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Deep rivers

Kannan M.
Jennifer Clare

Classical Tamil

The inexhaustible Periya purāṇam: on two lists and seventy-two ways to serve

Texte intégral

1The Periya purāṇam, composed by Cēkkiḻār around the middle of the 12th c., is often considered to be merely a collection of fine sketches depicting canonised Saiva devotees, half of the texts of which deal with the lives of the three authors of the hymns of Tēvāram (7th c.-9th c.). An alternative overall view may not be out of place.

2The poem takes its authority from the traditional listing of the Servitors of Siva going back to the Tēvāram of Cuntarar. Its inspiration is derived from another list, not precisely canonised but essential nevertheless: the list of the Tamil sites that provide the framework of the stories. This “Purana of the Servitors” is thus also an arch-sthala-purāṇa, on the scale of a Tamil land in the grip of Saivism.

3It is also often considered that the different services of the devotees are of two kinds: mild and gentle as in the cult to Siva and his Servitors, or wild and tough to the point of violence and death. We see very little distance between these two types, however, since an act of violence is simply the most extreme possible form of service, and given that the devotees are often played with by the god who drags them, without reference to mundane rules, into some heroic pattern of unconditional surrender. It is the service and not the violence which is paradigmatic. The emphasis is not on social problems such as the power of the king versus religious power or Bhakti versus caste, but on the inner state of mind of the devotee.

4We are transported back to the most central characters of all, and especially to Cuntarar, whose transient avatar and struggles with Siva encompass the entire text. From a rare perspective, not clearly supported by Cēkkiḻār, he might have been born of a reflection of the god; Siva thus finds himself entangled in an intriguing encounter with his own image.

5The Periya purāṇam of Cēkkiḻār occupies the preponderant place amidst the abundant biographical literature devoted to religious figures. Its relative antiquity (mid 12th c.), the amplitude of its design and of its influence, the profusion of its narratives, and its literary fame, in addition to that of its heroes, make up an exceptional text. The first concern of its author and of its promoters, however, was to integrate and anchor it in a tradition, that of Saivism of Tamil expression, just when that tradition was reaching its apogee. It is thus, first and foremost, a work of triumphal and joyous celebration: Te Deum and Exultet at the same time, in which there is far more exuberance than apologia. Saivism no longer had to defend itself against heresy and was spreading in the shade of the temples and of the royal parasol.

  • 1 Indira V. Peterson “Tamil Saiva Hagiography, The narrative of the holy servants (of Siva) and the (...)

6The genesis of the work which is, it must not be forgotten, dictated to us by the author himself, illustrates that desire to be inscribed in a pre-existent tradition thereby gathering, as it were, legitimacy and incontestable authority. It may be assimilated more easily to a reclamation than to a projection into the future. We therefore hesitate to speak of a “hagiographical project” as does Indira Peterson, the author of the most recent retelling of the story;1 she presents it in terms which would exempt us from writing about it, were it not for the fact that a return to the reading of the complete text impels us to reaffirm some fundamental verities which have a tendency to be lost in the fragmentary references to a work too often arbitrarily considered as a repertory of separate episodes.

  • 2 Edition by T. V. Gopal Iyer, under the direction of François Gros, Publication de l’Institut Franç (...)
  • 3 It is with this tool, uḻavāram, that the stereotyped iconography represents him and Cēkkiḻār descr (...)

7The first recognised embryo of the Periya purāṇam is the 39th of the hundred hymns of Cuntarar which make up the seventh and last book of Tēvāram,2 part of the Paṉṉiru Tirumuṟai, known as the first Tamil Saiva canon. Cuntarar’s still unconfirmed date is somewhere between the 8th c. and the middle of the 9th c. The relative chronology is however established: he is later than the other two authors of Tēvāram, Appar and Campantar, and in the interval that separated him from them something radically changed. At the time of Appar, each site that he celebrates may also have been one more site in the memory of a foundation or, in the face of Buddhist or Jain heresy, the testimony of a conquest and the echo of a battle. The pilgrimage of the ageing poet, armed with his hoe3 to associate himself with the maintenance of temples, somewhat resembles that of the “Counsellor” in The war of the end of the world, La Guerra del fin del mondo (1981) by Mario Vargas Llosa, an ageless ascetic figure, also called “Father” by his disciples, who appears suddenly out of nowhere in a Brazilian town or village, to pray to God, reconstruct or renovate churches and cemeteries and to reform morals by his preaching and his charismatic presence; the threat of the Antichrist is keenly felt.

8More triumphal is the progression of Appar’s young contemporary, the divine child, Campantar, who is later made into an avatar of the son of Siva, Subrahmanya, in his fashion also a conqueror. With Cuntarar, the vituperation against heretics diminishes to give place to a veritable inventory of heroes and established sites: the time for stocktaking and list making has come.

List of Servitors: the authority of a tradition

9The list, a familiar literary genre in Tamil, employed in the Caṅkam period in the Song of Kuṟiñci (Kuṟiñcippāṭṭu), a poem by Kapilar is among other things a way of expressing mastery of an object or situation and of affirming and circumscribing an identity: to total up is to fix one’s property rights and to proclaim one’s wealth, conviction and supremacy. It is not, after all, the successive conquests of Don Juan that make him Don Juan, but the famous “list” of them, even if it was his servant Leporello who compiled and sang it. Such too is the meaning and the range of this 39th poem of Cuntarar, called Tiruttoṇṭattokai (Sum of the Servants): the poet here identifies himself as the servant of the nine groups of Servants and of the sixty individualised Servants he lists; integrating himself, implicitly yet deliberately, into that group along with his father and mother, he concludes with the love for Siva which will develop in those who listen to the recital of his own service (aṭimai) at the feet of God.

10Thus was established the henceforth immutable list, of sixty-three Nayanmar, “Lords” by virtue of being Servants which, three centuries in advance, drew up the table of contents of the work of Cēkkiḻār, which he called Tiruttoṇṭar Purāṇam, the “History of Servitors” (Periya purāṇam 9): his intent was to narrate in the most attractive manner possible the life, or if preferred the legend, of the Servants as it is suggested in the hymn of Cuntarar (Periya purāṇam 48) the first words of which are dictated directly by Siva to the poet (Periya purāṇam 345).

11That list was, therefore, canonical from the very beginning, and Cēkkiḻār’s text, canonised three centuries later as the 12th Tirumuṟai, became a constituent part of the same Canon.

12Cuntarar’s list not only defines the body of the Servants but is founded upon the authority of the Word of Siva himself. According to a well known motif, the work of the poet is inspired by his god who, symbolically, dictates the first word to him; in the guise of an old Brahmin, Siva has just torn the poet away from his wedding to make of him his slave: “You have just called me ‘Pittaṉ’, therefore sing of me by the name of Pittaṉ” (Periya purāṇam 219). The famous first song begins: “Delirious fool, crowned with the crescent moon”, as that is the meaning of Pittaṉ, many manuscripts attesting to the more vulgar form of piccaṉ. Siva again intervenes directly to encourage Cuntarar to sing his Sum of the Servants, of which he dictates, this time, the entire first verse: “I serve the servants of the Brahmins living in Tillai.” The task is, in fact, crushing and, when Cuntarar comes once more in front of the pavilion of the temple of Tiruvarur, where are assembled with the Celestials the crowd of eminent Servants, he hides himself, taking refuge and seeking inspiration in Siva. A devotee, Viraṉmiṇṭar, from Kerala on pilgrimage, shouts a reproach at him for not having saluted them first of all, and calls him “Puṟaku”, a hapax perhaps borrowed from the language of his country but whose meaning of anathema is clear (derived from puṟam “exterior”, one who is excluded and ought to be banned). Viraṉmiṇṭar is canonised by that gesture alone and by that single word, because Siva “resides with his Devotees” (Periya purāṇam 499 and ch. 11) and takes great pains to make Cuntarar understand that which is, in the circumstances, the most important thing for him to know about: the grandeur of the community of Servants and the duty of belonging to it:

Equal amongst themselves by their greatness, masters of Me by their service,
Conquerors of the world because one with Me, infallible,
Unique in their state, full of happiness through their love,
They transcend the duality [of life and death]; join them! (Periya purāṇam 342)

  • 4 Siva’s Warriors, The Basava Purāṇa of Pālkuriki Somanātha, translated from the Telugu by Velcheru (...)

13This is the kind of episode and the kind of teaching that the Telugu and Vīrasaiva Basava purāṇa collects and delights in repeating.4 But that is to anticipate.

  • 5 He is justly celebrated for the importance of his Sanskrit and Tamil doctrinal works and for Kōyiṟ (...)
  • 6 This concerns elaborate rituals, described at length under the rubric Bhakta pratiṣṭā of the āgama(...)

14How then has the tradition and the lineage of the Servants been transmitted since the time of Cuntarar? Historians certainly have some reason to believe in a progressive expansion of Saivism in Tamil lands, establishing positions already acquired at the time of Cuntarar. The legend decides otherwise. According to a second well known schema, the traditions are very feeble and the texts lost. Fortunately, there is always a pious scholar to salvage what remains of a shipwreck and a god or a miracle to guide his quest, at the end of which the work is invariably rediscovered in its current state, to be forever reduced and patchy. This mythological representation of a philological enterprise engaged upon to combat the erosion of time has, in this particular case, taken on the figure of Nampi Āṇṭār Nampi. His date wavers between the end of the 9th c. and the beginning of the 10th c. because the royal Cōḻa patronage of Aṉapāya which anchors him in history is not identifiable with any certitude but is surely a landmark somewhere between Cuntarar and Cēkkiḻār. Son of a priest, āticaiva, of Tirunaraiyur, he is miraculously educated by the god Poḷḷāppiḷḷaiyār himself, and then noticed for his knowledge and his zeal by the Cōḻa prince of Tiruvarur, who invites him to rediscover the Tēvāram which, strangely enough, was lost at the very time that the narrative of the Servants was forgotten. Guided by his god-guru, he goes to the temple at Chidambaram where a secret chamber behind the sanctuary, which must contain the manuscripts, bears on its door the palm prints of the three authors, whose presence, according to the priests of the place, is required to open it. Hereafter, the legend recounted by Tirumuṟai kaṇṭa purāṇam, 45 stanzas attributed to Umāpati Śivācāriyar (14th c.)5 reveals a more optimistic reality. It tells, in fact, of the festival in which the processional images of the three authors are carried before that door, thus attesting that, far from being forgotten, the authors already had statues erected to them and those statues, duly consecrated,6 had, according to what may be called agamic legislation, the value of the real presence since they succeeded in opening the door.

15Thus rediscovered, established and classified for the usage of our yuga, the text we possess, in default of a more plethoric version whose ravages by termites we deplore, was engraved upon copper plates at the behest of the king; later Nampi succeeded in having the music revealed through the intermediary of a descendant of the famous yāḻ player who accompanied the songs of Campantar during his lifetime and thus figures in that role in the list of Servants under the name, Tirunīlakaṇṭa (yāḻ) pāṇar. Nampi didn’t limit his activities to the elaboration of the Saiva canon; he composed ten poems dedicated particularly to the authors of the Tēvāram, including an antāti of 89 stanzas which recounts, with a little more detail but in the same order, the story of the Servants told by Cuntarar, the only difference being in the distribution throughout the text of the references to Cuntarar himself or to his story. Posterity has naturally included these ten works in an 11th book of the Canon, due to an admirable intervention by the king, the entire arrangement of the Canon being attributed to Nampi himself.

16Henceforth the task of Cēkkiḻār is clearly laid out. In the line of his two predecessors, he is going to compose an enormous history of the Servants not only following, their order of appearance from the first list, but dividing Cuntarar’s story, as Nampi did, into three separate episodes: beginning (Periya purāṇam 17-50 and 147-349), middle (Periya purāṇam 3155-3563) and end (Periya purāṇam 3748-3922 and 4229-4281), with an invocation to Cuntarar closing each of the thirteen remaining sections (carukkam, Skt. sarga) of his poem, none of which ends with any of these episodes. Thus, not only the content of his text but the composition itself too is imposed by the strength with which the tradition weighs upon Cēkkiḻār, who, rather than just avowing his debt to Nampi, claims it with some repetition. Like the latter, he is engaged upon an enterprise more religious than literary, even if he is a unique writer, and his proclaimed ambition is to serve Saivism in the lineage of Cuntarar and Nampi (Periya purāṇam 39-40 and 349). His work, according to the logic of the system, would be consecrated in its turn as the 12th and last book of the Canon, and his own story, like that of Nampi, made the object of a purāṇa of 103 stanzas, also attributed to Umāpati.

  • 7 John R. Marr, “The Periya purāṇam frieze at Tārācuram: episodes in the lives of the Tamil Saiva Sa (...)
  • 8 Darasuram, Publications de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, Mémoires archéologiques XVI, Tome I (...)

