Discovery of the Thevaaram Hymns

By Indira Viswanathan Peterson

The story of the canonization of the Thevaaram is told in a fourteenth century work, the Thirumuraikanta Puranam ("The Story of the Discovery of the Thirumurai"). According to the Puranam, the eleventh-century Chola King, Apaya-kula-cEkaraN, asked the poet Nambi-Andar-Nambi of NaaraiyUr to reveal the hymns and lives of the Saiva saints to the world. At the king's request that the lost hymns of the saints be recovered, Nambi-Andar-Nambi worshipped his chosen deity, Ganapathi (Son of Siva and God of Beginnings) in his persona of "Pollaap-pillaiyaar of Thiru-naaraiyUr."

Lord Ganesha revealed the location of the hymns to Nambi — the sealed room near the golden hall of the great Siva temple in Chidambaram. Upon further prayers from Nambi, Sri Ganesha revealed the termite-eaten manuscripts to the king. Later, a heavenly voice (Siva himself) commanded Nambi to learn the tunes of the hymns. It is said that termites had eaten a large number of hymns and that the hymns compiled by Nambi consisted only of the remaining hymns.

Having compiled these hymns of Sambanthar, Appar, and Sundarar into seven books (Books 1-7 of the Thirumurai), Nambi set out to recover the lost musical tradition of the songs. The scholar finally managed to reconstruct the melodic and rhythmic aspects of the hymns with the help of a female descendant of the musician (Thiru-Nilakantha Yalpannar Nayanar) who had accompanied Sambanthar on his travels. The recovery of the sacred hymns establishes the authenticity of the Thevaaram hymns as "revealed" scriptures, attested by the miraculous communications from Lord Ganesha and by Lord Siva.

Bakthi (devotion) is at the center of Tamil Saivism. Bakthi is the focus of the Agamas and worship at the Siva temple; the theme of the songs and lives of the saints; and it is the basis of the Siddhanta philosophy. Bakthi, expressed in act and attitude, continues to be the most important religious activity for Tamil Saivas; and these devotees continue to hold the notion that symbolism and meanings of devotion are best realized through hymns of the saints — each beloved for the special and unique way in which they articulated devotional spirit.




Peterson, Viswanathan Indira. Poems to Siva — The Hymns of the Tamil Saints. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1989.