The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

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

This page describes “nayanar 36: siruthondar (ciruttonta)” from the religion of the Thevaram: a comparative study of the Shaivite saints the Thiruthondathogai. 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

The 36th saint is Ciruttonta Nayanar (Siruthondar). The words of Arurar are, “Cenkattankuti meya Ciruttontark katiyen”— ‘I am the servant of Ciruttontar of Cenkattankuti. This Cenkattankuti is in the Cola country. Nampiyantar Nampi speaks of this saint cutting away the body of his only child and feeding the Lord.

Cekkilar gives the story of Ciruttontar in 88 verses. The saint is said to belong to the ‘Mamattira community. Manusmrti speaks of the Mahamatras as great officers of state or chief ministers. Therefore, this saint must have been born in a family of hereditary state officials. According to Cekkilar his name was Parancoti and he was an expert in Sanskrit, the Science of medicine and in the art of war. All this knowledge, however, made him realize that the feet of the Lord are our final refuge. He led an expedition on behalf of his king against Vatapi (Badami) in the north region and razed it to the ground. When he returned victorious, the king learned that he was a great Bhakta and begged of him to continue his service to Shaivism. So, he returned to his own place, Cenkattankuti and worshipped at Ganapaticcura. His wife was Tiruvenkattu Nankai and both of them made it a point to feed the Shaivites before they dined every day. Though he was the greatest man of his time, he was so humble before the Shaivites that the people began to praise him as Cirruttontar, (The word ‘Ciru’ means small). He was feeling himself very small in the presence of Shaivites. He was blessed with a child who was called Clrala Teva and he was sent to school in time.

Shiva came in the form of a Bhairava ascetic. His tuft of hair was allowed to flow down freely. Flowers of ‘tumpai’ adorned his crown. He had a circular mark of the sacred ash in his fore-head. A circular earring made of the conch shell was dangling in his ears inside each of which was placed the ‘cevvarattai’ flower. A necklace of crystal beads adorned his neck. He was wearing a black coat or a robe. He was wearing armlets, wristlets, anklets and waistband and garlands—all made of ‘rudraksa’. He was wearing the jingling anklet (cilampu) in his feet. He was carrying a skull in his left hand and the trident on his shoulders whilst his right hand was making the ‘damarukha’ resound. When he came to the house of Ciruttontar, the latter was away from his house in search of Shaivites to be fed that day. His servant maid Cantana nankai informed the Bhairava of this who, however, said that he could not stay in a place where only women were staying. The wife of Ciruttontar also begged him to stay but the Bhairava stated that he came from the north and he would be staying under the ‘atti’ tree at Ganapaticcuram.

Ciruttontar, finding no Shaivites, returned home with a heavy heart but on hearing of the newcomer, went to the ‘atti’ tree to beg of the Bhairava to dine with him. The Bhairava told Ciruttontar that he used to eat once in six months only, and that, the only child of five years of age of a family. Ciruttontar said that it was nothing impossible. Their own child was brought from the school and he was cooked. Whilst cooking, they had thrown out the head of the child, which the Bhairava demanded at the time when the food was served. Fortunately, the servant maid was ready with the cooked head and it was also served. The Bhairava called upon Ciruttontar to bring in, his child to dine with him and ordered them to call the child. The father and mother of the child implicitly obeyed the order and the child came as though coming from the school but by that time the Bhairava had disappeared. The Lord appeared with the Mother Goddess and the divine child Muruka on the sacred bull high up in the heavens and all the four, the father, the mother, the child and the servant woman were taken to the abode of Shiva.

One of the sculptures of Darasuram represents this. The lower right hand portion represents the holding of the child to be cut and to be cooked. The lower left portion represents the Bhairava seated before the food served in front of him and his ordering the child to be called. The upper right half represents the mother calling the child and the rushing in of the child. The upper left half represents Parvati and Paramesvara on the sacred bull. There is no Muruka or child God with Paramesvara.

The Sanskrit and Kannada traditions speak of him as Siruttondanayanar or Dabhrabhakta. He is made therein a general of a Chola king destroying the fort of Vatapi, capturing its king (Pulakesi II) alive to be surrendered to the Chola king together with an immense quantity of treasure. His son is called Siriyala or Srilala, evidently a corruption of the name Cirala. As in Periyapuranam, the general is said to have slain and offered his son’s flesh to a Shaivite guest whilst Shiva, pleased at this restored the son to life again.

