Perhaps two of the greatest mystics that India has produced in its long history belong to the Tamil region. One was Tiru-moolar, a great saint, who is traditionally allotted a date of 3000 B.C. but is assigned to the period between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. by scholars. His original name was Sundarar who lived as an enlightened ascetic right at the feet of the Lord Siva in His heavenly abode in Kailas, beyond the Himalayas. His contribution to posterity is the great work tirumandiram, consisting of 3000 verses, given out by him spontaneously every now and then when he came back to consciousness from his trance. The beauty of it is that he came back to consciousness only once a year! There is an interesting legend about this which has to be told.
The ascetic Sundarar once came down from the Himalayas and walked all the way down to South India to meet another great Saint Agastyar who is considered as the father of the Tamil language. In his wanderings he came across a herd of cows wailing and bellowing near a dead body. On examination he found that it was a cowherd who had died of snake-bite and the cows missed him rather badly. His ascetic dispassionate mind took compassion on the cows and he decided to humour them. He cast off his own body in a safe place in the hollow of a trunk, entered the body of the cowherd and lo and behold, the cowherd, Moolan by name, woke up. The cows and 'Moolan' (the saint in Moolan’s body) went home that evening. But the wife of the cowherd Moolan created problems because the ‘Moolan’ that had returned in the evening was totally indifferent to her. Finally a scene was created and the villagers of the neighbourhood had to intervene. When they all discovered that ‘Moolan’ had so cataclysmically ‘changed’ to a totally disinterested person as far as worldly affairs were concerned, they gave up and allowed ‘Moolan’ to go his way. He returned to the forest where he had left his original body so that he may ‘re-enter’ his body but did not find it there because some passers-by had already cremated it. Thus was the great Sundarar of Kailas imprisoned in the body of cowherd Moolan for ever.
Sundarar took this inconvenience as God’s will and continued his meditation remaining in that body. He came to be known from that time as tiru-moolar – the holy Moolan, the ending in ‘r’ signifying respect in the Tamil language. He was in such deep trance that he woke up only once a year and every time he woke up he gave out one stanza reflecting his spiritual experience, mood and enlightenment. This is the story of the birth of the massive work tirumandiram, which is actually a spiritual encyclopaedia. It contains a synthesis of all knowledge right from the Upanishadic times down to the then-modern days of devotional revival, goes through all the maze and mystery of yoga and tantra, contains very strong criticisms of ritualistic idolatry, pours out forthright condemnations of external gymnastics of occult practices, and expounds the esoteric significance of almost every kind of ritual and tradition. It is profound to the core, set in simple and cryptic style. The lilting Tamil in most of the verses can be enjoyed if you know the language. Like the Upanishads it admits of several meanings at the same time. The massiveness of the whole work does not admit of any justifiable summary. However, here are just a few samples, too tiny a selection to be representative of the massive work but still they can give the brilliance of the gem that is known as tirumandiram:
The child played ecstatic with his elephant proud,
He cared not it was made of wood,
Unplayful Man beheld but a lump of wood,
He missed, alas! The elephant’s form;
Even so, the Elements hide the Real from our sight,
But the Mystic’s eye pierces through the Elements and gets at – God.
They are fools who say: Control the five senses,
Even among the Immortals, none there is who can do so.
Lest, by controlling the senses I become inanimate,
I acquired the Wisdom enabling me not to struggle with sense-control.
In plenty do give to the deity housed in a temple,
But that does not relieve the misery of a living being;
Instead, do something to relieve that misery,
That reaches, for sure, the deity of the temple.
Once I thought the body was something vulgar and mean,
But now I know that inside the body and only through it,
Can I behold the Absolute.
What bliss I experienced, let the whole universe get it,
The sky-high Word of the Scriptures, if revealed,
This resident of the body, let it cognize;
The more it gets to it the more the enlightenment.
I looked and searched for two things;
One was myself and the other was my self.
Maybe myself was not different from my self,
The Self within me told me so; and that
Was how I got rid of the memory of me and myself.
Do good to others, all honours are thine;
The Divinity above will reward you for sure.
Alas, innumerable are those that know not
This simple path to the Divine;
And they slip down, ever and ever.
For the Sanctum of the heart the body is the Temple;
For the enshrined Divinity, the Word is the Gate.
For the discerning Mind the Soul is the Blessed God;
Disguised by the Light of the five Senses mischievous.