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SOUTH INDIA Author(s): ANNE E. MONIUS Source: Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 32, No. 2/3 (June 2004), pp. 113-172 Published by: Springer Stable URL: Accessed: 08-01-2018 05:03 UTC

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'There is now and there has always been something about violenc

Jody Enders, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty

'Who does not admire a hero?'

Kampan, Irâmavatâram

The stories of the sixty-three saints of the Hindu god Siva told in the Tamil speaking corner of southeastern India are striking for their vivid depictions

of violence done in the name of love for the lord. In the twelfth-century

Tamil hagiographie text known as the Tiruttontarpurânam, 'The Ancient Strory of the Holy Servants', or more simply, the Periyapuran am, 'The Great Story',1 limbs fly, blood flows, and bodies fall to the ground as the saints or nâyanmâr (literally 'leaders')2 express their profound devo tion to their god. The child saint, Cantëcurar, cuts off his father's feet (v. 1261); Kannappar gouges out his own eye to heal the bleeding wound

on a Siva image (v. 827). Cimttontar gleefully kills and cooks his son

at the request of a visiting Saiva ascetic (vv. 3727-3730), while Kôtpuli

slaughters his entire family - including an infant - for the crime of eating

rice reserved for Siva in a time of great famine (vv. 4146-4148). Non

believers are relieved of their tongues (vv. 4046-4047), wives are maimed

and disfigured (v. 4024), and the nâyanmâr subject their own bodily

* Research for this project was generously funded by an American Council of Learned

Societies ACLS/SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies Fellowship and a Fulbright

Hays Faculty Research Abroad Fellowship.

1 The Periyapurânam has been published in a number of editions over the last century.

All references to the text in this essay refer to Cêkkilâr (1999).

2 The term nâyanmâr (or, more precisely, the honorific singular nâyanâr) is applied

only to Siva in the Periyapurânam, not to his devotees. Nâyanâr is first used to describe at

least three of the most important saints in the Tamil Saiva tradition only in the thirteenth

century, in an inscription dated to the tenth regnal year of the Cola king, Râjendra III (1256

CE); see Vamadeva (1995: 3-4) and Nagaswamy (1989: 226). Journal of Indian Philosophy 32: 113-172,2004.

© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Printed in the Netherlands.

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appendages to the sickle,3 the grindi

the sixty-three saints whose stories are

one-third7 commit some heinous crim

(Tamil anpu) for Siva. The normative moral codes broken

the most sacredly held in Hindu cultu

fathers, chaste wives suffer amputati

the sword, and the cherished ties of

formed forever. Unlike the lives of the later medieval saints of North India

narrated in such hagiographie texts as the Hindi Bhaktamâl studied by

Hawley (1987b), the violent ruptures wrought by the Tamil nayanmñr are

not always healed. Whereas the virtues of the Hindi-speaking saints find

a place in more conventional notions of dharma or ethics, and everything often seems to turn out 'all right' in the end, many of the victims of the

Tamil saints' violent impulses are emphatically not restored by Siva.8 In

the complex of Hindu traditions often characterized, in the post-Gandhian

era, by firm commitments to ahimsâ (literally 'non-harming') and vege

tarianism, the violent love of Siva's Tamil-speaking saints stand quite apart

from other exemplars of Hindu bhakti or 'devotion' ,9

  • 3 As in the story of Arivattayar, who, exhausted, drops his offerings intended for Siva

and, in utter despair at having ruined the lord's food, begins to saw at his neck with a sickle

(v. 923).

  • 4 As in the story of Mürtti, who, denied access to sandalwood by an evil Jain king,

begins to grind his own arm against a stone (vv. 992-993).

  • 5 As in the story of Kanampullar, who burns his own hair in the temple lamps when he can no longer afford anything else (v. 4066).

    • 6 The Periyapurânam actually narrates the stories of seventy-one saints or 'leaders' of

the community; eight of these, however, are collective groups without much personality or

character, from 'the brahmins who live in Tillai' (tillai val antanar) to 'those who depend

on [the lord's] feet beyond [the Tamil region]' (appâlum atic cârntâr).

  • 1 There is, quite surprisingly, no scholarly agreement as to how many of the nâyanmâr

actually commit a violent act. Vamadeva (1995: 97-98) limits her analysis to violence

that relates directly to love (anpu) for Siva and provides a list of only twenty acts of

'violent love' in the Periyapurânam-, she also mentions six other acts of violence in the Periyapurânam, but does not include them in her analysis (pp. 30-31). Hudson (1989: 40,

note 9) outlines a typology of violence that includes twenty-four among the saints. Yocum (1988: 7) adds several more incidents of violence, and details a list of thirty violent acts in the Periyapurânam.

  • 8 A disproportionate number of these hapless victims are women; see discussion below.

  • 9 Hardy (1995: 34), for example, cites a number of North Indian saints whose lives are

tinged with violence, from the story of a humble potter whose meditation on Visnu is so profound that he fails to notice his small son being crushed by the clay to the tale of the

wife of Tukârâm ranting at Visnu to provide her with necessary household items. Such

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Indeed, the violence of the Periyapurânam has been a source of contro

versy and discomfort for Tamil-speaking Saivas - no less scholars of

South Indian religious and literary history - for much of the past nine hundred years. Despite the incorporation of the text in the daily Saiva devotional recitation known as the pañcapuránam,10 despite the common

assumption among Saivas that the Periyapurânam presents a genuine

history of the great leaders of their community,11 and despite the great

frequency of lectures on and public readings from the text throughout

Tamilnadu today,12 Tamils have struggled to come to terms with the seem ingly grave moral breaches of their most revered religious figures. On the

one hand, a Marxist-oriented Saiva religious leader such as Kunrakkuti

Atikalâr finds value in the service to temple and community championed

by saint Tirunâvukkaracar, also known affectionately in the tradition as

Appar or 'father' (Ryerson, 1983: 183-184). On the other hand, many

scholars from within the Tamil Saiva community have noted the discomfort

modern Saivas feel, particularly those 'among the educated classes', at

the Periyapurânam's 'apparent

sacrificing of] moral principles' in its

... depiction of the nâyanmâr 'committing] the vilest of crimes' (Ponniah,

1952: 51). Others have attempted to weave the violence into a nationa

list rhetoric of the 'soldiers of Siva' championing a nation-state without

tolerance for 'soft-minded milksops


who, sooner or later, would cause

its spiritual death' (Ramachandran, 1990: xx). Indeed, for a number of

scholars of South Indian religious history, the cruelty of the nâyanmâr finds chilling echoes in the violence perpetrated by the Tamil-speaking,

and largely Saiva, LTTE in modern Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan-born scholar

Vamadeva, for example, wonders whether the nâyanmâr simply represent

one historical example of violence that is endemic to Tamil culture, with

narratives, however, although displaying a certain chutzpah toward the divine on the part

of the saint, lack the single-minded intensity to the nâyanmârs' acts of violence.

  • 10 The pañcapuránam refers to five Tamil devotional texts from the canonical collection

known as the Tirumurai, recited at the end of puja to (worship of) Siva, performed by the

non-brahmin ôtuvar or temple singer. The first text is taken from the first seven bools of

poetic hymns known collectively as the Têvâram, the second from a ninth-century hymn

attributed to the saint, Mànikkavàcakar, and known as the Tiruvâcakam, the third from the

Tiruvicaippá hymns found in the ninth canonical volume, the fourth from Cëtanàr's Tirup pallântu in the same volume, and the fifth from the Periyapuránam. For a brief discussion of the use of Tamil canonical texts in the daily worship rites of the Kapàlïsvarar temple in

Chennai, see Cutler (1987: 190-192).

  • 11 Note, for example, Peterson's (1994) comment that 'the PP remains the standard

Tamil source for the lives of the Nàyanàrs' (p. 196).

  • 12 While living in Chennai in 2001, I noted daily advertisements for lectures on the

Periyapuránam in the local English- and Tamil-language daily newspapers, The Hindu and


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the saints 'just a link between



tendency differently (1995: v). Yocum of the saints to 'Rambo on the Kaveri'

atrocities committed by Tamil Tiger g of the Periyapurânam' (1988: 7).

How is one to understand the violenc

in the name of religious love for the mothers maimed, of children killed, b

ling religious values? This essay exa

the Periyapurânam and argues that th and human cruelty can fully be under to the twelfth-century South Indian l

was composed. As van Kooij (1999) p on violence and non-violence in Sou

relative concept' (p. 251), culturally co larized ways. Gommans' (1999) article,

addresses the horror expressed by a yo

Golkonda upon receiving a graphic Du

the disjuncture between European and

arena in which the use of excessive

The Periyapurânam, despite its contro

Tamil scholars as a great kâvya or orna

treatise that is highly literary, carefully

in nuanced and subtle forms. This essa qualities of the text, the violence in t

stood apart from the literary culture i

culture that had long sustained sop

among competing sectarian communitie



The Periyapurânam, attributed to an author known as Cëkkilâr, cons

the twelfth and final text of the Tirumurai, the canon of the

speaking Saiva community that also includes: the hymns of the thre

prolific poets among the nâyanmâr (Appar, Campantar, and Cunta

hymns of several other saints, the most important of whom is the

century poet, Mânikkavàcakar; and a rather esoteric philosophic

13 A reference to the Kâveri River that flows through the heart of the modern


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known as the Tirumantiram.14 As a text that represents Tamil Saiva tradi

tion 'self-consciously reflecting upon itself (Peterson, 1983: 341), the

Periyapurànam 'truly completes' (Peterson, 1983: 340) the canon, and,

in the modern era, has been published in a number of editions,15 retold

in children's books and temple pamphlets, and even dramatized on film.16

Unfortunately, no tradition of commentary accompanies the text until the

modern period, leaving us with little by way of direct historical evidence

of pre-modern audience reception.

The Periyapurànam itself reveals little of its author, Cëkkilàr; dating of the text and identification of its author have rested largely on what

Cëkkilàr has to say about his royal patron, one Anapâyan, and a fourteenth century narrative of Cëkkilàr's life attributed to the great philosopher and

consolidator of the Tamil school of Saivism known as the Saiva Siddhânta,

Umâpati Civàcàriyâr. Umâpati's Cëkkilârpurânam ('The Great Story of

Cëkkilàr'), also known as the Tiruttontarpurânavaralâru ('The History of the Tiruttontarpurânam'), identifies Cëkkilàr as the scion of a wealthy Vëlàn or Vëlàlan (agricultural) family from Kunrattür, a suburb of the

modern city of Chennai (vv. 11-13). While serving as minister to the Cola

king, Cëkkilàr composed the Periyapurànam, according to Umâpati, in order to wean his royal patron away from an interest in the Tamil Jain

work known as the Cintâmani (vv. 20-21).17 Upon its completion, the

Periyapurànam was hailed as a fifth Veda, engraved on copper plates, and

placed at the feet of Siva in the golden hall of the great temple at Citam

param. Cëkkilàr names his royal patron, Anapâyan, eleven times in the

text of the Periyapurànam, as the Cola king who covered in gold the roof

of Siva's temple at Citamparam (vv. 8, 1218), as a fearless king of right

eous scepter (v. 22), as a great protector of his Tamil realm (v. 85), and as the privileged inheritor of a glorious Cola lineage (v. 1218). Although the

precise identity of Anapâyan has been a matter of some scholarly debate, a

consensus now exists that identifies Cëkkilàr's royal patron with the Côla

monarch Kulôttunka II (1133-1150 CE) (Zvelebil, 1995: 131-132).

  • 14 For a discussion of the canonization of the Tamil Saiva poetic corpus, see Peterson

(1989: 16-17) and Prentiss (1999: 143-144).

  • 15 See Zvelebil (1995: 547-548) for a partial list of published editions and partial trans

lations. Nambi Arooran (1977: 20-21) also provides a short history of the early printing of the Periyapurdnam.

  • 16 Film portrayals of the lives of individual nâyanâr began with the release of

'Siruthonda Nayanar' in 1935; see


  • 17 The full name of the extant Tamil text to which Umâpati refers is the CTvakacintâmani,

'CTvakan, the Wish-Fulfilling Gem'. This aspect of Umapati's story will be taken up for

detailed discussion below.

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In his opening verses, Cëkkilàr clai

of Siva's most devoted servants foun

Tiruttontattokai ('Collection of Holy

century poet-saint Cuntaramürtti (or si

the saints of Siva by name (vv. 47-4

('Holy Verses in Antâti From abou

the tenth-century poet and antholog Nampi (v. 49); and (3) the complete o

given by the great sage, Upamanyu (v

in relation to Cuntarar in the previou claimed as the source for the Periyap two texts. The Periyapurânam, as disc

much of the sparse information pro

Nampi, and here claims the author

allegiance to the Tiruttontattokai an

heaven before his rebirth on earth cl

character in the Periyapurânam text.

tions to lord, land, king, and assem begins with the early life of Cuntar

life throughout the stories of other sai

ascension to Siva's holy Mount Kailâs

ordering his lives of the saints, and t

are grouped according to the first l

Periyapurânam is, in this sense, prim

remaining narratives carefully crafte

In addition to the texts that Cëkkil clear that the Periyapurânam, if the

as reliable, was composed in a cult

of Siva - particularly the first thre were increasingly revered as beings significant components of cycles of centers patronized by powerful Cola to the increasing importance of the hymns of the first three saints,19 i

ninth century; recitation of the hym

of the poets appear to have been for

the great Brhadïsvara temple at Ta

I (985-1014 CE) (Nagaswamy, 1989

18 For a full translation of the hymn int

Shulman (1990: 239-248).

19 Later known collectively as the Têvâram

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narrating the story of the hunter-devotee, Kannappar, has been located

at Tirukkâlukkunram (Lockwood, 1982: 95-96). The Amrtaghatesvara

temple at Mëlaikkatampûr, built or rebuilt during the reign of Kulottuñka I

(1070-1120 CE), depicts 'scenes from the lives of the Tamil saints



bas-relief on the plinth', including the stories of Kannappar and Cantëcurar

(Balasubrahmanyam, 1979: 123; see also Meister, 1983: 296-298). In

short, by the twelfth century (when the Periyapurânam was composed), worship of the saints of Siva and recitation of the hymns of the poets among them already constituted a significant element in Saiva temple


After the mid-twelfth century and the appearance of Cëkkilâr's text,

however, worship of the sixty-three nâyanmâr (both collectively and

individually) and recitation of their poetry grows exponentially, as do

inscriptional references to both Cëkkilàr and his text. According to

Rajamanickam (1964: 211-213), an inscription from the ninth year of

Ràjàdhiràja II's reign (1166-1182 CE) refers to the public recitation of the

Periyapurânam before the king during a major annual temple festival;20

during the reign of Kulottuñka III (1178-1218 CE), an inscription from

the Tañcávür district records an endowment for the worship of the three

Tëvâram poets and Cëkkilàr (Nagaswamy, 1989: 227; Annual Report,

1952: 33, no. 239). The number of references to festivals celebrated in

honor of the saints also increases dramatically (Nagaswamy, 1989: 239

246). The Airàvatesvara temple constructed at Târâcùram during the reign

of Kulottuñka II's successor, Ràjaràja II (1133-1150 CE), narrates the

stories of all sixty-three of the nâyanmâr, seemingly in close accord with

the text of the Periyapurânam, in a series of friezes on the outermost wall

of the shrine.21 In the centuries following Cëkkilàr, the stories of the sixty

three saints are told and retold in Telugu (Somanàtha, 1990) and Sanskrit

(Upamanyu, 1931), a tradition that continues to this day. The Periyapurânam is composed in the 'most frequent meter of Tam[il]

medieval poetry' (Zvelebil, 1995: 777), viruttam, and estimates of its

proper length range from 4253 quatrains22 to 4286.23 The text is divided

  • 20 The text in the inscription is not called the Periyapurânam, but rather the Sri Parana

of one Âlutaiya Nampi; Rajamanickam (1964) convincingly argues that the title refers

to the Periyapurânam of Cëkkilâr (pp. 211-213). For the full text of the inscription, see

South-Indian Inscriptions (1925: 494).

