28. Thiru Gnana Sambandar
In sacred Sirkali (which, according to a legend was the Noah´s Arc during a cosmic dissolution) there lived a pious Brahmin by name Sivapada Hridayar with his virtuous wife Bhagavathiar. Both of them were ardent devotees of Lord Siva. They refused to embrace Jainism and give up Saivism, even though the forces of Jainism were powerful and devastating. Sivapada Hridayar prayed to the Lord for the boon of a worthy son to him who would reestablish the glory of Saivism. The Lord granted this boon, and Bhagavathiar soon brought into this world a radiant male child. They brought up this child with great love and devotion, knowing fully well that it was a purposeful gift from the Lord. The child, too, would weep for his separation from his divine parents Lord Siva and Parvathy, though ordinary people mistook it for a baby´s crying habit.
One day Sivapada Hridayar and his wife took the child with them to the temple tank in which they wanted to bathe. The child had insisted on being taken with them. They left the child on the bank and went in to bathe. The child looked at the tower of the temple and began to cry for his parents. This outwardly appears to be a mere childish action, but the Lord knew its inner meaning. Lord Thoniappar wanted to bless the child. So, He appeared with Mother Parvathy and asked Her to feed the child with the milk of divine wisdom. To obtain His grace and divine knowledge, the grace of the Mother is necessary, Mother Parvathy fondled with the child and suckled him with the Milk of Wisdom. From that moment he was known as Aludaiya Pillayar or one who enjoys the protection of the Lord: and also as Tiru Jnana Sambandar as he attained divine wisdom through the grace of Lord Siva and Parvathy. From the moment he drank the Milk of Wisdom, he began to sing soul-stirring songs in praise of Lord Siva. The collection of these songs is called Thevaram.
After finishing their bath, the parents came to the child, and found a golden cup in his hands (the cup in which Parvathy gave him the milk) and milk overflowing from his mouth. Sivapada Hridayar thought that somebody had given milk to the child: he did not like that his child should accept milk from all sorts of people. So, he brandished a cane before the child and asked him who gave the milk. The child, shedding profuse tears, pointed to the Lord Who appeared in the sky along with Mother Parvathy. He also sang a song in praise of the Lord. Sivapada Hridayar could not see the Lord, but guessed from the child´s behaviour that he must have had a vision of the Lord. He followed the child into the temple, as he went towards it. Many devotees had also come to the temple. They had come to know of what had happened to Pillaiyar and glorified him. The parents were very happy. They took the child on their shoulders and went round the town in a procession. The people had decorated the town nicely and received Sambandar with great devotion.
The next day Pillaiyar went to Tirukkolakka and sang a song, clapping his hands to keep time. Lord Siva, pleased with this, presented him with a pair of golden cymbals. Sambandar began to sing, with the help of the golden cymbals. Even Narada and the celestials were charmed by this.
Sambandar then went on pilgrimages. Once Tiru Neelakanta Yazhpanar, an ardent devotee of the Lord and an expert musician on the Yazh (Veena) met Sambandar. They all went to the temple. Sambandar requested Yazhpanar to play the Yazh. The music melted the heart of Sambandar. Yazhpanar wanted to be always with Sambandar, to play on his instrument the songs that Sambandar sang in praise of the Lord. Sambandar granted this wish.
Sambandar went on a pilgrimage to Chidambaran. The very sight of the Lord entranced him. He had heard about the greatness of the Brahmins of Tillai (Chidambaram). To him, they actually appeared as Siva Ganas (celestial servants of Lord Siva). He showed this to Yazhpanar and they were thrilled. The Brahmins fell at his feet. Before they did so, Sambandar had fallen at their feet!
After visiting the birth-place of Yazhpanar, Sambandar wanted to go to Tiru Arathurai. He would sometimes walk and at other times sit on his father´s shoulders. In this manner they approached Maranpadi. They were all tired due to the heat of the sun and the arduousness of the journey. They rested at Maranpadi for the night.
