This translation was made in 1986 when I was working at night as Sinn a security guard in my home town, Congleton, England. Using felt tipped pens, I copied out the Tamil text of each verse, writing the translation underneath. After a while I began to decorate the verse numbers with doodles, which became more and more elaborate as time went on, developing finally into images inspired by the text itself. An example of these can be seen in black and white on page vii of the Introduction. The rules for creating these doodles were as follows: each doodle had to consist of a single line; the line could not cross its own path, and the doodle had to end at of the Dawning its starting point, forming a single loop. This seemed to me be an apt metaphor for the Self, as conceived in Advaita. I was reminded of a number of statements from recorded conversations with Nisargadatta Maharaj in the book I Am That, as for instance the following ones from Talks 87 and 77:
You are so small that nothing can pin you down. It is your mind that gets caught, not you. Know yourself as you are - a mere point in consciousness, dimensionless and timeless. You are like the point of the pencil - by mere contact with you the mind draws its picture of the world. You are single and simple - the picture is complex and extensive. Don't be misled by the picture - remain aware of the tiny point which is everywhere in the picture.
As the tiny point of a pencil can draw innumerable pictures, so does the dimensionless point of awareness draw the contents of the vast universe. Find that point and be free.
I imagined this line of consciousness, made up of its infinite points, resolving back into pure being upon the completion of its circuit, dissolving like the footprints of birds in the sky. It is into a world such as this that the poet-sage Manikkavacakar invites us with his hymns, where the world, after numerous trials and tribulations certainly, surely fades until it is but an evanescent veil, barely visible against the radiant effulgence of Lord Siva, the Self, the supreme reality, and then is no more. The author, Katavul Mamunivar, leaves us with this enduring image of the saint's final apotheosis, as he merges as one with Lord Siva in the inner shrine at Chidambaram:
Pointing with his hand, even as his body vanished, and saying, `He is the Reality, the one who dwells in Tillai, girt by rich fields and groves of areca trees,' Vadavurar disappeared from view.
The stories told in this biography are amongst the best loved and most enduring of all the saintly exploits recorded in the hagiographies of Tamil Nadu, whilst the hymns of the Tiruvacagam are amongst the best loved of its temple liturgies. The aim of this book is to combine these two elements into a single book to give a more rounded picture of Manikkavacakar in which the mystical insights of the hymns are projected against the tapestry, woven with miracles, of the saint's biography.
The Tiruvatavur Atikal Puranam is a biography of the Tamil saint Manikkavacakar, the author of the collection of hymns in Tamil known as the Tiruvacakam. Along with the other three great poet-saints of Tamil Nadu, Appar, Tirurnanasambandhar and Sundarar, he played a major role in establishing the worship of Siva as the dominant religion at a time when the Jain and Buddhist religions were in the ascendant in South India. Little is known of his life other than what is written in the Madurai Sthala Puranam, otherwise known as the Tiru Vilaiyatal Puranam, which is an account of the holy exploits, 'sports', of Lord Siva in the Pandiyan Kingdom, written, or possibly translated from a Sanskrit original, in the 15th century by Paranjoti Munivar. The current work, the Tiruvatavur Atikal Puranam, is an expansion of sections 58-61 of that work, written in the 18th century by Katavul Mamunivar, of whom virtually nothing is known.
The Tiruvatavur Atikal Puranam is classed by the commentator on the text which forms the basis of this translation as a carpu nul - a collateral work, a work which differs from the original in certain particulars, as opposed to a mutal nul - an original work or a vali nul - a closely derived work. Having said that, it does not appear to differ significantly from the original. It seems that the author has simply invented or imagined such added detail as was necessary to transform a rather terse original into a flowing and rather florid poetical romance.
When Manikkavacakar first encounters Lord Siva in the form of the guru in Tint Perunturai, the guru is described as holding in his hand the Siva-nana-botham - The Teaching of the True Knowledge of Sivam, a celebrated work of Meykanta Tevar, who lived in the 13th. century C.E., around 400 years after Manikkavacakar, who is dated to around the middle of the 9th century. This and subsequent works by other writers laid the foundation of the Meykanta Sampradaya, which propounds a view of god and the soul in which the two, whilst being of the same essence, must in some fundamental aspect remain eternally separate, since there is inherent in the soul a fundamental impurity, known as anavam, which can never be removed, although it can be rendered inoperable by the grace of Lord Siva. Lord Siva can be comparedto gold, which can never tarnish, and the soul to copper, in which the verdigris, even though it can be removed, is still potentially present. In contrast, the hymns of Manikkavacakar are generally held to put forth a non-dualistic view of god and the soul, as are the works of many other great early Tamil saints, chief amongst whom were Appar, Tirunanasambandhar and Sundarar, and even those of the early Vaishnavaite saints, such as Nammalvar.
Since there is so much material relating to the Saiva Siddhanta ideas of Meykantar and his school in the text, it does seem desirable to give, for the benefit of the reader, some exposition of its basic tenets, and also, to examine the hymns to see what elements of them can be discerned in the hymns themselves. This forms the subject of the following section. Readers interested in the Saivism of Meykanta Tevar and his school can refer to the Introduction to the The Tiruvacagam or 'Sacred Utterances' of the Tamil Poet, Saint and Sage Manikkavacakar by the Rev. G. U. Pope, first published in Oxford by the Clarendon Press in 1900. The book is currently available from online stores in an edition by Kessinger Legacy Reprints. It contains a full translation of the text and an early commentary on the Tiru arul payan of Umapati Sivacariyar, a disciple of Meykantar. The book also contains the Tamil text and English translation of all the hymns with extensive notes, lexicon and concordance.
The Tiruvatavur Atikal Puranam also contains material relating to kundalini yoga at the beginning of Chapter 5, The Divine Hall, Buddhism in Chapter 6, The Victory over the Buddhists in Debate, and asva ilakkanam - The Science of the Study of Horses in Chapter 3. Some information on those topics is provided in the notes to the text itself.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Children’s Books (51)
Brahma Sutras (85)
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