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Lessons on Tamil Saivism


By Dr K. Loganathan, Mey. 2003


Dear Friends,

There has been many requests that I should write in layman's terms about the essence of Saivism especially as developed by the Tamils. Well I believe the time has come for me to write something about it though I am not sure whether it can be simple as desired as some of the insights that agitate the Saiva way of life, have a profundity that may be difficult to put in simple terms. However I shall try and I hope the members can participate in it actively by raising issues and questions so that it develops as an useful attempt.

First of all we notice that I am isolating Tamil Saivism so that what I say does not apply to Saivism as a whole for Saivism is widespread in India from Kashmir to Kumari and I do not have the expertise to deal with it all. Also even though practicing Saivites , their philosophical understanding ranges very widely --  within Saivism and even within the Tamil variety of it there are so many different schools of thought that it can be really bewildering. And this despite the growth of Saiva Siddhanta, the most favored metaphysical understanding and to which I subscribe. So this account will be my personal view , how I understand Saivism and hence not an objective study that would furnish all the information available in the name of Saivism


Lesson 1

Q1:  What kind of a religion is it?

Right from the beginning I must say Saivism is DIFFERENT from cultic Saivism where only Siva archetypes are worshipped. It would include the worship of the different deities -- VishNu, Muruka, Ambal, Ganesha and a host of others. As Punitavati, Arunandi, Tirumular and all other leading Saivites have mentioned and emphasized, all these archetypes are also Siva and in fact are the different presentational forms of BEING ( Siva) and hence in a way worshipping these murtties we are also worshipping Siva for Siva remains as the GROUND, the Deep Structure of all these muurttams or archetypes. Thus the Tamil Saivism is quite accommodative is this respect and you can see this in all major Saivite temples. Even in Citambaram , the holiest of all Saiva temples,  we have VishNu installed right in front of the Ponnambalam and due arcanas given. In fact I must mention that Tamil Saivism seeks to bring people to the state of Camayatiitam, the transcending of all religions and attain a purity of mind where such sectarian issues are made irrelevant.

Q2. Is there a history to it?

Yes a hoary history in fact and I have to mention a bit on this in order to correct the the propaganda in which Saivism has been said to be an Aryan or IndoAryan religion thrust upon the Tamils and the Tamils owe their religion to foreigners. Unfortunately there is no truth in this at all and appears to be simply an Aryan Myth invented to boost their racialism.

My studies of the Sumerian texts show that Sumerian is Archaic Tamil and belonging to a period before the second millennium B.C. well before even Rig Veda. Furthermore another astonishing thing is that even Rig Veda is Archaic Tamil , a kind of Tamil a bit later than the Sumerian. The study is on going and many articles are available in my web sites. It is also being  gradually accepted by scholars. Saivism was already present in all its essentials in the Sumerian times itself and during the historical period we only see a continuation of trends already present in Sumerian times itself. The hymns of Enhudu Anna, especially the Kes Temple Hymns is good evidence for this claim.

Many articles are available on this in the SumeroTamil Campus

Saivism appears to have grown gradually from very primitive stages where originally it was essentially the religion of the agriculturists and we must remember here that the ancestors of the Tamils were probably the earliest people who managed to tame the rivers through irrigation and begin  agriculture as we know today and along with it the beginnings of civilization itself with settlements that were called Ur, a name still retained. Primitive Saivism appears to have been a kind of religion that catered for the needs of the agricultural folks. Their metaphysical thinking that brought about great advances in the understanding of the mysterious had their roots in the agricultural practices that were the mainstay of their economic life.


Q3. What are the basic scriptures of Tamil Saivism?

There are different views on this some certainly quite mistaken and against the essential spirit of Saivism. Tamil Saivism is very OPEN and hence would accommodate all the scriptures of the world. It is similar to the acceptance of all archetypal manifestations , the muurties ,  as the different manifestations of one and the same BEING, Sivam. So all the scriptures in the world are essentially disclosures of BEING and therefore those who can penetrate and go beyond the surface features can see BEING, Siva there as well.

Thus in the past we see Tirumular accepting the Vedas and Agamas but along with noting the differences between them.  We can extend that spirit  to all scriptures with the proviso that we recognize also the differences among them.

Having said this, let me add that the foundational Saiva scriptures exist both in Tamil and Sanskrit.  In Tamil we have Tevarat TirmuRai and in Sanskrit we have the 28 Agamas. Over and above these we have also the 14 meykaNda sastras that seek out the metaphysics implicit in the TirumuRai corpus.

I must also add here the different types of PuraNas. The foremost among them  is KantapuraNam of Kacciyyappa SwamikaL ( 14th.cent) which weaves into a massive epic the ancient stories about Tirumurukan. Next in importance comes TiruvuLaiyaadal puraNam, containing within itself mythical themes that go  back to prechristian era. In this Purana we have tales related to the Madurai Minadci Amman temple and we find the tales related Tadaatakai Piraaddi, the ancient Queen of the Pandyas,  stories about whom even the Greeks mention.

Over and above these we have  the TalapuraNaas, hundreds in number but among which Ceetu PuraNam TaNikai puraNam and so forth are very famous. Such puranas  began to be produced from about the 12th cen and were continued to written even during the 19th cent. In some quarters this still continues.

Now I must mention that many Saivites are moved by the verses of AruNakiri Natar ( 14th cent) where his Tirupukaz, songs in praise of Tirumurukan are sung by many devotees. To this class we can also add the Tiruvarudpaa of Iramalingka SwamikaL of the 19th cent.

Personally I would include in this the Nalayira Tivvya Pirapantam that centers on devotion to BEING as NarayaNa.  The Tiruvaaymozi of Namazvaar that I sang (to my own tune) along with Tiruvaasakam in my youth, have contributed to develop my spirituality immensely .

Q4. Can you give some details on the TirumuRai Corpus?