17The imperative pressure of this inventory-making tradition manifests and besets us again on another flank, that of iconography. The temple of Melakkadambur (South Arcot, near Chidambaram) offers a frieze of the Nāyaṉmār dated from the reign of Kulottunga I (thus earlier than 1113 and the drafting of the Periya purāṇam), while that of Darasuram, later by a generation than Cēkkiḻār and the Periya purāṇam, offers another, more refined and less miserly with detail. A meticulous study of this latter by J. R. Marr7 quite naturally concluded that the Periya purāṇam was the source of its inspiration; this was contested by Françoise l’Hernault8 who argued for the anteriority of the Melakkadambur temple, Nampi’s text being most probably the common source of both. The almost servile fidelity of Cēkkiḻār to the letter of the Antāti of Nampi makes the controversy over Darasuram futile since nothing found there contradicts the Periya purāṇam. On the other hand, the images of Melakkadambur, with the minimum but not insignificant variations that F. l’Hernault discerns between the series, confirm the existence of an extremely stereotyped tradition, very limiting for an artist, writer or sculptor, and particularly omnipresent in Cōḻa country for one or two centuries. The study that remains to be done of the earlier iconography, isolated but nevertheless known and partly indexed, of various Nāyaṉmārs, (for instance Kaṇṇappar, the authors of Tēvāram…) will only reinforce that evidence: Cēkkiḻār, to write a best seller, chose the subject that was most fashionable in the Saiva culture of his time.

  • 9 Songs of the Harsh Devotee, p. XL.

18The theme of the list leads to another paradox. David Shulman could not resist evoking the idea that Cuntarar was just “a convenient name for what is perhaps a collective person”.9 With how much more reason might one surmise the same about Cēkkiḻār and play here the insistent pressure of the inter-textual against an undiscoverable author. But we must, however, render homage at the same time to that ungraspable writer whose talent constrains one who seeks to write the history of his past and of his culture to read that history through him and, when turning to posterity, to recognise that, here again, it is he who imposes the myths. Between the sumptuous legendary world of the Tēvāram and the hard working accounts attributed to Umāpati Śivācāriyar, the word of Cēkkiḻār always triumphs.

19For that word is divine, inspired by Siva, who naturally dictated the first words which are also the last and which appear fourteen times in the poem “ulakelām”, “the whole world”. The ten strophes of the preface, all full of keywords, “truthful speech” (meymmoḻi), “love” (aṉpu), “service” (toṇṭu), and “grace” (aruḷ), solemnly and repetitively affirm the universal dimension of the work. Here can be seen the reflection of an epoch when Tamil political power was unmistakably manifesting the ambition for conquest. We’re more taken, even so, with a Bhakti dynamic whose trance knows no limits:

Harbinger of the glory of the Servitors, without measure
Whose greatness is without measure
I display it only in a certain measure
But I am committed to the momentum of a passion without measure.
(Periya purāṇam 5).

  • 10 Abundant bibliography. Our reading of the text is inspired by the shortened commentary of Navamone (...)
  • 11 J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, interpreter and fervent propagandist of Śaivasiddhānta in its Tamil expre (...)
  • 12 Navamoney, work quoted p. 139ff. We keep the double reading of these two quotations: the first whi (...)

20Theological thinking underlies this effort: the Servants of Siva are his form disguised, that form which, as the only accessible one, is the inter-mediary in reaching him. This idea, absolutely essential to the comprehension of the real finality of the work, has as its authority the twelfth and last sūtra of the Civañāṉapōtam,10 the Tamil “translation” amplified by Meykaṇṭatēvar, of twelve verses of the Rauravāgama. The Tamil text, placed at the head of the medieval Saiva Canon of the 14 Siddhānta Śāstra, is very loosely dated (circa 1200?); it may almost be contemporary with the Periya purāṇam or rather slightly posterior, but the doctrine is more ancient, and perennial. The abundant literature of the commentaries makes these venerated verses say much more than they express, but Tamil Saiva tradition manifests some consensus as regards their interpretation. Sūtra 12 comes back to three propositions which form a chronological sequence. The first injunction is (1) to “wash away that stain which prevents attainment of the powerful flower-bedecked feet [of Siva]”. That partial liberation is not, however, enough to put the being on the path of delivery, safe from all bonds, hence the necessity of a second injunction which is (2) “to live with those who are love”, that is, the liberated Devotees and thus with the Servants who are the bhakta par excellence, light reflected from the true light but beacons all the same, who must never be lost to sight and upon whose example one must meditate ceaselessly: from whence the supreme injunction, (3) “adore as Hara [i.e. as representative of Siva himself] his dwelling (ālayam); in the Skt. text, Āivālayam) and his disguise (vēṭam, Skt. veṣam) [that is] those whose overflowing affection has eradicated the darkness.” The tendency of the commentators is towards a very abstract and interiorised reading of these words which sees an interior temple being dealt with here and also the essence of the divine which is discovered within one’s self. But Saiva religious practice is far from opposed to the co-existence with this philosophy of a very concrete view of things11 in which the Servants reveal themselves as more imminent; this may be read of, curiously enough, in a fourth, supplementary, injunction, not expressed in the text but developed by the commentators. Presented as an encouragement to permanent introspective medi-tation, it may also appear as a quasi explicit invitation to pilgrimage, “And now go and adore in these places”. Which places? “A place where love flourishes…”12

List of sites: the Tamil land made sacred

21The game of lists and inventories to which Cuntarar devoted himself doesn’t end with the “The Sum of the Servants”. Three more of these hundred poems (12, called Tirunāṭṭut tokai,The Sum of the places”, 31 and 47) are in fact presented as versified lists. This provides a sort of catalogue, with something of mnemonics in it, of more or less celebrated Saiva sites, some of which are the subject of a Tēvāram poem, the others receiving only a single mention. In some cases these sites are not identifiable with any certitude today.

  • 13 See the bibliography given in our Introduction to the Tēvāram published in the PIFI at Pondicherry (...)

22It would be superfluous to develop the often elaborated theme13 of the religious geography of the Tamil land around the sites sung by Saiva or Vaishnava Bhakti authors. It is an essential characteristic of that literature always to celebrate God in a sacred site, temple, place of pilgrimage or worship which attests to and commemorates the immediate presence, hic et nunc, of the divinity and of his intervention, whether direct or through the medium of his Servants, or Devotees, amongst men. This is also a major theme of the historiography of the Cōḻa country: to set up the map of such sites and to “correlate”, (a much used expression in socio-anthropological jargon), the expansion of the temples, of agriculture and of the local or royal administration. The Periya purāṇam cannot be left out of this enterprise but the abundance of commonplaces on the subject suggests we restrict ourselves to the constituents of Cēkkiḻār’s specificity.

  • 14 Songs of the Harsh Devotee, p. 74.

23First of all, Cēkkiḻār, going beyond Nampi Āṇṭār Nampi, renews with Cuntarar, a vital element so obvious that no one has considered it. In the celebration of the storyteller, the landscape artist has been forgotten and, worse, the significance of the scenery. Cēkkiḻār is not going to lose sight of what we might call the double listing of Cuntarar: heroes and sites. Inserting the first into the second is nothing less for either author than a very conscious manner of writing history: that history which matters, because it makes of our space a realm of memory. (How many times, for that matter, do the religious figures, who people the collection on hagiographies for which this article was originally written, also depart on the conquest of all the directions: kṣetrayātra, the imperial and warlike pilgrimage, dear to the founders of sects and other religious preachers?). From the names of villages marked out by Cuntarar, to Cēkkiḻār’s preoccupation with situating his stories in a geographical framework, a similar approach has a double import, ideological and aesthetic. A reference, barely a discreet wink of an eye, by David Shulman14 to a poem by Pablo Neruda, Cómo era Espana, related, by its 56 verse long list of towns and villages, to Cuntarar’s Sum of the natu (tirunāṭṭuttokai), is very strongly suggestive, more by contrast than resemblance. On the Indian side, we have the triumphal ideology of the Periya purāṇam, the fertile lands irrigated by the Kāviri river, the prosperity of Cōḻa royalty and these hymns to Siva which, according to the frequently repeated words of A. K. Ramanujam, “literally sang places into existence”, and on the Spanish side, in the midst of civil war (1937), that “raw earth”, “poor bread” and “poor people”, these “gully villages”, these “fields petrified, stretched out across the moon and time, devoured by an empty god…”

  • 15 This name is the one given as title to the Upamanyu bhakta vilāsa, Sanskrit version of the Periya (...)
  • 16 Even the music must be considered. Its importance is clearly shown in the purāṇa of Āṉāya Nāyaṉār, (...)

24Cēkkiḻār is an orthodox Hindu, his saivism is vedic and his belief in the four varṇa unshakeable but, above all, tradition has him belonging to the Vēḷāḷa class of farmers, landowners and cultivators. There is no doubt that he shares with his class an uncomplicated pride in his language and his land: the South is the greatest and if, out of all eight directions, it is the South which receives the incarnation of Cuntarar, this is because that horizon has no equal when it comes to the number of places where Siva is adored. This is the peremptory conclusion of Upamaṉyu15 narrating the story of Cuntarar to his dazzled auditors of Kailāsa, in 16 stanzas, 6 of which speak of the glory of the South, and this in the first chapter which is, however, according to its title, celebrating the glory of the sacred Mountain of the North, Kailāsa (Periya purāṇam 31-46). But is it not Siva in person who, when the aged Appar, exhausted and emaciated collapses, on his long and laborious pilgrimage through Andhra, Karnataka, Madhya Desha, Varanaci, and the slopes of the Himalaya, in a pathetic quest for Mount Kailasa, gives the poet the vision to which he aspires. He does it by miraculously plunging him into the tank of the Tiruvaiyaru temple, thus returning him to the heart of the Tamil land (Periya purāṇam 1613-1638). And Upamaṉyu himself may easily be excused for being a trifle chauvinistic, for he is the son of Vyāghrapāda, who maintains a very privileged relationship with Chidambaram, the first site whose name issued from the lips of the Sage, to be followed by Tiruvarur, Kanchipuram, Tiruvaiyaru, and Tonipuram also called Cirkali. These are the greatest names but it would be easy to be more prolix: there are 275 shrines, each with at least one Tēvāram hymn devoted to it, and 237 others are mentioned; almost all are in the Tamil land. These numbers are eloquent: in contradistinction to these Tamil Saiva citadels numbering more than 500, amongst the 108 shrines celebrated by the hymnologists of Vishnu, more than 40 are outside Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the stories associate several sites with the memory of a victorious confrontation between Cēkkiḻār’s heroes, (Appar and Campantar, kings and ministers like Neṭumāṟaṉ and Kulacciṟai) and Buddhist or, more especially Jain, heresy. It is therefore not exaggerating in the least to speak of a real appropriation of the ground and the Tamil land by Saivism augmented by another motif which Cēkkiḻār’s audience is well disposed to: the incantatory charm of the language of the hymns he mingles with his own narration, along with appreciative remarks16 often of a technical nature.

25For aesthetic concerns are as important to him as monolithic ideology, and the paramount role of the site in his work is as crucial to defining the genre as to understanding the composition: the Periya purāṇam is an arch-sthalapurāṇa, where landscapes file past like so many caskets for containing the marvellous and edifying stories. Let us take up these two propositions.

  • 17 Temple Myths: sacrifice and divine marriage in the South Indian Tamil Saiva tradition, Princeton U (...)

26In his invocation to Ganesha, Cēkkiḻār designates his Tamil poem as “mā-k-katai” “a great story” (Periya purāṇam 3). This is perhaps the echo of several Jain Mahāpurāṇa which had flourished before him, in Sanskrit (Jinasena and Gunabhadra, end of the 9th c.), Apabhraṃśa (Puṣhpadanta 10th c.), and Kannada (Triṣaṣtiśālāka-puruṣacarita of Cavunḍarāya, end of the 10th c.), celebrating their 63 great men, a figure which seems to hold power in the Saiva tradition too. But there is also the Sanskrit Bṛhat-kathā with a Tamil version, the Peruṅkatai (the great story) dated from the 9th c. or 10th c., whose style and subject are closely related to another celebrated Jain narrative poem of the same period, the Cīvakacintāmaṇi, in which the tradition sees the starting point of Cēkkiḻār’s undertaking. He must have wanted to turn his king from such frivolous Jain readings (in which it so happens that the heroes are always sensual young princes, like Cuntarar) by offering him a work purer of inspiration but attractive nevertheless. To that work he gave but one title, “we call it the Purāṇa of the Servants” (Tiru-t-toṇṭar purāṇam eṉpām, Periya purāṇam 10), the only formulation conforming to that of his predecessors. The usual title “Great Purāṇa”, Periya purāṇam which did not have the backing of the author, appears rather as a mixture of the foregoing, reflecting both the general opinion and an annoying confusion of genres, kāvya or sāhitya: a long Saiva serial narrative in the style of the great Jain poems, religious or profane. It is, thus, a purāṇa in the strict sense but one “almost solely taken up with biographies”, for which reason David Shulman17 found it extremely difficult to see a tala purāṇam here (Tam., Skt. sthalapurāṇa; also called māhātmya, Tam. māṉmiyam, because it celebrates the greatness of the place).

  • 18 “The folly of righteousness: episodes from the Periya purāṇam”, p. 120, in Christopher Shakle and (...)

