The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “bhikshatana-murti (the lord becoming a beggar)” 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 4.1 - Bhikshatana-murti (the Lord becoming a beggar)


The Brahmasirascheda Murti introduces the Bhikshatana Murti form and this may be now studied separately. We have already emphasized the revolution effected in making the horrid and terrific form, one of love. This is connected with the Kankala and Kapali forms.

Kankalamurti and Bhikshatana:

The description of the Kankalamurti is found in the Agamas which we have been mentioning—Kamika, Karana and Amsumadbheda. Kankalamurti with yajnopavita, a red uttariya and a cloth of skin is standing with the left leg straight and right leg slightly bent and forward as though in the act of walking. There is the jatamakuta with ‘umattam’ flowers, the crescent moon and the snake. His beaming face with half visible pearly teeth and ears of kundalas suggest that he is merrily smiling and singing. He has four hands. There is, in the right front hand, a short stick probably resined, to rub and vibrate the drum held on the left front hand. The back right arm holds the deer and the left the horizontal kankala danda—the bone of the arms and legs of the murdered person, tied up together with rope and adorned with peacock feathers and a flag, all of which hang on the left shoulder. There is. a gold dagger with a silver handle tucked up in the girdle. He wears a pair of sandals and a number of snakes. Bhutas romp, dance and sing whilst one carries a receptacle for alms. Women appear around him full of passionate love for him giving alms, blessing him and yearning for his embrace, with their clothes slipping down. Other devas and rsis are there in anjali pose or doing services such as sweeping of the path by Vayu, sprinkling of water by Varuna, carrying of the umbrellas by the Sun and the Moon and recitation of the Vedas by rsis. Bhikshatana form is similar.

Instead of the bana stick he holds the kapala. He has jatabhara or jatamandala. There is an ornamental band on the forehead. There are ornaments all over the body but with no clothing whatever except a snake coming as a waist string. Instead of the Kankala danda he carries the Trisula, similarly adorned.

Arurar refers to this episode in one verse:

Mai utirattinai errut tonru tolmicai kaleparantannaic cumanta maviratatta kankalan”

“He received the blood of Visnu (in his bowl) and bore the burden of the dead body on his prominent shoulder—He of the kankala of the great penance”.


In the sculptures of the Kailasanatha Temple there are many representations of Bhikshatana and Kankala Murti which are always found with two hands. In fig. 1 of Plate XLVI (Rea), we find a beautiful figure of Shiva with two hands as against four hands of the Agamas. The matted lock is divided at the centre of the crown and flows on either side freely downwards in eight parts on each side reminding us Arurar’s description—“Catai ettu”, He is holding on His shoulder a stick with what appears to be a handle at the lower end, on which He rests His left hand with three bends, one at the shoulder, the other at the elbow and the third at the wrist. The right arm crosses His chest with a right-angle-bend at the elbow and the palm and the fingers are above the left shoulders held in the suci mudra pose. Whilst the face, the chest and the trunk present the front view, the legs are twisted to the left showing their hind view, whilst their front portion faces the women opposite. The left leg stands as required by the Agamas straight on a wooden sandal with the knob between the toes. The right leg also wears this sandal but the leg is bent showing a forward motion. The cloth as a ribbon or a sash is knotted round the waist in front, one end of which reaches the left toe whilst the other end, remains as a loop and a free end, hanging on the right thigh. Probably there is also a girdle of gems or bones. There is a yajnopavita hanging cross-wise from the left shoulder and going over the hind part of the left knee. This is probably a serpent. Before Him sit kneeling, two women with ear-rings, bangles, armlets and necklace. A third is behind them. The other two are holding their hands across their chests crossed one over the other. Perhaps the expression is to reveal their love for this form which is naked. What appears to be a stick has already been explained to be the kankala and what seems to be a handle is probably the joint of the bones.

