Knowledge
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1. Sundaramurthi Nayanar

Sundaramurthi Nayanar flourished in the 8th century. He was a great devotee of Lord Siva. He is one of the Tamil Samaya Acharyas (four Tamil religious Teachers).

Sundaramurthi Nayanar sang the glories of Lord Siva at all the sacred places that he visited. These hymns are called Thevaram. They have been collected into a book-form. All devotees sing the Thevaram even today. The hymns sung by Sundarar, Appar or Tirunavakkarasu, and Tirujnana Sambandar are called Thevaram. The hymns of Manickavachagar are called Thiruvachagam.

Sundarar had the Sakhya Bhava or the attitude of a friend towards the Lord. He freely demanded of the Lord whatever he wanted. He did not do so with selfish desire, however. Whatever he asked for was for the sake of those who were dependent on him. He lived only eighteen years.

Sundaramurthi Nayanar was born in Thiru Navalur where the entire atmosphere was full of spiritual vibrations and Saivism was well established. In this place, there lived a pious, devout and respected Brahmin by name Sadaiyanar whose ancestors were all ardent devotees of Lord Siva. Isaignaniar was his dutiful wife. She gave birth to a divine child whom the parents named ‘Nambi Arurar’ after its grandfather.

In his previous incarnation Arurar was Alala Sundarar, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva. When the Milky Ocean was being churned by Devas and Asuras, a deadly poison began to spread on the surface of the ocean threatening the existence of all beings. Then Alala Sundarar collected that poison in his hand and gave it to Lord Siva Who drank it for the protection of the world. Hence, Sundarar got the word Alala (for Halahala, the poison) prefixed to his name.

Once when Alala Sundarar was living by the side of Lord Siva in the Mount Kailas, serving the Lord and bringing flowers from the garden for His worship, he cast a lustful look at Aninditi and Kamalini, the attendants of Goddess Parvathi who had also gone to the garden to collect flowers for the divine Mother’s worship. They, too, fell in love with him. Lord Siva, through His divine vision, understood all that had happened in the garden. He called Alala Sundarar and said: ‘Sundarar, since you fell in love with these girls, you and they, too, will go down to the earth and take a human birth. You will marry them and enjoy the pleasures of the world.’ Sundarar wept bitterly, regretting his folly which had resulted in his separation from the Lord. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Oh Lord! It is due to my evil thought that I have to undergo this separation from Thee. I am afraid lest I should be steeped in ignorance and forget Thee. Oh Lord of mercy! Let this not happen to me. Oh Lord of compassion! Dispel my ignorance soon and take me back to Your lotus feet.’ Lord Siva granted this wish.

There was another cause for Sundarar’s human birth. To an ordinary man it may appear that Sundarar was a victim to lust, even in the divine realm of Kailasa. It was not so. Sundarar was only an instrument in the hands of God. It was Lord Siva’s wish that Sundarar should sing Tiru Thonda Thogai for the benefit of mankind. So, Lord Siva entered his mind and created a desire for these two girls. Also, the Lord wanted to teach mankind a great lesson. Lust is extremely powerful. It can delude even a great devotee of the Lord like Sundarar, if he is not ever vigilant. Maya’s charms are powerful. Unless this evil quality is burnt, the Jiva cannot reach Siva. Yet another lesson. The lustful eye was the cause of Sundarar’s downfall. But, when it is used in the service of the Lord (for looking at the holy shrines, holy images of God, saints, and study of scriptures) the very same organ will help towards our emancipation.

Sundarar was, therefore, born as Arurar. The king of that place, Narasinga Munaiyar, happened to see the beautiful child. He liked him. He wanted to bring him up himself and asked for the parents’ permission, Sadaiyanar, whose mind was full of dispassion and who was not attached to anything in this world, immediately complied with the king’s wish. As we shall see later, he and his devout wife are also regarded as Nayanars.

The boy grew up under royal care. At the proper age, the parents wanted to get their son married. Sadaiyanar sought Sandakavi Sivachariar’s consent to obtain his daughter’s hand for his son, Arurar. Sivachariar gladly agreed. But, the wedding was not to take place.

Just when the ceremony was to begin, an old Brahmin, with sacred ashes on his body, Rudraksha around his neck and matted locks on his head appeared and said: ‘This man, Arurar, is my bond-slave. I have a document to that effect executed by his grandfather. He cannot marry.’ This put an end to the ceremony. Sundarar and the Brahmin left the place. The young bride fixed her mind on the holy feet of Sundarar, shed her mortal coil and attained the immortal abode of Lord Siva.

Sundarar and the old man had a heated argument. Sundarar asked him: ‘Who are you and from where have you come?’ To which the Brahmin replied: ‘I belong to Tiruvennai Nellur.’ Sundarar called him a liar and said: ‘Come, let us go to Tiruvennai Nellur and get this dispute settled by the wise men there.’

At Tiruvennai Nellur, before an assembly of wise men the old Brahmin produced the document which read as follows:

I, Aruran, the Adi Saivite of Tirunavalur, execute this bond of slavery with heart and soul. I and my progeny for all time to come are bond-slaves to Pithan of Tiruvennai Nellur, and we are bound to serve him by all means.

