Sunday, April 18, 2010

Umapati Sivam

A couple of weeks ago T. V. Venkatasubramanian (he, Robert Butler and myself have been cooperating on Tamil translation projects for many years) was asked by someone at Sri Ramanasramam to hunt up the full details of a thorn bush that was given liberation many centuries ago by Umapati Sivam,a famous Tamil Guru and scholar. After checking all the Tamil texts he could find, he produced a few handwritten pages and asked me to go through them to improve the English and edit them in any way that would improve the presentation. As I read his story, I could feel my curiosity being more and more piqued. I found the narrative, and the main character in it, so fascinating and compelling, I did some research of my own and doubled the size of the article. The draft went backwards and forwards between us a few times until we were both satisfied with it.

Originally, we had planned to submit it to The Mountain Path, but all the extra details I had added made it rather long. In the end we decided to submit a shorter version to The Mountain Path, one that focused more on the thorn bush incident. We also agreed that the longer version, which contained a lot more background information, could be published here. I apologise in advance to those unfamiliar with Tamil religious traditions for the large number of technical terms, names and texts that appear. It's hard to tell the story properly without them. However, I can promise you that once you have negotiated the first few paragraphs and begun the story of Umapati Sivam's life, the story is much more easy to read and digest.

Our article for
The Mountain Path begins with the following paragraph:

In a letter dated 21st July 1948, written three days after Bhagavan had certified that the cow Lakshmi had attained liberation, Suri Nagamma recorded an interesting story that arose out of this declaration of enlightenment by Bhagavan. She wrote:

One of the devotees who yesterday heard of the verse written by Bhagavan about the deliverance of Lakshmi approached him this morning and said, ‘Swami, we ourselves see that animals and birds are getting deliverance [moksha] in your presence; but is it not true that only human beings can get moksha?’

‘Why? It is stated that a
mahapurusha [great saint] gave moksha to a thorn bush,’ said Bhagavan with a smile. The devotee eagerly asked who that great saint was and what was the story about the thorn bush, and Bhagavan then related [the] story.

The version Bhagavan narrated was a concise summary of the basic facts about the thorn bush, but it left out many interesting elements of the story, in particular those relating to Umapati Sivam, the key figure in the drama. There are several variations on the basic story. The one presented here has taken elements from several different sources and consolidated them into a single narrative.

In addition to Bhagavan’s account in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, accounts from the Pulavar Puranam (a 19th century anthology of Tamil saints’ biographies), Arulmigu Umapati Sivacharya Swamigilin Varalaru (a Tamil account of Umapati Sivam’s life published by Kumara Devar Madam) and Saiva Siddhanta with special reference to Sivaprakasam, by S. Gangadharan have also been utilised. The story also appears in the Chidambara Mahatmyam (The Greatness of Chidambaram), the sthala puranam of Chidambaram and Saiva Santanacharya Puranam.

* * *

Jnanasambandhar, Appar, Sundaramurthi and Manikkavachagar are regarded as the acharyas (teachers) of the Saiva faith (samaya-acharyas). Collectively known as the ‘nalvar’ (the four), they each composed and sang devotional hymns in Tamil in praise of Siva. The songs of the first three are known collectively as ‘Tevaram’, whereas Manikkavachagar’s outpourings are contained in works entitled Tiruvachakam and Tirukkovaiyar. Several centuries later these primary texts (now part of the Saiva canon) were interpreted in a philosophical way, and the resulting philosophy became known as Saiva Siddhanta. Four teachers, known as the santana-acharyas, were primarily responsible for this later codification of the fundamental tenets of philosophical Saivism in South India. All of them belonged to one Guru-disciple lineage, the head and founder of which was Meykanda Sivam. He was followed by Arulnandi Sivam and Maraijnana Sambandha Sivam, who in turn was the Guru of Umapati Sivam, the last of these four acharyas.

Umapati Sivam was born into a brahmin family that belonged to the Tillai Muvayiravar, the group of three thousand brahmins who traditionally have the exclusive privilege of undertaking the priestly duties in the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple. They all come from the dikshitar community.

Umapati was a precocious child who soon mastered all the Tamil and Sanskrit texts, including the Vedas and Agamas. Following the family tradition, he eventually became one of the Sivacharyas (the priestly class) who performed all the acts of worship in the Chidambaram shrine. In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments the Chola king of the day bestowed on him special honours such as a pearl palanquin in which he was carried around. The honours also included a drum accompaniment as he went about his business, and a torch that was lit even during daylight hours. He was clearly a major figure in his city.

One hot summer day, after performing his duties at the Chidambaram Temple, Umapati Sivam was being carried through the streets of the town. His procession passed a veranda where Maraijnana Sambandhar, the third santana-acharya, was teaching his disciples. This was before Umapati Sivam became his disciple.

Seeing Umapati Sivam proceed in such pomp down the street, Maraijnana Sambandhar declared loudly, ‘Look! There is a person who is blind during the day, riding around in dead wood.’

The ‘blind during the day’ remark was a reference to the lit torch which was always part of his entourage.

Umapati Sivam was a highly mature soul who was in search of a jnana Guru. Instead of being offended by the criticism, he heard these words and took them to be jnana upadesa, instructions on jnana from a qualified teacher. When he looked through the window of his palanquin at the person who had uttered this stinging critique, he saw, in the place of Maraijnana Sambandhar, Lord Nataraja Himself.

Umapati immediately alighted from the palanquin, ran up to Maraijnana Sambandhar, and fell at his feet. While Umapati Sivam was still lying on the ground, Maraijnana Sambandhar ran away at a great speed. Umapati Sivam took up the chase, following him like a shadow, but since it was the height of summer, both of them soon became exhausted. They stopped and collapsed onto the veranda of a house in a street where all the inhabitants belonged to the senkundar (weaving) community. Maraijnana Sambandhar begged for food there, but all the owner of the house could offer was a bowl of the starchy liquid that was used to size the threads that were woven there. Maraijnana Sambandhar nevertheless accepted the offering and began to drink it. Some of the mixture flowed down his forearm and dripped off his elbow. Umapati Sivam happily consumed these drips as Guru ucchistam, food left over after the Guru has finished eating.

