Thirugnaanasambandhar, a short biography
Thirunerich chemmal Nalisaip pulavar, Vidwan Thiru.V. S. Gurusaami Desikar (DharumaiAdheena University College)
(note: based on the original writing of Prof. Thiru.K. Vellaivaarananaar, Annamalai University)
Translation by Mangalam Vasan, Melbourne, Australia.
Vethaneri thazhaiththonga mikusaivath thuraivilangap
pootha paramparai poliyap punithavaai malarnthazhutha
seethavala vayatpukalith thirugnaana sambandhar
paathamalar thalaikkondu thiruththondu paravuvaam.
(So that the path of the Vedas flourish, superior Saivism thrives
and the human race prospers
he opened his sacred mouth like a flower unfolding and cried;
The One belonging to Pukali of cool and lush fields, who is ThirugnaanaSambandhar
Let us keep his lotus feet on our head and spread the way of divine service.)
The first three out of the twelve Thirumurais were divinely ordained by Thirugnaana sambandhar. His sacred story was narrated beautifully by Sekkizhaar in 1256 poems in Periyapuraanam. Thirugnaanasambandhar was the first one of the four saiva gurus, collectively known as ‘’the four’’ and one of the sixty three saiva saints.
He is first mentioned by Sunderar in Thiruth thondath thogai as below and Sunderar continues to venerate Thirugnaana sambandhar in his own thevaram songs.
vambara vari vandu manum naara malarum
Madhu malar natr kontraiyaan adiyalaal penaatha
embiraan sambandhan adiyaarkum adiyen
(Meaning: I am a slave of Thiruganasambandhar who worships no other god besides the Lord who is adorned by the fine kondrai flowers, which blossom with an instant sweet scent and honey which attract the striped bees)
Nambiaandaar nambi sang Thiruththondar Thiruvanthaathi explaining the lives of the sixty three saints; it contains two songs explaining Thirugnaansambandar’s history. Furthermore, in the 11th Thirumurai, he has elaborated the history of Gnaanasambandhar in six sections, his gracious qualities and greatness of his Thevarams.
In the Chozha kingdom, there was a town called Seekaazhip pathi also known as Piramapuram, Venupuram, Pukali, Vengkuru, Thonipuram, Poontharaai, Sirapuram, Puravam, Sanpai, Kaazhi, Kochchai, Vayam and Kazhumalam. There lived a vethiyar called Sivapaatha iruthayar, a brahmin of the gownyar gothram along with his loving wife Bagavathiyaar. In Tami Nadu, while they lived a life of piety in the Saiva way, Buddhism and Jainism was on the rise. The way of the Vedas was on the decline. The Holy ash was not minded anymore. The troubled Sivapaatha iruthayar started fervently praying to the Lord of Thiruththonipuram to bless him with a son who will discard the parasamayams (external religions).
The Lord of Thiruththonipuram granted their wish and Mother Bagavathiyaar became in the family way. On the auspicious thiruvaathirai day when sun and other planets were at their peak, for the path of Siva to proliferate, to fulfil the tapas/penance of the tamil race, the south to surpass other directions, for Thamizh to conquer all other languages and flourish, to re establish the musical expertise, for the knowledge of the divine to unfold everywhere and for other religions to loose their glamour, sacred Seekazhi saw the heavenly arrival of the divine baby Sambandhar. His birth gave immense joy to all beings. All samskaras like the naming ceremony, the cradle ceremony etc were done in their due times. As Mother Bagavathiyar breast fed him she also transferred the love of the Lord and lovingly nurtured him. Having worshipped Lord Shiva in the previous birth and being filled with the bliss of Shiva previously, the baby started crying with a sense of loss and separation on and off and reached two years of age. Having reached three years the child joined other children at play on the road. We shall also refer to him as Pillayar shorten for divine child here after.
One day Sivapaatha iruthayar left for his ritual bath in the holy waters of the temple tank of Piramapuram. Pillayar clung to his father’s legs crying to be taken along. The father relented at his tears and took him along to the tank. He deposited pillayar on bank and moved down and started stepping into the water for his bath. He started chanting the akamarshana mantras and immersed himself into deep waters. Pillayar was seated on the bank and started worrying when the father was not to be seen anywhere. With remembrances of his past birth surfacing, he tearfully looked at the Thirutthonimalai pinnacle, wrung his baby hands together, and with quivering lips, forlornly cried “ammaiye appa”. On hearing his cry, the Lord of Thonipuram along with his consort arrived on the vidai (faithful bull nandi). Goddess Uma gives pillayar milk reinforced with the nectar of knowledge. Sekkilaar in periyapuranam explains it thus in the lines starting ‘’Ennariya’’, The mother of the universe mixes the nectar of knowledge of Shiva with rice and feeds Sambhandar lovingly, she wipes his tears and gives him grace. Pillayar is bestowed with ecstasy not bestowed on the celestials or saints. He is transformed into Thiru Gnaana Sambandhar endowed with knowledge of the scriptures and knowledge of the one reality. The knowledge that he was infused with, at that point is explained with veneration as follows by Sekkilaar, in the lines starting ‘’Sivanadiye’’
The knowledge of the ever growing reality of Shiva which venerates the divine feet of Shiva, the knowledge which breaks away the chain of karma and liberates from rebirth, the unparalleled knowledge of the fine arts, the knowledge beyond cognition, of true wisdom, the foremost of the holy ones Sambandhar, realised all in that state.
Following this, Sivapatha iruthayar finishes his holy bath and comes up the steps and glanced at his boy who is now a realised soul. Noticing the milk on the lips of the boy, he gets angry and picks up a stick as he raises his voice and demands to know who had fed him with milk rice. The little realised one, filled with the language of wisdom, Tamil, wanting to praise mother Uma, who took the first alphabet of Tamil language and formed the Pranava mantra Aum out of it and fed him that, along with the milk, pointed to the Temple and sang “Thodudaiya seviyan” describing the one who gave him milk. The stick fell from his hands as Sivapaatha iruthayar stood transfixed in wonder. Afterwards, Father and son went to the temple and worshipped the Lord of Piramapuram.