The story of the horrible dinner is referred to by Nampiyantar Nampi. Pattinattatikal mentions this in his Koyil Nanmanimalai: “Ninmutal valipatat tanmakan tatinta tontar manaiyil untal pom”. Therefore, this story must have been popular even before the times of Nampiyantar and of Pattinattar. Details of the preparation of this food according to Dr. Rajamanikkam have been taken by Cekkilar from Tillai Ula. This work is not completely available.

Late Mr. Ulakanatapillai having printed the portions which he had secured we have in two places, the story of Ciruttontar referred to. 158th kanni runs as follows:

Kontirunta palakanai kucamal kurakkak
Kantirunta cenkamalak kanmunrum

‘The three red lotus-like eyes which without any shudder were looking at the crest jewel of a Bhakta cutting to ‘pieces his own child’. The next reference occurs in the description of the ‘mankai’ who falls in love with the Lord. The mother despairs of the cruel hearted Shiva ever returning the love of her child.

Kannis from 197 to 202 run as follows:

Matavam ceytiruntu valvar akattirpoy
Patakam ceyta pavalamum—Katalittup
Perror pitittariyum pillaikar puccatankaic
Cirrocai kelat tirucceviyum—Perror
Cirucantu menkuranku ceytarkal enrum
Karikantu kucata kannum—Piravitanil
Parrilork kellam pataikkum talai iraiccip
Perrilom ennum perumpaciyum—Carriranka
Vannenca mumutaiyan valvinaiyen perretutta
Annum patuva tarward—Munnam
Arinta makavai alaippittar—Minturn
Purintu nakaiceytu ponar”.

‘He is the Lord, of those ruddy feet which once upon a time walked along ‘Cenkotu’ with the bemoaning anklets resounding all round of the coral (lips) which performed the great sin (i.e., asking for the flesh of the child) in the house of the people of self-sacrifice, of the beautiful ears, which turned deaf to the wee little twinkling of the bells adorning the tiny feet of the child which was cut to pieces by his own parents full of love, of the eyes which never shuddered to look at the dish of the soft thigh and tiny joints cooked by the parents, of the great hunger, regretting that the head had not been secured as food, of the hard heart never relenting even for a moment. Will He know the sufferings of my child, He who made them call the very child which they had cut into pieces, He who again laughed and went His way’?

Even in this Ula, there is no reference to the servant-maid Can tana nankai and her preparing or cooking the head and having it ready for the Bhairava. Therefore, it can’t be said that all the details found in Cekkilar are traceable to this Ula; nor, it is correct to say that this Ula is anterior to Kulottunka II. Dr. Rajamanikkam is certainly wrong in assuming that there is no reference to this king who, he thinks, was a contemporary of Cekkilar. The 65th kanni refers to the Cola who gave Visrnu the blue sea for sleeping therein and we know that it was Kulottunka II who threw the image of Govnidaraja of Citamparam into the blue sea. These considerations conclusively prove that this Ula belongs to the age of Kulottunka IL Candesvara is believed in the Shaivite tradition and Agamas to perform the festival of Shiva, The actual person performing the festival usually stands by the side of Candesvara as his agent and servant. The same idea, is brought out in the 65th and 66th kannis, “Tantulay malai tikiri marakatamekam tuyila rilak katalalitta neriyanum meloru nala tantai iru tai tunitta kait tirumuniyum vantu carana malar porra”.

