The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “thiruvarur or tiruvarur (hymn 37)” 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 78 - Thiruvarur or Tiruvarur (Hymn 37)


This hymn is addressed to the bees, birds and the cloud as messengers of love. Every verse ends in a chorus like ending: “Unartta vallirkale ’. It is either an interrogation, “Are you capable of making Him realize this state of mine?” or better an assertion, “You are indeed capable of making Him realize this state of mine.” This will imply a request that they should take pity on the love-sick maiden and carry her message for informing Him and impressing on Him her true desperate condition. Thus these verses are the speeches of a love-sick maiden, pining away, unable to bear His separation.


“Coming together of the loving couple” is technically known as ‘Kurmci’. It occurs under ideal conditions in the mountain tract and at midnight. Without any conscious or previous arrangement, Providence brings them together. The two become one great embodiment of divine or natural love. “Separation” is known as ‘Palai’ and the ideal place and time are the desolate desert and the summer midday respectively. “Living together a chaste domestic life of complete identity of purpose” is called ‘Mullaf. The ideal place is the sylvan tract and the ideal time is the dusk (first part of the night) of the rainy season. “The sulky mood” is known as ‘Marutam’ and its ideal place is the city and the ideal time, the dawn. “When the hero is absent for a long time, the heroine is overpowered by a feeling of despair and desolation” and this is technically known as ‘Neytal’ and the ideal place is the lonely mourning sea and the ideal time is the desolate and exhausting afternoon. It is this neytal which is described in this hymn. The crane (narai-8), the stork (kuruku-1), the swan (annaw-10) and the ruddy goose (cakravala-4) are all water birds. To distinguish this sea-board from the desert, there will be a grove on the beach, known in Tamil as ‘Kanal’, wherein will gather all kinds of birds, the parrots, the koel, the bees (10). The clouds also come in as possible mesengers (7), because they travel through air as much as birds. The feeling of despair and desolation is so powerful that the lovesick maiden has no time to think whether the birds can be the messengers of love. One gets great relief by the very act of giving expression to the pent up feelings. We have already referred to the philosophy of the common folk who look upon the birds speaking and hearing perhaps better than men.


The commentator on Tiruvaymoli (the commentary known familiarly as Itu’), refers to a tradition about one of the readers condemning this kind of poem as rank eroticism. Yajnavalkya, explaining the greatest truth about the ‘Atman’ to Maitreyl in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad speaks of the ‘Atman’ as that which is to be heard, that which is to be contemplated on, that which is to be seen and this commentator says that this describes the love, one has to bear to the Atman or the Lord; this love is the Bhagavatkama. Nammalvar asserts that he will not forget Him, that he will cry for Him, embrace Him and love by worshipping Him and Nanjiyar explains this as the Alvar’s experience of the Lord enjoying Him with his mind, speech and body.

This hymn of Nampi Arurar also is one such experience of love as is made clear by the statement in the last verse of this hymn:

Nittama kanninain tullamet tittolum
Attanam porkala latikala ruraraic
Cittamvait tapukalc cinkati yappanmeyp
Pattanu ranconna patumin pattare
” (37: 11).

The true Bhakta who daily meditates on Him with his mind, praises Him (through his speech) and worships Him (with his body).


The ‘Itu’ or the commentary on Nammalvar raises the question, “If the saint is experiencing the Lord, where arises this despair and desolation of ‘neytal’?

In the previous hymn, the poet was referring to the Graces of the Lord through the Puranic stories such as the feast of poison, a feast which the saint feels he cannot see anymore because it happened once upon a time. It is this kind of disappointment that brings about this feeling of despair according to the Itu.

The Itu next raises the question, “Where arises the separation when the saint is experiencing the Lord?” and it offers an explanation. The commentary follows the method of the catechism:

“Food is good, but it brings on disease when there is no hunger. Therefore, the doctor prevents the food coming near the patient. To enable the Alvar to bear the oncoming experiences, the Lord steps aside for a while, so that the saint may be without the divine bliss for the nonce”.

The Itu next raises the problem whether God is a Doctor and quotes Periyalvar who has answered the question in the affirmative by describing the Lord as ‘Maruttuvan’. Nampi Arurar also described the Lord as ‘Valittunai marunte’ (70: 9).

The Itu continues to ask, “Can this saint, the great, wise master despair?” The reply is that if he was blessed merely with the knowledge of wisdom he might not have despaired but he was blessed with wisdom taking the form of Bhakti. This love for God it is that inspires the despair even where there is no room for despair. That is the characteristic feature of all love. The Lord is so unique, so beautiful, so great and so loving as described by our Nampi Arurar in the previous hymn, that even the thought of the Lord’s absence for a while brings on despair making futile even the great wisdom conferred on the saint by God. The Itu points out, that the embodiment of God’s Grace, Sita herself, who ought to know better than anybody else, attempted to commit suicide with her own tresses of hair unable to bear the absence of her Lord.

