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Benevolent Consort or Dangerous Adversary? The Accommodation of the Goddess in the Hymns of the Tamil Saiva Saint Appar

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Benevolent Consort or Dangerous Adversary? The Accommodation of the Goddess in the Hymns of the Tamil Saiva Saint Appar
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  Revaluation of Tradition in the Ideology of the Radical Adivasi  Resistance 269 Benevolent Consort or Dangerous Adversary? The Accommodation of the Goddess in the Hymns of the Tamil Ś aiva Saint Appar  R. Mahalakshmi Centre for Historical Studies,  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India Abstract The Tamil Bhakti tradition has variously been understood as a literary efflorescence, religious revival, or an ideological tool through which social ten-sions were eased. In this article, I highlight the significance of bhakti  or devotion as an ideology that transformed the cultural landscape of Tami  ḻ akam , through its proponents’ invocation of the sectarian deities Ś iva and Vi ṣṇ u. The Ś aiva saint Appar’s patikam , composed between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh century AD , reveals this process in the typical fashion: through the introduction of Ś iva along with his divine pantheon, the Puranic mythologies, and representations of conflict and accommodation in particular sacred sites. There are many instances where goddesses are invoked as benevolent consorts on the one hand, and as danger-ous adversaries on the other. While it is the Brahmanical female deities who are clearly given representation, although in a marginal manner, the choice of specific sites to explicate certain motifs, such as that of a dance contest between the goddess and Ś iva, indicates the manner in which local goddess traditions and cult spots were appropriated and accommodated within the Brahmanical tradition. As the loving spouse, the goddess is presented as the perfect foil to Ś iva, while as the aggressive independent female deity she is depicted as his anti-thesis. The goddess may not have been the recipient of Appar’s bhakti  fervour by herself, but as a result of her engagements with Ś iva, she was included in the ideational world of devotion. Keywords Bhakti , Ś iva, Ko ṟṟ avai, Appar, K ā l  ī  , Durg ā , dance, Ca ṅ kam , transcendence    Article Studies in History27(2) 269–279 ©  2011 Jawaharlal Nehru University SAGE PublicationsLos Angeles, London,New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DCDOI: 10.1177/0257643012459419http://sih.sagepub.com  at JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY on June 9, 2015sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Studies in History, 27, 2 (2011): 269–279 270 R. Mahalakshmi The allusions of the n   ya ṉ  r   ( Ś aiva saints) to the goddess in relation to Ś iva in the Tamil Ś aiva bhakti  hymns, outline the manner of accommodation of earlier god-dess traditions within the larger matrix of divine relationships and pantheons devised by the composers who drew upon Puranic themes. 1  I have elsewhere examined the Ca ṅ kam  literature, the earliest sources for reconstructing the early historical period in the Tamil region, composed broadly between the third century BC  and the third century AD , to understand the significance of goddess worship in the religious landscape as elaborated in these texts. The ainti ṇ ai  (literally, the five eco-zones) division, used to categorize and distinguish the Tamil macro-region,  provided the backdrop against which communities living in these different eco-regions venerated various deities as patrons. The kuriñci  (hilly and mountainous regions) had Muruka ṉ  as the patron deity; marutam  (fertile river valleys) had Indra; M  y ō ṉ  was the chief deity of the mullai  (forests and pastures); neital   (coastal areas) had Varu ṇ a; and Ko ṟṟ avai was the denizen of the  p  lai  (dry, barren lands). 