Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

A Medieval Saint

Dewan Bahadur K. S. Ramaswami Sastri

South India has contributed not only the great stalwarts of Indian philosophy who wrote in Sanskrit and founded the three systems of thought that dominate India today, but also the sweet singers whose poems and songs in the vernaculars, and especially in Tamil, are among the finest devotional poems in the world. I have described the lives and works of the Nayanars and of the four Saiva Samayacharyas elsewhere and shall confine myself here to Pattinatthu Pillaiyar.

Among the saints and mystics of the medieval age in the Tamil land, Pattinatthu Pillaiyar undoubtedly occupies an unique place. From the available authentic sources about his life, it appears that he lived sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. He was born at Kaveripatnam, in Tanjore, in a family possessed of such great wealth that he is described in Tamil hagiologyas the incarnation of Kubera, the God of Wealth. When he reached marriageable age, he was married into a family of equally great wealth. There were no children by the marriage, but Pillaiyar and his wife lived a life of honour and nobility and were revered by all. Early in his life an incident happened as a result of which Pillaiyar was roused to a higher consciousness, by the grace of God. He gave away all his belongings to the poor and took to the life of an ascetic. He removed himself to the village mantapam; and when the king came to him and asked him what he had gained by this change of life, Pillaiyar replied: "The change is that I sit, while you stand before me."

After his mother’s death, he went to various holy places, begging his food from door to door, singing sweet, simple hymns in praise of God. At Chidambaram he composed and sang the beautiful religious poem called Koyil Nanmanimalai. In this poem we have references to the lives of Chandeswara Nayanar, Siruthonda Nayanar and others. His pilgrimage to Shiyali was commemorated by another striking poem called Tirukkazhumala Mummanikkovai. At Conjeevaram, three of his most famous poems were composed by him. Urged by a divine call, he came to Tiruvottiyur, near Madras, and lived a life of meditation and prayer.

His earthly life came to a close here. While at Tiruvottiyur he was in the habit of playing with shepherd boys. One day he asked them to bury him beneath the sands. They did so, and he came out of another sand heap. The process was repeated, and he came out again. Finally he did not come out at all. It is said that, when the sand was removed, all that was found was a linga. We have, now, a temple at that holy spot.

The outstanding characteristics of his poems are their simplicity, directness, and an exquisite combination of dispassionateness and devotion. They are couched in the most popular language, too, and in the most melodious of metres. They show an intimate knowledge of the human heart with its mingled pettiness and sublimity, its alternations of worldliness and godliness. No wonder, numerous popular sayings and proverbs have been taken from these poems. I am translating a few of them below:

"The nectar of inner happiness wells in my heart and wears away the hard soil of my nature. He whom none may see has come and entered my inmost self as His temple. I have seen His matted locks and ash-smeared frame and his golden complexion, entrancing like the hue of the evening sky, and his enrapturing dance at Thillai Ambalam (Chidambaram). Henceforth, during the rest of my life, I will not play the beggar and sing the praise of others in low words of untrue praise." (Koyil Nanmanimalai)

"My Lord at Pugali (Shiyali) is the ocean of mercy into which flows the river of my love. He is all in all. He is the Lord of the night-like (blue) throat. Even gods are not equal to those who love and adore Him." (Tirukkazhumala Mummanikkovai)

Here is a description of Lord Siva’s lotus feet:

"One foot is roseate like an unfading new-blossomed lotus of heaven, sweet-sounding because of the chiming anklets, destroying the all-destroying power of Yama (the King of Death), unseen by the seeking Vishnu who, in boar-form, dug his way deep into the earth to see it (the Lord’s foot), and giving the highest heaven to the devotees who place but a leaf in worship upon it. The other foot is red beneath, and soft and fair like a tender leaf of the Kalpaka tree dipped in ghee. It reddens even by the weight of its anklet and by the weight of the divine flowers scattered on it by the maidens of heaven." (Tiruvidaimarudur Mummanik-kovai)

In answer to the Earth seeking the soul which had long been her foster-daughter, the poet says as follows, in words which recall Wordsworth’s famous Ode on Intimations of Immortality:

"If you had come yesterday you could have seen her whose slender frame is thin and fair like the lightning and her Lord in my house. Today they have crossed yon hill and gone to Kanchi (Conjeevaram) where God Vishnu himself worships the Divine Lord as the Truth taught by the Veda." (Tiruvekambamudaiyar Tiruvantadi)

The following poem tells us what should be our attitude to wealth:

‘We did not bring it with us when we came to the earth. Nor can we take it when we die. What am I to tell those foolish men who do not know that the short-lived fortune that comes in the interval has been given by God for being given to His children, and who do not know how to give it wisely and well?" (Tiruvekambamalai)

I shall give here a beautiful prayer:

"Oh, Divine Teacher at Chidambaram! Teach me not to kill anything. Teach me not to eat anything killed by anybody. Teach me not to learn deceit and tale-bearing and stealing. Teach me not to mix with bad men. Teach me not to utter lies even in sleep. Teach me not to hear harsh words. Teach me not to fall in the net of love of women. Give me this divine fortune in life."

I shall give here in conclusion a few beautiful verses from what may be called the God-lover’s passionate lament (Pattinathar Arut-Pulambal). It is in the form of a monologue by the Soul to her loving friend:

"He came as a Teacher to cut the knot of many births by subduing my senses, O! my beloved comrade!

He burnt this fortress of the body with its six citadels (Mooladharam etc.) and their fifty-one letters (Bijaksharas), O! my beloved comrade!

All these (Tattvas or principles) that were born with me have all been destroyed. I am alone. I refuse to be alone, O, my beloved friend!

Did he come as a Teacher? Or did he come to destroy my relatives? Did He come with a form? Or did He come without a form, O! my beloved friend!

All my friends have been killed in a heap! This fortress of stone is become a charred heap, O! my beloved friend!

O! I have known me! I have learnt to enjoy the Supreme Bliss. There is no one else in my House. I have become one with the Infinite Divine Sky. The entire world is like the play of moonlight in a lonely forest.

I am no longer a lonely virgin. I am his blissful bride, O! my beloved friend!"

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