  • 21 For an exhaustive study of the Aira vates vara temple and the Amman (goddess) temple

that stands alongside it, see l'Hernault, et al. (1987).

  • 22 As claimed by Umâpati (v. 53).

  • 23 As in the edition of the Saiva reformer, Arumuka Nâvalar, roughly a century ago;

for a discussion of the discrepancies among various contemporary editions, see Vamadeva

(1995: 95).

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into two parts or kânîam and thirtee first and last addressing the life of C comprised of stories of five to eight Periyapurânam is thus quite unique in

of the lord rather than on the deeds

the earlier Sanskrit Mahâpurânas. So d

genre, in fact, that Shulman (1980) cl

a true purâna is a 'misnomer', with

texts] only by virtue of [its] name' (p polation and genre, there exists little merits of the Periyapurânam. For so

Tamil literature (Peterson, 1994: 96

great Kâvya' (Rajamanickam, 1964:

style' (Zvelebil, 1974: 176)-aTamil '

and the 'crown of Saivite literature'

bemoan its 'prolix and often obscure'

and 'sever, pedantic' tone (Shulman,

elegant Irâmâvatâram the true jewel f

(Shulman, 1993: 19).

Even if little scholarly consensus exis

the Periyapurânam, all scholars of Tam to which many of Cêkkilâr's character the following description of the saint

army of his enemy, Aticüran:

Rivers of blood flowed.

Bodies, their flesh pierced, crumpled. The clashing soldiers were cut and fell about. Bowels spilled out from punctured bodies.

Vultures of frightening [countenance] swarmed about, as drums, severed from their leather

straps, rolled.

[Thus] the two armies faced and fought each other fiercely on the battlefield, (v. 626)

While the eye-gouging Kannappar and the leg-slashing Cantëcurar are

well-known to the earliest of the poet-saints, Appar, Campantar, and

Cuntarar,24 Cëkkilâr self-consciously expands and exaggerates the level of violence found in his source texts. Cuntarar refers explicitly to only

three acts of violence in his Tiruttontattokav. to 'Lord Canti' (cantip

perumân; Cantëcurar) 'who chopped his father's foot with [his] axe'

24 Vamadeva (1995: 72-76) counts no fewer than thirteen references to Kannappar's

story in the Tëvâram and twenty-two references to Cantëcurar.

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(itâtai tâl maluvinâl erinta);25 to Kalikkampan, who 'who cut off a hand'

(kai tatinta)-,26 and to Nampi Munaiyatuvân 'whose spear cuts [flesh]'

(araik konta vet)?1 Nampi Àntàr Nampi, in his tenth-century elabora

tion of Cuntarar's work, the Tiruttontar Tiruvantâti, increases the level of gore, narrating briefly fourteen episodes of violence (Nampi Ântàr Nambi,

1995b); elsewhere, in a separate hymn of praise to Campantar, Nampi

narrates for the first time in Tamil the story of the child-saint impaling eight thousand Jain monks on stakes in the city of Maturai (Nampi Ântâr

Nampi, 1995a).28 While the stories of Kannappar and Cantëcurar obvi

ously predate even the Tëvâram, and violent activity on the part of the

saints is not unknown to Nampi Àntàr Nampi, Cëkkilàr expands that vision

of the axe-wielding saint to new and rather stunning heights. This vision

of violent devotion is further placed concretely, in the introduction to the

Periyapurânam, within the context of the righteous rule of Cola kings. In addition to praising Anapâyan for his patronage of the great temple

at Citamparam (v. 8) and honoring his patron's glorious Côla lineage

(vv. 98-135), Cëkkilàr locates his hagiographie narratives in the discourse

of kingship, even reminding his readers of their official obligations to pay

taxes (v. 76) !29


As noted above, the violent imagery of the Periyapurânam has lo

scholars of Tamil literature, who have found little in the literature

bhakti to explain such bloodshed or imbue it with religious mean

  • 25 VII-39. This and all following references to the poetry of Appar, Cam

Cuntarar are drawn from Tëvàram (1984-1991). Note that Cuntarar devotes

to Cantëcurar than to any other servant of Siva.

  • 26 The Periyapurânam expands this epithet to narrate the story of Ka

displeasure at his wife's hesitation in washing the feet of a Saiva ascetic w

been their servant.

  • 27 The Periyapurânam expands this epithet to the story of a mercenary soldier who hires

himself out for battle and donates all his spoils of war to worthy Saiva devotees.

  • 28 Note that even Cëkkilâr shies away from this scene of grisly violence, appearing 'to

be uncomfortable with the idea of Campantar's complicity in such a gruesome punishment

as impalement' (Peterson, 1998: 181). In the Periyapurânam (vv. 2756-2760), it is the

king of Maturai who orders the death of the Jains, not the child-saint who 'bears [them] no

enmity' (ikal ilar).

  • 29 The verse adds 'paying taxes due the government' (aracu kol katankal ârri to the

traditional list of citizens' duties listed in the fifth-century Tamil work on ethics, the

Tirukkurat, the Kural list includes five duties of hospitality to one's ancestors, the gods,

guests, relatives, and oneself (Tirukkuraf, v. 43).

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there exists no scholarly consensus on h

nâyanmâr, certainly many have noted

for blood.

Vamadeva (1995) has produced the most sustained study of the

Periyapurânam! s violence, and her work, while not an exhaustive treat

ment of the subject, covers most of the significant interpretive themes that

emerge from scholarship on the text. Most prevalent is that violent action

serves as a metaphor for the single-minded intensity of devotion demanded

by Siva. Coining a new Tamil phrase, vannanpu, literally 'violent love',

to describe the lives of the nâyanmâr, Vamadeva contends that 'violence

has to be perceived as an affirmation of anpu [love] for Siva' (p. 35), the

manifestation of an automatic, reflexive action born of the frustration of

interrupted service to the lord. In a similar vein, Hudson (1989) deems

the single-minded focus of the Saiva devotee 'fanatical' (p. 377), Hardy

(1995) represents the saint on the verge of violent eruption as 'the person

"with a bee in his bonnet" ' (p. 341), while Shulman (2001) speaks of

'an ideal carried to its limit' (p. 79). For Yocum (1972-1977) the violent

deeds of the nâyanmâr represent an attitude of 'total surrender to Siva in

all his unpredictability' (p. 70). The violence of the Periyapurânam, in

other words, represents the single-minded devotion of the elect few who embody the highest ideals of bhakti: a life in which nothing else matters save service to Siva, in which the ties that bind one to a life with the lord

are stronger than those of family and community The violent actions of

the saints are in no way meant to represent the lives or values of ordinary people in the everyday world, but rather ideals of selfless devotion toward

which one can, and must, strive. The story of Cantêcurar, in this reading,

is not a call to chop off the legs of one's father, but rather to serve the lord

with unwavering focus, attention, and true love.

Vamadeva (1995) further elucidates the nature of the Periyapurânam's

violence by tracing its roots to earlier Tamil literary texts, suggesting that

the cult of Siva portrayed by Cëkkilàr has ancient and uniquely Tamil

roots in the classical or 'Cañkam' literary culture of southern India that

depicts powerful links between love and violence, milk and blood, life

and death. In the heroic Cañkam poetry dating from the early centuries

of the Common Era, Vamadeva notes, violence is 'an essential quality

of a hero' (p. 2). Cëkkilâr 'project[s] [the] kingly role of the ancient and

mediaeval Tamil country' onto the lives and deeds of the nâyanmâr (p. 12).

In sharp contrast to the elegant and ritually 'clean' worship prescribed

in the Sanskrit Àgamas (see Davis, 1991), the anpu or love of the Saiva saints is likened to blood sacrifice by Peterson (1994), with 'themes of

blood, violence and sacrifice' representing a 'continuation of ancient Tamil

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concepts' (p. 221). Hudson (1989), whose analysis of the Periyapurânam

rests heavily on the interpretation of the nineteenth-century Saiva reformer,

Àramuka Nàvalar,30 likens the text to an extended commentary on the Sanskrit Bhagavadgîtâ, a Tamil rumination of sorts on the processes by

which a devotee remains active in the world while offering the fruits of

all activity to the lord (p. 376). Within that context, he further argues that the violent love of the saints mirrors Siva's own propensity toward

violence (p. 385) and is expressed in ways consistent with 'the ancient

Tamil belief that in blood and death the sacred power that regenerates life

reveals itself' (p. 390). Shulman (1993: 18^17) and Hart (1980: 219-220),

in their analyses of the story of Ciruttontar's gruesome sacrifice of his own

son, both see echoes of earlier Tamil poetic ideals of blood, war, sacri

fice, and love. Violence, through this interpretive lens, is an expression of

ancient Tamil cultural values within the new religious framework of bhakti,

devotion to Siva.

In short, scholarly opinion remains divided over the religious import of the saint who cuts off his father's legs or the 'leader' who cooks up his son into a tasty curry, and certainly the interpretations outlined briefly above

fall somewhat short of explaining fully the ethos of the Periyapurânam and

its enduring popularity among Tamil-speaking Saivas.31 If the violence of

Kôtpuli or Kannappar is merely symbolic of the single-minded intensity of devotion demanded by lord Siva, then one must wonder why the pan

Indian hagiographie literature of Hindu bhakti is not more rife with violent

imagery. Other saints, in other communities in the Tamil-speaking region

and in other parts of India, flout the prescriptions of dharma, from Àntâl's

and Mïrâbàï's steadfast refusals to marry any husband other than their

beloved lord Krsna to Kabïr's endless railing against brahminic ritual, but

few are the stories to rival the stream of blood generated by the zealous

adoration of Siva's Tamil saints. If the violent deeds of the nâyanmâr

represent the resurrection of ancient Tamil poetic ideals that wed the themes of love and violence, then the question must be raised as to why this sudden resurgence of heroic blood sacrifice should take place at the

height of Côla power, in an era of temple-building, of the consolidation of Âgamic forms of worship, and of burgeoning authority of Saiva matam or

monastic establishments. Why harken back to the bloodlust of yore, to the

  • 30 For more on Ârumuka Nàvalar, see Hudson (1992).

  • 31 Yocum (1988) remarks that it is precisely the 'awesome self-destruction or self

sacrifice' of the nâyanmâr that is 'the most puzzling aspect to my mind of sainthood among

the Tamil Saivas' (p. 13).

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classical poetic ideals of 'inner' (akam

in a century of unprecedented peace

If the images of blood in the name

in the Periyapurânam, equally rem

commentary on the lives of the sain

Saiva community itself, at least un

no commentarial tradition on Cëk

pre-modern historical reception of t

throughout the Tamil literature of

providing anything by way of moral co

The one exception to the rule above

rains in venpâ meter attributed to T

and dated to 1178 CE, the Tirukka

of the fourteen canonical works of T

TirukkaUrrupatiyâr, whose title lite Placed on the Step by an Elephant',3 canonical status, and is often concei

the first of the canonical texts, the

Uyyavanta Tëvanâyanàr and dated

studied work of the Saiva Siddhà

describing the nature of lord Siva, t

tion, draws many examples from the

impossible to know whether or not U

the Periyapurânam specifically in m

deeds of many among the saints, for


In this excellent world, effort is of two kinds:

gentle action (melvinai) and harsh action (velvinai)\

both are the dharma of Siva.

Praise them both, in order to dispel the karma of birth, (v. 16)

After explaining the 'gentle' activities as those forms of worshiping Siva

which are 'easy for us' (namakkum efi) (v. 17), Uyyavanta Tëvanâyanàr

then provides examples of 'harsh' acts of devotion to Siva, drawing directly

  • 32 The irony of the resurgence of literary violence in an era of remarkable peace is taken

up for further discussion below.

  • 33 References to the text refer to the edition found in Meykantacâttiram (1994).

  • 34 Saiva Siddhànta tradition maintains that the work was initially rejected by the scho

larly community. The author left his text as an offering to Siva on the steps leading up to the main shrine at Citamparam; a stone elephant, standing to one side, lifted up the text and placed it before the image of the dancing Siva. This divine acceptance of the text thus

led both to its incorporation into the philosophical canon and to its rather peculiar title

(Siddhalingaiah, 1979: 85-86).

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upon the life stories of some of the most violent saints found in the


I have classified as harsh activity

the terrible deed of killing

without pity and cooking [his son] with [his] own hands for the Bhairava [ascetic] who grants boons, (v. 18)35

Not seeing it as a fault or a grievous crime,

the lord witnessed [Cantëcurar] cutting off his father's two feet,

and bestowed on him the [lord's own] garland, (v. 19)

How are we able to narrate [the deeds of]

he who slipped into [a fissure in] the field and,

because of this holy [mis]step,

began to saw at his neck, in order to feed the lord? (v. 20),f)

For Uyyavanta Tëvanàyanâr, then, the ways of 'harsh' devotion are some

what mysterious, beyond the ken of the ordinary, 'terrible', certainly not

'easy for us' to emulate or understand, an admirable but perhaps distant

ideal for those who follow the path of 'gentle' action. The author further notes that the path of harsh devotion is marked by a turn inward, away

from the material world, a life in which the only thing that matters is the inner state of complete surrender to the lord:

Through the stone, the fissure, the shining sword, the grinding stone,

and the gaming board, they transformed themselves through the inner path (akamârkkam),

not through the path joined [to the world] (sakamârkkam). (v. 50)37

In this rare commentary from within the tradition itself, the violent deeds

of the nâyanmâr are marked as dharma, morally correct in every way, conducive to life in the presence of Siva, yet little more is said. Modern Tamil scholars, commenting on the Periyapurânam, have simply noted

the division into 'gentle' and 'harsh' modes of devotion made in the

Tirukkahrrupatiyar and moved on to other topics (Ponniah, 1952: 28;

Àramuka Nâvalar, quoted in Hudson, 1989: 380-381). A text roughly

contemporaneous with the Periyapurânam that exists now only in frag

ments, the Tillai ulâ, refers to the Siva's request for Ciruttontar's son not

  • 35 This is an obvious reference to the story of Ciruttontar.

