’s eternity is the Death of Death. Kalasamhara Murti or Kalari Murti is the embodiment of this heroic act of Shiva. The story of Markandeya is very popular in Tamil. There was a poet of his name in Cankam age singing the ephemeral nature of this world. It is assumed by all, that the Saint Tiruvalluvar refers to this story of Markandeya? According to the puranas, he was the son of Mrkandu, who performed austerities for being blessed with a child. Shiva, according to the former’s choice, gave only one child to live for 16 years, rather than useless chilaren who might live up to an old age. This was Markandeya, and when he was about to reach his 16th year, sorrow clouded his parents’ brows, and the boy went to worship Shiva. Yama’s servants failed to carry him to Yamaloka, whereupon, Yama himself came. Whilst about to bind him, Markandeya embraced the Linga and Shiva sprang forth from there, kicking Yama to death. However, Yama was revived, and Markandeya was ever sixteen years of age. This heroic feat, according to Tamilian tradition, took place at Thirukadaiyur—the city of ambrosial pot. in the Tanjore District, one of the eight Virattanams.


The Agamas describe the image of this murti. He stands with his right foot on a seat of lotus, whilst the left is raised up, so that its toe may hit against Yama’s chest. He has three eyes, lateral tusks, jatamakuta, four or eight arms, the right hands in the former case carrying the trident lifted up to the ear and the hatchet or varada pose, the left hands being in suci pose near the naval and vismaya pose near the crown.

In the latter case of eight arms, the right hands carry trident, hatchet, vajrayudha and the sword; whilst the left hands carry a shield, a rope, vismaya pose, and suci pose. Yama, with karandamakuta and with a look pleading for mercy, is nearby with two arms, holding pasa in one and raising the other in anjali. Instead of suci pose, there may be varada pose holding the skull and instead of vismaya pose, the deer may be held. The silpasangraha places the trident and the kettle drum in the right hands and the varada pose and the hatchet in the left hands. Kamikagama places the left leg on the ground whilst the other leg kicks. Trident and hatchet are in the right hands, whilst a serpent-noose and suci pose are in the left hands. Shiva’s eyes and His sula are turned towards the neck of Yama who has fallen down. This Agama describes another form in which Markandeya is found worshipping and where Yama is seen to have fallen down, while Shiva in the Linga looks like the Lingodbhava Murti. According to Karanagama, Parvati also is there.


In a sculpture of the Dasavatara cave, Ellora, Shiva kicks Yama near his navel; in another, He kicks on Yama’s chest.

In the Chandragiri image, Markandeya is found with a noose round his neck, embracing the Ling a, from which Shiva rushes out to attack Yama.

The forms found in the Tamil Country are like the one described in Kamikagama. The Tamilian representation of this form is really a dance on Yama as found in Thirukadaiyur, just like those of Patlisvaram and Tiruccenkattankuli, where Shiva, with hatchet, deer, skull and the prominent trident with its head turned down on Yama, is standing with His right or left leg on the fallen Yama and kicking him with the other leg on his chest.


Coming to the sculptures in the age of Arurar, we find fig. 2, in Pl. XXXVIII in Rea’s Pallava Architecture, reminding us of the modern images of the Tamil land described above. In this basrelief, Shiva has eight hands with the left leg lifted up as in Tiruccenkatlankuti image. The hatchet, the noose, the sword, the serpent, the vismaya and suci poses are there. The most important thing is that the trident is not there. Markandeya also is not there. Joveau Dubreuili refers to fig. 2, Pl. XXXV of Rea, as a representation of Kalari murti. Here, Shiva holds the trident upwards in His right hand. The right arm is held up in vismaya pose. Of the midale right arms, one is holding a club, whilst it is not clear what the other is holding. The left upper hand holds the bow; the midale left has the noose; the lower one is held in a pose where two fingers are raised up.

Visnu is on the left with his hands in anjali pose. There is a figure in front, on the left, holding its right hand to the height of its crown and the left hand to its chest as though preventing in a prayerful mood, full of emotion of fright. This must be Yama. There is a figure on the right hand bottom corner, with five cobra heads up above the head. In between these two figures is a smaller figure—perhaps a boy—and this must be Markkandew. Perhaps Visnu represents the Higher regions and Naga the nether regions. The form of Shiva appears in a diamond-like rhombus, of which the lower angle alone is visible. This reminds us of the Lingodbhava murti. If so, this is very much like the second form given above in Kamikagama, to this extent.


There is another representation of this episode on the panel on the north side of the shrine at the N. W. corner of Vimana, in plate liv. Shiva holds a pasa on the left upper hand and hitting down with a trident held up in the raised up right hand. The right lower arm is not seen. A small face is seen between the right arm and Shiva’s hip. It is holding a weapon with a long pole-like handle. Or, is it the pasa thrown round Markandeya on Linga, from which Shiva has leapt up? Shiva is in Atibhanga form full of motion. There is another figure with a club which suggests that it is Yama. The central panel may suggest the dance of victory on Yama, like the one in plate xxxviii, with this difference, that Yama is lying here on his chest and not on his back.


