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PhilosophyShaivism, bhakti
Religious career
Literary worksThevaram

Sundarar (Tamil: சுந்தரர்), also known affectionately as Tampiran Tōḻan (Comrade of the Master, meaning friend of Shiva)[1] was an eighth-century poet who was one of the most prominent Nayanars, the Shaiva bhakti (devotional) poets of Tamil Nadu. He was a contemporary of Cheraman Perumal and Kotpuli Nayanar who also figure in the 63 Nayanmars.[2][3] The songs of praise are called Thiruthondathogai and is the original nucleus around which the Periyapuranam is based.[4] The Periya Puranam, which collects the legends of the Nayanars, starts and ends with him. The hymns of seventh volume of the Tirumurai, the twelve-volume compendium of the poetry of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta, were composed by him.


Family of Sundarar (l->r): Sadaya Nayanar (father), Isaignaniyar (mother), Paravai Nachiyar (wife), Sundarar, Sangili Nachiyar (wife), Narasinga Muniyaraiyar (foster-father).

Sundarar is unique among the Nayanars in that both of his parents are also recognized as Nayanars. He was born in Thirunavalur into an Adi Saiva family who worked as temple priests. His original name was Nambi Aroorar. The chieftain ruler of the local kingdom (Thirumunaipadi-Nadu), Narasingamunaiarayar, enthralled by the divine aesthetic possessed by young Sundarar who was playing in the street, adopted him and brought him up as his own son. Sundarar was a contemporary of the great Pallava emperor Rajasimha, who was also a Nayanmar saint as well as the author of many devotional hymns works in Tamil literature. A temple inscription in Tiruvarur states that Sundarar's father, Sadayan Nayanmar, belonged to the same ″gotram″ (lineage) of the renowned sage Bharadwaja. His mother Isaignani, also a Nayanmar saint, belonged to same the ″gotram″ of the great sage Gautama. From epigraphs, it is also inferred that a hagiography on Sundarar named Sva Swami Mitra Prabhandam translated as travelogues of how he got in the good graces of the Lord, Sri Shiva.

After he came of age, his parents wanted him to get married. Sadaiyanar sought Sandakavi Sivachariar’s consent to obtain his daughter’s hand for Sundarar. Sandakavi Sivachariar’s and his daughter Kamalagnana Poongathai were living in Puthur (modern-day Manamthaviznthaputhur) at the time. Sivachariar gladly consented, but the wedding was not to take place. All lavish arrangements had been made in Arulmigu Sokkantheeshwarar Temple at Puthur for the wedding. According to a legend, while Sundarar was being married, the service was interrupted by an old ascetic who asked for Sundarar as his servant, making a namesake claim that Sundarar's grandfather pledged him according to an ancient palm leaf manuscript in his possession. Sundarar and those assembled at the wedding were outraged and belittled the old man as a madman (piththaan: Tamil).[5] Nonetheless, a court of Vedic scholars concluded that the palm leaf was legally valid. Crestfallen, Sundarar resigned himself to servitude in the old man's household and in following him to Thiruvennainallur village, was led to the Thiruvarutturai Shiva temple.

The old man was said to be Shiva (Lord Thyagaraja) himself, who told him "That the document shown was only a namesake reason and he wanted Sundarar to be reminded of his actual form as Alalasundarar, a servitor in the holy abode Kailasam, who had to be born on Earth both due to moments of worldly thoughts that overcame Shiva. The fact that the southern Tamil region that had done great ″thavam″ during a period of the Kali Yuga and needed to be blessed with an account of lives of great Nayanmars called Tiru-Thondar Thokai also contributed to my decision. You will henceforth be known as Vanthondan, the argumentative devotee. Did you not call me a mad man just a short while ago? Begin your hymn addressing me 'O mad man!'".[6] Lord Sivan also advised vanthondar that while on earth he should sing in Tamil. Accordingly, Sundarar began his first poem by addressing Shiva as Pittaa pirai chudi.. meaning O mad man, who has the crescent as his crown...[5][7][8]

Sundarar (left) with Paravayar (Paravai Nachiyar).

