I wrote this sleeve note in 2006 (how long ago it all seems) for Charsur’s CD Shivam. I suddenly recalled that this had never been put up on the blog. Rather an apt reminder for Shivaratri. The write up is tailored to the songs featured in the CD and so cannot be construed as a comprehensive write-up on His devotees.

Kapali close up, rShabha vAhanam festival, 2014

Shiva is defined today as one of the Trimurtis, the three Gods of the Hindu Pantheon and is said to be the destroyer. However, to his devotees, Shiva is all compassing, involving Himself in the five fold task of shrishti – creation, sthithi- being, vilaya -dissolution, tirodana- lifting the veil and anugraha- blessing. Shiva’s devotees are numerous in our puranas and also in recent times. It is interesting to see how each one the devotees saw the Lord in his or her own light. This CD offers a selection from the works of several devotees of Shiva.

Tirugnanasambandar saw the Lord as his father. He was born at Sirkazhi in the 7th Century AD as the son of Sivapadahrudayar and Bhagavatiyar. When he was three, he was taken by his father to the temple tank and left on the steps even as the father stepped in to bathe. The child becoming hungry cried and Lord Shiva appeared with His consort and instructed Her to give breast milk to the boy. The act of having the Goddess’ milk made Sambandar God’s son. The real father, his bath completed returned to find milk dripping from the child’s mouth. Asked as to who it was that fed him, Sambandar burst into the song “tOduya seviyan” which describes Shiva. Having attained enlightenment by the divine milk, Sambandar set out on a pilgrimage covering several Shaivaite shrines. Together with Appar (or Tirunavukkarasar) he challenged the Jains and defeated them. He is said to have composed several thousand verses in praise of Shiva at various shrines. At the age of 16, after his marriage, he along with his wife and several other devotees, merged into Godhead at Chidambaram.

Appar or Tirunavukkarasar was a senior contemporary of Sambandar and he viewed Shiva as his master. Born at Amoor to Pukazhendiar and Mathinyar, Appar chose to join the Jain faith first and rose to become one of its chief monks. Referred to as Marulnikkiyar, he was greatly respected in that faith. An incurable colic seized him and his sister Tilakavathi, who had remained a staunch Shaivaite asked him to come to the temple at Thiruathikai where she cured him with Shiva’s vibhuti. Appar became a staunch devotee of Shiva after that. The Pallava king who ruled over the land was a Jain and he tortured Appar in various ways for his conversion. But Appar survived them all and took to a life of devotion to Shiva. Touring far and wide and visiting many shrines, he made the hoe his implement and used it to weed out grass from the pathways and walls of Shiva temples. Appar composed several hymns on Lord Shiva which go by the name of Tiruviruttam, Tiruthandakam and others.

Sundaramurthy Nayanar, like Sambandar and Appar is one of the 63 Nayanmars or devotees of Shiva. He is the last as his Tirutondarthokai sings the praise of 60 Nayanmars at the end of which he has added his own name and that of his parents making the total 63. Sundaramurthy Nayanar believed Shiva to be his companion. True to nature Shiva not only helped His friend at every turn, but also walked twice down the streets of Tiruvarur to make peace between Sundaramurthy and his first wife Paravayar. Later when Sundaramurthy visited Tiruvottiyur, he fell in love with another maiden Sangiliyar and once again Shiva played go between. Sundaramurthy, called such because of his handsome appearance, took to visiting several shrines associated with Shiva. He too composed several songs of which “ponnAr mEni” is one. Sundaramurthy moved to Chera country towards the end of his life and lived in the company of the king Cheraman Peruman.

Manikkavachakar is considered to belong to a slightly later period than the Nayanmars. He was born in Vadavur and was referred to as Vadavurar. The Pandyan king on coming to know of his wisdom made him a minister and gave him the title of Tennava Brahmaraya. Once the king sent his minister to purchase some horses that had just come in at a port town. En route at Tiruperunthurai, Manikkavachakar met a yogi who initiated him into the worship of Shiva. Enraptured, Manikkavachakar used up all the money meant for horses in renovating the temple at Tiruperunthurai. The king on coming to know of it ordered the arrest of Manikkavachakar but spared him on the assurance that the horses would come in the month of Avani (August/September) when the asterism moola was in the ascendant. On the appointed day the horses arrived, but later that night changed into jackals and vanished. The king ordered Manikkavachakar’s arrest and subjected him to several tortures but the minister remained immersed in his devotion to Shiva. He was soon released and he at once took to the life of renunciation. He composed around 600 songs in praise of Shiva and these are called the Tiruvachakam. To Manikkavachakar, Shiva was love.

Papavinasa Mudaliar, an 18th century composer, who lived near Tiruvarur, specialised in Ninda Stuthi, the art of seemingly insulting the Lord, all the while praising Him. Only three of his songs apart from an opera Kumbhesa Kuravanji are extant today. To him Shiva was familiar enough to be made fun of and at the same time be the Supreme Lord.

Nandanar or Tirunalaippovar is one of the 63 Nayanmars. His story, that of a lowly farmhand, yearning to have a darshan of Lord Shiva as Nataraja in Chidambaram, spans only one set of verses in the Periya Puranam, the text that gives the lives of the Nayanmars as written by Sekkizhar. But in the hands of Gopalakrishna Bharati (1811-1881), Nandan Charittiram became a grand opera whose songs still evoke deep devotion and piety in all those who sing or listen to it. Bharati himself lived a life of simplicity and donated whatever he earned to charity. To him Shiva was the Supreme Being that needed to be attained.

Ramalinga Swamigal (1823-1873) saw God as light. Born in Chidambaram, he later moved to Madras where he became famed from an early age for his discourses on the Periya Puranam. Known as Vallalar, he expounded a casteless society where the light of inner bliss permeates and is the manifestation of God. Vallalar composed a number of hymns. He established a Dharma Sala in 1865 which feeds the poor even today. He also began a Gnana Sabha in 1870 which is a temple to light having an eternally burning lamp in it. Vallalar merged into the absolute by locking himself into his room at Mettukuppam and vanishing forever. This was recorded by the British collector of the area.

Karamanai Neelakanta Dasa (1839-1900) was born in Padmanabhapuram, Kanyakumari rose to become a district magistrate. But it was singing bhajans that really drew him and giving up his job he began composing bhajans even though he had no prior musical training. His mudra is Neelakanta Dasa. Greatly honoured in Travancore and Cochin he chose to reside there for most of his life.

Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) was Neelakanta Dasa’s disciple and really needs no introduction for he is the great Carnatic miracle of the 20th century. In these modern times he lived the life of a true vaggeyakkara, composing freely at will some of the most outstanding kritis in the Tamizh language and rightfully earned the name of Tamizh Tyagayya. To both Papanasam Sivan and Neelakanta Dasa, Shiva was the subject of musical devotion.

Though each one of these devotees saw God in their own light, a common thread that runs through them all is absolute surrender to the divine. This is what makes their compositions truly immortal.