Pithan means Lord Siva who delights to be called a ‘mad man’, to exemplify the state of the highest Yogi whose behaviour resembles that of a mad man but who teaches us that there is nothing in this world worth taking any notice of and the worldly ‘wise men’ are all mad people in truth.

After examining the witnesses cited in the document and verifying the grandfather’s signature, the assembly confirmed the old man’s claim. Sundarar had to accept it as God’s will. Followed by all of them the Brahmin entered the temple of Tiru Arul Turai on the pretext of showing them his house, and promptly vanished. Arurar understood that it was the Lord Himself who had appeared as the old man to save him from the shackles of Samsara. He was afflicted very much at heart that he had not recognised Him earlier. He cried aloud. The Lord appeared before him and blessed him: ‘Oh noble soul. You are already My Bhakta. You were in My Abode in Kailasa before this birth as a man. A wrong thought made you take this birth. Now I have Myself come to save you.’

Because Sundarar had quarrelled with Him, the Lord Himself called him Vanthondan (the devotee who used harsh words) and asked him to sing His glories. ‘My clear child, you called Me Pithan (madman) during your quarrel. So, begin with this word and compose a poem.’ Sundarar did so: the result was that inspiring poem Pitha Pirai Soodi. The Lord Himself came to be known as Taduthatkonda Iswar (the Lord prevented and saved him from Samsara).

Sundarar later visited a number of holy places and sang the praise of the Lord in all of them. He came to Adigai Virattanam, the sacred place where Appar served the Lord Viratteswarar and was blessed. Sundarar did not like to place his foot on the sacred ground and so stayed on the outskirts of the village.

That night when Sundarar was asleep, the Lord in the guise of an old man entered the Mutt. He lay down close to where Sundarar was sleeping and pretended to sleep. He then placed His feet on the head of Sundarar. When Sundarar objected to this, the old man apologised. Sundarar went over to another corner of the room. There, too, the old man repeated the same action. Sundarar did not lose his temper. He calmly asked him for his identity and explanation for the abnormal behaviour. ‘Oh friend, don’t you know me?’ asked the Lord and disappeared. Sundarar realised that it was again the Lord Himself. Since he had not gone into the place for His Darshan, the Lord Himself had come out to where the devotee was! Sundarar prayed: ‘Oh Lord! How kind and merciful You are! Even devotees who are well versed in Vedas and Agamas cannot touch Your feet. Out of love towards this poor creature, You left Your abode and came here to bless me with Your Holy Feet.’

Sundarar again continued his pilgrimage. At Tillai (Chidambaram), he went into a trance even as he saw the temple tower. In his ecstasy he rolled on the ground and shed profuse tears of love. He had the Darshan of Lord Nataraja. A heavenly voice commanded him to go to Tiruvarur.

He then visited many other shrines and came to Tiruvarur. The Lord appeared to the Brahmins of Tiruvarur and asked them to receive Sundarar with due honours. They did so. As Sundarar was worshipping the Lord in the temple, he heard a heavenly voice: ‘Sundarar! I have made you My friend. I prevented you from getting married. Hereafter you will appear for ever as a bridegroom and sport on earth.’ Immediately, Sundarar became a handsome bridegroom. People called him Tambiran Thozhar (friend of God).

In Tiruvarur, there was a chaste woman by name Paravayar who was none other than Kamalini, the attendant of Parvathi in Kailasa. Daily she would go to the temple and worship the Lord with faith and devotion and sing His glories. One day, she came to the temple, as usual, with her friends, to worship the Lord. At the same time, Sundarar, with his devotees entered the temple. Prompted by past Karma, Sundarar was attracted by Paravayar’s beauty. He wanted to marry her, and entered the shrine of the Lord with this thought. The Lord was his friend, and so, he expressed his desire to Him!

Paravayar who had seen Sundarar in the temple also fell in love with him and wanted to marry him.

The marriage was pre-ordained by Lord Siva Himself and it was now His duty to bring it about. He appeared to both of them in their dreams and told them that they would get married. He also commanded His devotees in dream to arrange for the wedding of Paravayar and Sundarar the very next day. This was done accordingly, to the joy of both Paravayar and Sundarar.

One day, Arurar went into the temple and found a number of devotees of the Lord there. He wanted to sing their glories. The Lord Himself sang the first line of the famous poem Tiruthonda Thogai and by His grace, Sundarar completed it.

During his stay at Tiruvarur, a Vellala by name Kundaiyur Kizhar who was very highly devoted to him, was regularly supplying Paravayar with enough grains and groceries for the maintenance of Sundarar and the devotees. Suddenly there was famine in the district and people suffered for want of food. Kundaiyur Kizhar was also affected. He was afflicted at heart because he could not supply the needs of Sundarar. Lord Siva appeared in his dream and promised enough grain! Kubera, the God of wealth, did the needful, as commanded by the Lord. The next morning, Kundaiyur Kizhar found huge heaps of grain. At the same time the Lord appeared before Sundarar and informed him of the incident. At once Sundarar left for Kundaiyur to meet Kizhar. They met half-way. Sundarar saw the heaps of grain at Kundaiyur and knew that it was His Lila. He went to a nearby Koili and sang the praise of the Lord, and entreated Him to have the grain removed to Tiruvarur. A celestial voice immediately assured him of this. Sundarar returned to Tiruvarur and informed Paravayar of all that happened. That night the Bhuta Ganas, the servants of Lord Siva, removed the heaps of grain and filled the entire town of Tiruvarur with it! Paravayar offered repeated prostrations to the Lord and sang His glory. She asked the people to take the grain to appease their hunger. Thus the famine came to an end. All the people glorified the Lord and Paravayar.

