5a.The Era of Devotional Experience

Make your own free website on Tripod.com
5. The Era of Devotional Experience (pkfti kalmf)

5.1. Background

For nearly 200 years after the Sangam period, Buddhist and Jain scholars and monks had been dominating the Thamizh literary scene. Thanks to their efforts significant changes were made in the literary style and format as well as in the outlook of people. Despite their efforts to propagate Buddhist and Jain philosophy in the course of their literary pursuits, they did succeed in introducing many new concepts in literary theory.

For the first time in the annals of Thamizh literature, a well conceived story was woven into a cohesive poetic epic (kapfpiymf) using main and supporting characters. Secondly an ordinary woman was made the heroine (as in SilappathikAram) instead of the King or some other dignitary. Thirdly instead of being cast into a secondary role, a woman was elevated to the status of a deity because of her chastity and high moral caliber. Finally people had the opportunity to break away from the traditional mundane coverage of regulations pertaining to love, romance and the pursuit of worldly pleasures in an abstract fashion and were able to entertain themselves with the heroism and morality of fictional (or real) characters in the epics. In other words the epics carried whatever message the authors wanted to convey to the people much better than conventional poems.

On the other hand, the impact of Buddhist and Jain writings on people's psychology was not without their disadvantages. In a society where the emotional experience of clandestine love (kqviylf) and chaste love (kbfpiylf) was considered highly desirable, and where the values of hospitality (viRnfEtamfplf) and married life (;lflbmf) were held high, the messages of strict control of the five senses (_mfp<l[f `dkfkmf) , abstinence from worldly pleasures and the superiority of the ascetic way of life (Tbvbmf) appeared alien to their minds. Even the appearances, the robes and other paraphernalia of the monks made them highly visible in the public and led to scepticism of their motives.

Moreover, the Thamizh people have, by this time, adopted the VhEdic traditions of Hinduism and worshipped ThirumAl (tiRmalf) , Sivan (civ[f) and Piraman (pirm[f) as well as the other pantheons of Hinduism. Reference has already been made to the worshipping patterns of the Thamizh people during the temple festivals (;nftirvizv> erDtft kaAt) and Aycchiyar kuravai (~yfcfciyrf KrAv) in SilappathikAram. They were able to relate to their personal deities by dancing and singing in their praise. It is probable that an unkown fear crept into the minds of people that the Buddhists and Jains were trying to impose upon them something exotic and novel!

Even the Thamizh Kings seemed to be confused over this issue which was borne by the fact that, from to time, one or the other changed his faith from Hinduism to Jainism and later back again. In other cases the Kings supported all the factions to suit their expediency. The animosity between the Buddhist and Jain monks and the followers of VishNu or Sivan became an open secret.

5.2. Semantics of the word 'Bhakthi'

The above introduction would explain why and how religion played a significant role in the development of the Thamizh language after the sixth century A.D. An interaction between Thamizh and Sanskrit also became inevitable due to the movement of scholars across different regions of the country. Visits by foreigners introduced new perspectives of language and religion. It is under these circumstances that the concept of devotional experience (pkfti) became popular in the Thamizh region.

Dr. S.rAdhAkrishNan ('sf.ratakiRxf][f) defines Bhakthi as the "conscience recognition of wholehearted response to the source of all goodness, the Divine. It is in this world, not vows, not pilgrimages, not yOga practices, not study of Scriptures, not sacrificial rites, not philosophical discourses; only devotion can give us freedom."

In the Bhagavad GItai (pkvtf kIAt) which explains the complex metaphysical concepts contained in the upanishads (upnidtmf) in simpler terms, many paths,YOga, (marfkfkmf, vzi) have been outlined for the realization of absolute truth. The karma yOga , the way of work, (krfm Eyakmf) , Bhakthi yOga , the way of devotion, (pkfti Eyakmf) and dhyAna yOga , the way of meditation, (tiya[ Eyakmf) lead to wisdom or enlightenment (gnAna) (wa[mf) . Thus Bhakthi refers to "unqualified love/devotion" to God. Since this experience cannot be translated in full verbally, it comes under the classification of akam (`kmf) according to TholkAppiar's definition. Bhakthi (pkfti) is therefore referred to above as a devotional experience. This definition also renders the term, Bhakthi, universal, so that it transcends religious boundaries.

