The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “(e) arurar’s references to dance” 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 4.3 - (e) Arurar’s references to Dance


In more than sixty places Arurar has referred to the dance of Shiva. But the references to the dance at Cidambaram is restricted to three places only. In this, we have not taken into account the mention of ‘Puliyur-t tiruccirrampalam’ ten times in the koil hymn. According to the Periyapuranam tradition, this hymn was sung by Arurar at Cidamabaram describing the vision he had, of the Lord, at ‘Perur’ on the banks of the river ‘Kanci’ in the ‘Konku natu . This tradition is confirmed by the last verse of Arurar’s hymn 90. The first verse in this hymn describes the Lord holding ‘Damarukam or ‘Utukkai , ‘Eriyakal or the fire-pot, and ‘Kariya pampu or the cobra. This is not what we find at Cidambaram. It is true that Appar speaks of the serpent and the skull in his second Koil Tirukkuruntokai. But he refers to these in relation to the dance of Shiva in the burning ground. The form of Nataraja holding the serpent is to our great surprise found at Perur and that is why Arurar speaks of Perur vision in the last verse. This is very significant and reveals to us the painstaking researches of Cekkilar. This form is often referred to by Arurar. With reference to the Bhikshatana form, this had already been noticed. In the Kailasanathar temple and other temples of Conjivaram, we had found Shiva as dancer holding a serpent in His hand.

It is very unfortunate that the hymn which he first sung on his visit to Cidambaram is not now in existence. It must have been a glorious description of the dance, from what Cekkilar says of that hymn. But there are three other references to Cidambaram, i.e., in three different hymns. After singing the 90th hymn above referred to at Cidambaram, according to Periyapuranam, our poet goes to Thiruvarur and starts again on another pilgrimage towards the north. He passes through Cidambaram and when he reaches his old place Thirunavalur, he is reminded of Cidambaram and mentions it in the 6th verse of his 17th hymn “Attan-kontar Tillai-c Cirrampalatte”—‘He began dancing in Cirrambalam in the small hall at Tillai’. Before going to Cidambaram, whilst passing through ‘Thirukolakka’, he speaks of having a vision of the dance of Cidambaram. This is reminiscent of his previous vision at Cidambaram itself. “He who was pleased with accepting me as His servant being His confidant, the Lord of the eternal, He who is keeping by His side the Mother of Kumara, has made the Ganges to be hidden in the Heavens, the pure Shiva, the rich honey, the dancer who fills up and dances in the Tillai hall, the great gem of my teacher, Him I have verily seen at Thirukolakka”. The hall being full with the dance, the subjective experience of the poet shows how the poet was moved at Cidambaram.

According to Periyapuranam, when Arurar was going on a pilgrimage along with Ceraman Perumal Nayanar, he had a dream one day at Tirucculiyali a dream of the Lord as a youth and then he sang the 84th hymn: “When am I to see this youth of Kannp-perur?” He refers there to his previous sight of the Lord at Cidambaram, in verse No. 5. He refers to the beauty of the bull, the beautiful and sweet smelling mat-lock, the boquet of Konrai blooming in bunches, the tender lady of the jasmine-like teeth with passionate love, the beautiful dance performed in the hall in the city of Tillai, the powerful hatchet, the blazing fire on the hand and the characteristic features of His followers playing on the drum called ‘Kallavatam’ and explains, “When am I to see all this and the youth of Kanaper?”.

Except in these three places and the Koil hymn, the references to the dances are not to this kind of dance which has now become popular and almost universal in all temples but to the dance performed on the burning ghat and at the door of the Rsipatnis of Darukavana.


We found in our study of the Kailasanathar temple sculptures that the Nadanta dance of Cidambaram was conspicuous by its absence. All the dances are of the wild and terrific variety. The similarity between the majority of descriptions of dance found in Arurar and the representative figures of Shiva’s poses in the Kailasanatha temple is indeed very significant, revealing to us the spirit of the age and the particular stage of the popularity of the various dance poses in the history of the Tamilian conception of Shiva’s dance.


It has been found that the Dance of Shiva described by Arurar refers to the dance at the burning ground. The words used by Arurar with reference to this place are, “Mutukatu”; “Itukatu”; “Cutalai”; “Karikatu”; “Cutukatu”; “Katta-k katu”; “Pinakkatu”; Pinamitu katu”; “Pinampatu katu”; “Mayanam”; “Imam”; etc.