Kotpuli Nayanar of Tirunattiyattankudi, the Commander-in-chief of a Chola King, and an ardent devotee of Lord Siva came to Sundarar and entreated him to grace his house with his presence. Sundarar agreed to this and went. After worshipping Sundarar, Kotpuli Nayanar prostrated himself at Sundarar’s feet along with his two daughters, Singadiyar and Vanappahaiyar, and pleaded that Sundarar should marry the two daughters. Sundarar, however, placed them on his lap and fondled them, treating them as his own daughters. Then Sundarar went to the temple and sang in praise of the Lord, a song in which he called himself Singadiappan, since he took Singadiyar as his daughter.

Sundarar then returned to Tiruvarur. It was Paravayar’s custom to distribute plenty of money and other articles in charity on Panguni Uttaram, a festival day. Sundarar went to Tirupugalur and prayed to the Lord to give him gold for the sake of Paravayar. That night he slept there with a few bricks as his pillow. The next morning, he woke up to find that all the bricks had been converted into gold. Sundarar was surprised at this miracle of Lord Siva and sang His glory and returned to Tiruvarur. On the way he had a vision of the Lord at Tiru Panaiyur.

After visiting many holy places again and singing hymns in praise of the Lord, Sundarar came to Tiru Pachilasramam. There he worshipped the Lord and asked for a gold coin. He did not get it immediately. He sang a Padigam (song) and the Lord at once gave him a heap of gold. The Lord was so fond of hearing Sundarar sing.

Then, Sundarar left for Vridhachalam, visiting a number of holy places on the way. He had omitted Tiru Koodalaiyarrur. So, the Lord came to him as a Brahmin of whom Sundarar enquired the way to Vridhachalam. The Brahmin led the way up to a certain distance, and then suddenly disappeared. It was close to Tiru Koodalaiyarrur which Sundarar now visited and sang a song in praise of the Lord there.

Then Sundarar came to Vridhachalam. He worshipped the Lord, and sang a Padigam expressing his desire for gold coins. The Lord gave him 12,000 pieces of gold. Sundarar prayed to the Lord to remove these gold pieces to Tiruvarur. The Lord asked him to throw them into the river Manimukta and to receive them back at Tiruvarur. Sundarar did so, keeping a piece for identification. On return to Tiruvarur, Sundarar and Paravayar went to the tank to get back the gold pieces. Sundarar dived into the eastern side of the tank and searched for the gold, as though he had put them there. He could not find them. Sorely afflicted at heart, he sang a song. That was what the Lord wanted. Sundarar got the gold. All were amazed. But, on identification, it was found that the gold was inferior in value to the piece that Sundarar had kept back with him. He sang a song: and the Lord restored to them their original value. So fond was He of hearing Sundarar sing a song.

Sundarar went out on another pilgrimage again. On the way, he was afflicted with hunger and thirst. The Lord Who is the Indweller of our hearts, erected a water-shed and was waiting for Sundarar there in the guise of a Brahmin. Sundarar and the devotees entered the shed, singing the Panchakshara. The Brahmin offered him food and water and asked him to rest awhile. All of them appeased their hunger, but the quantity of the food remained the same. When they were resting, after food, the Lord disappeared. They knew that it was none other than the Lord Himself. Sundarar sang a song alluding to this incident.

On another occasion, soon after this, while on a visit to Tirukachur, Sundarar went to the temple, worshipped the Lord and was resting outside the temple, feeling hungry. The Lord understood it: and so, in the guise of a Brahmin came to Sundarar and said: ‘It appears that you are hungry. Please wait here. I will give you food.’ The Lord at once went out in the scorching sun, begged from each and every house, and offered the food so obtained, to Sundarar. As Sundarar and the devotees were eating, the Brahmin disappeared: and they understood that it was the Lord Himself. Sundarar sang a song alluding to this incident, revealing the Lord’s supreme mercy.

Later on, he went to Tiruvotriyur and stayed there for some time, worshipping the Lord there. Aninditiyar, the other maid-servant of Parvathi in Kailasa, who had also taken a human birth, was now Sangilyar in Jnayiru in Thondai Nadu. Her father was Jnayiru Kizhar, a Vellala by caste. He was also a staunch devotee of Lord Siva. Sangiliyar was devoted to Parvati from her very childhood. Once her parents mentioned that she should get married, but the very word ‘marriage’ made her faint. Later, a respectable Vellala wanted to marry her. He sent some people to approach the girl’s father. Jnayiru Kizhar did not like even to speak to his daughter about it. He sent them away with an evasive reply. Soon after, the boy who wanted to marry Sangiliyar, and the party that went to negotiate,—all of them died. When Jnayiru Kizhar heard this, he understood the greatness of his daughter. He took her to Tiruvotriyur and built a small Ashram for her there.