Subsequently, Sundarar moved around Tamil Nadu, visiting several Shiva Temples of Tamil Nadu. In Tiruvarur, he fell in love with a girl named Paravayar, of the Rudra Kanigayar caste of female ascetics, and married her. It is said that Lord Thiyagarajar residing in the Thiruvarur Temple himself acted as an envoy to deliver messages from Sundarar to Paravayar, along the streets surrounding the temple. Hence the sand in thiruvarur is said to have imprinted by the foot of Lord Thiyagarajar himself. Sundarar was held in such a high regard by his contemporary Nayanmar saints like Viranmindar, Kalikamanar etc. that he was offered royal treatment by those rich servitors. One another Nayanmar saint namely Kotpuliyar, a Vellala, praised for some magnificent services also offers sundarar hand of his daughter but the saint politely declines and instantly picks up the girl and puts in his lap and dedicates a hymn to siva in the end of which he says that he considers the girl equivalent to his daughter. The same treatment is accorded by the saint to yet another girl namely singati. In many hymns, Sundarar makes this declaration of love filled, gracious patronage to the children that he accorded.

In Thiruvottriyur, a sea-side suburb of Madras, he prayed at the Padampakkanathar/Thyagarajar/Vadivudaiamman Temple, where he saw a farmer's girl, Sangiliyar, who was preparing flower garlands and married her, promising never to leave.[6]

Sundarar is also famous for declaring in many hymns that one reality of lord Sivan is apprehended by selfless, dispassionate and attachment free service to him. He also declares that all beings are created equal by the lord.

At Tirupunkoor near Thillai Chidambaram a famous saivite temple, the region was devoid of rains for a long time. A local chola prince requested sundarar to address the problem, thereupon the saint put up a wail for justice saying that 12 of land be given to the temple if it rains by his service and upon completing the song to lord sivan rains lashed incessantly. After many such days, sundarar was summoned by the prince again to fix the problem of heavy rains. sundarar once again insisted that 12 more acres be given to the temple should the rains cease after his song. The same happened and the temple became richer by 24 acres more.

Scene of boy coming back to life from crocodile after Sundarar sings hymn. wood sculpture

At Avinashi, near Coimbatore, There is an ancient Siva temple where Sundarar prayed to lord sivan to give back life to an eight-year-old boy who had died untimely many years ago. On hearing his hymn lord sivan bestowed his grace and the boy who was swallowed by a crocodile was instantly returned by the same crocodile.

The legend states that at Tiruvarur he recited the names of all sixty-three future Nayanars: this recitation is called Tiruttondar-Tokai. In it, he refers to himself as the servant of servants of these saints.[4] His fame reached the ears of the Cheraman Perumal, who came to Tiruvarur. Both embarked on a pilgrimage. But Sundarar became tired of life and was taken up to heaven by a white elephant. The king followed him on his horse. Sundarar prayed to Shiva to take Cheraman Peruman along with him to heaven, which was readily accepted.[9] This occurred in "Swathi Nakshatra" in the Tamil month of "Aadi".[10]


Om symbol
Om symbol
The twelve volumes of Tamil Śaiva hymns of the sixty-three Nayanars
Parts Name Author
1,2,3 Tirukadaikkappu Sambandar
4,5,6 Tevaram Tirunavukkarasar
7 Tirupaatu Sundarar
8 Tiruvacakam &
9 Tiruvisaippa &
10 Tirumandhiram Tirumular
11 Various
12 Periya Puranam Sekkizhar
Paadal Petra Sthalam
Paadal Petra Sthalam
Rajaraja I
Nambiyandar Nambi

Raja Raja Chola I (985-1013 CE) embarked on a mission to recover the hymns after hearing short excerpts of Tevaram in his court.[11] He sought the help of Nambiyandar Nambi, who was a priest in a temple.[12] It is believed that by divine intervention Nambi found the presence of scripts, in the form of cadijam leaves half eaten by white ants in a chamber inside the second precinct in Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram.[11][12] The brahmanas (Dikshitars) in the temple are supposed to have disagreed with the king by saying that the works were too divine,and that only by the arrival of the "Naalvar"(The four saints)-Appar, Sundarar, Thirugnana Sambandar and Manikkavacakar would they allow for the chambers to be opened.Rajaraja,however,created idols of them and prepared for them to be brought to the temple through a procession. but Rajaraja is said to have prevailed.[11][13] Rajaraja thus became to be known as Tirumurai Kanda Cholan meaning one who saved the Tirumurai.[13].