Rea’s plate LXI represents another Kankala murti. The matted locks are parted as in the previous case, but there is a crown on the head with rims artistically shaped as ‘pattam’ above the forehead as mentioned in the Agamas. The crown is conical with a lotus bud-like ending at the top. The portion below this bud appears to be shaped like the ‘arinellikkay’—a kind of gooseberry. The matted-locks escape through openings on either side of this crown. There is a curious weapon with a handle, the hatchet portion in the midale and the trident spears at the top. It appears to be a combination of a ‘trisula and a ‘parasu. This hangs as though in the air above His right shoulder. On the left is a round ring; if it is not representing the begging bowl, it must be taken to represent one of the ‘valaiyams’ found in abundance in these sculptures. The pose is very much similar to the other one except that the twist is to the right, and the left leg, as against the Agamas, is bent and held up in forward motion. The kankala is held on the right shoulder and the palm is resting on what appears to be the handle. At the top-most portion of this handle there is again a knob representing, as already hinted, the joint of the bones. From this knob flows around it, something like a chaurie. It has already been seen that the Agamas describe this kankala adorned at its head with peacock feathers and things similar to them. Therefore, the flowing chaurie-like thing can be taken as some such adornment of kankala. It is not a trident ascribed to Bhikshathna. There are hanging in his person, ear-rings, neck-lace, a broader garland of rubies or bones, two armlets on each shoulder and many bangles at the wrists. In addition to the flowing cloth of a sash, there is also a sash of serpents. The yajnopamta flows down and goes over the left knee-cap. There is at least a ring visible, in one of the fingers of the left hand, if it is not to be taken as an aksamala. A serpent with three heads is seen going round His right hand and making a loop near its neck. There is a woman standing on the left fully adorned and there is another kneeling on the right.

Plate No. XII, at its right hand corner of the top gives another representation of Bhikshatana form. Plate No. LXXXVI, fig. 5, gives this separately. The pose is like that of the figure in Plate LXI of Rea. One lady is kneeling down with an anjali pose, her face expressing love and joy. Her head is a little bent down to the left perhaps with a blush. Behind her is another woman who is holding up her left hand and placing her right hand on the right shoulder of the woman in front. She is holding up her hand also. There is a rsi at the right hand top corner; perhaps he represents the Darukavana Rsi, coming in haste and protesting against the women. Gopinatha Rao thinks that the pole held in one of the hands of Shiva is a ‘sikhi pinccha’. The other hand according to him keeps an aksamala and is held in cinmudra pose. He feels that there are no clothes worn. In other respects it is very much like Rea’s plate No. LXI except for the absence of the crown and the three headed serpent.


Coming to the later time we find an image of Picchadevar set up by Rajaraja’s queen Lokamahadevi. The following is the note of the epigraphist. “It consisted of the god Shiva with four arms in a standing posture accompanied on one side by a standing goblin (called generally Kundodara) carrying the begging bowl on his head, and by an antelope on the other. This description agrees in the main with the figure Bhikshatana murti which we find in Shiva temples.

Karanagama describes Bhikshatana thus:

Caturbhujam trinetram ca nagnam caiva smitananam
Bhasmadigdham vidrumabham katyam pannagasamvrtam
Avrttalanarta bhrngipadam padukasamyutam
Daksinam tatkaragram tu harinasyanugam bhavet

Daksine aparahaste tu damarum caiva karayet
Vame tvaparahaste tu trisulam pinchadharinam
Kuncitam daksinam padam vamapadam tu susthitam
Samabhangasthdnakam ca gamanonmukharupakam

Kapaldpetahastam ca vrsanabhisamam bhavet Evam
Bhikshatanam proktam gundodaramatho srnu

Devasya vamaparsve tu gundodaramadhahsthitam
Hastadvayasamayuktam kapalam sirasi nyaset

Bhutakarasamayuktam kundale karnayornyaset
Damstrukaralavaktram ca purvoktam laksananvitam

“In a niche on the south wall of the central shrine is a beautiful image of Picchandar but without the goblin and the antelope. It is worthy of note that there is a temple dedicated to Picchandar near Trichinopoly.”


