Nayanars, The 63 Saints of Shaivism
The Nayanars were the sincere and ardent devotees of Lord Siva. Some were the contemporaries
of Appar and Sambandhar. Only a few had made a study of the Agamas. The rest were
pure and simple Bhaktas only. They served the devotees of Lord Siva and made absolute
self-surrender to the Lord. They were quite ignorant of philosophy. They practised
Chariyai. They cleaned the temple premises, made garlands of flowers for the Lord,
lighted the temple lamps, planted flower gardens and fed the devotees of Lord Siva
and served them. Worship of Siva Bhaktas was regarded even superior to the worship
of Lord Siva Himself.
What is wanted is true devotion. Kannappa, the hunter, was totally ignorant of Saiva
doctrine, philosophy or worship, but attained within six days, the highest place
possible for devotees of Siva through the intensity of his devotion. The nature
of Kannappa’s devotion was quite different from that of the ordinary worshippers
The names of some of the Nayanars are: Nedumara Nayanar, Kannappa Nayanar, Sirutondar,
Appudi Adigal, Muruga Nayanar, Tirunilanakka Nayanar, Kunguliakkalaya Nayanar, Gananata
Nayanar, Seraman Perumal Nayanar, Somasi Mara Nayanar, etc.
Tirunilakantha Nayanar was a potter of Chidambaram. Enadi Nayanar was a Sanar (toddy-drawer).
Tirukkuripputondar was a washerman. Adipatta Nayanar was a fisherman by caste. Nesa
Nayanar was a weaver by caste. Siva Bhaktas of the higher castes ate with the Bhaktas
of other castes. They had no caste-distinctions. They regarded that a life of devotion
to Lord Siva was much more important than the little distinctions of caste, etc.
Tirunilanakka Nayanar was one day performing the Puja. A spider fell upon the image
of Siva. His wife at once blew it away and spat on the place where it fell. The
saint was very much annoyed. He thought that the image had become impure. He wanted
to abandon his wife. But Lord Siva appeared before him in his dream and showed the
saint how his whole body except where it had been spat upon, was blistered owing
to the fall of the spider. This opened the eyes of the saint. He now realised that
Bhakti is more important than the knowledge of the Sastras.
Sirutondar killed his child with his own hands and prepared meat to please the devotee
of Siva. He was prepared even to go against the rules of the scriptures, in order
to practise what he considered as Siva virtue. He was not a man of great erudition.
He was not a philosopher and a Yogi, but he had intense devotion to the devotees
of Siva. What a great sacrifice he did in order to serve the devotee! The Lord appeared
before him with Parvati and Lord Subrahmanya and blessed Sirutondar. The devotee
and the dish of meat disappeared. Sirutondar went out and called his son. The son
came running towards him. The Lord does anything and everything for His Bhakta.
Kungilik-Kalaiya Nayanar was supplying incense to the Lord in the temple of Tirukkadevur.
He lost all his wealth. There was nothing left in the house. Then his wife gave
him a plate and asked him to buy some rice in exchange for it. The Nayanar bought
incense and took it to the temple. The Lord blessed his wife that night with abundant
wealth and asked the Nayanar to go to his house and take his meal. The Nayanar came
to know that the king was not able to make erect the Siva Lingam in the temple of
Tiruppanandal. He tied the rope which was attached to the Lingam round his own neck
and pulled the Lingam to make it erect. The Lingam stood upright. Everybody had
now proof of the intensity of the Nayanar’s devotion. Nayanar had no knowledge of
the Vedas or the Agamas, but he was a true devotee of the Lord. What is wanted is
sincere Bhakti. Study of scriptures makes one proud of his learning and keeps him
away from God.
Kannappa Nayanar plucked his own eye and replaced Siva’s bleeding eye with his own.
He resolved to give his second eye also. But Lord Siva stopped him from doing it.
