Thirumantiram- A Preface


He who has the five hands and the elephant’s face,
Whose tusk is even as the crescent moon,
The son of Nandi, the Flower of Wisdom,
Him I cherish in thought, His feet adore.

Within the Sanatana Dharma, known today as Hinduism, there are three main sects-Saivism, Vaisnavism and Saktism. Long ago the Sanatana Dharma was none other than Saivism. Over the centuries these other sects have evolved until today they are all known collectively by the world as Hinduism.

Within our Saivite sect, which has roughly three hundred million followers, there are several denominations or sub-sects, all following diverse theologies yet united in their unanimous recognition of Lord Siva as the Supreme God. These sub-sects are related in a close way with the theologian who first codified or organized the doctrine. They are also associated through various regions and languages. There are six main sub-sects in Saivism. The Saiva Siddhanta is expounded by Saint Thirumular, associated with South India. Of the six sub-sects, it is the oldest and closest to the Advaita found in the Upanishads and Agamas. A divergent school within Saiva Siddhanta evolved out of the dualistic interpretations made by the philosopher Meykanda Devar in the Sivajnana Bodham and its commentary, Vartika, one thousand three-hundred years after the original postulations of Saint Thirumular were put forth. This school is also known as Saiva Siddhanta. A second sub-sect is known as the Pratyabhijna Saivism of Kashmir, founded by Vasugupta and known also as Kashmir Saivism. A third Saiva sub-sect is Vira Saivism, founded by Basava Deva in Central India, commonly called Lingayat Saivism. The fourth is Pasupata, founded by Nakulisa and now associated with Gujarat. The fifth is Siddha Siddhanta of North India whose founder is Goraksanath; and the sixth Saiva sub-sect is known as Siva Advaita, founded by Sri Kanta in South India.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Thirumantiram in Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. In the first place, it is the earliest full statement of Siddhanta, “the end of ends,” composed over 2,000 years ago. It is perhaps the most complete and profound exposition of the subtle theology of Saiva Siddhanta ever written, so filled with the esoteric and the abtruse that it has not through its long history been read or studied outside of the conclaves of scholars-though in the last two decades this trend has shifted and will continue now that a complete English edition is available. Within the context of other Saiva scriptures of South India, the Thirumantiram is the tenth of the twelve Tirumurai or “Holy Books.” The Tirumurai are collected works in the Tamil language written for the most part during the first millennium A.D. by various Saivite saints and then gathered together in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They constitute what might be looked upon as a Saiva canon and hymnal in which may be found all forms of spiritual expression from the advaitic principles of non-dualism and Self-Realization to devotional praises to God, Siva. The Tirumurai have come to be regarded as the very lifebreath of the devotional strength of Saivism. They are second in importance only to the Vedas, Upanishads and Agamas, and they are sung daily in the temples of the Deities throughout South India and elsewhere in the world where Saivites worship. The remaining Tirumurai consist of the Devaram hymns of the Samachariyas-Saints Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar-the Periya Puranam of Saint Sekkilar, and other works.

The title of the scripture may be best understood with the help of a few words read from the Introduction: “Tiru in Tamil means ‘holy.’ The word mantiram (from the Sanskrit mantra) is used in two senses, general and specific. In the general sense it conveys the meaning of devotional prayer composed in special words, e.g. Vedic Hymns. In the special sense a mantra is that which is composed of certain letters arranged in a definite sequence of sounds of which the letters are the representative signs. Here, a mantra may, or may not, convey on its face its meaning. Bija or seed mantras such as Aim, Klim, Hrim have no meaning according to the ordinary use of language. Thirumular uses the word ‘mantra’ in both senses. The title he gave his book originally was Mantra Malai or ‘Garland of Mantras.’ Here it conveys the sense of a Book of Prayer. Later in subsequent Tantras he elaborately speaks of special mantras for specific deities and special rituals and expounds in full the meaning of the Primal Mantra OM and Five-lettered Siva Mantra-Namasivaya-and the ways of intoning it in different contexts. Literally ‘mantra’ is composed of two syllables, Man or ‘mind’ and Tra or ‘opening or liberation.’ That is, Mantra is that which leads to blossoming or liberation of mind or heart.

Structurally, the Thirumantiram is comprised of nine tantras-books-and a preface. Each tantra covers a different aspect of the Saivite path. The Proem or Preface commences with an invocation to Lord Ganesha in the traditional manner and offers an overview of the work. It may be helpful if we summarize briefly the contents of each tantra.

The First Tantra begins with a synopsis of all that is to follow in the Saint’s opus. The topics it covers include: Transitoriness of Body-also of wealth, youth and life-Not Killing, Poverty, Dharma of Rulers, Glory of Giving, In Praise of the Charitable, Siva Knows Those Who Love Him, Learning, Non-learning, Rectitude and others. For those who are familiar with the Holy Kural these subjects will seem familiar, and they are. The topics of this initial tantra and of the great work by Saint Tiruvalluvar are indeed similar.