On page 27, Rea describes what he calls a large finely carved figure of Jtmutaketu or the ‘cloud-bannered Shiva’ in the Mahendravarmesvara shrine. Here is his description: “He is represented with matted hair; the right knee bent; he has a richly carved crown, and neck, arm and leg ornaments. Over his left shoulder is a garland, with rings of what seem intended for bones; another has alternate square and round ornaments on each of which is a sculptured skull: these reach down to his anklets. The waist ornament is broad, and has several bends of different ornamental designs. The anklets are in circles of balls; and on the feet are well carved and ornamental sandals (padaraksa). On each sandal, the kumil—or small knob between the toes—is shown. On his left side is the three hooded naga, with its tail twisted upwards, and resting on his hand. The cloud banner held in a left hand over the shoulder, goes behind him and drops over the right, down to the waist; on the upper portion of the same side is—apparently—a club. A worshipping female figure stands on his right; two females are on the left, one of which profusely ornamented with jewels is kneeling and worshipping: the other female on the left side supports one of Shiva’s left hands. There are sorfie other minor attendants in the group.

“This panel is remarkably striking in the arrangement and execution of the whole design, even the smallest ornaments being clearly and beautifully cut”.

It will be seen that this description agrees with our description of two other representations of Kankala murti. In the absence of the clue given by the Agamas to identify the Kankala, Mr. Rea has erred in his interpreting this form as cloud-bannered Shiva. Kan-T. 52

kola form is not, according to the Agamas, naked as these figures and the Bhikshatana form. Perhaps there is an attempt to synchronize and synthesize the various forms of Kapali, Kankala and Bhikshatana,


To this important step taken about the time of Tevaram we must now turn. God goes a-begging. Before this stage of the Absolute, of union or unity is realized, the world stares us in the face with the varied souls and God, then, is the Lord of all. The intimate and interdependent relationship between the many souls and one God has however to be expressed in words.

Mystics in this connection always think of love especially fugitive love which is true and sincere. This is taken as the symbol of intimate spiritual relationship. God is the lover, the souls are the ladies in secret love with Him, giving up every other relationship with the world and running mad after Him. The ‘gopis’ and Krishna, the Rsipatnis and Biksatana [Bhikshatana?]—all these are but various attempts at expressing the inexpressible truth. The Kapali and Kankala forms—horrid, terrible and revolting at first sight—are thus beautified and sublimated so as to represent this mystic form of Biksatana.

Arurar sings of this story in a dramatic way, making the women, love and speak for themselves. They have to be considered at length in conection with Arurar’s mysticism. We may, therefore, at this stage restrict our study to the poetic way in which this Bhikshatana form is described by our poet.

The skull, the bones and the serpents, and other peculiarities of this form have already been noted. It was seen that in the Kapalika vrata, one must not beg in more than seven houses. But our poet speaks of the Lord begging in ten villages. In another place he speaks of the Lord going a-begging to many houses, which brings out the significance of the Lord going to the doors of all. This suggests that the word ten above mentioned should be interpreted as meaning many, unless there is a pun on the word ‘pattu’ to imply ‘Bhakti’. True to this, m other places, the poet speaks of Shiva going for alms to every house in every junction of the streets. Our poet also states that Shiva wanders on all the points of the compass for begging, and that he begs the whole world. He puns on the word ‘Arur’, which means both ‘Thiruvarur’ and a village of any one, and states that the Lord begs entering any village of any one. He goes to all and sunary, not only to the devotees; and, therefore, one love-sick woman sings, ‘Why roam about in all directions and receive alms? Pray, receive it only at the hands of the devotees who give with love and reverence’.

The Lord goes with the shining garment of skin and sings Samaveda, whilst begging. In addition to the Samaveda, He is said to sing many hymns. The word which is used is ‘Pathigam or a hymn of ten verses, a word which we have already discussed. The poet seems to suggest that even as the Saints of Tamil land as himself were going about in singing patikams, God also goes about singing ‘patikams probably in Tamil. That He sings Tamil songs is emphasized by the question, “Centamil-t tiram uallird?”.

