Life of Sundaramurti Nayanar

Emissary at Tiruvoodal Festival

Sundaramurthi Nayanar flourished in the 8th century. He was a great devotee of Lord Siva and one of the Tamil Samaya Acharyas (four Tamil religious Teachers). Sundarar had the Sakhya Bhava or the attitude of a friend towards the Lord and freely demanded of the Lord whatever he wanted.

Sundaramurthi Nayanar was born Arurar in Thirunavalur village located in erstwhile Thirumunaippadi Nadu to Sadaya Nayanar and Isaignaniyar. His childhood name was Nambiyarurar. It is significant to note that both of his parents find a place among the 63 Nayanmars. Sundarar also known affectionately as "Thampiran Thozhan" (Comrade of Lord Shiva) and "Vanthondan" (the argumentative follower). He was a contemporary of Chola King Cheraman Perumal and Kotpuli Nayanar, both of who also figure in the 63 Nayanmars.

There is a legend associated with Sundarar's life - that he was once an attendant of Lord Shiva at Mount Kailas with the name Alala Sundarar. When the Milky Ocean was being churned by Devas and Asuras, a deadly poison began to spread on the surface of the ocean threatening the existence of all beings. Alala Sundarar collected the poison in his hands and gave it to Lord Siva - who drank it for the protection of the world. Hence, the word Alala (for Halahala, the poison) was prefixed to his name.

When Sundarar's marriage was about to take place, Lord Shiva intervened and prevented it. In the guise of an old Brahmin he declared Sundarar to be bonded as his servant. He further said that Sundarar's grandfather, Aruran of Navalur had pledged him as a servant and had given this in writing on a palm leaf manuscript. Sundarar and those assembled for the wedding ceremony scoffed and called the ascetic a madman (piththan). When the crowd demanded the Brahmin show evidence, he told them to follow him to Thiruvennainallur where he had the original palm leaf manuscript.

On reaching Thiruarudthurai temple in Thiruvennainallur, the ascetic disappeared inside the sanctum - and the Lord's divine voice was heard saying from inside, that He had come to remind Sundarar of his previous birth as Alala Sundarar - his servant at Mount Kailas. He further told Sundarar that since he quarrelled with him, he would henceforth be known as "Vanthondan" and asked Sundarar to worship him by way of singing his praise.

The document the Brahmin acetic produced read:

"I, Aruran, the Adi Saivite of Tirunavalur, execute this bond of slavery with heart and soul. I and my progeny for all time to come are bond-slaves to Piththan of Tiruvennai Nellur, and we are bound to serve him by all means."

Piththan means Lord Siva who delights to be called a 'mad man', to exemplify the state of the highest Yogi whose behaviour resembles that of a mad man but who teaches us that there is nothing in this world worth taking notice of and indeed it is worldly men who are the mad ones. The Lord instructed Sundarar to compose a hymn starting with the word "piththan". This resulted in his first song - Piththan Piraichudi". Since Lord Shiva stopped Sundarar's wedding, the lord at Thiruvennainallur is called by the name "Thaduththatkonda Nathar".

After this, Sundarar travelled and visited numerous sacred sites and temples and rendered many pathigams in praise of Lord Shiva. At some sthalams, it is believed his recitations created miracles.

Sundaramurthi Nayanar at Temple

Once at Thirupunkoor was devoid of rains for a long time. The reigning Chola king sought Sundarar's help to address the problem. The saint agreed to help on the condition that twelve acres of land be donated to Thirupunkoor temple if he was successful in causing rain to fall. The king agreed and as soon as Sundarar completed his hymn praising the Lord at Thirupunkoor temple, it started to rain incessantly. After some days, Sundarar was summoned by the king to stop the heavy rains. Sundarar once again insisted twelve acres be given to the temple should the rains stop after his hymn. The rain stopped and the temple became richer by twelve more acres.

At Avinashi temple, Sundarar recited his pathigam and resurrected an eight-year-old boy who had died after being swallowed by a crocodile.

Child and Crocodile

Legend states that at Thiruvarur he recited the names of the Nayanars and this recitation is called "Thiruthondar Thokai". In one of his pathigams, he refers to himself as servant of the Nayanmars.

While serving the Lord at Mount Kailas, Sundarar came across two girls; Aninthithai and Kamalini, (attendants to Goddess Parvati) who he wanted to marry. Knowing his desire, Lord Shiva blessed them to be born on earth all at different locations. Alala Sundara as Nambiyarurar, Kamalini as Paravai Nachiyar and Aninthithai as Sangili Nachiyar. During his pilgrimage, he met Paravai Nachiyar in Thiruvarur and Sangili Nachiyar in Thiruvottriyur. In both places, legend has it that Lord Shiva played a major role arranging the marriage of Sundarar to the two women.

Sundarar is believed to have visited 84 temples and rendered around 3800 pathigams (hymns). However, only 100 hymns (1000 verses) are available today. It is significant to note that he travelled to all the temples by foot, covering at least a few thousand kilometres. Sundarar's pathigams "Thiruppattu" are collected into the seventh volume of the Thirumurai along with the compositions of Thirugnanasambanthar and Appar. The popular compositions of Sundarar are Ponnar Meniyane and Piththa Piraichudi.

Both Sundarar and his contemporary King Cheraman Perumal embarked on pilgrimage together. However, when Sundarar reached Thiruvanchikulam, he became tired of life and requested Lord Shiva to take him to his abode. It is said that Lord Shiva instructed the celestial gods to bring him to Mount Kailas on a white elephant.

Sundaramurthi on White Elephant

The king followed him on his horse. This occurred on a 'Swathi Nakshtram' day in the Tamil month of 'Aadi'. Sundarar lived for only eighteen years.

Emissary at Tiruvoodal Festival

"Thiruvoodal Festival is celebrated in the month of Thai approximately on January 16th during Pongal (which has to do with the movement of the sun from the southern to the northern hemisphere). Legend has it that the Lord in answer to a promise given to Parvati appears on this holy day (Uttarayana) to dance on one foot. He says; 'On Uttarayana holy day, I will do the dance when the sun rises.'

The word 'Thiru' signifies; deity, sacred, holy and wealth and the word 'Voodal' actually means 'tiff' or 'petty quarrel', and represents the friction between the male and female in a love relationship which is consciously exacerbated. The distinguishing mark of Voodal is that it should arise and stay only for a brief period and not be prolonged as its focus is the bliss when the Voodal is withdrawn.

To support the enactment of the 'tiff' between Shiva and the Goddess, emissaries are employed by both to convey messages between the deities and participate in 'brokering a deal' between the feuding couple. The emissary used by Shiva on his behalf is Sundaramurthi Nayanar - a saint feted as a great devotee of Lord Siva and one of the Tamil Samaya Acharyas (four Tamil religious Teachers). His story is included in the famous book entitled Periapuranam. Saint Sambandhar is the other emissary engaged to help conciliate the Divine couple."

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