The news of this event spread quickly and crowds gathered to look at this divine child. Sivapaatha iruthayar, placed him on his shoulders and walked home as crowds welcomed him.
After partaking the nectar of wisdom form Uma Devi and singing in divine Thamizh, Thiru Gnaanasambandhar spends time immersed in the thought of the grace of god, he wakes up the next day takes bath and worships the The Thirukazhumalatheesan (The Lord who resides in Kazhumalam). He then proceeds to the temple Thirukolakkaa which is near Seekazhi prompted by great yearning for the Lord, circumbulates and sings the thevaram, “Madaiyil vaalai”, keeping beat with his tender baby hands. The lord of Kolakkaa could bear the reddening of the petal like hands and immediately gave him a pair of gold cymbals engraved with the panchaksharam (Namasivaya). The divine child held the cymbals over his head in joy and kept beat thereafter with them and sang hymns is praise of the Lord of that place. This became his first pilgrimage. On his return with the cymbals to Seerkazhi, he went straight to the temple and sang “Poovar kontrai”.
Thirunani palli pilgrimage
Bhagavathy Amma, mother of Gnaanasambandhar was born in Thirunani palli. The bramins of Thirunani palli, on hearing the miracle of the divine child were eager to welcome him to their town. On hearing this Gnaanasambandhar worships and takes leave of the Lord of Thonipuram and sets off on foot to Thirunani palli. Seeing his lotus feet becoming tender and sore, Sivapaatha iruthayar started carrying him on his shoulders. On approaching Nani palli, Gnaanasambandhar inquires after the town and sings “Kaaragaikal koogaimullai “ and proceeds to the temple. After worship in that temple he proceeds to nearby temples of Thalaich sangaadu, Saaikaadu and Venkaadu and returns to Seerkazhi. Nanipalli which was barren turned into seaside land and finally into fertile land after Gnaanasambandhar’s arrival. This was his second pilgrimage. In a few days Gnaanasambandhar made his third pilgrimage to Mayenthirap palli, Kurukaavoor and Mullai vaayil.
Encounter with Thiruneelakanda Yaazhppaanar
On hearing of the miracle of God’s grace on Gnaanasambandhar at the tender age of three, Thiruneelakanda Yaazhppaanar and his wife Mathanga soolamaniyaar, arrived at Thiruth thoni to venerate him. Hearing of their arrival , Gnaanasambandhar made arrangements for them to play the harp in the temple and also stay in the town. Thiruneelakandar played Gnaanasambandhar’s Thevarams on the harp which was a joy to hear. Thiru Gnaanasambandhar, surrounded by devotees and accompanied by Yaazhppaanar, crossed the Kollida River and proceeded to Thillai. He entered the temple through the southern entrance and made his way to the Perambalam and venerated the Lord with “Kattraangu eriyombi” and “Aadinaai narunei”. He did not want to stay at Thillai. He went to Thiruvetkalam and continued to worship the cosmic dancer Thillaik koothan. He also worshipped the temples of Thirukkazhippaalai and Thirunel vaayil.
Thiruneelakanda Yaazhppaanar, wanted to visit the sacred shrines on the west of Thillai, on the banks of vellaaru. Gnaanasambandhar agreed and set off. On reaching Erukkaththam puliyoor , Gnaanasambandhar was pleased to hear from Yaazhppaanar that this was his place of birth. He visited the temple and sang more hymns.
Pearl palanquin, Umbrella and Symbols
Gnaanasambandhar set off from Erikkatham puliyoor, worshipping Thirumudhu kundram, Thiruppennaakadam towards Thirunel vaayil arathurai. He refused to be carried by the father and insisted on walking much to the concern of his father and other devotees. He got so tired that they stopped that night at Maaran paadi. The Lord of Arathurai appeared in the dreams of the bramin priests and advised them of the arrival of his devotee, “I have kept a pearl palanquin, pearl umbrella and pearl Symbols in the temple, take them to him and welcome him” he bided. At the same time he appeared in Gnaanasambandhar’s dreams and said “accept my gifts”. The priests rose up in awe and wonder and fetched the articles and went to Gnaansambandhar and recounted the dream and requested him to come to Arathurai in the palanquin. Gnansambandhar pleased with the grace of the Lord circumbulated the palanquin thrice and bowed and uttered the mantra of five syllables (panchakshram) and sat on it. Amazed by the grace of his Lord he sang “Enthai eesan emperuman…” and proceeded in his veneration of the Lord of arathurai, arathurai eesan. He stayed for a few days in Thirunel vaayil arathurai and proceeded in his palanquin to Visayamangai, Thiruvaikaa, Purampayam, Seignaaloor, Thiruppananthaal, Panthanai nalloor, Omaam puliyoor, Vazhkolipputthoor, Kadamboor, Naaraiyoor, Karuppariyaloor and returned to Thiruppirampuram. This was his fourth pilgrimage.
Upanayanam -Sacred thread ceremony
Gnaanasambandhar turned seven. The brahmins explained their family tradition to him and the nature of the twice born. They performed the ceremony of the sacred thread (with three chords) and told him that they have given him the four Vedas thus. However the enlightened Pillayaar could already recite the Vedas with their meaning and the amazed brahmins cleared all their doubts in the Vedas from him.
Gnansambandhar also explained the essence of the four Vedas, which is the (panchakshram- the sacred five syllables of shiva) by singing “Thunjalum thunjal illaatha”.