It was part of Sangiliyar’s Sadhana to make garlands for the Lord in the temple. She regularly visited the temple and worshipped the Lord. One day Sundarar and the devotees went to the temple. After the worship, they came to the place where some devotees were making garlands for the Lord. Sangiliyar was also there. Sundarar was attracted by her beauty, due to past Samskaras. He wanted to marry her, and expressed this wish to the Lord. The Lord promised to fulfil his wish.

The Lord appeared in Sangiliyar’s dream and said: ‘Oh noble soul, I am highly pleased with your devotion. Now I tell this for your own good. Sundarar wants to marry you. He is My friend. He asked Me to arrange the marriage. So, marry him. You will be happy.’ Sangiliyar prostrated before the Lord and said: ‘Oh Lord, I will obey Your command and marry him. But, he may desert me since he is already married.’ The Lord asked her to get a promise from Sundarar that he would not part from her under any circumstance.

Then the Lord appeared before Sundarar and said that Sangiliyar had agreed to marry him on condition that he would not part from her. Sundarar said: ‘Oh Lord, how can I agree to this condition since I am constantly moving about visiting many holy shrines? But, if You so desire, then assure me that You will withdraw Your presence from the Lingam in the temple and will take Your abode in the nearby tree, when I take the oath before Your image.’ The Lord granted him this wish and disappeared.

He again appeared before Sangiliyar and said: ‘Oh noble soul, Sundarar has agreed to your condition. But, ask him to make this promise, not before the Lingam in the temple, but in front of the nearby tree.’

The next morning Sangiliyar came to the temple. Sundarar was waiting there for her. Sangiliyar’s friends told him that she wished the promise to be given in front of the nearby tree. He was taken aback, but accepted the proposal. The promise was given. The marriage was immediately solemnised.

In Tiruvarur, Vasanta Utsavam was being celebrated on a grand scale. Sundarar remembered the festival and longed to go there. He also recollected that Paravayar would sing and dance there in front of the Lord. At the same time, he could not part from Sangiliyar. For a long time, he struggled between the two conflicting duties. Finally, he decided to leave.

When he crossed the border of Tiruvotriyur, he suddenly lost his eye-sight and fell down on the ground. The Lord is impartial. None can escape the operation of the Law of Divine Justice. Sundarar slowly regained his consciousness. Immediately he realised his fault and prayed to the Lord for forgiveness, asking for the grant of the eye-sight. ‘Oh Lord, I take complete refuge in You. I always repeat Your Name. Even when I fell down losing my eye-sight, I remembered You only. Oh Lord of Mercy, even if I commit a crime, is it not Your duty to forgive me? Oh Lord of Compassion, save me.’ In spite of the blindness, however, his thirst for the Darshan of the Lord at Tiruvarur did not abate. With the help of some people on the way he came to Tiru Mullaivayil. Here, again, he prayed to the Lord to give him eye-sight. At Tiruvembakkam he again prayed to the Lord in a similar strain. In the temple, he prayed and asked: ‘Oh Lord Who accepted me into His fold, prostrations unto Thee. Oh Lord Who cleverly played a trick on me, are You inside the temple?’ The Lord gave a stern reply: ‘I am here; you can go.’ and gave him a blind-man’s stick. This attitude of indifference on the part of the Lord pained Sundarar and he pleaded for mercy. ‘Oh Lord of Mercy, have I not taken You as my sole refuge and support? I committed a mistake thinking that You will pardon me. You are even indifferent to public criticism. Will they not accuse You for turning a deaf ear to a devotee who is sincerely weeping at Your feet, accepting his fault and craving for pardon? Oh Lord, can You not understand suffering? Like a loving child that has been separated from its mother for a long time and wants to hug her, I have come to You: but, instead, You treat me like a stranger. Oh Lord, You deceived me, who asked You to remain for a while near the tree, by cleverly informing Sangiliyar of the same and asking her to get the promise from me near the tree. Oh Lord, You gave me Sangiliyar and all the pleasures. But, now You give me the blind-man’s staff and say ‘You can go’. Oh Lord, am I unfit to receive Your mercy? Pardon me and relieve me of my sufferings.’

Then, completely resigning himself to God, Sundarar came to Conjeevaram, after visiting many holy places on the way. He worshipped Mother Kamakshi and expressed his sufferings to her and pleaded to her to relieve him of his sufferings. Sundarar then worshipped Lord Ekambareswarar. Mother Who is seated on His left side, had already been moved by Sundarar’s prayers and wanted to shower Her grace on him. Lord Siva understood this. He at once restored vision to Sundarar’s left eye. In ecstasy he rolled on the ground, shedding profuse tears of love.

After spending some days there, singing the glories of the Lord, Sundarar proceeded to go to Tiruvarur. At Tiruvavaduthurai, he again prayed to the Lord to forgive him and restore sight to the other eye, too. Sundarar then came to Thiruthurithi. The Lord asked him to take a dip in the northern tank there. Sundarar did so, and came out of it. To the surprise of all, his body had become as bright as polished gold. People were amazed at this change. Sundarar went into the temple and prayed.

