The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “introduction to the third volume”. 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

Volume 3 - Introduction to the third volume

[Volume 3, full title: Pilgrim’s progress or the development of Arurar’s Mysticism as gathered from a detailed study of his hymns]


Elsewhere, the life of Arurar had been studied. Cekkilar’s version, which is based upon tradition and internal evidence of the verses of Arurar, had been our basis. But there, though reference had been made to the mystic experiences of Arurar, the emphasis was mainly on the objective life. What is much more important and interesting to a student of poetry, religion and philosophy is the inner life of the poet, the development of his mind, unfolding and blossoming of his mysticism. The hymns sung by him are the expressions of the inner experience.


It is advisable to study the hymns in groups: for, it is not easy for our mind to take all the hymns in one sweep, though at the end we must attempt at getting a complete and unified picture of all the hymns as an organic whole revealing the march of our poet’s life. The hymns mav, therefore, be grouped chronologically according to the various pilgrimages of the poet. Here the scheme of the arrangement of the hymns may be studied with the help of Cekkilar.


The seventh Tirumurai, which consists of Arurar s hymns has been arranged ‘Panvar according to the Pans or Melody types. The first twelve hymns are in ‘Intolam Pan ; the next four are in ‘Takkaragam’; the fourteen that follow are in ‘Nattaragam’; the next seven are in ‘Kolli’; the nine hymns that succeed are in ‘Kollikkauvanam’; the seven hymns that follow are in ‘Palampancuram’; the next seventeen are in ‘Takkeci’; the next five are in ‘Kantaram’; the next one is in ‘Piyantaik kantaram’; the next one is in ‘Kantara pancamam’; the five hymns that succeed are in ‘Nattapatai’; the three that come next are in ‘Purantrmai; the next four are in ‘Cikamaram’; the next four are in ‘Kurinci’, with the one following them in ‘Kaucikam’ and another after it in ‘Centuritti’ and the last five in ‘Pancamam’. In all, there are seventeen Pans. The Tiruppanantal edition and a few other editions separate ‘the Thiruchuzhial’ hymn from the Nattapatai one and give it under Nattaragam’, a tune which comes as the third in the above order.

The ‘Pan’ is the rag am, but the same ragams may be sung on various ‘talas’ or time scales. If these different time scales are taken into consideration, the hymns sung in the same ragam may have various musical forms or ‘Kattalais’ and the Tirumurai Kanta Puranam distinguishes a few varieties in each of these pans or ragas as may be seen from the following table:

  1. Intalam – 2
  2. Takkaragam – 2
  3. Nattaragam – 2
  4. Kolli – 2
  5. Palampancuram – 2
  6. Takkeci – 6
  7. Kantaram – 2
  8. Kantarapancamam – 2
  9. Nattapatai – 2
  10. Puranirmai – 2
  11. Kamaram – 1
  12. Kurinci – 2
  13. Centurrutti – 1
  14. Kaucikam – 2
  15. Pancamam – 1

It will be seen that Kollikkauvanam is omitted in the above list. Pobably it is included under Kolli. Piyantaikkantyram also is omitted, whereas in enumerating the kattalais for Arurar’s hymns, this puranam speaks of ‘Kantaramakiya piyantaiyam kattalai’ Therefore, the Piyantaikkantaram should be included under Kantaram. But in the statement in the Puranam, ‘Takkecip pericai yanakki atil kantaram pirittu irantam’, how Kantaram becomes an. integral part of Takkeci is not clear. Lastly, there is only one hymn in Kaucikam while the Puranam gives two kattalais for it. Perhaps there is a mistake made by the copyist. If this assumption is correct, we may amend the poem so as to give two to Pancamam and one to Kaucikam. We must leave to the future research scholars in Tamil music, the elucidation of these forms of Ragas and Kattalais.


But Cekkilar does not consider that this scheme represents the chronological order of Arurar’s hymns and he is right in his conclusion. No musician is going to follow this method of singing in one tune in a particular period of his life and in other tunes in the succeeding periods of his life. Cekkilar has to weave out a chronological order. He is guided by the traditional story of the life of Arurar. The hymns relating to the Cera country have to come at the very end of Arurar’s life. The references to Cankili and the loss of his eye-sight have to come only after Arurar’s marriage with Cankili. So also the reference to Paravai can occur only after his marriage with this lady. For the same reason, the reference to Eyarkon and to Cihkati and Vanappakai should occur according to the tradition after his marriage with Paravai.


The second consideration which weighs with Cekkilar in arranging the hymns chronologically is that of geography. Cekkilar, the Cola minister, had ample knowledge of the roads and communications of the Tamil country and he makes Arurar follow the Royal roads of Tamilakam. In some places there are certain deviations. The hymns themselves contain evidence fof these. On his way to Muthukunram, Arurar forgets Kutalaiyarnur and he is reminded of it as we had already seen. In the Thirupurampayam hymn, Arurar mentions that he came from Araimerrali to stay at Innampar

In Arurar’s poems, there are more than one hymn to certain temples. On the basis of the traditional story of Arurar, Cekkilar takes some of them to have been sung on an earlier occasion and some on a later occasion. From Thiruvennainallur, Arurar proceeds worshipping at certain temples and reaches Thiruvarur where he marries Paravai and sings his Thiruthondathogai. This may be taken as his first pilgrimage. Thiruvarur becomes his place of residence from this time.