Meeting of Appar and Gnaanasambandhar
While Gnaanasambandhar stayed in seekazhi after the upanayanam, Thirunaavukkarasar heard of the grace of god being showered on Pillayaar and was overcome with eagerness to meet this divine child and arrived at Seekazhi. Gnaanasambandhar on the other hand had heard the miracle that, Appar had made the stone (which was intended to sink him) float and come ashore in the seas, went to meet him with his friends. He saw the golden body adorned with holy ash and the rudraksha beads, an elderly man with the heart that throbs in adoration of the divine feet and tears that show the springing love, Gnaanasambandhar paid obeisance. Naavukkarasar picked him up and returned the obeisance (vanakkam) and Gnaanasambandhar lovingly called him appare (father) and he joyfully replied adiyen(your servant). They conversed blissfully and then together went to the Thirutthonipura Thirukkoyil and wroshipped the Lord. Gnaanasambandhar took Appar back to his abode and continued their holy conversation after partaking in a meal. After a few days of worshipping the Lord of Seekazhi, Appar took leave reluctantly and set off to the holy shrines of the Chozha kingdom.
In the days Gnaanasambandhar spent in Seekazhi he sang hymns such as mozhimaatru, maalai maatru and did pioneering work in introducing chitrakavi into tamil literature. However he did this in praise of the Lord of Seerkazhi. Thiruneelakanda yaazhppaanar and his dear wife mathangasoolamaniyaar reproduced those hymns on the harp (yaazh) and spread the music.
Curing Muyalakan disease
ThiruGnaanasambandhar wanted to set off on his fifth pilgrimage so as to visit holy places of Tamil Nadu and spread the greatness of the holy shrines amongst the people. When he shared this with his father, Sivapaatha iruthayar not willing to be separated from his son who was like potent medicine, said that he will not move away from him ever but he needs to perform austerities (yagam) to gain otherworldly bliss. So they set off together. ThiruGnaanasambandhar took leave of the Lord of Thiruthonipuram. They paid their reverence to the Lords of Thirukkannaar koyil and Pullirukku veloor, passed the north of kaveri and arrived at Thiruppaachilaachiraamum in Malavarnaadu. The king of the small kingdom, called Kolli malavan had tried in vain to treat his daughter who was ailing with the muyalakan disease which made her go into fitting spells, had given up and brought her to the temple and laid her in front of the Lord. Hearing of ThiruGnaanasambandhar’s arrival, he had his town decorated , gave him a warm welcome and escorted him straight to the temple. In the temple, ThiruGnaanasambandhar saw the young girl who lay unconscious and inquired about her from Malavan. He then sang the hymn “Thunivalar thingal” to cure her of her of Muyalakan. The girl was rid of her disease and rose up and prostrated at ThiruGnaanasambandhar’s feet. Malavan was overcome with joy and showed his gratitude by falling at his feet.
Curing Pani noi (High fever)
ThiruGnaanasambandhar venerated the Lord of Paachilaachiraamum and proceeded to kodimaadach chengunroor after worshipping paincheeli and eengoimalai. He praised Maathorupaagan, the Lord who is half sakthi, showed devotion to nearby Thirunanaa and then rested in a pilgrim’s rest house (mudum). The devotees accompanying him succumbed to the Pani noi which results in raging fever. In order to save them, ThiruGnaanasambandhar appealed to the lord, Thiruneelakanda peruman and sang the hymn “Avvinaikku ivvinai”. Is he not the merciful God who drank the poison to save the devas. The disease disappeared not only from the devotees but from all the land of Kongu.
ThiruGnaanasambandhar set off from Thiruch chengunroor , paid his reverence to the Lord residing in Paandikodumudi, Venjamaakoodal and Aanilai, returned to the Chozhalanaadu and worshipped holy places such as Thirucchiraappalli and arrived at Thiruvalanchuzhi. The weather was getting warmer towards summer. Pillayar worshipped the Lord of Thiruvalanchuzhi followed by worship at Pazhaiyaarai mettrali and Thiruchchatthi muttram and arrived at midday at Patteeccharam. The sivaganangal (attendants of Lord Shiva) appeared from the sky bringing a Pearl canopy and presented it to Pillayar stating that Lord Shiva wished him to be comfortable in the shade. The devotees carried the gift from the skies and provided cool shade and escorted Pillayar into the temple. Pillayar, in wonder of the compassionate grace of god sang “Paadal Marai” in praise of the Lord of Patteecharam.
ThiruGnaanasambandhar continued his pilgrimage and arrived at Thiruvaavaduthurai. There, Sivapaatha iruthayar was eager to perform hindu rituals in a large scale and requested Pillayar to help him with the means. Pillayar worried at his inability to provide the funds and appealed to the Lord by singing “Idarinum Thalarinum”. Once again the attendant of Shiva arrived with a bag of gold coins and left it in the Maasilaamaniyeesar shrine. He informed Pillayar: “God has given you this bag of gold which will never diminish, to complete the rituals”. The divine child carried the bag on his head and gave it to his father and bided him to gather the Brahmins of Kazhumalam and embark on all the pujas.
The rendering of Yaazhmoori
The spiritual journey continued through Thirukozhambam and Vaikal and Pillayar arrived at Thirutharumapuram; also the birth place of the mother of Thiruneelakanda Yaazhppaanar. Therefore, all her kith and kin, lovingly welcomed Gnaanasambandhar and Yaazhppaanar. The relatives seemed to think that Gnaanasambandhar’s music was special because of Yaazhppaanar’s yaazh. Yaazhppaanar, dismayed at hearing this, asked pillyar to show them that Thiruppathiga music can never be bound by a yaazh. Gnaanasambandhar sang “Maathar madappidi ”to show that hymns cannot be contained by the instrument. Yaazhppaanar continued to be upset and tried to break his yaazh deeming it the cause of his relatives’ judgmental comparison of him and Gnaanasambandhar. Pillayar stopped him by saying the greatness of God is not limited by a mere instrument and asked him to continue his service through music. Pillayar continued to stay there a few more days and arrived at Thirunallaaru. There he sang “Pogamaarntha poonmulaiyaal” in praise of the Lord and proceeded to Thiruchaatha mangai.
