Thevarams – Music of the Bhakthi Saints

As naalayira divya prabandhams are regarded as the devotional hymns for Vaishnavism, the thevarams are considered the devotional hymns for Shaivism. There are seven volumes of poetry in the thevarams which are part of a larger literary work called the thirumurai. The thevarams showcase the work of three Nayanar saints of the 7th century – Sambandhar, Appar and Sundarar. The hymns are sung as a daily ritual in many Shaivite temples of Tamil Nadu.

Appar went through several tribulations during his life as his devotion to Lord Shiva was constantly tested. The ruling Pallava king Mahendravarma I was a follower of Jainism in his early years. In an attempt to punish saints such as Appar for their affiliation towards Shaivism the king persecuted them with acts of cruelty. In one such instance, Appar was thrown into a lime kiln for many days. When he came out of the lime kiln unscathed the saint sang the thevaram Massil Veenaiyum in the glory of Lord Shiva. In the song he likens his harsh environment to the sweet melody of the veena, the luminescence of the moon, the gentle breeze blowing and the sound of bees buzzing in a pond.

Here are danseuse Padma Subramaniam and Shyamala Balakrishnan singing this thevaram in the raga Mayamalavagowla.

Sundarar is best known for the thevaram Pitha Piraisoodi. There is an interesting story behind this thevaram. At Sundarar’s wedding, an old man appeared claiming that Sundarar was his slave. Sundarar protested and called the old man mad (pitha). The matter was brought to court, which ruled in favor of the old man. Sundarar was forced to follow him as his attendant. On reaching the temple at Tiruvennainallur the old man disappeared into the sanctom santorum, not to be seen again. That was when Sundarar realized that the old man was none other than Lord Shiva himself. Whereupon the Lord appeared in front of him and asked Sundarar to sing in his praise. Sundarar protested saying he didn’t even know how to start.  Then the Lord asked him to begin singing with the first word he’d uttered upon seeing him – pitha.

Here is the stalwart M.S.Subbalakshmi singing this thevaram Pitha Piraisoodi in the raga Nadanamakriya.

These two thevarams hopefully give you, dear reader a sense of the poetry and devotion packed in the thevarams. Om Namah Sivaya!



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