Shiva carries on a conversation with the women telling them all sorts of fibs (kiri) and indulges in the play of deceit (patiru), The ‘panas of the low caste were the go-betweens; they were the messengers of love, bringing back the lover to the harlot or pacifying the rightful indignation of the truthful wife. All this kind of lustful talk is known as ‘pan after the ‘panas and the Lord according to the poet indulges in such talks of flattery, humility and lust with the women.

The ‘putam goes singing with him. ‘Paritam also follows him. We have suggested that the ‘putam’ etc., refer really to the ardent devotees of God. In keeping with this interpretation, we find the poet describing the Lord going to the doors of Rsipatnis in the company of atiyars or followers. Probably he differentiates the worshippers from the followers though he calls them both the ‘atiyar’ because he asks why the Lord is going for alms when there are the worshippers who intoxicated with his love, madly prattle, worshipping Him with sweet-smelling flowers and praising Him, do all that is good for Him. If these are not differentiated as worshippers and followers, we must hold in some cases that the Lord goes a-begging without the atiyars.


The poet speaks of the Lord going on the back of the bull, spurring it on. What is more curious is that He goes along with His wife on this escapade of love and this shows that it is not any pastime of the libertine that is hinted at but some mystic characteristic feature of God. The mother aspect is indivisible from Shiva. She is a creeper-like damsel who is but a moiety of Him, “Kurupatta koti”, and along with this partitioned better-half of a creeper, He goes a-begging. This suggests the Ardhanarisvara form, something which cannot be thought of, for a libertine’s way of life. In another hymn also the poet suggests our Lord coming with half of His form appearing with the damsel of the long eyes. The Lord is also said to come with the jingling ‘cilampu’ and resounding ‘kalal’ where the ‘cilampu’ the anklet, refers to the feminine half and the ‘kalal’ or the heroic-ring on the leg refers to the masculine half, thus suggesting once again the Ardhanarisvara form. ‘With the lady of the mountain on one side the Lord begs the whole world’—thus sings another hymn. The poet further groups together the bull, the putam and the lady of the red lips, red like the flower of the silk-cotton along with the Lord on his begging march One of the women refuses alms because of this very fact of his coming with his wife, even as another refuses because of the serpent he wears.

Here again it must be noted that He does not always go on his begging pilgrimage accompanied by his wife. ‘There is the Kamakkottam, the temple of your love and why then do you go for common alms?’, asks one woman. ‘That form of parsimony, the lady-love of yours in every village cooks for charitable distribution. Why then do you wait at every door for alms?’ asks another. Here is a word ‘cetti’ which has been interpreted above as one who is parsimonious and as referring to the mother. Otherwise it must refer to Shiva as a ‘vaisya’. Murukan (Murugan) is described as a cetti’s son, taking the form of ‘Uruttiracanmanar’, son of ‘Uppuri-kuti kilar’. No such story is told of Shiva. It may be that the speaker is referring to the miserly nature of Shiva in begging for alms whilst there is the lady-love feeding all. Another woman asks the Lord, ‘Are all this wealth amassed as a result of begging for alms at every door along with your followers, for your wife Uma’? What is important here is that the women are referring to the lady-love not as standing before them but remaining elsewhere as the lady of wealth and charity.


The poet gives some interesting particulars. He speaks of the Lord going at dusk—‘Anti’. In another place, he speaks of the Lord coming for alms at mid-day when the sun is at the zenith of the heaven—‘Ucci’. In the common place of the women companions, He goes for begging and the ferocious dogs probably frightended at His sight go into the house and bark. The word for the woman companion is ‘ceticci’. ‘Ceti’ means a womancompanion and also a servant and the word ‘ceticci’ must have been formed with an additional feminine suffix. Or, we may trace it to the word ‘ceti’ meaning the Vidhyadhara, world.

