The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “puranic personalities (in the tevaram)” 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 4.5 - Puranic personalities (in the Tevaram)


Reference to particular Gods and Rsis may be next studied:

(1) Kaman:

Manmata is considered to be the Lord of beauty. He has been described whilst discussing the Kamari form, but in other places where the poet advises the poets and scholars not to waste their poetry and scholarship on worthless people who are unfit for any praise because he is sure they will give nothing, while Shiva will give us everything, including the overlordship of Heavens. In two verses in that hymn he speaks of the futility of praising men as beautiful Kamadeva or Kama in the eyes of women.

(2) Himavan:

Arurar speaks of the Lord of the Mountain Himalayas and references about him have been studied when we discussed our poet’s description of the Mother.

(3) Kali:

The story of Kalt has been told and discussed under the Dance of Shiva.

(4) Yama:

About Yama it has already been referred to with reference to Yamaldka.

(5) Murukan (Murugan);

(a) We may next pass on to the family of Shiva. The sons of Shiva are Murukan (Murugan) and Vinayaka. They are but the very forms of Shiva. Whatever might have been their origin, they have been completely harmonized with Shaivism to such a great extent as to identify them with Shiva.

(b) There are 14 references to Muruka in Arurar’s Tevaram. The names used by the poet are: ‘Kumaran’ ‘Velon’ or ‘Velan’ ‘Murukavel , ‘Ciruvan , ‘Centan’ ‘Cetti’, and ‘Pillai’.

Kumaran’ means the youth. ‘Ciruvan’ and ‘Pillai’ have the same significance. But the ‘Ciruvan’ is used in the sense of ‘son’ —“Malaiyaraiyan porpavai ciruvan ’—‘the son of the golden doll of the king of the mountain’. Our poet creates a humorous situation out of this conception of Murukan (Murugan) s childhood. In one place, he says, “Your family and yourself are unfit for managing servants”, and he refers to the intancy of ‘Kumaran’ as one of the proofs.

Centan’ is the red-god, another form of ‘Ceyon’ used in Tolkappiyam.

Murukan (Murugan)’ is the other name of this God in Tamil from the very ancient times. ‘Muruku’ means (1) honey, which is sweet to the tongue, (2) fragrance, which is sweet to the nose, (3) beauty, which is sweet to the eye, (4) beautiful strength of youth, which is sweet to touch, (5) never dying eternity, (6) divinity and (7) divine music, sweet to the ear. The Tamilians thus conceive of their God as the real essence of happiness, whilst the outward form and name of things hide this inner reality which is both immanent and transcendent.

Vel’ is one who is aspired for and it is the name of Manmata who is the most beautiful person. But according to the Tamillian tradition ‘Muruka’ was the most beautiful person—“Cala nala ala-kutai aiyan”, and, therefore, in other places as contrasted with Manmata, the Vel, he is spoken of as “Murukavel”. The spear or the ‘Vel’ is the emblem of this divinity according to the Tamillians and His worshipper carries this spear and dances in moments of ecstasy. Murukan (Murugan) was, therefore, known as ‘Velon’—‘One who holds the spear in his palm’—“Ankai velon”, “Kaiyulaviya velon

(c) He is the beloved of the daughter of the Kuravas, Valli, to win whose heart he went to her place—a story which has been looked upon by later generations as the eternal pilgrimage of the Lord to the soul in quest of its love and for saving it from its deluding environments. Our poet speaks of Muruka as “Kuravar mankaitan kelvan”, —‘the beloved husband of the lady of Kuravas’. In another place he says, ‘the wife of the Lord’s son is the daughter of the Kuravas’—“Kuravanar tammakal tammaka-nar manavatti” and this he mentions in a poetic mood suggesting that the hunter’s form which the Lord assumed to shower blessings on Arjuna is somehow related to His son’s relationship with the Kuravas.

He is also called a ‘cetti’ because according to the Puranas, he was born as a child, Rudrasanma, in the house of a cetti, Uppuri kuti kilar and the poet refers to Muruka as cetti.