Hospitality of Neelanakkar, Siruthondar
Neelanakka naayanaar welcomed Gnaanasambandhar home and showered him with hospitality. Pillayar went to the temple called Ayavanthi in Thiruchchaatha mangai and worshipped the Lord. In the song in praise of the Lord, he also commends the love shown by Neelanakka naayanaar. He continued his pilgrimage through more towns and arrived at Thiruch chengaatangudi.
In Thiruch chengaatangudi, he went to Ganapatheecharam and sang “Paing gottu malarp punnai” in which he praises the great devotion of Siruthondar. He then continued to Thirumarugal.
Elimination of Venom
Thiru Gnaanasambandhar stayed there worshipping the Lord of Thirumarugal. Then something wonderful happened. A merchant along with his beloved travelling through town, stopped at the resting house (maduhm) next to the Temple of Thirumarugal. The merchant was bitten by a snake and the venom started spreading quickly. The girl was distraught and also unable to touch him since they were not married. The townsmen brought a wizard who administered anti venom treatment which was of no avail. The young lady lay sobbing next to the still body of the merchant pleading to the Lord; ‘You who saved the Devas by drinking poison, You magnanimously gave back the life of manmathan in answer to the plea of his wife, You who kicked yama to save the life of Maarkandeyan, please show mercy and break the pace of the venom and let me escape from this endless pit of misery. Her pitiful lament fell on the divine ears of Gnaanasambandhar who had come for his early morning obeisance to the Lord of Thirumarugal. He proceeded to the maduhm and inquired after the girl. She prostrated at his feet and recounted her life story. Her father was Thaaman of the town Vaippoor. He had seven daughters. The snake bitten man is my mother’s brother and it is customary to wed your maternal uncle. My father promised the first daughter to him and got her married instead to a rich man. He then promised the same again to this young man and got all the six daughters married to rich suitors. I ran away with him since I did not want my father to cheat his nephew for the last time. On the way he has been bitten by a snake. I am like the master of the ship which has sunk at mid sea in disaster. “You alone are showing me kindness like my own relative” said the weary damsel. Moved by her suffering, Gnaanasambandhar went to the Temple and appealed to the Lord of Thirumarugal thus, Oh ! Lord, Is it befitting, full of grace (an ocean of grace) to let a damsel call your name in anguish while withering away, singing the hymn “Sadaiyaayenumaal”. The young man was miraculously brought to life. The couple prostrated at the feet of Gnaanasambandhar who gave them life. He blessed their marriage in front of the Lord of Thirumarugal and wished them a long life.
While pillayar continued to stay in Thirumarugal, Siruthondar humbly requested him to revisit Thiruch chengaatangudi. When Pillayaar went to take leave of the Lord of Thirumarugal, he had a double blessing with the vision of the Lord of Thiruch chengaatangudi. Pillayaar combined the two sacred places and sang “Angamum vethamum”. He then proceeded to Thiruch chengaatangudi with Siruthondar and worshipped Ganapatheecharam. Following this, Pillaiyar took leave of Siruthondar and continued his pilgrimage on to Thirup puhaloor.
Hospitality of Muruga Naayanaar
Welcomed by Muruga Naayanaar, Gnaanasambandhar arrived at Thirup puhaloor, worshipped the Lord and stayed at the mudum (resting house of pilgrims) of Muruga Naayanaar. In the meanwhile, Thirunaavukkarasar was paying his humble adulation to the Lord who manifested as a snake hill in Thiruvaaroor and arrived at Thirup puhaloor. Gnaanasambandhar was immensely pleased with his arrival and they both greeted each other with great rapture and conversed about divine matters. Listening to Thirunaavukkarasar ‘s account of the glory of Tiruvaathirai day celebration at Thiruvaaroor, Gnaanasambandhar venerated vitkudi veerattam and hastened to Thiruvaaroor. The people of Thiruvaaroor greeted him with joyful respect. Gnaanasambandhar arrived at the beautiful temple of Thiruvaaroor and sang “Sittham Theliveerkaal” and other hymns. He paid his respect to Araneri and worshipped the Lords of valivalam and Kolili and returned to Thiruvaaroor. With a heavy heart not wanting to part with Thiruvaaroor , but remembering Appar he returned to Thirup puhaloor stopping on the way at panaiyur. He was greeted at the town limits by Muruga Naayanaar and other devotees and ushered into town. He paid his reverence at the temple and then stayed at the Muruga Naayanaar mudum happily conversing with Thirunaavukkarasar, Neelanakkar, Siruthondar and others.
Pilgrimage with Thirunaavukkarasar
Gnaanasambandhar and appar bid goodbye to the other devotees and proceeded on their pilgrimage. Gnaanasambandhar did not wish to travel in his palanquin and started walking with Appar. Appar could not bear that, and insisted that he travels on the palanquin. So appar started walking on their pilgrimage route, followed by Gnaanasambandhar on his palanquin. Both paid obeisance at Ambar maakaalam and proceeded to Thiruk kadavoor. The were welcomed by Kungiliyak kalayar and worshipped at Kadavoor veerattam and enjoyed Kungiliyak kalayar’s hospitality. They continued their veneration through Thirukkadavoor, Mayaanam, Aakoor, Meeyachoor and Pampuram and arrived at Thiruveezhimizhalai. They worshipped the Lord showering grace seated in the vinnizhi vimaanam and proceeded to separate mudums to mingle with devotees.
Gnaanasambandhar stayed in the north mudum and visited Thilathaippathi, Penu, Perunthurai and paid his reverence. While he was at Veezhi, the people of Kaazhi agonising over their separation pleased for him to return to SeerKaazhi. Blessed by the divine grace of the Lord of Veezhi, Veezhi naathan, Gnaanasambandhar went to sleep having decided to leave the next day. The lord appeared in his dreams and said “You can see me seated in the thoni(vessel) here in veezhimizhalai . Next morning as he rose, bathed and went to the temple and was blessed with the amazing vision of Kaazhi in Veezhi and sang “maim marupoong kuzhal” in adoration. He then bid good bye to the people of Kaazhi and farewelled them back and continued to stay in Thiruveezhimizhalai.