Perhaps by calling them denizens of Vidhyadhara, world, the poet wants to emphasize their superhuman aspect and their present life of love. The common place is made still more realistic. It is the place where the fruits of the palmyra fall down producing a ‘catacata’ noise. The alms given is mixed with the eatable ‘vatakam’. It is not clear that the word ‘uatakam’ was used in this sense in the age of Arurar; it may also mean small balls of food. The meaning obtaining at the time of Cilappatikaram and Cintamani is that of a valuable cloth, and the words in this hymn can be interpreted so as to mean that the Lord came with a variety of clothes or skins. In another place the poet speaks of the Lord knocking away the dried food, the women gave as alms—‘Unankal’, and this seems to suggest that ‘vatakam? as a dried preparation might have been known in Arurar’s age. If this is so, the Tamil Lexicon is evidently wrong in giving ordinary cooked food as the meaning for ‘Unankal’ in this verse, as the meaning of dried food material seems to be more appropriate.


The Tamilians are in mortal fear of begging. Tiruvalluvar comes down with a curse on God or the maker of the state, if he were responsible for the state of affairs in a society in which man has to drag on his existence by begging. To give is to live and our hand has to be always above that of others as it is in the act of giving; therefore, if such giving is not possible, the frightful death is more welcome That is Tiruvalluvar’s ideal. The poet, therefore, asks the Lord, ‘Why are you alive here if you are to live by begging for the crumbs thrown out?’. Propriety is spoken of in Tamil as the beauty of the moral grandeur. The women feel at first sight the impropriety of this begging of the Lord and they ask, ‘Is this in keeping with the beauty of your moral grandeur—Alaku’?. Or, ‘Is this in keeping with your characteristic feature—pamnai’?. Or, ils this the life worth the name—valkkaiye’?. Or, ‘Is this proper and just—takkate’?. ‘Will not your followers cry over this pathetic sight of your wandering through many villages?’, cries one. Or, ‘What will others say?’. This line of thought is, therefore, valid as far as it goes and the poet concludes, the Lord reveals himself as the true principle to those who supplicate to Him saying, ‘Why have you received alms’?. One pathetically exclaims, ‘Will not your followers cry over this sight of your wandering through many villages’?.

But this is only a prima facie view. The other hymns reveal the true essence of this picture. If this begging is not an occasional activity this must be so if its mystic significance is understood. ‘He will never leave off going for alms’, says one to the Lord. It is, therefore, a never ending activity till the last soul is saved. He loves this eating of the alms and, therefore, He dances all through the night in the fire The dance and cosmic activity are thus connected with this begging of souls. The Lord goes for alms dancing. Is not any act of His, a dance of the Bharati variety? The begging in the skull of the dead is His wealth and His great Tapas or Sacrifice—His crucifixion for us. He revels in this. He goes to every door saying, ‘Give me alms’. He loves with all His heart the alms thrown at the door. One who receives the alms, is the beggar—that is His name, and our poet has coined a phrase for this, “Pali kolli” He has no other food; His hunger for the love of souls is indeed so very much. He has no food except the common alms of the village for Himself to eat and for others to distribute. But He begs and distributes the alms received. God comes in quest of love and once He finds it, it is repaid a thousand-fold. ‘You receive the alms but you do not know any way of eating it’, so says a woman. That is because He does not know to withhold the love for Himself but He repays it all and more. Taken in this light, this form is no pretension but the true characteristic form of God. ‘Oh! our prince of the true form assumed at every door merely for the remnants of the alms’, so sings the poet.

Therefore, the poet calls him, ‘He whose characteristic feature is to go in quest of alms and eat whatever He gets’. The word used here is ‘Panpu’—‘Panputaiyan’ and this word ‘Panpu has a peculiar meaning of behaving befittingly after knowing the characteristic features of all those with whom one meets. The begging of love is thus a befitting act, befitting Him and befitting the environment of souls. This itself thus becomes the true test of divinity. The poet calls the Lord, “Pali terum Parametti”—Thou, Great Lord in quest of alms’. He is sure that the Lord who begs for alms at every door is the Lord, our master. There he sings in the hymn, ‘I shall not deride you for this characteristic of begging which is after all befitting the world’.


It is now clear that this begging form has an esoteric significance and, therefore, the woman asks the Lord to explain this mystery. ‘What is the significance of receiving alms’. ‘Why is this wandering on the bull for alms from house to house’? ‘What is this wandering, where you are so very much transformed’? This transformation is that of the Lord becoming a beggar.

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