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The three foremost Nayanars with Manikkavacakar - collectively called the Nalvars: (from left) Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar, Manikkavacakar.
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The twelve volumes of Tamil Śaiva hymns of the sixty-three Nayanars
Parts Name Author
1,2,3 Tirukadaikkappu Sambandar
4,5,6 Tevaram Tirunavukkarasar
7 Tirupaatu Sundarar
8 Tiruvacakam &
9 Tiruvisaippa &
10 Tirumandhiram Tirumular
11 Various
12 Periya Puranam Sekkizhar
Paadal Petra Sthalam
Paadal Petra Sthalam
Raja Raja Chola I
Nambiyandar Nambi

Thirumurai (Tamil: திரு முறை, meaning holy division) is a twelve volume compendium of songs or hymns in praise of Shiva in the Tamil language from the 6th to the 11th century by various poets in South India. Nambi Andar Nambi compiled the first seven volumes by Appar, Sampandhar and Sundarar as Tevaram during the 12th century. During the course of time, a strong necessity was felt by scholars to compile Saiva literature to accommodate other works.[1] Tiruvacakam and Tirukovayar by Manickavasagar are included as the eighth, nine parts are compiled as the ninth Tirumurai out of which most are unknown, and the tenth as Tirumandiram by Tirumular, the famous Siddhar.[1] The eleventh is compiled by Karaikal Ammaiyar, Cheraman Perumal and others. The contemporary Chola king was impressed by the work of Nampi and included Nampi's work in the eleventh Tirumurai.[1] Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam, composed a century later, contains the life depiction of all the 63 Nayanmars.[1] The response for the work was so tremendous among Saiva scholars and Kulothunga Chola I that it was included as the 12th Tirumurai.[1] Tirumurai along with Vedas and Saiva agamas form the basis of Saiva Siddantha philosophy in Tamil Nadu.[2]

History and background

The Pallava period in the history of the Tamil land is a period of religious revival of Saivism by the Shaivite Nayanars who by their Bhakti hymns captured the hearts of the people. They made a tremendous impression on the people by singing the praise of Shiva in soul-stirring devotional hymns.[3] Tirumurai in anthology supersedes Sangam literature, which is predominantly secular in nature.[4] The entire Tirumurai is in viruttam meter or lines of four. The principal characteristics of the head-rhyming is influenced both by syllabic and moric prosody.[4]


Tirumurai Hymns Period Author
1,2,3 Tirukadaikkappu 7th Century CE Sambandar[5][6]
4,5,6 Tevaram 7th Century CE Appar[5][6]
7 Tirupaatu 8th Century CE Sundarar[5][6]
8 Thiruvasakam and Thirukkovaiyar 9th century Manikkavacakar
9 Thiruvisaippa & Thiruppallaandu 9 Thirumalikaittever
Nampikatava nampi
Purutottama nampi
10 Tirumandiram 8th Century CE Tirumular
11 Prabandham
Karaikkal Ammaiyar
Ceraman Perumal Nayanar
Pattinattu p-pillaiyar
Nakkiratevar Nayanar
Kapilateva Nayanar
Kalladateva Nayanar
Paranateva Nayanar
Ellamperuman Adigal
12 Periya Puranam Sekkizhar


The Shaiva Tirumurais are twelve in number. The first seven Tirumurais are the hymns of the three great Shaivite saints, Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar. These hymns were the best musical compositions of their age.

The first three Tirumurais (meaning parts) of Tevaram are composed by Sambanthar, the next three by Appar and the seventh one is composed by Sundarar. There is a famous saying about the Saiva trio that "Appar sang for me, Sambanthar sang for himself and Sundarar sang of gold".[7] Appar and Sambanthar lived around the 7th century, while Sundarar lived in the 8th century. During the Pallava period these three travelled extensively around Tamil Nadu offering discourses and songs characterised by an emotional devotion to Shiva and objections to Vaishnavism, Jainism and Buddhism.[8]

