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THE AGASTYA SELECTION OF TAMIL SAIVITE

HYMNS
By M. S. H. THOMPSON

fjf^EVARAM (Ggcunrilb), a condensed and figurative expression,


means " a garland of verse addressed to God ", with the added
idea that devotion is the " thread " on which the several " flowers "
or verses are strung. It thus forms a very fitting title for the devotional
songs of the three saints, Appar, Sundarar, and Sambandar, the
greatest of the sixty-three exponents of the Saivite religion in the
Tamil country.
The traditional accounts of the poet-saints state that Sambandar
composed his first verses at the age of three, and was only sixteen
at the time of his death, that Sundarar was eighteen at the time of
his translation to heaven, and that only Appar, who is said to have been
a great traveller, lived to a good old age—eighty-one.
The songs of the Tevaram are for the most part grouped in hymns
of ten verses each, called padigams, and except for about 6 per cent
of them there is a refrain which gives the name of the temple at
which each was sung. The number of temples mentioned in this way
is 274, of which no less than 190 were in the Chola Kingdom, with
two in Ceylon.
The authoritative version of the padigams, the traditional account
states, was preserved in a cell at the temple at Chidambaram. When
the king, Abhaya-kulasekhara Chola (^UUJ @«D<?<*<s/r <?*/ry>
LD^T/rfgo/r), had the cell opened, the cadjan was found to be
covered with white ants. By careful treatment with oil the padigams
we have at the present day were rescued. The priest Nambi Andar
Nambi (rBLbultLirremi-rrif /JLDL/I), to whom the padigams were entrusted,
arranged them in seven groups, and provided metrical lives
of the authors, while a woman of the minstrel caste and the
descendant of the musician who had accompanied Sambandar on
some of his tours noted the chant to which each padigam was to be
sung. This is the Adangal-murai (jnL.miaar (Lpenp), that is " the
works comprising the Canon ".
The Tevaram is said to have been compiled in the eleventh
century. It was at any rate during a period of Saivite revival, for we
afterwards hear of a set-back to the Saivite cause. This was during
762 M. S. H. THOMPSON—

the reign of King Anapaya Chola (j^rsurnu


This king showed a leaning towards Jainism in his study of the Jain
work Jivaka-chintamani (&aj<ss!id$$rnixmr)). His Prime Minister,
a Vellala by caste, a devout Saivite and the builder of a temple,
took him to task, when the king, to justify himself, said that he had
turned to the Jivaka-chintamani because there were no ^aivite books
in Tamil. The Prime Minister had then to tell him of the Tevaram
and of the metrical lives of the priest Nambi Andar Nambi, which he
read and expounded to the king. The king was converted, and the
Prime Minister, retiring to the temple at Chidambaram, wrote elaborate
lives of the saints to serve as a background to the Tevaram. These
lives form the Periya-puranam, and are in pleasant verse. An abstract
of the work was later made by one of the learned Brahmans of the
temple, but the compression is ruthless, and the book provides
little more than a " table of contents " to prefix to the larger work.
Perhaps one of the most interesting works compiled for the
popularization of the study of the Tevaram is what is known as the
Agastya Selection. This selection consists of only twenty-five
padigams, but it is claimed for it that he who recites it
gains the same merit as is gained by reciting the whole of
the 8,000 stanzas of the Tevaram.1 The sage Agastya, who, says
tradition, learned Tamil from one of the sons of &va, is
venerated as the " father of Tamil", and the inclusion of
his name in the title of the work was no doubt intended
merely to disarm criticism—the criticism of the orthodox, whom
any attempt at curtailment of a work of such sanctity as the Tevaram
would naturally revolt and antagonize. The following account is,
however, usually given of the circumstances that led to the compila-
tion of the work. Sage Sivalaya 2 was as good as he was learned,
and long he laboured to master the Tevaram. It was, however, a
task beyond his powers. Though it was with sorrow in his heart,
he repaired to the temple at Chidambaram, and there he spent many
1
The following table may be of interest:—
No. of No. of No. included
Author. padigams in the padigams in the
original Tevaram. extant. Agastya Selection.
1. Appar. . . 49,000 312 8
2. Sundarar . . 37,000 101 7
3. Sambandar. . 16,000 384 10

102,000 797 25
Lit. The Temple of Siva.
THE AGASTYA SELECTION OF TAMIL SAIVITE HYMNS 763