Well their systematic organization is attributed to the great RajaRaja Chola ( 10th cent) and who did it with the help of NambiyaaNdaar Nambi, a great scholar as well as hymnologist of the times. This Corpus is organized into 12 books where the first  seven are called the Adangkan MuRai and contains the hymns of Sambantar Appar and Sundarar in that order and which is not historical. The first Three books are those of Tirunjana Sambantar, the second three that of Appar or Triunaavukkarasar and the the seventh that of Sundarar. Appar and Sambantar were contemporaries with Appar quite aged at the time he met with Sambantar, a Brahmanah of the famous Kaundinya Gotra but who was immensely proud of his  proficiency in Tamil so much so he called himself the Tamil Virakan. He has given the enormously important philosophical term " TiruneRi" to describe the bakti dominated Saivism of the times.

The 8th Book is very famous Tiruvaasakam of Maanikkavasakar and the 9th his Tiurukkovaiyaar. It is said that Tiruvaasagam is the most moving bakti poetry in existence and it will never  fail to melt the heart of anyone who would try to sing the verses in them.

Tirukkoovaiyar is difficult to place. It is a book more an analysis of the dynamics of the soul's journey to unite with Siva in terms KaLaviyal, the science of consummation of marriage. It can be seen as metaphysical text that seeks to analyze and understand the dynamics of spiritual life in terms of the KaLaviyal type of analysis that have been with the Tamils  from the days of Tolkaappiyam

The 10th book is Tirumular's Tirumantiram  a massive book of 3000 verses and quite encyclopedic in its coverage. It has served as foundation for the Tamil Siddhas.

The 11th book is peculiar for it includes all the relevant Saiva literature that has been left out in the above collections. Here we find the most ancient of all , TirumurukaaRRuppadai of Nakkirar belong to CaGkam epoch ( 2nd A.D.). Included here are also the historically important works of Punitavatiyaar,  also known as Kaaraikkaal Peyar, the woman poet of outstanding merits who with her Muutta Tiruppatikam set the literary style for the Tevaram Adangkan MuRai.

The 12th and final is the rightly famous Periya puRanam which is a biographical sketch of the 63 Nayanmars. It is quite revolutionary for  the heroes sung are just ordinary people from all walks of life but who distinguished themselves with their unflinching devotion to Siva. One puzzling aspect of this Periya PuraNam of Cekkizar ( 12th cent) is the omission of Manikkavasakar from the list of Nayanmars.

Lesson 3

Q 5.

So far we have seen the primary scriptural corpus of Tamil Saivism and in which the Tevarat TirumuRai holds the most significant place. The very ancient Saivism assumes a new dimension and depth with the availability of these hymns and which freed the Tamil Saivites from depending on other scriptures. But then what is essential new dimension that is contained in these scriptures?

Answer: The new dimension or the recovery of something that was already there but long lost or a reshaping of a notion that was already there in other schools of thought is that of Moksa, Viidu PeeRu and so forth which is described colorfully by TiruvaLLuvar as ‘piRavip peruGkadal Niintal” (swimming across river of existence), by Punitavati “piRappu aRuttal”. “Miindum piRavaamai’  (putting an end to existential repetition) and so forth. This belongs to what is called the Purusharttas in Sanskrit and prior to the Bakti period it was simply aRam (righteousness) PoruL (Economic well being) and Inbam (happiness).

This presupposes that all creatures ACT and  in order to attain the above kinds of things. During this period, it emerged that the REAL GOAL of existence, the life we live is for attaining Moksa and the economic and so forth are only instrumental, they allow us to live but in themselves do not  provide the Final Meaning for Existence itself.

This line of development can also be traced back to Tolkappiyam where through an existential analysis of what actually people do, using the language in use to access the mind, it is noted that ‘imbam enpatu taam taam meevaRRaakum” - Happiness depends upon what each individual seeks. For some it is sexual happiness, for others political power and kingship over many countries, and for the scholarly victory in verbal disputes etc.

However as the this kind of metaphysical understanding that accommodates the  natural and seeks to unravel the mystery behind it all, developed and touched the ground levels, they discovered at the deepest what the human beings desire is Moksa and that it is the attainment of this which will give the deepest satisfaction.

Thus we have here a hierarchical view the dynamics of Human Behavior, different people see the fundamental meaning of existence differently and that the genuine metaphysical individuals do not seek anything earthly but rather the severance from all the earthly desires and seek only being-with-BEING as the really meaningful achievement.

This is the reason for metaphysical or religious life and to which different people may be drawn differently. In fact it is recognized that there can even be people who do not recognize this fundamental desire deep within them and because of which they are atheistic materialistic and so forth. There may be others who recognize this but do not have a clear understanding of it and who may even construct metaphysical systems to justify their conception of it and so forth.

The Saivites who have an understanding of the essences of Saiva Metaphysics, acknowledge such differences and attribute them to various degrees of removal of the metaphysical blindness with the hope and firm believe that BEING who plays various kinds of pedagogic games will open up the eyes of the metaphysically blind and make them SEE at some point in time this truth.

Meanwhile they continue going to the temple, worshipping the different deities with the hope that BEING would play the necessary pedagogic games that would take them from the Darkness of Ignorance to the Light of Civanjanam, that which would afford this Moksa.


Lesson 4

Q 6: You said that the Saivites while required to remain open for different individuals to go along their own chosen ways, are required however to go to the TEMPLES and worship the deities there. What is so important about Temple Worship?


The temple going is a must at the initial stages where one remains still ignorant of the metaphysical world. Certainly the experience of the Divine is possible, as in Shintoism, in the experience of NATURE itself. In fact the primitive stages of Saivism is similar to Shintoism where outstanding natural features are taken to be indicative of the presence of the divine powers. Immense rivers, hills and dales, caves of wonder, the intriguing trees and bushes, anthills, flowers of immense beauty, medicinal plants and so forth continue to be worshipped by the commoners. To this day many temples are erected around trees, riverbanks and caves.

