Śaiva Siddhantham, a branch of Hinduism, worships Lord Śiva as the supreme deity. This is very popular in South India especially in Tamil Nadu. Its popularity owes a great deal to the 4 great poet saints: Appar, Jñānasambandar, Manicka Vachakar and Sundarer who composed soul stirring lyrics in Tamil in honour of Lord Śiva. Of the 4, Appar, known popularly as Thirunavukkarasar – the King of tongue and Lord of language, is the foremost. His poems known as Thevarams sing the glory of the Lord in all HIS Aspects mostly on His beauty, grace, compassion and love for His devotees.
Appar means father. He was so called by another great saint Thiru Jñānasambandar. Appar was born during the reign of King Mahendra Pallava in Thiruvanmiyur in Tamil Nadu. Appar’s parents were Pughazhanar and MadINiniyar. Appar was named Marulneeki and his sister was named Thilagavathi. She was also a great devotee of Lord Siva and led a saintly life after she lost her betrothed (fiancé) in a war. Appar’s parents died when he was very young and so he was brought up with loving care by his sister who initiated him into Śiva Bhakthi. Appar learned all the Agamas and religious texts but he wanted to learn more. So he went North to Pataliputra, the present day Bihar. There he came under the influence of Jain Monks and got attracted to Jainism and its Philosophy. He became known as Dharmasena and became popular.
His sister Thilagavathi was very unhappy at this turn of events as she was a staunch devotee of Lord Śiva. She prayed earnestly to the Lord to bring back her brother to his earlier faith. May be due to her devout prayers or by His Leela, Marulneekiyar was struck down with a deadly stomach disease known as ‘Soolai Noye’, in tamil.
Learning the pitiable condition of her beloved brother Thilakavathy took Vibhuti the sacred ash worn by Lord Śiva, chanted the holy 5 letter Mantra ‘Nama Śivaaya’ and gave it to her brother as medicine. In a trice Dharmasena was cured of his deadly disease and pain. And he returned to his mother religion Śaivism and to his father Lord Maheswara. A divine song burst forth from his lips ‘Kootrayinavar Vilakkakalir’ in holy ecstasy. A divine voice roared from the sky ‘As you sang in pure tamil with such deep meaning and melody, you will henceforth be known as Thirunavukkarasar’.
His fame spread far and wide. But the Jain monks were enraged. They complained to the then Pallava King who was a staunch devotee of Jainism (which was then popularly known as Samana religion) to punish him severely, even to execute him.
So the king ordered Thirunavukkarasar to be thrown into the sea with a huge boulder tied to his neck so that he would drown and die. But Lord’s grace was upon him. He floated effortlessly singing the Lord’s glory. The enraged king now ordered him to be buried under the ground so that only his head above the ground and sent a mad elephant to trample him. Again the good Lord came to his rescue. The elephant just went round Appar and left as Appar remained fearless chanting God’s name. The king came to his senses and realised the Saint’s glory. He begged Appar’s pardon and became a great devotee.
Now Thirunavukkarasar went on ‘Kshetratanam’ ie. went round all Śiva temples in South India, renovating old dilapidated temples, cleaning the temple premises himself, and singing tamil verses on the Lord called Thevarams. It is said that he composed 4900 hymns of 10 to 11 verses each but only 313 are known today. Some of them have been translated into English. In one of his travels he met another child prodigy saint ‘Thiru Jñānasambandar’ who lovingly called him ‘Appare’ (O Dear Father) and that name stuck to him.
Many miracles are attributed to Appar. These include one when a devotee’s son died due to a snake bite. Appar sang a hymn to God praying for his life and the boy came alive! In another holy place the temple doors were permanently locked for years and could not be opened. Appar sang a hymn before it and miraculously the doors opened revealing the God within. It is said that Lord Śiva imprinted His feet on Appar’s head as a mark of his devotion.
When he was 81 years old, he wanted to visit Mt. Kailasa, to have darshan of the Lord. But the Lord in His mercy made him take a dip at a lake and when he got up, he had a Darshan of the Lord as He is in Kailash and was blessed beyond words!
Above is a short tale of the great poet saint Appar, who was blessed by Lord Śiva and brought back to the fold again when the saint stumbled and lost his way. May He bestow His grace on all of us always.
OM TAT SAT
Dr. Amritha Murthy