Lives of Indian Saints

  • By Swami Sivananda
  • August 2001

The Saivite Acharyas of Tamil Nadu    

The chapter included Appar, Sundaramurti, Thiru Jnana Sambandhar, Manickavasagar. I have covered Appar, Sundaramurti and Manickavasagar.


Appar is one of the four Samaya Acharyas. He was a contemporary of Sambandhar. He was a Vellala of Thiru Amur in the district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. He was born of Pugazhanar and Maathiniar. The parents gave the name “Marulneekkiar” (dispeller of darkness or ignorance) to appar. Appar means ‘father’. Sambandhar gave Marulneekkiar this name. The name Appar was first used by Sambandhar in addressing him in one of several meetings between them. Appar’s soul-stirring and sublime odes earned him the title “Thirunavukkarasar” or “the Lord of Speech”. Appar was a God-inspired soul. He sang devotional odes or Padigams during his pilgrimage to various shrines. He flourished in the middle of the seventh century A.D. He was a mystic and a poet. Appar became a Jain and read all its scriptures till one day under the influence of his sister he became a devotee of Lord Shiva.

The Teachings of Appar
By means of his poems, Appar laid the foundation of the Saiva Siddhanta School of philosophy Appar’s poems are full of imagination, spiritual insight, religious emotion and high spiritual realization.

Appar was more learned than Sambandhar. He had a very powerful personality. He led an exemplary life as a Siva bhakta. He put an end to the influence of Jainism. He always praises the five letters or panchakshara. He says, “The rare jewel of the Brahmins is the Veda with its six Angas. The rare jewel for the Saivites is the Panchakshara”. Appar’s exemplary life, mellifluous poetry, vast erudition and profound religious fervor attracted countless people. He had countless admirers and disciples. He had great influence. Appar’s works consist of three hundred poems that form three books out of twelve in the Tamil collection of Saivite poetry known as Thirumurat.

 Appar says: “Everything is the manifestation of Lord Siva. Siva is Narayana, Brahma, and the four Vedas, the holiest, the oldest, perfect. Though Siva is all these, He is none of these. He is without name, without birth, death or disease. He is at once the transcendent and the immanent.

 “Love of lord Siva must be felt and manifested. Pray. Worship. Weep. Dance. Lord Siva is the music or melody in the song, the sweetness in the fruit, the thought in the mind, the luster in the eyes. He is neither male nor female. He is without dimensions.

 “Subdue the senses. Practice regular meditation. Practice Sariyai, Kiriyai, Yogam and Jnanam. Develop dispassion. Transcend the three bodies. Unite the individual soul with the Supreme Soul or lord Siva. You will attain eternal bliss and immortality. You can behold Lord Siva if you look for him with the light of wisdom issuing forth from the wick of life, fed with the Ghee of meditation in the lamp of mind, within the house of your body.

 “Plough with truth. Plant the seed of desire for knowledge. Weed out falsehood. Irrigate the mind with the water of patience. Supervise your work by looking within or introspection or self-analysis. Build the fence of Yama-Niyama or right conduct or right rules. You will soon attain Sivanandam or the eternal bliss of Siva.

 Regard your body as the temple of lord Siva, your mind as the worshipper, Truth as purity that is necessary for worship, the jewel of the mind as the Linga, love as Ghee and milk. Perform Puja to Lord Siva thus. Lord Siva cannot be obtained without meditation on the Panchakshara and without making the mind one-pointed.”

May you all follow the precepts and teachings of Appar and attain the Siva-Pada, the immortal abode of eternal bliss!


There was a Brahmin by name Sadayanar in Navalur in Tamil Nadu. He was very pious and devoted to Lord Siva. He had a pious son named Nambiyarurar or Alala Sundarar. Alala Sundarar attained manhood. He was known by the name Sundaramurti Nayanar also.

