The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “thirunodithanmalai or tirunotittanmalai (hymn 100)” from the part dealing with the Pilgrim’s progress (unto the last), 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 97 - Thirunodithanmalai or Tirunotittanmalai (Hymn 100)


This hymn is on the Best Lord—Uttaman— of Notittanmalai which is considered to be Kailas, the mountain of Notittan or the Destroyer (Notittan has this meaning of destruction as established by Meikantar’s usage in his Sivajnanabhodam,—Sutram: 1, Venpa; 4)). According to tradition, this hymn was sung when God sent him a white elephant for transporting him from this world to the Kailas. The Kailas is not only the name of the mountain but also the name of the highest Heavens according to the Shaivite mythology. Sivalokam, Rudralokam and Paralokam have all been mentioned by our poet.

There are two sets of interpretations for these terms: One, which believes in Padamukti or Saloka, holding that the highest spiritual development and salvation consists in reaching this highest sphere. The others, who believe in Paramukti or Sdyujya, hold, the highest spiritual development is to become one with the Lord and they interpret the givaloka etc., as a spiritual state of Absolute communion with the Lord. This school of thought also speaks of a lower degree of spiritual development where souls reach a place of holiness and spirituality which is also called Kailas where Srikanta Rudra, one of the saved souls, given the power of rulership, resides to save the world.

Unless one holds that Nampi Arurar also believed in Padamukti and attained only what the other school of thought considers a lower order of spiritual attainment, it is difficult to understand this hymn literally. Ramanuja’s philosophy interprets the poems of Alvars as holding out this Padamukti the highest state of spiritual development, though there are others who will controvert this position. The penultimate hymn in Tiruvaymoli beginning with the word ‘Culvicurnpu’ gives his vision of the reception which the Bhaktas get when they reach Vaikunta or the world of Visnu. The whole universe is said to be happy and welcoming along with the rsis and celestials, these Bhaktas entering through the gates of Vaikunta to the great mantapam there. A reception, or rather something like that, is described in this hymn as having been offered to Arurar.

If this hymn is thus taken as having been sung when the poet reached the heavenly Kailas, the last verse has to be interpreted as an address to the Lord of the Ocean to carry this hymn to the Cera King and through him to the people of the world; for according to tradition Arurar did not know the Cera king following him pn horse back.


If something more than padamukti is the ultimate goal of Shaivism, this hymn has to be interpreted metaphorically signifying the great paramukti itself or a vision thereof. An elephant, and that a white elephant, is said to have been offered to Nampi Arurar. The elephant usually signifies two different things; One is the gross materialism leading on to the slavery of five senses. The other is the unperturbed absolute knowledge in the form of Pranava. By describing this elephant as being white, it is the latter interpretation that is suggested. The flaying of the elephant is the destruction of materialism while the story of riding on the white elephant represents reaching the state of spiritual development through the knowledge of Pranava. The contrast between the material and the spiritual is emphasized by our poet in the second verse: “Is it to get rid of your enmity with the elephant you have flayed, you had offered me this elephant on which the eternals of the eternals of the heavens that circumambulate me have made me ride?” (2).

The highest spiritual state is one of peace, self forgetful bliss losing oneself in God and this aspect is emphasized by the epithet ‘matta’ in the phrase, ‘Matta yanai’ (1). The beauty aspect of the Absolute is spoken of and emphasized by the description of the Lord as ‘Alakan’ in the big heavens (3). Its purity and knowledge aspects are emphasized by the term ‘Vellai yanai (5). That it is angry with the ways of the world is spoken of as it being the ‘Vencina yanai’ (16). The gradual spiritual development through higher and higher states of realization is spoken of as a kind of riding on the elephant and going up the mountain. The heavens and earth tremble in reverential love losing their old balance (7). It is the crown of everything and it is described as ‘ciramali yanai (8), where there is a pun on the word ‘ciram’ which means not only the zenith of spiritual perfection but also the high head of the elephant. Our poet often speaks of ‘paramallatoru velam” (4, 6), a phrase usually cited with reference to spiritual joy and bliss (Tiruvacakam: 22: 2) as something beyond what we could bear or control. This makes our suggestion that the elephant signifies a spiritual state, plausible.


