By Jayaram V
Saivism is a very ancient sect of Hinduism with a known
history of at least 3000 years. It is a historical fact that though
Saivism found its adherents in the early Vedic works such as the
Svetavatara Upanishad, it took shape mainly in southern India in
the remote past. Many great devotees of Lord Siva who hailed from
the land of Tamils, enriched Saivism with their devotional fervor
and meritorious religious compositions.
They brought Hinduism out of the closed door policy of Brahminism,
and the exclusive domain of the priestly class, into the open, by
taking religion to the masses and teaching them the path of selfless
devotion as a way of salvation. They countered the attacks from
monastic religions like Buddhism and Jainism, and defied the social
order of their times by often initiating people from the lowest
castes into Saivism. They created a body of entirely new religious
literature, of great devotional merit and deep philosophical truths.
Just like many aspects of ancient Indian history, we have little
information about the early Saiva saints who shaped Saivism into
a great religious movement. We come across few names like the famous
sage Agastya, Nakkiar and Kannappa. They probably lived during post
Rigvedic and later Vedic periods. They were ardent devotees of Lord
Siva, and remembered in the scriptures for their devotion and contribution
Of the three we speak here about Kannappa who lived in the region
near Kalahasti in the present day Andhra Pradesh. A hunter by profession,
he was totally dedicated to Lord Siva. He worshipped Siva regularly
every day, with intense love, sometimes offering him such things
as flowers and even meat. Overwhelmed with intense devotion, once
he said to have plucked out one of his eyes and offered it to Lord
Siva as a symbol of sacrifice. He tried to pluck out the other eye
also immersed totally in his devotion, when Lord Siva said to have
appeared infront of him and prevented him from proceeding further.
An ardent devotee of Lord Siva, he lived sometime during the
sixth century A.D, was endowed with supernatural powers and composed
about 3000 poems.
First among the four greatest ancient teachers of Saivism, he
is considered as the founder of the path of truth or 'sat marga'.
Known for his intelligence from an early age, he worked as a chief
minister in the court of a Pandya king for sometime before he became
a true renunciate. Gifted with poetical abilities, which earned
him the title of Mannikkavachaka, which literally means he whose
utterances are gems, he composed many songs in honor of Lord Siva.
His work Tiruvachakam is considered to be a pioneering work in Saivism.
A contemporary of the Pallava King Mahendra1, and reckoned
as the second greatest ancient teacher of Saivism, he lived about
7th Century A.D. He is credited with the discovery of dasamarga
or the path of the servant in Saivism. Originally a follower of
Jainism he became subsequently a great devotee of Lord Siva and
spent considerable time rendering bodily service (dasa seva) to
him. He also composed many poems out of which only a few area available
today. He is often compared to the legendary Prahlada for his devotion
to Lord Siva.
He was a disciple of Appar. He is considered as the third greatest
ancient teacher of Saivism, who found the path of satputra marga
or the path of the son. A precocious child, he was dedicated to
Lord Siva and Parvathi from a very early age. He and Appar toured
many places in South India and said to have performed many miracles.
He composed many beautiful poems extolling Siva and Parvathi. But
only a few poems are available today. If Sambandha had a great teacher
in the form of Appar, he also had a great disciple in the form of
Tirunilakanda Yalpanar who accompanied him always in his tours and
sing along with him.
He is the last among the four greatest ancient teachers of Saivism.
He founded sahamarga or the path of the friend. He led a very unusual
life. He became a renunciate just before his marriage and thereafter
traveled to many places singing songs in praise of Lord Siva. But
strangely after sometime, he married a beautiful non Brahmin, maiden
named Paravai. He stayed with her for sometime as she was also a
great devotee of Lord Siva. But their association did not last for
long. A few miles north of Chennai, he married again, this time
to a Brahim virgin. Subsequently he lost vision in both of his eyes
and said to have suffered greatly. But he regained his lost vision
through intense spiritual discipline and devotion. He composed many
thousands of devotional poems of which very few are available today.
Ammaiyar from Karikkal
Her devotion to Lord Siva can be compared in someways with that
of Mira Bai, the famous devotee of Lord Krishna. Born into a princely
family, she was married to a wealthy merchant at an early age. Seeing
her devotional fervor and spiritual yearning, her husband decided
to leave her to herself and married another woman. But Ammaiyar,
though devoted to Lord Siva from an early age, could not overcome
her traditional respect and love for her husband initially. But
seeing her husband in his new role, she overcame that afterwards
and dedicated her life completely to Lord Siva. She also composed
many devotional poems which reflect the depth of her devotion to
Another famous woman saint of Saivism, she was endowed with great
literary talents and devotional fervor. She composed many verses
which immortalized her name in Tamil religious literature.
A king by birth he sacrificed his life out of live for Lord Siva.
Originally a Buddhist, he later embraced Saivism and was said
to have been blessed with a vision of Lord Siva and Parvathi.
An untouchable by birth, he was a great devotee of Lord Siva
who won the recognition of many learned people and was even admitted
into the precincts of the Chidambaram temple which at that time
was not open to people from his caste.
Initiated into Saivism at the early age of three by a sage, he
is credited with the composition of the famous work Siva-Jnana-bodham,
which contains twelve famous Siva Sutras or aphorisms. Meykandar
is known in the history of Saivism as the seer of Truth and his
life is a shining example of knowledge and devotion coming together
in total dedication to God.
He became a disciple of Meykandar, after the latter opened his
eyes in a famous encounter to the world of devotion and self-surrender.
He composed Siva-Jnana-sittiyar, according to the wishes of his
guru, explaining the truths hidden in the aphorisms of the latter.
Arundai Sivachariar also remembered in Saiva tradition for his
initiation of Marai-Jnanasambandar into Saivism. The latter though
hailed from an untouchable caste was blessed with great literary
talent and devotional fervor.
Marai-Jnanasambandar in turn initiated another famous Saiva saint,
named Umapathi Sivam and helped him attain self-realization. Umapathi
Sivam contributed greatly to Saiva literature in Tamil. He wrote
eight philosophical treatises on Saivism, apart from a short biographical
work on the famous 63 Saiva saints.
A rich merchant by birth, he turned to spiritualism in strange
circumstances when he realized that all his wealth would not accompany
him beyond his death. He along with his princely friend Bhadragiri
composed many devotional poems, exhorting people to renounce their
worldly ways and enter the world of devotion and self-surrender.
He lived about tenth century in Tamilnadu.
He lived about fifteenth century. Early in his life, he led a
very sinful life, giving himself up entirely to the pleasures of
the world. But later a great transformation took place in him and
he became a great devotee of Lord Murugan, the first divine child
of Lord Siva. Tiruppugal is one of his famous compositions which
known for its lyrical beauty and devotional depths.
He lived in the seventeenth century, and belonged to the priestly
family which was attached to the Siva temple at Vedaranyam, in Tamilnadu.
He lived and worked for some time at the court of a Naik ruler from
Tiruchinapalli, before he renounced his worldly life and became
a great devotee of Lord Siva. He expounded the philosophy of Saivism
from a Vedantic point of view and tried to reconcile the existing
Mention may also be made of the five famous Lingayat Saints of
Virasaivism path, namely Sivaprakasa 1, Santalinga, Kumaradeva and
Sivaprakasa 2. They were men of great religious and spiritual merit,
who lived during the seventeenth century and composed many religious
songs and treatises.
Suggested Further Reading