Tirumular (KR. Arumugam)
The primary source of biographical details on Tirumular is the Tamil work known as Peirya Puranam, authored by Sekkilar. Periya Puranam is a work which gives the life stories of all the sixty-three saints (Nayanmars) of Saivism. Though Tirumular is a Siddha, he is popularly known as a Saiva saint of the Siddhanta tradition and hence his biography is included in Periya Puranam. The other sources are Nambiyandar Nambi’s Tiruttondar Tiruvandadi, Umapathy Sivacariyar’s Tiruttondar Purana Saram, Swaminatha Thambiran’s Tiruvavaduturaip Puranam, Dandapani Swamigal’s Pulavar Puranam, and Agastiyar Vaittiya Rattinac Curukkam-300. We may also find some accounts in A. Chidambaranar’s article on Tirumular’s biography.
Periya Puranam speaks of the life story of Tirumular in detail under the title “Tirumuladeva Nayanar Puranam.” The life sketch runs as follows:
After getting initiated by the graceful Nandi (Siva) at Mount Kailash and attaining the astamasiddhis (the eight supernatural powers) one yogin (who’s original name is not given in Periya Puranam) started for the southern hill called Podigai to meet and to spend some days in the company of his long time friend Agastya.
On his way to Podigai, the yogin visited Kedarnath, Pasupatinath (in Nepal), bathed in the Ganges, worshipped in Kasi, and then visited Vindhya and Parvata mountains. Having worshipped there, he then proceeded to Sri Kalahasti, Tiruvalangadu, Kanchipuram, Tiruvadigai and then to Chidambaram. After worshipping Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram he reached Tiruvavaduturai and paid obeisance there and began his way towards Podigai.
On the way, on the banks of the river Kaveri, he saw a flock of cows grieving over the death of their herdsman whose name was Mulan. Mulan was a resident of the nearby village Sattanur. Pitying the cows, the yogin, using his power of transmigrating into another’s body, which is one of the eight siddhis, entered into the dead body of Mulan, the cowherd, hiding his original body in a hollow tree trunk. The cows were happy over the recovery of their master. The yogin led the cows and drove them into the village and stood outside the village.
The wife of Mulan was anxious about her husband, who still had not returned even after sunset, which was unusual. She came in search of her beloved husband and found him standing outside the village with a strange look. She rushed towards him and touched him. At her touch Mulan jerked and told her indifferently that there was no relationship existing between them and sat in meditation in the nearby mutt. The wife in astonishment brought the village administrators to the spot. Seeing Mulan in meditation, his body glowing, the villagers pacified her and asked her to leave the yogin alone to pursue the spiritual path in peace.
After spending some time in meditation the yogin came to the riverbank in search of his original body. It was not where he had hidden it. Thinking that it was a play of Lord Siva to make him live in the newly acquired body, the yogin left for Tiruvavaduturai. The yogin’s name became Tirumular. (Tiru is a saintly prefix in Tamil meaning holy). One should take note that the names and the otherworldly possessions are meant only for the mortal body and not for the immortal self. When the body changes the name also changes, like in the episode of the yogin from Kailash, whose name is now changed to Mulan. There is a lesson in this story: one should be willing to let go all of one’s attachments, one’s worldly possessions, which includes the body or one’s name, which are impermanent. Why should one strive for fame while one’s name itself is impermanent?
Tirumular sat in Siva-Yoga under an arasa-maram (called the king of trees), i.e., a pipal tree (Ficus Religiosa) situated west of the temple in Tiruvavaduturai. Once in a year he would awakened from his meditative slumber and write one verse. Thus, he wrote three thousand verses (which means he lived at least three thousand years in Siva-Yoga). The three thousand verses he wrote are compiled as the Tirumantiram. Then he traveled to Mount Kailash and attained soruba-dsamadhi.
There is not much difference between the version of Periya Puranam and the version given in other sources. Only in Agattiyar Vaittiya Rattinac Curukkam-360 one finds a difference. We find it with a few more additions in Caturagirit Tala Puranam. This version is:
In the Svetavaraha kalpa, there is related a story of a king by the name of Sveta Maharajan, who ruled over the country of Rajendrapura in the Pandiya kingdom. He was married to Sundaravadani and Chandravadani, the daughters of King Aditya, who was ruling another country with Anantanagar as its capital. The son born to Sundaravadani was named Virasena and the three sons of Chandravadani were called Dharmartha, Surasena and Vajrangada. Years rolled by and at the proper age Virasena was married to Gunavati, the daughter of the king of Maharapura. As Dharmartha happened to be the eldest, the king wanted to crown him as his successor. But, showing the legal and moral issues, Dharmartha refused to be crowned and insisted that the fittest son to be the successor was only Virasena his half-brother. The king was pleased and crowned Virasena as the king of the country.
One day, when the king Virasena was returning to the palace after completing his royal procession through the city, he saw a fascinating flower in the palace garden. Charmed by the flower, he plucked and smelt it, then collapsed unconscious to the ground. The royal physician was sent for. Examining the body, he declared the king dead. At news of the kings death an uproar arose throughout the kingdom. Gunavati’s grief was uncontrollable.