When the brahmins of the Chidambaram Temple came to know that a member of their exclusive group had taken food dripping from the body of Maraijnana Sambandhar, they excommunicated him and banned him from entering the temple. The caste of Maraijnana Sambandhar is not known, but since the initial offering had come from a low-caste weaver, that in itself was sufficient grounds for excluding Umapati Sivam from his priestly duties in the temple.

Umapati Sivam was unconcerned. He continued to be a disciple of Maraijnana Sambandhar, and eventually attained jnana. Later on, he established his own math (monastic centre) on the outskirts of Chidambaram in a place called Kotravan Kudi.

The ban proved to be a temporary one. At the beginning of the annual festival in the town, the temple priests attempted to raise a flag to mark the commencement of the festivities. However, when they attempted to do so, they could not get the flag to move up the pole.

After attempting unsuccessfully many times to hoist the flag properly, a disembodied voice was heard which said, ‘If you bring Umapati Sivam here, he will be able to raise the flag for you’.

The priests went to Umapati Sivam and requested him to come and raise the flag for them. He agreed, but when he arrived at the temple, instead of attempting to raise the flag manually, he stood beside the flag pole and sang four verses. As soon as he began to sing, the flag spontaneously began to move up the pole. By the time he had finished the fourth verse, the flag had reached the top of the flagpole. These four verses, known as Kodikkavi (The Flag Verses) now form part of the Saiva Siddhanta canon.

At the end of the ceremony Umapati Sivam called all the senkundars (the weavers) and told them, ‘You are the ones who gave food to my Guru and assuaged both his thirst and his hunger. By this act you also enabled me to consume the Guru’s ucchistam. Therefore, out of gratitude, I am going to honour your community by issuing a proclamation that from now on your community will have the exclusive privilege of offering the cloth that is used in the flag-hoisting ceremony.’

It is interesting to note that this tradition is followed not only in the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram, but in most other Siva temples, including the Arunachaleswarar Temple in Tiruvannamalai.

There is no accepted biography of Umapati Sivam. Though he himself wrote about the lives of many Saiva saints, no one took the trouble to record systematically the events of his own remarkable life. This resulted in there being different and contradictory versions of several key events. One such discrepancy concerns the circumstances under which he was allowed to return to the Chidambaram Temple. S. Gangadharan, a writer and lecturer on Saiva Siddhanta, has recorded an interesting and possibly alternative version of events in his introduction to Saiva Siddhanta with Special Reference to Sivaprakasam.

When Umapati Sivam had been prevented from entering the temple and performing puja, he decided to do puja mentally in his own math. That day, when a priest went to do puja to one of the temple lingams, he discovered that it was no longer there. Siva then manifested as a disembodied voice and instructed the priests to allow Umapati Sivam back into the temple to perform rituals.

Both stories could be true. If so, it would seem that the story of the disappearing lingam came first. There is no specific indication in the flag-hoisting story that this is the first time he was allowed to return to the temple.

It is not known whether Umapati Sivam resumed his career as a temple priest since there are no further stories about his performing service in the temple. What is known, though, is that, based in his own math on the outskirts of the town, he became a prolific author, writing many works on Saiva Siddhanta, Saiva saints, and the history of Saivism.

There are fourteen works that comprise the Meykanda Sastras, the official texts of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. Eight of them (now known as Siddhanta Ashtakam, the Eight Works of Philosophy) were written by Umapati Sivam. He also composed many other works in both Tamil and Sanskrit. Many of his non-canonical works in Tamil focus on the lives of the Periyapuranam saints, the muvar – Jnanasambandhar, Appar and Sundaramurthi – and the Tevaram verses that were sung by them. He also composed Koyil Puranam, a Tamil history of the Chidambaram temple.

The following partial list of five of his Tamil works indicates just how much interest he had in the lives and songs of the old Tamil saints:

Sivakshetra Sivanamak Kalivenba: 300 couplets on the 274 pilgrimage sites visited by the muvar.

Tirttondarpuranasaram: an abbreviated and highly distilled version of the Periyapuranam.

Tevara Arulmuraittirattu: an anthology of ninety-nine Tevaram verses – sixty-three from Appar, twenty-six from Jnanasambandhar and ten from Sundaramurthi – with a commentary by Umapati Sivam that interprets these verses as primary texts of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy.

Sekkizhar Puranam: a biography of Sekkizhar, the author of the Periyapuranam. In this version, the Periyapuranam is composed in the courtyard of the Chidambaram Temple before being paraded through the streets of the town on the back of an elephant. At the conclusion of the parade, the whole work was read out, to great acclamation, before an assembly that included the king and the temple priests. It was customary for new works to be read before assemblies of learned people. One of Umapati Sivam’s works, Sankarpanirakaranam, was read before an assembly on a particular date (1235 A.D.) that was mentioned in the text. This has enabled scholars to fix Umapati Sivam’s life span in the fifty years between 1190 and 1240 A.D.

Tirumuraikanta Puranam: the story, in forty-five verses, of how the majority of the Tevaram poems, lost for centuries, were rediscovered in the Chidambaram temple.

Umapati Sivam’s version of how the Tevaram manuscripts came to be found is a key episode in the revival of interest in poetry of the muvar. Since this story can also be used to illustrate Umapati Sivam’s attitude to the temple and its priesthood, it is worth retelling in full.

King Rajarajamannan of Chidambaram was deeply moved when he heard some of the Tevaram hymns being sung to Siva at the Tiruvarur Temple. On making enquiries he was told that only fragments of the original poems remained, and that even these were being sung in a haphazard way. The king prayed to Siva, requesting him to reveal the texts properly, in an organised manner. In response to the plea Siva arranged for a boy called Nampi to be born into a family of adisaiva brahmins. The king then came to know that this was the person who would retrieve the lost hymns of the Tevaram. After putting Nampi through several severe tests to ensure that he was qualified for his mission, the king commissioned him to retrieve the lost texts. When Nampi prayed to Ganapati, his ishta devata (personal deity), Siva revealed to him that the hymns were locked in a room behind the image of the dancing Siva in the Chidambaram Temple. Nampi informed the king, and together they went to the temple to retrieve them.

