II Om Mulanji Namah Om II

Thirumular Is Sent on Mission

Having achieved the eight siddhis and perfect enlightenment at the feet of the Natha guru Maharishi Nandinatha in the Himalayas, Rishi Sundaranatha, later to become known as Rishi Tirumular, joined the venerable Natha lineage, and later became one of its most celebrated yogis. Of the centrality of his guru he wrote in Tirumantiram: 

By Nandi’s grace, master I became;
By Nandi’s grace, I sought Mular;
What can happen without Nandi’s grace?
I remained, seeking to expound Nandi’s path. 68

By the grace of Nandi, I sought Mular;
By the grace of Nandi, I became Sadasiva;
By the grace of Nandi, I became united with supreme wisdom;
What I am is by the grace of Nandi. 92

A View of Oneness
Following his initiation, Sundaranatha was sent by his satguru to revive Saiva Siddhanta in the South of Bharat. Taking leave of Nandinatha and his brother monks, Sundaranatha began his life’s mission, to bring the true knowledge of the Agamas and Vedas to the southern parts of India in the Tamil language. It was a long and arduous journey in those days, thousands of kilometers by foot on simple roads and paths. Scripture notes that Rishi Sundaranatha took pains to visit the sacred Saiva centers en route, beginning with Kedarnath in the North, a remote stone shrine in the snowy Himalayan peaks, at the fountainhead of the river Ganga, near the border of Tibet. Now apart from his satguru, he sat at the headwaters of the river Ganga. His life’s work lay ahead, his years of learning were complete and his mystical experiences were swirling all about. He would later write of these early realizations, of the four forms of Saivism, the four stages, the four relationships the soul has with God, the four realizations attainable, the four aspects of the descent of grace and the power of true renunciation of the world:

The great siddha Nandinatha blesses his disciple, Sundaranatha, instructing him to undertake the arduous journey to the South of India, there to promulgate monistic Saiva Siddhanta in order that mankind may overcome the illusion of separation in the ultimate experience of Parasiva, where God and soul are one.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Purposeful is my learning; body and soul together,
I experienced the Lord in close intimacy;
Nothing to stop Him, He entered my soul;
So immaculate and sublime was my learning. 290

The four—charya and the rest—the four resultant realizations,
The six, like the elaborate Vedanta and Siddhanta,
Are established by Nandi leaving His golden abode,
For the sake of ignorant people to worship. 1449

Ask six historians when Tirumular lived, and you may well get six answers. This biography, based on statements in Tirumular’s Tirumantiram, makes him a contemporary of Yogi Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, who lived around 200 bce. In another analysis, Sundaramurti Nayanar mentions Tirumular in his list of Nayanars. The common view that Sundaramurti Nayanar lived in the period between 840 to 864 ce would mean that Tirumular lived before that period. Then there is a reference by Tirumular himself in the Tirumantiram to the Golden Hall of Chidambaram. Since the roof was first thatched in gold for the first time by the Pallava king Simhavarman, who lived in the fifth century ce, many historians conclude that Tirumular must have lived in the later fifth or early sixth century ce. But this ignores the possibility that Tirumular was, in Tirumantiram, describing Chidambaram from his mystic vision rather than from the sight of his physical eyes. Still others place him in the 10th century ce, noting that a sage by the name of Kalangi (the not uncommon name of one of Tirumular’s disciples) was the guru of Bhogar Rishi, who lived during that period and was connected to Rajaraja Chola. Others point to his linguistic style and suggest he lived as late as the 11th or 12th century. India’s history is notoriously debatable, and the period in which these great gurus lived may forever defy certainty.

His travels south, simply chronicled in the Periyapuranam by Sekkilar in the twelfth century, are envisioned in the tale below. The lone Sundaranatha traveled next to Pashupatishvara Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Gautama, the Buddha, had preceded him 300 or 400 years before, traveling from Nepal to South India and then to Sri Lanka, bringing with him his philosophy. At the Siva temple, Sundaranatha reflected on the Buddha’s life and teaching, and his own destiny. In pondering the life of Gautama, he gained courage and prepared to continue his pilgrimage. But there was a difference. Tirumular was immersed, as Buddhism is not, in the overwhelming, ever-consuming, passionate love for Siva. He saw first hand that Divine Love incinerates impurities and purifies the soul.

