Saint Meikanda Thevar's ‘Sivagnanabodham', which contains just 12 aphorisms supplemented by clarificatory propositions, defines and describes the tenets of ‘Saivasiddhantam', a school of philosophy that holds Lord Siva as the Supreme Godhead and provides the foundation for a faith of devotion and austerity. This brief work by that young prodigy of the 13th century provided the framework for the flowering of scholarly interpretations by Arulnandi Sivam, Umapathy Sivam, and a host of others. While the 14 works written by them came to be hailed as the ‘Sastras' (theological treatises) of ‘Saiva Siddhantam', the 12 anthologies of mellifluous songs (sung by the celebrated devotees of Lord Siva) known as ‘Thirumurais', constitute the ‘Stotras' (devotional hymns) of the Saivite faith.

Five hundred years later came Sivagnana Munivar, a giant among the scholars who intuitively perceived the essence of ‘Sivagnanabodham'. With a grand vision and deep insight, he came up with his magnum opus, ‘Sivagnana Mapadiam', an elaborate and critical interpretation of Meikanda Thevar's work.

Well-versed in Sanskrit, Sivagnana Munivar argued with sustained intensity, not from a theoretical position, but on the basis of practical realities. The philosophical arguments he advanced served to intensify the fervour of the devotional hymns and made ‘Saivam' a theologically well-integrated and self-contained religion.

Munivar's penetrating perception enabled him to see new meaning in almost every word of ‘Sivagnanabodham' and to establish the truths on a firm foundation.

Three entities

The central tenets of ‘Saiva Siddhantam' are built around the eternality of the three substances— pathi, pasu, and pasam. Diverse philosophical traditions have evolved around the different constructs placed on the real nature of this relationship. ‘Sivagnanabodham' and the ‘Mapadiam', in their own ways, arrive at a concept of non-dual relationship, which Sivagnana Munivar calls ‘Suddhadvaita' — non-dualism that is free from any flaw (of qualification). ‘Saiva Siddhantam' postulates ‘Sivahood' as the ultimate stage of progression in ‘Suddhadvaita'. The ‘Mapadiam' gives details of this state.

To understand the two works is by no means easy. Much more difficult is to translate them, truthfully conveying the spirit and the meaning of the original. If Kandaswamy took upon himself the arduous task of translating it into English, it must be because of his deep devotion and strong sense of religiosity. He deserves all appreciation for having accomplished it creditably.

Strictly adhering to the original, he has given the meanings and explanations in such a way that one could easily follow the logic and subtleties of the arguments advanced. However, in some places at least, there is the real risk of a reader losing track in the unduly long and labyrinthine sentences. In fact, this is a measure of the challenge one faces while trying to translate terse philosophical works from Tamil to lucid English.

The copious references to the ‘Saiva Siddantham' texts speak to the author's extensive study. This a monumental piece of work by Kandaswamy that will be of immense benefit to ardent students of ‘Saiva Siddhantham.'

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