Sundarar reached the outskirts of Tiruvarur. He grieved that, due to his partial sight, he could not get a complete Darshan of the Lord. The very sight of the temple tower entranced him. Sundarar wanted to feast both his eyes on the beauty of the Lord and so prayed to Him to restore vision to his other eye also. Sundarar’s supreme devotion and lamentation moved the Lord’s heart. He at once cured the other eye also. Sundarar was extremely happy. He worshipped the Lord and remained completely absorbed in divine bliss.

In the mean time, people whom Paravayar had sent to greet Sundarar and inform him of her eagerness to meet him, found out that he had married Sangiliyar. They went back and told Paravayar about this. Paravayar was sunk in grief. She was annoyed, too. Paravayar’s people refused to allow Sundarar’s devotees to enter the house. When Sundarar heard of this, he was afflicted at heart. He sent some elderly devotees to Paravayar, to bring about a reunion. They failed. At midnight when all the devotees were asleep, he prayed to the Lord for His help in pacifying Paravayar. The Lord appeared before him and assured him of His help. The Lord disguised Himself as Sundarar’s messenger, a Brahmin priest, and went to Paravayar’s house. The Brahmin pleaded Sundarar’s cause and asked her to accept him back. She refused, though she herself was grief-stricken at the separation from Sundarar. Her annoyance at his second marriage was so great! The Lord coolly returned to Sundarar, who was anxiously awaiting His return. When the Lord informed Sundarar of all that had happened, Sundarar fell down on the ground, in grief. ‘If You do not help me, Oh Lord, I will give up my life.’ The Lord seeing Sundarar’s pitiable condition, assured him of help and again set out to go to Paravayar’s house.

In the mean time, the devout Paravayar had understood that the Brahmin was no other than the Lord Himself and was suffering from terrible anguish for not recognising Him. The Lord again went to her house: and this time He appeared before her in His real form. Paravayar at once prostrated before Him. The Lord said: ‘O Paravayar, I have again been sent by Sundarar to plead his case. Do not refuse this time. He is undergoing terrible agony on account of separation from you. Accept him and allow him to come to your house.’ Paravayar prostrated to the Lord again, with folded palms and said: ‘Oh Lord, first You came in the guise of a Brahmin but I did not recognise You. Again You have come and have shown me Your real form. Oh Lord, how kind You are! You have graced my hut and showered Your grace on me. You have taken so much trouble this midnight, for the sake of Your friend. How can I go against Your wish? I will accept and obey Your command.’ The Lord was immensely pleased with her. He blessed her and returned to Sundarar. The Lord informed him that he had pacified Paravayar and that he could now return to her. He then disappeared. Sundarar was overwhelmed with joy and sang the Lord’s glories.

In the mean time, Paravayar had decorated her house beautifully and was eagerly waiting for her Lord. Sundarar, with his devotees, entered the house. Paravayar fell at his feet. Thus they were re-united after a long separation.

Yet, this was not all. The news that Sundarar had sent Lord Siva Himself as his messenger, had reached the ears of Eyarkon Kalikama Nayanar of Tiru Perumangalam in Ponni Nadu. He was a great devotee of Lord Siva. He was terribly angry with Sundarar for treating the Lord as a messenger to settle a domestic quarrel. How, in a wonderful and mysterious manner Lord Siva brings about a reconciliation between the two Nayanars, both of them greatly devoted to Him, we shall see, when we describe the life of Kalikama Nayanar.

Equally interesting is the way in which the Lord unites in friendship Sundarar and Cheraman Perumal Nayanar, another royal devotee of the Lord. We shall describe it in detail when we come to the life of Cheraman Perumal Nayanar.

When, along with Cheraman Perumal, Sundarar was proceeding to Madurai, they arrived at Tirunagaikkoronam. Here Sundarar sang a song in which he asked the Lord to give him a pearl garland, precious stones, musk, spectacles, fragrance, clothes, jewelry, one-third of the wealth of Tiruvarur, horses which ran as fast as the wind, golden flowers, palanquin, etc. How wonderful is the relation between the devotee and the Lord! Sundarar regarded God as his friend, because God Himself had wanted it to be so. He adopted towards God the Sakhya Bhava (attitude of a dear friend).

In the company of Cheraman Perumal, Sundarar went on several pilgrimages, and met many of the kings of South India. Once, when they were at Tiru Kandiyur, they saw Tiruvaiyar on the opposite bank of the river. Cheraman desired to visit that place also. The river was in flood, and it was impossible to cross it. Sundarar sincerely prayed to the Lord to help them. He sang one of his songs which easily pleased the Lord. At once the river gave way, leaving a sandy tract through which they could walk across to the other bank. As soon as they reached the other bank, the river resumed its former form. They were delighted at this miracle of the Lord. Even the five elements are ever ready to serve the devotees of the Lord, at His command.

