Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sacred Sixty Three – The divine history of 63 Nayanmar

The epic Periya Puranam written by Saint Poet Sekkizhar contains the divine history or life incidents of Sixty Three Shaivite Devotees referred as 63 Nayanmar. Whenever I used to visit the Perur Temple at Koyamuthur [Coimbatore] I get fascinated by the paintings of 63 Nayanmar which were painted on the ceiling of the temple corridors. I used to wonder how it is possible to paint on the ceilings. Each picture in the ceiling conveyed a story or a message. Later when I read periya puranam I realized the importance of these pictures. The Thevaram which is a collection of divine songs written by Thirugnana Sambandar, Thirunavukarasar [Appar] and Sundarar were miraculously retrieved by Nambiyandar Nambi based on the request of King Rajaraja Chozhan. We are highly indebted to them as otherwise we wouldn’t have got the “Thiru Thondar Thogai” written by Sundarar which became the base material for producing the Magnum Opus Peiya Puranam. These sacred songs of Thevaram and Thiruvasagam when you hear will make your heart melt. No wonder the King Kulothunga Chozha Raja took Sekkizhar on Elephant procession fanning himself across the streets of Chidambaram.

I am planning to publish the divine life incidents of the 63 Nayanmar under the title “Sacred Sixty Three”. Am sure their divine life will inspire us and help us progress in our sadhanas and take us near towards the Lord.

Happy reading!


A.V. Devan
Chennai – 14th Feb 2010
[Today being the Valentine’s Day – This will increase our love towards the Lord]

The Divine history of 63 Nayanmar

We pay our obeisance 63 times to Sundarar, Nambiyandar Nambi and Sekizhar without whom we wouldn’t have got these divine history. We are eternally indebted towards these great devotees. Sundarar for writing the Thiruthondathokkai, Nambiyandar Nambi for retrieving the Thevaram and Sekkizhar for writing the Periyapuranam which elaborates the divine life history of the 63 Nayanmar mentioned in the Thiruthondath Thogai.

Nayanmar refer to the 63 devotees of Lord Shiva who lived before or during the life time of Sundara Murthi Nayanar. Sundarar who is also one among the 63 Nayanmar praised all of them in his “Thiruththondath Thokai” which he sang at Thiruvarur. Periya Puranam which is an expansion of Thiruthondath Thokai talks in detail the life of these 63 shaivite devotees. These 63 Nayanmar followed different ways of praying the God i.e. Karma Yoga, Bhakthi Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and were in different ashrams or order of life i.e. Brahmacharyam [Chandechar], Grihastam [Neelakandar], Vanaprastam [Aaiyadigal Kadavarkon] and Sanyasam [Thiru Moolar]. Their traditional work or profession were also differed from Studying of Vedas [Sambandar], Potter [Neelakandar], Farm Worker [Nandanar] and what not. Both male and female (Isai Jnaniyar, Karaikal Ammaiyar) devotees are there. In fact the wives of many Nayanmar were equally devotional and got the place of Lord Shiva along with their husbands like Thiruneelakandar. Some of them had high degree of learning and Jnana, while some others excelled with their simple devotion even though they didn't learn any spiritual teachings like Kannappar. Some of them were Kings like Pukazh Chozhar and some others didn't even have a house to stay like Thirumular. Thus the devotees were varied in all respects.

Though the services rendered by these devotees differ from each other but the common thread among them is unique i.e. the pure unalloyed devotion for the Lord whose feet and head is never reached by anyone in this universe as HE pervades everywhere. Whoever worships him with devotion for them he showers his mercy and also tests their devotion by putting them into some trouble so as to strengthen their devotion. The level of tests varies from devotees to devotees depending on their love towards the Lord. It can be said that their histories show how true devotees will act under different circumstances. They excelled in their own way to be compared only to that individual devotee.

Their lives are an indication to all of us that we should worship and will be able to get His grace whatever our status be. One can find some important qualities in all the 63 saints' life. Most of them did not undertake a service that was away from their lifestyle. The service to the Lord that they undertake may look simple, like throwing a stone on the Shivalingam every day. But the thing is, they did the needful and they did it with flowing love for the Lord. The other thing is their determination in doing the service even when huge hurdles were on their way. If a service is undertaken to do for the Lord it should be done at any cost.

To explain their state we need no words other than Sekkizhar’s own words which are as follows:
Even if the five components of the world (Pancha Bhoota) derail in their state, (devotees) do not forget the flower like feet of the Lord having female in His side. (They) Stand by the principle of praising with love. Like the hill of flawless good qualities. Have the wealth which cannot be destroyed or created. Do not discriminate between tile and gold. Other than folding the hands out of rising love, do not even want to get mukthi. Reading about the 63 devotees can be said to have attained the purpose only when it resides in our mind ever green and guide us in the path of love for the Almighty in day to day conditions of the life. Let us try to simulate the state of them in our mind. Then do you think the Thief, whom even Vedhas struggle to describe, can escape without giving the treasure of His bliss?


Sekkizhar was born at Kundrathur in the Thondai Nadu which was ruled by Pallava kings and was famous for its intellectuals. He was born in shaivite farmer family of Sekkizhar tradition with his younger brother Palavarayar. The Chozha king - Kuloththunga Chozan II (anapayar) - who was ruling the region then wondered at the intelligence, honesty and excellence of Sekkizhar and made him his prime minister knighting him as Uththama Choza Pallavar. Sekkizhar was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva in Thirunageshwaram and did a lot of services to that temple. He built a temple at Kundrathur and named that too Thirunageshwaram. The king who was much interested in arts was mostly appreciating the Tamizh literature Seevaka Cindhamani. As a dedicated minister to guide the king in the proper way, Sekkizhar advised him that those books will do good neither for living nor for liberation and on his question he told the king that the lives of the devotees who were praised in the Thiruththondaththokai of Sundarar, which was later sung by Nambiyandar Nambi in his Thiruththondar Thiruvandhadhi, are the great thing to read and follow.