5.3. Saiva SitthAntham (Acv citftanftmf)

The basic philosophy of the Saiva saints is known as Saiva SitthAndham. It is believed that pasu , living things, (pC) can attain the realization of the Supreme ,pathi, (pti) by getting rid of pAsam ,attachment, (pacmf) . In practice this is accomplished by concentrating the mind on the Supreme through devotion and music.

The four components of the Bhakthi pathway are therefore the Absolute Being or the Divine, the paths to attain it, the devotion and finally the devotional experience. The Absolute Being or the Divine has been referred to as VishNnu or Sivan by the VaishNavaites and Saivaites respectively. This concept should be understood to dispel the wrong notion that Hindus believe in many gods ! In fact the two religious groups in the Thamizg region have been repeating ad nauseum about the importance of acknowledging the existence of only one Supreme Being, who may be referred to by thousand names. " (oRnammf OrfuRvmf o[fBmf ;flflarfkfK ~yirmf tiRnammf paFnamf etqfEq]gfekadfdaEma) MAnicKa VAchakar, (ma]ifkfkvackrf) .

The second component, path, refers to the route to be followed for the realization of the Divine. In order to deliver the difficult message that the Divine has no form or name, to facilitate the control of the five senses and to divert the minds of people from sensual worldly pleasures towards concentration on the Supreme, the n^AyanmArkaL (nay[ffmarfkqf) and AzhvArkaL (~zfvarfkqf) exploited the inherent tastes of the Thamizh people in music, dance and, in general, anything beautiful. They composed moving lyrics in Thamizh and set up appropriate music (;rakmf, p]f) so that they could be sung alone or in groups. Finally, to appeal to their aesthetic tastes, beautiful form(s) were given to the formless Divine to whom the folks can relate. This approach did work and gave the impetus for idol worship in the temples which proved to be a place where there is enjoyment for the five senses towards the Supreme. The following songs are examples of the descriptions of the idols which moved the hearts of Thamizh people in their spiritual pursuit:

K[itft p<RvMmf ekavfAvcf ecvfvayilf Kmi]f ciripfp<mf
p[itft cAdy<mf pvqmfEpalf Em[iyilf palfev]f]IBmf
;[itftMAdy 'Dtft epabfpatMmff ka]pfepbf$lf
m[itftpf pibviy<mf Ev]fDvEt ;nft maniltfEt.
(tiRnav<kfkrcrf).

KdtiAc MFAyAvtfTkf K]tiAc patmf nIdfF
vdtiAc pi[fp< kadfFtf et[ftiAc ;lgfAkEnakfki
kdlfnibkf kdv<qf 'nfAt `rvA]tfTyiLma k]fD
udlf '[kfK uRKmaEla, '[fecyfEk[f ulktftIEr.
(nalayirmf 890)

The third factor is the absolute faith with which the devotee surrenders himself or herself to the Divine. If the first three are adhered to sincerely, one gets the devotional experience within, leading to the realization of the Divine.

5.4. n^AyanmArkaL (nay[fmarfkqf) and AzhvArkAL (~zfvarfkqf).

The protagonists of Sivan are referred to as n^AyanmArkaL while those of VishNu as AzhvArkaL. In addition to their staunch devotion ( pkfti) to their chosen trinity of Hinduism, these religious leaders were also endowed with literary scholarship in Thamizh and Sanskrit as well as expertise in music. They travelled from place to place all over the Thamizh region singing the praise of God and were deriving their own internal pleasure during the process.

The devotional spirits, the literary composition and the music appealed to the aesthetically oriented Thamizh people, who were starving for a spiritual experience of this type. Of the many ways suggested for salvation, one would presume, they realized that the Bhakthi route (pkfti marfkfkmf) was the one more appropriate to their tastes and way of life. In the absence of proselytic pressures they were free to join the VishNu or the Sivan group according to their choice. Besides prayers by individuals, group prayers (pjA[) to their chosen deities were organized by the respective followers (`Fyarfkqf).

The Thamizh Kings encouraged either of the two groups by building big temples whose architectural designs are the pride and joy of all Thamizh people. In addition to being places of worships, the temples served as a forum for promoting music and dance and for other social activities. Besides the financial gifts, the Thamizh Kings established endowments in the form of land gifts to make the temples self supporting. The tradition continues up to the present time.

The impact of the Bhakthi movement on the people was so great that there was a revival of interest in Hinduism. This, in fact, suited the AzhvArkaL and n^yanmArkaL who were concerned about the domination of the new religious orders from the north. As one would expect in any situation where sects or creeds try to impose new theological dogmas on indigenous population, there were frequent verbal and even physical conflicts among the followers of the different groups.