  • 36 The reference here is obviously to Ariváttayar, who, in the Periyapurânam, attempts

to kill himself with a sickle after falling and spilling his offerings of food for Siva.

  • 37 Here the stone refers to Càkkiyar, an erstwhile Buddhist who throws stones at a Siva

liñga to express his devotion. The fissure refers, as above, to Arivàttâyar. The 'shining sword' is wielded in devotion by a number of saints, including Ëyarkônkalikkàmar and

Kôtpuli, slayer of his entire family. Mürtti resorts to grinding his own flesh when deprived

of sandalwood for worship by evil Jains. Mürkka is the unrepentant gambler who offers

the fruits of his dicing to Siva and his devotees.

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merely as harsh but as a 'heinous s

40; Dorai Rangaswarny, 1990: 1011-10

attitudes toward the more violent activities of the saints in the Cola court.

Yet none of these explanations of the violence found in the Periyapurânam

are entirely satisfying, nor do they explain Cëkkilâr's twelfth-century propensity to exaggerate what little violence exists in earlier hagiograph

ical literature. Why do these particular forms of gruesome devotion rise to

the fore? What is Cëkkilâr suggesting about the nature of Saiva devotion

through these startling images?


One additional piece of literary evidence regarding the nâyanmâr perhaps

sheds new light on their curious proclivity toward violence: a story told

by the fourteenth-century Saiva philosopher mentioned above, Umâpati

Civàcâriyâr, a brief comment noted in many studies of Tamil Saivism and

thq Periyapurânam (Shulman, 1993: 19; Hudson, 1989: 373-374; Prentiss,

1999: 117; Davis, 1998: 217; Stein, 1985: 323) but explored in depth by

none. In his Cëkkilârpurânam cited previously, Umâpati maintains that Cëkkilâr composed the Periyapurânam in order to lure his royal patron,

Anapâyan, away from a profound interest in the Tamil Jain narrative

known as the Cïvakacintâmani. Having noticed the king's interest in the

Jain text, Cëkkilâr tells the Cola monarch (valavan):

This book of the Jams (camanar) is false.

You must guard and protect [your] next life.

[This book's qualities] are insensible.

The stories of Siva's [devotees], flowing with abundance,

benefit both this life and the next life. (v. 21)

Is there anything to be gained by taking Umâpati's declaration of

authorial intent seriously, by investigating further its interpretive possi

bilities in regard to the violence exercised by so many of the nâyanmâr?

Certainly it requires no great literary insight to locate many instances in

which the Periyapurânam rails explicitly against the Jains, particularly

Jain ascetics; the text is full of anti-Jain invective, and Yocum (1988:

11) notes that eight of the sixty-three saints of Siva directly confront

and defeat members of the Jain community. Appar, for example, spends

much of his adult life regretting viscerally his misspent youth as a Jain

ascetic; Campantar bests the Jains of Maturai in a variety of contests and debates. Mürtti subjects his own flesh to the grinding stone when a despic

able Jain king deprives him of sandalwood to offer Siva, while hapless Jains are vanquished by soldiers in the story of Tanti Atikal. Indeed, as

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Peterson (1998: 164) notes, Jains have long served as useful foils for the

construction of Tamil Saiva identity, beginning with the poetry of Appar:

He is the cosmos, the blue-necked One,

who destroyed the arrogant and fat Jains,

lacking in both virtue and clothing.38

Taking seriously Umâpati's assertion regarding Cêkkilâr's intent, the

remainder of this essay will consider the ways in which interpreting

the Periyapurânam as a response to the Clvakacintâmani may shed new light on the text, particularly on the narratives of violence interwoven throughout. Assuming that the Periyapurânam provides a case study of

sorts for the Saiva-Jain model of 'productive encounter' proposed by Davis

(1998), it will conclude by arguing that the focal points of contention

between these two Tamil texts lie not in matters of doctrine or ritual prac tice, but with aesthetics, with distinct and competing views of the manner

in which aesthetic experience can lead one to transcend quotidian norms

and values.


The Clvakacintâmani is the product of a Jain literary culture with a long

history in the Tamil-speaking region. From the earliest of the Tamil Brâhmï

inscriptions39 to the so-called 'didactic' works of the early centuries of the Common Era,40 long narrative works such as the Nïlakëci,41 and important

treatises on grammar and poetic theory,42 Jain authors writing in Tamil

made significant contributions to South Indian literary culture through at

least the fourteenth century. Such literary activity attests to a long and

influential Jain presence in the Tamil-speaking South, a presence also

recorded in a large corpus of inscriptions, temples, and images.43 The

  • 38 Tëvâram V-58; translation from Prentiss (1999: 72). Note that Jain literature is

likewise full of anti-Saiva rhetoric in several languages; see Handiqui (1968).

  • 39 These inscriptions, clustered around the modem city of Maturai, attest to a Jain

presence in the Tamil region from at least the second century BCE (Mahadevan, 1970:


  • 40 Such as the collection of moral teachings known as the Nâlatiyar, said to have been

composed by eight thousand Jain monks and presented to the king of Maturai (Pope, 1984).

  • 41 The tenth-century story of a deity serving the fierce goddess Kali who is converted

to Jainism and tours the Tamil countryside, defeating various non-Jains in debate (Chakra

varti, 1984).

  • 42 Such as the influential tenth-century treatise on prosody, the Yâpparunkalam, attri

buted to Amitacâkarar (Amitacákarar, 1998).

  • 43 The history of the Jain presence in the Tamil-speaking region of southern India

warrants far more scholarly attention than it has received to date. For an introduction to the

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Cîvakacintâmani ('Cïvakan, the Wish-

takkatëvar, said to be a Jain monk living

dated to the early tenth century (Z

prets the story of Jlvandhara found i

in viruttam meter and 3,145 verses lo

composed on a dare of sorts. The p

takkatëvar, saying that while Jains we

renunciation, none knew how to prais he could master the poetic art of love

the Cîvakacintâmani and presented it i

delight of the king.46

The Cîvakacintâmani is also known as the Mananül, 'The Book of Marriages',47 for each of its thirteen chapters (ilampakam) describes the

hero, Cïvakan, as he marries yet another beautiful young girl. Even his final

renunciation is likened to a marriage of sorts to omniscience, personified

as a woman. The narrative begins with King Caccantan foolishly handing

over his kingdom to his minister that he might enjoy the company of his

wife more fully. The minister kills the king, but, before Caccantan dies, he sends his pregnant queen, Vicayai, away on a flying machine shaped

like a peacock. She gives birth to Cïvakan on a cremation ground and

abandons him there; a merchant finds the infant and raises him as his

own. Cïvakan eventually learns the truth of his birth, but continues to live

as the merchant's son. A succession of amorous exploits on the part of

the hero follows; at the end of each chapter, Cïvakan weds the charming

girl who gives each ilampakam its name. His first wife, Kôvintai, he wins by returning the king's stolen cattle; his second wife, Kântaruvatattai, he

secures after a singing contest and a furious battle. Këmacari's heart is won

at first sight, and Curamañcari's hand is won through trickery as Cïvakan,

disguised as an old brahmin, laughs and jokes and compels the girl to break

her vow of never looking upon a man. Eventually, Cïvakan defeats the evil

minister who murdered his father and stole his kingdom, and ascends to

history of Tamil Jainism, see Desai (1957), Chakravarti (1974), Champakalakshmi (1978),

Ekambaranathan (1988), and Orr (1998, 1999).

  • 44 See the fourteenth-century commentary on verse 3143 by Naccinârkkiniyar in Tirut

takkatêvar (1986: 1518-1519). All further references to the text of the Cïvakacintâmani

are taken from this edition.

  • 45 Such as the ninth-century Uttarapurâna of Gunabhadra. For a detailed discussion

of the ways in which Tiruttakktëvar's text differs from its Sanskrit antecedents, see

Vijayalakshmy (1981: 51-77).

  • 46 See Câminâtaiyar's introduction to the edition of the Cïvakacintâmani cited above,

17-19. The origin of this story is unknown, and Câminàtaiyar merely cites 'tradition'.

  • 47 Ibid., p. 20.

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the throne himself. Amid much love-play with his wives, one day Cïvakan witnesses a male monkey seducing a female in front of his mate; when the

male monkey offers his mate a bit of fruit to beg her forgiveness, the fruit

is snatched away by a palace guard. The scene thrusts Cïvakan into a state

of despair and disgust with the world, and he renounces all before the Jina


As a long and beautifully poetic narrative attributed to a Jain author,

the Cïvakacintâmani seems a bit out of place in a tradition known for

its commitment to ascetic restraint, even among members of the lay

community. Not only does this 'Book of Marriages' focus on the wedded

bliss of Cïvakan cavorting with his many wives, but the text is extremely

explicit, almost painfully graphic, in sexual imagery and double entendre,

not to mention vivid depictions of the gruesome horrors of the crema

tion ground (place of the hero's birth) and the battlefield (where Cïvakan defeats many a foe, particularly the evil minister). Cïvakan's sexual antics

with his many wives are described in shockingly wild terms, in sharp

contrast to the more nuanced subtleties characteristic of earlier classical

Tamil love poetry; the Tamil telling of the hero's story is full of explicit

detail not found in its Sanskrit antecedents either.49 Consider, for example,

the description of the hero and his wife Patumai:

His garlands ripped, the saffron on him was ruined, his chaplet was charred - because

of the enthusiasm of intercourse her girdles broke, her beautiful anklets cried out and the

honeybees were scared off as the young couple made love. (v. 1349)50

Love-making is vigorously and pointedly described with gusto, the poetry

full of sly humor and hidden meanings. In describing the love games of the hero with his wife Curamañcari, for example, Tiruttakkatëvar plays

on the phrase kumari âta, which can mean both 'to bathe in the the

Kumari River' and 'to lie down [sexually] with a virgin' (v. 2020).51 The

vividness of the sexual imagery has proven troubling, even embarrassing,

for commentators pre-modern and modern alike. The fourteenth-century

commentator on the Cïvakacintâmani, Naccinàrkkiniyar, offers little by

way of explanation or elaboration. Modern scholars, such as Vijayalak

shmy (1981), interpret the sexual imagery 'as sugar coating to his religious

pill' (p. 48), revising only slightly the opinion of earlier Tamil interpreters

such as the Jesudesans (1961; quoted in Zvelebil, 1974: 138, note 24),

  • 48 A brief synopsis of the story can be found in Zvelebil (1995: 170), Vijayalakshmy

(1981:54-69), and Ryan (1985: 100-112).

  • 49 For example, the story of Jîvandhara found in Gunabhadra's Uttarapurâna

(Gunabhadra, 1968: 494-528).

  • 50 Translation adapted from Ryan (1998: 67).

  • 51 This particular double entendre is discussed in brief by Zvelebil (1974: 138, note 23).

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who maintain that the text offers '

senses' and should, in fact, be 'bann

does seem hard to reconcile the cont

is with sex and violence, with the T

Tiruttakkatëvar was a Digambara asc

Yet, as Ryan's (1998) work on th

argues, this excess of images of love

tions of aesthetic reception as rasa, of emotion, serves not to elevate th to denigrate it.52 Compared to the s poetry, Ryan argues, the graphic de


as coarse, a



the top',

dangerous, even ridiculous. Women's to directly in the text of the Clvak

using a Tamil phrase, akul, that appe poetry only one hundred twenty-six

point for enthusiastic and loving de

eight times likened to spears in th

References to women's breasts most

adjective vem, meaning 'desirable',

of this, argues Ryan, amounts to

Tiruttakkatëvar 'skilfully manage[s]

the subtle love imagery' of classical T lascivious and frightening sexuality 'cumulative effect' (p. 79) upon the r

verses, of such unbridled cynicism a 'skillfully poisonous parody' (p. 81) o of Cïvakan's turn toward omniscien

monkey attempting to reconcile w

offering of fruit knocked away by a g

text's disdain for the hero's previou

at sexual play teaches the hero of the

of suffering; Cïvakan's love exploits


The Clvakacintamani's condemnat

the themes of love and sexuality, bu

52 For a discussion of the basics of Sanskri

Tamil equivalent to rasa, termed meyppâtu, l

in the fourth- or fifth-century treatise on Tam

a comparison of the Tamil concept with its S


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and kings as well. Tamil classical poetry is replete with images of war

and violence in its pur am (literally, 'outer') or heroic mode, and the

Cîvakacintâmani similarly transforms such nuanced classical poetics into graphic depictions of war through excess. The following Cañkam poem, for example, typifies the classical treatment of violence and the human

anguish wrought by war:

If I think I'll receive an elephant and go home,

all the elephants like hills on which glowing clouds are caught have been shot full of arrows and have died ....

You who labor with the plow of your sword so that men

are stacked like hay! On the broad, savage field where

those who have come in need, stripped of joy, grieve,

for there is nothing to bring away, I sang and beat out sharp rhythms

on the clear eye of my


drum. (Puranânûru v. 368)53

Alongside such subtle, even haunting images of war, the Cîvakacin

tamani's description of the battlefield's 'deluge of blood' makes a mockery

of the violence of war:

As though to say that this was the level of the deluge of blood from the pale bodies, the

goblins with irregular, elephant-toenail like teeth joined their palms in obeisance on top of their heads and danced, singing of what had been given. The small jackals on the elephants

called out laughing. Eagles and kites lay down, sides splitting with laughter, (v. 804)54

As in the case of Ryan's treatment of the erotic excesses in the Cîvakacin

tâmani, one might argue that the excesses of violence yield similar fruit: a

disdain for the blood of the battlefield, for the responsibilities of kingship,

an ennui that culminates in Cïvakan's eventual withdrawal from the plea

sures of both women and the sword. Tiruttakkatëvar, in short, satirizes the

classical or Cañkam poetic conventions of both love and war.

In fact, within the rubric of aesthetic reception and appreciation of text

noted above, the pan-Indic theory of rasa, asethetic 'flavor', and its Tamil

analogy, meyppátu, the Cîvakacintâmani would appear to emphasize the rasa of bîbhatsa,'disgust', the meyppátu of ilivaral.55 Although several scholars of Sanskrit poetics have noted that there is nothing uniquely

  • 53 Translation from Hart and Heifetz (1999: 210).

  • 54 Translation from Ryan (1985: 168).

  • 55 According to the classical Tamil treatise on grammar and poetics, the Tolkâppiyam

(v. 250), ilivaral or 'the disgusting' is evoked by scenes of old age, disease, pain, and low

social status. The commentator on the verse, Ilampüranar, cites several poetic examples,

including the following couplet from the fifth-century ethical work, Tirukkural, on menmai

or low status (Tolkâppiyam, v. 8):

When one is cursed with want,

even one's own mother looks at [one] as a stranger.