However, the worshippers and priests in the temple were initially reluctant to open the locked door. They said they would only agree if the muvar themselves were present. This was somewhat problematic since they had died centuries before.

The king did not give up. He organised a festival in which images of the muvar were carried through the streets surrounding the temple and then placed in front of Lord Nataraja. In the presence of the images of the muvar, the locked door behind Lord Nataraja spontaneously flew open, revealing a huge collection of palm-leaf manuscripts. Many of them had been destroyed by white ants, but a disembodied divine voice informed everyone present that the remaining texts were all that were necessary. Nampi set to work, organising the remaining texts into the structure of the Tirumurai (the twelve canonical works of Saivism) that still exists today. The first seven volumes of the Tirumurai, as arranged by Nampi, comprise the Tevaram: three by Jnanasambandhar, succeeded by three by Appar, which in turn are followed by one from Sundaramurthi.

In view of his strained relationship with the dikshitars, the priests of the temple, it is not surprising that they are portrayed in this story as being impediments to, rather than facilitators of, the rediscovery of the ancient Tamil scriptures. In some of his other works Umapati Sivam also makes a point of downplaying the importance of formal, ritual worship in a temple. Sataratnasangraha, for example, is a Sanskrit text by Umapati Sivam that contains extracts from the Saiva Siddhanta Agamas, the scriptures that codify all aspects of ritual worship. In his highly selective anthology Umapati Sivam carefully avoided all verses that stressed the centrality of temple worship. The same pattern can be discerned in Koyil Puranam, his retelling of the principal myths behind the founding of the Chidambaram Temple.

The central story of Arunachala is the contest in which Brahma and Vishnu unsuccessfully tried to discover the ends of the column of light that Siva had manifested as. In Chidambaram the primary narrative comprises the events leading up to the dance of Lord Nataraja, and the portrayal of the dance itself. As the dance unfolds in Umapati Sivam’s version, the priests are observers, not participants. They are not mediators or middle-men for the transmission of grace or power from Siva to His devotees.

Umapati Sivam describes in Koyil Puranam how Siva Himself became one of the 3,000 diskhitar priests of the temple when one went missing, thus indicating divine approval for the role the priests played in the management of the temple rituals. However, in describing the dance scene in Koyil Puranam, he makes it clear that he does not believe that the priests are essential intermediaries between devotees and Siva. When an interpretation and an analysis of the significance of the dance appears in the text, the words come from Umapati Sivam himself. He takes this task on himself, describing the dance and its significance in the terminology of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, using key Saiva terms such as arul (grace), Pati (the Lord), pasu (the soul) and pasam (the bond or fetter). In several verses Umapati Sivam puts the philosophy of Saiva Siddhanta directly into the mouth of Siva as He gives out His teachings to the assembled multitude.

In structuring his narrative in this way Umapati Sivam is indicating that true knowledge of Siva – who He is and how He can be attained – comes not from the performers of rituals in the temple but from those teachers who have mastered and realised true knowledge of Siva.

This is not to be taken to mean that Umapati Sivam denigrated traditional forms of temple worship. His Koyil Puranam is a highly favourable account of the divine traditions of the temple. In addition to this work he also composed Kuncitanghristava, a Sanskrit text that gives a philosophical interpretation to the temple and the murti it contains. Its verses indicate that Umapati Sivam himself made donations to the running of the temple.

What Umapati Sivam seems to be pointing at in his writings about Chidambaram and its temple is a new hierarchy of methods by which Siva could be attained. In this new order, ritual worship was encouraged and approved of, but it was also stressed that true liberation could only come from intense personal devotion to Siva and the liberating grace that comes from an enlightened Guru.

This perspective harks back to the early days of Saivism when the muvar were expressing their passionate devotion to Siva through songs and through a personal one-on-one relationship with God. It also echoed the lives of the Periyapuranam saints who attained union with Him through divine love or through an unflinching commitment to His commands. The records indicate that though these saints participated reverentially in ritual worship, it was the intensity of their inner love for, and obedience to, Siva that eventually won them His grace.

When Umapati Sivam revived the Tevaram tradition through his many works on the writings and life of the early Tamil Saiva saints, he was aiming to restore the primacy of this simple but intense devotion to Siva.

The key elements of Umapati Sivam’s ideas – personal devotion to Siva, without necessarily worshipping Him in a temple, and the necessity of an enlightened Guru – are all brought together in the story of Pettan Samban, a pulaiyan (outcaste) who lived in Chidambaram at the same time as Umapati Sivam. As an outcaste, Samban was unable to visit the Chidambaram Temple. This, however, did not prevent him in any way from having great devotion to Lord Siva. Wherever he was, and whatever he was doing, his thoughts were always on Him.

As a reward for his devotion Lord Siva manifested before him in His full traditional form: bearing the trident, the battle axe, carrying a deer, and so on.

Samban went into ecstasy.

Siva then asked him ‘What do you want?’ to which Samban replied, ‘My Lord, I crave only liberation. I want nothing else.’

On hearing these words, Lord Siva wrote a verse on a palm leaf and gave it to Samban. It said:

This is a note given to the person at Kotravan Kudi [Math, i.e. Umapati Sivam] by the One dwelling at Chitrambalam, He who is easily accessible to devotees. It is My command in this world that you give diksha [initiation] to Pettan Samban in such a way that the sense of difference is eliminated in him; bestow liberation on him.

Chitrambalam, the space of consciousness, is one of the names associated with the temple of Chidambaram.