Mayanam” is the Tamil form of the Sanskrit word ‘Smasana’, derived from the roots, ‘Sma’ (Corpse) and ‘Sa’ (Sleep) signifies the place of corpses, the “Pinakkatu”, “Pinampatu katu”. ‘Katu’ is the place of wild growth; it was a place outside the village where the dead were buried or burnt. Because it is a wild growth of bushes, it is called a ‘Turu’—wild bush. Because it is outside the village, away from the waste or pasture lands of jungle growth, it is Called “Purankatu” or the outside wood. In view of the horror of death, it is called “Pollappurankatu”. It is the wild of death—“Papukatu”. Usually the cremation used to take place at dusk or in the last part of the evening. Hence this place is called the “irutkatu”—the wild waste of darkness. ‘Cutu’ is to burn and “Cutu katu” is the wild place in which corpses are burnt. ‘Cutalai’ from ‘Cutu’ means the place of cremation. Because of this burning, this wild place appears charred and full of cinder and hence it is “Kari katu”—the burnt or charred wood. There is also a custom of burying the dead and, therefore, the burial ground is called “Itukatu” and it is made clearer as “Pinam itu katu” —“Pinak-katu” the place where the corpses are thrown or buried. Therefore the kites fly there to prey upon the dead bodies; hence is the name of the wild waste, carrying the kites—the hovering kites look as though being supported by the force of this wild waste “Paru tankiya katu”. ‘Katu’ as the place of wild growth comes from the root ‘katu’—the harsh, the wild and the bitter and ‘katumai’, ‘katukkay’, ‘katuku’, ‘katuvay’ are traceable to this root. ‘Kattam’ from the same root is a variant form of ‘katu’ with the suffix ‘am’; it means according to Tivakaram, a jungle. Our poet Calls the burning ghat as “Kattakkatu” a compound of words in duplicate, if one may use the term. On the analogy of “Kaittalam”, “Caraippampu”, etc., one may say that the second term ‘katu’ has become a generic name whilst ‘kattam’ was the special name of burning ghat. Here is also a suggestion of sorrow, on account of the similarity between the Tamil word ‘kattam’ and the Tamil form of the Sanskrit word ‘kasta’. It is ‘Perunkatu’, the wild expanse. The greatness or ‘Perumai’ is explained by another name. It is ‘Mutu katu’, the most ancient jungle. As one Cankam poet sings it has seen generation marching away out of this world; they showed their back or presented it with a pair of heels but nobody has seen it march out. This is what Tolkappiyar calls “Katu valttu”. Hence the name “Mutu katu. This is the Hall of His dance—“Kataranku”; “Perunkataranku”. All His Hall of Dance is the beautiful grave yard. ‘Imam’ is another word which the poet uses along with “Purankatu”, “Imappurankatu”. This is from the word ‘Im’ with the suffix ‘am’. Tolkappiyar gives the form ‘Im’ and Naccinarkkiniyar explains it there as the burning ground.

The ghosts—the Pey, the Paritam and Putam—are said to crowd the burning ground. Their dance with the Lord had already been described in our description of Kapali form. We have referred to the serpent He holds. The serpents dance whilst He dances, especially the serpents on the cloth of the tiger skin. Rea’s plate CIX, fig. 1 already noticed, represents the swinging of the serpents from the waist in Shiva’s dance. The burning ghat is the rendezvous of the fox and the wolf; it is their happy haunt. The world stands there dazed at the serpent of the dance or it also dances according to the interpretation given by Ramananda yogi. The fox snatches a skull with its mouth; the wolf stands and hails; the ghosts of burning heads surround Him and He dances in the Dark forest.