In another version of the story, Rajaraja is said to have experienced a dream from lord Shiva telling Rajaraja that the hymns in Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram are in a state of destruction and to recover the remaining hymns from the chambers.The brahmanas (Dikshitars) in the temple,however,are supposed to have disagreed with the king by saying that the works were too divine to be accessed,and that only by the arrival of the 63 Nayanmars would they allow for the chambers to be opened.Rajaraja,devising a plan,consecrated idols of each of them and prepared for them to be brought into the temple through a procession.It is said that the 63 idols are still present in the Thillai Nataraja Temple.When the vault was opened, Rajaraja is said to have found the room infested with white ants,and that the hymns were salvaged as much as possible.

Thus far Shiva temples only had images of god forms, but after the advent of Rajaraja, the images of the Nayanar saints were also placed inside the temple.[13] Nambi arranged the hymns of three saint poets Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar as the first seven books, Manickavasagar's Tirukovayar and Tiruvacakam as the 8th book, the 28 hymns of nine other saints as the 9th book, the Tirumandiram of Tirumular as the 10th book, 40 hymns by 12 other poets as the 10th book, Tirutotanar Tiruvanthathi - the sacred anthathi of the labours of the 63 nayanar saints and added his own hymns as the 11th book.[14] The first seven books were later called as Tevaram, and the whole Saiva canon, to which was added, as the 12th book, Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam (1135 CE) is wholly known as Tirumurai, the holy book. Thus Saiva literature which covers about 600 years of religious, philosophical and literary development.[14]

The earlier Pallava inscriptions of Dantivarman and Kampavarman inform about the singing of Tirumurai in temples to the sounding of udukkai(small drum) and talam(cymbals).

In 1921, an English translation of Sundarar's hymns was done by Francis Kingsbury and GE Phillips, both of United Theological College, Bangalore (Edited by Fred Goodwill) and published in a book as Hymns of the Tamil Śaivite Saints, by the Oxford University Press.[15]

In temple worship services[edit]

Tirumurai was one of the sole reasons for converting Vedic ritual to Agamic puja followed in Shiva temples.[16] Though these two systems are overlapping, Agamic tradition ensures the perpetuation of the Vedic religion's emphasis on the efficacy of ritual as per Davis.[16] Odhuvars, Sthanikars, or Kattalaiyars offer musical programmes in Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu by singing Tevaram after the daily rituals.[17] These are usually carried out as chorus programme soon after the divine offering. There are records from Kulothunga Chola III from Nallanyanar temple in South Arcot indicating singing of Tiruvempavai and Tiruvalam of Manickavasagar during special occasion in the temple.[13] From the 13th century, the texts were passed on to the Odhuvars by the Adheenams or charitable establishments. The charitable establishments that ran on the philanthropy of individuals and merchant caravans had come to be because after the 13th century, the time of ancient nation states viz. cholas etc. was finished and the temples became only denominated, voluntary, charitable places. This is briefed by a 15th-century, Chidambaram temple inscription.During the time of cholas etc. the temple hymn service workers were known as uvacchar and marars. These terms are of very ancient origin and traceable to even early sangam times.

Periya Puranam, the 11th-century Tamil book on the Nayanars that forms the last volume of the Tirumurai primarily had references only to Tevaram and subsequently expanded to 12 parts and is one of the first anthologies of Tirumurai.[18] One of the first anthologies of moovars hymns called the Tevara Arulmuraitirattu is linked to Tamil Saiva siddhantha philosophy by grouping ninety-nine verses into 10 categories.[18] The category headings are God, soul, bond, grace, divine intiation, methodology, enlightenment, bliss, mantra and liberation - correspond to Umapthi's work, Tiruvarutpayan.[19] Tirumurai kanda puranam is another anthology for Tirumurai as a whole, but primarily focuses on Tevaram. It is the first of the works to refer the collection of volumes as Tirumurai.[19]

List of temples revered by Sundarar[edit]

The Paadal Petra Sthalams are 276[20] temples that are revered in the verses of Tevaram and are amongst the greatest Siva temples of the continent. Vaippu Sthalangal are places that were mentioned casually in the songs in Tevaram.[21] The focus of the moovars (first three poets) hymns suggests darshan (seeing and being seen by God) within the puja (worship) offering.[22] The hymnists made classificatory lists of places like katu (forest), turai (port or refuge), kulam (water tank) and kalam (field) being used - thus both structured and unstructured places in the religious context find a mention in Tevaram.[22] Out of the 276 locations only one is in Kerala at Mahadeva Temple, Thiruvanchikulam.

