The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “thirunelvayil arathurai or tirunelvayil aratturai (hymn 3)” from the part dealing with the Pilgrim’s progress (away from Otriyur and Cankili), 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 74 - Thirunelvayil Arathurai or Tirunelvayil Aratturai (Hymn 3)


The city is called Nelvayil, while the temple is referred to as Arathurai, as the ford of Hara or Shiva. Perhaps Arathurai is a mistake for Arathurai, for, if it was connected with ‘Ara’ the Tamilian form of the SanskritHara’, one would expect ‘Aran turai’. The name ‘Arutturai’ referring to a temple at Thiruvennainallur, will suggest Arathurai rather than Arathurai. But, it must be noted that all the manuscripts and editions give only the form Arathurai. This city is on the bank of ‘Niva’, a form which occurs in Periya Tirumoli. According to Tamil grammar this form will become ‘Nroa’, ‘Nivavu’ and our Nampi Arurar uses the form ‘Nivavin karai’ which may be derived from both these latter forms. The inscriptions give the name of the river as Nuka (South Indian Inscriptions Vol. II, 15). This is the river now known as Vellaru running near Parankippettai or Porto Novo.


Our poet calls the Lord, the blotless One, ‘Ninmalan’ a word which is repeated in every second line of the first nine verses except in the 6th and in the first line of the tenth verse. After the last hymn, the poet seems to experience the Lord as the blotless and as one who removes the blot. He also calls Him ‘Punita’ (3), the Holy One. He is also the Beautiful One (Alaka—6); the Deathless (Amara—6); the Supreme Light (Paran joti—8): all these suggesting the conception of Sat, Chit and Ananda. In this hymn the poet begs of the Lord to tell him a strategic way of escape, so as to reach the feet of the Lord: “Uyyappovator culal colie”. This “Uyyappovator culal colie”— ‘Tell me a strategy of escape’ is the ending of all the verses except verse No. 2, where the ending is “Unnatiye pukum culal colie”—‘Tell me a strategy of entering your feet’. Instead of interpreting the word ‘culali as “strategy’, one can interpret it as a surrounding or a place where the poet can go and reach the Lord’s feet as a safe place, where he can escape from the miseries of the world.


In this hymn, the poet after the dance of internal joy, has courage enough to face the world; and the beauty of the Puranic form of the Lord appears before him. In contrast to these, appear the miseries of the world, the slowly working Death, the temptations of the senses, the helpless state of his own partial blinaness, the fear of the sea of births, the ephemeral nature of youth and this body—a body which is so flimsy and the temptation of women, and our poet cries to the Lord to show him a way out. The descriptions of the transitoriness of the world, youth and body, and the description of the Lord are reminiscent of ancient authors, Tiruvalluvar (From whose work a number of passages has been adopted), Campantar, and the authors of Nalatiyar, etc. Perhaps the poet also is referring to some proverbs prevalent in his age. That seems to be implied in our poet’s statement ‘Collaykkali-kinratu’ (1).

The river Niva rushes, pushing down the akil, the precious shining gems all mixed together, from the mountains (1), along with pepper creepers and big trees (2), with the flowers of the ‘venkai” tree and the "konku” tree of high branches (4). The river rushes down with tall bamboos, when the moving clouds rain on the topmost peak of the mountain (5). The river rushes down with beautiful gold, cardamom and clove (6). It comes pushing down with great force, heaps of akil from the face as it were of the peak (7). On the bank of this river stands the city, where dances the Lord in the presence of the darhsels of curled tresses of hair (2). That holy place is the rendezvous of the damsels, glorious like the peacock, who have no compeers (7). The place is full of gardens with trees growing very high. In the tanks of blue water lilies the swans swarm (6). In the sylvan tract of the place surrounded by long fields full of water, the crabs play (8)—it is one of the characteristic features of the poet to note not only the significant swan, but also the insignificant crabs. The Lord, our poet says, lives here for long in this beauty spot.