However, when the mind became more cultured and better tuned to the Divine presence in the world,  huge and well organized temples were built, quite often  guided by the divine forces themselves for exploring better the metaphysical realms where gods reside as the celestial beings. As they say in SumeroTamil literature, Lord Siva lowered down the Temple to help people to enter divine world directly.

Simply put the Temple is a TEXT in the form of an architectural monument the reading of which will  take the understanding of such individuals to the celestial realms which is the essential purpose of religious life. Thus though there are hymns, scriptures, and philosophical texts and so forth, the TEMPLE remains the text par-excellence and because of its VISUAL and AUDITORY style, the most effective for facilitating the experience of the divine world.

And of course there will be different individuals benefiting differently the temple experience itself. Some may simply glance at the various deities and soak in the mantras only partially. However the mind of even such individuals is transported to another realm through the specific kind of ecological design of the temple that works on them and unknown to them.  As such when the  temple going becomes well established and the mind of the individual more and more in tune with the concealed realities behind the sculptures and so forth, the person begins to have more and more moving and esthetically uplifting metaphysical experiences which also transform the personality of the person into something better.

The temple activities are traditionally divided into Sariyai, Kriyai Yoga and Njanam. The Sariyai are gross bodily actions like keeping the temple clean, the practice of charity and so forth. The Kriyai are the mantra recitals for specific deities. The Yoga are meditative practices where the deities are directly experienced and through various kinds of dialogues, deep metaphysical truths are learned. The Njanam are metaphysical discourses indulged in to attain further clarities into essence of Civanjanam.

Most of the people may not graduate above the Sariyai and Kriyai and such people are required to continue with temple worship along with listening to the spiritual discourses by qualified Sivaccariyas who would clarify the relationship between temple worship and spiritual experiences.

However it should also be noted that there is continuity along with differences in these various paatas, or divisions of religious life and it is to be located in Icon Thinking. Each deity is an ICON, a Muurttam, a presentational form of BEING in which is encrypted a kind of metaphysical message that a worshipper  can get to know provided he moves from worshipping the deities into interrogating into their meanings.

A temple going individual will not benefit much by it if he remains just simply a worshipper. Each icon must become not only an object reverence but also a TEXT that tells something by the graphical design and the incorporations of various kinds of symbolic elements like the Crescent Moon, the Ganges, the Snake, the Vel, the Tricuul and so forth. They ll MEAN SOMETHING deep and every effort must be made to get at the meanings of such symbolic elements.


Lesson 5

Q 7: You said that temple going is a must of all Saivites for them to access and explore the Metaphysical realms where resides the gods. Now does this mean it should be OPEN to all and that this must be so despite any differences in terms of race, sex, birth, language, nationality and so forth?


Yes most certainly. In the true Tamil Saivism caste differences and any such differences are inapplicable , especially so in temple worship. A temple is a gift of God, something He creates Himself by playing on the mind of people and hence it belongs to all. Tamil Saivism  upholds Ati VarNasrama Dharma as the True Dharma and in the modern context it should be taken to mean: a metaphysical way of life that would promote all  individuals rise ABOVE differences that come along with birth. A denial of entry and full participation in the temple rituals is a crime against God that NO SAIVITE SHOULD COMMIT. The Saivites should practice the art of humanizing the human mind and giving equal rights to all is an essential part of it.

Anyone sincerely interested in gaining an understanding of the Depths of the human mind, must be allowed full access into the temple without any restrictions whatsoever.

Q 8:

Now more than such nice sounding pleas, are there any irrefutable REASONS for advocating this OPENNESS?

A: Yes there is. Human beings seek UNDERSTANDING in various ways. The temple, in contrast to other institutions, promotes Metaphysical Understanding that would clarify the Ultimate Meaning of Existence as that of attaining Mukti and thereby escape from the eternal and painful cycle of births and deaths. Now that understanding that would finally liberate an anma thus is Civanjanam as Meykandar and so many other Saivite philosophers have said and  it is ALREADY there in the mind of all, IRRESPECTIVE of any differences in caste, nation, ethnicity, language, religion and so forth. What the temple and related experiences do is to let this Civanjanam shine forth even more resplendently by helping them to remove some of the obstructions or dirt   within that disfigure this njaanam. In other words all individuals are endowed with Njana Samattuvam, equality in terms of the RIGHTS for metaphysical illuminations and it is supremely unethical to go against this birth right of all.

Q9: Now does this mean you do not exercise any control whatsoever?

A: No, it doesn’t mean that -- there are some controls but such controls are like those of the Open Societies that impose controls and regulations to remain OPEN. When a Christian enters the temple with a genuine thirst for the metaphysical understanding it affords, we should allow him to worship overlooking the fact that he is a Christian. However when he enters the temple with a view to convert the institution itself to that of the Christians (as it has happened in many places) we must FIGHT vigorously to maintain the essence and independence of the temple. This applies also to Muslims and others who are intolerant of Icon Thinking and so forth.

The temple’s very nerve is Icon Thinking and any zealots against it, must be kept away from it even if he comes with some Hindu guise.

Now even upon the Saivites, I would impose some restrictions but not severely especially upon those who refuse to follow the minimal rules of congregational behavior and who would thereby DISRUPT the sanctity of the atmosphere the rituals and prayers would create. A good example is Bodily Purity by way seeking spiritual purity and for which purpose it is prescribed that we have a bath, wear clean garments and wash the feet and hands prior to entering the temple.

These are the Anustanams, prescribed forms of ritual behavior designed to prepare the individuals MENTALLY to benefit maximally from the Temple Experience.


Lesson 6

Q 10.

You have said that to maintain the essential cultural ethos of the temples there are some prescriptions that should be maintained. Now in this would you include the Vegetarian diet as something that all temple goers must follow as an essential anustanam?


A: Let me react to this in my own personal way and which may be controversial in the sense all Saivites may not agree with it. So let me clarify it in this way.

