Spirituality & the Tamil Nation
Thamizh Literature Through the Ages
Salient Features of Periya PuraNam
Conclusion: Kampan and
Though the AzhvArkaL and the n^yAnmArkaL succeeded in spreading the ideology of Bhakthi
through devotional music and complete surrender to the Divine, the use of Sivan or VishNu
to represent the Divine divided the Thamizh into 2 classes, the Saivaites and
VaishNavaites. To strengthen their respective creeds, the followers indulged in efforts to
collate information on the protagonists of these sects and their contributions. While the
ThirumuRai (திருமுறை) and n^AlAyirat thivya
Praban^tham (நாலாயிரத்திவ்யபிரபந்தம்) contain
the devotional poems by the leading saints of these sects, relatively less is known about
the literary works or personal accounts of others in the creed. Recognizing this
limitation, one of the staunch devotees in the Saivaite group, SEkkizhAr
(சேக்கிழார்) decided to devote his life to gather
the information on all the n^AyanmArkaL, the details of which constitute the Periya
SEkkizhAr (சேக்கிழார்)(11th or 12th
century A.D) was a minister in the royal court of the ChOzha King. Opinions differ whether
he lived during the reign of KulOthunga ChOzhan II (குலோத்துங்கசோழன், அனபாயன்) or rAja rAja ChOzhan II
His conviction in the Saivaite philosophy was so deep that he quit his job and indulged in
religious activities. He also wished to impress the King with the superiority of the Saiva
faith over Jainism towards which the King tended to lean favourably. In particular
SEkkizhar adored the devotion of Sun^tharar and his compilation of Thirut thoNdat thokai
(திருத்தொண்டத்தொகை) in which a brief sketch was
available on most of the n^AyanmArkaL.
Another source of information was a small book, Thirut thondar Thiruvan^thAthi
(திருத்தொண்டர் திருவந்தாதி)by n^ampi ANdAr n^ampi
(நம்பி ஆண்டார்நம்பி). With these two
resource books, SEkkizhAr found an opportunity to fulfill his desire to write a Thamizh
equivalent of the Jain purANam, MahA purANam (மகாபுராணம்). Literally Periya PuraNam means 'big literary work' and the name given by SEkkizhAr
was ThoNdar PurANam (தொண்டர்புராணம்)
meaning the PurANam of 'the servants of God'.
This work was classified as the 12th ThirumuRai in the Saivaite canon books. The book
is divided into 2 chapters (காண்டங்கள்) and
13 sections (சருக்கங்கள்). It contains 4253
poems according to umApathi SivAchAriAr (உமாபதிசிவாசாரியார்)f.
A critical review of Periya PurANam has been recently (1994) published by Professor A.S.
GnAna sampan^than (அ.ச.ஞானசம்பந்தன்).
While writing his own account of his idol, Sun^thara MUrthy n^AyanAr
(சுந்தரமுர்த்தி நாயனார்) , SEkkizhAr traveled to
all the places visited by Sun^tharar. These visits gave him the opportunity to learn about
the n^AyanmArkaL about whom he wrote in detail before concluding his work with
Sun^tharar's own life.
Salient Features of Periya PuraNam
a) The high esteem Thamizh people have for Periya PuraNam may be ascribed to its
simplicity and the purity of the language which is not as highly Sanskritized as in
contemporary works. This enabled SEkkizhAr to communicate effectively with people and
deliver them the message of the excellence of Saiva philosophy. The poems are in the
viruttham (விருத்தம்) style with a musical
b) It is said that SEkkizhAr lacked the vivid imagination of other poets in his
description of people's habitats and avocations. On the other hand, he certainly did have
a specific message to give and he did it with passion. This may be contrasted to the
Sangam poets, like TholkAppiar, who did not have any previous literature to draw lessons
from in terms of format. They were therefore preoccupied with codifying concepts, defining
and classifying habitats, people and laying down grammatical stipulations. They chose to
be precise and rigid in their literary formats. In the epic period, the poets had as their
priority the narration of a story wherein they emphasized some moral principle or a
religious concept. They had to be imaginative in their descriptions and make them
appealing to people.
The poets in the Bhakthi period were inspirational and musically oriented to cater to
people's aesthetic senses. SEkkizhAr had no such compulsions except to record the
biographical sketch of the n^AyanmArkaL and describe the social background of the habitats
and people in the places he visited in a straight forward manner. The reason why
SEkkizhAr's PeriyapurANam is considered to be a national epic by the Thamizh community is
due to its simple but heart moving style, to its relatively least amount of
Sanskritization and to its emphasis on spiritual democracy whereby anyone from any caste
or creed is equal before the eyes of the Divine.
The following passage is an example the easy flowing style of his poem in which he says
"These servants of God (அடியார்கள்) are
great comparable only to themselves; by sheer service they win over us; they are capable
of winning the world with their uniqueness; they are harmless; they attain impossible
status in life; they seek happiness through love of others; they can get rid of the
influence of 'mAyA' (மாயை) due to previous
births; let us go and join them."
பெருமையால் தம்மை ஒப்பார்
பேணலால் எம்மைப் பெற்ர்
ஒருமையால் உலகை வெல்வார்
ஊனமேல் ஒன்றும் இல்லார்
அருமையாம் நிலையில் நின்ர்
அன்பினால் இன்பம் ஆர்வார்
இருமையும் கடந்து நின்ர்
இவரைநீ அடைவாய் என்று.
SEkkizhAr's absolute devotion (பக்தி) to
Lord Sivan and the humble manner in which he pleads for His grace are described through
the prayers of KAraikAl ammiyAr (காரைக்கால் அம்மையார்).
"I pray for the infinite happiness of Your love; I do not want to be born again;
if I do, I do not want to forget You forever; if I do, I want to be happily singing in
Your praise under Your feet as You are dancing".
இறவாத இன்ப அன்பு வேண்டிப்பின்
பிறவாமை வேண்டும், மீண்டும் பிறப்புண்டேல் உன்னை என்றும்
மறவாமை வேண்டும், இன்னும் வேண்டும்நான் மகிழ்ந்து பாடி
அறவாநீ ஆடும் போதுஉன் அடியின்கீழ் இருக்க என்றார்.
c) Though references to the word 'literature' (இலக்கியம்) have been made in SIvaka ChinthAmaNi,
(சீவகசிந்தாமணி, நெஞ்சென்னும் கிழியின் மேலிருந்து இலக்கித்து, 180) and in Kampa
rAmAyaNam (கவி, செய்யுள், நூல், பனுவல்) ,
only in SEkkizhAr's Periya PurANam, one finds the word literature, (இலக்கியம்) employed in the specific context as
used at present.
Conclusion - Kampan and SEkkizhAr
The simple style of Thamizh employed by both Kampan and SEkkizhAr in their major epics
would provide enough incentive to anyone interested in taking up the study of Thamizh
literature seriously and enjoy the growth of our progress up to this point. Whereas Kampan
packed rAmAyaNam with values of virtues and feelings of love and chastity, SEkkizhAr
filled Periya PurANam with deep feelings of devotion to God. Both the epics remind us of
the advances we have enjoyed in the field of literature so early during the march of