Inspired by this the king asked Sekkizhar to sing in detail the lives of the devotees as an epic. Sekkizhar agreed and worshiped the dancing Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram. The Lord gave him the first word to start the epic as Ulakelam. (Sekizhar has used this word with respect in the beginning, middle and end of the work). Then he wrote the entire Periya Puranam and was made public in Chidambaram in the presence of intellectuals, saints and others. After the arangetram (publication), the king took Sekizhar around the town on the royal elephant and he himself fanned Sekizhar during the procession. He made the Periya Puranam as the Twelfth thirumurai. Thiruth Thondar Puranam is the only work available that was written by Sekkizhar. After writing the Periya Puranam Sekizhar involved himself completely the lives of the 63 saints along with other devotees and finally reached the sweet feet of Lord Shiva.

Nambiyandar Nambi

This is the great devotee to whom the shaivite devotees are indebted for making available the marvelous and peerless Thevaram hymns of Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar and also writing briefly the history of the 63 splendid shaivite devotees who were mentioned in the Sundarar’s Thiruth Thondaththokai, which was the basis on which Sekkizhar wrote the nurturing literature of Thiruththondar Puranam. He is also one of the authors of the eleventh thirumurai. This devotee who did marvel in the youth was born in the town of Thirunaraiyur in the tradition of Adhi shaivites, who undertake the service of priesthood in the temples of Lord Shiva.

After getting initiation into the Veda learning, he started the learning of arts and scriptures along with vedas. One day as his father had to go to out of town, he took up the worship of the Lord Polla Pillyar in that town's temple. The young child went to the temple of the little elephant of the Supreme. He did the worship as he had learnt. He gave the food offerings to the elephant headed Lord. He did not know that his father used to dedicate the offerings symbolically to the Lord and then take it back. The young child was waiting for the elephant headed Lord to eat the food. As the Lord did not, he started crying thinking the worship he made was faulty and hence the Lord has not accepted it. Quite some time he was weeping. Finally he decided crash his head as the Lord did not accept the food offering. The innocent and sincere love of this young kid brought the unbelievable grace of the Lord. The elephant headed Lord stopped the child from crashing his head and ate all the food offering the child had brought, which was purified by his faultless love. As the Lord pleasantly ate and blessed the child, he requested the Lord to teach the lessons that would have happened in the school that day as it was already late for the school; else his teacher would beat him. The elephant of supreme knowledge whom everybody salutes to get the wisdom to worship the unexplorable Lord shiva, taught this blessed kid the lessons.

This happened the following day also and continued. The news spread like the fragrance of jasmine and the great Choza Emperor Rajarajan got to hear this. He along with the ministers, court men, people came in a big procession to Thirunaraiyur bringing along with them huge quantities of bananas, honey, flaked rice, sweet pancake and sesame balls as offerings for the Lord. In that suddenly crowded town he saluted the feet of the young renowned devotee Nambiyandar Nambi and requested him to offer to the broken dented Lord all those heaps of bananas, mangoes and jack fruits along with other offerings right then. The flawless child also worshipped the Lord with purity and love and the Lord of wisdom of Lord shiva ate all those heaps of offerings in one shot!

Retrieval of Thevaram

The surprised king hailed the child and he pleaded out of his marvelous love for the Matted haired Lord that his prayer was to get the hymns done by the three great shaivite saints (sambandhar, appar, sundarar) in total. The child out of the confidence on the elephant headed Lord assured the king that he would get him the information. With the tears of devotion filling his eyes, the child worshipped the trunk handed Lord to give the information. The gracious Lord disclosed the information, which became the great blessing for the shaivites to get their marvelous scripture. The palm leaves of those great hymns were kept behind the Dancing Lord of Thillai and there is hand symbol marking the place. Lord also disclosed the information through Nambi that Thirugnana Sambandar’s hymns were 16000, Thirunavukarasar’s were 49,000 and Shundarar's were 39000.

When Nambi and the king went to Thillai Chidambaram and opened the specified place they were disgusted to see that most of those valueless hymns were eaten off by termites. A great loss indeed to the entire world! However the Lord's voice stating whatever required were left, consoled them. What they could recover was a less than 10 percent of the whole hymns. The king arranged for multiply copying of the hymns that were not destroyed by termites and preserving them. The shaivite world would be indebted to these two great devotees for saving the marvelous peerless hymns Thevaram atleast partially. On the king's request Nambi arranged the hymns along with the other great hymns like Thiruvachakam, Thirumandhiram as Thirumurai (ordered holy text). With the help of a lady who came in the tradition of Neelakanta Yazhpanar the Pann (melody) of the Thevaram hymns were also got through their efforts. Nambi with the blessings of Polla Pillayar realised the history of the 63 great devotees mentioned by Sundarar and wrote a brief of their lives in his Thiruththondar Thiruvandhadhi. He also recorded the life of Sambandar and appar in the various hymns he wrote in praise of them. This servant of shaivam has authored many hymns which are compiled under eleventh Thirumurai.

We once again pay our obeisance to Sekkizhar, Nambi and Sundarar, Kulothunga Chozan and Rajaraja Chozan before entering the nectar of the divine history of the Sacred 63 Nayanmar.

The first divine life incident of the Sacred 63 Thiruneelakanda Nayanar will be published in the next article.

Reference :

Periyapuranam by Kripananda Variyar
Chitra Periyapuranam by S. Rajam

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