Tamil scholars give different interpretations of the word Unthiyar. It seems to mean 'the players at a game resembling battledore and shuttlecock.' The word Unthi is, I imagine, used for the shuttlecock or ball which the players cause to 'fly aloft.'
In this lyric FIVE GREAT TRIUMPHS OF CIVAN are celebrated.
I. The first of these (I-4) is the destruction of the three towns, in Tami and Sanskrit Tripura, which is curiously enough made to be the name of a giant overthrown by Civan. I give an abstract of this story from Muir:-
'There were in the sky three cities of the Asuras, one of iron, another of silver, and a third of gold, which Indra could not demolish, with all his weapons. Then all the great gods, distressed, went to Rudra as their refuge, and said to him, after they were assembled: "Rudra, there shall be victims devoted to thee in all sacrifices. Bestower of honour, destroy the Daityas with their cities, and deliver the worlds." He, being thus addressed, said, "So be it;" and making Vishnu his arrow, Agni its barb, Yama, the son of Vivasvat, its feather, all the Vedas his bow, and the excellent Savitri (the Gayatri) his bowstring, and having appointed Brahma his charioteer, he in due time pierced through these cities with a three-jointed three-barbed arrow, of the colour of the sun, and in fierceness like the fire which burns up the world. These Asuras with their cities were there burnt up by Rudra.'
II. The second of these triumphs is the destruction of Dakshan's sacrifice. The story of this is told with many variations, and is evidently, as Professor Wilson pointed out long ago, of some great struggle between the followers of Vishnu and Civan: but it is neither possible to give any full interpretation of it, nor to reconcile the discrepancies in the various accounts of it. The account given below is that of the Kaci Khandam, which every student of Tamil should read.
In the Kaci Khandam, the account of Dakshan-his sacrifice, punishment, forgiveness, and penance in Benares - occupies chapters xxxviii-xc inclusive, and fills 148 stanzas. It sums up, with some inconsistencies, the whole story as given in the Sanskrit books. Dakshan (- the Intelligent) is represented sometimes as the father, and sometimes as the son of Aditi; and at other times the two are curiously said to have been reciprocally producers and produced. He is identified with Prajapati, the Creator. This almost seems like a statement that the whole universe is developed from intelligence, and might appear like a very symbolical acting forth of Hegel's system. Dakshan had many daughters married to the great saints, and especially Kacyapa(Kaciban) is said to have been the husband of twelve of them. One of his daughters was Durga, or Uma, who was subsequently born from the mountain after her voluntary death, and so received the name of Parvathi. So Civan, the Supreme, was a son-in-law of Dakshan, the Intelligence from which the Universe was developed. It is rather entangled.
On one occasion all the gods and saints made a visit to the silver mountain Kailaca. They were there received with great kindness, by the mighty one upon whose head is the Kondral wreath, whose throat is black with the poison he swallowed to save the world, and from the centre of whose forehead a third eye shines resplendent. But the deity did not recognize his father-in-law, nor rise to receive him. This fills Dakshan with disgust, and he proceeds to indulge in the most extravagant abuse of Civan. It will be seen that everything with which he reproaches Civan is used by Manikka-Vacagar as praise. Of course a mystical meaning is given to each circumstance! The following is a summary of his language:-
'He has no mother, no father, and no relatives!
He is a maniac who dances with demons on the burning-ground.
He has an eye in his brow from which devouring fire blazes forth.
He wears the skin of a fierce tiger, foul and fetid.
Race, family, caste, quality hath he none.
He wears as an ornament the skin of a serpent that causes deadly ill.
He has discarded the anointing of himself with flowery essences,
And besmears himself with foul ashes of corpses in the burning-ground.
His food is poison from the billowy sea;
As conveyance he has an ancient bullock;
He wears the skin of a black elephant;
His ruddy hand grasps a skull bereft of flesh.
If you say he is a Brahman, he has changed all rules of ordered life;
If you say he is a merchant full of wealth, he goes about begging;
He has no skill in any mystic lore.
Nor is he a Brahmacari, for a large-eyed damsel is part of his body;
He bears an implement of war, and so is not a worthy ascetic;
He wanders amid the hot desert sands, and so is no seemly householder;
He cut off the head of the flower god,
So knows not the laws of excellent justice;
The lady with gleaming brows is half of his frame,
So he is not male, or female, or sexless one.
In the day when he destroys all worlds,
Having worn as a garland the skull of flowery Ayan,
And whirling the three-headed gleaming lance
Everywhere he kills, Is it possible to call him a saint?'