Cheraman then took Sundarar to his own place, with great honour and pomp. Sundarar stayed with Cheraman for some time. He suddenly remembered the Lord of Tiruvarur and wanted to go there. Cheraman could not accompany him and was therefore grief-stricken. Sundarar consoled him and asked him to stay behind and rule the country wisely and justly. Cheraman prostrated himself before him and gave him rich presents. He sent his own people to carry these presents, and to accompany Sundarar. It was the Lord’s wish that Sundarar should receive gifts only from Him! How could His friend receive from others? Hence, He desired to deprive Sundarar of what Cheraman had given him. When Sundarar and his retinue were passing through Tirumuruganpondi, the Lord sent His Servants to rob Sundarar of all the riches that he had received from Cheraman. The Lord’s Servants disguised themselves as hunters and attacked the party that was carrying the presents. The party dropped all and fled. They went to Sundarar and reported to him what had happened. Sundarar went to the local temple and sang a Padigam. He came out of the temple and to his surprise he saw there all that they had been robbed of. Now, it was a gift from the Lord Himself, and so Sundarar, God’s friend, could have it. Wonderful are the Lilas of the Lord.

After some time, Sundarar again desired to see Cheraman Perumal. On the way to Kundakolur, he went to Tiru Pukkoliyur Avinasi. As he entered this place, he heard simultaneously auspicious as well wailing sounds emerging from different houses.

On enquiry, he learnt how two Brahmin boys of the same age, from these two houses went to tank for a bath; and how one of them was caught by a crocodile, and the other escaped, providentially. The latter was being invested with the sacred thread that day, and hence the auspicious sound from that house. The people in the deceased boy’s house were bemoaning the loss of the boy, sore at the feeling that, had he been alive, he would also be celebrating the sacred thread ceremony that day. Sundarar wanted to console the bereaved family. As he stood in front of the house, the people stopped wailing and came out to receive Sundarar. They were eager for a long time to get his Darshan, and so, forgetting their sorrow, they came to welcome him. Their devotion moved Sundarar’s heart. He was prompted by the Lord to bring the dead boy back to life. So, he went to the same tank and sang a song on the Lord of Avinasi to give the child back to the parents. The Creator, pleased with Sundarar, entered the stomach of the crocodile and re-constituted the body of the boy, though it had already been digested. Lord Yama, too, for his part, released from his custody, the life he had once removed and the crocodile vomitted the boy! To the wonder of all, the boy was much more handsome than when he met with the accident, and he showed signs of growth, appropriate to the lapse of time. All were amazed at this miracle of Sundarar. The parents of the boy were immensely pleased and embraced Sundarar’s feet. Sundarar took the boy to the temple and worshipped Lord Avinasiappar. He himself performed the sacred thread ceremony for him.

At Kodunkolur, Cheraman, who had already come to know of the crocodile miracle, received Sundarar with still greater love and veneration than before. Sundarar stayed with the king for some time. One day Sundarar visited the temple alone and worshipped the Lord. The very sight of the Lord sent him into trance. He rolled on the ground shedding tears of God-love. The hairs on his body stood on end and his mind was filled with rapture. He regained consciousness after a long time. He was tired of worldly existence and so requested the Lord to take him back to Kailasa. He sang a Padigam.

The Lord, desiring to take Sundarar back to His Abode, commanded the celestials to bring him to Kailasa on a white elephant. He also informed Sundarar of this. Sundarar came out of the temple. The white elephant was waiting for him there. He mentally wished to take Cheraman Perumal also with him to Kailasa. Then he climbed the elephant and proceeded towards Kailasa.

In a Padigam he sang on this occasion, Sundarar himself reveals that this departure for Kailasa was not in his physical body, but in his spiritual body. The physical body was discarded here in this world itself, and the elements of which it was composed were returned to their sources.

Cheraman learnt by intuition of Sundarar’s departure for Kailasa. At once, he mounted a horse and came to Tiru Anchaikalam. There he saw Sundarar going along the sky on the celestial elephant. At once Cheraman pronounced the Panchakshara in the ears of the horse. The horse flew up and reached Sundarar. Cheraman worshipped Sundarar there. Both of them went to Kailasa in their spiritual body.

At the Gate of Kailasa, Sundarar was allowed to enter, while Cheraman was not. Sundarar went into His presence and praised His mercy: ‘Oh Ocean of Mercy, You have pardoned my sins and released me from the quagmire of Samsara. You have taken me back into Your fold, and bestowed on me the Immortal Bliss. How kind and merciful You are!’ He then informed the Lord that Cheraman was outside the Gate. To please His friend, Lord Siva sent His Mount, Nandikesvarar to bring Cheraman also in. The Lord asked Cheraman how he could come to Kailasa without His permission. Cheraman replied that when he saw Sundarar proceeding to Kailasa, he could not bear separation from him and so accompanied him. Now, by the good offices of Sundarar which earned for him the Lord’s grace he had been admitted into the Lord’s Abode. In these words, Cheraman expressed a very great truth: that even if the devotee is undeserving, if he is devoted to a saint (the Guru), he will also gain a place in the kingdom of God, through the intercession of the Guru.

Sundarar, as before, engaged himself in His service with all his heart and soul. Paravayar and Sangiliyar, being purged of their Karmas, also reached Kailasa. They resumed their original duty as the servants of Mother Parvathi.

2. Tiru Neelakanta Nayanar

In Chidambaram, there once lived an ardent devotee of Lord Siva. He was a potter by caste and profession. He had the highest regard for the devotees of Lord Siva, too. He was ever eager to serve them. He was leading an ideal household life. He made beautiful begging bowls of clay and offered them free to the devotees of Lord Siva, with great joy.