The next objection raised and answered by the Itu is whether it is an ancient convention to send birds as messengers of love. Here again the commentator refers to Ramayana, where Sita addressed the trees and the river begging of them to report to Rama about her abduction by Ravana.


The commentator raises another doubt about the masculinesaint becoming the lady-love. He refers to six points of identity of the lady-love with the saint: (1) Being a servant of the Lord (and becoming unfit for the service of others); (2) taking refuge in Him and none else; (3) being alive only when in communion with the Lord; (4) suffering the unbearable despair at the thought of separation; (5) offering happiness unto Him alone; and (6) accepting Him alone as the protector and abiding as the thing to be protected by Him alone. This reference to the saint as a ladylove, the Itu looks upon as a metaphor. But one may add that the souls and saints stand in the place of the ladies in love with the Lord as their ravisher.

“Will not the masculine qualities subvert this feminine behaviour of the saint?” asks the commentary (Itu). It answers, “Even men aspire to become women in the presence of the Lord; for, such is the characteristic of the Lord, the Purusottama, the best of men.


The commentator raises another question, “How the lady within the palace could get at birds for being sent as her messengers?” In answering this the commentator explains the convention of Tamil poetry which we referred to above. In the garden of the sea beach or ‘neytal’ there are the birds with wings to quickly reach the Lord and the heroine addresses them without any thought about the possibility of their speaking. As already explained, this kind of address to the birds as messengers is as old as the Cankam poetry, a convention, which came to be elaborated in later times.


The descriptions of these birds are said to have an esoteric meaning and following the footsteps of the Itu, one can explain the significance of the birds referred to in Nampi Arurar"s hymn as well. The birds are considered to be the Guru or the Master, who brings about the union of the Lord with the soul. The white crane (3) signifies the Guru’s blotless purity and true knowledge. The parrot (2) repeats only what it has learnt without any interpolations—the ‘aptavacana’ without introducing one’s own whimsical fancies. The swan (10) which separates the milk from the water represents the Guru separating the grain from the husk of knowledge. The ‘puvai’ (2) reminds us of the sweet speech of the Master. The ‘uennarai’ (3)—it wanders about all around perhaps for the proper food for its lover and its young ones. That reminds us of the contemplation, love and the kind regard for the student, all characteristics of the Guru, working hard for the student’s benefit. These white cranes are said to sit on the top of the groves full of leaves without caring to enjoy the shade but intent upon keeping a watch and waiting for the proper food. This reminds us of the Guru, keeping always a watch over the surrounding for the benefit of the student without caring for his own comforts. The ‘kuruku’ (1) or the water bird perched on the sandy dunes reminds us of the same characteristic features. The humming honey-bees (7) gathering little drops of honey for the bees in the honey-comb reminds us of the untiring study and meditation of the Guru for the benefit of the student. The bee does not feed on anything else but the honey; so does the Master on the loving Grace of the Lord and nothing else. The koel (9) (kuyil) famous for its song reminds us of the sweet speech of the Master. Cakravala birds (4) forming a loving couple are complementary to each other, bearing no separation. This reminds us of the Master feeling the indispensability of the student unto the Lord and to himself. The clouds (7) are symbolic of the help showered without any thought of return and this reminds us of the munificence and Grace of the Master.


The poet describes the pang of separation in every verse as consisting of three stages of development. The first verse speaks of the drinking or enjoying the Lord as though he was a nectar. This experience of communion or embrace as beyond words comes in only to describe the experience after it is over, though it must continue as a sweet remembrance, misleading thus the enjoyer himself into thinking that the experience is still continued. This unique experience of the Lord is so other-worldly, so holy that even the lover falls at His feet and praises Him, as soon as she recovers from the ecstasy of the experience. In the third stage even the remembrance becomes a distant past. The pang of separation comes on with all its force and the lover thinks of the experience with its past and the desolation which is the present, holding out hope for the future. She becomes perturbed, agitated, losing her very form and beauty, very much like things which melt thus.

The fire responsible for this kind of melting is the fire of love. The question arises whether this is all a reference to the present desolation of the past experience. The verbal form used ‘paru-kum (1) has to be taken in the sense of a habitual happening thus referring to the Lord blessing therewith His love and then stepping out for a while, as it were playing a game of hide and seek. The love-sick damsel has reached this stage of complete extinguishment—that is her feeling and that is what she expresses. Here also the body, the mind and the speech experience both the communion and the desolation.

The second verse speaks of (1) her incapacity or absolute powerlessness to forget the Lord, (2) of her bangles refusing to stay where they are because—thanks to her burning passion for the Lord—her body has become completely emaciated with no flesh to keep the bangles tight in the position and (3) of her sleeplessness even during nights which bring no peace or rest making her babble and cry. Thus the three karanas come into play in this state of desolation.