(d) Murukan (Murugan) is famous for his victory over Curapanman; the ancient Cankam poems speak of this asura as ‘Cur’ or the frightful. He was cut in twain in the mid sea—“Ratal Cur tatintitta”. It is said that this asura assumed the form of a mango tree standing upside down, when the Lord felled it down. Our poet speaks of “Katuvarima” “Katuvari” is the tiger. It is not clear whether the poet is referring to the various forms including that of a tiger which this ‘Cur’ assumed in the course of his war with Muruka or whether he is coining a metaphor “Katuvari ma” the tiger of a mango, for bringing out the ferocity and destructive nature of the asura even in the form of a mango tree.

(e) In Northern India, Murukan (Murugan) or Kartikeya is more famous as the warrior God, Devasenapati, the field marshal of the Devas and our poet refers to this as “Amar ar cenaikku nayakan”. In this way Murukan (Murugan) is the leader of the Devas and our poet speaks of the Lord Shiva as the prince of all Devas from Kumaran onwards: “Kumaran mutal tevar tankal nampi” In Northern India, Lord Subrahmanya is famous not for killing ‘Surapanma’ but ‘Taraka’. It is this story which Kalidasa writes in his Kumarasambhava and our poet has this tradition in his mind when he speaks of Shiva as that Pure One who became Great by creating in ancient times that principle which destroyed Tar aka after a war with the asura, full of strength of war—“Porum palama tutaiyacuran Tarukanaip po-rutu ponruvitta porulinai mun pataittukanta punitan”

Murukan (Murugan) is worshipped as seated on the beautiful peacock and our poet also speaks of him as one who rides on the peacock: “M ay ilurti”.

Murukan (Murugan) is the popular God of the Tamillians from the very ancient times and many places have been named after him even by hunters and nomads as is clearly proved by the name of Muruganpoondi where our poet was waylaid and robbed by the hunters of that place, who might have been responsible for naming their village after their ancient God Murukan (Murugan).

(f) The Pancaloka image of Subrahmanya with Valli and Deivayanai are given in Rea’s Plate LII, fig. 2. Probably it is of later origin.

Plate LXV, fig. 3 is a representation of Lord Subrahmanya. This comes from the Vaikunta Perumal temple, Kancipuram. Subrahmanya has one head and four hands. The right hand is holding sakti; the other right hand is broken. The front left hand is held on the waist with the palm turned downwards. The back left hand is holding something which is not clear. Behind this image is the peacock, whose head has also been broken.

Subrahmanya appearing in the Somaskanda images had already been described.

(6) Ganapati:

(a) “Pillai” or “Pillaiyar” in ancient times referred only to Murukan (Murugan). When Ganapati worship spread from its home in the Western India to South, he came to be called “Mutta pillai” or “Mutta pillaiyar”, the elder son as is proved by the work of Kapila Tevar Mutta Pillaiyar Tiruvirattai Manimalai” of the 11th Tirumurai. There are no references to him earlier than in this work of Kapila Tevar and in Tevaram.

In various places, Ganapati is known as "Vatapi konta Ganapati’ and the great music composer Saint Diksitar sings of "Vatapi Ganapati". That shows that this form of worship has spread into Tamil Land almost as a fashion after the Pallavas’ capture of Badami. But the Rdstrakutas had set their heart on Tamil Land earlier to this and had invaded Tamil land. Narasimha’s invasion of the Rdstrakutas in fact came later. It is, therefore, possible that the idea of Ganapati worship might have been introduced during the march of Pulikesin into Tamil Land.

(b) There are only three references to Ganapati in Arurar’s poems. In two places, the poet refers to the household of the Lord and

complains that none of the members of His family will take care of him. In one place he says, ‘As for Ganapati, he carries his big belly suggesting he is too immobile to be of any service to anyone’. In another place he once again calls Ganapati, the Lord of the big belly but the emphasis is on his eating innumerable things—“Ennili un peruvayiran' and the poet says he knows nothing perhaps suggesting that he is made or that he is too young for the world. The ganas are said to be mad. In the third place Shiva is spoken of as the father of ‘Caranan’, i.e., Viuayaka as the leader of the Car anas or ganas that move about everywhere.

