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Hagiography of Saiva saints

CHENNAI, MAY 25. The Saiva devotional literature in Tamil, mostly in the form of hymns in praise of the Lord, right from the Tiruvachakam of Manikkavasagar to the Tiruvarutpa of Ramalinga Swamigal who lived a couple of centuries ago, spans over two millennia.

Countless mystics, saints and devotees have lived and sung the glory of God during these centuries. This voluminous literature was canonised as the 12 Tirumurai-s by Nambiandar Nambi during 11th century A.D. which includes all the significant compositions of the saints who lived till that time.

Another work, the Tiruthondar Tiruvandadi, in 89 verses, of this Tirumurai compiler is hagiographical in nature and thus is a documentation of the lives of the Saiva saints. This he composed on the basis of Sundaramurthy Swamigal's Tiruthondarthogai which catalogues the devotees of Lord Siva till his time. Thus Sundarar sowed the seed of Saiva hagiography and this gives the lie to the criticism that the Tamils did not record their history properly.

Sundarar composed this work in 11 verses at the temple in Tiruvarur in praise of the devotees who had assembled in the hall encircling the temple of Thyagayar and Vanmeekanathar. He has included some mystics, saints and devotees of his time and also those before him who had become renowned as men of God in the tradition. Sekkhizhar based his Periapuranam (also called as Tiruthondar Puranam) on the Tiruthondarthogai, which mentions 60 saints, and the Tiruthondar Tiruvandadi which includes besides the 63 Nayanmars, another nine groups of devotees.

In his discourse, Sri T.Gnanasundaram said that this motley group of nine devotees was referred to as ``Thogai Adiyargal'' and Sekkhizhar interweaves them among the 63 Nayanmars. There are differences of opinion about these devotees, whether they are eight or nine, though it is certain even from their name that they are not individual saints but certain groups.

The Periapuranam thus is an exception among the 12 Tirumurai-s in that it is the only one which is not in praise of God but of His devotees which is also a biography. Another distinction of this work is due to its manner of composition. The Lord of Tiruvarur bade Sekkhizhar compose this work by singing the first line of the verse Himself in praise of His devotees in Tillai (Chidambaram).

It must be borne in mind that the 63 Nayanmars and the Thogai Adiyargal included in the Periapuranam are not exhaustive for the pathway to Godhead is strewn with countless devotees over the ages.

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