The third verse speaks of the lady-love, in spite of all this desolation, making a last attempt to live for the sake of Him so that He may not be disappointed when He chooses to come back to her. This is such a strain on her slender frame that the emaciation reaches such a stage that the loosening bangles completely fall down. The third stage is reached when this suffering ripens into her bitterness and rancidity, gradually passing through all the stages of suffering to reach this limit of its perfection.

The fourth verse speaks of her as still continuing to be her good old self, without becoming hard on Him for his unkinaness, without swerving even to a hair’s breadth from her usual path of love. But this is a great strain on her physical frame and, therefore, the bangles in spite of all her efforts, refuse to stand where they are. After this happens, one would expect her to become angry to the extent of taking revenge on Him, but in this third stage of development even when the body refuses to co-operate with her, there is no bad thought engendered in her mind.

The fifth verse speaks of her girdle or clothes gradually getting loose and slipping down because of her body becoming emaciated. The next stage is when the golden bangles fall down. The third stage is when her heaving bosom loses its beauty and colour, becoming anaemic and presenting the colour of the flower of ‘ptrlcku’ creeper. (These three stages, instead of referring tc her state of desolation are sometimes interpreted as referring tc her first meeting with Him at that stage of love at first sight or the basis of ‘utai peyarttututtal etc’ mentioned in Tolkappiyam 1207, etc.).

In the sixth verse, she speaks of her seeing Him—that is the first stage. In the next stage the fire of love flares up in her mind. In the third stage this fire consumes her body.

In the seventh verse this reference to three stages is wanting and that was one reason why it may be looked upon as an interpolation. This verse simply refers to her bosom, because of her anaemia, taking the colour of the pale gold.

The eighth verse continues to speak of her sufferings in three different stages—she speaks of her being without any other desire or attachment (except that of the Lord), of her being without any other greatness or power (except that of the Lord) and of her being without any other relations (except that of the Lord).

This verse can be better understood in the light of Appar’s verse:

Kaniyi nunkatti patta karumpinum
Panima larkkular pavainal Idrinum
Tanimu tikavit talu maracinum
Iniyan tannatain tarkkitai marutane”.

“The fruit and the sugar candy are objects of ordinary desire; women represent the most intimate relationship of love; kingship refers to the greatness of Power—These are the three things which man ordinarily aspires for. The Lord is sweeter than they”.

Nampi Arurar introduces a slight variation in the enumeration of these three. Appar who had known the intoxication of power and whom passions could not perturb, placed power as the greatest of man’s aspirations, but Arurar who had enjoyed pnwer but who could speak of the embrace of his wife as the experience of divine Grace places human relationship as the highest aspiration. The material desires have vanished first for the love-sick maiden. The ambiton of power next disappears. In the third stage all human relationships vanish.

In the ninth verse the love-sick maiden, a poetess herself, speaks of the three stages of her hankering after the Lord who had left her in desolation and whom she goes in quest of. She praises Him and thus tries to find Him. ‘Then she sings in that quest after Him. Third comes her heart melting, silently suffering. The quest of verbose prose, the quest of poetry or music and finally the quest of the silent loving heart form a spiritual development.

The tenth verse represents the hope of the future or rather her dream during this period of separation. She sings the joy of His presence; then she praises and worships Him because of His unique greatness. She embraces and becomes one with Him but only to be in a sulky mood because of His indifference—a feeling which is unconsciously working in the mind.


The way in which the Lord is referred to in this hymn of love is important. He is the Lord of beautiful and cool Arur, full of fields wherein flow nearby the juice of rich sugarcane which had become pressed and crushed because of the water birds rushing at them. This is a good recommendation to the waterbirds which are sent as her messengers of love. This also suggests the feeling of surprise at this kind of order existing in nature which makes the city of the unjust hero to be so very fertile and sweet. Perhaps it also reveals the innermost thought of hers that the Lord is as sweet to her even as the city is. It may also suggest that the reason why He has not chosen to come is that His mind is captivated by this beauty of nature so good for the world (1).

In the second verse the God is addressed as Master, who is fit to be described as the eye of Dharma thus assuring the birds that their eyesight can never miss the Dharmic eye of us all and that they can expect no unkind act from Him. It also suggests that the reason for His not coming is His preoccupation with this Dharma (2).

The third speaks of the Lord as the Master of the beautiful golden but victorious feet which rule us all. The ruler will always render justice and nobody need be afraid of going near Him, with any just complaint; for, His delay in coming back to the lovesick maiden is suggested as His preoccupation with His rulership and sovereignty (3).

