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Article: Thevaram: Purifies the soul; pleases the ear

By T R Ramachandran
  The Tamil literature reveals that noted Shiva and Vaishnava mystic saints have contributed to imbibe Bhakti through their devotional compositions which are embellished with divine music and high literary content. The saints were nursed and treated with reverence by the Chola and Pandian kings who ruled the southern part of India.

Prominent among the saints of Shiva mystics were Thirugnanasambandar, Thirunavukkarasar, Sundaramurthy Swamigal and Manickavachagar. They are known as Nayanmars (Messengers of God). The devotional hymns sung by the first three in the form of ‘Padhigams’ are known as THEVARAM, while the compositions of Manickavachagar are known as THIRUVACHAKAM. Each padhigam contains eleven verses. The Nayamnars traveled the length and breadth of India and visited various Shiva Kshetra-s and sang the Padhigams representing the Shiva temples they had visited. They are known as PADAL PETRA KSHETRA-S meaning that the place was glorified by Thevaram by Nayanmars. The events that followed the singing of padhigams created wonders, miracles and curing effects. One may wonder if there was direct interaction between Nayanmars and Lord Shiva without the aid of the sense organs. After reading Thevaram it can be believed that it may have been possible. It is said that the situations were created by Lord Shiva to make His acts and deeds known to the world, and also to expose the Bhakti of Nayanmars on Him. Thevarams purified the heart and soul, contained high literary value and cogent philosophy. Their compositions pleased Lord Shiva and Nayanmars had witnessed the benign presence of Lord Shiva in full glory. Their message had an immense effect in establishing and spreading the Shiva mystic among the Hindu Tamils, when other religions were taking destructive postures to obstruct the growth of Hindu religion.

Thevarams form part of the “Twelve Thirumurais” known as the sacred hymns. The “Twelve Thirumurais” encompass the four firms ‘Stotra, Shastra, Prabhanda and Purana’ in Tamil literature. The first nine ‘Therumurais’ are known as Stotra-s, the tenth as Shastra, the eleven as Prabhanda and the twelfth as Purana.

Thevaram is included in the first seven Thirumurais and is assigned the foremost position. The holy trio, Thirugnanasambandar, Thirunavukkarasar, Sundaramurthy Swamigal and Manickavachagar, have sung the Thevarams several centuries ago. It is said that in between them they have sung more than a hundred thousand Pedhigams. Out of these, only 797 Pedhigams could be retrieved from oblivion, thanks to the efforts taken by the great king Raja Raja Chola. There is no trace of the rest of the Padhigams. They have been either destroyed or have perished owing to frequent wars waged by rival kings in the country. Nambiyandar Nambigal, noted saint of that period compiled the salvaged Thevarams into seven Thirumurais.

The Thevarams created by the Nayanmars can be equated with other sacred religious works in Tamil. They are considered as Tamil veda by the Shaivites, and sung even today in traditional manner in the temples of Tamil Nadu with reverence and Bhakti during Pooja time and festivals, by the specialized musicians known as “Odhuvars”. The odhuvars chant the Tevarams in a traditional way set up by the Nayanmars in ancient times. As an offering to Lord Shiva, the word “Thiruchitrambalam” is uttered before and after singing of the Pedhigams. The pedhigams are sung in the raga-s known as PANN. The Thala is created by the brass Jhalras duly accompanied by Mridangam. The Pann in which Thevaram is sung correspond well with Karnatic form of raga-s. To quote a few, the Pann known as Thakkaram is raga Kambodi, Kurinji is Harikambodi, Megharagakurinji is Neelambari Pazhanchuram is Sankarabharanam, Kausikam is Bhairavi and so on and so forth. As in the case of Karnatic and Hindusthani music music, the different Panns are intended to be sung at different times like morning, evening and night. Traditionally five songs are sung from the the “Twelve Thirumurais” in the temples. They are: one from Thevaram, one from Thiruvachagam, one song each from the ninth Thirumurai, and one song from the twelfth Thirumurai. The above-mentioned traditional way of singing is called chanting of ‘Pancha Purana-s’ (five Purana-s).




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