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Appar/Thirunavukkarasar (the former means “father” and the latter “the king of words”) was a seventh-century Tamil Saivite (devotees of Lord Siva) poet and saint. He was one of the prominent triad Saivite saints, the others being Sambandar (seventh century) and Sundarar (eighth century). The eleventh-century Saiva scholar and poet, Nambiyandar Nambi, compiled the hymns written by the triad Saivite poets and named it Tevaram. Tevaram comprises of the first seven volumes of Tirumurai (the twelve-volume anthology of hymns praising Siva). More hymns were added to Tevaram by various editors (poets themselves) to form the present Thirumurai. The first three parts of Tevaram were composed by Sambanthar, the next three by Appar, and the seventh by Sundarar .
Born in a peasant family belonging to Velaalar (also called Vellalar) caste, Appar’s parents, Pugazhanaar and Maathiniyaar, named him Marulneekkiyar. After his father’s death, his mother, Maathiniyaar, committed sati (a funeral practice of the widows to end their lives on their husband’s pyre). He had an elder sister named Thilakavathiyaar who was betrothed to a captain in the Army . Tragically, soon after their parents died, Thilakavathiyaar’s fiancé also died. Being betrothed, Thilakavathiyaar considered herself married to the captain and decided to follow her mother, in committing sati. Marulneekkiyar who was only about 10–12 years old pleaded with her not to commit sati as he would be “orphaned.” He also threatened her of himself committing suicide after her death . The compassionate Thilakavathiyaar refrains from committing sati and looks after Marulneekkiyar until he sets out for his first pilgrimage. Though brought up a Saivite, Marulneekkiyar gets interested in other religions in the country and sets out to learn the practices of Jainism. He leaves his home to join a Jain Monastery in Paatalipuram, the present Cuddalore in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. As Thilakavathiyaar was left alone, she abandons her home and took refuge in the temple of Lord Siva at Thiruvathikai-Veerattaanam (present Cuddalore), as a full-time devotee of Lord Siva. Marulneekkiyar spent many years in Paatalipuram and rose to the highest position in the Monastery, respected by all the monks. He was renamed Dharmasenar (literal meaning, “the guardian of dharma”). Quite unexpectedly and dramatically, Dharmasenar was affected by a stomach illness, which puts him through severe pain, which the doctors and sorcerers in the Monastery could not heal. He remembers his sister and sends a messenger to bring her to the Monastery. But, in return, concerned about his deception of Siva and Saivism, she refuses to go instead asked him to return home. Marulneekkiyar secretly returns home and falls prostrate at his sister’s feet. Thilakavathiyaar accepts him by conforming Lord Siva and Saivism, by applying the sacred ash on his forehead (which could be the Tripundra – three horizontal lines on the forehead – a symbol of compliance to the Saiva tradition). Thereafter, Marulneekkiyar undertook pilgrimages visiting Siva temples along the River Kaveri . During his various pilgrimages that he undertook, he dialogued with scholars and devotees, served in the temples of Siva, cleaned the temple premises, and composed songs and sang them. During one of his pilgrimages, he visits Sambandar. Swami Sekkizhaar writes that Marulneekkiyar “with palms joined in obeisance” and “heart melting with love” approached Sambandar and fell prostrate at his feet . Sambandar held Marulneekkiyar’s hands to help him stand up only to fall prostrate at his feet. He hailed him “Appare” (meaning, “Oh father!”) . Thereafter, Marulneekkiyar was called Appar. He was instrumental in initiating the Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu and has influenced many through his songs and discourses. After an eventful life, he died at the age of 81 in Thiruppugalur (Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu) .
The Tirumurai is an anthology of Saiva hymns (hymn in Tamil, patikam) written by 63 Nayanars (Saivite leaders) who lived between third and ninth centuries CE and was compiled in the twelfth century . This anthology is believed to constitute the Tamil Saiva canon. There are 796 hymns included in Tevaram – 383 written by Sambanthar, 313 of Appar, and 100 of Sundarar. A hymn has 10 or 11 verses, which usually comprise of 4-line stanzas; they are repeated while singing. Sambanthar and Sundarar adopt a style of adding a “signature verse” as the last verse of the hymn . Like an aside, they mention their names and “speaks about himself (themselves), the nature of his (their) songs, and the benefits of singing or listening to it (them).” Appar adopts a different style. He does not mention his name in the last verse; instead he “uses the myth of the demon-devotee Ravana as his unique closure motif…” . Tevaram departs from the classical style of Sangam writing which forms the literary canon for Tamil in the later centuries . The Nayanars combined the “basic metrical patterns of Tamil verse with prosodic principles largely new to Tamil poetry, creating a large number of new ‘musical’ meters, as well as a new song form, the patikam, with its ten stanzas and refrain (repetition), eminently suited to the spirit and themes of the new religion of bhakti” .
Themes and Philosophy of Appar’s Hymns
Tevaram’s departure from the classical style of Sangam also marked the inflow of a new philosophy and perspective on the people and their culture – the Saiva Siddhantha (Saiva Philosophy). Appar’s hymns spring out of his intense devotional attachment to Lord Siva, inspiring his audience (the Siva devotees) particularly as he addressed them directly. He stressed on “the localized presence of God within the icon and the icon’s translucent revelation of God’s wholeness” . The icon is the representation of Lord Siva. In Siva’s abode through the representation of Siva-linga (the symbol of Siva), referred to as the muulamurti (root manifestation), Appar sings how the Lord should be worshipped. He sings: “…rise at dawn to bathe, to gather fresh flowers,/and lovingly offer them in worship,/lighting lamps and burning incense for the rite” . Appar describes Siva vividly: “The Lord, with the braided hair, lives in the Kanchi burial ground, with His beautiful Uma with pencilled eyebrows. He has no sin. He is not one of the mortals, and is not to be compared with any of them. He has no place, and is incomparable. We can, with His grace alone as our eye, perceive Him, His form and nature, otherwise none can paint Him, in His real form and nature” . The “localized presence” (reference to Siva’s abode) of Siva not only refers to the temple and, particularly, Siva-linga but also to the inner self of the devotee. He is placeless yet placed; he is pure but could reside in an impure body; he is formless but with distinct form. In his hymns, Appar confesses his sins and submits completely to the Lord: “Great am I only in sin, evil is even my good. Evil my innermost self, foolish, avoiding the pure” . This complete submission made Appar humble and fearless. His songs deal with the themes of “fearlessness, faith, humility, service and voluntary poverty” . His fearlessness and faith are seen in his lines: “No man holds sway o’er us,/Nor death nor hell fear we;/No tremblings, griefs of mind,/No pains nor cringings see” . Sambhandar, in a verse, mentions about Appar’s humility in taking his glory as Lord’s blessings: “Of blessed Navukkaracan, ‘Lord of Speech,’ who took for his glory nothing other than the good Lord’s name in which all blessings abide…” . To Appar, serving Lord Siva was not only praising Him through his songs but also cleaning the premises of the temple that houses him and taking care of the needs of his devotees, irrespective of their caste and occupation. Sekkizhaar describes the reformer thus: “Appar went about cleaning the streets/that the world may prosper,/and humbly adorned the Lord with his songs” . The hoe that Appar holds in one of his hands that rests on his shoulder is seen as an indication of his readiness to do manual labor in the temple  or a representation of his cultivating caste . Appar’s songs “share an ethos of rich imagery, thick descriptions and desperate longing for divine grace” . Studying Tevaram is also studying the daily life, worldviews, and values of the people in Tamil Nadu .
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