During the stay of two saints, Thiruveezhimizhalai was drought stricken. All beings including the devotees were suffering in famine. Pillayar went to sleep thinking that what woes could befall the devotees who are partial to the Holy Ash of the great one with the third eye. The Lord appeared in his dream and promised a gold coin each in the palipeedams(sacrificial alter) in the east and west of the temple, to tide over the time of the famine. On rising they rushed to the Temple and Gnansambandhar received the gold coin from the eastern palipeedam and Appar received the gold coin from the western palipeedam. They took the coins and returned to their respective mudums and organised food distribution to their devotees. The food was distributed early in the Appar mudum and Gnansambandhar made inquiries as to the reason. Apparently Appar received pure coins and needed no verification and he received impure coins. Thinking that Appar receives unblemished gold coins from the Lord due to his physical service, he went to the Temple and sang “Vaasi theerave Kaasu nalkuveer”. The Lord was pleased and gave him pure coins with which he joyfully fed his mudum on time. After sometime the monsoon set in and the famine started clearing and people could live happily again.
The Divine door shut
Gnansambandhar and Appar left Thiruveezhimizhalai and proceeded through Thiruvaanjiyam and other towns where, as they went to worship the Lord, devotees came to worship them. They arrived at Thirumaraik kaadu and circumbulated the temple and approached the front entrance. They were pained to note that the divine doors, which were worshipped with Vedas to be sealed, were closed forever and people were using some other entrance to enter the temple. Gnansambandhar desiring to worship the Lord of vethavanam through the proper doorway appealed to Appar to open the door with his music. Apaar sang “Panniner mozhiyaal”. The Lord engrossed in the poetic essence of his song, waited till all the hymns were completed and then opened the doors. Both of them entered and paid reverence to the eternal groom residing in Thirumaraik kaadu. Appar wanting the doors to open and close as normal requested Gnaanasambhandar to sing them shut. Gnaanasambhandar sang “Sathuram marai” and in the first song itself the doors closed. He continued to sing the full set of hymns and they left for their respective mudums.
Grace by Divine dance in Vaaimoor
Appar went to sleep pondering over the Lord’s actions in closing with one poem and opening after many poems. The Lord appeared in front of him as a Saiva ascetic and beckoned him to follow him to Vaimoor. After a long way the vision disappeared and Appar continued on to Vaimoor and paid reverence to the Lord and sang hymns. In the meanwhile Gnaanasambandhar started looking for Appar and followed him to Vaimoor. Appar was delighted to see Gnaanasambandhar and announced to the Lord, that Gnaanasambandhar who sang more sweetly in pure Thamizh to shut the divine doors, which was better than his own hymns to open the divine doors, has come. The Lord of Vaaimoor revealed his cosmic dance to Gnaanasambandhar. Pillayar sang “Thalirila valarena” and made the Divine dancer, shower grace on Appar also revealing his cosmic dance. They happily stayed in Vaaimoor for few more days and returned to Thirumaraik kaadu to their respective mudums.
Trip to Madurai
It was the time that Paandinaadu (Land of Paandi) was deep in the darkness of Jainism. Jain monks who resided in places such as Aanaimalai were bent on blaspheming Saivaism and spreading Jainism. Koonpaandiyan the King became a Jain, so his subjects were destined to follow the king as well. Shiva temples were taken over by the Jains for their activities and Shiva worship was discontinued. However the Queen Mangaiatkarasiyaar and minister Kulachchiraiyaar continued to be firm in their belief in the Saiva Dharma. When the Queen heard about Gnaanasambandhar’s greatness and that he had arrived in Thirumaraik kaadu, she sent a contingency to meet him and explain to him the situation in the country. The people met Pillayar and recounted all the happenings. The devotees requested Pillayar to set out to Paandinaadu. Gnaanasambandhar and Appar went to the Lord of Maraikkaadu (Maraikkaatu Eesan) and worshipped him. Pillayar let Appar know of his intent to set off to Paandi Naadu. Appar stopped him immediately pointing out the treachery of the jains and fact that the stars were not boding well. Gnaanasambandhar told him to take heart in the fact that No harm shall fall upon those who worship the feet of Lord Shiva and sang “Veyuru thozhi pangan” to offset the power of the stars and set off to Paandi Naadu. When Appar tried to accompany him, he restrained him and persuaded him to stay back in Chozha Naadu.
Welcome by Minister
Gnaanasambandhar left Thirumaraikkaadu on his pearl palanquin, surrounded by devotees and went worshipping through sacred towns such as Agathiyaanpalli and Kodik kuzhagar, headed south west, paid reverence at Thiruk kodungundram and arrived at the outer city limit of Madurai. The Queen sent her minister to welcome him there. Kulachchiraiyaar paid obeisance and welcomed Gnaanasambandhar. Pillayar got down from his palanquin and blessed him saying thus “May you and your queen get many boons by divine grace”. The minister replied that they were privileged to get his blessings and is convinced that the glow of the holy ash shall pervade their country. Pillayar was also told that they were approaching the city of Madurai shortly. Later when he inquired how much further, the devotees pointed out the temple with the Gopuram of Thiru aalavaai. He sang hymns in which he praised the goodness of the devotion of Mangaiatkarasiyaar and Kulachchiraiyaar and arrived at the Temple. He circumbulated the Temple with Kulachchiraiyaar and sang ”Neelamaamidatru” in praise of the Lord.
Meeting with Mangaiatkarasiyaar
The queen had come to the Aalavaai Temple and after completion of her worship, spotted Gnaanasambandhar and immediately prostrated at his feet. Pillayar picked her with his hands which were like flowers that cannot be described. The queen said that it was the piety of herself and her husband that they were blessed with the boon of meeting Gnaanasambandhar. Pillayar responded saying that he came to solely meet her, who in spite of the onslaught of external religion, did not sway and forget the path of Saivam. He bid farewell to her and then was looked after by Kulachchiraiyaar who housed him in a mudum.