days in prayer and meditation before the mystic Hall of Gold. Then
one day it was revealed to him that if he went to Sage Agastya, in the
Podiya Hills (in Travancore), the great longing of his heart would
be satisfied. To the hills he went, and after three years spent in
prayer and penance, the sage appeared to him, taught him the whole
of the Tevaram, and selecting twenty-five padigams from it for
particular attention, assured him that in them were found all the
essentials of the S*aivite religion.
Unlike most other works in Tamil, the selection does not begin
with an invocation, but with a metrical table of contents, followed by
an introduction, also in verse, in which the following analysis of the
selection is given (here tabulated):—
No. of
Section. Subject. padigams.
I. Siva's Grace 1-3
II. Spiritual Aid 4
III. The Troth of the Five Letters (rSLnSlevrruj') 5-8
IV. The Saiictity of the Temple . . . . 9-11
V. Siva's Form 12-16
VI. The Sacred Feet 17-19
VII. Worship 20-22
VIII. Humility 23-26
The illustrative verses appended to this paper may, in some
measure, explain the purpose of this eightfold division. Here, however,
it may be stated that the purpose of Sec. II is to emphasize the " inward
grace " bestowed by an outward sign, viz. the Sacred Ash of ^aivism,
while Sec. I l l emphasizes the power of the ejaculatory prayer. The
Periya-puranam account states that fourteen of the sixty-three Saints
attained salvation through grace, thirty through worship, and nineteen
by loving service to the devout.
The last padigam in the selection is the Tiru-tonda-togai
(£ld54 G$irGfori-4 G$ncoa, lit." The sum of holy service ") of Sundarar.
It begins: " I am the servant of the servants of the Brahmans who
live at Tillai" ( = Chidambaram), and giveB the names, with
appropriate epithets, of sixty-two of the sixty-three saints. Devout
Saivites recite this hymn before sunrise every morning.
The Agastya Selection contains most of the best known hymns,
though in the selection made for the " Heritage of India " series only
eighteen of the seventy-nine verses selected are from this selection.
It cannot, however, be denied that the compiler of the Agastya
Selection, whoever he may be, had a keen critical sense, and was justified
1
Translated "A bow to Siva" and "Hail, Siva".
764 M. S. H. THOMPSON—

in stating in his introduction that " those who recite the Agastya
Selection will be as those who recite the whole of the Tevaram, sung
throughout the wide world by the matchless Three ".
The illustrative verses that follow are a fresh selection, and are not
found in the selection made for the " Heritage of India " series by
Messrs. Kingsbury and Phillips.
ILLUSTRATIVE VERSES
The sacred ash and the beads worn round the neck and the head
are the outward signs of Saivism or the religion of Siva. Tn Saivism
Siva is the supreme God; in Vaishnavism or the religion of Vishnu
he is only one person of the triad Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. Siva is
worshipped under twenty-five forms, each manifestation having its
own devotional aspect. In the verses that follow he is referred to under
some eight of these manifestations. There is besides reference to what
are known as " the eight deeds of prowess ", commemorated at eight
famous temples in South India, two of which are mentioned in verses
Nos. 6 and 8.
Siva is worshipped both as having a form and as not having one.
The " form of grace " depicts him as riding on his bull Nandi with his
consort Uma at his left side. As Nataraja (lit. " Lord of the dance ")
he is represented as dancing. He has three eyes, the right eye being the
sun, the left the moon, and the one in the middle of his forehead fire.
His hair is matted in the ascetic way, and on it are the crescent moon,
the Ganges, and one or more cobras. He wears a garland of konrai
(cassia) on his head, and round his neck, which is dark, hangs a garland
of skulls. At his waist he wears either an elephant's hide, a tiger's
skin, or a very scanty loin-cloth.
§ 1. @(5«u(5«Yr, THE LORD'S GRACE
These two verses are from Sundarar's hymn of self-surrender. The
padigam was sung at the temple of Tiruvenneynallur, where Siva
manifested himself to him under " the form of grace ".
utTQitfrglfe Oinevf)
GiAffl wemmT pans

0, thou who wearest the cool garlands and the crescent moon !
0, thou who hast a form like fire! 0, thou who didst laugh so
THE AGASTYA SELECTION OF TAMIL SAIVITE HYMNS 765

that the fire burnt the enemies' three cities! 0, Master, who
dwellest at the abode of grace, Venneynallur, south of Pennai, where
the sand-banks are—being thy slave, can I still say I am not thine ?
[The " three cities " were the three castles of three vainglorious
Asuras, which f§iva reduced to ashes by merely laughing.]

jl UffSTLD/TLDSTBT?

ferr GGSTLG
Can I say that I am not the slave of my Lord of Arur, dwelling at
Venneynallur, south of Pennai the beautiful, which, having received
the water that falls from the clouds, with its waves for hands digs
a course for itself through the land, hurling around many great
and sparkling gems, praised by all.

§ 2. uemriulevr ajg-corrrry, SPIRITUAL AIDS


This verse is from a hymn of praise sung at the temple at Madura
by Sambandar.
3.

uircu cJlevfl'tugi
curre»

What gives heaven is the ash, what is put on by the sages is


the ash, ash is the truth, what the great ones praise is the ash,
what bestows devotion is the ash, what is sweet to praise is the
ash, what gives all enlightenment is the ash—the sacred ash
of Him of holy Alavai [Madura].

§ 3. jm&GffQgggie&sremja, THE TRUTH OF THE FIVE LETTERS


The first verse is from a hymn by Appar, the second verse from a
hymn by Sundarar.