Siva, in His aspect of Neelakanta was his sole refuge and prop. Hence, he was called Tiru Neelakanta Nayanar. He would always tell others how, for the protection of the world the Lord drank the virulent poison, and he would assure his friends that they who took refuge under His feet would be purged of all sins and would finally be taken to His Abode.

In spite of his virtuous qualities, once he fell a victim to lust. One day, he visited the house of a prostitute. When he returned home, his dutiful and pious wife understood this. This irritated her, though she did not show this and continued to serve him, as before. But, she had decided not to have any sexual relation with him. Nayanar could not understand the reason. One day, as he approached her with passion, she took an oath and said: ‘In the name of Neelakanta, I ask you: do not touch us.’ Though she only meant herself, she had used the word us. Since she took the Name of the Lord and since she had used the word us, Neelakanta Nayanar decided that from that day he would not touch any woman in the world. Such was his sincere devotion to the Lord. They continued to live together. They did not want to make a fuss over their own resolve. No one knew about it. Years rolled by and they had grown old.

Lord Siva wanted to reveal the greatness of His devotee and thus to immortalise his name. So, in the guise of a Siva Yogi (a Saivite mendicant) the Lord came to Tiru Neelakantar’s house. Neelakantar welcomed him and worshipped him. The Yogi gave him a begging bowl and said: ‘Oh noble soul, kindly keep this in your safe custody, till I come back for it. To me it is extremely precious. It has the wonderful property of purifying anything that comes into contact with it. So, please protect it with the greatest care.’ Then the Siva Yogi left the place and Neelakantar kept the bowl in a very safe place in the house.

After a long time, Lord Siva came to the house of Neelakantar, as the same Siva Yogi and asked for the bowl. The Lord Himself, by the power of His Maya, caused it to disappear from the house! Neelakantar searched for it, but could not find it. It was a mystery to him. He was ashamed of himself. Trembling with fear, he fell at the Yogi’s feet and said that he could not find it. At this, the Yogi got very angry and accused Neelakantar, calling him a thief and cheat. Neelakantar offered to replace the bowl with a costlier one; but the Yogi would not accept.

Again and again Neelakantar pleaded that he had not stolen the bowl and that by a divine mystery it was missing from the house. The Yogi demanded that if that was the truth, Neelakantar should say so on oath, holding his wife’s hand. When Nayanar, who had resolved, in the name of the Lord, not to touch anyone, declined this, the Yogi attributed this unwillingness to the fact that Neelakantar had in fact been guilty of theft. They went to the court. The Brahmins heard the case. They asked Neelakantar to promise, as desired by the Yogi. Neelakantar got into the tank, along with his wife; they had a stick in their hand, and each of them was holding one end of it. The Yogi objected to this and wanted that Neelakantar should actually hold his wife’s hand with his own. Neelakantar could not hide the secret relationship that existed between him and his wife any more, and so, related the whole story to the court. After this narration, Neelakantar and his wife caught hold of the two ends of the stick and took a dip in the tank. A miracle happened. As they emerged from the water, they shone with youth and beauty. The Siva Yogi disappeared from their midst and Lord Siva and Mother Parvathy appeared in the sky, blessing all of them. The Lord said: ‘Due to the merit of having lived a life of self-control and devotion, you will live in My Eternal Abode, forever youthful.’ The Lord thus revealed the glory of supreme devotion to Him (which alone made it possible for Neelakantar to refrain from lustful thoughts or actions, after his wife had sworn in the Name of the Lord) and a life of celibacy which bestows eternal youthfulness on you, and the unostentatiousness of a saint’s virtue.

3. Iyarpahai Nayanar

‘Charity, free from the mean utterance I have none is found only among men of good birth’ says the Kural. Among such noble souls Iyarpahai Nayanar ranked high. Charity was ingrained in him. It was his practice to invite Siva Bhaktas to his house, worship them with faith and devotion and give them all they wanted. He had taken a vow never to say no to what a Siva Bhakta wanted.

Iyarpahaiar was a native of Kaveripoompattinam. He was a Vaisya by caste. To him Siva Bhaktas were the living manifestations of Lord Siva.

Lord Siva was pleased with His devotee. He wanted to reveal his true greatness to the world. So, the Lord, in the disguise of a Brahmin, with sacred ashes smeared all over his body, came to Nayanar’s house. He welcomed the Brahmin with great joy, as the very sight of the holy man thrilled the Nayanar. The Brahmin said: ‘Oh noble soul, you are far famed for your charitable nature. Learning that none returns empty-handed from your house, I have come to you for a gift. I shall disclose it to you, if you promise to give what I want.’ The Nayanar agreed readily ‘provided I have it with me.’ The Brahmin at once revealed what he wanted: ‘It is the gift of your wife.’ Nayanar had no difficulty at all in granting this! The supreme devotee of the Lord that he was, he did not stoop to doubt the credentials of the Brahmin who, though he appeared to be a Siva Bhakta, had such an undesirable desire: such is the unquestioning nature of devotion. Nor would Nayanar hesitate to fulfil the Bhakta’s wish, on the plea that it involved unrighteousness: for, to him worship of the guest (Guest is God) was greater Law than all the moral codes.