Sambanthar was a 7th-century poet born in Sirkali in Brahmin community and was believed to be suckled by the goddess Parvathi, whereupon he sang the first hymn. On the request of the queen of Pandya Nadu, Sambandar went on a pilgrimage to the south and defeated Jains in debate. The Jains provoked Sambandar by burning his house and challenging him to debate, but Sambandar eventually had victory over them.[9][10] He was a contemporary of Appar, another Saiva saint.[11] Information about Sambandar comes mainly from the Periya Puranam, the eleventh-century Tamil book on the Nayanars that forms the last volume of the Tirumurai, along with the earlier Tiruttondartokai, poetry by Cuntarar and Nambiyandar Nambi's Tiru Tondar Tiruvandadi. A Sanskrit hagiography called Brahmapureesa Charitam is now lost. The first volumes of the Tirumurai contain three hundred and eighty-four poems of Campantar (in 4181 stanzas), all that survive out of a reputed more than 10,000 hymns.[12] Sambanthar is believed to have died at the age of 16 in 655 CE on the day of his marriage. His verses were set to tune by Nilakantaperumalanar who is set to have accompanied the poet on his yal or lute.[7]

Appar (aka Tirunavukkarasar) was born in the middle of the 7th century in Tiruvamur, Tamil Nadu, his childhood name for Marulneekiar. His sister, Thilagavathiar was betrothed to a military commander who died in action. When his sister was about to end her life, he pleaded with her not to leave him alone in the world.[7] She decided to lead an aesthetic life and bring up her only brother. During boyhood, Appar was very much interested in Jainism and started studying its scriptures. He went away from home and stayed in their monastery and was renamed Darmasena.[13] Details of Appar's life are found in his own hymns and in Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam (the last book of the Tirumurai). Appar had travelled to nearby Patalipura to join a Jain monastery where he was given the name Dharmasena. "Seeing the transient, ephemeral world he decided to probe into truth through renunciation."[14] After a while, afflicted by a painful illness, Dharmasena returned home.[15] He prayed for relief at the Siva temple where his sister served and was cured. He was also involved in converting the Pallava king, Mahendravarman to Saivism.[16] This was also the period of resurrection of the smaller Shiva temples. Appar sanctified all these temples by his verses[16] and was also involved in cleaning of the dilapidated temples called uzhavarapadai. He was called Tirunavukkarasu, meaning the "King of divine speech".[17] He extolled Siva in 49,000 stanzas out of which 3130 are now available and compiled in Tirumurais 4-7. When he met Campantar, he called him Appar (meaning father). He is believed to have died at the age of 81 in Tirupugalur.[17]

Sundarar (aka Sundaramurthi) was born in Tirunavalur in a Brahmin family during the end of the 7th century.[17] His own name was Nambi Arurar and was prevented from marrying by the divine grace of Siva.[17] He later married a temple girl named Paravi and a vellala community girl named Cankili.[17] He is the author of 1026 poems compiled as the 7th Tirumurai.[17]

Manikkavasagar's Tiruvacakam and Tirukovayar are compiled as the eighth Tirumurai and is full of visionary experience, divine love and urgent striving for truth.[18] Manickavasgar was the king's prime minister and renounced his post in search of divinity.[18]

The ninth Tirumurai has been composed by Tirumalikaittever, Sundarar, Karuvurttevar, Nampikatava Nampi, Gandaraditya, Venattatikal, Tiruvaliyamutanar, Purutottama Nampi and Cetirayar. Among these the notable is Gandaraditya (950-957 CE), a Chola king who later became a Saivite saint.