The Lord wanted to alleviate His child´s suffering by presenting him with a palanquin. He appeared in the dream of the Brahmins of Tiru Arathurai and told them that they would find a pearl palanquin and a pearl umbrella, and asked them to take them to Sambandar who was then proceeding towards Tiru Arathurai. At the same time, the Lord appeared in Sambandar´s dream and informed him of the gift! The next morning, the Bhaktas handed over to Sambandar the Lord´s gifts to him. Sambandar worshipped the gifts and ascended the palanquin.
Sambandar returned to Sirkali, after visiting a number of shrines on the way, and singing Padigams in praise of the Lord everywhere. His parents performed the sacred thread ceremony. The Brahmins then began to teach him the Vedas. But, even before hearing the Vedas from the teacher, Sambandar could recite them, on account of previous Samskaras and divine grace. Then Sambandar taught them the essence of the Panchakshara and also sang a Padigam. It was at this time that Tirunavukkarasar also met Sambandar.
During the course of his pilgrimage, Sambandar came to Tiru Pachilasramam. The daughter of the Mazhava King there, who was a great devotee of Lord Siva, was suffering from an incurable disease. The king had, in despair, taken her to the temple and placed her in front of the Lord. At the same time, Sambandar had come into the temple. He saw the pitiable condition of the girl, who was lying unconscious. He sang a Padigam praying for His grace upon the girl. She at once got up to the surprise of all. All were amazed at this miracle.
At Senkunrur, during his pilgrimage, Sambandar found that the cold was very severe and that many people suffered on account of it. They entreated him to alleviate their sufferings. Sambandar sang a song, and immediately, they were relieved of their suffering.
After some more pilgrimages, Sambandar came to Tiruvavaduthurai. His father wanted to perform a big Yajna. He wanted a lot of money for that. Sambandar went to the temple and sang a song. At once a Siva Gana appeared before him, handed him a purse containing one thousand gold coins and said. ‘This purse has been given to you by Lord Siva.´ Sambandar glorified the Lord´s grace, handed over the purse to his father (who went away to Sirkali) with the assurance that it would give inexhaustible wealth.
At Dharmapuram, which was the home of the Yazhpanar´s mother, the people glorified Yazhpanar for his proficiency in music. Yazhpanar felt that it was due to Sambandar´s grace that he was allowed to accompany Sambandar and that he could really not reproduce on the Yazh the divine melody of the saint´s Padigams. To prove this Sambandar sang a song in praise of Lord Ganesa which Yazhpanar was unable to play on his instrument. He tried to break the instrument in desperation. But, Sambandar prevented him from doing so, and asked him to be content with what he could achieve with it, assuring him that that was a lot.
Sambandar went to Sattamangai where he was received by Tiruneelakanta Nayanar with great love and devotion. Sambandar sang a Padigam in which he glorified the Nayanar. At Tiru Keizhvelur, similarly, he met Siruthondar and glorified him in a Padigam. Such is the nature of the truly great ones: they adore even devotees of the Lord as the Lord Himself and sing their glories, not regarding that as worship or adoration of a human being, but of manifest divinity.
During his stay there, Sambandar would daily go to Tiru Marugal to worship the Lord. One day a merchant had come there with his wife. When they were asleep, a poisonous snake bit the man and he died. Doctors failed to revive him. The wife prayed to the Lord for His mercy. At that time Sambandar entered the temple and heard the woman´s wailing. Sambandar consoled her, and she narrated to him her story and her pitiable condition. Sambandar sang a song, and the merchant at once came back to life! All of them worshipped the saint´s holy feet.
At the request of Siruthondar, Sambandar wanted to have the Darshan of the Lord at Chenkattankudi. When he was taking leave of the Lord, He gave him Darshan in the form as He is in Chenkattankudi. On the way, Sambandar stayed at Tiru Pukalur as the guest of Muruga Nayanar, and sang his glories.
At the suggestion of Appar Swamigal, Sambandar visited Tiruvarur and had Darshan of Lord Thiageesa. Then both the saints stayed with Muruga Nayanar for some time. They then went to Tiru Kadavur, met Kungiliya Kalaya Nayanar and sang his glories.