2  What is interesting to note is that despite the texts implying that  p  lai  was a transitory zone, there is the ascription of a separate sub-regional cultural identity to the dry and arid regions, which allows us a view, although fragmentary, of the only female ti ṇ ai  deity known in these texts. This deity was known as the goddess of war and victory, worshipped by tribes who lived on loot and plunder, and offered blood and meat on ritual occasions. There were other conceptualizations known in the texts: of the primordial mother (  Mutiy ō ḷ ), the great womb ( m   m ō ṭṭ  u celvi ), forest deity ( k   ṭ  amara celvi ), the goddess mounted on the stag (  p   y kalai  p  vai ), and so on. The post- Ca ṅ kam  literature comprising the Tamil epics and other texts provides us with a slightly different picture. The goddess Ko ṟṟ avai was clearly associated with Muruka ṉ  as his mother, and Muruka ṉ  in turn was known as the son of Ś iva. There were many other associations that were made between the various Puranic goddesses such as Durg  , the Saptam  t ṛ k   , P  rvat  ī  , K   l  ī  , and so on the one hand and Ko ṟṟ avai on the other. It is against this background that the bhakti  hymns of the Ś aiva n   ya ṉ  r   and Vai ṣṇ ava   ḻ v  r  , identified by scholars as marking the transition to the early medieval period, have been used by us as sig-nificant sources to study the transformation of the religious landscape, where ear-lier traditions of goddess worship were ignored or marginal to the main discourse, which was the exaltation of the Puranic sectarian deities, Ś iva and Vi ṣṇ u. One of the most striking features of the Brahmanical enunciation of the sacred in this genre was that the goddess was given little space, and, more significantly, less importance where she was indeed mentioned. Another feature was that there were limitations in the conceptualization of the goddess, where she was either the  benevolent consort or the fierce, independent deity. As the benevolent deity, she 1  This is elaborated upon in my book, The Making of the Goddess. 2  ‘  Mullaiyum Kuri ñ ciyum Muraimaiyi ṉ  Tirintu Nalliyalpu Ilantu, Na ṭ  unkutuyarur uttu, P   lai Enpat  ō r  Pa ṭ  ivam Ko ḷḷ um ’—due to the fierce heat, the mullai  and kuriñci  regions lose their natural appearance and become harsh and dry like the desert, which is the fifth eco-region. See, Cilappatik   ram , canto 11, lines 64–66, 254–55.  at JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY on June 9, 2015sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Studies in History, 27, 2 (2011): 269–279Benevolent Consort or Dangerous Adversary?   271 is the ultimate patriarchal ideal-type—the good, virtuous and supportive spouse. In her dangerous aspect, she is unequally pitted against the strength and powers of the male god, who is represented at the other end of the power spectrum; the need to control and/or restrain the dangerous independent deity in order to main-tain harmony and order is the underlying emphasis. The n   ya ṉ  r   are unequivocal about the dangerous goddess: she represents chaos, disorder and calamity, and needs to be taken in hand. In their compositions, Ś iva performs this task admira- bly: He succeeds in controlling her or at the very least challenges her authority. Symbolically, this victory is understood as an act of grace, ultimately resulting in the restoration of cosmic order. Dramatically, this tension is resolved in the course of a confrontation between the two deities, where they are depicted as challenging each other in dance. 3 Tamil Bhakti  Literature The Tirumurai  or sacred works is the term used to refer to the collection of hymns of the Tamil Ś aiva saints. The most comprehensive account of the creation of the sacred works, and their creators—the n   ya ṉ  r  , is found in Cekki  ḻ   r’s  Periya    Pur   ṇ am . The author, who is said to have lived in the twelfth century AD , provides such a rich description of the lives of the saints that it appears as if it would be impossible to understand the context of the composition of the hymns without a reference to this hagiographical treatise. 4  The text harks to the ‘discovery’ of the termite-ridden hymns by Nampi  ṇṭ  r Nampi from a locked chamber in the Chidambaram temple, considered the most sacred site by the n   ya ṉ  r  , during the time of Ku ḷ ō ttu ṅ ka I ( c.  1070–1125 AD ). 5  A later text, the Tirumuraika ṇṭ  a    Pur   ṇ am , attributed to the fourteenth-century AD   Ś aiva Siddh  nta teacher Um   pati Ś iv  c  rya, embellishes the narrative. 