Essays About Shaivism

History, Philosophy, Beliefs and Practices of Shaivism,

Appar or Tirunavukkarasar

Appar is one of the four Tamil Samaya Acharyas. He was a contemporary of Sambandhar. He was a Vellala or Tiru Amur in the district of Cuddalore, Tamilnadu. He was born of Pugalenar and Mathiniar. The parents gave the name Marulneekiar (dispeller of darkness or ignorance) to Appar. Appar means father. Sambandhar gave Marulneekiar this name. The name Appar was first used by Sambandhar in addressing him in one of the several meetings between them. Appar’s soul-stirring and sublime odes earned the title Tirunavukkarasar or the Lord of speech. He 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 poet.

Tilakavadhiar was the elder sister of Appar. She was betrothed to Kalippahaiyar, a military commander under the Pallava king. Kalippahaiyar had to fight against some invader from the North. He died in the battle-field. Tilakavadhiar’s parents also died. The news of the death of Kalippahaiyar reached the ears of Tilakavadhiar. She made up her mind to enter the funeral pyre. Marulneekiar came to know of the intention of his sister. He ran to his sister, prostrated before her and said: “I am keeping my life on account of your support only, after the death of our parents. If you want to give up your life, I will give up my life before you do so”. The heart of Tilakavadhiar melted. She changed her determination and resolved to lead the ascetic life and bring up her helpless younger brother.

Appar became a convert to Jainism. He studied all the Jain scriptures. He went to Pataliputra itself and became one of the spiritual heads there, as he was an erudite scholar in the Jain scriptures.

Appar’s sister was very much afflicted at heart when she came to know that her brother became a convert to Jainism. She left her native village and went to Tiru Atikai, a neighbouring town. She spent her time in meditation and prayer at the Siva’s temple. She prayed to the Lord for his return.

Appar fell a victim to a severe colic which could not be cured. He threw off the garb of a Jain, his bowl and went to his sister. She smeared the holy ashes on the forehead of Appar and took him to the temple of Siva and asked him to prostrate before the Lord and worship Him. Appar acted accordingly. The severe colic vanished at once. He praised Lord Siva.

The spiritual head of the Jains at Pataliputra reported to Kadava, the Jain king, about the absconding of Appar. The district of Cuddalore was under the sway of the Pallava king Kadava. The spiritual head induced the king to persecute Appar.

Appar proceeded to the Pallava capital and appeared before the king. Appar was persecuted in various ways. He was thrown into a burning lime-kiln. He was compelled to drink poisoned milk. An elephant was sent to kill him. A heavy stone was tied to him and he was thrown into the sea. Lord saved him. He floated alive and reached the shore at Tiruppatirupuliyur.

The Pallava king recognised the greatness of Appar and prostrated at his feet. He gave up Jainism and embraced Saivism. He built a magnificent temple of Siva called Gunathara Vicharam at Tirunadhikai.

Thereupon, Appar proceeded on a pilgrimage to various sacred places. He visited Chidambaram, Sirkali and other places and sang Tevaram or odes in praise of Lord Siva.

Appar met the saint Appudi Adigal at Tingalur. Appar brought to life Appudi’s son, who was bitten by a cobra.

Thereupon, Appar visited holy places such as Tiruvanainallur, Tiruvamathur, Tirukoilur and Tirupennakatam and worshipped Lord Siva. He finally reached Tirutunganaimadam and prayed to Lord Siva: “O Siva Sankara! O Ardhanarisvara! O source and end of all beings! I do not wish to keep the body which was in touch with the Jains. Let me have the stamp of Your trident and Nandi on my body”. He sang a Padigam. At once a Sivagana approached Appar through the grace of Lord Siva, and put the stamp of trident and Nandi on the shoulder of Appar.

Then Appar proceeded to Sirkali to meet Sambandhar. He fell at the feet of Sambandhar. Sambandhar addressed the Vellala saint: “O my beloved Appar”.

