The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “the pey, putam and paritam (different sorts of ganas, attendants)” 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

The Pey, Putam and Paritam (different sorts of Ganas, attendants)

[Note: for the context of this text, see chapter 3.8 section VII]


The burning ghat is associated with ghosts in the minds of primitive people and Shiva is said to be surrounded by Bhuta ganas. The Bhuta ganas come from the sacrificial fire of the Rsis which the Lord made His own army of followers. The Bhuta ganas were with Rudra, from the time of the Vedas. The Kesin and the Munis were looked upon as mad and diabolical. This tradition persists and devotees call themselves as ‘Peys’. ‘Pey and Pittan’ come to denote the Jnani. Have not the erratic critics mistaken Prophet’s divine trance for epilepsy? At the final dance of Shiva, these Saints who have attained Salvation are there, witnessing it singing, “Aham annam Aham annam” as told in the Chanodgya. There are in a sense the Bhuta ganas. Has not, according to Periapuranam, Karaikkal Ammaiyar prayed for remaining under the feet of the Lord when He dances: “Arava ni atumpotu nin atiyin kil irukka enrar”. It is in this way the devil dance has been sublimated into the mystic divine dance of joy.


Arurar coming after Karaikkal Ammaiyar, knows the significance of this so called madness and devilry. Has not he himself started addressing God as ‘Pitta’, the mad? The poet however differentiates amongst the ganas; he speaks of the three varieties: the pey, the putam and the paritam. ‘Pey’ from ‘pem’ meaning fear, is the frightful one—the paicaca or the ghost of the cremation ground. ‘Putam’ is Bhuta gana. ‘Paritam’ is traced by the Tamil Lexicon to ‘Parisada , an attendant of God; perhaps, it is better to trace to the form ‘parsa’ connected with ‘parsada , ‘parsati’ (Durga) in which case the derivation can be easily explained on the analogy of ‘Arṣa’ becoming ‘Aritam in Tamil. The meaning of goblin or a demon is clear in the Sanskrit word. It may also be a Tamil word but the derivation is not clear. Arurar mentions all the three in one verse and, therefore, must be taken to differentiate them—“Mutaya rwuyalakan, mukka-p pdmpu mutai nariya ventalai moytta palpey pata varu putankal pay pulittdl pariconrariyata paritan-kal” —thus he enumerates the surroundings of the Lord:—‘the idiotic epileptic; the furious and obstinate serpent; the pale skull smelling carcass, the innumerable and crowding ‘pey ; the Bhutas coming singing; the skin of the pouncing tiger; the paritams knowing not any manners’.


From this it would be seen the putams are made singers at the dance. “Tenna-t tena-t tet tenavenru pdti-c cila putamum ntrum ticai ticaiyana pannal marai patutir” —‘You sing for many days the four Vedas with a few putams in all the main points of the compass to the tune’, ‘Tenna-t tena-t tet tend . This phrase “Cila putamum mrum ticai ticaiyana —‘a few of the Bhutas and yourself are in every direction’, occurs in the first verse of this hymn as well. They seem to be all pervasive like the Lord. The poet again sings of the singing of the Bhutas—“Putam pdta-p purintu nattam puvani etta ata vallir —‘You are capable of dancing so well that the whole world praises you, performing your dance with all heart whilst Bhutas sing’. Again, “Errinai eruvar eri”, or, “eruvatu eri or putam tampal patti-k kontu unpavar” —‘He rides on the bull-thus riding, He makes one Bhutam on His side to sing whilst He eats the alms thus got’. In this verse,,we cannot interpret this to mean that the Lord riding on the Putam sings Himself, because of the force of the phrase, ‘tampul’ which is not at all brought out then. Going on the bull to dance with the Bhutas is very often referred to: “Ilavital vay umaiydtu eruteri-p putam icai pata itu piccaikku......ulitaruvir —‘You roam about for alms riding on the bull along with Uma of the lips red and soft like the silk cotton, whilst the Bhutas sing music’.