6  There are ‘wheels within wheels’ in the hagiographic tradition, and there is yet another hagiographer who is made known to us by both Cekki  ḻ   r and Nampi. Cuntarar, himself a n   ya ṉ  r  , is said to have referred to the legendary number of sixty-three saints for the first time in the hymn    r   r    Tirutto ṇṭ  attokai . 7  Cekki  ḻ   r and Nampi, despite not being a part of the canonized group, were rewarded for their dedication to the Ś aiva cause—their compositions were included in the canon, and form the twelfth and part of the eleventh works, respectively. Appar, Campantar and Cuntarar, who are considered 3  R. Mahalakshmi, The Making of the Goddess: Korravai-Durg    in the Tamil Traditions  (Delhi: Penguin India, 2011), 95–155. 4  See, Francois Gros, ‘Towards Reading the T  ē  v  ram ’, in T  ē  v  ram ,  Hymnes   Ṥ  ivaites   du pays Tamoul  , ed. T.V. Gopala Iyer (Pondicherry: Institut Francais D’Indologie, 1984), xxxvii-lxviii; xliii. 5  K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, The C  ō ḷ as , vol. 2 (Madras: University of Madras, 1984/1937), 675. 6    Ibid  ., 637, 678. 7  ‘ T  ē  v  ram ’,  patikam  39, in T.V. Gopala Iyer, ed., T  ē  v  ram ,  Hymnes   Ṥ  ivaites   du pays Tamoul   (Pondicherry: Institut Francais D’Indologie, 1984), 425.  at JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY on June 9, 2015sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Studies in History, 27, 2 (2011): 269–279 272 R. Mahalakshmi the most important of the Ś aiva saints, are popularly referred to as the m ū var   or trio, and their compositions, together called the T  ē  v  ram , are collected in the first seven Tirumurai  of the anthology. In popular memory, the first is known as the ideal servant, the second as the perfect son and the third as the model companion of Ś iva. In this article, I will focus on the hymns of Appar, who is said to have lived  between the middle of the sixth and the middle of the seventh centuries AD . 8  According to the legendary life story given in the  Periya    Pur   ṇ am , this saint was  born as Maru ṇ  ī  kiyar in Tiruvamur into a v ē  ḷ  ḷ a   Ś aiva family, but converted to Jainism at a young age and was given the name Dharmasena. The hagiographi-cal account suggests that the fat, naked Jaina monks, who rejoiced that they had  pulled him out of the path of pure knowledge, misled him into this path. It is held that his sister Tilakavati reconverted him to Ś aivism by administering a miracu-lous cure for an agonizing stomach ailment that no Jaina could cure. It is here that the hagiographer is able to insert his diatribe against the Jainas—They are the ones with false doctrines, their faith is like a dangerous tank that you can drown in, the delusion of true knowledge is created by the preachers, and so on. 9 This was the climactic moment in Appar’s life. He was given the title Tirun  vukkaracu N  ya ṉ  r, which can roughly be translated as ‘the king/lord of divine speech’. 10  He lived to the ripe old age of eighty-one, and was affection-ately called Appar (father) by his contemporary, the child-saint Campantar. 11  There are three episodes in the  Periya    Pur   ṇ am  where Appar and Campantar are brought together. 12  At first, Appar, recognizing the divine son of P  rvat  ī   in the person of the boy saint, prostrated before him at Sirkazhi. A few years later at Tirupugalur, the two saints are reputed to have both fallen to the ground in greeting, on seeing the other. The final incident relates to the incognito Appar carrying the palanquin bearing the triumphant Campantar after his vanquish-ing of the Jainas in Madurai. This is a very interesting motif common to bhakti  hagiographies—the employment of a cross-legitimation device that relates to the invoking of other saints in relation to a particular life story. In fact, it is in the  Periya    Pur   ṇ am  that we find Campantar refering to Appar as carrying the hoe, which by the twelfth century AD  had become a convenient iconographic marker for the latter. 13   8  See Kamil V. Zvelebil, Tamil Literature  (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975), 138. 