Next to the description of this dance as a dance of the burning ground, we have its description as a midnight dance or a dance of darkness. If the burning ground is the place, midnight is the time. ‘Jr’ is the root of the word ‘Irul; Ira; Iravu. ‘Iruman’ is the dark mud; ‘Irumai’ is blackness; ‘Irttli is darkness; ‘Ira’, ‘Iravu’, ‘Ira’ mean the night which is the dark part of the day. ‘Ir’ has the meaning wet and cool; does the meaning of night arise from this as being the cooler part of the day? ‘Elli’ is another word for the night of this dance. Tolkappiyar in his ‘Itaiyiyal’ gives the particle ‘El’ meaning brightness and he uses the word in the phrase ‘Enpatu’, where ‘El’ means the Sun. It means the day time. From this comes the meaning of ‘clearly and openly’. But by the time of the Muttaraiyars of Nalatiyar of the age of Cintamani, and the age of Pantikkovai which may be all said to belong to the age of the Pallavas, this word has developed the meaning of night and darkness. How this revolution in its meaning has been effected is not clear. In Malayalam the word ‘Ira’ has come to mean the daybreak. In a similar way this ‘El’ might have been used for the sun-rise and then gradually for the day-break, the last part of the night and the night itself. The word ‘Alukai’ becomes in Telugu ‘Etj/uka’. It is not, therefore, impossible for the Tamil word ‘Al’ which means night to be pronounced as ‘El’ in these parts in contact with Telugu or the Northern Dravidian dialect of those days.


The other word used by Arurar is ‘Kankul’. If ‘ul’ is left off as a formative, the form ‘kanku’ remains. ‘Kanku’ is the name of a black millet where we have the meaning of blackness lurking.

Note: ‘Ku’ itself may be another formative; and ‘kam’ alone will remain. ‘Kammutal’ in colloquial language is to be dark, to be overcast. In this case, we must assume ‘l’ of ‘Kal’ has changed into a nasal as ‘Kam’. The final nasal in Tamil words takes the place of ‘l’, ‘n’ [] and ‘v’; we have ‘nalku’ [nālku] becoming ‘nanku’ [nāṉku]; ‘ten’ [tēṉ] becoming ‘tem’ [tēm] as in ‘tenkutam’ [tēṅkuṭam]; the ‘v’ of ‘tev’ becomes the nasal ‘m’ as in ‘temmunai’ [temmuṉai]. With these remarks in mind one can study the word ‘Kahru’ [Kaḥṟu], a word for which the commentators on Tolkappiyam give the meaning of darkness. In ‘Kahru’ [Kaḥṟu] we may think of ‘kal’ as the root ending in ‘l’ which may change into ‘aytam’ [āytam] in the presence of the formative ‘tu’ which itself changes there into ‘ru’ [ṟu]. Perhaps this is connected with the root ‘karu’ [kaṟu], black.

Our poet speaks of “Nallirul nattam”—the dance of midnight and of “Katu irul natam” —the dance of bitter darkness. He asks why this dance in the night—‘Iravattu’. The poet makes a confession that he steals (a sight of) the night dance or the “elliyil atal” in the burning ground. The significance of this statement will appear when explaining the mystic meaning of the dance. Arurar addresses the Lord as the night dancer of the burning ground, carrying the never extinguished fire in the hand—“Kankurpuram kattu ati”.


This dance of destruction is also a fire dance, a dance on the burning funeral pyre. Most of the dances of the Bharati mode represent the heroic feats of Shiva. Kama was burnt and our poet says, that burning away the lord of the shining arrows, by fire, Shiva danced in that fire. In the light of this description, one can understand the other references to the fire dance as the dance in the fire of destruction. There is the reference to His carrying the fire but this is not a dance in fire. “Dancing in the fire He preaches”, says the poet. This may refer to His carrying the fire in His hand whilst dancing. In another place Arurar says: “He throws out the fire or He emits fire and stands and dances.” This also may after all refer to the fire in the hand. In describing the fourth Tandava as Bhujanga lalita, the Mayamata, we had already noted, speaks of the fire in the hand being blown into a blaze as a result of the poses of the dance; perhaps this is referred to as ‘anal vici’. More definite references are however there in Adrurar’s poems about this dance of fire. “Why this dance in the fire in the night in the graveyard?” —that is the question. “The sacred thread on the beautiful chest is thrown out along with the eight arms in the act of the dance in fire” —sings the poet. He calls the Lord ‘Eriyati’—‘the dancer in the blazing fire’ and “Tiyatiyar’ the fire dancer. An image of this dance is found in the Gwalior Museum.


The other dance of destruction is the white dance or the dance on the burning ground or the decaying dust of the graveyard ashes called ‘Pantarankam’ already referred to. ‘He, the dancer on the white dust’—thus Arurar addresses the Lord. The poet further says, ‘He sings and dances besmearing the burnt-out white ashes’.