Name of the temple Location Number of verses Photo
Agatheeswarar Temple Purisai 63
Kripapureeswarar Temple Thiruvennainallur 10
Parangirinathar Temple Tirupparankunram 10
Thiruparamkundram (1).jpg
Turaiyurppesurar Temple Thirunelvayil Arathurai 10
Mahadeva Temple Thiruvanchikulam, Kerala 10
Thiruonakathan Thali Kanchipuram 11
Onakathan thali.jpg
Swetharanyeswarar Temple Thiruvenkadu 10
Thiruvenkadu (14).jpg
Thiruethikolpadi Temple Thiruethikolpadi 11
Thyagarajar Temple Tiruvarur 63
Swarnapuresar Temple Trikaduvaikarai Putur 11
Thiruanegathangavatham Kanchipuram 11
Kanchi anekatangapadam.jpg
Thirupoovanam Thirupoovanam 8
Thirunatuthogai Thirunatuthogai 11
Thiruthuraiyur Thiruthuraiyur 11
Thirupachilasiramam Thirupachilasiramam 12
Thirunatiyathangudi Thirunatiyathangudi 10
Amirdhakalayeswarar Temple Saakkottai 11
Tirunaavaleswarar Temple Thirunavalur 11
Thiruvelvikudi Temple Thiruvelvikudi 10
Thirunindriyur Temple Thirunindriyur 18
Kolilinathar Temple Thirukkuvalai 10
Metraleeswar Temple Kanchipuram 10
Kachi Metrali5.jpg
Thirumazhamannipadikarai Thirumazhamannipadikarai 10
Thirukazhipalai Thirukazhipalai 10
Vajranadeswara Temple Thirumazhapadi 10
Thirumazhapadi Temple Main entrance.jpg
Thirumuthukundram Thirumuthukundram 21
Virudhagiriswarar temple (16).jpg
Srikalahasti Temple Srikalahasti 10
Uyyakondan Thirumalai Temple Tiruchirapalli 10
Amirtagateswarar Temple Thirukkadaiyur 10
Thirukadaiyur temple.JPG
Thirukarugavoor Thirukarugavoor 10
Thirukarupariyaloor Thirukarupariyaloor 11
Thiruidaiyatruthogai Thiruidaiyatruthogai 10
Thirukodikuzhagar Kodikkarai 10
Agnipureeswarar Temple Tirupugalur 11
Sakshinatheswarar Temple Thiruppurambiyam 10
Neelivaneswarar Temple Thirupanjeeli 11
Thiruvathigai Veeratanam Thiruvatigai 10
Thiruthondathogai Thiruthondathogai 11
Thirukanatumullur Thirukanatumullur 11
Thirukachoor Thirukachoor 10
VenjamakoodalThiruvenjamakoodal Thiruvenjamakoodal 10
Muthupathugangai Muthupathugangai 10
Thiruamathur Thiruamathur 11
Kayarohanaswami Temple Nagapattinam 11
Oorthogai Oorthogai 10
Thirupandikodumudi Thirupandikodumudi 10
Thirumuruganatheeswar Temple Thirumuruganpoondi 10
Thiruppunavasal Temple Thiruppunavasal 10
Thiruvalangadu Thirvalangadu 10
Thirukadaiyur Mayanam Thirukkadaiyur 10
Thyagaraja Temple Tiruvottiyur 20
Sivalokanathar Temple Thirupungur 10
Thiruneedur Thiruneedur 11
Thiruvazhkolliputhur Thiruvazhkolliputhur 13
Thirukazhumalam Thirukazhumalam 10
Mahalingeswarar Temple Thiruvidaimarudur 10
Thiruvegambam Thiruvegambam 11
Thirukolakka Thirukolakka 10
Thiruthinainagar Thiruthinainagar 10
Masilamaiyisar Temple Thiruvaduthurai 15
Thiruvalivalam Thiruvalivalam 11
Tirunallar Saniswaran Temple Tirunallar 10
Masilamaniswara Temple Thirumullaivoyal 11
Vedaranyeswarar Temple Vedaranyam 10
Thiruvalampuram Thiruvalampuram 11
Thiruthuruthi Thiruthuruthi 5
Thiruvelvikudi Thiruvelvikudi 5
Jambukeswarar Temple Thiruvanaikaval 10
Vanchinadha Swamy Temple Srivanchiyam 10
Aiyarappar temple Tiruvaiyaru 11
Aiyarappar koyil in Thiruvaiyaru.jpg
Kedarnath Temple Kedarnath 10
Thiruparupatham Thiruparupatham 10
Thiruketheeswaram Thiruketheeswaram 10
Vedagiriswarar temple Thirukazhukundram 10
Thiruchuzial 10
Thirukanapper 10
Narthana Vallabeswarar temple Thirukoodalaiyathur 10 130px|center
Thiruparthaanpanankattur 10
Soundareswararswamy Temple Thirupanaiyur 10
Veezhinathar Temple Thiruveezhimizhalai 10
Veezhinathar Kovil.jpg
Thiruvenpakkam 11
Thillai Nataraja Temple Chidambaram 10
Temple Tangore 1.jpg
Thirupukoliyur Avinasi Avinasilingeswarar temple, Avinasi 10
Avinasi temple4.JPG
Sundareswarar Temple Thirunaraiyur Chitteswaram 10
Odhanavaneswarar Temple Tiruchotruturai 10
Thyagarajar Paravaiyundamandali Temple Tiruvarur 10
Thirunanipalli 10
Prakasheswarar Temple Nannilam 11
Naganatha Swamy Temple Tirunageswaram 11
Thirunodithan Malai
Tiruvadhigai Veerataanam Temple Tiruvadhigai
Sri Veerattaaneswarar Temple.JPG
Manikkamenivaradhar Temple Thirumaandakuzhi
Brahmapuresar Temple Sirkali
Sirkazi sattanathan Temple 1.JPG
Saptapreswarar Temple Tirukolaka
Sivaloganathar Temple Tirupungur
Mayuranathar Temple Mayiladuthurai
Mayuranathar temple16.jpg
Tiruvambar Maakaalam Temple Tiruvambar (Ambal)
Agnipuriswarar Temple Tirupugalur
Karinateswarar Temple Tirunatiyathankudi
Manatunainatar temple Tiruvalivalam
Padikasu Nathar Temple Arisirkarai Putur
Sivagurunathaswamy Temple Sivapuram
Adi Kumbeswarar Temple Kumbakonam
Adi Kumbeswarar2.jpg
Kabardeeshwarar Temple Thiruvalanchuzhi
Intricate stone sculptures of the Thiruvalanjuli Vellai Vinayagar Temple.jpg
Kalyanasundaresar Temple Tirunallur
Virataneswarar Temple Tirukkandiyur
Pushpavananadheswarar Temple Tirupundhuruti
Atmanadeswarar Temple Tiruvalamposil


