Remembering Tirumular And The Tamil Connection On International Yoga Day
It is an indisputable fact that everyday practice of Yoga brings immense benefits. The International Yoga Day celebrations is just an attempt to underscore this fact and bring awareness to this priceless heritage that we all share.
Yoga is undoubtedly one of India’s greatest gifts to the world and is clearly a practice that originated in the Indic dharmic traditions. Modern proponents of Yoga such as BKS Iyengar and Patanjali, the author of the Yoga sutras, are names that immediately come to one’s mind at the mention of the word Yoga.
Not known to many is the mammoth work of the Tamil Siddha yogi Tirumūla whose work Tirumantiram is part of the Shaiva Canon ‘Panniru Tirumurai’ and is at the core of the 12th century philosophy of Shaiva Siddhanta in Tamilnadu.
The Tirumantiram (tiru+mantram) is a collection of about 3000 verses in Tamil written by this Shaiva Saint. Tirumular is regarded as one of the 18 siddhas in the mystic Tamil siddha tradition; he also ranks as one of the 63 Shaiva Nāyanmār Saints of the Tamil Shaiva Bhakti movement of the 1st millennium CE.
Opinions vary on the time frame of Tirumular’s life. The kailāya paramparā of the Kauai monastery in Hawai holds that their tradition hails from Nandinātha (250 BCE) where the knowledge was passed onto eight disciples Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, Śanatkumāra, SivaYōgi, Patañjali, Vyāgrapāda and Tirumūla. These disciples were considered to be siddhas. The Hawaiian monks trace their origin to Tirumūla and they establish his time period as circa 250 BCE. Other schools assign him a later date in the 5th or the 7th centuries (CE).
The Tirumantiram dwells on Siva, Śakti , Tantra, Yoga and Kriya, healing and several other topics. Of relevance to this article is Tirumular’s focus on Yoga.
The focus of the first part of the third chapter (tantra) of the Tirumantiram is entirely on aṣṭāṅga Yoga and its benefits. The term aṣṭāṅga Yoga is commonly used in today’s parlance although the Yoga industry focusses only on the physical poses (āsanas).
Tirumular’s description of the aṣṭāṅga reads as follows.
iyama niyamamē eṇṇilā ātaṉam
nayamuṟu pirāṇāyā mampiratti yākāram
cayamiku tāraṇai tiyāṉañ camāti
ayamuṟum aṭṭāṅka māvatu māmē
This verse states that the aṅgas (elements) yama, niyama (relationship to the external world and to oneself), āsanas (yogic postures), prāṇāyama (harmony with your energy), pratyāhāra (harmony with your emotions ), dhāraṇa (harmony with your thoughts) , dhyānam (contemplation) and samādhi (oneness with the divine) are those that constitute the aṣṭāṅgas.
Tirumular’s tamil verse above and the earlier Yogasūtras of Patañjali enumerate the 8 aṅgas. Patañjali’s sutra, said to have been written more than 2000 years ago reads as follows.
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra
dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhyo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni ||
In his third tantra, Tirumular elaborates on each of the aṅgas. In the section on āsanas commencing with padmāsana he names eight of the āsanas and elaborates on four of them. In particular, he extols the ‘svastikāsana’ (the auspicious pose).For instance, the following verse describes the kukkuṭa āsana (the rooster pose)
okka aṭiyiṇai yūruvil ēṟiṭṭu
mukki yuṭalai muḻaṅkai taṉilēṟṟit
tokka aṟintu tuḷaṅkā tiruntiṭiṟ
kukkuṭa ācaṉaṅ koḷḷalu māmē
“Starting with the padmāsana, when you slide your palms between the thigh and the calves, rest them on the ground, rise up and balance your weight on your arms it is the rooster pose’.
Tirumantiram is a fascinating work dealing with ideas covering vedānta, tantra, Siva Yoga and more; its metric verses are very accessible. The entire work is divided into 9 chapters or 9 tantras. The first tantra deals with Tirumular’s philosophical view, concepts of love etc. The second tantra focuses on Siva and it references several purāṇic ancecdotes.
The third chapter deals with aṣṭāṅga Yoga, siddhis etc while the fourth focuses on mantra and tantra. The fifth deals with the various branches of the Shaiva religion, the sixth focuses on Siva as a guru, the seventh on the Siva liṅga. The eighth focuses on the soul experience while the final tantra deals with the pañcākshara, the dance of Siva and the state of samādhi.
Tirumular stresses unequivocally that love is god (anbe sivam); he also declares the oneness of humankind and emphasizes the importance of knowledge.
The ignorant state that love and Siva (The Godhead) are two different entities
They do not know that it is love that becomes Siva
Once they realize that it is love that becomes Siva
They will themselves rest in Siva who becomes nothing other than love
Tirumular is a towering personality in the Tamil Shaiva tradition and is hailed as the greatest Tamil poet of symbolism. We remember him today as the greatest contributor to yoga in Tamil literature.