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Panniru Tirumurai Project
Project to translate the Saiva Canon

"Among the many revelations that Mohanjadaro and Harappa have had in store for us none, perhaps is more remarkable than this discovery that Saivism has a history going back to the chalcolithic age or perhaps even further still, and that it thus takes place as the most ancient living faith in the world." Thus observes Sir John Marshall in his Mohanjadaro and Indus Civilisation (Vol. I preface p. vii). Excavations in Central America reveal that Siva worship was prevalent all over the world at one time or other. It is no wonder that in India too Saivism flourished from time immemorial. It assumed different forms of worship and variety of rituals according to the region. As a result we find different sects of Saivism existing in this country. Saint Appar and Saint Tirumular speak of different sects of Saivism in their writings. There were Kalamukhas, Kapalikas, Mahavratas, Pasupatas etc. This Southern School of "Saivism was known as Siddhanta Saivam. About this Dr. G.U. Pope writes that Saivism is the old prehistoric religion of South India, essentially existing from pre-Aryan times and holds sway over the hearts of the Tamil people" (Tiruvacakam, p.lxxiv).

One of the greatest movements of the world, the Saiva bhakti movement took place in Tamilnadu between the seventh and tenth centuries. The movement engulfed the entire land and inspiration for this was the writings of Saiva saints. Though Saiva Siddhanta as a philosophical system blossomed in the 13th Century, the tenets of the religion were there much earlier. The fact that Siva worship was prevalent and temples were extant in the pre-Christian era is testified in the Cankam classics. Elaborating on this and codifying the methods of worship, saints of the Middle Ages composed hymns set to music. These writings form the canonical literature of Saivism. Saivism is a pan-Indian phenomenon. But it was these saints who took it to the common man through their hymns. For the first time, hymns were composed in the regional language, namely Tamil, instead of Sanskrit.

This canonical literature is unique in more than one sense. It was written in Tamil and formed the fountainhead of Siddhanta philosophy. It was divine and attracted people. The outpourings were superbly devotional and sparked off the devotional movement. The sincerity and depth of the poems captured the head and heart of the common people. The result was that the popular and powerful faiths till then, namely Buddhism and Jainism, slowly faded away. This Saivaite literature in Tamil paved the way for devotional literature in other regions to appear in their regional languages instead of Sanskrit. The bhakti movement spread all over the country. Thus we find that this canonical literature occupies a special place in Indian religious literature. A study of Saivism in India is incomplete if the contribution of Tamil saints is not understood.

The canonical literature, as mentioned earlier, comprises of the poetry of Tamil Saivaite saints like Tirunanacampantar, Appar, Cuntarar, Manikkavacakar and others. The corpus of devotional literature is collectively called Panniru Tirumurai. As the name reveals, it consists of twelve major titles. They are classified as tottiram (Stotra-hymns in praise) as against the cattiram (sastra literature- philosophical treatises). These holy books called Tirumurais have been named numerically as the First Tirumurai, Second Tirumurai, etc.

The spiritual outpourings of Tirunanacampantar are divided into three books. So also Appar's hymns form the next three. Cuntarar's hymns is the seventh. All these seven are collectively called Tevaram. The eighth Book is by Manikkavacakar and contains two different works, namely Tiruvacakam and Tirukkovaiyar. The ninth Tirumurai, known as Tiruvicaippa or Tiruppallantu is an anthology of hymns of nine saints. Tirumantiram, a unique book by Tirumular forms the tenth Tirumurai. The eleventh one is again an anthology of devotional poems by twelve saints. Cekkilar's Periyapuranam is the twelfth book. It is different from the rest in the sense that it details the lives of Saivaite saints. (See Appendix for details).

Being a popular and favorite faith of Tamilnadu, Saivism has attracted the attention of scholars of other religions too. This fact is proved by the efforts Dr. G.U. Pope took to translate Tiruvacakam and Tiruvarutpayan (one of the philosophical treatises of Saiva Siddhanta) into English. Other scholars also, for example Kingsbury, attempted to render into English some of the stanzas of this hymnal literature. Thus it has proven to be a subject for translation and research. Comparative religion is a subject gaining ground in recent times. This gives scope to study a religion side by side the other religions. This sort of comparative study brings people together, forgetting that they belong to different followings. It is obvious from this that Saivism of Tamilnadu is a proper and rich subject for research, both at the national and the international levels. Nationally it can be compared with other faiths flourishing in this country. Internationally speaking, it is a subject to be studied in depth to understand the people and the culture of Tamilnadu. Hence there is an absolute and urgent need for making this religious literature available to others both in India and outside. This can be achieved only by rendering the literature into a common language.

Dr. N. Mahalingam, a well-known philanthropist of Tamilnadu, is interested in keeping the tradition, be it religious or cultural, alive. His activities are based on this and also propagating the same. When the Institute of Asian Studies was considering the idea of translating Saivaite canonical literature, Dr. N. Mahalingam, who is the Treasurer on the Board of Governors of the Institute, suggested that the translation work could be taken up and we could think of serving our countrymen also by translating into Hindi as well. This was definitely a new approach and the Institute readily accepted the suggestion. An advisory committee was constituted to go into the details of the translation project. The committee prepared a rough guideline for the translation work. Some of them are:

  1. There will be an introductory volume that will speak about the introduction to the socio-cultural milieu of bhakti movement with particular reference to Saivism and its impact on society.
  2. An introductory note at the beginning of each Tirumurai.
  3. A separate chapter on Saiva temple architecture and sculptures.
  4. Saiva Siddhanta philosophy and its literature in short.