But the ‘pey’ also is said to sing. “Paraikkan netum pey-k kanam patal ceyya-k kural paritankal paraitam mulakka-p piraik-koi catai tala-p peyarntu nattam perunka taranka ninratal enne” —‘What is the significance of your abiding dance taking the cremation ground as your hall of dance when the braids, studded with the crescent, are unfurled and flown down whilst the army of tall ‘peys’ of the drum-like eyes, sing and the dwarfish paritams make the drum resound’. “Patal ceyya” may mean composing verses. In the ‘Parani’ the peys describe and sing the battlefield where they feast on the blood and flesh. This then, will be the natural characteristic of the pey even according to tradition. Perhaps the peys in the ecstasy of the dance forget the propriety; there is a higher harmony of love and Grace even in this impropriety.


In the same way, ‘paritam’ also is made to sing. “Patti ceytu paritankal pati ata-p pali kollum pittar” —‘The mad man who receives the alms whilst the ‘paritams' out of love to Him sing and dance’: Thus sings Arurar. This may simply refer to the Pasupata act of worship without any reference to music. It is only with reference to the ‘Putam’ and ‘a few’—‘cila’ chosen ‘putams’—that are made to sing the Vedas and give a performance of music in terms of tunes. There are about nine references to the Bhutas and of them in five places they are made to sing.


Considering the other four cases, one of them may refer to the Bhutas or the living beings—‘Bhuta nathan’, the Lord of the Bhutas, or the Lord of beings. The other reference speaks of the Lord coming on the bull along with the damsel surrounded by the Bhutas dancing and singing in their intoxication of love—“Varuvar vitaimel matotu makilntu puta-p patai cula”—‘makilcci’ corresponding to ‘makilntu’ used here, is the dance of intoxication, though it has come to mean merely to be happy. ‘KalittaF and ‘makiltal’ are differentiated by Tiruvalluvar in Kural 1281. Parimelalakar explains that in ‘kalittal’, the first stages of intoxication, the drunkard is still conscious, whereas in ‘makiltal’, the second stage, he is not conscious of himself. There he dances and signs and prattles. Taken in that sense the Bhutas may be said to sing as well. ‘Makilcci’ here denotes the effacement of the self and the divine bliss. It may mean merely the joy of God’s presence. Or, the joy may be the joy of the Lord in the presence of the damsel of divine Grace. In the third reference, “Cila putauium nirum ticai ticaiyana”, their all pervasiveness with the Lord standing alone is mentioned, as already noted; but the same words are repeated in the 6th verse of the hymn where what they do is explained at length—they are singing a tune and reciting the Vedas. As the poet, though in one place, speaks of the army of Bhutas, often speaks of a few Bhutas, the word ‘pda’ or many has to be taken along with Pey’—“pal pey”—which alone are said to crowd and swarm.


The ‘paritams’ are mentioned in eight places. “Pariconrariya-tana paritankaV’ —‘The ‘paritams’ which do not know any dignity, or way of doing things or any order (paricu)—all suggesting the effacement of self—a non-worldly behaviour of the saints. They are made dwarfish as contrasted with the tall giant-like ‘peys’. “Netum, peykkanam patai ceyya, kurat paritankal paraitam mulakka ‘ —this refers to their ‘naicyanusandhana’—‘The group of giant-like tall ‘peys’ compose verses and sing whilst the dwarfish ‘paritankal’ beat the drum’. In another place, Arurar speaks of the army of dwarfs. Though tradition knows ‘kural putam’ and ‘kurat paritam’, in view of the above reference, this army of dwarfs has to be interpreted as the army of dwarfish ‘paritam. In this verse the poet spenks of his wonder at seeing God coming on the way to Koodalaiyathoor accompanied by the Devas of Vedas, Visnu, Brahma, Indra, in the company of the damsel of crescent forehead, surrounded by the crowd of ‘pays’ and the army of dwarfs. He being followed by gods is as important as His being followed by ‘paritam’ and ‘pey’, in the eyes of Arurar. All the supernatural beings are around Him—‘The many ‘paritams’ surround Him when He dances on the cremation ground’—“Mayanattu-p pari-tankal pala cula-p payinratum parametti”But their rendezvous is not the cremation ground as it is for the ‘peys’. They follow the Lord wherever He goes. The poet sings, “Paranta paritam ur itai-p pali parri-p parttunum aurram ayimr” —‘The paritams spread themselves out in villages; they clutch at the alms; they eat glancing this side and that; you have become the near and dear relative of these surrounding you, these encircling relatives’. ‘Curram’ may mean the constant attendants. ‘They spread out and come always surrounding Him’, “Paranta paritam cula varu-vcr”. They are His devotees too, worshipping Him, with Bhakti or love, singing and dancing (as Pasupatas do, if we may say so); ‘whilst they come, all concentrated on Him singing and dancing (perhaps as His attendants submerged in Him and doing His work as their work), the Mad Lord, receives the alms’—“Patti ceytn paritankal vatiyata-p palikollum pittar”. These dwarfs—goblins—suggest the errand boys of all duties. They play the part of a drummer as already mentioned. These carry (His) weapons and praise His feet (i.e., keep themselves ready to do His errands) ‘whilst the Lord with the damsel speaking no truth goes about clothed in one single loin cloth’—“Matum nirum utaiyor kovanat-taraki unrnai collir”.