The second pilgrimage is to Kuntaiyur, Kolili, Nattiyattankuti and Valivalam and the third is to Thiruppugalur and Thirupanaiyur. These are not long pilgrimages. Arurar seems to have been going to some of the temples in and around Thiruvarur.

The fourth pilgrimage is a long one. I herein he goes through the Cola country and the Konku country to return through the Cola country and the Natu Ndtu to Thiruvarur.

The fifth pilgrimage results in his marriage with Cankili and loss and regain of eyesight. He goes through the Cola country, Natunatu, Tontainatu up to Trukkalatti from where Cekkilar says Arurar sang his hymns on Tirupparuppatam and Thiruketharam. Our saint goes to Thiruvottiyur and marries Cankili. He leaves Thiruvottiyur and Cankili, and loses his eyesight on his way back to Thiruvarur. Here, he goes through Kancipuram which he had already visited.

After coming to Thiruvarur, he goes on his sixth pilgrimage to meet Eyarkdn to worship with him at Thiruppungur and then to Thirunagaikaronam. When he returns to Thiruvarur, he meets Ceraman Perumal and goes along with him on a pilgrimage, the seventh one, to the Pandya and Cera countries. Whilst worshipping at Ramesvaram in the Pandya country, Arurar sings the hymn on Tirukketiccuram in Ceylon just on the opposite shore in Mannar. He returns from Thiruvanchikulam to Thiruvarur and again goes on his final pilgrimage, the eighth one, to Thiruvanchikulam through Tiruppukkoliyur.


It may be noted that Cekkilar does not take our Arurar outside the Tamil country but makes him sing his hymns on Czparp-patam and Thiruketharam from Kalathi and the hymn on Tirukketiccuram from Ramesvaram. It is not clear why Cekkilar comes to this conclusion. Probably he feels either the country was in a troubled condition or that Arurar’s life was too short to allow this long pilgrimage. Possibly he feels, if our Saint has visited Thiruketharam he could have sung his hymns on other northern temples. In the Thiruketharam hymn, Arurar refers to Kurukkettiram and Godavari along with Kumari and Ciparppatam? He simply says in that hymn that we should mention the sacred name of Thiruketharam. But in the sixth verse, he refers to Bhaktas bathing happily in the sacred waters of Kurukkettiram and Godavari. In the seventh verse Arurar, our poet, speaks of the singing of the Tamil verses at Thiruketharam. That means there must have been a number of pilgrims going to North from the Tamil country. If in a few cases we can assume that Arurar sang the hymn without going to the place mentioned therein, it is difficult to establish that he went and sang the other hymns in all the respective temples of the south. Pilgrims have been going from the northernmost limit of India to its southernmost limit and from its southernmost limit to the northernmost limit from the times of the Cankam poetry. If Tirumankai Alvar could have gone to Badarikasramam there is no reason why Arurar in the same Pallava age could not have gone to Thiruketharam.

Whatever might be said to the pilgrimage to Thiruketharam, there is no reason why he could not have visited Ciparppatam personally. The description of Ciparppatam, for there is nothing else but the description in that hymn, makes us feel that he is describing his own experience of the elephants, the deer, the boars, the peacocks and the parrots which he met whilst going up through that hazardous route to that mountain.

The same may be said of his hymn on Tirukketiccurram in Ceylon. From the Ramnad district, one can easily sail to Mannar from where one can easily go to this temple. (The boat leaves Danuskoti now to reach Mannar). There are other places in the Ramndd district from where one can reach Ceylon by a shorter route. Perhaps, Cekkilar, who ought to have known this, does not feel certain that a Brahmin like Arurar or Campantar could have crossed the seas setting at naught the rules against the sea voyage. It is very difficult to reject the description of Pdlavi on whose bank this temple stood, the description of the ships standing

at the harbour of Matottam and of the gardens round the temple as hearsay. The Ceylon prince Manaparanan was a great friend of Narasimhavarma Pallava and he fought against Pulakesin. Narasimhavarman sent a fleet to help Manaparanan to regain the Ceylonese throne. He returned to the Pallava country. Again probably during the reign of Rdjasimha another fleet was sent and he became firmly established as the king of Ceylon. In an age of such intimate relationship between Ceylon and the Pallava kingdom where Arurar was born, one can easily believe his going to worship at Tirukketiccuram. No rule or regulation can stand against holy desires for worshipping at Shiva’s temples. We know of Sivacaryas going to distant eastern islands.

Whether we agree with Cekkilar or not about Arurar not personally visiting Thiruketharam or Tirukketiccuram, we cannot quarrel with the place which he had given to these hymns in the chronological arrangement of Arurar’s hymns.


Cekkilar has taken all the available materials including the tradition, for arriving at the chronological arrangement of the hymns. To a certain extent the internal evidence itself justifies this arrangement. But it must be stated that if the tradition is not accepted, the whole arrangement has to be given up. As already been remarked, except for a few points, there is nothing improbable in the traditional story. Therefore, there is no other way but to accept this chronological order and trace as far as possible the development of his poetry and philosophy.

But our examinations of the hymns which follow suggests that at least in a few cases a different arrangement is called for. The temples of Konku Natu perhaps were visited only along with the Cera. The visit to Thirumazhapadi, Pachilachiramam, Anaikka, Painntli, etc., also must have taken at about this time. Our study, as will be mentioned later on, also justifies certain other alterations.

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