Regarding the methodology it was decided that a brief note on the text and the place where the text was composed and other details should be provided. The text in Tamil followed by a paraphrase in Tamil will appear next. The transliteration in Roman script and the translation in English will follow. The most important part, the notes, will complete the translation work. They will contain the meaning and interpretation of the expression used in the text and also of the allegories and the cultural items.

  • For English translation, transliteration as given in Tamil Lexicon of the University of Madras is followed. The translation in English should be in modern English without archaic or obsolete expressions.
  • Hindi and English translations shall be published separately. In the Hindi translation the Tamil poems will be given first in Devanagari script and then the translation. etc., will follow.
  • 'Notes' is the section where the translator is free to express his views, interpretations and explanations. Actually this will be the most important part of the translation scheme.

The committee opined that Hindi and English translations should be made in free verse. The translation should be faithful to the original text. The verse form was preferred because it enables the translator to be exact, precise and to the point. Also this will avoid unnecessary adjectives, long narrations and ornamental language. This translation is not just an introduction to Saiva canonical literature but an attempt to open up the whole of Saiva literature. So fidelity cannot be compromised.

The committee also urged that if there are any translations already available, they should be made us of. It is a fact that as a sectarian literature the canonical works do indulge in making derogatory and unsavory remarks about other faiths, Buddhism and Jainism in particular. The committee suggested that necessary explanations of the contemporary socio-religious milieus be given in the footnotes.

The Institute launched this programme in 1997. That year Dr. T.B. Siddalingaiah was appointed Editor for the Project and took charge in June. Prof. Siddalingaiah was formerly Professor of Saiva Siddhanta at Madurai Kamaraj University and had also taught at Calcutta University and Banaras Hindu University. He was the UGC Emeritus Fellow at the Central University, Pondicherry during 1993-95. The Sahitya Akademi and the National Book Trust have published his translations into Tamil from other Indian Languages. He has long been contributing articles to various magazines both in English and Tamil on Tamil literature, Saiva Siddhanta and Indian philosophy.

On the basis of the recommendations made by the Advisory Committee, the Editor in consultation with the Director of the Institute and the late lamented Prof. Muthu Shanmugam Pillai, Head of the Department of Tamil Studies, worked out the project details. Accordingly the entire translation will be published in about 23 volumes in English. The total number of volumes in Hindi is yet to be arrived at.

Since this is an enormous task that cannot be completed by an individual within the stipulated time, it was decided that each Tirumurai should be entrusted for translation to one scholar, and this was followed. Presently, the Tirumurais have been allotted to individuals for translation (barring a few).

The first volume will be an introductory one. It will introduce the canonical literature, the authors, the significance of the Tirumurais, etc. Besides these, details about the temples such as the structure, the construction, the smaller deities etc., and rituals to be followed in the temples (daily and special rituals) and festivals will also be discussed. The Agamas provide information regarding the structure of the temples and rituals to be followed therein. So a chapter on the Agamas is also included in the volume. Temples in the past were repositories of art, architecture and culture. They were also our record houses of historical events connected with the temple. They are available in inscriptions found in the temple. So naturally a chapter on epigraphy finds a place in the first volume. Music forms one of the three parts of Tamil language and literature. Some of the Tirumurais have been set to music. Devotion and music always go together, since music was used to spread the bhakti movement. Hence Tirumurai and music are discussed in one of the chapters. God is defined both as formless and with many forms. The icons in the temple depict a particular myth. Therefore a study of iconography has also been added as a chapter.

Besides these a chapter on the bhakti movement in Tamilnadu is included. The history of Saivism in its historical perspective forms another chapter. Saivism as a religion and Saiva Siddhanta as its philosophy are also introduced. Saiva Siddhanta literature is discussed in detail in that chapter. It is hoped that this volume, namely the introductory one, will be a fitting introduction to the following volumes and also form a basis for them.

The translation of the Tirumurais will begin with the second volume. According to the size and the contents of the Tirumurais, each Tirumurai may be published in a single volume or more. Roughly it has been worked out that the entire Tirumurai in translation will spread over 23 volumes.

It is evident the project is a heavy one that will certainly consume much time. Since the Tirumurais have been distributed for translation to different people, it is hoped that the translation work of all Tirumurais will go on simultaneously and thus cut down the time. So it is believed that the entire project can be covered within a period of five years.

The Hindi part of the project is yet to be taken up. A number of Hindi scholars have been contacted for this work and most of them could not take this up for want of time. Presently three scholars have agreed and are working on the translation. It is planned that the Hindi translation, when completed may be referred to a native scholar so that it is readable, idiomatic and acceptable to the Hindi world.

It is sincerely believed that, by the grace of God, this project will be successfully executed within five years.


The Twelve Tirumurais are:

The first three Tirumurais - Tirunanacampantar Tevaram 4147 verses
Fourth, fifth and sixth - Tirumurais - Appar Tevaram 3066 verses
Seventh Tirumurais - Cuntarar Tevaram 1024 verses
Eighth Tirumurai - Tiruvacakam and Tirukkovaiyar of Manikkavacakar 1056 verses
Ninth Tirumurai - by nine authors, Tiruvicaippa and Tiruppallantu 301 verses
Tenth Tirumurai Tirumantiram of Tirumular 3045 verses
Eleventh Tirumurai - composed by twelve authors consisting of 41 pirapantams 1391 verses
Twelfth Tirumurai Periyapuranam of Cekkilar 4286 verses

Total number of verses: 18316

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