After thus relieving his mind by abuse to punish Civan's discourtesy, he resolves to perform a mighty sacrifice (magam), and so gain additional powers. Civan must be dethroned or slain. All the gods are invited, and there is a very magnificent assembly on Dakshan's mountain. Then comes forth a sage Dadici, who protests that no sacrifice can be of efficacy to which Civan has not been invited; such a place of worship must become 'a burning-ground, where goblins, demons, and dogs prowl around.' His protest is answered by additional abuse, and so the devotees depart, leaving the gods and goddessess to joint with Dakshan in the unhallowed offering. And now the great mischief maker in all such legends, whose name was Naradar, the sweet lutist of the holy mount, hurries to Kailaca to tell the goddess Umai of her father-in law's projected offering. She longs to be present, and implores her spouse to permit it, but he rejects her request. Somehow or other she does however go, and with every token of filial piety meets her father and mother; and after the first greeting enquires why the great god, the lord of all, is not invited:
'It seems as though you had forgotten the greatest of guests.'
To this, abuse of Civan is the only answer.
She at once dies, puts off the body which owns Dakshan as father, and is reborn as the daughter of Himavat, whence, Civan afterwards takes her as Parvathi, 'the mountain maid.'
III. The third triumph is his bestowal of the milky sea on the son of Vasishtha. For this it is sufficient to refer to the Koyil Puranam. It is a rather confused and somewhat meaningless story as it has come down to us.
IV. The fourth triumph is given at great length in the Kaci Khandam, and is connected with the god's manifestation as Vira-bhadra. For this it is only necessary to refer to chapter xc of the above work.
In regard to the Kaci Khandam, indeed, which is mainly a translation from the Sanskrit Skanda Purana, it must be noted that there is in it much didactic poetry of a more elevated character, which characterized as a collection of legends which are uterly unprofitable, and have been worked into the devotional poetry of the Caivites to its very great detriment. The legends of Dakshan's sacrifice, of the appearance and ferocity of Vira-bhadra as a kind of incarnation of Civan, and of the unseemly disputes between Vishnu and Brahma as to the pre-eminence, occupy large portions of the book and are utterly useless in these days. We may give a summary of chapter xxxi, entitled 'The Appearance of Bhairava."
Civan, the Supreme, envelopes the world in elusive mystery, so that none know him while He is all in all. Hence, even among the gods, disputes arose as to who was the greatest. 'I am the supreme Essence,' cried Vishnu. 'I am the Self-existent,' declared Brahma from his lotus-seat. The sacred Veda, the unwritten record of mysterious truth, was called upon to decide. The divine essences whose incarnation, or manifestation rather, is the fourfold Veda spoke out: The first Vedic genius declared that since Civan alone performed the three operations of creation, preservation, and destruction, he was the Supreme and unoriginated God. The second declared that since Civan had performed arduous sacrifices and penances, so as to merit praise from the whole universe, he was the supreme. The third announced the same conclusion, but based it upon the fact that Civan fills all things with light, and is adored by all the mystic sages as the giver of wisdom. The fourth Vedic mystery declared that since Civan revealed himself in various forms exciting emotions of joy and ecstatic devotion in the hearts of his worshippers, who beheld him crowned with cassia-wreaths, he was the greatest of the gods. [It is easy to see the arguments by which the supremacy of Civan is here upheld, and there are gleams of truth which Christianity emphasises and illustrates, but the legends connected with the statements are very wonderful, and certainly obscure and confuse, rather than illustrate, the truth concerning the supreme and absolute.] Vishnu and Brahma listen only to deride. 'Civan,' they cry, 'rides on a bull; he has a matted coil of hair; he dances in the burning-ground; he smears ashes; his throat is black with the swallowed poison; he wears as a girdle a hissing snake; he is the leader of a wild demon-host, and Umai is a part of his form. This being so, how can he be the life of the soul of all ?' [These are the arguments that were urged by Jains and Buddhists, and the wonder is that they did not everywhere and finally prevail.]
Roused by these insults, Civan suddenly appears. His aspect is described in the usual terms, and he sends forth a manifestaion or incarnation of himself, or of his destroying energy, to which the name of Vairavan (Vira-bhadra) is given. This anomalous being is of terrific appearance, and endowed with all the Destroyer's terrible energy. He is followed by a host of malignant demons. Civan calls him his son, and bids him destroy all his enemies. Vairavan accordingly seizes the fifth head of Brahma between his thumb and forefinger, twists it off and throws it on the ground, performing a terrific dance which throws the whole universe and every order of sentient existence into a paroxysm of terror. This subdues the opposing deities, and Vishnu worships at Civan's feet, praising him in the most extravagant terms. The whole ends in a wild orgy, in which Civan and Brahma join. This is so often referred to in Caivite poetry, and seems so incapable of any edifying interpretation, that we have thought it necessary to give the authentic summary from the Kaci Khandam once for all.
V. The last is the victory over the Ceylon king, Ravana. This legend is perpetually referred to in the south, and seems to have a popularity among the poets somewhat in excess of its apparent importance.