After passing the note to Samban, Lord Siva asked him to hand it over to Umapati Sivam at the Kotravan Kudi Math. Samban, though, hesitated to approach Umapati Sivam directly because he was of such a low caste. He decided instead on a more indirect approach, one which he hoped would eventually bring him to Umapati Sivam’s attention. Each day he secretly took a bundle of firewood and placed it in the acharya’s math, taking care to ensure that no one noticed him doing it. Samban was already delivering a bundle of firewood to the Chidambaram Temple each day, an offering that pleased Siva so much, He rewarded him for this service by giving him two gold coins every day.

The disciples of Umapati Sivam collected and used the wood offering without ever finding out who the donor was. No one ever made enquiries about where the wood was coming from.

Since this roundabout way of gaining Umapati Sivam’s attention had not produced any results, Siva Himself decided to intervene because He wanted His note to be delivered. One day He made it to rain so heavily, there was flooding, as a result of which it was not possible for Samban to make his daily delivery of firewood. That day there was no firewood available in the math, and this caused the cooking to be greatly delayed. When Umapati Sivam asked why the cooking had been so delayed, he was told that the mysterious firewood delivery had not appeared that day. This was the first time that he came to hear that his math had been using firewood secretly delivered each day by an anonymous donor. Curious about the person who was anonymously giving wood, he asked his devotees to intercept the next delivery and bring the donor to him.

This order gave Samban the opportunity he had been waiting for. When he was taken the next day into Umapati Sivam’s presence, after making his usual delivery, he fell at his feet and handed over the note that had been written by Lord Siva. As soon as Umapati Sivam started reading the note, he went into an ecstasy. He followed Siva’s instructions to him and gave Samban nayana diksha, initiation through the eyes. Samban was such an advanced devotee, as soon as he was caught in the gaze of Umapati Sivam, he turned into light, merged in chidakasa (the space of consciousness) and physically disappeared. On seeing this, Umapati Sivam and his devotees were wonderstruck both by the event and by the maturity of Samban.

When Samban did not return home, his wife came to the math to make enquiries about his whereabouts. When she was told that he had attained liberation and physically vanished, she refused to believe it. She went to the king and complained that Umapati Sivam had killed her husband for failing to supply the math with firewood the previous day. The king responded by sending a deputation to ascertain the facts of the case. They returned to the king with the story that Umapati Sivam had told them: of the firewood donor bringing the note from Siva, getting nayana diksha, vanishing, and merging with the chidakasa. The king was astonished by this narrative, so much so that he decided to visit the math himself to get the story first-hand. He arrived shortly afterwards with a large entourage and asked Umapati Sivam to tell him directly what had happened.

When the king heard the story again, he refused to believe that the events described had actually occurred. However, he gave a chance to Umapati Sivam to prove his assertions by challenging him to grant liberation to someone else while the king was present as a witness.

Umapati Sivam responded by saying, ‘This state can only be bestowed on a mature devotee’.

He looked around to see if anyone present was in a sufficiently advanced state, but none of them had the qualifications he was looking for. However, as he was scanning the area for a suitable candidate, he noticed a thorn bush that had grown by consuming the abhisheka tirtha, the water that had drained from the lingam that Umapati Sivam had been worshipping every day. Seeing its mature state, he bestowed nayana disksha on it in the same way that he had with Samban. The result was the same. The bush turned to light, merged in the chidakasa, and physically disappeared.

Though he was astounded by the event he had witnessed, the king was still not convinced. He felt that he had witnessed some sort of black magic, rather than an act of liberation.

The king announced, ‘You claim that Lord Nataraja gave you a palm-leaf note. Let us go and seek clarification on this matter from Lord Nataraja Himself.’

Everyone then adjourned to the temple to see what Lord Natarajan had to say on the matter.

A puja was offered, and as the lighted camphor was being waved before Lord Nataraja, both Samban and the thorn bush were seen to manifest on either side of Him. On seeing this confirmation of the story in the temple itself, all those present realised the greatness of Umapati Sivam and sought his forgiveness. The king even granted some land to Samban’s widow so that she could live out her days in comfort.

The story of the thorn bush and Samban manifesting on either side of Siva comes from Bhagavan’s account in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam. There is an alternative version of the ending in which a rishi appears out of the thorn bush, just before it disappeared, to say that he had been cursed to be born in the bush because of misdemeanours in a previous life. In both versions the thorn bush is liberated.

It is interesting to note in passing here that Bhagavan himself fully accepted that plants had the capacity to realise the Self. In Sri Ramana Reminiscences, p. 61, G. V. Subbaramayya records Bhagavan as saying that there might be exceptional cases of even animals and plants attaining Self-realisation. This was recorded before Lakshmi’s liberation.

The liberation of Samban by Umapati Sivam illustrates an important tenet of Saiva Siddhanta, one that Umapati Sivam himself most definitely agreed with. Samban asked Siva for liberation. Instead of giving it to him, Siva sent him to Umapati Sivam. Saiva Siddhanta teaches that the human Guru is essential for liberation in most cases, even going so far as to say that the Guru can liberate certain categories of devotees that Siva Himself cannot.

In the Saiva Siddhanta tradition there are three impurities – anava (ego), karma and maya (illusion) – that prevent devotees from attaining the ultimate goal, oneness with the consciousness of Siva. Those who have all three impurities (malas) need a human Guru to realise Sivam, consciousness of Siva. Those devotees who are only afflicted by anava and karma can reach Sivam by having Siva appear before them in a physical form. Many of the devotees from the Periyapuranam would come into this category. Those in the third category, whose only mala is anava, can get enlightenment through the power of the Self within, without needing either a human Guru or the darshan of an external God. Bhagavan would be a good example of someone who became enlightened through the power of the Self alone. Since devotees who fall into the second and third category are quite rare, it is an accepted tenet of Saiva Siddhanta that in the matter of liberation from bondage, in most cases the Guru’s power exceeds that of Siva Himself.