Though Pattinattar and Nampiyantar knew about the tradition of this horrible dinner, the verses of Arurar and Campantar are silent about this incident. Campantar was a contemporary of Ciruttontar and we have his hymn on Ganapaticcuram built by Ciruttontar at Cenkattankuti. The very phrase which Arurar has in his Thiruthondathogai, “Cenkattankuti meya Ciruttontar” is bodily taken out from the opening verses of Campantar’s hymn, “Cenkattankuti meya Ciruttontan pani ceyya” The Ganapatic-curam temple is called Ciruttontan Ganapaticcuram, leaving no doubt in our mind that the temple was built by Ciruttontar. Ciruttontar is said to serve the Lord in the temple. He is a ‘sista— ‘an eminent and distinguished man—educated and disciplined and a model unto others’. He is “Circ Ciruttontan” —‘Ciruttontan of great fame’. He is “Cirulan Ciruttontan” and “Ciralan Ciruttontan” which phrases again emphasize his great fame. The tradition tells us that the name of the child was Ciralan. Are we to take Ciralan Ciruttontan as meaning Ciruttontan, the son of Ciralan in which case the child may be assumed to have borne the name of his grandfather? Or, the word Ciralan may be interpreted as referring to the Lord of the temple, for we know the Lord there, was called Ciraladeva. Campantar calls him “Cirappulavan Ciruttontan” ‘Ciruttontan the pre-eminent scholar’. ‘Cira’ should be the contracted form of ‘cirappu’ or rather the root ‘cira’ itself must have been separately used in the age of Tevaram—Cirappuli Nayanar, Cirappatu. It is this which must have suggested to Cekkilar all these references he makes to Ciruttantar’s learning. He is again shining with the burnt up ashes on his chest—“Venta niru ani mar pan”

We get a glimpse of Ciruttontar’s warrior’s life and of his battles in Campantar’s hymns: “Kannavil tol Ciruttontan” —‘His shoulders were as strong as the rock or mountain;’ “Ceruvati tol Ciruttontan” —‘The shoulders that were chosen as the best in the battle field’. His princely life when he was a commander is also referred to by the reference, “Tenamar tare Ciruttontan” — Ciruttontan of the garlands bubbling with honey’. In another hymn on Ganapanccuram, he speaks of the Lord residing in the temple of Ganapaticcuram to bless Ciruttontar who enjoys the sacred ashes: “Poti nukarum Ciruttontar” In that hymn, Campantar describes the festival of Cenkattankuti.

One wonders whether the description of the Lord in the third verse that is responsible for the description of the Bhairava coming to test Ciruttontar though there is nothing to justify this tradition:

Varantaiyan copurattan mantirattan tantirattan
Kirantaiyan kovanattan kinkiniyan kaiyator
Cirantaiyan Cenkattan kutiyan cen cataiccerum
Karantaiyan venntrran Kanapatic carattane”

Appar does not mention Ciruttontar specifically. But when he speaks of “Uriya pala tolil ceyyum atiyar tankatku ulakamelam mulutalikkum ulappilanai” —‘The Lord who gives the whole world to his followers who do his varied services’; one may not be wrong in interpreting this as an implied reference to the victor of Vatapi. Thanks to the Tamilian contact with the Calukyas, the Ganapati worship had come to stay. Appar thus refers to this worship: “Palapala kamattarakip pataittelu varmanat tulle, Kala-malak kittut tiriyum Ganapati ennum kalirum”. If there was anything as extraordinary as the story mentioned in the tradition was known to Campantar, he would certainty have mentioned it in his Cenkattankuti hymn

A word may be said about the phrase Ciruttontar, which reminds us the phrase of Nammalvar, “Cirumdmanicar”. It may refer to those Bhaktas who in spite of all their learning and greatness come to perform all kinds of humble services. This phrase must have been very popular in the age of Campantar. He refers in four places to those humble souls of his times worshipping at Alankatu, Kalukkunram, Karukavur and Kurralam: “Vanankum ciruttontar vaikal ettum valttu” —‘They bow down and praise the Lord every day’; “Ettum ciruttantar ullamellam ulki ninranke utan atum kallam vallan” —‘They think of Him and He becomes one with them almost stealing into their heart’; “Palakavalla Ciruttontar" —‘They can move freely with any one’; ‘Ciruttontir”: In this last place (Kurralam), he addresses the worshippers as ‘Ciruttontir’ whom he calls in other verses of that hymn as ‘namarankal’, ‘afiyirkal’, ‘periyirkal’, ‘toluvirkdV, ‘panivirkal’. Therefore, we may take it that our saint was great for his humility in serving the Lord and his followers.