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Jain about the aesthetic model of Jai

342-347; Kulkarni, 1983: 180-183; T

the great tenth-century Sanskrit liter

with vira, 'the heroic', culminates i of rasa experience for Abhinavagup

142). Indeed, sânta is enumerated as t rasa experiences in a second-century Anuogaddâra Sutta (Warder, 1999: 343 at the feet of the Jina Mahâvïra wou

aesthetic experience given pride of pla

The CïvakacintâmanVs evocation o

literary culture in which satire - pa

in particular religious commitments - developed art form. The oldest extant

example - the Mattavilâsa-prahasana

and the Bhagavadajjukam-prahasana, ' - are attributed to the seventh-centu

Káñclpuram, Mahendravarman I (Lo

raucous fun of various religious figure

for example, a drunken Saiva asceti

search for his lost skull-bowl and acc

of stealing it.56 The Manimêkalai, a

the Cïvakacintâmani by at least sever images of non-Buddhist characters, in along 'like an elephant in distress' (Cà

who 'fights with his shadow' like a

uncouth chieftain surrounded by 'drie and vats of boiling toddy' (vv. xvi.66-6

literary culture are remembered traditio

a direct - and often directly satirical Manimêkalai as a response to the earli

to the lost Buddhist Kuntalakëci and it

Nïlakëci (Monius, 2001: 60-77). The Cïvakacintâmani, in other words,

was composed in a literary culture already familiar with satire and literary

denigration in at least two languages.

How does Tiruttakkatëvar's stance on the love-play of his hero make

sense within a Jain context, as well as within the larger literary community

in Tamil-speaking South India dominated by non-Jains? Above and beyond

56 The Buddhist monk, Nagasena, is said to yearn for the 'unexpurgated, original texts'

of the Buddha that permit drinking and the enjoyment of women (Lockwood & Bhat, 1994:


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the obvious Jain narrative tendency toward extolling sensual restraint and

asceticism, it requires no great leap of the imagination to assume that the Jain poet, by ridiculing human love in its many mental and phys

ical aspects, also seeks to denigrate non-Jain religious tendencies that

focus specifically on love - on the evocation of the rasa of srngâra,

'the erotic' - namely Hindu devotionalism or bhakti. By the era of the CTvakacintamanVs composition, Tamil literary culture had created new

genres of devotional literature centered on the deities Visnu and Siva, much

of it addressed to the lord as lover. Whereas Tiruttakkatêvar undermines

the classical literary tradition, the bhakti poets employ the love themes

of earlier texts to forge a new 'poetry of connections' (Ramanujan, 1981:

166), a first-person plea to the lord for union with him, often expressed,

particularly among the Vaisnava poets, in explicitly erotic terms.57 The

themes of landscape, mood, and secular love prevalent in the classical

Cankam corpus are used, in the poetry of Hindu devotionalism, to describe

human yearning for union with the lord, to capture the profoundly phys ical and mental aspects of human love and transfer them to the realm of

devotee and divine (Ramanujan, 1981: 126-169). In denying the value of

human love, Tiruttakkatêvar strikes at the emotional core of Hindu bhakti,

its positive valuation of the physical body and mind that can know and experience love on many complex levels.

This is not to suggest, however, that Tamil-speaking Jains in general,

or even Tiruttakkatêvar in particular, did not themselves engage in any of

the practices of pan-Indic 'devotion', including the erection of elaborate temples, the consecration of images in metal and stone, and the composi

57 Consider, for example, the erotic anguish of the ninth-century female devotee of

Krsna, Ântâl:

My soul melts in anguish -

he cares not

if I live or die. If I see the lord of Govardhana

that looting thief, that plunderer,


shall pluck

by their roots

these useless breasts,

shall fling them at his chest,



shall cool

the raging fire

within me.

In Nâlâyira Tivyap Pirapantam (1993: 272-273); translation from Dehejia (1990: 125—


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tion of songs and poetry to be used

(1998, 1999, 2000) recent work ampl speaking Jain women (and men) wer rituals lives of temples large and sm

women participating most actively

period. Tiruttakkatevar himself puts the mouth of his hero,58 and Cïvakan

his amorous pursuit of women and t various Jain temples and holy sites.

the Jain context is, of course, somew

or Vaisnavas. In the rite of pujâ, rit deity or the Jina, the Hindu presen

then taken back as prasada, holy rem soul of the worshiper until next he o

the Jain context, however, as Babb

tiation of the material substance off

unmoved, even unaware, of the lay J

not 'giving to' but 'giving up', an opp

for a discrete time in the renunciato

If one imagines, with Cort (2002),

present in all Indie religious tradi

saints tend toward an embracing of

of devotion occupy the opposite end

of 'sober veneration' of the Jinas wh

ciation (p. 85). The practices of devo - are no less present in Jainism tha

the emotional context in which such rituals are understood to be effective

differs markedly from the Hindu devotional poets' ecstatic search for union

with the lord.

The fact of Jain devotional practice and its obvious importance to

Tamil-speaking Jains throughout the medieval period render the Cïva

kacintâmanfs denigration of love and sex all the more nuanced and

complex. To return to the language of rasa, of aesthetic reception and

58 As at v. 1242:

Oh you who created the primeval Veda!

Oh you who submit to a pouring rain of flowers!

Oh you who know the path of right!

Oh you who possess knowledge beyond compare!

Oh you called Lord!

May you unbind the worldly bonds of those who

worship your lotus feet in this punishing ocean of births.

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appreciation, Tiruttakkatëvar's narrative suggests nothing less than a re

ordering of the list of nine rasas, demoting spigâra, 'the erotic', that

begins most brahminical lists, and substituting instead bïbhatsa, 'the

disgusting', as it paves the way for Cîvakan's final experience of sânta,

the poised, detached equanimity that heralds the dawning of omniscience.

Jain ritual practices, no less the hymns praising the Jinas that issue forth from the hero's mouth, are directed toward the ideal detachment, the ideal

sânta, of the Jinas.

In the twelfth-century Côla court of Kulôttunka II where Cëkkilâr

is traditionally believed to have composed his Periyapurânam, Tirut

takkatëvar's Cïvakacintâmani represented nothing peculiar in the literary

discourse of the proper cultivation of sânta as a response to the realities of human life. The themes of love and violence - and the appropriately moral

responses to the human facts of sexuality and aggression - constituted a

significant core of poetic narratives that, by Cëkkilâr's day, spanned several

genres and crossed sectarian boundaries. Tiruttakkatëvar's technique of employing erotic and violent excess to make his religious point aestheti cally is, in fact, one well established across a variety of poetic genres by

the mid-twelfth century.

South Indian literary culture in the centuries before the composi

tion of the Periyapurânam produced a number of Jain 'romances' in

Sanskrit; indeed, the majority of Sanskrit romance narratives composed in the tenth and eleventh centuries were authored by Jains (Handiqui,

1968: 53). Peterson (1998: 179) speculates, for example, that the Cin

tâmani cited by Umâpati might be a text other than Tiruttakkatëvar's

Tamil version of the Cïvakan story; while she points to the tenth-century

Kannada version of the Uttarapurâna, Câmundaràya's Trisastilaksana mahâpurâna, (Gnanamurthy, 1966: 33) ties a Sanskrit version of the

Cïvakan/Jïvandhara narrative to the Côla court: the Ksatracûdâmani attri buted to Vâdhïbasimha.59 When Vâdhïba's narrative is compared to other

versions of Jïvandhara's story, its considerable escalation of violence

becomes obvious. While the Ksatracûdâmani, most likely composed after

the Tamil Cïvakacintâmani, is at pains to ensure that 'all the sensuous

59 'It may be this Cola king's admiration for the Cintâmani story written by Vàdhïba

Simha that is referred to in Cëkkilâr Purânam'. The dating of this text and the identity of

its author have been matters of considerable scholarly disagreement. Hultzsch (1914), for

example, assigns the text to the tenth century (pp. 697-698), while Venkatasubbiah (1928)

argues for a slightly later, early eleventh-century dating (pp. 156-160). The early eleventh

century date is also favored by Winternitz (1999: 515). The text was first published in the early twentieth century (Vâdhïbasimha Süri, 1903). I am indebted to John Cort of

Denison University for his assistance in tracking down references to this text (personal

communication, November 28, 2001).

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ness [of the earlier Tamil text] [is] ov

[it] emphasise[s] in the last half of e 33), the number of violent episodes t

the story increases exponentially. In th Jïvanadhara/Cïvakan wages a bloody w

against the evil minister who usurped h

In the literary culture of Cëkkilâr's d

through literary excess had come to

Tamil court literature known as para

has killed 700 or 1000 elephants on [

excellence, and poetic expression of gru

1995: 524). Best known among the paran

attributed to Cayankontar, which narr (Sanskrit Kaliñga) during the reign of

the Takkayakapparan i attributed to the

which tells the famous story of Daksa's

twelfth-century texts, literary references

now lost (Zvelebil, 1992: 63-64). What t

such as the Kaliñkattupparani - its staid royal patron, dark descriptions of the g

humorous) scenes of ghouls feasting on battle - is unclear, and the few scholar reach little agreement as to its proper (1890), one of the earliest Tamil scholar

views its wild descriptions as 'far-fe

in which oriental poets delight', its bat

'appropriate to the grandeur of [its mar

the way in which the cadence of the v

Zvelebil (1974: 211) interprets the para development from earlier heroic genre

(1985: 276-292), however, has seen the p

the macabre feast of the ghouls on the echoing of the sounds of battle, in 'the

excess' (p. 279) whose humor Shulman ul

'king and clown' in South Indian literary

It is the potential for humor in

the p

tion that the descriptions of battles and something like irony - that is of intere

discussed above, literary excess of im

a significant authorial technique in the

60 A full discussion of the merits of Shulman's

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example, the following two stanzas, in which the 'gruesome job' of the

ghouls is expressed through a 'horribly suggestive rhythm, which reflect[s]

marvellously the eagerness, the hunger, the perverse joy of the demons'

(Zvelebil, 1974: 210):

The blood, the blood of the Kaliñgas, to enjoy, to enjoy Kaliñgam,

kill the tender bodies,

kill the tender bodies!

To eat and drink,

rejoicing at refreshing [our] bellies with food;

rise up, oh hosts of demons,

rise up, rise up, oh hosts of demons! (vv. 302-303)

It is hard not to read irony into such a poetic description, a condemnation of war rather than an embracing of battle and valor in the classical heroic

genre. 'Hyperbole', in the case of Sanskrit literature, as Siegel (1987)

notes, 'demands either awe or laughter' (p. 40); scenes of battle - with



whose wounds gushed blood' (Kaliñkattupparani, v. 456)

and where the defeated slink away pretending to be Jinas, Hindu pilgrims,

Buddhists, or wandering bards (vv. 466-469) - like the ghoulish imagery above, abound in comic hyperbole.

If the Kaliñkattupparani shares with the Cïvakacintâmani the literary

techniques of excess, the two also display a biting irony in their treatment

of women. Like the perverse use of female eye imagery in the Jain text noted above, the parani also likens a lady's eyes - often in classical Tamil

an emblem of her beauty - to deadly weapons:

[Your] great eyes, like spears,

pierce the breasts of young men

and rip open wounds


(v. 56)

Women are portrayed with a kind of biting irony - as when a woman

chides her fallen husband for biting his otherwise perfect lips in the

throes of a violent death (v. 483) - and one wonders if such descriptions

might not, in fact, bear much in common in terms of technique with the Cïvakacintâmani. In the Takkayâkapparani, Daksa, the principal character,

takes on the head of a goat after suffering Siva's fury of decapitation

(Zvelebil, 1974: 212-213), suggesting again that perhaps such texts are

to be read as poking fun at, or questioning the value of, the classical poetic

presentations of war and female sexuality.

If the parani genre can be read as undermining, or at least calling into

question, the heroic praise of the violence of battle, another new and more

productive genre of Tamil literature, the ulâ, continues along the same

lines, focusing on the issues attending female sexuality. With more than

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seventy extant examples in Tamil, th

set in a common poetic meter known

the king as he processes through the s

women of various ages along the way a

love with him, each according to her c

719). Ottakküttar, author of the Takk

successive Cola kings (Vikkiraman, Ku

Ràjarâja II), composed the most famous

psychology of female love, the Müva to each of his royal patrons. So graph

women in passionate love that commen

onward regard the female characters

(Shulman, 1985: 312). What is importa

the stage for interpreting the violent that the king, surrounded by women utterly dispassionate, unmoved by eve

of interest on the part of his audience

of this study is the condemnation, by

poem, the Tillai ulâ,61 of the violence

The text maintains that Siva perform

the father to serve up his own son


1011-1012; Shulman, 1993: 39-40).

Leaving aside the question of the ove ulâ texts as a whole, it is certainly


Indian literary culture, the issues of sexuality were being re-thought, re-e the Cïvakacintâmani evokes in its aud

sexually graphic scenes it plays ove

ture features ghouls feasting rapturou

while the ulâ poems portray a king un

he evokes while processing through h emerges, no less, in what appears to

peace and prosperity in the Cola realm,

bloodshed that extended from the las

through the rule of Ràjarâja II (Nila

61 The Tillai ula survives only in fragments, p

ajournai known as Tamilppolil\ this incomple

62 Given the spotty historical record in pre

cautious in arguing from lack of evidence. On

inscriptional evidence of battle documents hist

simply shifted to portray the monarch in a mo

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themes and the literary techniques employed by Tiruttakkatëvar in his Jain

condemnation of human sexuality and love in the early tenth century find

wider voice in a variety of new literary genres by the mid-twelfth century,

creating a literary ethos of ironic - even humorous - dismissal of the old

Cankam poetic values of love and war.


