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- puranam, it will be of immense value to the English-knowing public as well. I am happy that I am associated with this publication.
I am particularly thankful to Dr. K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, former Vice-Chancellor, Andhra University, for having given a Foreword to the book, which is by itself a literary masterpiece.
I am very much indebted to Swami Tapasyananda for getting-the sanction of the Headquarters of Sri Ramakrishna Math to publish this great work of Sekkizhaar. Sri-la-Sri Kasivasi Arulnandi Tham- biran Swamikal, Head of Tiruppanandal Mutt, always desired that a religious museum based on Periyapuranam should be set up at Madras and I do hope that this work will be the prelude to that great work. I am also indebted to all members of the Ramakrishna Math who assisted the work and my respectful regards to Thiru Vanmikanathan for his erudite work done at his ripe old age.
I could not understand why a scholar of eminence and seasoned writer like my esteemed friend Thiru G. Vanmikanathan, should ask me to contribute a Foreword to what is his most ambitious effort yet, "The Condensed English Version of Periyapuranam". My knowledge of Tamil poetry is small, and of Tamil Saivism even less. It could be that, coming from an elder, the assignment was meant to give me an opportunity to rectify my ignorance to some extent at least. If so, it is a kindness and not alone an honour extended to me. And, indeed, I have tried to make what profitable use I can of this singular compulsion to plunge into the confluence of Sekkiz- haar and Vanmikanathan, only to be buffeted between Sekkizhaar's encyclopaedic hagiology and divine poesy, and Vanmikanathan's polyphonic reasonings and twin harmonies of prose and verse, and presently, edified as well as exhausted, to feel fulfilled by the sheer exhilaration of the unique adventure.
Since the publication of his edition of V. V. S. Aiyar's- "Kamba Ramayana: A Study", G. V. has conquered, as it were, whole continents in the 'realms of gold'. Hadn't he received our rever- ed Jagadguru Kanchi Periyaval's benediction and ordainment for the future, “Even like this, may you persevere in your service to Tamil!" Sure enough, G.V.'s prose translation of Tirukkural appeared in 1969, and was followed two years later, by Pathway to God through Tamil Literature (Part I-Through the 'Tiruvachakam'). It was a gallant, if also arduous, exercise in interpretation and verse transla- tion, and more or less set the pattern for the literary ministry of the coming years. With Professor R.D. Ranade's classic triology of 'The Pathway to God' in Kannada, Marathi and Hindi literatures for an exemplum, G.V. scheduled his own comprehensive Agenda: "Before my desire is completely fulfilled, two or three more books should be written, one on the path shown by the first Seven Tirumurais and the Tenth Tirumurai- the Tirumandiram-another on the path shown by Thayu- manavar and Ramalinga Swamigal, and a third on the path shown by the Alwars. There could be another book on the path shown by the Siddhars."
Aside from significant fall-out activities like essays and dis- courses and the well-cut monographs on Appar, Manikkavasagar and Ramalingar, G.V.'s major achievement of the next quinquenn- ium was Pathway to God trod by Saint Ramalingar(l976), a massive tome including verse translations of nearly 1000 stanzas from Tiru-Arutpa, And now, piling Pelion on Ossa, 'This Condensed English Version of Periyapuranam.' In his late seventies and early eighties, G. V. Pillay retains the buoyancy and commands the purposive energy that might well put to shame a much younger man.
The Tamil Saiva Canon comprises the twelve Tirumurais: the first seven (collectively called 'Tevaram') being the outpourings of Tirugnana Sambandhar, Appar and Sundarar, the eighth (called 'Tiruvachakam') those of Manikkavasagar, the ninth (called 'Tiru-isaippa') a miscellaneous collection, the tenth (called "Tiruman- diram') being the mystic recordations of Tirumovlar, the eleventh another miscellaneous collection, anti the twelfth and last is Sek- kizhaar's Periyapuranam that weaves into a splendid epic narrative the lives of the sixty-three Tamil Saiva Saints. The Canon brings together nearly20,000 verses, and the musings,meditations and affirma tions of twenty-six singer-saints. Like the twelve Alwars (including the marvellous mystic-minstrel, Andal) of the Vaishnava Tamil Canon, the 'sixty three' Nayanmars too form a mighty aggregate who assert eternal Providence and exemplify the ways of the Divine to purblind humanity. The 'sixty-three' and a 'motley' assembly of the Siva-intoxicated, some movingly and memorably 'Vocal' but many dumb in their overmastering devotion to the Lord; drawn from all regions of Tamil Nadu (and even beyond), and from all castes, classes, professions, stages of life, and from both sexes; householders all, yet ascetic in their renunciation of meat, hunting, anger, pride and greed; and addicts of a divine humanism that swears by service of the interpenetrating universes of man, flora and fauna. The 'sixty-three' make a world of ardours, aspirations, intensities, contradictions, seeming aberrations, sore trials, startling transcendences, yet it is a world wonderfully held together and sustained by the Bhakti elan vital, by the love of God, and of the God in all. and the unfailing ambiance of Divine Grace.
These prophets and practitioners of God-love, these adepts and laureates of Bhakti,-these servitors, these children, these comrades of Siva - these devotees of the Divine's exemplars, these sixty-three darlings of Infinity, as they make their appearance and leap into scintillating life in Sekkizhaar's poetic universe, they acquire a 'criticality' that engineers their prolonging themselves permanently in our-and in the earth's- consciousness. First they are barely listed (sixty-three saints, and nine saintly groups) with a brilliant brevity and haunting reverberation in Sundarar's 'Tiru- thondar Thokai'; then the sixty-three are more elaborately described in Nambi-aandar-Nambi's 'Tiruthondar Tiruvandadi' in eighty nine quatrains (as against Sundarar's eleven eight-line stanzas). And finally, the golden galaxy spreads to epic proportions in the 4286 stanzas of Sekkizhaar's Periyapuranam. It is rather like three concentric and expanding universes, but Siva is at the centre, with the sixty-three (and, by implication, numberless other Bhaktas) orbiting and orchestrating the music of the marvellous divine-human relationship. The roll-calls of the devotees in all three recordations, although they follow neither a chronological nor an original nor any other obvious rule of arrangement, nevertheless seem to have their own compelling logic in the heaving poetic spans of Sundarar, Nambi-aandar-Nambi and Sekkizhaar.