The fourth verse speaks of Him as the master performing things not in any regular order. The Lord makes us fall in love with Him at first sight showering all His blessings on us all at once; for, He believes in no gradual development of love. This suggests that the Lord is sure to listen to their pleadings on her behalf and that the reason for not coming to her earlier is His preoccupation with such kinds of race for love. The Vaishnavite commentators emphasize this aspect of the Lord—the Lord hastening to save us all without believing in blessing us in instalments which makes His lovers also impatient at the separation and incapable of any thought of reaching Him gradually and by stages. (It is possible to interpret the ‘akramam’ as the cruelty of the Lord but such an interpretation may not be in consonance with the general trend of this hymn) (4).

The fifth verse speaks of Him as the Master holding the weapon of the teasing trident. This trident also ought not to be taken as the sign of His cruelty. This dynamic trident is a symbol and a promise of God’s Grace overcoming all obstacles and enemies of His love. It is thus an assurance "to these messengers of love that the Lord is there destroying all the obstacles in the way and that the delay in His coming to the love-sick maiden is His preoccupation with such removal (5).

The sixth verse speaks of the Lord as the Master worshipped by the residents of this universe. This encourages the birds that He is the beloved of all the beings of this universe and that the delay if any is due to His preoccupation with these very people of the universe falling at His feet with their prayers (6).

The seventh speaks of Him as our Lord enjoying the bliss of the cow probably referring to the ‘Pancagavya. One who is fond of the cow is not going to be hard with these birds or with the damsel; the delay is due to the worship by the followers bathing Him in the Pancagavya . (‘An’ may be the bull with reference to the Pranava or the Dharma) (7). '

The eighth verse does not describe Him as anything more than the Master. It begs of the birds to tell Him for all that this is the proper juncture for saving the damsel. Nothing more is needed except informing Him thus and He is sure to rush back to save her (8), the Lord of cool and beautiful Arur surrounded by garments where the serpents dance whilst the koel and the bees begin to sing intoxicated with the sweet fragrance of the kurava flower (9). (This has to be interpreted in the same way in which the first verse has been interpreted).

The tenth verse describes Him as the Master who is adorned with His gold and victorious anklet. That great Master of art and dance is not going to present a deaf ear to the she-swan, to the musicians of a koel and a humming bee—that is the suggested assurance for these messengers of love. The delay is due to His preoccupation with the dance to please His love (10).


In the last verse also the poet speaks of the Lord’s gold anklet of the Master of Arurar, The poet calls himself the father of Cinkati, the true Bhakta who has kept within His mind the Lord Arurar, He begs of these Bhaktas to sing these verses of love. What more is necessary than this experience of love expressed in this hymn to any God-intoxicated person? Therefore our poet does not offer any further assurance.


The descriptions of the birds may be conveniently given here. The first verse is addressed to kuruku’; the second to, ‘my parrots’ which fly and to ‘my puvai’ which sings. Flight is important at this juncture for carrying her message and that is why that aspect has to be emphasized. The next aspect is that they should express her message and that is why the aspect of singing is referred to (2). The white cranes are said to run all round and labour hard roaming and whirling. This refers to the capacity for going in search of the Lord and enduring all the hardships involved therein (3). The fourth verse is addressed to the ‘cakra-vala’ birds first to the female birds and next only through them to the male birds. Cakravala is probably a water bird. It is said that the male and the female will form a complete circle while resting in peace; they do not bear separation. The female birds are first addressed because of the lovesick maiden belonging to the female sex naturally appeals to her sex. It is also considered not proper for a female addressing the male direct without going through its wife. That is why also the appeal is made to the female swan lying in embrace with its male in the tenth verse. The fifth is addressed to the crane sitting on the top of the leafy grove. The sixth is addressed to the bees, to the clouds and to the water birds sitting on the sandy dunes or the long expanse of sand. The seventh is addressed to the honey bees and to the clouds. The eighth is addressed to the white cranes repeating the same idea of their whirling and roaming completely all round. The ninth is not specifically addressed to any bird even as the first was not. The koel and the bee are mentioned perhaps to suggest that this verse may be taken to have been addressed to the koel and the bee which may be tempted by this statement about their kith and kin in the land of the hero. The tenth is addressed to the female swan, the koels and the bees.


In the white heat of love and passion especially in the feeling of desolation and despair there is no reference to Puranic descriptions except for the reference to the anklet and the dance (11). This love is according to the Vaishnavite commentators the mutual love of Aintinai but Cekkilar as already pointed out calls this ‘kctik-kilai’ perhaps because he feels the soul is not the equal half of the Lord. Or, we must take it that the love-sick maiden who is none other than the poet has not embraced or has not the embrace of the Lord, but is only giving expression to one’s unrequited love. It is very difficult to justify this interpretation on our reading of this hymn. This hymn is important and significant as giving clear expression to our poet’s mysticism in its aspect of erotic mysticism which is symbolic of the divine experience and which cannot be expressed in any other way.

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