[Hereinbelow is printed a Note written by R.C.Zaehner. He was Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions in the University of Oxford from 1952 ti 1975. His translation of The Bhagavad-Gita is hailed as a classic. He is also the editor of HINDU SCRIPTURES, an excellent anthology on Hinduism. It is under his direction Mariasusai Dhavamony wrote his famous work: “Love of God according to Saiva Siddhanta.”
Like A.L. Basham he is interested in Tamil and Tamil Culture and has done much for its propagation. Ed.]
It was in the Tamil lands that Saivism developed its characteristic devotional form. This was the work of a series of saints who spread the gospel that salvation could only be won by a total self-surrender to Siva. By the end of the eleventh century the hymns of these saints had been collected together and given the title of Devaram, and this together with the Tiruvacakam or ‘Sacred Utterance” of Manikka Vasagar and ancillary writings came to be known as the “Tamil Veda’. These Saivite hymns are distinguished from their Vaishnavite counterparts by the extreme sense of unworthiness that the devotee feels in the face of the all-holiness of God. The philosophy of Saiva-Siddhanta, which we have had occasion to refer to, is based as much on the Svetasvatara Upanishad as it is on the writings of the Tamil saints but it was the influence of the latter that made the writers of the Saiva-Siddhanta attach such enormous importance to the doctrine of grace freely given and the impossibility of spiritual progress without love. The whole movement is an impassioned cry against the ossified ceremonial religion of the Brahmans and the ideal of ‘passionlessness’ that they shared with the Buddhists and Jains. It was against these last that they launched their passionate crusade in the name of the one True God, Siva.
IN the following stanzas Appar, perhaps the most moving singer of them all, denounces the hollowness of purely mechanical religion in terms that bring to mind the much later reformer Kabir.
Why bathe in Ganges’ stream, or Kaviri?
Why go to Comorin in Kongu’s land?
Why seek the waters of sounding sea?
Release is theirs, and theirs alone who call
In every place upon the Lord of all.
Why chant the Vedas, hear the Sastras’1 lore?
Why daily teach the books of righteousness?2
Why the Vedangas3 six say o’er and o’er?
Release is theirs and theirs alone, whose heart
From thinking of its Lord shall ne’er depart.
Why roam the jungle, wander cities through?
Why plague life with unstinting penance hard?
Why eat no flesh, and gaze into the blue?
Release is theirs, and theirs alone, who cry
Unceasing the Lord of Wisdom high.
Why fast and starve, why suffer pains austere?
Why climb the mounts doing penance harsh? ………….pg 111………
1. Sacred texts. 2. Law-books. 3. Subsidiary disciplines connected with the study of the Vedas.
…..pg 112…Why go to bathe in waters far and near?
Release is theirs and theirs alone, who call
At every time upon the Lord of all.
The Bhagavad Gita had taught that the love of God is open to all, irrespective of caste and sex, but it had also taught that each man should perform the duties dictated to him by his station n life. For Appar, however, who was himself a vellalar all distinctions between man and man were done away with in the worship of Siva slave,, all sins, even the slaying of a Brahman or a cow, would be wiped out.
Though they give me the jewels from Indra’s abode,
Though they grant me dominion o’er earth, yea, O’er heaven,
If they be not the friends of our Lord Mahadev,1
What care I for wealth by such ruined hands give?
But if they love Siva, who hides in his hair
The river of Ganges, then whoe’er they be,
Foul lepers, or outcastes, yea, slayers of kine,
To then, is my homage, gods are they to me.
What, however, distinguishes the Tamil Saivite saints from almost all the other bhakti cults is their intense sense of personal guilt; man, as he exists apart from God, is evil and horribly corrupt, he is the slave of his anava, his egoism.
1. ‘The Great God’: Siva.
Evil, all evil, my race, evil my qualities all,
Great am I only in sin, evil is even my good.
Evil my innermost self, foolish, avoiding the pure,
Beast am I not, yet the ways of the beast I can never forsake.
I can exhort with strong words, telling men what they should hate,
Yet I can never give gifts, only to geg them I know.
Ah! Wretched man that I am, whereunto came I to birth?
The realization of one’s abjectness makes the freely given grace of God
seem all the more wonderful, for what has the wholly self-sufficient to gain
from association with one so foul? This wondrous self-giving of God is the theme of this stanza of Manikka Vasagar:
Thou gav’st thyself, thou gained’st me;
Which did the better bargain drive?
Bliss found I in infinity;
But what didst thou from me derive?
O Siva, Perundurai’s God,
My mind thou tookest for thy shrine:
My very bod’s thine abode;
What can I give thee, Lord, of mine?
The Tamil Saivite saints even more than the Alvars see in Nature the reflected glory of God, and the mating of animals brings to their minds the inseparable unity of all apparent opposites in the transcendental union of Siva and Sakti. This does not mean that the sexual principle was arbitrarily introduced into the divine but that sex itself is seen as holy because it reflects an essential polarity in God which is the source of his creativity and joy.
I’ll follow those who going to the shrine their praises sound,
With blooms and water for the God who wears the moon so mild
All lovely in his locks, a garland wreathed his neck around,
And with him sing they Parvati, the mountain god’s fair child,
Once as I went to Aiyaru, with light and reverent tread,
I saw come two young elephants, male by loved female led,
And in that sight I saw God’s foot, saw secret things unsaid.
Siva has his terrible and his gentle aspect: he dances is sheer joy and creation comes to be,
and he dances in maniacal frenzy and all the worlds crumble into ruin. Even though he appears as a raving madman, his devotee sees in him nothing but love and grace.
O madman with the moon-crowned hair
Thou lord of men, thou fount of grace,
How to forget thee could I bear?
My soul hath aye for thee a place.
Venny-nallur, in ‘Grace’s shrine’
South of the stream of Pennai, there,
My father, I became all thine;
How could I now myself forswear?
The soul loses its reason in the divine madness and surrenders itself totally to the ‘foolishness of God’ as St Paul puts it. God becomes all in all and man sees himself as nothing. All thoughts of liberation are put aside in a passion of adoration for the dancing God In the words of Manikka Vasagar:
I ask not kin, nor name, nor place,
Nor learned men’s society.
Men’s lore for me no value has:
Kuttalam’s lord, I come to thee.
Wilt thou one boon on me bestow,
A heart to melt in longing sweet,
As yearns o’er new-born calf the cow,
In yearning for they sacred feet?
I had no virtue, penance, knowledge, self-control. A doll to turn
At another’s will I danced, whirled, fell. But me he filled in every limb.
With love’s mad longing, and that I might climb there whence is no return,
He showed his beauty, made me his. Ah me, when shall I go to him?
Fool’s friend was I, none such may know
The way of freedom; yet to me
He shew’d the path of love, that so
Fruit of past deeds might ended be.
Cleansing my mind so foul, he made me like a god.
Ah who could win that which the Father hath bestowed?
Thinking it right, sin’s path I trod;
But, so that I such paths might leave,
And find his grace, the dancing God,
Who far beyond our thought doth live,
O wonder passing great! – to me his dancing shewed.
Ah who could win that which the Father hath bestowed?
It was the Bhagavad-Gita that set in motion the transformation of Hinduism from a mystical technique based on the ascetic virtues of renunciation and self-forgetfulness into the impassioned religion of self-abandonment to God, but the strictly religious impulse which gave momentum to the whole bhakti movement stemmed from the Tamil lands of South India. From the tenth century on all that is most vital in Hinduism manifests itself in the form of bhakti