About the Book:
The Tamil Devotional Classic Peria Puranam or 'The Great Epic' by Sekkizhaar is the saga of the sixty three Nayanmars or servitors of the Lord, who not only lived for Him but adored Him in delightfully distinct ways. Lord Siva whom these Saiva-Siddhantins worshipped is not a sectarian deity but the Supreme Creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, who comes in human form from time to time and 'plays' with these servitors when their devotion gets incandescent. These Nayanmars are of both the sexes and of all ages, and range from tribal hunters to emperors of vast domains. Case and community, wealth and status do not count with them, even as they do not with the Lord. The trials and tribulations they cheerfully undergo and the incredible sacrifices they make for the Lord's sake take our breath away. To peruse their stories is to inhale the air of sanctity and blessedness.
Sri G. Vanmikanathan, who has rendered the highlights of the original epic from Tamil into English with a racy running commentary, is an experienced literateur who ahs a number of other devotional works to his credit.
We have great pleasure in placing before our readers this exposition in English of Periya Puranam, one of the seminal texts of Saiva Siddhanta.
References to Siva and the worship of Siva are extant even in the earliest Tamil literature. Siva as conceived in Saiva Siddhanta is not merely one of the Trimurtis, but she Supreme Being to whom Brahma and Vishnu offer obeisance. Siva is called Pati or Master with the five functions of Srishti (Origination), Sthiti (Sustentation), Samhara (destruction), Tirodhana (veiling) and Anugraha (Grace). The Jiva or human soul is called Pasu or animal because it is tied up by Pasa or the rope of bondage. This Pasa is the result of three impurities or Malas. The Anava-Mala is due to primordial ignorance-what is called Avidya in Advaita. Karma-mala accrues from the good and bad deeds of the Jiva. Maya-mala is the impurity arising from attachment to the world. To efface the Karma-mala and Maya-mala four paths are prescribed. First is Sariyai consisting in external acts of worship like cleaning the temple, gathering flowers for the deity etc. This is called Dasa Marga or the path of the servant. This leads to Salokya, or residing in God's abode. The second stage is Kriyai consisting in intimate service to God. This is called Satputra Marga, the path of the good son. This takes the devotee nearer to God, Samipya.
The third stage is Yoga which implies internal worship or meditation. This is Sakhya Marga, the path of friendship. This leads to Sarupya, attaining the form of God. The last path is Jnana, the path of Sanmarga, because it takes the devotee to Sat, which is God. This leads to Sayujya, union with God. It is said that these disciplines can remove only Karma-mala and Maya-mala, while the Anava-mala can be removed only by God's grace.
This theology was systematized only late in the 13th Century A.D. by Meykanda Deva in his Siva-Jnana-Bodham which is the basic text of Saiva Siddhanta Philosophy. Two other authoritative texts are the Siva-Jnana-Siddhiyar of Arulnandi and Siva-prakasam of Umapati Sivacharya. But the great period of Saivism was when the sixty three canonical saints, called the Nayanmars or the Adiyars, lived and showed the people the way of devotion to Siva. The Periya Puranam of Sekkizhhar is a literary masterpiece delineating the lives, deeds and sayings of these servants of the Lord. Of these Appar, Thirugnana Sambandar, Sundaramoorthy Swamikal and Manikkavachakar are the four pillars of the edifice of Saiva Siddhanta. In this present work, the hagiography of the first three is dealt with in detail and that of the other Nayanmars in a briefer form.
The translation in English has been done by a well-versed Saivite scholar, Sri. G. Vanmikanathan. We are thankful to Sri N. Mahalingam, the eminent industrialist, who has not only functioned as the General Editor of this book, but has also substantially subsidized the publication. We hope that this magnificent devotional poem will enable the readers to dwell in auspiciousness or Sivam.
The Periyapuranam is an account of the lives of Saivite Saints who lived in the Tamil Kingdoms hundreds of years ago. The lives of sixty three Saints are spoken of in the Periyapuranam. These Saints do not belong to anyone community; they hail from various communities-high and low, rich and poor. They have brought into the lime-light the various aspects of Saivism.
Reference is made to these Saints and their lives in the works and commentaries of Saiva Siddhanta, works such as Sivagnana Siddhiar and Thirukkalitruppadiar. Anyone who reads the lives of these Nayanmars will no doubt be impressed by the sense of devotion they had for the Almighty. This is the underlying theme of the whole of Periyapuranam, although the methods followed by the Nayanmars are not the same. The life of each and every Saint is a grand illustration of the emancipation of the soul in its search for the Supreme Divine Being.
The lives of these Saints are told in various works in Tamil. Sanskrit, Canarese and Telugu. However, the most ancient of them are in Tamil and Sanskrit. The one in Tamil is called Periyapuranam or Thiru Thondar Puranam . authored by Sekkizhaar. This version is based on Thiru Thondaththokai of Sundaramoorthy Swamigal and Thiruthondar Thiruvandadi of Nambiandar Nambi. The date of Sundaramoorthy Swamigal is the eighth century after Christ and that of Nambiandar Nambi is the tenth century. Sekki- zhar lived in the eleventh century and was the prime minister in the court of Kulothunga Chola who reigned during the eleventh century.
Saint Umapathi Sivacharya of the thirteenth century bas also authored an account of the lives of these Saints. His work entitled Thiruthondar Purana Saram, is also based on the Thiruthonda Thokai of Nambiandar Nambi, Of the works in Tamil, the Thiruthonda Thokai of Sundaramurthy Swamigal is the first. It also forms part of the Saint's Tevarams. This decade contains ten songs beginning with the words, "I am the servant of the servants of the servants of Tillai" These Tevarams were composed in Tillai and relate, in a very brief form, the lives of all the saints.
The most important of all the works relating to the lives of the Saints is that of Sekkizhaar and contains detailed information on the lives of the Saints. Since that date, Sekkizhaar's work has taken a place next only to the Tevaram and Thiruvachakam and has been the source of information and solace to all devotees.
Sekkizhaar, being an admirer of nature and beauty like the Nayanmars, has expressed himself in a simple, sober style. His poetry charms all readers and large audiences have been held spell bound by the recitation of the Periyapuranam. It is not only a document of Hindu religious history but is also a literary masterpiece which should attract every student of Tamil Literature.
Thiru G. Vanmikanathan, author of many books such as "Pathway to God trod by St. Ramalingar", and "Pathway to God through Thiruvachagam" has dealt with the subject in an excellent manner, grouping the subjects under suitable captions and has given lucid translations of Sekkizhaar.
Much would depend on the mental- make-up of the reader in understanding the lives of these Saints. If one's faith is strong, he can read them as absolute truth and believe them as true-which is sure to strengthen him in his spiritual life. He can read them for the spiritual guidance that could be taken from the lives of the saints. Most of Periyapuranam carries the. teachings on the surface, but one has to dive deeper to pick up the rare gems.
This being the first comprehensive English work on Periya- pu