Given this reading of the Cîvakacintâmani as well as of poeti

newly emergent in the reign of Cëkkilâr's royal patron, how m Periyapumnam be understood as a 'response', as a reaction to th

Jain text? If Umàpati's claim that Cêkkilâr composed his tex

his royal patron away from an interest in Jainism is correct, ho

Periyapumnam best understood as a productive endeavor in that d

At the level of form, of poetic structure and narrative fram

the Cîvakacintâmani establishes a set of conventions for lo

narratives that all subsequent medieval Tamil narrative works, Periyapumnam to Kampan's Irâmâvatâram, follow. The Cintâma

example, is the first narrative poem to employ the meter (v

commonly used by the great poet-saints of Siva and Visnu and

by Cêkkilâr as well. The Jain text is the first in Tamil to em

literary device known as avaiyatakkam, the author's expression of

regarding the faults of the composition to follow; Cêkkilâr follo

takkatëvar's lead by likening his feeble attempt to capture in w

glories of the saints to 'a dog of great avarice, [trying to] drink up t

expanse of ocean' (Periyapumnam, v. 6). Just as the Jain author b

long story with elegant descriptions of the bounty of the Tamil coun the grandeur of the royal city, and the virtue of the ruling monarch

does Cêkkilâr preface his long set of hagiographical narratives same glorious praise of the Côla country, the capital city, and h


Moving beyond this relatively superficial, formal 'influence' that the Cîvakacintâmani exerts not only upon the Periyapumnam but upon all

subsequent Tamil poetic narratives, the Periyapumnam arguably does

nothing less than attempt to recover the idea of love, the aesthetic

experience that literary depiction of love evokes, from the wastebin of

sarcasm constructed so subtly by Tiruttakkatëvar. In response to the

Cîvakacintâmani and perhaps to a host of other Tamil literary composi

tions of the Côla era that similarly dismiss love and war (as discussed

above), the Periyapumnam recovers love or anpu as a worthy human

experience of religious import, not simply by harkening back to older

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classical depictions of love, but by i

through the cultivation of a new kin

vira, the 'heroic'. In so reconstituting the

Cëkkilâr champions a new definition

lord that befits a king (such as his roy act decisively in the world. Against th

of erotic love and the amorous exploi depictions of battle and female sexual and ula genres, the violence of the Pe

heuristic role in this project of recov

and literary value.

As Ledbetter (1996), in his study of fiction, suggestively notes, the mome

violence done to the human body 'that

often 'provides transforming moment

the Cîvakacintâmani or the parani dep

seek to evoke revulsion or disgust in

the Periyapuranam's use of violent im in Ledbetter's terms, to shock the rea

once in the Periyapuranam, Cëkkilâr's

at the violent deeds of the bhaktas; th

example, simply cannot believe the sc remarks: 'He is the servant of the on

is not the killer' (v. 585). The Periyap

full of commentary on the value of h literary techniques of excess to evoke Emotion, particularly the emotional ex

in a new key and with new religious

text as human experiences of great sot - on the issue of the relative value of

experiences - that the Periyapuranam

Cïvakacintamani and other literary w

value of love and heroism in battle. If

a revulsion for the worldly life that c

'the quiescent', then the Periyapurana

constitutes a central element in any h

subtly constructs a vision of love tin

literary contention that love and battle or any other living being - in search o

Even before Cëkkilâr begins to recou

of Siva, he presents his audience wi

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encapsulates the themes of love and violence, self-inflicted suffering and

redemption, to come. The story of the progenitor of the Côla dynasty, King

Manunïticôlan (vv. 98-135), constitutes a paradigm of sorts for each of the

nâyanâr tales to follow. In this, perhaps the most emotionally wrenching

story in the entire text, the king's son, 'abounding in the exalted virtues

coveted by his rare father


[and] like a young sun' (v. 104), inadvertently

crushes a young calf to death under the wheels of his chariot.63 While the

guilt-ridden prince seeks redemption through brahminic performance of

Vedic rituals, the mother cow, distraught with grief, stumbles to the palace,

where she summons the king by ringing a bell with her horns. The king,

feeling 'as if his head had taken up the harsh poison of all the sorrow that

had befallen the cow' (v. 117), rages at his ministers who advise the ritual

expiation for cow-slaughter prescribed in the Vedic law books: 'Will [such

ritual penance] cure the illness of the cow crying from grief at the loss of

her young calf (v. 120)? Explaining further the hypocrisy that would be

evident to all if he let his own son escape a death-sentence freely meted out to other murderers, King Manunïticôlan demands that he must suffer as the

wronged mother cow has suffered and issues a terrible death-warrant for his own son; when his minister prefers suicide to carrying out the king's wishes, the king himself crushes his son to death under the wheels of his own royal chariot. As all weep in agony, Lord Siva appears and restores all

to life again: the calf, the minister, and the young prince. King and mother

cow alike rejoice. In what way does this short and poignant story anticipate the longer and more complex hagiographical narratives to come? First, the story

highlights the prominence of the father-son relationship, a bond starkly

and often wrenchingly emotional, demanding, precious yet difficult. As

will be discussed farther below, the father-son relationship is paradigmatic

throughout the Periyapurânam, with Siva clearly cast in a paternal role

rather than that of lover or king. Another theme to emerge from this story

that resonates with the hagiographie narratives to follow is, as Shulman

(1993) rightly describes it, a profoundly emotional, and perhaps uniquely

Tamil, insistence on the external manifestation of emotion; as Shulman describes the king's profound experience of empathy with the grieving mother cow, 'having internalized the emotion initially, he is still driven

in the direction of a concrete externalization in action' (p. 14). Unlike his

ministers, who insist that he follow the letter of brahminic law in meting

out punishment to his son, the king demands that attention be paid to the emotional spirit of the law; the only proper punishment will be one

63 Shulman (1993: 10-17) discusses this narrative within the larger framework of his

examination of biblical and Indian aqedah stories.

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that evokes the same emotionally dra

mother cow has suffered. Emotion ha such demands, as Shulman notes, mus

In this context, the violent death of t bespeaks both emotional commitment the grieving mother wronged manifes

made all the more terrible by the fath

story, like the larger narrative frame tially about emotion, about the value a

of love and empathy, and the high

to embrace them. The power of the k

the attention of Siva, who, as above, r

of King Manunïticôlan, in short, cele

human - and humane - feelings of emp

the figure of a heroic Cola king. In


theory, karuna (empathy or pathos) a

merge with vira, the 'heroic', in this s

saints. In recapturing the value of t

motivating - forces of love and empa

images of the heroic warrior, the Peri ling response to the earlier Jain Cïvak

heroic - as rasa or meyppâtu and



and humanely - constitute the very co cultivating disgust for the ties that bi

the world, the Periyapurânam argues

tempering and redirecting of love and

'the heroic', courageously externalized Love as anpu in the Periyapurânam i

in the earlier Jain narrative. If the

stood as a creative response to the Cïv responsive tasks is the redefinition o Periyapurânam, love as srngâra is ent

any connotation of bodily lust or s

physically expressed but in a complete

quite in contrast to earlier depictions While Siva never quite exudes the sex

women from their marital beds with t

the poetry of Appar, Cuntarar, and C portrayed in strikingly sexual terms,

64 See Periyapuranam, v. 104, where the yo

rare father who rejoiced greatly in love' (arum

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wandering beggar of enchanting beauty, as a virile young warrior atop

his martial bull. One of the most frequent references to Siva in sexu

ally alluring form in this early devotional poetry is to his appearance as

Bhiksâtana, the beggar who wanders the earth with his skull-bowl followed

by a mangy dog. Yet, in Tamil verse, he is no ordinary beggar; so mesmeri

zing is his beauty that women's garments slip spontaneously from their bodies as he walks by. Appar sings, assuming the voice of such a young


Listen, my friend, yesterday

in broad daylight

I'm sure I saw

a holy one,

as he gazed at me

my garments slipped ...

If I see him again I shall press my body against his body [and] never let him go.65

Campantar vividly evokes the sexual yearning of a young woman who

adores Siva in physical terms:

'O god with matted hair' ! she cries.

'You are my sole refuge' ! she cries.

'Bull rider' ! she cries, and faints in awe.

O Lord of Marukal

where the blue lily blooms in field waters,

is it fair

to make this woman waste from love's disease?66

Such images of the sexually alluring Bhiksâtana and the virile young

warrior making young women swoon are nowhere to be found in the

Periyapurânam. As the story of King Manunlticôlan suggests, Siva in

Cêkkilâr's literary vision plays a paternal role, that of a father always

loving, at times playful and demanding, but always moved by a 'son's'

displays of love. Siva 'loves' only in a fatherly, and never sexual, way; like

a good father, he spends much of his time in the background, allowing his

human devotees to take center stage. In the story of the hunter, Kannappar,

for example, a narrative that dwells on the anpu of its hero more than any

other, Siva does not appear until the ninety-fifth verse; in most stories, he

appears only in the final verses of the narrative, ready to reward the saint

for his display of devotion. Siva is most commonly referred to with epithets

  • 65 Tevaram VI-45.8; translation from Dehejia (1988: 110-111).

  • 66 Têvâram, II—18.1; translation from Peterson (1989: 248).

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and phrases that speak to his paternal,

than to his form as enchanting mendi

'he who dances in the [golden] hall [of

attu âtuvân), as 'he whose half is


who is unknown to Visnu and Brahm

as 'the lord who rides the martial bull arriving on the final scene with his co

of heroism and battle readiness, strip

literally assumes the role of father to Campantar (whose father leaves him a

Cantêcurar (who cuts of the legs of h

adopted by Siva), and Kôtpuli (who ki

of eating rice reserved for Siva). In th emerges as a wholly paternal figure, d

genuine, acted out through sometime

with even the slightest hint of sexuality

Against the backdrop of the Cïvak

disgust or ennui for human sexuality hero, Cëkkilàr's portrayal of marital

Many among the nâyanmâr are househ

or may not share their husbands' dee

relations between man and wife appea the text; nowhere does the reader wi tionship, except for the occasional ap

are often described with the suggestiv ones' or 'simpletons', they are anythin Cïvakacintâmani or the ulâ literature.

strict chastity is observed between N

the ends of a bamboo pole to enter th

physically grasping each other's hand beautifully resplendent like an avatâr

wealth and beauty, Laksmï (tiruma

diately loses, in a graphically phys

her once-beautiful form when she en skeletal that onlookers run away in f

Not only is love non-sexual in the Pe cism of the Cïvakacintâmani and Appa

but it is also infused with a sentimen

earlier works: the transformative, mar

heroic', a heroism in turn tempered b

empathy. Quite ironically, Cëkkilàr's

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of vira is quite in keeping with Jain literary-aesthetic theory. In one of

the few obvious departures of Jain literary theoreticians from brahminical

paradigms of rasa, the second-century Anuogaddâra inverts the first two

elements in the standard lists of emotional 'flavors', favoring vira as the

first rasa over srñgára, the 'erotic' (Kulkarni, 1983: 180; Warder, 1999:

343). Numerous among the nayanmâr are called virar, 'heroic ones',

including Iyaipakai, whose boundless love for Siva erupts into violent

excess, littering the battlefield with those who would have him ignore

Siva's command (v. 425).

Nowhere do these themes of love and violence, emotion and heroism, come together more clearly against the backdrop of the Clvakacintâmani

than in the story of the child-saint, Cantëcurar, who amputates the legs of his father and wins as a result the rights of Siva's own adopted son. As

above, Cantëcurar's violent attack upon his human father is identified, in at

least one Tamil source roughly contemporaneous with the composition of

the Periyapumnam, as an evil deed of heinous proportions.67 Cantëcurar,

or Canda/Candesa/Candesvara (literally, 'the fierce one') as he is known

in Sanskrit, also plays an important role in the mythology of the Sanskrit

Àgamas and the rituals of Saiva temple worship they describe.68 Canda,

described in the Kâmikâgama (4.525) as 'an angry emanation of Para

masiva' (quoted in Davis, 1991: 156), is the only being powerful enough

to consume the nirmâlya, the utterly pure remains of the food offered to

the Siva liñga in daily temple worship; these ritual 'leftovers' are offered to Canda at his shrine, to the northeast of the central liñga. The Âgamas describe Canda's family life, assign him a wife, and dwell at some length

on his receiving of Siva's glorious grace.69 As an emanation of Siva's

highest form (Paramasiva) and his most immediate subordinate in the

temple, inscriptional evidence suggests that Canda functioned as an inter

mediary between the lord and his human devotees, with all royal donations

to temples made directly to Canda (acting as a sort of supervising temple

authority) rather than to Siva himself.70

  • 67 I.e., in the Tillai ula cited above.

  • 68 For further discussion of the role of Canda in Àgamic temple worship, see Af Edholrn

(1984), Smith(1996: 209-210), Diehl (1956: 111, 134, 137, 142), Davis (1991: 155-157),

Dorai Rangaswamy (1990: 523-525, 963-967), and Rajamanickam (1964: 35-36, 178).

  • 69 A striking visual image of this Candesánugrahamürti, literally 'the image of

grace [coming] down to Candesa', can be found on the northeast wall of the

Gañgaikondacolapuram temple built by Ràjaràja's son, Ràjendra I, circa 1020-1030.

  • 70 In an inscription from Kâficîpuram, Cantëcurar is named the âdidâsa or 'first servant'

of Siva who donates substantial wealth to a local village; see South-Indian Inscriptions

(1890: 115-116). An inscription from the time of Kulottuñka III 'registers the exchange

of lands belonging [to various] temples


The exchange was effected in the names of

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Cêkkilâr's portrayal of Cantëcur

more significantly from that of th

transformed in the Tamil text int

Vicâra Carumanàr, conceived through (v. 1221),71 learned in all Vedic and A

the feet of Siva 'who performs the scene reminiscent of King Manunïti by his son, one day Vicâra Caruman beating a cow who has recently give lectures the young man on the sacra

to tend the herd himself, thinking t

to guarding this herd of cows with

rishes under the loving care of 'the l

kanru) (v. 1240), and they begin to pr

possessed by an urge to worship S

bathes it with the now plentiful pot stranger who fails to understand the by; he reports to the brahmin owner

required for their own Vedic rites i riverbank. Incensed, the brahmins a

that he put

a stop

to such

an outr

performing his pûjâ, and, enraged b

emerges from the bushes and kicks o

devastating violence rapidly and dis

of the techniques of literary excess e

parani authors, Vicâra picks up a nea

appropriately hacked off and scatte

Siva arrives atop his bull and, in an u embraces Vicâra and announces, 'Fro

Siva renames the child Cantîcan, beq

garment, and garland, and restores li

father while the heavens rejoice. 'W

writes Cëkkilâr in the final lines of t

devotees who give love to the one wi


us praise it' (v. 1269)!

Many aspects of this narrative are str

current discussion of violence and it

Sñ Sênâpati Âlvâr and Chandësvara on b

Inscriptions, 1955: 1239).

71 'She performed austerities in order to r

world' (ulakil tunaip putalvar perru vilañkum

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the story's emphasis on innocence, childishness, and the love between

father and son. The married Candi of the Âgamas is here stripped of

all sexuality, rendered a prepubescent child conceived not through sexual

intercourse but via the austerities of his mother. In a bucolic setting of cattle

and pasture that calls to mind the escapades of that other cow-herding boy, Krsna, nowhere does Cëkkilàr hint of the sexual play that so domi nates Krsna's stories; Cantëcurar's knowledge is knowledge of Veda and Àgama, of Siva and the ritual ministrations that most please him. Irony and humor, applied in the Cïvakacintâmani and the parani literature to

sexuality and violence, are here reserved for the boy's earthly father who

quivers in fear at the accusations of his fellow brahmins against his son

and placates them with an obseqious, 'Oh brahmins of abundant greatness,

you must forgive that which has happened' (v. 1253)! Pathetic are the

ensuing scenes of the father crouching in the bushes and spying on his

young son, in sharp contrast to the gracious embrace of Cantëcurar's 'true'

father, Siva. Cantëcurar's story, couched in the non-sexual love of father and son, exudes an innocence, a childlike sense of playfulness. Indeed, it is in the context of a child's innocent play that Cantëcurar's

act of violence must be understood. This relatively short narrative of

fifty-nine verses is full of images of play, both linguistic and ritual.