Kotukottz dance also had been already referred to. The sculpture of Talasamsphotita dance of Kailasanatha temple of Conjivaram, as described by Mr. Gopinatha Rao is really a representation of ‘Kotukotti dance’. Kotukotti is the fatal clapping on the day of destruction according to Naccinarkkiniyar. Our poet sings of the Lord as the One who wears an anklet of heroism in the leg of destructive stamping—“Kotukotti kalar” —‘Kotukotti' is the destructive dance of terrific stamping with the foot.


The wild dance has been described with reference to the swinging dance of the serpents. The sweep of the blazing faggot in the hand and the dance of the thrown out eight arms have also been referred to. In this dance the mat-lock is thrown out and it flows down and it whirls in eight different parts. It is significant that whilst the Agamas speak of the mat-lock getting divided into 5, 7, or 9 parts, i.e., of odd numbers and Appar speaks of 9 in the 9th verse of the “Vttam tirtta” hymn, our poet speaks of the even number eight, emphasizing the symmetry and harmony. The Agamic rules have not yet crystallized. “The resounding heroic golden anklet roars, the serpents dance; He dances moving” —thus the poet sings of this whirling wild dance. This dance is accompanied by music—song—and tala or drum. The importance of ‘kutapa’ has already been mentioned. Multi or mrdangam is, as Sir C. V. Raman has pointed out, not a nonmusical noisy band. It is India’s greatness that it is a musically tuned instrument. The lovesick maiden asks the Lord, “Are you an expert in dance and song?” It is a Tamil song He sings and she asks, “Are you capable of singing the classic Tamil tunes—“Centamil-t tiram vallird”? The “vari-p ptittu” or musical songs are sung to the tune of the stringed instrument as mentioned in one verse ‘Multi’ is mentioned. This is played on by one of the Asuras of Tripuram. Other musical instruments are also referred to: “Kotukottti” is a drum carried along with the ‘VinaPatampakkam” is another drum. “Kallavatam” is a drum carried by the worshippers. “Damarukam” is the utukkai in His hand.


In all these dances, the Mother stands on the left. She, representing Shiva’s Grace, inspires the Dance—a dance born of love for Her and pity for the souls to be redeemed. All art is so inspired by these great sentiments. The poet sings, ‘So that she may enjoy—the lady of the white jasmine teeth—the damsel of the never deserting but ever growing fame, Sankaran, the Creator of bliss, stands in the midale of the burning ground and dances’. ‘With the charred burning ground as the hall of dance, you perform the unique dance for the fawn-eyed to enjoy, whilst the mulct or the drum of gems is played upon by one of the three asuras of Tripura after the other two had been sent away to guard your gateway’. ‘Oh! Thou Beautiful who dances to be seen by Uma of the creeper waist.’ The poet speaks of the harmony here—never disturbed by the leg movement or ‘Cati’ going out of time. Does this refer to the Mother keeping time as mentioned in Kalittokai? Sometimes He dances with her as already pointed out in Kallatam. ‘Along with the damsel of the thread-like subtle waist, why do you dance in the graveyard so wild and fast, that the ring bedecked ears dash against each other?’ —that is a question raised by our poet. ‘The great Lord who practises the dances along with the damsel of the beautiful bosom’, —thus sings the poet. In one place the poet sings of Shiva coming as the Lord of the Mother and Visnu and the bull and dancing on the left Does this refer to the dance of the Mother, or, does it refer to the dance in the ‘itam’ which simply means the place and here ‘Vennainallur’?

It has already been pointed out that in Sandhya Tandava, the Mother stands on the left and that it is a dance of peace. Arurar specifically mentions ‘anti? which is the Sandhi of the Sandhya dance. The other references to the Mother may refer to Gauri and Uma Tandavas as well, except in these places which specifically mention the burning ground where the wild dance of destruction takes place.


The tournament of dance with Kali is also referred to by our poet. Kali is the terrific aspect of Sakfi. Mother worship is found all the world over especially in the Primitive South India as Mr. Ehrenfels points out. We have in the Tamil land the Goddess of the Desert and Forest: Katukilal, the goddess of Victory, worshipped by heroes, Korravai and the most ancient Goddess, Palaiyol. There is also the Goddess of the Vindhyas. There is the Nili of Palaiyapur. For killing many asuras many forms of Kali,—Durga, Candi, etc., are being spoken of by the Puranas and tradition. The Sapta matrah or the seven virgins or Mothers came to be very popular in the age of the Pallavas. Mahisasura mardani, the victor over the Buffalo-asura had captivated the imagination of the Pallava kings and the sculptures of Mahabalipuram and Kailasanatha temple are rightly famous for the beautiful representations of this form. All these stories have been attempted to be harmonized, and Tirumurukarruppatai makes some of these, the forms of one great Mother of Muruka who Himself is spoken of as the leader of the heavenly warriors. The Dance of this Mother aspect is referred to in CilappatikaramVettuva vari. This conception is even now popular in Bengal.