The light in the house destroys darkness; the light in the


word brings enlightenment; the light in many places is for many
people to see ; the light of the pure in heart is " Hail, Siva ! "
766 M. S. H. THOMPSON—

5.

0, thou whose tresses shine like pure gold, who bentest thy
bow that fire might rise in the three cities, who placedst on thy
left side her of the sweet tresses—0, (§iva of Pandikkodimudi,
where the peacocks dance while the cuckoo sings on the branches
above, even if I should forget thee, my tongue would say " Hail,
S~iva! "

§ 4. QamuJtpnflipLa, THE SANCTITY OF THE TEMPLE


No verses need be quoted; it may merely be stated that one of
the 'padigams (by Appar) given in the selection consists of stanzas
in which the names of the famous temples of South India are skilfully
woven into song, and have the refrain, " There we may see the Lord
of Kailasa " [Siva's abode in the Himalayas].

§5. StajgjyffjoJiii, THE FORM OF SIVA


The verses are by Sambandar and Appar respectively.
6. GVjJCYT&Yr C(u(5^ifcvr ufl«TO#iuT
Gutrtt>

He who is on the white bull, with a large ear-ring shining in


one ear, He who holds the jumping fawn while his radiant locks
shine, He of the white skull with its furtive grin, He who lives
at the burning-ground at Kad avur, He who has the crescent moon—
He is our Lord God.
7. Lt/r2cYr(Lj£TOi-<& <s(ipQ<srrrhj £F)LJU<T§TLD/TI_

<mrre<mu

If with His anklets and power to rule [the heart], they have
seen with clouded eyes the dance of the &va of the mystic Hall
at Tillai [Chidambaram], where the areca palms with their shoots
stand high, houses stand close together, and where on all sides
stand the fields into which the water pours with its fish—what is
there then for the lowly devotees yet to see ?
THE AOASTYA SELECTION OF TAMIL SAIVITE HYMNS 767

§ 6. ^/@«uyi(ffi6Yr, T H E SACRED FEET


This verse, by Appar, is on the temple at which the poet-saint
received enlightenment as a result of the prayers of his sister, who
grieved to see him a Jain.
8.

Lf<ssLpeiirritLi<ssLp

Gg&r Caupev /5/rL.drsvrLji

The feet that are as the red lotus of the Goddess of Wealth,
the feet that become more and more like honey to the elect, the
feet that are to the wealthy as the touchstone of their gold, the
feet that are able to make worthy the praise of the devout, the
feet that in form do not match one another, the feet that indeed
have no form at all—the feet of Him of Tiruvadigai of the south
Kedilam country [South Arcot], the feet of our King of
Tiruvirattanam.

§7. jn(&&3$ffn, WORSHIP


The first of these verses is by Appar, the second by Sundarar.
Kalhukkunram {= the hill of the vulture) is not far from Chingleput.
9. miTGSTggrTif Qurrfirpj LhfefiGg Qurrfigfl

Qurrtt)r§\
figrrtu Gurrtf)ii$l
eurrttgg GgerflQcu QuiT<f)r§\

Qwrtpnfil Qurr&0l.
Hail, ambrosia to which the dwellers of the skies bow!—hail,
thou who hast come and entered my heart!—hail, thou body
that takest sin away !—hail, thou that rosest high asfire!—hail,
thou that gavest enlightenment as sweet as honey!—hail, thou
that standest God even of gods !—hail, thou that desirest to dance
with the fire of the burning-ground!—hail, thou Lord of Mount
Kailasa !
768 THE AGASTYA SELECTION OF TAMIL SAIVITE HYMNS

[Once &va assumed the form of a pillar of fire, and not until
Brahma and Vishnu had prayed to it did they learn its depth and its
height—not until Siva had revealed himself to them.]
10.

Bowing low and singing sweet" songs, go worship at cool


Kazhukkunram, where the white waterfalls rush down with din and
roar, hurling precious stones of many colours and pearls, the
holy place of our Lord with the bright garlands of konrai (cassia)
and the head of matted hair.

§ 8. jnyL&OLb, HUMILITY
These verses are from a padigam sung, by Appar, at Tiruvarur,
the modern Tiruvalur of the Tanjore District.
11. Jn(s$giCbGu!T(Lg g/cnrriurrLrmJiJ&imrf
cudzfigl r£l2ar$!iQesT Giusvrrpj

May I hope for the blessedness of being the servant of the


servants who perform penance to reach the Holy God of Arnr,
with its trim walls—I, who, withdrawing myself from the community
of the Jains, who do not speak at meals, grieving and meditating,
hailed Him as Lord ?
12. anauJlevI® Qs-n^j fisvrnru&mevgi/m
Qurrifj

for the blessedness of being the servant of the


servants of the Feet, (they) whose love for the Holy God of Arur,
surrounded by the fairest of fields, is not false—I who, having
left the community of the greedy Jains, who eat, standing, the
rice placed in their hands, have seen the way of life and have come
here to " live " ?