Vegetarian diet is NOT feasible for all and autobiographical sketches of many mystics show that there may not be strict correlation between enjoying deep metaphysical visions and practicing vegetarianism. We also have pure vegetarians and for generations but who are heartless monsters and who have killed mercilessly thousands of human beings. But nevertheless there is something BEAUTIFUL about being a vegetarian for it indicates SPIRITUAL PURITY and the presence of COMPASSION of all creatures. So I support Vegetarianism purely on ESTHETIC grounds, a kind sympathetic sensitivity to the general presence the anmas in various life forms and they EVOLVING into the higher species, the non-humans remaining still lower in this evolutionary ladder. It is difficult for me to answer questions like: aren’t the plants too living and in plucking the greens and fruits are we not killing etc? There is NO KILLING here in the way I understand ‘killing’.

There can be endless discussions on this and sometimes even quite irrelevant questions raised like the one who asked me whether seawater is vegetarian because fish live there.  This problem is like the sense of beauty that people have where the higher are only rarely achieved and that too only by the evolved souls. So I believe there comes a point where when the humanizing efforts of the human soul are quite successful, the choice of vegetarian diet becomes quite natural.

So such a choice is related to the development of a person in the direction of LOVE and COMPASSION, and it must be set as the ideal towards which all Saivites must aspire and the temple culture must promote it because of that.

Existence is a struggle between people of different tribes (in many senses) where sometimes killing and eliminating the enemies by such killing is unavoidable. This also applies to the various kinds of struggles between the human beings and animals. There are occasions to be kind and gentle and occasions to be angry and violent. We have to fight against disease carrying germs and creatures, which harbor and spread them. But at the same we must also create sanctuaries even for the wildest beasts so that they  too can exist and multiply.

The general rule in all such matters is that: cultivate LOVE and COMPASSION within your heart and respond to the different situations in accordance with that and where sometimes even violence and killing may be demanded.

However the Saivite temples must promote Vegetarianism to be consistent with the IDEALS that Saivism sets up.

But how?

During the time of festivals marriages and such other occasions ONLY VEGETARIAN FOOD must be allowed within the precincts of the Temple. If people insist on non-vegetarian feasts and so forth, they should be NOT allowed within the temple precincts but may be outside. On the whole it must be discouraged but not forced. There are many individuals who are good Saivites but who cannot stand vegetarian diet. Even here we van encourage various kinds of Viratams where only vegetarian food is allowed. We can also encourage vegetarianism at least on those days they go to the temples so that the heart becomes more and more humane etc.

The same rules apply to alcoholic beverages.  These dull the mind and when people become addicts, they lose all their mental capacities for enjoying the Icon Thinking or for that matter any form of thinking, making the whole of temple culture or even living itself quite useless for them.



Q 11.

Another important issue is about the Tiiddu, the taboos that serve as principles that can be used to restrain the baktas from benefiting by temple experience. What do you have to say on this?


Again I offer my personal views, which may not be agreeable to all. While some taboos or  tiiddues have a rational basis for them, some others do not. People seem to be practicing them either as superstitions or camouflaged attempts to constraint a section of the people from temple functions more for historical reasons than anything else.

In this we have the menstrual discharge of women taken  as constituting a tiiddu and hence used to prohibit   temple going to women during this period.

Now when I search for a good reason for this taboo, I cannot find anything at all. The menstrual discharge is biological just like the discharges of excreta both in the solid form and liquid form and something common to both men and women. If men are allowed into the temple and perform as the priests all the prayers and so forth after a good bath, I believe this also applies to women suffering menstrual discharge. This bodily happening is the discharge of the unfertilized ovum so that the oviduct becomes clean again. The discomforts of the past  are no more as there are good sanitary napkins and so forth.

Could it be that it is a  social device invented by men-priests to keep away women from playing an active role in the temple affairs including being priestesses and so forth?

Yes I think so. For historically we find women as head priestesses in the deep past as we can see in Sumerian temples. We have En Hudu Anna, the daughter Sargon the Great serving also as the head priestess of the Temple in the city. Her literary productions Sirbiyam and Kes Temple Hymn are the best metaphysical verses to have come down from the Third Millennium world and immensely impressive to this day.

This must have been widespread practice in those days but somehow declined because the arise of patriarchal religions throughout the world such as Jainism and Buddhism and so forth that began to promote the Left Hemispherical functions in that also suppressed the Right Hemispherical and against which Tamil Saivism and VaishNavism protested. It is NOT an accident that the person who spearheaded this recovery was another brilliant woman, Punitavati who with her brilliance gave the grammar itself for the literary forms for Bakti literature itself.

I have seen lay husband and wife team serving as priests and doing all the arccanas and so forth in the Saiva Temples in South Africa and without any damage into the spiritual ethos prevailing in the temple during these moments.

The sanctity is a matter of the spirit and as long over and above the body, the MIND is kept clean, that is sufficient to qualify one not only to enjoy entry into the temple but also do the priestly functions there. For Lord Siva, Himself being Ardhanari, who gives forever  and equal place for the Woman in His body, it would be ridiculous to say that He would not also approve an equal position for woman in His own house.

We should also notice here that worshipping BEING as Man-Woman remains still peculiar to Saivism and hence perhaps it is only Saivism that could maintain and have a metaphysical justification for equality of women in temple affairs and this even during periods of menstrual discharge and so forth.

Such biological phenomena are natural and belong to the same phenomena as other biological discharges common to all. And over and above requiring that the body be kept clean by having a good bath and so forth, they should not enter into considerations into temple entry priestly functions and so forth.



Q 12.

Now in connection with Tiiddu/ taboo, there is one more important issue. The Hindu people are barred from temple going when someone close to them dies and this prohibition holds for about 14 days, till the Karumak Kiriyai or antiyeeddi ceremony and so forth. Till then such people are considered polluted. Why should death be polluting?


This is also another notion that I do not understand very well but nevertheless I am in support of it for some good reasons. Among the Christians and Muslims his does not hold. In fact the final ceremonies for the dead are conducted in the Churches and quite frequently the Churches also have graveyards within.

