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12.11 : SIXTY-THREE SHAIVA NAYANMARS

. Peria-PurANam

The Peria-purANam, also known as TiruttoNDar-purANam is a poetical account in 4253 verses, by Sekkizhar (12th cen. C.E.), of the lives of 63 Shaivaite saints, who lived in Tamilnadu upto the eighth century C.E. Some of these belong to the B.C.E. era. Sekkizhar inherited a tradition which credited Sundaramurthi Nayanar (shortly, Sundarar), (GO TO 12.11.3) one of the four grandmasters of the Shaiva devotional tradition, of the 8th century, as the first one who sang eleven songs in praise of these devotees of Shiva. It was Sundarar who must have realised the importance of each one of them. His work was known as Tiruttondattogai. Nambiandar-nambi of the 10th century elaborated this into 89 quatrains as Tirut-tondar-tiruvandadi. It was this Nambi who discovered the whereabouts of the TevAram hymns, (GO TO 16.1)) and at the instance of King Rajaraja I he made them into seven Tirumurais. Sambandar’s hymns are the first three, those of Appar (12.11.1) the second three and Sundarar’s (12.11.2) the seventh.

Sekkizhar was the Prime Minister of Kulottunga chola (1070 – 1108), also known as Anapaya chola. Sekkizhar set the entire hagiology within the framework of Sundarar’s life. After Sekkizhar his masterly work was included as the twelfth Tirumurai in the redaction of Shaiva canonical scripture. In fact one motivation for Sekkizhar was to wean his King away from his Jain inclinations which were evident from his spending much time reading and enjoying JIvaka Chintamani, an innovative and provocatively exemplary work of the 9th century by Tiruttakka-ttevar.

The Saints of PeriapurANam belong to various communities, high and low, as devotion to the Almighty knows no barriers. Most of them were householders. Some of them belonged to the so-called low castes. Some were just illiterate. We have a hunter, a fisherman, an oilman, a washerman, a pulayan (who cleaned the flesh of dead animals). The popularity of the work and the reverence given to it are due to several reasons: its intensity of devotion, its simple style, the extraordinary humility of each of the devotees dealt therein and their fathomless love for God. These stories include

·       that of Enadinathar, who was prepared to lay his life down in the presence of the marks of Shiva which his enemy wore;

·       that of Muurkkar, who resorts to the extreme of gambling in order to serve the devotees of Shiva;

·       that of the royal PugazhCholar who enters fire in order to expiate for the ‘sin’ of having been the cause of the death of a Shiva-devotee, a soldier in the enemy’s army killed by his soldiers in a legitimate war;

·       that of the chieftain of Kalandai, who, even after getting all the qualifications for royalty did not wear a crown, but instead ruled as King with the mould of Shiva’s divine feet on his head;

·       that of the ‘untouchable’ Nandanar (see 2.7.4) for whom the stone Nandi itself moved away for his darshan of the Lord;

·       that of the rural, illiterate and unsophisticated hunter Thinnan, who decided to sacrifice his only remaining eye for shutting off the blooding from the eye of the Shiva-linga, and for that purpose placed his foot on the eye of the Lord in order to be able to identify it after his eye was plucked – and thus came to be known as Kannappar (See 9.6.7 which includes a philosophical interpretation of his Bhakti);

·       that of the Brahmin devotee of Tiruttalaiyur, Rudra-pashupati, who had so much faith in the recitation of Rudram from Yajurveda that all his life he used to stand in neck-deep water three times a day and recite Rudram and in due time reached the abode of Lord Shiva;

·       that of Appodi-adigal, whose little son died, by snake-bite, exactly at the time when the parents were hosting their role-model Appar (see the story of Appar below) as a guest and Appar took the dead body to the Shiva temple where he implored God to bring back the boy to life and the Lord obliged;

·       that of the born-blind Dandiyadigal, who faced the challenge from Jain opponents who prevented him from digging a well for the Shiva temple, and for whom the Lord came to the rescue by giving him eyesight while taking off the same from the opponents;

·       that of the saintly Punitavati of Karaikkal, who, on her husband recognising her divinity and thereby deciding to only do worship to her as a deity, instantly prayed to Lord Shiva to take away all her flesh and leave her only with a bone skeleton for the rest of her life to be in the Lord’s service without being distracted by any attention on her;

and many more, of whom the three Grandmasters of the Shaiva Cannon, Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar are certainly there, right at the top of the entire list.

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy

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