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Prayer Hymns of Tamil Saivite Saints
T.T.Siva Nandhi Adikalar

The hymns here given are specimens from the Tevaram and the Tiru-vasaham. The Tevaram is the first of the collections of works held as canonical by Tamil Saivites. Its hymns were composed between six hundred and eight hundred A.D. by the three authors of whom this book gives some account, and the whole was put together in one collection of 797 stanzas by Nambi Andar Nambi about 1000 A.D. The Tiruvasaham, or Sacred Utterance, was written by one author, Manikya Vachaka (Tamilized as Manikka Vasahar) at a date so far unsettled that scholars are still divided on the question whether it preceded orr followed the Tevaram, though most scholars place it in the ninth, or early in the tenth century A.D. Whenever it was written, it stands even higher than the Tevaram in the affections of Tamil people.

Out of an immense number of hymns we have tried to select those which are most representative, those which are favourites, and those which contain the most striking thoughts. But it is amazingly difficult to give a fair or adequate idea of them in an English rendering.


We begin with the first verse which the author composed. According to the legends he uttered it at the age of three, on the banks of the temple tank at Shiyali (once Brramapuram), after Siva's consort had fed him with milk from her own breast. The stanza itself of course contains no allusion to the story, but it is one of the best known verses n the Saivite hymn-book.

1.Ơ 򠠠 ؀ƑѠ ׯ
Ơ ҿ

̑À ˰
ƻ .
His ears are beringed, He rideth the bull;
His head is adorned with the crescent moon's ray
White is He with ash from the burning-ground swept;
And He is the thief who my heart steals away
Great Brahma enthroned on the lotus full bloom
Erstwhile bowed him down and His glory extolled
And singing received he the grace of our lord
Who dwelleth in famed Bramapuram old

White ash from burnt cow-dung must be worn by all true Saivites. Every day the worshipper, facing north-east and crying 'Siva Siva', must dip in the ash the fingers of his right and draw the three middle fingers from left to right along his forehead, so leaving three horizontal white lines. The ceremonial side of Saivism is so prominent that this one stanza must be given, a specimen of many extolling the virtues and potencies of the ash.

The Tantras are works inculcating ceremonies. Also magic performances and mystic rites.

2. ׳ ב ҳ
׳ ׳
׳ ƴ
בɀ 򠠠 בבƑ

The sacred ash has mystic power
Tis worn by dwellers in the sky
The ash bestows true loveliness
Praise of the ash ascends on high

The ash shows what the Tantras mean
And true religion's essence tells
The ash of Him of Alavay
In whom red-lipped Uma dwells

Equally important with the wearing of the sacred ash is the constant repetition of the five syllables, or Panchakshara, 'Namasivaya'. This which means literally 'a bow to Siva', is the chief mantra or mystic utterance of Saivism. In Saivite catechisms a whole is devoted to its uses.

3. ґ ֎
Ƒ בѰ ˿
װ ˿ ׳

Those who repeat it while love's tears outpour
It gives them life, and guides them in the way
Tis the true substence of the Vedas four
The Lord's great name, wherefore 'Hail siva', say

(More commonly referred to as Appar Swami)

Sambandar whose work we have been studying, had a friend older than himself, named Appar, or Tirunavukkarasu, belonging to that Vellala caste which to this day makes a very solid element in the population of the Tamil country. Left an orphan at an early age, Appar was brought up by a loving elder sister as a pious devotee of Siva. Great was the sister's grief when Appar forsook the faith of this father's and became a religious preacher among the Jains. But her earnest prayers at last prevailed, and Appar not only came back to Saivism himself, but was the means of reconverting to Saivism the king of his country. His full name was Tirunavukkarasu, or 'King of the Tongue", but his young friend Sambandar called him Appar, or Father, and the name stuck to him. He too wandered throughout the Tamil country, sometimes alone, sometimes in company with Sambandar, singing his way from shrine to shrine. Pictures show him holding in his hand a little tool for scraping grass, with which he used to scrape the stones or the temple courts. The Jains persecuted him, and many stories tell of his miraculous escapes from their hands.

His hymns show a truly religious nature, with a deep rooted sense or sin and need, and an exalted joy in God. There is real critical acumen in the old epigram which represents Siva as appraising the three great writers of the Tevaram, or Saivite hymn-book :- "Sambandar paised himself :Sundarar praised Me for self; My Appar praised Me Myself."

1. 얜 ב ت쿺
얜 ׹׹
ύ 얜 ҿ ֐ Ƒ
얜ґ  ̪.

My fickle heart one love forsakes
And forthwith to some other clings;
Swiftly to some one thing it sways
And even as swiftly backward swings
Oh Thou with crecent in Thy hair
Athihai Virattanam's Lord
Fixed at Thy feet henceforth I lie
For Thou hast broken my soul's cord

̙ ꍥ ґ
ź ב
ëр ֍ Ƒπ .

When on life's angry waves I launch
My heart's the raft I take to me
My mind's the pole I lean upon
Vexation's freight I bear to sea
I strike upon the rock of lust
O then, though witless quite I be
Grant, King of holy Ottiyur
Such wisdom that I think of Thee.

3. љ ґ Ƥ
̍ӥѿ ґ
Ƒ ґґ
ƹ ր
љ ґ Ƒ
צǀ .

