The Saiva saints

CHENNAI: The hagiological tradition in Saivism recounts that the 63 Nayanmars hailed from various walks of life but what united them was their devotion to Lord Siva. To understand their lives and works they have been grouped together in different ways. The three saints Appar, Sundarar and Sambandar whose hymns have been compiled into the Tevaram are known after their work as Tevara Mudalvar. Along with Manikkavasagar they are referred to as the Nalvar (four). The 63 saints have not been listed according to their time in history in the Periya Puranam of Sekkhizhar or the Tirutthondar Togai of Sundarar. It is generally accepted that they lived between the 3rd and 8th Centuries A.D. Karaikkal Ammaiyar is considered the earliest among them and her work is known as Muutha Tirupathigam, and Sundarar placed the last.

In her discourse, Dr. Sudha Seshaiyan said Manikkavasagar, one of the most important Saiva saints, did not figure in the list of 63. Why is this so? While Sundarar did not include Manikkavasagar in his work on the saints it is intriguing why Sekhizhar, who wrote the Periya Puranam much later also did not include him. On this count, some relegate Manikkavasagar to a later period but on the basis of the literary style of his hymn, the Tiruvasagam, scholars infer that he cannot be dated beyond the 8th Century A.D. This has led to a lot of explanations and one relates to the manner in which Lord Siva graced him in the form of Guru on two occasions.

All the 63 saints were blessed with the vision of the Lord each according to his predilection and circumstances of his life. In Manikkavasagar's case, first He appeared as a mendicant to intercede and claim His devotee as His own by initiating him when as a minister he went to Tiruperundurai to buy horses for the ruler. This was the turning point in his life. Later towards the end of his life when he retired to Tillai (Chidambaram) he used to sing the verses of Tiruvasagam in the temple. An elderly man and his wife joined the devotees who congregated to listen to him and took down his hymn. He also bade him to sing the Tirukkovaiyar and then was not seen after the work was over. The next morning the priests found the manuscript inside the shrine of Nataraja with the Lord's signature.

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