The painting above by Arunankapilan is of Thayumanavar or தாயுமானவர், my ancestor on my father’s side. He was an 18th century Hindu poet-saint, dedicated religious reformer and Tamil poet-philosopher. 1,454 of his hymns survive to this day. His mantra: “See everything through Love, says my teacher. But in my ignorance I probed through my intelligence. What I saw was only darkness and in that darkness I did not see even myself!”
Below is a brief biography I found online:
“Thayumanavar’s key teaching is to discipline the mind, control desires and meditate peacefully. He went on to say that “it is easy to control an elephant, catch hold of the tiger’s tail, grab the snake and dance, dictate the angels, transmigrate into another body, walk on water or sit on the sea; but it is more difficult to control the mind and remain quiet”.
Kediliappa, his father and Gajavalli his mother. Kediliappa ‘ literally means immortal Father. Thayumanavar was named after the Deity of the Rock-Temple. Kediliappa Pillai, a Chola Vellala was an administrative officer of the Nayak Kingdom. Kediliappa originally lived at Vedaranyam, a famous pilgrim centre. He was the trustee of the local temple. He was a learned man high in intellect and wide in heart. His wife Gajavalli was a pious lady humming devotional songs while attending to house-keeping. Their home was surrounded by a divine atmosphere. The liberality of their hearts expressed itself in charity and hospitality. There was a royal dignity in the personality of Kediliappa, and a remarkable sweetness in his words. His elder brother, Vedaranyam, a great scholar well placed in life, had no children. Kediliappa offered his own boy Siva Chidambaram in adoption to the elder brother. The brother’s face glowed with joy and there was sunlight again in his life.
The Pandyan dynasty had declined. The Nayak chiefs of Vijayanagar possessed the Madurai Kingdom ( 1559-1736). Visvanatha, Tirumalai, and Mangammal were noteworthy rulers of Madurai. They were great patrons of art and poetry. The grandson of Mangammal was Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha. He set up his residence at Thrisirapuram. He was a pious man, but not a statesman. He ruled for twenty-seven years (1704-1731 ).His kingdom was often attacked by the Maharattas and the Mussalmans. He wanted strong assistants. His minister Govindappa one day came to Vedaranyam. Kediliappa received the guest with temple honours and entertained him under his hospitable roof. Both of them spoke on religion and politics. The Minister said, “Kedili, you are a scholar, a devotee, a statesman, a clever diplomat and a keen accountant. You are just the man that we are seeking. Come with me and serve the King”. Kediliappa shifted his family to Trisirapuram. King Chokkanatha, pleased even at the firstsight, took Kedili into his council and gave him a free hand in the management of his household. Kedili was faithful to the king, alert to his duty and timely in advising him against enemies. Chokkanatha treated him like a brother. Kedili’s fame and fortune flourished day by day. There was only one gloomy spot in his life; that was the absence of a child to cheer his home. He and his wife went daily to the rock-temple and prayed to Swami Thayumanavar for a child.
They fed saints and made gifts to scholars. Kedili chanted holy songs. He also arranged for Vedic recitals before the sanctum of Thayumanavar. While the atmosphere was thus charged with holy vibrations, his wife Gajavalli conceived. Gajavalli spent her days in prayer and holy hearing. One day devotees were chanting the soul-thrilling hymns of Manikkavasagar when Gajavalli delivered the gifted child. That child was named Thayumavar, for it was born by the grace of Thayumanavar Swami. Kedili was overjoyed at the sight of his luminous son, radiant in beauty. Temple bells rang in blessings.
Everyone was attracted to this lovely child. King Chokkanatha admired the boy and marked him for his service. The father brought up the son with high hopes. He taught him Tamil and Sanskrit, spiritual and statecraft. The king was satisfied with his progress. He was the focus of saints and scholars. He was an expert in Vedanta and Siddhanta. He read with rapture the hymns of Saints like Manikkavasagar, Appar, Sambandhar and Sundarar. He mastered the Meikanda Sastras. These are holy books in Tamil.
He studied the Upanishads, side by side with Tiruvasagam. He was a clever logician and none could defeat him in discussions. But, he was not satisfied with book knowledge. Books did not reveal the Blessed One cradled in his heart. Words did not quench his thirst. From sunrise to sunset, he was seeking for something within, for somebody that can lead him to the Self-Conscious Bliss. He had a rich home. He had free access to the King’s palace. He was welcomed in royal circles. But the born sage preferred solitude to company and reflection to reading. Words were loads to him, and books burdens. He went often to the rock-temple and spent his time in meditation and prayer.