No man holds sway o'er us
Nor death nor hell fear we
No tremblings, griefs of mind
No pains nor cringings see
Joy, day by day, unchanged
Is ours, for we are His
His ever, who doth reign
Our Sankara in bliss
Here to His feet we've come
Feet as plucked flow'rets fair
See how His ears divine
Ring and white conch-shell wear

(Abbreviated as SUNDARAR)

The third of these hymn-writers, named in full Sundaramurti Swami, was, like sambandar, a Brahman. He was born in the South Arcot District, and is generally believed to have flourished in the first quarter of the ninth century A.D. He evidently sat loose to caste scruples, for neither of his two wives were a Brahman. One was a dancing girl in the Saivite Temple at Tiruvarur, the modern Tiruvalur in the Tanjore District, while the other was a Velala woman of Tiruvottiyur, now a suburb of Madras. His life seems to have been no happier than life in polygamy usually is, and to add to his difficulties he some times found himself without food for his ladies to eat. He frankly praised God for what he could get, and on the whole his hymns are on a lower spiritual plane than those of the first two writers, though there are some which wear the marks of real spiritual experience. Of the sixty-three saints whom Saivites hold in special honour, Sundarar seems to have been the last, for he sang the praises of the other sixty-two.

Sundarar, as our first sample of him shows, was not only later than the two authors whom we have been studying; he was the last of the sixty-three cononized saints of Saivism.

To English ears the metre of the next two verses, which are common favourites, has a curious sound. It is a close reproduction of the Tamil, so close that the tune of the Tamil hymn could be sung to the English words.

1. Ӵ ƀ̙
ї ƹ
ґ Ƒ .

Golden art Thou in Thy form, girt around with the fierce tiger's skin.

Fair shines Thy tangle of hair, crowned with blooms from the Kondrai's bright tree.

Sov'reign great jewel art Thou, the red, ruby of Malapadi

Mother, on Thee, none but Thee, can my heart evermore fixed be.

2. ڵ Ѻ
ґ 퍑Ϳ
׹޺̤ æ
ґ ڀ 陎 ב

When will the end draw high, sense fade, life close and I the bier ascend.

This naught but this, is all my thought, But, lord of speech, Thou light on high.

Where the bright streams of Kaviri to Kodumudi coolness lend.

Should I forget Thee, my own tongue to Thee would loud 'Hail Siva' cry.


In the days when the powerful Pandyan Kings flourished in Madura, there was once a prime minister who early became convinced of the transitoriness of this world's life and its riches. When on a visit to Perundurai, now Avudaiyarkoil in the Tanjore District, he sudddenly and completely came under the influence of a Brahman religious teacher, who for him was the manifestation of the very God Himself. Then and there he began to sing the "Sacred Utterance" (Tiruvasaham), and was named by his preceptor "Utterer of Jewels" (Manikka Vasahar). Returning to Madura, he forsook his high office with all its rewards to become a religious poet wandering without earthly attachments from shrine to shrine. The stories clusterring around his religious experience can be read by English readers in Dr. Pope's great edition of his work. We find his practising austerities at Chidambaram, or miraculously giving the gift of speech to the dumb daughter of the chola King, or defeating in disputation a band of Buddhists from Ceylon, but of certain historical information about him we have practically none. Even the question of the century in which he lived is a battle-ground of the antiquarians. Tradition places him in the fifth century, earlier than the writers of the Tevaram.

Some of these Stanzas are samples from an opening poem of one hundred stanzas, each ten of which has its own metre and is fairly complete in itself. They fairly reflect the saint's varying moods. Notice the importance he attaches to emotion; his worst self-reproach is for feeling no frenzy. As to his conception of God, see how the 'grace' recurs in nearly every stanza. And yet that God of grace is called both being and non-existence.

1. ˰ Ż ر رѴ
؀ Ƒэ헍
Ż ׳Ż
˰ ѹ



Thrills and trembles my frame;
Hands are lifted on high;
Here at Thy fragrant feet,
sobbing and weeping I cry;
Falsehood forsaking, I shout,
"VIctory, Victory, Praise!!"
Lord of my life, these clasped hands
Worship shallbring Thee ways.

2. Ƒ 
٥ ב ͳ ؀̎
񖥍 ǀ 
񖥍 ύ ϗ ÀƑ

Though like Thy saints I seem, 'tis but the acting of a part

Yet wondrous swift I run to reach the heaven where Thou art

O hill of gold and precious gems, grant in Thy grace to me.

A heart to melt, lord of my life, in ceaseless love to Thee.

Our poet made songs which maidens might sing in their rhythmical games, or as they sat at the grinding stone. In India the boatman sings as he rows, the ryot sings as he draws from the well, the sepoy sings on his march. A feature of such songs is the refrain, which is usually a mere collection of euphonic syllables, though it may have a meaning. Here are specimens of a few songs intended for women. The refrain of the first, "Elorembavay" probably means "Receive and ponder what I say, O lady." The Grinding song, strangely enough, is used at funerals, as also is the "Antiphony." The song of "The Three Castles "Destruction" is supposed to accompany play with a ball of a kind of shuttle called "undi" For the legend of the Three Castles, see later. "The Shoulder-Play" is for some ancient game in which women grasped each other's shoulders.

3. ŗϪ  ŗ
̑ ̦Ƒ
ƑѰ ב љ ב

ƛ̑ב ύ
ź˙ ב
׀ ֐
ґґ źב


Older are Thou than the oldest of all,
Newest of all that is new
At Thy saints' feet we in service will fall,
We are Thy handmaidens true,
None but Thy bondsmen shall call us their own;
Lord, we would none others wed;
We would be slaves at their bidding alone;
so be our bliss perfected, Elorembavay.

4. 
̑ Ƒїґ
̹ ґ ב
Ƒ 闰
ϿϹ ɀ
ƹ Ȝڥӥ
Ƒ җр


Thon gav'st Thyself, Thou gained'st me:
Which did the better bargain drive?
Bliss found I in infinity:
But what didst Thou from me derive?
O Siva, Perundurai's God,
My mind Thou tookest for Thy shrine;
My very body's Thine abode;
What can I give Thee, Lord, of mine?

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