While Cëkkilàr often indulges in word-play and double entendre in the Periyapumnam, nowhere does he celebrate the play of language so slyly

as he does in this story. The pathetic images of Cantëcurar's earthly father

slinking from bush to bush, for example, are made all the more pathetically

humorous by the author's use of the term marai, literally 'that which is hidden', most often used in this text to refer to the Vedic tradition and

those who practice it. The father is described as the marai mutiyôn, the

one 'matured in Vedic knowledge' or, alternatively, 'the one matured in the

art of concealment', as he climbs a tree and conceals (maraintu) himself

from his young son (v. 1254). In the act of spying he is again described as maraiyôn, the 'concealed' or 'Vedic' one (v. 1255). In a rather wicked

play on the word tunai, which means either 'pair' or 'to cut', Cantëcurar 'falls in the shade of [Siva's] two feet' or 'in the shade of [his father's]

cut feet' (v. 1264).72 Building on this verbal play, Cëkkilàr refers to the ritual worship of the child who knows the Vedas and Àgamas as 'play':

'[He] began the precious pujà according to the play (vilaiyâttâl) of the

established rules, his heart one with truth' (v. 1257).

It is in this context of lovingly devoted ritual play that Cantëcurar hacks

off his father's feet that 'he knew [only] as an impediment to his püjcC

72 tunait tâl nilal kil viluntavar.

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(v. 1262),73 like a child absorbed in fly. Through the decidedly non-erot

literally, in this story, to those betw

through his love, is transformed for an

protecting his beloved liñga of sand

threatens to disturb them. The violence of Cantëcurar's action is couched

in the discourse of play, of a game interrupted; the father is, in the end, restored to life in the world of Siva (civalôkam) along with the rest of his

family (v. 1268). The innocent and precocious child's unconscious - and,

in any other context, unconscionable - act of violence moves Siva himself to open displays of fatherly affection, again reminiscent of the martially compassionate focus that drives Manunïticôlan and demands the attention of the lord. Violence, in the story of Cantêcurar, simply constitutes part of an innocent child's play of love, the reflexive reaction to a game inter

rupted, a game whose ultimate end lies in bringing together devotee and

god, child and father.

Another of Cëkkilâr's most violent stories, one equally steeped in the

pastoral imagery of forest and mountainside that calls to mind the stories

of Krsna's adolescent escapades, is the tale of Kannappar, the unlettered

hunter who sacrifices his own eye to heal a bleeding wound on a Siva

image. Like the story of Cantêcurar above, Kannappar's narrative act

of self-mutilation is couched in the terms of impromptu ritual play, of the expression of heartfelt and innocent love suddenly threatened. In a

literary move that perhaps seeks to rehabilitate the uncouth and unkempt

hunters whom Cïvakan encounters in his wanderings,74 Kannappar, origi

nally named Tinnan, 'the powerful one', is born, through the grace of Lord

Murukan (v. 661), amid a wild yet strikingly beautiful forest to a father of great austerities performed in past lives (v. 657). The parallels drawn to the young Krsna's antics are striking throughout the long description of Tinnan's happy childhood. Cêkkilâr dwells at length on the emotional


'As that [stick-turned-axe] that chopped became a weapon to remove the impediment

to the worship, the son who had cut off the two feet of his fallen father removed what he

knew [only] as an impediment to his puja and entered into worship as before' (erinta atuvê arccanaiyin itaiyüru akarrum patai âka marinta tâtai iru talum tunitta maintar pücanaiyil arinta itaiyüru akarrinarây mun pól aruccittitap pukalum).

74 Tiruttakkatëvar provides the following description of a vetar or hunter whom Cïvakan

encounters in the forest:

He resembled a piece of dark darkness that had been fed with black. He had a sunken chest

from seizing and plucking lizards from deep holes in the ground. He resembled a bear with

flourishing hair. He did not know of betel leaf for his mouth. He had the voice of a ram.

(v. 1230)

Translation from Ryan (1985: 178-179).

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bonds between doting parents and mischievous child and on the mother's

loving efforts to stem the tears brought on by paternal punishment. Like

young Krsna gleefully kicking down the sandcastles of his village play

mates in the poetry of his ninth-century Tamil devotee, Àntàl,75 Tinnan, 'with his small foot like a tender shoot scattered the playhouses built by

the girls of the hunter tribe' (v. 673). After Tinnan is made chief of his tribe and leads the band of village bowmen on the hunt, the stream of

hunters moving through the dense forest is likened, in a direct allusion to

the mythic lands of Krsna, to 'the river Yamuna of deep waters and great dark currents, entering into the great ocean of billowing waves' (v. 722).

One day, while avidly pursuing a boar into the forest, Tinnan happens upon

an image of Siva; not realizing who or what the god represents, the hunter

in nonetheless overcome by love for the deity 'due to his storehouse of

austerities performed in previous lives' (munpu cey tavattin ïttam) (v. 751).

With an almost maternal concern for the well-being of the lord, Tinnan

resolves to serve the image and sets about securing daily offerings of meat,

water, and fragrant forest flowers. A brahmin trained in Vedic ritual sees

the offerings left by the uneducated hunter and is horrified at the thought of

impure meat and other substances placed before the lord; Siva appears to

the brahmin in a dream, however, and commands him to watch a true test of

Tinnan's devotion. While the concealed brahmin looks on in amazement,

a despairing Tinnan, in a swift phrase of violence, gouges out his own eye to heal the gushing wound on the eye of his beloved image (v. 827).76 The

image's other eye begins to bleed and, just as Tinnan raises his arrow to

75 Well known among Tamil-speaking Vaisnavas, for example, is the following verse

from Àntâl's Nâcciyâr Tirumoli (p. 234):

You dark as the rain clouds, your charming ways

and sweet words

enchant us,

bind us like a spell.

In truth your face

is a magic mantra.

We are but urchins, we shall not retort and hurt you,

You of the lotus eyes,

do not break our sandcastles.

Translation from Dehejia (1990: 80).

76 'Standing before [the image of the lord] with great joy in his heart, [he] took out

his own eye with an arrow, held it, and applied it to the [bleeding] eye of the First One'

(matarttu elum ullat tôtu makilntu mun iruntu tam kan mutai caram atuttu vañki mutalvar

tam kannil appa).

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gouge out his own remaining eye, Siv him 'Kannappa', literally 'dear one of In addition to the allusions to Krsna logy noted above, not only is Tinnan' completely stripped of eroticism, im

maternal love expressed through th

the image, but Tinnan himself is rep

grandeur, his tribal chieftainship liken

While the hunters encountered in the above, are anything but royal, depict

Tinnan as 'the powerful one' is most o

wild boar likened to battle. His 'streng

of fiery eyes' (cem kan vayam kôl ari

wears the anklets of the hero (vïrak

referred to as 'the heroic one' (vTrar

him on the hunt carry 'their bows

(v. 719). This king of the hunters, the bo

performs the ultimate sacrifice of the

himself. The simple love of the untut to a martial character of inherent no engagement in the world, meets simp

love in the story of Kannappar.

Yet Cëkkilâr's depiction of Kannap

more different from the depictions

Cïvakacintâmani and the bloodletting certainly employs the techniques of e

writers, but he does so only to describ

both 'murderous' (kolai puri) and 'crue

of Clvakan's battles and the paranis' c

describes the carnage of the hunt in st

The legs, mid-sections, and heads of the stags

the elk died, their intestines flowing down the

Their bodies penetrated by arrows, wild cattle

many deer, their bodies severed by the arrows

Before wild buffaloes who ran past in panic, th arrows as red fire [blood] and still more arrows

great wild boar passed, their heads held high, ferocious teeth with an anger that bubbled ove

While Cëkkilâr thus lingers over the audience an ethos of disgust for the s

noble animals, the self-mutilation of h

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violent episode above, is quickly passed over in a short phrase, couched in far longer depictions of Kannappar's innocent and complete love that leads to utter empathy (as in the case of King Manunïticôlan) with the

pain of the wounded image. Unlike the bloody gore of the warriors who

offer their heads to Kâlï on the battlefields of the parani literature (as at

Kaliñkattupparani, v. Ill), Kannappar's act of self-sacrifice is a swift act of great healing power: 'Standing before [the lord] with great joy in his

heart, [Tinnan] took out his own eye with an arrow, held it, and applied it to the eye of the First One' (v. 827).

Although the above discussion provides only two examples of the

contexts in which Cêkkilâr couches the violence of the saints, the stories

of Cantëcurar and Kannappar are among the most well known and

oft-depicted in South Indian literature and temple iconography. Both

are narratives of child-like innocence and love, power and play; so

extraordinary, in fact, is the power of Kannappar's story that Cêkkilâr

claims that merely by narrating it he will 'annihilate [his own] bad karma'

(v. 790). Both stories resonate with references to another child wielding

tremendous powers through play - Krsna - and emphasize that even

love for Siva manifest through violence to others or through bloody self

mutilation must be understood in the context of play. Using the metaphor

of play that is as old as the Brahmasütras to indicate the divine's imma

nence yet ultimate transcendence,77 Cêkkilâr takes great care to distinguish

this sort of devotional or divine play from the love-frolicking of the Jain

Cîvakacintàmani or the ghoulish play of Kâlï and her demonic retinue

in the Kaliñkattupparani. Whereas Clvakan's stunningly beautiful mother,

with her wide eyes, red lips, and heaving breasts, is said to be 'ambrosia for

the king [Cïvakan's father]' (vëntarku amutây) and the 'cause of his play'

(vïlaiyâtutarku ëtu) (v. 8), the 'play' of Cantëcurar lies in the actions of

ritual worship, in honoring his liñga of sand with loving devotion. Whereas

the warriors of the ferocious goddess Kâlï sever their own heads in sacri

ficial offering and then engage in a joyous dance of 'play' (vilaiyâtu)

(.Kaliñkattupparani, v. 113), Kannappar's self-sacrifice is born of tender love and affection, a maternal urge to nurture and heal. The erotic and

violent play of adults is here transformed into the innocent and loving play of children, even in its most violent manifestations.

Indeed, the loving play of the nâyanmâr and its seemingly inherent

potential for violence makes sense only in the broader context of love for Siva that is salvific, in the arena of a divine presence whose action

77 See Brahmasütra 2.1.33, the so-called lîlasutra or 'verse of play': lokavat tu

lïlâkaivalyam, 'play only, as in the world'. The sütra is discussed by Goodwin (1998:


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in the world is itself often likene

manner in which the Periyapurânam'

[and] play' results in the 'transfor

this brand of play tinged with terr evident throughout Cêkkilàr's text. of disguise, appearing at Cuntarar's pluck the young prince away from

to toy


the saint, again


the g

his feet against Cuntarar's head (vv.

his devotees/playmates, whether tha

of legs that interfere with ritual pl

thrown in great love at the liñga by

violence likened by Cêkkilâr to th

inpamë ) at the occasional teasing, p

(v. 3650). Siva enjoys the violent 'play

where his heroic (virar) devotee, Iya as they attempt to interfere in his

an indulgent parent watching the rou

enjoys even the most heinously viole

of love between lord and saint. The rivers of blood on the battlefield are

of no more cosmic or moral import than rivulets of water trickling through

a sandbox in the arena of lïlâ, where Siva serves simultaneously as lord,

referee, and playmate.

Indeed, all of the Saiva texts composed in Tamil during the twelfth century emphasize this theologically complex and productive notion of lord as player, including the first of the canonical philosophical works

that would, in later centuries, define the school known as Saiva Siddhânta.

Like the second of these philosophical treatises, the TirukkaUrrupatiyar (discussed above), the Tiruvuntiyâr (attributed to Tiruviyalür Uyyavanta

Tëvanâyanâr and dated to 1148 CE),78 has been dismissed by modem

Saiva scholars as 'minor' (Ponniah, 1952: 24) for its 'practically nil' philo

sophical content (p. 27). Yet, even through its very form, the Tiruvuntiyâr

develops a theology of Siva as personal lord specifically engaged with his devotees through the rubric of cosmic love-play. The refrain at the end of the second and third lines of each stanza that gives the text its name

- untî para, 'rise up and fly' ! - has been the source of some scholarly

confusion,79 but the phrase and structure of each stanza suggest a song

  • 78 References to the text refer to the edition found in Meykantacattiram (1994).

  • 79 Periyâlvàr, the great Vaisnava poet-saint of the late eighth or early ninth century,

devotes eleven verses to enjoining his audience to praise the grace and beauty of the

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form sung by young women playing a game perhaps akin to shuttlecock.80

Using the language of 'melting' (uruki) and 'attachment' (parru), the poet

presents a dynamic image of lord and devotee at play in the sea of ever

changing forms, inviting the devotee to break free of worldly bondage and

soar toward the lord's abode (v. 5):

He is both one (ëkanum) and not one (anëkanum).

He becomes our master (nâtan) - rise up and fly!

He grasps us - rise up and fly!81

Here and throughout the Tiruvuntiyâr, all activities of Siva are rendered in

the context of game-song, voicing a theological commitment to a vision of

divine power exercised through play that does not survive within the Saiva

Siddhânta philosophical system. The great fourteenth-century scholar and

consolidator of the Saiva Siddhânta school, Umàpati Civàcâriyàr, himself

author of eight of the fourteen canonical works, clearly limits the scope

child Krsna: 'Singing of the strength of our lord, fly! Singing the praises of our lord, fly' !

(Nâlâyirativyappirapantam, 1993: 150):

en nátan vanmaiyaip patip para

em pirân vanmaiyaip pâtip para

Moving closer to the Saiva world of the Tiruvuntiyár, Mànikkavàcakar's ninth-century Tiruvâcakam devotes twenty verses to the unti genre in praise of Siva's miraculous and

fearful exploits, focusing especially on his destruction of the three heavenly cities and the

decapitation of his father-in-law, Daksa:

[His] bow bent, the battle commenced,

and the three cities were vanquished - rise up and fly!

They went up in flames and burned together - rise up and fly!

From Mànikkavàcakar (1971: 344):

vafaintatu villu vilaintatu pücal

ulaintana mup puram untlpara

oruñku utan ventavâru untTpara

The Tiruvuntiyár mimics precisely the refrain of Mànikkavàcakar's unti song, but the

subject matter shifts significantly from Siva's heroic exploits to the nature of the human

condition vis-à-vis the lord. Pope (1995) translates the phrase untT para as 'fly away, UnthT'

or 'fly aloft, Unthï', Subramania (1912) translates the phrase as 'rise and fly'. Dhavamony

(1971) interprets the phrase and the poetic meter as one 'which children employ when

singing to the butterfly' (p. 175).