Sundaranatha’s arduous journey from the Himalayas, entirely on foot, took years, culminating in Tamil Nadu, a land covered with palmyra trees, shown here with a toddy-tapper collecting the sweet nectar.
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Use the bone as firewood, chopping the flesh,
Fry it hard in the golden fire;
Unless one’s self mellows and melts with tender love,
One cannot attain Siva, the priceless gem. 272

Search! You will find no God like Lord Siva;
None here can compare with Him; He transcends all worlds;
Golden-hued, His matted locks glow like fire;
He is in the lotus of the hearts. 5

Walking out of the lofty valleys of Kathmandu, he proceeded south and east to Kashi, the city of light, Siva’s city, today known as Varanasi, where he was to have darshan of Lord Siva at the Vishvanatha Temple. Here he came close to his great Lord and bathed the Sivalingam with his own hands, as is the custom for all devotees in this northern shrine. During his worship, Sundaranatha longed to be with his guru, Maharishi Nandinatha, deep in the Himalayas again, listening to him expound the Vedic-Agamic truths he had learned so well. In an instant, the Sivalingam spoke to him from inside himself, reminding him that his guru was indeed within him, traveling with him, and that this oneness could never be altered.

Bowing out of the temple, walking backwards, at the door he turned to the right and departed, filled with confidence and assurance. For months Sundaranatha continued on his holy trek, walking along the village paths, roadways and trails beside mosaic paddy fields, out of the northern plains of India. 

Entering the South of India
His chronicles tell of having darshan of Siva at Vindhya, Sri Parvatan and Kalahasti. He sojourned at the Sri Kalahasti Sivan Koyil, which is connected with the air element and the shadowy “planets,” Rahu and Ketu. Here he would have observed the prevalence and popularity of pluralistic Saiva Siddhanta, and felt the immediacy of his mission, to convince the peoples of the South of the Advaitic Saiva Siddhanta truths. He understood Siva as beyond all, yet saw Siva everywhere and in everyone he met. 

Sundaranatha proceeded to Tiruvilankadu, from where he set out to Kanchipuram, in what is now Tamil Nadu, the land of the Tamil Dravidian people, one of the oldest Caucasian races on the planet. The first temple to be visited was a Siva sanctuary in Kanchipuram representing the earth element, where the healing powers of Lord Siva are pronounced, profound and famous. In each temple Tirumular’s love of God grew stronger, his immersion in Siva more complete. He wrote:

Sundaranatha reached Chidambaram in the deep South of India. He lived in the wilderness, not drawn to the townships and their activities. He bathed in the streams and slept on the ground, and occasionally in the crook of a tree to avoid animals and insects.
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The light that shines in the hearts of devotees,
Holy God, who sports in such hearts;
Extolling His greatness, adoring Him as my Lord,
We shall get closer and obtain His grace. 39

Seek refuge, in distress, in the resonant holy feet of the Lord,
Brighter than the rays of the purest gold;
Praise Him free of pretence and obstinacy;
He will not ignore, but let Himself abide in you. 40

His holy feet I shall place on my crown;
I shall keep them in my heart; His glory I shall sing;
I shall dance, offering flowers variegated;
I shall seek Him, the God of gods; this is all that I know. 50

In his astral body, sage Sundaranatha approached the dead cowherd, psychically entered the corpse and brought it back to life. His first sight upon awakening in the Tamil body was the herd of cows, happy to see their caretaker alive and well again.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

From here, Sundaranatha trekked to Chidambaram, where he stayed longer, having the darshan of God Siva’s ananda tandava dance. Living the contemplative life, going inward and observing great austerities, Tirumular experienced consciousness as a dance within himself. So timeless were the yogic states he entered, he wrote figuratively of spending yugas, hundreds of thousands of years, at Tillai, another name for Chidambaram.

Saiva Agamas, so well spoken, I had received
From their exponent, the gracious Nandi;
Blessed I was with the Lord’s dance at Tillai;
Thus I remained during several yugas. 74

One day, walking about as he was wont to do, he entered a dense forest. There Sundaranatha stumbled upon a Sivalingam and immediately fell to the ground in spontaneous surrender. It was a potent Lingam, about fifty centimeters high in its black granite base. Sundaranatha’s worship was so complete, so one-pointed and so oblivious of himself that in a powerful experience of unity, he felt one with the Lingam. This I-am-God experience further empowered the icon. Today it is worshiped in its own sanctum within the thirty-five-acre Chidambaram Temple compound.

Pati, God, is the gracious Sivalinga in the sanctum.
Pashu, soul, is the powerful bull, standing before it.
Pasha, world, becomes the altar behind the bull.
Thus exists Siva’s shrine for the seekers. 2411

The form of the human body is Sivalingam.
The form of the human body is Chidambaram.
The form of the human body is Sadasivam.
The form of the human body the sacred dance. 1726

The story passed down at Chidambaram Temple is that Sage Vyaghrapada, a brother monk of Sundaranatha, established that original Lingam within an enclosure of thorny, marsh-loving tillai shrubs (Excoecaria agallocha), which gave protection from intruders, and performed his sadhana and worship near a small pond. The pond was later turned into the temple tank, where devotees wash their feet and hands before entering the temple. 