They then came to Tiruveezhimizhalai. During their stay there, the Brahmins of Sirkali met Sambandar there, and pleaded that he should go to Sirkali and have the Darshan of Lord Thoniappar. The Lord Himself, however, did not want His child to undertake this journey. The next morning, Sambandar went to the local temple for worship. There he saw Lord Thoniappar seated in front of him. He sang His glories. He informed the Bhaktas of this and sent them back to Sirkali.
Appar and Sambandar stayed at Tiruveezhimizhalai for some more time. There was a severe famine there. Appar and Sambandar were moved by the sufferings of the Bhaktas. They offered prayers to the Lord Who promised to give them some gold coins daily, with the help of which they could serve the people. Both of them found a gold coin, at different entrances to the temple. Appar was immediately able to get provisions for his gold coin, whereas Sambandar could not. He had to exchange his coins for pure gold coins, before he could obtain the provisions. Sambandar understood that it was because of Appar´s sincere service to the Lord, and sang a Padigam praising the Lord. The Lord then gave him also pure gold coins and he had no difficulty in getting the foodstuffs.
The miracle that they performed at Tirumaraikadu or Vedaranyam, has already been described, while dealing with the life of Appar Swamigal.
As has already been stated, Jain influence was growing in Madura, and even the king had succumbed to it. There were only two persons who were free from the influence, and they were the queen Mangayarkarasiar and the minister Kulacchirai Nayanar. They were Saivites by inner conviction, though they did not wear the external Saivite marks, for fear of the king´s wrath. They had heard the glory of Sambandar. So, without the knowledge of the king they sent some wise men to Tirumaraikadu to persuade Sambandar to rescue Saivism from the Jain influence. Sambandar informed Appar of his desire to leave for Madura immediately. Appar, out of sheer love for the young Boy, pleaded that he should not go, but, realising his divine nature, let him go!
The Jains living all over the Pandyan kingdom saw many evil omens. They reported to the king. At the same time, Mangayarkarasiar and Kulacchirai saw many good omens and were happy.
By this time, the news of the arrival of Sambandar reached the queen who sent the minister to welcome him. She herself went to the temple and offered special prayers to the Lord. The minister who proceeded to the border, heard the sound of trumpets and chanting of Vedas. He went towards that direction. The very sight of the Bhaktas who were coming in advance, thrilled him. He fell at their feet and did not get up at all. The devotees carried this news to Sambandar. Sambandar got down from his palanquin and went to Kulacchirai. He lifted the minister up and embraced him. Sambandar worshipped the Lord the moment he beheld the temple tower from a great distance. He sang the glories of the minister and the queen. They went to the temple. The queen, standing on one side, offered mental prostrations to Sambandar. Then, she fell at his feet. Sambandar blessed her.
The news of Sambandar´s arrival had reached the Jains. The holy vibrations of the Panchakshara pierced their ears. They decided to bring the wrath of the king on those who welcomed the saint. They told him that they had all been polluted by the sight of the Saivites who had entered the city, following the arrival of ‘one young Brahmin alleged to have been blessed with Divine Knowledge by Lord Siva directly and who wants to defeat us in a religious debate´.
The king took counsel. The Jains sought his permission to burn Sambandar´s camp with the help of black magic. He gave them permission. But, it did not succeed. In the meantime, seeing the king worried, the queen ascertained the cause, and suggested that both the rival parties should be invited to argue their case and prove the superiority of their own religion. The king agreed.
The Jains failed to set fire to Sambandar´s camp. So, they set fire to the camp in which the devotees were lodged. They got up, ran to Sambandar and told him what had happened. He sang a Padigam expressing the wish that (in accordance of the law of Karma) the fire for which the king was responsible should proceed towards him. Next morning, the news reached the queen and the minister. They were grieved. They wanted to put an end to their lives, but changed their mind when they heard that nothing had happened to Sambandar or the devotees. As soon as Sambandar sang the Padigam, the fire in the camp died out and proceeded towards the king, in the form of a dreadful disease. The king experienced burning sensation all over the body. All the endeavours of the doctors and the Jain priests to alleviate the king´s suffering proved futile. The queen and the ministers understood the real cause of the king´s ailment and were worried. They informed the king of their feeling and requested him to call Sambandar immediately so that his grace might relieve him of the distress. The king acceeded to their request and decided to embrace Sambandar´s faith, if he could cure the disease.