Tirumandiram by Tirumular unfolds siddantha (attainment) as a fourfold path - virtuous and moral living, temple worship, internal worship and union with Siva.[18] Tirumular worked out an original philosophical system, and the southern school of Saiva siddantha draws its authority from Tirumandiram, a work of 3000 verses.[19] Tirumandiram represents another school of thought detailing agamic traditions, which run parallel to the bhakthi movement. It does not glorify temples or deities as in the case of other Tirumurais.[19]

The eleventh Tirumurai was composed by Karaikkal Ammeiyar, Ceraman Perumal, Pattinattu p-pillaiyar, Nakkiratevar, Kapilateva, Tiruvalavaiyudaiyar, Nampiyantarnampi, Iyyadigal katavarkon, Kalladateva, Paranateva, Ellamperuman Adigal and Athirava Adigal. Nambi's Tirutottanar Tiruvanthathi followed an exclusive style of mincing Tamil and Sankrit verses in anthati meter similar to Tevaram of the trio.[20] Karaikkal Ammaiyar (550-600 CE) is the earliest of the woman Saivite poets who introduced the kattalai-k-kali-t-turai meter, which is a complicated structural departure from the old classical Tamil meters.[21] The other meter used by Ammaiyar was an old venba and also an antathi arrangement in which the offset of one line or stanza is identical with the onset of the next line or stanza.[21]

Periya Puranam (Tamil:பெரிய‌ புராண‌ம்), the great purana or epic, sometimes also called Tiruttontarpuranam (read as "Tiru-Thondar-Puranam") (the purana of the holy devotees) is a Tamil poetic account depicting the legendary lives of the sixty-three Nayanars, the canonical poets of Tamil Shaivism. It was compiled during the 12th century by Sekkizhar. It provides evidence of trade with West Asia.[22] Sekkizhar compiled and wrote the Periya Puranam listing the life stories of the sixty-three Shaiva Nayanars, poets of the God Shiva who composed the liturgical poems of the Tirumurai, and was later himself canonised and the work became part of the sacred canon.[23] Sekkizhar was a poet and the chief minister in the court of the Chola King, Kulothunga Chola II.[24]


Raja Raja Chola I (985-1013 CE) embarked on a mission to recover the hymns after hearing short excerpts of Tevaram in his court.[25] He sought the help of Nambi Andar Nambi, who was a priest in a temple.[26] It is believed that by divine intervention Nambi found the presence of scripts, in the form of cadijam leaves half eaten by white ants in a chamber inside the second precinct in Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram.[25][26] The brahmanas (Dikshitars) in the temple informed the king about the tradition that only when all three poets come together, that the chamber can be opened, and Rajaraja found a worakaround by consecrating the images of the saint-poets through the streets of Chidambaram.[25][27] Rajaraja thus became to be known as Tirumurai Kanda Cholan meaning one who saved the Tirumurai.[27] Thus far Shiva temples only had images of god forms, but after the advent of Rajaraja, the images of the Nayanar saints were also placed inside the temple.[27] Nambi arranged the hymns of three saint poets Campantar, Appar and Sundarar as the first seven books, Manickavasagar's Tirukovayar and Tiruvacakam as the 8th book, the 28 hymns of nine other saints as the 9th book, the Tirumandiram of Tirumular as the 10th book, 40 hymns by 12 other poets as the 10th book, Tirutotanar Tiruvanthathi - the sacred anthathi of the labours of the 63 Nayanar saints, and added his own hymns as the 11th book.[28] The first seven books were later called Tevaram, and the whole Saiva canon, to which was added, as the 12th book, Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam (1135 CE) is wholly known as Tirumurai, the holy book. Thus Saiva literature which covers about 600 years of religious, philosophical and literary development.[28]

Temples revered

Paadal Petra Sthalams are 275[29] temples that are revered in the verses of Tevaram and are amongst the greatest Shiva temples of the continent. Vaippu Sthalangal are places that were mentioned casually in the songs in Tevaram.[30] The focus of the moovars' (first three poets) hymns suggests darshan (seeing and being seen by God) within the puja (worship) offering.[31] The hymnists made classificatory lists of places like katu (for forest), turai (port or refuge), kulam (water tank) and kalam (field) being used - thus both structured and unstructured places in the religious context find a mention in Tevaram.[31] The temples mentioned in the works of the 9th Tirumarai, Thiruvisaippa, are in turn referred to as Tiruvisaipa Thalangal. The shrine of Gangaikonda Cholapuram are revered as under
" He of the Shrine of Gangaikonda Choleswaram takes whatever forms that his worship visualize" - 131,5.[32]