Reborn Without Dying
Leaving the sleepy village of Chidambaram, he crossed the Kaveri River and reached Tiruvavaduthurai, a Saiva center which holds the samadhi shrine of this Natha siddha, though present-day managers of the sacred monastery say the disposition of his remains is actually not known. Lord Siva captured him here, and he was reluctant to leave. 

Walking one day on the banks of the Kaveri, he came upon a herd of cows bellowing in distress near the dead body of their cowherd. Sundaranatha’s compassion proved overwhelming as he felt the anguish of these bereaved creatures. His soul reached out to bring solace to the cows. Being a great adept of siddha yoga, he conceived a strategy to assume the herder’s body. 

He first looked for a place to hide his physical body and found a hollow log. Crawling into the log, where his body would be safe, he entered a mesmeristic, cataleptic trance, stepped out in his astral body, walked over to the dead cowherd, whose name was Mular, lay down on top of the corpse, entered it and slowly brought it back to life. The first thing he saw upon reanimating Mular’s body was one of the cows looking into his face, crying big tears from both eyes, tears of joy. All the cows now gathered round their beloved Mular, licking his face and body with their abrasive tongues and bellowing in bovine joy. After a time, they began to graze as usual, and the sight gladdened Sundaranatha’s heart. 

As evening fell, the cattle began their daily walk home, leading the new Mular behind them. The cowherd’s wife was waiting at the gate. She felt a strangeness in her husband and began to weep. Sundaranatha told her he had no connection with her whatsoever, and instead of entering the home, he went to a monastery that he had passed on the way. 

Legend speaks of Tirumular’s years alone in a cave, deep in samadhi. At the end of each year he would write a single verse, scribed with a stylus into a palm leaf, capturing in that verse the sum of one year’s meditations. Thus, patiently, he composed the mystical text, Tirumantiram.
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Mular’s wife informed the village elders of her husband’s strange behavior. They approached the monastery, speaking with her supposed husband, whose deep knowledge and presence of mind baffled them. Returning to Mular’s wife, they told her that far from being in a state of mental instability, as she had described, he appeared to be a Saiva yogi, whose greatness they could not fathom. Mular’s wife was troubled, but soon resigned herself to the fact that her husband was somehow no longer the same person. The villagers began to call the cowherd Tirumular, meaning “holy Mular.” The mysteries of life and death were not mysteries to Tirumular, who wrote of life’s impermanance and people’s dismissiveness of this basic fact of life:

Clandestine love and wedlock thereafter;
Sated love and memories die with time;
The body is carried on the bier and copious tears shed;
Love and body offered to fire, a ritual offering. 150

The wise that see the dead carried and put away seek
The precious One that is the unswerving axle of the soul.
They will follow Him ardently, the seed of their liberation.
The rest, caught in the world, waste away. 156

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West;
People see and learn not.
A young calf becomes a bull; in a few days it dies;
People see and learn not. 177

Childhood, youth and old age—
Everyone worries about their inevitable transit;
But with great ardor, I seek and abide in the holy feet of Him
That penetrates and transcends the many worlds. 181

Tirumular sought out the body he had left near the pasture. Returning to the hollow log, he looked inside and found that his body was not there. He searched for days and days, looking in every hollow log he could find. Finally, in desperation, he sat in padmasana upon the log where he had left his North Indian body. Entering deep yoga samadhi, he contacted his guru, Maharishi Nandinatha. They communed, as mystics do, and he learned that Lord Siva Himself, through His great power of dissolution, had dissolved the atomic structure of the North Indian body after he was well settled and adjusted to his Tamilian cowherd’s body, with the boon that he could now speak fluent Tamil. He realized that now he could effectively give out to the Tamil-speaking world the truths of the Saiva Agamas and the precious Vedas, uniting Siddhanta with Vedanta for all time. He wrote of Siva’s giving him this mission:

The footsteps of the hundreds of disciples of the disciples of Tirumular have been lost in the shifting sands of time, and we have neither names nor biographies for the many gurus (pictured above) who lived in the centuries between 200 bce and 1700 ce.
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Of what use will the subsequent births be
If the previous one is not marked by austerities?
A purposeful birth God gave me,
That I may well render Him in Tamil. 81

3,000 Years of Yoga
Rishi Tirumular returned to Tiruvavaduthurai and there worshiped Siva, sitting locked in padmasana under the sacred arasu, or bodhi, tree to the west of the shrine. These years were deeply yogic, an inner journey that brought many unfoldments of the nadis, pranas, lights, mantras and yantras as awareness broke through the chakras following the rise of kundalini to the crown, there to find Siva’s grace waiting, there to attain final liberation, moksha. The great yogi wrote of these inner explorations in hundreds of esoteric verses of the Tirumantiram