27However, John R. Marr very legitimately argues that: “most of the “biographies” in Periya purāṇam are centred upon particular sites and are intrinsic to them”.18 It is not simply a matter of the authors of the hymns for whom life was a permanent pilgrimage throughout the land, with powerful anchorages to which they periodically returned: Cuntarar to Triuvarur and Campantar to Cirkali, for example; it is each site that is precisely localised, the glory of the site and that of the hero being indissoluble. A good example is that of ch. 73 (Periya purāṇam 4197-4214), the story of Kōcceṅkaṭcōḻa Nāyaṉār.

  • 19 See Shulman, The Songs of the Harsh Devotee, under hymn 75 and Tamil Temple Myths, p. 45.

28On the banks of the Kāviri (here Poṉṉi, “the river of gold”), in the groves of the tīrtha of Tiruvanaikka, an elephant makes offerings of flowers to the Sivalinga. A spider honours this linga in its fashion by spinning a web over it as a parasol the elephant sweeps away with a blow from his trunk. The scene is repeated. The spider in a rage crawls into his enemy’s trunk and bites him. In his pain the elephant beats the ground with his trunk so hard that he and the spider are both killed. They will be recompensed, the elephant by its link with the tīrtha (“the sacred grove of the elephant”, tiru-āṉai-k-kā), the spider by the promise of being born a king of the Cōḻa dynasty. The queen mother, who is childless, is mysteriously fecundated during a pilgrimage to Tillai (Chidambaram). So that the baby’s horoscope be that of a great monarch, however, the astrologers prescribe delaying the delivery by half an hour. The legs of the mother are tied and she dies of this torture with only the time to ask to take the child in her arms, “is this really my king with red eyes?” Once grown, the king Red-eyes (Kōcceṅkaṭcōḻa) builds temples, starting with Tiruvanaikka, “for he is conscious of the grace of his previous birth” (4208 and 4209). Cēkkiḻār does not forget the site’s sacred tree, a white jamblonier (veṇṇāval; the god of the temple is called Jambukeśvara “the master of Jambu”). Red-eyes satisfies the Brahmins of Tillai with gifts and dies to return to the feet of Siva in the shade of which his birth was destined. Another episode of the Periya purāṇam (ch. 34, Ēyarkōṉkaḷikkāmanāyaṉārpurāṇam) consecrated for the most part to Cuntarar, describes his visit to Tiruvanaikka (Periya purāṇam 3229-3231), cites the beginning and the refrain of the hymn he sings there, and narrates a story to which he has already made a brief allusion.19 A Cōḻa king drops his collar of precious stones in the Kāviri and finds it later in the jar for ablutions used to serve Siva. This other miracle was to be also collected in the Tiruvāṉaikkāppurāṇam that Kacciyappa muṉivar would compose in the 18th c. with Cēkki ḻār’s text in mind. Is this text then the remembrance of a man or the memory of a place, the biography of a Servant, or a first talapurāṇam of Tiruvanaikka, or all these inextricably confused?

  • 20 The two Tiruviḷaiyāṭaṟpurāṇam, that of Perumpaṟṟappuliyūr Nampi, dated, as the Periya purāṇam, fro (...)

29Multiple citations may be made. Marr has very judiciously emphasized the close connections between various episodes of the Periya purāṇam and versions of them found in other great popular purāṇa of the Tamil land, such as that of the Sports of Siva (Tiruviḷaiyāṭaṟpurāṇam)20 centred around Madurai. The Periya purāṇam has certainly to be considered part of that tradition of legends linked with sites, which was inaugurated in the 12th c., was still brilliant in the 18th c. and has never died. If the riotous abundance of sites is disconcerting, a fractal vision of them needs to be adopted. It is at the level of the Tamil land, perceived as an arch sthala, that the unity of the whole is discovered, thanks to an astonishing virtuosity in the art of conjuring up the landscape and the history.

  • 21 This is not the well known town of Tancavur but a “Tancavur in the west”, a more obscure site, nea (...)

30It may be a matter of a swift characterisation which gives only the essentials, as in the brief episode of Viraṉmiṇṭar in which Kerala, (malai nāṭu, land of the mountain), is just the territory conquered by the axe of Parasurama (Periya purāṇam 491), and Cenkunrur the town of four sorts of pearls, not counting those that shine in the smiles of young girls (Periya purāṇam 492), as Cēkkiḻār never forgets literary ornaments. The process seems even to be inspired, here and there, only by the gentle and thoughtful policy of personalizing the mention of a site. In a very short 7 stanza purāṇa (Periya purāṇam 4120-4126), Ceruttuṇai’s exploit (the cutting off of the nose of a queen who had smelled a flower meant for Siva) takes place at Tiruvarur. But, in any case, the first stanza, praises Tancavur,21 the small town of Ceruttuṇai’s birth of which, according to Cuntarar, he was the “lord” (maṉavaṉ):

It is a noble opulent town where prosper luminaries
By nature attached to their unique way, without evasions,
Neither inward nor outward, true to the law of their clan:
Tancavur, of Marukal nāṭu, in the realm of the River of gold
Which, in its limpid billows, carries from sluice to sluice
The bright jewels, the carp and the tench.

31There are, however, more elaborate descriptions. For example, the story of the chief of the fishing community of Nakappattinam offers us an evocation of the rich harbour city, of the district and of the activities of the fishermen (Periya purāṇam 3992-3999): a mixture of conventions and observations on their use.

32In the formal genre of the talapurāṇam, respected or introduced, in Tamil at least, by Cēkkiḻār, it is obligatory to celebrate first of all the glory of the region, the micro-country, (nāṭu), then that of the city (nakaram) and, often, that which is specific about the sthala. The first four chapters of the first sarga of the Periya purāṇam are consecrated to the eminent glory (ciṟappu), respectively, of Kailasa, of the Cōḻa country, (limited to the Kāviri basin, of the town of Tiruvarur), and, finally, of the permanent congregation (kuṭṭam) of deva and Servants in the “Abode of the gods”, a maṇṭapa of the temple, a sanctuary that mythically represents the centre of the world. This is a remarkable zoom effect: from Siva’s paradise to the hall of a thousand pillars of Tiruvarur where the heroes of the poem are assembled. And it is a remarkable metaphysical vision which encloses in the timeless cycle of Kailasa (to which the end of the Periya purāṇam returns us) the terrestrial avatar of Cuntarar and his two companions and, through him, the whole narrative of the Servants since his Sum of the Servants is the medium. Remarkable too is the geographical landscape, with 35 stanzas singing the Kāviri in the lyrical tradition of the Cilappatikāram, with all rhetorical and hyperbolic artifice (the sugarcane that grows to such a height that it is taken for palm trees) or the plethoric enumeration required to give the image of fertility and opulence. Remarkable, finally, after all that exuberance, is the balanced mixture of the details, in the more restrained description (12 stanzas) of the town: a religious town of vedic Brahmins and Saiva ascetics, a boom town where street sounds alternate sacred and profane music, a voluptuous town where the presence of courtesans (here is another literary souvenir of the story of the Cilappatikāram) allows for the first announcement of the meeting between Cuntarar and his future wife, Paravai, and, lastly, a political town for the Cōḻa king whose mythical ancestry takes up most of the chapter.

33Other regional vanities are satisfied by different sizeable excerpts, worthy of being anthologized. A well known episode, the purāṇa of the hunter Kaṇṇappaṉ, is the occasion of a very fine, hundred stanza description of the site of Kāḷatti (Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh), and of the childhood and military training of the hero, born to command a tribe of wild hunters whose activities are observed in ethnographic detail with a precise recollection of the flora, fauna and occupations traditionally vested in the mountain region by Caṅkam literature. A brief echo of these landscaping conventions can also be heard, but it is of the cultivated plains (marutam), around Katavur, near Tancavur, with their paddy fields, lotus, buffaloes, carps, conches and pearls, their farmers’dances etc., (Periya purāṇam 832-834). On the other hand, the Tirukkuṟipputtoṇṭa Nāyaṉār Purāṇam exhausts the commonplaces of all the traditional landscapes of the Caṅkam, ideally reassembled, except for the desert, in an extremely long presentation of the Toṇṭaināṭu (Periya purāṇam 1078-1124). This is followed (Periya purāṇam 1125-1187) by a detailed picture of Kanchipuram, the true sthalapurāṇa of the site, with lists of tīrtha and precise mythological references; it constitutes the recognised source of inspiration of Sivañāṉa muṉivar for his composition of the first kāṇṭam of the Kāñcipurāṇam in the 18th c., one of the great texts of the Tamil talapurāṇam tradition. These landscaping elements alone occupy 110 out of 128 stanzas of a chapter in which the place of the hero, washerman by profession, in the gallery of the Servants is justified by only 18 stanzas. If the first description of the Pāṇṭiya court and of Madurai is short (Periya purāṇam 968-973) it is because the town is mentioned elsewhere, notably in the life of Campantar. In the same way Tillai, or Chidambaram, very much up-staged by its Brahmins in the short text devoted to their glory which is the foremost of the series after the Prologue (Periya purāṇam 350-359), is one of the most frequently named sites and remains omnipresent in the work from the preface onwards.

34In the Periya purāṇam, as we have said, the landscape is always the setting for a story, the showcase, unobtrusive and prestigious. In two cases particularly, the landscape is animated and participates in the general action: the processions and the apotheoses. The atmosphere of the Periya purāṇam lends itself to festivities, especially for the arrival, when heralded, of a Tēvāram poet, defender and illustrator of the faith. The longest chapter, the biography of Campantar, is a permanent festival, inaugurated in the first stanzas by the description of Cirkali, the town with twelve names (Periya purāṇam 1912), where the brahminical atmosphere is so intense that it impregnates even the vegetal kingdom: not only does the smoke of the vedic sacrifice envelop the city in a permanent twilight but the very trees join in the yāga (Periya purāṇam 1905), and the lotus wear the sacred thread and chant the Sāmaveda through the humming of the bees (Periya purāṇam 1907). Enthusiasm is not abated at all over the 1256 stanzas of this panegyric. With the palanquin and the parasol Siva has given him to facilitate his journey, and his small gold cymbals, another thoughtful gift to spare his delicate palms, Campantar, the divine child, is received everywhere as conquering hero. On his first visit to Tillai, the river flows only to welcome him and the birds, peacocks, bees and flowers and rice of the fields fete him in their own way (Periya purāṇam 2044-2057). Illuminations and triumphal arches greet him at Tiruvarur (Periya purāṇam 2400s). His entrance into Madurai, where he has come to confound the Jains, borders on delirium, and the long recital of his pilgrimages is that of a repetitive plunge into the crowd against the background of a village fair which makes one blench, and at the same time, better understand a certain kind of political pomp and ceremony of the late 20th c. in a context that is nowadays secular but still fairly emotional. These demonstrations of gaiety have something of trance state about them, a term which does not exactly refer to possession (āvēcam), so common at the popular level, and which would evoke a Malaysian context rather than the Tamil one.

35However, the discovery by Appūti of the identity of his guest, Appar (Periya purāṇam 1800-1801), Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ’s fit of joy on meeting with Cuntarar again to the sound of “drums of joy” (Periya purāṇam 4245), the meetings between Campantar and Appar, and the frenzy of Kaṇṇappar at the sight of the Siva linga in his forest (Periya purāṇam 755), are so many examples of those explosions of feeling which, take hold of masses of people and make the whole countryside vibrate at the time of those dazzling processions.

36What is happening when the Deva lend a hand and open the gates of heaven? This is the apotheosis of the Servants, one of the most remarkable of which was experienced by Campantar at the culmination of his wedding. Although the divine child had no desire to be a father, the destiny of his human avatar could not be accomplished without this capital stage in life. He therefore accepted the ritual and everything was made beautiful: ornaments, corteges and decoration, while the Celestials rained down flowers. The last stage is the ascension to Kailasa through a spiral of fire in which are caught up his bride and his regular attendants, as well as all the wedding guests with their families. This prefigures naturally the apotheosis of Cuntarar with his two companions and the king Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ, with which the poem ends, coming back in this way to its original landscape, that of Kailasa.

The greatness of service: from paradigm to paroxysm

37Inexhaustible Periya purāṇam! Seventy-two ways to serve are thus illustrated by sixty-three Servants and nine groups: rich material, within which it is tempting to operate according to choice, gaining thereby an infinite number of more or less legitimate illuminations, by wondering, at the same time, about the construction of figures and their fitness to be set up as paradigms, we may perhaps limit the arbitrariness of our speculations. Cēkkiḻār, as a proven writer, leaves little to chance: the composition of his poem is of an harmonious rigour. No internal contradictions are to be met with; the stories and their chronology mingle without hiatus. When contemporaneous, the Servants meet, even visit, one another and render homage, enter into competition; and, finally, the fame of the eldest of them is recognised by younger generations. It is woven on an obligatory weft but with attention to all the details.

  • 22 One more argument: the stories of Muṉaiyaṭuvār and of Iṭaṅkaḻi, respectively the good warrior and (...)
  • 23 This brilliant suggestion was made by J. R. Marr in his 1979 article in the BSOAS quoted above, an (...)