The Saivites and Hindus in general separate very strictly the Temple from the cremation grounds though they understand the immense metaphysical significance of DEATH as such. The Saivites from very ancient times have also worshipped Siva as the dancer in the cremation grounds as well. It is also very strongly believed that death is the result of the SaGakarat TaNdavam of Siva Himself and in itself good for only by dying, an anma can rid of the worn-out body and assume a new birth with a new body and quite consistent with mantric traces that exist within the  mantra-soul that is known as Prabta Karma, the karmic traces elicited during the active phase of bodily existence but which cross over to determine the nature of rebirth.

I believe that though death is natural, the temple is NOT the place to be reminded of it for it constitutes a NEGATION of the very purpose of the Temple. The temple is a representation of the mantra world of the celestial beings that are there to guide along ACTIVE and MEANINGFUL LIVING. The ethos it creates is that of active and meaningful living and NOT its deprivation. DEATH is the total deprivation of existence and hence the negation of what the temple is for.

I think perhaps this is the reason for avoiding death related ceremonies in the temples and the barring of people who are suffering from the sadness from the death of someone close to them. Their presence in the temple will remind the rest of the DEATH that has taken place and thereby spoil the Icon Thinking and for which the temple is.

We should also note that the Semitic religions do not subscribe to Karma Theory and that an anma continues to be resurrected till the point of Mukti, also a notion NOT available in the Semitic religions. They do not also believe that the Synagogue Church Mosque and so forth are there for facilitating Icon Thinking by facilitating architecturally induced entry into the mantra world where the celestial beings exist.

The Semitic religions do not acknowledge the celestial beings as worship worthy and do not promote Icon Thinking as such.

So what is my final opinion of this matter?

Yes I agree with this prohibition - those who have someone close to them dead should keep away from the temples till the sadness is over  so that the ethos of the Temple remains unaffected and continues to remain as for active Icon thinking.


Q 13.

 Now there is another issue that I am confused about and require some clarifications. As Saivites we are required to wear the sacred ash on the forehead and frequently in three stripes, but the VaishNavites wear the TirumaN or Naamam, three vertical and white stripes jointed at the base also on the forehead. Added to this is the requirement to wear the red tilakam or poddu in Amman temples, also on the forehead. What is the significance of all these? Why as Hindus, we do not have a uniform practice in such matters?



Let me again give you my personal view. As far as the wearing of TiruniiRu goes, there are TWO distinct stages, one the outward form and another the inward form. There are intermediate stages such as that KaNNudaiya VaLLalaar and his paramparai - they wear it then erase it off. Actually these are only aids and when their function is over and this happens when it is worn inwardly in the mind, then the external wearing of it becomes superfluous. This applies even to temple going. This is a requirement during the stages of metaphysical ignorance but when the person graduates in metaphysical wisdom so that the whole world  is seen as a temple and everything in it, a SivaliGkam, something that shows he presence of Siva, then temple going becomes redundant. This applies also to the case where a person installs Siva Himself in his body by the purity he attains so that this human frame also becomes a temple, as observed by Tirumular. (uun udambu oor aalayam)

Now the habit of wearing the ashes may go back to the very primitive times where men wore the ashes of dead bodies by way of installing the notion of the reality of DEATH as a fact of existence and about which we cannot do anything except to await for it not knowing most often when that moment will come.

However as time went on deeper meanings emerged. The most general is that the understanding that everything is prone to be destroyed and that nothing is permanent. This is something we very often forget and because of which we become acquisitive, possessive greedy and so forth. The understanding that whatever we enjoy as “ mine, ours’ and so forth are certainly not and are surely to be destroyed, teaches us to be nonattached to them. This applies even to the body, the closest and the most intimate to the soul and that which the anma identifies itself saying “I am this body” etc. A Saivite should be aware of the TRUTH that whatever he enjoys as his, including the body is just ephemeral, not at all something absolutely permanent. This will help him to understand that whatever he enjoys is a GIFT, a BLESIING of BEING and hence he should in fact be eternally GRATEFUL for BEING for showering him with such blessings.


Now another meaning  is PURITY for the ash is the only thing that even burnt again, it will remain the same thus indicating that even burning (under normal circumstances) does not change its essential nature. This make it a good symbol for the inward purity that one should aspire - one must continue burning away the dirt within, the Mummalam so that one becomes purer and purer and ultimately absolutely pure and which is the precondition for enjoying the final redemption or Moksa.

Now the VaishNavas wear the TirumaN to remind themselves, I think,  of Tirumaal or VishNu, as the Lord of Manifest World, the Purusha, the UlakaLanta PerumaL, the Purushotama who measures out the whole universe and who also exceeds it. This understanding is central to VaishNavism and the three vertical lines may be related to THREE stripes with which Tirumaal measured out :  the Earth, the Celestial World and Mantra World. The VaishNavites perhaps want to anchor their thinking on the POSITIVE PRESENCE of BEING and not on  the possibility of its ABSENCE.

Now the Poddu of the Amman Temples, of course stands for the Bindu that appears as the moon in the transductive perceptions. The Black Moon, and hence the Black Poddu signifies innocence and virgin girls display their sexual innocence by this means. Now married women are not anymore of this innocence, they are in active sexual life with their husbands. They wear the Red Poddu to show that they are in sincere LOVE with their spouses and hence a walking  Laksmi, the one who grants happiness to men and children through maintaining a stable family life and sexual fidelity.  It should also be noted that the material prosperity quite often depends to what kind of women a man gets married to; the wife who is Laksmi like is said to bring the blessings of Sri Laksmi herself. Thus a married women wearing the Red Poddu may be indicative  of such desires and a way of being Sri Laksmi herself by a process of simulation and imitation.


Q 14.

Now you have mentioned that Icon Thinking is central to Hinduism and because of which right from the ancient days the Hindu people have built temples. The Tamils are noted to have said ‘kooyil illaa uuril kudi irukka veeNdaam’: don’t live in a town that does not have a temple. Now the problem is - there are various sects who select only a certain number of icons for worship and neglect others. Sometimes they even insult and ridicule the Icons that are not of their choice. Now as a Saivite what should I do?