The ‘pey’ is mentioned fourteen times; that is, more frequenty than the paritam and putam, because it is the good old Tamilian word and a Tamilian conception. The ‘peys’ were imagined in the Cankam age to dance round the chariot of the hero on the battle field—‘munter-k kuravai’ and ‘pinter-k kuravai’ of Tolkappiyam. They were thought of as ghosts, approaching with avidity the carcass of the dying hero, for, the heroes were a delicacy to these peys. These conceptions lay at the bottom of ‘Totakkanci and Peykkanci of Tolkappiyam. Even these cannibals are moved by the dying hero who cannot be taken care of in the thick of the battle by his colleagues or his family. There is here thus the humanizing of the ghost—a way of sublimating the idea of the devil as the embodiment of love. They are even according to the Vedas, ‘kravyad’—the eaters of raw flesh and of the flesh of a sick man.

Maturai-k kanci and other Cankam poems speak of ‘Kalavelvi’—the cooking of the feast of the blood-curdling battlefield developed into the Paranis of later days. Nakkirar in his Tirumurukarruppatai describes the dance of the pey—the ‘tunankai’ dance in praise of Murukan (Murugan)—another way of sublimating the devil dance into a dance of love. Karaikkal Ammaiyar uses this conception of ‘Pey for explaining the inexplicable stage of the Saints. She called herself a ‘pey’. The Saint is in a sense out of the ordinary. His values are different from those of the ordinary men. He yearns for the unknown, looking upon the ordinary men hankering after their passions and material pleasures as mad people. “He sleeps where others are awake; he is awake where others are asleep”—so says the Gita. He is almost dead here to be alive there. What the world throws out and abhors, he gathers and cherishes. Is it not exactly what the ‘pet/’ is said to do? It haunts the burning ghat and feasts on the thrown out refuse of the bone and the carcass; the cremation ground is its hall of dance, where, by its very devil dance, it besmears its whole form with the dust of the burning ashes—“Puccoliyzr Karaikkal Ammaiyar gives a realistic colour to this allegorical ghost woald, by speaking of the babe ghost and mother ghost and all their loving acts. “Peyotati” has therefore, become the name of Shiva in Pinkalantai.