Sadhu Natanananda summarised this tradition in verses 2-8 of his poem Atma Gita:

O mind! It is the established tradition that, though he [Brahman] is pure consciousness, he appears as a human being to remove the ignorance of devotees. God appearing, assuming the form of the Guru, and becoming the redeemer of his devotees, is not something new. The fact that the Lord appeared in disguise in many forms to bestow grace on the Nayanmars [the sixty-three saints in the Periyapuranam] is well known to the world. Other than by coming as a Guru, it is very difficult for Mahesa [the great Lord, Siva] to bestow the liberation that ends the misery of birth. The state of Siva that comes only through the eye of jnana [jnana drishti] is very difficult to attain without the Guru’s glance of grace. (Sri Ramana Darsanam, by Sadhu Natanananda, p. 118.)

Muruganar also subscribed to the Saiva Siddhanta view on this point. In an essay entitled ‘Sri Ramana’ that appeared in appendix six of volume nine of Sri Ramana Jnana Bodham, he wrote about Bhagavan not needing an external Guru in the following words: ‘As a result of tapas performed in the past, only a little of the anava impurity was left over, and this was as thin as the wing of a fly.’


Anonymous said...


Two posts in two days! Our good fortune. Thank you.


Ravi said...

Wonderful story of Umapathi Sivachariyar.This is the heart of it-"He looked around to see if anyone present was in a sufficiently advanced state, but none of them had the qualifications he was looking for. However, as he was scanning the area for a suitable candidate, he noticed a thorn bush that had grown by consuming the abhisheka tirtha, the water that had drained from the lingam that Umapati Sivam had been worshipping every day. Seeing its mature state, he bestowed nayana disksha on it in the same way that he had with Samban. The result was the same. The bush turned to light, merged in the chidakasa, and physically disappeared."
Such is the power of The Abhisheka Tirtha.Lord siva is a lover of Abhishekam-to be bathed by the devotee's Love.How he joyously accepted the Abhishekam water of Kannappa Nayanar,who carried water in his mouth!

Losing M. Mind said...

If plants can become enlightened, that bodes well for invertebrates, but what about single celled life?

Losing M. Mind said...

Maybe there is a relationship between the sophistication of consciousness in an organism and the ease of Realizing the Self as that organism? So it is harder as a plant, it is less but still hard as an insect. It is more difficult then a plant as a single celled organism, and incredibly difficult as a bacterium, I would think. Mammals, birds, and humans have it easiest perhaps. And humans, the easiest, as mentioned in the Shankara text, as humans understand the scriptures.

David Godman said...


Since you esteem the abhisheka tirtha so highly, here are some verses from Guhai Namasivaya, praising the tirumanjanam that has flowed from Unnamulai in Tiruvannamalai.

For non-Tamils, I should say that tirumanjanam is the water that has flowed off a temple image after it has been worshipped. Unnamulai is the name of the consort of Siva in Tiruvannamalai. It means 'she whose breast have never been suckled'.

9 Thirumanjana Venba


The tirumanjanam [holy water] of Annamalaiyar of Arunai
will dispel unceasing birth,
will make one become the divine form,
will bring forth hard-to-attain wealth,
and will bestow uncloying ambrosia.


The beneficial medicine, the manjanam
in which the Lady on the left of Father Sonagiri bathes,
will dispel the many diseases.
It is ambrosia for the appetite
and collyrium for multiple ailments.
Its effectiveness will be demonstrated
as many diseases wither away.


The tirumanjanam of the First Lady of this vast world,
the One whose breasts remain ever young,
the Mother of the town of Arunai,
will dispel deceitful birth, will produce prosperity,
and will remove all the sorrows of one’s heart.


The waters in which Mother Unnamulai has bathed
will bestow [a good] state both here and in the hereafter.
With a pure mind, take it in the cupped palm of your hand.
While you consume it, regard it as precious.
Get redeemed.


The water bathed in by Uma, Unnamulai,
is the medicine that dispels grey hair
and the wrinkling of the skin.
With absolute faith pool it in the hollow of your hand.
Your body will become strong and immortal.
While you consume it, regard it as precious.
Get redeemed.


The tirumanjanam bathed in by Unnamulai,
the Lady who lives in Arunai,
which is sought by tapasvins,
will bring forth the grace of Siva,
cause the flowering of wealth,
and will root out all the useless anxieties.


The tirumanjanam of the Mother
who resides as the left-side of the forehead-eyed God of Arunagiri,
and who looks after all the worlds,
will dispel the many anxieties,
will enable one to attain liberation,
and will bestow forever all the beneficial boons.


The tirumanjanam of the Mother at southern Arunai
will bestow the life of a king.
It will abolish the karmas that have come.
It will free devotees from being reborn and save them.
Through grace it will save me from dying again.
It will bestow eternal life.


Mother Unnamulai shows her compassion not just to me
but to all devotees, and saves us.
As soon as it [tirumanjanam] is seen, sin will depart.
As soon as it is taken in the hollow of one’s palm
and consumed, supreme bliss will result.


Mind, be not afraid!
We have trusted as medicine for our disease of birth
the manjanam of Unnamulai,
She who fearlessly stabbed that Mahisasura
and put an end to his powerful existence.

Ravi said...

Thanks very much for the verses on Guhai Namasivaya.
I am reminded of Thayumanavar's Wreath on paraparam:
'AnbE manjana neer,NinaivE sugandam
poosai koLLa vArAi paraparamE'

Love alone is Water for your bath,
Thoughts are the Holy incense;
Do come to accept this Pooja.


Murali said...

Dear David and others,

‘As a result of tapas performed in the past, only a little of the anava impurity was left over, and this was as thin as the wing of a fly.’

In the context of sadhana for liberation, when it said that someone performed a Great Tapas, what does this Tapas mean? How is it performed? In the last verse of Upadesa Saram, Bhagavan gives a definition of Tapas. But, I guess, different Acharayas might be having a different meaning when they say that someone performed Tapas.

Regards Murali

Anonymous said...