9   Cekki  ḻ  r Perum  ṉ  Aru ḷ iya Tirutto ṇṭ  ar Pur   ṇ am Periya Pur   ṇ am , Sekkilar Araycci Maiyam, Chennai, 1993, verses 1302–05, 1311–12, 1317–18. 10  This name occurs in some inscriptions:  ARE   1908, no. 186;  ARE   1920, no. 37;  ARE   1928, no. 68; and  ARE   1934, no. 137. Cited in Zvelebil, Tamil     Literature , 139, fn. 45. 11    Periya Pur   ṇ am , verse 1452, 490. 12  G. Vanmikanathan, trans.,  Periya    Pur   ṇ am:    A Tamil Classic on the Great Saiva Saints of South  India by Sekkizhaar   (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1985), 273. 13    Ibid  ., 287, 305.  at JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY on June 9, 2015sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Studies in History, 27, 2 (2011): 269–279Benevolent Consort or Dangerous Adversary?   273 The twelfth century AD  in the Tamil region saw a consolidation of the Brahmanical traditions as revealed through the elaboration of the ma ṭ  ha  tradi-tions, the self-conscious weaving of sectarian identities through the construction of genealogies of the tradition, the evolution of a widespread understanding of  pilgrimage networks borrowing from the bhakti  saints and also the forging of newer ones. It is not a coincidence that this happened precisely at a time when  political aspirations towards imperial, macro-regional formations were on a new high. The temples that were built and expanded across the Tamil region were not  just markers of religious piety of the C ō ḷ a kings; they also established important networks for social and economic integration of sub-regions into the ascendant state. 14  In this context, the denouncing of the Jainas is not merely religious rheto-ric; there is a fair element of justification for the non-patronage of the ś  ramanic  tradition evident in the narrative. While the hymns themselves give us primarily the denunciation of the figure of the Buddhist and Jaina renunciate by poking fun at their unwashed, dirty bodies or slothfulness, there is some reference to the doctrinal limitations of these faiths as perceived by the saints. It is the hagiographies that flesh out the antagonism between the traditions, and invariably the key lies in the weaning away of the royal patron of the her-etics. In the case of Appar, we are told that the Pallava king, understood to be Mahendravarman, was influenced by the Jaina monks of Pataliputra (Tirupatiripuliyur), the name of a monastery near Cuddalore in South Arcot dis-trict. Appar was said to have been summoned before the king to defend himself against the charges, and boldly sang that he was subject to none other than Ś ankara. Despite being put through several ordeals—trials by fire, poison and mad elephant, and so on—Appar was resolute in his devotion. Thereafter, Appar moved away from the Naduvilnadu region and began wandering all over the C ō ḷ a and P āṇṭ iya regions, going by the sacred geography of his hymns and the  Periya    Pur   ṇ am  account. Like all apotheosized saints, there are many other miracles associated with Appar. Amongst these, the story of Ap ū ti A ṭ ika ḷ  of Tingalur is of some signifi-cance. 15  Here, Appar himself gains the power to save and restore life, unlike ear-lier where he is saved by his faith in Ś iva . A snake bites the son of the br   hma ṇ a  devotee who was a great admirer of Appar, when he is cutting a leaf in the garden to serve food to the saint. The parents do not reveal this to Appar and go about serving the food. On asking that the older son joins him so that he could be blessed with holy ash, Appar did not receive any answer from the br   hma ṇ a . This led him to divine what had happened, and he beseeched Ś iva in verse to restore the boy. 14  For discussions on this aspect, see R. Champakalakshmi, Trade, Ideology and Urbanization : South  India 300 B.C. to A.D.1300  (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), chaps 1 and 3; Kesavan Veluthat, ‘Religious Symbols in Political Legitimation: The Case of Early Medieval South India’, Social    Scientist   21, no. 1–2 (1993): 23–33; 1–2. 15  Vanmikanathan,  Periya    Pur   ṇ am,  297–300.  at JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY on June 9, 2015sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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