(c) The representations of Ganapati must have found a place in Shaivite temples like those built by Ciruttontar. A temple which he built was known as ‘Ganapaticcuram’. In the Kailasanatha temple, Ganapati is found represented in ‘kilttis’. Plate LVIII (Rea) contains one. It has four hands. The pasa is visible on the right back hand. In Rea’s plate LXII, there is a Vinayaka in the sitting posture, but there is someone as though sitting on his shoulders or is it a figure behind him?

In the Vaikunta Perumal temple, he occupies an important place on the left side of the entrance gopuram. The ‘ankusa’ is in the right back hand and the pasa in the corresponding left hand. Plate LV, (figs. 1 and 2) contains Ganapati between the makaras over the central niche.

There are two images of Ganapati in the two side ‘kutus’ found in fig. 1 and fig. 2 of Rea’s plate CXI. This is from Tripurantakesvara Temple. In plate CXII also there are two Ganapatis in the two side kutus. There is another Ganapati with a crown in the left side niche there.

In plate CXIII also, we find two Ganapatis, on the two side kutus.’

Rea’s plate CXIV gives a big sized Ganesvara form of the Tripurantakesvara temple. There is the crown on his head; the back right hand holds the goad, whilst the back left hand holds the noose. The right tusk is found broken and the broken portion is held in the front right hand. The trunk is curved to the

left and then curved again downwards to be placed inside the palm of the left front hand. There are necklaces, bangles, ornaments, anklets, and yajnopavita and udarabandha. The right leg is bent up, resting on the heel. The belly is bulging out. Of the left leg, the sole and the toes are visible. There is a big tilaka on the forehead.

In plate CXIX from Airavateisvara temple in fig. 2, there is a Ganesa at the top kutu.


Arurar, apart from these references to the Devas of the Puranas, sings of the heroes, kings and saints, mentioned in the Puranas. Such references are not many. He is not, therefore, trying to bring in these Puranic references simply to reveal in his knowledge of Puranas, A study of his poem leaves the impression in the readers’ mind that as a popular poet, he is only referring to such Puranic stories as have become the common property of the folklore in Tamil land. He emphasizes the fact of the Universe being a federation of love.

(1) Arjuna:

Arjuna was the most popular figure in the Tamil Country amongst the Pandavas. The story of the Lord blessing him with ‘Pdsupata’, had already been referred to in our description of this special form of the Lord. In the famous ‘Thiruppugalur’ hymn, where the poet advises the scholars not to throw pearls of their poetry before the swine of rich men, he begs of them in his second verse to desist from describing, the weak and the mean, as victorious Vijaya, great in the art of archery.

(2) Bhima:

Next to Arjuna comes his elder brother Bhima, a word pronounced in Tamil as ‘Ulman’. In the same verse of the Thiruppugalur hymn, he is requesting the poets not to praise those without any strength as Bhzmas?

(3) Bhagiratha:

The other king who has become popular all through India is Bhagiratha who brought down the Ganges from the heavens. We have already referred to this story in describing the form of Gangadhara.

(4) Markandeya:

Coming to the saints, the story of Markandeya has been discussed by us with reference to the Kalari form.

(5) Suta:

The Rsis receiving the message from Daksinamurti have also been referred to in our description of this form. The great Rsi of the Puranas is Suta, pronounced in Tamil as ‘Cutar’, who recites the Puranas to the Rsis after having heard them from Vyasa. Our poet speaks of him as the learned cutar, “karra cutani’ He enumerates along with this Rsi others and speaks of the Lord looking upon their mistakes as praiseworthy characteristic features, in accordance with the Lord’s ideal reminding us of the parable of the Prodigal son. The poet says, it is this ideal of the Lord that had inspired him to take refuge at His feet. Unfortunately this poet does not specifically refer to any defect or mistake or sin committed by them. The only mistake we can think of with reference to Cutar is that he has recited Puranas attributing the characteristic of the Absolute Brahman to the minor deities in Puranas other than Shaiva Puranas.