'This perspective harks back to the early days of Saivism when the muvar were expressing their passionate devotion to Siva through songs and through a personal one-on-one relationship with God.'. I think many of us long to have a personal relationship with God. I don't know what is required for this to happen, although I guess it only happens in very rare circumstances, to exceptionally great bhaktas (like Samban). I say this because no matter how many times I make an effort (japa of 'I' etc) or even try to remain effortless in an attempt to seek the grace of God, he remains unmoved. I wake up every day to deal with a crazy world and a troublesome mind. I wonder if anyone here feels this isolation too. Some people (like Umapati Sivam) may say that a personal relationship with God or liberation can only 'bestowed on a mature devotee'. Fine, but why not specify in detail what is required to mature? I like the audacity of Papaji who walked into Sivananda's ashram and said that he'd like to purchase liberation like purchasing items in a market - 'Tell me the price and I'll pay it'. I don't think like there's a definite, discrete, scientific approach to the whole subject of liberation. Somehow Bhagavan's response to a similar request for a scientific approach is hardly satisfactory - 'To eschew unreality and seek the reality is scientific.'. I would like to seek the reality given something I can do within the currently restricted parameters of my mind (For example, japa with utmost devotion for 2 hours a day is something that most of us can do). Everything is shrouded in mystery. How can anyone 'remain still' while being constantly bombarded by the five senses? I've tried Self-enquiry many times and even that seems to me to fall under the category of 'bestowed only on a mature devotee'! Bhagavan in 'Who am I' says - 'Even if one incessantly thinks 'I, I', it will lead to that place.' I've tried my best to follow this but have never reached 'that place'. I don't think I ever will because I don't think I'll ever be 'mature'.

End of Arrogant Rant

Anonymous said...

Ramana Maharishi on Tapas, listen from 50 seconds

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if anyone here feels this isolation too."

of course, it's feelings such as isolation that drive the search.

for me personally, it's the pervasive "unsatisfactoriness" of this life, a core tenet of Buddhism, driving my practice

so what choice am i left with! i dont see another any more

i must continue the practice even if it takes 10,000 lives

Anonymous said...

Isolation! Do you live on the Orkney Islands? Only kidding!
Isolation is part of individuality.
Thats the reason you have so many who say lets 'party' or 'lets go and watch some sport' etc
Escapism! Trying to find happiness outside. It's all ephemeral.

Sankar Ganesh Chandrakumar said...

Dear David,

Thanks for your recent Posts. They are really excellent and moving, always inspiring us to make continuous effort to realize our SELF.

Going through this excellent Post on Umapati Sivam, it is clear that a great amount of Research effort must have gone into this subject.

It is astonishing that though you were born outside this country, you are not only an expert in Bhagavan Ramana's literature but also seem to have great knowledge in other areas such as Tamil Saiva Siddhanta etc.

We are really fortunate and grateful to know about the timeless spiritual tradition and culture of this ancient land through your inspirational writings which are always directing us towards our SELF.

Thanks. Sankar Ganesh.

Anonymous said...

'Escapism! Trying to find happiness outside. It's all ephemeral.' I don't even know what 'inside' or 'outside' is any more. I would only know what 'inside' is if my attempts at Self-enquiry were even the least successful.
'i must continue the practice even if it takes 10,000 lives' What is the guarantee of even knowing such practices exist in the next life? None.
David, your response (if you do want to respond) to my arrogant rant?

David Godman said...

Message to the last three anonymous posters:

The comments section under a post is supposed to be for comments on that post alone. If you want to discuss anything else, post on the 'Open Thread'.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for posting my rant here rather than the Open thread. I do want to thank you for this post. 'it is an accepted tenet of Saiva Siddhanta that in the matter of liberation from bondage, in most cases the Guru’s power exceeds that of Siva Himself.' I guess Papaji emphasized this too (with the Moses story), indicating that the Guru is very powerful and able to change or erase karma as he or she pleases. That's great news for anyone who has had the opportunity to come under the grace of a Sadguru.

Anonymous said...

As someone previously said, yes, our good fortune!

Thanks for the yet another awe inspiring psot, David! And thanks for those verses on the power of Abhishekha theertha!

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David,

Due to continuous power disruption, I could read
Umapati Sivam/s story only
this morning. It is an excellent article giving all
details about Umapati Sivam.

Incidentally, a few points:

The 14 mei kanda noolgal -
sastra scriptures of Saiva
Siddhantam have been done by
6 scholars. There is also one Tiruviyalur Uyyavandha
Deva Nayanar who wrote Tirundiyar and one Tirukadvur Uyyavandha Nayanar, who wrote Tiru KaLitrupadiyar. Of course
AruL Nandi Sivam,Umapathi Sivam and Meikanda Deva Nayanar are also there. In fact, Meikandar should be called the foremost, for his
Siva Jnana Bodham. Then, the
6th is Tiruvadikai Manavachakam
Kadanthar who wrote Unmai
ViLakkam. I do not know
whether Marai Jnana Sambandhar is in a different
name in this list.

Kotravankudi Umapathi Sivam,
met AruL Nandi (his name was
different at that time) after a lot of chasing, in
one Ammapettai near Chidambaram, and even today
there are a lot of weavers there.

Umpathi Sivam's Kunchtangristavam, the Hymn
on the raised/curved feet of
Siva, with anklet sounds is
the source of Siva Light and
Mother's Sound. Siva OLi
and Parai (Mother) Nadham.

In one of my visits to
Chidambaram, I asked about this book from a Dikshitar.
He brought one old copy, 1950 edition of the book from his house, and this was priced at Re.1.00! He refused to take more than
Re.1.00 from me!

Many parts of Chidambara
Maahatmyam have been covered in English by David Smith (?) in his book the Dance of
Siva. This book also tells
about Daruka forest story, though the original is from

Among the 12 Saiva Canons,
I found it difficult to understand Book 11 and Book
8 (part) Tirukovaiyar. There are no book on meanings and purport. It is
the Book 11, which first mentions about Manikkavachagar, Tiruvadavoorar.

Subramanian. R said...

Every being that has got a
mind, even unicellular amoeba
has got a mind, can attain liberation, if its mind is
quelled in the Heart.

Subramanian. R said...

