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

The Tevaram (Tamil: தேவாரம் Tēvāram) denotes the first seven volumes of the Tirumurai, the twelve-volume collection of Tamil Śaiva devotional poetry. All seven volumes are dedicated to the works of the three most prominent Tamil poets of 7th century, the Nayanars - Sambandar, Tirunavukkarasar and Sundarar.[1][2][3] The singing of Tevaram is continued as a hereditary practise in some Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu.[4]

In the tenth century, during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I, a collection of these songs was found abandoned in the Chidambaram temple, along with other religious literary works, and collated by Nambiyandar Nambi. It is during the Chola dynasty that Tamil Shaivism came of age and Tevaram, with its body of texts on rituals, philosophy and theology, was canonized.[5] The 276 temples revered by these verses are called paadal petra sthalam and another 276 places having Shiva temples that are casually mentioned in the verses are classified as vaipu sthalam. The conventional Sanksrit devotional texts were displaced in usage by Tevaram for Shaivism and Nalayira Divya Prabandam for Vaishanvism. There are 796 of these songs with a total of more than 8200 stanzas.[6] The three poets were not only involved in portraying their personal devotion to Shiva, but also involved a community of believers through their songs.[7] It is one of the important sources of Tamil Bhakti, a movement that inspired the agricultural community.[8]


Three stages have been identified in the evolution of Thevaram - first is the mark of Shiva as the supreme deity during the 7th - 9th century, the second involved Chola kings initiating the compilation of all the hymns and installing the images of the 3 saint poets during the 10th to 11th century and the last being the restructuring done by the pontiffs of the mathas who incorporated the hymns into Saiva Siddantha canon in 13th century.[9] Both the Saiva and Vaishnava textual tradition negated the Vedic orthodoxy and Smartha tradition practised during the era.[10] The authority of the hymns were established with the Saivities calling the Tevaram as Tamil Marai (meaning Tamil Veda), while Vaishnavities called the Nalayira Divya Prabandham as Dravida Veda.[10] The usage of Sanskrit liturgies for religion was overcome with the usage of Tamil in both Tevaram and Prabandham.[11] Sangam literature established the convention of akam (internally orineted) and puram (externally orientated) poetry.[11] Though influence of Sangam literature is often seen in Thevaram, the strict conventions were not followed.[11] The verses were more oriented towards folk tradition, which was easily accessible to people.[11]

The Poets

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 "My Appar sang for me, Sambanthar sang for himself and Sundarar sang of women".[12] 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.[13]

Sambanthar is a 7th-century poet born in Sirkali in Brahmin community and was believed to be breastfed by the goddess Parvathi, whereupon he sang the first hymn. On the request of queen of Pandya Nadu, Sambandar went on pilgrimage to south, defeated Jains in debate, the Jains' provocation of Sambandar by burning his house and challenging him to debate, and Sambandar's eventual victory over them[14][15] He was a contemporary of Appar, another Saiva saint.[16] Information about Sambandhar 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.[17] 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.[12]

Appar's (aka Tirunavukkarasar) was born in the middle of 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.[12] She decided to lead an ascetic 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.[18] 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."[19] After a while, afflicted by a painful illness, Dharmasena returned home.[20] 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.[21] This was also the period of resurrection of the smaller Shiva temples. Appar sanctified all these temples by his verses[21] and was also involved in cleaning of the dilapidated temples called uzhavarapadai. He was called Tirunavukkarasu, meaning the "King of divine speech".[22] 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.[22]

Sundarar (aka Sundaramurthi) was born in Tirunavalur in a Brahmin family during the end of 7th century.[22] His own name was Nambi Arurar and was prevented from marrying by the divine grace of Siva.[22] He later married a temple girl namely Paravi and a vellala community girl by name Cankili.[22] He is the author of 1026 poems compiled as 7th Tirumurai.[22]

The hymns

All the songs in the Tevaram (called pathikam, Tamil:பதிகம்) are believed to be in sets of ten. The hymns were set to music denoted by Panns and are part of the canon of the Tamil music.[11] They continue to be part of temple liturgy today.[23][24] Several of these poems refer to historic references pointing to the saint-poets' own life, voice of devotee persona, using interior language of the mystic.[25] Multi-vocal rheotoric is commonly used taking on personal emotions and genres and some voices of classical Sangam literature. Of the three, Campantar's life is better interpreted by his verses.[25] According to Zvelebil, Campantar's lyrics are characterized by egocentricism, by militancy and great ardour, by a warm feeling for the greatness and beauty of Tamil language with scholarly experimentation in meters showing familiarity with Sanskrit forms.[12] Campantar's poetry shows structural and thematic distinctiveness of the bhakti poetry.[26]

"In the temple where he is throned, who bids us not lose heart
In the hour when our senses grow confused, the way grows dim,
Our wisdom fails, and mucus chokes our struggling breath,
In Tiruvaiyar, where the girls dance around, and the drumbeats sound,
The monkeys fear the rain, run up the trees, and scan the clouds"[26]

Appar's poems dealt with inner, emotional and psychological state of the poet saint.[12] The metaphors used in the poems have deep agrarian influence that is considered one of the striking chords for common people to get accustomed to the verse.[27] The quote below is a popular song of Appar glorifying Shiva in simple diction.[26]