Mudum (rest house) on fire
In the evening Gnaanasambandhar retired to the mudum with his devotees. The Jains who came to know of Gnaanasambandhar’s arrival were seething and went to the King and obtained permission from him to set fire to the mudum using their magical powers. Their magical attempts were thwarted by the Panchaksharam (5 syllabels of Shiva- Namasivaya) chanted by the devotees. The angry Jains then physically set fire to one side of the mudum and all the devotees ran to Gnaanasambandhar. Pillayar made the fire go back to the perpetrator but decided that though the King needs to be punished for his misdeed, the good queen cannot become a widow. He sang the hymn “Seiyane Thiru” and forwarded the fire.
In the morning the news of the jains setting the mudum alight spread like fire in Madurai. Mangaiatkarasiyaar and Kulachchiraiyaar were shaking with fear and felt that they deserved to die for bringing Gnaanasambandhar to this land of wicked people. However they were at peace when they heard that no one was harmed. Then they worried about the state of the King afflicted by Veppu Noi (burning fever) and approached him with trepidation. Neither Medical men or Jain monks could cure the King. The queen expressed her opinion that the fire set to the mudum of Gnaanasambandhar has returned as a fever hence he needs to be called to cure the fever. On hearing the name, Gnaanasambandhar which was a mandiram to the King’s ears, already making him feel better, the King asked for him. The Jains then asked the King to state that the fever cured itself even if Gnaanasambandhar cured it and the King refused to utter such falsehood and waver from the just stand. The Queen and Kulachchiraiyaar hastened to the mudum and begged forgiveness for the arson of the mudum and pleaded with him to come and heal the King suffering from raging fevers and give them hope. Gnaanasambandhar vowed to win the the Jains in debate and apply the Holy Ash to the King of southerners. He arrived at the Temple and sang “Kaatu maavathu uriththu” to fathom the wish of the Lord. Then asked for his divine blessing to win over all Jains by singing “Vetha velviyai” and set of to the palace in his palanquin.
Curing Veppu Noi (Raging fever)
Gnaanasambandhar arrived at the Palace and sat next to the King. Just the sight of Gnaanasambandhar made the fever ebb a little and the King was actually able to inquire as to Pillayar’s town. Gnaanasambandhar replied in song that his town was Piramanur. Hearing that, the fearful Jains with bravado asked to state his religious beliefs. The Queen was worried about the little boy in the midst of wicked men and hurried him to cure the King. Gnaanasambandhar however assured the Queen that not to consider him a mere child and that he would win any contest with the help of the Aran of Aaalavaai (Shiva residing in the Aaalvaai Temple). The Jains promised to cure the left of the King and stroked him with peacock feathers making the fever rage more. Gnaanasambandhar sang “Manthiramaavathu neeru” and applied Holy Ash to the right side of the King with his divine hands. The fever abated and soared on the left side. The King requested him to cure that side too and so did Gnaanasambandhar with Holy ash. The cure King prostrated at the feet of Gnaanasambandhar and claimed that he has been saved.
Contest of Fire
The defeated Jains decided to use other methods to win over Gnaanasambandhar. Pillayar asked them to state their religious truths. The Jains decided that both parties would write their religious beliefs on palm leaves and throw them into fire. The palm leaf that remains unscorched would determine the true religion. The King organised a fire pit. Gnaanasambandhar sent for his palm leave inscriptions. The hymn ’Pogamaarntha Poonmulaiyaal’ unfolded. Gnaanasambandhar prayed to the God of Nallaru, sang “Thalirila valaroli” requesting him to safeguard the palm leaf from fire and placed his palm leaf into the fire. The palm leaf remained green unburnt by the fire, where as the palm leaf placed by the Jains became charred. They waited for a while and pulled out the bits. Gnaanasambandhar’s palm leaf came out greener than before. Thus this hymn is called the Green/fresh Hymn (Pachchai Thiruppathigam).
Contest of Water
The Jains wanted another round of contest, this time in the river. They declared that palm leaves will be set afloat on the river and that which gets across will determine the true religion. Kulachchiraiyaar then inquired of the Jains what the punishment should be given to the losers. Jains suggested death by impalement. Gnaanasambandhar and the Jains reached the banks of Vaigai. The Jains released their palm leaf with the inscription starting ‘asthi naasthi’. The leaf disappeared in the torrent of the river. Gnaanasambandhar wrote the Tiruppaasuram called “Vazhka anthanar” on the palm leaf and set it afloat. It charged against the currents and reached the opposite bank. Since the song also blessed the King, Koon Pandiyan lost his hunch back and stood up and henceforth was called Nindra seer nedumaaran. Kulachchiraiyaar followed the palm leaf. Gnaanasambandhar sang another hymn “Vanniyum maththamum”. The leaf then reached a Temple in the north. The Temple was then known as Edagam meaning the Temple of the Palm leaf. Kulachchiraiyaar retrieved the palm leaf and returned it to Gnaanasambandhar. All were mesmerized by the miracle. The jains impaled themselves in shame. Gnaanasambandhar went to the Aaalavaai Temple and sang “Veedalaala vaayilaai” and returned to his mudum.
While Gnaanasambandhar was in Madurai, Sivapaatha Iruthayar came to visit him. Gnaanasambandhar addressed him thus, O! one of great piety and sang “Mannil nalla vannam” in the tone of asking him, is the Immensely gracious Lord of Thonipuram, who when I was an infant, fed me milk in the golden chalice, is he keeping well with his consort ? Accompanied by the Pandiya King, Mangaiatkarasiyaar and Kulachchiraiyaar, he paid reverence to the Temples of Thirupuththoor, Kaanapper, Suzhiyal, Kuttraalam, Neliveli on the way and arrived at Ramechchuram. After worshipping the Ramanaathar installed by Thirumaal when he took the Rama Avathaaram, from there itself he sang praising the Eezha shrines of Thirukketheecharam and Thirukkonamalai.
