Selections from the General Preface
General Editor: T.N. Ganapathy
Section-A – Prelude
The main aim and purpose of publishing in nine volumes the content of the Tirumandiram with the Tamil verses, their transliteration, their translation and commentary in English is to develop a taste for and to induce a proper and more appreciative cultivation of this classic in Tamil to a large majority of English-speaking public in our country and in other foreign countries. Its main concern is to serve as an antidote to the sad fact that many scholars — Indian and foreign — remain ignorant of the Tamil ¹aiva and Siddha traditions. This publication is unique in that it is the first time that the entire Tirumandiram has been commented on in English, though there is an English translation by B. Natarajan, but without any commentary or transliteration of the verses, published by the Ramakrishna Mission, Chennai, India, and later on by Sri M. Govindan Satchidananda. Of course, one can find certain sporadic translations and commentaries of a few sections and verses of the Tirumandiram by J.M. Nallaswami Pillai in the Siddhanta Dipika journals published between 1897 – 1914, now brought out in fourteen volumes by the Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. In fact, the foremost difficulty in carrying out this great enterprise which has been felt by the General Editor of these volumes is in finding out translators among the Tamil-speaking scholars on this great subject. The aim of bringing out this series of nine volumes is too high which made me stagger at times — myself being seventy-five years young — and made me wonder whether I am attempting the impossible.
My concern of the impossibility of bringing out this series containing commentary grew intense due to two factors. First, there is a view among certain ¹aivites against writing a commentary and that too in English on the sacred text of the Tirumandiram, the only tiru-muãai (sacred Tamil ¹aiva scripture) which is both a c¢ttiram (s¢ºtra – philosophical treatise) and a tùttiram (stotra – devotional literature) in Tamil ¹aiva tradition. This view gains its support in one of the verses of Tirum¦lar himself.
O! Fools are they who try to describe the indescribable!How can one explain the one which is boundless?1
This prejudiced factor of writing a translation and commentary can be met by saying that one need not commend this spirit, however, well-intended it might be and further one gets support for the venture from the same verse of the Tirumandiram itself.
The Lord with the matted locks stood blemishlessTo those whose mind is like wave-less sea.2
How can the boundless One be bound in translations and commentaries? Tirum¦lar provides the answer: Only those with a clear mind, without a wave-less mind, like the calm deep sea can comprehend it. Though the translators and commentators are far from having a mind which is like a wave-less sea,they seek and take protection under the words of Tirum¦lar.
The second factor is the basic requirement of writing a commentary as found in Naéé¦l, which I casually stumbled on. The Naéé¦l, a Tamil work composed by the Jain ascetic Pavanandi of Kancheepuram, several centuries back, states that the work of a bh¢¾ya or commentary depends on fourteen characteristics, viz., pure text, purport, construing, word-meaning, paraphrasing, citing parallel passages, questioning, answering queries, adding fresh explanatory matter, free exposition, the relevancy of the sutras (aphorisms), comprising chapters or sections, giving the meaning boldly in doubtful cases, the result of this and quoting authority. 3 This second factor is being met by stating that this work (the nine volumes) is not a bh¢¾ya in the strict sense of the term inhering the fourteen characteristics but only a general commentary in the ordinary sense of the term, viz., an explanatory note. The commentaries provided in these volumes are at best only linguistic expressions of the mystical experiences of Tirum¦lar as expressed in the Tirumandiram. They are not the felt-expressions of the commentators; but they provide only the clues and guidelines for understanding the richness of the spiritual / mystical experiences of the saint. The commentaries are only like ladles and utensils that are used for different cooking operations. It is said that those who read and interpret the scriptures and get “knowledge” through them are like bees hovering round the ripe jack-fruit. As the bees go on humming at the mere smell of the jack-fruit, but can never break into the kernel and have the taste of it, so is the case with scholars — I speak for myself — who have commented on the Tirumandiram. At best, the commentaries are only guides which point to the goal, to the essence, but themselves are unrealized, descriptions of truth. The commentators are requested to excuse me for this remark. However, in attempting the impossible — of bringing out the nine volumes through the help of the commentators — only saint Cëkki~¢r’s words come before me and support my will to achieve it. Cëkki~¢r says:
Though impossible to reach its limitsInsatiable love drives me to the task.4
Before I proceed further I would like to bring to the notice of the readers