The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “thirunageswaram or tirunakeccaram (hymn 99)” from the part dealing with the Pilgrim’s progress (to Chola/Cola), which represents the development of Arurar’s Mysticism as gleaned from his hymns. 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 20 - Thirunageswaram or Tirunakeccaram (Hymn 99)


Why all this suffering of this world? Why this fall? “It is Karma”—that is the prima facie answer. Our sense of justice, our feeling of uniformity of nature and our conception of law bringing out the inter-relation of cause and effect demand this theory of Karma and we are satisfied with it. But this becomes mechanical in a way. The human thought demands a spiritual explananation. All these are but romantic dreams—that is one way of looking at things as already stated. Why, however, this illusion and delusion? It is a process of spiritual education, the world appearing in different ways according to various mental levels reached.

In the world of ours where law is administered, the conception of punishment has been growing and developing through various stages; vengeance and vindictiveness first took the form of punishment. But hatred thus nurtured, demands more than it receives. Then develops the idea of retribution demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and no more. Talk of compensation also arises. The human heart of love can never be satisfied with such infliction even when just. The idea of punishment for preventing others, therefore, develops. Inflictions like capital punishment can never be said to prevent the criminal from repeating the offence; for, he does not remain thereafter. It prevents others from committing the same crime. But the criminal cannot be a mere scape-goat and the idea of punishment as a way of reformation develops. This shows a priggish sense of condescension and it is felt that society is responsible to a certain extent for the crime. Crime comes to be looked upon as an infection and a disease—a mental disease requiring as such medical treatment rather than vindictive punishment. The doctor inflicts pain, but out of necessity and love. The theory of karma also develops in all these ways and we reach the conception of God as the doctor and the medicine. The Thiruvanjiyam hymn, we saw, spoke of he Lord as the medicine for chronic Karma. This hymn on Thirunageswaram tries to give a concrete explanation on these lines.

The previous hymn spoke of the net of Karma giving rise to gray hair, old age and trembling. The Karma will lose its hold, our poet assures us, on the masters of the present hymn which is devoid of all shortcomings. How is it achieved by this hymn?


The same pattern of a sentence occurs in all the verses but the last. “The Lord of Thirunageswaram, of such poetic and mystic beauty leading us to expect all love and munificence, bliss and sympathy had done this act upsetting all such expectations. Why is it that He has done so?” This is the pattern. “Like unto one committing suicide, why does He swallow poison to the great height of His consort making her chaste heart almost collapse?” (1). “Leaving the company of the Mother and Her domestic life, has He become a natural ascetic to bless the Tapasivans?” (2). “Why has He been moved by the idea of destroying the Lord of Death?” (3). “Why has He flayed the elephant?” (4). “Why does He love the elaboration of the Vedas (to the dismay of the simple-minded?)” (5). “Why does He wear the skin of the lion, the tiger and of the elephant springing out of the sacrifice?” (6). “Why does He burn to ashes Kama and the three cities?” (7, 8 & 9). “Why does He appear, naked and wandering, like the heretic?” (10).


One does not ordinarily expect such acts as these from a person whose aesthetic taste has led Him to choose a beautiful spot like Thirunageswaram by our poet. The bees of beautiful gossamer of wings, as the very life and connecting link of the flowers are found in communion with the row of short plants of jessamine and ‘kullai’ and they ultimately reach the higher and more cool ‘matavi’ creeper (1). Enthroning themselves on the lotuses and feasting on the honey, the bees hum about and the carps frisk about and dance (7, 9). The roving bees mix freely with jasmine and canpaka and sing in joy (8). The bees on the pollen dust hum whilst the cuckoo and the peacock frequent the groves of flowers surrounded by the cocoanut palms (11). There is nothing of the frightful appearance there except the ‘kuruntu’ whose buds assume the form of a serpent’s tooth (2); but everything seems to be munificent there, where ‘cerunti’ blossoms like gold (2). The fields are full of the beautiful flowers of ‘kuvalai’ and kalunlr whilst in the surrounding moat the fish, big and small, dash in an ecstasy of joy (3). In the frontyard of houses stand the young arecanut palms with their flowers full of honey, besmearing which the zephyr enters and walks about as though in procession (4). The waves of the new flood dash against the cool fields pushing in the great gems together with sandal and ‘akil’ wood of the mountains (5). That is the beautiful place of cool fields full of ripples of the crystal clear water—the beautiful place of the Lord—the Heavens of an arcadia full of sweet smelling flowers of beautiful forms with bees humming about and singing tunes, intoxicated by the honey, whilst the cuckoo and the peacock frequent there to sing and dance where the fish dash and frisk about in joy amidst beautiful groves and fields forming the promenade of the zephyr and wherein flow the new waters in floods carrying there all the wealth of the mountains.

This inspires the followers of the Lord in their vociferous Hallelujah of their joyful worship to bow down before Him, ordaining themselves for various acts of divine service and praising His glory (10). This mention of the Bhaktas and their joy in the almost concluding verse of the hymn, instead of the description of the joyful bees and birds of the previous verses, seems to imply that the latter description of the joyful bees and birds of the previous verses is but an allegorical representation of the Bhaktas doing their duty in joy, a new way of looking at His description of Nature thus suggested by our poet—is this not the way, the commonfolk look at these birds as revealing the future through their advent and their noise appears to these simple minded as a divine language?


The question propounded in every verse is really a rhetorical interrogation, implying that there is a meaning in the seemingly contradictory acts of God. Here comes in the message of the stories. The law of Karma is found working in the case of those who suffer at the hands of the Lord. But as Manikkavacakar states, “It is the great glory of the vanquished that they suffer defeat at His hands—“Ayanai Anankanai Antakanaic Cantiranai vayanankal mard vatu-c-ceytan enneti? Nayanankal munrutaiya Nayakane tantittal jayamanro vanavarkku-t-tal kulalay calald” (Calat; 4). God’s acts are the acts of the doctor aiming at making the sufferers whole and healthy; they are thus saved and blessed with God’s love. Therefore, they are His acts of moral grandeur and beauty. They are as beautiful as the flowers, bees, fish, peacocks, cuckoos and all these suggest the joy of the Atiyors of Thirunageswaram, discharging their duty as worshippers of the Lord. No wonder that this kind of experience expressed in this hymn makes the poet feel the loosening and breaking away of the fetters of Karma. There is a freedom from the mechanical pressure of Karma, which stands revealed as the Love of God, and that is why the poet assures us that those who read this hymn will also undergo the same experience and attain the same freedom and joy.

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