Return To Chozha Naadu
He continued his pilgrimage through Aadaanai, punalvaayil and manametkudi and then bid farewell to the King, Queen and Minister and returned Choza naadu. The pilgrimage continued through Paathaaleecharam, Thirukkalar and he arrived at Thirukkollampoothoor.
Commissioning the Boat
In the city limits of Thirukkollampoothoor, Mulliyaaru was rising due to the floods. The boatmen had abandoned the boats. Gnaanasambandhar requested one his devotees to untie one of the boats and they all climbed in to the boat and he sang “Kottame kamazhum” in praise of the Lord of Kollampoothoor. The unmanned boat took them across by god’s grace and on arriving at the Temple of Kollampoothoor he sang the rest of the hymns. He then proceeded to Thirunallaaru and sang “Paadagamelladi” in praise of the Lord of Nallaaru who helped him to win the contest of fire in Madurai.
Debating victory with Buddhists
He arrived at Thiruththelicheri paid obeisance to the Lord and as he came near Bodhimangai, Buththananthi surrounded by thera monks came charging hearing the cymbals and the chant that heralded the arrival of the one who will destroy other religions and the one who always has divine milk in his mouth. He challenged him to a debate. One of the devotees sang Gnaanasambandhar’s “Buththar samkazhuk kaiyar” and wished for thunder to fall on Buththananthi and it did. The monks ran away. Then when saaribuththan called Gnaanasambandhar for a debate, he used the same devotee to win the arguments. They realised their folly and converted back to Saivaism. Later he went to Thirukkadavoor and inquired after Appar and getting news of him in Thiruppoonthuruththi set off to find him.
Rejoicing at seeing Appar
Appar waited in the town limits along with the thronging devotees to welcome Gnaanasambandhar and along with the devotees carried him in the palanquin. Gnaanasambandhar looked for Appar and finding him nowhere asked for him. Appar on hearing that, replied from under the palanquin that he was his servant who was blessed to carry him and is right here. Gnaanasambandhar hastened down from the palanquin and asked whether this was the right thing to do(to be carrying him) and paid obeisance to him. Appar returned the salutation and they both happily set off to the Temple. After worshipping the Lord both returned to the Mudum of Appar and Gnaanasambandhar recounted the happening at Madurai. Appar commended him saying that you are the great fence that is guarding the divine plantation of service to the Lord. Hearing the return of Saivism to Paandi naadu, Appar desired to visit the land. Gnaanasambandhar on the other hand wished to visit Thondai Naadu after hearing Appar’s account of it. So they parted company and continued their pilgrimages.
Gnaanasambandhar arrived at the northern bank of Kaveri, worshipping the shrines of Neiththaanam, Aiyaaru and Palanum, returned to Seekaazhippathi and praised the Lord of Thonipuram and returned home.
Pilgrimage of Thondai Naadu
Gnaanasambandhar with a view to paying reverence to Kachchith thiru ekamba perumaan set off from Seekaazhi, arrived at Thillai and worshipped the Lord of the dance of bliss, continued his pilgrimage through Maanikuzhi, Paathirip puliyoor, Vadukoor, Vakkarai, Irumbai, Maakaalam, then sang in salutation to the Lord of Thiruvathigai veerattam, continued through Kovaloor, Araiyani, Nalloor and ended up in Annamalai. He sang ‘’Unnamulai umaiyaalodum’’ in praise of the Lord and left for Thiruothoor. A devotee complained that his palmayrah trees were of the male variety and he was taunted by Jains who asked whether his Shiva would give him fruits. Gnaanasambandhar went to the Temple and sang “Poothernthaayena” and trees changed gender and bore fruit. Devotees were surprised. The Jains begged the pardon of Gnaanasambandhar and became saivaites.
He once again set off from Thiruothoor continuing his pilgrimage through Thirumaakaral, Kuranganil, Muttam and arrived at Kaanchipuram. He worshipped Kachchi ekambam, Kaama kottam and adjoining Temples and then wished to proceed to Thiruvaalangaadu where Kaaraikkaal Ammiyaar attained salvation. He was afraid to set foot on the land where she walked on her head and stopped at the outskirts for the night. The Lord of Aalangkaadu appeared in his dream and asked why he had forgotten to sing for him. Gnaanasambandhar immediately woke up and sang ”Thunjavaruvaarum”. He continued his pilgrimage through Paasoor, Venpaakam, Kaarikarai and finally Kaalaththi. He praised the devotion of Kannappar and worshipped the Lord of Kaalaththi and stayed there for a few days in a mudum. From there itself, he sang in praise of the holy places of the north, Kayilaayam, Kethaaram and Thirupparuppatham. Then he moved to the shrine of Thiruvetkaadu and then arrived at Thiruvottriyoor.
Bones to Beauty
There lived in mayilaapoor a merchant of endless wealth and pure heart called Sivanesan. He was a noble man who realised that the Saiva path was the true religion. When he heard of Gnaanasambandhar he was overcome with devotion and love for him. He had a beautiful daughter called Poompaavai. She had become a young maiden ready for marriage. When Sivanesan heard the news that Gnaanasambandhar had conquered the external religion and established the Saiva religion in Madurai, he was overwhelmed and bequeathed himself, his daughter and their wealth to Gnaanasambandhar. At this point Poompaavai was bitten by a snake while plucking flowers for worship. Sivanesan was sad that he could not handover her to Gnaanasambandhar. However he cremated her body and placed her ash and bones in a mudpot and was waiting to hand it over to Gnaanasambandhar.