(6) Parasurama:

The other Rsi referred to is Parasurama. In the Tirunintiyur hymn Arurar refers to a story according to which the Rsi worshipping the Lord in the temple there, made a gift of 360 velis of famous lands along with 300 Brahmins. He also carried pots of gold and precious jewels whilst worshipping with real love and whilst making the gift. Parasurama is referred to as a Tapasvin.

Pleased with this gift, love and tapas, God gave him a glimpse of His feet. The established rule of the Lord showering blessings on his worshippers has inspired our poet to take refuge in the Lord.

(7) Agastya:

(a) Agastya pronounced as ‘Akattiyar’ in Tamil is looked upon as the Saint, indispensable for the Tamil Language. According to some, he represents the principle of colonization. The geological cataclysms, the Vindhyas and to equalize this disturbance, the Himalayas went up. The Puranas speak of this distant tradition as the story of Agastya. The Himalayas went down with the burden of the Devas assembled at the marriage of Parvati and Agastya was sent to humble the Vindhyas to settle down in the South in the Potiyil, to equalize the weight of the Himalayas with his weight of Tapas. He is the first great Saint of Tamili the purohit of the Pandyas, the first great writer on Tamil grammar, the master of Tolkappiyar. We get to know of his importance in South India from the times of the copper plate grants of the Pandyas of the Pallava age. He is also an important figure in the East Indian Archipelago where his cult assumes an importance just about that time. The name of Agastya is as old as the Rg Veda and many are the stories told of the Rsis of that name in the Puranas but in the Tamil land he is ever remembered as the Saint of Tamil and his images are found in Java and the Eastern islands. It is this tradition probably that Arurar refers to when he is mentioning the name of Agastya.

(b) Arurar speaks of Agastya worshipping the Linga form. “Taparam niruttic cakali ceytu iraincu Akattiyar” are the words of our poet. The following note may explain this reference:

The Lingas are of two kinds—cala lingas and acala lingas or Sthavara lingas—movable and immovable lingas. The cala lingas may be taken from place to place being made of metals, precious or other stones, etc. The acala or sthavara lingas, which are according to the Kamika Agama, Svayambhuva, (that which rises up by itself), the Daivika (established by the Devas), the Arsaka (established by the Rsis), Ganapatya (established by the Ganas), the Manusya (established by men) or Bana linga —all of which are not so removed from place to place, being fixed to a place in a temple.

The Lord is formless (niskala), but he takes up forms of Grace out of pity to the people who could not worship Him otherwise. These forms of Grace are the Sakala forms, and the Linga is the most important symbol of such sakala forms. Akattiyar, according to our poet, established the sthavara linga—“Taparam nirutti” and gave it a form. One wonders whether it is a mukha linga—“Cakali ceytu”A This linga having been established by a Rsi should be considered an Arsa linga, which, according to Kamikagama is said to be spheroidal like the unhusked cocoanut fruit and according to Karanagama, without any specific shape or measurement.

Arurar speaks of Akattiyar performing worship at the three sandhyas or the junctions of time, viz., morning, midday and evening. This worship is referred to in the Tiruninnyur hymn but the poet does not specifically state where this worship took place. Tirukkurralappuranam will have it at its place. But its story of converting the form of Visnu’s image into Shiva linga is not however referred to by Arurar. As a result of this worship, the Lord blessed Agastya, to reside always at Potiyil, near the Papanasam falls and the poet speaks of the Potiyil as the place beautified by great precious stones falling down, referring probably to the great falls. Agastya, is said to be one of the Rsis at the feet of Daksinamurti according to some Agamas. It is difficult to identify his form in the Kailasanatha Temple.