Nayanar went inside the house and informed his wife of all that had happened. She was shocked at first, but quickly regained her composure. To a chaste wife, the husband is God, and whatever he commands is Law and Dharma. She readily agreed to follow the Brahmin-guest as his wife. Nayanar came out with his wife and asked the Brahmin to accept the gift. The Brahmin, however, feared the wrath of the wife’s relatives and asked Nayanar to accompany them till they were safely out of the town and out of danger. Nayanar agreed to do so and armed himself to protect the Brahmin. They then proceeded to go.

In the meantime the relatives of Nayanar’s wife came to know of the whole story and were furious. They followed the Nayanar and party and threatened the Brahmin with death, unless he abandoned his impious desire. The Brahmin pretended to be scared. Nayanar’s wife, however, assured him that Nayanar was capable of defeating them all. Nayanar was ready to fight them. The relatives endeavoured to convince Nayanar of the unrighteousness of the whole thing, and, when they found that they could not, they preferred to die at his hands, than submit to the shame. Nayanar at once pounced upon them and chopped off their heads. All of them died and Nayanar, happy at the thought, that through the grace of Lord Siva, he had succeeded in keeping his vow of worshipping His devotee, proceeded further with the Brahmin and the wife. When they reached the temple of Tiruchaikadu, the Brahmin asked Nayanar to leave them and return. Nayanar prostrated to the Brahmin and turned his steps homeward.

As he had hardly proceeded a few yards on his homeward journey, the Brahmin again called Nayanar aloud. Thinking that there might have been another attack on the party, Nayanar hastened to where the Brahmin was: but, to his amazement, found that he had disappeared and that his wife was standing alone there. He searched here and there for the Brahmin, and was worried when he could not be found. Lo and behold, Lord Siva and Mother Parvathy appeared in the sky and blessed Nayanar and his wife: ‘Oh noble souls, I am immensely pleased with your devotion to My Bhaktas. Both of you will very soon reach My Abode.’

With these words, the Lord disappeared. The Nayanar and his wife reached His Abode and rejoiced there. Nayanar’s relatives who died at his hands also attained the lotus feet of the Lord.

Thus had the Lord proved the nature of supreme devotion, which does not question. And, the Lord also revealed the truth that such unquestioning devotion does not result in the violation of the Dharma. All glory to the Lord and His devotees.

4. Ilayankudi Mara Nayanar

Ilayankudi Mara Nayanar was a farmer. Maranar was his name: he lived in a village called Ilayankudi. He was a great devotee of Lord Siva and His devotees. He took the greatest pleasure in serving them. This Sadhana was known as Maaheswara Puja (or worship of the devotees of Mahesvara or Lord Siva). It is described as follows:

‘On seeing a devotee of Lord Siva, with the external marks of Vibhuti, Rudraksham, etc., taking him as Lord Siva Himself, welcoming him, prostrating before him, washing his hands and feet, drinking that water (Charanamrit), giving him a seat, worshipping him with flowers, Doopa, Deepa, and Naivedya, pleasing him with sweet words, thanking the Lord for the opportunity, and accompanying the guest for some distance while sending him away—these constitute Maaheswara Puja. This is also included in Chariyai (one of the main Saivite disciplines).’

Offering food to the Lord’s devotees had purified his heart and made him a fit receptacle for the grace of God. As Tiruvalluvar has said in the Kural:

Fortune dwells with a delighted heart in
the house of the man who honours his

guest with a pleasant countenance.

Nayanar had been blessed with all the wealth of the world. But, he considered that the wealth belonged to the Lord, to be utilised for the benefit of His devotees.

Lord Siva was highly pleased with the Nayanar’s devotion. He wanted to show to the world that His devotee would be undaunted by the worst calamity and would remain unshaken in his virtue. Nayanar’s wealth melted away. His wealth had left him, but not his virtue. On the contrary, his devotion to the Lord and His devotees grew more and more intense. Nayanar sold all his property and had to sell even himself in order to be able to serve the devotees of the Lord.

One day it was raining heavily. Nayanar and his wife were starving. No one came forward to help them. Finally, he bolted the door and was about to fall asleep. Just then he heard a knock at the door, and, on opening it, found a Siva Bhakta standing in front of the house, drenched with rain. Nayanar at once took the guest inside, dried his body and gave him fresh clothes to wear. ‘Rest awhile, Swami, while we prepare some food for you to appease your hunger,’ said Nayanar and told his wife of his predicament: there was nothing to offer the devotee of the Lord. But, the devout wife suggested that Nayanar could go into the backyard and collect the grain-seeds that they had just sown that very day. Nayanar accepted the suggestion. On account of the heavy rain, the grains were floating and it was easy to collect them in a basket. As soon as he brought the grains, the wife fried and crushed them, and with the help of some greens that grew in their own backyard, cooked a nice dinner for the guest.

Nayanar was supremely happy. And, as he went to awaken the guest, he discovered that he had disappeared. At the same time, Nayanar saw in sky, Lord Siva Who had come in the form of the devotee and Mother Parvathy showering Their blessing on him and his wife. The Lord said: ‘Oh noble souls, I am highly pleased with your devotion. You will soon attain My Abode and live there for ever.’

 
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