The Second Tantra deals with the mythology of the Deities, with the cosmology of Hinduism, how the world was created, is sustained and will be destroyed, and of the categories of soul. It also explains the allegorical meanings of some of the important Saivite mythological stories and then delves into such theological matters as the five powers of Siva and the three classifications of souls.

The Third Tantra explores the mystical science of yoga, yama and niyama, pranayama, asana, pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses within, dharana or concentration, dhyana or meditation and samadhi or Self-Realization. It is in essence the same as Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga but includes Thirumular’s mystic insights into each aspect of this ancient system drawn from his own experience. It is thus an exposition of yoga as Thirumular conceived it and lived it. Here it may be interesting to note that these two sages were contemporaries and are said to have lived at Chidambaram at the same time, so it is not surprising that their approach to yoga is similar.

The Fourth Tantra is a highly esoteric work on mantras and yantras. He explains how to draw certain yantras, including the Tiru Ambala Chakram (the “circle of Chidambaram”).

The Fifth Tantra is a very special one. It gives a resume of the essential features of the Saivite religion. This includes the four forms of Saivism, the four stages, the four relationships the soul has with God, the four realizations attainable and the four aspects of the Descent of Grace. It ends with a delineation of unorthodox paths, conduct to be avoided, and an affirmation of approved margas or religious paths.

The Sixth Tantra covers a variety of aspects of Saivism and is more readable than most of the others. Some of the areas covered are: the Siva Guru, attainment of Grace, renunciation, the signs of sin, penance, jnana and Siva darshan in people, and a description of worthy and unworthy persons.

The Seventh Tantra is a treatise on some advanced and highly technical aspects of Saivism. It is partly written as an exposition of Thirumular’s own realizations. It discusses the Lingam, Grace and corresponding attainments, mudras, control of ida and pingala nadis, worlds reached by different classes of yogis on death, and the Sat Guru.

The Eighth Tantra covers many of the important theological elements of Siddhanta and is certainly one of the most inspiring. Among the concepts presented are expositions of: the five sheaths (bodies), the eleven avasthais (states), the three padarthas (pati, pasu and pasam), and how they are essentially one, the 36 tattvas and their elaboration into 96 tattvas, the four states (waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and turiyam or the “fourth,”) and Turiyateetam or the “state beyond the fourth,” the three malas, the freeing of the mala fettered soul (Iruvinaioppu, malaparipaka, and Saktinipata), the mahavakiyam of the Upanishads, advaitic realization where the soul becomes Sivam leaving behind the tattvas, malas and all avastais, the true Siddhanta where knower, known and knowledge become one, the affirmation of Siddhanta and Vedanta as the same, the three gunas, the dasa-karanas, and the extirpation of desire as a necessity for Realization.

The Ninth Tantra is essentially a description of the fruits of realization. This includes an account of the attainment of akasa, the budding up of knowledge, the bliss of true knowledge, the state of liberation, and the Samadhi of Silence. It also contains descriptions of Siva’s various dances, the ashram of the Guru and the meeting of the Guru. These nine tantras end with hymns of praise to Siva and a description of Siva’s all-pervading nature.

Even this brief account of the contents of the tantras is sufficient to show that the Thirumantiram contains in its concentrated and concise verbal gems all the fundamental doctrines of Siddhanta. We hope this brief introduction helps us all to comprehend the depths of Gurudeva’s thoughts.

Saint Thirumular is a theologian of our faith, but not merely a theologian. He is also a siddhar, an accomplished yogi. Our Hindu scriptures come from such great men, men who have attained to the deepest realizations through their sadhana and their devotion. When their awareness dwells in the superconscious states resident in all men but penetrated intentionally by only a few, and when they speak out from that state, we consider that it is not man himself who has thus spoken but the Divine through man. Saint Thirumular was such a siddhar, and his words are valued as a divine message for mankind.

The Thirumantiram is a mystical book and a difficult book. The original text is written in metered verse, composed in the ancient Tamil language. Saint Thirumular is the first one to codify Saiva Siddhanta, the final conclusions, and the first one to use the term “Saiva Siddhanta.” It is a document upon which the entire religion could stand, if it had to. It is one of the oldest scriptures known to man.

It takes a bit of meditation to understand the Thirumantiram because you have to know occultism and scripture to catch the meaning. It is composed in rhyme and cloaked in code-when the Five become Six and the Seven become Twelve and so on, all talking about the petals of the chakras and the esoteric bodies of man or the material world components known as tattvas.

So, here it is. Proceed with confidence. Enjoy it. Study it. Meditate upon it. Let it become a part of your inner life, of your understanding of God, man and world. Study it. Meditate upon it. Let it become a part of your inner life, of your understanding of God, man and world.