Siva Jnana Bodha, Sutra 10
says that unless one serves
the mature Sivan-adiyars, Siva
devotees who had attained Jnana,(Gurus)one can never get liberation. It is not directly conferred by Siva.
But in cases of Manikkavachagar and a few others, Siva Himself came as
guru in the guise of brahmin. Jnana Sambandha's
case is different. He is an
avatara of Skanda, and so he
did not need a guru.

David Godman said...


Thanks for the appreciative review.

In 1980, when I ran the Ramanasramam library, I went to Motilal Banarsidass in Old Delhi to buy books. Since I was clearly there to buy a lot of books,I was allowed in their warehouse, which is behind the main store. I found books that had been sitting there since the 1930s, waiting to be sold, They were priced in annas and pice, and that was the price the shop was still selling them at more than forty years later. I got some great bargains that day!

s. said...

salutations to all:
this is regarding the 'abhisheka tirtham' and the 'thorn bush'... while the 'tirumanjana venba' of guhai namasivAya are indeed beautiful, yet i surmise the abhisheka tirtham misses the crux of the story as narrated by bhagavan... ok, let's re-visit letter 196 dtd july 21, 1948 (suri nAgamma's 'letters from ramanasramam'): (pasting the extract):
[“Enemies of Sivacharya noticed the sacrificial offerings and other things he was having for his initiation and complained to the Government that Sivacharya had burnt Pethan to death for some mistake the Pethan might have committed. When the king came there with his retinue to enquire into the complaint, Sivacharya showed the verse of Lord Nataraja and said that he gave initiation to Pethan and that Pethan vanished thereafter in the form of a divine light (Jyoti). The king was surprised and asked Sivacharya if he could likewise give initiation and moksha to the thorn bush nearby. ‘Yes. What doubt is there?’ said Sivacharya. “Accordingly he gave nayana diksha to that thorn bush and that too immediately disappeared in Pure Light (Jyoti)."]

assuming nAgamma's letter to be a true description of what bhagavan said, and since we all understand bhagavan's love for narrating these stories, very often with dramatisation, why is that bhagavan made no reference whatsoever to the said abhiskeka tirtham? bhagavan told this story of umApati sivAcharyAr upon being asked this question:
["One of the devotees who yesterday heard of the verse written by Bhagavan about the deliverance of Lakshmi approached him this morning and said, “Swami, we ourselves see that animals and birds are getting deliverance (moksha) in your presence, but is it not true that only human beings can get moksha?”]. i believe that bhagavan didn't make any mention of the abhisheka tirtham because it was irrelevant to the spirit of the story...

the spirit of the story is the greatness of a guru, not the eligibility of the seeker... of course, there may be several stories that specify the necessary qualifications of a mumukshu or a seeker of truth but this is not one of them! bhagavan seems to have spoken about this incident to say that there is no limitation whatsoever for a sadguru to liberate anyone, whoever it may be - what better example than a thorn-bush (no one loves a thorn-bush, not even fellow brother plants of the flora kingdom)... thus, when the king, most likely in a spirit of scorn as well as for a clear confirmation, asks the sage to do the same to the lowly thorn-bush what he had done to sAmban (who obviously was percieved as 'low' in the then prevailing system), the sage obliges and thereby reveals the extraordinary power of grace...

yes, from the point of a seeker, he/she has to attempt vichara, observe restraint, consistently strive for truth above all else etc. etc., because this is what makes him eligible, from his point of view, to become a worthy recipient of a sadguru's grace... but from the point of the self or the sadguru (such as our beloved bhagavan), he can bestow freedom on anyone & anything, may it be his mother who, going by bhagavan's description of the final moments would have most certainly gone for the next cycle of births & deaths but for bhagavan's intervention, or a cow, or who knows even stone slabs near him!! i do not know the 'why' of it but what i do know is that it's none of my business to question a guru on whom he 'chooses' to liberate when... hope you folks agree... please go through the said 'letter 196' carefully and infer for yourself.

Ravi said...

The Bhakta accepts everything.He does not make fine distinctions.As Sri Ramakrishna used to say that the cow that eats everything gives milk in torrents as compared to the one that is selective.
Whether it is the liberating power of the Guru,the prasada from the worship,or anything else associated with God-What Sri Ramakrishna used to chant as a mantra-Bhagavatha,Bhakta Bhagavan-All are held in equally high esteem.
Particularly when it comes to the devotees of Lord Siva-Lord Siva is ashutosha-one who is easily pleased with the feeblest attempts of devotees.Many of the stories associated with Lord Siva exemplify the accessibility of the Lord-so much so that even leaves plucked and thrown by a hunter when he was atop a tree awaiting his prey,was accepted as Holy worship by Lord Siva.
The gist of the whole thing is to encourage sadhana with Faith and Devotion.Even the feeblest of the attempts never go waste and in the meekest of the beginnings is the key to Full Realization.
Yes,the spirit of the story is to extol the Grace of the Guru and this necessarily would also mean that Guru is God himself,and as The Abhisheka Tirtham has already been feeding the Thorn Bush;that 'nayana Diksha' was the culmination of The Grace operating all along.
In Sri Bhagavan's mother's case as well,it is not as if That Sri Bhagavan performed a 'Miracle' by liberating his Mother.Sri Bhagavan's Mother spent time in Sri Bhagavan's presence(besides having given birth to Sri Bhagavan-This is proof enough of her high degree of purity)and the final act of Grace(that has been operating all along)was an act of culmination.
Why could not sri Bhagavan do the same thing for palani Swami?He did try the same thing on him.

David Godman said...


You are right that Bhagavan makes no mention of the maturity of the thorn bush. Perhaps I should have made it clear in the post that Bhagavan's abbreviated version of the story differed from other sources on this crucial point.

I don't know where Bhagavan obtained his information on this story. I could not find some of the things he said (the thorn bush manifesting in the temple, for example) in any of the traditional sources. I did not succeed in finding all the known versions of Umapati Sivam's life before I wrote the post, so it is possible that Bhagavan's rendering is in one of the texts I couldn't find. All the sources I did find said that the thorn bush was a mature devotee.