"மாசில் வீணையும் மாலையும் மதியமும்
வீசு தென்றலில் வீங்கிள வேணியில்
மூசு வண்டறை பொய்கையும் போன்றதே
ஈசன் எந்தை இணையடி நிழலே"

translating to

"My Lord's twin feet are like the sweet-sounding Veena
like the full-moon of the evening
like the gently breeze blowing from the South
like the young spring
like a bee-humming lake"[26]

Cuntarar's hymns had a touch of humour, a rare thing in religious literature. In one of the verses, he playfully draws an anology with Siva with himself, both having two wives and the needs of nagging wives.[28]

"Thou art half woman. Thyself
Ganga is in thy long hair
Full well canst thou comprehend
Burden of woman so fair"[28]

The tendency to incorporate place names known to the folks in the idiom of the poems is another characteristic feature of Tevaram.[29] The poems also involved glorifying the feat of Shiva in the particular location - the usage of locale continuously occurring in the verses is a testament.[29] According to Prentiss, the poems do not represent social space as a contested space, the hymns represent the hymnists were free to wander and to offer their praise of Shiva.[30] The emotional intensity of the hymns represent spontaneous expression of thought as an emotional responses to God.[30]

Paadal Petra Sthalams are 275[31] temples that are revered in the verses of Tevaram and are amongst the greatest Shiva temples of the continent. The Divya Desams by comparison are the 108 Vishnu temples glorified in the poems of the contemporary Vaishnava Alvars of Tamil Nadu, India. Vaippu Sthalangal are places that were mentioned casually in the songs in Tevaram.[32] The focus of the moovars hymns suggests darshan (seeing and being seen by God) within the puja (worship) offering.[30] 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.[30]


Raja Raja Chola I (985-1013 CE) embarked on a mission to recover the hymns after hearing short excerpts of Tevaram in his court.[33] He sought the help of Nambi Andar Nambi,[34] who was a priest in a temple.[5] 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.[5][33] The brahmanas (Dikshitars) in the temple opposed the mission, but Rajaraja intervened by consecrating the images of the saint-poets through the streets of Chidambaram.[33][35] Rajaraja thus became to be known as Tirumurai Kanda Cholan meaning one who saved the Tirumurai.[35] 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.[35] 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.[36] The first seven books were later called as 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.[36]

Nambi was also involved in setting musical modes for Tevaram.[37] He accomplished this by visiting his native village of Tirunilakanta Yalpanar, where he met a woman of the panar caste who learned the mode of divine revelation. She returned to Chidambaram with Nambi, where she sang and danced for Shiva.[37]

In 1918, 11 more songs were found engraved in stone temple in Tiruvidavayil in a village close to Nannillam and it was the first instance found where Tevaram verses were found in inscriptions.[38]

In Culture

Tevaram was one of the sole reasons for converting Vedic ritual to Agamic puja followed in Shiva temples.[39] 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.[39] Odhuvars, Sthanikars, or Kattalaiyars offer musical programmes in Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu by singing Tevaram after the daily rituals.[40] These are usually carried out as chorus programme soon after the divine offering. The singing of Tevaram was followed by musicals from the music pillars in such temples like Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, Nellaiappar Temple and Suchindram.[41] The singers of these hymns were referred as Tirupadiyam Vinnapam seyvar or Pidarar from the inscriptions of Nandivarman III in the Tiruvallam Bilavaneswara temple records. Rajaraja deputed 48 pidarars and made liberal provisions for their maintenance and successors.[35] A few earlier records give details about the gifts rendered to the singers of Tevaram from Parantaka I of 8th century.[35] A record belonging to Rajendra I mentions Tevaranayakan, the supervisor of Tevaram and shows the institutionalisation of Tevaram with the establishiment of a department.[35] There are records from Kulothunga Chola III from Nallanyanar temple in South Arcot indicating singing of Tiruvempavai and Tiruvalam of Manickavasagar during special occasion in the temple.[35] 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.[9] The Odhuvars were from vellala community and were trained in ritual singing in Tevaram schools.[9]

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.[42] 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.[42] The category headings are God, soul, bond, grace, guru, methodology, enlightenment, bliss, mantra and liberation - correspond to Umapthi's work, Tiruvarutpayan.[43] 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.[43]


There is strong dose of anti-Jain polemic in Tevaram poetry of Campantar.[44] The Saiva saints considered the Jain monks as their primary competitors for royal and social patronage, and tried to use pejorative characterisation to diminish Jainism.[45] According to Aiyangar, Manickavasagar's Tiruvackam partakes the characters of Tevaram hymners before him and express more intense form of devotion.[46] The fervor of utterances, the appeals to God by the Tamils do not find clear expression in other part of India.[47]



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Further reading

External links

  • Similar in both spirit and intonation
  • Classical Notes: Musical people
  • The Authenticity of Sthala Puranas (HinduDharma: Puranas)
  • The poetic charm of Tamizh isai
  • Tevaram Songs
  • Dharmapuram Adhinam's web site giving the transliteration / translation of the 12 Tirumurais
  • Digital Tevaram, an Indology CD released by the French Institute of Pondicherry, has the English translation of all Tevarams (1 to 7 Tirumurais)
  • Digital Tevaram compiled by the French Institute of Pondicherry
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