As in many religious contexts in other parts of the world, not surprisingly, mysticism came into the picture. It would be futile to subject these mystic powers to critical analyses. It may well be that they played a psychological role to boost people's morale in themselves as well as in the system ! There are many references in the literarary works which came out during this period to the various mystic events that took place. An example of the Saivaite saint, Thirun^Avukkarasar's (tiRnav<kfkrcrf) mystic deeds is summarized in the following poem:

tAlekaqf nwfC `Mtak viAqy<Em
tzlilf nIB tdakm taKEm
ekaAlecyf yaA[ K[infT p]iy<Em
Prf `ravidnf tIer[tf tIREm
kAlekaqf Evtv[pfpti t[f{qfEq
ktv< mI]ffD kDktf tibkfKEm
`Alekaqf variyibf klfL mitkfKEm
`pfprf EpabfBmf `Rnftmizfpf padEl.

The Thamizh literary compositions of all the n^ayanmArkaL were later compiled into Saiva textual canon, ThirumuRaikaL (tiRMAbkqf) while those of the VaishNava AzhvArkaL into the VaishNava canon, the n^AlAyirat thivyap praban^tham (The Holy 4000 hymns, (nalayirtftivfypf pirpnftmf). The literary contributions of the AzhvArkal and n^AyanmArkaL are discussed below.

Before the Saivaite doyens (AcvcmykfKrvrfkqf) appeared on the scene, there was a housewife who lived in KAraikkAl (kaArkfkalf) in the sixth century A.D. Her husband became disenchanted with her extreme devotion to Sivan and ultimately deserted her.

KAraikkAl ammaiyAr (kaArkfkalf `mfAmyarf) the respected lady from KAraikkAl, as she came to be known later, left home and roamed the country side self styling herself as a ghost (Epyf) and performing mystic activities. She wrote heart rendering devotional songs which set the format for the ThEvAram poems to follow. She is said to be the forerunner of the Bhakthi movement in the Saivaite traditon. She is credited with 3 books: aRputhat thiruvan^tAthi (`bfp<ttf tiRvnftati) , irattai MAmaNi (;rdfAd mam]i) , MUttha ThiruppathikankaL (YMtft tiRpfptikgfkqf). The pathikams (ptikmf) are in the viruttham (viRtftmf) meter. In the following poem she described that from the time time she was born and began to speak she revered and worshipped the glorious feet of Lord Sivan. She asks Him when He is going to relieve her of her (worldly) worries:

pibnfTemazipyi[fb pi[fe[lflagfkatlf
cibnfTni[f EcvFEy EcrfnfEt[f - nibnftikZmf
Amwfwa[fb k]fdtfTvaE[arf epRmaE[
'wfwa[fB tIrfpfptidrf
(`bfp<ttf tiRvnftati)

5.4.1. ThirumuRaikaL (tiRMAbkqf)

The Saiva canonical poems composed by 63 leading saints scanning approximately 600 years were classified into 12 books, ThirumuRaikaL (tiRMAbkqf) by n^ampi AndAr n^ampi (nmfpi ~]fdarf nmfpi) (11th century A.D.) according to the wishes of ChOzha King abaya KulasEkaran (`pyKlEckr[f, KElatfTgfk Ecaz[f1.

The first, second and third ThirumuRaikaL were composed by Thiru GnAna Sampan^thar (tiRwa[cmfpnftrf). Born in SIrkAzhi (cIrfkazi) in the seventh century A.D. he is said to have been nursed by umAdhEvi (umaEtvi) , the sakthi (ckfti) counterpart of Sivan. In a short life span of 16 years he was one of the architects of the Bhakthi movement. In addition to his delightful songs, he defeated the Jain monks in debate and succeeded in bringing the hunch backed PAndya King back into the Hindu fold. He has composed 1600 pathikams (ptikgfkqf) , out of which only 384 are now available.

The fourth, fifth and sixth ThirumuRaikaL were authored by Thirun^Avuk karasar (tiRnav<kfkrcrf). He is also known as appar (`pfprf) , the other architect of the Bhakthi movement. He was born in ThiruvAmUr (tiRvaYMrf) and was a contemporary of Thiru GnAna Sampan^thar. He joined the Jain movement for a while and after an attack of a severe abdominal ailment, he came back into the Hindu fold and spent his long span of 80 years in social service. Out of the 4800 pathikams (group of 10 stanzas) he wrote, only 312 are available.