The idea, in referring to these details in the Agamas and the sculptures, is to show that the images described in the Agamas are of a later date and even then they were not authoritative prescriptions but only illustrative descriptions, that the images grew out of the dramatic poses seen in the sculptures which were in turn inspired by the poetry of the Puranas generally and more specially by the poetry of Tevaram. These episodes of puranas must have been enacted as proved by quotations given by us under other forms of Shiva from Cilappatikaram and Nataka Sutras. The striking scenes from these poems were shown in basreliefs by the sculptures; for, till very lately, there was nothing but the Linga as image in Shaivite temples. Rajasimha it was, who first introduced the Somaskanda form as a basrelief on the interior side of the back wall of the shrine. It was in his age that the forms of the various so called later images came to be sculptured. It will be shown later on, that Arurar belonged to this age. This comparison is necessary for showing the inter-relation of his poetry and those sculptures.


There are two important parties in this drama of Yama. Shiva is the centre of this circle of a drama, with Yama and Markandeya as two poles. Markandeya is a vedic Brahmin “Maraiyon” and its other form is “Maraiyavan”. He is a saint of loving heart—“Antanalan” as interpreted by Tiruvalluvar. He is a Snani’ —a Brahmacari—an unmarried boy. To increase the effect of contrast between the powerful Yama and the boy, the poet calls him a ‘Bala’. But he is a great boy, “Perumpalan” as is proved by his act. He was well-versed and perfect in the Vedas, “Maraiydn”, and the various sastras or arts. The import of these inspired him to worship at the feet of the Lord with all care and devotion—“Nirampu pal kalaiyin porulale porrit tan kalal tolu-mavan” ‘What is the use of learning, if the learned worship not at the feet of the Lord of pure knowledge?’asks Tiruvalluvar. “You are my only refuge”—so saying he fell at the feet of the Lord—“Tancam enru tan talatu atainta palan”, He is therefore “Ati7/an”—the man of his feet; He is a servant; a saint. When one takes refuge in the Lord, he has no egotism; no selfish interest; he is submerged in Him; it is all thereafter God’s work, whatever he may do. God becomes his beloved—“Varamay”. He worshipped God’s feet in the traditional way with fresh flowers bubbling with honey; the Lord is fond of this flower-offering, of beauty, love and self-sacrifice; for, the worship is born of subdued and conquered mind; volcanic passions become peaceful and calm in love towards God—“Arum anpar”, These lovers are happy in offering themselves and their love—“Jttukantur”. It is the worship of such that Lord likes most, “Ukantar malar-p pucai iccikkum iraivar”. He is a “munivar”, a saint.


According to ancient Tamil literature, man’s marriageable age is sixteen; he becomes then a man, whilst he remains a youth or palan, “Mani” or Brahmachari, till then. Markandeya was in that age of the limit of boyhood. He was the cream of the culture of his day, spiritually and intellectually. He was performing worship at the feet of the Lord. To him came Yama. He was “Kurram” one who divides the life from the body on the appointed day. The forms “Kurram”, “Kurru” , “Kurran” are found. He is pre-eminent and great that way—“Arunkurru”, not like others bringing life to an end. The other word used by the poet is—“Majankaian” —a word as old as the Cankam literature. It means one making life go back; one who brings out involution; one who brings about absorption. The secondary meanings of end, lion, thunderbolt, and the submarine fire bringing out the end of an aeon suggest the cruel strength of Yama. He is the Lord of time—the lord of life, coming like an untailing clock—“Kuriyil valuvak kotun kurru”, correct to the second. He is ‘kalan’. He is an angry hard-hearted adamantine—“Venkalan”, “Katiya vankalan” and cruel Kata. But all the same, there is Dharma in his act, giving no room for any partiality working like a law of nature; he is Dharma meting out even-handed justice—“Taruman”. Yama is used in the Tamilian form—“Naman”. He carries the Danda or the Club: it is his sign—“Tantamutait taruman”. He spreads his net of a paca or rope—“Valaiyam vaitta kurram”. He carries the spear (sula) with blots or stains of blood—“Karai koi velutaik kalan” With all these paraphernalia he went on Markandeya. He knew not what would follow or what should follow—“Vilaippariyata venkalan”. Intoxicated by his irresistibly hard and crushing victories, he came on him who had taken refuge in the feet of God with no interest or thought or act of his own—on one submerged in His feet. The poet contrasts the child and Death with effective assonance—“Palan mel vanta kalan” The same idea of the contrast between the boy who has not reached manhood and the Lord of the very end of times, is again emphasised—“Mani tan mel vanta Kalan”. It was not only intoxication of power, blinding his eyes to the future, but the cruel-heartedness knowing no sympathy that egged Yama on to rush with bubbling anger on this innocent child—“Palanataruyir mel pariyatu pakaittelunta Kalan” unable to brook an obstacle on his way. Whilst the innocent youth was forgetting himself—in his self-surrender to God, Yama, regardless of this, came to bind him with his rope—“Mati-yate kattuvan vanta Kalan”, to remove his life—“Tolumava-naruyiraip pokkuvan”