A: Let me again give my personal views on this matter. I divide the Icon thinking culture into THREE stages (very roughly): that of worshipping ALL icons, that of worshipping only icons of Siva family and that of worshipping only a selected few Siva Muurttams. Of course there is the Fourth stage where icon worship is transcended and Icon Thinking merges with metaphysical thinking.

Now at the initial stages all Saivites must worship ALL the deities for each one of them is in fact Siva Himself however presenting in such a form to INSTRUCT on some aspects of metaphysics for some individuals. In not worshiping or worse still in ridiculing them, we are depriving ourselves a certain metaphysical understanding and hence condemn ourselves to ignorance. For example take KalaivaaNi, the Goddess of Learning. If the strict Saivites do not worship and seek to understand how BEING engraces the souls in that presentational form,  then we FAIL to UNDERSTAND an aspect of BEING Himself. There is MEANING in white saree She wears,  the white Lotus on which She sits, the white Swans that are about Her and the Golden VeeNa she plays. She is not just the deity of language, the Vak Devi but also who installs the right kind of mentality so that LEARNING can proceed unhindered. The White color stands for sexual abstinence (or brahmacariam) and which is the precondition for any form of serious learning. The student life is a life of sexual abstinence for once sexuality emerges and dominates the mind, the first victim is learning. The presence of KalaivaaNi, installs in the mind this inner control where psychic energies are direected towards learning and NOT toward romancing.

This is only an example. There are specific meanings of the Ten Avatars of Tirumaal, the various forms of Ambal, elegant and frightening, of Muruka Vinayaka as well as the lower deities of Muniswarar Peecci Amman and so forth.

At the initial stages there must NOT be any REJECTION of them, they must be allowed to be worshiped by those who want to worship them and we as SAIVITES  must seek to understand the MEANING of such forms knowing fully well  that it is the Same BEING who appears as Siva and so forth is also appearing as such male and female deities.

Now does this mean that all deities must be allowed in the Saiva Temples?

It may not mean that but in the city there must a variety of temples so that all meaningful icons are available for witnessing and appreciating. We can have Saiva temples  where only the Siva Muurttams are installed, Tirumaal temples where only icons of Tirumaal are installed and Ambal temples where the various icons of Mother are installed. There are also many temples now where such strict rules do not apply.

Whether the temples specialize or not, the true Saivite should never insult and disgrace any deity whatsoever and whoever does this insults also Siva Himself. A Saivite should visit all such temples, familiarize himself with them and then perhaps come to the special Siva Muurttams and which are hierarchically above the rest. Unless we understand the meanings of the lower icons we cannot understand the higher and hence Siva Himself.

The Saivite mind must be an OPEN mind, a mind that allows to be formed by all the deities before it becomes specially attracted to very deeply meaningful Siva Muurttams.



Q 15.

Now you say: I divide the Icon thinking culture into THREE stages (very roughly): that of worshipping ALL icons, that of worshipping only icons of Siva family and that of worshipping only a selected few Siva Muurttams. Of course there is the Fourth stage where icon worship is transcended and Icon Thinking merges with metaphysical thinking.

This means there are HIERARCHICAL differences among the Icons with some considered low and others considered high. Can the shapes of the SAME BEING considered low and high?  Won’t this lead to also hierarchical differences among the Baktas?

A: Yes I most certainly think that there are hierarchical differences among the icons and that the Siva Icons belongs to the highest order. While all Baktas are EQUAL in having the potentiality to raise themselves to the levels of worship of the highest deities, but because of different levels of spiritual maturity, the higher are meaningless to them and hence will not evoke the sense of the sacred among them. A child is NOT the same as an adolescent or an adult and the pedagogic strategies we employ for the adults should not be employed for the kindergarten children if we are interested in communicating to them meaningfully. Similarly the normal folks who cannot think abstractly will seek concrete representations as an aid for their Icon Thinking and pushing them into a vast empty space, as it is done in Islam or by those who follow Arutpirakasa VaLLalaar who lit up only a lamp in a vast empty space, will not be appreciated by them. Among Muslims they resort worshipping the mausoleum of dead Siddhas and among Saivites they fill up the empty space with representations of all kinds of icons and which happened at the time of VaLLalaar.

Here a number of observations of Tirumular are relevant, I think. For one thing he says: evvaaRu kaaNpaan aRivu tanakku ellai, avvaaRu aruL ceyvaan aati paraaparan taanum” i.e. BEING instructs the anmas in accordance with the upper limits of their understanding. BEING as the most excellent teacher comes down to the level of the cognitive maturity of the individuals and presents Himself in a form they can appreciate and enjoy the sense of the sacred. BEING does not want to DEPRIVE any human being from enjoying the sense of the sacred.

Nakkirar says in TirumuRukaaRRup Padai that it is same Muruka who appear as shaman priest (veRiyaaddu Velan) for the village folks and as the one who instructs the deep metaphysical truths to munivars.

It is because of this that there are hierarchical differences among the archetypes or muurttams: some are meant to teach the spiritual children and so He assumes the forms of Heroes, the Priest-like figures, the ancestors, the grama devatas and so forth. We can include here the natural objects like hills trees medicinal plants, animals like peacock elephant and so forth. These natural objects or objects very concrete and within the mental ecology of the person which are MORE INTELLIGIBLE than such figures as SivaliGkam Siva Nadarajah and so forth.

How are we to determine the hierarchical differences among the icons? Is there a rational principle for doing this and justifying it?

Yes, I think so and the following verse of Tirumular is relevant to this.



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veetaa nedumaal uruttiran meeliisan

miitaana aimmukan vintuvum naatamam

aataara sattiyam antac civanodunj

saataa raNamaakunj sataasivan taanee!