38Some commentators have wanted to catch Cēkkiḻār in a failure of logic in the sequence of two episodes in which the unfortunate queen, who has picked up and smelled a flower that has fallen in front of the pavilion where garlands are being prepared for Siva, has her nose cut off by a zealous devotee and then her hand by her husband, who initially responds to her cries for help, but is quickly convinced that her guilt is rather more serious. Cēkkiḻār recounts firstly the intervention of the husband in the purāṇa of Kaḻaṟciṅka Nāyaṉār (Periya purāṇam 4096-4108) before that of the devotee, the little Vēḷāḷa lord of the “Tancavur” mentioned above, Ceruttuṇai (Periya purāṇam 4120-4126); even worse than that, he inserts between these two chapters, united according to every indication, ten stanzas of a totally unconnected episode, that of Iṭaṅkaḻi. Moderns deplore the disrespect for logic and linear time.22 The fault lies with the textual tradition of The Sum of the Servants: wouldn’t it be enough to transpose the first two verses of its 9th stanza for everything to return to the proper order?23 Unfortunately the manuscript tradition is unanimous in the error, and it is persistently followed by the Antāti of Nampi, by the two sequences of sculpted panels of which we have already spoken and, lastly, by Cēkkiḻār, resigned it would seem, at least at first sight, to telling pretty much the same story twice.

39What if this feeble minded kow-towing to a tradition ill-suited to our view of time has its own logic too? The sequence of events in the poem is justified as it is expressed literally through the mouth of the king himself when he increases the punishment, finding it normal “to cut off first the hand which has first touched and gathered up the flower” (Periya purāṇam 4105). The initial judgement is in a way commuted on appeal, according to a perfectly orthodox view which places us at the very heart of Saiva doctrine where every episode of the Periya purāṇam has its rightful place. The enslavement to the senses takes us away from the service of Siva, which is the essential and the means par excellence of salvation. Therefore the bondage to the senses must be cut, and all other forms of bondage too, and it so happens that this pāśa-cheda of the doctrine is taken literally: there is a lot of “severing” in the Periya purāṇam. It is thus in the sanguinary story of Kōṭpuli, a Cōḻa general who, returning from an expedition, massacres his whole family, even including a baby, because, to survive in his absence, they have nourished themselves on the reserves of grain intended for the temple, despite his formal and personal instructions. Siva congratulates him on having cut with his sword the bonds tying him to his family and opens the gates of his paradise, first to him and then to those related to him (Periya purāṇam 4144-4145). Why not therefore operate logically, logic in the case considered being the chain of culpability with cause always preceding effect? Both the tradition and, once more, Cēkkiḻār are irrefutable and the contested order of presentation unimpeachable.

40This encourages giving its complete meaning to the multi-staged structure that the prologue imposes upon the whole. The Periya purāṇam is inscribed in the return journey of Cuntarar from Kailasa to the Tamil land, with all the action collected together in its founding narrative, The Sum of the Servants, of which Cēkkiḻār’s poem is but an amplified version. The divine is thus always immanent, and hence the vague awareness the Servants have of not being altogether men like other men. Certainly, the diabolical genius of Cēkkiḻār makes them live within a framework of fact or of convention the truth of which he imposes upon us, and with such moments, such accents, of humanity, as we may like to find in it. David Shulman, a poet himself, naturally returns to Kafka, to depict the young Cuntarar at the moment when his dreams of the future suddenly collapse, when an unknown old man looms up and in an insane manner tears him away from his happiness to make of him his slave, but Siva always tricks men when they will not give up everything to Him, and it is this that Cuntarar is so often taught to his cost. No less does Cēkkiḻār trick his readers, abandoning them when they lose sight of the guiding thread of his beginning.

41Centred on a tremendous tracking shot that goes from Siva’s heaven to the Tamil land, so miraculously predestined to receive him, half the first sarga is concerned with the setting up of the frame for the avatar: the sky, the Kāviri country, the site of Tiruvarur, the assembly of deva and “delivered” Servants mixed together. Four chapters introduce the fifth, the chapter of “recovery”, the only one to deal exclusively with the story of Cuntarar. At the very beginning of the sarga Siva opens the game: his handsome young celestial attendant, so close to him that he weaves his garlands and carries his sacred ashes, has let himself be distracted by two equally weak handmaidens of His Consort and all three have gone down to earth, to the South, to taste the happiness of carnal love (kātal iṉpam) and thereby heal themselves. (Periya purāṇam 37). Cuntarar’s only request,

Far from your beautiful feet of rosy hue I am a lowly thing!
If in my humanity I am misled by infatuation
O Lord, have the grace to keep me and overcome me! (Periya purāṇam 38)

42is granted and the earthly life of the trio begins. Siva lets the handsome young prince play hero of romances up to the moment when everything starts to go wrong: Cuntarar is preparing to marry another! Siva thus keeps his promise in the most literal sense, by brutally calling a halt. Disguised as an old Brahmin he tears Cuntarar from his wedding celebrations and subjugates him: an extraordinary coup de théâtre if the narrative is joined only there, that is half way, as Shulman plays at joining it in his own narrative, the better to emphasize the dramatic effect Cēkkiḻār does not abstain from. But if we remember what Upamaṉyu narrates in the Kailasa, then what Siva tells his slave on making himself known is no longer a revelation but just a reminder: “You were recently our servant, and you are born on earth at our command for having been too susceptible to concupiscence; to keep from you the miseries of life, we have followed you and taken you back in to the presence of good vedic Brahmins.” (Periya purāṇam 213). The grace of Siva causes Cuntarar to weep like a calf that has found its mother again, he is then confirmed in his mission as hymnologist; before the end of the chapter he will marry Paravai, the first of the two exiled beauties, will begin to tour the Saiva sites and will have composed The Sum of the Servants. We meet with him again later in the Periya purāṇam, escorted by a Siva who is attentive to his moods and wants to be his companion, tōḻaṉ, who is happily complaisant, but ready all the same to treat Cuntarar as his plaything so that the Servant will remember, each time he believes himself capable of running his own life or imagines himself so clever that he can forget His exclusive service, that it is He who is in command.

43This represents the most complex example of the relationship of the devotee with Siva, and the chapter of “recovery”, (or “retrieval”), must be emphasised. The term itself, a complex verbal form, and originally a hapax, has been repeated in the devotional language to the point of satiety, starting with the Periya purāṇam itself. In Tamil, the word, taṭuttāṭkoḷ-, joins together two distinct but complementary acts, “to stop”(taṭuttu) and “to bring under one’s authority” (āḷ-koḷ-): “to possess” in every sense of the word; it expresses a gesture of grace by which Siva stops someone engaged in a negative process so as to take him into his service. We naturally think of the conversion of Appar, whose return from Jainism to Saivism is through actual physical torture, inflicted on Appar by Siva at the intercession of his sister, to bring him back to Him (Periya purāṇam 1308-1343). “Divine intervention” is the refrain, highlighting the way Siva, who is omnipresent and immanent in all things, chooses to manifest himself, with Cuntarar in a complicit familiarity, but with others mostly at a critical moment when they are in error or when the practice of their service attains its apogee in an heroic event which transforms their human condition into the destiny of an exemplary Servant. This only happens in the context of the destiny of relatively exceptional individuals and the dramatisation which enthusiastically emphasizes the exemplarity of these figures is definitely not to be confused with an ethic of violence, even when virtue is made paroxysmal; most of the devotees finish out their service with as much patience as intransigence.

  • 24 Pukar, Tiruvarur, Uraiyur, Cennalur, Karur.

44When we question the paradigmatic value of these various types of service, we first of all observe that amongst the heroes the most extreme, do not fall within a paradigm, and that those collectively celebrated are good models of the Thomist virtue of eutrapelia (pleasing manners). There are, first, those who bring favour to their place of birth, probably as a reward for previous merit. In the lead, apart, and cited by Siva himself, are the Brahmins of Tillai (Periya purāṇam 350-359) whose glory is as eternal as is the dance of Siva in their temple. There are three thousand of them living in service of the temple of Nataraja at Chidambaram, one of whose names, Kōyil, the temple, makes it the sanctuary par excellence. Here the Periya purāṇam reflects the paramount importance of this site in the Cōḻa country of which it is never one of the five capitals,24 but rather the seat of a towering presence which confers upon it a unique moral authority: political authority too, if we refer to the singular story of Kūṟṟuva Nāyaṉār (Periya purāṇam 3930-3937), Prince of Kaḷantai (identified with one Kaḷappāl near Tancavur tentatively). A bellicose warrior, he wanted to be crowned by the Brahmins of Tillai who refused him because they could not consecrate anyone but a descendant of the Cōḻa dynasty and fled his rage, exiling themselves in Kerala; Siva crowned him with his feet in recompense for his service to Tillai. Thus is affirmed a link between the site and the reigning royal power which history seems to confirm. We retain, in any case, the fact that the merit of a site is sufficient to confer on some families the title of Servants by right of birth. This is confirmed by the existence of another category of Servants, more widely accepted since it embraces all “natives of Tiruvarur” (Periya purāṇam 4158-4159), identified with Siva’s divine gaṇa. This Saiva site of the greatest purity in Tamil lands, after Tillai and before Cirkali, is vividly recalled by Siva to a conscientious Servant who fears he has been polluted by the inevitable promiscuous contact during a festival around Tiruvarur (Periya purāṇam 1892). Here again we see in action those principles of practice taught by the Periya purāṇam, the fundamental verities of Saivism, in this case the purificatory value of a sacred place, more powerful than any form of untouchability.

  • 25 Of the Pallava king of Kanchi, Ayaṭikaḷ Kāṭavar Kōṉ, who was also a Tamil poet, author of the Kṣet (...)
  • 26 The most compelling illustration of Cēkkiḻār’s familiarity with the ritual dimension of the agamic (...)
  • 27 Translation by K. Jayammal in work quoted above n. 10, p. 131. It is not for the devotee to judge (...)

45Far from any kind of dramatic effect, it is a Saiva catechism that the Periya purāṇam is illustrating in the series of anonymous groups of Servants, inherited from Cuntarar, but upon whom the details added by Cēkkiḻār confer a quasi technical character. They are, first of all, “Those who serve as bhakta” (Pattar-āy-ppaṇivār, Periya purāṇam 4147-4154) that is, all those devotees who rejoice in the love of serving Siva or his devotees, in participating in his rituals or in hearing his sport celebrated. Only thinking of their service is enough to make them share in that state of trance we have already spoken of: incoherent remarks, floods of tears, shaking and trembling… (Periya purāṇam 4152), proving that emotional devotion is not the prerogative of the followers of Vishnu. Next come “Those who hymn the Supreme” (Paramaṉaiyē pāṭuvār, Periya purāṇam 4155-4156), whatever be the language of their hymns “Tamil of the South, knowledge of the North (Sanskrit), regionalism” (teṉ-tamiḻ-um, vaṭa-kalai-y-um, tēcikam-um).25 Next are “Those whose thoughts are only of Siva” (Cittattaic-civaṉ pālē vaittār, Periya purāṇam 4157), but these thoughts don’t visibly inspire Cēkkiḻār. He is more prolix when Saivism becomes more concrete again with, “Those who touch his sacred Form three times” (Muppōtum tiru-mēṉi tīṇṭuvār, Periya purāṇam 4160-4162). The vocabulary is intended to be precise “Those sages are the āti-Caiva” (mutal-caivarām muṉivar). Priests of temples, the Saiva of vedic observance, maintain from generation to generation, past, present and future, the right to carry out the morning, mid-day and evening ritual arcanā (arccaṉaikaḷ Civa-vētiyarkkē uriyaṉa). Cēkkiḻār is also quite technically precise with “The sages who cover themselves with the sacred ashes” (Muḻu nīṟu pūciya muṉivar, Periya purāṇam 4163-4168), for he sings the greatness of the ashes and explains in detail how they are made, according to the prescriptions of the Saiva agamas.26 He certainly revels in technical digressions as virtuoso performances. The ritualistic display of Saiva protocol is, nonetheless, not gratuitous here and this is because, firstly, the hymns of Tēvāram give a very important place to the sacred ashes and their multiple virtues, and then because Siva himself wears them, and we remember that, in the Kailasa, it is Cuntarar who holds them in order to carry them to his god and, lastly, because the Periya purāṇam also contains edifying stories in which the ashes figure, and are sometimes carried illicitly by some miscreants; but the Servants as genuine Saivas bow before the appearance of the ashes, knowing that they command respect and prevail over the nature of one who uses them. Once more we find ourselves with Cēkkiḻār at the heart of fundamental Saiva beliefs, as is underlined by the evident connection with the commentary of Civañāṉapōtam in which we have already marked this very much encoded cult of the ashes and other exterior signs. Śivāgrayogin (second half of the 16th c.) in this context quotes the Brahmāṇḍa purāṇa, “A person, though impure, though devoid of good conduct and even if he commits sin mentally, he always becomes pure if only he wears the ūrdhvapundra”.27

46Let us look at the story of Naraciṅkamuṉaiyaraiyaṉ (Periya purāṇam 3987-3996), prince of the Muṉaippāṭi country (native land of Cuntarar); it may concern his adoptive father, (Periya purāṇam 151), a valorous conqueror, generous towards all devotees, who notices amongst them an individual physically marked “by the vice of Kāma” but who wears the sacred ashes. Far from sharing the general contempt, the king distinguishes him with respect and gives him twice as much gold as he gives to the others, honouring a wearer of ashes without enquiring into his merits. And no one thinks of laughing at the blunder of the king Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ who prostrates before a washerman he takes for an ascetic because of the white lye dust with which he is covered.