80 In this reading of the phrase, the title would mean 'those who play the holy unti game'.

According to the ninth-century Tamil lexicon known as the Piñkalanikantu, unti refers to 'a

game of Indian women somewhat akin to the English game of battled ore and shuttlecock'

{Tamil Lexicon, 1982: 417).


ekanum aki anekanum anavan



nâtanum ânân enru untl para nammaiyë ântân enru untT para

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of divine play envisioned in the Tiruv

Civappirakâcam, Umâpati 'declares tha

recognized in the system of Saiva Sidd

from God's gracious concern for the d

permissible to say that Siva's acts of and so forth, are his sports' (Hein, 19 Yet in the Tiruvuntiyâr, as in the P and defines seemingly all of Siva's act arrival in the world of form (cakalam form, he came and appeared - rise up the fetters that bind his devotees to

para: 'He cuts away attachments - ri

the lord - like the ritual play

of Cant

bloody sword of Iyaipakai on the play

understand; as Shulman (1985) notes

can never play


the rules, or even


the anguish of the devotee in search

each of the nâyanmâr to catch a gl

the god's vilaiyâtal [play]', for 'our to The extraordinary actions of devotees

make sense only within the theological context in which distinctions between

morality and immorality, good and evil,

in the world of Siva, and normative f

apply. Yet the love borne by Cantëcurar and Kannappar and expressed through

the violent 'play' of amputation and self-mutilation is a love tempered by,

wholly defined by, its association with tapas (Tamil tavam), the power

wrought by severe ascetic practice. Far from the love-'games' of Clvakan and his many consorts, love in the Periyapurànam is all-encompassing, emotionally overwhelming, a motivating agent in and of itself, but one

crafted in the fires of the renunciatory practices of meditation and self

denial. While nowhere does the text mention the institutional frameworks for medieval South Indian asceticism - there are no mathas (Tamil matam)

82 As Spariosu (1989: 2-3) remarks in his study of play as a philosophical category

newly reborn in Euro-American discourse:

On this view, play appears as a contingency-free, self-enclosed realm that nevertheless

manifests itself only in and through the phenomenal world. And it may be precisely this

amphibolous nature of play that accounts for its centrality in contemporary thought, where

it has become an expedient way of mending the age-old split between subject and object,

if not a universal remedy for all our metaphysical and practical problems.

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or monasteries, no àcâryas or teachers, no rites of dïksâ or initiation83

- virtually all acts of violence are prefaced with references to tapas

performed in previous lifetimes. Unlike the medieval Cola ulâ or proces sional poems discussed above, in which the king remains aloof from the

love-displays of his female subjects and walks away seemingly unaffected

(Shulman, 1985: 312-324; Ali, 1996: 183-215), no devotee of Siva - not

even the most powerful king, the most innocent child, or the most uncouth

and barbaric hunter - can remain unmoved by a vision of the lord. Even

Kannappar, utterly innocent of the name or nature of Siva, is utterly over

come by anpu or love at the sight of a stone liñga in the wilderness. Yet

such love, even in the case of the unlettered hunter, is made possible by the

tapas of former lives.

The emphasis that the Periyapuranam places on tapas as generating a

fiery heat or power must be understood against not only the backdrop of

the Jain Cïvakacintâmani but also in relation to older Saiva critiques of

Jains precisely because of their emphasis on renunciation and self-denial. As Peterson (1998) notes in her study of the first three Saiva poets, 'Jain

asceticism is a major target of the Saiva critique' (p. 170). In the poetry

of Appar (whose self-reflexive poetic comments suggest that he was once

himself a Jain renunciant) and Campantar in particular, Jain teachings and

lifestyle habits are ridiculed for their pointless severity, impugned in harsh

tones for an absurdly irrational focus that ultimately does nothing to lead

one toward Siva. As Appar, the ex-Jain, sings:

A shaven monk, I stood by the words

of the base, ignorant Jains.

  • I was a hypocrite, running away

and bolting the door at the sight of lotus-eyed young women.

A miserable sinner who did not know the Lord of Arur

who saved my soul and possessed me

  • I was one who starves to death,

begging for food in a deserted town.84

In this context, the Periyapuranam does nothing less than attempt to

rehabilitate the notion of tapas/tavam, making it a prerequisite of sorts

for the full and overwhelming experience of anpu that leads one to Siva.

  • 83 Given the fact that inscriptional evidence suggests the presence of numerous

Saiva monasteries with significant links to royal centers of power by the time of the

Periyapurânam's composition, this silence on the part of the text proves interesting. Does

the lack of reference to monastery and initiating teacher suggest that the text in some

way means to counter their ever-expanding influence in the Tamil-speaking South? Such a

question lies beyond the scope of this article and will be the subject of a forthcoming essay.

  • 84 Têvâram IV-5.8; translation from Peterson (1998: 169-170).

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Kannappar's story in particular high

role that tapas plays in setting the s

ence of love for the lord. Kannappar

Jain ascetic of earlier Saiva poetry; h

and hunt. Only eight verses into the however, the audience learns that Ka

simply a ferocious king of the jungl

have rendered him a mighty and cru

Even though he [Nàkan] had performed ascet

because of a subsequent birth he lived a life o

He lived well-established in cruelty.

He was one of great skill with the bow.

He was like an angry and ferocious lion. (v.

The power of that previous tapas/ta

seek help from the heroic warrior g

guileless Kannappar, as a young chie by a profound love, a feeling he doe

the holy mountain of Siva. The abilit

bloody from the kill of the hunt, to fe he does not know and has not yet seen of austerities performed in former live

He bore a love that became joy without end,

[due to] his storehouse of austerities perform

and he was overwhelmed by a limitless love.

Seeing the mountain of the Benevolent One

(enpu nekku uruki), while a tremendous desir

Kannappar's ability to be moved by t

on the 'storehouse' (Tttam) of tapa

from being an emotionally unstable

powered here by the work of ascetic

love in the context of divine play, is

of Cïvakan and his wives. This lov

former austerities continues, in the

the unthinking impulse to self-mutil

lord; so moved is Siva by this displa could endure [it] no longer' (tarittila

his devotee before a second eye is los

The destructive violence of the chi couched in terms of love fired in th

in former lives. While the child's

stripped of the sexuality of the adul toward his father results directly fr

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by previous tapas, here defined as unending performance of ritually loving

worship of the liñga:

[Although still] playing [as a child], through the unending succession of worship [rites]

performed there previously [in former lives], and with an ever-expanding love,

[Cantëcurar], under the àtti trees on the banks of sand on the Manni River, built with sand

the holy body of the one who rides the red-eyed bull and constructed a temple, surrounded

by tall kôpurams, as well as a shrine to Siva. (v. 1242)

Like Kannappar, the child Cantëcurar has no direct knowledge of Siva in

his present birth, no direct training in ritual worship in the temple setting.

What turns his heart from the cows he guards so tenderly to love for the

lord is this storehouse of rigorous worship and self-discipline. Anpu for

Siva is rendered unshakably strong through the power gained across many


Yet in these two brief references to tavam or tapas, and in the many such

references scattered through the Periyapuránam, the category of tapas

remains quite empty of content. What sort of worship did Cantëcurar do in

previous lives? What was the nature of Kannappar's and Nâkan's renuncia

tory practice? How did such practices render each character strong in this life? For how many lifetimes were such practices necessary before bearing fruit in the present existence? Not only does the audience find no answers

to such questions, but the text allows no room even to raise them. The focus of the Periyapuránam remains throughout the external expression, through

acts of devotion, of the love made possible through internal processes of

self-discipline that the audience does not witness first-hand. What matters

most to Cëkkilàr is not the content of tapas but its ultimate role in forging

a new vision of devotional love, replacing the torrid depictions of sexual

love and its sentiments ridiculed in texts such as the Cïvakacintâmani with

a heroic, martial love purified and made strong by self-discipline exercised

over many lifetimes.

This vision of tapas suffused with love, and of love built on the

foundations of self-denying austerities, challenges the vision of love and

asceticism found in the Jain Cïvakacintâmani in yet another way: by trans

forming the love wrought by tapas into a community-building enterprise,

in sharp contrast to the world-renouncing ethos of Jain literary presenta

tions of tapas. Tapas in the Periyapuránam is constitutive of worldly

community, the very basis upon which Siva's earthly gathering of loving

devotees thrives. In the Jain Cïvakacintâmani, the central character, having

grown disillusioned with his world of luxury and women, leaves society

behind in search of a wholly individual liberation. His final 'battle' -

against the karmic forces that ensnare his body - ends in victory, and Cïvakan undertakes his final 'marriage' vows to knowledge personified,

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the 'woman of liberating knowledge

a solo activity, liberation the ultimat

Yet tapas/tavam, as reconstituted b suffused with profound emotional a to forge human community, to rear

the central figure of Siva. As Haw

examining other Hindu hagiographie austerities in the Periyapurânam for

'extended sacral family' (p. xix) th

of the most violent nâyanmâr - the

example, who slaughters all his livin

family transformed in the world of S

In that way, the Lord Siva stood before the d

'With the sword in your hand,

you have cut away the fetters (pâcam) of you entering into the world above the golden wor they will reach us.

Oh glorious one! You come to us even now' ! Commanding [him thus], [the lord] gracious

Here and in the other instances of s

restores the worthy to life, rearrang

of affection with an intense love for th

reward. The worthy - those whose l

profound through previous tapas - ar

while the unworthy remain in their esting in this regard, and reading t Jain railing against sexuality and th

instances in which a violated female character is left out of Siva's restora

tion. Kalikkampar, for example, cuts off his wife's hand when she hesitates

at washing the feet of a visiting Saiva ascetic who was once their household

servant (v. 4024); he performs the rite of service, and only he is said to enter

into the 'shade of the feet of the one whose throat is adorned with poison'

0kalattil nañeam anintavar tal nilal kïr) (v. 4025). The wife of the great king and servant of Siva, Kalarciñkar, suffers horrible mutilation twice

over for having touched and then inhaled the fragrance of a flower intended

for the lord: first an ascetic, Ceruttunai, cuts off her nose (v. 4106), then

her own husband cuts off the offending hand that first touched the flower

(v. 4110). As above, nowhere does Cëkkilàr mention any restoration of the

wife's appendages. The community of Siva's devotees, it would seem, is

thus an exclusive one, one whose members have been tested and proven

their unfailing devotion, one reluctant to admit anything of the sexuality

that peripheral female characters introduce.

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One final way in which, following Umàpati's suggestion, the

Periyapurânam might be construed as an 'answer' of sorts to the Jain

Cîvakacintâmani lies in the characterization of Cuntarar or CuntaramOrtti,

arguably the central character among the nâyanmâr as presented by

Cëkkilâr. Repeatedly called Siva's van tontar or 'harsh devotee,85 - for

his continual demands that the lord provide him with gold (vv. 3265

3268) and serve as liaison to his estranged first wife (vv. 3467-3534)

- Cuntarar's story provides the framework for the entire text. Cëkkilâr opens with the story of Cuntarar's first wedding ruined by the appear

ance of Siva disguised as an old brahmin; he ends with the nâyanâf s

ascension to civalokam, Siva's heavenly abode, on a white royal elephant. In between, several episodes in Cuntarar's life are woven into the stories

of other nâyanmâr, with particular focus on his relationship with his two

wives: Paravaiyâr and Cañkiliyar. Cuntarar's centrality to Cëkkilàr's work is heralded early in the text, as the great sage, Upamanniyar (Upamanyu),

notes that 'through the grace of my father [Siva], the celebrated harsh

devotee, king of Nàvalar, will come to the south' (v. 27); to the assembled brahmins, he adds, 'he is worthy of our worship' (nam tolum tanmaiyân) (v. 29). Cuntarar's Tiruttontattokai is hailed as the basis of Cëkkilàr's text

(vv. 47-48), and the poet himself is called 'the lord's friend' (tampirân

tôlar) (v. 275). The language of mürti (Tamil mürtti, 'divine embodiment')

(v. 172)86 and avatâram (v. 90)87 is used throughout the text to refer both

to Cuntarar and his female consorts.

Yet why does Cëkkilâr so privilege the life of Cuntarar in his anthology

of nâyanâr stories? Is it because he is the author of the Tiruttontattokai, the

first poetic work to list the saints of Siva and the 'root' (mülam) (v. 4234)

of the Periyapurânam? Were that the case, one would expect, perhaps,

equal treatment of Cëkkilàr's two other sources: Nampi Àntâr Nambi

and Upamanyu. Was Cëkkilâr perhaps a particular devotee of Cuntarar,

eager to promote in his literary work the glories of his favorite among the

nâyanmâr? That, of course, will never be known for sure. Yet Umàpati's

claim that the Periyapurânam constitutes a Saiva response to the Jain

Cîvakacintâmani suggests another possibility. Read in that light (and given

the discussion of violence above), the characterization of Cuntarar - as an

eminently human devotee who struggles with his passions, who endures

  • 85 Vanmai in Tamil also connotes anger, violence, strength, and thoughtfulness.

  • 86 Here onlookers praise the beauty of the young Cuntarar on the eve of his wedding:

'To see him thus bejeweled is to see a virtuous mürti'.

  • 87 Here the reference is to the heavenly servant of Siva's consort taking incarnation

as Paravaiyàr, Cuntarar's first wife: 'Paravai made her womanly avatâram'. Verse 149

describes Cuntarar as having 'made a holy avatâram in order to raise up the world' (ulakam

uyyat tiru avatâram ceytâr).

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the trickery of his lord88 - emerges a Tiruttakkatëvar's Jain hero, Cïvakan.

Immediately striking upon reading

others told in the Periyapurânam is it

trickery. As discussed above, the Peri

deity of the sexuality afforded him

Siva here is paternalistic, a father figu

in the Tëvâram. Indeed, within the Tëvâram, it is Cuntarar's voice in

particular that voices the language of sexual love for lord Siva, exhib

iting precisely that sort of bodily love or bhakti that, as argued above,

the Cïvakacintâmani seeks to ridicule. In a hymn sung by Cuntarar at

Tiruvarür, for example, the poet, in the voice of a love-struck young

woman, invokes the birds, bees, and clouds to serve as messengers to her beloved; her plaintive refrain to her would-be ambassadors echoes with

love-sick desperation: 'Are you able to make [him] realize [the depths

of my love]' (unartta vallïrkalë)? (Tëvâram, Vll-37). Cuntarar speaks

to the sexually beguiling form of Siva Bhiksâtana in seventeen hymns

(Dorai Rangaswamy, 1990: 1250), where both Siva and his consort, no less the voice of the poet, take on their most sexually provocative language. The poet's entanglement with two wives leads, in his poetry, to startling

requests for material sustenance from the lord, ironically charging that Siva

himself knows full well the expense of living with two women:

You have a woman as half your self;

the Lady Gangâ lives on your spreading matted hair; you know well the problems of supporting two good women.

