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Updated: August 10, 2010 00:54 IST

A lucid exposition of Saiva siddhanta

R. Gopalakrishnan
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Chennai: 17/05/2010: Book Review: Title: English Translation of the Tirumandiram. Author: T.V. Venkatraman.
Chennai: 17/05/2010: Book Review: Title: English Translation of the Tirumandiram. Author: T.V. Venkatraman.

The word ‘mandiram' is defined by Tolkappiar as “the sacred language that emerged from the inner command of the perfectly enlightened personalities who always spoke the truth.” The mission of such realised souls is to make the whole world share the bliss they themselves experienced and enjoyed.

Thirumoolar, whose biography figures in the Periyapuranam, presents, in 3000 verses, the secrets of human life with due solemnity, employing elegant expressions and from various perspectives. In his opinion, God (basically Lord Siva) is not merely an objective phenomenon to be adored but the Reality to be experienced in the inner recesses of the soul through various means. In this process, several stumbling blocks or counter-pulls and pressures — such as senses, mind, and social stigma — have to be overcome or controlled.

Thirumoolar realised that Tamil language can function as a resounding ‘mantra' that impinges on the truth that God is a matter of experience rather than explanation. However, through the revelation of nine ‘tantras', he elucidates, but in a symbolic way, the significance of the illuminative experiences.

Intricacies

The 10 volumes of Tirumandiram under review offer the text, its transliterated and translated versions, and commentary by a team of experts in an effort to spread the message among the English-knowing people. In this endeavour, they have engaged in explaining the intricacies of the tantra (agamic)-aspects of doctrines as well as praxis.

T.V. Venkataraman, known for his extensive writings on Tirumandiram, has offered thought-provoking interpretations to the technical terms and provided, besides the translation, a commentary on the second tantra, which is mainly concerned with the notions of bondage and liberation based on the three postulates of Saiva Siddhanta — Pati (Siva), pasu (soul) and paasa (bonds). In the same fashion, Venkataraman has dealt with the third tantra also, which is mainly about the worthwhile role of the eight-limbed yoga.

Subtle

More challenging is the task of elucidating the fourth tantra, which speaks about the mystic significance of the chakras, and T.N. Ramachandran has done a commendable job of it. His commentary reveals a deep commitment to the subtle aspects of this tantra. The Saiva mode of worship and the paths of service, yoga, and wisdom tinged with devotion to the Lord get adequate treatment in K.R. Arumugam's analysis of the fifth tantra.

T.N. Ganapathy, general editor of the publication, has taken upon himself the task of translating and interpreting the sixth tantra, which essentially is an elaboration of major concepts, such as guru, grace, knowledge, penance, wisdom, and the holy ash, as envisaged by Saivism. Elsewhere (in another volume), Ganapathy has expatiated on the major pathways to perfection through the Saiva modes of worship and the effulgence of divine wisdom leading to the ecstasy of communion with Siva.

The seventh tantra has been commented upon by P.S. Somasundaram, starting with six spiritual centres and ending with a salutary guidance. He has also given a fairly good account of moral, spiritual and religious codes. S.N. Kandasamy, a veteran scholar of Tamil philosophy, has taken care of the eighth tantra, the substance of which relates to the structure of the human body, the different states and experience of the soul, the pathways to liberation, the six objectives, the three qualities, the state of tranquillity, etc. All the facets of human life, here and hereafter, are well brought out.

While the first volume carries forewords by the publisher and the co-publisher, a preface, a biographical note on the contributors, and a guide to pronunciation in Tamil, the tenth contains appendices, a glossary, select bibliography, and an index to technical terms.

One felt that an index to Tamil verses at the end of each of volume would have made for easier reference and the bibliography could have been more comprehensive. Secondly, it would have been more appropriate had the cover carried Sakti's image along with that of the ‘cosmic dancer', given that Tirumoolar, in several verses, speaks of the inseparable union between Siva and Sakti. All these minor lapses and shortcomings however do not, in any way, detract from the merit and magnificence of the work and its tremendous contribution to Saiva Siddhanta. No words of praise or appreciation will be adequate for the service those responsible for this production — chiefly the editor, publisher, and the contributors — have done to the cause of spreading the lofty truths of Saiva religion and philosophy by presenting them in a lucid and appropriate manner.

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