47The same lesson is illustrated in a much more dramatic register in a story developed at greater length: that of a master of arms, probably a high ranking army officer, Ēṉātiṉāta Nāyaṉār who, next to weapons, lives only to serve Siva and the cult of the sacred ashes. Leaving aside the agama, two thirds of the narrative resonate with the roar of the merciless fratricidal battle between the duellist and his relative Aticūraṉ, each bent upon securing the best customers for himself. The two bands confront each other in an epic battle reminiscent of heroic poems of the epoch, such as the Kaliṅkattup-paraṇi, with the same streams of blood as that depicts and with images no less fantastic. The eviscerated warriors are carried off into the air by vultures and eagles which snatch them by their intestines; but they continue to fight in the sky and their aerial manoeuvres outdo those of the kites, the playthings of the children of the Vidyādhara (Periya purāṇam 631). Aticūraṉ flees, but ashamed of his defeat, he proposes a duel for the following day intending to cut Ēṉāti down by a trick. He covers his face with sacred ashes and advances, concealed behind his shield. The moment he is hit, he discloses himself and Ēṉāti suspends his strike, thinking of nothing but satisfying the desire of a wearer of the sacred ashes. All the same, and here Cēkkiḻār is drawing on the most beautiful chivalrous narratives, so as not to inflict on the cheat the dishonour of slaying an unarmed adversary he pretends to be ready to fight but clumsily reveals himself as if by mistake. Slain, he soon joins Siva, who has used this device “to give him grace by cutting his bonds with the sword of his adversary” (Periya purāṇam 648). Thus, whilst the values remain immutable, the tone of the examples is singularly different: seventy-two ways to serve!

  • 28 A. C. Nanacampantar, Periya purāṇam, ōr āyvu, Madras, 1994, ch. 13. Cf. above n. 5.
  • 29 Dated 1177/8 and attributed to Tirukkaṭavur Uyyavanta Tēvanāyaṉār, disciple in the second degree o (...)
  • 30 Work quoted st. 17 and 18.

48There is a distinction, misused today for the sake of convenience but that was in reality already posing problems immediately after Cēkkiḻār28 because of being too formal. A text from the 14 Saiva śāstra, a medieval Saiva canon, the Tirukkaḷiṟṟuppaṭiyār29 distinguishes two manners of assuring oneself of Siva’s service, mēlviṉai and valviṉai,30 the “gentle act” and “the rough act”, the mild and the wild perhaps, though soft and tough would be more exact.

  • 31 Enumerated for example in the episode of Kaṇaṉātaṉ (Periya purāṇam 3925): looking after the flower (...)

49The first category naturally includes all the forms of service peculiar to the cult31 and characterises the community of devotees, so that they are evoked, not only by the collective examples cited above, but by the number of individualised figures of Servants who express their devotion in a markedly peaceful fashion: the bucolic flute of the shepherd Āṉāya (ch. 19); the music of the yāḻ of the low caste Tirunīlakaṇṭa-yāḻ-pāṇaṉ, who accompanies Campantar (ch. 74); the Vedic chant of Sri Rudra by Uruttirapacupati, plunged up to the neck in water, his hands joined above his head (ch. 22); the garlands woven by the Brahmin Murukaṉ (ch. 21); Tirunāḷaippōvār’s long patient attendance near the entrance when, he waits for Siva to free him from his untouchability (ch. 23); the mystical attachment of the king Perumiḻalaik Kuṟumpar to The Sum of the Servants and to its author Cuntarar (ch. 28); the service of the lamplighter, Naminanti, whose faith is sufficiently strong to make the temple lights burn with water alone when the Jains refuse him clarified butter (ch. 32); the maintenance of the temple tank by the blind Taṇṭi suffering under the mockery of the Jains (ch. 36); the generosity of the Brahmin Ciṟappuli towards devotees (ch. 40); the exemplary contagious perfection of service which qualifies the Brahmin Kaṇaṉātaṉ to become chief of Siva’s gaṇa, (ch. 43); the liberal gifts of the king Naraciṅkamuṉaiyaraiyaṉ (ch. 47); the detachment of the monarch Ayaṭikaḷ who renounces his kingdom the better to devote himself to the service of Siva (ch. 52); the disinterestedness of the poet Kāri who gives all that he gains from his songs (ch. 54) to the service of Siva; that, too, of the mercenary Muṉaiyatuvār, who does the same with his gains (ch. 57);-that of the kings: Iṭaṅkaḻi, who seems to reign only to ensure the prosperity of Saivism (ch. 59); or Kōcceṅkaṭcōḻaṉ, the great temple builder (ch. 73); and weaver Nēcaṉ who weaves nothing but loincloths and breach clouts (Kīḻ and kōvaṇam) for Saiva ascetics (ch. 72); the devotion without the context of a story of the couple Caṭaiyaṉ and Icaiñāṉi, the parents of Cuntarar (ch. 75-76); the inner world of Pūcalār who builds a temple mentally (ch. 70); or of Vāyilār, prosperous śūdra of Mayilapur, closed up in perpetual meditation through the practice of the antariyāga pūja (akappūcai, or here “aka-malarnta-v-arccaṉaiyil” (ch. 56); and, finally the songs of the poets: for six of them we possess their works, collected in the eleven first Tirumuṟai to whom are added the sage yogin Tirumūlar, author of the Tirumantiram, Kāri, whose works are lost, and the mysterious group of “poets freed from falsehood” (Poyyatimai illāta pulavar, Periya purāṇam 3939-3941): in none of the episodes on this list, which is by no means exhaustive, does the service of Siva imply, “rough actions”.

  • 32 Dennis Hudson “Violent and fanatical devotion among the Nāyaṉārs: a study in the Periya purāṇam of (...)
  • 33 Compared with The Légende Dorée, the Periya purāṇam remains more sober. In this Christian text 91 (...)
  • 34 Cantiraleka Vamateva, The Concept of Vaṉṉaṉpu “violent love” in Tamil Caivism, with Special Refere (...)

50The list of these latter would be as long. Dennis Hudson has listed twenty-four so-called “violent” deeds. More spectacular and easier to present, they are often more popular and more often quoted; they capture the imagination, and it is them especially that the engravers of wooden plates for the old editions of summaries in modern prose have enthusiastically chosen. This taste is shared by a series of recent studies32 of western inspiration in which the orientalists seem to have lost sight of the meaning and the place of blood sacrifice in their own Judaeo-Christian tradition, only to throw themselves all the more avidly on anything in their anthropological quest that reminds them of it,33 whilst Cēkkiḻār, by contrast, does everything possible to sublimate the sacrifice even where its memory remains present and its function essential. A recent thesis34 studied around twenty cases in which the service of Siva takes a violent turn. Paradoxically, however, the fundamental concept on which the argumentation depends, the neologism “vaṉṉaṉpu” (violent love), rather contributes to underlining how fragile and artificial it remains to isolate, or worse to valorise, the violence in a composition as subtle as the Periya purāṇam. What is imposed, rather than an apologia for sacrifice, is the idea that it is the grace of Siva and the love of his Servants which makes sense of the illusory play of human behaviour, even when the literary tradition of great profane narratives and the memory of epics imposes violence, or more often heroism, as a powerful dramatic stimulus, as well as an undeniable ingredient of the presentation.

  • 35 Kuṅkuliyam, Telegu guggilamu, aromatic resin of various trees, Boswellia serrata, Shora roxburghii (...)
  • 36 In the case of Arivaṭṭāyaṉ, who nourishes Siva like a mother when he is prosperous, it is Siva him (...)

51The border between the two categories of behaviour is not clearly marked. In fact, amongst the “softs”, only the miraculous intervention of Siva puts a stop, before there is a tragedy, to the story of the Brahmin incense bearer, Kuṅkuliya-k-kalayaṉ (Periya purāṇam 831-865), who ruins himself to pay for the aromatic resin which gives him his name.35 After two days of fasting, when there is nothing left to eat in the house, he sets off to exchange his wife’s tāli for rice but, meeting a merchant selling precious incense, he buys the whole stock, forgetting his hunger; it is Siva who replenishes his stock and sends him off to have something to eat. The episode is edifying but takes a sudden turn. Things go even worse with Pukaḻtuṇai (Periya purāṇam 4127-4133). He does nothing except for the pūjā carried out regularly, morning and evening even in time of famine, which is the duty of his group of Saiva Brahmins. But coming to the end of his strength due to hunger he drops the pot of purificatory water; he is faithful to his post, literally perinde ac cadaver, “like a corpse”. Siva, taking pity on him, saves him and guarantees him a daily subsidy from then on.36 On this occasion, service of the most peaceful kind narrowly misses having a corpse to its account. The story of Kaliyaṉ, on the other hand (Periya purāṇam 4022-4038), follows all the steps which progressively drive the most peaceable servant to extreme measures. An eminent member of the guild of oil pressers, he spends his fortune lighting up the temple of Tiruvorriyur; reduced to working as a presser like a simple day labourer, he converts his goods into illuminations and, out of work, sells his house. Then everything falls apart: he tries to sell his wife (not just her tāli) but finds no takers; driven by the obligation to serve, he cuts his throat at the hour for lighting the lamps so as to fill them with his own blood rather than give up his service as lamplighter thus joining the group of violent devotees. Who could fail to see that very little space separates the service of the gentle from the violence of an action?

52The model is in fact very repetitive. Thus it is, again, to make the lamps burn in various shrines of Siva, that Kaṇampullaṉ ruins himself, sells all his goods, cuts and sells the grass that gives him his name (him too); then, when he is unable to sell it, he burns it in the lamp before feeding his own hair to the flame (Periya purāṇam ch. 53). The scarcity of sandal paste for anointing the deity, engineered by the Jains, constrains Mūrtti to extract, so to say, the paste from his own elbow which he crushes on the millstone: a hideous image, intolerable even to Siva himself, who at once puts a stop to it and recompenses Mūrtti by causing him to be chosen to reign over Madurai. But the violence of action takes up less than a tenth of this rather long chapter (Periya purāṇam ch. 20) which begins with a grandiose evocation of Maturai that gives more space to the management of the city and to the echo of tensions created by the provisional intrusion of a regime favourable to the Jains. We should be best advised to treat this example as a reflection on political power and religious fanaticism, a very rich subject for study in the Periya purāṇam today.

53Elsewhere, in contrast to the preceding examples, Siva adds to the violence, transforming a humorous gesture into brutal aggression. Caṇṭēcurar is a young Brahmin, more rarely known as Vicāracarumaṉ, who acts as the cowherd of the village out of respect for the animal which is the source of sacred ashes. To punish his father, who has kicked over the pot of milk meant for the puja ritual which he was in the process of performing to the linga he had just erected, “he takes a stick he finds beside him”. Is it his fault if his father, with both feet cut off, “collapses from the blow when the stick turns into an axe in his hands” (Periya purāṇam 1256)? Caṇṭēcurar then calmly resumes the interrupted puja. He is a model of bucolic gentleness yet he qualifies for the clan of the violent ones, Siva’s miracle aggravating his act. The meaning of that intervention stands out. As regards the father, it is the petty attitude of the Brahmins of the village who, after a slanderous denunciation, mount an enquiry into the possible overturning of the community’s milk by a not so scrupulous cowherd. On the other hand, Caṇṭēcurar is a devotee after Siva’s own heart and in line with the real values of Saivism. Siva irreversibly separates, “severs”, the two asunder and marks his Servant, making him his son from that time forth, and crowns him with flowers (Periya purāṇam 1259.) The violence here is that of Siva which is love and grace; and we are, of course, well aware of the important place of the shrine of Caṇḍeśvara and of the image of his devotee crowned by Him, in the Saiva temples of the Cōḻa dynasty.

  • 37 This rare word echoes the regular theological procedure in a case for canonisation examining “the (...)

54The violence of God is evidence of the heroicalness37 of the virtues of his Servants. We come back to the link with the Tamil puranas on the Sports of Siva the depths of which Marr clearly emphasised. Siva plays with his devotees the better to make their glory shine in the eyes of the world. Their virtue provokes him in some way, and the more shiningly perfect they are, the more cruel the test. This is, again, the divine game of He, who in another sacred text, the Bible, created Behemoth and Leviathan, with his servant Job, whose recriminations are at least as contentious as those of Cuntarar.