Sun^tharar (Cnftrrf), the author of the seventh ThirumuRai was born in ThirumunaipAdi (tiRMA[pfpaF) . In addition to his devotion to Lord Sivan he was instrumental in organizing the followers into a cohesive group. Only 100 pathikams of Sun^tharar are available The first 7 ThirumuRaikaL are collectively known as ThEvAram (Etvarmf) , garland of gods.

Manicka vAchakar (ma]ikfkvackrf) , one whose words are like gems wrote the eighth ThirumuRai consisting of ThiruvAchakam (tiRvackmf) , ThiruvempAvai (tiRevmfpaAv) and ThirukkOvaiyAr, ( tiRkfEkaAvyarf). He was born in ThiruvAthavUr (tiRvatv> rf) in the late 8th or early 9th century A.D. He was a minister in the PAndya Kingdom but when he was sent to purchase horses for the army, he spent all the money in religious pursuits. Lord Sivan is supposed to have blessed him with his grace and saved him from the wrath of the King. It is said that one who does not get moved by ThiruvAchakam will not be moved by anything else. (tiRvacktfTkfK uRkatarf oR vacktfTkfKmf uRkarf). ThiruvAchakam has 51 poems wherein all the four classes of meters (`kvlf, ev]fpa, klipfpa, viRtftmf) have been employed.

The ninth ThirumuRai is named ThiruvisaippA (tiRviAcpfpa) , a collection of poems by nine saints.

The tenth ThirumuRai, Thiruman^thiram (tiRmnftirmf) was written by a Saiva mystic (citftrf) , ThirumUlar (tiRYMlrf) who was a philosopher-poet of the late 6th century A.D. His poems are supposed to have the simplicity of veNpA (ev]fpa) and the music of the viruttham. Thiruman^thiram (tiRmnftirmf) is noted for its profound philosophical messages and reformatory principles. As one who stood for the eclectic school of mysticism, ThirumUlar had made references in his book to tantra (tnftirmf) , mantram (mnftirmf) and yOga (Eyakmf) practices.

In an apparent condemnation of the practice of self mortification, he states that there is no use of even frying one's own flesh in the fire till it becomes like gold; one cannot attain salvation unless one becomes deeply devoted whole heartedly to the divine.

'[fEp vibkayf ;Abcfci `BtftidfDpf
epa[fEpalf k[lilf epariy varfpfpi{mf
`[fEpaD uRki `kmfKAz varfkfk[fbi
'[fEpalf m]iyiA[ 'yfto]f ]aEt.

ThirumUlar's most profound contribution to Saiva SitthAn^tham, which was followed later by ThAyumAnavar (tay<ma[vrf) and rAmalingar (;ramligfkrf) , was his emphasis on the oneness of God and oneness of all creeds in the whole world. The following poem represents his philosophy nicely :

o[fBk]f Grful KkfekaR etyfvMmf
o[fBk]f Grful KkfKyi ravT
n[fBk]f Grf;[i nmciva ypfpznf
ti[fBk]f EdbfkiT titftitft vaEb.
(tiRmnftirmf 2962)

The eleventh ThirumuRai consists of poems composed by a heterogenous group of 12 Saivaite scholars and devotees including KAraikkAl ammaiyAr, n^akkIra ThEvar (nkfkIr Etvrf, AkAlpati kaqtfti pati `nftati) , KallAdat ThEvar (klfladtfEtvrf) , Kapila ThEvar(kpilEtvrf) , cEramAn PerumAL (Ecrma[fepRmaqf) , n^ampi AndAr n^ampi (nmfpiya]fdarfnmfpi) , and Patttinat thatikaL (pdfF[tftFkqf).

In Thamizh literature there were two poets with the name PattinatthAr (pdfF[tftarf). Part of the confusion is because both hailed from KavirippUm pattinam (kaviripfp> mfpdfF[mf) and both followed the Saivaite faith. Their similarities end there.