In culture

Tirumurai was one of the reasons for converting Vedic ritual to Agamic puja followed in Shiva temples.[33] Though these two systems are overlapping, Agamic tradition ensures the perpetuation of the Vedic religion's emphasis on the efficacy of ritual as per Davis.[33] Odhuvars, Sthanikars, or Kattalaiyars offer musical programmes in Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu by singing Tevaram after the daily rituals.[34] These are usually carried out as a chorus programme soon after the divine offering. There are records from Kulothunga Chola III from Nallanyanar temple in South Arcot indicating singing of Tiruvempavai and Tiruvalam of Manickavasagar during special occasions in the temple.[27] From the 13th century, the texts were passed on to the Odhuvars by the Adheenams or mathas and there was no more control by the kings or the brahmanas.[35] The Odhuvars were from the vellala community and were trained in ritual singing in Tevaram schools.[35]

Periya Puranam, the eleventh-century Tamil book on the Nayanars that forms the last volume of the Tirumurai, primarily had references only to Tevaram and subsequently expanded to 12 parts and is one of the first anthologies of Tirumurai.[36] One of the first anthologies of moovars' hymns called the Tevara Arulmuraitirattu is linked to Tamil Saiva siddhantha philosophy by grouping ninety-nine verses into 10 categories.[36] The category headings are God, soul, bond, grace, guru, methodology, enlightenment, bliss, mantra and liberation - corresponding to Umapthi's work, Tiruvarutpayan.[37] Tirumurai kanda puranam is another anthology for Tirumurai as a whole, but primarily focuses on Tevaram. It is the first of the works to refer the collection of volumes as Tirumurai.[37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Das 2005, p. 86
  2. Subramuniyaswami 2003, p. 551
  3. Subramuniyaswami 2003, p. 541
  4. 4.0 4.1 Shackle 1994, pp. 118-119
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Cutler 1987, p. 4
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Zvelebil 1974, p. 92
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Zvelebil 1974, p. 95
  8. N. Subramaniam (1975). Social and Cultural History of Tamilnad (to AD 1336). Ennes Publication Udumalpet 642 128. p. 277.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Harman 1992, p. 24
  10. Prentiss 1999, p. 43
  11. Encyclopaedia of Jainism, Volume 1, page 5468
  12. The History and Culture of the Indian People: The classical age, page 330
  13. Sages Through Ages - Volume V: India's Heritage.P.74.K. K. Nair
  14. Dr R. Nagasamy, Siva Bhakthi Chapter 3
  15. Dr R. Nagasamy, Siva Bhakthi Chapter 2
  16. 16.0 16.1 Vasudevan 2003, p. 13
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Zvelebil 1974, p. 96
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Subramuniyaswami 2003, p. 494
  19. 19.0 19.1 Das 2005, pp. 148-149
  20. Prentiss 1992, p. 111
  21. 21.0 21.1 Zvelebil 1974, p. 97
  22. Glimpses of life in 12th century South India
  23. A Dictionary of Indian Literature By Sujit Mukherjee.
  24. Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees By Alf Hiltebeitel.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Culter 1987, p. 50
  26. 26.0 26.1 Cort 1998, p. 178
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Vasudevan 2003, pp. 109-110
  28. 28.0 28.1 Zvelebil 1974, p. 191
  29. "A comprehensive description of the 275 Shivastalams glorified by the Tevaram hymns". templenet.com. Retrieved 11 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. International review for the history of religions, Volumes 15-17. International Association for the History of Religions, CatchWord (Online service)
  31. 31.0 31.1 Prentiss 1992, pp. 51-52
  32. Coward 1987, p. 151
  33. 33.0 33.1 Cort 1998, p. 176
  34. Ghose 1996, p. 239
  35. 35.0 35.1 Khanna 2007, p. xxii
  36. 36.0 36.1 Prentiss 1992, p. 140
  37. 37.0 37.1 Prentiss 1992, p. 144


Further reading