55There are cases where the violence seems to be treated like a game, almost like burlesque, in an astonishing movement, as in that passage of gallantry, the story of the lion-hearted Eri-pattar with his battle-axe. A sage, full of merit, daily provides Siva with flower garlands. On a fine day he repairs to the temple, the flowers in a pannier hung from his shoulder on a stick. The royal elephant chases him, grabs the pannier and scatters the flowers. The devotee pursues him with his stick crying “Civata!”. Alerted by his cries, Eri-pattar, witness to the ridiculous chase, leaps up, cuts off the elephant’s trunk, which rolls on the ground, and kills the two mahouts and the three escorts. The royal guard is alerted, the guard alerts the monarch, the ministers mobilise the army. Four stanzas (Periya purāṇam 580-583) present the clashing of weapons, the music of war and the movements of the troops: the cacophony at the end of the world. Rushing to the field, the king sees the devotee alone, looks somewhere else for attackers, refuses to understand, understands, approves and offers the devotee his sword, “I too deserve to die”. The devotee takes the sword and turns it on himself. The king holds his arms. Siva intervenes. The devotee falls at the feet of the king, the king at the feet of the devotee. Siva raises up and resuscitates everybody, including the elephant and the flowers in their basket.

56Even here however, there is no playing around with the essential which is the greatness, the glory, virility and heroism of unconditional service to Siva, nor with the respect due to his Servants and their exigencies. In the most spectacular of the narratives intended to demonstrate this, it is Siva who first provokes the most extreme situations, crazy in the eyes of the world. This is evident in the episode, the earliest isolated representations of which are the most numerous and attest, as do various ancient literary texts, to the independent existence of the hunter Kaṇṇappaṉ, where it is Siva who makes bleed the eye of the mukhalinga to which the hunter is pouring out his barbaric offerings, impelling Kaṇṇappaṉ to tear out one of his eyes and then the other, trying in his frantic solicitude to stop the haemorrhage. It is clear too from the very beginning of the work, with the history of Iyaṟpakai (Periya purāṇam ch. 8) whose name alone makes a sort of Antiphysis, “hostile to the natural world” say the commentators, more theologians than philologists. A Saiva ascetic demands of a hero his wife, thus flouting the most sacred of social connections. This king does not hesitate for a moment and slays all the members of the hero’s family to facilitate the flight of the ascetic who is carrying off the wife. What then is surprising about Kaḷikkampaṉ (Periya purāṇam ch. 49) cutting off his wife’s hand when she hesitates to treat one she recognises as an erstwhile dishonest servant in the same way as she treats other devotees received as guests in the house, or about Māṉakkañcāṟaṉ (Periya purāṇam ch. 17) cutting off his daughter’s hair when her wedding is being celebrated, because a Saiva ascetic suddenly arrives and claims the hair for weaving a thread? So as to offer a hot meal to an ascetic on a stormy night, the poor Iḷaiyāṅkuṭimāṟaṉ (Periya purāṇam ch. 9) digs up the seeds which might save him from famine and breaks up his roof beams for dry wood. Appūti, when host to Appar, for whom he has a special veneration, attempts to conceal from his guest, so as not to spoil the festive joy, the accidental death of his son who has been bitten by a snake while on his way to pick the most beautiful banana leaf for use as a plate for the meal (Periya purāṇam ch. 30).

  • 38 See in Constructions hagiographiques dans le monde indien, EPHE, Paris, 2001, pp. 285-313 the stud (...)

57The enumeration is wearisome but indispensable. Because it is in the dynamic of all these stories, each one of which plays its distinct part in the analogy, that is inscribed the best known and most “scandalous” episode of Ciṟuttoṇṭar,38 unfortunately most often isolated and studied separately, but in which it is just a matter, after all, of satisfying the whim of the guest one has chosen to serve. The inhuman overflowing joy of the parents of the young victim, expressed to satiety at each point which grows more horrid and unbearable, holds to the fact that it is up to them to satisfy the strange request of the Saiva ascetic to eat fresh human flesh and not only that, a special delicacy: a curry prepared with the head of a boy, their only son. Another, mostly overlooked, internal parallel episode is the story of the chief of the community of fisher-folk of Nakappattinam, Atipattaṉ, who throws the best fish out of his share of the daily catch back into the sea as an offering to Siva. Siva causes the catch to be poor; even if there’s only a single fish it is thrown back into the sea. Reduced to the most extreme hunger, Atipattaṉ, is submitted to the supreme temptation: a fish of gold which would free him and his family from hunger, now and forever. He rejects it and that suicidal gesture is as fatal for his family as that of Ciṟuttoṇṭar was to his; but like the latter he has chosen to remain faithful to the commitment he has made. Between such devotees and Siva there is a sort of potlatch, in which the devotees’ total identification with their service, their voluntary blindness to anything other than the observance to which they are clearly called, is constraining as much for Siva as for themselves. Does it seem that Siva is the more exigent? The real violence is in the extraordinary tension of interior conflicts nascent in this asceticism directed towards his service.

  • 39 Note however that the annihilation of 8000 Jains in Maturai is credited to Campantar on the basis (...)

58But the modalities of resolution are mere accidents. The songs of Appar and of Campantar are devoid of violence, but they cause Jains to be impaled.39 Cākkiya, a Saiva, who does not yet know that he is one because led astray by adherence to Buddhism, daily throws a stone at the linga (Periya purāṇam ch. 39), but the gesture, understood as counter-homage, is a gentle one. And then, there is that favourite of popular imagery, the pair of giant tongs that Catti brandishes, always ready to cut out the tongues of blasphemers, which makes it an instrument of love (Periya purāṇam ch. 51).

59After Siva has returned him to the straight way Appar, the indefatigable missionary, gives proof, in the service of his faith, of an extraordinary equanimity, even in his attitude towards the Jains who have tortured and persecuted him without success, and the vituperation in his songs is more stereotypical than personally insulting. The inner strength that animates and impels him to force a response from Siva when he is leaving to conquer Kailasa, for example, also represents a kind of heroism. We are reminded of the very fine formula of evocation of Vishnu in the Paripāṭal, “In heroism You are the strength”.

60Is it the feeling of being inhabited by that interior force that makes him sit down in front of one of the buildings of the temple of Paḻaiyāṟai, built by Jains but concealing a Saiva shrine, until the king, informed of this by Siva in a dream, orders its demolition which leads to the rout of the Jains (Periya purāṇam 1559-1565)? In any case, even if a faint echo of recent events in Ayodhya sounds in our mind, it should be recorded, first of all, that we have here an account of the first successful satyāgraha in the Tamil land.

The social dimension: power and untouchability

  • 40 Important but very repetitive bibliography in Tamil. See also, in English, K. Nampi Arooran’s, the (...)

61This takes us back to the oft debated theme of the social and political dimension of the Periya purāṇam40 the obligatory background to the presentation of the figures of the text. Without attempting to treat of so vast a subject, we will make a brief allusion to two of its aspects.

62The first is the relationship of the poem with royal power. It is too often repeated that Cēkkiḻār was a minister for it to be possible to avoid looking in his works for an apologia for the Cōḻa royalty. An allusion in the preface to the mythical king Śibi, the central place in the episode of the mythical sovereign Maṉunīti Cōḻa in the chapter devoted to Tiruvarur (Periya purāṇam 100-135), the connection, immediately made and continually reaffirmed, between Cōḻa royalty and the temple of Chidambaram, another great Saiva centre: all these give the archetypal references of the principal power of the region to the line to which Aṉapāya, the protector of Cēkkiḻār belongs. That being said, three traits are to be emphasised.

63The first is the concern of Cēkkiḻār with celebrating, whenever he can, the other great dynasties, Pallava and Kāḍava of Tondainadu, Cēra of Kerala, especially through Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ, as well as the Pāṇṭiya, whose support of the Jains at Madurai made things a little delicate; but there is, fortunately, the queen Maṅkaiyār who saved the honour of the dynasty by guiding her husband, the king Neṭumāṟaṉ, onto the path of Saivism. Hardly chauvinistic, Cēkkiḻār sees her as the Cōḻa luminary who is the splendour of the Pāṇṭiya kingdom (Periya purāṇam 4189-4191) His eulogy to the king (Periya purāṇam ch. 55) is however, a very beautiful piece of literature of secular consonance in the style of the paraṇi, the eulogy in memory of the mythical king Ugra Kumāra Pāṇṭiya. He, in fact, plays the role of federalist, at a more cultural and religious than political level, and it is to be noted that, in the story of Cēramāṉ (Periya purāṇam ch. 42), when the latter arrives at Madurai with Cuntarar, they are received by the Pāṇṭiya king, but the Cōḻa prince who has married that king’s daughter is already there; thus are united the sovereigns of the three realms, an ideal unitary vision whose literary “reality” goes back to the Caṅkam epoch and political reality to the world of myth.

  • 41 Political Geography of the Chola Country, Madras, 1973.

64The second point to be emphasized is that Cēkkiḻār, abstract federalist, is very much a decentralist as soon as geographical reality, an essential element in his poem, returns him to the concrete level of each small nāṭu. We cannot do better than suggest reading the poem in conjunction with the maps of Y. Subbarayalu.41 Princes abound in Cēkkiḻār’s works but their kingdoms are often tiny. Moreover, these warriors and political chiefs are very often Vēḷāḷa. If, theoretically, the system of four varṇa is never in question, practically, Cēkkiḻār’s princes, excepting the three great kings, rather reflect a society where, outside of the Brahmins, there would have been but two social strata, the holders of power and those in service. This ideology of the dominant Tamil classes, and in particular the Vēḷāḷa, has remained very much alive through the centuries.

65The third and last point is that Cēkkiḻār had a perfectly ideal conception of royalty from the point of view of the duty of a king as regards dharma and as regards Saivism. The king guarantees the dharma and respects religious values which he protects and makes prosper. Briefly speaking, the ideal is the situation of the Servants under Iṭaṅkaḻi, when the royal treasure belonged to them. But we swing between two models: the Pallava king Ayaṭikaḷ Kāṭavar Kōṉ, who renounced his royal status the better to consecrate himself to service, and the devotee Mūrtti, whose extreme devotion qualified him to become a good king but whose disposition towards fanaticism made him an uncertain element.

66The second social aspect, which we shall but lightly touch upon, is the social representation the Periya purāṇam gives us. We must remember, first of all, that Cēkkiḻār’s list of characters was not his free choice but had behind it three centuries of existence and traditions independent of him when he wrote his poem. The percentage of classes and castes was none of his doing but it is, all the same, interesting to see, even approximately, that of 63 individualised heroes, of whom about ten per cent belong to non-identifiable communities, there are 16 Brahmins (25%), 11 kings or princes (17.5%), 13 Vēḷāḷa (20.5%), 5 merchants (8%) and a dozen of mixed professions (19%): 2 shepherds, a weaver, apothecary, potter, fisherman, hunter, collector of palm juice, oil presser, “washerman”, bard and tanner. We notice that half of these people belong to the dominant class (lords, landowners and merchants), not counting Brahmins, and that the place of the service castes is much smaller, as in the story of the “washerman”, whose episode is mainly devoted to a description of Kanchi.

  • 42 See the article on Tamil Dalit literature in this volume.
  • 43 In his1934 edition of the Periya purāṇam, ad loc.

67The sole untouchable, a pulaiyaṉ, is, in contrast, especially popular under the name of Nantaṉār, alias “Tirunāḷai-p-pōvār (He who will go on the morrow” [to the Chidambaram temple] Periya purāṇam ch. 23) and, like Ciṟuttoṇṭar, his legend has developed in ways foreign to the Periya purāṇam. In the 19th c., Gopalakrishna Bharati inspired him with new life through an excellent musical drama which enriches his personality with an aspect of protest and pugnacity unknown to the Periya purāṇam. Today he is a favourite figure of Dalit, especially Christian, ideology, which makes of him the first Tamil Dalit martyr.42 Cēkkiḻār describes the pulaiyar district (pulai-p-pāṭi) as being outside the city and inhabited by farm workers under regular contract (Kiḻamai-t-tōḷil uḻavar). In other respects the description conforms to the literary usage which speaks of hens and puppies playing with the children and of women’s songs as they grind. There is no Tamil term here as would justify “slum”, the term commonly used in English versions of the narrative and, moreover, when the Brahmins themselves address the devotee it is by the honorific “Aiyarē!” Nantaṉār’s professional occupations are those of his caste and he gives himself up to all the services accessible to him in the surroundings of temples. He keenly desires to go to Chidambaram but “the ability to go there doesn’t go with my caste (kulam)”. Fear, and the feeling of being of base birth, hold him back when he reaches the entrance to the town until Siva, touched by the ardour of his desire and the sincerity of his service, asks the celebrated Brahmins of Tillai to prepare a great fire which will put an end to what Cēkkiḻār calls his illusory body (Māya poy takai) and also to his impure body (mācu-uṭampu) without, however, mentioning caste pollution explicitly. Some modern editors believe they have seen an interpolation in the order of Siva. Tiru Vi. Kaliyanacuntara Mutaliyar,43 for his part, deplores the failure by the Brahmins of Tillai to intercede with Siva instead of building the pyre, whilst Dalits today accuse them of burning one of their own. Everyone is forgetting that this type of purification by fire was known in all epochs and, in the Periya purāṇam, also takes place at the end of the wedding of Campantar when he, along with the entire wedding procession, ascends to Kailasa.