Kannappa regained his eye-sight and became from that moment, a God himself and took
his seat by the side of Lord Siva. He did not chant Rudra and Chamakam. He was not
a Brahmin. He was a hunter. He did his worship in his own way by bathing the image
with the water carried in his own mouth, threw the flowers down from his own tuft
and offered the best part of the cooked pig after examining with his teeth. Pandits
and Sastris do thousand and one Rudras, and yet they are far from God, because there
is not an iota of real devotion. They have a stony, barren, sin-hardened heart.
Iyarpagai Nayanar was observing the vow of giving everything that the devotees of
Siva wanted. Lord Siva wanted to test him. He came in the garb of a Brahmin Siva
devotee, in the garb of a libertine. The devotee asked the Nayanar: “Give me your
wife”. Nayanar willingly gave his wife. His relatives objected and fought with him.
The Nayanar escorted the pseudo-Yogi into the forest. The pseudo-Yogi vanished to
reappear in his real form of Siva on the sacred bull.
Eripatta Nayanar killed the elephant and five men as the elephant destroyed the
flowers which were in the possession of Sivakam Andar for the worship of the Lord.
Lord Siva appeared and saved the king and the Nayanar and the elephant with the
five people who were lying dead.
Arivattaya Nayanar began to cut his throat as he was not able to give the usual
food of red rice to Lord Siva. Lord Siva stopped him from cutting his throat and
took him to His abode.
Murti Nayanar used to offer sandalwood paste to Lord Siva at Madurai. When sandalwood
was not available he began to rub his elbow very hard upon the sandstone. Lord Siva
was moved. The Nayanar was made the king. He reached the abode of Siva.
Nanda, the untouchable saint entered the fire and came out of it in the form of
a holy ascetic with sacred thread on his shoulders through the grace of Lord Siva.
Tirukkuripputondar was a washerman by caste. He washed the clothes of the devotees
of Siva. Lord Siva wanted to test him. He appeared as a poor man with a very dirty
rag. The saint washed the rag. As there was a very heavy rain, he could not dry
the rag. He was very much afflicted at heart. He began to dash his head against
the stone on which he washed the clothes. Lord Siva appeared before him and gave
Nami Nandi Adigal lighted the lamp with water through the grace of Lord Siva. A
devotee can do anything through the grace of the Lord.
Kali Kamba Nayanar used to welcome the devotees of Siva to his house and feed them
after washing their feet. His wife helped him to do that. On one occasion, one who
had been some time back their servant, came into the house as a Siva devotee. The
Nayanar as usual began to wash his feet but his wife refused to help him. Nayanar
cut off her hands and did the service himself. He also attained the abode of Lord
Kalianayanar used to light the temple lamps with oil supplied by himself. He lost
all his property. He thought of selling his wife but no one would purchase her.
Then he resolved to offer his own blood in the place of oil. When he was trying
to do this Lord Siva blessed him.
Kanampulla Nayanar was lighting the lamp in Siva temples. He lost all his property.
He began to cut grass and purchase oil out of the money realised by selling grass.
He could not sell the grass one day and so he burnt the grass itself. He could not
get even the grass one day. He resolved to burn his hair. Lord Siva showered His
grace upon the Nayanar and took him to His abode.
Saint eruttunai Nayanar cut off the nose of the queen for smelling a flower which
had been gathered for the sake of Siva and which had accidentally fallen on the
floor. The king came to know of this and gave an additional punishment to the queen
by cutting of her head also. There was a rain of flowers. Kalarunga Nayanar, the
king, attained the grace of the Lord.
The Nayanars were not much concerned with Siva doctrines or Saiva Philosophy. They
attached the greatest importance to Siva worship, even though it was against the
ordinary rules of right and wrong. They had the utmost regard for the externals
of Siva worship. They were prepared to do anything to preserve these outward forms,
even at the cost of their lives. Even bigotry was not considered as a vice.
You can clearly understand from the life history of these Nayanars that any one
whatever his caste might be, and whatever his service be, could attain the grace
of Lord Siva.
Saivas of these times were staunch devotees of Saivism. Ordinary rules of ethics
and morality could not be applied to the Nayanars.
Source: Reproduced, with the general permission, from Lord Siva and His Worship,
WWW edition 2000, By Sri Swami Sivananda © The Divine Life Trust Society