The queen at once went out, surrounded by her maid-servants, to invite Sambandar. Kulacchiraiar also went ahead of her. They reached the Mutt in which Sambandar was staying. They fell at his feet and informed him of the king´s condition: ‘The atrocity of the Jains had recoiled on the king who is suffering from intense agony which the Jains have failed to relieve. With folded palms we entreat you to relieve him of the distress, and then defeat the Jains in argument and convince the king of the superiority of Saivism.´ Sambandar assured them that he would fulfil their wishes. He went to the temple to get the Lord´s blessings for defeating the Jains in debate and establishing Saivism in the land.
Followed by the queen and the minister, Sambandar went to the palace. The king had him received with all the honours. The Jains were worried and suggested knavishly that, even if he was cured by Sambandar, he should give the credit to them only, for the preservation of Jainism! The king refused to be unjust and partial. Sambandar came into the king´s apartments. The king had him seated on a nicely decorated throne, which greatly annoyed the Jains. They challenged him to a debate. The queen was afraid that they might behave in an unruly manner towards Sambandar who was but a boy in age. She suggested that the king´s disease should first be cured. The king agreed to this. Sambandar also assured her that he was not afraid of anything.
The king asked the two parties to demonstrate their powers by curing his disease. The Jains volunteered to cure the disease on the left side, leaving the right to be dealt with by Sambandar. The king agreed. The Jains touched various parts of the king´s body with peacock feathers, chanting their Mantras. The pain only increased! The king looked pleadingly at Sambandar. Sambandar sang a Padigam in praise of the sacred Ash (Bhasma) and with his own hand smeared the Ash on the right side of the king´s body. At once the burning sensation stopped and the king experienced a cooling sensation. The king told the Jains that they had already been defeated and turned to Sambandar and entreated him to cure the disease on the left side also. Sambandar applied the holy Ash on the left side also and the disease vanished completely. The queen and the minister fell at Sambandar´s feet. The king followed suit and praised him. The Jains, however, attributed the cure to Sambandar´s poetical talents, and were quite sure that he could not defeat them in philosophical arguments. They began to think of some other means of defeating Sambandar. When Sambandar invited them to open the debate, they said that they preferred practical demonstration to theoretical discussions. They wanted to challenge Sambandar to a fire test. They said that both the parties should write the essence of their respective religions on palm leaves and put them into fire: that religion should be considered as the real one whose inscriptions survived this test. Sambandar agreed to the condition. The fire was lit. Sambandar, offering his prayers to the Lord, opened the bundle of palm leaves which contained his soul-stirring hymns on Lord Siva and removed the Padigam which he had composed at Tiru Nallaru. To Sambandar, Lord Siva was the Absolute Truth, and so, the song sung in praise of Him, should also be eternal. With the firm conviction that no harm would come to the palm leaf, he put it into the fire. The Jains also put their writings into the fire. The latter was at once burnt: Sambandar´s leaf was quite safe. The Jains, ashamed to face the king, dropped their gaze. The king declared that the Jains had been defeated a second time.