After Thiruvottriyoor, Gnaanasambandhar was greeted by Sivanesan on arrival in Mayilaapoor. Accompanying devotees introduced him and explained his daughter’s fate. After worshipping the Lord of Mayailaapoor, Gnaanasambandhar requested Sivanesan to bring forth the pot of bones. He placed iton front of the shrine and said that, If it is the purpose of birth, to feed the devotees of the Lord who is adorned by the moon, give life back to Poompaavai. He sang started singing the song “Matitta punnai” appealing to the Lord and by the time he reached the tenth stanza, she got up from the pot as though Goddess Lakshmi on the lotus had arrived, to the wonder of the world and prostrated at the feet of Gnaanasambandhar. He completed the eleventh stanza. Sivanesan paid obeisance to him and asked marry his daughter.
Gnaanasambandhar explained the way of sainthood to him and also the fact that since he gave her life, she was like his daughter. Sivanesan became clear in his mind but did not wish her to marry anyone else. She remained a devotee of Sivan and reached his lotus feet.
Gnaanasambandhar proceeded to Thiruvaanmiyur, Idaichuram and Thiruk kazhukkundram, further to Thillai where he worshipped Thiruchchittrambalam udaiyaan, back to Seekazhi venerating the Lord of Piramapuram and home again. This was his sixth pilgrimage.
With a great desire to meet with Gnaanasambandhar, Muruga Naayanaar and Thiruneela nakka naayanaar arrived at Seekaazhi. Sivapatha Iruthayar and relatives approached Gnaanasambandhar with the idea of marriage so that he could participate in yaagams (vedic fire rituals) now that he was a fine young man of sixteen. Gnaanasambandhar at first refused. After contemplating about the vedic scriptural way and it’s perpetuation (marriage being an important aspect) he finally agreed.
Sivapatha Iruthayar arranged for marriage with the daughter of Nambaandaar Nambi. Nalloor blossomed with the wedding festivities. On the auspicious day, Gnaanasambandhar paid obeisance to the Lord of Thonipuran residing with Periyanaayakiyaar and setoff to Thirunalloor on his palanquin with his devotees and relatives. On arrival he went straight to the Temple of Perumanam to pay his reverence. He stayed at the mudum next to the Temple and was given a ceremonious bath and was ceremoniously dressed up as befitting the groom and brought to the wedding hall by his kith and kin. Nambaandaar Nambi and his wife welcomed him and washed his feet in a golden plate and sprinkled the blessed water on all and declared that his special daughter is being handed over to the one who was the divine child (Aaludaiya pillayar). Propitious women brought the bride and seated her on the right of Gnaanasambandhar. Thiruneela nakka naayanaar conducted the marriage rituals according to vedic rules. As Gnaanasambandhar held the hand of his beloved and circumbulated the fire, he was conscious of the thought that the loved fire is the one on the nandhi. When he thought that the worldly life which will sow the seeds for karma is surrounding him, decided to join the lotus feet of the Lord along with his wife and went to the Temple of Perumanum. He sang appealing to the Lord “Kalloorp perumanum vendaa”. The Lord appeared as the pure effulgence beyond imagination and addressed his devotee thus, Gnaanasambandhane! enter this fire with your beloved and all those assembled and showed him the way to enter.
Gnaanasambandhar beckoned all to enter the divine radiance and sang “Kaathalaagi kasindhu kanneer malgi ” to the Lord. Thiruneela nakka naayanaar, Muruga Naayanaar, Sivapaatha Iruthayar, Nambaandaar Nambi and Thiruneelakanda Perumpaanar along with their wives entered the divine glow. Devotees, all others present and the assembled saints entered the pillar of fire. Finally Gnaanasambandhar along with his beloved entered the radiant effulgence and became one with God.
Kaathaliyaik kaippattrik kondu valam seitharulith
Theethagattra vantharulum Thiru Gnaanasambandhar
Naathenezhil valarsothi naaniyathan utpuguvaar
Pothanilai mudinthavazhip pukkondri udanaanaar.
Holding his beloved’s hand, going round the fire
the one who came to remove evil, ThiruGnaanasambandhar
approached and entered the effulgence which was the beautiful Lord
and merged in it , as his life’s mission was completed.
The effulgence disappeared and the Temple resumed its former appearance. Gnaanasambandhar is venerated as Sivaloka theagar since he made the abode of Shiva accessible to all.
Gnaanasambandhar is known as a saint who lived in the middle period of the 7th century according to historians. Appar and Gnaanasambandhar belong to the same period according their historical accounts. The pallava king of Thirunaavukkarasar’s period Mahendra varman also known as Gunaparan is said to have reigned from A.D 600 to A.D 630. Siruthondar who belonged in Gnaanasambandhar’s era is said to have served as the general in Mahendra varman’s son Narasimha varman’s army and defeated the saalukkiyar in the war of waathaapi. It was after the war that he went to Thiruchchengaatankudi and got immersed in the path of Shiva and become a servitor of Shiva. . The period of the King Narasimha varman’s waathaapi war is AD 642.
Thiru Gnaanasambandhar cured the Pandya King of his raging fever, he was called Nedumaran Maaravarman Arikesari and was the husband of Mangaiatkarasiyaar. His period was AD 640-670. Taking all this into account, it can be deduced that Gnaanasambandhar’s period was in the mid 7th century.
Praise for Thiru Gnaanasambandhar
parasamaya kolariyaip paalara vaayanaippoom pazhanam soozhntha
sirapuraththu Thiru Gnaanasambandhap perumaanaith theya mellaam
kuravaiyidath thamizh vetham viritharulum kavuniyargal kulatheebaththai
viravi emai aaludaiya vendri mazha ilangkalitrai virumbi vaazhvaam.
(The lion who discarded external religions and established the Holy Ash, the one who imbibed the milk of wisdom which symbolises the Thirumurais as such can be called the one who has in his mouth, eternal milk, the one who to the sound of kuravai has blessed us with the tamil Vedas, who appeared as the beacon of the kavuniyar race, the one who took birth in Seekazhi called Sirapuram to win us over, Let us adore the one who stands as the mighty little elephant amongst men and who worked for our salvation.)