The root archetypes in terms of which  BEING presents Himself, are hierarchically organized with Brahma VishNu Rudra at one level and with Isan immediately above them. Above Isan stands the five-faced Sataasivam and above whom we have Siva Tatvas Parabindu and Paranatam. The Pure BEING one-with Parabindu stands as ParaSakti, one-with Paranatam as Sivan. But it is generally known that all these archetypes collectively constitute what Sataasivam is.




Saivism (along with VaishNavism Saktaism etc) are perhaps the only religions in the world which keep to worshipping the deities and which are presentational forms of BEING. Most of the world religions have become forgetful of the deities and have taken to worshipping chosen scriptures and saints and which are only secondary. Hence not only we have temple worship as an important element of religious life but also deep appreciation of the PuraNas and which disclose metaphysical truths of some kind or other, truths that are beyond the reach of the rational mind. The Unconscious Depths where stay these archetypes is NOT something feared by the Saivites but rather something explored and understood.


Thus we have here a plunge into the depths, into the celestial realms where the root archetypes are not only identified but also understood as to how they stand in relation to each other. It is NOT the crude polytheism but rather a very sophisticated “one-many-theism’, the SAME and ONE BEING presenting Himself in a variety of archetypal forms or muurttams and in which a hierarchical organization can also be seen.


BEING, known  simply as Sataasivam when He wills to present Himself, presents first as the Woman ParaSakti, the Causal Energy of all by conjoining with the Parabindu and as the Pure Sivan by conjoining with the Paranatam. Since it is the union of Parabindu and Paranatam that is SivaliGkam, it follows that Satasiva’s highest form is SivaliGkam as such.


Form this emerges the form of Isan or Mahesan, the Great Lord and who grants iicattuvam, the Power to arise above all and stand out as supreme demanding abeyance by virtue of the divine qualities one shines with. Maheswari, the Female shape of this grants vacittuvam, the capacity to attract all unto oneself and be in deep love.


Under the immediate management of these forms of BEING remain the trimurties Brahma VishNu and Rudra, the archetypes of production, retention and destruction, the primordial Universal Praxis of BEING.


We should note that while the Saivites understand  the archetypes in this way the VaishNavas would see MahaVishNu as equivalent to Sataasivam though normally they do NOT acknowledge Paranatam and Parabindu and hence SivaliGkam as such in their metaphysical thinking.




Q 16.

It would appear that you are quite generous and OPEN with respect to the question what Icons should be worshipped. This seems to be  quite against the attitude of staunch Saivites who would not worship anything but the icons of Siva. Can you clarify the issue?



I am NOT in disagreement with these staunch  Saivites but  differ a bit in that I will also include TWO elements to these. In general the Saivites should also be allowed worship the major deities Ambal, Tirumaal, Muruka, Vinaiyakar and so forth.  Later they can concentrate on Siva Nadarajah Ammaiyappar and SivaliGkam and  which is a must. And they also must try to GO BEYOND icon worship and reach the Yoga and Njaanam paths so that the focus of religious life becomes that of gaining Civanjanam.

At the moment the Njanamarkam, the way of philosophical discourses, is almost dead and it has to be activated again.  The Saivite philosophical thinking has become stereotypical where only the achievements of the past are regurgitated and retold quite oblivious to the modern challenges especially that posed by the Western civilization.  The Saivites, unlike the ancients, do not read beyond the narrow range of literature if at all they bother to study them.

 The Saivite temples,  over and above organizing pujaas and festivals, dance and musical recitals,  must also stimulate philosophical thinking by organizing workshops seminars conferences and so forth where the people are inducted in stages into metaphysical thinking.

There is also a new avenue now - that of the Internet where active participation in selected groups such as Meykandar and so forth is not only  very economical but also very effective. The mind moves normally in narrow and traditional groves and circulates only within a restricted and atomic mental ecology. A Saivite cannot become a true Saivite i.e. one who enjoys Civanjanam unless he allows himself to be disconstructed and taken to new horizons of metaphysical thinking.

Now Saivism has also its distinctive approach to metaphysical inquiries or philosophy.  It centers on noting the essence of all the metaphysical systems of mankind and DISCONSTRUCTING them so that the falsities are removed and only truths are entertained. Thus all philosophical systems are attempted to be thrown into the Parapakkam, those which contain falsities  and retaining those which cannot be thrown out as such as Supakkam.

This way of philosophizing remains peculiar to the Tamil Saivites even in India. It also differs from the various schools of philosophy in the West. Actually it belongs to Icon Thinking where the mind is allowed to be informed by various Icons. When the Iconic Thinking develops further, it becomes Metaphysical Thinking of the sort where the central activity is that of disconstructing.

You see this in Civanjana Siddhyar of AruNandi, the foremost student of Meykandar, in the CaGkaRpa NiraakaraNam of Umapati, one of the Cantana gurus of Meykandar Cantaanam, and the post Meykandar classics such as Tattuvappirakasam, NjananaaaraNa ViLLakkam, Civappirakasap Peruntiraddu and so forth

There is a necessity now of the part of the Saivites to understand and disconstruct Christianity Islam Communism. Positive Sciences  of the West, the Post Modern philosophies , the various kinds of schools of Psychology and so forth

All these are new mental-icons from which we have to benefit and by disconstructing learn the truths there and discard the falsities.


Q 17.

Strangely, despite your general openness towards Icon Worship, now you say the worship of Siva Nadarajah Ammaiyappar and SivaliGkam is a must for all Saivites. Are you not contradicting yourself here? And if you are not what are REASONS can you give for such a recommendation?


A: No, I am NOT contradicting myself for I believe in an evolutionary dynamics in Icon Worship and Icon Thinking. As Tirumular and many other great Saivite njanies have observed, there are hierarchical differences in the icons and in which the Siva icons are the highest. These high Icons can be worshipped meaningfully and the messages encrypted in them wrested out only when there is sufficient spiritual maturity and at which point the Saivites must focus in their worship and contemplation on these three icons and the related ones.