There was nothing more to be done by the boy. This intoxication of power, recklessness about the future, diabolical disregard for childish innocence and complete absence of love on the part of Dharma or executor of the law of Nature demanded divine intervention. God stood between Yama and the boy Saint—“Vilankalan” the loving God. His eyes became red with anger—“Kancivappan”. The eyes turned blue with increased rage and hatred of this unrighteousness—“Karuttan”He was burning with rage against him—“Kalantannai-k karuttan”. The anger expressed itself in a kick “Kalan-ciriya kalutaiyan” God leapt up and dashed against Yama—“Pay nt a”. This fact is made impressive by assonance—“Kalarariya kalutaiyan”, “Kalanaik kal kotu vintaviya-k kolli”: This follows the pattern of the name “Kalakala”, the Yama unto Yama, the Lord of Time for the Lord of Time himself. There is an underlying meaning of Kal. The anger did not pass beyond the leg. The kick was on the heart—“Nencilor utai konta”™ The beautiful and tender toe but touched him—“Tirumelviralal”. The chest gave way with a tear—“Uram kiliya”. The revulsion felt by His feet of many past victories against the diabolical act of Yama was indeed so great—“Mun cayamar patattal munintukanta”. There was a happy satisfaction at this inborn revulsion—“Ukanta”. The kick was a terrible feat—“Utaitta kotuntolil”. This description of the kick on the chest must have inspired the Agamas to describe this pose as mentioned above. Yama was confused—“Kalafiga”. God smashed him—“Kumaitttin”. Yama fell down—“Vila” on the ground perhaps like a heap of feathers—‘Pattukum paritai’. The life was as it were hacked to bits—“Cekutta”. The light of Yama was put out—“Vintaviya”, The measurer of time had his own life measured out and cut—“Kalan kalamaruttan”. The poet revels in this pun and oxymoron. Yama who came to snatch away the life of the boy, his great life itself was snatched away by God—“Vanta kalantan druyir atanai vavvinay”. His life went back—“Matiya” to involute. This Yama was famous for separating the life from the body but his life itself was now thus separated. He came to make the life depart from the worshipping Saint, and God thrust aside the very life of Yama. He who destroyed others’ lives, had his own life destroyed—“Uyir vittinir”. He was killed. God was this great executioner. Thus did the Lord punish—“Katintitta”; this worst suffering was inflicted on Yama with the legs. God was victorious in this straight fight without any trickery of military stratagem—“Kalanaik kalal katanta”. Verily He is “Kalakala”.

It is true it was the kick that was glorified for the heroic feat. The heroic kick appears to Arurar as God’s creation. But God carried also the murderous spear, shaped like three leaves. Its juxtaposition with the kicks suggests that they were both responsible for the victory. Do not the Agamas refer to this trident? He had the weapon of a hatchet or an axe, felling Yama down after kicking him down—“Kurrutaitta eriyum maluvat pataiyan” In the plate of Rea, the axe is held downward by Shiva as though in a position to use it on Yama.


The story has, like others, a significance of its own. Every destruction of God is a constructive act. Weeding is necessary for cultivation. “Konray kalan uyir kotuttdy maraiyonukku” gives expression to this truth most beautifully, especially because the poet has made the one word ‘Uyir’—‘hfe’—to swing forward as an object of the verb ‘konray’ (killed), and swing backward as the object of the verb ‘Kotuttay’ (gave), like the light of the central place illuminating in front and back. The doctrine of grace is the message of Arurar. Laws of Nature are but servants of the Lord and of those who take refuge in Him. This is one of the stories, which, the poet states, has inspired him to take refuge in God.

This conquest of Yama has to be an ever-recurring episode. “I have myself to be saved from the messengers of Yama”. “God protects, at Annkatankapatam, my people also from the people of Yama” In a hymn, the poet suggests indirectly that unless he worships God like Markandeya. hearing the words that Yama, spreading his net, is standing just above our heads in the sky, he cannot be saved. This is the significance of the eternal play of the Lord.


It is not Markandeya alone who was saved; Yama also was purified. He also was released from ignorance and intoxication of power. He was purified and sublimated. Yama was thus released of the fetters. “What is this mystery? What is the import of all this?” asks the poet. The esoteric meaning is thus emphasised.

Has not Tirumular himself sung,

Mulat tuvarattu mulum oruvanai
Melait tuvarattu melura nokkimun
Kalurruk kalanaik kdyntanki ydkamay
Jnalak katavur nalamay iruntate

The Saint here seems to be suggesting an explanation of Yoga: “From the muladhara flashes forth the One. He should be seen up above the Sahasrara also (or, the inner principle as the one of the supervening exterior should be seen). Death is conquered through breath. This is the Yoga of Fire. (Or, there He is well in Yoga). He is comfortable in Katavur (which means the city of the body in the world).

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