The Jains, however, would not agree, and wanted a third test. This time both the parties should throw their palm leaves in the river Vaigai and the palm leaf which swam against the current contained the Truth. Sambandar agreed to this, too. This time
Kulacchiraiyar intervened and asked: ‘What should be the punishment to be meted out to the party that fails in this test?´ The Jains, in their anger, said that the party which fails in the test should be hanged. The Jains threw their palm leaf into the river: the current was swift and the leaf was washed away. Sambandar threw his leaf which swam beautifully against the current, without sinking or getting lost. In the Padigam which won this test, Sambandar invoked the Lord´s grace on the king. On account of this, the king´s birth-deformity, viz., a hunchback was also cured. The leaf reached the place known as Tiruvedagam. The minister wanted to take possession of the leaf and followed it. Knowing this, Sambandar sang another song, which stopped the leaf. The minister took the leaf, went to the temple and worshipped the Lord. Sambandar, accompanied by the royal couple, went to the temple and worshipped the Lord. The king was convinced of the superiority of Saivism. The Jains, according to their own contract, were hanged. The people followed the example of the king and became Saivites. Thus was Saivism re-established in Madura.
In Sirkali, Sambandar´s father was waiting for the illustrious son´s arrival. One day, the desire was strong and Sivapada Hridayar came to Madura and was received by Sambandar with great reverence.
After staying at Madura for some time, Sambandar proceeded on a pilgrimage, accompanied by the royal couple and the minister. From Rameswaram, they offered mental prostrations at the Feet of the Lord of Tirukonamalai and Tiruketheesvaram (in Ceylon). They also visited the birthplace of the minister. Sambandar took leave of the Pandyan king and went into the Chola kingdom.
He came to Mullivaikarai. There the river was in flood. The boatmen had abandoned their boats and had left them tied to the tree on the bank. Sambandar wanted to cross the river and worship the Lord at Tiru Kollampoothur. Sambandar asked the devotees to unfasten the boat and get into it. He sang a Padigam. This itself proved to be the oar. They reached the other side safely and worshipped the Lord.
The party then reached the place called Bodhimangai. It was a Buddhist centre. Sambandar´s devotees were blowing the trumpets and singing their Guru´s glories as they entered the place. This annoyed the Buddhist who asked them to stop blowing their trumpets. The devotees informed Sambandar. A disciple of Sambandar, by name Samba Saranalayar, who used to record all of Sambandar´s songs, himself sang a Padigam and said that a thunder should fall on the head of Buddhanandi, the leader of the Buddhists´ group. Buddhanandi was at once destroyed by a thunder. The others fled. But, soon they reappeared under the leadership of Sari Buddhan and challenged the Saivites to a debate. With the blessings of Sambandar, the disciple Samba Saranalayar himself defeated the Buddhists in debate. Sari Buddhan himself embraced Saivism and his followers followed suit. Sambandar blessed them all. Sambandar then went to Tirukadavur. When he heard that Appar Swamigal was at Tirupoonthurithi, Sambandar went forward to meet him. At the same time, Appar came half-way to welcome Sambandar. Quietly, he got mixed with the crowd and joined the group of devotees who were carrying Sambandar´s palanquin, without anybody´s knowledge. When Sambandar enquired about Appar, Appar responded from below: ‘Here I am, carrying the palanquin, due to the virtuous deeds of many past lives.´ Sambandar was surprised. He jumped down and embraced the great saint Appar.
After some more pilgrimage, Sambandar returned to Sirkali. Tiruneelakanta Yazhpanar and his wife took leave of Sambandar and returned home.
Sambandar wanted to visit Thondai Nadu. Taking leave of Lord Thoniappar, he left Sirkali, and after visiting many shrines on the way, reached Tiru Annamalai. The very sight of the hill sent him into a trance. He rolled on the ground and shed tears of God-love. Then he reached Thondai Nadu and came to Tiruvothur. During his stay there, a Bhakta came to him and said: ‘I have planted many palmirah trees in my garden, but all of them are male trees and they do not yield any fruits. The Jains are mocking at me for this. Please protect me from their scorn.´ Sambandar went to the temple and sang a song mentioning the devotee´s plight: and the male trees were at once changed into female trees and they yielded good fruits. Due to this miracle, some more Jains embraced Saivism. Because Sambandar had specifically mentioned the palmirah trees, they, too, were helped in their evolution.