In the Vettuva vari of Cilappatikaram, we see one of the hunter women adorns herself in the form of Korravai and dances, possessed by the deity whilst the hunters perform the worship. All the adornments of Shiva as already pointed out, she wears: the shawl of the elephant skin, the garment of lion’s and tiger’s skins, the serpents, the crescent moon, the eye in the forehead, the blue neck shining with the swallowed poison. She Is spoken of as the lady, who with the bow of the mountain and the bow-string of the serpent won the victory over the Tripuras. The Ardhanarisvara form also is suggested; for it is said that the anklets and heroic ring resound in her feet. She is made a Vedic goddess and she is the secret of the Vedas (Maraimel maraiyaki). She is the sprout of Jnana. She resides on the lotus flower of the hearts of the three great gods. She is spoken of as the better half of Shiva. The feats of Visnu also are attributed to her. She carries the Sankha and Cakra; she destroys the ‘maruta’ tree and the Sakala and conquers all the tricks of Kamsa. She rides on the deer and on the lion—in origin they were two different persons—and she stands victoriously on the head of the buffalo demon. Thus even in Cilappatikaram, we see an attempt at unifying varied folk-lores describing varied forms of the mother worship and at harmonizing as a Shaiva-Vaishnava Vedic cult. The Sakta worship must have gained a prominent place and Takkayakapparani of Ottakkuttar is its glorious bloom.

There are two trends found in the Shaivites’ attempt at harmonizing Kali’s cult as theirs. One is making her Shiva’s consort identifying her with their conception of the Mother, the very form of Shiva’s Grace. The other trend is to look upon some of these representations of Kali as variations of minor deities to be conquered and brought to her senses by Shiva in the tournament of dance. Perhaps this represents an aggressive form of Shaivism declaring its victory over Sakteyas or the followers of Sakti cult. Even here, those who want to harmonize, speak of Kalt marrying the victor after her defeat, or speak of Kall as an emanation of Parvati or the Mother.


Arurar refers to both these trends. We had occasion to notice the humorous way in which Arurar sings of residing with Katukal, on the beach at ‘Koti’ or the point Calimer, because He had no other place in His own body which was already being shared by Ganga and Parvati. While singing at Thirunavalur, our poet thinks of this story and speaks of the Lord enjoying ‘Moti’ or ‘Kali’ at Katarkoti. The phrase ‘KatukaV is the corruption of the form KatukilaV the queen of the forest. ‘Moti’ is another word used by our poet and it comes from ‘mdtu’ which is used in the Cankam age to signify the belly. Later on, it assumed gradually the significance of stoutness, largeness, greatness and high position. Perhaps as the leader of the army Peys which, as referred to in Tirumuru-karruppatai, were conspicuous by their belly, she also came to be called ‘Moti’ to start with. But later on, the meaning of eminence must have gradually supplanted the old meaning and emphasized the mighty personality and the Absolute eminence of Sakti.

The other legend of conquering Kali and putting her pride down is also referred to by our poet. It is this which is specifically remembered when the name of Kali is pronounced whilst the other forms are identified with the Mother. Kali there represents the power of destruction and naturally she is spoken of as coming with bubbling anger. Manikkavacakar says that, if the Lord has not danced to put her down, the whole universe would have become prey to the bloody revolutionary force—say, like that of the atom in the atomic bomb. It is the dance of sheer force, a dance of matter. Purusa or Purusottama, the power of ‘Cit’ conquers this and dances over it. The conception of conquering nature is now something peculiarly western, though the puranas preach of this dance as the conquest by Shiva. But Arurar refers to a significant legend of the east which looks upon nature as the very form of the Mother and, therefore, speaks of this dance not as a dance of conquest but as a dance of pacification. The presence of the Lord’s dance quietens the sheer dance of maddening matter—a sublimation and deification of matter. Therefore, Arurar addressed the Lord, “Kotiyinal varu kalitan kapam kuraiya dtiya kuttutai-yane”. ‘Oh! Lord of the dance performed to pacify the anger of Kali who came bubbling with rage’.

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