(1) Folklore:

The folk lore conceives the universe as a temple for the Lord where reside the federation of living beings, immersed in the love of God and radiating His presence from everyone of their hearts. True to this conception, we find not only human and divine beings but also beasts worshipping the Lord, in this brotherhood of love.

(2) The Federation of Love—The Cow—The Elephant:

Kamadhenu’, the divine cow of the Heavens, ‘Curapi’ (Surabhi) as the poet calls, the pleasing and the shining one worshipped the Lord every day before the sun-rise allowing the milk from its udder to flow and immerse the Lord. Thus it was in quest of the Lord. Arurar says, that he has heard of the story and an irresistable conviction grew on him. He praised the Lord and this thought broke away the cruel fetters and he reached His feet. Therefore, this story has a special significance to Arurar as he himself confesses. In this very hymn we have already seen one verse bringing together the tiger, the serpents, the lion, the Devas along with the rsis to listen to the message of Daksinamurti—a silent representation of the federation or brotherhood of love moving the mind of our poet, as it did the mind of the common man of the Tamil land. This conception has appealed to Rajaraja the great, and he has attempted to form the image of Daksinamurti in terms of this verse 6 of Arurar’s Thirunindravur hymn.

The appeal of this conception is still further proved by two other verses of this hymn. It is very unfortunate that the three closing verses of this hymn are wanting, which might have thrown still further light on this conception of a federation of living beings in love with the Lord. The seventh verse refers to the story of Airdvata though that name is not mentioned. It is the elephant of the Heavens with four tusks. It shivered and shuddered in repentance or out of love to the Lord whilst worshipping His feet full of beauty or goodness. It stood shuddering and worshipped the Lord by praising Him; immediately the Lord blessed it with the glory and grandeur of the Heavens. Having heard this characteristic feature of the pardoning Lord, the poet says that he himself has taken refuge at His beautiful feet. This federation of the saintly beasts, colours his vision and in the last two lines of this very verse he gives expression to his vision where the beautiful damsels with crescent-like foreheads who dwell on the top of the rich mansions of that place, appeared to Him as peacocks, young deer and child-like parrots.

(3) Federation of love—the Spider—Koccenkanan:

That the whole hymn starts from this conception is made clear, by the first verse which sings not of a higher animal but of a lowly creature, the spider. It wove a cobweb as a canopy for the Lord at Thiruvanaikaval. Pleased with this loving thought of the spider, the Lord blessed it with wealth, munificence and powerful kingship. It is this spider that was born as the great Cola king Koccenkanan, the first Great Cola temple-builder on a vast scale in brick and mortar. His temples have become known as great temples—“Perunkoyil”. This has inspired the poet, and he in his turn, overflows with this divine love and sings of the young innocent chilaren playing in the streets, in the pials and in the courtyard with the precious stones gathered on the banks of the Kaviri which had thrown them out on the sides.

In another place, in his famous Thiruppungur hymn, where also he refers to the various stories which inspired him, he mentions the ‘cilanti’ or spider. He gives the importance of the message of these stories. We may be sinners and committing sins. The cow as soon as it brings forth a calf does not look upon its child as full of dirt. It licks away lovingly and makes it clean and whole. Our defects are the characteristic features of our creation. The great mother of us all, the Lord, therefore, takes them as signs of our lives and looks upon them as good qualities under the circumstances and rushes to save us. It is this ideal which inspires our poets. The parable of the prodigal son is popular all over the world.

(4) Candesvara:

In connection with the love and reverence for cow, the story of Candesvara may be referred to. The poet speaks of Dandi or Candi, the Candesvara. He milked the cows and bathed with the milk the Lord of the Linga which he formed out of beautiful white sands; his father rushed on this linga or the Lord and Candesvara cut away his father’s leg and the Lord was pleased with him and blessed him with the flowers on His own matted hair. In another place the poet speaks of Candesvara as he who hacks away. He also speaks of Candesvara as Dandi, and also as Candi, perhaps the poet uses the same form in all the four places. In the hymn 17, verse 4, he speaks of the Lord promoting Candesvara to His own rank and becoming great that way. This is further explained in another hymn. The beautiful clothes of the Lord, the beautiful jewels and the garlands He wears and the food He eats, He made Candesvara to get. This story again emphasizes the Grace of the Lord where our poison becomes His nectar. The inscriptions uniformly record the documentary transactions of the Shiva temple as being conducted in the name of Candesvara, the manager of the temple, a position which Arurar refers to in his hymns.