Fix the two eyes upon the nose,
Contain the prana, and regulate it within.
Seek to abide deep in the peace and freedom from the senses,
There shall be no fear of birth. This is the fruit. 605

The triangle-shaped muladhara is
From where the kundalini rises, through the sushumna
To the crescent moon facing the middle of the eyebrow.·
Myriad shapes spring forth in a beauteous spectacle. 627

Within you blossom the seven chakras.
They are the Lord’s abode you know not.
When you know how to be one with Him,
There you will see Him, sweet as sugar. 768

Meditate upon that light of kundalini.
Direct it upwards to the top with the breath.
The ruddy flame of Siva transcending the cosmic adharas
I sought and found this truth within. 1017

Legend says that once each year he came out of samadhi and gave forth from his meditations a single verse and spoke briefly on its meaning. Since he wrote over 3,000 verses, this would mean he lived over 3,000 years, and was born earlier than two millennia ago. Others postulate that he gave forth one verse a day for 3,000 days, and the poetic legend of 3,000 years arose because so much profundity is condensed into these 3,000 verses. It would take a full year of the deepest meditation to comprehend the full import of each four-line stanza. 

Whatever actually happened, Tirumular’s sacred text has persisted and flourished for 2,200 years. Even today new translations and editions are being published, and thousands of institutions count it among their philosophical and linguistic treasures. Its final verses speak of the unspeakable Siva, who is omnipresent and all-pervasive.

The one with the graceful matted locks, the body of golden hue,
Is non-attached, yet totally united;
One who has no cessation, no birth; the Lord
Is distinct from the seven worlds and yet merged in them. 3034

As the Supreme Being, He transcends the seven worlds;
He is the Earth surrounded by the seven seas;
He is grace standing in its true nature;
He is the vision (of the jivas) and stands merged. 3037

My virtuous Lord! He is the leader of the universe;
He is the mahout who controls the world;
He is the one who manifests as the innumerable souls;
He is the one revered as the Supreme God. 3039

He is the resplendent indwelling prana;
He is the Lord of the spreading rays of the sun in the firmament;
He is the wind that blows on the Earth;
He is the wisdom that gleans in the thought. 3040

He is the light behind the perishable body,
Water, earth, sky, fire and air;
His name is Parapara; He is Siva, the destroyer;
My Lord is limitless, pervasive everywhere. 3045

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Tirumantiram in Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. It is the earliest full statement of Siddhanta, “the end of ends.” It is perhaps the most complete and profound exposition of the subtle theology of Saiva Siddhanta ever written, and it is the most extensive of the texts of the early gurus of the Nandinatha Sampradaya. Within the context of other Saiva scriptures of South India, the Tirumantiram is the tenth of the twelve Tirumurai or “Holy Books.” 

The Tirumurai are collected works in the Tamil language written mostly during the first millennium ce by various Saivite saints and gathered together in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They constitute a Saiva canon and hymnal in which may be found all forms of spiritual expression, from the advaitic principles of non-dualism and Self Realization to heart-melting devotional praises to God Siva. The Tirumurai have come to be regarded as the very life breath of the devotional stream of Saivism. Second in importance only to the Vedas, Upanishads and Agamas, they are sung daily in temples throughout South India and elsewhere in the world where Saivites worship. In addition to the Tirumantiram, the Tirumurai consist of the Devaram hymns of the Samayacharyas—Saints Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar—the Periyapuranam of Saint Sekkilar, and other works.

In his life and writing Rishi Tirumular erased philosophical divisions, bringing much-needed unity to the kingdoms and their peoples. This togetherness created an integrated culture that gave rise to countless Siva temples throughout the South and 1,008 Siva temples in Sri Lanka. The ever-enduring philosophy of monistic Saiva Siddhanta—mystic yoga in union with total surrender—satisfied the masses, brought wealth, political stability and the flourishing of culture. There was peace in those days. Each Sivalingam was regularly bathed. Each yogi and rishi was treated with a reverence usually reserved for God. 

Rishi Tirumular had seven disciples: Malangan, Indiran, Soman, Brahman, Rudran, Kalangi and Kanchamalaiyan, each of whom established one or more monasteries and propagated the Agamic lore. In the line of Kalangi came the sages Righama, Maligaideva, Nadantar, Bhogadeva (who, some claim, is Bhogar Rishi of Palani) and Paramananda. All this we know from the Tirumantiram itself. But that is precious little, and history offers no trace of subsequent transmissions of power and the great tapas and sadhana performed by those early generations of gurus between 2,200bce and 1710ce. We do know that the Kailasa Parampara survived those hidden years and remains alive today. The gurus spoke of their gurus and their gurus’ gurus, bringing us the first clear story in modern times, that of an anonymous siddha whom we know as Rishi from the Himalayas.




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