  1. ^ Studies in history: Volume 10; Volume 5; Volume 10; Volume 5. Jawaharlal Nehru University.
  2. ^ Origin and early history of Śaivism in South India, page 179
  3. ^ The guru tradition: voice of the guru, page 225
  4. ^ a b Ten saints of India, page 35
  5. ^ a b Sisir Kumar Das. A History of Indian Literature, 500-1399: From Courtly to the Popular. Sahitya Akademi, 2005 - India - 302 pages. p. 33.
  6. ^ a b "A short introduction to Saivism, page 223"
  7. ^ Don Handelman; David Dean Shulman. Śiva in the Forest of Pines: An Essay on Sorcery and Self-knowledge. Oxford University Press India, 2004 - Religion - 246 pages. p. 167.
  8. ^ Meenakshi Khanna. Cultural History of Medieval India. Berghahn Books, 2007 - History - 248 pages. p. 59.
  9. ^ Dallapiccola, A. L. (2002). "Sundarar or sundaramurti nayanmar". Dictionary of Hindu lore and legend. London, UK: Thames & Hudson: Thames & Hudson. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Hindu Tamil Saints: Alwars and Nayanmars of South India". Retrieved 21 March 2018. External link in |website= (help)
  11. ^ a b c Culter 1987, p. 50
  12. ^ a b Cort 1998, p. 178
  13. ^ a b c d Vasudevan 2003, pp. 109-110
  14. ^ a b Zvelebil 1974, p. 191
  15. ^ Kingsbury, F (1921). Hymns of the Tamil Saivite Saints (1921) (PDF). Oxford University Press. pp. 35–68. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  16. ^ a b Cort 1998, p. 176
  17. ^ Ghose 1996, p. 239
  18. ^ a b Prentiss 1992, p. 140
  19. ^ a b Prentiss 1992, p. 144
  20. ^ "A comprehensive description of the 276 Shivastalams glorified by the Tevaram hymns". Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  21. ^ International review for the history of religions, Volumes 15-17. International Association for the History of Religions, CatchWord (Online service)
  22. ^ a b Prentiss 1992, pp. 51-52


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