The age of Ciruttontar has been fixed with the help of the references in Periyapuranam to the conquest of Vatapi. Pulakesin II was the natural enemy of the Pallavas: the Aihole inscription enumerating the exploits of the Chalukya king speaks of the Pallava king vanishing behind the walls of Kanci. The Kasakuti plates speak of a Mahendravarman’s victory at Pullalur, now Pallur. Whatever that may be, there is not the slightest doubt that the Chalukyas began to invade the Pallava country as soon as Narasimhavarman, the son of Mahendravarman I came to the throne. The Kuram plates speak of a Narasimhavarman defeating Pulakesin at Pariyalam, Manimangalam and Suramara. Narasimhavarman’ s army pursued the Chalukya king to his very capital Vatapi. The Velur Palayam plates speak of Narasimha capturing the Jayasthambha in the very centre of Vatapi. That this is not a vain boast is proved by an inscription found at Vatapi itself, which speaks of Mahamalla Kshitibhujam Agresara Pallava Simhavishnu Therefore, the capture and pillage of Vatapi by Ciruttontar are referred to in Periyapuranam as historical facts. This capture of Vatapi is said to have occurred somewhere about 642 A.D. But Prof. M. Raghava Aiyangar, to make Tirumankaimannar a contemporary of Arurar, if not of Campantar as mentioned in the Guruparampara prabhavam, makes Ciruttontar a commander-in-chief of Paramesvara I and Mr. M. S. Ramaswamy Aiyangar will therefore make Mahendravarman II, the Pallava king who was converted by Appar. According to Kailasanatha temple inscription Paramesvaravarman I seems to have led another invasion against Vatapi (Badami). The Gadval plates of Vikramaditya I, the son of Pulakesi gives the date as 26th April 674 and the counter attack of Badami must have followed sometime thereafter. Mr. Nilakanta Sastry in his Pandyan kingdom proceeded on the basis that Ciruttontar was the commander-in-chief of Narasimha I. But in his latest book “History of India, Part I” he changes his views and feels that Ciruttontar was a commander of Paramesvara I.

The following is according to him the summary of the events:

Vikramaditya renewed the contest with the Pallavas and entered into an alliance with Arikesari Parankusa Maravarman (670-710), the fourth king of the restored Pandya line. The Gangas of Mysore were also allied to Vikramaditya who inflicted a defeat on Mahendravarman II and advanced to Kanchi early in the reign of his successor. Paramesvara’s attempt to stop the invasion in the Ganga country failed, and in the battle of Vilande, Bhuvikrama, the Ganga ally of the Chalukya, seized from the Pallava king a valued necklace containing the gem Ugrodaya. At the same time the Pandya advanced from the south, and Paramesvara seeking to dispose of him first, met with fresh defeats in the battles of Nelveli and Sankaramangai in the southern marches of his kingdom. Vikramaditya pursued him there and encamped at Uraiyur on the banks of the Kaveri. Undaunted by defeats, Paramesvara effected a diversion by sending an army under Paranjoti alias Siruttondar into the heart of the Chalukya kingdom to threaten Badami itself, and ended campaign with a resounding victory against his enemies at Peruvalanallur in the Trichinopoly district”.

But unfortunately the reasons are not clear to us. The references in Periyapuranam to the razing of Vatapi seem to suggest that it was the expedition during the reign of Narasimha I, rather than that of Paramesvara that is referred to. For, we do not hear of any such great havoc happening at Badami at the time of the second expedition. If we rely upon Periyapuranam, we could not say that the Pandya Ninracir Netumaran’ won the battle at Nelveli against the Pallava as already explained when we were discussing the life of this Pandya. In any case, after all, there is only a difference of 40 years (642-674) and we may not be wrong in assigning the midale of the seventh century to Ciruttontar.

The note on the Tiruccenkattankuti by the Epigraphist is very illuminative. It runs as follows:

“With the supernatural elements eliminated, there is reason to believe that the incidents in the life of the saint as described in the Periyapuranam, largely admit of epigraphical verification. On the strength of the statements that Siruttonda Nayanar met Tirunanasambandar personally and took part in the capture of Vatapi (i.e. Badami in the Bombay Presidency), Mr. Venkayya has shown that the two devotees must have been contemporaries of the Pallava king Narasimhapotavarman I, who ‘reduced to dust the city of Vatapi’ and flourished in the first half of the seventh century A.D.