Sundaramurti Nayanar is one of the four Saiva Acharyas. He was a great devotee of Lord Siva. Lord Siva of Thiruvennainallur appeared before Sundaramurti in the form of an aged Brahmin on the eve of his marriage. The Lord said that Sundarar was his bond slave and so ought to work for Him in his house. The name of the Lord was Taduttatkonda Piran or the Lord who obstructed and saved Sundarar from Samsara.

Sundaramurti visited several temples. He went to adigai virattanam. Lord Siva appeared before Sundaramurti and placed his sacred feet on his head. Sundarar then went to Thiruvarur. Lord Siva made Sundarar His friend.

Sunaramurti sang the glories of Siva in different sacred places. They are collected in book form. It is called Thevaram. All devotees sing Thevaram even today. The hymns sung by Sundaramurti, Appar or Thirunavukkarasar and Thiru Jnana Sambandhar are called Thevaram. The hymns sung by Manickavasagar are called Thiruvachakam.

 Sundaramurti had the Sakhya Bhav towards Lord Siva. Therefore he was quite friendly with the Lord, took any kind of liberth with Him and asked gold, pearl garland, musk, a garland of precious stones, spectacles, clothes, fragrance, jewels, house which can go with the swiftness of wind, golden flowers. Palanquins & one third of the riches of Thiruvarur. He did not ask for these things on account of any desire for enjoyment. He had no selfish desires. He did not keep the things. He utilized them for those who depended on him.

 Sundaramurti showed to the world the path of Sakhya Marga or Sakhya Bhav in Bhakti.


Manickavasagar was a Brahmin by birth. He took his birth in Tiruvadavur, seven miles from Madurai on the banks of the Vaigai River. He must have lived between 650 A.D. and 692 A.D. Some say that he flourished in the tenth or the eleventh century. He secured the friendship of the King of Madurai, Arimardana Pandyan, and became his Chief Minister He was also known by the name Vadavurar.

The Pandyan king sent Manickavasagar with a lot of wealth to purchase horses for the State. Manickavasagar started on his journey. On his way he heard the Kirtan of Sivain a garden in Thiruperundurai. Lord Siva assumed the form of a Siva Yogi and seated himself underneath a tree with his Siva-Ganas as disciples. He came there to initiate Manickavasagar in Siva-Jnana.

Thereupon Manickavasagar met Lord Siva. The Lord ordered him to visit all the places of pilgrimage and then ago to Chidambaram. Manickavasagar visited Tiruvannamalai, Kancheepuram and other places, sang his Thiruvachakam, and lastly went to Chidambaram. Thirukoovali was written by him in Chidambaram.

Then Manickavasagar entered into discussion with a Buddhist teacher and defeated him. Sarasvati made the Buddhist teacher and his disciples dumb. Then the Buddhist king approached Manickavasagar and said, “You made my teacher and all his disciples dumb. If you can make my dumb daughter speak, I and my subjects will embrace Saivism” Manickavasagar then put some questions to the dumb daughter of the king. She began to speak. Then the Buddhist king and all his subjects became Saivites. Manickavasagar then made the Buddhist teacher and his disciples speak once again.

Then Lord Siva approached Manickavasagar in the form of a Brahmin. Manickavasagar repeated the whole Thiruvachakam to the Brahmin. The Brahmin wrote down everything on palmyrah leaves and wrote in the end, “Manickavasagar repeated this, Thiruchittambala Udayar wrote this”. Then the Brahmin kept everything on the Panchakshara Step of the Chitsabai. The Brahmins of Chidambaram showed this to Manickavasagar and requested him to tell the meaning of the verses. Manickavasagar said, “This Thillai Nataraja is the purport of these stanzas”. He at once merged himself in the feet of Nataraja at the age of thirty-two.

The poems of Manickavasagar are fifty-two in number. They are all collected together under the title Thiruvachakam. They are most beautiful, sublime and inspiring. They contain ornamental poetry. South Indians sing Thiruvachakam daily. The hearts of those who hear these hymns melt at once.

 Dear readers! You can understand from the life of Manickavasagar that Lord Siva becomes the slave of His devotees.

Receive Site Updates