SIDDHAR POEMS FROM TAMIL-AN INTRODUCTION
Siddhar poems form an important corpus of Tamil poetry of circa 16th Century. Though the Eighteen Siddhars are revered by the scholars, their poems didn’t find an important place among the “interpreters” or “hermenutists” of the Tamil school of interpretation. For instance, the very popular Thirukkural has found interpreters even in the modern Tamil era, [the late Dr.Mu.Varadharasanar]. But a very few interpreters have tried their hands at the Siddhar poems.
The following reasons could be attributed to the lack of interpretation:
While poly-theism was an unquestioned canon of their time they dared to speak of “One Indivisible God”. Siddhars like Siva Vakkiyaar have directly attacked the empty and meaningless rituals practised by the brahmins of their time. Siva Vakkiyaar’s poems testify this point. Almost all these mystic poets share a contempt for the body politic. But it is not a mere shunning away from the body. They seemed to have a reached a point of ennui as far as the desires of the body that they wanted to shun the “flesh” and the million ailments it is heir to. All of them wanted to subjugate the senses. Winning over the five senses offers an absolute control of the body leading to the control of the wandering mind. One of them refers to the five senses as “five thieves”. Thiruvalluvar who wrote in the Ist Centruy A.D.has compared the control of the five senses to the action of the tortoise when it protects itself from the enemy. Siddhars looked at life with a different angle of vision. They also despised and scorned the nine portals of the human body. They were existentialists in another sense. They lived a mendicant’s life and slept in the temples when they wanted to stretch their body. According to Pattinathar, even a person with a begging bowl and a cur dog for a comapanion is a “ family man”. They were misunderstood in their own time since they repudiated the materialistic view of life and claimed that there could be only one supreme God. Very little has been on record about their personal life, except for the meagre details of their place of brith and the place where they died. Some anthologists have pinned down their community. This socio-economic backround information has been handy in the understanding of their imagery. Some of them might have turned misogenics after enjoying the intimacy of quite a number of women. Despite this fact, their addressee is a pre-nubile girl who is referred to as “Vaalai pen”. Some of their poems indicate [Karuvoorar’s poems especially] that this “Valai” is a girleen who has not attained puberty, but who is tremendously beautiful.
That Thirukkural seems to have had a strong influence on the Siddhars is evident from many cross-references in their poems:
Thiruvalluar, the saint-poet with a strong Jainistic streak, explains the relationship of the body to the soul in the above lines. Or the impermanence of the body is stressed here in the most epigrammatic manner. In the section devoted to “Penance” Thiruvalluar writes:
In another couplet he writes: When words of sweetness exist, uttering the harsh ones Is like snatching the half-ripe ones rejecting ripe fruits. The echo of these lines can be found in Pattinathar’s poems. Pattinathar has also expressed his wish to be a non-violent vegetarian and an abstainer from killing. Thiruvalluar has devoted a separate chapter on “Abstinence from killing”. From Pattinathar’s poems one can estimate that he was well grounded in classics like Periya Puranam and Siva Puranam.
History indicates that the Siddhars who lived in South India were 18 in number. If a yogi is to be accepted as a Siddhar he should be able to perform the following feats:
These mystic poets represent different communities. Pattinathar was born into a rich family of merchants in the sea-town of Kaveripoompattinam and he himself was a successful merchant before giving up his materialistic way of life. Badhragiriyar who finally became a disciple of Pattinathar was a king of a province in Thanjavur. Idaikkaattu Siddhar was a goat-herd according to the available meagre records of literary history. Thiru Moolar is said to have come from Varanasi to meet the Saint Agasthiar of the South. During his journey he happened to stop at the place called Thiruvavaduthurai in Tamil Nadu and felt pity for the cattle that were so much attached to the cattle-herd whose name was Moolan. Moolan had died of a snake bite and with help of his inner-vision and power of transmigration Thirumoolar shed his physique and entered into the dead Moolan’s body to console the cattle. After reaching the village where the cattle-herd lived, he left the cattle in the pen and tried to extricate from Moolan’s wife who was unaware of the fact that the person who appears as her husband is the Siva Yogi. When he checked for his old body he was dismayed because it had disappeared. He accepted everything as the will and act of God and decided to live in the same village as Moolan and he was later called Thiru Moolar. Another mystic is a muslim by birth as his name Beer Mohammed suggests. Roma Rishi might have had connections to the Rome of his time. Some like Paampaati Siddhar wrote treatises on herbal medicine and were capable of small miracles in real life. Boghar is said to have visited the Roman Empire to study the herbs of that country for the purpose of medicine. Boghar was born into a family of potters in China as the legend goes. Pulasthiar is Sinhala by birth. Idaikaattu Siddhar is said to be the author of “Saareeram”, a book on medicine. Some consider him as the disciple of Boghar. In the advanced stages of penance these mystics are said to have lived just on air and dried leaves. Some of them were able to suspend their bodily functions temporarily if they had to spend their days in a hostile environment. From rhymed quatrains, rhymed couplets based on Thirukkural, to simple folk songs, Siddhars have used a variety of stanza forms to express their thoughts. Catchy lines from the Siddhars sung by beggars could be still heard in the village streets of Tamil Nadu. Many readers quote these poems or snatches of lines quite unaware of the source.
A handful of these poems have been simplified and adapted as lyrics for Tamil film songs. One reader can read this anthology of Siddhar Poems just to understand the basics of meditation and yogic breathing. Another one can refer to it to decipher the formula to concoct traditional Siddha medicine. Still others can use this anthology to make a deep study and aquire the methods of conquering the five senses of the body. For a serious reader of poetry it is a treasure house that has a richness and freshness of its own. One will be struck by the candidness with which these poems analyse God and filthiness of the body. A few of the sections written by Valmeegar and Nandeeswarar precribe the rules for conducting offerings to the Deity.
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