In my previous posting, I mentioned that on May 27, 2013 there was a procession at Arunachaleswarar Temple connected with the festival of Saiva Acharya Thirujnana Sambandar. Thirujnana is regarded as one of the four great Tamil Saints, the Nalvars, comprised of: Sambandhar, Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavacakar. The below posting is a short biography of the life of the great saint and more interestingly (for us at Tiruvannamalai), his visit to Arunachala as is described in the Arunachala Mahatmyam.
Sambandhar took his birth in a Brahmin family in Sirkali in the district of Tanjore which is also known by the name Brahmapuri. His parents were Sivapada Hridayar and Bhagavathiar. At that time apart from Saivism, Jainism and Buddhism were among the popular faiths in South India and both Sivapada Hridayar and his wife as ardent devotees of Lord Siva, refused to embrace Jainism and give up Saivism, even though at that time the forces of Jainism were very powerful.
Sivapada Hridayar prayed to the Lord for the boon of a son who would re-establish Saivism. The Lord granted this boon, and soon a male child was born. One day the parents took the child, who was then around three years old, with them to the Temple tank and left him on its bank so they could bathe. In response to the child’s crying the Lord and Goddess Parvati appeared before him. The Goddess fondled the child and suckled him with her Milk of Wisdom. From that moment the child was known as “Aludaiya Pillayar” or one who enjoys the protection of the Lord: and also as “Tirujnana Sambandar” as he attained divine wisdom through the grace of Lord Siva and the Goddess Parvati.
From the moment he drank the Milk he began to compose and sing songs in praise of Lord Siva; the collection of these songs are called Thevaram. The child, accompanied by his father, went on pilgrimage to various Temples throughout South India, where the boy would compose and sing songs of praise to Lord Shiva.
Brahmapureeswarar Temple, Sirkali with fresco of Sambandhar’s story
Information about Sambandar comes mainly from the Periya Puranam, the eleventh-century Tamil book on the Nayanars that forms the last volume of the Tirumurai, along with the earlier Tiruttondartokai, poetry by Sundarar and Nambiyandar Nambi’s Tiru Tondar Tiruvandadi. The first volumes of the Tirumurai contain three hundred and eighty-four poems of Sambandar, all that survive out of a reputed more than 10,000 hymns.
At his investiture with the sacred thread, at the age of seven Thirujnana Sambandhar is said to have expounded the Vedas with great clarity. Sambandar attained liberation in "Visaka Nakshtara" in the Tamil month of "Visakam" at the age of sixteen soon after his marriage ceremony.
Sambandhar says in one of his Padigams: “O foolish man, do not allow days to pass. Serve Lord Siva who has a blue neck. Hear His praise. Meditate on His form. Repeat always the Panchakshara. Live in the company of devotees of Siva. Serve them. His name will remove all evils and dangers . . . Worship Lord Siva, He will confer on you eternal bliss and immortality”.
In an English translation of the Arunachala Mahatmyam, Sri Thirujnana Sambandar’s pilgrimage to Arunachala is recorded thus:-
Visit of Sambandha to Arunachala
Upamanyu said: When Tirujnanasambandha (one of the four great Tamil saints) was staying at Tiruvarayaninallur (adjoining Tirukkoilur) adoring the Lord there, some of his followers pointed out Arunachala standing majestically at a distance. The child saint spontaneously composed a hymn of ten stanzas beginning with the words: “Unnamulai Umayalodum’, meaning, the Lord who is accompanied by Uma known as Unnamulai.
Once he was looking for someone who would show him the way to Arunachala when he saw a strange looking old Brahmin gathering flowers. He was moved by the sight of the old man and asked him respectfully, in a voice choked with emotion, “where have you come from? Which is your place? Why have you come here?” The old man replied, “I have come from Arunachala. That is where I live. I have come to gather flowers for the Lord.” At this, Jnanasambandha asked him, “How far is Arunachala from here? Is it a small wood or a big forest? Kindly lead me for I do not know the way.” The old man said, “Yonder is the Hi. It is not very far. I am old but I come here everyday and return with flowers required for the morning worship of the Lord. I shall take you there quickly by a good path”
. . . .
Sambandha followed him along with his retinue. When they reached the precincts of Arunachala the old man leading them suddenly disappeared. He was none other than Arunachala who was leading his child to His abode.
In accordance with the Lord’s command, His bhutaganas appeared as hunters and robbed the personal possessions of Jnanasambandha and his followers. They took away the bundles and ran away from the place.
The Saint thought: Alas! I cannot find the old Brahmin who was leading the way, our only recourse now is to pray to the Lord who grants wealth and joy. When he sang the praise of the Lord, the extremely compassionate Arunachala appeared mounted on Nandi along with His consort. When Sambandha saw the Lord, he with great devotion and overflowing love prostrated and with folded hands sang melodious hymns praising the Lord. The Lord with great affection and in a reverberating voice said: Child! Because of my love for you I wanted you to come to Arunachala which is my eternal abode. Hence I assumed the form of an old Brahmin and came to the garden at Arayaninalloor in the guise of plucking flowers for the Lord’s puja. Upon my orders, bhutaganas took away your possessions. The belongings of your followers shall be returned. A feast shall be set before you and your followers so that your hunger may be appeased.
Sambandha and his followers got back whatever they had lost and a veritable feast was set before them. The Lord bade the child Saint to come to His temple. In ecstasy, Sambandha approached the Lord’s Temple whose mighty towers were visible from afar.
In every house the chanting of the Vedas could be heard. Great hospitality was shown to the guests by the residents of the holy city of Arunachala as if the former were the very form of Lord Shiva. In the streets around the temple of Arunachala, the sounds accompanying the celebration of the festival for the deities could be heard. Yagas were being performed. The deities were brought out of the temple on procession accompanied by elephants, horses and chariots. Sambandha saw tapasvis who were deeply absorbed in the bliss of Siva. The city of Arunachala was a flourishing one with scholars well versed in the Vedas and sastras, their bodies radiating the glow of intense tapas, devotees with Arunachala’s name on their lips, wearing rudraksha and their frames smeared with vibhuti, jnanis who cared not for the state of Brahma or Indra and yogis who were immersed in their Heart in perfect bliss.
After passing the streets on either side of which stood many storied buildings, Sambandha reached the Temple of the Lord. Sambandha entered the Temple which had courts and majestic walls. With profound devotion and love for Arunachala he reached the sanctum sanctorum and surrendered himself. He circumambulated the Lord and the Goddess Apitakuchamba. He adored the Lord and paid his homage by praising Him with a decad beginning with the word ‘Poovar malarkondu’. He resided in the vicinity of Lord Arunachala for a few more days singing decads praising gloriously the Lord and the Hill of Arunachala. Sambandha and his followers left Arunachala after seeking the Lord’s blessings and continued their journey.