After his victory over Kuvera, Ravana went to Saravana, the birthplace of Karthikeya. Ascending the mountain, he sees another delightful wood, where his car Pushpaka stops, and will proceed no further. He then beholds a formidable dark tawny-coloured dwarf, called Nandicvara, a follower of Mahadeva, who desires him to halt, as that deity is sporting on the mountain, and has made it inaccessible to all creatures, the gods included. Ravana angrily demands who Cankara (Mahadeva) is, and laughs contemptuously at Nandicvara, who has the face of a monkey. Nandicvara, who was another body of Civan, being incensed at this contempt of his monkey form, declares that beings, possessing the same shape as himself, and of similar energy,-monkeys,- shall be produced to destroy Ravana's race ( Tasmad mad-virya-sanyuktah madrupa-sama-tejasah utpatsyanti badhartham hi kulasya tava vanarah). Nandicvara adds that he could easily kill Ravana now, but that he has been already slain by his own deeds. Ravana threatens that as his car has been stopped, he will pluck up the mountain by the roots, asking in virtue of what power Civan continually sports on that spot, and boasting that he must now be made to know his danger. Ravana then throws his arms under the mountain, which being lifted by him, shakes, and makes the hosts of Rudra tremble, and even Parvathi herself quake, and cling to her husband (Chachala Parvathi, chapi tada clishta Mahecvaram). Civan, however, presses down the mountain with his great toe, and along wit it crushes the arms of Ravana, who utters a loud cry, which shakes all creation. Ravana's counsellors then exhort him to propitiate Mahadeva, the blue-throated lord of Uma, who, on being lauded, will become gracious. Ravana accordingly praises Mahadeva with hymns, and weeps for a thousand years. Mahadeva is then propitiated, lets go Ravana's arms, says his name shall be Ravana from the cry (rava) he had uttered, and sends him away, with the gift of a sword bestowed on him at his request.
[Metre: kavithal isai]
I. The three cities
Bent was the bow;- upsprang the tumult;
Perished three cities! Fly aloft, Unthi!
As they burnt straightway together,- Fly, &c. (3)
Two arrows we saw not- in Egambar's hand:
One arrow; three cities! Fly aloft, Until!
And one was too many !- Fly, &c. (6)
There was shaking of framework;- and as He moved His foot,
The axle was broken- say, Fly aloft, unthi!
Perished three cities! - Fly, &c. (9)
Those who won their escape- a triad of persons-He guarded.
To Him whose arrows fail not,- Fly aloft, Unthi!
Saying, He's the Tender-One's Spouse!- Fly, &c. (12)
II. Dakshan's sacrifice.
The frustrate offering thrown to the ground-the gods-
Sing how they fled!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
To Rudra the Lord,-Fly, &c. (15)
Aha! Mal divine got a portion that day of the offering;
And He died not!- Fly aloft, Unthi!
The Four-faced's father!- Fly, &c. (18)
The fierce one- Agni-to consume it collected
His hands of flame. He cut them away! - Fly aloft, Unthi!
Spoiled was the sacrifice! - Fly, &c. (21)
Dakshan, who raised the anger of Parvathi,
He saw and spared, what good? my dear!- Fly aloft, Unthi!
To the SPouse of the Beautiful, - Fly &c. (24)
Purandharan became a tender 'kuyil,'
And flew up a tree!- Fly away, Unthi!
King of the heavenly ones!- Fly, &c. (27)
The angry sacrificer's head-
Sing how it fell! - Fly aloft, Unthi!
That birth's chain may be snapt! - Fly, &c. (30)
The head of a sheep- to Vidhi- as his-
Sing how He joined!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
While you're with laughter convulsed!- Fly, &c. (33)
Sing how Bhagan, who cam to eat, 'scaped not,
He plucked out his eye!- Fly aloft, Unthi!
That germs of our birth may die!-Fly, &c. (36)
The Lady of the tongue lost a nose; Brahma a head;-
The Moon-god's face He smashed!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
That ancient troublous deed might die!- Fly, &c. (39)
The god of the Vedas four, the Lord of the sacrifice,
Fell; sing how he sought the way they went!- Fly aloft, Unthi!
And Purandharan, too, in the offering!-Fly, &c. (42)
The teeth in the mouth of the Sun-god
How He swept them broken away!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
The sacrifice came to confusion!-Fly, &c. (45)
Dakshan that day lost his head;
Tho' Dakshan's children stood round!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
Perished the sacrifice!- Fly, &c. (48)
Who that day to the son gave the sea of milk;
To the glorious Lord of the braided lock,-Fly aloft, Unthi!
To Kumaran's father,- Fly, &c. (51)
The Four-faced's head, who sits on the beauteous flower,
Was quickly nipt off!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
By His nail was nipt off!- Fly, &c. (54)
His heads who stayed the car, and raised the hill,-
Sing how twice five of them perished!-Fly aloft, Unthi!
And twenty perished!-Fly, &c. (57)