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12.11.1  (A) TIRUNAVUKKARASU NAYANAR   --    (OR) APPAR

The foremost among the 63 devotees of Shiva was Tirunavukkarasu-nayanar, also known more popularly as Appar, whose miracles have been chronicled everywhere in Shaiva literature and history. His soul-stirring songs are clear and emphatic and show him as an exemplary devotee of the Lord. He considered himself as a lowly servant of God in all his activities and compositions.

MarulnIkkiyar was his original name. He was born in a rich Vellala agriculturist family probably in 610 C.E. By nature he was oriented towards public service for social benefits. Moved by compassion, he enjoyed digging tanks, constructing roads, and providing drinking water to passers-by. He was attracted to Jainism, mastered its doctrines and became head of a monastery at Tiruppadirippuliyur. His elder sister, Tilakavathi, who took care of him after the death of their parents, prayed, as a devout Shaivaite, to Lord Shiva of Tiruvadigai for his reconverting to Shaivism. By God’s Grace Appar was disenchanted with Jainism when he was cured of a chronic abdominal pain and returned to Shaivism. The king sentenced him to death for treason and and repeated attempts were made to carry out the sentence. The Jains first threw him into a burning lime kiln, hoping that the heat of the flames will kill him. Fixing his mind on Lord Shiva and immersed in yoga, Tirunavukkarasar emerged unhurt because the heat of the kiln was transformed into a cool breeze. Next, when they tried to poison him to death, the grace of Lord Shiva turned the poison into sweet nectar. Finally, Tirunavukkarasar was tied to a stone and dropped into the sea but the power of his prayers was such that the stone floated and bore him to the shores of a neighboring town. Brought before the Pallava king Mahendravarman I, he was able to convert the King himself to Shaivism.

Appar is credited with many miracles that happened during his travels around the Tamil country. He, along with Tirugnanansambandhar, are said to have prayed for the alleviation of a a raging famine that had ruined Tiruvilimalai. Appar is also said to have reopened a temple in Vedaranyam that had shut itself due to the growth of adharma in the world. He is also accredited with reconverting a Shiva temple that Jains had taken over.

On one of his journeys, Appar came to Tingalur, where a devout Brahmin named Appudi Adigal had built feeding houses, wells, water tanks and sheds, and named them all after Tirunavukkarasar. He was greatly elated by Appar’s visit and invited the great sage to dine at his house. While they were conversing at his house, Appudi Adigal’s son went to cut banana leafs to serve the food on. A poisonous snake that was on the banana tree bit him, killing the boy instantly. Fearing that Appar would not eat at their home if he knew about the boy’s death, Appudi Adigal and his wife hid the body. Appar, who learned of the incident through divine intuition, was overcome with grief for the family, took the dead body to the temple and prayed for the grace of Lord Shiva. Shiva answered his prayers and the lifeless body of the child came back to life.

Appar’s fame and faith spread throughout South India through the simple hymns of self-surrender that he sang on his long sojourn from one sacred shrine to another. Of his songs 311 have been collected in the TevAram collection. Appar’s message of service to God and fellow humans has timeless appeal and his impact on the religious and social life of the Tamil people is remarkable. Pictures show him holding in his hand a little tool for scraping grass, with which he used to scrape the stones of the temple courts. He attained to the Lord’s abode at the age of 81.

                      12.11.1  (B)  TIRUJNANA-SAMBANDAR

Appar’s junior contemporary, Sambandar, was a wandering minstrel who sang poems after poems in his very short life of 16 years and triumphantly re-established the Saiva branch of Hinduism in opposition to religions like Buddhism and Jainism. This Saint who lived the briefest life gets the largest space in Sekkizhar’s TiruttonDar PurANam.

Sambandar is said to have cried for mother’s milk at the age of three and was breast-fed by Mother Goddess Herself with divine milk. Having tasted the milk of true knowledge, as it were, he became known as Tiru-JnAna-sambandar. The well-known padigam ‘ToDuDaiya Seviyan’ was sung by him immediately. Throughout his life Sambandar treated himself as the son of God.

It was in one of Tirunavukkarasar’s pilgrimages to Chidambaram that word reached him about the child saint Tirujnana-sambandhar being in nearby Sirkazhi, and the elder saint proceeded at once to meet him. What ensued was one of the most remarkable meetings of the two greatest Tamil Saiva saints, said to have occurred around the year 650. Upon reaching Sirkazhi, where Tirujnana-sambandhar was waiting to greet him, Tirunavukkarasar prostrated at the feet of the much younger saint. This prompted Tirujnana-sambandhar to lift him up and call him ‘Appar,’ father, as a sign of respect. The name Appar remained a popular title for Tirunavukkarasar throughout his life. Tirujnana-sambandhar then also fell at Appar’s feet, and this exchange became a model of conduct for future devotees.

The two wise Saiva saints travelled together for a time, visiting Shiva temples along the Kaveri River in Tamil Nadu and composing many hymns. The songs they composed, along with that of Sundaramurthy Swamigal, formed the great Tamil compendium of poetry known as Tevaram. The influence of Tirunavukkarasar and Tirujnana-sambandhar in reaffirming Saiva Siddhanta in India in the face of the rise of Jainism and Buddhism was undeniable. Their poetry and example were instrumental in promoting the bhakti movement that is an integral part of Saiva Siddhanta. It was indeed to face this threat to Hinduism that saw the rise of a great number of Saiva saints during that period of time, and among them, Tirunavukkarasar and Tirujnana-sambandhar were unsurpassed. The Lord performed miracle after miracle for these two favoured devotees of his.

In Sambandar’s hymns he described the natural beauty of the land in which the shrines were situated, mentioned the puranic and epic incidents associated with the shrines, expounded the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy in its bhakti aspect, praised himself always in the eleventh and supplementary verses of the decad and called upon the pious to reverently chant his hymns. He set them to music and sang them himself. His ToDuDaiya Seviyan announces his immediacy to God. His TirunIRRuppadigam mentions the supreme efficacy of the sacred ashes. His Vazhga andaNar proclaims his mastery over the elements. Madar maDappiDi reveals the greatness of his music. His Veyuru Toli bangan demonstrates his faith in God as aginst the very worst that the planets can do un to him.

He was also known as Aludaip-pillai. He allowed himself to be married at the age of 16. Assembling all his devotee associates in the marriage house he decided to merge into divinity by entering fire. He sang the ‘Emaip-pokkaruLir’ padigam and Lord Shiva gathered him and his fellow devotees unto Himself.

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy

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