The Puranic descriptions of the Lord refer to His crown of the crescent moon (1), His dance before the loving damsels (2), His ear-ring of makara (7), His girdle of a dancing serpent (3), the white bull (3), His love for being seated under the shade of a banyan tree (6), the vanquishment of Ravana (8), His becoming invisble to Visnu and Brahma (9) and His Ardhanarisvara form (3). In this hymn also, our poet seems to be differentiating between Amarar and Vanavar—“A mar ark kamarar Peruman” (8) and ‘Ninil muti vanavar vantiraincum........Ninmalan’ (9).


The rest of the hymn is his lamentations to the Lord with reference to the ephemeral nature of the world and his prayer to the Lord to inform him of a way out. “They have constructed a beautiful place to live in (perhaps a palace), they walked in, they dressed, they became grey and they died—thus in this world, life is passing away and this transitoriness has become a proverb. I, Your slave, realizing this, have clung to you. Tell me how I can escape from the crux.” (1). “In this earthly world ephemeral and vain, you have made me a man but I cannot stand firm. Or, I may not be eternal. Tell me a place where I can enter your feet, successfully fighting against and extinguishing (these five sensations) of the five gates of sense organs” (2). “What alas I I have no eye except yourself. (This is on the basis of Periyalvar; “Vilikkum kannilen ninkan marrallal” It is also possible to interpret, “One eye, I have not”. For, that is the story about his present partial blinaness. “I have no other attachment except yourself, O, my Lord! Please tell me of a place of escape which I may reach crossing such a full ocean of birth” (Arrar must be split into ‘arru’ meaning such, and ‘ar’ meaning ‘full’—3). (The terror of this sea is so well known and therefore it is referred to as ‘that’ or such—3).

“The youth is like the bank on which dashes the floods. This birth is like waking up from sleep. Without making me suffer residing in this body and withering away, tell me your servant, a place to which I could escape” (4).

“The five senses will get confused and the heart will get troubled when the followers of the Lord of Death, who fight with their spears, attack. Before I become unconscious as a result of these, tell me a place to which I can escape” (5).

“I am not happy with this body which suffers even when a tiny awn of paddy presses on it. I have suffered (enough). Tell me a place to which I, your slave, can now escape” (6).

“This is a life where the decorations of a marriage become decorations of a corpse, O, Lord! tell me a place to which I could escape” (7).

“Because of my good fortune which I had amassed in olden times, I was blessed with the gift of reciting your name; tell me a place to which, I, your slave, can now escape” (8).

“Before I become like the bees swarming the jack fruit, to be caught in the trap of the damsels of shining forehead, tell me a place to which, I Your slave, can now escape” (9).

(The reading given is “Vdnar nutalar valaippat tatiyen palavin kani tyatu polvatanmun”— Sama jam edn. of 1935). But Ramananda Yogi’s annotation gives the reading “Ipolvatu”. But this will make the line shorter than it ought to be. All the other editions give the reading “Intatu pol”. The reading “lyatu polvatu” was suggested perhaps by the lines in Tiruva-cakam, “Ulaitaru nokkiyar konkaip palappalattiyin oppay” (Nittal Vinnappam: 46). One wonders whether the word ‘intu’ itself meant a bee. Iyal, icul, fka’ are words with the same root ‘I’; with tu’ as a formative, and by nunnation the form ‘Intu’ may be had. ‘Antu’ is a small grey winged insect found in stored paddy and the people of Chingleput Disitrict speak also of ‘Antu’ as an insect affecting the paddy. Therefore, ‘Intu’ may mean such a small insect.

Our poet speaks of the Lord as standing firm like ‘A’ ([?]) standng first among the letters (7). This reminds us the first kural and the Gita statement, “I am the letter ‘A’ among the letters”—“Aksaranam akard asmi” (Gita: 10: 33).


The poet feels elated after singing this hymn and as a result of this elation he feels in singing this hymn, he assures that those who mastered these ten verses of this garland of a hymn of good Tamil sung by Arurar, the servant and follower of the Lord, the chief of Southern Navalur, full of beautiful pulaces and long royal, roads, where rush the chariots—that these experts will become kings or emperors riding on elephants, black elephants full of must on which will hum the bees and will rule the whole of Heavens (10). This shows the poet’s mind still bears traces of his political associations.

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