In Kuntaiyür surrounded by beautiful groves

I got some grain. Primal Lord, God of miracles,

send me men to carry the grain!89

These themes of sexuality, passion, and reliance on the material world

are elaborated by Cékkilâr at some length in the Periyapurânam. Like the

royal Jain hero of the Cïvakacintâmani, Cuntarar, although born a brahmin,

has his claims to kingship: he is adopted by King Naraciñkamunaiyar and

raised in the royal palace (v. 151). His story contains the only hints of

sexuality and the only open displays of affection between men and women

in the text, as when Cuntarar's first wife, Paravai, flies into a rage when she

learns of her husband's marriage to a second wife, suffering the physical sickness of separation typical of classical Tamil love poetry:

  • 88 As at Periyapurânam, vv. 230-233, where Cuntarar's sleep is repeatedly interrupted

by Siva, disguised as an old brahmin, who places his dusty feet upon the nâyanâr's head.

  • 89 Tëvâram VII-20.3; translation from Peterson (1989: 313-314).

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She was not able to rest in slumber on her bed [strewn with] soft petals, nor was she able

to rest in wakeful joy;

she could not sit on her seat of flowers and gold, nor was she able to stand or walk or go


she could not purge the shower of flower-darts [shot by] the god of love;

she could not think about [her] lord, nor could she forget him.

She was situation between the two - [the sorrow of] separation and sulking - both of which

melt one's bones, (v. 3474)

The scene of Paravai's joyous reunion with her husband evokes physical

union in a way not encountered in the life-stories of other married devotees

of Siva, however chaste and indirect the reference:

Praising the nature of the wealth of compassion and holy grace that the lord had performed

for them,

their minds were immersed in a flood of joy;

They become a single life,

in their positioning of one in the other, (v. 3540)

Cuntarar, as the sole nâyanâr whose domestic relations the audience

is allowed to witness at some length, provides a unique link in the

Periyapurânam among the themes of earthly life, sexuality, and feeling.

Such thematic patterns are also interspersed with scenes of tremendous humor - as Shulman (1985) notes, 'Cuntarar's checkered career is riddled

with comic episodes' (p. 251) - extending even to the final scene in which

Cuntarar's great friend, King Ceramàn Perumâl, is left standing at the gates of Siva's kingdom. When finally brought before the lord, bowing and showing all due respect, Siva inquires slyly: 'How is it that you have

come here without being invited by us' {inku nâm alaiyâmai nïeytiyatu en) (v. 4278)?90 Cuntarar berates his lord, as noted above, making requests for

money to support his wives, taunting the lord with images of his own divine

wife, and, in general, displaying much more of a full-bodied personality than his nâyanmâr companions.

Cuntarar is, in short, something of a counterpart to Clvakan, experi

menting with the domestic life while all the while being pulled toward the

deity. Cuntarar's relationships with his wives demand Siva's intervention;

love for lord and love for spouse are not wholly unrelated. Yet passion and

love must be tempered in a life of devotion to Siva; love is a legitimate

human experience, but human love always exists in tension with love for

the divine. When Cuntarar, for example, falls in love with the beautiful

Cañkili, he begs that Siva help him to marry the girl (v. 3391); through a series of dream interventions, Siva extracts a promise from Cuntarar, the

itinerant poet, that he will never leave this second wife (v. 3404). They are married, but soon the spring winds of love begin to blow, and Cuntarar is

90 This scene is discussed at some length by Shulman (1985: 253-256).

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drawn to see his beloved lord in Tirav

town, he is stricken with blindness:

As he left the expanse of the city

of Orri [Tiru

the ground before [him] was hidden from [his

In this odd give-and-take between g

must suffer for not being a good hus

leave his second wife (even if he do

Cuntarar, like Cïvakan, sings a song o of the Periyapurânam (v. 4263),91 it i of Siva's holy mountain, in the compa heaven as servants of the goddess. W

variety of characteristics - their trave - Cuntarar offers a markedly differen

and freedom from earthly bonds mean



the Jain

text, but

a life




Love, tested in the human realm and te

a vital part of Cuntarar's narrative trajec


Ironically, perhaps, many of the literary techniques used by Cë

forge a new vision of anpu or devotion to Siva can be traced

sources. While seeking to recover the value of love as the found bhakti against the challenges posed by the Cîvakacintâmani (as w works in the ulâ and parani genres), Cëkkilâr borrows heavily f very Jain material he seeks to resist. This is particularly clear looks to the Jain Sanskrit tradition of purâna composition, part the Mahâpurâna attributed to two ninth-century Digambara mo

Karnataka: Jinasena, author of the Àdipurâna, and Gunabhadra, a

the slightly later Uttarapurâna.92 Cïvakan's (Sanskrit JIvandhar

is first told in the latter text, Gunabhadra's Uttarapurâna.93 By

day, several version of the Mahâpurâna existed in other lan

  • 91 Here Cuntarar sings a hymn meant 'to eradicate the bonds of this world'

pâcam atutía). Shulman (1985: 253) reads this as a gloss on the hymn Cuntarar re

beginning with the lines: 'I hate the householder's life; I have renounced it c

(veruttën manaivâlkkaiyai vittolintën) (Tëvâram VII-4.8).

  • 92 For a brief overview of the contents of the texts, see Cort (1993: 191-195).

  • 93 For an English translation of the text, see Hultzsch (1922).

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including the Apabhramsa version of Puspadanta and the Kannada version

of Câmundarâya (both tenth-century).94

When considering the Periyapuranam in light of Jain material to which

it may have been responding, several characteristics - oft noted in the scholarship, but seldom developed - strike even the casual reader imme

diately. First, there is the name. Periyapuranam, albeit the text's popular name rather than its formal title, is a direct Tamil translation from the

Sanskrit Mahâpurâna, or 'Great Collection of Ancient Stories'. Like the trisastisalâkâpurusa or 'sixty-three great beings' of the universe whose lives are narrated in the Mahâpurâna,95 Cëkkilàr narrates the stories of

sixty-three 'leaders' or nâyanmâr. Peterson (1994), in fact, argues that the Mahâpurâna tradition of sixty-three great beings provided the impetus to

the 'canonization' of the nâyanmâr (p. 196). Yet why would Jain literature provide such a compelling model for a twelfth-century Tamil Saiva poet? Certainly the Mahâpurâna narratives

are full of the kind of martial heroism with which Cëkkilàr infuses a

redefined bhakti, stripped of the eros so maligned by earlier Jain literature

in Tamil. Jina means 'victor', and the Mahâpurâna paints a martial view

of the jina as the victor over karma (Dundas, 1991: 173-174). Like the

most violent among Cëkkilâr's nâyanmâr, Bâhubalï, son of the first Jina,

Rsabha, is a 'heroic figure', a 'Jain warrior' (p. 180), yet he suddenly

withdraws from mortal combat with his brother to become an ascetic.

While stridently martial in tone, the Mahâpurâna's ascetic warriors are

combatants against karma, against the passions and bodily ties to this

world. As Strohl (1984) notes in his study of the Àdipurâna of Jinasena, 'the weapons of the mendicant warrior are considered to be the variety of lists of vows, qualities, virtues, and modes of self-restraint' (p. 108).

Images of violence and battle, in the Jain literary tradition, are invoked -

as in the Periyapuranam - to a new end: renunciation of the world to be

a warrior against the karma that enslaves us all. The story of Jïvandharà

makes explicit the connection between worldly power and personally

transformative, inner power:

With joined hands, I salute that lord JTvandhara who, in consequence of former good deeds,

won eight virgins hard to be won by others; who at the head of battle dispatched into the other world the enemy who had killed his father; and who became an ascetic, dispelled the

  • 94 Cort (1993: 205) provides a useful chart of pre-modem Jain purânic composition.

Peterson (1998: 179) suggests that Câmundarâya's Kannada text is the true source of

Cëkkilàr's inspiration, not the Cîvakacintâmani.

  • 95 These are the twenty-four Tírthañkaras or Jinas, the twelve Cakravârtins or world

rulers, and the twenty-seven Baladevas, Vàsudevas, and Prati-Vâsudevas. For a discussion

of the characteristics of each, see Cort (1993: 196-202).

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darkness of his deeds, and was illumined by


Throughout the Mahâpurâna, from

Jïvandhara, the warrior's weapons of warrior of the Mahâpurâna is the pra karma-burning tapas, literally 'heat',


While Cëkkilâr, as discussed above, tempers his vision of divine love

with insistence that it be accompanied by tapas, the Periyapurânam would

seem to depart from the Jain images of martial and heroic figures by

insisting on a movement outward rather than inward; anpu for Siva must

be externalized, enacted in the world. Whereas Jain heroes renounce the

world entirely, turning their weapons to the karmic ties that bind one to

samsara, Cëkkilâr's nâyanmâr must outwardly display - through gentle

acts of supplication, through violent responses to service interrupted - their

unswerving devotion to the lord. Where Bàhubalï's warrior asceticism has

him enduring 'hunger and thirst, cold and heat, both gadflies and gnats, for

the sake of full success in movement along the [Jaina] path' (Strohl, 1984:

104), Cëkkilâr's characters emote openly, flying into rages at interruptions

to their acts of devotion, giving up life and home to wander singing the

praises of the lord. Their tapas, whether Cantëcurar's or Kannappar's,

sends them out into the world to display heroically their devotion to Siva.

Cëkkilâr's vision of the v/eurior-bhakta, constructed against the back

drop of Jain images of the warrior-ascetic, presents new possibilities

for kingly behavior, possibilities strenuously denied throughout the Mahâpurâna. In the Jain presentation of kingship in the Mahâpurâna

- as in the Tamil Cïvakacintâmani - dharma and rule are antithetical:

Jïvandhara cannot win liberation while engaged in the world of kingdom

and consorts; Bàhubalï moves from the world of chaos and violence to one of serene practice and movement 'along the Jain path'. There is, in

short, no dharma for kings allowed in the Mahâpurâna (Strohl, 1984:

1092); the royal duties of war and engagement in the world prevent any

true upholding of the ascetic ideals that define the Jain moral system. The

Periyapurânam, however, offers here a markedly different vision of king ship for its royal sponsor: a vision of spiritual warfare, of the weak made

strong (as in the stories of the child-saint, Cantëcurar and the innocent

hunter, Kannappar) through rigorous engagement with the external world,

what Shulman has, as noted above, called the Tamil tendency toward the

'externalization' of emotion. Cëkkilâr's vision of anpu for the lord is

infused with the Jain elements of vira, 'the heroic', but those elements are turned outward for display to the world, making possible a life of engaged

worldly activity while pursuing a path toward Siva and his grace.

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Cêkkilâr's depictions of violence done in the name of devotion to

interspersed with descriptions of profound love expressed in far

ways - thus emerge as central to a vision of religious life lived i

engagement with the world, an active engagement ridiculed in its

and passions by the Jain Cïvakacintâmani and in the medieval lit

genres of parani and ulâ. Using the imagery of the martial warrior

from the Jain purânic tradition, the Periyapurânam constructs a v

rigorous - even heroic - bhakti at work in the world.

While Umâpati's comment about Cêkkilâr's intended audien

steered this study in the direction of Jain literature, equally possi

foil of sorts - for Cêkkilâr's text is the growing popularity of Krsna-r

Vaisnava traditions in twelfth-century South India. The Periyapur

the first Tamil text to use the term avatâram (Sanskrit avatâra),

reserved for Vaisnava accounts of god's earthly incarnations. Cun

said to take earthly form (avataritta) in Tirunâvalûr to foster Vedic Sa there (v. 148); as noted above, at his birth he is said to be an avatâram

heavenly self (v. 149). Mânakkaficâranâr becomes a 'holy avatâram

avatâram ceytâr) (v. 877), while Siva's holy ash is deemed 'the

avatâram' (mülam avatâram) (v. 1231). So ubiquitous and unique

Saiva use of avatâram terminology, one wonders if it might not s argue for Siva's enduring presence in the world; although he neve

full incarnational form, his favored devotees and holy ash do.

Such use of avatâram language is coupled with a number of

that seemingly seek to turn upside-down the pastoral images of frolicking with his gopï friends. As noted above, both Cantêcura

Kannappar begin their lives steeped in the ethos of Krsna: Can

befriends a cow being molested by a herdsman and takes up the

caring for the entire herd; Kannappar's village in the forest is the

many playful scenes with the local girls. Ànâyar is the master of t

(vv. 931-972). Yet these bucolic, pastoral settings reminiscent of boyhood home steer their emotion-laden characters in decidedly directions; for both Kannappar and Cantêcurar, the experience o

neither sexually charged nor gentle. The pastoral realm of Krsna

an arena for the martial display of utmost devotion of lord Siva.

Whether influenced by Jain literary tradition or Vaisnav

Periyapurânam clearly does not emerge from a literary vacuum;

it is a complex and sophisticated narrative in dialogue with a wide genres and sectarian traditions. The construction of Saiva identity

here - the single-pointed focus, the engagement in the world - in conversation with and resistance to a variety of texts. As a li

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product of the 'productive encounter'

and Saivas in medieval South India, the

Periyapuranam belies the indebtedness

counterparts. As Spiegel (1993) notes in

in thirteenth-century France, the telling

adverse historical change beneath the



narrative' (p. 10), imagining cl

fact, historical reality is far more co his study of violence in medieval Spai

violence as necessary for the peacefu

violence is merely one form of 'asso

Cëkkilâr's treatment of non-Saivas, hi

easy victories over adversaries, perhaps Periyapuranam itself: complex patterns

of resistance accompanied by borrowin

As Cëkkilâr seeks to frame a life lived in utter devotion to Siva

against a Jain backdrop of sarcastic denigration of passion and violence,

literary aesthetic theory emerges as a significant marker of religious iden

tity. Against the Cîvakacintâmanïs evocation of the rasa or meyppâtu of

bïbhatsa or 'the disgusting', leading eventually to the renunciation of the

world and sânta, 'the peaceful', Cëkkilâr posits a new form of srngâra,

'the erotic', here stripped entirely of eros, redirected toward the lord, and

infused with a hearty does of vira, 'the heroic'. He turns the Jain use of

heroic imagery outward, focusing not on the ascetic's inner powers of

transformation but on life lived in complete and passionate engagement

with the world. Nowhere are the relative ontological or epistemological merits of Jainism and Saivism taken up for discussion; the heart of the debate between the Periyapuranam and the Cïvakacintâmani would seem

to be the relative value of human emotions, the extent to which the rasas can lead one to self-transformation. The use of such aesthetic elements

in defining and articulating sectarian identity in pre-modem South Asia

demands further scholarly attention.


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