68As about royalty, Cēkkiḻār says nothing specific about secular matters. It is interesting, however, to confirm that this monument of Bhakti literature does not so much make war against the impurity attached to caste as it attempts to make a dogma of it. The over scrupulous Brahmin, Naminanti dares not go home before bathing, after attending a festival in the neighbourhood of Tiruvarur where he fears he has been polluted by promiscuous mixing with all sorts of people. Tired out, he goes to sleep outside his house (puṟaṅkaṭai), and Siva appears to him to remind him that everyone born at Tiruvarur is blessed. He understands and repents. The immediately preceding episode (though we know that this order was imposed upon Cēkkiḻār) is a further development. It is about Tirunīlaṉakkaṉ (Periya purāṇam ch. 31), who roughly reprimanded and almost repudiated his wife who had breathed on the linga to blow away a spider. Unaware of what the gesture meant in terms of consideration and love he had seen only a scandalous pollution by saliva. Siva makes things clear in a dream in which he appears covered in ulcers except just where the breath of that woman protected him. The Servant repents but the theme of impurity recommences with a visit by Campantar who, on the eve of the banquet, begs his host to receive into the house his musician with his wife who are of the pāṇar caste. When the host makes a place for them in the middle of his dwelling close to the homa kuṇḍa, the most sacred place in the house, the vedic fire burns more brightly than ever before and the Brahmin goes to sleep appeased, in the grace of the Lord, with the two lower caste bard and his wife, at his side. It would be pleasant to conclude with that charming image but philological verity compels us to say that Campantar himself does not usually seem to have been so attentive to the lodging of his musician: de minimis non curat praetor.

Out of the world: reflection or avatar?

  • 44 It is included now as a source of inspiration for popular contemporary literature. A writer of rea (...)

69So, the Periya purāṇam then continues to be inexhaustible44 especially in that its author has so skilfully made of the figures of the Servants, not only prototypes for a gallery of exemplary devotees but, very often, human beings of great complexity too, so that the reading of the text is not confined to the religious audience for which it was initially meant; it is as fascinating as the reading of any very great poem is. Amongst the most attractive figures, and certainly treated at greatest length, are those of the poets and of the authors of the Tēvāram in particular. The story of each of the three, intermingled with the memory of their work, always in filigree in Cēkkiḻār’s text, is written from a psychological viewpoint which feels and senses more often than it analyses. Thus we notice that the presence of an anterior existence, or experience, is, in these lives, a sort of latent conscientiousness, lit up in flashes, of which even the frequency is unforeseeable and perhaps, anyway, the result of divine caprice.

70An orientation towards the avatar is an obvious temptation. Thus Appar’s years of error in service of the Jains may have been due to some trifling slip in a previous life (Periya purāṇam 1314). But according to a later Sanskrit version of the Periya purāṇam, the Agastya bhakta vilāsa, he would already have been a great sage (tapomuṉi) under the name Sutapa Muni, a pre-figuration of the wisdom which established him in his function as a father of the Saiva faith.

71The whole biography of Campantar is bathed in an atmosphere of the marvellous. This extraordinary child goes, until the age of three, through the traditional ludic stages (parvam) known in Tamil literature as piḷḷai-t-tamiḻ (Periya purāṇam 1943-1951) and clearly evoked by Cēkkiḻār. At this precocious turning point in his life, however, when Campantar receives, with a cup of milk from Umā, the gift of the knowledge of Siva, there spontaneously awakens in him the echo of an earlier consciousness (Periya purāṇam 1959-1961). The tradition would develop the implications of this spiritual parenting in making Campantar into an avatar of Subrahmanya, son of the divine couple. Cēkkiḻār had the diabolical cleverness to safeguard the humanity of his hero by leaving that aspect in semi-obscurity, thus avoiding the pitfall of the avatāra temptation.

  • 45 See Siva’s Warriors, cited above n. 4 pp. 156-160.

72Cuntarar, however, remains the most fascinating figure. We know from the beginning that he is, by way of being the avatar of a celestial servant, very close to Siva, but the intimacy of their relationship and their incisive dialogue which often echoes the extraordinary accents of the hymns of the Tēvāram of Cuntarar, never ceases to surprise us even so. The scandalised reaction of the Basava Purāṇa45 is quite rude about the pranks of Oḍaya Nampi, the name Cuntarar bears there, and about the indulgence of Siva, and makes a very large place for the vituperations of Viraṉmiṇṭar, who has become Mirumiṇḍa in Karnataka. But Ēyarkōṉ Kaḷikkāma has already struck back, in the Periya purāṇam itself (ch. 34), of which the Basava Purāṇa is only the amplified echo. When Siva, to bring him back to better sentiments, uses his favourite means of pressurising and afflicts him, as previously he did Appar, with horrible colic pains, this austere protestant, faithful to his exigent image of the god, opens his own stomach rather than be healed by Cuntarar.

  • 46 Pērūrppurāṇam poḻippurai, kuṟippuraikaḷuṭaṉ, edition of the Tiruvāvaṭutuṟai Ātīṉam, 1969, 19th paṭ (...)
  • 47 That of the advaita of Śaṃkara. Cf. Olivier Lacombe, L’Absolu selon le Vedanta, Paris, 1937, p. 25 (...)

73Kaḷikkāma and the Vīracaiva are obviously unaware of an astonishing dimension of the intimacy between Siva and Cuntarar, which seems to be found in a great tradition of Saiva Vēḷāḷa and is nourished by the Periya purāṇam, concentrated around the Tiruvāvaṭutuṟai Math and illustrated by Civañāṉa and Kacciyappa Muṉivar, authors of the 18th c. purāṇas of Kanchi and of Perur. The Tiruppērūr-purāṇam in particular, recounts the life of Cuntarar in a Paḷḷuppaṭalam where, according to the prolific folkloric genre, paḷḷu, all the gods make themselves into farm workers in the rice fields. The episode is well known but the first stanza, which is prodigious, is too easily forgotten. It tells of how Siva, while on Kailasa looks in a full length mirror at his own image as Prince Charming; he calls the image, and Cuntarar appears, perfectly beautiful with the radiance of ten million suns.46 He brings to the god the cup of poison extracted from the Ocean of Milk, whence his name, Ālālacuntarar. This echoes a concept already present at some length in the third chapter of the Upamanyu bhakta vilāsa which makes of Cuntarar the “mirror-image” of Siva, his bimba pratibimba. At the request of Pārvati who admires the unique beauty of her Lord as reflected in the mirror brought to him by Nandi, Siva conjures up an embodiment of his own reflection and this form, tangible to the senses, is none other than Cuntarar whom Siva promptly invests with most of his own powers and paraphernalia. This won’t last, but, rather than succumbing to vertigo before this admirable vision of divine narcissism, “pregnant” with new and modern interpretations, we notice at once that this psychological and philosophical version of the relationship between the god and his devotee threatens the literary equilibrium of the poem, for as soon as it is explicit it makes short work of all the human complexity that the tradition accepts in the perspective of Bhakti, to substitute for it another perspective, stranger and unusual, but perhaps more complex, which would draw us into in-depth psychoanalysis or pure metaphysics.47 On the other hand, however, we cannot but admire the extraordinary cleverness of Cēkkiḻār who has kept, in the intimacy between Siva and Cuntarar all the mystery of its immanence and all its dramatic human potential. Even more, we leave the Periya purāṇam with the revelation of the marvellous humanity of a Saiva god who feels the need to confront his own image so as to be reconciled with himself and, perhaps, to try to transcend himself.

74The French version was published in Constructions hagiographiques dans le monde indien, Entre mythe et histoire, sous la responsabilité de Françoise Mallison, in Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Sciences historiques et religieuses, Tome 338, Paris, 2001.


1 Indira V. Peterson “Tamil Saiva Hagiography, The narrative of the holy servants (of Siva) and the hagiographical project in Tamil Saivism” in According to Tradition, hagiographical writings in India, ed. by Winand M. Callewaert and Rupert Snell, 1994, Harrassowitz, Wisbaden, pp. 191-228. To be found in this article are most of the loci generally accepted today and essential bibliographic indications. Refer also to our bilingual introduction “Towards reading the Tēvāram” in the edition cited below n. 2. (See the previous article in this vol.).

2 Edition by T. V. Gopal Iyer, under the direction of François Gros, Publication de l’Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2 vol., Pondichéry, 1984-85; third complementary volume in Tamil by T. V. Gopal Iyer exclusively, Tēvāram āyvuttuṇai, 1991. The remarkable English translation of the Tēvāram of Cuntarar by David Dean Shulman, entitled Songs of the Harsh Devotee, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1990, offers a number of original suggestions. It takes into consideration the readings of our edition but not Cuntarar’s 101st song, dedicated to Nākaikkārōṇam, which we have included on the evidence of seven manuscripts and on the authority of Cēkkiḻār who attests to two visits to this site by Cuntarar. Might one, more in play rather than out of pure conviction, suggest according to the same criteria, that the 19th hymn, which celebrates Tiruniṉṟiyūr but is not mentioned by Cēkkiḻār (who, on the other hand, very explicitly quotes a verse from the other hymn, the 65th, incomplete, which is assigned to this site; cf. Periya purāṇam 3304) is to be rejected to the benefit of the 101st, to conserve to the collection its traditional numerus clausus?

3 It is with this tool, uḻavāram, that the stereotyped iconography represents him and Cēkkiḻār describes him, from first mention, (Periya purāṇam 229), soon after his conversion (Periya purāṇam 134) to the end of his days, when Siva makes gold and nine sorts of gems gush forth in the courtyard of the temple of Tiruppukalur while Appar is cleaning it (Periya purāṇam 1681s). Let us highlight, once and for all, the manual work of the Servant-Bard who has vowed himself literally body and soul to Siva. We quote the Periya purāṇam according to the numeration of the monumental edition of C. K. Subramaniya Mudaliyar, in 7 vols., Coimbatore, 1937-1954, which seems to us to be the best. Second edition, 1960. This numeration is also that of the English version by T. N. Ramachandran, published by the Tamil University, Tancavur, 1990-1995. The numbers go up to 4281 selected stanzas. Preceded by chap, it refers to chapters or episodes. Our numeration of chapters corresponds, however, to that of this English version, the one most likely to be consulted by readers. Five numbers (those of the prologue) are to be omitted if the numeration of the C. K. Subramaniya Mudaliyar’s Tamil edition is to be rediscovered.

4 Siva’s Warriors, The Basava Purāṇa of Pālkuriki Somanātha, translated from the Telugu by Velcheru Narayana Rao assisted by Gene H. Roghair, Princeton University Press, 1990. See pp. 157-160.

5 He is justly celebrated for the importance of his Sanskrit and Tamil doctrinal works and for Kōyiṟpurāṇam dedicated to Chidambaram, the temple par excellence. The 1859 edition of the Periya purāṇam, by Capapati Mutaliyar, includes the Tirumuṟai kaṇṭa purāṇam without mentioning the author. It is the same with the edition in 1888 by Arumuka Tampiran. In 1898, Catacivappillai published an edition of Periya purāṇam without this text which appeared, without the author’s name, fourteen years later in a second edition, and with the name Umapati only as from the 4th edition (information gathered from T. N. Ramachandran by A. C. Nanacampantar, cited in Periya purāṇam ōr āyvu, Madras 1994, p. 418s. This research study is a second edition, the first having appeared in 1987, Tamil University, Tancavur). Appendix II devoted to Nampi Āṇṭār Nampi, pp. 156-159 of the re-edition by Annamalai University of a short book by J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, Periya purāṇam (The Lives of the Saiva Saints) by St. Cēkkiḻār, 1955 (1st ed. 1924) is nothing but a straightforward summary of Tirumuṟai kaṇṭa purāṇam.

6 This concerns elaborate rituals, described at length under the rubric Bhakta pratiṣṭā of the āgama(s).

7 John R. Marr, “The Periya purāṇam frieze at Tārācuram: episodes in the lives of the Tamil Saiva Saints”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 42, 1979, pp. 268-289.

8 Darasuram, Publications de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, Mémoires archéologiques XVI, Tome I –Texte, Paris 1987, pp. 96-107.

9 Songs of the Harsh Devotee, p. XL.

10 Abundant bibliography. Our reading of the text is inspired by the shortened commentary of Navamoney David Nadar, An English translation of Saint Meykaṇṭa tēva nāyaṉār’s Civañāṉa pōtam, with reference to St. civa ñāṉa Yōkikaḷ’s Civañāṉa pāṭiyam, with Quotations from Civañāṉa cittiyār and Civaprakācam and other Jnana Sastras with notes and explanations, Trichinopoly, 1927. For sūtra 12, the translation of which is ours, see pp. 132-145. See too, K. Jayammal, The Śivajñānabodha-saṅgrahabhāṣya of Śivāgrayogin, English translation with introduction and indices, University of Madras, 1993. Here it is the Sanskrit version that serves as base. Sūtra 12 takes the form, “One should, for the sake of release, approach the virtuous and render service to them. One should assume their appearance and propitiate the temple of Siva. In this manner one should understand the doctrine of Siva established in the Śivajñānabodha.” (p. 120). To be noted is the insistence of this commentary on the service due to the Śivayogin, on the ritual practices and on exterior signs, see pp. 121-135.