The first is Siva Nadarajah and which installs the metaphysical notion that the vast cosmos and everything in it suffers changes movements, progressions regressions and so forth because of the DANCE of Siva and Sakti. The worship of this magnificent Icon configures the SEEING the whole range of phenomena - the cosmic historical social and personal as various kinds of enactments of the AS-IF Play of BEING. This is the correct seeing for it installs the perception of universal praxis, the Pancha Kritiyas and hence though that understanding that the cosmos is essentially spiritual despite being physical. It is also a safeguard against the chaotic metaphysics of some Buddhists and the dismissal of it as something irreal and so forth by the Advaitins and such other idealists.  The view that the world is Play of BEING secures not only the fact that the world is real but also the MEANING of EXISTENCE as  that of reaching out the Dancing BEING in the Tillai Ambalam, where the Dance is executed.

Now in the course of understanding the world as such and gaining deep insights into the essences of the plays, it would dawn that BEING in fact uses the Siva Tatvas Natam and Bindu as His tools in this magnificent Play and which also underlies the sexual differentiations of creatures into the Male and Female. While the various creatures may be dominantly  male or female or containing both elements within, BEING as source of these must be  Androgynous, the Ardhanari,  the Ammaiyappar. It is also the case that it is BEING who is Male when one-with Natam and Female when one-with Bindu and which means that both forms are equally divine and that one is NOT to be discriminated against the other. In our worship too we should NOT neglect the worship of the female deities, the various forms or Ambal.  In existence we should NOT also avoid the mixing of both males and females. They are equally divine and are presentations of, as Sambantar would put it, PeN tanaakiya Pemmaan, the BEING who also become the Female.

Now both the above icons are figural, resemble the human anatomy in some ways  but which is simply a strategy to make the ideas behind them graphically meaningful to the human beings. But as understanding develops and seeks to go beyond the figural into the real, the coruubam,  then there emerges the SivaliGkam, the most abstract presentation of Natam and Bindu together. The Pillar is the Natam and the round pedestal is the Bindu and it is just another way of representing and understanding BEIING as the Natam-Bindu-Union. Intensive worship of SivaliGkam will lead to Mantrayana Thinking in which the SivaliGkam will be seen as the Geometrical form of the Primordial Logos Om, the auditory form of which the  ‘Aum’ that we recite the akaaram being Bindu, the ukaaram the Natam and makaaram that which joins them together

Thus we can see that the worship of these deities gradually work on the mind, making it go deeper and deeper and in the end, confront and practice  Mantrayana Thinking which is the highest form of metaphysical thinking. At the end Mantrayana, the anma installs the Om deep within by both kinds of recital, the gross and subtle, and by which will attain a state where the understanding is formed totally by this Om. This understanding is called Civanjanam, that understanding which lights up all, drives away the presence of aaNavam totally   and prepares the soul to be blessed with Moksa.

It is for this reason that these Icons are said to be highest and because which the Saivites should not fail to worship.




Q 18

So far the Saivite life you have painted appears to be a PASSIVE life - go to the temples, worship this deity or that deity, study these scriptures, sing these hymns, recite these mantras, don’t do these but do these and so forth.  Probably there are more. When there are so many ‘prescriptions’ what is there of human freedom?  Cannot man  negate all these and chart out independent ways and which are different from the traditional?

A: You question raises a fundamental issue of human will and freedom. And here I am reminded of the words of AruNandi in his magnificent Irupa Irupatu: oodi miiLkena aadal paarttidu : BEING watching your antics waits for your to return after letting you free to do as  you will.  Saivism does not tie you down to its way of life and if you want to go away it lets you go away and live with a different religion or without a religion. You can exercise your free will but then in that exercise how can you DENY TRUTH? The human free will is there only to discover the TRUTH and when in this  exercise it seeks  to lock itself in UNTRUTHS, then it will be unhealthy and Siva will not let you do that. There will troubles and problems but all to free man from the hold of falsities.

Man is free but not free to lock himself in falsities. Freedom is allowed only where the search is for TRUTH.

Now you must note also another expression of FREEDOM in Tamil Saivism. There is OPENNESS and this openness is retained even for the SCRIPTURES. Unlike in other religions Saivism recognizes the evolutionary dimensions of the human spirit and the fact that there can be continuous production of scriptures, temple architecture dance and music forms and so forth. While there may be selectional restrictions imposed upon such novelties, but nevertheless novelties are NOT disallowed. Even if you take the religious texts there is Paripaadal (c. 100 AD) Tevaram and Divviya Prabantam  (4th to 9th cent), Tiruppukaz (14th cent) Tiruvarutpaa (19thcent.) and so forth. At any time where there comes along a genius and pours out from his depths hymns of immense beauty and spirituality  that touches the soul and lifts it up (as was said by Sulgi in 2000 BC itself), the Saivite mind will receive such hymns and benefit by such NEW disclosures of the Divine Spirit.

In this Tamil Saivism allows itself for self-renewal and perhaps it is this ingredient of its culture that has made it survive from very ancient times and for several millenniums.

And there is another aspect to this: Tamil Saivism offers freedom for the individuals themselves become such aruLaaLar or Adiyaar. Anyone is FREE to sing hymns, write metaphysical texts, create new art forms and so forth and through that enjoy the creative impulses within. A Saivite is FREE to produce his own scriptures or at least attempt at such productions and he will succeed in adding to the already existing pool of scriptures if he happens to be blessed by BEING in such productive tasks. There is NO HOLDING to single scripture as THE scripture and tie  down the whole humanity to it. Agamas are continuously a produced as are hymns, raising of temples and so forth. And anyone is free to produce a new class of Saivite scriptures and enrich the tradition. Any one who understands the history of Saivism will note these elements there and because of which it has survived while other religions that tried to displace it, declined and disappeared.

So Saivism, peculiarly enough, while recommending various kinds of models of behavior, there is NO compulsion or threat, open or hidden and which emerges from a maturity of mind that is indeed rare to find in the world.


With this lesson, this series in concluded.