Arurar comes, after all these developments have taken place, and it is the underlying idea of an allegory that makes him and other poets to sing of the ‘pey’ without any revulsion whatever. The Lord according to Arurar dances in the graveyard—so much He loves it and the corpses which the ‘peys’ do not leave—the graveyard which is ever their abode—“Pey mard-p pinam itu katu ukantu atuvay” He is again the king of the cremation ground where live the peys—“Peykal valum mayanattu-p periya peruman atikale” He, in the eyes of our poet, loves or performs the dance with the ‘pey’ in the outside forest of cremation—Ima-p purankattil peydtu atal purivane”. The idea of the group dance is here suggested. This is the sublimation of the devil dance. These ‘peys’ are cruel and bad—from the point of view of the world—and He dances surrounded by them—“Tuttarayina peykal cula natamdti. There is a more graphic description of the graveyard. It is a midnight revel and a dance. It is the dark forest. The fox stealthily catches hold of a skull. The wolf raises the alarm. The ‘peys’ with flaming heads surround Him on all sides—is it in kuravai dance?—“Mari talai-k kavva ninru dri kuppita nal irul eri talai-p pey cula dr irul kattitai”, This reminds us of Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s Mutta Thirupathigam. The omnipotent God can never do two things. He can never renounce, being surrounded by the ‘peys” whilst riding on the bull. He can never forget the cremation ground. He accepts it as His abode and dances always there—“Perram, eri-p pey cultal turavay maravay cufukatu enrum itama-k kontu natamdti”. This seems to be something intrinsic about His Divinity, about His divine Grace. The damsels to whom the Lord goes to beg entreat Him to leave off this devil dance. ‘Your eyes, your mouth (words), your form are pure. Your cloth is made of stitched up rags. Leave off this dancing with the ‘peys’ in the cremation ground. Are you mad?’—“Tuyawar kannum vayum meniyum tunnavatai cutalaiyil peydtu atalai-t tavirum mr om pittaro”? Here is thus an attempt to connect this dance with Bhikvatana form. This midnight dance, He dances with the many Bhutas and the ‘pegs’ of the clear (vision)—“Telliya pey pala putam avarrotu nallirul notta-matu total navinror”. The description “telliya pey” is a tell-tale phrase where the allegory is almost non-existent. The Yoga Narasimha is called by Tirumankai Alvar of the Pallava Age, “Telliya Ciyam” where this word ‘Telliya’ is itself used.

The old ideas about the ‘pey’ are not absent in this verse. The peys’ eyes are like the kettle drum—“Paraikkan”. They are giant-like, unlike the dwarfish paritams: they compose verses or sing as already explained. The pey’s mouth is full of flesh—“Pulal vayana peg”. The Lord dances on the ashes and gets besmeared with ashes. This besmearing He will never leave—“Pulal vtoyana peyotu puccoliyir”. Or, this may mean, ‘He can get rid of making commotions with them’. The immensity of form is again emphasized: ‘The Lord stands in the great forest of cremation along with the group of huge and giant-like peys’—“Perunkattakattir perumpeyum nirum.... nimr”. This pey is one of the ganas. The poet speaks of the ‘peykkanam’. Here the idea is not so much the gana as the crowding of these around the Lord, “Moytta pal pey” —‘the peys which swarm round you’—the verb ‘moytta’ suggests the simile of the bees swarming in the honey.


This survey reveals three gradations. ‘Bhutas’ almost identifying with God, represent the few great souls, the siddhas; the peys as revealed by the phrase, ‘telliya pey’ represent the yogis; the ‘paritams’ are the attendants doing all service and all worship—the ‘tontar’ and ‘bhaktas of the path of caryd ganas and kriya ganas usually grouped together. Arurar enumerated in one place three kinds of followers of Shiva—the ‘anputaiyar’, ‘tontar and ‘pattar . He calls upon the ‘anpar’ to dance, the ‘pattar’ to sing and ‘tontar to adorn their heads with Shiva’s feet. This classification seems to agree with the description of the ‘pey ; as dancers—the Anpar; the Putam as singers—the ‘Pattar ; and the Paritam as followers—the Tontar. In other places, he groups the worshippers under the two heads of ‘Pattar and ‘Cittar —the ‘cittar or Siddhas are those who have achieved the jwanmukta stage and the ‘pattar’ or Bhaktas are those who are on the way to jwanmukta stage—“Pattar cittar . In this verse he speaks of the many (palar) and one may argue that this group refers to the third group of ‘Tontar but in another place he speaks of ‘Pattar and ‘Cittar and uses the word ‘pala as qualifying ‘Pattar —“pala pattar” suggesting that such an interpretation is not correct.

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