Once, Sambandhar went in a palanquin to Tiruppuntiruti in the district of Tanjore to meet Appar. Appar went in advance and carried the palanquin. Sambandhar asked: “Where is Appar?” Appar replied: “Here am I, carrying the palanquin”. Sambandhar at once got down from the palanquin, embraced Appar and shed tears of love.

Appar went to Tiruchattimutram. He sang a Padigam and said: “O Lord, place Thy lotus-feet on my head before I leave this physical body”. He heard an Akasavani or voice in the sky: “Come to Tirunallure”. Appar acted accordingly and went to Tirunallure. Lord Siva placed His feet on the head of Appar. Appar prostrated on the ground. His heart was filled with indescribable delight.

Then Appar went to Tiruvambhar, Tirukadavur and Milalai. There was great famine in Milalai. Appar and Sambandhar were very much grieved at heart as the devotees of Lord Siva were starving. Lord Siva appeared in the dream of both and said: “Do not be afflicted, I shall give you gold-pieces”. They found gold-pieces daily in the temple and fed the people sumptuously.

Appar and Sambandhar visited the temple at Vedaranyam in the district of Tanjore. Here, an old temple of Lord Siva had long remained with doors shut. The Vedas themselves had come and worshipped Siva in the temple and they now did not offer their worship, because people neglected the study of Vedas on account of the influence of Jainism. Sambandhar said to Appar: “Come, and sing that these doors may be opened”. Appar sang and the doors opened. Sambandhar sang and the doors shut.

On one occasion, Appar was very hungry during his pilgrimage tour. Lord Siva created a tank and garden on, the way and gave him food also.

Appar started on a journey to visit Mount Kailas. He had a tiresome journey. He had severe bruises on his feet. He heard a voice in the sky. It was the voice of Lord Siva. The voice said: “O Appar, wake up. Take a dip in this tank. You will see Me and Mt. Kailas in Tiruvayar”. Appar took a dip in the tank and appeared in a temple in Tiruvayar on the banks of Kaveri. He came outside the tank and saw Siva and Sakti everywhere. He entered the temple and saw Mt. Kailas and the Lord Siva of Mt. Kailas. Appar rejoiced heartily at the marvellous sight and sang Padigams.

Finally Appar stayed at Pumpukalar near Tiruvalur and spent here the last years of his life. He was tested here by the Lord, in order to show his greatness to the people. When he was serving in the temple, gold and diamond appeared under his feet. Appar regarded them as stones and threw them away. On another occasion, celestial damsels appeared before him and tempted him in a variety of ways; but Appar remained undisturbed in his meditation. He merged himself in the Light of lights, Lord Siva, when he was much advanced in age.


Appar laid the foundation of Saiva Siddhanta school of philosophy, by means of his poems. Appar’s poems are full of imagination, spiritual insight, religious emotion and high spiritual realisation.

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 praised the five letters, the Panchakshara. He says: “The rare jewel of the Brahmins is the Veda with six Angas; the rare jewel for the Saivites is the Panchakshara”. His exemplary life, mellifluous poetry, vast erudition and profound religious fervour attracted countless people. He had countless admirers and disciples. He had great influence. Appar’s works consist of three hundred poems which form three books out of twelve in the Tamil collection of Saivite poetry known as Tirumurai.

Appar says: “Everything is the manifestation of Lord Siva. Siva is Narayana, Brahma, the four Vedas, the holiest, the oldest, the 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 immanent.

“Love of Lord Siva must be felt and manifested. Sing. 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 lustre in the eyes. He is neither male nor female. He is without dimensions.

“Subdue the senses. Practise regular meditation. Practise Chariyai, Kriyai, Yoga and Jnana. Practise regular meditation. Develop dispassion (Vairagya). 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 the 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 and self-analysis. Build the fence of Yama and Niyama or right conduct and right rules. You will soon attain Sivanandam or eternal bliss of Siva.

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

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