In the moments of purified calmness, in the silent of inner peace, he sought Self-reality with all the belief of his faith. His eyes flowed with tears. His lips whispered with songs of spiritual melancholy. He had the sage-mind of Pattinattar, the contemplation of the Buddha, the inspiration of Vedic seers. Nuggets of golden truth, cast in brilliant couplets, came out of the inner mind. Then longer poems flowed out spontaneously. Showering tear-pearls gushing out of his lotus eyes, the boy saluted and contemplated upon the Supreme. Thayumanavar saw the Hata-yogins controlling breath and twisting their bodies. He saw religionists in hot discussion; he saw maniacs quarrelling about the God whom they cannot even imagine. He sought solace in the Unique One who is all and all in all. He invoked His grace day and night for a Guiding Light.
On the death of his father, Thayumanavar, famed already for his scholarship and administrative, capacity, was asked to accept his father’s post as palace steward. He accepted out of respect to the ruler. As his mind always centred in the path of devotion to Lord Siva and his duties, he led a holy life of God consciousness and sincere service.
One day Thayumanavar went up the rock-temple for his daily worship. There he met a Sage who belonged to the order of St. Tiru Mula. The Master and the disciple discovered each other. The disciple fell at the feet of the Master, shedding tears of joy and poured out his heart in sublime hymns. He was brought into contact with Mouna Guru Desigar, the head of a Saiva mutt there, he gradually developed spiritualism in his mind.
The Master blessed him graciously, took him alone, and accepted his devotion. ”Master” said the disciple, “I shall follow Thee, renouncing home and royal service.” ”Wait. good soul! ” stopped the Teacher, ”Be a householder until you beget a child. Then I shall come to initiate you in meditation. Be silent. Rest in peace; keep quiet; have faith. You will reach the supreme state of Bliss”. Having said this, the Master went away. Thayumanavar shed tears of joy and gratitude at the love of his gracious Master who opened his inner eye and followed his teachings faithfully.
Once he was attending to his duty by reading some documents ( in palm leaves) he suddenly crushed and threw them away; the officers who were there could not understand the reason he did so. It was known later that the saree of Goddess Akilandeswari in the garba graha of Thiruvanaikka temple caught fire by camphor and was put out by this act of miracle.Some years later, Vijaya Ragunatha Chokkalinga Nayakkar passed away in 1731. Queen Meenakshi in course of time admired the charming young man, Thayumanavar and desired to share his life with her. The dutiful Thayumanavar was very much disgusted with the indecent words and conductof the Queen. Foreseeing the impending danger in the palace, he quietly departed with one of his disciple, Arulayyar and joined his elder brother at Ramanathapuram. Pressure given by his relatives made Thayumanavar to have a married life. When he was leading a house hold life, he gegot a son named Kanagasabapathy.
As the birth of the son ended in the death of the mother, Thayumanavar renounced the worldly life, gave all and took to the saintly life of a wandering sage; he was going from from one holy place to another, singing highly devotional hymns in praise of Lord Siva and His saints. His pious sweet songs were elevating and drawing to himself and Lord Siva, the hearts of all who had seen or heard him, as if a magnet attracting to iron. So honeyed melody of Thayumanavar’s verses has a unique place in the Bakthi literature of Tamil Nadu.
As a wandering ascetic, Thayumanavar earned extra ordinary reputation for his true hearted and unbending sincere devotion to the Almighty. He spent his last years at the Head of Mouna Guru Mutt founded by his Guru at Thirucirappalli. Finally he went to Ramanathapuram and attained Samadhi on Visakam 28th day of the month Thaai in 1726 A.D
The hymns of Thayumanavar bring high solace to life; to hear them is to elevate life and soul. To live them is to enjoy the highest Bliss in spiritual consciousness. They are dynamic song-thrills that spark out of the Bliss-centre. Thayumanavar works is an out scripture for Saints and Yogins. It covers the entire field of Yoga and Jnana. It brings high solace to house-holders purifying their mind and heart. It feeds the flames of inner communion in real Yogins. There is not a single Tamilian who does not sing Thayumanavar and find joy in it. Every home cherishes it. Every mother puts her child to bed with its sweet symphony. The hymns of Thayumanavar are music of the Soul, the song of the inner Spirits, and sparks of Divine Essence. It is very difficult to render them into another language.” (Siva Paranasivam, January 2011)