Our poet also addresses his mind rhetorically interrogating it, “Alakanai arul purintatuntaramo T' (3). The heavens are said to welcome the rider on the elephant (1). The elephant is offered in the mid heavens far away from gross matter. It is not clear how this statement of the offer in the heavens has to be explained in the light of the usual version of the tradition that the elephant came down to earth to carry away Nampi Arurar. The deathless ones worship and go round the poet (2). The celestials are happy at the sight of this elephant-ride (5). “In the presence of these celestials the Lord who has always been residing in my mind has removed death and had offered me the elephant beyond my control” (6). It has been offered so that the poet may not embrace destruction. He speaks of his coming on the elephant through the (established) path (7).

The king of the seas bows down before our poet with his followers (7). This reminds us of Nammalvar’s poem: “Alkatal alaitirai kai etuttatina”: ‘the sea raised up its hands of waves and danced in joy’, thus suggesting the whole universe is happy at the spiritual development attained by the poet. Our poet also speaks of the reverential and loving tremble of the sea (7). All through the heavens or the various spheres of spiritual development there is the welcome to the poet which resounds long before he reaches the respective states. It is full of the sound of ‘Hara Hara’.of Agamas of songs of praises known to the Jilanis and the sound of the Vedas mixing with these (8). Indra,'Visnu, Brahma and the beautiful Devas welcome the poet and for this consummation, the Lord has offered the elephant. The saints and seers, the great munis of mantra fame, so near the Lord, ask of Him, “Who is this?” and the Lord replies “He is our man, Uran” (9). Probably it is this which is responsible for the story that when the rsis enquired of Upamanyu, what that light appearing before them was which he was worshipping, this great master told them that the coming in of light was the returning of Arurar back to Kailas.

Vana is mentioned as leading (Valitara—Cintamani—V. 989) his march (8). It is probably the Vanan who has become the Sivagana, to play on the pot drum whilst the Lord dances. “Varamali Vanan” (8) is the full phrase and that will mean one who lives rich in his offerings of blessings, a fitting name for the Lord begging for our love and feeling happy only when He saves the souls while at other times does not feel like living at all.


Unuyir veru ceytan” (1)—‘the Lord separated the body from the soul’: that does not mean death; but signifies the conferring of a spiritual achievement where the souls become freed from the evils and sufferings of the body, a realization that the soul has nothing to do with this flesh. Therefore, when the poet speaks of the Lord exhibiting his body on the white elephant it must not be interpreted as referring to the corpse. In the jivanmukta state, the soul reaches its communion with the Lord, thanks to the conferment of the white elephant of true knowledge.


In the presence of this flood of God’s Grace the poet looks very small and gives expression to his feeling of self-condemnation. “He created me. Realizing that, alas, what is it that I should sing unto His golden feet! He has counted me a dog as of some worth and offered me the elephant” (1). “I know no mantra. I, a slave, was intoxicated in my domestic life committing all faults and excesses, though assuming various forms of seeming beauty. He has offered me the beautiful elephant, O, my mind! Is it within your capacity?” (3). “O, my heart! who art hankering after life! The Lord has transformed me, who was caught till now within the cruel fetter of karmas as a result of women. He has offered me the elephant” (4). “I was a deceit knowing not how to attain His feet with flowers and with contemplation on Him, and bringing all my five senses in Concentration on Him. StiH, He has been residing in my mind and he has removed my death and offered the elephant” (6).


Our poet says, “I have seen and realized today thoroughly the fact that those born in this world and praise you through generations of your devotees, reach the world of gold” (5), meaning thereby the precious and blissful state of salvation—Kailas or Notittanmalai which goes on growing through aeons after aeons. This spiritual state he is singing in verses as sweet as sugar, verses becoming famous all round. Our poet has with all his heart praised the Mountain, with the sweet Tamil of seven tunes (10).

The poet calls himself Navala Uran and as we mentioned elsewhere he refers to his ‘Sundara Vetam’ (3) probably suggesting to the later age the name Cuntarar for himself.


The hymn closes with the statement or with an address to the king of the ocean that these ten verses should be made known to the father of Ancai, Ancaiyappar, who is no other than the Lord; for, in the previous hymn our poet has addressed the Lord as Ancaikkalattappan. In the universal vision of the poet where the whole universe is happy, he feels that the very waves would carry this news of his bliss to the very Lord who has conferred the bliss.

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