During this time, Tirumular was flying in the sky. Hearing the uproar of crying, he went down to the palace to understand what had happened. To ease the grief of the people, Tirumular decided to occupy the body of Virasena. He went to his hermitage and instructed his disciple Gururaja Rsi to protect the body that he was going to leave safely in a cave. Then he left his own body and transmigrated into the body of Virasena. Virasena got up to the astonishment of all. He explained to Gunavati and others that the drop of poison deposited on the flower petal by a venomous snake had killed him, but he was brought back to life by the grace of a Siddha.
In due course, Gunavati noticed that his way of moving with her, his mode of speech and other activities were somewhat different. Realising that she was experiencing greater joy with him than before, Gunavati requested her husband to explain the reason. Tirumular (now Virasena), revealed who he was and told her that only for the sake of the people had he migrated into the body of Virasena. He said that he would return to his hermitage within a short period. When Gunavati asked what he would do if his original body had already been burnt or destroyed, he told her that his original body was an immortalised one and could be burnt only by certain process known only to him. Then, distracted, he revealed to her the secret process of incinerating the immortalized body.
Gunavati feared that once Tirumular, as Virasena left the palace, she would lose not only his company, but all her royal fortunes. So she conceived a plan of burning his original body. She secretly sent for some forest folks, paid them a lot of money, and instructed them in the process of burning the body which lay in the cave. At the same time, the disciple Gururaja, very much concerned over the long absence of his guru, left the hermitage in search of his master. Finding no one protecting the cave, the forest folks went inside, searched it and found the body and immediately burnt it, as per the instructions given by Gunavati.
Tirumular (i.e., Virasena), deciding that it was time for him to go back to his hermitage, left the palace. Before reaching the hermitage, he happened to meet Gururaja, who was on his way to find his master. Feeling full of apprehension, Tirumular reached the cave to find that his original body had been burnt to ashes. With dismay, he returned to the palace and led a disinterested life with Gunavati until one day when he decided to finally relinquish the palace comforts and went towards the eastern side of Caturagiri. On a riverbank, he saw the dead body of Jambukesvara, a learned Brahmin of Tiruvanaikka (Tiruchi district of Tamil Nadu). Tirumular made a quick decision and left the body of Virasena and placed it inside the hollow of a beautiful tree, which henceforth came to be known as arasa-maram (king of trees, because it sheltered the body of a king within its hollow). He then transmigrated into the body of Jambukesvara, and retired to the forest known as Kalivana, and lost himself in deep samadhi. When he came out of samadhi, he outpoured thousands of verses with the high principles of Siddha-vidya. Tirumular thereafter came to be known as Jambumuni and Jambukesamuni.
A. Chidambaranar tries to trace the origin of Tirumular. According to his version, Tirumular was born in Tamil Nadu. He was named by his parents as Sundaram. (A. Chidambaranar’s version was drawn only from Tirumantiram. But there is no place where Tirumular says that his original name was Sundaram, as Chidambaranar says). Bogar-7000 says that Tirumular’s father was a rsi (a sage) and his mother was a lower caste woman (pallar caste, i.e., scheduled caste).
At a young age, Chidambaranar suggests that Sundaram (TIrumular) joined the Tamil-Sangam (The Tamil Academy) of Agastya, studied books of knowledge and excelled in learning. Thus he gained the friendship of Agastya. After completing his studies there he wanted to learn more and he traveled north to Mount Kailash. He learned the Vedas and the Agamas from Nandidevar and got the suffix Natha. His co-disciples were Sanaka, Sanantana, Sanatana, Sanatkumara, Sivayoga Mamuni, Patanjali, and Vyakrama. Tirumular endorses that he was taught by Nandidevar (verses 67, 68) and the names of his co-disciples.) While he was doing penance in Kailash, the Siddhas Patanjali and Vyakrama wanted to see the blissful dance of Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram and Sundaranatha (Tirumular) accompanied them. Patanjali and Vyakrama stayed in Chidambaram, but Sundaranatha returned to Kailash to continue his penance. After some time he decided to meet his old friend Agastya, so he traveled to the south again. Tirumular says singing the glory of the Lord in sweet Tamil (verse 81) and rendering accessible the holy feet of the Lord to the worldly people (verse 108) is his life mission. In the second canto of Agattiyar-12000, Siddha Agastya states that Tirumular stayed on the northern side of Mount Meru and he initiated and instructed Lord Krishna in dvapara-yuga. Markandeya also received initiation and instruction from Tirumular.
The remaining story from Chidambaranar is the same as in Periya Puranam. Some of the data given in Periya Puranam is found in Tirumantiram. In one place Tirumular sings that he lived for seven crore (seventy million) yugas (an age/aeon). (Four yugas are mentioned in the Hindu mythology. They are: Krta or Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapara-yuga, and Kali-yuga. Of these Krta is 1,728,000 years; Treta is 1,296,000 years; Dvapara is 864,000 years; Kali is 432,000 years. Their total is one Maha-yuga – 4,320,000 years. 100 Maha-yugas, i.e., 432 million years are one kalpa. One kalpa forms one day of Brahma, the God of creation. There are seven kalpas and we are in the sixth one).
There are so many works that claim the authorship of Tirumular. It is worth noting here that Sekkilar, who drafted the popularly accepted biography of Tirumular in his Periya Puranam, did not mention any other work other than Tirumantiram. Tirumular too did not claim authorship of any work other than Tirumantiram.