11 J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, interpreter and fervent propagandist of Śaivasiddhānta in its Tamil expression, reads the end of sūtra 12 as follows, “…contemplate their [i.e, bhaktas and Sivagnanis] Forms and the Forms in the temples as His Form”, and he added this varthikam: “It is enjoined that the forms of Bhaktas and the Siva Linga should be worshipped as Parameswara as He shines brightly in these Forms though He is present in everything”, in Civañāṉa pōtam of Meykaṇṭa tēvar, reprinted, tarumapuram Ātīṉam, 1945, pp. 96-97. The first edition is dated 1895.

12 Navamoney, work quoted p. 139ff. We keep the double reading of these two quotations: the first which, in accordance with the Tirumantiram of Tirumūlar has one of the Servants sung by Cēkkiḻār, make of the soul the interior temple where Siva is to be sought, and the second which opens doors for us onto a sacred geography of the Saiva landscape.

13 See the bibliography given in our Introduction to the Tēvāram published in the PIFI at Pondicherry (cited above n. 2) p. 26, n. 35, and especially the contributions of Indira Peterson and David Shulman. (See the previous article in this vol.).

14 Songs of the Harsh Devotee, p. 74.

15 This name is the one given as title to the Upamanyu bhakta vilāsa, Sanskrit version of the Periya purāṇam, and doubtless a very faithful adaptation of the Periya purāṇam, but with a number of interesting variations in the detail, which seem to attest to an independent transmission of some stories, and perhaps even of Tēvāram. The numerous, but not exhaustive soundings of R. Nagaswamy (personal communication) encourage pursuit of the enquiry. The text probably dates from the 16th c. Another Sanskrit version, more condensed but often close to the preceding one, the Agastya bhakta vilāsa, seems to be a little later, and the Śivarahasya is attributed to the 18th c. There is no reason to see, in the very normal intervention of a sage such as Upamaṉyu at the beginning of a work such as the Periya purāṇam, an acknowledgement of the borrowing from Sanskrit of the Periya purāṇam itself. Everything points to the anteriority of the Tamil text, especially the comparison of the names of the heroes. The complete comparative study of the versions of the Periya purāṇam in different Indian, not only Dravidian, languages, is however yet to be made: inexhaustible Periya purāṇam! (See the forthcoming IFP publication on the relationship between Tamil and Sanskrit).

16 Even the music must be considered. Its importance is clearly shown in the purāṇa of Āṉāya Nāyaṉār, a flute-playing shepherd, who is a sort of Saiva counterpart to Krishna Veṇugopāla. Cēkkiḻār describes his instrument and analyses his music with an extraordinary wealth of technical vocabulary (Periya purāṇam 938, 948-953).

17 Temple Myths: sacrifice and divine marriage in the South Indian Tamil Saiva tradition, Princeton University Press, 1980, pp. 29-30.

18 “The folly of righteousness: episodes from the Periya purāṇam”, p. 120, in Christopher Shakle and Rupert Snell, The Indian Narrative, Perspective and Patterns, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992, pp. 117-135.

19 See Shulman, The Songs of the Harsh Devotee, under hymn 75 and Tamil Temple Myths, p. 45.

20 The two Tiruviḷaiyāṭaṟpurāṇam, that of Perumpaṟṟappuliyūr Nampi, dated, as the Periya purāṇam, from the 12th c. and that of Parañcōti, from the end of the 18th c. See especially the narratives about the generosity of Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ toward the bard (pāṇaṉ) Pattiraṉ, and those about the impalement of Jains at Madurai after their defeat by Campantar.

21 This is not the well known town of Tancavur but a “Tancavur in the west”, a more obscure site, near Nannilam on the Mayavaram road to Nakappattinam, 6 kms. from a village called Tirumarukal. See T. V. Gopal Iyer, Tēvāram Āyvuttuṇai, p. 306, and Y. Subbarayalu, Political Geography of the Cola Country, Madras, 1973, under the no. 62 in the lists of Cholamandalam and map no. 11. Marr, in the article cited p. 121, understands, “Fragrant is the land of Tancavur” and correctly sees in our “carp and tench” two varieties of carp. The “clan” of Ceruttuṇai is that of Cēkkiḻār himself, the group (kuṭi and kulam, almost interchangeable) of the Vēḷāḷa of legendary rectitude. The River of gold (Tam. Poṉṉi) is the Kaviri which is considered as reigning over the Cōḻa country because a literary tradition has it that the river is the wife of the king.

22 One more argument: the stories of Muṉaiyaṭuvār and of Iṭaṅkaḻi, respectively the good warrior and the good prince, who care only for the service of Siva, would in that configuration be in direct succession, logically.

23 This brilliant suggestion was made by J. R. Marr in his 1979 article in the BSOAS quoted above, and is accepted by Shulman in a footnote to his translation of Cuntarar’s poem, Songs of the Harsh Devotee, p. 247.

24 Pukar, Tiruvarur, Uraiyur, Cennalur, Karur.

25 Of the Pallava king of Kanchi, Ayaṭikaḷ Kāṭavar Kōṉ, who was also a Tamil poet, author of the Kṣetra tiruveṇpā, it is said, “he commands kings; he has command over Sanskrit texts and original Tamil works” (Periya purāṇam 4048). This is an essential cultural characteristic of the Kanchipuram tradition.

26 The most compelling illustration of Cēkkiḻār’s familiarity with the ritual dimension of the agamic doctrine is in the very next story he narrates (Periya purāṇam, 4171-4188), about Pūcalār, a devotee who builds for Siva a mental temple, we would say today a virtual one, in conformity with agamic prescriptions. Cēkkiḻār gives all the details: how all the materials are collected, how each part of the shrine is built, not forgetting the outer walls, the tanks and the decoration. Meanwhile the King of Kanchi is also building a temple, in granite, but when the time comes for its consecration Siva gives the priority to the mental monument of Pūcalār.

27 Translation by K. Jayammal in work quoted above n. 10, p. 131. It is not for the devotee to judge the bearer of signs: he bows before the signs themselves. In the Periya purāṇam, three voluntarily accepted deaths have for direct cause the veneration that comes from the vision by the devotee of a head wearing the sacred ashes or the accoutrements of a Saiva ascetic: Meypporuḷ, Ēṉāti, Pukaḻ-Cōḻa, and in the first two cases it is a matter of imposture.

28 A. C. Nanacampantar, Periya purāṇam, ōr āyvu, Madras, 1994, ch. 13. Cf. above n. 5.

29 Dated 1177/8 and attributed to Tirukkaṭavur Uyyavanta Tēvanāyaṉār, disciple in the second degree of Tiruviyalūr Uyyavanta Tēvaṉāyaṉār, author of the Tiruvuntiyār, dated 1147/8: these two authors are often identified with one another. The two texts are published together, with English translation, copious notes and bibliography by T. N. Ramachandran, Nila Murram, Chennai, 2003.

30 Work quoted st. 17 and 18.

31 Enumerated for example in the episode of Kaṇaṉātaṉ (Periya purāṇam 3925): looking after the flower garden, picking flowers from the trees, weaving garlands, providing water for ablutions, sweeping the temple surroundings and coating them with cow dung, transcribing and reciting the Tirumuṟai…

32 Dennis Hudson “Violent and fanatical devotion among the Nāyaṉārs: a study in the Periya purāṇam of Cēkkiḻār”, in Alf Hiltebeitel, ed., Criminal gods and demon devotees: essays on the guardians of popular Hinduism, Albany State University of New York Press, 1989, pp. 373-404. Quoted also in I. Peterson, article quoted above n. 1. G. Hart had published a translation of Ciṟuttoṇṭar’s episode with his comments in the Essays in Honour of Daniel H. Ingalls as early as 1980. No progress was made till David Shulman proposed a much wider comparative approach in The Hungry God: Hindu tales of Filicide and Devotion, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993, pp. 18-36.

33 Compared with The Légende Dorée, the Periya purāṇam remains more sober. In this Christian text 91 saints out of 153 end their lives under torture, that is 61%. Thomist theology in fact condemned this unhealthy fascination with martyrdom because it has recourse to strength which was not ranked first amongst virtues. See Alain Boureau, La Légende Dorée. Le système narratif de Jacques de Voragine (†1298) Paris, 1984, p. 112ff.

34 Cantiraleka Vamateva, The Concept of Vaṉṉaṉpu “violent love” in Tamil Caivism, with Special Reference to the Periya purāṇam, Uppsala University, Religious Studies, Department for the History of Religions, 1995.

35 Kuṅkuliyam, Telegu guggilamu, aromatic resin of various trees, Boswellia serrata, Shora roxburghii…

36 In the case of Arivaṭṭāyaṉ, who nourishes Siva like a mother when he is prosperous, it is Siva himself, in contrast, who ruins him to test him and doesn’t stop until he is just about to cut his own throat.

37 This rare word echoes the regular theological procedure in a case for canonisation examining “the degree of heroism” reached by the candidate in his effective practice of the Christian virtues.

38 See in Constructions hagiographiques dans le monde indien, EPHE, Paris, 2001, pp. 285-313 the study of Mrs Josiane Racine on the popular Tamil festivals associated with it. On the other hand, the very rich approach of David Shulman in The Hungry God (quoted above n. 32) compares the version of the Periya purāṇam and its treatment in various Telugu virasaiva versions (Basavapurāṇa), then court poetry, where the story recounted to a merchant of Nallur becomes a pure līlā possibly staged as a drama (Harivilāsamu of Śrīnātha, 14-15th c), and folkloric poetry where the son is killed twice by his mother, the god first accusing her of having killed someone else (Palnāṭi virula kathā). There are many other versions, Kannada, Kashmiri, Gujarati etc. Karine Ladrech refers in her thesis on Bhairava to Bhairavavilāsa (A [Hitherto] Unpublished Drama) by Brahmatra Vaidyanātha, Edited with an English translation and Introduction by Narendra Nath Sharma. Delhi, Eastern Book Linkers, 1979; this Sanskrit text is unfortunately not dated. In Tamil we must read Bharati Dasan’s drama Kaṟkaṇṭu ‘candy sugar’; (see Candi French translation, by G. David, Alliance Française of Pondicherry [1991]), a militant “rationalist” staging of the medieval legend within the contemporary social context of a “bourgeois comedy”. The systematic study of these parallel texts is a much needed hagiographic work.

39 Note however that the annihilation of 8000 Jains in Maturai is credited to Campantar on the basis of a single vague reference in v. 74 of Āḷuṭaiya Piḷḷaiyār and that later medieval statements are at variance and do not permit of stressing the legend as a historical fact. See Anne Elisabeth Monius, “Love, Violence, and the Aesthetics of Disgust: Saivas and Jains in Medieval South India”, in Journal of Indian Philosophy, XXXII (2004), pp. 113-172.

40 Important but very repetitive bibliography in Tamil. See also, in English, K. Nampi Arooran’s, thesis, Glimpses of Tamil Culture Based on Periya purāṇam, Madurai 1977.

41 Political Geography of the Chola Country, Madras, 1973.

42 See the article on Tamil Dalit literature in this volume.

43 In his1934 edition of the Periya purāṇam, ad loc.

44 It is included now as a source of inspiration for popular contemporary literature. A writer of real talent, marred by prolixity, Balakumaran published, in Madras in 1994, a biography of Cuntarar entitled Cinēkitaṉ (the Friend) and, in September 1995, a collection of Periyapurāṇakkataikaḷ, (Vica Publications, Chennai), 13 lives of Nāyaṉmār retold in the fluid prose and direct language that made his success. He announced in October 1995 that a biography of Campantar was in the course of being drafted, before writing profusely on Cōḻa legendary history.

45 See Siva’s Warriors, cited above n. 4 pp. 156-160.

46 Pērūrppurāṇam poḻippurai, kuṟippuraikaḷuṭaṉ, edition of the Tiruvāvaṭutuṟai Ātīṉam, 1969, 19th paṭala “Paḷḷu-p-paṭalam” stanza 1, p. 373. A good summary in C. K. Cuppiramaniya Mutaliyar et al., Tiruppērūr Purāṇam, curukka vacaṉam, Madras 1930 (pp. 18-21).

47 That of the advaita of Śaṃkara. Cf. Olivier Lacombe, L’Absolu selon le Vedanta, Paris, 1937, p. 258s. Vai. Irattinacapapati finds this difficult choice perplexing, in his book, Cuntarar ōr āyvu, Madras Uinversity, 1986, pp. 11-66. Of course, to the conflicting relationship God maintains with the man he has created, we join here the eternal myths of the fight of Jacob with the angel, which has no natural issue, of the many paradises lost, of the fall and redemption of angels or men, of gods versus asuras etc. Once more, inexhaustible Periya purāṇam.

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