The Agamas speak of this Candesa assuming different forms in different yugas. He is also given a wife; but all this is contrary to the tradition preserved in Periyapuranam.

The Agamas describe the image of the Lord showering his Grace on Candesa. Shiva is seated with Parvati. His face is turned towards the left. The right hand is in varada pose and the left hand is on the crown of Candesa. Candesvarar, beautiful in all parts, is standing or sitting with hands in anjali pose. Shiva holds the ends of a flower-garland with His right hand and ties it round the head of Candesvara with His left hand.

This description agrees with the image found in Gangaikonda Colapuram. The images from Sucindram and Madura Temples given in plate L, agree with this, and, therefore, must have been sculptured after the above descriptions if the Agamas had become authoritative rules. In the Kailasanatha temple, however, the image is in a different pose thus showing that Agamic rules had not become crystallized at the time it was made. Fig. 2 in the above plate gives a sketch of this image in the Kailasanatha temple. It appears as fig. 1 in Rea’s plate XXXIX, found in the 20th panel from the east end of the north side of the court. Gopinatha Rao has given a correct description of this sculpture: “Shiva is standing on His right leg whilst the left one is resting upon a raised seat. He has four hands, the right one of which is held in the varada pose. It is not quite clear which objects are kept in the remaining hands. To the right of Shiva stands Candesvara with the axe with which he cut down the leg of the father resting upon his right shoulder. Below and fallen on the ground is the father of Candesvara with his left hand held in vismaya pose”.

(5) Others:

The stories of Campantar, Tirunavukkaracar, Eyarkon, Pukalitunai, Nalaippovar, Cakkiyar, Kannappar, Kunampullar are also referred to, but these will be discussed when referring to Arurar’s Thiruthondathogai saints. Though the story of Koccerikanan and Candesa also occur therein, we described them at length for bringing out the significance of Arurar’s ideal of godhead and love of animals.

There is a reference to Tontaiman receiving the blessings of the Lord. In our study of the hymns under the head ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and in our discussion with all about our poet’s relationship with the Pallavas, Tontaiman is narrated ip detail.

Pari is referred to by Arurar. Pari is one of the seven great patrons of the Cankam age. This Vallal according to the Cankam tradition unable to bear the sight of the helplessness of a jasmine creeper left his chariot on the way so as to allow the creeper to spread and entwine round the vehicle. Arurar is one of the few poets who have been impressed with this Tamillian vision of the overflowing kinaness. The Kotunkuntam or Parampu Malai in the Ramanadapuram District contains a Shiva temple which is now known as Parzccuram—the Temple where worshipped Pari.

This reference to Pari suggests an interpretation for another passage in Arurar’s passage. “Per arulalan pitavuran tammane”,— ‘Father of the Lord of Pitavur, the great munificent lord of Grace and memory’. The Cankam literature speaks of the patron “Arappeyarc cattan” of Pitavur which is said to be to the east of Uraiyur in Tiruccirappalli. One wonders whether Arurar is referring to this patron of the Cankam age. Perhaps the reference is to a contemporary of Arurar. If the patron of the Cankam age was named after Cattan which is derived by some from Sasta, the Aiyanar, Sasta image itself is said to be originally an image of the Buddha. Can this reference of Arurar be to the Sasta who is according to tradition a son of Shiva and Visnu? Cekkilar refers to Sasta (Aiyanar) as being famous in Pitavur and it is this Sasta of Pitavur who brought from Kailas the first hymn of Arurar. Probably this story was built on the foundation of this reference in Arurar.

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