One of them lived in the 11th century A.D. while the other belonged to the 14-15th century. Generally referred to as PattinatthatikaL (pdfF[tftFkqf) , the 11th century poet contributed the following works which form part of the 11th ThirumuRai (tiRMAb) : KOil n^AnmaNi MAlai (Ekayilfna[fm]imaAl) , Thirukkzhumala mummaNik kOvai (tiRkfkZml Mmfm]ikfEkaAv) , Thiruvidai maruthUr mummaNik kOvai (tiRviAdmRT\rf Mmfm]ikfEkaAv) , ThiruvEkampamutayAr Thiruvan^thAthi (tiREvkmfpMAdyarf tiRvnftati) and ThiruvoRRiyUr orupA orupathu (tiRevabfbiy>rf oRpa oRpT). Though he was a staunch saivaite, PattinatthatikaL followed a philosophy in which he advocated that people should remain inside the traditional family system but lead a virtuous life coupled with devotion to Sivan. This was diametrically opposite to the total renunciation preached by PattinatthAr who lived later.

The twelfth ThirumuRai was written by SEkkizAr (Eckfkizarf). . His work is called Periya purANam (epriy p<ra]mff `lflT tiRtfeta]fdrf p<ra]mf). The former terminology means the Great purANam and the latter refers to the fact that the work deals with the glory of the Saivaite saints. He lived in the twelfth century A.D. during the reign of the ChOzha King KulOthunga III (YM[f$mf KElatfTgfk Ecaz[f).

5.4.1.1. Salient features of 12 ThirumuRaikaL

5.4.1.1.1. Formless Supreme

Despite the multiplicity of godheads one encounters in Hindu mythology, a closer study of the ThEvAram poems would indicate that, in fact, the reverse was true. All the saints were stressing the oneness of the Supreme in no uncertain terms. MANikkavAchakar's pleads in his ThirutheLLENam (tiRtfetqfEq]mf), "For One who does not have any name or any form, why not we give thousand different names and hail His greatness"? (oRnammf ORRvmf ;lflarfkfK ~yirmf tiRnammf paFnamf etqfEq]gf ekadfdaEma).

ThirumUlar has stated unequivocally in his Thiruman^thiram "one caste and one God only".

o[fEb KlMmf oRvE[ Etv{mf
n[fEb niA[mi[f nm[ilfAl na]aEm
ec[fEm pKgfkti yilfAlNwf citfttfT
ni[fEb niAlepb nIrfniA[nf TyfmiE[.
(tiRmnftirmf 2104.)

Similarly, ThirumUlar says in his thought provoking Thiruman^thiram that the omnipotent One cannot be transcribed in a single place nor can be measured, nor has any names but can only be experienced:

`nftmilfla{kf kklidnfta[f ;lfAl
`nftmilflaA[ `qpfpvrftamilfAl
`nftmilfla{kfK `Dtftecalfta[f ;lfAl
`nftmilflaA[ `binfTekaqfptfEt

The fact that the Divine has no beginning, middle or end and is also timeless has been mentioned in numerous places:
(~tiy<mf `nftMmf ;lfla `RmfepRwf EcatiAy), (EkdfdbiEyamf uA[kf k]fdbivaAr), (Mnftiy Mtlf nD ;Btiy<mf ~[ayf) -- ma]ikfkvackrf.
(~tiy<mf `nftMmf ~[ _yar[f `FtftlEm), (~tiy<mf `nftMmf ~[a[f k]fday) --tiRnav<kfkrcrf.
(~tiy<mf:Bmf ~y 'mf `Fkqf)-- Cnftrrf.

Others in their moments of their spiritual ecstasy have personified the Divine as music. ("ziAcyayf ;Acpfpy[ayf), (;AbkEqaD ;Acnft ;[fpmf, ;[fptfEtaD ;Acnft vazfv<)--Cnftrrf.
('Znrmfpi[f ;[f;Ac EkdfdaA[ ;[fp<bf$A[), p]f]i[f ;Acyaki ni[f$yf Epabfbi)--tiRnav<kfkrcrf.

Thirun^Avuk karasar has employed the following 10 tunes (;rakmf, p]f) in the first 21 pathikam (ptikgfkqf) of the fourth ThirumuRai: kAn^thAram (kanftarmf) , sAthAri (catari) , kAn^thAra panchamam (kanftar pwfcmmf) , kolli (ekalfli) , pazan^ takkam (pznftkfkmf) , pazam pachuram (pzmfpwfCrmf) , indhaLam (;nftqmf) , sIkAmaram (cIkamrmf) , kuRinji (Kbiwfci) , piyanthaik kAnthAram (piynfAtkfkanftarmf).

TO CHAPTER 5b


BACK TO MARABU HOME PAGE