By stages, Sambandar reached Tiru Alankadu, the holy place where Karaikkal Ammayar ‘walked´ on her head, not wishing to pollute the place. He, too, did not enter the place, but had the Darshan of the Lord in his dream. Sambandar then went to Kalahasthi and had the vision of Kannappa Nayanar and also of Kailasa, Ketharam, Gokarnam, Tirupatham, Indraneela Parvatham, etc. Sambandar then came to Tiru-Votriyur.
In Mylapore there lived a merchant by name Sivanesar. He was a staunch Siva Bhakta. He had all wealth but had no children. In answer to his sincere prayer, Lord Siva blessed him with a female child. They named her Poompavai. She was very beautiful. Sivanesar heard of Sambandar´s greatness and felt that he was the only suitable match for his daughter. Mentally, he had offered her to Sambandar.
One day when Poompavai was gathering flowers in the garden, she was bitten by a poisonous snake and she died. Sivanesanar even announced that he would give any amount of money to anyone who would revive her: but it was of no use. Then he recollected that he had mentally offered her to Sambandar: this put great courage into him. He at once cremated the body of the girl, collected the ashes and preserved them in a pot. Daily he would decorate the pot with flowers, etc., and sit near it meditating on Sambandar. The news that Sambandar was staying at Tiruvotriyur reached the merchant. At once he erected a big pandal from Mylapore to Tiruvotriyur and followed by Bhaktas began to proceed towards Tiruvotriyur to meet Sambandar. The latter also was coming towards Mylapore. They met on the way. Sambandar had heard about Sivanesar and his worship of the pot which contained the ashes of his daughter. He wanted to please Sivanesar by bringing the girl back to life. They reached Mylapore, worshipped the Lord, sang hymns and, coming out of the temple, asked Sivanesanar to bring the pot of ashes. Sambandar addressed the pot: ‘Oh Poompavai, the very purpose of human birth in this world is to serve the Lord and His devotees, and to feast the eyes by seeing the festivals of Lord Siva. If this is true, arise in the presence of all. Are you going away without seeing the festival?´ Then he sang a Padigam. When he finished the first stanza, Poompavai got her form. When he finished eight stanzas, she got her life and became a twelve year old girl. When he finished the tenth stanza, she came out of the pot, even as Lakshmi came out of the Lotus. All were amazed at this miracle. Sivanesanar and Poompavai worshipped Sambandar´s feet. Sivanesanar entreated Sambandar to accept the girl as his wife. Sambandar, however, explained that the original Poompavai whom Sivanesanar had mentally offered to Sambandar was dead and that the present girl had the relationship of daughter to him. Sivanesanar had to bow to the wishes of Sambandar: he built an Ashram for his daughter where she spent her days in worship of the Lord and attained Him.
After visting a number of shrines, Sambandar returned to Sirkali. He had reached his sixteenth year. His father wanted to get him married. He argued that it was necessary for him to engage himself in the performance of Vedic rites. Sivapada Hridayar selected the daughter of Nambandar Nambi of Nallur Perumanam. He, too, welcomed the alliance. The wedding was to take place at Nallur Perumanam. On the appointed day, Sambandar took leave of Thoniappar and reached Nallur Perumanam. Sambandar went to the temple, worshipped the Lord and got His blessings. Then he went to a Mutt nearby. The bride´s party came there to receive him. Sambandar, in his wedding dress, took his seat in the pearl palanquin. People accompanied him, singing ‘Long Live Sambandar.´ Sambandar came to the place where the wedding was to take place. Sambandar holding his wife´s hand, went round the fire, the manifestation of the Lord. Accompanied by the devotees, the couple went into the temple and worshipped Him, with total self-surrender. Sambandar sang a Padigam praying for Liberation. The Lord granted his wish and said: ‘Oh Sambandar, you, your wife, and all those who witnessed your marriage will merge in the Siva Jyoti and come to Me.´ At once, an effulgent Light emerged from the Lord. Before merging in that Light, Sambandar sang a Padigam known as the Panchakshara Padigam. Then all those who were there merged in the Light of Siva. Tiruneelakanta Nayanar, Muruga Nayanar and Tiruneelakanta Yazhpanar were also there!