Epigraphical reference to Siruttondar, known so far, occurs in an inscription of Rajendra Chola I from the Raja raj es vara temple at Tanjore. This record registers the setting up of copper-images of Siruttonda-Nambi, his wife Tiruvengattu Nangai and their son Siraladeva. No. 65 of Appendix C, found on the west wall of the Ganapatisvara shrine in the Uttarapatisvara temple at Tiruchchengattangudi, is dated in the third year of an unspecified Rajakesarivarman and records a grant of land for two perpetual lamps to Siraladeva. It is not possible to say who this Rajakesarivarman may have been. The record has on palaeographical grounds, to be ascribed to the time of Rajaraja I, who in his earlier records, invariably appears under the name Rajaraja—Rajakesarivarman.

Two other epigraphs from the same place, both dated in the 19th year of Rajaraja I, add further information about Sirala. The former registers a grant of land for feeding in the mandapa of Siruttonda-Nambi, all the Shaiva devotees who gathered to witness the Sittirai festival of Siraldeva.

The latter provides for festivities in honour of Siruttonda-Nambi who was rendering devotional services to the gods Mahadeva-Siraladeva and to Virabhadra. From these it becomes plain that, in the temple at Tiruchchengattangudi, in the time of Rajaraja I, there was a shrine or mandapa dedicated to or called after the devotee Siruttonda-Nambi and that Sirala-deva was the name of the god Mahadeva in the chief shrine of the temple.

The two shrines in the temple at Tiruchchengattangudi are now called Uttardpatisvara and Ganapatisvara. The mandapa of Siruttonda, which must have been located inside the temple prakara, is no longer pointed out,—the only modern structure answering to this name being situated outside the temple.

Ganapatisvara is a linga-shrine on which the early Chola inscriptions of the temple are engraved.

Uttarapatisvara bears later Vijayanagara records and contains a metallic image of Bhai-rava, which possibly represents the Virabhadra-form of Shiva referred to in No. 59 quoted above. This figure of Virabhadra is perhaps, to be connected with the Kapalika form, in which Shiva appeared to Siruttonda Nayanar, as stated in the Periyapuranam.

Uttardpatisvara must also have been a later name coined from the fact recorded in the story, viz., that the Shiva (Bhairava) who manifested himself before Siruttonda came from the northern country (Uttarapadha). According to Nos. 71 and 76 of Appendix C.

Uttarapati Nayaka received worship in the shrine (tiru-maligai) of Siruttonda Nayanar. Consequently, we may have to suppose also that the present shrine of Uttardptaisvara is identical with the original Siruttonda-Nayanar-tirumaligai and that Sirala-deva, as stated already, was the name of Ganapatisvara after whom the young Sirala of the Periyapuranam story was, evidently, named. It is, however, difficult to explain how Tirupianasamban-dar of the first half of the 7th century A.D. selected to call the place Ganapatichcharam, while later records of the 10th and 11th centuries named it either Paramesvara or Mahadeva-Siraladeva of Tiruchchengattangudi.

The name Vttarapati-Nayaka appears for the first time in No. 64 of Appendix C, which is dated in the 45th year of Tribhuvanachakravartin Kulottunga-Chala. In the absence of the characteristic titles of Rdjakesarivarman and Parakesari-varman, this inscription will have to be referred either to Kuldt-tunga I or Kulottunga III both of whom enjoyed long reigns. From palaeography, however, we have to decide that the inscription refers to the 15th year of Kulottunka III though his latest date, from inscription examined so far, is 40.

I have suggested in my last year’s report that Sekkilar, the author of the Periyapuranam, must have been a contemporary of Kulottunka II Anapaya. It is, therefore, right to expect the name Uttarapati Nayaka which is based upon the story of the Periyapuranam, to occur for the first time in an inscription of Kulottunka III. Consequently there is full reason to suppose that the present Uttarapatlsvara shrine at Tiruchchengattangudi must have risen to prominence under that name in the latter part of the reign of Kulottunka Chala III, i.e., about the beginning of the 13th century A.D.

It may be noted incidentally that in the temple at Tiruchchengattangudi, there is also a minor shrine dedicated to Vatapi Ganapati. The epithet Vatapi reminds one of the military expedition of Paranjodi (later on called Siruttondar) against Vatapi, as related in the Periyapuranam”.

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