It is also possible that Suri Nagamma did not record the story properly. She did not know Tamil well enough to follow a lot of what Bhagavan said. Quite often, devotees would tell her later in Telugu. Nor was she very familiar with the texts that contain the stories of ancient Tamil saints.

There is another possibility. Perhaps, that day, there was a devotee in the hall who needed to hear that the Guru could enlighten anyone he chose to.

The original Umapati Sivam story doesn't make this point, nor is it a part of Bhagavan's teachings. Bhagavan stated on many occasions that the disciple must be mature before he can realise the Self through the Guru's grace. Here are some quotes by Bhagavan on this point which I have taken from the chapter on 'Grace, Effort and Maturity' in Padamalai:

Question: Is divine grace necessary for attaining realisation, or can an individual’s honest efforts by themselves lead to the state from which there is no return to life and death?

Bhagavan: Divine grace is essential for realisation. It leads one to God-realisation. But such grace is vouchsafed only to him who is a true devotee or a yogin, who has striven hard and ceaselessly on the path towards freedom. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 29)

Without maturity [desirelessness] in the mind, the abiding experience of sahaja samadhi will not ripen.

Unless one has an extremely pure sattvic mind, it will be impossible to have darshan in the Heart of the reality that is jnana.

It is due to maturity of mind [chitta-paripaka] that what is very difficult for the many is extremely easy for the very few. (Padamalai, p. 258, vv. 27-29)

I [Balaram Reddy] said, ‘There is a teacher and his disciples. The teacher gives the same instruction to all the disciples sitting before him. How is it that some disciples hear the teachings, put them into practice and make quick progress, while others hear and apply the teachings and make little or no progress?’

The Maharshi replied, ‘Some must have followed that line of teaching in their previous lives, while others may just have begun. Also, some are born more advanced and fit than others.’ (My Reminiscences, p. 3)

Bhagavan: The aspirant may be kritopasaka [one whose worship has culminated in a direct experience of a personal God] or akritopasaka [one whose worship has not]. The former is fit to realise the Self, even with the slightest stimulus: only some little doubt stands in his way; it is easily removed if he hears the truth once from the Master. Immediately he gains the samadhi state. It is presumed that he had already completed sravana, reflection, etc. in previous births; they are no more necessary for him. C(Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 249)

Question: Is it possible for all people to hold on to that path of self-enquiry?

Bhagavan: It is true that it is only possible for mature minds, not for immature minds. For the latter, repetition of a prayer or holy name under one’s breath [japa], worship of images, breath-control [pranayama] visualising a pillar of light [jyotishtoma] and similar yogic and spiritual and religious practices have been prescribed. By those practices, people become mature and will then realise the Self through the path of self-enquiry. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 12th September, 1947)

s. said...

salutations to all:
david & others: thank you for the clarification on the 'umApati sivam' post... from the point of all the great vedantins, it's indeed the most eligible who shall be vouchsafed the gift of realisation, and i obviously agree to that... and this does hold true in almost all cases but there were & there are always exceptions, such as this story as told by bhagavan.

1. such exceptions, whenever they have happened, are always a demonstration of the inexplicable power of a sadguru's grace... of course, the general teaching shall always be: he who is the most ripe shall be liberated, and that ought to be the guiding principle for all seekers... otherwise, everyone will vainly want to be that 'exception', and the exception will no longer remain an exception!

2. from the seeker's point of view, since we are totally enveloped by the 'mind', 'i' etc., it is somehow ingrained in us that we can't feel satisfied unless a cause & effect relationship is given, because thats precisely what we keep seeing and also keep hearing & telling ourselves ('work hard, and the results will follow' kind of thing)... thus, we apply the same tenet to seeking the self too! what to do? we are all indoctrinated by our own minds... hasn't bhagavan told numerous times to several seekers that there is nothing to realise because the self alone always is? infact, the substantial part of gaudapAda kArika is to rid oneself of 'causality' ('no efforts can ever lead to realisation' kind of paradoxes)...

take bhagavan himself: it's easy to see that whenever anyone asked bhagavan 'how come you realised without any effort'?, bhagavan's reply always was affixed with a "perhaps" :-) why? because thats what would have pacified the questioner... isn't it? it indeed needs some maturity to be unconcerned with cosmic justice!

let me re-iterate: from the point of the seeker, self-effort is all that he/she has; from the sadguru's stand, nothing in the universe limits him/her from liberating anyone anywhere anytime.

Anonymous said...

For me any tendencies to do an inappropriate thing is taken care of
for me. So I don't feel that "I"
need to be vigilant. It just happens.

I am considering my opinion on so-called 'crazy wisdom' teachers.
Could they be Liberated?
Certainly they and their students might appear `liberated from
etiquette'. However, if
abuse is a small or large part of their teaching method, then it
stands in contrast with my
experience of compassion which manifests itself as gentleness when I
share my perspective in

Love Light and noodles,


Anonymous said...

Black Swan Events were described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book, The Black Swan. Taleb regards almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments as "black swans" — undirected and unpredicted. He gives the rise of the Internet, the personal computer, World War I, and the September 11, 2001 attacks as examples of Black Swan Events.

The term black swan was a Latin expression — its oldest reference is in the poet Juvenal expression that "a good person is as rare as a black swan" ("rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno", 6.165). [1] It was a common expression in 16th century London as a statement that describes impossibility, deriving from the old world presumption that 'all swans must be white', because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers [2]. In that context, a black swan was something that was impossible, or near impossible and could not exist. After the discovery of black swans in Western Australia [3] in 1697, by a Dutch expedition led by explorer Willem de Vlamingh on the Swan River, the term metamorphosed to connote that a perceived impossibility may later be found to exist. Taleb notes that, writing in the 19th century, John Stuart Mill used the black swan logical fallacy as a new term to identify falsification, but only drawing on a London expression.

Writing in the New York Times, Taleb asserted:

What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations .
It does sound very like Nisargadatta.